God Really Does Want to Speak to You …

 

god-callingI called Senator Lindsey Graham’s office in Washington once.  I had a question about a government decision that impacted me personally and thought the Senator’s Office would be the fastest way to get an answer.  I really didn’t expect to speak to the Senator.  I spoke to a secretary and then an aide.  They promised to find the answer.  The next day I received a call back with my answer.  I was grateful for their quick response.

That’s the way our world works.  I can’t imagine how much money I would have to give the Senator’s campaign or how famous I would have to be for Senator Graham to personally call me.

God’s way is different.  When I pray to Him, I am not directed to an angel.  I speak directly to the Creator of the Universe.  I talk with the One who loved me so much He sent His Son to die for my sins.  I address to the Lord of Life, who defeated death.  God and I have a direct connection.

The connection goes both ways.  God not only listens to me; He speaks back.  Imagine how rude it would be if Senator Graham called me back, and I did all the talking?  How rude are we to God?

God really does want to speak to you.  Because He loves us, He is careful not to overwhelm us.  Through the Holy Spirit, He gives us whispers in our souls.  You can call them gentle nudges or promptings.  But we get message that comes not from our subconscious, but from God.

God’s most common messages?

  • Fear not.
  • I am with you.
  • Take action.
  • Speak up for me.
  • Go to the forgotten ones.
  • Follow me.
  • Love your enemy.
  • Love that person the way I love you.
  • Do the right thing.
  • Giving in to this temptation has a consequence.
  • Trust me.
  • Be generous.
  • I will bless you.

God’s best and final message to you He wrapped in a body, the body of His Son Jesus.  In Jesus is everything you need to know about God.  Jesus is God’s final word.  So don’t be surprise if one of the frequent messages you get from God is “Look to Jesus.  He’s the example of how I want you to live.”  How do you know if a message is from God?  You know a message is from God because it sounds like something He would say.  The message will look like Jesus.

God really does want to talk with you.  The last question is, will you listen when He does?

Why President Trump’s Assumption of Office is Pivotal for Jesus Followers…

trump

President Trump was inaugurated last Friday; protests began shortly thereafter.  The next day was the Woman’s March on Washington.  A “Saturday Night Live” writer tweeted inappropriately about Barron Trump, the President’s son.  An argument broke out between the President’s staff and the media about the true size of the crowds at the President’s inauguration.  Facebook, Twitter, and other social media quickly filled with people taking sides.

I believe this is a pivotal moment for Jesus Followers in the United States.  Some Jesus Followers think it is important to support President Trump because they believe Jesus is moving back into the White House (important note:  Jesus can move anywhere he wants.  He doesn’t need an election to do His will).  Other Jesus followers feel the need to protest the new President’s past and his stated intentions.

I think the pivotal moment for Jesus Followers is here because we must give an answer about where our hope lies.  Does our hope lie in a President, or in politics, or in political power?  Or does our hope lie in Jesus?

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will not worry about the size of a crowd – Jesus didn’t.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will care about the truth – even when it makes us uncomfortable.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will defend children – all children – from attack.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will love our enemy – even if they are protesting for a cause we do not agree with.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will pray for our President.  We will pray wisdom, strength, and patience for Him.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will not waste worry on the things of this world – they will pass away.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will teach this world how to love by loving each other like Jesus loves us.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will never sell the birthright of the Kingdom of God, given to those of us who are born again, for a mess of political porridge.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will realize our political opinions really don’t impress God much – how we follow Jesus matters.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will not be drawn into fights that don’t matter.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will be caring for the least of these.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will live confident, loving, joyful, peaceful lives, walking with our Lord.

How the Voice of God Sounds…

My mother, like most Southern women, could say more with the tone of her voice than the choice of her words.  Maybe words cost more in those days.  She didn’t have to say much; it was how she said her words that mattered.
If she said your name softly in the morning, it meant it was time to get up, dress, eat breakfast, and get to the bus stop.  If she had an edge when she called your name, it meant you had fallen back asleep and she had risen from her morning coffee to remind you to get up and she was not happy about it.  If, however, your name was spat through clinched teeth, it meant you had missed the bus and now she had to drive you to school and you were going to be spanked, grounded, and your name would be removed from the Lamb’s Book of Life if she had anything to do with it.

You learned to listen to her tone.

Though few of us have ever heard the audible voice of God, we all imagine the tone of His voice.  How you hear the tone of God’s voice has a lot to with whoever first taught you about God.  When Aunt Faye taught Sunday School to us, God sounded sweet and kind.  When the preacher talked about God in his sermon, God sounded mad and frustrated (I better understand now why the preacher was frustrated!).

Sometimes the Bible is clear how we are to hear God’s voice.  When His people made an idol after He told them not to, the LORD said to Moses, “Get away from these people so I can destroy them.”  If God has teeth, I’ll bet He was gritting them that day.

On the other hand, it is hard to imagine God gritting His teeth when He tells Abraham, “I will make you a great nation and by you, all people on earth will be blessed.”  To the ear of my soul, God sounds magisterial and regal.

When Jesus talks with the Rich Young Ruler, He looks at him lovingly and says, “If you want to be complete, go and sell all you have and come and follow me.”  Jesus wasn’t mad when He said that; He was saying the most loving thing He could say, in the most loving way He could say it.

How you hear the voice of God is greatly influenced by what you think of God’s character.  If you think God is out to get you, it’s easy to hear His voice as angry and demandive.  On the other hand, if you experienced the grace of God through Jesus, God’s voice is gentle, calm, peaceful, and centered.

Dallas Willard reminded us that God’s voice will always be confident and never excited.  God’s voice is filled with authority and goodwill.  Strikingly, even when God is angry, His voice is never demanding.

Maybe to recognize the real tone of God’s voice, you need to spend some time with Him – listening.

The Holy Spirit…

Reactions I have noticed when you mention the Holy Spirit:

  • Baptists – “We want the Holy Spirit to move, just not in such a way that we lose control and people think we are dancing.”
  • Presbyterians – “We believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We know what the Father does and what the Son does.  We are still waiting for John Calvin to tell us what the Holy Spirit does.”
  • Lutherans – “Holy Spirit, speak to us. You have exactly 17 ½ minutes.”
  • Catholics – “Without incense, there can be no moving of the Spirit.”
  • Methodists – “We are a denomination founded on a great movement of the Spirit. We hope it happens again someday.”
  • Episcopalians/Anglicans – “We will earnestly talk about seeking guidance from the Spirit. One day, we’ll get around to earnestly listening too.”
  • Pentecostals – “If the Spirit does not cause you to lose control, you aren’t really saved. Did you hear that Baptists? You aren’t really saved!”
  • Millennials – “Isn’t the Holy Spirit like the same as the Force?”

Okay, maybe I’m not as funny as I think.  But this is reality – the Holy Spirit is God, up close and personal.  That can be frightening.  It can also be the best news ever.  It really depends on the true desire of your heart.

Which leaves one question: Is the true desire of your heart to have God up close and personal?

How to Know if a Message is Really from God…

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I get nervous when people start to talk about hearing from God.  Please do not misunderstand: I believe God speaks to people.  I believe God whispers into people’s souls.  My anxiety is around people who think they are hearing from God, but they are in fact hearing other voices in their souls.  The soul can be a noisy place, filled with voices of shame, guilt, temptation, and desire.  How do you know which voice to trust?

The best way to know if a message is from God is to learn what God talks about.  The better you know Him, the more you will know if a message comes from Him.

Here are four prayers that will help you know God better, so you can know if a message is really from Him:

  1. The Prayer of Engagement:  Lord, speak.  I really want to listen to you.  You know God better when you are engaged with Him.  Practice spiritual disciplines. Learn to listen in prayer.  Study God’s story and His character.  You can learn if a message is consistent with God’s character or at odds with God’s character.
  2. The Prayer of Clarity:  Lord, please clarify the message.  Help me understand.  You know God better when you have clarity about His messages.  I find clarity comes best through writing down thoughts and feelings, and by seeking counsel from wise friends who are for me, not against me.  If you can’t gain clarity, either the message isn’t from God, or the timing isn’t right.
  3. The Prayer of Waiting:  Lord, give me faith while I wait.  Waiting is part of every relationship, but it is not a skill that comes naturally.  Ask God to help you believe that He is for you, not against you.  This is faith while waiting.  God’s message will come exactly when you need it, not when you want it.
  4. The Prayer of Self-Awareness:  Lord, help me be self-aware.  Ask God to show you your blind spots.  Ask God to show you your own weaknesses.  Ask God to show you what your anxiety really represents.  Self-awareness helps you know what messages are from your own needs and what messages are from God.

When you know God better, you’ll really know if the message is really from Him.

Why My Daughter was in Tampa, but Not at the Game…

For those of you who have been comatose the last four days, Clemson defeated Alabama Monday night to win the Football National Championship.  My daughter, Sarah, was in Tampa, but she didn’t make it into the game.

The background of the story is this: when Abram, my oldest, attended Duke, they made it to the Final Four in Basketball.  Figuring this was a once in a life-time opportunity, we made arrangements to go.  My cousin Ned, who is well connected, got us tickets, and we saw Duke defeat the hometown Cinderella team, Butler, in the last second.

I promised Hannah that if UNC-Chapel Hill made it to the Final Four while she was a student, I would take her to the games.  Unfortunately, they never made it.

Naturally, Sarah expected the same bargain when she attended Clemson.  Last year, I asked her if she wanted to go to the National Championship Game in Arizona.  Too far, she said.  But this year, the game would be in Tampa, home to many cousins with spare bedrooms.

We held our breath after Pitt beat Clemson.  Would they climb back into contention? After winning the ACC championship, Sarah declared she was going to Tampa if they beat Ohio State.

When the dismemberment of Ohio State was over, we arranged for her to stay with my wonderful cousin Marti.  Sarah put her deposit in for the Student Ticket Lottery.  She prayed for a ticket.  Last week came the crushing news that she was not one of the 500 selectees (Note to the NCAA: Only 500 student tickets for each school?  Really?  Remember it’s the National Collegiate Athletic Association, not the National Corporate Athletic Association).  She began to search for tickets on line, but they were outrageous.

She came to me with tears in her eyes, “Daddy, I’ve been praying, and Jesus wants me to go to the National Championship Game.  Will you find me a ticket?  Will you put it out on your Facebook and Twitter account that your beloved daughter will be unfaithful to Jesus if she doesn’t go?”

Sarah was claiming to have heard a whisper from God.  What could I say?  I was launch a message series about listening to God and doing what He says.  I put up the post.  I was hoping someone would respond and say, “Beloved pastor, I have four tickets, and God told me to give them to you so Sarah and her friends could go to the game.”  Apparently, no one was listening to that whisper from God.

Instead, I got an offer to buy one ticket, for $1,800.  One ticket.  Now, I could buy that ticket for Sarah, but her friends would still be outside the stadium. Plus, we just paid for a pretty nice Christmas for all.  Plus, I just replaced the front hubs on my truck, requiring me to sell my right kidney.  I was a little short on discretionary funds. I had to tell Sarah, “No.”

I expect her to start speaking to me again in 2019.

Sarah made the trip anyway, hoping against hope they would find a way in.  They did get to go to a free concert and hang out around the stadium.  No angel, however, came to their rescue.  The price of tickets did not drop at kickoff.  They watched the game from a sketchy pizza place (her words).  Still, they basked in the glow of victory.

So why did Sarah go to Tampa, but not go to the game?  Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it is wise.  And just because you think Jesus has told you to go to the game, doesn’t mean you heard Him correctly.  Hard lessons for college kid.  Hard lessons for us all.

Clemson Vs. Alabama – What did We Learn?

I clemsonwas one of the millions who stayed up late, bit my nails, and celebrated when Clemson won the Football National Championship last night.  This morning, in the warm afterglow of that victory, what did we learn?

We learned it takes time to build a champion.  Saban coached at Alabama three years before he won a national championship.  Swinney coached at Clemson eight years before winning a national title.  If you want to do something great, personally or professionally, commit to the long haul.

We learned people want to cheer for winners.  I pull for Clemson because my youngest daughter goes there.  I’m invested.  But I saw people I never knew were Clemson fans going crazy on Facebook last night when the game was over.  In organizations, these are called “late-adopters.”  They will join in the celebration, but don’t invest emotional energy in the early stages.  This isn’t a good or a bad thing; it’s just a thing.  But you need to know who they are and you need to know if you are one.  Don’t let the late-adopters control your emotional energy.

We learned some people want to rob you of joy.  I made the mistake of tuning to a sports call-in show.  A guy was going on and on about blown calls that led to Clemson scores.  His conclusion:  Clemson didn’t win.  There will always be people who want to take away the joy of victory.  Do what I did:  Change the station.  Don’t listen to them.  As Larry Osborne says, “Let the squeaky wheels squeak.”
We learned you can be great and not win every game.  Fans may expect you to win all the time and be mad when you don’t.  But coaches and players know that sometimes everything goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.  Alabama is still a great team and Saban is still the best college coach of our time.  Alabama’s and Saban’s greatness will come out in what happens this week.  I guarantee Saban is back working “the process.”  Greatness personally and organizationally comes from sticking with it.

We learned Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback in college football.  Lamar Jackson is great too, but who would you rather have in the last two minutes of the 4th quarter?  Would you rather have the reward for individual achievement or the reward of being champions?

We learned you don’t have to be the star to make a difference.  Hunter Renfrow isn’t the best receiver on the Clemson team; he’s just the guy who has caught two touchdown passes in both national championship games.  (Full disclosure: His girlfriend was Sarah’s (my daughter) roommate for the her first year and half at Clemson.  I once took him out for pizza with his girlfriend and Sarah.  Since I paid for the pizza, part of his success is because of me).  You may not be a star, but you can make a difference.

We learned it takes 59 minutes and 59 seconds to win a game.  I know too many people who quit living and quit trying in the third quarter of life – usually when they are 45 or 50.  Paul told us, “Do not grow weary in well-doing…” and “Run to finish the race and gain the prize.”

Finally, we learned victory is better than defeat.  This is the heart of the gospel.  We all are defeated in sin, until Jesus delivers us.  We are winners because He won.  Live in His victory!

What’s ahead for 2017?

What’s ahead for 2017?

At ADBC:

  • The big news is we launch Pocalla Church on February 5th. We will commission our missionaries this Sunday and Monday in each worship service.  This is our first site beyond the Loring Mill campus, but I’m praying for more opportunities to launch campuses.
  • On the preaching/teaching schedule: New series starts Sunday/Monday, “It’s for You.” It’s all about hearing God speak to you.  In February we’ll do a series on how complicated relationships are called “Love Stinks.”  That will be followed by “I Object,” a series answering the most common objections to the Christian understanding of God.  Other series include teaching on Jesus being the King over death; the life of Paul; and understanding the character of God.  PLUS we are trying something new this summer: “At the Movies” – using four movies to understand Biblical truth.
  • New opportunities for LIFE Groups will roll out for Sunday and Wednesday. We’ll have different entry opportunities in the Winter, Spring, and Fall.  If you have only been in the rows at ADBC, it’s time to get in a circle!
  • Opportunities to serve at the Loring Mill campus will open up as many key volunteers go as missionaries to Pocalla Church. God is calling you to serve!
  • Mission Trips to New York, Haiti, and Honduras. You can go share, change someone’s life and change your own.

What’s ahead for you?

This is the hard part.  I don’t know and neither do you.  God will give you opportunities to grow your soul, but that doesn’t mean you will take any.  God will give you time to prepare for coming storms, but that doesn’t mean you will.  God will want to speak to you, but that doesn’t mean you will listen.

Every new year provides a moment for you to think about what you will do with the next 365 days as we take another lap around the sun.  Let me lovingly challenge you to grow your soul, prepare for coming storms, and listen to God when He speaks.  He wants something for you, not from you.

New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep:

 

unique-new-years-resolutionsNew Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep:

  1. I resolve to not run with scissors.
  2. I resolve to eat all the bacon on my plate.
  3. I resolve to stay under the covers on cold winter’s nights.
  4. I resolve to sweat in hot weather.
  5. I resolve to stick to my diet… unless the food looks really good, or is my favorite, or is something I can get this one time, or was made by someone whose feelings will be really, really hurt if I don’t eat a bite of what they made.