Monthly Archives: January 2004

Lies the Devil Tells. Lies We Tend to Believe!

1.) The life of a Christian should be easy, and if you’re having problems you must have really messed up or made God angry.

2.) Your past is painted on your life in permanent marker.

3.) Everyone else in your church is holy. You’re the only real bad sinner in the bunch.

4.) What you do in private doesn’t matter. Then once you sin, the enemy turns around and tries to convince you that the sin you do in private is so horrible that God will never forgive you.

5.) Your appearance defines your worth.

6.) Results matter most to God, and you don’t measure up.

7.) There is no such thing as perfect love – even God has an angle to work.

8.) We must understand everything about someone before we can love them.

9.) Effective ministry is more complex than rocket science.

10.) TVs make good babysitters.

11.) You can get by on what the pastor feeds you on Sunday morning.

12.) Everything is a matter of truth or a lie. All ‘truth’ is relative.

13.) Keeping sins and pain secret is the only way to keep from getting hurt.

14.) Nobody will ever accept the real you.

15.) All that you can see is all that there really is.

16.) God is a cosmic kill joy. He doesn’t want to give you the very best He’s really quite selfish.

17.) Serving and knowing God is really all about following a bunch of rules and attending a ton of meetings.

18.) True worship can only happen if you have music.

19.) God only uses perfect people broken people need not apply.

20.) The only way to make temptation go away is to yield to it.

21.) A loving God would never allow His beloved children to go through pain.

23.) The effectiveness of your ministry mostly depends on how hard you work.

24.) More is better.

25.) You are all alone.

Discerning the Voice of God

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to develop spiritual discernment. After all, how does one really know that the voices playing over and over in his head are really from God? You may be thinking, ‘He’s hearing voices. He must be crazy.’ But if you honestly look at the world around us, you would have to admit that we are surrounded by a plethora of voices. From the TV blaring in the background of life to peer pressure to the still, small voice speaking to our inner man, we have to decide which voices we will listen to on a regular basis.

Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. But how do I know that the ‘gut feeling’ or off-the-wall thought I have is really from God? Couldn’t it be caused by rotten meat from a fast food meal? Or the idea could be the result of years of TV and commercials creating a false reality and warped priorities? Or maybe it comes from my own desire to do something special for God? Yikes!

I just want to get to the point that I know when to wait, when to act, when to run and when to pray. Jesus seemed to always know what to do. Consider the time that Jesus learned that one of his close friends was very sick (John 11:1-46). Most people would rush to the scene but not Jesus. He waited two days until his friend, Lazarus, was dead. Jesus waited to make a point. Jesus waited because by doing so it would bring maximum glory to God. Jesus waited because He knew the spiritual significance of the situation. I want to be just like that. Part of my problems is that I want the revelation without the process. But there is no shortcut here.

You may be thinking, ‘Hey pal, give yourself a break. You’re not Jesus. You can’t every expect to have His level of discernment.’ And while that may be true, I do believe that the Spirit will reveal “all things” to us as Jesus promised before His crucifixion. I believe that most true Christians, including myself, have just begun to reach the outer edge of what it really means to be Spirit led.

Slowly, I’m starting to figure out more of the picture. Yesterday, I ‘felt’ compelled to stay at home instead of go to the Sunday service. While I don’t make a habit out of this practice, it is certainly nothing new either. I spent fruitful time in prayer and personal Bible study. Then I listened to a teaching tape by Clay McClean on the “Idols of Envy.” As I listened and asked God to show me the areas of envy in my life, I experienced a breakthrough. God delivered me from worrying about my physical attributes that aren’t necessarily what I would like for them to be. So what my hairline is receding? So what I’m not very tall? So what I don’t have muscles like a body builder? For years, I had allowed images of the perfect guy to haunt me.

While this could have happened anywhere, I believe that I was right where God wanted me to be. I might have never listend to that tape had I not taken the time on Sunday. Later on in the afternoon, I knew that I was supposed to go to the home fellowship gathering even though it was snowing and the roads were slick. Despite a half an hour trip taking more than an hour, I trudged on ahead to the gathering. I was the only one there except for my friend and his family. Yet, God used me to confirm something that was going on in the family. I stayed only a short time and then left. I had done my duty by bringing the confirmation needed for my friend to address the situation.

While coming back home from the meeting, I thought that my cell phone had fallen out of my pocket into the snow. I couldn’t find my cell phone anywhere. I looked all over the car several times and even called my friend’s house where the meeting was held. I almost went and bought a new one. But as I prayed about it, I decided to wait to replace it. I ‘knew’ that God was going to bring it back to me. Sure enough, I looked underneath the seat one last time a day later and discovered that it had gotten wedged underneath the seat where I couldn’t see it. These little situations are starting to build up my confidence in the spiritual discernment that God has given me.

The key seems to be staying close to God. Praying about anything and everything really does make a difference. Taking situations back to the Bible helps because the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Word.

As I things over to God and just wait, the answer comes at the most awkward time. I’ll be driving down the road or going to the bathroom or eating lunch and then all of a sudden, ‘BAM.’ The Holy Spirit impresses a thought or action on my heart.

The more I tend to love being with Jesus instead of simply getting the answer to my problems, the easier it becomes to discern what is God’s will in a situation. If we see first to know God, then everything else just has a way of falling into place.

The Invisible Hand of God

Trying to measure what God is doing in our life can be a dangerous thing. This truth became particularly real to me after revelation I received during a recent prayer retreat. As I spent time in contemplative prayer – just letting go of all my efforts to please God in prayer and simply enjoying being with Jesus – I completely lost myself in prayer. During one prayer session, time flew by as if minutes were mere seconds. I felt completely at peace, yet I could not come up with any concrete visions or concepts that the Holy Spirit had showed me. I don’t recall much about the prayer time. At first, I thought that I might have fallen asleep.

And as I processed through my surreal experience with other believers, I discovered how limited my reality tends to be. I realized that I had not fallen asleep. No quite the opposite, I had been awakened. While I let go and just focused on receiving the love of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit did a work in the spirit realm on my wounded soul. Although I cannot offer any concrete proof or point to anything different, I know that God did something significant during the retreat.

Throughout the retreat, we used a variety of prayer, contemplation and meditation techniques. The teaching and exercises were based on the writings of many early Christian leaders, especially Jeanne Guyon. In Guyon’s classic Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, the author confirmed my experience. Guyon wrote the following:

“One of the most important things you can do is cease from self-effort. In this way, God Himself can act all alone. It was the Palmist speaking for the Lord who said, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 6:10).

“This verse gives you an insight into your own mind. Your self nature becomes so pleasantly attached to its own efforts that it simply cannot believe that anything is going on within your spirit. Unless the mind is able to feel and understand, it refuses to believe the spirit is having experience.

“The reason you are sometimes unable to feel God’s working within you is that the work is fully within the realm of the spirit, and not in the mind. Sometimes God’s workings in you are quite rapid, and yet the mind is not even aware that you are making progress. The workings of God in you, always increasing more and more, are absorbing the workings of your self.”

As I quieted myself before God, I started to get out of the present reality and dip into the depths of the spiritual reality. Looking back on my discovery, I now realize that I have lived much of the past trying to please God on my own. Even in prayer, I have tried to make a “good impression.” It’s as if I thought by saying the right things I would get what I wanted from God. But God is not a weak-minded fool to be manipulated or a genie to grant me my three wishes. It is by letting go that you truly find yourself. It is in the spirit realm that one discovers the Sabbath rest promised by God and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Scripture declares, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” All this time, I have been going about it the wrong way. I have been living much of life by the mantra that if you please God and suck up to Him that He will give you the desires of your heart. Come to think of it, I am beginning to realize that I don’t even truly understand what the desires of my heart really are. I know what the world tells me they should be. And I know what my own selfish desires might project. But the heart is wicked above all things. The Scripture here is talking about the desires of a happy heart – one that is yielded to God’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Never underestimate what God can do if you truly yield to Him. Even in prayer, there is a whole world of discovery and transformation that many people fail to experience because they have a small view of God and are blinded to the spiritual reality taking place beyond the view of the naked eye.

Questions We Should Be Asking…

Questions can be a dangerous springboard to the reality that we want to deny yet continues to linger in our mind. Stop and ponder these probing questions…if you dare.

1. Why do Christians in America think of persecution as being made fun of by peers where in China persecution is solitary confinement in prison or being beaten for the faith?

2. Why is the divorce rate in the Church the same as in the world?

3. Why do people measure the success of a ministry by the numbers and not the fruit?

4. Why does spending $40 on a Friday night for dinner and a movie look like no big deal but giving $40 to a person in need seem like a sacrifice?

5. Why is it so easy to reach out to the lost while on a missions trip but so difficult to be a godly witness where you live?

6. Why do we need worship leaders or even music to have a meaningful corporate worship experience with God?

7. Why does the world seem to have more faith in winning the lottery than some Christians have in the providence of God?

8. Why don’t we have people ping dead in our church gatherings today?

9. Why do people go to a gathering and rate the worship or preaching?

10. Should we ever expect to enjoy the joy of God when we treat knowing God like a dull obligation instead of the chance of a lifetime?11. Does God desire our actions or our hearts?

12. Why is Jesus not enough for me?

13. Why is the good news of the Gospel so hard to share with the world?

14. Why does the Church have divisions when Jesus said that a house united against itself will not stand?

15. When a comedian tells a joke about TV preachers why does the punch line always have something to do with asking for money?

16. Would Jesus have attended a ‘Christian’ school or would He have gone and lived as a Christian in a public school?

17. What will appeal best to the postmodern culture a conversation about God or a weekly lecture from a preacher about God?

18. Does it really matter what the world wants? What about what God wants?

19. When did Jesus ever seek to be defined by the culture around Him?

20. If the lifestyle that Jesus modeled was the cross why am I so apt to feed every momentary impulse and craving?

21. Why does my view of God seem so small and my problems appear so big?

22. Why is it so hard to sit still and listen to the voice of God?

23. What does it really mean that the spirit of God dwells inside His children?

24. When you say that God spoke to you why do most people, including some Christians, look at you as if you’re just plain crazy?

25. In America why do Christians do spiritual things at church that they claim they don’t have time to do at home as a family?

26. When people talk of a church in America, why do they think of a building and not a body?

Finding the Right Model

It can be real easy to get caught up in the latest ministry trends. One day mega churches with CEO-type pastors are the in thing. The next day people want small intimate fellowships with loose leadership. Then you hear that the latest rage is going back to liturgy and candles. Then people want a multi-sensory experience complete with audio visuals and live drama. But wait – then you hear that you must have a pastor with a tattoo and a nose ring to be relevant to the culture.

Winds change again and you find your fellowship outdated almost as quickly as the next generation computer you bought yesterday and is obsolete by the time you remove it from the box. It’s enough to drive the leadership crazy. Where should the focus be? Should a particular fellowship be driven by the appetites of man or the Spirit of God? Why do we chase the latest ministry fad when the way is so simple? Jesus made it clear as He addressed His disciples before His death on the cross. Read what Jesus had to say:

John 14:1-7

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.

And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest and how can we know the way?

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

Jesus disrupted the disciples’ world that night. He dispelled any belief they had in their own strength or in their designs for Him to establish an earthly kingdom through force and miracles. Instead, Jesus outlined the way of the cross – the path least taken. The above passage is a consolation to the disciples as well as an admonishment for them not to forget the model. Notice Jesus told the disciples that they knew the way (the model to follow). Thomas answered that they did not. Then Jesus cleared up the matter when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

There is no model except Jesus and what the Holy Spirit lays on your heart. We get to know Jesus through His Word and prayer. Instead of listen to the voice of God, many people will flock to church/ministry growth seminars, books, CDs, surveys or models. Just because something worked for Pastor Bill XXXX in another part of the country doesn’t mean it will work for you. Any real movement of God always starts with and is driven by God. Consider taking time just to listen for God’s direction. Wait on the Holy Spirit and His plans. Then once the leadership is in agreement, move forward with God’s plan no matter how radical it may seem at the time. Now there is nothing wrong with consulting other church leaders or movements. But these should never be your primary source of direction or inspiration. In order to successfully carry out God’s design for your fellowship, you need to hear directly from God. Then be prepared to let God change the game plan as He sees fit. Your call may not be static. It may change over time.

God created all 31 flavors of ministry. You may want to stop looking for a successful model and start listening for what God uniquely gifted and called you to do. Sure, you can learn from the mistakes of others. But don’t miss out on a real move of God because you ended up settling for the latest ministry craze.

Religious Persecution – Made in China

As millions of American shoppers fill stores looking for last-minute bargains, millions of people half-way across the world prepare to celebrate Christmas in secret. According to news reports, China has become the world’s largest producer of Christmas goods, yet the people of China are not free to worship as they see fit. How ironic that many of the modern Christmas symbols are made in a country where millions are persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Trying to keeps its strangle-hold on the people, the communist party opposes anything that could challenge its power including religious movements such as Christianity. But the Chinese government is not winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the common people. During 50 years of Communist rule, the Christian Church in China has grown from around one million believers in 1949 to 70-80 million today. The influence of the Christian gospel grows with each attempt by the Chinese communist party to stamp out authentic Christian fellowships.

The problem has become so bad that even mainstream news agencies are recognizing the issue. The Agence France Press and the Associated Press both carried stories highlighting “China’s dilemma with Christianity.” On one hand, China wants to sell goods into the U.S. market, including Christmas products. But it does not want to give the Christian church enough room to pose any significant threat to the current ruling government. The Chinese government can’t appear too unfriendly to Christmas or Christian beliefs because it might stir a backlash against Chinese goods.

The Agence France Press (AFP) wrote, “Millions of Christians who belong to ‘underground churches’ will celebrate Christmas shivering in farm fields or quietly singing hymns in parishioners’ homes, praying the Chinese police will not hear. China’s embrace of Christmas as a tool to boost consumer spending and its continuing suppression of Christian worship outside government control stand in especially sharp contrast this year.”

The Chinese government bulldozes churches, harasses peaceful citizens, imprisons and tortures religious leaders, and even kills some Christians. At the same time, they try to put on a good face to the American public so that they will keep on buying products made in China from Wal-Mart, Target or Sears. Persecution goes well beyond just Christians. People in China desiring to worship practically any major world religion face obstacles or even outright government persecution.

The AFP article claimed that underground churches attract far more believers than the official Christian church recognized by the Chinese Communist Party. Hua Huiqi, a Beijing-based Christian activist, explained that he went to patriotic churches for five years, but never felt moved. He said, “They are always toting the government line. When I went to underground churches and heard the sermons, I was in tears,” Hua said. “They spoke with passion about their belief.”

While Americans revel in their freedom, Hua will celebrate this Christmas at an underground church in Beijing’s suburbs. Others will rent rooms in restaurants under the guise of holding banquets or use their offices.

Christopher Bodeen of the Associated Press wrote, “But for members of China’s unofficial Christian congregations, this is a season of fear as communist authorities crack down on unauthorized worship, detaining activists and bulldozing churches.” One leader of an underground church was quoted as saying, “Everyone is scared now. This Christmas will be tougher than usual.”

Bodeen went on to write, “The contrast between the crackdown and the Christmas celebrations highlights Chinese authorities’ desire to isolate religious dissenters while exploiting the holiday’s commercial potential… China’s government allows worship only in government-monitored churches, temples and mosques. But tens of millions of believers belong to unauthorized churches, where clergy and members are frequently harassed and detained.”

During this holiday season, remember those around the world that do not enjoy the same freedoms that you do. Lift them up in prayer and consider standing up for whatever beliefs you have. No matter your particular faith – most Americans can agree that the policies of the Chinese government are atrocious. Consider writing your elected officials or even better boycott products made in China. Contact major U.S. companies, especially retailers, and encourage them to pressure the Chinese government to allow for greater religious freedom. Next time you go shopping look for the made in China label and ask yourself, ‘Can I buy that in faith?’