The Inner Vision

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” ~ Hebrews 12:2-3

When your heart is dry, and life seems to hold little promise of joy, and your passion is burning low, what is happening and what can you do?

The causes of your spiritual and emotional malaise may be complex, but the effect is the same… your inner world becomes a mess. The entire vision of your soul is filled with the immediate demands of the latest wave of distress. You see no way forward. You can’t see beyond this moment. Darkness settles in.

Jesus faced the very worst circumstances and people. He was criticized and betrayed. He was attacked and falsely accused. He was insulted and threatened.

Yet, even in the moments before His death, He had a way of looking past the hurt and pain. The writer of Hebrews says it this way: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” He preoccupied Himself with the joy that lay just ahead… a joy so great that it flooded his present existence with meaning. He kept on. Not out of duty or discipline, but from a controlling vision of reality — the truth about His life and identity and His relationship to the Father — that became a vast reservoir of hope in His soul.

What you “see” in your heart controls your inner thoughts and emotions. When the “eyes” of your heart are distracted from Jesus, you will “grow weary or fainthearted” within your soul (Heb. 12:3). That’s why the writer calls us to look to Jesus… to “consider Him.” The options are clear: look at everything but Jesus, and grow weary in soul, or look to Him only and gain a new vision.

He wants you to stop and turn to Him with your weary and overloaded  life. He invites you to come now… with your very real and imperfect self (Matthew 11:28-29; Psalm 27:8). He is not a set of religious beliefs and practices; He is a Person. And knowing Him personally is the only way that any life gets real and dense with meaning (John 17:3).

Where can you see Him? Pick up a New Testament and read the historical accounts of those who walked with Him (found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Rediscover the language of His heart by reading His Words. Watch how He moved among people then… He has not changed. Hear His words and place yourself into the stories. Lose yourself at His feet. Allow Him to invade every moment of this day. Discover the reality of His presence with you and in you. Abandon yourself to His authority and mission. Yield to the gentle pressure of His Spirit. Then you’ll see.

Seeing Him changes everything.

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“Pray like this…”

2016-06-13 21.28.56 - CopyMy Father
Unseen, but always seeing me

Your name… let it be deeply revered by all

Your kingdom… let it come, Your ruling Presence

Your will… let it be fully expressed
on earth in my circumstances
as it is in heaven where Your will is unopposed

Today

Here are my needs, I leave them all with You
the One who cares for me

Oh…
cancel the mountain of wrongs inflicted by me
and with fear and trembling
I ask You to pour out Your mercy shown to me…
Your grace freely flowing through me…
drenching every person who owes me

As You walk before me into every moment, I am at rest in You
leaning in and listening
as You shelter me in Your shadow
during the enemy’s vicious attempts to destroy me

You are the glorious King… and I am so privileged
to be Your child!

Amen.

(one expression of His outline for prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 ~ DP)

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The Coasting Christian

Drifting-boat“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” ~ Hebrews 2:1

You and I need to beware of “coasting” as a Christian… like a ship without an anchor, a Christian can “drift away” from a life lived by faith. Why?

  1. Coasting is effortless. Coasting happens to you (“drift” = passive voice) – not because of anything you have done, but because of your inactivity.
  2. Coasting is inevitable. The inactivity that makes coasting effortless also makes it inevitable. It will happen if you consistently do nothing to exercise faith and engage Jesus in your daily life and decisions. Secular and irreligious forces in the world are constantly demanding your attention and response. If you are not yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will tend to do life according to the popular consensus and worldview of your culture.
  3. Coasting is a threat to every believer. The author includes himself in the warning “lest WE drift away.” No one is immune to coasting.
  4. Coasting is rarely done alone. The writer addresses the recipients collectively (2PPL), suggesting they were prone to coasting as a group. Not only will a casual Christian negatively influence other Christians, other casual Christians will also negatively influence him. Together, they will lull themselves into thinking all is well in their relationship with God.
  5. Coasting is always away from Jesus. We don’t “drift” into greater intimacy and obedience with God – we drift away from Him.

What can we do to combat this natural tendency? Growing as a mature follower of Jesus requires intentionality: a continuous steering and a conscious submission of the heart towards the indwelling Master! Will you pause and turn to Him right now and do that? At age 22, Robert Robinson was battling coasting in his own life when he penned these words in 1757…

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
~ Robert Robinson (1735 – 1790)

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Relationships Matter

audience-828584_960_720A pastor challenged me recently on whether it was true that new churches tended to engage more unchurched people than did older, established churches. In a study published two months ago, in fact, nearly half of the people attending new churches were non-attenders in the past.

What was the most common pathway into the church? Relationships.

Of course if the gospel and the transformation He brings are not central to what is happening, then nothing else the church does matters. But if the church forgets why they exist, the gospel rarely gets shared. In new churches and Bible study groups, most of the members understand that reaching out and welcoming new people is part of their “job description.”

Research is no substitute for the truth of God’s Word, but it is important for church leaders to discern their circumstances (Prov. 25:2). Here’s the most recent research that supports the value of starting new groups and churches (or helping established churches rethink why they exist)…

New Churches Draw Those Who Previously Didn’t Attend

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The Toxin of Unforgiveness

grumpyWhat would you do if you knew your children were attending a school located over a toxic waste site? For parents of a group of middle school students in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this question is causing great anxiety and debate. In fact, the school board voted to move the students to other schools within the next two weeks.

Listed as one of the worst sites in the state, the contaminated groundwater under the school migrated there from a manufacturer’s lot across the street. Although no one knows how long ago the groundwater was polluted — perhaps as far back as the 1800s — the current owner of the property usually bears responsibility for managing the cleanup.

Toxic waste released generations ago continues to disrupt lives today. Unforgiveness is a spiritual form of toxic waste that works in a similar manner. Not only does it damage the person who will not forgive, but it will often “migrate” into the lives of others. The results can be catastrophic over multiple generations.

While working this week on a message from Matthew 6:12 (“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”), I listed several devastating impacts of holding on to unforgiveness. There are many more than what I’m sharing below. I’m not using the list in the message, but I thought it was worth capturing and sharing. If you are struggling in this area, please don’t stop until you have completely cancelled the “debts” of the person who hurt you.

Six toxic results when you refuse to forgive someone…

  1. You are ruining your prayer life. If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. Psalm 66:18
  2. You are wounding the Spirit of God. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
  3. You are exposing yourself to the devil’s influence. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11
  4. You are damaging your future reward in heaven. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15
  5. You are influencing others to adopt your attitude. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15
  6. You are inviting God’s correction into your life. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:5-6
  7. You are crippling your usefulness to God. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:20-21

His forgiveness of those who come to Him is full and complete. Our forgiveness of those who hurt us can be nothing less…

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

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Kingdom Praying

429125_82897980Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Matthew 6:10

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus included prayer as a priority topic for His disciples. Emphasizing that our most intimate interactions with God should be done secretly (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18), Jesus pauses to give shape and form to our personal prayer time. In the space of a few verses historically known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus outlines a series of petitions so we would know what we should be asking for. In the second petition, Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom to come. Why? Because Kingdom Praying

  1. Focuses on a King. Jesus began His ministry preaching this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The kingdom was the central message of Jesus and the early disciples, mentioned over 85 times in the gospels. The kingdom is not a place where God rules. The kingdom is not the church or a collection of churches. Properly understood, the kingdom refers to the active rule or reign of God—His Majesty in action. A kingdom requires a King! As I pray, I am speaking with a King who rules. I must repent and completely turn away from all other rulers and whole-hearted allegiances in my life—He is my King!
  2.  Longs for the King to Rule. I am asking for something to change on earth so that my circumstances reflect more of heaven, where God’s rule is absolute. In heaven, there is no sin or sickness. There is no corruption. Everything is right and as it should be. When I ask for His will to be done on earth, I am asking for God to enter into my circumstances and exert His power. A kingdom that needs to “come” means it is not automatically here. This world and my circumstances do not reflect the rule of God—I need Him to come!
  3.  Enters into an Ancient War. In verse 13, Jesus teaches us to ask the Father to deliver us from the evil one. A kingdom that is not already “here” implies that there is an opposing kingdom at work. This was the worldview of Jesus. Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). When a person becomes a Christian through faith in Christ, God rescues that person from the enemy’s rule, and places him or her into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). Asking for God’s rule on earth, we enter into an ancient conflict for souls.
  4.  Understands the Assignment. Jesus teaches us to ask for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth. This means it is not being done now. Here lies an awesome truth: in a world that desperately needs God to come and act, the King has chosen to link His activity to the obedient intercessor. If I do not pray, will the kingdom come? God wants to act, but if I do not ask… will He still act? Will He still come and show Himself strong in the midst of my circumstances?

Jesus was teaching us how to approach and talk to our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9). I live in a broken universe that is at war with God. Every day I need His presence as I walk in this evil age (Galatians 1:4). Jesus explains that the Father is ready to exit the world I cannot see (Heaven) and come rule in the world that I do see (Earth). Will I ask Him to come?

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The Problem-Solving Disciple

Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. John 6:5-6

Philip was stunned. Jesus was asking where to get the food for thousands of people. Immediately his mind didn’t go to where to get it, but to how much it will cost: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.

Overhearing Jesus’ question to Philip, Andrew added, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew’s mind went to available resources.

John, writing years later about the incident, describes Jesus’s question as a “test.” But what was the test?

  1. To see who could whip out their iPhone and locate the nearest market?
  2. To see who could most quickly calculate the cost?
  3. To see who could conduct a speedy inventory of personal resources and accounts?

Not even close.

Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing – both proclaiming the ruling power of God and demonstrating it – and sowing absolute truth into their minds. Now presented with an impossible situation, Philip must apply what he has been taught.

The test exposed the inner working of Philip’s thought life under stress. We say we are trusting Him, but our thoughts tell the real story. Under pressure and experiencing anxiety, Philip’s mind didn’t run to the Father who is the King of kings. He stopped at the walls erected by a worldview chained to the physical senses, but blind to an unseen, spiritual realm. He slid off into a mental pit of self-reliance, rather than rest in the unseen, almighty God.

The Old Testament is full of examples of kings who failed to trust God when confronted with vastly superior military threats. They ran and forged alliances with other nations, placing their faith in the popular, collective wisdom of their generation for deliverance. Over and over again, God allowed His people to discover the hard way that He is the rock, the hiding place, and the refuge in the midst of overwhelming problems. They were being tested.

The mature disciple doesn’t ignore a problem. He is intensely aware of the needs. He can see that his immediate resources are inadequate. But the distinct difference within the mature Christian mind is this: he seeks first the kingdom – or ruling power – of God. His mind escapes the confines of a Western worldview… and runs to the absolute authority and infinite resources of the one Jesus called “Father.”

Jesus simply took what was available, lifted it up to His Father, and said “thank you.” And everything changed.

When tested, the problem-solving disciple has disciplined his mind to go first to the Father. Only in His Presence can we see the truth about ourselves and our problems.

 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10

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