From Spiritual Mountaintop to Spiritual Wilderness

original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc
original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc

Dramatic. Powerful. Intense. All are words that I would use to describe the weeks following my conversion to Christianity. Surrendering my life to Christ was without question a calculated decision; I was not crying out to God in a moment of crisis. Still, I was a broken person and the Holy Spirit moved dramatically to meet my need.

On one particular evening, while studying for a physics final, I saw two visions that I inherently understood to be from God. I’ll not go into detail, but one of the visions provided a future image of a successful ministry. I was at the top of the world! Not only had the Creator of the Universe lovingly plucked me from the depths of sin, He had visibly shown me a hope-filled future.

Not long after that glorious season, I found myself painfully trudging through the trenches of life; that mountaintop experience felt like nothing more than a blurred memory. My challenges were so difficult and my struggles so deep that I questioned whether any of the good experiences had ever even happened. Worse yet, my expected road to Christian ministry turned in a most unwanted direction, apparently leading away from—instead of toward—the vision God had given me.

Fast forward over thirty-three years. I’m still walking with God and am now involved with “full-time” Christian ministry. As of today, I still have not seen the complete fulfillment of the vision God gave during my college years, but at least the path of my life has turned back in what I would consider to be the “right” direction. For me, the call of God continues to be very much a faith walk, but I can now see its fulfillment through the eye of faith. That’s a lot more than I can say for the long, dark portion of wilderness territory that I once traversed.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read via photopin cc

I wish I could say that my experience is unique—that I stand alone amongst all the men and women of God who have gone before me. I cannot say that. What happened—and continues to happen—to me is part of a pattern frequently used by God. Mountaintop vision to desolate wilderness to fulfillment of the vision—that’s the way the pattern works. Or at least the way it is supposed to work. Sadly, not everyone emerges from a wilderness season as a spiritual champion for Christ. Indeed, many go to their graves mired in the bitter-tasting muck of unbelief—as typified by an entire generation of ancient Israelites who perished in the Judean wilderness.

Often, it’s very difficult to explain why a wilderness season came to be. Sometimes God is clearly the author; other times He seems to have little to do with the situation. But regardless of how our time of spiritual dryness and isolation came to be, the manner of overcoming is always the same: we emerge as champions by responding to negative circumstances in a manner that honors God.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc

Our heavenly Father always has the best interests of His beloved children at heart, but there is something that He has sought after since the creation of the human race: our fruitfulness (Genesis 1:26-28; John 15:8). The Creator of the Universe passionately desires to see us bear the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and to see that fruit multiplied in the lives of those we serve. This is really what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is about. A spiritual wilderness experience can reflect the glory of God as He mystically brings the fruitful out of the barren, or it can reflect the sinfulness of humankind as we spiral downward in cynicism and unbelief. The choice, my friends, is ours.

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which will soon be available for sale. Also, when our new SfMe Media website is complete, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, searchforme.info and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

Is Change Really Possible

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc
photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

Change, my friends is inevitable. Nothing is static in this transient world. Nothing! This is especially true in a world of rapidly evolving technology. Today’s new thing will probably be obsolete by the end of the week!

But when we ask if change is possible, we aren’t referring to change in the general sense—our real emphasis is on positive change. Faced with a steady barrage of negative news, sometimes we can’t help but wonder if things will ever turn in a healthy direction. Violence is prevalent. The economy sits on shaky ground. Our government finds itself immersed in gridlock. The church takes only faltering steps, most of which are in the wrong direction.

There is, however, an underlying question that seems to plague the common person. “Is change really possible in my life?” is the question that most of us ask. Sure, there are the narcissists who stand convinced that they have no need to change. In addition, we find the confident few who believe that, with a bit of hard work, they can become whatever they want. Still, I suspect that most of us have run up against powerful roadblocks in our efforts to become better people. We’ve tried moving forward, but always find ourselves being drawn back into our fears, our compulsions, and our dark thoughts. As a result, deeply-rooted doubts cloud any sense of hope that we once had for a better tomorrow.

photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc
photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc

The essence of the Christian gospel is about change. God was not content with the status quo of sin and death so He sent His much-loved Son to do something about the problem. And do something He did! Forgiveness of sin and guilt is a change we can’t live without.

Still, much more remains. God provided His Word as a roadmap to change and sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts as an agent of change. I’m not saying that transformation is easy by any means, but it certainly is possible—for every one of us.

photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap
photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap

Through my thirty-plus years as a Christian, I’ve researched, studied, and watched. My desire has been to find a Christianity that really works—not simply another humanistic or ineffective twist to an old religion. In that time, I’ve come to understand that the power of human sin runs deeper than any of us realize. But I’ve also come to grasp that the power of God’s grace is far greater than even the bonds of sin. The key, more than any other thing, is learning to continually draw upon the fullness of that life-changing grace.

Yes, change is possible for any of us as individuals. And if change is possible for the individual, societal change is certainly within our reach.  This confidence in God’s grace as realized through the gospel of Jesus Christ motivates me to press on in my Christian service, knowing full well that ours is a future founded upon real hope.

Speaking of change, we are still in the process of transitioning over to our new website which will continue to feature my blog. If you would like to remain subscribed to my “blogotional”, you can do so by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.

Have You Seen God?

photo credit: Micah Boy via photopin cc
photo credit: Micah Boy via photopin cc

I’ve seen sunshine, rain, and snow, but in all my years I have never seen the wind. While I was hiking through the woods recently, a huge gust of wind picked up bunches of dry leaves along the trail and threw them swirling into the air. I’ve felt the wind and I’ve seen its influence; its presence is very real but the wind itself remains invisible.

None of us have ever seen God. Some would say that He does not exist. As with the wind, however, we can feel the presence of the invisible God and see various indicators that He is near.

photo credit: SJU Undergraduate Admissions via photopin cc
photo credit: SJU Undergraduate Admissions via photopin cc

The greatest evidence of God’s existence is that transformation that takes place in the lives of those whom He touches. The selfish become generous; the arrogant, humble; the insecure, confident; the hopeless, full of anticipation. When the Creator of the Universe touches a person’s life, those around can’t help but notice.

We dare not forget, however, that the fruit seen in the life of a professing Christian presents a two-sided coin. While a transformed life will attract others to God, an existence mired in the sins of the flesh will have the opposite effect—genuine seekers will be driven to unhealthy, and even dangerous, spiritual paths.

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t see or hear of someone being alienated from God’s love because a professing Christian, by virtue of ungodly behavior, called God’s goodness into question. Sometimes sharing my faith involves doing damage control more than it does speaking of the God’s goodness.

photo credit: Ryk Neethling via photopin cc
photo credit: Ryk Neethling via photopin cc

Grace is transformational, empowering us to rise above the corruption of this world to new heights in Christ. And how do we know when we are on the right track? The Bible provides us with guideposts along the way. By looking at lists of good and bad behavior found within the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:16-24, etc.), we can get a general sense of what many of those around us already know—whether we are living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. I’m sure that we’d all like to think that we are living according the Holy Spirit’s ways but the human heart is deceptive; we need the objectivity that the Scriptures provide.

We each have our struggles against sin and anyone can go through a bad stretch, but over the course of time, a person’s lifestyle should begin to align with his or her profession of faith. A transformed life, brought about by His life-giving grace, provides irrefutable evidence of God’s good presence at work in this world!

No Power, No Game – A Key Lesson from the Super Bowl!

Mercedes-Benz Superdome
photo credit: Sheepdog24 via photopin cc

It was an odd moment in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suddenly went half black. The players and coaches stood befuddled, the broadcasters went ominously quiet, and the television cameras simply panned the half-darkened ceiling of the massive dome. Nobody really knew what was going on but one thing was certain—no power meant no game. At least for the next 34 minutes.

As I begin to wrap up this series on violence, I can’t help but make an observation that is somewhat critical of the conservative community standing in total opposition to any form of gun control. This is quite difficult for me to do because I have quite a few good friends I might possibly offend.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes that God has given His church powerful spiritual weapons for the purpose of advancing His kingdom.

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (Phillips)

I understand that the primary context of this passage is the Apostle Paul writing about truth as our primary weapon for breaking down enemy strongholds; however, in the greater context of the New Testament, we find that truth is not our only spiritual weapon.

Receiving from God
photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc

In His final words before ascending into heaven, Jesus made something quite clear to His followers—He would empower them, through the person of the Holy Spirit, to do all that He called them to do.

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. Acts 1:8 (AMP)

In addition to His awesome truth and the amazing power of prayer, God has invested within the heart of every true believer a power that far exceeds anything that the human race could ever envision. Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a power that lies dormant as we pursue a multitude of other methods to satisfy our lives and to do ministry.

A fundamental strategy of any type of warfare is to attempt to disarm the power of the enemy. And I must say that, for the most part, Satan has done an effective job of getting the Christian church to lay down its weaponry. We often give minimal attention to the truth of God’s word, a lesser amount to individual and corporate prayer, and even less to operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The church has been effectively disarmed to the point of having minimal influence in a society being overrun by dark forces.

Gun Rights Rally
photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc

Our reasons for allowing this to happen may be many but I think they are as weak as our spiritual vitality. In the end, we are either ignorant of God’s power available to us or we aren’t willing to pay the price to lay hold of all that He has for us. Perhaps it is a mix of both, but either way, I can’t help but wonder how the spiritual landscape in America would look if we as conservative Christians were as outraged at the loss of our spiritual weaponry as we are about the possibility of losing our gun rights.

Still, there is good news in all of this! If we will only take the time to dig deeper into His word to discover the power and authority available to us, if we will fast from food and some of our media, if we will spend extended time in prayer seeking His face, God will gladly restore the church what has been lost and neglected. Although God’s power is readily available to every believer, generally, it does not come as easily and quickly for us as it should. Deliberate and extended effort may be necessary.

No Power, No Game! We can whine and complain all we want, but unless we take up the call to spiritual arms, the spiritual landscape of our nation won’t be changing any time soon.

Why Government Leaders Ignore the Root Causes of Violence

U.S. Capitol
photo credit: Hey Paul via photopin cc

Every time a mass shooting occurs in the U.S., our government leaders rise to the occasion by proclaiming the need for change. Those who are sincere will usually push hard for gun control while ignoring the root causes that have brought such sickness upon our society.

Why are our politicians so slow to look at the real issues? There are times when gazing into a mirror can be very unsettling.

In examining the Scriptures we find that the primary problem with human nature is an innate desire to be like God apart from God. This defining drive of the human heart finds its expression through three primary roots—self-centeredness, the lust for power and control, and a constant yearning for self-glorification. All three fallen tendencies drive the world of politics, but rather than potentially implicating themselves by addressing the real issues, our leaders and legislators will look for any scapegoat to deflect the attention from their own shortcomings. It is all simply a matter of human nature.

We the people
photo credit: “Caveman Chuck” Coker via photopin cc

I share these thoughts not as a disgruntled American full of disdain for our government leaders, but as a Christian who fully recognizes that these self-absorbed tendencies are common to the entire human race. If ours is a government for the people and by the people, at least to some degree, our government leaders serve as a reflection of the general populace.

All of this brings us to yet another factor in the rise of gun violence in the United States—the declining influence of a vital Christian Church in America. I cannot agree with those conservative historians who try to paint virtually all of our Founding Fathers as devoted Christians, but I can say that the men who fought for freedom from tyranny and who framed our Constitution were profoundly influenced by Christianity.

The First Great Awakening was a move of the Holy Spirit that changed the fabric of the American colonies in the 1730s and 40s. That experience, combined with longtime frustration with authoritarian monarchies, deeply impacted the hearts of America’s 2.4 million residents. The result was a new form of democracy replete with freedoms of all sorts, including an emphasis on the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and, of course, the freedom of religious practice.

Founding Fathers
photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

Even though the Founding Fathers may not have all been Christians, they all lived in a culture that had been colored by the Christian faith. The result was an ideal—the belief that if all pursued the greater good, they could build a society like none other. In the process, men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington established a system of checks and balances to protect this new ideal from the self-absorbed tendencies of human nature. Almost amazingly, the social experiment that we call the United States of America worked quite well until the moral influence of a vital Christian Church began to wane. With the decline of the Church came the lifting of the societal standards which stood against self-centeredness, the lust for power and control, and the constant yearning for self-glorification. Human nature, in other words, has become increasingly free to run its course. And just as it was when Cain killed his brother Abel, grief, tears, and extreme heartache are now our lot.

Church Building
photo credit: Per Ola Wiberg ~ powi via photopin cc

Again, I want to be clear that my primary criticism is not of our government but of the Church at large in the U.S. Non-Christians will do what non-Christians will do—and all the more so without the steadying influence of a vibrant Christian Church. For those who profess Christ, we are now left with a choice. We can whine and complain and lament the loss of what once was, or we can lift up our heads, bow our knees, and pursue Christ with our whole hearts. Instead of being selfish, we can walk in love. Instead of seeking power and control, we can seek the advance of God’s kingdom. Instead of seeking our own glory, we can proclaim His through both word and lifestyle.

Will we be able to turn our nation back to the point where freedom truly thrives? In all honesty, I don’t know. But I do know that one life fully surrendered to the King of Glory can have a powerful impact on the lives of untold others. If even one potential mass murderer is won to Christ, not only is his life saved, the lives of all of his potential victims are also spared.

No matter who you are and no matter what your status, if you are truly alive in Christ, you will make a profound difference in the lives of others. What better legacy can we leave for our children, grandchildren, and the others who follow after us?

Thy Kingdom Come . . .

Photo by Kevin Connors – morgueFile

The kingdom of God. What an amazingly mysterious concept! The kingdom of God is literally the King’s domain, but what does that mean? And what are the ramifications?

John 18:36 records Jesus saying that His “kingdom is not of this world.” The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 4:17 that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

God’s kingdom is primarily spiritual, still it has profound physical implications. As one of the predominant messages of the New Covenant, whenever the kingdom of God was preached, healing and deliverance usually followed. Yet, in essence, the kingdom of God represents a spiritual realm which cannot be advanced apart from supernatural means.

It is comforting to know that our God can and will use our natural gifts and talents to advance His purposes, but in the absence of spiritual power we can expend a great deal of effort and accomplish very little in the end.

(Perhaps one of our greatest hindrances to embracing the full work of the Holy Spirit is the poor witness of many who profess to operate in the gifts of the Spirit. Those who don’t understand their secure standing as children of God will attempt to utilize spiritual gifts as a source of personal validation. The problem was common with the Corinthian church and, unfortunately, we continue to repeat the same errors as our spiritual ancestors. So many problems of dysfunction could be virtually eliminated if we could correctly understand that the Gospel is inherently an identity message. Please check out my Search for Me identity series).

Every now and again I find myself coming back to three essentials of the Christian faith, concepts written into the core fabric of walking with God, including being empowered and used by the Holy Spirit. I’ll list them in a particular order, but the concepts are more circular than linear—the more we pursue one area, the more it should feed the others.

1. Believe – All too often fear and doubt keep us from going deeper into the things of God. It’s so important for us to understand the character of God, knowing that our heavenly Father gives only good gifts to His children. There are no bad gifts given by God and all are to be desired with the right motives in their appropriate times.

Photo by bencollsuss – CC BY 2.0

2. Seek – It’s true that no one can come to God without the Father drawing us to Himself, but more than once the Scriptures emphasize the importance of our seeking Him, including the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The idea is that if we truly love God and the people Jesus died for, we will want to do all we can to impact human lives. Knowing that such abilities are beyond our natural selves, motivated by love we seek the empowerment of the Spirit.

Chapter 11 of Luke’s G ospel speak to both the importance of believing in God’s goodness in persistently seeking the presence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Luke 11:9-13 (NASB)

kelsey_lovefusionphoto – CC BY 2.0

3. Yield – This remains one of the predominant messages of The Lord’s Prayer.

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 (NASB)

Our appropriate response to God’s goodness, glory and sovereignty is always to yield our will to His. A complete surrender of our wills to His is non-negotiable. We’ll face no more important (or difficult) battle than the battle of the will.

Regardless of one’s perspective of spiritual gifts for contemporary use, we can all agree that we can do better than we are; that every one of us could be used more effectively as a vessel for God’s honor. Believing, seeking and yielding—all three are common to all of Christianity, helping to set the stage for more effective service to our beloved King. Lord, may Your kingdom overtake all the earth!

The Manifest Presence of God

Steve, a student who occasionally attended our campus ministry meetings, found himself in the midst of a year and half long struggle with depression. On one particular evening I spoke about the importance of Christians seeking the presence of God. Steve seemed a little skeptical, but proved determined nonetheless. He knew he needed something more from God. Later that evening Steve spent 2-3 hours in prayer doing nothing more than crying out for God to reveal Himself. That night our heavenly Father touched Steve in such a real way that his depression completely lifted! An instant in God’s manifest presence can do more than a lifetime of human effort.

Even though He dwells within us, even though our spiritual senses have been brought to life, experiencing God’s manifest presence is not automatic. (Many of us have actually been taught that God no longer relates to humans in tangible ways.) This is where I believe it is essential for us to seek Him by faith. God wants to have a dynamic relationship with His children in this life. But do we really believe that?

Photo by Sam Hakes

Recently I received a gospel tract that included this sinner’s prayer:

“Dear God, I admit I am a sinner on my way to Hell. I believe that you died for me. Please save me from my sin and take me to Heaven when I die. Thank you for saving me. Amen.”

There was nothing of a personal relationship with a living God, only a distant hope for a blissful eternity. Any gospel that seeks to proclaim a message of salvation apart from a very real relationship with God in this life, certainly isn’t the full Gospel.

But even when we do present the Gospel in light of a personal relationship with God, do we give any indication of what that means? How do we have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe? Does He stop by for an evening stroll like He did with Adam & Eve? Does His presence overtake us and we fall to the ground as with Abraham or Daniel? Do we see Him high and lifted up on His throne as Isaiah did? Does He speak to us audibly the way He did to Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus? While all of these are possible, it’s safe to say that they don’t represent the everyday norm for a New Covenant believer.

The Apostle John recorded some fascinating words spoken by the Christ prior to His crucifixion:

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 (NASB)

Photo by Sam Hakes

Wow! Could He really mean that? What Christian wouldn’t give an arm and a leg to walk with the incarnate Christ for three and a half years? But if the words of Jesus are to be trusted, and we supposedly believe they are, there is a path of life even better than seeing and walking and talking with Him in the flesh.

Is this a relationship we have by faith, believing that He’s there, but not really having any type of interaction? While faith is always integral to walking with God, it seems to me that this wouldn’t be a relationship at all. Prayerful communication going only in one direction is more of a monologue than anything else. No, there’s something more that God has for us. It’s the very real manifestation of His presence by which He makes Himself known to His children in ways that we are able to perceive.

When we are born from above, our spiritual senses are brought to life; meaning we can learn to hear His voice, at times feel His presence in a very tangible way, and in a spiritual sense, see His face.

Photo by Clarita – morgueFile

I suppose this is where the Gospel begins to move from comforting to scary for some people. The idea that God will always be with me comforts me greatly. But to think that I can hear His voice, well that changes things. I mean, how do I know when it’s actually Him speaking? Will I end up like the crazy guy who shot people in the mall because “God told him to do it”?

Let’s be bluntly honest; many of us prefer a form of religion over a relationship with God. Religious form is neat and tidy, like a basket tied up with ribbons and decorated with pretty bows. Relationships are unpredictable—especially a relationship with God.

The importance of God’s written Word cannot be overestimated when it comes to learning to accurately hear God’s voice, but we also need to understand that there is more to the indwelling presence of God than simply believing by faith that He is there. Our loving Lord wants to manifest His presence to us in so many ways. But do we want Him to?