Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is experiencing God a sign of maturity?

I think most believers would say that they desire at some level to experience God. They may call it weird or at least think that its unattainable, you know... only for the really spiritual. But I think if I sat down with the average Christian over coffee and really got down to it, they would say something like, "If it’s real, and if it’s possible I'd like to experience God".

I'm by nature more of a touchy feely type of guy. But even for me I have to intentionally fight for experience in my walk with God. It’s so easy to make Christianity an intellectual transaction. I absolutely love the presence of God and the atmosphere of heaven that invades our space and our reality. Yes I've seen some all out weird stuff growing up in the church and especially around Pentecostal/charismatic believers. The Pentecostal/charismatic flavor was all I knew growing up. And I admit that we have done ourselves a dis-service at times when our flavor, personality, and even flesh has gotten in the way of genuine moves of God. However, saying all of that, I've also seen and experienced some all out awesome moves of God. I’d rather wade through all of the questionable and sometimes “fake” to find the genuine presence of God, instead of “throwing out the baby with the bath water”. I’m not going to dismiss one at the expense of the other. The Bible says, “Test everything” but we've forgotten the art of “testing”. We’d rather throw away what makes us uncomfortable and stay safe, in what we've always known.

I've been in environments where it was hard for people to stand in the presence of God. I've seen prophecy work in such dramatic ways where people's “mail is being read" and destiny is being set in motion over their life. I've often felt the presence of God or angels as areas of my body experienced heat or waves of heat. I've had goose bumps as every hair on my body stands up when the presence of God changes the atmosphere. I could go on and on telling my stories or other people's stories.

My heart has always been for the body of Christ to experience the presence of God. I've taught on it and preached on it. I've told people we need to live in the tension of knowledge and experience. I genuinely believe that most Christians believe that in their head, but if i asked you, “when was the last time you experienced God?” I mean tangibly felt him, sensed him, heard him, saw him? What would you say?

I was recently getting ready to teach a class in our Church's "School of the Spirit". The topic was "Connecting Experientially With God". I knew the Bible was full of times where men and women experienced the presence of God. During my study I was pulling out example after example to share with the class and then came across a principle that surprised me. I read Hebrews 5:11-14.

“Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14 NASB)

I was blown away as the author of Hebrews described maturity in our walk with God vs being infants who still need to drink milk. In verse 14 he says, "...But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." He describes as sign of maturity in our walk with God as training our "senses" to discern him! As I studied the original language of this verse and it is directly talking about our 5 senses.

I think that most of us have had an experience with God and didn't know it. We've felt him, but dismissed it as something else. We saw something “supernatural” but explained it away and rationalized it. We heard something, but were afraid we might be wrong. Doubt and unbelief is a toxic cocktail in the Kingdom of God, just read the gospels as Jesus over and over again says to the disciples, “Oh you of little faith”. My advice is don’t dismiss or accept spiritual things flippantly, test it. Pull it in, examine it, read scripture, ask questions, use reasoning, but just know that there will always be mystery with God. I sure haven’t figured him out yet. Try this… instead of “not believing” until you prove otherwise try your best to believe until you prove otherwise. I like to assume it’s God until I've tested and found out it isn't  Punch doubt and unbelief in the face.

So I propose this thought... "Connecting experientially with God is a sign of maturity in your walk with Him". Take it for what it's worth. My heart isn't to make anyone feel bad, but rather help to motivate us to greatness. Go after knowledge, but pursue His presence.   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What speed does God operate on?

In my experience God operates on one speed… His Timing. I haven’t quite figured out how to speed Him up or slow Him down. I guess that’s why He’s God and I’m not. Sometimes He’s seemingly predictable and He’ll respond the moment a prayer leaves my mouth, and other times I’m left wondering, “what’s taking so long?”  Maybe you’ve been there too? You throw up a prayer like a proverbial quarter in a cosmic gumball machine in the sky. You expect for an answer to pop out, and sometimes it works and you even get the color you wanted. Other times the “Machine” seemingly eats your quarter. I’m guessing that part of the problem lies in us treating God like a “cosmic gum ball machine” in the first place.

I have found that in general God moves in seasons, processes, and suddenlies (I wish I had 3 “s” words because then this would really preach). Sometimes God just carries us through natural seasons of our life. Life ebbs and flows and we look back and see the fingerprints of God all over it. Eventually one season ends and another begins. These “divine” seasons sometimes come and go as quickly as the natural seasons of Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring and other times they’re much longer or much shorter. One thing is for sure… a season by its very nature will end so that another may start.

Processes can be similar to seasons or at least be a part of seasons, but usually when God “takes you through a process” it is really intentional. The primary purposes of “the process” is character development, and learning things you would never learn outside of a God ordained process. It’s usually during “the process” that we wish He would just snap His fingers and “fix it”.

My personal favorite (and I’m sure yours as well) is the “suddenlies of God”. This is where He skips the processes, and the seasons and breaks into our situations with an instant miracle. I love that! I contend for it! I even believe that His heart longs to give us the suddenlies. He’s the one that gave us the model for prayer that says, “…Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…” His ultimate desire is for Heaven to invade earth and invade our church, and invade our families, and invade every pressing situation in our lives. Last winter, here in Kearney, there was a perfect picture of this when right in the middle of the “season of winter” we experienced a “suddenly of spring”.  (Now if only we could skip winter all together).

In all of this I think it’s important for us to remember to simply trust God in the midst of our situation. I’ve never known Him to respond well to demands, or manipulation, or anything else like that. Rather the Bible says “a broken and contrite heart He has yet to deny” the Bible also says, “And without Faith it is impossible to please Him”. The bottom line is that the speed God operates on, the one I mentioned earlier… His Timing… Is Perfect.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A lesson I learned by walking with my daughter

A lesson I learned by walking with my daughter

I went for a walk with my daughter recently through our neighborhood and down to the park. At the time of writing this she is almost 16 months old. She’s still learning to balance as she tends to fall down quite a bit, sometimes it’s cute and funny and other times I need to pick her up and let her cry into my shoulder (this may be TMI, but I’m getting quite a bit of snot on my clothes lately). During our walk I observed some things about my daughter, and I assume most kids are the same way. She moves quite slow compared to my long legs, but besides our obvious size difference her slowness comes from stopping every three feet. At this point she doesn’t even understand "going to the park", I know she’s going to love it when we get there, but she’s in her own little world. The destination isn’t even something that crosses her mind, the walk with daddy and all of the things she can pick up are an adventure in and of itself. A leaf, a rock, and even a weed becomes her new found treasure.

Most of the time I let her walk by herself, gently directing her away from potential danger or from playing in someone’s yard. Sometimes I hold her hand, keeping her close by with the freedom to walk on her own. And part of the time I carry her. The walk is really all about her as I delight in my daughter. I am fascinated by her being fascinated by the littlest and seemingly valueless things. I’ve walked this neighborhood many times and never once have I cared about the leaf, rock, weed, or even the random pretty flower. However as a dad, and fairly new to this job description at that, I find myself caring about the things that she cares about. I even bent down a few times to pick leaves and twigs up and hand them to her.  The argument could be made that there are more important things in life than a leaf or a weed, but not right now. In this moment it’s not as much about the things she finds along the sidewalk, for me it’s about her heart, her desires, making her happy.

I can't help but draw comparisons and parallels from this example to our walk with God. I think the biggest take away for me is that God cares about what I care about. He obviously sees the big picture and the destination that he's leading me to, but He's a good father and He enjoys the journey with me even more than I do. The Bible says this in Psalms 37:4 “Delight yourself in The Lord
and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Then in Psalm 145:16-19 “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. I love James 1:17 Where it says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."  Matthew and Luke tell us that evil fathers know how to give good gifts to their children so how much more does our father in heaven give good gifts to us.

The pendulum can swing to some unhealthy extremes, but it’s good for us to know that God really does care about what we care about. This includes the things that make me happy and the things that concern me. We all agree that nothing is too big for God, but it’s also comforting to know that nothing is too small for him either. He actually put desires in us, he gave us emotions, and he loves the journey. As I continue to be fascinated by the things that fascinate my daughter I will let it be a gentle reminder that God thinks about me in the same way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why are young adults seemingly un-committed?

I remember sitting down with somebody over coffee listening to their dreams and passions. They were excited to get involved in ministry, they were talented, and they were gifted. This is every pastor's dream, to have a gold mine in front of you wanting to be plugged into an area of ministry and be about the things that you're about. Immediately I had the rest of their life planned out in my head. It was going to be great! We were going to reach people. Our ministry was going to grow, a huge responsibility was taken off my plate. I could start focusing on the next hole that needed filled in our ministry... And then...

A few months later they couldn't give as much time, there were other things they were interested in, they started not showing up all of the time. I had to scramble to fill a hole again. For this example there are dozens of examples of people saying, "I'm all in" and 3 months later they move across the country or even across town to another ministry. I deal with young adults all of the time who attend church some place on Sunday another place on Wednesday a small group associated with still another church and on top of that 3 or 4 different campus ministries.

The question I get from pastors and ministers and a question that I've had to wrestle with myself is, "Why are young adults so un-committed or seemingly un-faithful?" I've been a pastor for 9 1/2 years and most of that time I’ve worked with closely with young adults. In a lot of ways I consider myself a young adult, although marriage and a child have definitely taken me into a different season of life. I feel like I can speak to this issue not only because of my “pastoral experience” but also because I’m not too far off from thinking like young adult. For the sake of this discussion we probably need to define an age bracket because “young adult” in my Grandma’s mind may mean something totally different than young adult in my mind.

I would say 18-35, although broad, is a good starting place. There are lots of “break the rules situations” like marriage and children mentioned before. There are circumstances and situations that “grow” people up faster or keep them “younger” longer. Obviously an 18 year old couple that gets married and has a child in their first year of marriage is in a different season of life than a 35 year old single man taking classes at a community college. Just for a frame of reference, I am 32 as of this writing and I am married with a 14 month old little girl.

I’ve identified at least five reasons young adults are so un-committed and seemingly un-faithful:

1) They are over committed; they are spread out way too thin. From church to school to work to family to friends there is way too much to juggle. They end up with great intentions but a lot of times lack of follow through.

2) They are very mobile. Most young adults have very little that ties them down to a particular location. Rarely do they own a home or a business. Usually they aren’t a senior executive in a company. Most of the time they aren’t married, but even if they are… with no kids in the picture it’s relatively easy to move across the country to pursue an adventure together. Young adults are finally starting to make decisions outside of the authority structure of the home they grew up in. Lots of times those decisions include where in the world they want to live. There was a young man I was mentoring. He had great ministry potential. He gets married, they get plugged in, and then… they moved across the state.

3) Friendships and relationships are a huge part of a young adult’s life, especially single young adults. In fact you find that a lot of times their life is governed by these relationships. In the context of churches and ministries young adults will come, stay, and leave all based on these relationships. This is the season for boyfriends and girlfriends, searching for someone to spend the rest of their life with. If that relationship breaks up it is often enough for one or both to leave the church or ministry. The same goes for close friendships that experience hurt or betrayal.

4) Young adults in general aren’t committed to “companies” or “organizations”, they are committed or “loyal” to people. 50 years ago or so it was common for someone to be at the same company for their whole life, get their pension, and retire. Now young adults switch jobs and even careers every few years and sometimes after a few months. There are lots of reasons for that in corporate America including money and opportunity, but that same tendency spills over into churches and ministries. For all the reasons listed above young adults will switch churches and ministries seemingly at the drop of a hat. If they can push past some of those “young adult tendencies” they still will only stay “long term” because of deep relationships, loyalty to people, and causes they believe in.

5) In all of this discussion I believe the number one reason for lack of commitment and faithfulness is they are searching for purpose and identity. The ones that know “who they are and why they are” are able to say “yes” to the right things and “no” to the wrong things. My uncle Ric, when talking about purpose and identity simply asks, “Who are you and what are you about?” When you can answer those questions you are able to choose to commit or not to commit to something for the right reasons. Does this opportunity line up with my purpose and core values? Am I being asked to do something outside of my gift sets, passions, abilities, and purpose? Otherwise we have a bunch a people who are round pegs being pounded into square holes.

As a leader my primary goal with the people God has entrusted to me is to help them walk out their purpose and destiny. If I can help them answer “who are you and what are you about?” then they’ll spend less time floating out there “hoping they’ll land in the right place”. There will probably always be the tendency for me to plan out their life in my head and want to plug them into holes in ministry. However, if I want people around for the long haul I need to create opportunities that fit them instead of using people just to accomplish “my agenda”. The funny thing is, at the end of the day, God still moves people on without asking my permission.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Free Speech, Love, & Homosexuality

Over the past few days I have heard three different arguments all centered around the same topic. From posts I've read to people I've listened to it seems that people are gravitating to one of the three arguments to take a stand for truth as they see it. There is no greater potential for error then to focus on a part rather than a whole. As a pastor I'd like to share my perspective, but more importantly I’d like to disclose what the Bible has to say about all of this.

First of all is the "Freedom of speech" argument. This whole thing spun into motion because a man, who owns a large fast food chain (Chick-fil-a), shared his opinion, when asked, of a biblical perspective of marriage. That perspective being that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I personally agree with what he said, but this goes far beyond what the man said. First, was he free to say what he wanted to say? Yes. Was he hateful in what is said? No. I think a lot of times people use their freedom of speech to say hateful, mean things, but this wasn't one of those times. It was actually a very light and tame statement that would have been ignored if he were a pastor, but made headline news because he runs a major corporation. As a pastor I thank God for freedom of speech, I regularly exercise that right as I stand in the pulpit on Sunday mornings. It's interesting though, the Bible says that Jesus only said what he heard his father say, and he only did what he saw his father do. As Christians we really don't have the "freedom" to just say what we want without first filtering it through the Holy Spirit and Scripture.

The second argument came in response to people standing in line at Chick-fil-a to show support of the man and the restaurant. The thought circling social media was, "As Christians we need to love homosexuals and by standing in line to show support of Chick-fil-a we are spreading hate". Now, I didn't stand in line and so I don't have an accurate picture of what really went down, but I can imagine. I imagine some people who hate gays were in line, I imagine some people who wanted to stand for freedom of speech were in line, and I imagine some people who really like chicken were in line. I propose that hate or at least the lack of showing love would be rooted in the motives to stand in line rather than the act of standing, for the simple reason that people were there for different reasons. I have no problem with people taking a stand to love and support their gay friends, I would do the same. The Bible is very clear about the topic of loving one another; it even goes so far as to tell us to love our enemies... love really is the answer. I draw the line at accepting a person's sin. There are many people that I deeply love, but I don't accept or approve of their sin and lifestyle. This brings me to the third argument...

Is homosexuality a sin? Yes it is. 1 Corinthians 6:9 says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,..." and then Romans 1:18-32 is a strong passage about homosexuality. The problem is that by me making that statement people will automatically think that I hate homosexuals, which is farthest from the truth. I also believe lying, stealing, murder, sex before marriage, etc. are sins. I counsel people every week that struggle in some of these areas or others, and I love them. My love doesn't go so far as to make room for their sin, but rather I love them in spite of their sin. In fact my own struggle with sin and weakness allows me to operate with the same love and grace that Jesus has shown me. As a Christian there is not a middle ground on homosexuality being a sin. You are either on one side or the other. The danger here is to approve of sin as an act of love. But in reality that’s not love at all. Love is speaking truth into a situation tangled in deception. Our culture has taken a sin and turned it into a people group, a social agenda, and an acceptable lifestyle. The fact is that all sin leads to spiritual and physical death.

I don't know that my writing this will change anything, but Pastors and leaders need to speak truth into a culture that doesn't believe in absolute truth. We need to love people passionately and intensely towards a savior that offers hope and freedom. And lastly, we need to recognize opportunities to take a stand on issues that divide even if it’s not popular.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Be Still

Psalms 46:10 ESV  "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

Every day we are surrounded by noise.  The day begins by an alarm clock rudely interrupting our precious sleep dictating the precise moment that we’re supposed to wake up.  Of course we press snooze 8 or 9 times before rolling out of bed.  Then it starts… noise controls our day whether it’s the air conditioner or the refrigerator, the radio or the TV.  We leave our houses just in time to hear car doors slamming, children playing, and adults arguing.  We get in our cars and turn the key giving the engine permission to sing as the fan harmonizes and the air conditioner tries to keep up.  Out of habit we turn on the radio almost convinced that it is an essential part of operating a motor vehicle.

It’s no wonder that when by chance a moment of silence comes we hurry past it into the comfort of noise like a person puts on clothes to avoid being naked.  And then we wonder why it’s so hard to hear God speaking when we pray.  The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God”.  For someone to embrace silence it is a discipline at the very least and a gift at the most.  I mean we even expect God to speak or move in a loud or “noisy” way just short of a fireworks display.  Yet God chooses and almost prefers to speak out of the silence or stillness.

We see this concept in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is hiding out in the mouth of the cave.  The Lord calls Elijah to stand on the mountain for he was about to pass by. As Elijah stands there a great and powerful wind tore the mountains and rocks apart, but God wasn’t in the wind.  Then there was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake.  Then came a fire, but God wasn’t in the fire.  After all of that, the Bible says that then came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “what are you doing here Elijah?”

God could have chosen to speak in any of those other loud and commanding ways, but He chose “a gentle whisper”.  Why?  I think a big reason is God desires closeness, He desires relationship, He desires intimacy.  We are programmed in our culture to get the answer, the assignment, or the order and move on quickly to the next thing.  Time is everything, efficiency is key.  Figure out how to quickly down load something from God and move on.  It’s like He’s a cosmic gum ball machine.  Put a quarter in and out pops your answer.

Yet sometimes it’s not about the answer and it’s not about the question, it’s just about being… being with Him.  And that’s it… No big revelation, no word from God for the day, and no intersession for the saints… just stillness.  God challenged me with this concept the other morning in my prayer time. I was alone pacing the sanctuary; at least I hope I was alone, just talking out loud to God. I was voicing frustration about having a hard time connecting with Him experientially in my one-on-one times with Him. He started showing me a mindset I have that says, “I need to do something or perform well for God to come close”. He asked me to just be still, don’t pray, don’t journal, don’t read, just be still. I've been trying to take 20 minutes a day and force myself to do this. It’s not natural but it’s rewarding and its forcing me to change a mindset that’s been engrained in me for a long time.

Quietness can be the most awkward feeling, or it can be soothing and intimate.  Someone once interviewed Mother Theresa asking her, “so when you talk to God what do you say?” She answered, “I don’t say anything… I listen”. “Ok”, he said, “So… when God talks to you what does He say?” “He doesn't say anything… He listens”, she replied.

What a concept!  To be in the company of God and not to be compelled to interrupt the silence, but to embrace it... to embrace Him.  A quote from the movie Ever After says, “Do not speak unless you can improve the silence.” Obviously prayer is powerful, especially praying out loud, but I'm convinced that the deeper my intimacy and quietness is with God the more on target my prayers will be. So let’s make a habit of pushing pause on the noise of the world around us and entering the place of silence that God desires for us.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Salvation isn't the ultimate goal

I’ve been around the church world a long time. I was practically born under a pew at church. Ok… that’s probably not true and definitely way too graphic of a mental picture. My parents have been pastors all of my life and are now currently the directors of the School of Global Leadership in Trinidad (right off the coast of Venezuela). My grandparents were pastors and my great grandparents were pastors. Pretty much all of my Uncles and Aunts on my dad’s side as well as many of my cousins have been in active ministry in a local church. A common theme in the church world, at least since I’ve been alive, has been “we must get people saved!” I tend to agree with that statement… well, actually I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.  I just have a slightly different perspective to share that I believe the Bible is really clear on… and most people miss it.

Salvation isn’t the ultimate goal. I don’t mean this as a shocker statement to get people to read this, I actually believe this is true. For years we’ve acted like we’ve accomplished the “Great Commission” (the final instructions of Jesus) if we get someone to say a prayer and “ask Jesus to come into their heart”. I’m not trying to make light of well intentioned people, because I know that the Lord by his grace has used some of these methods of old to bring people into His Kingdom. However, the last time I looked, Matthew 28 (Jesus speaking) says, “Therefore go and make disciples…” Jesus’ last words to his disciples that he hung out with for 3 ½ years was “now you go and make more disciples”. The “salvation prayer” is just the first step.

I believe that Salvation (in the traditional sense) is the very basic entry into the Kingdom of God. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about levels of Christianity or a works mentality. I’m really talking about identity and a quality of life that’s available for every believer. The Greek word for salvation is “sozo” which means to be saved, healed, and delivered.  The work of the cross not only accomplished more than just giving us a ticket to heaven or fire insurance, but it provided access to a life of freedom and power that I can tap into daily. We try so hard to “get people saved” so that they can go to heaven which is good, but a better approach is Matthew 6. Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray and he said, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Not only do we get to go to heaven someday, but Jesus instructs us to bring heaven to earth! We have the ability to bring heaven to the people we are ministering to.

My wife and I recently started a campus ministry at the University of Nebraska at Kearney called Vantage Point. I was praying for direction as this ministry was being birthed and I felt like the Lord led me to Ezekiel 47. I felt that it was a strange passage for the start of a campus ministry, but as I meditated on it the Lord gave me huge revelation. The glory of the Lord returned to the temple in this open vision that Ezekiel had.  The glory was in the form of a river flowing from the temple. Ezekiel was led first to water that was ankle deep, then to water that was knee deep, then waist deep, then the water was deep enough to swim in. Then finally Ezekiel was led back to the bank. I felt like the Lord told me that his desire is for people to get to the deepest part of the river and encounter him at a level of relationship that they’ve never known before… but… Every person has a starting place.

The ultimate goal of salvation is to experience, how high, and how wide, and how deep is the love of God and to understand our identity as sons and daughters of the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords. There is so much in store for people who chose Jesus, but as a minister I can’t get so caught up in the deep end that I never go back to the bank to reach people, and I can’t get so caught up in the ministry on the bank that I never get to the deep end.   

May my ultimate goal as a man of God be to get as many people from the bank to the deep end as possible!