Tuesday, March 19, 2024

How to Experience Conscious Contact with God

There was an evangelist of yesteryear named Wilbur Chapman. One day he was talking to William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army.

Chapman asked Booth, “General Booth, God has used you in a great way. What is the secret of God’s use of you?”

Booth moved the hair out of his face, looked at Chapman with his piercing eyes and said, “There have been men with greater brains than I, men with greater opportunities; but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with the poor of London, I made up my mind that He would have all of William Booth there was. And if there is anything of power in the Salvation Army today, it is because God has all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.’”"

This started for William Booth when he was very young. At the age of fifteen Booth came to faith in Christ in a Methodist church. He wrote in his diary: ‘God shall have all there is of William Booth.’

Booth didn’t want to go half in, half out. He wanted to make sure God had full possession of him.

That’s our first point for today, Let God have all of you.

It makes me think of Mark 14:35-36, when Jesus wanted things changed. He wanted God to take the cup of the cross from him. It says…

“And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Letting God have all of you is this: When you disagree with God, not wanting to do what God says, but do it anyway. You say: “not my will, but yours be done.”

That is the beginning of “God have all of me.” It’s surrender to God’s will. It’s letting Him be in control.

This is a work of God in you. You can’t force it to happen. But you can cooperate with God in it. You can decide in prayer, as Booth did, that this is your goal in Christ.

But God is doing the miracle. Let God do it! 

“As the Lord gradually begins to do this, to take full possession of you, it is true that you will begin to enjoy a sense of His presence. You will find that this sense of the Lord's presence will become very natural to you. Both the prayer with which you first began and a sense of His presence which comes with that prayer, will eventually become a normal part of your daily experience. An unusual serenity and peacefulness will gradually spread over your soul. Your whole prayer, your whole experience, will begin to enter upon a new level.” -Jeanne Guyon, ch. 12

Second point, the royal road to God having all of you in through basic prayer. Prayer is talking to God. I know most of you think of prayer as “God give me this, God help this person, God change this situation.” That is certainly a part of prayer. But prayer must go deeper then that.

Prayer is more often for me, telling God how I’m feeling. Explaining to God about what I’m struggling with. Telling God about my emotions. Telling God stories about what happened today. Telling God what I’m worried about. Telling God about my dreams. Talking to God about my future plans. Talking to God about my friends and family. It’s a lot like a conversation.

Let yourself begin to get excited about this conversation. Enjoy spending time with God. Sit down on your front porch, or balcony, or at the park, or by the river, and simply stare out into nature, and talk to God. Pray to God. Tell God about your problems. Make requests of Him. Invite Him to change you.

It’s like putting your boat on the river. You don’t do a lot. You simply allow yourself to be in God’s presence. And then the current takes you.

As you learn to pray more and more, talking to God in the morning, praying over meals, praying at night, praying at mid day, praying at church, and praying at home, eventually you’ll find that something changes. You’ll realize over time, wow, my entire day is turning into a dialogue with God.

All day, in your mind, you’re talking to God. While you ride your bike, you’re talking to God. While you’re at work you’re talking to God. You’re whispering prayers to Him in your car. You’re whispering prayers to Him at home. You’re constantly engaging in conversation with God. Eventually even, it’s not just a prayer, it’s your heart crying out to Him. Not even in words. But in your emotions in your heart, your heart cries out to God throughout the day, and that becomes a prayer in itself. And it’s beautiful.

That’s our third point, Prayer is a journey, a pathway, a road. It starts out very basic. I remember when I was a new Christian prayer seemed hard. I found it stressful to try to turn off the technology and just be quiet with God. It scared me. But slowly, I prayed for thirty seconds a day. Then it was a minute or two. Pretty soon it was five minutes, then seven minutes. And slowly but surely I went from near prayerlessness, to talking to God all day.

It's like a river. As soon as you get on the river, you are moving in the new direction. God is in control. You simply let Him guide your prayer life ever-closer to Him. You follow the river, keeping clear of the edges, staying at the center, and allow the current to take you. 

As Jeanne Guyon said: “Let us say that you wish to reach the sea. How will you get there? You need to do nothing except this: embark upon a river. Eventually you will be carried to the sea without any trouble, without any self-effort.” -Jeanne Guyon, ch. 12

As you journey along the river of growing contact with God throughout the whole day, you’ll begin to experience God’s presence.

At some point in your journey of prayer with God, you’ll begin to feel God’s presence all around you and within you. It is a feeling but it’s not just a feeling. It’s also a knowledge that God is with you. You know it. It’s real. And it’s true.

Now God is with all Christians. But someone who has cultivated daily contact with God will experience the peace and joy of God’s presence because they’ve tuned themselves to it.

They are in such intimate contact with God, they are tuned in to His presence, they feel Him, sense Him near, and enjoy His presence, power, and comfort.

In times of deep prayer I will experience God’s presence in different ways. Sometimes it’s the fear of the Lord. I’m praying and I actually tremble with fear because I know the God of all is literally right there with me. Other times it’s a gentle peace a calmness that surrounds me. Other times it’s a joy, a joyousness where I just smile and enjoy being with him. Other times it a pleasure, a feeling of excitement and pleasure that I love God and God loves me.

God works in our lives in so many different ways. Sometimes he encourages us, sometimes he rebukes us, sometimes he gives us peace, other times he tests us in difficulties and sorrows. Sometimes we tremble at the fear of God, other times we rejoice in the joy of God. It all depends on the day, the season, and what God is doing in us at the moment.

That’s our fourth point today, as you cultivate continuous prayer with God throughout the day you’ll begin to experience God’s presence at times.

With some saints they’ve cultivated a state of nearly always being in God’s presence, I think of Brother Lawrence who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God. He cultivated a state of constantly being in God’s presence.

Through constant prayer we’re consistently turning ourselves toward God. We’re turning our faces toward His face. We’re seeking God’s face, which is to seek His presence, His will, and His guidance. And in that comes God’s presence.

Let’s put it all together now.

First, we decide that God must have all there is of me. So we make that our prayer. And we practice that, we apply that by doing God’s will even when we don’t want to. We say not my will, but your will be done God. That isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.

We expand on that submission to God by cultivating basic prayer, second point.

Third point, we expand on basic prayer by developing more and more prayer, until the entire day is a dialogue with God.

Fourth point, as we cultivate that constant prayer with God throughout the day, we begin to experience at times the presence of God all around us, and within us.

And lastly, point five, as we cultivate submission to God’s will, basic prayer, journey expanded prayer, and walk in the presence of God, we begin to experience conscious contact with God.

Point five, conscious contact with God. What does that mean? It’s something Bill Wilson the founder of the twelve step movement said is essentially doing the next right thing. Knowing what God wants us to do and then doing.

Bill Wilson wrote, “What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind. Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely upon it.”

As we walk with God in this way, we’ll begin to experience inspiration, God will direct us.

In other words, in our prayer times, and throughout the day, God will speak to us. That’s why it’s important in prayer to have quiet times, when you’ve prayed for a while, to stop, and just listen, and let God speak to you.

“When you come to the Lord, gradually learn to have a quiet mind before Him. One of the most important things you can do is cease from any self-effort. In this way, God Himself can act all alone. It was the Psalmist speaking for the Lord who said, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)” -Jeanne Guyon, ch. 12

You may experience this as an internal voice, an external voice (rare), a thought in your mind that grows strong, or a simple knowing, you just know what God is saying. Other times he’ll nudge you to open your Bible in that time, and he’ll lead you to a scripture that will speak directly into your situation. But always remember in this, nothing God says to you will contradict His word. And be cautious, there is a difference between God’s leading and your own internal voice. Learn to quiet yourself and listen.

One of the biggest mistakes I've made is thinking my own internal voice was God's voice, and I made some pretty dumb decisions in those times. It's usually hardest when we really want something. We substitute our voice for God's voice and then claim it came from God. But it didn't. It was us. 

I think it takes an honest desire to authentically hear from God, whether it be a blessed word or a challenging word. Let God speak. Don't distort it with your own agenda. 

As you proceed down this royal road, this beautiful river of contact with God, you will have a back and forth between you and God going on in your life. God will hear you, but you will also hear Him. And then you will be a friend of God. One who hears from God on a daily basis. And that my friends, is amazing, glorious and far too rare. But it is the providence of every Christian, not just for a few elite. Any and every Christian can and should hear from God.

So let’s review our main points today:

1. Let God have all of you (Seek to do His will, not your own)

2. Do this through cultivating basic prayer (Set up prayer times in your life)

3. As you do, you’ll begin to experience constant conversation with God (daily dialogue with God)

4. As you do, you’ll experience His Presence (God’s Presence will flood in)

5. As you do, you’ll experience conscious contact with God (Hearing from God Himself/Receiving guidance from Him)

Monday, March 18, 2024

Seven Spiritual Gifts in the Body of Christ

When examining the human body, there are numerous systems all working at the same time to regulate, protect, strengthen, and heal the human body. There is the respiratory system which brings oxygen into the body and expels carbon dioxide. The brain communicates instructions to the rest of the body. It is amazing how the entire body works together as one to allow us to live.

Similarly, think of a city. All sorts of systems work together. Massive networks of underground pipes distribute water. Electric lines channel power. Supermarkets bring food. Cell towers communicate telephone signals. And it all works together.

Think of a football team, certain players block. Others run the ball. Others go out for passes. Others are defensive. Others have special functions, like kickers or punters. One player leads on offense, another on defense. It all works together for the team to fulfill it’s function, to win games.

It’s similar in the military, an army has frontline soldiers, it has cavalier units who specialize in speed and firepower. They have artillery units that stay further back. They have air units that fly overhead. They have generals who strategize and lead. They have scouts, they have guards, and all sorts of other roles to make a powerful, mobile force that can fulfill it’s mission, to defeat the enemy.

We as Christians are also part of a whole. We are not lone-wolves prowling about by ourselves looking for prey. Instead, we are part of a vast body of believers, all working together to win the world for Jesus, and disciple one another on the journey home.

Along those lines we’ll be looking at Romans 12 today, starting in verse 3, which says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…”

We’re told very quickly that it’s important that we look at ourselves with very sober judgment. To me that means firm humility. In our service in the body of Christ we will tend to want to think of ourselves as indispensable to the group. As the worker sometimes says to himself, “Without me this place would fall apart.” But it usually isn’t true. View yourself with humility. Your job isn’t the end all be all. I know that. God can easily replace me, if I were to decide to go back to the sin life. I’m just a small part of the whole.

Notice also that we have our place in the body of Christ ‘by grace.’ It’s not that we worked our way in by being awesome or something. No, we were sinners. And Christ saved us, by his death. So have sober judgment about yourself in this equation.

So Paul says to think soberly… second part of verse 3, “in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

So we have this measure of faith within us, manifested as trust in God, commitment to God, allegiance to God, and this faith is how we’re connected to the whole. It’s through faith in Jesus that we are part of the body.

Next in verses 4-5, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

I have a body with hands, shoulders, feet, knees, eyes, ears, and all sorts of different parts. They do not all have the same function, do they? My feet do very different things from my hands.

Yet they are all part of my body. They work together, not against each other.

And we as Christians form one body, though we’re many different people. Often I’ll meet a Christian, from another church, in another city, and I instantly know they are family. I can sense they are one with me, with all Christians. And we instantly connect. That’s why wherever I go, I meet family in Christ. Because that’s what we are. We are connected.

Each member belongs to all the others.

Then it says in verse 6, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

We each have giftings, areas that we are passionate about, and get excited about when we help others. These passions, these gifts were given by God through faith to you, to be used to bless the body.

But they are very different from each other. One person has a gifting of exhortation, you see them calling out the sins of the world, calling people to repent. Another person has a gift of showing mercy, and they have great compassion for the lost. The two may sometimes be tempted to argue. The one showing mercy says hey stop calling out all those sins that isn’t nice that isn’t going to win people to Jesus. The one giving exhortation says back, this is my gifting, to call out sin and righteousness boldly, and it is a message that is needed. So the two must understand, don’t fight, understand you have different giftings.

Second portion of verse 6, “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith”

Notice again it says in accordance with your faith, or the faith. We want to make sure we’re using our giftings in alignment with God’s will and purpose.

What is the gift of prophecy? This is when God gives you a word to share with someone. You may not even realize you’re doing it at the time, but you’ll say something they need to hear. You simply let the Spirit lead. Other times you may know you have a word for someone and it will burn within you, and then you’ll go and give them that word.

Amos 3:7 says, “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”

Some churches say basically the prophet role doesn’t exist anymore. Neither does the apostle, the only problem is it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible. So I tend to believe prophets and apostles still exist today.

One example from scripture of a prophet acting was in Acts 21:11, “Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

He gave a prophecy to the Apostle Paul about his arrest.

Do you have a gifting in the prophetic area? This can be a ministry as part of the five-fold ministry. It can also be a gifting for any believer to carry. Paul held a high regard for the gift of prophecy, Paul said desire many spiritual gifts, but most of all ask God to give you the gift of prophecy (1st Cor 14:1).

From the “Outline of Biblical Usage” the Greek word for prophesy means to “speak forth by divine revelation.” So you receive a word from God, something to tell someone that they need to hear, and then you tell them.

You can see how powerful this can be. Someone who doesn’t know God, and you tell them something only God would know, has the power to show them the supernatural is real. Similarly with another Christian, they are greatly edified when they receive a word, they may remember it for years, for the rest of their lives, the word you spoke to them, because it was from God, specifically for them.

Prayer: Lord, we ask for the gift of prophecy, for those of us who should have it, please give abundantly in Jesus name, amen.

Next in Romans 12:7, “if it is serving, then serve…”

Serving is a gifting for various highly valuable activities, preparing food, cleaning a widows house, stacking chairs, holding the hand of someone who has just been injured, getting an event ready, preparing a food box, or numerous other ways of general service.

What would the church do without people gifting in serving? The church wouldn’t do anything. We’d be motionless. They are like the muscles and bones of the body if you ask me!

Prayer: Lord, if you are calling me to serve, please prompt me with opportunities in Jesus name, amen.

Next, in Romans 12:7b, “if it is teaching, then teach.”

Teaching is not just a role in the five-fold ministry, it’s a general spiritual gift for all believers. Is this a gift of yours? Are you talented from God, in explaining the Bible to others? That is a valuable gift. Use it. Mentor someone. Sit down with a friend and go through the Bible together. Write about the word of God. Use your talent, volunteer here for Bible study or Sunday school.

What would we do without our teachers? Teachers in the body help us see the word of God from new angles. They help us to go from hearing to application. They are wonderful.

Prayer: God, if you want me to teach the word, show me how, and I will do so Lord, in Jesus name, amen.

Next in Romans 12:8, “if it is to encourage, then give encouragement…”

The gift of encouragement is a beautiful thing. One of the worst things for a Christian is when they are feeling discouraged. They are exhausted with life. They are frustrated with difficulties. They are tired of being sick, tired of health problems. They can’t stand any more persecution or trauma. They can’t make ends meet. And they face discouragement.

Then it takes a faithful Christian in the body to come along and give them encouragement. They come and give them hope from the word of God. They read them a scripture. They recite a verse. You will rise up on eagles wings. Do not grow weary in doing good. I can do all things through Christ. God works all things together for the good of those who love God. When you are tempted God will provide a way of escape. And this gives us encouragement. We get hopeful once again. We bear up under our problem and remember how much we have to be grateful for.

Is this your gifting? We need encouragers so bad in the body.

Now it’s interesting also to note that the word used here in Greek, paraklēsis, for encouragement is the same as the word for exhortation. So exhortation is calling someone toward good deeds. Calling someone to make a change. Calling someone toward the right. So I think it also implies speaking a hard truth as well, not just a bubbly flowery word of comfort, but also a word of truth.

Prayer: Lord, I desire the gift of encouragement/exhortation. Lord please grant me that gift if it is your will, to build up the body, in Jesus name, amen.

Next, still verse 8, “if it is giving, then give generously…”

The gift of giving is beautiful. I think Jesus said it well, in Luke 3:11, if you have two coats and see someone without a coat, give them a coat.

If you see someone without food, provide food for them, if you can.

The gift of giving is beautiful. It can be giving money as well to worthy causes. Many Americans have a gift for giving, in fact the only reason The Salvation Army exists at all is because so many Americans give weekly, monthly, annually to support our mission.

Do you have a gift for giving? It can be a coat, a meal, a bag of groceries, clothing, gas money, many different things.

Giving could be time as well. Giving could be an act of service, repairing an appliance or replacing a door. These are all acts of giving.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of giving. Grant us opportunities to give. Help us to plan to give, set aside finances and resources for that purpose, and then use them to give, in Jesus name, amen.

Again in Romans 12:8c, “if it is to lead, do it diligently…”

Leading is not simply something done by the five-fold ministry. A leader is someone who others gather around. Someone others trust and look to for support and guidance. Many of you are leaders and you don’t even realize it.

The Greek word used for leader is not the same as used for government leaders. So this is leadership in a different way. I think it can mean leadership in the church as part of the five-fold. But I think it also means leading in the way of being a guardian or protector of others.

Prayer: Lord, if it is your will, give us the gift of leadership. Help us to lead those around us toward the good, toward necessary resources, and most of all toward you God, in Jesus name, amen.

Last but not least, still verse 8, “…if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Often in the ministry of Jesus, someone who was blind, or unable to move their legs, or deaf, would cry out to Jesus and say, “Lord have mercy on me!” It pictures someone in a state in which they are hopeless. They can’t help themselves. They are doomed without help.

Similarly, some of us Christians are gifted in the area of showing mercy to those who are in desperate circumstances.

I think I most often think of someone who ministers to the worst kinds of sinners.

Many Christians would find it uncomfortable or difficult to minister to someone addicted to crack, or someone who is a prostitute, or someone who has had five abortions, or someone who has committed adultery. It’s difficult. They hate those sins, as they should, but it’s then hard for them to minister to that person.

However, many Christians are gifted in showing mercy. They are able to look beyond the horrid sins, and see the person there made in God’s image. That is the gift of showing mercy, a miraculous ability to look past the sins and see the worth of the person.

Do you have that gifting? The body needs heroes like that. They are beautiful in their mercy.

What did God say? I desire mercy rather than sacrifice. Show mercy to your neighbor. Show mercy to someone who has wronged you. It’s a little miracle when it happens.

Desire this gift, if you dare. God will provide.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of showing mercy, for those whom you’ve called to it, to have mercy on those who are in sin and evil, help us to see their worth, in Jesus name, amen.

There are other listings of spiritual gifts in the scriptures, particularly in 1st Corinthians 12, but other areas as well. The scriptures seem to imply that God gives us these gifts, and that we develop these gifts through experience and growth in the Holy Spirit.

All of these gifts together form us into the body of Christ. And as the body we use these heaven-sent gifts to bring forth the kingdom of God on Earth, in the will of Jesus Christ, who is the head of the body. Jesus gives the orders, just as the brain gives the orders to the human body.

Now what happens if we don’t use our gifts? Nothing happens. And that’s not good.

Also understand it is your obligation to use your gifts. That’s why you have them. Remember the parable of the talents, the one who didn’t use his talents, but hid them, was rejected. And Jesus said those who don’t produce fruit are not of Him. They are like branches that wither and fade away, and such branches are gathered up, and burned. They are worthless. Remember the fig tree that was found without fruit for several years. Christians who don’t produce fruit are showing they have no faith, because faith without works is dead. Is your faith living or dead?

I’m trying to impress upon you how important your gift is. But in conclusion let’s put it all together.

I’m a new Christian say, freshly born again. God uses a prophet to speak a word into my life, challenging me to grow and build. What would happen without the prophet? No prophet, then I miss that blessing. I’m now getting complacent.

Next, I go to an evening meal service, a dinner church, but the doors are shut when I get there. People with the gift of serving never stepped up to serve, so the dinner church shut down many months ago.

Next, God calls an older man to mentor me in the Bible, sit down with me once a week or so, and go through the Bible over coffee and donuts in his den. But this man never does so, he's too lazy, decides he’d rather watch the price is right in the mornings. He has a gift of teaching but he doesn’t use it.

This new Christian is really being neglected! He’s starting to get discouraged. So God calls a woman to go and encourage him after church. But she decides not to. She has other things she wants to do, go shopping, get a Starbucks. So this new Christian leaves church discouraged and alone.

Now, we see this Christian is on his way to work, but his car breaks down. God sends a Christian who is driving by to stop and help them. But they just keep going. They have a gift of giving, but they don’t do it. Now this Christian loses his job.

This new Christian is going to a church, but the leader decides he doesn’t want to be a leader anymore, he resigns the ministry, and the church shuts down. Now this new Christian has no church to attend nearby.

He drifts off, and becomes homeless. Yet he still hungers for God. He still has hope that maybe someone will help him. God sends someone with the gift of showing mercy along to minister to him, invite them to their church, to a new church, and to help them find a place to stay, maybe drop them at the local shelter. But instead this person sees him, but just keeps walking, she’s too tired that day.

Then that night he commits suicide.

This is a graphic example of the value of the body of believers. We need each other. Do I believe God could still help someone, even if they miss some of these ministry opportunities? Of course.

In this scenario could God easily bring someone else with that same gifting over to help them? Absolutely.

So I don’t think it necessarily will end that way. But many a time I’ve felt I needed something, but it never came. Can you relate? You matter. Your gifting is not optional. And no, someone else won’t just magically do it for you. I think we get that idea in America, well, there’s another person who will do this for me. Maybe back in the 70s and 80s during the Billy Graham crusades, not anymore. If it’s going to happen it’s got to be you. Take responsibility, and serve in your place. It’s not too much. It’s not overwhelming. It’s quite natural actually. You'll do great! 

Review of Main Points:

1. View yourself with Sober Judgment, as one saved by grace through faith
2. Members of the body have differing functions, but belong to each other
3. The gift of prophesy means to speak word from God
4. The gift of teaching is explaining God’s word
5. Encouragement/exhortation is to help a believer stay strong
6. Giving is meeting someone’s need
7. Leading is being a guide or protector to other Christians
8. Showing mercy is seeing the value in someone caught in sin
9. Other Spiritual gifts exist as well (see 1 Cor 12)
10. Your Gifting is necessary to the body, use your gift faithfully

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Return of Jesus: A Shining Sun in our Christian Sky

When talking about a vision from God, we have to understand that we can't take it at the same level as scripture. It's a testimony, a vision, something we test against the word of God and prayer. But I sensed God asking me to share a bit of this testimony.

I had a vision from God when I was twenty years old. I was addicted to drugs, totally lost, and did not believe in God. Many were praying for me. So I believe God was giving me a warning. I saw myself seeing a bright shining glorious nexus, it was God’s presence and power and glory. And then I saw myself drifting from it. I had missed it. And I found myself in hell. I saw this in a vision from God. I was in hell. And I was being tormented. Yet even from hell I could see above the glory of God, everything I had missed. I had sinned. And I had lost everything.

I gave that testimony a few years ago, and shared it on a video online. And I watched it a few times, and I saw the way it was recorded, behind me was the big light in my kitchen, and it showed me as I watched the video, that I was now with the light, the light was with me, in me, and I now have the hope of salvation.

God had warned me that I was headed in the wrong direction. But praise God he has brought me to that bright shining light of hope and salvation.

We’re talking about the bright shining hope of every Christian who is alive today and every Christian who has ever lived. That is the return of Jesus Christ.

The world lives in the fear of death. I recall being afraid of death. I remember how empty it felt. I remember how scary it seemed. When you know that you’re really all alone, well, that’s terrifying.

But, we are not like the world. We have a great and powerful hope.

In 1st Thessalonians 4 it says in verse 13, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

The scripture talks about those who sleep in death. This is a picture that Jesus gave us, when speaking about Lazarus. He said Lazarus is sleeping, but I will go and wake him up. His disciples were confused, they asked him what he meant. He said Lazarus is dead. But Jesus would raise him from the dead.

The word tells us not to grieve for the dead in Christ like the rest of the world. Because though the world doesn’t have hope, we have an eternal hope.

It’s bright and it’s shining, it’s strong and consistent, much like Earth’s sun. It shines day and night. Whether we see it or not, it keeps shining. At night it keeps shining. During the day it shines. We don’t worry that it will run out of fuel. We don’t worry that it won’t shine. It always shines. It burns brightly in space.

What is this eternal hope? It’s the Return of Jesus. He will come again. He will not leave us as orphans. He has gone to prepare a place for us. And he will return to bring us there. God doesn’t lie. If he says it, it’s true. You can take that to the bank.

In verse 14, “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

We know for certain two key facts: One, Jesus died. He was crucified. Second, Jesus rose from the dead.

And Jesus will bring back those who died in Him.

Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus rose from the dead. Jesus spoke to Jairus’ daughter, she was dead, and then she was alive.

Since God made the universe, since he placed the sun burning at the center of our solar system, since he placed planet earth here, also, God is able to raise the dead and bring them back to life. One of my favorite Christian apologists Prof. Frank Turek often says, if God made the universe from nothing, is it really so hard for Him to raise Jesus from the dead? Not really. If God can make space, time, reality, and the human race, it can't be too hard for Him to raise Jesus from the dead. 

So when considering this bright shining hope that we cling to, this sun in our sky, of the return of Jesus, it includes a formula that we believe that Jesus died, and Jesus rose from the dead. Those facts, those historical truths are things we remember when considering the fate of the dead.

Next in verses 15-16 it says, “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Jesus promised to return again. And we know he will. The Lord himself will come down from heaven above, he will speak, a command, a trumpet blast will sound, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

There are all sorts of issues we could get into here. Don’t the dead in Christ immediately go to heaven? Do some wait in their graves? Or is it just their bodies being raised at this point but their souls were already with God? I don’t want to get into a lot of this. It’s enough for our purposes today to understand that the dead in Christ will live again, when Jesus returns.

Then, in verse 17 we see the rapture, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

In other words, those who are alive when Jesus returns, will never die, they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. We call this the rapture. The lucky people who are actually alive on Earth when Jesus returns will be changed as they are caught up in the air.

But here is where the controversy comes. Because the main event at the end of the book of Revelation is when Jesus Christ returns to Earth, with the saints, and defeats the anti-christ and sets up his millennial reign on Earth.

So some would say the rapture event is the same as the second coming of Jesus. But right here in 1st Thessalonians we see it says Jesus catches them up, takes them to heaven. But at the second coming Jesus is coming to Earth. So, some believe the rapture event is a separate event, where Jesus pulls the saints off the Earth, and takes them to heaven, before the great tribulation starts. And then, the saints come back with Jesus at the end of the tribulation, at the moment of the second coming, when Jesus returns to defeat the anti-christ.

The main question is simple, how can the saints be “going up” if Jesus is coming down? In this event in 1st Thessalonians, it appears that Jesus is appearing in the clouds, calling the saints up, and then going back up with them.

So then his second coming to Earth must be a separate event? Or is it just that the language is symbolic, and the saints being caught up, means they go up, are changed, and immediately they come back down again at the same event? It’s a debate in Christian circles.

But suffice to say, for us today, we know in general, that Jesus will raise the dead in Christ, and Jesus will also raise the alive in Christ. We are adding these elements to our understanding of the eternal hope we have after death.

Next it says in verse 18, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Use this picture that God is creating, of the living hope, the bright shining Sun, to encourage each other that there is hope after death.

We’re going to continue into 1st Thessalonians 5, where it talks about the day of the Lord.

It says, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Apparently, the church at Thessalonica had been wondering about dates and times for the day of the Lord, but, Paul writes to them telling them, it will come like a thief in the night.

What is the day of the Lord? Well, when speaking about the rapture, the catching up, it’s spoken of with excitement and joy. But, with the day of the Lord, it’s spoken of in scripture with warning, and intensity, and judgment.

The day of the Lord is spoken of numerous times in the scripture, as a day of judgment and retribution. Zechariah 14:1-3 speaks of Jerusalem being destroyed, and the Lord coming down and fighting against the nations that attacked Jerusalem.

In 2 Peter 3:10 it says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

So what do you think? Is the day of the Lord and the rapture the one in the same event? Or are they two separate events? I tend to believe they are separate events, that the rapture occurs, Jesus catches up the saints, the tribulation takes place, and the saints return with Jesus, at his second coming when he defeats the antichrist and sets up his millennial reign.

Others believe that the moment Jesus returns in the rapture, the saints are caught up, the anti-christ is destroyed, and the millennial reign begins then.

It’s what you call an “in family” debate. Christians debate it back and forth, and we agree that other views are acceptable within the Christian family. It’s in family. Now, a non in family debate would be whether Jesus is really the son of God. It’s not debatable in the family. If you don’t believe Jesus is the son of God, you aren’t a Christian, plain and simple.

In any case, it’s clear to me Paul is not trying to delineate here between the rapture and second coming and day of the Lord and everything else. He is making general statements to arm this church with the living hope, the sun in their sky, of the return of Jesus in general.

Yet Paul gives us further details, it says, 3-5, “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”

The Lord is explaining to us here that though the world will be surprised by everything that takes place, we will not be. We are not of the darkness. We do not walk in darkness. We wear the pendant of the son of God.

So think of this sun picture we’re putting together as a pendant that you wear on your chest, that reminds you everyday of the living hope you share in.

I’ve seen the horrors of destruction. I’ve seen the emptiness and despair of life without God. I’ve walked in pitch darkness. Now, I walk in the brightness, deep brightness surrounds me. I walk in the light as He is in the light. And the blood of Jesus cleanses me from every sin. You, saints, walk in the light as well, you are children of the light, and the light defines you. The light of God surrounds you. Like the sun over the morning fields in the farmlands of Shiawassee county, so the son Jesus shines over us each us day. Bright, steady, constant, firm, and true.

Yet Paul also gives us a warning, he says, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.”

Because Christians sometimes end up mirroring the ways of the world. That’s why we get reminders like these, be awake and sober. Focus in on Jesus. Stay active in your faith walk. Laser focus on the Lord. Be awake. Be alert.

Paul does this all the time in all his letters, he makes the statement essentially, “You are, so be.”

“You are this, so be this.” You are light in the Lord, so be light, be awake and alert.

Why? Because it’s incredibly common for our talk to not match our walk. Paul reminds me, make sure it does match more and more. It’s something I try to do in my life, doesn’t always work, but I’m growing. Match the two, walk and talk!

Paul continues along these lines, in verses 7-8, “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”

Many of us here once lived “the night life” of parties and drinking and deeds done in darkness. But not anymore. We belong to the day now. To the Lord now. So...

Put on faith and love as a breastplate, and hope of salvation as a helmet. Those three words remind me of something, 1st Corinthians 13, but these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love, but the greatest of these is love.

As we wait for the return of Jesus we will need these three characteristics: Faith, Hope, and Love. One we will need faith, to trust God, that he really will do these things he’s promised. That’s faith. Second, we will need hope, hope encourages us to be excited about what Jesus will do when he returns. Hope is powerful. It stirs us to not give up. Hope is the key of this whole formula of life after death. It’s hope. But also, love, love binds it all together, faith, with hope, with love as well. Love means to love God, love others, and love His coming. With these three we cannot fail.

Lastly, in verses 9-11, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Verse 9 is sometimes pulled out of context to imply some intense form of predestination. But that isn’t actually what it’s saying. In it’s context, it’s contrasting for the Thessalonian Christians the day of the Lord with the rapture event. It’s saying, you are appointed, you have an appointment to keep, for salvation in Christ, while many yes have another appointment they are headed toward, to wrath, unfortunately.

I like also that Paul writes in verse 10, Jesus died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. That’s the goal. To live with Jesus with all the saints in paradise. I think Paul is also hinting, that it’s OK to literally sleep at night. He was using a metaphor for staying awake. But it’s still ok to sleep at night. Thankfully.

He's also of course saying, whether a Christian is right now dead, or right now alive, when Jesus returns, we will all be together again, alive and well.

And in verse 11, use all this to encourage each other as Christians and build each other up. And he’s pleased to see the Thessalonians are already doing that. Praise the Lord.

In conclusion brothers and sisters, this sun shining in our Christian skies, in each of our lives, is shining in the end with the radiance of eternal hope, which is our salvation. Glowing from the center of this moment, the return of Jesus, glows with radiance. It’s your salvation. The day of your salvation.

So return again and again to look at this hope. Look at it again and again. Encourage yourself with it. Jesus will return. Jesus will make all things new. Jesus will bring us to a new heavens and new earth.

Keep that in the sky of your mind as your live your life, just as the sun shines over the Earth, let the thought of the return of Jesus shine over your life, as a firm, fixed, powerful, and ever-present hope.

As firm and powerful Earth’s sun is, the return of Jesus is even more certain than the sun in the sky each day. It’s a fact, it will happen, and when it does, everything will change for us. Hallelujah. Come Lord Jesus!

Let’s Review Our Main Points Today:
1. We have an eternal hope to look to: The Return of Jesus

2. Jesus died and rose again (so he can do the same for us)

3. The dead in Christ will rise to life

4. Those living at the time of Jesus coming will rise to life

5. Encourage each other with the hope of life after death

6. The Rapture references the rising of the saints

7. The Day of the Lord references the judgment of God on the inhabitants of Earth

8. We are children of the day, so be awake and sober

9. Put on faith, hope and love as armor and helmet

10. The return of Jesus is the radiance of joy in your life, your salvation

Seek God & Be Sought by God: Obeying the Magnetic tug at your Heart

"Bruce Larson tells how he helped people struggling to surrender their lives to Christ:

For many years I worked in New York City and counseled at my office any number of people who were wrestling with this yes-or-no decision. Often I would suggest they walk with me from my office down to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. 'Now that's one way to live,' I would point out to my companion, 'trying to carry the world on your shoulders. But now come across the street with me.'

"On the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand. My point was illustrated graphically.

"We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, 'I give up, Lord; here's my life. I give you my world, the whole world.'" -Bruce Larson, Believe and Belong.

Isaiah 55:6-7, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

We can try to run our own lives, our we can let God run our lives. But the weight of the world is too heavy. And we were never meant to live apart from God. We were always meant to live and be guided by God. And then we can fulfill our purposes in life.

We’re talking about the way in which God draws us to Himself. Did you know God is always drawing you toward himself? It’s true.

God was actively drawing us for much of our lives, toward His son Jesus Christ, toward the cross, inviting us to draw near and receive His son Jesus as savior.

As the word says John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Yet also after becoming a Christian, after coming to know Jesus, we are continuously drawn to our heavenly Father over and over again.

Jeanne Guyon in her book refers to this as the law of central tendency. She says…

“As you come into this deeper level of knowing the Lord, you will eventually come to discover a principle I will call the law of central tendency. What do I mean by the law of central tendency? As you continue holding your soul deep in your inward parts, you will discover that God has a magnetic attracting quality! Your God is like a magnet! The Lord naturally draws you more and more toward Himself.” -Jeanne Guyon, Ch. 11

There is a magnetic draw toward God within me, that much is certain. I will often be playing a videogame, or watching a movie, or doing something, and I will feel the draw to sit down on the floor and begin talking to my God. Or I feel the tug to grab my Bible from the table and open it up and read.

Point number one today is to simply obey that calling when you feel it. As you grow as a Christian more and more you’ll feel the tug to spend time with God. Simply agree with that tug and go spend time with God.

It’s the call of love and fellowship. God wants to be with you. Respond by spending time with Him.

As the word says in Hebrews 10:22 “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Draw near to God, with a full heart, loving God with all your heart. And believe Jesus really loves you and wants to be with you too!

Yet there is also a magnetic push away from God as well. For an unbeliever, someone who rejects God, they may spend many years of their lives trying to avoid God. They do everything they can to avoid even the thought of God. Modern society is like that, the concept of God excluded. Watch a sitcom or almost any tv show or sports event, no mention of God is allowed. Go to public school or university, the thought of God is not even allowed. They exclude God, they don’t want to think about God. They are drawn away from God by their flesh.

I call them the “not interested” crowd. They just don’t care. I remember talking to a woman once, and she said I don’t need God, I have everything I need. I see others who simply ignore God, they have their families, jobs, vacations, sports events, and there is no room for God.

But such people are not hopeless. Pray for them. And you will begin to see something change, where they begin to hunger for God, and go from fleeing from God, to beginning to move toward God.

1 Cor 2:14 says, “But the natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Yet at the same time, even after becoming a Christian, we can run and hide from God. We can get distracted with our pleasures and then not want to spend time with God. I’ve had this happen many a time, I get focused on some silly pleasure and I don’t want to go pray or spend time with God. But God will often convince me, convict me by the Spirit, to come and spend time with Him. But sometimes I resist, like a stubborn child who doesn’t want to come to supper because he’s playing with his toys.

I remember one time I woke up very early and was playing an awful videogame called NBA Jam. And it’s super hard. I was getting so mad and upset. And I had to go to school soon. My mom came and tried to get me to go. But I got mad and yelled at her, and she shut off my game. Oh I was mad. But she was right, I needed to get ready. Sometimes when we’re mad it’s harder to do the right thing. But God will help us.

I think the main idea here, second point, is to let God draw us to Himself. Obey that call to come. Understand at times you may resist it. But listen to the Spirit, and give yourself permission to simply come to him.

Also understand that the Christian life is a journey of continuously being drawn and drawing yourself toward God. It’s not over, it’s just begun.

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This implies a continuous active seeking after God and his word. Everyday. Keep Seeking God’s kingdom first.

And as you do that more and more you’re going to find, one, I have a new heart. I’m different than I was before. Two, out of that new heart, I have a whole new way of life. I’m acting differently.

As the word says, John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

You will find where you once had a rock solid selfish heart, that instead streams of living water are flowing from it.

That’s point number three, seek God continuously, and your heart will become a fountain of life.

Next, what might cause problems for us in this seeking after God and finding God? One thing we need to be aware of is that we have an enemy. And that enemy is trying to disrupt our walk with God.

I see it with every single member of our church. God does something in their lives. Then demons try to disrupt. If they’re attending church they try to get you sick, or cause an injury. They try to distract you with past relationships. Pretty soon your ex is calling. I remember a good friend of mine was trying to get clean from methamphetamine. And he was doing good, then he randomly finds a bag of meth on the street. The enemy is cunning and trying to harm us and trip us up.

The word of God says, Ephesians 6:12, “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.”

And in that same scripture it tells us, to put on the full armor of God to stand against the schemes of the evil one.

Watch for enemy plots. You’ll notice it’s very odd and tempting. In that moment know, this is from the enemy, and I’m going to resist and reject this temptation. In that moment pray and ask God for help. And you will have the victory.

That’s point number four, recognize there is a enemy, don’t be afraid, but stand in faith and take steps toward victory.

Madam Guyon points us to a final area of concern, things we hold on to in life. What might that be? A habit. A sin. Even just something that distracts us from God. And God wants to remove it from us. But sometimes we fight God in it.

Here’s what she says… “Thank God, sometimes your Lord, out of His boundless love, strikes the burden violently from your hand. It is then that you realize just how very much you had been hindered and held back. Dear Christian, only allow everything to drop. How? Simply withdraw your hands from self; withdraw your hands from every other person and all things. Of course, that is something of a sacrifice. It can even be called a crucifixion. But you will be amazed to find that there is only a very short space between your sacrifice and your resurrection!” -Jeanne Guyon, Ch. 11

Whenever we allow God to strike something from our lives, it’s a sacrifice. We often hold very tightly to what we’re used to. But if we can find a way to let God remove it, we’ll often very quickly see just how much it was distracting us from God, and disrupting our walk with Him.

There have been numerous little things God has removed from my life to build me up. Smoking cigarettes was one. Soda was one, I was drinking four, five, six pops a day. And the Lord dealt with it. Another was not tithing. I didn’t want to give of my funds. And God corrected me on that. Another was excessively violent videogames, God nudged me to discontinue that. Another was certain movies I would watch that were not right for me to be watching.

It might be something God is adding, it might be something God is removing, but I encourage you, allow God to remove whatever the issue might be. Trust Him. Take a leap of faith. I’m sure you know deep within what he’s saying to you. You may be resisting it right now. But take a leap and simply let Him have it. See what happens. You might be surprised how blessed you are as a result.

That’s our fifth point today, let God remove the thing you’re holding onto. And watch how your walk with God improves.

In conclusion, remember these two principles: One, Christ is seeking you. Second, you must seek God. It will go back and forth, at times you’ll be seeking Him, other times he’ll be pursuing you. It’s a back and forth of a relationship. In all this, learn eventually to seek God first, and put God first, and keep God first. And you’ll then be seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, and as a result, he’ll add every good thing to you, and take away that which is not his best for you.

Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”

To review today…

1. Obey the magnetic tug at your heart to spend time with God

2. The Christian life is a continuous process of letting God draw us, and drawing near to Him

3. As you practice seeking God, your heart will become a fountain of life

4. Demons will attempt to disrupt your walk with God, but stand firm in faith

5. If you’re holding onto something destructive, let God remove it from you (or let Him add something new)

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Pilgrimage Road of Faith: What does it mean to walk by Faith?

How do we walk the road of faith? It's completely different than walking as a man of the world. So, we become like toddlers who are unable to walk, and we must learn to walk. How does that work?

God walks before us, in front of us, holding our hands, and teaches us to walk by faith. He does not shove us out there onto the road and say "Get going!" No. God walks with us, hand in hand, in front of us, face to face with us, as we learn to take our steps, one step in front of another. 

Like a parent teaching a toddler to walk, we learn to live by faith. We carefully take our steps. And God holds our hands, face to face with us, in front of us, teaching us, encouraging us, correcting us, and giving us love and hope and truth. And slowly, but surely, we learn to walk in a new way. 

“To live by faith is to live joyfully, to live with assurance, untroubled by doubts and with complete confidence in all we have to do and suffer at each moment by the will of God. We must realize that it is in order to stimulate and sustain this faith that God allows the soul to be buffeted and swept away by the raging torrent of so much distress, so many troubles, so much embarrassment and weakness, and so many setbacks. For it is essential to have faith to find God behind all this.” -Jean-Pierre de Caussade, 1675-1751, in Discipleship Journal, issue 40.

Today we’re talking about a road, a journey, a passage way. It’s a road that we can’t walk normally though, it can only be walked by faith. It can only be walked in deep connection to God through Jesus Christ. We’re going to press toward the goal on this road.

What is this road? What is the goal? This road is our journey through this life toward heaven. The Apostle Paul wrote about this journey in Philippians chapter 3, and he compared it to a race, running a race, and running it in a way to win the prize. The goal is of course, eternal life itself, arriving safely in paradise.

It starts in Philippians 3, verses 8-11 which says, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

Everything else is worthless, and what Paul is referring to is earlier in the chapter he was dealing with people who wanted to bring back the Old Testament law as a way of getting right with God. So Paul is making a case for moving forward from the old testament law toward the new way of faith in Christ.

He no longer believes righteousness can come through the law, but he has become righteous through faith in Jesus.

He’s walking the new journey by faith. He’s discarding former things. And he’s counting everything else as worthless compared to knowing Christ.

Next in verse 12, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.”

Paul didn’t consider himself done. He considered the Christian life a journey. That’s something we need to remember as well. It’s not done. It’s just begun.

The journey is ongoing, it continues!

In verse 12 still, “But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”

This is a really profound statement, Paul is saying that he continues on toward perfection, the same perfection by which Christ first possessed him. He knows he tasted of the perfection of Jesus when he was born again. And he longs to made one with that perfection in paradise. He knows in heaven, in the new body, he will be perfect as Christ, holy and pure, because of Jesus! 

Then in verse 13, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,”

So Paul has told us that we’re on a journey, we’re on this pathway of eternal life. He’s told us that it’s walked by faith. And the goal is the perfection of Jesus.

Now he’s telling us some positions of the mind, first we’re told we should forget the past, and then we’re told to look forward to what lies ahead. How should I think? Don't dwell on the past. Focus on the future, the bright hope we have in Jesus. 

Next, verse 14, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

The goal is growth, the goal is also to reach the heavenly prize that we’re being called to. That’s eternal life. It’s paradise. It’s restoration to full union with God. It’s the highest goal in the universe. Nothing is more important.

Next it says in verses 15-16, “Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

Here again we find the concept of spiritual maturity, that we as Christians want to aim for finding a place of Christian maturity, where we’re walking in wisdom, in the fear of the Lord, and have found a kind of stability in our walk with God.

But we find several principles here to live by on our journey, first, hold to the progress you’ve made. Don’t slip back. Second, God is active in this journey, he is our guide, and third, spiritual maturity in Christ will be an asset in the journey.

In verse 17 Paul writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.”

Paul offered his own life as an example of how to follow Jesus successfully. Similarly today we want to look for godly examples to follow in our lives. Look for people who have a strong walk with Jesus, and watch what they do, then mimic what they do.

Many things in my Christian life I learned from others Christians. I learned to pray with other Christians by watching other Christians do that. I learned to hand out tracts by watching another Christian hand out a tract. I learned to give to charity by watching other Christians give to charity. I learn the best ways to explain the gospel by listening to other Christians explain the gospel. We learn from the examples of others, and then we begin to set the example ourselves. And others learn from our example.

In verses 18-19 Paul warns us about those who are off course. It says, “For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.”

We are on this track, this pathway, this road of salvation, and others may appear to be on it with us. But we will be able to tell by their own actions what direction they are going. Many get off track, and their actions show it.

Their god is their appetite, Paul says, they boast about shameful things they do, and they only think about this life on Earth.

Many, many people I know, they only think about this life. They are earthly minded. We as Christians must learn to think about the spiritual realm. We must learn to think about heaven and hell, and God, and justice, and truth. We must learn to love those things of the next life, not just the things of this Earth.

Next in verse 20, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”

A few more positions of the mind, we understand we’re citizens of heaven already. We aren’t in heaven yet. But we carry the citizenship. We have the rights of a citizen of heaven. We have the authority of Jesus Christ on earth, to pray in His name, because we are already citizens of heaven.

We are sojourners through this life. We are aliens in a foreign land. We are not of this world. We are ambassadors for another kingdom, inviting others to join this new kingdom.

Second, we are eagerly awaiting Jesus’ return. We long for Jesus to return. We are eager for that moment. Some of my favorite Christians are always excited that Jesus could return tomorrow or the next day. They long for the return of their King! 

Lastly, in verse 21, “He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.”

Here we see the results of what happens when Jesus returns, and a big part of the eternal prize we run the race for, our current mortal bodies will be changed into a glorious new body, like the new body Jesus has right now, after his resurrection from the dead. God will do this by His own mighty power, the same power by which all things will come under his control.

Let’s Review our main points.

1. This race is our first priority, anything else is secondary

2. The Christian life is a journey, one day at a time

3. Forget past ways, look to things ahead

4. The end goal is the heavenly prize in Christ Jesus

5. Come into maturity in Christ

6. Model your lifestyle after other godly Christians

7. Some are off course, their actions will prove them out

8. We are already citizens of heaven

9. We long for the return of Jesus

10. When Christ returns he will change our earthly bodies into heaven bodies

What do I do when I Feel Tempted to Sin?

I remember feeling many years ago that the power of sin was just too strong in my life. I would feel the pressure within to indulge in the sin. And it seemed inevitable. Theres just no way. I can’t stop sinning. It’s too big. It’s too much.

But over time as I learned about God, and grew in my relationship with God, the sin did not seem as powerful as it used to be. It’s power was in fact broken in my life. And if I needed new things to be broken I could simply ask God, and he would begin to break it.

You may be wondering, will I ever reach that point? Will I ever hate my sin enough to overcome it? Will the power of God ever be great enough to defeat it?

Don’t be afraid. God is powerful. And this is a journey. You will find that place of victory. Sooner rather than later. Presently. Now. Today even.

“Do not be fearful that you will not wish to walk this way. In the level of experience of which I now speak there is a hungering for suffering. Such Christians burn with love for the Lord. In fact, if they were permitted to follow their own desires, they would put themselves under a great deal of discipline, even excessive self-denial. Once such love burns within the heart of a believer, he thinks of nothing but how to please his beloved Lord. He begins to neglect
himself—no, far more than that—in love with the Lord, he even completely forgets about himself. As his love for the Lord grows, so does his hatred for his self-life. May you learn this path.” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, Ch. 10

So we will learn this path, of death to self and life in Christ. It’s real. It’s powerful. God has all power, infinite power to break any broken thing in our lives. God is greater.

So let’s get into our study for today. But it begins with hope, point one, hope, and believe that God really can do anything in you. Anything at all that he wants. He made you, as God said, “Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

A natural man, a human being operates in a basic fashion to fulfill three basic areas of life, security, social connection, and romantic interest. Security, social connection and romance. These three areas of general concern make up their approach to life. They seek after food, shelter, and work. They seek friendships and connections within their family, And they seek out a romantic partner and the bearing of children. That is the way of man.

Something fundamental though happens when a human being encounters God the creator. They are thrust into the fourth dimension of existence, that is, connection with God.

And suddenly everything changes. Instead of fulfilling the three basic instincts, the human’s entire footing changes. God becomes first. God becomes all. God becomes the main concern, faith in God. And this faith in God, helps the person to move from desperately trying to fulfill their desires, to being filled by God instead, and then learning to trust God to provide for their security, social connection, and romance.

It's a great freedom actually. It’s a victory to learn to rely on God for these things. We let go of control, and we let God lead our lives. It’s better this way.

Yet even after becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus, we still face the battle between the spirit and the flesh. Who is going to be in charge? Who is going to lead my life?

Will it be God or will it be my fleshly desires?

This struggle is talked about in Galatians 5:16-18, which says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

This battle takes place when we feel tempted to do something we know isn’t right. There the battle begins. Often it involves our five senses, sight, smell, taste, touch, and smell.

Guys, you see a beautiful woman, with your eyes you see, you smell her perfume, and so on. It’s tempting.

Ladies, you see a beautiful.. piece of chocolate. You smell it, you see it, you taste it and it’s tempting.

From the book we’ve been studying, experiencing the depths of Jesus Christ, Madam Guyon writes, “Where do your five senses draw their life and energy? From your soul. It is your soul that gives life and energy to your five senses; and when your senses become aroused, they in turn stimulate your desires.” -Ch.10

So we see that our five senses are accessed by our soul. Our soul operates our body, so logically our five senses are accessed by our soul. And when those senses become aroused, they in turn lead to desire.

Desire can then lead to sin if we’re not careful. Of course desire does not always lead to sin. Suppose you are hungry, you have a desire to eat some scrambled eggs. So you eat some scrambled eggs. No sin there.

Now, say you have a desire to steal a new cell phone. Now, you’re facing a sinful desire. And the goal is to overcome that sinful desire, by denying the desire.

You say yes to the eggs, fine. You say yes to stealing, now it becomes sin.

So in those situations where we’re facing a sin, something we know is wrong, but it’s a desire within us, what do we do?

Jeanne Guyon talks about the problem here…

“Christians have sought to find many ways to overcome their desires. Perhaps the most common approach has been discipline and self-denial. But no matter how severe your self-denial may be, it will never completely conquer your senses.” -Jeanne Guyon, ch. 10

Jesus talked about the value of self-denial.

”And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” - Luke 9:23-24 ESV

Self denial, deny yourself and follow Jesus. There is value in that. But it can’t remain something that is skin deep. It has to become something that goes deep into our being.

When you are tempted in some way, a biblical course of action is in fact to deny yourself. You basically say no to yourself. No, I’m not doing that. You pray. You read some scriptures. And all this helps you to resist the temptation.

But it has to go deeper than that. Otherwise it will always be a losing battle. We must allow God to change us.

Here is what Madam Guyon says about this issue:

“There is only one way to conquer your five senses, and that is by inward recollection. Or, to put it another way, the only way to conquer your five senses is by turning your soul completely inward to your spirit, there to possess a present God. Your soul must turn all of its attention and energies within, not without! Within to Christ, not without to the senses. When your soul is turned within, it actually becomes separated from your external senses; and once your five senses are separated from your soul, they receive no more attention. Their life supply is cut off! They become powerless.”

So in other words, Jeanne Guyon says the best way to defeat a temptation is not in wrestling in the five senses or in the desires. It’s by focusing in prayer on God who is alive within us as the Holy Spirit. We submit to the Holy Spirit within us. We surrender and abandon ourselves to the Spirit of God. And the Spirit helps us to detach from our base desires, and then those desires lose their power.

Is that biblical? I think it is.

We get a picture of a surrendered life in Galatians 2:20 which says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And 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.”

In this scripture you see a person who is disconnected from their old self, their old self they say is crucified, dead, gone. And they are alive, they are plugged into the Son of God through faith. They are walking in alignment with the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 6:8 ESV says, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

So where is the attention? The attention is taken off the flesh, and the attention is placed within on the Holy Spirit. And that brings victory over the fleshly desires prompted by the five senses.

This goes back to the issue of abandoning ourselves to God.

Your focus determines your reality. Where is your attention focused? Continuously turn your attention to God’s presence with you. And God’s presence within you will guide you away from your fleshly desires and toward the Spirit.

But I understand the difficulty. Truly I do. It’s a battle, there’s no doubt. But don’t lean into the temptations. Lean into God. The word of god says God will provide a way of escape. It’s important that you believe that.

I think of the worst thing that keep us locked up in sins is we believe a lie, we believe that God can’t remove that sin. That’s a lie. You must first begin to believe that God really can and wants to remove that sin from you. And he will help you, even if you’re trapped in it. You can escape by God’s power.

Our thought life is constantly bringing up different thoughts and concerns and emotions. It’s hard sometimes. And a temptation can come out of nowhere. We see something on Facebook or someone walking by or we see a drink or a drug or an old show, and it reminds us of a sin or temptation. It’s hard. But slowly over time God can bring the Spirit’s power to be stronger than the temptation. Sometimes that takes a long time. Sometimes it’s instantaneous.

Here's what Jeanne Guyon says, “It is true that what you see and what you hear are continually supplying your busy imagination with new subjects. They keep your thoughts jumping from one subject to another. Therefore, there is a place for discipline concerning what you see and hear. But be at peace; God will teach you about all this. All you need do is follow His Spirit.” -ch. 10

God is the teacher in all this. He is the master. We are the students. He will show us various ways to master sin in our lives. It may be self denial. It may be counseling or a support group. It may be the fear of the Lord. It may be closer relationship with God. It may be focusing on the Holy Spirit within. But in all these cases God will teach us, like a martial arts master, what move we need to make to defeat a sin.

Maybe it’s a block. Maybe it’s fleeing. Maybe it’s striking out with a kick or a punch, like speaking the word of God over your situation. Maybe it’s dodging, just leaving the situation. Maybe it’s lifting the shield of faith. Maybe it’s turning up toward God in prayer. Maybe it’s turning off the senses. The battle begins with letting God lead. And he guides our movements toward victory.

Let’s Review:

1. God is strong enough to overcome any sin in your life

2. When finding God we go from fulfilling the 3 basic instincts, to the fourth dimension, which is God first

3. The battle often takes place in our five senses, so we should redirect our attention to God’s presence

4. Self-Denial is valuable, simply saying no to the temptation, but more is needed

5. For lasting victory over temptation, when tempted, turn your attention toward God, pray, and focus on the Lord, surrender to His leading

6. Change your mind from believing it’s impossible, to believing that God really can and will

7. God is the master, we are the student, let God train you to be victorious over temptations