Monday, November 12, 2007

It's Been A While

Well, I lost my hard drive and along with it my password (all of my passwords) and the know how to get into the blog and it took so long to get everything back, all my enthusiasm went away for blogging anymore.

When I finally decided I needed to get back to a place to let the hot air out and tried to get back to blogging, they had changed the whole setup of how to access the site and so it took me another couple of weeks to sort that out. . . . .

So, I'm back. . . . .

Now what do I do? Hmm! I think I want to alert the world that the paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways , but narrower viewpoints. Racism and homophobia are rampant. Our society's appetite for waste is insatiable. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space, but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Digging For Hidden Treasure

Most of you, I’m sure, have heard the parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. How everyone agreed with everything the tyrant said or did. The people were so afraid of him they didn’t dare disagree with him publicly. Then when he paraded his new suit, which supposedly only wise people could see and anyone who was stupid could not, one young boy had the nerve to shout out loud, "The Emperor is naked!" The bystanders repeated what he had said over and over again until everyone cried, "The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!"

I have been a Christian for over 50 years; receiving Christ as a child. I grew up going to a Bible church in Dallas, Texas. Bible churches are very close to Southern Baptist theology in their beliefs. They seem to be a sort of a Dallas phenomenon – closely aligned with the Dallas Theological Seminary. After 25 years, I was steeped in a conservative fundamental theological point of view and proudly claimed to be a “fundamentalist” before it came to have the negative connotations it has today.

Twice a week, each Tuesday and Wednesday evening, I teach Bible study for my church and also a sister church in Dallas. Recently I was trying to decide on a study topic. I was standing in line at the grocery store checkout and noticed on a kiosk a book that had been important to me in my formation years. The title of the book was Know What You Believe by Paul E. Little. I bought it because I thought I could use it to build a study-guide to teach some foundational doctrines to my people. When I got home, I eagerly opened it to begin writing my outline only to realize how very far I have moved since the “good-ole-days.” I simply don't believe the same things I believed when I was a young whipper-snapper - most of us don't. Our beliefs change with time and maturity.

Today I would describe my ministry, as I have come to understand it, as being directly linked to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus explained His mission in Luke, chapter 4, starting in verse 16, reading from the New American Standard Version:

16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD."
- Luke 4:16-19

Like Jesus, my job as a minister of the gospel is to set those who are oppressed free and to release the captive. I want to show light to those who cannot see. I am here to preach the real gospel – that is the good new about God’s free gift of grace.

Over the past 30 years, I have had to ask difficult questions. Like the boy who pointed out that the Emperor was naked, I have just been pointing out some of the obviously naked lies we have been told. Not all of my ministry partners have understood. But ever since I saw the Emperor going up the cathedral steps naked as a jay-bird, I’ve had difficulty in just taking the preacher’s word for it.

Not everything they told me was wrong: They told me about a Savior. His name was Jesus. God, His Father, had sent on my behalf to die at Calvary. They told me that salvation was mine by faith. They told me that I could have a personal relationship with God. They told me many other things that I have since verified in my heart through the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

But most recently they have been proclaiming a message that I do not recognize. Some of them are so busy proclaiming their prosperity, they don’t have time to minister to those stricken with AIDS. Some of them are blindly holding up their tradition, and are failing to give sight to the blind. Others are spending such an inordinate amount of time keeping people in bondage, they would never set them free. If you are like me – you are tired of this charade put on by the church.

The church does not exactly have a pristine record. It was the church that sent warriors to the Holy Land in the 12th century to kill for Christ; it was the church that instituted and sold indulgences to save the dead; it was the church that taught anti-Semitism and sponsored the Inquisition between the 15th and 16th centuries. The church has led the way in the extermination of “infidels.” Through their influence and in the name of Christ, people were condemned as witches and burned at the stake.

They have taught that blacks were inferior to whites, backed the institution of slavery and later the Jim Crow laws that kept segregation in the south for almost 100 years after the Civil War. They have opposed all kinds of scientific advance on the basis of Christian doctrine including astronomy, biology, archeology and medicine. They don’t like abortion for any reason; are not friendly toward women’s rights and are in opposition to the ordination of women. In the past, they took the lead opposing mixed race marriages and gender reassignments. They have most recently have made it clear that they are firmly entrenched against same-sex marriage, claiming that this somehow threatens to destroy the institution of marriage and the family.

Some today are calling for the Constitution of the United States to be re-interpreted and if need be amended to reflect the "Christian" values they say the founders intended from the beginning. This would include the death penalty for adulterers and homosexuals. These people really scare me. Just as Marx Brothers assessed in A Day At The Races, “They may be honest, but you gotta watch ‘em” which I feel sure is giving them too much credit.

Within myself, I struggled with my own sexuality for 38 years; believing that I had somehow at some point chosen the wrong sexual orientation. Because I followed the reasoning they had given me, I was asked to believe that I was an abomination before God. I knew that I somehow had to get my sexuality under control, but try as I might, I was simply unable to stop my attraction to those of my gender. But sex seemed like an addiction to me; its allure could be found everywhere I went. Was I really such an embarrassment to the Lord? It appeared that God had made a big mistake because my libido was enormous.

Then one evening in 1979 as I was teaching a Bible study from the book of Galatians, I read:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
– Galatians 5:16
The group asked me to explain what Paul meant by “walking in the Spirit.” I had to admit I didn’t know, but from that day until now, I’ve been trying to find out. Its the answer to finally put to death the deeds of the flesh. Why didn’t those preachers all those years ago tell me what it was? When I asked them about it, they did a little shuffle. It was like they didn’t want me to know or they didn't know themselves. I suspect the latter. I would have to look into it for myself.
After all the years of hiding who I was, I finally came out in 1985. Those who knew about it told me that if I were really serious about the ministry, then I would have to change my lifestyle. Some even told me that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian and be gay – that I was on my way to hell, but the interesting thing was that my "walk by the Spirit" began to happen at about the same time - and the His testimony in my heart did not condemn me in any way for my sexual orientation. Hmm! Could it be that I had been lied to?
I don’t have much memory of living without the Lord in my life because I had received Christ at such an early age, and because of that, it was pretty difficult to swallow any suggestion that I was not saved, but the critique challenged me nonetheless because I was very biblically oriented. I needed to understand from a biblical stance how I fit into the Kingdom of God.
Clearly I was certainly not going to get any sympathy or affirmation from the my fundy church friends and pastors. Today the rhetoric has gotten so loud and the pressure so intense that no card carrying conservative fundamentalist could possibly take a stand in support of the gay issue. If I was going to get any answers; if I was going to get at the Truth, I was going to have to dig for it myself. So to start, I was led to the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 6.
19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
– Matthew 6:19-21
How do you “store up treasure in heaven?” Jesus was speaking of a relationship between the treasure and the heart. What is the treasure, anyway?
One good Bible study method is to take a key word, like the word “treasure,” and look it up in a Bible reference book – a concordance. Find out how many other places in the Bible it is used and how it is used in the various contexts. It turns out that the word “treasure” in this case is the Greek word thesauros. And according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means
1) the place in which good and precious things are collected, like a storehouse -or-
2) the things laid up in a treasury, collected treasures.
The word is the same in Latin and is the root of our English word thesaurus, which, according to Webster, is a book where you’ll find a collection of synonyms and antonyms stored. Its second meaning is the same as the Greek, a treasury or storehouse. This is the beginning of understanding of what Jesus meant when He spoke of treasure.
Here’s another passage where Jesus uses that same word:
44 The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
– Matthew 13:44
In this passage, Jesus explains that the treasure is so valuable that it is worth trading everything you own to obtain it. Now I have my suspicions about what this treasure is, but I turn to one last passage to help me understand. Jesus is speaking to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12.
33 "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36 But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
– Matthew 12:33-37
Notice again in this passage the relationship between the treasure and the heart. Jesus has added character descriptors to the treasure, which remember according to Webster, is a storage vault. It is described as either a good or evil treasury that can be identified by the good or bad fruit stored in it. But, “What is this treasure?” Verse 34 tells me that the storage location is the “heart” and releases the words that come out of people’s mouths. And the explanation given in verses 36 and 37 is that these words will either condemn or justify the person using them on the day of judgment. The treasure isn’t the words themselves, but the words reveal the character of the treasure – whether it is good or evil – and they apparently provide the evidence that forms the basis of a decision to be made concerning each individual on the day of judgment. Does this sound like something we should be concerned about?
As amazing as computers are for the storage of information, your brain, which is the personal computer you were born with, is even more amazing. It goes a step further than mechanical man-made computers by introducing intuitive and conceptual ideas. The brain classifies its information into ethical categories. Often religious teaching – not always based on factual information – is strongly ingrained at an early age in the root programs of our brain and errors in this data are truly difficult to correct.
But Jesus said, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” This is nothing but a restatement of, “garbage in, garbage out!” The lesson here is that we must sift the data that we put into our brains. We’ve probably gone for many years unsifted, which allowed many impurities into our databanks; which means we’re going to have to root out the bad stuff and not let it in anymore.
Jesus goes on to say, “that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” This is serious business that apparently has eternal consequence.
Your world view is what you may refer to as “your truth” or reality and is constantly being shaped and reshaped by input. From it we issue our edicts and opinions, our critiques and criticisms. The composition of your reality determines the content of the output; thus the character of the output yields the character of your treasure. But how does your reality measure up to the Truth?
Is there an effective method for screening data before we save it to our hard drives? The right-wing conservatives’ answer is to destroy records, burn books and ignore opinions that do not measure up to a carefully measured standard filtered through narrow minded thinkers. This would probably work except the standard is completely inflexible and never allows for questions and virtually cannot be changed. It is so rigid that it causes more frustration than it fixes.
The left-wing liberals are not any better – except perhaps they have a special appreciation for diversity, which is extremely abhorrent to the right. But they are unwilling to venture very far into the realm of the subjective – which is where 90% of the things of faith reside. So they tend to not even consider anything but objective data. This leaves the miraculous basically out of the equation. The result is that liberal religion is largely bankrupt of any super natural power.
In John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that, “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 14:17) He tells us that if you are serious about finding the Truth, you must commune with the Spirit of Truth and obey His commands. In doing this you show your allegiance to God and He will come to you and reveal Himself to you. (John 14:21)
If this is correct, we simply have to learn how to walk by the Spirit. I will admit that this method of digging for the Truth can be a lonely venture because it is not the method prescribed by the major schools of thought. Most people seem to be more comfortable with one end of the spectrum or the other. My methodology lies between these two extremes.
1. To discover the Truth, one must first have a personal relationship with God. Paul also tells us that, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9) The Spirit has been poured out on those who have been identified as believers and those that are led by Him are the true children of God. (Romans 8:14)
2. To discover the Truth, one must be allowed to ask questions. The only way to lay a foundation of knowledge that truly belongs to the individual is through asking questions and looking for the answers using the mind, will and emotions, but using the Spirit as the deciding factor for all input. Never assume anything. We must have the active input from God in order to know what His will is. (James 1:5)
3. To discover the Truth, one must have a predetermined disposition to obey whatever commands come across the spiritual connection through revelation by faith. There is no need to bother with this process if you do not intend to obey His commands; but if we do, we will enjoy His favor wherever we go and in all we do. (James 1:25)
Are you tired of those that continually assign you to hell – who blame you and your community with the responsibility for the events of 9-11 – who claim that meteors in space will be used by God to destroy American cities because of their acceptance of homosexuals – who blame the gay community for Katrina, for tornados – or believing that God is vindictive at all? I’m tired of these lies being lifted up by church leaders; fed to gullible ignorant church-goers being led to believe that some secret gay-agenda is going to destroy the American family. They are lying! I’m sick of it and believe it or not, there are some in our own community who perpetuate these myths by supporting the liars.
Christ died so that we could be set free – free to be ourselves – free to serve Him in love and free to minister in the name of Jesus. The only way out for us to be free is to know the Truth. We cannot figure out the Truth through the exercise of logic – the only way to know the Truth is to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit. The treasure of the Truth awaits all of us who by faith come to know it. “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Rev. Bob Ellis

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Problem of Sin or The Frustration of Trying to Reform The Flesh

Four preachers met for a friendly game of golf. As they teed up one preacher said, “You know our people come to us and pour out their hearts, confessing their sins and their needs. Confession is good for the soul. Let’s do the same.” They all agreed. So the first one admitted that he was prone to lose his temper from time to time. The second confessed that he liked to golf so much that he had faked being sick on occasion so he could play on weekends. The third, in a whisper, admitted that he had sneaked a peek at a pornographic magazine and liked it. When it was the fourth preacher’s turn, he wouldn’t confess – but the others pressed him. They said, “Come on now, we confessed – now it’s your turn – what’s your secret?” Finally he answered, “It’s gossiping and I can hardly wait to get back!”

I don’t like the word sin. It’s a difficult subject to talk about – especially in our community. There are some that think, especially in the gay community that all this talk about sin is just a scare tactic by right wing conservatives attempting to keep people in their place. But sin is a real issue and I want you to know that the real enemy wants us to focus our attention to those people who are waging their fingers and tongues so that we won’t look at the real problem of sin.

After attending church, President Calvin Coolidge (known as a man of few words) was asked by a friend what the minister spoke on – to which the president replied, “Sin!” The friend asked, “What’d he have to say about it?” President Coolidge told him, “He’s against it!”

It is said that the word “sin” comes from an archery term to describe an arrow shot towards a target, but falling short of the mark. This gives me a better understanding of Paul’s words in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” From that verse we not only have the clarity of the analogy of the arrow falling short of its target, but also the realization that all of us are guilty. This is easily forgotten, but very important to remember.

Paul goes on to say that we “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:24-26)

All of this is to say that the eternal consequence of sin has been eradicated. Having been justified by faith, we need no longer be concerned about how it will all turn out in the end. Our worries are not about the sweet bye-and-bye ~ but about the toll that the activity of sin takes on the quality of our lives in the nasty now-and-now. It is to tackling this “problem” that much of the Old and New Testament is dedicated.

First, a couple of weeks back during the Wednesday night Bible study, the topic of the “unforgivable sin” came up. We spoke briefly about it, but I didn’t feel that we had covered it adequately. So I did some research in hopes that we might better understand this much misunderstood topic.

This issue comes up in a passage in Matthew chapter 12. Jesus heals a blind man who was also deaf. The people were amazed, but the Pharisees made the remark, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” The text says that Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to them in verse 31-32, “I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

What exactly is “blasphemy against the Spirit?” Is it possible to accidentally commit this sin? I have gotten this question several times from people through the years who think they may have somehow committed this sin – this unforgivable sin.

There was a man, who after attending a revival meeting and hearing sermon about this sin, was convinced that he had somehow committed it. He lived in agony for a number of years until he realized that his turmoil was the result of being convicted by the Holy Spirit and he was being drawn to Christ – which would not be possible had he in fact committed this blasphemy.

The people who commit this sin do not care about the things of God. Billy Graham says that, “All other sins against the Spirit are committed by believers, but not so with blaspheming the Spirit. This sin is committed by unbelievers.” So what is the sin of unbelievers ~ unbelief. God’s grace covers all sins but unbelief. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to draw everyone to Christ. According to Jesus, this is His job. (John 15:26) His purpose is to bring conviction to the world – convincing them about their need for the Savior. Those who are convicted are those who have put their faith in God.

Those, however, who do not believe do not see God as relevant, are not depending on Him and are not receiving His grace for anything and therefore cannot be saved. This is the unforgivable sin and is really the only thing that can despoil the benevolence of God. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12) Conversely we could say, “as many as did not receive Him, He did not give them the power to be God’s children because they did not believe in His name.”

In Stephen’s dying breath he recounts the resistance to the Holy Spirit that the “uncircumcised hearts” always have. (Acts 7:51) Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit then becomes the conscious rejecting of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. But a person striving with the Spirit has not committed this unforgivable sin.

For Christians the problem is not the struggle to gain eternal life, but the struggle to live eternal life; what we often refer to as the spirit-filled life. The sins we need to focus on are not listed somewhere in the book of Leviticus, but they are sins against the Spirit of life that will impede your progress. In Ephesians 4:30, we’re told, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Could this be the same thing as “blasphemy?” No. The word “grieve” describes an emotion felt by people bound in a love relationship and refers to the Spirit’s love for us. Though we talk about the Father’s love and Jesus’ love for us – the Holy Spirit loves us too. We’re in a love relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. If our behavior is the source of hurt or pain for those that love us, it causes them to grieve. We may hurt or anger someone who has no affection for us, but we can only grieve someone who loves us. Anger and hate are feelings we could cause or get from anyone, but grief comes over people we love or who love us.

So how do you grieve the Spirit? Paul seems to be saying (Ephesians 4:29-32) that whatever we do that is unlike Christ in conduct or speech grieves the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. (John 14:17) If we latch on to a lie and stand it up as the Truth – surely that would grieve the Spirit.

He is called the Spirit of Faith. (2 Corinthians 4:13) If doubt dominates our responses and we are driven by distrust, anxiety and worry – we are grieving the Spirit.

He is the Spirit of Grace. (Hebrews 10:29) To the extent that we allow bitterness, callousness, unforgiveness and unloving acts to command our behavior, we are grieving the Spirit.

In Romans, Paul says the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of holiness. (Romans 1:4) Holiness is to be purposed toward doing the will of God. So anytime we knowingly deviate from God’s will, we are grieving the Spirit.

All of these are examples of how we hurt (grieve) the Spirit.

If we say to those around us, “Unless you are good, I won’t love you!” we are grieving the Spirit. Parents who suggest to their children that their love is dependent upon good behavior are certainly grieving the Spirit. Jesus told us that whatsoever you have freely received freely give. Parents certainly have a right to ask their children for good behavior, but to hold them hostage by threatening loss of love. Surely we can see how wrong this is. This is wrong thinking as we can plainly see, then why do we do it?

Some of you believe that this is the way God treats you. In doing this you reveal the lack of love you have in your heart. Let me explain. If you believe that God’s love for you is contingent upon your performance – if you believe that God withdraws His love based on your bad behavior, then you are accusing God of doing the very thing that you see so clearly as wrong thinking. Let me remind you that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) God’s love for you is unconditional. He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)

We should desire to live a life that is pleasing to the Holy Spirit; striving not to bring Him grief. But therein lies the problem, “striving.” It seems the more I try, the more frustrating it all becomes. So there is also the issue of “quenching” the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

Could this be the same as blasphemy of the Spirit? No. It’s extinguishing a fire. To quench is to put out a fire – the fire of the Holy Spirit. Our intellect and reason can get in the way sometimes, of the enthusiasm generated by the indwelling Spirit. They can put a damper on the manifestation of His release. Yielding ourselves to be a conduit for the personality of the Holy Spirit, we begin to express the character and work of Jesus Christ – but sometimes we abandon the sweet abandoned expressions of the Holy Spirit in favor of more sensible behavior. In doing this, we quench the fire of the Spirit. This interferes with God's redemptive work. We should let God do what God wants.

There are two ways to put out a fire . . . . .

1: You remove the fuel source. The sources of fuel for the operation of the Spirit are prayer, an active witness, praise and worship, Bible study, and fellowship. If for any reason we begin to remove these fuel sources, we begin to quench the Spirit.

2: You cut off the oxygen supply by smothering it with water or dirt. We’re told that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) But, if we let negatives take over our conduct: criticism, impatience, discontent and unkindness. We are destroying the very thing we are trying to establish.

I was teaching a Bible study in 1978 in Lubbock, Texas. The passage was Galatians chapter 5. Verse sixteen says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Someone that night asked me, “How do you walk by the Spirit?” I had to admit that I did not know. But I saw for the first time a pragmatically clear direction on how to defeat sin in my life. So from that day until this, I have been on a quest to understand what it means to “walk by the Spirit.” It is vital. If you want to experience the Victory in Jesus that was promised, you've got to find out how to walk by the Spirit. Walking on your own power is futile. Jesus gave me power to become a true child of God and He’s given that same power to you and everyone who by faith receives Him. The Spirit is real. It is through Him you live and move and have your being.

You say you have tried to do all the things I have suggested. You’ve tried and failed. The reason you find yourselves so frustrated in your attempts to defeat sin is that you are trying to reform the flesh. You cannot reform the flesh – you must stop trying to reform the flesh and seat Christ upon the throne of your heart and walk in righteousness (right standing in God). You must get a personal relationship with Christ.

There was a man years ago who used to travel from town to town appearing in carnivals and side shows around the country. He challenged people to try and make him smile and win $100. By paying a dollar the people were given the chance to do it. As far as I know he never smiled. He made a living and got into the Guinness Book of Records for doing nothing.

Unfortunately perhaps many of you have mastered the art of doing nothing. When the Spirit urges you, “Let go!”, you say, “I can’t!” When the Spirit says, “Speak!” You say, “I’m afraid.” The Holy Spirit is urging you toward your freedom – but you are resisting Him and will never find your freedom until you let go of your dignity and your false pride and release Him to do as He wishes. In order to save your life, you must first lose it!

God has given us a tremendous opportunity to serve Him in these last days. We have the power to make an impact on our community – to set them free from the bondage of the cycle of sin and death. But in order to set them free, we’ve got to be free ourselves.

You are in control. Your will determines your behavior. The quality of life that you enjoy now – whether you are rich or poor – is in your hands. There is no need to blame anyone for your problems. It is not your parent’s fault, though you may trace bad attitudes, hang-ups and bad habits to them, you are now in charge. And only with the help of the power of the Holy Spirit, can you be victorious over the sins in your life.

The reason I say sin is a non-issue is because it is only an issue, if we make it the issue. With God – it is history. Is the glass half empty or half full? If you look at your life as victorious, you find yourself doing victorious things. If you look at your life as problematic and damaged, all you’ll notice are the hurts, heartaches and disappointments. But “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

There is a way to get to a place where we can “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Rev. Bob Ellis

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What's So Good About The Good News?

The Gospel message is revolutionary. In Paul’s day it was considered to be heresy by the Jews and madness by the Gentiles. Their evaluation might have deterred a lesser man, but Paul was not swayed from teaching the simple truth.

Now, apart from the Law (of Moses) the righteousness of God has been made known to us, through the testimony of the Old Testament writers. According to them a relationship with God has been made available to us through faith in Jesus Christ and for all who believe. No one can claim any merit before God; for all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s perfect standard of acceptance, but each can now be justified as a bona fide gift by the grace of God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:21-24 (BRV)

The first thing you realize after doing the research on this subject is that the Gospel message is the most revolutionary revelation in the history of mankind. It truly is “Good News”, but it’s even better than most people think. It is definitely better than portrayed by the modern church. Theirs is a Gospel message telling of heavy duties and responsibilities; all owed to a God who stands ready to punish those who displease Him and doesn’t hesitate to do so through trials, tribulations, diseases and financial woes. Though grace is mentioned in the telling of this version of the Gospel, qualified performance is heavily emphasized, to the extent that unmerited favor seems to be trumped by good behavior, making grace virtually meaningless. In this understanding, true faith is always accompanied by certain specific acts that, as it is told; are demonstrative of a real conversion. This expected standard of morality amounts to nothing more than judgment pretending to be righteousness for without grace the Good News isn’t good at all. It’s nothing more than a New Testament continuation of Old Testament Law keeping, but listen to Romans 5:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. – Romans 5:6-11 (NASB)

What seems to be so difficult for many people to come to grips with is that God loved the world so much that He made a way for the guilty to go scot-free. The Good News is not that a few relatively good people could be saved because of their good deeds, but it is that through simple faith, all who approach the throne will be accepted. The Gospel is “the good news about God’s free gift of grace!” (This will be on the test) Let me repeat that. The Gospel is “the good news about God’s free gift of grace!” When asked, “You mean God is letting the guilty go free?” The answer is, “Yes!” No one will be turned away because of sin, because the consequence for the sin condition was eliminated by the selfless acts and spilt blood of Jesus at Calvary.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 1:16 (NASB)

Some have somehow forgotten that the power of the Gospel is in its radical-ness. Our job as ministers of the Gospel is likened to priests who dispense the blessings of God to the people. It is not our job to judge them. Freely you have received, freely give. Grace in, grace out.

I needed to boldly remind you in writing about some important points concerning God’s grace granted to me, a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, like a priest, dispensing the gospel (the good news message about God’s free gift of grace), offering to God true believers (humbled by the impact of the simple message) certified by faith and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:15-16 (BRV)

The enemy wants us to forget the true Gospel. He has been largely successful in getting many of God’s people off track and confused about the necessary day-to-day routine of receiving and dispensing of grace. It’s about grace, not judgment. We are not to judge (condemn) others or ourselves – but we must master the daily routine of putting on the shoes of the Gospel of Peace. Yes, this is the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). It is the peace given to us by the Lord Himself, unlike the peace the world gives (John 14:27). World peace is based on the circumstance of life, but the peace of Christ walks right through the difficulties of life with complete confidence and joy.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. – Romans 5:1-5 (NASB)

This is all ours as we come to know the love of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love, received by faith, transforms us from mortal weaklings into supernatural giants.

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. – Colossians 3:14-15 (NASB)

Rev. Bob Ellis

Friday, February 17, 2006

Setting People Free

When I was in elementary school, there was a man that caught the attention of the entire nation. Because of his raw courage, all of us have found new freedom. I dare say that we could not be meeting here today if it weren’t for this man’s vision. He set his mind on undoing the shackles of Jim Crow. The year was 1955. I was 8 years old. That man was Martin Luther King, Jr. At that time he was 26 years old, a member of the executive committee of the NAACP. He was an ordained Baptist minister who co-pastored the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia with his father. He lived at a critical time. Seeing the oppression of the African American community, he decided to do something. His vision for a free America was founded on the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles and his techniques were built on the principles of non-violence demonstrated by Mahatma Ghandi against the British rule in India in the forties.

In December of 1955 he led a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama that lasted 382 days and got over a major hurdle when on December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States declared the laws requiring segregation on buses to be unconstitutional. During the year of the boycott, Dr. King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to all kinds of physical personal abuse, but in the end he emerged as the pre-eminent leader of the civil rights movement in America. For eleven years Dr. King traveled over six million miles and gave over twenty-five hundred speeches. He appeared wherever there was injustice using the strategy of protest and civil disobedience; and found time to write five books as well as numerous articles.

I remember going to the Cotton Bowl in 1962 – observing the signs above the restrooms and the drinking fountains that said, “Whites Only.” Dr. King was a visionary who understood that the destiny of the white man was tied to the destiny of the black man. If one is in bondage, the other is also; and in his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the 1963 march on Washington, he revealed that he had a dream of little black boys and black girls would be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. White people were scared of him even though his methods were clearly non-violent. Oppression and bigotry are always scared when truth and justice show up. When the light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it. Oppression and bigotry are built on lies and ignorance; they hide in shadows of fear – when the light of truth shows up – they have no where to hide.

In 1963 he directed a peaceful march on Washington, DC. 250,000 people listened to his "l Have a Dream" speech. He conferred with both President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson and was largely responsible for the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Over the years he was arrested over twenty times and assaulted at least four times. He was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of African American but also a world figure. At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

While in the Air Force I was briefly stationed in Montgomery, Alabama in 1978 and took a special trip to drive the route that civil rights marchers had taken from Selma to Montgomery. I drove across the famous Edmond Pettus Bridge where marchers were beaten by police in 1965. Dr. King had not been there on that day – still recovering from his jail time experience in Birmingham.

Dr. King knew the danger he represented to those enthroned in bigotry; who without shame flaunted their racism in resistance to the changes being wrought by the movement. He remained strong, even when he had a clear premonition of that final evening of his life April 4, 1968. While standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated by sniper’s bullet. He was only 39 years old.

A couple of years ago the Fellowship 2000 conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia. While I was there I did some sightseeing. Atlanta is a great place to do that sort of thing. With Atlanta’s rail system, a pedestrian can easily move throughout the city, which in my free time I did in the three days I was there. On one of those occasions I decided to visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church, just southwest of downtown Atlanta. It is the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father and grandfather before him had been the pastors – and Martin Luther King, Jr. was co-pastor of that church when he died in 1968.

The old church building is still owned by the Ebenezer Baptist Church – though Sunday services are now held in a beautiful modern structure across the street from the humble building that Dr. King preached in. I entered the brick church building and walked up a short staircase into the sanctuary and sat in the fourth row from the back. It was a small humble auditorium. I was all alone in the room, listening to a recorded message, delivered by Dr. King many years ago. As I sat there looking around the humble sanctuary, the sun was streaking through the stained glass windows. Behind me there was a small balcony area; I guessed the auditorium held around 300-400. The platform area was roped off. Two large throne chairs sat behind a simple pulpit and a round stained glass window of Jesus praying was situated above the baptistery and choir loft. I sat there listening to the familiar echo of Dr. King’s sermon and the christianeze rhetoric we all would recognize – it was as though I was reliving a church service – it was awesome. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of that great man, although slight of stature, shorter than six feet tall standing at the pulpit. In that moment I thought about, the awesome courage it took to start a revolution with the simple proclamation of freedom.

In Dr King’s time, the stereotypes of the African-American race ruled the reasoning of many white people – it is a fallacy of human nature that continues to crop up today from time to time – it is why prevention against discrimination based on race or skin color has got to be one of the most important basic human rights that we have in the USA. Occasionally, people need to be reminded. Can you imagine what it would be like in America if the consciousness of the nation forgot the importance of this principle? They would begin to put up the “Whites Only” signs again.

Last week at the during the one of the scenes from a play presented at the Heritage Celebration banquet, I heard one of the players say, “Everybody knows about Martin Luther King, we all know what he did.” My immediate response was, “No you don’t!” I don’t believe this generation fully appreciates just what Dr. King did. The generations since that troubled time, especially African Americans are the beneficiaries of Dr. King’s struggle – but I do not believe any of us fully appreciate the gift that he gave – not just to people of color, but to the whole human race. For you see, you are not the only ones he set free, we all got set free.

When I think of the hate and prejudice that Martin Luther King faced in 1963, it astounds my senses – the enormous odds against his success – the suspicion he endured from all government levels and even many of his own people whose militant ideas would surely have shipwrecked the movement. I found something in the dream Dr. King had. I realized that it was really a revelation. He saw that all of us were in bondage, not just African Americans, but us Swedish Americans too.

What was it that he saw in his dream that kept him going all the way even to death? He was on a mission and he knew exactly what it was. Dr. King knew that what he was doing was the right thing. Like Moses, he set the people free. That’s when the lights came on for me because I know what my purpose is. I’m here to set people free too. I know for sure that this is what I’m here to do. Our purpose is tied to his. We’re all here to set the captives free – starting with ourselves.

Galatians 5:1-6,13 (BRV)

1 Through His death and resurrection, Jesus liberated us from the tyranny of the legalism, but in order to remain free, you must stand firm in your liberty!
2 So I say to you, if you subject yourself to judgment under the Law, the finished work of Calvary is completely useless to you.
3 Legalistically submitting to God, believing that He accepts you on the basis of your performance; remember, you must adhere to the whole Law, not just the parts you pick and choose.
4 Grace cannot save you because you are not relying on it and as a result, you are cut off from Jesus.
5 Right standing before God has been granted to you through the witness of the Holy Spirit with your spirit on the basis of your faith,
6 whether you keep the letter of the Law or not. It makes no difference. All that matters is faith working through His precious love.
13 for through Christ you were granted liberty from the jurisprudence of the Law and as a result, now, you are free to share this new covenant message of God’s unconditional love with everyone.

Dr. King saw that he could set people free by demonstrating freedom and getting people to follow him. Our people need to be set free too. When I hear a news report talking about the gay community and what they are doing, being a part of the gay community, my ears perk up to find out what we are doing, but most of the time I feel I am being misrepresented. There may be some truth to what is being reported, but it’s like me and my point-of-view don’t exist. When Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson talk about the “gay agenda,” they are NOT describing me or my values. As a “gay-Christian” I seem to be invisible to them. I get really furious with the analysis that John Hagee and James Dobson present concerning our community based completely on the stereotyped gay community. They're always talking about the "gay agenda" like we had some meeting the other night and decided what we would do. That's certainly giving us too much credit. Would that we were that unified and organized, like the Civil Rights movement of the sixties. It upsets me to see my people being led to slaughter by believing the lies spread by these supposed Christians and others. They are spinning stereotypes about who we are and what we’re about - lies that seem monumental to overcome. I want to set our people free, but also set those like Falwell and Robertson, Hagee and Dobson free too - free from condemning and being condemned. The message of the gospel is a message of freedom, not bondage.

We can do it! It’s the right time! And it’s the right thing to do! We have the right message, and we have the opportunity! We can set them free! But how? We must practice freedom – practicing your faith means consistently hearing the words of Christ.

1. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it in abundance.” Abundant life is gained by receiving grace. Romans 5:17 says that those who practice receiving grace, reign in life. Don’t just believe this as a doctrine of “how you are saved,” but put it into practice. This is done daily, moment by moment, in reliance to the advice and consent of the Holy Spirit. It protects you from:

a. Fraud – the devil is a liar and the father of lies. Deception is his main tool to keep you off guard and cause you to stumble.
b. Fear – the steps of a person guided by the Holy Spirit are indeed ordered by the Lord. We are free from providing our own security force if we are relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our steps.
c. Fault – by receiving the grace of God we are declared righteous in His sight. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins – past, present and/or future. We can and should ignore critique from everyone, except the Holy Spirit.

2. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Like the manna from heaven, God’s loving acceptance was not meant to be hoarded – it was meant to be shared. The nature of those who have received grace is to be full-of-grace, gracious toward others. Loving unlovely people is not easy, but if you are going to minister to those He has called, get used to broken people. It is never going to go smoothly. Perhaps if you are having trouble sharing, you are not receiving. Check yourself.

3. Stand firm. Stay focused on the revelation of God. Don’t lose track of what it is that God has told you to do and don’t let any under your charge lose their focus. Remain steady as your ship may heave to and fro under the influence of the wind and rain. Keep the compass pointed toward Jesus. Stand fast in the liberty!

We can have the impact in your life that Dr. King did. I am challenging you today to make a stand. We have the message that can set people free and an opportunity to tell them. Where else can people hear the words that bring everlasting life? (John 6:68) But first you’ve got to be set free yourself. You can’t set others free if you’re bound yourself. Next, you’ve got to focus on what God wants you to do. What you want to do has got to be secondary to what God wants you to do. And when you know what that is . . . . then you’ve got to do it – no matter what.

Rev. Bob Ellis

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Standard of Holiness (Revised)

This is a reprint and slight revision of a paper I did some years ago when asked to write about "holiness."

"Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.' If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." - 1 Peter 1:13-19 (NASB)

Holiness. A word greatly abused by a few and misunderstood by many. As with many teachings in the modern church, the doctrine of "holiness" has been intentionally mis-defined by some trying to maintain control over the behaviors of other members of the church. Whatever the real standard of holiness is, it cannot and should not change with the social morays of each generation. It is changeless and has to do with the things of God, for all that He is in relationship with is holy.

Most of the time in the modern church "holiness" is treated as a sort of "Code of Conduct". It is narrowly defined by those who need to dominate and held up as the standard that God has set over the head of each person. It is used to judge the spirituality of each person. The old Judaic Mosaic Law was understood to be inadequate to bring about real redemption. The early church began to realize that a new law had replaced it - the "Law of Grace" introduced by Jesus and expounded upon by Paul.

But almost immediately this "Law of Grace" was challenged for its short comings: its inability to control people's behavior. Though God has not changed His mind about grace, some have gone ahead anyway and replaced the "Law of Grace" with a new set of laws narrowly defined by the church elite. A law of "holiness." They carefully define the do's and don't's for their people and call it holiness. These standards may be okay for those associated within that group, but they often spill out on to others. When this happens, the church finds itself put into a position of condemnation and is perceived by onlookers as judgmental. This kind of "holiness" is not only unattractive, it drives people away. But is this what holiness really is? Can holiness be nothing but a new law defined by narrow-minded conservative beliefs?

In the Old Testament we are introduced to the God of Holiness, Whose Name is holy and in Whose presence one is compelled to remove their shoes because even the ground is holy. The Hebrew root word kawdash' carries the idea of being set apart for special purpose; appointed or ordained by God. While we usually feel this is a characteristic of the behavior of saints, holiness applies to all believers and everything else that has to do with God. The altar of sacrifice is holy and everything that touches the altar is holy. The priest himself is holy; all of his tools and his vestments are holy. From this standard given in the Old Testament law, we learn that holiness is a state of being proclaimed by God, and not attained through obedience to puritanical teaching and / or good behavior. The command for us to “be holy” can therefore only be understood as the practice of being holy because you have been ordained by God to be holy.

Peter no doubt quoting from Exodus 19:6 reminds his readers:

"But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY." - 1 Peter 2:9-10 (NASB)

We are holy – we just need to act holy. So many Christians do not know they are holy. They do not know they should be holy, but would if they knew they were supposed to and knew how. What is the key to acting holy and how do we do it? There are seven steps:

1. Recognize God. This is simple, but perhaps the most missed step. God’s character is the standard for holiness since He is the God of holiness; even His Name is holy. We’re told to "acknowledge Him in all our ways, and He will make our paths straight" (Proverbs 3:6). Looking for God everywhere and seeing God in everything is practicing the presence of God and trains us to see how He "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) "For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God." (Hebrews 3:4)

2. Recognize yourself. You are a sinner saved by grace; a servant whose Master is the King of the Universe, but a servant nonetheless. Too often when God empowers us for some task, a memory loss overtakes humility and pride rushes in to fill the gap. It is God who is working His will through you. Not you by yourself. So as you make your plan of attack in ministry, do so with reverent fear and humble piety. (See Philippians 2:12-13)

3. Worship Him. Stay on Him. The joy that a dog shows anticipating his master's return. The excitement he demonstrates as the sound of the front door lock is heard is our example. His loyalty is unquestionable and his dedication is certain. Be loyal to God in your relationship and give Him no cause for uncertainly about you. He is a jealous God. We should look forward to being in the Lord’s presence, close to His glory. Worship is a fancy way of saying, “I love you!” and we should take every opportunity to bring praise and honor and glory to His Name.

4. Let Him wash you. The Greek word hagios means holy: to be set apart unto the Lord. A derivative word, hagiazo is translated to the word "sanctification," which a word used to talk about the clean up brought about by God’s Spirit as we yield ourselves to His control. It is necessary; (John 13:8) even Jesus was sanctified in truth. Speaking of His followers, Jesus prayed these words on the night before His crucifixion:

"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word." - John 17:17-20 (NASB)

Paul’s mission, given to Him by the Lord who commissioned him on the way to Damascus for a ministry to the Gentiles, "to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me." (Acts 26:18) Faith sanctifies.

5. Fix your mind upon Jesus. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus" as the hymn says. "Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace." I thank Peter, John and Paul for their observations and their contribution to the faith of all believers. But the power source for our faith as declared by Paul is Christ Himself. Many decisions we make are determined on the basis of clearly right or clearly wrong sets of circumstances. But most of life is lived in the gray zone where we need the mind of Christ in order to make godly decisions. With love leading the charge, humility and mercy bring up the rear as we tackle real life situations using the mind of Christ. (Philippians 2:1-8)

6. Turn away from sensuality. Most people think that this means sexual sin. But sensuality is more than that. It is the practice of validating truth by using the five senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing. I would also add intellect, which is the "figuring out" center receiving the input coming from the senses. Gathering information from the five senses and determining truth based on that data may seem spiritual to some, but it is not from the spirit. It is pure soul life. Truth can only be realized through a supernatural encounter with God.

"So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way." - Ephesians 4:17-20 (NASB)

As we learn to hear the voice of God, the Holy Spirit, we grow accustomed to His ways and we can leave our natural ways of thinking a doing in favor of hearing His voice and responding in obedience.

7. Operate under the power of the Holy Spirit. The scripture declares that in order to defeat the flesh, we must walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16) And Paul instructs us, "as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." (Colossians 2:6) How did we receive Him? By faith. So our walk, after receiving Him by faith, is also by faith. According to Jesus, the three-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit is conviction. (John 16:8-11) Like a lawyer addressing the jury, we listen to Him by faith we become convinced of sin or righteousness or judgment by faith. Unless we listen to Him by faith, we cannot rightly discern truth, for He is the Spirit of Truth, whose assignment is to reveal truth to you. In our spirits we hear the Holy Spirit by faith.

After mastering these steps, and indeed while in the process of doing so, we are declared holy. Why, because we belong to God and He belongs to us. Operating by faith, God is pleased. (Hebrews 11:6) Guided by the Holy Spirit, we are sanctified by truth: focused on both understanding and doing the will of God.

Rev. Bob Ellis

Monday, December 26, 2005

Making The Most Of Our Time

Be careful how you walk, using wisdom, making the most of your time, because each day has its distractions. – Ephesians 5:15-16 (BRV)

Each year at this time, many of us review what happened during the year. We recount the events in newsletters and diaries or just in discussions around the table. The centerpiece of the discussion is usually around those who are no longer with us – specifically those who were with us last year, but have since died.

Last year at this time, Eric’s Uncle Rodney after having discovered he had cancer and had begun the process of fighting a tumor in his brain by having it removed and nearly died in surgery. He bounced back and we did everything we could to make his Thanksgiving and Christmas a special time in 2004. Even though there was speculation about it, 2004 turned out to be his last Christmas – he died in October of this year on the cusp of the holiday season. How many Christmases do you have left?

Scientifically speaking – from the moment of your birth, your body begins to decay. In the early cycle of your years, growth occurs as the cells of your body die off and new ones take their place. It does not seem like death because cells are being made faster and in higher quantity than they are dying. But when the maturation process is completed at somewhere around thirty years, growth stops and a slow decline of powers begins its campaign to finally release the soul from bondage to the body. Diet and exercise can help the process take longer, but eventually death comes for all.

I read a story this week about a missionary name Jim Elliot. I actually learned about him when I was in college. His wife, Elisabeth, spoke at a missionary conference I attended in 1967 in Urbana, Illinois. Jim had a call on his life to be a missionary. The urgency he felt gripped his spirit and his zeal was apparent to everyone who knew him in those days. The Holy Spirit directed him toward South America and when the opportunity arose to join a mission team in Ecuador, he set sail in 1952 and stayed in Quito for six months mastering Spanish. He learned of the Auca Indian tribe – a group isolated in the jungles that had never been given the opportunity to hear the gospel. Jim’s response was, ‘why should he tell people who have heard the message two or more times, when he could be telling people who have never even heard it once?’ Trouble was that this tribe of Indians was unfriendly and dangerous. Every known white person that had come in contact with them was either missing or dead. Jim and his friends remained unchanged from their determination by this information.

In 1953 Jim set up camp in an abandoned oil rig station near where the Aucas lived and began a campaign to show them his friendship – for two years Jim and the other missionaries dropped food and provisions by air into the Auca camp including their pictures so that when they went in, the Aucas would know who they were. After several encounters with tribal members, Jim felt they were ready. They prayed together and ask for the Lord’s protection. After singing the hymn, “We Rest On Thee,” they radioed their wives they were going in and the five men went out to meet the Aucas in January of 1956. They were speared to death. Jim was 29 years old.

If you knew how long you had left, would you change anything in your life from what you are doing now? Would you live your life any differently? In Rodney’s case, the disease swept his ability to do much of anything different away from him. He could only focus on survival in his time left and he did not have much, if any, time to look at making changes to his lifestyle.

The Bible says that our days are numbered. There is a day appointed for each of us – a time to live and a time to die. We do not know when our last breath will be taken. Death can come slowly or quickly – but we are never certain which breath will be our last. We at least know that after this Christmas we’ll have one less Christmas to celebrate than we did before it passed. Christmas is a time of celebration – a time of worship. We should see it as an opportunity to show how much we love our Savior – and we only have so many Christmases left. Each Sunday services are held to worship with God’s people. It comes around each week, but we only have so many Sundays left in our lifetime. Each one is an opportunity that may not present itself again. How much do you need to know to change your course? Your days are numbered and the time is short.

At Christmastime seems like we are plagued with the telling and retelling of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol – how Ebeneezar Scrooge got reformed of his selfishness in one night after a visitation of ghosts. The ghosts opened his eyes to the error of his ways by showing him the past, present and future and how his behavior affected what was, is and will be. Ebeneezar repented and changed his ways. Instead of a crotchety old miser, he became a much loved, benevolent old gentleman and spread happiness wherever he was. Ebeneezar seized the moment of opportunity and became a better man.

One of Jim Elliot’s sayings was, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” After Jim’s death, Elisabeth Elliot, his wife, later went into the jungle and met up with the Auca tribe herself. The very individuals responsible for the death of her husband and the others heard the gospel message. They were converted and received Christ. She later published a book telling about these events named after a phrase in the hymn, “We Rest On Thee,” – The Gates Of Splendor.

A song that I have often signed is called “For Such A Time As This.” It begins with these words:

Now! All I have is now, to be faithful; to be holy; and to shine lighting up the darkness. Right now, I really have no choice, but to voice the truth to the nations.

The truth is – the only day we can be certain of is today – and it’s not over. As the scripture says: "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS." Now is all any of us really has. You don’t have much time. Is your task finished? Have you completed your orders? Are you ready to crossover? What do you need to accomplish before the time comes? What are you doing to finish the course so that you might walk into the presence of the Lord and hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant!

Rev. Bob Ellis