A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

1 Thessalonians 5:17-21 "Testing Spirits"

The Holy Spirit is real and vital to a church that pleases God.  We cannot please God apart from the Holy Spirit.  And when the Holy Spirit is present in a church, ministry will occur that cannot be explained in any other way.  Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised, will do the same Spirit empowered things that Jesus himself did.  Sick will often be healed.  God will speak to our hearts.  Motives of the heart will be discerned.  Miracles will happen.  Those in spiritual bondage will be freed.  The broken-hearted will be restored.   And in a spiritually healthy church, this will happen in a very Biblical and balanced way.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-21, Paul gives instruction and warning concerning manifestations of the Holy Spirit in church.  “Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt; test everything and hold on to the good.”

We are told here to listen when people have things to say that God has laid on their hearts.  If God has given someone a Word of Knowledge or a prophetic warning, we should listen –but we should also be discerning.  We are told to test everything.  1 John 4:1 says it even a little stronger.  “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

A false prophet is anyone who claims that God laid something on his or her heart to share that isn’t actually from God.  Most people would not intentionally try to deceive the church.  But the problem is that it’s not always easy to know if that inner prompting I’m feeling is God or if it’s just my own feelings.  It’s not always obvious if God is telling me to say something or if it’s just my own mind, or if some spiritual being other than the Holy Spirit is trying to manipulate my feelings and thoughts.  Sometimes what we want to say is true.  Sometimes we really believe that others need to hear what we have to say.  But if the source is not God, even truth turns out to be something selfish or prideful and contrary to God’s purposes.  This is why we are told to test the spirits.

The Bible doesn’t give us a specific test that covers every situation.  It doesn't even give us a list of things to look for or to match against.  What it does give us are some fundamental principles.

I think that testing the spirits can be summed up in these three questions: How does this experience or manifestation affect my attitude toward God?  How does it affect my attitude toward Scripture? And how does it affect my attitude toward other Christians?

When we have any kind of religious experience, whether a prompting to speak or an ecstatic experience, or a deeply moving emotion, we have to ask ourselves:  How does this affect my relationship with God?   Does it honor God?  Does it give Him glory?  Does it affirm His sovereignty?  Does it cause me to love Him more deeply?  Does it draw me closer to God? And finally –and this is vital - Does it make God the center of attention?  If my religious experience causes me love Jesus, magnify the Lord, worship and adore Him; if it has purified my concept of God; if causes God to appear more wonderful and glorious, then it probably is an experience from God.  If, however, this experience in any way detracts from God, diminishes Jesus or exalts or makes anyone or anything other than God the center of attention, watch out.

The next question is: How does this experience relate to God’s already revealed Word?  God will never reveal anything to you as truth that is not Scriptural. God’s Word is eternal –We don’t reinterpret it to make it socially acceptable or politically correct, and if our experience doesn’t match what the Bible shows to be eternal truth, we are the ones that are wrong.  So, when God lays something on our hearts, or when the Holy Spirit reveals something to us, it will always reflect Biblical truth.  If it causes us ignore God’s Word or invent creative ways to interpret God’s Word or look for loop holes in God’s Word, it’s not from God.  It is that simple.

And the final question we must ask is:  “How does this affect my relationship with other believers?”  We know because God’s Word already tells us that God’s intention for the church is unity, His desire for the Body is that we love each other, His plan for humanity is reconciliation.  We know that God calls us to be forgiving, merciful, graceful people.  We know that we are to build one another up and edify each other.  These are things the Bible clearly teaches.  God will not prompt us to say things or do things that are contrary to His Word, so we know that anything from God whether a prompting or a revelation will help the Body of Christ, not harm it.  When people claiming to be Spirit-Filled, leave a trail of wounded brothers and sisters in their wake, that’s a problem.
So, when someone says, “I have a word from the Lord,” we need to ask these three questions: How does this affect my relationship with God?  How does this affect my understanding of God’s Word?  How does this affect my relationship with God’s people?

When testing the spirits or when receiving promptings and urges ourselves, we need to ask those questions plus analyze our situation and motivation.  Does what I think I should say or do have some self-serving motivation?  Is it from God or does it simply allow me to vent frustration?  Is it from God or is it simply an opinion I feel strongly about?  If it is from God it will build the Body, honor God’s Word, and cause God to be worshiped. 

“Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt; test everything and hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-21)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"I'm Going Fishing" John 21:3

The words seem simple enough.  "I'm going fishing."  If I said them to my wife, they would mean something like, "I need a break and a little alone time."  If I said them to my friends or my brothers, they would be an invitation and if we are lucky, they might imply a fish fry later.  When Peter said, "I'm going fishing," however, they meant something more like, "I am a complete failure and I give up."

In the book of John leading up to this announcement, we have the story of how Peter denied Jesus and suffered from deep remorse and guilt.  Even though Jesus rose again from the dead, Peter could not forgive himself for denying his friend and Savior.  In his mind, he began to think that he had done the unforgivable.  Maybe his betrayal of Jesus had disqualified himself from whatever plans Jesus originally had for him.  Certainly his betrayal had disqualified him from whatever the plan was for the rest of the group.  

All of the disciples had been afraid when Jesus was arrested and executed.  The others had all run and hid.  Peter had followed at a distance, but when confronted had actually said, "I'm not with that man; I don't know that man' leave me the #*x$!!! alone."  And even worse than Peter knowing that in his friend's hour of greatest need he had denied their friendship, Jesus knew. How could Jesus ever trust him again?  How could he even look Jesus in the eye?  He was so ashamed.   

So, when Jesus rose from the grave, while the rest of the disciples rejoiced, after much thought, Peter made a decision.  Since he was no longer fit for service to Jesus, he decided that he had better get back to work and pick up where he had left off three years earlier when Jesus had first called him to follow. Peter had been a commercial fisherman.  So, Peter announced to the others, “I’m going fishing.” And to his surprise, six of the other disciples decided to go with him. 

In the big picture, this turned out to be a bigger issue than the betrayal.  Now, you see, not only was Peter walking away from Jesus and His calling on Peter's life, but Peter was taking others with him. Fortunately even though Peter left Jesus, Jesus did not give up on Peter and fully forgave and restored him.  It's beautiful story (John 21).

So, this fishing trip had a happy ending -still, there’s a lesson here for us.  Sometimes we tend to think that our thoughts and actions and beliefs and moral values are a personal matter.  We think that as long as we don’t hurt anyone else, it doesn’t matter what we do or what we think or how we talk.  But the problem is that life is not lived in a vacuum –everything we think and do and say affects other people.  There is no such thing as doing or saying wrong things and hurting only ourselves.  Whenever I do wrong or say something wrong, it hurts others.  
--> There is no way around it.  Our words and choices and actions influence others whether we want them to or not.  How we live matters.  We influence others.  

Lord Jesus, Thank you for the influence you have given me.  Help me to live in such a way that my words and actions and even my thoughts influence others to seek You and find You.  May my life lead people to You and never away from You. Amen.