The Narrow Gate…

As I read the Scriptures and learn more about following Jesus, I’m starting to think more about what it means to be a Christian. By this, I mean, what it really looks like to follow Christ.

I was reading Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” the other day and noticed something- something that I’ve read hundreds of times, but I saw something new in it this time.

Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.”

When I read these words, I can’t help but notice the seek and you will find part. What is it talking about here in this verse? What is Jesus saying that we will find?

I think that the next section in the sermon gives us the answer:

Matthew 7:13-14 says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”

I think that Jesus is talking about seeking life. He said that if we seek it we will find it. So if we seek life we will find it. If we ask for life it will be given. If we knock the door to life will be opened.

So, why would Jesus need to say these words? Isn’t everyone seeking life?

I think that everyone is seeking something, but not everyone is seeking life. I think that so many aren’t seeking life, because they don’t know that their dead- spiritually dead of course. I think that so many of us don’t realize that there is more to knowing God and experiencing the life that He gives.

So, why did Jesus teach to seek life? I think it’s because we are seeking the wrong things. If you look at the following passage in vs. 13-14. You will notice that Jesus is comparing two paths or two gates; one is wide and the other is narrow; one leads to life and the other leads to destruction; many are entering one and few are finding the other.

You see, I think that many people are actually on the wide path- the path that leads to destruction. I think that many people are seeking the wrongs things. Even those people who call themselves Christian. The word Christian literally means “Christ Follower.” Which would leave you to think that Christians would look like Christ and try to act like Him.

Statistically, in America, about 60 to 70 percent of people say they are Christian. America is called the “Christian Nation.” I, however, don’t think that this is true any more. I don’t think that everyone who calls themselves Christian are really Christian.

ok… now I have your attention! Now you’re probably thinking, “This guy is starting to sound a little crazy!” But please hold on for a second and hear me out! I’m going somewhere with this.

You might be thinking, “Where is he coming up with this stuff?”

Let me take you to two passages of Scripture very quickly:

1st is John 6:63, which says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all!”

Jesus is telling His disciples that life can be found in the Spirit. In His sermon, Jesus says that whoever seeks life will find it. Then in John, He says that life is given by the Spirit. Wow! Let me explain: I think that when we really seek life through Christ- to be a Christian- we will find it. Meaning that when we seek to find God, God as He says He is, then we will find Him- He will reveal Himself to us and we will know and be known by Him. After that, the Spirit will grant us the gift of spiritual life and we will be made anew.

2nd is Romans 8:9 which says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

This verse is where I will end this whole thing.

This is where I’m questioning the whole validity of everyone’s “so called” experience with God or everyone’s claim to be Christian.

It is the Spirit that give life. We will find life if we seek for it. Few will find it, however. And then, those without the Spirit do not belong to Christ or are not Christian.

I think Francis Chan does a very good job of summing this up in his book Forgotten God. Let me share it to you:

“Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again and say that they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?”

Francis Chan, Forgotten God, pg. 33

In closing, let me ask you a question: Would you say that you are Christian? If so, can you honestly say that you have new life? If you can’t answer this question, then chances are, you don’t. So take another look at Romans 8:9 and try to honest with yourself. Do you have the Spirit? If not, then maybe you are seeking the wrong things. Maybe your on the wrong path- the wide one…

If you have to admit this to yourself, it’s not a bad thing. Don’t listen to the voices in your head telling you that you are bad! It’s a good thing that you’ve discovered this! It’s a very good thing!

It’s a good thing, because you now have the choice to change what you are seeking. You can change your path and maybe, just maybe you will find the narrow one. Remember: ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened!

Forgotten God_ “I’ve got Jesus. Why do I need the Holy Spirit?”

Due to the fact that this study and most of it’s thoughts are from someone else, I would like to give credit where credit is due! Thank you Francis Chan for your work and leading in writing the book “Forgotten God.” It has been a truly convicting and learning experience. Also for the sake of copyright laws, the ideas, thoughts, illustrations, and research presented below are NOT original to me! I did not come up with this stuff!

Bibliography

Francis Chan, Forgotten God, David C. Cook Publishing, CO: Colorado Springs, 2009

Introduction

“We may as well face it: the whole level of spirituality among us is low. We have measured ourselves by ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone… [We] have imitated the world, sought popular favor, manufactured delights to substitute for the joy of the Lord and produced a cheap and synthetic power to substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost.”

-A.W. Tozer

We need the Holy Spirits guidance in our life. We need the Holy Spirits conviction in our life. We need the Holy Spirits power in our life.

Let me ask you just a few questions to start off.

  1. What do you know about the Holy Spirit?
  2. What does the Holy Spirit do?
  3. Have you ever experienced the Holy Spirits power?

If you said no to question number three, this is the very issue that we will be addressing tonight. I believe that most of us have absolutely no idea the power of the Holy Spirit for our lives. Take a look at these two verses:

John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all!”

Romans 8:9 says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

It is the Spirit that gives life and anyone without the Spirit does not belong to Christ! Wow!

Do you believe this statement is true? Do you believe the Bible when it says this?

If so, why have you never experienced the power of the Holy Spirit?

You see, I don’t think that we really believe the Bible when it says things about the power of the Holy Spirits work in our lives. I don’t think we really believe that God can do great things with us. We may believe He can do great things through us, but no with us.

What do we actually believe?

Let’s look back at the A.W Tozer quote for a second.

“We may as well face it: the whole level of spirituality among us is low. We have measured ourselves by ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone… [We] have imitated the world, sought popular favor, manufactured delights to substitute for the joy of the Lord and produced a cheap and synthetic power to substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost.”

-A.W. Tozer

Tozer says that we have measured ourselves by ourselves until the desire to seek the higher power of the Spirit is gone. Let me explain this, Tozer is saying that we are measuring our power in this world by our own power, but if the Bible is correct, then we Christians should be measuring our power by the power of the Spirit. Tozer is saying that we have sought after too much of the world and have actually become like it. So much like the world,  we have actually started to produce cheap worldly fruit/power instead of Spiritual fruit/power.

Why do you think it is that we have done this? Let me share a short section of the book to you:

Most of us assume that what we believe is right but have never really studied for ourselves. We were simply told, “This is the way it is,” and didn’t question. The problem is much of what we believe is often based more on comfort or our culture’s tradition than on the Bible.

Francis Chan, Forgotten God, pg. 29

How many of you have ever truly read for you the beliefs you have from Scripture alone? How many of you derived some or most of what you believe about Christ, the Bible, God, The Holy Spirit, and the Church from your pastor, parents, or friends?

Let me share you a cool story from the book:

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door and initiated a conversation. I had a lot to do, so I prepared to send them on their way. But as they began their spiel, I decided to take a few minutes and engage them. I gently told them that I found their teachings about Jesus offensive because they taught that Jesus was the same person as Michael the archangel. I told them that I believe He is God. My visitors replied, “No, Jesus/Michael is the only archangel. There are no other archangels.” So I asked them to open their Bibles to Daniel 10:13, which reads, “But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me.” I pointed out that this passage is clear: Michael is only “one of” the chief princes (or archangels).

This caught them off guard. They told me they’d never heard or read this before. Now that I had their attention, I said, “There’s no way you can look me in the eyes and tell me that you sat down one day seeking to find God, read the Bible, and came to the conclusion that Jesus is the same person as Michael the archangel. No one could come to that conclusion. You only believe it because that’s what you were told, and I don’t want to stand here and spoon-feed you something else.” With that, I challenged them to read the Bible for themselves, rather than simply accept what they’ve been told about it. They went away that day and said they would consider doing that.

Francis Chan, Forgotten God, pg. 28-29

To be completely honest, I think we are just as hypocritical as these two Jehovah’s witnesses. How can we say that we believe anything about Jesus or the Holy Spirit without actually checking it out for ourselves.

I think this is what A.W. Tozer meant when he said, “the whole level of spirituality among us is low. We have measured ourselves by ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone…”

Imagine this…

Imagine for a second that you had never been to an American church before, in fact, imagine that you were alone on an island with nobody or anything but the Bible. If you or I had never been to church and had read only the Old and New Testaments, we would have significant expectations of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Think about it. Before Jesus’ death he told the disciples that “another Counselor” is coming. In John 16:7 Jesus goes as far to say that it is to their advantage that He leave so the Spirit could come!

Imagine that you just spent the past 3 years walking and learning with Jesus, then one day He just says it’s better that I leave you so that you can have the Spirit! It would leave you thinking that “Man, this Spirit thing must be really awesome!”

Then in Acts 1:4-5, after Jesus died and came back, he told the disciples to chill in Jerusalem and wait for the Spirit to come. Most historians believe they waited up to around 3 months!

Then in Acts 2 this promise of the Spirits coming was fulfilled and 2000 people came to believe in Christ in one day.

So if we were to have read and believed these accounts, outside of the church bubble, then we would have most definitely have a greater expectation of the Holy Spirit.

The Power of the Spirit

Romans 8:9 says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” In 2 Cor. 6:19-20 Paul says it again, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”

So by these two verses, if true, we have the Holy Spirit- Part of the Triune God- living inside of us. This Spirit living inside of us gives us a new power like never before. Not only are we no longer spiritually dead in our sins and forgiven of our sins, we are now gifted with the unique and awesome power of the Holy Creator God! How amazing of a thought is that!?!

So when it comes to our interactions with others, the power of the Holy Spirit should be present in a supernatural way, that is if He lives inside of us, that is if we are His. We ought to look completely different from those outside the church. Our actions, our lifestyles, our attitudes should look way different.

Let me stop here for a second. If the Spirit living inside of us gives us new actions, new lifestyles, and new attitudes then it is not by anything that we did, it is solely by the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us that fights off sin. Check out these verses about the Spirits purifying us:

2 Thess. 2:13 says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Rom 8:4 says, “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

Rom. 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”

So, it is the Spirit’s power inside of us that changes our actions, our hearts, and attitudes.

Illustration

Pretend for a second that I told you that I had an encounter with God where He entered by body and gave me a supernatural ability to play guitar that would just blow your mind, wouldn’t you expect to see an amazing improvement in my shredding skills?

So, if you saw no change in my ability, wouldn’t you question the validity of my “encounter?”

Chan says in his book:

Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again and say that they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?

Francis Chan, Forgotten God, pg. 33

We say that there is something radically different about us than the rest of the world, but if we were to step back and look at our lives could we honestly say that the power of the Holy Spirit is present causing this radical change? Or must we honestly admit that often lack the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, longsuffering,… when some of our non-believing friends may even exhibit these traits better than us?

Conclusion

So, when Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He comforted the disciples in telling them to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them that it was better for Him to leave and they have the Spirit than for Him to stay and they not have the Spirit.

Which are you desiring most- Jesus or Jesus through the Spirit?

And this question is one I just can’t get around: If it’s true that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that our bodies are the temple of the Spirit, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of them and the person who does not?

One more short illustration

For all its caterpillar life, it crawls around a small patch of dirt and up and down a few plants. Then one day it takes a long nap. A long nap. And then, what in the world must go through its head when it wakes up to discover it can fly? What happened to its dirty, plump little worm body? What does it think when it sees it tiny new body and gorgeous wings?

As believers, we ought to experience this same kind of astonishment when the Holy Spirit enters our bodies. We should be stunned in disbelief over becoming a “new creation” with the Spirit living in us. As the caterpillar finds its new ability to fly, we should be thrilled over our Spirit-empowered ability to live differently and faithfully.

Francis Chan, Forgotten God, pg. 37

I want to live so that I am truly submitted to the Spirit’s leading on a daily basis. I want to live like my God really exists! I want to live like Christ’ words about it being better for me that the Spirit came to be true. I want to live in a way that Bible critiques everything I say or do. Just like the caterpillar, I don’t want to keep crawling when I have the ability to fly.

The Grace Effect_ “Grace Transferred”

Introduction

As everyone enters, the youth leaders are running around giving very awkward hugs, high-fives, and fist bumps… but the key word is very awkward!

So, tonight we are finishing our series entitled “The Grace Effect.” And the series is about the effect that experiencing grace has on our lives- that when we truly experience grace than we have no choice but share it with others.

Tonight as you guys entered the room, we did gave out a lot of hugs, high-fives, and fist bumps, which for some, maybe most of you was extremely awkward.

I mean, having some super excited person running up to you and welcoming you into the room with some crazy long hugs is kind of weird. And who, besides me, gives out high-fives and fist bumps all the time? It’s pretty awkward if you ask me.

Some you guys are people-people, this just means you love to interact with people. Others of you are not people-people, which means you just don’t like the idea of different people entering your space. I’m more a people-person. I love to interact with lots of people. In fact, my brain kind of shuts down when I’m not able to be around people for a long time. I’m the kind of person that loves being loud and excited and fun with lots of people. But some you in this room would be scared to death to be in a crowded room and the center of attention. It would terrify you to have to let tons of people into your personal space or interact with lots of people all the time. But there’s nothing wrong with either! Nothing more mature about liking lots of people and nothing lest mature about liking less.

Some of you have hundreds of friends on Facebook- I have like 482- others of you have closer to around 100. There’s nothing wrong with either. Being spiritually mature does not mean that you have to be extremely vocal or more of a people-person.

Tonight as we talk about grace we are not going to talk about accepting everyone into our personal space, or that being a more gracious person means being more of a people-person. What we are going to talk about tonight is when we decide to exclude people from our circles- when we decide not to accept people. A little different…

Illustration

Have you ever seen a little kid, maybe when you were in elementary school or maybe for those of you in junior high, that just tried so hard to be accepted by the crowd? This kid wants so badly to fit in with everyone else. You can watch them trying so hard to fit in, trying so hard to connect, trying so hard to join the rest, but for some reason they just aren’t cutting it. It’s hard to watch this kind of kid. It just breaks your heart.

Why do you think it so hard to watch these kind of people, or maybe this kid what you? But why is it so hard?

It’s hard because none of us were made to be excluded. We were never made to not like one another. We were never supposed to hold grudges against one another. We were never made to just not like one another. We were never made to hold bitterness or frustration against others because we refuse to share grace. We were never made to be alone.

In fact in Genesis 2:18, God says, “It’s not good for man to be alone, so I will make a helper suitable for him.” Adam was chilling with the animals, he liked the deer and the antelope, but they just didn’t cut it for him. He didn’t fit in with them. So God made him a helper- Eve. And Adam was like “Alright! I like that!”

When I read this verse, I’m not just talking about Adam having a wife, but the idea that was placed was that Adam needed help. Adam needed a friend. Adam needed another person. We are the same way- we need one another. The OT and the NT talks a lot about this idea of community- people needing each other.

In the OT book of Ruth, it talks about people gleaning from the fields. Gleaning in a way is reserving part of a crop or field to give to the poor. The farmers of this day would plow, plant, and harvest all of their crops but would section off a part to give to those who were poor. Also in the book of Ruth, every seven years all debts were forgiven. No matter how much you owed someone, after seven years they would always forgive the debtor. So we see them freely giving of themselves to the poor and forgiving the debts of those who owed them something. In fact, we see these two concepts all through the Bible- the free gift of grace and the forgiveness of debts.

Matthew 18

Jesus deals with this issue in Matthew 18, which will be where we spend the majority of our time tonight.

In this chapter verses 15-20, Jesus is teaching on how to forgive a brother who sins against you. We aren’t going to really talk about this tonight, but I suggest you take a look at it tonight when you get home or spend some time in it this week.

In verse 21, where we will be tonight, Peter asks, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven?” So Peter is asking, “When someone does wrong to me, how many times should I forgive them? Seven times?”

Now, to understand this question and the meaning of the “seven times” we need to understand the teaching of the day. The Rabbis of that day taught that you must forgive someone three times and after the third time, you’re done with the person.

So basically someone could do wrong to you 3 times and then you can write them off as a friend or disowned them as a family member. You no longer had to talk to this person again. They were threw! Finished! Done! Over! 3 strikes you’re out kind of policy, which seemed to work pretty well.

But Peter, understanding that Jesus was kind of an extremist when it comes to His teachings, guesses a little higher- seven times instead of three. I mean, seven seems like a good number to me; wouldn’t seem like a good number to you? Four extra times to the three original times seems pretty extreme to me!

Jesus answers Peter saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” When I read these words of Jesus to Peter, I’m asking myself, “77 times 7 equals…” I’m thinking, “Why is Jesus throwing math into His teachings?”

But the disciples understood exactly what Jesus was talking about. They understood exactly what Jesus meant.

You see, one of the ways a teacher of this day would teach his disciples was to make bold or exaggerated statements based upon OT passages. Jesus was doing this here. Jesus disciples knew Scripture and would automatically know what Jesus is referring to in the OT. If you have a pretty decent study Bible, sometimes you can see a word with a reference to another passage in the OT. It’s important most of the time to go and check those out to see what is really going on the story.

So Jesus was referencing a passage here in the OT, so let’s take a look! Turn to Genesis 4. Now, in this passage there’s this guy names Lamech. Lamech was a man’s-man. In my mind I think of Lamech as one of those ancient warrior types from one of those Lord of the Ring movies. Maybe he’s one of those guys who carries a big axe or a bow and is covered in animal skins and a long nasty manly beard.

Lamech says this in Genesis 4:23-24 [imagine a barbarian voice]

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me and a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

Basically, Lamech is saying, “I am man! Hear me roar! I am a Barbarian, don’t mess with me!” This dude was like the most manly man you could ever imagine! Jk

Lamech is saying, “I will seek vengeance and I will go after vengeance like crazy- 77 times.”

Back to Jesus…

So Jesus referenced this story and I doing so is saying that as eager as Lamech was to seek vengeance, you are to be in seeking forgiveness. Lamech is this dude who was saying, “I am the man. I am going to seek vengeance to the fullest. I will not stop until vengeance is mine.” So, Jesus is telling us that He wants us to reach to the same lengths in forgiveness. Jesus is telling us that He wants us to do everything in our power to forgive, everything possible, to not give up until we can go no more.

Conclusion

In much of Jesus’ teachings, He doesn’t separate loving God and loving others. In Deuteronomy 6 there’s this passage called the Shemah. It was a Jewish prayer that was prayed every day before leaving the house; and it simply says, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

In the NT, Jesus teaches on this passage but adds one small thing to it. He says to love the Lord God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. In much of Jesus’ teaching, He doesn’t separate loving God and loving others. In fact, it seems as if He sees them as one command.

The Way of Scripture is often a way of forgiving and offering grace. A passionate pursuit for true love, if you will.

Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the remembrance of God rather than burnt offerings.”

In Colossians 3:12 it says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Do you see the pattern? We forgive because we were forgiven; we love because we were loved first. We take care of the poor and the widows because God takes care of us. We offer grace because it is pouring out for us.

Jesus, in Matthew 18, kind of hits for the fence when he tells the story of a servant. Let me read it to you.

Matt. 18:23-35

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all they had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe!” So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

How could we say that we are followers of the ultimate Forgiver and not be willing to forgive others ourselves!? How could we say ever say that we love God and not be willing to love others as well? How dare we say “God accepted me as I am, but I will not accept you?”!

For Jesus, loving God and loving others was a single command. For Jesus, saying to love your neighbor as yourself was like saying prove your love for the Father by showing love to others.

So I leave you tonight, with a single thought: Do you have someone who you are unwilling to forgive? Do you have someone who you are not accepting, for whatever reason?

We were never made to be rejected but to be accepted by an all-forgiving Father!

Understanding Self…

People say that the hardest thing to do is understand people. I think that is the second hardest- the first is self! The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:14-20 some pretty hard to digest words:

15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

I feel the same way sometimes, “I do not understand what I do!” I find it so hard sometimes to understand myself, my motives, my reasons behind things, and even my own thoughts. Do you feel this way too?

I so desperately want to do what is right in God’s eyes. I so desperately want to know and understand His ways- truth, but I continuously struggle with it.

Paul says that he “knows that nothing good lives inside of me, that is, in my sin nature.” It seems to me that Paul struggled with the same thing as I. Paul, however, gives the answer as to why it is this way. Paul says that it is the evil that lurks inside of him.

Now, as I look at myself, I can see the evil that is there, but I can’t see how it manifests itself always. I’ve discovered that the sin problem is so deep rooted, so ingrained (like white trash DNA) that I can’t possibly get rid of myself. There is absolutely no way that I could weed through all of the tares that are mixed in with this wheat. But there is someone who can, someOne who does do this very thing of weeding out the tares. His name is the Holy Spirit- the Great Counselor.

With that said, I want to stop for a second and focus on the Counselor Himself. I’ve been to a human counselor before, when I was a child and I’ve had the opportunity to have some counseling classes in college. I’ve learned that a good counselor takes his time and works patiently to help a person through their problems. You see, people have problems- lots of them! Everyone does, not just the clinically insane! We all have the OCD tendencies if you will, things that drive us crazy, things that cause us to think bad things about people, and things that misconstrue the truths that we have heard. A good counselor is patient, but brings these things to the surface so that we can see them and identify the deep problems as practical ones. To see the deep rooted problems in our life is to see be freed from their control in your life. A good counselor does this. I think this is exactly what the Holy Spirit does in our lives when it comes to sin.

We can’t possibly weed out all of the sin in our life, because we are blind to it- we don’t know how much of it is there! Here’s a story to illustrate: Rachel’s aunt and uncle, totally wonderful people, just adopted their second little girl from China. The little girl speaks very little english but is brilliant, funny, and beautiful. However, she does have one very obvious physical defect- her left hand is missing all its fingers. This little girl was either born without fingers on this hand or lost them at a very early age. But the neat thing is, she doesn’t act like she misses them! She does everything that her new sister does without any complaint or problem! She doesn’t see that there is a problem with her hand. She doesn’t notice that her hand doesn’t work like it should. She doesn’t notice it because she never known different.

I think that we are blind to our own sin because we were born into it; meaning that we have lived with this “physical” defect for so long that we don’t even notice that it’s not as it should be. So just like Rachel’s new cousin isn’t bothered by her hand, we are not bothered by our sin!

But the sad fact is, the sin is still there. I know the sin is still there because I still can’t do what I know I should. I know it’s still there because I can’t stop doing what is wrong. In fact, I think that most people, whether they realize it or not, know that there is some kind of problem in the world that needs to be fixed. Remember when you saw the Haiti tragedy on TV? Remember the feelings and thoughts running through your head? You knew that it was wrong! You knew that something was wrong! You knew that “this is not how it’s supposed to be!”

Maybe you blamed God, maybe you blamed society for all the pollution; whoever you blamed, the fact still remains- something is wrong! This is not how it’s supposed to be!

My struggle right now as I write is this: Why do we continue to live as if the problem doesn’t exist? Why do we let the problem continue in our lives? Why are some many of us, including myself, not going to the Counselor for help?

If we knew that something was wrong with our mental stability, we would make every effort to get it fixed! We would never miss an appointment with the doctor. Why is that? I believe it’s because we would understand that we are broken and need to be fixed.

Do you understand that you are broken? Do you want to be fixed?

It’s time to make an appointment with the Counselor! It’s time to get some help! It’s time to stop denying the truth you know inside!

I’m calling in right now to make mine, don’t wait! Join me!

Revive the Boneyard

So, I’ve had this blog for about two months now, but I’ve never explained why it’s entitled as it. Check this passage out, I think it will explain it better than I ever could…

Ezekiel 37

The Valley of Dry Bones

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath [a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ “

Holding on…

I’m a pack rat. I keep everything. I mean, everything. If it’s old, beat up, and used I’m going to find a place for it. It doesn’t matter what it is, I’m just unable to let it go. Have you ever wanted to hold onto something? It’s hard letting things go… definitely when it means something to you. And then, even more, if not holding onto the “something” means that you could never see it.

I was watching a sermon the other day from one of my favorite pastors. He was talking about dating from the Song of Solomon. He kind of went on a small rant about how some people say they are satisfied with being alone just to convince God that they are really “ready” to date. By “ready” I mean, spiritual enough to handle a godly relationship. How, true it is the statement this pastor said. Some people do just that, say to everyone, “God is enough. I don’t need to date right now, I’ve got Jesus.” But as soon as everyone “knows” they are “ok” with being single, they expect God to give them what they “really” want- a relationship- not Jesus. But are we really “ready” if we are still waiting on God to give us something?

I’ve discovered I’m kind of like this with holding on to things in my life that are important to me. I act like these things don’t matter and pretend that I’m “satisfied” with only Jesus, but if I would be completely honest with myself I would have to admit that I am lying. I don’t think that we, being people, know how to be just satisfied with Jesus alone. I mean, when is the last time that you gave up something tangible to pursue your relationship with Jesus? Would you give up your car if it got in the way of Jesus? Would you give up your Xbox? Would you give up your house? Would you give up your job? Better yet, would you give up the ideal life that you had always planned for the pursuit of an obedient relationship with Christ? I find it very hard to pursue the relationship over the “wants” of this life.

In fact, I’ve been fighting this battle my whole life. I give up one thing to be obedient, then Jesus comes along and asks for another, then another, then another… Will it ever stop!? But the real questions is: What kind of person would I be if Christ stopped being first? Would I, could I become like one of those TV evangelist who say that if you follow Jesus, He will give you everything you’ve ever wanted? I hope not. For me, and this probably isn’t for everyone, but I found that following Jesus means giving up my wants for His; which is an extremely hard and long process. I mean, it’s hard when I’m fighting Him, but when I finally give up because I can’t hold out any longer the peace and happiness that comes from Jesus alone is always worth the pain.

I’ve found that our worries are of this world, and our pains are many times because of our disobedience. We want until we can want no more, until we are full of one thing and move on to another. We worry about the things we have and it cripples us into fear. We worry that we “won’t have enough,” that “things won’t be the same,” and “what if we run out of money?” I’ve found that we don’t put enough faith in the One who gives us everything.

Matthew 6:25-27 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

If God is good enough and powerful enough to feed the birds of the air then He is certainly good enough and powerful enough to feed us. But this of course takes faith. This statement in itself takes means we move from passivity to activity. This statement itself means that we must do something with our faith, or there may be no faith at all.

So, I’m holding onto stuff and Jesus is holding on to me. I’m waiting for a “want” while Jesus is waiting for me. I hope that He will be patient enough for me to come around…

New Series!

Powerful.
When is the last time someone used that word to describe you?

It doesn’t make sense that Almighty God would have children characterized by fear and insecurity. He put His Spirit in us so we could be known for our power. Sadly, most believers and churches are known for talent or intellect rather than supernatural power. What’s worse is that we’re okay with it.

Could it be that we’ve forgotten the One who distinguishes us from every religion and cult in the world?

It’s time for the beloved Church of Jesus Christ to reverse the trend of neglect. let’s pursue the Spirit-filled life of effectiveness God desires and we desire.

The Grace Effect_ Grace Experienced

Introduction

We are in our third week of this series, entitled “The Grace Effect.” The basis for this series is the fact that when grace is truly understood, it will have a drastic effect on our lives. So, grace has an effect…

Last week was the hardest week for me as a speaker. It was the hardest because I had tried to define grace for you. The definition that we came up with was from the OT picture of grace and the NT picture of grace. In the OT we see a picture of a God that was about keeping His promises and does not give up on His people; we learned from the OT that everything is about God. That everything is about how God held His end of the deal, how God pursued, and how God maintained the promise.

From the NT picture we saw that God will go to any lengths to keep His promise. We noticed how the NT picture of grace wasn’t logical or practical. That even though we failed in holding our end of the deal, God decided to keep it for us. We can see from the NT picture that God is good. God is good in the fact that we could not keep our end of the promise so He kept it for us by sending Jesus.

So for us to have a practical or working definition of grace we said that grace is the goodness of God.

But last week was still hard for me. Why was it hard? It was hard because I don’t believe that a definition in itself accurately tells us what grace is. In fact, I’m not even sure if we can really define grace.

You can read about grace in the dictionary, you can study about grace in a Sunday school class, you can talk about grace with your pastor, and you can read a book about grace, but the fact is, even after all of this you may still not have a more accurate understanding of grace than you did in the beginning.

Why is this? Because some things just can’t be explained; some things just have to be experienced; some things can’t be simply defined and we move on. Grace is one of those things, grace can’t just be explained, taught, or defined and then we completely understand it and move on. Grace is one of those things, even though we try, can’t be explained or completely understood- grace must be experienced.

Things on Grace

This week as I studied and prepared I came across some cool things on grace. I would like to share some of them with you.

A lot of people quote Bono and use a bunch of his stuff when trying to understand religion. Bono has a unique idea on religion and a unique understanding of Jesus. I do not believe that Bono is a believer, but what I found shocked me. Here is Bono’s interpretation of grace over Karma.

“It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between grace and Karma.”

There are a few things wrong with Bono’s quote here, but he apparently is amazed that the God of the universe loves people. But he goes on to discuss this concept of grace and Karma….

Bono says,

“You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics- in physical laws- every action is met by an equal or an opposite reaction. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff… it doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

If you don’t know, Karma is this idea that when you do good, by divine powers, you will receive good; and when you do bad, also by divine powers, you will receive bad.

So, Bono compares grace to Karma. Personally, I think most of us, if asked about it, would actually like this idea of Karma a little better than this idea of grace. Karma feels more just somehow.

That you reap what you sow, you get what you deserve, if you do this- you get this, and most of us like that idea. Most of us like this idea… you know why? Because most of us don’t think of ourselves as very bad, and we see the bad people in the world as deserving what they get.

So when grace enters the picture, there’s part of us that, we just don’t like it anymore, because here are these people doing all of this bad stuff. And if grace is grace then they aren’t going to get what they deserve and we just don’t like that too much.

When it comes to grace, I think it matters whether we are thinking of ourselves or thinking of others- because we want it, but don’t want other people to have it.

Here’s another story that I found this week:

There’s this book called “Everybody’s normal until you get to know them” by John Ortberg. And in the book he tells about this young man named John Gilbert, who at age 5 was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. This is a genetic and progressive debilitating disease. What this means is that as John ages, his body gets a lot worse. John died at age 25 because of this disease.

The book tells about this kid. Every year John lost something. One year he lost the ability to run, so he couldn’t play sports with the other kids. Another year he lost the ability to walk straight, so all he could do was watch the others play. John lost the ability to do all of the outward things, and then eventually he even lost the ability to speak. John Gilbert suffered far more than any of us could imagine during those years.

Other students humiliated him because of his condition, a bully used to torture him in the lunchroom; no one ever stood up for him, or gave him a helping hand.

John Ortberg writes in his book, “What a silly species we are. We all need to feel accepted ourselves, but we are constantly rejecting others.”

But John Gilbert had other moments in his life too. In the book Ortberg writes of one of those moments.

John writes that once Gilbert was invited to a professional basketball league fundraising auction. And when it began one item in particular caught John Gilbert’s eye. It was a basketball signed by players of the Sacramento Kings Basketball team. John so desperately wanted the ball, that when it came up to bid, he felt his hand raise up in the air. Not having the funds to participate, John’s mother quickly pulled his hand back down. They watched as the bidding went up and up, until one man made a bid that no one else could possibly match and won the prize. The man then walked to the front to claim the basketball, but instead of going back to his seat, he walked straight across the room and placed the ball in the thin small hands of the boy who desired it so strongly.

John Ortberg writes, “It took me a minute to realize what just happened. I remember hearing gasps all around the room, then thunderous applause, and weeping eyes.”

John Gilbert a boy, who did nothing to earn the ball, would never bounce the ball, or shoot the ball from a foul line. Received the one thing that he desired the most.

Grace is hard to teach…

So, all of this goes back to my statement at the beginning of this time: Grace is not something that can be simply defined, grace is not something that can simply be taught, but grace is something that must be experienced.

Which as a speaker and teacher, is really hard to admit, because I want so desperately to give you something that grasp your mind, cause you to think and cause you to see God in a new and fresh way. But as I admit that grace cannot be simply taught on, I admit that I cannot teach you this absolute truth. I admit that I cannot “make” you understand grace. All I can do is pray that you will experience it yourself. Because when you experience grace and can define it yourself, then and only then, will the grace effect be seen.

So, as I teach you tonight, unless you experience it, you’re most-likely not going to get it. Think about it this way: Romance is one of those things that can’t be taught on but must be experienced.

When you’re a little kid, this concept of being attracted to someone of the opposite sex is foreign. I mean, girls have cuties! Girls are yucky!

Hopefully, someone sat you down and at least explained what this attraction thing is. Hopefully, you at least understood that boys are supposed to like girls and girls are supposed to like girls. But even in that understanding, you probably hadn’t really experienced this romance for yourself. It was still a head knowledge type of thing. Something that you knew would happen, or something that you knew was real; but you hadn’t tasted it for yourself. You hadn’t experienced it yet.

Then you see one of your friends liking someone at recess. You don’t understand it. I mean, they don’t want to play with you anymore and start dissing you for this girl or boy. You see it happening, but you just don’t understand.

Then that day comes, then that moment happens. You meet someone that is just so amazing, you start to feel this desire to hang with them and talk to them. And then all of a sudden, you understand. This romance thing makes sense.

Why? Because romance is not something that can be explained, but you must experience.

The Story and Grace

So, over the past few weeks I’ve been trying something new in my teaching. I’ve been trying to teach more with the use of stories. In the Bible, important concepts are taught in story form as well.

Story form is a wonderful way to teach a new concept. In college I took a class called Hermeneutics- How to Interpret the Bible. One of the things that I learned about the story is It’s not just “what” is said in the story, but “how” it’s said that you must pay attention to. So you don’t just pay attention to the writing, but you pay attention to the context as well.

In the Bible, I’ve discovered that more times than not, when the concept of grace is taught, it is taught through story. This use of the story tells me something about the writers of the day. It tells me that they felt the same frustration that I feel today about teaching grace. That grace is not merely something you can define and move on, but it is something that must be experienced. That the use of a story actually tells us more about grace than any simple definition could ever tell us. The story I just told about John Gilbert probably spoke to your heart in a more relative way than my simple definition did last week.

In fact, I discovered that our stories are very similar to those in Scripture. I found that no matter what your position in life, chances are you can find a story in Scripture that will accurately describe grace to you in a way that enlighten your heart. That you can find a story in Scripture that will teach you something about grace that fits your life experience.

Whether you’re a thief, liar, prostitute, murder, or drunk there is a story in Scripture that will teach you about grace, because the people is Scripture were all of these things. The people in Scripture were just like us and the people in Scripture all experienced grace on some level. All of these different kinds of people found out that grace can still cover a multitude of their sins.

In fact, God was gracious enough to even use these imperfect people in Scripture to do great things… watch this video.

It seems to me, a lot of people in scripture were unqualified to experience God grace and even more unqualified to be used by God to share His grace to others.

Stories of Grace in the Bible

I want to share with you a few very short lines from stories of grace in the Bible. As I read these tell me if you recognize them.

1)      Genesis 45:1-14                                                                                                        Joseph could stand it no longer… Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace. “I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers… “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And again he said, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place…” Weeping for joy, he embraced Benjamin, and Benjamin did the same. Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them, and after that they began talking freely with him.

2)     This is after David sinned with Bathsheba… 2 Samuel 12:13                                                 Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin…”

3)     In the story of the Paralytic, Jesus said, “You’re sins are forgiven you… Now get up take your mat and go home.”

4)     In the Parable of the Lost Son. Luke 15:20-24                                                                          So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” But his father said to the servants, “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.”

5)     Jesus on the cross to the thief. Luke 23:39-43                                                                         One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself- and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In Scripture, when grace is taught it is taught in stories; because grace is not something you can simply define, but something you must experience.

Conclusion

So, tonight I’m not going to teach you anymore. What I want to do in a time of reflection, with the room quiet, is just go around the room and let you guys share your experience with grace. Tell us of a time when God showed you his grace in a practical way. And as the leader of this time I’ll start…

Story Time…

How did this make you feel? Sharing your experiences of grace? What does this experience of grace compel you to do? Does your experience of grace stir your hearts?

Tonight we kind of looked at the inward effect that grace has- hopefully you experienced it tonight. Next week we are going to look at more of the outward effect that grace plays as we look at how to transfer grace to others.