Friday, December 9, 2016

Things I've Learned in 2016

We're moving quickly toward the end of 2016.  Like you, I always look forward to the challenges and opportunities that a new year brings, but I also like to reflect on some of the lessons learned during the peaks and valleys of the present year.  So here we go with a short list of 5 things I've learned this year.

1.  Satan is an imposter.   Have you ever looked closely at what the apostle Peter says about Satan in his first letter.  I Peter 5:8 says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  Notice that little word "like."  That indicates that this is a simile.  A simile compares two things (often dissimilar things) using the words "as" or "like."  For instance, you might look at a weightlifter as he bench presses 300+ pounds and say, "He's as strong as a bull."  That doesn't mean he is a bull.  

In this verse, Satan is compared to a roaring lion who, in his quest for prey, will lurk in the tall grass until he can find a victim who is isolated, feeble, injured, or sick.  BUT, he is NOT a lion.  He's an imposter who uses his ability to disguise himself even as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)  Rarely will you see him as he really is.  He can approach in a way that appeals to your senses or he can sneak up on you during a moment of weakness or lack of judgment.  So in 2017, STAY ALERT!!! Satan will be seeking ways to distract you, disturb you, and destroy your witness.  

2.  Satan will use fear & intimidation to paralyze!   In I Samuel 17, Satan used a giant named Goliath to paralyze the nation of Israel.  Though they served the omnipotent God of the universe, they allowed this threat, this intimidator to render them helpless before him . . . that is until a young teenaged boy named David showed up.  

No matter how large or oppressive a problem might appear, the God we serve is ALWAYS larger and stronger.  When we, like young David, trust and obey, God becomes our warrior God. He goes before us and fights in our behalf.   In 2017, TRUST AND OBEY!  And hear the words of the angels, the words of Jesus, the words of Father Himself saying "FEAR NOT!"

3.  The Church is supposed to be on Offense!   Jesus told Peter, "Upon this rock I will build MY Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."  Matthew 16:18   Gates are for Defense. They are in place to prevent, to keep, to protect.  According to Jesus, His Church should be on the move, on offense, attacking the very gates of hell to take back everything and everyone that Satan has stolen.  But far too often, we limit our faith activity to what goes on within the walls of our church buildings.  We avoid the gates of hell where we can find those who are far from God.  When Jesus told us to GO, He didn't mean go to meetings, go to fellowships, or even go to Bible studies.  Yet that is how far too many people define their faithfulness.  Jesus told us to GO into the world and proclaim the good news.  Mark 16:15.  So WHY are we still not on the move, marching into the gates of hell to give Good News to those who are far from God? In 2017, remember that church attendance is important for corporate worship, corporate prayer, encouragement and learning.  But ALL of that is pointless if we forsake Jesus' last public command to GO and make disciples.  

4)  We can be on offense without being offensive!   When we go on the offense, we will be confronted by those who do not share our values or beliefs.  But they are people for whom the Lord Jesus died.  They are people whom God the Father loves.  So they deserve our respect and honor even if they are not honorable biblically.  Lost people do the things that lost people do.  So love them as Jesus did.  AND, when we determine to go on the offense, expect spiritual resistance.  Paul reminds that our warfare is not with people, but with demonic powers.  He also reminds us that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual.
Ephesians 6   In 2017, put on the whole armor of God daily and get out of your comfort zone and into a lost world that needs to hear about the Lord Jesus.  Show Him to them by the way you live and speak to them about what HE is doing in your life. Leave the results to the Holy Spirit.  

5)  We need to stop talking to God about the size of our problems and start telling our problems about the size of our God!   Does that sound like a cliche?  Yeah, it does, but it's true! At times, we become so overwhelmed by our problems and issues that we allow them to cloud our vision of God.  But God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  The God we serve is the same God Who spoke the world into creation.  He's the same God Who saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a fiery furnace.  He's the same God Who closed the mouths of lions as Daniel slept in their den.  He's the same God Who raised Jesus from the dead.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:11 that for those of us who trust and obey, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in us.  Jesus encouraged His apostles to have a deeper, greater faith because when they did, nothing was beyond the realm of possibility.  Matthew 17:20   In 2017, when problems and issues loom over your life, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Trust Him and obey Him even in the midst of your trials and He will give you peace and victory.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

You Gotta Serve Somebody

I know that the discussion of slavery makes some folks very uneasy.  Many good people, when discussing slavery, only hearken back to that dark time in our nation's history when slavery was law and a noble race of human beings were treated as sub-human.  But the truth is that slavery is more widespread globally today than it has ever been. Racial and cultural slavery stills exists around the world. Sexual slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry affecting almost every nation and culture across the globe.  I say all this so that you know that I have some understanding of the gravity of this issue.  

Perhaps that's why we in the American Church have avoided the use of the term "slave." There's a stigma attached to it. We've substituted some more sterile terms like servant.  But in reality and biblically speaking, when we turn from our sins and place our faith in the Lord Jesus, the bondage (eternal consequence) of sin in our lives is broken.  We are freed from the power of sin.  Then, we become slaves of God.  In Romans 6:22, the Greek renders us a "slaves to God."  Why is this important?  Because it is the Greek root word doulos, which is used over 100 times, in one form or another, in the New Testament and every time it means "slave."  Most English translations, will equivocate in some instances and use the word "servant."  So what difference does that make?  Well, in the first century Middle East, servants were much like modern domestic help.  They were free, they were often paid, and they could actually quit.  Slaves, on the other hand, belonged to their owners, they fulfilled what they were purchased to do, they were not paid, and they could not quit.  

John MacArthur has stated that "Jesus talked slave talk all the time."  For instance, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, No one can serve two . . . what?  "Masters!"  Yeah, that's right.  When you're a slave, you can't serve two masters.  You belong to one and to serve another is betrayal.  That's slave talk.  In Romans 10:9-10, Paul wrote, If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is . . . what?  "Lord!"  And what does a lord have command over? Slaves.  

Paul wrote in Romans 6:22 that we are "free from the power of sin and have become slaves to God."  Then in I Corinthians 6:20, he wrote, "Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,Who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price." 
When we feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, turn from our sins and to the Lord Jesus, His death on the cross is the price that was paid for us.  We are bought and paid for by the precious blood of Christ.  He owes us nothing else.  We are promised reward, but our service to Him should stem from a heart of gratitude for the salvation He purchased for us.  AND we can't quit.  Earlier in Romans 6, Paul wrote about why he was using the slavery illustration.  In v. 19, he wrote . . . Previously, you let yourselves to slaves to impurity and lawlessness which led ever deeper into sin.  Now, you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.    Note that underlined part.  When we submit to God as slaves to His will, He will make us holy as we commit to righteous living.  Just a baby is not born an adult, in the same way, those new in faith are not complete, mature nor righteous in the beginning.  But as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus as our LORD, we become more like Him

Even in 21st century America, everyone is enslaved to someone or something.  You can deny it, distract from it, or disengage those who point it out.  But because of our sin nature, we ALL are enslaved to something.  If you have never turned from your sins and turn toward the Lord Jesus in faith, you ARE a slave to your sin nature.  But when you confess your sinfulness and your inability to change on your own, then turn in faith and submission to the Lord Jesus, His Spirit comes to live within you.  This gives you an option.  You can yield to the sin nature or you can yield to the Spirit of Christ in you.  The only way for a slave to the sin nature to be set free is to accept the purchase/redemption that the Lord Jesus paid for you on the cross.  When you do, you get a different owner, one of Whom the apostle Paul wrote loves you even when you sin (Romans 5:8)  His plan is to use every situation, every experience, everything mountain top and valley to make you more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29)  Would you trust Him today?  

Right now, whoever and wherever you are, would you turn from a life ruled by the sin nature and turn in faith and submission to the Lord Jesus?  If so, you can use this a model prayer to the heavenly Father:

God, I know that I am a sinner and there is nothing that I can do to change that.  But I also know that's why You sent Jesus to die on the cross for Me.  His sacrifice paid the penalty for MY sins. On this day, I accept Him and His sacrifice so that my slavery to the sin nature can be broken.   And I accept my place as a slave to God, fully surrendered to Jesus as Lord.  Thank You, God, for saving me today!  

IF you prayed that prayer, contact me so that we can get you in touch with a church near you.  They will help you get off to a good start in your faith journey.  God bless!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hello, God??

 Let me offer you a biblical perspective on prayer -- It is universal.  It is as old as humanity and common to every culture.  The gods, the names, and the styles might vary, but in ever generation in every culture, there are people who pray.  

When God created us, He made us unique among all that He had created.  We alone are created in His image.  We alone have the potential for a very intimate relationship with Him.  That type of relationship is probably best displayed in the Old Testament in God's relationship with Adam before his fall into sin and in the New Testament in the Father's relationship with the Lord Jesus.  They walked together, spoke face to face and interacted in ways that no other human being has experienced since.  But when sin entered the world, the special relationship was altered and communication with God took on a new dimension. Genesis 4:26 indicates that during the lifetime of Adam's grandson, Enosh, people began to ". . . call upon the Name of the Lord."  

Since that time, prayer has become a solace, a balm for broken and bleeding humanity.  Culture after culture has practiced the discipline of prayer, seeking to invoke the hope and help of their gods.  They call out to what they don't know or really understand because prayer has always been rooted in the nature of the Creator.  Non-Christians and Christians pray because of God's nature.  He is all-powerful, so we seek His help in situations that are out of our control.  We go to Him because He is consistent and constant.  He never changes.  So we feel that we can trust Him.  God is love.  So we can count on His acceptance.  His nature literally draws us to Him.  And His desire is that we approach Him with our needs (Matthew 7:7-8).
IF I have confused you, let me try to clarify.  The bottom line is that the basis of prayer is the nature of God and His desire to care for us.  

Now there is no way that we can cover every angle on prayer in a lifetime and a half much less in 700 words.  So allow me to touch on just a couple of ideas regarding prayer.

Maxie Dunham, who once edited the devotional guide called The Upper Room makes this statement about prayer:
"In an ongoing prayer relationship with God, the demands of holiness and righteousness are always present."  Why?  Doesn't God accept us as we are?  Well, yes He does!  BUT!! God Himself is holy and righteous.  Both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Leviticus 11:44 & I Peter 1:15-16) stress the importance of God's people being holy.  But we cannot become holy and righteous on our own (Isaiah 64:6).  we are made righteous by our surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We can never be good enough to approach God on our own.  When you see the prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel appearing before God, they fall on their faces and fear for the lives.  Peter the apostle, after the miraculous catch of fish, falls on his knees before Jesus and says, "Get away from me for I am a sinful man."  John the apostle, in Revelation 1:17, upon seeing the risen & exalted Lord, fell on the ground as though he were dead.  Our ONLY access to God the Father is through His Son, the Lord Jesus. 

Now that puts us in a position of paradox.  A wonderful but difficult position.  It is wonderful because we CAN come to God without pretense, just as we are.  Difficult because we must then wrestle with God regarding what sins might have infected our lives and what HE wants us to be and do. 

Prayer is and must be, first and foremost, submission.  In wrestling, two adversaries go at each other until one is pinned or held in a way that causes him to submit.  Every time we go to God, we must first deal with whatever sin has wormed its way into our lives.  As we confess and repent, the blood of the Lord Jesus makes us acceptable to the Creator.  Then comes the expressions of praise and gratitude which can scarcely express how great our God is.  But then comes what some call supplication -- requests, asking, talking TO God.  That's generally when the wrestling match begins because God oft times wants us to listen more than we speak.  Think about it.  Even in conversations with a spouse or a child, listening is an act of submission.  I will be quiet so that I can hear and comprehend what you are saying.   Do you get where I'm going with this??  

God loves to hear us call out to Him.  It doesn't take much to get His attention.  But once we're there in His presence, we need to submit, get into His word, listen for His still small voice and obey what He tells us.  

Did you notice that phone at the top is not red?  It's not some kind of "hotline to heaven."  That's because prayer is not something to be used as a last resort or only in times of emergency.  God wants to hear from you . . . often, like daily. He wants your time.  Not a rushed 140 character prayer before you rush out the door to face the world.  He wants your time, attention, and your submission.  Because as He told the people of Israel through Jeremiah: "Call on Me and I will answer you and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know know." (Jer. 33:3 NIV)   Have you spent time with God today??

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Haba . . . Who?

        What a world we live in now!  The racial division has grown deeper and wider, a 14 year old kills his father and launches into a playground school shooting while yelling "I hate my life." Politically, it is no longer democrat vs. republican or even conservative vs. liberal.  It has become the political "elites" vs. the commons, or as one politician suggested - a 'basket full of deplorables.'  Everyone gets labeled with some dehumanizing word while things wax worse and worse throughout our nation.  There was a time when the United States of America was a shining symbol of freedom, strength, and integrity.  Now, we're in a condition that the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk understood well. 

       Habakkuk is an Old Testament book that is unfamiliar even to most professing Christians. But it is a beautiful prayer journal offering us an inside look at Habakkuk's intimate conversations with the God of the universe.  Habakkuk's ministry probably began late in the reign of King Josiah, who died in 609b.c.   Josiah had led a revival in Judah by destroying the idols and high places in the land and reviving the law of God and the worship of Yahweh.  Unfortunately, his son, Jehoiakim, was NOT of the same character as his father. 

       It was during Jehoiakim's reign that Habakkuk began to cry out to God for help and understanding.  Jehoiakim's reign was marked by oppression, injustice, violence, and disdain for God's law.  It was much like our climate today and Habakkuk grew impatient waiting for God to act (1:1-3)  But God responds NOT with time-specific answers, but with a call live by faith (1:5; 2:3; 3:17-19).  I would say that the theme of Habakkuk's prayer journal is found in Habakkuk 2:4b -- The righteous will live by faith.  It is a biblical principle repeated by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.  THIS is important because living by faith in the God of the universe must be more than just a mantra.  Speaking of faith is mere sanctimony if that faith isn't demonstrated in life.  Simply put, either you trust the Creator of the universe or you don't. 

       Now Habbakuk had engaged in this intimate conversation with God because of his distress over the conditions of his nation.  The spiritual condition, the political, cultural, moral and legal conditions made the nation of Judah ripe for judgment.  And Habbakuk interceded for himself and his nation.  He followed some basic steps that are good steps for all of us who find ourselves facing overwhelming stress, issues, problems and needs.  Martin Lloyd-Jones delineated those steps in his wonderful book Spiritual Depression.  Here is my adaptation of those steps. 

When you find yourself face to face with problems and issues you cannot resolve and don't really understand, here's a plan of action:
1)  Retreat to Plan.   Get away from the distractions caused by the problem and get into the presence of God.  Get into His word, hear His voice, embrace His counsel.  When you want to hear from God and you have the intent to obey, God will speak.  But it is more likely to occur in a place where you are still and focused on Him.
2)  Remember this Principle.   It's not the size of the problem or issue, it's the size of your God that counts.  This is the matter of faith.  Either we trust Him or we don't there is no "middle ground."  Pray in faith, submit to God's purpose and leave the results to Him.    I love to apply Jeremiah 29:11 here.  I know it was written to Israel in anticipation of their exile.  BUT, it's in our scriptures for more than historical purposes.  The principle is the same.  God has a plan and it is perfect.  Submit because He is always good. 
3)  Resort to the Principle.  Once again, this is more than talk.  It's living in obedience.   Don't just remember the principle and talk about the principle.  If you serve a big God, put it into practice.  Everything you know about God, His word, and His promises --- just load it up and believe.  If God says do something, do it!  If God says go somewhere, Go!  If God says wait, be still and know that He is in control. 
4)  Rest in the Payoff.  It's called J-O-Y.  When you live with the constant conviction that God is ultimately in control, there is peace, contentment, and joy even in the midst of chaos. 
When Pontius Pilate to Jesus, "Why don't you talk to me?  Don't you know that I have the power to release you or crucify you."  Then Jesus said, "You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above."  John 18:10   Even as He faced the cross, Jesus was content to trust His welfare, His life into the hands of the Father. 

In all that happens around us and to us, we must remember that God the Father is building HIS kingdom.  Not yours nor mine.  Not even the good old USA.  HIS kingdom. 

So in these perilous and uncertain days, we don't have to understand things.  We need simply to trust God.  And the best thing we can do is get into the presence of God early and often.  And pray the prayer Habakkuk prayed as you pray for yourself, your family, your community, your church, and our nation;
Lord, I have heard the report about You.  Lord, I stand in awe of your deeds.  Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years.  In Your wrath, remember mercy.    Habakkuk 3:2

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 

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!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

If You Feel Blessed But Stressed . . .

 . . . you're in good company.  

I was listening to "Let the Waters Rise" by Mike's Chair.  It seemed appropriate for my mood.  I, like each of you, sometimes feel the weights and pressures of life closing in on me.  It's easy to turn our focus toward the those things that stress us and the danger in that is simple.  You can't focus on two things at once.  Mike's Chair reminded me of that.  Take a look at these lyrics:

 Don't know where to begin.  It's like my world's caving in and I tried, but I can't control my fear.  Where do I go from here.  Sometimes it's so hard to pray.  You feel so far away.  I am willing to go where you want me to.  God I trust you. 

There's a raging sea right in front of me, wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees.  So let the waters rise if you want them to.  I will follow You.   

I will swim in the deep, cuz You'll be next to me.  You're the Eye of the storm and the Calm of the sea.  You're never out of reach.  God, You know where I've been.  You were there with me then.  You were faithful before. You'll be faithful again.  I'm holding Your hand.  

God, Your love is enough.  You will pull me through.  I'm holding on to You.  

Stormy seas often produce flooding.  In 1989, scores of people took shelter at the Lincoln High School shelter In McClellanville, SC to escape the fury of Hurricane Hugo.  That shelter almost became a death trap as the storm surge flooded the building and required many adults to hold children over their heads as they sought refuge on the roof.  The rising waters could have quickly taken the lives of many of the 400+ folks seeking shelter that night.  By the grace of God, no one died there.  

I was pastoring in North Charleston at that time.  I met with some deacons who tried to persuade me to focus more on the JOY of following Jesus when I preached.  Their chief complaint was that I spent too much time talking about valleys, storms, and difficulties.  My explanation didn't change their minds, but I still hold to it.  MOST of life for MOST of us is lived in the storms and valleys and flood waters of life.  Whether it's health issues, employment issues, relational issues, financial issues or any other kind of issues, following Jesus does NOT guarantee that those things will dissipate. When we come to faith in Jesus, the only guarantee we have (other than the certainty of heaven) is that HE will be with us in those valleys, storms, and flood waters.  

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that walking in God's will means the absence of stress.  It doesn't!! You need only to read the Psalms and Ecclesiastes to discover the distress of David and Solomon.  You need only to read of the persecution of the early Church, the stoning of Stephen, the killing of James, the thorn in Paul's side, and the Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 to discover that following Jesus really IS taking that hard road (Matthew 7:14 NLT).  It's not for weaklings, cowards, or quitters.  

In Matthew 14:22-32, notice that Jesus could have stilled the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee that night, but He didn't.  Surely it would have been easier for Peter to step out onto a sea as smooth as glass.  But when Jesus told him to step out, the wind was howling and the swells continued to crash against the boat.  As long as Peter kept His focus on the Christ Who called him, he could literally rise above the normal effects of the storm.  BUT, at the moment he changed his focus from Jesus to the rising waters, he began to sink.  At that point, Jesus reached out to rescue him and said, "You of little faith.  Why did you doubt?"  

For most of us, life will continue to confront us with issues, dilemmas, and stresses of every sort.  The winds will continue to howl and the waters will rise and fall.  Between all the mountaintops, we'll be forced to travel through the valleys.  WHY?  Because that's where ministry is needed.  Those valleys and stormy seas will be littered with hurting, frightened folks and we can point them to the One Who can help them rise above it all.  

So when you find the waters rising in your life, ask yourself a couple of questions:
1.  Have I lost my focus?  Am I distracted from Jesus?

2.  What is it that He desires to teach me in this storm or valley?  Is there someone that I can help because of my experience?  How will He use this to strengthen my witness?  

Distress comes to us all.  Fear is natural.  Questions are OK.  But obedience is the key.  Even when we're afraid . . . even when we don't understand . . . even when there seems to be no answers, keep your faith and keep your focus on Jesus.  His love is enough and HE will pull you through.