Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pursuing Your Vision

“Without vision the people perish, but he who keeps the law, happy is he.”
- Proverbs 29:18

If we want to truly live out the mission that God has called us to do then we need to find the individual vision that God has given each of us. In this scripture vision literally means “Godly sight”. In other words, we need to see things like God see it. We need to see our lives and our purpose the same as God sees our lives and purpose. Our vision does not only affect our own life, it affects the lives of those around us, it affects our nation. The word perish in this verse means literally “to run wild without moral restraint”. We see that happening in our society more and more. People are casting off all morals and denying the very fact that there is even a definable right and wrong. As a result we have people running wild. As we see shooting after shooting people have started to debate whether we need more gun control, armed guards in schools, or if we need more education regarding mental illnesses. Everyone seems to have an idea of what is going to help our nation, but everyone is missing the core problem. The core problem is that we don’t have enough people seeing life the way God sees it. We don’t have enough people with Godly vision. We don’t have enough people ‘keeping’ or protecting the law of God. It is the church’s responsibility to live out the kingdom of God on this earth but the American church, as a whole, has become too compromising, too weak, and most of all too blind to fulfill their responsibility. It’s time for us as a church to stand up with Godly vision and protect the Word of God.

“while we don’t look at things which are seen but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” - 2 Corinthians 4:18

We need vision so that we can see the things which are not seen. In Hebrews 11:1 we see that “faith is … the evidence of things not seen.” So it is through faith that we gain our sight; it is through faith that we gain our vision. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” So looking at these two scriptures together we can see that in order to find our vision we need to build our faith through the Word of God. Through studying, listening, and simply immersing ourselves in the Word of God we build our faith and gain vision for the things which are unseen. We need to meditate on God’s Word until we can see ourselves, and eventually society, living up to it.

There are four specific areas in which we need to gain God’s sight in. If we can see these things then we can be empowered to live the mission and fulfill the vision that God has placed in our lives. These four areas will be outlined in upcoming posts.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Using Your Gifts

Another way that the Holy Spirit helps us with our mission is by giving us gifts, or abilities. The most popular scripture passage for the gifts of the Spirit is 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 but there are also gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8 and Ephesians 4:11-12. I also believe that there are many other gifts not listed in any of these passages. In fact I believe that God has given us every talent that we have and that He wants to use these talents for His glory. In Romans 12:6 Paul admonishes us:

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them...”

Whatever gifts God has given us, we have a responsibility to use them. Sometimes we make things way more complicated than they need to be. We think that we need to improve our weaknesses, prepare our talents, and wait for the perfect opportunity before we can use our gifts but Paul makes it real simple here. He says that we’ve been given gifts and we simply need to use them. According to this statement, it doesn’t matter how many or how few people are listening, it doesn’t matter if you’re full time or part time, and it doesn’t matter if your professional or amateur. If God gave you a gift use it.

Sometimes we get so focused on our weaknesses that we forget our strengths. We see where we are weak and we think that we need to improve that area. Then we spend hours, day, months, and even years focused on how we can improve our weakness. We read books on that subject, go to classes, listen to sermons, and make plans for how we can get better in our weakness and through it all we have ignored our strengths. We have allowed our talents to go to waste. I believe that this is what Paul is talking about when he refers to the body of Christ and discusses each different part with a different function. The American society is built so much on independence but God has created us to be dependent on each other and ultimately on Him. If we just step out in faith, in our strengths, then we allow for God to step into our weakness, and as He told Paul, “[His] grace is sufficient for you, for [His] strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) I do believe that we should always be looking to grow and improve ourselves, but I believe that we should focus on improving our strengths. We need to stop stressing out about our weaknesses and allow His strength to be made perfect in us.
Another thing that holds us back from using our gifts is fear. Jesus told a parable about a rich man who was about to go on a journey. He called three servants and gave them each an amount of money (talents) according to their individual ability. He gave the first one five talents, the second one two talents, and the third servant only one talent. After the master returns from the journey we find that the first two servants had doubled the amount that was given to them. The one with five now had ten and the one with two now had four and the master was pleased. However the third servant comes and explains that he had buried the talent given to him in order to keep it safe. He was so afraid of losing the talent that he did nothing with it, he played it safe. Of course the master is not pleased with this servant saying that at the very least he should have put it in the bank so it could gain some interest.

I believe that many of us are like the third servant. We are so afraid of messing things up that we simply hide our talents and our gifts. We think that it is better to play it safe than to take risks and possibly fall flat on our face. But the Bible says in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God”. It pleases God when we are willing to step out and take risks, placing our full trust in Him. Sometimes that is what we need to do with our gifts. God will open an opportunity which may frighten us, it may scare us, but we need to face that fear and step out in faith. God will catch us every time. Whatever it is that caused you to bury that gift it is time to dig it up and put it to use.
When I was twelve God called me to be a preacher, teacher, and a writer however I was terrified of public speaking. It would have been easy for me to be like the third servant and simply bury my gift and calling to teach. I hated giving five minute speeches in class but God had given me a vision of preaching full sermons to thousands. I knew that I needed to do something so I took every opportunity I could find to be in front of a group. I tried out for every solo in choir, took opportunities in my youth group to preach and ultimately joined speech team. I remember going to the first day of speech class and I was terrified but God honored my step of faith and miraculously delivered me from my fear. I have preached in multiple countries on multiple continents, and have even preached in a second language, and I have not felt that fear since I was 16 and started that speech class. Sometimes we feel afraid like that third servant but God is calling us to take a step of faith. Step out into the water and count on Him to catch you and walk with you.

Lastly, I think that sometimes we hold back from using our gifts because we are looking for the right opportunity. We are waiting for God to open some great and grandiose door for us to walk through and until then we just sit on our gifts waiting. These are the people that Romans 12:6 is really talking to. “...let us use them...” It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, it doesn’t matter how many people are around to be affected by it, we need to simply take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way to use our gifts and if no opportunity comes then we need to make an opportunity. If you’re a preacher and no one is opening their pulpit then preach to the mirror. If you’re a singer and you don’t have an audience sing in your car, sing throughout your day whenever appropriate. If you’re a writer and you don’t yet have an idea for a book then write a journal, or start a blog. Whatever your gift might be find a way to use it and allow God to steer you to the right audience.
Often we tell God that once He puts us in a position to use our gift we will start using it but God tends to work the opposite way. He is waiting for us to start using our gifts and as we do He will open up opportunities for those gifts to reach people. Once we show Him that we are going to be faithful with the gifts He has given us, He will expand and grow that gift. As Jesus told us at the end of the aforementioned parable “to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Living the Fruitful Life

Continuously throughout the New Testament we see references to “bearing fruit”. Jesus not only commanded us to bear fruit but He warned us that any tree which does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire (Matt 3:10; Luke 3:9), but what does it mean to bear fruit? Paul shares with us what kind of fruit should be shown in us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. - Galatians 5:22

We see here that the fruit comes from the Spirit. This is the first way that the Holy Spirit assists us in our quest to be a witness for Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to allow these qualities to exude from our personality. Theoretically, with the Holy Spirit inside of us, these fruits should naturally come out of us. However as long as we are on this earth we still have a carnal nature and this carnal nature has its own fruits (Galatians 5:19-21). This means we have two opposite natures battling to show themselves and often it simply comes down to a choice. We have to choose if we will allow the fruits of the Spirit to come out of us or if we will allow the fruits of our carnal nature. We must decide whether we are going to live selfish or selfless. This choice is seldom easy. Sometimes we have to choose joy when all we want to do is cry or scream, sometimes we have to choose patience when we feel like we can’t take it anymore, and sometimes we have to choose to love someone who only returns our love with hate. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to make the right choice in each of these situations but ultimately we are still the ones who have to choose. It is up to us whether we choose the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of the carnal nature.

As we learn to consistently show the fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives we make the first step towards fulfilling the mission that God has given us. It is these choices which lead us into a life that points people towards Jesus. This fruit will allow us to be true examples of who He is and will attract people who want to know why we are so different. In Matthew 5:6 Jesus calls us to be a light in this world and light stands out from the darkness. If we are going to be a light we need to stand out from the world, we need to be different. In a world overrun with selfishness we need to be selfless. It is the fruit of the Spirit that will allow us to truly conquer our selfish nature and to shine selflessly as Jesus called us to do.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Holy Spirit

In order to answer the question of how we live out the mission Jesus gave us, we need to understand a little bit about the Holy Spirit and how He works but the Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood member of the trinity. When we think of God we think of the Father, we know Jesus because He was the member of the trinity who came to earth and died and resurrected for us, but the Holy Spirit often seems a bit mysterious. Then to complicate matters there has been so much attributed to the Holy Spirit which was very likely not Him. There has been so many Christians, especially in recent times, who have gone to such extremes that the other Christians have been scared to even mention the Holy Spirit. The enemy tricked one group into one extreme which then led the rest into the opposite extreme and effectively hid an extremely important truth from all. So as you read this section try to put aside all that you have heard regarding the Holy Spirit as I take you through some of the most important scriptures for helping us understand Him.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” - John 14:16

Here in John we see Jesus first announcing that the Holy Spirit will come. He calls Him the Helper. Looking at the context of the verse we can specifically see that He is coming to help us “keep [Jesus’] commandments” (v15). In other words the Holy Spirit has been sent to us in order to help us live the way Jesus wants us to live. That means He is here to help us with all that we have already been talking about; ie. knowing Jesus, being like Him, giving our lives as a sacrifice, etc. But it also means that He came to help us live the mission as we see in Acts 1:8:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

It is the power that comes from the Holy Spirit which allows us to be witnesses of Jesus to those around us, to testify as to what Jesus has done in our lives and to share the Gospel with others. That is the purpose for the power of the Holy Spirit, that is the reason He came to dwell in us.
So the first question we need to ask is how do we get the Holy Spirit to come upon us? Many say that this is something that happens automatically with salvation but I believe that the Bible shows differently. Acts 19:1-3 says:

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul comes upon some “disciples” who had not even heard of the Holy Spirit. By calling them disciples Luke is telling us that they are already saved, they are already followers of Jesus. They already knew Jesus yet had not heard of the Holy Spirit. They were already on their way to heaven but had not yet received the power of the Holy Spirit. As we read on in Acts 19 we see that Paul proceeds to explain the baptism of the Holy Spirit and prays with them to receive it. This shows quite clearly that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is separate from salvation. So if it’s not automatic with salvation, how do we get baptized in the Holy Spirit? 

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” - Luke 11:9-13

Jesus teaches us through a parable that if we want the Holy Spirit all we need to do is ask. He says that if we as humans know how to give good things to our children how much more will God give us good things when we ask for them. How much more will He give us the Holy Spirit when we ask for Him. So it’s that simple. Many teach that you have to speak in tongues in order to truly be baptized, or they say that you have to feel something. I believe that some people do experience things like that but ultimately the Holy Spirit is received in the same way as our salvation; we ask the Father and simply believe that we have received. Then we need to go out in faith that the power of the Holy Spirit is in us to help us be witnesses.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living the Mission

Sometimes we forget the reason for the power. In order to walk in the power and authority we need to understand why God gave us this power in the first place. God didn’t give us this power so that we could gain fame or material things, He didn’t give it to us in order for us to live a comfortable, rich life. He gave us this power to help others. God passed the authority and power onto us for a distinct purpose and if we are not living this purpose then we will not see the power of God manifested in our lives. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go...”

The key word in this command is “go”. If we are not going out then there is no reason for us to walk in the authority of Jesus Christ, nor is there reason to walk in the power that comes with that authority. We see a similar command at the end of each Gospel and also at the beginning of Acts. In Matthew Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples” (28:18-20), in Mark He tells us to “go and preach the Gospel” (16:15), in Luke He tells us to preach the “repentance and remission of sins”, in John He sends us out just “as the Father has sent [Him]” (John 20:21) and finally, in Acts He sends us out as His “witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Each one of these passages shows us a slightly different aspect of our mission but there is one commonality; we must go! We must do something! Jesus’ last statement to His disciples before ascending to heaven was to send them out to bring His kingdom on this earth and He gave them the power and authority to fulfill this mission. If we are not living the mission which He commissioned us to live, then we have no need for the power and authority which He called us to walk in. Why should we expect to walk in a power that we don’t need? So the question we need to ask is how do we live out the mission that Jesus gave us?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Renewing Your Mind

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  
Romans 12:2

Immediately after instructing us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, Paul follows up with a second instruction. He instructs us on how important it is to not be conformed to the ways of this world and he shares with us the secret of how to keep that from happening. He tells us to renew our minds. He says that if we renew our mind that it will transform us into a representation of God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will. It all happens through our thinking. Are we going to conform our thinking to the ways of this world, or will we allow our renewed thinking transform us? 

The answer to this question leads us to another question: What are you feeding yourself? Specifically what are you feeding your mind? Are you feeding your mind the wisdom of this world or the wisdom of God? 1 Corinthians 3:19 says that “...the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God...” Which wisdom are you feeding off of? What are you allowing through your eyes and ears? What thoughts are you dwelling on? The world is constantly trying to feed us it’s philosophy through music, movies, advertisements, schools, and the internet. There are times where we have no choice but to hear it or see it but when we do have a choice, what are we choosing. Are we choosing to allow the Word of God in or the wisdom of the world? When we get home after work are we spending the whole evening in front of the t.v. or in front of the throne of the Most High? If we are not conscious about what we are allowing into our minds eventually we will find our thoughts, words, and actions conformed to those of the world around us. We are called to be lights in this world and in order to be a light we must stand out, we must be different, we must be transformed. Light stands out from the darkness and we need to be transformed into lights, shining the truth of God’s Word in this dark world.

As Paul mentions, this transformation begins in our mind, our thinking. It is through renewing the way that we think that we will begin to see out words and our actions be transformed into what God wants them to be. We need to renew our minds with the Word of God. We need to grasp hold of His wisdom and His will. We do this through regulating what we allow in, and more importantly through making sure that we take time to allow Him in. We need to take time meditating on His Word and time in conversation with Him. We should be choosing to listen to music that speaks His wisdom and spending time with people who are also seeking Him. We should be listening to sermons based on His Word whenever we get a chance. Then when we do hear things based in the wisdom of this world we can recognize it for what it is. We can make the choice to not accept it and to continue after the true wisdom that only comes from God.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Living Sacrifice

- I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Romans 12:1

Jesus gave us the ultimate example of sacrifice. The Bible says that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words, when we were still agains God, before we had ever made a decision to follow Him, He gave His life for us. This is why Paul states that it is only reasonable for us to present our own lives as a sacrifice to Him. He gave His whole life for us and all we can offer in return is our own life.

So what does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices? A lot of times we discuss this verse when referring to sacrificing our carnal nature. We think that Paul is referring to our sinful desires (i.e lust, greed, dishonesty, gossip, etc.) when he talks about presenting our bodies as a sacrifice, but that is not what Paul is referring to. Our sinful desires and our carnal nature was crucified with Christ when He went to the cross. Christ’s blood has already washed us and freed us from these things. Obviously we should be stopping our sinful actions, as Paul said in Galatians 4:9, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” Why would you want to stay bound to those sinful desires after Christ paid the price for us to be set free. 

So if Paul is not talking about us sacrificing our carnal nature then what was he referring to? Paul states that the sacrifice should be “holy, acceptable to God”. Looking back to Leviticus we can see what the parameters were for an ‘acceptable’ sacrifice. There were many types of sacrifices in Old Testament times but one thing that was always common to the sacrifices is that they were to be without blemish, perfect in every way. Understanding that we can understand that our sinful nature would never be a sacrifice that would be acceptable to God. In fact in Leviticus God commands that the unacceptable parts of the sacrifice should be separated and burned outside of the camp, then the rest was presented to God. Translating that into our own lives, we should be separating the sinful nature and allowing it to be consumed by God’s holy fire, then we should present the rest of us as a sacrifice to Him. We should be presenting everything that is good about us to Him. Every talent, skill, personality trait, anything that people may compliment us on should be what we present to Him as our holy sacrifice.

Often we think that we need to lay our problems and our weaknesses at His feet, but really what we should presenting to His throne is our strengths. God has asked for our best parts, our areas of strength and our talents. He’s the one who gave us those things so it is only fitting that they should be used for His glory. Not only that but He will lead us into how to use those things most effectively. So present your whole self, made righteous through Christ’s sacrifice, to God. This is a sacrifice that God will see as holy and acceptable, and this is your reasonable service.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Being Like Him

In order to be true representations of Jesus' authority here on earth we must move beyond just knowing Him and fearing Him to being like Him. We must learn to think like Him, speak like Him, and act like Him. This brings a responsibility of purity and holiness. In recent years there has been an increasing revelation of the grace of God. This revelation is important and is much needed to counteract the legalism that is constantly trying to creep into the church, however a true, full understanding of God's grace should come with a drive towards purity and the ability to live in holiness. We are saved "by grace through faith" but as James makes clear, our faith should able to be seen through our actions. James said "show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works." Even Martin Luther, the man whom God used to bring the concept of salvation through grace back to the church, was quoted as saying, 

"Faith alone saves, but a faith that saves is never alone." 

True faith will always be followed by action. This doesn't mean that someone with true faith will be perfect. What it does mean, is that someone with true faith will desire to be perfect. They will desire to be free from sin, they will have a drive for purity.

God will not release us to walk and live with full authority if we are not striving to live in purity. To go out in God's authority means we go out representing Him. He is pure, therefore to represent Him, we must be pure. He is holy, therefore to represent Him, we must be holy. It is that simple. If we are constantly living in sin then we are not representing Him. If we conform ourselves to the ways of this world then we are not representing Him. 

If we want to walk in the power that comes with God's authority then we must learn to represent Him in our actions, thoughts, and words. We must separate ourselves from the ways of the world and allow God to transform us into His image. Jesus, in John 17, said that though He has sent us into the world we are not "of this world." The church today often seems to be attempting to adopt the ways of the world in order to draw them in, but what the world needs is a church that adopts the ways of their Lord. We need to show people what makes us different, show them why they should listen to us, why They need Jesus. It is only through allowing ourselves to be transformed into His image that we will be successful in drawing in the people who need Him.

To live a pure and holy life does not mean to be perfect. On the contrary, to live a pure and holy life means to recognize our imperfection and to draw on God's perfection. It means that we recognize and accept the full grace of God in our lives and have allowed that grace to transform us into His likeness. It is in this transformation that we begin to walk in the authority that God has given us.