Another Eye-Opening Experience

My favorite eye-opening story in the Bible is found in 2 Kings 6. There we read that Israel was at war with the king of Aram. Screen Shot 2022-06-29 at 12.28.12 PMElisha the prophet consistently warned the king of Israel of the intentions of his Aramaen enemy, so much so that the king of Aram was convinced there was a spy in his midst. He was assured there was no spy, just an accurate prophet:

"But Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom" (2 Kings 6:12).

When informed of this, the king sent a troop of soldiers to find and apprehend Elisha. One morning, Gehazi, Elisha's assistant, went outside only to discover that they were surrounded by their enemies. Gehazi panicked and asked Elisha, "'Oh, my lord, what shall we do?' the servant asked" (2 Kings 6:15).

Elisha remained cool and declared  there was nothing to worry about, for "those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). Then Elisha prayed but not for protection, not for friendly troops to rescue them, and not for the defeat of their enemies. Instead, he prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see" (2 Kings 6:17). When Gehazi's eyes were opened, he saw chariots of fire all around them. Their allies truly did outnumber their attackers!

Like Gehazi, you may not need to have your circumstances change, although that may seem to be your most pressing need. Instead, you may need to change how you see your circumstances. Remember what I wrote when we first began this series:  When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. When Gehazi changed the way he looked at the hills that surrounded them, he saw the army of the Lord ready to protect them.

Why not pray Elisha's prayer today concerning your dilemma or greatest challenge? Ask God to open your eyes so you can see what you haven't been seeing up to this point. Can you see how this will help you with your relationships, business, or ministry?   It will change the way you approach your problems when you accurately see and understand them from God's perspective. In fact, you may realize you don't have a problem at all but a wonderful opportunity to trust God and learn more about His goodness and ways.


An Eye-Opening Experience

One of my favorite prayers is "Open my eyes, Lord, so that I can see what I can't see, what I'm not seeing here." It's a fact that we Screen Shot 2022-06-24 at 8.46.38 AM can't see or hear everything that is going on around us, but that doesn't mean things aren't happening. What's more, I often have blind spots to the reality around me due to bias, busy-ness, or faulty thinking or evaluation concerning what I see and hear. 

One of the first examples of God opening someone's eyes to see what they could not see was Hagar, Abraham's maid. Hagar had a child to Abraham since Abraham was childless (Believe it or not, Abraham's wife Sarah, approved of this at first). When the child, Ishmael, got older, however, and Abraham had a son of his own to Sarah, Sarah changed her mind and forced Abraham to evict Hagar and her son. When the eye-opening story begins, we see Hagar sitting in the desert, alone and forlorn:

Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die." And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob (Genesis 21:14-16). 

Hagar thought what I have thought many times: It's over. There's no use. I can't make it. It was then that God intervened and saved her and the boy. 

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation." Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink (Genesis 21:17-19 emphasis added). 

Hagar thought they were dead but God opened her eyes to an oasis that was nearby. Hagar couldn't see the oasis because she was sad, because she thought she knew everything about her situation and environment that there was to know. She was in the desert, they were out of water and in trouble. Yet Hagar didn't see it all; she was missing one important factor that changed everythingthere was an oasis right in front of her.

Is that your situation? Do you think you are "dead" only to be missing a major source, an oasis, near where you are today? Don't spend time fretting over your situation. Spend time seeking what you can't see, that one idea, perspective, or relationship that is right in front of you, that one thing that can change your situation from despair to hope. Someone said, "When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change." Ask God to help you change the way you look at things today, even your desperate situation, and you just may see your situation change. 


Creativity Anxiety

If anyone, including a Christian, is going to creatively produce, he or she must deal with the issue of anxiety. I am learning to Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 9.23.03 AMdeal with anxiety that keeps me from expressing my creativity and I see it all the time in many people. Church people have a whole repertoire of excuses that others don't use, excuses like, "I'm praying about it; God hasn't released me to do that; it's not God's timing; or I don't want to get ahead of the Lord."  Sometimes these expressions may be based in fact, but often they simply mask anxiety and fear. In my own creative journey, I've drawn wisdom from Eric Maisel's book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression:

When a creator does this frequently enough and lets his [or her] anxiety about creating stop him [or her] from creating, he [or she] begins to feel like a weak, indecisive person. It is a very short step to even darker feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. The end result of not knowing that he must brave his anxiety is that he ends up completely down on himself. Anxiety bests him and, to make matters worse, he then has to deal with the negative labels he pins on himself.  This classic vicious cycle, where anxiety leads to a battered self-image and a battered self-image makes it harder to brave anxiety, defeats many creators. 

Anxiety can debilitate any creator, even the most strong-willed and self-directing.  A fiercely independent-minded sculptor may mention with a laugh that some friends visited his studio and hated his new work. On the surface, it looks like he's shrugged their comments off.  Three weeks later, he complains of serious blockage. Doubts about his talent now make him anxious, his anxiety causes him not to sculpt, but the "why" of this is completely unknown to him. Anxiety has chalked up another victim.

Has anxiety claimed you as a victim?  I don't restrict the effects of anxiety to just the creative arts like writing or painting. It can hinder your ability to start a business, take a missions trip, teach a class, or go back to school. You can be so uptight about doing something wrong or doing it poorly that you don't do anything at all, and so you "wait" upon the Lord. 

Anxiety and fear are closely related, if not synonymous, in the creative process.  So dealing with anxiety is like dealing with fear: you must face it to overcome it.  You start by admitting that you are anxious and identify the reasons why: fear of failure, fear of criticism, ignorance of how to start, not knowing how to finish.  You must not hide behind the Lord and disguise your anxiety as something other than what it is.

How does the issue of anxiety apply to your creativity right now?  What has you stuck in a non-productive or non-creative rut?  I urge you to discover what it is and then get going on what you have talked about doing for a short or long time.  Don't let anxiety rob you and the world any longer of the best you that you can be.  If I can help, let me know.


A Shot at a House

In one of my volumes of The Faith Files, I told the story of a house my family purchased through a series of faith actions. We Screen Shot 2022-03-10 at 4.17.31 PMlived in that house for five years and enjoyed every day there. We hosted weddings in our large family room. We hosted dinner parties and had family and friends over regularly for cookouts and meals. Out-of-town family came to visit, and my wife’s sister lived with us for three years. I had an office in the downstairs bedroom and the other bedrooms were upstairs. If ever there was a house we loved, that was the one.

THE MOVE

After five years, however, we sensed that God was calling us to pastor a church in Orlando, Florida. That meant we would have to put our beloved house in Mobile, Alabama on the market. The Orlando church needed someone right away, so we put the house up for sale and moved into a rental home in Orlando, 500 miles away. We moved before we sold because we didn’t want a house to hold us in an area when God wanted us to be someplace else. What’s more, we just knew (or assumed) that our Mobile house would sell quickly because we were doing God’s will.

We enjoyed being in Orlando but the Mobile house didn’t sell right away. Truth be told, we were in a rental house for two years while we waited for the Alabama house to sell. We prayed, lowered the price, had people walk around the house and declare it sold, prayed some more, and struggled every month to make two payments—our rent and our mortgage. 

Then one day my children came running into my office with a registered letter. Unbeknownst to me, they had entered my name in a drawing for a free house and the letter was from the builder and the NBA Orlando Magic, cosponsors of the house giveaway. When I opened the letter, I was informed that I was one of 50 finalists to win the house. All I had to do was come to a Magic game, shoot one foul shot, and, if I made the shot, my name would be entered in the final drawing. There was no telling how many others would make their shot, so my chances were at worst one in fifty—if I made the shot. We were excited!

When I looked at the ticket for my game, however, my heart sank. It was for a Monday night and I was scheduled to be away at a church conference. I was the conference coordinator, so there was no way I could not be present. I called the Magic to see if I could switch games with someone else. They said no. We were all disappointed, but I gave my ticket away and drove to Atlanta the same day that my “shot” at a house had been scheduled.

THE HOUSE

Needless to say, I was discouraged as I made the seven-hour drive to Atlanta. “God,” I said, “I’ve done everything I knew to do to sell the house. I moved to Orlando because You wanted me to. And now I feel like You dangled this house in front of me and jerked it away.” As I drove, I realized that I could view this scenario in one of two ways. I could be discouraged and even angry over what had transpired, or I could see this as a sign from God. God could give me a house when He was ready to do so. I didn’t need the Orlando Magic or anyone else to help me. If God was for me, and He was, who could be against me? By the time I arrived in Atlanta, I had made my choice to trust God.

After a two-year wait, we sold the house while I was at that conference! What’s more, six months later God miraculously provided and we bought a house in Orlando, complete with a swimming pool and citrus trees growing in our yard. We loved that home, too, not because it was the greatest house in the world, but because of what we learned in the process.

Faith doesn’t make God your butler who is ready to meet your every wish or need. It doesn’t put God at your beck and call. It does, however, give you the means to live every day with confidence and joy. My experience made what Job said a little more real to me: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 NAS) and “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15).


Hiding in the Baggage

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking in the Sunday service at The Summit Church in Hackensack, New Jersey. The title of Screen Shot 2022-02-12 at 8.09.30 AMmy message was "Hiding in the Baggage," which focused on Saul's reluctance to be the king even though he had multiple supernatural confirmations that this was the will of God. My point to remember was that "hearing from the Lord is no guarantee that you will do the will of God." I mainly look at verses in 1 Samuel 10. I am attaching my PowerPoint slides if you would be interested in going over the main points of my message.

Download TheSummit2-6-22


A Bound Woman, An Indignant Leader

I was reading this morning and came upon one of my favorite stories as told by Luke:
 
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for Screen Shot 2021-03-28 at 8.05.19 AMeighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
 
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
 
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
 
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing (Luke 13:10-17).
 
Here are ten lessons I see in this story. If you see more, please leave a comment and share them with me and others.
 
1. Jesus touched a woman, a direct violation of Jewish custom for He risked becoming "unclean."
2. He knew how long she had been bound. He called her to come forward; she didn't come on her own.
3. Her problem was a devilish one: "Satan had bound her."
4. The religious leader was 'indignant.'
5. The religious leader was, according to Jesus, a hypocrite. In fact, the leader was more bound than the woman.
6. Jesus was courageous and initiated this healing on the Sabbath, knowing it was going to cause trouble.
7. Jesus worked on the Sabbath doing good deeds. We should do the same.
8. The people knew what Jesus was doing, the leaders did not. Leadership is no guarantee of a superior spirituality.
9. Jesus did 'wonderful things'; we should be doing the same.
10. Jesus used simple logic to justify what He did; we should also use Holy Spirit logic to act on God's behalf.

Reclaiming Revelation

I have been asked many times during this pandemic if this is the end, if the return of the Lord is imminent as proved by the signs of the times. Some have referred to the book of Revelation, which Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 7.49.59 PMcertainly seems to describe cataclysmic global events such as we are witnessing now. My answer is always the same, "I don't know if this is the end, but I am closer to my end than I have ever been." The truth is I don't know and no one else does either. All we can do is be faithful to this day and trust the Lord for tomorrow.

Years ago, I wrote a commentary on Revelation called The Revelation Project: A Fresh Look at the Last Book and my perspective flew in the face of most commonly held interpretations. I later turned that book into volume twelve of my Live the Word commentary series, but I thought of the introduction to both of those books this week and want to share it with you here. My purpose is to continue my work to reclaim the last book of the Bible from the zany and bizarre interpretations many hold that cause them to mistakenly examine current affairs under the light of Revelation's message. Here is what I had to say in my introduction.

*****

I suppose it is natural for us to think about the end of time and speculate concerning what will happen leading up to the end and beyond. Due to the popularity of fiction books that focus on the end times, along with the commonly held and taught positions on the meaning of the rapture, the millenium, and the antichrist, people study Revelation, along with Daniel, Ezekiel, and some parts of the gospel accounts, a majority are looking for the beast, the dragon, and the meaning of the number 666, among other things mentioned in Revelation.

Yet as you start this commentary, I am asking you to do something completely counterintuitive. I ask that you suspend any and all preconceived notions you have accumulated about Revelation, just for as long as you read this book. I don’t want you to think as a pre- or post-millenialist. If you tend more to be a preterist, futurist, historicist, or even an idealist (and if you aren't familiar with those four labels, please don't spend much time researching them), I want you to approach this book like you know nothing at all. If you don’t do that, then you will approach my book or a reading of Revelation looking for the familiar, consequently not seeing what else may be there. If you go looking for the antichrist, that is all you will see. If you can go looking for the Christ, you may notice things you have not seen before.

That brings me to my main objective for writing this commentary and that is I want you to read  Revelation, approaching it as a devotional book. My reason for this is that is your approach, at least in part, to the other 65 books of the Bible. You usually read those books asking, “What can I learn from this that will help me in my daily walk? What can I learn about God’s will for my life? What can I learn about the Lord Jesus that will enhance my worship and walk with Him?” 

Once you suspend your preconceived notions of what Revelation is or how you have interpreted it, here are some other guidelines I have set up as you work through the material, just so you know how I am approaching this work:

    1. Revelation is not a book primarily about the future. It is a book about the past. This does not mean that there are no future aspects to Revelation. There most certainly are. Yet the other 65 books of the Bible primarily explain how God has worked among His people, culminating in the work of Christ on the cross. The Old Testament basically tells us that Christ is coming. The New Testament explains the implications for His finished work and Ascension to heaven. Revelation has much to tell us about Christ’s work just like the other books do.
    2. Revelation is a book about Christ, not the Antichrist. Yes, Revelation does depict the work of forces that align themselves against the Lord and His Anointed One, but their actions are shown to be futile in light of God’s superior power and authority. Focusing on the enemies of God has tended to magnify their power and actions. We are never to magnify the enemy, only God.
    3. Revelation had to mean something to the churches that initially received it. The New Testament was written to the Church in all ages, and Revelation is no exception. The gospel of Matthew has meaning for us today, but it also meant something to those for whom it was first writtenthe Jews of the first century. If we can grasp and recapture some of what Revelation could have meant to the early church, then we will have a clearer understanding of what it says to us today. 
    4. Revelation is called the Apocalypse because it is a book that utilizes apocalyptic language and images. The word apocalypse literally means unveiling. It was a genre of literature that was well-known to the early church, but almost a complete mystery to us today. There were specific rules of interpretation for apocalyptic literature then, just like there are for satire and science fiction today. You approach those latter types of literature with certain expectations and rules for interpretation. You must do the same as you read Revelation. Much of Revelation employs graphic and exaggerated symbols and metaphors, intended to give a general “bird’s eye view” of the work of Christ as He rules until all His enemies are His footstool. Those metaphors are not to be taken as literally as some have imagined. When Revelation wants you to know what something represents, it tells you. When it doesn't, be careful not to assign specific meanings that may even make some sense, but are not supported by biblical evidence.
    5. Revelation was not intended to generate fear, but trust and confidence in God. If the other 65 books of the Bible were intended to teach reverence for God and confidence in His ability to protect his people, then why would Revelation be any different? Yet the Bible and Revelation do tell the sinnerthose who are apart from God, those who are in open rebellionto fear. He will not remain silent forever and He will eventually judge His enemies, both in this Age and at the Final Judgment. If anyone should fear when reading Revelation, it is not God’s people but those who do not know Him.

*****

There you have my basic approach to the reading, study, and interpretation of Revelation. It is a book of victory, not of defeat, and I resent just a little those who have made it be something else. It matters what you believe about the end for that will direct how you live. I want to live as one who lives daily in the truth that Jesus has taken on, and will continue to do so, all comers and He is still winner and champion. Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!


More More

Last week, I wrote an entry titled No More More that discussed our cultural obsession with more—more things, more variety, more experiences, more of just about everything. God has hit the pause button on all that and is about to reboot the world's economies, and the shake out and shake up will be significant. Yet there is a more that God does want and I thought I would discuss that this week under the title Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 7.43.48 PM"More More." My thoughts on this began when I read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 this morning:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more . . .

There is a more that God is interested in but it isn't the abundance of possessions; it is more love practically expressed first to the household of God and then to the world. In our pursuit of the wrong more, we suddenly did not have much time for the more more that God desired and that more is service to others in the power of our purpose and with the flare of our creativity.

My study of more didn't stop there, for then I did a search of the word more in the gospels and I came across a promise that Jesus made: "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them" (Matthew 13:12). This more is in the area of knowledge concerning the things of God, and it is interesting that this concept is mentioned in the three synoptic gospels—but is not limited to knowledge. Not to be left out, John describes his concept of more in John 15:1-2: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Define fruit however you wish, but however you do, be sure that God wants more of it.

I have counseled and talked with many people who are quite satisfied with no more. They are content with where they are, and are diligent to protect their privacy and way of life. God would have to break into their world with a spiritual crowbar before they would consider doing more for missions, being more creative, or being more involved. Yet notice the promises in Matthew and John. Jesus promised that those who have will get more; they have no choice in the matter. If they are fruitful, God will prune them so they will produce more fruit. You get the idea that God wants more more from you, for you, and through you, and there is no discussion about it. That's His will and plan.

When I have taught on the concept of organization, I have taught that we must organize our lives to handle more more. That isn't about stuff, for if anything we need to have less of that kind of more. Yet how can you organize your life and world to produce the more more that God intends for you? I have organized my life, my office, my schedule, my connections, and my entire world to produce more: more books, more insight, more service. When I had mastered the art of writing books, I started a publishing company. Why? To make more money? Hardly! It was to structure my life so I could produce more. I had a say in that, but my only say was yes or no. When I said yes, then I had to invest my finances, and position my life to receive and support the more more. 

What are your thoughts on more more? Do you think it's God's will for you? Do you think this season may have come to help you have less of the wrong more focus and more on the more more? I was so taken with this topic today that I decided that my next book after Proverbs 31 Men is done is going to be titled The Gospel of More, and it won't be about possessions. It will be about the right kind of more more. The sooner we can settle in our minds and hearts that God wants more and that more more is not an option, the sooner we can get about preparing and then realizing more. And if that is the result of this pandemic, it will have a redemptive harvest that was fertilized by the pain and suffering of people the world over as they embrace no more more and accept the fact that God wants more of the right kind of more.


Times of Trouble

In case you haven't noticed, the world is full of trouble—big trouble. We now have a global health crisis, the ongoing threat of terrorism, random acts of violence, political distress and upheaval, and a lot of mistrust, hatred even, between people groups. I am in Colombia as I write and I have had more people than usual write to say they are praying for my safety, which I certainly appreciate. How can we navigate and negotiate these troubled times without being overwhelmed with trepidation? Should we stay cooped up on our houses? Hire body guards?

This post is not to prescribe anything like that, but I do want to share what I learned to do when I was in Screen Shot 2020-02-01 at 10.10.55 AMAfghanistan in 2002 right after the war against terrorism started there. I was with a group of believers from all over the world and we met every morning at 7 a.m. for prayer. When we ended our time, we all recited aloud Psalm 91 and it had a soothing effect that framed our day as we left to go out into a society where every building was riddled with bullet holes or pock marks from explosives. Perhaps you want to adopt this habit during these times of trouble. In case you do, here is Psalm 91 in its entirety:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

I believe the promises in Psalm 91. This does not release us to do foolish, reckless things, but it does allow us to walk in comfort and security during turbulent times. I want not just to talk about the promises of God; I also want to live in them as I carry out my purpose. I invite you to join me in doing the same.


Fear

We are children of Adam and Eve, whose first act after they sinned was to hide in the bush while God AdamAndEvewalked by. Why? Because they were ashamed and afraid. Shame and fear are our two enemies as we seek to live for the Lord and walk in His ways.

We can quote, "God has not given me a spirit of fear" but that does not mean we don't have fear. In fact, in my 44 years of ministry experience, I have found that I am afraid and so are you.

You may protest and say, "Not me!" I would still beg to differ. If you insist you don't have fear, there are three possibilities:

  1. you may have conquered fear once and for all.
  2. you don't recognize the fear because it disguises itself.
  3. you have shrunk your world so that there are no surprises, so that tomorrow is like today -- and why did you do that? Because you are afraid you cannot handle the new day.

I doubt very much that you have mastered fear as described in #1 above, but if you have, pray for the rest of us.

If you need more convincing of the possibility you suffer from number 2, ask yourself why you don't go on a missions trip, learn a language, go back to school, or start a business -- or any other idea you have ever had that's new and different than what you are doing now. Within five minutes, you can think of all the reasons why those things are not good ideas. All those reasons are fear-based. If you don't have the money, you are really thinking, "I am afraid the money won't be there when I need it, so better not make the commitment to go (or do)."

And if you have settled into number 3, what is the purpose for your existence? Is it to do what you are currently doing every day for the rest of your life with minor variations? Is that living or existing?

Jesus said that we would know the truth and it would set us free. It's important to know where the fear is in your thinking so you can be free, that is, if you want to be free. Because to be free is to risk, and risk causes fear, and fear, well, then we are right back where we started at the beginning of this post, children of Adam and Eve, hiding with them in the Garden bush while God comes looking for us.