Understanding Jesus & The Role Of The Holy Spirit

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John 16:5-18

5 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17 Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

                                

It is painfully obvious that the disciples did not understand the deep spiritual truths that Jesus was trying to convey to them here.  It must have been difficult for Jesus on this last night of His life before His crucifixion to see His closest friends and followers not understand what He was telling them.  But He knew that they would one day understand, for He was able to promise them that the Holy Spirit would come after He was gone and would lead them into all truth concerning Him and His teachings.

Now Jesus does not use the name Holy Spirit here, but calls him “Counselor” and “Spirit of truth”.  We know from John 14:26 that “the Counselor” and “the Holy Spirit” are one and the same.  I believe that is quite significant these names that John uses for the Holy Spirit.  Notice that in other English versions, they translate the Greek word in verse 7 as “Advocate”.  John is using legal terminology here.  And you might be asking, “So what’s going on here, and why are these titles for the Holy Spirit important?”

Jesus knew that the disciples would soon be on their own in the sense that He would be going back to the Father in Heaven (v. 5).  And Jesus also knew that the disciples would be facing a hostile world that stood opposed to Him and to the Gospel message of salvation through Christ.  (Read John 15:18 – 16:4 and read my last article “The Cost of Discipleship”.)  Jesus knew that the disciples would need help to stand up for truth and righteousness.

    

And so He lets them (and us) know that we are not alone in this battle against sin and evil that is in this world.  Verses 8-11 say that the Holy Spirit, acting as our legal Counselor, will stand up and help us to correct the wrongful thinking of the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.  What does this mean?

When the world says, “Do as you please, for truth is relative and morality is defined subjectively by each individual,” the Spirit of Truth will confirm within us and to the world that pursuing a self-serving life apart from God is to sin against the Almighty God.  Jesus also said that “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)  The religious leaders crucified Jesus for this, but when He rose from the dead, He proved that He was right and also innocent of their charge of blasphemy.  And so the Spirit declares Him righteous, and we as Christians can be assured of this truth also.

Jesus was challenged by Satan himself, who is referred to here as the “prince of this world”.  Satan tried to tempt Jesus to worship him and in doing so would be given all the wealth and power that this world has to offer.  (Matthew 4:8-9)  But only the True God is worthy of our worship, and the treasures of this world will all fade away and be useless in the life to come.  And so the Spirit will help us to realize these lies of the devil, and he will ultimately be judged by God as the “Great Deceiver”.

    

What is the bottom line here?  Jesus came to teach us about the truths of God and the Kingdom of Heaven which belongs to all true believers in Christ.  Sin was blocking all people though from full access to the truth and to Heaven, and so He died to open the door for forgiveness.  And after He ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to live within all believers, and he strengthens us in our understanding of who Jesus is, and is able to convince us that the “prince of this world” is doomed and has no more authority over our lives.  Hallelujah!!  Jesus paid our debt of sin, and has set us free to live in Truth.  Do you believe that?

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Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 9

In John 10:10, Jesus tells his disciples (and by extension He tells all of us too) that He came into this world in order that people might truly live and have an abundant life.  Most Christians understand that this refers to the renewed spiritual life we can have with God once we accept Jesus as our Lord and have our sins forgiven.  But that is not all that Jesus is talking about.

Sadly, there are still many believers in Christ who have accepted Jesus into their lives, but also believe that there still must be something that they must “do” to really experience complete forgiveness of their sins.  This wrong thinking not only robs the cross of Christ of its full meaning and impact, but it also robs the person of experiencing the fuller life which they can live in the freedom that has been purchased for them on the cross.

    

 Max Lucado points out very well in chapter five of his book “GOD’S STORY, your story” that we tend to hang on to our faults and mistakes and that this is like putting on old clothes that declare “We are sinners!”  And since we are the ones who keep putting these old clothes back on, we think that it is also up to us to “do good” to be able to remove these old sins and faults.

Listen to how Lucado sums this up on page 83:

Welcome to the vest system.  Hard to hide it.  Harder still to discard it.  But we work at doing so.  Emphasis on the word “work”.  Overcome bad deeds with good ones.  Offset bad choices with godly ones, stupid moves with righteous ones.  But the vest removal process is flawed.  No one knows what work to do or how long to do it.

When we really understand the message of the Bible as it speaks about how we are all flawed and sinful people (see Romans 3:23), we also come to realize that there is nothing that we can do to fix this and become righteous people in God’s sight.  That is the bad news.  But the good news is that we don’t have to “do” anything, besides accept Christ and His death to be our substitution for the penalty for sin (see Romans 6:23).

    

Hooray!  Wonderful!!  We can’t take off our dirty rags of sin, but Jesus can!!!  That’s great news.  And it gets even better.  Lucado says on page 87:

You can remove your vest.  Toss the thing in a trash barrel, and set it on fire.  You need never wear it again.  Does better news exist?  Actually, yes.  There is more.  We not only remove our vest; we put on His!  He is “our righteousness”  (1 Corinthians 1:30).

How incredible and amazing is God’s love!  When we were sinners, God still loved us (see Romans 5:8), but as a holy God, He could not bear to look at us in our state of sinfulness.  If that were the end of the story, then God would have to leave us abandoned and forsaken, something that happens all too often in families today.

But as Jesus was dying on the cross, not for any crime or sin that He had committed, He took our sins upon himself (read Isaiah 53:12) and exchanged his robes of righteousness with us so that we could be considered holy by God.  In that brief but climactic moment before Jesus died, as He carried all of our sins to the grave, He exclaimed “God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Jesus allowed himself to be forsaken at that moment in order that we might no longer be forsaken by God.

    

At that moment, we passed out from under the curse of sin and death and entered into the light and life of God.  As I said near the beginning of this article, this life definitely refers to the gift of eternal spiritual life with God as people freed from captivity to sin.  But Scripture also promises us so much more richness of life while we are still living on this earth.

Perhaps the word that can sum it up best is the word “freedom”.  By placing our lives under the authority of Christ, He releases us so that we are free from sin, free from the power of Satan, and even free from self as we are so apt to keep ourselves bound to our old habits and behaviours that trip us up and end up creating more misery in our lives.

    

Once we embrace all of this, then we can truly live.  We will live to love our neighbour, to love our God, and even properly learn how to love and forgive ourselves.  It is at this point that we will then begin to really experience great family lives, great marriages, and great friendships with others.  At this point, we will be content and even prosper in our businesses and careers in life, because God’s blessings will be upon us.

And then when the end of our lives do come, we will graduate from a great life here to a fabulous life there.  As Lucado says, our names will be “written in the Book of the Lamb.  Not in pencil marks that can be erased, but with blood that will not be removed.  No need to keep God happy; He is satisfied.  No need to pay the price; Jesus paid it ALL!

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

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God Bless Papua New Guineans

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Matthew 5:1 – 12

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

                “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…..

These are the opening words to probably the most famous teaching of Jesus, the “Beatitudes”.  Jesus outlines for people of all ages and all ethnic groups the kind of character qualities that are displayed by those who are truly God’s people.  They are humble people and merciful to others.  They keep the peace between people and they demonstrate righteous living.

When these powerful words of Jesus get hold of the hearts of men and women, truly amazing transformations in their lives can and will happen.  Below are excerpts from a newsletter from 2010 of some very good friends of mine who have ministered for many years to a tribal group of people up in a mountainous area of Papua New Guinea.

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We are celebrating the increased level of hunger and thirst for God and his ways in the lives of the people. We witnessed that again recently while we were in the village in June and July. We held a third Scripture Use course, this one on money issues such as compensation demands, tithing, and serving God or wealth.

We were blessed to see the Holy Spirit challenging and convicting through His Word, and to hear the deep discussions with resulting commitments. Some declared their intention to give God a tenth of the money made from selling vanilla, coffee and other cash crops, or to share a tenth of their garden produce with church leaders and those in need. Pray for courage for the people to follow the Lord’s leading in these things.

[Editor’s Note: Almost all rural people of PNG are subsistence garden farmers who slash and burn a section of the jungle each year and grow vegetable plants and tubers (yam, taro, potatoes, etc.)  Most days are usually consumed with trying to find enough food to eat for that day.  So for the people to dedicate their meagre garden crops to God and to offer a 10% tithe of their food to church leaders is beyond incredible.  It is a generosity that comes from knowing the love of God in their hearts.]

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“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted

God is at work shining the spotlight of his Word into the lives of these men and women with the resulting conviction of sin. And they are mourning and longing to repent and change. Alfons (not his real name) is one example. During a time of prayer, God brought to his mind the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. He was gripped with the drama of the story of this son coming to his spiritual senses and returning to the father who welcomed him back with celebration.

It was a delight to hear Alfons say, “We need to return to God and His ways. He is waiting, waiting for us to welcome us back”. Alfons helped produce an illustrated Bible story of the prodigal son and is eager to use the story book to teach the Truth of repentance and resulting blessing to the people.

[Editor’s Note: There is nothing so piercing as the death wail that goes forth when someone dies in the village.  It is a shocking reminder to us all that death comes to rip apart people from their loved ones.  What is amazing to me here in PNG is that I have witnessed similar wailing when a person becomes convicted of sin and cries out in repentance to God over the sin that separates them from God.  But the Good News is that this death wail of repentance leads to new life with God for this person.]

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“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

When God is at work challenging and transforming lives, there is also an increase in spiritual warfare. Those who harden their hearts and refuse to obey often persecute those who are following God wholeheartedly. We see that amongst the people here. Daniub (not his real name), our local preacher, asked us to pray for him before we left the village in July.

He is taking a strong stand in following the Lord, challenging people to give up their dependence on the spirits to help them. For example, many nominal Christians still turn to the spirits to seek healing in times of sickness. Daniub has challenged village leaders on this, and some are not happy. Pray for him and other bold Christian leaders as they lead in truth and love.

[Editor’s Note: One of the hardest aspects of our work in bringing the people of PNG into a deep personal walk with Jesus is the wide spread syncretism here.  Although there has been a lot of mission work done in PNG over the past 150 years, Christianity is more of a veneer that coats the surface of their lives, while underneath many of them are still heavily steeped in the practices of animism.

For all who read this article, I ask you to pray for the people of Papua New Guinea, that they would not see Christianity as one more form of magical rituals to perform in order to be safe from the evil spirits that surround them.  Pray that the people will give their hearts to Jesus and let the Truth of God free them from their bondage to sin and to the lies of Satan.]

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Hot, Cold, & Serving God

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Revelation 3:15 – 17  

 Jesus speaks to the church at Laodicea

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

Jesus, this One who humbly walked among men and would not “bruise a broken reed nor snuff out a smoldering wick”, was now giving a stern warning to the believers at Laodicea, a first century church founded in Asia Minor. Jesus was warning them that if they did not change their ways, they would be in danger of being rejected by Jesus. And not only would Jesus reject them, but he would do so in quite a violent manner.

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So this raises a huge question. What was the problem with the Laodiceans? What terrible things had they done to deserve this warning? As I look at this passage of Scripture, it seems to me that Jesus was just as concerned with what they weren’t doing as with what they were doing. When it comes to spiritual matters, we must stand up for what is right in God’s eyes as well as reject and resist the things that are not right in God’s eyes.

But the Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold. They were (spiritually speaking) lukewarm. Had they adapted (or should I say accommodated) themselves to the secular society around them? Is it possible that they were no longer advocating godliness in their daily lives, and were tolerating ungodly behaviors and attitudes of those around them? Hmmmm…. This does not sound a whole lot different from the way things are here for many Christians and churches today in our Western culture and society.

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Now hot and cold are generally thought of as being opposites. And most people tend to like one or the other, but not both at the same time. At least this is true when it comes to drinking beverages. We drink hot coffee or hot chocolate at the beginning of work days and when it is winter. We drink cold drinks or chilled sodas when we want to relax and when it is summertime. But few of us would enjoy drinking lukewarm coffee or Coke at any time of the year.

The same is not true when it comes to temperature and climate. We will do all that we can do to stay warm in frigid weather, and to cool off when it is blazing hot weather. Believe me, I have seen both. I remember our first winter in Manitoba when it was -45 Celsius (-49 Fahrenheit) or worse for over six weeks. And I also remember how terribly hot it was when we were living in the village in Papua New Guinea. During the first six months, I would lay on the floor of our house for over an hour after lunch panting for air and leaving a pool of sweat on the floor around me.

But given enough time, I did acclimate myself to these extreme temperatures. What used to bother me before, became “normal” for me. And that is the danger of sin and ungodliness for us today. If we allow ourselves to be continually exposed to things that don’t please God, or we don’t actively pursue the things that do please God, then the end result is that we can become spiritually lukewarm. Let us take care or may find Jesus ready to reject us just as He was about to do to the Laodiceans.

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There is one more aspect that I would like to explore in this article. Namely this: whenever we do sense God is calling us to serve Him in some way, we should not be surprised if He takes us out of our comfort zone. I still think it was rather ironical that God called me, a person who grew up in the high, dry mountains of Western Canada, to serve him in a low swampy and humid, tropical region of Papua New Guinea. After five years in PNG, I became accustomed to the heat, but then God moved our family back to Canada.

Four years later, we were ready to return to PNG, but this time God sent us east rather than south. We ended up serving with our mission for a year and a half in East Africa. More recently, Jill and I had anticipated spending more time together as a couple seeing as one of our boys is married and our other son was accepted into the military. But apparently, God wanted me to serve Him in Dallas while Jill stayed home back in Canada. And in just over a week, I will be heading to PNG to work on some Bible translation projects. Thankfully, Jill will be able to join me for about half of the three months that I am over there.

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In all of our travels though, I can honestly say that God has taken good care of all our needs. And I have sensed His presence in all we have done. Perhaps we are the lucky ones, for in our constant travels we have had to depend on God and trust Him. Perhaps we have been able to avoid some of that slipping into mediocrity in our spiritual lives that can come through the experiences of simply settling down and blending in to the general cultural environment that is all around us. In either case, may God help us all to stand up for his truth and impact others around us. May we be either hot or cold, but never lukewarm.

Satan’s Attack On New Believers

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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  Blinded Unbelievers

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Maybe your story is like mine. I became a believer as a teenager, but nobody taught me to be a disciple of Christ. My church told me what I needed to do (like read the Bible, pray, and witness), but it did not show me how. Nobody told me how to walk in truth, righteousness, and faith (see Eph. 6:11-17). As a result, I lived a defeated Christian life for far too many years.

The enemy aims his arrows at young believers who have not been discipled. He strikes them with doubt and discouragement. Sometimes he hits them with loneliness, as they move away from their non-Christian friends and try to fit into a church that is unfamiliar to them. At other times, he lures them with the same temptations they faced as non-believers. Whatever his strategy may be, he wants to strike at new believers before they are solidly planted in the Church.

This issue is related to prayer in at least two ways. First, many new believers are never taught how to pray. What they are told to do, they are not taught to do—and the result is a frustrated believer who longs to pray but does not know how. The enemy thus wins when the new believer gives up trying. This failure to disciple is, in my estimation, a primary cause of prayerlessness in the Church today.

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Second, undiscipled believers often live defeated, sinful lives that hinder praying in the first place. Both Isaiah and the psalmist (Isa. 59:1-2, Ps. 66:18) knew that God chooses not to respond to the prayers of those who live in sin. It is the fervent prayer of a righteous man that makes a difference (Jas. 5:16), not the prayers of one living in unrighteousness.

How, though, does a new believer know how to stand for righteousness and fight against temptation unless the Church teaches him? An undiscipled believer may realize that his praying is ineffective, yet not know enough to understand why—and he gives up on the power of prayer. The enemy again wins.

A brief summary is in order here. The enemy seeks to keep unbelievers blinded to the gospel, thus holding them in bondage. He further schemes against believers, striving to discourage and defeat them so their faith is weakened and their prayers are ineffective. Powerless, prayerless believers make little difference in the war inherent in evangelism.

–Adapted from Chapter 69 of Giving Ourselves to Prayer (Strategic Prayer for God’s Mission and Missionaries by Mike Barnett).

Posted 30 Oct 2011

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This devotional thought strikes home and pierces me more than I would like for it to do.  It is true what was said above that many of us have been told what it is we are to do as Christians, but I dare say that few of us have had vibrant Christianity lived out in front of us so that we learn by modeling our lives after those who have and exude this kind of living faith.

As I was being drawn to God as a teenager, I was attending a church where there were excellent sermons preached every Sunday.  I still remember vividly how I would go to the preacher each Sunday after the sermon and ask plenty of questions as I sought out to know if the Bible was true or not.  It took over six months of dialoguing with different preachers before I came to fully believe and accept the Gospel message as truth, and was baptized into Christ.

But in spite of the fact that we had excellent sermons, I can’t remember seeing many of the believers live out their faith in such ways that I could model my faith after theirs.  I went down the path that many new Christians went, which was to major in intellectual Bible knowledge and minor in practical daily Christian disciplines and habits.

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That was when I was a child.  When I became a father, I had greater hopes of being able to be a good role model for my children.  I did have the tremendous honor of baptizing both of my sons, and I think that says a lot about how Jill and I were able to pass on our faith to the next generation.  And yet I know that there were also many lost opportunities to teach and to live out our faith in front of their eyes.

The key for me to actually believe that I had done a decent job in raising our sons in the Faith, came when I realized the meaning of the phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  Translating Romans 1:17 this way hindered me as I would think “I’m not a righteous man, and in fact no one can claim to be righteous people seeing as we are all sinners.

But you can translate this as “The one who does the things that God says are right to do, that person will experience real life (eternal life) as a result of their faith.”  And I can live with this a whole lot better.  When I publicly declared that Christ was my Lord and Savior, salvation became mine, as well as the ability to discern from God and His Word what behaviors would be pleasing and have the inner strength to do all that God would want me to do.

And so as I look at the faith that both of my sons have at this time, I know in my heart that we taught them well.  But more than that, with our mission work, we lived out our faith and were constantly praying for and showing the boys how important it is to ask God what the right thing to do is.  And with our attention focusing like this on God, there was not any room for Satan to launch a successful attack against the faith of us all within our family.  And for all that, I say “Praise the Lord!”

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