Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Does the Holy Spirit Help Me Hear God?

In the fourth part of his series, "Spirit" Erwin McManus reviews our spirituality dilemma.  "We spent the last few weeks stepping into a new and unique conversation;  where we are being trapped in between a material and spiritual reality .."  Some of us are aware that we are spiritual creatures. but all of us are reminded every day that we are physical.  We need to eat and drink and sleep, but there is also this spiritual reality that we can't put our fingers on.  We know how to answer our physical needs.  We eat when we're hungry.  We sleep when we're tired.  Then, on another level, we satisfy cravings of our minds, like the need for success and physical contact.  But there is still more going on in us; something more substantive that we crave.  These cravings are informed by our spirituality.  It's as if our souls know something that our physical bodies do not.

Our souls long to connect with the God who created us.  We know something is missing.  There's a hollowness that remains unsatisfied no matter what we do physically.  We can't interpret it so we cry out to God.  Our soul searches for unconditional love and so we try to fill this "love" gap.  As a result, we end up moving from person to person and from relationship to relationship   But before we can address this need of our souls, we have to realize that we are not physical beings with spiritual appetites.  We are spiritual beings with physical appetites.

All of us seem to know that there is this cosmic force around us and we try to connect with it.  In the  Scriptures, we find there is in us this longing because we are designed to live in communication with God.  We also find that the Spirit of God is a person and He is highly intelligent.  In the book of Ezekiel, we have this intimate moment between God and the prophet Ezekiel.  The conversation begins in Ezekiel 37 -

The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”  Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded.  And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”  10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 

What we've learned is that this Spirit of God can be translated into "breath" and "wind" of God.  When Jesus said "I can fill you with my Spirit", it can be translated, then, to "I can fill you with my wind" or "my breath".    Also, what we find is that it translates into the "voice of God" speaking to us.  His ultimate intention for us is to give us life through this wind, breath or voice.

In Ezekiel, Don't you think that there is an unnecessary middle man in the exchange between Ezekiel and God?  God can make the bones of a dead army live, so what is Ezekiel's purpose here?  God wanted him to speak to the bones.  He wanted him to prophesy over the bones; to state a declaration of the future over them.  When Ezekiel hears God s instructions, he realizes that God wants him to become the voice of God!   He speaks in the passage in first person, as though he were God Himself speaking.

But that which he was declaring was exactly what God commanded him to declare.  Ezekiel talks about how he prophesied, but after he does as God instructs, as Erwin says, "it almost happened".  The bones came together and reorganized themselves.  They connected themselves correctly to the right and left sides of the body.  Tendons and muscles appeared and gathered, followed by flesh.  But God then wanted Ezekiel to "continue the conversation".  God told Ezekiel to watch what it was like to be God.  He wanted him to witness this.  Why?  Because this is the way God loves to work among his people!  God finds people who believe in Him and who will declare His glory.  He tells Ezekiel to prophesy His breath.  God spoke, through Ezekiel, to the bones and that set the stage for what was next.  God commands Ezekiel speak the breath of God.  What God's breath brought was then life.  As Ezekiel prophesied, the breath of God enters the bony, fleshy but still-dead bodies.  The bodies steadily begin to stand up to their feet and suddenly they become a vast army!

Realize that this is part of living the life into which Jesus invites us.  Without the breath of God, we have no life!  We are just death wrapped up in a bony, fleshy existence.  When Erwin's son Aaron was just a little boy, Erwin and he had just boarded a plane and the two were listening to the instructions in case of an emergency.  The stewardess was showing how to survive a water landing and she was pointing to the exits.  Aaron was ignoring her until, on this particular flight, she said "if you are an adult, first put the mask on yourself and then put one on your child".  Aaron perked up and asked what she said. Erwin tried to rehash and then explained the last statement, but Aaron said "no, you put the mask on me first. Airplanes are not safe for children".  He knew that if we try to live in a world without breath, we are going to be gasping for air.  Erwin then explains that he doesn't like the part where they say the bag may not inflate!  "I want my bag to move with me...I want my bag plump with oxygen!"  See, a lot of us are in a place where we have lost cabin pressure.  Everything around us has made us slaves.

But a part of the process that makes this all work is that the Holy Spirit allows us to be in communication with God.  He allows us to first have a conversation.  Have you ever gone out with someone who didn't talk or talked too much?   This was someone who only talked about themselves and then said, "you are so interesting".  We cannot move into a relationship until we communicate with God.

God told Ezekiel (paraphrasing), "I want you to travel with my Spirit and I want you to listen to Him.  Do as He says and then live your life according to what He tells you.  The people in Ezekiel's day were slaves as a way of life.  They were essentially used to this lifestyle.  They moved from bondage to bondage.  The Egyptians and the Babylonians were using the Jewish people as pawns.  Would there ever be a day when they would be free?  Yes, there would be.  But only with the presence of God.

God is asking us, "Do you believe that I am the God who has a future for you and who will bring light into the  darkness?   But we can't even be in that conversation if we don't even seek to listen to God.  Do you feel that God just talks a different language?   Jesus saw this as our dilemma.  It was certainly helpful when God showed up in the physical form of Jesus.  We could see that God Himself understood the struggles of the physical world.  We could touch Him and fellowship with Him.  He was as we are; tendons, muscles, bones and blood.  But then God left us TWICE.  First, He was crucified and buried.  But then He scares the disciples to death by reappearing.  He catches more fish for them, shows Doubting Thomas physical proof of His spiritual reality, but He only stays for a short while and leaves again.  That had to be traumatizing, but the reason Jesus had to go the second time was because He was sending in His place the Comforter; His communicator.  "I don't think they believed Him for a second."

John 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what He will make known to you.”

Want an inside track on what God has done in history and what He plans to do in the future?  Live in step with the Spirit.  Jesus said for us to have the conversation and to have it our whole life.  When He speaks, He speaks life into the world.  The Spirit will speak to us because He and God are one.  This Spirit will guide us into the light and into the life that He has come to give us.

Why doesn't God speak more clearly?  Believe it or not, there is a reason!  Hebrews 3 shares with us;  So, as the Holy Spirit says:  “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors tested and tried Me, though for forty years they saw what I did.  1That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known My ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in My anger, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’   

So the writer of Hebrews is describing the time of God's people when they wandered in the wilderness refusing to follow Him for an entire generation!!  God is saying that our ancestors tested and tried Him and, as a result, He declared an oath that they would never enter His rest.  See, when God speaks to us, we have to respond to His voice.  Sometimes we actually respond with disbelief!  God says, "this is what I want for you" and we respond by saying, "I don't think so".  Have you ever wanted to do something that you knew was wrong and a small voice warned you not to do it?  That was God!  The same is true when you were at a point of making a life decision and there was a voice saying, "Don't make that mistake!"  Well, that was God.  Have you ever decided to use someone or lie to someone and a voice convicted you saying that it wasn't in line with your character?  That was God.

Scripture describes our not listening to this "voice" as a sin of disbelief because we're not trusting God with our life.  We are saying, "I don't trust you with my future. I don't believe you are correct".  So, our ancestors decided to do things their own way and this wasn't the journey God wanted them to live!  What happens, then, is our hearts become hardened against God.  Then our ears become "dull" and we slowly become deaf to the voice of God. Then, all we experience is our own, self-induced "silence" of God.

Just because you've gone deaf, doesn't mean God isn't speaking!

When you sense the voice of God, you have to respond.  But if you respond by disobeying, your heart hardens because you don't want to feel the pain, the guilt and the shame.  Your heart doesn't just harden to these things either.  It also hardens to love, peace and faith.  This is when your ears become dull and, finally, there comes a day when you don't even remember hearing the God's voice at all!

If we respond positively to God, our dreams and our relationships come to life.  All we have to do is follow.  Erwin says he uses the word "follow" versus the word "obey" because many people don't like the word "obey".   If we will follow, God will move us to the future we were born to live!  If we follow, our hearts will be softened and we will once again "hear" God.  Jesus reminds us through his parable of different soils that receive seed.  Some soil is hard and other soil is soft.  God tells us that we have to have good soil which means we have to have soft hearts to hear Him.  The tender heart can move into a relationship with God and that then helps us to hear.  Once we hear, we can live.

When is the last time God spoke to you,  you heard Him and then you followed Him with a heart of joy?

Matt 16:13 addresses a question Jesus asks; 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”  16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He ordered His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah.

I love it when God helps us "cheat on a test".  When God asks a tough question and, only if the Spirit has spoken in His voice to us, God gives us the answer!  Simon got a name change because he was no longer trapped in this physical world view.  He knew the Spirit.  You are Peter and a rock  You are finally ready to live in the invisible not the visible; ready to live life eternal, not just a timed life.  In Peter's case, God gave the keys of heaven to him, saying, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven!  Erwin jokes, "I don't even know what that means, but I want to test it!!

Have you ever been given keys.  "It was awesome when I got my first house...getting the keys was awesome...But going inside of it was more amazing!  Getting the keys to my first car was great...but what if we received the keys and then didn't get to drive the car?  Have you ever lost your keys?...A car is worthless if we have no keys!  "Do you guys know Emerson? ..  This is a guy at the church who has so many keys!!  Why do they give this guy so many keys?  Because he is trustworthy...But another reason why Emerson gets so many keys is because when he finds things that need to be fixed or things that aren't being utilized, he goes in and creates things that are beautiful!"  God has given us the keys to heaven and some of us have lost them!!  We've left them on our "desk" or we've put them away in storage.

This weekend Aaron was driving really fast with Erwin in the passenger seat because they were following a friend of his on a motorcycle the road was swerving.  Erwin kept asking Aaron to slow down. "I'm begging you, as a man, to SLOW Down!!  But then I heart this small week voice in the back that said,  'I gotta get out'.  Next thing I know, a guy got out and it got ugly (he was throwing up)...So, then, do you know what happened?  He gave me the keys and I was able to drive at my speed!!"

God has given us the keys to heaven.  He is looking for the person who will hear His voice life and give life . men and women.  He wants His people to hear the audacious things He suggests and then He wants us to respond faithfully!  He calls us to speak His breath and His wind.  "I refuse to live and die never calling out the wind.  I am going to tell the wind it is time to move and bring life to this world!!...If I have to live like a fool, I will.  If I don't, I am only looking at a life of dry bones.  Let me ask you,

Do you believe God can use you to bring life?  Do you believe God speaks to you if you declare His voice to the world?  Do you believe dry bones can live?  When is the last time you heard the voice of God and what did you do with it?

Ask God right now to speak to you.  There is a voice from God that is telling you where you are and where you need to go.  Do you trust Him, His Son and the Holy Spirit?  The conversations need to go two ways and whatever He says, you respond with joy!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How Do I Know I Am Connected With the Holy Spirit?

In the third part of his series "Spirit", Erwin McManus begins by reviewing the concept of the "Holy Spirit" and by reminding us of the many layers in which we weave in and out of between the material world and the spiritual world.  The Spirit can be an incredibly elusive understanding for many of us but scriptures help us understand His role in our lives;

In Acts 2:1, we read;  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?   Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine."
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:“‘In the last days, God says,   I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,  your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women,   I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
This is an incredible moment that gives us a chance to understand our relationship with God.  Often we think that if we could only see God or Jesus, we could be truly be obedient followers.  But God gives us that which we can't see; His Spirit. God also points out the glaring evidence of creation which reflects His Glory.  We also know that He sent His son, Jesus, for us who was crucified for us.  Jesus was resurrected and there were hundreds of witnesses who saw Him.

God is this being who surrounds us, in everything.  He is omniscient and omnipresent.  We see an ever expanding universe which is another a reminder that God is incomprehensible.  Eternity would not be enough time to understand the grandeur of God.  Here you have this amazing God trying to have a conversation with you!  The problem is that we hear everything He has to say from our tiny little perspective on this tiny little earth.  "Have a moment of empathy for God for a minute."  God surely thinks to Himself, "It seems to me that putting but one of my thoughts into your tiny little brain is going to be tough!   Have you ever tried to talk reason into a three year old?   It's impossible to get some of them to stop eating crayons!  Pooping on the floor is far less meaningful that going to the bathroom, but they don't care...  Try explaining to a 14 year old why a decision today could ruin their life.  That's why every single dad on television teen shows these days is made out to be an idiot.  "This incredibly old, limited creature known as my father feels it's his right to give me counsel".  It's just plain hard to talk to them!

If you are married or dating, have you ever try to explain to a husband why being late is irritating?  Every now and then, we all get a chance to talk to a "lower species".  God is not just trying to communicate with us.  Hes' also trying to commune  with us.  But if He can't commune with us, it is even harder for Him to communicate with us.  God demonstrated this by "showing up" all throughout the Bible.  He was in a burning bush when He chose to encounter Moses.  Erwin jokes, "God said, 'I am that I am' and lost Moses right away!"  God also expressed himself as a pillar of smoke, as a cloud and as a column of fire.  He has been trying to connect with us throughout history!  But then He came up with an amazing concept.  He would come down here and be with us through Jesus so that we could relate to Him and truly experience Him face to face.  But the process was still incomplete.  Jesus said that if we saw Him, we also saw the Father.  It was an amazing thing.  And then God decided to bring Himself to us through His Spirit.  If the Son of God is God in man, then the Spirit of God is God in mankind.

Now let's go back to the Pentecost and explore our dilemma.  We say, "Okay, I've surrendered my life and I now have God. I am a new believer and now I want to "glow".  Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a way that God could give us clear confirmation of our relationship to Him by making us glow (maybe a bright yellow) when we got it right??  Then we could "task" our spirituality and be done!  If we stopped glowing or started to lose our glow, we would know that it was time pay attention to some more spiritual stuff.  Obviously, that doesn't happen.

The Holy Spirit often comes in the form of emotion.  Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit in a song?  Sometimes it couldn't be more clear, especially with a song like "Holy Spirit Fill This Place".  We have degrees of not being sure what we feel but we feel something.  All too often we leave church after a wonderful, Spirit-filled worship, but then "lose" the feeling of the Spirit on the way home.  But that's how it is, and so many people base their relationship with God on how they feel.  The problem is that, because of this, our relationship to the Spirit is affected by so many things including circumstances, bad food, success, failure, health, etc. If something goes right, we feel like God is working in our lives and "favors" us,  But then we feel rejected when something goes wrong.    

This is like what we see in Acts when the heavy wind of the Spirit came upon them  These handful of Galileans began to speak.  People gathered when they heard all the commotion and then realized that they could understand all the different people speaking all the different languages.  This was a moment when God released His Spirit and moved through the people to reveal His heavenly voice directly to each individual in the crowd.  That must have been an incredible moment!

When Erwin became a follower in college, he explored several different churches and tried to experience all different types of worship as well.  Some were more spectacular than others.  Some were boring.  Erwin was a performer, so he appreciated the church productions.  Just after he was a believer, he was at a downtown celebration and he met this amazingly beautiful girl who loved God.  She and Erwin teamed up and began hanging out together doing all kinds of activity that served people.  It wasn't really a "date" doing all this stuff, but he had a great time with her.  One evening, she turned to Erwin and asked, "Have you received the Holy Spirit and have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?" Erwin replied, "yes", but then she asked him if he spoke in tongues. Erwin was confused and unsure of what she meant, but it made her angry and she then told him he'd been deceived.  "You're a baptist!" "I didn't understand." She grabbed Erwin and, as her "project", took him to her place of worship and tried to get them to help Erwin realize what he needed to do.  Her church pastor was gracious and nice and begin asking the same questions.  Erwin said he was buying into everything.  They prayed over him and spoke in tongues over him, but he just couldn't "feel" what they were trying to get him to feel.  They meant the best, but it wasn't something they could place on him.  This was between him and the Holy Spirit.

As a new follower of Christ, Erwin was at a Christian event and talking to people while standing in the rain, when he stopped and prayed with a group asking God to make it stop raining, it then seemed as if it was raining everywhere but where they were standing.  On another occasion, Erwin asked a girl on a college campus if there was any way God could prove his love for her.  The girl told Erwin that God could prove this if He would make it snow.  Erwin prayed for snow and within a few days it was snowing!!  On another occasion, Erwin prayed over someone who needed to be healed, and he was.  Erwin's point to all this is; is it possible that God has given us all different talents to manifest ourselves in God's grandeur plan?  It this possible even when it seems the world wants us to be all the same even in the church?!?  Often, what ends up happening because of this mindset is that we end up baptizing our bad habits into our new selves...

There is this new technology called UP by Jawbone. Erwin got it in the mail.  He studied it a little bit and figured out how to us it. The technology told him things like how much he slept and how many steps he walked.  It doesn't do anything in the way of what he has done in the past, just the present.  Sometimes this gadget even makes suggestions like "Don't take the escalator; take the stairs".  It also does something that has to do with sleep patterns.  It told him it took 54 minutes for him to fall asleep   He knew, through this gadget, how long he was actually laying in bed and how long he was actually in a deep sleep.  It even gave him a "sleep goal".  After setting this goal for himself, the next night, he captured 5 hours 59 minutes of sleep.  The second night he fell asleep in 11 minutes.  He was only awake throughout the entire night for 12 minutes.  His new toy could tell the difference in "light sleep" from deep sleep time.  It even told him that his deep sleep capacity was at 37%!!  Pretty neat stuff.  Even though we are not aware of how we live, our behavior affects our bodies directly!   Did you know that if you do not sleep, your body craves more carbs and fats?
Similarly, wouldn't it be nice if we could see how we could directly have a relationship with the Holy Spirit and it would gauge how we live?  Well, in a way, it does.  Scripture actually does tell us how we know if the Spirit is active in our lives; we begin to bear fruit!

Galatians 5:22-25 -- 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

With these fruits, we can absolutely pursue them with a Heavenly greed.  We can hoard joy and dominate kindness. So, again, we know we are in step with the Holy Spirit when we are bearing the fruits of the Spirit.  We will continuously be transformed into the image of God and the image of Christ as we pursue Him.  It's a wonderful thing!  In a year from now, if we remain filled with the Spirit, we will be more loving next year, more joyful, more peaceful and kinder.  We can then know that God is working in us because we are becoming a new creature.  We are being changed from the inside out.  God is trying to release this "new you" in you. Why not do it sooner than later?  

God has a huge idea for us and our future.  He is talking about sharing these things with us through the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that delves in the deep things of God.  Haven't we shaken our fists at God asking and begging Him for His wisdom and for His answers?  We know God has the answers, but we sometimes think He is just withholding them from us!  But God tells us in 2 Corinthians 2;

However, as it is written; "What no eye has see, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived" - the things of God has prepared for those who love Him - these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

When we seek to follow Christ, to listen to His Word and to invite the Holy Spirit, we get to experience a small peek into the mind of God.  All that we think and create pales in comparison to what He thinks and creates.  But God uses our character and builds into it His knowledge and wisdom.  

Paul points out to us that the Holy Spirit always backs Jesus.  He is our way to God.  There are different
kinds of gifts, but the same God is at work "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." 

All that God gives us is a gift we are to, in turn, give to the world.  Because He so generous, He not only releases in us our new selves and gives us wisdom, but He also gives us His gifts to give to the world!  We can become instruments of the beauty and wonder and glory of God!

Years ago, Erwin had taken his daughter, Mariah, around the world and she had seen him do many things.  One night during dinner, Mariah asked her father if he could read peoples minds.  He responded by saying, "No, sweety, I can't read minds; I read hearts".  Then, for the first time, he and his daughter talked to each other about spiritual gifts.  Sometimes, while he was in the ministry, Erwin would just know things.  He could see people's souls like some people look at furniture.  He could discern.  There are some things Erwin, doesn't want to see in a fallen world, but God gives His gifts and we must press on.  Whenever we receive these gifts, we "become a weird and bizarre person".  When Erwin first saw God healing through him, it scared him because he didn't want to be a white robed televangelist!  Erwin has seen others who had a gift and still others who have desperately wanted a gift.  But we have to be patient.  God will come and He will give to us.
Erwin still can't believe people want to come and actually hear him talk!  There was no obvious ability or talent.  His uncle, one time, said, " so now you speak?"  He didn't mean to audiences, he meant Erwin was finally talking at all!  Erwin was an extreme recluse.  God came to him and told him what he was to do just because God has a sense of humor!  "I stayed quiet until I had something to say!" 

Acts 1, Jesus basically says do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for My Father's gift.  You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.  
When you receive My Spirit, you will know My power because you will have My presence.  When you decide to take on my mantel and not to be ashamed of my scars, then you will know the fullness of Me.  The Holy Spirit manifests Himself when we choose to be a people of action.  

Sometimes people see the Spirit of God as a Jacuzzi!  "Yeah get me a little right here... Yeah, that's right, get  right there".  There are times when we can bask in Him.  In fact, God wants us to rest in Him,  but we will never know the power of God until we begin to move in line with God.  Where God moves the Spirit moves. 

When we move, His Spirit moves in us.

Spiritual maturity is the "gap time" between when God speaks and when we obey.  It is not about God coming to us and moving us. God won't tell us when we didn't walk with him or when we didn't obey Him or when we didn't seek Him.  He will wait for us to get up.  Live your life for Him without shame . Be willing to be a light.  This is the moment when we won't need the subjective or the spectacular.  It will be undeniable.  Live and move by the Spirit!

Friday, April 12, 2013

How Can the Holy Spirit Change Me?

In the second part of his series, "Spirit", Erwin McManus (www.mosaic.org) reviews his previous message by talking about diving into a space where we have experience without language.  It is more than our senses of touching, hearing and seeing.  It's a place where our mind, our soul and our intellect comprehend.   This is where we describe ourselves as spiritual beings.   It's the difference between being religious and being spiritual   Many people feel a huge sense of apprehension when talking about religion, but they feel surprisingly comfortable talking about spirituality.

What does it really mean and how do the scriptures talk about this spiritual space?  How does it relate to us?   Last week,  Erwin proposed that we change our view of reality as it pertains to the Holy Spirit, but this week he wants us to change our view of what it means to be human.  Many people think there is some sort of force in the universe to which we relate.  The Spirit is personal.   He is not an IT.  He is a HE; not in terms of male versus female, but more in terms of His being a person and being intentional.  He is the creative force who acts in God's creative capacity.  Whenever we see the Holy Spirit in scriptures, we should automatically think that something big is about to happen.

For a lot of us, it's easier to understand God and Jesus, but then we have to look at the elusive space of the Holy Spirit.  Generally, people accept the other conversation, but when it gets to the Holy Spirit, now you get to be "bizarre" and weird. Usually, if a person starts talking more about the Holy Spirit, there is a little bit of "crazy" involved.  This is because there are so many misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit and how the Living God expresses His character through the Spirit.

In Genesis 1, we read;  In the beginning God created the heaven....and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters and God said, "Let there be light".  After these words came the entire creative order of our world.  God spoke and created.  So, what you find in the Bible is this beautiful symmetry of the Spirit world and science.  Whenever there is conversation about the Spirit, it's as if a light comes on inside.  As with the creation of the earth, our souls seem to move from darkness to light.  In creation, though, light was not the end.  What we find i light creates ENERGY.  When people speak about energy as it relates to religion, though,  they often think it is New Age or Buddhist.  But energy is real and it exists in our religion too.  The scripture talks about how God created light and how the light became a functional energy.  It was the material evidence of God's existence.  Energy, in turn, created matter.  See?  So when science told us that Energy created Matter, we already knew that from scriptures!  It took centuries and centuries of academia and scientific evidence, but God gave us His creation in the Bible.  But creation didn't end with matter.  From it, God created the universe and in that universe, God created the solar system.  Out of that solar system, God created earth.   On the earth, God then created this improbable, unexplained thing called life and then, God created this explainable, impossible creature called you.  And finally, He created a unique relationship between Him and everything else.

Sometimes, we think to ourselves that we can do things by ourselves, even when we can't.  It's natural for us think this when we are young, but when we grow older, it's just plain sad.  We think to ourselves that Adam was alone, but we forget that God said it was not good to be alone.  God interconnected us.  There is not a time where anyone was not integrated into the creative order.  Adam didn't even know it was bad to be alone!  God put him to sleep and created his companion.  You were never created and intended to be in isolation.  You are designed to live in relationship, love and inter-connectivity . We are also designed to live in harmony with creation in much more complex ways.  We exhale and the trees inhale.  Who would have guessed we were si dependent on the trees?   How amazing is it that God gives us fresh water from all the seas of salt water?  Who would have guessed that plants could become salads and seed would become our food; our energy?

In the most perplexing of ways, we are all dependent on thermonuclear waves because it is from the SUN.  The sun is the source of all life.  Some things are too far from the sun to live and other things are too close to live, but we are in perfect place.  We are solar powered!  That's why, when people are depressed and sort of under the weather, doctors advise us to get out and to get some sun!  You are created in the solar system.  It is a solar ball,  Some energy comes directly to us, but the earth absorbs this sun and everything along the food chain follows suit.  This entire universe is leveraged to life and it conspires for you to LIVE.  But if you stop here in the conversation, you become a materialist.  All there is to the materialist is what can be seen.  But now we have to go beyond the matter.  We have to go to what creates and what moves.  There is an energy in which we live, but if you stop at the evidence, you stop at the source of light and of life; the very thing for which your soul searches.  This is what the Spirit of God is!   It is the primary source.

The challenge for us is that there are a lot of layers between the material and the spiritual.   What's more, people believe that there are so many things we have to do to get to the Spirit.  Yet scriptures say it is totally different.  In fact, the Spirit fights His way to get to us!

The translated word in the Bible for Spirit is "ruach", pronounced roo-akh, and it means "a powerful rush of wind".   In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Spirit is "pneuma", pronounced nyoo-mah, and it is the word from which our word pneumonia is derived.  Pneuma means "breath".   So, when God was creating the earth and his "God wind" came over the ocean, it was powerful and massive, leading to an important part of our creation.  Can you imagine the size of that tornado or that hurricane?  It had to be a sight!  God comes like a whirlwind, but He also displays a gentle intimacy through "His breath".    In Genesis 2:7, we see; Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

So, our God declares, "Let there be light" and it displays the full power of God, but when He created us, He created us gently by breathing into us; by "breathing into man's nostrils".  More profoundly is then the realization that when we exhale, the trees inhale and when the trees exhale, we inhale.  It's the symbiotic relationship we have with the rest of His creation.  God gave us an intimate mouth-to-mouth, face-to-face, nostril-to-nostril, brow-to-brow welcome into life and then released us to life support in His world!  Here, we share life.

Another powerful word to which the ancient word "spirit" can be translated, is our word "courage".  Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you and you just needed to be re-inspired    You just needed courage?  God breathes and speaks with His breath that resonates within our souls .

Job 33:4 The Spirit of God has made me.  The breath of the Almighty has given me life.

You may not even believe in God.  You might be agnostic, you might be atheist or you may not even care, but you are alive because God breathed life into you and it is an expression of His affection towards you.  The Spirit has made you.  He made your muscles, your skeleton and your tendons.  You are not a physical being with spiritual elements, you are a spiritual being with physical elements and, if you fail to see this, you drown in the physical world.
Job 32:8 says, But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.

Isaiah 42:5 ...the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it.

In the most beautiful voice, God is constantly trying to bring us back.  If you believe less of yourself; that what you are at your core is but an animal, you will find yourself in a hollowness because your soul knows what you are and how you were made.  And your soul was meant to marry with His Spirit. so God tries to move us back into a relationship to Him.

When Pharoah had a dream about seven fat cows, which were followed by seven skinny cows, who eat the fat cows but still stay skinny, he called together all the psychics and all his sages to interpret the dream.  To test them, however, he first required that they tell him what his dream was!!  But they could not, because they did not speak the language of God.  (Not every dream is God speaking, btw.  It 's just too much pizza or your subconscious speaking to your conscious.  But sometimes it IS God.)  Something in Pharoah was deeply disturbed, so he summoned Joseph, who tells Pharoah his dream and then interprets the dream.

After Joseph has finished, Pharoah asks, "Can we find anyone like this man?   Can we find one in whom the Spirit of God is in?  Even Pharoah could see that God was made manifest in Joseph.  He knew they needed to find someone who had a spiritual relationship and so he then made Joseph the second most powerful man in his country because he understood!!  Joseph is thinking to himself, "exactly what I was thinking!"  Pharoah did not ask for the best economist, the shrewdest of  businessmen or the most skilled in the kingdom.  He wanted the man who spoke God's language!!  A slave then became the right hand man of the king!  God is always speaking and trying to engage us, but so many times, we cannot hear Him because we have lost the habit of talking to Him You were designed to be in conversation with God...

You are created to be enveloped in the Spirit and to move in rhythm with the Spirit of God in the same way a Latino is in rhythm with the Salsa!  There is a natural dance of life and we have found ourselves with two left feet and out of rhythm. So God takes out our heart of stone and replaces it with a "heart of flesh".  Erwin points out, "I was always unimpressed with the imagery of a heart of flesh.  I would tell God I don't need a heart of flesh.  I need a plutonium heart!"  But God says no.  He gives us His Spirit, His energy and His light.  This is where we so misunderstand God.  He is not trying to make us superhuman or angels or gods.  He is going to take away the heart of stone because of greed, envy and pride.  He will save us from our death and give us back our humanity.  And He will MOVE YOU.   Many times, religion is trying to take on these external activities that we think will earn our way back to God and all that is, is just a waste of effort.  He wants to put His Spirit in us and bring us to life.

In the book of Exodus, it is the first place in history where someone is described as having the Spirit of God.  You would expect that if someone has the Spirit of God, it would be to move a mountain  but in chapter 31, God says to Moses that he has filled a man with "wisdom, understanding and knowledge and with all kinds of skills".  Waitaminute... God, you are the creator of the universe and you are going to fill me and then all I get are skills?!?  We have a tendency to put the Spirit of God into a weird category.  The Spirit doesn't make us weird, we are weird.  God wants to engage us in all kinds of artistic craft.  He filled man with the ability to create and to teach others.  Erwin reflects, "I love that the first place in history where God fills a person with His Spirit in an artist!  There is beauty in the world and God calls us to experience it.  He is saying, "I am going to give humans the ability to reflect My Glory."  You were given this and your life was meant to be this.  You are a work of art and an artist.  And the Spirit of God released on man the intelligence and knowledge, but only God could awaken it and unleash it!  What has God put in you and what the world so desparately needs is your creativity.  But you can't fulfill your destiny until you are filled with the Spirit of God.

God's solution in the days before Jesus Christ were sporadic   The Spirit would come and go.  With King Saul, the Spirit came upon him, but then Saul began to live for himself and the Spirit left him.  Then the Spirit came upon David and then David used life for himself and the Spirit left him.   In Psalm 51:10-12, David pleads with God to remain with him.  He knew that the presence of God was a gift.  It was the environment in which God's Spirit came to life in men.  God said to David then, "you are a mess and your heart is constantly betraying me and yourself."

In Ezekial 36:25-38, God basically says, "I will cleanse you and give you a new heart.  I will remove your heart of stone and replace with it one of flesh.   You will be my people and I will be your God."

One afternoon, Erwin was getting a haircut and he saw a business sign across the street called "Cryo...something".  He went over and talked to the guy, who said that they freeze people in giant tubes and the freeze brings their body temperature from 96 to 40 degrees or so.   Why would they do this?   Well, the man explained, it accelerated healing of the joints and skin and it enhances performance.  Erwin explains, "I'm 54, playing basketball with guys half my age and with guys who cheat!"  So, this technique was somewhat appealing to Erwin.  His wife gives him no empathy for his pains because she knows he will keep getting injured if he keeps playing, but Erwin chooses to keep playing.  So he went into this cryo shop for a treatment.  It was very painful.  The first time, he could only go for about 60 seconds and he thought, "Get me out of here!"  Then he tried to go back in longer.  He was thinking to himself, "This is not good.  They are going to find me 500 years from now in this tube!".  The second attempt, he managed to stay in the tube for two and a half minutes.  Everything hurt.  Afterwards, he found out that his body temperature had fallen to 38 degrees!  Wow!  The healing process after this happens because the freezing in nitrogen releases endorphin that are natural in the body.  The body begins to fight for its life and healing is accelerated.  Erwin later felt fantastic. "I could see myself dunking the basketball again!"

This is how God's Spirit works.  He is not trying to change our actions and our intentions.  He is trying to change us from the inside out by using what is natural in us; our passion, our knowledge, our creativity and our abilities that He has already given us!  1 John 4:13 say, "This is how we know we live in Him and He in us.  He has given us His Spirit."  When we give our lives to Jesus and trust Him, trust that He and the Father are one and trust that He has come to give us life abundantly,  we have to then realize that it is Jesus who gives us the Spirit so that He might dwell in us.

The Spirit does not just give us light and life, but He gives us love too.   We live in God in all three.  He is not an impersonal God.  He is one of love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and redemption. He breathed life into us and He calls us to Him through His own spirit so that we might know His love and that He will not leave us ever again feeling like orphans.

Living outside of God is like a fish living in a dry riverbed bottom.  We are limited, suffocating and dying because we are exposed to spiritual predators.  God brings us His rushing river of life that fills the bottom and gives us freedom once again to live an abundant life. Not too long ago, Erwin experienced this deadness.  "Dying in a dry riverbed, I never gave up my belief in Jesus.  But it was as if, somehow in a moment of clarity, I opened up the dam that was preventing God from giving me life.  I don't know exactly how I did it.  But I do know that you do not have to exist without this God."  You are created to swim in the river.  Dive into it and be free.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How Can We Connect With the Holy Spirit?

Beginning his new series, "Spirit", Erwin McManus opens by explaining that he is going to spend the next 5 weeks talking about the Spirit.  Some might ask, "Are you talking about the human spirit or Holy Spirit?  The answer is yes.  "We are going to talk about the relationship between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit.  In order to help you understand, I am going to have to change your perception of the spiritual realm."  Light is a good parallel to the spiritual world because you know there is a source of light and then there is the object itself.  But the relationship is complicating because there are millions of particles being illuminated by the source and thus, light can be hard to describe.    

Today we need to change our minds about reality as we know it and how the Holy Spirit impacts this reality.  If you have been in Los Angeles for any period of time, you know that it is easier to talk about God than it is to talk about Jesus.  It's easier still to talk about spirituality than it is to talk about God.  Spirituality is an incredibly popular topic because it soon takes the intellectual to theologically challenging conversation.

Long before his relationship with Jesus, Erwin's brother took to atheism, But Erwin took to mysticism.  His brother didn't choose to believe in anything, but Erwin had this acute sense of himself being a spiritual being.  He sensed a reality around him that no language could describe.  It was real and it was drawing him to it.

To further the conversation, let's talk about our worldly senses.  What would we be missing if we didn't have our hearing?  Music is extraordinary whether it is the Josh Groban, Taylor Swift or Depeche Mode.  There is something that stirs us when we hear music.  It draws on our emotions.  Our sense of smell is really connected to our sense of taste and both give us an experience that is almost indescribable   When you can cut into a great fillet, ore smell the aroma of a cappuccino, it is almost a spiritual experience right?  It brings us to a place of exhilaration   But without these senses, we might well never know what we are missing. We might find we can't identify with what people are trying to describe and we might even consider hearing and smelling as almost mythology.  So, is there a sense in the soul that is not currently resonating within us?  Have we stunted our ability to perceive the Holy Spirit?  When we would only connect to the Spirit, it can change how we interact in this world and how we perceive life itself!

Already, most people have a sense of spirit and we even tend to attribute this sense to the Divine.  We might loosely connect it with God, though.  For some people, this divine essence translates to "an energy" or "a force".   The more you live with an awareness of your spiritual world; you are likely, then, to experience a visceral life force that awakens you a little bit.  What we find is that God is not a force or an energy.  Rather, He is actually a being.  The spirit of God is not an "It".  The Holy Spirit is a He; the image of God translated to us.  "It bothers me when (followers of Christ) identify the Holy Spirit as an 'It'".  He is a person!  He has intelligence and thought and emotions!  He has ESSENCE.  Can you imagine talking about someone in your life who is an "it"?  Imagine if your wife saying, "It is always late"!  If, ladies, you are going out with a guy and he talks about you as an "it", cut him off!!  It's not going to work!

If God were an "it", there could be no relationship.

But the God in Spirit seeks a relationship and He energizes us!  We call our touchy-feelly physical God "Father Abba" and "Jesus walking among us", but the Holy Spirit seems to be a nonessential.  We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and it feels like He is in the third position, right?  He's third string.  We dismiss Him by this point   Even the people who focus on the Holy Spirit often seem to be weird, bizarre and isolated.  But when we investigate the Spirit, we find He is powerful and at the core of Creation.

Let's go all the way back to Genesis 1.  We find, in this book, that there is a unique relationship between God's Spirit and the creation of the Earth.  The Hebrew mind understood that when God creates, the Spirit of God is always present.  The Spirit is essential.  It's critical.  Without Him, we inevitably become materialistic and embrace everything in this secular world.  You see, for those who don't believe that God created the earth, they have to believe that everything comes out of nothing or Creation without God.  But yet popular science, by definition, believes that everything comes out of something else or everything.  Science defines and explains.

Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." 

So, if everything came from that which is not visible, where did it come from?  According to the Bible, it came from the invisible.  All of creation, then, is an expression of its creator.  Because God is a spirit, everything that is material came out of that which is spiritual.  

John 1 says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made."  There is this intimate relationship with everything that has been created and the Creator.  

Colossians 1:15-17  "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things,and in him all things hold together.
The scriptures say that all things are being held together by Him.  The proper relationship or definition says there is a creation and it is a reflection of the Creator.  But we tend to think of creation, this "reflection" as more of an object (like a mirror).  We see it as spiritually separate; as secular.  The spiritual realm, to us, is when we are doing something like going to church.  We go to a spiritual place that is sacred.  Sacred is what we are doing when we are not doing everything else, before we go back into the secular.  We then hope that the sacred will get us "pumped up" for the rest of the week.  It is like the "Red Bull" for the secular.  We say, I need some God word or some God passion to make it through.  How spiritual we are then becomes how long we can carry the sacred into the secular, right?  We have our sacred life and we have our real life.  But what the scriptures tell us is that this way of thinking is false.  There is no division between the sacred and the secular.  God would be more like a gas station in a desert if this were so.  All around us we have distractions like food, sports, work and friends.  All are in the secular space.  

We forget there is an invisible dimension.  Its like a blind man saying, "nothing exists that I cannot see" or like a deaf man denying the existence of music. Here is a part of our dilemma:  If God is this unique person, a being of intelligence, intention and He is creator, we tend to create this huge chasm between the creation in which we ourselves live and our creator.  To our credit, we want to make it clear that the Creator created creation but where we often draw the line is by then saying that creation is not of Him.  We tend to say, "Okay, God is here and all the 'stuff' is over here".  We don't include God in the stuff.  See, the moment we start thinking of creation itself as being God, we become a pantheist, which is an incorrect way of thinking. But, when observing the line of thought, it is understandable why some people fall into the trap of pantheism.  Yes, god is not the stuff and the stuff is not God, but we tend to act like there is no connection at all.  

What's interesting is that, you never see the phrase "the Spirit of God" without something always happening.  There is never the Spirit of God just sort of sitting around.  Are you ever in the moment when you are truly getting something done; when you are really on your game?  That's the way the Spirit always is.  When the Spirit of God is present, He is about to create and stir something up.  Let's look at a few places where this is demonstrated.  

Matthew 1:18   This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

Mathew 3:11   I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Acts 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Scriptures tell us that the Spirit is always moving.  So, when we choose to live in a relationship with the Spirit of God, it stands to reason that our lives will begin to move.  There will be powerful activity.  

Romans 8  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.  

You are designed to live in the Spirit of God!  It is a design where God comes in and gives you peace.  

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

The moment the spirit of God lives in you, you no longer identify a separation. You act, then, in response to everything that is spiritual.  If we don't have the spirit, then how do we get it?  If Jesus' Spirit is living in us, He promises to give us life.  

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.

Paul is telling us that the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can come in and live in us.  It is more than enough; more than we could ever ask for.  Yet, it is strange that we can believe in Jesus and still live a powerless life because of a misperception of God's Holy Spirit!  The intimacy and power of the Spirit brings about life here on earth.  

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 

Your human spirit longs to be with the creator!  You are NOT a material being. You are a spiritual being.  

Have you ever seen a great movie and you realize that the score is driving much of the emotions in the movie?  Drums or violins tell us that something is about to happen.  Someone is about to die or something is about to be found.  For Christians, the Holy Spirit is the score of our lives.  He is not an appetizer; He is the meal!   He empowers us.  So how do we know if our spiritual experiences are from God?

1 Corinthians 12  tells us that God approaches us through His spirit long before we react.  He guides us and moves us.  He gives us the sense that there is more to this world than we see.  He lives there and He draws us.