. . . I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:4-5

When I read this verse, I am brought up short. Immediately, I have to ask myself a question: am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit?

It brings to mind another letter Paul wrote to his protege, Timothy. He warns him of the difficulty of the last days where people become lovers of themselves and money. He goes on to characterize the downward spiral of humanity in these terms

 3They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. 5They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. 

2 Timothy 3:3-5

I believe the power rejected by people in the last days is the very power that Paul was determined to rely on — the power of the Holy Spirit! He goes on to tell Timothy what to do when he encounters people matching this description.

Stay away from people like that!

2 Timonthy 3:5

Are you relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, not only for words to share the good news of Jesus, but to make you godly? Because without the Holy Spirit, we really are nothing!

Apostle Paul intrigues me. His determination before conversion to do what he believed to be the right thing — get rid of Christians — and his complete reversal afterwards — telling everyone that Jesus is the Messiah, astounds me. He pursued his goal relentlessly with fervor.

His strategies could easily be adapted for sharing the gospel today. His encounter with the people of Athens stands out to me. Paul had been in Thessalonica where he successfully shared the gospel but not without stirring up trouble with some Jews who lived there. He was chased out of town so he went to Athens to wait.

While in Athens, he noticed the idols around town and was deeply troubled by it. He debated with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, raising their curiosity about Jesus. They invited Paul to come and speak to them some more about these new ideas. It sounds like he saw an opportunity and took it. But it didn’t produce any fruit. These people just loved to talk about all the latest ideas.

19Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20“You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21(It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)

Acts 17:19-21

Paul left Athens and went to the city of Corinth. It seems to me he changed his strategy after his experience in Athens. Well crafted arguments didn’t produce change so he opted for a different approach.

1When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

I find in here a strategy I want to perfect. Rather than concern with being clever and persuasive, I want to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and keep the message simple. This is Paul’s simple message.

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

How has your message or approach become complicated and filled with human wisdom rather than the power of God? I am encouraged to keep it simple. What about you?

4He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” 10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

John 4:4-10

Jesus is an excellent example to follow. In this account, Jesus is on his way from Jerusalem to Galilee. On his way, he stops at a well to rest. He is tired and thirsty from the journey. When a woman comes to draw water, he siezes the opportunity, and asks her for a drink. This one simple question opens the door to an interaction that changes not only her life, but ultimately the lives of many people in that village.

Have you ever been somewhere — at the grocery store, filling your car with gas, at the bank or the library — and you feel prodded, almost compelled, to ask someone a question or comment about the day? One day I was in a local park enjoying the water feature and another woman was across the stream doing the same thing. I felt prodded to say something to her and we enjoyed a bit of conversation. I remember that I prayed with her that day before we went our separate ways. I don’t know how that interaction changed her day or even if it did. I only know that I was supposed to open the door to conversation.

I don’t always acknowledge those promptings and sometimes I say something with no response in return. I am still learning and in the process of learning, there is success and failure. But I want to grow in the habit of responding to the promptings because I believe it is the Holy Spirit helping me along the way.

Do you respond to the proddings in your life? What do you find makes it easiest to respond? What makes it difficult? How can we grow in our trust of the Holy Spirit as he guides us to opportunities to make disciples?

Considering the great commission — while you are on your way, about your every day activity, make disciples. Teach them how to follow me! (Bev’s translation) — what makes doing this complicated or difficult?

The most obvious hindrance is a limited social context – everyone in my circles is already a Jesus follower! It seems this would be an easy obstacle to overcome. I just need to make new friends. Right.

The next, not so obvious hindrance, is a lack of concern for someone who doesn’t know Jesus. I am just fine that someone is sinking in the deep mud of despair. As I said in Monday’s post, praying for an outpouring of love for those who don’t know Jesus is the best place to start.

Along with prayer for love is for open eyes. Eyes that see opportunities to show someone the love that is now welling up within your heart.

12Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd.

Acts 3:12

I pause at this simple statement. Peter saw his opportunity and he acted. He took his every day situation and used it as a springboard to tell someone about Jesus.

How many times have I missed the opportunity to speak words of life and love to a thirsty soul because I wasn’t attentive? Probably so many!

Even while I write this, I received a text message from a member of a team I work with at church. He stopped his day, he took the opportunity, to send an encouraging word to the team, not because he had to but because the love of God overflows in this man.

My greatest problem is I make loving someone too difficult. I need to be more attentive to the simple opportunities that comes my way and then respond.

My prayer for myself today is an overpouring of God’s love in my heart, eyes to see opportunities and courage to do the next best thing! Will you join me?

Sunday morning our church had baptism. In two services, there were twelve people who said yes to Jesus and, in front of hundreds of others, took part in Christian baptism. It is a public testimony of an individual’s desire to follow Jesus.

Before the baptisms, the individuals shared a brief testimony of their personal commitment to Jesus and why baptism was important now. My heart overflowed with joy as I listened to the simple and yet profound ways God reached out and touched the lives of these people. No two were exactly alike and none of these people were perfect. They just knew they experienced the power of God in their lives and wanted to make a change.

In recent months, I have been challenged to take seriously Jesus’ final words to the disciples in the gospel of Matthew.

18Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

In this pericope, there is an imperative, something Jesus emphasizes. Often times we emphasize the word “go” and compel one another to leave home and go faraway to be a missionary. In reality, the imperative – the thing we must do – is make disciples, teach others how to follow Jesus. It could actually read, “and while you are on your way, make disciples. Jesus emphasized his desire for us to make disciples right where we are in our current situation.

As often happens when one develops a keen love for something, like following Jesus, the people she surrounds herself with tend to love the same thing. Before long, she finds she doesn’t have many people, if any, in her circles who don’t love Jesus. If that is true, it’s pretty hard to follow Jesus’ command to make disciples.

I freely admit this has been a challenge for me. I like my friends and my cozy circles. I like doing what I do. But if everyone I rub shoulders with already loves Jesus, how am I fulfilling his command to make disciples? What do I do?

The first step in making disciples for me has been to pray for an outpouring of God’s love for people who don’t yet know him. People are not projects or notches in a belt or ribbons on the wall. My deepest desire is to be filled with deep love for anyone who doesn’t know the joy and peace of walking with Jesus. From that place of deep love, I want to do the next right thing. I’m still working on that.

What about you? Is your life filled with people who look, think and act just like you? What would happen if you opened the door to the possibility of being an agent of change in someone’s life? Is it impossibly scary? I know, it is for me too! But we can do it together!

Occasionally I come across something I wish would not end. It might be some food or drink that is absolutely incredible, a great movie or book, a perfect evening under the night sky or a great interaction with a friend.

It seems more often I am eager for something to end. It might be a long, difficult week, an illness, an awkward social event, a mundane task. I am okay with these things coming to an end.

There is something I always look forward to that scripture says will never end.

7His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.

Isaiah 9:7

I long for the day when I live completely under the authority of the government of Jesus. I long to live with the certainty that I am ruled with fairness and justice. I long to know peace that doesn’t end.

Until then, I live knowing he is already ruling my life with fairness and justice and that I experience his peace everyday. In the midst of it all, I look forward to the day when the not yet will be reality.

What do you experience that you wish would not end? How does that help you appreciate the rule and reign of Jesus already, knowing it is not yet as it will be?

Happy Weekend!

Somewhere along the way I learned, as a parent, it was easy for me to over promise and under deliver. I made commitments I couldn’t keep.

Likely, this has as much to do with the way I am put together as anything. I hate to disappoint anyone so I am eager to please. I want to help make your day great even if it costs me more than I can do.

Unfortunately, this also sometimes happens with my grandchildren. During outside spring clean up, we found a baby bunny hiding in the landscaping. Removing the leaves and debris from the winter uncovered the vulnerable, quaking little rabbit. We tried to protect him as much as possible, sheltering him with a box until he could find his mother.

In the meantime, I sent a photo to my granddaughters knowing they would absolutely love it. Sure enough, they did. I talked to my oldest about the bunny and said, “You should have it, Finley!” Immediately, I heard my daughter ask, “Can you follow through on that, Mom?” Hmmm…. was I over promising with a certain outcome of under delivering? Was I going to catch that bunny and give it to her to raise?

If I am honest, it isn’t ever fun to be the recipient of a promise that doesn’t come to fruition. It would be better to not make the commitment than to make it and never come through.

I love what scripture says about God and his promises. Isaiah attributed the coming of the Messiah to the commitment of God to his word.

The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:7

Passionate commitment! That is a bold and heady statement to me, filled with love. God doesn’t grudgingly fulfill what he says. He isn’t over promising and under delivering. He does what he says, in exactly the right time with passion.

Do you feel like you are waiting for God to act? What promise are you waiting to be fulfilled in your life? Remember, God is a promise keeper, passionately committed to his word. You can count on it!

Peace. Is peace the absence of conflict? Or is it, perhaps, something more substantive than that?

I am sure I am not the only one who has gone to some sort of event — for many it is a family gathering — under the guise of peace. The goal is to eliminate arguments, fist fights and undercurrents of sarcasm and the gathering is declared a peaceful event. When in reality, all participants have silently agreed to lay aside their differences for a day or two in order to experience a “peaceful” event. The underpinnings of trouble are still there, dormant for the moment but always primed to burst into full view given the chance.

One of the descriptive phrases Isaiah uses to describe Jesus is Prince of Peace.

6For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

The Hebrew word translated peace is shalom, a word many of us have heard at one time or another. The word is a noun and means holistic peace and well-being. Holistic means to emphasize the whole of something rather than its parts. So, the peace that Jesus brings is about your whole being — mind and heart. I really love this word.

Later in Isaiah’s writing, he describes the condition of the people of God. They struggled to live well. He describes them in this way . . .

8They don’t know where to find peace or what it means to be just and good. They have mapped out crooked roads, and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace.

Isaiah 59:8

It sounds a lot like people today. Where do we find peace? Even in places we might expect to find peace, there is conflict and unrest. Isaiah announced the coming of the Messiah and, in Jesus, his prophecies are fulfilled. The gospel of John records Jesus’ declaration of peace in his final words to the disciples before the crucifixion.

27“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 

John 14:27

33I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

The place to find peace is in Jesus. He gives holistic peace — of both mind and heart — that the world cannot replicate. You see, this world will bring trouble, but Jesus says to TAKE HEART! He has overcome the world.

Are you weighed down under a load of mental anguish? Does your heart cry out for peace? Is your mind exhausted? Perhaps it is time to respond to the invitation of Jesus to take on his yoke and leave your burdens with him. Allow him to ease the pain and fill you with his peace.

One more scripture comes to mind. Read Paul’s words to the believers in Philippi.

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

As always, this type of work is best done in the company of a good spiritual advisor or friend. If you find you have no one, feel free to reach out to me through the contact link above.

SHALOM!

In the overnight hours, the scripture from Isaiah 9 promising a Messiah, someone to carry my burdens and set me free, ran through my mind. Isaiah foretells the birth of a child followed by qualifying phrases that describe what the Messiah will accomplish and the kind of person he will be to his people. The first phrase he uses is especially thought provoking.

6For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders.

Isaiah 9:6

Pause a moment and meditate on the phrase. The government will rest on his shoulders. What image does this phrase inspire in you? What does it look like for the Messiah to carry the government on his shoulders? Is it like Atlas holding the earth?

The phrase “rest on his shoulders” is an idiom — a group of words for which the meaning has been developed by usage rather than what the individual words mean. In this instance, the phrase means “to be the sole responsibility of someone.”

Now take a moment to meditate on this idea: the government will be his sole responsibility.

It is no wonder the religious people in Jesus day expected him to overthrow Rome and introduce a new government of which he would be the King. After all, wasn’t that what Isaiah had prophesied. Obviously there was a disconnect because Jesus resisted every effort to be crowned king on earth. He knew his purpose was beyond an earthly reign.

Jesus didn’t come to earth to regain power or to assert his power. Power wasn’t the question. It was authority Jesus came to take back from the enemy. Recall chapter 3 of Genesis when the serpent came to Adam and Eve. At creation, God gave authority to Adam and Eve to rule on earth. He told them to subdue the earth and fill it. (Genesis 1-2) When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree – knowing good and evil, they surrendered the authority given to them by the Creator. They gave it away just like that.

When the time was right, Jesus humbled himself and came as a man to do what Adam and Eve, and all humans since then, were unable to do — say no to Satan and take back authority over the earth. In this way, the government – authority – rests on the shoulders of Jesus.

18Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.

Matthew 28:18

It isn’t the governments of the world that rest on his shoulders. It is bigger than that. It is the government of the heavenlies — all authority in heaven and on earth. “What difference does that make to me'” you ask? Great question.

I find that when I am not careful, the activity and actions of not only my government, but other governments as well, distract me. It distracts me from keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, the One who carries all of it on his shoulders. I begin to feel responsible to carry the government on my shoulders. It is a heavy weight and before long, I stumble under the load. Then I am reminded it isn’t mine to carry. It is his. Then I recall Isaiah’s words to the nation of Israel. He says this:

11The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, 12“Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. 13Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. 14He will keep you safe.

Isaiah 8:11-14

Who are you looking to for safety and consolation? Have you taken on the care of the government? The world? Is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in our life? Do you hold him in a place of reverent awe and respect? Does he make you tremble?

In my journeying on Friday, I happened upon a young girl carrying a backpack. She was a very slight person, in her teens, with long slender arms that hung at her sides, her finger tips resting on equally slender legs. Her backback was nearly half her size and it hung on her like a burden, sliding down her back and over her backside. The whole scene invoked a feeling of sadness in me. I wanted so desperately to relieve her of the backpack and offer to carry it to her destination.

In life, we often carry burdens. While these cannot be seen with the human eye, they are as heavy and tiresome as if we carried an oversized backpack stuffed to its limits. It might be caring for children or elderly parents; jobs or tasks not well suited to our interests or talents; health or financial difficulties; a season of change like building a house or moving to a new area; an impending change in the future whether it be marriage or retirement. One thing is certain in life, there will be burdens to bear. The question is not, “Will I face a difficult situation?” but rather, “What will I do when I face a difficult situation?”

The prophet Isaiah recorded a promise given to him regarding the coming Messiah. It bears repeating today.

1Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever . . . 4For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. 6For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7. . . The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:1-7

The outstanding aspect of this promise is the final statement – the passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! There is no promise given to us by God that has not already or will not be fulfilled in the future.Here he promises to lift the heavy burdens from our shoulders. This has been fulfilled for us in Jesus.

28Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

What burden is weighing you down today? What keeps you from surrending it to Jesus? He is offering an exchange of burdens — yours for his. While many times the burdens we bear do not come with instructions or training in carrying them, his yoke comes with instructions and the after market service is 24/7/365. Why not take him up on it?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash