Boldly Pursuing Encounter

A few years ago I was the men’s pastor at Northwood Church and had the incredible experience of working with the men there to create a men’s program we called “Bold.” The response was powerful, not because we put together a great program, but because we facilitated an environment where men could come to realize the presence of God. Until and unless there was that realization, nothing changed. Once there was that realization, however, everything changed.

We would take breaks during the summer or over holidays and men would return to our next gathering following the break with a tangible anticipation for what was about to happen. I started to notice that the environment on those nights where we were returning from being away for a while were particularly charged with what seemed to be the manifest presence of God.

In some church circles, there is a phrase to describe those times where He is particularly noticeable. People will say, “God showed up,” to indicate a powerful time of encounter from which people are moved. The problem is that the same churches correctly teach that God is omnipresent; not dependent on time or space to be there. He was already there before the worship service and will be there afterwards, as well.

The difference, I believe, as we saw with the men returning to Bold was the hearts of those that were pursuing Him. When those men showed up expecting to encounter Him, the community of hearts was positioned to recognize Him. He was always there, but the collective posture of expectation and desire opened the window between the natural and supernatural. The supernatural is constant; it’s the natural that struggles to break through.

Church buildings and worship services don’t tend to the presence of God; that is the Mosaic temple where God lived in a box. God doesn’t live in a box; He lives in hearts. When there is a gathering and critical mass of the hearts present seek Him with an earnest desire to break through the restraint of the natural for a glimpse into the supernatural, God “shows up” to a place where He already was. The feeling that God showed up is the agreement of hearts in their pursuit of God and His faithfulness to reveal Himself to them.

When you go to some form of church gathering or faith-based pursuit, consider the invitation. Seek Him in a way that exceeds your understanding and breaks through to connect spirit to Spirit. If enough people in the room agree in that pursuit, the corporate encounter will, in fact, be a transformative experience of dwelling in the presence of God as hearts agree and see.

Giving Up to Gain and Gaining Abundantly

A friend of mine is a missionary in Guatemala for the past twenty years. He has been instrumental in the development and transformation of a remote area that otherwise would remain primitive. With multiple projects going at any given time including assisting with medical, educational, hygiene and other basic needs, he has helped the locals start a viable chile/salsa business. They export their product as a source of income as well as purpose.

He and I were talking recently and his conviction is that there is nothing of any significance in Guatemala or anywhere else that he has ever been able to accomplish. The conditions and challenges they have been presented with leave him completely dependent on God. The more they are called to, the greater the challenge and the greater the challenge, the smaller he gets. He has discovered with great certainty that God’s favor comes where it is the only hope for success, if not survival.

The more that he gives way, the more clearly the way that is made becomes visible. Striving, worrying or controlling produce nothing but frustration while prayer, release and faith allow for multiplication. Their conditions demand respect of the harshness of an environment that is literally life threatening and the life that is given as a result is deep and rich, even when difficult.

If everything in our lives is under control and manageable, we likely are missing the potential and capacity for life to the fullest. Jesus came to restore everything that was lost with the promise of abundant life (John 10:10). The abundance of life is in the depth of dependence. Where we will allow, He will multiply within us and transform our capacity to recognize, appreciate and further depend on Him for multiplication around us.

The Kingdom of God contains the greatest adventures life has to offer. Vacations, excursions, expeditions or other attempts to simulate the adventures of a life given over to the King pale in significance to the depth that is available in Him. There is nothing mundane, domestic, religious or safe about heaven colliding with earth. If your taste or perception of Christianity lacks the flavor of the Kingdom, the possibility is that you’ve accepted an incomplete or inaccurate version of the Gospel.

Where you are willing to risk the benefits of control for the depth of living, the exchange will be intimidating, exciting, fun and terrifying all at the same time. Where you will give up, He will increase in every way; starting within.

 

Just When You Think You Have It Figured Out, It’s Time to Take Another Look

Traditions are a cheap substitute for the possibilities of Truth. When we add our preferences one on top of the other and then pass them along to others, we do so at the expense of divine connection. Thankfully, when we think we have it figured out, the puzzle will get scrambled.

We are in what’s called a “post denominational” expression of the Christian church. It means that people who go to church do so because they are interested in Jesus, not the practices of a particular institution. They seek the Kingdom of God, not the organization of man who is at least one step removed from that Kingdom. It aligns perfectly with the announcement of Jesus in Luke 4:43 when He said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Foretelling of this time of the Kingdom, the prophet Isaiah wrote  “These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (v. 13-14)

When we think we have God figured out, we will try to master our perceived understanding by the creation of a rule, process, ceremony or program. That’s what religion does. We take what is living and active and attempt to harness it for the purpose of mastery, which simplifies the mysterious. We sacrifice the breath of God for a previous whisper which was turned into a doctrine of man.

The wisdom of the wise is only wise by comparison to the unwise. It’s foolishness to the infinity of God. The intelligence of the intelligent is only deemed so compared to others who make the same attempt at what is ultimately folly. Childlike faith overtakes cerebral mastery.

Look again at what Isaiah wrote. When we worship God based on our own creations of rules or traditions, He will astound us with His wonder. A fraction of understanding is overcome by a glimpse of His wonder. The glory of God is revealed in pursuit of the relationship. For the sake of His glory, put aside the things you think you know today and sit down beside Him. He’ll give you a fresh glimpse at the wonder of the One Who Is. Invite Him to astound you.

 

There is The God We Imagine and The God That Is

4881_4881_5There is the god we imagine and there is the God that is. The two don’t always line up and only One is True, but both are active. We entertain the imagination as much as we relate to the actual. When we decide to submit our imagination to the Creator of that imagination, we can actually be offended by the differences between the two. We can get offended by God and prefer our version of what we think He is.

I have a friend that has battled addiction who has gotten angry at God because of the persistence of the addiction. He calls out to God with great sincerity to take the depraved desires from him on the way to feed the addiction. Recently, he sensed the presence of Jesus with him as he went to buy drugs. Jesus, in my friend’s discernment, wasn’t saying a word but was sad at the choice my friend was in the middle of making.

He bought and used some but reached out for help on the front end of what might have otherwise become a binge and said, “I don’t want to die.” Through some coaching, he flushed the bulk of it down the toilet. This wasn’t easy; it was a battle of his will to live or die; to use or not.

The next day, he was angry at God about the struggle and lack of deliverance, but that’s where his longstanding theology was adjusted. He had the ability to flush it. Jesus was with him, didn’t zap him and was sad for him. Jesus didn’t and doesn’t want him to destroy himself but will allow his free will as evidence of His free love. Love doesn’t control. When we think He will zap us and we actually are afforded the opportunity to agree with Him in our choices, we have to own our end of the deal.

We are offended by God when He is different from we imagined Him to be. Our expectations set us up for offense, which is literally a stumbling block in our faith. When we set aside our preconceived ideas about who God needs to be to fit our desires and what He needs to do to make our dreams come true, we can connect with the actual Him without being frustrated with Him.

The good news is that He is better than we can imagine. What we give to Him, we get back better than when we started. Not easier, but better. There is no offense in submission; there is trust and acceptance of the fact that we don’t know. We don’t know so we ask and receive where we used to dictate and expect.

Belief Isn’t Belief Until It is Evident In Our Choices

192_192_5Belief isn’t just understanding, it’s trusting the thing you think you understand enough to actually act on it. Belief is recognized by activity, not debate. Intellectual understanding is the beginning of belief but not the culmination of belief.

In John 6, Jesus is teaching some paradigm shifting stuff and people who were following Him are changing their mind. When He gets into the nuts and bolts of this new Kingdom He is unfolding, the shift is too much for some people to believe to the point that they give their life to it. As they are leaving, He looks at the 12 that are walking closest with Him and asks them if they are going to leave, too? They tell Him they aren’t, as they have no place to go, and that they “have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (v. 69)

They tell Him that they have come to “believe” and to “know” but those words aren’t restating the same thing as they have slightly different meanings. The word “believe” actually contains two ideas within its definition. One of the ideas to describe the meaning behind that word include the idea of intellectual faith and another is the idea of saving faith by trusting in Jesus. Trust is different from agreement.

The intersection of faith is within the word “believe.” We don’t believe until we trust. When we step off the cliff into a life given over to the Father as our protector, provider and promoter, then we believe. For as long as we do it ourselves, even in His name, then we only agree.

The word “know” is derived from the idea of intimate experience including feelings and perceptions. It’s an experiential learning where the ideas that you might agree with are actually experienced. Where we trust the Truth to be True for us and act in faith in reliance on that Truth, we’ll actually believe and where we actually believe we’ll know because we experience. Where we offer our faith, God offers His faithfulness and our faith is strengthened by the experience with Him. Where we sacrifice,  He resurrects and multiplies.

That’s why, in part, James 1:22 says to be “doers” and not just “hearers.” It won’t get “in” us until we trust it enough to move beyond studying for a quiz and make it a jump off of the cliff. We won’t trust it if we don’t trust Him and we won’t trust Him unless we die to us. Are you going to leave, too?

3 Ways to Examine Whether You are Resting or Striving

5883_5883_5Towards the end of last year, I was tired. It had been a very good year, and it had undoubtedly been the busiest year of my life. While there was satisfaction in much of what was done, I was dissatisfied with how I had run out of steam in December. No shame in it, just an indication that too much was being drained from me so that meant too often the source was me.

We were afforded the opportunity to take some time as a couple and as a family and travel. During that incredible time of restoration and connection, I had some time of connection with the Lord which was for just me. It wasn’t sermon prep or mining for teaching points, it was just me and Him. From that time, He took me to this verse to reflect on last year and meditate on during the coming year:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

The two words that jumped out were “nothing” and “abide.” We can do things that amount to nothing when we are the source of those things. Where Jesus is not the source as the Vine, we are our own little vines. The fruit of us is temporal and illusory; it is nothing. Only He will produce eternal, true and lasting somethings.

With that sobering realization, the idea of abiding took on new weight. Can you abide by declaring and trying to abide? Is there some way to ensure that you are abiding? More quiet times? More Bible reading? How do I know when I am abiding?

Looking at the definition of the word, I found indicators for how to take an inventory of my methods, attitudes, and focus to determine if I was, in fact, abiding. From the definition, I saw that abiding was in three forms. We can abide (or not):

  • In reference to place: remaining continually present as sojourners on a temporary stop in a longer journey without departing to the next thing/place. When I recognize that my time on earth is only the beginning of eternity and not the conclusion of my destiny, I can abide in Jesus.
  • In reference to time: in reference to the eternity of the souls of people. When I am present with people, recognizing the value of their souls as designed to spend eternity with Him, I can abide in Jesus.
  • In reference to state or condition: as who I am, not who I want to be or who I mistakenly think I might be. When I remember that I am adopted by Jesus as a son of God, righteous by His sacrifice and accepted by His invitation, I can abide in Jesus.

Abiding is a minute to minute proposition some days. There are other times, hours or days, that I “get it” for more extended periods. As for right now, right this moment, I choose to abide as I consider my eternal destiny, the people who I am with and who I am in Him over the distractions that would cause me to be my own little vine. How about you?