Time for Christians to get Rid of Our Disgrace

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. (Isaiah 25:7-8)

I often include this Scripture from Isaiah 25 in the readings during Celebration of Life services for believers because it demonstrates the Lord’s victory over death and his reward of eternal life in his presence.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, death is destroyed, and upon his return, it will be removed from existence forever in the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

In addition to wiping tears from the faces of his children, God promises to remove their disgrace from creation.  What is the disgrace of God’s people? The Hebrew word refers to rebuke, reproach and shame upon a people.  This is a burden that they carry upon themselves and leads to mockery and insult among the nations.

For the people of Israel, their disgrace could refer to their oppression, slavery and humiliation at the hands of their captors.  Israel and Judah had been pummeled by their enemies.   This was a disgrace upon them and also represented a rebuke from God for their sin.  The defeat against their enemies was a symptom and consequence of their greater disgrace of idolatry, immorality and general wickedness and foolishness.  More than anything, their disgrace was their unfaithfulness to the one God who had called them and blessed them. 

God promises to remove their unfaithfulness and its consequent sinfulness that resulted in humiliation and oppression.  In the context of the Scripture, God is going to reveal himself in a mighty and awesome way and be present among them as their Victor, so that they will never doubt him or turn from him again.  He will woo them with his loving, steadfast presence, and his people will cling to him in holiness and blessed assurance of his love for them and his goodness to them.  Their reproachable unfaithfulness and disgraceful, sinful rebellion will be no more.  They will have no more shame.

The subsequent verse reveals the salvation of the Lord that generates the above manifestations:

In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (25:9)

This prophetically points to the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.  He is the Good Shepherd who defeats death, prepares a table in his kingdom for all who come and who will wipe every tear from his followers faces.  And Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith in the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Today, what is the disgrace of God’s people?  I believe it is the same as it was for the people of Israel in Isaiah’s time: unfaithfulness expressed in sinful living.  The disgrace of Christians is their lack of belief and trust in their God who has saved them and does good for them.  The reproach upon Christians includes their mediocre faith that causes them to be mired in the sins and idolatry of the world, defeated and depressed, overcome by the spiritual forces of evil.  The rebuke upon Christians is seen in lives of anxiety and fear failing to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit who is with them.  Jesus looks for faith.

The Lord has come to remove our disgrace.  He has brought his salvation and victory over death and the forces of evil.  Our disgrace is unfaithfulness, and God has given us no reason to be unfaithful.  He forgives our sins, and he gives us the fullness of his Holy Spirit as an assurance that we have eternal life.  He is present to us.  In the words of Hosea, “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (6:3)

The Apostle Paul twice in Galatians 5 exhorts believers to “walk by the Spirit.”  Our disgrace is removed when we walk with and by the Holy Spirit and demonstrate our faith in Jesus Christ by rejoicing in him now in the midst of the world.  Rather than disgraceful unfaithfulness, we walk in glorious faithfulness and abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) “Rejoice in the Lord” and throw off disgrace and reproach.

Have faith in God and show the world the victory of the salvation of Jesus Christ.

A Necessary Obedience of Faith

I think even the most mature Christians are struggling to subdue the continual onslaught of foreboding thoughts and images that stir in our minds.  Our imaginations conjure collages of worst-case scenarios accompanied by soundtracks of curses and doomsday scripts.   The spiritual forces of evil have been goading us into this habit since we were toddlers.  Now they work with an endless supply of fodder to throw at us touching all areas of our lives, and we don’t help ourselves by accessing endless media. 

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These habits contribute to a life contrary to the life of faith that Christians can and should walk in and through Jesus.  God does not intend our lives to manifest fear and anxiety, and he doesn’t want our minds dwelling on worst-case scenarios of failure and doom.  He encourages our faith and peace.  He goes so far as to command us to be strong and courageous, not to fear and not to doubt his powerful, helpful presence.

The Apostle Paul addresses this issue in several of his letters.  He makes it clear that we must take responsibility for submitting thoughts and imaginations to God through our intentions and will.  He writes in Philippians 4:8,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Paul gives us the key to overcoming the anxieties of life.  It is to direct our thoughts to those things that inspire faith, hope and love.  He put it this way in Colossians 3:1-2,

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

We live in the world mired in sin and manipulated by the spiritual forces of evil.  If we dwell on earthly things and all that could go wrong in the world, then we will suffer fear and anxiety.  Paul confirms what Jesus prescribed for his followers to do for peace and not anxiety.  Rather than be anxious in the world, Jesus said to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33)  He promises that all we need will be provided, so we don’t need to be anxious or worry about running around getting things to feel secure.

James commands Christians to submit to God and resist the devil. (4:7)  This takes initiative and action on our part.  Paul writes about this very initiative and action in the following text from 2nd Corinthians,

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (10:3-5)

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We cannot escape the world until Jesus comes to us, or we go to him. We live in the flesh in the world; however, we are called and equipped as God’s children to live much differently by grace through faith. As we live in this world, we wage war through the powers of the kingdom of heaven given to us. Waging war means being alert and active against the enemy Paul identifies as the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:10-12).

Paul exhorts us to “destroy” things.  What are these things we destroy?  We must destroy and demolish each and every thought, word and image that builds itself against the kingdom of God and that rises up to interfere with our knowledge of and experience of God as he has revealed himself. 

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For example, we may have fears of sickness and physical demise that badger us.  Maybe we imagine the worst outcomes for any sort of symptom or pain we experience.  These fears and imaginations can overwhelm us and distract us from any good work, steal our joy and destroy our peace.  Worst of all, such fears and imaginations, often fed by news and bad reports, become stronghold in our lives that oppress us.  They exalt themselves against our knowledge of God. 

God has revealed himself as the Lord who heals us (Exodus 15:26).  The Psalmist encourages us, Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (103:2-5).

Peter promises us that by the wounds of Jesus “you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  In his sermon at Cornelius’ house, Peter preached that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Fear of sickness.  Worst-case scenarios of our demise and death oppose the knowledge of God as our healer, redeemer and the one who overcame sickness, disease and death.  We must tear down this stronghold, cast down the lies and false imaginations and submit our minds and thoughts to the reality of God and his promises shown to us in Scripture. 

We do this through prayer, mediations on Scripture and by standing firm in faith while using the sword of the Spirit to rebuke the enemy and tear down strongholds.  Responding to fear of sickness, disease, pain and death and associated evil spirits, we might say the following:

“In the Name of Jesus Christ and by the power of his shed blood and his resurrection, I tear down the strongholds of sickness and disease against me. I rebuke and bind the spiritual forces of evil that bring fear of sickness and death, and I command you to leave me and do not return in the Name of Jesus. I cast down every thought and imagination of sickness, death and pain from my mind. I come against every lie, curse, image and imagined scenario of sickness, disease and pain in my life. I declare that the Lord is my healer. He heals my diseases; he restores my health; he strengthens me and renews my vigor. I declare that I am healed by the wounds of Jesus Christ who bore my infirmities upon the cross. The Lord is the God of all hope; he gives me a hope and a future, and he sustains me by his word and by his Spirit within me. I thank you Father that you keep me in health and protect me from sickness and disease and restore my soul to peace. I think you that you have even saved me from death by giving me eternal life through Jesus Christ, so that I have nothing to fear. Amen.”

We can continue to rebuke evil spirits, reject curses, lies and negative images, and declare the good promises and reality of God and his kingdom.  We can and should do this for any area of our lives that is suffering from anxiety, fear, oppression, worst-case scenario imaginations and negative feelings like despair, unbelief, depression, anger or hatred.  This is our responsibility and our initiative.  This is the way to life and peace:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6)

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Spiritual Warfare Prayers

This prayer has served me and my wife well over the last decade. It powerfully addresses the forces and issues of spiritual warfare. The words also instruct us in spiritual warfare.

Spiritual Warfare Prayer by Victor Matthews

I invite your comments regarding this prayer and your own spiritual warfare. What led you to search for a spiritual warfare prayer and what has been effective for you?

Here is another Spiritual Warfare Prayer that I wrote:

Prayer for Submitting to God and Resisting the Enemy by Craig Stephans

Our Strength is in the Lord

I’m sure most of us have been in conversations lately regarding the upcoming presidential election when someone has expressed the foreboding prediction that no matter who wins things are going to be ugly.  Our imaginations conjure scenes of hatred, violence, rioting, finger pointing, politicians lying and blaming, lawsuits and the media fanning the flames.  Can anything stop the momentum of this chaotic cycle from going full spin post-election?

I believe our only hope is in the Holy Spirit and angels of the Lord moving in the nation in response to the faithful prayers of God’s people.  The only people to bring this about are believers in the Lord Jesus.  The question is will faithful Christians stand firm in faith or will we despair in the face of the shadows of the kingdom of darkness.

At a consequential time in the life of Jesus with his disciples, Jesus was facing imminent unrest, darkness, violence and death.  The disciples didn’t know what exactly was about to happen, but they could sense that an hour of darkness was coming upon them.

Jesus gave them promises.  He gave them his communion.  They argued with each other about who was greatest, as if they were having their own election.  Jesus gently and lovingly instructed them with words applicable to us at this time.

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Following the argument among the disciples, Jesus instructs them: “Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves (Luke 22:26).”  Jesus, the Son of God, was among them as a servant.  As his followers, we must humble ourselves before him and among others in order to serve as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We express humility through our prayers, gentle and beneficial words, deferring to Scripture and godly wisdom rather than our own opinions in discussions.  We work for the interests of Jesus and the good and well-being of others.

Jesus makes a wonderful, appreciative promise to his faithful friends: “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (28-30).”  Jesus asks us to stand with him during current and future trials.  He is looking for faithful followers who will abide with him and in him no matter what.  To such followers, he promises the kingdom.  Followers of Jesus live for the kingdom of heaven, even now in this world.  We don’t strive to have all the right opinions or to make others agree with us, especially on social media.  We strive, by God’s grace, to bring the kingdom of heaven wherever we are.  Jesus promises to those who are faithful to him, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (Rev. 3:21).”  This is our future hope and present inspiration.

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Then in the conversation, Jesus gets to the rub.  He lets them know that things are going to be rough: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (31-32).”  Satan attacks all of them to disrupt their lives and wreck their faith.  Jesus has prayed for Simon Peter in particular that his faith would not fail and that he would be strong, turn back in faith and encourage and strengthen the others.

Satan is trying to cause turmoil and chaos, division and hatred, violence and lawlessness throughout our nation and in our communities.  He is trying to sift the church like wheat, too, and destroy its faith and witness.  Jesus is interceding for us and praying for our faith.

Will we, you and me, be ones who stand firm in the faith, turn more to Jesus and provide strength and encouragement to other believers and a faithful, powerful witness to non-believers during this election season no matter what happens?  Jesus is warning us like he did his disciples to be on guard and be ready to exercise faith in the strength of the Lord.

Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples I want to highlight is the one he also follows himself, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation (40).”  There are so many ways for us to fall into temptation and to fail during times of testing and tumult that will come.  Jesus commands us to pray – not to argue, not to fight, not to despair or sulk.

As Jesus enters into the horribly dark hours of suffering, torture and death, his strategy is to pray.  He prays that above all the Father’s will be done, so that God’s purposes are fulfilled.  This is Jesus’ ultimate desire rather than that all things go smoothly for him.  This passage shows something dynamic that occurs when faithful people pray rightly: “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him (43).”

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This also happened when Jesus withstood the testing of Satan in the wilderness, and he rebuked Satan and sent him away: “Then the devil left him, and behold angels came and were ministering to him (Matthew 4:11).”

By prayer and standing firm in the faith, we experience the power of the kingdom of heaven.  We have the victory already through Jesus, so we can faithfully approach the unknown events of the near future committed to standing firm in the strength of Jesus and the kingdom of heaven – no matter what happens and what other people do.  As people of the kingdom of heaven, we pray for God’s purposes and perfect will to be accomplished among us.  And we pray earnestly!

Themes of the Apostle Paul’s Writings

In reading the Apostle Paul’s writing a good bit lately, and we always are if we are reading the Bible much, I think I can sum up his main themes that have been speaking to me under four headings: “How to become a Christian,” “How to live the Christian life,” “Grow up!” and “Don’t Give up!”  And I believe that they are all equally important for us to remember during this season of our lives. 

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How to become a Christian.  It is good to regularly revisit this foundation of the faith, so we know that we are saved, reborn, have eternal life and have the Holy Spirit, or if we don’t then we know how to receive salvation, new birth, eternal life and the Holy Spirit and also how to share the process with someone else:

Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10, 13 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 Three times here Paul mentions being saved.  From what are we saved by confessing that “Jesus is Lord” and by believing that God raised him from the dead and calling upon his name?  We are saved from sin.  Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Paul writes in Galatians 3:22 that everyone is imprisoned under sin.  We are saved from death.  Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death.  We are not only saved from death by resurrection when we die physically someday, but we are saved from death spiritually now. 

Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that apart from Jesus all people were and are dead in trespasses and sins.  In the second half of Romans 6:23 Paul writes, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  So when we become a Christian, we are saved from sin and death and receive at that time eternal life, and Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17that if anyone is in Christ he or she is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Because sin is the foothold of the devil and his demons in our lives, when we are saved from sin, we are likewise saved from the power of the devil.  In Acts 26, Paul describes his ministry as bringing people from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God through repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  We become a Christian by being born again to God and simultaneously saved from sin, death and Satan.

 Now when we become a Christian, we begin to live as a Christian.  The Bible asserts clearly and emphatically that believing in Jesus and confessing him as Lord describes an ongoing life of faith submitted to him as Lord.  Paul speaks to How to Live the Christian Life, too.  The emphasis on living the Christian life is on Faith and the Holy Spirit and participation in the body of Christ, the church.  We become a Christian by grace through faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, and we live as a Christian by grace through faith by working with the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ.  Paul writes in 1 Cor 12:3 that nobody, not even a really bright and seemingly good person who has been in church all their life, can say “Jesus is Lord” that is become saved and live as a Christian except “in the Holy Spirit.” And Paul states that To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good and for building up the church. (12:7, 14:12)

Paul writes this in Ephesians 2:9-10: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The Christian life is us going on the journey with Jesus by the Holy Spirit – walking with him in the good works that God prepared for us to walk in.  The journey begins by grace through faith when we are saved from sin and death and it continues by grace through faith with our necessary willingness, cooperation and help.  Paul even refers to his part as striving.  He writes to Timothy:

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Tim 4:10)

 To walk this out, we not only strive with our own strength which we do; Paul assures us that we have received the Holy Spirit of Jesus who is the spirit of power, love and self-discipline. (2 Tim 1:7)  He is the power and love of God in and among us.  He produces the character of God in us called the fruit of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians 5:22: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;  These characterize the Christian life.

 Throughout his letters, Paul writes things like in 1 Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight of the faith,” and 2 Thes 5:16 “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.”

And

Phil 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

These show how to live the Christian life working with God by his Spirit working in us, and this life occurs in the midst of other believers as we give and receive the ministry of spiritual gifts in the church.   

Paul’s writing in Scripture shows us “How to become a Christian,” and “How to live the Christian life.”  But there seems to be a tone of frustration at times, like the people see this and know this and are not quite taking responsibility for doing it and teaching it and sticking to it. Paul shows himself as an exhorter and encourager to the church.

So the theme “Grow Up!” abounds in Paul’s writings; for example in Romans 6:1-11, Paul seems to be saying,  “Grow up!” Roman Christians. 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 “Grow Up. No you can’t keep sinning!”  You are dead to sin.  Stop living like you are still a slave to sin or that your self is Lord of your life.  You have died with Christ and you have been raised with Christ.  Jesus is your Lord.  Live in submission to him in newness of life contributing in ministry and fulfilling your part of the body.

 Needing to mature, I believe, is where many Christians in our culture are hovering – immaturity, childishness, ego sensitivity, constant self-concern and alternating between narcissism and Celebrity Worship Syndrome and being overwhelmed with the anxieties of life in the world, even being pulled this way and that by cultural influences.  I fall in there, way too much. We can get stuck there in Christian immaturity.  We know how to become a Christian and we know how to live as a Christian, but we need to simply grow up into mature believers who do it and teach others to do it.  We have a charge and command from God to die to sin, that is selfishness, and to live to God in Christ Jesus by walking in the newness of life by the glory of the Father that is the Spirit of Christ in you. 

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Do you know that there is a whole new self-help literary genre.  It is called “Adulting.”  Essentially, this is on how to live as an adult basically.  The term describes living a responsible life in the world.  We laugh at the concept, but the truth is that the church is often guilty of allowing Christians not to grow up spiritually in the same way parents today might allow their children not to grow up until it becomes a crisis and they have to read a book on adulting.

The Apostle Paul was a pioneer in this literary genre, because his letters are all about growing up and becoming a mature Christian. And this doesn’t have anything to do with age.  It has to do with mature faith.  There are people who have been Christians for 30 years who are babies in terms of Christian maturity and ministry while some young people – like those in this church are maturing in the faith at a fast pace beyond their years. Paul states the imperative to grow up plainly in 1 Corinthians 3:

But I, brothers [and sisters], could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

 Paul is saying I thought you would have grown up into mature Christians by now and could be ministering in the church and functioning as the body of Christ, but you are still acting like the world, like baby Christians trying to get your own way, getting offended or splintering into groups or continuing in sin.  This, Paul describes, is how we lived prior to salvation when we were children (in the faith), enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:3)

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that his ministry by the Holy Spirit aims to get people to grow up, to mature as Christians:

Colossians 1: 8 [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

By the power of God, Paul struggles to see people saved, to teach them the Christian life and to see them grow up into the faith and into ministry themselves so that the church can grow.

What is expressed in Paul’s writings demonstrates the work and responsibility of the entire church.  This is a reason he is so adamant that believers grow up and become mature in faith and ministry, so that they can fulfill their calling.  He describes this in Ephesians 4:11-16, a text that has characterized so much of what God is trying to bring about at Church of the Redeemer:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

God is calling all of us to be laborers in the harvest, standing firm where God has brought us to grow up to do the work of ministry.  You are a part of the body of Christ.  What happens when you fall out of joint or fall off.  The body can’t function.  It is limited, broken and weak.  We must grow up into our ministry in the body of Christ.  This is God’s call.  Not mine.  Pastors are not the head.  Only Jesus is the head. I’m one of the parts of the body like you.  We all grow up into Jesus, so that the body functions properly.

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And finally, you know how to become a Christian; you know how to live as a Christian; and you know you should grow up as a Christian; Now the fourth theme: Don’t Give Up!  Period.  Don’t Give Up!

Paul nor I are just talking about giving up your faith, but don’t give up that either.  Paul exhorts believers not to give up the fight, not to give up their position in ministry, not to give up the pursuit of holiness, not to give up their hope, their prayers, their earnest desire to see God move.  Don’t give up on the body of Christ where God has called you to be.  Don’t give up your spiritual disciplines – reading the Bible, prayer, small groups, giving your testimony, talking to your family member about Jesus, trying to use your spiritual gifts, evangelism.  Don’t give up.  When it comes to the body of Christ…when someone gives up, we all are the less for it. In 2 Timothy 2:10-12, Paul writes,

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;

At times, you will feel like this Christian faith isn’t real.  It isn’t working.  It’s not for you. At some point, a person in the church will offend you, say something you don’t like in a way you don’t like. At some point, the church won’t do it your way and how you like it.  Often, the pastor will make you mad or let you down.  At a lot of points you won’t feel like going, participating, or stepping up or out in faith.  Etc. Etc. You will want to disappear from the church, give up responsibility; you will identify dozens of reasons to give up.  The Apostle Paul knew this.  He had been through it all, but encourages Christians, for sake of salvation for people and for the building up of the body of Christ, “Don’t give up.”  If you endure as God leads you by grace through faith with the Holy Spirit in accordance with the word of truth, you will live with him and reign with him. 

One last word for Paul:

Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

 Don’t give up.  It is all for Jesus.

Today, commit to being a Christian and living as a Christian.  Commit to growing up in the faith and no matter what commit not to give up.

 

 

“Harassed and Helpless”Changed to “Empowered by Jesus” (Matthew 9:35-10:15)

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

The crowds were harassed and helpless.  We pretty much work throughout our lives to avoid being harassed and helpless.  We start early asserting our will, defending ourselves, building up our fortitude.  School, jobs, wealth, skills, connections etc, all serve to prevent harassment and helplessness.  No matter how hard we work or how lucky we get, though, we just can’t stop getting harassed or avoid helplessness.  So much of the turmoil of protests and riots and dealing with COVID-19 in our country right now have to do with people experiencing harassment and helplessness and acting out against it some productively and some destructively.  Each of us has those options in our own lives regarding how we respond to being harassed or to feeling helpless.

For some people, harassment and helplessness started early in life with abuse or neglect, with racism or ostracism.  Some folks grow up in the world as Matthew’s gospel describes the crowds like “sheep without a shepherd.” For others harassment and helplessness happened in school with bullying or degradation or mocking.  At some point helplessness may hit us from a sickness or injury or the death of a loved one.  We can’t stop bad things happening, even if we are trying to be good people.

Life in this world, whether out there or in your own home, can feel like a constant journey of harassment and helplessness.  Jesus has seen it.  Jesus sees it now.  He has come to save you from it. He has compassion on you.  Any idea that informs you otherwise is a lie that needs to be rejected.

A good question here is what or who harasses people and renders them helpless and then what can be done about it.

A way that I want to answer that is by looking at the work that Jesus initiates in this passage from Matthew’s gospel in response to the crowds.  He calls his 12 apostles to him, and he gives them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  Jesus charges them in their mission by saying:  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” And where they are welcomed, they are to bring peace to the house and people.

This indicates that what we are helplessly harassed and overcome by includes sickness and afflictions of every kind – body, soul and spirit, death, uncleannesses, demonic forces of evil and anxiety, worry, fear and conflict – in other words, the opposites of health, freedom and peace.  The proclamation declaring that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” announces that prior to Jesus coming there was another kingdom ruling over people—the kingdom of darkness.  Jesus represents the coming of the greater kingdom of heaven.  He announces and demonstrates that it is ultimately powerful and everlasting.  Its coming is good news for all people.

The authority given to the 12 shows us what we and all people need. Each of us needs to continually receive the message and reality of the kingdom of heaven; we need healing of body, soul and spirit, and we need deliverance from any spiritual forces of evil; we need cleansing from any impurity of our souls, and we need to receive God’s peace in our lives.  Each of us also can become an answer to the prayer Jesus commands us to pray.  We are called to become laborers in the harvest who follow the apostles’ footsteps of going into the world with Jesus’ authority to fulfill his mission.

We are all harassed and helpless in this world that is under the control of the evil one.  We all need to receive God’s ministry of healing, deliverance and peace to us and then we have a charge by God to become ambassadors of his kingdom that bring God’s healing, deliverance and peace to others in the world through our prayers, our presence and our ministry.

We are harassed by the spiritual forces of evil in this world.  Apart from the authority of Jesus, we are helpless against them.  As awful as people can be, and you have all seen it or experienced it, the Bible says,

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

These spiritual forces of evil, fallen angels, demons, do everything they can to destroy us, lie to us, oppress us, tempt us to do evil or destroy ourselves.  They can possess people or oppress people.  They divide us, cause hatred and violence.  They cause paranoia, depression, anxiety and fear.  They cause addictions, sin, loneliness and bring darkness.  Apart from Jesus, people are helpless against them.

But now the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  The power of God has come, so the first thing Jesus gives his followers authority to do is to drive out evil spirits.  That means he gives them, us, power over the spiritual forces of evil.  Those out there causing lawlessness, violence and death and those who harass us and cause conflict, sin, depression, fear and heaviness.

We need deliverance of these things ourselves, not only once but as often as we discern them. I want to give you one example; it is a notorious example but serves to illustrate the working of demons.  Concerning the last supper and the betrayal by Judas, John writes,

John 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

What has the devil or demons put into your heart or soul to do, to think, to imagine, etc.  Scripture shows that these demons tempt, accuse, lie, oppress, destroy and will lead us into destruction.  When you examine the thoughts of your heart, the imaginations of your mind, the scripts in your mind, the desires of your flesh, the heaviness on your soul and then what your will is being led to do, you will discover that their seems to be some malicious substance there.  These are the evidence of demons from which you need healing and deliverance.  We all encounter and experience them through the course of this world.  Scripture is full of encounters.  They come to harass us.  Apart from the authority and Name of Jesus, we are helpless against them, our families, communities and nation are helpless against them apart from the Name of Jesus and the prayers of his people.

This doesn’t mean we are not responsible for ourselves or that every bad thing is caused by a demon.  We do plenty of harm and make many mistakes on our own, too, due to our sinful nature.  However, I don’t think, for example, suicide or murder or abortions happen often or at all without some demon spirit whispering “kill, kill, kill. Do it. It doesn’t matter.”

After sending out the 12 apostles in this mission, Jesus sends out 72 others with similar authority and instructions.  At the conclusion of their mission, when they return to Jesus, the 72 exclaim to him,

“Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Lk 10:17–20).

Jesus specifies the power he has given us to trample on snakes and scorpions, a term that applies directly to demons.

Through Jesus, and only through Jesus, his followers have authority over the evil spirits that harass people.  And if you think you are exempt from their attacks and incessant harassment, then they have you right where they want you.  The same is true that if you think you are still helpless against them.  You are not.  You and we together as the church have power to trample on these evil spirits, and we must do it in our lives and for our community and nation.  What are the demons harassing our community, our nation?  We must pray and speak against them.  But authority only flows from those who are saved and living in Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave his followers authority to heal every disease and every affliction. I can assure you today that you need healing and I need healing.  We need healing until we are in the Lord’s presence and are perfectly conformed to his image for us and have free access to the living water of heaven, the fruit of the trees of life and can breathe in the air from the leaves of those trees that the Bible says are for the healing of the nations.  Until we are living in the light of God’s face, we need to be healed in body, soul and spirit.  As much as we constantly need physical healing, we need our thoughts, emotions, wills, memories and relationships healed.  The sooner and more fully you accept this the better it will be for you and the closer you can grow to Jesus, to other people and to becoming who you truly want to be.  Healing is like sanctification (or being made holy) – in some ways it happens at once when we are born again and in other ways it is an ongoing process until we are in heaven.

Think about healing this way.  Anything that you can take a pill for is an area in need of healing.  Anything that requires stopping a bad habit or beginning a new habit is an area of healing.  Any topic of a book on personal self-help is an area of healing. Experiencing grief and loss or trauma creates places for healing to occur.

What is it that prevents you from praying for healing or having others pray for you? Pride, doubt, embarrassment, lack of awareness, etc.  whatever it is…stop it and get prayers for healing.  To use Francis and Judith MacNutt’s wisdom in response to the experience that we don’t always see or receive the healing we want, they said “The more we pray for healing the more healing we see and whenever we pray for healing God heals in some way.”

So we continue to have our monthly healing service, and we continue to pray for healing for others.  And I continue to ask God to heal me where I am in physical pain and where in my soul I know I am not where God wants me to be.  It is not a small thing that God revealed himself to his people in Exodus 15:26 by saying I am the LORD, your healer.  He is the Lord who repairs us and makes us whole.  Jesus demonstrated this truth in all of his healing of body, soul and spirit while in his earthly ministry.  He is the one by whose wounds we are healed according to Scripture.

Being healed and being delivered enables us to be at peace through Jesus and to be a presence of peace in the world.  In sending out his disciples, Jesus says that if you enter a household that is worthy let your peace come upon it.  Otherwise, let your peace return to you.  Jesus later told his disciples,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. (John 14:27)

This is the peace of God that the Apostle Paul says surpasses all understanding, [and] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)

 We need this peace in our hearts and minds.  This peace is all-encompassing and when we are full of it, it exudes from us to those around us.  Apart from Jesus, there is no peace in this world or in us.  Through Christ in us, we bless others with the presence of peace.  We need daily to receive this peace and abide in it.  We need to examine ourselves and determine where we are out of peace, and then we pray for that area of our life and for God to give us his peace about it or in it.  Peace comes from God’s presence as a gift to us. There is no exception.

Our Christian lives, when rightly lived, include continually receiving healing, deliverance and peace from the Lord and then continually giving to others healing, deliverance and peace from the Lord.  This is the mission of God for the church in the world.  This is discipleship.  This is the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven that is the good news for people.  Jesus told his apostles “Proclaim as you go saying ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

By the grace of God, let us strive to be laborers in this kingdom.  Let us receive the ministry of Jesus for ourselves and for others in the church and in the world.

God’s Diagnosis and Prescription for Us

What is the answer to the destruction we are seeing in our nation?  I’m sure we have all watched videos by now of murder, assault, rioting, mass destruction, stealing, anger, rage and suffering.  Nationally since the beginning of the virus panic, there have been increases in drug addiction, suicides, child abuse, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and of course fear.  There are arguments and rants, pointing of fingers and lectures but no real answers. All of the above are symptoms of sinfulness and a sinful world.  It seems we are stuck in it. The world’s responses are inadequate at best and mostly destructive. Does God have a prescribed response for us?

When it comes to sinfulness, not much has changed from the time that Adam and Eve were cursed and exiled from the garden.  They were cursed because of their sin, and we still suffer the curses of sin in this world.  In fact, the curses explain our current situation more than most imagine.  After God created people in his image to live in paradise and to expand it over the earth, they sinned through disobedience and were confronted by their Creator with curses and  exile from paradise and God’s intimate fellowship:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

   “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:8-17)

What this curse describes is the failure of self-glorification, self-justification and self-righteousness; It doesn’t matter who or what we can blame for our sins.  The curse involves ongoing flagrant, grotesque sinful desires and severe conflict among people and between people with God.  And sinful people will continue doing all we can to justify ourselves, make ourselves feel or appear righteous, indulge even our most deviant desires and to try to rule over other people and get our way; All of the time, our true selves will be hidden even to us, as we fear disclosure of our sin before a holy God who is calling us or before other people who may hurt or use us.  Self-preservation comes by the sweat of our brow in a world that produces thorns and thistles.  For these sins and failures, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.  Even though we suffer sometimes terribly from the sins of others, we too are sinners.  The evil world that oppresses and tests us resulted from humanity’s sinfulness of which we are part.  We subjected ourselves and creation to the depraved rule of Satan and the kingdom of darkness, so we constantly have the serpent bruising our heels as we walk in this world stumbling in the darkness of sin.

That’s not how God created things to be is it?  In Genesis 1 -2, we see how God creates people and puts them in a garden of paradise and gives them his blessing to multiply, be fruitful and rule the creation, having dominion to expand his blessings.  God saw his creation and called it very good, and he blessed the ongoing day and made it holy. In that day, he rested in the delight of his creation to enjoy his handiwork.

In Proverbs 8, there is the voice of wisdom that I imagine representing the personified thoughts of the Trinity and the imagination of the Godhead at creation.  Listen to the attitude of God at the beginning of creation:

22   “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23   Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24  When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25   Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26  before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27  When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28   when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,   29  when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman,  and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world  and delighting in the children of man. (Prov 8:22-31)

 Sinfulness and the subjugation of creation to the forces of evil grieved the heart of God so much that God stated in Gen 6 that he regretted making man, because the thoughts of his heart and his deeds were evil all the time.  Apart from God, the same is true today.  But rather than destroy all humanity, God repopulated the earth through Noah and his family.  And eventually God’s own Son Jesus came into the sinful world to bring about salvation, because God created us to delight rejoice in his inhabited world and to delight in the children of man.

Jesus came into the cursed world, and he began pouring forth the blessings of God.  He started taking creation back from sin, death and Satan. He was working on behalf of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. And he made some people and demons mad, mad enough to kill him.  Jesus even states to his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”  (Jn 15:18). Jesus, the perfect man, was hated by the world. That’s how messed up the world is.

When you read through the gospels, especially slowly and reflectively, you begin to notice that Jesus did much of his works and teachings on the Sabbath – the day that God designated holy and for his rest.  Jesus healed people on the Sabbath and delivered people from demons on the Sabbath. Rather than rejoice over it, the Pharisees wanted to kill him for it.  Do you ever wonder what the big deal about that was? Why were the religious leaders so uptight about what Jesus was doing on the Sabbath?

The reason goes back to creation and to the garden.  God rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath, and he declared it holy.  The Sabbath indicated not just a 24-hour day for God but the ongoing life of the creation that God intends to enjoy and in which to have relationships with people created in his image and likeness, created to be as much like him as a creature can be.  For God, this is his rest.  This idea of Sabbath was wrecked by sin.  God didn’t give up on his Sabbath vision.  He instituted the law and the temple worship, but even this was corrupted to become a vehicle for the ongoing sinfulness and curse of humanity.  The Pharisees demonstrate how even the good things of God are corrupted to be used for self-justification, arbitrary judgement, control and power over other people. All the while, the Pharisees indulged in their greed and their own sinfulness.  At the time of Jesus, The Sabbath had become a tool for their pride and self-aggrandizement, characteristic of Satan’s form of religion. Among the people, there was fear of doing the wrong thing on the Sabbath and being judged for it.

This is why the gospels emphasize Jesus healing people and making them whole again on the Sabbath.  Jesus isn’t just healing people; He is restoring the Sabbath rest of God for creation, people especially.  During his ministry, this is the point of the spear against the spiritual forces of evil and their agents.  The work of Jesus overcomes the obstacles to the Sabbath rest of God in and with his creation.  Jesus is overcoming the depravity of sin and its curses of death and oppression by Satan.  So, the spiritual forces of evil come against him over the Sabbath. This is indicated by the words and actions of the Pharisees: Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.  (Jn 9:16).  And after he heals on the Sabbath, they conspire to “destroy him.” True Sabbath is a direct threat to the devil’s control of creation and the overturning of the curses upon humanity.  For anyone, a true rest in God will alleviate many of the symptoms of sin.

Jesus, in accordance with his mission, asserts truths like “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” & “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” & “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?  He asks questions: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” and “Are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?

Jesus explains that the manifestation of his power in teaching, healing and delivering people on the Sabbath is a demonstration of the work that God is doing to restore people to his fellowship and rest. After the healing of a man on the Sabbath, John writes,

And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:16)

Jesus demonstrates that God has roused himself from his rest to overcome our sinfulness that will not allow us to enter his rest – the Sabbath rest for us is our fellowship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God himself will not rest until the people he made in his image can enter that rest, too.  The author of Hebrews writes,

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. (Hebrews 4:9-11)

When Jesus meets his disciples on the mountain at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he commissions them to go continue his work of restoring people to the Sabbath rest of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the sign of baptism.  In baptism, a person dies to sin, is delivered from Satan’s oppressive rule, experiences new life through Jesus, enters into the fellowship of the Trinity by receiving the Holy Spirit and commits to living according to the teachings and commands of God.

Our peace and rest cannot occur according to the curses that God declared for sin.  We cannot enter rest or find peace by indulging ourselves, hiding ourselves, ruling over others, working hard enough to make us safe, getting our way or winning conflicts with others.  The only way to the holy rest of God is through Jesus and by praying as he did “Not my will but your will be done.”

We can only enter God’s rest and fellowship through Jesus Christ and by abiding in him by grace through faith.  So like Paul says, “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.”  At anytime in your life, examine whether you are in faith or in sin and curses outside the blessings of Jesus.  Are you clinging to and asserting your own will or saying to the Lord “your will be done.” Can you say as Paul does in Galatians 2:20-21:

“the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God.”

No matter what the world does.  This is our charge and blessing to do.  In the conclusion of his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, Paul encourages them to enter into the holy Sabbath of God through Jesus Christ.  He exhorts them to be restored into holy Communion – peace and rest in the midst of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Nothing matters more than this.  It is the answer:

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (2 Cor 13:11-14)

 

 

 

 

Come Holy Spirit. You are the Solution to our Problems.

No matter how things look in the world, the Bible encourages the following: Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Jesus called the devil a murderer from the beginning.  He is the author of chaos and confusion who comes to steal, kill and destroy.  We are seeing his work all around us.  There was something demonic about the police officer’s murder of George Floyd and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and there is something demonic about these riots.  The answer is the experience of Pentecost.  The answer is the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh and the coming of the kingdom in power and might in us and in our land.

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What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to come and be with you and in you and around you?  He is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of the Father and the Son.  He is the Spirit who descended on Christ at his baptism, empowered Christ in his ministry and who raised Christ from the dead.  He is the Spirit in whom the disciples were baptized and by whom they were clothed in power on Pentecost.  He is the Spirit who empowers in us spiritual gifts for the common good and building up of the body of Christ.  He is the Spirit who gives us wisdom and revelation to know Jesus and the Father. He is the Spirit who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to know the hope of the kingdom of heaven.  He is the Spirit that fills us and overflows from us and brings the kingdom of God among us.  He is the living water welling up in us to eternal life.

Before any of this, he is the Spirit that is infinite with no beginning or end.  He has always been and will always be.  He was at the creation hovering over the waters applying the power of God to form from nothing all that is in the universe.  He is the power of God that came upon people of old enabling them to do great exploits by faith in God.  All the great men and women of God mentioned in Hebrews 11 were empowered by this Holy Spirit.  He came upon them and they were transformed into new people with the gifts of God.

The Holy Spirit inspired the words and writings of the prophets.  He breathed God’s word into them as he carried them along in life. And he is the Spirit bringing it all to pass not allowing one jot or dot to disappear from God’s word until it is all fulfilled.

In the prophecy of Joel that is preached and confirmed by Peter at Pentecost, God promises to pour out his Holy Spirit on all flesh.  This is the Spirit of God coming upon all people – not only a select few but coming into the world as a shower upon humanity.  The effect of the Spirit’s presence will be the word of God proclaimed, the mysteries of God revealed, repentance charged, forgiveness of sins received and salvation from God experienced.

The Holy Spirit first comes upon people to give them the awareness and desire for God’s presence and salvation.  God comes to save through graciously encouraging a person to invite him into themselves through repentance and receiving salvation.  This is what Peter encourages the people to do at the end of his proclamation on Pentecost:

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Until a person receives the Holy Spirit by God’s grace through faith, the Holy Spirit works on them to bring about repentance and salvation. Jesus describes this work of the Holy Spirit when he says:

John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

This conviction that the Holy Spirit brings about is that very experience described in Acts 2:37 of being “cut to the heart” by the preaching of the gospel.  Later in Acts 3, Peter is preaching again and encourages the people to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  He proclaims to them,

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

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The Holy Spirit convicts and when we repent and call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit is also the one who refreshes us with new birth and new life in Christ.  The Apostle Paul describes the experience as New Creation. (2 Cor 5:17)  This is what the Holy Spirit does.  He is the one by whom we are born again through Jesus.

I love the way God describes this event in the prophecy of Ezekiel when the prophet describes what is fulfilled in us when we are born again and receive the Holy Spirit:

Ez 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

 The Holy Spirit comes to live in us and he transforms us and leads us to live according to God’s leading and holiness.  The Apostle Paul describes this in Romans and Galatians as being “led by the Spirit.”  Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would come and lead us.  He says in John 14:17 that the Spirit of truth, he dwells with you and will be in you. And then in 16:13 that he will guide you into all truth.

I want to highlight three specific things that the Holy Spirit does in us when he comes:

The first is that he manifests himself to us and in us.  In other words, when the Holy Spirit comes, he makes himself known.  He expresses himself in word and deed to us and in us so that we come to know him.  For example, he speaks to us about Jesus; he pours the love of God into our hearts; he bears his fruit in us which is an expression of his character– love, peace, joy, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience and self-control.  In Ephesians 1:17, Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation by whom we come to know Jesus better.

The second wonderful action of the Holy Spirit in us is that he sanctifies us.  To sanctify us means that he makes us holy or that he makes us like Jesus through and through.  This is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in us that works down deep in our soul and is displayed fully in our lives.  This is, in fact, something Jesus prays for us in his prayer of John 17.  In v. 17 he prays to the Father, Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 

 We can be sure that this is a prayer God is answering through his Holy Spirit of truth in each of our lives.  It also gives us a clue that the Holy Spirit uses the word of truth the Bible to sanctify us.  At the closing of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica in vv 5:23-24, Paul also prays for our sanctification:  He writes, Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

 The outcome of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is that we are transformed and conformed to the image of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit makes himself known to us – He manifests himself to us and in us and he sanctifies us.  He also does something that Jesus emphasized when he talked to the disciples after his resurrection.  This is a primary working of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to what Jesus says at the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of the book of Acts just prior to his ascension:

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high….you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In addition to manifesting to us and sanctifying us, The Holy Spirit empowers us to live as ministers of Jesus in the world.  This is the ongoing experience of what John the Baptist said would happen by Jesus: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  This happened initially on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2:  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

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The Holy Spirit enables us to know the Lord and to be transformed into his image, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can minister in word and deed.  The reading from 1 Corinthians 12 elaborates on this empowering by the Holy Spirit for ministry among ALL of us:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. …11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

 The power of the Holy Spirit in us eliminates the excuse of “I can’t” when it comes to ministry or service to which God has called us and to knowing God and living a holy life.  I can because he empowers me.  It doesn’t mean I can do what God called you to do specifically.  And it doesn’t mean you can do what God called me to do in my area of giftedness.  It means each of us has the power of God to fulfill his calling and commands for us.  For all of us that includes bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  What Pentecost means is that if we are born again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we have the Spirit of God with us and in us.

The manifestation of the Spirit, the sanctification by the Spirit and the empowering through the Spirit are all works that begin immediately and are all ongoing through our lifetimes.

Now what?  What do we do?  We ask and receive and we keep asking and keep receiving the fullness of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  We keep giving him more and more room in our lives, our families, our church, our work, our dreams and everything.  We remove limits and restrictions on him.  We spend more and more time with him enjoying his presence.  And we act in obedience to him in courageous faith.  We investigate the promises and gifts in Scripture and we ask for them and receive them, declaring them and walking in them.  We become the people God wants us to be by the Holy Spirit and we start living in the character of Jesus as we keep our eyes on him the author and perfecter of our faith.  By God’s grace, people will come to know him by the witness of our relationship with him.

In the last few days, I have thought to God…”I really don’t know how to pray for everything or what to pray for. “  The events of the world are overwhelming.  Another promise of the Holy Spirit is that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)  The Holy Spirit prays for us and helps us to pray.  He sighs and groans within us and inspires our prayers to the Father.  Let his groaning within you inspire you to pray more and more.

For ourselves, our families, our churches, our communities and our nation, we can pray always “Come, Holy Spirit, Come.”

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A Pattern for Powerful Prayer

My son Jack had a dream that he shared with me the other day, and it led to a discussion about overcoming challenges in life through faith.  I think that what evolved in our spiritual exploration is a healthy pattern for facing challenges in life and pursuing our own earnest desires and endeavors. The following is a pattern for prayer for a positive pursuit or desire that also deals with a negative confrontation by the spiritual forces of evil or our own doubts and fears.

I will use an example from my own life to help convey the pattern of praying.  Something that God has called me to do and that I want to accomplish is to speak to groups of people whether in church or other venues.  I believe that God has gifted me in this ministry and pursuit and has put me in positions to do it for his purpose and glory.  Public speaking and preaching can be challenging and often fear provoking because we imagine failing, being rejected and looking foolish.  The spiritual forces of evil instigate those fears, because they don’t want any of us to become bold in preaching about Jesus or giving our own testimonies or even being successful fulfilling God’s purposes.  So evil spirits oppose our expression of God’s calling and gifts.  They will try to make us afraid by saying we will fail, that we are no good at it, that people will reject us or that we have no business getting up in front of people.  If it comes to preaching, they will accuse us of being frauds, hypocrites and in no way worthy to act like a “good” Christian.  These accusations and fear mongering, of course, exacerbate our own vulnerabilities to shut us down.

I hope you can imagine how you might apply this to your own prayer concerns and challenges in life. This pattern of God’s call versus Satan’s opposition plays out over and over in Christians’ lives.  Where demons’ confront us with lies and oppression often reveals the very place that God is working for us.  The devils say “You can’t speak.  Nobody will listen to you.  Who do you think you are?!”  We can take it to the bank that God is for sure calling us to speak and giving us an anointing to do it, and will give us favor with people.  The evil spirits themselves often reveal God’s promises in our lives!  For example, if the devil says that you will always be poor and will never have enough money, that reveals God’s promises that he will provide for all of our needs and if we have faith he will prosper us.  We need to have faith and exert our faith.  That’s what I want to show you how to do.

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So back to my example of speaking and preaching.  The first step is to Praise God.   We approach God in worship and praise because he is the Holy One and is the Lord Almighty who is worthy of all praise and honor.  So I might begin my conversation with God like this:

“Father, You are great and high above all powers and might, because you created all things.  You reign over heaven and earth.  Nothing is impossible for you.  You are seated on your throne in glory, and Jesus you are at the right hand of the Father and are the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Your Holy Spirit is with me and has all power in the earth.  I praise you that you hear my prayers and love me more than I can imagine and desire to do good for me and in my life.”

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The second step is to Make Your Request to God in prayer.  It is important that we ask God specifically for the desire of our heart and his help in the endeavor of our pursuit.  What is the thing the enemy is telling us we cannot do or have?  What are we afraid of doing?  What is the negative experience of our foreboding?  We need to ask God for the positive ability, for specific success and for help in the action.  We need to ask God to give us the courage, boldness, joy, vision, inspiration and power that would overcome the negative we are imagining or experiencing.  Of course, we can also ask God for something in our life we want or need. Our prayer might be like this:

“Father you are good and your promises to me are good and true.  You have called me to preach and to speak, and I pray that you help me to express your word and my story effectively.  Help me to be confident, courageous and bold in my speaking.  God I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit and the words to speak.  Give me your anointing to engage powerfully with those in the congregation and audience, and I ask you to give me favor with them.  Father, please give me visions of success that will come to pass as I move in faith to do what you’ve called me to do.  God I ask you to silence the voice of the enemy and smash and break all the images of failure and rejection.  Replace the lies and fear of the devil with your word of encouragement and truth.  Help me to do all I can to be a helpful speaker and preacher.”

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Now that we have offered our prayerful requests to God, we receive his answers and demonstrate our faith by Giving Thanks to Him.  Giving thanks to God is an expression of our belief that God has heard us and that he will in his goodness answer our prayer, especially because we are praying in accord with his call and purpose and against the spiritual forces of evil.  We must believe that God is answering our prayer.  I would pray like this regarding the prayer above:

“Father, I thank you that have heard my prayer through Jesus Christ.  I know that you are good and have all power to do what I have asked you based on how the Holy Spirit has inspired me.  I thank you that you are loving and kind to me.  I thank you Father that you are making me a successful and effective speaker with an anointing to preach and to speak powerfully.  I thank you that I have nothing to fear, because you are with me to give me favor and success in all situations.  Thank you Lord that I will continue to improve in my ministry and will be fruitful.  I also am grateful that you have given me a desire to fulfill your calling and have made me joyful in the pursuit and accomplishment of it.  I also praise and thank you that you have overcome the spiritual forces of evil that oppose me and the work that you have called me to perform.”

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The next thing we do is boldly and confidently, with great faith, Declare the truth of who we are and what we are doing in the Name of Jesus.  This is a matter of expressing the truth of what God is doing in and through us and speaking life to ourselves and our circumstances.  At this point, our words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and they are words of power and authority that serve to accomplish their purpose. In the speaking of the present reality of our request, our faith and boldness grows.  And this is a statement of faith:

“I declare in the Name of Jesus that I am an effective and successful speaker and preacher.  I declare that I speak well and powerfully and make an impact on those who hear.  I declare that I have favor with my audiences and that my words are well received.  I declare that the Holy Spirit is with me to help me and inspire my words that he applies with power and conviction for greater impact.”

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The final act is to Rebuke the enemy of our souls and God’s kingdom.  Our battle is against the spiritual forces of evil that oppose the goodness of God and all that God is trying to bring about in the world.  As God’s children and ministers, the spiritual forces of evil oppose us.  They try to steal, kill and destroy.  They lie and accuse.  They oppress and depress as much as they are able. So after we submit to God, we resist the devil and all demons who would oppose and come against our prayer request and work of faith.  Something like this we speak to the spiritual forces of evil:

“In the Name of Jesus and by the power of his shed blood and resurrection, I bind the spirit of fear and every lying spirit from interacting with me in any way.  I command you spirits of fear, oppression and lies to leave me in the Name of Jesus and go to where Jesus sends you and do not return to me.  I bring the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ between us as my protection and rebuke you from interfering with my work in any way.  I belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have no place in me, so be removed from me now and forever.”

After this you might want to continue to praise the Lord and to follow the above pattern as he leads you.  The above prayers and statements can be as brief as one or two sentences.  It all depends on the time and intensity of the situation.  This is a pattern that you can always use to pray for yourself and over other people or groups of people.

Now one more encouragement, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “Compensation,” “Do the thing and you shall have the power; but they who do not the thing have not the power.”  After all is said and done, we must walk by faith in taking one step or leap of faith after another.  So press on and go forward in faith with courage and boldness.

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Having Faith in the Crisis

This is also available as a podcast here.

I think for Christians during this season of Covid-19, we are struggling with having faith and courage in our daily lives in the face of so much fear and contradictory guidance.  We are bombarded with the cacophony of the latest “they said this” article, pulled in different ways and constantly under siege from fear and anxiety.  How do we stand in faith and walk by faith in the midst of warnings, mandates, worst case scenarios and the readily available tragic stories and statistics?

I want to spend a few minutes highlighting faith in the midst of it all.  Because as Christians, we are called by God to have faith rather than fear.  In Luke 18, when concluding a parable about how “they ought always to pray and not lose heart,” Jesus asked his followers “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?”

Jesus and the teaching of Scripture exhorts us and propels us to demonstrate faith in God and his word.  At a men’s prayer group this week, we were remembering a friend from the group that passed away a few years ago.  We all characterized him foremost as a man of faith – the kind of faith that you stand on and live by.  That is what Jesus is looking for among us.

In Romans 1:17, the Apostle Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk applying his words to Christians: “The righteous shall live by faith.”

What does it mean to live by faith?  The Bible gives us a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  The author of Hebrews goes on to write in v 6 that without faith it is impossible to please God.

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Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we as Christians “walk by faith, not by sight.”  Faith requires that we fully believe and act upon something that is not apparent or easily grasped or obtained.  We don’t need faith for what we have but faith produces the fulfillment of our God-inspired hopes.  For example, we don’t need faith for healing for ourselves when we are healthy.  We don’t need faith for safety when there is no threat.

When I began my doctor of Ministry dissertation a few years ago, I was afraid I would never finish it and that it would be futile.  By God’s grace, I prayed and had faith that he would help me complete it for his good purpose, and I pressed on.  When my wife and I left our home and jobs in Charleston SC to move to Ambridge PA so I could go to seminary, we didn’t have the money for it all.  We had faith that God would provide and work things out. If we had the money up front, we wouldn’t have needed faith for that provision.

Where does faith come from?  There are three sources of faith I want to highlight: Scripture, a gift from God and experience.

Paul writes in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  The gospel and the promises of God with the testimonies of Scripture produce in us faith in God that empowers us to walk according to God’s word and promises even against the conventional wisdom or conspicuous contradictions of the world.  Faith in God is based on his word.  That is what we stand on.  That is what leads and guides us in our faith.  We don’t activate faith in our own competencies, or on luck or chance or on our feelings or imaginations and definitely not the news.  Faith in God is securely fastened to his word.

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For example, our faith that our sins are forgiven and that we are saved is based on God’s promises like 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  And Romans 10:9 “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Our faith is our conviction that these promises are true for us so that we are forgiven and saved.  But if someone says, I think everyone who tries to be a good person and has some belief in God will go to heaven that is wishful thinking and not Christian faith.  Christian faith is based particularly on the right understanding of Scripture and does not contradict Scripture.

Faith also comes as a gift from God by the Holy Spirit directly to us or through another person.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:9 that the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith to some people.  This is an extra measure of faith to believe in God and to take extraordinary steps of faith.  This is great faith to believe against seemingly insurmountable odds. This faith can be placed in our hearts by God, and it can come in conjunction with a word or promise or command that God gives to us through another Christian, his Spirit or as we read his word.  Such a message from God ignites greater faith by us.  For example, God might say to you or put it on your heart to give financially above and beyond your comfort level or he might command you to initiate a ministry for the first time or he might convict you to stop an addiction that seems too hard.  These days, maybe he will lead you to give someone a hug without fear.  These are words that spark accompanying faith because if God commands it then he will enable it.  And for each of these, you can find supporting Scripture to strengthen faith even more.

Faith also grows from experiencing God fulfill his word and come through to meet our faith with his own faithfulness.  The more we walk by faith and the more testimonies we hear from others walking by faith, the more our faith grows.  We have to keep exercising faith, building it up, inviting God to graciously increase our faith.  The more our relationship with God develops the more we will know his character as being loving, powerful and good to us.  This inspires more faith in him.  Experiencing more of God and hearing more about him from others helps us to trust that he has our good in mind and will not fail us.  As we trust God financially in providing for us and blessing us as we give, the more we can be faithful financially.  The more we experience God leading us in life decisions, the better we can trust him even when the outcome is not apparent.  The more testimonies we hear of God healing people, the more faith we can have in his promises of healing.

Faith comes from the word of God, the Spirit of God and experiences with God.

So having and practicing faith in our lives requires devotion to God’s word, a devotion to and communion with the Holy Spirit and praying to God so that we can experience God answering our prayers.  In addition to these, our faith is enhanced through the fellowship of other faithful people who also share God’s word, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and their own testimonies of how God has worked in and through them.

There are great obstacles to faith in the world and in ourselves.  How are you feeling about your health today, your finances, the church, the future, your kids’ education, your family’s situation or this nation?  Are your reactions to each of those more influenced by the news of the day, rumors, the latest statistics, your own worst case scenario imaginations or are your reactions based on God’s promises, the quiet voice of his Spirit and your experience of his faithfulness?

Are there areas of your life where you are afraid? Are any of your practices right now based on fear and anxiety rather than courageous faith?  As Christians, we want to get to the place where we are exercising proactive courageous faith in all areas of our lives.  When any red flags appear and shake us in an area and we start experiencing fear or getting worried or imagining how bad it could be, those should set off alarms that cause us to return to God’s word, to pray to him, listen to him and to reflect on his character and faithfulness so that we restore faith to that area of our life.

It seems especially difficult these days to find any rock solid truths that you can stand on.  Is it safe to go to the grocery store or not? Can I let my child around other children? Will my business survive? Are Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates trying to control everyone? Oh no, I shook that guy’s hand….now what? This all contributes to our anxiety and stress.  We must ever more earnestly find our footing and path on the word of God and follow his Spirit’s leading.

As you continue to face challenging decisions and realities, I encourage you to begin asking “What does God say about this?” and even asking God directly “Father, what do you say about this?”

When it comes to churches and reopening, what I keep hearing about is social distancing, cleaning everything, how the virus spreads, is it safe to sing, should we wear masks, do we ever need Communion again, what if someone gets to close to someone else, etc.  What I’m not hearing about is faith.  Can we trust God to keep us healthy and safe in our churches while being wise about things? Are God’s promises in Psalm 91, for example, trustworthy?

There are all the reasons to be scared and to stay home – you don’t need any faith or spiritual discipline to be afraid.  You don’t need to search the Scripture for the bad news. There was that one church that had choir practice and people died.  The media says that if you go to church, there is going to be a surge and you will kill your neighbors.  As Christians, we are not striving to be stupid but to be courageously faithful and follow a loving God who is all powerful.

We don’t need to wake up thinking, “Boy I hope I stay a safe distance from everyone today.” Or “God help me not to encounter anyone with this virus.”  No, we need to wake up declaring “God I thank you that you are my healer and that I am healed by the wounds of Jesus.”  I don’t pray for people to keep a safe distance from me.  I pray that God will fill me with his Holy Spirit and healing presence and that his rivers of living water will flow through me to bring contagious healing to those around me.  I also pray that God will give health, healing and safety to those in our church by his presence and his angels.  I pray that God will cleanse the church from any virus bugs or sicknesses.  And I wash and sanitize my hands.  Is it foolish, presumptuous and stupid to believe in the promises of God – that he is present and active in his children’s lives to keep them healthy and safe according to their faithful prayers?  Is it foolish to believe that he will raise us from the dead and give us a place in his eternal kingdom?  The basis for these hopes is the same – the promises of God.

These are the things that I hope for.  These are the things that I am convicted that God promises us and has purchased for us on the cross.  I’m basing my declarations and prayers on the promises of God, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, my own experience and the testimonies of other faithful Christians.

This, I believe, is how we walk by faith.  It is simple, but not easy and definitely not automatic.  Faith is not stupidity or presumption, even though to the unbeliever it may seem like both.  How stupid do you think Noah looked while building a boat on dry land when it had never rained.  Or how stupid do you think Jesus sounded to his critics when he said he would rise from the dead?  Base your faith on God’s word, his Spirit and your relationship with him.  Test your faith by the counsel of other faithful believers.

Be courageous in your faith.  We are going to spend eternity in heaven.  I want to spend those days knowing that I did my best to trust in God and to have faith.

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