Archive for April 2016

The Holy Spirit: God with Us

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Ezekiel 37:1-10; Acts 2:1-4

Jesus came to be God with us. But His task wasn’t done when He ascended back to His Father. One of Jesus’ purposes in coming to us was to pour out God’s Spirit on all who trust in Him. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist introduced Him this way:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11, NASB)

When the Holy Spirit came, He carried on Jesus’ ministry. He was to all believers what Jesus had been to His disciples: teacher, comforter, encourager, companion, advocate, intercessor, friend, and the presence of God. The Holy Spirit was all that, but more. Jesus had been limited by a physical body. The Spirit is Jesus unbound from any limitations. He is God’s presence with us, among us, and within us, every moment, always and forever.

When the Holy Spirit was poured at the day of Pentecost, His coming was accompanied by two signs. Both of these signs had long been symbols of the living presence of God.

  • “A noise like violent rushing wind” (Acts 2:2, NASB) – In both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, the word for “Spirit” also means “wind” and “breath”. Thus God’s Spirit has always been associated with wind. God’s Spirit is His life in motion. For example, read Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-10.
  • “Tongues as of fire…rested on each one of them” (Acts 2:3, NASB) – Fire is another frequent symbol of God’s presence. For example, recall that God’s presence was a pillar of fire in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). God revealed His holy presence on Mt. Sinai by fire (Exodus 19:18). When Elijah faced the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, the God who answered by fire was the true God (1 Kings 18:24).

When God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost, He signaled unmistakably that the powerful, living presence of God Himself was now among, with, and within His people.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Pentecost Hymn
Recording
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Mercy, Not Judgment

“Forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35, NIV). 

Jesus, I read the story you told in Matthew 18:21-35. I’m like that man. I owe You an overwhelming debt I can never repay.

But You are far less offended by my overwhelming debt than by my unforgiving attitude toward my fellow debtors. Forgive my pettiness, Lord. What others need from me is just one drop from the ocean of Your great mercy.

Merciful Jesus,
Full of compassion,
Patient, forbearing,
Quick to forgive,
Help me show others
Mercy, not judgment –
Kindness and gentleness.
Lord, make me like You.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: The Joy of Forgiveness
Recording
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I Need the Mind of Christ

Father, what I need most right now,
this moment,
is the mind and Spirit of Christ.
Facing this day,
these concerns, and
all the needy people around me,
I need the mind and Spirit of Christ.
Nothing less than Him will
make me who I need to be.

Father, I bow and
ask and
depend completely on You.
Help me think and
speak and
respond like Him.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: When I Speak
Recording
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I Will Raise Him Up

from the book, ONE WITH OUR FATHER 

John 6:35-58

Jesus had just fed the five thousand. The crowd followed Him with determination, hoping for more free food, wanting to make Him their king. He repeatedly urged them not to seek physical bread that would satisfy only the body and only for a few hours. He implored them to seek Himself instead, the True Bread. He would satisfy all their desires forever.

Notice how Jesus repeatedly pushed them to raise their sights above the here and now:

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” 

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” 

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40, 44, 54, NASB)

Notice that eternal life is His personal promise: “I Myself will raise him up” (John 6:40, NASB). This everlasting life is the collaboration of Father and Son. It is the Father’s will and the Father’s work, accomplished through the Son. Thus Jesus hammers home the assurance that endless life is absolutely certain for all who simply trust Him. No hungering, no thirsting, no dying, ever. The Father and the Son, the Almighty Creator and His sovereign Word, guarantee it.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: We Shall Rise in Jesus Christ!
Recording
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Biscuits and Fish

When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” 

They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 

And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. (Matthew 14:15-19, NASB)

Father, You have shown me needy people.
There they are, spread out before me.
I see the need.
I feel the need.
It is very real.

I hold something that I believe could help.
But it is so small,
and I am so small.
I don’t know how to get this to them.
I don’t know how to begin to use it in any meaningful way.

So I bring it to You, Father –
just biscuits and fish.
Use it.
Use me.
I am small,
but You encompass all that is.
I am ignorant,
but Your knowing is perfect.
Your loving is perfect.

Father, I am available.
Show me where to start.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Bless This Seed
Recording
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Needing God

Sometimes we just need God. Yes, in a sense we need His gifts as well – His wisdom, His strength, His guidance, His love. But really, we just need Him.

At such times, words are just words. “Truth” is abstract, cumbersome, and irrelevant. Even Scripture seems a wearisome and indirect way of meeting our need for that moment, which is for God to just be there. Exhaustion has left us incapable of doing anything but crying out for His nearness.

Such experiences can result from a particular problem that has troubled and drained us. But often they come from vague accumulations of fatigue, uncertainty, and stress.

During these times, we learn to appreciate God’s greatest gift. This gift is not one of His blessings. It’s not a “something” He sends to us, no matter how precious. His greatest gift is Himself, given to us personally. His most profound comfort is the assurance that He is, and He is here for us, and He is purely love.

Through the sacrament of Communion, we physically remember that “redemption” and “forgiveness” are not the ultimate gifts of His plan of salvation. He Himself is the Gift. The wine is His blood. The bread is His body. The celebration, a remembrance of Him. We feed on Him, the One who gave everything – His blood, His sweat, His pain, agony, humiliation, death, and life. The Heir of all things gave all He had and all He was, not only for us, but to us as well. We feed on Him, and His very being becomes the substance and strength of our lives.

As we reach to Him from these lowest and blackest regions, we can do so with the solid confidence that He is ours and He is present. We can know that when we are incapable of doing anything else, just needing Him pleases Him. Trusting Him is the highest praise He asks. And even in the depths, we can taste the greatest joy that life here or hereafter will ever offer: the joy of loving Him, simply and personally.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Jesus, I Need Your Spirit
Recording
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The Shepherd’s Compassion

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Matthew 9:35 – 10:8

Jesus was traveling all around Galilee, in the northern portion of Israel, teaching and healing. Huge crowds followed Him. How utterly exhausting that must have been for Him! He could have easily begun seeing the crowds as an inescapable burden. But how did Jesus see them?

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36, NASB)

He saw them with the eyes and heart of a caring shepherd. He saw their great need, and He longed to gather them all to His Father. He told His disciples:

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38, NASB)

Jesus did more than feel sorry for them. He took action, using what He had at hand. He sent His disciples out to all the surrounding villages with these instructions:

“As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8, NASB)

Elsewhere, Jesus reveals His Shepherd’s heart with these words:

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. and when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7, NASB)

Jesus saw sinners, not as enemies, but as lost sheep needing a shepherd. He looked at them, not with anger or disgust, but with compassion. To the shepherd, each sheep is precious.

Never forget that God has sent you out into this evil world to gather His lost sheep. His heart longs for them, so He has sent you. Go with His deep love and compassion for the lost sheep. Don’t condemn them. Gather them to the Shepherd.

Make Me Gentle

Pursue…gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11, NASB)

I can be so insensitive to other people.
I am like a man with big feet
stumbling into a tight row of seats,
clumsily stepping on toes as I go.

My Lord, as I bumble and blunder through life,
I lift my family and friends to You.
Be gentle with those around me
by making me gentle.
Be kind to my spouse
by making me tender and kind.
Be patient with my children
by making me as patient with them
as You are with me.
Be merciful to all who cross my path
by making me forgiving.

Let me be a joyful and lavish distributor of Your grace.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Let Mercy Shine
Recording
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Praise

The more I know God, the more I realize that my response to Him is cold and inadequate. He is the Sovereign God, the Creator who overflows our sprawling universe, the One who holds insignificant me in His hand and in His heart, who constantly lavishes on me His attention and His most tender love and care, the One who poured Himself out and groaned and bled and died for me. Yet my response to Him is so occasional, so shallow, so distracted, so half-hearted.

I don’t necessarily want more emotion in my worship. I want to be more aware of God…to always be centered on Him…to have an open line of communication between us every moment…to trust Him simply and constantly.  I want to spend less time longing for what I don’t have and more time thanking and praising Him for all that He constantly gives me. I want a living praise, a continual response to His presence.

The Psalms prod me toward such praise:

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name. (103:1, NIV)

I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. (146:2, NIV)

I have no hope that I can give Almighty God adequate praise. But His Spirit is faithfully drawing me to Him. The closer I live to Him, the more natural and heartfelt praise becomes. Read Isaiah 6 and Revelation 5. Those who stand before God’s throne need no prodding to praise Him. How can they possibly do anything else?

That is my destiny. That is the destiny of all who trust Him. We will live in His immediate presence together, forever, responding to Who He is:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Psalm 148
Recording
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Shepherd

from the book, ONE WITH OUR FATHER 

John 10:1-38

“He who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. . . .  For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father. 

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:2-4, 9-10, 14-15, 17-18, 27-30, NASB)

Father, the deep knowing that binds You to the Son
now binds me to Him.
And as I am bound to Him,
I am bound to You as well.

He calls me personally,
by my own name, and
I recognize His voice.
I am learning to follow no voice but His.
For when He speaks, I hear You, Father:
Your love,
Your wisdom,
Your tender, faithful, constant care for me.

Your Son leads me through every day –
me, Father,
through everything that comes.

He protects me with Himself.
He places His own body
between me and any approaching harm.
He, the Good Shepherd, the Almighty God, is
the Gate,
the Door,
my impenetrable Shield,
my impregnable Fortress.
I need not fear
need,
temptation,
sickness, or
even death.
Everything that touches me comes through Him,
and through You, Father.

Because I am in His hands,
I am in Yours.
You and I are beginning to share
the same knowing,
the same peace,
the same deep love
that You share with the Son.

Complete us, Father.
Complete us in Jesus Christ.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Good Shepherd
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

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