Sunday, December 16, 2012

Understanding My Calling - Part 2

In part 1 of this topic, I described my journey to discover my calling and to function in it more effectively.  However, I feel it's important to emphasize that I didn't set out to do that.  Discovering my calling  wasn't anything that I ever thought about doing.  However over time, a pattern began to emerge and, because of my conversations with Jim Robbins, I became aware of those patterns and began to observe them more closely.

Although I believe it's important to know and understand our calling, I don't believe that it's anything we're supposed to stress or worry about because as we live our lives and interact with others on a daily basis, what we need to know will become clearer.  We won't have to go searching for it because it'll be a continuous revelation that will eventually become more apparent. 

The key is to recognize those areas where we just seem to flow naturally.  As I said in my previous post, my natural tendency is to encourage those whom I come in contact with so over time, I recognized that this is a gift that I flow in without any effort.  I've also noticed that I like to administrate and this is another gift that has helped me to moderate the forum on the Free Believers Network website as well as providing another opportunity to use my gift as an encourager.  

Proverbs 18:16 says that our gifts will make room for us and I'm finding that to be true.   As I live my life doing what God is laying on my heart to do that day, he'll open doors for me without any effort on my part.  I've had opportunities to do things that I've never imagined as I've followed my heart and moved through the doors that he's opened.  Although it's not another work that we have to do, it is to our advantage to flow in each new revelation and to begin to function in the calling that's being revealed to us. 

One of the greatest benefits I found is that it removes a lot of the pressure.  At one time, my spiritual life was characterized by a frenzy of religious activity as I tried to "do ministry."  Thinking that I needed to serve God, I even forced myself to do things that I hated doing.  Although I do believe God worked through all of that frenzy, how much more effective would it have been had my energy been focused on using my unique gifts?

So, when I know what my calling is, I can focus the bulk of my time and energy on doing what I was created to do instead of trying to meet every need that I see.  There are a lot of good things that need to be done but that doesn't mean that I need to do them.  When we try to do everything that presents itself, we exhaust ourselves trying to keep up and we have little energy left for what we should be doing.  As a result, those things often don't get done or they get done hurriedly without much thought.

What wonderful freedom there is when I can focus my time and energy on my calling because I'm no longer pulled in a dozen different directions.  People have a tendency to try to pull us into their calling but now I no longer feel like I have to try to fit into someone else's mold.   Since we've been trained in the religious system to believe that "big is best," believers often think that in order to be effective for God that they have to have a BIG ministry with LOTS of people involvedAs a result, the tendency is to try to get as many other people involved in what they're doing.  If we fall for the pressure, we'll end up working in someone else's calling to the detriment of our own

When we try to function in someone else's calling, over time our enthusiasm diminishes.  Then, it simply becomes just another chore that we have to do, kind of like washing dishes or making the bed.  Our own calling, however, will produce passion and we need to take note of that passion because it's an important indicator and motivator.  Since fulfillment only comes as we function in what we've been uniquely gifted to do, it's important that we discover and follow the passions of our heart because, where there's a lack of passion, there's also a lack of enthusiasm and energy.  Passion breeds an excitement and energy that can't be contained and it overflows into all that we do.    

However, I've also learned that nothing is carved in stone so it's  possible that over time our calling or the way it's to be lived out may change.  Our heart will tell us when that happens so if we follow the passions of our heart, we'll flow in whatever we may be called to do in that moment.  I've discovered that the key to success and fulfillment is to follow the leadings of my heart and by doing that, I'll be involved in whatever I've been called to do in that moment.  I believe Proverbs 4:23 can be a guide for us as we journey through this life.  

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." - Proverbs 4:23      

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The 'God is Hiding' Mentality

I recently taped a podcast with my friend, Joel Brueseke.  I met Joel a number of years ago when I discovered his blog, Grace Roots.  Over the years his website as well as his blog have been a great source of inspiration and encouragement for me.  Joel also does a podcast, Growing in Grace, with his friend, Mike Kapler. 

These are all great resources to help us understand God's grace and I hope you'll check them out. 

The podcast I recorded with Joel describes the God is hiding mentality that has robbed so many of us of our security as believers.  I hope you'll enjoy it and be encouraged. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Understanding My Calling - Part 1

My friend, Jim Robbins, and I have spoken on several occasions as he's encouraged me to determine my calling.  As believers, I know we all have a general calling which is to follow God and to love one another.  However, I'm convinced that each of us also has a calling which is very specific to our individual temperaments and our unique life experiences and we'll never be fulfilled until we discover that calling and begin to function in it. 

I'm reading a book entitled "Identity: Your Passport to Success" by Stedman Graham and I'm really enjoying what he has to say.  This book has led me to once again focus my attention on discovering more about my calling and to function in it more effectively.  For years, I've known that I'm gifted as an encourager.  My greatest joy is to encourage others and to watch as their lives unfold into greater depths of understanding of who they are.  Everything I do comes out of that desire and that's why I created this blog.  It's an outlet for me to share my journey of discovery with the hope that it will encourage others who are on a similar journey.

Over time, my calling has become clearer.  Greater clarity has come little by little as I've observed the circumstances of my life and how I've responded to each one.  There have usually been long periods of time between each revelation and, at first, that was frustrating but I now see that those gaps of time have enabled me to adjust to each new revelation and to begin to live in it more fully before moving on to the next one.

I love speaking and teaching but, as I pulled away from active involvement in a local church, those opportunities came to a screeching halt.  After a time of inactivity, I became disoriented and very frustrated.  At one point, the frustration was so great that I wrote to Wayne Jacobsen to ask his advice and I told him that I felt like I needed to be doing something.

I'll never forget his response.

He said that the desire to be doing something is a tentacle from the religious system and that if God wanted me to do something, he would clearly tell me what it is rather than giving me a vague feeling that I should be doing something.  That made sense so I didn't follow through with my plans at that time.  However, the feeling was still strong so I eventually became involved with a para-church group.  Although I enjoyed getting to know the other ladies in the group, I found that I was compromising more and more what I was now coming to believe and finally I just couldn't do it anymore.  The stress was too great so I made the decision to resign my position with the group.

After leaving that group, I went back into a time of inactivity.  It was frustrating in some ways but, as the tentacles of the religious system loosened, I became more comfortable with the quiet.  As I grew more settled in my heart, I actually began to enjoy my time of rest since I was now free to set my own schedule and to do more of the things I enjoyed doing.  Also, because I was freed from dealing with the frenzy of religious activity, God was able to work in me inwardly without all of the distractions.

Some recent events have brought me back to once again focusing my thoughts on my calling.  Several weeks ago, I had dinner with a very close friend who is on an amazing journey.  She is a woman who lives from her heart and she does it while actively involved in the institutional church.  At times, I've wondered why she's been able to make such a huge impact in the local church she attends while I haven't.  Feeling guilty, I've  wondered if maybe I needed to follow her example and become more actively involved once again.

However, my role has now became more clear.  Although it's true that when I've tried to share with people who are still in the institutional church, there's been no interest in what I've had to say, it's been totally different with the church who is outside of the institution.  Those believers seek me out regularly and it's not unusual for me to get an email from someone I don't know who wants to talk to me about what's going on in their life.  Also, because I moderate the forum on the Free Believers Network website, I have an opportunity to provide a place where believers who are outside of the church system can meet with others who are on a similar journey and can share their stories and discuss what they're learning.

I believe my friend and I have a similar calling which is why we're able to support and encourage one another.  Neither calling is better nor more spiritual than the other but each one has been tailored to fit our unique temperament and life experiences as well as provide maximum fulfillment.  While she's called to encourage those who are still part of the local church and to help them understand this amazing grace that we've been given, I'm called to do the same for those who are outside of the institutional church.  They are the ones who are drawn to me and who actually want to hear what I have to say.  However, although our callings are similar, they're not interchangeable.  She wouldn't be fulfilled in my calling and I wouldn't be fulfilled in hers.

This is clearly described in Proverbs 18:16 in the The Message Bible where the writer says, "A gift gets attention; it buys the attention of eminent people."  My unique gifts and calling get the attention of the people who I'm called to encourage . . . the believers outside of the religious system.

My friend also shared with me the following quote which has further re-enforced my understanding of my calling.  "Go where you're celebrated, not where you're tolerated." (Paula White)

What an eye opener!  My calling will become clear as I see who receives me and what I have to say with enthusiasm and then that's where I need to focus my time and energy.

The apostle Paul also had to grow in this understanding because when he attempted to speak to the Jews, all he received was persecution and abuse.  However, when he spoke to the gentiles, he was received with enthusiasm.  He finally realized that his calling was to the gentiles and he declared to the Jews that from that day forward, he would go to the gentiles.  He recognized his calling and went where what he had to say was accepted and his ministry took off.  So, if it was important for the apostle Paul to discover his calling, how much more important is it for us to discover ours.    

In my next post, I plan to discuss the benefits of discovering and functioning in your individual calling but, for now, I want to leave you with two quotes that I hope will encourage you as you seek to move forward in the calling that God has given you.  

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." - Steve Jobs

"Go where you're celebrated, not where you're tolerated." - Paula White

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Killer of Relationships

Relationships are fragile and need to be protected.  Although there are many enemies that seek to destroy them, there is one enemy that is probably the greatest killer of relationships and that is expectations.  Of course, there are a few expectations that are valid such as faithfulness in a marriage however, other than those few reasonable ones, we tend to have a myriad of other expectations that can ultimately end up robbing us of our joy and peace as well as destroying those relationships.   

As I've struggled to be free from unreasonable expectations, I've found that they come in various layers.  It's always a challenge to give them up but, until we're able to give up each layer of expectations, we'll never experience the wholeness that God desires for us to have.

We all have dreams and hopes and that's good but they become unhealthy when they become standards that we use to determine how we view ourselves and our success.  My granddaughter has always had an artistic bent and she's always loved to color.  Even as a young child, she was constantly at work coloring and drawing.  Napkins in restaurants were the perfect canvas on which to display her creative genius so, as a result, we went through a lot of napkins during lunch.  She would thoroughly enjoy herself until a stray line would cause her to erupt into a flood of tears.  Even the smallest mistake was totally unacceptable.  No matter how we tried to encourage her, she became inconsolable.  We would even point out to her how the stray line could be incorporated into the picture so that it didn't detract from its beauty but it still wasn't good enough and the tears continued to flow.  This happened on many occasions and it led to a great deal of frustration and disappointment because she had set standards so high that they were impossible for her to meet.     

Even as adults, we often set standards for ourselves that are impossible to meet and when we fail, we sink into self-pity crying, "I can't do anything right!"  However, we've got to be realistic and allow ourselves to be human.  Because we're human, we'll make mistakes . . . that's a given.  Sometimes we'll even make a lot of them but we need to allow ourselves the freedom to make them and to learn from them.

We tend to have a negative view of mistakes but mistakes can actually be beneficial since, when viewed correctly, they provide a way of growth that doesn't happen when everything goes just right.  I've heard it said that if we're not making mistakes, it's because we're not taking risks and, when we're not taking risks, we'll never accomplish anything great. So, the key is to allow ourselves to make mistakes, learn from them and then move on.

Another layer of expectations that we have to give up are those expectations that we've place on God.  Anyone who's been exposed to any word of faith teaching is probably familiar with the "name it and claim it" teaching.  Although this is a very popular "faith" teaching, it puts God in a box.  Proponents of this teaching believe that because we pray a certain way and claim specific scriptures, God is obligated to give us what we ask for.  Some teachers will even tell us that we have to tell God exactly what we want.  For example, if we want a new car, we have to tell him the make and model as well as the color and all of the extras that we want.  Otherwise, he can't give us what we want. 

So, when the car doesn't arrive exactly as we ordered, our faith in God is shaken.  And, when the healing doesn't come that we've prayed for and claimed, then we're accused of not having enough faith to bring it to pass and guilt is laid on us because we're told that our failure to be healed is our fault.  However, this teaching is a denial of the fact that God knows our heart and knows exactly what we need even before we ask for it. 

God isn't a one size fits all God and he doesn't treat us all the same.  We've all been uniquely created and he respects our uniqueness so just because he did it for Jabez, doesn't mean that he'll do it for us and just because he did it for you, doesn't mean that he'll do it for me.  Instead of it being an understanding that God knows every hair on our head and knows what's best for us, faith has become a way to manipulate him into giving us what we want.

Faith was never meant to be a tool to be used in order to get our selfish wants satisfied but instead it's meant to be the result of a relationship with our loving Father.  As we come to know God and realize how much he loves us, our faith grows and we begin to trust that he's watching over us and taking care of us no matter what the circumstances may be.  This kind of faith produces peace and contentment even in the midst of troubling circumstances because the focus is no longer on us and what we want but instead it's on his love.

I think Eugene Peterson says it well when he records the words of Jesus in The Message Bible.  He says: "What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving." (Matthew 6)

The third level of expectations that I want to discuss is giving up expectations of others.  That in my opinion and in my experience is the hardest one to give up because we tend to believe that our happiness is dependent on the behavior of others.  So, we think if only they would change, everything would be okay.  However after many years of trying to fix the people in my life, I've come to the conclusion that the only person who controls my happiness is me.  I may not like the circumstances of my life but I can choose to be joyful when I'd much rather sulk and wallow in self-pity.  Is that easy to do?  No, not always but I'm learning to find those moments of joy that I can focus on instead of the things I'd like to change that I have no control over.  It's a constant battle to choose joy but I've tried the other and I've decided that I don't want to live miserable anymore.

Humans are independent beings with free wills.  God doesn't violate someone's free will and neither should we.  I've found that when I try to change someone and they don't change, my tendency is to be disappointed and that leads to complaining.  Then, complaining leads to manipulation.  It's easy to fall into this pattern especially if the other person gives in to our manipulation.  When we get our way, we'll continue to manipulate them to get them to do whatever we want.  However, when that becomes a pattern, that relationship has begun to die.  

No one likes to be controlled and unreasonable expectations will build a wall between us and those we care about.  Each expectation and attempt to manipulate adds another brick to the wall and, if not dealt with, eventually the wall can get so tall that all communication stops and the relationship dies.  The only solution is to tear down the wall but that requires a willingness on our part to give up our expectations and allow the other person the freedom to be who they've been created to be.

Learning to give up expectations has not been an easy road for me and I'm still on the journey.  However, because I've valued the relationship enough to put it ahead of my unrealistic expectations, I feel like it's been well worth the effort and, as a result, I've experienced greater joy and peace. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Understanding the Heart of "Ministry"

Ministry in the institutional church is pretty clear cut since it usually has a job description attached to it.  Ministry may be pastoring or teaching a Sunday School class.  It can also be singing or playing an instrument as a "praise and worship leader" or it can be working in the kitchen to help prepare the fellowship suppers.  In the context of the institutional church, it's varied but it's usually also highly structured and it normally takes place in the building where the group meets.

Since ministry is clearly defined, you always know when you do it.  However, once you step outside of the institutional system, ministry becomes amorphous and not so easily defined.  Since there's no job description, you often don't know when you've done it.

Ministry outside of the religious system is simple but it's also complex.  As defined by, ministry is "the service, functions, or profession of a minister of religion" which is how the institutional church views it.  However, the dictionary app on my Nook defines it as "the act of serving" which I believe is a clearer definition of how ministry takes place outside of the institution.  Basically, it's the act of serving others and that's a pretty simple definition.  However, it becomes complex when we try to determine what this ministry should look like.

Although the outward situations may look the same, everyone's needs are different and that's what makes it complex.  If we'll get to know each individual as they struggle in their particular situation, we'll see differences that require different ministry in order to help them.  For example, if we probe a bit when trying to help homeless people, we'll discover that there are a variety of reasons why people become homeless so helping each person may require a different solution.  Also, needs tend to change so what someone needs today may not be what they need tomorrow.

The word "ministry" tends to have a rather mysterious aura about it but I don't think it was ever meant to be something that is mysterious and that can be done by only a few uniquely qualified individuals.  I believe it's best walked out in the every day circumstances of life by loving and serving whomever crosses our path in that given moment.  Although some people may require long term assistance, I believe it can also involve touching the life of someone in a simple subtle way.  Although we may never see them again what we do in that moment may have a great impact on their lives.  It may be as simple as offering a smile and a kind word to a waitress or a cashier who is obviously having a hard day but it may be what they need to turn their day around.  Actions like that may not get us a lot of recognition but because for that moment we've offered loving encouragement to someone who needed it, it's become loving ministry.

As we examine loving ministry, I believe we'll see several important characteristics.  Unfortunately, much of what we call ministry today is done in order to gain recognition.  However, when there's a genuine desire to help without regard for any personal reward other than the joy of helping someone else, that ministry will be effective because it touches the heart of the person in need.  Although physical needs may be met, ministry is only effective when it touches the heart so, the sole motivating factor has to be serving others, not the possibility of any tangible reward.

Loving ministry also involves having a listening heart.  If all we have is a listening ear, we may not pick up subtle signals which will lead us to respond appropriately.  When we pick up on those subtle signals, we can then offer the best possible help for that particular person.  A listening ear hears the words spoken but a listening heart hears the unspoken cry of their heart.  People don't always tell us what they're dealing with or they may not even know but, when we have a listening heart, we'll know what is needed or we'll know that we have to probe a bit more in order to effectively help and encourage them.

Sometimes, when I ask someone how they're doing, they'll answer, "okay" but my listening heart lets me know that they're really not okay.  So, I'll stop and ask them what's wrong.  Sometimes they tell me and sometimes they don't.  If they don't, I let it go but hopefully, they've been encouraged that someone recognized their pain and cared enough to ask.

Another characteristic of loving ministry is caring.  The hurting person can't just be another notch on our ministry gun as we tally up all of our ministry successes.  If all we care about is letting the world know how spiritual we are, we won't always do what's necessary to encourage and assist.  Loving and caring for a person can be messy at times, time consuming and often very frustrating but, when we love, we'll go the extra mile.  I've found it helpful to try to understand why they behave the way they do by seeing the hurting child in them and, when I can do that, I genuinely love them and patience is no longer a problem.  It's automatically there.

I've heard it said that people don't care what we say until they know that we care.  That's true because people respond better to true heartfelt ministry that's founded on love rather than on works.  Often we may see no immediate change but loving ministry still should be given with no expectation of change.  So, the final characteristic that I want to talk about is that loving ministry is ministry that is given with no strings attached.  In the end, the person may never do what we want then to do and they may never change but love requires that we give them freedom to make their own decisions and live life however they choose.

We may feel overwhelmed when we see the needs around us but if we'll remember that as children of God, love is our nature and when we follow love, we'll touch the lives of those he brings to us.  So, ministry is simply us living our lives and sharing the love we've been given with those who cross our path and that can be done inside of a building or outside of one. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Freed From a Rule Keeping Religion

A number of years ago, I became involved in a church that later became abusive.  I stayed there for three years and finally left hurt and confused.  I then became involved with a mainstream church and, as I worked through the healing process, I began to realize that the modern day church has become institutionalized and little of it resembles the church that Jesus came to build. 

As I began to understand grace, it surprised me to learn that Christ's death didn't do away with the law.  The law is still in the earth and very much alive.  However, when Christ died, we died too so now we're dead to the law but the good news is that we're alive in him.  So, because our connection to the law was ended at the cross, we no longer have to follow a bunch of rules.

Religion, however, would seek to re-establish our relationship to the law.  Therefore, we've now ended up with a religion that's a mixture of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  This combination of law and grace has resulted in a religion that's weak and, for the most part, is ineffective.

The Old Covenant was a works oriented covenant in which righteousness was based on what a worshipper did.  The Jews were required to make specific sacrifices at set times as well as follow proscribed laws.  Their righteousness was determined by how well they followed those laws.  On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest offered sacrifices that took away the sins of the people but, the following year, he had to offer those same sacrifices again.  He did this year after year after year but there was never a permanent cleansing of sin.  Instead, it had to be renewed annually.

The New Covenant under which we now live is based, however, on what Jesus has done.  It's no longer based on our works but it's based solely on grace.  Religion would tell us that "Jesus made us righteous but . . ."  However, under the New Covenant, there are no "buts."  Our righteousness is totally based on Jesus' finished work and nothing else!

Although we no longer sacrifice goats and bulls, our modern Christian teaching has added its own set of rules which we as believers are expected to follow.  We're expected to attend church regularly, pray and read our Bibles regularly and, of course, tithe.  If those rules are not followed as proscribed by the local church, we are considered to be out of fellowship with God and therefore out from under his protective covering.  Our commitment as believers is questioned and we're encouraged to re-commit our lives to God and to the church.  Other "shoulds" may also be added and the list of rules can be endless.

To make matters worse, we're never told how much is enough.  How much of the Bible should we read each day?  How much time should we devote to prayer?  Even 10% of our income, the tithe, is rarely enough because we're supposed to give to God "his tithe and our offerings."  I've heard it said that we don't really start to give until we've given more than the tithe and, of course, the tithe should always be given to the local church.  We can never follow our heart and give where our heart leads us to because the tithe belongs "in the storehouse."  

The New Covenant, however, is not a rule keeping covenant.  It's not based on us keeping the law because we'll never be able to keep it perfectly.  Old Covenant believers tried and failed miserably so God who is faithful even when his people were faithless established a new covenant.  This covenant is built on better promises which are fulfilled in Christ so, therefore they are now not just promises, they are facts when we enter into them by faith. 

As Jesus died, he cried out, "It is finished."  Well, what was finished?  I've heard it taught that he was declaring that the work of salvation was finished but that can't be true.  His death just started the process but it wouldn't be finished until his resurrection and the arrival of the Holy Spirit 50 days later at Pentecost.

No!  Jesus was declaring that the Old Covenant was finished!  It was over and now believers could enter into a new covenant that was based on his finished work.  Then, when the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost, he ushered in a new covenant of grace.  No longer do we have to follow a set of laws which are impossible to keep but now we can be led by the Spirit and, in his power, we can live in a new life free from the dictates of an impossible law.  

So, as I follow the Spirit, I can now confidently say, "The law doesn't apply to me!"  And that's the good news of our salvation.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Gift of Aloneness

I've spent most of my life alone.  I never had many friends and the friendships that I had never seemed to last.  Loneliness was a constant struggle that never seemed to go away for very long.  Even as a believer actively involved in a local church, loneliness always seemed to be right there beside me.  Then, as God began to set me free and I no longer participated in all of the religious activities, my feelings of loneliness increased.

A few months ago, in a conversation with Darin Hufford about loneliness, he said that loneliness is a gift.  Well, that was certainly a new concept for me and, since I wasn't sure about it, I decided to just let it sit and wait to see what God would do with it.  In a recent podcast, Darin also said, "I've spent most of my life all alone inside of myself."  Then, as he elaborated on that statement, my heart was saying, "Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  I understand!

I've spent many hours all alone with myself, thinking and processing or, as Mary did, "pondering those things in my heart."  Through that processing, I discovered that loneliness is indeed a gift but only because it leads to aloneness.  However, that journey is difficult because the only road to aloneness leads through loneliness.  There's no way to by-pass it.

For most of us, loneliness is a dark place filled with many tears.  It's a place of sorrow that's filled with much frustration and self-pity.  It was a difficult place for me but I've found that in order to connect more deeply with my heart and with the real ME, I've had to travel through the dark place of loneliness.  I think many believers confuse emotions with the heart but they are different.  I think of the heart as a deep place where the real ME resides and it's only in aloneness that I've been able to connect with the real ME. 

While in that place of loneliness, I would struggle to find ways to talk to somebody, ANYBODY!!!!  In my loneliness, I felt like I was dying so I tried church and all of the church activities.  I tried small groups.  I tried prayer meetings and Bible studies but nothing eased the loneliness that I was feeling.  When I would spend time with people, even when we were speaking about "spiritual things," I left feeling empty and dissatisfied.  It was like a drug that satisfied for the moment but, when the affects of "fellowship" wore off, the loneliness returned.   

I finally decided that loneliness would always be with me so I gave up trying to fight it and instead decided to accept that it was just a way of life for me.  Making that decision was a major turning point because after that, things began to change.  I discovered that too much activity and interaction had been a distraction that hindered me from connecting with my heart in a real way.  As I learned to accept my alone times, I discovered that I actually enjoyed them and that that it's okay to be alone and enjoy those times.  So, now I've given myself the freedom to do the things I enjoy doing, even if I have to do them alone.

I work in a public high school and the kids are always asking me what kind of music I listen to.  I tell them that I don't like music so I don't listen to any.  Since they don't believe me, they then ask me, "What do you listen to in the car?" and I tell them that I don't listen to anything.  Shocked, they then ask, "What do you do?"  My answer is, "I think."  By their silent response, I can tell that they can't comprehend of such a thing. 

Thinking for me has become a way of life and I enjoy connecting with the real ME in that secret place of my heart.  I'm learning more and more about myself and who I really am but that has only taken place because I've learned to accept and live in aloneness.  Now, I no longer despise my time of loneliness.  I accepted it as a gift when I discovered that it was the only path to the secret place of aloneness which for me has become a place of contentment for it is there that I meet with God and the real ME.

Hosea said it well when he described that place of privacy and intimacy with God.

"Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. 
There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of Egypt."   

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Examining the Lord’s Prayer Through New Covenant Eyes – Part 2

I received the following email in response to my post, "Examining the Lord's Prayer Through New Covenant Eyes."  Instead of praying the Lord's Prayer as a plea for God to do what he's already done, this prayer has become for the writer of the email, a prayer of thanksgiving. I believe this person is a perfect example of someone who has learned to see the Lord's Prayer through New Covenant eyes. 

She has given me permission to post it here as a followup to my original post.  I think you'll be encouraged by what she has to say. 

The Lord's Prayer

Father has used the Lord's prayer in my life as a vital tool to teach me not only about how to converse with Him, but how to live for Him in intimate relationship.

This is the way I see it:

"Our Father who art in heaven, hollowed be thy name", Praise draws me to Father and worship is how I live my life in praise. Doesn't mean I am always in the mood, but when all is dark and scary it never hurts to acknowledge how wonderful and good He is.

"thy Kingdom come thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven", this is me seeking relationship with Father, a hunger in my heart a longing to know Him.

"give us this day our daily bread", because His mercies are new every morning, I know I can ask Him to give me what I need to face life. This includes the financial provisions I need on a day to day basis. I ask Him not because He has to be reminded to meet my needs, but because I need to be reminded He does meet my every daily need.

"forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors", of course I am forgiven even before I asked. So why not practice the same grace given to me? And remember everyday I too have the power to forgive.

"and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil", help me to make the right choices, do not allow me to be deceived. Love casts out all fear and in a relationship with Father I know all is good (even what appears to be bad).

"for thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory", what better place to be than in His loving arms? No matter how I might "feel" the truth is He knows where I am and meets me there. 

This is not how I've always viewed The Lord's Prayer. For years I would recite it without meaning and than a time came when I would pray it in my darkest hours, when I could even hardly utter any words. And then one day, I'm not sure when, this prayer became my way of being and I no longer needed to recite it. So I believe with all my heart,

Jesus taught that prayer to the old testament believers with the new testament believers in mind.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Finding Your Voice

The voice is meant to be the conduit through which the heart speaks.  Yet, the voice of the church has been silenced and believers are no longer able to speak what’s on their heart.  As a result, we’ve lost connection with our heart and many of us have no idea what we really believe.  We read Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:18-19 and we think that our hearts are filled with evil and evil thoughts.  Yet, the truth is that we’ve been given new hearts filled with the life of God so how can our heart be filled with evil?  What was Jesus thinking?  What was he talking about?

As explained in my previous post, Jesus’ ministry while on Earth occurred during a transition period at the end of the Old Covenant.  Since the New Covenant didn’t go into effect until after his death and resurrection, the words he spoke (those red letter words we love so much) were actually spoken to people who lived under the Old Covenant so they do NOT necessarily apply to us today.  Those words as recorded in Matthew were spoken to people who had not been given a new heart as we have been given today.

Our voices were meant to express what’s in our heart yet many of us have no idea what’s in our heart.  We sing songs that others have written and we’re told to sing them because that’s how we’re supposed to worship God.   I’m not saying that it’s wrong to sing those songs.  There are many of them that I love and they do express what’s on my heart but, since our voices have been silenced, we never get to sing the song that in our heart.  So, although the songs we sing in church may be meaningless to us, we go along and pretend that we’re worshipping God while the true song of worship that’s in our heart goes unsung.   
Week after week, we’re told what to think and what to believe.  Week after week, we sit and listen to someone tell us what God is speaking to the church and, if what we’re hearing doesn’t agree with what is said, then we decide that we must be wrong and that God doesn’t speak to us the way he speaks to the “man of God.” 

This constant doubting and questioning of ourselves causes us to lose connection with our heart, the place where God live and, when we lose connection with our heart, we lose our awareness of him and of his presence and love.  As a result, we end up with what I call a second hand faith that is built on what we’ve been told instead of what we really believe.  So, we try to “witness” but we end up parroting what we’ve heard others say instead of what we’ve experienced and once again the voice of our heart has been silenced.

God is our Father and he wants to speak directly to us, his children, just like any other father.  I have two children and seven grandchildren and when I want to speak to one of them, I don’t tell it to that child’s brother or sister and expect them to relay it to the other child.  No!  I just speak directly to that child.  God is no different.  He doesn’t use a go-between.  He wants to speak directly to us so we need to stop depending on someone else to tell us what our Father is saying to us. 

I believe it’s getting more and more critical for the church to develop its listening ears.  We need to hear God when he speaks to us and to understand what he’s saying.  We do this by learning to trust our hearts.  We can develop this greater sensitivity by listening for the simple things that it might be saying.  Learning to recognize the desires of our heart is key since God speaks through the desires of our heart.  What do I like and what don’t I like?  What do I want to do and what don’t I want to do?  These are important questions and we need to know the answers.

I’m finding out that by honestly answering questions like that that I’m learning more about myself and, in the process, I’m discovering my true self, the real ME.  It’s important that we recognize our true self because that’s where the life of God resides and that’s where he’ll communicate with us.

“When Jesus spoke, he spoke to the heart.”  (Darin Hufford)  The same is true today so, if we’re not hearing God, it’s because we’ve lost connection with our heart.

Leadership in the church is critical, however, not the type of leadership that we’ve grown accustomed to.  I’m becoming more and more convinced that the function of leadership isn’t to tell us what God is saying but to help us develop our own listening ears so we can hear him for ourselves without a go-between.  When that happens, we’ll become mature sons and daughters of God.  However, for the church to move into the fullness of what he has for us, we need to re-connect with our heart.  Only then, will our voice be able to speak from the life of God that is in our heart .

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Examining the Lord's Prayer Through New Covenant Eyes

The Lord’s Prayer is probably one of the best known teachings in the Bible.  Believers read it, they pray it and they even sing it.  Some have even committed to praying it every day.  That all sounds great except that the Lord’s Prayer is NOT a new covenant prayer so it has absolutely NOTHING to do with us as new testament believers.

The prayer as prayed by Jesus is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and I’m going to use the New King James Version to discuss some of its various points.  The book of Matthew is one of four books that detail aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus while he was on the earth and these four books are found in the section of the Bible that we call the new testament.  However, the new testament era did not actually begin until after Jesus’ death and resurrection so the events described in Matthew actually occurred during a transition period that should not be included in the new testament.

Since the events described in this book took place during the culmination of old testament times, Jesus was actually speaking to believers who lived under the old covenant.  His listeners were not new covenant believers as we are so not everything that he said and taught applies to us today and the Lord’s Prayer is a perfect example of an old testament teaching that does not apply to us.  I believe there’s great danger in Christians praying the Lord’s Prayer because it can hinder them from believing and accepting what God  has already provided for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I’d like us to examine this prayer together in the hopes that by doing so, we’ll all experience a greater depth of understanding of what has been freely given to us today as new covenant believers.  The prayer starts out with Jesus praying to “Our Father in Heaven.”  The idea of praying to a God who is in heaven encourages a picture of a distant god who is separate from his people.  Yet, in the new covenant, we know that God lives in us and he’s promised to never leave us so why pray to him as though he’s somewhere out there in the wild blue yonder.  Instead, he lives in us, in our very being, as one with us as is our DNA.

Next, the prayer continues, “Your kingdom come.”  When Jesus prayed that, he was looking forward to the day when God’s kingdom would come to Earth.  Well, that day has already come and is NOW.  We don’t have to pray “your kingdom come” any longer.  His kingdom is already here and it lives within us.  (Luke 17:21)  We have the kingdom of God and all that it entails in our hearts so we don’t have to pray asking God to bring it to the earth. 

Jesus then continues to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Later, in verses 14-15, he tells his listeners that their forgiveness is dependent on how they forgive others.  If they forgive others, they’ll be forgiven.  If they don’t, too bad.  Forgiveness is only available for those who follow the rules.

Jesus was setting the standard so high that his listeners would realize that it’s impossible for them to keep the rules.  Their behavior would never be good enough to earn forgiveness so, in the new covenant, God provides it freely with no strings attached.  We’re forgiven.  There’s nothing we can do to earn his forgiveness and the good news is that there’s nothing we can do to lose it.  It’s a free gift based solely on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Lord’s Prayer was meant to encourage Jewish believers to look forward to the forgiveness and freedom that would be given in the new covenant.  That day is here so we no longer have to beg God to give us what he’s already freely given.  All we have to do is believe it, accept it and then begin to live as though it’s true.

For additional study of the new covenant and what it means to us today as believers, I would recommend “Heaven is Now” by Andrew Farley.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Freedom in Prayer

Well, it’s been a long time and I’d been wondering if the season for my blogging was over.  However, I recently heard a sermon on the importance of daily prayer and I had some thoughts that I wanted to share so my blog seemed the best and most effective way of doing that. 

The speaker insisted that we need to pray every day in order to receive God’s guidance for that day.  He cautioned us that if we didn’t pray, we would make decisions in the flesh and those decisions could lead to potential disaster.  Then, as he also stated, when he prayed at the start of each day, he received God’s wisdom for that day and he therefore made good decisions.  Well, that all sounds good, but . . .

For several years now, I’ve rarely prayed in the traditional fashion of sitting down and verbalizing my prayers to God and yet most of my decisions are good decisions.  I’m glad that the traditional method of prayer works well for that speaker but I’ve found that there’s no one size fits all method of prayer.  While what he does may work well for him, it’s never worked for me.  I tried that method for years and it just didn’t work.  I tried praying in English and I’ve tried praying in tongues.  I’ve tried “praying the word” as well as using prayer lists, all with minimal results and God never seemed any closer.  The result was always a lot of stress and guilt wondering what I was doing wrong, why I couldn’t meet God’s expectations.  Finally, I just gave up and stopped praying and, while that relieved the stress, the guilt increased because now I felt like I was drifting away from God.

It was only when I began to understand that my thoughts are prayer that I began to experience true freedom.  When that revelation first came to me, I had never heard anyone say that before and I honestly thought I was losing it.  I even spoke to my friend, Darin Hufford, and asked him about it thinking that he would say something to fix my faulty thinking.  Instead, he told me that that’s how he prays and assured me that I’m doing just fine.  Over the years, I’ve experienced greater peace about my “style of praying” and I’ve also since found out that many other people pray that same way so it’s not as unusual as I once thought. 

I love that God gives us the freedom to develop our own unique relationship with him.  We’re not just cookie cutter Christians and he’s not a vending machine God.  We don’t have to try to fit ourselves into an accepted mold of Christian living.  We’re free to be ourselves and to relate to him in our uniqueness.  While I was writing this, I saw a poster which I think beautifully expresses what I’ve been trying to say.  It read: 

“Be yourself.  An original is always worth more than a copy.” 

I think that’s advice that’s good to remember as we work through this journey of learning to live free from religious expectations in order to find and experience our own unique relationship with God.