Labor Pains

“Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.” (Galatians 4:19 NLT)

Apostle Paul writes to remind us that spiritual formation hurts. It hurts for the pastor, it hurts for the one being formed and it certainly must hurt the heart of God to watch His children squirm in discomfort. But labor pains and growing pains are worth the weight they produce: new life! Spiritual transformation! Sanctification!

How does a mother-to-be deal with the heavy ache of labor? She focuses all her energies on the precious baby she is pushing into the world. How do the pastor, the believer, and the Lord bear the pain of spiritual formation? Again, putting all priority on the end result: an increase in the Kingdom. 

Apostle Paul promotes and maintains this concentration throughout his ministry:

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” (Philippians 3:12 NLT)

It’s safe to say that Jesus takes hold of us with a plan to perfect us. His Kingdom is without flaw and He has invited us to be a part of it forever so sanctification is a necessary means to that end. Plus, it’s exciting to see growth burst forth from our lives, to look back and realize that we aren’t the same person we were a year ago, and even unrecognizable in a decade or two. Spiritual transformation is hard evidence to the unbelieving world that Jesus is gaining ground in us.

I look at my babies (now almost fourteen and seventeen) and I can barely recall the once very real pain of bringing them into this world. I suspect this is how sanctification will feel for us in the rear view mirror, as we cross the threshold from this life to the next. The birthing pains of being made like Him will prove more than worth the end result. Until then, we keep growing.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6 NLT)
 
 

Lord, thank You for all You have endured with the goal of bringing us into Your Kingdom. We recognize that though our spiritual formation hurts, You have already bore the brunt of it. Please help us to keep the end goal in mind: being made more like You. Let us labor well as we cooperate with Your perfect Kingdom birth plan. Amen.


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A New You

“Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.” (Psalms 149:1 NLT)

I’ve got to admit, I’ve wrestled with this scripture before. I’m not a songwriter and I certainly don’t have a new song each and every Sunday. I still want to live out the psalmist’s instructions. Today it occurred to me that we can only sing a new song every day because we, ourselves, are being made new. If we are living out this faith walk, we are different than we were yesterday or last week or last year. The ‘new’ in the song is us, the singer. We are learning day by day to die to our old ways and in turn, we are being transformed into the glorious image of Christ!

We sing a new song in the company of the assembly: with the faithful folks who are also being made like Him. We come together and celebrate His goodness and revel in our newness. We rejoice in our Creator, who is, in fact, remaking us still.

“O Israel, rejoice in your Maker. O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.” (Psalms 149:2 NLT)

We are a people of the new Jerusalem. We join in with God’s chosen and whisper the ancient promise to each other: “Next year in Jerusalem.” We look, with wide eyes, toward the heavenly horizon, toward home. We take steps of faith toward our future. 

Lord, thank You for making us new. Keep pouring Your Spirit into the fragile frames. Purify us as You fill us. Transform us into a people worthy of Your name and destined for Your country. Amen. 


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Human-powered Vs. Spirit Empowered

 

“He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.” (Acts of the Apostles 18:25-26 NLT)

Apollo’s was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable preacher. However, He was limited. It seems he had only been baptized in water. He lacked the baptism by fire: the Sprit baptism that would truly ignite his teaching. 

Priscilla and Aquila handled the delicate situation with discretion and integrity. They quietly pulled aside the eager preacher and shared the full gospel. They knew from personal experience that Apollos’ ministry would be more powerful and effective when he had received the full extent of  Christ had to offer; His Spirit.

Years ago, when we were first homeowners, we thought a human-powered mower might be fun: green, economical and un-intrusive. We have it a try. The grass bent but didn’t want to cut and the entire postage stamp of a yard took hours instead of minutes. Within a day or two we admitted our defeat and exchanged the human-powered mower for for the gas-powered variety and, consequently, got the job done.

We can preach the gospel without the Spirit’s infilling, but it’s only human powered. Spirit-empowered preaching will always be more effective and more in sync with the heartbeat of heaven.

The Spirit is so vital for ministry that Jesus repeated Himself. He told the disciples, on multiple occasions, before the cross and then again after the resurrection, to wait for the gift. Don’t leave home without it.

“Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”” (Acts of the Apostles 1:4-5 NLT)

We see clearly in this text that the Holy Spirit is worth waiting for and that His equipping is essential for human ministry. Without the Holy Spirit we will be stuck in flesh mode, limited to what we alone can produce. However, with the Holy Spirit, we can grow real and lasting Kingdom fruit.

Lord, please fill us today; for the first time or again. Help us to continually remember just how ill-equipped we are without Your Spirit. Give us the tenacity to wait on Your infilling and refilling. Let our lives be ignited for the advancement of Your Kingdom. Amen.


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No Exceptions

 

“Now King Solomon loved many foreign women.” (1 Kings 11:1 NLT)

Solomon had a weakness when it came to foreign women. In all my biblical travels, I have never come across a single scripture that indicates God is keen on multiple wives, but it is is abundantly clear throughout the Old Testament that God is against Israel intermarrying with other nations. In case we missed it, the writer of 1 Kings points it out again. 

“The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway.” (1 Kings 11:2 NLT)

Not only did God say ‘no’ to foreign spouses, but He gave the ‘why’ as well. Brides and grooms from other nations would bring their God’s into Israeli households and turn the hearts of godly people. 

King Solomon believed he was the exception. (Don’t we all believe we are the exception?) He thought his devotion to the One True God could withstand the barrage of temptation within his palace walls. He was sorely mistaken.

“He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.” (1 Kings 11:3 NLT)

In his old age, Solomon finally caved to the pressure of 700 wives and 300 concubines. He worshipped other gods. We don’t know if he did it to keep the peace in his household or if all the years of pillow talk had corrupted his heart. What we do know is that bit of unfaithfulness always grows. Solomon’s sin creates a cataclysmic shift in the posture of his heart that proves fatal.

We are so much like Solomon. Perhaps not in our propensity for foreign wives, but in our belief that our sin is the exception. Yes, God said ‘no’, but did He really mean us? Can’t we keep our pet sin as a quiet side project? We forget that sin always create consequences; for this generation and the next. It is always better to take God at His Word and be obedient to it. 

Solomon’s big slip up was that he loved women more than God. If he could have seen it, early on, perhaps he could have addressed it. What about us? What do we love most? What battles for first place in our hearts?

In all his wisdom, Solomon didn’t take God at His Word. We read his story and realize the wisest thing we can do is believe and obey.

Dear Lord, please help us see Your instructions as clearly as we read Your instructions to Solomon. Guard our hearts against ‘exceptional’ thinking. We want to honor You in our decisions, actions and words. We want our posture to be ever positioned towards You. Amen.


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