Category Archives: The Whisperings of God

The Successful Christian Life

How do we define “success” when it comes to Christian ministry? For some it might be by the size of the church congregation or by being an internationally known conference speaker or by the number of music albums recorded. Perhaps we should count the number of healings attributed to our ministry or responses to our altar call. But these measures only apply to the professional ministry, what about the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Christians? How do we define a successful Christian ministry for the stay-at-home mom or the single dad who only sees his kids every other weekend or the college student trying to resist the pull of the world around them? What does success mean to them? What does “ministry’ even mean to them? We look up from our corner and think, “if I was a really good Christian, then I should be doing more.” And the full-time pastor looks at the bigger church down the street and thinks, “If I were more spiritual, I could have a bigger church.” We’ve based our value and idea of success on some vague concept of accomplishment that has more to do with the world’s values than Christ’s values.

Jesus dealt head on with this concept of “successful ministry” and totally flipped it on its head. The story is found in the Gospel of Luke. After sending seventy-two of his followers on a “ministry trip” they return ecstatic, flushed with success. Here’s what happens next.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  (Luke 10:17-20)

They had been out traveling throughout the area preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing and casting out demons. Even the demons had to do what they said. If that isn’t successful ministry I don’t know what is. But Jesus stops them short, “do NOT rejoice that the spirits are subject to you…” What? What could be better, more exciting than that? “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He goes on to say. For Jesus, it wasn’t about all our “doings” or even how well we did them. For Him, the most important thing is our “being.” Having our names written in heaven means that we are known, intimately, individually, personally, deeply; it means being included and accepted. Now THAT is a successful Christian life. And the most beautiful part is that the great book has the names of the little child who simply understands that “Jesus loves me this I know” and the mega-church pastor, both their names are written in the same column on page 127,284 in the same size font, not because they did something special but because they are equally loved. All the names are there because of His incomprehensible love for us, not because of any impressive deeds we think we have done.

So let me ask you a question. Is it enough? Is it enough for you simply to know that your name is in that book or do you still strive to “do something great for God?”   Are you delighting in being known or are you chasing some other measure of success? I honestly don’t know what the successful Christian life looks like, it will be different for each of us, but I do know that right now He is reading my name in His book and smiling. It doesn’t get better than that. This is me – rejoicing.

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Is God my BFF?

I’ve had a few good friends over the years. Well, let me clarify, I’ve had many friends – people I can hang out with, talk over dinner, that kind of friend. But I have only had a few really deep friendships. These were godly men who I could open up to; share my struggles and fears without feeling condemned; men with whom I could be totally myself and be accepted. It was much more than conversation over dinner, it was sharing lives and becoming a better person, more encouraged, more inspired or more grateful. I’ve only had a few of those kinds of friends. So as I was reading Psalms I was deeply moved by this verse.

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. (Psalm 25:14 ESV)

The “friendship of the Lord!” It is so exciting to think that I can have that kind of relationship with God Himself, a relationship that leaves me a better person, more encouraged, more inspired and more grateful every time I spend time with Him. That phrase – friendship of the Lord – evokes affection, closeness, familiarity and acceptance. It is a relationship that is not only possible, but real – today.

But also note one very important phrase in that verse. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him. We cannot approach God as just another one of our casual friends. He’s not our Facebook friend. We must approach Him with the reverence and respect that is rightfully His. Our friendship with Him is not based on impulse or whim but on His character. He will not be toyed with. He will not be disregarded or marginalized. We can’t treat Him as our BFF-du-jour. There’s a difference between being afraid of Him and fear of Him. Being afraid implies a capricious, demanding, condemning deity, ready to strike us down if we step out of line. That is not who He is. But the “fear of the Lord” is having a healthy respect that He is the sovereign creator, near to us, but also high and lifted up. We can sit on His lap, but also fall down in worship.

I think that it possible to have a deep and rewarding friendship with the Lord, a relationship our souls longs for and one He wants to have with us. It’s possible as long as we remember who He is and treat Him accordingly. You see, as we cultivate this friendship with the Lord He will tell us marvelous things. And as we speak to Him about our struggles and fears we will hear His words of fondness towards us.  He will talk to us about the promises and commitments He is making to us – “his covenant.” This is a friendship that starts today and lasts forever. This is a Best Friend Forever in the truest meaning of that phrase.

If His Yoke is Easy, Why Am I Still Overwhelmed?

I’m sure we’ve all heard or read this verse dozens and dozens of times. 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

It’s held out as a beacon of hope and rest, as a panacea for all that ails us.  Who wouldn’t want to rest?  Who wouldn’t want to be relieved of their burdens?  Here is His promise.  We only need to believe it and it’s done.  All our problems disappear and life is stress-free.  Easy, right?  The problem is that it doesn’t seem to line up with our experience or, for that matter, the experience of most of the Christians I know.  So what’s the problem?  Why, when Jesus makes such a remarkable promise, we are unable to make it real in our lives?  Let me offer some suggestions.

I think too many of us live with the expectations we or others have set for us.  We think we have to live up to some standard of behavior, thought or belief that becomes unbearable because we will never be able to measure up.  We will always fail in some else’s eyes or our own and we feel the burden of defeat.  So you want to stop feeling so weighed down, then stop living some else’s life.

Similarly, we are overburdened by wrong priorities.  We spend our time, money and energy pursuing some idealized version of the Christian life because that is what “we are supposed to do.”  Aren’t we supposed to volunteer for every church event or kid’s school activity?  Aren’t we supposed to take care of everyone else’s needs instead of your own?  Somehow we’ve come to believe that busyness equals godliness, even though I’ve never found a verse in the Bible that says, “Be busy and know that I am God.”  I’m not saying that our lives will never be busy – more on that later – but that we need to be busy for the right reason.

And many of us are overburdened and overwhelmed because we are living in unforgiveness.  Every day we live with the hurt, anger, hatred of what someone has said or done to us.  We re-live it and we grow bitter and hostile and unpleasant, perhaps not outwardly but certainly our souls grow dark.  Perhaps our feelings of hurt and anger are justified, but the unforgiveness is not.  Whether it is directed towards others or ourselves, unforgiveness weighs on our spirits.  It crushes our spirit.  It drags us down into very ugly depths. 

We fail to live out Jesus’ promise because we haven’t taken the time to lay down our own burdens.  How can I take his yoke, when I am carrying so much other stuff?  So we wistfully smile at the concept of rest and try to make it through another day.  We think we are “carrying our own cross,” when, in fact, we are carrying our own garbage.  First, take a good hard look at all the burdens you are carrying, then drop them.  Just drop them.  Then you can go to Him to see what He has for you.

There is yet one more misconception I want to address.  If you read that verse carefully again, you will realize that Jesus did not say we would have no burdens.  He did not say life would be easy.  He did not say our life would be stress-free.  He said He would put a yoke on us and lay a burden on us.  His, not ours.  To me to have a yoke means we are harnessed to do work, not lounge around.   Christ has work for us to do.  He has an assignment for us.  We have a row to hoe.  I believe that Jesus is telling us that we can drop the self-imposed loads and instead take up His calling for our life.  You see, I think that when we are living out our mission, our calling, our gifting according to His willing we will find the strength and endurance to carry on joyfully even in the midst of difficult external circumstances.  I think that living the life He gives us will seem to us as any easy yoke or a light burden.  But be careful here, everyone’s yoke is different.  So don’t judge yourself or others by what you perceive as unequal treatment by our Lord, instead be content to carry your own yoke.

There you have it.  I’m not telling you how to live the un-burdened life, but how to live the “true-burdened” life.  It starts with laying down expectations, wrong priorities and unforgiveness.  Then ask Him to show you what He has prepared for you and receive it gladly.

Rethinking “A Still Small Voice”

There is a very well know passage of Scripture that many Christians use as a model for hearing God’s voice.  It tells of the story of the prophet Elijah just after he has a showdown with the false prophets of Baal.  In this showdown on Mount Carmel, our Great God demonstrates His supremacy of the idol Baal.  Immediately afterward, Elijah flees to a cave to escape the wrath of the wicked queen Jezebel.  We pick up the story here.

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-11 ESV)

In this version, it says “sound of a low whisper.”  The King James Version famously says, “a still small voice.”  God was not speaking out of the wind or earthquake or fire but instead He was present in that low whisper, in a still small voice, and we have made that still small voice the normative and expected way in which God will always speak to us – in a whisper.  We like that imagery because it makes God less demanding and more “tame.”  It is easier to ignore a whisper than a fire storm. 

But there is a danger in taking one incident in Scripture and turning it into an absolute rule as it seems some have done with this passage.  Isn’t it interesting that when God first spoke to Moses it was out of a burning bush, i.e., fire (Exodus 3:2)?  When He spoke to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, He spoke out of fire, smoke and earthquake (Exodus 19:18).  When He took Elijah to heaven, He did it in a windstorm accompanied by a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).  When He spoke to Job, he did it from a whirlwind (Job 38:1) When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in the Upper Room, He showed up in wind and fire (Acts 2:1-3).

My point is simply that God has many ways in which He speaks to us and He uses whatever means are appropriate to us and the situation.  If we are only looking for God to speak in one way, we may miss Him completely.  Sometimes He may whisper.  At other times, He may shout.  But He is always speaking, always revealing Himself to us.  So, it may not be a burning bush anymore, but He could speak to us as we are reading the Bible, or are deep in worship, or seeking Him in prayer, or through the encouraging words a friend, through the teaching of a pastor, through a vision or prophetic word or a dream.

The point is not whether God speaks through the sound of a low whisper or some other way.  No, the point is that He is speaking.  Are we listening?  Will we recognize His voice?

Torrential Love

I’m sure you’ve seen videos of rivers flooded over their banks after a storm, rushing through streets and towns.  The torrent of water is overwhelming.  Everything that stands in the way of the might rush of water is simply swept away – cars, trees or houses.  It is unstoppable and relentless.  And while the human and physical destruction is tragic, this imagery reminded me of something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“In all these things.”  I think Paul was making a very simple point.  There is a flow of love from the Father towards us – a flow of love based on the sacrifice of Christ.  It is a flow of love that is constant and persistent.  However, it appears there are situations or conditions that would attempt to block that flow of love.  Some of these roadblocks may be thrown up by other people trying to do us physical damage – “tribulation, persecution, sword.”  Some of these potential obstacles may be life conditions – “famine or nakedness.  Some of these potential barriers may even be spiritual entities – “angels, rulers.”  The point is that life happens.  Sometimes it’s a hard and dangerous life.  And when we are in the midst of these events is certainly seems that God has abandoned us.  It seems that the promises of Scriptures or the comforting words of Christians are hollow.  The devil seems more present and powerful that God Himself

But the significance of this passage is that no matter what life throws at us, the reality is that it has not and cannot stop the torrential love of God towards us.  No barrier can withstand the driving love. The Father will move, overpower or crush any attempts at preventing His love from reaching us.  There is no power or argument that can be made to stop it.  That is terribly encouraging to me.  It fills me with hope.  It inspires perseverance.  It causes me to look beyond my immediate circumstances and instead look for the tidal wave of affection moving my way.  It enables me not only to conquer my fears but to be more; it enables me to “over-conquer.”  I become a love-receiving and love-giving superhero.

I have heard some people say that this passage of Scripture does not apply to our own ability to separate ourselves from the love of God.  To me this is the most vile and demonic lie ever.  Remember that this is the love of God flowing from Him toward us.  We will never stop that!  If Christ already died for all the ugliness and sin in our lives, could there be anything else that would make us more unlovable?  No! I believe that because He loves us, He will move our hearts and break down our walls until we get it.  Don’t think that you are more powerful that God’s love.  We are but tiny umbrellas in the face of an deluge of love.  So put the umbrella away and let your self be swept away in that torrent.

Simplifying Our Faith

It seems to me that we 21st century western Christians have a problem.  We have 2000 years of church history, church councils, schisms, reformations and counter-reformations.   We have millions of words written expounding on every passage of Scripture.  We have thousands of books detailing our various doctrines, positions and dogma.   We have established the boundaries of what is biblical and what is not.  We have identified those who are with us and those who are not.  We have accumulated to ourselves traditions and practices following in the footsteps of our spiritual forefathers.

To be fair, this is not all bad.  There have been men and women of great and genuine faith pointing the way to greater faith.  Their lives are an inspiration and encouragement in learning how to live out the Christian walk.  The problem is that all this stuff – all the words – has so encrusted the simple, powerful message of grace that we have lost sight of the Messenger.  We are more concerned with ensuring that we have all our doctrinal ducks in a row than we are about presenting Christ to a needy neighbor. 

It feels like we have to navigate through a forest of beliefs or juggle the nuances of interpretations to make sure we don’t step off track.  We genuinely want to believe the truth and follow Christ purely, but who do we listen to?  Who do we believe?  Who is right or more right?  It’s all very exhausting.  I completely understand.  I have spent my life reading and studying church history, Christian doctrines, systematic theologies, cults, apologetics and more.  All as part of an effort to correctly understand and know Truth.  And all of it invaluable for me in the working out of my calling, however it is so easy to get lost in all of it.  It can deplete faith instead of renew faith.  Shouldn’t there be a better way?

The apostle Paul addresses this very problem in his second letter to the Corinthian church.  He says,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (ESV)

For Paul the most important message was “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Trying to figure out which rules to follow or who is more right or struggling to make sense of all the possible options for becoming a better Christian or keeping up with the latest best seller is really just trying to rest in the “wisdom of men.”  Instead how about returning to the simplicity of our faith – Christ came, died, rose again and saved me into a relationship with God.  What better demonstration of the power of God can there be?  What else do I need to know?

My deepest desire right now is to simplify my faith.  Not that I discard all I have learned and studied over the years, but to make sure that it all doesn’t overwhelm simplicity.  I choose to uncomplicate my spirit – remove the encumbrances of men’s wisdom that weigh me down and take flight into His wisdom.  I commit to make the focus of my life – emotional, physical, relational and spiritual – to be Jesus Christ and him crucified.  Instead of pursuing a frantic search for the “next secret to living a victorious Christian life”, I will rest my faith.  Rest in the demonstrated power of God.  Rest in a simpler faith. 

Join me and rest.

Three-fold antidote to Fear

As I read through Paul’s second letter to to his friend and co-worker Timothy, I can’t help but get excited about the possibilites of living the Christian life in response to God’s calling.  Paul very clearly understands that he has a purpose and place in the Kingdom of God.  In this case, it is being an apostle, teacher and preacher, but the same principle applies to us.  I have a place and purpose in God’s Kingdom.  So does everyone who  follows Christ.  It may not be as dramatic as Paul’s, but it is certainly just as important.  To think about that is exhilarating; to know that I can be part of God’s great plan for this earth makes me tingle, but then reality sets in.  What if I fail?  What if I’m not up to the task?  What if people reject me?  What if…What if… What if…?  Fear takes over and paralyzes us.  Fear keeps me from pursuing God 100%.  It keeps me from engaging my gifts and calling.  It forces me to sit on the sideline and watch from a distance.  That is not what God had in mind.

As I read verse 7 of chapter one, I suddenly understood that the Father had graciously provided an antidote to our fears.  Fear speaks to us in three different ways and each time it does the Spirit that God has given us – the Holy Spirit – is able to neutralize the power of Fear.  Here is what is says,

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (NKJV)

Fear speaks to us about inadequacy.  It tells us that we are not able.  We are not strong enough, smart enough; that we are simply not enough … anything.  Fear creates in our minds all sorts of scenarios in which we fail, are humiliated or embarrassed.  They seem so real and so plausible these scenarios, why would I even attempt what God is asking?  So there we are bound up in our adequacy.  But the truth is that we have not been given a spirit of inadequacy but a Spirit of Power.  The Holy Spirit enables and empowers us to accomplish all that the Father has prepared for us to do.  The Truth is that we have whatever resources – emotional, physical, spiritual – to fulfill His calling.  The Truth is that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13).  Where does Fear come off telling I can’t, when Christ has already said I can?

Fear also speaks to us about rejection.  It tells us that people won’t like us, they will reject us, they won’t understand me or love me.  We believe the pictures projected in our imagination of the isolation and aloneness that is sure to come if we live God-focused lives.  Now the fact is that Christians will be rejected and perscuted just as Christ was, but the wonderful promise God has given us is that we will never, ever be alone.  He has given us the Spirit of Love to live with us.  He has given us a Comforter to live in us.  We can know that God’s love is secure, constant, consistent and sure no matter what other people my think or say.  “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).  And since we know the One who is Perfect Love, we can live fearlessly.

Finally, Fear speaks confusion into our lives.  Our thinking gets so muddled.  Making decisions seems impossible.  There are so many options, so many directions.  What if I pick the wrong way?  We get so worried and frazzled that it is easier to do nothing.  But we have not been given a spirit of confusion but a Spirit of Sound Mind.  In fact, we have been given the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).  The Spirit that hangs out with us is totally tapped into what Christ is thinking about us and our lives.  He can communicate to us and we can hear him.  We simply need to rest in the assurance that He wants us to know what He wants.  He doesn’t play hide and seek with His will.

So there it is, inadequacy, rejection and confusion are no match for the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.  Fear does not need to control.  Fear no longer can deter or discourage me.  And as I think about the possibilities, as I consider the adventures that come with following Christ, I can walk securely knowing that my Father just stomped all over Fear.