“Beware Of The Natural Familiarity of Ichabod Churches”

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     Are you as intrigued by that statement as I am? It certainly captured my attention when reading an article written by John Burton for Charisma Magazine. But, what exactly is an “Ichabod Church”? To understand this reference, one must go to the Old Testament and the Book of 1 Samuel. There the Israelite Judge Eli (who helped raise the prophet Samuel) and his family were judged disrepectful of the Lord, despising the sacrifices and offerings made to Him, and taking the choice parts of meat and fat for themselves.

     The result was that the Israelites were defeated in battle by the Philistines; Eli’s sons were killed in battle; and Eli, himself, dies upon hearing the news that the Ark of the Covenant has fallen into the hands of the Philistines. But it is his daughter-in-law, who before dying in child-birth, learns of the deaths of her husband and father-in-law and the capture of the ark, then names her son Ichabod, and proclaims, “The glory has left Israel, for the ark of God has been taken.”
     So, in essence, what John Burton is alluding to is the fact that the glory of God has left our churches today. At the heart of his article is this statement: “Most every day, in one venue or another, I’m hearing from disillusioned, frustrated people who cannot find a church that has been overtaken by the Holy Spirit. No extreme revival atmospheres can be found for many. The Upper Room experience that innumerable desperate people are searching for are nowhere to be seen, in some instances, within 500 miles of where they live. They complain of short, ordered, controlled services that, according to them, aren’t worth their time. There’s a measure of spirituality, but they don’t even come close to the explosive, supernatural experiences they are craving”.
     Now, when I read this my heart was pricked, and my mind became super-charged, and I felt as if God was down-loading thoughts faster than I could comprehend them and tie them all together!  First of all, we know that the Ark of the Covenant was the presence of God with the Israelites. So, if the ark is gone, then the glory [and His presence] of God is gone. But how do we define the glory of God? What is it? It is certainly true that, in history, God’s glory has been externally manifested not only in the Ark, but in the plagues; the pillars of cloud [by day] and fire [by night]; in His appearance on Mount Sinai; in the fire initiating the sacrificial system; and in Solomon’s Temple. His glory certainly became a reality at the birth of Christ and will be evident in the restored Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem, in the future.
     But what should His glory look like for us today? And if Mr. Burton likens our modern Churches to a condition similar to the circumstances surrounding the birth of Ichabod, what is he really saying? Let me see if I can connect the dots between his article and what the Lord is showing me.  I have heard it preached and spoken by today’s pastors that “God’s glory can be seen in things such as love, music, heroism and so forth—things belonging to God that we are carrying “in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are the vessels which “contain” His glory. I can’t disagree with that, but if we are the vessels that contain His glory, what about those vessels in the Upper Room on Pentecost? Why have we, in the modern Church, dismissed the glory that they contained? Why do we dismiss the signs and wonders and the power of the Holy Spirit that was evidence of God’s glory in them? 
     In his article, Mr. Burton likens the state of our churches to the Wise and Foolish Virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In this well-known parable, half of the Virgins have their lamps full of oil (which is representative of the Holy Spirit in the Bible). The wise Virgins had been in recent contact with the dispenser of oil (Holy Spirit), whereas the foolish Virgins had apparently procrastinated. Engaging frequently with the dispenser of the oil [the Holy Spirit], the wise had an adequate supply of oil to trim their lamps and go into the marriage supper when the bridegroom finally arrived. They were prepared! But the foolish Virgins think they can just borrow some of the oil from their wiser counterparts.  But that’s not how the Holy Spirit works!
      And this gets to the crux of Mr. Burton’s premise: “Churches are filled with people the Bible would call foolish—those who are not spiritually vibrant, personally disciplined, and deeply intimate with Jesus. Their lamps are empty… If a church is ablaze with the spirit of prayer and alive as the Holy Spirit blows and burns through everyone there, those who are asleep and without any oil will definitely not feel comfortable. There is no way they can integrate in such a place without feeling the pressure to fill their lamps”. Then he asks, why are we so willing to share our oil; to dilute the glory of God in the presence of the Holy Spirit in order to make those people feel comfortable? Why is the Church of today so willing “to integrate nicely with others who are equally resistant to the deeper things of the Spirit? They are [all] spiritually interested, but not spiritually invested. They have not paid the price and have not bought their own oil”.
     Here’s the thing … the oil (Holy Spirit) cannot be borrowed. And it cannot be passed from one person to another.  Each person must determine just how much of the Holy Spirit he or she wants.
     This principle reminds me of those 120 who were present in the Upper Room at Pentecost. But do you recall that after He was resurrected, Jesus appeared first to Peter, then to the 12 Apostles, and then to more than 500 of His followers? Acts 1:3 says, “He presented himself alive to them after His suffering [on the Cross] by many proofs [signs and wonders], appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God”.
     The Bible tells us in Acts 1:2, that just before He ascended into Heaven, He left instructions for ALL of those followers and apostles [which means “sent ones”; not restricted to the Twelve]. He told them all to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit; that which had been promised by the Father [in Joel 2].  So there were at least 512 people who had seen the resurrected Christ and been told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. Why were there only 120 who received Him? Did the others get tired of waiting? Did they think they had lots of time and weren’t diligent about being prepared? Or did they think that the gift of the Holy Spirit wasn’t for them or worth their while? Do you see the similarities with the Foolish Virgins? With the modern Church?
     If we think that we’re on solid ground, or good enough, with being saved and having the Holy Spirit indwell us, and thus being content with a moderate level of the Holy Spirit in us… aren’t our lamps only half full? Don’t we want the full measure of Him, which means we are willing to pay the price to seek Him on our own? Do we really want to be like those 200 or more people who missed out on the Upper Room experience because they weren’t willing to pay the price to wait for the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit? As Mr. Burton writes, “Those who had their lamps full, those who responded to the command of Jesus to wait and pray, were ready when the wind and the fire came!”
     So, I believe the underlying message to the Ichabod Churches and to the foolish Virgins is this: Don’t quench the desire of the Holy Spirit to manifest among you in the supernatural power of Heaven. Don’t restrict His Presence because some are uncomfortable, or lazy, or fearful. Don’t limit His Presence to the lowest common denominator. The glory of God is to make His Presence known; to pour out His Spirit on all mankind.  What He did in the Upper Room at Pentecost is His desire for you and me. We must not let His glory depart on our watch!

Exodus 24:17    “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel”.

    

Experiencing The Power of The Holy Spirit

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     I  have come to realize that discussing the power and the role of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is a difficult topic to broach.  It is difficult for many reasons … First, the modern Church isn’t consistent in its understanding of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Every denomination has its own doctrine, and from what I can tell, too few of them teach that we Christians should be seeking an experience with Him.
      Ask any roomful of Christians about desiring the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or if we should be walking in the power of the Spirit [as Jesus did], and you will get opinions ranging from those who have been wounded by the Church because they didn’t appear to have a particular gift, and therefore don’t desire to seek more of Him; to those who, while unknowledgable about the subject, are curious to know more; to those who flat out reject it; to those who have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and are walking in His empowerment, healing the sick and setting the captives free from bondage.
       So, I guess the fundamental questions become Are the gifts and the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit only for a chosen few? Does this intimate experience with God through the Holy Spirit mean anything in God’s Kingdom on earth? And finally, Can anybody do what Jesus did?
     First of all, it is important that Christians realize Jesus was 30 years old before the Holy Spirit rested upon Him and He had the power to begin His ministry.  The Bible tells us that As Jesus grew, so did His wisdom and maturity. We must realize that the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives comes through our own process of gaining wisdom and maturing in our faith; of walking with God and experiencing an increase in His grace, and an increase in the comprehension of the Father’s plan for our life — and all of that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We must recognize His presence in us!
     But I think most Christians are scared of the power of the Holy Spirit, primarily because they are unfamiliar with it. The Bible tells us there is a purpose for a five-fold ministry in the Body of Christ. By God’s grace, some have been called to be apostles [an ambassador of the Gospel of the Kingdom]; some prophets [a proclaimer of a divine message]; some evangelists [a preacher of the Gospel of the Kingdom]; some pastors [providing tender care and vigilant oversight]; and some teachers [an instructor concerning the things of God and the duties of man]. But Ephesians 4:12 specifically says that these callings are to equip [nurture and prepare] all the holy believers to do their own works of ministry…  And here is the root of that concept: God’s grace is the power of the Holy Spirit in us to do those things we have been called to. And lest you misunderstand, we are all called to do the things that Jesus taught and commanded (defeating the works of the devil) and to walk in the manifestation [the enabling power] of the Holy Spirit to serve God in whatever gifts, achievement, or abilities He has designed for us to carry out.
     So, how many of us can say that we have experienced any of this nurturing within the Body of Christ?  Jesus is our model, and everything He did was the product of the Holy Spirit working in Him to carry out His commission [ministry] from the Father. AND it is the function of those called by God’s grace to equip us to receive that same Holy Spirit power to do our “own works of ministry.” But how many of us received that equipping … that nurturing and preparing … that instruction and modeling of how to become more like Jesus?
     This is not just my own opinion to back up my own brand of theology.  The Bible says it plainly and clearly … in Hebrews 10:23-25, we are told to hold tightly to the promise given us [that the Holy Spirit would come to empower us and guide us]; and we should give considerate and deliberate thought to encouraging each other to love and do the good deeds Jesus modeled, not forsaking the gathering together to encourage each other to do these things as we wait for His return. The “gathering together” is not the primary focus; it is the encouragement of each other to walk in the power that God sends us through the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

     But here’s the thing … since I would venture to say that a large majority of us were never encouraged or equipped to walk in our own giftings and callings, we are uncomfortable with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and it is easy for the Enemy to convince us that this concept is not from God.  When the power of the Holy Spirit to work in our lives through the gifts and counsel He gives us is never taught, or it is explained away, or it is not used, or it is buried under disappointing attempts that appeared to fail — then it is easy to believe the lie that this empowerment is not for Today.  And then we end up with powerless Christians who miss out on encounters with God and fulfilling the purpose for which they were called.
     So, back to my original questions … Are the gifts and the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit only for a chosen few? The answer is No! It says in 1 Corinthians 12:6-7, “The same God distributes different kinds of powers [gifts] that accomplish different results through each believer’s gift and ministry as He energizes and activates them. Each believer is given continuous revelation by the Holy Spirit to benefit not just himself but all”. But I believe it is up to each believer to seek and receive that revelation.
     Does this intimate experience with God through the Holy Spirit mean anything in God’s Kingdom on earth? Yes! It is the only way to impact this world for the Kingdom of God.  Without experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, it is my humble opinion that you can’t truly know God, and know His will for His Kingdom. You can read and study Scripture and recite all the verses from memory, but as my wise husband expressed, “It’s like how can you say you know how to swim, if all you’ve done is read every book in the Library on swimming, but never actually experienced getting in the water and swimming?”  And I liken it to reading every post on Facebook by a friend, and reading every text message she sends me, but if I’m never in her presence and experience her, can I say I really know her?  How can we be ambassadors for a Kingdom when we don’t know the King and what He desires?
     Finally, Can everybody do what Jesus did? The simple answer is Yes. But can we guarantee success every time? No. But what I can tell you from my own experience in walking in His power, the more you do it, the more confidence you get in your identity and the ability of the Holy Spirit to work through you.  In other words, people who pray more for healing, will see more healings happen. John Wimber, one of the founders of the “Power Evangelism” movement in the U.S. prayed for healing for 1,000 people before he saw anyone healed. And I have heard so many similar testimonies from those who walk in Jesus’ signs, wonders, and miracles say the same thing: Christians must make a commitment to press into what CAN happen and SHOULD be happening.
     My final analysis of experiencing the Holy Spirit in the Christian life is that God brings each of us to a place of maturity that requires our perseverance through the discouragement.  The Enemy likes nothing more than to send obstacles to our walking in the power of the Holy Spirit that is in us. The Body of Christ must begin to overcome our long season of apathy and indifference [and yes, fear] towards embracing the power of Heaven within us. The Holy Spirit of God is the key to an effective Christian life of service. Without His ministry to our spirits, our Christian life will be powerless and fruitless for the Kingdom. And this life is all about the Kingdom!

Ephesians 3:20   Never doubt God’s almighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for His miraculous power constantly energizes you.


    

The Holy Spirit: We Can Have More!

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     As you have likely noticed over the last year, a lot of my posts have centered around the Holy Spirit.  And I believe this is because there is so much more of Him that God wants us to experience.  And to that point, I wrote a blog post in August, 2015, sharing my opinion on the difference between water baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  What a difference two years can make!  Although I do not necessarily disagree with what I wrote back then, I have now experienced a fuller encounter with the Spirit and I must amend my opinion. As I continue growing and maturing in my faith, God reveals more, and I’d like to share that knowledge with you.

     I would venture that a majority of Christians would agree with me when I say that we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.  It is accepted that water baptism is evidence of our repentance, and we are walking in a new relationship with God, the Father, and Jesus, our Lord.  In fact, according to Strong’s Concordance, water baptism by a Christian believer is “witnessing to their identification with Jesus in death, burial, and resurrection”; we die with Christ, and rise with Him. When we get baptized in the Name of Jesus, we become closely bound and associated with the One into whose Name we are baptized.
     Yet I am convinced that we do not need to be water baptized to be saved.  Yes, it is a public act that proclaims to both the physical world and the spiritual world that we have faith in Jesus and His teachings — that we are learning to be like Jesus by following His example of submission, service, and sacrifice in response to faith in Him.
    But, now, let me present a different look at salvation without water baptism.  There is the account in John 13:8-11 of a conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus is about to wash Peter’s feet, but Peter protests.  Jesus tells him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me”.  Peter then tells Jesus that he wants to be washed completely — “not only my feet, but my hands and my head”, which indicates full body immersion.  Jesus responds, Anyone who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, and is completely clean. And you [My Disciples] are clean…”. 
     What does Jesus mean by that word “bathed” and how does it render the Disciples clean? This becomes clear in John 15:3, when Jesus tells His Disciples, You are already clean because of the word which I have given you [the teachings which I have discussed with you]”. They were bathed in the Word and therefore saved by Faith in Him [and His teachings]. Do not get me wrong!  There is nothing wrong with being baptized in water!  It honors your commitment to your faith as a follower of Christ. But water baptism itself, does not save.  “For it is by grace we have been saved by faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
     I’d like to share the writing of the late Jay Guin on his interpretation of what Jesus was expressing to Peter in this passage:  “You are utterly clean, by grace, because you’ve accepted My teaching and so have faith. But neither My teaching nor your cleansing will be complete until you learn one last lesson, the lesson of humble service. I’ll teach this lesson by washing your feet, but I’ll complete the lesson by dying for you. But I know already that you’ll learn that lesson well”.

     Now, let me continue with my thoughts on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 tells us that “having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise”. This indwelling of the Spirit allows Jesus to come into our hearts and reside there with us; in effect, giving us a new heart and a new [indwelling] spirit, just as God proclaimed in Ezekiel 36:26.  We are a new creation, and we no longer have to be subject to our sinful flesh and human nature.
     But in order to overcome the temptations of this world and the fiery darts of the devil, we must receive the power of the Holy Spirit — and actually we should be asking for that power, which comes to us by another form of baptism … the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Luke 11:13 tells us, If you, then, being evil [that is, sinful by nature], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask and continue to ask Him!”  So, the obvious question is if this is the indwelling of the Spirit that accompanies our declaration of faith in Jesus, then why is Jesus telling us that the Father will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask Him? This must be a greater manifestation of the Spirit.
     And, in truth, Jesus tells His Disciples right before His ascension, But you will receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.” It is clear to me that what happens to them in the upper room at Pentecost is the bestowal of that power and ability — an empowerment for service to the Kingdom of God and to represent Him and do His works.
     One of the best illustrations of the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was presented in an article on the Christian Broadcasting Network website … “if we drank water from a glass, then the water would be inside us. However, if we went to the beach and stepped into the ocean, then we would be in the water. We receive, as it were, a drink of the Holy Spirit when we are saved, but when we are baptized in the Spirit, it is as if that initial drink becomes an ocean that completely surrounds us”. The indwelling of the Spirit gives us the opportunity to live our lives [set apart to God and in righteousness], as Jesus did.  The Baptism of the Spirit gives us the ability and the power to do the ministry of Jesus, including miracles and healings. 
     Think about it… the Great Commission, as stated in Mark 16, says, Go into all the world and preach the gospel [of the Kingdom] to all creation. He who has believed [in Me] and has been baptized will be saved [from the penalty of God’s wrath and judgment]; but he who has not believed will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues they will pick up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.” It is my opinion that the baptism of these believers is the baptism by fire of the Holy Spirit — not water baptism! Jesus knew they would not be able to do these signs (miracles) under their own power. So that’s why He told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promised [supernatural] power of the Holy Spirit, and they would be able to accomplish their commission.  The “promise” of the Holy Spirit is not merely His presence in us, but it is a promise of the power that accompanies Him!
      Is it possible to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom and make Disciples without the power that comes from the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?  I believe it is, but it amounts to trying to train people to undertake a supernatural assignment with their limited human power.  The fruit that is borne will be less profitable for the Kingdom of God.

     Just like the baptism in the Name of Jesus, we become eternally associated with and bound to the Holy Spirit when we are baptized with His fire. When we are baptized by immersion in water, we do so in repentance of our sins, recognition of our new identity in Christ, and a desire to live in obedience to God.  But it takes receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit to enable us to walk in a higher calling to God.  And the Disciples are our example.  They were bathed in the Word and had faith in Jesus, which caused Jesus to pronounce them “clean”.  And there are numerous references to “cleansing” being related to salvation, such as 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 
     And, yes, it is a fact that the Disciples were able to heal the sick and cast out demons before they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it wasn’t until the fire of the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost that they received a fuller measure of supernatural, heavenly power to carry out the Commission Jesus had given them. 
     I know that many Christians will not see eye-to-eye with me on this matter.  It is a difficult concept to understand, and sadly, I do not believe the modern Church has attempted to seek a deeper knowledge. They do not understand that the Bible clearly states that Paul taught that one received this greater power by the laying on of hands… Acts 8:17, Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [one by one], and they received the Holy Spirit; 2 Timothy 1:6, That is why I remind you to fan into flame the gracious gift of God, [that inner fire—the special endowment] which is in you through the laying on of my hands…;  Acts 19:1-6, It happened that while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the upper [inland] districts and came down to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed [in Jesus as the Christ]?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he asked, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John performed a baptism of repentance, continually telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, [to confidently accept and joyfully believe] in Jesus [the Messiah and Savior].” After hearing this, they were baptized [again, this time] in the name of the Lord JesusAnd when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in [unknown] tongues (languages) and prophesying. This speaks of the water baptism in response to faith in Jesus, [rather than the baptism of repentance that signified John the Baptist’s baptism], followed by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, received by the laying on of hands; and the gift of tongues clearly being a sign of this baptism into power and ability.
     There is so much more that I could discuss — that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to each one of us because if the Holy Spirit indwells us, He brings His gifts with Him, and, as 1 Corinthians 12:11 tells us, All these [gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills. ALL the gifts are available to ALL believers! The Bible tells us that not all are apostles, nor prophets, nor teachers; and not all perform miracles, or healing, or speak in tongues.  But does this mean we are not able to do these things?  The Bible also tells us to “earnestly desire the higher gifts”. Seek after them; ask for them! Luke 11:13, If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall [your] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? 
     The Baptism of the Holy Spirit requires a deep study of the Word, and is not without controversy and disagreement amongst the Body of Christ.  But it is an essential part of the Bible and worthy of our time and consideration. I hope you will earnestly seek God’s heart on this matter.

Acts 8:15-16   They [Peter and John] came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit for He had not yet fallen on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus [as His possession].