Spirit-Driven

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.  And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” (Mark 1:12-13, ESV)

As I was reading this scripture, it was the powerful wording that caught my attention.  Jesus was not led, inspired, or even compelled by the Spirit to go into the wilderness.  He was driven.  He was forcefully moved forward by the Spirit that dwelled within him to reach the place he was called to go.

What a standard Christ has set for us!  Do we allow the Spirit of God such control in our lives?  Are we so surrendered that we feel forcefully compelled to go and do what the Spirit within in us speaks?

I take note, too, that the Spirit doesn’t always lead you to pleasurable destinations.  Jesus was driven to the wilderness to be tempted.  If we are to become everything in Christ that our Heavenly Father intends, we must face times of testing and trial to grow our faith and draw us into a closer walk with Him.  Just like a child experiencing growing pains, it will not always be comfortable.  But if we endure, we will find that God is refining us into something beautiful.

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The Power of One

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note!  Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.  (Jeremiah 5:1, ESV)

In Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the coming judgement against Jerusalem, a picture is painted of the Lord sending Jeremiah to search the streets of the city, seeking out even just one righteous person there so that God may have reason to show His people mercy.  The implication, of course, is that there was no righteous person to be found.

What was grave news for the inhabitants of Judah in Jeremiah’s day ought to provide encouragement and strength for the believer in our day.  Had only one righteous person been found, the nation would have received mercy instead of judgement.

You may at times feel like you are the only one fighting the good fight.  You may feel alone.  But there is tremendous power in just one child of God who stands for righteousness.  God can bring mercy to many by your faithfulness.

Moses repeatedly stood in the gap for the rebellious people of Israel in the wilderness when God was ready to pour out His judgement for their unfaithfulness.  Because He dared to entreat God for mercy, lives were spared.   The nation of Israel was spared.

Will you dare to be that one who stands for righteousness in a sinful nation?  Will you dare to be the intercessor who stands in the gap for a lost and dying people.  You may be one, but you are never alone.  The power of the Holy Spirit of God, who can do more than we ask or even imagine, lives in you.  He can effect mercy for many through the faithfulness of one.  Dare to be that one.

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Because you prayed to me…

When the king of Assyria sent a message to Hezekiah king of Judah threatening to conquer his kingdom, Hezekiah went into the temple, spread out the letter before the Lord, and prayed.

Isaiah the prophet sent a message to Hezekiah after he had prayed telling him that the Lord would deliver Judah from the king of Assyria.  This message from the Lord started with these words:

Because you have prayed to me…
(Isaiah 37:21, ESV)

Think about that for a minute.  God acted, but not because He already knew what was going on.  Not because He already saw.  The Lord came through for Judah because Hezekiah prayed.

Are you still waiting for God to see your need and act?  You will never see an answer if you do not sincerely seek Him in prayer.  This is what the book of James tells us:

You do not have because you do not ask God.
(James 4:2, NIV)

It really is that simple sometimes.  We wonder why God has not helped us, but we have never taken the time to express our faith in Him by seeking Him out in prayer.   God loves you and desires to do good for you:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:11, NIV)

The truth is that God answers the prayers of His children.  He watches over you and listens when you pray:

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. (Psalm 34:15, KJV)

Jesus spoke this same truth, elaborating that asking is more than just mumbling a prayer, but truly seeking God:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  (Matthew 7:7-8, ESV)

Our God desires to bless us.  He hears our prayers.  Don’t miss out on your blessing because you fail to ask!  God desires to make good things happen in your life:

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Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

(Psalm 150, ESV)

If we get no other message from Psalm 150, we should understand the three words that it repeats again and again- praise the Lord.  This is what we were created for- to have a loving relationship with our Creator where we honor Him and He blesses us.  The psalmist opens and ends with these words- “praise the Lord”- and we should take them to heart.  He continues:

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!

Realize that the worship of God will be our eternal occupation.  What we do here in the earthly sanctuary is what we shall do in the Heavens- lift up the name of Jesus.  This life is mere practice for the one to come.  We are to worship and exalt God here and now and for all eternity.

When we speak of worship, most people think of the songs we sing.  This absolutely is worship.  But worship is equally what kind of living sacrifice of praise we choose to be.  Worship is not just our songs, but our words and our actions.   It is our duty and should be our pleasure to honor God with the entirety of who we are.  The psalmist continues:

Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

We understand well enough that we should praise Him for what He has done.  But we are also to praise Him according to His excellent greatness.  The greatness of God is immeasurable.  Accordingly, our worship ought to be immeasurable, unceasing, without end.   Our lives ought always to center around His exultation.

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Our worship ought to be passionate, exuberant, celebratory.   The idea that worship has to be stoic or starchy is not found in the Word of God.  On the contrary, God was worshiped with every instrument available, with shouts of joy, with singing, with raised hands, with dancing.  We have so much to be thankful for, and the world should be able to see our love for Christ and our joy from knowing Him.

This psalm ends with these words:

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Take a moment to inhale.  If you are still able to accomplish this task, you are called to worship and exult in Jesus.  Are you that living sacrifice of praise?  Beyond singing songs of worship in a church service, do your words and deeds show Jesus to the world?

Lord, we pray that you would be exalted in us.  Let the words of our mouths, the state of our hearts, and the actions we take bring glory to You.  Help us without fear to boldly celebrate who You are and what You have done, lifting up Your Name and shining with Your light.  Amen.

Behold, You Are Beautiful

Song of Solomon is a unique book in the Bible.  Originally a bridal song between Solomon and a wife whom he loved dearly, we understand it now as a symbol of the relationship between the body of Christ, the bride, and Jesus, the King.  the voice of the others or the friends can be understood as the host of Heaven.

With this understanding, we see powerful imagery of the passion God has for us and the passion we should have for Him.  Throughout, we are reminded that our relationship with Him should be vibrant, active, dedicated, passionate, and consuming.  We are not practicing religion; we are in a loving relationship with our creator.

Some wonderful truths come to light as we read through this book.  The first is this:  He sees beauty in us.

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful”
(Song of Solomon 1:15, ESV)

With as much as we talk about sin and brokenness, we forget this truth:  God looks upon you and sees something beautiful.  He delights in you.  You are his beloved and He values you greatly.  The bride- that’s you and me- responds in turn:

“Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.”
(Song of Solomon 1:16, ESV)

Our God delights in us.  He looks upon us and calls us beautiful.  Do you delight in Him?  Do you gaze at His beauty in prayer, the His Word, in fasting, in meditating on His goodness?  Do you delight in Him?  We ought to be passionate about the One who dared first love us and who gave Himself for us.  There is no love like His:

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4, ESV)

A banner would be raised when an army went to war.  It was a rallying point for those fighting in battle.  When scripture says that “his banner over me was love,” it means that He rallies around us.  He fights for us and with us.  He is driven by His love for us.

He also brings us to His banqueting house.  He blesses us.  He doesn’t just meet our needs- He fills us with good things.  In His love and mercy, it is His desire to gift us good gifts, the desires of our hearts.

Christ loved us so much that He died for our sins, while we were yet sinners.  He looks on you and says you are beautiful.  You have great worth in His eyes.  He says this of us, His bride:

“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights!” (Song of Solomon 7:6, ESV)

Are you in love with Jesus?  He has a great passion for you.  Are you returning it?  He longs to know you, to love you, to be loved by you, to call you His own.  The bride in Song of Solomon describes meeting with the King and responding to Him in this way:

There I will give you my love.  (Song of Solomon 7:12, ESV)

Will you respond to Christ with the same love He offered you?  Will you lay your life down for Him?  Will you proudly live for Him and proclaim your love for Jesus to others?

Because I do what’s right…

I had a conversation with a young man today about Christ.  He’s not sure if Jesus is who He said He was.  He’s not sure if there is a God.  I told him that this is the most important question to answer in life:  if there is a God, are you ready to meet Him?  I explained to him that we cannot earn Heaven- it is only available through the forgiveness found through faith in Christ and His sacrifice for our sins.

This man’s response was the same as most people in the world today:  I try to do what is right, so God should be happy with me.  I explained that we all have sinned and our “rightness” is still wrong in the eyes of a perfect God.

This is, though, the attitude of many people throughout the world.  Even in the church, people think they earn God’s favor by doing what they think is right.

But what is right?  To the hedonist, pleasure at any price.  To the Islamist extremist, murder.  To the religious person, it may be rituals or attending worship services.  One man’s sin is another man’s right.

In the book of Proverbs, we are given this bit of wisdom:

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.”  (Proverbs 21:2, ESV)

In other words, what we think is right doesn’t matter.  God’s standard of righteousness is all that counts.  He weighs the hearts of men.  And, without Christ, He finds us lacking:

“None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, ESV)

And again, we are told:

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)

We can’t please God on our own because of our sinfulness.  And that sin bears a heavy price.  But what we can’t overcome by our own righteousness we overcome because of Jesus:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV)

For those who have accepted Jesus, God no longer looks at us and sees our wrongs.  He sees the righteousness- the “right-ness”- of Jesus, God the Son:

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:22, NIV)

How shall we gain Heaven?  How shall we be saved from Hell?  By our own righteousness?  By our own perfection?  No!  Only through the forgiveness found in Jesus.   Only by the price He, the perfect Son of God, paid for our sins- the wages of death.  By faith in Him, and in Him alone, are we saved:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, NLT)

Psalm 101 – Walking with Integrity

Psalm 101 gives us a beautiful picture of what it means to follow after God.    This Psalm’s first four verses reads as follows:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
    to you, O Lord, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
    Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
    within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
    anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
    it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
    I will know nothing of evil.

In these verses, we find direction on what is means and how to follow God in this life.  Five key points are given to us:

1) WORSHIP God.

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
    to you, O Lord, I will make music.

The life of the Christian should be marked by worship.  Our very purpose is to bring honor to the name of Jesus Christ.  This means worshiping Him in song, but also with our lives.   The way we conduct ourselves should be a life song that gives Him praise.

2) meditate on the WORD.

I will ponder the way that is blameless.

To walk with integrity of heart, we must look to God’s Word to keep us on the right track.  It is our direction for life, our manual, our blueprint.  His word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.

3) WALK in His way.

I will walk with integrity of heart
    within my house

It is one thing to know what God wants, and another thing to do it.  We need to be doers of the Word.  This means walking with integrity- following God the same way when everyone sees or no one sees.

4) WATCH what is worthwhile.

I will not set before my eyes
    anything that is worthless.

Scripture tells us that the lust of the eyes is one of the aspects of our flesh that leads us astray.  Paul tells us to think about what is excellent our praiseworthy.  And Jesus tells us that the eyes are the lamp of the body.  Are we letting in the light of Christ or the darkness of sin by what we look at?

5) WORK for the Lord.

I hate the work of those who fall away;
    it shall not cling to me.

Either we serve God with what we do or we walk in the ways of this world.  We must hate what is evil and hold to what is good.  Conduct yourself as if you labor for the Lord and not men- because you do!  Your life is what can show His light!  Don’t loves the deeds of this world.  Labor for the cause of Christ.

These five points illustrate what it is to be a God-serving Christian of integrity.  How does your life measure up to this standard?  What do you need to change to live a life more pleasing to Him?

The Great Exchange

“For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. (Psalm 38:4, ESV)

Sin is heavy.  Our trespasses against the law of God way us down.  We cannot stand before God under the weight of our own transgressions.

The good news is that Christ has provided for us a grand exchange.  He takes the heavy burden and gives us a new one;  His burden is easy to bear.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30, NIV)

We who where weighed down by sin and weary have been given rest for our souls by Christ.  He takes the heaviness of sin and replaces it with a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.

This exchange occurs simply enough.  We offer God our sin and shame.  He takes our broken offering and gives us something beautiful in return.  He gives “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (Isaiah 61:3, KJV)

Everything has a cost.  In the case of salvation, our cost couldn’t be better.  We must surrender to him that which has weighed us down and destroyed our lives.  In return, he gives us the eternal joy of the adoption of sons- we are children of God.

King David, the author of Psalm 38, arrived at this same conclusion.  He offered God the sacrifice that pleases Him most- a repentant heart.

I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.  (Psalm 38:18, ESV)

God is in the business of change.  He makes broken hearts whole.  He takes hurt and provides healing.  He takes away our sin and shame, instead clothing us with the righteousness of Christ.  there is no stain so deep that He cannot wash it white as snow.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Renewing Your Mind

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

In the heart of born-again believers is the desire to please God.  We want to shake off the chains of sin and the influence of the world and live a victorious life that honors Him.  Unfortunately, the reality is that this can be very difficult to accomplish.  We are still drawn to sin by our corrupt flesh.   We are very flawed people who, despite our desire to do what is right, can and will fall and fail.

Paul offers this solution to our situation: be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  This is sound advice.  The question, then, is how do we accomplish this?  How do we renew our minds?  What do we need to do to make this change in our lives?

The answers are simple- even cliche- in Christian circles.  This is the very reason we often overlook the basics of faith- we are looking for something new or exciting or super-spiritual or easy.  But the answers aren’t always glamorous and results aren’t always instantaneous.  We need to commit ourselves to the basic principles of faith in Christ if we want to have a walk that is pleasing to God.

First, we must READ the Word of God.  As the Psalmist proclaims:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105, ESV)

How can our walk please God if we don’t examine His directions for life?  We must read God’s Word so we have the answers before we have the questions!  The Bible is full of profound wisdom for daily living, and we will have a better, godlier life by taking time to read and re-read God’s guidance to us.

Not only should we read His Word, but God calls us to STUDY it so we have a clear understanding of what He is speaking to us:

Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, AKJV)

The more we look intently into the Word of God, the more it will permeate our hearts and minds.  Don’t just read scripture- study, examine, search, evaluate, learn all you can about what it says and how it impacts your life.  But God calls us to do even more than that.  We ought also to MEDITATE on His Word:

I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways. (Psalm 119:15, HCSB)

When we hear the word meditate, we often think of it in terms of eastern religion, clearing our minds or repetitively chanting.  Biblically, though, meditation simply means giving thoughtful consideration to God’s directives, principles, and commands, contemplating what they mean and how they apply to your life.  We can read and study God’s Word, but if we don’t take time to ponder how it should shape us, we are performing a religious ritual rather than walking with God.

We must also take God’s Word with us wherever we go.  It must be committed to our minds and hearts.  We should MEMORIZE God’s Word:

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, NIV)

When we memorize God’s Word, it gives another voice in our spirit that combats the influence of the world, the enemy, and our own sinful natures.  When we hide God’s Word in our hearts and minds, it helps keep us from sin.

God’s Word is essential if we want to have the mind of Christ.  But it is not the only tool that draws us near to God and helps us to be more like Him.  There are other spiritual exercises that will help us to become more and more of what He has called us to be.  The act of REPENTANCE is powerful and transformative in the life of the believer:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)

We don’t just gain forgiveness through the act of repentance.  We are actually promised that our state of unrighteousness will be purified as we engage in this practice.  In other words, He won’t just forgive us of sin- He will help us become less sinful.  When you mess up, don’t neglect this practice.  Don’t just tell yourself that you are blessed to have the forgiveness of Christ.  Repent.  In this way honor God, acknowledging your flaws and His righteousness, and He will make you more like Him.

Another often neglected aspect of repentance is ACCOUNTABILITY.  When we make ourselves responsible to a trusted brother or sister in Christ, encouraging and praying for each other, God uses that relationship to mold us into a more faithful and mature follower of Christ:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  (James 5:16, HCSB)

As we seek to renew our minds and become who God has called us to be, do not neglect the spiritual act of WORSHIP:

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! (Psalm 96:9, ESV)

When we worship God, it gives us the proper prospective of who He is and who we are.  It is no mistake that the Psalmist attaches the thought of trembling before Almighty God with worshiping Him.  When we exalt the Lord, we are reminded of the greatness of who He is and all He has done for us.  This changes our outlook on life.  In other words, it renews our minds.

Finally, the body of Christ helps us to be all that God has called us to be.  We cannot function as lone ranger Christians.  To live out a godly and effective life of faith, we need the encouragement of the body to keep us on the right track.  This is the admonishment we receive in the book of Hebrews:

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:25, NLT)

God calls us to be holy and righteous, to renew our minds and become the image of Christ to a lost and dying world.  It is a challenge to live the victorious life to which we are called, but we can be overcoming children of God through His glorious grace.  He has not forsaken us or forgotten us.  He has given us the spiritual tools we need to fulfill His purpose and plans for our lives.  His promise is this:  He has given us everything we need.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3, NIV)

I Shall Behold Your Face

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;  when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.  (Psalm 117:15, ESV)

The outlook of the servant of God is utterly different than the outlook of worldly man.  It is the nature of mankind to seek fulfillment in this life- by pleasure, by power, by prestige, by prosperity.  Not so with the Christian.

The Christ-follower differs from carnal man in that his outlook is eternal.  Where worldly man looks to this life for purpose and fulfillment, we look to God- for we will stand before Him in eternity.

When describing the evil men who pursued him, David noted of them that their “portion is in this life.” (v.14)  When life is lived for self and sin rather than the Savior, your portion is here in the temporal.  You may not always see God’s wrath realized here on earth.  You may very well live a life filled with the things after which you vainly run.  But your portion is in this life alone.

These things that seem so worthwhile will not last.  The will rot, they will rust, they will turn to rubble.  The preoccupations that now consume you will disappear as if they never had been.  Only what is done for Christ shall remain.

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.  (Isaiah 40:8, NLT)

This world will pass away, but the word of God stands forever.  We have been bought with a price.  We are something new in Christ, and we no longer live for what this world has to offer.  On the contrary:

Our citizenship, however, is in heaven, and it is from there that we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah.  (Philippians 3:20, ISV)

As we look again at Psalm 117:15, we notice the difference the presence of God makes in the life of the believer.  First David says “as for me”- he knew his result would be different from his wicked oppressors.  Our fate is something different from the rest of the world because we have been set apart to God.

Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.  (2 Corinthians 6:17, ESV)

We who follow Christ have stepped out from the world and separated ourselves to God.  So now, by His promise, He receives us.  Our portion is with Him.

Next David says “I shall behold your face in righteousness.”  Friend, there is no question.  If “Christ dwells in our hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17), our eyes will one day rest on His lovely face.  We shall see Him, and not as sinners facing wrath.  We shall see him “in righteousness” because we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Romans 13:14).

Next he says “when I awake.”  Death is not an end for us but a beginning.  We are not sleeping to rise no more.  Instead, we are waking up.  We are moving on from the shadows, from the reflection, from the dream to the reality.  Death is not a tragedy for us, but a triumph.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV)

David finished with this thought: “I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  In the here and now, you may feel frustrated and overwhelmed.  You may be crying out to God right now, “What are you doing?  Why have you forsaken me?  Where are you?”  You may be troubled by the injustice of this fallen world and your heart may be pricked by the pain and suffering endured by the righteous and the innocent.  But one glimpse of His face and everything will change.  You will no longer suffer.  You will be satisfied.  You will find rest.  No matter how difficult your journey has been, it will all be worth it when your eyes rest on His beautiful face.  And there, at perfect peace and in complete fulfillment, with satisfied soul, you shall find joy and rest for all eternity.

They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:4-5, ESV)