Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Does God really hear us?

How do you feel about your prayer life? Pause on that for a second before moving on and really think about it. How do you truly feel about it?

   Do you feel indifference? Do you pray at times simply because you believe that you should? Is it a chore, or some sort of requirement you want to get out of the way before going to bed at night, or before going to work in the morning?

   What is it that you believe you've accomplished after praying? What do you say? Do you speak to God as if you're reading a laundry list of requests? Do you feel as though you don't know what to say, so you find yourself cutting things off, not wanting to bother Him? Do you believe he has more important things to do than to listen to you? Do you recite memorized prayers because you believe that's what He wants to hear?

   If we're honest, we'll readily admit that we've all felt these things at times. We've all offered up quick prayers without thinking much about them. So, how do we change this? How do we make our prayer life more dynamic, richer, and deeper? How do we pray in a manner which our God would want us to pray?

   First of all, I truly believe that we need to pause before we utter our first word in prayer, and allow ourselves to meditate upon who it is we're talking to. Not to rush ourselves at all, but to truly meditate upon it for a few minutes. Jesus Himself, when teaching us how to pray, began by saying: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

   In Genesis 1, we read the story of creation. We all know the story. We've heard it a million times. God created the heavens and the earth, and then filled them with living things. Plants, animals, birds, fish, and finally humans.

   We've heard that story so many times, we sometimes flash right past those words without giving them much thought. The story has become so ingrained in us, we tend to take it for granted. We say things like "God has always been here, He's here now, and He'll always be here." We readily agree that He knows all that was, all that is, and all that is to come.

   But if we truly allow our minds to wrap around that thought, there is an obvious conclusion we should be able to draw. If, when God created the heavens and the earth, if when He created us, He knew all that was to come for the rest of eternity, then did He not also, at that very moment, create the day we find ourselves in right now? Did He not create the life we are living? Did He not create the circumstances that led us to the place where we find ourselves bowing our heads in prayer? If He created the first day, with a full knowledge of what would also occur on the very last day, wouldn't He have also created every day between the two?

   A.W. Tozer writes: "God did not create life and toss it from Him like some petulant artist disappointed with his work. All life is in Him and out of Him, flowing from Him and returning to Him again, a moving indivisible sea of which He is the fountainhead."

And also:

   "Whatever else it embraces, true Christian experience must always include a genuine encounter with God. Without this, religion is but a shadow, a reflection of reality, a cheap copy of an original once enjoyed by someone else of whom we've heard."

   This God, who created all there is, who created life itself, did so because He wanted us to know Him, to love Him, and to have a true, deep, meaningful relationship with Him as our Lord and our God. It's really that simple.

   He is not our buddy at work, or our pal at the bar. He's not a genie in a bottle, here at our beckoned call to give us whatever we want whenever we choose to dignify Him with our attention.........He is God. And yet, while being God, He "inclines His ear to us." (Psalm 116:2) 

   In Him is all wisdom, all knowledge, and every good thing. Every blessing you've ever received originated in Him. So how does this translate into our prayer life? Simple. If we'll simply pause to remember who we're talking to, it will always create within our hearts an immediate sense of awe, a deep sense of humility. But it does more. It puts our hearts in a place where we can truly hear Him as He speaks to us through His Spirit.

   In Ephesians 1:18-23, Paul writes:

   "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

   He has made available to us ".........the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe."

   This, my friends, is the God we are speaking to when we pray. He is "........far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come." And we are ".........the church, which is His body......"

   If He is far above all rule and authority, which He truly is, then He has the power to change anything and everything without even raising a hand. We need not focus upon the world, or the cares and concerns that come from living in it. We simply need to remember who He is, because who He is changes everything.

   If we approach every prayer with that mindset, we will be forever changed, and we will never look at prayer the same way again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Do you want to see your family blessed?

If you had the power to change everything for those whom you love, where would you start?

   As we look at our families, we will all see a very wide range of people and personalities. There are the introverts, the extroverts, the generous, the greedy, the kind, the grumpy. There are those we are naturally drawn to, and others, well, not so much.
   But as we look at all of them, our deepest wish for all of them would be that they would find purpose, happiness, joy, and a sense of self-worth among other things. We'd enjoy seeing good things happen for those whom we love, wouldn't we?

   Imagine for a moment that your entire extended family was sitting down at a restaurant for a beautiiful dinner. You're sitting at the table, looking around the room, when a stranger walks up, introduces himself, then sits with you and says that he's a man of substantial wealth, and he's here to help your family in away way you wish. He talks to each of you seperately, asking what your greatest needs are, what your biggest dreams contain, what your hopes for your future are.

   And let's assume, for the sake of this story, that he's perfectly sane...........Sorry, I just had to throw that one out there because most of you would immediately think this guy was nuts.

   What if, during the weeks that followed this strange meeting, you began to see this man show up when you needed him most, and act in such a way that changed everything to the positive in your life? As months and years passed, you could look back over time and see an incredibly consistent track record where he showed up time and time again. Be it good times or bad, in sickness or in health, he was always there for you.

   What if, as he was doing this, you heard other family members speak of how he had done the same in their lives? Even the one's who've rubbed you the wrong way. They would go on for hours about how he showed up exactly when they needed him, and exactly how they needed him at the time, blessing them time and time again. Would you doubt them when they said he was doing these things? Would you somehow assume that you had a connection with this man that was more substantial or meaningful than the others? Or would you want to hear more and more stories from them, speaking to them about what a wonderful man he was for doing all of this for your family, who had done nothing to deserve such splendid treatment?

   Well, look around, friends, because that's exactly what's happening in your church. The church is very much a family, and within that family, you have the same types of family members as you'll see in your own family. You'll see "a very wide range of people and personalities. There are the introverts, the extroverts, the generous, the greedy, the kind, the grumpy. There are those we are naturally drawn to, and others, well, not so much."

   And in the midst of these people, there is God. Just like the restaurant story above, He showed up in the lives of every member of your church, introduced Himself, and asked that you share all of your thoughts, dreams, goals, and deepest desires for your life with Him.

   Within every person who walks through those doors on Sunday morning, He has placed some sort of a desire to know Him. If He hadn't........... they wouldn't be there. He's working in every one of their lives at some level, at varying depths, for various reasons. But He's working in all of us. And when we gather on Sundays, we're there for the same reason. To learn more about Him, to speak of Him, to thank Him, and to sing praises to Him. That's why Paul encouraged the Colossian church in the following manner:

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

   I didn't read anything in there about assuming that God is working in our lives in more profound or substantial ways than the person sitting next to us, or that our relationship with Him is somehow more meaningful or deep than theirs.

   We are all called by the same God, for the same purpose -- which is His alone. Let's meet each other there, feeling overwehlmed with the fullness of the grace He has shown each of us, in our own lives, and in His own way, and let's rejoice together over that, for ourselves as well as for each other.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The world's gone crazy.......So where's God?

   As we look around at a world that has seemingly gone mad, it's natural to ask "Where is God?"

   Do you ever remember days like these at any point in our lives? As you look out at the world around you, have you ever felt such an incredible sense of hopelessness that we, as a world, will ever be able to turn this thing around?

   So, where is God?

   The only way I can possibly explain what I know to be true is to speak of my own experiences. After all, I can't teach what I haven't lived. Doing so would smack of hypocrisy and dishonesty. I don't ever want to do that, especially here.

   Some of you who read this have only known me a few years. Some only a few months. Others have known me a very long time, while a few have known me for most of my life. You've seen me make absolutely horrible decisions, and defend my doing so in spite of your concerns. You've seen me become a victim of my own blindness. You've also seen me make very good decisions. You know I'm not mentally unstable...........well.........for the most part, anyway.

   What I have experienced first-hand in my life is what happens when we try to search for real-life outside of God. You've seen this. You've felt for me as those decisions were made. And if you're honest, you've done some of the same things in your life. Maybe not along the same lines or to the same extent, but you've done so.

   My intentions were, for the most part, good. I never wanted to do myself or anyone else any harm. I always wanted to get along with others, and I've always been genuinely happy when things have gone well for others. But with every effort I made, every direction I pursued, I was simply trying to find what it was that made me happy...........I never found it in the world..........And I was never genuinely "happy."

   Over the course of this weekend, I thought a lot about the disciples just after Jesus's crucifixion. Before He was raised from the dead............There was a delay. He didn't die, and then spring back to life. They had a full 24 hours to contemplate everything they had experienced, everything they had seen, everything they had believed. They had left their homes to follow this "Messiah," who was now dead. They had gone to great lengths to try to get others to believe they were doing the right thing by following Him.................Suddenly, He was gone, along with any hope that what they had believed so strongly in was even true.

   How could they now return to the life they once knew? They had sworn that off to follow the Messiah. If they weren't killed for following Him, they would surely become the laughingstock of their communities.

   But on the 3rd day, He rose........That's the "game-changer" of all game changers. It was completely unexpected. It was absolutely unthinkable.......But it happened, giving them not only an incredible sense of hope in their future, but also giving them an intense desire to remember all that He had told them......I would've loved to have been there for some of the conversations that must have followed amongst them. I'm certain that revelation after revelation came to them as they remembered His words. I'm sure that these were some of the words that rang in their minds:

 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
   “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me." John 14:27-31

   This is where I find myself now. I've seen what God has done in my life. I've literally seen miracles unfold before me. I've seen circumstances that seemed impossible to overcome change with the blink of an eye, completely out of nowhere, and due to no effort or planning on my part. In short, I've found "peace." Not from the world or the pursuit of happiness, but in seeking God in spite of my many flaws and mistakes. It occured to me over the weekend that, for the past 3 years, my life has not had this "master plan" that I've been working toward. I have been far from perfect by any sense of the word. But I've tried to get up every day and ask just one question. "God, what would you have me do today?"

   During that time, I've heard bad news. I've been heart-broken. I've been disappointed. I've lost friends. I've experienced the very same things that many of you have, because I'm still human, and I still live in the same world that you do. It's a tough world, and it's a hard life.

   But something else has occured to me. As I was simply asking what I should do on this day, many areas of my life have come together in ways I never would've dreamed. I sat at my dining room table just yesterday, and realized that for the first time in my life, everything I'm heavily involved in is incredibly positive. Through various sources, I am now making a regular habit of feeding the mind, body, and soul. I'm reading a lot, (mind) I'm excercizing regulary, (body) and praying continually. (soul)

   Am I perfect? Not by any means. But I know this: As I've looked to God every day for direction in that day alone, He has taken each of those individual days and strung them together in a way that created an incredibly beautiful tapestry in my life.

   That, my friends, is the Christian life. It's not about being perfect, or even less, imagining that you are. It's not about looking down upon others because they do things you disapprove of. It's not about putting a long list of rules in front of us about what we can or can't do. It's about coming to the conclusion that, even on our best day, we can't even come close to knowing what's really best for us as God knows it to be, and asking for His guidance in doing those things "today."

   So, where is God? He's standing right in front of you, asking you to give up on believing that politics, finances, people, or even religion itself will make things right in your world. He's asking you to start today in calling Him Lord, trusting in Him, and believing in Him.

   I know what that simple step has brought about in my life. Has it been pain-free? Absolutely not. Has it been without trials? Not even close. But just as the disciples arrived at the tomb to find that He had risen, the hope that taking that step - both for today as well as for eternity - is absolutely unspeakable. And the best part?.............It's absolutely free.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Where is the church going?

No matter where we may be at the moment, every church on this planet, and every believer within that church, is moving forward.

  That's a pretty bold thing to say, don't you think?............ Do you agree? My guess would be no.

   If you disagree, why? Do you look around at other churches, or at your own church, and see areas where things aren't going as well as you'd like? Do you see back-slidden members or certain ministries that aren't doing as well as they once did?

   Have you seen styles change in ways that weren't to your liking? Styles in worship, teaching, music, etc.? Have you seen members leave for what they believed are greener pastures? Have you seen volunteers in certain ministries give up and walk away? Have you seen the church's funds dry up, and seen the generosity of the members dwindle?

   Do you look at your own life, or your own walk, and remember times when you felt you were closer to God? Times when you were doing more? Talking about your faith more? Thinking more about what God wanted for you and your life?

   I'm convinced that every church, as well as every believer on the planet has faced most, if not all, of these problems at some point. But I know something else too. I know that Paul said;

  "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  Philippians 1:4-6

   He wrote those words, not only to the individual members, but to the church as a whole.

   No matter where your church may be right now, or where you might be, do you believe that at some point, God "began a good work" in that church? Do you believe that at some point He "began a good work" in you? If so, why would you ever believe that He wouldn't complete that work?

   So, what does that mean? Does it mean that we'll always like what we're seeing? Does it mean that we'll agree with every decision that's ever made within that church? Does it mean that changes will never occur? Absolutely not. God will do His will within that church, whenever He pleases, and make whatever changes He deems necessary to bring that church where He wants it to be. Sometimes that's painful. Sometimes we don't like it. The same applies to our individual lives. We won't always like where we are or what we're experiencing.

   The best way I can describe how I see the church as a whole is this:

   Try to imagine the worldwide church as though it were onboard an enormous cruise ship. The captain is the Lord Himself. The various rooms within this ship are the various churches around the world. They all hold different passengers, they all serve different purposes, but they are all His. He is bringing all of us to one final destination, which is a paradise beyond our best and wildest imagination.
   He knows His ship from front to back, top to bottom, and side to side. He knows every single passenger intimately........even better than we know ourselves. He knows every task that needs to be accomplished to make the ship sail as He knows it should.
   While we are on this ship, we will all experience the same rough seas. We'll all see incredible sunsets, but maybe from different perspectives depending upon where we are on the ship. We'll all have nights when we're rocked to sleep, and we'll all have times when we feel a little sea-sick.
   As we move along on our journey, which is always moving toward our final destination, we will pick up new passengers. Some of them will hit it off with us immediately, some of them will take a little more time to warm up to us, while others will rub us the wrong way at times.........But we're all His, we're all on the same boat, and we're all heading to the same destination.......Forward to paradise.

   All we have to do is trust the captain.........To believe that He knows where we're going, and to hear His voice when He asks certain things of us even if we don't understand them at times. 

   But there can only be one anchor on this ship. It's not an anchor that keeps the ship from moving, but the anchor that ties us to the ship, and ultimately to the captain Himself.

   In Hebrews 6:19-20, we read:
"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."  Hebrews 6:19-20

   We are all moving forward.........Toward a paradise that we did nothing to earn, and due to nothing we've ever done, said, or been. Not just as individuals, but also as His church. Let's not ever forget that, and let's rejoice together and offer praises to Jesus Christ Himself, who was and is the only one who could ever have made that a possibility.