Monthly Archives: December 2015

Cultivating a relationship


Sometimes we start off on a venture without knowing just what we’re getting into. It might be a friendship, a marriage, a new job, a ministry project, or our “happily ever after” life.  We had all sorts of expectations but then something happens and we discover it’s not all we expected.


And so it is with accepting the Holy Spirit. The agreement to surrender to his control didn’t come easy but we made the commitment knowing the end plan was worth the temporary sacrifice.  Then the struggles begin. We feel like we have one foot in this world and one foot in the next. Tozer puts it this way: “You are trying to take some of the world and get some of the world over yonder. You are not ready for this because you haven’t given up all so you might have the All. You want some (of the Holy Spirit) but you don’t want all.”


Don’t fret. This is actually a normal response. We have a bond with the things of this world and God needs to pry us loose so we can experience so much more. Trust me, I’m on the path with you. Truthfully, it’s a daily battle of who we let control our life and our destiny.


Commitment is the glue to every lasting relationship. It’s what keeps a marriage together when we aren’t so lovable. In marriage the “two who became one” form a new entity called “us.” Commitment is what keeps us cooperating with the Spirit too.


It’s easier to remain committed when we look through different eyes. The Holy Spirit awakens us to a new realm of spiritual reality. It’s not simply about doing good deeds, but about advancing God’s supernatural plan to redeem all who will come to him. The Spirit shows us how to let go of the things of the world. That next advancement, your retirement account, your treasured house and belongings, even your health and well being. . . everything takes on a different perspective when you ask God to see the world, and the people around you, through the eyes of  Jesus. 


We believe what we trust. Up until now we’ve trusted what we’ve been taught and conditioned to think. The media and entertainment industry have more influence on us than we’d like to admit.  But when we look to the scrIptures as our center of focus, the filter by which we see ourselves, others, and the schemes of the world, life changes. When we learn to listen to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit – who is God – we learn trust and cooperate with his plans. There are still struggles but the game has now changed – forever.

Tozer offers some pointers to help us grow this relationship:

1. Remember the Spirit is a living person, not some conjured ghost. Just as earthly friendships grow as we spend more time together and building trust so your relationship with the Spirit grows naturally also.

2. Focus on honoring the glorified Jesus in everything you do and say and think. I know it sounds impossible, but over time, your love for Jesus will compel you to draw closer.

3. Live like Jesus. The only one who was without sin and always righteous lives in you. His authority allows us to live like he did, putting off the desires and temptations of this world and putting on the attributes of Jesus. With the guidance of the Spirit you can live a life of love, peace, joy, faithfulness, goodness, and so much more. His authority becomes yours. Believe it.

4. Submit your thoughts to his authority. Our thoughts determines how we respond when it’s rainy, when disappointments and frustrations come our way, and life thows us the worst of circumstances. Choose which thoughts will prevail: the old ones of bitterness, anger, and resentment or the new ones formed by our growing relationship with the Spirit.

5. Get to know him by reading his Word. Grow your interest in knowing Jesus and let your interest in temporary things fade. And just don’t read it; meditate on it. Reflect on it through the day. Apply it to your daily activities.

6. Learn to recognize the presence of the Spirit. He is everywhere you go. Expect him to show up. He will show you how the most common experiences can reveal spiritual secrets. When you hear his voice, you will find that Jesus is all you have…and all you need.




How to be filled with the Holy Spirit

This talk of “how to be filled with the Holy Spirit” may sound formulaic. But it’s not the same as how to build a deck or make a fancy dish. Actually, I believe God intends us to be filled with the Holy Spirit when we first accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. It is both a one-time event and also a life-long process. But far too often, as in my own rebellious walk, being filled with the Holy Spirit came later. I asked Jesus into my life but did not quickly or totally surrender all to his authority over me. How thankful I am that God doesn’t apply my personal level of patience with me!

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not an academic process. We aren’t filled by knowledge. Rather it is a matter of readiness and desire. That said, AW Tozer poses a number of preliminary questions for us to consider while examining our readiness and desire:

1. Am I ready to be filled?
Can I accept that Jesus accomplished everything at the cross and my good works don’t add to my salvation? Have I been accustomed to “considering the interests others before my own?” Am I ready to replace “my will” with “your will, Oh God?” The Spirit calls you to himself through prayer, meditation and scripture reading, and sometimes through the inspiration of others lives.


2. Do I want to be filled?

“Are you sure you want to be possessed by a spirit other than your own? That Spirit, if he ever possesses you, will be lord of your life!” Do I want to hand over the keys to my house, job, relationships, finances, personality, and even my motives and desires to the Holy Spirit and say, “I come and go as you tell me?” Am I convinced that I need to be filled? Have you come to the end of self and found it a futile way to live?


How to receive the Holy Spirit: (Reference AW Tozer)

1. You must present your whole self to his authority.
Just as we present ourselves to God to become clean before his eyes, so we must present all our body to the Spirit’s leading. (Romans 12:1-2) This may seem simple, but your response determines your readiness to let the Spirit have control over your whole life: your mind, your ambitions, and even your personality to his authority.

2. You must ask:
The Holy Spirit will not force himself on us but rather he only acts on our invitation.

3. You must obey.
It is senseless to submit ourselves to an authority unless we plan to willingly obey. The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God. (Acts 5:31). Our obediance affirms what we believe. It seems simple to say this involves living by what the scriptures tell us but in today’s reality it is quite revolutionary.

4. You must have faith.
We receive and submit to the Holy Spirit by faith just as we submit to Jesus for our salvation – by faith. It is like building a house without knowing the whole purpose of its design, becoming a habitat of God. It’s like going on an adventurous journey without knowing all the details of the trip, letting him guide us, shape us, and lead us as only the Spirit of God can do. It’s considering yourself a vessel whose purpose is to be filled with God’s truth and grace and poured out on others for his redemptive plans.


Will you ask and believe him for the perfect plan he offers?


“We ask you, almighty God, let our souls enjoy this their desire, to be enkindled by your Spirit, that being filled as lamps by your divine gift, we may shine like burning lights before the presence of your Son Christ at his coming; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
– The Gelasian Sacramentary


Who is the Holy Spirit?


Perhaps you know you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit. If so you know the power and freedom that comes from resting from your own works and letting the Spirit guide you. You know the peace that replaces your anxiety and worry. Instead of exhaustion and frustration you’ve found fulfillment and contentment. Instead of dealing with pain and disappointment by yourself, the Spirit comforts you and reminds you, “You are not alone.”


We’ve mentioned before that the Spirit is a real and divine being who is part of the three-part God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All who confess their sins and ask Jesus into their lives are given the Holy Spirit. The question is what do we do with Him? Like Jesus, he will not force himself on us. Oh, but if we seek to develop our relationship with him, he will penetrate every aspect of our lives, including our personality!


Maybe  you’ve thought the Holy Spirit was the same as emotional worship. But no, he is much more. He has a will and intelligence, feelings, and desires, same as you and me. He is the key player in you becoming “a new creation.” When we invite him to search the depths of our heart, he is able to reveal to us things we do not see in ourselves. Not only that, but he gives us perfect guidance for every situation. The Holy Spirit provides real power for victorious living, succeeding to win battles we’ve never won on our own. Acts 1:8 says “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” Ask yourself, “Am I living a life of victorious power or a life of one defeat after another?” Because he is deity he gives us access to the wisdom from above. He interprets our prayers when all we can utter is groans. Because he is just like  Jesus, we can get to know the Spirit by knowing Jesus, as revealed in scripture.


Knowing who the Spirit is gives us understanding, but it isn’t the same as experiencing his power and grace. It is one thing to have a promise and quite another when that promise is fulfilled.


Jesus said, “I am sending you something better.” Better? What could be better than Jesus with us? Jesus IN us. How else could Jesus dwell in each of us but by sending his perfect Spirit who is our only hope? (Colossians 1:27) We don’t need to prove Jesus with debates. All we need to do is let his Spirit speak to us, respond, and his light of truth will shine in and through you.


This  is indeed something quite better. Beyond having thoughts of Jesus as our guide and life model, Jesus realized we needed to experience his resurrection power and truth first hand. And he accomplished this by sending us his Holy Spirit to live in us; so we could be filled to the fullest of all Jesus is – his love and joy, his suffering and grief, and the wisdom and power to live victoriously as God intended us to live.


Meditate on this and how being filled with the Spirit would revolutionize your life. Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to be filled with the Holy Spirit.


Are you a new creation?


It seems a common plight that many ask Jesus to save them but don’t surrender their lives totally to his authority. It’s like asking to be under the protection of the army but not wanting to submit to its requirements. Or signing up to join your country’s army but actually fighting for the enemy. We want to be saved from hell and yet keep living as we did before. Asking Jesus into our lives means asking him to be our Savior AND our Lord. We tend to resist his lordship because we think we can handle our own life pretty well.


The Navigator’s Topical Memory System, starts with a category called “Christ the Center.” If we want Jesus to protect and provide for us, he can’t merely reside on the fringes of our life. To experience the fullness of his power, we need him to be in the center of our life, over all our activities, ambitions and desires. The first verse, 2 Corinthians 5:17, is central to the Christian life:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come.”


It’s a basic verse for new believers that continues to challenge mature believers. “A new creation” bears the image of the total transformation we see in a caterpillar transforming into a beautiful butterfly. If you look at a caterpillar next to a butterfly, you’d have to admit they look and act completely differently. So should our lives as Christians look and act different from our life before Christ.


Or think of it in the context of marriage. Before marriage, there was “you” and “me,” two separate beings. But once you’ve committed to a lifetime marriage there is a new creation called “us.” And at the top of our priority list is preserving and nurturing “us” according to God’s plan. “We” is different than “you and me.”


Let’s look at the second verse, Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”


Can you imagine yourself on the cross next to Jesus, enduring the same pain as you were crucified with him? And yet this seems to required of the “new creation.” It’s not just matter of becoming a better Christian by our own effort. It’s dying to self in order for Christ to live in us. Returning to the illustration of the caterpillar, the creature that crawls into the cocoon is totally transformed as one part becomes an antennae, another wings, All the parts of the old creation are crucified or utterly put to death in order for the new creation to take life and fly to new heights.


I thought of this illustration as I  suffered through a harsh chemotherapy treatment that “crucified” my old immune system, the core element of my life, in order to receive a stem cell transplant that would change my DNA from B+ blood to O+ and allow me the chance for new life. The old was gone the new had come. My donor’s blood, the essence of his being, had come to reside in my body for as long as I live. And so Jesus comes to live in our body for as long as we live, in the form of his Holy Spirit.


He lives in the body and heart of every Christian. It’s his authority and over us that transforms us into a new creation. Try as we like we simply cannot achieve it in our own wisdom and power. The question is whether we submit to his authority or not. Living without the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit is very much like a child trying to join a fierce battle without the guiding influence of the commanding officer.


Are you a new creation depending daily on the power of the Spirit in all aspects of your life? Or are you desperately throwing punches at the air, trying to go it alone?  Simply ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and help you to listen to his voice. Find the peace and victory of being a new creation in Christ.




Should we stop asking Jesus into our hearts?


Author-pastor JD Greear asks this question in his book of the same title.  He shares that he should have won the Guinness book of records for numerous of times asking Jesus into his heart – over and over. Somehow, no matter how compelling the invitational call was, he just couldn’t be sure the “sinner’s prayer” actually “stuck.” It was a sort of insecure assurance.


I suspect Greear has a considerable amount of competition for that Guinness award.  Across the world, well-meaning pastors, evangelists, and friends invite people to make a decision to receive Jesus into their heart. And Greear points out it has scriptural support. John 1:12 says we must receive Jesus, meaning take hold of him, not just put him on the shelf. Paul offers a prayer in Ephesians 3:17 that Jesus will strengthen us with power through his Spirit . . . “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts.”


So where’s the problem?


Part of it is that research consistently reveals half the people who identify with being “born again” admit to the same lifestyle as nonbelievers, about half of their marriages end in divorce, about half or more say that how much money they make influences their view of self worth, many admit to rarely reading the bible… The list goes on to reveal that there isn’t much evidence for a faith changing life based on saying a prayer. That isn’t to say people don’t experience genuine a genuine, transformational experience when surrendering to Jesus in a simple prayer of confession and repentance. Many do. But there is more than that.


Another problem may be that too often the focus is on “getting saved” by a merciful Savior and not on submitting to the Lordship of Jesus. We talk about    enjoying the abundant life with Jesus but tend to skip over the part Jesus said was essential to the life of a Christian: Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me. Most, if not all the books of the New Testament refer to the suffering that comes with faith. But that’s not the popular message. We like comfortable Christianity, complete with a Jesus who calms every storm we might face. I wonder if he doesn’t more often calm the sailor in the fiercest moments of the storm.


The first followers of Jesus didn’t make a decision and then go on with life as usual. They surrendered all they had to follow him. Jefferson Bethke observes, “Real grace changes you. Stop asking Jesus into your heart and start asking him to change your heart.” Actually, I think we should do both. We should ask him into our heart (I.e. our entire life) AND ask him to change our heart too…and if necessary to do open heart surgery. In a sense, we’re asking for a heart transplant, surrendering our often deceitful heart for his perfectly loving one. We should “receive” him AND follow him. We should come to him in prayer, not just to receive gifts, but to praise and honor the gift giver.


What does “asking Jesus to come into your heart” mean to you? When asked to share your testimony, do you tend to reflect back on something that happened years ago or are you ready to share he has done and continues to do since then?


Deny self, pick up your cross and (keep) following him with increasing passion. It’s not a one time event but rather a daily process.



Home again


After 77 days in the hospital, I was ready to go home. Marcia was ready to stop the daily commute. The first thing I noticed when I sat down was the sense of calm and peace.


Still, I was glad to be in a place surrounded by talented and caring staff. From the specialist doctors who saved my life to the excellent nursing staff,  personal care technicians, housekeepers and food deliverers, we got to know a lot of people and reunite with many who were here the first time I had cancer. There were many discussions about family, joys and concerns that led to faith conversations and also some times of prayer.  And there were times of just enjoying each other’s company, sharing a short chapter of life together.


imageAnnette delivered my food on many occasions. When I was stronger (and still had hair) and walking the halls, Annette would recognize me even with my mask on.  She’d flash her radiant smile, her contagious laugh and do little joyful dance.  Over time, Marcia and I learned about her family and interests. Later, when I was so weak and crippled with pain she saw me struggling to walk with my walker and she started to tear up. When I visited with her later, she said it was hard to see me in pain and no smile. She later told me, “Sometimes I just need to go some place to cry.” Such is the caring attitude of many of the Mercy staff.


Isn’t this a picture of how life should be? We all have work to do and accountable goals to reach. But along the journey there are all sorts of opportunities to engage with each other, whether it be a momentary smile, an uplifting word and visit, or a longer season of sharing life, life is better together.


Let’s be on the lookout for opportunities God will bring our way today to reflect his goodness and love.


A spiritual high or a deeper life?


Jesus took Peter, John and James with him to pray on a mountain. As he was praying, his face changed and his clothes became as white as lightning. The disciples saw two men, Moses and Elijah, appear in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. Peter and his companions, when they became fully awake, saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. Luke 9:26-37 (abridged)


Wow. Maybe this is where we get the expression, “a mountain top experience.” For the disciples it was both amazing and stunning. They didn’t know what to make of this or how to share it with others. But they didn’t remain on the mountain. They didn’t live their lives as if that spiritual high was enough. They kept following Jesus.


Have you ever wondered, when Jesus first met them, why they felt compelled to drop everything and follow him? Maybe it was the miracle he performed in finding more than a boatload of fish. Maybe it was the authoritative way in which he spoke. Or maybe it was the compassion in his eyes. Maybe they had lived such hard lives they found themselves thirsting and longing for something more. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Psalm 42:1


Whatever it it was, they weren’t content with a little of God in their lives; they wanted and needed much more. Their consuming desire to know Jesus compelled them to a deeper life. Paul felt the same way. Having persecuted Christians and standing watch at their deaths, he experienced a compelling call to follow Jesus and advance his gospel. But his was no mountain top spiritual high. He was struck blind and later he himself was persecuted, stoned, and beaten. Yet he too was compelled by a deep desire to know Jesus:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11


He said, “I face death every day, like sheep being led to a slaughter.” Yet he concluded it was worth it because nothing can separate us from God’s love. Knowing Jesus, drawing ever closer to him, was the source of his contentment. (Philippians 4:11-12)


What about you? Are you compelled to follow Jesus in a deeper way? Are you ready to experience more joy, and even suffering that draws you closer? Are you ready for more fulfillment than you’ve ever experienced before? It can start today:

Lord forgive me for going my own way, for wasting so much of my life. I surrender to you my other ambitions and passions so I can know you more.  I’m not content with knowing about you. I want to know you and to be known by you. Let me see my life and others through your eyes. Make me aware of you throughout the day. Thank you for inviting me to draw closer Show me how to take the first step.


Where is God in your place of emptiness?


Years ago, a team of astronomers at the University of Minnesota announced they found a hole in the universe in the Eridanus constellation. They say it has no galaxies, few stars, not even dark matter. It’s just an empty place they say is a billion light years across.  I think it means that IF you could travel at the speed of light, it would take one billion human years to go from one end of this hole to another. Who can comprehend it? Only God, because he created that hole and the entire universe and everything in it. His divine power and wisdom keeps it running.


I’ve reading through the book of Job lately. Job knew something about empty places. As you may recall, Job was a wealthy and well respected man. But then he lost all his possessions, his children, and his health. He was only left with his criticizing ‘friends’ and a nagging wife. Covered in boils, he was in unspeakable pain every day. Yet Job accepted his condition as allowed by his sovereign God. He spoke truth about God to his so-called friends despite their constant battling against him. What a vast empty place that must have been!


After repeated discourses between Job and his accusers, the Lord spoke to Job, reminding him of who was God and who wasn’t. “Where you were when I laid the earth’s foundations? Who marked off its dimensions? Can you bind the chain of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s Belt?” (Interesting that God points Job, in his place of emptiness, to the Orion constellation which borders the Eridanus constellation where this large empty hole was found.)  Essentially, God brought Job to the end of himself. Job turned to God and God restored him. Not only him but twice his wealth and more sons and daughters.


Can you associate with Job in your suffering? And after your endless questions and cries for help, after all your own reasoning and you find yourself in a dark empty place…can you surrender everything to God? I know this is painful because I’ve gone there myself. But when we tell God, “I’m tired of being bitter, angry, lonely, always in pain, full of grief, always anxious and afraid, I desperately need your help,” he is ready to change us. When we stop resisting his leading and going our own way, he will restore us. It’s a matter of telling ourselves every day (and throughout the day), “Yet still I will believe you Lord. Yet still I will trust you. Yet still I will claim your promise of assurance, peace, love and so much more. I will let your goodness replace my harmful thoughts and actions. My beliefs will be made evident through my thoughts, words, and behaviors. I will walk out of my self-imposed prison of rebellion and find freedom in following you.”


The choice is ours. Where are you going to turn in your place of emptiness?



Who is your God?


When I was little I thought God was a wise looking old man with a long white beard and wearing a flowing white robe. Over the years my view of God has matured as I came to see him through the bible. A.W. Tower said:

“What comes to mind when we think of God is the most important thing about us.”


Why do you think Tozer would say the most important thing about us is what we think about God? After all, what we think about God doesn’t change who he is.

BUT, what we think God about changes us.


If you believe God is a myth, you’ll ignore him. If you think he’s a “nice guy in the sky – the man upstairs, maybe you’ll go to him when you run into trouble. But you won’t really get to know him. If you think God is a distant God who isn’t interested in you, you’ve built a wall that keeps you away from him. Maybe you think God is indeed God and you devote a certain part of each week to him in prayer, going to church, giving money etc. But really getting to know God is quite similar to getting to know a good friend. You spend time with them, learn their interests, their ambitions, and come to appreciate who they are.


We can learn about God by reading his Word, the bible. After all, that’s how he reveals himself and his plan for mankind. As you meditate on God’s Word you come to know God is a spirit being who lives for eternity. He doesn’t have birthday parties because he has no beginning or end. He is unchangeable. He doesn’t lie. That means his promises are always true. Often we go to God because he is full of power and wisdom. You think Google is pretty impressive? Not when you come to know God on a personal basis. God’s justice is pure because he is holy.


Personally, I’m always amazed at God’s compassions which are renewed every-single-day. His mercy is overflowing, his love is unending. He is the perfect model for how we should love one another. (See 1 Corinthians 13:4-13.)


Think about how God’s attributes have influenced your life. Maybe you’ll remember when you first received his forgiveness. Perhaps you’ve experienced his mercy and grace in a difficult situation, his comforting peace that replaced your anxiety, his calm assurance that melted your fear. I can trust my best friends because I know their heart. I can depend on them to be true in their counsel and care for me. True also to correct me if I get off base.  I have one friend who always ushers in peace when he walks through the door.  God is like that.


The more we know our loving, peace-giving, merciful God, the more we can trust him and depend on him. We can praise God for who he is, not just for what he’s done. We learn to come to him because we enjoy being his presence. We come to seek the Healer, not just the healing.


I wonder if there is an area of your life where you are having a hard time trusting God. Or maybe something you’re trying to hide from God. Maybe you keep clinging to old habits of worry, anxiety, fear, feeling of low worth. You’ve turned these over to God many times, but you still keep taking them back and behaving in harmful ways. Isn’t it time to stop those and start acting like God’s Word is true? Frustrated? Tell him and also ask him to draw you close and calm your heart.  Worried and anxious? Tell him about it and come to him, thanking him for his goodness and asking for his peace. Upset with other people? Ask God to see them through his eyes.


God wants you to know him and to enjoy his presence. Oh how he enjoys being with you!





Longing for God


As you look back on your life from childhood to present day, who has had the greatest impact on your spiritua life? You might think of a Sunday School teacher, a pastor, an evangelist, an author, or a close friend who encouraged  you to “dig deeper.” Whoever it was, they probably had a deep desire to know God and to enjoy his presence.


Knowing God and enjoying his presence is not the same as filling our lives with busy ministry activity. In fact, you can keep busy doing all sorts of things “for the Lord” and not come to a close fellowship with him.


If Jesus wants you to serve him in some activity, his Holy Spirit will prompt and guide you… Even if it is out of your comfort zone. Serving him in your own power will eventually wear you out. Responding to the Holy Spirit’s call will encourage and energize you and show you how to carry out the great commission of loving others.


But it even this comes from an ever-increasing desire to draw closer and closer to the One who knows you, loves you, and calls you to him. Not everyone will respond. After all, people have other things that are more important to them: their jobs, families, craft projects, fantasy sports teams…they know a lot about these things and have a strong desire to pursue them.


Are you satisfied with the routines of your life or would you like to experience what it’s like to be fully satisfied with God?