God Through Us

God works through us.

It’s not that He can’t work in other ways; obviously He can and does. But because He believes in us — that astounding fact of scripture which simply cannot be denied or dismissed — He wants to work through us.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. ~ Philippians 1:3-6

Can you conclude anything from this that there is a partnership in the gospel? That “he who began a good work in you” can be anyone other than God? So is this partnership just between Paul and the folks at Philippi?

(for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), ~ Galatians 2:8

No! It’s God working through Peter to the circumcised and through Paul to the Gentiles! How does He do that?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10

Is it just to Peter and Paul? Does He just makes work for us? No! It’s for all, and for every:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8

Does He just give us the grace to prepare ourselves for the work? Not by a long shot! There are gifts attached to that grace:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ~ Romans 12:3-8

So He gives us specific gifts to prepare us for the work He has prepared for us to do. But prepared us in what way?

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

He empowers us. The Spirit, the Lord, God. How much power are we talking about?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:20-22

That’s a lot of power! Does He do it long-distance?

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. ~ Colossians 1:24-29

No; from within! Christ in us. It’s His energy working powerfully within us. That makes us partners in the gospel with God, through Christ!

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:1

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:20

How does Christ dwell in us? Through His Holy Spirit:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ~ Romans 8:9-11

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

The Spirit of God! The Spirit of Christ! Without His Spirit within us, we have no hope of resurrection! We have no chance of escaping destruction! Without His Spirit, we have no way to partner with God in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

We can know scripture forward and backward and think we know everything it means, and if we do not have the Spirit dwelling within us, we are pointless and powerless in our attempts to minister. By the Spirit, God speaks through us:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:3

And the One who knows how best to prepare and empower each of us does so at His own discretion, not ours:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

Therefore we work for the common good, Paul says, in partnership with God to build His building, sow and water and tend His field:

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:9

So how do we respond to this offer of powerful, dwell-within partnership?

Do we say, “Well thanks, God, but I’ve got my Bible and I understand it completely and perfectly; that’s all I need and I don’t really want your help”?

Or, “I’m just not sure about all that miraculous stuff or being a part of that; it’s not that I believe You can’t do it, but it scares me a little bit and I’d rather just believe that You don’t work that way anymore because it’s too likely to be perceived as fake and I don’t want to have my credibility damaged”?

Perhaps just: “Oh, You don’t need me, Lord. Use my brother; he talks better than I do”?

Maybe: “I’m catching the next outbound boat for the other direction.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

Too familiar?

A Little Sermon for Us

My dear fellow believers and siblings in Christ,

This is a little sermon for us when we need it. “Us” includes me. In fact, I may need you to rub my nose in it later. So don’t forget it. Here we go:

It’s not enough to be a good Christian. If you’ve read my blog for long, you already know I believe that works testify to faith in God’s grace, and together they’re a salvific sandwich (just as a PB&J is not a PB&J without peanut butter, bread and jelly). But I’m not really talking about salvation here.

What I mean is that it’s not enough for the believer to get God’s work done in this world or to become transformed into the image of Christ just by …

  • donating to save the World Trade Center cross
  • affixing a bumper sticker for a candidate who opposes abortion
  • voting Republican (or Democrat; whatever your holy preference)
  • clicking “Like” next to a Bible verse or a picture of Jesus on Facebook
  • listening only to contemporary Christian radio
  • eating or not eating at Chick-Fil-A
  • going to church every Sunday and doing the things you’re supposed to do at church
  • abstaining from things you’re not supposed to do
  • sublimating with things that you can do that seem to take your mind off what you’re tempted to do

You know what I mean. All those things, as Paul says about other practices and rules and human commands and teachings …

“…indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

In other words, they’re not transforming of us. They’re not effective in getting God’s work done in us and for others.

I’m not saying anything that really surprises you, am I?

We all know what Jesus taught and it’s hard to do and we like to downplay or ignore or conveniently forget it when it comes to the difficult job of living His life in this world. We know what He taught, though. He pulled the most important things out of God’s law and emphasized them. He taught things like:

  • “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (That’s the goal. None of self, and all of Thee.)
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
  • “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
  • “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
  • “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
  • “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
  • “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I’m not going to cite these. You can find them yourself. You know where most of them come from in scripture, but more importantly, you know that they come from the very heart of Jesus your Lord.

I, for one, do not believe He is kidding about these. I don’t think they’re intended to be His laws that we must perfectly do or be forever damned. But I also don’t think they’re just suggestions about nice things to do if we have the time and they don’t inconvenience us too much.

I don’t believe there are any of His instructions to the people He loves that are outdated under the old Law, or no longer beneficial to one’s character, or no longer effective in doing God’s work in this world, or are exaggeration and hyperbole and wink-wink-smirk-smirk because it is impossible for anyone to be perfect.

That’s bullpuckey.

He was.

He’s putting His very heart out there and telling us to make it ours. He’s telling us who He is and whom He can help us become and how. He’s showing us a better life than the lives we’ve chosen, with all of those easy little non-sacrificial doo-diddly-do’s-and-don’ts that may do a tiny amount of good but don’t even come close to getting the job done.

No, they’re not easy. Jesus also said something about taking up a cross and following Him. The cross was not optional equipment for the journey. Doing these things is going to cost us, and cost us dearly — just as doing them cost Him his life.

Yes, they are goals. How can we learn to live the life of Christ in this world if perfection isn’t our goal? Not laws, not suggestions: His loving instructions about making our lives matter in this world, and thereby living out the eternal significance of His life in this world. That’s transformative.

I keep saying “His life.” It has to be His life. He gave His up for us. He’s asking us to do the same for Him … to the blessing of others. Not ourselves.

He’ll see to the blessing of our selves when His time is right.

Okay, that’s my little Sermon on the Blog. We’ve read it. We’ve thought about it. We’ve been made completely uncomfortable by it.

Now let’s live it anyway.

A Spirit-Filled Church

Do you worship with a church that is primarily concerned with getting it right and doing it right and not doing something wrong?

A church that is a little afraid to do anything because it might not be directly authorized by scripture and might be wrong?

Do you gather with saints who speak mostly of duty and law and authority and judgment?

You’re not alone, and there are many more like you who yearn to be free to worship every day.

Here is something you are free to do and it’s authorized by scripture:

Pray for your church.

Jesus prayed for His church, with some of the last breaths He took as a mortal (John 17).

Paul prayed for the churches in Rome (Romans 1:8-10), Ephesus (Ephesians 1:16), Philippi (Philippians 1:4), Colossae (Colossians 1:3), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2),  He prayed for them constantly, always, without stopping — those phrases characterize his descriptions of his prayers for them.

Pray that your fellow believers will receive the Holy Spirit, and receive power and wisdom through Him, just as those in scripture did (Acts 8:15; Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:9).

Pray in the Spirit (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20).

Pray in faith (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24).

Pray boldly to be able to speak boldly. Pray for God to stretch out His hand. Pray for your church to be shaken (Acts 4:23-31).

Ask for the Holy Spirit for yourself, as well (Luke 11:13). He is a promise made to you (Acts 2:37-39).

Then have the courage to start being the answer to your prayers (1 Corinthians 16:13).

It’s important! Vitally, crucially, eternally important!

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who livesin you.” ~ Romans 8:9-11

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit of God and of Jesus Christ is now just a passive, passe, common enthusiasm like the “Spirit of St. Louis,” then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit is now just present in you only through your reading of scripture, then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit will stop living within, working within, comforting from within, empowering from within, then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit “living in you” is just a metaphor; just a simile; just a manner of speaking, then it’s not true.

No matter how many times you hear it; no matter how loudly it’s repeated; no matter how hard the pulpit is pounded when it’s said, it’s not true.

It’s a lie. And it’s from Satan. And it’s designed to de-emphasize, demoralize, and de-energize the church that Christ died to empower with the gospel of truth: the Spirit is His free gift to us, and through that Spirit, life without end.

That life begins in the here-and-now; a life that lives in Christ, for Christ, through Christ by the power of His Spirit living in you.

The utter, plain, inarguable truth of that is the reason that Paul could claim:

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. ~ Colossians 1:25-28

If you want to worship with a Spirit-filled church, be a Spirit-filled person.

Let it begin with you.

Stand for the truth.

Just Tell The Story

Some time ago — and I can’t recall where; on what blog or forum — my contention was that we don’t need to judge the eternal predisposition of another person in order to share with them the Story of Jesus.

And it was met with objection. By someone who insisted that we do.

Really?

When you sit down and talk to someone that you barely know and the subject of the Dallas Cowboys comes up, don’t you get an impression fairly quickly about whether that person’s for or agin’ ’em — or they don’t give the first care?

Is it any less true if you talk about Jesus?

If the someone you’re talking to responds enthusiastically and positively, has an interest in the subject and enjoys sharing their own faith, don’t you pretty much know that you’ve found a brother or sister in Christ?

And if the someone you’re talking to displays no real knowledge of Jesus or a negative impression of His followers, or no genuine opinion on the subject either way, don’t you kinda deduce that you’ve met someone who doesn’t really know Christ and needs to?

I’m thinking that I don’t have to go into every conversation with a checklist of doctrinal possibilities and interrogate each person I meet before I can love them and share a table with them and have fellowship with them.

Oh, we may not have fellowship in the Lord; that’s up to Him to determine. But we can have fellowship of the Lord in the same way he dined with all kinds of people at all stages of belief.

And it can start so simply.

Just tell the Story.

Ease right into it just as if you knew what you were getting into.

“Would you mind sharing this table with someone who will have to say a prayer of gratitude even over a tray full of McDonald’s?”

“Is it okay if I ride next to you and read my Bible if I promise not to keep it to myself if I find something cool?”

“I am perplexed by this. Do you see here in John 5 where Jesus says we should eat His flesh and drink His blood. What do you make of that?”

“Do they have to put these tables so close together that a person doesn’t even have room to kneel down and say grace?”

“You look like a normal person. If I told you that I believed some guy two thousand years ago is still alive and was the Son of God, would I start looking abnormal to you?”

“This may sound selfish, but when I see a news report like that, I just want to start praying, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ You know?”

“You are a really patient person with all us crazy folks at this table, and I’ve just got to tell you that your servant nature reminds me a whole lot of Jesus Christ. Thanks for serving us today.”

Yes, we believers are a little crazy. A little crazy about the One who gave Himself up for us, so we’d be a little crazier not to give ourselves up for Him. Give up a big tip. Give up a little dignity. Give up a bit of our time and love and self-importance.

If we can’t do those things for a chance at telling His Story, what does that say about us?

Why Jesus Came (In His Own Words)

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” ~ Mark 1:38

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Matthew 20:26-28 (also Mark 10:45)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” ~ Luke 19:10

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” ~ John 12:27

“‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’” ~ John 18:37

The incarnation of the Son of God is miraculous and wonderful in so many ways … but if the Story ends at the manger, or even in Egypt, then it is only a partial telling of the miracle and wonder; it only hints at the purpose.

For His purpose as stated is much the same as ours:

  • To preach good news
  • To be a servant; to give up our lives in service
  • To seek and save the lost
  • To face the hour of sacrifice with courage
  • To testify to the truth

Long ago the Preacher opined, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Jesus knew His time and His purpose. We who believe should, too.

Our time is now.

Our purpose is His.

I Would Like to Stop Being a Jerk Now

No, my blog hasn’t been hacked. This is really me posting, and I would like to stop being a jerk now.

I would like to stop being so opinionated, so convinced of my own rightness, so judgmental and condescending and achingly starved for affirmation that I will stop letting it all boil out of me like pungent acid onto everyone I encounter.

I know deep down that it’s going to cost me the luxury of making snide comments at others’ expense which strike me as funny … and correcting and belittling them … and getting the credit for some things I might have actually done right.

And the whole thought of it just gives me the willies and sends an icy sharp pang of panic down my spine.

Because I have tried before and failed.

The truth is, what I’m wanting to give up is exactly who I am. And that is never something that should be considered or done lightly.

I want to be Someone else, but since I can’t be, I want to be open to Him through His Spirit. I want to be like Him. I want to give Him full use of not only hands and feet but heart and head and mouth.

That is not who I am, and it frightens me all the way to the center of my empty pointless self to admit it.

I want so much to be able to do it myself, and I can’t because I’m empty. It isn’t within me. I need help.

Because I am too often blind and deaf to the things He shows and says to me, I need your help.

I need you to tell me when I am still being a jerk.

I need you let me know when I am not funny but judgmental and unloving and selfish and cruel.

I mean it. Even if I melt in a puddle. I need to know.

Because I can’t trust me anymore.

I am a jerk.

And I don’t want to be a jerk anymore.

We All Want To Have It Right

Calculator or calcunow ... it's all the same to me.You can count on the fingers of both hands the number of times in the New Testament when someone is recognized as being “right” or “correct,” in the sense of having deduced things accurately – and you’d never have to use your thumbs and still have one finger left over.

  1. Mark 7:6
    He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
  2. Matthew 15:7
    You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you …
  3. Mark 12:32
    “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.
  4. Luke 7:43
    Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
  5. Luke 10:28
    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
  6. John 4:17
    “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.”
  7. John 13:13
    “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.

At least, that’s all I found. (Other than a couple more where people thought they were right but were wrong!) Now, I’m not talking about the times the word “right” is used in the sense of “opposite of left” (as in “right hand”), “moral/holy” (as in “do right”), or “innate privilege” (as in “my rights”). I’m just counting the ones having to do with people cogitating correctly.

Because we think that’s pretty important, don’t we?  We all want to have it all right in our heads. Right?

But the numbers for knowing right don’t add up to the number of New Testament verses that feature “do right” or “do what is right.” I found eight of them:

  1. Romans 12:17
    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
  2. Romans 13:3
    For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
  3. 2 Corinthians 8:21
    For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.
  4. 2 Corinthians 13:7
    Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.
  5. 1 Peter 3:6
    like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
  6. 1 John 3:10
    This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
  7. 1 Peter 2:14
    or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
  8. Revelation 22:11
    Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

Now, I’m not trying to minimize knowing what’s right as compared to doing what’s right; you have to know what’s right before you can do it. Right?

But if you add them together, you still only get 15. Add “do good” / “doing good” and you get about 25 more. Factor in “obey” and “obedience” and you get about 56 more. All that still doesn’t begin to compare to the number of times that the New Testament talks about righteousness or being righteous:

137

In the NIV, that is; from which I’ve drawn all these numbers and comparisons. (Your results and versions may vary. But not that much. I mean, I want to be right all the time. I just don’t have time to be right about all the different versions and counts and numbers and stats. It’s driving me nuts. However, I digress …,)

We all want to have it right in our heads, and some of us want to have it right through our hands, feet, lips, hearts and wallets. Hardly any of us, though, want what it takes to actually be righteous. And that’s okay, because we can’t. Not on our own. Not ever.

Oh, of course, we want to be righteous. We just can’t muster what it takes to be perfect.

That’s okay, too.

Yes, Bible Fans, I’m talking about Romans 3 here. And John 13:15. 1 Peter 2:21-24. It’s pretty simple to correctly deduce:

All we have to do is be like Jesus, and let Him be righteous for us.

You’ll fail. So will I. (Romans 3:23)

We’ll get up and try again, and again, and again; because our Example is perfect (Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 5:9). Yet through His sacrifice, He makes us perfect (Hebrews 10:14).

I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.

If not … I’m sure you’ll set me right!