Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Love of the Holy Spirit

The greatest human need is to know we are loved.  And most of us try to love others as well as we know how.  Most of the time.  Unless
we're upset with the other person, or they said something stupid to us, or hurt us in some way, or they got on our last nerve, or we just don't feel like it.  Then we retreat into our Fortress of Solitude, or sing Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" to ourselves and pretend we don't need the other person anyway, so there.

The Holy Spirit changes all that.  He is the very essence of the love of God., and the Father sends him to give you and me God's love, which is the only way we can love anyone else (1 John 4:19).

Do you believe the Father loves you?  In fact, he loves you just like he loves his Son, Jesus!  "May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me."  (John 17:23).  He doesn't want you to live in fear and torment, but in a relaxed assurance of his complete love for you.  Let's look at more of 1 John 4:
  • "God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins" (verses 9 and 10).  
  • "Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.  And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us" (verses 11-13). 
  • "We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect" (verses 16-17).  
  • And then John says, summarizing these verses, "Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love" (verse 18).
If we are afraid of the future, it is because we don't grasp how much we are fully loved by God.  If we are unable to love others, it is because we don't grasp how much we are fully loved by God.  The Holy Spirit will fill you with the complete assurance of God's love for you, as you ask him to.  That's one of his main jobs. 

Are you ready to know God's love completely?  Just ask him!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Time for Change? Good News!

This morning, I heard a flock of geese flying by, headed for winter south of here.  Their honking brings a smile to my face -- I think geese are magnificent creatures -- but it makes me realize
what their honking means:  Change is on the way! 

Most of us would like to see real, meaningful, permanent change in our habits.  We'd like to be free from fear, doubt and temptation.  Good news!  Our first real change has already been given to us, at no charge. Colossians 1 tells us that we are the blessed recipients of God's unilateral actions: 
"For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (v. 19-20) This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. (v. 21) Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body {not through our repentance, faith, baptism or obedience}. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault" (v. 22).  What a huge change!!  But can we change the way we act? 

I've had the experience of being harnessed to a strong rope and tackling an obstacle course twenty or thirty feet up (a lot higher off the ground than I like to be!).  Since I was completely secured by that rope, I was given the courage to climb, jump, and work my way over obstacles I never would have tackled alone.  God's love gives us the same courage.  Paul tells us here to "continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it" (v. 23) as a moment-by-moment part of life.  Leaving our old habits behind feels foreign, and we can hesitate in fear.  Knowing we are completely loved and eternally accepted by God, gives us the courage to change our ways:  to live another day without the false promises of alcohol, pornography, anger, lust, food, unforgiveness, or any other method we use to feel in control of our lives.

I can tell you from experience, this much change won't happen from sheer force of will.  It's time to believe what God says, that he we are "holy and blameless," and to choose to live in that truth.  God will always hold us securely, and will help us develop new habits of thinking, feeling, speaking and living, whether we take it one step at a time or all at once.  Why not start today?  If you need another person to know what you're doing and pray for you, just ask.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Are you struggling with something in your life, and want the power to overcome it?  The ultimate source of power is God himself, and God gives us
his Holy Spirit to live in us (Eph. 1:13).  The Spirit's power "is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 1:19-20).  Awesome!  I need that!  Do you?  Paul explains how, in his letter to the Ephesians.  

God has identified us as his own (like putting a seal of approval on us) by giving us his Holy Spirit (1:13).  Paul prays that God will give "spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God" (1:17), through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit's power, as we saw in 1:19-20, is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and put him above every other power (1:21) -- which means God can do anything he needs to in us, to give us new spiritual life!  Using that "up from the dead" idea in 2:4-6, Paul says that God gave us life, while we were still dead in our sins, when he raised Jesus from the dead.  

Paul was an energetic, effective evangelist.  But Paul insists it was by "God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News" (3:7), not by his own hard work, diligence or dedication.  And so, one of his prayers to God for the church was that "from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit...And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is" (3:16-18).  Then he asks that we "experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God" (3:19). 

That power can do "infinitely more than we might ask or think" (3:20).  One thing we all need the Holy Spirit to do for us, is to help us understand and experience "the love of Christ," and have "all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."  If we understood , we wouldn't try to work things out ourselves.  We wouldn't use political maneuvering and half-truths to get others to do our will.  We wouldn't use food, pornography, alcohol, marijuana, drugs, shopping, tobacco or any other substance or activity to make us feel better about ourselves. Knowing how secure we are in Christ, through God's infinite power, would let us relax and trust God to take care of all our needs.  

God loves us without conditions and gives us his powerful Spirit freely.  It's up to us, to decide to live within the Spirit instead of struggling to succeed by ourselves.  How about praying to God, giving up the struggle, and asking him to fill you completely with his power?  Instead of struggling, you'll experience his peace, leave your cravings behind and be filled with his love instead.  Too good to be true?  You won't know unless you take that step of surrender!  Need help surrendering?  Just ask.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Spiritual Experiences vs A Spiritual Life

The curriculum at last week's summer camp, SEP Rockies, was "Rooted" and was beautifully delivered by our chapel speaker, Anthony Mullins.  He talked about the life
cycle of a tree, starting with a seed that dies in the ground in order for the tree to sprout, the seedling struggling to push out of the ground to sunlight and then to push its roots deep in the soil to get nourishment and to hold on during storms; and finally to the point of maturity, which is bearing fruit and seed in order to start the cycle again.

I found a book called "Deep-Rooted in Christ: The Way of Spiritual Transformation" by Joshua Choonmin Kang, a Korean pastor in Los Angeles.  It ties right in with that "Rooted" camp curriculum.  I read these comments in chapter 5, and was reminded of the "mountaintop experiences" we have at our camps: "Spiritual experiences and spiritual disciplines are similar, but they have different outcomes...Spiritual formation isn't like a quickly spreading fire; it's like a tree with deeply descending roots, establishing a foundation for future growth and fruitfulness." (The book is $10 at christianbook.com, if you're interested).

Kang's point is important.  Most of us like spiritual experiences, because they're exciting, they give us energy, and they're memorable.  But like birthday cake, we can't make them our entire diet.  Growth and health, both spiritual and physical, need intentional and balanced nutrition.  When we feel spiritually weak, seeking yet another mountaintop experience won't deepen our contact with and our reliance on Jesus.  A steady, day-by-day diet of spiritual habits will feed our understanding of God and of our own needs.

Here are some examples of habits we can use to deepen our spiritual lives:  Self-examination, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, shows us how we fall short of God's best for us and can help us see a way toward peace.  Silence and solitude (turning away from all our distractions so we can focus on God) gives God space to hold an extended conversation with us.  Generosity helps us release our fervent hold on our possessions and remember they all belong to God anyway.  Memorization of scripture -- several verses at a time -- nourishes our thinking and cooperates with the Holy Spirit as he teaches us (John 16:13).

How about trying one of these practices today, and see how it helps you?  If it's helpful, why not make it a daily, weekly or monthly habit?  These and many others will help you be "Rooted" in God's love and life.