God

Straining to Hear His Voice

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From time to time, I will receive questions about the faith and this was one such question.
“Why doesn’t God speak to me the way that he did to others in Bible times?”
Thanks for your question! I hear you asking whether God still speaks today in the way that he spoke during the times of the Bible’s writing.
The short answer to your question is that God still speaks to anyone who would listen. God was the first voice that spoke in the universe, the first voice who said, “Let there be light.” And he has been speaking ever since. And he will continue to speak!
Note that our times are very different times than the time period in which the Bible was written and that much time passed even during the writing of the Bible. Hebrews 1 gives us a great rundown of the ways that God has spoken to us throughout history (prophets, writings, Jesus!). Here are some of those ways and others that we see in Scripture.
Throughout history, God has been speaking in several different ways:
(1) He speaks through creation – See Romans 1
(2) He speaks through His written word, the Bible – See 2 Timothy 3
(3) He speaks through His Spirit – See John 14
(4) He speaks through His Son, Jesus Christ – See Hebrews 1
(5) He speaks through others around us – See James 3
(6) He speaks through songs, music, teachings, books, etc. – See 2 Chronicles 20
(7) He speaks through angels – See Hebrews 13
(8) He speaks through visions, dreams, and prophecies – See Acts 2
Jesus, in John 10 says that His sheep hear his voice. In other words, if you are a follower of Christ, you hear his voice and learn how to hear his voice more clearly. This does not necessarily mean that you will hear him talking in the burning bush or that you will see an angel. I can tell you clearly that I do not believe that I have ever audibly heard the voice of God or that I have ever seen an angel. But, I have heard God talking throughout my life in various ways.
Have you ever seen a rainbow so beautiful that you knew there had to be a God who had created the world? Have you ever read a Scripture verse and had it speak directly and clearly to you? Have you ever had a song or piece of music move you in a way that drew you closer to the Lord? Have you ever had somebody give you encouragement and teach you something about the ways of life or the the ways of God? These are all ways in which God can and still does speak today.
And certainly, there are ways that are more “mysterious” than this. 
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:16 teaches that we “have the mind of Christ.” In other words, we can learn to think like he thinks.
(2) Luke 12:12 says that the Holy Spirit will “teach us what to say.”
(3) In John 10, Jesus says that his sheep will “hear my voice.”
(4) Romans 8:26-27 says that the Spirit will help us know what to pray.
(5) Acts 2:17 talks about the dreams, visions, and prophecies that can come from the Lord.
There are people all over the world that share stories about God’s voice, God’s leading, God’s showing up in this life still. Liz and I once had a complete stranger approach us in a sandwich shop in a different city than where we lived to ask us if we had been praying about exactly what we were praying about the night before. God is able to speak in both small and large profound manners.
So how do we hear God’s voice?
(1) The first thing is that we seek to know Him as Lord and Savior. We ask forgiveness for sins, ask for His forgiveness and salvation based on the work of Jesus on the Cross and his resurrection life, and we ask the Spirit to come into our lives. We want to be filled by the Spirit, which quickens us until life.
(2) We start putting ourselves in positions and places where we know He speaks. We know He speaks through His word and so we spend time reading the Bible. We pray and communicate with Him while doing so. We listen while we pray to see if the Spirit is guiding us in some way.
(3) We spend time with people that know His voice and hear from God. We are more likely to hear from God when we spend time with others that are doing the same thing. Ask close Christians around you about how they hear from God. Find out if there is anything that you should be listening for or hearing from their perspective/experience. Listening to testimonies from others about God’s voice is very helpful in learning to hear Him more.
(4) Ask the Spirit to talk. Tell Him that you want to see more of Him in your life and experience Him in ways that will be beneficial for your growth.
(5) We stay connected to the vine (see John 15). If we stay connected to God and his people, we have a better chance of hearing from the Lord and bearing fruit in our lives. Spend time with God, go to Church, read the Scripture, pray. Practice these kinds of spiritual disciplines and see where/how God speaks. This practice and journey is ongoing. So, don’t be discouraged if there is no “lightning moment” on the first try.
I Kings 19 tells an awesome story about how God spoke not in the ways that we may have expected, but in the still small voice. Sometimes, God speaks in the subtle small ways and we simply aren’t listening. Let’s take the opportunity to hear him in any way that He speaks and put ourselves in positions to hear Him wherever he does so. We may just be surprised with the ways that he clearly shows up and speaks even today!

Draw Clearly, Draw Near, Draw Close

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It can be an interesting thing to pastor a church.

On the one hand, you see amazing things. God is clearly at work in your congregation and He is showing His handiwork in ways that are unavoidably beautiful. On the other hand, there is consistent opposition to His work. It is certain that the devil has come to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).

The truth is that, in Gospel ministry you will see amazing things, but it will come at a cost.  Yes, God is good. And yes, life is hard. The pain that come from a tough life coupled with the opposition from the “thief” can be difficult to overcome.

But, there is good news. Sometimes this kind of opposition can be a clear sign that God’s work is in fact taking place. And, Christ Himself told us to take heart, for he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Here are three things that you can do during tough times to partner with God in His good work! So, the next time that you face opposition in your life or ministry, draw clearly, draw near, and draw close!
(1) Draw clearly the picture of God’s goodness and His work. Let us clearly declare and proclaim the good work of God when we see it. There is power in testimony and praising God for the work he is doing. May we be a people who spend more time talking about the good things that God does than the difficulty that we face.
(2) Draw near to the Lord. God is already the victor, may we bring his work against the opposition/difficulty in this life. Identify that God’s good work does meet opposition with the Enemy, who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. With this, we should not fear the opposition, but in awareness of the opposition, bring God’s work on the cross and in the Spirit against the attack/difficulty (e.g. “I pray the work of Christ in this particular situation by the power of the Spirit”). James says draw near to the Lord and he will draw near to you. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. May it be so with us His body!
(3) Draw close to one another.  2 Timothy 2:23-24 warns us about what can happen in a body that is divided in the midst of conflict. Paul writes to Timothy, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” By contrast, Hebrews 10:24 invites us not to give up meeting together and instead to encourage one another all the more!
Let us bind together and encourage one another in the Lord throughout the various circumstances of life. God’s good work will continue to be done! In times of opposition, may we draw a clear picture of God’s good work, draw near to the Lord, and draw close to one another.

Setting a Table for the Whole World

 

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As Christians, we must decide if we will set a table as though the whole world is invited to feast. While there is no evidence that all will feast (though one can hope), the hopeful Christian must live as though the whole world is at minimum invited.

The parables of Jesus were one such place where large crowds were given a taste of what the Kingdom of God and its feast are like. These stories have a real place in the actual, crowded world. Jesus’ answers (often given in questions) have teeth that penetrate the hearts of mankind. Or, as Mike Erre puts it, “The Gospel Isn’t Just Something that exists somewhere in people’s hearts. It has edges and can actually impact the world.”

Sadly, today’s church can often feel like an exclusive dinner where only a few privileged souls have a place at the table. Often times, we leaders in the church can act more like gatekeepers than bridge-builders. If you are an invited guest (long time attender or member), you may be more interested in reserving your usual seat than making room for a visitor. If you are an outsider (first time visitor), you may be wondering if it is okay that you are even at church. 

Things would look a lot different if we as the church intended for people very different from us to have an invitation to the Table. D.A. Carson writes,

“Ideally the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”

The parable of the foolish rich man puts much of this conversation in extreme focus. The situation is that there is a crowd of people following Jesus and looking to see what He is all about. One of the people in the crowd fires a question at Jesus about how an inheritance should be divided between him and his brother. Jesus answers the question with another question and gives a stern warning about the effects of greed.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus

Then, Jesus launches into a story about the foolish rich man who didn’t quite know what to do with all of his wealth. (Talk about a “first world problem”: I just don’t know what to do with all this money I have!)

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

A pair of thoughts about this parable in Luke 12:16-19: First, life as God intended it includes abundant harvest. The desire of God is that your labor results in rich harvest. Unfortunately, a fallen world means that this is not always the case. The result is that there are times for celebration and times for sorrow, times where sowing results in harvest and times when sowing does not result in harvest.

Second, in the times where the harvest is plenty, there are foolish solutions and wise solutions. As we see in the parable, the foolish rich man concludes that he should build a bigger place to store his wealth. That we he can take life easy and live off the fat of the land.

At this, Jesus puts God into the parable (this is rare!). God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” In other words, all the stuff in the world will do you no good the eternity that comes after this life. The stuff is only good in this life and can be used properly or not.

I know a man who is in the later years of his life and is trying to give away money as wisely as possible. This is a man who understands that he will not be able to see his stuff used for eternity after he has left this world (though his stuff may, in fact, continue to be used this way!).

When God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” he gets to the heart of the matter. Will we use our stuff for eternal purposes or not? And, who has access? Who is invited?

Jesus indicates that there is a better way, a properly wise solution to the issue of excess. And, there is a God (even a Father) who enters the situation to give direction to the “divided brothers.”

In God’s economy, He is to be remembered in the midst of all the stuff. Proverbs 30:8-9 says,

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

In other words, we must remember God whether we have much or have plenty (see Paul in Philippians 4:11-13). And it is actually better to have just what we need for the day (see Exodus 16 and Matthew 6:11). We must remember God in our stuff.

Also, we must be willing to share our stuff with all people. There is a reason that God instructed the people of Israel not to harvest the edges of their fields during the Festival of Weeks. Leviticus 23:22 reads,

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

In other words, God desired that the outsider would have room at the table. God desired that those who see themselves as gatekeepers would actually become bridge-builders so that insiders would become room-makers and outsiders would belong. We are to share our stuff with people, as though the whole world is invited to the feast.

Lastly, we do this so that we can live in abundance together. It is no accident that Jesus makes mention of great feasts in Luke 14 and 22. And, it is not accident that Revelation 19 tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb. God intends for his people to feast together for all eternity. John 10:10 indicates that the devil sought to steal, kill, and destroy while Jesus came that we might have life in abundance. The abundant life may not necessarily include an abundance of things, but we are foolish to think that God’s abundant life doesn’t impact our things.

Scripture tells of an eternal feast with God. Our things on earth can be used to set a table for the whole world. Let’s remember God in our stuff, share our stuff with all people, and live in abundance together.

(This is a post in which I may stolen lines from or hopefully accurately paraphrased Mike Erre. Thankfully, Mike has publicly given permission for anyone to do this. My hope is that I have not altogether misquoted Mike or acted boorishly like a Wolverines or Spartans football fan.)

 

Enjoy Year (2018) : John Eldredge

“However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” – Ecclesiastes 11:8

I enjoy John Eldredge’s awareness of the move of God.

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I have followed John Eldredge for a number years, after meeting him as a student at Biola University. Each year, Eldredge encourages people to consider what their word for the year might be. This is not a New Year’s Resolution. It’s not what do you want your year to be. It’s an opportunity for one to ask God to speak into and over the year what He would like to see in your life. I can honestly say that I tried multiple years to do this and never had what I believed to be a genuine word from the Lord over my year.

However, 2018 is the year. Liz and I have been more intentional about “Listening Prayer” over the past couple of years. We never wanted to manufacture something. We never wanted to manipulate. But, after quite a bit of study on the topic, we have practiced “Listening Prayer” more intentionally in the past couple of year. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise then when the Lord brought the word “Enjoy” to mind several times at the end of 2017 and leading into 2018. 2018 is the year of Enjoy.

I’m to enjoy the work that is before me.

I’m to enjoy the presence of God in my life.

I’m to enjoy the relationships that God has given me.

I’m to enjoy the world that is all around me.

So, 2018 is the Year of Enjoy. I plan to be intentional about enjoying God this year and all that He has for me. After all, it was John Piper who said that the purpose of life is to “Glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” I plan to.

I remain thankful for John Eldredge’s life and ministry. I remember breaking down crying within seconds of his Restoration of the Heart Conference in June of 2016. He hadn’t even begun to speak yet. But, the power and presence of God in that place (New Life Church, Colorado Springs) was palpable. I remember hearing him say later how much prayer had gone into the event, days and months leading up to the start. It’s no wonder that God was moving from the start!

So, here is the start to my Enjoy Year (2018). I enjoy John Eldredge, his awareness of the move of God, his compassionate heart for people, and the way that he walks with joy.

Perhaps you enjoy John Eldredge too?

Never “Just” a Prayer

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It was never “just” a prayer.

I received this question from an attender and wanted to address the important question what it actually means to give your life to Jesus.

I think the heart of your concern rests in the following questions that you asked:

Why did the people who accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior go to hell? If all you have to do is say that Jesus is Lord and repent for your sin once, then why do we need to strive to be more like Jesus? It seems like you should but don’t have to. Why does the Bible tell us to always be aware, to not drift away? Why would it say it if once we say the sinner prayer, we are saved for good?

Let me respond as best I can here by email, understanding that conversation in person will usually be more helpful and thorough. As you have heard me say before, I do not believe that people can lose their salvation.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says

“you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

If you believe in Christ and become a follower of Christ, you are given the Holy Spirit, who is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” In other words, the Holy Spirit in you is a sign to you that you have saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved.

In John 10:28, Jesus indicates that none that He has been given can be snatched from his hand.

Romans 8:33-39 says

33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This means that we don’t have to be fearful of losing our salvation or of someone taking it from us. If we are chosen by God and have chosen to follow Him, we do not need to live in fear of being taken away from His promise. In this way, I do not believe that anyone who accepts Christ as Savior is sent to hell.

What I would do is say that we need to broaden our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. You asked, “If all we have to do” is say a prayer once and repent, then why do we need to become more like Jesus. I believe the Bible teaches our growth and includes warnings about falling away because the Christian life was never just about one prayer. The prayer is an outpouring of the heart of the believer towards God, it is not a one time transactional contract. We have instead a covenant with God that lasts a lifetime. God didn’t intend for the Christian life to be a one time magic set of words that got us out of hell and into heaven. The Christian life is indeed about a relationship with God and working out our salvation with fear and trembling (says Paul in Philippians 2). This does not mean that we can earn our salvation or save ourselves, it is a gift of God (Romans 6:23). What it does mean is that it is much more than a one time prior. Giving our life to Jesus means just that; that we give our lives to Jesus. Not just our words. Not just our prayers. We become more than believers in Christ. We become followers of Christ that walk in relationship to and with him.

The Holy Spirit is given as a seal to be able to accomplish the work of God in our lives and apply to us the work of Christ on the cross. It is a relationship. Think of the relationships in your life. None of them are just a one time meeting or a one time set of words. They are on going. Gordon Fee says it this way

“For Paul, life in the Spirit begins at conversion; at the same time that experience is both dynamic and renewable.” – Gordon Fee

Fee is saying that while we are given the seal of the Holy Spirit at conversion, the relationship is one that grows, is renewed, and expands. That is what we look for in our relationship with God, and if we indeed have the Holy Spirit in us, we do not need to worry about salvation being taken from us. In the end, the prize that we get is God himself!!

Denominations have many different takes on these issues and I think it is helpful to learn from the denominations and the truth that they present. There is no one denomination that has the corner market on who the Holy Spirit is and what He does in our lives. And so, we learn and discern what the denominations have to say. Much of that is a lifelong process as well. We discern what the traditions say, compare them with the Scripture, discuss them with others, and ask the Spirit to guide us into all truth, as Jesus said he would. I agree with your assessment by the way, that Orthodox churches seem to have a lot of traditions and protestant churches seem to have none. It may be helpful for both sides (and there are many more) to center upon Jesus and submit their rules (or lack thereof) to His Spirit as we work out our salvation together.

I’ll conclude with a story about a man who once came up to the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman and said, I would give my whole life to play the violin the way that you do. Perlman grinned and said, “I did give my whole life.” What showed that Perlman was a violinist: saying the words that he was a violinist or spending a lifetime playing? (See James’ talk about faith and deeds!) It’s a fantastic reminder to see that we have an opportunity as followers of Christ to give our whole lives (selves) to him, not just a one time prayer. And the good news is that our being save doesn’t rest on us, but on the Savior who will not lose one that the Father has given (John 6:39). You can’t earn your salvation, but you can give him your life. And that is a lot more than a prayer!

 

Everybody Worships…Something.

“In the end the heart longs not for any of God’s good gifts, but for God himself. To see Him and know Him and be in His presence is the soul’s final feast. Beyond this there is no quest.” – John Piper

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Over the past seven weeks, I have been teaching a class called “Worship in Spirit and Truth” at Greenwood community Church in Greenwood Village Colorado. Today’s blog post is born out of the thought, discussions, and teachings from that class. Primary to the class is the idea everybody worships where they know it or not. This is a biblical idea at its core but can also be seen from a philosophical, psychological, or sociological perspective.

Think for a moment about some of the definitions you may have heard for the word “worship.” You may have heard it defined as singing songs with the church context. You may have heard it defined is offering sacrifices to a god or gods. But, a simple, accurate, and biblical definition of worship is the offering of oneself to a person, persons, thing, or cause. Romans 12:1 says that our spiritual act of worship is to offer our very selves to Lord.

In other words, everyone gives their lives, their very selves to something. Whether is a person a thing or a cause everyone offers themselves to something. You could worship yourself for that matter. What do you give your life to? It could be a job. It could be a relationship. It could be money. It could be God. And so worship is something that every person on this earth engages in whether it is known or not.

All creation just by its very existence worships the creator. Psalm 19 says the heavens declare the glory of God. Day day after day they pour forth their speech. This is something that creation does just by its very existence. This is why Jesus said in Luke 14:40, if those are silent even the rocks will cry out. In this way there is a worship of the Creator that happens just by the very existence of creation.

In his book, The Worship Pastor, Zack Hicks talk about three circles of worship. The first is the one we’ve just described. Worship on a macro level. All of creation worships the creator. The second, smaller circle, is what happens when an individual offers themselves to Lord in worship. This is surrendering to the Spirit of God. This is following the voice of the Shepherd. This is aligning ones will to the will of the Father. And this is something that happens only by the freeing of the Spirit of truth.

A smaller circle within that circle is what we call corporate worship. This is what happens when God’s people gathered together corporate proclamation of God’s covenant. This is what happens on Sunday morning in churches all across the world. This is what happens in homes in small groups offer up praises and prayers to the Savior. It’s the meeting of God with his people, his children, his body. And what we do in singing songs of worship is just one small part of that small circle. It is only a portion of the great umbrella of worship, wherein everybody worships something whether they know it or not.

So what do you worship? What do you give your life to? How does that affect what you are doing this very moment? For this moment, and the moment after it, and a thousand moments, add up to a lifetime of worship. And I say, it’s worth knowing who we worship.

The Global God and His Children of Every Tribe

“In reality, all congregations are ethnic.” – Sandra Maria Van Opstal

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In her new book, The Next Worship, Sandra Maria Van Opstal challenges worshipers and worship leaders to a new understanding of how to glorify God in our diverse world. She asks the questions, “When the church invites others to the table in worship, what assumptions do we make about what is and is not normal?” and “What happens when a diverse church glorifies the global God?” These questions (and the other questions she raises) are much needed questions to be discussed, as the people of the world (and the church alike) can often seem to have grown increasingly polarized from one another. Primarly, we get stuck in a narrow perspective of who are God is and who we are as His church. We tend to think that everyone thinks and acts like we do and we even fantasize about a God who looks like us! We forget that the church down the street (let alone across the globe!) can have significantly different approaches to worship that we do and as a result, we tend to insist upon others “doing church” or “doing life” the way that we do. This problem, in itself, reveals our need for a God who is other and has created a vastly diverse Creation to reflect His image. For this reason and others, Van Opstal’s book is timely and needed.

The church where we worship, Greenwood Community Church in Greenwood Village, Colorado, is increasingly waking up to these questions, as we seek to be formed as a body of Christ-followers that invites men and women (and children and youth and the elderly) from every tongue, tribe, and nation into a unified corporate expression of the worship of Jesus Christ. This is no easy task, as the potential divisions are endless. The devil, who seeks only to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) has been creating divisions since the beginning. And, Melkor sang a new melody of discord in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth origin, the devil has continued to sow discord in the world to this day. It is for this reason that Paul warned the church in Rome, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Romans 16:17-18). In this way, to watch out for this division is really the first step among many. 

The problem, after all, is not God’s. Instead, His children have continued to make a mess of his creation after millennia of the Good Father providing His children with gifts. As Frank Burch Brown argues, this warrants an approach that is both inclusive and discerning. (Note that discerning does not, here, mean non-inclusive). In his book, Inclusive Yet Discerning, Brown writes, “The mere fact that God’s created beings use very different languages in prayer and praise is presumably no problem for God, of course. We can safely assume that God, who is said to know all of us better than we know ourselves, has no personal need of translators. The problem is ours. The very moment we tell the whole world we want to praise God together, we must necessarily rely on our own language, culture, and concept of God. But that may be alienating rather than inviting, and it threatens to undercut the experience we are most hoping to share—the experience of being united in praise of God. How can we even know whether we are all praising the same God, given that we are speaking different languages and may have rather different ideas of God to begin with?” – Frank Burch Brown

So, how can we know if we are praising the same God? The starting (and finish) line is found in the greatest commandments ever given: loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). And, as you might recall, we are given a stern warning in Scripture of the consequences of loving God and hating our brother or sister. As we seek to remember Christ at the table in our churches and our homes, may we diligently pursue a posture of love for our Global God and His children of every tongue, tribe, and nation!