Let us also keep in step with the Spirit

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
(Galatians 2:14, ESV)

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
(Galatians 5:24-25, ESV)

The two above passages from Galatians talk about keeping in step. Some of you were in the military or in a marching band, and you can right away understand this concept. You can spot it right away when someone is not “keeping in step” with the others.

Galatians 2:14 is referring to when Paul rebuked Peter to the face for conduct “not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Peter’s hypocrisy led even Barnabas astray. Barnabas and others were walking in step with Peter, but not in step with the truth of the gospel.

The next passage from Galatians 5 is in the context of the war between the flesh and the Spirit. In order to keep in step with the Spirit, we need to “crucify” our flesh with its passions and desires. When we are following our lusts and passions for the things of this world, we are keeping in step with Satan, not the Spirit.

Just like that person in a marching band who is not keeping in step with the others, we should be able to spot when we are not keeping in step with the Spirit. It all comes down to what fruit we are bearing and manifesting in our lives?

Is your life’s fruit showing that you are keeping in step with the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21)?

Or is your life revealing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?

With whom are you keeping in step today, men?

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
(Galatians 6:7-9)

When God says “No”

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV)

Were Paul’s prayers for his thorn in the flesh prayed in faith? Yes.

Did those prayers come from a heart that was pure before God? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers for this physical agony fervent, genuine and persistent? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers specific? Yes.

Was Paul’s motive for this prayer selfish and self-centered? No. Just because it was about himself doesn’t make it selfish. Jesus did the same, right?

But with all of this, God still said “No” to Paul’s request. That is just hard to swallow. When God says “No” to our prayers, it can be a great challenge to our faith. Why pray at all? What does it matter? Is prayer just an exercise in futility?

If you are challenged by me even bringing this up, then that’s good. Read the Psalms. Look at those who are looking up into heaven and asking “Where are you God?”, or “How long will it be before You hear us?”

Remember the Psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross…

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1-2, ESV)

These feelings are real. Sometimes when fellow Christians bring up these feelings and questions they get dismissed or invalidated by others who give their default “churchy” answers without thinking. If Jesus Himself wondered why God had forsaken Him and whether God wasn’t listening at all, is it okay for me to wonder that once in awhile, too?

Yes, yes it is.

Here are some thoughts I see from Scripture that help me when I go through that process of wondering where God is.

God IS listening. The Lord responded to Paul’s prayers. The prayer was heard, and the prayer was answered. “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached His ears” (Psalm 18:6, ESV).

God answered the prayers of many people in Scripture and gave them their requests. Gideon, Joshua, Moses, Samuel, Abraham, Hannah, Esther, Mordecai, Elijah, Hezekiah are just a few of the faithful to whom God granted their petitions. Prayer is not an exercise in futility. It most certainly works.

God’s grace is sufficient. When God says “No,” or “Wait awhile,” or “Yes, but in a different way,” then you can be assured that He has a very good reason. It may be very difficult at times to accept that, but His grace is sufficient.

God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. God’s “No” answers will work for His glory so that His strength, not ours, is exalted.

I will glory and boast in my infirmities. We may want the “testimony” and “witness” to others that we prayed for something and God gave a definite and mighty “Yes” to our requests. But the testimony we may give is like that of Paul, in that we glorify God in the weaknesses, trials and setbacks of life. Paul’s “testimony” was that he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
(Luke 18:1, ESV)

Thoughts from the Storm

I live in Magnolia, Texas which is about 35 to 40 miles north of Houston.  I’ll be very clear, my family and I are safe and dry and comfortable.  We are thankful to God for His protection.  Our area has experienced around 20 inches of rain so far and the forecast anticipates an additional 15 to 25 inches of rain in the next few days.

We could talk about the ridiculous numbers; they always seem to fascinate people.

  • In total the experts expect this area of Texas to receive in excess of 50 inches of rain by the time the storm has passed.
  • Harris County, just one of the many, many counties impacted, will receive over 600 BILLION gallons of water because of Harvey.
  • There is not a single major roadway in Houston that is not flooded at multiple locations.
  • There have been over 20 confirmed tornados from this storm.
  • As Harvey hit land, 110 to 130 mph winds were sustained for over 5 hours in the city of Rockport. For my Midwest friends, that’s equivalent to a category 2 tornado but for 5 consecutive hours.

By the time this experience is over there will be many more numbers thrown at us but numbers have a way of depersonalizing this entire situation.  The reality is that the only reason any of the numbers matter is because they impact individual people.  Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends are having their lives turned upside down.

For today’s article, I’d like to share a few of the individuals that have gotten my attention during this experience.

I saw a man and his wife wading through waste deep water with their three kids who appeared to be between the ages of 6 to 13.  The father was carrying a trash bag that had all that remained of their worldly possessions in it.

A man named Jeremiah and his young son were lowered in a basket from a helicopter, they had been rescued from their roof.  Jeremiah said that they got home last night, were notified of a flash flood warning and within 45 minutes had to climb on the roof to escape the water.  The reporter asked him what he was thinking to which he responded, “We are alive.  God is good!”

One family of six had water starting to come into their home about 10:30 Saturday night.  It quickly got up to about two feet so they decided they needed to leave.  In the dark, they made their way through yards and streets and over fences until they came to a higher overpass.  They spent the entire night clustered together under the overpass with the few items they could quickly grab from their home.

One reporter was riding in the boat of what I affectionately call a “good ole’ boy”.  Early Sunday morning he was heading into a flooded neighborhood to retrieve his mother in-law.  After getting her to safety, he went back time and time again to get more and more people.  He, and many, many others, spent the entire day doing what they could to rescue people they didn’t know.

Sunday morning the owner of Hilton Furniture had gone down to his store to make sure everything was secured.  On his way home he saw police officers helping people out of flooded areas onto an overpass.  Mr. Hilton stopped to find out what the plan was to get the people to a shelter…there was none.  He called up his drivers and had them bring the empty delivery trucks and they proceeded to load people in the back of the trucks and take them to shelters.  He continued this effort all day.

The owner of Gallery Furniture, a Texas owned company, made a decision and an open invitation.  He opened two of his “safe” stores up as shelters.  He invited anyone who needed a place to stay to come to his stores. They would be able to sleep on the display beds and couches and he would provide food and water.

I could go on and on and on with stories of those impacted by this event and those seeking opportunity to serve.  For every tragic victim there seems to be a humble hero.  It is amazing how the most severe situations seem to bring out the best in mankind.

As I sit here, listening to rain pound against my house, wondering if the water will stay outside, I don’t really know what to make of all this.  Maybe I’m still trying to process the reality of the situation.  Maybe I’m just not insightful enough to draw deep meaningful conclusions, but I keep coming back to a few simple thoughts.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31 

My God is in control and deeply cares for every single one of us.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

It is in the darkness that light shines the brightest.  Brothers, we have an opportunity to put our faith into action and bring glory to our God.

 “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21

 I believe this.  Pray that God will cause this storm to stop, to move out, to loose it’s power and allow us to start recovering.

May God bless all you.

Total Solar Eclipse – The Privileged Planet

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
(Isaiah 40:25-26)

I want to share with you an article and a video in connection to today’s solar eclipse.

It is not a coincidence that the sun is 400 times larger than the moon and also 400 times farther away. But speaking of the number 400, it is a coincidence that this is our 400th post today.

The article is by Eric Metaxas on CNS News called, “Total Solar Eclipse 2017: A Sign Our Privileged Planet Was Designed with Purpose.”

Watch this short 8 minute video today about how amazing it is that we live on a planet where we can observe an eclipse. The video is an excerpt from the documentary called the “The Privileged Planet” which is part of the series called “The Intelligent Design Collection.” This is an incredible series you should purchase for your family and friends to watch. If you are Lord of the Rings fans, it is narrated by John Rys-Davies or Gimli.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
(Psalms 19:1-6)

 

Yep, I’m the One Who Repaired the Dung Gate

A brother in Christ, Geoff, sent me the following observation:


Hi Aaron!

I just re-read Nehemiah 3 last night and remembered another point that hit me from verse 14:

14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Rekab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place.

Not all the work is glamorous.  How would you like to be Malkijah bragging,  “Yep, I’m the one who built the poop gate!”?  And he was a ruler!  Nobody thinks about the dung gate until you don’t have one.  It may not be high profile, but it is needed and somebody needs to do the dirty work.

What about me?  Am I willing to get my hands dirty for God and build the Dung Gate?


Thanks Geoff…excellent point!

The dung gate, according to Albert Barnes was “the gate by which offal and excrements were conveyed out of the city.” The Pulpit commentary says that it is “the gate outside of which lay the piles of the sweepings and offscourings of the streets.”

This point our brother shared with us reminded me (Aaron) of the time at our previous house when we were having a problem with our septic tank, and our neighbor came over to help us with it. He had his whole arm down in OUR septic tank reaching the filter to get it to clean it out. You really have to be a special neighbor to get your arm down in somebody else’s septic tank.

The apostle Paul was that kind of man, and in the following passage this is illustrated along with the exhortation to imitate him.

“For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me (1 Corinthians 4:9-16).

Entangled

Here’s a lesson on getting entangled.

Earlier this spring/summer, we took down all our old fencing around the property. It was in really bad shape. Most of it was collected by a metal recycling company and taken away. But one small section was forgotten. This woven wire fencing section was rolled up, smashed and laid on the ground, and we forgot about it. Just the other day Anna noticed it and asked me to pick it up and get rid of it so that the goats wouldn’t get injured on it.

No problem, just a small section of fence, right? Wrong. Weeks and weeks worth of grass and weeds grew up in between all of that fencing, and now a simple job that should have taken 30 seconds took us over an hour. Lindsay (my daughter) and I had to pull, cut, tear, yank, etc. because the fencing was completely intertwined with the grass and weeds.

So, I felt a sermon illustration coming on…

I said, “This is what happens, Lindsay, in life. When you get so interwoven with the things of this world, pulling away from it is no simple task. What would have been a simple, ‘No,’ at the beginning is not so easy after you’re entangled.”

It was a simple but effective illustration of the parable of the Sower and how the seed (the Word of God) fell among the weeds/thorns and got entangled and choked which led to being unfruitful in God’s kingdom (Matthew 13).

Lindsay later followed up with another point. She said, like the fence, when you try to pull away after having been so entangled, you still have remnants of the world in you. All that torn grass and weeds were still woven throughout the fencing.

So, be warned about getting so interwoven with the world. It’s a bear to break away afterwards!

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
(2 Peter 2:20)

Choices Have Consequences

Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, introduces the concept of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. The Circle of Concern is the area that we have no control over. For this discussion, I adapted this concept and changed “Influence” to “Consequences” and “Concern” to “Choice”.

Throughout the Bible we see the concept of the “Law of the Harvest” or the “Law of Sowing and Reaping”. The idea is that in order for us to receive a return we must first take action and put in the work. To build upon this further, we “choose” to work and have control over this aspect of the equation. The “consequence” of those choices is a result and therefore not something we directly control and/or avoid past the choices we make.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7).  This is a cause and effect relationship…there is a reaction to every action…we are free to choose but slave to the consequence. So what? How does it fit with God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and hope? In what ways will it impact how we live and our relationships with those in our lives?

We should not be of the mind that because God has forgiven us (or others) that all of the negative consequences of our (or others) sins will be washed away. That isn’t how it works. Conversely, if we have negative things happen in our lives, we shouldn’t think that God really hasn’t forgiven us or that He doesn’t really love us because we are suffering.

Forgiveness and consequences are not opposite ends of a spectrum. Together, they establish an essential part of the Lord’s plan for believers. Forgiveness is relational. The Father sent Jesus to make a sacrifice on our behalf, and by so doing reconciled us to Himself. By His mercy alone, we can have communion with the Lord. On the other hand, consequences are circumstantial.  Consider an illustration of this from the cross itself. Christ made it clear that the thief dying with him was completely forgiven (Luke 23:39-43). Yet moments later, the man died an excruciating death. The thief’s sins had been erased in God’s sight because he chose to believe in Jesus, but he suffered the punishment for his crime…the consequence of his previous bad choices.

Consequences from sin are not an indication that a person isn’t saved or that God is angry with the individual. The Lord frequently allows some painful situations to continue so He can teach lessons we would otherwise never learn. Very few things motivate us to give Him our undivided attention like being faced with the cost of our wrong choices. When we draw near to the Lord, He reveals how to respond correctly to painful circumstances. Unprecedented spiritual growth will often result.

We all have scars. Their purpose is not to cause us grief as a daily reminder of our sin, but rather to remind us of how gracious and merciful the Lord is.  He loves us and chooses to work though us despite our past mistakes and wrong choices. Further, as we bear scars from past sins we often become the most effective at leading unbelievers to know Jesus as their Savior.

Our attitude toward negative consequences affects how we relate to our heavenly Father and to others. A negative approach could lead us to become bitter, whereas a positive attitude could bring us to a point of understanding and gratitude for the daily reminders of divine mercy…and how we can have grace with those in our lives. We can view our scars as monuments to God’s grace, or as ongoing punishment.  I encourage you to see them as proof of your spiritual healing and if you do, you will change even when circumstances stay the same.

Rest assured, sinful choices have consequences, if not in this life, then in the next. We are blessed, though, because the principle of reaping and sowing works in a positive way as well: “The one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8). We can sow good seeds that will turn negative situations into positive ones.

Don’t spend the bulk of your time trying to convince God to remove painful consequences. Try praising Him instead. Receive His blessings, be at peace, sow love, and allow that to change your life and the lives of those you love.

NOTE: Some thoughts taken directly from "Charles Stanley's Handbook for Christian Living" (1996).

In the World, But Not of the World

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
(John 17:9-19)

Today, please take time to meditate upon this section of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. Specifically note the word “world” in this prayer.

The word “world” is used around 80 times in the book of John. This is also a good study to look at how Jesus used this term and what we learn from His teaching about “the world.”

Jesus, the night before being slaughtered for our sins, prayed for His disciples that they would be kept from the world. In Jesus’ mind, He was “no longer” in the world, because His eyes were fixed on the hope of glory (Hebrews 12:2). But for His disciples, He knew they would be left “in the world.” This clearly was a huge concern for Jesus.

His prayer to the Father was that they would be in the world, but not of the world, which is really what it means to be “sanctified” or “set apart.” Jesus prayed for them to be set apart from the world while still living in it.

How was that to happen, according to Jesus? Truth. There is such a thing. In this “world” many claim there is no such thing as truth. Jesus said there is truth and it is only found in the Word of God. In order to be in the world, and yet not of the world, we have to commit our hearts to the truth found within the pages of Scripture. Men’s philosophy and our own feelings are not truth.

As we are in the world, we set ourselves apart from the world by our relationship to the Word. The fruit will bear itself out in our lives, in our words, in our behavior, and in our choices.

Be in the world, but don’t be of the world.

Strong Foundation

I hope you enjoy these thoughts as we start the week.  I received this from Jason Cicero, one of my best friends and most importantly a brother in Christ.  Consider your foundation this morning and take some time in meditation and prayer about how much God has loved you and how willingly and freely He blesses you so that you might be filled up with His blessings and be a blessing to others in whatever role or situation you find yourself in.  Have a great week!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NKJV)

A foundation is a strong, stable base on which a life is built.  A blessing is a gift from God.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17; NKJV).  In Christ there are “showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26; NKJV).  Of all the blessings God has given us it seems to me that there are five that we can fall back on as we make our journey from Earth to Heaven.

Five Foundational Blessings.  Grace is God’s kindness to the guilty and undeserving.  Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve.  Mercy is God withholding from us what we do deserve.  Love is God’s active good will toward us.  Forgiveness of sins is the release from the debt, guilt, and punishment for our transgressions.  Hope is the confident expectation He fills us after we receive forgiveness.

Why I don’t deserve them.  I do not deserve these five foundational blessings because I have sinned.  By definition I do not deserve grace.  I am guilty and undeserving.  He is well within His holy nature to give me what I deserve.  He loves me despite my sins.  He longs to forgive me.  He fills me with a living hope even though I have let Him down again and again.  

Why I’ve been given them.  I have been given these five foundational blessings to the praise of His glory!  We have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” for the purpose of glorifying His name (Ephesians 1:3).  He gives me grace, mercy, love, forgiveness of my sins, and hope that I would praise His name!  Receive these blessings “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 2:7; 3:20-21).

My response to them.  Because of these five foundational blessings I will rejoice always!  I will pray without ceasing!  I will give thanks in everything!  Because of these five foundational blessings I have a relationship to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that will sustain me no matter what happens.  Nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39; NKJV).  In this I rejoice and praise His name!