Category Archives: Discipleship

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.

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Supremely Ordinary

Jesus’ life on this earth presents a paradox of unparalleled proportions. The New Testament proclaims that Jesus’ death brings us life. The perfect, sinless man took on our sin. He who gave life to all things on this planet experienced the sting of death.

It is this tension between the humanity and the deity of Christ that makes Him so familiar yet so difficult to understand. There is none higher, there is none greater. Yet He humbled Himself in life and death.

Hebrew 1:3 explains, “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the power of His word. Colossians 1:15 further states, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.” Yet Jesus was fully human knowing the same temptations and limitations as us. Jesus was a very ordinary guy. Scripture describes Jesus as being like us in every way yet without sin (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15)

Jesus who made all things experienced ordinary life coming down in the form of a little baby born to a poor family. The King of Kings toiled as a laborer in an obscure village in a small country. He who ushered in divine mercy for all who would believe on Him knew hardship, betrayal, oppression, ridicule and injustice.

Jesus never really sought fame or the spotlight. Yet He became the most famous man in human history. Millions have proclaimed allegiance to Jesus as God and Savior.

Jesus had limitless power and authority to call down angelic warriors on His behalf. Yet, he went like a lamb to the slaughter. Jesus could have made an incredible palace for Himself. But He frequently went from place-to-place with no real home to call His own. Yes, Jesus was a homeless King.

Jesus is love. Yet, He knew what it felt like to be hated and despised. Worthy of highest praise, He was ridiculed and mocked by the elites of the day. Jesus was, and is, and is to come. He cannot be limited in time. Yet, His earthly ministry lasted only three short years.

It is in this great paradox that we find access to God and reason to stand in awe of Him. Jesus is the supreme One worthy of highest glory. Yet He was very ordinary – giving us all hope that we can follow His example and in some respects be like Him. While we will never become God, we can become godly and imitate Christ’s life. Face-to-face with this paradox. I am reminded of what Jesus said about His disciples. He said that they would do greater things than He had done because He was returning to the Father.

Do I really believe that? Can I really do greater things? Will Jesus find faith on the earth when He returns? I want to be so extraordinary. But I feel so ordinary at times. Lord I believe. Help me with my unbelief because You are Supremely Ordinary.

Are You Living in Your Divine Calling?

While in discussion with some students at The Mix tonight, I noticed how they all seemed to think of the term “calling” as it relates to their future job or career. We were discussing God’s callings for our lives. It was a fairly open context. But the discussion tended to gravitate toward skills, interests and careers.

Sometimes we tend to think our call is just about what we do as a job. But it is so much more than that. It really touches every area of life. Our calling is really whatever the Holy Spirit is directing us to do at the moment. I believe that our calling is both a very complex and simple thing. Really, our calling can change through the years as we transition through various phases of life. What we do when we are sixteen is not likley to represent our life 10 years later, 20 years later or 40 years later.

Yet, as a Christian there are some callings that I believe are not unique to me. But they are part of the calling for every true believer. All Christians are called to love God and live for His Kingdom and glory. We are all called to be witnesses of Christ’s message and be connected to a body of local believers. We are all called to pray, read the Bible and seek to know God better.

Thinking about my own calling, I am reminded of what the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart ten years ago when I went out to Kansas City to pray at IHOP just as the prayer center was getting its start. I believe God placed the following four key calls on my life: 1.) Seek God’s face in a personal, intimate relationship, 2.) Write revelation that God reveals as I seek His face, 3.) Pray for those God has called me to love, 4.) Disciple the remnant.

The first part of my calling is very generic. All Christians are to seek Christ. But the second was unique to me. I was to write the revelation that the Spirit showed me as I seek God. The third connected to the fourth. Prayer was to fuel my ministry to disciple and train up future leaders in God’s Kingdom. All of these callings developed through the years. For example, I came up with a pretty well developed sense of what God meant by remnant.

I am seeking all four callings in some respects in my life today. None of these callings are directly related to my job as a journalist and publisher serving the forest products and logistics industries. My job provides me the resources, time and flexibility to carry out these callings.

It seems that sometimes when people are young they get all worked up over what they are going to do with their life. My suggestion is to simply give it away to God. Realize that your career path may change, but your identity as a Christian doesn’t – in time you only get to know the real you better.

I believe that more than worrying about your future career, the best thing to do is to make sure that you are living for God today. Focus on whatever path you are on to live as much as possible for God. Sure, you can prepare, study, and make smart education and lifestyle decisions. Education, training, hard work are all good things. You should think about the future. But you should not get so worked up over your decisions that you fail to realize how you walk down whatever path you take is as important as which path you choose to take.

Are you living in your divine calling? Stop to ask the Holy Spirit today to help you get to know the real you.

Surrounded By A Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12:1
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  (ESV Translation)

It was a night that testified to the potential of the individual and yet the power of a Biblical community. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed as I participated in another blessing ceremony for a family at my church. This one was for Adam Watkins – the youngest of the Watkins boys. I have participated in three of these ceremonies with this family. And they have all been special. And as great as it is to see how these young men are turning out, I can’t help but think this didn’t happen by accident. These guys are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. They know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They know the legacy they come from and the potential that lies ahead of them. They are loved and accepted not because of what they do but who they are.  

Thinking specifically about Adam, here’s a kid with a God-loving heart, a creative mind, a truckload of potential, a friendly face and a big supporting cast. Adam is a goofy genius of sorts. All you need to do is check out the Cheese Grows on Cows clips(http://www.youtube.com/user/cheesegrowsoncows) on YouTube to see what I mean. He has a lot of musical talent and is picking up new stuff each day. From his service as a worship leader for the youth group to the way he dispenses hugs and smiles to everyone he meets, here’s a young man who is moving in the right direction. Yeah… he’s had some very difficult times, especially the death of his father at a young age. But he has found a way to write hopeful melodies despite his losses and struggles. While he’s far from perfect, I get the sense that he knows that he doesn’t have to be because Jesus is the author and finisher of his faith.

While at the ceremony, I was struck by the power of story in our lives. When we know the story of those who came before us, we can be free and encouraged to live our story the best way we know how.

The ceremony is fairly basic and yet quite profound. A group of people come together in a surprise party to speak works of affirmation over a young person who is reaching a milestone. In this case, Adam was turning 16. Some people come with an object lesson. Others come with a prayer of blessing. Some bring a gift or make something to show how much the person means to them. Frequently, adults will tell stories about when the person was younger. Some of these can be kind of embarrassing. Others are just good times remembered. Adam’s mom had put together a slide show of pictures showcasing some major moments of this young man’s first 16 years. We ended the entire thing focusing on Jesus by taking communion together. This helped to make sure that Adam knew his story is first about Christ not himself.

Every time, I attend one of these ceremonies I am reminded of the power it can have to help a young person know that they are not alone. It may seem simple. But it provides a marker that they likely won’t forget. If you have a teenager in your house, consider celebrating a major life marker with a moment of affirmation, blessing and celebration. These moments come and go. You will never get them back.

The older generation needs to speak words of affirmation. I’m not talking about flattery or undeserved praise. We need to let young people know the truth. We need to let them know that their actions have consequences. We don’t need to sugar coat life for them. Yet, we also need to remind them that their choices matter and that they are not alone. Life is a story, and we all have an opportunity to live better stories.

Disciple Makers WANTED

Pastor Carter Goolsby, lead pastor at MCC, preached last week on making disciples of Christ. He said that many Christians believe that you have to be seminary trained or a seasoned Christian to disciple others. But he insisted that almost anyone can get in on the act. Making disciples is something we are called to do. Even the novice Christian can find someone else that they can encourage or at the very least hold accountable as peers.

Pastor Carter said that too many Christians hide behind the claim that they don’t know enough to disciple others. They are afraid of making a mistake. But this mindset fails to recognize that the original apostles were far from perfect. The whole concept is not to clone ourselves but to encourage others to be like Jesus. We are called to make disciples of Jesus not ourselves.

One of the biggest reasons that Christians shy away from disciple making is the fear of rejection. We should not be surprised when others reject us. Jesus said that this would happen.

Have you answered the call? See what Matthew  28:19 has to say about the original mission of the early disciples.

Fine One, Make One

How should a church go about discipling the flock? Are programs and workshops enough? How do you really change the culture of a people? Ho do people really become fully devoted to Jesus? These are tough questions with very demanding answers.

I believe you can’t rush perfection. And the process of becoming the Church takes time and intentional movement to strip away what is not necessary to reveal the masterpiece underneath. I am reminded of the process of sculpting a giant statute.

I recently visited the Next Wave E-zine, an online magazine dedicated to the Emerging Church and its leadership. It carried a flashback article by Stephen Shields on  developing church leaders. The article is titled, “When the Church Is Its Own Worst Enemy.”

Stephen made some great points. He basically said that a church can’t just setup a Christian education program and expect it to work without first modeling out the behavior we want to see replicated. It’s not a matter of teaching as much as showing. That is how Jesus made disciples. And it takes a long time. The key is replication.

Read Stephen’s article to see how churches can get in the way if they do the wrong thing and ignore the core problem.

http://www.the-next-wave-ezine.info/issue124/index.cfm?id=47&ref=ARTICLES%5FFROM%20THE%20ARCHIVES%5F640

Transition Is Like Jello

Transition is an inevitable, necessary and sometimes unbearable part of life. It seems that ever since puberty my life has been filled with transition. Sometimes it feels like I’m living out of a suitcase for long periods of time. I have found that changes that hit us by surprise are harder to deal with than life stage shifts that we see coming.

I have been thinking a lot about transition lately. It all started when a very good friend moved to Nashville in August. Transition intensified with the weddings of two good friends in November. I was the best man in each one. Then I had the revelation last semester that I wasn’t cut out for a PhD program unless I dropped everything else to focus on it. Thus a dream of sorts died.

In December I learned that one of my best friends was transferring to California due to sudden change at his company. He had to either move or face the prospects of unemployment.

Two more friends have left my church leaving me with less connectivity there than I have had in years.

Over the last two years, a number of the students that I have worked with very closely have gone off to college or entered new stages of their lives. Our relationships have changed, which is a blessing because this shows they are doing well on their own. But at the same time, it gets tough realizing that you have worked yourself out of a job.

A good friend died suddenly in late December. Attending her funeral was one of the toughest things I have done over the last several years.

Alex, the missionary who has been staying at my house over the last year or so, is just about ready to go back to the mission field. While I am very glad for him and want to see him go fulfill his call, I will miss the lad.

And last week I learned that the youth pastor at my church, a friend and fellow youth worker, is leaving to take on a  fantastic ministry opportunity in Florida.  I will miss Dave, but I wish him the best and believe that his new church is getting one heck of a communicator.

Hopefully this litany of experiences shows you that I certainly understand what it means to be in flux. To top it all off, I am not sure what direction I want to go in at this point. I feel like a bowl of jello just waiting to be pushed in one direction or the other.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite movie quotes. The narrator said in Stand By Me, “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.”  I have sure found this to be true and am okay with that reality. I occassionalyy talk with only a handful of people that I knew in college or high school. It is amazing how time can create distance between people who used to be very close.

I have learned a few guiding principles that make transition easier. If you are like me and know what it feels like to be surrounded by boxes of unpacked stuff, then maybe these thoughts will help.

  • Transition and change is inevitable. You can either embrace it or fight a losing battle.
  • Transition isn’t personal. It just happens. Don’t be surprised when people come and go. That is the natural cycle of life. Don’t feel like you are being abandoned because they probably aren’t leaving because of you.
  • The above statement is true for people in professional ministry. The average pastor doesn’t stay put for long. Don’t be surprised if they move or even change professions. It is very hard to be a pastor.
  • I have learned to hold my friends and relationships loosely. This means that I value them enough to see them go forward in whatever God has for them. I celebrate God’s work in their lives even if it means that I may feel distant from them.
  • Embrace moments with those you love because you don’t know when you will get the chance to have those moments again. This means when it snows… go make a snowman or get in a snowball fight.
  • Keep in contact with distant friends but don’t be a menace. Everybody needs their personal space. Yet it is always nice to know that others are praying for you and thinking about you.
  • Help your friends as they transition. This includes helping them pack, clean up, paint the house, etc. It conveys how much you care, and I have found it helps you feel better about the transition.
  • I pray blessings on my friends even those who I haven’t talked with in a long time.
  • Finally, I may blog or write about a friendship. Mostly this information is private. I use it to help me remember all of those who have impacted my life and what I have learned from them.

Hopefully, these thoughts will help you jiggle in the right direction when you feel like a bowl of jello.