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Relationship pt 4

But what about sin? Does sin separate us from Jesus? No! Jesus conquered sin in our lives and destroyed the effects of sin. Sin makes us feel separated from Him, but once we realize that we have wandered it is easy to come back. Remember that not one of your sins has ever surprised Him. If He was not surprised, then He was not disappointed. He knew what you would do from the moment He conceived you in His heart. He loves you and He accepts you. Isn’t that amazing? It isn’t about sin, it’s about the love of God!

So, in a relationship with Jesus you live with the full awareness that He is real, He is present, and He loves you. You know in the core of your heart that He has taken into account all your inadequacies, all your wandering, and all your fears. He still loves you. He has still chosen to be your Life. He is still your strength, hope, righteousness and more. Whatever you need, He is.

You can get up in the morning with the fullness of joy in your heart. You are just as acceptable to God as you will be 10,000 years from now in Heaven. He is with you and He smiles at you. He wants to walk with you through your day. You talk with Him along the way and you listen for His voice. Whether you go to work or stay home with children or whatever, He is there. His gentleness and kindness is part of your life, easy to access because there is so much of it. When you don’t know what to do, you ask and you trust that He will lead. You don’t need to be afraid of what lies ahead because He is just as much with you in the future as He is today… no matter what.

And when you go to bed at night, you sleep with the rest of someone who is loved beyond any earthly love by a real Person who is strong and trustworthy; Someone who accepts you without reservation and loves to be with you; Someone who has promised that He will never leave you and who has prepared a wonder-filled future for you. It is all good!

Finally, if I were you, reading this, I would ask, “So, Dave, is this what your life is like?” I wish! But it is moving in that direction. The old ways are hard to overcome. The fears and challenges still seem real. But, honestly, more and more I am learning to trust Him, learning that He loves me, learning to live in relationship with Him. I share my heart with Him and He not only listens, but He speaks. Many times He has led me to say the right thing, to be there for a friend, or to know the peace of His acceptance by speaking to my heart. I know without doubt that the day will come when all hindrances will be gone forever and the relationship I have with Him will be complete and perfect. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

One more thing: Relationships are personal. One person’s relationship, even with the Lord, might not look like another’s. Samson’s relationship with God was different than David’s, whose was quite different from that of Moses. It would not be appropriate to prescribe a certain look or style. My concern is simply that God wants to have a personal relationship with each of His people.

Comments?  Questions?

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Relationship pt 3

So, does God accept us? Does God accept Jesus? Of course He does and, in Christ, we are accepted. Our acceptance is a gift, the life of Jesus flowing within us. You see, because of Jesus – Who is the Person of God’s love and grace – we have been restored to a full and free relationship with God. We walk and talk with Jesus as people who are fully loved by the One who is our Strength, our Victory, our Righteousness, our Future, and our eternal Friend.

What does that look like? I suspect that it looks a lot like it must have looked in the Garden of Eden. Picture Adam waking in the morning. Had he been afraid during the night? Did he chastise himself about the things he didn’t get done the day before? Did he determine to work harder in the new day? We know that he had work to do. Did Adam worry about the produce of the Garden? I don’t think so. Instead, his life was very good. No worries! No fear! No rejection!

Suppose that we could get up in the morning with the full knowledge of the love of God and the awareness that He will be present with us through the day. How easy would it be to talk with Him? We do our work with the joy of participating with Him and there is no concern that we may not measure up or that we may fail. What if we could just ask Him what to do and then do it? We go to sleep at night without anxiety for the future, for the things left undone, for the errors of the day. We can give the things of the day to Him, thank Him for being with us, and trust Him for tomorrow.

One of the things Jesus said about us is that we would hear and recognize His voice. Yet, most believers would say that they struggle with this. They don’t know the voice of their Lord and they wonder what they should do next. This is a serious topic and broad, but let me simply say that the Lord wants you to know His voice and He loves hearing yours as you relate to Him.

You can talk with Jesus – anytime, anywhere! There is no barrier between the two of you. You can tell Him your concerns and listen for His response. You can ask for His leading and trust that He will lead. You can thank Him for His kindness and know that He appreciates your acknowledgement. And you can praise Him just for Who He is.

But that isn’t all of it. He responds! Remember that He wants to lead you and He wants you to hear Him. It may not be audible, but it is still real. If you are not used to hearing Him, it may take some time, but trust that He does speak to you. Sometimes you can look back to see how He spoke/led in the past. Sometimes you can just wait until you have a sense that He has told you what to do. Other times you just yield your will to Him and then do what you think is right. If it isn’t right, He will show you or turn you to another direction. Trust Him!

That still isn’t all of it. He doesn’t only respond. Sometimes He initiates the conversation. Listen for His voice. You have probably heard Him from time to time. He prompts you to talk with someone or to do something. When you do it, you are amazed at the results. He led you to just what the other person needed.

Let me give a specific example. Suppose you feel led to share the gospel with someone. You may be scared to do it, but you know that it is the right thing to do because you believe that the Lord is leading. You share and the person is ready to hear and receive. The Lord has prepared the way and you have heard His voice.

But let’s suppose that you prepare and pray and fuss and then the person walks away from you without accepting the Lord. What happened? Most of us are tempted to think that we did something wrong, that if we had done a better job that person might have been saved. We fill our lives with guilt from failure and poor results. But perhaps the plan of God was simply to have that person hear the gospel. That person might go away and, at some later time, accept His love on the basis of the seed you were able to plant. Would that make you feel differently?

God rarely shares the full story of His plan with us. He just asks us to walk with Him. He gave you the words to say and somewhere, in the midst of your rambling, you said them. The person heard them and that little part of God’s plan was accomplished. It wasn’t about you. You were just along while God was working.

Now, if you could walk into that with the understanding that this is the work of God and you can trust Him for whatever results will come, and if you could walk away thanking Him for the opportunity to share in His work, you wouldn’t have to feel guilty or ashamed because of your poor speech or presentation. Of course you want the person to become a believer, but God wants that more than you do.

Can you trust that God loves others more than you do? That He wants them to benefit from His work? If you can, you can learn to rest and enjoy what He does in them. You do whatever He asks you to do and you leave the rest to Him. Even in these most important things, we can find rest because of our relationship with Jesus.

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Grace makes the difference

Grace 101

When I talk about grace, I usually mean the whole message of God’s love and provision.  Grace is the activity of God’s love.  Because God loves us, He reaches out to us and brings us in.  He provides all we need for salvation, sanctification, justification and more.  Forgiveness, victory, and Heaven are ours because of His initiative and His work.

If we remember that God loves us and acts for our good, then prayer becomes a positive thing in our lives.

Many of us were led to believe that confession was the most important part of prayer.  Whenever we prayed, even if it was an emergency, we were supposed to stop to confess our sins first.  We had to confess that there was no reason God should hear us because we were so evil in our hearts.

So, think about that.  How easy is it for you to go to someone and apologize?  How easy is it to ask forgiveness?  It’s hard work, isn’t it?  I am not saying it isn’t important, but it certainly isn’t easy or pleasant.  And how easy is it to build a relationship when you constantly have to apologize?  Especially when you believe the other person is angry with you?

When many people pray, they feel they have to come to Lord groveling and shamed.  They are supposed to recount as many of their sins as they can remember since the last time they prayed and always know that they have missed some.  Then they have to ask God for mercy and hope that He doesn’t hate them as they ask for what they need.  How sad!

Grace tells us that God already loves us.  Grace tells us that He has already forgiven us.  Grace tells us that we are already accepted.  It is good to come to Him.  Grace turns prayer into something positive.

You see, God already knows about your sins and He has already forgiven them as you trusted Christ.  Those who belong to Him never have to worry about their sins separating them from Him.  We don’t have to confess in order to be forgiven.  In those times when we feel the need to talk about what we have done, we simply agree with Him that it was wrong and thank Him for working in our lives to move past it.  Forgiveness of sins—past, present, and future—was accomplished at the cross.

So you and I can come to the Lord as we would come to our very best friend.  We know that He loves us and it is good to focus on our heart connection again.  We will never be separate from Him, but sometimes we let ourselves get distracted.  Then we talk with Him again and feel His love and peace.

No wonder Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing.  This is walking with Jesus.  It isn’t a difficult thing at all.  Prayer is a wonderful lifeline that keeps us connected to the Lord who loves us.

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Why legalists can’t hear God

Grace 101

Okay, I will quickly confess that the title above is provocative and not entirely true.  God can get His voice heard by anyone, even compromised prophets, witches, and legalists.

The simple truth is that most people who are under the law, stuck in performance spirituality, don’t hear God because they don’t expect to hear Him.  Think back to what you learned as a young believer.  Maybe you were in Sunday School.  Did anyone ever tell you to listen for the voice of God in your heart?  Probably not.  They said to read Scripture and do right.  If you had the Scripture, you had all of God that you needed and all you could expect to get.  (Of course, the local teacher’s word was almost Scripture so you were supposed to listen to him also.)

But that’s not all.  Legalism is a system with rules and standards and expectations.  Lists!  We loved lists!  We don’t need to hear a voice of love, just give us a list of things to do and things to avoid.  As long as we follow the list, we don’t really need anything else.  Who needs a relationship when you have a list?

I remember one marriage suggestion made by a popular teacher.  He said that the husband should sit down early each morning and make out a list of things he wanted his wife and children to do during the day.  By giving her a list of expectations, he was communicating his love for her, the teacher said.

Is that the way to communicate love?  I agree that expectations that are unspoken set a person up for failure and cause problems in relationships.  But what about talking through those expectations?  Maybe some of them are unnecessary or even foolish.  There is no real communication, no heart connection, in a list.

And the legalist system depends on the lists.  Ten Commandments, church rules, 49 commands, rules for holy living, whatever.

The comics these days joke about kids and their cell phones.  They no longer want to talk because they are too busy texting their friends.  So, the mom and dad, in order to be heard, are supposed to text their kids in order to communicate with them.  Actually, that’s not too funny.  It’s kind of sad.

Why should God speak to the legalist heart?  If our noses are stuck in the texts of our lists, would we listen to Him anyway?

Legalists don’t hear God because they are too busy trying to find Him in their lists to hear His voice in their hearts.  They can’t stop, even to hear Him tell them of His love.

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Conversation

Grace 101

How important is conversation in a relationship?  It doesn’t have to be much, but it does have to be something.  Most of us enjoy a good long talk with a special person.  Communication is part of building and maintaining a relationship.

I often refer to our relationship with Jesus.  We connect with Him as our Friend, our Brother, our Lord.  Yet, many people struggle with the conversation part.  For some it is easier to keep God at a distance because they fear His judgment.  For others, the distance is there because they simply don’t know anything else.  God was always distant.  But there is no relationship with someone who is so far away.

Our connection with Jesus, with God, is a real relationship.  That means He is with us and we are with Him.  But if we are together and never talk, is that really being together?

Now, I realize that’s a description of some marriages and families; and I understand that there are other ways to communicate than talking.  But conversation is part of getting to know another person and entering into that person’s world.  We could try to guess what someone thinks or feels, but we don’t know unless we know from them.

Over the past few Grace 101 posts, we have looked at things that hinder the message of grace and, lately, things that encourage it.  The good ground is prepared with good support from others and by understanding the message God has already given to us.  In “church-speak” that means fellowship and Scripture.  Outside of a grace perspective these things have often been difficult for believers, but they are great blessings for those who are beginning to understand grace.

Another blessing we have, which will encourage the growth of our understanding of grace, is prayer.  Again, I understand that prayer has been a burden for many because of the various rules and approaches prescribed by some teachers.  But what if prayer was just talking, just conversation?  What if it didn’t have to be formal all the time?  We can envision conversations between spouses in old King James English, but that isn’t who we are.  Why can’t our conversation with Jesus be just as relaxed as those with anyone close to us?

Well, there is one thing.  We don’t hear His voice respond.  We ask a question, but we don’t hear an answer.  We express our concern about something, but He doesn’t seem to reply.  As someone just told me, “I just felt emptiness.  Like nothing was there.”  What can you do when you can’t hear a voice?

I want to write about this in more depth over the next couple of posts, but let me give a simple answer here: God is not limited to words.  When you listen for a response from Jesus, listen with more than your ears.  Listen with your heart.  Watch to see if things change.  Open yourself to His answer.  You are able to receive much more than what your ears can hear.

In the next few posts: Why legalists can’t hear God.  How God speaks to us.  Why grace makes all the difference.  How to relax and just talk with Jesus.  What to do when He is silent.  Why prayer is vital for the life of grace.

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Does God change His Mind when We Pray?

And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”

1 Samuel 15:29 NASB

So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Exodus 32:14 NASB

 

So what exactly happens when we pray?  Let’s say someone you know has an injury and needs surgery.  You pray that things will go well.  You pray for wisdom for the doctors and nurses, skill for the surgeons, and speedy recuperation for your friend.  Here’s the question: What would happen if you didn’t pray and will your prayers change anything?

Does God change His mind when we pray?  We have to admit that this is a challenging topic.  To know the mind of God, how it works and why, is far beyond our ability.  Yet, we find ourselves in a dilemma.  On one hand, we believe the Scripture when we are told that God does not change.  On the other, we believe the Scripture when we are invited to pray for certain things to happen.

So does God already have a plan and my prayers don’t matter?  Sometimes it seems like that, doesn’t it?  I pray and nothing happens.  The person still dies; the money doesn’t come; the accident still happens.  Were my pleas unheard?  And sometimes it seems like the smallest prayer brings a miracle.  Was God already planning to provide that protection or healing?  Was my prayer still unnecessary?

There are so many aspects of this and maybe I will cover more in other posts.  But let me just cover a few here.

  • First, God tells us to pray.  He wants us to pray.  There must be something in it that He wants.  It is not futile.
  • Second, He is God and we are His children.  Prayer helps us to remember that relationship.  We cannot demand; we can only request.  And, even then, we come into His presence in humility.  That reminds us that He is the One who is wise and good.  He understands the greater plan, sees the bigger picture.  He knows what is truly best.
  • Third, the only motive of the heart of God toward us is love.  His consistent desire, throughout Scripture, is for a reconciled and right relationship with us.  Prayer is designed to be a heart to heart connection with the Lord.  It is often misused, of course, but we are supposed to come to Him and connect with Him.
  • Fourth, we are creatures of change; God is not.  He is perfect; we are growing and changing.  There can be no change of heart in God.  That means that He loves even those who hearts are set against Him.  That means that even His wrath is somehow part of His love.  He is not inconsistent.
  • Fifth, the purpose of prayer is to draw us to God, not Him to us.  We are the ones who need to change, who are being conformed.  He is who He is and always has been.  Even in crises, our goal should be to find Him and connect with Him, rather than to get Him to do what we want.
  • Sixth, it is clear from personal experience and from Scriptural example that God hears our prayers and acts in our lives.  How that works, what the cause and effect relationship might be, is not as important as the fact that God connects our prayers and His action in some way.  We pray and God listens.
  • Seventh, it appears from the Scriptures that there are things in the plan of God that are negotiable while others are not.  Determining which is which is probably not our responsibility.  Because of that, our prayers should express our desires while yielding the ultimate outcome to Him.  We simply submit our will and trust in His will.

These things help me as I pray.  Prayer is not futile, even though I do not quite understand how these things work.  I know that He hears me and loves me.  At the same time I know that He will do what is best, no matter what I ask for.  I can trust, especially after I pray, that whatever happens is within His will and is best for me or for those in my prayers.

So I would say that we should pray without hesitation and we should pray the desire of our hearts.  He loves us and He hears us.

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Our Desires

I believe that we are creatures of desire.  God created us to desire.  Our primary desire should be for Him, of course, but there are other things we desire.  We desire peace, provision, health, relationship, and more.  Some people suggest that we shouldn’t desire anything, that we should just give everything over to the Lord and walk a life of trusting response.  I don’t think that’s what God intended.

In fact, I would suggest that prayer is a wonderful affirmation of our desire.  No, I don’t believe that petition is the primary purpose for prayer, but I believe it is one of the purposes.  Throughout Scripture God invites, even commands, for us to bring our desires to Him.  Even the Lord’s illustration prayer expresses desire for forgiveness, provision, protection, and more.  These are certainly not wrong things.

Nor is it wrong to take the things of this life before the Lord.  If you need a job, pray.  If you need healing, pray.  If you need guidance, pray.  This is what is supposed to happen.  Prayer is supposed to be a normal and regular part of our daily life, partly because our lives are filled with desires.

Let’s say it this way: desire is simply the expression of the feeling that something is lacking or needful in our lives.  Feelings are real for us.  We may suffer distortion of our feelings because of the way our flesh has been programmed, but they are still our feelings.  We feel hungry.  We feel afraid.  We feel lonely.  We feel frightened.  In those times we have needs.  It is good and right that we should take those needs to the One who loves us and is wise enough to give us what is right.

Never forget that we were made to be dependent.  As long as we try to live independent from the Lord, we will feel an emptiness that this life cannot fill.  That lack creates in us a desire.  The world, the flesh, the devil—all try to satisfy that desire so that we do not look to the Lord.  But none of them can ever meet that need.  So we are drawn to Him.  That was the way we were made.

Why does that insecurity and need continue in the Christian life?  Simply because we are so used to it.  It is what has always been and it is natural for us to look to the things of this world first to fill our desires.  But it doesn’t have to be that way for us.  It is possible for us to live with peace in our hearts and without fear.  I believe that is the rest the Lord promises for us.  We find it more and more as we look to Him.

But we will never be without desire.  That would be to be without need.  We will always need Him—even when we have Him.  In the days of glory, we will still need Him.  Our desires will be completely and forever satisfied, but we will still be who we are.  Desire is part of us.

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