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Archive for the ‘Spirit-filled living’ Category

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

I believe the all-encompassing reason for our spiritual decline is that we have ceased to fix our eyes on our Savior.  Whenever Paul talks about running, he’s referring to the way we live our lives.   “Fix your eyes” literally means “to stare or gaze.”  Am I gazing at Christ? Or am I gazing at me?

Step 1: Throw off any sin that hinders us!  When you see runners in a marathon, they don’t have weights strapped to their wrists and ankles, do they?  And yet, in our lives, for one selfish reason or another, we often don’t want to get rid of those “little” sins that hinder us.  But we need to!  Not only do they weigh us down, they can cause us to focus on the weight (sin), rather than on our goal: perfection in Christ.

Step 2: Run!  In a marathon, people are RUNNING!  They’re not just casually walking along, and they’re certainly not aimlessly wandering.  The path is marked out for us – God has set before us the straight and narrow way.  It’s not always the easiest course, and we may not know what’s over the next hill in the road, but we know that whatever happens is part of His plan!  If we seek to give Him glory in everything, He will make our paths clear (Prov. 3:5-6).

Step 3: Fix our eyes on Jesus!  He’s the goal – our role model – and our finish line!  We must gaze at Him in adoration and appreciation for what He has done, and run our race with Him as the central focus of our minds and hearts.  The Holy Spirit, through Paul, tells us to run in such a way as to win the prize:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (ESV)

This doesn’t mean uttering rude comments to fellow runners, ignoring them, or pushing everyone else out of our way so that we can win.  It just means we’re supposed to be training to run, running wholeheartedly, and running to win.  We should encourage our fellow runners as much as possible and take time to help them up when they’re down, but always pointing towards the finish line and challenging one another toward the same common goal.

Paul also reveals that keeping our eyes fixed on our Savior and what He has done for us should be enough motivation to keep us from “growing weary in doing good” (Gal 6:9). Think of all that Jesus went through!  He was lied to, made fun of, accused, beaten, killed… for you.  You were on His mind through it all.  Is He on our minds through the comparatively little daily trials we have?  When we’re tempted to grow weary, we must look to Him and find strength. (Isaiah 40:29-31)

As we are running the race of life, do we have our eyes fixed on the One we say we are serving?  I often have my eyes fixed on myself, and whoever else I hope is watching me.  Bringing in the illustration from yesterday: Martha focused on her service, but Mary focused on her Savior.  Maybe our spiritual lives are struggling because we are looking around instead of up.

As the song goes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus/ Look full in His wonderful face/ And the things of earth will grow strangely dim/ In the light of His glory and grace.”

 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14 (ESV)

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I’ve got to tell y’all something that happened to me earlier this week.  Ok, so we’ve been working out in the yard for a couple of hours every afternoon lately.  I was putting away the rakes one day and thinking about how much we’ve accomplished in just a couple of weeks.  I thought to myself, “Wow, if we would just spend two hours out here every day, our yard would be in pretty good shape.”  The Holy Spirit immediately spoke straight to my heart, “If you would just spend two hours with Me every day, your life would be in pretty good shape.”

In the age of fast-food, internet, and texting, we get used to the fast-paced life.  Everything’s instant, jumping from one thing to the next.  We get distracted and super-busy with things like school, church activities, helping our families, hanging out with friends, etc.  Some of these can be very good things, but not when they begin to become distractions that keep us from spending time with our Creator.  It’s like the Mary and Martha story: 

38 “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

Martha was busy serving Jesus and wanted Him to scold Mary for not helping her.  Jesus corrected Martha by saying that Mary realized the one thing that is really important – Him.  Martha was distracted with much serving – did you catch that?  That really hit me – she was distracted by serving!  We aren’t told much about Martha in the Bible, but I think she might have been a lot like me.  A lot of times, I get so busy serving God that I forget to just sit and listen to what He has to say.  I have this tendency to think “Look at what all I do for God,” when I’m often not really doing it for God at all.  I’m doing it so people will praise me, not so they will praise God.  And that means that I’m doing it for men, and not for God.  Ultimately, I’m focusing on ME.

So I guess what I’m saying is, let’s get refocused.  Do we truly take great pleasure in just sitting and learning what God has to say?  Let me tell you, there are many times when I don’t.  I just want to hurry up and get done reading my daily Bible chapter so that I can check it off and get on with whatever else I have to do.  But you know what?  The Bible is the only book God has ever written, it’s His love letter to us, His bride!  And it is how He speaks to us nowadays, so if we want to know more about what He has to say, we have to know more of His book!  And what about prayer life?  Don’t ask me for advice about that, because I will be the first to tell you, my prayer life is anything but consistent.

If we want to live a victorious Christian life, we’ve got to slow down and listen to Him.  A fire will die down if you don’t add more wood to it.  We are the light the world, but to keep the light burning, we have to refuel it – and He is the fuel.  Does that make sense?

As wonderful as it is to work for the Lord, we shouldn’t let it distract us from spending time with Him.  Yes, we are commanded to do good works in our Christian walk (Eph. 2:10).  We’ve just always got to remember that the focus of our life is not so much on those we serve temporarily, but on Him Who we will serve eternally.

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“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 (ESV)

One reason I have struggles in my spiritual life is because I have often ceased to abide in Christ.  I think “abide” is a church-y word – you know, we hear it all the time, but what does it actually mean?  According to the Bible study teacher at the retreat I mentioned earlier, “to abide” means: to stay, rest, or remain contentedly.  We are commanded to abide in Christ – we’ve got to rest contentedly in His arms trusting that His plan is best for us (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 8:28). 

As the branch is always connected to the vine (or trunk if you’re thinking of a tree), receiving nourishment through the sap that flows through the entire plant – in the same way, we must always be communicating with our Savior, receiving nourishment through His Spirit and His Word.  Abiding in Him is the only way we can ever bring forth fruit to His glory.  Seriously, you don’t see branches running around by themselves producing fruit, do you?  The ones that aren’t connected to the tree are dead or will be soon.  We’ve got to be connected to the vine!

Now, I will admit, the thought has more than once crossed my mind, “But that’s so boring.  What about my freedom?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Being “connected to the vine” doesn’t mean that we’re gonna be sitting in the corner, pinned to the tree like we’re in time-out.  Abiding in Christ is one of the most fulfilling things we’ll ever experience before we get to Heaven!   It doesn’t mean we won’t be allowed to have fun anymore!  But I do believe that it means that the nature of things that we enjoy might change.  As we learn to delight in His presence, He will form our desires to be like His desires.

I think “contentedly” is the key word in the concept of abiding in Christ.  I guess it kind of goes along with the “being in charge” concept from yesterday.  If I keep trying to be in charge, it’s a sign that I am not content with the direction in which Jesus is guiding my life, or simply think I could do better.  How wrong of me to think that!  We can only see a tiny section of the beautiful masterpiece He wants to make out of our lives – and we think we know better than He does?

 “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

Once we’ve learned to come to a point where we give Him full control, I believe the next step is staying there – abiding in Christ – resting in His arms and trusting His plan for our lives.

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(Please forgive me for not writing out all of the scripture passages mentioned.  The post was getting very long even without them.  I encourage you to look them up for yourself or on www.biblegateway.com. :))

The first major reason that I think causes me to have low points in my spiritual life is that I have a tendency to want to be in charge.  I know I’m supposed to give everything to Him and let Him be in control, but I have a heart attitude of “Here, God, take everything… except such-and-such.” 

According to the New Testament, there are basically three ways you can be living.  Here is what my Scofield Study Bible says about it:

Paul divides men into three classes: 1) psuchikos, meaning of the senses, sensual (James 3:15, Jude 19), natural, that is, Adamic man, unrenewed through new birth (John 3:3,5); 2) pneumatikos, meaning spiritual, that is, the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God (Eph. 5:18-20); and 3) sarkikos, meaning carnal, fleshly, that is, the renewed man who, walking “after the flesh” (Romans 8:4), remains a babe in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-4). The natural man may be learned, gentle, eloquent and fascinating, but the spiritual content of Scripture is absolutely hidden from him; and the worldly Christian is able to comprehend only its simplest truths, “milk” (1 Cor. 3:2).

Here are some notes from a session in AWANA counsel time last year.  (This originally came from a tract put out by Campus Crusade for Christ.  You can see the online version at http://www.ccci.org/training-and-growth/classics/the-spirit-filled-life/index.htm)

The Sinful man – one who has not accepted Christ as Savior.  Self is on the throne of the heart of the sinful man, and his sin separates him from fellowship with God.  No matter how much he tries, he can never have peace with God in his own power.

The gospel in a nutshell: Jesus paid the debt for our sins – death (Romans 6:23).  We must accept the fact that there is no way we can pay the price we owe and live (we admit that we are sinners), and believe that Jesus paid it for us when he came to earth, died on the cross, and rose from the grave.  Once we have done this, Christ comes into our lives as Savior and Lord, we are part of God’s family – Christians.  There are two ways a Christian can live: walk in the flesh (carnal) or walk in the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:16-25)

The Carnal man – one who has received Christ as Savior, but lives in defeat because he is trying to live the Christian life in his own strength. In the carnal Christian’s life, Christ has entered, but self is still on the throne.  Christ is not allowed to direct the life, and interests are directed by self, often resulting in discord and frustration.  Here are some possible characteristics of the carnal Christian: ignorance of spiritual heritage, unbelief, disobedience, loss of love for God and for others, poor prayer life, no desire for Bible study, legalistic attitude, impure thoughts, jealousy, guilt, worry, discouragement, critical spirit, frustration, aimlessness.  The carnal Christian claims Christ’s name, yet has no desire for deep doctrine, but only simple “milk.” (See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Romans 8:5-8) 

The Spirit-filled man – one who has accepted Christ as Savior from sins and is yielded to Christ as his Lord – the one in charge. In the life of the Spirit-filled Christian, Christ has entered, is seated on the throne of the heart, and is depended upon to control all of the details of life.  Interests are directed by Christ, which results in harmony with God’s plan.  Here are some characteristics of the Spirit-filled Christian: Christ-centered, empowered by the Holy Spirit, introduces others to Christ, effective prayer life, desires and understands God’s Word, trusts God, obeys God, displays Fruit of the Spirit, thankfulness, and abundant reverence for Christ.  (See Ephesians 5:18-21)

How does this apply to us?  We often only want Christ to be our Savior (to rescue us), but we don’t want Him to be our Lord (the one in charge).   If I want to have a consistent walk with God, I’ve got to give everything to Him.  EVERYTHING.  This is not just a one-time thing, though – we must do it daily, often more than once a day!  I very often have to stop during the day and say a prayer something like this: “Sorry, God.  I’ve been taking over.  Forgive me, Lord.  I want You back on the throne.”  To live a successful, Spirit-filled life, we must begin by being sincerely willing for Christ to be in control of every area our lives.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’”  Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)

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What Happened?

Ok, so you just got back from summer camp, a retreat, revival, Bible study, or just had a really awesome quiet time this morning.  God is more real to you than ever before, and you’re going to serve Him wholeheartedly for the rest of your life.  You get home, back into the daily routine, and before you know it, God’s back on the list of people to call when you need help, instead of the One you’re living for. 

Sound familiar?  It does to me!  It’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit.  You know what I was thinking about today?  We sound a lot like the children of Israel through the entire Old Testament.  Remember?   They’d be doing pretty good – praising God and everything – then after a while, they would begin to look around at the other people living nearby and before you know it, they start intermarrying and worshipping the neighbor’s gods instead of the God Who had created, delivered, and sustained them.  Sometimes God would let this go on for several years, but eventually, He would bring punishment upon them, usually in the form of assaults from some of the same neighbors that pulled them away from God in the first place. Then the Israelites would repent and turn back to God, vow to serve Him forever, and have peace for a while before they turned to idols again. 

On the cycle would go, and on it goes with us sometimes.  We get really into the Word and on fire for God, then gradually start to slip back into our “normal” lives, until something happens to shake us up and send us crying back to Him again.

Why does this happen? I’m hoping to share some of the reasons I have experienced over the next few days.

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