Man-Made Barriers Between God and Man

Historically, people have put barriers between themselves and God. This seems to be a natural response we have to encountering the greatness of God. When God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, their response was to have Moses speak to God in the future and relay the message to them rather than them encountering God directly (Exodus 20:18-21). God always desired a direct relationship with His people; however, His people have constantly refused.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24).

We build barriers between us and God through establishing designated places to experience God (we call them church buildings), setting a clergy class between God and us (we call them priests, pastors, and ministers). By doing this, people have created a God and religion that they can just do on Sundays rather than seeking to live the life of Jesus in the here and now. What God wants is to dwell in us and help us every moment of every day. We need to worship him in spirit and in truth, every moment of every day, rather than just on Sundays or when it is convenient. By pretending to confine God to a building and placing another person between God and ourselves, we miss out on the greatest blessing that God has designed us for: Knowing him, being in a relationship with Him, and bringing about his will.

The amazing thing is that the passage actually states that God seeks people to worship him in spirit and truth. He is seeking us. He’s not confined to one location. The idea of building Him a temple to “confine” Him in was King David’s idea, not His. No wonder when we seek Him we will be found. He’s right there just waiting for us to notice him.

Psychologists have done studies on how we typically see what we expect to see or we don’t see things we do not expect to see. But this principle of seeing what we expect to see or not seeing what we don’t expect to see impacts us spiritually. If we are not expecting to see God, then we will not see him. Our perception is influenced by our expectation. The Bible teaches that God is seeking us. It also teaches us that if we seek him, we will find him. He’s not confined to a building or confined to speaking only through this book or clergy. He’s among us, out here in the park, in our workplaces, in our yard, when we sleep, in our house, in our bathroom. God is there with us if we are willing to see him. We don’t need anyone besides Jesus to go through to encounter God, nor do we have to be in some specific “sacred” place.

The Key to Evangelism and Our Lack of Excitement in Christ

The key to evangelism is to be excited about Jesus and what He is doing. This will lead to us naturally telling others about Jesus in our conversations. If we are not excited, we will be totally ineffective. Excitement might not look the same in each of us; some of us are more exuberant while others are more reserved.  Despite the differences in personalities, excitement cannot help but spring out of our lives. Excitement is contagious. Our love for Jesus should be filled with excitement, overflowing and contagious, not just for what he has done, but what He is currently doing.

Have you ever been in a church service where they want you to cheer for Jesus like you would cheer at a sporting event? With the same excitement and fervor? It’s a little awkward. We are being asked to celebrate an event in the past. I’m an Ohio State fan, and if you told me the story of how they won the National Championship in 2002 by Maurice Clarrett running for a 5-yard touchdown in the second overtime - a great story mind you - I’m not going to cheer. I would appreciate the good memory and experience a moment of pride in being an Ohio State fan, but that is about it. But if you were with me watching that game on January 3, 2003, when Clarrett entered the endzone, I was uncontrollably jumping, cheering, and probably trying to clap all at the same uncoordinated time. I didn’t care how foolish I was, I was celebrating; I was excited.

Why do we lack excitement for Jesus like we do for sporting events? That’s the questions speakers try to remedy when they want us to cheer for what Jesus has done. But I think they are missing the point. All too often, we leave the work of Jesus in the past and expect excitement to come as a result of past facts rather than present blessings. He died on the cross, established the kingdom, and showed us how to live – all awesome stories. More than just awesome, they are life changing, but we don’t celebrate with exuberance events in the past.

What needs to happen for us to become excited is to allow the Spirit to work in the present. When we do that, our excitement will be natural, spontaneous, and unstoppable. If we suffer from a lack of excitement and claim to be followers of Jesus, it is because we have left Jesus in the past, whether as a historical redeemer some 2000 years ago or in the past of our life where we experienced his forgiveness for the first time or his miraculous provision in some way; if we lack excitement, we are not currently experiencing Him because experience inevitably breeds excitement.

God is the God of the present, just as much as he is the God of the past, and he honors our seeking him. We will continually encounter Him if we seek Him with all of our heart, soul, body, and mind – with our whole being. To experience Him, we have to live a life of risk and live dangerously. We need to tackle those issues we have doubts with and seek answers from God. We need to step out where we are uncomfortable and rely on His sustenance. We need to be willing to look like a fool for Christ. We need to experience God for ourselves, in the present, wherever we are. This builds excitement like nothing else. This will result in us being great evangelists of His message along with the added benefit of living life more fully.

The Church is not a Collection of Perfect People, The Church is a Gathering of Seeking Sinners

After Jesus told the Samaritan woman the secrets of her life, she asked him a theological question she was hung up on.  Like the Samaritan woman, we need to not be afraid to ask the questions that frustrate us or make us have doubts.  Christians need to be people who are willing to talk about the tough questions of faith, but too often we avoid those topics and ignore those who want to talk about them.  People who get frustrated and do not want to have an honest discussion over an issue are typically people who have not thought the issue through and are standing on sandy ground.

We need to be people who don’t look down on people when they are struggling with religious issues.  It is only through struggling that we will find the truth.  Too often in the past, the church has been a place where you have to pretend to be perfect and pretend to believe all of the right answers.  That just should not be.  Church should be a place where broken sinners gather together to encourage one another to love their neighbors and help each other along in their struggles and doubts.

The church is often labeled a bunch of hypocrites.  The only way to stop being labeled that is to acknowledge that we are a collection of fallen sinners who are trying to follow Jesus to the best of our ability through the strength he provides.  We are hypocrites when we try to appear perfect, so let us be transparent about our sinfulness.  We are Christians saved by grace when who are trying to following Jesus to the best of our ability.  Unfortunately, we frequently fail. 

Let us throw off the tendency to put on our superChristian disguise, the one where we have all of the right answers and present a fa├žade of perfection.  That’s dangerous.  Let’s not ignore the problems in our faith.  We need to hit them head on and wrestle openly with them.  Let’s not lie to ourselves about the problems in your life.  If we do, these unaddressed problems will slowly sneak up on us until we are worship with faithless motions while living a powerless faith.  We need to go to God with our spiritual dilemmas, whether it is for divine guidance or revelation.  That’s part of seeking.  All too often we are willing to accept a paper Jesus, one we have constructed, rather than the real Jesus who will challenge our thoughts and actions.  He does not always fit perfect in our nice, religious box, but he does bring freedom. 

God Loves the Unlikely - Do We?

When we read stories of the Good Samaritan or the conversion of Paul in the Bible, we often miss their inherent shock value to the original audience.  Paul converting would be like me telling the story of Osama bin Laden becoming a Christian and inviting you to come listen to him.  You can see why Christians were hesitant to accept him.  The Good Samaritan in modern terms would resemble a story where the pastor, the churchgoer, and the Christian book writer all passed by a hurting man on the street.  After them, along came a drug addict, a sex offender, or a gang member and they helped the hurting man that the religious people passed by.  Not only did they help him, but then shelled out the money to have them treated at the hospital.  The conversion of Paul was shocking and tough to swallow.  The story of the Good Samaritan was offensive to those ingrained in religion that focused more on rituals and keeping the law than on loving sinners and enemies.

Today I want to talk about a particular story that turned the religion of Jesus’ day upside down.  You probably already know the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. 

Before we begin, I want to point out some facts about the book of John in which this story is told.  John wrote his books later than most of the writers of the New Testament.  Most of the New Testament books were written in 50-60 AD.  It is thought that John wrote his gospel in 85 AD.  This is significant in that the stories that John told were chosen out of all of the stories he could tell to correct problems in the church.  So when we read stories in the book of John, we can see problems that were creeping into the church only fifty years after it was established. 

From the story of the woman at the well, we can see that the church was struggling with accepting the unlikely like Samaritans as equals in Christ. In today’s term the unlikely are no longer a race; they might be former or struggling drug addicts, sex offenders, drunks, the homeless, or some other person that we think God could never help.  Saying that a group of people cannot be transformed by the story of Jesus through His people living as Him is just wrong.  History reveals unlikely person after unlikely person who has surrendered their lives to Jesus. 

When I googled “God took the unlikely and made him into a servant” – I just want to note that is what I googled - I came to a page that was a former porn star who had given her life over to Jesus and was working with other porn stars to help people into a healthy relationship with God and a way out of the industry.  No matter where we are at in life, what terrible acts we have done, God offers forgiveness, reveals to us the worth He created us with, and is willing to use us to bring about His will.  No groups of people, whether they are Samaritans or Christian killers, like the stories in the Bible, or the modern day equivalents of people that society looks down on like porn stars, sex offenders, drug addicts, or whatever group of people we might hate, are too far from God to be forgiven and transformed. 

Alice Cooper was the first musician “to combine vaudeville and rock ‘n’ roll, inventing a genre that has since been emulated by such groups as KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, and Marilyn Manson.”    He became a Christian in the 80s but never did the Christian music scene; he just claims to be a musician who is a Christian rather than a Christian musician.  He said in an interview, “"I've had a couple of people that were friends of mine that I've talked to that have vocally said they have [accepted Christ]. I have talked to some big stars about this, some really horrific characters ... and you'd be surprised. The ones that you would think are the furthest gone are the ones that are more apt to listen."  He also said, “"'I was one thing at one time, and I'm something new. I'm a new creature now. Don't judge Alice by what he used to be. Praise God for what I am now.'" 

As Christians and churchgoers, we have a sinful tendency to not forgive or forget people’s past, especially those in the church who might not have such a tarnished past.  We need to realize that God is a God who loves to heal the forgotten and bring the unlikely back to his purpose.  We can’t read the Gospels and avoid seeing that Jesus is for the unlikely.  The sinners.  People, if we’re honest with ourselves, like you and me.

Bible Study on the Holy Spirit - An Overview of the Holy Spirit

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we often make a tragic mistake.  Being from the Churches of Christ/Christian Churches, we know our Scripture but we have failed to understand the Holy Spirit.  We like to keep Him at a distance and pretend that he is only the seal of salvation, missing out on all of the benefits of having the Holy Spirit in our life.

"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" Eph 4:30 (ESV).

Previously, I wrote Sealed by the Holy Spirit for a Reason.

One of the greatest ways we can grieve the Holy Spirit is to believe or act like He is no longer actively changing us and the world around us.  There is no Scripture in the New Testament that teaches that the Holy Spirit, His power, and His interaction through and in God’s people will stop, yet that is how we often live. 

In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul warned about the coming lawless one.  He wrote, “ The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 (ESV).

Paul wrote that the lawless one will come and perform false signs and wonders.  If signs and wonders were to die off when the Apostles passed on, wouldn’t it have been easier to say, “God will not produce any more signs and wonders? Do not listen to one who performs signs and wonders.”  But that is not what Paul warned.  People that have the Spirit will be able to do the things of God as God wills and directs. 

So let’s look at some of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our life. 

He comforts us.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you”  John 14:15-17 (ESV).
He gives us insights.

“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 have said to you” John 14:26 (ESV).  
In case you are one to say that this teaching only applied to the Apostles, John further elaborated in his late first century letter to the churches:
“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him” 1 John 2:27 (ESV).
He intercedes for us.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” Romans 8:26-27 (ESV).
He links us to God.
“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” 1 Cor 2:10-13 (ESV).
He provides supernatural power.
“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God”  1 Cor 2:3-5 (ESV).
He works out our kinks and frees us from sin.
“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged”  John 16:8-11 (ESV).
He produces fruit in our life.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” Gal 5:22-26 (ESV).
Our life in the Spirit is like a campfire.  If not built properly, we don’t experience all that fire can be.  A properly built fire can burn hot with little wood.  An improperly built fire might only produce smoke.  Unfortunately, we are oftentimes just bellowing out smoke repulsing those around us rather than living in the Spirit reflecting the glory of Jesus.

When we don’t put on the new self and we live in the old self, we grieve the Holy Spirit.  And we lose those blessings of being in partnership with the Spirit.
  • Comfort when we were hurt.
  • Insights when we need them.
  • The Constant Prayer on our Behalf.
  • The Link with God.
  • Supernatural Power.
  • Prodding to smooth off the rough edges.
  • The Wonderful Fruit.
  • And More.
Ways we grieve the Spirit from the immediate context in Ephesians 4.
  • By not speaking the truth to your neighbors and living are if you are members of one another.  (Analogy of the body. If the arm is trying to be secretive and not let the other arm know what it is doing, how good would that work?)
  • By allowing our anger to cause us to sin rather than changing who we are because of our anger.  Anger is a great emotion.  It’s just a problem when we direct it improperly.
  • By not using our resources we have been blessed with to share with anyone in need.
  • By not using our words to build up and share the grace of God.
Notice that grieving the Spirit is linked to the way we interact with other people.  The new self creates better relationships.

There is a great kid’s book entitled Pig Will and Pig Won’t by Richard Scarry.  The book is about a momma pig teaching her children to play nicely, help with chores, and say his pleases and thank yous.  Pig Will happily does the jobs his mom wants him to do; Pig Won’t refuses.  When it comes time for the mom to reward her little piggies with a trip to a carnival, ice cream, and other fun things, Pig Won’t receives no rewards because he failed to be a piggy worthy of reward.  The mom wants to reward him, but she also wants to train him to be the sort of piggy he should be.
It is scary to grieve the Spirit and should not be taken lightly.  Isaiah wrote, “For he said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.’ And he became their Savior.  In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.  But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them”  Isaiah 63:8-10 (ESV).

God fought against his people when they grieved him.  Just because we are Christians, because we have been baptized, because we attend church regularly, because we know the Scriptures, that is not enough.  Grieving the Spirit is when we live falsely, sin against others in our anger, use our resources selfishly rather than as us blessing, and tear down others.  It is when our faith becomes about us rather than about loving and helping others.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” 1 Cor 2:14 (ESV).

The Spirit is folly.  He makes us a little crazy.  If we are in step with the Spirit we will love the unlovable, hang out with the undesirables, and go to places no “proper” person should visit.  We will begin to live our lives for others rather than ourselves.  In our cultures eyes, we will be unreasonable.  He prompts us to do things that people of reason cannot understand.  If what needs to be done for God to receive glory is completely rational and can be thought out by wise, discerning minds, then there would be no need for the Spirit.  The Spirit intervenes when our wisdom and rationality fail us. 

The things of the Spirit are hard to accept.  He influenced Barnabas to sell his house and give the money to those in need.  He led Paul to go back to Jerusalem where he faced imprisonment and eventual execution.  He led Jesus to the cross.  And He is trying to influence you and me to give more of ourselves over to God.  

Let’s not grieve the Spirit.  May we each be willing to do his will no matter what the cost, whether that is just looking silly or to the extreme of sacrificing our lives.  We have been sealed by Holy Spirit for a greater purpose.  Let’s let Him lead us to it.

Sealed by the Holy Spirit for a Reason

When I was in college I went on a mission trip to Mexico.  One neat aspect of the church that we were helping in Merida was that they would have an open mic time during the worship gathering, albeit without the mic.  This was a time where anyone could share what they had laid on their heart.  I had a message laid on my heart.  It was something that I felt was foolish, and I did not get up to say it.  Later that night, as our group gathered around to sing songs and pray together, I shared my story.  Another friend in the group had felt the same message laid on his heart, but he also refused to share it.  How many refused to share or hear the message God wanted spoken?  I am sure we grieved the Holy Spirit.

Grieving the Spirit isn’t just about not doing sinful actions; it’s also caused by not doing God’s promptings.  That's one of the main points of Paul's writings on the new self and old self.  There is no legalistic checklist that we can complete to be right with God; He desires total surrender and wants us to do His will rather than just abstain from actions outside of His will.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).

First, we must realize that the Holy Spirit is not some invisible force.  When writing this, I wanted to keep calling the Holy Spirit an “it.”  “It” often refers to a dead, inanimate thing, but a “he” is living.  Inside me, there is a part that thinks of the Holy Spirit as the lesser part of the Trinity, but Jesus taught that it would be better for us to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus physically with us (John 16:7).  The Holy Spirit is not a lesser “it’ but a powerful “He.”

The Holy Spirit resides in each one of us.  Although invisible, He’s not the force in Star Wars or magic from Harry Potter.  He’s not some mystical force that we control and bend to our will to bring about our desires.  He’s God in the spirit, living in each one of us.  He’s a person who wants to work with us and show Himself to others through us.  If we’re willing, He will bend us to His perfect will.

When we talk about grieving the Holy Spirit, we are talking about grieving the person who resides in each one of us.  The word grieve is a term of disappointment by someone who loves the individual but is hurt by the person behaving in a destructive way.   When the Spirit is grieved, it is because we have behaved in a way that is not what is best for us.  This then causes us to miss out on some of the blessings the Spirit wants to develop in our life.  

The Holy Spirit is the seal of our salvation.  The Scriptures are clear in that if we have the Holy Spirit, we have salvation.  If we do not have the Holy Spirit, we do not have salvation.

S. Lewis Johnson explained the historical background behind sealing that the readers in Ephesus would have known when Paul used that analogy: 
"This was particularly significant for the Ephesians, because in Ephesus, there was a great deal of trading going on in timber. And it was a kind of center for that. And individuals in the harbor of Ephesus in those days, which was different from the Ephesus of the present time, the harbor would be filled with logs which had been brought down from that inner part of Asia Minor. And when individuals came from the other cities, round about, or the villages, round about, to buy lumber, because there was a good bit of industry in that area, they would buy some of the logs that were floating in the harbor, and they would take a seal. And they would make their particular mark on each of the logs that belonged to them which they bought. And later on, when the time came for them to take possession of these things, someone would come back with the seal, and then the particular logs that belonged to him would be identified, and then taken to the particular place where they were to be used."
Our culture is more familiar with the tradition of cow branding.  Farmers who share grazing grounds brand their cows to mark ownership.  It is the same way with the Holy Spirit as the seal of salvation.  We’ve been sealed by God to show that we are His, but that does not mean we just float in the port waiting for Jesus to come back.  He has come and lives in each one us as the Holy Spirit.  Like a log that has been sealed to be taken and used by its owner, we have been sealed and are now being shaped into a beautiful house by our owner.  We are not a log that has been sealed to just float; we are logs that have been sealed with a purpose and are being shaped by the Holy Spirit into what the Father saw in us when Jesus bought us.  We are being shaped together into something greater than we can be on our own.  Logs built together by a master carpenter can be built into magnificent structures.