Stages

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While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul took a route through the interior and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?” They replied, “We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “What baptism did you receive, then?” They answered, “John’s baptism.” Paul explained, “John baptized with a baptism by which people showed they were changing their hearts and lives. It was a baptism that told people about the one who was coming after him. This is the one in whom they were to believe. This one is Jesus.” After they listened to Paul, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in other languages and prophesying. Altogether, there were about twelve people. ~Acts 19:1-7 (CEB)

What was the difference between John’s teaching and Jesus’ teaching? The accounts of the preaching of John (Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:3-11) reveal one radical difference between the preaching of John and Jesus. The preaching of John was a threat; the preaching of Jesus was good news. John was just a stage on the way. He was well aware that he was just to point the way to the one still to come. (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16) It amazes me how humble John was never taking any glory for himself, always pointing to the true glory to come.

John’s preaching was a necessary stage because there are two stages in religious life. First there is the stage where we awaken to our own inadequacies, short comings and sins. This stage is closely allied to an endeavor to do better that inevitably fails because we try in our own strength. This is the try-hard stage. The second stage is when we come to see that no matter how we may want to be better that our strength is not enough. This is the stage where we come to realize that through the grace of Jesus Christ our condemnation may be taken away. Here is the point where we find that all our efforts to do better are strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit, through whom we can do what we never could do own our own.

These incomplete Christians in Acts 19:1-7 knew the condemnation and the moral duty to do-better but they had not learned the grace of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.  Because they had not learned the second stage of Christianity their religion was inevitably a thing of struggle and had not reached the stage of being a thing of peace.

So often we get stuck in the first stage and don’t move on to the second stage of our religious life. I have heard this referred to as the two sides of the cross. One side is the realization to do better, the other side is the grace that helps us to be better. Even when we see the error of our ways and repent and determine to change them we can never make the change without the help which the Spirit alone can give.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Jesus coming into to the world bringing me grace and strength beyond my want to simple want to be better. I thank You for the Holy Spirit that helps me to be more than I am on my own. I thank You the freedom to breath. Amen.

The Word

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In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. ~John 1:1-5 (CEB)

I love these verses. Every single time I read these verses it sends chills up my arms. I love how Word is capitalized like a living breathing thing. I love how the Word was in the beginning with God. The Word is God. Through the Word, everything came into being. Words have such power!

Colossians 3:6 it says, “The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” The Greek word for dwell is enoikoe, which means, “to dwell in” or “to live in”.

We should be so familiar with scripture, with God’s Word, that it feels at home in our hearts. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to know that God speaks to us and directs us. The more familiar we are with scripture the more efficiently He can talk to us. That is the language He uses. When Elijah was hiding out on Mount Horeb God spoke to Elijah with His Word (1 Kings 19:9)

So remaining in Christ so that I can remain in Him can be achieved by reading, studying and memorizing scriptures (John 15:5). The more I get to know the Bible the more I can understand who God is and discern His will for my life. When I find myself at a loss, scripture can help center me and clear my thinking. Scripture is God’s living breathing Word. It is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting and training (2 Timothy 3:16).

If I find myself in a dark time the best way to find a light to lead me out is through reading His Word. The Word will give me a light so bright that darkness cannot overcome it (John 5:5). With God’s Word at home in my heart, who or what should I fear?

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your Word that lives in me. I thank You for Your Word that speaks to me and guides me. I thank You for Your Word that lights my path on my journey to Your everlasting salvation. Amen.

Desired

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When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” ~Luke 22:14-16 (CEB)

The good news is that Jesus’ sacrifice of his life replaces the darkness of my life with the purity and light of his own. Jesus calls to us in our darkness because he eagerly desires to be with us.He doesn’t just want our company when we have it all together. He seeks our company even when we aren’t who we should be yet.

Here in Luke 22:14-16, Jesus was confronting the greatest challenge of his life and ministry, and yet he longed for a holy time of sharing and breaking bread. To spend time with those we love is a wonderful gift of healing and strength to all of us. And Jesus also wanted this holy fellowship for comfort and strength for what lay ahead. Even though the disciples do not grasp what is about to happen Jesus still wants to share these moments with them.

I am far from perfect or wise and yet the Savior of the world seeks time with me. This is humbling and awesome. But how can I minister to Christ? What could I offer him? I can offer him my love and adoration. One hard lesson I have learned is that sometimes we are not asked to do but to simply be. How I can minister to the Lord is by simply being at his feet and giving him the time that he wants from me. No wise words needed.

Brennan Manning shares a view of this in his book, Reflections for Ragamuffins:

“Let me share an example of ministering to the Lord in the moment of his adversity. This happened in Chicago’s South Side on Holy Thursday night. I wrote in my journal: ‘The adoration of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist (communion) began with a heaviness within me. It’s freezing outside; the chapel is cold; my mind is opaque; but foremost is the nagging doubt about my own sincerity’. Earlier in the day I sensed a tug in the direction of non-acceptance, when I read, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ Do I really want to be free? Do I honestly desire a Kingdom lifestyle? What are the real tendencies and desires of my heart? Do I long more than anything else to be God’s man? To serve rather than be served? To pray when I could play? Be slow to speak, Brennan, be cautious to answer… I felt confusion and discouragement tiding within me.

Then a beautiful thing happened. I realized that the only reason I was at prayer was because I wanted to be with my friend. The doubt and uncertainty vanished. I knew I wanted to comfort Jesus in his loneliness and fear in the Garden. I wanted to watch not an hour but the whole night with him. The only words that formed on my lips were those of the little boy Willie-Juan in the fairy tale I had written the year past. Over and over I whispered, ‘I Love you, my friend.’”

Could I sit in the Garden with Jesus during his darkest hour? I would like to think I would. Would I follow him after his arrest? Well, I am not so sure. Would I be like the eleven, hiding after his crucifixion? Probably.  But I have the assurance that despite my lack of bravery, Jesus seeks me just as he sought out the eleven in the upper room after he arose from death. He wants and desires us all.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for sending Your Son into the world so that I may have a better understanding of Your Love for me. I thank You for sending Your Son to seek and to find us when we are lost. I thank You that no matter where we are found we are still desirable. Amen.

No room for quiet time

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I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. ~John 15:1, 4-8 (CEB)

There are days that I feel that there is no time for rest. These are the times I long most for a quiet moment with God but it seems the hardest to work in. Instead, a rhythm beats through my head… do… act… work… produce… there is no room for rest, for still, for quiet.

Quiet time with God isn’t a forced, squeezed in moment, one more thing to add to a hectic day. Quiet time is when I allow God to quiet my time while I remain in His presence. It isn’t something to do but something to let happen. Again I think I have to make something happen. In this case, I am trying to force in quiet time with God but John 15 reminds me that I am already with him, I just need to remain.

There is no need to get up and find out what I already have. When I remember that it isn’t about doing, it’s about being, then I find that activity doesn’t have to stop for the rhythm in my head to change from do, act work, produce to ~be… trust… receive… respond. Quiet time is about purposing my heart not to fret. My day can go ahead as planned but holding those plans with an open hand and a willing heart.

Without a quiet spirit within me, I do not get as much accomplished in my day. When I force things to go the way I think they should go and forget to listen to the gentle rhythms of be, trust, receive, respond, I find that my work does not glorify God. I find instead of nutritious fruit a big fat mess lying at my feet. God can even turn these into applesauce or lemonade, but less work would be involved if He didn’t have to repurpose my mess.

Quiet time with God is not something I do. Rather it is something that happens when I am with God. Time can be a loud, hectic, chaotic companion. But remaining in God’s presence, He quiets my time.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your quieting Spirit that lives in me. Help me to be in Your quiet time even when chaos is my companion so that I can still produce Your living fruit. Let me be, trust, receive and respond despite my hectic schedule this day. Amen.

Sighs too deep for words

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Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ~Rom 8: 26-27 (NRSV)

Have you ever found yourself in a place where words just seem too insignificant for what you are feeling?

When I know I should pray, but the words won’t come when I want to cry out to God but all that surfaces is this welling up from inside of me, I am confident that God even knows these prayers. The comfort I receive in my darkest hours is knowing that even though I may not know how to pray, the Spirit- God’s Spirit will pray for me. In my weakness; God himself prays for me.

On the days when fear raises its ugly head when life doesn’t go the way I planned when I think I am alone in my struggles, I take a deep *sigh* and I am reminded that God’s Spirit is deep within me sighing too. Saying what I can’t. In my sigh, I lift up my eyes and say “You know my heart, God. You know when I lie down and when I get up. You know that I don’t have strength for this day.” My hands are not lifted because I give up. My hands are lifted because I surrender to the One who knows all my tomorrows and has my best interest in mind.

Romans 8:24-25 says, “We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” Because of my hope, I looked upward. My hope saves me. I hope for what isn’t right now. I hope for the possibilities of what might be. Against all hope I wait patiently… and when I can’t hope anymore the Spirit prays for me.

When I am weak I am strong because it is God’s strength that works in me (2 Cor. 12:10). When I don’t have the strength or enough hope to lift up a prayer His Spirit prays my prayer.

So I sigh again Lord. Every breath I breathe is from You. Your breath flows through me. You sustain me. You shield me. You love me like no one else can. I know You hold me in Your hands. My hope is in You. Amen. 

Checking off my list

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I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it. ~Romans 7:15-20 (CEB)

Jesus doesn’t have a list for me to check off. He is looking to have a relationship with me. To have a relationship with Jesus I have to move beyond practicing the act of religion into a reality of really experiencing him.

I deal with so many expectations of what life should be and I find I do the same with religion. Religion taught me to think about “what would Jesus do”. A relationship requires me to trust Jesus to do what he would do through me. Expectation in any area is dangerous but when I apply expectations to Jesus it keeps me from knowing who he truly is.

Jesus calls to us. He wants to bridge the gap between perceived control to a holy trust, between how things used to be and how they can be. Jesus wants me to know that he accepts me as I am and not just how I should be.

No matter how much I want to do the right thing, I can’t. No matter how hard I try to do good it seems I consistently miss the mark. The desire to do good is inside of me. On my own I am nothing. With Christ working in me I can be more than I am. With Christ I can do more than just try hard.

Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” The world teaches us to “try hard”. It falsely promises that if we only try hard we will be successful, but only through Christ’s transforming powers can I be more than I am. God’s promise is that I can do anything if He is my strength (Phil. 3:14).

Checking things off the list is “self” reliance, trying harder doesn’t create love. From the beginning of time God’s love existed. I don’t have to earn what is already mine. Jesus didn’t come into the world to create more bondage. He came to remind me of a love that has always been mine. Jesus doesn’t want me to be trapped in the try-hard life, he wants me to experience the freedom of letting him work through me.

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your son into the world to set me free from the try-hard life. Thank You for the reminders that I am not to “do good” on my own but that I am to let Christ work through me to achieve Your will. Continually renew and transform me so that I may discern Your will for my life. Amen.

 

 

 

Trying to be

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires. If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. ~Gal. 5:22-25 (CEB)

Faith does not always come easy. Sometimes it comes after a long road of holding on to the “I can do it myself”, after a last-ditch effort at “self” control. Often faith doesn’t come until we have tried everything else. Am I trying to be who Jesus wants me to be or do I trust Jesus to be who he is in and through me?

Only Jesus can be Jesus. And he wants me to have faith to let him be himself through me. Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit.” A few years ago there was a catchphrase, WWJD, “what would Jesus do?” Without relying on the Spirit to work through me this quickly becomes about my performance. But if through my faith, his spirit lives in me then I will see fruit of the spirit begin to show through me. We will know we are living by the Spirit when we see “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self- control.” (Gal 5:22-23)

Receiving faith does not happen automatically in the life of a believer. To live by faith I have to get rid of the “try hard life” and experience the truth of what it means to let his spirit flow through me. I need to let the peace of Christ rule my heart. By opening my hands to let Jesus work through me I am able to watch with hopeful expectation letting peace do peace-like work.

Heavenly Father, I want to do your will. I try so hard yet it seems that I am always falling short of what I think should happen. Help me to let go and let You work through me. Through me let Your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control shine. Amen.

 

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