God Is Speaking – Are You Listening?

I have always been a big fan of radio – especially AM radio.  I remember in my younger days enjoying running the dial late at night to see all the far away stations I could pick up.  Depending on the weather conditions, the dial would be filled with “in and out” “staticky” stations from all over the country and even one from south of the border.  I admit it didn’t take much to amuse me as a child and this activity would do it every time.

Radio waves are very interesting to me.  Just think – right now, bouncing off the walls of the room where you are reading this, are radio waves from all over the place.  You don’t hear them because you don’t have a receiver.  If you will get a good receiver and tune it to the proper frequency, you’ll be amazed at what you will hear.  The sounds are present, but an activated receiver tuned to the right frequency is required to hear them.

There is some definite spiritual truth in the aforementioned example.  I have no doubt God is speaking to His Church today.  The question is – are we in a position to hear Him?  He is speaking – He has been speaking for a long time – but unless we are a tuned in receiver, we will not hear Him.

I must admit there are times I am not tuned in.  It is sometimes a challenge to move past the many distractions of our day to listen intently to the Holy Spirit.  We want to hear Him – we know we need to hear Him – but so many things are vying for our attention.  Speaking for myself, an intentional decision must be made to get in the closet (whatever this is for you) and get down to business with the Lord.  He is never far away.  I just need to focus…and listen.

I had one of those times earlier this week.  I knew perfunctory prayer and devotions would not be enough.  I needed a Word from God and nothing else was going to satisfy.  I did what I have done many times throughout the years – I took my Bible and notepad to my quiet place and prepared for an encounter with the Lord.  After a little while, it happened.  The Holy Spirit began to speak, and I heard.
 
Among several things I believe the Lord spoke to me on this particular day were the following instructions to the church as it relates to positioning ourselves for what He wants to do among us in these important times.

There is no doubt in my mind God is moving across the world, today, with a fresh wind of His Spirit.  This is not an isolated move of God; this is a global move of God.  His promise to pour out of His Spirit on all flesh is truly being fulfilled and will only become more prevalent in the coming days.  These are exciting times, indeed, to be part of His Church!

But the sad reality is – many will miss what God is doing.  Because of a myriad of reasons – religious spirits; tradition; lack of vision; secret sin; unbelief to name a few – some will watch as the revival touches and transforms others but they, themselves, will not be affected.  What a tragedy this is!

This does not have to be your story!  You – your church – your ministry – can move from the bleachers onto the playing field.  You can be right in the middle of all God is doing.  You do not have to be a spectator; you can be actively involved and here is how:

WAKE UP!  The day of the sleepy passive Christian is over.  While we were sleeping, the enemy crept in and took our nation, many families and, sadly, many churches.  We slept and he stole.  We were very comfortable while we slept – we even enjoyed beautiful dreams.  But while we were sleeping and dreaming, destruction was occurring all around us.  It is time to wake up!

A big part of being awake is being aware.  So many have adopted the philosophy of ignorance is bliss.  As long as we do not know about it, we are not responsible.  This attitude is an affront to everything the Body of Christ stands for.  We are not a people who runs and hides from the crisis; we are the ones who have been called to storm the gates of hell and demand the enemy to let go!  We pray for the Holy Spirit to sharpen our vision to see the needs around us and we boldly go where He leads us.  We are awake and vigilant!

The cry of the Lord through the prophet Joel is a call to the church today, “Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war!  Wake up the mighty men, Let all the men of war draw near, Let them come up.”  (Joel 3:9 NKJV)

This is the time for all hands-on deck.  Sound the alarm!  Wake up!

MAKE UP!  It pains me to say this, but some will miss what God is doing because of division, hard feelings and verbal assassinations within the church family.  Jealousy of other ministries and personal/political agendas that hurt people have become far too common within the Body.  It seems an end-time strategy of the devil is to divide and cause us to turn on each other.  In too many places he is having overwhelming success.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 133:1 – “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”  This unity does not mean sameness or conformity.  It means we are all in the same boat together, rowing in the same direction and working for the same cause.  We are together even though we are not all alike.  We can celebrate each other and recognize each member has an important place and responsibility in the Kingdom.  We are not threatened by each other; we support each other and welcome to the table every brother and sister in the Lord.

This unity must become a treasured and protected element in our church.  Infighting and distrust will cripple us.  Someone must be big enough to say, “I am sorry.”  Someone must be strong enough to say, “I do not want to hear it.”  Someone must be spiritual enough to say, “I forgive you.”  It is only when we are willing to come together in a genuine spirit of unity that we will see God’s best manifested among us.

Now here is a word to the wise – in the real-world offenses will arise.  You are going to get hurt at some point – it will happen.  These are times not to sow disparaging seed but to show grace, extend mercy and reflect Jesus.  You can speak against systems, decisions and actions but attacking a brother or sister personally is actually an attack against the Father.  Believe it or not, but the Father loves the offender just as much as He loves the offended.  You can be sure God in His own way will take care of an erring child.  Leave that to Him.

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:23-24 NKJV)

SHOW UP!  Great victories are available for the believer, today, but you must be present to win!  Sitting in the corner and watching the world go by – and complaining about it – is not the position to which we have been called.  It may feel safer to shelter in place, but the prize goes to the one who leaves the bunker and enters the arena.  We have to show up!

There has never been a time when it has been more important for the church to make its presence known than today.  We need involvement in every area of life.  We don’t just need preachers in the pulpit – we need Spirit-filled believers in the seat of government.  We don’t just need worshippers in the sanctuary – we need strong believers in Hollywood, on Broadway and in Nashville.  We don’t just need teachers in Bible college and seminary – we need committed followers of Jesus on every school campus.  We don’t just need Christians in church on Sunday – we need disciples of our Lord to infiltrate every area of society.  We need to leave the fort and move into battle!

“You are the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV)

SPEAK UP!  Bullies love to intimidate, and the devil is a big bully!  He is working to intimidate the church into silence.  If we speak up, we will offend.  If we speak up, we will run people off.  (And here’s a big one.)  If we speak up, we will lose our tax-exempt status.  I think you will agree, we hear these things all the time.

I have never liked bullies.  I have learned the only way to overcome them is to stand up to them.  When they know you know their bark is worse than their bite any advantage they had over you disappears.  It is not that difficult to beat a bully!

Our church cannot afford to be intimidated by the devil any longer.  The world is dying without hope because in too many cases we have been afraid to tell them the truth.  This will change when we decide to stop listening to culture and begin to use our voices to proclaim the full Gospel of our Lord.  Firebrands in the pulpit and firebrands in the pew – men and women passionate about truth that sets people free!  We can longer watch in silence.  It is time to speak up!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed…”  (Romans 1:16, 17 NKJV)

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  (I Peter 3:16 NKJV)

I truly feel the church has come to a crossroad.  We have the choice of holding on and depending on our tried and true systems to sustain us or we can lift our sails to the wind of the Spirit and allow Him to move us to a place of transformation and revival.  I’ve got to tell you I do not believe business as usual is a smart decision.  I just believe we have been brought into the Kingdom for a time like this and God has big plans for His people.  It is probably time to turn off some noise and tune in to the Spirit.  He will reveal His will and plans to us if we will take time to listen.

Well…that was my encounter with the Lord a few days ago.  He is stirring my spirit and calling me upward.  I feel it and I hear it.  I am confident I am not the only one to whom He is talking.  As a matter of fact, I believe those heavenly radio waves are bouncing off your walls right now!  Please don’t miss what God is saying to you.  He has a Word just for you.  Be a receiver and tune it to hear it.

God is speaking.  Make sure you are listening.

WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

I thought it was a pretty simple order – a cappuccino and two regular coffees.  This is the order I made at Dunkin Donuts on a recent visit to Boston.  Donna said the cappuccino was perfect; Kristina and I were not as pleased with our coffees.  For some reason, the young man with whom I placed the order made a mistake and requested cream and sugar be added to our coffee – this was not all right.  We wanted black coffee – you know, regular coffee.

Very kindly I made my way back to the counter to exchange the coffee I did not want for what I had ordered.  I explained to the young man I had ordered regular coffee but had been given coffee with cream and sugar.  His quick response to me was, “You aren’t from here, are you?”  I immediately thought we were about to have a conversation about my accent (which happens at least once a day when I am in this part of the country!) but actually I was about to be taught a lesson on ordering coffee in Boston.  It seems regular coffee there means cream and sugar is added.  Who knew?

Obviously, this was not an issue to argue over, so I accepted the mistake was made by me.  I must admit, however, I was fairly certain the guy at Dunkin was telling this southern boy a big story to cover his error.  As soon as we got back in the car I googled “ordering coffee in Boston” and guess what – he was telling me the truth!  Lesson learned!

In this instance, no one was really wrong.  I placed my order just like I had done hundreds of times back home.  The man at Dunkin Donuts prepared my order just like he had done hundreds of times in his store.  What I meant and what he heard were two different things entirely.  The problem was simply one of communication.

As one who has spent much of the last 43 years speaking in public, I am always looking for ways to improve my ability to communicate.  As a preacher, I am very aware delivering a sermon is one thing but communicating a message is another.  I have not succeeded by completing my sermon – my success is reached when those listening to me truly get it.  Proper response to my sermon will only be achieved when there is a clear understanding of what I am saying.

Whether you are a preacher, teacher or parent talking to your children – whether you are the foreman on your job, candidate running for office or coach of your church softball team – whatever you are and to whomever you are speaking, good communication will be key to your success. The speaker and the listener must be on the same page.  Failing to do so leads to consequences no one wants.

In order to become a good communicator I believe there are four essentials to which a speaker must commit.  This is not a pick three out of four, it is all or nothing.  Here are what I feel are the four non-negotiables in communication.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

The mistake I made in Boston happened because I assumed my audience there was just like my audience in Cleveland, Tennessee.  This assumption on my part led to some really bad coffee!  If I had known my audience from the outset, I would have known the word to use was black not regular.

Knowing to whom you are talking allows you to speak the language of the room and avoid those mistakes that sabotage what you are trying to accomplish.  Will they understand your joke?  Will they understand your euphemisms and slang?  Will your method of communicating enhance or distract from your message? A little pre-thought can make all the difference in the world in your outcome. 

RESPECT YOUR AUDIENCE

No one enjoys being talked down to.  So much more can be accomplished in a communicative setting when both parties have mutual respect.  The responsibility for ensuring this mutual respect is solely in the hands of the speaker. 

The two elements for conveying this respect will always be approach and attitude.  I must show respect from the very beginning and maintain respect throughout the entire discourse.  A speaker who fails to display these traits will be limited in effectiveness.  Depending on the audience – some may receive a little while most will totally turn the speaker off and not hear a word.  When this is understood and the goal is good communication, respect for the audience is accepted as imperative.

LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIENCE

I have come to the conclusion some speakers really enjoy hearing themselves talk!  They drone on and on without any consideration of how what they are saying is being received.  In many of these instances the listener gave up long before the speaker did resulting in very little being accomplished.  If the goal was saying a lot – mission accomplished!  If the goal was communication – total fail!

This issue can be avoided by giving some time to listening to the audience.  The last thing a speaker wants to do is answer questions no one is asking.  Gaging the level of interest and determining the ability to understand can only be learned by listening.  Communication is, indeed, a two-way street.  Good communicators understand speaking is only half of the process – listening is extremely important.

LEAVE SOMETHING WITH THE AUDIENCE

Have you ever sat through a presentation and, when it was over, wonder what in the world was that all about?  All you knew was that was an hour of your life you would never get back!  There were a lot of words that came out of the speaker’s mouth but nothing to take home.  This is not good communication.

When a speaker knows, respects and listens to their audience it should not be too difficult to find enough content that can be deposited into the heart of the listener.  It is here when the speaker moves beyond the ear and enters the heart that communication takes place that has a lasting impact.  This is the crowning achievement of the speaker – knowing that information was imparted and will be remembered.

As I am writing this blog, I cannot help but remember that famous line in the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke.  When Captain is having a hard time getting rebellious Luke to follow instructions he says, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”  Luke discovered in very explicit ways the horrendous consequences that come from poor communication.

I do not expect our audiences to be placed in solitary confinement because of our failure to communicate but it is very disappointing when the message we feel is important enough to share is not received by those to whom we are speaking.  It would seem to me if the message matters we should want to do our absolute best to ensure it is heard – not just heard with ears but with heart.

Even though we have advanced technology to assist us, there has never been a time in history when true communication is as difficult to achieve as it is today.  Distractions, limited attention spans, entrenched ideologies…the list is quite long of the challenges in conveying a message.  This is all the more reason we must be intentional in our preparation to speak and sensitive to the many factors taking place while we are speaking – we cannot take anything for granted. 

I am determined to be a better communicator. I believe in my message; therefore, I am committed to making sure it is packaged in a way that it will be heard and remembered.  I want to say what I mean and help my audience completely understand.

I do not ever want a regular cup of coffee again!

It’s Harvest Time!

There is nothing more important to a farmer than harvest.  It is the culmination of all his efforts.  He has withstood the freezing temperatures early in the season, the excess rains in the spring and the scorching sun of the summer.  He has overcome the insects, weeds and wild animals that preyed on his crops.  Now, waiting in the field is the fruit of his labor.  The harvest is ready!

Everything has been leading up to this time.  Many people would have given up.  Many would have considered the challenges and never gone to the trouble to even plant.  But the experienced farmer had the hope of harvest.  It was this hope of harvest that kept him going.  Now he is rewarded.

There are very few events in nature that have greater spiritual application than that of the harvest.  For many years we in ministry have been sowing seed.  We have had many obstacles to work through – it has not always been easy.  Some gave up but many kept plowing the fields and planting the seed.  We have sown and watered believing one day God would give the increase.  The hope of harvest has not let us quit.  And now…it is harvest time!

As we approach this most critical time, there are three truths that must not be forgotten:  harvest is urgent; not all harvest is ripe; and the neglected harvest will be lost.

Harvest Time Is Urgent!  Nothing can stand between the farmer and the harvest.  There may be other things that need to be done but they will have to wait – it is harvest time.  Next week may be a more convenient time but that is too bad – it is harvest time.  The farmer may wake up with a headache and sore throat, but he will just have to work through it – it is harvest time.  Every excuse – regardless of their legitimacy – will have to be ignored.  The harvest demands full attention.  It will not wait for anything.

Growing up in the southwestern part of the United States, I have visited many little sleepy towns during wheat harvest.  I have watched those towns that normally roll up the sidewalks at 6:00 come alive when it is harvest time.  Every motel is full and RVs are parked everywhere they can be.  People from all over the country have been hired and brought in to help bring in the wheat.  Late into the night you can hear the combines humming in the fields.  Business really picks up during harvest season!

The reason for the sense of urgency is well documented.  Harvest time is also storm season.  Everyone in the region knows to keep an eye on the sky.  They know weather conditions can change very quickly.  A severe storm can wipe out in just a few minutes everything the farmer has worked months to accomplish.  This realization calls for an “all hands-on deck – we’ve got to get it done” attitude.  Veteran farmers are serious about the harvest.

This is exactly the truth Jesus was trying to communicate to His disciples concerning the spiritual harvest in John 4:35 when He said, “Do you not say, There are still four months and then comes the harvest?  Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look to the fields, for they are already white for harvest.”  You can hear the urgency in His words – the harvest is ready.  He even says it is past ready.  Jesus is saying there is no time to wait – it is harvest time!

Before a full appreciation for the harvest can be experienced by today’s church a genuine sense of urgency must take over.  For many years we have been teaching evangelism and developing strategies to win our cities for Jesus.  At some point we must leave the pew and the classroom and move to the streets, neighborhoods and marketplace.  While we say there is four months before the harvest; Jesus is saying the fields are already white for harvest.  We cannot keep seeing the harvest as an event to come; it must become an assignment to complete.

Not All Harvest Is Ripe.  As I am writing this blog, I am very aware throughout my community many people are actively involved in planting vegetable gardens.  In a few weeks, these gardens will begin to produce a wonderful array of vegetables that will grace dinner tables, be shared with friends and neighbors (of which I hope I will be a part!) and stock freezers to be enjoyed later in the year.  This really is my favorite time of the year!

A simple truth every gardener knows is – everything in the garden does not ripen at the same time.  A tomato plant, today, may have multiple green tomatoes on it but only one that is red.  The gardener will harvest the red one and come back tomorrow to see if others are ready to be picked.  Harvest is a developmental process – you wait for it to be ready.

This principle must not be lost as we consider the spiritual harvest.  Not everyone is ready at the same time.  The key is not to lose the ripened harvest while waiting on a desired harvest to become ripened.

Many times there are those dear to us we so desperately want to see saved.  We witness to them.  We pray for them.  We do everything within our power to win them to the Lord, but they do not respond.  What should we do when this happens – keep witnessing; keep praying; keep doing everything within your power to win them to the Lord but… do not miss others around you who are ready while you work on someone who is not.  Don’t give up on anybody…but don’t overlook that one God has put in your path who is ready right now to accept the Lord.

The prayer of the soulwinner must be, “Lord, make me sensitive to the ripened harvest.  Lead me to those who are hungry to know you.  Don’t let me overlook any soul you place in my path.”

Now, please hear me – this act of responding to the ripened harvest does not mean you are giving up on your unsaved loved ones.  I believe this is an instance where God’s laws of “give and it shall be given to you” and “you reap what you sow” can come in.  While you are allowing the Holy Spirit to use you to bring to faith someone you may not even know or have relationship with, He will be moving on the heart of your loved one.  They may not be ready today but hold on!  The harvest in your home will come in!

The Neglected Harvest Will Be Lost.  I learned this lesson many years ago at my one and only attempt to have a small garden.  I broke up a little area of ground behind our house and planted a few tomato and pepper plants.  I did my best to take care of them until it came time for our family vacation.  We were away for just over a week.  When we returned the weeds in the garden were green, but my plants were not.  The little bit of fruit on the vines had withered and was worthless.  My little garden had died because of my neglect.

It is a simple fact – there is a shelf life for the harvest.  As I have already mentioned, it will not wait for us and it will not last forever.  There is a short time span for reaping.  If you miss this time, the crop in the field is lost forever.

This truth must resonate in the spirit of every believer.  We may have the best of intentions and our evangelism strategy has been well thought out.  As soon as this or that is done and a few other things work out, we are going to launch into the harvest.  But just remember, while we are waiting, souls are dying.  The neglected harvest is lost.

I remember hearing a song in church when I was a little boy titled Harvest Time.  It was written in 1949 by a lady named Wanda Smith.  The chorus reads,

          Harvest time, harvest time,
          The grain is falling, the Savior’s calling;
          Oh, do not wait!  It’s growing late,
          Behold, the fields are white, it’s harvest time.

We sang that song like we meant it and if it was true then, it certainly must be true now.  There is a ripened harvest all around us.  I do not want to lose my harvest because of my neglect.

I began this article by saying nothing is more important to the farmer than the harvest.  I want to end it by saying nothing is more important to Jesus than the harvest.  Jesus came to this earth “to seek and to save that which was lost.”  His death on the cross was not about changing history; it was about changing eternity – changing eternity for everyone ever born.  Nothing means more to our Lord than souls.

Brothers and sisters, we have been talking about this day for a long time.  We have been planning, praying and working.  The hope of harvest has been motivation for us. Some gave up, but we did not.  Some will not see it, but we do.  Some may miss it, but we will not.  This is our time – this is our moment.  God has brought us to the Kingdom for such a time as this.  We will not fail. 

It is harvest time!

A Safe Place To Turn Around

Not too long ago I found myself on a narrow two-lane road on my way to an appointment.  I had never been in this area, so I was trying to be very careful and watch for the place I needed to turn.  But, as happens to me occasionally, I did not see the sign for my turn in time to make it so I had to keep driving.  I wanted to just stop and make a u-turn but there was no shoulder to the road and there was the occasional car coming from the opposite direction so I knew that was not a good option for me. 

I could tell the car driving behind me knew the area and was becoming frustrated at my hesitant speed.  They could not pass me so they had to just slow down and follow.  Being aware of their presence caused stress for me but I could not move over and did not intend to miss an opportunity to turn around. 

As I continued to drive, I was very conscious of the fact I was going farther and farther from my desired destination.  I was also mindful of the time – I had somewhere to be and I did not want to be late!  I’m sure my blood pressure was rising as all of these factors began to add up.  I needed to do something but I had to be careful.  I had to keep going until I found a safe place to turn around.

This real-life story reminds me of the challenges all leaders will face multiple times as they navigate the minefield of change in the group they are called to lead.  You feel you know where you need to be as a group/organization/church, but being able to get there will not always be easy.  A sudden turn – a quick decision – a careless move – can be catastrophic.  The key to successful change will always be finding a safe place to turn around.

Change is inevitable.  It occurs whether you want it or not.  Our human bodies are the best examples of change.  Look at a picture of yourself from ten years ago then look in the mirror.  Notice anything different?  You have changed!  Regardless of your diet, exercise regimen and mental fitness you cannot keep change from happening.  Change is a natural part of the process.

The world around us is changing.  Sometimes I reminisce about the world in which I grew up causing me to feel that somewhere along the way I was transported to another planet because the world I live in now in no way compares to the one of my childhood!  I didn’t ask for these changes but they happened nonetheless.  As is often said today – it is what it is.  Change just keeps on coming!

Very few people are surprised at the changes from the two examples I just gave.  We may not like it, but we accept – and even expect – these changes.  But…change within the group – especially the church – is another matter entirely.  I change, my world changes, but leave my church alone!  But, guess what, change happens at church too.  We must keep the same message but methods will need to change from time to time. 

What are some things to remember when entering a season of change?  I am sure this is not an exhaustive list, but here are four statements I believe any leader needs to consider when approaching change:

1.  Change must be led.  Leaders must be intentional with change.  There always should be a clear understanding of the reason, process and target of the change.  Communication with the group will be extremely important – there should be no surprises.  Surprises breed suspicion.  Suspicion causes trust to be lost.

Even when change takes place incrementally – which in many cases is the best policy – someone needs to own it and be responsible for keeping everything on track.  Leaving anything to chance is a dangerous course to take.  As the cliché’ goes – failing to plan is a plan to fail.  There can always be adjustments to the plan but there must be a plan.

Leaders earn their stripes during seasons of change.  Standing at the helm puts one in a vulnerable position but that is when leadership must rise to the occasion.  There will be times when patience must be exercised.  There will be times when decisions must be made.  There will be times when you swim against the current.  There will be times momentum is on your side.  During the good, the bad and the ugly – leaders lead. 

2.  There can be a wrong way to do the right thing.  I have worked with many pastors who told me they were confident they heard from God on a matter.  In spite of this firm conviction, their efforts did not succeed.  Their heart was right and their motives were pure but still things did not work out.  In many of these instances the change that was sought was noble but the plan to achieve it was lacking.

There is a classic example of the wrong way to do the right thing in I Chronicles 13:7-11.  In this story David and his men are bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem after it had been stolen and removed by the Philistines.  A plan is devised to place the Ark upon a cart to be pulled by oxen – what could possibly go wrong? 

As this celebrating caravan make their way toward Jerusalem, the oxen stumble and the Ark shakes.  Uzzah, caring deeply for the security of the Ark, reached out and grabbed the Ark simply to stabilize it.  This actually seems like a good thing to do – but there is a problem.  God had strictly forbidden anyone to touch the Ark.  When Uzzah did this, he was immediately struck dead.  God’s response to Uzzah’s action tells us there can be a wrong way to do the right thing.

I am grateful that unlike Uzzah, our mistakes will probably not bring sudden death to us, but they can bring much frustration and disappointment.  This is the reason leaders must pay attention to details.  While most of us are goal oriented, the path leading to the goal is of utmost importance.  Never ignore the process.  How you achieve your goal does matter.  The end does not justify the means.  When you get to where you are going, you want to feel good about how you got there.

Here is a nugget to remember – a leader’s integrity will be affected more by the how than the what.  The systems of men reward the result while the hearts of the people are changed by how you achieved the result.  Good leaders care about those they lead.  Manipulative leaders use people to gain advantage for themselves.  Choose to be a good leader.

3.  Safe arrival at your destination must be a priority. (Crashes can really ruin a good day!)  We have often heard about those who win the battle but lose the war.  This happens when shortsighted leaders only see what is immediately in front of them but fail to consider what happens next.  These situations rarely end well.  There is momentary gratification but the pain that follows is greater than the preceding joy. This problem is taken off the table by a clear understanding of the big picture and making sure each step taken leads to the desired destination.                                                                                                                                                             

Leaders must never be so sure of their “rightness” that they develop a win-at-any-cost attitude.  The desired change may be in the best interest of the group but until the group believes this – or is at least willing to try – the changes are good for no one. Remember the goal is safe arrival at the destination with as few casualties as possible.

Too often the battlefield of change resembles the battlefield of war – casualties and destruction everywhere.  The leader made the changes desired but the price was great.  The thrill of victory is hollow because the losses will be hard to overcome – if they ever can be.

There is a simple fact to keep in mind when the possibility of change is being explored – everything we do in life has a price attached.  What will the price be to make the change?  What will the price be if we do not make the change?  Is the difference between action and inaction great enough to merit the change?  It is a very foolish leader who will not take the time to sit down and count the cost before launching into drastic change within any organization.

Sometimes you just have to go for it.  The group is heading in a disastrous direction and waiting for a better time to institute change is not an option.  This is a tough predicament in which to be but these situations do exist.  But, even when this is the case, a good leader will go the extra mile to avoid crashes. Safe arrival at the destination for all the people is the desired outcome.

4.  Aborting a plan is not always bad.  Football fans know that sometimes the best play for your team is to punt.  Punting the ball to the other team means you are giving up on your present set of downs but with the expectation of getting the ball back in a better position.  We do not score this time, but we look forward to another opportunity.

Sometimes plans do not work.  Sometimes timing is just not right.  No matter how we frame it, push for it and believe in it – it ain’t happening!  When this happens, a wise leader backs up and makes a new plan.  Continuing to fight a losing battle makes no sense; living to fight another day makes all the sense in the world.  Aborting the planned change in this situation is not loss; a dogged determination to have it your way regardless of the cost will bring great loss.  Leaders need to know how to punt.

This article began with me driving down the road needing to turn around but unable to do so.  It was necessary for me to continue driving away from my desired destination in order to find a place where I could turnaround safely.  I was frustrated – drivers around me were angry – people expecting me wondered where I was – but none of that mattered.  The success of my trip required me to stay the course until I found a safe place to turnaround.

Sincere leaders are always looking for ways to make things better and to become more productive.  Most usually it will be determined change is necessary for this to occur.  There will be many opinions as to what these changes should look like and when they should happen, but the leader – while listening to the advise of others – must make a thorough survey of the landscape and make the best decision possible. Much will be involved in this decision, but it all begins with a single turn.  Be careful – be wise – be prayerful.  Make sure you find a safe place to turnaround.

Good leaders care about those they lead.  Egotistical and manipulative leaders use those they lead. 



  

 

Keeping the Faith on Saturday

The scene at Calvary was excruciating.  The mother of Jesus and a few of His followers sat and watched all that transpired.  I cannot imagine the sorrow and grief they experienced through the whole ordeal.  That had to be, without doubt, the darkest day of their lives – they watched Jesus suffer and die.

The words of a couple of the disciples on the way to Emmaus three days later summed up the feelings of hopelessness felt by all those who trusted Jesus.  “…the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel…” (Luke 24:20-21 NKJV) They had such high hopes for Jesus…but they saw Him die.

Jesus was taken from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb.  The people returned to their homes…grieving, confused, afraid.  In spite of all that Jesus had done to prepare them for this time, they did not seem to know what to expect next.  It is going to be ok – as a matter of fact it is going to be great – but you could not tell it by anyone’s actions.  All present evidence points to defeat.  It simply appears all hope is gone.

As bad as Friday was for the followers of Jesus, Saturday was a whole other story.  They have cried all they can cry.  The heart-wrenching grief they felt at the cross has turned to numbness.  The questions now focus on what we do next.  Preparations are being made for the life after Jesus.  There seems to be no thought of what will happen the next morning.  We know how this story ends, but those living it do not see a good conclusion at all.

Well…early the next morning – the third day – the miracle of all miracles occurred at the tomb.  Just like He promised, Jesus rose from the dead!  He proved death could not hold Him.  He showed all the world He had all power in Heaven and earth.  He also showed His disciples He was a man of His word for He had told them much earlier, “…Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  (John 2:19 NKJV).  Jesus kept His promise!

I have got to tell you there have been many times I have lived out the truths of this story in my own experience.  I have had those Friday experiences when my dreams died only to be followed by Sunday when resurrection occurred.  When I tell my story, it usually has those two components – Friday’s trial and Sunday’s victory.  But what about that day in between?  I do not talk much about Saturday.

The truth is, Saturday is very important to my story.  I would even say finding my victory on Sunday is dependent on how I live out my Saturday.  No matter how bad Friday was, I will never make it to my triumphant Sunday if I give up on Saturday.  I must keep the faith on Saturday.

Saturday is when I accept the fact I have done all I can – there is nothing left for me to try.  Saturday is when I put everything in the hands of the Lord – I place my full trust in Him.  Saturday is when my trust in God calls for me to rest in Him – I simply wait for Him to perform His will.  Saturday is not a day to lose hope – it is actually when hope is incubated to become faith.  Faith is developed on Saturday.

So…here you are.  You have prayed and claimed the promises.  You have fought hard and done everything you know to do.  You really thought your answer would have been here by now, but it has not come.  You are tempted to throw in the towel and accept the fact it is not coming – it must not be the will of God.  But hold on just a minute…it is just now Saturday!  Sunday is resurrection day, and it is not here yet.  No matter what you see, how you feel or what they say – God will keep His promise to you.  Do not give up on Saturday!

Here is the plan the devil does not want you to know.  It works every time.  This is what we will call the Strategy for Saturday.

Rest in the Lord.  The battle has been long and hard.  You have fought valiantly.  You have kept fighting and believing when many others have quit and walked away.  You are tired.  Your exhaustion is causing you to let your guard down and doubt is beginning to creep in – not intentionally but it is happening, nonetheless.  It is time to retreat to the arms of the Father and let Him hold you for a while.  This is not giving up – it is being refreshed and strengthened.  It is in this moment of stillness revelation will come to you.

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Selah.  (Psalm 46:10-11 MEV)

Listen to the Holy Spirit.  There are many voices trying to get your attention.  Listening to all the chatter of this age will simply frustrate and confuse you.  Peace and revelation come when you listen to the Holy Spirit.  He will guide you into truth and lead you on a right path.  He will settle your spirit and restore your joy.  He will come alive in you replacing your weakness with His power.  Get in the Bible and let the Holy Spirit speak to you!

Start expecting victory.  Your Friday experience is not the end of the story.  It looked bad…it was bad!  Your hurt and disappointment are real.  The report you have been given does not lend itself to much hope.  But…it is just Saturday – Sunday is coming!  Here is what separates the believer from the unbeliever – the unbeliever sees facts that tell him it is over; the believer gets his facts from the Word of God which tells him it is not over until God says it is over.  Choose to believe the Word and start expecting your victory!

You will be able to keep the faith on Saturday when you rest in the Lord; listen to the Holy Spirit and start expecting victory.  That is a pretty good strategy with which to live your life.

I have vivid memories of a time of great stress and battle I faced as a college student.  I loved the Lord with all my heart and did my best to serve Him, but this did not stop the attack of the enemy upon my life.  I wanted very much to find my place in God’s plan, but it seemed everything I tried to do ended in frustration.  I remember feeling pretty tired and weak.

Early one morning the phone in my dorm room rang.  I answered to the voice of a dear lady in my church who loved me and had taken me under her wing.  After some very brief pleasantries she got to the purpose of her call.  I’ll never forget her words to me, “Les, I was praying for you this morning.  The Lord told me I should call you and direct you to a verse of Scripture.  I am at work right now so I do not have time to discuss it – we will talk later.  I just want you to go and read Philippians 1:6.”

I immediately picked up my Bible and found the verse to which my friend had directed me.  “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 NKJV).  I began to tremble as I felt the Holy Spirit speaking directly to me.  I read and reread that verse.  I wrote it on a piece of paper and placed in my wallet.  I memorized it.  This was a Word from the Lord to me and I was not letting it go!

That day – and today – this verse told me regardless of my present situation, God had begun a good work in my life.  It also told me regardless of my present situation, the work He had begun would be completed and there was nothing the devil or anyone else could do to stop it.  I believed it then and I believe it now!

Many reading this right now find themselves in a place of great stress and trial.  It looks like the promise has died and all hope is lost.  You are hearing some experts tell you it is impossible – it is over.  Your flesh is reminding you of what you witnessed Friday – it is hard to see any good coming from that.  Logic tells you giving up is your best option.  But…I remind you Sunday has not gotten here yet.  Do not quit now – you have got to keep the faith on Saturday. Your God will not fail you.  He will see you through.







YOUR CHURCH – A LAKE OR A RIVER?

A couple of mornings ago as I was praying the Lord showed me something I feel I need to share with you.  I saw a beautiful river as it flowed through the countryside.  It flowed for several miles, then all of a sudden, it reached a place where there was a logjam in its path.  This logjam was strong enough to all but stop the flow of this river – only a few small streams were able to penetrate it.

Interestingly, at the place of the stoppage, a large lake had developed.  This lake was beautiful in its own right.  The lake was surrounded by rich vegetation.  People would come and go enjoying the lake.  I saw different kinds of wildlife come out of the nearby wooded areas to drink from the lake.  It was obvious this lake that had been created by the river water unable to break through the logjam had become an accepted fixture in this community.  Much pleasure was gained by the creation of this lake.

As I was seeing this flowing river stopped by the logjam creating a lake for people to enjoy, I heard the Lord say, “this is sadly the church in many places.”

I have not been able to get away from this vision.  The words said to me by the Lord were not spoken in anger but disappointment.  It seems He was saying His plans for us are far greater than we are experiencing.  I believe He was saying we have settled for much less than He has prepared for us.

Too many churches have chosen to be a lake instead of a river.  A lake can definitely meet a need.  A lake is usually the focal point of a community and a place to be celebrated.  Most people enjoy a lake.  But…your church is not called to be a basin filled with water; you are called to be a flowing river bringing life to everything you touch.  You are not simply a meeting place for Christians to enjoy; you are a mighty river meant to affect every aspect of culture.  You are the living, breathing Body of Christ in this world!

Satan recognizes the potential of the Church.  He has created this logjam with the intent of stopping the river.  He is not threatened by a religious institution that meets together a few times a week and reaches out to the needs of a community much like any other civic organization.  He must feel good when he can disrupt the flow and cause us to be satisfied with maintaining the lake.

Sadly, I see this happening today in too many places.  We are preoccupied with disputes with each other, arguments over style and methods, and disagreements over texts that have nothing to do with our salvation.  We agree the world is in trouble but developing a plan to do something about it is a task for another day.  We keep the lake looking good but that logjam is still stopping the river.

The time has come for an identity check in the church.  We need to remember the words of our Lord in Matthew 16 when He said this is His Church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.  We need to remember the authority He said we had in verse 19 of this chapter, “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in Heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:19 NLT) This does not sound like a passive “take it as it comes” body; this sounds like a difference making, life-giving movement!  This is who we are created to be!

We become this Church when there is:

*  Less emphasis on growth and more emphasis on health.  Our goal is not building a big ministry; our goal is becoming everything God has called us to be.  Growth will naturally happen when good health exists.

*  Less emphasis on programs and more emphasis on power.  If programs could change the world we would not be in the shape we are in.  Programs can be helpful tools but it will take the power of the Holy Spirit to impact our world.  “…not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6 NKJV)

*  Less emphasis on performance and more emphasis on productivity.  What difference does it make if we have all the bells and whistles in our worship services but the Kingdom does not experience increase?  These times call, not for a high-tech performance but an encounter with a risen Savior.  We must bear fruit that remains.

*  Less emphasis on what feels good and more emphasis on what does good.  It has almost become a cliché – church is not about us.  Somehow this must be more than words; it must become our life theme.  We are not looking for a feel-good experience; we are a militant body moving throughout the world reclaiming territory stolen by the devil.  We are active, aggressive and victorious!

*  Less emphasis on relating to the culture and more emphasis on changing the culture.  We are in the world but not of this world.  We are the called-out ones and being different is not something to shun but something to embrace.  We are here to reflect Jesus to a fallen world – that requires we me more like Him and less like them.

The time has come for the logjam to be removed and the river to flow mightily through the world.  This will only happen when we earnestly seek God for fresh anointing – the kind that breaks every yoke.  As we pray and seek Him, He will reveal to us those things that must change to loosen us from bondages and free us to rise up as the army of the Lord.  The time has come…the time is now!

The words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14 resonate in my spirit as I write this.  “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.  And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”  (John 14:12-14 NKJV)

A lake church reads this and moves on.  A river church reads this and says, “Yes, Lord!  Let it be done in me!” 

We have arrived at an exciting time for those who are tired of religious activity and are hungry for a divine move of God.  Promises like those in John 14 were not placed in the Scripture for our reading pleasure; they are intended to be reality in our lives/ministries today.  This truth is setting people free and taking many to a fresh season of the miraculous.  Breakthrough is happening.  Barriers are being broken.

God is calling you to leave the lake and get back in the river.  His plans for you are greater than mere survival.  His will is to thrust you forward – past every hindrance – to a place of awesome fruitfulness.  It can happen.  It will happen.  I believe I can even say it is happening!

Dear God, I am hungry.  I am tired of religious activity.  I want to go deep in you.  I want my church to be a city on a hill and alive in the power of your Spirit.  I want to see the promises you made me in your Word become reality in my life and ministry.  I want to change my world for your glory.  I surrender fully to your will – I hold nothing back.  Change me.  Fill me.  Use me.  Take me where I have never been.  I am ready, Lord.  Do it today.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen      

Awakening in the United States is on the Way

Anticipate.  The dictionary gives multiple definitions of this word, some of which are: to regard as probable; to be aware of (what will happen) and take action in order to be prepared; and look forward to.  This word has played into my life many times in many ways.

I remember as a child anticipating special events like Christmas, birthdays and that last day of school before summer break. I remember anticipating my 16th birthday knowing the first order of the day would be a trip to the DMV to get my driver’s license. I remember the anticipation I felt those few days before November 25, 1981 when I knew my life would change forever (for the better!) as Donna would become my wife and we would be a family.  I remember anticipating the birth of our daughter, Kristina, and the many joys she would bring to our world.  It seems so many of the big important events of my life have been preceded by a season of waiting with expectation – anticipation.

There was never any doubt these things would happen but that did not change the fact I had to wait and, in many cases, make preparation.  My patience was sometimes tested but when the time was right, it happened. 

This lesson must not be lost in the realm of the Spirit.  As believers, we learn to pray and wait.  During our time of waiting we grow and receive revelation.  Our prayers are not futile religious exercises – they are bathed in faith and rooted in God’s Word. As this process is taking place, we look forward to the response of our Father – we anticipate His answer. 

For a long time, many of us have been praying for an awakening in our nation.  We have watched the moral decay and the downward spiral of our society.  We have seen the overt effort to remove God from the public square.  We have seen the desensitization of the populace and their willingness to accept sin as normal.  We have witnessed all of this yet believed at some point the wind of revival would blow again. At times it has not looked promising – it has even seemed impossible – but we have kept on praying…and anticipating.

I know some will say I am foolish for writing this.  Others will think I am giving in to wishful thinking.  Disbelief has always existed and certainly abounds in many today, but…my spirit is rising within me in anticipation for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our nation and around the globe.  I believe God has heard (and is hearing) the cries of His children and His promise to pour out of His Spirit in the last days is about to happen!  My heart is burning within me with anticipation!

Throughout its history the United States of America has played a major role in what God has done in this world.  It was not mere coincidence that a small group of people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean toward the New World in 1620 seeking religious freedom.  These pilgrims had no idea what their landing at Plymouth Rock would begin.  A nation would be born that would be a lighthouse for freedom to the entire world and assume the lead in taking the Gospel to the four corners of the globe.  Anyone who tries can see, despite egregious sin and error on the part of many, God has greatly used this country.

I do not believe God is finished with us yet!  I know we have failed Him.  I know great injustices and much evil is present.  I get it – God is in the business of building His Kingdom and not the systems of men.  I know God is not an American.  But…there remains a strong presence of His Body in the nation and until we are taken away He will be working.

The call goes out, today, for the Church to assume its position and prepare for what is coming.  We must be a unified Body – not a white church/black church; not a conservative church/progressive church; not a traditional church/modern church.  We must be His Church – washed in His blood, filled with His Spirit and committed to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”  We cannot let any distraction keep us from His charge.  The Church in this country must come together and lead the way in an awakening that will shake the very foundation of this world.

How can this happen?  Well…it is really not that difficult.  We make it complicated by our opinions and endless analyses.  We feel the need to create strategies and programs.  Under the guise of finding consensus, we study until we stall and nothing gets done.  It is probably time to simplify and return to some basics.  Here are my thoughts…

1.  PRAY.  We know how to do this.  We may have to return to an old-fashioned concept of tarrying, but we know how to do this.  We know how to pray until we pray through.  We know how to pray until we get into a spirit of prayer.  We do not need a manual or a workshop – we just need to pray.  Let’s not complicate things – let’s pray.

Revival will come to America when we pray.  This revival will spread throughout the world when we pray.  “…For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)

As we commit to prayer, the Holy Spirit will begin to speak to us.  He will lead us into truth and give us direction.  He will convict us of sin and reveal iniquity within us.  If we respond as we should, this will move us to the next important step.

2.  PREPARE.  This is where personal responsibility comes into play. We accept as sure as some things can only be done by God; some things God expects from us.  Our attention to the Holy Spirit’s directives aligns us with His will and allow us to participate in the divine plans He has for our country and world.

The last days will be marked by a fresh wind of the Spirit.  Structure and systems that cannot accommodate this will need to be changed.  This will not be change for change sake; it will simply be an adjustment of our sails in order to be moved by the Holy Spirit.  The praying Christian who has prayed through self, tradition and the world will understand this and willingly do it.  The carnal Christian who chooses to give lip-service to preparation will miss it.  The choice is really that simple.

I am convinced from the Word of God, a large part of our preparation must be repentance.  “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:17)

Repentance has been a popular subject in recent years as prominent leaders have led us in repenting for the sins of our nation.  While I believe this is good and necessary, I caution the believer lest you feel this alleviates the need for personal repentance.  I am repulsed by abortion, human trafficking, social injustice and so many other sins in our nation and I know God is as well.  But…we will be in a much stronger position with God when we first deal with our own sin.  Pride, prejudice, cheating, lying, sowing discord, secret sin we think is hidden…on and on the list goes – these sins cannot be glossed over.  Personal repentance must take place and will be a huge element in our preparation process.  When we come clean before God and turn from our sin, He will hear our prayers and heal our land.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

3.  ANTICIPATE.  When we pray and prepare – get ready!  Our Father who loves us more than we can possibly understand is so ready to respond to us with his absolute best.  “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”  (Matthew 7:11)

It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when.  We understand His response will come in His time.  We wait…but we wait with expectation.  We anticipate any day now the answer will come.

God is a man of His word.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35) He will do what He said He would do.  It is time to stand up straight, square our shoulders and look resiliently toward the heavens.  Our answer is on the way!

Now I need to say something that must be heard – our enemy, the devil, will not give up easily.  He has a chokehold on many areas of our country and he will not let go without a fight.  Even recently as we have begun to see the possibility of some positive breakthroughs to some longstanding problems, he has reared his ugly head and gotten in the way.  Riots in the streets, deep division in government and a deadly virus that disrupted every area of our society are just some examples of his intrusion.  Expect more to come.

The devil will fight but we will win!  We will win if we pray, prepare and anticipate.  There is no question about it.  Hold on to this and fight back from a standpoint of victory.  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

I am not ashamed to tell anyone I love my country.  I still get a lump in my throat when I stand at a ballgame with my hand over my heart and hear the national anthem.  I still believe God brought us into existence for divine purpose.  I still believe He wants to use us in this world.  I still believe revival is near.  I have not lost hope.  I still believe.

It may not come like we thought it would.  God may use people we would not expect Him to use.  All of that is all right with me.  I will leave the details to God and fully trust His plan.  I am just hungry for revival that stretches from coast to coast and spreads to every nation of the world.  You may say it cannot happen.  I say just watch!  I am anticipating!

I am Human but I am His!

As a God-called preacher of the Gospel I always walk through my storms unfazed and every time I come out of a fiery time of testing you cannot even smell smoke on my clothes…wouldn’t it be great if this were true?  The truth is all of us, regardless of our standing and relationship with God, find ourselves from time to time in places that seem overwhelming.  We can put on our best face but deep down inside we are anxious and concerns about our survival cannot be denied.  Here is the deal – no matter how long you have been a Christian you are still human.  Tough times are part of life.

The disciples learned this fact to be true one night while sailing across the Sea of Galilee with Jesus.  Their assignment was to transport the Lord to the other side of the sea while He rested after a busy day of ministry.  They are experienced and well-equipped for the task so what could go wrong – and besides all this, Jesus is onboard the ship with them.

Sometime during the night a great storm arose.  The wind is strong and the waves are high.  The boat is violently reeling back and forth and is taking on water.  The disciples are doing the best they can to keep the ship together, but it appears in spite of their best efforts the ship is being destroyed and they will most certainly go down with it.  You have got to know they did not see this coming!

Finally, after what may have been hours fighting this storm, one of the disciples asked the question, “where is Jesus?”  He certainly was not helping them in this crisis.  They were doing all they could to keep the ship from coming apart, but Jesus was totally uninvolved.  As they began to look around – sure enough – they found Jesus where He had been all along – in the back of the ship fast asleep. 

One of the men cried out in desperation, “Lord, get up and help us!  We are dying!  Don’t you care?”  Jesus got up and in a calm resolute manner looked at the situation and said, “peace, be still.”  Immediately the wind stopped and the sea settled down.

I love this story because of all the practical truth it contains.  You would think the primary take-away from this lesson would be – the great faith of the disciples moved Jesus to respond with a miracle.  This, however, is in no way the case.  As a matter of fact, the disciples seem to be operating in fear not faith.  They did not cry out to Jesus saying, “Lord, we know you are all-powerful.  Help us in this situation.”  Their actual cry was, “Lord, help us.  We are about to die!”  They have heard His sermons, seen His miracles and love Him enough to leave all they have to follow Him – yet in this storm they are afraid.

If that storm caused the humanity of the disciples to be displayed, I probably should not be so hard on myself when events in my life cause mine to show.  I love Jesus and am fully committed to serving Him, yet sometime…sometimes I am afraid…sometimes I am overwhelmed…sometimes there just does not seem to be a way out.  I have watched Him move for me countless times, but this storm just feels different. 

Times like these cause me to relate to the man in Mark 9 who came to Jesus with a great need.  Jesus said to the man, “if you can believe, all things are possible.”  With tears streaming down his face, the man replied to Jesus, “Lord, I believe.  Help now my unbelief.”  I think the man was saying, “Jesus, I know you have all power – in no way do I doubt your ability.  I’m just wondering if you’re going to help me.”  He knew Jesus could, but he wasn’t sure Jesus would.

It is very important to note in both of the stories I have referenced in this article – the disciples in the storm and the man with a great need – Jesus intervened and gave a miracle.  He did this, not because of great faith, but because of His great love for His children.  This Father and son/daughter relationship trumps everything else!  Jesus really does love us!

This truth became very clear to me many years ago when my daughter, Kristina, was moving into her first apartment while a student at Lee University.  Donna and I were helping her get the apartment set up when I decided I should take her to the grocery store.  I wanted to make sure, before we left to go home, she had everything she needed.

Kris and I – along with her ridiculously small list of grocery items needed – headed to the supermarket.  As I pushed the cart down the store aisle, we passed many things I knew she liked but were not on her list.  I would point these items out to her and ask if she wanted them.  Each time she would reply, “Daddy, I don’t really need that right now.”  I would say, “but I know you like it.  You always eat this when you come home.  Let’s just get a little.”  This scenario repeated itself over and over.  I was having the best time shopping with my little girl and getting her all the things I knew she enjoyed.

It was not until we got to the checkout line that reality hit me!  As I watched the number getting larger and larger on the cash register, I realized Kris probably did not need all of those things right now…but it was too late.  I pulled out the American Express and paid for all the fun I had just had!

Now you can believe this or not, but right then and there – in the grocery store checkout line – the Holy Spirit spoke to me.  He said to me, “You’ve had a good time today giving your little girl things you know she likes.  If you then being earthly know how to give good things to your child, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Kingdom to them who ask Him!”   He let me know He delighted in blessing me even more than I delighted in blessing my daughter!

You and I find ourselves, today, in some pretty difficult times.  A virus is raging throughout the world bringing fear, disruption and destruction with it.  Our political landscape has become acrimonious and bitter.  Forces are at work to divide our nation along racial, philosophical and economic lines.  Our enemy, the devil, is surely at work.

Many are facing intense personal battles.  Sickness, loneliness, fear…on and on the list goes.  These are not figments of our imagination – these problems are real and they hurt really bad.  To make matters worse, when we come to these times in our life there is that accusatory voice in our mind telling us, “this wouldn’t be happening to you if God really loved you.  You aren’t worthy of His love.”  We have all been there – some reading this are there right now.

I am so happy to have this opportunity to share some good news with you!  Regardless of what you are feeling and how bad you are hurting, Jesus loves you and will not forsake you because of your situation.  As a matter of fact, He wants to draw nearer and prove to you He is your answer.  He will not run from you – He is running to you!  You are His child – He is your Father!  You may not feel like a person of mighty faith and power – that is ok.  Just come to him as you are – He will not turn you away.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me.  For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30 MEV)

The devil tells me I am just a human without rights and without hope.  I tell the devil he is a liar – I am a human but my Father is the King!  I am human but I am His!

The Spotlight Keeps Coming Back to Me

How much more can we take?  I am ashamed to admit this is a question I have asked several times over the past few weeks.  The prolonged crises happening in our nation seem to have no end.  They are striking so close to home and leaving an imprint that will remain forever.  I am tired and long for the days I remember not that long ago.  I just want things to be normal again.

When our world turned upside down earlier this year I felt – and even said – this, too, shall pass.  I genuinely believed our issues would be dealt with, and after awhile, we would carry on – hopefully better and stronger.  My optimistic self believed we were strong enough to address wrongs and big enough to defeat enemies.  We have been challenged before – we will overcome as we always have.  But I am sitting here today wondering when it will ever end.

I am praying.  I am praying for the President, Congress and Courts.  I am praying for groups that have risen in our county who hate our way of life and seek to destroy us from within.  I am praying for medical personnel and researchers who are dealing with the pandemic.  I am praying for media who stoke my fears.  I am praying for those who are truly hurting and are victims of all that is taking place.  But I need to be honest…the more I pray the more I feel the spotlight shining back on me and my church.  I just do not feel He is finished speaking to and working on us. 

I love the church.  I still believe it is the Body of Christ on this earth.  It is the Bride of Christ that will soon be caught up together to meet Him in the air.  It is built on the rock and all the powers of hell will never prevail against it.  The true church of Jesus Christ is, indeed, alive and well.  But…I am wondering if there is more I need to do to align with His church.  I am wondering if during my stewardship I have strayed from His original intent.  I am wondering if this season is an opportunity for me to adjust my sails and get it right.  I am wondering…

Over the past many years I have witnessed what I call the Americanization of the church.  In many cases the Apostolic voice is missing and we operate by what we think and feel.  We demand a vote on everything so our voices can be heard.  We talk more about our rights than we do His will and Word. Self-promotion and posturing have replaced prayer and a seat at the table has become more important than time in His presence.  We have become program driven instead of Spirit led.   We view the church no differently than any other organization in the world.  We have moved so far from the New Testament church we were birthed to be.  Could this be part of our problem?

I do not speak for anyone else, but I believe we have drifted.  We are busy with good works but we remain anxious and anemic.  We do love Jesus but we are easily distracted by the angry waves around us.  We continue to preach the Word but our belief is sadly mixed with unbelief.  The passion we began the race with has slowly lost much of its fervor.  The movement is becoming an institution. 

In Luke 24 there is a story of two men who one time had great hope that change was coming to their world but because of the death of Jesus this hope was lost.  They are walking home from Jerusalem when unbeknownst to them, Jesus appears and walks with them.  As they discuss the events of recent days, Jesus engages with them in conversation but they still do not recognize Him.

These men finally arrive at their home and because of the late hour invite Jesus to spend the night with them.  As they begin to eat supper together, Jesus blessed the food.  The scripture tells us it was at this time their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.  Jesus immediately vanished from their sight.

Many of us can relate to the overwhelming disappointment the two disciples felt in the beginning of the Luke 24 story.  We began 2020 with declarations of revival and awakening but before much of the year is gone we are unable to meet in our church facilities because of a pandemic and cities throughout the nation are burning.  Unemployment and business closures have skyrocketed.  We have witnessed despicable acts of hatred and injustice in our streets.  We are watching politicians in Washington sacrifice our country because of their feelings toward their opposing political party and leaders.  On and on it goes.

But, just as we relate to the disappointment of the disciples let us not forget Jesus is still walking with us!  Somehow, I must push through my circumstances and connect with my resurrected Lord.  I want what happened in this story to happen to me.

* His Word Burned Within Them.  After Jesus departed from them, the two men recall their time with him on the road.  They said in Luke 24:32, “…Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the way and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 

I want holy heartburn again!  Like the Prophet Jeremiah, when I feel like quitting and I think my work does not matter, I want His Word in me like fire in my bones.  Nothing can take the place of His Word.  I need the strength, instruction and power of the Word in my life.  I must give priority to His Word in all I do.  I must have it!

* They Invited Jesus Into Their Home.  Home is where you are who you really are.  There is no pretense at home.  Into this most intimate place, these men invited Jesus. 

If I am going to be who He has called me to be, I must take Jesus home with me.  He must be welcome in my private places.  He must be part of my discussions and plans.  The effectiveness of my public ministry will be determined by my private moments with the Lord.  The days of making backroom plans without His direction and expecting God to be good with it are over.  Jesus must be welcome at all times in all places.

* They Had to Share the Good News.  When it was revealed to the disciples it was Jesus who had been with them, they quickly returned to Jerusalem to give the news to all their friends.  They could not keep this information to themselves.  They had to share it!

I cannot become paralyzed by fear, intimidation or anything else.  The Gospel must be preached – in the church; on the internet; through every avenue of media.  It must be shared in the neighborhood; in the workplace; on the street corner.  My friends and family must hear it.  People I have never met have got to be told.  In a world looking for good news – I have got some!  I have got to tell it!

In these chaotic times, I know there is an answer for the church.  But I hope someone hears this – we cannot proceed with business as usual.  Systems that have worked for us in the past will not pull us through these challenges.   Marketing and slick presentations will result in frustration.  If we listen closely, I believe we will hear God say, “You’ve tried your way, now it is time to try mine.” 

What is God’s way?  His way is for the priests to weep between the porch and the altar.  His way is for the call to go forth for a solemn assembly.  His way is for judgment to begin at the house of the Lord and His people repent.  His way is for our idols to be destroyed and He be Lord of our lives once again.  His way is for us to seek Him and His Kingdom first – then those other things we need will be given to us.

I believe there is a cure for Covid-19 and an answer for every other issue troubling us today.  I believe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have been expecting is still coming.  I am still anticipating a mighty awakening in this nation and a sweeping revival across the globe.  In reality, everything happening causes me to believe these things even more – the devil as a roaring lion is pulling out every stop to prevent it but he cannot do it!  I believe!

But I remind you – we must do things His way.

“When I shut up the heaven and there is no rain, or when I command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence on My people, if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers of this place.”  (II Chronicles 7:13-15)    

Revival… Will We Know It When We See It?

I grew up in a small town in southeastern Oklahoma in a vastly different time from today.  Instead of computer games, we played real games.  My adventures were limited only to my imagination.  Everyday I was outside with my friends and oh the fun we could have with the simplest of things! 

One of the most exciting games we would play was racing our bicycles down Red Hill.  Red Hill was this very steep mountain a few blocks from my home.  It rivaled Pikes Peak in its height.  The kids in my neighborhood would push our bikes up that gigantuous incline and race each other to the bottom.  The key was to never touch the brake – that was real adventure!  As a ten-year-old boy, I literally took my life in my hands with that daredevil feat.  It is a wonder I survived.

A few years ago – after telling this story to my family many times – I took them to see Red Hill.  I really do not know what happened.  That huge mountain was gone replaced by a small hill.  The place of so many of my boyhood near-death experiences was not what I remembered at all.  I have got to tell you my stories of grand conquest over an enormous challenge lost its luster.  Reality was not what I recalled at all.

I have noticed many times in life we paint pictures in our minds of how certain things were or should be only to be disappointed when we discover reality.  Sometimes this can be amusing as my example.  Other times we can miss the joy of the real by holding onto the imagined.  It is healthy to dream but it is important to be able to process those dreams through reality.  I want to be a man of big dreams, but I do not want to be a man who lives in fantasy.

Today in the church there is much talk about revival.  I am one of those who believe we are on the brink of a spiritual outpouring.  I sense a stirring in my spirit that is unlike anything I have ever felt before.  I, like many others, believe God is about to do something truly spectacular in the earth.  The question is – will we know it when we see it?

Having spent all my life in Pentecost I have read about and witnessed many moves of God.  I have seen many people set free and delivered from the shackles of sin.  I have seen many people healed of all manner of sickness and disease.  I have seen God answer prayer by making a way where there did not seem to be one.  I have seen God move in His power and demonstrate His great glory.  These experiences have shaped me and made me the man I am today.

But I have been wondering – is what I have seen what God wants to do again?  Is what is coming simply an updated version of what we have already had?  Could it be possible what God has planned will look quite different than our past experiences?  Could my expectation based on my experience cause me to miss what God has planned?   Could I really miss the revival God is sending because I am looking for something else?  Will I recognize this revival when I see it?

I am seriously considering these questions in my own life.  Recently in prayer I believe the Lord brought to my mind five characteristics of the revival He is sending.  I will not take the time to elaborate on each of these in this blog – that may come later.  Here is what I believe a last-day revival is going to look like:

– It will not be a public relations opportunity for a church or an evangelist but a total shift to Jesus.

– It will not just produce converts but disciples.

– It will not just be a spiritual outpouring but radical transformation.

– It will not produce programmed benevolence but a lifestyle of servanthood.

– It will not be an event but a revolution.

This looks like far more than I have experienced in my ministry.  This seems to go much deeper than a Jericho march and an extended altar call on Sunday night.  These things will not automatically occur in a prayer line.  I like Jericho marches, extended altar calls and prayer lines – these have been genuine elements of past moves of God and we do not have to lose them but world changing revival is more than this.  I do not want my memory of what was to keep me from the reality of what is.

I am concerned many churches – especially classical Pentecostals like myself – could miss what God is doing while waiting for something else.  We know what God has done but to stretch and go further requires risk we are unwilling to take.  But deep inside I sense the Holy Spirit is saying, “relax and follow me.”  This next revival may not look like yesterday’s, but it will be what we need to cover the globe with the Gospel and usher in the return of Jesus.  This revival may look different, but it will make us more like Him.

Our world has plunged into utter chaos.  Things are so broken neither a Democrat nor a Republican can fix them.  The downward spiral has become so drastic conversation cannot stop it.  Vaccines, stimulus checks or legislative action will not bring about the change for which the masses are calling.  I have come to the conclusion revival is the only thing that is going to help – not the revival I remember; not the revival in which I have become comfortable but a revival that shakes us to our core and transforms us fully to the Church for which He shed His blood.

You may ask, “how can this happen in my church?”  This answer is simple.  Any church – large or small; city or rural; young or old – that is willing to pray until it happens and not settle for anything less will see this revival.  The moves of God of the past will pale in comparison to the far-reaching transformational revival that is on the way.  You can be part of it!

Revival is coming!  The question that must be answered is – will you know it when you see it?  I am determined to be prepared and spiritually sensitive to what God is doing.  I will not miss this last-day revival.