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Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

During this season of Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter, I have undertaken to write 5 posts a week.  I have been blogging for about 7 years now.  The posts have definitely ebbed and flowed.  It’s exciting when I am inspired to write and share God-stories with you or wisdom that I sense the Holy Spirit bubbling up within my spirit.  There have been times though when I purposed to write and it has been like trying to draw water from a dry well.  I notice I have 35 drafts that were blog post starts that have not made it.  Setting the expectation of writing 5 posts a week is the type of challenge that has, at times, caused me to encounter the dry well.  That is what happens when we operate in our own strength.  But this season is turning out to be something different… something richer, an altogether new and exciting experience.  I believe I understand why and it’s today’s topic.

This morning as I awoke I immediately entered into prayer and meditation about what the Lord would have me share.  Okay, truth be told, my first alarm at 4:30 woke me and I started praying and meditating, but staying in the bed also meant the second alarm at 5 is what actually got me fully awake and out of bed.  One of the things I have been praying for is greater understanding on why the Lord has me in this wonderful season of clarity for hearing His voice and sensing His leading.  It seems He gave me at least some insight this morning.

During this morning’s prayer I had this visual image that was very pleasant.  Over the years we’ve bought Christmas decorations during the post season sales.  It turns out we have about 1.3 miles of white Christmas lights.  The visual image began with the site of our typical Christmas tree with two or three strands of lights on it.  It’s pretty with lot’s of ornaments made by family members and little points of light interspersed about.  You can clearly see the tree, the ornaments, and little glowing spots.  But then the image changed.  Suddenly the tree was wrapped with the entire 1.3 mile strand of Christmas lights and we had an entirely different situation.  You could barely see the tree because the light emanating from it, but the shape was there.  The little lights that had highlighted the bobbles on the tree previously now were illuminating the entire room with a bright and joyful light.  Everything was richly aglow with light coming from the light-filled tree.  That’s when the Holy Spirit spoke this morning and said, “Be Filled!”

That short phrase rang familiar and I looked it up.  In Ephesians Paul is giving exhortations to the Church and the phrase shows up.  ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘  Ephesians 5:18-20

That Christmas tree was filled with light and I can see an amazing lesson in it.  I am in a season that I hope never ends.  In fact I hope it is not a season, but the result of progress in being transformed.  It’s the transformation that we are all called to in Romans 12:1-2 ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I have been a Jesus follower for a long time.  I have experienced the clear leading of the Holy Spirit on various occasions and it always gives me great joy.  But all my previous experiences have been more like our typical Christmas tree with little points of light interspersed here and there.  The light was visible, but the tree was still the predominant feature.

But lately, I have been sensing the Lord’s hand upon me, guiding me with a greater frequency and clarity than I have ever experienced.  Continuing the metaphor, additional strands of light are being wrapped around me and more light is shining through.  Halleluia!

At this point a little insight into what’s been happening inside of me may be informative in your walk with the Lord and desire to Be Filled.  As I mentioned earlier I have been a Jesus follower for a long time.  I have tried to be faithful in every area.  I would have seasons of additional focused attention in reading the Word, prayer, loving my wife and family sacrificially, etc.  But I have always been a busy person too.  I have worked in stressful jobs, long hours, lots of responsibilities.  And I’ve tended to be as busy as my work life allowed outside of work… youth leader at church, scoutmaster, soccer coach and active parent, small group leader, etc.

The past few years as our children have reached adulthood and begun families of their own, my wife an I have found ourselves with a little margin in our lives.  We’ve added a bit of travel to our lives which has been fun.  But last year’s trip was interrupted when I broke my shoulder.  If you have read that story it a pretty good one and it is informative to the point I’m making.  With the broken shoulder I was not making any income.  I work for myself and I don’t have supplemental insurance.  So we could have been in a financial difficulty.  But all through that season of being out of work the Lord kept telling me, “Trust Me.”  “Rest in Me.”  “Relax and Lean into Me.”  All words of encouragement for me to let go of my striving and busyness.  So I did.  I used the down time to read more, both the bible and great teaching books.  I also was able to serve more.  It has been such a blessing to get to know my care pastor at church better.  And I’ve definitely prayed more.

Breaking my shoulder provided an opportunity.  It was the prompting of the Lord, definitely subtle at first but growing stronger every day, to pick up different spiritual disciplines that got me to a stronger place.  There are “okay” things I could do that I find I am doing less.  I have not completely cut out activities like going to ball games or watching a good show on TV.  But those things have diminished greatly and anything questionable has been dropped completely.  I travel a lot for my work and since November I have been back on the road a lot.  But the TV doesn’t come on.  I’m now drawn to pray, read the Word or an edifying book, or work-out (which includes prayer and meditation).  It seems to me that with each time I am faced with a choice of doing something okay, I am pausing to see if there is something else the Lord would have me do.  If there is, I am tending to do it.  And each time I respond following that leading to do the thing I sense the Lord directing me to, there is greater clarity the next time the Holy Spirit prompts me to do something.

Before I head to the close today, I need to tell you about the other scripture the Lord brought to mind right after He said, “Be Filled.”  Since I knew the topic was “Be Filled” I threw off the sheets and popped out of bed.  But as soon as my feet hit the floor I thought of the widow of Zarephath.  Here’s her story.

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord , the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’ ” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. ‘  1 Kings 17:8-16

As long as the woman continued to use the oil and serve the Lord and the ones He brought to her, the jar of oil was filled.  When we follow the Lord’s lead, when we minister when and where He guides us, we will be filled.  There is also something important about what I shared in my life over the past several months.  When I have the opportunity to use my time in different ways, I ask for His guidance and then follow it.  I have been engaged in spiritually edifying activities more, but not to the exclusion of family, friends and other things.  (A topic for a future post will explain how in my past I engaged in activities that should have been spiritually edifying, but I did so in a more legalistic manner without proper regard for family, friends, and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  They tended to fill my head with knowledge, but my spirit was unfruitful.)

This week has been as eventful in a positive way as most recently.  There was a great meeting with the Group’s pastor at church.  You expect those to go well, but there is a qualitative difference between a good meeting and a spirit-led meeting.  It was a spirit-led meeting.  Then I had to drive 200 miles to a plant for work.  I stopped to get gas and a coffee since it was an early morning drive.  As I got back in my truck, the Lord said, go tell the cashier, “It’s All Good.”  Yes, I questioned Him a couple times on that one.  I almost turned the key to back out.  Just thinking about going in I began to feel self-conscious.  But I remembered I had promised the Lord many years ago after I rationalized away a very clear prompting of the Lord that had a tragic end, that I would always obey Him if He clearly asked me to do something, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.  So I went back in .

Wouldn’t you know it, there was now a long line.  Rather than shouting from the door, “Yo cashier lady, God said to tell you, “It’s All Good'”, I decided to buy two bottles of water I didn’t need.  When I got in line, it was obvious she was having a problem doing some task for a customer.  Another cashier came to the adjacent register and started taking customers.  Now I was worried that I wouldn’t get to the right cashier.  I knew who the word was for and I knew what I was to say.  I had no idea how she would respond (although I hoped it would be with an indrawn breath and wide eyes of wonder).  The line kept moving to the new cashier and my cashier kept having problems.  Finally it looked like she was about to finish with her customer, but now I had a new problem.  There was a person in front of me in line.  If she finished, he was going to her and I would have to go to the cashier-who-is-not-the-right-one.  “Lord if you want me to give her this message, please let me go to her.”  It was a photo-finish.  The other cashier ripped off the receipt for the customer and said, “Who’s next” just a moment before my cashier looked up to see me standing in her queue.

I handed her the two bottles of water and said, “I was in here earlier, but when I got in my truck the Lord told me to come in and tell you, (slightly dramatic pause here) “It’s All Good.”  At that moment I kind of wished the Lord had given me something a little more eloquent or definitive, but that’s exactly what He said to say.  So I said it.  Well I didn’t get the wide eyes and gasp of wonder.  But I did get enough.  She looked at me and we made eye contact.  You know how in so many instances people look at you with the dull, unseeing eyes.  Well she really saw me and a little smile crossed her mouth and into her eyes.  I walked out thankful that I had given her the word the Lord told me to give her.  I don’t know what it was about but as I drove away, I was praising Him and praying that His words would resonate in her and that they would accomplish exactly what He knew they were to accomplish.

As I’m typing this I realize those words are pretty good words for me… and for us.  So I close today telling you what the Lord told that middle-aged, seemingly harassed cashier, “It’s All Good!”

Indeed, with the Lord it is all good and VERY GOOD!

Have a blessed day my friend.

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Our devotional this morning used John 15:5 and I saw a portion of that verse in a whole new way.  Jesus is speaking.  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  I guess I have tended to zip over the last part of that verse, the part that says “apart from me you can do nothing.”  Today it struck me that from Jesus’ eternal perspective, the things we do for ourselves, the things that create a lot of busyness in our day but are not done from our connection with Him don’t really amount to much.  Actually I guess more accurately they amount to nothing.  That’s a sobering thought.

So how does that square with having a job to support our family, raising our children to be good citizens, or just being a good neighbor to those around us?  Using the rest of this scripture for context, it comes down to our connection with Jesus and our on-going growth in that relationship.  Our purpose is to become more like Jesus.  That is accomplished in and through every aspect of our life.  Our relationship with Jesus is what prepares and then propels us forward into those things that He has purposed for us to walk in.

Two quick stories from the past two weeks illustrate this.  A little over a week ago I was involved in an auto accident.  Actually I was waiting at a cross-roads and the accident was in front of me and one of the vehicles then rammed me.  I was not injured but my little car is badly damaged.  In the moments preceding the accident I had plenty of time to cross in front of the vehicles, but I uncharacteristically waited.  Because I waited, I became involved.  I don’t feel like I did much in the ensuing care-giving, but others seemed to take comfort in my support and prayer.  And I had a tremendous peace both at the time of the accident and in the days that followed that I was where I was supposed to be and I did what I was supposed to do.  Nothing fancy, but the Father’s peace was tangible.  I am still in contact with some of those involved and I believe the Lord will use this event for good in each one of the lives involved.

Second story – earlier this summer friends of mine in the Care Ministry at church mentioned that a choir of orphans from Haiti were in the US touring to raise awareness and funds for the orphanages they represent.  The family that has been instrumental in making this happen – Linda and David, also go to our church.  These stories raised an awareness that became a Holy Spirit nudge to “do something”.  Yesterday they came for a day of swimming and fun at our house.

In my prayer leading up to this I wanted to have a message of ringing clarity for them or some spiritual insight from the Lord to share.  But what I got was a strong sense of just loving on them and sharing from what the Lord has blessed us with.  In my younger years… maybe even just a few years ago, I would have been dissatisfied that the day wasn’t more spiritual. 

Talking with the host family at the end of the evening though, I heard how the Lord had provided so many manifestations of His grace throughout the process of getting the children here.  And then they explained how they so badly needed the break that our day provided.  They have literally been performing 2 and 3 times a day all summer.  They cleared their calendar to just relax and join us.  That statement just confirmed to me that we did what we were supposed to do.

Friends, I encourage you to spend quality time with the Lord.  Allow His love to color your perspective on all things.  Become one who consistently listens to the Lord whispering to your heart.  Learn to recognize when the Lord is speaking to your heart and obey your heart over what your mind tells you in those cases.  As we do so, we are vines that become more and more fruitful.  And that fruit is the sweetest of fruit because it is fruit of eternal significance.

Blessings to you in abundance.  And let the Father bless others through you today.

By the way, the ministry that our friends run to support the Orphans in Haiti is called “Love Him, Love Them”.  You can find it at the website of that name.

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I hit the drive-thru for supper this evening.  At the window I noticed the attendant yawn in boredom as she waited for my order.  A high schooler making a little pocket money perhaps.  Hopefully not a single mom trying to make ends meet.  I meant to slip in, slip out, and quietly eat my gyro in the room while I finished up some work for the plant, but because I had to wait I took the time to notice.

When she turned to hand me my order, I looked her in the eye gave her the most sincere “Thank you, mam” I could.  Behind the thanks was a heartfelt prayer that the Lord bless her and help her to know she is adored by a loving Father in heaven….

I got word a little while ago that a friend’s father passed away suddenly last night.  He had been up and down with illness, but until last night every down was followed by an up.  Actually, I guess last night was the ultimate recovery for one who knows the Lord.  But it is still a time of separation and loss for the family left behind.  Our heart goes out to them in empathy, sharing a small slice of their pain.  We will grieve with them as they offer up their last goodbyes to Big John.

At 55 years old I am most likely past the halfway point in my earthly life – closer to the end than the beginning.  Since I gave Jesus my life almost 33 years ago I have not worried about dying.  With my heart issue, I really haven’t fretted about dying even though I was on the cusp of a potentially fatal heart attack.  But I have pondered becoming irrelevant.

I want my life to count.  Not in a famous or noteworthy way, but in accomplishing those things that God wants me to accomplish.  Ephesians 2:10 says: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  I know God is at work, but I also understand he has not made me a puppet.  I am given choices.  I can choose to take the easier way, the popular path.  I can go with the flow if I decide to.  But that is not what I sense in my spirit is God’s best.  Simply sliding through life does not line up with where I hear God calling me.  I don’t think it is where God is calling you either, dear reader.

The call is becoming clearer.  It is birthed in intimacy with God, our Father, in blessed union with Jesus our Lord and Savior, and confirmed by His Holy Spirit in our inner being as we willingly submit to His direction in our life.  It is a life of supreme relevance to those the Lord brings into our lives, regardless of how long or how brief that contact may be.

Tonight as I come to the end of the day, I ask for guidance on how to make these final moments count.  “Lord, please pray through me.”  “Father, show me who needs a word of encouragement.”  “Jesus, please prepare me for a day of relevance in your kingdom work and the lives you touch through me tomorrow.”

You are loved and you are relevant my friend.  God has called you into the deepest intimacy with Him.  It is beyond our reckoning.  But that’s okay because He will initiate it, He will draw us deeper, and He will accomplish His purpose as we simply seek Him with all that we are.  From out of that intimacy He makes us relevant.  It is tied first to the fact that we are His adopted children (Romans 8:15), but it is made manifest in the people we meet and get to love on every single day.

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

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God is calling us ever upward.  Every moment of every day is an opportunity to grow closer in intimacy with the Lover of our souls.  God is Omni-present and He will condescend to meet us wherever we are when we cry out to Him, but His intention is not to leave us in the muck and mire that life can become.  Rather His desire is to restore us into right relationship with Himself and within His creation.  He wants to bring us closer to His heart and our eventual home.  That is His desire for each one of us.

As we grow in Him, we have the amazing privilege of being His partner in bringing about this growth in others.  That same love which he lavished upon us to bring us to repentance and faith, becomes resident in us as we grow closer to our Father in faith and obedience.  That love is the motivating force behind our faith response toward others.  God wants us to be His hands, His feet, and His mouthpiece to a lost, hurting, and dying world.  As caregivers of God’s love, there are a few “next steps” which align us with His working and will enable us to be His hands, His feet, and be faithful in speaking His Word.

Intimacy with the Father only comes as we dedicate time to be alone with Him.  I went to church regularly all my life prior to a conversion at age 23.  While this established a basic worldview that included God in it, it did not establish the intimate relationship with Him that came later when I made it my #1 purpose to know Him and to follow Him.  I encourage you to set aside specific time every day to seek God in prayer.  And when you pray, with a bible open, listen to what He says to you, where He takes you in His Word, and what He whispers into your soul.

A solid knowledge of the Word of God is paramount to accurately discerning God’s voice and His instructions.  The Holy Spirit will never guide us contrary to His Word.  It would be nice if once we came to faith we always sought out God’s will and did it immediately.  However, while our debt is paid in full and we are justified through God’s amazing grace, the sanctification process of our lives becomes a life-long endeavor.  We are still in a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Sanctification is our co-labor with God to bring every aspect of our being into consistent obedience to Him.  As we grow and we read the Word of God it becomes a living reservoir of truth within us.  That truth, when acted upon in faith, becomes a rock-solid wall of defense against the enemy and a stairway in taking our next steps closer to God.

The final next step is a broad one.  It is putting into practice all that God shows us in our intimacy with Him and through reading the Word.  Obviously plugging into a vibrant church is essential.  We are a part of Christ’s body, the Church.  God gave His Son to die for the Church.  The Church is the bride of Christ and as such it is most precious to God.  Giving of our time, talents, and resources to the Church is an act of faith and good stewardship.

In the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Lion, Aslan, is representative of Christ.  He is good, kind, wise, and in the climactic moment He purchases the redemption of all through His willing self-sacrifice.  However before this happens there is a conversation that is telling between Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and Lucy.  The children are new to Narnia, drawn into this magical land of perpetual winter and talking animals through a mysterious wardrobe.  The children have heard of this great Lion-King Aslan, but they have not yet met him.

Mrs. Beaver said, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

As we grow in Him, the Lord will call us out of our comfort zone, out of where we feel safe, and into deeper faith.  He is alive and His desire is for His life to be made manifest more fully in His people.

The following are some practical steps to being effective care-givers.

  1. Pray in the days leading up to the care-giving opportunity.
  2. During the service, pray for the response.  For me the worship at the beginning of the service is a wonderful time and place to offer up prayers for the message, the messenger, and those the Lord desires to reach with the message.
  3. If you are in the atrium as the service ends and no one directly approaches you, ask the Lord to show you if there is someone who needs care and prayer, but is hesitant to ask for it.
  4. Approach anyone you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you toward and simply ask if you can help.  There are several different ways to phrase it,  “Hi, my name is ____.  Can I help you?”  “Would you like to speak with someone?”  “Would you like to talk to someone about today’s message?” “That message really spoke to me.  What did you get out of the message?”
  5. Listen in anticipation of God providing specific direction as you move into a care-giving situation.
  6. When you are with a person who is sharing their need listen to them intently, while also being open to the Holy Spirit to give you insight.
  7. If you are the second in a conversation, be in prayer for both the guest and the primary.  Be specific in your prayer asking the Lord to give clarity of the need and wisdom in the care response to the need.
  8. The care and how it is given will vary dependent upon every situation.  It should always be delivered in love and usually with abundant gentleness.
  9. One of the requests we make in prayer is for clarity on recommended next steps.  While confession, repentance, and encouragement are all important activities that take place in the Care Room, pointing the person(s) toward their next step is crucial.
  10. Weigh what you believe you are to share with someone against the Word of God.
  11. Share what you have been given to share.  Be concise.  Do not belabor the recommendations, but speak as clearly as possible.
  12. Request help if you are in a conversation that gets too deep for you.  Stay in the conversation, but if it is a subject that you do not feel equipped to address then give another caregiver the lead and you become the second, praying as described above.
  13. Pray with the guest as the Lord leads.
  14. Fill out the card and re-emphasize the next step captured on the card.
  15. Follow up.  This includes contacting them and praying for them.  For many you will only have a week or two of follow-up contact, but be open to the Lord leading you into a bit longer of a season of care.  I had two extended seasons of Care last year and they were absolutely amazing.
  16. If you are in the Care room and you do not get a conversation, understand that your role this day may be to give prayer support to those who are in conversations.  Look around the room and listen / look for the Holy Spirit to prompt you to pray for a particular person or a particular care conversation.

As we step out in faith, whether it is to stand during an invitation time, or to reach out to someone we sense is hurting, God is present with us to accomplish His work.  While it isn’t always safe and we may misinterpret God’s leading in a few instances, being willing to be obedient is how we take our next steps.  And God knows and honors that obedience with spiritual growth.

May God bless you richly today and as you seek to grow in His love and grace.

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Intimacy with God grows as we are obedient. When we discern His voice, confirm it with the Word, recognize the affirmation in our spirit, and do what He says, we take a step in maturity.  Much of what He asks of us will either align with loving Him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength or loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I once thought this meant a lot of hard work – hours scouring the Word, knees raw from prolonged prayer, exhaustion from tackling every opportunity of service to others. In my exuberance I was the energizer bunny Christian rushing here and there doing everything that I imagined a good follower of Jesus might do.  There were many spiritual high points and I am confident that along the way the Father has taken my offering and used it in furthering His purpose.  But I also see I have sometimes bowled over people, stepped on toes and generally left a wake of damage that I did not intend.

So if hard work was not sufficient to ensure godly growth, what are we to do?  The answer is that we begin by focusing less on doing, at least at first, and we seek to be who God created us and saved us to be – His beloved child.  Like an infant, our growth is a process that is best measured in gradual milestones.  The first step in a child’s development is the recognition and bonding of the child to the parent.  Developing the connection and deepening the familial bond is our first priority.  While this will last our entire life, it is our most important task when we first begin to follow Jesus.  In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians we learn that Paul, one of the most learned of men, headed into the wilderness of Arabia for an extended period immediately after his conversion before launching into full time ministry.  We do well to emulate his progression of seeking God’s face and guidance before jumping into “doing” for the Lord.

In time the child begins to communicate.  Again their primary source of communication is with their parents. Long before the child can begin to verbalize their own thoughts into words, their parents are talking to them, singing to them, reading to them. Our Father God is doing the same with us.  He loves us and He communicates that love in myriad ways.  This past weekend as I finally decided to rise from a particularly restless night, the Lord whispered in my spirit, “Come let me kiss you.” As I slipped into the front room of our house and the warm rays of the early dawn struck my face, I knew my Father was kissing me, His presence overwhelmed me, and it was good beyond description.  As I sit on this plane between two passengers absorbed in their own world, I can still feel the Father’s touch.  I know He is with me.  I know He loves me.  Oh, I am a fortunate and blessed man!

As I basked in the Father’s touch He spoke to me many things. Some were very personal and I don’t need to share those now except to say, He knows us intimately and He will speak to us intimately as we choose to make Him our Lord and the center of our being.  The one thing that He spoke that I recognized as for this blog was His call to obedience.

Continuing the metaphor of a child to parent, as we continue to grow in the Lord, we will be given increasing responsibility.  God will continue to pour into us His life, His light, His wisdom, and His heart.  As these become established in us, His vision and His call arise. There is a universal aspect of His call – reach the lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, encourage the down-hearted.  But in our growing intimacy He will be specific with us: the co-worker that the Lord brings to mind repeatedly, the message that powerfully reminds us of a particular need that we can meet, the phone call that comes when you are praying, “Lord use me.”

Response to the universal call is a good thing.  Response to our specific call is the best thing.  As I write this a picture comes to mind.  The Grinch provides an excellent illustration.  He had stolen every single bit the outward manifestation of Christmas from the Who’s.  Yet when he heard the Who’s still singing their joyful Christmas songs, he recognized the reason we celebrate is so much bigger than the gifts and food.   It is the reason for the season – Jesus.  His undersized heart grew 3X at that moment and he responded in abundant measure.  This same thing happens to us.  When, in our intimacy with the Father, He speaks and we enthusiastically receive and respond, our heart grows.  We are blessed as much or perhaps even more than those God has prompted us to love.

Today I encourage you to go deep with God.  Let His love embrace you.  Listen to His whispered words of love and let them wrap around you and fill you.  As you snuggle into His embrace, listen for your next step.  His call is a life in Him and with Him.  As you grow He will give you ”kingdom tasks” to accomplish IN HIM.  He is the King as well as our Father.  As such we are princes and princesses of the kingdom, living and working under our Father’s authority.  That is our blessed privilege.  Our growth and our Father’s favor are the fruit of our obedience.

Have a blessed day my friend as you live in intimacy with the Lord and walk in faithful obedience.

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I’ve heard it said that the first ability we need to cultivate in our relationship with God is availability.  Being ready and available to do what He says in His word and what the Holy Spirit nudges us to do is foundational to growing and thriving as a Jesus follower.  Last night I was reminded of that in a very powerful way.  I had a conversation with a gentleman I worked with briefly 15 or so years ago.  After not seeing Al since that time we meet again here in Washington where we happen to be working on a project together.  Over dinner he shared a bit of his faith story and it surprised me that I likely played an unknown role in his spiritual awakening.

Our faith conversation started when I mentioned that I had been in church all my life, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I realized that God was interested in a real, living relationship and not just some dry, ritualistic participation in church.  He mentioned that his story was similar and his awakening to that fact began during his one of his visits to my plant in Calhoun, Tennessee around 2000 – 2001.  He said he was sitting in a meeting and he noticed Proverbs 3:5-6 written up in the corner of a blackboard in the conference room.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

He said he was at a point in his life that he was very successful.  He didn’t have any needs being unmet.  He described a life that many people long for – a happy marriage of almost 30 years, two great daughters, good health, a great job he enjoyed, financially sound – in short a life that he was satisfied with.  But something about that verse on the blackboard just poked at him.  I call it a Holy Nudge.  And it began a search.  From that moment he began to seek out what it meant to trust in the Lord with all your heart and to submit to Him.  Well what happened to him is what God promises to everyone who will seek Him with all their heart – He found that living, vibrant relationship with God that has molded and shaped his life since then.  He responded to God’s nudge in that small conference room and his life has been changed from a good life to a great life in union with His Heavenly Father.

My heart swelled because I remembered my days at that plant.  I worked there for 17 years.  One of the lessons I learned while there was the vital importance of responding to Gods’ holy nudges. I can vividly remember two holy nudges early in my time at Calhoun that shaped my faith walk and put me into a position to be used in my friend’s life… whether I knew it or not.  One was a failure on my part that God has redeemed.  The second is part of that redemption and directly impacted my friend, Al.

I had only been at the mill a couple months when I was asked to attend a four-day communication workshop being held at a nearby hotel.  The leader’s name was Sid.  Sid was a large, jovial guy who liked to ask probing questions.  He began the week by telling us that he had recently had a serious health scare as the doctors had told him that he had the big C – Cancer.  But just a week or so earlier he had gotten the all clear from the doctors – no more cancer,  he was fine.  Later that first day Sid had us perform an exercise of sharing our “lifeline” with the class.  We took 10 minutes to draw a chart that represented our life to the current date.  We were to identify 2 or 3 defining moments and share them in a succinct manner.  He shared his lifeline first and mentioned the low point of thinking he might die of cancer and then his line turned up when he was told he was cancer-free and that life was going great.  As I drew my life line it had a major positive step change when I met the Lord at age 23 and I spoke briefly about that.  I remember that Sid challenged me pretty strongly about my step change.  Thinking back I remember I felt intimidated by the force of his challenges and felt even a bit like I was being attacked for my faith.

I was probably a bit more demur the next two days of the workshop.  On Wednesday afternoon, Sid said he was shutting down the workshop 30 minutes early and he was opening up a bar tab for us so we could stay and chat.  It was at this point that I got a very clear Holy Nudge to stay and speak with Sid.  I remember it vividly because I argued with God a bit about it.  I rationalized that since I wasn’t a drinker, I would feel out of place.  I was working on a piece of furniture for the house and I reasoned that I could use the extra time to make good progress on my project.  Even though God was nudging, I was coming up with reasons NOT to do what He was asking.  I even remember telling myself that as hostile as Sid was, he probably was only going to belittle my faith some more.  To my chagrin, I have to tell you that I walked out and went home to my project.  I can tell you now that I felt bad about it as I wiped stain on the entertainment center.  I even paused more than once to pray for Sid.  But I felt the conviction of the Lord as I was substituting a “religious act” instead of following God’s Holy Nudge.

The next day was the last day of the workshop.  I think I may have even told the Lord that I would stay and speak with Sid after the class or something like that.  The day started fine, but just before lunch Sid told us that he wasn’t feeling very well and that he was going to end the class early.  He mentioned that he had experienced angina a few years before associated with a heart attack and that he was feeling angina this morning.  He was going to head over to the emergency room to get it checked out.  I remember I volunteered to drive him, but he had already made arrangements.  I headed home and I can honestly say I was really praying for Sid now.  But I also expected that everything would be fine since he was heading straight to the hospital.

At work the next day, Ben, the assistant plant manager swung by my office to see if I was okay.  I relayed to him that I had enjoyed the class, but that I was concerned about Sid since he had headed to the hospital.  Ben realized then that I had not heard the news.  Sid had a massive heart attack at the hospital that evening and did not survive.  I realized that I had been in a position to offer Sid God’s Words of Grace the evening before he died, but I had rationalized and walked away.  I was ashamed and saddened to my core.  I had grieved the Holy Spirit and I missed an opportunity to obey the One Who gave His all for me.

Thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness extends to us even when we fail Him.  Over time His forgiveness brought restoration to my broken soul.  I knew I had sinned greatly.  I knew I directly disobeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  But the same Holy Spirit reached out to me, lifted me up out of my sorrow and self-pity, and spoke life to me again.

It was probably a little less than a year later when I was asked to supervise a large team of maintenance personnel on a multi-day paper machine outage.  I was a 30 year old engineer who had never really worked on tools like a craftsman, and yet I was supposed to direct, coach, and support the efforts of about 2o maintenance technicians performing a dozen or more jobs.  The work was going over the weekend of Palm Sunday.  The first day was Saturday and honestly, that day is pretty much lost to my memory.  I vaguely remember feeling overwhelmed more than once with the large amount of demands that I struggled to keep up with.  As I drove in to the plant on Sunday morning I remember clearly speaking out my frustrations to the Lord.  I even said, “Lord, here it is Palm Sunday and I am heading to work and I won’t be able to make it to church.  That’s just not right.  I won’t even be able to have a real time of prayer since I’ll be so busy.”

The Lord spoke to my heart, “Pray with your Team.”

“What Lord?”

“Pray with your Team.”

Rationalizations rose up in my mind… “I barely  know these guys… Am I allowed to do something like this? … What will they think?”

But then I remembered Sid.  I remembered what disobedience felt like.  And I remembered that I had committed to the Lord after ignoring the Holy Nudge with Sid, that I would obey when He clearly asked me to do something in the future, no matter how crazy it might sound.  Well His voice was crystal clear this time.  So I gave the results to Him and I obeyed.

I didn’t have much time to think about it, I just did it.  I handled the normal safety topic and explanation of jobs the same as I had the day before, but as I ended I then shared briefly that my preference on a Sunday morning was to be in church rather than working in the mill.  Also since I believed God was present with His followers everywhere, including when they had to work at the mill on a Sunday we could take the time to acknowledge Him while at work.  I then let the men know that I would like to start our work day with a word of prayer and that it was fine if anyone didn’t share my belief.  They could stay while I prayed or head on out to the job.  Noone moved.  Then we prayed.  I felt the Spirit of the Lord take it from there.  I’m not sure exactly what I prayed, but I know I was being obedient and that God was pleased.

That started a pattern that has remained a part of my life.  I have had a number of leadership roles.  Not every meeting results in a Holy Nudge to pray with the group… but a surprising number have.  The Lord led me to start and lead a number of prayer groups and bible studies during lunch periods and before work as well.  As Al was telling me his story last night, I was moved to tears.  One of the other habits I got into was using the blackboards and dry erase boards during our lunch time bible studies and prayer times.  And sometimes I would get a Holy Nudge to leave a verse behind… just in case.

You almost never know how your obedience impacts someone else’s life.  Thank you Lord for giving me a glimpse of this one.

Obey immediately when He gives you a holy nudge and rejoice in being a partner in the Father’s work.

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John, the beloved disciple, concludes his gospel with an interesting sentence.  John 21:25 says “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”  While many of us have a few noteworthy accomplishments and amusing anecdotes from our life, Jesus’ life is the life above all lives to be studied.  Although He lived for a relatively brief period, He is the central figure of history.  The book that describes His life is the all time best-seller.  It is printed in more languages than any other book.  And despite repeated attempts to blot out His story and crush His people, the church continues to grow.  As believers in Jesus we have a responsibility to become followers of Him.  In Matthew 7:21 Jesus said, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  How do we do this?  In reality this is a simple, impossible task.  We simply read the book that tells us about Jesus and God’s work in the believers, the bible, and then we do what it says.  It is impossible for us to do this perfectly in our own strength.  That is why Jesus to sent the Holy Spirit to all who would follow Him.

As a young believer I heard someone explain the difference between being intelligence and wisdom.  Intelligence is the ability to grasp and understand large amounts of information.  Wisdom is the ability to apply the information one possesses in the right manner.  I witness this in my work with plant managers and leaders in manufacturing.  The truly special leader is one who possesses a good intelligence and exercises excellent wisdom.  Many are the leaders who are intelligent, but do not walk in the most wise fashion.  In Matthew 10 Jesus gave directions to His disciples as they were being sent out on a brief training mission.  In verse 16 we read  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Jesus does not want us ignorant of His work.  He admonishes us to become as knowledgeable as practically possible, yet walk in humble innocence. 

Our church is a good example of what God can do through a group of committed believers who seek to follow Jesus every way we can.  We are a bunch of imperfect people seeking to know and serve a perfect God.  One of our Pastor’s tag lines is a simple phrase, “Read the Word.  Do what it says.”  By doing that we see people come to faith by the dozens and even hundreds.  We do not have a final count, but as of 9 am on Sunday morning we had already seen over 200 people come to faith in Jesus.  And at the 9:15 service at our campus I saw dozens more come forward and make a profession of faith.  This is a wonderful thing to see.

This is the first vital step into the abundant life Jesus calls His followers into.  Being the first step carries the certainty that there are many steps to follow, too many and too varied to be addressed in a short post.  However the Holy Spirit, who seals every believer at conversion, is able to lead and guide each believer into the life God calls them to.  The Holy Spirit knows what is needed, what is not, where we must go, what we must do.  In short, the Holy Spirit is God living in us to guide us into all that we need to know and do.  The caveat here is that the Holy Spirit is still subject to the will of the believer.  Jesus desires to work in concert with us.  Our willful obedience, not our coerced obedience, is God’s desire.

Today, I encourage you to do a few things that may be new.  First, ask the Lord to instill a fresh desire in you to know Him better.  Second, ask the Lord to show you anything inside of you that is hindering your taking your next step in faith.  Third, read the Word and ask the Lord to help you do what it says.  Fourth, listen and respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He will always lead you in accordance with the Word of God.  In fact the bible and the Holy Spirit are always perfectly in synch.

The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the bible to put down the words we read.  It is the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer who gives us the ability to read, understand, and follow what it says.  If you feel lead to do something that is contrary to the bible, then stop and seek the Lord’s clarification.  I have had the Lord prompt me to do things that I thought were odd, things that definitely took me out of my comfort zone, things that I normally wouldn’t have thought to do, but I have never had the Holy Spirit prompt me to do something that is against the scripture.  Let this be a safeguard for you.

In the post-resurrection days, the Church literally exploded into life.  People recognized that God had done the most amazing thing the world would ever know.  It remains the pivotal point in all of history.  And people were moved to live in a radically new way, following the teaching of the One who had conquered death and called them to this new life.  We have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.  Jesus calls us to Himself and then into the unique life He has equipped us for.  Immerse yourself into learning about and following the One who loved you so much He went to the cross on your behalf.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be a Spirit led blessing to others.

 

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