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

The process of promise

Read: Exodus 22-24, Matthew 20:17-34

Many of us, when we pray, would like to see our entire prayer answered right when we pray it. We’re used to instant gratification. Drive-thrus. On demand. Our prayers have become a reflection of that. Like Veruca Salt, we want it and we want it now!

But what happens when we get everything we want when we want it whether we’re ready for it or not? Did you know some studies show that up to 70% of people who unexpectedly come into large sums of money end up broke within five years? Getting rich quick isn’t always the best thing for us.

Exodus 23:29-30

I’m sure Israel would have loved nothing more than to walk out of Egypt and right into the Promised Land. God could have gone ahead and cleaned house, sweeping out the land and preparing it for His people. But He didn’t. He chose not to for a couple of reasons.

  1. Israel wasn’t ready. Here was an entire nation who had been enslaved for four centuries. While their physical captivity had ended, anyone who has been held against their will can tell you that it takes longer for the mind to adapt to freedom. God had a lot of things to teach His people before they were ready to take the land. He needed to renew their minds to His plans and purposes before they could move ahead.
  2. The land was ready. Israel had some learning to do, but the land was move-in ready. It was inhabited. It was already being farmed. Cities had already been built. There was a population that was tending to it, keeping it profitable. Had God scattered those people, the land would have reverted back to its original state. Fields would go fallow and fill with weeds. The cities would begin to crumble and wild animals would once again take over. The Israelites would have had to start from scratch.

Our land, our promise, may be ready for us, but we may not yet be ready for it. There may be lessons we need to learn along the way. We may need to build up endurance and strength. We may need to renew our minds, changing our old way of thinking. We may need to be broken down so that we can be rebuilt. And while all of that is happening, God has made sure that our promise will be ready for us when we are ready for it. The process is just as, if not more, important than the promise.

Crumbs

Read: Exodus 1-3, Matthew 15:21-39

You’ve been invited to a feast. The table groans under the weight of the fare. All of your favourite foods are set before you prepared just the way you like it. The aroma wafts its way to your nostrils. Your mouth waters.

At the head of the table, your host gestures for the meal to commence. The person across from you, the one to your right, and the one to your left all dig in. You watch jealously as they consume the extravagant meal. All too soon, the food has been devoured. Your stomach still growls as the plates are cleared. Yours doesn’t even have a spot of gravy marring the shine. The other guests get up and leave the table. You remain seated. Before you is a single crumb. You don’t even know where it came from. You lick your finger and grasp the single morsel bringing it to your parched lips. You close your eyes and savour the small taste you were fortunate enough to have.

By now, I hope you’re thinking how stupid you would be to savour the crumb when you’d been offered the feast.

Jesus came to offer us the feast. We have an invitation to the table. We are honoured guests. But we often act like the dogs waiting beneath the table for the scraps to fall.

In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus. Her daughter was tormented by a demon and she had heard of Jesus’ ability to heal. Jesus at first refuses saying that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (verse 24).

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

Matthew 15:26 (NIV)

Even after being insulted, the woman persists.

Matthew 15:27

Jesus commends her for her great faith and her daughter was healed at that moment (verse 28). The crumbs Jesus offered her were enough to accomplish all she had asked.

We, having been accepted into the family of God through the blood sacrifice of Jesus, have an open invitation to the table. We are not the dogs, we are the children. If the crumbs are enough for a miracle, what are we settling for that we are content to merely exist? It is long past time that we, the Church, take our seat at the banquet and accept all that has been waiting for us. Healing is for us. Freedom is for us. Prosperity is for us. Provision is for us. Miracles are for us!

Stop settling for crumbs when you can have the whole feast.

A new hope

Read: Genesis 36-37, Matthew 12:1-21

A look at any news outlet these days will let you know that there are an awful lot of people who have no hope. Even those who think they do, don’t. This is nothing new. Hopelessness has plagued the human race since the very first humans walked the earth. Our own weaknesses and insecurities often overshadow anything or anyone who may be able to shine a little light into our lives.

This is what the Jews were feeling in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Pharisees had interpreted the law to a point that there was absolutely no hope in ever being able to keep it. In the first few verses of Matthew 12, we find Jesus and his disciples accused of breaking the law simply because they were hungry. If the need for a midday meal was enough to break the law, how much more did the Jews struggle in their daily life to keep up with the strict parameters the Pharisees put on them?

Yet Jesus fought against these man-made restrictions. While still keeping the law, he explained the freedom in it. Certain exceptions could be made within the boundaries of the law. Jesus emphasized his point by healing a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees considered healing work and thus, decided it was unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. Jesus, on the other hand established that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).

Matthew 12:21

Jesus’ ministry was not to publicly put the Pharisees in their place, but rather to show the average person that there was hope beyond what they’d been taught. Their faith wasn’t all about the rules, but the freedom that could be found in them. The law was not given to stifle humanity, but to benefit them. And Jesus, in fulfilling the law, came to do the same.

It is in Jesus’ name that our greatest hope is found. It is in his name that demons must flee and sickness must vanish. It is in his name that we are set free and in his name that we find life everlasting.

Where there is no hope, there is Jesus. Where hope has faded, he brings a new hope.

Silence the fools

It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who make foolish accusations against you. You are not slaves; you are free. But your freedom is not an excuse to do evil. You are free to live as God’s slaves.

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NLT)

The best way to prove a fool wrong is by your actions—not with malicious intent, but by simply living contrary to their foolish accusations.

The church is one of the most accused groups out there. It’s full of hypocrites. They just preach that prosperity stuff. The preachers all holler and spit. It’s only a place where weak people go.

The best way around all of those things is to live the exact opposite. Live with integrity. Preach a balanced message. Whisper and try not to drool. Be strong. Let the way you live exceed the expectations of others.

Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world.

1 Peter 2:12 (NLT)

If you’ve ever tried to argue your point with a fool, you know that it is a fruitless waste of time.

Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.

Proverbs 10:23 (NLT)

The best response to a foolish accusation is to live a life above reproach. In living wisely, not only can we find pleasure and honor, but we silence the fools.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 34-35, 1 Peter 2

Stay free

It would seem that the Galatian church struggled—as many churches still do—with the concept of freedom, how it works and how it is to be applied to our lives. Being free from the law—receiving salvation as a gift rather than earning it through works—is a difficult concept to grasp. And, no matter how much revelation some people get, there always seem to be those who want to find a set of chains and shackle the Church back to the law.

So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

Galatians 5:1 (NLT)

How do I know when I’m getting tied up again? The answer is quite simple and you probably know it already.

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

If you are being led in a direction that produces anything but these things, you’re being led back into the bondage of the law. The Holy Spirit will never lead you into anything that is based on works and produces selfish results. He will only lead you into things that produce good fruit with selfless results.

For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)

So if you’re questioning where you’re being led, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Is this solely for my benefit or will others benefit from it?
  • Will this result in producing the fruit of the Spirit?
  • Does this reflect love for my neighbour? How so?
  • Am I serving myself or am I serving others?

In the end, our freedom is all about serving one another. If you’re not serving your neighbour—whether you like them or not—you’re not really free. There are no qualifiers on the love we are commanded to give. It’s not always easy and that’s why we need the Holy Spirit to guide us. If we are truly free and have nailed our own passions and desires to the cross (Galatians 5:24), we live by the Holy Spirit and must follow his guidance in every part of our lives.

Love your neighbour. Stay free.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 10-12, Galatians 5

The belle of the ball

The power goes out. You have one candle, but a whole room to light. What’s the best way to get more light? Reflect the one you’ve got.

Back in the days before electric or even gas lights, candle light was the only way to go. Unless you wanted to burn your house down or create a sauna of smoke and flame, one would add glass and mirrors to a room in order to create more light without creating more heat and open flame. It’s why you often see so many reflective surfaces in old houses and castles. The true belles of the ball weren’t the ladies in all their finery, but the mirrors that made the magic happen—reflecting the light of hundreds of candles to light up an entire room.

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, then the veil is take away. Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom. And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.

2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (NLT)

We are all mirrors. Before we get to know Christ, we are covered and unable to reflect anything. The veil absorbs light. But when Christ comes along, he rips that veil apart, allowing us to reflect his glory. The veil represents the Old Covenant—the thing that separates us from God and whose purpose was to reveal sin. The New Covenant redeems us from sin. The veil is gone. Torn. No more. Jesus fulfilled it and killed it, bringing a new covenant that doesn’t reveal sin, but redeems us from all sin.

By accepting this new covenant, the true reflective nature of our spirits is revealed and we become like a mirror in a ballroom reflecting and refracting the glorious light of Jesus. The Holy Spirit continues to work in us, buffing and polishing and smoothing so that we can become more and more reflective until we are perfected until all that remains is the image of Christ.

For more on the covenant, read the message notes on Compatibility from Pastor Morris Watson.

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 19-20, 2 Corinthians 3