Christianity 201

May 24, 2015

More of Jesus

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. ~James 4:8a NASB

When the disciples were meeting together, it was already the feast of Pentecost, though the word, as Wikipedia reminds us, did not have its Christian meaning:

Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text.

Rather, Pentecost in a New Testament sense commemorates the giving of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to rush through this too quickly, so take a minute to pause and think about it:

  • the giving of the Word
  • the giving of the Spirit

Do you see the beauty of this? The parallels and the balance in the Christian life between Word and Spirit are not the purpose of today’s thoughts, but the Christ-follower needs both.

In the 21st Century Christian milieu, certain notions about the work of the Holy Spirit in general, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit in particular, are often thought to be more the province of Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. I am sure that today, the expression of Pentecost Sunday was quite different in Episcopalian churches than it was in Assemblies of God churches.

Regardless of the particular emphasis, we would all have to agree that on this day, the disciples received something more. And that’s the launching point for our thoughts. Perhaps you would resonate with someone who says,

  • “There must be more to Christianity.”
  • “I feel like I’m not all in.”
  • “I’m not sensing the Holy Spirit’s presence.”
  • “I think there’s things in the Christian life that I’m missing out on.”
  • “I want more of God in my life.”

In some ways, I think this gets even more complex than salvation when it comes to discerning next steps.

Some churches that believe that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a second work of grace; a particular post-conversion experience that takes place after salvation. Others believe that we receive all of the Holy Spirit at salvation, and that there is no subsequent experience, and yet these also admit there are times they sense that God has something new for them, and wants to lead them into greater a greater experience, what others might call the deeper Christian life.

Either way, we all could agree with the 5th quote above, that we want need more of God in our lives, and some of you, like the 4th quote, feel this more acutely; you’re heart is really crying out to God, not for something you might receive (healing, etc.) but for more of God Himself.

I believe you just need to ask God for this. I base that on today’s verse at the top of the page. As one of my former pastors, Dr. Paul B. Smith would say, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

Take the time as you listen to the song below to ask God to give you more of Himself. Ask for a greater awareness of the Holy Spirit in your life. Ask for the filling; a saturation of the Holy Spirit.

Break my heart and change my mind
Cut me loose from ties that bind
Lead me as I follow you
Give me strength to follow through

More, more, I want to be more like Jesus

More of Jesus less of me
By his power I will be
Like a flower in the spring
Brand new life in everything

Holy spirit fill me up
Gently overflow my cup
Touch my eyes and let me see
Me in you and you in me

More, more, I want to be more like Jesus

More of Jesus less of me
By his power I will be
Like a flower in the spring
Brand new life in everything

More, more, I want to be more, I need to be more like Jesus


Go Deeper:
Take a close look at the lyrics of A.B. Simpson’s best known poem/hymn, Himself.

February 3, 2015

Joy Beats Happiness Every Time

 

And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world (John 17:13-14, KJV emphasis added).

What follows below about half of a much longer article.  If you have the time, I encourage you to click the title below and read the introduction (and ending) instead of jumping in at the middle. The author uses the KJV throughout, but most of these scriptures are clear.

Where’s the Joy?

by Dr. Dan Hayden

WHAT IS THE JOY OF THE LORD?

A Definition Problem

 A young lady once said to me, “Pastor, how can God expect me to be joyful (or did she mean happy?) when life is so tough and everything’s going wrong?” She was expressing a common frustration with regard to Christian joy. Problems and pain are usually thought of as inconsistent with the joy of the Lord.

You see, happiness is directly related to the circumstances of our lives. When things go well, we’re happy. When things do not go well, we are not happy. It is as simple as that. Now, if we equate happiness with joy, then we will think of joy in the same way. The fact that pleasant times are usually seasonal and transitory (sometimes even totally elusive), means that the joy of the Lord is perceived that way, too. Sometimes we have it; sometimes we don’t.

Is that what our Lord had in mind when He prayed for us? Not really. Jesus was praying for something far different. When He said, “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (v. 13), He used a word to indicate something consistent and lasting. The Greek word for “fulfilled” is pleroo, which means to make full or, in another sense, to complete and bring to a finished product. The idea then, is that we might have His joy brought to completion, or matured, in us.

Also, the grammatical form of this word (the perfect tense) contains the idea of something that begins in us with consequences that continue throughout our lives. It is something that happens within us that is irrespective of any outward circumstance. It is consistent, not intermittent. It is lasting, not temporary. Thus, the joy of the Lord has a quality about it that surpasses what we normally think of as happiness.

The key to our understanding the joy of the Lord, however, is to observe carefully the specific joy our Lord had in mind in His prayer. When Jesus prayed, He said, “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (v. 13). There it is. Do you see it? He does not have our joy (in the sense of what pleases us) in mind at all. Rather, He is thinking of His own joy brought to completion (fulfilled) in our Christian lives. That is more than an interesting observation. It is the essence of knowing what the Bible means when it refers to Christian joy. The joy of the Lord, quite frankly, is the Lord’s joy. In other words, it is the kind of joy experienced by Him when He was on the earth.

So you ask, what is the Lord’s joy? What is it like? Thankfully, we are not left to guess concerning the nature of this joy. In Hebrews 12:2 we read:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (KJV).

We are told in this verse that “the joy” our Lord knew was something that was “set before him.” In other words, as He lived out His life there was something before Him that so captivated His attention that the difficult times (the cross and the shame), were no match for His enthusiasm. It motivated Him. It strengthened Him for the hard times. It created an excitement in His heart that made all other things pale into insignificance. It was so wonderful that His entire life was dedicated to pursuing it. The thing that was “set before him” was His joy. It was the joy of the Lord.

The last phrase of this verse, however, gives us our clue as to what it was. The Bible says He “is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” That final expression is descriptive of the glory that came to Christ as a result of all that He did. In His high-priestly prayer (John 17), He tells us that His whole purpose for living was to bring glory to the Father by accomplishing the work of redemption which the Father had given Him to do (v. 4). Jesus went on to say that there was a glory that would come to Him as a result of that accomplishment (v. 5)—a glory so wonderful and so exalting that no hardship was too great (the cross) and no rejection too severe (the shame) to deter Him from that goal. Even eating took a back seat to that purpose (John 4:31-34). It was the joy of His life.

Now the thing we need to understand is that the Lord’s joy was related to what would happen at the end as a result of what He did in the process. The glory and praise He would receive in Heaven as a result of having “endured the cross, despising the shame” on earth, was His joy. That was what was “set before him.” It was the end result, the goal, and the finish line that joyfully enthralled His soul. Therefore, He endured with joy the hardships He experienced because they were the means of achieving the joyful result (James 1:2-4).

All of this can be beautifully illustrated by our previous verse in Hebrews 12:

Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1, KJV).

Serious athletes understand this principle. Olympic runners, for instance, will subject themselves to rigorous workouts, painful situations, and severe deprivation in order to do their very best in the Olympic Games. They are not masochists who simply rejoice in pain. They “lay aside every weight” and “run with patience” because they are driven by a vision of glory in which they win the race and receive the gold medal. The pleasure of participating and, ultimately, the glory of winning is their joy. Even the process becomes enjoyable in the sense that it contributes to the joy—the glory of winning.

That, dear Christian friend, is the presence of the joy of the Lord. It is not pleasurable experiences that make us happy here on earth—although happy times will come on occasion. The Lord’s joy is a wonderful sense of privilege and an incredible sense of destiny as we participate in the grand work of Christ upon the earth. It is enlivening expectation that the result of all our work, trials, and suffering in the cause of Christ will be a magnificent sharing in the glory of Christ. We will reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12), we will sit with Him on His throne (Rev. 3:21), and we will share with Him in His glory (1 Pet. 5:1). Can anything beat that? Is that vision set before you? If so, it will be your joy, and you will say with Paul, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

Those that have caught that vision will understand exactly what Peter meant when he said:

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to test you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy (1 Pet. 4:12-13, KJV).

Our Lord is praying for us that we might have His joy fulfilled in us. What is He praying? He is praying that we will enter into such a close union with Him that the joy of His life will be the joy of our lives. He is praying that we will catch the vision of devoting our lives to the glory of God and to His purpose in the world with the realization that we will one day share in His glory. Oh, what a joy it is—no matter the cost!


So…how can we get that joy?  For that you want to read the second part of the article.

January 16, 2015

Salvation By Works: Yes and No

The Message – Col 2:6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

The Voice – Col 2:6 Now that you have welcomed the Anointed One, Jesus the Lord, into your lives, continue to journey with Him and allow Him to shape your lives. Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.

Amplified – Col 2:6 As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him. Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.

If you read nothing else here, don’t miss the first line of the reading which follows. Some people have a works-based faith. It’s not grace-based because it consists entirely of doing things. But some people, once they believe they have assurance of salvation by grace, end up doing nothing. Still a third group of people often realize that they have been guilty of living their lives in one extreme or other other, and end up swinging to the opposite position, but that leaves them still in the extreme. There is a continuum here, and the key is to find the balance in the middle.

E. Stanley Jones was one of the best-known Methodist missionaries (to India) and religious writers in the first half of the twentieth century. This is from Good News, a United Methodist website.

Devotional by E. Stanley Jones, Focus 3

By E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973)

You cannot attain salvation by disciplines*—it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain salvation without disciplines. If you try to attain salvation by disciplines, you will be trying to discipline an unsurrendered self. You will be sitting on a lid. The result will be tenseness instead of trust. “You will wrestle instead of nestle.” While salvation cannot be attained by discipline around an unsurrendered self, nevertheless when the self is surrendered to Christ and a new center formed, then you can discipline your life around that new center—Christ. Discipline is the fruit of conversion—not the root.

This passage gives the double-sidedness of conversion: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7, RSV). Note, “received”—receptivity; “so live”—activity. It appears again, “rooted”—receptivity; “built up in him”—activity.

The “rooted” means we take from God as the roots take the soil; the “built up” means we build up as one builds a house, a character and life by disciplined effort. So we take and try; we obtain and attain. We trust as if the whole thing depended on God and work as if the whole thing depended on us. The alternate beats of the Christian heart are receptivity and response—receptivity from God and response in work from us.


* What are the spiritual disciplines? Here is a list to get you started. That list has 12 disciplines in total, this one contains more, but breaks it down into seven key areas. (Click the tabs at the side of the landing page.)

March 6, 2011

Promise Box Theology

I’ve decided on some benchmarks that I think moving into deeper Christian living should contain:

  • getting away from prayer lists and focusing in on intensive prayer for God to something specific for an individual in a unique situation;
  • getting away from “promise box theology” and reading entire chapters or even 3-4 chapters at a time;
  • getting away from devotionals that begin with quick stories, and instead considering a topic or an idea and thinking about how that would play out in the life story of someone you know;
  • being consciously aware of ways for improvement in terms of manifesting the fruit of the Spirit;
  • being aware of things that are sin even though you didn’t consider them sin a few months earlier;
  • becoming genuinely excited about evangelism both in terms of personal involvement and hearing stories where “it’s working;”
  • finding yourself more deeply part of the picture as you read a New Testament narrative;
  • understanding your own brokenness and the brokenness of others, and how it draws us closer to God;
  • increasingly becoming an agent of grace and being drawn to others who are
  • feeling more and more “at home” with both personal Bible study and spending time in God’s house.

I’ve left many other possibilities out, I’m sure.  Feel free to add to this list in the comments.