Spirit and fire

Read: Genesis 6-8, Matthew 3

Matthew 3:11

There are many in the Church that stay away from any discussion involving the Holy Spirit. For some people, it can be a sticky point of discussion. I’m not one of those people. If we have believed Jesus for salvation, why would we not believe him for the power of the Spirit that he promised to us?

Even John the Baptist knew that the water baptism he offered paled in comparison to what Jesus would bring.

Cleansing with water—water baptism—is an outward symbol of an inward change. But water can only do so much. It can wash the dirt from the outside, but can do very little to cleanse what’s on the inside. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

The Bible speaks often of the refiner’s fire. Refining is a process in which raw ore dug from the earth is heated to a melting point. The heavy precious metal stays at the bottom while the impurities rise to the top. Once cooled, those impurities can be wiped or knocked off leaving pure precious metal behind.

This is the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

The baptism “with fire” would convey, in its turn, the thought of a power at once destroying evil and purifying good…

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

The Holy Spirit burns away what is evil and purifies what is good. In Acts 2, where we read the account of the 120 in the upper room experiencing tongues of fire, we see Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.

And afterward
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see vision.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Joel 2:28-29 (NIV)

These are those days. God poured out His Spirit on His people in the book of Acts and He never took His Spirit back. So why should we shy away from that which God sent to us to give us power? It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can accomplish what Jesus said we would.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:12 (NIV)

As members of the Church, we should all seek and strive to see and do even greater things than Jesus did while he walked the earth. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches if we’re going to see the miraculous like the disciples did. If we want Jesus to come back to earth to take us to heaven, we must first call down heaven to earth. The only way that is possible is with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Stuck in the middle

There are two sides to every coin. Two sides to every story. Two sides of the fence. There are two sides to many things and we use a lot of them as analogies and, more often than not, the truth is somewhere in the middle—neither one side nor the other.

There are some that would say building the Kingdom of God is nothing but hard work. Work. Work. Work. And then more work. Others may say that we just have to wait on God. He’ll to it all for us. Like the coin, the story, and the fence, the truth is stuck somewhere in the middle.

Building the Kingdom of God using brute strength alone will only build something that can crumble. Nothing man makes on his own will ever be eternal.

It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty.

Zechariah 4:6b (NLT)

Yet, we cannot just sit on our rear ends and do nothing, expecting the Holy Spirit to do it all for us.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

Zechariah 4:10a (NLT)

God cannot work through us unless there is work to work through. He needs our hands and our feet to accomplish His will on this earth. Sometimes that means getting dirty and maybe even sweaty. But we don’t have to do it all on our own.

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

It is not within God’s nature to start a job and leave it unfinished. If He has called you to a work, He will be with you, helping you, until the work is finished.

What comes from the grace of God, may, in faith, be committed to the grace of God, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

Matthew Henry

So, don’t get stuck on one side or the other. Find that middle ground between work and the Spirit. There is no better place to be than stuck in the middle with God.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 4-6, Revelation 18

 

More important

Every Sunday before church starts, we encourage our volunteers to join in corporate prayer. I sometimes feel like a broken record calling people to stop what they’re doing and come and pray. I’d rather our hearts and spirits be joined together in prayer than have every technical aspect of the service perfect.

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.

Hosea 6:3 (NLT)

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Is there any better or more significant that we can strive toward in this life? Is there anything more important than knowing the very One who created us?

Anyone who has spent a long time serving in church may find themselves in a circle of service. Your spiritual life may be lacking and yet you try to convince yourself that what you do in the church makes up for it. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. We must all find a balance between service and relationship. I believe we all need both. But service without the relationship is empty.

I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6 (NLT)

More important than our offerings is knowing God. And not just knowing about Him. Truly knowing Him. Understanding His love and grace. Passionately pursuing Him. Serving is an important part of our Christian walk. But it is more important to know Him whom we serve.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 5-8, Revelation 1

Message received

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered some books. I was pretty excited at the time to place the order and was impatient to receive my parcel. Then I ordered a few more things and those parcels arrived in my mailbox. I had forgotten about the books until someone else ordered the same books and told me they’d received a message that they’d been sent. I could recall no such message in my inbox. So I went back to check and found only the purchase confirmation. So, 15 days after my initial purchase, I followed up.

Sometimes, I think we forget about our prayers like we do our parcels. New ones come along and take the place of the old ones and they get lost. We forget to follow up. We made the initial effort and investment, but after a while the outcome doesn’t seem so important.

We have a better example to follow than my forgotten parcel. Let’s take a look at Daniel. In chapter 9 of the book of Daniel, the man receives a vision from the angel Gabriel. It has to do with the exile of Israel. Having already been in prayer about the sinful nation, Daniel decides to seek further understanding about what he’s seen. So he starts to fast and he starts to pray. Three weeks later, a heavenly being who looks like a man appears in front of him and, like a sack of potatoes, Daniel drops to his face.

Then he said, “Dont’ be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come to answer your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia.

Daniel 10:12-13 (NLT)

Now, I don’t know if my parcel has actually been sent out or not, but the process was started the moment I clicked complete my order. I could sit at home twiddling my thumbs hoping that the package comes before I need the books, or I can go after my purchase and be sure that it end up in my hands.

What Daniel was looking for was far more important than a couple of books. And he didn’t even get the handy confirmation email that his first prayer had even been heard. He didn’t pray once, brush off his knees and go about his business. He kept praying. He remained in a state of humility until his answer came. I wonder if he’d have ever met the one who looked like a man if he knew he’d been sent the first day. Would Daniel have been as fervent in his prayer if he knew the answer was already dispatched? Would the answer have even made it if Daniel had stopped praying?

Here’s what we can learn from Daniel: prayer and humility dispatch an answer. Continued prayer and humility ensure the message is received.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 9-10, 2 John1

One bad apple

Yesterday, after being out for most of the day, I was anxious to get home. I like being at home. I pulled into the driveway, grabbed all my stuff from the car and stomped up the front steps. Unlocking the door, I expected to be greeted by warm comfort. Instead, an overwhelming stench assaulted my senses. Dropping my things, it then became a bit of a wild goose chasing trying to find where the smell was coming from and what was causing it. While all of our organic waste is supposed to be kept separate, something landed in my garbage bin and stayed there for a while—long enough to stink up the entire house. The bin barely had anything in it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. When it comes to produce, once something starts to spoil, it doesn’t take long for it to spread to the good fruit. Back in Ezekiel, God was busy giving the prophet some very specific instructions regarding the temple. One thing among many stood out.

Take careful note of who may be admitted to the Temple and who is to be excluded from it.

Ezekiel 44:5b (NLT)

Only certain priests from a certain lineage were permitted to enter certain places in the Temple. To have anyone else enter would mean that it, and any utensils they came in contact with, would no longer be holy. A long process would then have to take place in order to re-sanctify that place and those things.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will bring ruin upon anyone who ruins this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you Christians are that temple.

2 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NLT)

Now, we no longer live under the Old Covenant and we don’t need to go to a physical temple to make sacrifices in order to atone for our sin. Jesus was the sacrifice that made eternal atonement for us. And we are now the temple—that holy place where the Spirit of God resides. And, just like the priests of old, we should be very aware of who and what we allow into the temple.

Like a little bit of garbage can stink up an entire house, one wrong person in our lives can ruin the temple. We all have different social circles and levels of relationships in our lives. Our inner circle should be reserved for a very select few people. How do we know who to let in? Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves:

  • Does this person share my faith?
  • Do they lead me toward Jesus or draw me away from him?
  • Am I challenged to become better and stronger with this person in my life?
  • Can I depend on this person in the bad times as much as I can in the good?

The list could go on, but I think you get the point. The inner circle, like the holy of holies, is sacred. It should be protected so that it—we—can remain holy. We may even have to distance ourselves from certain people in order to preserve that sanctity. Don’t let that bad apple in.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 43-44, 2 Peter 2

Be happy

Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God will come upon you.

1 Peter 4:14 (NLT)

Happy probably isn’t the first, or even second, or third, word I’d use to describe how I feel when I’m insulted.

HAPPY: Lucky; fortunate; successful.

It may seem more than a little counterintuitive, but in order to be counted as a successful Christian, you will have to be insulted for it.

It’s not that we should go looking for persecution, but if you are living the life God has called all of His children to, it will find you. If you’ve never been insulted or persecuted because of your faith you either live in a very small bubble, or you’re not really living your faith to the extent you should be.

There is something about Christianity that rubs the rest of the world the wrong way—and they usually aren’t afraid to let you know about it. And when those those insults come flying your way, they are nothing to shy away from. We should be boldly facing them head on.

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his wonderful name!

1 Peter 4:16 (NLT)

It is to our benefit to be called out for our faith. If we endure, we become stronger for it. And though the world would try to bring us shame, they only bring us further glory through our association with God the Father.

So even in the trials and the insults, be happy. Put the world behind you and focus on God before you.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 38-39, 1 Peter 4

The replacements

Our lives are full of comings and goings. Things change every moment of every day. Some things we can control, others we can’t.

Have you ever tried to break a bad habit? First of all, it’s not easy to do. Second, if you don’t replace that bad habit with something else, it’s bound to come back with a vengeance.

And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)

It’s Grey Cup Sunday—the biggest day in Canadian football. Of course I can’t let the day go by without yet another football reference.

In Canadian football, there are 12 players on the field for each team at any given time. If a player gets injured and requires attention, he must then sit out for a minimum of three plays. Now, once that player is off the field, he must be replaced so that there are still the required 12 men on the play. The same applies for a player that isn’t getting the job done. If the coach decides he needs to go, he must also be replaced. A team that tries to play anything but 12 players will be penalized.

Many things in our lives work the same. If we’re trying to break a habit, we can’t just say we’re going to stop. That void has to be filled with something else or we’ll go right back to doing that thing we don’t want to do.

This is why, when we accept Jesus into our lives, that God takes away our old, stony heart of sin and replaces it with a new, obedient heart. He takes something away and puts something better in its place. The injured player comes out and a new, healthy one comes in.

God doesn’t just take things away from us like a big bully. He removes things from our lives so that He can replace them with better things. His things. And we need to let Him. If we had our way, we’d be like a coach playing a half dozen injured players and being baffled by the loss of a game. God wants to put us in the very best position possible. That means replacements.

So don’t get down when it’s time for God to pull something from your life that just isn’t working. Rejoice, because He has a better plan to fill that void.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 36-37, 1 Peter 3