Monday, August 16, 2010

Thanksgiving and Praise - Keys to Your Life

I recently heard an amazing teaching by Pastor David Ellis that showed me that God's Word is so rich and so filled with life and so often we miss so many of the powerful truths and connections that are right before our eyes simply because we've been inundated with the same stories for years.  We become so "fogged over" in our quests for searching out God in His Word that we walk right past the obvious.  God isn't trying to hide himself from us in the ultimate cosmic game of "peek-a-boo".  He isn't pondering how he can next challenge us in a spiritual treasure hunt in an effort to keep Himself from us.  Jesus stated that his "yoke was easy and his burden was light".  Easy.  Light.  God wants you to know him, intimately.  Easily.  Ever been in a relationship that was just easy?  You didn't have to nervously re-acquaint or talk about the weather or family or employment or hobbies, it was just easy - you could just be yourself.  This is what God wants. 

His truths are easy too.  Looking at a familiar passage in John 6:4-14 we see the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Remember the felt boards in Sunday School?  The paper cutouts?  Remember the coloring pages - 2 fish, 5 small loaves?  Again, this is one of those readings for me where it is so easy to miss truth, where my eyes can almost glaze over as I "speed-read" the passage.  Jesus sees a "great multitude" coming his direction.  We read the passage as him feeding 5,000 but we also know this is a headcount of only the men.  Conservative estimates put the crowd's total size of 10-12,000 with it possibly as large as 15-20,000.  Picture it.  Jesus and the twelve had just crossed the Sea of Galilee, taken a small hike up a dusty trail to a "mountain" top or to us a hillside, sit down to take a breather and they look out and here is a throng of 15,000 people headed their way.

Jesus says "Hey Philip, where can we get some food to feed these people?" (paraphrase) and right after this the Word says he asked Phillip this "to test him for He Himself knew what He would do."  One translation says He asked Phillip this to "stretch his faith".  Jesus wasn't perplexed by the scene unfolding in front of him.  He wasn't frustrated by the fact that thousands of people were approaching and he didn't have food with him and then lean over to one of his twelve and say "How're we gon'na feed 'em all?"  After Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden, God wasn't playing hide-n-seek in asking "Adam - where are you?"  God always knows exactly where we're at, where our faith is at.  It is His desire to take us to the next level and His purpose in questioning us isn't to read us a Heavenly riot act but to draw us out - to get us to engage Him on His level so that He can start to move in our lives in the blessings He desires.

Look at Phillip's answer.  "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them that every one of them may have a little."  The New Living Translation puts it this way:  "Even if we worked for months we wouldn't have enough money to feed them!"  Phillip's answer:  We don't have enough money!

I have to imagine Jesus cracking a grin here, because the Word says He already knew what he was going to do, but don't miss the lesson.  Jesus didn't ask Phillip "Where can we get some cash together to run into town and get some food for this crowd?"  "He didn't tap Judas, the group's purse-holder and say "How much do we have in the bag?"  His question was "Where is the food coming from?"

It is then that Andrew produces the child with the two fish and five loaves.  Do you think that Andrew was policing the crowd, saw a kid with food and grabbed him by the collar and said "Jesus! Got a kid with food here!"?  I believe that this boy overheard the conversation and got it.  We see Jesus telling us that we have to have child-like faith and I believe this boy, overhearing the conversation, came to Andrew with his food offered it.  Why else would Andrew approach Jesus with an unknown "lad's" lunch? 

We read in verse thirteen that that after everyone had been fed they had 12 baskets full of fragments/left-overs and these wouldn't have been lunch pails.  They would have been large capacity baskets for carrying goods.  So what was the difference between "we don't have enough money" to "everyone's full and we've got more leftovers than we know what to do with"?  The pastor I heard speaking on this pointed something out that is so in line with what other brothers and sisters have echoed in recent months and something that I think God is trying to capture our attention on because it is critical to our success in this life.

The offering isn't what fed the crowd. How often have you offered up prayer, sacrifice, effort and seemed to hit silence in your petitions? Why?  Because the offering was the seed.  It needed a multiplier.  What was that multiplier?  It's in verse eleven:  Thanksgiving - praise.  Jesus was offering thanks over those fish and barley loaves the entire time He was distributing them.  He didn't just say "Holy Father, thank you for this meal which we are about to receive..." and then everyone sat down and ate.  Jesus was thanking over that bread and fish continually and a something happened - a cycle of provision took off.  To feed that many people Jesus was busy for hours - he was breaking fish and bread for hours to people lined up from all over.  He was handing off baskets of food to the twelve who were in turn running them to pockets of the crowd for a significant amount of time, giving thanks for it the whole time.

This is what He wanted Phillip to do - what He knew He would do from the start if given the seed to work with.  God has a calling on each one of our lives and if we'll seek out his vision for our lives it will be far more grand, far larger than anything we could come up with on our own.  This has a tendency to scare us.  "But God, I don't have enough...."  Is it money?  Resources?  Ability?  Do you sound like Phillip?  Your resources and talents never were the basis by which God is able to fulfill his plans through you - His are.  But even the offering of faith must be met with something - thanksgiving and praise.  It is the key. 

If God has shown you the vision of what He wants to do in your life, no matter how impossible it looks to you right now or how far away, begin to thank him and praise him for it today!  Don't focus on the obstacles or your lack or what you don't have or what stands between you and those dreams/visions. Look at the seed you do have and give thanks - this will cause multiplication.  Countless are the scriptures where praise and thanksgiving are to continually be on our lips.  Joy is strength and sometimes we have to will joy, just like we have to will strength to move.  Psalm 35:27 says "Let them shout for joy and be glad".  Don't have joy?  Then shout FOR joy because later in that verse we read God has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.  Psalm 34:1 says "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth."

It isn't for God's ego that we praise.  It is through praise that we are moved into the position of God being able to bless.  God knows who He is - He's pretty secure in the knowledge of Himself.  He's not in heaven insecure or not feeling well about himself and with holding blessing and prosperity if we don't give him some affection.  Our praise is the key that unlocks because it activates our faith and takes our attention off of circumstance and ourselves and focuses it on God's ability and when we move into this arena, God has something to work with in our lives.  He loves our praises because through our praises He can unleash the floods of blessings He has prepared for us. 

This is why he repeatedly brings it to us to praise, to ever be praising, to enter his courts with thanksgiving and praise, to be thankful for all things.  Thanksgiving and praise are the keys to your life - the abundant, overflowing, superior, extraordinary life that Jesus stated He came for you to have.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Your Reward is Through Your Fear

"What you are most afraid of is where your greatest rewards are."

A friend sent me this quote recently and to be honest I was taken aback by it. At first I almost dismissed it as I don't view myself as one to walk around in nervous fear but God grabbed me with the remembrance of things in my own life that I am currently in fear over. Things that when confronted with I tend to sweep under the rug, ignore, refuse to face directly. What do you fear? Is financial uncertainty? Sickness? The future? Do you fear never realizing your potential or never seeing your dreams become realities? Do you fear addressing that broken relationship? What about that habit that keeps creeping into your life that you need help with? Maybe you fear standing up for what is right, whether it be for yourself or for others, based on the Word.

You see, each of these is a storm, a testing of our character and each of these has a tremendous reward on the other side of them - a new plateau of living. But each of these requires complete and total honesty with yourself and a bold determination to face the issue in front of you and not back down from it, not cower or close your eyes from it for its "uncomfortable" nature. It will be uncomfortable. Growth usually is. But the end result is increased capacity, increased ability, and increased strength. These "increases" are necessary for the "increased" blessings that God has in store for you.

Jesus stated that he came for us to have life and to have it abundantly. The Greek here means to have life that is superior, extraordinary, surpassing and beyond what is normal. Very often, the means to these levels of increase are through the very storms that we are tempted to fear. We have to recognize that this fear is nothing more than the enemy's attempts to keep us from the very growth we need to encounter the divine and miraculous provision and blessings of God in our lives. When we stand on "we are more than conquerors in Christ" and "greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world" and the countless other truths in this Word that are life and power then truly we find the "roaring lion" a defeated foe melting into the shadows.

So when you see the clouds darkening on the horizon and the waves picking up, you can rejoice because you know there is something magnificent on the other side of the storm and regardless of its intensity - you are never alone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

God Wants You to Know...Him

I received an email today, one of many that I often receive, that started with "On this day, God wants you to know...".  Most of the time I dismiss these emails.  At best I'll give them a cursory scan but rarely will I delve into them with any enthusiasm.  Why?  Because I've found that most of the people sending me these emails have placed me on an automatic circulation list because I've become to them a "God person".  My regular scriptural quotes and biblical views have painted me in their minds as one who would appreciate their automatic electronic deposits.  These individuals very often also circulate "This day in your horoscope" and "Today your palm says..." type emails.  Since I'm a "bible thumper", I will obviously appreciate the "God wants you to know..." emails. 

Further, I see these efforts as a true longing for truth that each of us has innately within us.  Every one of us was created to seek God's face and yet so many of us choose to seek elsewhere.  If you've subscribed to these types of lists hear me out before getting upset with me.  I also subscribe to scriptural emails that deposit daily in my email account from various ministries.  Sometimes I have time to read them, sometimes I do not.  But I have always viewed these as supplementary reading and encouragement, not my daily dose of God's word.  Very often I get the sense that my emailing friends are sending me what is to them, the only connection to God's Word they may have in a day/week and this saddens me.

Do I sound harsh, sarcastic, even judgmental?  If anything these emails from the above anger me.  Not at the individuals who send them - but at an adversary who has so blinded us.  At a culture where we have made Christianity so comfortable that the lines are so blurred that one could pick and choose their spiritual enlightenment as if at a smorgasbord or a drive-thru.  "Don't have time for real Word study so I'll get in this little nugget" or "I'll have a little Christianity and some cute horoscope/witchcraft with some tossed eastern philosophy and a side of zen - that should satisfy my craving!"  The one who seeks to rend our souls and pull them into eternal torment with himself could not be more pleased with this and a Loving God who cries for us to simply open our eyes and who has given us everything we need to see and walk away from hell sadly shakes his head as we dabble in cute palm readings and "harmless" devils.

I'd like to send one of these emails back to all of my friends to whom I have concern, not as an accusing finger of judgment but as a clarion call.  It would say "Today God DOES want you to know...HIM".  Everything He has ever done has always revolved around relationship with Him.  Creation:  so that we would exist - with him.  Eden:  so that we could walk - with Him.  The cross:  so that we could be redeemed - back to Him.  He's even coming back to get us - to take us, where?  To be with Him!  The whole Bible is about coming to know and walking with Him.  I don't know if there is "extraterrestrial life" in this universe, but even if there is not, I have no trouble with the concept that I serve and love a God whose love for me is so immeasurably vast that he created all of this, just for our wonderment.  Billions of stars burst into song, exploding into life and dying before Him.  All creation testifies to the glory of His Name and His splendor.  And he invites us, daily, to know Him, to walk with Him, to let Him show us the wonders of His love for us.

This isn't done by a daily emailing. Like any love affair, it only happens with time well spent together.