Monday, November 28, 2005

Back to Basics: How to Hear God Speak

[Number six in a series]

Up to this point it is important that you read the series in order. The first six have been on the ministry of the Holy Spirit (primarily) and now the voice of God as we attempt to love God with our all and love our neighbor as ourselves (The Great Commandment). After this message, there is a change of direction (no spoilers)

Has God ever spoken to you through a song? Carl was sitting on the front row listening to the song before the sermon (I do not know which one) when he remembered again an amazing fact: The greatest Person in the Universe loves him – and us. Did you think of that this last week: The most wonderful being in the Universe – the One that made it all – loves you. God knows and loves YOU. That was free: it was not part of the sermon.

“How to Hear God Speak”
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; John 10:27; October 23, 2005

As Carl grew up he cannot remember a time when he wasn’t in church: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. It got to be he knew the church better than his own house. It was a good church and it had so many strengths - and so many things Carl realized that he wasted because of his youth. One of those strengths was a focus on the Bible. His church deeply believed that Bible is the word of God and our guide for life.

Of course, along with the strengths were some weaknesses. Carl realizes now some of those weaknesses and how his upbringing harmed him in developing a full life with Christ. Along with the focus on the Bible was the loud and clear message that while God speaks through the Bible He now speaks ONLY through the Bible. Another weakness was what he would now call a minimizing of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They never learned about the Holy Spirit – they never talked about Him. Very seldom did they say that the Holy Spirit is the one that inspired the Bible or that it was the Holy Spirit that enables you to understand the Bible. So it was stressed that he must be very careful not to add any other “experiences” to the word of God. One of the things Carl appreciates about the church of his youth is that they really concentrated on the fundamentals; and so he was truly converted and gave his life to Christ. Then, he went astray because he didn’t know how to live as a Christian. The church taught him how to come to Christ; but he wasn’t taught, or didn’t respond to, how to follow Jesus. Following Jesus day-to-day is all about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said
John 8:47 "He who is of God hears the words of God . . ."
Carl pointed out there is not way to cover the whole topic of how God speaks to us today. This is a brief, short course: not only is God so huge, and the way He speaks so huge; but also Carl really has no clue about the whole thing. He is still learning, and in fact unlearning some of the weaknesses of his past. So, today he is going to try to briefly answer three questions:
  1. Does God speak today, and to us?;
  2. how can I hear God’s voice in my life; and
  3. how does God speak today?
We must answer these questions accurately, because if we answer them wrongly we could get into all kinds of deception and be really confused. If we can answer them correctly and rightly, then this could be one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to us - if we go deeper into what God wants to do to help you hear Him speak.


Does God speak today; and does He speak to us?

You cannot read the Bible without realizing that it gives a clear and consistent pattern for how God has spoken to people since the very beginning to the very end. We think of these people as great saints, but in very many ways they were just ordinary people – and God speaks to them. Many of you have read Henry Blackaby’s book ”Experiencing God”. Blackaby did a study of how God spoke in the Bible and wrote them down. In the Old Testament He spoke through:
creation, angels, prophets, dreams, visions, casting lots, the strange thing called the urim and the thummin, a gentle voice, fire, a burning bush, preaching, judgments, symbolic actions, signs, miracles, writing on a wall, a donkey, trumpets, thunder and lightning, smoke and storms, a fleece, sound of marching in the treetops, sometimes face to face, in personal guidance, plus various unspecified ways.
In the New Testament He spoke through:
Jesus, the Risen Christ, nature, angels, dreams, visions, prayer, prophets, signs and wonders, preachers, scripture, an unbeliever, the church, sometimes a direct word from God, the Holy Spirit, plus various unspecified ways
The only point of that is to say that God did not speak in one simple way in the Old Testament or the New.

The church Carl grew up in would have said: “Yeah, but that was a special time – that was then and this is now”. This was taught because they believed that the Bible was finished. God’s purpose was to get all of His will down in scripture, Old and New, and now He does not need to speak that way anymore. So, what you do is focus on the Bible. They would also warn him, especially in Bible college, that if you think God speaks to you, personally, then you are opening yourself up to all sorts of strange things. Someone, especially in a pulpit, says that God spoke to them and of course you have to agree: who are you to argue. Deceivers say this. Then they would say: “How can you protect yourself from strange doctrine, and protect the authority of scripture, if you think God speaks today?” The revelation that God has said to you would take authority over the word of God, and then you would be in big trouble: right? Yes. There are some serious warnings here; and Carl is very concerned as he says the things to come that you do see the danger here.

What happened to Carl is that as he elevated scripture from primary to only way God would speak to him, he didn’t expect God to speak any other way. That inevitably led to a life centered on a book rather than a life centered on a Person. God wants us to have a life centered on a Person, and not a Book. Now, this is being said in Cedar Mill Bible Church. Do we believe in the Bible? Absolutely! The Bible is the primary revelation of God’s will for us. The Book is designed to help us love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our mind, and all of our strength – and not be the object of that love (as much as we do love the Bible). We cannot always be in the word of God; and God surely speaks to us when we are not reading His book.

Another thing that happened was that he was inevitably led to focusing his life around a set of doctrine – a set of rules. Carl tended to a life of legalism because it was all about what was written. Carl looked at the Bible and it said too many things he couldn’t do; and he couldn’t live like that. He didn’t have that kind of power, or ability; and he was never taught how to live in Christ in his weakness. He was never taught how to look at the life of Jesus and not have the life of Jesus discourage him. We have to let Jesus fill us with His own power and enable you to live the life He wants you to live. You cannot live life in a set of doctrine or rules – you must live life in Jesus.

Over the years Carl realized a few things. First, in the Bible God never said He was going to stop speaking. He also realized that the Holy Spirit, who inspired the scripture, is the one that enables us to understand it. So He is speaking to us as we read it; and it is pretty clear in the Bible that we cannot read the Bible and understand it in our own ability: the Bible says the truth of the Bible is “spiritually discerned”. That is why someone else can read the same scripture as us and come to completely different conclusions. One of the amazing things is that a child with Christ in the hearts can read the Bible and understand it; and we can read it our whole life and never plumb its depths. Please love the Bible (do not misunderstand Carl); but the normal Christian life is to hear God speak. Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice and they follow me”.


How can I hear God’s voice in my life?

You must believe God is great; and not silent. Our unbelief does not make God silent – our unbelief makes us deaf. Have you ever looked back in your life and now you can see how God turned things, and changed things – but while you can see it now you couldn’t see it then? We realize when that happens the God intervened in our lives and we didn’t get it while it was happening. We must listen better.

Carl got to the place in his life when he was a teenager when he hated the words “personal relationship with Christ” because he didn’t know what they meant. The personal relationships he wanted were the ones where someone speaks and he could hear them. After all, a relationship is really all about communication. This is the first thing the church talks about in classes for people planning to get married – communication. Does God have a good relationship with us? If He does then He must communicate. We do not pray to a book. We do not pray to a religion. We pray to a person – a person who is quite capable of speaking, and speaks. Again, the Bible is one of the primary places, if not the primary place, you will hear the voice of God – but it is God you are listening for. Consider what Jesus said to the Pharisees here:
John 5:39 "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”
These verses changed Carl’s life when he actually began to meditate on what these verses meant. You can read and study the Bible diligently and not hear from, or go to, Jesus. Carl did it for years. Carl wasn’t a Pharisee – he wasn’t that good – but he still missed it somehow. Jesus wasn’t talking to them about a one-time salvation experience; but about life – an active day-by-day personal communication with God. He was talking about a confidence in, dependence on, and intimacy with God. The purpose of God and the Bible is for us to go to Jesus; not the Bible.

You must ask Him to speak - to you personally; and actively seek His will. The same way your spouse will say “Let’s talk”, or “talk to me” – you must say to the Lord: “Talk to me”. People say the want the will of God; but the will of God is something you must actively seek.

You must expect Him to speak; and listen! Here is where you do an analysis of your life schedule: do you have any listening time for God? Is there any time set aside in your life for your relationship with God?

You must test every message – by the written Scripture. God never ever says anything to us personally that is in conflict with the written word of God. That is why the Bible is there – as a record to test what we hear from God against. God does not do things that conflict with Himself. Scripture is our greatest defense against deception as we listen for God’s voice in our lives.

You must obey what you have already heard.


How does God speak today?

God is invisible – we do not see Him. Do we hear His voice audibly? Carl doesn’t; but you might. Over the years Carl has had a number of people (increasing BTW) that come up to him and say: “I do not hear God’s voice audibly but I had this one experience . . .” Just this week someone on the staff told him a story about asking God to lead him in some way (Carl thinks it was painting); and though he was alone he had to turn around because he heard a voice speak clearly to him as if He was in the same room. While Carl has heard this again and again, he has personally never heard the voice of God audibly. However, he has heard some things so loudly in his mind and spirit that he was sure God was speaking to him then. Carl leaves this to us because this is about us figuring out our “personal relationship with God”

Even though God does many things the same His relationship with each of us is unique. There is no formula for how God speaks to us – even though Carl is going to give us five ways He speaks to us. We just love formulas and processes. If Moses was living today he would have a seminar on “Hearing God in a Burning Bush”. Balaam’s wonderful book, “How to Hear God Through Your Donkey”, would be a best seller. We want formulas – those “three easy steps”; but this is about a relationship with God and it is huge. God can speak however He wants whenever He wants to whomever He wants in whatever method He wants. Why? He is God and we are not. So we say “God I submit to you” and even in those things we think are certain we say “Lord I submit to you”.

God speaks to us by His Spirit enabling us to understand and personally apply His word (the Bible). Consider:
1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
We need the Spirit of God to understand the word of God – it is not done in our own power. Not only do we understand the Bible by the Spirit; but we apply it to our lives by the Spirit. Jesus said:
John 16:13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
When you take the Bible in your hands and give yourself to it, the author of the Book is present to help you understand it, receive it, and apply it. That is what makes the difference between running through three chapters in the morning (because you “have to finish your devotional”); and sitting down with the author and asking Him to speak to you and guide you to what you need to understand from it. What Carl asks is this:
”Lord speak to me in this time. Lord, help me to understand. Lord, give me something that I know is from You to me so that I will be able to understand Your word, and do what You ask me to do.
When Carl prays like that God does it every single time. Sometimes He does not tell Carl what Carl wanted to hear and sometimes it is no where near as exciting as Carl wished. Sometimes it is repetitious stuff He has told Carl before and he is still not doing.

God speaks to us by His Spirit putting His thoughts into our minds - especially as we pray. Prayer is a great privilege God has given you; and He will put His thoughts in your mind while you pray. A caution here: Everything you think God has put into your mind must be checked against the word of God. That is our protection and guardian against deceit and error.

Prayer is not a one way communication: God will speak to us during prayer. So again, do you have any quiet time with God? So many times God speaks through a “still quiet voice” and we are so busy and our lives so “noisy” that we have Him drowned out. We are busy rushing here and there and wonder: “Why don’t I know what God wants?” Carl tells you to test God on this one: Find a half of hour of quiet time in God’s word, and ask Him to speak to you, and then come back and tell Carl He didn’t speak. Carl has yet to have a man or woman come back and say that God didn’t speak to them. So:
1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing”
God speaks to us through circumstances. Again, we have to be careful here – sometimes the message is unclear. You have to ask God what He is saying in this circumstance. Sometimes it is difficult to discern this. Many times people have come up to Carl and said: “This is happening in my life and it just stinks. It has been going on for a long time and it just hurts”. Then the question that almost always comes: “What is God trying to say to me Pastor; because if you can tell me what He is trying to say I will learn the lesson AND HE WILL TAKE IT AWAY”. Is that your experience? First of all, we do not even know what the lesson is while it is going on; and sometimes it is seemingly unrelated to the circumstances. Then, when it dawns on us what He is trying to say and we begin to learn it – He doesn’t take it away. Have you noticed? What is it about this God?

God is deeply concerned about your character more than He is with your comfort. The very difficult circumstances in life are the ones that shape our character; and our faith. Almost every single time what God is saying to you is “believe in Me now”. In cancer, divorce, death: Believe in Me now. He is simply saying “Trust Me”. So many times when you ask “why” He will not answer that. That is one of the frustrating things about God: He doesn’t tell us why. He does tell us Who – Who to trust. Sometimes it isn’t until years later that we can look back and see what God was trying to teach us; and even then it isn’t always clear.

God speaks to us through people. You have to be cautious here too; but if God can speak through a donkey He can speak through us. God will speak through your children; the person you married; close friends; small groups; and the church. This is why God gave us spiritual leaders, pastors, shepherds, and elders. You should not be able to walk into your worship service and not have God speak to you through someone. You should ask Him to speak; and every time you ask Him to He will. God will speak into your life through people in ways you will not even get from (although it will agree with) the Bible.

God speaks to us in our obedience to His ways. He may speak to us in our disobedience. Many have heard that – He yells. However, the longer we are disobedient the deafer we become. We cover up and block Him out. This is a pattern that you must break: when you agree with God and obey Him you will hear His voice more clearly; and when we disobey Him we will become more and deafer.
1 Samuel 3:19 Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail. [NIV=”fall to the ground”]

Read more!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Back to Basics: "Filled". To Overcome and Become

In Back to Basics, Carl Palmer talked his "holy discontent" for church as usual. He and the elders wanted to get back to the root of God's desire for his people. That root is the Great Commandment:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' "The second is this, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Our pastors and elders developed this vision statement for our church:
We want to see God transform our lives and our world as we grow in a daily, practical experience of loving God and loving people.
We need transformation. This is not about knowing more; but about being changed from the inside out from an experience of becoming lovers.

In BtB: We Love Because, Carl explained that we must love like this because "God IS Love" and "God loved us first" - we are greatly loved.

In BtB: The Power to Love we saw that the power to we love the unlovable; our neighbors as ourselves; and God with all of our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all of our strength came from the power of the Holy Spirit (Christ, God) in us. Rules, religion, church and the Bible all have no power to make us love – unless the Holy Spirit is involved.

In BtB: How to be Filled With the Holy Spirit, Carl taught that: 1) you must believe you can be filled; 2) you must desire to be filled; and 3) you must submit to the leading of the spirit.

Carl had said he was going to talk about how to recognize the voice of God this week; but he didn’t. He felt God telling him to talk more about the filling by the Holy Spirit – and the struggle that comes with that. What is that struggle and/or battle?


Back to Basics: “Filled” – To Overcome and Become
Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5; Romans 8
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; October 9, 2005

Carl points out that when we talk about being filled with the Holy Spirit some are going to go “huh?”; and some are going to think this is some kind of mystical experience, and that once we have it everything is going to be all right. There is actually a conflict and a battle that needs to be fought and won. We have a real problem in that some of us can be pretty persuaded one week that God is saying something to us; and by the next week forget all about it. We have to stop that.

We have asked that God do something about church as usual. One part of “church as usual” is having the capacity to be convicted by the Holy Spirit – to have God speak to you on some issue – and then do nothing about it – and then wonder why they are not blessed by God. We have to stop that.

Carl is not asking that we go to church and become some kind of “cookie cutter” Christian. This is fundamental: God wants us to become great lovers, of Him and of people. Your life is not a success as a Christian unless you greatly love God and greatly love people. You can evaluate yourself on this; and you must take some steps. You cannot continue to hear the truth and not commit to obey. So whatever God says to you this week – do it.

We pursue nothing less than having the character of Jesus - we want to be and do what Jesus would be and do. What a tall order that is. Only one person has fulfilled the Great Commandment, and that is Jesus Christ; and through His spirit He is going to teach us to do it too.

Is Carl saying to you that you can have the character of Jesus Christ? Your vision of the Christian life should be nothing less than having the character of Jesus Christ. The fact is that we are supposed to be His “hands and feet” in this world. Too many people see Christians as quadruple amputees – no hands and no feet of Jesus. We are going to get healed of this.

Here is the point of this sermon: this is a battle. That is the only point (instead of three) that Carl will repeat three times. The battle is inside us (within us) between the Holy Spirit and our sinful nature (NIV).

Some Bibles use the word “flesh” – the battle is between the Spirit and the flesh. “Flesh” is the more accurate translation for the Greek word sarx. The translators of the NIV realized that the word was used so many times, for so many different things. Sometimes it is used like in “flesh” and blood – our actual flesh; and sometimes it refers to our humanness that is twisted by sin: our sinful nature.

Do you have a sinful nature? Last week Carl talked about driving. Some of us see our sinful nature really well when we are driving. Or, let four or five things go really wrong in quick succession. Your sinful nature connects to your body; anger wells up; your heart starts beating faster and your face gets redder; and you might just hit something. Anger, lust, jealousy, conflict, arguments, self-defense, and revenge are examples. When someone does something to you that emotion of revenge and/or anger that wells up in you is your flesh, your sinful nature.

Does anyone not have one? If you do not you are dead; because you are going to have this one until you die. Once we die, we will not have any of the three enemies: we will not have the world to conform us to it; we do not have the devil to tempt us; and we do not have the flesh. We will have a new glorious body – God is going to fix us.

Carl wants to say that no where in the Bible does it say we are the “old man” and the “new man” at the same time. Some teach that, but Carl does not see that. When we become a Christian the “old man” is dead. We become a new creation in Christ. However, we still struggle with our flesh; and it just leads us down a pathway.

Galatians 5 and the earlier part of Romans 8 is where the battle with this sinful nature is primarily discussed. Carl is not able to go through all this and wanted to touch base on these verses to show us where they are. Start with Galatians 5:
13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
Do you see that? Do you know the conflict in your own life between the sinful nature and the Spirit of God. Does it keep you from doing what you want to do?

So, you go home to your spouse thinking (you do not say): “I am filled with the Holy Spirit and I am going to love you”. And they say (not think): “Why didn’t you change those three light bulbs I asked you to change? You never do what I ask you!” What happens to you? Some part of you wells up in defensiveness. Or you are committed to purity, and that stuff shows up in your computer again. What’s that? Some of you have been defeated in this battle for a long time. For a lot of men it’s anger. For some women it’s fantasy. For others it’s fear. The list goes on and on. Some of you know in a flash what your battle is.

Paul says you cannot do what you want. The Holy Spirit wants to lead you and the flesh just crushes you. Sometimes the flesh is leading you down a path, and because you are a believer the Holy Spirit will just start shouting at you – “Don’t go there again!” “Don’t do that again!”. You cannot do what you want to do.

Sometimes it works the other way:
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Now Paul begins to name some of them:
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, [this means the list goes on] of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now that is a scary statement. These are indicators of an unchanged life; and an unchanged heart. That is why a Christian who is genuinely saved is one of the most miserable creatures on earth if they are controlled by the flesh. You can be a much happier pagan if you just think this doesn’t matter. If you have the Holy Spirit in you He just doesn’t leave you alone. Have you noticed? So He just makes you miserable. The battle goes on (and it is a good battle) and it is a battle God wants you to win – he wants you to beat it!.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
Some of you are thinking I am not guilty of any of the things in verses 19-21 – those are pretty gross sins.
  • You do not commit adultery (but you have a secret lust).
  • You do not hit anyone (but you abuse with your words when you control your children).
  • You do not worship false gods (but there are some things that are more important to you than anything else – you want bigger, and better, and richer, and newer and the list goes on)
Consider:
1 Corinthians 6: 12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
We are not to be mastered by anything – in order to be free to be mastered by God. You have to do some self-evaluation and ask: “Is my life mastered by anything but Jesus?” You have to look at yourself and ask: “Wouldn’t I be happier if I was free of that?”

Maybe the more penetrating question would be: “Wouldn’t those around me be more happy if I lived a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Think of what your life would be like if you were characterized by that fruit. Is this impossible for us? Not just to have some inklings of this; but to be dominated by this fruit. To be controlled by the Spirit – to just be this kind of person. What if this was so much a part of us that ANYTIME we were not like this we repented, and grieved, and wept over it because it was so weird.

This is some of why our marriages break up. This is some of why our children go astray. This is some of why we do not have a dramatically different life among unbelievers – because we are no different from them. We should be. Not better – holy.

Here is the one main thing in your notes: God’s main purpose is for us is:
  • to overcome the power of “the sinful nature” – and
  • to become people who live in “the fruit of the Spirit.”
It is two words: overcome and become. If you think Carl is talking about people addicted to pornography, and not to people addicted to selfishness – you are wrong. Most of us (if we were honest) would say that we are addicted to selfishness. That is part of the sinful nature; in fact one of the primary powers of the flesh. That is why the Bible says to love our neighbor as ourselves – God just presumes we love our self. You may think you do not love yourself a lot and in fact you may hate yourself. Hating yourself still loves yourself by overly focusing on you.

God wants you to overcome. Carl is trying to convince you of one thing: every Christian has the power to overcome any fleshly sin – and become pleasing to God in every area of life.. Can you believe that statement? God’s purpose, design, and plan is for you to overcome it. Carl is not talking about all at once. He recognizes that some people were so crippled by the way they were raised; have so many false ideas about God; or they have been terribly traumatized – and that therefore they have all sorts of heartaches and problems. He still wants to say that when he reads the Bible he sees when can overcome any fleshly sin by the work of God. Nothing is helpless or hopeless for the Christian.

Some of these things are the things we are holding on to so tightly; and they are the things that are holding us back. We are not going to be able to really go to “loving God with all; and loving our neighbors as ourselves” until we gain some victory in this area :
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

2 Peter 1:3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust [epiqumia. NIV and Carl=”evil desires”].
This is something you could meditate on for a long time. Carl believes that Peter makes one of the most incredible statements ever made by any author, at any time, anywhere, in all of human history. Work from the bottom up: You can escape from the corruption in this world caused by evil desires because you have been made participants in the divine nature. Think about that: the Christian actually participates in the divine nature. We participate because God gave us great and precious promises.

Again, Carl is not talking about great and gross sins: he is talking about that day-to-day fleshly stuff we just hate about ourselves sometimes. Or we get to the place where we just do not care about them anymore – that is “just me” so get used to it. We need to change. God can heal us and set us free.

That main point again: By the power of God’s Spirit in us:
  • our “flesh” can be overcome
  • we can become like Jesus!
How do we do this? How do we overcome whatever it is in our life we need to overcome?
  • Know God’s truth for my life…
  • Choose to submit my will to His will…
  • Act in obedience – depending on His power.
You have a project. Go to that person closest to you in your life and place this list:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
in front of them and say: “Would you please tell me which of these things you would most like increased in me?” The correct answer is not “all 9 bozo”. They have to pick just one.

Carl is asking you to do this because God will speak to you through this person. The danger is you will find yourself a week from now still not having done this and have one more thing that would have helped you grow that you have ignored. Have a better idea? Do that; but do not just blow this off.

Read more!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Back to Basics: How to be Filled With the Holy Spirit

In Back to Basics, Carl Palmer talked his "holy discontent" for church as usual. He and the elders wanted to get back to the root of God's desire for his people. That root is the Great Commandment:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' "The second is this, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Our pastors and elders developed this vision statement for our church:
We want to see God transform our lives and our world as we grow in a daily, practical experience of loving God and loving people.
We need transformation. This is not about knowing more; but about being changed from the inside out from an experience of becoming lovers.

In BtB: We Love Because, Carl explained that we must love like this because "God IS Love" and "God loved us first" - we are greatly loved. This is called Grace. The only right response to God's grace is to love God and love who He loves.

In BtB: The Power to Love we saw that the power to we love the unlovable; our neighbors as ourselves; and God with all of our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all of our strength came from the power of the Holy Spirit (Christ, God) in us.

* * *
More Love, More Power

More love (more love)
More power (more power)
More of you in my life

More love (more love)
More power (more power)
More of you in my life

And I will worship you with all of my heart
I will worship you with all of my mind
I will worship you with all of my strength
Cause you are the Lord, and I love You

* * *
This week, Carl examined the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus's promises to His disciples in more detail. Galatians 5 outlines what the Holy Spirit (and its lack) does in our hearts:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law . . . 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
[See "An Object Lesson in Love and the Holy Spirit" - when I get it done]

Jesus told His disciples they would receive the Holy Spirit:
John 14:16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

John 16:7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives was essential for them to be able to live the life He intends for them
Luke 24:49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

Acts 1:8 "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

We need supernatural power to live the way Jesus wants us to. We can lead a religious life pretty much on our own. If we just want to follow rules and regulations, and be really religious, without the power of the Holy Spirit. [See also Ephesians 1:19; 3:16, 20; 6:10 for more about this power.] We are told in Ephesians 5:18-21:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
So, the next topic is:


How to be Filled With the Holy Spirit
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; Ephesians 5:18; October 2, 2005

The analogy in Ephesians 5:18 is a good one: liquor and drugs control us. The Bible says do not be controlled by a substance; but be filled with the Holy Spirit. The word "filled" here is translated from the greek word pleroo which Carl believes relates to control - control of your life by the Spirit. This is a command; and in fact the Greek scholars say this is an imperative command: this means not only is this something which you must do - it is also strongly commanded. It was also written in the passive tense, which means it could also mean "be filled by the Holy Spirit": this is something that happens to you, so make sure it happens to you.

As a passive command, it means you cannot fill yourself with the Spirit of God. We can fill ourselves with ourselves, which is in fact our natural state (and something we are good at) - but we are not to do that. So, if we are to be filled, but we cannot fill ourselves, then how are we to be filled? Carl tells us that if we have ever listened to him before listen to him now; because this may be one of the most important messages for our personal lives that we have ever heard.

You have to look at the Word of God to see what it says about how to be filled with the Spirit of God. What does the Word say? Practically nothing. There is no place in the Word of God that says this is the formula: if you do this, and this, and this, etc. you will be filled. Some people have come up with their own theories; but there is no place that outlines how this is to be done.

If this is true, and this is crucial for our lives, then why doesn't Bible spell it out for us point by point? Does God leave us without any resources? He tells us to be filled; but He doesn't tell us how? The answer is no.

What this must mean is, lacking specific guidelines, that God wants us to obey this command the way He wants us to obey all of His commands. Here are those guidelines. It is just really simple [but not easy]:

We must believe we can be filled.

You must BELIEVE this. The Bible, Old Testament and New, says that the just shall live by FAITH. Every single important thing God calls us to do to live the Christian life has to do with faith - believing. How were you saved in the first place?:
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We are going to receive the Holy Spirit by the same means by which we received Christ in the first place. We have to believe that it will happen: we are filled by grace through faith. Of course, we must believe in the Holy Spirit. Some of you may not believe in this person of God. Is the Spirit a person? Yes: He can be grieved, we can reject Him, we can receive Him, and we can be filled by Him. If this is an issue, you must go to the Word of God and answer these questions: Is there a Holy Spirit, can I be filled, and do I have the Holy Spirit living inside me? These are all yes or no questions - not maybe questions. All through the Word of God it is clear that when a Christian comes to believe the Holy Spirit comes in them. If you are truly a Christian, the Holy Spirit is in you; indwells you; and stays in you. As Peter said on Pentecost:
Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."
You have to BELIEVE this. The reason Carl stressed this so much is that we are in a conservative evangelical church where we do not talk about this much. This is to his shame, and we are going to change that. Many in our church come from conservative backgrounds where talk of the Holy Spirit was devisive.

Carl believes that one of the biggest tricks the evil one has played on the church of Jesus Christ in the United States is to divide us up over the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In the 1970's and 80's the church in the U.S. split again and again and again over the this issue. These were arguments over what the Holy Spirit did; what gifts it gave; and did all of this pass-away in the time of the Apostles. There were seminars and teachings over all the things the Holy Spirit no longer does - and we divided up - and the evil one just cackled. He cackled because he got Christians to divide up over God's Spirit, which is one of the stupidest things imaginable. Instead of being the source of loving one another, Christians were divided and angry with one another over the Spirit of God. Carl used to get involved in some of those debates - but not again.

The Holy Spirit is the thing that unites us together. We are baptised together into Jesus Christ through the Spirit. The Spirit is what makes the Body of Christ one. We do not need to talk about what the Holy Spirit no longer does. We need figure out what the Holy Spirit does do; and what He does for us; and His purpose for us; and what His gifts are and how we recieve them; and how do we get the filling of God? We need to be powerful, spiritual people the way Jesus intended us to be.

Some people say that this is a special, deluxe edition of Christianity - only for a few. If you buy this you have been decieved by another lie from the pit of hell. The powerful life, the spirit-filled life, is what Jesus wants for you. He wants people to look you and know you are different. Not odd, just different - someone who loves God and loves people. A.W. Tozier said "that in a world where everyone was sick, to be healty would be unusual but not abnormal". Some people think the spirit-filled life is abnormal; but it is just healthy - because we live in a world of sick people, and that includes far too many in the church. So the second thing is:

We must genuinely want to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

This is desire. We are wired for desire (you may have noticed that); and God wants us to truly to desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In the church, everyone would want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Right? No, wrong. Carl notes that some of the people he was talking to in our own congregation didn't want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Either they are afraid of this strange person called the Holy Spirit; or they know that filled really does entail control. Let's rephrase the question: Do you want to be controlled by a spirit other than your own? Do you want your life controlled by someone other than yourself?

What Carl finds is that he wants the "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control'; but he wants to run his own life too. He wants all the blessings and goodies - but he wants to call his own shots. He wants to go where he wants to go, and do what he wants to do. What if Carl gets filled with the Holy Spirit and He tells Carl to do something else. The Holy Spirit often does tell you to do something else; go somewhere else; give something else. He often tells you to do something hard that you do not want to do. One of the first things is often "Will you please forgive that person". Perhaps: "Will you please open your mouth and talk about Jesus". This is a control issue - it is about who is going to control our lives.

Carl is confident that as we try to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and submit to Him, that some of our congregation is not going to go. They are not ready and do not want to give up control. They want the "fire insurance" to escape hell; but they do not want to be controlled. Let's be honest: we all have a tendency to want to control our own lives and now we are talking about being controlled by someone else.

You have to WANT this - and you do not have to beg or plead. Some people say you do not even have to ask: this is about believing God and depending on Him while moving forward in the faith that His Spirit is there with you. Some say you should not ask to be filled; while others say that of course you have to ask to be filled. What's the answer: Carl doesn't know. Carl does know that he oftens asks - he needs to ask. So he asks, and he doesn't plead or beg. Why doesn't Carl beg? God is worthy of being begged; but God has made it clear that this is His will for us and we do not have to beg for what is already God's will for us. We just have to believe Him and want it. The third thing:


We must choose to submit to His ways and obey Him.

You knew this one was coming didn't you. This isn't just about being filled; but about choosing to submit. God is trying to make you a submissive person.

We have to learn how to become a submissive soul: not to everybody; but to Him. We have to believe He will fill us; want Him to fill us; and then, at the moment of decision, we have to submit to what He says. Life is filled with that: choosing to submit to the will of God. We are going to have to choose that today and this week.

That is how to be filled with the Holy Spirit: Believe, Desire, and Submit. Is it really that simple (again, not easy)? Carl wants to say to you that it is. It has been this simple for generation after generation for 2000, 3000, 4000 years. You have to believe in what God wants; want what God wants; and submit to His ways. You will then find the power in the obedience.
“There is no such thing as a once-for-all fullness [we leak]. It is a continuous appropriation of a continuous supply from the Lord Christ Himself. It is a moment-by-moment faith in a moment-by-moment Savior, for a moment-by-moment cleansing and a moment-by-moment filling. As I trust Him, He fills me; the moment I begin to believe, that moment I begin to receive; and as long as I keep believing, praise the Lord, so long I keep receiving.” Charles Inwood

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Back to Basics: The Power to Love

In Back to Basics, Carl Palmer talked his "holy discontent" for church as usual. He and the elders wanted to get back to the root of God's desire for his people. That root is the Great Commandment:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' "The second is this, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Our pastors and elders developed this vision statement for our church:
We want to see God transform our lives and our world as we grow in a daily, practical experience of loving God and loving people.
We need transformation. This is not about knowing more; but about being changed from the inside out from an experience of becoming lovers.

In BtB: We Love Because, Carl explained that we must love like this because "God IS Love" and "God loved us first" - we are greatly loved. This is called Grace. The only right response to God's grace is to love God and love who He loves.

How do we do this? How do we love the unlovable? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves and God with all of our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all of our strength? How can we possibly love like this? Where do we find:


The Power to Love
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; Ephesians 3:16-21; September 25, 2005

Is it possible to love like that? We need power to accomplish this: power in our minds to believe this; power in our wills to will this; power in our understanding to remember this; and power in our lives to actually experience this. First, we must ask these questions:
  • Is the system of God flawed?
  • Did God demand something which is impossible?
  • Did God work so hard to give us eternal life and make it a secret only a few people stumble upon - and only a few of those find abundant life?
  • Would God give us so many wonderful things and then withhold the one thing that we really need to live?
Sometimes we feel this way. The answer to all of those questions is NO.

God always gives what is needed to obey His commands. One person said that whatever God orders up He pays for. God gives us the power to do. One of our problems is that we were brought up in an environment where we are not really sure that is true; or at least a lot of people are not sure that it is true. Something in the back of their mind says "I will probably not get there - that power is reserved for some small group that will become missionaries or pastors" - or the super sacred Mother Teresa types. We really do believe God is withholding from us.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Do you see the argument: if God will give up that most precious of things - His son - for us then will He withhold the life Jesus offered from us? Would God give us the life of His Son, and then not give us the life in His Son?

Years ago, there was a group of people gathered around a dinner table. They were struggling to believe Jesus; they were struggling to do the right thing. They heard Jesus tell them that this was the kind of life that He offered and wanted them to experience. They wanted to experience this life; and now He was talking about leaving them. They were really confused: they knew if they were ever going to experience this life He was talking about He would have to stick real close to them.

John 14-17: These chapters record what Jesus said to His disciples around the table at the Last Supper as He prepared them for His death; and to live the kind of life He wanted them to live. Carl wanted to point out a few of the things that He said to them because they are crucial to us:

John 14:16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He [listen to this] abides with you and will be in you.
Jesus tells them that even though He is leaving; He is really coming back to be with them forever through this Spirit of Truth. Helper in verse 16 is a difficult word to translate. The Greek word is parakleto├č which means "one called alongside to help" and "an intimate helper". Jesus is saying that He is going to stop being with them; and this new helper will be in them.
John 14:26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Imagine you are a disciple thinking about something Jesus had said - and wondering "How will I ever remember?" - and Jesus tells you the Helper is going to remind you of every word after He is gone.
John 15:4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
Jesus is saying you are going to have a life that is connected to Me because I am going to live inside you. Carl points out that you have heard this kind of language for a long time if you are a Christian; and right now these words may be just washing over you one more time - they are not penetrating your heart. Can you imagine hearing them for the first time?
John 15: 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
The fruitfulness, the success of your life, is going to be dependant on Him living in you, and you in Him. Apart from that, you can do nothing. Now we do stuff all the time apart from Jesus; and Jesus would call it - nothing.
John 16:7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage [NIV="for your good"] that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
Jesus is telling them that the Holy Spirit in them is better than His physical presence. Look at their lives. Was the Holy Spirit in them in the Book of Acts more powerful than Jesus with them in the Gospels? Yes: Peter turned into a powerhouse of confidence and faith, when before he was stumbling and denying. Now: do you believe this - that it is better for the Holy Spirit to be in you than Jesus with you? One problem is that if Jesus is with Carl, he cannot be with me - or in New York. The other is: what if we were to go through life and every time we have we were confronted with a problem we would have to turn to Jesus next to us and ask Him what to do, say, feel, etc. The Holy Spirit in you is more powerful than Jesus with you because in actual fact it is Jesus in you - and He can be with everyone at anytime.

Jesus is saying to the disciples that power is coming - power like they have never had before. They have been dependent on His power and waiting for Him to do things. Now they will be doing, and they will have His power in them.

Ephesians 1:18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
Paul prays for his friends at Ephesus that they would know that God designed us to be “Holy Spirit strong – inside.” He prays for a power experience for them; as Carl is praying for one for us, for you, for him. Paul is saying that the power God used to raise Jesus from the dead is the same power God puts in us and lives in us. There is something wrong here, isn't there?
Ephesians 3:16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man
Paul is still praying for them that they would know the there is Holy Spirit power in them; and that they would be strengthened with this - not through themselves but through His spirit in their inner being.
17 "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love
The picture here is of a tree with its roots going down deep into God's love. Did you know that is what you are if you are a follower of Christ? We may not even know we are rooted this way - a lot of Christians don't. They think we are rooted and established in rules, or church, or something else.
18 may be able [NIV: have power - which is what Carl used] to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,
First then, we must know what we are (rooted in love) and now what we need: the power to grasp/ comprehend the immense love of God. We need to come to know something that surpasses knowledge. This is an experience that becomes part of us and begins to rule our lives and affects the way we live. We need a knowledge that brings an experience that is greater than knowing. Now, this is what we pursue : 18 ". . . that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God".

Is this one of those places in the Word of God where Paul gets rhetorically carried away and starts talking nonsense? Carl thinks some of us might believe that. Or perhaps, this is just for the select few - the 1% of Christians. Is it even possible to be "full of God"? God's love is immense and Paul is trying to tell us He wants to fill us with Himself. The last two verses:

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
God wants every Christian to be powerful (Ephesians 6:10). We are nice. Sometimes we are good. Are we powerful? Maybe you are saying to yourself that that is not your personality. That is just not who you are. You do not think that you ever will be powerful. Carl wants to tell you that it is sin for you to think you will never be a powerful person. You can be a quiet person who never takes the spotlight; or wants to appear in public - and you can still be powerful.

We need inner power that only comes by the Spirit of God - this is the power source:
  • Romans 5:5: ". . . the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
  • God wants His (powerful life–changing) love to become our (powerful life–changing) love
  • We must know that God puts His love and power in us!
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you have God's love and power in you right now. We must find a way to let it out and do its work in us. His good plan is for us to be overwhelmed by His love – and empowered to greatly love Him and love others!

This has been cross-posted at Street Prophets
Next in series: How To Be Filled With the Holy Spirit

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Back to Basics: We Love Because

This is the next in a series of sermons from my pastor Carl Palmer. I have tried to remain true to the spirit of his views; and even to maintain his wording. I have sent them to him and he has not slapped me yet – so I guess I am okay.

The first in the series was Back to Basics. Back to Basics II was a completely self-written addendum to the first that I hope was in its spirit.

This sermon was delivered on September 18, 2005. Sorry for being such a laggard.

We Love Because
[The words and ideas are from Carl Palmer]

Carl reviewed Back to Basics (something I will not really do) and again stressed that our church leadership was asking God to do a new thing in His our church for His glory. That new thing was based on getting rid of “church as usual”. It is based on cutting through our distractions and differences and focusing in on basic Christianity, rooted in the Word of God. That basic theme from the Word of God:
Mark 12: 28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, `HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' 31 "The second is this, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
and the vision statement we have derived from that
We want to see God transform our lives and our world as we grow in a daily, practical experience of loving God and loving people.
Carl and the elders believe that God is calling us to a “journey” of becoming more like Him – by becoming people who greatly love. Whatever else we understand, or do not understand, let us be people who love. We do not need extra rules, but to transform us from the inside out – and then transform our world. The world will not be changed by our programs, tracks, banners – but by us being different people.

Today… commit to a journey of faith and obedience.
Some have said that they do not know if they really love God. They believe, and they want to escape hell; but He just isn’t with them – they can’t feel Him.
Do you think God cares? Do you think he cares if you just believe things or if you love Him? Do you think God just wants to populate Heaven with people avoiding hell? Would that delight the heart of our God for us to show up there mainly because we didn’t want to go to the other place? That’s pretty meager.

God has a much bigger plan – to turn us into people who love Him. When we get to Heaven there are two things I know we will do: we are going to love God and we are going to love people. We are trying to do here what we are going to do there for all eternity. It will be easier there because God is going to fix us and we are going to see Him. - here we have to walk by faith and not by sight; and faith means learning to love God and love people. This isn’t about the intellectual agreement to some facts; but about a changed life. He wants us to show up in Heaven as a mature lover.

Why does He care? God is Love ( I John 4). Not that God does love, but IS love. God wants us to love because He is love. Of course then He is a lover. Why should we love? We love because He first loved us. The reason for this journey is not because I think it is a good thing for our church in these days (I do though); but because I deeply believe this is what God wants for you and your heart is to learn to deeply love Him because He first loved you and He is love. God is not going to leave us alone in this weak kind of love we have - because it is a weak kind of love.

The Prodigal Son: Luke 15 starting in verse 11

There are three parables in chapter 15: the parable of the lost sheep; the parable of the lost coin; and the parable of the lost son. In the parable of the lost sheep the shepherd finds that one of his hundred sheep is not in the fold. Leaving the 99 behind, he searches for the last one – and when it is found everyone celebrates. Starting in verse 8, He tells of a woman who loses one of the coins from her marriage necklace – and straightened out the entire house and put it in order until she found. Again, everyone rejoiced. First, 1 out of 100; then 1 out of 10; and now 1 out of 2

Carl points out that this chapter, and this parable, mean so much to him because he still vividly remembers when he was this prodigal [so do I]. The younger son asks for this inheritance (this is something very bad in the culture at the time) and
and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 "Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 "And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.
Then (Carl loves this line) He “came to his senses”. He decided to get up, go home, and tell his father that he was not even worthy to be his son – but please make me like a hired servant because even his father’s servants lived better than he was now.

So he went home and when his father saw him far away (you know how you can recognize how your kids walk) he ran to meet him –which is something fathers didn’t do in that dignified culture:
his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 "And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
– but his father cut him off:
22 "But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.
What is the main thing: the son coming home? The son really doesn’t deserve to come home. His motives are mixed. There is no real repentance, just a realization that he is starving and his fathers servants at least eat.

What is important is the fathers eyes. You can treat this as an impartial observer unless you are the son. If you are the son you are going to look into the eyes of the father to see whether he really forgives you or not. – am I really welcome? – will I really be okay?

The most important thing is the love in the eyes of the Father [capitalization shift notice!]. Have you ever been the prodigal? Have you ever seen the Father’s love? Some of you have never experienced that and until you do you will never be able to love Him with all your heart , soul, mind and strength.

Maybe you do not think you are a prodigal. Maybe you have never come home. Once you have realized you’re the prodigal, and you have gone home, and you have seen the love in the Fathers eyes and realize you are going to be OK – then you have to learn to love like that.

That is why we are doing this. We can analyze all of this out, but have you ever seen that love in the Father’s eyes? Do you know that we are deeply loved by a wonderful Father?

Some of you are thinking about your earthly fathers, and you were never loved like that. For you, this will be especially hard. Also, this is especially important to you because that lack of love you saw in your earthly father’s eyes has held you back from knowing how deeply your heavenly Father loves you. Some day that will be healed but in the meantime you have to get on your knees in front of the heavenly Father and ask Him: Am I truly accepted? Am I truly forgiven? Am I received back? Will there be a party for me; a robe and a ring; and new shoes? Carl want to say you will, and you have. Do you know that? If you do then you know better than anyone why you have to love.

To “love God and love people” is: The basic will of God for us – to know and do. Nothing else matters as much as this. The way God accomplishes His purpose. The most powerful, amazing experiences you have had in your life are because somebody deeply loved you; lived it out and acted it out; you received it; and you’re a different person because of it.

This is the way God changes people, and countries, cities, communities, neighborhoods, and families: if this doesn’t work in your home who cares about anything else anyway. One of those questions is: who is my neighbor anyway? And God answers: that person you married. For kids, its mom and dad: we need to learn to honor our parents. It’s the person in the next cubicle; the crippled one by the side of the road on your way to work (like the story of the Samaritan). It is the best way to live.

This was cross-posted at Street Prophets
Next: The Power to Love

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