We Do not Know

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. And we know that for those who love God  things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28 ESV)

We live in the age of knowledge. If you want to know anything, you can find it out! A few years ago, I attended a conference hosted by Josh McDowell. Josh McDowell was an atheist who set out to prove that Christianity was not true. The result of his study was a book entitled More Than a Carpenter in which he beautifully defends the Christian faith. In his talk, he talked about knowledge. I do not remember the exact figures, but it went something like this. From the time of the Romans (near Jesus’ time) until the 1500’s, there was relatively little increase in knowledge. Then came the discovery of the western continents (North and South America) and the expansion of the world. As this happened, knowledge began to increase much faster than before. Knowledge, up until that time, double once approximately every 40-50 years. With the industrial revolution, knowledge increased once every 40 years. Then, we entered the 1800’s knowledge began to increase every 20 years. Now, with the advancement in modern technology, knowledge doubles every two years.

Someone has said, “The change in the intellectual climate has happened while knowledge increases at an unprecedented pace. It has been estimated that in this century the amount of scientific knowledge has doubled every ten years. It is important to notice that our rising concern for humanity coincides with prodigious developments in theoretical and practical knowledge. These developments are not an accidental circumstance of the change in the psychological climate — quite the contrary. They are an essential factor of that change. The more we know and the more we can do, the more we doubt and the more we worry. Our doubts and our worries appear to be commensurable with our knowledge. Whatever were the intentions and hopes of the originators of the idea of progress, certainly they did not intend to make life more insecure or worrisome.

So when we come to a sentence like, “we do not know how” we don’t like it! However, the truth is that many people do not know how to live life as you should. You want to succeed, but success seems to e;ice you. You want to be a better husband, but you don’t know how. You don’t like how you lose control, but your temper seems to get the best of you. In an age of ever increasing knowledge, we can find comfort in the almost embarrassing phrase, “I don’t know how.”

What happens when we admit that we don’t know how? The Spirit helps. This word helps is a wonderful word in the Greek. The word help in the English doesn’t do this word justice. It more accurately means, “to lend a hand together with, at the same time with one.” What happens?   Here Paul beautifully pictures the Holy Spirit taking hold at our side at the very time of our weakness and before too late. At the moment of weakness, not a moment too soon and not a moment too late, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid, walks alongside us, lends us a hand, and walks with us through the weakness.

Paul wants to drive home the point. He says, “The Spirit Himself to show that when you are struggling the worst, God does not send a substitute—He comes Himself to your aid.” And what does He do? He intercedes. This is the only time this word appears in the New Testament. It is a picturesque word of rescue by one who happens on someone who is in trouble and in his behalf pleads “with unuttered groanings” or with “sighs that baffle words.”

You have a Savior who rescues and the Spirit who regenerates.

The Groan and the Glory

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:18-22 ESV)

 …if indeed we suffer with Him

There is a Greek construction here that you cannot see in the English language. A common conjunction in Greek takes the prefix sun and combines it with other words. Sun means “with.” They are sungkleeronomos, sunpascho, sundoxastho. These are the three “withs” of Romans 8:17.

  • We are heirs with Christ
  • We suffer with Christ
  • We will be glorified with Christ.

Suffering was the way of life for Jesus.   Jesus had been brutally murdered on the cross. Three days had passed and he had come forth from the tomb. He wass walking on the Emmaus road, having a conversation with some guys who have no idea who He is. They were followers of Jesus but they didn’t recognize him. And they were distraught that Jesus had to suffer. In Luke 24:26, we have Jesus’s response to their question. And notice that Jesus’s response is a question: “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter His glory?”

The groan always comes before the glory. Suffering is a real part of our human existence.

Suffering takes many forms.

The man and woman who struggle to get along with each other. They don’t love each other like they used to. Their respect for one another is failing. The suffering: knowing how they should relate to one another—and the reality of how they do relate to each other.

The woman dominated by depression. She knows there’s more to life than she sees. Yet she wonders how she’s going to make it through another day. The groan is the desire to live life to the fullest. The suffering is wondering how to get there.

The pain of death—especially during the holidays. A sister. Your mom. A dad.  A son. A brother. Death hurts so badly. You feel alone, abandoned, cheated. This is real suffering. Tears flow down your cheeks in the middle of the night when no one else notices.

Don’t miss the 3 “withs.” You are an heir with Christ. You now suffer with Christ. You will be glorified with Him. One day the you God really intended will become clear. Free from sin and suffering, you will be resplendent in all of the glory God created you to exude. Until then, we groan…and anticipate.

The Room

In that place between wakefulness and dreams,

filesI found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index card files.  They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order.  But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and right to left as far as the eye could see, had very different headings. As I walked up to the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read, “People I Have Liked.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one. And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my entire life.  The actions of my every moment, big and small, were written in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity mixed with horror stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content.  Some brought joy and sweet memories, others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.

A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I Have Betrayed.” The titles ranged from common, everyday things to the not-so-common “Books I Have  Read,”  “Lies I Have Told”, “Comfort I Have Given”, “Jokes I Have Laughed At”. Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I Have Yelled At My Brothers And Sisters.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done In Anger”,  “Things I Have Muttered  Under My Breath At My Parents”. I never ceased to be surprised by the contents.  Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I had hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had time in my 17 years to write each of these thousands or millions of cards? But each card confirmed the truth. Each card was written in my own handwriting. Each card was signed with my signature. When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I Have Listened To”, I realized the files grew to contain their contents.  The cards were packed tightly and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented.  When I came to the file marked “Lustful Thoughts”, I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch not willing to test its size, and drew out a card; I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think such a moment had been recorded. A feeling of humiliation and anger ran through my body.

One thought dominated my mind “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In an insane frenzy, I yanked the file out.   Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards.

But as I took the file at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it. Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot.

Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. That was when I saw it. The file bore “People I Have Shared The Gospel With”. The handle was brighter than those around it – newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than 3 inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

Then as I looked up through my tears, I saw Him enter the room. No, please, not HIM.  Anyone but Jesus.   I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. The few times I looked at His face I saw such sadness that it tore at my heart. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally, He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again.

He walked over and put his arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me. Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file, and, one by one began to sign His name over mine on each card.

“No!” I shouted, rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no”, as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of   JESUS   covered mine. It was written in blood. He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said,

“IT IS FINISHED.”

“I stood up, and He led me out of the room.
There was no lock on the door. There were still cards to be written…….

(by Joshua Harris)

The Broken Heart

Pray deliberately through this Puritan prayer:

O Lord,

No day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in your sight. Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart; praise has been often praiseless sound; my best services are filthy rags.

Blessed Jesus, let me find a covert in your appeasing wounds. Though my sins rise to heaven your merits soar above them; though unrighteousness weighs me down to hell, your righteousness exalts me to your throne.

All things in me call for my rejection, all things in you plead my acceptance. I appeal from the throne of perfect justice to your throne of boundless grace.

Grant me to hear your voice assuring me: that by your stripes I am healed, that you were bruised for my iniquities, that you have been made sin for me that I might be righteous in you, that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven, buried in the ocean of your concealing blood.

I am guilty, but pardoned, lost but saved, wandering, but found, sinning, but cleansed.

Give me perpetual broken-heartedness, keep me always clinging to your cross, flood me every moment with descending grace, open to me the springs of divine knowledge, sparkling like crystal, flowing clear and unsullied through my wilderness of life.

From the Valley of Vision

The Unthinkable

When I heard the news I was floored. How could a pilot intentionally fly a plane into the mountain in the French Alps? And the tormenting final minutes the passengers endured–the agonizing attempt by the main pilot to get into the cockpit. It’s unthinkable. The experts are hard at work trying to figure out what could have motivated copilot Andreas Lubitz to kill himself and 149 others. Thirteen of the passengers were exchange students returning home from a year-long stint away from their parents. It is gut-wrenching.

What was going through his mind? We will never know the details, but we do know his human condition. And though we don’t like to admit it, apart from Christ we share that same human condition:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 ESV)

Notice the qualities of the mind set on the flesh. Death. Hostile to God. Unable to submit to God’s law. Unable to please God. Lubitz adds his name to a list of people who fit that description. Saddam Hussein. Adolf Hitler. Osama Bin Laden. Kim Il Sung. Joseph Stalin. And, believe it or not, you–before Christ.

I know…it takes my breath away too. Our capacity to sin is only limited by God’s grace to save. What Lubitz did pains me, breaks my heart, and makes me angry. And I’m saddened to say that things I have done have pained me, broken my heart and made me angry.

Today, pray for the families of those who died.

And thank God for his grace–grace that saves us from doing the unthinkable.

If the Holy Spirit Raised Jesus, You’re No Challenge for Him!

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11 ESV)

Your body is dead—that old thing that caused you the sin problem is dead! Why are you serving a dead body? Why are you enslaved to a lifeless existence? Romans 8:5-8 is a description of your life before Christ. Look at it!

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 ESV)

Did you know that Jesus did not even raise Himself from the grave! The Holy Spirit raised Christ from the grave! If Jesus depended on the Holy Spirit to raise Him from the grave, then you and I must depend on the Holy Spirit to raise us up to live an entirely new life!

Chuck Swindoll states,

We have been sold a bill of goods. The enemy has made us as a body, so conscious of sin that we are inoperative as a body of believers righteous before God, ready and equipped to move on.

We focus way too much on our lives before Christ–rather than focusing on the fact that we have been raised with Him. We need to live under the awesome power of God! The  result of that kind of living: So then brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh. We have an obligation, not to the flesh, but to the Spirit. We choose moment by moment whether or not we will respond to the Spirit or to the flesh.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13 ESV)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 ESV)

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24 ESV)

Your response to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is to put to death the sinful deeds of the body. It is a relationship of incredible balance—where the Holy Spirit constantly works to rid us of sin in our lives. Through His work, we are empowered to say “No” when sin presents itself. Notice also the outcome. You will either live or die. You cannot ride the fence, here. You will either live according to your old desires before you came to Christ–and die. Or you will live by the power of the Spirit who indwells you–and live.

Corn, Corn, Corn

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 ESV)

I love the scene from the movie, Second Hand Lions. Two old men, retired from military service and very colorful careers, end up at their old farmhouse in the middle of Texas. A young boy is dumped off by his mother and lives with them. It is a story of endearing love, daringcorn tales, and living a legacy. The men are beyond frugal. Though very wealthy, they refuse to spend their money. As a matter of fact, every salesman who drives up is met by a pair of shotguns—that is, until the boy shows up. With his young spirit, he begins to tenderize their hearts. He convinces them to buy from these salesmen. They end up with all kinds of gadgets, some that work and some that don’t.

A salesman came by and they bought some seeds. They work tirelessly to dig up the ground, fertilize and finally plant the seeds. It’s hard work—especially under the hot Texas sun. They plant the seeds in nice, neat rows. Corn. Beans. Carrots. Row after row—they are all identified. But there’s a problem. When the plants start growing, they all look the same. And they all look like corn! And it was! They ate corn for breakfast. Corn for lunch. Corn for supper. They had a whole garden full of corn!

Why is that? You can’t plant corn and get beans. The most important aspect of their garden was not what you can see, but what you can’t.

You will never see the Holy Spirit. Never! He is invisible. Some wonder why you don’t do the right things. I’m not talking about occasionally sinning. I’m talking about those of you who repeatedly commit the same sin and feel no remorse, no conviction. I want to boldly suggest to you that you need to examine your life. Are you depending on outward actions to produce inward change? If so, you’ll plant and plant, but the only thing that will come up is corn. For you, the answer is on the inside. The glaring need in your life is invisible. You need to accept Jesus Christ by faith. Immediately the Holy Spirit will take up residence in you and you will want to please God. You will not always do it perfectly—but your desires will change.

And instead of corn, corn, corn.. will come upon the garden of your life.

Stop Pushing and Get in the Car!

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11 ESV)

A young man named Sinner once received from his Father a beautiful, bright-red convertible. He named it Salvation—sparkling, new, clean, modern, powerful. It delighted the young man 1986_00005_02so much, especially because it was a gift. He could never have afforded it. So delighted, the boy even changed his name from Sinner to Saved. He polished his car every week. Took pictures of it. Sent it to friends. Looked it over—front, back, under, top, bottom, inside out. Never—never tired of telling others about the gift. “My Father gave it to me. It was free!”

Some days later Saved was seen out on the highway, pushing Salvation. An individual named Helper walked up and introduced himself and asked if he could assist.

“Oh, no thanks. Just out enjoying my new car,” as he wiped the sweat off his face. “Just had a little trouble because my bumper kept cutting my hands, especially on these hills. But then a nice man helped me. Showed me how to mount little rubber cushions right here, underneath the bumper, and now I can push this thing for hours without a blister. Also, I’ve been trying something new lately. They use it over in England. You put your back against the car, lift, and it works like a charm, especially on muddy roads.”

Helper asked, “Have you pushed the car very far?”

“Well, about 200 miles altogether. It’s been hard, but since it was a gift from my Father, that’s the least I can do in return to thank him.” Helper opened the door on the right side and said, “Get in.” After hesitation, he decided it was worth a try and he slid in on the passenger side and rested for the first time since he’d been given the car. Helper walked around, opened the door, slid behind the wheel, and started the car.

“What’s all that noise?” he said. Moments later they were moving down the highway quietly, at fifty, sixty miles an hour. He was taken aback. It all seemed to fall into place. It was even exciting! He knew he needed this Salvation Car to be admitted through the gate at the end of the highway. But somehow he felt that getting there was his responsibility.

From Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Swindoll, 1998

Your Personal OnStar

I don’t own a vehicle with OnStar. I have just always thought that I wouldn’t get very lost in Western North Carolina. What I discovered totally caught me by surprise. Are you aware of what OnStar, the satellite system that you can have in your vehicle, provides? Here’s a brief list.

  • Online Concierge Services – for event tickets, dining reservations, gift recommendations and more.
  • Automatic Notification of Air Bag Deployment – if your front air bags deploy, we can call for help – even if you can’t call for it – to your location as quickly as possible.
  • Emergency Services – press the red OnStar Emergency Button and we’ll notify an emergency assistance provider of your location and your emergency need.
  • Roadside Assistance – is on the way once you call OnStar. We’ll locate and contact a nearby provider and request help to get you back on the road quickly.
  • Stolen-Vehicle Tracking – with OnStar, a stolen vehicle can be tracked without the thief’s knowledge and help guide authorities to its location.
  • Accident Assist – gives you step-by-step guidance about what to do in the event of an accident.
  • Remote Door Unlock / Lock – OnStar Advisors can unlock and lock your doors in case you locked your keys in the car, or forgot to lock the doors when you left. The Advisors can also flash your lights and honk the horn if you have trouble locating your vehicle, or to scare off unwanted individuals gathered around the vehicle.
  • Remote Diagnostics** – cover your vehicle’s vital systems. If your “Check Engine” light illuminates, an OnStar Advisor can provide you with information about the problem – then make recommendations. The Advisors can also help locate a dealer to schedule an appointment for service.

John DiPaola tells his story: His wife and 13-month-old daughter were at the Detroit Zoo recently. The little girl was quite upset when her mother packed up the car to leave, so to calm the little girl, Mrs. DiPaola gave her the keys to their new OnStar-equipped Pontiac Montana to play with.

Mrs. DiPaola placed the girl, holding the keys, in the car seat and then walked around the back of the van to put away the stroller. When she tried the handle on the hatch door of the van, it was locked. She looked around the corner just in time to see the power sliding door closing. The toddler had pushed the buttons on the remote control attached to the key ring and closed the power sliding door and locked the van.

Needless to say, Mrs. DiPaola got panicky and asked someone in the parking lot if she could use his cellular phone to call OnStar. The OnStar Advisor was able to send a signal to the Montana, opening the door. Says John DiPaola, “During this time my daughter sat laughing in her car seat at all the people looking in the windows. After several minutes the doors were unlocked and my wife was relieved to give our daughter a big hug.”

And like OnStar, this traveling companion has a list of credentials—His own personal job description. His guarantees never fail. He carries through every time. This week we’ll learn more about HIm–the Holy Spirit.

Thank You For the Help

Eternal Father,

It is amazing love that you have sent your Son to suffer in my stead, that you have added the Spirit to teach, comfort, guide, that you have allowed the ministry of angels to wall me round.

All heaven subserves the welfare of a poor worm.

Permit your unseen servants to be ever active on my behalf, and to rejoice when grace expands in me. Suffer them never to rest until my conflict is over, and I stand victorious on salvation’s shore.

Grant that my proneness to evil, deadness to good, resistance to your Spirit’s motions, may never provoke you to abandon me. May my hard heart awake your pity, not your wrath, and if the enemy gets an advantage through my corruption, let it be seen that heaven is mightier than hell, that those for me are greater than those against me.

Arise to my help in richness of covenant blessings. Keep me feeding in the pastures of your strengthening Word, searching Scripture to find you there.

If my waywardness is visited with a scourge, enable me to receive correction meekly, to bless the reproving hand, to discern the motive of rebuke, to respond promptly and do the first work.

Let all your fatherly dealings make me a partaker of your holiness. Grant that in every fall I may sink lower on my knees, and that when I rise it may be to loftier heights of devotion.

May my every cross be sanctified, every loss be gain, every denial a spiritual advantage, every dark day a light of the Holy Spirit, every night of trial a song.

From The Valley of Vision p. 242-243