Teaching From the Inside Out

A continuation of yesterday’s blog…

Just like any minister today, Jesus preached using only his voice. And just like any congregation today hearing a sermon, the disciples could hear his words only with their ears and process them with their minds. But the truth of God is different than history or algebra or the laws of science. It can be understood and appropriated into our lives only when it is revealed to our innermost being; that is where its life-changing power works (Matthew 13:18-23).

A divine book must have a divine teacher so that its message can be revealed on a spiritual level. Otherwise the message just crumbles into facts that reside only in our brain cells. That Jesus was born in Bethlehem is a fact. Understanding the glorious meaning of Immanuel, God with us, and the significance of him lying in a stable requires divine teaching. So it is absolutely necessary for the Holy Spirit to be our teacher if the Bible is to be truly understood. The Spirit can overcome the human limitations of voice, ear, and brain. He teaches in the classroom of the heart

That is why we can read a portion of Scripture for years and then read again, and wham, it comes alive! We understand it in a brand-new way. We ask, ‘Why didn’t I see that before?’ That is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit teaching is so important because Satan uses all kinds of things to deceive and lead believers and churches away from the truth. He can even use people who claim they are teaching the truth. For example, in 1 John we read a warning: “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you” (2:26-27).

Why would God say we don’t need anyone to teach us when he was the one who put teachers into the church body?

Of course teachers play an important role, as do apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastors. But even when teachers do their best, the only way for us to be ultimately blessed by the Word is through the inner teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is faithful to help us know truth from error and keep us from satanic distortions. But for all of that to happen, we must come with humble, teachable hearts.

More on Monday…

A Divine Teacher for a Divine Book

Who better to teach us about God’s Word than the person who wrote the book? But is it possible that the Holy Spirit is a better teacher than even Jesus? The short answer is yes, because only he can teach us from the inside out.

I took history during my year in grade 9, and for the life of me, no matter what that teacher said, I couldn’t figure it out. None of it made sense. Then about two months into the semester, the teacher got sick and a new teacher replaced him. Under her tutelage, suddenly, the light went on for me. For the first time, I understood the history we were studying and even the reason why we were studying it. I had to give credit for my newfound understanding to the new teacher. It was the way she explained things that helped me understand the subject.

Many times I read the Bible, and I get stuck. I can read the sentence before me – the subject, the verb, the object – but I don’t see the spiritual meaning for my life, nor does it find a place in my inner person. It’s just a mental exercise. Does that ever happen to you?

Two thousand years ago, the disciples had Jesus as their teacher, though they called him by the more commonly used term of the time, rabbi. But even they had problems understanding what Jesus taught them. There are countless examples of Jesus saying something and the disciples completely missing the point. They just didn’t get it. In fact, one of them even argued with him, saying, “No, you won’t go to the cross. I won’t let that happen.” Jesus would teach them about trusting God, and in the next chapter, we see them not trusting God. Jesus even used himself as an example during a lesson about humility. During the Last Supper, Jesus showed himself as a servant of the Lord and washed the disciples’ feet. Yet during that same dinner, the disciples argued about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24-27).

But Jesus promised that when he died, another teacher would come and help them to properly digest spiritual truth. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (John 16:12-14).

Jesus not only told them a better teacher was on the way, but he also said the new teacher would convey truth that he couldn’t pass on at that time. In other words, Jesus was saying, “I have more to say, and the new teacher will be the one to teach you about it.” The Spirit “will guide you into all the truth,” which includes applying the message to the hearts of the disciples. Then the meaning of Jesus’ life and death, faith, hope, love, the power of prayer, and much more would all be made crystal clear to them.

More on this tomorrow…

We Got the Point and Missed the Person

I was visiting with a great man of God the other week and as I waited at Starbucks for him I looked around the bookstore Starbucks was located in. I admit it – I am addicted to books and seriously enjoyed walking around a different bookstore looking at current titles as well as seeing what was new on the Christian market. That can be frightening at times – and was this time. There is so much being sold as Christian that simply is not remotely related to the faith at all. I could name some of the authors – you would know most of them. However, I did run across a book that had a sub-title that went like this: “How we got the point and missed the person.” It caught my eye. I have been thinking about it ever since.

So, I believe that many know their Bible well but have missed coming to know the Author of the Bible. We have made the Bible an end in itself instead of a vehicle to an end. We have done the same with the message of the Bible – we have made it all about us! Fundamentally, the gospel is not just about us and our need to be saved; it is first and foremost the revelation of who God is. Then, we can go on to discover who we are and how we can be reconciled to Him. Yet, in our world today where we reign as king or queen we have a dangerous tendency to misunderstand, minimize, and even manipulate the gospel in order to accommodate our assumptions and our desires. And, because of this tendency, misuse and misapply the Bible as well.

As a result, I believe we desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the Gospel is cultural and how much is biblical. And in the process we need to examine whether we have misconstrued a proper response to the Gospel and maybe even missed the primary reward of the Gospel, which is God Himself. In other words, we have got the point (of the Gospel) but missed the Person.

The Gospel reveals the glory of God. According to God’s Word, He is the sovereign Creator of all things. He knows all things, sustains al things, and owns all things. He is holy above all. He is righteous in all His ways, is just in all His wrath, and loving towards all He has made. Yet, I wonder sometimes, have we intentionally or just unknowingly masked the beauty of God in the Gospel by minimizing His various attributes. Peruse the Christian marketplace, and you will find a plethora of books, songs, and paintings that depict God as a loving Father. And that He is. But He is not JUST a loving Father, and limiting our understanding of God to this picture ultimately distorts the image of God we have in our culture and in our churches.

So, let’s not just get the point (salvation by grace through faith) but let’s also and primarily focus on the Person of God as revealed only in Jesus Christ. Only as we come to know who He really is can we then know who we are.

Being Involved With People Who…

I am on a journey. This journey has a destination. The destination is to really deeply know Jesus. I am enjoying the journey. I have not yet reached my destination and I am not sure I ever will. That is okay. The journey is exciting and worth it. I don’t suffer from “destination disease” because those who do miss the fun of the journey.

I am on a journey to know Jesus better than I do – in fact, to know Him deeply and passionately. I want to experience Him in fresh and new ways. I want to be a part of a people who delight in him like those I work with in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They have so little yet they have everything – they have Jesus in a way that we don’t and won’t unless…

I want to be a part of a people who are risking it all for Him. For the sake of more than 5 billion people who have yet to hear the Gospel, I want to risk it all. For the sake of those in bondage to religion I want to risk it all. For the sake of the 26,000 children who will die today of starvation or a preventable disease, I want to risk it all. For the sake of an increasingly marginalized and relatively ineffective church in our culture, I want to risk it all. For the sake of my life, my family, and the people who surround me, I want to risk it all.

This requires that I reorient my life around radical abandonment to Jesus. This requires that I place my hopes and dreams into the hands of Jesus and allow Him to totally change and convert them into His plan and purpose for my life. I want everything I am, do, and think converted into a radical faith in a radical Savior. This may mean I will have less time for those who are simply “playing church” and playing with the eternal destiny of others not to mention their own eternal destiny.

If you want to take this journey with me; if you want to undergo a radical alteration and transformation there are two big questions you need to ask yourself. I am asking myself the same two questions.

1> Am I willing to commit to simply believe whatever Jesus says – in His Word and in my heart? As a Christian, it would be a grave mistake to come to Jesus and say, “Let me hear what you have to say, and then I will decide whether or not I like it.” If you approach Jesus this way, you will never truly hear what He has to say – from His written Word or His spoken Word in the stillness of your heart. You have to say yes to the words of Jesus before you even hear them.

2> Then second, you need to commit to obey what you have heard. The Gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the Gospel requires a response. In the process of hearing Jesus, you are compelled to take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church and not just ask, “What is He saying?” but also ask, “What shall I do with what He is saying?”

This means embracing Jesus for whom He really is – not who we wish or hope He will be for us. It will mean disassemblying our self-made image of Jesus and thus our Heavenly Father. In other words, embracing Him for who He really is, not for who we have created Him to be. It will mean taking a hard look at the core truth of a God-centered Gospel and seeing how we have manipulated it into human-centered (and ultimately dissatisfying) message. It will mean radical change resulting in radical abandonment to fully follow a radical Jesus.

Want to join me?

The Holy Spirit Front and Center

The Holy Spirit is under appreciated and under preached by the 21st Century church. There is a prejudice of sorts against the Holy Spirit that impedes many from learning more about him. The body of Christ is often divided into two sides. One side stresses the Word of God, separating itself from what it views as the emotional fanaticism often linked to those emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit. The other side is sometimes known for drifting into unbiblical manifestations and unorthodox teaching while attributing it all to the Spirit of God.

Seeing the abuse and bad teaching, many on the first side will say, “I’m not interested in experiences and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I just want to study the Word.” But it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible, and there are lots of promises concerning his person and work. How can anyone treasure God’s Word without giving the Holy his rightful place?

To those who move in circles strongly emphasizing the Holy Spirit, they must be reminded that everything must be tested by Scripture. The Spirit never contradicts the Word he gave us. He also never puts the focus on the preacher, because the Holy Spirit was sent to glorify Christ alone (John 16:14).

Somewhere in the middle is the kind of Christianity we see in Scripture where the Word of God is honored along with a childlike dependence and openness to the Holy Spirit.

Only the Holy Spirit can make the things of Christ real and alive to people. Christianity does not stop at the cross where Jesus died and paid the price for our sins. After Good Friday was Resurrection Sunday when the Spirit raised Christ. Yet so many of us live with faint trickles and shallow pools of the Spirit, rather than the promised rivers of living water. “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, `Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39)

Everything about the Spirit speaks of powerful currents of life that refresh us and flow out to bless others. But there is an even more extraordinary teaching about the Spirit. Paul wrote, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11). Imagine, the measuring stick of the power promised to us is the same strength that raised the corpse of Jesus Christ from the dead!

It is time to allow the Holy Spirit His rightful place in our lives and our churches…Then and only then will we have “life” to offer those living in spiritual death. Then and only then will we literally “go into al lthe world and make dis

It Is Time to Focus

More than a hundred years ago, Samuel Chadwick, a great Methodist preacher and leader in England, summed it up concisely: “The Christian religion is hopeless without the Holy Ghost.”

The early church provides the perfect illustration of that hopelessness. It was made up of simple men and women. The leaders were former fishermen and tax collectors who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and needed them most. They weren’t courageous and faithful. In fact, they lacked faith and courage. They were the least likely to be put in charge of any Christian enterprise.

Yet after the events in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit is poured out those same nobodies were suddenly transformed. With courage and faith, they turned their community, and eventually the world, upside down. That wasn’t due to their seminary training; they didn’t have any training. They couldn’t hand out copies of the New Testament, because it hadn’t been written yet. It wasn’t because they were wealthy and had the greatest sound system and light show at their church.

They were poor people without a church building. In fact, the Christian church didn’t get its first public building for about three hundred years. To the existing Jewish religious establishment, those early Christians were mocked as unlearned and ignorant people with few resources. To the Roman Empire they seemed fanatical and strange.

But one thing they did possess was the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them to rely on the Spirit for everything, including impromptu speech. To paraphrase, he said, “Don’t even prepare what you’ll say when you’re in high-pressure situations, because when you open your mouth, it will be given to you. The Father will give it to you through the Holy Spirit. You’ll just know what to say” (Mark 13:11). The early believers knew all too well that Christianity was hopeless without the Holy Spirit.

I believe that we need to return to our early roots and come to know and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. We need to recognize the role that He plays in our lives and in the Church – at least in the Church that Jesus is building. We need to speak with Him more often and rely on Him totally. We need to grab hold of the concept that He is within us and we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this we can enter His presence and walk in His power whenever we desire to or need to – which is 100% of the time in my humble opinion. He must become much more prevalent and active in our lives and in our churches if we ever hope to tell the entire world of the hope that Jesus offers them.

So, we know the love of God the Father; we have experienced the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is time, in my opinion, that we focused on fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). Remember, this Holy Spirit is who the Lord told us we needed and that we were to do nothing until we had received the power of the Spirit upon us so that the gifts flowed through us. It is time to focus!

Changed From the Inside Out

Summer is a good time to think, ponder, and meditate. Well, any time is a good time to do this I am sure but the summer and the slightly slower pace allows for a greater leisure to do some extended thinking and sort through all the thoughts and feelings that were sort of “ignored” due to the busyness of life during the regular season of activities and demands.

As I have been doing just this on some extended walks and during some long drives out and back to minister God’s Word I have been thinking more and more about the Holy Spirit and His role in the life of the believer. In fact, some of my thoughts are becoming sermons – a simple side benefit from the Lord. One of my thoughts has been focused on the many Christians know who never seem to change and who still live like they did a decade or more ago – before they came to know Jesus. Like you I often wonder why they are not being changed, transformed, and altered.

Add to these extended think times the fact that I am reading the Book of Acts and I have come up with the following thought… longer than my normal daily blog but stick with me please…

Acts 1 tells us that after Jesus rose from the dead, he spent forty days making appearances among the apostles and talking about the kingdom of God. Jesus also told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about…. [And] you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (vv. 4, 8).

They did as they were told, gathering in a house in Jerusalem to pray and worship God while they waited for the promise God made. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1 -4).

Suddenly they received something from heaven, something that was far beyond their intelligence, talents, and training- the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. For the first time, they understood why it was good that Jesus went away. The Helper had come, and although Jesus was gone, the invisible Spirit had now taken residence in them and granted them power.

Perhaps the best way to understand what Jesus meant by saying it would be better for the disciples after he left is to look at the life of Peter. In the Gospels, Peter often spoke at the wrong time, misunderstood the meaning of Jesus’ teachings, and tended toward boasting of his superiority over the other disciples. But when Jesus was arrested, Peter not only fled, but he also cursed and denied even knowing Jesus!

Why was Peter so weak and mistake prone?

How could Peter deny the Messiah who had selected him as part of his inner circle and worked countless miracles right before his eyes?

Didn’t Peter have a gifted teacher? Yes, it was Jesus himself.

Did Peter lack a great role model and example to follow? No, he had the perfect role model in Jesus Christ in the flesh.

So then, what did all of those educational and inspirational resources do for Peter?

Not enough.

On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, Peter fled like everyone else.

With three and a half years of excellent discipleship under his belt, Peter learned the harsh truth we all have confronted – it’s one thing to know the Word, but it’s quite another to obey it. Even the best discipleship training and spiritual accountability proved insufficient for Peter, because no outward teaching can compare to the inward power of the Holy Spirit. If you need proof, look at Peter on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. Though the political climate hadn’t changed from the time Jesus was arrested and crucified, Peter now preached boldly about the name of Jesus to massive crowds. This was a new Peter! He was filled with the Spirit. Jesus’ promise about the Holy Spirit’s power was right there to see in Peter’s life. Suddenly that failed disciple was preaching with such amazing effectiveness that thousands converted to Christ. Jesus had been with Peter, but now the Spirit was in him.

If we follow Peter’s story through the book of Acts, we see him continuing to act with wisdom and courage. He was a different man. Jesus’ words had come to fulfillment: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away” (John 16:7). Through his physical body, Jesus could be a mentor, teacher, preacher, and friend to the disciples, but he couldn’t produce change from the inside out. This would be for the Spirit to accomplish just as God had planned from all eternity.

The same is true today– we need to release the Holy Spirit who resides in us and give Him permission to change us, transform us, and alter us – from the inside out. It is time for believers, true disciples of the Lord Jesus, to look and live differently than those who do not know Jesus personally. This can only happen if we yield to the Spirit and give Him permission to change us from the inside out. Afterall, this was the way Jesus designed for life change to happen. And, if we were being honest with ourselves – the way we have been doing it is simply not working!