Radical Economy of Grace

“You reap what you sow…”

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Karma.

These are all expressions of the Law of Reciprocity. It is the ruling principle for economic and social relationships in the natural world.

Jesus came to radically reverse the economy of the world system. In order to do this, He had to pay the massive debt owed by every person as the result of sin.  “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus cancelled the sin debt by enduring the pain of suffering and death of crucifixion. The new economy is based upon grace and mercy. Jesus Christ paid all debts with His act of love on the cross and provided a superabundant fund of good merit from which anyone may draw when they put faith in Christ.

The natural world is primarily ruled by “balanced reciprocity,” which is: “the direct exchange of goods of approximately equal value within a relatively narrow period of time” (Green, “The Gospel of Luke” from The New International Commentary series, p. 202). Next there is “generalized reciprocity”. This is found among the members of a family—usually parents and children, but in some cultures and instances the extended family as well. In generalized reciprocity, “the exchange is essentially one sided, altruistic, the giving of a gift without explicit stipulations for any reciprocation in kind” (ibid. p. 202).

Jesus taught His disciples to invert the world system, to extend generalized reciprocity beyond the trusted boundary of family into the hostile territory of our enemies. As Jesus’ disciples we are to love our enemies by doing good to them, praying for them and blessing them, even though they may curse us. This is no lofty, unattainable ideal for super-Christians, it is Christ’s expectation for all of His followers all of the time. It is central to the life called “Christian”. If this teaching of Jesus were heeded seriously, it could radically transform every society and culture where there are Christ-followers.

How can we do this? Is Jesus calling us to be dishonored doormats? He is calling us to be like Himself. As the Roman soldiers drove the nails into His hands, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Yet how will we have the courage to do this? Jesus said, “if someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes something from you do not demand it back” (Luke 6:29-30 contemporized by Pastor D). Do I have to give up all of my possessions simply because immoral people demand them? Do you open up your home to anyone who is homeless? Should we to spend all of our leisure time “going the second mile” for ungrateful people (see Matthew’s version of Jesus’ message, in 5:41)?  Who will protect me?  Who will take care of my needs?  That is exactly the point: the Father will provide for and protect me. I must follow the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

I don’t just give without thought. I pray. I must abide in Christ. I ask for wisdom from His Holy Spirit before I act rashly, or refuse to act on the basis of self-protection and selfish motives. I act: 1) in obedience to Christ’s command, 2) with discretion from the Holy Spirit, and 3) in the true best interest of the other, whether friend or foe, family or outsider, honest or criminal. This is God’s agape’ love. We can do this because we have a God and Father who promises to repay and care for us. In fact, when we act in obedience to Christ’s command and teaching, we are abiding in Him and thereby actively placing ourselves in the care and favor of His Almighty Father, and ours (cf. John 15:5-10, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:1-10).

“Give and it will be given to you…”

The way the world works when it concerns money or the use of any material resource is this: Get as much as you can. Invest in whomever or whatever will bring you the most profit. Giving is foolish. Why give your money to someone who hasn’t earned it, or who will do nothing for you?

The way God’s Kingdom works is different. Giving is investing. It is investing in a person who needs help, or in a church that promotes God’s love and preaches the Good News. The person who gives from a cheerful heart to a holy cause relies on God, not human beings, to bring the increase.

I believe that when I represent Christ and tip a waiter or other service person, I will receive an increase from God. When I give assistance to a person in genuine need, God will reimburse me and bless me over and above my gift. When I tithe to my church, I am demonstrating my trust in God’s provision and promise regarding money.

If human beings were in touch with God and allowed their hearts to be their guide, government welfare programs would be largely unused. There would be less poverty. They would follow the primitive Christian example: sell property (or valuable possessions) and give the money to help the needy among them. It was a sort of voluntary communism. Christ-followers weren’t forced to do this, they chose to do it to help their brothers and sisters. 

Now, I’d say there would be no poverty if we all followed the leading of our hearts and listened to God, but I realize that what Jesus said remains true. “The poor you will always have with you.” Why is this? Not everyone can handle wealth. Not everyone will work. People make mistakes with money. So, there will always be a need for charity to help the poor. That is good. It teaches all of us what’s important.

So, do you follow the worldly model for money, or God’s economic plan. God’s plan will lead you to be a consistent giver. Following this plan means you trust God–not people–to bring you the increase and meet your needs. What you do with your money says everything about what, or who, you believe in.

A brief word on reacting naturally vs. responding with wisdom from God and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

1) The need is not the call. You cannot help everyone everywhere.

2) Give cheerfully, not grudgingly or under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7)

3) Give without expecting a return. 

4) Don’t loan if you cannot do without it (Prov. 22:36, 5:42)

5) Pray globally, serve and give locally. Help your neighbor.

6) Don’t run after well publicized, and usually well-funded, campaigns. Look for the underserved and underfunded.

7) Be practical. Ask critical questions. What can I/we do that will help the situation/these people. You’re not there to be noticed or make your conscience feel better.

8) If you’ve gone to serve somewhere, do something helpful. Don’t stand around. Don’t get in the way of others. Let the more experienced lead the way.

9) If you think you’re too busy, or that you don’t have enough money to help. Pray. You may have something to give that others do not. Technical skill, contacts/connections, the ability to motivate others who can help.

Independence and Freedom

I was privileged to start a new church 20 years ago today. We held our first worship service at 111 Ranch in Garland, Texas on a hot July 4th evening in 1999. I chose the date with auspicious intent. 

Today is Independence Day, the day the the Continental Congress officially approved the Declaration of Independence affirming freedom for all people and rejecting British rule. It is the day we became United States of America. It took many more years for that freedom to become a reality for slaves, but the truths stated therein supported the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement. 

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Individuals and nations have the right to separate themselves from tyranny and to establish independence, in order to be free to pursue the life God created. 

Separation

Over the years I have been involved in several great churches, and for the denomination and its agencies that assisted in the launch of our church I have the highest regard. However, anyone who has been involved in church on more than a surface level can likely give examples of legalistic and judgmental attitudes among leadership and people. In fact, I must admit, as much as I dislike those attitudes, I’ve been judgmental too! If I am going to love people the way Jesus does, I must stop judging them.

Back then our name was City of Refuge, another symbol intended to help us turn away from being judgmental. In the Old Testament the Cities of Refuge were established to protect those who were accused of murder. Here they could run to safety from the avenger of blood, and here they would receive a fair trial. In this city the accused could continue to live without fear or shame as the result of their past mistakes or misfortunes. 

Too often, down to our day, an accusation is enough to destroy the reputation of the accused. People believe what they want to. Anyone may say anything about anyone else, publicize it via the press or social media, and many people will assume the worst, refusing to change closed minds, even when facts contradict the accusation. What happened to the presumption of innocence? Instead there is a de facto assumption of guilt toward anyone accused.  In my observation judgmental attitudes rule our culture today, from bottom to top. So, a church that suspends judgment, whether moral, social, or political, would be a welcome contrast.

Twenty years later we are called Lifewell Church, but I hope we continue to be a refuge for the oppressed and accused.  I pray we continue to be a source of acceptance and a dispenser of God’s grace to people who have been rejected. As the pastor, I seek to root out any source of sanctimony and judgment in our midst, beginning with myself!

I also wanted us to separate ourselves from all of the pretense and presumption I experienced in the institutional church. Enter some churches and you can feel the fakery. Oh, they may have orthodox theology, but the heart is not there. Concerning such people Jesus quoted Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13). This may be seen in high church ritual, the slick Sunday production of a mega church, or the well worn routine of any church in between. 

Independence

I just wanted everyone to be real. When it concerns individuals that means stop hiding, no more “fake it until you make it.” Be the same person in church as you are at home, at work, at school. We can’t get well if we keep hiding the fact that we’re sick. Worse, we may be flaunting in the world the sickness we hide while we’re at church. The theme passage for City of Refuge came from Matthew 9:12-13: 

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew 9:12–13, NIV)

Sadly, some (too many!) abused this grace and simply continued in their sin. Establishing a church that accepts people as they are without judgment doesn’t mean people should continue living unchanged by God’s amazing grace. Too quickly our City of Refuge became for some a Den of Thieves! “How can we who died to sin live any longer in it!” (Romans 6:1)

When I am exposed to the truth of God’s Word and inhabited by His Holy Spirit, I am changed and become more like Jesus. When you offer grace it is always possible for people to abuse it and use it as tacit acceptance for their bad attitudes and bad behaviors. No judgment doesn’t mean, no evaluation, no appraisal of right and wrong. What it means is I’m not the judge, and neither are you! We’re not even on the jury. I don’t determine your guilt or the punishment for what you may have done.

In reality, I’m here to be a physician’s assistant and Jesus is the doctor. First, I need to get well, then I need to be concerned and compassionate about bringing you to life and health. Jesus said this clearly, and it is intimately part of the same teaching about not judging.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NIV)

I hope and pray that we’ve not lost sight of this as Lifewell Church. It is the reason we came into existence 20 years ago. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. Acceptance and repentance are both essential to being made well by Christ. I cannot live life well when I am sick with sin. I will never come to Christ if I believe I’m too bad, too dirty, or too sick. So, we must accept people as they are, not as we wish they were. We must speak the truth in love and seek to lead people to receive the transforming spiritual life of Jesus Christ. We accept them as Jesus has accepted each of us, and we offer them the living water that will become a life well leaping up from their hearts to eternal life!

but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:14, NIV)

Freedom

The result of this is genuine freedom, and that may be what most people associate with July 4th. The natural understanding of freedom is, I can do whatever I want. What irony, we think that we’re free when we do what we want when all the time the will is deceived, enslaved to bad habits and destructive desires. What I want falls short of God’s design. “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Although sin seems like freedom, it is inextricably tied to death. “The soul that sins will surely die…. For the wages of sin is death” (Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23). The Apostle Paul calls this principle the law of sin and death. Jesus taught emphatically that those who sin are slaves to sin (John 8:34). 

Real freedom is not unlimited choice. I am not free when I choose to be something God didn’t design or command. There is a way things, and people, are supposed to be, and that’s not some arbitrary demand superimposed by an autocratic almighty God. There are laws of physics, the universe is fine tuned to an exquisite degree. God created it this way. The same God established what we would call moral laws as well. He gave us a conscience. He revealed a moral code to Moses. He paved the pathway to life through Jesus Christ. Now, the person who comes to Christ fulfills the law and is set free by the Spirit.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2, NIV84)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV84)

This is important to understand, to fully realize, and I sought to teach it in those early years, but some failed or refused to receive it. They left preferring a deluded lifestyle, which has resulted in destructive consequences for those who failed to have a change of heart. Once again, I hope and pray that Lifewell receives this truth and lives in God’s intended freedom.

July 4th is an auspicious date, even 20 years later. Lifewell remains a church committed to separation from sanctimonious judgment, bureaucratic religion, empty ritual, and fake faith. We are not independent from our founding denomination, although we have a strong non-denominational outreach. We are committed to the principle of priesthood of the believer, which means that each person is privileged and responsible to relate to God and read the Bible anticipating the Holy Spirit will teach them. This doesn’t mean the individual is independent from the community, rather we are mutually reliant and recognize the gifts and callings of the members of the body. I am a teacher and the overseer of our community of faith. People follow my leadership and teaching as I follow Christ. Finally, we are free! Free to worship in a manner that allows us to speak and be spoken to by God in Spirit and in Truth. We are free to follow our consciences in debatable matters, eating and drinking and dressing and entertainment. We are free from sin and it’s awful consequence: death. Praise God! Happy July 4th Lifewell Church! 

Still Crazy After All These Years

Still Crazy After All These Years

“God may be leading me to start a church.”

That’s what I said. 

Maybe.

Four months later she launched,

more like a raft on river rapids

than a sturdy ship at sea.

What was I doing

in a raft full of teenagers

and a few adults who couldn’t swim?

The current carried us

relentlessly forward,

never back.

Some jumped into the water

and swam,

back, to shore, another boat…

Our little boat went on,

the ride was wild at times,

but never out of control.

The years have passed,

people have come and gone,

but our church moves on.

I could have quit many times,

and a few times I’ve been tempted.

Something supernatural,

Someone Supernatural,

kept me here

and drives us on,

still crazy after all these years.

And, yes, I still believe.

Lifewell exists for a purpose,

to reach the unreached

and unreachable,

a refuge for the orphaned and rejected,

worshiping God without pretense,

in Spirit and Truth,

teaching the Truth of Christ, 

learning to live and love well.

Twenty years came and went.

Maybe we’re not all we could be,

or should be, 

but we’re here

because God wants us to be, 

and He has promised great things

if we hold on and believe.

20 Years of Ministry

20 years is a long time to do any one thing. That’s two decades. A child grows to become an adult in that period of time (hopefully!). I am always proud of married couples who make it 10 and then 20 years and beyond. A business that continues for that long is established and usually respected. What about a church?

Come July 4th (a purposefully chosen auspicious starting date) the church I was privileged to start, and continue to pastor, will celebrate 20 years of ministry. A number of core people have been with me the entire time, and many others have joined along the way. It is not my church. It is ours.

1999 seems like a lifetime ago. I was a youth minister, and it was one of the most difficult years of my life. The back story is posted on this blog if you are interested in reading. Suffice it to say my time as a youth minister seemed to be coming to a conclusion. In a staff meeting at the church where I served I mentioned that one day I’d like to start a church. The senior pastor jumped at the idea. A few weeks later I was meeting with local and state denominational leaders. A few months later I led a few adults and about two-thirds of my youth group into uncharted waters.

The church we launched was called City of Refuge. The name comes from the Old Testament. Israel was required to have special cities where those who had unintentionally killed someone could flee for safety. The concept was our church would be a safe place, a community free of judgmental attitudes, the church where those who have made mistakes would be accepted. This is the nature of God’s grace. I believe our church still possesses it as a part of our DNA.

Wherever there is grace, there will be those who use and abuse it. Virtually everyone in our church was between the ages of 16-22. It was basically a youth/college group, only without the financial and moral support of a larger church of adults. We experienced a lot of storm and stress. People left. New people came. A small core remained. This was drama ministry. I believed it was time for a change.

The City of Refuge needed to grow and grow up. I wanted us to become a city set on a hill for all to see. In February of 2002 we officially changed our name to Zion. At first I hung on to the concept of a city. In fact, our website was cityofzion.org The name Zion has deep significance in the Bible as a reference to God’s people, often connecting them with his promises. It also had some cultural resonance at the time. We loved it. I had hoped it would help connect people to our roots and God’s promises. For some it did.

At first we didn’t have our own space. We held worship on Sunday evenings in ballrooms of hotels, and had a noon brunch and discipleship Bible study on Sunday at a house I rented. During that period we continued to do a theatrical event every Halloween called House of Judgement. Although we were a very small church, we reached a very large number of people with the Gospel. In 2000 we rented an old movie theater. This permitted us to do our activities and to produce other dramatic events. It was a great venue for those programs, less so for worship. We quickly discovered the building didn’t have heat, and that it flooded during hard rains. The landlords wouldn’t do anything about this, so at around the time we changed our name to Zion, we left the theater and become nomads.

We met in parks, and in other churches for two years. In 2004 we came to downtown Garland and began meeting at a large coffee shop. I rented an office in the same building. There was a conference room where we soon moved our worship services.

The church experienced some turnover as well as slow, steady growth. By 2006 the last of the orignal adults who had helped start our church had moved on. We grew up and began the process of becoming multi-generational. I officiated the weddings of young people who now have children of their own. They stayed and grew and now form the core of leadership in our church. I cannot help but be reminded of the children of Israel who fought to live in the Promised Land that their parents refused to enter.

We’ve always had a talented group of musicians in our church. There was turnover in the early years, but one young man stepped up and stayed. Dean Short has been the backbone of our band for many years now. He and Natasha met at our one year anniversary. I performed their wedding a few years later.

As the church broadened in age it was important to continue ministering to youth, and to start a children’s ministry. In 2002 one of our young people started serving as the first youth minister right out of college. The young lady who would be his wife served as one of our earliest children’s ministers. In 2005 I officiated Craig and Rachel Wilson’s wedding. They’ve served faithfully all these years. Rachel is one of our beautiful vocalists and does our finances.

In the days leading up to our church start back in 1999, I had discussions with young people on the patio of my apartment. We talked about the kind of church we wanted. What would our target audience be? One of the young men mentioned a girl he had dated in high school as the perfect representative. She had recently been living in Austin, had no relationship with God or church, but would likely be receptive to a church that wasn’t judgmental, legalistic or formal. Heather came to our inaugural worship service on July 4, 1999 at 111 Ranch. Over time she put her faith in Jesus and was the first person baptized in our church. She got to know Josh as they attended over the years, and I was blessed to officiate their wedding. Two more solid core people who have two wonderful boys. Heather does our finances. Josh has been the drummer for our band for many years.

I could go on. There are others who’ve been with us since they were kids too: Both Elijah and Veronica are in our band. Veronica is married to Sy, who has also been with us from the early days, another wedding I was privileged to do. They have two amazing boys. Craig officiated Elijah’s wedding to Sarah several years ago, and they have a beautiful daughter. Brooke has been with us since the early days; I officiated her wedding to Chris the same year as Craig/Rachel, and Dean/Natasha. Many others have been around for a decade or longer.

What about our kids? Our first official child is the adopted son of Craig and Rachel. His name is Jacob. He was born in 2003; we’ve watched him grow up. He’s now a teenager who runs our tech on Sundays. Then there’s Jayme, the firstborn of Dean and Natasha. We watched her grow up too. I had the privilege of taking Jayme to youth camp this year. And there’s Miss Jubilee, Craig and Rachel’s first daughter. I mention her because at the point of her birth our church began to see an explosion of kids, and they are all wonderful!

So, we’re called Lifewell now. After a decade as Zion, the church had changed. We were now multi-generational. By 2011 Craig was our Associate Pastor and we partnered with others to send him to Indonesia. This is the largest Muslim country in the world. I became concerned that our name would be misinterpreted. This concern was reinforced as I encountered people (usually older) in our own community who misunderstood and misinterpreted Zion. Lifewell comes from the passage in John’s Gospel, where Jesus spoke to the Woman at the Well and promised: ““but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:14, NIV). Our motto is: Live Well; Love Well. The double meaning of well is intentional. Receive the Spirit of Life in Jesus and live life well.

We’re still in downtown Garland. In 2009 we began meeting in a 100 year old building at the corner of 6th and State. For years it was McKnight’s drug store, then the Garland Opry. It’s our home, as is downtown. We seek to be good neighbors and to represent our city well. I confess I don’t know specifically what the future holds, but I believe God’s promises, and that He has promised great things for our church. It is not time for us to rest in the past but to rise to the promised future!

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 

(Isaiah 60:1–5, NIV)

Irreverent Babble

Notes from verse by verse teaching in the Bible book of 2nd Timothy.

“Charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers…

But avoid irreverent babble”

We live in an age if irreverent babble! Most of it is political in nature, but if you look around you’ll find people will argue about anything, some things important, others irrelevant. Be careful what you respond to. Seek wisdom from God. Don’t react emotionally and make a rash statement. Don’t automatically post a response to what you disagree with. Pray first. Seek guidance from the Holy Spirit. Look for what God says in his Word.

Practice selective apathy. You really don’t have to care about everything everyone says all the time! When people hold positions that are obviously ridiculous, don’t repost them in an effort to mock or show your like-minded friends how much wiser you all are. It doesn’t prove you are better, more moral or intelligent. All you are doing is helping promote their foolishness. IGNORE THEM. Move on. I’m copiously avoiding some of the silly things I’ve seen online and encountered with other people. My natural tendency is to attempt to argue intelligently. However, irreverent babble, and outrageous conspiracy theories generate heat and no light. It is impossible to argue intelligently with those who are so convinced that they ignore observable facts, or reject the clear teaching of the Word of God.

“which does no good”

In the Proverbs we are warned that arguing with a fool is fruitless. You lose if you do and you lose if you don’t.

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4–5, ESV)

So, I would say, don’t make it a practice of responding to the fool because it will not do any good. However, you may need to respond truthfully, gently and in love for the sake of those who are being led astray by some persuasive lie, but only if you believe your response may lead others who are watching/listening toward the truth. If it gets personal, don’t react in kind. You need to be above that. Don’t get down on their level. Don’t wrestle in the mud with a pig: you’ll only get filthy and the pig will enjoy it. Remember who you represent. Always remember who is watching or overhearing you.

“ruin the hearers”

The Greek word translated ruin is the basis of our English word catastrophe. Don’t create a catasrophe for yourself or others by getting involved in useless strife with disrespectful, divisive people.

Repost and repeat what is meaningful, positive and edifying. “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth (or out of your mobile device!), but only what is good for building others up according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to the listeners” (Eph. 4:29). Notice the contrast: quarreling about words ruins the hearers, wholesome words give grace to the hearers. Aim to offer grace to people, always.

No Fear!

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:3–7, ESV)

The word translated fear may mean cowardice, and it is the opposite of faith (ie. confidence).

It is possible that this was Timothy’s weakness. In the natural he was a timid soul. The Apostle was reminding his son in the faith that he was not alone (even apart from Paul’s presence) the Spirit of Almighty God lived within the young man.

There may a tendency to think of Christians as weak, fearful of conflict, having Father Mulcahey (MASH) or Ned Flanders (Simpsons) temperaments. What my natural temperament is, is irrelevant when I’m filled with the Holy Spirit. He makes me confident.

Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Things were not going smoothly in Ephesus, where Timothy pastored. There was opposition to the Gospel, false teaching, persecution from the pagans and the Jews. If Timothy was to survive, he needed to be filled with the Spirit to have the courage to face all of that stress and difficulty. 

When we’re overwhelmed we don’t feel as though we will overcome. I feel like giving in and giving up. Yet I’m called to conquer (Revelation 2-3). In fact, we are promised that we will “overwhelmingly overcome through Christ who loved us” (Romans 8:37)!

The Holy Spirit makes me secure as a child of the Father. A good earthly father imparts strength and confidence to his children. Security and confidence makes me bold and drives away all fear. I know who has my back, He has given me the right to call him Dad.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”” (Romans 8:15, TNIV)

Many are afraid today. The media and those in political power are stirring up hostility and fear. Panic attacks have become commonplace. Many are on medication, use alcohol, or marijuana to keep from being overwhelmed by fear and dread. This is not what a Spirit filled Christian needs or does. 

The devil is the original terrorist. Realize, Satan is a paper tiger, a toothless lion, a defeated foe. Like the defeated Saruman standing in the window of his lofty tower before Gandalf in Tolkien’s LOTR, so our enemy has been defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet the devil may still speak with an alluring voice and employ enticing lies. We must recognize his schemes and send him away in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are facing an increasingly hostile world. People are rejecting the Bible, and seeking to stop biblical Christians from speaking out. Sharing the Gospel is not seen as Good News by increasing numbers of people in this country. In the midst of this God is calling you and I to be bold: to grow up and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), then deal with the consequences. When the Holy Spirit has control you will be courageous. Fear God and you will not fear anything or anyone else (Isaiah 8:13).

Don’t be a coward when you are called upon to defend the truth or the name of Jesus. Don’t go along with the crowd: they are moved by the spirit of anti-Christ. You are not of the same sort, not if you genuinely believe and call on Jesus as your Lord. You are not alone, friend. Jesus promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” That is a reality when you are indwelt and endowed with the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Power, love, self-control.

These are not natural attributes that I work up: the Holy Spirit infuses me with all three when He fills me. 

Power.

I need power to resist temptation, which weakens me. power to persevere through personal suffering and through persecution from a world that has turned from Christ, power to maintain sanity and stability in a dark, dangerous, unpredictable world.  Much of what we see today is people seeking power through money, politics and popularity.

People are insecure, and this may be true even though someone is arrogant (the latter is a mask for the former). There’s too much big talk in an effort to gain support, to win, to get money. Yet there is no real power behind the constant boasting and bickering. We want to see something really. Also, I must have power to do the work of ministry effectively. I cannot perform miracles or change people’s lives on my own.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). 

I need power to preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit must anoint and ordain and speak through me or I waste my time and yours. This is why we always give people the opportunity to respond to the message on Sunday. Don’t just sit there and evaluate. Decide. Move. Do.

Love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18). When I know I’m loved, I am secure. When I know that God will not allow anything to happen to destroy me, even though I may hurt at times, then I can stand up against anything.

We all need love. Self-love is a surrogate. Love extends away from the self; it doesn’t bend inward. In order to have love I must receive love. Most importantly, I must trust the Father’s love for me. This is the love “God has poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). Jesus new command gives a new basis for loving others: His sacrificial love for us.

“A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Christ’s love gives us the example, motivation and strength to love others rather than ignore or fight them.

Self-control. 

This is a special word in Greek, and a much needed character trait.

Barclay writes:

“There was self-discipline. The word is sōphronismos, one of these great untranslatable Greek words. It has been defined as ‘the sanity of saintliness’. In his book on The Pastorals, Sir Robert Falconer defines it as ‘control of oneself in face of panic or of passion’. It is Christ alone who can give us that command of self which will keep us both from being swept away and from running away.

No one can ever rule others without having complete self-control. Sōphronismos is that divinely given control of self which makes people great rulers of others because they are first of all the servants of Christ and in complete control of themselves.”

I really need self-control. Too often I fly off the handle, become enraged on the road, show impatience with my own apparent incompetence and inadequacy. Holy Spirit fill me and grant me this quality! If I cannot or will not lead myself, I cannot lead anyone else. Pray for your pastor in this regard. I need peace and patience, calm confidence and selfless forbearance toward people and situations that irritate and annoy my flesh. I must account the flesh dead and myself reborn in Christ.

Which brings us to today, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. This is the perfect time to practice self-control, which fundamentally is the ability to say no to my natural self and yes to the Holy Spirit’s leadership