Love is a junk drawer. But it shouldn’t be.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

John 3:16-19

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 

1 John 1:5-7

There is one universal truth in all of us: we have an insatiable desire to be loved and to love others in return. I know what you’re thinking: “an insatiable desire to love people?!” Yes, believe it or not you do. But what exactly is love? 

This past year there have been numerous time I have preached about love to my congregation. As I meet with others it comes up continually as they navigate their own journey of faith and life. Even in my own life, I have experienced a rebirth of joy and amazement as I have wrestled with the depth of God’s love and the inherent implications it brings.

But let’s come back to the core question, “What is love?” Many of us will answer this in different ways. In fact, I have learned that “love” is really just a junk drawer we dump all sorts of ideas into. Do you have one of those in your home? We have at least four. Love has become this. Everyone has their own ideas of what love is and they throw it in. Culture spoon feeds us many ideas of what it is and they throw it in. Our parents and how we are raised have their own inherited understandings of love and they throw them in. Love has become at times so watered down it can be used for anything!

We will say, “I love God, and I love fish tacos. I love Jesus and I also love the Ohio State Buckeyes!” See the problem? Granted, our english language does not help this incongruence. But its clear.. the way we use the word in our language is so broad that at times we can forget the called-out kind of love the Bible speaks of. But even still, let’s give it a try. Let’s try defining love.  

Love is acceptance and tolerance, right?

To many, love is tolerance and acceptance. The idea is that rather than judge people, we should “love and accept” them no questions asked. Is there truth to this? Yea, there is some. But this is only part of the equation. However, what this means in our society is we should not communicate anything that is contradictory to someone’s actions, choices, or behavior—just love them. It sounds good. Sounds progressive. But it is only partly good. Society’s idea of love as it pertains to tolerance is not always in sync with that of the Kingdom of God and Scripture. In fact, it is far from it. True “Kingdom of God” love is not based on tolerance and acceptance, at the expense of life change and repentance.

Love is affection and joy, right? 

To many of us, love is passion and affection tied to our emotions. Is there truth to this as well? Yes, but again, this is only partially true. It’s the word we use to describe our feelings of affection. We love hiking, or we love a new song that just came out, or we love chips and guac. When we aim the word at people, we usually mean the exact same thing. When we say we love someone, we mean we have deep feelings of affection because they make us feel value and worth. Love, by this definition, is pure, unfiltered emotion. Think of the phrase “fall in love.” It’s like tripping over a rock or a curb. And it’s fantastic. But there’s a dark underbelly to feeling this kind of romantic love. If we can fall into it, then we can fall out of it because it was based on something that is often unstable emotions. 

With both of these attempts at defining “love” that we find in the junk drawer, we can see some challenges that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny in the bible. With one we have an accepting and tolerant love. But if we bring this definition to Jesus—that’s not what we see. We see a love from Jesus that is yes, accepting of one’s divine personhood as being made in the image of God but equally transformative; inviting one to be transformed into the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

With the other we have an affectionate and emotional love which is really our common understanding of love when we think of “things” and “people.” But again, if we bring this approach to the example of Jesus, while yes love is seen as an emotion in the life of Jesus—it most definitely is not all emotional. Emotions are fickle. They come and go. Jesus chose love time and time again. So, if our understanding of love is defined only by one of these two or both; look out! We are defining and conceptualizing “love” in a way that could set us up for disaster, broken relationships, adultery, addictions to lust, and more. We are loving with a shallow and conditional love; not the love Jesus modeled. Perhaps you are thinking, “Ok smarty pants. So, what the heck is love then?”

How would you define love? 

Here of late, I have been studying the letter of 1 John I have been learning about love as though it was the first time, I had discovered it. I have also asked many people how they would define love. I have asked friends, I have asked my kids, I have even asked some strangers. Most answers have sounded as though they are coming from a lexicon and very intellectual. However, there was one person that stood out. They defined love using phrases like, “when something happens.” She was defining love through her own experiences from her past. This of course can be dangerous as many of us have both positive and negative experiences that can cloud our judgment and understanding of love. However, she defined love in the way John did in his letter: personal encounter and experience. John kicks off his letter (not his gospel) like this:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 

1 John 1:1-4

John highlights his experience of Jesus above all else. But experiencing “what” per se? What John is experiencing is love from God, as seen, experienced, and heard in JESUS. But it wasn’t just any love. It was a special kind of love that could not be found in a textbook or dictionary. A love that was hard to define. It was a love that was being defined on the fly as they observed Jesus and the Holy Spirit at work. On one in particular occasion, Jesus taught on love in such a way that the disciple Mark surely had never heard. In doing so, it created an experience for Mark that was so memorable he had to write it down in His Gospel about Jesus. 

On one occasion the disciple Mark (In Mark 12) observed Jesus talking with a religious leader. And he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important?” Jesus answered quoting Deut. 6:5, the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” So, Mark is thinking: “Ok! So, this is how Jesus defines love… an insatiable passion to love God only!” Well, not so fast Mark. Jesus then follows this up in Mark 12:31 with, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”

If they were defining this love by what they hear and see from Jesus, they would ask, “So is true love defined as a pure love for God or a love for our neighbor? Which is more important?” Jesus would answer, “Yes.” These disciples who wrote much of the Scriptures then began to define love not as an either/ or. True biblical love the way they experienced in Jesus was a beautiful and profound action of loving God and loving others in synergy. To the point where your love for God will be expressed by your love for people and your love of people will express your love for God. Two sides of the same coin.

Just imagine a figure 8. Turn it sideways. Now it represents infinity involving continuous loops. In one loop the label is “love God.” In the other loop it is “love people.” For Jesus, love was defined by an endless looping of loving God and loving people. While you may think this doesn’t exactly define love, you would be correct. Jesus wasn’t interested in defining Kingdom of God love. He was passionate about demonstrating it with both piety and compassion. This understanding of love was not common. 

Let’s take a step back and think about John, who like Mark, was there watching and hearing Jesus like this. These experiences John had by hearing and observing Jesus formed his theology of love. They shaped how he saw the world, loved his friends, family, and fellow Christians. This went for all of them. It wasn’t studying love in a dictionary or Jewish and Greek society that gave them this radical love. It wasn’t from their already built in DNA of wanting to experience love and give love. This was supernatural love.  

As the story continues, by the end of His life, Jesus was calling out their shallow definitions of love at many turns. This led to Jesus demonstrating the highest ideal of love: loving your enemies. Then as the disciples look back on an even larger scale, they realize that it was the power of God’s love for the world that caused Jesus to do this. 1 John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed his love among us, he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.” 

What could go wrong? 

It is clear that true biblical love is defined not intellectually but through experience with the power of God in Christ Jesus… the kind of love that is unexplainable and transforming, intrinsically connected to devotion to God and serving people—the same love that redeems us, picks us up, washes us up, and empowers us to live and love like Jesus—if it is clear that this love is what we are to love others with and God… What the enemy wants to do most is destroy this love within you. Let’s revisit both Johns Gospel and Letter.

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. 

John 3:19-21

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

1 John 1:5-6

John’s relationship with Jesus can be described like no other. It is a place of security, deep love, passion, and joy. Make no mistake, the reason he talks about love more than any other biblical writer is because he had the revelation of God’s love by what He experienced. In turn, this brought a security that the enemy could not touch. The same can apply to us today.  

Sigmund Freud tells the story of a three-year-old boy crying in a dark room of a home he was visiting one evening. “Auntie,” the boy cried, “talk to me! I’m frightened because it is so dark.” His aunt answered him from another room: “What good would that do? You can’t see me.” “That doesn’t matter,” replied the child. “When you talk, it gets light.” This child was not afraid of the dark but of the absence of someone he loved. What he needed to feel secure was presence. We all need the same; experiencing a loving presence is the ground of this basic sense of safety for all of us. You can’t get that in a book or a dictionary, only in experience and relationship. 

Throughout the Bible Darkness was always the presence of the enemy seeking to draw children of God into the shadows where the light of God’s love is hard to penetrate. John makes it clear that God is light and that is where we are to stay the best we can with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and indwelling. 

Do you then see that if we are not experiencing Jesus… we are setting ourselves up for a path in the darkness? In this place love becomes distorted. What we pursue becomes off track. We begin to settle for versions of love that are dysfunctional. We allow the love we are to possess for our spouse and children to decay into something foreign to agape. Our love for God and passion for His word and truth descends to a faint glimmer of a candle where there is no brightness. Add all this up and what you get is walking in the darkness, where evil and sin abounds. We end up getting used to life outside of God’s bright shining love. 

But that doesn’t have to be your story. Your understanding of how you are loved and your ability to love others is to be formed by experiencing and observing…JESUS. Its meditating on stories like the Pharisee and Tax Collector, Woman at the Well, Jesus with the poor, sick, and broken throughout Luke. It’s studying God in Hosea and how he suffered for Israel. The Holy Spirit will use the living Word to help you experience Jesus. At the church I pastor one of our core values is to be: Faithful in the basics: Scripture, Prayer, and Serving Others. This is how we encounter Jesus and form our theology of love. 

For the love of God…stay in the light!

I encourage you: stay in the light. Ask the Holy Spirit to shine brightly on the areas of your life that are remaining in darkness. Do you see any darkness within you that could be clouding your vision? They could be holding grudges and clinging to bitterness. Remember, to love your enemy. Don’t give them power over you. You may be in chains because of your bitterness. 

It could be carrying an offense from a situation outside of you. Please release it and love or others are steering your ship. Related to this It could be an unforgiving heart. Maybe you think someone, or something is so unforgivable. I understand that. But remember, at one point that was you when Jesus found you. Agape love does not withhold forgiveness. Sure, it will take time and a process of healing, but we must endeavor to move towards that place. And just remember, if you choose not to, then you yourself will not be forgiven before God. Jesus makes this painfully clear in Matthew 6:14-15 Are you prepared to be unforgiven? These and more are areas of darkness many of us possess within our hearts that are clouding out the light of Christ. 

But God is ready to set you free. To wash away any definition you may have of love; and flood your life with new experiences of His love which lead you into the light of his love with Him and with one another. But you gotta want it. You gotta pick up the cross. He won’t do that part for you. He went on the cross so you can pick up your own. When you do, you will discover love in such a new and powerful way that it will transform you. Think to yourself: 

You want to redeem your marriage? Fall in love with Jesus and do whatever it takes as He leads you. 

You want to be the parent your children deserve? Experience Jesus.

You want to live out you’re calling and purpose? Intentionally experience His love daily in prayer and the Word. 

Want to overcome your past experiences of pain and hurt? Allow the Spirit to give fresh revelation of identity. 

Want to overcome addictions to porn, greed, slander, anger, and more? Rediscover fulfillment through agape.  

Let’s ask the question one more time, “what… is… love?” I am not sure I will ever be able to answer this question appropriately, nor do I think I or anyone was created to. But I do know Who can. And that One is ready to lead us to the discovery of it in ways we have yet to ever experience.

Does Jesus seriously want this for me?

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:42-47

An Inconvenient Truth

There is a story of a man who had not gone to church for several years but suddenly stopped gathering. He fell out of community. His pastor dropped by one evening unannounced. The man answered the door and invited him in. Of course, he knew why his pastor was there. They went and sat in two chairs in front of a roaring fire. Neither man said anything. After a few minutes, the pastor picked up the fire tongs, took one of the logs out of the fire, and laid it on the hearth. The flames died down and flickered a few times before going out. They watched in silence as the log started to grow cold. After a while, the pastor once again picked up the fire tongs and put the smoldering log back with the other burning logs. It immediately burst back into flame. The pastor got up and said, “Well, I need to go now. But I’ve enjoyed our visit.” The man rose too and said, “I appreciate your message, pastor. I will be in church on Sunday.”

Whether you want to believe it or not; there is a truth that none of us can escape as Jesus followers: We are better together than we are apart. A log burns best with others; not alone and away from the flames. We are created in Christ to not only tolerate one another but to thrive. And so, we form this thing right here: what Jesus calls in Matthew 16, his “Church.”

Many of us are not entirely sure why the church or being in community is so important. Some have denigrated the need for it all together. We have produced a me-centered faith that would make community with other believers as an afterthought. I wish I could say it was the world doing this but its happening in the Church. Many leaders and authors have adapted the Gospel message to a wayward, “community disliking” culture and have placed self at the center. This results in churches who have truncated the Gospel message; wringing out any semblance of community and the need to do life with others like it was an oversaturated wash rag. What has taken place in consumer culture Christianity the West is immersed in is the opposite of what Jesus desires. And its true, don’t get me wrong, our faith does involve an emphasis on our personal relationship with God. But there’s more. It’s God calling, forming, saving, and redeeming a corporate people to live and exist… in community.  

This then makes the church not as an optional part in the plan of God reaching the lost,  but an essential part. Christ did not send his Holy Spirit only to individuals. Jesus always had community in mind. 

But let’s be real, there are times when the wounds the church gives are even more profound and complex than wounds suffered in the world. We can be injured by an abuse of power or a hypocritical action by a “brother or sister.” Any of us who have hung around the church long enough have a few scars to show. 

A Welcome Tension

And yet, here we are. We are the people Jesus has called out, anointed with His Holy Spirit, and desires to go into all the earth. And you may look around at your own church and think, “This is plan A?” Yes. And the reason it is such an amazing plan from God is that He will get all the glory through anything us misfits accomplish because it is only by God’s Grace that anything good can flow from us individually and as a church. This is all by design. 

So, we have some tension here we must acknowledge. On the one hand we have the truth that God has called a people to be set apart and display his power to an unbelieving world. On the other hand, we are all fallible and broken individuals coming to seek to grow in holiness and righteousness before God—prone to flesh. So, what do we do? 

We know we need one another. But it’s hard sometimes. And when in community, we are meant to be real, vulnerable, and able to be worthy of trust so we can walk with and lift each other. Right? The temptation by many is, “Well, I don’t know these people I have been burned, so I am going to just smile, pretend, and get my Jesus fix and I’m out!”

But what if I were to tell you that embracing this present tension and reality of “Jesus calls imperfect people to carry out His perfect will—together”—is actually the very church Jesus is looking for! The Church of Jesus Christ at large is a home not only for the morally upright but for the moral failures. For those who for a variety of reasons have not been able to “measure up.” As Brennan Manning once said, “The Church is a healing community proclaiming the Father’s indiscriminate love and unconditional grace, offering pardon, reconciliation and salvation to the down-trodden and leaving the judgment to God.” Does this mean we do not pursue holiness and sanctification? Of course not. But the Church that ignores the reality of the human experience and struggle with the flesh, will not fully understand the journey of helping one another towards wholeness. Infact, an expectation that we will not come into conflict at times or even dislike one another is lunacy. 

But going a step further, a Church that will not accept the fact that it consists of sinful people learning holiness and exists for sinful people to be made whole in Jesus, becomes hard-hearted, self-righteous, and inhuman.  As Hans Küng writes, “It deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust.” 

While this may not help the tension, it does show us how we are to embrace our humanity as a testimony to the world around us. That even though we are who we are, there is still something intangible about us, within us, and around us that is salt and light; inviting and convicting; inspiring and life changing. And what is that “something”? It’s what we see in Acts 2. It’s what the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 5:5-8. Pay close attention to the plural pronouns and how within us the Spirit of Love has been poured out!

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

How did the Early Church do this so well? What are we missing that they experienced, that could ease this tension and transform our church and community experiences?

Community Formed by the Holy Spirit 

The Acts 2 Scriptures above ought to cause two things to rise up within us. They ought to confirm the areas where we are in step and ought to convict us in the areas where we aren’t. Anytime we open up to learn about the first church we will usually get hit by the amazing beauty of their inclusiveness. The power of their boldness. The joy of their togetherness. The inspiration of the preference for one another. All of these—in many regards—are things we do not readily embrace in our own culture which makes it that much harder to see some of these traits in the church. So, what happens is, we think what we just read is impossible! We think, they were so perfect! We are so far from that! Not necessarily. 

I’ll never forget when I first became a Christian, I was so passionate about my faith and holiness and really pursuing Jesus. I was, and am, so black and white at times and was adamant that the book of Acts had it right and we just had to get back to the “Early Church.” It was a mentor though who sat me down and walked me through all the issues Paul is addressing in the NT. Incest, people getting drunk on communion wine, infighting, members suing one another, and more. These people were a mess! But God used the early Church, so much!  The power of the early church was not in their money, privilege, or societal influence. The power of this “New Thing” God was doing in the land was found in what we already read from Paul: The Spirit and Love. But lets go deeper… Look at 1 Corinthians 12:13 

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

When Paul says this, he is not giving some vague cliché like we are all part of the same team. No. He is going much deeper than that. In referencing the gifts of the Spirit that are in operation among those baptized in the Spirit he explains basically that these are taking place because all of us have drank from the same Holy Spirit. We are all connected in this way. 

The Holy Spirit of God is the life of the church. He is the fire, motivator, and glue that keeps community together as well as moving forward in the purposes of Jesus. Think about it for a moment: We see here in Acts 2:42-48 a group of people like the Jews have never seen! They are selling their goods; they are giving to any who had need. Insane! 

None of this is obligatory. The Essenes (a religious group during the days of Jesus) were similar, but they had to sell their possessions and hold nothing as their own. They freely chose and volunteered to live this way and to love one another to this degree. That’s the Spirit of God! Because they all sought the same Spirit, they were all transformed by the same Spirit. When the Holy Spirit moves in your life as you yield to Him—transformation comes. I have seen it and experienced it time and time again. 

This past week I was walking the trails at Quail Hollow, a park near where I live. I was in the woods from about 9-4:30 for a day of prayer. The Spirit showed me something powerful. There is a little river I usually sit by. But right now, there is no water. And so, all the stones are sitting there. I heard the Spirit say, “Remember in the Spring season when the water flows?” I then remembered how I was amazed how the water would rush through and move the rocks in piles together and saturate everything. The Lord helped me see this as a picture of what the Church is supposed to be vs. what it often is for us. We are dry, separated, and situated in one place. But the Spirit is that river which saturates, moves, and brings together the church just as the water does those rocks.

When you begin to seek the Spirit of God like we have been discussing and are filled and baptized in Him, you begin to see things through the lens of what Jesus desires. And 10 times out of 10 that lens will involve “others.” Doing life together, befriending others, sharing the Gospel with others, learning from others, sharing with others, serving others, loving others—others! But the Church cannot succeed in this as well as us individually unless we are being moved by the Holy Spirit of God in prayer, Word, and community. 

If you are still with me, there’s a chance you may be giving some pushback mentally.  Don’t worry, I get it and have lived in that place. I would think and say things like, “I don’t need church. I can worship anywhere. I don’t need others. They annoy me, hurt me, and break my trust.” Been there. I have felt those same things. 

In fact, there’s a great story of a man who didn’t want to go to church at all on a certain Sunday morning. He said to his wife, “I have three great reasons why I shouldn’t have to be at Church and in community this morning. 1) they don’t like me, 2) It isn’t fun, and 3) I got hurt there. The wife looked at him, said, “Hunny, I’ll give you three reasons why you need to go to church this morning. 1) You are loved, 2) There are amazing people there, and 3) You are the pastor sweetie, so you have to go this morning.” This may or may not have been me at one time or another as a pastor. 

But I have grown over the years and have learned deeply, that we need each other. The will of Jesus is that His Church be in community, tightly knit, lifting the burdens of one another. 

The Spirit of God healed and empowered them to do amazing things-together

They proclaimed the Gospel together

They were discipled together in the Apostles doctrine. 

They had fellowship together

They were prayed and filled with the Spirit together

They had meals together

Do you see how important community is in the plan of God for your own health and growth?

The early church was known for being together. But it wasn’t just because the Spirit was poured out. It was, going back to what Paul said, what the Spirit of God poured into their hearts and minds: TRANSFORMING LOVE. 

A Community Known for its Love 

Jesus talks about this kind of transforming love in John 15:9-12. He says, 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

The desire of Jesus for His Spirit-filled church was not that they would be known for their power, mystical experiences, amazing prophecy, miracles, or anything else. He desired that His church and his disciples would be known for one thing above all else: Love. Following this Spirit-Filled love is everything else. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:1 and everyone one of us hears at weddings, 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

The early church understood this. The Spirit of Love, being poured out in their hearts as Paul said above, motivated them to want to be together, help one another, and serve those who needed help. It propelled them to share the message to people who were lost and dying. Love compelled them. This is the highest form of joy we can give the Father is by loving one another. Jesus said it! When you love your brother or sister or even a stranger, you are directly pouring love out to Jesus Christ. It’s crazy when you realize how important loving one another in community really is. In His simple command to love one another Jesus had implicitly given us everything for which the human mind searches and the human heart longs for. He taught in John 14:21-23 that he would be intimately present and within those who obey his commandments… which are centered around loving one another. This doesn’t happen on islands. It happens with action.  

In fact, did you know that in the entire 28 chapters of the book of Acts the word “love” is not found. Not once. Instead, we see Luke giving us story after story, action after action, of the love of the Spirit compelling simple and redeemed people to do extraordinary things. 

This is what you are created for. Don’t hold this love of Jesus to yourself. Give it to another. Write a letter to someone who you have hurt. Seek to forgive an offender. Invite someone into your home. This deep love of Jesus was meant to be given, not stored. Husbands the greatest place you can worship Jesus is in your home loving and cherishing and nourishing your wife. Oh, how I wish I could say I was perfect at this. The same goes for wives. Mothers and fathers—love and nurture Christ in your children. Your mission field is right there. Jesus loves you for you so you will love others too. 

Can you imagine trying to scoop up water shooting out of a fire hose and try to put it back in the hose and get it to travel back to where it came from? We do this with God! He is an eternal fire hose of indiscriminate and unfair love and grace that pours out upon his beloved people—us. And we, like fools, think the purpose is for us to love him back only! No! We are meant to take that love that is coming out and share it in community. This is what forms a movement of the Gospel reaching others. 

An Invitation to Community

And so, we have an invitation from the Holy Spirit To enter into community. To be real, vulnerable, and honest. It’s risky; but it’s what Jesus desires. If we will allow the Holy Spirit to put us back into the fire—maybe just maybe, we may realize that all along, the reason we did not feel Gods peace, Gods power, or anything making sense was not because God was distant… but we were. 

I encourage you to get into community. Not just going to church. I mean being the church with other people. Sharing with, trusting, befriending others because the love of Jesus within you compels you. Where there are wounds from others—give them to the Lord for healing. Seek wisdom and counsel. Above all, do not walk away from community. For when that happens, whatever fire may be in you will surely die out like a log taken from the fire; flickering away into a cold and hardened existence. That isn’t what God has for you. 

Others need who you are. You have so much to give.

You need who others are. They have so much to give.

What if I get hurt? Don’t worry. You will be. Community with others was never about convenience. It was always about transformation. Period.

This is how Jesus modeled it then and desires it for your life today.

What Jesus Began… He Continues Today; In You.

What Jesus Began… He Continues Today; In You.

I want to encourage you with something today. Something maybe you have forgotten. Its this: Jesus still changes lives, heals the sick, and sets the oppressed free; just as He did in the pages of Scripture. It could be physical healing or it could be the victory over a destructive habit—no situation in our lives is too far out of reach for the power of God in Christ Jesus to reach us. The timing and method is with God—but I know that He still does them through His Holy Spirit. 

This past week in our church there was a woman physically healed from severe pain in her legs. She walked down with a cane praying for physical healing. She walked back without the cane. The following week a man got up to share how Jesus had set him free in his life from various things that he had been carrying for so long. The common thread in all of this? Jesus is still at work changing lives. But I am not sure many of us still believe this. 

In fact, it seems there are two kinds of people in the Church: There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively.

There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively. 

The first group lives with a confidence that Jesus is still at work both within as well as through their own lives to others. They are those who are seeking to love and serve others, share the message of Jesus, helping others to repent and join the church, those who are boldly praying for the sick, casting out demonic spirits, and more. They are a people of action.  

The second group lives with a theoretical knowledge that Jesus was who he said he was. They ascribe the right doctrinal beliefs. They seek to do good, be kind, tip their waiter well, tolerate and love all people, smile on walking paths, mind their own business, and then wait to die to go to heaven. They are a people of passivity.  

You may find yourself in one of these groups. I pray it is the former. Maybe you’re thinking, “But I go to church! Why wouldn’t I be at church if I wasn’t passionate?” I get it. But does that equate to being the passionate disciple of Jesus that He is looking for? My dad always told me growing up that “Going into a church building doesn’t make you a Jesus follower anymore than walking into a garage makes you a car.” He would tell me this to remind me that to be a Jesus follower is what matters most. 

The reality is that Jesus wants all of you so that he can transform all of you. He wants more than your Sunday attendance or confessions when you messed up. He wants all of you so that you can experience His full love, and truth, as well as enlist you in His Kingdom work. We do not have the option of being one foot in and one foot out. Jesus taught the opposite in fact. Jesus says in Revelation 3:15-16 the following blunt truth. 

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The Holy Spirit is looking for women and men of God set on fire for Jesus, not lukewarm. Joyful, passionate, excited about the potential that Jesus offers for themselves and others who are lost because they are needed—What Jesus began; He continues today. In fact we can take this deeper. Not only does his work continue today but his Kingdom still reigns as well. 

The Kingdom Jesus Began… Still Reigns. In You.

Luke writes in his Gospel that there were those who did not realize Jesus still lived and reigned. Here is a sample from Luke 24:36-39, 44-49 NIV

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”….44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 

Early in the chapter before the above, we have two men walking on a road and the resurrected Jesus appears to them in their sad and mourning state as they thought Jesus was gone, hope was dead. He appears to the disciples and speaks very clear instructions to them in what we read this morning. They too were startled unsure that Jesus was really alive—even though He told them this would happen. In both cases He helps them come back to life as effective witnesses for His truth. Essentially what he is doing is reminding them that “Everything I told all of you. Everything that was spoken about me in the Word. Everything I did while among you: healing, providing, loving, releasing, and more—all of it is still for today.”

Luke then writes a sequel to all of this called “Acts” which has been called the Acts of the Apostles but is more appropriately named the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of what happens next after Jesus resurrected and ascended to the Father. Essentially, it is our story. There was no expiration date on the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Luke says in Acts in 1:1-3:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Do you see how Luke writes, “…what Jesus began to do and to teach…” Luke is affirming that even though he ascended, Jesus began “something.” Something best defined as the reign of God’s Kingdom here in our time and space. Jesus could have discussed anything with them. But he chose to speak of the Kingdom of God. 

This Kingdom is the reign of God that pushes back the evil and darkness. Beginning first in the hearts of humans who respond in faith, and then permeating their thoughts, words, actions, and manner of life. This is where we get the understanding of the “victorious life.” That even through difficulty, tribulation, and even death—we still reign with Jesus. This victorious life is Kingdom living. 

In our desire to be understanding and empathetic we will often cater to the more difficult and broken parts of our stories in a desire to be real and authentic to be relatable. We could call this “Messy Spirituality.” While sometimes needed, we must remember that Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us. 

This means we are to pursue a holy life. Free of sin. Free of addictions, secret sin, perversions of the flesh, and everything else that damages our relationship with the Lord. We can be set free. His Kingdom still CAN reign in our thoughts and actions.  

Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us.

The desire of God is that His Kingdom would reign in our lives victoriously. We are to be those “New Creations” that the world sees and is attracted to. 2 Corinthians 5:17 brings this to light:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

We are to be new creations because of Jesus. We are not to resemble the world but rather be those who are called out of it. We are the New Creations who are still living in the “Acts of the Holy Spirit…” We are those who bring this same Kingdom in thought, word, and action—resembling the life of Jesus—to those whom God places in our path.

Two things will happen as you read that statement above. You will either feel emboldened by it, encouraged, and recharged and passionate to commune with the Spirit and receive instruction. Or you will feel a large disconnect followed by feelings of unworthiness, defeat, and shame because you are not living your full potential of divine purpose in Christ. I beg you to remember that there is hope. Our God is an amazing God of mercy and promise! He knows and always knew that we would need help to continue the work of Jesus and expand His Kingdom today!  

So lets think this through together: What Jesus began… he continues today in our time and space. The Kingdom Jesus brought… still reigns today in our time and space. But there is one more peace to this that Luke shows us in Acts 1:4-5:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

What Jesus Promised… Is Still Here. For You.

What Jesus Promised… is still for you. This is the missing part. But what in fact did he promise? He said, “You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I can imagine the disciples hearing the commands of Jesus to GO and do this and do that. The fear and anxiety of doing it alone without Him must have been unimaginable. 

But Jesus promised them. It was an ancient promise. It was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. And when the masses thought they were all drunk and crazy because they heard them praying in tongues, Peter got up and boldly said something that was to forever alter the church moving forward to present day. Look at Acts 2:38-39:

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 

For as many… The promise still holds true today. For you. Jesus promised help. Help has come. You do not have to do any of this alone. Continuing the work of Jesus isn’t easy. Submitting to the Lordship of Jesus and His Kingdom in our lives isn’t easy. The Holy Spirit of God is our greatest friend and ally in learning how to overcome and walk in wisdom.  

You would be crazy NOT to embrace this gift and allow it (Him) to saturate you… right? Or think of it this way. If I gave you 1 dollar but promised you I could give you 20, what would you say? If I gave you a toy car but promised you there was a real car in the parking lot for you, what would you say? In both cases, you would receive with joy the 20 dollars and the new car. This is the same reality many are living in their pursuit of Jesus. We are settling for a drop when we were promised rushing rivers. Jesus makes this clear in John 7:37-39.

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” c 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. 

A River Awaits

This river is for you; the local church; the church in this nation—we are to be a river of God’s justice and goodness flowing to all who are in need of the message of the Gospel. So ask yourself: What am I scared of? What holds me back from being filled with God’s Spirit again and again? What frightens me about the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Why am I playing it safe keeping one foot in and one foot out? 

I promise you this. Jumping head first into the things of God brings about a joyful transformation that nothing on this planet could touch. And you know what else? So much is on the line.  I think about marriages. How will they survive if both are not receiving the transformation from the Holy Spirit? I think about women and men. How will we battle the onslaught of the enemy in this world with lust, power, identity issues, insecurities, anxieties, greed, and more—unless we are filled and overflowing with God’s Spirit? I think about our children. How will they be raised up in the ways of Jesus if us parents are not being led by the Spirit through daily time in the Word and prayer? It wont happen. We must be intentional and saturate ourselves with the Spirit of God.

Connect the dots with me. If what Jesus began still continues today… if His Kingdom he began still reigns today… and if the Promise of the Holy Spirit is the One He gave his disciples (us) to achieve those first two… wouldn’t it make sense for the Enemy to get every single one of us to be weary, lukewarm, cynical, stuck, passionless, and defeated? He is winning if that’s the case in your life. But John tells us in 1 John 4:4 that, “He who is within you is greater than He who is within the world.” 

Rise Up Woman/ Man of God. Your Helper Is Here.

So I encourage you today. Rise up man of God. Rise up woman of God. You are called and anointed by God to overcome with the Holy Spirit within you. The sin which plagues your thoughts—can be overcome. The shameful acts committed in darkness—can be destroyed. The toxic decisions and habits made again and again—can be overcome. How? By submitting, repenting, and asking Jesus to baptize you in His Holy Spirit. You dedicate more time to prayer and the Scriptures and daily asking to be Filled for that day’s work—and watch and see what the Holy Spirit will do. Nothing has changed. Jesus is still in the business of setting people free. 

Last week I got a message. A woman I know well was an atheist for many years. But a long time ago she heard the Gospel of Jesus preached by myself, Michelle, and others. Years later she found herself experiencing demonic oppression and satanic attacks. She remembered the name of Jesus! She began to cry out “Jesus!” She spoke with me days later telling me she was experiencing peace and things were better. She brought books and items that were not of God to be destroyed here to the church to get rid of them. These messages didn’t shock me one bit. You know why? Because what Jesus began; he still continues today. 

So which are you?

Do you follow Jesus actively?

Or do you like Jesus passively?

Jesus is ready to set you on fire with His Holy Spirit. But are you?

The Most Important Need for the Church Today.

What is Needed Most for Your Life? For the Church?

I am sure many will have their own opinion as to what matters most for Christians and Christianity at a time when both are negatively portrayed in virtually every medium. Some will say there needs to be a restoration of love. Others will plead that we must return to prayer. Some might say the most important thing for the Church is serving the community where each is planted. Others might add that welcoming society’s outcasts and becoming more inclusive may be what is needed most. All are appropriate answers. But not the right answer. Subjective? Maybe. But allow me to be the one who will propose what most would not answer as the most important need for today: the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Before you associate me with fringe Christian individuals and write me off among those who have done bizarre, fleshly, and unbiblical things saying the “holy spirit” told them to do it; just hear me out and know that that is not me.

Let’s think for a moment. What was it that begun this entire thing called “the Church?” Of course we can point to Matthew 16 and Peter’s revelation of who Jesus was. And this being the beginning of the church since Jesus says literally, “Upon this rock (this revelation) I will build my church.” But we are talking after He resurrected.

So, was it radical inclusivity? Was it deep love and slogans about loving your neighbor? Was it a unifying push to see social programs be offered in every nook and cranny of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and in the ends of the Earth? It wasn’t. it was none of those things. What put a “crooked generation” (Peter’s words in Acts, not mine) on notice was not one of these common items we often espouse as solutions to the lukewarmness of the Church. What it was, was this: the very power of God through the Baptism in the Holy Spirit which set the church ablaze with love; demonstrating the unquestionable power of God enabling them to add to their numbers daily.

No lights. No smoke. No podiums. No projectors. No committees. No buildings. No sermon series. No themes. No programs. No “catalyst”, “cutting edge,” or “dynamic” groups (or whatever catchy names we adore). No money. No building programs. No Awanas. No Christian cliches. No Christian Shirts or festivals. No bumper stickers. No freedom of religion. They had none of it. Only the Holy Spirit. They did more… with far less… and the more we have… we have done far less with.

Coming back to this thought of what is needed most; when we make the fruit of something the focal point we miss the place from where it stems. Things like love, welcoming our neighbor, sharing our goods, transforming our community, prayer and more—all of this is meant to come from individuals saturated and overflowing with the Holy Spirit of God, who was poured out upon the church for these very purposes. He is the vine where these things grow in our lives (Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit). He and His power is where all of our common notions of what is needed most come from–granted they are biblical and from above. And so, we do not exist as social clubs on street corners turning our noses up at the masses. We exist as one entitity spread out across the globe unitied by a common Spirit who empowers, enlivens, and baptizes all Jesus followers for effective demonstration of the power of God–not eloquence of speech (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Whether it be the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 or the leadership gifts of Ephesians 4:11-12 or even the motivational gifts in Romans 12—the Church is gifted to make a difference. We have all of this at our disposal and yet we have often neglected Who catalyzes all of it—the Holy Spirit who sets us ablaze with His abilities. At the very least we pay homage to Him and slap His name on our agendas like He is in the distant background akin to a Buddha sculpture on a shelf in a local Chinese restaurant.

I laugh when I am often pidgeon holed as some “Pentecostal” or crazy “charismatic” because I teach and encourage that all should be baptized in the Holy Spirit, pray in heavenly language, and seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why wouldn’t I? Its literally what Scripture teaches. It isn’t a status marker. One group is not better than the other. I am merely communicating there is a clear pattern in the Bible. So… you must teach in the flow of the Word and the Early Church. Because I am adamant about this, I have had people leave my own church because I emphasize the Holy Spirit in this way. I have had people mock me as the “Holy Spirit guy.” At each turn though, I go back to the Word, read it over, and find again and again—this is the normal biblical pattern for effective Christian witness. There is no other way.

Because we refuse to accept this is the only way to truly be effective HIS way, we are a powerless church in many places. We are lukewarm and adulterous preachers—forsaking the anointing of the Holy Spirit for the gimmicks of the world. We long to see God move and complain when He does not. We possess dreams and visions and yet forget only the Holy Spirit can bring them to life.

You must know the feeling. Something deep down is missing. You read and study the same Bible I do. You read the same stories of people just like you and I. Is there not a part of you that longs to see the supernatural? Is there not a part of you that aches deep inside for a revival that spreads like a wild fire? Where you family, children, friends, spouse, co-workers and others—heck, even your fellow church members—come to radical life filled by the Holy Spirit? Filled and transformed just like those so long ago? I long to live within, serve under, and embody true revival in my own community. Shouldn’t all of us? We need the same Spirit poured out in the same way as so long ago.

That Day So Long Ago

The Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. Following the ascension of Jesus, Luke (the author of Acts) tells us that the 120 were waiting and praying in one accord for the promise of the Father (Baptism in the Holy Spirit) for effective witnessing. Note that we also learn this small group of Christians (the Church) were also in one accord. They were unified in their pursuit of this promise from Jesus in Acts 1. This brings to the surface a principle in need of recovery for today: spiritual agreement in prayer is a prerequisite for receiving the power of God for the church collective.

As already said, this Feast of Pentecost occurred 50 days after Passover. It was one of three major Jewish feasts commanded by God:

1. Feast of Passover – a week of giving thanks for God’s deliverance out of Egyptian bondage. 

2. Feast of the First Fruits – a day of giving thanks for the birth and growth of new crops and the beginning of the harvest season. 

3. Feast of Tabernacles – a week of giving thanks for the end and completion of the harvest season.

Pentecost was also known as “Day of the First Fruits (Num. 28:26), the Feast of Weeks,” (Ex. 34:22) or the “Feast of the Harvest.” Is it not surprising that this is the day God chose for the birth of the Church. The early church begins and ends with a focus on the harvest. This was no coincidence. Especially when reading Matthew 28:18-20 and Jesus’ Great Commission of “Go into all the earth…”

And so on this day the Church was consumed with what God prescribed as the most important thing post-resurrection of Jesus. It was a day marked with an audible sound like a mighty wind in that upper room. On the 120 present there were “tongues of fire” within/upon each that appeared as resting upon them. There was a sudden release of known languages involving at least 15 people groups depending on who you ask.

Some witnessing this phenomenon were receptive and inquiring. Others were mocking which still holds true for today. Many will always resist and some will always receive. This is the reality of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Shockingly, it continues to be an area of contention in many corners of Christianity except where revival is happening the most: the global south. Go figure.

Where Do You Land?

So, where do you land? I wonder how much of your understanding or reaction to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit been influenced by different church traditions? Assuming you have heard of this biblical experience and empowerment before. Many arrive at different conclusions. Perhaps it may be one or a combination of the following for you:

  • I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
  • Spirit baptism takes place at conversion and there is no subsequent Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:13).
  • The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an endowment of power for service subsequent to salvation with praying/speaking in tongues (also known as heavenly language) as the initial physical evidence.
  • Although tongues may accompany the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, any of the gifts may serve as evidence.
  • The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; additional awareness of the Spirit’s ongoing presence is available in the rite of confirmation.
  • The Baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues, spiritual gifts, signs, wonders, and miracles were temporary gifts unique to the primitive church and unnecessary after the canonization of Scripture (1Cor. 13:8-10).
  • Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a specific experience and there is additional power available, but its optional and the role of praying in tongues is unimportant.

What Exactly is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?

No matter where we fall, we must be wise to recognize what is shaping our conviction on a life filled with the Holy Spirit and to make sure it is in alignment with the Word of God. Scripture is clear that there is a subsequent experience to salvation. It is also clear that all who follow Jesus are to be baptized in the Holy Spirit for effective witness and anointing to do the ministry of Jesus. Yes, we have the Spirit at the point of new birth. However, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is, as has already been stated, the literal immersion into the power of God, in His Holy Spirit for effective witnessing to the Kingdom of God. Not to mention the anointing to defeat the strongholds of the enemy in our own lives and to then walk in freedom and holiness.

It is not a one time thing we mark on a calendar. It is a continual refilling we seek to experience which is kicked off by receiving in faith, exercising the gift of heavenly language in prayer, and seeking to be filled daily or seek until we exercise heavenly language in prayer. The point is, we don’t stop. Acts 4:31 makes this clear as the same disciples were again baptized in the Holy Spirit and anointed just as Jesus was.

Peter says in Acts 10:38 that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Are we better than Jesus that we do not need to be filled and anointed with the Holy Spirit? Or when Jesus says in John 14:12 that we (his disciples) will do greater things because He goes to the Father—don’t we need to be equipped as Jesus was? Who also said in Acts 1:8 to wait for the promise from the father. For it was then he said that we “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…”

I have always modeled, taught, and instructed that this is an additional experience stemming from the initial work the Holy Spirit began at repentance and salvation. I have wavered at different times in the past due to my own wrestling. However, I no longer can. Scripture is clear. This is the clear biblical pattern. For example, look over these five key examples:  Acts 2:4 // Acts 8:14-15 // Acts 9:17-22 // Acts 10:44-46 // Acts 19:6-7. 

So what essentially does all of this mean for the Church of today? The following…

  1. Gods plan and purpose is for all followers of Jesus to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, pray in heavenly language, and employ the gifts of the Spirit as He distributes for effective ministry and the tearing down of strongholds internal and external. Those who say this isn’t for them: why deny or refuse to seek all God has for you? Only that person and the Church at large will suffer in the end.
  2. This baptism (apart from salvation and apart from water baptism) is the fulfillment of the prophet Joel from 800 years before Pentecost. In the book of Joel he writes there would be (5) key elements of this out pouring that began in Acts and continues today: 1) the outpouring of the Spirit on ALL flesh, 2) prophecy, 3) visions and dreams, 4) signs and wonders, 5) and salvation to all who follow Jesus. 

Conclusion

Lest we try and think all of this was exclusive to those early believers. I beg you not to forget what Petersays to those who were “cut to the heart” asking what they should do after hearing the mighty things of God being declared in numerous unknown and known languages in Acts 2. He says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.

The promise is still here. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is still here. Heavenly language in prayer with God is still here. Physical healing is still here. Signs and wonders are still here. Prophecy, visions, words of wisdom, faith, words of knowledge, and more—all is still present under the guidance and infilling of the Holy Spirit. Nothing has changed. Repentance and submission is still the key. The promise was for them and all who were to come. 

I pray we are filled with radical faith and trust to rekindle our passion for Him–the Holy Spirit who alone can enable us to effectively minister to a lost and dying society steeped in identity confusion, godlessness, and moral corruption. But may it begin in our churches first.

So, it only makes sense then to affirm that what is most important and needed for the church of today is that which was given to the Church first and foremost: a Baptism of fire in the Holy Spirit.

Want to reach your neighbors? Want to know how to communicate with boldness? Want to experience the clarity of the voice of Jesus internally and the Scriptures come to life? Do you dream of your church living with such deep and unconditional love that permeates your surrounding neighbors and community? Societal ills combatted? These and more… we must be filled with the Holy Spirit and lead the way.

Lastly, I encourage you whether alone or in your next time of prayer with others. Review Acts 2. Ask the Holy Spirit to baptize you as Jesus did them with the Holy Spirit and fire. Accept and receive in faith. Yield your vocal chords to the Holy Spirit and begin to speak and pray aloud as you feel the Holy Spirit moving through you. Remember that Acts says they began to pray in 2:4 as the Spirit gave them utterance. In other words, it takes two to tango. Begin to accept the Gift and walk with boldness nurturing your newfound relationship with the Holy Sprit with times of prayer and reading of Scripture. Begin to testify immediately with the new boldness you have received! Need help in this? Email me at NoahDSchumacher@gmail.org.

And remember, if any of this seems odd to you… especially praying in an unknown heavenly language…just remember this: you believe a dead guy came back to life and came out of a locked stone tomb three days after being dead. Is this not the epitome of supernatural? As much as some would like to, we do not get to pick and choose which supernatural parts of our faith are acceptable and which are not. I pray that the Church in the West would be set free from our closed in, non demonstrative, and at times boring approach to the greatest news the world has ever known.

So I beg you. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. Do not quench His activity in your life and the Church. He is all we have. He is what we need most. And currently, His fire and baptism is what is needed most in the Church at large if we have any hope to bring in the harvest; to bring as many into the Kingdom of God as possible. Isn’t that the point?

The Insanity of God’s Love

The love of God and the love of Man

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days. 

Hosea 3:1-5

Years ago I was walking parts of Canton, OH during an evangelism night. I would go looking for individuals just hanging out and make friends, pray for any needs, and share the message of Christ where there were any openings. Well, I came across an older lady and she had a child with her. She was outside her apartment at the door. I introduced myself and we talked about simple things. She then asked me what I was doing in their area. I explained I was a Christian and I was seeing if there was anyone I could pray for, meet with, and share about the love of God. She responded, “oh, that’s nice.” 

But then she opened up in a profound way. We talked about her previous marriages, divorces, physical and emotional abuse she had been in, the pain of being physically abused. It was heart breaking. She then said, “that’s what i struggle to understand… that you are here talking about a loving God, but these men said they loved me.”  This led us down a long convo outside her door about the nature of God’s love vs. The broken love of humans. She quickly realized she had always lumped them together. I passionately explained to her how the love of God and especially the love of Jesus is nothing this world has ever seen or known. 

Near the end she began to begin to cry. I mean tears upon tears upon tears. She said, “I have always grown up hearing about that love but I just always thought it must have not been for me but for others.” 

What broke my heart about that was how she viewed herself as a person underserving of God’s beautiful and deep love. Unfortunately this is not uncommon. An experiment… if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think? A surprising number of us would be quick to use words like, “disappointment, hard worker, failure, and more.” We would use adjectives like these and every single one would be the opposite of how God sees us.  

In most cases it is usually our sin, we believe, that catches God’s attention first and foremost. That was the case for the woman I met that day as well as many of us. The consequences of this assumption is catastrophic for our experience of God’s love in this life. 

The Love of God is…

Regardless of what you have come to believe about God based upon your life experience, the truth is that when God thinks of you, love swells in his heart. God overflows with love for you; for humans. He is far from being emotionally uninvolved with his creation. God’s bias towards us is strong, persistent, and positive. Our God chooses to be known as love, and that love pervades every part of his relationship with us. 

Does this truth minimize sin? Of course not. Because sin does not change how God feels about humans. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. God is simply not that fickle. Like loving parents who see their child make a wrong decision—do you love this child less? Of course not. God loves us with a love that is not dependent upon our behavior. 

Christians who assume the opposite tend to live their lives focusing on sin and performance more so than the depth and beauty of God’s love. These are those who believe they are honoring God by focusing on sin as much as they can. At times this group will judge other christians for not taking sin as seriously as they do. This group tends to become uncomfortable with divine love and feel an urgent need to balance this love out by highlighting God’s hatred of sin. The saddest part is that this group will often give verbal recognition that such a deep and divine love exists; yet they will fail to experience much of it while they live their lives. 

On the flip side though, the one who can live their lives secure and at rest in the truth that God is head over heels in love with them as his daughter or son—what a different trajectory that one will experience than the others. Why? Because they are remaining in relationship with christ. Relationship with God is not found in performance or hatred of sin. Relationship with God is found in remaining in the very love of God:  

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:9-13

Do you see the primacy of love? 

What we see in Jesus was God’s heart all along. Hosea’s passionate plea for Israel to be faithful is not some original idea he woke up with and heard from God. The prophets and leaders before him were crying out for Israel to return to the divine and deep love seen in the garden of Eden. Even for us as Christians, the story of Jesus’ love for you and i did not begin with him…it began in genesis in the creation narrative. 

When this narrative in genesis is read as science, we are missing it. The goal of the biblical writer as well as the Hebrew language being used is not meant to be a scientific text. It was written as a love poem giving the origin story of humanity. Is it truth? Of course. Did God create the heavens and the earth? Of course. It is truth. But the entire narrative of truth rests on a deep love story between God and those he created.

And so, created from love and for love, human beings ran from this divine love in pursuit of what seemed to be “freedom.” The result was catastrophic. Freedom turned into bondage. Intimacy turned into alienation. Genuine love was reduced to self-love. All of this resulting in deep pride and unimaginable estrangement from our true selves and how God created us to be. Sin was the ultimate killer of faithful covenant love between God and us and has, ever since, led us into diluted and dysfunctional definitions and pursuits of love and intimacy. Many of us have been there, are there. We were never meant to stay in this place. Neither was Israel. 

God’s love for us is transforming… 

Hosea is living for us, with visible symbolism, the pain that God is feeling because of this rupture. His heart is in agony. Hosea is called to marry a woman who has been a prostitute and bear children with her. This prophetic action is illustrating how God, who is full of love, is patiently waiting for Israel to return to him and be faithful in return. But it isn’t happening. Its getting worse. 

Just when we think it is over, God goes further with Hosea. Look again at what Hosea is to do in an effort to rescue his bride

Read Hosea 3:1-3 above again. But slowly.

Can you imagine this? Hosea wakes up. He hears the rumors. He rushes to find gomer at the market. She isn’t there. He panics and hopes to God she did not return to the streets or to her pimp. He hopes she did not go back to prostituting herself. He thinks to himself, “why would she leave my love I am giving her, our love we have in marriage, and seeking “fake love” in these ways?!?” So he goes and finds her pimp. Poses as a customer. And says, “ill take that girl over there.” He pays for her. She comes and finds her customer. With shame she realizes its her husband. Hosea brings her back home. Literally brings her away from where she was because why? Because he loves her too much to be at peace with her decision to be in that place.] We will come back to this insane scenario but…

Lets not miss something so important about God’s love: Hosea shows us that the way to return to the place of God’s love and faithfulness is not a passive acceptance of where gomer is or where we are; but a shifting of our intentions, thinking, and actions, to leave that current place and journey into a new one. Do you see this? The love of man is passive and based on acceptance. It is focused on self and ego. Whatever makes you feel good…however you want to define yourself… love is love. For the world? Yes. This is true. For the love found within the kingdom of God? It is the opposite. The love of God is relentless and founded upon transformation. 

Hosea could not rest with his wife on the street. God cannot rest with his children living in sin. Does it change how much he loves them? Of course not! But it does not equally change his jealousy and passion for them to live lives that are being transformed by his love. 

This divine love of God, the love Jesus speaks of and Hosea demonstrates is transformative. Continually. If ever a message is preached or proclaimed that gives love without transformation—that is not the gospel. Repentance (turning from sin) is a foundational part of our faith. How can we discover true divine love if we do not leave behind our broken attempts at love? 

God’s desire was always to find a people for himself, call them out from the world, and show them his deep and divine love so that they could then show the rest of the world that same deep and divine love. To do this, the people must be called out. This means repentance, leave their old life for a new—because the true deep love from above is so inviting that they cannot help but be transformed by it. 

I have often loved with condition. I have often lived trying to earn God’s love. Not a decade ago. More like a week ago. The enemy’s fingerprints are upon all of our lives when it comes to the love we give to others. We must be aware of it and consume ourselves with his love to protect us. But you know where all of this begins? In our own thinking. We asked the question, “if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think?” Perhaps adjectives like “unfixable, unlovable, unworthy” come into our mind. 

What lengths will this love go?

What is most often missed in Hosea 3 is the reality of the lengths God will go to show love to his beloved—those who think they are “unfixable, unlovable, and unworthy.” We already saw what Hosea did. But lets look for a moment not at “what” but “how” he did it. 

 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.

Hosea 3:2

He bought a person who was already his. Do you see this? And he does this for fifteen shekels of silver and some barley. For comparison, Exodus 21:32 says a slave cost 30 shekels, and joseph was sold for twenty in Genesis 37:28. So Hosea goes and pays a little less than a slaves wage to get back his wife from the pimp. He didn’t have to! She was his wife! But Hosea goes and brings her home to a place of safety where true love is found and he says, “stay here for many days and remain with me, and I will remain with you!” This is not Hosea making her his slave. This is not Hosea commanding her she must stay. This is Hosea, acting in the place of God, saying, “I know that you are already mine! I love you so much that even when you leave me again and again and return to your ways, I will search for you, I will find you, and I will pay the cost to have you back to me!” 

“I don’t know Noah. You think that shows a “great cost”? I mean, it was less than the price of a slave.” Ok. Fair enough. How about this… 

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 

Though Hosea obeyed God, showing gomer the deep love and faithfulness of God, in the long run, Israel still was Israel. And so, God did it a second time. But this time it was not with the price of a slave; but rather the price of a King. But not just any king. God’s personified love was found in the person and teaching of Jesus who came from above. Who suffered a horrendous death and sacrifice as a means to usher you into a true revelation and encounter of God’s “garden” love. 

Many have experienced this love. They are experiencing all of it through Jesus and their lives are being transformed becoming holy, free from the pain and delusion of sin. But for many others, we are still trapped living as spiritual orphans and slaves This was the message Jesus told them again and again about the father’s love. But many didn’t get it. 

I leave you with this: God loves you. There is no sin too large for God to forgive. No life too far gone for him to redeem. His love for you has never changed. We have. Remember that the true love of God—divine love– will lead to new life characterized by repentance, holiness, and pure joy in him. A life shaped by the kingdom of God and his Son Jesus.

And so, 

Hosea went to find his bride. 

God sent Jesus to find his bride. 

In both cases, the bride was found. 

But for you and I, the question remains, “will we be found by God?” Stop running. Surrender to the love of God and begin to form habits that reciprocate that love: prayer, scripture, and meditating on the love of God. And I promise you. Your life will never be the same.

Amen? 

Amen.

Obedience.

Any mentioning of the word in Christian circles will conjure up diverse emotion. In many corners of Christianity, it has become a word of obscenity. Whether the context is obeying Jesus or learning to obey spiritual authority—no matter the context, this word has become problematic on many levels. A linguistic parriah. 

Don’t get me wrong; I get it. I really do. It seems that reports of sexual abuse and corruption from those in places of leadership in the Church are coming out by the week as more brave women and men step forward. The result is a large distrust of the church as we have known it as well as leaders within the church. Obedience and human spiritual authority is an entirely separate topic. Again, I understand. I have lamented for many hours in prayer over it.

Combine this with the origin story of my homeland, the USA, and we can understand on another level why this word is hard for us. The USA has a deep and innate obsession with individualism, autonomy, and freedom. It has come at a great price. There are positives to this part of our national identity. For the Christian though, if we are not careful, those positives can become problematic to our allegiance to Christ if not kept in check. If not kept in check, obedience in any form, drops into our ears like a threat to everything we hold dear.  

Though for the Christian, obedience is very much a foundational principle to live by, regardless of where we call home. Following and obeying Jesus in Scripture was never based on our emotional disposition or ease of comfort. There was never a standard to be met before we could obey. Following Jesus has forever hinged on pure obedience. Not the kind of obedience that comes across legalistic. Costly, yes. Difficult, yes. Painful even, yes. But never legalistic or shameful. The way Jesus speaks of it, is tied to a deeper submission of the heart to that which we are following. 

The Promises of Obedience to Jesus

This can be seen when Jesus, in John 14:15-15:16 includes or alludes to twelve promises which accrue to those who love and… obey God. 

  • 14:15-17: If you keep my commandments, I will send you the Helper, who will abide with you forever.
  • 14:18: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
  • 14:21: He who loves me will keep my commandments.
  • 14:23: We will come to him who obeys and make Our home with him.
  • 14:26: The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of my words.
  • 14:27: Do not be afraid, I give you my peace.
  • 15:7: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
  • 15:8: My Father is glorified when you bear much fruit.
  • 15:9-10: If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.
  • 15:14: You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
  • 15:15: I no longer call you servants, but friends.
  • 15:16: You did not choose me; I chose you–that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.

Do you see how the above Scriptures highlight the role of obedience and it being for our ultimate good as Christians? This is what the unbelieving and secular society needs to see: indiviudals who walk out their faith at all costs. 

Unbelievers find faith in Jesus not because of a mental ascent to certain beliefs. They find faith in Jesus because they stepped out of their current existence and into a new one by faith; doing and following what they see within the Gospel of Jesus. Of course belief has a part to play.

But remember, Jesus first called out, “Follow me” to the disciples. Not, “Believe me.” 

Apart from unbelievers, followers of Jesus are renewed and find fresh faith themselves, not because they devoured books or went a week without a certain sin. They find renewal by obeying what they know to be true but have ignored for some time. That which we have read again and again but have been slow to put into action.

Following Jesus is not built on our terms. Following Jesus is built on his. He calls us to obey; submitting our whole hearts to him.

I pray that today you find yourself desiring to live out your faith in fresh and new ways. Seeking to crucify your own flesh and ego and with childlike faith, trusting the planted seed of the Gospel which has been planted within you. 

Lest you fear obeying Jesus like he desires is attainable, remember you have been given his Holy Spirit to lead you to a rediscovery of the deep things of God. In doing so, you will discover that obeying Jesus is not an adventure into drudgery. Obeying Jesus becomes a doorway into a hope and future that finds meaning in the present. It brings our faith to life!

To the point where, like the Apostle Paul, we are are able to say, “For I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Those things God has been calling / commanding / inviting / requesting you to do; those dreams which require you to put action to your lips, its time to move. Nothing will ever come by theorizing, talking, and dreaming. The things God destines for our lives come through our obedience to his Gospel truth. You can do this; the Holy Spirit is with you. The greatest transformations I have ever experienced have been the direct result of time of prayer when I know, read, and hear what God is inviting me to–and with fear and stumbling I step out and obey. I wish I was better at it. But I am learning. Learning to obey his voice above all others. Joy is found in no other place than obedience to Christ.

That One Thing We Seek

In our lives, what is it exactly we are desiring? In other words, what we we wanting to see happen? How we answer this question matters greatly. If we are desiring security that we are often filling our time with the pursuit of tangible items which can give us a false sense of security. If we are desiring value or worth then we are often filling our schedules with things that will give us our sense of belonging into this world. An identity that usually comprises of a wonderful and inauthentic veneer. Whatever we desire will usually order our steps and priorities.

But one thing is very clear. Our answer as Christians ought to differ from the world’s answer. To be fair, I desire many things in this life that are not even connected to my faith directly. However, those things do not replace the primary desire which the world would not understand. You see, we as followers of Jesus are to be the ones whose lives are so purified and distilled where what can be seen, heard, and observed is none other than Jesus. Of course this is not always the case (I myself am quick to admit my failures in this), but the pursuit of such a life is nevertheless the goal by default.

“Therefore, since we have these promises (see 2 Cor. 6:3-18), dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1

We are to be those who live unalloyed and uncontaminated. Not only by what the world sees on the exterior but also what drives us on the interior. How we answer the question of what we seek says a lot about our understanding of whether we are living the “called out” life Jesus is seeking.

We are living at a time when Christians in Western Society at many corners are having an identity crisis. We are mixing our allegiances with nations (nationalism), idols, and allowing the sins of the world choke out the goodness of God at rapid rates. We are substituting many things for an identity that is causing us to enter vicious cycles of heartbreak and unsatisfied longings. All of this is causing our pursuits and desires to be all over the place.

So what needs to happen? We need a seminal moment. We need to hit refresh and reset. We need to come back to the purity of what we were created to desire from the very beginning: the presence of God. This is something David in the Old Testament understood fully.

“One thing I ask from the Lord,

    this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord

    and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

He desired one thing very clearly: to encounter God in his fullness. So much so that he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in his temple all the days of his life. Do we find it a coincidence that God also called David a “man after His own heart” in Acts 13:22? David was elevated in the eyes of God because of his insatiable desires and passion for the LORD. Does this not motivate and challenge us for today? David lived at a time when the Holy Spirit was upon a few. We are living in an era where the Holy Spirit is within all who yield to Him. How much more so ought our experience with God’s presence transform everything around us?

The Church is not starving for methods, ideas, solutions or steps. The Church of Jesus Christ is starving for an encounter with the very presence of God.

But instead, we are often consumed with books, devotionals, apps, videos, and more but are at many turns still missing what is needed: a fresh and pure stripped down encounter with Jesus. This is where our desire must be. Our marriage depends upon it. Our children depend upon it. The life of the Church depends upon it. Society depends upon it. Everything does. What are you giving to others if you yourself are not encountering the love of God within His presence and glory? Prioritizing the glory of God in our daily living is paramount for every follower of Jesus.

The Presence and Glory of God

The glory and presence of God is found throughout the Scriptures. The word ‘glory’ in Hebrew comes from the word ‘kabob‘ translated glory one hundred and fifty-five times. The word ‘kabed‘ from the same root word has been translated ‘heavy‘ seven times. The root meaning of ‘kabob‘ means weight or heaviness. In the New Testament the word ‘glory‘ is translated from the word ‘doxa‘ which has various meanings like ‘appearance, manifestation, magnificence, splendid array, radiance, or dazzling lustre. It is within this glory and presence of the living God that we find our true hearts desire. We discover our identity. When we have a true encounter with the Holy Spirit, our faith comes alive. We begin to see and feel the very glory and presence of God and we do not desire anything else! His anointing becomes tangible. His authority flows through us as it did with those in Scripture. This is the hope of God for your life and for mine. To desire Him and be close with Him. There is no substitute.

When this one thing–the very presence of God– becomes our insatiable desire, we then find the anointing of God for life and what we have been called to. Put simply, the anointing of God is a manifestation of the power of God while the glory of God is a manifestation of His attributes. With this understanding, the power or anointing of God is inseparable because God does not demonstrate His power without His presence.

For instance, Jesus says in Acts 1:8 says, “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you (His presence), you shall receive power (His anointing of power).” They go hand in hand. Mark 16:17 reads, “And these signs (His power) shall follow those who believe in My Name (His presence).

So what are we to desire? We can answer with many options. Many are valid. Many would not be. But for me, I would like to answer in the way David answered. I desire an encounter with the glory and presence of God through the Holy Spirit Whom Jesus gave to us. The One Who provides comfort, encouragement, truth, challenge, and more (John 14-16). Strip everything from me but do not take away God’s Holy Spirit. From where else would I or we find our place in His presence?

Please remember, no one is given the anointing of God based on books, titles, knowledge, degrees, or years of experience. These are subservient to God’s presence and are meant to support; not replace. They mean something–but not everything.

The anointing of God to break down the strongholds of the enemy is given to those whose lives are desperately seeking to be consumed with the Holy Spirit to degrees few will understand and many will ridicule.

Though His love is always unconditional; His authority is not. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Prioritize His presence and glory. Walk boldly in the power and anointing of God that comes from dwelling in His presence daily.

I pray that we, like David, would begin to possess a singular focus upon the presence of the God in every aspect of our lives so that we may find life where there used to be death. I pray the staleness of our time in prayer and the Word would be replaced with fresh revelation and child like faith, because, like children at Christmas, we have discovered the indescribable joy of being in and seeking the presence of God in our daily lives.

For those who have fallen away at times. Those who have but a flicker burning. The Lord is never too distant. He can handle the anger, frustration, and even hatred. You are loved and invited into His presence where joy, purpose, healing, and mercy is found. All we are asked is to seek Him while He may still be found. Seeking Him with everything we have.

That’s One Thing that would transform everything.

God is asking for your “only.”

Though we ourselves can be victims of broken promises given and received, God is the ultimate promise keeper that will never fail His children nor forget His promises to them. 

I remember as a child being told “never make a promise you can’t keep.” Maybe you remember this as well. Even as adults this statement holds true and I have learned this the hard way. Maybe this is why we are encouraged in the Bible to allow our Yes be our Yes and our No be our No? 

When it comes to promises, they are literally everywhere when I read the Bible. They cover nearly every aspect of life and even the after-life. God is not hesitant about making promises. He made them to Israel, Kings, shepherds, the Church, and to his disciples. 

Biblical scholar Evereck Storms counted these promises and found 8,810 promises. Almost 8000 of those were from God to man. Books like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel have over 1000 promises each. Almost every verse in Psalm 37 contains a promise. 

But do you know what I find the most amazing? It is not the number of promises in the bible. It is that He always keeps the promises He speaks. He too lives by that rule about not making a promise He can’t keep with the caveat that He fulfills that which He promises. 

For many all of this is not much of a source of encouragement. I understand why. Some of us have been to hell and back. Some have lost a spouse. We’ve lost a child. We were let go from a job, divorced, hurt by a best friend, and more. Things happened that we felt promised by God ought not to happen. The only challenge is—we are never promised a life free of difficulty or comfortable. I wish that were the case. But it just isn’t. If it were, there would be no need for the return of Christ. 

Often times our emotional responses to hardship and suffering paint an image and theology of God that leads us to believe that the promises found in the Bible will forever remain in the Bible with no impact on those of us living today. When this happens—the enemy wins. The reality is that even though our perception of God may change; the nature of God doesn’t. In His very nature He is the great promise keeper. The faithful one. He is Abba. 

If we find ourselves losing our ability to live with trust and belief in Him what happens over time is a slow decay where part of our core identity as Jesus followers is lost. We go from children of big faith and trust (a hallmark of early Christianity) to people of cynicism and doubt. 

Believe it or not the disciples found themselves here at times as well. The twelve disciples of Jesus were raised on stories involving the promise keeping God. But for so long these disciples were living under the harsh oppression of Rome. Surely during their pain and sorrow wrought by the hand of their oppressors they themselves had to wonder about where this “promise keeping” God was. 

I know you’ve been there. I’ve been there. But I have learned that though the deserts seem vast and dry seasons long—He is still here ready to restore faith and trust wanting to see the dry bones of our stale faith come back to life as we re-encounter His faithfulness. 

In Matthew 14:12-21 Jesus does the unthinkable. Upon having compassion on the masses who have no food He blesses and distributes two fish and five loaves of bread. What is most amazing about this story is that in doing so Jesus showed those weathered and weary disciples that the promise keeping God was still among them. While their logic struggled to keep up, Jesus took what little they had and multiplied it to their astonishment. In doing so I believe He restored faith and trust in God for those present.

I encourage you to read the story on your own. As you do pay attention to one word that is used in v. 17. It is the word “only.” As they reply to Jesus that they only have two fish and five loaves Jesus says, “bring them to me.”

Our God is not the God of “ducks in a row.” He is the God of “fishes and loaves.” No matter how little you possess God is ready to show you that He is still the great promise keeper. All He asks is that you surrender the “only” you possess. In the areas that you have lost hope or trust—I pray they come back to life within you. I am confident at one time or another God has spoken or promised things to you about your life and future. If not many come to mind the issue is not a matter of God speaking. It is a matter of His children listening.

If it is hard to listen or even pray; if you are concerned because of your weak faith, weary heart and mind, little resources, or any thing else just remember the words of Jesus in Matthew: “Come to me all who are weary and tired and I will give you rest…”

To the degree you surrender full control and heart, to that same degree you will see the faithfulness of God in new and exciting ways. The result will be a firm conviction that God is the ultimate promise keeper that will never fail His children nor forget His promises to them.

Blessings +

Taking the Leap Part 1: “What in Us Must Die?

23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. -John 12:23-26

Gardening, Growth, and the Bible

I love gardening. I love witnessing things grow. To me it is still one of the greatest mysteries. You take a seemingly “dead” looking seed—dry and shriveled up—seeming to be at the end of its rope. You put it in good soil. Surround it with good nutrients. Shower it with the rains from above. And then it happens. A little shoot climbing through the soil seeking to make a name for itself. No matter what kind of plant it is–it usually begins the same—a tiny blade climbing through the soil. How it happens is still a mystery. Science can explain the many variables, but it cannot explain what activates the seed to bring the growth and to bear fruit. 

This topic is near and dear to the heart of God. Most analogies found within the Bible often refer in one way or another to agriculture and the seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting. Whether it be Mark 4:26-29 or Luke 8—seed planting and growing is everywhere. Especially within the words of Jesus. Why is this important? 

In Death Comes Life

Because in gardening there is a fundamental truth tht applies to all of life: in death comes life. In the verse above Jesus likens His own life to a grain of wheat which falls to the ground seemingly dead and yet goes into the soil and multiplies or bears fruit—which refers to His own resurrection. But Jesus decides to take it one step further and turn it around on His listeners then, as well as you and I. He takes the “death to life” principle he is living out and reveals this is in fact the life-pattern you and I were meant to live. 

This understanding of going from “death to life” is foundational to the Christian faith. So foundational that the author of Hebrews explains it as being “elementary.” She or he states, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God…” You get the vibe from this statement that from the very beginning they were instructed to leave behind the things which are dead within them and embrace newness of life in Christ. To cut ties with the actions which multiply sin and darkness within us and embrace new habits, desires, and disciplines which move us into maturity and growth in the love and truth of God. This would be that same pattern of living; from death to life.

But when you read the verse from John above do you notice how Jesus describes His own death? He says that “the hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” He did not use the phrase “to die” or “to be crucified.” Instead he chose this phrase “be glorified.” Jesus saw that in death God can still be glorified. God was supremely glorified when Jesus went to the cross, died, and resurrected. I think for a Christ follower this conviction would be common sense. But remember how Jesus turned the gardening analogy around on you and I? That if we lose our lives we will truly find them? The same can then be said that when we choose to die to our own ways and desires and live for Him—we are glorifying Christ within us.  

What in Us Must Die?

This is the beautiful mystery of Christianity. We follow Jesus and in return experience the principle of death unto new life—if of course we allow the process to take place. What if the seed were to say to the gardener, “I do not want to be planted into the ground. I want to stay on the tree where I am. I do not want to fall into the soil and grow!” How ridiculous would this be? But the thing is we do this on a daily basis. We seek to cling to the trees we are planted on currently. The trees of bitterness, unforgiveness, sin, etc. 

Logically, the next question for ourselves then is, “what in us needs to die in order for growth and maturity to take root?” Is it gossip or slander? Is it addiction to alcohol, drugs, pain meds, or approval of others? Is it pornography which poisons the mind and pollutes the heart?  Perhaps it’s the love of money and possessions? Racism, prejudice, and/ or bigotry? Whatever it may be… it’s a dead work which is halting your growth. You must die in order to find life. You must call those things out within yourself and say, “Enough is enough” so that God is able to deposit within you something in its place. Something which brings true and everlasting joy, purpose, and hope. 

Jesus says in John 15:8, “This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” As followers of Jesus we are destined to bear fruit. We are destined to grow and multiply like healthy seeds planted in good soil.

But remember, to bear fruit a seed needs to what? It needs to die. Yes, its difficult. Yes, its painful. Yes, it’s a journey. But it’s the only way to leave a legacy for Christ. Isn’t that what you desire?

The alternative path is apathy. You do not want apathy. Apathy is the precursor to spiritual death where there is no hope of new life. You know full well you were created for so much more. Why settle? You’re bored. I understand. I have been there. But even in the pain of the wilderness and spiritual boredom we have to enter the door of death before we can walk the halls of newness of life. A newness best described as a daily living and breathing relationship with God where you are being used on the front lines for His glory loving and serving through the power of His Holy Spirit. It is impossible to have both. 

A Haunting Question for the Jesus Follower

One more thing. Do you notice what Jesus says in verse 26? He says, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.” The context of this verse is the Kingdom of God and the life to come. But the Holy Spirit brought this to life to me last week through a question. Jesus says the phrase “where I am” here. The question He gave me was:

“Is Jesus with you where you are or are you with Jesus where He is?” 

Of course, we could say both. But think about it. Is Jesus at our level consoling us in our continual haphazard efforts in growing but often choosing death? Or are we where he is which is the other side of “death to life” scenario. Grace abounds. We will never have it right all the time. But with everything we have in us, let us fight for new life. I want to be where Jesus is. I want to be driven by the Holy Spirit vs. continually consoled.

But to get to that place… I and we must die to ourselves and find new life in Him by trusting that His death and resurrection has freed us from everything which seeks to kill and destroy us.

What needs to die within you so that His life can resurrect you? 

Weathered Passion

It happens to the best of us. We began with passion, wonder, and mystery. We began with innocence, naiveté, and a splash of recklessness. And then, after a period of time, it happens. The zeal we once possessed in following Jesus and living a righteous life begins to take a turn.

Zeal turns into lethargy. A mind rocked by the freedom of grace grows bored. The heart-melting truth of God’s love becomes abstractThe stories of Jesus healing as well as the miracles of the apostles would fuel our passion and desire to see a move of God in our day.

This maybe is not how your story began with Christ. Maybe you have never experienced this kind of wonder or zeal or recklessness that myself and many others possessed. To be fair we were also ill-educated, often arrogant, and somewhat pharisetical. But hey, we really loved Jesus. Regardless, no matter what our journey has looked like the chances are we will find ourselves meandering a path of mundane Christianity at times.

An Old Journal

Earlier today I sat down with a journal from 16 years ago. I am growing old now. Yes I know 34 may not be old to some of you but in looking at my journal from 16 years ago I sure felt old. Or maybe it was when I stood up after reading it for a while? Regardless, 16 years is a long time. I came to a page that talked about my desperation for God and how I am empty without him. What is crazier is I remember writing it. It was at a table outside at Starbucks, on the right side of the outter wall.

I will be honest. After reading it I felt that sense of “where has this been?” I then began to do my usual self-defeating talk where I heap guilt and condemnation on myself for not having the wonder and joy I was reading about! “Noah, cmon! Where’s the passion? Where’s the joy?!?

But then I got out some more recent journals from the shelf and reflected on where my own journey has taken me. Through this the Spirit of God reminded me that though my joy may not be the same as it once was all those years ago, it has grown in unique ways. In that moment, I needed that reminder. Maybe you do as well.

We Have Options

We all have a few options before us as we reflect on our own journey in following Jesus. We can look backwards and remember the days of old with a longing to go back. Back to the passion we once knew and held on to. Or we can say no to this option and choose to stay in the lethergy, cynicism, and any other emotion that usually accompanies life experience, new seasons, dissapointments, and so on.

Or you can do what I believe is most beneficial. You can appreciate the past, acknowledge the challenges of the present, and embrace the journey you have been on.

You are a weathered follower of Jesus. You have been around the block long enough to know things don’t always end great. Your good intentions do not always amount to a happy ending. You might not get your reward until the other side. Not everyone will always be kind to you or walk with you–even if they claim to follow Jesus. In fact, following Jesus itself was never meant to guarentee any “smooth sailing” on this side of eternity. That is something this “Weathered Jesus Follower” struggled to realize over the years.

These and many other lessons we learn. But in the end we should take all of it and allow it to add character and depth to our faith. We then position ourselves to be able to be used by God with our children, grandchildren, and others younger than us who are beginning as infants in Christ. If we stay lethargic and cynical chances are we will be a stumbling block in front of those with fresh passion. But if we embrace our weathered nature we will then be able to guide and lead the next generation.

Weathered Passion

One more thing. I am writing this post while at a desk made of barn wood from the 1920’s I had made a few years ago. It has the circular saw marks still in it from the old saw mill. It has nails still protruding out which have been ground down to soft metal. There are divers and curves and edges that are uneven. I have never seen a more beautiful desk. It isnt pristine, new, or naieve. Its weatherd. Its beautiful.

I encourage you to embrace where you have walked. The challenges and difficulties can lead you to new places of wisdom and depth. Don’t allow yourself to forget the wonder of Jesus. If you have, I have great news. The Apostle Paul says that it is possible to have a complete renewal of the mind. The Holy Spirit can do just that. Read the Scriptures with fresh eyes. Pray and allow the Lord to restore your heart to be able to feel his warmth and tough again.

He won’t restore the passion or joy of 16 years ago. Instead he will dig new and deeper wells of revelation and love which will bring forth a new passion that has been weathered by the realities and challenges of a life of following Jesus. Because in the end–lets be real– Kendal Jackson will always taste better then Welch’s.