Category Archives: Recognizing His Presence

Out-Of-The-Box Praying

I started reading through the book of Acts again.  I wanted to get a glimpse again of dynamic faith in action.  It seems the disciples, apostles, deacons and all the believers had such a simple faith that God would just show up in mighty ways – and He DID!  But even with all the miracles they saw, sometimes they just could not see beyond what was “reasonable” to them.  Their prayers were limited by their expectations of what God could do.  Here is a great example from chapter 12.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.  Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands…  When he realized this [that the angel had freed him from prison], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer.  Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:1-7,12-16)

So Peter is in prison waiting to be executed and the church is praying fervently for his release.  Then God answers their prayers – but not in the way they expected.  You see, I don’t think any one of those Christians was asking that God would send an angel to open the prison doors.  That wasn’t really reasonable.  Much more likely is that they were praying that God would “move on Herod’s heart to release Peter.” Now that would be a much more likely and expected way for God to answer their prayers.  So out-of-box was the angel scenario that when Peter did show up at the prayer meeting they dismissed the news as simply “Peter’s angel.”  These folks could more easily believe in an apparition than in an angelic visitation!  Sure they prayed and they prayed earnestly, but it seems they were praying within their experience of what God could or would do.

So I started thinking, are my prayers limited by my expectations of what God would do?  When I pray, am I also telling God HOW to answer my prayers?  Sure, He’s all powerful, but He also needs to be practical and sensible, doesn’t He?  I am very much afraid that my prayer life is “In-The-Box” praying.  I want to change that.  I want to start praying that God would do wonderful, unexpected, outside-the-box things.  I want think big and prayer bigger and see Him do bigger still.  If nothing is impossible with God, then I want to pray for the impossible.  How about you?  Will you join me in Out-Of-The-Box praying and then we’ll be able tell our own versions of the angel scenario story?

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The Living God

My wife and I visited Nashville, Tennessee this summer.  At the end of our week there we visited one of the local attractions.  In Nashville there is a full size replica of the Parthenon – the classical Greek temple of Athena in Athens.  Apparently this replica was built to celebrate a Tennessee centennial celebration in the late 1890’s.  This replica Parthenon was truly imposing and impressive.  It was beautiful.  Inside the Parthenon was a forty foot statue of the goddess Athena arrayed in her armor with sword and shield beside her and the goddess Nike ready to crown her with victory.  Athena’s bright blue eyes stared out into her temple.  As I walked around this temple and gazed at Athena, I asked her some questions.  I asked her if she saw me.  I asked her if she had anything to say to me.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t look at me.  She just kept staring outward.  There was no life in her eyes.  She was, after all, just a statue.

This experience in the replica Parthenon was even more striking because of what we had experienced during the prior week.  You see, we were in Nashville for a conference hosted by Global Awakening.  It was a week of inspiring worship, challenging teachings and encouraging prayer times.  But more than that, throughout the week I heard God speak to me.  He spoke intimately, personally and deeply.  He touched wounded places and brought healing.  He affirmed who I was.  He knew me by name and He saw me.  I experienced the LIVING God!

And that is the difference between a beautiful, plaster-cast goddess and The Lord Almighty.  So maybe folks today aren’t worshiping Athena, but many, many people turn to the idols of this world – the shiny things, the causes, the power or fame, the possessions – for comfort, meaning or comfort.  “Does anyone SEE ME?” they cry out.  “Does anyone know ME?”  That is what we want, to count.  And yet just like that lifeless statue of Athena in Nashville, these idols are just as dead, lifeless and impotent.

The living God knows us.  He said to Israel and He says to us today, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isa 43:1).  He also says,” Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (Jer 1:5).

So instead of pursuing the Athena’s of this world – the unmoving, unresponsive, unseeing idols – remember that there is a real, living God poised to respond to your deepest cry.  One who can speak into the secret places of your life to bring comfort and wholeness.  One who knows you by name.

So as beautiful the replica Parthenon is, I would much rather spend time in the temple of the Living God and have a conversation with Him.

The Other Eleven

Some stories in the Bible are so familiar that it is easy just to skim over them and not really think that there is much else to learn. For me, one of those stories is when Peter walks on water. It is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:22-32)

 So picture this scene in your mind. The disciples are in a boat struggling with a storm that came up suddenly. Then, out of the crashing waves and foamy sea, a figure appears, coming towards them. Any reasonable person would do what the disciples did – panic! Clearly this is some sort of supernatural entity, a ghost, in other words. What else could it be? Real people do not just walk on water. So they scream, call Jesus a ghost and cower in fear.

Most sermons that I’ve heard on this passage focus on Peter. Peter gets out of the boat!  Peter walks on water. Peter starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter, blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that I am NOT Peter. I am still in the boat with the other eleven watching Peter’s adventure. I can imagine the thoughts and feelings running through their minds. “I’m not going out there! Maybe I should have? Is Jesus going to be mad at me, disappointed with me for not stepping out? I should have recognized Him? How could I not have recognized Him? What kind of idiot am I? What kind of disciple am I? I’m a failure. I missed a chance to show Jesus my faith in Him.” On and on it goes believing they’d “missed it.”

And yet we do the same thing. We are so quick to beat ourselves up when we think we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t “doing enough” for Jesus. We so easily disqualify ourselves and we throw up our hands and give up. Well here’s the rest of the story. After Peter and Jesus get into the boat, those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). The other eleven worshiped Him. They made Him the focus of their hearts and minds and did not wallow in self-pity. They recognized who He was and responded appropriately.

And let me remind you of one other thing. The other eleven in that boat were still sent out by Jesus to preach the Kingdom. The other eleven saw the resurrected Christ. The other eleven received the power of the Holy Spirit. The other eleven went out from Jerusalem and changed the world. They didn’t miss anything.

So, I want to encourage you today as you read this. If you are thinking that you’ve missed “God’s plan for your life.” (Play dramatic music here). If you think your faith isn’t strong enough or you’re too afraid or you can’t see how God could ever use you, remember that regardless of our weaknesses, our screw-ups, our lack of faith, Jesus is still the Son of God. That never changes. Just worship Him. He still loves you very much and hasn’t given up on you. You and the other eleven are in the same boat.

Hide and Seek

First, I just want to give credit to my son for this little gem that I about to pass on to you. He shared it at church a couple of weeks ago and I found it so encouraging I just had to write it down.

You remember as a small child playing Hide and Seek? You would hide in some easy-to-find place so that you COULD be found.   The joy was in being found, letting out a delighted squeal and giggle when you were found. The object of the game was not to hide and remain hidden, but to hide so that you could be found. And that somehow deepened the relationship between the “hider” and the “seeker.”

Our Father likes to play Hide and Seek with us. Only He is the hider and we are the seekers.   He hides so that we will be motivated to seek Him, all the time anticipating the moment, the joy-filled moment, of our finding Him again and again. He hides in plain sight and then invites us to seek with the promise that He will be found.

You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, (Jeremiah 29:13)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

Yes, He sometimes hides from us, not to punish us, not in anger or disappointment, but to draw us in. He wants us to be looking for Him constantly around every corner, in every conversation, in every circumstance, in every moment. He is there and He is just waiting to be found. Seek!

I Don’t Want a Plastic Jesus – reprise

This a re-post from 2012 but I think it is still relevent

Its Christmas time again and you know what that means? It means it’s time to climb into our attics or rummage in the garage for our plastic Jesus to put in the nativity scene. I especially like the ones that you can put a light inside and make him glow. Now before you call me a Scrooge, let me just say that I can appreciate the spirit of the season and the meaning of the manger scenes, but there is a subtle danger in these plastic displays. Let me explain.

Think about what we are doing here. We have a plastic casting of a baby which we deem to represent Jesus. But this plastic Jesus is totally dependent on us to show up. He can only come out of his box when we want him to. We hose him off, plant him in a plastic crib and light him up. Then at the end of the season, we wrap him up in bubble wrap and put him away for another year. And my guess is that most people don’t think about him again for that year. This plastic Jesus makes no demands on our lives. He doesn’t challenge us. He doesn’t convict us. He doesn’t speak to those areas of our lives that need to change. At the same time, this plastic Jesus doesn’t forgive sin. He doesn’t offer rest. He doesn’t heal. He doesn’t bring joy, comfort or peace. Plastic Jesus just lays there surrounded by plastic people making no impact in our lives. He is tame… and quite frankly, useless.

I don’t want a plastic Jesus. The Jesus I know is independent of me. He acts as He wills, whenever He wants. He shows up in my life in the most unexpected places and times. And while that may be inconvenient at times, it is terribly rewarding when I pay attention. I do not control this Jesus. Hopefully, He has total control of my life. At least that is what I am striving for. Plastic Jesus just lays there.

The Jesus I know speaks into my life. He doesn’t leave me alone or to my own devices because He cares enough about me to want better for me. This Jesus does demand, convict and forgive. The Jesus I know is someone I can go to when the world has beaten me up and I am weary. The Jesus I know is someone I can talk to, cry to and worship. He is someone I can depend on when others have let me down. He is someone who can give me hope, joy, comfort, peace, rest, direction, wisdom, support. This Jesus is someone I can worship. I mean really look to beyond anything the world can offer. Plastic Jesus just lays there.

So, I’m not saying not to put up our Christmas lawn ornaments – or maybe I am, but either way please look beyond the hollow plastic baby and recognize the true and living Lord. This Christmas bow down in reverence.

What’s Your Name?

It has always been fascinating to me how we humans name everything around us! We name our children (then give them nicknames too), our pets, our cars, our houses, our streets, our buildings, our parks… We also name animals, rocks, trees, grasses, food, on and on. We name everything we lay our eyes on or build with our hands. And it’s no wonder, right after God told Adam to subdue the earth, He gave him the task of naming animals. I think our need to give everything in our lives names springs from our God-given mandate to subdue and have “dominion” over creation. In other words, naming things is our way of exercising control and owning the things named. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just how we were created to be. But we took it too far.

When Moses first encounters God at the burning bush, he hears God tell him that he will deliver his people from slavery, but Moses’ first question is, “What is your name? Who should I tell the people who sent me?” You see growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses knew gods with god-names like Osiris, Thoth, Horus or Ra. The gods had names that the Egyptians had given them and by naming their gods, humans were able to exercise some control over them. By naming our gods, we could define who they were, what they were like and what their limitations were. We made our gods to our standards and so could have dominion over them. But God’s answer to Moses in that encounter was not to give Moses a name, but simply to declare His existence. When God said, “I AM WHO I AM,” He wasn’t naming Himself, he was stating His presence. And throughout Scripture, He always reveals Himself in terms of His presence in our lives or relationship to us, never as just a name. (We kid ourselves if we think that Jehovah is His real name).

I think He has done this for a very simple and specific reason. He bypasses our naming convention because He will not let Himself be controlled or defined by us. He will never be under our dominion, so there is a never a “name” WE can give Him. We will always have to rely on His self-revelation to us. Even Jesus, when he appeared in the flesh, was not named by His human parents, but by the revelation of God the Father. He was given a name that revealed His purpose in His presence on Earth – to save His people.

What all this means is that we will never be able to put Him in our box of what a “proper” god should do and be. He will always be separate, sovereign and self-sufficient. We will only begin to understand Him as we understand His relationship to us. He can never be too familiar or casual because we will never truly know His name. We will only know that is still “I AM.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It Is What It Is… or Is It?

No doubt you’ve heard the expression. It pops up everywhere. “It is what it is.” It sounds profound as if the person uttering the phrase is wise and thoughtful, speaking, as it were, of an ultimate reality. But as you think about this just a bit deeper, it seems to me that “it is what it is” has a dark side to it. “IT” can be any situation or circumstance we are currently facing; some difficulty that seems to have gotten the better of us. “IT” seems inescapable, inevitable and unavoidable. “IT” will win in the face of our puny efforts to get around it. So we just shake our heads and with a shrug of our shoulders and defeat in our voice make the pronouncement, “Oh well, it is what it is. I may as well accept my fate.”

My friends, I don’t believe that this fatalistic, defeatist attitude is compatible with our Christian confession. Imagine if you will the retelling of the story of Jesus approaching the city of Nain found in Luke chapter 7. As Jesus approaches the city he encounters a funeral procession carrying the body of a young man out to be buried, his widowed mother weeping behind the casket. Jesus looks upon this scene and his heart breaks. Then he suddenly shakes his head and says, “It is what it is” and walks on by into the city. The young man is still dead and the widow destitute. After all, what could he do about “IT.”

Satan whispers into our ears that it is futile to resist “IT.” Our own flesh screams to let “IT” take its course. Yet we must remember that we have a God who is not bound by “IT.” We have a God who does not see how things appear, but how He wants them to be. We have a God who created out of nothing and calls into beings things that are not. We have a God who has overcome the World, defeated Satan, set us free from the power of Sin and declared with ultimate authority, “That is how IT is!” And we have a God who invited us into His process of transforming and re-forming our world.

That young man lying in the casket in Nain was raised from the dead. The widowed mother received her son back. Life was now different! Jesus didn’t see death and defeat, he saw life and victory. This is what he speaks into all our lives – Life and Victory. So I urge you to throw off the fatalistic pessimism of “It is what it is” and take up the possibilites of the resurrection power of Christ. Things are not as they seem and we know the One who can change them (and us) as we run to Him.