But occasionally, above the hum of the coffee shop I heard snippets. One of them from this young man was, “Who? Who is the Holy Spirit?” And my minister friend went on to patiently explain …
John [the Baptist] answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.” John 3:27 (NASB)
I saw this scripture somewhere recently when I was looking for something else. And it kind of pulled me up with a start as I realised something – and remembered that I had heard Derek Prince preaching something very similar many years ago.
In essence, there are two ways of getting things: one is receiving and one is grabbing. So many people in our culture today get things by grabbing – we see it all the time in the dog-eat-dog rat race we call the world (sorry for the mixed metaphors there). But the issue with grabbing – the problem with it - is what you get by grabbing is never permanent. You can have it for a while, but it will not be yours in the end. The other way to get things is to receive. Yes, you heard correctly. To receive what God has for you! And in the long run, you are never going to have more than you receive from God. The Bible is quite clear about this, but it doesn’t stop even Christians from the frenetic grabbing I see all the time. It’s nuts!
The only thing that’s permanent in your life (or in mine) is that which we receive from God. So why don’t we stop grabbing for a while. Stop grasping, stop trying to get all the time, and just turn to God and say, “God, whatever You want me to have, that’s what I want. I’ll be satisfied. It will always be a blessing and it will always be in abundance. I will not go after that big position or that large sum of money or that particular form of pleasure unless, God, I can receive it from You.” Why is that a better way? Because what we receive from God will bless you. It will be truly yours. It will be permanent. It will not do you harm in the end.
But the things we get by grasping often, in the long run, we’ll be sorry we ever reached for them and grasped them. They often exact a toll from us in the grabbing that is way more than what we get – ask any workaholic, or success addict that has been at it for years. It’s hollow! There is no joy in it.
Does that mean ambition is wrong? No, of course not! Ambition planted in our hearts by God and led by his Spirit, well, that’s destiny, or our inheritance by faith. It is never realised by grabbing and grasping, it comes to us as we walk with God and are led by Him. Sometimes that is not easy. There are challenges and blocks along the way that require boldness and faith and courage – but that is not grabbing.
So remember the secure things, the things that bring peace and real blessings, are the things that you received from heaven and from God. Learn to trust Him in this.
Hoping you are the same.
Just over two weeks ago I had the sad privilege of conducting the memorial service for Matthew Burton, aged 5. Matthew was born profoundly disabled and, in the end, his little body could do no more. His entire life was one of suffering, although, he had no way of comparing his life to anything like what was normal. His faithful parents suffered, too. Theirs was a very tough and demanding journey for the last five years. Matthew’s affliction became the whole family’s burden. But he was loved amazingly despite all that. In Matthew, God sent a messenger with a silent, but emphatic message – ask me for the message notes.
Many I spoke to along the way have asked why did God allow this affliction, this suffering? Some expressed how unfair it was and, so on. I’m sure you can think of a few questions like that yourself. They are difficult questions and then answers are not simple, either.
I did my level best to speak into these questions with my memorial message. I hope it helped some, at least.
Affliction. Why does God allow it to happen to “good” people? Even righteous people? Well, as I pointed out at the memorial service, there are potentially many answers …
The psalmist offers us another view altogether – very different to Matthew’s experience …
This is a word about affliction and the purpose of affliction and why affliction comes in our lives and how we should respond to affliction. After all, there’s nobody who won’t encounter affliction at some time or another in his/her life. Look at what the psalmist says about affliction and what he learned from it:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees. I know, O Lord, that Your laws are righteous and in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (NIV) - Psalm 119:67, 71, 75
We can clearly see that the psalmist didn’t view affliction as an unmitigated disaster. He saw it as a kind of corrective medicine. It was something that he needed to adjust his life. He says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray and I paid for it, but now,” he said, “I obey Your word. I’ve learned my lesson. It pays to obey.”
And then he says at the end, “O Lord . . . in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” You didn’t do it because You were cruel or because You were angry with me. You did it to straighten me out, to bring me back from my own evil way into Your way, to find the way of peace.
Are you in the midst of affliction? Don’t fight. Don’t argue with God, or plead the blood and so on. Ask Him the reason. It may be that God has allowed the affliction to come upon you in his faithfulness. Yes, in his faithfulness. He has a reason. He’s trying to turn you back from something, to bring you out of the wrong and bring you into the right – a life of obedience to His statutes and precepts.
The Lord is good and just and holy and true. And He disciplines His children because He loves them. Sometimes He achieves this when He allows affliction to visit us.
Hoping you are the same.
“Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.” - Psalm 119:89
There is a battle raging right now around the Australian church – and the church, generally, in the western world. That battle is about the truth, the veracity, the reliability and the holy authority of God’s Word. Many pastoral leaders and theologians are prepared to dilute, distort and downright reject parts of God’s Word with which they cannot agree because they deem it as “intolerant” or, “judgemental”, or “no longer valid for our culture,” or, (get this) “it’s offensive.” This is, of course, a demonically induced thinking.
God’s Word comes to us in the book that we call the Bible and here, in the book, it tells us something about itself. It tells us three powerful things about its own character.
First, God’s Word is “forever.” It’s eternal, it’s not temporary. It doesn’t change with fashions or the events of history or the attitudes and thoughts of man, or the ever-changing whims of culture. It’s forever – that’s an eternal word.
Second, the Bible is “God’s word.” It’s not man’s word, or woman’s word or anyone else’s. It didn’t start with humans. It came from God. It’s the revelation of God himself – His ways, His thoughts, His attitudes, His purposes, His laws. Humans were the channels through which it came, but God was always the source, the inspiration.
The third thing it tells us is that God’s Word is “settled in heaven.” Nothing that happens on earth can ever change the Word of God. It’s not subject to the decrees of kings or emperors, politicians, despots or dictators, or regimes and philosophical systems, nor is it subject to the opinions and views or the perverse, soulish opinions of so-called theologians who long ago walked away from a living faith in Jesus Christ. Neither is it subject to the violence of armies, or terrorists, or what you or I might think or prefer. It’s out of reach of all evil and carnal forces; because it is settled forever - in heaven. And if it is settled there, no one here has any right, any authority to tamper with it here. It is settled in heaven, and thus, it is settled here. No argument.
Dear friends, what a comfort and what a blessing this is in the midst of all that’s transient and temporary and impermanent and insecure in our world, that we can lay hold in our own lives of God’s Word which is forever, which comes from Him, which is settled in heaven … and which is totally reliable, all powerful and perfect. Always …
Make sure you read it every day!
Hoping you are the same.
Following on from the last issue of The Pulse, here are a few more unbiblical beliefs that have found their way into Christian thinking over the last few years …
See if you can recognise any.
6. The church is a meeting place.
Christians continually refer to buildings that house church services as “the church” — which is why when going to said building, they say, “We are going to church”. This in spite of the fact that Scripture teaches that God’s people are the church and that each believer makes up the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 3:16,12.). We need to change our language to agree with the reality that the building or cathedral we meet in is not the church but merely houses the body of Christ for corporate worship, preaching the word and a raft of ministry and mission responses.
7. Ministers are only in the church place.
The word “minister” simply means servant. Since we are all called to be servants of God, we are all ministers of God — irrespective of whether or not we are in full-time church ministry. Whatever job you have, your employer is paying you (whether they know it or not) to be a minister of God, representing him to the particular entity where you work. Mind you, we do not neglect our employment responsibilities in the process.
8. Eternal life begins when we die physically.
This is an oldie! But, it’s wrong. While many believers talk about going to heaven to be with God for eternity the truth of the matter is: eternal life begins the moment somebody receives Christ here on earth (see John 3:16-19, 5:24). Consequently, we can begin to enjoy the abundant (eternal) life now while living on earth! When we leave earth we are translated into the fullness of eternal life.
9. The larger the church, the more influence it has.
The fact of the matter is, our nation has never had more megachurches, while at the same time, Christianity has never had as little impact on culture as it does today. Strange, right? Hence, there is not necessarily a correlation between the size of a church and its impact on the surrounding community. There are even small to mid-sized churches that have far more impact on a community than megachurches that are only concerned with attracting their neighbours for church growth and care not about the conditions of the communities of the unchurched. These amazing churches a “punching” way above their weight.
10. There is no need for a true Christian to confess their sins.
There is an unbiblical teaching going around in some hyper-grace circles that, once a person is born again, they never need to confess another sin since Jesus paid the price for all sins, past, present and future. While it is true that Jesus paid for the sins of believers—past, present and future— but we need to continually live a life of true repentance and apply the blood of Jesus to our life after we sin. Even as the apostle John told all believers “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). He was speaking to the church right there.
The apostle James also admonishes believers to “Confess your faults one to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (see James 5:16a). If anyone teaches that Christians can live the rest of their life with unconfessed, ‘un-repented-of sin’ — after grieving the Holy Spirit of God (see Eph. 4:30) - then I do not know what Bible they are reading, but it is not the same one as I read!
Hoping you are the same.
I get around a bit. I have all sorts of conversations with all kinds of people. This morning (Wednesday) I was chatting to an old acquaintance over a coffee and he was talking about how praying to Mary (he is a Roman Catholic) is so important. Of course, this is not biblical. I didn’t argue the point … But, I have heard many things communicated by Christians and even preachers lately that I consider unbiblical. Many of these teachings are common now and have seeped into the church so slowly over time such that they are believed. Your average Christian embraces many of these without examining the Scriptures to check if they’re true.
I thought I’d list a few of these over the next few editions of the Pulse.
1. Salvation and a decision for Christ at an altar call are the same thing.
They’re not. One of the most common misconceptions I observe amongst Christians today is the fact that many think that if a person repeats "the sinner's prayer" or responds to an altar call (preacher’s invitation), they are "saved." This is problematic, since we may be giving false hope to the respondent by reassuring them of their salvation, when in fact they may not really be saved.
Also, nowhere in the Bible does it say that merely saying words ensures salvation. Furthermore, the altar call is a modern development in the evangelical church that arose out of the methodology employed by evangelists who appealed to the masses to come to the altar to receive Christ (or to “walk up the sawdust trail”). Though there is nothing wrong with this approach that identifies those who want to give their life to Christ (so people can get their names, pray with them and follow them up), it is not the same as salvation. Here’s why. Scripture is clear that both the heart and the mouth have to confess Jesus is Lord (see Rom.10:9-10), and the apostle Paul regularly echoed the words of John the Baptist when he said to bring forth fruit proving your repentance (see Acts 26:20, Matt. 3:8).
Hence, making an emotionally motivated “decision” to ask Jesus in your life is a good step, but a truly converted person will bear fruit, proving they really gave their life over to Jesus. (See also 1 John 3:9.) I have heard pastors say that ‘hundreds got saved tonight” when referring to an altar call response of a crowd of people. Whereas, in fact; “hundreds made a decision for Christ” since, after all these years, I am now very careful to distinguish between a “decision” and a “conversion” experience.
2. Worship is just singing songs.
I have learned that the mere singing of words to a song doesn’t amount to worship. Jesus also said that people can honour Him with their lips while their hearts are far from Him (see Mark 7:6-8). True worship includes blessing the Lord with all your soul (see Ps. 103) which implies that your whole heart, mind and soul—your whole being—is willingly bowing before the lordship of Christ while adoring and worshipping the Godhead. (See Rev. 4.)
True worship also implies obedience which is why Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will obey My commandments" (see John 14:15). I have known many persons either on worship teams
and or people in churches who—during the worship segment of the church service—displayed exuberant praise and worship, yet their private life was anything but submitted to God.
3. Repentance is crying at the altar.
I have seen many people responding to “altar calls” week after week, crying as they came forward. The average believer thinks that this is a sign of repentance; however, the word “repentance” has to do with a mindset change, a change of thinking, more than an emotional experience. I have learned that unless a person changes the way they think about God, their hearts will never be transformed by His power. Even Esau could not find repentance, even though he sought it with crying and tears! (See Heb. 12:17.)
4. We should say prayers.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say to merely “say” prayers. But everywhere, in both Old and New Testaments, is a command to “seek God”. God discloses Himself to the seekers—not just to the casual inquirers. (See Ps. 42, 63; Matt. 6:7,33; Heb. 11:6.)
5. God only expects us to give a tenth of our finances.
Tithing is only a principle handed down from God to Adam and to his offspring, which is why Abel gave God a first-fruit offering (see Gen. 4) and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all gave God a tithe. This was reiterated again in the Law of Moses (Lev. 27) and in the prophets (Mal. 3) and taught in the New Testament (see Matt. 23, Heb. 7.) That being said, when Jesus came He did not focus on a mere tithe — he commanded his disciples to surrender everything they had to Him (see Luke 14: 26-33.) This passage alone should dispel the notion that God only requires a tenth.
Nothing less than a total heart surrender of everything we are and have is expected by the Lord Jesus Christ (see Phil. 3, 2 Cor. 5:15). Consequently, although it is still important to set at least 10 percent aside to give to God, it doesn't mean you can do what you want with the other 90 percent. The earth is the Lord's, and He demands proper stewardship and obedience regarding what we do with 100 percent of our finances and possessions—not merely 10 percent.
Hoping you are the same.
I hear it all the time in all sorts of places when people find out I am a pastor. “Oh, I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church.” “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, I worship God in nature.” You know the kind of thing … Do you think you don’t need the church? Do you consider yourself a lone wolf?
You might want to think again.
At last census 52% of Australians identified as Christians. But Church attendance in Australia is declining. The recent National Church Life Survey (NCLS) data shows that over the last four decades the proportion of Australians attending church at least once per month has more than halved from 36% (1972) to 15% currently – not even a third of those professing to be Christians actually attend worship. However, this is still a significant proportion of the Australian multi-cultural population and indeed twice as many Australians attend church at least once per month (3.495m) as attend all AFL, NRL, A League and Super Rugby games combined per month (1.684m) during the football season.
When you look at younger people in particular, the news is even more depressing. Along with an ageing national population, the NCLS data shows the church going population is also ageing with an average age of adult church attenders being 53. While the 70 plus age group is strongly represented in church (comprising 12% of the population but 25% of all church attendees), the age groups under 50 are under-represented. This divide is increasingly evident with the younger generations, for example the 20-39 year olds make up 34% of the population but just 21% of church attenders. There are plenty of reasons why millennials are leaving the church and the one key reason is the feeling that the church isn’t needed anymore. If they want to hear messages that convict or encourage them there are literally thousands available on YouTube and via podcasts that they can listen to while sitting on the couch in their trackie dacks. But those recorded sermons can’t replace the community that is needed when difficult times come. In the wild, wolves need a pack to take down larger animals in the winter when smaller prey are in hibernation and not available. A lone wolf is no match for an elk. Without the help of others, the lone wolf will starve and die.
Using winter as a metaphor for the struggles in life that visit everyone at some point, like health problems or the loss of a job, the church might be likened to a wolf pack – we need each other. Fellow Christians will help you survive the tough times.
Here are four important reasons Christians need church.
We need other Christians. If you want to know what you believe, listen to what your friends say. The more time we spend around people who ridicule God, the more we allow their attitudes to affect our thoughts and attitudes … The psalmist notes in 1:1-2 “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.”The more time we spend with God’s people and in his presence, the more like Jesus we become. That’s why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews encouraged Christians at that time not to give up meeting together. If we want to hold unswervingly to our faith, we need to surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to follow Jesus even when it’s hard, to have faith when everything seems hopeless, and to rely on Jesus even when we think we can do everything on our own (See Heb. 10:23-25).
We need opportunities to discover our spiritual gifts. Every one of us has a spiritual skill and capacity that God wants to use to help others know him and follow him. The Bible calls these skills spiritual gifts (See 1 Cor. 12), and we discover our spiritual gifts the same way we discover any other kind of special talent. Kobe Bryant realised he was great at basketball when he started playing basketball. Guy Sebastian discovered he could sing when he started singing. We will never uncover what God has equipped and called us to do if we don’t get involved.
We need authority. We don’t have to believe anything anyonetells us about God. He appointed men and women in the church to lead us and to teach us (See Heb. 13:17). God gave us the Bible and the church so we can know what’s from him – and what isn’t. Through the church’s authority structure, we can test and see what’s of God and what isn’t when we can’t tell on our own. When we’ve prayed, read the Bible and still aren’t sure what to do, the church is where we go for advice.
We never stop needing grace. Church people are not perfect people. We are forgiven, but we are still sinners trying to do better. No matter how long we’ve been following Jesus, we are going to mess up at some point, or fall short and sin. And when we do, we need a place where we can come to be healed, restored and renewed. That place is the church. The sunroof in my little red Mini Cooper S has ruined me. I can’t imagine owning a car without a sunroof ever again. The same is true when it comes to church. As I made friends, joined a group and started serving, God changed me. I woke up one day and realised I couldn’t imagine not being involved in a church. Church is no longer just nice; it’s necessary. And I am so grateful I am part of this one.
Why not use this editorial as Bible study this week?
You are loved.
One of my all-time favourite movies is “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. There are so many enduring quotes that came out of that movie which are now part of our vernacular. Here’s one exchange between Col. Jessop (Jack Nicholson’s character) and Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise’s character) that replayed itself in my mind the other day just when I was speaking with someone about spiritual danger …
Col. Jessop: “I felt his life (Private Santiago) might be in danger once word of the letter got out.”
Kaffee: “Grave danger?”
Col. Jessop: (sarcastically) “Is there another kind?
Are you in spiritual danger? If you were, how would you know? There’s no spiritual danger, and “grave” spiritual danger, by the way. One key sign of spiritual danger, I think, is losing your joy. We cannot afford to just skip past what Paul says at the end of Philippians 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Paul reminds them to rejoice - because it is safe. Joy is one of the vital gauges on the dashboard of the Christian life. When the needle dips—when you lose your joy—you should take note. To stay safe, you need to pay attention to your joy. How does that work? Here’s an illustration.
Coal miners know that extremely dangerous gases can gather silently and secretly in the tunnels. Carbon monoxide will asphyxiate them. Methane explodes. A methane explosion took the lives of 12 men in the 2006 Sago mine disaster in West Virginia, U.S.A. In 1906, almost 1,100 miners were killed in Courrières, France, in one massive chain of explosions in an underground mine complex. But in the early days of coal mining, they found an effective, low-tech solution: They brought canaries into the mines. A canary’s metabolism is very, very sensitive to air quality. As long as the bright yellow birds chirp and sing, miners know the air is safe. If gas levels rise, the canaries stop singing, wobble on their perch and eventually fall to the floor of the cage.
Christian joy is like that singing, yellow bird. One of the first effects of sin or doctrinal error is that we lose our joy in Christ. When your heart stops singing, that is a serious warning to watch your life and doctrine closely.
Jesus himself connected our daily spiritual life with joy. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. … These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10–11). If your soul is satisfied in Christ, you will rejoice in Christ. Take your eyes off Christ, and you’ll lose your joy. Christian joy is the thermostat of your spiritual life – not the thermometer. A thermostat regulates conditions whereas a thermometer merely responds to heat in the moment. A thermostat controls from within, whereas a responds to the external. So, when your joy starts to fade (the thermostat is not doing its job properly) you need to act.
Don’t confuse this unique joy with other upbeat feelings. Genuine Christian joy is not the power of positive thinking. Joy is not a bubbly, optimistic personality. Joy is not being happy because life is going my way. Joy is not walking through life with a naïve, glass-half-full attitude. The joy we have in Jesus cannot be extinguished by the circumstances of life.
Jesus says it is “my joy … in you”. And the apostle Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord”. Joy is the emotion of salvation. It is the joy of seeing, knowing, loving and trusting Jesus Christ. We cannot generate this true joy ourselves—it is the product of the Holy Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22). Joy is a glorious gladness and deep delight in the person of Jesus Christ, no matter the circumstances. Such joy cannot be extinguished by the circumstances of life. It is a God-given joy greater and stronger than any trouble that comes into my life. As the prophet Habakkuk says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
As a spiritual thermostat, joy is not a slave to circumstances. The light of Jesus’ face shines in the darkest night. Jesus said, “No one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22). And he meant that.
The other two things about joy I want to share with you is this: First, joy keeps you safe as you serve. If you lose your joy, that could be a sign that your work for the Lord is no longer worship. Joy protects you from serving God for the wrong reasons. George Müller was an evangelist and orphanage director in Bristol, England. He is famous for his tremendous faith and amazingly effective ministry—he cared for over 10,000 orphans over the course of his life. And joy was Müller’s first priority each day: “Joy protects you from serving God for the wrong reasons. I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how the inner life might be nourished.”
Working hard for Jesus—even caring for thousands of orphans—is a cold and empty duty if we have lost the warmth of our love for Christ. Joy keeps you safe from serving as a religious duty. Second, joy keeps you safe from temptation. Theologian Matthew Henry once said, “Joy in the Lord will guard you from the empty pleasures the tempter uses to bait his hooks.” Joy protects you because joy in Christ comes from being satisfied in Christ – note that one folks! Your joy comes from being satisfied in Christ. I also like what the great Jonathan Edwards said: “The enjoyment of (God) is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends are but shadows, but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean.”
When I get up from the table after Sunday lunch, or Christmas dinner, the last thing I want is more food. You can’t tempt me with another bite. In the same way, it’s hard for Satan to tempt a joyful believer with the empty pleasures of this world. Dear friends, listen up to that! A joyful believer is already more than satisfied in Christ—what more could he or she possibly want? Make it a point to be satisfied in Christ so that you rejoice in the Lord, and you will find safety and strength in your fight against sin. The coal miner knows that if the canary is not singing, there is trouble on the way. The believer knows that when their spirit is not singing, they are in spiritual danger – and there is only one kind of danger. How is you joy meter looking as you read this?
Rejoice in the Lord! I say it again; rejoice in the Lord.