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The Advocate

Spring has arrived, and with it, the nation’s pastime…Baseball.  In my youth, the baseball season-opener marked the beginning of five months of opportunity, revelry, and comradery.  It has been over fifteen years since I’ve played a game of baseball or softball, but my mind and soul still wander to the green fields of yesteryear and the names with faces of those who accompanied me in my athletic pursuits on the ball diamond.   (Pause for Thought:  “All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”—John 14:25-26.  What times or places remind you of people you have not seen for a while?  How did these people (or this person) influence you to the point of remembrance?)
 
I’ve lately been thinking of a circumstance that happened when I was thirteen years-old playing catcher for a baseball team who’d drafted me quite unexpectedly.  The team had been together for two or three years.  The coach selected me from my old team to replace the catcher on his team.  He moved his regular catcher to second base to make room for me as the everyday catcher.
 
I played well for the team until one play at a key moment in a game against my new team’s arch rival.  With the winning run on third base, the hitter bunted the ball.  From my catcher’s position, I lost sight of the ball; looking for it on the ground at my feet, the air over my head, and the fence at the backstop.  While frantically searching, the winning run for the other team crossed home plate.  To my dismay, the third baseman had the ball all the time, and I failed to notice.  (Pause for Thought:  “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have an Advocate with the FatherJesus Christ, the righteous one.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”—I John 2:1-2.  Have you ever felt like the “weakest link” in a family, community, or group?  How did you deal with these feelings?  Have you ever felt like you were a “spiritual weak link”?  Who did you turn to?)
 
The damage had been done.  The coach worked us hard and silently the first part of the following practice.  After about an hour, he made us sit on the bleachers.  He began to voice his displeasure with me in no uncertain terms.  The coach even did his best whirling dervish imitation to mock my failed attempt to locate the bunted ball.
 

Then something happened out of nowhere.  As I sat alone at the end of the bleachers, covered in my sweat and the dust from the field, Charlie, our centerfielder stood up and interrupted the coach’s mocking.  Charlie was a few years older than me and the brother of the boy I had replaced as catcher.  He said to the coach he was wrong to single me out for the loss, and he pointed to the team’s inability to win the game.  Charlie came over to me and shook my hand, and all my teammates surrounded me.  I saw Jesus in Charlie that day, and I can’t help but remember both of them every Spring.  (Pause for Thought:  “Even now my witness is in Heaven; my advocate is on high.  My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”—Job 16:19-21.  When has someone stood up for you?  How does knowing Jesus stands at the right hand of God vouching for your body, soul, and spirit change the way you look at living life and taking risks for the Kingdom?)


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The Art of Recovery

Fishing Fletcher’s Floodwaters through the summer—Memorial Day to September—was a pleasure.  The water levels of the flooding stayed high enough to make for excellent catches of fish.  By Labor Day weekend, the water level diminished to the point all stumps and snags, once well below the water’s surface, lay exposed.  Fishing became problematic.  It was time to take slow boat rides and collect the summer’s lost fishing lures from their underwater tombs.  (Pause for Thought:  “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”—Psalm 16:9-10.  When have you felt abandoned?  What circumstances (finances, relationships, work, etc.) seem to overwhelm you with dread and loneliness?  How have you been rescued from these circumstances in the past?)
 
It was a treasure hunt for my family and me.  My dad and I would get in our boat and my grandpa would get in his.  We meandered through the once submerged forest looking for shiny, colorful, patches on the starkly dark, gloomy, tree trunks and branches.  Often, the lures and baits were so corroded and decaying, the hooks would disintegrate as you pulled them from the bark and grime.  The rust and pitting betrayed how long the baits had been left and forgotten.  It became a contest amongst us as to who could collect the most and best baits.  (Pause for Thought:  “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’  ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me’.”—Isaiah 49:14-16.  What emotional scars and distrust (fears) do you experience because of past abandonments?  Does knowing Jesus, through his crucifixion, empathizes and sympathizes with you help you to recover and, if yes, how?)
 

My grandpa would take the recovered lures, and using his God-given talents, restore them to pristine condition.  Many times the lures were improved with little flourishes and “touches” unique to my grandpa’s talents as a craftsman and fishermen.  Trolling lures received squirrel tail dressing to add life-like movement.  Spoons and jigs received fish-appropriate paint jobs that could withstand the stresses of rocks, wood, and fish teeth.  I loved receiving these baits back from my grandpa during Christmas and birthdays.  It was purposeful art created from long lost possessions recovered by those who took the time and effort to care.  (Pause for Thought:  “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”—1 Peter 5:10.  How does this Holy Week culminating in Jesus’ resurrection and restoration to the throne help you in your current circumstances?  What joy do you have for your future now that sin, and its consequence of death, has been defeated?  What hope and strength can you gain from your association with Jesus’ suffering, death, and recovery from the grave?)


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Gaining Perspective

I like to ask my son about his thoughts and feelings regarding serious world matters we encounter together.  It becomes a little puzzle game when he and I have an opportunity to really get at the heart of matters.  His perspective and mine often differ, and it makes for some good conversation.  For instance, last weekend, we were watching our favorite show, and the host ended the show with a spirited monologue detailing his feelings regarding injustices his town was experiencing.  I thought this a good opportunity to ask my son, “Whaddya Think?”     (Pause for Thought: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” – Proverbs 1:7  How often do you factor in God’s thoughts on a subject for your decision making?  How often does the Lord ask you, “What Do You Think”?)
 
I wanted my son to express his solution to the matter and see how he would accomplish the solution (i.e. laws, persuasive speeches, writing, etc.).  He determined to solve the matter by making everyone be Christians.  I asked him why, and he replied they would then know peace.  He explained people would go to church, and read the Bible, and therefore, demonstrate a peaceful, righteous, relationship with each other.  I asked him if reading the Bible and going to church had resulted in peace within his own house, and he determined it didn’t always.  We each confessed the way to peace isn’t in being a “Christian-Doing”, but by being in a continual conversation with God to gain His perspective on matters of living.  (Pause for Thought:  “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who is able to govern this great people of yours?  So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have you asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked.  I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be’.”—I Kings 3:9-12  Can you name three things the Lord gives, without hesitation, to His people?  Why, do you suppose, people choose not to ask God for wisdom and insight.  Have you ever asked God for wisdom concerning a matter in your life?  What were the short and long term results?)
 
A young man named Solomon was in a difficult situation.  The governance and justice of an entire kingdom rested on his shoulders.  God asked him, “Whaddya Think?”  Solomon said he thought wisdom, God’s perspective on matters, would bring the “shalom” (highest-good, peace) he and his kingdom required.  In essence, a prayerful conversation ensued, and when Solomon continued to ask God, “Whaddya Think”, the path towards the highest-good was found by Solomon and the nation of Israel.  It’s amazing when my son and I ask each other for our thoughts on a matter; it’s God’s truths from his word that we truly hear in our souls; like the verse that came to use while discussing our thoughts on justice and what people needed in the situation we heard about:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the PEACE that PASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   (Pause for Thought:  “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”—Isaiah 11:2-3a  How often do people seek your advice or perspective on a matter?  What is the basis/authority of your responses?  What will you ask God for this week?)
 

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Bearing Devotion

“Don’t come between momma bear and her cub,” were the words from my Dad as he witnessed someone taking responsibility for my son in the presence of my wife.  My dad often refers to my wife as “momma bear”.  It stands to reason since female grizzly bears are quite possessive of their responsibility for raising their offspring, and they demand intense devotion from the cubs while instructing them on the course of survival.  I’ve seen the Ursus arctos Horribilis (Latin for Mainland Grizzly Bear) manifest in my wife and dish out quite the scolding to perpetrator and son alike.  Jesus takes his responsibility for his children very seriously too.   (Pause for Thought:  “Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly”—Proverbs 17:12.  “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to the person through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin’.”—Luke 17:1-2. What emotions do you feel when you think Jesus is responsible for your completeness in body, soul, and spirit?  What questions do you have in regards to His and your responsibility in your relationship with Him?  If you are a parent, how do you want your children to view and feel about your responsibility to them?  Should/Do you feel the same way towards God since He is your heavenly Father?)
 
I’ve just finished a book on the history of grizzly bear encounters in North America.  It’s amazing how many human-bear interactions are the results of the protectiveness of a she-bear for her cubs.  Cubs have no fear of humans, and the she-grizzly is quit relentless in her efforts to keep people from hurting her cubs.  Many accounts documenting a grizzly’s mauling and/or killing of a person, even after she has been mortally wounded, illustrate her tenacity and relentless effort to responsibly care for her cubs.
 
A mother grizzly will teach her cubs to avoid not only people, but also male grizzly bears.  A male grizzly will kill cubs, so the mothers will go into season for mating.  Many are the times, a sow grizzly will attack a boar grizzly larger than her to insure the cubs survive and avoid serious threat.
 
She is responsible to show her little ones where, what, and when to eat.  Contrary to popular thought, grizzly bears don’t eat everything all the time.  A grizzly will steer clear of a lowly skunk, and if they obey, cubs will not eat a porcupine because of the mother’s instruction.  The quills will cover the cubs’ mouth, so they cannot eat the foods the mother shows her cubs, thus making the threat of starvation a reality.  The mother will instruct the bear cubs to not eat and slow down during the winter, so as to reserve their energy (Sabbath?).  A cub or young adult grizzly that tries to forage through winter, instead of hibernating, will starve to death.  (Pause for Thought:  “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’.”—Matthew 26:26-28.  In what ways has Jesus cared for you?  Your family?  Has He let you down?  In what area of your life do you want to trust Him more?)
 
Like my wife feels her reputation as a mother is on the line when people, including my son, see her taking responsibility for my son’s upbringing, Jesus’ feels His reputation is on the line, as our Savior, for His taking responsibility for establishing us with a place and position within His kingdom.  The least we can do as His disciples (devoted ones) is obey Him.  (Pause for Thought:  “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”—John 15:10-11)
 

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Appreciative Understanding

Ants and Aphids.  Two completely different insects, yet they enjoy a relationship that brings forth a beautiful example of God’s wonderful design.  The aphid is a defenseless insect with many known enemies and threats.  Ants are industrious and purposeful and live out a quite intelligent life.  So much so, ants of the “dairying” variety will protect and support a healthy population of aphids instead of destroying them in their helpless condition.  The aphid, in return, will exude an excess of “honey dew” from the saps it sucks from plants, and in gratefulness for what the ants do and who they are, they allow the ants to consume the honey dew from off their body. (Pause for Thought:  “Blessed are those who have LEARNED to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.  They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness.”—Psalm 89:15-16.  What divine design of God’s have you witnessed that makes you want to enthusiastically and publicly worship Him?  How often do you point out God’s design for your family/children, so they can celebrate in worship?)
 
We have no further to go, in God’s Word, than a few pages before we encounter one who showed his appreciation in understanding God’s divine design for redemption.  Abel gave God the perfect first-fruit of his flock of sheep as a blood sacrifice of gratefulness.  He had heard of God’s provision of a slain animal to cover the emotional and spiritual condition of nakedness, separation, and exposure of his parents after they sinned in the Garden.  Adam and Eve attempted to cover their sin with leaves, but God in His purpose-filled design, shed the blood of an animal to atone for their sin, and give them clothes.  Abel was grateful for this and demonstrated his appreciation in worshipful understanding.  He knew the truth of God’s design and acknowledged it to God.  (Pause for Thought:  “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness—Hebrews 9:22.  “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.  What kind of items do you have around your house illustrating God’s divine design and intention for His creation-i.e. books, music, art, food, clothes, etc.  How often do you point these out to your family and children as a way of appreciating God’s design and teaching them to understand, so they can live up to God’s intention?  Will you do so this week?)
 

I have encountered people who suppose God must look and consider them in the same they look and consider ants.  I’m not sure how they can rate people as high as ants.  I wonder if that is why Cain’s story turned out the way it did.  Cain never understood or accepted the Divine design.  He repeated the mistake his parents made in trying to cover his sins, and maybe the sins of the world at the time (see Genesis 3:15), with his own efforts from what came from the ground.  I imagine Adam, Eve, and Abel tried to explain God’s design of care and provision and imitate it for him, but with the bitterness of an ungrateful heart, Cain lacked a worshipful spirit, and he continued in the iniquity of his ways.  We need to consider and be the aphid.  (Pause for Thought:  “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’.”—Revelation 8:13.  What do you need saved from in your life right now?  How does/will your rescue fit into the Divine Design?  How will you show your appreciation for your place and being within God’s design?)


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Means & Ends

Philosophy 101 taught us to think rationally and logically regarding the world around us.  For instance, if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  These little formulas became the grounds for our understanding of things perceived in nature, regarded in character, and encountered in literature.  Political Science courses taught us to use things understood rationally and logically in world history and governments to determine outcomes and create change.  We studied and argued concepts like, “Is it better to be feared than loved?” and “Does the end justify the means or do the means justify the end?” (Pause for Thought:  “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.—Romans 8:30.  Notice the “where” and “when” in this verse.  Our justification and glorification is here and now.  What kind of freedom does this give you?  How will you use your freedom for others?)
 
Please allow me to refer back to last week’s article where it was proposed that Jesus made certain all of the big uncertainties in living a human life—“What happens when I die?” and “Who am I?”  Because Jesus was who he was—both God and human—and because he experienced every known “unknown” mankind could ever experience, he determined our place (justification) and our being (glorification).  He made the ending certain.  We can speak and live with certainty as to where we are going and who’s we are.  Therefore, in the case of Christ’s HIStory and government, the end justifies the means.  (Pause for Thought:  “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger or sword?—Romans 8:33-35.  How is Jesus Christ’s government different from worldly governments?  Why, do you suppose, we place such conviction and personal attention to maintaining shifting governments instead of following a King and Kingdom of such certainty?  What would the world look like if earthly governments pledged their allegiance to Jesus?  What would your family look like if they pledged their allegiance to Jesus?)
 

If Jesus’ end justifies our place and being, what does that mean for us?  What then should be our response to all of this?  If you are like most Christians I encounter, they are on a path of trying to earn this justification and glorification.  But if something has already been given to you, how can you earn it?  You can’t.  You are supposed to use it.  I figure, scripturally speaking, we use it in three ways—APPRECIATION=WORSHIP (Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.—Psalm 95:6-7); DEVOTION=OBEDIENCE (Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”—Acts 5:29); and IMITATION=SACRIFICE (Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.—Romans 12:1).  (Pause for Thought:  How does knowing the end make it easier to live out your appreciation, devotion, and imitation of Jesus?  In what practical ways will you live up to your justification and glorification in front of others this week?)

 

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Living Up

I’m always fascinated when I meet someone who reads the last chapter of a book first.  I’ve been told knowing the outcome allows for a more fulfilling reading experience.  I suppose once the uncertainty of the ending is known, the means to the end is better understood and more appreciated.  Maybe that is why Jesus took care of humanity’s most uncertain aspects to living—“What happens when I die, and who am I?”—when He arrived, lived, died, rose, and ascended.  The last chapter is a foregone conclusion.  (Pause for Thought:  “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again, so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”—I Thessalonians 4:13-14.  What uncertainties are you and your family facing this year?  How does knowing death is nothing but a short sleep with Jesus help you face these uncertainties?  Remember, when you fall asleep at night, you don’t cease to be who you were when you awake.  Since this is so, what do you suppose we carry with us into Heaven?  What do you suppose is left behind?)
 
My wife, son, and I always pray before we part for work and school in the mornings.  The first school day of this year, I asked my son what he wanted to work on and perfect this semester.  I was thinking he would request prayer for an academic or intellectual pursuit, but instead, he said he wanted to know more about what a Christian does and who a Christian is.  His request exuded uncertainty.  He is currently living in an “earn it or lose it” state of being.  (Pause for Thought:  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”—I Peter 2:9-10.  How does a royal priesthood look and act?  Are you basing your response on Jesus’s example or the world’s?  What, if any, difference is there between Jesus’s example of royalty and priesthood and the world’s?  What “certainties” does Jesus’s example bring with it?)
 

I want my son to understand a Christian (Jesus Christ Follower) doesn’t try to earn the places, rights, and privileges given to him, but focuses on living up to these gifts given freely by his heavenly Father.  My son’s eventual physical death is just falling asleep and waking up with Jesus—again.  Nothing can stop that from happening.  My son is a king in the order of Jesus—no one can take that away.  I want these grace-filled certainties to be the basis for his living and wisdom.  His place, my place, is guaranteed always—now and forever—at our Father’s table.  Our earthly failures will not be a reason for our removal from our place at His table, but an opportunity for us to live up to the gracious gift and accompanying responsibilities from our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Pause for Thought:  “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Luke 22:28-30.  What is the basis for being a Christ follower?  How do you view trials when they appear?  Do you try to earn your way closer to the King?  Do you believe the trial has come as a punishment for something you did or didn’t do?  How do you view Jesus’ authority and yours when these trials arrive?  If you will allow me, I would like to speak more to the subject of “living up” in next week’s article.)


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For Crying Out Loud

I just learned this week the euphemism for “For Christ’s Sake!” is “For Crying Out Loud!”  I have said “for crying out loud” many times in my desperation and exasperation, but had no idea I was invoking the name, power, and expectations of my Lord and Savior.  It caused me to think about those who consciously called on the Name of the Lord and were saved.  My first thought was of David the shepherd boy who would be King of Israel.
 
As a tender of sheep, David cried unto God to save him and his family’s welfare from marauding lions.  David, the young warrior, would invoke his Savior’s name to defeat giants.  As the spiritual, military, and political leader of Israel, he cried out loud the name of the Most High to overcome evil enemy kings. (Pause for Thought:  “I cry out to God Most High, To God, who vindicates me.  He sends from Heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me—God sends forth His love and His faithfulness.”  Psalms 57:2-3.  David wrote this as King Saul pursued his life into a cave.  David had this sung to a tune called, “Do Not Destroy”.  Have you ever cried out loud to God, “Lord Save Me!”?  If so what was the result?  Why don’t people call on the name of the Lord in their initial distress?)
 
Based on the many times David cried out to God for salvation, and based on the different Hebrew words used for “cry out”, David was vocal in his pleas—some were murmurs and some were shrieks from terror. (Pause for Thought:  “In my distress, I called upon the Lord, and cried out (shava=high pitched shout for help) to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry (shava) came before Him, even to His ears.”  Psalm 18:6; “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry (shava).”  Psalm 34:15.  Why does a vocal response to our danger invoke such power from God?  Have you been vocal in your distress in front of your children?  Who or what have you called upon to save you?)
 
I’ve read and heard how the name of Jesus has stopped gunmen in their tracks, stalled the motors of machinery poised to do damage, and even thwarted kidnappers and carjackers.  David is proof of how a life lived consciously in the presence of our Lord and Savior can manifest that presence by crying out loud for rescue.  Unfortunately for David, he did not pass this beautiful truth and skill on to his daughter, Tamar.  (Pause for Thought:  Read II Samuel 13:1-22.  During her pleading with Amnon, why, do you suppose, Tamar didn’t voice out a cry for help to God?  Based on what we know concerning David’s crying out, what could have been the results of Tamar’s crying out to God?)
 
As parents, we tell our children, “I’ll always be there for you” and, “I’ll never let anything happen to you” all in front of a backdrop of Stranger-Danger, ALICE training, and JUST SAY NO.  Are the promises we’re making true? (Pause for Thought:  As it concerns the privilege of voicing our cry to ABBA FATHER, what can you tell and teach your children about danger and alertness?  Are you willing to practice crying out to the Lord with them this week?  What fear is stopping you from crying out or teaching your children to do so?)
 

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People of Purpose

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

 

While the first portion of this verse from Philippians focuses on state of our identity, the second instead speaks to implications of that identity, namely, that we are created for good works. The God who shapes us and knits us together in our mother’s womb has preveniently assembled deeds for us to participate in.

 

Throughout the early Church as chronicled in the book of Acts, there is one actor who features prominently— the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is consistently described as the motivator for action, evangelism, and conversion. The text assumes the Spirit’s role so strongly in fact that there are times in which it almost de-emphasizes the actual actions of people, such as when it states that, “the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved.” The Spirit was seen as the impetus for action.

 

One encounter illustrates this trend particularly well. Philip, chosen by the apostles to continue the ministry, was making his way from Jerusalem to Gaza at the instruction of an angel. As he walked along the road through a desert area, unbeknownst to him, an Ethiopian official was also passing through reading the scroll of Isaiah.

 

Philip is again prompted by the Spirit to run and join the official. He complies and finds that this official just happened to be reading a passage specifically about the Christ and proceeds to tell the man about Jesus, salvation, and the man responds by getting baptized before the Spirit speaks again and Philip is led away to preach the gospel elsewhere.

 

What we see vividly in this story is the Holy Spirit orchestrating events and leading Philip into positions to exercise his obedience; a divine conspiracy into which Philip is invited to participate.

 

The inescapable conclusion drawn from the history of the early Church is that the Holy Spirit leads believers into ministry. The book of Acts assumes this involvement. If we are truly God’s workmanship and our identity rests in being created in the image of God, then we must also come to fully accept the second half of Ephesians 2:10. We believe that the God who draws us to salvation also prepares good works for us to complete. We must learn to believe this and live in constant expectation of the Spirit’s leading. I think this is part of why the early Christians experienced so vividly the movement of the Spirit: they were expecting it. We can never realize the potential that God has prepared for us if we don’t understand that we have been given a directive. While our specific directives will vary circumstantially, our overarching purpose is the same one given by Christ to His disciples before His ascension: to be His witnesses. Intentionality is key however for without it the Christian life becomes mere passive assent. That is not the example lived out in the lives of the early Christians who lived and often died by the prompting of the Spirit. 

 

If we are to realize and accomplish the good works the Lord assures He has for us we must train ourselves to live in expectation. Have you ever bought a new car, driven it off the lot, and only then realized how many other people are driving the same model? This is what our lives can become once we make ourselves alert for the Spirit’s prompting. If we watch and listen for it, we will hear it. When we take the additional step and act on it, we will truly be living out our identity as God’s workmanship.


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People of Joy

There are few exhortations more challenging than Paul’s call in 1 Thessalonians to “rejoice always”. It seems often that we as believers are defined less by our identity as people of joy than we are by our pessimism. If we are honest, many of our decisions are born not out of a joyful spirit but out of fear or the anticipation of despair. Part of this is the result of a mindset that is too world-centered and part of it is the practical ramifications of a 24 hour news cycle and social media. There is always some potential sorrow lurking out in the darkness. Many of our actions are rooted not in godly confidence but in a tempered fear of failure. This temptation away from joy and towards fear is as historical as it is contemporary though. Believers have always struggled to be defined by joy. 

 

The first step towards remedying this is realizing that joy is not the same thing as happiness. A day in which everything goes our way at work, our spouse greets us at the door, the children behave, and the sun sets in a glorious display may bring us happiness but it is shallow compared to the joyful confidence found in Christ.

 

Secondly, joy is not defined by the absence of sorrow. Joy is the exercise of faith and the rejection of despair. Sorrows and adversities are the refining fire by which our faith is tested. It is in these moments that joy is most required.

 

As believers, we can have joy independent of troublesome circumstances for we know that the Lord is powerful, sovereign, and good. In His power we know that he is capable of accomplishing that which He sets His mind to. In His sovereignty, we learn that His dominion is over all things. There is no corner of the universe where God’s will is absent. The knowledge of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness teaches us the He loves His children and seeks their good in all circumstances. These attributes allow the believer to rise above the sorrows and affairs of the day and rest securely in trust in the Lord. 

 

A.W. Tozer writes that, “Christianity at any given time is strong or weak depending upon her concept of God.” When our understanding of the Lord is lacking or we place preconceived limitations on God’s ability to have victory over difficulties we can find no joy. A god who is small cannot be trusted to conquer over the trials of the day let alone the forces of evil. We cannot find joy in a small god. We can only realize our identity as people of joy when we are able to trust that the Lord has the power and will to bring us through trouble. 


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