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Forgiveness is the key

It’s pouring down rain today. I love loud, wet, serious rain. I despise wimpy, slanted, spattering rain what they might call in Cornwall mizzle. If you’re going to take the sun away from me, be a force. Show the garden you mean business. Don’t take all day to make the grass damp! Soak it. Give it your best thunder, lightning, wind… the works.


I know that there are facts to support the view heavy rains don’t nourish the ground the same way that slow, steady rains do. The force sends it off the clods and into the streets and byways, down drains and into ponds and puddles. It doesn’t stick around long enough to really travel down into the roots, deep where the plant begins thriving, down below the surface. 

I often want forgiveness to be like a good, hard rain. I want it to just do the thing. Give a quick apology. Make amends. Kiss and make up. Put the issue behind us. 

But it’s the slow, steady, every day, minute-by-minute forgiveness that nourishes deep into the soul, that mirrors the forgiveness our heavenly Father gives us. The real, true, refuse-to-leave kind. The kind that overlooks huge, nasty wrongs and minuscule, annoying offences. The kind that doesn’t turn a blind eye but instead loves in spite of all the ugly misshapen habits. The kind that sees each thought preceding the biting words, each motive behind the cruel actions, and still stays for the long haul. 

I’m not good at this kind of forgiveness. I’m best at the kind that forgives once and then tries to forget about it. It’s the things that require continual, faithful, not again forgiveness that grate on me. The ones that have lies attached to them. The ones that make me feel unloved and disrespected. The ones that put a chip on my shoulder. The ones that make me question the righteousness of another person, forgetting how unrighteous I myself am. The enemy loves to take our eyes off our own unworthiness and put it on the wrongdoings of others because, in our view, that diminishes the seriousness of our own sin. 

The Bible tells us that if we don’t forgive, our Father in heaven won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). I’m not here to theologically debate that to its very core, but it demonstrates how high a priority the Lord puts on this instruction to forgive one another. One of the marks that we are Christ’s is the brand of forgiveness. When we wear forgiveness humbly, we show the world that He is powerful enough to forgive them. 

Listen, I realize this is a high calling. Peter thought forgiving someone seven times was a high standard, one worthy of commendation. Yet, seven times seventy times (in other words, infinitely) is the standard followers of Jesus should maintain. There are so many books and discussions circulating that debate this issue. There are things that will seem unforgivable. Aren’t there? Aren’t there things that will seem like they shouldn’t be forgiven? Truthfully, we don’t get to determine that. Jesus levelled the playing field at the cross. Every sin, no matter how heinous or trite, is covered by the blood. If that jars us a little bit, it should. Because that’s how wide grace is. 

We keep extending forgiveness because we keep needing it. 

When we ask Jesus to erase our sin, He extends forgiveness like a downpour, washing away all of our past sins with one fell swoop. And He simultaneously extends it in the form of a slow, steady, constant, loving drip, interceding for us at the right hand of the Father each and every day for the rest of our lives (Romans 8:33-35). To the extent that we have experienced this saving grace, we gift it to others. And the miracle? As we extend forgiveness, we receive nourishment down to the root of our very souls (Luke 6:38). 

And life-giving nourishment swims up above the surface, producing a beautiful crop of redemption. 

Keep choosing to forgive....

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Standing firm on His promises

We all know that, as Christians, we will be challenged in our faith. We want to be able to stand firm. Sometimes the challenge comes in the form of temptation. The enemy knows exactly when to target us–when we’re at our weakest. And he knows precisely what tempts us most.

Often, the challenge comes when the world’s way is counter-cultural to God’s way. We want to be accepted, and it’s difficult to always say or do the right things.

And, of course, we are challenged when we face trials that cut us to the bone–grief, loss, sickness, and disappointment can all lead us to waiver in our belief.

Three ways to stand firm in your faith

I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with trying to stand firm in my faith.

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”

Isaiah 7:9b, NIV

So, when faced with challenges to our faith, how does the Bible encourage us to stand firm?

First, we have to know on what or on whom we are standing

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

Psalm 40:1-2

When God reached down and saved us, He lifted us out of the pit and set us on the Rock. Jesus is the Rock, and He is a firm place to stand. He is truth and His Word is truth (John 14:6, John 17:17).

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Isaiah 40:8

When your faith is challenged, remember that you stand on the Rock of Jesus Christ. His Word is a firm place to stand. He does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Dig your heels in and trust the One who is beneath you.

Second, we will have to resist the devil and his lies.

When we are struggling with our faith, Satan will whisper words contrary to God’s Word. We have to choose to cast down those thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5).

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.”

1 Peter 5:8-9

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.”

1 Corinthians 16:13

As soon as we recognize thoughts of fear, doubt, discouragement, anxiety, or temptation, we have to choose to guard our minds against the deception of the enemy and choose to think of God’s thoughts instead.

God has given us spiritual armour to help us stand. When we feel the challenges to our faith, we can remember to suit up and then take our stand.

“Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Ephesians 6:13

You know what stands out to me in that verse? (Pardon the pun.) After YOU have DONE everything. In other words, we have to do our part. We have to put on the armour and actively choose to protect our minds from wrong thoughts, our hearts from pride, our gut from lies. Then we have to take up our shield of faith.

We have to be self-controlled and alert and on guard. But when we have done our part, God enables us to stand.

Third, we cannot waiver between faith and doubt

We have to know what we believe and why we believe so that when the challenges come, we are firm in our faith. Why did you decide to follow Jesus? Why do you choose to serve Him? What do you believe about God and His Word?

“Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.'”

1 Kings 18:21

I think sometimes we still waver between wanting to follow God and wanting to follow the world. If that is the case, we will definitely struggle with our faith. The Lord is asking you today, “How long will you waver between two opinions?”

If you know that God is God and God is good, there’s no question. Don’t let the devil make you think Satan has something better to offer you in the world. It’s a lie.

Only God is God and He alone knows what is best for us. He alone is the path to life, love, and victory. Consider Abraham and his faith. He was a man, a real person, just like you and me. God gave him a great promise with little evidence that he could actually see.

“Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.”

Romans 4:20

I love that verse! Abraham made mistakes. He wasn't perfect. But he was “fully persuaded.” Are you fully persuaded today that God is able to do what He has promised?

Still, Struggling to stand firm?

If you are still struggling to believe God because of trials, tribulations, or temptations that you are going through right now, let me encourage you that the Lord of all can set you free. He can lead you out of that miry place of doubt and confusion and give you a firm place to stand.

Open your arms wide to the love of Jesus and let Him lift you up. Trust that He is good and He loves you perfectly. He will make a way for you and keep you in His love and in His truth.

So stand firm, beloved.

Need some help standing firm? Try memorizing Scripture so you can keep the Word hidden in your heart.

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Choosing to make a stand

How can we stand firm in difficult times?

In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul warned Timothy of the difficult (also translated as “terrible”) times that would happen throughout church history. People would be lovers of themselves, lovers of pleasure instead of God; they would be abusive, unforgiving, and having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. There would be many false teachers that would lead people astray. Just as Paul warned Timothy, Christ warned his disciples as well. Satan would plant tares among the wheat and yeast in the flour (Matt 13)—the church would be full of false believers and false doctrine.

Because of this reality, many have become angry at God, bitter at the church, and some have fallen away from Christ altogether. These are very important realities to be aware of in order to protect ourselves and persevere. How can we stand in these times?

Paul says to Timothy, “You, however,” or “But, you” (v. 10) and he calls him to “continue” in what he had learned (v. 14). Timothy was to be different from those with an empty religion. He was called to “continue” being faithful, even while others went from “bad to worse” (v. 13). In this text, we will see four principles about standing firm in difficult times—not only do these apply to difficult seasons in the church but ultimately bad times in our lives.

Question: What principles can we discern about standing firm in terrible times from 2 Timothy 3:10-15?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Remember the Faithful

You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all.

2 Timothy 3:10-11

After sharing with Timothy about the ungodly people and the false teachers in the church (v. 1-9), Paul encourages Timothy with his example. He says, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life …” It can also be translated as “you ‘know’ all about my teaching, way of life…,” as in the NIV. Though there were dark times and evil people in the church, Paul was faithful and his faithfulness was meant to encourage Timothy. Similarly, when Elijah was depressed and no longer wanted to live, he cried out to God, “I’m the only one left!” However, God reminded him that he had preserved a remnant that would not bow down to Baal (1 Kings 19), and God has done the same today. Satan often tempts us to feel alone and hopeless, but we are not, because God has faithfully preserved his saints, even in these dark times. We need to recognize this to stand firm.

First Peter 5:8-9 says,

Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering.

We should resist and stand firm against Satan’s attacks because we have a family of believers around the world enduring suffering as well. Though many in the church possess only a form of Christianity but no reality in their lives (2 Tim 3:5), there are many who follow God faithfully. And if we are going to stand in terrible times, we must remember them.

In Hebrews 12:1, the author says something similar to persecuted Hebrew Christians: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us.”

The “therefore” points back to chapter 11 where the author describes many heroes of the faith—Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, and others. He essentially says that remembering these witnesses helps us get rid of sin and run with “endurance” the race before us. “Endurance” means “to bear up under a heavyweight.” When we feel like giving up during terrible times in the church or life in general, we must remember godly examples. We must remember how God allowed Joseph to suffer betrayal from his family, slavery, and prison before God exalted him to second in command over Egypt. We must remember how God allowed Job to suffer various tragedies, but how God’s ultimate purpose was to bless him.

We need to remember the faithful if we are going to persevere during hard times. Hebrews 12:1 explicitly reminds us of the importance of reading the accounts of the Old Testament. These are not just stories for children; they are for us. They help us get rid of sin and persevere in difficult times.

But, also, it reminds us to look at the faithful around us. We must watch them—how they maintain their integrity and faith during hard times. Their example will help us to stand. Like Timothy, we need to intimately “know” other faithful believers so we can draw strength from them.

Who are you watching to draw strength from in times of difficulty? Often in times of difficulty, we tend to focus on the storms of unfortunate circumstances or difficult people, which only further discourage us. However, we need to focus both on God’s faithfulness and his faithful ones so we can persevere.

Question: Why is it so important to remember the example of the faithful when going through difficult times? Who are the faithful around you that you can watch during the storms of life

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Thankfulness overflows

Do you ever find it hard to be thankful? Not that you aren’t sincerely thankful deep down, but experiencing thankfulness in a real way can be challenging during busy seasons. Especially when the pressure is on to do all of the things that need doing while keeping your sanity and trying to live a #blessed life.

“There is so much to be thankful for” echoes in my mind as I engineer the schedule to fit church activities, work meetings and planning sessions. At the last minute I might throw caution to the wind and schedule a coffee date because miraculously, I still have friends who get me.

I am sincerely, truly thankful, but I’m also kind of tired. When the day to day wears me out, it is all too easy to drift into self-preservation mode. Then it’s hard to be thankful because my blessings also make me want to take a rest.

I was recently reading about the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand in Matthew 14:13-21. Jesus had just heard about the death of John the Baptist (His cousin) and was surrounded on all sides by people who needed Him to take care of them. In the midst of grief and feeling overwhelmed, Jesus goes on to perform some of the most famous miracles like the feeding of a load of people and then walking on water. He does some of his best work when He should be maxed out because He knew the source of His strength and perseverance. Just after this miracle, we see Jesus retreating to a quiet place to spend time connecting with His Father.

In this situation in Matthew 14:13-21, the disciples’ resources are few. I don’t blame them for wanting to send the people away. They have five loaves of bread and two fish. There’s not a lot of daylight left, and they are out in the middle of nowhere.

And then there’s Jesus.

When He sees all the people before Him, He has compassion. He sees past the inconvenience and the overwhelming masses, to their individual hearts. He heals the sick and meets their needs.

Jesus sees things differently–from an eternal perspective. He asks what the disciples have, and then asks them to bring it to Him. Jesus takes the meagre offering, looks up toward heaven and gives thanks to God. Then He multiplies their resources to bless and sustain the people in the crowd and build up their faith.

When I am feeling like I’m a few loaves and fishes short, what if I brought what little I do have to Jesus? I can imagine Him looking toward heaven, thanking God for my meagre offering and then using it to do exponentially more than I ever could have imagined.

Sometimes we feel like what we have isn’t enough, whether it’s finances, energy, patience or time. But trusting Jesus with what little we do have glorifies God. It makes an impact and changes us and the world around us.

When the disciples were faithful to bring what little they had to Jesus, they got the best seats in the house to see God at work.

 Colossians 2:6-8 (NLT) says “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

Just like the disciples who followed Jesus, we cannot multiply loaves and fishes on our own. But we can stay close to the One who can. We can continue to follow Jesus and let our roots grow deep. We can build our lives on Christ and in doing so, our faith is built up as we witness God at work (even in our craziness of life). We will then overflow with thankfulness out of the fullness of our hearts.

What a thought to be overwhelmed not by life’s pressures and stress, but with genuine thankfulness!

So as your week fills up and you feel spread thin, my question to you is this: What do you have? What can you bring to Jesus? Bring Him whatever you got! When you follow close to Him and build your life on the unwavering foundation of Christ, He can use even the most unlikely of things to do amazing miracles!

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What we must we do to be fruitful

1.       Be connected. I am not talking about being connected with “big” people in the government. I am talking about being connected with God. When you want to be fruitful, be connected to the Source of all fruitfulness. When you do, for sure you will know what fruitfulness is. If you do not abide in Jesus, and His Words abide in you, you will not experience fruitfulness.

John 15:1-8 (AMP)

 I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. 2 Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit. 3 You are cleansed and pruned already, because of the word which I have given you [the teachings I have discussed with you]. 4 Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me], you can do nothing. 6 If a person does not dwell in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken-off] branch, and withers; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you live in Me [abide vitally united to Me] and My words remain in you and continue to live in your hearts, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 8 When you bear (produce) much fruit, My Father is honorued and glorified, and you show and prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine.

Jesus is all you need, not people, for help. Remain connected constantly, to the main Source of power, Jesus. He is all that matters, above all others. Other relationships that He will bring, He will be the source. Allow the pruning of the Lord when He does it.

2.       Positioned. Position yourself at the right place, with the right people, at the right time, doing the right thing.

Psalm 1 (AMP)

BLESSED (HAPPY, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable) is the man who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly [following their advice, their plans and purposes], nor stands [submissive and inactive] in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down [to relax and rest] where the scornful [and the mockers] gather. 2 But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night. 3 And he shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper [and come to maturity]. 4 Not so the wicked [those disobedient and living without God are not so]. But they are like the chaff [worthless, dead, without substance] which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked [those disobedient and living without God] shall not stand [justified] in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous [those who are upright and in right standing with God]. 6 For the Lord knows and is fully acquainted with the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly [those living outside God's will] shall perish (end in ruin and come to nought).

Where do you often find yourself positioned?

Psalm 91:1

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [Whose power no foe can withstand].

Dwell in the shadow of the Lord, and you will enjoy His protection. God should be our dwelling place.

Ephesians 2:6

...and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Where are you dwelling? Is it in the presence of God? Remain in the position God put you in, seated in Jesus in the heavenly places.

3.       Keep speaking

John 6:63  

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

When you speak what Jesus has said, nothing will challenge that. His Words go beyond the physical, into the spiritual life, and produce life.

Mark 11:22-2

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 

Keep on speaking God's Word, and it shall surely come to pass.

Proverbs 18:21

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Stop speaking things that are dead, in your life.

Job 22:28

You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you; So light will shine on your ways.

Wake up in the morning, and speak the Word of God. align your life and days with the Word and purpose of God, by speaking His Word.

Jeremiah 23:29

“The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the Lord. 29 “Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?"

Keep speaking God's Word, and all hindrances will pave way for you, as you walk in and enjoy fruitfulness, in Jesus. 

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Fruit of the spirit comes from life in Him

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Paul declares them to be the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). The reason they appear in the life of the believer is that the Spirit is in the life of the believer. They are wholly the fruit of his gracious presence and ministry. Or are they? And here is why I ask: each of these qualities or characteristics may be found in the life of an unbeliever. Christians, for example, are far from having a monopoly on love. Jesus himself confirms that in his Sermon on the Mount when he asks his disciples, ‘If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?’ (Matt. 5:46). Men and women who have never been born of the Spirit love – sometimes, as we know, in the most selfless and self-sacrificing manner. Our convictions about human depravity must never tempt us to deny it.

Nor is love unique in this respect. Unbelievers have joy. They can be patient. They are often kind and gentle and faithful. They exhibit goodness in their relations with one another. They know what it is to be self-controlled. They may be quite at peace in their hearts. All these things which the apostle lists as the fruit of the Spirit are to be found in people from whom the Spirit is savingly absent.

So what makes the love, joy, peace, etc., of which the apostle speaks distinctively the fruit of the Spirit? Perhaps we can best answer it in this way: the role of the Spirit is to take qualities and characteristics that are common to humanity and do something special with them – something that only he can do by his presence and ministry in grace. We see this with some of the Spirit’s gifts. Teaching, for instance (Rom. 12:7). The general capacity to teach is just about as widespread as humanity. But if a man is to expound and apply the Holy Scriptures in a way that edifies the body of Christ and glorifies God he needs to be specially gifted by the Spirit.

And so it is with the Spirit’s fruit.

Love, for example. It is common both to the believer and the unbeliever. But it is only the believer who loves God and, out of love for him, obeys him. It is only the believer who loves believers – loves them because they are believers and, out of that love, serves them. It is only the believer whose love for his enemies moves him to pray for them, bless them, and do them good. It is only the believer whose love for his neighbour prompts him to seek his salvation. Love, in the Spirit’s hands, is made uniquely new. It is given new objects, springs from new motives, and comes to expression in new ways.

Or think about joy. What does the Spirit do in giving us distinctively Christian joy? We need only think about the things that we joy in. Holiness. The Lord’s Day. The success of the gospel. The truths of God’s Word. The singing of God’s praise. The company of fellow Christians. Supremely the Lord himself. We take the spiritual pleasure in these things that we do only because the Spirit has been at work in our hearts.

And so it is with all the rest. Peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – the Spirit does something special with them all. They manifest themselves in our lives in ways that simply would not be possible without him.

I close with a practical suggestion. Make what we have been thinking about a matter of careful and prayerful meditation. Take the fruits of the Spirit one at a time and reflect on what makes them distinctively fruits of the Spirit. Ponder what the Spirit does with them in the life of a believer; the special ways in which he brings them to expression. And pray that by his power, and for the glory of Christ, they would increasingly be exhibited in your life.

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Fruitfulness in times of difficulty

Let’s be honest. Life can be difficult. Sometimes, it’s through no fault of our own. Other times it’s directly related to bad decisions we make.

For the Israelites of Jeremiah’s time, they brought the trouble on their own heads by turning their backs on God and going their own way. God told them,

Through your own fault, you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for you have kindled my anger, and it will burn forever.

Jeremiah, on the other hand, was suffering through no fault of his own. Rather, he was suffering for doing exactly what God told him to do, preaching the Word to a stubborn and rebellious people.

God gave this word to the Israelites, but I think it was just as much for Jeremiah’s encouragement when God told him,

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (4-8)

In saying this, God condemned the Israelites for trusting in themselves but encouraged Jeremiah at the same time. Basically, he said, “Jeremiah, I know things are tough. But if you will trust in me and put your confidence in me, you will be blessed. Even though your circumstances seem tough, you will always be fruitful for me. Even if everyone else around you falls to these hard times, you will prosper.”

And God was as good as his word. Though Jerusalem would eventually fall, God delivered Jeremiah. Nebuchadnezzar himself gave orders that Jeremiah was to be taken care of and not harmed. (Jeremiah 39:11-14)

This is not to say Jeremiah’s life was easy and that he lived a life of leisure. But he was a man that lived a life that was fruitful despite everything that happened around him.

As we face the coming year, what difficulties are you going through? Are they coming because you’ve turned your back on God? Now’s a good time to turn back. To turn your back on your stubbornness and sin, and to start trusting God again.

Are things going wrong even though you’re following God? Keep trusting him. Don’t get discouraged. And like Jeremiah, you will see a life that is fruitful and makes a difference in this world.

Isn’t that what we all want?

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Overcoming rather than being Overwhelmed

AS we looked at this week, we can learn from Elisha. Elisha makes a big ask of Elijah. “Let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” This doesn’t mean that Elisha was asking to be twice as powerful as Elijah, although if you count up the number of miracles God performed through Elisha compared to Elijah, there actually are twice as many. But Elisha isn’t asking to be twice as powerful.

And it doesn’t mean that Elisha is asking that his ministry be twice as long as Elijah’s, although, again, it kind of turned out that way. Elijah’s public ministry was 27 years; while Elisha’s was 51.

No. According to the biblical law of inheritance, the heir of a father’s estate received the double portion of the inheritance. So Elisha is simply asking for confirmation that he really is going to succeed Elijah in ministry.

If we are going to move from overwhelmed to overflowing, then we have to move from comparison to contentment. Elisha wasn’t asking to be twice the prophet Elijah was. It wasn’t about comparing his ministry to someone else’s. Elisha was completely content being the prophet God called him to be.

What about you? If you are being honest with yourself, how much of your overwhelm comes from comparing yourself to others? Comparing your kids to other people’s kids? Comparing your vacation photos to other people’s vacation photos. I wonder if in our church life how much of our busyness as a church comes from comparing what our church is doing to what other churches are doing? Friends, you have to be content with who God has made you to

be in Christ. God doesn’t want your imitation of anyone else in the kingdom.

It’s worth pointing out here that Elisha immediately began operating in the power of the Spirit once to took over the mantle from Elijah. And the vast majority of the miracles God performed through him were for the benefit of other people. That by itself is a lesson for us—that when we receive “a double portion” of God’s spirit, it isn’t for our benefit. It is for the benefit of others. We are blessed to be a blessing. And one of the first encounters Elisha has is with someone who also went from overwhelmed to overcoming (by literally overflowing)

Elisha is approached by the wife of one of the prophets Elisha was mentoring.

4 Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” 2 And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.”

This widow is in pretty dire straits. Her husband has died, there are bills to pay, and the creditor is coming to take her two children to be slaves until the debts can be paid. And the only thing the woman has of any value is one jar of oil.

It would be easy to complain here, wouldn’t it? What would you do? Some of you have been there. Some of you are there right now. Your credit cards are maxed out, you are underwater on your mortgage.

Isn’t it interesting that sometimes the last thing we think to do is cry out to God? And absolutely the last thing we want to do is admit to our neighbours or friends or church family that we need help. So what does this woman do? First, she cries out to God’s prophet, Elisha. And what does the man of God tell her to do?

3 Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbours, empty vessels and not too few. 4 Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.”

The woman tells Elisha that all she has is one jar of oil. Notice what Elisha doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Well, start cutting back. If the recipe calls for half a cup of oil, use a quarter cup and mix it with water. I know the bread won’t taste as good, but let’s see how far we can stretch it.” He doesn’t say, “Ok, let’s sell that, and then we will adjust our budget to make ends meet.”

Instead, Elisha says, “Take what little you have, trust God with it, and see what happens.” And God performs a miracle with it! The woman humbly goes to her neighbours and asks for every container they have. Big ones, small ones, tall ones, short ones. It had to look like a middle eastern Tupperware party on her kitchen table. And it must not have made a lick of sense to her. She might have been thinking to herself, “Maybe he didn’t hear me right. I didn’t say, “I have so much oil that I’ve run out of containers.” This is ridiculous.

But she goes and borrows every bowl in Palestine, and look what happens…

5 So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

Isn’t it interesting that God’s blessing didn’t stop flowing until she ran out of things to put it in? That’s a huge lesson for us! Why would we submit such an aggressive budget? Why would we have so many line items? Why would we be planning so many events? Why are we looking to take on an overseas mission project? Because we believe that God is able to fill up every container we bring him. We believe that if God chooses to stop blessing our church, it won’t be because He’s run out of blessing, but because we’ve stopped bringing him vessels to put it in.

So here is our lesson: In order to move from overwhelmed to overcoming, we have to move from grumbling to gratitude. Philippians 2:14 encourages us to “do everything without grumbling or complaining.” Instead of stressing out about what we don’t have, express our gratitude for what we do have by being generous with it. Place it in God’s hands, and watch what He does with it. Psalm 13:6 says, “I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” God doesn’t cut corners when He blesses us. He deals bountifully with us! And when we are rooted in him and established in him, then we can overflow with gratitude (Col. 2:7)

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Be filled and continue to be filled

The apostle Paul encourages us in Ephesians 5:18 that we are filled with the Spirit. Therefore, I want to try to answer two questions today: What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? And, how can we be filled with the Spirit? I think it might help you to follow me if I tell you at the outset where I am going. So I’ll start with my conclusions and then give biblical support. I think being filled with the Spirit means, basically, having great joy in God. And since the Bible teaches that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), it also means there will be power in this joy for overcoming besetting sins and for boldness in witness.

But, basically, it means radiant joy, because the Spirit who fills us is the Spirit of joy that flows between God the Father and God the Son because of the delight they have in each other. Therefore, to be filled with the Spirit means to be caught into the joy that flows among the Holy Trinity and to love God the Father and God the Son with the very love with which they love each other. And then, in answer to the second question, the way to be filled with the Spirit is by trusting that the God of hope really reigns — that not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will (Matthew 10:29) — and that he runs the world for you and for all who trust his word. In believing that, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy.

What Does ‘Baptize in the Holy Spirit’ Mean?

The phrase “baptize in (or with) the Holy Spirit” was apparently coined by John the Baptist. All four of our gospels record that he said, “I have baptized you with water, but he (i.e., Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3:11Mark 1:8Luke 3:16John 1:33). The only two writers in the New Testament who refer elsewhere to the phrase “baptize with the Spirit” are Luke in the book of Acts, and Paul in 1 Corinthians. Luke refers to it twice, quoting John each time (Acts 1:511:16), and Paul refers to it once (1 Corinthians 12:13). But I don’t think Paul and Luke use this phrase to refer to the same thing. For Paul, it is virtually identical to regeneration or new birth (conversion). For Luke, it is essentially the same as being filled with the Spirit and refers to that first introductory experience of this fullness.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1–3)

Jesus promises in chapter 1 that they will be baptized by the Spirit, and Luke describes the fulfilment of that promise in chapter 2 in terms of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Yet we know from Acts 11:15–17 that Luke does see Pentecost as a baptism with the Spirit. He reports there how Peter described his preaching to the Gentiles, in Cornelius’s house:

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?

So this later outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles (in Acts 10:44) is equated with the first Pentecostal outpouring, and both are explained as a baptism with the Spirit. Therefore, Luke sees what happened at Pentecost as both a baptism with the Spirit and a filling with the Spirit. Since Luke refers later on to the disciples being filled again (Acts 4:83113:4), but never refers to them as being baptized again with the Spirit, it seems to me that for Luke “baptism with the Spirit” refers to that initial filling by the Spirit after a person trusts in Christ.

I don’t think Luke equates “baptism by the Spirit” with regeneration as Paul does. That would mean that all the apostles, who, with God’s help, had confessed Jesus to be the Christ (Luke 9:20Matthew 16:17) and had seen him alive after his resurrection and had their minds opened by him to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45), were in fact dead in trespasses and sins and enslaved to the flesh during all their time with Jesus and up till Pentecost morning.

So let's be filled, and continue to be filled that others might see God at work in us.

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Ready to be Baptised?

The apostle Paul, one of the key figures in the Bible, knew from his own experience the amazing meaning of baptism. At one time he went by the name Saul and was a cruel killer of Christians. Then he encountered the living Lord Jesus and found how wrong it was to fight against Christ. At that point, a Christian named Ananias helped Saul take the first steps in making a new start. Even though Saul had been a horrible enemy of Christians, Ananias greeted him as "Brother Saul" and treated him as a fellow member of God's family. After telling Saul he would become a great witness for the Lord Jesus, Ananias said, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). Just like that, the murderous sinner Saul was baptized. His sins were washed away, and he ended up becoming the mighty missionary, Paul.

The water of baptism isn't what actually washes sins away, of course. "The blood of Jesus," says the Scripture, "purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7), and that promise of washing in Jesus' blood is displayed and confirmed in the baptismal washing.

Paul's terrible sins were washed away, and your sins can be washed away too. You don't have to wait to be baptized until you are clean enough to be acceptable to God. If that were the case, none of us could ever be baptized. Baptism reminds us that even though we are dirty, God makes us clean. Even though we are dead in sin, God makes us alive in Christ Jesus. Even though we are dry and empty, he fills us with the living water of his Holy Spirit. To be baptized is not a declaration of your own qualifications. It's an admission of your need and an acceptance of Christ's provision.

You may think you're so bad that you can't possibly be forgiven and transformed, but are you worse than Paul was? Are you worse than millions of other sinners who have received baptism and new life? If God accepted me, he can surely accept you as well. Paul speaks for all Christians when he says, At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).

Baptism is a visual enactment of those words. What an astonishing before-and-after picture of the transforming power of God's love in Jesus Christ! Before, there's foolishness, slavery, hatred. After, there's rebirth as sons of God who inherit everything that is God's, including eternal life. Paul never tired of telling other people about the love of Christ and the amazing change that comes when we are connected to Christ. Paul said, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If you've never been baptized, but you know your sinfulness and believe in Jesus' blood, his resurrection, and his life-giving Spirit, then, to quote Paul's friend Ananias, "What are you waiting for?" Be baptized and wash your sins away through calling on the name of Jesus in faith.

If you've been baptized in water at some point in the past but have never entered into the reality of rebirth, repentance, and faith, now is the time to accept what your baptism signifies.

"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19). Don't despise baptism. Be washed in Jesus blood, and be filled with his Spirit.

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