Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pennies from heaven

I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up some items on a list. We're trying to pay cash for everything, so I headed to the ATM first to get some money. As you know, ATMs only give you $20 bills, which was fine with me.

When I parked my car at the store and got out, I decided to bring in some coins because I generally like to get as close as possible to giving exact change. Scrounging around the car, I found a few coins. I was just about to head in the store, when I looked down and saw a penny on the ground. I picked it up and then happened to notice two more rather scuffed up pennies under the car. Thinking to myself that I might need these, I shoved them into my pocket and entered the store. My youngest son was with me riding in the cart.

Now, you have to understand that I often have trouble making decisions.  That day was no exception.  Fruit was on my list, but I didn't have any idea what type of fruit or how much to get.  Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples, pears and kiwis passed the test and made it into the basket. I got some sweet potatoes for pies, but first had to make sure I had just the right weight. I picked up and put back a few of them until I was satisfied with my choices. A number of items made it into the shopping cart that weren't on my list, but I felt like I should get anyway. For example, normally, I don't buy things on a whim, but when my son asked for shells and cheese I got it for some reason. A little later he saw an apple slicer and reminded me that we needed one so I got it.

I know this may seem like a lot of boring detail--(I mean, how exciting can grocery shopping be?)--but that's part of what makes the outcome so significant to me.

When I was finally ready to check out, I went through the self-checkout line, scanned and bagged all my stuff, and got the total: $60.73. At that point I remembered the change in my pocket and wondered how close I would be to having exact change. I reached into my pocket and found that I had exactly 73 cents, the three pennies I found on the ground having made all difference. Not only that, but since I had gotten all $20s from the ATM I had exactly what I needed down to the dollar and cent.

Another thing you have to understand is that I'm a math teacher and God often speaks to me through situations involving numbers. (BTW, the odds of the above happening are about 1/2000.) What I sensed God reminding me of through this whole thing is that He is in total control of my life. He is sovereign over all the choices I make. He is interested in even the most minute, unimportant details of my life, like buying kiwis and apple slicers.

Some people don't like the idea of God being in control of everything, but this is a very comforting truth for someone like me who too often agonizes over "did I make the right decision?" He is with me; I don't need to fear. Whether big things or mundane things, my Heavenly Father concerns Himself with the things that concern me. If you are His child, He has the same concern for and interest in you. You are not left alone in the tough decisions you face. He is with you and will in everything work it out for your good. He reminded me of that when He gave me His three cents.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

What's in a preposition? The work of the Holy Spirit

Note: This post grew out of a discussion that we had in my home fellowship group.

Our pastor recently preached on three distinct workings of the Holy Spirit. To distinguish among these three workings, he spoke of three different prepositions that are used to describe the Spirit's interaction with people. Those prepositions are "With," "in," and "upon."  That is, the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit being with a person, in a person and upon a person.

What's the point?

Well, the point is that these three prepositions are convenient ways of describing three different activities of the Holy Spirit in a person's life. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the various roles of the Spirit in a person's life.  Whole books have been written on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.  A good one I would recommend is The Person & Work of the Holy Spirit, by R. A. Torrey.)

"OK, but does a preposition make that much difference?"  Yes, it does, actually.  Consider the use of those three prepositions with respect to water.  I can have water "with" me, "in" me or "upon" me--with three very different results or workings.  If I have water with me, I can cook or wash with it, but it's not quenching my thirst.  If I have water in me, it quenches my thirst, but it's not going to get me clean.  If I have water upon me, I will get clean but I couldn't use it for cooking.  Prepositions are powerful little words!

Prepositions and the Holy Spirit

In John 14:15–17 Jesus said:

"If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
Here we see two of the three prepositions: with and in.  Jesus clearly distinguishes two different states of the Holy Spirit with respect to a person.  At the time He spoke these words, the Holy Spirit was with the disciples, but Jesus promised that one day He (the Spirit) would be in them.  While the Spirit was with the disciples, He guided them and convicted them of wrongdoing.  When the Spirit would come in them, He would give them new life.  They would experience the new birth.

The Indwelling Spirit
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."—John 20:21–22
After His resurrection but before His ascension into heaven, Jesus gives His disciples a commission.  He tells them that just as He was sent into the world by the Father to proclaim the Good News, they were to do the same.  He then gives them the Holy Spirit.  But this is not all that they would experience with regard to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Although they received the Spirit, more was to come.  They could not fulfill their mission until something else happened.  In Luke 24:45–49, Jesus tells them that they will preach the good news, but they are not to start right away.  He tells them to wait until they have been clothed with power from on high (v. 49).

Why do they need to wait when they have received the indwelling Spirit?  What more could they get?  Jesus said they would need need power to do their ministry—power that they didn't have, even though they knew the gospel and the Spirit now lived in them.

The Empowering of the Spirit

Once again, Jesus tells the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the "gift" the Father will give them.  They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days (Acts 1:4–5).  In verse 8 of chapter 1, Jesus tells them, "But 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."  Here we have the third preposition, on, to describe the empowering work of the Spirit.  On the day of Pentecost it says that "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them" (Acts 2:4).

We can see that there are a few terms that seem to be interchangeable in Scripture:  "being baptized with the Holy Spirit", having the Holy Spirit "come on (or upon)" you, and being "filled with the Holy Spirit."  These terms are used to describe the same phenomenon:  the ministry of the Holy Spirit to empower someone to be a witness for Christ.

Being filled with the Spirit is a repeatable experience.  (See e.g. Acts 4:8, 31; 13:52.) It's not like regeneration (being born again) which happens only once.  In fact, believers are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  Without the infilling of the Spirit, we will be ineffective in being witnesses for Christ.  With the infilling of the Spirit, we will be bold and effective in our proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.


Thursday, April 15, 2010


My church is planning on starting a missions training school which will begin Fall 2010. For the initial year, we plan on starting with a small group of people from our church and seeing what the Lord does with it.  The school will be called Launch, and I will be the director.  Launch is being developed around three core aspects: Pray...Train...Send...

At the foundation of any move of God is extravagant prayer. No ministry with eternal impact can take place apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is how we align ourselves with God's will and access His power. We hope to instill in our students a dependence on God and His resources. We want them to see the absolute necessity of prayer for their personal lives and ministries. Our desire is that prayer will permeate all that we do in Launch.

We're in the process of recruiting folks from within our local body to serve as teachers and mentors for the students. We are blessed to have in our church a number of people who have served in international missions and/or local teaching ministries. Training will be holistic, covering character, knowledge and practical skills (heart, head and hand.)

Students will participate in practicums such as evangelism, healing prayer, serving the poor, and discipling. We plan on at least one local cross-cultural ministry trip and an overseas ministry trip in the summer.

We believe that through it all, God will call some students to church planting or other long-term overseas work. We trust that all will be better equipped to serve the Lord and advance His Kingdom.

For Such a Time as This

I'm really excited to be a part of what the Lord is doing in equipping and sending people to go "to the ends of the earth" with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The recent major earthquakes around the world have reminded me of Jesus' words to His disciples when they asked Him about the end times:
"There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."—Matthew 24:7–8
I have no idea how close we may be to the time of the return of the Lord, but I do believe we are seeing the beginning of birth pains. Jesus gave another promise that fires me up:
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." —Matthew 24:14
I long to be a part of fulfilling these words. And I pray that through Launch, God would raise up many who would be lit on fire to bring the gospel to the nations.


Friday, January 1, 2010

My focus points for 2010

My wife asked me today what my goals were for the year. To be honest, I hadn't even thought of it. I typically do not make New Year's resolutions because they always seem so short-lived.

There are a few things, however, that the Lord has brought to my attention over the past year that I want to emphasize for the coming year.

• Spend at least one hour a day with God. I've noticed that I typically spend more than an hour on the computer each day on stuff that has a low "rate of return." It's not evil, it's just idle. My days go so much better when I have quality time with the Lord. Also, I could come up with goals for the New Year that sound great, but aren't what I'm supposed to be focusing on. I need the time with God to know where I should be spending my time.

God has put things on my heart to do, but I want to operate in His timing and not jump ahead. When Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus was sick, He didn't go immediately to heal him, He stayed where He was for two days (John 11:3-6). Why didn't He go right away? The Scripture doesn't say that He was involved in some important task that He had to complete. It gives no reason at all. Jesus spent regular time with His heavenly Father. My guess is that Jesus was simply in tune with the Father, and the Father told Him to stay two more days before heading out. I want to be like Christ and be in tune with God's timing.

• Be content with knowing and doing the "What" of God's will even when I don't know the "Why" or the "How." This follows from the point above. When I've spent the time with God and have discerned His will, I want to be quick to respond to what He says. I often fall into the "paralysis of analysis" because I overthink God's will rather than just obey because He says so.

• Be an encourager. First in my family and then to others God has put in my path. The Bible says to "encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today" (Hebrews 3:13). I received a hand-written note of encouragement in the mail from someone recently and it made my day. (Who hand-writes and uses USPS anymore?) I need to be on the giving end of encouragement more.

• Be a listener. I could avoid a number of problems if I were always "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).

• Prioritize relationships over rules. I know I'm a "rules guy" and I play that card too much. I need to get that in order.

• Live within my budget. My wife and I were blessed to have gotten out of debt a few years ago (with the exception of our home mortgage.) Lately, however, we have become somewhat sloppy with our finances because things aren't as tight as they used to be. We have been hugely helped by following the financial advice of Dave Ramsey and using principles found in his book The Total Money Makeover. We've committed to getting back on track by being more hard-nosed about our spending, and looking for ways to increase our income.

Of course God's grace is needed for all of these areas. I am comforted knowing that He will be with me as I go through this year and beyond.

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