SERPENTS AND DOVES

 

What do they have in common? I would not use them in the same sentence. Jesus did. He tells us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16) as we go into a world that does not know our message and doesn’t want it. Snakes are shrewd, quick, and cautious. Doves are harmless and without guile.

 

Can we be both at the same time? Sometimes. I gave a corrective word to a member of our household. I used some wisdom in what I said but not kindness in how I said it. I gave force to my words, even though I did not raise my voice. I was not a dove. The Lord convicted me of not representing the gentleness of Jesus, and I asked for forgiveness.
Titus encourages us “to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all men” (3:2). Paul told Timothy to be gentle even toward those who opposed him (2 Tim. 2:25). Admonitions often arise with a sense of righteous indignation. They take us over the top, and we lose the innocence. Think Phil Robertson. Done that. Think Westboro Baptist Church. Haven’t done that. Shame on them for grossly misrepresenting both the wisdom and gentleness of God.

 

Grace without truth is sentimentality, but truth without grace is brutality, and you end up with neither. Westboro needs to know that “the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). They not only have adopted the wrong methods—they changed the message. Phil got the message right, for which I applaud him. He probably used too much force and some of the wrong words to communicate the truth about human sexuality. Westboro proclaims an angry god who hates homos. Not even close. God hates spending time with proud people. They remind Him of Satan. The pastor didn’t notice when God left the building.

 

So would you rent to a young Christian couple with good jobs and a desire to follow Jesus if the guy has a DUI from a year ago? I say ask Jesus, “Is this the time to be shrewd or innocent?” The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is wielded best by the Spirit of God. He will tell you which side to come down on. With some interactions, we show some of the serpent and the dove. With other issues, we will move to this side or that. That is not being wishy-washy. It is listening to God who is the Spirit!

 

“As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). We prove we are in the family by the way the Spirit guides us. And Jesus said He would guide us into all the truth! An incredible promise.

THE GIFT OF CRITICISM

 

Criticism doesn’t feel good. It sometimes attacks us at a place where we already experience insecurity. Ouch! How then did Brother Paul learn to get joy from insults and other kinds of attacks? They always brought him low, the very place where he could access grace. It is never found in the highlands, only in low places.

 

When we react to a judgmental word, we prove the need for it. When we live like our apostle friend, a word of correction and a word of affirmation do the same thing—produce a grateful heart. Affirmations build us up, “thank you kindly.” Difficult words humble us, showing us our weakness, which is where the veteran missionary learned to live.

 

Paul wrote: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9, 10). Several truths surface:

 

God doesn’t waste anything. He is an economist. As a friend says, “Everything counts.” We give thanks in all things, because we have come to recognize the sovereignty of God. He truly controls the universe, including your universe. So when Shimei cursed David at one of the lowest points in his life, he could say, “Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him” (2 Sam. 16:11).

 

One goal of a Christ-follower is to come to the place where criticism connects us to the grace of God. Not there yet, but I choose to be. I don’t want to justify my reaction to criticism, as if I am allowed to grumble because the attack was unkind or this person really meant to hurt.

 

Whether the criticism was accurate or not did not matter to Paul. God could always use it to bring him low, so he could appropriate more grace. We desperately need grace. Because God is on the throne, He causes all things to work together for good, but only if we cooperate. Our reaction proves our brokenness and perhaps our need for what is bringing the reaction. Healthy people learn not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good. It’s a much better way to live. What a gift to give to our spouse, our children, our friends.

 

This requires a strong view of the reign of God. The next time you get criticized, try to take it as something to thank God for. He is going to use it to develop your character. You prayed to be more like Christ. He is answering your request. Surprise, it doesn’t happen the way you thought, with things going your way. It happens through pain, just as Jesus “learned obedience through the things that he suffered.” Welcome to the process!

 

Even our reaction to criticism brings a gift, showing us areas of emotional ill health. This wake-up call demonstrates that something inside needs to change. So instead of quieting the accusing word, we quiet the turmoil the word created. That comes when we let God heal us and bring us emotional stability.

 

When we find ourselves occasionally thanking God for critical words, we’re getting it. When we don’t react but express gratitude, we passed, overcoming evil with good, rejoicing in all things. Hey, Paul did. You’re next!

GET MARRIED!

 

I did at age 31. Wish I had not overestimated ministry and under-estimated marriage. We could have married earlier and had more kids. Too many young men do the same. I tell them that marriage IS ministry and urge them to get a job, get a house, get a wife, and get a child—in that order!

 

As a youth director, I tried to keep the guys and gals apart. Now Karen and I are trying to get them together. Some guys have the chicken spirit. I have told them I understand and will help them. The Bible says, “He that finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). Finding means looking. I do what I can to break guys out of passivity and into an aggressive search. Many are just waiting. Makes for a lot of discouraged women.

 

Looking means dating. I don’t believe in recreational dating. What’s the point? Not much goes well with recreational dating. Tell me what good happens to a guy and a girl alone late at night. A few years ago I told a jammed crowd of young adults in our basement that Karen and I wanted to meet with every couple that started dating. A guy from the back yelled out an in-your-face question: “Why?” My immediate answer, “Because if I asked you to raise your hand if you had some sad stories about relationships that were bad or broken, most of you would put your hand up.” He got the point. So did everyone else.

 

Since then we have met with the majority of couples that started dating. Dating with the view toward marriage makes sense. Dating with the view toward having fun does not, unless it releases people into a place of freedom with the opposite sex and good boundaries are in place.

 

We talk straightforwardly about them. Because of our “urge to merge,” we encourage agreement between a guy and a gal and accountability with mentors regarding boundaries, like a) never alone in a house or apartment, b) never let the feet leave the ground, c) don’t touch trigger points meant to move you toward merger, and d) no prolonged making out. When relationships get too physical, some meant to lead toward the altar don’t. Really sad! Many dating couples are accountable to no one. Where’s Dad? (Wish I had been far more involved).

 

Dads and Moms, talk in MUCH detail with you teens and beyond about specifics. Ask where they are going, what they are doing, who they are with, what they plan to watch. Ask how physical they are. Ask why they are dating. Find out everything you can about the date and do not let them date someone who is not a healthy Christian. Being a Christian is not enough! Sadly, most Christians sleep together before marriage. Shouldn’t happen.

 

Be vulnerable about your relationships, good and bad. Then we won’t have to pray with so many to lift the shame of crossing lines they did not intend to cross—or did intend and succeeded.

 

If kids say, “Don’t you trust me?” respond, “Of course I don’t. That is why I guard myself as a married person and why I’m interrogating you.” Sadly, few parents talk with their children about these important details. That can change. Healthy courtships build trust and strengthen lifelong marriages. Young adult, don’t get nervous if your parents pry. They are out to protect you. Don’t say something stupid like, “I’m an adult.” Thine anger saith too much. Those who want to honor God and live a pure life welcome accountability.

REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR

 

If you believe that God is restoring a friendship or a marriage, bringing victory in an area of defeat, sending revival, or empowering you for a new ministry—repent.

 

It means to change your mind, which impacts a behavioral change. John and Jesus preached the same message. It must be really important. There are two parts to the statement, a command, then an explanation as to why.

 

If His kingdom is coming near, we get ready by repentance. It clears the deck, stripping our excuses, claiming rights or desiring to do it my way.

 

If the King is coming close, we anticipate greater peace, greater power. This means going low to receive the King. This does not come by a few half-hearted prayers. It comes by wholehearted repentance. It’s a gift. Ask for it—then do it!

 

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR

The only way for the kingdom to get close is for the King to get close. That’s good news. God rules differently than earthly rulers. Jesus said that “the Gentiles lord it over” those under their charge (Mark 10:42). Domination and manipulation are common rules of the game. God rules like a shepherd: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. (Psalm 23). The Psalmist says, “Righteous is your reign.” Who would not welcome this kind of ruler?

 

REPENT

I begin my prayer time with thanks. Then I go to repentance. Recently, as I moved from thanksgiving to repentance, the Lord said, “This is important.” I took that to mean that it is good to repent. It gave me joy that morning to repent, to acknowledge how far I was away from the character of the Father’s beloved Son. I knew that God was changing me as I acknowledged my great need for renovation. I felt His kingdom coming closer.

 

Corporate repentance often accompanies or precedes revival. Vulnerability releases grace and keeps the revival Christ-centered and cross-focused. Therefore, “confess you sins to one another…” (Js. 5:16).

 

We are not accustomed to God’s kind of rule. We relate to many substandard rulers in our lives. We learn to react rather than respond. We excuse or blame rather than confess, as I did recently when my daughter exhorted me about the time I was spending (or not) with the family. I reacted defensively. The next morning I thanked her and told her I was sorry. She used the occasion to exhort me even more!

 

Why repent? Because the things you need to repent of will keep you from meeting the King. Jesus doesn’t hang with whiners—He rebukes them. And he judges the self-righteous. Here are some wrong ways to repent: Make it general, apply it to Harvey, or to where you don’t need it, or make excuses for not doing it, or substitute an emotional response for real change.

 

Some right ways:

Ask someone wiser how to do it. Take the first step. Don’t wait for God to do something. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Acknowledge that you need change, more love, more joy, more passion for lost people. Tell God and a close friend. Tell Him you want to change, then do what you would do if you knew you had changed. That is the fruit of repentance. Then watch God change your heart!

 

 

SIX THINGS THE SPIRIT CAN DO FOR YOU

Jesus didn’t teach much about the Holy Spirit. But He lived in the power of the Spirit. As He prepared to leave, He instructed His disciples on the Spirit. The greatest transition in ministry was soon to occur.

 

The disciples felt devastated, but they would not doubt once this exchange took place. So great would be the influence of the Spirit that they would never wish Jesus back. What was Jesus offering in the Upper Room that could supersede His presence?

 

  1. LIVE WITHIN US.

Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever…for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16,17). Jesus had been with them for three years. “With” tells us the relationship of the Holy Spirit to people under the Old Covenant; “in” describes the new, as Ezekiel prophesied: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees…” (36:27).

 

The radical benefit of having God choose to live in our bodies cannot be overestimated.

Throughout the Old Testament God had chosen a place to dwell, first the tabernacle, then the temple. When Jesus came, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” If you wanted God, look for Jesus. But now Jesus said that God would be personally present where His people were. The same God who lived at the tabernacle would now be living inside. Radical!

 

  1. COUNSEL US PERSONALLY.

When Jesus spoke about “another Counselor,” He used a now famous New Testament word, “paraclete” in English, to talk about a primary role of the Spirit. Means many things: coach, comforter, trainer, helper. The Paraclete goes one-on-one, defending, encouraging, exhorting when we need a kick, and counseling when we need a clear path.

 

  1. TEACH US ACCURATELY.

Jesus said that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:25,26). No teacher can make that claim. The Spirit has infinite access to information about us, God, the world. We desperately need the Spirit, more than any teacher, pastor or mentor. The Spirit within is always close, instructing and guiding into greater truth.

 

  1. MAKE CHRIST OUR CENTER.

Jesus further said that “when the Counselor comes…he will testify about me” (15:26)…He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (16:14). The great mystery of the Gospel, hidden for centuries, but now about to be revealed to those ready to receive it, was: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), made real through the empowering Holy Spirit. “For me to live is Christ.”

 

  1. CONVICT THE WORLD.

“When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). We were commanded to let our lights shine and allow the Spirit to do the convicting. Good news! This happens powerfully in times of revival, like now!

 

  1. GUIDE US EFFECTIVELY.

“When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (16:13). Our inheritance in Christ includes the guidance of the Spirit: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). We prove our adoption into the Father’s family by the guidance we receive through the Spirit’s internal GPS.

 

Paul closed his second letter to the Corinthians with this benediction: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!” Grace empowers, the love of God captures us and gives us identity. The fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit makes it all work. Every Christian activity (prayer, worship, outreach, and compassionate care) takes place through partnership between you and the Holy Spirit. Halleluia!

 

 

 

THE EMOTIONS OF THE SPIRIT

 

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).

 

To grieve means “to cause to feel grief, to make sad.” Incredible: our attitudes and actions impact the God within. We can actually cause Him pain. The word “grieve” and “grave,” meaning “sober, serious,” come from the same Latin root. And what makes this power we hold to bring grief to God more serious is that we have been sealed with the Spirit for all time.

 

The Spirit finally left King Saul when he continued to make bad decisions. An evil spirit came in His place. Under the Old Covenant, God sent His Spirit to special people for special assignments. If they violated their calling, the Spirit left. David prayed after committing adultery, “Take not your Holy Spirit from me.” He knew the influence of God’s presiding Spirit, and hoped he would not be left on his own after grievous sin.

 

The New Covenant, with better promises than the Old, makes our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit throughout our life in Christ. This means that we have immediate and ongoing access to God the Spirit—for guidance, teaching, encouragement, exhortation, and empowering. What a powerful and precious gift.

 

This also means that our actions impact the God within, hardly a distant deity, as close as our breath, a part of every emotion we feel. The Spirit of grace leads us to speak grace. The context of our verse of not grieving the Spirit is getting rid of all forms of sin, including unwholesome talk, bitterness, and unforgiveness. When we choose to resist His direction and speak shame, grumbling or criticizing (29), the Spirit of truth is grieved. Can we tell? Yes, if we sensitize ourselves to the God in our body, no if we are only alive to our personal well-being.

 

The Greeks believed in gods who were above pain, beyond our ability to impact for good or evil. They considered it a weakness that mortals could have an effect on the gods. But the prophet wrote, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). In the incarnation the Man of Sorrows entered our suffering. When Jesus left, the lives of the apostolic community were invaded by the Spirit. Instead of Immanuel (God with us), it was and is God within us. We can bring joy to the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit can also be grieved, quenched, resisted, lied to, insulted, or blasphemed.

 

God is not above feeling, and that should delight us. One thing I loved about my parents is that they were moved by what moved us. When a sister faced difficult trials in college, I gave her advice, but my mother cried with her. She was reflecting the heart of the Father. Jesus told about His Father in the story of the prodigal son, a father moved by the pain of his wayward boy, full of forgiveness. Mercy is moved by misery rather than being coldly detached. I could give advice without feeling my sister’s deep struggle; my mom couldn’t escape it. Neither can the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t vacate the premises when injured—but He grieves. Praise Him for it, and seek to give Him pleasure!

THE TRICK OF FORTUNE TELLING

 

So I was asked during a break of our Holy Spirit seminar in Duluth recently about fortune telling. Ron was enjoying a party, when the host asked, “Want your fortune told?” He was shocked when the psychic shook a glass, then commented on things in his past he had forgotten. Words about the future also seemed to ring true. Looked like fun. I said, “Good question. We’ll take it up with the group.”

 

We reconvened and I said, “Satan has a dossier on you all. He knows your history and remembers it better than you do. He does not know your future but has some ideas because of what he has observed. Satan is not omniscient, omnipresent, nor omnipotent. He can’t read minds. Only God exists in the eternal present, the Great I Am. The reason over three hundred prophesies about Jesus all came true is that for God there is neither past nor future. To Him a thousand years are as a day. After the curtain call of history when the King returns, time will be engulfed by eternity, and all in Christ will spend a forever with God. Long time.

 

People are intrigued by the seeming accuracy of fortune-tellers and buy in as a legitimate way to come to truth. Truth is moral. It requires not only accurate information but a reliable source. Satan is not, which is why Jesus muffled a demon who said, “I know who you are, the holy One of God” (Mk. 1:24). Fortune telling is meant to intrigue us, so we open a door to enemy infiltration. Fortune-tellers are influenced by demons, not by God, and they only know some facts, not all, so they mislead people.

 

People are often foiled by legitimate ends, even when the means are troublesome. How could a nation, many of them Christians, allow Hitler to eliminate six million Jews? They had legitimized his end and overlooked his means. The means become the end—always! Tampering with the powers of darkness, even playfully, such as with ouija boards, puts us in the camp of the enemy. Not a good idea.

 

Sorcery, witchcraft, black magic, and fortune telling have a sinister pull on our flesh. Sorcery is called a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20), because the person outside of Christ is naturally drawn to the work of demons and Satan. The devil gives people the appearance that he is safe, fun and enchanting (think TV), and people choose him rather than God. The Bible calls it spiritual prostitution, finding pleasure in the underworld rather than in a good God. Israel was warned not to even dabble with mediums. Anyone who does is playing with fire—hell fire! Those who continue are eventually devoured (I Peter 5:8) by the forces of darkness. Many psychics do not even know that they are being used by the devil. They think they are simply “gifted,” and they are. They honor demons, who give them a level of information and influence, which they enjoy. They need to be loved—and delivered!

 

“If a person turns to mediums…I will set my face against that person…” (Lev. 20:6).

“There shall not be found among you anyone who…practices divination or tells fortunes…for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord” (Deut. 18:10-13). “And when they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums…’ should not a people inquire of their God?’” (Isaiah 8:19). The all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise, all-good God is sufficient!

THE POWER OF DESPERATION

 

Desperate people in the Bible have something in common. Their situation became so distasteful that they abandoned protocol. Bartimaeus sat by the roadside and begged. When he heard the commotion, he asked what it was about. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He thought, “Here’s my chance.” So he cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” People told him to be quiet. He was sticking out. Crowds do that; it’s never about the crowd. It’s about the one who dares to break through the crowd. He may be thinking, “Yeah, I shouldn’t be yelling. No one else is yelling. But I hate not seeing.” So he cried out louder: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus responded to his cry and healed him. I wonder if others thought, “Crum, I should have yelled.” Jesus never passed that way again!

 

What’s this about a rich guy climbing a tree? Why not call a limo? Desire gone to seed turned to passion, and he was willing to go out on a limb. It paid off. Jesus invited Himself over, and salvation came to the short man.

 

One woman with an issue of blood—for twelve years. No doctor could heal her. She was desperate, but she was also unclean. The law forbade her from touching anyone, but she broke through the crowd. Remember: it’s not about the crowd. Her desperation healed her. Jesus said, “Who touched me?” She got ready for the rebuke, but she got a blessing instead.

 

Lepers had to keep their distance—on threat of stones. But one was tired of being diseased. We are told that “a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:40, 41). His boldness touched Jesus—and Jesus touched him.

 

A man woke his friend up at midnight with a desperate need. A guest had come, and he had nothing to serve him. Middle Eastern hospitality demanded it. The neighbor gave him four clear “no’s,” but the visitor would not leave—and he got his bread, three loaves.

 

Likewise, a Canaanite mother, desperate to see her daughter delivered from a demon, received four negative responses, but she refused to leave, and Jesus marveled at her faith and healed her daughter.

 

Hardships such as these people faced turn into discouragement and giving up for most. For these it went the opposite direction to desperation. Which route do your hardships take you? The answer is on the way. Jesus made it clear that we were to pray and never give up in the story of the widow, who must have felt like quitting. Good thing she didn’t (Luke 18:1-7).

 

The prophet wrote, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness…” (Isaiah 62:1). Let us pray with that persistence for our family, church, city, state, country. God answers desperate prayer!

SIBLINGS–FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE

 

God puts siblings together for a purpose. One is to create tension. Look at the combinations: Mary and Martha, Peter and Andrew, James and John, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau. Differences create tension. As a friend says, “Tension doesn’t mean something is wrong. It means something is happening.”

 

It’s all about relationships. Look at the Great Commandment: “Love God, love one another.” The most important relationships are family, and many have unresolved conflict. Blame God for the tension. We need to ask what is happening rather than fight. Jacob and Esau finally resolved their conflicts—but their children have not! Check out the Middle East and the one little piece of real estate in the center.

 

Tension between Cain and Abel ended tragically. It almost went that way with Jacob and Esau, but divine intervention helped to bring peace. The conflict between Mary and Martha didn’t escalate to murderous threats, but Martha made a brazen comment to the honored Guest. Mary managed to be at His feet rather than in His face, and she got the affirmation, while Martha, Martha got a stinging correction. The next dinner party showed that they had successfully dealt with their issues.

 

How about you? Do you live with unresolved conflict? Do you need to close the loop in any family relationships? What unfinished business might God hold you responsible to help heal? Maybe these questions can help in the process.

 

What is the cause of the tension in my relationships?

How is God wanting to use the tension?

How have I reacted to the tension?

Where have I shown pride and where have I demonstrated humility?

What is unresolved in my relationships with siblings and others?

What do I need to do to close the loop?

What qualities has God been working on through the tension?

Am I learning to walk toward tension, or do I still walk away from it?

What does tension do to me?

 

For a decade I have been thanking God for tension since coming to realize its value. It is productive in the lives of people who know it comes as a friend to be embraced rather than as an obstacle to avoid (James 1:2). I see it working good things in our young adult community and smile when it rises up, because it shows that God is at work. Where people learn to respond rightly, it always accomplishes something good. I have only seen three examples in ten years working with Communitas where stubborn reaction created a separation rather than a healing.

 

God’s highest goal for you is that you look like His Son (Rom. 8:29). That cannot be accomplished without pain and tension. Embrace it now by faith, knowing it is bringing the priceless gift of character (James 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5) and healing families—like yours!