Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Part 2c: That Can’t be God!
A number of years ago, when I was pastoring a church in Irving, TX, I saw a report on the news about a church in Houston that had received a package in the mail with no return address; and when the secretary opened it, the package blew up and injured her severely. A few days later, a large thick manila envelope came to our church, addressed to me, but with no return address. Well, great man of faith that I was, I immediately presumed that it was probably a bomb! After several hours of debating with myself over whether or not I should open it, if I should call the police, or if I should just throw it away, I finally decided to call a friend and get his opinion. He quickly calmed my fears and deflated my ego when he simply said that neither I nor the church was significant enough for anyone to want to send me a bomb! So I went ahead and opened the package (still a bit cautiously, I must confess), and what I found was a study workbook that I had ordered a few weeks earlier and that I was really looking forward to reading! I was quite relieved and very thankful for two things: 1) that I had not called the bomb squad, and 2) that I did not allow my fear of the “unknown” to cause me to miss out on receiving something that I wanted very much!

How many times have we shied away from God’s presence because of some freaky-looking manifestations that we witnessed in others, or because of horror stories we heard others tell, or because we allowed our imaginations to torment us with strange things that might happen to us in His presence? How many times have we looked at something that we did not understand and said, “That can’t be God!” and turned our backs, not only on what we saw, but also on Him? How many times have we missed out on something really good that God had planned for us to experience in His presence because we were afraid of the “unknown?”

Now, please don’t get me wrong! I am not in any way suggesting that everything that has been passed off as “from God” really is something that He did! But what I am saying is that we should not just automatically rule something out because it doesn’t fit into our understanding of what God does or what He is like. Many people in the Bible experienced things in God’s presence that were definitely outside of their paradigms! Think about what Moses must have thought when his rod turned into a snake; or what Aaron thought when he saw Miriam instantly covered with leprosy; or Jonah when he was swallowed by the huge fish; or the disciples when Jesus cursed the fig tree for not having figs, and it wasn’t even the season for figs; or what the early church thought when Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead; or Saul when the Lord knocked him to the ground and struck him blind! All of these people experienced something in God’s presence that was outside their paradigms; and besides that, there was no “scriptural precedent” for any of it! Someone may respond, “But back then God was establishing scriptural precedents that He no longer moves outside of!” If by that statement you mean that He does nothing now that He has not already done somewhere in Scripture, then you are trying to force Him to fit inside your box! The true scriptural precedent that He was setting for us to understand is that He is totally unpredictable and that He will NOT be made to fit into anyone’s box! If He never moved outside our paradigms --- in other words, if we could keep Him in a box and make Him predictable --- then He would not be God!

O.K., I know that some of you are thinking about some very specific things that you have witnessed or heard about that you would NEVER want happening to you! Tell me, do you believe (as I do) that God always has a purpose in everything that He does? If so, then it stands to reason that you would also believe that everything He sends your way is for your good, right? Then, whatever He causes to happen to you is because you need it! Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about. One time when my wife was enjoying His presence, she began to laugh uncontrollably. This went on for about 45 minutes, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop laughing! Afterwards, she felt a bit embarrassed by it and could not understand why God had done that to her. But a couple of weeks later she suddenly realized that the ever-present feelings of condemnation that she had suffered with for years were gone! God had removed them from her while she was on the floor laughing! For me, during that season when we were enjoying what we called “the river” of His presence, I would nearly always experience what appeared to be drunkenness in that I would weave and wobble when trying to walk or even while sitting in my chair. It was really embarrassing, but I realized later that God was dealing with an area of pride in my life --- I was always wanting to “look good” in front of others. I needed that experience! Whatever God has waiting for us in His presence is something we need!

But isn’t it possible to get deceived and experience something that is not from God? Yes, it is possible; I have seen it happen, and you probably have, too. But the way I understand it, that only seems to happen when we seek after some kind of EXPERIENCE or when we pursue MANIFESTATIONS instead of simply desiring to be in His PRESENCE! Things DO happen in His presence, but if we put the emphasis on those things instead of on Him, we make ourselves more vulnerable to deception! What I try to stand on is what Jesus said in Luke 11:11-13, "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" There are two very important things to see here: 1) God will NEVER give us a counterfeit of anything good that we are asking for, and 2) what we should be asking for is more of the Holy Spirit in our lives instead of experiences and manifestations! It is through His Holy Spirit that we experience His presence, and in His presence we will experience only what He has planned for us!

Does that mean that we will always ENJOY everything we experience in His presence? No. Sometimes His presence produces conviction, Godly sorrow, and repentance. Or sometimes He wants to use some kind of experience to deal with something in our lives (like my pride). It may not always be a “fun” time, but it always bears some really good fruit! We need whatever it is that He has for us in His presence. And, yes, whenever we seek to come into His presence, we are facing the possibility of encountering something we have not experienced before, but let us not allow fear of the unknown to keep us away from that which He desires for us there!

I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it in The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the children are first hearing about Aslan from the Beavers:

But shall we see him?” asked Susan.
“Why, Daughter of Eve, that’s what I brought you here for. I’m to lead you where you shall meet him,” said Mr. Beaver.
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “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.”

No, His presence is not a “safe” place for the areas of our lives that need to change, but it is definitely a GOOD place!

Next, Part 3: Can God Use THAT?!?

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Part 2b: I Shall Not be Moved!

     I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
     I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
    Just like a tree that's planted by the waters,
    Lord, I shall not be moved.

Please forgive me for taking this out of context, because the verses to this song speak of a steadfast commitment to Jesus and His Word. However, the chorus, taken by itself, makes me think about a lot of Christians I have known who have exchanged a steadfast commitment for a stubborn resistance! If you are a leader, and you want to see just how “Christian” your followers really are, suggest some kind of major change. Before long, you will hear a lot of “I shall not be, I shall not be moved” being sung by many (if not most) of them! Now, obviously, the younger the group you lead and the shorter the time that they have been together, the more flexible they will tend to be with change; but even with that group you will at the very least encounter some reluctance on the part of some. Why? Because people tend to resist change; and the more so the longer things have been a certain way before change is proposed!

People resist change for one or both of two basic reasons …

1.) Change rocks their boat!

2.) Change is going to cost them something!

1.) Change DOES rock the boat! It forces us out of some or all of our comfort zones, and we like being comfortable, so we tend to resist change! We like our food a certain way, we like our home a certain way, we like our schedule a certain way, we like our relationships a certain way, and on and on. Why? Because we get used to it that way, and it becomes our place of refuge and security … we feel “safe” there! And what really amazes me is that we can get that way about things that, in reality, are not all that great in themselves or that are possibly even downright bad! I mean, I can understand struggling a bit with leaving a nice home and a great job to spend your life on the mission field in some foreign country where you will feel completely out of your element, but struggling with making a two-week mission trip to Mexico because you don’t want to miss “Survivor,” … I mean, come on now! O.K., I know I’m stepping on some toes here (mine included), but let me ask this question: How many times have we missed out on what God wanted for us because we were unwilling to let go of something we’re “comfortable” with in order take on something different?

2.) Change ALWAYS costs something! Getting married means that you now share your space with someone else. Moving to a new town means finding a new church, new friends, a new school for your kids, and so on. Your kids growing up and moving out means an empty nest. A new direction for your church may mean a new style of worship. Revival means that you may have to accept people into your church who are different! A new pastor for your church means adapting to a new style of leadership. A deeper relationship with the Lord means giving Him more control of your life and letting go of that “pet” sin that you thought He really didn’t care that much about. Sometimes the prospective change is attractive enough that we are willing to pay the price without much hesitation, but quite often we count the cost and say, “No! I shall not be moved!” And, once again, we miss God.

So, what does all this have to do with avoiding God’s presence? Well, deep down we instinctively know that His presence seeks to produce changes in us, with us, for us, through us, or to us; and since we tend to be uncomfortable with change to begin with, then we’re not at all confident that we’re going to like the changes or be willing to pay the price that they will require … so, we avoid His presence! And what we are REALLY saying by avoiding His presence (because of our resistance to change) is that we do not yet fully trust Him to be the Lord of our lives! We still doggedly hold on to the idea that WE know what’s best for us! What foolish arrogance! Why do we have such a hard time believing that the One who created the universe and created us individually just the way He did, does not also know what we’re best suited for and what is best for our lives? If we could simply embrace the truth of Jer.29:11, then we would hunger after the changes that His presence brings and actively seek after Him!

'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jer.29:11, NAS)

Next, Part 2c: That Can’t be God!

Monday, April 12, 2010


Part 2a: Just as I Am …

Just as I am, without one plea,
     but that thy blood was shed for me,
     and that thou bidst me come to thee,
     O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Whenever I think back upon the times over the years when I watched the Billy Graham crusades on TV, the one thing that ALWAYS comes to mind is the singing of “Just as I Am” during the invitation and seeing hundreds of people come forward to give their lives to Jesus! There was something about the message conveyed in the preaching and in this song that caused people to believe that they REALLY COULD come “just as they were,” and that they would find acceptance and forgiveness in the presence of the Lord. And that’s exactly what they found! And they discovered that being in His presence was a good thing! In reality, all of us experienced that same open-armed acceptance when we gave our hearts to the Lord … and we discovered that His presence was good!

So, what changed? What causes us, at times, to believe that instead of finding love, acceptance, and forgiveness in His presence, we will encounter judgment, rejection, and punishment? It’s usually because we have become convinced that, in His presence, all those areas of sin and weakness that we still struggle with will be exposed, and He will then find ample reason to judge, reject, and punish us; so we avoid His presence because we cannot stand the thought of being rejected by Him!

This is nothing less than the great deception of condemnation! Deception takes a little bit of truth (we really DO still struggle with some things), then adds a lot of lies to that truth. This is where condemnation comes in. Condemnation points the finger at US and convinces us to believe lies such as these: that God couldn’t POSSIBLY love us because we CONTINUALLY blow it; that we will ALWAYS let Him down; that we will NEVER fully overcome the things we struggle with; that we will NEVER amount to anything useful to God; that we might as well GIVE UP; and on and on ad nauseum! Romans 8:1 tells us the truth about all this --- that there is no longer any condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus! So, then, let us reject those thoughts and feelings of condemnation and come into His presence, not by way of any special merit that we have to earn somehow, but by the blood of Jesus that made it possible in the first place!

But, you may ask, isn’t there something about His presence that DOES reveal our sins and failures? Yes. Why else would Isaiah say, when he found himself in the Lord’s presence, "’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’" (Isa.6:5)? However, what we MUST understand is that God does not expose our sin in order to condemn us; He exposes our sin in order to reveal His grace to us! The next two verses of Isaiah 6 give us the rest of the story: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’" What happens in His presence is that He exposes our sin in order to set us free from it!

This amazing love that drew us to Him in the first place is the same amazing love that keeps on inviting us into His presence over and over again, even now! Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (NIV). Let us not AVOID His presence because we still struggle with things, let us SEEK His presence because we still struggle with things!

Just as I am, without one plea,
     but that thy blood was shed for me,
     and that thou bidst me come to thee,
     O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Next, Part 2b: I Shall Not be, I Shall Not be Moved!

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Personal Note:  Sorry it's been so long since I last posted!  Our life-direction has been drastically altered over the past 6 weeks, so I have been a little distracted.  We're not sure what God has in store for us next, but we're confident that it will be in line with Jer.29:11 (NAS)!  I will try to be a little more consistent in my postings now.  Thanks!

Part 2: My Little Runaway, Run, Run, Run, Run, Runaway!

Over the years I’ve always thought that Jonah was running from the assignment that God had for him because he knew how fierce the people of Nineveh were, and he feared for his life. However, that’s not what it says in Jonah 1. In verse 3 it says that He was fleeing from the presence of the Lord (NAS). Then in verse 10 Jonah confirms that he was doing that very thing! While it is obvious in chapter 4 that the assignment was PART of the reason he ran, the MAIN thing that he was trying to get away from was God’s PRESENCE!

Now, before we start criticizing Jonah too severely, let’s take an honest look at ourselves. Most of us have probably, at one time or another (some of us more often than others), found ourselves trying to “avoid” any really close contact with God. Not that we don’t want Him in our lives, we just want to keep Him “at arm’s length” for awhile. Why do we do that? Because sometimes His presence makes us uncomfortable; perhaps even a bit fearful!

Well, that puts us in the same category as most of the people in the Bible who suddenly found themselves in His presence or the presence of one of His angels. Why would the angels say, “Fear not,” unless the people they appeared to were manifesting fear or discomfort in some way? It is a very common, normal human reaction to feel some degree of fear (at least some of the time) when we find ourselves in the manifested presence of God, especially when He shows up unexpectedly or presents Himself to us in a new way.

Then WHY does the prospect of being in His presence make us uncomfortable or fearful at times? Usually, it’s because of one of the following reasons:

• Fear of exposure and rejection

• Resistance to change

• Fear of the unknown

I will deal with each of these in the following posts.

Next, Part 2a: Just As I Am