Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Come Into The Light

When your sins weigh heavy upon you, come to Me....Man's tendency is to hide from his sin, seeking refuge in the darkness...But I am the Light of the world, and my illumination decimates darkness. - Jesus Calling, May 20th Entry, Sarah Young

As a writer, I sometimes have holy jealousy when someone writes something so moving.  When I read this entry, what stood out of me was that word decimate.  So often I think darkness is part of me, it lives and breathes around me.  I spent many of the first 10 years of my life of faith "fighting" the darkness - my flesh, the world and, of course, the enemy. 

There is absolutely a time and place for that.  I still have to confront those dark corners and spaces of my soul that are not surrendered to the Lord.

Yet what Sarah Young wrote here is the absolute truth.  God's light decimates the darkness, of us, the world and the evil.  Darkness can't overcome light....not even close.  Jesus calls Himself the Light of the world in John 8:12, so I opened that chapter and started reading.  I was reading from The Living Picture Bible, which I actually bought for my girls.  The language is really good, and it is in story form so I can read without getting distracted by verse numbers.

This chapter is especially meaningful because it starts with the redemption of a wayward, broken woman.  I can identify with that in more than a few ways but the clincher for me is (always) verse 9-11:

And the Jewish leaders slipped away one by one, until only Jesus was left in front of the crowd with the woman.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, "Where are your accusers?  Didn't even one of them condemn you?"  "No sir," she said.  And Jesus said, 

Neither do I.  Go and sin no more.

Well, I tell you, I sat on my couch and bawled.  I have tears in my eyes now reading it again.  It never ceases to floor me that the One who had every right to condemn this woman for her condemn me for my sins...did not.  HE IS NOT THE ACCUSER.  We don't have to fight darkness and condemnation because He has already won the battle.  Through Christ's victory on the Cross, proved by the Resurrection, there is NO condemnation in Him (Romans 8:1).  It just isn't part of His DNA.  He affirms this just a few verses down, You pass judgment on me without knowing the facts.  I am not judging you now; but if I were, it would be an absolutely correct judgement in every respect, for I have with me the Father who sent me.

BUT HE ISN'T JUDGING US!!  Do you hear that???  He did not come to punish.  He doesn't come into our lives to do anything but free us.  I wrote these words in my Bible: He is the Truth-Teller.  Even when we don't want to hear it...The more we position and surrender ourselves - even (and especially) when we don't want to or don't understand - the more we listen to HIM....the more free from lies and darkness we become. 

I kept reading John 8 and Jesus hits the bottom line from verses 34-36: You are slaves of sin, every one of you.  And slaves don't have rights, but the Son has every right there is! So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.

He said this because freedom, infinite amounts of it, are available to us in His way of salvation- the ongoing process of walking with His Spirit, of staying close to His Word and living fully free in His Father's grace.  When we get this twisted, it turns into control and legalism.  When humans try to re-define who Jesus is and what He said to do, people get hurt and think God wants to punish us.  You might have experienced that in church and I am terribly sorry for it.

Or maybe you have actually done something, repeatedly, that you know does not please Him (haven't we all??).  So, you run.  You hide.  We stay away because we are afraid of what He will do to us.

In those corners, those closets, those cramped hiding spots, you stay enslaved to darkness.

That is not what God the Father, Christ the Son and Redeemer the Spirit want.

Those three want you free.  They want you walking in the light of life, never walking in darkness again.  Jesus is the light of the world.  You can walk free in and with Him now and forever.

You split the sea so I could walk right through it.
You drown my fears in perfect Love.
You rescued me and I will stand and sing,

I am no longer a slave to fear.  

Those are lyrics from "No Longer Slaves" by Bethel Music.  When you come out of your hiding spot, the Son sets you free to be His brother or sister.  He makes His Father your Father.  It is a miracle, but it is true.  You get a new identity.  But many in our churches don't live into that identity.

Many in our pews and chairs are still in the dark.  They have never fully stepped into the Sonlight of their new identity because the dark is all they've ever known.  It's true it might hurt to surrender.  You might have to let some habits, even relationships go. 

Think of it this way: when I've been in the house for awhile and step outside, I have to close my eyes for them to adjust.  Some days here in Houston the sky is so clear and the sun is so bright, it actually hurts my eyes when I go outside.  But that pain only lasts for a moment and I realize I'm warmer and more comfortable than I was inside.  The sun drenches me in promise and life.  Our bodies need sunlight to survive.

Our spirits, souls, minds and yes, even our physical bodies need Sonlight even more.  We have a chance every day to sunbathe in the Light of the world.  When we do, He will liberate us more and more.  We have to come out of our darkness, coming close so His lovelight can surround us as we walk this earth.

It's the only way to peace.  He is the only way to be purified, cleaned up from the inside out.

It doesn't matter if you've never said the sinner's prayer or have been a saint for 50 years.  There is an opportunity today to walk farther into the light.  Come into it.  Take the hand His offering, letting Him pull you up and into His arms.

Better yet, grab someone else's hand and let Christ pull you both close together. 

Step outside with me.  I promise the weather is fine.

Friday, May 15, 2015

2015: The Year of Prayer - Week 19

How do you hear from God?

That maybe the second most asked question in the history of religion, right behind Does God exist?

It is not an unfamiliar search for the answer, either, as every new Christian has to figure out the way God speaks to them.  The key to hearing Him, though, is faith.  Believing He will speak to you.  Frankly, if you never believe He speaks or take the time to listen...He will be speaking but you will never hear Him!

The next question is: What do I do when God speaks to me?  That's an easy one: you shut up and listen....then do what He tells you (or at least begin the work of how to obey...but you should obey!)

This week has been about re-examining if I hear from God and how.  The end result is: Yes, I do hear from God and I can trust that I do.

The most common way I hear from Him is through His Word.  That is the fail-safe.  You can never, ever, ever go wrong when you read The Word!  A (good) article I found on hearing from God says this about hearing from the Lord through Scripture: In order to actually "hear" from God, we have to know some things about God's character. We have to develop an understanding of who God is, and the way he does things. Fortunately for us, all that information is available in the Bible. The Book goes into a lot of detail about how you can expect God to react, what kinds of expectations he has for us, and most specifically, how he expects us to treat other people.  (Read the article in its entirety here.)

When we know God, we will begin to discern His voice from the other influences "speaking" into us.  I've told my girls I typically know the difference between God's voice and my own not because it really SOUNDS any different but usually because the Holy Spirit tells me things I wouldn't normally think, say or do, in and of myself.

There was one situation a few years ago I went back to this week.  We were really struggling with a major life decision and I could get no peace about it in prayer.  Early one morning, I got on the treadmill in our garage.  I was running along, having this running dialogue (no pun intended) when I felt - more than heard - the question:

Do you trust Me?

Now, that is not something I would say to myself because the answer would quickly be "No."  There was something so solid in this "voice," in the question itself.  It was like 11 years ago, after being called a hypocrite, I first felt Him probing me to answer the question, "Who do you say that I am?"  Answering that question put me on my current path of faith.  It was the same voice as before - not said to make me feel bad; only asked to reveal the content of my heart.

Occasionally, God wants to reaffirm Who He is - not for His benefit but for ours.  After I picked myself up from the shock of nearly being thrown off the treadmill, I got down on my face and said, "YES, LORD.  I trust You!"  The difficulty of our circumstances was in no way changed, but my perspective was completely altered in a way that equipped me to walk in a manner worthy of my calling - namely walking full of peace and hope.

The voice of God empowers us.  It fills us with life so we can act in loving, caring do what Jesus did.  The voice of the enemy only tears us down.  You see, the enemy doesn't speak about things like trust, faith, hope, love, goodness, decency, purity, excellence.  Those are not things he wants for us!  Hello!  He is the father of lies!  So while he might lead with a little bit of the truth, you won't hear life in his words.  Evil is only about death.  The enemy and his agents make statements which leave us feeling condemned, hated, ugly, unworthy, guilty and shameful (to name a few).

This week has been another lesson of trust - trusting His voice over the voices of others.  I have had to dig in deep...lots of conversations in prayer - both voiced and silent.  It was an effort to confirm the direction I'm headed is indeed the right one.  I got shaken up and unsure.  In the first letter to the Corinthian church (which I've been reading this week) the Apostle Paul gives them an earful on how to operate in the Spirit.  Right in the middle of establishing how things should run in a church (orderly, as in, we should take turns), he writes,

...for God is not a God of confusion but of peace...(1 Cor 14:33)

If I'm walking around confused and out of whack, upset, frustrated and without a shred of peace - that's not God.  Even if the Holy Spirit has asked me to do something hard (and He has) - even when I have heartburn and can't see how this is possibly going to work out - His peace will override my flesh.  You know....that peace that surpassing all understanding?

This week was an exercise in confirmation that the Lord will never leave me.  He will not forsake me.  The truth of Isaiah 30:20-21 in full effect:  He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right or to the left.

In the midst of questioning, doubts and internal wheel spinning, there has been peace at the core of me.  My own internal compass is pointed in the right direction, even when other voices were telling me it wasn't.  He primarily used His Word (as it is the most reliable source) but I experienced other ways too: His people, His Presence, circumstances, dreams and visions.

They have all been in full effect this week!

All these verses I quote, all these promises in Scripture - they aren't just for me.  They are for every believer.  The Lord wants to speak to us. Hearing from God isn't rocket science but it does require risk.  The risk is: when you ask the Lord to speak, you have to be willing to listen.  If He speaks to me, He wants to speak to you too.  I've written about how 3 times my father has heard an audible voice from God (read that here.)  I have too - once.  But 98% of the time, I hear from God by the tried and true methods I've mentioned.

(Bob Mumford has a great book on this called Take Another Look at Guidance, if you want to dig deeper.)

Walking through this challenging week in prayer has lead me back to one certainty: God does speak.  I do hear Him.  He loves me and I love Him.  I know and can trust His voice.  Lo, He is with me to the very end of the age.  (Matthew 28:20)

Hearing from God is a learned skill.  I will continue to learn but He is faithful to teach.  The struggle this week was worth it as I am more secure in what He is doing in and through me.  

My ears are open - speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!  (1 Sam 3:9)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

2015: The Year of Prayer: Week 18

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. - Micah 7:7

If you are looking for passages of Scripture to memorize, that's a good one because it is easy.  Its "address" is easy too.  Sometimes we just need the fundamental truth of God - anticipation, hope, salvation, recognition, expectation.  We have prayers, needs that are yet to be met.  Fulfillment of what we know God will do is not quite complete.  It's the now-not yet principal of our faith.

Thankfully, though, we have one advantage over the prophets - what they longed for, what they predicted - what here Micah eagerly awaits - we already know.  Messiah has come and He has finished the work for all of us.  The Apostle Paul (who I have a complicated relationship with although I truly love the guy) completes the thought of the promise from Micah in 2 Corinthians 1:20: For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

It is significant Paul uses "Amen" in this verse because Amen actually means "Let it be so," or "It is so."  We end our prayers with that word (knowingly or unknowingly, as I wasn't aware of this till recently!) and we are saying, God, this is Yours.  We have prayed to You, now let Your will be established.  Let it be as You say it will be and we will give You all the glory for it.

In prayer, saying Amen is a final act of relinquishing - of giving everything over to God to do with as He sees fit.

I say all of this only because it highlights my week.  After last week (read about Week 17 here), this week felt more like a lull.  In the church seasons, we live most of our life in "Ordinary Time," (although technically that's not the season we are in).  This week has felt pretty ordinary.  Having every week be like last week is not physically speaking, sustainable....(our bodies need rest from the adrenaline soaked workings of the Holy Ghost)...still, this week sort of felt like a downer.

Not for lack of great God work.  Another young man I've been walking life with, Oliver, experienced a major deliverance on Sunday morning from 18 years of having to control everything.  He walked into our prayer time with back spasms and TMJ.  He walked out healed of the back spasms and well on his way to being freed from his painful jaw condition, with new spiritual weapons at his disposal.

On Wednesday, my good friend Audrey experienced the power of prayer like never before.  She was the recipient of the wonder-working power of the agreement of God with His people.  It was really intense and highlighted for me how much I need (we all need) Him directing things, so we can make those giant leaps into greater freedom.

Thursday, my friend Brad's sister Brooke, was seriously ill coming back from vacation.  She had to be rushed to the ER on her layover here on her way home to L.A.  Yet, thanks to God's foreknowledge, she was in the best place for care.  She obeyed the Lord when booking her trip.  She asked Him where she should connect through and He answered.  Months later, she was delivered into the best hands possible, medically and emotionally speaking (her family lives here). After only 48 hours in the hospital, she's been discharged, no surgery or procedures required, resting at home with her mom.  We are believing she will be well enough to come to church with her family on Sunday!   
Only God.

The tapestry He is weaving in the community of faith in Houston (and the U.S.) is taking shape for all who wish to see it.  It is incredible to be a part of!

As busy as God has been this week, so has the enemy.  I don't say that to give him any credit, I truly can't stand that devil.  He has been stirring up trouble, working to wreak havoc.  That's why Oliver had back spasms in the first place, and Brooke got sick.  None of that mess was from the Lord. 

For me personally, there were some tough lessons.  Character development is always rough.  Still, I'm thankful.  I know nothing is wasted, God is the original recycler.  He takes the past and the present, when we let Him, making all our trash into beautiful, useful, helpful new creations.  (See Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28)

One of the big things I learned was not to focus on the one area that is wrong in a relationship.  Instead, I need to let Holy Spirit shift me up a level - to look at the bigger picture.  Having a myopic view of a situation is very dangerous.  When you focus on the one area that is out of whack or balance, it ruins fellowship, connection and intimacy.  People aren't just one day, one week, one habit.  God made us whole in Christ, each on our own journeys towards the greater abundance He came to give. (see John 10:10).

There are no overnight successes in the Kingdom of God!  When you look back, you see the Hand of God working all along, bringing you to the right place, ready to receive.  However, the insidious tactic of the enemy is to make us think we should all be instant rock-stars of faith at the moment of salvation; no longer needing the grace of God because we are all perfect. The enemy of our hearts WANTS US only to focus on what needs to change because he knows, if we are grateful for what God has and is doing, his plan of destruction is already lost.

It is all too easy to try and jam our fingers into our brother's eye to dig out the speck and forget the logs God has surgically removed, with His instruments of gentleness and grace, from our own.

If I know one thing, though, this life is not a sprint.  It isn't even a marathon.  My pastor and dearest friend (and this week counselor), Christian Washington, pointed that out a few months back - our lives of faith are actually triathlons!  You might finish swimming, but then you have to get on the bike.  You get off the bike only to start running.  We are never "done in Christ," this side of eternity and to forget that is to forget our need for God - and then we start leaning too far into our own understanding.  

It doesn't mean we stop praying or encouraging change where it is needed.  Jesus met people where they were but never left them that way.  Jesus was the Master of knowing what kind of pressure - and where - to apply.  He rarely spoke a harsh word of rebuke to His Disciples.  There was that one time with Peter (Get behind Me satan...) but even then, that was to crowbar Peter out of his own understanding of what the Messiah was to do.  

In this week of "the lull," I have to keep in mind He is in charge and I am not.  When I try to make every week like last week, every day a mountaintop, trying to do Holy Spirit's work for Him, I will be disappointed.

We need the lulls to recover.  It doesn't mean we aren't doing anything.  Rather, we are taking the critical step of resubmitting ourselves to His direction.  When a farmer plants a field, much of the time it looks like nothing is happening, but the fruit is growing.  At the right time, those mountaintops will be revealed and all our labors will not have been in vain.  The harvest will be ready and ripe.  We will work side by side with the Lord and each other to reap it.  (See Galatians 6:9-10)

Until then, like Micah, in certain areas of my life, I watch in hope for the Lord.  I wait expectantly for God my Savior to come in fullness, to answer, to help.  The answers to our prayers enter our dimension when the time is right, but the Lord has already released them.  They are above and ahead of me.  I'm the one that has to catch up to the "Yes," of God.

So, in hopeful expectation of that YES...I will say AMEN.