STEP ON IN

John 5:2-4 – Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.

I love to see the collision of the natural world and the spiritual world. That’s what we see at the Pool of Bethesda. As rumor had it, sporadically an angel would stir the waters by the sheep gate and the first sick person who stepped in after this stirring would be healed. As a result, there was always a crowd of miserable people camped out by the pool. So in order to receive a miracle this way, you had to believe it (or you wouldn’t be there in the first place) and you had to be first in when the waters began to swirl. I’m sure there were many people in those days who didn’t believe in the angel water. Just like today, something is going on at that place on Airline Highway in New Orleans, but many wouldn’t dare be seen in those swirling Pentecostal waters. Nevertheless, the spiritual world is still invading and colliding with the natural world. Only those who believe it, wait on the Lord, and step on in, and are able to receive their miracle. Here is how Matthew Henry described the Pool of Bethesda.

“A miraculous limitation of the virtue as to the persons cured: He that first stepped in had the benefit; that is, he or they that stepped in immediately were cured, not those that lingered and came in afterwards. This teaches us to observe and improve our opportunities, and to look about us, that we slip not a season which may never return. The angel stirred the waters, but left the diseased to themselves to get in. God has put virtue into the scriptures and ordinances, for he would have healed us; but, if we do not make a due improvement of them, it is our own fault, we would not be healed.”

Today, the Spirit of God is being poured out continually, we don’t have to wait on an angel. Jesus is standing by the pool, the gathering of His believers, asking the age old question, “Do you want to be made whole?” If so, just step on in and leave the rest to the Lord.

UNTIMELY BIRTH

1 Cor.15:8-10 – Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul’s life is a contrast of a human controlled by his natural passions and the mess that leads to, and then someone filled and consumed by the Spirit. This supernatural transformation is the definition of God’s grace. Paul’s out of control life was not one controlled by immorality or drunkenness, but it was another version of depravity. We may tend to think someone addicted to opioids or alcohol is a great candidate for God’s grace (and they are) but there are other versions of sinful behavior that need God’s intervention.

Paul was an extremely ambitious man before his conversion. You know the drill, anything goes to get to the top, and get to the top he did. He had risen to the ranks of power in Israel calling himself, “a Pharisee of Pharisees”. His allegiance to his view of Judaism and his lust for power blinded his eyes resulting in someone literally “breathing out” profanity against the followers of Christ. He lived in an atmosphere of hate leading the persecution against the Christians. Paul had become a great candidate for the display of God’s grace. Here is what the early Lutheran theologian, Hesshus, said about Paul and the phrase “untimely birth” in today’s passage.

“Untimely born – ektroma – miscarriage or abortion

I was like an untimely birth – a disgusting mass of flesh, without life and without light. I was not reborn by the Spirit, I was not made new in Christ; I was destitute of all life and righteousness; I was a most disgusting mass of flesh in the sight of God- in fact, I was persecuting the church of God.”

That is a great description of fallen man. Paul called himself an abortion or a miscarriage, a disgusting mass of flesh. Without Christ that’s what we are, absolutely disgusting. That’s why the contrast is so amazing. The grace of God is a work of metamorphosis, making us into something beautiful. One moment Paul was a disgusting mass of flesh, the next moment he was changed into a powerful man of God. No wonder grace is called amazing.

BAPTIZED IN LOVE

Matt.3:16 – After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him.

Jesus was baptized in the Holy Spirit to begin His ministry. It’s as if the Father couldn’t contain His love for His Son as He proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son”. From this day Jesus began to move in a miracle anointing that lasted until His death. If you think about it, that’s really what miracles are, God’s love reaching out to hurting mankind. Here is how Jonathan Edwards describes the love of God and the Holy Spirit.

“It further appears that the Holy Spirit is nothing but the infinite love and delight of God, by his symbol, a dove; which is the symbol of love, and which is a bird beyond all other irrational animals in the world is remarkable and wonderful for its love to its mate, both in expressions of it by billing together (rubbing bills- like a kiss) and the like while together, and for its mourning for the loss of its correlate.

And ’tis evident that the dove is used as a symbol of love in the Scriptures: Canticles 1:15, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes”…

It was under this representation that the Holy [Spirit] descended on Christ at his baptism, signifying the infinite love of the Father to the Son, and that thereby is signified that infinite love that is between the Father and the Son; which is further illustrated by the voice which came with the dove, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” [Matthew 3:17].”

This gets to the reason why Jesus came. He created us to experience and display His love. The fall of man hasn’t deterred His love for us and His passion to display His glory. Because of the fall Jesus Himself became a man, a perfect man. He displayed His love when He died in our place as a sacrifice for our sin. Today, anyone who believes in Him not only has their sins forgiven, they also have access to the love Jesus has enjoyed with His Father from eternity. This is what the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is all about. Just as Jesus was immersed in the Spirit we can be too. Then we will hear His sweet voice, “This is my beloved son”.

HEAVEN’S SONG

Rev.15:3,4 – And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

 

Great and marvelous are Your works,

O Lord God, the Almighty;

Righteous and true are Your ways,

King of the nations!

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy;

For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU,

FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.

The book of Revelation is a book filled with contrasts. There are terrifying images of unimaginable destruction that fill the pages of the entire book. Images like fiery mountains being hurled into the sea, one hundred pound hailstones, and huge scorpions that attack humans. There are outbreaks of boils, and plagues, apparent nuclear wars; frankly, it is obviously worse than any of us could ever dream up. On the other hand there are the scenes in heaven and glimpses of the glory of God displayed in Jesus Christ. We see Him as the lion and the lamb, the exalted King of the Universe, the Lord of the harvest, and the triumphant returning King of all Kings.

The responses from the inhabitants on earth and those in heaven provide another amazing contrast. On earth there is terror, anger, and cursing of God. In heaven you have quite a different story. We see angels, seraphim, the elders, and an innumerable host of the redeemed caught up in worship. The contrast could not be more vivid.

Here is a scene of horror of the end of the Great Tribulation from Revelation 16:17-19,21 – “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty… And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.”

Compare that with this glimpse, the redeemed worshipping in heaven, Rev. 14: 2,3 ¶ “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.”

How does this effect our lives today? I guess you have to ask yourself, “which world am I focused on?” The answer to that question will define your life.

CAPTURED BY GRACE

Gal.1:15 – But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,

Paul seemed to be fixated all his life on that moment in time on the Damascus Road that changed his life forever. Everything changed that day. What caused the change? The obvious is what he saw on his way to Damascus, he said Jesus came to him with a light shining out from Him brighter than the sun at noon day. That is quite impressive but just seeing something like that, no matter how magnificent, can’t change everything. Just seeing something outwardly, no matter how incredible, doesn’t have the ability to change us. The answer to what changed Paul that day can be seen in this little phrase at the beginning of this devotion. Paul said that God was pleased to separate him from before the time he was born by God’s grace. What is grace? Many think it is the overlooking of our sinful lives by God. That definition doesn’t even come close. Grace is the influence of God on our hearts that actually changes the things we love. We used to love sin and now we find Jesus as incredibly attractive. That love and attraction to the Lord is what separated Paul and called him into his new life. He was called to follow Jesus through the influence of grace. Here is how Augustine described grace; this is one of my all time favorite quotes.

“During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke? . . . How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! . . . You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure , though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . .O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”

So what is it that keeps you from really selling out to the Lord? That is the thing that will no longer have its attraction to you and hold on you once you drink deeply from this cup of grace. Once you were a slave to the pleasure of that particular sin, that is until grace came. The pleasure found in the knowledge of the Lord replaces the foolish pleasures of sin.

LOVELY

SOS 5:16 – His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

Nothing in this life is ever totally perfect. That new car that you really, really wanted inevitably gets that first ding that seems to stand out like a sore thumb. Then there is that job that you worked so hard to land and you get there, and well, it’s just another job. Of course there is that girl (or guy) that you have had your eye on and the relationship starts, well you know the rest of that story. There is no such thing as a perfect diamond, perfect round of golf, or even a perfect city. Everything in this world is imperfect, somehow tarnished by the fallen world that we live in that seems to touch everything. That’s what makes Jesus even more special, as Solomon famously said, He is ‘altogether lovely’. He is total perfection; from the moment that you meet Him and throughout years of walking with Him. You can never see any blemish in His nature or character. He is kind, powerful, holy, wise, generous, and merciful. As He appeared perfect at the beginning, the closer you get to Him and the longer you walk with Him you have to join the chorus an say, “he is altogether lovely”. Here is how Spurgeon describes this verse.

“Our love is not as a seal set upon His heart of love alone; it is fastened upon His arm of power also; nor is there a single part of Him upon which it does not fix itself. We anoint His whole person with the sweet spikenard of our fervent love. His whole life we would imitate; His whole character we would transcribe. In all other beings we see some lack, in Him there is all perfection. The best even of His favored saints have had blots upon their garments and wrinkles upon their brows; He is nothing but loveliness. All earthly suns have their spots: the fair world itself hath its wilderness; we cannot love the whole of the most lovely thing; but Christ Jesus is gold without alloy-light without darkness—glory without cloud—“Yea, He is altogether lovely.”

Have you seen His loveliness for yourself? Today is a good day to start, draw near in worship and you too will behold the beauty of the Lord.

OUR LAMPS ARE GOING OUT

Matt. 25:8 – And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

When, exactly, did your lamp start to go out? Was it when your expectations of what your life would look like didn’t quite pan out? Maybe it was when your marriage lost its sparkle and you started feeling kind of discouraged or even trapped? Or maybe it was when your sickness lingered and you felt like your prayers weren’t answered. It could have been more of a slow fade; you know, neglecting your spiritual activities and feeling like you may be missing some of the ‘fun’ the worldly people are getting in on. Whatever started it, if you are honest with yourself, your spiritual flame is getting dimmer and is threatening to go out. Here is how Maclaren describes this verse.

“Our lamps are going out,’—a slow process that! The flame does not all die into darkness in a minute. There are stages in its death. The white portion of the flame becomes smaller and the blue part extends; then the flame flickers, and finally shudders itself, as it were, off the wick; then nothing remains but a charred red line along the top; then that line breaks up into little points, and one after another these twinkle out, and then all is black, and the lamp is gone out. And so, slowly, like the ebbing away of the tide, like the reluctant, long-protracted dying of summer days, like the dropping of the blood from some fatal wound, by degrees the process of extinction creeps, creeps, creeps on, and the lamp that was going is finally gone out.”

This is a great description of the deterioration of our spiritual lives. It rarely happens all at once, it is almost always a slow, gradual deterioration. If you think back at the early days of your spiritual journey everything was so exciting. You were excited about your Bible, you loved Sundays, and home group, and would never miss special services and guest speakers. But gradually your spiritual activities lost their joy and then missing them became a more common occurrence. What was the source of that joy and excitement in the beginning and and how did you lose it? For that answer we have to go back to Jesus’s parable, especially the part about the oil. The oil is the key. It is a picture of the Holy Spirit in our lives and is the very source of our spiritual life. How do I replenish the oil in my life? The answer is simple, look to Jesus, the oil is flowing from Him.

I AM WHAT I AM

1 Cor. 15:10 – But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul was the prototype in the New Testament of a person effected by the grace of God. To understand Paul you have to have an understanding of grace. What is grace? The most common answer you will get when you pose that question is this, “unmerited favor”. That is not really an accurate answer. “Unmerited favor” seems to imply that grace is getting good things from the Lord that our behavior doesn’t warrant. That is not grace. Bible grace is so much more than that. Grace is the influence of God on our souls that makes spiritual things attractive to us. In other words, grace transcends the things and blessings of this world and brings us into a place where “only God” will do for us. We begin to follow the Lord with all of our might because we delight in Him and in doing His work. Here is how Albert Barnes describes this verse.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am – By the “favor” or mercy of God. What I have is to be traced to him, and not to any native tendency to goodness, or any native inclination to his service, or to any merit of my own. All my hopes of heaven; all my zeal; all my success; all my piety; all my apostolic endowments, are to be traced to him. Nothing is more common in the writings of Paul, than a disposition to trace all that he had to the mere mercy and grace of God. And nothing is a more certain indication of true piety than such a disposition… He had been enabled by the grace of God, to labor more than all the rest, and he had thus shown that he had not been insensible of his obligations.”

So not only does grace cleanse me of my sin, it also frees me from the power of sin. It works in the most unexpected way, it works through our enjoyment or pleasures. We used to love sin and now we love Him and His kingdom. That’s what happened to Paul at his conversion. Grace arrested him, grace forgave him, and grace consumed him with a new passion. From the day of his conversion onward, Paul was consumed and transformed by grace. That’s why he said, “by the grace of God I am what I am”.

DRINK AND DRINK AGAIN

Eph.5:18 – Amp. – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit.

We just finished our annual Mardi Gras Saturation services at Victory Fellowship with special guest Pastor Rick Shelton. This was one of the most rewarding weeks for me spiritually in a long time. Pastor Rick went with the theme, spiritual saturation, all week long. If you are not familiar with that terminology I want to take a moment and share this powerful spiritual practice. Saturation means to soak in a substance until you can hold no more. Actually, that is what the Baptism in the Spirit is all about. Baptism means to immerse an object into something. Baptism in the Spirit is an immersion into the substance or person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is tangible and we can soak or saturate in Him until our lives change and miracles break out. The Life in the Spirit Commentary describes it like this.

“Paul says not, ‘be full of the Spirit’, as though one were full of Spirit in the same way that another is full of wine, but ‘be filled by the Spirit,’ with the emphasis on being filled to the full by the Spirit’s presence”, or with “the fullness which the Spirit gives.”

Many Christians aren’t even aware of the availability of the Baptism in the Spirit. They think that when Jesus came into their life that was all that there was for them. The thing being overlooked is the infinite nature of God. Salvation introduces us to the world of the Spirit where multiple fillings are available and necessary. We can never get to the end of Him, heaven will be an endless unveiling of His infinite nature, including His power, beauty, goodness, and wisdom. Wuest has some interesting comments about today’s verse showing that multiple fillings and even continual fillings are available.

The Holy Spirit filled Stephen in the sense that He controlled him. Therefore, the fullness of the Spirit has reference to His control over the believer yielded to Him. “Be constantly being filled with the Spirit.” The interpretation is, “Be constantly, moment by moment, being controlled by the Spirit.”

So that’s what we experienced this week. I experienced a new powerful baptism in the Holy Spirit myself. Now you may think that we are wasting our time on experiential Christianity. That is far from the truth. We are now more motivated and empowered to go about the work of evangelism and discipleship. So I say go ahead and have another drink, the world needs what you have to give.

I Press In

Brandy Monnerjahn

But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” Luke 8:46

 

We all want to be touched by God but many stand in service week after week wondering, “When, when is God going to come and touch me?” I can remember being one of those people. I stood watching others get touch and wondered, “When would it be my turn?” “When would God come and touch me?” One day as I sat in service, the guest speaker began to teach on the woman with the issue of blood. He talked about the crowd surrounding Jesus and how they were all pressing in to receive something from Him. Then he began to speak of her desperation. She was painfully conscious of her need for a touch. A feeling of desperation began to pound in my chest. I knew that there was a desire in my heart to be touched but God always seemed to be passing me by. Then the Lord began to speak, “She pressed in.” The woman with the issue of blood acknowledged her need and acted. I had sat in service after service waiting for a touch but had I never taken action? Had I ever pressed through and touched Him instead of waiting for Him to touch me. Matthew Henry states, “A poor woman applied herself to Christ, and received mercy from him by the way. If we do but touch, as it were, the hem of Christ’s garment by living faith, our worst evils will be healed;” I needed to apply myself. I needed to push through my crowded flesh and reach out for Him. I began to take steps to touch Him. I spent my morning bible time reading about people who were desperate for a touch; Zacchaeus climbed a tree, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, a woman who was not to be in a public place pushed through a crowd. I stood in every prayer line not wondering when He would touch me but excited about when I would get the opportunity to touch Him. My walk became less about why He hadn’t touched me and more about what I was willing to do to touch Him. That moment in my life has made all the difference. When I feel far away from Him, I know He hasn’t moved so I begin to shake myself until I reach the hem of His garment. I deliberately touch Him and His power consumes every inch of my doubt.