Hidden Reefs

Shipwrecked Faith from a Shipwrecked Church
55:  The Difference Between Living or Just Being Alive

55: The Difference Between Living or Just Being Alive

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“I am the Resurrection and the Life”

We have been talking about the Higher Christian Life for quite some time.  And today, we will discover Jesus pointing to this manner of life, the “abundant life” as He called it in John 10:10, while He was trying to encourage Martha at the tomb of her brother, Lazarus.  Do you remember the story?  If so, we will see Jesus offering us a life truly worth living and not one of mere existence, of just being alive.  It’s the difference between experiencing an exhilarating life of wonder and joy or an artificially sustained life, like a comatose patient on life support.  One is truly living, the other is just being alive— barely.

Let me elaborate.

When Jesus received word of Lazarus’ illness, He waited two more days before heading to Bethany (John 11:6).  But by that time, it was too late, four days too late (John 11:17).  Lazarus had died and was already buried.  For Lazarus’ sisters, all hope of a healing was gone, buried just like their brother.  For them, Jesus arrived late, the curtain had closed, and their hope was as lifeless as their brother.

Both Mary and Martha were in mourning.  When Martha heard Jesus had finally arrived, she ran to meet Him and uttered the pain she held in her heart.  She said, almost like an accusation, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).  Jesus, trying to encourage her, said, “Your brother will rise again.”  But unable to see the big picture, Martha responded, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last days” (John 11:23-24).  It was almost like she was saying, “But what help is that to me now?  I know I will see him in heaven, but I need to see him now.  And if You would have been here, this would not have happened.”

It was at this point Jesus spoke these life-changing words.

“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believe in Me, thought he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26.

Great question for each of us as well.  Do we believe His words?  And if so, what does He mean by live?  Does it mean a longevity of years, like “eternal life” (John 3:15) or “everlasting life” (John 3:16)?  Or could it also mean something else?

Let’s look at the three times in His statement that Jesus uses the words life, live, and lives, and see if we can discover something wonderful about the resurrected life He offers.

But What Kind of Life Does Jesus Offer?

In Jesus’ words to Martha, He purposely used two different Greek words for life and live.  They are zōḗ and záō and they each reveal a different dimension of the life He offers each of us.  Let’s look at the definition of these two words:

First, zōḗ The word zōḗ refers to “physical life and existence as opposed to death and nonexistence.”  It is the most common word for life and conveys what we assume today when we think of eternal life— life that does not end.  Yet, it says little about the quality of that life, only that life exists.

Next, the word záō means “to live, to pass one’s life, to live in a certain way or manner.”  This word reveals more about the type of life one leads than the fact they will live forever or have life.  But it also means “to live unto God and be devoted to Him, to live a life characteristic of a resurrected life.”  And, by implication, to “live and prosper, to be blessed, and to live satisfied in Him.”  Or, as we would call it, to live the Higher Christian Life or the “abundant life” Jesus promised (John 10:10).

With this background, let’s look at the words of Jesus one more time.

“I am the resurrection and the life (zōē). He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live (záō).  And whoever lives (záō) and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26.

Do you see the specific choice of words Jesus used to convey this truth to Martha, and to us?  Consider the statement one more time.

“I am (present tense, currently and forever) the resurrection and the life (zōē – physical life, as opposed to death). He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live (záō – the manner of life, the resurrected life, the abundant life, the Higher Christian Life).  And whoever lives (záō – the manner of life, the resurrected life, the abundant life, the Higher Christian Life) and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26.

Even here, at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus is pointing to a life that knows no bounds and is available to all who are in Him.  Currently, forever, He is our resurrection.  Jesus, by His simple breath and nature, can bring to life— not just any life, but an abundant life, an overcoming life— that which sin and neglect have destroyed.  He said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5), which includes you and me.

There is so much more we have to say about these small Greek words and the profound meaning they have for us in our quest for the Higher Christian Life.  So join us as we learn more about Jesus, the “Resurrection and the Life” who is beyond what we can ask or even conceive in our mind (Eph. 3:20).  And let’s experience the “abundant life” found only in Him, together.

The Higher Christian Life

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54:  How to Know the Will of God When We Pray

54: How to Know the Will of God When We Pray

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How Can I Know the Will of God…

For many believers, prayer is often confusing and frustrating.  We pray earnestly, with as much faith as we can muster up, and many times the answer to our heartfelt prayer is no, or worse, silence.  And if we have this experience with prayer and faith repeatedly, eventually, for most believers, we rely less on prayer and more on our own efforts to make things happen our way.  Now, instead of praying, “Your will be done,” we pray, “Lord, please bless the works of my hands,” whether or not it is God’s will.

See the dilemma?

Then, when seeking confidence in our prayers, we stumble across 1 John 5:14-15 which seems, at least on the surface, to be the silver bullet we were looking for.  Uh, until we look at the passage closer.  Then we see the condition that unlocks the promise of confidence.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him – 1 John 5:14-15.

And quickly, we see the linear promise and corresponding conditions in this passage.

Confidence in Him (our goal) – We AskHis Will (condition) – He HearsWe Receive

We can have the confidence to know that if we ask, and here is the stickler, anything “according to His will,” that He hears us and will grant what we ask.  But what we pray for must be “according to His will.”  If we ask what He wants, He will naturally grant our request.  But if we ask something selfish, something “amiss” (James 4:3), God is under no obligation to answer our prayer the way we want.

So the emphasis in our prayer life should not be on changing God’s mind to match our wants.  It is to first find out the will of God and then pray accordingly.  We are to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and not the other way around.

So how is that done?  How can we discover the will of God in our prayer life?  And once I discover it, how can I know for certain I am praying “according to His will”?  How can I make sure I am not self-deluded into thinking what I want is what God wants?  And finally, when I pray, how can I tell the difference between His will and mine?

Especially in My Prayer Life?

As we shared last time, there are two ways to be successful in almost every area of life, both physical and spiritual.  One, find someone who is successful and do exactly what they did to become successful.  Or two, find a dismal failure, someone you would never want to be like, and do the exact opposite of what they did to get where they are.  This principle works in both the natural life and the spiritual life.

We looked at the life of George Muller last time to discover some of his secrets of faith in his relationship with the Lord.  If you have yet to listen to that episode, I would suggest you do that before reading any further.

George Muller is our example of both faith and prayer, but especially of praying “according to His will.”  And he has not left us in the dark regarding this matter.  George Muller published a small paper which outlined the six steps he went through with each prayer request to make sure he was praying God’s will, and not his own.  And these six principles can help us today learn how to discover the will of God in our prayer life, before we come to Him in prayer.

So in the words of George Muller, let me share them with you.

One, I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter.  Nine tenths of the trouble with people is just here.  Nine tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be.  When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.

Two, having done this, I do not leave the result to feelings or simple impression.  If I do so, I make myself liable to great delusions.

Three, I seek the will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, the Word of God.  The Spirit and the Word must be combined.  If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also.  If the Holy Spirit guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.

Four, I take into account providential circumstances.  These often plainly indicate God’s will in connection with His Word and Spirit.

Five, I ask God in prayer to specifically reveal His will to me.  (According to Muller, the key to getting specific answers to prayer is to ask God to specifically reveal His will to you.)

Six, thus, through prayer to God, the study of the Word, and reflection, I come to a deliberate judgment, according to the best of my ability and knowledge, and if my mind is thus at peace, and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly.

Join us as we learn about faith and the confidence we need in our prayer life from George Muller as we move forward in embracing the Higher Christian Life.

The Higher Christian Life

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53:  Faith, Revival, and the Example of George Muller

53: Faith, Revival, and the Example of George Muller

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Will You Not Revive Us Again?

When we look at the condition of our world and of the spiritual temperature of the church, the clear assessment is that we need revival.  Not a revival meeting or a revival as a once-a-year event, but a revival akin to an awakening, like our nation has experienced in the past.  It is a re-capturing of lost spiritual ground, exemplified by what Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).  Understanding our present condition, revival would be to rekindle that love by remembering “from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5).

Which naturally leads to a few questions.

What is a Christian revival?
Why is revival so important in the life of a Believer?
What are some examples of past revivals?
What happens during a revival?
How does spiritual revival take place?
What are the effects of a revival?
And how can we begin the process of revival today?

We should also note, the process of revival is the quickest way to experience the Higher Christian Life we have been talking about.  Why?  Because the definition of revival is a “spiritual awakening from a state of dormancy or stagnation in the life of a believer.”  And this spiritual awakening comes from a resurgence of faith in the believer. Not faith for salvation, but faith in the Word and character of God.  It is taking God at His Word and living one’s life in accordance with His truth, and not what we think or feel or want.

And the key to revival and the Higher Christian Life, as with most things in our walk with Christ, is faith.

Two Ways to be Successful

There are two ways to be successful in almost every area of life, both physical and spiritual.  One, find someone who is successful and do exactly what they did to become successful.  Or two, find a dismal failure, someone you would never want to be like, and do the exact opposite of what they did to get where they are.  This principle works in both the natural life and the spiritual life.

The problem for us, especially regarding living by faith, is that we don’t know many believers who have achieved what we desire.  Most of our faith heroes are long since gone and many today struggle like we do with faith.  There are very few, if any, Christian leaders who, like Paul, would confidently say, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).  If there were, we could follow and imitate them and learn from their life.  But faith heroes like these are few, especially in the West.

So what are we to do?  Simple.  We will learn and be discipled by the faith heroes of the past.  And in my estimation, the greatest example of pure faith in the last 300 years is a man named George Muller.

George Muller

Let me tell you just a little about his life.

•   He was born in 1805 in Prussia (Germany) and died in 1898, at the age of 92.
•   He was an evangelist and the founder and director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England, and cared for over 10,024 orphans during his lifetime.
•   He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to over 120,000 children.
•   He established the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad and distributed over 285,407 Bibles, 1,459,506 New Testaments, and 244,351 other religious tracks that were translated into twenty languages.

And he did all of this by prayer alone.  Muller never solicited gifts nor went into dept nor told anyone their financial needs.  When asked, he would say, “the Lord provides for all our needs.”  It is estimated he prayed into the ministry over $113,000,000.

I believe this is someone we can learn from regarding faith, don’t you?

But to show you the magnitude of the five orphan houses he was able to build through prayer and faith alone, consider the following:

Ashley Down Orphan House 1

Ashley Down Orphan House 2

Ashley Down Orphan House 3

Ashley Down Orphanage Map

Join us as we learn about faith and revival and the Higher Christian Life from a simple man of faith, George Muller.

The Higher Christian Life

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52:  Immanuel and the Higher Christian Life

52: Immanuel and the Higher Christian Life

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And You Shall Call His Name Immanuel…

One of the unmistakable truths that leads to a fuller understanding of the Higher Christian Life is our embracing the fact of the Holy Spirit living in us.  Now, I know you know that… at least cognitively, as a fact, and probably have this truth hidden for safekeeping somewhere deep in the recesses of your brain.  But that’s not where the reality of this wonder takes place.  And it is not the knowledge of this truth that leads to the Higher Christian Life, but the experiencing of this truth.

We experience “God with us” when we wholeheartedly release our fear and doubt and shame to the One who literally lives in us.  One who abides in you (John 15:4-5).  The Spirit, fully God in every sense, who has chosen to “rest, dwell, live, to make His home” in you as well as to “remain united with one heart, one mind, and one will” with you.  After all, this is the definition of the Greek word which translates, abides.

This was all promised to us eons ago.  We see it in the Old Testament, in the words of Isaiah.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” – Isaiah 7:14.

And an angel later confirmed it to a troubled, betrothed man named Joseph.

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” – Matthew 1:20-23.

We often focus on the miracle of Christ’s birth, and rightly so.  But we find one vital key to the Higher Christian Life revealed in the name given Jesus.  They shall call His name Immanuel, which means, “God with us.”  Not just with us physically, but with us eternally in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Which Means, “God With Us”

Oh, the wondrous joy of knowing we are never alone.  For God is with us and in us and has promised to never leave us as orphans (John 14:18).  His name, given before time for our understanding of the miracle of redemption, is Immanuel.  And Immanuel means “God with us.”  He is always with us.  And we will be forever with Him.

But that raises a few questions on a practical level.

•   What does it mean to have God with us?
•   And how is He with us?
•   What is that experience like?

Now, let’s make it personal.

•   Is God with you?
•   Is He with you theologically or experientially?
•   And if He is, what is that experience like?
•   How does your life reflect God with you?

It is in the Person of the Holy Spirit that God lives in us and is with us.  And it is by surrendering our lives to Him who lives in us and is with us that we begin to experience the Higher Christian Life.

So let me encourage you, as you join us today, to consider deeply the meaning of the name of our Lord and realize His very name speaks of the wonder of our redemption.  We have our sins forgiven so that we can have fellowship with God Himself.  But not by trekking to Mount Sinai to go where God is.  No, He is now where we are and He is the One who made the journey for our benefit.

Rest easy in this confusing world.  After all, God is with us, with you, forever.

The Higher Christian Life

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51:  How to Understand the Fear of the Lord

51: How to Understand the Fear of the Lord

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The Fear of the Lord is …

We have shared in the past how we often find a fuller understanding of the Higher Christian Life in the small words of Scripture.  Simple, often overlooked as unimportant words like “know” or the various Greek definitions of our single-use English word translated “love” give us insight into the heart of God that can bring great intimacy with Him.  And this principle is also true of harsh words, unkind words that seem inconsistent with the love we experience from God.  In particular, the command to “fear” God or the “fear of the Lord” can also open the door to the Higher Christian Life like no other word can.

Let me explain.

The Scriptures record over 300 times the importance of having a fear of God.  And it reveals incredible promises to those who do fear Him and stern warnings to those who don’t (we will look at those promises in our next episode).  But the word translated fear, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, leads us in two opposite directions.  For in Scripture, the word fear has two meanings, one negative, and the other positive.  Let’s look at a familiar example from Proverbs to illustrate this point.

“The fear (yirʾāh) of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” – Proverbs 9:10.

In this verse, the Hebrew word for fear (yirʾāh) means just that, fear, as in dread, terror, or fright.  But in context, being the fear of the Lord, the word also conveys a positive quality that acknowledges God’s good intentions and love for His people (Ex. 20:20).  Therefore, fear (yirʾāh) can also translate as “respect, reverence, awe, and profound honor.”  And it’s the intended audience of this verse that determines the meaning of the word.

There are always two audiences for Scripture, and especially for the phrase, the “fear of the Lord.”  One, unbelievers who fear the judgment of God and await eternal separation from Him (Heb. 10:31).  For them, fear means terror, dread, and fright (Deut. 2:25).  And two, believers who have profound reverence for God and hold Him in absolute awe.  For them, fear is a word describing the feeling one gets when in the presence of supreme greatness.  It is a fear that comes with many promises that spring from having a deep and abiding respect for the Lord.  And it is these promises that make experiencing the fear of the Lord so important for us today.

The Beginning of Wisdom

So fear translates as both dread and fright, as well as reverence and awe.  And the context and audience of the passage determines the definition.  But what does the fear of the Lord mean for the believer?  What is the total scope of this phrase?  What is it saying about God and the Higher Christian Life?  And how can we learn to cultivate the fear of the Lord in our own lives?

To develop the fear of the Lord, we must come to recognize who He is and not limit Him to our own understanding.  God is sovereign.  He is our omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (all-everywhere) God.  As our sovereign God, there is nothing we can do, nor speak, think, or feel, that He is not fully aware of at all times.  And as a just God, we will give an account to Him for everything we have done or thought or for every idle word spoken that does not bring Him glory (Matt. 12:36).  This is an incredibly sobering thought.

When we get a glimpse of the reverence of God, it helps us take His Word and commands seriously.  We see Him for who He is, and tremble at His power and glory in His mercy and grace.  This realization that He is God and we are mere dust produces a humility and desire to surrender our lives to Him and helps move us along in our journey to the Higher Christian Life.

And since we know each of us will give an account of our lives to the Lord, and since we know He is fully aware of everything we speak, do, think, and desire— then the fear of the Lord is a continual awareness of these truths, 24/7, every moment of every day of our lives.  We can therefore define the “fear of the Lord” as a continual, ever-present, awareness that we are in the presence of a holy, just, and righteous God, and that every motive, desire, word, thought, and action is open before Him to be judged by Him.

And there is nowhere to hide.

This is what it means to fear the Lord.  To be always aware of His presence and to scrutinize the motives and actions of our lives to be pleasing to Him.  We can summarize our response to the fear of the Lord as follows:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God – Romans 12:1-2.

But what of the promised blessings for living in the fear of the Lord?  They are innumerable and beyond description.  And next time, we will look at the blessings and promises that follow those who fear the Lord.

I think you’ll find them amazing.  I certainly did.

The Higher Christian Life

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50:  Living in the Kingdom, While Living on Earth

50: Living in the Kingdom, While Living on Earth

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Living in the Kingdom of God…

We, as believers, are dual citizens and live in two kingdoms.  We have temporal citizenship in this world, or so it seems, maybe as a citizen of the United States or whatever country you may be from.  But more importantly, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, citizens in His eternal Kingdom that has no equal.  And both kingdoms have rules, make demands, and pull us in opposite directions.

Promises empower one Kingdom.  And the other kingdom is full of disappointments.

Note:  For a faith exercise and to experience how God’s Kingdom operates, try beginning in Matthew and write down every promise given to you as a child of your loving Father.  Start with the Sermon on the Mount.  And then align your life in such a way as to live by those promises, to see if they are true or not.  What you will soon discover is this earthly kingdom, the fallen kingdom of this world, never keeps its promises.  Yet every promise in God’s Word is as true and steadfast as the King Himself.  This revelation alone should help you see the waste and futility of one kingdom and the infinite value of the other.

But for most of us, we try to find our success and happiness in this world by doing what this world rewards.  We work to make money, and then more money so that we can buy worthless stuff.  We want people to like us, so we become like them and like what they like, just to be accepted.  And if we are not happy, we will move heaven and earth to change things and rearrange our reality in our vain attempt to make us happy.  Not realizing the source of all happiness lives in us, and we are already accepted, loved, and liked by the King of king and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).

Unfortunately, this is how many believers live their allotted days in life, chasing after trinkets and toys and things that pass away in time.

But that’s not how those live who desire the Higher Christian Life.  For them, all the transitory and temporary things of this world mean nothing compared to what is eternal and infinite.  They reason, “If I will live for only 70 or 80 years and then die and leave everything behind, yet spend eternity in heaven, why would I not focus more on heaven while living on earth? Why would I devote my life to something I cannot take with me and slight what I can never lose?”

Or, as Jim Elliot wrote in his journal on October 28, 1949, seven years before he was martyred as a missionary to the Auca tribes in Ecuador:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

So how can we live in His Kingdom without listening to the deceptive and demanding voices of this world?  And how can we live in such a way as to daily experience the Higher Christian Life?

While Living in the Kingdom of this World

Logic states there are two ways to be successful.   First, find someone who is successful and where you want to be and do exactly what they did to get to where they are.  And second, find someone who is a dismal failure, someone you never want to be, and do the exact opposite of what they did to make them what they are.  Logically, either path should work and point you in the right direction.

So let’s take the first path and follow the example of Paul, who obviously lived in the experience of the Higher Christian Life.  Consider what he did and how he lived:

But what things were gain to me (in this kingdom), these I have counted loss (why) for Christ (and His Kingdom).  Yet indeed I also count all (pas) things loss (why) for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, (for what purpose)
(1) that I may gain Christ
(2) and be found in Him, (how) not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, (namely) the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may
(3) know Him and the
(4)  power of His resurrection, and the
(5) fellowship of His sufferings,
(6) being conformed to His death, (why) if, by any means,
(7) I may attain to the resurrection from the dead – Philippians 3:7-11.

Do you see the trade Paul is making?  He gladly gives up all he has gained in this kingdom to gain what is beyond description in God’s Kingdom.  And what He gained was Christ.  To know Him.  To be found in Him.  To experience the power of His resurrection and share in the fellowship of His sufferings.  To be conformed to Him (Rom. 8:29), to live in His likeness (Col. 2:6), to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and as a blessed bonus, to attain the resurrection from the dead and experience life eternal with Him.  In essence, to be made complete, whole, perfect, and without defect in Him (Col. 2:10).

What a great trade for Paul!  He gave up what was worthless and had an expiration date, his life, and received what is perfect and eternal, Christ in him (Rom. 6:11).  And, as a great encouragement to us, he began living the perfect and eternal life in Christ while still living on earth.  In other words, He experienced the Higher Christian Life and deep, profound intimacy with the Holy Spirit, just as you can today.

So surrender your life to Him and make the trade.  You will forever be glad you did.

The Higher Christian Life

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49:  Something More Powerful Than Your Faith

49: Something More Powerful Than Your Faith

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What Is More Powerful Than Our Faith?

The trait that defined the members of the early church that seems absent in the church today is found in the simple word, power.  And it is the very same power (dúnamis) that was promised through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) and received by those in the early church (Acts 2:4).  Uh, the same power we supposedly received when we were “sealed” by the Holy Spirit who came into our lives as the “guarantee” of our eternal salvation (1 Cor. 1:22).

So if we have the same Spirit they had, and the same power through the same Spirit they had… that leads to a few questions.

•   Why were they able to live in the power they received from the Holy Spirit to the extent they were and we don’t seem to be able to do the same?
•   Did they have a different power than we do today?  Or was it the same power?  By the same Spirit?
•   And if it was the same power and the same Spirit, why were their lives marked by this unleashed power and ours don’t seem to be so much today?
•   Does God love them more than He loves us?  Or did He choose to use them more than He seems to be using us?  Were they better people than we are?  Maybe more holy, more faithful, more committed?
•   How were they different from us and what can we learn from them?

Remember, their promise was the same promise we received from the Lord.

“But you shall receive power (dúnamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

Again, if we have received the Holy Spirit and the power (dúnamis) that comes with Him, like those in the early church, why are our lives often marked by frustration and spiritual impotence, and not the life-changing Spirit encounters we see in the Acts?  What could be the problem?

Your Doubt and Unbelief

One of the most troubling events in the life of our Lord happened in His own hometown when He “could do no mighty (dúnamis) works there” (Mark 6:5-6, Matt. 13:58) because of their unbelief.  Did you catch that?  Jesus was limited in what He could do, or how the power (dúnamis) of the Spirit could be manifest, because of their unbelief.  Read it for yourself.

Now He (what) could do no mighty work (dúnamis) there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He marveled because of their unbelief.  Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching – Mark 6:5.

Matthew adds, “He did not do many mighty works (dúnamis) there because of their unbelief – Matthew 13:58.  Which brings even more questions.  Why was Jesus not able (could do no) mighty works (dúnamis) in their midst?  What was limiting the power of God in their lives?  To make it personal, what is keeping Acts 1:8 from being true in your life?  What is keeping you from experiencing the Higher Christian Life? Is it God?  Or could it be something else?

Note, the most powerful force in you is not your faith, as strange as that may sound… but your doubt and unbelief.  Your doubt and unbelief can make void all the Holy Spirit came to make magnanimous in you.  It can nullify, completely, the power (dúnamis) you received from God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Does that statement make you feel uncomfortable?  It does to me also.  But it is true, nevertheless, no matter how it makes us feel.  If you would like to look further into what it means to limit the Holy Spirit in your life and how it can keep you from experiencing the Higher Christian Life, join with us today as we discover what our doubt and unbelief costs us in our relationship with Jesus and the Spirit.

I think you’ll be shocked… and convicted.  And hopefully inspired to never let anything stand between you and a deeper intimacy with our Lord.  Nothing.

The Higher Christian Life

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48:  Jesus and His Dependence on the Holy Spirit

48: Jesus and His Dependence on the Holy Spirit

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After He Through the Holy Spirit – Acts 1:2

As we continue looking at the book of Acts, especially the account of the lives of those in the early church, we are stopped cold in our tracks and amazed by a small, cryptic phrase found in Acts 1:2.  And in these four small words, through the Holy Spirit, we find great encouragement in our own quest for the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and our goal of being more like Him (1 John 2:6), being complete in Him (Col. 2:10), and experiencing the Higher Christian Life (John 10:10).

Let me explain.

When we see Christ in the Gospels, we tend to view Him in one of two extremes.  One, as the Son of God who is fully God in every aspect, both co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.  He is the Mt. Sinai God, the God of the Old Testament, all smoke, thunder, and lightning, only in a different person.  We have looked at this subject in the past.  And when we focus primarily on the divine aspect of Jesus, He becomes somewhat aloof and untouchable to unholy men like us with dirty hands and impure thoughts.

But, if we allow the pendulum to swing too far on the other side, we primarily see Jesus as only a man, a friend, someone we look up to and admire, but certainly not a King and definitely not God in the flesh.  He thinks like us, likes what we like, and struggles with the same things we struggle with.  Therefore we feel no need to fear or respect Him, much less obey Him.  And we don’t worry too much about sinning because as a man, He is just like us (as uncomfortable as it is to admit)— fickle, prone to doubt, and as uncommitted and faithless as we are.  Or at least that is what we assume.

Yet neither of these extremes fully capture the nature of Jesus.  Again, as we have already discussed, Jesus is fully God and fully man and will be so forever.  Yes, forever.  Theologically this is known as the Hypostatic Union and can be summarized as follows:

“Remaining what He was (fully God), He became what He was not (fully man).”

In summary, Jesus is (1) both fully God and fully man, and (2) there is no mixture or dilution of ether nature, and (3) He is united as one Person, forever.  In other words, Jesus is both God and man, and His two natures, human and divine, are inseparable and will be forever.

But He Made Himself of No Reputation (kenṓsō)

But what Jesus did was to choose not to take advantage of His divine nature while on earth in order to fully experience our temptations and sufferings and become, as Hebrews states, our High Priest who was, like us, in all points “tempted as we were, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).  Jesus chose to present Himself as our perfect example of how to live the Higher Christian Life by not utilizing what we don’t have— a divine nature, and voluntarily limiting Himself to what we do have— a human nature.  As a result, Jesus struggled as we do, yet did not give into His struggles and sin.  Jesus was tempted as we are, yet did not succumb to those temptations and sin.  Jesus faced everything we face, even more so, yet held His head high, kept His eyes focused on His Father, and did not sin while being fully man.  And in doing so, He showed us the way of victory over the things that hold us back from all God designed us to be.  Jesus modeled unbroken intimacy, faithfulness, and obedience to His Father, while fully a man.  And in doing so, Jesus became the prime example for the Higher Christian Life.

So how did He do this?

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but (His choice) made Himself of no reputation (kenṓsō – to make empty, void, without meaning), taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, (His choice) He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross – Philippians 2:5-8.

This was a choice Jesus made.  He purposely, voluntarily, and with great faith, surrendered His life into the hands of the Father and received from the Father the same power available to us today— the Holy Spirit.  That’s right, Jesus ministered through the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that now lives in you and is the key that unlocks the abundant life He promised (John 10:10).

We will speak more on this later, but let me close by sharing just a few truths to drive this point home.  And the first is found in Acts 1:2, the verse that prompted this discussion.

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He (how) through the Holy Spirit (what) had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen – Acts 1:1-2.

Jesus did not give these commands to His apostles by His own authority, but through the authority of the Holy Spirit living in Him.  He had placed His life in total submission to the Spirit of God who, if you remember, descended and remained on Him at His baptism (John 1:33).  But there is more.

In Acts 10 we have Peter preaching in the home of Cornelius and describing Jesus as one “anointed” by God.  How can Jesus, as God, be anointed by the Father, His equal, with the Holy Spirit, also His equal?  Simple.  God was anointing and empowering Jesus the man, through the Holy Spirit, that allowed Him to do all the things He did with the power that comes only from God (John 3:2).  And this is the same Holy Spirit, and the same power (dúnamis), that now resides in you.

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with (1) the Holy Spirit and with (2) power (dúnamis), who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” – Acts 10:38.

This is a perfect description of what God promised to give to His church in Acts 1:8.  And it is the same Greek word for power (dúnamis) used in both verses.

“But you shall receive power (dúnamis) when (what) the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you (as the result) shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

There are many other passages that point to this truth, but we will look at them another time.

So as you struggle with the Higher Christian Life and sometimes think it’s not for you, consider that everything Jesus did on earth was done through the power of the Holy Spirit who was given to Him, and to you, for the same purpose.  There is nothing you lack that is not found in Him.  And there is nothing Jesus lacked that was not found in the Person of the Holy Spirit who indwelt Him.  So be encouraged, all you have to do is surrender your life to the Spirit who now lives in you, and you will be empowered like Jesus promised when He said, “greater works than these (you) will do, because I (Jesus) go to My Father” (John 14:12).

Do you remember what happened when Jesus went to His Father?  That’s right, He sent the Holy Spirit to live in us (Acts 2).  And, as they say, the rest is history.

Let that sink in for a moment and be encouraged.

The Higher Christian Life

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47:  School’s Out— Time to Do Something

47: School’s Out— Time to Do Something

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You Shall Receive Power – Acts 1:8

We have two key objectives in mind.  One, to grow closer to our Lord and experience the Higher Christian Life, or at least try to understand what the Higher Christian Life looks like in real-time.  And two, to have our faith grow to the point we will be spiritually prepared for the chaotic times coming our way and the trials, tribulations, and persecutions, that will most certainly follow.  These, in my opinion, are noble endeavors.  And both of them can be fulfilled by studying the book of Acts and focusing on the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit in common men who lived under times far more chaotic than ours.

But if it is true the Acts is a training manual for His church and His revelation of what church should look like, then we need to ask some questions about what we read.  For if we don’t ask questions, then how will we know when the Lord answers them?  Here are some pressing questions we need to ask.  We’ll start with chapter one.

•   Who were the 120 in the upper room?  What were they like?  Where did they come from?
•   Where were they when Jesus ascended into heaven?
•   What, if anything, made them different from us?
•   And what made the church in Acts different than the church in America today?
•   In what aspect were they followers of Jesus?  Was there a part of their life they kept for themselves or had they surrendered all to Him?
•   Are we followers of Him in the same way they were followers of Him?  Or do we follow Him differently today?  And if we do, is it better?
•   What was the overriding command they were given?  How were they to fulfill that command?  And did they even want to?
•   What kind of power did they have that we seem to have lost?  And how can we rediscover the power that lies dormant in the church, and in you and me, today?
•   Do we really want to fully receive the “Promise of the Father” Jesus spoke about?  Or is that a bit too radical for us?  And if we do receive the promise, how would that change our lives?
•   Do you think it is still possible for a small group of committed believers to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) as they did back then?  Or do you think that ship has already sailed?
•   And if you do believe it is still possible, are you aware of the cost of being that kind of believer?  Is it a cost you are willing to bear?  Or a sacrifice you are willing to make?  Is it something you want to do, something you are willing for Him to create in you?  Or would you rather just pass?
•   And finally, would you want to be a member of the early church?  Or would you find it too intimidating, too convicting?

Whew.  And these are just a few questions we want to know about the lives of those who made up the early church.  For if we can see their commitment and sacrifice, maybe we can begin to be more like them.

All That Jesus Began to Do and Teach – Acts 1:1

But there is one other thing we will look at today.  And it is found in the insightful phrase that describes the ministry of Jesus, “do and teach.”

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach – Acts 1:1.

Note the order.  Ministry first, theology later.  Jesus was always doing first, and then teaching later.  For our Lord, ministry preceded and produces theology, not the reverse.  And His ministry was to do the will of the Father and out of this ministry emerges theological activity… later.  It was never the other way around.  Not for Jesus, and especially not for us.  Or at least it should not be.

But that’s not how we do church in the West.  It seems we have become teaching connoisseurs, and ministry wannabes.   We learn, and learn more, and go from Sunday school to graduate school with all our church degrees, yet fail to put most of what we have learned into practice.  Especially in the ministry of evangelism.  Ouch.  I know.  That one stings.

So let’s look at what “do and teach” implies regarding the ministry of Jesus and see if we can understand the passion and power of the early believers to glean from them something we so desperately need.  After all, they knew far less than we do.  Yet they did so much more.  How is that possible?

Let’s find out together, shall we?

The Higher Christian Life

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46:  How to Experience Freedom From Your “Besetting Sins”

46: How to Experience Freedom From Your “Besetting Sins”

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Forgiveness:  Past, Present, and Future

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit it is sin that keeps us from experiencing the Higher  Christian Life.  And it’s not our horrible, gross, never-talk-about, sin that grieves His Spirit the most.  It’s the sin we commit over and over again, the sin we have long since given up hope for ever gaining victory over.  It is the sin, no matter how small it may seem to others, that has now become part of our lives and defines our inability to claim what is rightfully ours, the Higher Christian Life.  “I know things would be different spiritually if I could just quit (you fill in the blank).  But since I can’t… and oh, how I’ve tried… I guess this lukewarm spiritual existence is my destined lot in life.  Ahem.”

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In Hebrews 11, we have a list of Old and New Testament saints that overcame incredible hardships and suffering by simple faith in God and His Word.  As such, this chapter has been affectionately called the roll-call of faith.  And it ends with the epithet of these men and women, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38).  It is a truly amazing tribute to what faith can accomplish in the life of a believer.

But then we ask ourselves, “Why can’t we seem to live the same types of lives as they did?  What is holding us back from experiencing overcoming faith?  How can we be more like them?”

And as usual, the Lord was anticipating our questions and provided His answer in the very next sentence, found in Hebrews 12:1:2.  Consider these words from our Lord.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (we are not alone, drifting in uncharted waters), let us (our action) lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares (euperístatos) us, and let us (our action) run with endurance the race that is set before us, (how) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God – Hebrews 12:1-2.

But the most important phrase in this statement is “easily ensnares” or euperístatos in Greek.  This word means “to surround or encompass, easily besetting.”  Ah, it’s a besetting sin.  And a besetting sin is defined as one we “continually struggle with and have a weakness towards, one we commit over and over again seemingly without relief or victory.”

Sound familiar?  I thought so.  You may have a few besetting sins in your own life.  Most believers do.

Sanctification:  Past, Present, and Future

After a time of trying only to fail, and fail again… only harder, most believers grow frustrated and prone to give up ever thinking victory is possible over their besetting sins.  And at some point, usually after utter despondency, they come to the conclusion either Christ is not sufficient, or their flesh is too powerful, or they are just too much of a loser to amount to anything more than a nominal Christian plagued by besetting sins no one else seems to be struggling with.  And this, after a time, leads to believing the Higher Christian Life is for others, but not for losers… like us.

But God has provided victory over besetting sins, and His victory is found in our commitment to trust Him at His Word.  He has provided for us a great promise of forgiveness and sanctification if we trust His Word to be true.  It is an if/then promise from the Lord.  We do our part (if) and He will do His part (then).  It is really that simple.  All we have to do is believe He will do what He promises to do and the victory is ours.  Consider this if/then promise:

If (our part) we confess our sins, (then – His part) He is faithful and just to (1) forgive us our sins (salvation) and to (2) cleanse us from all (pás) unrighteousness (sanctification, victory over besetting sins) – 1 John 1:9.

The forgiveness part we freely accept, no problem.  But the cleansing from all unrighteousness (our victory over our besetting sins) is a bit more difficult to swallow and stretches our faith.  So let’s look at this promise in a little more detail.

If we confess (to admit, concede, to openly acknowledge) our sins (plural), (then) He is faithful and just to (1) forgive us our sins (what we just confessed) and to (2) cleanse (to purify from the power and guilt of sin, to be free from filth and defilement), us from all (pás) unrighteousness (what is wrong, wicked, impure, an offense to God) – 1 John 1:9.

Simply stated, what you just read is true, from the Lord Himself, who is faithful and true.  What is left is the hard part.  Now you must choose to incorporate this path of victory into your own life, regardless of past failures, by faith.  And when you do, God will follow through and “cleanse you from all unrighteousness” and give you victory over your nagging, besetting sins.

If you are unconvinced, why don’t you test God in this?  After all, He has told us to test Him in other matters of faith (Mal. 3:10).  So commit to believing His Word, no matter how little faith you have in yourself, and see if He won’t bless you in such a way that the Higher Christian Life will become a reality, and not just a lofty dream.

But don’t delay.  Do it now.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE
The Higher Christian Life

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