The High Cost of Low Power

The Bible presents a picture of the Christian life that is full of His supernatural power. Any lack of His power at work is a deviation from the Biblical norm.  What do we do when we go through seasons where there doesn’t seem to be much of His power at work?

When Christians face limitations in their experience of moving in God’s supernatural power, they can respond in one of two ways.  They can seek God for fresh encounters with His Spirit until the power that He promises becomes a reality, or they can create ways of thinking that work to comfort them in their powerlessness They can almost develop a theology that minimizes the importance of God’s power.

 Never limit God’s word to fit your experience, but always seek to have your experience measure up to God’s word.  

Unfortunately, many Christian’s past experiences and/or disappointments hold far more sway over their theology than they would like to admit.  We must remember an important truth regarding the word of God; never limit God’s word to fit your experience, but always seek to have your experience measure up to God’s word. 

Cynicism is unbelief

“Did you hear about that guy in ______?  God is really showing up with him!  People are getting healed and delivered.  We need to check it out!”   Over the past 38 years, I have come across many similar reports of men and women moving in supernatural power.   A while back someone gave me a report of a similar minister, and God convicted me of my initial heart response.  It was full of cynicism and unbelief.

If I could put words to the response in my heart, it went something like this. “I have seen so many ‘miracle workers’ over the years claiming great power of God, but most of them proved to be frauds and had major character problems.  This one is probably the same.  His marriage, if he has one, is probably bad.  He has probably made a lot of money promising God’s people things if they would give to him.  He is probably some Charismaniac flake.”

My response was instant unbelief and cynicism.  In my defense, we are commanded to not be gullible regarding those who move in signs and wonders.  The Bible says there will be false prophets. It says to evaluate people, even those moving in power, by their fruits.  

  • Mat 7:15-16  Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.
  • Mat 24:24 NASB  For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.

In spite of these things, there are a couple of major problems with my attitude.  First, cynicism is a form of unbelief.  Second is a subtle perspective that sees “character” as more important than God’s power.  If we believe that moving in character is essential while moving in God’s power is optional (not that important), we are heading for problems.

Offended by a lack of character, but what about a lack of power?

A theology that believes the main, or only way God is revealed in the earth is through good character is deficient.  First of all, do we think we can develop character apart from Holy Spirit’s power moving in our lives?   Jesus said that God’s supernatural power exists to help us become better witnesses in the world.

Jesus clearly indicated that we are to expect and move in God’s supernatural power.

  • Mat 10:8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.”  Character doesn’t drive out demons or heal the sick!
  • Mk 16:17-18 “These signs will follow those who believe…”
  • Act 1:8  “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses…”

What about counterfeits?  A counterfeit doesn’t nullify the value of the real thing. The abuse of one person never justifies the neglect of another.  While there are abusive parents, that should not stop us from pursuing good parenting. Why? Because parenting is the call of God.

While we are embarrassed by abuses and lack of character in some people who move in signs and wonders, we are seldom offended over the absence of Gods power in signs and wonders.   We are seldom concerned by our own lack of moving in the power of God even though we are commanded to “earnestly desire” to move in Spiritual gifts.  1Co 14:1  “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly (to strive after, to exert oneself towards) spiritual gifts…”  This idea carries with it more than just being “open” to moving in the Spirit. Every Christian is to be intensely serious (earnest) about moving in Him.

The High Cost of Low Power

Not long ago I watched a video that went into detail about how Walmart has affected the economy in local communities.  What caught my attention was the title  “The high cost of low price.”  They were making the point that Walmart’s coming into communities and offering lower prices has an overall effect on those same communities.  They had a former executive who had been involved in several of these moves into smaller towns. They drove through the shopping district of a small town.   As they did the former executive started pointing out the business’ that would be shut down as a result of WalMart opening. Their lower prices had an effect of shutting down certain local businesses and hurting others.

As I watched this I saw a spiritual parallel about how the lack of moving in God’s power affects the community of God’s people.  The phrase that ran through my mind was “the high cost of low power.”  Without the Spirit’s power, Churches will subtly become dependent on human reason rather than God’s revelation and power.  Breakthroughs and advancements in certain areas will be held back because of a lack of power. Certain people may not be delivered from physical or demonic oppression because of a lack of power.  Certain initiatives and testimonies may never come about because of a lack of God’s power. There really is a high cost of low power.   

We should never be content with a powerless gospel and a powerless Christianity!

Accepting a lack of moving in God’s power works like a thief, stealing precious revelation of Him and His glory. Paul saw God’s power as an important element of revealing Jesus. He is a God of holy character but also Holy power.

  • Hebrews 1:3  “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
  • Rom 15:19  “in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”

What can we do?

  • Always seek God for fresh fillings of Holy Spirit.

Acts 13:52  “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Ephesians 5:18  “Don’t get drunk on wine, which leads to wild living. Instead, be continually filled with the Spirit.  19  speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.”

  • Pray to be used in God’s supernatural power to accompany the Gospel.

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12  “To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power,  (12)  so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”\

  • Do everything you can to stir up the supernatural gifts of God in you  

2 Timothy 1:6  “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” The Greek word used entailed the picture of a fire which had once burned brightly but had died down from lack of attention or fresh fuel. The intensity and usefulness of the fire had been lost. The encouragement was to rekindle it, fan it into flames, or stir it up to get the flames going again.

  • Always believe and move in faith.  Jesus never rebuked His disciples for having too much faith, but always challenged them for the lack of it.  Steps of faith in praying for people and looking to release God’s power please God more than holding back in unbelief.

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Be Charismatic not Charistatic

Indifference in hungering for more of Holy Spirit will cause us to become Charistatic instead of Charismatic.

It is easy to point at and be cynical about bizarre and excessive behavior in people who claim to be Spirit-filled, but the opposite effect is just as bad, even worse.  A deficient, sparse, or scarce effect of Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian is not only unBiblical, it is ungodly.  The Biblical term for such a state is “DEAD” which Jesus clearly said is something He is not indifferent about.  In His eyes, it is a major problem. 

Revelation 3:1-3…I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  (2)  ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  (3)… Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief.  

Pretty strong words from Jesus, but it shows us just how important the continual Spirit-filled life in us is to Him.  Spiritual hunger is one of the most important traits in the life of the believer.  Hunger is a universal sign of health.  Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.

In both the natural and spiritual realm a loss of hunger is a symptom of sickness in many diseases.  Jesus, in speaking to the church in Laodicea, tries to arouse them away from a lack of hunger.  By showing them it is a sick state of being, His hope was that they would be awakened out of their indifference.  He was urging them to come to Him to get what they need to escape their spiritually sick condition.

Rev 3:14-18... (16) ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth… (18)  I advise you to buy from Me.

The enemies of our soul (the devil and our flesh) love to tempt us towards indifference and a lack of Spiritual thirst and hunger.   C. S. Lewis wrote about it in his famous book The Screwtape Letters.  In it, the devil briefs his nephew Wormwood (fellow demon), on the subtleties and techniques of tempting people. “The goal is not wickedness but indifference.” Satan cautions his nephew to keep people comfortable and indifferent at all costs. “If he should become concerned about anything of importance, encourage him to think about his luncheon plans; not to worry, it could induce indigestion.” Then Satan clearly describes the role of the demonic in indifference, “I, the devil, will always see to it that there are bad people. Your job, my dear Wormwood, is to provide me with the people who do not care.” 

The Spirit-filled movement is the fastest growing church movement in the world.  It has brought great changes in the Christian landscape.  Contemporary services, increasing use musical instruments in churches, new songs, worship courses, as well as recognizing gifts and anointings can all be traced back to God’s influence through the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.  Being filled with the Spirit has a connection to increased zeal, moving in God’s power both in services and on mission, as well as things like prophecy and speaking in tongues.

The Scripture clearly tells us that God’s desire is that we always hunger for more, not less of the experience of the Spirit in our lives.  While there is an initial “baptism with Holy Spirit” it is not just a one time experience.  It is to be a continual experience that we seek after all the days of our life.  Paul expresses it in Ephesians.

 Eph 5:18 Amp “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but ever be filled and stimulated with the Holy Spirit.

The great commentator Matthew Henry expresses the meaning of this verse well.   “The meaning of the exhortation is that men should labour for a plentiful measure of the Spirit, that would fill their souls with great joy, strength, and courage, which things sensual men expect their wine should inspire them with.  We cannot be guilty of any excess in our endeavours after these: nay, we ought not to be satisfied with a little of the Spirit, but aspiring after greater measures, so as to be filled with the Spirit.”

As Henry says we must “aspire after greater measures, so as to be filled with the Spirit.” Anything less than that falls short of what God desires and puts us in danger of the Laodicean attitude of indifference.

Jesus expresses this truth in John’s gospel.  It recounts a story in which Jesus stood up on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles and cried out for God’s people who were thirsty to come to Him and drink of Holy Spirit

Joh 7:37-39  Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to Me and keep drinking.  (38)  “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”  (39)  But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Indifference to hungering for more of Holy Spirit will cause us to become Charistatic instead of Charismatic.  May we never be satisfied with less, but always desire more of Holy Spirit”s life and power moving within us.

Biblical thoughts to help us pursue being continually filled with Holy Spirit

Acts 13:52  And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

  • When you come before the face of Jesus in prayer (a central feature of the “Covenant of the Spirit” 2 Cor 3:6-18), ask Him to fill you afresh.  It is Jesus who baptizes us with Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11, Mk 1:8, Lk 3:16, Jn 1:33),
  • Follow the Biblical command of how to stir up and be filled with Holy Spirit (“speaking to one another and yourselves with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing, giving thanks and making melody in your heart to the Lord ” Eph 5:18-20).  Come before God often with praise and worship seeking fresh fillings.
  • Ask people to lay hands on you and pray for fresh fillings (Acts 8:12-24, 19:1-17, 2 Tim 1:6). When I ask people to pray for me with laying on of hands I point my faith to God expecting to receive a fresh filling of the Spirit.

    Faith releases God’s power, fear releases the devil’s power, and indifference releases nothing.

  • Exercise faith with expectations of fresh fillings and accompanying manifestations. Faith releases God’s power, fear releases the devil’s power, and indifference releases nothing.  Jesus always commended people for exercising faith and always challenged and corrected people who did not.
  • Never allow yourself to become content and indifferent when it comes to the Spirit-filled life.

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Maturity or Comfort?

I once heard a young Bible college staff member talk about his dream church.  He grew up Baptist where no one raised their hands during worship.  He then attended a Presbyterian church where many of the high church traditions were adhered to.   He spoke about his “dream church service” in which the Book of Common Prayer is read, an organ is played, the Eucharist is observed, and a sermon in which Augustine, Spurgeon, and N.T Wright are quoted.

In spite of his inner dream church, he ended up in his current non-denominational Charismatic church in which many of his personal religious tastes were challenged by Biblical ideas and practices (speaking in tongues, praying out loud, participatory worship including the lifting of hands, etc.).  He described his experience of the past 3 years in his current church as “full of discomfort, but also probably the most enriching three years of my life” in terms of spiritual maturity.

If you want to grow don’t seek personal preferences but Biblical preferences.   

I have heard other Christians describe their dream church as being big enough to be filled with special programs for all ages from babies to senior citizens.  Their dream church would offer special groups for everything from having a positive self-image, divorce recovery, financial training, to high energy children’s and youth ministry.  The services would be as anonymous as you want, and attendance can be as sporadic as you want, and no one will ever question it.  When you choose to attend, services will always be upbeat with great music and upbeat messages that remind us how much “God is for me.”

One family I know spoke glowingly about their new church, “they take our kids at the door, given “em” an arm bracelet, and we do not have to do anything to take care of them until after services are over.”  There is a variety of entertaining ministry that fits their children’s age groups and they don’t have to worry about being responsible for them if they get bored or cause any disruption in the service.  We can sit in the adult service totally free of responsibilities and distractions.

The apostle Paul never gives the easy option like “choose a church that is more in line with your preferences.” If you choose a church with “your best life now” mentality,  it is disingenuous and will not produce transformation and maturity.   Maturity is always tied to discomfort and challenge. 

Another set of friends had a different take on a similar experience.  “We tried to bring our daughter into the service but ushers and attendants repeatedly asked us to put her into the special children’s programs.  They almost made us feel ashamed to take her into the worship service because she may disrupt someone.”  Not that they had a problem with “Children’s ministry” because they put their child there at their home church, but they also knew that the Bible doesn’t show an age-segmented church in the New Testament.  The New Testament picture of church is all generations serving God together, one generation influencing the other.

Comfortable or Uncomfortable Church

If we think about Christianity and church in terms of our dream experience or our personal preference it is not only an exercise in futility, but it can be an outright denial of Biblical Christianity.   Church should be an experience that helps us grow and mature not cater to our personal wants and desires (Eph 4:11-16, Col 1:18, 2:17-19).

If we look at the examples of how Jesus called people to follow Him while on earth (25 times in the Gospels) as well as the descriptions of the church in book of Acts, and the letters to the churches, we see something vastly different than a dream church mentality.  In reading the Bible we quickly discover that God and His church don’t exist to meet our every need and satisfy our various checklists of personal tastes and “comfort zone” preferences.  As a matter of fact, the church exists to often destabilize these things.

When measuring personal preference and the Bible’s perspective on “self,” they always take a back seat to His kingdom.  Church isn’t designed to make us comfortable but to facilitate maturity.  The church should be a place that challenges the religious stupor of our culture of comfort-worship.

Call to maturity

Biblical Traits of Maturity:  Biblical love (1 Cor 13:1-13), the mind of Christ (1 Cor 13:1-13), and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24).  “Patience, kindness, joy, peace, humility, doesn’t brag, isn’t arrogant, is not self-seeking or swept up in self-interest,  is not easily provoked, bears with people, endures things,  full of hope, doesn’t take into account wrongs, serves, has self-control.”

When we speak of maturity, comfort and personal preference can be some of the biggest obstacles to growing up.  Whether it be natural family life or Spiritual family life, maturity is usually tied to discomfort.  Few parents I have ever known felt completely ready for children.  The discomfort of children caused them to mature as parents.

Parenting isn’t about being perfect. It’s about God perfecting you through the responsibilities associated with raising children. This is kind of what sanctification is like. Having children (which is one of God’s greatest blessings) brings you face to face with how selfish you can be and how selfless you need to become.  You end up learning God’s nature of giving yourself away for the sake of another.  This is what Jesus did, and over and over in the gospel He calls everyone to “lay your life down for my sake so you will find real life.”

Discipline for Progress

Think about changing your routines to become healthier,  which we often do as a New Year approaches? While workout facilities seek to draw people with friendly employees, state of the art equipment, and friendly attractive personal trainers, health isn’t tied to comfort but discomfort.  You still have to lift the weights and do cardiovascular exercises.  It takes discipline and overcoming discomfort to become physically fit.  Paul alludes to this example when he speaks of growing towards maturity.

1 Timothy 4:1-16  But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…(7)  But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  (8)  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come…(10)  For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.  (11)  Prescribe and teach these things…15)  Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.  (16)  Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

The Christian satire site Babylon Bee came up with five meticulously researched and peer-reviewed signs that you should leave your church behind (a sarcastic spin on consumer-driven, comfortable, dream curch mentalities)!

1.) The full-service cafe discontinues your favorite seasonal drink. If winter rolls around and the coffee shop in the foyer decides not to run its usual peppermint mocha promotional, it’s time to start Googling “good churches in my area.” It’s a sure sign that the church has abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints. (This should go without saying, but if your church doesn’t have a full-service coffee shop, its lampstand has been removed long ago).

2.) The church fails to immediately respond to your weekly helpful comment card feedback. When you say “jump,” your church should say “how high?” You pay their salaries after all—meaning they work for you. Pastors that don’t immediately make major changes to the worship experience, their preaching style, the decor of the building, or the genres of music on offer based on the fifteen helpful comment cards you turn in each week are not expressing love for the brethren, which may indicate they’re not saved at all.

3.) Someone expresses concern that you missed the last eighteen services. A church that shows interest in regular church membership is like a creepy ex-girlfriend that can’t let go. Can you say “red flag?” Run, don’t walk, away from this aberrant and apostate congregation.

4.) The men’s retreat features fewer than twenty fully automatic rifles. There’s nothing more disappointing than gearing up for your church’s annual men’s retreat only to discover it’s nothing more than a couple days of Bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship. In fact, Jesus Himself rebuked the church at Laodicea for being lukewarm, which scholars believe indicates their men’s ministry never once went on a week-long hunting expedition in the Yukon. (Women, substitute “fully automatic rifles” with “crafting tables.”)

5.) The pastor faithfully preaches the Bible on a weekly basis. Pastors who keep sticking to the same faithful presentation of the Word of God each week lack imagination, honestly. How can your church be a fun, exciting place with engaging programs and appealing special events if the pastor guy keeps rambling on about sin, repentance, and new life in Christ, while systematically preaching and teaching the Scriptures? Think about it.

Lets avoid comfortable church and seek to mature in Christ.

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Avoiding the Charismatic Peter Pan Syndrome

Charismatics should have an important advantage when it comes to spiritual maturity, but unfortunately, being charismatic doesn’t always result in maturity.  Why should they have an advantage?  Charismatics believe in the full manifestations of Holy Spirit.  They are typically hungry for more of Holy Spirit’s life, power, and experience in their lives.  This should help them mature because as Paul said, “by the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Rom 8:13-14).  This is the essence of maturity, less flesh and more of God motivating our lives.  Sadly, this isn’t always the case with charismatics.

Why do we see charismatics exhibiting less maturity than their non-charismatic counterparts?  One of the biggest reasons is that they pursue manifestations of the Spirit but don’t always pursue the daily life with Holy Spirit that leads to maturity.  This means embracing His activity in maturing us through relationships and daily life experiences.  It is what the Bible calls the “fruit of the Spirit.”  Fruit doesn’t spring forth in momentary steps of intensity (altar calls, corporate meetings, prophetic words, extraordinary manifestations of God’s presence).  Fruit grows in the day in, day out life as we consistently follow Holy Spirit and embrace His dealings. 

A good expression of charismatics who don’t mature is what I call the Charismatic Peter Pan Syndrome.  Peter Pan was a boy who never wanted to grow up.  He loved living in Neverland with other “lost boys” who were also immature. He loved the anointing of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust that enabled him and others to do supernatural things.  It was fun to fly around under the anointing.  It was a life of adventure without the responsibility of adulthood.  Fighting crocodiles, Captain Hook, and flying around with Tinker Bell’s anointing was more exciting than the responsibilities of growing up.

If you remember the story, Peter Pan tried to keep the Darling children in his immature world (Wendy, John, and Michael).  After all the adventure, in the end, Mrs. Darling offered to take all the lost boys back into her family (where they would be cared for and grow up) but Peter refused citing the prophetic reality of the Charismatic Peter Pan Syndrome, “you will catch me and try to make me a man (grow up).”  It sounds like the old Toys R US  theme song, “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R US kid.”  

 Biblical examples of Charismatic Peter Pans 

Saul was an example of the Charismatic Peter Pan Syndrome. He was anointed as king and quickly came into Spiritual atmospheres and manifestations. Outside of those times, he displayed little maturity from an ongoing walk with God.  This lead to his downfall that negatively affected both his family and the whole nation.

Right after his anointing as king, he encountered a group of musicians and prophets and “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily and he was changed in that atmosphere and began prophesying with them” (1 Sam 10:1-12).  This happened more than once and It was such a pronounced thing that it caused a  proverb to be written about him, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”  He liked the effect of that atmosphere so much he would call for people to come and play music for him so he could experience the same corporate effect (1 Sam 16:22-23, 19:24). The problem was he never matured, and sin lead to his downfall.

Moments of Spiritual intensity do not make up for a consistent walk with Holy Spirit that leads to maturity

Balaam was another one who experienced tremendous Spiritual manifestations as he rode upon his donkey to move in supernatural power.  He was hired to curse God’s people but ended up moving in the Spirit giving prophetic blessings to God’s people (Num 22-24). The anointing of the Spirit even came on the donkey he was riding who saw into the realm of the Spirit and eventually talked to Balaam (Num 22:28-31).  In our day and age, this would have been a great foundation to launch a charismatic ministry.   Animal noises, talking donkeys, and prophesying would make for some great meetings, and Balaam’s ministry could really become famous.  In spite of those Spiritual manifestations, Balaam didn’t make progress in maturity and ended up leading God’s people astray.

The New Testament mentions Balaam three times, all negatively.  He is described as the personification of greed in using religion for personal gain as well as inducing others to sin, specifically in idolatry and sexual immorality.  Sounds like some charismatic ministry scandals we unfortunately read about.

Moments and steps of Spiritual intensity do not make up for a consistent walk with Holy Spirit which leads to maturity.  Think about deciding to turn over a new leaf and enrolling at a fitness club.  You can have an intense workout or two, then check your progress (lift your shirt for a view of all the fat that disappeared during the workout) and realize not much happened.  The fat didn’t fall off after the first workout. Even as you felt the rush of dopamine in your brain it didn’t translate to miraculous fat reduction.  You may try another day or week of intensity, but if you see little immediate progress you may give up.  Or you may try another workout facility with better programs. 

There are no substitutes for consistent steps of intensity in working out to eventually see the fruit.  Bearing the fruit of the Spirit in maturity works the same way.  It takes a walk not just an occasional step of intensity.

Biblical Traits of Maturity:  Biblical love (1 Cor 13:1-13), the mind of Christ (1 Cor 13:1-13), and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24).  “Patience, kindness, joy, peace, humility, doesn’t brag, isn’t arrogant, is not self-seeking or swept up in self-interest,  is not easily provoked, bears with people, endures things,  full of hope, doesn’t take into account wrongs, serves, has self-control.”

Two essentials that Holy Spirit uses to develop maturity in our lives

Walking in the face of God (presence of the Lord).  In both the Old Testament and the New the word translated for God’s presence means, “in front of, or His face.” God’s presence isn’t a thing; it is a Person. Coming into His presence should result in coming face to face with Him.  It is your eyes meeting His which is the beginning point of all change leading to maturity.  Paul identifies this as a central feature of the “New Covenant of the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:1-18).  As we come before His face, we consistently grow up.

  • 2 Corinthians 3:18  But we all, with our face having been unveiled, having beheld the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord Spirit.

Just like a good parent will bring their children in front of them and look into their eyes to express love and affection, as well as challenge and correction, God wants to do that with His children.  If we look into the face of God on a regular basis things change. 

Walking in the family of God.  Family is God’s organizing principle of life.  Children, both natural and spiritual, were designed to grow up in a family where there is love, care, and training.  When we become a responsible family member in God’s house we will mature. The Bible refers to it as being “Planted in the House of the Lord.”  The result is that we grow.  It is very simple.  People who never become responsible family members in God’s house rarely mature.

  • Psa 92:12-13 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  (13)  Those that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green.

Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity. We can all seem pretty mature when we are by ourselves.  We rarely have to exercise patience, kindness, gentleness, thinking of others more than ourselves, etc. when we are all alone.  Walking in real relationships busts any bubble of deception in the maturity department.  You cannot love God and your neighbor as yourself when you are only by yourself.  The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24), the mind of Christ (Phil 2:1-11), and the Biblical manifestation of love (1 Cor 13:13) can only be experienced and expressed in relationships.

Many times God’s great story of the Bible is reduced to a message about “me and Jesus.”  It becomes about individually “getting saved” so you can individually be blessed, and go to heaven when you die.  While salvation is personal, it isn’t private.  God’s plan is a family plan.

4 aspects of family relationships in God’s house that promote maturity

  • Love, affirmation, and encouragement (1 Thes 3:12, 4:9, 5:11-14, Tit 2:4, Heb 3:13, Gal 5:13, Eph 4:2 etc.).
  • Instruction and example (Titus 2, Phil 3:17, 1 Thes 1:7, 2 Thes 3:7, 9, 1 Tim 4:12, etc.).  
  • Responsibilities to serve. Growing up means learning to take more responsibility.  You begin to take responsibility to care for others and not just yourself. 
  • Challenge (Prov 27:6, Eph 4:15-16 etc). When we are missing the mark and not sensitive to obeying God, faithful friends are there to gently challenge us to come out of our deception (Jas 1:22). 

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“You are just a big baby…why don’t you grow up!”

“You are just a big baby…why don’t you just grow up!”  Most of us have heard or used those words with friends or others as we were growing up.  They were meant to get our attention so something would change in the way we were acting.  In my experience many of those times the charges were accurate.  I needed them.  I was acting in a way that was destroying the enjoyment and relational comradery of the people I was with.  These same issues are true in our lives today.

While Paul didn’t use that exact phrase, he did clearly infer the same thing to the church in Corinth.  It wasn’t designed to flatter but get their attention so something would change.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:1-3  And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  (2)  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,  (3)  for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

The writer of Hebrews did the same thing.

  • Hebrews 5:12-6:1  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  (13)  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  (14)  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (6:1)  Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.

My wife and I have been privileged to have 4 children and 6 grandchildren (2 on the way).  We have loved every stage of our children and grandchildren’s lives.  We have also walked with many other people raising children and grandchildren.  One thing is true both naturally and spiritually. Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is why we are all called to “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1, Phil 3;12-16).

Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is true both naturally and spiritually.

What does it mean to be growing towards maturity?  A simple definition is living more of our lives responding to God and less to any other motivation (self-centeredness, flesh, culture, or the enemy).  Paul said it in the above verse “you are still fleshly…for since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly” (2 Cor 3:3).  Consistently yielding to the motivation of self-serving flesh is the sure sign of immaturity.

Self-centered immaturity is the cause of much harm in any relationship, especially among the people of God.  This is why Jesus consistently mentioned that we must deny self-centeredness in the calls to follow Him (Mt 10:37-39, 16:24-25, Mk 8:34-35, 10:21, Lk 9:23-25, 17:33, 14:27-34, Jn 12:24-26).

Three areas that reveal immaturity

  • Your inner desires: In the natural realm as you grow up you notice that your childhood toys no longer interest you. I think spiritual maturity works in a similar way. When you are growing in Christ, the world’s pleasures that are often wrapped up in things lose their appeal. At the same time, your hunger for God increases. You want to be with Him (prayer etc) and you become more motivated and sustained with making Him known. You want more of Him moving in and through your life. That desire gradually begins to overshadow all others (like Jesus said the Kingdom would do in the parable of the mustard seed Mt 13:31-32).
  • Your understanding: When you were young your understanding of the world was very limited. As you grew up you began to see the world from a broader, more mature perspective. It works the same way spiritually. As you grow you begin to see life from God’s perspective. You evaluate opportunities as well as temptations from a bigger perspective. It becomes more difficult to be pulled into things that have no real eternal value. Serving God becomes the most important thing in this life and everything else takes a back seat.
  • Self-centeredness: One of the most obvious traits of infancy and childhood is selfishness. Babies want their way and they want it now! Mature Christians are more submissive to the Lord. They become more concerned with His world than their own. They are willing to sacrifice and wait for Him.  More and more of their life source is found in Him and His world rather than their own. Instead of God existing to bless their world a mature perspective takes over and they begin to see that they exist to serve His world.

If we are going to “press on” and grow to maturity we have to be willing to put away “childish things.”  Let’s not mistake me-centered or self-help spirituality for genuine spiritual maturity lest we end up worshipping a god we make instead of the God of the Bible. Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity. Click To Tweet

People growing in maturity will progressively exhibit fruit in these 3 Biblical areas.  They are indelible characteristics of one growing in maturity.  You will notice that possessing them will enable us to walk well with others, while not possessing them will work to destroy most relationships.  Relationships are usually both the measurement and means of maturity.  Just possessing Bible knowledge isn’t maturity.  It is when that knowledge coupled in a relationship with God causes actual fruit to be produced in these areas.

Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity.

  • The ethics of God’s love (attitudes and actions of 1 Corinthains 13:1-13).  “Patience, kindness, not jealous, no bragging, non-arrogance, does not seek its own, not easily provoked, doesn’t take into account wrongs committed against them, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but the truth bears all things (patience), endures all things, and hopes in all things.”
  • The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  “Joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.”
  • The mind/attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11).  “Doesn’t have selfish ambition,willing to unite and walk in unity with others,  humble in mind seeing others as more important than self, doesn’t look out for its own interest but the interest of others,has a humble attitude, and is a servant.”   

To press on to maturity we must follow what Paul continues to say in Philippians 2:23-13 Work out salvation with fear and trembling (it takes effort) as we embrace God’s work in us. 

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True North: Pursuing Biblical Christianity

Authentic Christianity is coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to a family of imperfect people who are learning to live a new life in a new way as they pursue God’s mission together.

A dear friend, Emily Peterson recently made a plaque to hang on our wall with a Scripture on it that has been a life message for Denise, myself, and many others we have walked together with for 37 years.  God used that Scripture to start us on a journey of discovering and pursuing His design for His people.  That passage as well many others in the New Testament set us on a path towards His Kingdom and Biblical church life that we are still pursuing today.

Crafted by Emily Peterson

Acts 2:36-47…(41)  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.  (42)  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…  (46)  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,  (47)  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 A definition that stuck with us in our early days defined what we were seeing in Scripture, “Authentic Christianity is coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to a family of imperfect people who are learning to live a new life in a new way as they pursue God’s mission together.” That is still our aim and passion.

We need to be Biblically courageous

I remember a story of a leader speaking in China with several people who were part of underground churches.  He was describing the typical experience of church life in American.  One of them began to laugh and then the whole group began to laugh.  The leader was not trying to be funny and was wondering why they were laughing.  One of the Chinese members began to wave their Bible as they continued to laugh and said loudly “how did you get that from reading this book.”  What a revealing comment!

If you had only the Bible to give you definition would you be pursuing the kind of church life you are living? Unfortunately, many Christians are shopping around for a vision.  They look at what people are doing and then think I’ll take that part, I don’t like that, I would tweak that a little, or I like this about that church so I’m going to combine all these things and do it this way.  This isn’t what should guide us.  It should be about what the Scripture says.

When revelation is something from God through Scripture it isn’t about pursuing a trendy thing or a popular thing.  It is about pursuing a Biblical thing. It’s when we say “we have got to do this.” It is like Caleb at the edge of the promised land, “We must, by all means, go in and take possession of it” (Num 13:30).

These revelations become core convictions that people refuse to compromise even in the midst of difficulty and personal loss.  Some call it God’s inner compass.  It always points the same direction no matter how lost one would seem to become.  Like Paul, it is an internal heavenly vision that guides, “I have not proved disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

It is the Spirit’s inner compass.  A traditional compass points to the true north based on the magnetic north.  That is the magnetic point on the earth in which all other magnetic fields point downward.  The problem with a traditional compass is that it can be thrown off by getting close to metal objects, iron, other magnets, or even some other rocks.  External forces can cause the directions to be compromised.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  – G.K.Chesterton

Another type of compass which is more like God’s inner compass is a gyrocompass. This is the type of compass that ships have traditionally used.  A gyrocompass finds the true north from the earth’s rotation rather than one point of the magnetic north.  Its strength is that it can keep the true north even if magnetic or other material is placed near it.  It is orientated to something much bigger than itself, the earth’s rotation.  No matter what the competing external force, it keeps its true north based on the rotation of a larger sphere, the earth.

This is the type of inner compass that God wants His people to have.  Their direction is based on rotation around God’s bigger purpose.  No matter what the external or internal pressure is they hold true to clear values given by God.   Daniel and his three friends best exemplify this type of compass as they stood firm on what God had shown them even to the point of death.  The result was three moves of God in a hostile land based on their unwavering conviction (Daniel 2:1-18, 3:14-30, 6:1-28).

What are core essentials of His design in the Bible that we can’t live without? 

We don’t want to simply be informed about God’s design with a “that’s nice to know” perspective.  We want to be pursuing God’s design with a “we must go for it” attitude.

When God’s people receive revelation from Him it becomes vision.  It is more than just “nice to know” ideas.  We don’t want to simply be informed about God’s designs with a “that’s nice to know” perspective.  We want to be pursuing God’s design with a “we must go for it” attitude.  That is the difference between a good idea and a God-given vision.  Good ideas come with a take it or leave perspective.  Real God ideas come with a Spirit-inspired  “we must go for it” passion.

We must not allow a mentality to develop in which we believe certain things but fatalistically accept an opposite reality.  Rather we are to have a mentality that this is what we believe and therefore we must pursue it.

  • A local church is God’s family living out His relational way of life among the people as they follow Him on His mission.   A church is not a building, meeting, or an organization.  A local church is a relational way of life.  It is God’s family living out their life together following Jesus on His mission (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42, 59 “one another’s” in the Epistles, 44% of the NT instruction about how to relationally walk together).
  • The local church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God (Mt 16:18, Eph 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Rev 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17). Many see local churches as consumers see online or retail outlets. Churches exist to accommodate and satisfy consumers.   Biblical church commitment is not a consumer driven accessory for people’s personal dream fulfillment.  God’s people are not consumers looking for the best church deal (most benefits at the cheapest price).  We are a people who are consumed by God living out His purposes (Titus 2:1-14).
  • The Kingdom of God (Rule of Christ) is to be embraced and expressed through God’s people.  As His people submit to Christ’s Lordship in all areas of their lives as well as His headship in the church (Acts 2:36-42, Rom 10:9-10, Col 1:17-19, Rev 1-3) His Kingdom is revealed.
  • Local church membership is comprised of disciples who follow Jesus together on His mission and seek to put into practice everything He says (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 11:23). In the gospels, Jesus says to “follow Me” 25 times.  Only 4 times He says to believe. The emphasis is clearly on following.  About 269 times in the NT God’s people are referred to as disciples while only 3 times it referrs to them as “Christians.”  The emphasis is on discipleship which means following and obeying Jesus.  Church members are not just an audience of people (watching stones) attending meetings who made decisions about Jesus.   Real membership is a group of disciples pursuing Him and His mission together (living stones not just watching stones).
  • God’s design is a continual and increasing Spirit-filled life with Biblical evidence.  God’s people are to be led by, filled with, and moving in all the gifts of Holy Spirit both in meetings as well as everyday life (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4, 4:8, 31, 6:3, 8:12-24, 9:1-17, 10:43-48, 19:1-6, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5:18).  The pursuit of a Spirit-filled life is essential, not optional (Jn 7:37-39, Acts 1:8 etc.).
  • All the Ephesians 4 ministries are essential, not optional, in the building of local churches.  They bring increased vision, spiritual impact, and provide good care, counsel, and accountability for local churches and leaders.
  • The local church is governed by a team of leaders (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their appointment (Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17-28, Phil 1:1, 1 Thes 5:12, 1 Tim 5:1-21, Tit 1:5-11, Jas 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1). This is in contrast to a one-man “pastor” who works with a deacon or elder board appointed by the congregation who form a committee to govern church affairs. Jesus’ design is for leaders to walk together in a family/team relationship similar to the relationship among the Godhead (John 17:11, 21-23).
  • God desires trans-local Ephesians 4 ministries to walk and work together as a family team (Acts 13-28, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18, 2 Tim 4:1-23, Phil 4:1-23). They walk together as a family and their input helps provide good foundations (Eph 2:20, 1 Cor 3:10-12), as well as fatherly and motherly care into local church families (1 Thes 2:7-11).
  • The missionary call to the world is upon everyone, everywhere, all the time (Gen 1:26-28, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Eph 1:22-22 etc.). Local churches are God’s family together on God’s mission. Missions isn’t a program or a special call upon a few people who live in faraway places.  It is the daily call upon all the church whether it be across the street or across the ocean (Jn 17:23, 20:21).  In Jesus’ model for missions seen in Matthew 9-11 and Luke 9-10 He sends them out in pairs and the others they are joined to are able to follow them into the work.
  • God desires praise and worship that is heartfelt, Spirit-filled, and according to His truth (Jn 4:23-24) with all the physical expressions prescribed in the Bible. This includes, but is not limited to the Biblical expressions such as shouting seen 265 times in Scripture, playing musical instruments 58 times, singing 29 times, lifting our hands 14 times, clapping 12 times, bowing or kneeling 12 times, dancing 9 times, and standing 7 times.
  • God desires His people to have a multigenerational perspective that reaches back to help those younger while at the same time we reach forward.  We want to leave a spiritual legacy to those coming behind us (Ps 78, Titus 2 etc).
  • Biblical “ministry” is not about gifted people on platforms in corporate meetings.  Ministry is about every person being equipped and using their God-given talents and Spiritual gifts to build up the family of God everyday to reach the world with the gospel (1 Cor 12-14, Eph 4:10-32, Rom 12:1-17, 1 Pet 4:10-11, 1 Tim 4:4, 2 Tim 1:6).

Like the apostle Paul said, “not that I have already obtained or already become perfect, but I press on” (Phil 3:12).  We are to continue to reach for God’s ideal with those joined together by God.  We have tasted many of these things in part, and are far from perfect, but like the song Shekinah Glory we want more,  “you move and we want more, You speak and we want more…more of Your fullness.”


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