Tag Archives: Knowing God

Two Boats and a Helicopter

 

Two boats and a helicopter

The choices we make

I’m sure you have heard the story about the man who faced imminent danger as a result of a flood that begun to ravage his community.  The flood waters became higher, forcing him to retreat to the roof of his house.  On two occasions, individuals in boats beckoned him to climb into their boats and save his life.  But he refused and shouted back from his roof, “I’m a Christian! God will save me!”

Finally, the waters rose to the edge of the roof.  Suddenly a helicopter appeared and begged the man to grab the dropped latter and be saved.  Well, you know what happened!  The man refused and ultimately died.  When he entered heaven, he demanded to see God.  “Why did you let me drown?”  Instead of striking him down with a lightening bolt, God calmly replied, “Hey, I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

As we face the challenges and problems in our life, we often fail to watch and follow the leads that God sends us.  Many of these are given to us before we enter our trial.  However, when we’re in that dire situation, so is God!  God is there AND He wants us to use the resources He has provided for us.  Such was the case with Moses as he faced his first hurdle upon leaving Egypt for the Promise Land (Exodus 14).

After Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, Pharoah had “seller remorse”.  God hardened his heart and caused him to regret letting the Israelite slaves leave (S).  He probably felt like he had been duped.  Who would do the work that the Israelites did?  Egypt’s economy would probably suffer, not to mention their quality of life—who would cook, clean, and serve them?   So much for Pharoah right now, let’s return to Moses’ dilemma.

The dilemma

As Pharoah and his army approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The complaints escalated.  Moses tried to reassure the Israelites that everything would be alright.  He tried to coach them to “stand firm” and “be still”.  God would fight for them! (Exod. 14:13-14).  Moses told them that they would see the salvation of the LORD on that day.  But all they could see were Egyptians bringing up the rear fast.  They could not see God!

As I read this passage, I saw myself when facing hard times and challenges.  I tend to see only what I can look at with my physical eyes—loss of health, injustice, change in relationships, economic uncertainty.

It’s even harder for me to “be still”.  I need to fix this situation and now.  I see only me standing before the Red Sea.  But all is not loss—I’ll tell you why in a few.  Back to Moses.

“Any old help will do.”

I’m sure Moses cried to God.  Exactly what he said is not included in the scripture text.  But the Lord used this moment to speak directly to Moses.  Was God going to tell him that help was on the way?  Was He sending two boats and a helicopter?

The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exod. 14:15).

Moses probably thought, “Really?  Red Sea before me and Egyptians behind me.”  Sometimes when we pray, God’s answers don’t always make sense to us at first. But that’s where our faith in God—His greatness and His goodness—reinforces the need to obey His instructions (Heb. 11:1).

God gave Moses an answer he didn’t expect: “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exod. 14:16)  

Moses had the answer to His dilemma “right in his hand” PLUS the power of God.  Moses and his staff would be the conduit God would use to not only deliver the Israelites but also glorify God.  This act of deliverance would spread throughout the countryside including to the potential tribes in the Promise Land whom the Israelites would need to conquer (Exod. 14:18).

When you need help…

From this study, I came to the following conclusions about what to do when I need help.

    1. Assess what I currently have available to address my problem. I will not only inventory what I have with my “physical eyes” (my mind and my intellect) but also with my “spiritual eyes”.  When I read God’s Word, especially His promises and follow that with prayer, I can expect God to show me what to do.  I have learned that God’s ways, methods, and timing are not the same as mine (Is. 55:8-9).  THEY ARE BETTER!
    1. “Lift up to God” the resources He has already provided for my solution. Moses failed to remember that God had told him that He would go with him on the journey to the Promised Land. He had forgotten how God used Moses’ staff in the court of Pharoah (Exod. 4:3).  Sometimes I refuse to move forward until I have “all the information and answers”.  When that happens, it is important for me to call to remembrance (Is. 46:9,10) where God has stepped in to join me in my battles (2 Chron. 20:6-7, 12).
    1. Move forward. I am still learning each day to move forward when directed by God.  I guess it’s part of being human.  I am learning to move “more quickly” when God directs me and learning to trust Him more.

In my moments of prayer and meditation, I ask God to show me those areas of my life where I sin by being prideful or self-reliant.  He uses that time together to gently redirect my attention away from my problems and look to Him.  God is greater than any problem we may face and better equipped to solve them.  Only God can guarantee our success!

When God created us, He not only placed His purpose within us but also placed the ability to complete that purpose (Phil. 1:6).  As God prepares our path, He also prepares us for the path.  It is our responsibility to believe, to trust, and then obey.

Conclusion

The next time you need help, deliverance, or an answer for life’s challenges, don’t always look for a miracle from God.  He doesn’t need to come to our rescue.  God is always with us.  We daily live not in God’s miracles but by His lovingkindness and grace.  He is there to help us see the resources He has already provided for our escape (Eph. 1:17-20).

Prayer:  O Heavenly Father, grow within us the faith we need for the challenges we face.  Train us to look at our problems as opportunities to partner with You in their resolution.  Forgive us when we lean on our own understanding.  Place in our heart an expectation that You are with us and will always act on our behalf.  Lord, finally, help us to “Go forward” in Your name and by Your power.   Amen

Opportunities in Uncertainty

Opportunities in Uncertainty

 

Josh’s opportunity

Josh had experienced much turmoil and strife during his current job assignment.  There was frequent upheaval among his peers against current management.  Those efforts, fortunately, had been squelched.  As a result of that effort, many of his team members suffered great loss and were not allowed to move forward with the organization.

Earlier in his career, Josh was chosen to be part of a special team to evaluate next steps for his organization.  Because of Josh’s loyalty and his credentials, he was now a candidate for a new opportunity.

Because of the earlier “coup attempt”, many of the older, seasoned members were no longer there.  What remained was a young and inexperienced group, who needed guidance and support in moving the organization to new heights that had been promised to them.

And now, he was being offered a promotion as head of the organization.  But was he ready?  What did he need to move forward?  Was there an opportunity in this uncertainty?  These were possible  questions asked by Moses’ replacement, Joshua (Deut. 31:7).

Ready for an opportunity?

How would we respond if offered the opportunity set before Joshua?  That was the question I asked myself during my morning devotion as I read Deuteronomy 31:1-8 and Joshua 1:1-18.  In both scripture texts, Joshua is repeatedly told several things that would prepare him for his new leadership role.

The first dealt specifically with his reaction to the opportunity.  What were the emotions he felt knowing what lie ahead of him?  Joshua was told to “be strong, fear not, and be of good courage” (Joshua 1:6-9).   But how was he to do that?

He had seen Moses as he dealt with this group of stiff-necked and disobedient people.  He remembered the frustration that Moses often felt in trying to keep them faithful to God and His commandments.  Moses was the great mediator between these people and Yahweh, Almighty God.  Would he be able to do the same?

Fear or dismay?

As I studied these texts, I asked myself (and my husband) this question.  Which is worst—fear or dismay (discouragement)? Is there a difference? Fear is anxiety caused by approaching danger—real or imagined.  Discouragement is described as depression of one’s spirit.  It can be caused by a heavy burden, defeat, an apparent failure, or even sickness.

Both fear and discouragement would be unique challenges that Joshua would need to manage as he moved forward.  Both could potentially lead to failure in Joshua’s assignment to take the Israelites into the Promise Land.  And not only entrance into the land that God promised, but to also conquer the current inhabitants.

Fear or discouragement?  Which one is our biggest threat as we face the challenges of living in these times of uncertainty?  How are we to manage the stresses of life that come both rapidly, continuously, and often violently?

Fear and discouragement are Satan’s “weapons of choice” to hinder and even stop us as we move into God’s purpose for our life.  Satan will often focus on the largeness of the problem and/or the smallness of our ability to stop us in our tracks.

That’s why we need the intervention of Someone who is bigger than the problem and able to do exceedingly above all that we can ask or need (Eph. 3:20).  That Someone is God our Father, made available through His Son Jesus the Christ, and made manifest in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

God’s Promise

In his new leadership role, it was critical that Joshua remembered what God had promised:  It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail you or forsake you (Deut. 31:8). 

Despite the difficult times experienced living in the Wilderness, Joshua saw firsthand God’s love and faithfulness to His people.  God had chosen Israel to be His treasure (Deut. 7:6) and He would make good on every promise He made to them (Joshua 1:5-7).

Joshua had seen God’s great power as evidenced through His miracles and works:  The ten plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and God’s provision during Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:3-4). God’s promise to Moses was the same promise He now made to Joshua:  God would go before him and with him.  God would not fail nor forsake him.     

We daily face changes and challenges, turmoil, and threats.  They are as great and as real, for us, as Joshua’s new leadership opportunity.  But like Joshua, we can rest assured that we can depend on and trust in the promises of God.  God goes before us and with us, wherever the circumstances of life may lead us (Heb. 13:5).

God is more than able to handle whatever may come our way.  He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the ending…which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).  It is in His presence, and under His authority that all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).   So be not afraid nor be dismayed, we are not alone.  There is always opportunity even amid uncertainty when God is with us.

How’s your joy capacity?

Joy Capacity

Joy and strength

Upon returning from exile, Nehemiah told the builders of the new wall of Jerusalem that “the joy of the Lord would be their strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) The type of joy Nehemiah was alluding to was only possible from our Almighty God Who would sustain them through the direst of circumstances.

What sustains you?  In the midst of all our challenges as a nation, in our communities, and in our families, how are you holding up?  How is your joy capacity?  Is the joy of the Lord still our strength today?  Yes!  The principle of joy still resonates even in the 21st century (James 1:2-3; Phil. 4:4).

What exactly is joy?

Joy is defined by Webster as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.  This definition, however, fails to explain the importance of joy in building resiliency, or our ability to “bounce back” from the challenges of life.  It is joy that increases our emotional capacity to handle the difficulties we face while we live in this fallen world.

Joy nuggets

Although we may feel like we have little or no joy left, we must be diligent to “refill” our joy tanks.  I’d like to share just a few “joy nuggets” nuggets so you too can increase your JQ–joy quotient.

We increase our joy when we are in relationship.  I’m not talking about sexual relationship (although that is important) but I mean when we are in fellowship with others.  God said it is not “good for man to be alone.” In response, God created woman to be in relationship with Him. (Gen. 2:18) God Himself was in relationship with the first married couple.

In relationship, joy comes from knowing that the person you are with is happy to see and be with you.  Relationship was key to Christ as we observe His relationship with His disciples and His close circle which included Peter, James, and John

We increase joy when we are in community.  Social restraints and changing technology have made archaic the idea of a physical community.  Remember Mrs. Branch who taught the girls how to play the piano?  Or Mr. Johnson’s “show and tell” sessions about his adventures in the Army.  Or Mrs. Mott’s homemade cider and gingerbread at Halloween.

Community offered familiarity, authenticity, and validation.  Joy was found in acceptance and genuine interest in the individual.   Join a community that can offer these benefits.  Remember the television sitcom, “Cheers”.  At Cheers “everybody knows your name and their all so glad you came.  We want to go where everybody knows your name!”

 We increase joy when we reflect on moments of appreciation.  Think about a person that you appreciate and a time you felt especially grateful to be with that person.

Describe the emotion you felt when you were with them.  Describe what your body felt like when that person was present.  Doing this exercise regularly will raise your joy level.  

Let your joy flow

Although joy might appear to be a fleeting emotion, it really requires that we be intentional in our pursuit of it.

My joy begins first with God, my most important relationship.  It is in time of prayer, reading His Word, and fellowship through worship that I feel my greatest joy.   With Him, I feel safe, calm, and connected.  I feel joy.

Next, I find great joy with family and friends.  It is in sharing meals, recounting stories, and in creating new memories that I find joy.  These times together help me put into perspective what is important and “joyful.”  I share joy.

How is your joy capacity?

What is God revealing?

 

Revealing Hidden Things

As stated last week, secret things belong to God.  Revealed things, however, belong to us and to our children so that we may follow God’s law.  They are truths which God has communicated through the Bible and His Holy Spirit. These also include those things revealed through the whole counsel of God.

This truth, found in Deuteronomy 29:29, falls in the fourth address to the children of Israel by Moses.  It is a summary of the covenant demands and an appeal for covenant obedience (Deut. 29:2-29).

For the Israelites, the secret things of the LORD probably referred to future details that God had not revealed to Moses.  Yet what He had revealed (e.g., future judgment for disobedience, future blessing for obedience, His requirement for holiness, etc.) was enough to encourage the Israelites to follow all the words of the Law.[1]  

Is God’s revealed truth enough to encourage 21st century believers to trust and obey the LORD?  To answer this question, let’s consider four (4) tenets of faith currently revealed by God in His Word and through His Spirit.

These are not meant to be exhaustive, but have proven to anchor one’s faith during tumultuous times (Heb. 6:19).  As we look at our current world situation, it is easy to become weary.  Hopefully, these revealed truths will encourage us not to “lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).

What has God revealed?

Our Knowledge of Him (2 Pet. 1:3-5).  Jesus came not only to acquire our salvation but to also manifest (reveal) the Father’s name (nature) to His children (John 17:6; 26).  Armed with that knowledge, we believers have access to divine power and precious promises.  God has also provided us with spiritual wisdom and insight through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

Our Identity (Eph. 1:3-4). Identity is defined as the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognized or known.   God chose us to be adopted as sons, heirs and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Our identity also connects us with other believers in God’s universal Church.  Because of our identity we have access to everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and His kingdom. (Eph. 2:10)

 Our Salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are new creatures in Christ.  Because of Christ’s substitutional death on the Cross, we have been set free from the penalty and power of sin in our life.  This freedom will be fully experienced once in heaven where we will be delivered from the presence of sin (Rev. 21:4).

Our Hope (Rom. 4:18-21).  Hope is simply defined as the expectation of future good.   “Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world’s definition of hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen.”[2]

What keeps us from trusting what God has revealed?

One reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we fail to recognize it.   In the 2020 Barna study, Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith”, it is noted that there are fewer “faith engagements” occurring among both believers and non-believers.  These include Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance.  These activities are critical to gaining an understanding of what God has revealed in the past and what God is revealing in the present.

The U.S. population is undergoing major religious, social, demographic and digital change. The rise of digital life, including social media, the economic crisis, changing attitudes about social issues and the emergence of younger generations on the scene are some of the factors that are likely to form undercurrents recalibrating Americans’ connection to faith and to Christianity.

Another reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we choose not to believe.  One’s disbelief may be tied to the feeling that religion and the Bible are no longer relevant to 21st century living.  Such beliefs are not new.  The Apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-5).   People are choosing other forms of spirituality that “better accommodate” their chosen life style and worldview.

Finally, we may not trust what God is revealing because we choose not to obey God.  Have you ever noticed that when a person is auguring over a specific teaching from the Bible, it is often connected to a personal obedience challenge they are facing in their life?  Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God would want and then seeking that outcome.

So where do we go from here?

As we discover things revealed (and the list is infinite), we gain access the very mind of God (Rom. 11:33-36).  Things revealed may be answers to those persistent questions concerning God’s purpose for our life.  Our receptivity to things revealed may be our entry to God’s power, presence, and provision.

Our life and the current challenges of 21st century living may seem impossible, but with God’s grace and favor, nothing is impossible.   In the midst of this health pandemic, strained human rights, and cries for human justice, we need only to seek Him in the things revealed.

[1]  The Bible Knowledge Commentary , Old Testament

[2]  Holman Bible Dictionary

Living in Resurrection Power

Living in Resurrection Power

Resurrection Reality

“Christ has risen!” (Matt.28:5)   “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; He is not here” (Mark 16:6).  “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen” (Luke 24:5).  These are the biblical explanations to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection noted in the synoptic Gospels.

But one of the responses by Jesus’ followers (not recorded in the biblical record) might have been, “Ok, but what now?”  They had received the resurrection proclamation from the women who visited the empty tomb early Easter morning. They had personally seen the glorified Christ “behind shut doors” (John 20:19-30).  But, “what now?”

Even after this, the Disciples did not fully comprehend the implications of the resurrection and how it would change their lives forever. The Disciples and the New Testament Church would now face persecution and even death for their belief in Jesus Christ.   They would need to depend on resurrection power to achieve Jesus’ commission (Matt. 28:19-20).

Even now, in the 21st century, we as believers must come to terms with how the reality of Jesus’ resurrection impacts our lives every day.  To successfully navigate the challenges of today, we need resurrection power.

What is resurrection power?

Resurrection power is the supernatural power God used to raise Jesus from the grave (Eph. 1:19-20). It is this same power that has delivered us from sin’s power and penalty (Rom. 6:14).

Sin kept us in our brokenness and our bondage.  It manifested itself in our lives as guilt, shame, and misery.  These led us to dark paths of despair, depression, and feelings of hopelessness. However, as new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we have access to the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the grave (Rom. 8:11).  Satan has been crushed.  We are free (Col. 2:15).

Although we may be tempted, we are able to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  Even if we stumble or fall, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39).  We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, our Guarantee, until we arrive in heaven (Eph. 1:13, 14).

Living in the power of the Resurrection

In the final days of His earthly life, Jesus hinted about this resurrection power.  He assured His disciples, “he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do” (John 14:12).

The Apostle Paul knew how to live in the power of the resurrection.  He wanted to not only “share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” but also, to know Him and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10).  It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul proclaimed the sufficiency of God’s grace through the “power of Christ that would rest on him” (2 Cor. 12:9).

How do 21st century believers live in resurrection power?

The early New Testament church gained its potency through the anointing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Through resurrection power, we too, as 21st century disciples, can gain the same strength to accomplish God’s purpose.  In addition, it is through this power that we can find personal forgiveness, acceptance, and wholeness.

The Holy Spirit is the source of resurrection power.  It is through His presence that we are empowered for service to the Lord (John 16:13-15). The work that has been entrusted to us is destined for success because of the Holy Spirit working within us (Phil. 1:6).

The key to unlocking resurrection power is our willingness to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Cooperation is critical in every endeavor a person may attempt.  If we are to live successfully in resurrection power, we must follow Jesus’ example who practiced obedience and humility.  Although Jesus was God’s son, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).   We must learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

Opportunities for resurrection power

Easter 2022 is over.  Once again, we have received (through every form of media) the resurrection proclamation. We have personally experienced the glorified Christ through our new life in Him.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “what now?”

As I look around and reflect on the state of our world, it is more evident than ever, “we need supernatural power” to deal with our challenges.  The human needs of the 1st century still exist today.  The resurrection power of Jesus Christ is still as powerful as when He rose on Easter morning.  And we have access to the same resurrection power in 2022.

Let us begin today to access resurrection power on behalf of our families, our communities, and our nation.  Let us courageously intercede on behalf of those experiencing the effects of sin in our world—hate, hurt, and hopelessness (2 Cor. 5:15).  Jesus, teach us how to live in your resurrection power TODAY.

The foolish message of the Cross?

 

The foolish message of the Cross

Am I foolish?

Have you ever been accused of being foolish?  I remember as a child when I would do something that rejected what I knew was the right action, my mother would ask me, “why would you be so foolish?”  It was my mother’s responsibility to correct and redirect me, especially if my choices were leading me in the wrong direction.  That was the Apostle Paul’s intent when he pinned 1 Corinthians 1:18.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

My paraphrase is this:

Unbelievers think that the belief that Jesus Christ died and rose again is stupid and irrational.  But to us, who are believers and followers of Christ, it shows the awesome power of God.

The definition of foolish is to lack good sense or judgmentIt is something that is unwise. My question to you is this.  Is the message of the Cross foolishness?

What is the Message of the Cross?

As we read our bibles, it’s important to know that in most contexts, the “message of the Cross” is the same as “the gospel”.  Last week, I shared a description of the gospel message.

We believe Christ has paid the price and penalty for our sins.  Jesus was crucified, dead and buried.  He rose from the grave victorious over sin and death.  Jesus the Christ is now ascended to heaven and sits exalted at the right hand of God the Father.  We too have been raised with Him and will spend eternity with Him. 

Do we really understand what the gospel message means?  If we relate to it only on Easter/Resurrection Sunday, we are missing “the power” of the Cross.  It is more than a story about a piece of wood on which Christ was crucified.  It is the power to save (Rom. 1:16).   In addition, it represents the power behind the Cross, God Himself.

Why is the message seen as foolishness?

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth responds to several doctrinal questions about their new faith.  In 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5, he takes time to address what the Cross (the gospel message) means.

Christ’s resurrection is the demonstration of God’s power and wisdom.  This power is revealed in His victory over both sin and death.  His wisdom is seen in His eternal plan of redemption for lost man.

Who considers the message of the Cross as foolishness in the 21st century?  Those “who are perishing”.  These are individuals who seek pleasure in the things of this world versus the things of God.  The current worldview is grounded in the message of self:  self-indulgence and self-gratification.  Media and marketing entice them to satisfy (versus abstain from) their fleshly lusts (1 John 2:16,17).  These individuals are unwilling to give up lifestyles and habits that conflict with living a Christ-centered life.

At the heart of this disbelief is Satan.  He blinds people from seeing the glorious blessings and promises available to them through the Cross (2 Cor. 4:3,4).  Furthermore, without the presence of the Holy Spirit, unbelievers are unable to understand the truth revealed in the message (1 Cor. 2:14-16).

Without Jesus, unbelievers remain in their sin and spiritual blindness.  However, their disbelief does not nullify the reality and the truth of the Cross (The Gospel).   The message of the Cross silences Satan.

The believer’s view of the message

Belief in the message begins at the Cross (Eph. 1:11-13).  We are those “who are being saved”.  The verb “saved” is in the present passive tense, which means this.

“Present” means that the work of salvation is continuous.  We were initially saved when we first accepted Jesus as our Savior.  We are now being saved as we daily walk in submission to the Holy Spirit.  This enables us to resist sin’s presence as we live in our fleshly bodies.  As we do this, we become conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).  We will celebrate our glorified salvation when we transition to heaven.

“Passive” means that we are recipients (versus participants) of the work of salvation.  This “heavy lifting” is accomplished only by the Triune God—God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   “To us who are being saved it (the Cross-the message of the Cross-the Gospel) is the power of God to them that believe.”

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).  Our focus shifts from what we want, to what God wants (1 Pet. 4:1,2).  We live “in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God.”

Moving forward

It is the gospel message, the message of the Cross, that gives us both confidence and boldness, to operate in this fallen world.  When we are challenged for our beliefs, we know who we are and whose we are (Rom. 8:16-17).  “We are a chosen people. We are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, we can show others the goodness of God, for he called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9, NLT).

Whenever I read 1 Corinthians 1:18, my mind returns to my mother’s chastisement and her intent to guide me in the “right direction”.  It reminds me that I must continuously remember my identity in the message of the Cross (Rom. 10:9-11).

Though opposed by the current worldview, I will choose to follow Jesus Christ.  I am ready to share the reason for my hope (1 Pet. 3:15).   I will witness to the power and reality of the message of the Cross.  Christ crucified, died, but now alive and ascended in victory.  That’s not foolishness, it’s a fact.

What does the Cross mean to Me?

 

What does the Cross mean to Me?

A time for reflection

The week before Easter is designated as Holy Week.  We join Jesus as He journeys to the Cross.  We experience His “human nature”, up close and personal.  The Gospel writers invite us to listen in on the conversations and vicariously join the activities that will ultimately end on Good Friday on a cross.

Hopefully this week, we will engage in activities that expand our understanding of the sacrifice and suffering that Jesus experienced (Is. 53:5).  It is also a time in which we can examine our obedience in following God’s will. Are we willing to sacrifice our life on the cross that lay before us?  What does the Cross mean to me?

The Cross and I

What does the Cross mean to me?  Is it an object on which Christ was crucified? Or is it a piece of jewelry that you wear? Our view of the Cross is critical in that it establishes the basis of our Christian belief and personal walk of faith.

In the routine of daily living, we often forget Christ’s work of grace on the Cross.  Unfortunately, some believers are only superficially drawn to the Cross.  We give attention to it only during the sacrament of communion or at Easter.  It is critical that we clearly define the Cross’ significance so that we might re-engage its purpose and power in our life.

At the Cross

Christian doctrine is founded on “the Cross.”  Our belief about sin and salvation begin and end at the Cross (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  Our identity as children and heirs of God are established by our knowledge of what Christ accomplished on the Cross (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 8:17).

To Jesus Christ, the Cross signified lordship and commitment to Him.  He told those who would follow Him that unless they were willing to bear His cross, they could not be His disciple (Luke 14:27). Christ has not altered His requirement for discipleship in the twenty-first century. The Cross demands commitment. 

To Paul and other New Testament writers, the Cross represented the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ.  This gospel was to be clearly articulated to those identified in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).  Jesus Christ died for sin, He rose from the dead, and “whosoever believeth in Him” shall have everlasting life.  The gospel message remains the same in the twenty-first century.  The Cross is salvation.     

To Christians, the Cross recounts God’s extraordinary act of love.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  George Matherson penned in his hymn these words:

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

God’s plan of salvation did not come as an “after thought” but was formed in eternity (Eph. 1:4-7).  Before the Fall, God set in motion His plan of salvation to return beloved man to Himself.   

Return to the Cross

Jesus was the decided Victor on Resurrection Sunday.  He disarmed and shamed Satan by His victory over death and over sin (Heb. 2:14-17).  Knowledge of this strengthens our faith and confidence in Him.

As believers in Christ, let us reverence the Cross, not as a material object seen in isolation, but as the instrument of Christ’s triumph and love (Col. 2:13-15).

Return to the Cross and Christ’s life-transforming love.  Re-discover its power that will never pass away.

Jesus, keep me near the cross

There’s a precious fountain

Free to all a healing stream

Flows from Calvary’s mountain

In the Cross,

In the Cross,

Be my glory ever,

‘Til my raptured soul shall find

Rest beyond the river.

Have a blessed Easter.  Hallelujah, He is Risen!

Listening Prayer: Engaging in a Prayer-filled Life

Listening Prayer: Engagaing in a Prayer-Filled Life

The Needful Thing

Last week, we discussed the prayer-filled, contemplative life.  The contemplative life acknowledges the importance of a personal relationship with God and the intimacy gained through focused attention on Him.  Fulfillment of this life involves both love for God and the desire to be in His presence continually.

For many believers, such a pursuit necessitates a return to our First Love (Rev. 2:4) and the desire for “the needful thing” (Luke 10:42).  Both can only be found in fellowship with Infinite God.  So today we will spend time looking at a key practice in the prayer-filled life—listening prayer.

Listening Prayer

Listening prayer is about joining with God at the “heart”.   By heart, I’m not speaking about the emotions only, but that “intuitive part” which instructs the mind and the will.  It is a place of union with God.

In listening prayer, we exchange our “intermittent” requests for “continuous” dialogue with the all wise, all-powerful God. Through the eyes and the ears of the heart we see and “hear” God—who He is and how He operates.

Listening prayer was a new experience for me.  I admit my prayer life was one-sided—asking, seeking, and knocking (Matt. 7:7).  I invested much time in learning what I thought was the “right way” to pray.  I followed the PAPA prayer formula.  I prayed the Scriptures.  I employed the ACTS model (adoration-confession-thanksgiving-supplications).  While I wanted to better communicate with God, I failed to realize what God wanted.  God was not concerned with “correct communications” but God did desire “attentive conversation” with me.

Barriers to Listening Prayer

Hindrances to listening prayer are generally found in two areas:  the desire for an “experience” versus the “presence” of God and the modern split between “head and heart” knowledge of God.

In our society, we are accustomed to being “stimulated” by what we are doing. Unfortunately, that is how we judge whether something has really happened.  We expect to hear God speak in a loud, audible voice.  That is not necessarily how God may choose to communicate.  Remember Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12).

Most Christians today suffer to one extent or another from “post-enlightenment” mindset—the split between thought and experience.  This split in most Christians is characterized by an acceptance of their conceptual knowledge about God as reality while they simultaneously deny the primary ways of knowing, loving, and walking with God. This is more intuitive than rational. As a result of this split, even committed Christians, do not believe in Christ’s real presence with and within them.[1]

We must be careful to guard against these hinderances to true intimacy with God.

Where to begin?

How do we begin to incorporate listening prayer into our life?

First, we must believe that God desires to communicate with us (Gen. 35:13).  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word.  `

Secondly, we must know that God wishes to be in relationship with you (James 4:8a).  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means to restore that which was loss in the Garden of Eden—fellowship with mankind.

Thirdly, we must declare our intentions and ask to hear His voice. Hearing God is not natural (remember we loss that in the Garden), so we must be intentional (Matt. 11:15).  Initially, we may need to set aside time, to listen for His voice, perhaps during our morning or evening devotional time.

Finally, we must invite God into time with us and expect to hear (1 John 5:14).  We may receive a fleeting impression, an image, even a scripture or a song.  Don’t ignore it!  Write it down, then ask God to explain what we experienced.  This is where our journal comes in handy.

Time to begin!

Listening prayer is not a method, but a walk with God where we intentionally listen for His voice.  It’s more than “doing”, it is about “being” aware of His presence.   Listening prayer is about inviting God into the daily rhythm of our life knowing that He speaks to us continuously.  It is an exciting time of fellowship and discovery.  It is what God has always wanted.

[1] Listening Prayer:  Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal, Leanne Payne

 

 

Desperately Seeking God: A Prayer-filled Life

 

Desperately Seeking God

“Desperately seeking God”

What would we think if we saw this request in the personal column of our local paper?  Desperately seeking God for ___.   We can fill in the blank with those things that reflect the needs of the human heart—financial security or emotional wholeness, food and lodging or creature comforts, our daily bread or deliverance from evil.

All these qualify as valid requests we can make known to God (Phil. 4:6).  Today, however, we are invited to move from our “needs-based” method of prayer to a more robust and satisfying “prayer-filled life” that will lead to greater intimacy with God (James 4:8).  What exactly is the prayer-filled life?

The Contemplative Tradition and the Prayer-filled Life

In Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster, the prayer-filled life is called the Contemplative Tradition.  Foster describes it as “a life of loving attention to God.”  Imagine, “loving attention to God.”

It includes not only the activity of prayer but also periods of solitude and meditation in which the presence and fellowship with the Lord is nurtured.

It can be likened to the Lord’s encouragement to His disciples to “abide” in Him (John 15: 4, 8).  Jesus describes His intimacy with the Father through the image of the “vine and the husbandman”.  It was through Jesus’ union with His Father that He was able to do all things (John 5:30).  Jesus desperately sought God.

Practicing the Presence and the Prayer-filled Life

Father Lawrence described the prayer-filled life in Practicing the Presence of God.  “Practicing” is the recognition of God intimately present with us and addressing ourselves to Him every moment.

Prayer is considered “divine conversation” that occurs throughout the day—not exercised as an isolated activity or relegated to a specific place.  Prayer is continuous and never ceases (1 Thess. 5:17).   Father Lawrence desperately sought God.

David and the Prayer-filled Life

David serves as our biblical example of one who sought the prayer-filled life.  Throughout the Psalms we can experience the passion and appreciation David had for his private time with the God of Creation (Psalm 19).

As a shepherd boy, he experienced extended periods of solitude and fellowship with the Great Shepherd (Psalm 23).  In the wilderness of Judah, David’s soul “thirsted” for the Lord and longed for the time he could return to the Temple to reunite with Him (Psalm 63).   David desperately sought God.

Which description is right?

Descriptions of the prayer-filled life differ in method and experience.  “Loving attention to God”. “Divine Conversation”. “The soul’s thirst for the Lord”.

However, what these descriptions do have in common is the results—greater intimacy with the Lord.  This is the offer of a prayer-filled life; one that is more relational and less transactional.

Unfortunately, the distractions of this life, our weakened flesh, and the deceitfulness of Satan continually draw us away from a prayer-filled life.  Left unchanged, we will continue our intermittent prayer routine while Jesus invites us to return to our First Love (Rev. 2:4).

Psalm 42:1-3a offers an excellent illustration of what the prayer-filled life looks like.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night.” 

Let us learn from the deer and seek God. It is in pursuing and lingering in God’s presence that the prayer-filled life is experienced. It is in Him, that our desperate seeking ends.

A New Thing for 2022

Is it time to do a new thing?  Can we maintain status quo in the wake of the coronavirus, a shrinking economy, and social unrest?   These realities have changed each of our lives.  This new normal appears to be here for the long haul dictating our daily routine and our future plans.    Is it time to change?

It is human nature to resist change.  Change is hard especially if it is the result of something we had no say in.  As we attempt to move to some sense of normalcy in this nation, we are being asked to do something new.

“Hell no!  We won’t go!”

Local and state mandates have been issued in order to guard public health.  These instructions are not only being challenged but most often totally disregarded.  This is especially true among our young people.  I wonder who they learned that from.  Even when we’re told lives can be saved and the economy restored, we refuse to change.   Is it time to do a new thing?

From the hallways of our state Capitols to local school board meetings, resistance is seen as a rallying cry and badge of honor.  But is it?  Or is it really evidence of our inability to accept change?  Is resistance to exercising safe distance, wearing masks, and avoiding large crowds symptomatic of our unwillingness to do a new thing?   

God’s “new thing”

In the Old Testament, the use of “new thing” is cited in only three (3) texts:  Isaiah 43:19, Numbers 16:30, and Jeremiah 31:22.  Here they describe situations where God’s greatness and sovereignty is on display.  God invites man to join Him in accomplishing His divine purpose.

I will not conclude that the challenges we face are part of God’s divine purpose.  I do believe, however, that God throughout man’s history continually exercises His sovereignty and His authority.  This time in history, 2020, was viewed long before today.  God saw it from eternity (Is. 46:9-10).  Pandemics, politics, and problems in this world never catch God by surprise.

In the New Testament this concept of a “new thing” was manifested in the fulfillment of the Messiah who came to save us and to restore man to God’s original purpose. God was unable to fulfill His purpose through families, tribes or kings; through prophets, mediators or priests.  God brought salvation to earth through Jesus Christ—“God’s new thing”.

God’s new thing resulted in:

  •     The Kingdom of God coming to earth. (Matt. 4:17)
  •     Mercy, grace, and truth. (Ps. 85:10)
  •     Man becoming a “new creation”.  (2 Cor. 5:17)
  •     Freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  (Rom. 8:1)

God’s new things always result in our good and His glory.   As we seek stability during these tumultuous times, know that God is more than able to sustain and keep us (Ps. 46:1-3; 7-10).

Things are changing

As we move through the challenges we face as a nation, know that God is still doing new things.  The world we knew a year ago has changed.  The life we cherished 6 months ago will never return.  Our reality this week may be different than it was last week.  Things are changing.  How can we prepare for change—the new thing?

  • Trust God—believe in His ability and willingness to guide us to a new thing.
  • Position yourself to hear God—pray and read His Word.
  • Look for areas needing change in your life—be honest.
  • Identify and confess sin in your life—what’s interfering with God’s new thing?
But God

God is the key to change.  Most importantly, God can do a “new thing” even in the midst of change.  This includes COVID-19, financial downturns, and social injustices.  He invites us to join Him as we do a “new thing.”  When we trust God with our life, we can look forward with purpose and not fear (Jer. 29:11).