Sunday, March 20, 2016

8 P's to Peace of Mind

There are 8 P's to Peace of Mind which can be found in Philippians 4: 4-9. These 8 steps will help to protect your mental health so that "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

TEXT: Philippians 4:4-9

1. PRAISE: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice. 
Be Thankful. Find joy in celebrating what Jesus has done for us...always count your blessings Psalm 100 tells us to "come before His Presence with singing...enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise." Thankfulness expressed through worship is a key that unlocks the door to God's Presence in our lives. When we connect with God through worship, He renews our minds (Romans 12:2)

2. PEACE: Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
Be gracious, reasonable and gentle with others. Be a peacemaker and you will be blessed

3. POSTURE: God is close at handDon't be anxious, worried or afraid about anything
God is with us. Don't be ruled by fear. "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7) It is important to maintain a posture of humility before God and strength in our position as His child. Repentance is important Acts 3:19 tells us that when we repent, changing our mind, turning away from sins, then times of refreshing come from the Presence of the Lord. When we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up to stand tall. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) Remember who you are as a child of God, chosen, forgiven, dearly loved, His representative on this earth and stand firm.

4. PRAY: In everything by prayer and asking with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 
Tell God what concerns you. Ask Him for what you need. Be Thankful. Trust Him and Peace will wash over you.

5. POSITIVITY: Whatever is true...honorable...pure...lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
 Focus on the positive things listed above. I find the lyrics of this beautiful hymn to be helpful: "Count your blessings, name them one by one."

6. POUR: The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things
Allow God to pour through you into the lives of others. In verse 9, we are encouraged to do good works. When we focus on meeting the needs of others and not on ourselves, our fears melt away, we forget about our problems and we receive healing and refreshing as God flows through us, cleaning us up, like a jar that needs all the junk of life washed away.

7. PERUSE the Scriptures. Just as we have carefully examined this passage to learn and receive great benefit, filling up with God's word will help to protect our minds

8.PRESENCE: And the God of peace will be with you. 
God's Presence is the Prize. He is Precious. All of the steps above are useful tools. But the single most important thing I can tell you is to Practice the Presence of God. When we praise, pray, pour into others and minister peace, we are inviting God's Presence and welcoming Him into our lives to allow His Spirit to work in and through us. Spending time alone with God is vital for refreshing and renewing our hearts and minds. If you've never asked Jesus to come into your life and began a relationship with Him, that is the first step you need to take--then these other steps will help you to grow.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. Don't be anxious, worried or afraid about anything, but in everything by prayer and asking with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (peace that is higher than human reasoning and knowledge), will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Parable of the Talents

Our gifts, talents and abilities give us a special purpose. When we use those talents to seek glory and fame for ourselves, they can destroy us like Herod, who was eaten by worms for accepting worship (Acts 12:29). Fortunately, we have grace and forgiveness. But when we use our gifts for their intended purpose, to bring glory, honor and praise to God, to build His Kingdom and encourage His people, we will discover an overwhelming joy.

I am writing this so that each believer can become a better receiver of God’s gifts and become more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives by using our gifts, talents and abilities for their intended purposes.

*Read Matthew 25:14-30 (I have included the full text at the bottom of this post in case you are unfamiliar with the parable of the talents or do not have a Bible handy)

1. The talents represent natural and Spiritual gifts
This parable demonstrates the importance of exercising good stewardship over the gifts God gives to us. The talents not only represent money, but ALL gifts that God gives us including teaching, music, craftsmanship, helps, hospitality and others.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

2. True servants produce fruit
So then, you will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:20

Cheneniah was the first formal choir director/music teacher recorded in history. He used his abilities to honor God and to help others:

Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful. (1 Chronicles 15:22)

We should also be fruitful with the way we use our gifts. For example, one of the ways that we spread the gospel and build up other believers is through music. In fact, the Hebrew word for Gospel, basar, actually describes an event, like a parade, welcoming a good King and the blessings of His Kingdom into our lives and sharing the good news with others through music. We use our gifts to produce fruit by increasing God’s Kingdom when we worship, proclaim the good news and encourage each other.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. (Psalm 95:2)

Be filled with the Spirit,,speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;… (Ephesians 5:19-20)

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)

3. Be good receivers of God’s gifts
For to the one who *has (received) more shall be given and he shall have an abundance.  Matthew 25:29

The word *has, in Greek is echo. It refers to someone who has laid hold of God’s gift, someone who is a good receiver. This is someone who has embraced God’s gifts and is using them. This is a servant who is a willing vessel to let God pour into them so they can overflow with blessings into the world. He will trust them with more gifts.

Pursue love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts… 1 Corinthians 14:1

The first time I ever went forward for prayer and had someone lay hands on me and pray for me, I told God that I wanted all He had for me, anything He wanted to give me…The man said “Sing.” My voice was healed and strengthened from some damage that had been done. At that time, I had been working every Sunday night for 4 years. A friend felt led by the Lord to get me a new job where I would never work Sundays. Within a few weeks I was asked to start leading worship at church. I was willing to receive God’s gift and He was able to use me.

We have already looked at ways to use our musical talents. Here are some verses about craftsmanship that show that ALL of our special skills and abilities come from God and have a special purpose:

I have filled him with the Spirit of God with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship/skills (Exodus 31:3) He has filled him with God's Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every kind of craft to make artistic designs…. (Exodus 35:31-32)

He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers--all of them skilled workers and designers. (Exodus 35:35)

Every craftsman in whom the Lord has put skill and intelligence to know how to do ANY work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded. (Exodus 36:1)

This last verse shows how these skills were meant to build God’s temple. The New Testament application is that these skills are meant to build up God’s church. Exodus 35 and 36 are a beautiful read about craftsmanship. They demonstrate the principle of building God’s Kingdom with freewill offerings, of making contributions from a generous heart and of working because your heart within you is stirred up to do it. We are free to work with passion and joy and to take great pleasure in doing the work.

Colossians 3:23 tells us: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. This means that our ultimate goal is to please God and remember that it is Him we are pleasing. We do not have to measure up to the standards of men, because God knows our hearts and if we are giving our best offering, it is always sweet smelling and acceptable to Him.

Ask God if there are any gifts He has given you that He wants you to use in a special way to bring glory and honor to Him and to increase and build up His Kingdom. Write down areas in which you are naturally or spiritually gifted that could be used for God’s purposes, to serve Him, to serve others and to help bring people to Jesus. Is there further study or practice that you could engage in to be a good steward of those gifts? Ask God if there are other gifts that He wants to give you.

*TEXT: Matthew 25:14-30: The Parable of the Talents

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has [willingly received] will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not [willingly received], even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (The worthless servant represents those who have never truly accepted God’s gift of salvation and allowed it to work in their lives. Burying the talent, shows that He did not want it. He represents someone who bears no fruit because they never received and used any of God’s gifts--salvation being the first gift)

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Jesus said that the whole point of the law and the prophets was this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He illustrates the need to demonstrate His love for others by caring for their physical needs. This parable also provides symbolism that helps us to understand the deepest spiritual needs of a human being.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho”: Jerusalem means “the teaching of peace,” or “the city of peace,” and it represents the Kingdom of Heaven. The name Jericho means “fragrant.” This once fragrant city really stunk. It had become corrupted and it represents this fallen world. Each of us enters this world as a marvelous creation of God, fearfully and wonderfully made with a special destiny and a purpose. This man represents all who have been mistreated, harmed and abused. He can represent anyone who has been cast down in the ditches of life or he can even represent a believer who has come into the Presence of God and gone out into this fallen world to carry the good news and then been despised, rejected and beaten down.

“and fell into the hands of thieves. They stripped him, beat him up and fled, leaving him half dead.” The church father Origen associated the thieves with hostile powers. I agree. Scripture refers to Satan as a thief, saying that “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I am come that they may life and have it to the full”  (John 10:10). We are told “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” –Ephesians 6:12 The thieves represent evil and the good Samaritan represents Jesus, restoring life and health to the one who was hurt. The fact that they stripped and beat him, shows that they did not honor or recognize his basic human dignity as someone created in God’s image. Robes represent authority and this shows how spiritual forces of evil try to steal authority that does not belong to them. Robes represent being clothed in righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and this shows how the enemy will try to steal away our dignity and our birthright. This text not only reveals the compassion God has on those who have suffered physical pain and trauma in this world, but it also represents the type of mental and spiritual abuse that is inflicted on our hearts and minds and shows us that we are all in need of healing.

“A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” The Priest represents legalism. He represents the Pharisees and the idea of being so wrapped up in our own selves that we cannot minister to others. Those of us who are believers have been made free so that we can focus on others, knowing that we are justified before God. The priest is an excellent representation of the Law. Since the man was left for dead, it is likely that he passed by on the other side of the road to avoid touching an unclean dead body, as he was probably going to Jerusalem to serve in the temple and did not wish to become ritually unclean. He is a perfect picture of the paradox of the Pharisees interpretation of the Law. A priest who was meant to minister to God and the people, failing to see the real reason behind the Law, neglecting the weightier matters such as helping someone in distress (Luke 11:42).

“In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” The Levite represents someone who has abdicated his authority. The Levites were priests by right, but he did not take this opportunity to minister to the man in need. Now, all believers are priests and the responsibility of caring for others has been given to us all. (1 Peter 2:9) We are all, as priests, meant to be representatives of Jesus. We are all meant to be good Samaritans. We are all, as believers, meant to protect people from thieves. The truth is, that Jesus, has called upon us to do good works and to meet people’s needs to show our love for them and to show His love for them and to draw them to repentance. His kindness is meant to lead to repentance. (Romans 2:4)

Jesus cares about physical needs:

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ’Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical NEEDS, what good is it?” -James 2:15-16

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is No More NEED”  -Malachi 3:10

“But a Samaritan on His journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.” One of the most fundamental aspects of God’s character is His compassion. Over and over again the Bible says “Adonai is gracious and compassionate/merciful, slow to anger, and overflowing with faithful lovingkindness.” Psalm 103:8

“He went over to him and bandaged his wounds.” This passage shows how Jesus comes to find us where we are. While He will always be there when we cry out to Him for help, many times we need help and are so messed up by the world we don’t know it, or don’t seek Him. In these times, He comes to us.

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.…”  (1 John 4:19-20)

God has shown us love and compassion and so we should show it to others. We should love our neighbor as ourselves. The literal meaning of this passage should be obvious, that we are to care about the physical needs of others, but the spiritual meaning is equally important. Psalm 147:2-3 tells us:

The LORD builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. 3He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:2-3)

Jerusalem represents the Kingdom of Heaven, this passage is about building the kingdom by gathering those who have been cast aside or separated from God’s people, who have been hurt or ignored by God’s people and by caring for their spiritual needs and spiritual wounds as well as physical ones.

“…pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out 2 coins, gave them to the innkeeper and said “Take care of him” For anyone who has ever been mistreated, abused, or cast down into the ditches of life, this passage brings hope. The oil and the wine represent the Holy Spirit and communion with Christ. The oil represents God's power to strengthen our bodies to heal our broken hearts and to renew and restore our troubled minds. The wine represents the sweet communion of a restored relationship with Jesus, the ability to pray and talk with God, to worship and be in a right standing before Him. It represents the friendship He earnestly desires to have with us. These elements represent ministering to those who are lost, those who are still in the ditches, this is about meeting physical needs in love, but this must be done in the context of meeting their deeper spiritual needs. We need to wash them with the water of the word and bring them to Jesus who can heal their souls. The coins represent tithing to continue providing for people’s physical needs so that we can meet their spiritual needs. The inn represents bringing people into a spiritual house such as a church to be cared for and healed. It is sad that the priest and the Levite did not take the man to the temple to be cared for. This inn represents the true church and how it should be a place of healing and restoration.

When I come back, I’ll repay you for whatever extra you spend.” The Samaritans promise to return represents the way that we should follow up, both with those who are physically ill AND with those who are newly saved. We need to have continuing fellowship and discipleship and contact with those who have just come out of the ditches of life. We need to faithfully teach them the word, continue to work for their physical and spiritual healing and then equip them to go out and help others. This also represents the way that Jesus rewards us for our good works
Ultimately, this whole parable is about being Jesus’ representative and showing others what He is really like by caring for them and meeting physical needs. That is the Literal meaning of this passage. The Spiritual or symbolic meaning in this passage is that caring for physical needs is used as a metaphor to present a picture of how we are meant to care for spiritual needs.
The passage ends with a commission. Jesus asked the question: “Which of these men proved to be a neighbor?” Who loved his neighbor as himself? The answer was “The one who showed mercy to him.” Jesus sends us out with these words:
Go and do the same.”
(Luke 10:25-37)
So, What’s the Take-Away? The parable ends with a commission. We have been sent out to be good Samaritans in this world. It is my hope that each reader will be able to minister to both the practical and spiritual needs of others by applying three principles taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

1. God cares for physical and practical needs (and so should we)
If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? James 2:16

2. Meeting physical needs paints a picture of meeting spiritual needs
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
Bandaging the man’s wounds represents bringing a person to Jesus and pouring on oil and wine represent the Holy Spirit’s healing work in our lives.

3. Everyone needs spiritual covering and protection
Bringing the man into the inn to be cared for by the innkeeper represents bringing a person with spiritual needs into the church to be cared for and covered by the spiritual protection of that house.

For Believers: List 3 practical ways that you can show Jesus’ love in your community by meeting practical and physical needs of others. How do these activities mirror the way we meet the spiritual needs people experience? How do these practical steps help build bridges to unbelievers?

For Seekers: Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is desperately sick, or foot-tracked. It paints a picture of Satan crossing every boundary, breaking every rule to viciously attack us at the core of who we are, our mind, our will and our emotions. It’s as if he has grabbed our heal, relentlessly pulled us down and then stomped all over our souls. Will you allow God to help you up? If you’ve never asked Jesus to come into your life, that is the first step. Allow Him to bring healing, restoration, renewal and peace. Seek a church where you can learn and grow in a safe atmosphere.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Living Water

Isaiah 12:3 promises: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  Refreshing, life-giving water is a precious commodity in the desert. And this world can be a harsh spiritual wilderness. The Bible often uses living water as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit to help us understand that God wants us to receive restoration, renewal and spiritual sustenance through our relationship with Him. He has also provided us with 4 special privileges to help us. 

David said: O God, you are my God; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water…Psalm 63:1

Psalms 42:1-2 expresses the same sentiment: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Our souls are thirsty and there is an amazing picture presented in the Bible of how the Holy Spirit works like Living water in our lives. This picture is often misunderstood because people don’t understand the context. It appears in Revelation chapter 3:15-16 in the letter to the church at Laodicea:

“I know your works that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spew you out of my mouth.” –Revelation 3:15-16

This verse contains some incredibly vivid imagery IF you happen to live in Laodicea in the 1st century: Each day as you wake up and walk out of your house you can look up from the valley and see the mountains—they appear to be snow capped, but you know there isn’t any snow—those are mineral deposits from the Hot Mineral Springs there. If you are in need of a restoring spa treatment, or some medical attention, you have a daily reminder that the waters await, just a few miles away at Hieropolis. The Hot Mineral Springs have healing, restoring properties. People still go there today to immerse themselves in the Hot Mineral Water and receive the benefits. This Hot water is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit’s healing, renewing work in our lives. Jesus’ said He would immerse us with the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for that is Baptizo and it decribes the way that a piece of wool is dyed by immersing it in dye and soaking every fiber of it through. In the same way that wool is dyed, or that a person soaks in a Hot Mineral Bath, Jesus is calling us to soak in His Spirit and receive His healing, restoring, purifying work in our lives. Acts 3:19 says times of refreshing will come in the Presence of the Lord. When we are in a spiritual valley, then just like the people from Laodicea, and the Psalmist, we can lift our eyes to the mountains where our help comes from and receive the benefits of the Spirit.

Further upstream from Laodicea, along the Lycus river is Colossae. The Colossians also had something that Laodiceans needed. Colossae is built into the side of a mountain and when it rains, the water that falls on the mountain seeps into the ground and is filtered through natural limestone. It comes shooting out the sides of the mountain in fountains of perfectly pure, crystal clear, ice cold, living water. In the Ancient Near East, where fresh water can be hard to come by, Refreshing, Life-Giving, Sustaining water is a precious commodity and this Cold Water is ALSO a metaphor for the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. When Jesus says “I WILL that you were Hot or Cold,” he is saying that he earnestly desires us to take advantage of the benefits that He died to bring to us. This Cold water is a picture of salvation, AND it is also a picture of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives.

But there’s more to this metaphor. There are 3 types of water mentioned in this passage and the 3rd is LUKEWARM. If you lived in Laodicea, much of your water was mixed together with the various warm springs and the water you had in your home would be contained in pitchers, or earthenware vessels. To help illustrate the picture that is being painted here, I once took a trip to El Dorado Springs, Missouri with a friend. With a name like El Dorado SPRINGS, you would think their water would be delicious, but you would have been wrong. The towns water stank, literally. They were known for having really bad sulfur water. And to top it all off, my boss asked me to bring some back for him. He gave me 4 thermoses, 4 vessels, to fill up with this liquid, claiming that all of the minerals in the water caused it to make really great coffee when it was hot. When we arrived, we visited a park in the middle of town that had a fresh water spring bubbling up—the water was delicious. I thought, THIS is the water to take home to my boss, fresh, clean, clear, cold—much like the water from Colossae. I filled up 2 of the containers from the spring and the other 2 vessels I filled up from the tap-using the hot water to get enough pressure—so those 2 were filled with Hot mineral water—much like that from Hieropolis.  2 days later my boss comes yelling down the stairs at me, asking if I was trying to kill him and demanding that I SMELL the water----all 4 vessels were rank—full of bitter, nasty smelling water with sediment in the bottom and pink slime floating on top……Welcome to Life at Laodicea. Water doesn’t stay fresh for long sitting in earthen vessels and the longer the vessel is away from the source—the worse it gets. 

The Laodiceans were very much dependant on the hot water from Hieropolis for their wool-dying industry and certainly jealous of the cold water enjoyed by their neighbor Colossae. These 3 cities were very much interdependant, Paul even instructed them to read each others letters. Any infrastructure such as water pipes and aquaducts had been destroyed about 30 years before this letter in an earthquake, making hot and cold water even more difficult to obtain for the Laodiceans, probably stirring up longing for the good old days, just as this letter is meant to stir up longing for an infilling of the Spirit of God. 

So here’s the problem: 2 Corinthians 4:7 says that “We possess this treasure (the Holy Spirit) in earthen vessels (our bodies) 2 Timothy 2:1 says “if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house ready for every good work.”  The primary industry at Laodicea was dying fine wool. Nothing could wash that wool cleaner than the Hot Mineral water from Hieropolis. Isaiah 1:18 says "Though your sins are as scarlett they shall be white as snow, though they are crimson, they shall be like wool." The people of Laodicea lacked good works because their vessels weren’t properly cleansed and filled up. This is why they were told in Revelation 3:18 to get white garments, representing being clothed with salvation and bringing to remembrance the bright, white, washed-clean wool. Once we receive Jesus, Ephesians 3:17 says that His Spirit lives in our hearts through faith and we know the Bible says “he will never leave us nor forsake us…no one will snatch us out of his hand and He will be faithful to complete the work he has begun in us.” Our eternal place with Jesus in heaven is secure, but by being continually open to His Spirit, we can allow him to complete the work he has begun in us so that we will be more fruitful. Laodicea also had a famous school of medicine, so the cities residents were keenly aware of the healing properties of ongoing treatment from the hot waters. In this same way, God continues working in our lives through His Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13 says: For by one Spirit we were immersed into one body…we were all given to drink of one spirit.  This is a picture of our vessels being washed clean and filled up. Just like a water bottle or coffee cup that needs to be refreshed and refilled, we need to be refreshed and refilled. In John 20:11 Jesus’ breathed on His disciples that they might receive the Holy Spirit. In Acts chapter 2, they were immersed with the Holy Spirit and received a spiritual gift and empowerment for ministry. In Acts chapter 4, they asked to be FILLED again and they were!!! They received yet another blessing and another spiritual gift—the gift of prophecy and they were able to speak the word of God with boldness. It isn’t that the Holy Spirit ever left them, it’s that they were more open to His work and welcomed it into their lives. The word “filled,” in Greek is Pleroo, it means to be totally and completely satisfied.

Clearly, God wants to fill us up, but there’s also another aspect of cleaning up our vessels that we need to consider: Being Poured Out. Romans 5:5 says that “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” And Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  God doesn’t just want to pour into us, He wants to pour through us, keeping our vessel continually cleaned out by pouring into the lives of others.

Here are 4 practical ways, 4 spiritual privileges which can help us to be more open to cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work in and through our lives:

1. Reading God’s Word and Teaching Others are ways that we guard our hearts and welcome the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

Proverbs 13:14 tells us that “Wise instruction is a fountain of life”

2 Timothy 3:16 shows us that we receive that wise instruction from God’s word: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16

Proverbs 4:20-23 shows us how God’s word guards our hearts, brings physical healing to our bodies and helps us to bring those same benefits to others by letting God pour through us: “My son, pay attention to my words-incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to their whole body. Guard your heart diligently for from it flow the springs of life.

2. Prayer is how we speak with God, partner with Him, build ourselves up and welcome his Kingdom on this earth. Jude 1:20 says: “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit Ephesians 6:18 exhorts us topray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests Prayer is how we connect with God and hear from Him.

Proverbs 16:22 says that “Insight is a fountain of life to one who has it.”

John 14:26 tells us that one way of gaining insight is through the Holy Spirit. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
3. Fellowship
Proverbs 10:11 says: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life”

The following verses show us how to keep the fountain flowing through relationships with other believers:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  -1Thessalonians 5:11

The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 1 Corinthians 14:3

The words we speak are a powerful tool that God uses to pour through us to build up, encourage and strengthen His people

4. Worship
Earlier, we talked about times of refreshing coming from the Presence of God and we heard the psalmist ask a question: My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”

We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Worship through music brings us into God’s Presence where we can meet with Him and have our thirst be satisfied. Psalm 36:8-9 speaks of this: “They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights, 
For with You is the fountain of life

Spending time in God’s Presence refreshes our souls and bodies.

In Revelation 22:7, God and all of the church issue the invitation to come into His Presence and drink: “The Spirit and the bride say “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.”

Ephesians 5:19 shows us how to apply this principal of worship along with all 4 spiritual privileges to experience the Kingdom of Heaven, right here and now: 

Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” 

This word “filled” is pleroo again—to be completely satisfied.

The Corporate worship in these verses shows us a picture of worshipping God in our hearts and allowing Him to pour into us, filling us up to overflowing while we teach each other, praise God, declare His word to others through music and worship and minister to Him through music. This passage is a picture of worship, the word, fellowship and prayer all flowing together. It is a picture of vessels being washed clean, filled to overflowing, closely connected to the source of our Living Water and Blessed to be a blessing to others. This is a picture of being ready to receive from God so that we can minister to others from the overflow. He will Fill Our Cup, so we can Lift Others Up. My prayer for you is this Blessing from Romans 15:13:

Now may the God of hope FILL you with all joy and peace in trusting, so you may OVERFLOW with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Cult of Personality: A Lesson For The Modern Church From Band Kids

After 8 years of phenomenal success, incredible growth, astonishing achievement and wonderful memories, Seneca High School got a new Band Director my Senior year. Our brilliant, talented, and charismatic leader had moved on and we experienced one of the most epic train wrecks of all time. It is an all too common tale. An amazing program is built around the personality and influence of one person and when that person leaves, it all falls apart in ruins. The church world recently experienced this when the Mars Hill network of churches was dissolved after the resignation of its larger than life founder and lead pastor, Mark Driscoll. NewSpring Church with 30,000 members spread out over 17 campuses had to fire their founding Senior Pastor Perry Noble in the summer of 2016. As James 3:2 says "we all stumble in many things." The Lead Pastor of The Village Church, Matt Chandler has gone counter-cultural, exhibiting incredible wisdom, selflessness and kingdom-mindedness by announcing a plan for all of their campuses to become fully autonomous. It has been said that people are master craftsmen of idols and we certainly have a tendency to idolize anyone, from our favorite sports heroes, to famous actors, to popular Christian singers, to celebrity preachers... Centering a church around the teaching or personality of any one person is unwise and inherently dangerous….Unless that one person is Jesus Christ. Following is a list of 4 suggestions that I would encourage churches to consider, which can help to safeguard and protect them from such trainwrecks. When a ministry is built around one person, that makes that individual an easy target. If Satan can take a ministry down by simply taking out one person, then we're in trouble. But if a ministry is built entirely around Jesus and His Body, the Church, He has already defeated the enemy and cannot be shaken. The following suggestions are intended to protect both Shepherds and their Flocks: 

1. Develop An Atmosphere of Inquiry
It is important that church authorities create an atmosphere where it is safe to ask theological questions, discuss differing opinions and inquire about the business of the church.  Questioning authority is not the same as defying authority. Accountability protects the church from false teachers. The Thessalonians dismissed the teaching of Paul and Silas. Contrastingly, the Bereans listened to what they had to say with open hearts, but then checked it against God’s word in Scripture. They held a high view of God’s Word and gave it more weight than the word of any man. Even within the church, any word given is supposed to be judged so that no one ever leaves having been taught incorrectly. Biblical submission is not blind submission.  It is willing cooperation with leadership that in no way discounts the priesthood of every believer.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. -1 Peter 2:9

2. Teach People to Feed Themselves
Teach people to think and study for themselves. Christian Teachers must respect the priesthood of each individual believer and work to help people to become competent in that regard. As a music teacher, my goal is to help my students progress to the point that they no longer rely on me, but are able to learn by themselves when I am not around. Great Bible teachers help people to develop good Bible study habits and the ability to communicate with God for themselves and to share their faith with others. While it is certainly appropriate to gather to listen to great Bible teaching, we shouldn't neglect the need for each believer to be a competent teacher. Every Jewish male who reached age 13 and was Bar-Mitvah'd had the fundamental right to speak and teach in the synagogue and spent considerable time preparing to exercise the privilege of aliyah, the right to ascend to the platform, read from the Torah and bless the people. 1 Corinthians 14 shows how this right to teach has now been given to all followers of Christ. It is important to be intentional about providing opportunities for Christ-followers to share with others in the church. 

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up...For you can all prophesy one by one so that all may learn and all may be exhorted. -1 Corinthians 14:26, 31

The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don't need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.  1 John 2:27

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -2 Timothy 3:16-17

3. Develop Teachers and Use Them
Forming a church around the teachings of one person is perilous, unless that one person is Jesus Christ. For example, John Wesley and John Calvin are two of the most influential men in church history. Each has his merits, but the teachings of both men also contain certain doctrinal errors that have caused major divisions in the church. We can respect and honor the contribution of individuals, without subscribing to everything they teach. Even in a small church with one main preacher, sharing the pulpit is a good idea. Developing a rotation of speakers to share part of the teaching responsibilities could prevent the church from becoming overly dependent on one charismatic personality. Other steps, such as establishing a special service on a Sunday night where multiple persons are given the opportunity to share, or an open-mic night like at a coffee house for testimonies and teaching, or a well organized evening of ministry where people share art, music and teaching from the word could help to provide opportunities for public teaching and to lessen the burden placed on just one teacher. Paul dealt with the issue of people identifying (idolizing) with a particular teacher, instead of identifying with Christ.

“Some of you are saying, "I am a follower of Paul." Others are saying, "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Peter," or "I follow Christ." Has Christ been divided?.....” For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” Are you not fleshly/unspiritual? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field. His building” (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-8)

Paul and Apollos are co-laborers who work for Christ. Just as we are all co-laborers with our pastors. Christ is the one we all follow.

4. Develop Pastors and Send Them Out
Paul planted young pastors and let them grow. This brings us to a sensitive issue. There is no doubt that planting satellite campuses, and even video campuses, has been very effective in bringing people to Jesus and growing new churches and even rescuing some struggling churches from closing their doors. Incredible teams of great people are doing phenomenal work for the kingdom of God in these situations. I am, however, concerned about the long term ramifications for the global church. Are churches looking to develop great teachers and pastors to send out to preach live? Is centering the church around the teaching of just one preacher healthy? Certainly, we need great Bible teachers who reach many people and we should cooperate with such leadership. But it genuinely disturbs me to think that we live in a day and age where a church can have over a hundred affiliates all watching the same preacher on video. The availability of technology does not automatically give merit to an idea. In other words, just because we can, doesn't mean we should. I have serious concerns about the “Walmartization” of the American church. Small, foundering churches in trouble are contacting large "successful" churches for help. Perhaps, instead of using a strategy straight from corporate America and taking them over, turning them into a video campus or affiliate church, would it not be better to send them a well- equipped preacher/teacher? Or better yet, an entire team that includes a live preacher? If every small, struggling church gets absorbed by the larger churches and begins showing video messages, will there be anywhere left for young pastors to develop? Could we be only one generation away from not having any preachers left? I do not wish to see evangelism hindered in any way, but I do wish to see approaches that take the long-term health and strength of the church into account. Maybe the video sermon will work as a short term, stop-gap solution to keep the doors open in certain situations and it has certainly been an effective means of getting a church plant started. I know there are places where few preachers want to go and there are churches that cannot find a pastor, or need help. In these situations, using a video sermon could serve in some ways like the Old West "circuit" preacher, making sure the word gets to where it is needed. But I believe that a healthy long-term plan needs to include the restoration or implementation of live preaching into every service in every congregation. Such a plan should foster well-mentored, connected, supported, yet autonomous local congregations with their own pastor/teachers. Is it not a noble idea to strive to be known as a church that sends out wonderful preachers, teachers and worship leaders?

CODA (Concluding Thoughts)
I came to Texas from a church with multiple campuses and I am currently serving in 2 wonderful churches that have satellite campuses showing sermons on video. I have seen God work in incredible ways through these great churches and the campuses they have started and have been thrilled to watch the revitalization of struggling churches and the successful planting of congregations in areas where they are badly needed. Please do not feel that I am questioning anyone's motives, or implying that they have done anything wrong. I LOVE my churches and pastors and the work they are doing for the kingdom of God. I will, however, share that when I have brought up important theological issues, I have personally experienced the responses of individuals with an unhealthy devotion to certain individual teachers and their churches brand name that superceded their devotion to the faithful and accurate teaching of God's word. What I am saying is that all congregations should look to the future and begin to make plans to secure the long term health of the church across the globe. 

The methods I have suggested are not new. They're Biblical and they work. John Wesley trained and sent out many preachers with whom he corresponded and mentored. In the 1750's, one of the first great church planting, church growth pastors in America, Shubal Stearnes, was very successful in planting a network of churches with their own pastors and allowing everyone to teach. I believe that these four strategies will set the church on the path to good health in this area:

1. Develop an atmosphere of inquiry 
2. Teach people to feed themselves 
3. Develop teachers and use them 
4. Develop pastors and send them out 

The level of organization, planning and wisdom being employed by the satellite campus planting churches is absolutely phenomenal and allows the church to reach many people for Jesus. I know that God has worked through them and blessed many people because of their faithful service which is to be highly commended. I hope that, as a global church community, we will become equally diligent about training and sending out live, in-house preachers as part of this effort. In my opinion, this is a crucial element, the missing piece of the puzzle that will allow this effort to be sustained long-term. Obviously, in order for this to work, people must be willing to go where they are needed and mentors must be willing to send them out. The church needs pastors who take as much joy in raising up great teachers as they do in delivering their own sermons and the church needs young pastors to stand up and say “Here I am, Send me.” And then it needs to send us. 

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for Us? I said: Here I am. Send me. (Isaiah 6:8