Category Archives: Jesus

I Know God’s Will for Your Life … Do You?

The following is a speech I made at a high school graduation for one of the students  from my youth group. He graduated from a small home school co-op.

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Graduates, you are about to enter the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. It will be full of transition for both you and your parents. Over the next 5-10 years, you will meet new people, go to new places, and face new challenges. You will make decisions that could have ripple effects throughout your entire life. And you will likely be making these decisions with a lot less oversight and a lot more freedom than you have been accustomed to in the past. You are growing up, and it is time to wrestle with the joys and the challenges of freedom.

The good news is that even when you make a mistake or even outright commit sin, God can forgive you and turn around things for good. But you don’t want to make too many bad decisions and dig yourself into a big hole — right?

So, when I was in your shoes and faced the challenge of making decisions for myself with minimal parental involvement, I struggled with the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” As I have wrestled with that question through the years, I have learned a few things.

First, we tend to focus on the who, what, when and where of any situation. We want to know which career to pursue, what girl to date and eventually marry, or which place we should live. While those are all good questions, they alone won’t answer God’s will for our lives. God is more concerned with the how of our decisions. He focuses on primarily how we go down whatever path we choose. And more importantly, God cares about the kind of person we are becoming. God’s will is about more than just what we do — the focus should be on who we are — our identity in Christ.

A good question to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the heart and the mind of God about whatever we do?

Let me make a radical statement. You might find this hard to believe. I know what the will of God is for everyone in this room! You might think, “How could this guy know that? He hasn’t even met me. Is he a mind reader? How could he possibly know God’s will for all of these people?”

Those are good questions. But the reason I am so confident in my statement is that I can read. And while Scripture shows many instances of God’s will being done and revealed, only a few times does it make broad statements about God’s will. And the more I studied this issue I discovered how critical is this one thing to accomplishing God’s will for my life.

So, are you ready for the secret? It can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While this statement was written to a specific group of people at a specific time. I believe it has relevance to every believer. Because no matter what we face in life, if we develop a thankful heart, we will be able to overcome any obstacle and move on toward God’s goal for us.

Being thankful can be hard because most people face some challenges in life. How can we be thankful in all circumstances? What about the boring, life-draining droll of adulthood? What about the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store when the checker is moving beyond slow, and a child is screaming behind you? To make this worse, all you can think about is how your wife is waiting at home with a long honey-do list after your tiring day at work, and you just want is to be left alone.

Or, what about when your hard-to-please boss yells at you for not doing what he said should seem like common sense, but you had no idea he wanted it done that way? How can you rejoice when a difficult family situations arises, such as a rebellious child or an aging parent?

Or what about when God “doesn’t come through” as you expected? You thought God had promised something, but He delayed in fulfilling your expectation. Or, just like Job in the Bible, maybe God never answers the question you want answered most? Or how about when you are sick and don’t feel like moving? There are many tough situations that are difficult to rejoice about.

Do we need to deny how we feel or dismiss the pain that we encounter in this life? I believe the answer to that question is a big fat NO. That attitude would not be real nor would it lead to a truly thankful heart. It would merely be putting on a fake mask before God and acting religious. That might work if all God cared about was the outward appearance at any one moment. But God’s heart is not just that we would do the right things; He is more focused on us becoming the right kind of people. Jesus want us to have His heart and mind about our lives, the world and others. We must become who we are already in Christ.

So how do we develop a thankful heart?

Well, for starters, a thankful heart is born long before the moment of challenge. Most of the time I simply react out of the storehouse of experience, personality and perspective that I have obtained over my life. I don’t usually stop and carefully thing through every incident that arises. Honestly, neither do you. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you develop a thankful heart — realizing how much God has already done for you even if He never answers another prayer, then you are more likely to default to a more godly response. If you realize that God is sovereign and ultimately does care about you, that can bring hope in even the darkest hour.

A thankful heart is not overcome by hardship even though it is free to mourn loss. Just as Jesus cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are free to express our true emotions to God. But we can’t let those feelings be all there is to our internal process. We have to realize that truth is bigger than our perspective or even our challenges in life.

A thankful heart has a godly perspective and sees beyond the moment. But this is hard — even impossible to accomplish on our own. This faith response is rooted in God’ work. We just have to believe it and submit to it.

I believe the answer to how we develop a thankful heart comes from a very familiar passage. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect.”

The Apostle Paul called early Christians to think differently from the world. Instead of being conformed to the world’s perspective, we are to have the mind of Christ. We are to be less like water that conforms to the shape of whatever cup it is in, and we are to be more like ice that is molded under cold temperatures into a solid block and will retain its shape in different types of containers. While it will melt over time, the ice takes its shape from the mold it is formed in, and for Christians, that mold is our new lives in Christ.

Also, this passage doesn’t just say our actions are transformed. The Lord wants to renew our minds and our hearts. Remember, this transformation is not just about what we do. Our actions should flow from who we are, and our identity in Christ. We are a thankful people because we are aware of how much God loves and has done for us. We are thankful because we realize the truth that he who has been forgiven much loves much.

So how do we have the mind of Christ? We take on the mind of God by reading Scripture and letting it challenge us. Through prayer, including listening prayer, we give our heart to God and position ourselves to hear directly from the Holy Spirit. By allowing God’s truth to change how we look at our situation, we find that He fashions our heart anew to rejoice despite whatever we face.

We praise God in the midst of the storm because He is worthy regardless of what is going on around us. This requires faith as well as reliance on God’s ability to transform and change the things we can’t do anything about.

So, God’s will for your life is to give thanks and rejoice in who He is. The Lord wants all of us to find our hope in Him and not in our situation. If you allow God to build this heart attitude in you, you will be able to realize the fullness of God’s plan. Until then, you may get frustrated, disillusioned or confused when things don’t work out like you had hoped or expected.

There are too many so-called Christians who have found that their faith wavers when God’s will turns out to be something far different than what they expected. There are many situations and decisions where the Lord may give you lots of freedom to make whatever choice you want. There may not just be one perfect person for you to marry. Nor is there one ideal place to live. Your career and work may change a lot through your life. But I can guarantee you that if you allow the Lord to create a thankful heart in you — you always will be able to navigate whatever comes up, and at least in one way you will be living out with certainty God’s will for your life.

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His Image, My Image

“Who am I?” has become the question that shapes our world. Most people are on a search to discover their own unique identity, and this is especially true of adolescents. Young people are apt to try lots of things to discover their passions, giftings, preferences and values.

When it comes to the issue of identity, I believe there are four different kind of people from a Biblical perspective.
• Those who don’t ever really think much about their identity.
• Those who are defined by everybody else around them.
• Those who look only within and still find something missing.
• Those who have a healthy self image founded in Christ that reflects their own unique callings and giftings.

Many smart people say that the key to this process of finding your identity is to look deep within to find the true you. And while this advice sounds good, it is missing something very important if God exists and He created each one of us. We are asking the wrong question. Looking deep within is just as wrong as looking around to everybody else to discover the real me. The best question to ask is, “What does God say about me?”

Since God is our Creator, only He can give an accurate estimation of our worth and value. Only He can ultimately answer our longings for acceptance and love. We are made in the image of God, which means getting to know God will help us discover ourselves. If you are a Christian, think of this another way… Jesus Is My Self Image!

Noted theologian and author, C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.” While there is nothing wrong with seeking the opinions of others or looking within to explore issues of our life, these are limited in their effectiveness to answer our deepest questions on our journey for self discovery.

“Having a healthy self image is not the ultimate goal. Knowing Jesus in all His fullness is,” wrote Josh McDowell, Christian apologetics expert and author in His Image, My Image. Developing a healthy self image is the byproduct of chasing after Jesus and discovering just how wonderful He is.

I love what Corey Russel, author and iHOP-KC leader, said, “There is a whole generation running around asking, ‘What is my identity? What is my calling? Who am I?’ God says if we would just seek to know Him we would discover who we are…You want to know who you are – Go after Jesus. You will run right into yourself.”

Unfortunately, too many people are defined by lies that they have believed. These may be statements made by others or our own assessment of our failings and “negative” traits. These thoughts may be inspired by demons to rob us of the true identity we have when we see ourselves as God sees us. If we are defined by a lie, we will never know the real us!

Your identity development does more than just affect your self esteem. Our sense of identity is a lens that impacts how we look at the world and ourselves. If you have a healthy self image, you will be able to look at both the good and the bad in your design. But too many people can only see the negative or the ways that they don’t measure up to others. Developing a healthy self image happens as we explore the depths of Jesus Christ and realize that He is the key to our quest for discovery. And this process happens best in community because we are called to be part of a living body of believers.

Along this process of self discovery, I found out that rejecting who God designed me to be is a sin. It is actually rebellion against God. It is in essence saying to the Creator, “I know better than you how I should have been made.” While we may all have something we would like to change about ourselves, we should not strongly dislike who we are. This includes our physical design as well as talents, abilities, personality and our life situation. We were born where we were for a reason. We were placed in our families for a reason. We look a certain way for reason. We have to embrace God’s design or we can become miserable in the pursuit of becoming someone else. While there is nothing wrong with changing some things that we don’t like or are not good, there are some things we just need to accept and embrace because we can’t change it.

Having a Jesus-inspired self identity starts with searching the Scriptures to see what God says about His love and purposes for humanity. What does the Bible say about our self image and value?

God loves you more than the best parent does a treasured child.

1 John 3:1 (NIV)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
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You were created in God’s image and bear the mark of a grand design.

Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

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God has crowned man with honor and glory. Thus, you have value and worth because God says so. He sacrificed His Son to save you.

Psalm 8:4-5 (NIV)
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

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Key Questions to Consider

• What is the basis of your identity?
• Is there somebody you would rather be than you?
• How do you think God sees you?

What’s Your Story?

Asking the above question is a good way to find out what makes other people tick. It can also be the start to a very long and frequently interesting discussion. I thought a lot about story today after watching a video on sharing the Christian Gospel with other people. The video was by Caesar Kalinowski of the GCM Collective, a group focused on developing communities based on the Gospel. You can view the video at http://www.gcmcollective.org/article/story-training-videos/

Anyway, I love what Caesar said about the power of story when it comes to sharing the Gospel. Too many times we treat the Gospel as a bunch of facts or religious creeds that need to be memorized and then spouted off on cue. Sure, the Gospel contains information and doctrine. But it is much more than that. Caesar made the point that if you present a bunch of facts about the plight of orphans around the world it is not as easy to remember as telling a story about a particular orphan and then wrapping some general statistics up in the narrative of the story. The point is that we better remember key principles through stories and pictures than we do through lots of mere facts or creeds.

When you get right down to it, the Gospel is a story. While it contains truth and is the path to life, it is also a story. It is not a fictional story. And it does pertain to our lives today even though it began long ago. The Gospel is a story that has been going on for thousands of years and continues to be written today. It is the story of God and His relationship with mankind. And we are part of that story.

Too often people think of the life of Jesus as something separate from their everyday existence. But Scripture is clear that Jesus lives through His followers today. The story of Jesus was propelled into significance for us when He died and rose again. Yet, it didn’t stop there. It continues today as we carry on the work, life and Spirit that He gave us. 

And that my friends is a game changer. When you realize that you are part of a cosmic story that has echoed through ages passed to our world… right now. That is amazing. Telling a story is not hard, especially when it is our story. We just have to find the courage to open our hearts and speak what we know is true. Others may reject it. But that’s not the point. The most important thing is to be true to what we believe and have experienced. And I believe the story of Jesus is the most liberating, awe inspiring thing I have ever heard. And the Good News is that I get to share it.

Hearing the Voice of God

Through the years, I have definitely struggled to know the heart of God and understand when He is truly speaking to me about something. I wonder, “Is that really God or is that just bad Taco Bell that I ate last night?” I have even asked, “Why does God sound sarcastic?” I have also thought, “That must be God because I would never think something like that.”

I recently spoke at the Mix  youth group retreat on hearing the voice of God. And as the Lord frequently likes to do, He gave me an opportunity to practice what I preach the morning that I was supposed to speak. I woke up and spent some time listening and praying. The idea kept coming up that I was supposed to sing “Jesus Loves Me” over the middle school and high school students at the retreat as I started my talk. But I wondered why that would be a good idea. After all, these are teens. They will think Jesus loves me is for little children. Plus, I thought, “What does that have to do with my topic?”

Sure enough, the Lord used another Christian to confirm what He had spoken to my heart. A good friend and brother in the Lord walked up to me and said that he felt impressed to remind me that many of these teens struggle to hear God’s voice because they have the wrong notion of who God is. They believe that God is angry with them or is a harsh, demanding Father. This friend said that they need to know that Jesus loves them before they can listen to the voice of God.

This was the confirmation that I needed to hear. I explained my struggles that morning and set up song. I told the crowd that this was a demonstration of hearing the voice of God and taking a small risk. As I sang, I believe that something broke over the hearts of many in the room that morming. One student came up and said what I did was liberating. Others said they just felt God’s love all over what I was saying.

Here are some of the key points that I shared that morning. May these little insights help you discern whether the voice in your head is really from God or some other source.

Things to consider when testing a voice….

1.) Does this sound like something Jesus would say? Does it line up with the Bible?

2.) God speaks to us through someone us. Many times this is to confirm or put perspective on what God has already been laying on our hearts.

3.) God isn’t usually urgent or in a rush. Jesus even took His time when it came to healing Lazarus.

4.) God’s voice may surprise us. It might unsettle us. Just ask little Samuel, the first time that he heard from God, the Lord spoke a harsh word about Samuel’s spiritual mentor.

5.) God may not work in us or speak to us in the same way that He does with other people.

6.) God’s voice will prepare us for the future although He doesn’t usually give us all the details.

7.) Does this voice agree that Jesus came in the flesh? (1 John 4:1-6) The voice of God will lift up Jesus as the source of live and God’s revival power. Jesus came down as a man and can relate to your experiences.

8.) The voice of God never calls us to do something that only God can do.  For example, God will not push you to change your heart. Instead, He will ask you to yield to His power and then maybe go act in a way that aligns with this heart change.

9.) God knows where we are and won’t test us beyond what we can bear in Him.

10.) God’s voice will always be calling us to Himself never driving us away. God’s voice may  sound harsh at times, but it is always inviting us to greater relationship and truth.

11.) God may convict us of sin, but He won’t condemn us for it.

12.) God’s voice frequently will call us to action or rest. God may call us to take a leap of faith. Or quite the opposite, He may tell us to rest from our labors and trust in Him. Both of these require faith because we have to let go and trust God with the situation.

What is the Gospel?

I wonder if I have at times become “so familiar” with the Bible and especially the Christian Gospel that I lose sight of its epic, boundless quality. Can you have heard so many sermons that you begin to think there isn’t much new to be learned about God? Or does this reveal a faulty mindset that has lost its way? If God is beyond description, why do we look at His Word as something less than supernatural, epic, and majestic? The Bible (God’s book) is beyond whatever else we might read on a daily basis. I was thinking about this tonight after Pastor Tim Matthews spoke on the parable of the sower and the seed from Matthew 13. He challenged the youth group to dare to study the Scriptures, soak in it and live it. Beyond looking for good principles to apply, Pastor Tim encouraged us to seek to be transformed. He challenged us to be good ground that would produce fruit in God’s Kingdom.

The Bible is not a self-help book. I admit that on many occasions I have taken the “I already knew that” attitude toward something found in Scripture. But the strange thing is I may not have been living by the light of that knowledge. Many times I needed to hear something again that I already supposedly knew.

So I feel led to revisit the basic Christian message, commonly known as the Gospel. What is it really? Is the Gospel just ten basic beliefs about God and His relationship with mankind? Is the Gospel merely about statements of faith? Or is it something more — an ethic, a call to become like Christ? Is the Gospel something that ever changes? Or is it something that only changes us? Is the Gospel fully realized now or a forward looking hope for a better world? Is the Gospel even really about mankind? Or is its core preoccupation mainly God and His glory revealed to humanity?

These questions have led me to develop what I am calling the Gospel Challenge. I am encouraging anybody who has a relationship with God through Jesus to take 30 days to wrestle with what the Gospel is based on Scripture and your own reflection as you pray and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May you look to see how the Gospel is lived out in your world. Specifically, I am encouraging other Christians who know me to take up this challenge.

It starts with reading the Bible daily while looking to see what your reading reveals about the basic Christian message. You should ask questions like, “What does this story show us about God? or How does this passage depict God’s Kingdom?

Second, you develop a list of key beliefs explaining what the Gospel is and how it should function in our daily lives. What really is this Good News that we are called to share with the world? I am starting with a simple computer document that says, “The Christian Gospel is….”

Third, refine your list and share some insights with others to see what they think. I intend to ask other believers, “If you had to explain the Christian message in 3-5 minutes, what would you say?”

Fourth, wrestle some more with the concepts that arise as you study, pray about the Christian message and discuss the Gospel with others. The last part of the challenge is to come up with a basic Gospel statement or creed and attempt to live according to these beliefs on daily basis.

So who is with me? What does the Gospel really mean to you? I welcome others to post on my blog their thoughts on what the Christian Gospel is and how it functions in the world.

Amazed at Great Faith from the Most Unexpected Place – Praying the Emotions of Jesus Day 7

Luke 7:9  (NIV)

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

Prayer

Jesus, You have seen it all. There are few things that truly amaze You. Yet, the thing that gets Your attention the most is a life of great faith – the stranger who has no reason to believe and yet does any way. From the most unexpected places comes a man who demonstrates faith beyond reason.

A solider who knows what it means to be in authority and under authority, he knows that You don’t have to be physically present for a miracle to occur. He knows that there is power in your mere words alone. For by Your words, You formed all of the things on the earth. While the religious leaders of Israel rejected Your power, this Roman centurion recognized Your authority and called on You to restore his greatest treasure – his only daughter.

Just like the Roman Centurion, may I live a life of great faith. While all others doubt, may I believe. May I speak words of faith in the face of death and great loss. No matter the circumstances, may I know that You have the power to redeem all things. Like the Centurion, I am a stranger in this world. This is not my homeland. And yet, my I have faith to believe in the impossible despite the wailing cries of others who see no hope. Amen!

Strict Orders of Secrecy – Praying the Emotions of Jesus Day 5

Mark 5:43 (NIV)
He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Prayer
Jesus, You never sought the limelight even though You are the most famous man to ever live. You healed the sick and raised the dead and commanded people to keep these miracles a secret. If I had done these things, I would have wanted to tell everyone, maybe even create a reality TV show about it. Full of humility, You sought a better glory than earthly fame.

May I realize that even when You break through and do something miraculous in my life, it is never about me. Even if divine power works miracles through my hands, I am never to seek my own glory. The only famous one for a true worshipper of Christ is God alone. You alone are worthy to receive all praise, honor and glory.

May I keep Your secrets so that Your kingdom mission will be accomplished. More than fame or kudos, You focused on doing the will of The Father. May I approach each day with the same dedication because I know that notoriety makes it difficult to stay on mission. Amen!