Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hearing God in Conversation

Image result for hearing God in conversation book

The email said it was a book about hearing God. The subtitle is How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere.

How do you turn that down? I like conversations. I believe in the idea of a relationship with God being important. So if I could do that even better, I want to hear the idea.

I'll admit I was a bit skeptical when I got the book. I was afraid I would be halfway through when the weird would come out. But it didn't happen. Samuel shared his story, which involved listening for God's voice in natural ways.

He share about how meditation can work, how to study God's Word, and why we should be trusting God more than we trust ourselves. Along the way, Samuel discusses the difficulties, the roadblocks and the detours we take in a relationship with God. But through it all, he points us to what can be.

Knowing that doubters gotta doubt, Samuel even goes the extra mile, with two appendixes to answer potential arguments. All in all, I would recommend this for anyone who thinks they'd like to hear God's voice even more.

You can check out more from Samuel Williamson using the links below. I got this from my good friends at SpeakEasy. They give me books and ask that I say something about the book.

Sam Williamson's online home - Beliefs of the Heart
Beliefs of the Heart - Facebook
Beliefs of the Heart - Twitter 
Hearing God in Conversation on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Wk3qNb


#SpeakeasyHearingGod 


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Be Strong in the Lord

At our church we have a preschool. As one of the pastors, I go in about twice a month and lead a chapel time, where I share a teaching with them. In the past few years, I have found a list of verses to bring a focus for the entire year. For example, I've done the Fruit of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 13, and one year I told them many stories of Jesus interacting with people. Each year, we work on memorizing several verses along the way.

And even though these kids are all age 2 through age 5, they can do a great job.

This year, I've decided to go through the Armor of God with them, found in Ephesians 6:10-18. I'll post them here, or at least some printable version of what I say here.

Be strong in the Lord. 

That's where we started. I came in, complete with sweatbands around my head and wrists, and told the kids I was getting swole for Jesus, because the Bible said to be strong in the Lord.

As the silliness subsided, I talked to them about depending on God for their strength. It struck me that this age group might not struggle with this teaching, since they depend on stronger people all the time to do basically everything. Those stronger people are usually family members, teachers, older siblings.

They are used to depending on others to accomplish anything, so I wasn't expecting a huge response or an altar call. Really, it's we adults who assume we can do whatever needs to be done. We have meetings, to-do lists, and if we're parents, we have people depending on our strength.

So, I shared it with the kids, but I'm sharing it here as well, because I think we all need to be reminded of where our real power to accomplish anything of worth is really to be found.

"Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power."

Here's the rest of what I said to the kids...

How do we show that we depend on God? If we are in a car and we’re going super fast, do we say we’re able to run that fast? No, we say the car can go that fast. And we just to get to go along for the ride.

If our dads lift us up and we touch the ceiling, do we say we can jump high enough to touch the ceiling? No, we say our dad is tall enough to help us reach.

The same is true of God. He gives us lots of things, like power. But God doesn’t give us that stuff so we can brag about ourselves. When we see beautiful things in the world, we don’t say that we created those things. We thank God for creating those things. So when we can do good things for someone, we know that power also comes from God.

I believe that God supplies power for all of us to good things, to accomplish all He wants us to do. And we’re going to learn all about how we can depend on His power this year in chapel.

‘Be strong in the Lord.’

Monday, September 19, 2016

73% Sounds Like A Lot

Hey Parents. I'm going to be a little blunt today. This post may sound self-serving, but there's a truth you need to hear.

I was reading Barna research today. You can see the article here.

They have done their homework and found that 73% of us Americans identify as Chistians. Woo Hoo, let's celebrate! That means 3 out of every 4 people in American are professing to follow the commands of Jesus. Never mind that most of us can turn on the evening news or look at our newspaper and readily see that 3 out of 4 people are certainly not following the commands of Jesus.

73%. That's a lot. Even if that many people were simply trying to be like Christ, we would have a pretty good thing going on.

Oh....wait a minute....

Barna doesn't stop with asking people what they profess to believe. They ask them how they are practicing their professed beliefs. So Barna defines a 'practicing Christian' as someone who identifies as a Christian and attends a church service at least once a month.

Once a month?!? The rant you are about to read is not against Barna. They have to set the standard somewhere, but can we all agree that if people who say they love Jesus are only able to drag themselves to a community meeting of Jesus-followers once every four weeks, then we are clearly not expecting much? And certainly not enough??

We, as Christian adults, are expecting children to grow up and live out the principles taught in the Bible. How are they supposed to do that when they have only been to church once a month?

By the way, when Barna factors in the once-a-month attendance, the number of practicing Christians in America drops to 31%. Does that sound a bit more like the America you know?

So parents, I don't mean to sound harsh, but kids can't drive themselves to church. They don't dictate the family calendar. But they can rise up to match our expectations. My children haven't complained about going to church in years. They know it's expected. And if you're muttering to yourself that pastor's kids would obviously have no choice, let me tell you that my good habits were instilled in me by my parents, neither of whom were pastors. (By the way, thanks Mom and Dad!)

We can't expect to train up a child in the way they should go by exposing them to training once a month.

I'm not sure I want to even know how low the percentage would get if we knew how many professing Christians were attending every week? So parents, what can you do?

1. Make church attendance, as a family, a priority. 
Lionel Richie told us this would be easy like Sunday morning. Anyone who has a kid knows that Lionel Richie wasn't talking about wrangling kids in the car to go to church. But make it a habit. You get them to school, sports, dance and a few meals every day. Just make this a priority.

2. Schedule something during the week for the kids.
 
Most likely there is a church in your area with some sort of kid's club. Get them there! They'll have fun with other kids and receive training they'll need later in life to defend their faith.

3. Talk about it at least twice a week during a meal.
I know, this means making sure you have meals together. That's another good habit. But take time to read a verse or two and discuss how it applies to your family.

Some of these things may be small things, but they will add up to big things in your family's life. And it's a pretty good percentage chance that it will all be for the better.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What Should We Do With the Truth?

I want to remind us what Church can look like, by viewing a few different examples of the early Church in the book of Acts. Before Paul was standing before Festus, a group of people were making a name for themselves, living out their mission, sometimes in ways that look very differently than anything we would be comfortable with.

As we glimpse at these truths, it will be up to each one of us to decide what we will do. And my hope is that if we, like the crowd in Acts 2, ask 'what shall we do?', then we'll be quick to respond as well. For when Peter told that crowd they should repent and be baptized, they did, and 3,000 people were added to the Church that day.

Point 1 - We should never shy away from the Truth. Tell the Truth

In Acts 3, Peter and John are heading to a prayer service (something Rick Hurley is wishing more people would do) and they run into this guy who was totally lame. I mean, really uncool. Just kidding, the guy couldn’t walk. So Peter heals him in the name of Jesus and a crowd forms because they’re so amazed at what just happens.

For you basketball fans, you know those players who, if they have the ball, they must be open? Well Peter is like any good pastor, where, if there’s a crowd of people around, it must be time to preach. Because that’s what he does.

Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this? And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness? For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him. You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact! ~Acts 3:12-15

Peter didn't seem too concerned with offending those who were listening. He made it abundantly clear to the crowd listening that it was their fault Jesus was crucified.

The truth, in both the personhood of Jesus and the absolute correctness of everything he taught, is the only thing of which we can be sure. We would scoff at an arrogant child who was sure 2+2=5, but when we see people distort truth in other areas of our life, all of the sudden we want to say 'to each his own'.

Tell the Truth, all the time and in all places. And I’m not discussing your desire to lie to get out of trouble. I’m talking about the fact that we live in a society and in a generation that God would describe as ‘only listening to what their itching ears want to hear’, and what they really need to hear is the truth. Not with a protest sign while we yell at them that their final destination is hell or that God doesn’t like them or any of that nonsense. They need to hear that God loves them, that some of the stuff we do is messed up, and that God has a plan for our lives.

Because if we don’t Tell the Truth, then where exactly do we expect them to hear it?

If we Tell the Truth, eventually it will get us into some trouble, as it did with Peter and John.

Point 2 - Live the Truth

Peter and John are actually arrested mid-sermon. The next day they are brought before the Sanhedrin, a religious court. They ask Peter and John what they think they’re doing. Peter sees a crowd, so he continues his sermon. He gives glory to Jesus and tells the Sanhedrin that Jesus is where salvation is found.

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. ~Acts 4:13

They recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. If only this were how we are all described. But here’s where it gets interesting. Peter and John are released, meet up with believers and pray. During the prayer, they ask this of God…

And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. ~Acts 4:29

It is interesting that the council saw boldness in Peter and John, yet the apostles left and prayed for boldness. We should display qualities only God can give us.

If we offer people wisdom that comes from men, they will find it elsewhere and be satisfied. If we offer them wisdom that can only be found from God, then we become a unique supplier of what they need.

Point 3 - We should leave people thinking twice. Respect the Truth

The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed. ~Acts 5:12-16

Imagine a church where new people were afraid to join. What would we say of such a church? Clearly, people kept joining the church in Acts. So why does Luke say this? I believe it is to show that people were taking the Church seriously. They didn't join without thought. They didn't mindlessly sign up to be a member, without considering the cost.

What is the cost of joining with believers today? How can we on the 'inside' love people yet show that this relationship is something we take serious enough to invest in?

Perhaps when people see us Tell the Truth and Live the Truth, they will believe we Respect the Truth we proclaim, and they will respect it as well. When a message is seen as credible, at least then it will be considered as a solution to the problems we see in the world.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I Was At A Loss

I got the privilege of preaching this past Sunday. This was just the intro...if you like it, I may post more of it later this week. 

Do you want to hear one of the saddest verses in all the Bible? Let me tell you a story.

Paul had been arrested for preaching Jesus and he is being tossed from one court to another as Roman judges spent their time coaxing one another's egos and skirting around justice by passing the question of what to do with Paul on to each other. In Acts 25, we find Paul standing trial before Festus, who is planning to pass him along to Caesar. Before he does, King Agrippa comes along and they discuss Paul's case. Festus admits that Paul's case has to do with religion.

17 “When his accusers came here for the trial, I didn’t delay. I called the case the very next day and ordered Paul brought in. 18 But the accusations made against him weren’t any of the crimes I expected.19 Instead, it was something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive. 20 I was at a loss to know how to investigate these things, so I asked him whether he would be willing to stand trial on these charges in Jerusalem. ~Acts 25

Did you catch it? "I was at a loss to know how to investigate these things."

We have this guy, who was intelligent enough to become a judge, a governor in the Roman Empire (and I'm going to leave aside all of the political jokes running through my head). Festus had judged other cases, and as history records it, he showed wisdom in governing.

But when it comes to matters of religion...he is "at a loss to know how to investigate these things."

When it comes to knowing what is true or false "about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive", he had no clue how to figure it out.

Festus had before him a guy whom we refer to as one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever known, but Festus has no idea how to proceed.

What questions should I ask? How can I verify who is making up their story? Does Paul belong in a looney bin? Are the religious leaders accusing Paul simply jealous of their waning influence over other people who acknowledged the truth of Jesus? Festus is "at a loss".

We are less than 50 years from when Jesus lived, died, and rose again. The church is exploding in growth around the Roman Empire, largely because of Paul, and one of the Roman governors doesn't know "how to investigate these things."

The man has no direction in discovering truth...or at least in accepting it when he heard it. This got me thinking. How many people does this describe in our world today?

  • How many people are as God described the Ninevites, unable to discern their right from their left? 
  • How many people are so engaged with our polytheistic culture, that to single out one truth as absolute, would be an impossibility?
  • How many people are so persuaded by lies of sin, entangled in what they must have, must keep, must use, that to consider an alternative would seem disastrous?
  • How many people are so stuck in their habits and comforts, that to investigate such matters would be very uncomfortable?

How many people can't seem to figure out the most basics of truth (am I a boy or a girl? how did God make me?)? People struggling with the basics who try to answer questions about creation, purpose, truth and absolutes, will seem to be in deeper waters than they can swim.

Is there any hope for them?

If only there were an organization that could handle such matters. Of course, it would have to be filled with people. It would need to be global. It would need people who are dedicated and committed to a cause greater than themselves. Perhaps something where they meet each week, and throughout, to encourage one another, to grow in their faith, and then to be prepared and ready to provide the answers to people's questions. 

If only such an organization existed. 

Sigh...if only.

Monday, August 29, 2016

As the Deer Strains to Get One Last Drop of Water Before it Dies


Image result for deer desperate for water

I used Psalm 42:1-2 as a call to worship yesterday, but as I said then, it wasn't the whole story. The first 2 verses might seem like a nice scripture to put on a pillow, or a painting with a deer in a forest, to simply indicate we love being with God.

But if you read the rest of Psalm 42, this is written by a guy who has felt abandoned by God and longs desperately to be in His presence.

Better than picturing a deer, peacefully roaming the forest, we might rather picture a critically wounded person reaching out for one last grasp towards life.

He recalls a time when he was happy, singing praises to God. He was with all of his people, singing, dancing and generally having a great time. Now, in verse 5, he asks his soul 'why are you so downcast?' One can almost hear the painful mock, as he knows why he is disturbed.

Unlike many who abandon any hope to be found in God, this guy reminds himself that hope is eternally to be placed in God. Though the times are tough, and God is seemingly silent, he recalls the moment when the real God felt as much, and he refuses any other solution to his problems.

I'm not accusing anyone of taking Psalm 42:1-2 out of context here. But the picture of a deer drinking at a stream does not match the tone of this song writer. An emaciated deer straining to get even a drop of water to bring some small relief to his parched mouth and throat would not look all that great hanging up in our living rooms and church lobbies. Then again, neither would accurate portrayals of the Genesis account of the flood.

Truth is begging to be told. The truth is there is no hope outside of God and we should all be desperate to meet with God every single chance we get.

'When can I go and meet with God?' If only that were a question more people were asking and eagerly seeking an answer to.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Born to Be Together

I couldn't believe it, even as it was happening. We bounced a rubber ball against a bell for an hour.

Before you scoff, I believe you've been there yourself. Maybe it was before Netflix was a thing, and there were no Olympics to watch. Perhaps you were bored beyond belief. But all of the sudden you found yourself doing something that should be simple over and over again. Add a twist, and you suddenly find yourself challenged to do something admittedly less than spectacular.

I doubt Whaley Ball will ever find its' way into the Olympics. (The game is named after the person at camp whose memorial bell we were using to play the game. Yes, we played on a memorial bell.) I also don't see myself training to get better. But on that last night at camp, teens and leaders worked together to bounce a small rubber ball against a bell.

How was this challenging? We couldn't let the ball drop to the ground. And we had to throw the ball again while the sound of the bell still rung.

Soon 15 people were unified to go completely around the circle. We spanned a few decades in age, but in that moment, age didn't matter. We were each invested and one of us wanted to be the person that kept us all from failure.

On that night, I chalked up the entertainment value to tired leaders and campers after a long week at camp. Only the craving of ice cream tore us away from this activity. Otherwise, we might still be playing.

Now that I've had time to consider it more, I think I know why we all were so invested. There was a challenge to be overcome (bounce the ball to everyone at least once without the ball being dropped). It was cooperative. It was team. It was engaging.

It was harder than it looked and our ultimate success depended on everyone doing their part.

Does that sound similar to anything you're involved in? A sports team? A business? A church? A ministry? A family? None of these are successful in isolation. For even those who compete in solo sporting events work with a trainer.

Every area of my life depends on someone else. And the success of any of it depends on Someone, who initially defined solitude as not good. (Genesis 2:18)

So look around. Who are you depending on? Who is depending on you? Perhaps it's time to lift your head up, Maybe someone around you needs encouragement. Forgiveness may need to be offered...and accepted.

Stop thinking just about yourself. We were born to be together.