ReNew: Day 6: RePent

Legalistic remorse says,  “I broke God’s rules,” while real repentance says, “I broke God’s heart.” – TIMOTHY KELLER

Here are a series of quotes from one of our generation’s most theologically astute preachers, Timothy Keller. See if you can identify our theme for today!

  • Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves.
  • Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.
  • Legalistic remorse says, “I broke God’s rules,”
  • while real repentance says, “I broke God’s heart.”
  • Repentance out of mere fear is really sorrow for the consequences of sin … — it bends the will away from sin, but the heart still clings.
  • But repentance out of conviction … is really sorrow over … the grievousness of sin — it melts the heart away from sin.
  • [True repentence] makes the sin itself disgusting to us, so it loses its attractive power over us. We say, ‘this disgusting thing is an affront to the one who died for me. I’m continuing to stab him with it!’

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You noticed today’s theme didn’t you? RePent.

If we are seeking to ReNew our faith, ReIgnite our passion, and ReInvigorate our journey – in any way – then maybe we ought to follow Jesus’ Spiritual Health ReStoration Plan from Revelation 2.

Do you remember this from yesterday … Our Revelation 2 diagnosis that Jesus gave to one of the seven churches was “You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Rev 2:4

     In the next verse. Jesus’ treatment plan was to “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” Rev 2:5 Or to put that in terms of our study …

  • ReConsider how you have fallen.
  • RePent of your sins.
  • ReTurn to the things you did at first.

Three treatments … and because they’re from Jesus in the climatic book of Revelation, they ought to take on an urgency. Because Christ could come – or we could be hit by a bus – tomorrow, we need to be ready, stay “awake,” and keep “oil in our lamps.” We need to be ready to meet Christ at any time. Mt25

Yesterday, therefore, we focused on ReConsidering — how, why, and how far we have fallen. Today, we’ll turn to the second call: RePent.

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There is a powerful marriage counseling image in these words of Jesus. If ReStoring “the love you had at first” is the goal, then a frequent marital advice is to start over again. Start dating again! “Do the things you did at first.”

That’s the advice … if the goal is to ReNew the affection and ReKindle that spark.

Often in marriage counseling, though, something needs to happen first: We need to work on forgiving one another for all the big and little things that have systematically sucked the life out of the relationship.

And … we also need to take responsibility for our own part in the brokenness. We need to acknowledge, confess, and RePent of our sin.

  • Acknowledging recognizes that “I myself” am part of the problem.
  • Confessing is verbally admitting your transgression to another. (Apologies help here!)
  • RePenting, then, is actually turning away from that sin. It’s a change of heart – which is the literal meaning of the Biblical word for RePentance. Metanoia means to change one’s (heart and) mind.

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To understand RePentance, let’s apply the quoted words of Timothy Keller first to marriage … and then back to our relationship with God.

Believing that true RePentance is a matter of love rather than legalism, Keller reminds us that, “Legalistic remorse says, ‘I broke [some] rules,’ while real repentance says, ‘I broke [my wife’s] heart.’

Do you see the difference? Caring about another’s heart sparks a change within our own selfish, self-protective heart. It is a true grieving over the harm done in the relationship.

That’s why Keller says: “Repentance out of [legalistic duty] is sorrow for the consequences of sin — it bends the will away from sin, but the heart still clings. But repentance out of conviction is really sorrow over the grievousness of sin — it melts the heart away from sin.”

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Melting hearts: We need that in marriages. We need that in our relationships with our kids, our parents and siblings, friends and neighbors. Likewise, we need our hearts to melt in love for God!

Therefore, true RePentance learns to grieve over what God grieves. True RePentance learns to develop a vile distaste for sin and division, and it spurs us to hunger for righteousness.

And it’s daily.

True RePentance is something that must happen again and again and again.

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Our Scriptural book for today is 2 Corinthians. Paul’s first letter to this church is the harshest in Scripture. They’re straying. He’s calling them away from immorality. He’s calling them back to God. He’s urging them to RePent.

Second Corinthians is partially calling God’s people back … and it’s partially Paul aiming to mend fences after the bluntness of the first letter! Paul is not denying any truth he’s proclaimed – hard or not – rather, he’s encouraging those who took his hard words seriously!

He says, “Now I ReJoice … because your grief led to RePentance; for you felt a godly grief … For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal…! For godly grief produces a RePentance that leads to salvation…” 2 Cor 7:9-11

Should we link this gift of salvation to the most famous verse in 2 Corintians? The Apostle says, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things are new and all this is from God who reconciles us to himself.” 2 Cor 5:17

New life and joy are the fruit of RePentance!     

The key ReLationship in your life is not with family or friends; it should be the one with God. When this divine ReLationship is blossoming, it tends to grow sweeter fruit in all our other ReLationships. To bless your ReLationship with God, take time today to RePent:

  • Acknowledge Acknowledge the specific ways you sin and acknowledge even your taste for sin. Acknowledge how you hurt others and grieve God. Acknowledge how your excuses and compromises undermine your own life.
  • Confess Confess your sins against God. Confess your transgressions against others … perhaps to them. Try also discovering the blessing of verbally confessing your sins against God to another person. (There’s a power in bringing darkness into the light and hearing the assurance of God’s love.)
  • RePent Pray for God to change your heart – quelling sinful desires and removing harmful habits that hurt God, yourself, and others. Make practical plans for how to daily avoid your repeated sins.

Read today, as you are able, 2 Corinthians 5

ReNew: Day 5: ReConsider

Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. – REVELATION 2:5

“I know your heart is strong. I know your lungs are healthy. But I have this against you: Your appendix is about to burst!”

That would be an honest diagnosis, right?

In Revelation 2, Jesus – the Great Physician – gives seven churches an honest diagnosis. To the church in Ephesus he says, “I know your hard work. I know you have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Rev 2:2-4

That’s an honest diagnosis too, right?

Seven churches. Seven diagnoses.

Some are healthy. Some are dying. Most are “lukewarm.” Rev 3:16  

In our modern world, we think, “Lukewarm is not so bad. I’m loyal enough. There are others who are worse.” Well, do you remember how Jesus judged “lukewarm”? He said, “Because you are … neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” Rev 3:16  Yikes!!

Sometimes a great physician has to offer a sobering diagnosis. Fortunately The Great Physician offers a prescription and a cure. He says, “Behold! I stand at the door and knock! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me.” Rev 3:16

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The only thing that truly heals is an honest diagnosis and the correct treatment.

A Revelation diagnosis is urgent! Jesus is reminding us that he could come soon. Even if you’re not living with prophetic urgency – which you should – our time may nevertheless be short. “We could be hit by a bus and meet Christ in the air tomorrow. Are you ready?”

Jesus invites us to consider how this diagnosis might be for us. “I know your hard work. I know you have not grown weary. But … you have forsaken the love you had at first.” Rev 2:2-4

What, then, is the treatment? The Great Physician lays out this treatment protocal. He says, “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” Rev 2:5

Wait, let’s put that in terms of our study …

  • ReConsider how you have fallen.
  • RePent of your sins.
  • ReTurn to the things you did at first

So let’s get a baseline. Ask this question: What was your best spiritual point ever?

Why? What, perhaps, were you doing at that point that drew you close to God.

In a few days I may invite you to RePent of your sins and ReTurn to the things you did at first, but we won’t get anywhere until we first ReConsider how and why we may have fallen.

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Our book of the day is Revelation.

It’s obviously about the second coming of Christ, about God’s eternal and victorious plan to ReStore and ReNew. Fortunately, before we get to the seven-year period of tribulation, Jesus, in the seven letters to seven churches, invites us to ReConsider how we live, RePent of our sins, and ReTurn to God … so we can be rescued from trials and live eternally with God!

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ReConsidering is today’s theme, and the easiest way to address any backsliding might be to give you a checklist. I could ask: Are you praying enough? Are you serving enough? Are you worshiping enough?

Fortunately faith is not a to-do list!

Nevertheless, what if we asked the same questions in an even more diagnostic way? For example, instead of “Are you praying?” what if you asked, “Am I praying with faith?” “Am I serving with passion?” “Am I worshiping … with joy … with expectancy … in Spirit-filled power?”

Do you see the difference? Faith isn’t to-do-list actions. It’s the quality of the heart engaging in Christian principles!

A deeper heart flows from the confidence that God is who He says He is … that “the Word of God is [truly] alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” Heb 4:12 … and that the Gospel truly is “the power of God for salvation to all who believe.” Rom 1:16  

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Power! We see it in Revelation! And we remember it as God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Exodus 12:12 calls the ten plagues “judgments” “against all the God’s of Egypt.” For example …

  • Darkness was a judgment against the Egyptian “sun god.”
  • Boils were judgment against their god of healing.
  • Locusts judged their agriculture god.
  • In a deathly dry desert, turning water into blood judged their very “god of life.”
  • Even the death of the first born was a judgment against a Pharaoh who thought he was a god and sought to kill all the Hebrew boys.

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Why do I bring this up? Because I saw a quote recently from Christian scholar Conor Sweeney who said, “As the power that brought down the pagan gods seems to die out in our hearts, so too does our capacity to resist evil.”

When we begin in any way to make God smaller in our imaginations than he really is – denying his “power,” for example – something begins to “die … in our hearts.”

A faith that is even slowly dying will systematically rob us of our “capacity to resist [negative things like] evil” and make us vulnerable to sin. (Dying faith will also rob us of positive blessings like love, joy, and peace.)

So where will we go to encounter blessings like “the peace of God that passes all understanding” Phil 4:7 … if we’re not actively believing in The God of Peace?

     +  +  +

Sweeny says,

We [keep] find[ing] ways of rubbing the sharp edges off the gospel’s [power-filled] elements. [But as we deny] the power that brought down the pagan gods, [something] die[s] in our hearts, [and] so too does our capacity [for] resist[ing] evil [and for experiencing joy]. We can either recover the living foundations of Christian belief … or we can head to the cultural and social abyss created by the rejection of Christ. The only thing that may remain within our power is our own faithfulness. It forces us to fall on our knees …”

Today, we are invited to fall on our knees and ReConsider our living faith. This may be step one in ReNewing and ReIgniting our faith.

How big is your God – not in theory, but in the practical daily ways that you live, pray, and trust?

Now, fall on your knees and pray for God to ReNew a hunger for deeper, living faith in you …

Today, read Revelation 2 (and 3) if you’re able.

ReNew: Day 4: ReDirect

The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. – PSALM 16:9

From Pastor Bill Fleming

The Wind and the River

The Nile River runs through Egypt from south to the north.  In ancient times, people found it easy to ship goods northward. They just followed the current. But to move goods south took effort. They either had to row or pole the boat against the current, but the moment they stopped rowing or poling, they went backward. Oars made little progress against the constant current. One may as well get out and walk. 

Then someone came up with a great idea. Why not make the wind do the work? So someone got a piece of cloth, put it on a pole, and tied both the ends to the boat. Sails were born, and life on the river became a lot easier. They could follow the current north, and let the wind blow them south.  

     +  +  +

Sailboats are a parable of the Christian life.

The world, flesh and the Devil pull us constantly away from God. Human nature runs counter to divine nature. “We are born to trouble as sparks fly upward” – says Job 5:7. Every step forward seems to be followed by two steps back. 

But they are not the only forces acting upon us. The Spirit of God is always drawing us in a Godly direction. To do that, he is constantly ReDirecting us. By harnessing the Spirit, even in the toughest times, we can still make progress towards being like Jesus.

St. Ignatius wrote about the two forces which work to direct and ReDirect us. He called them consolations and desolations.  

  • Desolations are the powers of the world, the flesh, and the Devil that push us away from God. When we try to fight them alone, it is three against one. We are doomed to fail unless we learn to harness the Spirit of God. 
  • Consolations are the energizing and enabling force of the Spirit, pushing us closer towards godliness. Following Christ can be effortless if we learn to catch the Wind of the Spirit.  Then we draw closer to him, not by our own power, but by His.

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Sometimes we can feel the wind of the Spirit at our backs—in times of ReVival and ReNewal, for example. During those times we need to put on all the sail we can. ReJoice, praise God, and spend time in thankful praise. When we feel grateful and hopeful, these are the best times to work on growing the fruit of the Spirit, spending time in His presence, and giving Him free rein in us. 

In times of desolation, the wind seems to be at our front, and it seems much harder to be motivated by the Spirit.  Yet in these times, we can still make progress by “tacking.”

In a headwind, sailors learned to point their sails at an angle, and their rudders firmly fixed forward. In this way, even a headwind can pull you forward. 

We can do something like this to keep moving forward in hard times. The Spirit helps us ReDirect our way of looking at difficulties, so that our problems are invitations. The energy of our emotional and spiritual distress can be used to drive us to greater resolution in prayer. 

  • When we are unable to meet together,  God is inviting us to deeper times alone.
  • When we lose our livelihood, God is inviting us to discover His ability to provide.
  • When we are tempted by lust or gluttony, God is inviting us to discover the joys of self-control.
  • When we are tempted by anger and fear, God is inviting us to discover His peace that passes all understanding. 

How can you fight the current? You can’t. Let the Spirit do the fighting. God is inviting you to take hold of His strength and discover His power in your life.

     +  +  +

A novice in a monastery once asked his master. “How can I hasten my experience of spiritual enlightenment?”

“You can’t,” he said. “There is no way to hasten it. It comes from God. You can no more hasten enlightenment than you can hasten the sun coming up in the morning.”

This made the novice angry. “But then, what’s the value in doing of all these prayers and spiritual exercises? Why am I trying so hard to do them?”

The master smiled. “They are just to make sure you stay awake until the sun comes up.”

     +  +  +

The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows as He wishes and how He wishes. He will bring us one day to become a perfect likenesses of Jesus, the divine Son of God. He will change us how and when He wishes. Our part is not to struggle hard, but to let the Spirit work in us. We may not be able to beat the current, but we can always ride the wind of the Holy Spirit.

As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39

    “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

The current of our world often flows away from God and against his ways. In what ways are the currents of our culture pulling you in unhealthy directions.

How have you been experiencing the winds of the Spirit, allowing you to move with God rather than float with the world?

Pray for the wind of the Spirit to blow through you – directing and ReDirecting your life in ReFreshing ways.

ReNew: Day 3: ReMinding

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the ReNewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

+  +  +

An elderly man was on his deathbed. As the nurse walked into the room, the man turned to his wife and children and said …

  • “Tom, you get the houses in Beverly Hills.
  • “Sarah, you get all the offices in the Center.
  • “Eve, you get the apartments over the Plaza.
  • “And to my dear wife, the residential buildings near downtown are yours.”

“Wow, what a life,” said the nurse, “to be able to leave so much property to you all.”

The wife responded, “What property? He has a large paper route!”

+  +  +

What would you like your last words to be?

Well, some of the Apostle Peter’s last words are found in 2 Peter. The persecution is intensifying. He knows his time is short. What did Peter want to tell them?

We don’t have to guess. From the first, Peter says he’ll be “ReMinding” them of a few key things. He says, “I intend to keep on ReMinding you of these things, though you know them already.” Too often people approach Bible reading and study looking for something fresh and new. But how often do we mainly need to be ReMinded of the deepest Truths.

He says, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to ReFresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as … our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.”1:12-14

What are the things that Peter is ReMinding his “spiritual children” about? The first “deathbed” urging from Peter – verse 3 – is for us to “liv[e] a godly life.” Now, what is “godly life”? In verse 5-7, Peter lists seven characteristics:

  • moral excellence
  • knowledge
  • self-control
  • patient endurance
  • godliness
  • brotherly affection
  • love for everyone.

Out of curiousity, on a scale of 1-10, rank yourself on your “effectiveness” in these standards.

+  +  +

Wait! Before you get discouraged with your trying to “accomplish” what is on this list, listen to what Peter is really ReMinding us about here.

Instead of just calling us to “liv[e] a godly life,” Peter prefers to talk about “everything we need for living a godly life.” 1:3

What you see above is not a to-do list. Rather, Peter wants to ReMind you of how to be equipped with “everything [you] need for living a godly life.” How? “By his divine power”! Peter says, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” 1:3

Do you see that? To-do list are what can be done in our own power. Peter’s inviting us to look for what is supplied by God!

+  +  +

Thus, through faith, Peter tells us that it is imperative for us to open a channel for God to work in our hearts.

Here’s my most effective way of saying this – it’s a little crass, but evocative. I tell people that “God is a gentleman. He doesn’t force us to do anything. We have to give him permission.” I say, “We have a word for men who force themselves on women. If God forced himself on us, what would he be? Spiritual ________.

No! God is a gentleman.”

It’s our choice! There’s tons of divine invitation, but God lets us open a channel for Him to work in our hearts. And when we open ourselves through faith, obedience, trust, and discipline – “God give[s] us everything we need for living a godly life … by his divine power.” 1:3

(Aren’t you glad the Gospel isn’t a to-do list?!)

+  +  +

“Through faith, obedience, trust, and discipline …” That’s how I described opening a channel for God to work in our hearts.

Peter describes the discipline of growing in faith like this: “Make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” 1:5-7

They build on each other! Do you see it?

+  +  +

The more you grow like this,” says Peter, “the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1:8

“Knowledge” is our next key word. And in this section of Peter’s writing, knowledge is two powerful things.

First, it is “head knowledge.” Throughout other parts of this letter, Peter will be urgently warning his friends against “false teachers.” And what’s our armor against false teaching? First, it’s head knowledge. It’s knowing Truth. Peter is saying – “God’s power … [is] received … by coming to know him.” 1:3

But there’s surely another form of knowledge that Peter is speaking of when he talks about “coming to know [God].” And that’s heart knowledge.

This type of “heart knowing” is faith!

+  +  +

Sometimes the longest distance in the world is the twelve inches between head and heart. We can know things about God. (That’s head knowledge.) But our call is to know God personally. (That’s heart knowledge.)

And that’s what Peter says in verse 4: “Because of his glory and excellence, [God] has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature.

Shar[ing] in his divine nature” is heart knowledgeIt’s a personal relationship.

That’s what this study of ReNewal is all about.

Head knowledge is good! I pray that you’ll be ReMinded of a good bit of that through this study. I pray you learn some practical things.

I pray more deeply that you look at each of these lessons as a path to deeper heart knowledge. That you yield yourself. That you “make every effort to respond to God’s promises.” 1:8 That you may be ReNewed and ReFreshed.

And for my part, I’ll strive to be like Peter: “I will always ReMind you about these things.” 1:12

On a scale of 1-10, how much head knowledge do you think you have about the faith? Explain.

On a scale of 1-10, how much heart knowledge do you think you have …

  • in your trust in the Lord?
  • in your obedience to the Lord?
  • in your relationship with the Lord? Explain.

In 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter talks about faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love for everyone. It’s tempting to ask how you’re doing with each of these. It’s more important to remind you to be thankful to God for any fruit in these areas, because “by his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” 1:3 Thank God for this.

Reading: As you’re able, read today 2 Peter 2.

ReNew: Day 2: ReIgnite

Light the fire / In my soul / Fan the flame / Make me whole – Curtis Mathew Kirkwood

I heard someone describe their faith as “a pilot light faith.”

“When I was a kid, we had a gas heater in the basement. If you looked closely, it had a small flame in the bottom of the unit. But when the system called for more heat, there was a mighty ‘Whoosh!’ as all the burners ignited.

He said, “I’m tired of a pilot light faith. I want the ‘Whoosh!’”

How about you?

Could you ever use a little “whoosh”?

In fact, on the scale of fading embers to roaring fire, where are you right now?

     +  +  +

Fire is a key spiritual theme. In fact, it’s important enough that I almost named this study ReIgnite! (See the one-time graphic above.)

Let us hear a few pieces of God’s Word and the Spirit’s fire!

  • “The Lord declares … ‘Is not my word like fire?’” Jer 23:29     
  • The Psalmist said, “My heart grew hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned.” Ps 39:3
  • The Prophet says, “His word is in my heart like a fire… I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Jer 20:9
  • Meeting the resurrected Jesus, his followers said, “Were not our hearts burning with us?” Luke 24:36

     +  +  +

True and living faith burns in a believer’s heart. Sometimes it seems to burn brighter; sometimes smaller. But it’s a flame fanned by the Holy Spirit (whose symbol is, of course, fire).

When John Wesley described the moment of his conversion, he said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” (The Spirit was moving!) And, you know, that’s almost a word for word fulfilment of Scripture: “[God] makes … his ministers a flaming fire”! Ps 104:4

     +  +  +

As a child of God, have you ever sung, “Set a fire down in my soul / That I can’t contain, that I can’t control / I want more of you God / I want more of you God.”

Do you know this song?

As we embark on this study, could this be your prayer?! As the Apostle Paul says, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God.” 2Tim1:6

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Now, no one will start an adventure unless they have a fire … or at least they won’t stick to it.

At the beginning of The Hobbit, quiet, comfortable Bilbo said, “[Hobbits] are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

He refused the adventure in front of him … until … “something … woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.

     +  +  +

I can’t promise we’ll battle fire-breathing dragons through this study, but I can state that we won’t start an adventure unless we have a fire in us … or at least we won’t stick to it.

I have a friend who, years ago, kept trying to read the Bible-in-a-year. He treated it like a duty, a good thing to do, but he didn’t have a fire.

Thus, he’d start out on January 1 with dutiful dedication, but he’d always stall out around mid-February (and mid-Leviticus).

So after about the fifth year of failing, he decided to start praying for a hunger for God’s word. He essentially asked the Spirit to set a fire down in his soul.

It was ten months of prayer. Then starting the next January 1, he started a Spirit-inspired journey and breezed joyfully through the whole Bible. His heart was hungry. Why? Because he took the time to invite the fire of the Spirit!

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As we begin this study, stop for a moment to pray for the fire of the Spirit to fill you in a new way throughout these forty days.

Let me explain how this study is formulated and structured.

  • In these Forty Days of ReNewal, we’re going to focus on forty “Re-” words – like ReFresh, ReFocus, and ReFuel.
  • Re-” means “again.” As we said yesterday, as we embark on this journey our goal is to ReTurn as a family of faith to the classic methods of deepening God’s people. Indeed, we’ll be joyfully aiming to ReNew our faith, ReConnect our church, and RePlenish others.
  • I (Pastor Ed) have written most of these devotions … but I’ve also invited several of our ministry staff and several of the professional ministers we have at Spirit of Joy (who are not on staff) to join us in our endeavor. (Their unique insights and differing voices will be a ReFreshing and ReFocusing break from me!)
  • When I write, I have a plan! I will walk you through the entire New Testament – basically a-book-of-the-New-Testament-a-day. (Actually, I’ll highlight one or two key spiritual themes from each of these books!)
  • And you should be glad I’m focusing on Scripture! Why? Because my words are just human words (with hopefully an occasional Spirit-inspired ummph). Yet they’re still just my words. But God’s Word? Well, as “the Lord declares, ‘Is not my word like fire?’”! Jer 23:29
  • If we want our spirits to ReKindle, may our hearts sing: “Word of God speak / Would You pour down like rain / Washing my eyes to see Your majesty.”

Each day, I’ll invite you to read a chapter of Scripture. It’s an invitation! Not a requirement! (You may wish to pray for a hunger to encounter God’s Word … which is fire!) We’ll start on the New Testament tomorrow. Today, let’s start with a Psalm. If you’re able, read Psalm 25.

If a verse stirred your heart today, write it in the space below. (Writing a verse is actually a great way to focus more deeply on Scripture.) If you weren’t able to read today’s Psalm (or if you didn’t find a favorite verse), try writing Psalm 25:5.

As we begin our adventure, pray for that Holy Spirit “woosh!”:

     Set a fire down in my soul

     That I can’t contain, that I can’t control

     I want more of you God

     I want more of you God.

ReNew: Day 1: ReNew

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the ReNewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

  • Deeper Faith
  • Joyful Community
  • Reaching More

That’s the vision of our church.

What I love about the phrase “Deeper Faith” is that it implies a journey. No matter where we are in our Christian walk – brand new Christian, back-slidding prodigal, professional church worker, or weary traveler – we can still grow deeperand deeper         

Indeed, I pray we always hunger to grow deeper!

     +  +  +

The theme of this study is ReNew.          

There are two parts to this word – “Re” and “New.” Let me introduce the second part first.

Newness is a powerful theme in scripture. Jesus, for example, is “the mediator of a new covenant.” Heb 9:15 He proclaimed “a new teaching—with authority!” Mark 1:27 He offers “new wine in fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:22 And He invites us to discover “the new and living way.” Heb 10:20

The books about Jesus’ life and of His Church are called The New Testament. The heart of His teaching is His “new commandment” (which, by the way, is “to love one another.” John 13:34) And as we walk in “newness of life,” Rom 6:4 the Gospel inspires us to “wait for new heavens and a new earth.” 2 Pet 3:13

  • In John 3:4, Jesus speaks of new birth. He calls it being “born again.” see also 1 Pet 1:3
  • In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the Apostle Paul describes the newness of this ReBirth by saying: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
  • God – through the Prophet Ezekial – spoke of his desire to ReNew His people, saying, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone … and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezek 36:26
  • And what is the culmination of it all? “The One who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Rev 21:5

     +  +  +

“Re-” is the other half of our theme.

It means “again.”

Every Fall classes start again in schools.

After a corresponding season of summer vacations, new programs kick-off again in churches too. It’s a good time to ReStart and ReFocus. After ReFreshing summer slowdowns, it’s a great time to ReConnect and ReNew.

Well … ReConnecting and ReNewing may be more important this year than ever! I mean, this has been strangest year in my increasingly long life and ministry! (I’m guessing it’s been a strange year for you too.)

Spring and summer have been swallowed by shutdowns. Thankfully, Spirit of Joy has never fully shutdown! Nevertheless, we’ve been radically distanced!

It’s time to ReConnect!

     +  +  +

Faith is designed by God to be “incarnational.” (This is a fancy way to say that faith is supposed to “in-person” – literally, “in the flesh.”)

Pastor Fran puts it even more simply: “Faith is not a do-it-yourself project!” God, for example, has given us the community of fellow believers to support us, to encourage us, and to spur us onward.

Therefore, if the goal of this study is ultimately to ReNew, then one of the first calls from God is to ReConnect.

     +  +  +

Wait … I know … I know … For safety’s sake, it doesn’t seem wise for some of us to gather in-person right now!

As I write this in June, I’m aiming at a moving covid target in early summer. That means you’ll have to forgive me if what this hits in September seems a little off!

Nevertheless according to June’s reckoning, there’s still lots of ways to ReConnect, even if you’re choosing to stay a little more distanced.

By the time you’re reading this, our plan is to have found ways to sort you into in-person or online groups. And if you have people in your group who are necessarily cautious, I’m celebrating in advance how you’re getting creative! Instead of meeting in more traditional settings like classrooms and homes, perhaps you’ve found ways to meet outside or in extra large spaces (like the church Fellowship Hall) so that you can easily distance. Good for you!

But whether you’re in-person or online, our ReConnecting honors God’s call. He says, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some. Rather meet together and encourage one another.” Heb 10:25

     +  +  +

Fall always seems like a good time to ReNew. This year, it’s an especially good opportunity to ReFocus and grow even deeper.

Through the craziness of 2020, some of you have been struggling with faith and fear. There’s been isolation, discouragement, and depression. But now is God’s time. Here’s his call to ReConnect and ReNew!

Others of you have watched your faith grow through this season as you’ve had more time to be intentional and have become more prayerful. But I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind growing a little deeper still, right?!

     +  +  +

And … it really is time to ReConnect with others.

I’ve done studies on how we discover and ReDiscover greater joy. Basically, “joy breaks through when the Kingdom breaks in.

Well, maybe this study is an opportunity for you to encourage others. Indeed, I promise that as you take part in watching others ReNew their faith and ReDiscover hope, greater joy will blossom in you!

In fact, I love the statement that “Each of us is called to look like a sheep from the front and a shepherd from behind.” What does that mean?

From the front, we are to be sheep, following Christ and learning from others. Every group – and every person in every group – offers us the opportunity to discover something new and to joyfully ReNew.

And from the back? When we let Christ be the true shepherd (leading us) and when we share our life with others, we’ll inevitably lead a little and encourage a lot! (For example, I learn from all of you in groups all the time! You’re constantly my shepherds.)

And as a shepherd who does a lot of leading, I can tell you that when you see faith spark and grow in others, you will indeed see the Kingdom breaking into their lives and deeper into your heart!

And thus, your spirit will ReJoice!

To ReNew your faith, to ReConnect our church, and to help RePlenish others,will you join us for Forty Days of ReNewal?

I will: _____________________

                SIGNATURE

Faith in the Midst of Crisis: The Example of Job

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God. – Job 25:25-26

I had a quick moment to write a devotion. My first thought: “What should I write on?” Well, BibleGateway’s verse of the day was from … Job.

As we draw nearer the end of Matthew in our year-long sermon series, I said to our staff, “With all the chaos in our world right now, what should I preach on next?” The first person to speak said … “Job.”

Job! I don’t know if I’ll preach through this book next, but Job surely addresses a world in chaos! Thankfully none of us is dealing with a turmoil quite as daunting as Job’s; nevertheless, our current challenges are fully our own whelming challenges.

Stress does crazy things. Nancy Flory at The Stream recently reported that “last month, the ‘Disaster Distress Helpline’ at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration had an 891% increase in calls [over last year],” and that “the CDC reports that stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in … eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping [and] changes in … sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty … concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.”

I wonder which symptoms Job had.

I wonder what symptoms you are having.

One symptom that I pray that you don’t have is “friends” like Job had! Do you remember the story? Rather than comforting him, Job’s “friends” started blaming Job for his long litany of tragedies. And they also started blaming God, in a sense. They kind of had a karma-esque theology, repeatedly saying something like, “Job, you must have done something to deserve this, and our god of retribution must be handing out your well-deserved punishment.”

Yes, hopefully you don’t have “friends” like this!

And hopefully you don’t have a karma-esque theology. (I actually read something insightful once about karma. The person contended there were only two kinds of religion. Almost every religion in the world preaches a version of karma – in the end, you’ll get what you deserve. Christianity is the only alternative. Grace joyfully proclaims an alternative – You don’t get what you deserve; instead, you get forgiveness!)

Job knew this! In spite of his outward circumstances, Job knew of God’s mercy, love, goodness, and grace. Indeed, though living approximately two thousand years before Jesus was born, Job still somehow – and confidently – knew and could proclaim that “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.”

Look at that, phrase by soaring phrase …

“I know that my Redeemer lives”: Though I may feel like I’m dying, one holier than I is living. And he’s not waiting to crush me. No! He’s my ultimate and eternal redeemer.

“And … I know … that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” God is not a distant deity. He’s our personal Lord who will one day – “at the last” – dwell among us!

“And after my skin has been thus destroyed” – After my physical body dies a physical death …

“Then in my flesh I shall see God” – I shall, nevertheless, have a physical resurrection.  

Wow! Two thousand years before Jesus and the New Testament, Job prefigured and proclaimed the grace, mercy, redemption, incarnation of our God through Jesus Christ! Even in ancient times, he was proclaiming the heart of “Emmanuel” – God dwelling with us! He proclaimed an end of the age theology of a new heaven, a new earth, and a resurrected body! Amazing.

Thankfully none of us is dealing with a turmoil quite as daunting as Job’s; nevertheless, our current challenges are fully our own whelming challenges. And, therefore, I pray you’re like job in the midst of your challenges. Job was allowed by God to confess his confusion. So here’s my prayer for you: Even in the midst of any confusion you might have, I pray you will still boldly proclaim the goodness of God!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s biggest

psychological challenge:

a change in eating habits.

(I restarted my diet today!)

Easter: Even the Earth Responds with Joy

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake… – Matthew 28:1

On Monday, I asked, “What are you reading? In this season, what articles are giving you insight, concern or hope?”

Do you remember one of our favorite congregational studies – The Truth Project? Deeply and winsomely, Del Tackett draws Christians into developing a deeper and more consistent Christian Worldview. Our fellow reader, linked me to Dr. Tackett’s newest emphasis.

While on the site, I read an article that is worth sharing. Tragedies and trials have the tendency of focusing us downward onto the things of the earth. Easter – and good theology – can reorient us heavenward! Thus, Dr. Tackett points us to the glory of God, saying, “If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then Creation Knew It and Clapped Its Hands!” That’s the title of an article that I’ll summarize here.

Dr. Tackett says, “The earth clapped its hands in joy when its Maker arose. The guards weren’t thrilled, but whole of heaven must have erupted in song. … But there does seem to be something about the creation’s self-generated response to God and to evil.”

  • “The Holy Spirit moves Paul to speak of the creation “waiting in eager expectation” [and] ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth..’
  • “[At] the parting of the Red Sea[, we hear that] ‘the earth opened its mouth and swallowed.
  • “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey … the Pharisees were indignant … Jesus responded: ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.

“At [Jesus’] birth, the stars proclaimed His advent. … When Jesus breathed His last breath, the earth buckled with grief. [Yet at his resurrection, we are told that] the earth [again] shivered[. This time] with unspeakable joy, no doubt clapping its hands as if to shout ‘He is risen!’”

Is your view of the God of Creation big enough to see the natural world animated with his presence and power. Easter proclaims that God raised the dead. In other words, He reanimated that which is lifeless. That’s always God the Creator’s habit. Dead things live in his hands.

What corners of your dry and dying heart need reanimated this Easter season … and who in your life are you praying for to be animated or reanimated? If Christ is risen … then tired, fearful, wandering, doubting hearts can be reanimated too.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who truly sees

the heavens declare

the glory of God!

Patient Endurance (or How Patiently are You Enduring?)

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since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us … Hebrew 12:1

Who is this “great cloud of witnesses” that encourages us to “run with perseverance our race” of faith? That’s probably a message we need to hear (and share) during this time of shutdowns, pandemics, and anxiety.

So who is the cloud of witnesses? In context, the verses right before tell us. It’s all the “saints” who’ve gone before us …

  • Chapter 11, often called “the Hall of Faith,” tells the stories of familiar Old Testament heroes like Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
  • It tells of the obvious triumphs of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (11:34-35). 

But that’s the fun, easy, victorious examples. In the days of struggling pandemics, maybe the heroes that we need to pay attention to are the ordinary people commended for faith in the rest of the chapter. Those who stood boldly for their faith in the midst of extraordinary – and often extraordinarily hard – circumstance.

  • “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 
  • “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 
  • “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy.
  • “They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (vv. 35-38).

“Therefore … let us run with perseverance the race that is set before” – who? – “us”!!!

We’re not the first in history to suffer trials. And barring a soon return of Christ, we won’t be the last. Right now, this is our generation’s trial. But we’re not alone!

  • The same Christ who said, “come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens,” also ascended to heaven with these words: “Remember, I will be with you to the end of the age.” (Mt 11:28 and 28:20 respectively).
  • We have the gift of the Spirit abiding with us. (Want more? Jesus said, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” – Luke 11:13).
  • We have a great cloud of witnesses. We have Old Testament saints and New Testament saints. And that’s why I’ve encouraged you to read more Scripture and Christian biographies. (Remember, tales of heroic faith – like that found in Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place – can inspire us in our trials.)

So the question is this? How many of you, through all of this, are … surviving? … enduring? … thriving? … fretting? We’re all built different! Nevertheless, the same Apostles who encourage us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” also encourage us to “rejoice confidently in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3).

Wait?! Surviving? Enduring? Thriving? Fretting? Rejoice confidently?!?!?! Anybody there?!

How about this Apostolic perspective: “Consider it nothing but joy … whenever you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).

Surviving? Enduring? Thriving? Fretting? Rejoice confidently? Considering it nothing but joy! Whoa! But here’s James and Paul’s perspective:

  • James says – 1:2-4 – “Consider it nothing but joy … whenever you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; so let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
  • Paul says – Romans 5: — “let us rejoice confidently in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

We all want the fruit, right? – “complete” faith, “lacking in nothing” and “God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Yes, we want the fruit – and intellectually, we know we grow more in seasons of trial than seasons of mediocrity – but few of us want to go through the process, do we?! Nevertheless, maybe that’s why the Apostle encourages us, saying …

Rejoice always, 

pray without ceasing, 

give thanks in all circumstances;

for this is the will of God in

Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wrote

this for you today,

and needed it

for himself!!!

The Voice of Truth … in a world of panic

Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

Today I want to ask: “What resources — and maybe articles — are giving you hope, concern, or perspective in these crazy times?” (Send me stories that are grabbing you right now! Hope? Concern? Perspective? I want to know what’s grabbing you. And I’ll link you to a few!)

In the meantime, let me tell you what’s grabbing me …

For me, some articles are pure encouragement. I shared last week the story of a woman driving by a tornado-devastated church, seeing an unscathed piano in the midst of the rubble, and unbeknownst to her, wound up playing joyfully in the midst of a TV interview, saying — with hope and joy — that this instrument “had more music left in it.” I like those kind of articles!

The second kind of article that draws me are the one that present opportunities — especially for the church. Last week, for example, I presented an article that says that 21% of NON-Christians have been reading the Bible during the current shutdowns. Some are looking for hope. Others see this as a sign from heaven, a call to return to God. Still others wonder if there might be apocalyptic implications. But, whatever the motivation, this clearly spells opportunity for the church. People are hungry. Are you (and I) feeding them … or even engaging them?

The third kind of article that grabs me are those that reveal the condition of the human heart. And guess what … crises tend to powerfully reveal people’s hearts! From an intellectual, spiritual, and psychological perspective, then, times like these can be a wonderful teaching moment for our culture.

With this in mind, I was struck by recent observations of a Jewish commentator. He said, “[In our world today] science is the secular religion, and ‘experts’ are its prophets and priests. In fact, they have greater authority among the secular … than the pope of the Catholic Church has among Catholics. Whereas popes have invoked the doctrine of ‘infallibility’ twice in the history of the Catholic Church, ‘experts’ invoke it every day among the secular faithful.”

Isn’t that interesting?! In my lifetime, experts have said that coffee, for example, has been “good for you,” “bad for you,” “good” again, “bad” again, and … 

Well, apply that to our current medical crisis, our Jewish commentator says. “A large swath of the ‘expert’ community [has] cloaked itself with unscientific certitude. [Thus] beginning on March 16 with a model from the Imperial College London … — which projected about 2.2 million Americans and half a million Brits would die — governments … deci[ded] to [shutdown] their economies. … But [was] it true?”

Here’s what this got me thinking about: Who is anointed as the “expert” on this — or on most any other issue you follow? Often, we need to pull back the curtain a little further. Sometimes it’s not the “expert” that we’re following, it’s the “priest” who anoints which opinion gets presented and heard. Until a scientific law is establish, there are many theories which wax and wane in credibility as more data is uncovered. And so we must ask, at any given moment, who is picking winners and losers in any debate? Who are we really listening to? Indeed, what are we consciously or unconsciously – bowing down to?

In 1 Kings 18, one lone voice stood up to 450 “experts.” Jezebel had anointed 450 followers of Baal as priests over Israel. She was the high priest. She was the anointer of the anointed. They were her “experts.” But truth did not respect the culture’s anointed experts! One lone prophet – Elijah, the voice of truth – defeated her agenda.

We all have opinions. We all have agendas. We all think the world would be better if more people subscribed to our way of thinking! But we mustn’t bow to our own ideologies. And we mustn’t bow to those in our culture who anoint themselves as the anointers of winners and losers, ‘experts’ and scapegoats. Instead, we must continually listen for the voice of the truth. 

In this case of current events, the so-called “experts” have been, according to our commentator, among “the primary stokers of panic”?

And yet there’s been a powerful alternative. I don’t know about you, but I’ve also seen the power of the Prince of Peace through all of this! In fact, I’ve repeatedly watched the level of anxiety in people directly correlated to …

  • how much people are tuning into God, faith, and scripture vs. tuning into experts, media, and state and federal briefings.
  • I think it’s the difference between focusing on the voice of truth vs. opinion, best guesses, and political motives.
  • I think it’s sometimes also the difference between having a greater hope in heaven than being consumed by a whelming fear on earth.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is an ‘expert’

… at absolutely nothing.

(Therefore, a guy who

keeps trying to listen

for the voice of truth,

rather than the ‘news’)