God’s Preference Is You

My dear friend Josh Schram relaunched our summertime series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms. “Selah” (or “Interlude” in some Bible translations) can mean either a time of reflection, a deep breath to go into something stronger, or a time to weigh the contrasts. 

Psalm 44 is a classic example of a Selah calling us to weigh the contrasts! The first 8 verses of this psalm celebrate the recollections of God’s past victories, declarations of God being our King, and crescendoing to a note of continual praise—O God, we give glory to You all day long and constantly praise Your name!

Then comes the Selah—pause. 

And after the pause, the scene turns dark. The psalmist now recounts how bad his situation is, descending to the low note of “we collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt” (v. 25). 

Josh reminded us how our preferences change over time. Consider the telephone—we’ve gone from push-button corded phones, to phones with longer cords, to cordless phones, to bulk bag phones, to smaller cell phones, to smartphones. It’s very human for our preferences to want more and better. 

But God’s preference never changes. God’s preference is YOU! 

He can never love you any more than He already does. Nor can He love you any less. 

The apostle Paul quotes Psalm 44:22—yet for Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered—when he explains that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love (see Romans 8:31-39).

In marriage vows, we usually promise to love our spouse “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health.” True love goes through it all! 

God’s love goes through it all with us. That’s why the psalmist’s last words are so hopeful: Rise up and help us; rescue us because of Your unfailing love. His unfailing love is our assurance of His presence and His ultimate rescue. Paul also reminds us “indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Romans 8:17). 

Josh said, “I want you to remember one thing: Nothing!” Nothing can separate you from God’s love. Ever!  

Hillsong United has some memorable words in their song Highlands—“I will praise You on the mountain, and I will praise You when the mountain’s in my way. … You’re the heaven where my heart is, in the highlands and the heartache all the same.” 

No matter what you’re facing, God’s preference is you. He loves you, and He wants you to grow closer to Him through this trial. Praise Him for His unfailing love on the mountain and in the valley, and then wait in eager expectation for Him to come to rescue you. 

The Devil Isn’t Scared Of You

This is part 2 in our series looking at phrases that sound biblical and then asking, “Is that in the Bible? 

Statement #2—Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Is that in the Bible? Yes, those words are there, but we need some perspective. 

First of all, demons are real and they are dangerous. No, the devil and his henchmen are not behind every calamity we face. C.S. Lewis explained it well—

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” —C.S. Lewis 

Some people think there is a struggle between Jesus and satan that has an uncertain outcome, almost like Jesus and satan are locked in an epic arm wrestling duel. But the victory is already assured—Jesus has already won (Acts 10:38; 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54-58)!  

But while we are on Earth, we are living in a battle zone. Jesus said the devil’s agenda was pretty straightforward—steal, kill, destroy. He tries to accomplish this in a number of ways: everything from lying to us, to intimidation, to misquoting Scripture. 

And that’s where we need to be aware. Yes, the words “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” are in the Bible, but they are only valid when spoken in light of the first part of the verse—“Submit yourself to God.” 

“satan is not scared of your show of force toward him, but of your show of submission to God.” —Craig T. Owens 

There were some guys who tried to invoke the name of Jesus in a spiritual battle, and they ended up running out of the house bleeding and naked (Acts 19:11-16)! 

Last time I said that God helps those who cannot help themselves. The prayer He loves to respond to is, “God, help!” If ever we face a situation that we cannot help ourselves, it’s dealing with demons. We can’t, but God can! 

So before anything else submit yourself to God. Hide under the shadow of His wings, let Him be your shield and your defender. Only then will the devil flee from you (see Psalm 91). 

Remember: the devil lies. He can even use Scripture to lie. His lie is getting you to believe you can resist him on your own. The truth is he’s not afraid of who you are, but he flees when he sees Whose you are!

Does Self-Help Get God’s Help?

This is part 1 in our series looking at phrases that sound biblical and then asking, “Is that in the Bible? 

Statement #1—God helps those who help themselves. Is that in the Bible? No, it is not! 

The reason why I think people have accepted this as biblical is an incorrect view of God. 

  1. Humanism says God is us, which makes us believe, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” 
  2. Fatalism says there is no God and therefore no meaning to life, which makes us believe, “The outcome is what it is and no one has any say in the matter.” 
  3. Deism says there is a God, but it’s hard to get His attention, which makes us believe “He is either disinterested in me or unapproachable. He’s only available for the ‘big’ things.” 

The Bible flat-out rejects all three of these isms. 

Instead, we see a loving, approachable God. One who is both all-powerful and all-loving. He says things like…

  • I made you and know everything about you, and I remain infinitely interested and intimately involved in your life 
  • Come to Me and I will give you rest
  • I want you to cast all your anxieties on Me
  • Don’t be anxious about anything, but tell Me about everything that troubles you (Psalm 139:1-18; Matthew 11:28-29; 1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6)

Not only is “God helps those who help themselves” untrue, but the exact opposite is also true—God helps those who cannot help themselves! 

In Isaiah 40:28-29, we read that God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 

“Yes, it is our strength, not our weakness, that is our hindrance and stumbling block.” —Horatius Bonar 

God gives power to the weak. He gives strength to those with no might of their own. God does NOT help those who think they can help themselves! God helps those who cannot help themselves! This is what Jesus came to do, and why we should rejoice in the fact that He does indeed help those who could never rescue themselves (Isaiah 53:4-5; 2 Corinthians 12:9)!

It is our can’ts that God uses as His opportunities to show how limitless He is. Our limitations magnify His love and His power. 

One of the best prayers you could ever pray is simply, “God, help!” This simple prayer acknowledges in just two words that you can’t but He most assuredly can! 

But those who wait for the Lord—who expect, look for, and hope in Him—shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up close to God as eagles mount up to the sun; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired. (Isaiah 40:31 AMP) 

Join me next week as we continue to explore various statements and ask, “Is that in the Bible? 

4 Holy Spirit-Enhanced Habits

According to Paul, there are only two ways people can live: in the flesh or in the Spirit. That is—(1) operating separate from God, or (2) with a soul/body that is operating with God’s full involvement. 

The trouble is: we’re always—as long as we’re alive—still in the flesh because we need these bodies to carry around our soul and spirit. But changes begin to occur first at salvation (when the connection of our spirit to God’s Spirit is reestablished), and even more so after being baptized in the Holy Spirit (when we are not trying to work out things on our own). 

As a result, we have the same brain, but a mind that is being renewed; the same eyes, but insight that is being expanded; the same ears, but learning new ways to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. 

Remember that Jesus promised that the baptism in the Holy Spirit would empower us TO BE His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Not just to do things differently, but to have our spirit so enlivened by the Holy Spirit that we are living, breathing, walking, talking witnesses of a life transformed.

Have you noticed that there wasn’t a steep “learning curve” for the disciples of Jesus following Pentecost? Part of that is due to four key habits that the Holy Spirit helped form in their lives. 

  1. Correct biblical application—We immediately see people going from “They didn’t understand from the Scriptures” to quickly applying biblical texts to their current situations. This is exactly what Jesus promised would happen (John 20:6-9; Acts 2:16, 25, 34; John 14:26). 
  1. Intercessory prayer—To intercede is to take someone else’s needs to God on their behalf. The Holy Spirit can help us apply Scripture to our prayers, and can even help us without words at all (Acts 4:24-26; Romans 8:26-27). 
  1. Creative thinking—Christians should be the most creative thinkers in the world (Psalm 119:99; Jeremiah 33:3; 1 Corinthians 2:10). 
  1. Healthy conflict resolution—We’re all different, so not seeing eye-to-eye is bound to happen, but Spirit-empowered Christians will be able to resolve conflicts faster and with better results (Acts 6:1-8; Acts 15:1-31). 

“Your life as a Christian should make unbelievers question their disbelief in God.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Amen! Your life as a Christian that is living out daily habits that have been empowered by the Spirit should make everyone around you want to go deeper and deeper into all that the Holy Spirit has in store for them too. 

Join me next Sunday as we take another look at what it means when we say We Are: Pentecostal. 

The Unmistakable Evidence

That Pentecost Sunday immediately following Christ’s resurrection forever changed what Pentecost stood for. From this point forward, Christians who have encountered the Holy Spirit as those 120 followers of Jesus did now call themselves Pentecostal. (Check out Acts 2:1-12, 16, 22-24, 37-39.)

If you had been present on that day, there were three pieces of evidence you would have noticed:

  1. Wind—this is the Greek word pneuma, which is the same as the Hebrew word ruach. This is the impartation of the Spirit that brings a true life connection to the Trinity (Genesis 2:7). This power was foretold by Jesus when He promised, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (Acts 1:8a). 
  1. Fire—this was foretold by John (Luke 3:16). This fire was to light up our witness to a dark world (Matthew 5:14-16). Again Jesus promised, “you will receive power to be My witnesses…” (Acts 1:8b). 
  1. Tongues—this fulfilled the promise of Jesus, “to be My witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8c). 

Some have tried to call this speaking in tongues an “ecstatic utterance,” or just nonsensical gibberish. But notice the descriptions Luke gives: each one heard them speaking in his own language (v. 6), each of us hears them in his own native language (v. 8), and declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues (v. 11). Luke lists visitors from over 15 different places around the world that heard their native tongue being spoken by these native Galileans. Luke pointed out that these Spirit-baptized Christians spoke like this as the Spirit enabled them (v. 4b). 

Two types of vocabulary are happening here—language (vv. 6, 8), which is the Greek word dialektos, and tongues (vv. 4, 11), which is the Greek word glossa. 

Dialektos is a learned language. Glossa can also be learned, but it’s not something that one just casually picks up. The Greeks said glossa is “not a word of everyday speech but one belonging to dignified and elevated discourse.” The Greeks called glossa the language of prophets, wisemen, and philosophers.

“But,” you might say, “speaking in tongues sounds weird!” Yes, it does. As N.T. Wright said:

“God acts completely unexpectedly—as He always said He would.” 

Remember this—God is God. He is uncontainable, indefinable. If we can define Him, He is not God, but we are. He always does things “out of the box”—at least out of our box, not His! Like sending His Son born of a virgin, and empowering Jesus to restore sight to one born blind, and enabling Jesus to cure someone who contracted leprosy, and even reversing the laws of biology to bring Jesus back to life! 

So it’s not unexpected that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by someone praising God in a dialect they have never learned. Speaking in tongues as the Spirit enables you is the unmistakable, objective, outward, initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus wants us to have rivers of living water flowing—bursting!—out of us. This living water can flow out of anyone who has the Spirit IN them! Don’t wait another day: be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Please join me this Sunday as we consider some of the ongoing evidences in the life of someone baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

Don’t Stop At Salvation

The Holy Spirit is vital in everything concerning a Christian’s life. Dr. Donald Stamps emphatically said it this way: 

“It is essential that believers recognize the importance of the Holy Spirit in God’s redemptive purpose. Many Christians have no idea what difference it would make if there were no Holy Spirit in this world. Without the Holy Spirit there would be no creation, no universe, no human race (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4). Without the Holy Spirit there would be no Bible (2 Peter 1:21), no New Testament (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14), no power to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8). Without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith, no new birth, no holiness, no Christians at all in the world.” 

Sometimes I think we have in our mind that the “old” in Old Testament somehow means outdated or no longer applicable to our lives, and the “new” in New Testament should be our sole focus. But Jesus affirmed again and again that all of the Scriptures—what we now refer to as the Old Testament—all point to Him. 

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost Sunday was not something new to the New Testament Christians. He was always a part of a believer’s life. Even 1000 years before Christ’s public ministry, David knew the importance of the Holy Spirit in both salvation, and in living a consistently holy lifestyle (Psalm 51:10-12, 143:10). 

The role of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s public ministry was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures and then fulfilled in the New Testament era (see Isaiah 11:1-2; Luke 3:21-22; Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-21). 

If Jesus needed the baptism in the Spirit to empower Him, direct Him, and give Him success, how much more do we need this?! That’s why Jesus imparted the Holy Spirit to His followers at their moment of salvation, but then admonished them to eagerly expect the baptism in the Holy Spirit as well (John 20:22; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). 

Quite simply Jesus is sayingDON’T STOP AT SALVATION

Jesus didn’t, the apostles didn’t, Paul didn’t, Apollos didn’t, the Ephesian Christians didn’t, I didn’t, and you shouldn’t either! 

Keep on going…

  1. Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins
  2. Eagerly desire the baptism in the Spirit 
  3. Ask God to baptize you in His Spirit
  4. Expect that He will answer that prayer (Acts 2:38; Isaiah 44:3; John 7:37-39; Luke 11:13; Mark 11:24)

Join me again this Sunday as we continue to learn what it means for Christians today to be Pentecostal. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon

Nearly 10 years ago I began a series of posts called “Thursdays With Oswald,” in which I shared the thoughts that were working their way through my heart and mind as I journeyed through the complete works of Oswald Chambers. Now, almost a decade later, I have finished all 1500 pages of his wisdom. 

I think it is wise to frequently spend time with the “old guys”—those whom the years have proven their godly wisdom to be true. So I am now moving on to another prolific writer and speaker, the man called the Prince of Preachers: Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 

As with my series with Oswald Chambers, I will be sharing some passages from the Spurgeon book or sermon I am reading. On some, I will offer some thoughts that I’m contemplating in light of that reading, and on others, I will simply let the Prince’s words speak for themselves. 

Let me begin with three simple quotes: 

“The words of God have more power over me than ever David’s fingers had over his harp strings.” 

“It is better to preach five words of God’s Word than five million words of man’s wisdom.” 

“There is a power in God’s gospel beyond all description.”

I love how completely Spurgeon’s thoughts are grounded on God’s Word! Spurgeon had no formal theological training, but he expounded on Scriptures as few ever did or ever have. 

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