Monday, March 29, 2021

Making Holy Week

Holy Week precedes Easter, but it’s up to us to make it a holy week. But what is “holiness”? It’s simply setting something apart for God. For example, the Sabbath is holy, dedicated and set apart for God’s purposes. Holy Days are likewise set apart for God. And then there’s Easter, which is set apart from all other days of the year to recall Jesus’ triumph over the grave. Next Sunday, we will celebrate Easter and proclaim that He has risen, a demonstration of His power over sin and death!

Yet Holy Week is just another week if we fail to make it holy!

Sure, it still shows up on the liturgical calendar and churches will do some special things. Easter eggs will be hidden and found; families will get together to feast in celebration! The week starts with Palm Sunday, remembered by some as the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Some evangelical pastors will use Palm Sunday as a last chance reminder for people to invite others to next week’s Sunday service. After all, it’s one of the big two days for reaching the unchurched: Easter and Christmas! It’s a chance to prove the fruitfulness of the church through new converts and growing congregations!

You may detect the cynicism in my writing but understand that it’s not because anything in the above paragraph is inherently wrong. We should be inviting our unchurched friends to our Easter celebration, and it is good thing for families and church communities to gather in remembrance. Yet, we’re often as clueless as that Jewish community that celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. We are comfortable in our expectation of what God is doing FOR us rather than seeking to understand how He is calling us to JOIN Him, and year after year, the traditional teachings are bearing ever less nutritious spiritual fruit.

Jesus told us that we would know a tree by its fruit, but what is that fruit?

A pastor friend of mine visited a church where the gifts of the Spirit manifested wildly, but I knew of serious doctrinal errors in that church and asked him what were the fruits of that congregation. He responded that the fruit was good, citing the many supernatural manifestations and baptisms. But listen to me when I tell you that he was looking at the wrong thing! Satan is capable of supernatural manifestations, so just because it’s supernatural, doesn’t mean it’s from God! Yet what about the baptisms, lives being handed over to God? Isn’t that “fruit”? 

Yes and no: people come to a saving knowledge of God as a side effect of our own obedience to God, and they can come to know Jesus from our faithful witness. Still, it is God’s working in them that brings about salvation and not the power of our arguments. If we can persuade a person into the Kingdom, Satan’s agents can just as easily convince them otherwise. It is not head knowledge that saves! Tozer had written about head knowledge and likened it to a revelation of God in a lifeless body, but he explained that the Holy Spirit is the illumination that fills a body with a soul and brings life. 

But in the church my friend visited if the supernatural manifestations came from a different spirit, what were the converts submitting themselves to? Were they converts to God or to something else, perhaps a man or even something supernatural? Surely God can use anything and anyone to bring a person to Him, and I even know of a person who came to know God in a cult before Jesus ultimately delivered him from that organization. His salvation was a result of God working in his heart despite the wickedness of his environment. 

We can look at all this and understand several things: 1) my pastor friend was sadly mistaken in his evaluation based on a misunderstanding of spiritual fruit, 2) if a pastor doesn’t understand spiritual fruit, he can’t impart that knowledge to his congregation, and 3) if in Jesus’ words, we can know a tree by its fruit, but no one knows what good fruit is, they can’t discern a good tree from a bad tree. 

But doesn’t the Bible tell us about fruit? It might not be in one of the gospels, but it is a list that allows us to examine ourselves, an indication of the condition of our heart. It says that the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can look at this list like a mirror and immediately recognize our spiritual condition. When this fruit is growing on us, we are sometimes the first to recognize it, and when it’s absent, we can feel the loss. It only grows when we spend time with God, and it wanes as we look upon lesser things. 

The Fruit of the Spirit is a state of being that is reflected outward in behavior, and while the behavior can be mimicked, it can’t persist without God’s presence in our lives. That Fruit calls out to true seekers, and the trees that grow this Fruit seek to do the Father’s will. It is not getting someone into a church as an Easter project that wins souls, it’s inviting them into our lives and introducing them to our great Hope! People are not a project. People are the object of God's (and our) affection.

Those who live holy lives on earth are the noble ones who fill Me with joy! (Psalm 32:8)

This Holy Week is only as holy as you allow it to be. How badly do you want to see God? How desperate are you to see Him reach others? In these last days it’s our separateness, our holiness, our faithfulness, that brings life and revival, but are we prepared for the cost of real revival? Jesus paid the price for us, and He longs for us to model His example. He lived for the eternal and died to the ways of this world. Every great awakening started with prayer and then fizzled as the "works" of revival overshadowed the prayer that brings revival. 

Do YOU want revival? Are YOU prepared to pay the cost? Are YOU set apart for God or simply allowing God visiting access to some aspects of your life? 

You may respond: “I’d pray more, but I’m so busy!” Are you busy in pursuit of God or the things of this world? Do you rest in the light of an electronic screen or in the light of God’s truth? David Wilkerson who led a vibrant urban ministry started by turning away from television and praying. I wonder what God’s people could do if we turned off the electronic screens of entertainment and social media to pray. 

What if God’s people truly set themselves apart for Him? How would that Fruit grow upon us and how might He use us? We may never know until we stand in front of His throne of all the opportunities that were lost while we pursued lesser things. 

copyright ©2021 Mitchell Malloy ( /)

Saturday, March 20, 2021

For Those Called by His Name

Who is called by His Name? Christians receive their name from Christ and we are anointed with His Name. Y’srael (Israel) was the name God gave to Jacob and it has been the name of God’s people since before Jesus’ birth. Yahweh gave Jacob (meaning “deceiver”) a new name that means “struggles with Yahweh”, and that is the story of God’s people ever since. Like Israel, we struggle with our own rebellion against God and His ways. We struggle against our SELF as we learn to love, learning that love is a decision to give rather than lust which vainly seeks to feed the SELF. Yet how many of our prayers reflect our lust rather than our love?

Our typical prayer is for SELF: deliverance from our circumstances, provision, protection. Yes, we should always turn to God as our Provider and Protector, yet we often we look to other constructs like employers or governments as our provider or protector in place of God. When we put our faith in these things, it is idolatry. Perhaps they aren’t made of wood and stones, but they are idols nonetheless. The SELF is inwardly afraid of its limitations and naturally looks to something greater than itself, which should prompt us to turn to God as our Provider and Protector. It is our dependency upon God that can allow us to seek Him as our Father, and while these prayers for SELF are okay, there is a prayer of love that desires for all God’s people as well:

Abba, work in Your people, those who are called by Your name so that we, Your people, humble ourselves and pray, seeking Your face and turning from our wicked ways. Close the ears of Your people to the words of the Enemy and cleanse their hearts, their minds and their souls from the echoes of the Enemy. Fill Your people with Your truth and love! 

Remove the clouds that keep Your people from seeing Your face and silence the noise that mutes Your voice, so that Your people can hear You, see You, and know that You love them, that You are near and that You are working all things together for their good!

Father, work in Your people so that Your name is kept holy and let Your kingdom come! Give Your people their bread, day by day. Forgive them and give them grace to forgive everyone else. Do not let Your people be tempted, but deliver them from all evil: the schemes of man, the assault of demons and the wickedness of their own hearts.

We have no hope apart from You! Remove these hearts of clay and give Your people hearts of flesh! We can’t, and You never said we could. You can, and You always said You would!

Grant us favor in Your eyes, Father, and grant us favor in the eyes of others. Bless us and make us a blessing to others. Expand our territory to grow the reign of Your Kingdom! May You be glorified by Your people: pick us up when we stumble; redirect us when we misunderstand; and fill in our gaps as we execute Your plan.

Answer this prayer as You answered Jabez and remind us of Your great love! Be our Shepherd and carry us forever!

copyright ©2021 Mitchell Malloy ( /)