Celebrate Together

We were born to celebrate. God never intended for fun and laughter to be crowded out of our lives. God’s kingdom, according to Jesus, is like a wedding reception where he wants his friends to celebrate with him as though he were the bridegroom. God’s church is the ultimate party place—a place of rejoicing, celebration, and laughter. It is a foretaste of what is to come in heaven.

We have a God that celebrates. Celebration is at the heart of God himself. We will never understand the significance of celebration in human life until we understand its importance to God. I suspect that most of us seriously underestimate God’s capacity for celebration.

And God’s intent was that his creation—you and me—would mirror his celebration. We should be his biggest fans. We are the recipients of grace, the receivers of love, the beneficiary of hope. We’re convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. We’re expectant of his return. We’re changed men and women.

What happens when we celebrate?

God is encountered.

This is the element of worship. Worship is not a weekly pep talk to encourage the team to win the game. Worship doesn’t have to be the Christian alternative to a Saturday night rock concert, and it isn’t defined as a 45-minute lecture on biblical truths. Worship occurs when people who have fallen in love with the God of the universe meet him. When we encounter God, we can’t help but celebrate, for we’ll see God as he is and we’ll understand who we are. Then our worship becomes celebration.

Joy is expressed.

As products of God’s creation, creatures made in his image, we are to reflect God’s fierce joy in life. That is why the Bible speaks not just about our need for joy in general but a particular kind of joy that characterizes God. Celebration is felt when we express the “joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts.” Lewis Smedes put it this way: “To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for your existence. C. S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” The apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4 NIV). The Bible puts joy in the non-optional category. Joy is a command. Biblical scholar William Barclay said, “A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms.” Joy is the outward expression of the inward knowledge that God has everything under control. Joy is the flag that flies above the castle of our hearts, announcing that the King is in residence. Joy is the knowledge that the game is not over. The final outcome is that because of Christ, we win. This infectious joy convinces a watching world that Christianity is real and that Christ can transform a life—no matter what the circumstances.

Lives are intertwined.

A McDonald’s commercial shows a man sitting alone in his kitchen pretending someone over a loud speaker is asking for any millionaires. The man raises his hand and gets all giddy and excited because he’s won a million dollars. It’s a cute commercial, but it misses a very important point. Celebration, whether it’s winning a lottery, receiving a big promotion, or becoming a Christian, is best done in community. There’s a relational aspect to celebration. It’s most meaningful when lives are intertwined and connected. Church can be the ultimate place of celebration with others. Through our corporate services and small groups, we provide a place where celebration can be shared among friends with a common cause..

The Special Olympics features mentally and physically disabled athletes from around the world. One of the most memorable events that happened during the Special Olympics was a foot race among a group of people with Down syndrome. The runners were close together as they came around the track toward the finish line. One of them stumbled and fell. When that happened, the rest of the runners stopped. They went back as a group, helped the runner who had fallen to stand up, and then all ran across the finish line together. Once across, they hugged and congratulated each other for finishing the race.

I can think of no better picture of authentic community than that. A place where people who are disabled by sin help each other stand up, link arms, and celebrate the finished race together.

That’s who we are as a church. We are a community of believers who have come together to worship the living God. We are a celebrating community. If we don’t celebrate, we have missed the heart of Christianity. And when we do celebrate those outside walls cannot help but want to be inside the walls.

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Unity Matters

On the last night of his life, Jesus prayed a prayer that stands as a citadel for all Christians: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . . . I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-21, 23 NIV).

How precious are these words. Knowing the end was near, Jesus prayed one final time for his followers. Striking, isn’t it? With death breathing down his neck, Jesus prayed not for their success, their safety, or their happiness. He prayed for their unity, as they would fulfill his purpose. He prayed that they would love each other, as they went forward to love the world to him. He prayed for his disciples and for all those who would come to faith in Jesus Christ, becoming his followers. That means you and me. In his last prayer Jesus prayed that you and I be one.

Of all the lessons we can draw from these verses, don’t miss the most important: Unity matters to God. The Father does not want his kids to squabble. Disunity disturbs him. Why? Because “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35 NIV). Unity creates belief. How will the world believe that God sent Jesus? Not if we agree with each other. Not if we solve every controversy. Not if we are unanimous on each vote. Not if we never make a doctrinal error. But if we love each other.

If unity creates belief, then disunity fosters disbelief. How can the world come to believe the gospel if those who already believe it are battling among themselves? When the world sees Catholics and Protestants dueling over power and territory in Northern Ireland, or young and old members of the same congregation dueling over worship styles, or a church splitting over the color of the new carpet, it says, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Disunity is not merely a scandal for unbelievers; it is also a stumbling block for them coming to faith. Paul Billheimer may very well be right when he says: “The continuous and widespread fragmentation of the Church has been the scandal of the ages. It has been Satan’s master strategy. The sin of disunity probably has caused more souls to be lost than all other sins combined.”

Could it be that unity is the key to reaching the world for Christ?

If unity is the key to fulfilling the God-ordained purpose of spreading the message of Jesus Christ, shouldn’t it have precedence in our churches? If unity matters to God, then shouldn’t unity matter to us? If unity is a priority in heaven, then shouldn’t it be a priority on earth?

Nowhere, by the way, are we told to build unity. We are instructed simply to keep unity. From God’s perspective there is but “one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16 NIV). Unity does not need to be created; it simply needs to be protected.

How do we do that? How do we make every effort to keep the unity? Does that mean we compromise our convictions? No. Does that mean we abandon the truths we cherish? No. But it does mean we look long and hard at the attitudes we carry. Unity doesn’t begin in examining others but in examining self. Unity begins, not in demanding that others change, but in admitting that we aren’t prefect ourselves. Unity grows as we learn to accept others differences and to forgive when wronged. Unity continues as we humbly serve those who are different. Unity is favored as we loving take the message of Jesus Christ to a divided world. Unity is fulfilled as focus on who we believe in rather what we believe in.

I’m reminded of a statement by E. Stanley Jones. “Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about who you believe in and you have unity.”

May I urge you to focus on Jesus.

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What is a Christian?

Interestingly, the Bible only mentions the word Christian three times (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16). When the term Christian was used in Acts, it was initially used by the unsaved people of Antioch and Agrippa as a kind of derisive nickname used to make fun of the followers of Christ. Christians called themselves by different names—disciples, believers, brethren, saints, the elect, etc. The word Christian literally means, “belonging to the party of Christ” or an “adherent or follower of Christ.” Initially, it was a term of contempt or ridicule. Over time this derogatory term became a positive designation. Also, as Peter admonished, there was a sense of suffering and distress attached to the word Christian in the New Testament.

What is a Christian? If were are discussing the Christian brand, it would be helpful to know what it means to be a Christian so we can understand what our personal brand should look like when we call ourselves a Christian.

1. A Christian is someone who has been chosen by God. Sometimes we speak of finding the Lord, but if he had not found us first, we would never have found him at all. Salvation begins with God, not with us. He chooses us, and then we believe. Salvation is all by grace, all of God, all the time. A Christian, then, is a person who has been called and chosen by God himself. Being a Christian is not a work of merit or a personal accomplishment but an act of God’s free grace.

2. A Christian is someone who responds to the gospel message. The good news becomes effective in us through the preaching of the gospel. When the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers. Even when preachers have done their best, it will count for nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers. That’s why “full conviction” matters so much. It means people are so deeply convicted of their sin and their need for a Savior that they run to the cross and embrace Jesus as their only hope of heaven.

3. A Christian is someone who regards Christ as infinitely more valuable than earthly suffering. In the early days of the Christian movement, new followers faced enormous cultural pressure. No doubt some faced opposition from family members who thought they were nuts to believe in Jesus. It wasn’t popular to be a “Christ-follower.” This response is often seen in those places today where being a Christian really costs something. A more profound joy is evidenced than is seen among American Christians. Here we tend to take our blessings for granted. Where persecution exists, every day is a gift from God, and every Sunday is an oasis in the desert of suffering. Jesus never invited us to receive him on a trial basis, although some try to do just that. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” True conversion means that we continue to follow Christ even when the going gets rough.

4. A Christian is someone whose life has been genuinely changed by Jesus Christ. The person who claims to be a Christian, but whose life does not change, is only fooling himself. Those whom God chooses; he changes. This does not mean they are perfect, but they are possessors of a new life that cannot be hidden.

5. A Christian is one who cannot keep silent about Jesus. The evidence of true Christianity occurs when a believer receives God’s Word gladly, then lives it out daily. As they do, the message of the gospel reverberates in every direction. And those around begin to sit up and take notice. They are witnesses of the wondrous work that Jesus has done in their lives. We all know that a satisfied customer is always the best advertisement for any product. The best place for us to make an impact for Christ is right where we are. We don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary. We can start by living for Christ and showing others the difference he makes daily.

6. A Christian is someone who has gone “all in” on Jesus. There comes a moment when a believer has to decide to go “all in” about what they believe. They look at their cards, look at their chips, and then say, “All in.” They risk everything on that one hand. If they’re right, they win it all. If they’re wrong, they lose it all. It’s that way in the Christian life also. We can’t hold on to our cards forever. Somewhere along the way we’ve got to make a stand. We’ve got to go “all in” with Jesus.

Years ago I decided to go “all in” on Jesus. I pushed my chips to the center of the table and I went “all in” that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died on the cross for my sins, that he rose from the dead on the third day, that he is the Lord of the universe, and that he will someday take me to heaven.

That’s what it means to be a Christian. Are you one?

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Beautiful: Inside and Out

“Esther was the daughter of Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai who had adopted her as his own daughter. . . . Esther gained favor in the eyes of everyone who saw her. . . . The king loved Esther more than all the other women. She won more favor and approval from him . . . He placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti” (Esther 2:15-17).

Do you know any beauty queens? Let me introduce you to Esther. Esther’s Jewish name was Hadassah which means “Myrtle,” a beautiful fragrant tree. Her Persian name Esther means “star,” as in Venus, a symbol of beauty and good fortune. Esther embodied her name. Esther had natural beauty and charm that required no unique adornments to make her more attractive. She was one of the four most beautiful women in history along with Sarah, Rahab, and Abigail, according to Jewish tradition.

What set Esther apart was not only her beauty without; it was her beauty within. She modeled grace before everyone. She displayed an unusual restraint, in telling no one she was Jewish. She had a teachable spirit, following instruction. She never got a big head, thinking she knew it all. Before seeing the king, she refused pampering, excess bathing, and oil treatment. She did not succumb to the temptations around her. Maybe she had no driving ambition to be the queen. Maybe her life did not revolve around her physical appearance or making a king happy. She was content “in her own skin.” She was authentic. She was real—just the way God created her.

As a result, she found favor with all whom she came into contact from the king’s servant to the women who were competing against her for being the Queen to the king himself. She had a pleasant, delightful, and winsome demeanor. People were drawn to her. She was engaging. Perhaps those are the real reasons she became Queen.

What can we learn from Esther’s life?

Character and inner attractiveness can be cultivated. We may not get to choose our height, complexion, body size, or facial features, but we can decide to live with integrity, humility, grace, and respect for others that emanates from the inside. As we live in close contact with God, his grace, mercy, and hope will rub off on us and, therefore, be expressed to others. Let’s emphasize a joyful spirit and grace over physical appearance and outward beautifications. Inward beauty trumps outward beauty in the long run.

Circumstances cannot be controlled. While we can plan and prepare for where we go to school, who we chose to befriend, what will be our vocation; many situations are beyond our control. We can’t wait for the circumstances to be perfect. In those moments, the strength of character and personal resolve will come to the forefront. Positive attitude and hopeful perseverance will enable us to thrive even in less than ideal circumstances.

Remember Esther. She was a slave in a foreign land. At the height of competition, surrounded by sensual, greedy, superficial girls, Esther stood alone. And, amazingly, God gave her favor in others’ eyes. She’s a great model for us all.

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Work Out Your Salvation

Wouldn’t it be nice if Christians could enter a little room, push a button, and in a matter of seconds be instantly transformed from spiritual infants to spiritual giants? The physical maturation process does not work that way, and neither does the spiritual growth process. It takes effort, time, and discipline. No shortcuts exist for spiritual maturity.

The spiritual growth process involves God working in us, the individual believer working out what God is working in, teachers working with us to train and to equip, and fellow believers working together to develop Christ-likeness. The apostle Paul revealed God’s process for spiritual growth in the letter written to the church at Philippi.

God Works In

Paul wrote, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13 NIV). The initial step of faith begins the journey of God working in us. Just as a process led to our conversion, so a process moves us toward spiritual maturity. In fact, God works in us before he can work through us. Our English word energy comes from the word translated work in verse 13. It is God’s divine energy at work in us and through us to accomplish spiritual maturity. God is always at work in us in the spiritual growth process. He uses people, circumstances, and events to achieve his work. When a believer comes into relationship with Christ, their eternal destiny is altered. A radical reorientation of priorities occurs. Life’s purpose emerges. But instant liberation from every bad habit or character flaw we’ve ever possessed rarely happens. God working in us is like the landing of an invading army on a beach, and the subsequent rooting out of the enemy as the army fights and claws its way inland to occupy and control the island. At salvation, God establishes a beachhead. The total occupation will come in time as the believer grows and matures, submitting to God’s rule and reign.

Individuals Work Out

Paul added, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12 NIV). Notice that Paul didn’t say, “Work for your salvation.” To work for something means to earn it, to deserve it, to merit it. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not something we gain by doing good works. It is a free gift of God’s grace. The verb work out means “to labor to full completion,” such as working out a problem in mathematics. In Paul’s day, the word was used for “working a mine,” getting out of the mine all the valuable ore or “working a field” to harvest a bountiful crop. Today, we use the term work out to describe the physical exercise that results in health and stamina. When Paul wrote, “Work out your salvation,” he was talking about a “spiritual workout” or “spiritual training.” Spiritual growth doesn’t happen by trying harder; it comes about through training. Merely desiring spiritual maturity will never bring it about. I can try very hard to bench press three hundred pounds, but it’s not going to happen. For me to bench press three hundred pounds, I need to begin training, starting with lighter weights until I build up my muscles so I can, in time, bench press the heavier weight. Remember Yoda’s statement from Star Wars: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Training necessitates engaging in spiritual disciplines. We do the things Jesus did to live the way Jesus lived. To live a Christ-like life, we order our lives around the practices of prayer, solitude, worship, giving, sacrificing, and serving. These habits need to be consistently practiced.

Teachers Work With

Paul continued, “As you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out . . .” (Phil. 2:12 NIV). Spiritual growth rarely happens in a vacuum. Maturing believers need the counsel and guidance of teachers. Paul was a teacher to the Philippians. He had instructed and had modeled for them the Christ-like life. He was the teacher; they were the students. He was faithful to his calling; they were obedient to his instructions. Optimal growth occurs when believers fall under teachers who inspire, instruct, and challenges believers to new heights. The spiritually hungry student will be open to the instructions, insights, and guidelines of a teacher. Two key elements are necessary for effective teaching: A well-prepared, learned teacher and a teachable, obedient student. A teacher can present insightful and encouraging truth, but if the student fails to hear and to apply the truth, it becomes void. Spiritual growth demands hearing and using the truth.

Believers Work Together

Paul began his sentence by indicating his fondness of the Christians in Philippi, “Therefore, my dear friends . . .” (Phil. 2:12 NIV). Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. They were a spiritual family. Believers growing spiritually are in a relationship with other believers. Just as we have a relationship with Christ, we have a relationship with like-minded believers who are pursuing spiritual maturity and Christ-like behavior.

Business people and athletes talk about the power of a team. Well, the Christian community is no different. We are a team. We need each other. Spiritual growth was never intended to be a solo event. It was always meant to be a relational activity, where believers are accountable to each other, challenge each other, encourage each other, and provide each other support in the growth process. That is why small groups and Bible study classes are so critical to spiritual growth. Together we go farther and learn more profound truths.

Three tools are used in this partnership and process to enable believers to develop spiritually. One, God’s Word teaches us how to live.

One serious about spiritual growth will live according to Biblical principles, precepts, and promises. Therefore, a believer will read, study, memorize, meditate on, and apply God’s Word.

Two, God’s Spirit guides and informs us on how to grow. The Holy Spirit provides the power, conviction, and the direction for spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit acts as an internal warning system when we begin to make wrong steps and like an applauding crowd when we take the right steps toward becoming like Jesus. God’s ultimate purpose is to make us like his Son. God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to make God’s child more like God’s Son.

Three, God uses circumstances to mature us. Events are the problems, pressures, heartaches, difficulties, and stresses of life. We rarely grow with opportunities; we grow in the midst of obstacles. Those unfortunate events often cause suffering. And, suffering gets our attention like nothing else. C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Painful circumstances—whether we bring them on ourselves, or other people cause them, or the Devil incites them—are used by God to help us grow to Christ-likeness as we follow the Spirit’s guidance and learn from God’s Word.

The spiritual growth process won’t be quick or painless, but it will be profitable. As we submit to God, able teachers, and fellow believers, we will mature into Christ-likeness.

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The Power of Influence

During the Eighteenth Century, many Quakers were wealthy, conservative slave owners. John Woolman, a Quaker, dedicated his adult life to eliminating the practice of slavery among his brethren. He spent more than twenty years visiting Quakers along the East Coast. He did not criticize people, nor did he make them angry. He merely asked questions like, “What does it mean to be a moral person? What does it mean to own a slave? What does it mean to will a slave over to one’s children?” Driven by his vision, he influenced a whole generation of people to give up slavery. By 1770, a century before the Civil War, not one Quaker owned a slave.

Certain individuals, like John Woolman, have that kind of irresistible and flaming influence that brings out the best in others. Their influence is like a fire on a cold, lifeless piece of iron. While many attempts have been made to break the iron, all have failed. But the small, soft flame curls around the iron, embracing it, and never leaving the iron until it melts under the flame’s irresistible influence.

What characterizes influencing people?

1. An undeniable dream. Woolman’s vision was to rid the world of slavery. All influencing individuals know where they are going. They have a clear sense of direction. A reason for living. A clearly defined purpose for life. Victor Hugo, the French poet, wrote, “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”

2. An unflappable tenacity. Woolman devoted much of his adult life to his dream. Influencing people refuse to quit. Nothing will discourage them. They possess remarkable staying power. They know that life cannot deny itself to the person who gives life his all. When faced with a mountain they keep on striving until they climb over, find a pass through, tunnel underneath or turn the mountain into a gold mind.

3. An undaunted faith. Woolman believed that his fellow Quakers would see the moral light. Influencing people will not allow their principles to be compromised. They are never victims of circumstances, but victors over circumstances. They are optimistic about tomorrow. They know that when one door is shut another door that is bigger and wider a little farther down the road will be opened.

4. An unyielding compassion. Woolman saw that all people regardless of skin color deserved to be free. Influencing individuals demonstrate a care and compassion for the people they are around. Love keeps the flame of influence burning brightly. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said it this way: “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”

John Woolman possessed each of these characteristics. Because of his efforts the Quakers were the first religious group to denounce and renounce slavery. In recounting this story, Robert Greenleaf pointed out: “One wonders what would have been the result if there had been fifty John Woolmans, or even five, traveling the length and breadth of the Colonies in the eighteenth-century persuading people, one by one, with gentle nonjudgmental argument that a wrong should be righted by individual voluntary action. Perhaps we would not have had the war with its 600,000 casualties and the impoverishment of the South, and with the resultant vexing social problem that is at fever heat 100 years later with no end in sight. We know now, in the perspective of history, that just a slight alleviation of the tension in the 1850s might have avoided the war. A few John Woolmans, just a few, might have made the difference.”

Woolman hated the idea of slavery and found it intolerable. He was determined to change the minds of his fellow Quakers. His vision, courage, and persistence transformed his church, his state, and ultimately his country.

One person can influence a marriage, family, school, church, community, nation, and world. What if each Christ-follower had such passion and conviction? What if each church had such a desire to change the world? Who will be the John Woolman in this generation?

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4 Realities Prayer Warriors Know

Prayer is the indispensable and vital function of a believer. No aspect of our Christian life is more essential and crucial to our personal growth and health, and the church’s growth and health, than spending time with God. We are never taller than when we are on our knees. We are never stronger than when we are confessing our weaknesses. We are never bolder in public than when we are quiet before God in private. Those individuals that have been mightily used by God have been great prayers.

What do prayer warriors know about prayer that we need to know?

1. Prayer brings God to us. Prayer is the lifeline that saves the drowning soul. Prayer is the umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the starving spirit. Prayer is the channel by which God’s life-giving presence flows to us. The essence of prayer is to join God, not God joining us. St. Augustine, the early church father and theologian, described prayer as like a man in a hapless boat who throws a rope at a rock. The rock provides the needed security and stability and life for the helpless man. When the rock is lassoed it’s not the man pulling the rock to the boat (though it may appear that way); it is the pulling of the boat to the rock. Jesus is the rock, and we throw the rope through prayer.

2. Prayer changes us. Real prayer is not only soul satisfying; it is life changing. Richard Foster wrote, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.” As we grow more and more like him we move from the rear guard to the front lines. We move from weakness to power. We move from fearfulness to boldness. We move from the comfort of the sidelines to the action of the game.

3. Prayer unleashes the power of God. Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the believer’s arsenal. Is it any wonder that the Evil One seeks valiantly to keep Christ followers from praying? The power is felt on the human front. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.” The chief priests and elders knew that these early disciples were unschooled and ordinary men, but they recognized them as having been with Jesus. Then, the power is felt on the spiritual front. Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” Prayer determines the difference between a warrior and a wimp.

4. Prayer equips us for battle. The battle is for the hearts of men and women. The war is waged as followers of Christ retake the territory of men and women’s souls that was once claimed by Satan. That’s where believers come in. God needs us on the front lines telling others about him. The war is won in the trenches of men and women’s will. We are enlisted to take the message to them. Prayer equips us for that engagement. How foolish one would be to go to battle without proper preparation, training, and equipment. How foolish are we to go to spiritual battles without prayer. We are not outfitted for the battle against evil unless we pray. John Henry Jowett claimed that “it is in the field of prayer that life’s critical battles are won or lost.” As believers and as a church we will only be triumphant in storming the lines of evil for the souls of men and women when we pray.

What would God have us do? William Arthur Wade wrote, “God wants us to be victors, not victims; to grow, not grovel; to soar, not sink; to overcome, not to be overwhelmed.” To display those traits happens as we pray. Let’s not just talk about prayer, and have seminars on prayer, and read books about prayer, and listening to sermons on prayer. Let us pray. The souls of men and women hang in the balance.

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6 Ways the Holy Spirit Works in Unbeliever’s Lives

The Holy Spirit—the personal presence of God—is at work in this world. He carries out a ministry parallel to that of Jesus and permanently abides in the life of a believer. The most important characteristic of the Holy Spirit is not who he is but what he does. The Holy Spirit is not in our world just to be something. He is here to do something. While much has been written and discussed regarding the Holy Spirit’s role with believers, what does the Holy Spirit do for the unbeliever?

Billy Graham wrote in his book The Holy Spirit, “During one of our London Crusades, a Russian nobleman came one evening. He spoke no English. Yet when the invitation was given to receive Christ he responded. The trained Russian-speaking counselor asked him how, knowing no English, he had understood enough of the message to respond so intelligently. ‘When I entered this place,’ the nobleman replied, ‘I was overwhelmed with a longing for God. Tell me, how can I find him?’”

The Holy Spirit does not indwell the unbeliever, but the Bible shows that the Holy Spirit does make contact with to influence and to affect the life of the unbeliever.

  1. The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of sin. The word convict is a judicial term that finds its setting in the courtroom. A person is on trial. The evidence is presented. The jury withdraws to the jury room and then returns. The foreperson of the jury hands the decision to the judge and he announces, “The jury has found the defendant guilty.” He has been convicted. Remember the Old Testament story of the unforgettable day when the prophet Nathan stood before David who had committed adultery with Bathsheba. The king was cornered when she became pregnant, so he manipulated the death of Uriah, her husband. And then he lied about it to his nation, Israel. He lived that lie for a year, until Nathan came and stood before him. And after a brief parable regarding taking someone else’s little lamb, he stared directly at David and said, “You are the man!” And David, without hesitation, responded, “I have sinned.” In other words, “Guilty as charged!” That’s the way it is when the Spirit works. That is the work of the Holy Spirit: to convict unbelievers, to expose the depravity of their lives and prove their guilt before God.

2. The Holy Spirit convinces the unbeliever of guilt. The defendant in the courtroom hears the verdict of the jury, “Guilty.” Something inside him or her responds to that conviction with positive acceptance. “They are right. I am guilty.” It’s like being caught with your hand in the cookie jar or the teacher seeing you as you look over the shoulder of your classmate for answers to the test question or when policeman’s flashing lights come on behind your car and you look down at your speedometer to see that you are going 75 in a 55mph zone. You’re caught. You’re guilty.

3. The Holy Spirit awakens a sense of guilt in the person convicted of wrongdoing, to bring the person who has been proven guilty to the point where he or she is ready to admit it. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever: to point him or her to a fact and then persuade him or her it is true.

4. The Holy Spirit points the unbeliever to Jesus. When Jesus was on Earth in the flesh, he made some incredible claims. He said he was the one and only answer for the problem of man, that he was the perfect righteousness of God that could cover man’s sins. Yet Jesus is gone now. We can no longer see him in the flesh. We can no longer hear him speaking directly to us. So the Holy Spirit points to the fact of Christ’s righteousness and convinces us it is true.

5. The Holy Spirit points to the cross showing how much a righteous God cared about our fellowship by dying for our sins making it possible for us to be counted among the righteous. The Holy Spirit not only shows us for what we really are, he shows Christ for who he really is. The Holy Spirit’s role is not just to condemn us in our sin, but also to convince us of our need for Jesus.

6. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of unbelievers to convict and convince them of their sin and of their need for Jesus. Only two things are needed for a person to move from an unbeliever to a believer: their own sin and the righteousness that God has provided in Jesus Christ. That’s what the Holy Spirit does to the unbeliever.

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5 Steps to a Powerful Life

The Bible speaks of a power that eclipses the most potent weapon, the strongest river, the largest atomic explosion, and the potential of the human brain. It’s the wonder working power of God. The power that can change a life, calm a soul, set a captive free, and change the world.

The word often translated power in the New Testament is dynamis, the origin of the English word dynamite. The inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, found a way to take a volatile substance nitroglycerin, and make it stable. The dynamis of God makes a volatile life stable by infusing his followers with the capacity to do his powerful work in the world.

Our omnipotent God, through the Holy Spirit, wants to gives us more power.

God’s power given to his people will make politicians jealous, will amaze the naturalist, will bewilder the scientist, and will overwhelm the executive. Each day God wants to give you and me, common, ordinary people, as we are, his power to accomplish his work.

When the Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost and took control of the believers’ lives, his presence had an immediate effect, then and now.

Human frailties are transformed into supernatural gifts and abilities. From the moment the Holy Spirit arrived, nothing about the disciples remained the same. When his power fell upon them, they spoke in another language. From their lips flowed words they had never spoken before in languages they had never learned. These once frightened, unsure, timid, confused men never again evidenced such inadequacies.

Fearful reluctance is transformed into bold confidence.Before Jesus’ resurrection, these same disciples were afraid of being found by the Jews so they hid secretly behind closed doors. They were frozen in fear. But that was then. Now they poured into the public streets of Jerusalem preaching Christ and urging total strangers to repent and to believe in Jesus. Even the authorities and their attackers noticed the difference in these men. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV). While they did not look any differently physically, nor had they taken crash courses that made them cultured and sophisticated, they were different. They were changed men.

Bitter suffering is transformed into joyful perseverance. Now bold in their witness and strong in their stand these early disciples felt the sting of Pharisaical blows. In an effort to squelch their preaching the Pharisees ordered Peter and John flogged. “They called the disciples in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:40 NIV). The Jewish leaders must have thought that the flogging would shut them up for good. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42 NIV). The Amplified Bible says they were “dignified by the indignity.” The flogging, the warning, and the threat merely fueled the fire of their determination. In fact, they left rejoicing. Joy filled their hearts. The wimps had become warriors.

Whenever I call my IT guy, the first question he asks is: “Is your computer plugged in?” If we want to see the power of God work in our lives, we must be plugged in. Here’s how—

  • Pray for his power. We do not have because we do not ask.
  • Obey his instructions. The power of God’s Spirit comes in direct proportion to our obedience.
  • Worship his majesty. Worship is the pathway of connecting with God. Remember the early disciples were recognized as having been with Jesus.
  • Expect his blessings. We must believe that God will do what he has promised.
  • Rejoice in his service. Rejoicing in God in spite of our circumstances is a sure indication that we know that God is in control.
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6 Revolutionary Facts Concerning God’s Guidance

Though the Bible never uses the word guidance, it does speak of a Guide. We may seek guidance, but God provides something better—himself.

God’s guidance rests on two facts: One, the reality of God’s plan for us. God has formed us for an “eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11) (literally, a “plan of the ages” or “a plan for the fullness of time”) “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11).

The second fact is our ability to communicate with God. Since we are communicative animals, so our Maker is a communicative God. He made his will known to and through Old Testament prophets. He guided Jesus and Paul. Acts records several instances of detail guidance.

And why wouldn’t God want to communicate his plan to us? We are his children. If human parents have a responsibility to give their children guidance in matters where ignorance and incapacity would spell danger, we should not doubt that in the family of God the same applies. He has given us his Word, the Bible, which in my opinion, contains 95% of his will for our lives. He has left us the indwelling presence of his Holy Spirit to prompt and direct our lives. He seeks his glory in our lives, and he is glorified in us when we obey his will.

Yet many of us struggle to understand and discern God’s guidance for our lives. We ask questions like: Should I marry or not? Should I marry this person or not? Should we have another child? Should I join this church or that one? Which profession should I follow? What job should I take? Is my present line of work the one to stay in? Herein lies the major distortion of knowing and doing God’s will. Does God lead and direct in these areas? Yes. Does he come out and overtly tell us what to do? Rarely.

So how does God guide us? What does God’s guidance look like? Let me give you a few clarifying statements.

  1. God’s guidance concerns itself more with our steps than our overall journey. Meaning, if we are taking the right steps the journey will take care of itself.
  2. God’s guidance is more preoccupied with the present than with the future. God dwells in eternity; he is not bound by time. If we become preoccupied with future journey, we may miss the present step.
  3. God’s guidance has less to do with geography and more to do with morality. His supreme plan for you and me is to be like his son (Rom. 8:29). He can accomplish that plan whether you are living in Montreal or Miami, working for ATT or BASF. In other words, it is better we make a mistake about geography than about the morality.
  4. God’s guidance is more interested in our character than our comfort. God’s goal always has been to perfect us spiritually not to pamper us physically. Americans read the Bible with distorted lens. We read over the suffering, persecution, toil, and pain that most believers in the Bible endured. Too often we equate God’s will with success and comfort, and think we are outside God’s will when we faced with failure and pain.
  5. God’s guidance is not insider information. Often we want to know beforehand which step will lead to money, happiness, and success. Let me give you a test. Do you really want God’s guidance? Then, how often do you seek God’s guidance when you are not facing trouble or a difficult decision?
  6. God’s guidance is that we purse the Guide more than guidance. In seeking God, his plan will be revealed.

If the step is more critical than the journey and the present of great consequence than the future and the Guide more essential than the guidance, what is needed? We need to know the right step to take, what we must do in the present, and the Guide. God does not guide us magically; he guides us relationally. The Bible, therefore, must be studied so we may become acquainted with the ways and thoughts of God. God’s aim is that we become his companions that walk with him. He already knows us. Now he wants us to understand and know him. The more we understand him, the more real the relationship, and the more likely we are to keep in step with him, in the direction he is taking us.

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