Month: August 2014

What the Holy Spirit Means for Normal People

 

Copyright CreationSwap, created by Patrick Fore.

Copyright CreationSwap, created by Patrick Fore.

 

 

Who really understands what the Holy Spirit does?

I mean, I know a little bit. I know that what we call the ‘Holy Spirit’ is God’s own spirit which lives in my heart, and has lived there ever since I accepted Jesus’ forgiveness.

I know the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I know Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers, so that He can help us.

But any understanding beyond that gets a little fuzzy.

A few weekends ago I heard a sermon which spoke about the Holy Spirit in a clear and simple way that I’ve never heard before. I’ve listened to the sermon four times since and it has majorly helped me with understanding this mysterious part of God’s character.

And it just so happens, the preacher was my Dad.  So I’ve been able to get a copy of that audio and put it here to share with all of you. 🙂

I think this message was also especially good for people who don’t feel like they fit into church. So if that’s you, listen up! 🙂

Since I struggle to remember things that I only hear—it’s far easier for me if they’re written down—I listened to the sermon again last night and wrote down notes to help me remember all the great points. I’ve included those notes below for all of you too.

I really ask that you give this message a go. Dad’s a farmer, so he talks in normal Aussie language and explains things in a practical way.

Play it while you wash the dishes or rake the lawn or something, and get ready for God to talk to you!

 

All the sermons that Dad (Danny Everingham) has preached lately are also posted on the Inverell church’s website.

 


What the Holy Spirit Means for Normal People

 

First, Dad does a quick recap of the sermons they’ve done so far this term. They are all about the Book of Acts.

1. Who is the church for?

Not just ‘churchy people’, but everyone.

2. The Holy Spirit draws ourselves and other people closer to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit wants the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.

3. It was Jesus’ mission, and it is ours too today, to make disciples. (Jess’s note: By ‘disciples’, we mean ‘to make followers of Jesus who are becoming more like Him’.)

4. We need to get ready for that mission, and to get our identity from God. We need to know who God is and what he’s done for us, so we know who we are and what we should do.

5. Preparation often involves waiting. We usually think we’re waiting for God, but God is often waiting for us to focus on Him.

6. We need to pray together. Praying together builds unity.

7. The Holy Spirit is in our hearts and enables us to continue Jesus’ mission of creating disciples. His Spirit fills us and overflows into our interactions with people we know.

8. The Holy Spirit helps us to know Jesus/God better.

9. The Holy Spirit is for everyone.

Then Dad prays.

Okay, here’s the ‘real’ sermon:

Dad is preaching from Acts 2. You might want to pause for a minute and read the verses he’s preaching from; that part got left out of the recording.

On the day of Pentecost[a] all the believers were meeting together in one place.Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages,[b] as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

Acts 2:1-12, NLT

The Holy Spirit is for all people.

(Jess’s note: Dad’s reference here to ‘Beksy’ was for my sister, who was sitting beside me in church laughing at something.)

The Holy Spirit worked to connect people to Jesus. He still empowers us to do that today.

What attracted the crowds was Jesus, not clever speaking or talent. That hasn’t changed today. It’s all about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is here to connect us with Jesus, and others with Jesus. He communicates with us in ways we can understand.

When you let God take over more of your life, you give the Holy Spirit more room to work in your heart. You become even more empowered to reach other people.

(Jess’s note: At 14 min 30 sec, Dad refers to a ‘line’. I think he had a picture of it up on the projector in church, so here is my best reproduction of it.)

 

Two extremes to avoid, and the balance in the middle

I did this and then realised how bad my handwriting is. :) If you can't read that 'h' word, it says 'heads'.

I did this and then realised how bad my handwriting is. 🙂 If you can’t read that ‘h’ word, it says ‘heads’.

Here is a list of things that happened when the Holy Spirit did stuff, as recorded in Acts:

 Miracles happened

They prayed together

They worshiped Jesus

They had unity

They spoke in heavenly tongues

They spoke about Jesus with courage

They cared for the poor and sick

Lots of people believed in Jesus

People were generous

They prophesied

They were obedient

They spoke in foreign languages

 

It’s all about bringing us closer to Jesus, and others closer to Jesus. Each of those actions helps accomplish that.

The number of times an incident is recorded in the Bible can be an indicator of how much emphasis God puts on it. Which two things in that list do you think were recorded the most often in Acts?

SPOILER ALERT: BELOW ARE THE ANSWERS

‘Miracles happened’ was #5. ‘Prayed together’ was #6. ‘Cared for poor and sick’ was #8.

‘Spoke about Jesus with courage’ was #1. ‘Lots of people believed’ was #2.

In fact, most of the items in that list were mentioned less than a handful of times. But Acts records thirty instances where the Holy Spirit empowered believers to speak about Jesus with courage. It also records seventeen instances where lots of people believed.

Acts 1:8 NLT: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

If we will wait and we have the Holy Spirit on us, we will be God’s witnesses. 

(Jess’s note: By ‘witnesses’, Dad means that we will communicate to people about God and what He’s done for us.)

God has given us all different gifts, but the Holy Spirit is for everyone. This is a promise made to all.

It is not only a promise, but also a command.

Jesus used a variety of styles to connect with people. God meets people where they’re at. Eating with them, working with them, doing life with them.

God puts people in our lives for a reason. Our job is to pray, watch and wait for God-provided opportunities.

We don’t have to force anything; the pressure is off. It’s just us being obedient.

When this event at the start of Acts happened, there were two main problems with spreading the word about God. One was distance; no cars or planes back then. The other was language barriers.

In this event, everyone was already there for the Pentecost festival. And God solved the language problem with a miracle. It’s almost like He knew what He was doing!

The message about God is bigger than just us; it’s about everyone.

The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey.

The Holy Spirit isn’t just for special people, or super-spiritual weirdos. He’s for ordinary people like us.

All of Acts is a record of what the Holy Spirit will do, working through the lives of obedient people.

Pray for courage, pay attention to those outside the church, be intentional about growing disciples and listen to the Holy Spirit. Watch and see what God’s doing around us. Let the Holy Spirit deeper and deeper into our hearts.

Obedience can teach us stuff about God that our minds cannot learn on their own.

 

Jess’s note: So one question for me to think about after this message is, am I becoming more and more obedient to God?

I also especially loved the part about how the Holy Spirit empowers us to communicate with other people about God.

Comment below and share how/if this message challenged you!

Also, if this message means as much to you as it has to me, please consider sharing it with others.

I think this is a topic that gets missed a lot in church, and I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to get a better understanding of it. 🙂 It’s also been great timing, with our Project X mission coming up next weekend.

If everyone can shoot up a prayer for the Project X weekend,  that would be fantastic! 🙂

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How Prayer Works

Sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Joel Joseph.

Sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Joel Joseph.

How much good do my prayers really accomplish?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about ever since our Project X meeting on Monday night. Project X is a youth outreach that I’m a part of, and in addition to running our yearly event, we also meet every week to pray together. In fact, Project X is pretty much built entirely on prayer. Some awesome stuff has happened; stuff I’ve rarely seen anywhere else.

While I was there, someone quoted a verse from the Bible:

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:16 NIV

A thought jumped instantly into my mind.

I mustn’t be a righteous person, because my prayers aren’t powerful or effective.

The thought left, but I pondered it. Were my prayers weak and ineffective? When had one of my prayers really, unmistakably, worked? I couldn’t think of a single instance. My ‘prayer resume’ certainly couldn’t compare to Project X’s. Wherever that group goes, awesome stuff seems to happen. But not so with me individually.

I kept trying to think of answered prayers during the week. I still couldn’t come up with anything. But I while I contemplated the issue, I held back on feeling guilty, frustrated or sad. I hit the pause button. Because I’d seen this trick before.

I’ve often blogged about my frustrations that my good works seem ineffective, and sometimes it feels like God doesn’t use me. God’s been changing me in that regard all year. This prayer thing was just a variation of that same old lie.  I didn’t want to get sucked into that trap again.

But still, the question remained in my mind. That is, until I started planning this blog post. This is, word-for-word, what I wrote in my red polka dot  notebook.

notebook skitch

 

“Be on guard. Holy Spirit for all. No favourites. Duh.”

I looked at what I’d written, and the penny dropped. God doesn’t play favourites. 

It’s a simple truth that I know in my head, but my heart looked at other people whose prayers got answered all the time, and wondered, ‘What’s wrong with me?’

The answer? Nothing.

If God has told us that He hears our prayers, and I pray, then my prayer is just as effective as anybody else’s. Sometimes it might not look that way. But what do I trust more? The way things look, or what God says?

That’s part one of God’s answer to my query. Yesterday morning, part two happened.

It was about 5.50am, and I was sitting in bed, yawning, doing my morning devotions. I prayed for various people and my writing and causes like Project X. Well, not so much praying as begging. “Please, please God, help us with this event. Please, please, please touch my reader’s hearts with what I write today. Don’t let it all go to waste. Please don’t let me miss an opportunity.” I was imploring Him to act, like I had to talk Him into it.

Then remembered that the Lord’s Prayer does not start with a shopping list. So I backtracked and figured I’d honor God by thanking him for some stuff.

“Thanks God, that You’re this big, amazing, powerful God who knows everything and sees everything and knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it —” then I stopped. God knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it. So I don’t have to talk him into it.

This doesn’t take away from that fact that I should obey God by doing good stuff. It doesn’t take away from the fact that God tells me to pray. Obeying and praying aligns my heart with His, which is  a great thing. We should pray with passion, even urgency.

But I’ve been thinking that His work won’t get done unless I badger him into it. I have to convince him. And I can never be confident that I said things the right way and He’s convinced. I feel like Project X has cracked a secret to prayer that I’m yet to discover.

But God is God. He knows what He wants to happen and when He wants to do it. I’ll be obedient in taking action, and obedient in prayer, but I can also be confident in His intentions.

 

 

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How God Strengthened my Identity

God's been strengthening my identity

©CreationSwap/Dawn Lamper

 

I’ll admit it; I like to be the best.

Whether it’s beating my friends in a game, coming up with the top idea at a work meeting or winning an award, being the best at something—no matter how small—feeds a deep-seated belief in me.

It says, I am not Most People. 

Throughout my life I’ve striven to be better than Most People. Most People aren’t careful with their money. Most People aren’t diligent about spending regular time with God. Most People don’t bother to turn their ideas into a book. A lot of advice I hear sounds like, ‘most people do this, but you should do that’. And I do. I’ve become proud of it.

But that attitude has crippled my identity. Especially as a wannabe author.

For a long time I’ve equated being like Most People, to failure.  I shouldn’t be like Most People; I should be better than that. I know better, I try harder, I work smarter.

But keeping that (very arrogant) mindset while trying to become an author is … well, it’s soul-crushing. This industry is so hard to succeed in. Even if I become part of the tiny minority that scrapes some profit from a book, the percentage of authors who have a long-standing career is even tinier. Looking at this big, scary industry, I’m overwhelmed with the fear that I will turn out to be Most People after all.

That fear has driven me to write more, learn faster and stress repeatedly. Failure is not an option, but if you judge a writing career by my (ridiculously high) standards, it’s not only possible, but probable. And if my identity as a successful person, a person who’s better than Most People, is tied to my writing career, then my own dream is a massive threat to my identity.

This is something God’s been working on in my heart ever since I decided to start seriously working on my first book, at the start of 2013. I’ve blogged about it throughout the year. Every time I investigated what it takes to get published or ways to promote my work, I’d feel panicked. Every time I tried an idea and it didn’t pan out, the pressure increased.

God repeatedly told me that success is not measured by numbers, but by obedience. And I could acknowledge those truths in my head, but my heart usually just muttered something under its breath and sulked off.

But lately, I’m starting to notice change in myself. The more I consider the idea of self-publishing (not that I’ve decided anything yet), the more I’m okay with not having my name plastered across every Christian bookstore. If God doesn’t plan for me to make money from my writing, that’s alright. If my career is short-lived, that sucks, but it’s okay as long as it’s part of His plan.

Now the pressure to crack the secret of book marketing is decreasing all the time. And thank goodness for that, because it was getting heavy. I want to simply try my best, be obedient, work hard, and then watch my career go in the direction God wants it to go … whatever direction that is. If He plans for me to reach 50,000 people, that’s what will happen. If it’s 500 people, that’s also what will happen. Neither option makes me a better or worse person.

All that matters is my obedience.

 

LIES I NEVER KNEW ABOUT ME

God's been teaching me lessons in doubt and effectiveness.

Photo by Jenna Machum, sourced from CreationSwap.com.

I was shocked when God used me last week.

Here’s why.

Last week’s post was, in my opinion, not that great. I wasn’t entirely sure what I didn’t like about it, but it annoyed me that I couldn’t find a theme verse to talk about what I’d learned that week.

Still, I wrote down what I’d learned and shot it off to cyberspace, praying for the best. Then I went away for the weekend.

During my weekend, some terrific stuff happened. I’m involved with a group called Project X, and we do youth outreaches in outback towns. The next event is happening in Roma in September, so we headed out there to do some groundwork.

The whole weekend was full of prayer, and for the first time in a good long while I felt like my presence mattered. Usually at things like this, I think, “If I wasn’t here, someone else could easily replace me. What I’m doing isn’t very vital to God’s kingdom.” My mission trip to India in 2012 was another example. It wasn’t till the end of the trip, when a few teammates told me specific ways I’d helped them, that I realized I brought something to the table.

But this weekend, I felt like God was saying, “You’re right, anybody could do this. I can give anyone the ability to do anything; it’s all from Me anyway. What’s important is that you are here. You have been obedient. And that pleases Me.”

It’s an entirely different thought process, and one I’m loving so far.

During the weekend we also discussed the role of the church and effectiveness in serving God. Those are all issues that have bothered me. I usually feel very ineffective in anything I do with God.

This is how the thought process worked: Yeah, I do some God-stuff, but none of it ever seems to work. I was a youth leader, but some of those kids backslid. We saw heaps of conversions in India, but that was probably all the hype of the event. My church is growing, but I’m only a tiny part of that. And I write a blog, but how much of an effect can a blog post really have on someone?

This sound silly to you yet? For the first time, it does to me too.

When I got home I saw my blog stats for the weekend. I try to not put too much stock in statistics (though I check them every day, so maybe I’m not doing so great at that …) but when I checked them this time I was floored. They were way higher than usual!

And even better than that, was the feedback that started popping up. A Facebook comment here, a Tumblr share there, and a really encouraging email from a lady I haven’t seen in years. They all had a similar theme:

This helped me. Thanks for your honesty. Don’t let discouragement get you down!

To every person who commented, shared or visited this blog, thanks. It was a big encouragement.

It all sparked a new thought: Maybe God CAN use my writing.

That was the first time I realized that I didn’t believe God could. The doubt had always been far more subtle than a conscious thought.

I write because I like it, and God has given me the gift, so I figure He wants me to use it. But a piece of doubt has been lodged in my brain all this time, telling me that writing is just something I enjoy, nothing more. It has no real value to God. After all, how much can a blog or a book really pull someone closer to God?

After getting such a boost of encouragement last week, I thought to myself, Maybe my decision to write isn’t just a selfish thing. Maybe God can use it, and He wants me to invest this time and effort into it. Maybe He has a plan to use it, whether it’s in a big or a small way.

Had you asked me last week if God wanted me to write, I would have said yes. But the doubt, wedged in my brain, would have poked me and whispered, “Selfish. Ineffective. Waste of time and money.”

And while I never would’ve thought those words consciously, I’d have felt their cold shadow pass over my soul.

But what does that doubt say about God? Do I really not believe that He’s powerful enough to use my writing? Last week was a great example that He can use whatever He wants. I wasn’t even happy with that post I wrote, yet it’s attracted the most encouraging response of anything I’ve done so far. It’s obviously not my mind-blowing genius accomplishing anything here. No, it’s God saying, “I can use the strong and the weak. The good blog posts and the not-as-good-as-you-wanted-it-to-be ones.”

This week’s been a big one. I have a whole attitude to change. I’m going to outline it, so that I can recall it easily next week when I begin to forget.

  1. Who am I to question where God asks me to work? As long as I’m obedient, it doesn’t matter if I’m not converting the millions of people I expected to be. I am working where God placed me. I cannot do any better than that.
  2. It doesn’t matter if I’m replaceable, or quiet, or freakishly brilliant, or anything. What matters is that I go where God says. I participate. Again, I’m obedient.
  3. Doubt can be so very, very subtle. And so very, very hurtful. Please God, keep showing me these splinters of doubt and tweezing all of them out!

 

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”

1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

 “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

 

 2 John 1:6 NIV

Lies I Never Knew About Mum

God breaking chains.

Photo sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Marian Trinidad.

I could hardly listen in church on Sunday.

I posted last Thursday about how I’m afraid I’m selfish. Three days later, Dad (who’s just started moonlighting as an assistant minister when he’s not farming) preached a sermon on identity. More specifically, on how our identity in God motivates us to do good works, rather than a sense of duty.

The topic of good works has been hard for me lately; I feel torn in two directions. On the one hand, I look at my life and fear that I don’t serve enough. On the other, I don’t want to serve out of guilt, and I don’t want to have to fit another activity into my schedule. I’m praying that God will show me what to do, but at the same time I’m afraid that I’m a selfish Christian.

My Mum and I had a conversation about the sermon on the way home from church, and when I said I’m afraid that I’m selfish, Mum laughed. (She did it nicely. Feeling guilt has always been an issue for me, and she’s used to hearing about it.)

She told me I’m not selfish. And said she gets a similar thing, but her insecurity is different. It flared up at the start of the year when she was asked to lead a Bible study.

But before I share more, there’s three things you should know about my Mum:

1. She is very wise, and has always given me great advice;

2. She’s always been good at working with kids and teenagers and explaining things in a way they’ll understand; and,

3. She loves God and I’ve seen her sacrifice what she wanted to follow His plan instead.

To me, this sounds like an ideal combination for a Bible study leader. But this is what ran through her head when she was asked to lead a group of Year 12 girls:

You’re not smart. You can’t lead that group. Those kids will see straight through you.

You see, when Mum was a kid she changed schools a few times and had major gaps in her education. Her teachers never caught her up on the material she missed, and so she struggled with schoolwork till she graduated. One teacher called her dumb to her face.

Now, I know my Mum is actually quite an intelligent person.  But ever since that teacher said those careless words, she’s had a voice in her head repeating them.

But when she told me her insecurity, I laughed too. The thought that she’s not smart enough is just as ridiculous to me, as the thought that I’m selfish is to her.

Thankfully, Mum ignored her insecurity when it flared up six months ago and trusted God instead. She took on that Bible study group and one of the girls recently made a commitment to God. Mum is also aware of the devil’s plot, and is trusting God to help her. Yet that voice is still often in the background.

I can relate. I’ve also been aware of my tendency toward guilt since the Great Inner Turmoil of 2009. And God’s been helping me with it, but the devil still tries to use it against me again and again. And he does it because it works; it’s my weak spot. But as soon as Mum and I said our thoughts out loud to one another, the spell was broken. We could see them for what they were — manipulative lies.

It made me think, how many things run through my head and get me down … and they’re just nonsense?

My family.

Dad took this photo of us kids and Mum last year. L-R; Jack, me, Mum, Abby (on Mum’s lap), Bek and Jake.

I think we all have these weak spots. And I know I get surprised when the devil tries to use mine against me a second time. “Haven’t I outgrown that?” I think. The fact that I’m facing the same issue again makes me think that the solution I found the first time round must be flawed. I must have missed something. So I need to find it. And the merry-go-round starts again.

But no, Mum and I shared our insecurities and knew we hadn’t missed a thing. We knew what was right and what was not. The devil was just trying to psych us out. 

What does this tale tell us?

First, if you face an issue you’ve faced before, don’t get freaked out by it. You might not need more answers; you might just need to remember the ones God already gave you. Give it time, and the feeling could pass away.

Second, the devil is a tricky mutt who likes to use our insecurities against us. Recognise them. Fight them. It’s God’s power working through us that accomplishes anything anyway; our flaws just shine a light on Him even more.

Third, talking about the crazy thoughts in your head is helpful.

Last week, I posted about Matthew 7 and how I was taking my questions to God. I think I just got one of my answers.

 

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