Up is Down…

 

 bonanza plane crash

When I was in college, I got a hankering to learn to fly.  The cost was not out of reach back then.  I would sneak away from campus, down to the Bessemer Airport, and get an hour of instruction for $35.

Good pilots know how to focus.  I can still hear the voice of my flight instructor Tom telling me on final approach, “Airspeed! Outside! Airspeed! Outside!”  He was trying to drill into my head that when you land, keep looking at your airspeed and keep looking at your target – the runway.  You need reference points.

I was not a good pilot.  I don’t have ADHD on the ground, but I did in the air.  There were too many interesting things to see: houses, farms, other planes, roads, birds, sky – it was all so amazing.  I would be looking around at amazing sights while Tom was shooting, “Airspeed! Outside!”

Beginning pilots are VFR:  Visual Flight Rules. This means you fly only when you have space to see between the clouds and ground.  You can get an IFR rating: Instrument Flight Rules.  When you have this rating, you can fly into clouds, through fog; but you rely on your instruments to tell you where you are.

Tom explained in vivid detail what would happen if a beginning pilot like me flew into a cloud: You would get disoriented.  Unless you relied on your instruments, you would begin to think up was down and down was up.  I thought Tom was making this up, but he told me we rely more on visual references than we think.

I think all flight instructors have a book of horror stories to tell their students.  Tom proceeded to tell me about a Doctor who only had a VFR rating, but was over-confident.  He took off under marginal VFR conditions, traveling cross country.  Conditions worsened.  He got disoriented.  He flew his Bonanza straight into the ground, killing him.

When you have 10 hours of flight time under your belt, that kind of story makes a point.  During the few years I flew, I avoided marginal conditions at all costs.   Tom’s voice rang in my memory, “In the burned wreckage, they found him with the yoke pushed all the way in.  The only explanation: He thought he was headed up, when he was really headed down.”

Jesus gives us the same warning.  The most dangerous sin of all, the unforgivable sin, he said, was to believe that evil was good and good was evil.  When you are spiritually disoriented, you fly your life into destruction.

Even Christians accept this line of reasoning too often.  We believe an explosion of our temper will solve our problems.  We believe we can steal and cheat and never get caught.  We believe we can control our spouses or our children.  We believe our way is better than God’s.  We wind up flying our lives right into the ground.

The only way to stop this is to check your reference points.  “Airspeed! Outside!” can be changed to “Worship! Bible! Prayer!”  Jesus followers believe worship matters because it is a reminder of true reality, God’s reality, God’s Kingdom.  That’s why being in church to worship matters.  Bible knowledge is not just so you can win Bible Trivia; it is so you have a guide to ultimate truth.  Prayer is daily conversation with God so you can stay in touch with His reality.  What are your reference points?

When do you cross the line to the unforgivable sin?  When you no longer check your reference points.  When your heart is so disoriented you believe what is evil is good for you and what is good for you is evil.  This is what happened to Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus.  He got disoriented.  Despite overwhelming evidence, despite the advice of his own cabinet, he would not see things God’s way.  He flew his army, his nation, and his own life right into ground.

Knowing reality, knowing up from down, knowing good from evil – it’s the most important skill of life.

Are you flying up?  Or down?

Trust Enough to Ask…

ice cream

When you are a new believer, and you read Jesus’s words, “Ask and it will be given; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you,” it sounds like magic.  Ask for what I want?  Answers given whenever I seek?  Closed doors opening?  This is Jesus’s invitation to pray boldly.  So, you do.  You ask for your husband to change.  You want God to answer why someone you love got cancer.  You knock on a closed door, knowing that God will so convict your Dad, that he will pick up the phone and call you after a three-year silence.

You wait for your husband to change.  And you wait.  And wait.  The turmoil in your heart about why a good person suffers doesn’t go away.  Your Dad’s number never shows up on your phone.  Then you are left with deep unease.  Did Jesus not keep his promise?  Did you not have enough faith?  Did Jesus lie?

Bible scholars and preachers handle Jesus’s promise in two ways.  First, they try to explain Jesus’s words are not what they seem to be.  They try to limit the scope of the promise, or draw in other scripture that seems to teach us to limit our asking.  The outcome of this teaching is timid prayer, anemic prayer, prayer that doesn’t move a grain of sand, much less a mountain.

The second way preachers explain Jesus’s words is to claim this as a faith promise.  We are to ask, seek, and knock and God will give.  Preachers thunder, “You have not, because you ask not!”  Then they get in their Mercedes and go home.  If God is not giving you the sweet life, it is because you don’t ask, or you don’t ask in faith.  The outcome of this teaching is foolish asking and foolish thinking.  “Name it and claim it” turns God into a heavenly Amazon Prime, delivering blessings to our door.

What did Jesus mean?

When my daughter Sarah was two, she asked me to go by Sonic and get some ice cream.  I told her “no.”  She asked again.  I said “no” again.  She paused, thought and then said, “Daddy, Jesus wants you to get me some ice cream.”

I wonder where she learned that?

Sarah did not get ice cream that day.  I wasn’t being cruel.  I was being wise.  She needed a nap and the sugar in the ice cream would wind her up for hours.  When I told Sarah “no” she thought I was the cruelest Dad in the world.

I’ve told this story before as an example of our heavenly Father knowing our needs better than we know our own.  That’s still true.  It’s only recently, however, that I realize how much Sarah trusted me.  She knew her father loved her (and loves her still).  Even at two, she knew I was the source of good gifts.  So when she wanted ice cream, she asked her father.  She trusted me enough to ask.

I think this is what Jesus is teaching us.  Trust your Heavenly Father to ask, seek and knock.  Trust him with raw desires of your heart.  Don’t try to edit your prayer to make it perfect or acceptable.

But remember asking is the first step of prayer.  It starts a conversation.  Asking means listening for God to speak back to you and tell you, you don’t need ice cream, you need a nap.  It means trusting him enough to lie and take the nap.

Ask boldly.  Trust boldly.  Trust your heavenly Father enough to ask.

Now, I need to decide if I need ice cream or a nap.

Charlottesville Thoughts…

charlottesville

 

By now you’ve heard the news stories about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend.  Once again, we are confronted with the reality we are a divided nation.  Can I offer persepctives as you think about Charlottesville?

  • Jesus said to pray for your enemies.  We are doing Jesus’s work when we condemn racism.  We leave his work undone if we do not pray for our enemies.  Pray for James Alex Fields who drove his car into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer.  Pray for God’s love to drive hate from his heart.  Pray for Richard Spencer, a leader for the alt-right movement.  Pray for God to call him to Jesus’s side.  Pray for others who find a twisted hope in the belief of white supremacy.
  • The core of Christian teaching is “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ… (Galatians 3:28).”  Every human being needs Jesus.  Once a human being accepts God’s gift of grace, he or she becomes a brother or sister in Christ.  Skin color doesn’t matter.
  • Racism and hatred are defeated by the strong determination of Jesus followers to love our neighbors as ourselves.
  • “Let not many of you become teachers… because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).”  People who teach hate will be judged by God.
  • Events like this should cause a pause.  We must examine our hearts to see if there is an bigotry, any prejudice, any profiling.  If it is there, we must confess, ask forgiveness and ask God to teach us to love our brothers and sisters.
  • I now understand a new dimension of the commandment, “You shall not make a graven image in the form of anything in heaven above or earth below…”  People attach meanings to statues, beyond the original intent of the statue.  Now people are worshiping the monuments.  You worship something when you allow it to set the agenda for your life.  Sounds like what happened in Charlottesville.
  • People are attracted to the alt-right movement because they feel like no one understands them.  I wonder if Jesus followers have even made an effort to understand them, and envelope them with the love of Jesus?
  • Acts of Congress, speeches by the President, and political commentary does not change a human soul.  Jesus does.
  • Our country is divided.  Asking the other side to change their mind does not bring people together.  Serving each other in the name of Jesus just might heal our land.

Try Something New…

try something new

You need to try something new.  Your organization needs to try something new.  Your church needs to try something new?

Why?  Isn’t the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” true?

Nope.

Just because something is working in this moment is no guarantee it will work tomorrow or even the rest of the day (ask any farmer about this; he can tell you equipment breaks down at worst possible moments).

For the Jesus follower, this is critical.  Jesus always invites you to take a next step.  This means you must embrace a life that requires a focus on Jesus and a willingness to move from what is comfortable and familiar.  Jesus regularly invites you into the new.

Why do we not do something new?

We’re afraid to fail.

Failure is the last thing God’s people should fear.  God can redeem every failure of ours and make it new.  Learn from our failures – sure.  Let our failures keep us from trying something new?  Absolutely not.

It’s time to try something new in your walk with Jesus.

So if you read the Bible every day, that’s good!  But if it feels stale, then switch it up and listen to the passages of scripture instead of reading them.  Read it in a different translation.  Read a whole book through in one sitting.

If prayer feels stale, try praying in a different physical posture.  Instead of praying sitting in a chair, pray on your knees.  Pray on your knees?  Try praying standing up with your arms outstretched.  Have a familiar pattern of prayer?  Switch it up.  Confess your sins first, then ask God to meet your needs.

If the worship service you attend feels stale, sit in a different spot.  Take notes on the sermon for a change.  Maybe visit a church way outside your worship tradition.  If you are Pentecostal, go to an Episcopal Church.  Baptist?  Go to a Pentecostal church.

Your organization needs to try something new.  Re-arrange the furniture.  Offer a sale at an offbeat time.  Roll out an experimental product.  Change the meeting schedule.

I know your church needs to try something new.  Instead of Sunday night worship, try a three month experiment of having worship on Monday night.  Instead of a big Christmas musical, take the choir to the Walmart parking lot and sing carols.  Maybe your pastor needs to try something different in his preaching – like asking random people at McDonald’s what kind of sermons would interest them, then preaching those sermons.

God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Join God in what is new.  Get uncomfortable.  Grow.  Stretch.  Fail. Learn.

Try something new.

Prayers for Relationships…

couple-prayer

How we usually pray when it comes to relationships:

  • Lord, I want one!  Send me someone!
  • Lord, fix him/her.  They are driving me crazy.
  • Lord, why did you stick me with them?  Could I not have an easier spouse/child/friend?
  • Lord, guide this fight so I don’t have to admit how wrong I really was.
  • Lord, please don’t let them discover my secret.

I know God hears our prayers, but to make progress in life, maybe we need to pray differently:

  • Lord, help me understand before I defend.
  • Lord, let me see where this person is wounded.  Let me treat their wounds with grace.
  • Lord, make me aware of my own issues in this relationship.
  • Lord, give me courage to raise issues that need to be talked about.
  • Lord, give me courage to be vulnerable with feelings and emotions.  Deliver me from stereotypes of needing to be strong when the most authentic thing to do is to weep.
  • Lord, give me strength to stand fast in tough times.
  • Lord, heal my own hurt so I do not hurt someone with it.
  • Lord, give me love so I may love when I do not feel love.
  • Lord, show me the joy that is possible in this relationship.
  • Lord, no matter how this relationship turns out, I will remember to put my trust in you.
  • Lord, show me how I actually come across, not just how I think I come across.
  • Lord, teach me to be generous in this relationship.

I wonder how your relationships would change if we prayed differently?

  • Maybe there would less blame and less shame.
  • Maybe there would be less intensity in conflict.
  • Maybe there would be a surrender of the need to make things even.
  • Maybe there would be a drawing closer.
  • Maybe there would be greater peace when someone turned away.
  • Maybe there would be less anxiety about the future.
  • Maybe our souls would be more secure, because our security would in our Father, not in someone else.

 

What relationship in your life needs a different prayer?

 

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?

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.

Seven Things Every Jesus Follower Needs to Do on November 9th…

 

On March 23, 2015, Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to declare for the 2016 Presidential race.  On November 8, Election Day, 595 days later, this election cycle will end.  I don’t know about you, no matter who is elected, part of my reaction will be relief that it is over.

Wednesday morning, November 9th, we will wake up with a new leader for our country.  Jesus followers will wake up with the same King of Kings and Lord of Lords as their ultimate leader.  So what will we need to do on November 9th?

  1. We need to pray for our new President, that he or she will be wise and humble.  We need to pray God will speak directly to her or him about the size of the task ahead of them.  We need to ask God to direct his or her paths and remind him or her not to lean on their own understanding.
  2. We need to pray for the candidate that loses.  As Jesus followers, we need to care for their souls.  Pray they will sense the presence of God in their loss, and that this loss will cause them to seek Jesus.  Pray they will gracious in defeat and be given words from the Holy Spirit that will unite, not divide.
  3. We need to pray for the healing of our country.  Politics is always divisive, but this election has seemed to be particularly injurious.  Pray that people will regain perspective; that they will seek common good for one another.
  4. We need to demonstrate our love for each other as Jesus followers.  Make it a point to love someone who follows Jesus who voted differently than you.  Let them know your care for them in Jesus is greater than any political division.
  5. We need to continue to speak God’s truth, even when an election is not on the line.  We need to declare life is precious; people are responsible for their lives; justice is for all; the poor need care; those who are foreigners need hospitality; prisoners need the presence of Jesus; and we need to take care of God’s creation.  We need not only to talk about these things, but do these things.  And no, God’s truth doesn’t fit into some neat political package.  God is inconvenient that way.
  6. We need to be salt and light.  God put us here in this time to make an impact on the world.  We do that best by being different from the world.  People often misunderstand this and think this is a call for Jesus followers to be weird.  Not at all.  It is call for us to add flavor (salt) and to give a different model of how to live (light).  We want to live so people say, “I’m not sure I believe in Jesus, but I sure would like to have Jesus followers work for me.”
  7. Most of all, we need to follow Jesus.  There is no way for God to have written every instruction we need in His word.  We need to pray for guidance and trust the Lord will speak.  We need to listen to whispers from God and follow Holy Spirit nudges.  We need to be people of courage who are willing to be misunderstood because we do weird things like love our enemies.

I’m really not worried about the election.  Jesus told me to cast all my worries on Him.  My job is to listen to Him and follow.

Praying for Orlando…

 

This one is close to home – literally.

Orlando to you may be the home of Disney, Harry Potter, and maxed out credit cards.  For me, it is the town where my sisters live, where friends from home and high school now live, and where I have cousins tucked in on quiet streets far from the hustle of Mickey Mouse.

I was visiting the ranch when the news broke on Sunday morning.  Headed home that day, we passed within a couple of blocks of the shooting site.  I found out a friend taught one of the young men killed in Middle School.  This was the not an act of terrorism that killed strangers; this was act reached out and impacted people I care about.

Predictably, Facebook erupted into irrelevant political debates.  Candidates quickly took positions to attempt to bolster their cause.  Gun rights were defended and gun laws were proposed.  People called out for Muslims to be banned.

What is Jesus doing?

He is not exploiting the moment.  He is with families that are grieving.  He is working healing on the injured.  He is speaking right now to those who have horror etched into their memories forever.  His words are “When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am with you; I will comfort you.”  He is speaking to all of us on the outside looking in, “This is why I came.  This is why I died.  To wipe evil such as this.  It can only be overcome with purity and love – my purity and my love.”

Jesus is at work.  In a moment like this, as His follower, my choice is to join Him and follow Him.

So pray for Orlando.  For families of the dead, for healing of the injured, for traumatized witnesses, for first responders only now experiencing the feelings – pray.  Give hate and Satan no opportunity to enter this moment.

James, Jesus’ brother told us, “Do not be overcome with evil; but overcome evil with good (James 4:8).”

Pray and overcome.

Praying on Empty…

Empty is a vicious word.  It brings fear of being stranded without gas, of having nothing to eat, and of feeling like no one cares.

Most of us will feel empty at some point.  We have poured out all we can, and feel like we have nothing left to give.  We feel numb, because our emotions have been run over time after time.  We feel like something is missing – a child, an opportunity, a future, a hope.

Emptiness breeds shame.  We hide the hollows of our souls.  We assume we are the only ones who feel the ache of something missing.  So we smile vacant smiles, go through the motions, and hope no one sees the vacancy sign flashing over our lives.  We withdraw, sometimes physically, often emotionally.  We mask our loneliness from people, even from God.  Somehow we think that if we don’t pray, if we don’t worship, if we don’t gather with His people, God will not know we are empty.  We think emptiness is not something to be shared with our Father in Heaven.

Preserved for us in the ancient texts of the Bible are prayers called “Laments.”  A lament is prayer offered with deep emotion that cries out to God for help.  There are laments about emptiness:  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping (Ps. 22:1)?”  Solomon, who had wealth, wine, and women, said, “Emptiness, Emptiness, emptiness of emptiness!  All is empty (Eccl. 1:2).”  Apparently, these people thought it was a good idea to tell God, “We feel empty.”

 

So how do you pray when your soul is on empty?  Start by being honest.  “God, I feel empty.”  No sense in pretending with God.  Tell Him how you feel.  I call this dealing in reality.

Second, make sure you are thinking about God correctly.  God is not a helpless old man with arthritis seated on a throne on a cloud.  He is the Might God, who stands ready to do battle, with angel armies standing behind him.  A small god cannot fill your needs; a Mighty God can.This is staying connected to God, to who He really is.

Bring your request to God.  No matter how ridiculous it sounds, ask the Father to bring justice, to right wrongs, to show His presence, to teach you what really counts.  One of the dumbest things I hear people say is “Don’t pray for patience!  God will make something happen so you will learn it.”  God knows what you need and He is arranging an answer that meet your deepest need.

Finally, don’t stop praying until you have peace.  People sometimes erroneously say “Pray until God answers.”  A better strategy is to pray until you experience the grace and peace of God.  You might ask for answers, and God may not give you any.  Instead, God will offer you Himself, which is infinitely better.

When you feel empty, do not let shame take control.  Fight against all the shame messages and bring your empty soul to your Heavenly Father.  Your emptiness doesn’t frighten Him.  In fact, He is the only one who can fill the hole in your soul.