Saturday, June 30, 2012

Go Deeper with God Part I (Audio Blog)

Hello Everyone,

This weekend I created an audio blog with a powerpoint presentation.  The presentation is a bit blurry if you try to maximize the video, but looks fine if you watch in from this screen.  It's about 5 1/2 minutes long.  I hope it encourages you in your walk with the Lord. 

God Bless,
Jon  

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Hunter

I read this devotional by the late David Wilkerson today and found it encouraging.  Click this link to read:  The Hunter

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don’t Give Up! Part II

In the gospel of Matthew Jesus talked about some tough things that will take place in the last days:

False Christ’s/Deception
Wars and rumors of wars
Nations rising against nations
Famines
Pestilence
Earthquakes in various places
Sorrows
Persecution
Many people offended
Betrayal
Hatred
False prophets
Lawlessness abounding
The love of many growing cold
(see vs. 5-12)

After Jesus told us these things he said, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (vs. 13)  The word endures, here, according to my New Spirit Filled Life Bible note, means,

“To holds one’s ground in conflict, bear up against adversity, hold out under stress, stand firm, persevere under pressure, wait calmly and courageously.  It is not passive resignation to fate and mere patience, but the active, energetic resistance to defeat that allows calm and brave endurance.”

Now there’s another thing Jesus says, and this is the part that gets me excited.  He says the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (vs. 14) 

This tells me there’s going to be a group of people, no matter how bad things get, who are going to be radiant with the love of Jesus, passionate for reaching the lost.  I imagine a joyful arming of the Lord marching out victorious in battle, winning the hearts of others for the Lord.  I think of the group from my church going to Honduras on July 16th to make a difference for the kingdom of God.  During our week in Honduras, joining with a much larger group and Light of Life International ministries, we will distribute food to the poor, share the love of Jesus, minister in churches, and participate in a large, historic prayer gathering for the nation. 

Life is full of many cares and many things we could be worried about.  I don’t want, in any way, to trivialize the challenges we all face.  One of the keys to endurance, to not giving up, I believe, is having our eyes focused on our eternal, heavenly reward.  In our place of prayer, seeking the Lord, we discover what is really important to His heart.  As we get involved in kingdom work we are energized by His Spirit.

Certainly there are many trials of this life that can wear us down.  There’s great need to endure in light of the conflicts, the adversity, the stress, and the pressures we face.  Nevertheless, no matter how difficult things are, we can actively and energetically resist all feelings of weariness, defeat and discouragement by the power of God's Holy Spirit inside of us.  As we focus our hearts on God above, where our true home is, we are strengthened by the power of His might and filled with joy for this journey.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Place of Prayer

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."
Luke 5:16

Last night, while talking with a friend, I shared with him about times in our lives when God may draw us aside for a special season of prayer.  Perhaps it is to prepare us for something which lies ahead, a new season of life or a transition.  That said, the Bible says to "pray without ceasing." (I Thess. 5:17)  God desires a relationship with us that permeates every moment of our lives.  So perhaps my idea of special seasons of prayer is just God taking me to what is truly important.

I can think of a few times in my life where God was especially drawing me closer to Him.  One of those times was just after I graduated from high school.  After finishing a summer job I took a job at Burger King.  For about 4 months, until deciding to go to college, I worked from about 8:30 in the evening until about 4 or 5 in the morning.  I'd walk back to my apartment, a block away, shower, and usually go to bed an hour or two after I got off work.  Then I'd wake up later in the afternoon.

There were some mornings where I recall spending precious time with the Lord.  I can't say it was every morning or really say how often it was.  There may have been morning I spent in hour or more in prayer, or perhaps only 15 minutes.  During that time of the morning, the world was silent.  There were no distractions.  It was just me and Jesus.  If my memory serves me correctly - the farther I get from these memories the more I question my ability to be accurate :-) - I believe I earnestly wanted to hear God speak to me.  I don't remember if God ever clearly spoke to me in that season.  Nevertheless, He drew close to me and I to Him.  I remember that time of my life where I felt so close to the Lord.  

I believe, in part, that those times of drawing near to the Lord are what have carried me through some hard times.  As well, if my life has been in any way fruitful for the kingdom, I know that it has come only from the time I have spent with the Lord.  Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Drawing near to God, remaining in the vine - this is where our strength comes from.  The fruit we bear for the kingdom of God comes from the depth of our walk with the Lord.  Among all the pursuits of our lives, the greatest pursuit, is finding a place of prayer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Refined

I was listening to a sermon online tonight, by Dr. Mark Rutland, and he was talking about the story where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  It was a test of faith.  So I wrote this poem.  I'm thinking about the deep trials of life.  So often I see how the stories in the Bible are so relevant to my walk with the Lord, even though they were written thousands of years ago.  Abraham was a man of covenant, a friend of God, who waited years for the fulfillment of God's promise.  Jacob wrestled with God and didn't let go until God blessed Him.  He was a man of covenant and blessing.  Joseph was imprisoned, yet through it all the Lord was with him, and God's promise was ultimately fulfilled in his life.  The Israelites experienced years of cruel bondage, yet God redeemed them with might acts of  judgment on their enemies and brought them into the promised land.  The Psalms express a longing for God, crying out to God for help in time of trouble.  Elijah, though a powerful prophet of God, prays that he might die.  These stories relate to our lives because, in our walk of faith, we have similar experiences or emotions.   

Through it all God refines us deeply, perfects our character, and reveals who He is to us.  He reveals His glory in our lives and we emerge purified and refined.  And, I believe, through it all God reveals greater depths of His covenant with us.


I've listed many of the Scriptures that are used in the poem at the end.

Refined
a faith refined and perfected
such depth of suffering
in anguish of soul I cried out to You
You answered by setting me free
in my prison of shame and confusion
a dungeon of longing, yearning, aching, and questioning
my neck in irons and feet in shackles
the word of God has been proved true
all You said is coming to pass
in the dawning of morning
the new sun arises
I’m emerging from this struggle with a limp
amidst thick and dreadful darkness
Your covenant is established
deep in my heart, Your hand upon my thigh
deep calls unto deep, in the deepest place of me
here in my bondage
years of cruelty and discouragement
Your promise rises in my heart
and I sing the song of salvation
and dance the dance of the redeemed
through fire and water
You have brought me through
when the waves did surround me
and my feet could not reach the ground
You stretched out Your hand and caught me
and drew me to Yourself
O, my God, I will praise You
You are my song in the night
in the wilderness of my weariness
I prayed that I might die
when I was broken and downtrodden
You lifted me up on high
You have tested me, refined me in the fire
laid burdens on my back
yet, You have brought me into a land of great abundance
fulfill the longings of my heart
my souls cries to You, O God
I long to meet with You
to be with You and to know You
to encounter You in the watches of the night
where can I go and meet with God?
when I awake, I pray, to be found in You
to arise to Your likeness
You have tested me severely
chastened me in the furnace of affliction
now, I pray, take my hand, O Lord
and satisfy the longings of my heart
fill me with the fullness of Your Spirit
fulfill all Your good purposes for me
in the glory of Your unending love

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord,
and he answered by setting me free.
Psalm 118:5

“…he sent a man before them—
Joseph, sold as a slave.
They bruised his feet with shackles, 
his neck was put in irons,
till what he foretold came to pass,
till the word of the Lord proved him true.
Psalm 105:17-19

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’”
Genesis 32:24-26

“As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him…

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said…”
Genesis 15:12, 17-18

“So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.”
Genesis 24:9

“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.
Exodus 6:9

“When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing.
Exodus 15:19-20

“I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Psalm 118:13-14

“For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
Psalm 66:10-12

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”
Matthew 14:31

“He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’”
I Kings 19:4

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
Psalm 42:2

“And I—in righteousness I will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
Psalm 17:15

“The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Psalm 118:18

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O Lord, endures forever 
do not abandon the works of your hands.
Psalm 138:8

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Waters

I grew up around waters.  When I was a young boy my family would drive, about 45 minutes, to Lake Michigan.  I have pleasant memories of those summer days at the sandy beach.  Just before my twelfth birthday my family moved, about 500 miles north, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We rented a home and later bought a different home just a few blocks from the Keweenaw Bay of Lake Superior (the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area).

What a great place for a young person!  I spent many-a-day of my youth hunting down the numerous waterfalls of Michigan, hiking through forests near rivers, wading in streams or exploring the picturesque shoreline of Lake Superior.  Often my mind wanders back to the wonders of the waters I grew up around.  

Waters delight in numerous ways:  The sound of the gurgling stream, the rush of the river, the way the water dances as it tumbles along, the quietness of a gently flowing stream, the crash of a wave dashed against the rocks, the rolling of gentle waves into the shore, the delicate touch of a cool, soothing creek...and I could go on.  When we stop to enjoy what God has created we find so many marvelous treasures.

It's easy to find parallels between the adventurous pursuits of my youth and a deep thirst and longing for the presence of God.  The Scripture says, "The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God." (I Cor. 2:10)  In Christ, there is a diversity of wonders to explore.  

So much of God is not hard to understand.  How about John 3:16.  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.  Whoever believes in him inherits eternal life.  That's simple.  Yet, the Scripture says, His paths are beyond tracing out (Romans 11:33).  His ways are beyond human comprehension (Isaiah 55:9).  Indeed, there is much of God to explore.  

Yes, I must admit, sometimes I find the mysterious ways of God frustrating.  I want Him just to make things plain and speak to me clearly.  On the other hand, there is an adventure to searching out the deep things of God, kind of like the pursuit of a beautiful waterfall, tucked away in the forest.  Like the carefree days of my youth, discovering more of God can be much fun.


East to West

"...as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."
Psalm 103:12


Friday, June 22, 2012

Find Me in the River

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…”
Revelation 22:1

I close my eyes and dream a dream
lying in a river on my back
the water clear, bright and clean
it is shallow, ankle deep
clear as freshly poured water into sparkling glass
shimmering in sunlight
I lie, on my back, in the river
the water, moving swiftly
rolls over me
and on and on it rolls continually
peace like a river
joy like a fountain floods my soul
my eyes are closed
head tilted back
and, though aware of my surroundings
the only thing I care about is the river
beautiful river
glorious current
the bottom of the stream is sandy, mixed with stones
I lie in comfort
smiling face
for the sorrows of the world are long forgotten
the regrets, the shame, the bitterness
like from a dream I have awakened
to find myself repose in this river
I am floating on the water
effortlessly, it flows over me
I reach for my heart to find my sorrow
and it is gone
like a dream, whisked away
now like a child on summer day
I tilt my head back and wonder
how the only thing I care about is this moment
and the only thing I am aware of is this river
and how my heart seems filled with such laughter
and here in heaven’s stream
I feel safe
to this, I say, one day … find me in the river



Sunday, June 17, 2012

Don’t Give Up! Part I

"But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14

Perhaps you've heard the story of Derek Redmond.  I was recently reminded of his story from a sermon I heard on the radio.  While competing in the 400 meter semi-finals in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Redmond injured his hamstring and collapsed to the track.  Despite his injury, he got back up, determined to finish the race.  As he limped towards the finish line his father ran out on the track.  Initially he tried to get his son to stop.  But when Derek refused he told his son they would finish the race together.

It’s a moving story (you can watch the video here or read about it here).

The article above, from The Guardian, states, “What the world witnessed in 1992 was a man who had been continually brought low by injury simply refusing to submit yet again.”

I can’t help but draw some parallels from this story to our walk with the Lord.  Inevitably, in life, there are going to be some things that knock us down.  We may feel like an athlete brought down by injury.  Or, perhaps we feel like a wounded warrior.  We may question whether we have the strength to carry on.  Troubled by our own brokenness, we may wonder if our wounded lives are worthwhile to God, or anyone else for that matter.  We may question our worthiness before God and our usefulness to His kingdom.     

In Christ’s kingdom, however, the prize does not only go to the one who seemingly gets the Gold medal or 1st place.  We may look at others and envy how they seem to have it so much easier than we do.  Yet, as the Proverb says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy. (Prov. 14:10)  In other words, everyone has some pain in life.  

Our woundedness does not disqualify us from the prize.  The prize goes to those who, despite how many times they get knocked down, continue to get back up and press on towards the finish line.  For, in Christ, we are all victors; we march in the procession of the Victorious One. (II Cor. 2:14)  The prize doesn’t go to those who never stumble or fall.  It goes to those who refuse to give up.  And, in God's mercy, He is always there to lift us back up and help us to the finish line.  


To be continued...



Monday, June 11, 2012

the light of day

who knew these years would be filled with bitterness
anguish
grasping
yearning
panting after waters
searching for a well that does not run dry
sighing, heaving
my soul is gaunt
exasperated
rising from my sheets at 3 a.m.
heavy like a fog around my heart and mind
hot breath around me
all I can taste is darkness
it is thick like a cloud
and I have no want of sunlight
only dreams
where a river runs through the countryside
a clean, pure and steady stream
rolling through trees, past fields
rolling like my yearning for holy embrace
to be held in the arms of my Father
to be held inside his billowing laughter
to be squeezed in His pure arms of love
at the altar I sigh
a prayer I don’t expect to be answered
yet you surprise me
you speak to me in dreams
from the sky I hear your voice
calling me
this splendiferous sky, vibrant in color
I follow the river
through the air, like a bird, I follow
the deep river is calling
but who knew these years would be sullied by sorrow
sadness, yes, often like torment
I am longing for freedom
but it never comes
who knew the promise would be darkened by suffering
and the picture that I long for
is damaged like a wet photograph
O Lord, speak to me in dreams
remind me of love and why you brought me here
for my soul is darkened by disappointment
my countenance marred by shame
and though I long to escape to slumber
I want to arise and walk in the light of day

Thursday, June 7, 2012

From Stillness, Victory!

Sometimes, in our fight of faith, we may feel like Elijah.  At the threat of the evil queen Jezebel, he became afraid and ran for his life.  In the desert he sat down under a broom tree and prayed to die.  “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.  “Take my life…”  After his prayer the Scripture says he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.

You know your discouragement and despair runs deep when you pray for death.  Sometimes the spirit we face, the spirit that wars against us, is relentless.  We become worn out, weary from the battle; perhaps spiritually exhausted, physically weak, emotionally drained or mentally fatigued – or all of the above.  We pray a prayer and lie down and go to sleep, hopeful that God hears us and will respond in some positive way. 

In my walk with God He has, at times, spoke to me through dreams or ministered to me in my sleep.  I like that because it’s easy and requires no effort on my part.  Before I resign to my pillows, I utter a prayer, hoping God will respond while I sleep.  When I wake up the next morning, having heard no word from God, sometimes it is disappointing.  When He has spoken my spirit was lifted up and I felt re-assured.    

In Elijah’s story, as he slept, an angel touched him and told him to “Get up and eat.”  After eating he lies down again.  And a second time the angel of the Lord touches him.  The angel says, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”  After eating and drinking he travels 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God.  In this place the Lord speaks to Him about what is REALLY important:  intimacy with Him. (see I Kings 19)

Returning to a place of intimacy, we remember where our strength comes from.  “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord,…” (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV)  The battles we face will not be overcome apart from God’s strength.

From this place of intimacy a new determination arises in our hearts.  It is the courage of David who wrote, “I pursued my enemies and crushed them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed.” (II Samuel 22:38, NIV)  The devil who rages against us is a defeated foe.  As a friend of mine used to say, the church of Jesus Christ has “guaranteed success.”  Jesus said, “…and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, NKJV)

Several years ago I had a dream where the devil came to my home.  During the night he chased me and my family down into the basement.  With my family besides me trembling in fear the voice of the Lord said, “Be still, be still before me.”  From that place of stillness something strong rose up inside of me and I rebuked the devil.  And poof! he was gone.

Sometimes, in our fight, we may feel like the very gates of hell have made their home at our doorstep.  Hell has built a house at the forefront of our hearts and minds.  The battle is intense.  It is real.  It is face to face.  Yet, through the strength of the Lord, we can come to a place of total and complete victory.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We Are Not Consumed

"Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness."
Lamentations 3:22-23

According to an online dictionary (dictionary.com) the word lament means "to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret."  It also means "to mourn deeply."  We all may go through times of deep mourning, sorrow, or regret.  Yet, because of God's mercy "we are not consumed."  At times we may feel overwhelmed by sorrow. We may cry out to God, feeling crushed by despair.  But, we are not consumed.  His mercies are new every morning.

Several years ago I cried out to God from the depths of my despair.  I entertained the thought that God hated me because of my failures.  In the torment of my guilt and fear, I cried out to God for mercy.

A short time later I visited a church I had never been to before.  When I entered the sanctuary I was immediately welcomed by the most sweet, gentle, loving presence I had ever known in my life.  As I entered into worship I wept as God's presence came over me.

At the end of the service I responded to the altar call, where I knelt and wept deeply.  A man and a woman ministered to me, telling me how much God loved me.

That morning I was restored in the presence of the Lord.  In the midst of my sins and failures I was not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Solace

in the stillness of rain
Sunday before noon
its steady pounding overhead
in the silence of moment
I have no regret, no sorrow
no awareness of past, or present, or future
only now
only this moment
the soft words of pastoral reminders
are soothing to the soul
my sins now requited for by God above
the sensation of sound
the silence of moment
we stop
we pause and remember
spear in nail-pierced side
spikes through feet
face stricken and swollen
the earth shaking
the rain now falling from swarthy sky
my soul once a torrent
stilled by the cadence
of steady showers and sweet reminders
of unfailing love
mountains will be shaken
hills removed
but shalom's covenant shall remain
says the Lord, the compassionate one
my scars so real, but not souvenirs
they are memorials to suffering
that have been healed in the solace
by the soothing of God's sure and steady love

Monday, June 4, 2012

Brokenness

how do I hide my brokenness?
I don't want you to see
I don't want you to see
but my face is on display for the world
and my heart is wide open to you
my soul is transparent
and I couldn't conceal it even if I wanted to


I cower in shame
I run to the forest, hide in the trees
hoping your eyes will not catch a glimpse of me
wishing that I could disappear
vaporized by light and consumed by the fire
distinguished to powder to fertilize trees
and only remembered in transient moments
so wistful that my memory brings no sting


how do I hide my brokenness?
when it is poured out with tears
when in worship my soul is laid bare
when I hang down my head
though not in prayer; it is pleading
crying for mercy, for help in time of need


afraid this time you will forget me
reject me
lift me up before all like a naked man on a cross
a public example; my shame exposed
or will you cover me
clothe my rags in your righteousness
drape my shame in garments of light
deliver me from the torment of demons
and not treat me as my sins deserve


how do I hide my brokenness?
it is on display for all to see
though I cry out for mercy
I nurse only regret
and hope that my future is not spent
in never-ending seasons of lament
but restored with years for what's been stolen
and fulfilled with joy
for a heart that is now broken

Prayer Equals Peace

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow...