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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A List Of Past Blogposts For Studying Romans 1:1 - 3:31

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Romans 1:16-17 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Introduction:

Today's post will enable the reader to look back through past blogposts on studies done in Romans 1:1-3:31. This blogger has been preaching a series of sermons through the Book of Romans. The following links below will link to posts that provide the source material for those messages. Anyone clicking on the following links are free to use them for devotions or teaching situations. I have included the scripture headings for each link so that readers can navigate more easily through the posts. To God be the glory!

Introducing Romans 
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/01/why-gospel-is-so-powerful-introducing.html

P1 Romans 1:1-7
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2016/12/p1-why-gospel-is-so-powerful-romans-11.html

P2 Romans 1:1-7
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/01/p2-why-gospel-is-so-powerful-romans-11.html

Romans 1:8-17
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/01/the-gospels-powerful-results-romans-17.html

Romans 1:18-2:3
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/01/the-remedy-for-mankinds-spiritual.html

Romans 2:1-29
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/01/your-only-court-of-appeal-thoughts-on.html

Romans 3:1-24
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/02/gods-spiritual-rescue-plan-romans-31-24.html

P1 Romans 3:20-31
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/02/p1-solving-divine-dilemma-of-salvation.html

P2 Romans 3:20-31
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/02/p2-solving-divine-dilemma-of-salvation.html

P3 Romans 3:20-31
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/02/p3-solving-divine-dilemma-of-salvation.html

P4 Romans 3:20-31
http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/02/p4-solving-divine-dilemma-of-salvation.html


Monday, February 27, 2017

Some Reflections On Jesus As "The Pillar Of Fire" and "The Light Of The World"

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Numbers 9:15-17 "Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. 16 So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. 17 Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp."

Introduction:

When God revealed Himself to His people throughout the Old Testament, such manifestations to them are referred to as "theophanies". Oftentimes those "theophanies" are specified to be particular "cameo" appearances of God the Son before His incarnation in what theologians call "Christophanies". One such "Christophany" is that of Jesus appearing as "the pillar of fire". 

As we said already, in the Old Testament, God manifested Himself as a pillar of fire (and cloud by day), shining light and providing protection for the people of God. In the New Testament, Jesus states He is the “Light of the World”. In today's post, we will explore these truths and how they relate to your life. 

How we connect the theophany of "The Pillar of Fire" to being a "Christophany" or Old Testament revelation of God the Son

Now in brief, we know that Jesus Christ, the "Light of the World", had made prior appearances in the Old Testament in such phenomena as the "Pillar of Fire". How do we know? For starters, the "pillar of fire" manifestation is closely connected to the Feast of Passover, as seen in Exodus 13 and 14 and in Numbers 9. The Passover Feast and its central focus on the lamb given on behalf of the first-born in every Jewish home is a key Old Testament theme. The "lamb" or "lamb of God" motif is spelled out numerous times in both Old Testament prophecy and New Testament revelation (see Isaiah 53; 1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus was deemed "the Lamb of God" by John the Baptist in John 1:29. We find the timing of His crucifixion to correspond with the timing of Passover, including His commemoration of the Lord's Supper at the end of all four Gospels. 

The connection between Passover and the appearance of this "Pillar of Fire" should be noted. But also notice another indicator that the "Pillar of Fire" is likely an Old Testament appearance of the Son. In Numbers 9, we find a summary of how the "Pillar of Fire" (and Cloud) led the people through their wilderness wanderings. One of the three major feasts in Israel to which all Jews were commanded to attend was the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23:39-44). Tabernacles commemorated 
the wilderness wanderings of the Jews under the leadership of Moses through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. 

In John 8 we find Jesus calling Himself "The Light of the World" in verse twelve of that chapter. The Apostle John's frequent use of the imagery of "light" in both his Gospels, letters (1 John) and the Book of Revelation (see especially Revelation 1 and 21-22) point to Christ as God incarnate. 

Such Old Testament teachings and truths aid in connecting the appearances of the "pillar of fire" to being the ministry of the Son of God to His people. In closing today, we can note two quick thoughts concerning Jesus Christ as the "Pillar of Fire". 

1. He clearly led the people. Numb. 9:15-16

Jesus Christ led the people of God in those wilderness wanderings. Nehemiah 9:12-13 records these words by Nehemiah some one-thousand years after those events: “And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, and with a pillar of fire by night to light for them the way in which they were to go.
13 “Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments." 

Jesus in the New Testament is revealed as the "Light of the World", revealing Himself as the Savior and Lord of all those who follow Him by grace through faith. New Testament passages such as Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith."

2. He covered and protected the people. Numb. 9:17-23

As we see the Son of God manifesting Himself as the "Pillar of Fire" by night, He also appears as the "Pillar of Cloud" by day. God's people wandering in the wilderness never had to worry about sunburn, exposure and heat in the day. Nehemiah 9:21 states - “Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want; Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell." At night, the Son of God illuminated their camp, protecting them from wild animals, fear and exposure. Christ shielded the people. In Hebrews 11:26 we read of Moses - "considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward."

Christ is indeed the believer's Shepherd, Lord, King and Defender that protects, covers and wards off any faith-destroying attacks of the enemy. We are not promised immunity from physical trials nor trouble free-existence in this world. We know that Christ will shield all of those who are truly His from their faith being destroyed (see 1 Peter 1:3-5). 

Closing
We find that Jesus as the "Pillar of Fire" clearly led His people and covered them. Such truth informs the background to Jesus' statement in John 8:12 regarding Him being "the Light of the World". May we find comfort under the light of His presence as He leads us through this world. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

P4 - Solving The Divine Dilemma Of Salvation - Romans 3:21-31


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Romans 3:27-31 "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law."

Introduction:

We have been exploring these last three posts what we are calling: The Divine Dilemma of Salvation. In other words, how is it that a Holy righteous God could rightly and just acquit sinners whom he desires to forgive? We've considered three of the four particular decisions needing to be made by God the Father, Son and Spirit to ensure the solution to this alleged dilemma. All four are listed below:

1. God the Father had to willingly authorize salvation's plan.

2. God the Son had to willingly accomplish salvation for sinners with the Father's willing to acceptance of His accomplishment.

3. God the Holy Spirit had to willingly apply the salvation accomplished to those responding in faith to His call. 

4. The Father had to willingly agree to accept faith in the accomplished work as necessary and sufficient to acquit the sinner

Paul's exposition of the Gospel in his letter to the Romans centers upon the doctrine of justification by faith. To define once more, Justification by faith, per the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, states:

"Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God."

Today we will conclude by noting where all of the combined activities and decisions made by God lead to the solving of the Divine dilemma of salvation. 

The Father has to agree that faith alone is necessary and sufficient to declare the sinner innocent in His sight

Once God has called and convicted the sinner and shown them the awfulness of sin and the awesomeness of Christ, the sinner responds by faith. Justification is a Divine declaration that goes full circle.  It is by God the Father, through God the Son and to God the Holy Spirit for the pleasure of God the Father. We must underscore the fact that all that the Triune God accomplished in making salvation a reality was not the by-product of three-wills, but One Divine will. All three persons share in One Divine nature, which means of course that this is the effort of one, unified will. Henceforth we understand from the Bible that there was never any conflict between the three persons of the Trinity.

In short, the doctrine of justification involved the Son expressing His willingness to co-sign a Divine loan issued by the Father and served by the Spirit to sinners that upon their conviction of sin respond in saving faith.


The Dilemma is solved by God in the truth of justification by faith

By planning, purchasing and applying salvation, God is able to solve the dilemma of justifying sinful human beings without violating His Holy Character. This is the whole point of the closing verses in Romans 3:27-31. Romans 3:21-31 spells all of these Divine decisions by God in full detail. Once we understand that only God could solve the otherwise impossible task of justifying guilty sinners, we can truly see why Justification is by faith alone and not by human effort.

Friday, February 24, 2017

P3 - Solving The Divine Dilemma Of Salvation - Romans 3:20-31

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Romans 3:20-21 "because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction."

Introduction:

We have been exploring these last two days what we are calling: "The Divine Dilemma of Salvation". In other words, how is it that a Holy righteous God could rightly and justly acquit sinners whom he desires to forgive? Answering this question is important in better understanding why Biblical salvation is so important. We listed four particular decisions needing to be made by God the Father, Son and Spirit to ensure the solution to this alleged dilemma:

1. God the Father had to willingly authorize salvation's plan.

2. God the Son had to willingly accomplish salvation for sinners with the Father's willing to acceptance of His accomplishment.

3. God the Holy Spirit had to willingly apply the salvation accomplished to those responding in faith to His call. 

4. The Father had to willingly agree to accept faith in the accomplished work as necessary and sufficient to acquit the sinner

Paul's exposition of the Gospel in his letter to the Romans centers upon the doctrine of justification by faith. To define again what we mean by Justification by faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states:

"Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God."

We had looked at the first action done by God in the Person of the Father, namely: God the Father had to willingly authorize salvation's (see Romans 3:21-24). We noted briefly that in eternity, the Father, Son and Spirit had made what theologians call: "a covenant of redemption" between themselves. This internal activity of God was wholly separate from man, since humans and nothing else had yet been created. Today we move forward to consider further decisions made by God in the solving of the Divine dilemma of salvation.

God the Son had to willingly accomplish salvation for sinners with the Father's willing to acceptance of His accomplishment.

Hebrews 10:7 records for us God the Son's words as he was coming from eternity into time: "“THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.’” The reader will notice that the quotation is in all caps. The NASB does this to indicate that the quote mirrors an Old Testament text from Psalm 40. The Son of God uttered those words coming from eternity into time. The Son of God did this by way of His incarnation as the man Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 1:21-23; Luke 1:35; John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 2:11-14). As God, Christ's accomplished work of redemption would be enough, since salvation is of the Lord (see Jonah 2:9). As man, Jesus' shedding of blood would provide the price paid for such salvation - called by scripture "redemption" (see Ephesians 1:7). As Romans 3:24 tells us, this willing act of Christ was a work of redemption - that is - He was paying the price for salvation by a willing offering of His human life on behalf of sinners whom the Father loved. So The Father was willing to show mercy and the Son was willing to come, be incarnated as a man and offer Himself up on behalf of sinners. The Father agreed to accept all the the Son accomplished. But now, what about the Holy Spirit?


God the Holy Spirit had to willingly apply the salvation accomplished to those responding in faith to His call. 

Romans 3:25-26 notes: "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." At this point, one may wonder where the Holy Spirit is in the Romans passage. In as much as Paul is focusing upon the actions agreed upon between the Father and the Son, the Spirit's involvement is implied. Consequently, in later chapters of Romans 5 and 6, we will see explicit mention of the Holy Spirit's activity in applying all that Jesus achieved and the Father authorized. 

Scriptures such as John 16:8-11 and 2 Timothy 2:25 underscore the fact that unless the Holy Spirit is calling and convicting men and women, no one will choose on their own to get saved. The Spirit's work is His effort in applying the accomplishment of the Son.

Next time we will conclude this study by noting what all this combine working between the Father, Son and Spirit aims for in solving the Divine dilemma of salvation.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

P2 - Solving The Divine Dilemma Of Salvation - Romans 3:20-31

Romans 3:20-21 "because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction."

Introduction:

In the last post we considered what we were calling: "The Divine Dilemma Of Salvation". How is it that a Holy righteous God could rightly and just acquit sinners whom he desires to forgive? Answering this question is important in better understanding why Biblical salvation is so important. We closed out by noting four particular decisions needing to be made by God the Father, Son and Spirit to ensure the solution to this alleged dilemma:

1. God the Father had to willingly authorize salvation's plan.

2. God the Son had to willingly accomplish salvation for sinners with the Father's willingness to acceptance of His accomplishment.

3. God the Holy Spirit had to willingly apply the salvation accomplished to those responding in faith to His call. 

4. The Father had to willingly agree to accept faith in the accomplished work as necessary and sufficient to acquit the sinner

Paul's exposition of the Gospel in his letter to the Romans centers upon the doctrine of justification by faith. If we understand what all God did in making such a declaration of a believing sinner's innocence a reality, we will then grasp the glory of justification. Justification by faith is defined by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000:

"Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God."

With that review, let's explore how God solved the Divine Dilemma of salvation.

God the Father had to willingly authorize salvation. Romans 3:21-24

In Romans 3:21-24a we read about how willing God the Father was to show mercy to those sinners whom He was wanting to love. 2 Corinthians 5:18 plainly states the merciful heart of God: "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation". Now at this point we can raise the question: "When did the Father decide to show mercy?" To answer this, theologian Louis Berkhof writes about what is called "a covenant of redemption", which he defines in his Systematic Theology, page 266, as follows:

"Scripture clearly points to the fact that the plan of redemption was included in the eternal decree or counsel of God, Eph 1:4 ff.; 3:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; Jas. 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:2, etc. Now we find that in the economy of redemption there is, in a sense, a division of labor: The Father is the originator, the Son the executor, and the Holy Spirit the applier."

Now even though Paul won't get to the eternal dimensions of salvation until later on in his letter to the Romans, this particular point is worth noting. So, God the Father had to be willingly authorize salvation's plan. Next time we will consider a second important point, namely, God the Son had to willingly accomplish salvation for sinners with the Father's willing to acceptance of His accomplishment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

P1 - Solving The Divine Dilemma Of Salvation - Romans 3:20-31

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Exodus 34:6-7 "Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

The Dilemma of Divine Justice and Mercy

The above verse state two significant truths about God that on first glance appear contradictory. On the one hand, God desires to forgive sins and to acquit the guilty. On the other hand, we find God justly condemning the guilty because of their sin. In short, God's love and mercy are stated alongside His justice and holiness, presenting what appears to be a "Divine dilemma". How can this be a Divine dilemma? Some reflection on other scripture and how proceedings go in a court of law reveal an immense Divine dilemma that could only be resolved by God. 

For instance, Proverbs 17:15 reveals the problem at hand: "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD." Some short reflection on any court of law will define for us the following type of injustice: to justify, or "declare" innocent a guilty man while condemning a clearly innocent man. This example represents the most severe form of injustice.  We unfortunately have heard of such cases of innocent people serving long prison terms.  Likewise we have been equally angered over guilty criminals getting off the hook over supposed "loopholes" in the law. 

In the scriptures, showing mercy to guilty men and punishing innocent men are uncalled-for-realities in human courts of law, let alone Divine Justice. Yet when we look at the heart of the Gospel, we see this very act in the work of Christ on behalf of sinful human beings - a seeming Divine Dilemma of biblical proportions! Romans 4:5 states: "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness". The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit". For what has been called by many the "scandal of the Gospel" is the very thing that makes the Gospel so powerful! Holy God, in the giving of His innocent Son, could acquit sinners by the sole means of their trust in the Son's accomplished work on their behalf - gets us to the core of the Gospel.

Why God alone can both be just and issue forgiveness to sinners who believe by grace through faith alone

I hope by now the reader can sense the tension of this "Divine Dilemma". How could God, who is Holy and perfect, give His innocent Son on behalf of clearly guilty sinners? Author Kris Lundgaard in his book: "Reflections on Christ That Change Us Through The Looking Glass" notes on page 133:

"What should the God of justice do to us? Should he wink at our crimes and rebellion and leave us all unpunished? If so, how would that square with his justice, which didn't spare Adam in the beginning or even one angel who sinned? The righteousness of God on the one hand and the forgiveness of sin on the other seem so contradictory that many stumble over it (see Romans 10:3-4)." 

Lundgaard then concludes:

"How can we reconcile the truth that God 'does not leave the guilty unpunished' (Exodus 34:7) with the statement that God 'justifies the wicked' (Romans 4:5)?"

In the next post, we will attempt to show how God solved this alleged Divine dilemma by exploring what appear to be four important logical moments or decisions made by the Triune God in order to solve this Divine Dilemma. Justification, or the declaration made by God to acquit sinners through faith alone in Christ, is the desired outcome by God and the solution. If any one of the following four decisions were not carried through by God, salvation in general and Justification by faith alone in particular would be jeopardized. We will list these four points now and explore them in later posts:

1. God the Father had to willingly authorize salvation's plan.

2. God the Son had to willingly accomplish salvation for sinners with the Father's willing to acceptance of His accomplishment.

3. God the Holy Spirit had to willingly apply the salvation accomplished to those responding in faith to His call. 

4. The Father had to willingly agree to accept faith in the accomplished work as necessary and sufficient to acquit the sinner


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Jesus Came To Be Crushed In Spirit So As To Provide Healing To Those Experiencing The Same

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Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners."

Introduction:

When Jesus came into our world, what is it He came to accomplish and experience? No doubt He came to experience what it was like to be a man. The incarnation of the Son of God involved Him taking unto His Person true humanity. Apart from never having sinned, Jesus Christ endured the frailties, limitations, momentary joys and more-often-than-not heartbreaks of what it means to be a human being. 

In the above opening verse, Isaiah is predicting what would be the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah's prophetic telescope saw one coming of Christ. It would take the lenses of further prophetic revelation by the later Old Testament prophets and especially the New Testament to show that what Isaiah was seeing was Christ's first coming in Isaiah 61:1 and His second coming in Isaiah 61:2. 

The Gospels allude to Isaiah 61 as referring to Jesus ministry (see Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22). Jesus' words to John the Baptist were that He was indeed the One of prophetic anticipation. In Luke 4:18 we find Jesus' first recorded reading of scripture. As He reads out of the scroll of Isaiah, we see Him reading this very text of Isaiah 61, with Him stopping at the appropriate place in verse 1 of that chapter and exclaiming that its very words were fulfilled by Him. Jesus came to minister to the "brokenhearted and crushed in spirit".

In our last post we explored those two terms: namely "brokenhearted" and "crushed in spirit". We discovered that God permits His people to undergo seasons of hardship that can crush the spirit or the innermost being. Such crushing of the spirit breaks us into pieces on the inside so that He who is already on the inside can work the deeper work in getting His influence to affect us from the inside to the outside. Such breakage of the heart or crushing of the spirit is jarring at first. We find out though that for those who yield to God's inner and deeper working, marvelous experiences of His grace are discovered. 

In today's post we want to explore how it is that Jesus came to experience what it was like to not only minister first hand to those "crushed in spirit", but to experience such a state Himself. 

Whatever Christ came to redeem, He became what He came to redeem

When Jesus came to experience what it was like to be a man, He experienced the full-orbed reality of total humanity. Jesus redeemed what He came to redeem by becoming a man in every sense of the word. He never sinned but He came to be treated as such. He experienced what it was like to undergo heartache and a "crushing of the spirit". God is described in Isaiah 57:15 "For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
“I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." God as God could sympathize with man, since He had made man. However, when the Person of the Son became incarnate, that mean as God He could not only sympathize but empathize. Hebrews 2:14 reminds us: "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." Or again, Hebrews 2:18 "For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." In order for Jesus to redeem and bring healing to our damaged emotions, crushed spirits and broken hearts, He had to experience the same.

Jesus came to be crushed in spirit and to have His heart broken

Does the idea of Jesus' experiencing a crushing of his human spirit and experiencing a broken heart startle you? We tend to forget how human Jesus of Nazareth was. How far did the incarnation go? Isaiah 53:5 begins with the notion of "surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. We esteem Him stricken by God and afflicted". In as much as Christ dies for our sins, He also bore in His body the collateral damage of sin and a fallen world: namely the broken emotions and human psyche, the wrenched hearts and wounded spirits of people. He was rejected and despised and betrayed. Jesus was not a pretend human being - He was flesh and blood humanity with a true soul and spirit. This thought ought not to jar us, but comfort us. He knows all about it!

How else could the Eternal Son of God, Immanuel, who became flesh, heal us in our hearts and put us back together in our spirits lest He too underwent such agonies? He did it for you. He did it for me. When our spirits are crushed and hearts are broken, God in His permissive will is bringing us into contact with a powerful healing stream of His grace that can only be found in Jesus. 

Consider these words from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort." 

Like railroad tracks running parallel to one another, both suffering and comfort run side-by-side in the Christian life. In the center of this text is Christ. He still endures suffering with His people in that their struggles, heartaches and crushing of spirits are the subject matter of His intercessions on our behalf. He suffered once-for-all for sin on the cross (1 Peter 3:18) and He ever endures with His church by bearing those burdens on His heart in prayer. Jesus Christ has retained His true humanity in the heavenly realms. Those railroad tracks of Christian suffering and comfort are seen meeting off in the distance in Him. In Christ we find a place for the brokenhearted and shattered in spirit. As man He knows all about it. As God, He can do something about it.

By His resurrection He came forth with healing power to bind up the broken hearted and to revive the crushed in spirit

As a final thought for today, we musn't think God's permissive will includes leaving the believer in a permanent state of being crushed in spirit and broken in heart. When Christ raised from the dead, He brought with Him all the healing power to bind up the broken heart. We are broken in order to be healed. Christ experienced this was well. In the famous text of Isaiah 53, we not only see predictions of Christ death, but also of His resurrection. Notice Isaiah 53:10-11 "But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities." As the old song goes: "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just, because He lives."

Monday, February 20, 2017

How God Works In The Lives Of The Broken-Hearted And Crushed In Spirit

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Psalm 34:18 "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Introduction:

Today's post is going to explore what is meant by the Biblical phrase: "crushed in spirit". The above opening verse derives from David's words describing his personal walk with God during a crisis moment in his life. In Hebrew poetry, it is common for the author to express the same idea in two or more lines with different turns of expression. In Psalm 34:18, we find out that the Lord is near those who are brokenhearted in the first line, with the second line expressing much the same idea except with the phrase: "crushed in spirit". This idea of God being near the brokenhearted or crushed in spirit reveals a couple of thoughts:

1. First, since God draws near to those in such a condition of being "brokenhearted" or "crushed in spirit", the implication is that God permitted such a state to transpire. God's permissive will is revealed in scripture to indicate certain courses of action that He tolerates or wills to allow to work out His ultimate purposes (see Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). 

2. The second implication of the phrases "brokenhearted" or "crushed in spirit" deals with the fact that God's people are never promised immunity from danger, trial or sorrow. This point can be extremely difficult for Christians to grasp in our indulgent Western society that is geared to escape pain and promote personal peace and affluency. If we grasp what the Psalmist is saying in this text, it can revolutionize how we view difficult times with respect to our walk with God.

With these initial observations noted, lets explore what the Biblical text is talking about when it refers to being "crushed in spirit" and how God works in such a frame of mind and heart. 

Understanding what the Bible means by the human "spirit" or "heart"

What exactly is the spirit of a man? It is the contention of this writer that human beings are trichotomous or a composite of three general components: body, soul, spirit. The "spirit" and "soul" comprise man's immaterial or non-physical nature and the body of course represents the physical aspect of man's existence. Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:7 depict God revealing the creation of man from two respective angles: a spiritual being in a physical body who was to walk with God and a soul clothed in a body who was to take dominion over his surroundings and be self-aware. 

In short, here is what we learn of mankind as originally created:

1. Originally, God made Adam's body perfect, capable of interacting and working the physical environment. Being that the body of man was made from the earth, God endued the body with five senses and the capability to be aware of the world. The forming of Eve from Adam's side included these exact same properties. 

2. Humanity's soul is the life of the man.  The soul was breathed from the Spirit of God, resulting in physical life in the man.  Man was uniquely created with the ability to think, feel, choose and have convictions or a conscience. The soul is the man himself. We could say, with older Bible teachers of the past, that the soul is simply man's self awareness and the body is his center of world awareness.

3. Humanity's spirit was to be the aspect of man wherein he communed with God.  As a creature made in the image of God, the idea of "image" meant that man alone could communicate and be communicated to by God in his spirit. Even ancient Greek Philosophers like Aristotle recognized humanity's distinctiveness from the animal kingdom, assigning the term "rational animal" to describe human beings as possessing the ability to reason, express self-reflection and discern meaning, value and purpose. The idea of "animal" in Aristotle's definition refers to a "living being" (Latin term "animus"). Hence, we are living beings, with a body and the additional quality of rationality. 

When we approach God's Word, the Bible, we find terms like "spirit" and "heart" used interchangeably. It is only when we see man described in relationship to God that we find either term, "heart" or "spirit". Proverbs 20:27 gives what is perhaps the clearest definition of the human "spirit" - "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the innermost parts of his being." 

Hence, the "spirit" or "heart" refer to the innermost being of a person. In non-Christian people, the human spirit is dark and unoccupied by the Holy Spirit. At salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to occupy the human spirit of an individual. 

God allows our spirit to be crushed and our hearts broken to put us back together and to heal the wounds

A quick study of this idea of a "crushed spirit" or broken heart" can yield both surprises and hope. The surprise of course comes in finding out that reaching a state of desperation in our inner-most being is how God progresses His people along in their moral and spiritual development. Psalm 51:19 states - "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." The term "broken spirit" or "crushed spirit" literally gives the idea of being crushed to dust, dryness and shattering. For the believer going through this experience, it can be devastating, at first. We in American Christianity think it is our heritage to be free from difficulties. When trouble comes, we begin to wonder whether God still loves us or not. We can be doing exactly what He tells us in His Word, be in the center of his will so-to-speak, and yet, find the dryness, crushing weight of circumstances crack us on the inside. In those moments, we ask God: "what is going on?" 

I know in my life, those moments seem to occur with greater severity and great frequency. The older Christian writers would call such seasons "the dark night of the soul". God permits such seasons, and even allows us to reach the point that we not only approach the cliffs overlooking doom and despair, but allows us to plunge over that edge. It is in that apparent free-fall that we find an extraordinary supernatural side of God's grace that otherwise would had been obscured from us in the good-times. 

The Psalmist writes these words in Psalm 147:3 "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." God wills to permit what He hates in order to accomplish the greater good He intends. Our wounding means the experience of His healing. Our crushing results in Him putting us back together. Our broken heart results in being positioned for the potter to shape and reform it to be better than ever. Dr. Charles Stanley in his recent autobiography: "Courageous Faith - My Story From A Life Of Obedience", notes the following on page 192:

"Instead of seeing the battles against you as a curse, you understand that your loving heavenly Father has planned a special blessing for you through them - that the difficulties you face are ultimately opportunities that will bring you good and will give Him glory. Likewise, knowing that He has permitted the troubles in your life for your benefit makes it easier to forgive those who hurt you and helps you to endure as the battle rages."

Thus we can say that God works in the lives of those who are brokenhearted or crushed in spirit to bring about the wonderful experience of His transforming, healing power. Damaged emotions, past hurts, unseen internal struggles are part of the garden-variety issues that afflict the deepest innermost being of people. Until the deeper work of God is done, those issues will continue to plague us. The Great Physician knows. So, what at first appears to be a mean-spirited action of God towards His people in willing to allow the crushing of the spirit or the brokenness of the heart is actually an extraordinary expression of grace. The point: to have His divine fingerprints all over those shattered pieces so that we can say that we have been handled and healed by the Master. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Sinner Declared A Saint - John 7:53-8:12

Image result for jesus and the woman taken in adultery
John 7:53-8:3 Everyone went to his home. 8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court.

Introduction:

The account of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus' acquittal of her is perhaps one of the most powerful episodes in John's Gospel. Theologian and pastor Dr. R.C Sproul writes of the significance of this text in his "St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary" on John: 

"Jesus said to her the sweetest words any human being could ever hear from His lips: 'Neither do I condemn you" (v 11b). If you can't relate to those words, then your heart has been hardened, because each one of us comes to God like this woman, guilty, ashamed, naked, and exposed. But Christ clothes us with the cloak of His righteousness, covering our nakedness and shame, and says to us, "Neither do I condemn you." 

Sproul is referring to that wonderful truth of justification by faith. Today's post will enable you to grasp the central truth of the Gospel: justification by faith, and the life issuing forth from it: sanctification. The beauty of these truths will be explored in the account of Jesus and the adulterous women in John 7:53-8:11. Central to the doctrine of justification is what occurs when a sinner is declared a saint. What takes place when a sinner is declared to be a saint? What changes ought to result from that momentous Divine declaration at saving faith? We will now attempt to answer these questions by exploring this powerful account. Notice the following thoughts...

1. Condemned a sinner by the Law. 7:53-8:9

The truth of justification by faith alone has to do with the change in the sinner's legal status before Holy God. God's way of dealing with His creatures is two-fold: Law and Gospel. The Law of God is designed to show my need for the Gospel. Mankind is certainly welcomed to try to get to God by way of moral living, law-keeping and ritual. However, the Law of God's design shows that sinful man falls short. The central tenet of God's Law is: "do this and you shall live". None of course are able to meet the stringent demands of perfection. 

The light of God's grace is necessary to show me the awfulness of my sin and the awesomeness of Jesus Christ. Once I agree with the Law's indictment of my spiritual, moral and relational estrangement, I'm ready to receive the remedy of the Gospel. The Gospel's central tenet is not "do this and live", but instead, "become alive and you shall do." Sadly, sinful man by himself is unwilling to agree. Instead, sinful human beings attempt to take the Law (or something equivalent) and make it their gospel. 

The Pharisees and Jewish leaders had already concluded they were "right" (i.e righteous) and everyone was wrong. What they miscalculated was the inability of the Law of God to grant the righteousness required for being in relationship with Holy God. We read in Romans 3:20 that "….by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight…”. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee himself, writes in Romans 7:7 & 9 (7) "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 9 "I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died."

All the Law of God can do is demand righteousness, not grant it. Although the woman in this episode was clearly guilty, yet her accusers were no better. Only Christ, and Christ alone was perfect. If anyone is ever going to escape the condemnation of God's Law, they need to go the route of Christ. Thus we come to our second thought...  
2. Christ the Judge and Justifier 8:10

A sinner's journey in becoming a saint in God's sight must first begin by their admission, by His grace, that they are indeed guilty. When we are brought to Christ, we are brought to the One that knows everything about us and Who desires to release us from those very things keeping us from Him - namely our sin, the wrath of God and condemnation. Paul spells this out in Romans 3:25-26 "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

When Jesus stooped down on the ground and began to write in the dust among those accusers and the woman caught in adultery, what was it He was writing. Many have speculated, but perhaps the best explanation is where many see an allusion to Jeremiah 17:13 "O Lord, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You will be put to shame.
Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord." Christ is first of all portrayed as the righteous judge. By turning the tables on the legalists, it turns out that everyone deserved to be stoned! The Lawgiver was in their midst! 

However, Jesus is simultaneously the justifier - that is - He is performing the role normally attributed to the Father as the One who declares the sinner guiltless. By performing this dual role of "Judge and Justifier" in John 7:53-8:11, Jesus is showing Himself equal with the Father in terms of Divine authority as God while of course being the man - Jesus of Nazareth. The great Bible commentator Ellicott notes: 

"Thus God appeared in a double character, at once as just or righteous Himself, and as producing a state of righteousness in the believer. Under the Old Testament God had been revealed as just; but the justice or righteousness of God was not met by any corresponding righteousness on the part of man, and therefore could only issue in condemnation. Under the New Testament the justice of God remained the same, but it was met by a corresponding state of righteousness in the believer a righteousness, however, not inherent, but superinduced by God Himself through the process of justification by faith. In this way the great Messianic condition of righteousness was fulfilled."

So, when a sinner is declared a saint by God in salvation, we find the agreed upon indictment of the Law of God condemning them, and Christ the Judge and Justifer every ready to acquit them. By this point in the scene, all of the woman's accusers have left. All that remains are Jesus and herself. We now come to the third main idea....

3. Condemned no more! Justification by faith 8:11

So did the woman caught in adultery express saving faith in Jesus? We find her response to Jesus' question about her accusers with these words in John 8:10-11a "Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.”  Unless this woman's heart had been touched by grace and unless she had freely responded in turn with true saving faith, she would not had called Jesus "Lord" (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-3). Romans 10:8-10 reminds us that none can call Jesus their Lord unless the Spirit has been doing His work through the Words of God. With the adulterous woman's affirmation of Jesus' identity as her Savior and Lord, Jesus states powerfully in John 8:11b "And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

The Apostle Paul expresses this powerful result of justification, namely: no condemnation, in his letter to the Romans. Romans 5:1 "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God." And again in Romans 8:1 "There is now therefore no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The woman's position has changed. She is no longer a sinner apart from God, but a sinner, saved by grace, and now declared a saint of God. By position this woman is guiltless. But now we find one final truth in this change of the woman from sinner to saint, namely... 

4. Keep on for God! Sanctification from faith 8:12

In justification the sinner is declared a saint by position. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to that person. Justification is an instantaneous, legal declaration by God. But now what follows is the progressive, experiential change - sanctification. In the totality of salvation, the sinner is not only saved "from" something but also saved "to" something. Jesus told this woman to go and sin no more. She was to abandon her lifestyle of sin. She was to pursue God in a progressive, ongoing work of sanctification. It didn't mean she would never sin again, since sinless perfection in this life is impossible. Nonetheless, she was now set free from the power sin had over her and she could now begin to truly walk for God. Ephesians 2:10 states: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." 

In sanctification, the Christian is becoming in experience whom God has already declared them to be by position. The grace of justification is the root, with sanctification being the stem, leaves and flower issuing forth. The practical righteousness ever being worked out by the Christian in cooperation with the Holy Spirit in sanctification is based upon Christ's credited righteousness granted in justification. We read in James 2:26 "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

Closing thoughts:

So truly we have witnesses then the transformation of the adulterous woman from a sinner to a saint. She was no longer an adulterer. Jesus told her to live for God from faith in sanctification, since she had been justified by faith in saving reliance upon Jesus Christ. The Law of God had rightly condemned her actions. By grace she saw her only place of appeal - Jesus Christ - the Judge and justifier. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

P2 - Cultivating A Proper Spiritual Atmosphere


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Psalm 133:1-3 "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever."

Introduction

In the last post we considered what it takes to cultivate a proper Christian spiritual atmosphere. We noted that a spiritual atmosphere has to do with the climate necessary for heightening awareness of God's movement. We then noted three ingredients required for this atmosphere:

1. Forgiveness
2. Obedience
3. Prayer

Today we will consider three more ingredients and conclude this short blog series. What else is necessary for cultivating a proper spiritual atmosphere in the heart, home and church? 

1. Faith. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

No less than four times does Paul allude to the proper spiritual atmosphere of which we are expounding in this post (with words like "aroma"). A Christian life and church exercising itself in a proper spiritual atmosphere for Jesus' sake will give-off a certain scent. Psalm 133:1-2 states - "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes." 

Anointing oil in the Old Testament was a special mixture of spices and oil, meant to give off a scent and to symbolize that person's place in the things of God. Ephesians 5:1-2 uses this same "aroma" imagery to capture the walk of faith with God as we aim to be "imitators of God." Certainly, who can forget the woman who anointed Jesus with her feet by sweet oil and her tears in Luke 7:44-50. The aroma released in the house of Simon the Pharisee was a stench to those untouched by grace. Yet, Jesus said of the woman: “your faith has saved you." The proper spiritual atmosphere was resident in the woman's heart due to faith. Notice fifthly...

2. Bible. 2 Corinthians 2:17a

We have seen thus far that in order to have a proper spiritual atmosphere that heightens our awareness of God's movement, we need forgiveness, obedience, prayer and faith. Here we find Paul referring to another ingredient, the sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 2:17a, we read: "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity....". Hebrews 4:12 reminds us of the place of scripture in cultivating a proper spiritual atmosphere: "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Colossians 3:16 tells us: "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

It wasn't too long ago that our family had attended a concert put on by an award-winning harpist. The church where this event was held was among the more beautiful sanctuaries I had visited since moving to our area. As I listened to the harp being played, I marveled at the architecture. The large stained-glass windows, the statuary, paintings, grand-organ in the background and sweeping pulpit were all for the purpose of expounding the sacred book of God. We could say that the sanctuary was "richly adorned" for God's Word. Paul's point in the above text is not just to have our interior hearts adorned for scripture, but to have scripture richly adoring or dwelling the heart!

3. God. 2 Corinthians 2:17b

In this final ingredient, we find that this is not just any ingredient. We could say that without God, the other prior ingredients fail. God is God, and there is no other like Him (Isaiah 44:6). Romans 11:36 puts this final point so concisely and eloquently: "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." We need God for our proper spiritual atmosphere in our hearts, homes and churches, since He is the one for which it is set. Psalm 63:1-3 states: "O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. 3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You."

Closing thoughts: 

When I was a boy growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I recall herds of deer roaming the country side of my home area. It would be during the late Autumn, usually after the fall rains and when the little creeks were trickling with water. The deer knew the right atmosphere and places to find the water they needed. They searched it out. What are you and I in search of today? Do we want God? If the answer is yes, then let us be sure the spiritual atmosphere or climate proper for heightened awareness of God's movement is evident in our hearts, homes and churches. Let us exercise ourselves in forgiveness, obedience, prayer, faith, the Bible and God.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

P1 - Cultivating A Proper Spiritual Atmosphere


Image result for candlelight dinner
2 Corinthians 2:14-17 "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God."

Introduction:
This past week was Valentine's day. Of all the holidays celebrated in a given year, perhaps none emphasize the importance of atmosphere like Valentine's day. Why is it, for instance, that two people in love prefer to eat at a dimly lit restaurant by candlelight rather than a play-place at a fast food chain? Or, why is it that for our family dinner on that day, my wife had candles, balloons and little heart-shaped tins with chocolates for the children to enjoy? One word: "atmosphere". Atmosphere, on a human level, deals not so much with the air we breath as it does in setting a tone, a mood and a context. The effort aims to raise awareness of the person with whom we are spending time. As we are made aware of that person, we come to appreciate them and to enjoy their company by not what they do for us but by who they are. 

When we think of this concept with reference to the spiritual atmosphere of our hearts, home or churches, certain ingredients are necessary. To define what I mean by "spiritual atmosphere" as understood from the Bible, I mean: "The climate suited for heightened awareness of God’s movement." In this post and the next, we will consider six ingredients needed for the right spiritual atmosphere in your heart, home and the church? Our main text will be 2 Corinthians 2:5-17. Let's note them in short order....

1. Forgiveness. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, 10-11

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He included the importance of forgiveness, as evidenced in Matthew 6:12-13 "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] Jesus knew that if we are to have a healthy spiritual atmosphere in our heart, from whence we launch our prayers, there must be forgiveness. Or how about in our churches? Consider Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” I have sat under many preachers who proclaimed God's Word winsomely and powerfully, only to see such messages bounce off the congregation with no effect. Why? Someone had taken up offense, and soon, a portion of the whole was affected. 

The person referenced by Paul here in 2 Corinthians 2 had committed a horrible act of immoral behavior. The church rightly responded, but now the man was openly repenting of what he had done. The people needed to let go, loosen and love. If you and I take up an offense, it means we are preferring bitterness rather than forgiveness. We ought to only take-up one thing: our Bibles. We ought to never take-up offenses, lest we be put down. It is told in Mark 6 that Jesus had journeyed to the town of his childhood (Nazareth), only to receive ridicule and spite. The text tells us in Mark 6:3 that the people "became offended at him". They perceived Jesus had crossed a line and chose to be bitter rather than to get better. The result? In Mark 6:5 we read: "And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them." 

If only we will practice forgiveness and not take up offense in our hearts, our homes or our churches, we will then begin to see God's working. But now notice a second ingredient necessary for a proper spiritual atmosphere...

2. Obedience.      2 Corinthians 2:9

Paul states in 2 Corinthians 2:9 that he wrote what he did to see whether or not his readers would respond in obedience. Unless you and I are ready to obey from the onset, at some point we will switch horses mid-stream so-to-speak. Obedience flows from faith. Among the many blessings that attend a lifestyle of obedience to God, we will name two.

First, the power of the Spirit is experienced when we obey God. Acts 5:32 states: “ And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” To have the Spirit's power issuing forth into our thoughts and actions marks the presence of a proper spiritual atmosphere. Note a second blessing, as spelled out in Galatians 6:9 "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary." Obedience to God can give us the opportunity to see the fruits of certain labors. Such verses remind us that obedience to God is worth it! So, we need forgiveness and obedience for a proper spiritual atmosphere. Let's notice a third ingredient... 

3. Prayer. 2 Corinthians 2:12-13

Famed evangelist A.W Tozer once noted that before we get with it, we must first get with Him. In 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, we find Paul referring back to the beginning his second missionary journey in Acts 16:8, 14-16. It was in this second missionary tour to Macedonia that Paul ended up preaching in Corinth for 18 months, with the church planted by his missionary associates Priscilla and Aquilla. I'm certain as Paul alluded to those early days, the church at Corinth, to which he wrote, would had recollected. 

During those days, Paul was ever in prayer. We know Paul was in prayer due to the powerful vision he had to go to Macedonia. Paul and his companions were trying to pursue ministry into one area, and God directed them to pursue Macedonia instead in Acts 16:8-9. The result? The first European convert, Lydia, has her heart opened by the Spirit to freely trust in Jesus Christ in Acts 16:14. Then later on, Paul sets free a slave girl in bondage to a spirit of divination. Paul and his ministry partners went to the place of prayer in these episodes. Much prayer marked the early Christians, and sadly, little prayer often marks our sermons, services and activities. 

A dear, dear friend of mine has taught me this little phrase: "more prayer, much prayer". Prayer, we could say, composes the oxygen of a spiritual atmosphere. Without prayer, the lungs of faith cannot breath. 

More next time....