Monday, June 17, 2024

Jesus Asks: Do you Love Me?

On February 8th of 2023 a revival broke out at Asbury University and lasted for 144 hours. It started with a simple chapel service where a message was given that led students to seek God. This revival led to thousands and thousands of people descending on the small town to experience the revival. The news of it spread across the globe. Evangelical leaders attempted to come and take the stage, but the students refused, they didn’t want any figure head or big name leader, just the Holy Spirit in control.

You might wonder, what brought about this revival? Was it a great sermon? Nope. Was it amazing worship music? No. Was it a call to evangelism? No. Was it filled with great apologetics? No. Was it social justice? No. Was it a hellfire sermon? No. Was it an encouraging prosperity message? No.

One simple fact made it so very powerful: The Holy Spirit brought repentance. People honestly confessed their failures, people honestly confessed that they had not kept Jesus first. The love of God changed their hearts through this honest submission.

We saw how Jesus prayed for his disciples and then they left for the garden of gethsemane. There Jesus knew he would be arrested by the authorities.

Just as Jesus had predicted, he was arrested, betrayed by Judas Iscariot, and he was taken into custody.

I imagine it was a dark, dark night. I imagine the sorrow and fear among the disciples was strong.

The Roman soldiers and temple guards came to Jesus and his disciples and said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus replied, “I am he.”

Judas gave a signal to the guards to let them know which of the disciples was Jesus, so he came and kissed Jesus on the cheek, to indicate, this is the correct one to arrest.

Peter in a fit of anger and fear struck out with his sword. But Jesus commanded him to put his sword away.

Nine of the disciples fled at that moment. But Peter and John followed the group of soldiers as they led Jesus away.

Then it says, in John 18:15-17, “Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. That other disciple was well known to the High Priest, so he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest's house, 16 while Peter stayed outside by the gate. Then the other disciple went back out, spoke to the girl at the gate, and brought Peter inside. 17 The girl at the gate said to Peter, “Aren't you also one of the disciples of that man?”

“No, I am not,” answered Peter.”

Peter once said to Jesus, even if everyone else denies you, I will never deny you (Matthew 26:33).

To that Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matthew 26:34).

Let’s examine ourselves. How was our conduct over the last few years? Did we keep Jesus first in everything?

Or have we been living double lives?

Did we attend church faithfully? Or did we show up rarely?

Did we tithe and give offers? Or were we selfish with our money?

When's the last time you shared your faith with… anyone?

When’s the last time you brought someone new to church with you?

Have you prayed day and night for the people in this community and in this church?

Or have you been lazy and self-focused?

Have you seen victories over sin in your life, or are you living in secret sin?

Sometimes, when we see failure, we have to look in the mirror. Like Simon Peter, he failed Jesus. He denied he even knew him.

The rock had become as shaky as a reed in the wind.

Next, in verses 18-25, “It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.” -John 18:18-25

Aren’t you a disciple of Jesus? Peter said, I’m not. What about you? What happens when everything falls apart? What happens when the rest of the followers scatter into the wilderness? What will you do?

Would you die for Jesus Christ? If the American authorities came to your door and threatened to arrest you and have you executed for your faith in Jesus, what would you do?

I hope and pray I would say, Jesus is my savior no matter what! They might say, well, if you deny Jesus, we’ll give you money, we’ll make you famous, you’ll be well taken care of, you’ll never have a problem again, just deny your savior.

I hope I would reply, “Never.”

But my own behavior is a sign. I say I would never deny Jesus. But how often is it that I can’t be bothered to even show up to church on Sunday? I can’t be bothered to visit someone struggling. I can’t be bothered to whisper a prayer. I can’t be bothered to help out, or tithe, or carry a few boxes into the corps, I can’t be bothered. Then why in the world should I believe that I would not deny Jesus?

Communities in the west are becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. You can’t imagine what I’ve seen friends over the last five years. I’ve seen so many people abandon this church. I’ve seen our name salted in this community. I’ve seen other charities in the area stab us in the back. I’ve seen people spread rumors. I’ve seen people steal from us. I’ve seen people trash us on social media. My car was keyed by disgruntled clients. I was physically attacked. Theres never enough funding.

So considering all that, it’s just not a given that we’d all die for Jesus, can we really assume that? The community is growing increasingly hostile to Christianity. So we must examine ourselves, as America turns against God, would I be willing to die for my savior? If I say yes, then my action should match, I should be utterly devoted to Jesus, utterly focused on my church activity, utterly heart-burdened for those who don’t know Him out there.

Next, it says, “One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”

Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.”
–John 18:26-27

We’ve talked about your part in all this, the part of the community, but what about me?

I’ve failed and fallen short in so many ways over the last five years. I can tell you that much. I can relate to Peter, just as all of us can.

Let me tell you about my failures. I’ve allowed fear to control and hinder my leadership. I’ve allowed pride to disrupt and influence the way I teach and preach. I’ve allowed lust to take hold in my life, in the past. I’ve not been bold enough in my leadership, I’ve been fearful to confront and rebuke people who were out of control. I didn’t reach out enough, spend enough time in your homes.

But for years I was doubleminded, and played a double-life. Thank the Lord he has purified that out of me through suffering and much sorrow. And that sorrow, sickness, pain and frustration led to repentance. I was humbled by the Lord, delivered from pride, and lust and fears, and that was a gift from the Lord.

Many of you noticed how sick I was for really the last two and a half years. And that was God’s gift to humble me and deliver me from pride, and doublemindedness, and make me whole before Him.

If you are in a dark season, pray and ask God if it’s for the purpose of repentance. Maybe God is bringing you through sorrows so you will confess your sin before him and repent. Not every sorrow season is like that, but if it is that, don’t miss this golden opportunity, it is a gift from God. Use the sorrow to draw you toward repentance.

Peter has denied Jesus three times. One might think, the story is over. But it is not over.

Similarly, with each of you, with this community, and with me, the story is not over.

Jesus is taken before the authorities. Jesus goes through his all night ordeal before the high priest and before the romans. Jesus is mocked and beaten. Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha. Jesus is nailed to the cross. Jesus is lifted up upon the cross. And Jesus dies for our sins upon that cross.

Jesus is the only one who can do it. Each of us, the disciples, even Peter, we fall short. We mess it up. We miss the mark. But Jesus doesn’t. Jesus gains total victory. Jesus wins the day. Jesus completes His mission.

Meanwhile the disciples are in hiding, behind locked doors, in fear of the roman authorities and the Jewish leaders. Three days go by, of I’m sure, much mourning, and sorrow and weeping.

The disciples hear then, of strange rumors of Jesus being alive again, but no one is sure what to believe.

One day Peter and the disciples go fishing. 

“Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” –John 21:2-3

Peter seems to be going back to his old life, he used to be a fishermen, Jesus had called him to fish for people, but now Peter returns to his old ways.

Our own shortcomings may make us want to run to our old lives.

I wonder how many of you here, after the morning services are discontinued, after myself and Chelsey have departed will go back to your old lives? Forget everything that happened over the last five years…?

Then I wonder how many of you will hear the voice of Jesus calling to you from the shore.

The disciples heard a voice call to them: 
"He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” -John 21:5-6

When we’ve failed Jesus, Jesus comes to us and ministers to us. Jesus reminds us who we really are, and Jesus invites us to make a change.

The disciples go back to their old life, and Jesus meets them where they are, and calls them back home to Himself.

“Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.” – John 21:7-9

When we hear the voice of the master in our bitterness and regret and confusion and in our running away, we should be like Simon Peter and jump into the water and swim toward Jesus as fast as we can.

When we’ve failed we feel like it’s all over, we’re done, we’ve lost. But when we see Jesus show up, we jump for joy, because His love moves us so completely.

You mean he still loves me, even when I fail or make a mistake? Yes.

So many times you guys I’ve felt so sinful, after I sinned, I know I did something so bad, so nasty, and I come with a contrite heart to Jesus, and I ask His forgiveness and I feel then very quickly that he has forgiven me, and I lose it, I just want to cry with joy at his mercy, humility and compassion for me.

Next Jesus sits down with Peter, and he asks Peter a very important question. It says:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” -John 21:15-17

Peter had denied Jesus three times. And Jesus invites Peter here to repent of his denial.

Peter had said he loved Jesus, but by his actions he had denied Him. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Jesus comes to Peter and asks him the same question three times, “Do you love me?”

And Peter is restored, as he declares from the heart, “ I love you Lord.”

Peter used his mouth to declare he did not know Jesus, now he declares with his mouth, I do know Jesus.

And Peter from this moment forward would proclaim Jesus to all, never denying His master again. Peter would one day even give His life for Jesus.

Jesus invites us to repent, and restores us completely as we turn back to Him.

What about you? Peter’s sorrow led to repentance. Examine your own heart today. Do you really love Jesus with all your heart? If you do, do your actions match up with what you’re saying?

Allow the Lord to bring sorrow if repentance is needed. Allow the Lord to prick your heart. Allow the Lord to speak into your life some hard truth today.

Over the last few years, what have been your triumphs? What about your mistakes and failures?

Are you caught in a secret sin? He can set you free.

Are you struggling with depression? He can lift you up.

Do you feel like you didn’t go all in for Jesus the last few years? Recommit your heart to Him.

Do you feel like you’ve not served your fellow Christians faithfully? Ask God to help you practice your faith more actively.

Seek the Lord right now. Ask God for forgiveness. Ask God to change your heart. Ask God to transform you. God wants to move in your heart. And true repentance brings revival. Maybe today is the first day of a personal revival in your life. Be like Peter. Jesus came to him and asked him, do you love me?

Do you hear the voice of the Master Jesus saying it to you, “Do you love me?” Repent right now of any sins in your life. Or maybe you just need to repent of not putting Jesus first in your life? Take some time and pray right now. Jesus will restore you!

Review of Main Points:
  1. Examining Ourselves: Where have we failed Him?
  2. Examining the Community: Would we die for Him?
  3. Examining Leadership: What about church leaders?
  4. Where we fail Jesus succeeds
  5. Our own shortcomings may make us want to run to our old lives
  6. When we’ve failed Jesus, Jesus comes to us and ministers to us (and we run toward Him) 
  7. Jesus invites us to Repent, and restores us completely as we turn back to Him

The Ultimate Attainment: Union with God

Many great saints I’ve known, even in the Salvation army, many are retiring now, and they say that when they retire, they are grateful that God did not show them the entire path all the ups and downs because they would not have been able to handle the thought of it. But step by step, along the road, they handled it by God’s grace of not showing them what was ahead.

Similarly, we do not easily submit to all this burning up of dross within us. We do not naturally want the self to be leveled. We do not want to be buried with Christ in his cross and alive with Christ in His resurrection. We naturally resist the death of self.

“God wishes to make your soul pure. He purifies it by His Wisdom just as a refiner purifies metal in the furnace. Fire in the only thing which can purify gold. Again, the fire that consumes us—utterly—is His highest wisdom.” -Jeanne Guyon, p. 128

But look back to the moment when you first gave your life to Christ: “At that time you made an unreserved surrender of your being to God. Not only that, you surrendered yourself to all that God wills for you. It was at that very time that you gave your total consent to whatever God might wish to require of you.” -Jeanne Guyon, p. 131

I remember that moment back in 2012 when I called on the name of Jesus Christ. It was a miracle in itself. When we call on Jesus, it’s a divine moment I believe. God reaches down and invites us to call on the name of Jesus. In that moment we can, by His grace, call out. But, then all heaven waits in breathless anticipation: What will he do? I felt that moment. All heaven waiting. God waiting. Angels waiting. Silent.

I felt the draw of heaven, “call out.” And at that moment I said to myself alright, I’m going to do it. I’m going to cry out. Then I did. Jesus save me!

And the uproar of heaven at that moment, my goodness I felt it, the quaking, as all heaven rejoiced, the angels cried out in joy, another lost soul has called upon the name of Jesus Christ and found salvation.

Oh what joy in heaven over one sinner who repents! (Luke 15:7).

That began the journey. Now fast forward to 2021. I had been betrayed. My health was crumbling, serious stomach issues, barely functioning, lost hope, lonely, no friends, battling pride, battling lust, it was like all the gold within me had turned black.

“…when your Lord actually began burning, destroying, and purifying, you did not recognize that it was the hand of the Lord in your life. You certainly did not recognize the operation as something good. You had the very opposite impression! Instead, you saw all that beautiful gold in you turning black in the fire rather than becoming bright as you had expected. You stood looking at the circumstances around you that were producing all that tragedy in your life. You thought that all the purity in your life was being lost.”

That is the refiners fire, where God is molding us and shaping us, and removing from the impure elements from us.

1 Peter 1:7 ESV So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In those moments, I have one response initially. The reaction I think is to run. Get out. I’ve been there many times. I’m out of here. Run! This refiners fire is too hot.

But very quickly, I decide against it. Which again is a miracle from God. Because I remember the miracle of faith in me and it remains there. I trust God. This is right, the pain and grief that is happening. So I stay.

Second, I will often attempt some drastic or intense action to defeat or overthrow the refining fire.

I get to work, I must visit a doctor, see a therapist, read a self-help book, manipulate the situation to escape the pain, I try to take control away from God, and force things to go my way. This fails again and again, if it is indeed God’s refining fire and not some controversy I’ve caused against myself.

If it’s not God’s refining fire and just some problem I’ve caused or some evil done against me, then I should get to work against it. But if it is from God, and refining, then I should not take action, unless God inspires action, at the appropriate time.

Don’t run, don’t attempt manipulative actions, just remain passive, draw into God’s arms and allow Him to do His work.

“So you see, God’s justice and God’s wisdom must come like a pitiless and devouring fire. That fire destroys all that is earthly. The fire destroys the sensual, the carnal, and all self-activity.” P. 130

We remain passive, we stand firm, we allow God to do His work on us. Don’t run friends. Don’t manipulate. Stay seated in the chair as the master grooms you.

There is a third concern though, we can run, or we can manipulate events to try to stop it, both of those we naturally avoid ,but a third danger is that we refuse to learn the lesson we’re supposed to learn.

I recall that God brought me to our spring campaigns to test me, I met this woman, and I decided to start dating her, but as I prayed, I knew it wasn’t God’s will. We did eventually break up. But it was very painful. Because we kindled emotions toward each other, because we both wanted a relationship so bad. But in the end, it was not God’s will. So about 6 months later, the Lord brought another woman before me, and said alright Justin, did you learn the lesson? Let’s see what you do this time. And only by his grace, I liked this woman much more than the first, but through prayer, and fasting, God helped me to know it wasn’t meant to be, by His grace, I did not engage in a relationship with her, though she was near me weekly for a whole year.

Often I worry we do the opposite, we refuse to learn the lesson, we keep repeating the bad behavior over and over, even though God has taught us how bad it is time and again.

What is this refining fire doing in you? It’s slowly eliminating self in all it’s manifestations, greed, pride, ego, manipulation, control, selfishness, self-seeking, lust, and bad attitudes of the heart.

For what purpose exactly? To destroy you? To delete you? To replace you with a carbon copy of Jesus? No.

God is not trying to remove you. He’s restoring you, to the person you were always meant to be, someone fundamentally plugged into God. Someone who functions in union with God.

Yet God will also leave thorns in your flesh, to keep you humble as well, so you don’t become prideful and one day say, “Who is the Lord?”

“God allows defects to remain in the dearest of His saints so He can preserve that saint from corruption and hide him in the secret of His presence.” -129

That isn’t sin he leaves, he won’t leave adultery in you, so you keep sleeping around on your wife, and you can say well that’s my thorn in the flesh. No. But it may be some temptation or mental health issue or physical health issue or weakness in you, that keeps you humble and reliant on God.

You are of value. Death to self is not annihilation of your soul. Death to self is removing the chains of your dependence on yourself and rebuilding you in a way in which you are connected to God and focused on His will.

Star Trek reference, becoming a Christian is not becoming a Borg drone, where you get assimilated, your true self is destroyed, and you become a drone doing whatever the hive mind tells you. That’s not Christianity.

Becoming a Christian is like being a lamp who discovers the plug to receive power to light up. Becoming a Christian is like being an orphan bird who never knew she could fly, and finds her nest, reunites with her mother, and her mother teaches her to fly.

Becoming a Christian is like being a caterpillar, and you know you’re meant for something more but you could never do it yourself, but the transformation, the cocoon turns you into a butterfly. And you fly free. You are no longer a caterpillar, but you are still you.

The best example I can give is from my own life. I sat in my broken-down room day after day, year after year drinking, doing drugs, writing stories, going for walks, biking to get booze, making money, to spend on bad things, chasing women, and exploring dark realities.

Now today, I am very different. I still write stories, but they are not selfish stories about self, they are stories about God and His kingdom and mysteries. I’m still me, still a writer, but it’s now pointed toward the good.

I used to go for walks and bike rides to get booze and pills. Now I go for walks and bike rides to experience the beauty of nature. Same thing, pointed in a new direction.

I used to make money to fuel self. Now my money is used for meeting my needs, and tithing, and giving offerings for God’s kingdom.

I used to chase women. Now I married one woman whom I love. Still have sexual desire, but it’s reoriented to fit into God’s way of doing things. It now obeys His instructions.

God does not destroy our soul. He changes our soul to function as it was always intended to: in Union with Him.

As we yield more and more to the refiners fire which is purifying the gold of our soul, we learn to yield more and more to God. Submit to Him. Let Him lead our lives.

“…at this point you begin to yield yourself up to the impulses of the divine Spirit until you are totally absorbed with Him. You are in total concert with His will in all things- at all times.

This is union. Divine union. The self is ended. The human will is totally passive and responds to every movement of God’s will.” -p.133

We’re at the end of the book, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, last chapter, so of course, Madam Guyon reminds us, “I need not warn you, this is a process that, indeed, takes a long time.”

Do I think a lot of us are at this point? No I don’t. But by God’s grace we will get there. This is a journey, a pathway we walk day by day.

The mistake I see many Christians make though, is as they cross the hills and the valleys, the forests, and cabins of this deep journey toward union with God, at some point they give up, and build a cabin and stop on the road. They don’t go any further. They make some excuse for why they can’t really be bothered to draw nearer to God than where they are at now. Don’t get stuck on the road.

Believe that you can know God more deeply than you do today.

And if your “self” has gotten in the way, which it often does, and we say, well I don’t want to go any further. Pray about this. And ask God to help you pick up your bag and continue further down this glorious road of union with God.

If one thousand Christians went all in for God, and all the way on the road to maturity, deep connection with God, it would shake the world, it would change the united states forever.

We see revival circle around heroes who were totally submitted to God, William Booth, John Wesley, Charles Finney, George Whitefield, Smith Wigglesworth, John G. Lake, and on and on the list goes.

It doesn’t take someone larger than life. St. Francis Assisi even said, if God can use me, he can use anyone. He wasn’t special. He was just someone that decided God would have everything of him.

Go onward, toward ultimate perfection, which is union with God, where God really has all of you, and you are indeed dead to self, and alive to Christ. The self-centered self-controlled life is gone, and your entire will, your seat of decisions is entirely linked to Christ, you are dead to self, and alive to Christ, in how you make choices, you are entirely centered on Christ, and self no longer has control.

What is the end purpose of all this? Enjoyment of God.

Once we are reborn in Jesus Christ, which is justification, and then submitted to God in our will, which is sanctification, which is to be dead to self and alive to Christ, then we are free to find our ultimate eternal purpose: Enjoying God in new and amazing ways for all time in paradise.

There are two positions that I’d like you take, the first is what we’ve been talking about already, to allow the human will to be guided by the Divine will at all times, that is to be led by the Spirit. (Yes, this is truly possible, we can really be led by God at all times.)

Second, is the mindset of simplicity, that God is all. It’s the mindset of total trust, trust as a child trusts a loving parent. In this childlike mindset of simplicity, God is all, we will not be tempted to tinker with God’s word to make it fit our desires, and we will avoid pride as well, which is the sin of Satan, to refuse to accept God’s word and truth as written, and to rebel against it in the heart.

You may think well I don’t do that. Any scripture you reject because you don’t like it, or because it doesn’t fit your theology, or because you can’t emotionally handle it, it is because you have not come to the scripture as a child, you’ve come as one judging the scripture, submit to it instead, as a child, accept it as God’s heart.

One thing I like to remind myself of is this: If I find a scripture I don’t like, I must be wrong. That is submitting the self to God.

You’re probably thinking about someone else right now, someone you believe is wrong about a particular scripture or theological issue, stop that. And look at yourself. “Well, I’m not wrong about anything.” Yes, you are. What scriptures am I ignoring? What emotions am I allowing to twist the scripture?

Simplicity, God is all, approaching as a child, and Spirit-led, self is led by the divine will.

If we keep those two tools in our belt on this pilgrimage road of union with God, then we will always continue on toward the final summit.

But remember this truth: “No one can put himself into union with God. It would not be possible, no matter how great the effort. The soul’s union with God is something God alone does.” -p.136

So could we really push harder and harder down the road of death to self and alive to Christ? No we could not. Paradoxically, on this road which we walk, only God can initiate, sustain, build, and consummate divine union with Him. God acts on us, as we seek Him. We can’t force it to happen through human effort. As Jesus said, human power is of no use at all.

From John 6:63, “63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life.

“63 What gives life is God's Spirit; human power is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you bring God's life-giving Spirit.” -GNT

We humans so quickly return to the flesh to seek God, but all this must be done in the Spirit, step by step, at God’s leading and in God’s timing.

That’s one stumbling block, self effort. Another is stopping on the road and settling for something less. A final stumbling block is pride. Pride would say this is just a bunch of mystical nonsense, and reject it outright. I’ve seen that many times. Our pride rejects it before we even open the door to it. That’s why again, we must approach as a child.

In conclusion, let’s summarize the journey itself. The start of the journey is salvation, we receive Jesus Christ as savior, and we begin our journey to know God deeply.

Many Christians stop there, I got salvation, I’m good, I’m done, and that’s wrong, and dangerous, because the scripture says not all those who say to me lord lord will enter eternal life but only those who do the will of my father in heaven.

Then again what if we really are led by God in our lives, but we’re a fairly average Christian, who honestly loves Jesus and does His will, but we never attain to the level of a John Wesley or a William Booth does that mean we’re going to hell? Not at all.

But the door is open to a deeper walk. What pushes us forward in the journey is the sense that I can go deeper with God. I can seek God more deeply.

And from one point of glory to another we grow in our walk with God. Year by year, through rivers, across dry plains, through deep dark forests, up into the mountains, plateaus, and heights, we grow and grow, until we reach the consummation of the journey, that is, union with God, the self no longer controls us at all, we are led by the Spirit of God, God is all to us, with childlike faith, and so we continue on, until one day, the ultimate end goal is met, when we reach heaven, and find perfect union with God there, forever, which is, enjoyment of God forever, in new and beautiful ways.

Review of Main Points:

1. Part of God’s grace is not showing us all the future steps on the journey

2. God enables us to call out to Jesus for salvation: But the choice remains with you if you will cry out or not

3. God enables us to be slowly changed over time (sanctification) bur we have the choice to be taught by it or reject the learning

4. God will leave a thorn in our flesh to keep us humble and reliant on Him

5. God is not trying to destroy your soul or who you are, but bring out your true self in Christ

6. Avoid the danger of stopping on the journey out of the desire to preserve the old self

7. Revival circles around great heroes of the faith who were entirely submitted to God (God had all of them)

8. Embrace a two-fold mindset: Simplicity, God is all as a child views a parent, and entirely allowing the divine will to guide your will (choices)

9. Paradoxically, we can’t force ourselves into union with God by trying harder, God initiates this deep union with God

10. The final goal in union with God is: Enjoyment in God in this life and for all eternity

Friday, June 14, 2024

Slowing Down to Listen to God

God has really been challenging me to step outside my comfort zone in my relationship with Him. I was recently at a conference, and during the time of reflection after one of the meetings it was clear to me that I had been trying to take my will back from God, and guide my own life. I hadn’t done it completely, but I was starting to want to pull away. I think because it’s been painful lately, the hurts of ministry and of my personal life have made me want to turn away, and turn inward.

God challenged me to simply re-submit my will and life to Him. And let Him be in control. That’s the foundation of helping anyone else, is first going into the heart of God.

I need God to change my heart again and again so that I’m in alignment with His way of thinking. That doesn’t happen naturally. It takes intentionally spending long amounts of time with God.

Long ago when Mother Teresa made plans for her life, she had not been moved by the suffering the children of Calcutta as a reason to go there and serve. Instead she had been so close to the heart of God that she moved in that direction of service instinctually.

It took me slowing down at the conference, stopping everything and just sitting with God, my journal and a Bible, and asking God to speak to me. And then listening. God did speak, and it was powerful.

At the conference God gave me several encounters with other pastors at the conference. There were many opportunities for ministry. And in particular, ministering to pastors that I wouldn’t normally associate with. God does that. He brings people to us that we wouldn’t normally associate with. And when I encountered these people I just tried to listen, treat them with kindness and respect, and do my best to hear their hurts and when God gave me opportunity, I tried to speak a word that could bring inspiration and healing.

I sometimes dread visiting public places and going to conferences because God often brings me into uncomfortable conversations. It’s stressful. I’m an introvert. I just want to sit by the people I know and feel comfortable. Yet God calls me to connect with others again and again that I wouldn’t normally connect with. 

Yet when I think about it, that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t just stay with people who thought like him. He ministered to Samaritans. He ate with tax collectors. He debated with the Pharisees. He spoke to important leaders like Nicodemus. He ministered to gentiles. 

So, I’m learning. I’m a work in progress. The Holy Spirit calls me out of my comfort zone. It’s hard, because I’m already so tired, and exhausted, and I have way too much on my plate. But the Holy Spirit is gentle and helps me in those situations to not feel too overwhelmed.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Let him that would move the world, first move himself

When I think about the greatest evils in world history, the Nazi take over of Germany, or the communist uprising in Russia, I wonder, what would I have done? But I don't have to wonder. Because everyday I make the decision to either be a servant of Christ, or self-indulgent. I want to believe that I can make a difference. I want to believe that I can change the world in Christ, for the better.

The greatest asset has been looking within at my own heart. It's so easy to blame external circumstances or the inaction of others, and whine and complain about how the church isn't doing enough. How easy it is to complain about others! But what about me? What about my actions? Who am I going to be? That's the real question.

It's also the recognition that I can't fix my own heart with a hammer, nails, and a glue gun. It just won't work. 

Only God can change my heart. Only the Holy Spirit within can build me into a true hero of the faith. Only Jesus Christ himself can make me into who I was always meant to be, a servant-minded loving kind truth telling peacemaker. 

Of course I can cooperate with God in what he's doing, I can be careful to pray fervently, worship intently, study the word thoroughly, engage in concrete actions daily, and love God and others with a whole heart. But in the end, it is God who shifts my heart, as the word says, "from one degree of glory to another" into His likeness (2 Cor 3:18). As God does that work in me, it will be truly beautiful to behold.

So my goal will be to consistently engage myself first in the action of loving God, then the loving others will come naturally. As Socrates said, "Let him that would move the world, first move himself.” 

If I can get that right, and let God move me toward himself, by surrendering honestly to His lead, then I can begin to move the world toward Jesus Christ.