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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Focused on His Face

"...living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers." (Acts 9:31)

"Daddy, I can see me in your eyes." These were the words of one my children when he was only four as he was intently focused on my face with my cheeks in his hands. "How do you look?" was my question in reply. "Good." His answer to me was short, simply, wonderfully profound.

With his hands firmly on the contours of my face, he was focused. I'm not sure he originally knew what he was doing. But he had a habit. His habit was to do whatever necessary to get into my space. Sitting in my recliner reading a book, I would be suddenly interrupted by this young one. My space was not my own. He wasn't obnoxious about it. He'd get close, slide his head under my arm and some how quietly wiggle his way into my lap. He'd just lie there for a moment, and then he'd turn upward, grab my face, and look into my eyes. When he was focused on my face, he could see himself as I see him. The increase of his own confidence, self-esteem, and sense of how I value him increases with every encounter. His focus is not on himself. It's on me. It's on my face.

Acts 9 gives a glimpse of the Church of the first century. Unlike many churches of our current culture, they were not focused on the latest and greatest programs, gimmicks, bells & whistles, or church growth strategies. They were simply focused on the face of God. They were enthralled in living in the fear of the Lord. He was all that mattered. It wasn't about how they looked in the eyes of others around them. In fact, they were looked with disdain by most people around them. They were seen as a threat, as a cult, as something to be dealt with.

Neither was there focus on how they looked in their own eyes. Pride and arrogance had no place in their goal of living in a way that honored and glorified the name of Jesus. It was not about them. It was about Him. It was about how they looked in His eyes. When there focus on Him was in line and in tune, that's when true growth began to happen. 

When we focus on ourselves, we are limited to what we see. When we are focused on His face, our limits are surpassed and we begin to see what He sees. Living in the fear of the Lord is about being so in awe at His presence and being overcome with a passion that seeks to invade His space. We are no longer content to be self-reliant. Rather, we want to be so close that we find ourselves in His lap, with our hands upon the face of God, and looking intently into His eyes. What we see through His eyes is really all that matters. That's when we begin to see the increase in the areas that we are desperate to see something change.

The question to be answered is simple. Whose eyes are focused on seeing through? Don't settle for being focused on yourself. You are limited. You can only do so much. The more you try to rely only on you or on other "limited" people, the more unfilled and empty you will find yourself. Go ahead. Get closer and closer to the presence of God. He won't deny you. Climb up in the lap of the very definition of "Father." It's OK. Place your hands on His face. Look into His eyes. Do you see you? Now you see what He sees. It looks good. Allow that truth to be the motivation in all that you do. The change you want to see in your life will only happen as you live in the fear and recognition of the awesomeness of God, and when you choose to focus on His face.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hearing the Voice

"In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision. 'Ananias!' 'Yes Lord,' he answered." (Acts 9:10)

I am a complete sucker for seeing dog acts! I've exhibitions on television and I've seen trainers present live their dogs abilities. It is amazing to me see these animals do what we as humans have a heard time doing. Hearing, listening, and obeying. One of my favorite dogs that I've ever had the opportunity to see up close is Tina. Tina is a beautiful Golden Retriever and is an impeccable example of hearing, listening, and obeying.

In one of the "tricks" that Tina does involves strict obedience to her trainer's voice and to none other. The trainer picks a volunteer out of the crowd, usually a child with bursting exuberance. She leads the child over to a laying down, relaxed looking Tina. Tina has been given instruction to lie still and to not move. Her trainer then tells the child to, without touching Tina, do whatever they can to get her to get up and move. The child speaks, shouts, and shouts even louder. Then they begin to hop around, jump around, and wave their arms all around. All the while, Tina lays still, content, and obedient. After the volunteer has exhausted their tactics and their own energy, the trainer speaks gently to Tina, "come here, Tina." Tina immediately perks up, get's up, and tail-waggingly moves on over.

What makes this "act" so much more than an act, is the visible display of intimate voice recognition. Tina and her trainer have spent so much time together that Tina recognizes and responds to her voice. There is no second-guessing, no hesitation, and no delayed reactions. Tina's first and only response is to obey. Any other voice she is able to ignore. As soon as she recognizes the intimate familiarity of her trainer's voice, she is ready to obey. No questions asked.

Ananias had this degree of intimacy with Jesus. He heard a voice calling his name and there was no question as to who it was. His immediate response was "yes, Lord." How much time he must have invested in pursuing a closeness with Jesus! He had purposed to hear the voice of God. He had determined that he would not give into the quick thoughts and inclinations of his mind, but that he would quickly listen and obey every word that God would instruct. It was inconsequential that God would now ask him to do something that contradicted his common sense. Of course, the Lord was not calling him to do something "common." His closeness with Jesus would take him past common.

There is such a temptation to throw our spiritual lives into cruise control and auto-pilot. We say we believe, but the test of obedience comes when we hear the voice of God tell us to do something that goes against the grain of our "common sense."

So, how do you get so close to Jesus that you can not only hear His voice, but recognize His voice? Spend time with Him. Take time to read His word, think about His word, and apply the truth of His word to your everyday life. Pray and ask Him to show you what it is He wants you to see. As you purpose to listen, you will become more and more sensitive to the voice of God. Determine even now that the moment God begins to speak to your heart, that you will hear, listen, and obey. Don't miss out on a closeness with Jesus that will take you past common!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Are You Teachable?

"Then Simon answered, 'pray tot he Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me'" (Acts 8:24).

Life is full of choices, consequences, and the choice to how we respond to those consequences. As a pastor I have and continue to live out the lessons learned from the mistakes that I've made. Sometimes those mistakes are made from carelessness, "prayerlessness," a lack of awareness, or perhaps a combination of all three. Once after becoming the lead pastor of a church, I had the opportunity and responsibility of filling a gap on our leadership team. I was determined that I knew exactly who it was to be. I was equally determined that it should be done right at the moment of the need. In my haste I staffed the position without consideration of various factors. I saw what I thought I needed and filled it based on what I wanted. What I failed to do was to slow down, seek adequate counsel, and wait patiently for God to speak to my heart. The decision was made. The course turned sour. I was left to pick up the pieces. Rather than dismiss it as "my bad" or defensively shift responsibility to other parties involved, I chose to learn something through my own mistakes, through humility, and by taking responsibility for my haste and not seeing the bigger picture.

Acts 8:24 shows another picture of humility and a teachable heart. Simon had been a sorcerer. He had been a master of working within the powers of darkness. Through the teaching and influence of the apostles, he had become a believer in Jesus and was baptized. Still he struggled with elements of his old life and the habits that had defined that life. On the occasion spoken of in Acts 8, he attempted to "buy" the incredible and unexplainable power to "give" the Holy Spirit to people with the laying on of his own hands. He had observed the apostles do this. He was intrigued and was seduced by the "control" that he thought they had. It took him back to a place he had been brought out. He was rebuked.

No one enjoys a rebuke or correction. Simon could have given into the defensive emotions that are were wrapped up in the old nature of his pride. He could have reverted to old habits and place a curse upon them in his anger and humiliation. He could have abandoned this new relationship with Jesus. Rather, he humbled himself and repented. He refused to allow his pride to rob him of a power that was more real than one he had ever known.

God has given you much to share with the world around you. He will strategically cross your path with others around you because He has given you something to speak and to share with them. Don't allow pride and arrogance to convince you that you are the only one who teaches, but accept that you still have more to learn. Purpose to be knows as one who not only teaches, but one who is teachable. Be open and willing to receive a rebuke or correction without taking it personally. Listen and choose not to respond defensively. Regardless of how hurtful the correction or comment is given, ask God to show you the truth that you need to learn. You will never be able to teach well if you're not open to learning well. Be open. Be humble. Be teachable.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Best Defense

"While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit'" (Acts 7:59).

Once while giving a financial report in a meeting that was in, I came face to face with a few challenging obstacles. First of all, I'm not a numbers guy. I don't like dealing with numbers, but inevitably, as I pastor a church, numbers are inescapable. It furthers my love and appreciation for calculators, computers, and competent administrative assistants! After hours of blood, sweat, tears, and decimal points, we had brought to completion this financial report that was a reflection of provision, stewardship, and progress.

The other obstacle I faced was the temptation to become defensive. It is a temptation that we all face. There I was giving a report on the subject of finances, feeling like a twelve point buck in an open field on the first day of hunting season. There were questions. There were good questions. There were comments. There good comments. And of course, a comment that seemed piercing and pointed. In earlier days, I would have "stood up" for my honor, defended my character, and attempted to put the individual back in their place. I would have been the fool. Rather, I took a pause, thanked the gentlemen for his comment and moved along. God, through many of my trips, falls, and personal periods of embarrassment, has taken me on a journey that has challenged me, corrected me, and is causing me to see the better way. He never called me to be my own defender. He is my defense.

The most common response to abuse, especially when it's delivered verbally, is to give it right back. It is easy to give in the overwhelming invitation of emotions to become defensive and to kick in to 'self-preservation' mode. Stephen was being stoned to death. His crime? He believed in Jesus. He spoke the truth. He would not give into the popular opinions of his day. Unarguably, he didn't deserve the treatment he was given.He didn't attack back or attempt to defend himself. His response? He prayed. He didn't argue with God, complain to or against God. He didn't even blame God. He prayed.

It's true. We all face those times in life where we feel we are on the receiving end of what feels like a verbal assault. Of course, we immediately assume and are convinced that we know the motivation behind the words and must stand our ground and fight for our honor. When we let the intensity of our emotions determine the reactions of our words, we are headed for great disaster.

When you feel as though you are being attacked or disrespected, it is so easy to want to 'fight back' or to avenge yourself in some way. The greatest defense that you will ever find is found in Christ. He is your defender. How would conflicts in your life resolve if your first action was to respond with prayer rather than react with passion and pride? Tensions would ease and an openness in to being led in a way that honors God would be more clear. Let prayer be your first response. No reaction outside of prayer will be effective. Prayer will guide you, calm you, and put the conflict in a proper perspective. Your best defense is Jesus.