Sunday, July 14, 2013

Explore Your Options

     We're creatures of habit.  Chances are, most of you reading this blog sit in the same general section, if not the exact seats, every time you attend church.  Am I right?  Granted, some people fly by the seat of their pants more than others, but we all have certain ways of doing things without thinking much about them.  Like personal hygiene or getting ready for bed or eating and exercise habits (or a lack thereof).
     This holds true for our relationship with God and what transpires during the time we spend with Him.  Depending on the church culture that is responsible for shaping your perspective of God and your communication with Him, we all have varying spiritual habits that comprise our time with God.  Some people are more disciplined to abide by these habits than others, but we all have the tendency to gravitate towards certain values that were presented to us early in our Christian walk. 
     What I am about to list are options that I would encourage you to explore in God.  Allow me to explain.  Certain groups in the body of Christ instill the importance of Bible reading above all else to the people within their reach, whereas other groups stress the necessity of spending quality time in daily prayer.  And yet others emphasize private worship and the confession of the Word, and the list goes on and on.  Point is there are varying priorities that are laid out in different churches that motivate people to communicate with God in a specific way.  Maybe it's time to explore some additional options. 
     I think we'd all agree that prayer and Bible reading are both important for believers to engage in consistently.  What we wouldn't agree with is the amount of time we should pray and the amount of Bible verses we should read every day.  Truthfully, there is no clear-cut formula laid out in the Word for us to follow, so there is room for private interpretation and application here.  What we do know is that the Word encourages us to welcome the ministry of the Spirit to assist us in communicating with God on multiple levels.

     John 14:26 - "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you."
     Ephesians 6:17,18 - "And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints."
     Romans 8:26 - "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
     I Timothy 2:1 - "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men."
     James 5:16 - "...the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."

     After reading these Scriptures, you can easily conclude that there are a variety of types of prayer/communication with God and that the Spirit wants to help us function effectively in them.  I'm going to break our communication with God into 3 categories (prayer, word & worship) and then proceed to list a number of subcategories that pertain to these areas.  I will also give a brief description of each area that presents an opportunity to commune with God. 
     It's up to you to explore these avenues of communication with God.  And allow me to highly recommend the Holy Spirit as your personal navigator!  Take God out of the box of your religious upbringing.  Not that it is bad, just possibly incomplete.  There's more to God than any of us know at this very moment, so let's explore our options in Him!


1.  Petitions - asking God to do something for you or in you, or to give something to you
2.  Intercessions - praying for the needs of others or situations outside your control
3.  Questions - asking God questions from your heart
4.  Sharing Burdens - expressing your feelings, thoughts and desires to the Lord
5.  Silence - waiting in the presence of the Lord, listening for His voice in your heart
6.  Submission - surrendering your desires to God so He can reshape them according to His will
7.  Tongues/Interpretations - edifying yourself by speaking in unknown languages the Spirit enables you to speak in and interpreting mysteries that are spoken by the Spirit through the person with this spiritual gift
8.  Warfare - putting a stop to the work of demons and liberating the ministry of angels


1.  Reading the Word - verse by verse, chapter by chapter reading of various books of the Bible
2.  Studying the Word - a much slower pace than reading, paying attention to details and investigating original languages, culture and history behind Scripture
   a. Topical Study - focusing on a particular theme throughout the Bible
   b. Book Study - focusing on a particular book of the Bible
   c.  Character Study - focusing on a particular person in the Bible
   d.  Word Study - focusing on a particular word or phrase that is repeated in the Bible
3.  Meditating on the Word - thinking deeply about words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and sections of Scripture to gain a deeper meaning than what is on the surface
4.  Memorizing the Word - committing various verses to memory
5.  Confessing the Word - speaking the Word out loud to activate your faith and to renew your mind with God's thoughts
6.  Prophesying the Word - speaking God's promises over your life and others


1.  Thanksgiving - thanking God for what He has done and for what He has given you
2.  Praise - giving God credit for His good deeds, speaking well of Him
3.  Worship - telling God how much He is worth to you, loving Him because of Who He is

     As you can see from the list of options above, there are many different directions your time with God can go. That's why it's important to ask the Holy Spirit to lead you and to teach you how to pray, just like Jesus' disciples asked Him.  Believe it or not, whether your prayer life is effective or not depends on you allowing the ministry of the Holy Spirit to be active in your heart and life.  Personal devotions aren't just about asking God for stuff and reading a really cool Book.  They are the pursuit of man after the heart of God while depending on the Spirit to help us communicate with God in  such a way that we know Him more, become more like Him and see Him involved in our daily lives.
     For those of you who have read the Bible but have never studied it, get ready for a spirit of revelation and wisdom to hit you, bringing the Word alive in your heart and generating a faith for God to make an impact in your life with what you have discovered.  For those who have always talked in prayer but haven't listened for His voice, get ready to discover that prayer is a two-way street.  God is going to train you to discern the difference between His thoughts and yours.  You get the picture.  When you step out of your comfort zone and explore your options in your time with Him, there's no limit to what God can do for you, in you and through you!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Wilderness, the Mountain, the Garden & the Cross, Pt.2

     Then there was the garden, the garden of Gethsemane.  You would actually have to ascend the Mount of Olives first to get to this special place where Jesus often met with his disciples.  On the night of his betrayal Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him for a season of intense prayer, knowing his life and ministry were coming to a close.  Unfortunately, their own fatigue overpowered their willingness to support Jesus in his time of need.  This is indicative of our need for the Spirit to enlighten us and to empower us in our prayer lives, no matter how good our intentions may be. 
     Jesus knew he didn't have it in him to follow through with Calvary without a fresh dose of God's life and strength. Through the surrender of his will to the Father he received the passion to persevere all the way to the empty tomb.  It was there in that garden that Peter tried to resist the arrest of Jesus by cutting off the ear of the high priests' servant.  But Jesus knew through "surrender" that it was all part of God's plan, therefore he submitted to their agenda and even healed the servant's ear in the process.  What grace!  Jesus learned that prayer was just as much about submission to the Father's will as it was  speaking forth His will to change circumstances.
     As Jesus hung on the cross prayers still flowed out of him.  His relationship with God was made open for all to see.  It started in the wilderness where he was alone with God and then proceeded to include some disciples at times and now became apparent for all to see.  Three crucial prayers came forth there on that tree.
     The first was a question:  "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  I believe God answered him with a vision of you and I.  Hebrews 12:2 says "that for the joy set before him he endured the cross."  This prayer should inspire us to honestly ask God the difficult questions in life and to allow Him to answer us with wisdom that defies human understanding. 
     The second prayer was a plea for the Father to forgive not just his executors, but all of humanity, "for we know not what we do."  It was all of our sins that put him there, not just the Romans who crucified him or the Jews who handed him over to the Romans.  This prayer for the forgiveness of others not only applies to our need to forgive those who wrong us, but also to the necessity of putting others into God's hands.  Exercising our faith in God's ability to move in the lives of others helps us to relinquish control and walk in His grace.  It's liberating for us and empowering for others.   
     And the third prayer was a committal of his spirit into the hands of the Father.  They didn't take his life, he laid it down.  These were the last words out of his mouth before he died.  We should take this as our cue to continually present our spirits and our lives to the Father, willingly accepting what He thinks is best and humbly asking for His best for us.  Even as the clay is on the potters wheel, we should invite our heavenly Potter to have His way in our lives in concrete ways. 
     From the wilderness to the mountain to the garden to the cross, Jesus walked in relationship with God continually.  Yes, the Spirit of God helped him do what he did, teach what he taught and endure what he endured.  But it was because he looked to heaven for help.  He got away from the busy-ness of life and ministry to recoup his strength, to refresh his spirit and to hear what God was speaking to him in each moment of his journey.
     With so much spiritual ministry available to us, it's easy to bypass our true need to connect with the Father just like Jesus did.  We can easily convince ourselves that we don't need to spend quality time with the Father because we have received His life through the ministry of others.  But this is a trap!  Dependency on the ministry of others never produces true spiritual maturity.  God wants you to learn to be dependent on the Spirit on a daily basis.  What better way to train you for this than spending quality time with the Lord under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
     Others who devote much of their time ministering to others can fall into another trap:  looking for ways to minister to others only to neglect their primary need to receive spiritual life directly from the Father.  When this happens, bible study is dominated by the pursuit of the next Sunday morning sermon.  And prayer time is consumed with lifting up the needs of others.  Not that these things are wrong, but when God takes a back seat to "ministry" something is wrong!  Without putting God first, spiritual life will eventually wane and spiritual burnout will occur. The needs of people will weigh you down because you weren't meant to carry others' burdens to the neglect of your own and that of your family.
     I would encourage you to dig in a little deeper.  Look at Jesus' prayer life and its corresponding effects on his relationships and ministry.  He didn't force things to happen.  He recognized them as they were happening and cooperated with the Father's desire to express His love to others.  As Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, "come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 
     Religion will wear you out but Jesus will refresh you with the flow of God's Spirit!  If there's one thing we need to learn from Jesus, it's how he made prayer a priority and how that prepared his spirit to cooperate with God's Spirit in his life.  Even as the disciples of Jesus asked Him how to pray, ask the Lord to lead you by His Spirit in your time with Him!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Wilderness, The Mountain, The Garden & The Cross, Pt. 1

     As the Son of God, Jesus came to reveal who God the Father is.  But as the Son of Man, Jesus demonstrated how we can walk in relationship with the Father.  It's all too easy to assume that the supernatural life and ministry of Jesus were a result of his divinity, but keep in mind that he didn't do any miracles until the Spirit came upon him after his baptism at age 30.  And Jesus even said that he couldn't do or say anything that he didn't first sense his Father leading and empowering him to do or say.  The divinity of God was revealed through the humanity of Christ, and the same opportunity awaits you and I.
     It's amazing when you think about it.  We are also called sons of God and are given the same invitation to participate in God's life that Jesus demonstrated for us.  It only makes sense:  if Jesus depended on the Father for a continual supply of divine life, then so should we.  Unlike the children of Israel in the wilderness, divine life didn't fall from the sky for Jesus to find and eat.  Jesus had to make a concerted effort to get away from the multitudes and even away from his closest disciples at times to maintain his connection with the Father through consistent prayer.
     Scripture gives us insight into the prayer life of Jesus which should inspire us to follow in his footsteps.  If Jesus did miracles because of his divinity then there wouldn't have been a need to stay connected to the Father through prayer.  But that was not the case.  Consider this:  Luke 5:16 reveals that Jesus "often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed."  Prayer wasn't something that he occasionally did as the need arose.  It was something that he consistently did because he knew that as a man he needed God's strength, refreshing and guidance to fully participate in divine life, which enabled him to resist temptation and to fulfill God's will.
     We know that Jesus spent 40 days praying in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry, which actually set a precedent for the next few years.  It was this same wilderness that Jesus returned to time and time again, knowing that "man doesn't live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."  Jesus made it a priority to talk to God and to listen for His voice because he knew that there is life-giving power in God's words, whether they are heard, meditated on, confessed, prayed, prophesied, sung, taught or proclaimed.  Living off yesterday's Word will eventually lose its power just as manna gathered by the Israelites grew stale if not consumed within 24 hours.
     When Jesus sensed a need in his human spirit for a divine reload he would attempt to find a quiet place but the crowds often hunted him down and made it difficult to get alone with the Father.  But he persevered nonetheless and found time and a place to spend with God.  There is an obvious lesson to be learned and applied here.  There are many hindrances to prayer, even noble ones that need to be set aside for the priority of receiving divine life from the Lord and cooperating with His will for our lives through prayer.
     Then there were special times Jesus spent on the mountain with the Lord, sometimes all night long.  Luke 6:12 says this was the case the night prior to choosing and identifying the twelve disciples from the larger group of disciples.  Jesus also took Peter, James and John with him to the mountain (probably Mount Horeb) for a season of overnight prayer on what is known as the "mount of transfiguration."  Toward the end of his earthly ministry Jesus would teach in the temple by day but at night He went and stayed on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37).  Luke 22:39 says that this became his regular custom, possibly in preparation for what he knew was his last season of ministry.
     It's interesting to note the special privilege that Jesus extended to his close disciples in terms of letting them know where he was praying so they could find him if need be.  He kept this information private because of the crowds.  After feeding the 5000 "Jesus was praying alone and his disciples joined him" because they knew right where he was at (Luke 9:17,18).  Also, Luke 11:1 tells us that "as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray..."  Once again, they knew right where he was.
     It seems that Jesus placed great importance on getting away from the many needs of people long enough to get his own needs met by the Father, so that in turn he could be empowered to meet other peoples' needs.  It also seems that he thought it important enough to involve his disciples in his prayer life at times so they could get a glimpse of what a dynamic interaction with the Father looks like.  It was through this access into his prayer life that his disciples developed a hunger to know God for themselves.  Hence they asked him to teach them to pray.  And Jesus did just that.  He gave them an understanding that prayer isn't just our way of getting God to do what we want or to twist His arm to meet  our needs.  It is the opportunity to know Him, to be transformed by Him and to make Him known.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I Have a Dream

   I Corinthians 12:4-7 "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all."
   Isaiah 2:2 "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow to it."
   Revelation 7:9,10 "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
     I dream of a day that we no longer gather around a particular doctrine or a favorite minister or even under a denominational flag.  I dream of a day that we no longer gravitate toward people of the same skin color or personality type.  I dream of a day when Christ Himself will be the center of attention, a day when diversity is celebrated in the presence of the King, a day when unity is redefined by the Spirit of God who unites His people by manifesting the multi-faceted glory of Christ in our midst.  And not just when we get to heaven; when we allow the love that defines the culture of heaven to invade our hearts and re-shape our gatherings here on earth. 
     I'm not talking about doing away with organizations or abolishing doctrinal statements or removing ministers from the pulpit.  I'm talking about a monumental shift in what motivates us to be connected to the body of Christ.  For instance, do you attend "the church of your choice" because you happen to believe the same things that are taught from the pulpit?  Or maybe your children like the kids' ministry and/or there is ministry available for your teenagers.  Or is it because there are adequate restrooms and parking, enjoyable music, comfortable chairs or a pastor whose personality clicks with yours?
     Perhaps you enjoy the prevailing teaching style or the predominant order of worship and traditions that are practiced.  Or maybe you go to a particular church because that's where your family attends or because it is down the street from your house or because you happen to be the same race as those attending.  You might even attend your church because your paycheck depends on it. 
     The motivations are endless but allow me to provoke your thinking with these questions:  since when did consumer Christianity trump the leading of the Spirit in our lives?  When did it become our right and responsibility to "church shop" based on our preferences and desires?  Does the lordship of Christ pertain to our spiritual relationships or not?  I believe that it most emphatically does!
     If Christ is "the head of the church," and he is, and if God "sets the members in the body just as he pleases," and He does, then shouldn't we seek His guidance when it comes to connecting with the body of Christ?  Do we really think we know what is best for our lives without conferring with the Father?  Left to our own judgment, our tendency is to allow our comfort level to dictate our involvement with other believers.  That's why it is easier to attend a church consisting of people who look, talk, sing and act just like you.  Unfortunately, this might not be God's best, especially in light of the diversity of gifts that he wants to manifest to all of us.  If our church life focuses on just a few of God's bountiful gifts, we limit the revelation of Jesus in our lives and often grow in unbalanced ways.
     May I submit to you that the American church at-large has been influenced far too much by the free enterprise, competitive market-driven business culture and far too little by the all-inclusive love-motivated atmosphere of heaven.  It seems that local churches attract potential clients/members by the brand of Christianity and the caliber of programs they have to offer versus the love that invites others into covenant relationships.  Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with talent, excellence, creativity and organization when it comes to ministering to the needs of people, provided that love is the motivation behind all of our "spiritual commerce."  The temptation is for us to get the cart ahead of the horse, and when this is the case we fall into the rut of a false sense of unity that ultimately separates us from the diversity God has sanctioned for us to grow into His fullness.
     There are tremendous benefits to connecting with people who are not like you, primarily because it is God's way of breaking you out of your comfort zone, which greatly limits your spiritual growth and usefulness.  And this starts with the humble recognition that you don't have all truth or giftedness that entire body of Christ has to offer and that you need others to help you along your journey.  This same humility also helps you recognize what you have been given by God and your responsibility to minister that to others.  This applies to individuals, pastors, churches and denominations.
     My challenge to you is to surrender your spiritual relationships to the Lord, allowing His lordship to establish your connection to the church as He intends.  The Lord might lay it on your heart to make personal connections within the organization you are already involved with.  Personal relationships are a great way to exchange spiritual life and giftedness through healthy fellowship.  Or perhaps you should submit your usefulness to serve in a ministry department within your church.  Some of you may even have a desire to start a brand new ministry that involves you reaching out to others in a specific way.
     For those of you are really up for a challenge, consider how you can expand your current comfort level by engaging in a relationship with a believer who attends a different denomination than you.  Don't focus on your differences; share the life of Christ that you have in common.  As the relationship develops you can learn from each other without forcing personal beliefs on one another. 
     For pastors who may be reading this, maybe you should take another pastor out for lunch who believes differently than you.  Rather than arguing about doctrine, look for ways you can encourage eath other.  Or maybe you should invite a guest speaker to your church who has a ministry that is foreign to your church culture, and yet biblical.  This will equip people in your church with a greater appreciation for the diversity God has placed within his body, which is the exact thing we need to mature in Christ. 
     Venturing into new territory can be a little nerve-racking, but if we follow the Spirit in this regard we won't be disappointed.  The fullness of Christ will be revealed to us, formed within us and released through our lives to those in our sphere of influence.  Jesus said that "the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another."  It's one thing for the Baptists to get along, but when Baptists and Methodists and Church of God folk start getting along and cross-pollinating the way God desires, we will experience the greatest harvest of souls we have ever seen!
     All of creation reveals the diversity of God.  Just look around and you will notice the limitless splendor of our God in animal life, plant life and in everything else He has created.  Don't believe for a minute that the church of Jesus Christ is any different!  One day we will all worship God in heaven together in a spirit of unity that is fueled by our passion for the Lord.  Don't live the lie that we can't experience that on this side of heaven.  We absolutely can!  With man this is impossible, but with the Spirit of God leading us into our destiny, we will achieve a level of diversified unity that will be a magnet for the world to be attracted to our great God!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Season for Relationships, Pt. II

     The story of the prophet Elijah in I Kings 17-19 paints an excellent picture of those who try to carry the burdens of life on their own.  Just after Elijah called fire down from heaven to consume the sacrifice on the altar of Baal, the king's wife Jezebel sent intimidating threats to him which quickly changed his disposition.  One minute he was a mighty man of faith and power and the next minute he became a coward who ran for his life.  Not only did fear get the best of him, but he became depressed and suicidal.
     God responded to his situation by sending an angel on two separate occasions to strengthen him with some "angel food cake" but after eating it, Elijah still couldn't shake his predicament.  In addition to the food, the angel spoke a message to Elijah that went in one ear and out the other:  "The journey is too great for you."  Unfortunately, Elijah thought the angel was just talking about the need to eat to have energy for his travels.  (More on this later)
     Forty days later, Elijah came to Mount Horeb and entered a cave with the resolve to give up on his spiritual calling.  In that lonely place the Lord asked him this simple question:  "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  Contained in the question was a statement that implied that he wasn't supposed to hang out in caves.  God had called him to be his prophetic mouthpiece, not a refuge on the run. 
     Elijah's response revealed that he had yet to learn what God was trying to teach him through this situation, so God told him to leave the comfort zone of his cave for a lesson in the classroom of God's creation.  God caused a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire to manifest in Elijah's clear view, and Scripture notes that "the Lord was not in" any of these forces.  Then God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice.  I think God was making the point that circumstances should not dictate how we live our lives.  The voice of God should direct our steps.  In Elijah' case, a manipulating woman should not incite intimidation, thus silencing his prophetic voice.  Something was missing in this equation and God was determined to help Elijah see just what that was.  So God asked Elijah again "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
     Of course God already knew the answer to his own question.  He was simply trying to get Elijah to see himself from another perspective other than his own, which was skewed by the fear that drove him there in the first place.  But Elijah didn't get it.  He responded to God's 2nd question  with the identical answer he gave  before, revealing that he didn't learn a thing from God's attempt to arrest his attention through the wind, earthquake and fire. 
     The latter part of Elijah's response sums up what was missing in the equation of his life:  "I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."  Elijah truly believed that he was the only godly man left in Israel and that his days were numbered.  But God burst his bubble by telling him that He had 7000 more people who had not bowed their knees to Baal, the god of Jezebel and those who conformed to her control.  What Elijah didn't realize was that Jezebel was forcing him to bow his knees to Baal by submitting to her influence.
     Unfortunately, Elijah missed his window of opportunity to recover out of his pity party of one.  Two angel visitations, two words from God and a visual aid later, Elijah still couldn't shake loose from the pride that blinded him from his greatest need:  the strength of relationships.  The angel said it quite well:  "The journey is too great for you."  Elijah's greatest need wasn't nutrients for a physical journey; it was the strength of spiritual relationships for his spiritual journey.  
     How would the story have changed if Elijah had someone to encourage him through his Jezebel nightmare?  How many more miracles would he have performed if he would have had an ear to hear the truth about his situation?  How many more people would have benefited from his prophetic ministry had he made the effort to connect with the other 7000?  Elijah is definitely known as a great Old Testament prophet whose words of faith activated the power of God, but I think his greatest message was spoken through his very life itself.  He would want us to know the power of relationships in times of crisis.   
     If you wait until you're in a crisis to reach out for help, you might receive ministry but you won't necessarily develop relationships.  But if you develop relationships prior to your crisis, you will undoubtedly have a support system to help you through.  Unfortunately for Elijah it was too little, too late.  But it's not too late for you!  You can believe God for the relationships you need to succeed in life and to fulfill your calling.  You can submit your current relationships before the Lord for His divine adjustments.  And you can surrender your will to the Father in exchange for His wisdom to do your part in each relationship.  Don't allow circumstances to dictate your relationships.  Let the word of the Lord have its course in your life! 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Season for Relationships, Pt. I

     I Corinthians 12:18 "But now God has set the members, each of them, in the body just as He pleased."
     II Corinthians 1:21-22 "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee."
     Acts 13:2 "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
     Matthew 19:6 "...what God has joined together, let not man separate."
     Although I pray for those who are closest to me on a fairly regular basis, from time to time I feel led to focus my prayers on relationships as a whole.  Not only do I pray for those who have a special place in my heart, but I also pray for the relationships God has yet to bring into my life and the relationships He wants to restore.  I ask the Lord for wisdom to enter new relationships, to develop existing relationships and to exit relationships, if need be.  I also try to be sensitive when He tells me to accelerate a relationship or to slow one down a little.  I don't believe relationships have to be black or white, all or nothing.  Adjustments are necessary to keep things healthy and productive.
     I find myself in such a season right now, and I am utterly amazed at God's ability to orchestrate relationships in our lives when we exercise our faith in Him!  Jesus often told people that they were healed "according to their faith" or that "their faith made them whole."  I find that this principle applies just as much to relationships as it does to healing.  I normally don't talk much about myself in the blogs that I write, but I have a hunch that my testimony will encourage a number of people to believe God for relational alignment which will accelerate spiritual growth.
     By reading the scriptures listed above, you can easily come to the conclusion that God does indeed bring people together for His purpose.  This purpose can be for fellowship, discipleship or team ministry.  I strongly believe that we shortchange our own spiritual growth and calling when we go through life with a lackluster approach to relationships.  Relationships are worth believing for.  And relationships are worth fighting for.
     About 6 months ago I was enlightened to the fact that I had let some relationships slip away and that I was isolated by my own choice.  I began to notice my spiritual life "gauge" spiraling downward even though I was exercising my spirit through prayer and the Word.  Then the light bulb went off.  My relationship with God was incomplete without the relationships that God has assigned to my life!  I was trying to bear my burden aone, which runs contrary to what God said in the beginning:  "it's not good for man to be alone."  This is not to say that I had no relationships with others, but that I was living well below my potential because I wasn't exercising faith for the wisdom of God to make the most of my relationships.
     Just because you attend church services, hear regular sermons by your pastor and talk to people after church doesn't necessarily mean that you are maximizing your spiritual relationships.  Having relationships in your life is one thing, but managing your relationships by the leading of the Spirit is another thing.  Making a concerted effort to do your part in each relationship involves walking in love, which requires you to speak up at times and to be silent at other times, to take action and sometimes  just do nothing.  Discerning the difference can make or break relationships.  Simply put, knowing who has your back and who you can trust are critical in critical times of your life. 
Make sure to read part II of this blog which will be available in just a few days

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Half the Bible, Twice the Impact!?

     Luke 12:48  "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required." 
     I Corinthians 4:2  "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." 

     God is a giver.  He is a giver because He is a lover.  He loved us so much, He gave us His Son.  After His Son gave His life for us, he rose from the dead, ascended back to heaven and gave the Spirit the responsibility of helping us receive all that He has given us.  He gave us His Word to reveal to us His intention to freely give us all good things.  He gave us His Spirit, not only to make us aware of heaven's possibilities, but to help us walk in their reality in our lives here on earth.    
     We love Him because He first loved us.  We aren't initiators, we are responders.  God gave us faith, not so we could use it at our discretion to get what we want, but so we could believe His Word and walk into the reality of His intention.  Faith gives us access into His grace, which is all He is and all He has for us.  
     Faith is quite possibly the most pivotal gift we have been given by God.  Faith gives us the ability to hear His voice, believe His Word and receive newness of life that only comes from heaven.  Exercising our faith in God through vocal proclamation and active obedience enables us to participate in God's supernatural life in the midst of our everyday lives. 
     Faith causes us to recognize the spiritual world around us and to participate in its reality by embracing and releasing the creative power of His Word.  The universe was framed by the Word of God and "our world" can likewise be formed and reformed by the words of our mouth as we agree with heaven and welcome the kingdom of God into our lives.  
     The beauty of the Word of God is that it inspires our souls to live above the challenges of life and at the same time energizes our spirits to break through barriers that limit God's influence in and through us.  This is possible because the Word both imparts faith (Romans 10:17) and activates the faith we already have. (Romans 10:8-10)
     With half the Bible we currently possess, the early church made twice the impact on their world than we have on ours thus far.  Allow me to submit to you that this is true because they were faithful to respond aggressively to what they were given:  the Spirit of Christ, who picked up where Jesus left off.  In order for our generation to experience the kingdom of God the way God intends, we need a radical paradigm shift in our westernized thinking.  We desperately need to be delivered from a culture that places us at the center of attention.  Church life is not about what we can get out of it, it is supposed to be all about Him.
     Last time I checked Jesus promised to build His Church on the foundation of His Word through the ministry of the Spirit, who is the executive director of the kingdom of God in the earth.  The Spirit develops heavenly culture in our lives as we allow Him to carve away earthly culture that stands in opposition to His ways.  This is what it means to "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," (Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Matthew 10:7, Acts 2:37-40) which by the way, was the predominant message of John the Baptist (the last OT prophet), Jesus (the initiator of the NT) and the early church.
     Repentance, which is a continual change of mind and lifestyle, is an absolute requirement to experience greater depths of God's kingdom in our lives.  The atmosphere of heaven permeates the hearts of those who submit to repentance as the Spirit leads them into all truth.  Repentance is not just something we do in order to be born again or something we do in response to an awareness of our sins.  Repentance is the life-long process of submitting our thoughts to God's thoughts.  And the Word of God is a tremendous tool God has given us to help with this endeavor. 
     One clear distinction between the church we read about in the book of Acts and today's church is the approach to God's Word.  To believe something in that era implied immediate obedience and life application.  After all, "faith without works is dead."  But we tend to separate our beliefs from our actions.  This is primarily due to our tendency to "lean on our own understanding instead of trusting in the Lord with all our hearts." (Proverbs 3:5,6)
     This generation is full of professional church-going, sermon-listening, conference-attending, book-reading Christians who equate the accumulation of their biblical knowledge to spiritual maturity.  But spiritual maturity is not measured by the Word of God we are familiar with.  It is evident by the God of the Word that we intimately know and are influenced by. 
     Another noticeable difference between the church of today and that of yesterday lies in the dependence on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Due to persecution and civil unrest, first century believers depended on the wisdom and protection of the Lord for their very survival.  And due to their limited access to the Scriptures, they had to rely on the Spirit within to verify truth when they heard it.  Due to our abundant access to Scripture, I think we depend too much on our ability to process information instead of the Spirit's ministry to reveal truth to us.  
     In our lush Christian culture we tend to fit our church life into our weekly routine, but in the early church it was a way of life.  Their focus wasn't set on fulfilling expected Christian duties.  It was set on engaging their relationship with God and others on a daily basis because they were compelled to do so by the love of Christ.  And because they relied so heavily on the Spirit's ministry from day to day, the Spirit was able to form Christ in them and reveal Christ through them in rapid acceleration, so much that they turned their world upside-down in a relatively short time span.  
     If we can learn and apply just these two lessons from the early church, we too will turn our world upside-down.  We shouldn't read our Bibles with the religious spectacles of our idolatrous culture because we will end up deifying the apostles of old.  They were ordinary men and women just like you and I, who seriously embraced their responsibility to be faithful to the Word and to the Spirit, who authored the Book in the first place.
     Each generation has the luxury of learning from previous generations who have experienced God firsthand.  In its simplest form the Word of God is a collection of stories detailing how generations of old came into relationship with God because they responded to the voice of God in the midst of their frail humanity.  Welcome the fullness of the Spirit's ministry within as you continue your quest to know Him more through His magnificent Word!



Sunday, January 27, 2013

Because I Said So, Part 2

     We have the same Spirit that the early church had, the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and yet our ability to transform our world pales in comparison to the first century believers.  How can this be so?  Now that's a good question that deserves a good answer!  Maybe I'll take a stab at that one in my next blog.  But for now let's dive into some biblical reasons why every believer should diligently read and study God's Word.
     We are all "kings and priests" (I Peter 2:5,9Revelation 1:5,6) and therefore have a responsibility to (1) maintain our own spiritual health (Matthew 4:4, I Timothy 3:11-16) and to (2) position ourselves to hear from God on behalf of others (Colossians 3:16, I Corinthians 14:31).  The Word of God assists us in both of these endeavors.
     God never intended for a special class of people to do all the studying and interpreting of the Word while the rest of us are spoon-fed whatever comes our way.  One of the aspects of the New Covenant that Jeremiah prophesied about was that we would all know Him, "from the least to the greatest." 
     The Word of God reveals God's nature and will, which enables us to (3) progress in our knowledge of Him, which ultimately enables us to live a productive life.  So if we want to know Him more and to make Him known through our lives, then a steady diet of the Word is vital.
     Pursuing a greater knowledge of God's Word is also pivotal to the (4) renewing of our minds, (Romans 12:1, Ephesians 4:23) which is presented as a continual process that requires continual pursuit.  God's thoughts have a way of transforming our thoughts when we allow the Spirit to illuminate His truth to us, even truth that He spoke to others generations ago.  This is possible because "the word of God is living and powerful." (Hebrews 4:12)
     Closely related to the renewal of the mind is the need to (5) counteract the influence of the world with the power of the Word.  The culture in which we live bombards us daily with beliefs, practices, priorities and values that are contrary to God's will for our lives.  In order to recognize these things before they conform us to the world's standards, we must become familiar with the culture of heaven, which is revealed through the Word of God.  We need to be mindful of our kingdom citizenship and to be reminded of the values of the kingdom that should determine how we live our lives.
     Another important reason that believers today should be consistent readers of the Word of God is to (6) familiarize themselves with Scripture so as to detect false teaching when they hear it.  The fact that the New Testament warns numerous times (Matthew 24:4-5, I Timothy 4:1 & II Peter 2:1-3) of false leaders bringing false teachings into the church in the last days should cause us to take measures to safeguard ourselves with truth against these lies.  Deception is much easier to accomplish in people who are not familiar with the truth of God's Word. 
      Notice that I have not listed the accumulation of biblical knowledge as a result or a motivation of reading the Word.  The Bible is a spiritual book and therefore should be treated differently from every other book on the shelf.  Reading the Bible without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can actually be counterproductive.  Paul said in I Corinthians 8:1 that "knowledge puffs up."  When spiritual life takes a back seat to biblical knowledge, you're on the road to spiritual stagnation and pride.   
     Many Christians make the mistake of judging their own spirituality based on their biblical knowledge or past spiritual experience.  And this is exactly the moment that pride forms in believers, thus creating a hindrance to them receiving and walking in newness of life that is available through the Word.  The Word is a powerful tool but please understand that it was written through inspiration and therefore must also be read and understood with the same inspiration of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is our Teacher.  Don't read the Bible without Him.
     In review, here's a list of a few "why's" of reading the Word.  Allow these reasons to motivate you to sit in the classroom of the Spirit, explore the holy textbook with fresh hunger and to walk revelation out in your everyday life.

     1.  Maintain your spiritual health
     2.  Position yourself to hear from God for others
     3.  Progress in your knowledge of God
     4.  Renew your mind
     5.  Counteract the world's influence
     6.  Protect yourself from false teaching 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Because I Said So

     Every child on the planet has probably heard this at one time or another growing up.  And every parent has probably said this in response to the proverbial question:  "why?"  This question is sometimes asked from a sincere heart that is seeking to make sense out of life and certain situations.  But at other times it is projected on authority figures as a challenge to convince them as to "why" they should do what they are told.
     When the question of "why" is followed up by the infamous answer of "because I told you so," this can mean a number of things.  It could mean that the parent doesn't exactly know the answer but wants to be believed nonetheless.  Or maybe it's a lazy excuse for not wanting to take the time to teach or explain something.  Or perhaps it could mean that they want to be obeyed without being questioned altogether.  And then there are those moments when there simply isn't enough time for an explanation just right then.  But sadly enough, the necessary explanation is all-too-often swept under the rug of the next "because I said so."  And the cycle continues...
     Unfortunately, this expression has taught myriads of children that authority figures have no accountability to their subordinates and that blind obedience is expected from those under their control.  My belief is that this mindset has crept into the church.  Many times we are told to do certain things without sound biblical understanding as to "why."  We are commonly told what to do and are often given a particular version of how to do things, but the why is often neglected when a clear explanation is in order.
     Of course the "why" of spiritual obedience should always be substantiated by the Word of God.  Church doctrines (what to believe) and religious traditions (how to do things) carved in the stones of church services and organizational structures are not reason enough to obey.  We need chapter and verse (why).  Anything other than the Word of God which serves as a foundation for what we believe and how we live is a shaky foundation, which is sure to fall under the pressures of life.
      Even Jesus didn't play the "because I said so" card.  He derived his authority from the word of God coming to him from the Father (Matthew 4:4).  In fact, he only spoke what he heard the Father speaking to him.  And he only did what he saw the Father doing.  So when Jesus issued orders to his disciples, he actually did this because he discerned what the Father was saying and doing in their lives, and he wanted them to experience the Father's love.  Jesus then took the time to help them understand some things along the way, but they had a difficult time grasping truth until they received the Holy Spirit later on.
     So the saga continues...  For example, we are told that in order to be good Christians we should read our Bibles every day.  But why?  "Because I said so."  OK, that's not going to cut it anymore.  "Well, because the Bible itself says to."  That's better but really, why should we read the word of God?  What specific purposes should motivate us to study the Scriptures?  And what tangible results should we expect as a result of becoming a diligent student of the Word? 
     Before we look in the Word to answer this question of "why," ponder this for a moment:  believers in the first century by and large DID NOT read their Bibles every day, and yet they experienced exponential spiritual and numerical growth as the gospel was proclaimed in their generation.  You might be scratching your head at this statement, wondering how it could be true.  Allow me to explain.
     For starters, the New Testament was still in the process of being written in the first century and wasn't compiled for quite some time after that.  Secondly, the printing press wasn't invented as of yet, so copies of the Old Testament weren't exactly accessible in their local Christian bookstores.    And thirdly, the vast majority of people in the Roman empire at that time were illiterate, and therefore couldn't read the Bible even if they had one!  For these very reasons, the reading of Scripture took precedence in their public meetings.
     I am not making the case that we don't need to read the Word.  My point is that the early church thrived under the leading of the Spirit despite the lack of the Word's availablilty to them.  With our ability to read and our easy access to the Old and New Testaments, how much more of an impact should we be making in the world in which we live?  
     We have the same Spirit that the early church had, the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and yet our ability to transform our world pales in comparison to the first century believers.  How can this be so?  Now that's a good question that deserves a good answer.  Maybe I'll take a stab at that one later, but for now let's dive into some biblical reasons why every believer should diligently read and study God's Word.

to be continued next week...