The Blessing of Barrenness

Many old western movies have begun with that scene of a deserted town with the wind blowing a tumbleweed down what one time had been a bustling street.  Or there is the scene of a dusty field with the remnants of a crop still there but now its mostly dry parched soil with no sign of life to be found.  Of course, we have all seen the one of the sun beaming down in the desert when the camera slowing moves to reveal the bones of the cowboy that did not survive.  The one thing each of these movie scenes have in common is barrenness.

Barren is a truly harsh word.  It actually means bleak and lifeless.  Other words sometimes used to describe it are unproductive; infertile; unfruitful; desert; desolate; waste; impoverished…nothing good found in this list!  I even decided to ask Google what a barren life is – the answer was “you achieve no success in it.”  It seems to me this is one thing everyone should by all means avoid!

But despite information provided by search engines or images depicted in movies, seasons of barrenness are not always bad.  In fact, there are countless examples of bleak times being the turning point to some of life’s greatest victories.

* Moses is forced to flee from his royal life in Egypt to tend his father-in-law’s sheep on the backside of the desert.  It sure looks like he fell fast and hard, but in Exodus 3, he has an encounter with God through a burning bush that, not only changed his life, but changed a nation.

*  Hannah lived a life of sorrow and humiliation because, according to I Samuel 1:5, “the Lord had shut up her womb.”  Her adversary constantly ridiculed Hannah because of this condition.  But God had a plan – at just the right time she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  At a moment in history when the nation had become spiritually bankrupt and leaderless, God used Hannah’s son, Samuel, to be a mighty prophet in Israel.

* Paul had been one of the most ardent fighters against the Cross but, after his conversion, used all he had to fight for the Christ of Calvary.  This strong commitment to Jesus led him to be hated by the Jews and imprisoned.  His living conditions were many times harsh and, no doubt, he felt forsaken.  But instead of using this desolate time as an opportunity for self-pity, Paul wrote what are referred to as his prison epistles – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. 

*  John was banished to the Isle of Patmos “for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 1:9) I would imagine those responsible for sending him to this deserted place felt they were getting rid of him but little did they know they were positioning him for a divine encounter with Jesus!  It was during this time of isolation the last book of the New Testament was written.

I must admit my personal desire is to stay as far removed from barrenness as possible.  One of my greatest joys is to look back at the end of a day and see productivity and gain.  I want to think my life counts and my work matters.  The thought of an unproductive life causes indescribable sorrow and disappointment.  But…I have to say sometimes seasons of barrenness come.  From time to time, I find myself in the desert – nothing is working – alone even in a crowd – confused with no direction – wondering if my best days are behind me.  Perhaps that is too transparent, but it is the truth.  It has happened to me, and probably if you are honest, it has happened to you.

But, if we genuinely believe God is at work in our lives always for our good, then we must know there are blessings even in barrenness!  Your prison cell or deserted island can become your place of miraculous provision and revelation. His plan for your life does not stop during the barren season; this season could even be part of the plan.

You may ask, what possible blessing can there be in barrenness?  I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I know from experience there are at least three things that happen when I find myself in the desert.

God Speaks.  The four examples from the Bible I mentioned earlier in the blog have something in common – they all found themselves in a barren place.  Read their stories, however, and you will discover they had something else in common – God spoke to them in their barrenness.

I am convinced the hardest time to hear from God is when we are moving forward with momentum.  Our tendency is to give ourselves to the moment and ride the wave – what we are doing is working so we relax and enjoy it.  God has something to say to us even in these moments but, many times, our spiritual antennae is not operating at full frequency.  But in the valley…in that hard lonely place…we become desperate causing our heart to cry out to God.

God – as the good Father He is – will reveal himself when we cry out to Him in our desperation.  He says things we need to hear.  He gives revelation we could not receive any other time.  He teaches truth that will literally change our life.  He does His best work in us when the distractions of success and busyness of life have subsided.  He has our attention, and He takes advantage of it.

I Have a Great Opportunity to Fully Align with His Plan.  It is so easy to get out of alignment.  This happens with my vehicle occasionally and can cause real damage if it is not corrected.  The problem is it occurs so slightly over time – I can miss it if I am not paying attention. 

In ministry – in life – it is easy to get out of alignment with God’s plan.  We commit to systems.  We listen to the advice of others.  We follow trends.  Often in our effort to do good we try to do things we are not called to do and be things we are not called to be.  Even in sincerity and purity we can become misaligned if we are not careful. 

In my season of barrenness, God speaks, and if I am smart, I listen.  He will show me what needs to come off and what needs to be put on.  He will reaffirm His call on my life and give opportunity for fresh commitment to it.  He will use this experience to shape and prepare me for my next assignment.  This dormant time in my life is not wasted – it is my chance to fully align with His plan.
Others Are Affected.  God’s plan for me in my barren season is not to simply make me feel better but to change me!  His desire is never shortsighted but always far reaching.  His intention is to take me to a higher level and use me in ways I have never even imagined.  His blessing on my life is to make my life a blessing to others.  What happens to me will affect someone else.

The people who saw me exiled to Patmos will hear my revelation.  Those who mourned my imprisonment will benefit from my accomplishments there.  Those who ridiculed my barrenness will have to acknowledge my blessing.  Those who wondered where I have gone will witness my return.  These are things my earlier examples could have said, I will have my own testimony when this trying time comes to an end! My story will affect others and God will get the glory!

As I am writing this blog, I am sensing there will be those reading it who are experiencing a season of barrenness.  You do not understand why things have happened as they have – it really makes no sense.  Perhaps your ministry…or your marriage…or your career…or something else important to you has taken a turn you did not anticipate.  If you could explain it and figure out the why, it would be so much easier to handle…but you cannot.  You are on an island…it is lonely and deserted…the reality of barrenness is staring you in the face.

You can throw in the towel and quit…a lot of others have done this.  You can become bitter and play the part of a victim…that is a common response today.  You can feel sorry for yourself and drown in a pool of self-pity…some would even say you are justified to do this.  You can do any of these things knowing you will not be the first to take whatever route you choose to take.

I am hoping, however, you will have a different reaction to your situation.  Even in your pain and confusion, I am hoping you will start looking for the heart and hand of the Father.  I boldly declare to you; God still has a plan for your life…He is not finished with you…He will make you fruitful and productive again! 

Bishop Tim Hill wrote a song several years ago that speaks directly to those needing the message of this blog.  With his permission I share the chorus of It Will Rain Again –

But it will rain again,
The fruit will fill the vine.
The stalk will bend with wheat;
The grapes burst forth with wine.
So go into the field,
Your work is not in vain.
God promised harvest and I know it will rain.

Get up, my friend.  It is about to rain again on your dry parched heart.  Even with everything going on your life you are about to discover there is a blessing in your barrenness.

Repost: Make Healing Front and Center

The ministry of Jesus was multi-faceted to say the least.  He touched every area of society and truly made an impact everywhere he went.  But it seems whatever the occasion, He was always healing the sick.  Healing sick people was a priority of our Lord.  “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” (Matthew 9:35)

Healing has been one of the most misused and misunderstood doctrines of the Bible for as long as I remember.  From the total deniers who say healing is not available today to the “I am healed and can never be sick” crowd, so many have missed the mark and led people to false doctrine.  It seems this is a classic example of what the devil likes to do to keep us from liberating truth.

I grew up in an environment where the subject of healing was commonplace.  I have often said it seemed every Sunday night in the church I attended – at some point in every service – healing would be mentioned.  We prayed for the sick.  We sent anointed prayer cloths to the sick folks who could not be in the service.  The message of healing was front and center in everything we did.  

Unfortunately, we have arrived at a time when healing has been deemphasized by many.  While some churches still preach and practice praying for the sick; others never bring up the subject.  A large segment of the population who attend church every week have no idea about the 39 stripes brutally placed on the back of our Lord before His crucifixion allowing us to claim I Peter 2:24, “…by whose stripes you were healed.”  This is information that does not need to be ignored – it needs to be shouted from the rooftops!

In my spirit I hear the Lord saying now is the time to take the message of divine healing from the back of the paper and return it to the front page.  I believe as the church begins to make its way out of our present time of reset, a mighty move of the Spirit is in our near future.  It just keeps coming to me over and over, this season of revival will be a time of multiplied miracles.  I fully expect the power of God to be manifested among us in ways unprecedented in our lifetime.  I really believe this!

But as we enter this fresh season of New Testament power, I believe there are two things that must be clearly understood and taught:  1.)  God heals for His glory and 2.) Our God is absolutely sovereign.  

God heals for His glory.  God is not interested in making us famous – whereas our testimony is important, He will not allow our star to be brighter than His.  This may sound harsh, but his emphasis is not even on making the sick well.  Everything He does is for His Kingdom and He wants all the glory.  Our attitude must be that of John the Baptist – we must decrease so that He might increase.  (John 3:30) We will see a huge upsurge in healing when the attention leaves the one praying and the one being prayed for and goes completely to God. 

Our God is absolutely sovereign.  This means God has the absolute right to do all things according to His own good pleasure (Easton’s Bible Dictionary).  While we pray about what is happening now, God  answers with eternity in mind.  He works with the big picture – not just what we see and feel in the present.  Praying in faith is not just believing we will have our prayer answered, it is putting the issue totally in the hands of God for Him to do what is best for us and the Kingdom.  This is not a tool to help us save face for when we pray for healing and it does not come; it is putting our complete trust in a good God.  Like Job, we are able to say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 3:15)

When we accept these two basic tenets of faith, we can go boldly to the throne of God and pray for healing.  We can trust the hand and heart of God knowing He loves us and has a good plan for us.  We can believe this even when the outward evidence does not speak of physical healing for sometimes God’s plan is a glorified body and not a healed physical body.  It is at this time, we stand firmly on   II Corinthians 4:16-18, Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen…”

The healing for which I just referred was purchased for us on the cross.  Jesus died so eternal life could be experienced by those who believe on Him.  This life lived in the eternal realm is beautiful with no sickness or suffering of any kind.  People who die in the faith absolutely lay down a body that may have been ravaged by disease and take on one that will never feel another pain.  This is the ultimate healing of which all believers will be rewarded one day.

But, please hear me, death is not the only means to healing.  When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the price for eternal life which entitles us to live with Him forever in a glorified body.  If there was nothing more, it seems to me the scourging (whipping) He took before He got to the cross was not necessary.  But it was necessary!  For at the whipping post – with leather straps embedded with bone and lead lashed across his back – He bought divine healing for us!  Thirty-nine hateful and excruciating stripes were placed on His back so that we would be healed.

Healing must be particularly important to our Lord if He was willing to endure such intense and agonizing pain to pay for it.  Since He went through immense torture for healing to be available to His children, He must want me to have it. I can only conclude; it is my right as a child of God to pray for healing and believe Him to do it.  I can know Him as the Savior of my soul and the healer of my body.

Most people in my circle will agree healing is scriptural and obtainable but simply believing in it is not enough.  We must capture again the once prevalent passion for the full Gospel which includes divine healing.  We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by the devil or marginalized by our society.  We cannot allow the excesses of charlatans and the misuses of spiritual gifts to keep us from receiving this much needed blessing our Lord suffered to provide for us.  We must allow the healing rivers of the Holy Spirit to again flow through us.  I am convinced this is the will of God.

As stated earlier in this blog, I deeply believe supernatural revival is on the way.  This revival will be marked by multitudes of people from all over the globe coming into the Kingdom.  Many of these will be drawn to the Lord by verified testimonies of divine healing.  Just as in the New Testament, God will use the display of His power to get the attention of people.  There is just no good reason this mighty move of the Spirit should miss your church!

So, what do we do?  Pray for the sick.  Preach and teach divine healing.  Believe for miracles.  Stand squarely on the Word of God – nothing more, nothing less – and watch the Father do for you what He promised.  And…through it all, give Him all the glory!

“Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise Him up.  And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”  (James 5:14-15)

Healing has been provided for you in the atoning blood of the Lord, Jesus.  This beautiful gift is part of your spiritual inheritance.  Receive it today.  Be healed in Jesus name.

PERSONAL NOTE:  As these words were being written, I have been praying for the reader.  I have asked God to allow His healing power to flow through these simple thoughts and touch many who need a healing in their body.  I expect it to happen!  If you are one of those let me hear from you.  If you need prayer, I will be happy to do that as well if you will let me know.  There is a healing stream flowing through the church today – I want it to touch you.

The Call to Swim Upstream

One of the most fascinating occurrences in nature of which I have read is the migration of salmon.  This fish is born in freshwater rivers, spends most of its life in saltwater but returns to the river of its birth for spawning.  The challenge of this process is, in order to reach its destination, it must swim upstream; it must swim against the river’s current.

This is no easy feat for the salmon.  There are many obstacles such as rapids and debris in the path.  There are predators such as bear and sport fishermen intent on catching them.  The journey, itself, may be a few hundred miles in length.  All these challenges fight against the process, yet the determined salmon assume this task every fall.

I have been thinking a lot about swimming upstream; moving against the tide.  I have come to the conclusion this is not just behavior for the salmon, but it must become the lifestyle of the believer.  I understand the Christian walk has always been in opposition to the world, but today’s climate takes it to a brand-new level.  The words of Paul to the Romans have never been more important – “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2 NKJV)

The environment in which we find ourselves has become so corrupt and perverted.  The prophet, Isaiah, said there would come a time when men would “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20 NKJV).  Paul told Timothy in the latter times “some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” 
(I Timothy 4:1-2 NKJV).  These two prophetic statements have become reality in our present culture.  We do, indeed, live in perilous and evil days.

The challenge for the church is how will we respond to these times.  It is an absolute fact everything we do must be rooted in love.  It is also true we must not be afraid to adjust and modernize our methods in order to experience our maximum effectiveness.  But…while we intentionally reach out to the world in love and use every means available to us to communicate the message, we must not fail to speak truth.  It is only when people know the truth that they will be set free.  (John 8:32)

The old adage “it is easier said than done” certainly comes into play here.  It is not easy – in fact, it is quite difficult – to stand against the crowd and boldly declare what the Holy Scriptures say.  It will never be popular to take a position against sin and the intimidation from the secular culture will be strong against those who do.  Media, entertainment, and perceived public opinion have drawn a line in the sand on the side of anti-Biblical lifestyles and behavior accusing those who oppose these narrow minded, bigoted and hatemongers. The challenge is real. 

To further complicate matters, many church leaders and members have chosen popularity and self-preservation over standing for Biblical truth.  To avoid offending anyone, an attitude of “go along to get along” has become the unspoken strategy.  Condoning error and sin is not the plan but avoiding the subject is.  Neutrality has become the position of choice. 

But…even with an awareness of the lay of the land, I seem to be hearing the Lord say, “I’m looking for some people to swim upstream!”  The call is going out for men and women to live holy lives in an unholy world and proclaim liberating truth to those bound by the lies of the devil.  The call is not to mean people or self-righteous people but to broken people – people with tear dimmed eyes – people moved by compassion.  The call is for people who realize this life is temporary, but eternity is forever.  Our Lord is calling…

This subject is stirring in my spirit.  I have been dreaming about it at night and meditating upon it during the day.  I believe God is calling me – not to the Familiar.2 – but to something fresh and more productive than I have ever experienced. This “new thing” God is wanting to do is going to require I leave my comfort zone and surrender to the call to swim upstream.  Some who have been with me may not go with me on this new journey.  Some things I have used in the past may need to be left behind this time.  Some things that have been important may not be now.  Whatever sacrifice or change is required, I must be willing to assume them. 

A couple of nights ago I woke up from a dream with the following outline clearly in my spirit.  I quickly wrote it down because I felt it was instruction for my journey upstream.  I believe this is what the Lord said to me:

1.  Stay Encouraged.  Events and situations around me may naturally cause discouragement.  It is during these times I must take personal responsibility for my attitude and outlook.  I Samuel 30:6 says David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.  David’s approach to his situation must be mine as well.

It has never been more important for me to stay in the Word and constantly practice walking in the Spirit.  His Word and presence will be my source of courage.  No one can keep me from this but me!  It is my responsibility to stay encouraged.

2.  Travel Light.  Sometimes I carry things that only serve to weigh me down.  Some things to which I have become attached serve no useful purpose in my mission – they take my time and energy but do not really help me on my journey.  It is probably time for some housecleaning and decluttering.

This is surely what the writer to the Hebrews was conveying when he said, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) I do not want to carry anything that hinders my progress.

3.  Do Not Be Afraid.  Fear is torment.  Fear is paralyzing. Fear is the exact opposite of faith.  Fear has a strong grip.

The devil is throwing the kitchen sink at us, today, as it relates to fear.  We are afraid of a virus.  We are afraid of rising crime rates.  We are afraid of an economy going the wrong direction.  We are afraid for our children’s future.  We are afraid for our own future.  The list goes on and on. 

The disciples learned the answer to the fear issue when they accompanied Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration.  The events of that occasion caused them to fall down in fear.  At that moment “Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Matthew 17:7-8 NKJV).  They discovered when they looked to Jesus, they saw nothing to be afraid of.  I do not want to forget this simple lesson.

4.  Get Ready for Adventure. I think its interesting the word adventure was in my dream.  An adventure is an exciting experience or undertaking that is typically bold and sometimes risky. I am convinced this is exactly where God is calling us – to a place of bold moves that may appear risky to our flesh and friends but totally aligned with God’s will for our lives.

We have been praying – we need to keep praying.  We have been strategizing – there is nothing wrong with having a plan.  We have been dreaming – most things begin with a dream.  But, at some point, we have to leave the shore and step into the water. A stand has to be taken.  A side has to be chosen.

Some will not understand, and others will adamantly oppose, but if the Word says it – we will preach it and if the Holy Spirit directs – we will obey. We will hold to our convictions and seek to please the Lord in all we do. We are not seeking affirmation or promotion – we just want to be participants in what God has planned for these last days…even if it means swimming upstream!

It’s Going to Take Some Time

I remember when the internet first came to the Higgins home.  We were all so excited to think the world would be available at our fingertips.  We would be able to get information and learn about anything that interested us.  We could not wait for this new opportunity to explore and grow.  This happened for us in the mid 90’s.

I still remember sitting down at the computer – after Donna or Kris showed me how to turn it on – and hearing that awful sound as connection was being made.  And, oh, that spinning circle – that thing drove me crazy!  It seemed to take forever before anything could be done, and I have to tell you, I lost interest pretty quickly!  It did not take me long until I realized everything I needed to know was in a book somewhere – I would leave this innovative technology to others.

I must admit I have come around to a greater appreciation of the internet these days but I still get frustrated when I hit a glitch or the speed is not up to par.  I do not like to wait.  If I want it, I would like to have it now.  Patience may be a virtue but there is still quite a bit of room for growth in this area of my life!  I get the feeling almost every day I am not alone in this!

Unfortunately, this desire for quick and convenient has reached into most areas of our personal world.    The most important things to most of us are the clock and the next thing on our schedule.  It is getting harder and harder to enjoy the journey because our focus is too often only on the destination.  Our rush and insistence on the instant are causing us to miss so much.

I would like to think this problem has not invaded the church and affected us spiritually, but it has.  Old fashioned ideas of tarrying and waiting on the Lord are rarely discussed.  Process is a bad word.  Discipleship is a word used but not understood.   We know the things of God are important but they have a lot of competition in our lives.  Prayer, worship, and the Word – all important – but they must fit into our schedule.  This is the sad commentary of our day.

Something must change!  We all know this is true, however, we spend more time pontificating about the problem than we do trying to change it.  It is as though we have accepted the current situation as the new norm and simply say, “it is what it is.”  But, if I understand properly, one role of the church is to confront culture not comply with it.  We are to be different, set the bar high and demonstrate to the world a better way.  Blending is not our goal but reflecting Jesus and leading people to Him is.

While I am not trying to create a Pollyanna world, I think revisiting some things in our past may be helpful.  Not everything from yesterday needs to be discarded.  By searching through the archives of the past we may discover some direction that will lead us to a healthier and happier place.  Pulling up some memories and drawing from some experiences may be just what is needed for these times.

When I think about my formative years as a believer, one thing stands out that I am convinced made a huge difference in my development – the altar.  The altar was more than a piece of furniture in our church; it was the place where people connected with God.  If you could find those altars that were in the Norman OK, Classen Boulevard Church of God in the late 70’s, I’m sure you could find some tear stains left there by a searching college student who just wanted to find God’s will for his life.  It was here I poured out my heart to God and had encounters with Him that continue to impact my life today.  Those experiences changed me, shaped me, and set me on a path to my destiny.

In our church, we always had times of personal ministry where people would come forward to be anointed with oil and prayed for.  But we seemed to understand the difference between personal ministry where people came seeking a blessing and altar time where we humbled ourselves before God and experienced genuine intimacy with Him.  The blessings were needed but our time with the Father around the altar was life changing.

It was at the altar where I learned the importance of tarrying before the Lord.  The word tarry means to linger in expectation or to wait.  You cannot rush tarrying.  You cannot predict how long you will need to tarry.  Tarrying requires a willingness to wait until…until you pray through – until the burden is lifted – until you are certain the answer is on the way.  Tarrying is going to take some time.

It was while we tarried before the Lord that revelation came; development and growth took place and genuine spiritual depth was gained.  It was while we tarried our flesh was crucified and a true life in the Spirit became possible.  It was while we tarried conviction came to the house and people were drawn to the Lord.  It required great discipline, but the results were absolutely worth it.

I realize changing times effect the way ministry is done today.  Whereas we have learned to do some things better and great progress has been made on many fronts, there is still the realization a revival in our church and an awakening in our world is needed.  We do thank God for our blessings and celebrate our many victories…but deep in our hearts we know more is needed.  We cannot deny the fact many churches are in decline and many pastors are frustrated.  We certainly cannot deny the fact our world is in trouble and shows no sign of improving. 

The great challenge will be to cast off expectations that have been placed upon us and look steadfastly to the Lord for direction.  Our decisions cannot be driven by numbers.  A weekend revival will not be enough.  A new sermon series may produce some fruit, but it will probably not bring in the harvest. Do not be shocked when business as usual generates only the usual business.  There has to be more!

More…that is what we need.  More…that is God’s plan.   More…it can happen where you live and serve.  It can, but…it calls for a God encounter.  This will always happen at the altar when you wait…when you tarry.  You want it suddenly but suddenly is usually preceded by waiting.  This may not be what you want to hear but the old adage, “good things come to those who wait” is true!  God has a good plan for your life and ministry but – get ready – it is going to take some time. 

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

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