What If Persecution Comes To America?

-Can It Happen Here?

We sit in our offices & our homes watching the stories of persecuted Christians play out, from afar, on our monitors & our TVs! Christian persecution happens in other nations; but, not ours! We may not say it out loud; but, the unprecedented freedoms that Christians have enjoyed in this country, through the years, have led us to some unrealistic— even UNBIBLICAL— expectations. I’ve seen it in political rhetoric! Many American believers have a sort of entitlement mentality; like, persecution just can’t happen here!

-What If That’s Not God’s Way?

Now let me be clear—I do not have a death wish! I pray that the persecution of Christians will not spill over our borders & into our land! I pray for God to send revival to His Church; that, the Church will fall deeply in love with God again & out of love with the created things of this world; that, God will open the gates of heaven to the spiritual refugees all around us & awaken them to faith in Christ; and, that God will do all that without a loss of freedom & without persecution here. But…. what if that’s not God’s way for us? What if it’s part of His Sovereign plan to bring judgment to our sinful nation; and, as He often did with Israel in the Old Testament, use nations even more sinful than our own to bring about His judgment?

-No “Land Contract” With God

The Apostle Peter talks about this: “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you…” 1 Peter 2:19-23. God uses persecution to make us look more like Jesus! That’s what Peter says here! Many Christians feel justified to be angry & lash out at those who persecute or harm them! We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s help to understand how we’re supposed to respond to suffering, persecution & mistreatment in a way that makes us look more like Jesus; and, we need His grace to live it out!  There is nothing in Scripture that would lead us to believe that we, here in America, have some type of “land contract” with God! Only one nation, in the history of the world, has benefited from a “land contract” with God; and that was Israel!  We may love this land that we live on called America, but God has not promised us that we have any right to keep it! To hold onto it!

-When Death Is Gain

When Paul wrote the Church of Philippi, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain”; He was saying that he loved Jesus so much that to lose everything in this life in order to be with Him was “gain.” Jesus was worth more than anything he might have or experience in this life. Death was a “GAIN” to him! If it should be God’s will to bring persecution to America, I pray God’s grace to ask my tormentor’s this question: “In Jesus I have my sins forgiven; He has restored my relationship with God my Father; I have an eternal home in heaven that’s being prepared for me right now; what can you offer me that’s better than that?” Let us live, above all else, as “citizens” of heaven! We are “strangers” here in this world! This is our “temporary residence” according to the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:11-12). Let us check our patriotism at the foot of the cross! If we belong to Jesus, our longing is for a better place than anything America can give us!

Why Is Their Evil & Suffering?

-Difficult Questions

That is a hard question! Some of the most difficult questions I’ve ever had to answer begin with “why”— Why did my baby die? Why does a loving God allow suffering? Why is there hunger and starvation in the world? Why does God allow terrorist killers like ISIS to exist; and, why does He allow them to kill Christians? Why do sex trafficking, human trafficking & slavery exist if God is in control? Why earthquakes, tsunami’s, hurricanes & tornadoes if God is love? First, I’ll not try to pretend that there’s an easy answer to these questions! I’ll try not to offer the usual “pat answers” & smugly look the other way!

-God’s Judicial Act Against Sin

I would ask you to open your Bible to Romans 8 as I intend to reference it through this post. In v.20, the Apostle Paul makes a difficult observation: “For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it…” That seems like an obvious reference to Adam & Eve’s “Fall” in the garden! He’s saying that our present suffering, in part, is the result of God’s judicial act against Adam’s disobedience.  So it’s not wrong to wonder aloud about why all these bad things happen! What’s wrong is when God is the focus of our rage! What we need to do is look in the mirror! We’re the problem! We’re the reason for all the evil & suffering in the world! When Adam sinned, the curse God placed on sin was passed down to every succeeding generation! Humanity’s sin against God is the reason we’re faced with all the trouble in the world! 

-Our Teeth Still Ache

There’s an old Hungarian proverb that says:  “Adam ate the apple and our teeth still ache.” It means that because of Adam’s “headship” over the human race, his sinful deed was passed down through our human nature. His “headship” also carries the idea that we all sinned “in” Adam; or, if given the same opportunity, we all would have sinned just like he did. So, that’s where all the “futility”, the groaning; and, the corruption began. God followed through on His threat that, “…the soul that sins shall die.”  Though it sounds bleak, v.20 finishes out with these words, “…in the hope that the creation would be set free from the bondage of corruption.” In other words, pain and suffering will not continue forever! There’s a day coming when ALL of creation— including those who put their faith in Christ to save them— will be redeemed from this world’s “futility”! 

-The Justice Of God

God’s act was just and righteous; and, it carried with it a purpose. After their sin, God removed Adam & Eve from the Garden of Eden, Genesis says, so they would not eat of the “Tree of Life” and be eternally separated from Him. He, therefore, placed the curse on creation “…in the hope…” that it would reveal, to us, our brokenness & depravity; and, set us free from our bondage to sin. So, when our “why” questions are directed at God—almost like an accusation—they’re misplaced! We need to stand in front of a mirror, when we ask “why”; and, humbly admit: “All the pain & suffering in the world is because of my sin ‘in Adam.’ All the ‘suffering’, all the ‘natural disasters’, all the ‘futility’ is my fault!” Our “hope” is ultimately not in this world; but, in the Resurrected Christ who will one day resurrect our broken bodies in Glory! We don’t blame God for evil & suffering! We praise Him because He’s the One who delivers us from it! Hallelujah!

What Happens After We Die?

-Death Has A Certain Anxiety Attached To It

That question has a certain anxiety attached to it, doesn’t it? I’m convinced that even the most devout follower, of Jesus Christ, approaches death with some anxiety. You can be secure in your faith & your relationship with Jesus! You can believe that you’re going to spend eternity with Him; but, still have a certain fear because of the “unknown”! There’s always some anxiety when we’re forced into something new; what does it feel like to die? In part we fear death because it’s beyond our control, isn’t it? It’s that image of the Grim Reaper lurking around the corner; stalking us; and, we never know “when” he’s gonna show up, do we?

-Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

John 14:1-6 begins with Jesus’ words to His disciples:  “Let not your hearts be troubled…”; and, He tells them why in v.6:  “…because I am the way, the truth & the life.” If you’ve placed your trust in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross then you don’t have to fear death because Jesus IS your life! The fear of death can paralyze you; but, knowing you have eternal life in Christ sets you free from that fear! And, in that text, Jesus tells the disciples that they don’t have to fear death because after they die, they get out of here! In Romans, chapter 8, the Apostle Paul says that “…we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.” And, not just creation at large, but, “…we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (vs.22-23).  Every genuine child of God knows that groaning!

-I Will Come Again

That’s why we love these words:  “I will come again,” Jesus says in John 14:3, “and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” That’s a great death benefit, isn’t it? We get out of here! No more heartaches & betrayals; no more worries & anxieties! Jesus said:  “In this world you will have trouble.” And, don’t we know it? Jesus shared another benefit in v.2— after we die, we get a room in God’s Big House! “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told that I go to prepare a place for you?” God has a house! Not a hotel! Not an Inn; but, a big house! He’s not going to run out of space; and, if you have life in Christ, there’s a room reserved for you, with your name on it! We’re not going to be guests in a lodge! We’re His CHILDREN! We’ll live in His house with Him! In v.3 Jesus said:  “I will take you to myself!” That’s the best part of death! We “inherit” Jesus!

-We Don’t Grieve Like An Unbeliever

Jesus is the real “treasure” that we seek; and, we’ll have Him — ALL of Him— when He takes us to Himself! In Paul’s 1st letter to the Church of Thessalonica, he wrote: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (4:13).  I have watched many friends & loved ones die; and, I grieve! But, not for them! I don’t wish that they could come back to me! I would never wish that upon them! I would never wish for them to come back to this place! I grieve for ME! That I remain behind! While I suffer & mourn the temporary loss of their friendship, I rejoice for them! I’m jealous of them; and, I long for the day when we’ll be reunited in a better place; but, NOT HERE! Oh, there’s some tension there, isn’t there— we still have Jesus’ Kingdom work to do while we remain! But, we don’t hold too tightly to anything here! Even so, come Lord Jesus!

The Testing Of Your Faith

-A Terrible Secret!

The daughter of missionaries, to the Congo Republic, told the story of her participation in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st missionaries coming to that part of Africa. It was a huge celebration to commemorate the lasting impact of the work of those original missionaries. Special speakers were invited. There was lots of special worship music, festive meals, and many other planned activities.  At one point, she said that an aged native came forward & introduced himself as the last person alive who was privy to a terrible secret.

-They Tested Their Sincerity!

The old man confessed that 100 years earlier, his ancestors didn’t know whether to believe the message those 1st missionaries brought. So, to test the sincerity of the missionaries, they devised a plan. Slowly, secretly, and systematically they began poisoning the missionaries. Then, they watched intently as mothers said goodbye to children; husbands said goodbye to their wives, and friends said goodbye to one another. The old man explained that it was only as they saw how the missionaries died, that the truth of their message was confirmed. As a result, many came to believe & embrace the gospel message!

-A Faith That Remained Firm!

They observed a faith that remained as firm in death, as it was in life. It’s in James, chapter 1, where the writer— James; Jesus 1/2 brother— began his epistle like this:  “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad…” Let me tell you why that introduction is significant. He’s writing to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who have been “dispersed” or scattered in persecution for their faith. James’ purpose, for writing this letter, was to encourage them & offer them a basis & a reason for their suffering! To teach them that their pain was not pointless! That God had a purpose for it!

-On Display In An Unbelieving World!

And, part of His purpose for the pain & the suffering & the setbacks we endure, is to put us on display in an unbelieving world. The genuineness & quality of our faith is most visible & apparent during times of intense pain and testing. In other words, the gospel is seen most plainly & Jesus is seen as most valuable when we continue to pursue Him even during life’s trials & tests. Jesus’ ministry was authenticated, in part, by His response to betrayal, to false testimony & to His unlawful death. And, because He did not condemn them; but, said “Father, forgive them”, we see centurions & soldiers & many of the priests (who approved of His crucifixion) coming to believe in Him!

-Jesus In The Flesh!

There are people all around us who need to see Jesus in the flesh before they’ll believe! Like the 1st believers in the Congo, they need to see our response to pain, suffering & setbacks before they’ll come to faith and believe in the Jesus you say you believe in. James continued from his opening sentence with these words: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) I sense a storm brewing in our land! Don’t you? We might be closing in on a day when it’s against the law to be a Christian! Church, we need to be teaching our children & our grand-children how to live in a culture & environment like the believers of James day lived. I don’t believe we’ve done a very good job of that! We haven’t prepared them! Will you pray for God’s help to do that?

The Humility Of Christ

-We’re Usually So Full Of Ourselves!

For Jesus, to become a man was the most humbling experience God could ever endure! How foolish we are when we lift ourselves in pride as though we were really something! We won’t grasp how insignificant it is to be human unless we see ourselves as God’s image bearers! We are usually so full of ourselves; so self-centered & self-absorbed; and narcissistic, that we just don’t get the reality of our existence. Jesus’ humility, however, went way beyond lowering Himself to become a man! He died the most humiliating death ever devised to kill a criminal— Crucifixion! The pain was excruciating & the public shame beyond comprehension.

-Jesus Humiliated Himself To Serve Us!

It was especially true for this one, Who was God! For, He had created the very tree that was used to crucify Him. He humiliated Himself in order to serve us at our greatest point of need—we desperately needed a Savior because we could not possibly save ourselves! So, as we’ve talked about being Gospel lights over the last several posts, we will shine as we let God’s Holy Spirit change our attitude to the mind of Jesus Christ; even if that means humiliation in the service of others! And, church, that will only happen as we live in search of God’s approval! We will only shine as Gospel lights to our city as we seek the approval of God alone!

-We Were Created To Bring God Glory!

That was Jesus’ attitude—pleasing the Father! “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” Philippians 2:8. And, because of His obedience to the Father’s will, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vs.9-11). Edward Welch wrote a great little book titled “When People Are Big & God Is Small.” In it, he reflects on how broken & distorted is the image of God that we reflect because of our sin. We were created to bring HIM glory! We were designed with certain “needs” and “desires” that only God can fulfill. But, when we replace that “God-Shaped vacuum” in our life with the created things in this world, we take glory away from God & transfer it to that thing that becomes an idol! And, because of our sinful brokenness, it can be so easy to be caught up in idolatry; and not even be aware!

-We Need Jesus’ Attitude!

We need the attitude of Christ! Because He willingly left His throne in Heaven! Because He took the form of a slave! Because He lived His entire life here solely for our benefit! Because He stopped & lowered Himself even to the humiliating death on a cross to serve our needs! And, because of all of that, God has highly exalted Him & given Him a name above every name! In fact, that word in v.9 literally means “super exalted.” God super exalted Jesus! This is the only place in Scripture that that word is used! Everything Jesus did was for God’s glory! And, our attitude is most like Jesus when we are God-Centered in everything we do! Casting aside our personal agendas! Letting “Christ In Us” restore the image of God that we were created to reflect! God uses the church that is full of people who live their lives like that! He uses them for His glory! We need to pray that way! That God will transform our churches to live like that!

Shining Like Stars In The World!

-God Enables Us!

Over the last few posts, I’ve asked you to read with me from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2. In writing to this church, Paul shares something significant in v.15, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” God intends that we would shine like stars in the world as He enables us & gives us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus. Go back earlier in the chapter & re-read verses 5-11.  God will enable us to shine like stars in the world when we empty ourselves of self-glory as Jesus did.

-Empty Yourself Of All Self-Glory!

Consider that phrase, in v.7, where Paul says that Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” It means He “emptied Himself.” The word, in the original Greek language, means “to empty, or to pour out.” In a practical sense, the word means “to give up status or privilege.” When Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” or “emptied Himself,” Scripture means He willingly set aside some of the privileges He enjoyed as God.  Paul says that Jesus also took on the “form” of a slave. The word “form” means “the exact essence.”

-The Exact Essence Of A Slave!

Jesus was the exact essence of what a slave looks like, but He took it on voluntarily. No one forced Jesus to do it! He willingly took the form of a slave! He willingly came to earth! He willingly died so we could live!  Then, Paul says He came “…in the likeness of men.” In other words, He wasn’t just God in a human body. He took on all the essential attributes of humanity— He experienced all the emotions, the pain, and the suffering of betrayal & death! So, here is the application— Paul calls us out, as the church, to think of ourselves in the same way as Christ who emptied Himself! To set aside self-glory; and, become slaves to one another in the church, until it spills over into our city!

-Serving Our City With The Mind Of Christ!

Until we serve the people of our city in a way that the mind of Christ would direct us! God will also cause us to shine like stars in the world as we humble ourselves of our self-importance. In v.8 Paul says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus so humbled Himself that when a man looked upon Him, many of them only saw a “man.” He had no glory glow about Him; no halo as artists have erroneously depicted Him. He just appeared to be a man to them. He left the glory of heaven where He was “King of Kings & Lord of Lords.”

-Angels Worshiped him In Heaven!

In heaven, Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without angels bowing down to worship Him & singing Him songs of praise! While He could have strutted onto this planet with a spectacular display of His omnipotence, His omniscience, His holiness, and His justice— so that no one could mistake Him for anything other than the God He was— instead, He humbled Himself so that many disrespected Him & saw Him as nothing more than a mere man! Application? Paul said the Church of Philippi filled his heart with joy (v.3) because they humbled themselves of self-importance. When they esteemed the needs & interests of others as more important than their own & become more concerned with the rest of the faith community’s needs above their own, that’s when they were thinking like Jesus. That’s Christ IN YOU! The Spirit produces the mind of Christ IN YOU! We can’t! But He changes our minds & attitudes when we trust Him.

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

A Favored People!

-The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling!

We are a favored people to live in the age of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers. We should be incredibly thankful that we live in a day when the fullness of God’s Triune nature has been revealed; and, because the Spirit is God’s Gift to us, we can have a deeper & fuller relationship with God than did our brothers & sisters who loved God during Old Testament times. It was back in the 1st chapter, v.32, of John’s Gospel when John the Baptizer testified: “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him (Jesus).” Jesus also had many things to say, about the Spirit, in His conversation with Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” John 3:5.

-The Spirit Gives Life!

In John, ch.6, Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing ….” But, there’s a major shift in the way that Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit when you turn the page of Scripture to John, chapter 14. God, the Father, seems the most prominent in His Old Testament work with Israel. God, the Son, takes the spotlight in the New Testament as He comes to make atonement for the sin of mankind. But, in some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples, as He prepares to return to the Father after the cross, He elevates the Holy Spirit to front & center by His work in us! The Holy Spirit is truly God’s gift to us!

-It Was More Profitable!

And, though difficult for His disciples to understand at the time, Jesus told them that it was more profitable, for them, that He would return to the Father so the Holy Spirit could come to indwell them. It was more profitable because Jesus, in His human body, could only be in 1 place at a time; and, have an influence limited to a few people at a time. But, the Spirit would be available to minister to every believer in every place in the world at any time! And, from Jesus’ words, in John chapter 14, we come to understand that the Holy Spirit is a Person just like Jesus is a Person.

-He’s Not A Mystical Force!

There are many misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. He’s not some mystical force like Star Wars; nor, is He an impersonal power that God offers to Jesus’ followers. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God; that, just like Jesus, He is a being with a mind, emotions & will. When Jesus says, “…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16), He uses the word “allos” (ἄλλος) which is a descriptive word that means: “another of the same kind.” In other words, Jesus is saying that “…the Holy Spirit will be a counselor/helper just like Me.” During Jesus’ ministry with His disciples, He had guided them; He had guarded them, and He had been their Teacher.

-God: The Holy Spirit!

Now, after His death & resurrection, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to do the same thing for them that Jesus had done when He was present. In Acts, chapter 5, after Ananias had lied about the amount of money he had received from the sale of a piece of property, Peter asked him:  “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” So, he lied, Peter said, to the Holy Spirit, right? And, in the very next verse, he says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” He used the Holy Spirit interchangeably with God. So, he lied to the Holy Spirit, who is God, Peter said. That makes Him a person; because you can’t lie to an impersonal force. Then, Jesus finishes His statement to the disciples:  “I will ask the Father,” He says, “and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16). In other words, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit will never be taken from us! God, the Father, has given us the Holy Spirit to enjoy forever!