Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why Do I Need the Spirit?

Originally posted on

As a staff, we sometimes read books together and discuss them at our staff meetings, this week we began the book "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan which is about the neglect of the Holy Spirit in many churches today. What struck me the most was thinking about people I have spoken with (from different churches and backgrounds) and the broad spectrum of belief in terms of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Often these beliefs are based on personal experience rather than a study of the Scripture. Think about that for a minute. Why do you believe what you believe about the Spirit? Do you think your beliefs are shaped more by the Scriptures or by what you've come to experience as your normal Christian life? We form our own opinions of what we think a Christian life ought to look like and what our own experience of the Holy Spirit looks like, but do we ever check that with what the Scripture says a Spirit-filled life looks like? Don't just ask other people what they think, or even assume that we already know. Here are some passages about the Spirit, pick a few and compare them to your experience with the Spirit:
  • Acts 1:4-8, Acts 2:1-13, Acts 4:31
  • Romans 8:1-17, Romans 8:26-27
  • 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
  • Galatians 4:4-7, Galatians 5:16-25
If we disregard our own experiences and just read these passages, what would you expect to happen to us when the Spirit entered our lives? What changes in us when we receive the Spirit? The passage which stands out to me the most is Galatians 5:16-25. The famous "Fruit of the Spirit" passage I have read dozens of times before. After reading it in the context of thinking of what the Spirit produces in us, I notice something:
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
How often do we try to force fruit in our lives because we think that a "good Christian" needs to look like that? We beat ourselves up sometimes if we don't. Sad? I need to make myself more joyful, because that is what the Scripture says. Impatient? Nope, gotta work on that because the Scripture says so. Want people to think I'm a "good Christian"? I can just fake being loving, right? If that is our mindset, where is the Spirit in all that? If we work in our own strength to be more like Jesus we miss the whole point. This translation says that the Spirit produces such fruit in us. Other translations may not use the word "produce" but the important part is that the Spirit is where these things start. Check out the next part of the passage in seeing how we interact with the Spirit:
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
Those are some pretty powerful words: Belong to Christ Jesus. Living by the Spirit. Follow the Spirit's leading. This passage isn't known as "the fruit of Mark" or "the fruit of a good person" or even "the fruit of a good Christian" the passage is known as "the fruit of the Spirit" for a reason. It's about relying on the Holy Spirit to change us. More than just change, He radically transforms our lives. The question is, are you open to being transformed by the Spirit?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Motivating Factor

originally posted on

Getting and staying in shape isn’t easy. Last year I went to a normal physical at the Dr. and was told I was going to face a couple of potential health issues if I didn’t get in better shape. I was motivated and started out fast: running, biking, swimming, gym - something almost every day. By the end of the year I had completed three sprint triathlons, a half-marathon, and lost 40 pounds. I was motivated by fear of poor health, motivated by the time I spent with my wife and friends exercising, motivated by the feeling of being in better shape. But as quickly as it started, it faded, the business of life and a dozen other things got in the way and this year I gained back 20 pounds. I struggled to find the motivation to consistently get back on my bike, or run. I got down and frustrated and was content with the status quo for a while. Of course my wife reminded me that physical health sometimes goes like that, it ebbs and flows, there are times when we are more interested and times when we are not.

This analogy of course applies to our Spiritual lives as well. The Old Testament Hebrews believed that it was all connected: physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health were not separate pieces but rather connected in our personal harmony. There are times when I am reading Scripture and honestly blown away and other times when I am just going through the motions. There are times when I worship that I feel like I am a part of something bigger and there are times when I don’t connect emotionally. In those times, should I only do the things I want to do or the things that make me feel better?

So now I am (hopefully) getting back in shape; I recently joined a “fitness boot camp.” I didn’t want to go at first but my wife encouraged me to try it. I have only been a few times, but have loved working out in this format so far. What is interesting is that there is really nothing physically significant about it: there are no weight machines, no exercise machines, and no abundance of mirrors on the walls. I show up for a specific start time and go through a circuit workout with several other individuals at the same time. There is a leader who tells us what exercises to do and then leaves us to work out with each other. As we work out we give each other a little bit of encouraging small talk (when I can catch my breath enough to talk). The bottom line is, there is very little specialized equipment and most of the workout could be done at home with a video series. And yet, I have already had better workouts here than with any workout video. Why is a workout in this format so effective? It is the motivation. Having a set place away from home, knowing I will be working out, sweating next to others with the same goals. It is all very motivating, it gets me outside of myself, outside of my own concerns, and worries. If I can just take that first step towards working out and embrace it, it is not long before i find myself in a better place than I was before. And sometimes how similar is that to our spiritual lives? There are times when I don’t want to go to my Life Group but still go, and without fail those are the times I am most touched by the words or experiences of others. There are times I am distracted by something on Sunday and yet when I just give up on my own concerns and focus on God, He hits me most deeply.

In today’s culture, the temptation is to be driven by what we “want.” We say yes or no to activities based on whether or not we want to. We train our kids for the same thing by constantly asking them “what do you want to do?” If we fail at a task, we blame it on “not wanting it enough.” Do we ever stop to think about how this overflows into our spiritual lives? Are we so attuned to what we want in a physical sense that it is what motivates us spiritually? Maybe we aren’t alone. In Mark 14:32-36 Jesus struggled with what he wanted as well:
32-34 They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”
35-36 Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”
I love that Jesus bases His decisions and actions on His relationship with the Father. He voices what He wants, but ultimately follows God’s will. Not on His own wants.

In our mission statement at Crosswalk, we say we are “a community passionately demonstrating the love of Jesus by…” and one of the points is “choosing sacrifice…” This does not mean that we sacrifice our time or money, but rather sacrifice our own wants and desires for God’s. What is motivating you?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Win or Lose

originally posted on

When reading Scripture, do you ever put yourself in the shoes of the writer? Psalm 22 is considered to be one of the Psalms of Lament with it's authorship attributed to King David. What I love about this Psalm is the insight it gives us into the heart of a man whose primary drive was being in a relationship with the LORD. Look how raw and real David is as he starts his prayer:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

I love that David doesn't hold back; he is frustrated, he is complaining, he doesn't understand. We all feel that way sometimes, don't we? But how often do we go to God with our frustrations? Even more telling, is how David follows up the frustrations with praise even though he is in a dire situation:
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.

And the weaving of frustration and praise continues throughout this and several other Psalms. Frustration, complaint, grief. Praise! Frustration, complaint. Praise! How often does our own prayer reflect that? The intertwining of complaint with praise? It was such an integral piece of worship for Israel, and yet for us, we see it as a negative. We often tell ourselves to praise God in spite of the frustrations and sadness instead of embracing it as part of God's gift.

Part of what stands out in David's incorporation of laments and praise is the openness in his communication with God. I think part of why I personally struggle with some of it is because it does not come across as humble before God. Last week, my own understanding of humility was reshaped by Richard Foster in the book Prayer: "...humility means to live as close to the truth as possible: the truth about ourselves, the truth about others, the truth about the world in which we live... It does not mean groveling or finding the worst possible things to say about ourselves." I used to be one of those people who thought that self-depreciation equaled humility. But that isn't humility at all. Humility is not inflating oneself, but being honest with ourselves and not thinking of ourselves as nothing either. The truth is, we are nothing compared to God, but that doesn't mean that we are worth nothing. God sent His only Son to die for our sins. Our worth must be so great to Him for such a gift. Our complaints and frustrations are part of who we are, and who we are is loved by God. Even in David voicing his frustrations to God, he shows humility while still being honest with how he feels.

In Psalm 22, David is surrounded by his enemies, and he is not concerned about winning or losing the battle. Throughout David's crying out to God, throughout his praise to God, he never pleads with God to get him out of the situation or kill his enemies. He lays out the circumstances as he perceives them, he is truthful with God and himself about how it makes him feel, and his only plea to God is for God to stay near. Throughout it all is praise.

If you are a Bay Area sports fan, there are two major events to be excited about right now. The Warriors are in the NBA finals and are leading in the best of 7 series. And meanwhile in hockey, the San Jose Sharks are in the NHL finals and on the brink of elimination. Last year Stephen Curry posted this quote and to me, it is one of the better quotes I have seen from an athlete, he gets it. "Being a Christian athlete doesn't mean praying for your team to win. God doesn't give an edge to those who pray over those who don't; hard work does that. Being a Christian athlete means competing for Christ, in a way in which you always give your all for Him, & win or lose, you thank Him for the ability & opportunity to play. It means giving all the glory to God, no matter the outcome, because you trust in His plan for your life."

So as you go about your week, good or bad, win or lose, praise Him throughout it.