Are You Hungry?

We’ve all experienced what we call hunger to some degree or the other. Sometimes I’ll have only a banana for breakfast, or maybe just a hot cup of tea, and later on, as lunch gets closer, my stomach lets me know it wants some food. I’ll be at work, trying to do my job, and my stomach will interrupt whatever thought processes may be going on and say “A nice, thick, juicy steak would be just fine right about now”, or “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!” And no matter how much I try to keep focused on the job at hand, I have no peace until I get some food in my belly.

While we speak of being hungry at times, most of us don’t really know what it is to be truly hungry. My mother grew up in post-WWII Germany and knew what that was like. She hasn’t been hungry like that since, but the physical consequences have remained. True hunger is found in many third-world countries, as well as in this country. If my stomach gives me grief when I’ve skipped a breakfast, theirs must really be a torture. To be truly hungry means desperation to satisfy that hunger; your mind can think of nothing else.

I think most of us will agree that hunger and thirst are, generally speaking, bad things. However, there is a hunger and a thirst that is good to have, and even better to have satisfied. There was a time David was in the desert, perhaps hiding from Saul, and he was very thirsty. But his thirst was not just for water. He wrote:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.

– Psalms 63:1-2 (ESV)

Do you feel about God like David felt? Are you desperate for Him? Do you have a gnawing hunger inside to know Him better?

When you’re hungry, all you can think about is what will satisfy your hunger and you will do anything to satisfy it. When it comes to spiritual hunger, many times we will fill ourselves with God-substitutes, which appear good and sometimes seem to meet our need, but they’re only temporary and are nowhere near as good as the real thing.

One of the substitutes we feed ourselves with, and its so easy to do, is Christian work. We will do all kinds of things to help build up the church, but we neglect the most important thing, and that is personal time spent alone with God. Yes, Christian service and relationships with others are important and necessary, but our individual relationships with God are even more important because that is what strengthens us to do our work. The church tends to operate too much in the Martha mode and not enough in the Mary mode (Luke 10:38-42). We prefer to “delight ourselves in the Lord’s work” more than to delight ourselves in the Lord Himself (Psalms 37:4). it’s an easy trap to fall in.

God’s blessings can also distract us from Himself. Like the daily manna that some Israelites hoarded (Exodus 16:18-20), our blessings cease to be blessings when we hold on to them, instead of holding on to the One who gives them.

The solution is to first become properly hungry and thirsty for God. It is hard to feel hungry when you keep filling yourself with God-substitutes. Examine your daily routine. If you have been spending most or all of your time in God’s service, but avoiding the God you serve, you need to reprioritize your relationship with Him. Examine the things you have been filling your life with, and see what needs to be postponed, limited or eliminated in order for you to spend time with your God.

Spend regular quality time with God in His word and prayer. Don’t think of it as just some chore or duty. Spend time with God like the best Friend He really is. Treat God like you would a lover: make regular, daily, dates with Him. Get to know, appreciate, and love Him more. Read His word with an awareness of His presence. Ensure nothing gets in the way of this – even your ministry. And as you do so, you will become hungrier and thirstier for Him.

Paul spoke of the excellency of just knowing Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8-10). Paul was truly thirsty for God. He was willing to do whatever it took, even to suffer, just so he could know Jesus better. This was his consuming desire. It needs to be yours also.

Be *desperate* to know God (Psalm 42:1-3, 84:2). Have Him on your mind through out the day. This is true worship. And, guess what? God will satisfy your hunger and thirst like you wouldn’t believe! And when you make Him the priority, He will straighten out all the other areas of your life! Your personal ministry will flourish from the overflow of your own close relationship with God.

Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

– Psalms 37:4 (ESV)

For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

– Psalms 107:9 (ESV)

Discipleship Class Notes

Salvation costs me nothing. Discipleship costs me everything.

These are the results of a study on discipleship I put together for the Beatty Community Church, originally as a night class, then as part of the adult Sunday school. These notes are not in their final form and the degree of ‘finished-ness’ varies.

Some of the quotes used in these notes were obtained from http://www.christianglobe.com/Illustrationsand http://www.watchword.org, and others through my own reading. Please note that the various quotes by various Christian leaders, pastors, and teachers does not imply an endorsement of everything they taught or believed. For example, I quote Watchman Nee in some areas where he has very good insight, but he also has some very dangerous teachings. Always test what man has written (including what I’ve written here) by God’s word, the Bible. No human is infallible.

I have also included the following extended quotations:

“Methods Of Bible Study”, by R. A. Torrey

“Spiritual Gifts Inventory” based on K. C. Kinghorn’s Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts.

I plan on including “Finding God’s Will” from Viggo Olsen’s book Daktar, Diplomat In Bangladesh when/if I receive permission from the author.

All scripture quotations are from the New King James version.


Introduction Introduction to discipleship. What it means and how to follow Jesus Christ.
Bible Study How to study the Bible as God’s word.
Quiet Time Why and how to spend quality quiet time with God.
Prayer How to pray to your heavenly Father.
Fasting What fasting is and how to fast.
Faith What faith is and how to make your faith stronger.
Sin & Temptation How to deal with sin and temptation in your life.
Walking In The Spirit What it means to walk in the Spirit, and how this is the secret to living a victorious Christian life.
Living For God’s Glory The meaning of life and how to fulfill it. This is derived from my Giving Glory to God study.
Worship What it means and how to worship God.
Finding God’s Will How do find God’s will for your life. How to make the right decision in big and small matters.
Body Building Taking your place in the body of Christ. Finding and using your spiritual gifts.
Evangelism Fulfilling the great commission by telling others about Jesus and making disciples.
Summary A summary of what it means to follow Jesus practically.

The Work Of The Holy Spirit

Introduction

How can we identify the work of the Holy Spirit? What sets the Spirit's work apart from the work of man or a deceiving spirit? What makes the Holy Spirit's work unique? These are important questions for today's believer.

Much supernatural activity goes on in churches that is assumed to be of God, but is it? Here are a few examples. As you read them, ask yourself, "Do these describe the work of the Holy Spirit? How can I tell?"

News item: NEGLIGENCE – "Act of God" Defense, The Supreme Court of Louisiana has refused to allow application of the "Act of God" defense in a personal injury suit brought by one worshiper against another on allegations that defendant ran into plaintiff while plaintiff was in the aisle of a church praying. Defendant had contended that she was "trotting under the Spirit of the Lord" when the accident occurred. 1

Classified ad: DIVINE HEALING, lay on of the hands, by appointment only, Tuesday and Wednesday, 12-8PM. 2

An audio series called The Holy Spirit In You teaches you "how to put the awesome power of God's Holy Spirit to work as effectively as the disciples did in the First Century Church."

A popular video series called the Alpha Course presents the gospel and basic Christian lifestyle to non-believers. It has been endorsed by many well-known evangelists, pastors and church denominations. The course also promotes as from the Holy Spirit such manifestations as uncontrollable laughter, shaking, and animal noises.

If you came to a conclusion on any of these examples, can you give a good biblical reason for your conclusion? It should be easy for us believers to know what is of God because we have the Spirit living inside us. But sadly, many of us feel a work is of the Holy Spirit even when that work goes counter to how the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit works.

The point of this article is to show you how you can recognize the Spirit's work so that you can distinguish it from man's or Satan's work. While I am going to focus a lot on spiritual gifts in this article, what I have to say applies to all areas of the Spirit's work. 3

Spiritual Gifts – A Different Approach

The church today tends to approach the subject of spiritual gifts in one of two different ways. Charismatic churches teach that the Holy Spirit still gives miraculous sign gifts to believers just as in the early church. Non-charismatic churches teach that miraculous gifts ceased early on because they were only to help the church get started. Both sides have some pretty convincing arguments to prove their position. Both have scriptures to back up what they believe, but obviously both can't be right. If you bring them together to share their viewpoints, the discussion usually blows up into a verbal battle that doesn't change anyone's mind.

While I have my opinion on this subject, in this article I'm not going to take sides. I'm not going to say whether such-and-such a gift is for today or not, or say which supernatural manifestations are of God and which are not. That is not my purpose for writing this. Instead, I want to show you how you can know if any specific work is of God. Then you can apply what you have learned to see for yourself if a particular gift or manifestation is of God or not.

One of the reasons that dialog between charismatics and non-charismatics is so difficult is that each of us tend to focus on our own 'pet' doctrines. The problem is that we tend to study only the parts of the Bible that confirm what we already believe. This is a type of self-deception. When we study the Bible, we need to study all of it and not make excuses for the parts we don't agree with.

He who pleads his cause first seems right; until another comes and questions him. 4

This proverb is a picture of a legal court proceeding. The defendant and the prosecutor will each put forth only the evidence that supports their side of the case. If you listen to only one side, you may not find the truth of the matter. But, by listening to both sides, you can weigh the evidence and come to an understanding of the truth.

When I study the Bible, especially about something controversial, I try to set aside my own biases. This is hard to do because I'm not always aware of my biases. Listening to various viewpoints helps me become aware of them, but what I believe must not be determined by the best sounding argument, but by what the Bible says as a whole.

As far as miraculous spiritual gifts are concerned, I've come to the conclusion that the question of whether they are for today or not is irrelevant. Instead, we should be focusing on the character and nature of God, who is the Giver of the gifts, so we can tell on an instance by instance basis if any specific work is of God. Paul said:

Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord. There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another faith, by the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, by the same Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of languages; and to another the interpretation of languages. But the one and the same Spirit works all of these, distributing to each one separately as he desires. 5

The key words in this passage are the last three: "as He desires." The gifts we received when God saved us were given by God at His discretion. We had no say in the matter. When I first trusted in Christ, God did not ask me what gift I would like. And I did not say, "Well, Lord, I'm going to go to a Baptist church, and they don't believe the gift of tongues is for today, so please don't give me that gift." That would have been silly! If the gift isn't for today, what do I have to worry about? – God won't give it. But if it is for today, who am I to tell God what to do? Likewise, I did not say, "Since I'm going to go to a Pentecostal church, please give me the gift of healing." That would have been equally as silly for the same reason. No, God decided which gift He wanted me to have. He gave me the gift I needed for the area He wanted me to minister in. Any other gift would have limited God's work through me.

To put it simply, if a gift is for today, then we will see God give it. If it is not for today, then we won't see God give it. This is a statement I think both charismatics and non-charismatics can agree on.

The Problem With Pragmatism

At this point there are some who will say, "So, miraculous gifts are for today because there are believers who practice them." But it's not that simple. Just because someone is doing something miraculous doesn't mean it is of God, even if it is a believer who is doing it. John warned us:

Beloved, don't believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 6

The reason he warned us is because we can be deceived.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were instructed to test prophets. Deuteronomy 13 details how they were to know if a prophet was truly sent from God:

If there arise in the midst of you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, "Let us go after other gods" (which you have not known) "and let us serve them;" you shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or to that dreamer of dreams: for Yahweh your God proves you, to know whether you love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 7

Notice that the test had nothing to do with whether a miracle had really happened. Real or not, the people were not to listen to the prophet who led them away from God to serve other "gods." They were to obey God as He had already revealed Himself, and one of the ways He had done so was with the command, "You shall have no other gods before me." 8

God isn't the only one who works miracles in this world. God also permits Satan to do some pretty amazing things. When Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and it became a snake, Pharaoh's magicians did the same thing and their staffs also became snakes. 9 The same is true today. Satan can and still does work false signs and wonders for the purpose of leading us astray. 10

When we become believers, we don't suddenly know all that is of God and all that isn't. We are not given perfect understanding of all things spiritual. Just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, New Testament believers were also instructed to test the prophets. In the early church, when someone prophesied, those who listened were not to blindly accept what they heard, but were to listen with a discriminating ear to see if what was said was really of the Holy Spirit or of a deceiving spirit:

Let the prophets speak, two or three, and let the others discern. 11

A quick reading of this verse makes it appear that all Paul is doing is limiting the number of those who prophecy in church to three, and instructing those who listen to pay close attention because they might learn something. But Paul is actually giving the listeners a big responsibility. The Greek word translated "discern" is diakrino, which means to try, to learn by discrimination, to decide. The New King James Version of the Bible translates this same word as:

Discern (Matthew 16:3, 1 Corinthians 11:29)

Judge (1 Corinthians 6:5, 11:31, 14:29)

Make distinction (Acts 15:9, Jude 1:22)

Show partiality (James 2:4)

Waver (Romans 4:20)

Differ (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Doubt (Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:23, Acts 10:20, 11:12, Romans 14:23, James 1:6)

Contend (Acts 11:2, Jude 1:9)

What a responsibility! Paul is telling believers to test prophecies. We are to discern, judge, and even doubt the message if it shows signs of not being from God.

Testing is scriptural. The Ephesian church was commended for testing those who were called apostles, and they found they were not. 12 The Bereans were commended for testing the teachings of the apostle Paul, and they found his teachings were true. 13 Paul told us to "test all things." 14 Without testing, we can be led astray.

In 1994, Jill Barnes 15 heard about a church meeting where people were on the floor "laughing their heads off." Some shared about how God had revealed things in their lives that displeased Him. Others said they felt drunk.

After hearing a friend talk about a meeting where she had gone forward for prayer ,and then fell down and shook from head to toe, Jill became curious enough to go with her.

At the meeting, the pastor gave a message, after which there was an invitation to come forward for prayer. Jill went forward. Someone put a hand over her head and she felt a bit dizzy. She noticed others were falling to the floor around her. Wanting to be touched by God, Jill let herself fall back. She felt what she later described as a "horrible, uncomfortable, heavy, oppressive feeling" go over her head and down her body. Her hands were clenched together but she couldn't relax or unlock them from each other. Scary, yes. But Jill thought this was of God. Eventually the meeting came to an end and she went home.

A few days later, the heavy, uncomfortable feeling came back and Jill went to bed terrified. Soon after, she started hearing voices that said, "Now you're free! Now you don't have any problems!" Then the voices said, "Kill yourself! Jesus isn't real! The Old Testament is real, but Jesus wasn't the Savior! You've got to look again, and find out where and who the Savior really is!"

By this time Jill knew this was demonic oppression. She eventually came out of her oppression with God's help, and that of friends, through prayer, in-depth Bible reading, and obedience to what she found there. But what happened to her can happen to any one of us who fails to recognize how the Holy Spirit works.

Biblical Testing

The Bible tells us to test the spirits. This implies that there is a method of testing – a standard by which we can know if a message or sign is truly of God.

Many Christians feel uncomfortable with the idea of testing God, and well they should. The Bible says we are not to tempt God. 16 But I am not talking about tempting God. When you know God is telling you to do something, there is only one thing you must do: obey. But not every spiritual manifestation is of God, and we need to recognize that. We are not to blindly accept all supernatural events as from the Holy Spirit.

So how can we know? What is this measuring stick by which we can test spiritual manifestations? Does it really exist? Can we really know if a message or sign is truly of God? I believe we can.

First, while the Holy Spirit can manifest Himself through physically miraculous means, His work is not identified through a particular outward act or manifestation. Satan has power in this world to cause miracles that look on the surface very much like the work of the Holy Spirit. For example, what we know of today as the gift of tongues or glossolalia (speaking in an unknown language), also occurs in some eastern religions and cults. The Way International, which denies that Jesus is God, practices glossolalia. So did the Heaven's Gate cult whose mass suicide in 1997 made the headlines years ago. There is even some evidence that much of this practice is not even supernatural. An article in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology 17 told of an experiment where 20% of the participants spoke in tongues (unknown languages) immediately after listening to a tape recording of genuine glossolalia. With some further training, the number increased to 70%. Whether this is a valid gift of the Spirit or not, it cannot be relied on as evidence that God is at work. No outward physical manifestation can.

Second, the Holy Spirit's work is not identified through a particular feeling or emotion. Satan can produce in us convincing feelings of closeness with God. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit doesn't always supply us with good feelings. One of the things the Holy Spirit does is make people uncomfortable with respect to sin in their lives.

However, the Holy Spirit's work can be identified through the character and the results of His work. It is these two areas that show the uniqueness of the Spirit's work and set it apart from man's or Satan's work.

Character

The character of the Holy Spirit's work is what reveals His character and divine nature, and it is always in agreement with God's character as revealed in the Bible. This is because the Holy Spirit is God, who is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever. 18 Therefore, we can use the Bible to tell us about the Holy Spirit's character and how He works today.

The Holy Spirit is the least understood Person of the Trinity, but this doesn't have to be. Because the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One and share the same nature, we can learn what each Person is like by studying the Others. When Jesus walked this earth, He showed us what the Father is like so that when one of His disciples asked Him to show them the Father, He replied:

"Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, 'Show us the Father?' 19

Jesus also showed us what the Holy Spirit is like because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. 20 Just as Jesus revealed God's character and nature through how He lived, when the Holy Spirit dwells in us and works through us, God's character and nature should also be evident through our lives. Those who claim their actions are directed by God's Holy Spirit, while their actions contradict how God has already revealed Himself, are not being led by the Holy Spirit but by a deceiving spirit. For example, the Holy Spirit…

will not lead someone to glorify himself or a ministry at the expense of His own glory (Isaiah 42:8).

will not cause someone to prophecy falsely. (Anything less than 100% accuracy is not of Him – Deuteronomy 18:22.)

will not tell someone to lie or act deceptively (Zechariah 8:17)

will not tell someone to steal (Hosea 4:1-3)

will not tell someone to seek a divorce (Malachi 2:16)

These things displease God, and what displeases God the Father also displeases the Son and the Holy Spirit. Angel Maturino Resendiz 21 murdered 9 people in 1997 and 1998 because he believed he was on a mission from God to eliminate evil. His actions showed his mission was not from God. His actions contradicted God's character.

We grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin 22, and when that happens, God's work is hindered in us. (This is not the primary way to determine what sin is because it is after the fact. We need to determine what sin is by God's word. But it is a way we need to become sensitive to.) If we are living a life of sin, then we are not being led by the Holy Spirit but by the flesh. When we are living in the flesh, we cannot please God. 23 However, when we are led by the Spirit, we cannot sin:

Whoever remains {i.e. abides} in him doesn't sin. … 24

When you sin, you can be sure you didn't do it under the control of the Holy Spirit!

God's character and nature were most evident through the life of Jesus on earth. We can learn a lot about God's character by studying Jesus' life and teachings, and by putting those teachings into practice. When we let the Holy Spirit have His way in our lives, we will become more Christ-like. 25 For example:

We will be careful not to cause even the least person to stumble in his walk with God (Matthew 18:6).

We will make sure our relationships with others are in order so that our relationship with God will not be hindered (Matthew 5:23-24).

We will forgive those who continually sin against us (Matthew 18:21-22, Ephesians 4:32).

We will love and seek to benefit those who are our enemies (Luke 6:35).

We will humbly serve others (John 13:13-15).

Nobody is saying that these are easy things to do. But the Holy Spirit living inside us enables us to do them because God's work inside us reveals God's character and nature through us. If we are not living this way, then what's being revealed is not of God but of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

God's character is evident through the work of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. God's Holy Spirit was with David through much of his life, and it showed. David was called a man after God's own heart. 26 David was sensitive to the Spirit's leading. His life revealed much of what God was like, seen in such areas as his mercy to Saul and in the psalms he wrote. How much of God's character is revealed through your life?

Results

Just as with the character of the Holy Spirit's work, the results will also always be in agreement with the results of His work in the Bible. One of the most popular passages on the work of the Holy Spirit is Acts chapter 2. Sometimes, when we read this chapter, we focus on only one aspect: the miraculous signs. But to gain a more complete understanding, we need to look at the ends, not the means, of the Spirit's work.

Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. 27

Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, was a Jewish holiday that celebrated the bringing in of the first fruits. It occurred 50 days after Passover and was one of the three holidays when all Jewish men were required to be in Jerusalem. So at this time, not only were all of the disciples still in Jerusalem (per Jesus' instructions in Acts 1:4), so were many other Jews from other regions. This chapter details the birth of the church, which was quite fitting considering the holiday. This was the day that the disciples first began "harvesting" new believers into the church.

We also read in this verse that the disciples were all together in one place when the Holy Spirit came. This group included the eleven remaining disciples (vs. 14), but it also included some women (including Jesus' mother) as well as His brothers and others who were previously meeting together for prayer. 28 We don't know exactly what they were doing at the time, but devoting themselves to prayer is a strong possibility.

Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak. 29

When the Holy Spirit came, it was suddenly and without warning. Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, and they were expecting Him to come, but the disciples did nothing to cause Him to come. As Jesus had told them, all they had to do was wait in Jerusalem, and He would send the Spirit to them unconditionally as He had promised.

We don't decide how or when the Holy Spirit works; God does. 30 Some churches teach or encourage spiritual manifestations such as speaking in tongues, "holy laughter," even barking like a dog or making other animal noises. The Holy Spirit does not work in this way. Look at the apostles. They were never taught their spiritual gifts. Jesus gave no instructions to His disciples about them. The most He did was mention a few gifts in Mark 16, but He never laid hands on them to impart to His disciples some spiritual power. The event in verse 4 happened completely in the Holy Spirit's own time and way.

We see here that the Holy Spirit comes at God's own leading, not at our own. We cannot cause ourselves to be filled with the Spirit. He is sovereign God who moves when He wants to move. But we can prepare ourselves to be used. We can willingly submit ourselves to His will, obeying the commands that He has already given us. When we do this, the Holy Spirit will fill us. 31

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under the sky. When this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because everyone heard them speaking in his own language. They were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Behold, aren't all these who speak Galileans? How do we hear, everyone in our own native language? … we hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God!" They were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, "What does this mean?" Others, mocking, said, "They are filled with new wine." 32

When the Jews heard the apostles speak, they were amazed. Here were uneducated, everyday people, who they recognized as Galileans, speaking in their own native languages. It was obvious to them that the apostles had never learned these languages. This miracle was in itself enough to attract their attention. However, not only did they recognize their own languages, they understood what the apostles were saying. They paid attention to the words. They heard them "speaking in our own languages the mighty works of God." This was something that would have been impossible had the disciples been speaking in an unknown language.

One of the results of the work of the Holy Spirit is that glory is brought to God the Father and Jesus Christ – not only by believers, but also by non-believers in their praises to God. 33 By the end of this chapter, many of these Jews would become believers in Jesus Christ, but at this point they were only "devout men" who believed in Yahweh God, but not His Son. They were outsiders. 34

The Holy Spirit's work glorifies God the Father and Jesus Christ. In other words, His work makes His character and nature known to believers and non-believers alike. Men come away with a better understanding of who God is and what He is like. This is one of the primary works of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's purpose is not to glorify anyone or anything else – not a ministry, a leader, a spiritual gift, or surprisingly, even Himself.

When Jesus walked this earth, even though He was equal with God, He did not glorify Himself. Instead He humbled Himself and glorified His Father, showing us what the Father is like. 35 Now it's the Holy Spirit's turn on earth in us. He also did not come to glorify Himself, but to glorify the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. 36

Beware of those who lift up a man or a ministry. When this is done, it is at the expense of God's glory. We need to focus less on ourselves and our accomplishments, and focus more on God and what He has done.

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them, "You men of Judea, and all you who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words. For these aren't drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel: 'It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. …' 37

Peter's first public message was given under the power of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus had promised, he was given the words he needed to say in that very hour. 38 So what he had to say was important.

First, Peter addressed what had attracted the people's attention. No, he was not drunk as some had thought. This event was of God because it was a fulfillment of a prophecy written hundreds of years earlier. The prophecy said that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. It would not be limited to the occasional king, priest, or prophet. Instead, God would work through common people such as Peter the fisherman, Matthew the tax-collector, and even the Gentiles. 39

What the Jews had seen was not only a fulfillment of prophecy, it also verified the authority and message of the apostles. Because this miracle was obviously of God, the people had to listen to Peter because God was working through him. They must listen to him or ignore him at their own peril.

Miraculous sign gifts, such as the gift of tongues, were given to validate the gospel message to non-believers. Paul taught this when he said tongues are a sign for unbelievers, those outside of the church, not believers. 40 We are not to seek after signs to increase faith, because we already "walk by faith, not by sight." 41

"… It will be, that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.' Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as you yourselves know, him, being delivered up by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by the hand of lawless men, crucified and killed; whom God raised up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it. … 42

After Peter shows his authority to speak is from God, he draws the people's attention away from the miracle, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He uses Joel's prophecy as a lead-in to the heart of his message.

Peter pulled no punches when he spoke; he just spoke the truth. He didn't worry about what the people would say or do. If they rejected him, then they would really be rejecting Jesus. This was a big turn-around from the way Peter had acted previously. Just seven weeks earlier he didn't want people to know he was associated with Jesus. Now, he boldly proclaims the gospel message. This was entirely due to the Holy Spirit's power in his life.

Jesus was clearly a "man approved by God." His miracles testified to His being sent by God. But even with this evidence, He was crucified unlawfully by the very people Peter was speaking to. God, however, raised Him from the dead. As a direct witness of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the disciples' testimony carried a lot of weight.

The Holy Spirit works in us to spread the gospel message. The gospel focuses on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as the final payment for our sins to reconcile us to God. It is the message of God's grace shown through the death of Christ. It is not a message of morality, healing, prosperity, Christian lifestyle, social change, religion, or anything else. These other things do not have the power to reconcile man to God.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself." With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation!" Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls. 43

Through Peter's message, the people were "cut to the heart." They were suddenly aware of the status of their relationship with God, and almost in panic, they asked, "What shall we do?" This was a valid question since their guilt was real: they had crucified God's Holy One.

The Holy Spirit convicts men of sin and grants true repentance. 44 In fact, it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can come to a realization of our sin against God, confess it to Him, and on receiving His forgiveness, live a life that is a 180 degree turn-around from the way we were living before. All believers are saved through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is through His work that believers are added to the church.

A note on baptism: Peter says that everyone must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. The baptism he is referring to is the regenerating indwelling of the Holy Spirit that begins the moment we are saved. 45 It is the gift Peter refers to in verse 38. The best illustration of the meaning of the word "baptized" that I've found is given by James Montgomery Boice in the Bible Study Magazine of May 1989, where he says the Greek word for baptized (baptizo) was previously used in a recipe for making pickles.

A cucumber becomes a pickle by taking on the nature of the vinegar solution it is immersed in. The longer it is in the solution, the more the cucumber nature is replaced with the vinegar nature. This change is permament; a pickle can never become a cucumber again.

Likewise, when we're saved, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, changing us from the inside out. This is the process of sanctification, and it results in a permanent change. But it takes time. Just as the cucumber must remain in the solution to become a pickle, we must continue to walk in the Spirit to become more like Christ. The process is not instantaneous.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved. 46

A change came over the people once they were saved. They had a new relationship with Jesus Christ and a new relationship with each other. Not only did they spend time under the apostle's teaching and in prayer and communion, they also started developing spiritual fruit. They sold their possessions, and with the money gave assistance to those in need. They did this joyfully with a great peace in their hearts. It was obvious the Spirit of God was working in them.

The Holy Spirit produces good spiritual fruit in our lives. This fruit is listed in Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9, and 2 Peter 1:5-7: Unconditional love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control, Righteousness, Truth, Faith, Virtue, Knowledge, and Godliness.

When we let the Spirit have His way, this fruit will grow and mature in our lives, and the church will become more unified in Christ. Not only will individual believers grow, the church will grow as a whole. The Holy Spirit doesn't cause us to lose control, but frees us from the other things that control us so that we can do God's will.

The Bible says the fruit (results) of a work will tell you about the source of the work. 47 Paul said that the results of his work among the Corinthian believers showed that it was of God. 48 He had no need to commend himself to them because the results spoke for themselves. They were clearly an "epistle of Christ," written by the Spirit of the living God on their hearts.

Jesus said every tree is known by its fruit. 49 A good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Jesus makes fruit the test by which we can tell if a work is of God or not. When the fruit of the Spirit abounds in our lives, we can tell that the Holy Spirit is at work. But if we exhibit the same corrupt fruit that is in the world, then our flesh and Satan are at work. Paul lists some of this corrupt fruit in his letter to the Galatians:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 50

Corrupt fruit is a result of living a life that pleases the flesh. Living to please yourself will produce corrupt fruit which is not edifying, but destructive. 51 Try as you may, you cannot produce unconditional love, joy, peace, etc. through selfish living. The only way you can produce good spiritual fruit is by giving control of your life over to God, by remaining in Christ, and by walking in the Spirit. 52

Summary

These same characteristics of the Holy Spirit's work can be seen elsewhere in the Bible. For example, in the next two chapters of Acts we see Peter heal a lame man. This gave him another opportunity to present the gospel to the Jews and to glorify God.

I encourage you to study the nature, purpose, and work of the Holy Spirit. When you become familiar with how the Spirit worked in the early church and thoughout the Bible, you can better recognize His work today, and discriminate His work from the work of deceiving spirits. (Some general passages on the Holy Spirit are Numbers 11:24-29, John 14-16, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 12-14.) As you read, try to set aside your biases and read these passages as if they are new to you. You may find some aspects of the Holy Spirit's work that you have previously overlooked.

Testing is very important. You don't want to get sucked into every whim of doctrine, and neither do you want to be deceived into thinking you are being led by the Spirit if you're not. These qualities that I've listed can also be used to see if the Holy Spirit is working in your own life. Just ask yourself:

Are my actions affirming or contradicting God's character or nature as revealed in the Bible? Am I obeying or disobeying God's commands? Am I living a more Christ-like life, or am I living like the world?

Is God (the Father and the Son) being glorified in my life? Are people able to see and understand God better through me? Is His character and nature being revealed?

Is it obvious to outsiders that God is at work in my life? Or is it only me, a ministry, or a spiritual gift they see?

Is my spiritual gift being used to build up the church, either by providing opportunities to spread the gospel, or by helping the church grow more Christ-like? Or am I using my spiritual gift only for my own benefit, and for my own self-interests?

Am I being used to spread the gospel message of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection? Are non-believers being convicted of sin, repenting, and coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Are all the fruits of the Spirit becoming more evident in my life? Am I showing love even to my enemies? Do I have joy when external circumstances seem contrary? Am I living a more sober, self-controlled life? Am I more patient?

Am I seeking the Holy Spirit's leading, or am I trying to lead the Holy Spirit? Am I seeking God's will, or am I looking for God's approval of my will?

If one or more of these areas are lacking, I suggest looking for things in your life that are grieving the Spirit. Examine yourself to see what is hindering the Spirit's work in and through you.

The key to recognizing the Holy Spirit's work is to become personally and intimately familiar with God Himself. Spend time reading, studying and meditating on God's word. Get to know God through obedience to His commands. Get to know His nature, His character, and His purpose. Get to know Him. Then you won't be fooled by imitations.

Notes:

  1. Photocopy in The Wittenburg Door's Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction calendar, published by Harvest House Publishers
  2. Photocopy in The Wittenburg Door's Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction, published by Harvest House Publishers
  3. While I haven't made any significant changes to this since I wrote it over 15 years ago, my understanding of spiritual gifts (manifestations) has grown. Now I think the Spirit can work in various ways and at various times through an individual believer. We don't necessarily have one or two fixed gifts assigned to us for the rest of our lives.
  4. Proverbs 18:17
  5. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
  6. 1 John 4:1
  7. Deuteronomy 13:1-3
  8. Deuteronomy 5:7
  9. Exodus 7:11-12
  10. Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22
  11. 1 Corinthians 14:29
  12. Revelation 2:2
  13. Acts 17:11
  14. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
  15. http://www.fulfilledprophecy.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=3400&p=37208
  16. 1 Corinthians 10:9
  17. http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf051/sf051p15.htm
  18. Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8
  19. John 14:9
  20. Romans 8:9-11, Galatians 4:6
  21. http://lubbockonline.com/stories/051100/sta_051100113.shtml
  22. Ephesians 4:30, Isaiah 63:10
  23. Romans 8:8
  24. 1 John 3:6
  25. 1 John 2:6
  26. Acts 13:22, 1 Samuel 13:14
  27. Acts 2:1
  28. Acts 1:13-14
  29. Acts 2:2-4
  30. Numbers 11:24-29
  31. A note on spiritual gifts: All believers are given at least one spiritual gift. The gift you were given was not given for your own benefit but for the benefit of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7). Spiritual gifts are relational. They are meant to be used for others, either to help bring new believers into the church, or to make those who are already believers stronger in Christ. Don't use your gift on yourself—use it for others.
  32. Acts 2:5-13
  33. 1 Corinthians 14:23-25
  34. One important point in this chapter is that even those who believe in God need to hear about Jesus Christ and what He has done. Just believing in God, or being a religious or spiritual person, is not enough.
  35. Philippians 2:6-8, John 8:50, 14:7-9, Hebrews 5:5
  36. John 16:14
  37. Acts 2:14-20
  38. Luke 12:12
  39. Acts 10:45
  40. 1 Corinthians 14:22. This was especially significant since the Jews were 'sign-seekers' (John 4:48, 6:30, 20:25, 1 Corinthians 1:22).
  41. 2 Corinthians 5:7, John 20:29, Matthew 12:39, John 12:37
  42. Acts 2:21-36
  43. Acts 2:37-41
  44. John 16:8, Acts 11:15-18
  45. John 3:5, Titus 3:5
  46. Acts 2:42-47
  47. Matthew 7:15-24
  48. 2 Corinthians 3:1-4
  49. Luke 6:44
  50. Galatians 5:19-21
  51. Galatians 6:7-8
  52. John 15:4, Philippians 1:11

Modern Christian Folklore

Many well-meaning believers, in an attempt to “prove” the truth of Christianity, will make use of what I call “Christian folklore”. This is second-hand evidence that usually either disproves evolution, or proves creation. The problem is that upon investigation, the evidence evaporates – it is found to be non-existant. While bad evidence doesn’t disprove the truth, it sure does seem that way to the sceptic. False evidence usually does more harm than good.

An example: Many Christians (and even some non-Christians) believe men have one less rib than women, because God took a rib from Adam to make Eve. But this is not true. Men have the same number of ribs as women. Just because God took a rib from Adam doesn’t mean all of his male offspring had one less rib. The physical characteristics of children are determined by genetics, not physical differences of the parents. The children of a one-armed man will still will have two arms.

Another example of false evidence has to do with the lost day of Joshua (Joshua 10:12-13). This is an account of when the sun stood still for about a day. Many of us have heard that space program scientists somehow proved the lost day occurred through their calculations. The problem with using this as an argument for the reliability of the Bible is that these calculations don’t exist. In fact, there is no known way to calculate if a day was lost. There is other evidence that the lost day occurred, but by using false evidence (i.e. rumor) to attempt to prove what is true, we run the risk of making the truth seem like a lie when the evidence is discovered to be untrue.

We need to be very careful with what evidence we use to defend what we believe. Scientific evidence must be personally thoroughly investigated and proved reliable before it is used. It is better not to use scientific evidence if we cannot prove the reliability of the evidence ourselves.

We are called to be witnesses. In order to be a witness, one must be personally acquaint with the facts. This is one of the reasons that the apostles’ message was so convincing: they were witnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (John 15:27, Acts 2:32, 5:32, 2 Peter 1:16).

The most important evidence we can give for the truth of Christianity is our testimony of what God has done in our lives. This should be evident not only through our words, but our actions and our very lives. This is the best evidence we can present because we are personally acquainted with it. We know what we were like before we were saved, we know what God did to save us and we can see the results in our lives.

Scientific evidence for the reliability of the Bible abounds, and there’s nothing wrong with using it when witnessing to an unbeliever, as long as we know it’s accurate. But the most important evidence is our testimony. Let’s tell the world what we do know!

Uncertain Situations

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. ..

– Acts 16:16-40 (NIV)

Paul and Silas were in Philippi, and a girl with a demonic spirit (a spirit of ‘Python’) followed them around town saying that they were of God and were proclaiming a way to be saved. That they let her do this for days makes me wonder if they were weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this free advertising. The girl was proclaiming that Paul and Silas were teaching a way of salvation. Maybe someone who wouldn’t pay attention to a couple of Jews would listen to her. But Paul didn’t feel right about this. Even though she was saying this, she was still lost herself. Finally after many days he became so troubled that he cast the demon from her. For this, both he and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail.

If I were in Paul’s situation, I wonder what I would have done. Let the girl do her prophecying? it’s free advertising and everybody’s happy. Paul and Silas could declare the gospel message unhindered as long as they left the girl as she was. Or maybe, cast the demon out, but before getting beaten, declare my Roman citizenship so I can save my hide. (Paul did elsewhere in Acts 22:25-29.)

There’s alot of things that happened in this situation that could cause alot of mental uncertainty, but I’m sure Paul and Silas were convinced they did the right thing – even when they allowed themselves to be beaten. Their worship in the prison shows no hint of doubt that this was part of God’s plan. In fact, when you compare the situation before and after, you see some unlikely contrasts.

Before Paul rescued the girl, things on the surface appeared to be going smoothly, but Paul’s spirit was troubled. Afterwards, it looked like Paul and Silas’s situation suddenly took a turn for the worse. They were stripped, beaten severely and thrown in prison with their feet in stocks. But Paul’s troubled spirit was gone. He was at peace and, with Silas, starting singing praises to God. How many of us would have thought this an ideal place for a pity party? How many of us would have questioned the wisdom of doing the right thing?

Because Paul and Silas did what was right when they had plenty of reasons not to, God gave them peace and used the situation for good. Eventually, even the jailer, his household, and quite possibly many or most of the prisoners came to believe in Jesus.

How many of us are distressed because we put off doing what is right? We settle for something that looks right in men’s eyes instead of what is right in God’s eyes. There is no peace in that. Do the right thing, regardless of what you think or know the outcome will be. We get God’s help when we do right. And God is glorified.

Removing Barriers

For this reason he {Jesus} had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

– Hebrews 2:17-18 (NIV)

As the supreme example of becoming approachable, Jesus came to earth in human form and experienced life on the same level as the rest of us. Our Lord and God become one of us. Although this is hard enough to believe, the way in which Jesus chose to live among us is even more amazing. We would expect God to come with all the pomp of a king. This is what the Jews were expecting of their messiah. But he didn’t. Jesus didn’t come as a king, a priest, or in the form of any other “important” person.

Instead, Jesus came as a commoner. He laid aside his riches and became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9), like the majority of the world. He who was equal with God came as a servant obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus took on the nature of a commoner because that was how he could minister most effectively to commoners.

Read through the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus and one thing will catch your attention. Where ever Jesus went, people followed. They would freely come to him with their problems, knowing he would hear them and help them. He did not look down on them as unworthy of his attention. Would this kind of life have been possible if Jesus came as a king or priest?

This should be an example for us, in how we are to relate to others. Just as Jesus bridged the gap between God and man by becoming like us, we need to try to eliminate, as much as possible, the differences between us and the ones we come in contact with, so we can witness and minister effectively to them. After all, the difference between the most righteous and the most evil among men is miniscule compared to the difference between God and man.

Paul put this to practice in his ministry. He made himself a servant of all so he could win as many as possible to Christ. With the Jews, he acted jewish. With gentiles, he acted “gentile-ish”. With the weak, he became weak (refering, I believe, to refraining from exercising his freedom in Christ if it would hurt someone whose faith was weak). Paul did not build walls around himself. He left the elite Pharisees, those whose attitude separated them from many of even their own countrymen, and went to minister and fellowship with gentiles, the “unclean”. He did this because spreading the gospel message was more important than maintaining a good reputation with the folks back home.

We Christians are not to keep our influence locked away behind church doors. Follow Jesus’ example. He was a friend of sinners, even though He did not act like them. He was righteous, yet his ministry was not to the “righteous” but to sinners. Jesus came into the world and was very much “in the world”, but he was not of it. Let us follow his example.

The Five Love Languages In Our Relationship With Christ

During the three months of our engagement, my wife, Wanda, and I went through pre-marital counselling with Jeff, our pastor. (I recommend pre-marital counselling for any couple who intends to tie the knot). During this time, we studied and discussed the various aspects of our relationship with each other, learning what we could do to keep our relationship healthy and growing.

I view the marriage relationship as a picture of our relationship with Jesus Christ. How Christ loves us and how we are to love Him is the way we should love our mates:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it.

– Ephesians 5:25 (KJV)

This expresses the type of love husbands are to have for their wives. It is agape love which is unconditional. It seeks to benefit the wife at whatever the cost.

Having lived the bachelor life for so long, I was somewhat at a disadvantage in understanding some of the aspects of my relationship with Christ in this way. Over the years, I’ve asked God for that special someone who would not only be a help-mate to me (and I to her), but would help me in my relationship with Christ – in better understanding of how I relate to Him and He to me, in how I can better please Him and love Him. This is something I really looked forward to in marriage.

As part of our pre-marital counseling, Wanda and I went through a book Jeff gave us called The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. In the book, Gary proposes that each one of us has a primary love language which causes us to feel loved when others ‘speak’ that language to us. These languages have to do with how love is expressed, not necessarily with words spoken. They apply not only to the marriage relationship, but in other relationships such as those we have with our family and friends. These love languages are:

Words of Affirmation The person whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation would really feel loved when you express your appreciation for the things that person does or what that person means to you.

Quality Time To express love to a person whose primary love language is Quality Time, you would spend time doing things with them. This could be going to a ballgame, a dinner, or doing some other things that that person enjoys.

Receiving Gifts Someone whose love language is Receiving Gifts might feel loved when you get them some flowers or something else they like – even giving of your time.

Acts Of Service Washing the car, doing the dishes, or mowing the lawn could be ways to express love to someone whose primary love language is Acts of Service.

Physical Touch Holding hands, hugging, kissing, even give a few pats on the back – these are ways of expressing love to someone whose love language is physical touch.

Some people have more than one primary love language, and most of us respond to all five to some degree.

In marriage, knowing your partner’s primary love language can really help keep the relationship going strong. But it can be difficult to speak that language if it is not your native love language. You might have to take really work at expressing your love to your mate if you both speak different love languages. But it is worth the effort when you see your relationship grow stronger.

As we were reading through the book The Five Love Languages, it occurred to me that if this theory is true, there is probably an application to our relationship with Jesus Christ. So I asked myself, “Hmm… I wonder what God’s primary love language is?” (I actually said this out loud during one of our counseling sessions with Jeff, and he said… “You’re too cerebral!”) After thinking about it though, I came to the conclusion that God does have a love language.

WORDS OF AFFIRMATION

The first language, Words of Affirmation, is definitely a way to show love for God. In more conventional terms, we call it giving praise and thanksgiving.

When you appreciate someone, it is always good to tell them and give them reasons why. You shouldn’t assume that they already know your feelings about them, and even if they do, it is so much better when you express it in words. When we consider all that God has done for us, our praise should come automatically.

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

– Hebrews 13:15

Praise is something you do with your tongue, not just your mind. Do you appreciate who God is and what He has done for you? Then tell Him. And don’t just tell Him, tell others. It really honors a person when you praise that person in front of others – in public.

If you find it hard to praise God publicly, I suggest doing something similar to what Gary Chapman suggested in his book. Make a list of things that God has done for you, then thank Him for each one of those things. Add to this list regularly, and review it often. Keep thanking God for these things daily and as your appreciation grows, you’ll want to express it publicly. Notice that it says in Hebrews 13:15 that we are to continually offer praise to God. We’re not to stop, even when we don’t feel like it.

QUALITY TIME

As I thought about each love language, I found others that also apply to God. The language of Quality Time is another one. We need to spend quality time with God. Some of the ways in which we are to do this are through Bible study and meditation, prayer, and personal worship time.

When we spend time with someone, we get to know them better and they get to know us better. And what we learn from that time together helps us relate to each other.

Deuteronomy 17:18 and 19 give God’s instructions to the kings of Israel. It says:

Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes,…

– Deuteronomy 17:18-19

The time that the king spent reading the law made him more aware of what God is like and how he could improve his relationship with Him. The same is true of us. When we read and study the Bible, we shouldn’t do it to gain knowledge about the Bible. We should do it to know the Author better so that we can relate to Him better and love and appreciate Him more. The Bible tells us not only who God is and what He is like, but what pleases Him and what displeases Him.

There is another way spending time with God shows love for Him. The act itself shows our love for God. It is the same as spending time with your friend. You could be doing something else, but instead you choose to honor your friend by spending your valuable time just being with him or her.

The time that the king of Israel would spend reading the law in itself honored God. Whenever we make time for God, whenever we set aside the things that we want to do so that we can spend time with Him, we honor Him, and this is a way of showing our love for Him.

Not only does Bible study qualify for quality time, so does prayer and worship. Going to church to worship God is a way of spending quality time with God. Just going to church in itself is not. Quality time is not about being in the same room. it’s about relating to each other by doing things together. We meet together primarily to spend time worshipping God.

RECEIVING GIFTS

The next love language is Gifts, and this also is one of God’s love languages.

it’s really strange, when you think of it, that we can give anything to God. He is the One who supplies all of our needs, and yet He has no needs of His own. Our choir sang a song a few years ago that asked the question, “What can I give to Him that He doesn’t already have”?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

– Romans 12:1

This is the hardest gift of all to give. it’s easy to give money and material things – that can be done without much thought. But to give oneself is difficult. When you give yourself, everything else that you have is included. This takes a lot of commitment, because when you give yourself to God, for Him to use as He sees fit, you have to continually keep giving yourself to God. Walter Martin said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep trying to crawl off the altar. Even after we submit our own will to God’s, we keep wanting to run our own lives and do our own thing. When you truly give yourself to God, you don’t provide stipulations on how your gift is to be used. You let God decide. It takes great effort of will to give up our will to God’s will. But God really appreciates it when we do so. He doesn’t love us more – there is nothing we can do to change that – He already loves us to the utmost. But it is an expression of love for God for us to give ourselves to Him.

ACTS OF SERVICE

Another love language that we definitely need to “speak” to God is Acts of Service.

In chapters 13 through 17 of John’s gospel, many things happened while Jesus spent time with his disciples. First he washed His disciple’s feet. Then he spoke to them of what was going to happen to Him and later to them. Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit. Then in chapter 15 He told them to remain in Him and to remain in His love. Starting in verse 9 He told them how to abide in His love:

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

– John 15:9-14

We are to love Christ by keeping His commandments. When we disobey God’s commandments, we are certainly not showing love to Him. 1 John 5:3 says:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

– 1 John 5:3 (MKJV)

it’s not like Jesus’ commandments are terrible. He doesn’t ask us to do tasks that are beyond our capability because He always supplies what is needed to do what He asks.

His commandment is that we are to direct our love for Him into love for one another. We serve Christ by serving others. This is how all service to God is performed. For what does God need that we can provide? Nothing. But His children have needs, and Jesus said that our service to Him is to be done in the form of service to others:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, `Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, `Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

– Matthew 25:31-40 (HNV)

One definition of “religion” is how we serve God. James 1:27 says that we serve God by serving others – by helping the orphans and widows. These are examples of what we are to do to express our love for God in acts of service.

PHYSICAL TOUCH

Four of the love languages are applicable to God. What about Physical Touch. This was the hardest love language for me to figure out. How can you express love for God physically? He doesn’t have a body. Is this the one exception?

Well, this language is not so much about physical touch, but what physical touch communicates.

In biblical times, there were a large number of people who were considered outcasts. (The same is true today.) Some were outcasts due to public knowledge of immoral lifestyles, and some were due to uncleanness caused by sickness through no fault of the person. Leprosy was a very bad disease. It not only had severe physical effects, but it also had more severe social effects. The law separated the unclean from the clean because only those who were ceremonially clean could worship at the tabernacle. Touching someone or something unclean would make you unclean. So lepers were commanded to cry out “Unclean, unclean!”. They had to live outside of the camp or city (Lev 13:45-46). But in Matthew 8:1-3, Jesus does something most Jews (and we ourselves) would find repulsive. He touched a leper…

When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

– Matthew 8:1-3 (RKJNT)

What was the significance of this touch? Jesus didn’t have to touch him. He could have healed the man at a word. But He did touch him. He reached out with His hand and touched the untouchable. What did this communicate to the leper? That Jesus didn’t consider him an outcast. That he was accepted in His eyes.

Touch indicates acceptance of a person. You’re getting down to that person’s level. You’re willing to communicate with someone closely. it’s easy to put your money in the collection plate every week or mail off your donation to some charitable organization to pay some other people to help the needy for you. it’s hard to go out and help the needy yourself.

Jesus didn’t isolate Himself during His ministry years. He allowed anyone and everyone to come to Him and He went out of His way to help those nobody else would (such as when he crossed the sea of Galilee just to rescue a demon-possessed man). Jesus even welcomed children and communicated love to them when he took them in His arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.

– Mark 10:13-16

We need to show our love for God by loving the unlovable in the same way: by not being afraid or repulsed by those less fortunate than ourselves.

SUMMARY

As with a marriage relationship, we need to keep our relationship with God strong and healthy. We do this by regularly and continually expressing our love for God through these five love languages. Some of these may be difficult, but with practice, we will become better at it and closer to God.

Small Towns

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are.

– 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (NAS)

God is no respecter of persons. We know this as it relates to God’s judgement and His love, but it also applies to who He uses to do His will.

God choose David to be king of Israel. David did not come from a royal line of descendants. He was a shepherd and the youngest of eight sons. He came from a small town, one of many small towns. But David had a heart for God and God used him to accomplish His will.

Don’t think that because you do not have any formal theological training, or you don’t come from a line of great preachers that God can’t use you in a great way. All that is required is a heart for God and a willingness to do His will. It doesn’t even matter where you’re from.

I live in a small town out in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t think this is a dead-end location. Many of the great men and women of God have come from small towns. Amy Carmichael, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, and Billy Graham all came from small towns and villages. Jesus even grew up in the small town of Nazareth (John 1:26). Considering the number of people who live in the cities, it seems God uses a disproportionate number of people from small towns to reach large numbers of people.

Why does God use “nobodies”? I think it is because they were willing to be used, and they prepared themselves beforehand with the expectation they would be used. They did not necessarily know what God had planned for them. (In some cases their ideas about how God would use them were completely different than how they were eventually used.) But they prepared themselves anyway. They did not study the scripture and pray just for the benefit of themselves but so that God could use them to help others. They also did what they knew God wanted them to do right where they were at the time. This is what you and I need to do.

Do you ever wonder what God has planned for your life? You may not know, but that does not matter if you are preparing yourself to be led by God. How do you do that? The answer is in Romans:

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

– Romans 12:1-2 (NAS)

We must become devoted to God’s service now. By living for God in the present and by the renewing of our minds now through meditation on the scripture and communion with God through prayer, God will prepare us for whatever He has planned in our future. Don’t expect to know God’s will or to be be used by Him in the future unless you prepare yourself to be used and do His will in the present.

Preparing For Worship

Ah, Sunday – The day of rest! The day that we can recuperate from the spiritual drain of the week so that we can get ready for the next six days. We get run down and stressed out Monday through Saturday, and Sunday is the day we get “recharged” spiritually. We go to church and sing uplifting hymns and songs. We listen to an inspiring sermon and bang, we’re ready for another week!

Or at least that is the way we think it should work.

Many of us think our worship on Sunday prepares us for the week ahead, which it does. But I think we would get a lot more out of our group worship if we changed our mindset and thought of the other six days as preparation for our worship on Sunday. After all, the primary focus of worship is God (praising Him), not ourselves (spiritual renewal).

Many of us come to church with things in our lives that hinder true worship. These obstacles need to be dealt with before we come to God as a body of believers.

Had I regarded iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not hear.

– Psalm 66:18 (JND)

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

– Matthew 5:23-24 (KJV)

When Jesus talked about being reconciled with your brother before offering your gift before God, He was speaking of eliminating obstacles to worship. The one thing that hinders my worship of God is the same thing that hinders my relationship with Him: Sin.

Any sin in my life will put a damper on my relationship with my heavenly Father. It is not just sin between me and God, but also between me and my “brother” – any other human being. Am I jealous of what someone else has? Am I holding a grudge against someone, even if I feel it is justified? Do I hate someone? These are obsticles to true worship. How can I hate someone I have seen and say I love God whom I have not seen? (1 John 4:20)

We need to prepare our hands and hearts for worship today before Sunday arrives.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

– Psalm 24:3-4 (KJV)

We need to have clean hands and pure hearts when we come before our God. Our hands represent our outward actions – how we live during the week. Our hearts are our inward motives and desires. It would be a good idea on Saturday to spend some time evaluating our actions and motives during the past week and preparing for worship the next day.

Part of the reason for getting prepared for Sunday worship is so that you will have something to offer. We should actively participate in Sunday worship: don’t just soak it all in – give. All believers have been given spiritual gifts to help build up the church body. These gifts are given by the Holy Spirit not for your own benefit but for others. Any sin in our lives will hinder the Holy Spirit’s work in us. So we need to deal with sin right away so that God can work through us more effectively.

Do you have anything in your life that is hindering your relationship with God? Take care of it now. If you’ve offended someone, make a sincere effort to reconcile your differences.

Same old thing every Sunday? – Were you prepared?

Unity Of The Body Of Christ

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one…”

– John 17:20-23 (NKJV)

Jesus prayed for you and I that we would be one – in unity with God and in unity with each other. Of all the different ways that the church is described in the Bible, I think the body of Christ is the best illustration of all. Like a physical body, no part seeks only it’s own good but works for the good of the whole. Just think about a tightrope walker: every part of his body will work together to keep the whole in balance. If one part decided to do its own thing, the whole body would be in trouble.

We know God wants our church to function in unity, but it goes beyond just our local church. While there are many church congregations, there really is only one body of Christ. When we trust in Jesus to save us, we become part of the same body as every one else who has also trusted in Jesus, no matter what local assembly they attend. You and I are joined not only with believers in our congregation, but with all believers in town and around the world.

While we may acknowledge this, practically speaking, many times we consider the church down the street or on the other end of town as a separate entity – one that we’re in competition with.

One of the more disturbing examples of this is when a grievance occurs between one believer and another, to the point where one of them leaves and transfers membership to another church. I’ve seen members transfer both into and out of our church in the past for personal grievance reasons and I’m sure some of you have too. it’s not supposed to work that way. This turns Christ’s body into a bunch of cliques, dividing the body ( 1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

Two parts of the body of Christ will not work together to reconcile their differences, so they avoid each other, they separate from each other – and yet, regardless of what they may think, they are still part of the same body of Christ. Instead of solving the problem, the body becomes even more dysfunctional, and we all suffer.

The solution is for each of us to humble ourselves and serve one another, focusing on Christ:

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

– Philippians 2:1-4 (NKJV)

We need to have this attitude towards all believers, no matter what church they go to. We need to be in unity with other churches – doing what is needed to help build them up (Galatians 6:10).

How can we do so? We can fellowship with them, pray for them, supply what they are lacking through what God has blessed us with (Romans 15:26, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15), praising God for their growth. In short, we need to treat them as one of us, because they really are. There should be no “us-them” mentality. We all belong to Christ.