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Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ Category

Good Morning or Guten Morgen as we are docked in Kel, Germany this morning as we awake. I have had a challenging time keeping up with my pictures and posting to you due to the fullness of our schedule. (Also, the number of pics I am taking.) Hopefully now that we are onboard the Longboat Eir on the Rhine River, the pace will slow enough to edit and post a few pics. This morning being Sunday I’d like to post a few pics of our Mt Pilatus excursion and tell a story of affirmation that the Father gave me up on the mountain.

Several weeks ago, my friend Greg shared with me how God powerfully spoke to him one day when in a time of prayer and meditation he asked, “Lord, what would you have me know today?” I was thinking about that a few days later during my prayer time and so I asked the same thing. Upon asking that question I opened my bible and these verses literally jumped out at me.

Proverbs 3:5&6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight. (or direct your steps as I’ve memorized it).

Proverbs 4:4 “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.”

Proverbs 2:7&8 He (the LORD) holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, He guards the course of the just and protects the of His faithful ones.

That has turned into a recurring theme for me in my prayer time since. And our Mt Pilatus adventure was one of three or four times on this trip where the Lord has again affirmed my role of trusting in Him fully and His faithfulness in guiding and leading.
MT PILATUS

The day broke cloudier than forecasted, but as morning warmed, the low clouds dispersed some and sunshine and beautiful blue sky became predominant. Our drive from Zurich to Lucerne revealed the charming Swiss countryside – crisp, clean, and green. While navigating into Lucerne I could see the much higher mountains across the lake were visible on the lower reaches, but shrouded in clouds at the top.

We met our guide, Annette, and boarded the bus to the cable car for the ascent up the mountain. Up to the first and second cable car connections we remained under the clouds and the view became increasingly expansive and majestic. We switched cable cars at around 4000 feet elevation where we were still under the cloud cover, but in deep shade because of them.

The final cable car was a 30- passenger car that swiftly whisked us up from 4000’ to the visitor center near the summit at 6700’. I fly frequently so the sensation of entering the clouds and “white out” is common. However, it was a little disheartening when you are anxiously anticipating the amazing 360-degree view which includes close-ups of the Alps and you exit the cable car to white-out outside and gift shops inside.

The girls headed to the gift shops and Jeff and I wandered outside into the fog. We walked around a bit managing to find a trail to a mini-summit with a cross on it. The picture in the fog was a little hard to see, but we snapped it to show we had “climbed higher”. To add insult onto injury, there were posted placards that showed the amazing view we could be seeing if we weren’t wrapped in the deep fog. I have to admit, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

I know what some of you may be thinking… “Dan, you are on this amazing trip… you had all the beautiful views on the way up… you are with your wonderful wife on an adventure of a lifetime and you are feeling sorry for yourself? What ingratitude!” Well, you happen to be right.

Fortunately, it was only a little later I realized that for myself. As Jeff and I worked our way down this little path I noticed another path diverting along the mountain top. I took that path off into the fog as Jeff headed to check on the girls.

I’ve learned that for me, as for many people I imagine, it is hard to really focus upon God, to seek His wisdom and guidance, and to clearly hear Him speak to my heart when: 1) I am ungrateful, 2) I am focused upon my own schedule / plan / or goals, or 3) when I am surrounded by to many distractions, like hundreds of other tourists. When I started down that foggy mountain trail, I had given up my goal of seeing the view from the mountain top because there was no view to view. I headed down a trail that the crowds either didn’t know of or care about.

As I trudged with my camera in hand I felt my heart softening as I realized what I have mentioned above. I was not where I wanted to be in my heart. The reality that the God of the Universe loves me and has provided bountifully for me began to fill my awareness. I repented of my self-centeredness. I moved into thanking the Father for the many wonderful blessings He has provided to me and the ones I love. Then I began praying for family, friends, my Radmen friends, and others whom I knew God was going to send across my path.

As I am sure many of you have experienced, I felt a weight lift. My soul was lifted as I turned my heart toward our good, good Father. And I hiked through the fog with an uplifted spirit. After a little while I noticed a couple young Swiss ladies hiking up from down below. I asked how far down until I could be below the clouds. Through their minimal English (and my non-existant German) I understood it was several hundred meters. I prayed asking the Lord to guide me whether to hike down or not. I sensed to stay the course, so instead of hiking down I exchanged pictures with them and continued along the path in the fog.

The next 10 – 15 minutes of hiking the rugged mountain trail in the fog was delightful. I had given myself over to accepting whatever opportunity I was provided to meet people and love them with Jesus’ love. I remember whispering one little prayer, “Lord, I’d love to see some of the view from up here.” But that prayer was uttered from a place of complete surrender. Whether the fog lifted or not, I was satisfied the Lord would do what was best.

I stepped into the gift shop to find girls and then a water closet and when I stepped out I was shocked – I could see all the way across the patio… and even the near-by summit that had been completely shrouded in fog the entire day. I quickly hustled out with camera in hand and snapped a few pictures. I saw the trail to the highest peak beside me and I quickly headed up the final 300 feet toward the now- visible summit. I had not gone far before the clouds began to close in again. I realized I had gotten exactly what I had asked for although now having a taste, desire for more sprang up tempting me back into the self-centered funk I had been in earlier.

“NO! God, you have been good to me. Lord, I thank you for the glimpse that you have given me. It was beautiful. And I loved the fact that across on the summit opposite me there was a cross.”

I remembered at that moment that our guide explained how the mountain got it’s name. Surprisingly it is named after Pontius Pilate. It seems that when he died, no one was willing to take his remains. So, they brought them to this mountain and threw them in a lake. The irony that on the mountain where Pontius Pilate’s remains may lie, there is a beautiful cross just resonated God’s greatness.

At that moment, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes, Lord, I trust you”

At that moment, for about 3 seconds, a single ray of light broke through the cloud and illuminated me and the trail where I was standing. While that thrilled me, I sensed I was to hike on to the top. The clouds quickly swirled back around me, but I pressed on. In less than 5 minutes I was at the top. As I arrived the clouds opened again for about 3 minutes. I did something a little uncharacteristic for me. Instead of whipping up my camera and snapping dozens of shots, I moved from side to side soaking it in and praising God. I did get a few shots before the clouds completely settled back in, but I mainly just worshipped.

There was one other thought that I believe was a gift from the Lord. One of the shots that you will see is of the cross on the other summit. It was clearly seen when I first got to the top, but I didn’t take the picture until it was almost obscured again. I was a little sad when the fog closed back in and I couldn’t see the cross. That was when the Holy Spirit spoke to me again. “Do not worry. Like that cross which is still there even though you don’t see it, I am always with you.”

 

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The start of the first chair lift in Kriens.

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Two happy tourists – our daughter Rhiannon and my photography padewan, Jeff.  He’s also our son-in-law.

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Just getting started.  About 1500 – 2000 feet up I believe.

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Just about to enter the first cable house.  Still 15 minutes to go in this car.

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The distance from cable house one to cable house two where we exited to the final cable car.

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View back to cable car house one.  You can see the Swiss central highlands spread out past Lake Lucerne.

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Cable Car house two and our first exit.  Elevation about 4000 feet and just under the clouds.

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This high valley had a ropes course, a toboggan ride, and other extreme sports activities.  We had to wait about 10 minutes for the 30 person cable car to the top.

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Sign showing our trip.

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In the 30 passenger cable car heading out from the station.

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Last view before going into the clouds.

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This was one of the clearer shots when we first arrived.  These horns were so mournful when we hiked around and could hear the sound in the deep fog.  One other remembrance – when the fog lifted, the guy was playing Amazing Grace.  I don’t know if he started before or after the fog lifted, but it was so cool.

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Jeff as we head up to the mini-summit.

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Jeff at the foot of the cross.

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Me at the cross.  See how deep the fog is.  This was true for almost the entire first hour we were up here.

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Look how steep the “not steep” side of the trail was.  We were a good ways into the alpine region above the tree-line.

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I am on the steep side of the mountain.  The Swiss girls took my picture for me.

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This was what I saw when I came out of the water closet.  That is the mini-summit where Jeff and I had hiked about an hour earlier.

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Another shot during the first brief opening in the clouds.

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View over the gift shop during the first opening, but as the clouds were sweeping back in.

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View at the highest point I hiked to on Mt Pilatus – summit Esel at 2118 meters or 4000 feet.

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The entire moutaintop at the clouds begin to settle back in.

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Summit Tomlishorn, a little higher at 2138 meters.  This is where the cross I mention in the story is.  This is my wide angle lens so it is so far away it is hard to see.

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The cross on the summit of Tomlishorn, the highest peak of Mt Pilatus. 

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Heading back down the trail, confident that God is always with me.  Just like that cross that I could no longer see because of the fog, yet I know is still there, God is with me and with you even when the fog of trials, challenges, and difficulties arise.

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The cog-railway we rode down.  It has the steepest incline of any railway in the world with one section at a 48 degree descent.

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Final view of the mountain top from the cog railway on the ride down.

Friends, it was thrilling. In fact, I guess it qualifies as a mountain top experience – twice over!

 

 

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When I set out to blog, I made the commitment to be transparent in my writings and never sugar-coat the stories of my faith journey.  It is easy to write about the good things that God does in our lives.  Yet when we slip or when things aren’t working out quite as nicely as we would like, we can easily gloss over or ignore a significant part of life that likely carry’s meaning to many, simply for the sake of putting up a good front.  Today I am compelled to share a recent chastisement from the Lord.  Partly this is to highlight an aspect of God’s nature that is often mis-characterized.  Also, it is because the trap I fell into is very easy to slip into even if it is hidden in plain view.

In my last post, ALL, I wrote about Jesus’ declaration of the greatest commandment and what our love of God with all that we are looks like.  What you don’t know is that I wrote that a week ago under what I sensed was the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  But I hadn’t quite finished it.  While we have had a lot transpire in our family over the past week, there is no reason why I didn’t finish the post sooner.  I had clear nudges to do so, but I kept busy and I kept putting it off.

For much of my life I have risen early to spend 1 – 2 hours in bible study, prayer, and occasionally blogging.  But for the last week I would wake up very early, usually before my alarm would go off, with a strong sense of needing to spend quiet time with the Lord.  But I would reason that I could pray just fine snuggled in my warm bed.  Somehow one or two sentences in prayer would occur and the next thing I knew it was an hour or more later.  By the time I would arise, it was time to start the day’s activities.  Needless to say, my attempts at a quiet time were rushed, stilted, and not really a time of connection.  It was more like a child rushing through the kitchen late for school, snatching at whatever they can for breakfast before sprinting out the door.  It might have the appearance of eating breakfast, but nutrition it was not.  My quiet times had become like that – an appearance of the right thing, but connection with God and edification, it was not.

Tuesday of this week I did respond to the nudge.  I was up early and I got into the Word.  Afterward I slipped outside where a light rain was falling.  With an awareness of my lack of direction lately I whispered a prayer, “Lord, please steer me.”  Immediately the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “The boat has to be moving for the rudder to work.”  Oh my!  I am used to God’s encouragement and gentle correction, usually when I turn in repentance after I realize I have made a mistake.  In this case, I had been a little lazy for several days, but I assumed that getting up early was a good sign on my part.  The rebuke was firm, clear, and thankfully cut through my self-satisfaction.

Since our relationship is with the omniscient God, there is no hiding our true thoughts, feelings, and motivations.  If we are not careful, we can slip into self-deception and “think” we are fine.  But, getting into the Word, spending real connected time with the Father is the antidote we all need.  When we do, He will guide us into the way of truth and life.  And if we need more than a little nudge, He can provide that too.  The important thing on our end is to embrace His loving nudges and His firmer chastisement and follow Him diligently.  It ties into the last post.  When we are giving Him only part of our attention, part of our heart or soul or mind or strength, we are falling short of His high calling upon us.  It is not God who is lessened when we are not fully devoted to Him, but us.

Friends, I pray that your walk will be marked with consistent progress and Godly joy and peace.  But, when you do begin to veer off course, I encourage you to readily accept and embrace the Lord’s loving correction, however He may give it.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  He knows you intimately and His desire is always for your good.  Jeremiah 29:11 affirms this.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,  “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Be blessed my friend.  And be God’s blessing to someone today.

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““The most important one,” answered Jesus,“ is this: ‘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.’”  Mark 12:29-30

Jesus was very clear here.  He was repeating the words from Deuteronomy.  I’ve read this dozens of times, but today the word ALL stuck out.  It was like they are being highlighted for emphasis.  Before I get to the weighty matter of what all means, let’s look at the four elements Jesus articulates.

Heart.  When I think of heart I think of passion.  I think of the thing or things that drive me, that compel me.  “The team with the most heart often wins.” It is more than emotion, but emotion is part of it.  Another analogy is if all our actions were a compass needle, our heart would be the point to which the compass needle consistently points.

Soul.  I struggle with distinguishing this from the other three, but I realize it is place where my will resides.  My soul is the center of my individuality and consciousness. 

Mind.  This is pretty easy, it is my cognitive, thinking self.  It is the part of me that processes data, assesses information, and makes decisions.  It is our intellect and the repository of all the data we have accumulated throughout our life.

Strength.  My strength is the resulting development of all my actions to date.  Much like a laborer muscled and toned from years of hard work, my strength is the capabilities I have now because of the life and actions I have taken.

So back to all.  Does Jesus really mean ALL?  And we are to LOVE with ALL.  If we love God with all then there won’t be anything left over for others – a spouse, children, parents or siblings, will there?  Well Jesus does say ALL and the heart, soul, mind, and strength pretty much encompasses everything about who we are.  How can this be?

It gets back to the reality that God is our creator.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He created us on purpose, for a purpose.  It is His desire for each person to fully fill their divinely ordained purpose.  But our purpose can only be found when we are immersed in Him and when we are filled by Him – through the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. 

By giving Him ALL of us, He is able to mold, shape, and transform us into exactly the person we are meant to be.  In some cases it is a transformation of sin habits.  At salvation the penalty for our sin is paid.  Jesus paid it on the cross and we said yes to receive it at our salvation.  We are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.  But the flesh still remembers the old habits.  Sanctification is the process of losing the old, bad habits and taking on new, good habits. 

A life verse for me is Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  This verse makes perfect sense when it is aligned with Jesus admonition.  When God has our heart, soul, mind and strength, we cannot help but become aligned with His heart.  When our heart aligns with His heart it will desire what He desires.  When we desire what God desires, we become partners with Him is seeing these things come to be.  In some cases we will be moved to missions, moved to serve sacrificially, moved to go and do the things we have been prepared to do with the totality of our life experiences and under God’s anointing.  In all cases we will be moved to love more deeply and fully than we are able to without Him.

Another aspect of this is we will be moved to pray God’s prayers.  Intercession is a high and holy calling.  I’m not talking about reading through a list of names and asking God to bless family and friends.  Intercession which emanates from God’s heart to our heart is a burden to pray for specific people and needs even to the point of travail. God wants to partner with us, to pray through us.

There is one final element of Jesus’ saying that needs emphasizing.  The admonition begins with LOVE.  Love is a game changer.  We can serve.  We can honor.  We can follow.  But none of these meet the standard of loving God.  They each are manifestations of our love response, but love is deeper and richer than these alone.  Love is the deep-seated acknowledgment that God is the wholly complete other to Whom our devotion, desire, and passion is aimed.  1 John 4:16 says this.  “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

To love God with All that we are is to enter fully into the life we were created for.  Amazingly we find that our ability to love and do the things God calls us to do become the desires of our heart.  He takes our attempts to love, pray, serve, work and, through His Spirit, accomplishes His good and perfect plan in us and in those He leads us to.  As we walk the road of loving God with our All we will find that He reveals our All to be more than we knew or imagined.  But it is only in losing ourselves in Him that He is able to do this great and wonderful work in us.

Purpose today to love God with your all and bask in the joy of knowing He first loves us and He will live fully in us as we abandon ourselves into His love.

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“For God so loved the World that He gave…”  (John 3:16) Jesus is God’s most precious and most amazing gift.  The fact that Jesus condescended at all is the most humbling gift imaginable.  He, Who had always existed in splendid community with His Father, left heaven to come to a world that was beneath Him in every way.  Yet He came to offer every single person the absolute best there is – a restored relationship with the Father, and an intimacy with the Lord that enlivens life in the best of ways and puts everything into proper perspective.

In coming to earth, dying for the sins of the world, and rising to new life, Jesus began something totally new.  He created the Church – the Body of Christ present in the world today.  For every individual who comes to faith, Jesus puts His Holy Spirit inside them.  The Holy Spirit is a seal of our redemption and a very present Helper in living the life of faith in God.  Jesus spoke extensively about the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life in the hours just prior to His crucifixion.  See John 14:15-31, 15:26-16:15.  Practically the first thing He did after His resurrection was impart the Holy Spirit upon His closest followers.  John 20:22 reads “And with that He (Jesus) breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In our continuing study of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we have focused upon writings from three different epistles written by the Apostle Paul – Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.  In all three of these passages Paul discourses on Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The lists of the gifts in these verses contain some overlap, but each also contains unique gifts.  One element that is present in all three is the imagery of the Body of Christ being the bearer of, and reason for, the gifts of the Spirit to exist.  The Gifts of the Spirit are alluded to indirectly in a few other places, but these three chapters give the deepest and most comprehensive discussion of the Gifts of the Spirit.

As I have done in the last two blogs, I am going to include the teaching notes from our lessons on the Gifts of the Spirit.  I begin with some open-ended questions and then we move into the Bible Study on the Gifts.  I encourage you to use these as part of a personal bible study or perhaps a small group study.  I know I was lead to new insights on God’s empowerment of the Body through the study and my personal walk has been strengthened.  I pray that this will do the same for you.

Body of Christ as the Recipient of the Gifts of the Spirit

  • Have you ever been part of a team? 
  • What were the positives of being on that team? 
  • What were the less desirable aspects of being on a team?

Read:

  • 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11
  • Romans 12:3-5,
  • Ephesians 4:3-7 & 15-16
  • 1 Cor 12, Verses 12 – 27

How is the Church like a human body?

  • One Body.  Not two… not many…
  • Many parts, but ONE Body.

Why do you think Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used the imagery of a body?

  • One Body.  Not a team… Not an Organization… Not a Committee… A living organism, a BODY.
  • Not just any Body.  The BODY of Christ.
  • Central nervous system.  With what we now know about the body we can see the Holy Spirit living in the believer is like the central nervous system transferring vital information back and form between the brain / head (Christ is the “Head” of the Body) and all the varied organs and members of the body (That’s us, the Church)
  • White blood cells. The body has a defensive mechanism living and working inside it.  The Holy Spirit serves in a similar role with the Body of Christ.
  • The interdependence of the parts. No part of the Body can live apart and independent from the other parts.  The maximized capability of the body is when all parts are healthy and performing it’s intended role.
  • The body will not survive without several of the parts.  There are organs of our physical body that we cannot live without… heart, brain, spine, etc.  Some of the gifts of the Spirit are supernatural enabling that the Body of Christ must have… apostles, pastors, teachers, leaders, etc.
  • The body can be ill, but still survive.  There are maladies that can and will affect the Body.  Steps can be taken to help the body remain healthy, but we don’t always take those steps and we will at times succumb to illness.
  • Life and death are potential states for the body.  Life is a matter of the body parts functioning.  The imagery here is a little more of a stretch, but when taken in context of Jesus resurrection, there is a picture of the body living through death… like the Phoenix rising from the ashes of death.

What key attributes does Paul exhort his readers to strive for in these verses?

Humility, gentleness, patience, love, seeking of unity, accepting of diversity, empathy

Why are these attributes so important in a body?

The Body of Christ is a diverse conglomeration of parts.  The world tends to emphasize our differences, to puff up pride, and promote a self-centered world view.  Isolation, whether as an individual or small group, is the antithesis of the unity pictured in a healthy, fully functioning body.

What are the outcomes of all the members of the body functioning as they are designed?

  • Not uniformity, but unity.
  • Not all the same, but each valued and vital.
  • The roles are varied.  The parts are varied.  The gifts and abilities are varied.  The whole body knit together accomplishes far more than the capabilities of each part alone.

Read Ephesians 4:1-16

Christ Himself gave:

  • Apostles
  • Prophets
  • Evangelists
  • Pastors
  • Teachers

Imagery of the Body with Christ as the Head.  We are to grow into unity and maturity within the Body of Christ.  Growing in unity means growing more intimate with Him and allowing Him to transform us, to change us.

Every part does its part, its role.

Our role in God’s plan is to draw close to Him, live a life in intimacy with Him, receive His guidance and gifts, and operate in those gifts in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We will all fit into God’s plan.  If we submit to Him, He will equip us and lead us in fulfilling our God-ordained destiny.  Since He is sovereign, He already knows what our destiny is.  Since He allows us to exercise free will, He does not force us to walk a certain path.  He knows what is best – His perfect will, but He will work with us wherever we are.  The optimum is consistent and continual obedience.  However, He will work with us whenever we submit to Him and will use us wherever we are when that happens.

One short side story.  There was a co-worker of mine for several years who steadfastly refused to turn to Christ.  He was at times a very difficult person to deal with, but the Lord always, always kept bringing me back to praying for and loving this man.  After he retired he got into serious trouble, was arrested, and sent to prison.  During the time leading up to his being sent to prison he contemplated suicide.  On one particular day he knew he had to make a decision.  Either he was going to walk into his bedroom and end his life or he was going to pick up the old family bible his late wife kept in the living room to see if there was something there that could give him hope.  Fortunately when he walked into his house he turned to the right and picked up the bible.  In it He found a reason for hope.  This prideful man who had lived for himself for 60+ years fell on his knees, repented of his sins, and accepted God’s forgiveness.  Shortly afterwards he headed off to prison for seven years.
I wrote to him in prison.  He was a different man… gentler, softer spoken, broken in good ways, hungry to know Jesus more.  And after he got out I met with him and we had Church.  It was good.  I was blessed to play a role in encouraging him.  The gift of exhortation and encouragement is a Spiritual Gift that God has given me to use for the benefit of the Body.  This story I just shared is 25 years in the making.  Yet God loved my friend enough that He placed people like me in his life to intercede, to encourage, to exhort, and to evangelize.  Today he is walking in freedom and growing in the gifts God has given him to build the Body of Christ.

As we walk in the gifts the Lord has given us, we will become the part of the body we were created to be.  God will not leave us guessing, but rather He will cause confidence to grow as we walk in the Spirit.  He is able to send us counselors and teachers, people who have experienced God’s gifting in the same or similar areas, to help us grow in the gifts we are to walk in.  We are His Body and He is passionate in His Body being whole, healthy, and beautiful.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be the vehicle of God’s blessing in someone else’s life today.

 

 

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The wellspring of the gifts of the Spirit is the loving heart of God.  1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love.”  He is the ultimate embodiment of perfect love.  Many of us have a difficult time wrapping our head around what perfect love might look like because of poor examples we’ve seen or experienced in life.  However, that does not diminish the reality that love exists or that it exists in a manner that is life-giving and transformative to the extreme.  Such is the love of the Lord God.

I recognize that I am a fortunate man.  I had two loving parents who modeled love extremely well.  I fondly remember long talks with my Dad as he patiently taught me life skills.  Mom was always there to sooth our fears and tears and encourage us in whatever pursuit we were engaged in.  As we grew more responsible, they gave us the necessary tools for life – shelter, food, clothing, an education, a vehicle to drive, a foundation of faith and service to others, a legacy to live up to.  I grow nostalgic as I think of how my parents strove to bless their four children realizing that my wife and I have tried, in our imperfect way, to do the same for our four children.  The point of this is that if we as imperfect, often too busy, sometimes self-absorbed, parents want to give good things to our children, how much more does our perfect, always present, attentive Heavenly Father want to give good things to us, His children.  If you have entered into the family of faith, you are His precious child.  And if you have not surrendered your life yet, I can tell you He is drawing you and offering you the penultimate relationship life has to offer – adoption into His family, a seat of honor at His banquet table.

What I have described echoes the words of our Lord recorded in Matthew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”  God is the perfect Father and He gives His children good gifts.  This is a truth we can hold on to.  After 33 years of living for Him, I testify to the veracity of this scripture.

Even as I write this the Lord has highlighted another scripture – John 8:31-32.  “To the Jews who had believed in Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”  Jesus wants you to know that He is for you and not against you.  That He loves you with an everlasting love.  That His banner over you is love.  That you are precious to Him.  That He gave Himself for you.  And He wants to give you everything necessary to live out the life He has called you to.  A life of joyful, fulfilling, abundant, faithful service in the family of God.

I’m reminded of a sweet season of extended prayer many years ago.  We were living in Louisiana, but I was praying for my family who all lived on the east coast.  Literally I had been drawn to pray for an hour or more every day for certain things going on in the family, but specifically for my family who lived a long way away.  My wife and I were reasonably content having started a family of our own, but I had a real burden of prayer upon me.  One night as I was pacing and praying in our closet, the Lord spoke very clearly to me.  “Son, I’m going to give you the desires of your heart.”  I distinctly remember saying, “No Lord, not my will, but your will.”  To which the Holy Spirit responded, “That is why I’m going to give you the desires of your heart.”  I was humbled, thankful, and awed all at the same time.  Now I had not been trying to get back to the east coast.  I don’t think I had done anything to start the process or even look for another job, but within 9 months or so, through a series of amazing (you could even say miraculous) circumstances we found ourselves living in southeast Tennessee.  By the way, I don’t know if I had read the verses in Psalm 37:4 prior to this event, but today they stand as one of my life verses.  “Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

As we pour our heart into knowing the Lord, growing in our relationship with Him, obeying His prompting, He wants to give us good gifts.  He desires us to desire the things He wants to do in us and in the lives of those around us.  Let’s go back to the verses just before Jesus talks about the Father giving good gifts to His children.  In Matthew 7:7-9 Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.”  When we are His children and we are responding to His love, when our desire is to love and obey Him, He will give us good gifts.  Even before a person turns to Christ the Lord loves them and has offered the ultimate gift, His Son, Jesus, so they can enter into the family of God.  He wants us to have the gifts of the Spirit to edify us and to strengthen the Church – the body of Christ.  His love toward us and His love for the Church are the wellspring of the spiritual gifts.

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Before launching into this study, I want to put it into context.  Sadly, the spiritual gifts can be a controversial topic within the Church.  There are two extremes we can take which, if we hold too tightly to, can cause us to miss the ultimate purpose of the spiritual gifts, which is to build up the Body of Christ and to draw unbelievers.  (See 1 Corinthians 14)

On one hand, we can de-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the point that they are simply natural human traits and capabilities maximized.  In this view we take something that is manifestly a supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit and turn it into an ability that we train and build up purely through regular exercise.

On the other hand, we can over-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the extent that every manifestation of the gifts must be connected to an ecstatic event.  We work ourselves up into such a spiritually-heightened state that we are finally ready for the Holy Spirit to fall on us and the mighty works of God can begin.

These extremes are not so much false as they are simply much too narrow to capture God’s purpose in giving the Gifts of the Spirit.  Additionally, these extremes fail to adequately capture the experience within the breadth of the Body today.  The Church and it’s 2 billion adherents experience God’s grace sufficient for life in a broad range of environments and circumstances.  God is continuing His work around the world drawing people to Himself out of every nation, tribe, and people group.  And He does this through His people being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and responding to the Holy Spirit.  The work is a collaborative effort between the Spirit of God and the people of God yielded to the Holy Spirit.  Our yielded-ness leads to the Holy Spirit moving in us to accomplish great and mighty things.  Many times that manifests itself in the spiritual gifts.  That is what this study is about.

 

This blog is from the notes I pulled together for our home group study.  I used a few on-line resources (which I will note at different points in the paper) and copious hours reading and praying over the scriptures.  I have been overjoyed to find new insights in the Word as the Lord expanded my understanding of spiritual gifts, particularly with respect to the source and foundation of why He gives them.

For the study, I usually began with general questions to draw us into topic, followed by more directed questions related to the text we were studying.  It is my intent to leave this to aid others who might want to expand upon this for their own study.

A final disclaimer.  Many years ago I entered a bit of a longer fast seeking God’s direction in my life.  I was ready and willing to go into ministry if that’s what the Lord wanted.  At the end of those three days, the Lord spoke very clearly to me.  He said, “Son, I’ve not called you to be a preacher.  I’ve not called you to be a teacher.  I’ve called you to be a man of prayer.  You will preach and you will teach, but first and foremost, you are to be a man of prayer.”

That was around 25 years ago.  I have seen those words played out perfectly in the meantime.  As I share this with you, I do so with a sincere sense that the Lord has made this one of the times when I have been called upon to teach.  Recognizing that teaching is one of the gifts I scored a middle-of-the-pack score on (Spiritual Gifts survey which I will identify later in the study), I can rightly assume that whatever good comes from this is due to the Holy Spirit enlivening it in me and in the reader.  Fortunately, these are spiritual gifts and as such God is able to do abundantly, amazingly, above all we can ask or imagine.  I sit here confident and overflowing with thankfulness that this is true.

 

Key Chapters Discussing Spiritual Gifts

Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4

 

List of Spiritual Gift Possibilities in Key Bible Passages (italics indicates a gift repeated in other places in scripture)

Romans 12

exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching

1 Corinthians 12

administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healings, helps – service, knowledge, miracles, prophecy, teaching, tongues, interpretation of tongues. wisdom

Ephesians 4

apostle, evangelism, pastor, prophecy, teaching  

Misc. Passages  (the following are implied as gifts in other scriptures)

celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, voluntary poverty

 

OTHER GIFTS FROM THE LORD

Salvation, Church, Family, The conveniences He provides.

 

 

Lesson One

(Select two or three of these questions for ice-breakers to lead into today’s discussion)

What is your favorite gift-giving event?  What makes it your favorite?

What is one gift you have received that you value above all others?

What is a particularly memorable gift you have received?  What made it so memorable?

Any stories of gift-giving gone wrong?

What is the purpose behind giving and receiving gifts?

How about with spiritual gifts?

Have you given a gift and had it received poorly?  How did you feel? 

Have you ever received a gift poorly?

 

What are gifts? 

Transfer of an item from one who has or possesses the means to have something to one who does not currently have.

Transfer of ownership of something.

Freely released into the ownership of the other.

To be a true gift, there needs to be a recognition that the thing received is desirous and good.

For a gift to be good it must be “unwrapped”, appreciated, and used.

Gifts most often come from ones who care for us and want us to experience good things and to be happy.

Some gifts are given to us to help us be more functional and to accomplish specific tasks.

 

Is there timing associated with gifts?

Times of gift giving – Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Anniversaries, Graduations, Baby Showers, Weddings

Some gifts have an “expiration”, i.e. like a bouquet of cut flowers, a new car.  Some gifts have a lifetime legacy – a deed of land, a wedding ring, a poem written in honor of another.

Some gift-givers are extremely generous and continue to give and give and give.

 

 

Some gift receivers are very appreciative.  Some gift receivers are never satisfied.

Receiving with thankfulness and true appreciation engenders greater goodwill between the giver and receiver.

Receiving gifts with dissatisfaction or grumbling or without thankfulness damages the relationship between the giver and the receiver.

 

Romans 12

To be read in context of the whole chapter.

What is the first gift offered in chapter 12?  Verse 1 – our bodies as living sacrifices.

How is this sacrifice received?  We don’t determine this, but Paul tells us when we set ourselves apart unto God it is “holy and pleasing to God”.  He also affirms that this giving of ourselves is our true and proper worship.

What are the “personal” reciprocal gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verse 2)

Transformation, a renewed mind, clarity in knowing God’s will.

What are the “communal” gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verses 6-8)

Part of the body of Christ, prophesy, serving, teaching, encouragement, generosity, leadership, mercy / care-giving.

Are there any pre-requisites to receiving these communal gifts?  (verse 3)

Humility (do not think more highly of yourself than you ought), sober judgment, faith

Take time to make the distinction of the supernatural element of these gifts if they flow from sacrificial living leading to transformed people with renewed minds, living together in humble faith while exercising sober judgment about themselves.

 

What is the outcome of this gift giving, particularly when it entails all members of the body of Christ exercising their communal gifts? (verses 9-21)

Sincere love one to another.

A true rejection of what is evil with an active passion to fight against it.

A passionate embrace of what is good.

Devotion one to another… hugs and warm affection manifested, expressing genuine love.  Lives intertwined and supportive.

Honoring one another – accomplishments celebrated, faithfulness recognized, high-fives all around.

The zeal of the Lord present and richly manifested in lives devoted to Him, to one another, and to whatever work He has called us to at that time.

Joy even when circumstances are not exactly what we would want because hope is so rich and tangible.

Patience even when we are in the midst of affliction.  (I picture the body, particularly those with the gift of care-giving, rallying around the one suffering the greatest.)

Faithful intercession and prayer that moves mountains, breaks chains, heals wounds, and accomplishes God’s purpose, in God’s way, in God’s perfect timing.

Greed is gone as the body supports and shares with one another freely, especially those with the gift of generosity.  A point here – those with this gift also often have the uncanny ability to make money.  I think this may be either an aspect of the gift of generosity or simply a manifestation of the law of reciprocity where Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you.”

Kindness, a supernatural love for and active reaching out to those who do not share our belief or faith.  In fact, it is a love for those who actively work against us.

Empathy manifested in every life situation.

Unity and harmony that is genuine and from the heart.  This absolutely transcends social status, education, age, race – and any other potential source of division.

The rejection of evil to the point that we do not respond in kind, but rather we are motivated by love and our response is what life within the body of Christ would approve of and support.

Peaceful living, with the full recognition that those not in the body might not live in peace nor want to allow us to do so.  Yet we seek peace.

Our response to evil’s attack is to seek to do good while trusting in God to be our shield, our shelter, and our defender.

 

Prior to this study I have always tended to read the bible with a strong awareness of the textual divisions that editors have inserted.  Romans 12 includes three different divisions… verses 1-2 are under the heading “A Living Sacrifice”, verses 3-8 are “Humble Service in the Body of Christ”, and verses 9-21 are “Love in Action”.  While these textual divisions are often helpful, they can also cause us to overlook some important connections the author may have had in mind.  Reading this chapter without those divisions leads us to see a flow that I believe Paul meant for the reader to grasp.

Before we focus on chapter 12, let’s take one step back and place this chapter into context of the entire letter to the Romans.  Romans is written to a part of the church Paul has not yet personally visited.  In this letter Paul provides a succinct explanation of the love and grace of God manifested through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Through these early chapters we can trace God’s plan of salvation as Paul describes the ultimate gift of God giving His Son… of Jesus giving His life for us.  Paul paints with words God giving over and above anything we could deserve or even imagine comes through.

When we hit chapter 8 we see this new “life in the Spirit” which is available to all who are followers of Jesus.  This too is a magnanimous gift from a gracious and loving Father.  By the time we reach chapter 12 we have had the point driven home again and again – God has given us such a stunning abundance of grace and goodness.  This is the first “giving”.

In chapter 12 we then see giving taking place in three rapid bursts.  The first is in verses 1-2 where we give ourselves to God.  This is a call to total abandonment.  Paul has used old testament imagery throughout the previous chapters so when he speaks of a living sacrifice here, he is tying it to the old testament understanding of sacrifice being a complete giving over.  The only difference is as “living” sacrifices we get the honor of repeatedly deciding to completely give ourselves over to God.

The second giving is God giving spiritual gifts for the edification and building up of the Body.  I will speak about it more later, but I want to clearly state it here – the primary purpose of the spiritual gifts is the building up of the Body of Christ, but building up of the individual believer happens at the same time.  God is the ultimate multi-tasker.  In dispersing His gifts, He accomplishes many things as the Body, and the individual, receives and responds.

Then comes the third giving which is the one I had always missed.  That is the Body of Christ becoming a radiant, shining example of God’s goodness, grace, and love to the world that does not yet know Him.  We become God’s gift to the lost and unbelieving.  Through this, people are drawn to look to Him, to consider the claims of the Church, and to come to faith.

 

In conclusion to this week’s lesson, we see that God initiates the giving through giving Jesus as our savior.  We respond by giving ourselves to Him as our Lord.  He then continues giving by working transformation in us and by giving spiritual gifts to the Church.  The final giving is the Church being given to the world as a manifestly beautiful and attractive “Bride of Christ”.  This final giving includes an invitation to all who have not yet accepted Christ to join the fellowship of believers by receiving God’s initial gift of His Son – Jesus.

In our next lesson, we will investigate the ultimate source of God’s gift giving – His amazing love.

 

Until next time, may the God of all good gifts pour His Spirit out upon you, filling you with His wisdom, His truth, and His love.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

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I serve on the Care Team at Church.  We meet people with God’s love and give them hope.  I feel called to this.  But it’s not always easy. 

From the conversations I have I see that Hope is a commodity often in short supply.  Usually the visit for care is the result of multiple crises in a person’s life.  Often it is the result of personal decisions combined with events outside their control.  Almost always there is some degree of loss that precedes the loss of hope… decline in health, the passing of a loved one, a job loss, a broken relationship…  The end result is that the initial loss precipitates a void wherein hope is drained from the individual.

Our goal in Care is very simple.  We seek to allow the Lord to work through us to help the Care Receiver know that Jesus loves and cares for them.  It is amazing how He does this.  Empathy is our connection point.  Often the Father matches life experiences that the Caregivers have walked through with the challenges the Care Receiver is facing.  This empathy is more than just important, it is essential in being a conduit of God’s love and hope.  We do not theorize, postulate, or pontificate, but rather we seek to be like Jesus and know the person as a valued child of God.  With this relationship established we are able to take the next step.

With sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and an attitude of love, we seek to help the individual identify the root of the loss.  In most cases there are decisions that have been made that need to be understood.  While we seek to deal gently with the broken, we do not treat sin lightly.  It is vitally important that sin be clearly identified and labeled as what it is.  While not all poor decisions are necessarily sin, those that are must be confessed and repented of.  The Word of God is the key here.  With Love we share what the Bible says and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.  (Sidenote – It appears to me that where we Christians gain a black eye in the public realm is when we take on the role of prosecuting attorney for God.  Don’t get me wrong, we are to flee from sin, to resist the devil, and do all in our power to promote what is good, decent, and godly.  But if we simply speak the truth from the Word of God, we can leave the emphasizing of what that means to the Holy Spirit.) 

Where it is possible, attempts to undo the damage of the sin are appropriate.  Restitution is a bold, and often beneficial step in the process of repentance.  When I became a believer there was a person I had wronged in my college days.  The Lord impressed upon me that I had a concrete step to take with that person so I drove 600 miles for a face-to-face confession of my sin and to ask for forgiveness.  At the time I was just trying to be obedient to what I understood the Lord was showing me I needed to do.  Today I recognize that it was a major step in my growth as a believer which freed me to be ready for what lay ahead.

Many times forgiveness is a key act in the repentance and healing process.  One of the diabolical aspects of sin is that the victim is often the one who ends up bound in cords of unforgiveness.  There is great liberty in forgiving someone who has done you wrong.  I have had a few “done unto” events and I can honestly say that the Lord has blessed me, not in spite of those things, but through those events after I forgave and then gave the situation to Him.  This is something I have personally experienced and it is essential in the healing process.  (Truth in writing, the forgiving part requires persistence.  The enemy will initially bring the event back up to try and revive the pain and emotional turmoil.  This is a good time to rebuke the thought and repeat your decision to forgive and verbalize that it is in the Lord’s hands.) 

This post is about hope, but it is necessary to understand that hope is a tender flower that requires the proper soil.  What I have described above is required to prepare the soil of the heart to receive the seed of hope.  Make no mistake, hope will not flourish in the wrong environment.  There is a plethora of hope-killers waiting to stamp out the flower of hope, but Jesus’ words should encourage us – “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”  He is the MASTER Gardener and the Giver of Hope.

Which brings us to the next step – sharing the Word of Life.  The bible is full of God’s promises.  In caregiving this is an apt time to share words that speak into the Care Receiver’s life situation.  Frequently after a conversation I stand amazed at how the Lord brought the right scripture to mind at the perfect time in a conversation.  It is important to regularly read the Word so that it performs its transformative work in you (Romans 12:1-2) and becomes the source of your wisdom to share with others.  The final piece of this is the active work of the Holy Spirit to bring to mind the right word for us to speak and then apply that word in the Care Receiver’s life.    

This leads to the climatic step in Care Giving – Prayer.  I’ve mentioned speaking and verbalizing a couple of times already.  I’m prompted today to mention that it is often necessary to speak things into existence.  The bible begins with God speaking all of creation into existence.  Through the Old Testament we see God putting His words into the mouths of His prophets.  When Jesus walked the earth He spoke and people were changed, healed, delivered, saved.  He even spoke to the wind and waves and they obeyed Him.  He is the Lord God Almighty.  To Him every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess (Phil 2:9-11).  Now for a time He has chosen in His great mercy to give mankind a little more time to turn to Him.  In this window we do not yet see everything under the heavens fully submitted to Him.  But make no mistake, it is all under His dominion. 

As believers God has placed His Holy Spirit into us.  We are His ambassadors.  An ambassador is a representative of a sovereign nation living and residing in a foreign land.  Even though they live in a different country, the full weight of their home country rests upon them.  When they speak, they are speaking for their home country.  As Christ’s ambassadors, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are to speak God’s Word and His words into lives.  Prayer is how we do this.  God gives us the responsibility and privilege of praying what He wants to do in the lives of those He sends our way.  The enormity and mystery of this overwhelms me, but I have experienced it too many times to ignore or discount.

The final step is living out the hope which God has called us to dispense.  In some instances, it will mean we walk with the Care Receiver for a time, for a season, or as life-long friends.  In other instances, it will mean praying for and encouraging them for just that intersection of time, trusting the Lord to continue the good work He has begun.  In every situation though, God has called us to look to Him in child-like trust and nurture the hope that He promises us in His word and He places in our heart. 

A final application.  Please forgive me ahead of time for this final inclusion, but it is a burden I’ve been bearing for several weeks now.  It is also the primary reason I haven’t blogged in a while.  You see, I, like a lot of Americans, am disappointed in what I see in our political process.  It wearies me to see the division and acrimony blasted forth for all to see and endure.  I do not see hope there.  I have chosen a candidate to vote for, but it is more because I see a terrible choice and a little less bad choice.  My friend this has tended to get my eyes off the Lord and onto lesser things.  This weekend I was able to minister care to others dealing with real world, right now issues and I was able to fellowship with others who love God and are striving to live lives of abundant hope.  In so doing I saw my malady for what it was.  I was being drawn to put at least a portion of my faith in things that are not worthy of my faith, nor able to give real hope. 

And then I lifted my eyes…  Jesus is the only one worthy of my total faith and the only one who gives real hope.  And that hope does not disappoint!  (Romans 5:1-5)

Two final thoughts.  I finished this blog last night, but for some reason I didn’t post it.  This morning I woke and called my wife to do our devotion.  (I travel a lot in my work so we do our devotion together over the phone each morning.) The following scripture just jumped out at me.  It is the exclamation point from the Word on what I have said.

Psalm 62:5-8

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.

Today is the one year anniversary of the passing of four of our youngest son’s friends in a tragic car accident.  James, Josh, Mills, and Sarah are not here with us any longer.  The pain and loss is still very real for their family and friends.  But with eyes of faith we look forward to the day when we will see them again.  They trusted the Lord and were His children.  And one day we too will pass from this life to larger life.  And the reunion will be real and it will be good.  This is hope that we can hold onto.

Take care my friend.  May the Lord richly bless you today as you live a life of tangible hope.

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