Tongues of fire

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 3:16-17 (NIV)

Water cleans.

John’s baptism was and still is symbolic of a spiritual cleansing, but it could never be anything more. We use water baptism as an outward symbol of an inner change. Our minds and our souls (mind, will, and emotions) must be engaged when we make the choice to be baptised in water. It is a sign of commitment to Christ.

Fire purifies.

It is only the baptism of the Holy Spirit that brings about true purification. All three parts of our being—body, soul, and spirit—must be engaged to receive this baptism. It is a sign of reliance on Christ.

Anyone can be baptised in water. Some experience great change and profess to feel something more than wet when they resurface. To some, it is merely a public declaration of their commitment to Jesus.

Anyone can be baptised in the Holy Spirit, but not everyone will display the evidence of it—tongues.

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 2:3-4 (NIV)

Holy Spirit baptism connects us to the Father in a way that nothing else can. The fire of the Spirit, the one John spoke of in the Gospel of Luke, cleanses us from within. If we allow it, it will burn away the impurities from our lives. But the key is submission and complete reliance. So long as we fight for control, we will never allow the Spirit to work in us.

There are those who would seek to tame and control the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is not ours to control. Rather, we must give ourselves over to His control. As contradictory as it may seem, there is no greater freedom to be found than when we give over control of our lives to the Spirit of God. It is only then that we have an even greater bond with the Father and an ability to pray His perfect will.

Neither water baptism nor baptism in the Holy Spirit are required of us to gain entrance into Heaven. But if God has provided for us a way to be even closer to Him, why would we not jump at the opportunity?

Read: Joshua 9-10, Luke 3

They are blind

Read: Genesis 49-50, Matthew 15:1-20

No one enjoys being called out on their wrong-doings. Generally, if we’ve sinned, we’d rather deal with it quietly rather than have it made public. But when it came to the Pharisees, Jesus almost seemed to enjoy bringing their failures to light. And I’m willing to bet that, when his disciples pointed out how upset the Pharisees were, he already knew they were offended.

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

Matthew 15:12 (NIV)

This being the fact that the Pharisees were trying to call out Jesus and his disciples as unclean because they hadn’t washed their hands before eating while the Pharisees blatantly refused to honour their fathers and mothers claiming whatever help [they] might otherwise have received from [us] is a gift devoted to God (Matthew 15:5). They used their religion as an excuse to disregard the command to honour their parents. Their words made them more unclean than eating with unwashed hands and, when Jesus pointed out this fact, they were offended. He beat the Pharisees at their own game and they didn’t like it.

If you, like the Pharisees, find yourself offended when truth is brought to light, chances are that you are the one who may need to make some changes. Often our own initial response is the best gage for the veracity of a statement.

On the giving end, it is our duty as followers of Christ to proclaim the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). On the receiving end, it is our duty to verify the truth according to the Word of God and make any adjustments necessary to bring ourselves into line with that truth.

We may not be able to control how others see the truth.

Matthew 15:13

… whoever is offended by a plain, seasonable declaration of truth, we should not be troubled at it.

Matthew Henry

But we can control how we receive it ourselves.

The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

Sing!

Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:19-20 (NLT)

When I was a kid and my mom would still send me off to school, she’d stand on the front step and holler out a song title at my sister and I. She would then stand on the step until she could hear us singing the song as we walked down the street.

More often than not, that song would stay with us throughout the day and we’d come home singing choruses like This is the Day or Celebrate Jesus (it was the nineties, have a little grace).

Mom was on to something. Her intent was to send us off to school with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now, more than 20 years later, I’m still asking God to give me songs to sing while I work. When I’m alone in an room with great acoustics, why wouldn’t I sing? And if someone else walks in the room and hears me praising God while I work, what does that matter?

Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs aren’t just things to do to fill the silence, but they are a byproduct of being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing him to control our lives. Verse 19 is preceded by this:

Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.

Ephesians 5:18b (NLT)

Then you will sing...

If you’ve got the Holy Spirit, don’t be afraid to sing the songs he puts in your heart. Even if you can’t sing. My dad always says that God told us to make a joyful noise. He never said it had to be on key.

So sing!

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 27-28, Ephesians 5

Debt of love

No one wants to be in debt. There are all sorts of companies that work to get people out of debt. So how would you feel if I told you that there is a debt that you can never repay for as long as you live? Gasp! For some reason, there are those who have made this unending debt seem like a weight, a trial, a burden we must all bear. It shouldn’t be. It should be a joy, an honour, a delight to any who seek to make continuous payments on it. What sort of debt am I talking about? The debt of love.

Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbour, you will fulfil all the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments against adultery and murder and stealing and coveting—and any other commandment—are all summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to anyone. So love satisfies all of God’s requirements.

Romans 13:8-10 (NLT)

How quickly our world would change if, not even everyone, just the the Church would take these verses to heart! If just those who bear Christ’s name would also, in the same way, show Christ’s love, we’d change the world in an instant. This love I’m talking about is not what the world thinks Christian love should be, but what Jesus showed us Christian love is.

Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

Romans 12:9-10 (NLT)

Our love should not be based on how we perceive the thoughts or actions of others, but on how Jesus sees them: a lost soul in need of salvation, a confused mind in need of clarity, or a searching heart in need of an answer.

There is that old saying, love the person, hate the sin. It’s true. But in what order are we abiding by this truth? Is our hate for the sin overshadowing our love for the person? I’ve found that most sinners don’t need to be told that they’re sinners. They already know it and they already feel enough condemnation for it. What they don’t know and feel is love.

It isn’t always easy to show love for our Christian brothers and sisters, let alone those whom we know live in the sin that we are instructed to hate. But, thank God, in giving the instruction, He also gave us a way.

But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires.

Romans 13:14 (NLT)

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

Romans 12:2a (NLT)

God wants us to allow Him to transform us so that, instead of thinking the thoughts of the world, we can think His thoughts. We don’t have to try to love with our own natural love, but we can be filled with a supernatural love. A love that we don’t have to work for. A love that comes easy.

Think of it this way: say you owed a great amount of money and had no way of paying it, then some stranger comes along and gives you far more than what you need to pay of the debt. Jesus paid a price that we could never pay for a debt that he did not owe. The only debt we are now required to pay is the debt of love—and we don’t even have to come up with the love to pay it because God has given that to us as well.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 99-102, Romans 13

Control freak

Nobody likes to hear the S word. Sin isn’t something anyone wants to or enjoys talking about. Even sinners don’t like their actions to be referred to as sin. It’s a dirty word. And so it should be. But just because sin is dirty, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address it or even talk about it. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. So how do we deal with it?

We don’t.

He [Jesus] died once to defeat sin, and now he lives for the glory of God.

Romans 6:10 (NLT)

Jesus already dealt with sin. He defeated it. There is no maybe about it. There were no little stragglers that escaped. Jesus got it all. He didn’t just win the battle, he won the war.

What does this mean for us?

Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.

Romans 6:6 (NLT)

There are days where sin feels mighty powerful in my life. I struggle with the temptation to give in—and often do. But if it’s lost its power, why is the struggle still there?

Don’t you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval.

Romans 6:16 (NLT)

Perhaps our struggle isn’t so much with sin as it is with control. Until the day we leave this earth, sin will always be an option. But just because it’s there doesn’t mean we have to allow it to control us. We should aim for the exact opposite.

So you should consider yourselves dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:11 (NLT)

Romans 6 goes on to talk about how we should be using our bodies as tools to bring glory to God. A tool is something to be used, controlled by the one using it. Our bodies should not control us, but we rather, should control our bodies. When we give ourselves over to sin, we give up control. Likewise, when we give ourselves over to God, we give Him control. The less control we hold for ourselves—the more we give to God, the less likely we are to give it up to sin. In a culture where control is everything, this is a difficult thing to comprehend or even accept. Yet the benefits in giving all control to God far outweigh the disadvantages (because there are no disadvantages).

For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.

Romans 6:7 (NLT)

Sin doesn’t have to control us. We don’t have to try to control sin. We must simply give all control over to God. Easy in words, not so much in action. But I believe that the more we strive to give God complete control and ask for His grace in doing so, the more freedom we will find.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 75-77, Romans 6

Trust issues

TRUST: Confidence; a reliance, or resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle of another person.

In today’s world, who doesn’t have trust issues? Some of us trust too much and some of us trust too little.

For some of us our lack of trust has more to do with control than anything else. To trust someone means to give up control in a particular area. This becomes a big issue when we project our own insecurities regarding other people on God. We humanize Him to the point that we have a difficult time even trusting in the One who keeps the entire universe together.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.

Psalm 37:5 (NLT)

Everything. Yikes. I like to be in control. I like to know what’s happening and how it’s going to happen. The more I can control in a situation, the better. I don’t like unknowns. And then I put all of that insecurity on God. But here’s the thing, God isn’t an unknown. He gave us His Word to make Himself known to us.

Perhaps our greatest struggle in trusting God stems less from trust issues and more from relationship issues. When you really know someone, trusting them becomes easier. You know how they will react and respond and can predict a likely outcome for many situations. That is how it should be with God. The more we know Him, the more likely we will be able to anticipate the outcome. We have a giant book full of promises. How is it that all of that escapes our memory as soon as we’re asked to put our trust in the Lord?

Can we predict the future down to the tiniest detail? No, of course not. Only God knows all of that—and that is exactly why we should trust Him!

The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord.
He delights in every detail of their lives.

Psalm 37:23 (NLT)

How many friends do you have that delight in every detail of your life? None, right? Thought so.

For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.

Psalm 37:9 (NLT)

Life isn’t without its struggles, but if we can put our issues aside, get to know God better and learn to put our trust in Him, He’ll fight our battles for us.

Don’t be impatient for the Lord to act!
Travel steadily along his path.

Psalm 37:34a (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 36-37, Acts 23:1-11