Thursday, February 04, 2016

Rest in Peace

I have learned the secret of being content. . . . I can do all this through Christ. (Phil. 4:12-13)

 A frazzled mother continually complained about her stress level. "I just need some peace and quiet!" she groaned. So, for Mother's Day, her daughter Jessica went to the florist shop and returned proudly carrying the perfect gift for her mother. The arrangement included a pink bow inscribed, "Rest in Peace."

 Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, in their groundbreaking book Jesus Manifesto, said, "Knowing Christ as your rest' and allowing Him to live His life through you is one of the most freeing things you can know as a Christian" They continue, "Resting in Christ doesn't mean being passive. It means allowing the Lord to do the heaving lifting."

 My favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, sums up what Paul called the "secret of being content": "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." The secret to contentment is indeed about dying—but to truly rest in peace, we must die to self and rest in Him.

This is an excerpt from my book Filled Up, Poured Out

 Prayerfully seek the contentment that only God can give, by helping you die to yourself.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Only Way to Get There is to Go There

Self examination and difficult conversations are hard.  That's why so few are willing to "go there."  It's painful.

"Going there" means humbling yourself enough to face the truth, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.

"Going there" is mustering up the courage to say what needs to be said, even if the other person may not react well to it.

"Going there" means caring enough to confront, but often feels uncaring.

"Going there" takes the risk that things will never be the same.

"Going there" forces you to face your fears.

"Going there" reveals your secrets.

"Going there" requires looking beneath the actions to the underlying cause.

"Going there" shows your shadow self.

"Going there" is nerve wracking and gut-wrenching.

"Going there" means seeing or hearing things you would rather ignore.

"Going there" may make you feel defensive.

"Going there" may make you feel vulnerable.

"Going there" may make you feel under attack

But. . . 

"Going there" leads to beautiful breakthroughs.

"Going there" transforms relationships.

"Going there" increases mutual understanding.

"Going there" helps you get unstuck.

"Going there" reveals truth that will set you free.

"Going there" brings boldness you'll never discover by avoiding.

"Going there" is the first, courageous step towards healing.

Consider the improvements you desire in your life and relationships.  The only way to "get there" is to "go there."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Six Steps to the Throne

Here is a helpful guide for prayer,  inspired by a chapter from In The Day of Thy Power, by Arthur Wallis:  Six Steps to the Throne.

In 2 Chronicles 9:18 we read that there were six steps to the throne of King Solomon.  And in our prayer life, there are six steps to the throne of God:  The King of Kings.

Step 1:  Abiding in Christ
John 15:5-7 
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

This means being connected to Christ -- living in Christ - being at home with him.  There is a huge difference between saying prayers and being a person of prayer.

Two ways we become disconnected:  Disobedience (Ps, 66:18) and Neglect.  Is Jesus your spare tire or your steering wheel?

Step 2: In the Will of God
1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Bobby Richardson, baseball great, once prayed, "Dear God, your will.   Nothing more.  Nothing less. Nothing else."

Will of God should not be used to excuse our doubt and unbelief.  It is a great statement of faith!
How do we discern God's will?
A.  Scripture -- God's Word is always His will.
B.  Leading of the Holy Spirit - If we ask, He will show us.

Step 3: In Faith
Mark 11:22-24:
Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Faith is bold confidence and quiet trust:  laying hold of God, and believing His promises.

Step 4:  In the Name of Jesus
John 14:13-14: 
 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

The name of Jesus is not a little tag or magic incantation at the end of a prayer.  It means praying in the authority of Jesus.  There is power in his name!

"Amen" doesn't end the prayer -- but shoots it out!  "So be it!"

Step 5:  In the Spirit
Jude 1:20-21: 
 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Wesley Duewel calls the Holy Spirit our indwelling prayer partner (Jesus is our enthroned prayer partner.)

The Holy Spirit draws us to prayer, energizes us, convicts us, brings a prayer burden (especially in emergencies), and provides vision for future direction.

Praying in the Spirit means praying in holy love.

Step 6:  In Unity
Matthew 18:19: 
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Not in unison but in harmony with one another.  We may have differences, but our hearts are in harmony.

Disunity, resentment and unforgiveness hinder our prayers.  When we are united in love, our prayers have more power.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Listen, Then Do Something

If you've botched your New Year's resolutions already, maybe it would be helpful to take a different approach.  Instead of throwing in the towel and feeling guilty about how you didn't achieve your feeble intentions, why not select a focus -- a theme for the year and keep plugging on towards it?  This method gives guidance and direction, without the pressure of impending failure hanging over you head.  

If you are looking for theme, how about this one?   Listen and Do.  It is simple and sweet and will keep you going for the full 365 (actually 366 since this is Leap Year!)

1) Listen: 
You and I have been given two ears and one mouth. That’s because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. However, I've discovered that talking is easier than hearing.  Listening is far more difficult than explaining.

Why is it so hard to listen? Consider this. We speak at 100-150 words per minute. We are able to comprehend at 250-300 words per minute. We think at 600 words per minute.

So, if you are a fast thinker (600 wpm) and the other person is a slow talker (100 wpm), you still have 500 words per minute left over for thinking about other stuff. For efficient folks, that’s a lot of wasted communication space. Therefore,  fast listeners zones out, and end up thinking about things besides what the other person is saying.

When someone zones out, they respond like this: “uh, huh”, “Yes, dear”, “I don’t know” – all the while, filling up the empty communication space with other thoughts. True listening is hard work!

Declaring 2016 your Year of Listening, doesn't mean listening to the 100 words and then zoning out. Instead, it means listening to the 100 words – really hearing those words – processing them– seeking to understand the depth of those words – thinking about them words – mulling them over!

As Margaret Wheatley said, “Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen."

Listening means hearing the whole thing without creating a rebuttal while the other person is still talking. It means not cutting people off mid-sentence because you already know what they’re going to say. It means, in the words of Steven Covey, “Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.”

The best kind of prayer, by the way, is listening prayer, seeking to hear to God’s voice to discern his wisdom. The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

2) Do:

But we can't just stop with listening.   We need to do something about what we hear. We won’t make any progress if we let the communication flow in one ear and out the other.

Jesus said, “Therefore, everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24)

A lot of folks spend tons of time thinking and discussing, but don’t get around to doing anything about it. They spend too much energy “chewing the fat” and not enough “burning it.” It it is far better to be a doer than a hearer only (James 1:22.) I believe in a practical faith. That is, a faith that you can put into practice every day. It’s action oriented!

Life is about action. What we do is more important than what we say or think. Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s better to attempt something and fail than to attempt nothing and succeed.

A friend once told me that Divine guidance is like a rudder on a boat. If the boat is tied to the dock, the rudder is not much help. Unleash the boat, however, and set sail – then the rudder does its work! You have to be moving in order for the rudder to operate! You might even start by moving in the wrong direction, but the rudder will guide and correct your course. If you want to discover your destiny, you need to hoist anchor and set sail. In other words -- do something!

Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year Reflection

Here we stand at the threshold of the New Year. 2015 will soon be passed and packed away, living only in the attic of memories.  Looking ahead to 2016, I can guarantee one thing: a lot of living will go into it.

How will it turn out? Only God knows. This chapter may be drama. Perhaps it will be romance. Action adventure. Comedy. Tragedy. Mystery.

Next December, upon reflection, you will be able to describe the events of 2016 – but not now. The best you can do is throw your shoulders back, trust God, and march right in.

You see, although you don’t know anything about the upcoming months, God does – and He will be with you as you travel from mountain top to valley.  Nobody knows what tomorrow holds, but we do know WHO holds tomorrow.

Sometimes, in lonely moments, it feels as if we are alone, but God has promised never to leave you or forsake you – even in the darkest hours.

An anonymous writer captured this idea with these inspiring words:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,  “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”   And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Transition from one year to the next calls us to:

1. Sober Reflection. 
2. Sane Calculation. 
3. Serious Resolution. 

So, don’t let yourself. . .

Fret – when you’re doing the best you can.
Rush – when success depends on accuracy.
Assume – evil of someone unless you have the facts.
Judge – another person’s motives.
Belittle – others with your actions and words.
Quit – in the face of difficulty
Allow -- bitterness and resentment to remain in your heart.
Make -- excuses for not doing what should be done.
Waste – time and energy on things that don’t matter.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

How to Be Led by the Spirit

 You will make better decisions when you are led by the Holy Spirit and this guidance is available to you right now!  As Romans 8:14 says, ". . . those who are led by the Spirit are children of God."

 But this begs the question:  how does the Spirit lead us?  Here are a few ways.

 1)  Scripture:  Search the Scriptures daily, and God will give you a special word that fits your situation.  Whatever you're going through, God has a word for it!  You will never go wrong by living in the Word.

 2)  Prayer:  We fail to find guidance in our prayers because we are too prone to tell God what He should do, rather than asking Him what WE should do.  If we ask, He has promised to grant us wisdom (James 1:5.)  Consider your pressing issue:  Have you seriously prayed about it?

 3)  The Grand Purpose:  Rather than getting hung up on "What is God's will for me?" it might be better to ask, " What is God's will for the world?"  Then, join Him in that glorious cause.  The Spirit moves us -- a bias for action!  You are meant to DO something.  "Let me pray about it" is sometimes a clever device to buy time for excuses.  If you sense a holy nudge, follow up!  If God doesn't want you to go through that door, He can close it.  Action, rather than intent, makes the difference.

 4)  Community of Faith:  Often, the Spirit speaks to us through spiritually mature friends who love God and have our best interest in mind.  No person is an island.  God places us in a church family, so we can encourage, correct and help each other.

 5) Circumstances:  The Lord loves us too much to waste our painful experiences.  Sometimes, He uses difficult circumstances to move us to the place He wants us to be.  When we are tempted to cry out, "Where are you, God?", He responds, "Right here, guiding you through this."  God does His best work through those refined in the fire of affliction.  For instance, the Jerusalem Church faced severe persecution, and multiplied exponentially as a result.

 6)  Sanctified Common Sense:  Jesus died to take away our sins, not our brains.  God made our minds and trusts us to use them to make wise decisions.

 7)  The Spirit Adventure (or Treasure Hunt):  The seventh step takes everything to a whole new level.  Adding this to the prior six, your life can be infused with daily flowings of the Holy Spirit.  You can live naturally in the supernatural!  God really works that way -- if you only have the faith.

Lately, I've been experiencing this.  God has been taking me on amazing adventures, I like to call "Treasure Hunts".

Early in the morning, I pray something like this::  "God, show me someone you treasure today, and help me to bring blessing, hope and joy to them.  May your Spirit fill, guide and flow through me to others.  Wherever you go, I'll go.  Whoever you send, I will receive as your gift.  I'll follow your nudges wherever you lead.  Help me stay out of the way and let your work!"

God has recently answered that prayer in astounding ways!  This is real -- not just a matter of philosophy, world view, or evangelical sub-culture participation.  It is truly participating WITH Jesus as He accomplishes the greatest mission on earth.

You can live in the first six -- leave out the seventh -- and live a mundane, boring Christian life.  Or you can step out of the little box and go on the grand adventure.  I recommend the latter.  It's definitely worth the risk.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Paradox of the Manger

A special Christmas guest post by Ryan Wilson.  Great food for thought:

 It’s near. Can you feel it? It’s that sense of dread as you realize that you forgot to buy a gift for your Secret Santa. It’s that feeling of deflation as you look at your schedule and you realize that you don’t have a free evening from now until December 26th. It’s the season of red and green décor at Walmart, tacky yard decorations, and obnoxious songs on the radio (If I hear that refrain “We’re simply having a wonderful Christmas time” one more time, I think I’m going to deck someone’s halls!) Verily, verily I say unto you: The Christmas season is upon us once again!

 I may be overstating the negativity that surrounds the Christmas season. It’s not all bad after all! We all love (hopefully) re-connecting with friends and loved ones, and the festivities can certainly be fun. But it’s undeniable that the holidays can be an overwhelming, loud, and stressful time.

 Why do we do this to ourselves? Some may argue that it has to do with making a grand occasion out of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s his birthday, after all. Shouldn’t we be happy about the coming of Christ? Is this not reason to celebrate?

 But maybe you’re like some others who argue that all of the gifts, Christmas parties, cookies, punch and egg nog, bright lights and bombastic, ubiquitous Christmas songs actually serve to detract from the remembrance of Christ’s advent. Some even go so far as to criticize any of the customary Christmas practices at all – spurning the cultural norms of gift giving, Christmas cards, and decorations. The season of Christmas, they reason, should be a time of quiet reflection, not all of this noisy merriment.

 So which one is it: Loud, or quiet? Celebratory, or reflective? Joyous, or Somber? Joy to the World, Or Silent Night? Should we be partying? Or should we be contemplating the mystery of the incarnation?
 The correct answer is both.

 Make no mistake about it: The birth of Christ changed the world forever, and it is reason to celebrate! When the angels showed up in the shepherds’ field, it was BOOM! CHRIST IS HERE! GO NOW AND WORSHIP HIM! HALLELUJAH! And they left their flocks and ran to the manger, praising God!

 But the story is more than that. It also is a story of how Christ humbled himself in order to lift the entire world out of the devil’s snare. The glorious, eternal, majestic Son of God, made into humble human flesh. And there weren’t any trumpets blaring, calling attention to that fateful birth in Bethlehem. He wasn’t born in a palace, or lifted high so the whole world could see him (like Lion King). Most of humanity actually missed this critically huge moment in history. Most people didn’t take any notice of the ostensibly common child in a common girl’s arms.

 But for those in the know, it was the greatest moment in human history up to that point in time. The magi travelled far to worship him. Most scholars actually believe that they didn’t see the child until he was two years old. But they understood intuitively the enormous implications of that Silent Night when the God-child came into our world. It was the first fruits of a deconstruction of the figurative curtain separating the human from the divine, the holy from the common, the heavens and the earth. It was the beginning of a revolution that marches on to this day, and will continue on until Christ’s second coming. That is reason to be ecstatic at Christmas time!

 So this Christmas – when you, like me, are feeling a bit anxious for the Christmas season to be over and for life as usual to continue, take the time to ponder how the little child in your nativity set has changed the world forever. Remember that it is because of his advent that we can have hope beyond the grave. He is, as the cliché expression goes, the reason for the season, and the appropriate response… the wise response… is to worship him.