Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why Can't I Hear You, God?

It's about discernment!


        I've had to accept the fact that as I get older, my hearing grows more dull.  Oh, I'm not deaf.  Occasionally, I have surprisingly keen hearing -- that is, unless there is background noise.  When that happens, deafness isn't the issue.  Discernment is!  Even when the voice belongs to my wife or one of my children, background noise like the hum of the car engine or background music in a restaurant can interfere with my discernment.  Oh, I know they're talking.  I just can't understand what they're saying.  The problem??  Sometimes we can't do away with background noise.  So we've decided to help the focus with a simple touch to assure we're always looking AT each other when we talk in those environments.  
        But you know, we can develop the same problem spiritually.  Our spiritual ears can get dull and the background noises of our lives begin to drown out what God desires to teach us through His word and our experiences.  Even within the Church, many professing Christians have a surprising unfamiliarity with scripture.  Oh, we might have our favorite verses, but even those are more about "what they mean to me" rather than how the Spirit has used them to transform me into what God wants me to be.  The PRIMARY means by which God communicates with us has become more like an IV bag to hydrate us when circumstances or sin begin to dry up our spirits.  We use it when we need it instead of drinking from it deeply every day.
        What's happened??  Have we become so busy with politics and sports, televisions and smart phones, social networking and outdoor life that we don't have time for God's word?? There is nothing wrong with any of those things UNTIL they begin to crowd out our desire to be transformed by the power of God's word.  When that happens, our spiritual ears become dull and the "noise" from all those other things affects our ability to discern what God is doing around us and saying to us.  
        Jared Wilson wrote in the Threadway Bible study Abide,  
". . . the messages of the environments we're most in and the routines we most practice shape our attitudes and behaviors."  Did you get that??  Where and how you spend your time will shape the way you think and act.  
        Now think about this!!  The Bible, God's word, was not given to help us.  It was given to transform us.  If we truly want to change the world, then we must begin by allowing God's word to change us.  The more time we spend there, the more it will shape the way we think and act.  But in order to do that, it just might require that we turn off some of the background noise that has drowned out the voice of God.  

        What could you give up or what could you change in order to spend some quality time reading the Bible each day?  Try it for 30 days!!  Don't read it in order to "learn" something.  Just pray and ask God to use your reading of His word to transform your life.  He will not disappoint you!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hearing the Voice of God

A Listening Heart

      During a recent devotional study, I was reading the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.  In chapters 48-51, I was captivated by the number of times God said, "Listen to Me" or "Pay attention to Me" or "Listen to this."  Eight (8) times in those three (3) chapters alone, He challenges us to LISTEN.  When we feel as though God is not hearing our prayers, perhaps it is WE and not God who have the listening problem.  Far too many of us have learned to pray by rote.  "Rote" is simply mechanical or habitual repetition of something to be learned.  To learn and do without thought of the meaning.  We bow, perhaps even kneel, and then we immediately start talking as if our prayer time is designed to convince God to see things our way . . . "If it be His will."  We do our habitual quiet time and then head out the door hoping that we will do things pleasing to God.  Such action is akin to trying to assemble a F-18 without instructions.  Perhaps our quiet time would be better spent L.I.S.T.E.N.I.N.G.  God is aching to speak to those who will be still and listen. 
        So how can we become better Listeners?  How can we get better at Hearing the Voice of God?   Here are a few tips:

1)  Start Training Yourself.   When I first started riding in patrol vehicles with law enforcement, I was amazed at their ability to zero in on their own radio call numbers.  Imagine you're in a patrol vehicle.  Music is playing on the car radio.  The officer has installed a CB radio for local contact with his teammates.  You're having a conversation with the officer.   AND there is his lifeline to dispatch -- THE radio.  All of these things are producing noise in the form of speech.  Right in the middle of your conversation, the officer grabs THE radio and says, 'Unit 117.  Copy.  10-17."  You ask the officer how he heard that radio call with all the other noise.  His response is that he has trained himself to zone in his hearing on the words "Unit 117, dispatch."  He developed a sensitivity to those words.   
      We must do the same with God.  Throughout our lives, there will be countless voices trying to speak into our lives.  Some will be positive and constructive and some will be negative and destructive.  Some positive voices will occasionally speak words of compromise to us.  That's why it is SO important that we train ourselves to hear the still, small voice of God, which will most often occur in the quiet and still of our solitary time in HIS presence.

2)  Be Ruthless with Sin!   Perhaps this should have been #1.  Take a look at Isaiah 59:1-2.  Unconfessed and unforsaken sin damages our relationship with God.   We cannot approach Him with those things in our lives and expect Him to hear us or respond.   So we must be ruthless every day to own our sins.  Confess and forsake them.  Make restitution and amends where necessary.  Make life changes where necessary.  And this includes sins of commission, sins of omission, and sins of attitude. 

3)  Ask God to Speak to You Before Asking Anything Else!  Prayer is not about seeking answers or assistance.  Prayer is, first and foremost, seeking God Himself.  So ask Him to speak.  Sit silently for 10-15 minutes and focus your attention on the Father.  15 minutes on your knees waiting to hear the voice of the God of the universe is not too much for you.  In that process, He just might . . .
   * remind you of some forgotten sin or
   * tell you to open His word and read or
   * direct you to some person or activity
      that needs your involvement
Remember -- prayer is not about talking to God.  It is seeking God, His will, His way, His time.  It's conversation which involves listening as much or more that talking.

4)  When You Hear, OBEY!   The more often you disobey, the more difficult it become to hear His voice.  And think about it!  If you don't do the things that He tells you to do, why would He continue to speak to you?  Listen, Trust, and Obey!

5) Ask Him to Speak to You throughout the Day!   Just because you move out of  your war room or quiet time doesn't mean that God will not continue to speak to you.  So be sensitive to His voice throughout the day.  It might come in unexpected ways (burning bush or still small voice), but listen and obey. 

And one last encouragement.  Quit playing it safe!  We limit ourselves during a time when God really desires to do more than we could ever ask or imagine.  (Ephesians 3:20-21)  He desires to glorify Himself, to lift high the Name of Jesus, and to release His Holy Spirit to bring salvation to the lost, healing to the broken, rest to the struggling.  We serve El-Hannora, the Awesome God, El-Gibbor, the Conquering God, El-Shaddai, the God Who Pours Forth Blessing, Jehovah Shammah, the Lord Who is Always Present.  Let's live, pray, listen, and obey like we believe it!


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Whatever You Ask??

Really?  Did Jesus actually say that?  Well, yes He did.  We find those words in Matthew 18:19; 21:22, Mark 11:24, and John 14:13-14; 16:23.  And they are powerful words indeed.  The requests that we offer in prayer are verbal acknowledgements of our dependence on God.  We recognize that God can do what we cannot.  So we pray and we ask.  Such prayer, lifted to the throne of God in sincerity and from a pure heart, will often radically change people and circumstances. 

But let's not get the mistaken idea that our great God is some sort of cosmic game show host who awards a jackpot to those who put in just the right words and phrases.  The God of the universe cannot be manipulated.  Yet, we often try to do that very thing by taking a verse or two out of context and using them in an effort to fulfill our selfish desires.  To that end, the Holy Spirit inspired James to write these words:  "You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it.  You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.  Yet you don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong --- you only want what will give you pleasure."  James 4:2-3 (NLT)

Did you notice the highlighted portion above?? Even though Jesus has told us to ask whatever we will and it will be done, God the Father has the final word.  And if our motive for asking is selfish -- in any way outside of the Father's will -- He does not respond. 

Now it IS possible for every follower of Jesus to be a powerful prayer warrior.  But that power has a price.  To become a powerful prayer warrior requires that we give prayer a place of high priority in life AND that we always subject our requests to the will of the Father.  John Wesley prayed every day from 4am until 6am.  Martin Luther is known to have spent 2-3 hours in prayer.  David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700s, could often be found kneeling in the snow praying for God to open the hearts of native Americans.  He died of TB at age 29.  Tradition tells us that David Livingston, missionary to Africa, died while on his knees in prayer in his hut.  Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, prayed daily at 9am, noon, pm, 6pm, and 9pm. 

To these men, prayer was the fertile soil in which their life work was rooted.  Their commitments to prayer and their obedience to the Father gave them power for their varied callings, circumstances, and cultures.  They knew that prayer was not just an emergency tool to be used in times of crisis.  It is the lifeline of the believer, his/her connection to the Father. 

Yes, Jesus said "Whatever you ask in My Name, believe that you have received it and it is yours."  But that's not a blank prayer check!  It's an invitation to a deeper relationship.  In John 15:7, Jesus said, "If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, (then) ask whatever you will and it will be done for you."  Do you see the conditions for the promise there?  We must abide in Christ and His words must abide in us.  Simply put, Jesus said, "If you do your part, ask whatever you desire and the Father will do His part." 

SO, what is our part?  Let me offer you six things. 

1.  We are to be subject to the Father's willI John 5:14  The more of our selves that we surrender to Jesus, the more our own desires align with God's desires. 

2.  We realize that Jesus is always our Intercessor.  John 14:13  We ask in Jesus' Name because it is only through Jesus that we can approach the Father.

3.  We must be instructed in the truthJohn 15:7   We should be seizing every opportunity to deepen our knowledge and application of God's word.  The Bible becomes our guide for life. 

4.  We strive to obey!    I John 3:22   Our obedience is the outward expression of our faith in and submission to Jesus.

5.  We cling to the promises of God!   Matthew 22:11  This is another expression of faith.  We believe God is faithful and will do what He has promised.

6.  We act on conviction!   Luke 11:9   Daniel 3   In others words, we put feet to our prayers.  In Exodus 14:15, Moses prayed for deliverance and God said:  Why are you crying out to Me?  Tell the people to move forward.    Sometimes, we pray and wait idly for God to act when God might be waiting for us to act in faith. 

God is waiting to hear from you.  He wants to do things that are even more awesome and beautiful than you've dreamt or imagined.  But if you want Him to give weight and power to your prayers, you have to do your part. 

Become a powerful prayer warrior for your family, your church, your community, and your nation!  If you do your part, God will certainly do His. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Reminder of Who's in Charge - Throwback Thursday

I was moved to do a little throwback Thursday post.  God led me to my journal post dated May 16, 2013. Someone needs this today.  Maybe you.

4 days until surgery.  Nine weeks after diagnosis, I will have a radical prostatectomy.  Try saying that 3 times quickly.  During the last three weeks, my emotions have simply blended into a fog.  But fear has given way to resolve and anxiety has given way to that "peace that is beyond human understanding."  

As I approach "C Free Day" (Cancer-Free), let me pass on some things that I have learned over the last 2 months.  Things that have renewed my passion, reaffirmed my values and reordered my priorities.

1.  This hasn't caught God by surprise.  There is no sunrise that He has not already seen.  No road that He has not already traveled.  No valley that He has not walked.  No mountaintop that He has not traversed.  HE IS GOD!  Take a moment right now.  Leave the blog and turn in a Bible to Psalm 139 and read it slowly, deliberately.  Whatever you're facing, He's known about it before you ever left your mother's womb.  So as you face your giant, navigate your storm, or walk that valley, just remember!  He knows, He cares, and He's in charge.  

2.  God does NOT condemn our fear or anxiety.  I wish that I could tell you my great faith cast out my fears when I heard the words, "You have cancer."  It didn't.  My wife was sick in bed when I received the diagnosis.  How would I tell her?  How would I tell my kids?  Why now?  I'm not even 60 yet.  There were questions, concerns, uncertainties.  AND, there were some regrets and unfulfilled dreams and hopes.  I have to confess that there were many moments of fear and anxiety.  And God took me a verse that I've loved for years.  Psalm 103:14 -- "For He knows how weak we are; He remembers that we are only dust." 
God, my Father knows and understands my fear and anxiety and offers Himself as the Answer.  

3.   God's desire is to use these kinds of things to shape us into the image of Jesus.  Sometimes these things are used to correct us.  Sometimes He uses them to redirect us.  Sometimes He will use them to convert us.  He always uses them to teach us.  And ultimately, He will use them to prepare us for future service or ministry to others.  Romans 8:28 is a well-known verse in Christian circles, often quoted to give us hope in the midst of difficulty.  But Romans 8:29 really needs to be linked with that promise.  We do know that God works in all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. But He works in those things (good AND bad) to make us more like His Son, our Lord Jesus.  

4.  God's power is always best demonstrated in our weakness.  That's Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10    Americans are, culturally speaking, prone to be "in charge."  We are control freaks and when a situation is out of our control, it causes stress, anxiety, and a host of emotional responses.  Paul would have done well in America.  But what he learned about weakness is simply this --- when we are weak, that's when God is strongest in our lives.  Faith really is all about letting go and letting God.  When the situation is out of our control, it's good to have intimate relationship with the One Who is really in charge.  

So whatever you're going through, whatever you're facing, remember!  You know the One Who's in charge of it all. Abandon yourself into His hands.  I know I will because I realize that His hands are the safest place to be.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Use US to Bless the USA


An essay by Samuel Adams in the Boston Gazette dated 1771 states:  "The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.  We have received them as fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors.  They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood and have transmitted them to us with care and diligence.  It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us . . . without a struggle or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men."  

Wow!  396 years ago, a small band of courageous men and women stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock. Months of hardship and much loss of life were among the sacrifices made in order to achieve religious freedom in a new, uncharted land.  For 150 years, this "new frontier" flourished, colonized by the British empire and strengthened by the blood, sweat, and tears of noble individuals who believed that freedom was worth the risk, hard work, and sacrifice.  

BUT, control by the British crown increased during that first century and slowly began to choke off some of the freedoms that these folks had risked their lives to attain.  It has always been true that as the size of government increases, the true freedom of the governed decreases.  So, small groups of colonial citizens began to rebel with such tactics as the famed 'Boston Tea Party.' Thus was born the American spirit . . . a prevailing attitude that was absolutely instrumental in winning our freedom.  This spirit, perhaps the most formidable weapon employed by this rag-tag army of colonial rebels, became known as the "Spirit of 76."

In the spring of 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Franklin, Madison, Hancock, and Henry.  Adams and Jefferson, too.  They were all there.  The course of action taken that spring literally changed the course of the world.  It was there that Patrick Henry said, "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, almighty God!  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."  Thomas Jefferson penned these words:  "The God Who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy it but cannot disjoin them."  

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was presented and proclaimed its foundation in this way:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;  that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  Note that phrase, "endowed by their Creator."  With all of their faults, with all of their flaws and character quirks (we all have them), with all the shadows that loomed over their private lives, these men recognized that the true Source of their life and liberty was God.  A new nation was born.  A nation that would become the greatest civilization in the history of mankind.  From the lives of our young men to benevolent needs across the world, no other civilization has ever given so much to defend and help the poor, the weak, the defenseless.  

In the last full paragraph of the Declaration, the framers stated, "We therefore . . . appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions . . ."   Are you familiar with that word, "rectitude?"  Its definitions are "quality or state of being straight; moral integrity; the quality or state of being correct in judgment."  Throughout the process, these flawed men sought the wisdom of God.  Then, by affixing their signatures to that document, they each pledged their lives, the honor, and their fortunes to birth a new nation.   That war for independence cost 5,000 patriot lives.

Freedom has never been free.  It always requires sacrifice and perseverance.  It is tempered with responsibility and respect.  It flows from the hearts of people, NOT the halls of government.  And it is NOT to be taken lightly.  We are privileged still to live in a great nation, this United States of America.  But as citizens of heaven, we have an even greater responsibility, given by Jesus Himself, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14-16)   God is waiting for US to stand in the breach and intercede for a nation that He desires to bless.  (2 Chronicles 7:13-15)

SO, this Independence Day, amidst the Bar-b-ques and ball games, the late morning brunch and the late night fireworks, consider spending some time in God's presence and renewing yourself regarding these commitment:

PRAY - Become a prayer warrior for our nation.  Yes, we have issues and yes, our choices in this critical election year might seem distasteful, but WE are the ones to whom the responsibility is given to intercede for our leaders, our warriors, our children, and our grands.   I Timothy 2:1-4

BE CHRIST-LIKE -  Whatever happens, whoever is elected, whoever is "in charge," remember that there is no authority in place anywhere that is not allowed there by God.  Romans 13:1   So our responsibility is to follow the admonition of Philippians 1:27 -- "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."  

BE INVOLVED  -  Salt that remains in the salt-shaker is of little value.  We are called and commissioned to be the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13)   We cannot positively affect the world by withdrawing from it.  So be an involved, principle-based, values-based participant in our culture. Biblical principles and values communicated with a Christ-like authority in the arena of debate and in the voting booth.  Pray, Be Christ-like, and Be Involved.  And leave the results to God.

HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!  And remember . . . If anyone asks you if they have a fourth of July in England or France or Canada, the answer is yes.  But it's just that --- the fourth of July.  

IF you want to read the Declaration of Independence in full, go to www.ushistory.org/declaration 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

So What's the Problem?

It was a crisp, clear January day in 1977.  My father, who had suffered a heart attack on January 6, had finally been moved from the ICU to a private room.  His first request was a haircut. Just before his barber came in, the doctors stopped by, gave him a quick check and said that everything was progressing favorably.  Shortly after the barber started, my father slumped over in the chair in cardiac arrest.  

My sister alerted the doctor and nursing staff, who responded to find my father blue and unresponsive.  No pulse, no respiration, no sign of life until . . . CPR was administered until a defibrillator was brought in.  With one shock from the paddles, there it was.  A cough, a gurgle, and suddenly, my father was alive again.  It was there that I first grasped the concept of revival.  From listlessness to lifelessness to LIFE because of an external force.  

Alive Again!! That's what it means to be ReVived.  The church of Sardis, found in Revelation 3, was a church with a rich, productive past.  But when Jesus addressed them in Revelation 3, their present was characterized by a listless, lifeless faith. Jesus' words were:  You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead . . ." Some might consider this a eulogy, but it was not. Indeed, it was an invitation to Revival!  Certainly if we or any church are to offer eternal, abundant life to those who are dead in sin, we must be alive and healthy.  

If Jesus' message to Sardis warns us of anything, it is a warning against looking to past glory and victories while neglecting the needs and opportunities of the present.  Far too many individuals and churches fall into the pattern of those who, as Paul wrote, ". . . hold to a form of godliness while denying its power." (2 Timothy 3:5)   Spiritual lethargy is often masked with religious activity.  Adequate attendance and offerings keep us comfortable and, as long as there is no major conflict looming on the horizon, we feel pretty good about things.  

But here is the problem.  A comfortable church is the equivalent to a spiritual couch potato.  Unwilling to experience the comfort and pain of an exercised faith and spiritual growth, we develop a survival mindset instead.  We avoid risks at all costs, we claim possession of what Jesus purchased with His own blood, and we expend our energy just trying to hold on to what we have.  The result is spiritual stagnation and ultimately death.  

What's the answer?   Revival!  But in order to be revived, we must be willing to admit that our health might not be good.  We must admit that we're on a course that is leading toward an ultimate death.  God described it in 2 Chronicles 7:14 as humbling ourselves.  Notice in that verse that the onus for revival is on US.  We must Humble Ourselves, Pray, Seek God's ways, and Turn from Our Wicked Ways.   God waits with great desire to give us Revival.  Perhaps we're just not desperate enough yet.   Leonard Ravenhill is credited as saying "The only reason God has not given us revival is because we're willing to live without it." Sad.  

Now I know the context of these verses.  I know that God spoke these words to Solomon for the nation of Israel at the dedication of the Temple.  But, are they not applicable for us today?  Hear them again.  Read them aloud.  "If My people who are called by My Name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.  My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to every prayer made in this place."  

Sounds like HE might still be waiting to hear . . . from me and from you.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Keep Up the Good Work!!

 For all my fellow followers of Jesus who might be feeling a bit discouraged in your work, here is a story that might help you.  

His name was Herbert, but most folks just called him Buddy.  To a Sunday School classroom full of ten and eleven year old boys, he seemed to be a hundred years old.  He had grown up during the Great Depression, so I'm sure his formal educational opportunities were limited.  Why in the world would he subject himself to the unruly behavior of an unappreciative group of boys Sunday after Sunday?  Perhaps I have an answer.

I was a member of that class.  I don't remember a single lesson he taught.  I remember no powerful principles for life that he imparted to us.  What I DO remember is that he was there every Sunday. Consistently, faithfully, patiently, he attempted to teach a class of boys with very short attention spans and a variety of interests that seemed much more exciting than a Sunday School lesson.  

12 years later, I remember Buddy standing in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit.  In a matter of days, my father's heart had failed and he was snatched from us at the age of 59.  Once again, I cannot remember anything that Buddy said that night, but I will always remember that he was there when we needed support.  

I've thought of Buddy often over the years, wondering if he ever knew the positive effect that his faithfulness, patience, and love had on that class of boisterous boys.  I haven't kept up with my classmates, but I do know one whose life was eternally affected by the quiet, consistent, caring presence of that simple man.  It wasn't what he SAID that influenced my life.  It's what he WAS.

Buddy is a beautiful example for Sunday School workers, pastors, youth workers, coaches, and mentors who might feel like giving up. If that's you, please take a page from Buddy's playbook.  Don't worry so much about what to say.  Just be there!  Be patient, consistent, and loving.  Stay the course! Do NOT get weary and discouraged.  Those things spring from the heart of the devil with the intent to make you give up.  DON'T LET him WIN! The positive effects might not be evident yet, but you are having an effect.  God will use you to change some lives, just like He used Buddy to change mine.  

I never told Buddy how much he meant to me, but I'm sure he knows now.  One day, when God calls me to my eternal home, Buddy will be one of those to whom I will say, "Thank you for giving to the Lord, for I am a life that was changed.  Thank you for giving to the Lord.  I am so glad you gave."  (Ray Boltz)

In writing to the Galatian church, Paul told them, "So let's not get tired of doing what's good.  At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up!"  (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Nothing you do for others in Jesus' Name is every wasted. NOTHING!   So Keep Up the Good Work!!