Power for Hopeless Cases … for God’s Glory

Just finished reading Levi’s Will, a novel by W. Dale Cramer. In one scene, Will asks his boss and best friend, Barefoot, what God wants of us. Barefoot’s reply is, “Beats me,” but we get the feeling that he knows …

As they sit by the pond with a fishing pole, Will’s wife brings them both iced tea. Will takes a sip and promptly spits it out; she has not put sugar in his tea because he must alter his diet since his heart attack. Barefoot enjoys his drink; his has the usual large dose of sugar.

As the discussion goes on, Barefoot takes Will’s almost full glass of tea and pours some of it into his own half-empty glass. Then he pours part of it back into Will’s glass; and then again pours into his own. Back and forth he pours, until both men are enjoying glasses of sweetened, good tea.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation — the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ — for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

In the same way that Barefoot pours his sweetened tea into Will’s, mixes it and changes it, so the Spirit teaches us, leads us step by step into greater knowledge and understanding. The fruits of the Spirit become more and more evident in our lives, as Jesus Christ’s Spirit begins to produce in us His own character. 

This is God’s agenda in our lives. His plan is to give us a new life, one that takes on the very character of Christ. If you see nothing else in the Scripture above, remember this phrase: the righteous character produced by Jesus Christ.

We can’t produce it ourselves. For a long time, I thought this was what being a Christian was all about:  I must do this, I must not do that, I’ve got to be more of this, less of that. And I was a colossal failure at producing that character. Doing it on my own was pretty much hopeless. I was that undrinkable tea.

Instead, the character and the fruit it produces come from a new life birthed in us by the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit sustains and molds that life. He is the one who produces the fruit. Jesus pours more and more of His own character into each child who has been adopted into the family of God.

Is it so difficult to believe that the Spirit of God lives within you and is changing you? 

You believe and understand that this happens on a human level. Within hours of a child’s birth, people are looking for Daddy’s dimples or Mom’s eyes or Big Sister’s nose. We take it further than the physical; we say that “He has his dad’s business savvy” or “She’s got her grandfather’s gumption” or “She has her mother’s sweet disposition.”

God birthed a new life in us by planting His Spirit within. Scriptures say we are born of the Spirit. He’s brought us into His family, and He intends to make us like the Son of God.

(Just wondering — Do we look for “family” characteristics showing up in other children of God? Or are we so preoccupied with recalling an old life that God says is dead and gone that we can’t see and encourage the new in others and in ourselves?)

Yes, there is still something “I” must do — I must throw open all of myself to the power of the Holy Spirit. And then what He does with all of us “hopeless” cases is amazing.

The new life and character we exhibit bring glory and praise to the Lord of all Creation. Of course!  We cannot fix ourselves; we cannot produce a new character no matter how hard we try; we are pretty much hopeless left on our own. But God, working in us, can do all of that … more than we can even imagine.   

As Jesus pours Himself into us and His Spirit leads us step by step into truth, we start looking more and more like the One who is Truth. 

**

Scripture: Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT)

 

How do we love?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

That verse is in 1 John 3:16 Isn’t this interesting? John 3:16 talks about God giving up His son because He loved the world. 1 John 3:16 takes the next step—now we’re to love each other in the same way, laying down our lives for others just as Jesus did.

This is the command Jesus gives to all who say they love Him and live in Him: We must love like He does.

So, I’m asking … what does giving up our lives for each other mean? I don’t think it means physically dying in another person’s place. Maybe it means letting my own dreams and desires die for the sake of another soul. My selfishness is squelched so that I can treat another person as Christ would treat him. I give up some of my comfort for the sake of another. The “I” in me dies, so that another soul will live.

Oh. That’s tough. I am so … human.

Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Yes, Lord, we hear your command, but what you ask is really, really hard.

But Jesus doesn’t give us time to object or whine. Because the next verse immediately says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.”   (John 14:15-16)

Ah, yes. Jesus knows exactly how difficult it will be for me — human me — to obey His command to love others. And so He promised the Counselor, the Spirit, the one who leads me into truth. The Spirit of Christ himself dwells within, to help me live the way He wants me to live.

Romans 5:5 says that God gave us the Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Some versions say our hearts are flooded with God’s love, or it is poured into our hearts, or shed abroad. One of the fruits of the Spirit is love, and it can come pouring into us, flooding through our hearts.

Wow. I admit, that’s what I need. A flood of something beyond myself. That’s the only way I can love the way Jesus loved me.

It’s difficult enough to give up my selfishness for the sake of someone I claim to “love” in my human way. But Jesus also asks us to love our enemies, to love those who hate us, to love those who are in need (and what greater need is there than the need for God?) That’s the way Jesus loved. He prayed God would forgive those who killed Him. He gave up His life, not just for the handful who followed Him for a few years on earth, but for people who mock Him in 2011.

How do we love like that? How do we love, when our human nature would rather hate and condemn and avoid?

The Spirit sheds abroad, pours out, floods …

  

The Gift and the Glory – Part 2

Ever since 2 Corinthians 3 found me, I have been in awe of the truth that we who have turned to the Lord reflect the Lord’s glory [and] are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Did you catch that? He created us in His image to begin with, then we pretty much ruined it, and now His purpose is to restore us to that image of His own glory.

This has completely changed my former thoughts about glory. First, I always thought the attribute of glory belonged to God alone … but there’s a long list of Scriptures that say it’s meant for us to share, too.

My NLT Word Study System says the Greek word used here for “glory” is a noun meaning “radiance or splendor, with a strong association of importance or display of power. It refers to eye-catching, wondrous beauty, perhaps with a focus on the object shining or reflecting light. Glory means ascribing honor or praise, emphasizing that the person being honored is powerful, beautiful, important.”

Whew. Radiance, splendor, importance, power, wondrous beauty. All of those things, we know, find their ultimate expression in God.

But … all of those things in ME ?

Second, my idea of the glory awaiting followers of Jesus was that it was some reward in heaven, when we will be transformed and made perfect. But this is His plan NOW — He reclaimed and brought us back from the kingdom of darkness so that He can transform us into His glorious image once again. And He’s not waiting — He’s doing it NOW.

And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

The Spirit of Christ that brought you a new life is the One who is now transforming you into His image. Hebrews says the Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. And the Son lives in us.

Isn’t that amazing?

Ann Voskamp, in her very poetic book, One Thousand Gifts, says:

          He means to rename us—to return us to our true names, our truest
          selves. He means to heal our soul holes … He means to fill us with glory
          again.

In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul quotes the Scriptures from Isaiah:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him.

Yes! This is hard to imagine. I know me. I know what I once was. And now He is transforming me into the likeness of God, planting in ME the glory that shines in the Lord of the Universe?  This is astounding.

Yet, Paul goes on to say, because we have received God’s Spirit, we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

I want to understand. I want to know the wonderful gifts that He’s prepared for me.

Receiving a new life. Inheriting His riches, hope, and power. Transformed into His likeness. Created first in His glorious image … ruined … now being restored.

How can we ignore such a gift?

Spirit, help us believe and understand.

 

 ***

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV); Colossians 1:27: Hebrews 1:3; 1 Corinthians 2:9,12 (all NLT)

More Scriptures about the glory planned for us: John 17:22; Romans 5:2; Romans 8:16-18; Romans 9:23; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 4:14; 2 Peter 1:3-4

Drinking Deeply and with Joy

Well, I detoured a bit, thinking about cracked cisterns. But I guess that’s what really does happen to us — we are pulled off track when we chase mirages instead of heading straight to the oasis.

With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation.”
(
Isaiah 12:3)

Does that one line itself make you thirsty, make you want more?

I want to drink more deeply, and I want to drink with joy.

When we began this discussion, I mentioned that finding God as the only true source of life-giving water is just the first step, the first part of our story. In the next chapter of this story, we find rivers of living water …  flowing within us!  

Does that sound a bit radical, maybe too extreme or fanatical? Or do you think it edges too close to a human-centric spirituality?

Here is the good, good news. Jesus says that anyone who is thirsty can come to Him, and He will give the Spirit, who will be rivers of living water flowing from your heart. This water, Jesus says, becomes a fresh bubbling spring within you and will give you eternal life.

Wow. I want to live with that fresh, bubbling, eternal water flowing through me.

Did you catch the Scripture’s reference a few days ago about God living among us? (Isaiah 12:6) This is what Jesus gives us: the Spirit of God that lives within each of His children. It is radical, but it is anything but human-centric. 

It is the Spirit of God within that becomes streams of life, flowing through us, reviving, sustaining, renewing. God is not just some powerful deity ‘way off in the heavens somewhere. God lives here, with us. Jesus said, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.”   (my bold)

Wow. Wow. Wow. I have to ask: Can you believe that? If you believe that, then what changes in your life?

Spirit, help our unbelief!

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well sounds familiar. Jesus tells her several times, “I can give you living water. You will never be thirsty again.”

But she doesn’t hear Him, doesn’t understand. Instead, she talks about practical, logical problems (How will you draw the water? You don’t have a bucket.); personal issues (if you give me this water, I’ll never have to come back here again, I have no husband); and religious tradition or dogma (where’s the best place to worship?)

Jesus repeats, “I can give you water that quenches all your thirst.”  But she has a hard time getting it. Even when He finally says, straight out, “I am the Messiah that was prophesied,” she’s still wondering, although she is impressed that He knew everything about her life. But it seems that she never understands Jesus’ offer of living, eternal water.

The Spirit of God in our lives is a fresh, bubbling spring of living water. May we hear, understand, and come and drink. Deeply.  And with joy.

 

John 7:37-39; John 14:23 (NLT)

Flames and Halos

(Yes, this is my very own photo. Did you guess? It’s either very interesting, or quite terrible. The glow, though, is the feeling I was going for….)

I have never given much thought to halos. But now, they seem to be everywhere I look.

We all recognize an artist’s depiction of that golden circle around or over a person’s head. The use of a halo in art goes ‘way back, long before Christian painters used a ring of light to frame Christ’s head or signify an angel or a saint.

And while most of us know little about the history of halos in religious art, we certainly understand some of the symbolism behind that little golden bit of light. It represents a purity, holiness, something of godly nature, beyond earthly and human. Halos are for saints and angels and the divine.

And certainly not for me. How many times have you heard a joke about someone’s halo slipping? If my portrait is ever painted, the last thing I’d expect is to see a halo shining around me.

But humor me, and try to imagine a picture of yourself — with a halo. Got that image?

Now let’s switch scenes to the room where the disciples and other believers waited for something Jesus had promised them, the coming of a Person and Power that would comfort and guide them. The account in Acts says

Suddenly there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been in that room? There’s a loud roar through the house, and you look at your friend sitting next to you. The glow of a flame sets his face alight. Maybe it was even more breathtaking than that; maybe it set his entire body ablaze. And your friend can suddenly speak in a language he never before understood.

Somehow, I don’t think pieces of art that depict this event with quiet little flames above each believer’s head have quite conveyed the power of what happened that day. God has come again and now dwells in the believers.

The same Spirit that arrived in such a dramatic fashion is given to each of us, children of God. That same Spirit shakes our lives, sets something within us ablaze, and changes us.

We are taught things we never knew, we are given new lives, we know a power beyond ourselves.

You might have snorted or scoffed or giggled a bit when I suggested you picture yourself with a halo. But isn’t that what the Spirit has done? Hasn’t He brought alive in you a life beyond this earthly one? Isn’t He changing us into the image of Christ? Didn’t Jesus’ sacrifice make it possible for God to declare you spotless and holy?

Paul gives a long list of those who won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. Then he says, Some of you were once like that. But you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Amazing, isn’t it? No matter what I once was, God has now made me holy.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own…

The word translated here as “identified” means “sealed”, setting a mark upon an object to show possession and acceptance.

Maybe a halo shining around your head is not so outlandish, after all.

Just one more scene to imagine. The next time you are in church, look around. See those halos above all of God’s children? See the flame of the Holy Spirit burning within them?

Scripture: Acts 2:2-4, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 1:14 and 4:30 (all NLT)