WOULD ANYONE NOTICE?

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)… For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. [Romans 8:9,16 (NLT)]

canna - bandanna of the evergladesIt was obvious we had ceiling fans in all three bathrooms but, because all their bulbs were burned out when we moved here, we didn’t know they also had lights. Never having seen how bright the bathrooms could be with working fan lights, we didn’t notice their absence. It was only when we had some electrical work done that we discovered the dead bulbs. Now that we’ve put in new LEDs, we’ll be sure to notice if any stop working in the future!

I bring up the fan lights because this question was asked: “If the Holy Spirit withdrew from your church, would anybody be able to tell?” That question forces us to ask whether our church is more of a social club than a spirit-powered community. Is it centered on Sunday’s service or serving others? Is it about entertainment or enlightenment, conversation or conviction? Does it believe more in the power of networking than the power of prayer? Is it about growing bigger or becoming better, pleasing people or glorifying God, filling pews or fulfilling God’s purpose?

As thought provoking as that first question is for pastors and church councils, it raises another and far more personal question. If the Holy Spirit were to withdraw from you, would anybody notice?

When we accept Jesus, we’re not given a membership card, pin, or secret handshake. Underwriters Laboratories doesn’t certify us and there’s no symbol like the OU from the Orthodox Union to indicate we’re kosher. The only thing attesting to our salvation is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He regenerates and guides us, convicts us of our sins, teaches us to live in Christ’s righteousness, equips and empowers us to do all that God asks us to do, and helps us discern between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changes us so that we can grow and more and more like Christ and the only evidence of His presence is found in our changed lives.

We didn’t notice the missing lights in the bathroom because we’d never seen them on. In the same way, no one would notice that we’re no longer connected to the light of the Holy Spirit if we’ve never previously reflected “the glory of the Lord” in our lives. Life with the Spirit should look vastly different than life without!

While the Holy Spirit guides us, He doesn’t control us; we can ignore Him. Sin, like a burned out light bulb, can cause us to be unresponsive to the power of His presence. Although the Spirit will never abandon a true believer, the hypothetical question is one worth asking. Would anyone notice if the Spirit took a sudden leave of absence from our lives?  The answer to that will be found in another question: When we look into our hearts, do we see ourselves or the Holy Spirit?

O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams. [Augustine]

Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you. [Corrie Ten Boom]

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. [[2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)]

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IT’S ABOUT TODAY

The thief only comes to steal, and kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life – yes, and have it full to overflowing. [John 10:10 (NTE)]

When I wrote about my friend Pat yesterday, I didn’t want to imply that the only thing non-believers miss is eternal life. The saddest part of being a non-believer (or waiting until the eleventh hour to believe), is foregoing the abundance of life promised by Jesus while we live on this side of the grass.

When we choose to believe in Jesus, our lives are transformed, renewed, and healed; they become “full to overflowing” right now! Sometimes, we overlook that point when we share our faith. Not being a Christian is more than missing the assurance that we’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever; it means not having Christ live in our house today!

Evangelism messages concentrating on hellfire, brimstone, and the afterlife miss the point that failing to believe in Jesus means we forego the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in this lifetime. We don’t experience salvation when our soul leaves our body; it comes when the Holy Spirit enters our soul! Not following Jesus isn’t just losing the assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sins; it’s passing up the Spirit’s power that enables us to forgive the sins of others.

Whether believer or not, most of us can resist the temptation to steal or kill but we desperately need God’s power when it comes to resisting those everyday temptations of negativity, envy, pride, arrogance, stubbornness, laziness, impatience, anger, and fear. When God moves in, we experience the Fruit of the Spirit and, with His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we’re not helpless when it comes to temptation. While we’re far from perfect, we’re far better people than we were before Christ entered our lives!

The non-believer doesn’t have the stability that comes from faith in God and His plan. Christ’s followers are never at the mercy of their circumstances. When the storms come and the waves toss our boat, we know Jesus is there with us and will calm the storm (or teach us to swim). Like the Apostle Paul, Christ’s followers can find joy in all circumstances. We have confidence that God will provide our everyday needs—whether it is strength, courage, wisdom, or just our daily bread. Sadly, a non-believer foregoes the fullness that comes from being part of a faith community: the joy of corporate worship and having meaningful relationships with other believers. Being a Christ follower brings us a sense of purpose because, in God’s world, there’s always something to do! All of that, along with eternal life, is missed by the non-believer.

Following Jesus isn’t just about going to live with God some day in the future; it’s about God coming to live in us right now! It’s about experiencing the peace and joy that comes with the assurance that our loving God is at large and in charge! Let us remember to speak of the here and now as well as the hereafter when we speak to others about following Jesus.

Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate! Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7 (NTE)]

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FINAL HOURS

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” [John 3:3 (NLT)]

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying. [Martin Luther]

ColumbineWhen Pat died, it was difficult to find words of comfort for her grieving husband. A non-believer, he has no faith in Jesus, no understanding of the soul, no hope of eternity, and no anticipation of Christ’s return. Distance and timing kept me from attending Pat’s Celebration of Life and, because we rarely saw one another, I’m not sure I felt her absence until today when I received a letter from her husband. With the letter was a bookmark made for her Celebration of Life. It had her picture and some sweet words about memories filling our hearts, time healing our souls, and the peace of knowing there’s one more angel in heaven. To a non-believer, those words may be comforting but, to me, they were empty (along with being theologically incorrect). I’ve never understood how non-believers find it so easy to believe in heaven and angels but so hard to believe in judgment, hell, God, or Jesus.

As difficult as I found it to find comforting words for Pat’s husband, I’m not finding words in Scripture that bring much comfort to me. Sadly, Pat seemed to share her husband’s lack of faith in Jesus. Although we grew up together, our lives went in different directions when I was fifteen and we lived more than 1,000 miles apart as adults. Except for an occasional wedding or funeral, our contact consisted mostly of emails, a shared interest in genealogy, a few phone calls, and Christmas cards.

Growing up, we attended the same church and I know Pat was baptized as an infant; that, however, doesn’t mean she was saved. Regardless of the age or the method, Baptism isn’t what saves us. We are saved by a proclamation of faith in Jesus. While she may have proclaimed her outrage at cold water sprinkled on her head, that wasn’t a statement of faith.

We both were confirmed in eighth grade but, like infant Baptism, Confirmation has no Biblical basis. At the time, Pat reaffirmed the vows her Baptismal sponsors made for her, but I suspect that was more about doing what was expected and getting a new white dress and gifts than declaring her undying faith in the work and words of Jesus. In spite of our Confirmation classes, I don’t think either of us truly understood the ritual’s meaning or knew what a commitment to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior really meant.

Undoubtedly, Pat was a good person but “Christian” is not an adjective nor is it a synonym for good. If good works were all it took for eternal life, Jesus’ death upon the cross wouldn’t have been necessary. Salvation is more than going to church, being raised in a Christian family, a sprinkle of water, a Bishop laying his hands on your head, a prayer, giving to charity, calling yourself a Christian, or even saying you’ve made a decision; it is becoming a new person in Christ. Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, involves putting our entire faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus, finding a new life in Him, and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

Pat knew of my faith but let me know that Jesus was off limits when it came to our communications. Nevertheless, I look at that bookmark with the picture of her smiling face and wish I’d tried harder. If Pat didn’t do so earlier, I hope that, in her final days, she took God up on his offer of salvation. Waiting until the eleventh hour, however, is dangerous; after all, we might die at 10:30!

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. [Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)]

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LEADING THE HERD

sheepDo not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Come to your right mind, and sin no more. [1 Corinthians 15:33-34 (RSV)]

You’ve probably heard of herd mentality or herd behavior: when people’s natural desire to be part of the crowd affects their decisions. When herd behavior occurs, rather than relying on their own judgment, values, or natural instinct, people allow themselves to be influenced by the behavior of those around them. While copying what others are doing can be useful at times (it gets our garbage out the right nights), challenges arise when our personal beliefs contradict what the crowd is doing.

A few years ago, when we were in Chicago, my husband wanted to purchase his favorite cheddar/caramel popcorn mix at Garrett’s. While he waited in line inside the crowded store, I remained outside. The queue of customers eventually extended out the door and partway down the street. When a couple visiting from France asked me why people were waiting, my reply of popcorn surprised them. Telling me they could understand lining up for chocolate or ice cream but certainly not popcorn, I expected they’d continue walking. Instead, they decided to follow the herd and joined the long line.

Even though that couple weren’t fans of popcorn, they joined the herd, but do we only follow the herd when there are more of them than us? According to an experiment done in 2008 at Leeds University, the answer is no. 200 subjects were told to walk in a totally random path around a large hall without communicating with one another in any way. Unknown to them, however, a group of walkers had been given detailed instructions on where to walk. In a short time, the “random” walkers started following the ones who seemed to know where they were going and a long snake-like line formed. When the experiment was over, those “random” walkers admitted not realizing that they’d become followers. The researchers found that it took only 5% of the people to walk purposefully to get the other 95% to follow. Apparently humans, like sheep and birds, will subconsciously gather in flocks and follow a minority if that minority appears to know what they’re doing!

Scripture warns that bad company can corrupt good character but, if we consider herd behavior, could good company improve bad character? Believing their findings could be used when planning traffic flow in emergencies and crisis situations, the Leeds’ researchers called the people who were followed “informed individuals.” The world appears to be in crisis and, as Christ’s followers, we are the “informed individuals.” Could this be our call to lead the herd?

Jesus left His church in the hands of just a few followers and yet there were over 3,000 believers by the first Pentecost and the church continued to grow rapidly. In those early years, Christianity was illegal, believers were persecuted, and there were no church buildings, public ceremonies, famed evangelists, or mass media. Nevertheless, the church steadily expanded in the first 300 years. It spread because people saw the lives of Christ’s followers: that Christians walked with a sense of purpose in a different and better way. Knowing the route to take, the informed minority led the herd to Jesus. Do we walk as “informed individuals” or like someone with a bumper sticker reading, “Don’t follow me—I’m lost, too!”  Let our lights shine brightly that we might lead the way to the Lord!

We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause. [Justin Martyr describing Christians to Emperor Antoninus Pius in 153 AD]

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:14-16 (RSV)]

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. [Philippians 2:14-15 (RSV)]

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LIVING WATER (John 4:1-42 – Part 1)

“Everyone who drinks this water,” Jesus replied, “will get thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No: the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.” … The woman said, “Give me this water! Then I won’t be thirsty any more, and I won’t have to come here to draw from the well.” [John 4:13-15 (NTE)]

Taos NMJesus was never one to follow man-made rules and, when He spoke with the woman at the well, He broke several. Jewish tradition considered it beneath any man’s dignity to publicly speak with a woman. Rabbinical writing taught: “Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no not with his own wife.” That a rabbi like Jesus did such a thing was scandalous. Those same writings considered women incapable of religious instruction with these words: “Rather burn the sayings of the law than teach them to women.” Jesus speaking of God with a Samaritan woman just made it more outrageous! But, we know from His interactions with women like Martha, Mary, and Mary Magdalene that Jesus wasn’t much for rabbinic tradition so His speaking with this Samaritan woman shouldn’t surprise us.

There’s one thing, however, that seems unlike Jesus in his encounter with this woman when, knowing she’s unmarried, He asks her to get her husband. She admits to having no husband but that’s not the whole truth. Jesus exposes her five previous marriages and her living with a man not her husband. The woman had to have been mortified that a stranger knew of her sordid history. While it’s possible she’d been widowed five times and was living with her brother, that seems highly unlikely. A Jewish man could divorce his wife with the slightest provocation but five marriages reflect badly on her character as do her living arrangements. Since she was drawing water at the hottest part of the day rather than the cool evening (when the village women normally would), she appears to be an outcast who’s gone from one man to another. Jesus never shamed the woman caught in adultery so why would He put this nameless woman on the spot when He knew her disgraceful history?

Prior to being asked about her husband, the woman told Jesus she wanted the living water about which He spoke. Her request was for earthly convenience rather than eternal life. It was then that Jesus inquired about her husband. His knowledge of her secrets established His credibility as a prophet and ultimately identified Him as the Messiah. Recognizing Jesus only as a prophet, she asked Him to clarify the dispute between Judah and Samaria as to the right place to worship. Jesus answered that the time had come when the location didn’t matter because true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. She then realized that Jesus was the Messiah, the source of the living water she so desperately sought.

Jesus asked the woman about her husband so she would face her sins and own up to her immorality. It is only with a humble heart that we can come to Jesus and His question was the woman’s moment of humility. Salvation comes to those who confess and repent of their sins, but the woman had to acknowledge those sins before she could repent. The living water only comes to those who know they are spiritually thirsty and salvation only comes to those who see the need for a Savior!

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 John 1:8-10 (NTE)]

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SEEING THE LIGHT

Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. [Proverbs 28:14 (NLT)]

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. [Romans 2:4-5 (NLT)]

Duluth MN lighthouseAn old maritime legend describes the conversation between a U.S. Naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship kept telling the Canadians to divert their course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision while the Canadians repeatedly responded with the suggestion that the Americans divert their course 15 degrees to the south. Finally, the Navy sent the following message: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this fleet.” It was only when the Canadian authorities responded, “This is a lighthouse. It’s your call,” that the American vessels stopped being so unyielding and changed their course! While this story of an aircraft carrier trying to bully a lighthouse out of its way is just fiction, it’s a lesson about stubbornness, inflexibility, and pig-headedness.

Hoping to catch Him breaching the law, Jesus’ adversaries watched Him closely. When He healed a woman who’d been crippled for eighteen years on the Sabbath, they were outraged. Healing was considered work and He’d broken the Sabbath by restoring her to health. The Pharisees were unyielding when it came to strict observance of the law—even when it made no sense. Carrying clothes out of a burning building on the Sabbath was prohibited but stopping, putting on as many as 18 garments, and wearing them out was allowed! Pointing out that the Pharisees worked on the Sabbath by untying and watering their animals, Jesus chastened the synagogue leaders for their lack of compassion on the woman. Like the aircraft carrier, they were so sure they were right, it never even occurred to them to rethink their position.

There are times we must be unyielding as a lighthouse and firmly hold our position. In fact, we specifically pray not to yield to temptation. [Luke 11:4] Things like obedience to God and our faith in Jesus are non-negotiable and may well place us in opposition with today’s world. There are times, however, when we’re more like the aircraft carrier and the Pharisees—unyielding to a fault. Like them, we’re often so sure we’re in the right that we fail to examine our course or consider the possibility that we could be in error. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of our positions to make sure we’re not on a collision course with God’s word. The aircraft carrier failed to see the light ahead of them just as the Pharisees failed to see the Light of World standing in front of them. Let’s not make the same mistake. If we’re headed toward a conflict, confrontation, or collision perhaps it’s time to rethink our course and surrender the controls to God!

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. [James 3:17 (NLT)]

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