Living By The Spirit

He was an innocent man condemned to die. To ensure his execution, on his last night of life he was locked deep within prison walls, chained between two guards. His crime? He was an ardent disciple of Christ. His name? Peter. His reaction to his impending death the next morning? He was sleeping like a baby.

Acts 12 records the story of Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison. Although guarded by 12 guards, two chained to either side of him, Peter was about to be set free and there was nothing anyone could do to prevent it.

And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. Acts 12:7

Peter, in silent amazement, followed his heavenly deliverer past each set of guards and through each locked door. He focused ahead on his help and before he realized what had happened, he was a free man.

Peter’s deliverance from prison is a fitting story for this week’s lesson on Living by the Spirit. As Paul continues in his letter to the church at Galatia, he is admonishing them to walk in the Spirit and avoid the works of the flesh.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21

Paul is calling the church to a life of purity. A life of purity is not just an avoidance of the obvious outward sins such as adultery, fornication, murder, etc. Paul also includes in his list those inward sins of the mind: hatred, jealousy, envy, and strife. It is often these internal attitudes and emotions that we excuse as not as deadly to our spiritual growth. Paul argues differently.

I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:21

Like Peter in prison, many of us need to be set free. We are often chained by the sins of our past and present. A triumph today is met with defeat tomorrow and we resolve that there is little hope for complete victory.

From all appearances, Peter was in a hopeless situation. But he had trusted his case to the God he served. When the angel appeared, Peter’s job was simply to follow. By following the heavenly aid, Peter was freed. We are to do the same. We are to closely follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our freedom from sin is just as assured.

Paul knew that the only hope for the church was that they would grow in love. The errors that had crept in had created tension and dissension. They would never be able to fulfill the purpose of their existence unless they were on one accord. It would take the guidance of the Holy Spirit to free them and set them on a course of love and unity. Paul explains how they were to avoid and move past those pitfalls of fleshly (ungodly) living.

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

“Walk in the light.” To walk in the light means to resolve, to exercise thought, to exert will power, in an earnest endeavor to represent Christ in sweetness of character. It means to put away all gloom. You are not to rest satisfied simply in saying, “I am a child of God.” Are you beholding Jesus, and, by beholding, becoming changed into His likeness? To walk in the light means advancement and progress in spiritual attainments. Paul declared, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but … forgetting those things which are behind,” constantly beholding the Pattern, I reach “forth unto those things which are before.” To walk in the light means to “walk uprightly,” to walk “in the way of the Lord,” to “walk by faith,” to “walk in the Spirit,” to “walk in the truth,” to “walk in love,” to “walk in newness of life.” It is “perfecting holiness in the fear of God”…. Ellen White 4 Manuscript Release, pg 273

Movement in the right direction is our recipe for success.

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

What does spiritual growth mean to you?
How can one tell, if at all, that they are growing spiritually?
What does it mean to Walk in the Spirit?
Is it possible to be spiritual but not religious? Explain your answer.
What does it mean in practical terms to keep your eyes on Jesus?
In Jesus’s condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:23), He told them that they neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. What did He mean by that?
Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: We should not expect complete victory over sin until Jesus comes. Explain your answer.

We close this week’s lesson with another admonition from Paul that includes advancement and freedom from sin. We are either advancing or retreating. There’s no acceptable middle ground:

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” Hebrews 12:1

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

Reaching Through the Crowds

I’m stretching my hands through the crowd, just trying to get a touch.

My need is great. No other options are available. My only hope is to make the connection.

The crowds are an obstacle.

Noise and confusion form a barrier to my goal. But I must reach Him at all costs.

To be who I am called to be, To be who I know I need to be, who I desperately want to be, I need a connection with His love.

My heart needs fixing. My love needs an awakening.

Today I will stretch through the crowds and reach Him.

Through the crowds of doubt and dissension. Through the crowds of anger and confusion. Through the crowds of my past and my present, I will stretch until I reach Him.

I will ask Him to create in me a new heart and to renew a right spirit within me. Today is my day for a miracle.

Worshippers!

I had an interesting talk about church services with a pastor friend of mine.

Here are some of my thoughts on the topic of worship.

The current buzzword in popular Christianity is worshipper. It’s the thrust of many a sermon and even some songs – being a true worshipper. In many applications, the premise of being a true worshipper is flat out wrong. There is no biblical foundation to judge a person’s worship on how they react to the praise team’s songs or the oratorical surges of a preached sermon. None.

Please don’t judge one’s spirituality or engagement in worshipping God by how they react to the choreographed church service you designed to raise emotions. Just because they don’t have the response you would like to see, does not mean they are any less connected with God than those who are demonstrative in the ways you like.

Just because someone doesn’t stretch their hands out to pray when you tell them to, does not mean that they are any less interested in the object of prayer or any less involved in the prayer. Extending our arms in prayer is the cool thing to do right now. But in our adoption of the cool, let’s not lose the main attitude of prayer – hearts that are humble as they talk with God. Sadly, the peer pressure struggle inside of the church is real.

Don’t dismiss your members who disagree with how service is being conducted as criticism. They may have legitimate reasons for why they oppose certain things that happen in our churches.  It’s not necessarily a resistance to change and a clinging to so-called out-dated traditions. And who knows, they may be right. The only place where one should not expect to hear differences of opinion should be in a dictatorship, and that should not be the flavor of any of our churches.

We can all agree that the service that takes place once a week in our churches is not a replica of any church service found in the Bible. That doesn’t make all that we do wrong. But neither does it make all that we do right. Outside of reading and studying the scriptures, hearing a preached word, prayer and bringing of an offering, much of what we do is of our own creation. We should be careful not to view our ideas as always God’s ideas. We should adopt the attitude of the early church at Berea, “in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Acts 17:11

It’s certainly not what happens in the 2-3 hour, once a week church service that determines or reveals one’s connection in worship with God. I would argue that it is more important about what happens outside of a church service than inside of church that determines if a person is a true worshipper.

Continue reading