Listen

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“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” Matthew 6:7

When is that last time you listened to God? When was the last time you heard Him tell you something?

“Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession,” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline p 34).  I love this quote because it is so simple. Why do we complicate the simple? Because we don’t want to take the time to really learn the lesson.

Who has any extra time?

Yet, God called us into taking this time.  The old puritan prayer is “pray until you pray.”

In our busy schedules we need to carve out time to listen. “One of the most critical aspects in learning to pray for others,” said Richard Foster, “is to get in contact with God so that His life and power can be channeled through us into others” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline p 34).

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NOW

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“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation”  2 Corinthians 6:2 

Time.

We all have the same amount of it, from rich to poor. Yet what do we do with it? When will we have enough time to pray?  After school? After the house is quiet or before the house is active? Is the house ever quiet?

More importantly, when are you quiet?

You must be disciplined if you want to make an impact in our world.  It is never a good idea to wait until its most convenient to pray because, as we all know, there is no convenient time.

Still, there is something deep inside of us reaching out to a holy and eternal God. Our souls are not satisfied with the business of life. Somehow we want more. Actually, we need more, its just that most of our hearts to too deadened to realize what we really need. Like a starving man eating Skittles, we are never really satisfied.

“After all,” we rationalize, “we can’t do everything, can we?”

And prayer falls out of our life just that quickly. In a brief moment of irritation we justify that we are simply to busy to spend time with our Heavenly Father.

Leo Tolstoy offers us sage wisdom in this area. “Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.” (Tolstoy, Fables and Fairy Tales p 87).

So lets spend a moment before we enter bed tonight and talk to your wonderful Savior. He is waiting to pour out his blessing on us. We just have to turn our attention to Him.

Commitment?

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“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed” (Psalm 57:7)

Commitment.

Who even likes that word? And who in the world is committed?  To be “committed” means to be petitioned to a mental institute, doesn’t it? And who stays married any more? Isn’t it good to have options? Commitment sounds gray and boring, like a cement road.

But Christ calls us to something better. He calls us to Him. He calls us to commitment.

Richard Foster stated, “Well, first of all, many people today are simply not good at commitments of any kind. In one sense it is hardly our fault. It is in the air. It is the mood of the times. Commitment means responsibility, and responsibility sounds confining.” (Foster Prayer p 67).

When we uncover the word commitment we find the word responsibility. That’s another ugly word. But Jesus extends his hand and offers us life (John 10:10).

But don’t we want freedom? We need our freedom.

Foster goes on to state “Once we think about it – even for a moment – we realize how utterly ludicrous this idea really is. Absolute freedom is absolute nonsense! We gain freedom in anything through commitment, discipline, and fixed habit.” (Foster Prayer p 67).

Freedom comes from obedience. We find Christ through commitment, and he offers us life, life better than anything we have ever experienced. So commit some time to this God of yours. Take a walk with Him. Laugh with Him. Cry with Him. Talk with Him.

This is real freedom.

 

The Importance of Being Alone

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“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalms 147:3 

Is it good to be alone?

Isn’t loneliness something to avoid? Isn’t loneliness bad for my mental health? Who in the world wants to feel terrible?

Allow me to say something UnAmerican. Don’t get me wrong, I love my county, but it has influenced me in some bad ways. One of those ways is the fear of being alone.

As Christians we NEED to be alone sometimes. “We find that solitude gives us power not to win the rat race but to ignore the rat race altogether. Slowly, we find ourselves letting go of our inner compulsions to acquire more wealth than we need…In the stillness, our false, busy selves are unmasked and seen for the impostors they truly are” (Richard Foster, Prayer, P 63).

Let’s time by ourselves. Turn the Netflix off, the cell phone off, the music off. This would be an act of faith all by itself. And spend time with your God. Solitude is the bedrock of the Christian faith.  We need to stop the rush of activity. We NEED silence.

Henri Nouwen, a great Christian thinker, said something that, at first, may seem too strong, but he is right. “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life” (Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New, p 69).

So schedule a time of silence. Turn off the noise and screens, and just take a walk with our Lord.

Wk #28 What is Heaven Like?

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3

As I write this blog entry my mother lay at St. Mary’s hospital waiting to draw her last breath. She had a massive stroke two days ago and is not expected to live much longer. My mother was the example of grace and integrity to me. She lived a life of sacrifice and virtue, despite whatever the circumstances were. She knew Jesus and loved Him fiercely. After I write this I will go up to the hospital to see her leave this life. I love her more than words can say and am proud to be her son. I have cried more in the past few days than I have my entire life.

So why am I sharing this? Because this is what heaven is like; intensely personal and almost uncomfortably intimate.  Professor Dr. Michael Witmer said, “Heaven is all about Jesus, everything else is second.” Jesus has a custom-made plan for you. You see, He knows you better than you do. He knows your fears and failures and will redeem your problems in a way that is “incredibly more than you can think or imagine” (Eph 3:20).It starts with knowing Jesus. It’s all about Him.

But what will we do all day in Heaven? Randy Alcorn wrote an incredible book on this subject and simply called it, “Heaven.” He goes through Scripture to show that heaven will actually be on this earth, not off in the clouds somewhere. You see, God will redeem (which means to ‘buy back’ or ‘recover’) this earth. Right now, the earth is “groaning” under the curse of sin (Roman 8:22). When God redeems this place it will be “like” the world we see outside our window but will be much better.

Try to imagine life without decay, death, or sunburns. Try to think of life without violence, jealousy, or the threat of terrorism. Wouldn’t it be great to see lions play with little children as a large friendly cat? Or how about having bodies that simply won’t die but only grow stronger with age. There will be countries, jobs, possessions and even pets. And Jesus will be there. He will be giving a generous portion of hugs to each of us. He will have time to sit down with us and talk about life, face to face. And of course we will see our loved ones who made it there before us.

Randy Alcorn writes, “All our lives we’ve been dreaming of the New Earth. Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman, or child, we catch at glimpse of Heaven. Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy.” (Heaven  p 233).

The only good way to picture heaven, in my opinion, is through imagination. We catch glimpses of it here but just that, only glimpses. C. S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book on this subject called “The Last Battle,” the last in the Chronicles of Narnia book series.  In the story terrible things happen as many of the creatures of Narnia are enslaved by an evil master pretending to be “Aslan,” the good king. But the world ends and the heroes find themselves thrust into a new place, unknown to them. “It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: “I have come home at last. This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked like this.  Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!” (Lewis, The Last Battle p 196).

My mother is about to embark on the greatest adventure of her life. This is not the end, this is the beginning. My family will morn her loss, but this loss is temporary. I like what D.L. Moody (the great evangelist) said on his deathbed, “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.”

Discuss: What ideas come to your mind when you think about heaven? Where do these ideas come from?

Pray:  Pray that you will be understand the ‘end game’ Jesus has for you. Pray that you see clearly how much he loves you and wants to give you wonderful things.

Act:  Find out more about Heaven, just go to the right resources: the Bible and good Christian writers. Talk with your small group about why understanding Heaven accurately is so important to your daily walk with Him.

Wk#27 What Do I Do with My Doubts?

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“Then he told Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Take your hand, and put it into my side. Stop doubting, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus told him, “Is it because you’ve seen me that you have believed? How blessed are those who have never seen me and yet have believed!” John 20:27-29

Have you ever wondered if there really is a God?  You can’t see Him. You can’t prove His existence. No one has ever taken a selfie with God and placed it on Facebook.

And if you have never doubted, then you certainly will have asked uncomfortable questions about your faith. What about people who have never heard about Jesus? Does God hold them accountable for knowing Him? What about hell? Is there really such a place? Why would God allow anyone to go there?

Doubts are not wrong. Doubts happen to people when they think through life. And life often doesn’t make sense.  Christian author Phillip Yancy discusses these uncomfortable questions in his book, “Reaching for the Invisible God.” He states, “How can we obey without certainty, when plagued by doubts. I have concluded that faith requires obedience without full knowledge. Like Job, like Abraham, I accept that much lies beyond my finite grasp….” (Yancy, p 90).

Lets take a look at ‘Doubting Thomas.’  He said that unless he put his find in Jesus’ side he would not believe he had been raised from the dead. All his friends told him but he had to see for himself. So Jesus pursues Thomas. Instead of blaming him Jesus told him to believe.  It’s good that God has patience with us. Then Thomas makes the strongest declaration of Jesus’ deity in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus goes on to give you and I a special blessing, who have never seen him. However, He has given us the Bible, and we will be accountable for that (something neither Job nor Abraham had).

It is good to think through through your doubts. Is Christianity the real faith? What about Buddha? What is there is no God at all?

This is why I encourage all the readers to use the three greatest gifts God has given us to know Him; 1) the Word of God 2) the Spirit of God  and 3) the people of God. We base our faith on the person and work of Jesus. This is why getting into God’s Word daily is so important. God wants you to be like a tree planted by the water, with strong, deep roots.

Personally, I have experienced God in powerful ways. My life has been incredibly blessed by this unseen Lord. He is a good Father and a all powerful Savior. He has changed my life. Has He changed yours?

Discuss:  Have you ever doubted God?  Have you ever been challenged in your faith by circumstances? Discuss specifics with friends. Even talk with non-Christian friends, if they are willing.

Pray:  Pray for wisdom to know God in a personal and powerful way. Pray that you can be a light in the darkness.

Act:  Talk with friends about your doubts. Ask them if they doubt there is a God. Many believe in Jesus but have not decided to commit their hearts to Him. What would keep them from Jesus?

 

Holding Your Hand

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“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.'” Isaiah 41:13 

Isaiah is warning Israel of terrible danger if they don’t turn away from their false gods. He loves them and wants the best for them. He offers encouragement in the middle of the warning. He says something wonderful. He promises to hold their hand. Isn’t that incredible? It’s such a tender, intimate act of love.

When you go through dark valleys of depression and anxiety, it may feel almost overwhelming. It may feel like you are the only one in the world who is suffering. Depression isolates you. It makes you feel all alone. But thank God, feelings can be misleading. Thank God He is extending you His hand in friendship and love.

But have you ever seen God? I haven’t. I have felt his Spirit leading me but have no verifiable proof to share with anything. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection have a great deal of historical proof, but still, have you ever seen Him?

Hope is a difficult thing to have when depressed.

Faith is believing in what you have not seen. Our faith is founded on the Word of God, The Spirit of God, and the people of God. This is why the Bible is so important. We need to immerse ourselves in the truth is we are ever going to stand for the Lord.