Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hearing God’s voice

I'm thanking you, God, from a full heart, I'm writing the book on your wonders. I'm whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I'm singing your song, High God. Psalm 9:1-2 MSG

In 2004 and 2005, I was so blessed to write and edit the devotional book, We Shall Be Changed. It will be published in hard cover by Review & Herald Publishing Company in 2010. So grateful to God!

Although I wrote more than 90 of the 365 daily essays, this book is an anthology of many authors’ spiritual insights. Planning the content and theme, developing the author guidelines, finding the cover art, pushing the authors to meet deadlines, tweaking (often rewriting) their essays—it was a challenge, but a positive one.

Then, when it was accepted by R&H in 2009, I worked hard on the manuscript again, reformatting, finding 365 new Bible texts in the best version to illustrate the articles, fine-tuning articles again, replacing weaker articles with strong new ones, and much more. I’m so grateful for the contributions of talent and time by all of the 50 or so We Shall Be Changed authors.

But the best and biggest blessing was unexpected. Many in my denomination are fairly inhibited about showing emotion in religion. Raising hands in worship or prayer, clapping, even saying “Amen” louder than a murmur—usually frowned upon. If I claimed to have heard God speak, well, break out the restraints and haul me away, boys!

There have been times when the Lord spoke to my mind or made a Bible text almost jump off the page. But this book experience has been different. I’ve found God everywhere since I started this book. When I’m walking the dog, cuddling the cat, driving, listening to a song, pruning the garden, watching a secular show on TV—I’m in a mindset where I see lessons from the Lord. God speaks to me in His whisper, His still, small voice.

This is a fulfillment of the promise of the New Covenant, that God Himself would personally speak to our hearts and minds. Some people call it conscience. Others know by experience that there are supernatural messages from God that cannot be explained or understood in the same way by any other person. Some messages were just for me. The Bible verse I read meant one thing to the original audience, and another thing to me when God directed my mind to its meaning for my life. An instant messaging session or phone call becomes a way for God to speak to a hurting person through me.

The miracle is: I hear Him! And it’s my heartfelt prayer that you will hear His voice speaking to you when you’re exercising, lying wakeful in bed, waiting for your plane, or doing dishes, but especially while reading these blog articles—and the book when it’s released. The Lord is there, speaking all the time.

I wonder if God speaks to everyone in a continuous stream, and only rarely do we perceive a word or phrase as being from Him.

This GOD says: “I am GOD, the one and only. I don’t just talk to myself or mumble under my breath. … I work out in the open, saying what’s right, setting things right… I promise in my own name: Every word out of my mouth does what it says. I never take back what I say.” Isaiah 45:18-23 MSG

Thanks be to God for His words to us, whether written, painted in nature, or exhibited in the actions of those around us. Open your eyes and ears—He’s got words for you!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sweeping waves? Surging tides? Bring it on!

(Originally posted elsewhere, November 2008)

The United States has elected new leaders at the national, state, and local levels. Some propositions, notably the ones connected with morality, have made history. The joy and optimism of the majority of voters is matched by millions of people who are deeply unhappy at the election results, and look at the next several years with fear and depression.

And speaking of apprehension… This turnover occurs during a severe, worldwide financial crisis. Financial planners forecast a recession that may not improve for two to four years. The news outlets broadcast a flood of business closures and bankruptcies. Many people have lost their jobs, homes, and retirement investments even though they were carefully managing their assets and resources. Those with savings are prudently holding back on frivolous spending.

While researching this article, I received a “robo-call” that began (before I hung up): “Don’t be alarmed, but this is your last chance to receive a lower interest rate.”

A few days ago, millions celebrated Halloween or Day of the Dead (October 31 and November 1) with not only candy and costumes, but a keen interest in death, monsters, demons, vampires, and rivers of fake blood. What seems incomprehensible is why people live in a state of fear, and then spend money on books and films to frighten them further.

And there are the rumors and conspiracy theories that in case of a security issue or large-scale chaos, we’ll be rounded up, stripped of human and civil rights, and society reduced to a police state. Actually, such fear is not new: remember when Baby Boomers were taught that “duck and cover” under steel and Formica school desks could protect us from nuclear blast?

What we need is a shot of courage. Strength of character that comes from faith that God is in control. Remembrance that the God who calms the cyclone also calms the storms in our microcosms of the world and in our hearts.

Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you…I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. Psalm 42:7-8 NLT.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by impending disaster, and sense the repeated waves of a tsunami threatening your safety and peace, remember that the Lord “pours his unfailing love” on us. The psalmist is not talking about our perception of coming disaster, but (oh, this is good!) God’s life-giving love surging and sweeping over us, and that is occasion for singing and praying! If there’s anything we need, surely it’s the Lord’s infinite, redeeming love carrying us on the crest of the wave.

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! Psalm 42:11 NLT.

One of the memory verses burned into our minds is “perfect love casts out all fear.” This text, in context, bridges the centuries since John the Beloved wrote it, and speaks to us just as freshly today: And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect [complete/mature]. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:17-19 NLT.

Again, we are reminded that God loves us. Jesus meets fear and vanquishes it with love. God has graciously given us adoption as His beloved children (by creation) and heirs (by adoption and the death of Jesus). Out of the beautiful passage in Romans 8:14-19 is this jewel: You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.

There’s a belief that the Bible contains 365 occurrences of “do not fear,” one for each day of the year. A concordance search will show that it’s not a true count. It’s actually an underestimation. The Bible is packed with literally thousands of phrases like “fear not,” to “be of good courage,” to “be still” or at peace, that the Lord calls us by pet names, that He is our Shepherd and we lack nothing, that we are loved and protected, that He rescues and saves us, that there is now no condemnation, and that He’s coming soon.

There is a wonderful piece of advice that the mature, experienced Paul gave to young and inexperienced Timothy, who would be ministering during turbulent and extremely dangerous times. He wrote, I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. 1 Timothy 2:1-6 NLT.

That is the roadmap for times like these. This is the right time for the message. The milestones are prayer, helping, interceding, giving thanks, and bringing people back to fulfilling relationship with each other and with God. The destination is reconciliation. And remember, although we walk through hard times hand in hand with God, the end-time tribulation is not for us – we are sheltered under God’s wings. We are aliens in this world, but citizens of an eternal kingdom.

Jesus is the One who brings wholeness to our lives. He, being the Spirit of love, casts out fear. If He is for us, who can be against us? Jesus is the tsunami of love and grace (Psalm 42).

That means you should take off your shoes, roll up your pants legs, and dive in, shouting triumphantly all the way, “Bring it on! No fear! No fear! No fear!”


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