Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Hearing" God

If you knew today was your last day to be alive, what would you think about? What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Your answer may not be the answer to the proverbial what is the meaning of life. But it probably could become the meaning of many of our lives. 

I think I know - I would probably wish I had not missed out on some of the important times in the lives of the people closest to me. Others would say they would wish they had pursued the life God had intended for them to live. Others would consider in this critical time whether they even knew God at all. How can we live a life that is purposeful and without regret? In a small church gathering I attended recently, one man stood up and said that none of us know how many days we have left on the earth. Another man spoke up and said, “I know ..." Everyone leaned in, intent on gleaning some gem of truth from this seasoned saint. His answer was simple: "We have today.”

In 1 Cor. 2: 7-10, Paul turns us away from the foolishness of this world and toward the wisdom of God. Paul refers to “the things God has prepared for those who love Him. These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” In verse 12, he says, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” If we have God's Spirit, can we expect to hear from Him? You may think the idea of hearing God is like an auditory hallucination ("You're hearing things."), but the Spirit of God is called "the Counselor" in scripture. How can He be our Counselor if He does not speak to us? He is not “the Listener.” He does listen ... but He also still speaks. For many of us, the wisdom of this world did nothing but put us in therapy! We needed the Counselor all along. 

So we must ask if God actually wants to show us things like He showed to the people of the Bible. Dreams like Daniel? Visions like Peter? The audible voice of God like Moses? Considering Moses, we can stand by, (like the people of Israel) and allow another person (like Moses) to encounter God, or we can press in (like Joshua) and seek God as truly the only One whose opinion matters most. (More on this later.) To be clear, certain mental disorders like bipolar can coincide with auditory hallucinations. Sleep deprivation can even cause visual hallucinations. So it is very important for us to confirm with pastors, mentors or close Christian friends to help analyze (confirm, test, etc.) what we are sensing, maybe even a doctor or counselor.

Some will say that people today cannot actually be led by the Spirit. That may have happened in Bible times, but certainly not today. However Romans 8:14 says, "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God." Galatians 5:18 tells us to "walk in the Spirit." And Jesus himself taught us to follow his voice. In John 10, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, saying "my sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand." What a promise to you and me!

In whatever form it takes, how do we learn to follow God's leading, his "voice"? Just as it is with people, intimacy with God takes time. Paul set aside three years after meeting Christ to prepare before he began his public ministry. Likewise, it will usually take time to nurture and grow in our own dynamic and interactive relationship with God. Some of us would call these times of seeking God "quiet times." Consider that there are two very meaningful ingredients to a rich quiet time with God: Quiet and Time.

1) Quiet - Jesus refers to what some would call a prayer closet. That doesn’t mean there is a magically enchanted power in the spot where you keep your shoes and hang your clothes. Jesus is referring to privacy in a space where we continually meet with God. Jesus drew away from others for his own time with his Father. And in reference to the events around Moses's life, the Psalmist calls us away. “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!”  
A favorite song of mine on this subject is "Come Away" by Jesus Culture.

2) The next ingredient: Time - If we make space for God, He makes space for us. As John Piper says, “When God draws near, hurry ceases. Time slows down.” Obviously, this will run contrary to how some of us live. For me, the more electronic opportunities I have 
(especially smart phones), the more hectic and scattered my life becomes. It takes an incredible amount of restraint for me to live, with my various goals and ambitions, and yet take ... time ... out ... to rest. But it is crucial for me to rest and be satisfied within the boundaries that God is laying out me. But time is what it takes. 

Like a teabag that must soak for a while as its flavor gradually flows into the water, this simply should not be rushed. Some call this meditation. One meaning for the Greek word "meditation" is "to mutter." It is the repeating of the good words of God that eventually soak into our very being, changing us. What do we meditate on? A great place to start is with the Bible ... the living Word of God. We drink deeply and are nourished by God's Word. Some of us need to disconnect from our phones and find real life with God. If our society is a desert, God's Word is like a phone booth leading to life. This is the real lifeline.

And this helps us sort out counterfeit wisdom from this parched world. Jesus warns: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come… and will deceive many,” in Matthew 24:4-5. We need to gauge what we are feeling in the spirit with the Word of God. If what we are feeling is contrary to scripture, we are not listening to the Holy Spirit. We must also be wary of thinking every thought during a quiet time is from God. An error I hear from dear and sincere friends is what I call the open door / closed door method of decision making. They say things like, “I will just give it a try, and if the door is not open, it must not have been the will of God.” So how then do we do this? I can only speak to my experience.

Often, I will have a certain feeling or a peace as I am praying. Or I will sense God is speaking a word or a short phrase to me. But then I will need to take the time to flesh out the meaning or meanings of what God is really saying. This can take hours, weeks or sometimes months to fully embrace the extent what God is truly saying. A few things have taken me years to interpret what I felt was from the Holy Spirit. We need sober discernment for this type of spiritual leading. Timing can be the most difficult thing when it comes to undertstanding God's leading. But he will lead you, through His word and/or your spirit being led by His spirit. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). “Grant that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened to know our hope and our inheritance and the love of Christ that passes knowledge and be filled with all the fullness of God." To "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that (we) may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 1:18 and 3:19)

Moses had the people of Israel, on one hand, and Joshua, on the other. What must it have been like to know that God wanted to spend time talking personally with Moses—sharing His own intentions and feelings? These are the things Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians that no eye has seen and no ear has heard. What was it in Moses that caused God to call him? It wasn’t because Moses eagerly enlisted at God's beckon call. And it wasn’t because of his even temper. Our word ‘intimacy’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘innermost.’ So intimacy implies a high level of transparency in a relationship. Moses was real with God, brutally honest with God and passionate about the things that burned in his heart. And this is the reality God is calling us into today. Can we be intimate in this way with God, our Father?

The people of Israel were not intimate with God. They stood at the entrances to their tents, onlookers, watching in awe as Moses entered the Tent of Meeting. They saw the distant cloud of God’s presence but did not hear the intimate conversation. All they knew of God’s words were what they heard second-hand from Moses (Ps 103:7) But one detail in this story people often miss. Joshua never left the tent. What did Joshua see? What did he hear? Later Joshua encountered God, or should we say God encountered Joshua in his greatest time of need. Joshua didn't need a telephone in the desert. He had a direct line with God, his own walk with God. In Our Story in Exodus, Matt Chandler writes, “What might change in our life if we really believed… in our guts that God sees us and He hears us? What sin might we walk away from? What confidence might we gain? What if we truly believed that God keeps his promises? How might we mine the Word of God for His promises? How might we cling to them when things are dry or stormy or dark?” 

I will say it again: Don't do this alone. Seek out pastors, mentors or close Christian friends to help analyze what you are sensing. Go slow as you develop this over time in your life. Remember, "stop" and "wait" are verbs. Wait on the Lord. He loves you and has your best interests in mind.

Let's remember: We have today, and we have our own walk with God ... Let us make the most of it. Let’s live the life God is calling us to live. 

Looking for some feedback from you here. Leave a comment on our Facebook page and tell how you are led by God. I purposefully didn't give a big variety of examples here. How does the Father speak to you? http://www.facebook.com/davidswensen

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Finding Love at the Cross

In Christ's death, we see God's amazing love for us. Let's look at some awesome truths here.

In the next part of our study, Paul is picking a fight with the Corinthians, calling their arrogance "foolishness." And from their perspective, the "power of the cross" is absurd. What do you think? 


Paul says, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (emphasis mine) He is comparing two different types of "wisdom." He mocks the philosophers in Corinth who claim to be wise, saying God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish in verse 20.


I have thought many over the years times that I was wise, but I was really just being self-centered. My pastor used to joke that a man is smartest at the age of 18 and it's downhill from there. However, he added, age alone does not make us wise. A person could be 80 years-old and still be a fool. This cracked me up. But inside, I knew something was broken. I was a 30 year-old man, and I thought my way was the only way. My friend Ken described one of his teachers who was standing by himself, out in a field (read: "outstanding in his field"). This teacher had a revelation. He realized other people actually thought differently than him! It was like the heavens were opening and angelic choirs were singing. After Ken told me this story, I said something impressive like, "Huh." To me, this was new, and I needed to understand this just as much as Ken's teacher. 


But what about the blood? What's the big deal? Well, just as we know today a body cannot survive without the circulation of blood, even in those days, they believed a person or animal's "life was in the blood." So blood had great meaning to them. Even more than that, they believed it was how to come to God. The book of Hebrews says "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

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In the cross, we see:

1) God's hatred of sin. He brought the shedding of blood, the original remedy for sin, to a head when Christ was crucified. As Billy Graham wrote, "To gain a clear understanding of God’s attitude toward sin, we only have to consider the purpose of Christ’s death. The Scripture says, 'Without shedding of blood there is no remission' (of sin) (Hebrews 9:22). Here is a positive statement that there can be no forgiveness of sin unless our debt has been paid. God will not tolerate sin. He condemns it and demands payment for it. God could not remain a righteous God and compromise with sin. His holiness and His justice demand the death penalty." The meanings of Christ's sacrifice are amazing. "He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed." Isaiah 53:5 Yes, as the first half of Romans 6:23 states, "the wages of sin is death ..." But don't miss the second part: "... the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

2) Now let's turn a corner and view the cross from a different perspective. You've got to understand this. This wasn't a random occurrence, as if bad people killed Christ. No, He laid down his life. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." (1 John 3:16, emphasis mine) It is Christ's love for us that led Him to the cross.

So if He loves us, can we actually trust Him with our stuff? All of it? For me, in various seasons of life, this has been really hard. I have repeatedly not wanted to trust anyone but myself. At times, I have isolated myself and even acted on my fears, hitting the "reality ejection seat," numbing out, trying to escape. Then, when it was too late, I realized there was no parachute and I came crashing into the ground. So I've had to ask hard questions: Does God have my best interests in mind? Yes. Will I trust Him rather than my personal great wisdom? A "yes" may have been the answer in my head, but ... would my actions match my desire to trust him?

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In the best circumstances, I have seen my error and turned back to God. What about you? Remember everyone is unique. So this could be whatever way that you come to God: though the Bible, through songs (see below), through a church, other types of gatherings, through a blog or a bunch of other ways. One pastor I knew gave his heart to Jesus while he was sitting in his bathtub. As I said repeatedly before, God is after your heart.


Lastly, consider that it can actually be wise to trust in something you cannot see. This is like when you walk into a dark room and flip the light switch. You expect the light to come on, right? But you did not know this when you were a child. You had to observe others' expectations that light switches actually turn on lights. Later, you tried turning them on yourself, and it actually worked! So when it comes to trusting God, you can view others' faith and choose to believe on your own. Some seekers believe from reading the bible and seeing other's faith there. And you can take small steps or just jump right in - bathtub or no bathtub.

In the end, we trust God in response to his love for us. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Eternal life through the cross. The wholeness described above in Isaiah 53:5. This is a big plus sign on our horizons, like I tried to show in the photo above. Jesus himself said in John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." I hope you can grow in this goodness and be satisfied with God's love today.

- Dave

And here are some of my favorite songs about the cross.

In the Shadow of the Cross - "So let my soul be satisfied." 
At the Cross
You Are My King (Amazing Love) with scriptures, "If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed," and prayer for college students.

P.S. There are many more meanings behind this rich symbol we call the cross. Here are two:
1) The cross is empty. Jesus is not still there. His resurrection brings strength and an inheritance.
2) Also, He is not just gone. He gives us His Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2, we will look at wisdom that comes from God himself

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Idolatry - Where Will You Place Your Crown? - 1 Cor. 1: 12-17

Idolatry can be defined in a few ways. It can be the worship of a physical object, as if that object was a god. It can also be extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone. It is a person exalting something or someone as god in their lives. An extreme example in the bible occurred when Moses was away from the people of Israel and they started worshipping a golden calf. While the idea of bowing before a bronze statue seems unimaginable, there are idols all around us competing for our attention, our loyalty, our affection. Some are overt like money, fame, sex or power. Others sneak in, subtle - our family, a job or independence. And others can be more out of the box: a dream, a hobby ... or a bronze statue. In reality, anything that we give our hearts to, we are putting in a place of authority. And we cannot give these things preeminence. In a sense, we are giving these forces a crown that God deserves. To me, a crown represents authority, and God is to be King of all. This is easier said than done. We must deliberately and choose to put him in that place in our hearts.

In “Counseling the Hard Cases,” Dan Wickert writes, “Just as every sin is the fruit of unbelief, at the heart of every sin is an idol. If I believe a lie about God, then I am not worshipping Him; rather, I am belittling Him, casting Him from the throne of my heart. Man was designed for worship, so if I am not worshipping God, I am worshipping something or someone else.”

Looking at 1 Corinthians, Paul gets specific and asks about our God-ordained leaders. It is true, we can put those we follow on a pedestal where only God should reside. The Corinthian believers were attributing their allegiance to at least four different leaders. One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? … Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

So as we follow our Christian leaders, we need to take this to heart and not blow their roles out of proportion. It is a good thing to have Christian mentors, pastors and other types of leaders. But they are our guides, not our way. Jesus is the way. As a mentor told me recently, "we need to take the crowns off of people and put them on Christ." 

Pulling back, this can also apply to any people we have put on a pedestal in our lives. When we were young, we followed our parents until differentiation caused us to realize we were our own unique person with our unique identity. As a boy, I put my dad on a pedestal and later, leaders and even bosses. This isn't fair to them, and it can be crippling to us. So also, our parents, teachers or any leaders, for that matter, do not deserve our idolatry, whether they are living or not. 

We can even put friends in this place as well. When we do this, we are submitting our souls to them and creating unholy "soul ties." Cherishing friends is awesome; worshipping or putting their approval over God's is not. Friends can let us down. God does not. In Hebrews 13:5, the writer proclaims God's word to us - "I will never leave you or forsake you." And after we change our thinking, we must forget and return to this deception. This error reminds me of Charlie Brown returning to the football field every fall, hoping Lucy will not pull the ball out from under him again and again. 

Surrender this to God. We can look at the elders in Revelation as an illustration of this. They bowed down and cast their crowns onto the ground before Almighty God. Trust Him. He can deal with idols in at least two ways: 
  1. He can wrench them from our hands. For example, if we are clasping onto money as if wealth was our only hope in the world. In this situation, God can shatter our frozen fingers for us to truly be free. Still, his love can melt our stubborn will before it comes to this.
  2. Alternatively, He can allow us to become miserable as we live with a substitute for the good, good Father, who offers us true life, grace and peace.
We need to take the crowns off of people, off of things and put them on Christ. Today, who will you give your crown to?