Teach me

Once upon a time, The Lord’s Prayer was prayed in schools across North America. Children learned it and recited it with regularity. And, while there is surely much argument surrounding such a practice, it certainly made our schools and our nation a better place for it.

Because it was something many of us learned as children, we are often wont to think of the words as childish. Something simple, for kids. We lump it into the category of milk rather than meat. But that was not at all Jesus’ intent.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Luke 11:1 (NIV)

Jesus responded to this request with what we have termed, The Lord’s Prayer. There is nothing immature or childish about the method Jesus gave to his disciples. These men were no longer new and immature followers. They had already been sent out on missionary journeys and had been healing and casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” is a good prayer, and a very needful one, for Jesus Christ only can teach us, by his word and Spirit, how to pray. Lord, teach me what it is to pray; Lord, stir up and quicken me to the duty; Lord, direct me what to pray for; teach me what I should say.

Matthew Henry

I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard believers (not even new ones) say that they don’t know how to pray or they don’t know what to pray. And I can probably count on one hand the number of times someone has offered them the prayer that Jesus offered to his disciples.

Childish as it may seem to us, The Lord’s Prayer encompasses all we need as believers: a reminder of God as our Father and His holiness, the will for His kingdom to come to earth, the request that our daily needs be provided for, the forgiveness of our own sins along with the aid needed to forgive others, and a way out of the temptation we will surely find ourselves in.

Perhaps if we stopped trying to act like we think mature believers should act and start acting as the children of God we are, we as the Church, might find ourselves in a more advantageous position.

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Luke 18:17 (NIV)

There is no shame in asking for help when we think we need it (and even when we don’t). When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, they were not rebuked, but given words for life. My grandfather, a great minister of the Gospel until the day he moved to heaven, once said in a message that the one word God loves to hear from us is a four-letter word.

H-E-L-P!

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. It takes courage to admit when we are not capable of doing something on our own. And God, in His love and mercy, will always be faithful to come to our aid.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Romans 8:26 (NIV)

So today, if you don’t know what to pray (or even if you do), start with Jesus’ example. Pray the prayer he gave us. Don’t just say it by rote, really pray it. Think about the words and the power within them. Ask Jesus to teach you what it is to pray.

Read: Judges 20-21, Luke 11:1-28

With authority

They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

Luke 4:32 (NIV)

At any given time, it is important for believers to send out a message with authority. This time of year, as Easter nears, it is even more important.

Across North America churches are popping up. They are hip and trendy. People from all walks of life flock to them because they are made to be comfortable no matter what their background. Pastors are superstars. Worship leaders become rock stars. They send a message, alright, but where is the authority?

These words in Luke were spoken of Jesus just after he’d been run out of his hometown of Nazareth. He’d spent forty days and nights in the desert being tempted by Satan. Upon his return, it was his turn to read from the book of Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19 (Isaiah 61:1-2) (NIV)

Jesus then went on to proclaim that this scripture had been fulfilled in the hearing of all those present. The people were amazed, but it didn’t take long for them to get over their amazement and rush Jesus to the nearest cliff with every intent of throwing him over.

In his time on earth, Jesus was loved and he was hated. He spoke his message with authority wherever he went whether his words were accepted or not. Was he trendy? No. Did he make people comfortable? Obviously not. Was he one of the popular crowd? I don’t think so.

So why are we, the church, trying to be all of these things?

I believe that it was the power of the Holy Spirit on Jesus that allowed him to accomplish all that he did in his short ministry. And it is the same power that has been provided for us.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

We weren’t called to bring a comfortable, trendy message to the world. We are called to make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus. And I’m not certain that we can do both of these things together. Jesus certainly wasn’t comfortable when his own friends and family turned against him. And his entire message was counter to the culture of the time.

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with churches using available resources and technology to bring people in, but when those things become a greater focus than delivering the message of Jesus with authority, we run a great risk of being disobedient ourselves.

What is the message you are sending? Do you send it with apology or with authority? Are you speaking it to be popular or to be obedient? We are all ministers of the Gospel, and as such, need to take these questions into account. But take courage. Just because a message isn’t popular doesn’t mean in can’t still be effective.

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark 16:20 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 11-13, Luke 4:1-32

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

On trial

Read: Deuteronomy 11-13, Mark 13:1-13

I’ve never been on trial. I’ve never been to a trial. The closest I’ve been to trial is walking past the courthouse with my groceries. What I know of court and the process involved in a trial mostly comes from television. I take it all with a grain of salt because I assume that much of it is made to be much more dramatic than real life for the sake of cramming an entire case into forty-two minutes.

But one thing I do know is that, when a witness is to take the stand, a lawyer will prepare that witness. They will go over any and all questions that may be asked of them and refine responses in order to support a certain narrative and press a desired outcome.

Jesus has a discussion with his disciples about standing trial.

Mark 13-11

Notice he doesn’t say, “If you are arrested and brought to trial.” He says, “Whenever.” It’s a sure thing. This life we’ve been called to will most certainly earn us our day in front of a judge.

Right now, our judge is the rest of the world. Christians all around are being put on trial—both in the courtroom and out of it. We are being challenged on our faith and the very core of our beliefs. And the sad part is, in many instances, we’re losing our case.

Why? Because we’re not listening to our lawyer. He’s there prompting us, telling us what to say. Some of us ignore him or block him out. Others don’t even know he’s there, wanting to help.

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.

John 14:16-17 (NIV)

Counselor is another term for a lawyer, specifically a trial lawyer. So it makes sense that, if Jesus expected us to be on trial, he’d also provide the lawyer. Like anyone on trial, if we want to win, first we need to accept the help of our lawyer. Then we need to take our lawyer’s advice. He’s the expert. We’re not. In the case of our Counselor, the Holy Spirit, he actually speaks through us. If we let him.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:26 (NIV)

Accepting Jesus is the first part of our Christian walk. Accepting the Holy Spirit ensures that we are able to continue that walk and stand firm.

Come alive

Read: Deuteronomy 5-7, Mark 12:1-27

Have you ever heard an unbeliever say, “Why should I believe in God? What has He ever done for me?” Well, first of all, if you’re questioning what He has or hasn’t done for you, the first question is moot because there must be a measure of belief in someone in order to question their motives. Second, aside from offering a plan of salvation that leads to eternal life, He hasn’t done anything for you. Why should He? He’s not your God.

Before you get all that’s heresy! on me, let me explain.

Mark 12-27.jpg

This was Jesus’ response to the Sadducees question regarding eternal life. It’s like someone who doesn’t believe in God asking why God hasn’t done anything for them. The Sadducees said there was no resurrection. No such thing as eternal life. Yet they put Jesus on the spot with a question about life after death.

So what then did Jesus mean when he said that His Father was the God of the living, not of the dead?

Then he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:6 (NIV)

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says this:

God implied that the patriarchs were still alive and that He had a continuing relationship with them as their covenant-keeping God, even though they had died long before… He is still the patriarchs’ God which would not be true had they ceased to exist at death, that is, if death ends it all. And His covenant faithfulness implicitly guarantees their bodily resurrection.

Jesus was not talking about physical death, but of spiritual death. No matter how good you think you may be, we are all born spiritually dead, and there is only one way to overcome that death—to be born again.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

John 3:5-6 (NIV)

I cannot make my point better than the character of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman:

‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking
Thinking that’s your only option
But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day
Sun is up and the color’s blinding
Take the world and redefine it
Leave behind your narrow mind
You’ll never be the same

Come alive, come alive
Go and ride your light
Let it burn so bright
Reaching up to the sky
And it’s open wide
You’re electrified

Come Alive, words and music by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek

The dead cannot have the same experience as those who are alive. It’s impossible. There are certain things that God has reserved solely for His children—those made alive in Christ through the rebirth. Anyone who has not accepted salvation through Jesus cannot experience those things—those who remain spiritually dead having either not yet received Christ or having rejected him altogether. Again, it’s impossible.

If you want God to do something for you, you must first do something for Him. Accept Him. Believe in Him. Trust that His Word is true and that all of His promises are guaranteed because of His covenant with His children.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7 (NIV)

 

An eternal sin

Read: Numbers 3-4, Mark 3:22-35

Mark 3:28

It’s a nice thought, knowing that all of our sins and blasphemies will be forgiven us. On this verse alone, we could hinge our very existence. Jesus said it, after all. But that’s not all he said.

But whoever blasphemes against he Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.

Mark 3:39 (NIV)

Yikes! We tend to believe that nothing we could ever say or do is beyond forgiveness, but apparently there’s this one thing that would earn us eternal damnation. Why? Why is this one sin so much worse than anything else we could possibly do? Once we understand who the Holy Spirit is and what his purpose is in our lives, the answer becomes very clear. Let’s start with what Jesus had to say about the Spirit.

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.

John 14:15-17 (NIV)

In Jesus’ own words, he describes a Helper that will come to live with and in us. So we have a Counselor, a Helper. Great. Why is it such a big deal to speak against the Holy Spirit?

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Jon 14:26 (NIV)

Oh! Are you starting to get the picture? Without Jesus, in phyical form right in front of us, we need something or someone to give us a nudge in the right direction and remind us the right path we need to take. But there’s more!

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NIV)

Not only does the Holy Spirit help us, but he comes bearing gifts. Good gifts. No, not just good, great. Great gifts. The Spirit gives us gifts of wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing and miracles. Gifts of prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation. Without the Spirit none of these things exist. And, without the gifts of the Spirit, how can the body be edified?

For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)

And there’s the verse that wraps it all together. Why is speaking against the Holy Spirit so unforgivable?

  1. The Holy Spirit was sent to help us when Jesus’ time on earth was complete. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus prepared the way for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is there to help us, to guide us, and to remind us of all Jesus taught and commanded us.
  2. The Holy Spirit is here for our edification. He gives us these incredible gifts so that we can communicate better with God and do His amazing works on His behalf.
  3. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the Holy Spirit is what holds us all together as one body. To blaspheme the Spirit is to speak against God, against Jesus, and against the entire body of Christ.

God has given us all that we need to succeed in the path He has set out for us, the Holy Spirit being our guide and Jesus, the Word, being the lamp that lights the way. Let us not fall into sin by reaching for one gift and not another, but let us take every advantage available to us so that we can live the full life intended for us.

16x

Read: Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 27:32-66

Some days, I have the memory of an elephant. I remember minute details about things that happened over a decade ago that never really mattered, even while they were happening. Other days, my memory has the lifespan of a gnat. I think that, for the most part, the Israelites fell into this latter category.

Through much of the Pentateuch, Israel gets reminder after reminder. Sometimes I read a passage and have to go look back because I am positive I’ve read it already. Today is no different.

Leviticus 19:2

After this verse, the words the Lord your God are repeated fifteen more times within the chapter. Sixteen times within thirty-seven verses, Israel is reminded that the Lord is their God. If repeating something three times is important, how important is sixteen?

The number sixteen in the Bible is often associate with love. In the Old Testament, sixteen of the various names and titles for God specifically signify His constant, never-ending love for the children of Israel. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists sixteen distinct qualities of love.

When questioned about the most important commandment, Jesus wraps it all up.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30 (NIV)

I find it interesting that, for as many qualities as Paul uses to describe love, God reminds His people that He is their Lord. Far more than God wanted Israel to follow a strict set of rules, He wanted them to love Him. From a pure love, obedience flows. God wants the very same for us.

Even as I write this study, I wonder for myself how much would change in my life if I were to intentionally remind myself daily of God’s lordship in my life. The Lord is my God. He is my Lord. I believe that this is what God was doing with Israel. He was working to renew their minds to His way of thinking.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Our love for God should be, like Jesus stated, with our whole being. But it all starts in our spirit, followed by our mind. If the mind does not conform to the spirit, our strength cannot follow suit. Our spirits know and love God, but it is the daily reminder of His lordship in our lives that will cause everything else to conform.

So remind yourself that God is your God. He is your Lord. Do it sixteen times if you have to.

Heart not head

Read: Exodus 25-26, Matthew 21:1-22

Once Israel had been set free from the Egyptians, it was time for them to seek God in earnest. All other gods and worship had to be cast aside. God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was to be worshiped. Set apart because He had set Israel apart. A place, a tabernacle, needed to be assembled as a place for the presence of God to rest.

This wasn’t to be any old tent. God had given Moses a lot of very specific instructions that needed to be met exactly. Materials were required. Israel didn’t have a building fund. They didn’t have time to set up a donation campaign. No fundraising events were held.

Exodus 25:2

A freewill offering was taken up and work began to fulfill the specifications for the tabernacle. Nowhere in the text do we find a scenario where the supplies were not enough and a second offering had to be received. The people gave according to the prompting of their hearts.

What does it mean to be prompted by ones heart? Does it mean that we give when we feel like it? Are we generous only when we have the means to do so? Or is it simply a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit?

I believe it is the latter. Webster’s 1828 dictionary says that the heart is the seat of affections and passions. Israel had just been freed from centuries of slavery. It’s probably safe to say that they were passionate about their freedom and the One who had brought it about. Their generous offerings were a part of their worship.

Giving is worship. Worship should be inspired not by how we feel or what we have, but by whom we worship.

The only way [we can] worship in spirit and in truth [is] to know the One whom [we are] seeking to worship.

Kevin J. Navarro, The Complete Worship Leader

The more we know God, the more we will be in tune with His Spirit and the more we will be prompted to give generously. Giving is the only area in which God actually asks us to test him.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Malachi 3:10 (NIV)

In any sort of worship—from song to giving—we must be dependent on our hearts, the seat of our affections, for direction. We must listen closely to that part of us which is joined with God. Our heads will always lead us away from generous worship, but our hearts will always lead us toward it.

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