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.