Friday, October 10, 2014

Breaking the Barrier


This month, I began a season of rest, renewal and retreat - officially a sabbatical to reconnect with the Lord and my family.  It has been harder than I thought.  I have had some difficulty in adjusting my schedule, especially in getting into God's Word.

Next January marks my 40th year of following Jesus.  That fact alone tells me I'm getting older and the grey in my beard attests to it!  I've been doing some thinking lately about my growth in Christ over those years.  I've had this difficulty before.  I came across an article I wrote for our College Ministry a number of years ago, and thought it was a great reminder as I experience a time of refreshing.  Read on...

I understand the struggle that many of us face: "How can I get 'into' God's Word and actually get something out of it?"  For a lot of Christians and seekers, we don't realize that we're not supposed to "get" something from Him; we are to give Him our lives and let Him be glorified through our devotion to Him.  But we still need to hear God's voice and understand His Presence.  We are hindered by "The Barrier." 

Now, moving past it isn't difficult (and yes, I invite you to see if that is true!) In fact, it will seem like common sense, really.  A few thoughts for you to consider...

Posture is important. 
No, I'm not an advocate for chiropractic care here!  I simply want to draw you toward correct positioning in your attitude before we get wrapped up in the Bible itself.

One of my goals this year has been to begin my daily time with the Lord BEFORE I get to church.  So, I asked Him to help me with this by waking me up early in the morning before the kids wake up.  (This is where people I know start laughing at me, because mature Christians understand that if you ask, He will deliver!)  And, as you can expect, God has been faithful. 
I wake up around 6AM everyday. Now, quite honestly, there have been times when I haven't wanted to get up - like you, I like my beauty rest, especially when you have kids with colds waking you up at ungodly hours to get a drink or blow their noses! Tuesday this week was like that - I was up with my son at 2:45.  I was beat.  And, to top it off, I woke up with a start at precisely 5:21AM to the sound of my cell phone going off - it was a gentleman in our church, who shall remain nameless - and I could hear him laughing and talking in the background.  I'm yelling, "Hello...hello!"  He hit redial on his phone by accident, apparently.

OK, Mike, what does this have to do with posturing? So, I sat there, awake. And I simply said, "Lord, today is your day." Immediately, I sensed His call to get up. I went into the kitchen, started the coffee and sat down with God's Word and my notebook.  I adopted a posture of connection with Him. I responded to a call I sensed for His direction.  And, I only could "hear" what He had to say when I changed my attitude of "have to meet with God" to "desire to meet with Him."

That's what posturing is... longing for what He wants to say to me through His love-letter to the world and being ready to apply His truth to my life.  I ask Him first to open my heart, free me from my distractions, and then I am ready to write down my thoughts on what I read in His Word.  I want to understand the 
facts of what He says, gain insights by what He says to me, respond by letting God know what I will do about what He says, and then evaluating if I did it or not.  (Yes, this is the familiar FIRE study outline we've used for years in our Connection 101 class.)  Posture is important.

Quality vs. quantity.  
After I have the right attitude and simply desire to learn from Him , how much/little do I read?  I am a big fan of quality time with God.  My rule of thumb is to read just enough Scripture to gain one simple insight for my life (anywhere from just a few verses like in the rich sections of Paul's letters, or a few chapters like in the historical or narrative passages of the Old Testament).  Often, I even understand several insights in a short passage - when God shouts out truths for me that day!

How much or how little isn't the factor.  It rests on my desire to honor Him and be still before Him, resting in His love, being content with only Him.  This isn't some ascetic practice; it is making Him a priority in my life (even before my wife, my kids, or my job).

Personal transformation. 
Let me be blunt - I get broadsided a lot in ministry by well-intentioned people who take out their aggression - negatively and with much criticism and complaining.  So, even though I try not to take it personally, I still hurt.  I feel for them because I love them, in all their humanity!  I had been wrestling with a person I needed to confront, and I asked God several days before for an answer.  Little did I know that the sum of my time with Him in the Bible would answer that prayer in a big way.

I've been reading through the book of Ezekiel for the past few months, and I learned some life-transforming truths in the past few chapters I read.  As I read through chapter 33 early Sunday morning, I noticed (for the first time in a deep way) that God desires even the wicked people of this world to not perish, but live. 
Yes, I knew that, but the insight came as I read God's own voice say, "I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! ...Why should you die?" (vs. 11 NLT) God takes no pleasure in punishing us when we are wrong - He desires our closeness, our nearness to Him. 
That was my first lesson I needed to heed before I dealt with this person at church.  I must deal with my own sinfulness of wanting to be right and insisting on it - I needed to run to Christ first.  Then, I'll understand the value God places on others, and my heart will respond to them with God's perspective of redemption in mind rather than restitution.  Oh, how I needed that from Him!

The next day, I continued on in that chapter and received one of the greatest insights I'd ever gotten from Him - an encouragement of monumental proportions for me as a pastor.  Verses 30-33: "Son of man, your people are whispering behind your back. They talk about you in their houses and whisper about you at the doors, saying, `Come on, let's have some fun! Let's go hear the prophet tell us what the LORD is saying!'  So they come pretending to be sincere and sit before you listening. But they have no intention of doing what I tell them. They express love with their mouths, but their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don't do it!  But when all these terrible things happen to them—as they certainly will—then they will know a prophet has been among them."

It was as if Jesus were sitting next to me, consoling my broken heart with His choicest words.  I heard Him say, in these words, that there will be those who will be entertained by my words, even convicted by what the Spirit is saying, but they won't obey God.  I needed to hear Him say that to me.  He designed this passage, at this point in time, to speak volumes of encouragement to me.  I know that I simply speak the truth of God, and let Him do the convicting.  I need to understand that their response to Him is up to them.  Oh, how freeing that was to hear in my soul! The depth of ministry that He did that morning was rapturous, beyond compare.  (And, I'm glad you know about His great love for us in this example, too!)

Finally, on Tuesday, I read in chapter 34 about the Good Shepherd (vs. 11-16) - looking for the lost sheep of His scattered flock. I was encouraged to go and gather this lost person and love them, encourage and exhort them to follow Jesus. Again, a confirmation of what I needed to do in my life.

My desire for you is simply this: understand that God has designed His Word to give you life - abundantly - and that "The Barrier" isn't really one at all.  Will you meet with Him and "hear" His words to you, rather than try on your own efforts to "get" something from the Bible?  Will you adopt a posture of desire for Him?  Will you not focus on how much or little, but a depth with God?  And finally, are you willing to be personally transformed? 
I pray God will bless your devotion to Him, and that your time in His Presence will be truly transformational!

Oh, how I needed these words yet again in my struggle this week.  I hope you do, too!
Compelled by His love,

Mike

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