What is Our Identity?

God’s supernatural power flows through our connection and closeness with Him. This sermon was recorded in Guadalajara, Mexico where we saw many lives touched by God’s love and power.

Man started out as children of God in the Garden of Eden [the garden of pleasure]. Through stepping away from God as Lord and Father man became a slave to his own independence – we became slaves to our own self focus. The rest of the bible is really little more than the story of how God acts to return to us our true identity as His sons and daughters. God’s intent is that we go directly from slaves [to self focus and sin] to sons and daughter. Unfortunately, for most of us this return is a three step process. We start as slaves to our self focus and sin which becomes our second nature, so much so that we have no power, in ourselves, to get back to our true identity.

 

Read the transcript for Mark’s message here.

How to Wait Well

Is there a biblical pattern to promises and their fulfillment in the life of a Christian? Abraham is given a promise of fathering a great nation. More than 50 years pass before he has a child. He is 100 before the promise is fulfilled. As a young man Joseph has a dream from God of ruling his family.

The next thing that happens is he is sold into slavery and ends up in prison alone and forgotten. Years go by before the promise is fulfilled.

Moses is the promised deliverer of Israel. He spends 40 years in the desert alone before his ministry starts. He is 80 when it starts.

Israel is promised a homeland. They start out to cross the desert to the promised land. It is a trip of maybe a week or two max. They spend 40 years wandering in the desert before they receive the promised land.

Jesus waits until he is 30 years old before he starts his ministry. He receives a supernatural affirmation of His father’s love at His baptism and then immediately is led into the desert for a 40 day fast ending with warfare with Satan. After Jesus is resurrected, he is with his disciples 40 days before he ascends to heaven. They have to wait 7 days for the coming of the Holy Spirit. 40 is the number in the Bible for testing and preparation and 7 is the number of perfection. They had to wait until God’s perfect fullness of time had passed before receiving the promised H.S. There is a pattern here- what is it?

Getting Real Part 2

Continuing from last post

Graph #1 represents our normal human life experience. Above the line are experiences which are pleasant, fulfilling and satisfying. What we like to call “blessings”. There are several high points we love to think about. Thinking about them brings a sense of happiness and self-acceptance. Below the line are experiences that are the opposite. Thinking about them brings a sense of pain, loss, frustration and shame. We hate to think about these and tend to avoid these memories whenever we can. There are usually one or two that are so painful we will do anything to forget about them. This would be L-1. We spend energy trying to dismiss them. In our circles we tend to attribute the stuff above the line to God and the stuff below the line to the Devil. That categorization makes it easier to dismiss the negative experiences from our consideration.

See Graphs on video https://youtu.be/PMl8CNiLAHM

Graph #2 represents how we craft our self-image. I call it the “photoshopped me”. We compose our self-image by collecting all our best memories and most successful moments and putting them on display. We tell ourselves that this is who I am. We also project this image to all those around us, after all, we want to be loved and valued so we project the best image we can – competent, lovable, likeable, smart, funny, attractive, etc. – whatever sells. What we are doing is taking a photo of ourselves and then “photoshopping” all of the scars and flaws out of the photo. We then cut out the new-improved photo of me, glue it to a popsicle stick and hold it in front of our faces. This is the person I wish I were and so this is the person I project to everyone around me. We then describe our photoshopped images relating to one another as “fellowship”.

Graph # 3 represents the missing parts from our self-image. We never include the lows because they represent failure, pain, loss, and shame. As well, they are the work of the Devil and so should never be included in our Christian image. To include these things would only be giving credit to the Devil. And why talk about unpleasant experiences anyway, just ignore those memories and dwell on being a “new creature”. After all, I should never be defined by my failures and losses – that would be a lack of faith.

 

Right away we can see the flaw in our photoshopped me – there are no flaws. Because there are no flaws, the image we are projecting is not true. If it is not true, the relationships we have as a result of that image are also not true. They must, logically, be shallow. Because they are shallow they are not satisfying. Because they are not satisfying we experience our faith as incomplete and not satisfying. Church seems to be missing something. There must be more, but what is it that is missing? How do I get this deep experience that the Bible talks about? What is wrong with this picture – literally?

 

Insert Graph #4 in POWERPOINT HERE

 

Graph #4 represents what is wrong with my picture of myself and what is wrong with my understanding of myself. Usually we all have a few very low lows that we will do almost anything to avoid thinking about. The really bad ones are intentionally buried very deep. The problem though is that they are not neutral or inactive. The worst ones wait for another low experience to connect themselves to. The result is that this present low experience now seems much worse than it really is. It feels much like L-1. And this goes on and on with every low experience until we have an undercurrent of depression, doubt, sadness, numbness and sinking self-worth. Also, relationships become harder and harder to maintain because our false, entirely positive self-image, is becoming harder and harder to maintain because it is becoming harder and harder to believe in. We have now woken up to living a lie. Or maybe we never wake up, we just keep on trying to believe that we are better than we are. We are “thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought”.

 

The solution is obvious; God knows all about our dark times. No matter how bad they were He always had a plan to “redeem” them – to bring good out of the Devils work. The amazing truth is that if we will face our dark times honestly, we will experience God’s hand of blessing through them. If we will be honest with Him about facing them, we will find His love at work through them. We can then incorporate them into our self-image and begin to experience relationships based on truth. We will experience the joy of having nothing to hide. Nothing to hide means having nothing to lose. This is genuine freedom in our friendship with God and others. It was for freedom that you were set free, so start enjoying getting real.

 

Getting Real

Today we would use the words “transparency”, “vulnerability” and “honesty” to describe deep friendship. Transparency, vulnerability, and honesty are the foundations of any true Christian friendship. Loving relationships require honesty.

Here’s a thought:  you cannot love someone you do not know!  We have a word for the feeling that happens after you think you have gotten to know someone only to find out they were faking their thoughts and feelings and reactions to you. The word is “disillusioned!”   It is both a feeling and a fact. The fact is that you were deceived, you were given an illusion of who that person was, and you found out it was false. The feeling is one of being abused, tricked and violated.

Nothing destroys a relationship faster than dishonesty. You can put up with a lot but when you no longer believe the person, the relationship is over. Even when you are hearing what you want to hear, “I am sorry” or “I love you”, if you don’t believe their words it is worse than not hearing them at all.  Think about it; in the world of relationships a pleasant lie is more destructive than an unpleasant truth.

Dishonestly is not merely dangerous to a relationship, it is its opposite.

A good application question to ask ourselves at this point is; what stands in the way of deep honest friendships? Here is one answer from the book of Romans which we just finished studying:

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3

Most of the time when we read this verse we take it as a warning against pride, and it is. To think of ourselves more highly than we should is usually an indication of pride. BUT NOT ALWAYS. Sometimes we engage in self-deception when we think of ourselves. We often do this out of a desire to be loved and lovable. Paul counsels us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment”. What this term means is that we should use reason to arrive at a very realistic understanding of ourselves – a true and balanced understanding. Is this the way we usually see ourselves? I think not. Let me illustrate how we usually arrive at our self-understanding.

Check back in a few days for the rest of the sermon

Facing my Brokenness

Romans 12:3 “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Most of the time this verse is offered as a warning against the sin of pride, and so it should be, but it has more to say to us than that.

The first thing to note is that Paul is not giving us advice he is giving us a command – two commands actually. The first is a negative command; not to think of ourselves more highly than we should. Paul words this as a command rather than as advice because it is a human tendency to avoid addressing our shortcomings. Our default position is self-protection and defensiveness.

Think of the times you have had to bring correction to a close friend. How many times has their reaction been to say, “thank you so much, I really needed to hear that!” Not often. Usually we are met with some sort of excuse, deflection or counter attack. And we all do the same thing automatically when we are confronted with our weakness.

The second command is a positive command; think of yourself with sober judgement. It is the solution to the usual failure to be honest with ourselves. So far so good, but my question is; “honest with myself about what?”

The easy answer is “my sin”. But, sin is not the only problem we choose not to be honest about.

The fact is, sin is not our only problem.

There are many aspects of my personality that I do not want to think about. Many failures that I would just as soon forget. Many fears that only come in the night and leave me sleepless and anxious. Many doubts I hate to say out loud. Could it be that when Paul tells us to think of ourselves with sober judgement he might be including all these things we hate to confront?

By interpreting this verse as nothing more than an admonition against pride we can avoid the hidden aspects of our personality and history, that sabotage our peace and wellbeing. I doubt this is what God had in mind for this verse.

Check back in on Monday for the conclusion of this discussion and hopefully a video of Mark explaining it as well.

 

What is “hearing God’s voice” anyway?”

No-JargonOne of the biggest problems we religious folk have is our jargon.

Sometimes I wonder if we have any idea what we are talking about. Has it ever occurred to you that our speech might be incomprehensible to our average non-religious neighbor or co-worker?

Probably not. I say “probably not” because much of the time our highly specialized religious jargon is not even comprehensible to other Christians outside of our particular [and sometimes peculiar] Christian sub-subculture.

Take the phrase “God told me” as an example.

I use that expression allot, and I hear it allot in my circles. So much so that the scandalous nature of the phrase has lost its scandalousity …. Is that a word?

Seriously, what do I mean when I say, “God told me…”?

How did He tell me?

And how do I know it was Him speaking?

And was He really speaking? Out loud?

And how often does this other-worldly phenomena happen? Is it the rule or the exception?

So many questions, so few brain cells…

Jesus promised us that His sheep would hear His voice. This suggests that He is speaking but the questions remain, how is He speaking and how do I know it is His voice? Let me try to explain His voice as I have experienced it.

First, let me say that my experience of God’s voice has never been audible. To the best of my recollection, I have never heard the audible voice of God. I have talked to a few credible people who have told me of the experience of hearing the voice of God as a sound in their ears but, all of them agree that this was a very rare occurrence in their relationship with God.

Perhaps a better question is, “How does God communicate with us apart from the Bible?”

I say, apart from the Bible because the Bible is the principle way that God communicates His truths to us. It must always remain our primary source for understanding God’s messages to His children. But, there are many questions that the Bible cannot answer, e.g. which job to take, which house to buy, which city to live in, and most importantly, which person to marry. Many of the questions that keep us awake at night cannot be answered by studying the Bible.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God could simply drop His thoughts directly into our minds? Imagine having a troubling question about something really important and being able to ask God for the answer, then to have His answer come to your mind as a random thought. Wouldn’t that be a comfort! Some say that this is impossible. They argue that God stopped doing that when He finished writing the Bible. The idea is that once we have a book of His thoughts we no longer have any need to hear from Him directly.

Can you imagine a marriage working that way?

She says, “tell me again right now that you love me and are happy you married me!”

He says, “I wrote that in a card 10 months ago for our anniversary, I’m not going to say it again!”

They say the secret to a great marriage is communication, how much more a great relationship with our Father God?

What I find ironic is that the same people who tell me God will not drop one of His thoughts into my mind tell me that Satan routinely drops his thoughts into my mind – many times each day! And we call that phenomena “temptation”. If I am to believe them, I must conclude that Satan has direct access to my mind, but God chooses not to. Why would a good Father allow that to happen? I just can’t see Him doing that. I believe He speaks to us far more often that we realize.

The problem we have is not His lack of communication, but rather our difficulty in recognizing how He communicates to us.

One of our biggest hurdles to overcome in recognizing His communications is overcoming our cultural communication bias. Our culture of communication is big, loud, aggressive, pushy, and manipulative [think advertising]. God’s culture of communication is the opposite of all of these… a still, small voice. We are listening for a message coming with special effects and He is whispering. We expect a message that cannot be ignored, and He is speaking with a voice so subtle that should we be of a mind not to hear Him, we won’t.

When God drops a thought into our mind it usually sounds like one of ours – easy to dismiss. “What an unusual thought… I wonder why I just thought that? Oh well, it can’t be important…” And on we go, missing His momentary guidance.

The truth is that if we are going to recognize His direct communication we are going to have to pay much more attention to our thought lives.

How to do that and what to pay attention to will be the subject of my next blog post.

 

Surviving Suffering

surviving suffering

Satan is most effective in drawing us away from God when we are either being extremely blessed or experiencing real suffering. Each condition is vulnerable to a particular lie. Satan is the “father of lies”. Lying is not just in His nature, it is how he goes about separating us from our Father. Today we will look at the lies we are tempted to believe when we suffer.

Suffering always brings difficult questions and a terrible temptation. The question it brings is; “where was God when this happened and why didn’t He do something to stop it?” The temptation it brings is to cease believing one of these two truths:

1] that God is all loving &

2] that God is all powerful.

Any time we experience suffering we are left thinking either God is all loving but not very powerful, or He is all powerful but not very loving. We reason; if He were both this terrible thing would not have happened.

In answer to our reasoning the Bible tells us that God is both all-powerful and all loving.

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard:  that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.”  Psalm 62:11-12

This passage is telling us that God is perfectly unified in His love and strength, but we usually experience Him as two separate things. At any given moment we are usually experiencing Him as either one or the other. The experience of suffering causes us to doubt one or the other and doubting either truth will drive a wedge between us and God.

Satan does not care which attribute you choose to doubt because doubting either will accomplish his purpose of distorting your image of God and thereby damaging your relationship with Him.

What is the answer to this dilemma? We see the answer most clearly in the story of Job. Satan comes to God and says, “the only reason people worship you is because you bless them.” What Satan is really saying is, “God you are not worth loving just for who you are. The only reason anyone would marry you is for your money.”

All of the angels hear this allegation and 1/3rd of them have already rebelled against God. Much is at stake, so God allows what is completely unjust – the suffering of an innocent and righteous man. Job suffers unimaginably, and he is tempted by his own wife and friends to either believe that God is not just or that he has sinned – and he knows neither of these is true. The problem is, he has no answer to the question, “why is this happening to me?”

This is the same question we usually ask when we are suffering.

What was Job’s answer?

What is our answer?

Read our next blog for the answer…

What if I can’t hear God’s Voice like I used to?

There are a few reasons for the condition of not hearing God’s voice like you used to. The first is very easy to fix.

It may be that you have stopped listening in order to obey. Many of us, at times, only listen  to hear what we want Him to say. It we do this habitually He will attempt to correct our self centered attitude for a while and then, if we don’t listen to His correction, He will stop bothering us with His thoughts. He does not stop loving us but He will wait until we truly want to hear and obey whatever He says. The issue for us is one of motivation. Why do you want to hear Him? Just for your comfort or also for your growth in commitment and holiness? The quick solution once you have discerned a self centered motive, in your relationship with Him, is to repent.

The second reason why you may not be hearing Him like you used to is that you are slowly acquiring His mind. As a young Christian there is a very great difference between your un-sanctified thoughts and His thoughts, as they arise in your mind. The difference is startling because,at this point, you are not very transformed in your mind. Another way of saying this is that you have not yet acquired much of the mind of Christ. The transformation of your thinking, from mostly your thoughts to mostly His thoughts, takes time spent listening to Him, both in reading His word and in conversing with Him in prayer.

As you spend time with Him you acquire more and more of His mind, that is to say, you are being influenced by His thoughts; His viewpoint, agenda, desires, understanding, etc. What is really happening is that His mind and your mind are becoming intertwined. His thoughts are becoming mixed up with your thoughts and His thoughts are superior to your thoughts. He is influencing your thinking which means that thinking like He does and reaching His conclusions is becoming second nature to you. Interestingly, most of the time it is not a process that you are particularly aware of. Over time the result is that much of the time you are thinking His thoughts and attributing them to your own mind. It seems like He is not speaking as much. The truth is that He is actually “speaking” more.

There is a third reason and it is that God wants more than just your obedience to His commands. He wants to be pursued. He wants you to learn to wait for Him to speak. He wants what every lover wants – He wants to be sought after. At times He will wait to speak until you pursue Him. This desire to be pursued is not coming from a selfish or insecure motive on His part. His desire is to love you into His likeness in order to make your joy complete. The only way this can be done is through intimacy with Him. In order to increase His intimacy with you He may need to increase your hunger for Him. Remaining silent is one of the ways He does this. Silence and stillness intensify your desire for Him.

Are You People Angels?

What happens when you come back to your home church and tell them about the field trip to the mall?

They want to do it too!

So, ditto the whole experience. I teach for a weekend and then the next weekend we go to the Food Court at one of our local malls. It was about three weeks before Christmas and the malls were busy. We needed some kind of helpful introduction to shoppers. This is what came to me, “If you could have anything you wanted for Christmas from God other than the usual presents and gifts, what would it be?”

A few people blew us off, but most of them thought about the question and answered with surprising vulnerability. One woman told me that she had been estranged from her adult daughter for years and longed to spend a Christmas with her. An older man told me that his health was bad and he didn’t have enough energy to be with his extended family. Others told of problems at work and with family relationships.

In each case we had an opportunity to pray for them. All those who answered the question were open to receiving prayer as well. We spent the better part of a day praying for people.

I wonder if any of you readers are thinking, “Nice introduction to praying for people, but what does this have to do with prophecy and the supernatural?” Good question. Let me answer that question by saying something about prayer.

Much of the time prayer is little more than us asking God to give us what we want. This is fine as far as it goes, but the Bible tells us that Jesus is before the Father in heaven right now praying for us and for the lost. [Hebrews 7:24–25] I take this to mean that whenever I go to pray for someone, Jesus is already praying for them. If this is true, then I have a choice between praying my prayer for this person based upon my assessment of their needs or waiting and listening to the “voice” of God to tell me what Jesus is praying for him.

Whose prayer has the best chance of being answered?

I approach every prayer this way; ask them what they need and then wait on the Holy Spirit with the expectation that He will tell me how to pray His prayer for them. In other words, prayer can be an opportunity to use a revelatory gift to direct our prayers. And these prayers tend to be more powerful prayers than those that come from our own minds. So, this is what we do. We listen to the need and then we quiet ourselves and wait for God to communicate His heart and mind for the person.

My prayer partner and I were taking a break from praying for strangers, so we sat down and had a coke. A past church member came by and sat beside us, asking us what we were doing at the mall. I began to explain how we were praying and prophesying over strangers. While I was explaining all this, two women were sitting to my left. I noticed that they were listening closely to everything I was saying. I turned to them and asked if they would like prayer. They said yes!

It turned out one of them had just lost her job and would be out of her apartment in three days. Out on the street with nowhere to live two weeks before Christmas! I told them that we would pray for them, but that it was our custom to be still for a few minutes to listen to God to see how He wanted us to pray. I did this and this is what came out; “You have been terribly abused by men. All the men in your life have abused you. What is amazing is that you have never gotten bitter or hateful in all the pain and injustice. Jesus wants to be a spiritual husband to you for a period of time, while your pain heals. He does not want any more men in your life until He has healed your broken heart. When your heart is healed and you can trust again, He will bring the right man into your life.”

Needless to say, she wept through the whole prayer. Her friend kept saying,

“How could you know her so well? This is incredible!” Then we prayed for her friend and I told her how God saw her. I told her of her character strengths and what God wanted to make of her life. When we were done they were radiant with joy. With complete sincerity they asked, “Are you angels?”

It was a hard question to answer because at that moment we were doing the usual work of angels – bringing messages of great joy and encouragement from God.

The next day I was scheduled to man our “free prayer” table in the Mall.

We set up the table right in the middle of the main walkway in the mall. We wanted to make sure that everyone who passed saw our sign. I tried to look harmless and loving. My partner for the day was a guy from church whose wife thought it would be good for him to go out and experience a few supernatural spiritual gifts. He was a willing neophyte.

To be honest there were not many who took us up on the free prayer offer… until… a middle-aged couple were walking toward our table. I saw that they saw our sign and they saw that I saw that they saw me seeing them seeing our sign. [I love that sentence]. I could see them hesitate and look at each other. They were both waiting for a buy in from the other. I decided to do a little selling so I said, “Hey, what have you got to lose? It can’t hurt.” So, they came over and sat down. I said, “What would you like prayer for? They said, “We have found our dream house and we really want to buy it, but we haven’t been able to sell our present house first and it has to sell or we lose our dream house.”

What an easy thing to pray for! So, I gave them the spiel about not wanting to pray our prayer for them, but God’s prayers for them – so we need to wait a minute or two. They were fine with that. Nothing came, so I just prayed for their house to sell. In the middle of this prayer a thought came to me; “His ex-wife has been cursing and slandering him.” I had no idea if he had an ex-wife, but I decided to risk it and just give what I was getting.

I told him his ex-wife had been slandering him to his family and at his church and that as a result he was beginning to believe that he could not be a good husband to his new wife [the woman sitting beside him]. As I was speaking his head was nodding “yes” and his wife was crying and saying, “Yes! Yes!” Then I told him that as a result of this cursing and slander he has begun to believe that he doesn’t deserve his new wife and that maybe she is not God’s will for him, and that these thoughts are undermining his new marriage.

At this point they both came apart – they just wept. I went on to tell them that God says, he is a good man and that with God’s help, he is going to make a great husband and have a successful marriage – that they are God’s gift to each other. We rebuked the lies that were trying to destroy his marriage and his intimacy with God.

My partner saw a mental picture of a train half way across a very high railroad bridge between two cliffs. The interpretation came to me – they are in a time of change and transition between the past [the bad marriage] and the future [the new marriage] and that a new stability is coming.

When we were done praying and prophesying over them they were thrilled! This is what they said,

“We live way south of here [about 30 miles] and have never been to this mall before. When we decided to drive all this way to this mall, we didn’t know why we wanted to come here. It made no sense to us, but we just wanted to come here. Now we know why we felt we needed to come here. Everything you said to us is absolutely true! You have no idea what your words mean to us!”

Free prayer indeed!

A Waitress Encounters the Supernatural

A few days after the field trip to the mall, mentioned in a blog last week, my pastor friend and I were driving to San Antonio for more meetings. On the way, we stopped at a sports bar for lunch. After we ordered, my friend asked me if I got anything from God for our waitress. I said no, did you? He said he had a thought come into his mind that maybe she has trouble trusting men. I suggested we find out. When she came back with the food I said, “I know this sounds kind of crazy, but my friend here thinks God told him something about you. Would you mind if we ran it by you to see if he really did hear God?” She said sure. Bill said, “I think God told me that you have a serious problem trusting men.” She said, “Absolutely!”

At that moment, a thought came to me and I spoke it to her.

I said, “Right now you are living with a guy, but you are not married. He is very kind to you and he really loves your daughter. You think he may be the one for you and your daughter, but because of the abuse you have received from men you can’t trust him, but you want to.” She said, “Exactly!” I continued, “There is one man who will never abuse or misuse you. He is the perfectly safe man for you. If you get to know him, you will get over your trust issues and be able to trust a man again. His name is Jesus.”

On hearing this she said, “This is amazing!

There is this girl who works here who is always giving me these little books about Jesus! She says I have to get to know him! This is amazing!” I went into counselor mode. I said, “You need to spend more time with this girl and you need to read those little books and you need to get a good Bible that is easy to read.” She said she would.

Here is another example of natural and supernatural gifts working together to bring someone to Jesus.

Her need has created an opening.

Her co-worker has begun teaching her about Jesus. The prophetic words we brought to her brings experiential credibility to the words already spoken by her co-worker. Not only that, but now she has evidence that there is a God who cares enough about her life to send total strangers to tell her about her fears and her need to know Jesus. Wonderful!

Questions for Discussion: Let’s talk about this…

  1. I tear up when I read this. How does this story affect you? What is significant about it for you?
  2. This story illustrates both “natural” evangelism and “supernatural” evangelism. Which are you more comfortable with? Why?
  3. Most of us are more comfortable with “natural” evangelism, yet Jesus and the early church used supernatural evangelism most of the time. What would it take for you to start using supernatural evangelism more often?