An Agile Spirit

agile

On the Orpolo firing range, in the southern region of Georgia (the country), on September 3, 2017, fifteen-hundred military servicemen participated in a multinational exercise involving offensive and defensive maneuvers.  The goal of the exercise was to increase “interoperability” between Georgian troops and other partner states (the United States, Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania, Ukraine and Azerbaijan), and improve “combat capabilities of the NATO Response Force” according to XINHUSNET. The military drill was perhaps aptly named, “Agile Spirit 2017.”

Military readiness training is essential to protecting the interests of the United States, both domestically and abroad.  It requires participating in these exercises on a regularly scheduled basis, with our allies across the world.

In this same way, SPIRITUAL readiness training is essential to every true Christ follower in order to be able, capable, and agile in response to the attacks which come from the spiritual forces of darkness.  As children of the light (John 12:36) we are encouraged by the apostle Paul to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:11

The apostle goes on to instruct (from a military perspective) the importance and description of each piece of this armor… belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes-gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Each one of these articles intended for offensive or defensive purposes, is critical to implement in our walk of faith.  Without any single one of the articles, our life as a Christ follower is laid bare and open to attack.  If any of these areas is weak, or poorly instructed, or not exercised effectively, we are laid bare and open to attack.  Continual training in all these areas renders us “agile in Spirit” and then capable of surviving the struggle which comes at us hard, and fast, and when we least expect it.

None of this even makes any sense unless we understand who our enemy really is.  God doesn’t want us to be naive in this world, or uniformed about our reality, or vulnerability.  So God impresses on Paul to instruct us: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

You might notice, that in essence there is really only one offensive weapon, listed last among all these spiritual defense elements:  The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Belts, breastplates, shoes, shields, helmets… none of these are weapons, they are protection against attack.  Perhaps that is why when tempted by Satan, Jesus Himself never relied on anything other than God’s own Holy Word, to engage the battle.  He said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  Matthew 4:4  The word of God, the sword of the Spirit, is what gives our faith the agile ability to resist the attacks of Satan.

James said it this way, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7

Here’s the thing.  If we don’t know what God’s word says, we are vulnerable daily, to the attacks of Satan. We may be wearing the armor: belts, breastplates, shoes, shields, helmets… but all we can really do is be sitting ducks for the attack that will surely come.  To be agile in Spirit, and capable of engaging this spiritual struggle, demands we regularly and consistently engage in the spiritual exercise of training… in the Sword of the Spirt, the truth of the word of God.

In the now famous words of Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise…

Engage.

 

 

Agile

Confession is not a Loophole

loophole

As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, a loophole is “an opportunity to legally avoid an unpleasant responsibility, usually because of a mistake in the way rules or laws have been written.”  I saw this word “Loophole” as the word of the day, and it took me back to those preschool and elementary days when my three children were young, impressionable, and teachable.  As parents one of the things we wanted our children to know in real time, is the consequences resulting from each choice they make.  When they were obedient, they were blessed and often rewarded with an extra book at bedtime, etc.  When they were disobedient, they were punished in a way appropriate to the offense, like no reading of their favorite book at bedtime that night.  Even the word “punished” can cause some reading this article now to be offended in our modern world of “loopholes.”

In my observation of Christian circles over the last forty years, the concept of confession has been poorly taught, and loosely interpreted.  I know too many people who live in a world where 1 John 1:9 is used like a get-out-of-jail free card, and play it often as a loophole to presume on God’s grace with no consequences.  What does this verse actually say?

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Like a pig who spends all day wallowing in the muddy dung floor of their stable, when we disobey God’s Word or Will, we become dirty, stinky, and unclean in God’s nostrils. There is not only a penalty (punishment) for this action, but also a consequence resulting from the action.  Disobeying God’s will, in the simplest of terms even Adam came to understand in the Garden, results in (consequently) broken relationship with God.  Adam could not claim there was a “mistake in the way rules or laws have been written” because God’s laws are perfect. (Psalm 119:138) And for Adam there was only one.

While there seems to be a sense at some point in the Genesis story that Adam and Eve were repentant, and God acted to cover them and save them, their confession did not take away the consequence of their actions.  So, if confession is not a loophole, then what is it?  I suggest the answer is found in the “attitude” of how a true Christ followers wields 1 John 1:9.

The kind of confession found in 1 John 1:9 brings with it two distinct grace born benefits to the person who comes in true repentance to the words of their confession.  First, by seeing their disobedience as “sin” and owning it, when this person confesses they appropriate that forgiveness of God provided through Jesus death on the cross.  This appropriation of payment for their sin is required by law.  Hebrews 9:22 says, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  (cleansing 1 John 1:9)

Second, in this attitude of true repentance, and turning back to God for their forgiveness, they not only are cleansed, but this confessing action results in restoration of their relationship with God.  Once again the Christ follower can walk and talk with God in joy, peace and contentment that the relationship is no longer estranged.

Neither the appropriation of God’s cleansing grace, nor the forgiving nature of restored relationship with God, circumvent consequences that result naturally from disobedience.  Sometimes the boat sinks.  Sometimes cancer strikes, homes are lost, children die, wars rage, divorce papers are served, and jobs lost… and sometimes it comes as a natural result of disobedience.

True repentance, resulting in true confession, will always have cleansing restorative power in our lives.

It is not a loophole to avoid the consequences of our choices or actions.

Loophole

Why Study?

study

Well, now that’s a good question isn’t it, “why study?”  I wasn’t always the best student in high school or college, because I studied a lot… but mostly the things I wanted to study, and not all subjects equally.  It seems I had “favorite” courses where it was easy to immerse myself in the salient facts of the lessons, memorize them, and regurgitate them onto a “blue book” (yes I know this dates me).  Other subjects I took (some more than once, ugh!) only because they were required for my degree.  I needed that high school and college diploma to get into Seminary.  I thought that once I got to really dive deep into the things that interested me most (God’s Word) then I would have the time of my life.  Do you know what I discovered in Seminary?  It wasn’t all peaches and cream, like I thought it would be.

For one thing, just like high school and college, it turns out I had my favorites subjects in Seminary too.  I found myself falling into old patterns of studying well for what I liked, and not so well, for the things that were boring to me.  It’s sad, but true.  In the end, the course work for my Doctorate?  Yep, same thing.

So here’s the thing, is it possible there are many people just like me, who have a love for God’s Word, and study well those stories they love, and avoid altogether the passages they deem either too hard to understand, or just to offensive to their 21st-century sensibilities?

There is a clear mandate from the Apostle Paul that we should study the whole Bible.
2 Timothy 2:15
Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Word of Truth here is the whole Bible, and if we are approved by God, we will study the whole thing, and find application to our lives in this world today.

God really hasn’t changed His mind about this, from the time Joshua was leading the people of Israel into the promised land.
Joshua 1:8
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.

Why should we study? So we can know what God expects of us, and do things His way, believing in His provision and protection in life.

The wisest man who ever lived (according to God), Solomon, said that knowledge for the sake of knowledge, was a grievous pursuit.
Ecclesiastes 1:13
And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.  It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.

Then, why study?

1 Thessalonians 4:1
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more.

And there it is…that you may excel still more.

Don’t study just to acquire more knowledge or facts.
Don’t study in pursuit of wisdom, oh the folly of that pursuit!

Pursue the study of God’s Word for a closer and more intimate relationship with the author of the Book!
Pursue the study of God’s Word to be acclaimed “approved!”, and capable of instructing others with what you have learned by application in your own life.

Why study?

Because it is impossible to know the depths of God, the LORD we serve and love, without knowing what He says about Himself, in the Scriptures.

And trust me when I say, you won’t get it all in a brief and cursory reading from Genesis to Revelation.  In fact, it has been my life-long pursuit since the time I could read, and God’s Word reveals more of God to me every single time I open the book.

My prayer for me, and for you today comes from a Michael W. Smith song:

Study

An Engraved Invitation

carve

If I could carve it into something tangible like a mountainside for all the world to see, I would.  If I could afford to fly around the world in a crop duster to every city, town and village on earth, to write the truth in smoke against the deep blue sky, I would.  We need to understand that “Intelligent Design” is not the same thing as “Creationism.”

Intelligent Design” is a scientific method of empirically determining the “apparent design” in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists; that it is genuine design, and that the designer is God.  [click on the link for a full detailed explanation]

Now that sounds pretty good to most evangelical/true Christ-followers, but danger lurks in those thoughts and ideals.  Allow me to make just a few observations.  First, and maybe most importantly, the supernatural beings created for the purpose of worshiping God and doing God’s will (Angels), know that God designed and created this world.  Some of those beings were led into rebellion against God by God’s highest angel – Lucifer.  These angels turned demon (1/3 of the heavenly host according to John in the Book of Revelation), have spent all of human history trying to convince humanity that God either doesn’t exist, or that He has lost interest in them altogether.  Yet, when Jesus came to earth to reveal God’s full and complete loving plan for salvation, Satan (Lucifer) called Him “Son of God” because even Satan knew the truth about creation, and the Garden of Eden… he was there.  All the fallen angels of heaven recognize Jesus when they see Him, and cower in fear at His omniscient and omnipotent Creative nature and character.

Second, since these supernatural beings know and believe there is a God and are not saved by Him, we should not presume that just because someone says “I believe there is a ‘being’ of some kind greater than us, that created everything we see,” that this is the same thing as salvation belief.  Knowing and/or believing that God exists is only the first step in being in right relationship with your Creator.  Let’s use Hebrews 11:6 as our proof text:  “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  Did you see the “and” there.  You might want to read that again.

The simple truth is that just because someone believes in an intelligent designer, does not mean they automatically believe that this designer rewards their efforts to know Him personally.  In fact some in this camp suggest that God “may” exist, and “may” be responsible for the design, but cares little or not at all about the humans now inhabiting this planet.  See the danger yet?

In the Bible, the authoritative, historically and scientifically proven document that reveals the Intelligent Designer Himself, truth regarding His nature and character is also revealed.  Like a huge engraved invitation across the universe of time and space, the words of Jesus ring out…

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  [John 3:16]

The truth is that not only did God design us, but He loves us so much, He is willing to die for us.  Which brings me to my last observation.

Finally, regardless of what the world may be shouting at us today, through any means available, there are NOT many paths to find this God of Salvation.  The Creator Himself has stated with authority, that only in Himself can a human being have a personal relationship with their Creator.  He said it this way:  “I AM the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the father but through Me.”  [John 14:6]

Believing there is a God, is not the same thing as yielding your life, your mind, your soul, your attitudes, your entire belief system to the authority of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  If you want to know the Designer of Life personally, Jesus says “Come!  And See!”

Jesus has already issued to you, your own engraved invitation… it is written in the scars on His back, the thorns in His brow, the holes in His hands and His side.

Come!  Come and see, and believe!  Come receive life… from the Creator of all things.

 

Carve

Think Funnel

funnel

Just suppose for a moment that the Creator had a grand plan for how humans would acquire spiritual knowledge of His existence, and of His desire to be in personal relationship with each human being on earth…

Somebody (Adam/Eve) messed that up for us, when they couldn’t just do the one simple thing the Creator said they must do.  The resulting consequence was that while the Creator would still work to reveal Himself and His grace to mankind, now it would happen outside the ideal conditions that would have made it so easy.  Don’t think “garden” here… think “obedience.”

Now consider that along the way, through the hundreds of years of disobedience by the human race, that the disobedience took humanity so far away from knowing God, that there was really only one thing God could do to remedy this horrible situation.  God determined He would come Himself (Jesus) and do whatever was necessary to restore the relationship between Himself and humanity.

What one man messed up for all of us, One Man/God restored completely, for ALL OF US.
Romans 5:19 – For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

When an individual person today, believes in this plan, and that Jesus came to be the Savior of humanity, God’s own Holy Spirit comes to reside within them, and teach them what God always intended them to know about Him.  Here’s where it gets a little tricky.  Because our minds today don’t work the way Adam’s mind did in perfection before the disobedience.  In the act of disobedience the original mental/spiritual connection between God and mankind was dissolved, this being just one of the ways that Adam died, even as God had told Adam he would.

However, when we come to Jesus in faith, and we are “in” Him in salvation, God’s Holy Spirit begins to re-establish this mental/spiritual connection with us.  The problem is, our minds have grown so dark, so crowded with our own petty lives, that there isn’t room enough for God to give us all He wants to give us, all at one time.  So what is it that allows for God to pour Himself back into us?  Obedience.

The apostle Paul says that we should take every single thought in our brains and hold it captive to the obedience of Jesus.  (2 Corinthians 10:5)  By doing this, we make room for God to pour more of Himself into our lives, which is what Paul meant by saying, “For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 2:16

To have the mind of Christ, think funnel, like the image above.  God, through the Holy Spirit, desires to give us so much more than we can receive.  Through the simple act of obedience, more of the clutter is removed from our life, and more of God’s Spirit can come into our life.  Most of the time, the receptacle (our hearts and minds) is too full of other things, for much of God’s Spirit to come in.  What is the answer?

Think funnel.  God is the pitcher full of grace, and knowledge of Him.  Our mind/heart is the size of the tiny end of the funnel.   How much of God can we get, if this is all clogged up, by disobedience, rebellion, stubbornness, and hard-heartedness?

Solution: Clean up the think-process, and turn in obedience to God’s Spirit.  Philippians 4:8 – Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things.

This simple act of obedience, will open the funnel of God’s love and grace into your life in wonderful and exciting ways!  Don’t wait.  Do it now.

Go ahead, unclog the funnel.

Funnel

The Win Some Factor

winsome

In our Bible Study, for the next several months, we are studying selected passages from the Gospel of Luke.  Luke acts as historian in his account of the life of Jesus, and desires to put everything in the correct order and accounting.  In our study we’ve only just covered the early years of Jesus birth, and the few verses describing His childhood and young adult life before His ministry.  Even in these less than detailed descriptions Luke says, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” -Luke 2:52

This image is not of a madman, or a raving lunatic spreading myths and fantasies, or heresy.  The winsome nature of Jesus, His engaging smile, His attractive appearance, His appealing character, caused people in every village and town to come running to discover more about this Man.  In Luke 18 Jesus is teaching and people were bringing their babies to Him so He would touch them, and the disciples acting like sentries tried to stop the people.  It wasn’t because the babies were crying, or that the young children didn’t want to be there because they were scared of Him.  The disciples just thought Jesus too important to be disturbed in this way. Yet Jesus tells them, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” – Luke 18:15-17

No man, or woman, before or since, could appeal to the masses like Jesus.  It was His winsome nature that won them over.  And it causes me to pause and reflect on the words of the apostle Paul once again, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” – Philippians 2:5.  Could it be that in this one phrase Paul has captured the very essence of the winsome nature of Jesus?  And could it not be said that what we should do, in fact must do if we truly want to reflect the light of love found only in Christ, that we must adopt this “Win Some” attitude found in Philippians 2?

Even a quick look around in many Christian circles today, it’s often all too easy to see judgmental, hypocritical, shallow attitudes of faith, poorly expressed, and dramatically ineffectual for changing our world.  These believers are not seen as “winsome”, like the Master they say they serve.  To the lost folk around them, these Christians are viewed more as a roach might view a can of “RAID,” and those lost folks run away in the opposite direction.  The lost are not attracted to this kind of faith, they are repelled by it.  Which might lend some understanding as to why Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,(who by the way, probably looked much like the description above), when he said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Paul did his best wherever he went to have the attitude of Jesus, and be winsome with those he met, in order to win some to Christ in salvation.  Too many folks today, who I know are true believers in Jesus, just don’t communicate their faith well to those outside their circles.  They’re brash, and proud, and their condemning spirits precede them, and the world turns to run and hide.  This looks nothing like the winsome nature of Christ who said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them…”

Only when we become childlike in our faith, trusting God’s Holy Spirit to lead us, trusting in Jesus’ power to save us, and allowing God’s miracle-working grace to transform us… will we truly become winsome in our nature and character, and begin to win some.

 

Winsome

I have a Reservation

reservation

My wife and I are planning a bucket list vacation trip in May this year.  We’ll fly to Seattle, then by rail take a trip across the Rocky Mountains in Canada from Vancouver to Calgary. With stops and excursions along the way it will be 14 days of fun filled adventure, and great opportunity to explore my developing photographic skills.

We’ve been talking about it for awhile, and made our deposit a couple of months ago.  While the trip itself is still about 5 months away, the anticipation of what we will experience and see is growing almost daily.

This got me to thinking…

One of the foundational truths of Scripture is that this world, this earth, this realm of reality, was never intended to be our final destination.  What Jesus told his disciples clearly delineates this truth.

John 14:1-3
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

There are so many wonderful promises held in these three verses.

  • God’s sovereignty affords us the means to never fear what our future may hold, and never be consumed by past events or mistakes, but to trust in Jesus’ ability to deliver us into God’s presence.
  • Jesus, Himself, is doing the work that provides a place for us, so there is nothing else we need to “do” except trust.
  • But perhaps the most tangible present hope and future exciting expectation is that there is a “place” for me.  Jesus says so.

But there’s a catch, so don’t miss the fine print in this documentation of God’s promise. Hear the words of Jesus clearly:

John 14:6
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Were I to try to individually make all the arrangements of travel, hotel, meals, and site seeing opportunities afforded me on this rail trip, I’d never make it.  I wouldn’t go.  I don’t have the skills, the knowledge, or the determination to do everything required for making this bucket list vacation happen.  But Rocky Mountaineer does.  They do everything necessary, and everything required to make this trip possible.  And I have my reservations!

In this same way, Jesus has done everything that is required by God to present you holy and blameless before God the Father, and initiate you into the heavenly kingdom of God as an eternal home. And there is a place specifically with your name on it.  Have you made your reservation yet?

Jesus is calling your name, right now… say “yes” to Him.

 

 

Reservation