Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hearing the Voice of God

This is not a blog to provide great and practical insight into how to hear or discern the voice of God. Rather, these are some thoughts that I have been pondering this past month as I desire to draw closer to the Lord and hear His voice.

One of the most powerful longings of human beings is to be known by God and to hear His voice – to hear the voice of our Creator speak to us. Yet, it seems that this can be a great struggle for so many of us. At least it can be for me.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God…” If we want to speak with our Father, Jesus gives us clear instructions that we must “pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

So how does that work in a world as noisy as ours? Can we just turn off our distractions – our smartphones, tablets, computers, etc. –  for 30 minutes a day, spend time with the Lord and hope to hear His voice and then go back to our daily living with a constant bombardment of messages via texting, Facebook, Twitter, and TV? To be honest, that has been my approach the past few years. There have been times when I have certainly cut back on my media. I hardly watch any TV now; I used to be consumed with watching sporting events. But my phone is constantly with me. At any break in my day, the urge to pull it out and check my feed on Facebook and Twitter often win out instead of focusing inward and directing my focus and attention to the presence of God.  

I tried to take intentional breaks in the day to pray and spend concentrated time with the Lord, but it seemed like my focus kept being drawn back to distractions.

For someone like me who has ADHD tendencies, I found that my smartphone is like a drug for my mind. It’s an easy fix and something to give attention to my many thoughts. What’s more, being an extremely social person, I love the networking on Facebook. I love seeing what my friends are doing and staying in touch that way. But I can’t deny the inner distractions I feel.

I always start the year with some extended fasting from food, but I also decided to do a month-long fast from media. For me, this meant no reading about sports and no checking my social media. I wondered how it would pan out and if I would miss it. After the first few days, I realized I didn’t miss it at all. In fact, I enjoyed the break. Did I hear the voice of God more? I don’t think so. Or at least, not in ways I hope to in the future. However, I did find that my mind was less distracted and consumed by countless trivial things. I found my desires for the Lord increasing.

As this month came to a close, I decided I wanted to continue this fast in some ways. It would be too easy for me to go back to how I was. So I am going to put some boundaries on myself. For now I am going to check sports once a week on Saturday nights. I haven’t decided how I will engage social media yet – perhaps just checking it once a week or once daily. I don’t feel like this is something I am to do forever, but something I desire to do in this season as I listen to the Lord and learn how to hear His voice in a deeper way.

I am starting to read The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus. This book was written for monks in in AD 600 and is a classic in Eastern Christianity on the ascetic life. St. Basil is quoted in the intro: “When the intellect is no longer dissipated among eternal things or dispersed across the world through the senses, it returns to itself, and by means of itself it ascents to the thought of God.”
I believe this thought applies to my life. My mind so easily wanders to the external things around me, but I need to be disciplined in those things so I can think more deeply of the Lord.

The intro also says, “It is a great thing says John, to achieve stillness in the isolation of a hermit’s cell; but ‘it is incomparably great to have no fear of turmoil, and to remain steadfast under its assault with a fearless heart, living outwardly with men but inwardly with God.’” 

So that’s my desire – to be clear in my inner man, to have my thoughts and affections constantly on the Lord Jesus, to live in a busy, loud, and distracted world, but live inwardly with God. Perhaps as I grow in this, I will be able in engage more in media, but for now I know that it limits my inward silence.





Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pray Big





A few years ago one of my co-laborers, Bob Stevenson, brought a block of wood with the words “Pray Big” on it to our staff gathering. It was the start of the year and he challenged us to write down big prayers, asking God for big things for the upcoming year.

Recently I was leading prayer at our staff gathering and I remembered the phrase “Pray Big” and shared it again with our staff. We talked about Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” (3:20-21). What a Scripture and great reason to pray big prayers! We serve a God who wants us to ask and is ready to answer and respond above anything we could ever imagine. 

In my experience, one thing that keeps us from praying big is our focus on our own limitations. We are so conditioned by living in the natural realm. Every prayer goes through a mental grid formed by our resources, our talents, or the limitations that we have. It’s so easy to be focused on the earthly realm and to be confined in our thinking. But as I look at the Scriptures, I am moved and challenged by the prayers of Jesus and great men and women of the Bible. They prayed and God responded to their requests. God moved on their behalf and answered their bold prayers of faith.

Can you imagine the boldness and faith of Elijah as he had the wicked King Ahab and Jezebel, 850 prophets all against him and a confused Israel? (1 Kings 18) They were all watching his showdown and he was able to call down the fire of God. He knew that the Lord would respond to his prayers. It’s easy to read those stories and think that was just in the Bible and that Elijah was some kind of super prophet. But we see in James 5 that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; Elijah was not altogether unlike us. He stood in the counsel of the Lord and was able to be God’s voice in that time.

We may not be in the exact same situation as Elijah, but we are in a time where we need the power of God to come down. The cities of America and in our world are desperate for God to reveal himself. The Lord needs us to stand up like Elijah and pray boldly.

With this in mind, I am stirred to pray big prayers in this new year. Two things help me as I think of praying big and overcoming my current limitations: 

First, I need to remind myself of the victory of God and what He has done and will accomplish.

“And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:19-23

Second, I need to know my position in Christ.

“And raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6

Colossians 3 says we have to set our minds and heart on the things above. While we may currently live in the earthly realm, our true home is with Christ in eternity and we ultimately live in that kingdom as well. So it is by faith we need to imagine that we are seated in the heavenly places. This is the means by which we can pray big. We pray in faith and with authority from the heavenly places knowing that God has conquered every power that stands in opposition to him.

Is there something in your life where you need a major breakthrough? Meditate on these Scriptures and start praying and believing that God will provide in your situation. And please join us in praying for the cities. Pray that the power of God would come down and encounter the people that so desperately need him.

Pray BIG!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Eve Behind Bars: Follow Up



I want to thank you for praying for Angie and me on Christmas Eve as we ministered in Hutchinson Correctional Facility (HCF). Angie and I felt an army of prayers backing us. Here is what God did that night.

The days leading up to Christmas Eve were heavy as I experienced intense spiritual warfare. I woke up on Christmas Eve day and felt the attack in intense ways. I wasn’t sure how I was going to minister that night, but right before we headed to HCF, I went on a quick walk and prayed. I went to see my good friends Andy and Lisa Entz, they both felt like the accuser was attacking me—so they prayed for me and that night’s service. They prayed for victory and within 30 minutes there was a feeling of freedom! Praise the Lord.

We arrived at HCF early so that we could pray and dedicate the night to the Lord. The leaders of the church behind bars (the Protestant Call-Out), are mostly TUMI students, and they were able to come early and help us set up. We had a powerful prayer time with these leaders and felt fully prepared. There was a spirited atmosphere as the room filled with hugs, greetings of “Merry Christmas,” and sounds of Handel’s Messiah playing overhead. It was definitely surreal to hear Messiah being played inside the prison.

Angie opened with three songs. During the third song “Here I am to Worship,” the men just sang out with their hands raised in true worship. There was something powerful during the tag, “I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon the cross.” These guys were all in this place because of some deep sin, yet they sang of how the Lord has taken their place. What a joy to witness.

Following worship we did the Advent readings. In the prison we could not light candles, so instead we prepared overhead slides to represent the color of each candle. Two by two the guys would come up and explain the different candle, read a Scripture, and then pray. Hearing these TUMI students read the Scriptures was powerful. The words of the Scriptures were alive and going forth in the prison. The men were grasping and taking to heart the promises and prophecies of Isaiah.

Following the advent readings I gave the message from Ephesians 3:19. the summary of the message was; because Christ overcame the obstacles of becoming a human, He can overcome any obstacle that you find yourself in. The reason Christ did all of this was for love’s sake, and to fully understand this we need to encounter the love of God.

I closed with the story of Moses and two other friends I know that found themselves in serious trouble, and yet the Lord encountered them with His love and grace and turned their lives around and is now using them in dramatic ways.  After each story the guys would erupt with applause for what God had done. Hope filled the room.

Following the message, I closed with a time of prayer. I suggested the guys close their eyes and I led them through a series of prayers, inviting the Lord’s presence to be felt and His love to come near. I could tell the Lord was breaking in as several of the guys cried, it was tangible that the Lord was meeting them.

As I dismissed the men, about 20 of them flocked to the front to greet us. They thanked us for coming and wished us a Merry Christmas. But I was especially touched by a few testimonies, several of the guys shared with me how they felt the Lord’s presence and the love of God. One of the guys shared, “I am a former Satanist and I haven’t cried like this in a long time.” What an amazing memory I will carry, Christmas Eve with 120 inmates and a former Satanist telling me he cried and experienced the love of God in a new way.


Thanks again for standing with Angie and I in prayer.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Unprepared Bunnies by Bree Penner



Bree wrote this composition recently at school, based on the story The Ant and the Grasshopper  Angie and I both enjoyed it and wanted to share.  It has a great moral.  I thought in light of advent, are we preparing ourselves for the return of Christ?

One glorious morning in fall, deer were gliding over the funny fields. They were preparing for winter.

In the storage there are scrumptious berries, tasty green grass, massive wells for water, huge hedge apples, and icy insects. 

Coldly, the following bossy bunnies booed at the deer’s work.

“You are so busy; you didn’t even accept our offer for Thanksgiving. I bet all your food will be rotten by the time winter will show up,” Boomed the bunnies.

Gently, the deer stepped up and informed the bunnies, “We will continue our work until we have enough food for winter.”

The bunnies jumped back in surprise. Then turned back and bounced home.

Soon winter came like a flash.  Wind and snow invaded the wood.  The deer ran into the storage room.

The bunnies hastily ran to the deer and begged, “Give us some food. We are desperate!”

“Sorry but no, we put a flavoring on our food that bunnies will die if they eat it.” Replied the deer.

“Give it to us even if it will kill us,” argued the bunnies. So the deer handed them some food and the bunnies died instantly.

The deer survived the winter.

THE END

Moral: Be prepared for what is ahead.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Eve Behind Bars

 

"Each one of these men is a son; they have fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters." That stuck out to me as Warden Cline of the Hutchinson Correctional Facility (HCF) gave me a tour of the prison and we passed by man after man.

For the last two years HCF has allowed World Impact many opportunities for ministry events, including TUMI classes. We are getting to know these men well; a wife of one of the inmates told me recently that World Impact staff is family to these guys.

This past fall, my wife Angie got her volunteer card so she could come with me to HCF and lead worship. I heard from a friend who spent time in prison a few years ago that the inmates would love hearing a female voice. They hear men all day every day for years on end, so the opportunity for them to hear a woman sing worship songs would bring them great joy. At our last ministry event we got to fulfill that joy. Angie led worship and at the end we asked if anyone wanted to come up and sing with us. They called out, "No, we never get to hear a woman sing. We love this!"

As I visited with the men that night, they asked about the possibility of Angie and me returning for a Christmas Eve service. I didn't really like the thought of being away from our kids on Christmas Eve. But I felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to further discuss this with Angie and our kids to see if we could do this ministry event. We presented it to our family, and while they were a little sad, our kids were excited for this opportunity. They considered how all of the men were separated from their families all the time, and how at the holidays it must be hard. And again the thought came to me: each one of these men is a son.

So we have decided to spend Christmas Eve inside the Hutchinson Correctional Facility. We will lead a basic service: the incarcerated will read different Scriptures and prayers for the advent season, I will give a message, and Angie will lead Christmas carols. We are sincerely looking forward to spending this time with the church behind bars.

I have heard all sorts of comments about inmates. They deserve to be locked up. They are criminals. We should just leave them alone. But my heart is burdened for these brothers. The more time I spend with them, the more I see that it is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am who I am. I didn't do anything to earn the situation I am in. I have sinned mightily before the Lord – but the sins I have committed simply have different consequences.
 
As we worship and celebrate the arrival of King Jesus the Son this Christmas, would you take some time to pray for this service? Would you consider praying for the 1,000 TUMI students taking classes in prisons across the country? Take some time to think about the incarcerated and how they are separated from their families on this holiday. And then let's worship Jesus for how He rescued us all from a life of sin and has brought us into the kingdom of God, where we are sons and daughters of the Babe in the straw.

Friday, February 21, 2014

February Prayer Letter - Story of Deliverance

Here is our February Prayer letter.

One key aspect of Christ the Victor Fire will be deliverance ministry.  In urban ministry, there is a continual spiritual battle.  It is clear that the enemy wants to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10.10).  But praise God that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.7).

Recently, there was an all-night prayer vigil at Lighthouse, our former church plant.  During the previous all-night prayer vigil at that church, God did dramatic things.  As we started the night, there was an expectation that God was going to show up and do something powerful again.

Sometimes prayer is hard work.  You labor through it.  On this night, the Spirit of God was evident; and the time was flowing and moving fast.  After several hours of prayer, Pastor Jerry and I did some special deliverance and inner healing prayer with several people.  One by one, people confessed sin and struggles they were having in living a full and victorious life.

One particular woman, whom we prayed over for a long time, seemed to have received freedom from the Lord over issues in her life; but there was still something blocking full healing.  At one point, there was a bigger group praying over her.  I was leading the prayer time with her and leading her through some areas of forgiveness and working through past issues.  Pastor Jerry led the others to walk around us and pray silently.  That was almost as if they were marching around the walls of Jericho to help bring freedom from the enemy in the walls of her life.

There was a clear moment when there was release.  I prayed that the Lord would fill her anew with the Spirit; suddenly, peace and joy came over her.  She started to worship and praise God.  She then told me that she was feeling the love that she had looked for her whole life!  Praise God!


Stories like this motivate me even more to pray for God to deliver and free people.  I firmly believe that God is going to move in powerful ways in the years to come through our church-planting movement, Christ the Victor (CTV).  I believe that we are going to see churches birthed and led by urban leaders in cities across our Midwest Region.  CTV Fire will be committed to training leaders how to pray, how to seek the Lord, and how to deliver those who are held in bondage.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A call to prayer for our cities!!!


In this next year, I will be helping lead and host 3-4 days of prayer.  These days of prayer are in combo partnership with TUMI and our Christ the Victor (CTV) church planting movement that we are launching soon here in Wichita.  This is the intro letter I wrote for our first day of prayer that happened two weeks ago.

Our next day of prayer will be March 1st, and we would love to invite anybody in the Wichita areas to join us from 7-4 on our campus as we pray for God to move powerfully in our cities.   

 

Greetings Fellow Prayer Warriors,
Welcome to our first CTV/TUMI day of prayer!  I am confident and expecting God to meet us in a powerful way as we seek His face and offer petitions on behalf of the city in the strong name of Christ our Victor.
Our World Impact ministry is over the 40-year mark now.  No doubt we have seen God do some dramatic things in our midst.  Yet, the prevailing feeling from our leaders and our new president Efrem Smith is that our greatest days are ahead.  As we look at the way God has moved, renewed and realigned our ministry in the past year, it is clear that we are positioned to see God launch a big movement in the city.
Yet we are very aware that we will need God to arise in our midst.  Our efforts and strategies won’t be enough.  We need God to show up in power and defeat the enemies that are in the way. What are those enemies?  If you have spent any time in the city, it is very clear that there are intense strongholds of Satan that have held people captive for generations.  We know that people are trapped and enslaved by the devil (John 10.10; Hebrews 2.14-15).
Praise God, that through the triumph of Jesus Christ, we are assured victory!  Jesus has conquered sin and death.  It is now up to us to engage this battle and lay hold of the victory that is in Christ.  How do we do this?
It starts with prayer. Paul Billheimer, in his book Destined For The Throne, says, “Prayer is not begging God to do something that He is loathe to do. It is not overcoming reluctance in God. It is enforcing Christ’s victory over Satan. It is implementing upon earth heaven’s decisions concerning the affairs of men. Calvary legally destroyed Satan and canceled all of his claims. God placed the enforcement of Calvary’s victory in the hands of the Church (Matthew 18.18 and Luke 10.17-19).”
This gets to the heart of why we are here to pray.  Christ has given us the victory. We are going to enforce that victory in plac es of darkness where the devil has temporary reign.
In September of 1999, God birthed multiple prayer movements all over the world.  Four months later in 2000, Rev. Dr. Don Davis was given a vision to start a prayer movement in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards and the great Awakenings called Let God Arise.  This would be a movement to see God arise in the inner cities of America and in the darkest places of our world.
For 14 years, TUMI and many on our staff have faithfully been praying for the urban poor.  No doubt where we are today is a direct result of those prayers. 
Now as Christ the Victor is launching a church-planting movement among the poor, we firmly believe that this movement will advance through the fire of God’s presence that we seek in fervent prayer.  CTV Fire is the prayer and revival initiative of the CTV church-planting movement.  Together, let’s be intentional to pray, seek the Lord and believe that our church-planting movement and a prayer movement will spread all across our nation among the urban poor. 
I want to personally thank Dr. Davis and all of the TUMI staff for their partnership in our days of prayer.  We are glad to join together to “enforce Christ’s victory over Satan.”
May this be a new season where we see God arise in the cities.