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."

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....  

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