Saturday, December 28, 2013

Does God Speak to Us?

   I have spoken many times about how I've felt God speaking to me on this matter or that. When doing so, I've tried to be very careful about what I've explained to others about a moment of time when God has spoken to me. There have also been many times when He hasn't necessarily spoken to me, but based upon my very limited knowledge, I've expressed my opinions about what I believe He might say about a certain situation.

   It's very important to know the difference between the two, and to be consistent in describing each for what they are without confusing them.

   I've had people look at me in very peculiar ways when I've said that God has spoken to me. Some have even thought I may have completely lost my mind. Many people believe that those of us who claim to have been spoken to by God are one step away from the loony bin. They listen to what we're saying, thinking all along about how we might look in a padded cell, wearing a straight jacket.

   Keep in mind that when I say that God has spoken to me, I'm not talking about hearing voices in my head. I'm talking about situations where I've prayed earnestly, asking God for His guidance, and within a relatively short period of time, I'll hear something that answers my questions immediately upon hearing it. Sure, I could chalk this up as being mere coincidence, but when it happens repeatedly, speaking to me very clearly and specifically, there comes a point where coincidence is no longer a reasonable option.

   I've had people dismiss these things, stating that they've reached out to God, asking for Him to reveal Himself to them, and they've received no answer whatsoever. I'm sure that in their own hearts, they truly believe this to be true. But sometimes I wonder if there's more to this than meets the eye.

   First and foremost, we have to understand that when God speaks to us, He will almost always do so through one of two ways. He will do so through reading His word, and/or through what is said to us by other people who know Him. But what if we immediately reject His word, or reject the words of His people? How then is He supposed to speak to us?

   Imagine that a young boy was watching his father prepare to paint their living room. The son wants to learn how to paint, so he asks his father to show him how it's done.

   The father, absolutely eager to teach his son a new skill, agrees and pulls him near. He grabs a roller pan and pours the paint into it. The son, confused by this, asks why he's doing that. The father replies by saying that in order to get the paint on the wall, you have to first put it on the roller, which he then holds up to show him. The son stares at this odd contraption, completely confused by it's appearance.

   "That's not how I would do it." The son replies. "That makes no sense at all."

   The father, in his patience, doesn't argue. He doesn't ask his son how he would do it. He simply repeats the fact that this is how it's done. He then grabs a paint brush, dips it in the paint, and spreads some paint on the wall. This action appears even more ridiculous to the son.

   "Why in the world would you do it like that?!?" The son protests. "That's just plain stupid."

   The father doesn't become aggravated or impatient. He simply continues to show the son the right way, regardless of his son's opinions of how it should be done. He continues to show his son how it's done, step by step, until the entire room is finished. The son doesn't accept any of it, and immediately dismisses his father's instructions. He questions his father's knowledge and intelligence, and in the end, he has learned nothing and assumes that his questions need to be answered elsewhere.

   I truly believe that this scenario plays out in the lives of many people who claim to have reached out to God for guidance, and have received no answer whatsoever. Why do I believe this? Because of the following verses:

    "Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.  All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." John 6:35-37

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8

   If you are someone who has sincerely prayed, asking God to reveal Himself to you, and you feel as though you've received no response whatsoever, I would ask that you do one simple thing. Think back upon what you've seen, heard, or read since then, and then think about what your immediate response was after hearing those things.

   Did you, like this son, immediately dismiss everything you heard as being nonsense? Did you immediately question it's validity? Did you contemplate what you had heard, comparing it to what you've always believed to be true, and then reject it because it didn't fit into what you expected to hear?

   If so, then I would highly recommend trying it again, but this time listen intently to what you hear immediately following your prayer. Give it a few days, and see what you are told by those who claim to hear God's voice in their lives. See if you don't hear the same answers repeated by various people, often times without ever asking them to give you their thoughts on the matter.

   If you've never done this, why not do it right now? What's stopping you? Is it fear of the unknown? Is it the fear that God will suddenly try to turn you into someone you don't believe you could ever be?

   What it comes down to is this: God does not lie. When He says that He will never turn away those who honestly seek Him, He means it. I've seen Him respond to my prayers countless times, in countless ways. I know this to be true. I also know that I've never regretted calling out to Him, and I have nothing to lose, and nothing to fear in doing so. In fact, I instead have everything to gain.


Friday, December 20, 2013

What does it mean to be at peace with God?

    A Navy sailor is working in the engine room of his ship. From his vantage point, far down in the belly of this beast, he can see no daylight whatsoever. Floating through the compartment is the smell of oil, diesel fuel, and sea water. The is nothing that even resembles fresh air. The heat is almost unbearable as the enormous engines power the ship through the open seas. The sound is deafening as it echoes off of the steel walls surrounding him.
   The sailor has a very specific and detailed set of instructions. He is to keep an eye on the machinery around him, periodically checking pressure gauges, opening or closing various valves at specific times during his rotation, keeping his eyes and ears open for anything that looks or sounds out of the ordinary. He doesn't do anyone else's job, nor is anyone else expected to do his.

   It is a time of war, and they are heading into hostile territory to confront the enemy. Many lives are at risk, and the slightest mistake or oversight could potentially take the lives of innocent people.

   Far above him, from a vantage point on the top of the ship, the captain stands at the helm. He is being constantly informed of where the ship is, where it's heading, what their objective is, where other friendly ships are, and even where the enemy is located. The sailor down below has none of this knowledge, and even if he did, it would be useless to him. He simply understands that when the captain gives him an order, he is to obey immediately. If he doesn't, the results could be disastrous.

   What if this sailor didn't believe there was any captain, and that he was simply doing his own thing? What if he acknowledged that the captain was indeed the captain, but didn't believe that had any interest in what he was doing way down in the belly of the ship? What if he thought that maybe there was a captain, but had never seen any evidence of him, so he went about his business, ignoring the orders that were passed down to him by others who had claimed to have spoken to him? Worst of all, what if he insisted that there was no captain, and therefore insisted that everyone should be free to do whatever they pleased without any interference from those who believed this imaginary captain existed?

   What if every single member of the crew took one of the approaches listed above? The result would be absolute chaos, would it not? If this were the case, how long would it take before the enemy zeroed in on the ship and completely destroyed it?

   As we look at the people around us - in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, and everywhere else where others might be - these are the points of view we will hear in relation to how they view God. They will say things like; "I don't believe there is a God," or "Yeah, I believe in God, but I don't think He really cares about me or what I'm doing down here on earth," or "Maybe there is a God, but I've never seen any evidence of Him." Worst of all, there are those who boldly proclaim from the hilltops that there is no God, and therefore we should all be free to do whatever we please without any interference from those who do believe in Him.

   As the vast majority of people in this country - and in other countries as well - take these various opinions of who God is and go about their daily business, it's as if the entire world is nothing more than an enormous naval vessel spinning out of control. Sure, we all mean well. We want to do good. We don't like to see others hurt, oppressed, or in pain. We call out to God on occasion, not necessarily expecting any real answers. Meanwhile, there is an enemy nearby who's entire focus is upon destroying us.

   The bottom line is this: This world of ours will never know true peace........ until the entire world is at peace with God. He is the Creator, Designer, and Sustainer of all that is, all that has ever been, and all that will ever be.

   So, what does it mean to be "at peace with God?"

   The peculiar thing about having peace between two parties is that before there can be peace, both parties must first acknowledge the existence of the other.

   Once this occurs, the two parties must be in agreement as to how they should behave. They must agree on a moral code of conduct. If we're talking about two human beings being at peace with one another, coming to this agreement isn't all that complicated. But how can a human being, with all of their flaws and failures, find themselves at peace with the Creator of all things, who is perfect and holy? How can we live up to the perfect moral standards of a God who is absolutely perfect?

   That is where the good news of the gospel becomes such very good news. God reaches down to every last one of us, and says; "I know you.......I have always known you....I knew you before the earth was formed........I know every last one of your flaws and failures.......I know about every time you've been hurt, discouraged, oppressed, beaten down, insulted........I've seen every tear that has ever fallen from your eyes........And I love you more than anyone has ever loved you before. I love you more than anyone ever will love you in the future. Come to me, and I will heal you. I will give you hope and a future you never imagined possible."

   He is like the captain of a ship who loves every single crew member enough to lay down His life for every single one of them.

   But He doesn't say "Acknowledge that I exist, then go about your business." He says:

 Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;   - Isaiah 1:18-19 

   He says:

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  - 2 Chronicles 7:14

   So, how do we come to Him?

   "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
   “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" - Matthew 7:7-11

   If you have never done so, bow your head right now and pray. Tell God that you want to come to Him. Acknowledge Him as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Thank the Lord Jesus Christ for dying for your sins, and tell Him that from this day forward, you want to put all of your trust in Him, and you want Him to guide and direct you wherever He may lead.

   Just as would be true of the sailor in the belly of the ship, refusing to believe there is a captain.......or an enemy for that matter.......will not result in neither of them being there. It will only result in refusing the help of one while waiting to be destroyed by the other.  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. - John 3:16-17