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Category Archives: Spirit of Excellence

Do You Know the Two Kinds of Testing?

ClimberWe all go through challenging times in our lives. The Bible calls them trials or tests. None of us are exempt, so we need to be aware of how they function.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12

Notice that James is not saying that the trial is a blessing. Our blessing is the result of coming through the test victoriously. If you remember from the first post in this series; it’s our faith that’s tried. This trial then brings perseverance and results in our faith being approved as genuine.

But what exactly are these tests all about? James goes on to explain it to us.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
James 1:13-15

First, we must understand the words being used. In the English Bible, the words temptation, test, and trial all mean different things to us. In the original Greek they’re all the same word. The translators used these different English words depending upon the context.

In this verse, James is only referring to one kind of testing – testing by evil. In this post I want to talk about the two kinds that are spoken of in Scripture.

The first I want to share about is testing by evil. This is usually called temptation by the translators. This is when we are given the opportunity to do something against God’s law or human law. It could also be troublesome, injurious, or destructive to us or others.

In thinking about testing, it’s important that we don’t get our theology from cartoons. There isn’t any little demon or angel sitting on our shoulder, whispering into our ears!

James makes it clear that usually the devil is not even involved. I think that we give him too much credit. It’s actually our own flesh that brings on the temptations that we face. We are tempted when our sin nature wants something that’s not God’s best for us. The only way to overcome consistantly is by a lifestyle of fasting and prayer in the spirit. (For more detail on these, click fasting or prayer)

The second kind is testing by God. James only says that God doesn’t use evil to test us, but there is a test that He sets up for us. This happened a lot with Jesus and His disciples.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
John 6:5-6

In this kind of testing, the Lord brings opportunities before us. Their purpose is to show forth the faith that has been produced in us as a result of hearing His Word. He wants us and others to see the growth that’s taking place in us. The result should bring glory to Christ working in us.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7

Knowing these two types of trials will help us to be victorious no matter what challenges we face. As we rely upon the Holy Spirit, we can become mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Question: How has the testing process worked maturity in your Christian walk?

©Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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Let Yourself be Stretched

BandsI’ve been posting about the place of fasting in the believer’s life. In my last article we saw that there was a difference between fasting under the Old and New Covenants. The New Covenant fast is so that you put down your flesh to better hear from God.

We don’t seem to hear the voice of the Lord as well as they did in the early church. I don’t think it’s as much God not speaking, as me not listening. Fasting helps me drown out the noise of my flesh.

But Jesus gave another parable…

“Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:17

The Old Testament fast is likened to old wineskins; empty, used up, dry, and unyielding. They have nothing of value on the inside.

In that culture, new wine was unfermented grape juice. The fermentation process produces gasses that pressurize the skins. Old, dry and unyielding bags would burst. You can’t live for God like that.

A new wineskin was made of unstretched leather. Then it was oiled to make it soft and pliable. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit in us – to prepare us to receive God’s Word.

Then we get that new wine in us. It starts to ferment, the pressure builds up and the wineskin stretches.

That’s another reason why fasting is so important to us. Fasting increases the inner man. When you fast, there’s a spiritual pressure that builds up.

You’re hearing from God and something is being poured into you. The pressure is building. Now you have something to give.

You’re now able to pour out into someone else. Then the pressure is released – for a little while anyway.

By fasting you have something on the inside that stretches the outside. I don’t know what God wants to do this year, but I want to be prepared to hear His voice.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Matthew 4:1-2

Just before Jesus started His public ministry He went on an extended fast. He knew that He was going to be tempted and tested. In order to prepare Himself, He fasted.

Do you think you’ll be tested this year? What are you going to do? How will you enter the test? Prepared? Or not? How will you answer the enemy?

The truth is that fasting prepares us for the battle ahead. I don’t know what’s coming. But I know this; the enemy is good at predicting it based upon what he sees lining up in the spirit world.

We don’t see it. We have to rely upon what we hear from God. Are we going to have a Word from God for our generation? That’s what’s needed.

I want to be prepared to face 2016 and all it holds. The blessings, callings, testings – everything. So I fast to hear from God. Enter into the blessing that fasting brings.

Question: How will you incorporate fasting into the New Year?

© Nick Zaccardi 2016

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2016 in Fasting, Prayer, Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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Are Your Clothes Shrinking?

clothes2I’m posting about the place of fasting in the life of a believer. In my last post I looked at an incident in the life of the early church.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Acts 13:2-3

We saw that it was fasting that prepared them to hear from God. They received the message to set apart Barnabas and Saul. So what did they do next? They continued to fast and pray in order to hear the specifics of this calling.

You need the whole Word from God. Too many people run off with only part of the message. Then they get into trouble and blame God.

What’s so special about fasting? In Jesus’ ministry He taught what to do “when you fast.” Jesus assumed that fasting would be a normal part of our lives.

I believe that hearing from God is the great assumption in the New Testament. In the above verse, it doesn’t look like a special, radical, event took place in the church. A mature believer should be hearing from God regularly.

The problem we have today is that much of the church has lost this ability to hear from God. It’s hearing from God that gets us to the narrow gate I talked about in my last post. His Word to us helps us to stay on the narrow road. Fasting is the key.

There was a point when the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting. They noticed that Jesus’ disciples were not. They questioned Jesus about it.

He said that fasting would change in the transition from the Old Covenant to the New. The Lord wanted the disciples to wait until after the resurrection to begin fasting. Jesus gives a description of these differences in parable form.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.”
Matthew 9:16

First, the Lord talks about the outside – a garment. The old way was to take an old cloth and patch an old garment. Fasting in the Old Testament was only a patch. At that time, fasting was all about getting God to listen to me. I needed to patch things up between God and me.

If I try to patch the garment in the New Testament it only makes things worse. Then how do I get God to hear me? I DON’T!!!

In Christ we now have access to God 24/7. There’s now no condemnation and we can enter boldly into His presence. Now we are a new garment and we don’t need a patch.

But a new garment (back then) would shrink with usage. Fasting under the New Covenant shrinks the outer garment. That’s what we look for – the flesh to decrease. We want the voice of the flesh to get quieter.

Fasting forcefully puts down the flesh. This is because now it’s about me hearing from God. God hears me in Christ. But I need to hear Him when He speaks. And that’s where fasting comes in.

Question: How often, and for how, long do you fast?

© Nick Zaccardi 2016

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2016 in Fasting, Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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Start By Seeking the Lord

FinishThe beginning of the year is a good time to seek direction from the Lord. Because of that, I’m setting aside this week for personal fasting and prayer. Fasting should be a normal part of your Christian experience.

Scripture tells about some people who were working in a church in Antioch. They were involved in teaching and helping out for years. They also understood the truth about fasting and prayer. I’m going to be talking about it for a few posts.

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.
Acts 13:1

Because he’s listed first, we see that Barnabas was the one in charge of this ministry. Last on the list was a guy named Saul. He had his 5 minutes of fame while he was persecuting the church. Now he’s pretty much forgotten.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Acts 13:2-3

In the middle of their meeting they heard from God. That made all the difference. According to Scripture, they were performing public service to God and fasting.

Throughout the day a few different people heard the same thing from God. Separate Barnabas and Saul to the work I have called them.

We have to come to grips with the fact that fasting prepares you to hear from God. The truth is that God always desires to bring you from glory to glory. He wants to cause growth in your life and ministry.

The more you hear from the Lord, the more specific your calling becomes. The path you’re walking becomes more and more narrow.

During His time on earth, Jesus talked about asking, seeking and knocking. He said that if you knock, the door will be opened for you. What door was He talking about? He went on to say…

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Matthew 7:13-14

I don’t believe that He’s talking about salvation here. This verse is about asking the Father for direction and wisdom.

There’s an easy way that leads to loss and ruin. Many people – Christians included – are running after the temporary. But there is another way that’s easier to miss. You have to seek and ask just to find the gate.

Then you have to knock, keep on knocking, and push through. Very few even find it. That’s because they don’t want to seek and ask. But Barnabas and Saul were seeking. They were prepared to hear.

This is the gate of fasting and prayer. I invite you to come on in and see what the Lord has for you this year.

Question: How important to your Christian walk is fasting and prayer?

© Nick Zaccardi 2016

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Fasting, Ministry, Prayer, Spiritual Walk

 

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God’s Reward for Faithfulness

TrophyIn my last post I talked about leadership. Specifically how we as leaders should be faithful to the calling we’ve received. This assumes that I know both the what and the where of my calling.

In the same way, if I’m a member of a local church, and I know both what I’m called to do and that I’m where God called me to do it, then I can stand secure in my calling. I don’t run just because the work gets hard. I don’t get offended, even if nobody acknowledges me.

It doesn’t matter if someone looks at me cross-eyed. I’ll stay at the post God’s called me to. This is because I’m not serving men, but the God who calls and equips me for His service.

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Colossians 1:22-23

This is a big “if.” We all like to think that we’re unconditionally free from accusation. We quote that there is now no condemnation in Christ. But these verses are all contingent upon us fulfilling our call according to the plan of God. It’s not about me fulfilling my plan because I got some people to buy into it.

On the other hand, if you’re truly called, people will begin to see that calling. They’ll stand with you and surround you. But it will not be a private vision. It will be a corporate vision for the people God has given you to as a gift.

Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?
Proverbs 20:6

It’s easy to say that you love the people the Lord has brought you to. The real question is; are you faithfully carrying out your call? Remember that it’s the hireling who runs away when the pressure is on.

It doesn’t matter how spiritual you make it sound. God’s solution is never for you to run away. The only true sign of unconditional love is faithfulness to the plan God has set out for you. Apart from that, all your claims of “loving the flock” are merely empty words.

A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 28:20

God rewards faithfulness. If all you’re after is to become a big name, then God will not support you. If you’re out to prove you can start a great ministry with lots of followers – go right ahead, but heaven has no obligation to back you up.

Too many ministers take churches as “stepping stones” as they “climb the ladder” to a more prestigious pastorate. We don’t do things as the world does. The church is not just a spiritual model of corporate America.

God’s people are a supernatural kingdom under the direct authority of a sovereign Lord. It’s not up to us to choose where and for how long we will work. It’s the King of kings who decides our destiny and, to tell you the truth, I have more faith in His ability to promote me than in my own.

What I need to do in the tough situations is to stand my ground and let the Lord work His will through me. Faithfulness will bring God’s reward.

Question: How has God promoted you in the past?

© Nick Zaccardi 2015

 

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Don’t Run Away

Different AnointingI want to deal with an issue that has severely stunted the growth of the body of Christ. If your goal is to stand firm in your calling, then you’ll find yourself in a leadership position in the church. This is important, because the excellence level of the church will only rise as high as the example of their leadership.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
II Corinthians 15:57-58

There is a dangerous trend in the body of Christ right now toward unfaithfulness in its ministers. The average pastorate is only about two and a half years. Unfortunately, this trickles down to the members.

It seems that church people don’t commit to the Lord’s work anymore. When something happens that they disagree with, they move on to another church. I believe that if someone is truly called, then there should not be this running from church to church.

We know that we have the victory in Christ. The above verse explains that because we have this knowledge we have the ability to stand firm (literally – sit firm). We are to be not moveable. We are to be always super-abounding in God’s effort.

How can we accomplish this? The verse is clear on that point – because we see that our toilthat which requires our strength – was not empty. If I’m going to pour my strength and life into something, then I need to see that it matters in eternity.

Too many leaders in the body of Christ give up because the work starts to get hard. They move on because the people “don’t share their vision.” Or maybe there’s a “personality conflict.” You’ll hear things like, “I have to find a place where God can fulfill His call upon me.”

We’ve bought into the lie that’s a part of corporate America today. Instead of loyalty, there’s trend toward self-promotion. If I can’t get a better pay or benefit package here, I’ll get it somewhere else.

That’s all foolishness. Those statements show a profound inability to grasp what the call of God is all about. That’s why it is of paramount importance that you find exactly where and to whom God is calling you.

A spirit of excellence will take nothing less than the fulfillment of the plan of God for His people. But I’ve found that even many ministers miss the point of their calling.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-13

We’ve heard this Scripture a thousand times, but do we really understand its implications? This verse, in context, is talking about the gifts that God has given to men. Many ministers get the wrong impression. These are gifts to the church. The church people are not a gift to us.

The reason why many leaders miss it is because they have the wrong perspective. They think that God has called them to a work, and now they have to find people to help them fulfill it.

As church leaders, we need to realize that the work of the ministry is not about us. We are called to a people. We are then given a vision for the work that we’re to lead them into. A leader is to receive God’s vision for the body of believers, then work to bring them into it.

Question: What’s your vision for the work God has called you to do?

© Nick Zaccardi 2015

 

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Defining Love

Snow HeartWe talk a lot about desiring to see God’s power working through us. But I think there’s something that we overlook sometimes. Without increasing our love-walk, we’ll never experience all that God has for us.

You can understand all the concepts of vision, calling, and the power of God, but love is the attitude that ties them all together. If you want to develop a Spirit of Excellence, then it can’t be attained without developing love. The Scripture makes it abundantly clear that apart from love, you’ve missed the way of excellence altogether.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
I Corinthians 13:1a-3

It’s clear that as far as God is concerned, it doesn’t matter what you do or how great you build your ministry apart from love. If love isn’t the main ingredient, you’re only spinning your wheels.

It doesn’t matter what the size of your congregation is or how many churches call you Bishop. God is looking for the evidence of love flowing through you. Faith and love are the two non-optional requirements for ministry in the Word of God.

But let’s start at the beginning. Do you really understand what love is? People have so many ideas. Let’s see what God has to say.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
I Corinthians 13:4-6

Think about what this verse says – patient, kind, not rude, and not easily angered. Are there any times during which we have a better chance of doing this – times when it feels more natural? Of course, this happens when we’re around people that we like; when we’re with our friends. I was first able to grasp this concept while reading the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

We must first understand that this type of love carries with it no emotional attachment. It’s purely based on decision and will. Over and over again in the Scriptures we’re commanded to love.

If it were based on emotions, it wouldn’t work any more effectively than commanding someone to laugh. You can only command something that’s an act of my will. True love cannot be based upon emotion, it must be my choice.

I find that it’s easiest for me to treat people I like in this way. Sometimes I choose to treat them correctly even if I don’t feel like it, simply because I like them. This brings us to the definition of love that I first heard from C.S. Lewis.

The way of love is to treat people as if you like them – whether you do or not. Also, I would add, whether you know them or not and whether you are in their presence or not.

Question: How does this definition compare to what the world thinks about love?

© Nick Zaccardi 2015

 
 

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