Friday, April 25, 2014

Out of Gas

Out of gas. That’s how I’ve felt this past week - spiritually out of gas. I tried reading my Bible, but it was just words on a page. Then I thought maybe I needed to confess all my sins - which I did - but my prayers seemed to just bounce off the ceiling, never piercing through the fog. I tried listening to Christian music, but it felt like the voices were singing about someone I didn’t know, or, more accurately, someone I used to know but who was now on vacation.

"God, where are you? Don’t you care?" I said the words out loud to Him, and received no answer.

Then I recalled something C.S. Lewis said: that there is a natural ebb and flow to our faith. Sometimes we feel close to God, and sometimes we don’t. Lewis called it “the law of Undulation:”

“[Man’s] nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks…this undulation [is] in every department of his life – his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness…are merely a natural phenomenon.” (From The Screwtape Letters)

Wait a minute, so this is normal? Knowing that changes everything. I don’t have to fret or worry that my faith is in jeopardy. I don’t have to beg and plead with God to stop hiding from me. I don’t have to navel gaze in order to find that one stubborn sin that is ruining everything. Knowing that this is all part of the natural rhythm of life, I can simply hold on in the trough and wait for the next peak.

I think about times in the Bible when God seemed distant or absent from His people. When Lazarus got sick, Jesus was nowhere to be found. In fact, he purposely stayed away until Lazarus was good and dead. When he finally arrived, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But, of course Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. The trough of his absence was merely a preparation for the peak that followed, one that he had planned for all along: Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead! (John 11)

In the same way, I am reminded (thanks to Lewis) that I can simply wait for God to show up in my trough. When He arrives, He will bring His resurrection power with Him, reviving me in such a way that I will reach a new peak in my faith.

That’s totally worth waiting for!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jesus the Lamb

It was Passover week, AD 33. The bleating of lambs could be heard all over Jerusalem as literally hundreds of thousands of the adorable, four-footed creatures crowded the temple courts, the city streets, and the campsites of the Jewish pilgrims gathered there for the annual Passover celebration. Unaware of their fate, the lambs would soon become the focal point of the celebration when they were sacrificed for the sins of the people on the altar in the great temple.

Passover was the festival commemorating the incredible miracle God performed for His people centuries before in Egypt, when He had instructed the Hebrew slaves to slaughter a lamb, “a male without defect” (Ex. 12:5) and place its blood on the doorframes of their homes. When the terrifying angel of death went throughout Egypt killing the firstborn of every household, it “passed over” the houses that were marked by the blood of the lamb. The result was the great exodus of the Jewish people, free at last from the slavery of cruel Pharaoh.

From that day forward Jews observed Passover, with thousands upon thousands traveling to Jerusalem every year for a big celebration. This particular year, Jesus and his disciples also went up to Jerusalem, with Jesus riding on a donkey and the crowd - already in a celebratory mood - shouting “Hosanna!” as he arrived.

Jesus, however, entered with a heavy heart, for unlike those unsuspecting lambs he was well aware of his fate. John the Baptist had prophesied it three years earlier when he saw Jesus for the first time on the banks of the Jordan and, with finger pointed and eyes blazing, shouted, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) And now that very hour was upon him. He himself was about to become the sacrificial lamb.

So, on that first Good Friday, the same day of the Passover feast, as the lambs were being taken into the temple courts to be prepared for slaughter, Jesus took up his cross and made his way to Golgotha. The only man in history who was sinless and without defect allowed himself to be nailed to the cross, his blood saturating the wood just as the blood had saturated the doorposts in Egypt.

Jesus hung on the cross for six excruciating hours. At twilight, which is also called the ninth hour, all the Passover lambs all over Jerusalem were slaughtered. At that exact moment, Jesus cried out, “It is finished” and breathed his last breath (John 19:30). The sacrifice was complete. In an incredible act of love, he died for the sins of mankind, so that by believing in him we are "passed over" by death and receive eternal life.

And now, as we look forward to Resurrection Sunday, we can rejoice knowing that death was not the end. Jesus is the risen Lord! “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Is That You, God?

Last week I told the story of hearing God in the middle of a Mexican food restaurant. So, what did I mean by “hearing” God? What does God’s voice sound like, anyway?

Some believe that God has stopped speaking altogether, while others argue that hearing God’s voice is reserved for a special few. But, I believe that the Bible teaches that all Christians are able to hear the voice of God:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  John 10:27

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.  Jeremiah 33:3

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.  Isaiah 30:21

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  John 16:13

I think God is speaking to us all the time. It's just that His voice can be pretty difficult to discern sometimes. For instance, when the Holy Spirit was prompting me to talk to the man in the restaurant I kept thinking it was my own thoughts, and it took me awhile to clue in that it was actually God! 

In fact, even great men of the Bible didn't automatically know when God was speaking: Samuel mistook God’s voice for that of his fellow priest’s, Eli (1 Samuel 3). Elijah expected to hear God through a powerful earthquake, wind, or fire, but instead He spoke in a small whisper (1 Kings 19:11-12). And keep in mind that these guys were OT prophets, the heavyweight champions of hearing the voice of God! If even these men had a hard time, then it stands to reason that the rest of us would too.

So how do we develop the ability to hear God? There is no formula, but here are a few helpful things to keep in mind:

-- God will never tell you to do something that is in violation of the truth of Scripture

-- Although God can communicate however He wants to, He often speaks in a still, small voice that can be mistaken for our own thoughts

--  The best way to know if it’s God is the scariest way: to step out in faith and act on what you are hearing. Oftentimes, we don’t know for sure whether it was the Holy Spirit’s leading until AFTER we have done it! This requires radical obedience!

One thing I’ve learned that has helped me a lot is that it’s better to be obedient than be right. If we step out and get it wrong there is much room for grace, and God is bigger than our blunders. In fact, I think He loves it that we put ourselves out there to try and minister to another person. (I wish I had room to tell you about my experience in the Whataburger drive through when I definitely got it wrong!) Hearing God takes practice…and faith. So when you think God is speaking to you, just go for it! You may just discover that it WAS God speaking to you all along!