SWEETWATER JOURNEY

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21 NIV

Following one of the recent more devastating earthquakes in Haiti, it was reported that in the church congregations as communities came together to worship, the older women walked around and touched different ones, praying for them as they worshipped. When I saw that report, it was so moving seeing that taking place – poor people made even more decimated by the destruction that an earthquake brings to life and substance, seeking solace through faith in the power of what those prayers could do for the hurting people attending that service. The women prayed as they moved through the gathering fully believing in the invisible Force they could tap into for continued assurance of God’s love and care in a time of desperate proportions of loss. When your faith becomes all that you have and you feel like a helpless victim, you can never be without hope or power as you begin to understand even more this statement from Ephesians 3: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.

The need I see in our communities among those living in poverty and those who are incarcerated are extreme. Life choices and resulting circumstances from generations of poverty, violence, untreated mental and physical illness and drugs in a culture of survival of the fittest can be very difficult to turn around. Where drugs are concerned I have found that even though you are intelligent with skills and resources, it doesn’t seem to matter. The far-reaching destruction of drugs has no bounds.

I have found though, that when individuals hear the Good News packaged in love and the power of the Holy Spirit – this culture begins to change one person at a time as they begin to trust and believe. When they see with new eyes they gradually fill with hope. The transformative message that Jesus Christ brought to earth with the accompanying power that is promised, is enough, whether others around them, those in the religious community and representatives in the system of justice share that Spirit or not. It doesn’t keep them from receiving the gift of salvation and all the blessings that come with it. With Jesus Christ and his “God-breathed Scripture” as Paul referred to it, we have everything we need that is most important to us. It does matter on a different level to those without The Force who render justice and those who profess Christ but fail to carry out Christ’s mission in power, as we will examine further on in this chapter of Sweetwater Journey.

When we seek after the selfish things that are not of God, we lose our way. Every living being has access to The Force through Christ. The person who has little resources and is dealing with circumstances for which in the beginning they may not have been fully responsible, can receive the Holy Spirit through faith and be in an amazing place of hope and wonder even in a house with the roof caving in or a jail cell awaiting sentencing. It doesn’t matter. We still must repent for the wrong choices we have made and call on Jesus Christ to help us turn our lives around. We can’t do it without Him. Jesus Christ had nothing – no wealth or material substance. He shared out of his vast spiritual resources and knowledge, teaching us what matters most and will bring us happiness and contentment. He conveyed that happiness is not found in wealth. I came to see this anew in dramatically moving ways with the inmates who come to Christ.

(end of the opening part)

You can read “The Force” in its entirety on the Houston Herald website.

It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, surrounded by opulence or chaos, living among ruins caused by an earthquake, you can tap into that Force that Jesus Christ had when He lived here on earth.

During the time of this writing, I had decided to take my guitar to do some music at the Raymondville UMC where John and I go to church on occasion. I had been thinking about an old hymn from our own church tradition titled “Redeemer of Israel” written in the mid-1800’s. The lyrics reflect that it was a special time of longing for the return of Jesus Christ. I always like to give Scriptural support to the music I provide if I can and the reference with the hymn was Exodus 13:21-22 “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

It immediately came to me that this was the Holy Spirit that God had sent to guide the Israelites – a visible pillar of fire. I gave the Scripture with the hymn before I sang, and stated that this was the Holy Spirit with the Israelites, making the point that we have Christ with us today through the Holy Spirit only in a different form. When I returned home, I was drawn to a particular book on the Holy Spirit that I was going to research for this chapter, “The Code of the Holy Spirit” written by Perry Stone. In this book, Perry Stone uses the Hebraic teaching as the roots of our spiritual understanding today. As I began reading, here was the Exodus 13 reference again also adding in another reference Exodus 23:20-22 NIV to build the case for the Holy Spirit leading the Israelites. “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.” This sounds like the Holy Spirit doesn’t it. The Scriptures state that denying the Holy Spirit is the only unforgiveable sin we can commit. “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” Matthew 12:31 NIV

Stone gives the Hebrew description of the Holy Spirit: “In the Old Testament Hebrew, the phrase Ruach ha-Kodesh is the term used for ‘the Holy Spirit’. The word ‘ruach’ is a word translated several ways in the English Bible, such as ‘spirit’, ‘breath’ and ‘wind’. The word ‘ha’ is used as the word ‘the’ in Hebrew, and the word ‘kodesh’ refers to ‘holy’ and ‘holiness’. In English we say ‘spirit’. In Greek the word is ‘pnuema’ and the Hebrew word is ‘kodesh’. E. W. Bullinger commented that: ‘The meaning of the word is to be deduced only from its usage. The one root idea running through all the passages is invisible force. . . In whatever sense it is used, (it) always represents that which is invisible except by its manifestations’. The word ‘ruach’ is used nine different ways in the Old Testament and the Greek counterpart ‘pnuema’, is used fourteen different ways in the New Testament. For example, Jesus said His words were ‘spirit, and . . .life’ (John 6:63). The idea of words being spirit is that words cannot be seen with the eyes just as a spirit is invisible to the eyes, but words can be heard, and once God’s words are received in the human spirit they produce life!” Taken from “The Code of the Holy Spirit” written by Perry Stone.

The “life” that is produced by God’s words in our spirit, is the acts of love and generosity that we manifest or demonstrate. In the Scriptures, we find the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit as described in Genesis 1:2 NIV “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

And then again in the burning bush, Stone states that the angel of the Lord was present. I found this reference in the Torah, Exodus 3:2: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn bush, and behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed.”

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit functioned as a spiritual guide going before us and after Christ’s ascension, this spiritual entity of God as a guide to life over death, came to live within us.

In I John 4:12-13 NIV we are told: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us.” In Ephesians 2:18 NIV, we learn that through Christ we have access to the Father by one Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit, we are taught – not human wisdom “but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” I Cor 2:13 NIV.

As we grow spiritually, we begin to understand our natural tendencies. “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Galatians 5:17 NIV

Here are more Scriptures to understand The Force and all that he gives us:

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” I Thess. 1:6 NIV

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” I Cor 2:12 NIV

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” I Cor 6:11 NIV

“. . .it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit’. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”

I Cor 2:10 NIV

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6 NIV

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” I Cor. 12:7 NIV

(When we have the Spirit, we selflessly seek the common good. RF)

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Peter 1:22 NIV

(This is the manifestation of The Force. RF)

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17 NIV

“For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13 NIV

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

Romans 8:23 NIV

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” I Cor 6:19 NIV

“You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Acts 10:37-38 NIV

“Therefore I want you to know that . . . no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” I Cor 12:3 NIV

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11 NIV

“. . . God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 NIV

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth”. John 4:24 NIV

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” II Tim. 1:7 NIV

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Isaiah 61:1 NIV

“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6 NIV

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Romans 8:14 NIV

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” II Corinthians 3:18 NIV

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:16 NIV

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 1:13 NIV

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Timothy 4:1 NIV

The following Scripture points out to us how we can have a hollow form of outward godliness because we deny The Force that God has given us to fuel our faith:

2 Timothy 3:1-10 NIV “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

There is much in the Scriptures that warns and convicts the “Pharisee-types” who have a hollow form of godliness, who oppress the poor for their own gain, feel superior to others and withhold sharing their resources. It is so easy to become that type without knowing it, but that comes with choice. That is their walk. They will be given trials and experiences as God sees fit, that will help them gradually see with new eyes as they partner with Christ and are willing to make changes through trust.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Jesus talked about God taking care of the birds. For the most part, the birds don’t need us to take care of them, but if we take our stewardship of the earth seriously and as an important part of our spiritual nature help feed the birds, then we are changed somehow, we become more Christlike. It is not about duty, doing what is required of us but what we choose to do out of love and devotion to God that makes us more Christlike. That is also recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit and what it can do to transform our lives and the lives of others when it accompanies our ministry. God doesn’t need our generous checks to meet the needs of others, he needs our hearts – our Godliness endowed with The Force. Everything else will follow. We are Godly when we do not deny his power.

“. . .Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21 NIV

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” I Cor 2:12 NIV

In Rodney W. Francis’ sermon “Capture Your Vision” we read about the importance of the power of the Holy Spirit in our witness:

“Are you reading the recipe, or producing the cake? We Christians need to understand what is being asked here. When we place this question within the framework of our Christian faith, then “the recipe” represents the Bible, the Word of God. It is our very source of vision and inspiration when breathed upon by the Holy Spirit. But if we do not translate the theories of that recipe into a practical, visible, working reality, then we are not producing “the cake.” The Bible gives us all the necessary ingredients for us to be able to produce “the cake.” If we do not mix them right, we finish up with a “disaster” – all talk and theories, or a cake that nobody wants to eat! Capture your vision! (Get the recipe right!) It is vitally important that you are able to capture the vision when it comes to you. God gives you and me vision! It comes to us in the invisible realm by revelation. Once it has come, then it is our responsibility to capture that invisible vision and bring it through into the visible realm where others can see what we have been seeing all along. A vision is of no use to us – or anyone else – until it has been captured and translated into a physical, working reality. Until that happens we are only ‘reading the recipe’ rather than ‘producing the cake’. If we do not capture that invisible vision, then it will not be fulfilled. Neither we, nor other people, will get the ultimate benefits of what that vision is all about. Many visions never come to fulfillment because they are not captured and translated into the realm of the ‘seen’ world – that world where others can see, grasp, then understand and get the benefits of what your vision is all about. True vision should always be worked through to the place of reality and outworking toward total fulfillment in order to benefit other people. Otherwise we are guilty of simply ‘reading the recipe’ but not producing ‘the cake’. A vision that is real produces a faith that works! It is the producing of the cake that feeds the people – not the recipe! People only ask for the recipe when they really enjoy the cake! . . . Prophetic vision makes us all the more sure of success when we have that inspiration from the Holy Spirit of that which He has called us to be, do and fulfill in this life. It causes us to move forward. So, take heed to the prophetic words that have been spoken over your life – either by God Himself, or through others speaking by the Spirit of God! They are not ‘automatic’ in being fulfilled. They have to be believed, yielded to, and acted upon in faith.” FromThe Gospel Faith Messenger website.

It states in Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish. . “

Rodney W. Francis speaks further about our vision in his sermon “Beware of a Form of Godliness”. “Christianity was never ever ‘a form of godliness’. It has always been the ‘real thing’ – godliness is that lifestyle which glorifies God. It is that which allows the Holy Spirit to set God’s standards in our life. Godliness sets the pattern for us – not us dictating to God what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable. If our belief system does not change our lives, and bring us into a more direct and closer walk and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then we have to seriously question its authenticity! It does not matter whether “a form of godliness” comes from a prophet or a pope, a dynamic preacher or a church system ~ if it does not line up with the clear teachings of Scripture, turn away from it. Tragically, so many of our religious systems today can only demonstrate ‘a form of godliness’. Yet, many of them started out in the fires of Holy Spirit revival. Over time, the standards have deteriorated, and the conviction between right and wrong has become less and less, until today we see ‘right is wrong’ and ‘wrong is right’, and ‘God is such a God of love He won’t turn anyone away from eternal life’, etc. This ‘form of godliness’ is a lie. It is a false doctrine of ‘everyone doing that which is right in their own eyes’. Judges 21:25.” From The Gospel Faith Messenger website.

When I become preoccupied and worried about something personal and I’m not focused on the people God puts before me daily to whom I feel called to minister, I’m denying the power of God to take care of the problem I’m worrying about. When I act out of desperation without waiting for God to take care of my problem correctly for the best outcome and in his own time, I’m denying the power of God and making the problem even worse. If we deny The Force, then we are not dying to self which is what followers of Christ commit to in baptism. II Corinthians 5:17 NIV “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Bill Britton writes: ”When you are forgotten, neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don’t sting or hurt with the oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer for Christ; That is dying to self.

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinion ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence;That is dying to self.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any annoyance; when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus did; That is dying to self.

When you are content with any food, and offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God; That is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown; That is dying to self.

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met, and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and you are in desperate circumstances; That is dying to self.”

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit, inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart; That is dying to self.” (end of quote)

II Corinthians 4:8 – “[We are] troubled on every side, yet not distressed; [we are] perplexed, but not in despair;”

Galatians 2:20 – I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Mark 8:35 – For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.

John 12:24 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit

We find direction in this counsel that Apostle Paul sent to Timothy:

“10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” II Timothy 3:10-17 NIV

Someone told Joyce Meyer, the Christian writer and speaker, “To me you are a picture of a woman at rest. What did it take?” Her response was: “If you only knew how frustrated I was and it came from trying to do what only God could do.” She told him that when she finally stepped back and got out of God’s way and trusted his power, everything changed.

God has given us his Spirit. Thessalonians 5:19 warns us: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” God help you guard, protect and take seriously what he has given you and bless your Sweetwater Journey.

The following is from the columnist, Rita Foster: “The Force” is one of the most important and challenging chapters of SwJ I have written. It’s a challenge to the human intellect to try to describe the aspects of the Holy Spirit, an integral part of the triune Godhead that has been present since the beginning. Without the Holy Spirit or The Force, we cannot have the awareness that it takes to be alive spiritually and change ourselves or even recognize that Jesus Christ is our Lord. This chapter is filled with beautiful Scriptures and quotes about the characteristics of The Force. I pray you will take it in and make claim for yourselves the living promises in the message you find here.

Rita Foster is a Texas County author and writer. Contact her at rfoster.advocate@gmail.com

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