Thursday, October 31, 2013

Open Skies- Part 4

After a week off for Fall Break, we resumed WNW by wrapping up the "Open Skies" series. We began the night with a worship set that included "Your Love Never Fails" (Jesus Culture/Newsboys), "City On Our Knees" (tobyMac), and "One Thing Remains" (Kristian Stanfill).  I then gave a brief review of the series leading up to this point and said that we would be wrapping it up by talking about listening to God.  I shared a short clip from the tv show "Smallville" where young Clark Kent is learning how to use his super hearing and listens for his father's voice among a bunch of noise.  I shared that just like that video, our heavenly Father is always speaking to us, the question is whether or not we are listening for Him.  If prayer is a conversation with God, then we must listen to His voice in addition to the words we speak to Him.  We read John 10:27 where Jesus says that His sheep hear His voice.

I shared that there are a couple of things that must be in order to listen to God:
1)  You must be saved
In John 8:47 Jesus says that those who are of God are able to hear His voice.  Our separation from God keeps us from being able to hear His voice.  If we are seeking God for answers but have not stepped out to follow Him and receive salvation then that is what must first take place.
2)  You must be clean
1 Peter 3:12 lets us know that we need to have a clean heart in order to hear the voice of God.  Sin hinders us from hearing His voice.  It does not mean that we have lost our salvation, but means that we have allowed a barrier between us God that keeps us from being able to hear His voice.

So now that is in order, how can we listen for God's voice?  Here are a few ways
1)  Get Alone & Quiet
We see instructions on this from Jesus and Him living it out in Matthew 6:6 and Matthew 14:23.  We have to make ourselves available to listen to the Holy Spirit.  This means we need to get out of distractions in order to better be able to hear His voice.
2)  Read, Study, & Meditate on Scripture
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God's Word gives us instruction.  The Bible is the main way that God speaks to us today.  If we are not reading and studying the Bible then we are not listening for the voice of God.
3)  Through Godly Mentors
Proverbs 12:15 tells us it is wise to seek godly counsel.  Every Christian needs a godly mentor to speak truth into their life.  We should not simply seek counsel from people we like who will give us the answers we will like.

I closed the message at this moment with the challenge to make yourself available to hear the voice of God.  We set in silence for a few minutes and I asked the students to spend time asking God to speak to them and listen to His voice.  We packed sack-packs for the week and dismissed.  Then whoever was able to stay and wanted to discuss some more, we sit in a circle and discussed how to discern God's voice.  We discussed the following questions to ask yourself when you think you're hearing God's voice:
1)  Does it go against God's Word or lead you to sin?
If so, then it is not the voice of God.  Galatians 5:16 tells us that when we follow the Spirit, He will not lead us to sin.  God will never give you permission to sin.  He will never tell you to do something that goes against His Word.  The question was raised "what if our parent asks us to do something that goes against God?"  We had a good discussion on this as we were able to point out that in that case, we can still honor our parents without doing what they have asked us to do that is sinful.
2)  Is it vague or confusing?
If so, then it is not the voice of God.  1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God does not confuse us but instead provides peace.  He may only give the first step of instructions so that you will then step out on faith before He reveals the big picture.
3)  Is God really telling you to do something, or is it simply something you want to do?  You must ask yourself this question because if it is just something you want to do, it may not be of God.  There may be times He asks you to do something that is completely against what you want to do.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Open Skies- Part 3

We continued the "Open Skies" series this week at WNW.  We began with a worship set that included "Our God is Love" (Hillsong United), "Good To Be Alive" (Jason Gray), "Always" (Kristian Stanfill), and "City On Our Knees" (tobyMac).  We spent some time in prayer lifting up the drama Lucifer's Lies that we are a part of the next two weekends.  We focused our prayers on the lost that will hear the saving truth of Jesus Christ.

After a brief review of the previous week and what the series is about, I explained how we were going to do something a little different.  I had 3 questions to cover surrounding the topic of why we pray.  I explained that I would cover 2 of them, we would have a prayer time of reflection, would pack our weekly sack-packs, and then be dismissed.  For those who were able and willing we would sit around and discuss a third question.

I began by covering the "why" in relation to prayer.  We covered this in week 1 of the series but I wanted to review it before going further.  We again looked at Matthew 6:10 and the model prayer Jesus showed His disciples how to pray.  We read that in this model prayer we are to pray for God's will be done.  This shows us that the purpose of prayer is to change who we are.  When we understand and accept that what God desires and puts into motion is right, then our hearts change and we desire what God desires.  As we pray and have conversation with God then we are changed.  We become more like Him.  We love the things that He loves and hate the things that He hates.  We have talked about this before and so we should understand this by now.  But this leads us to other questions surrounding prayer that we need to answer.  While there are some things about our relationship with God that we cannot find answers and must rely on faith, there are some things we need to dig deeper on and seek God on.

Question #1:  If God knows everything, then why should I pray?
This is a very valid question and one that we can find an answer to.  We first looked at the truth in Scripture that God does know everything, that He is omniscient.  Psalm 147:5 and Psalm 139:4 shows us this.  The latter verse even telling us that He knows what we will pray before we speak it.  Then why should we pray?  We read in Matthew 11:28-30 that Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are weary.  God desires us to come to Him.  He already knows our burdens, those matters that weigh us down, those who we desire to pray for, yet He wants us to come to Him in prayer.  We do this because we realize our dependence is on Him.  We not only need Him, but we also want Him.  Even though God knows what we want to pray, we should still pray because we are submitting to Him and worshipping Him.

Question #2:  Why doesn't God answer my prayers?
This is a question that people often ask, but the truth is that God always answers our prayers.  He answers them as He sees fit, not as we do.  The old saying goes that "God answers prayers as either 'yes', 'no', or 'not right now.'"  We must understand that He answers all prayers, but as He sees fit.  He also answers them in His own perfect timing.  He does not have to answer them in a time frame that we think He should.  Another reason we might think that God does not answer our prayers as He answers them differently than we desire because we ask for the wrong things or with wrong motives as James 4:3 says.  
Another thing that is often misspoken is that our prayers are not answered because we did not pray with enough faith and people use Mark 11:24.  This sets us up for disappointment when we pray for something earnestly and it does not happen as we think it should.  We end up feeling that we did not pray enough or with enough faith.  We do need to approach prayer with faith and belief that God is able to do what we ask Him to do.  However, we also must approach prayer with the belief that God will answer our prayers as He sees perfect.  

We ended this portion of the night with the challenge to praise God because He knows all things.  He knows everything about us and loves us the same and desires us to approach Him in prayer.  We can also pray with confidence in God that He will answer all of our prayers as He sees best and however will bring Him glory.

After packing sack-packs for the week, we dismissed and whoever was able and willing to stay we sat around and discussed this further.  I asked if they had any other questions relating to prayer and things we had already discussed.  One student spoke up and raised the third question that I was going to cover in this smaller group:  Can we change God's mind with our prayers?  I asked them first what they thought in order for them to begin thinking deeper.  It was asked about the moment in Exodus 32:14, where Moses intercedes on behalf of the Israelites.  So we looked at this and proceeded to look at some of the attributes of God.  First we looked at Hebrews 13:8 that lets us know that God is immutable or unchanging.  Any change would imply that God is not perfect.  Next we looked at Numbers 23:19 that says that God does not lie, and does not change His mind.  So if God does not lie, and all Scripture is from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16), then that means there are no contradictions in Scripture.  Then we have to break down the fact that Scripture teaches that He is unchanging, does not change His mind, but at a quick glance can appear that Moses changed God's mind with his prayer.  This is why we must study the Bible and not only read it.  When we look at the Hebrew word naham used in Exodus 32:14 we see that it means to repent.  When this is applied to humans in Scripture, it means that we change our minds and turn away from sin.  However when the word is applied to God, it means that He relents, grieves, feels deep emotion, or sighs.  God is deeply grieved by the sinful action of the Israelites.  It would be His nature to kill the Israelites for their actions.  However, He is deeply grieved and when Moses intercedes on their behalf He decides not to kill them.  He had not previously decided He would do this, it was simply His nature to do so.  Therefore He did not change His mind as we change our minds.  To say that God changed His mind in this situation would mean that Moses knew best instead of God.  To say that we can change God's mind with our prayers is to say that we know what is best and not God.  God was not the one who changed here, the people repented of their sins and turned back to Him.  Because the purpose of prayer is not to change God, but so that we are changed to depend on Him, and follow His will.  It was a great night to go deeper with our students and I am so glad we have such a great group of students who are willing to do so.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Open Skies- Part 2

This week at WNW was the second week of our series on prayer called "Open Skies".  We began the night with a worship set that included "Happy Day" (Tim Hughes), "Shadows" (David Crowder Band), and after a time of prayer for our upcoming Lucifer's Lies drama we sang "City On Our Knees" (tobyMac).  The song "City On Our Knees" went right along with our series on prayer, and is used in a pre-show video in our upcoming Lucifer's Lies drama.

After a brief review of the previous week and overview of the series in general, I shared that the focus of the night we more a more in-depth look at the "What" in prayer, specifically in the subject of "hands extended".  At this point I introduced the first of two important questions that I wanted the students to consider.  Question #1 was this:  "Do I spend more time praying for myself rather than praying for others?"  We read 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 8 where Paul addresses Timothy on this subject of prayer.  Here he urges Timothy, and us to pray for others.  In fact, he urges us to pray for everyone.  This is not a suggestion, but rather God's true intent for us.  Sometimes we find it simple to pray for our friends and those around us that we are close to.  But there is more to it.

In verse 8 he says "lifting up holy hands".  This does not mean we must pray in this physical stature, unless moved so.  This means when we pray for others, we are to pray with a clean spirit as we have already been forgiven of our own sins.  At this moment we referred back to Matthew 6:12 that we had looked at the previous week.  We must forgive those who have hurt us.  Again, this is not a suggestion, but a command from Jesus Himself.  Holding a grudge against others is a sin, and a dangerous one.  When we hold a grudge not only do we hinder our own prayers, but we tear ourselves apart on the inside with the harsh feelings we harbor.  Jesus reiterates this fact in Matthew 6:14-15.

Ok, so we need to forgive them. Surely that is all?  Sometimes we wish that were all, but if we go back a bit, Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5:43-55 to pray for them.  So this in all honestly is one of the hardest things to live as a Christian.  I am speaking honestly here.  It is extremely hard for me to do this, but if Jesus said we must do this, then it is that simple, we must do it.  Not only did Jesus teach it, but He also modeled it in Luke 22:49-51 as He was arrested in the garden.  Jesus heals the ear of the one who is there to arrest Him.  So you might be quick to say that you cannot heal like that.  When you forgive and pray for those who have hurt and persecute you provide healing not only for them, but also for yourself.  Question #2 I wanted the students to consider is this:  "Do you spend more time talking about others rather than praying for them?  If you truly forgive then, then you will stop talking about them and begin praying for them.  

The well-known atheist author and journalist Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2010.  At one point on a television interview he was asked how he would respond if Christians asked to pray for him.  He responded "I would welcome the prayers.  But if you're praying for me to not get better then I'd ask for you to keep your prayers.  Since being diagnosed, I have received letter after letter after letter from 'Christians' telling me that they hope I don't get better."  This breaks my heart and grieves me.  That is not what "Christian" is supposed to live like.  We are to spread the love of Jesus, not spread hatred.  When I look at my life, most of my scars come from "Christians", and many of whom's actions in their opinion were in following Christ yet exemplified quite the opposite.  We must stop this cycle of hatred that takes place.  If we are Christ-followers, then we must share love instead of hatred.  We sometimes wonder why people are not interested in Jesus and the church, but it is because of stories like this.  Because sometimes people look at Christians and see a group of people who are no different, or maybe even worse off than the rest of the world.  We must stop this cycle now.  I closed by challenging the students to stop this cycle now.  They can be the ones who give the church a new name.  We can make this change now and effect future generations in a positive way like never before.  I challenged them in a closing prayer to consider who they need to forgive and begin praying for.  I also told them that if they need to make amends with others then to get that right so they can grow in their relationship with Christ.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Walking Recklessly

I recently pulled out some old CD's that I had not listened to in years and put in my iTunes.  One album was the first and self-titled album by Jars of Clay.  I had forgotten how good this album is.  As I listened to one of the first Christian albums I owned, I was taken back to my freshmen year of highschool as memories flooded my mind.  One of my favorite songs on the album was always "Like A Child".  The song is based on Luke 18:17 "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."  As this song played on my computer during this morning's sermon preparation, one line jumped out at me:  "I wonder if I've grown to lose the recklessness I've walked in light of you."  So many thoughts are running through my mind surrounding this lyric.  Mainly it brought to mind a moment for both my wife and I that took place at MFUGE this past summer.  It seemed that God spoke the same words to us both one night during worship and my wife said it best when she shared with our group "I don't want to live my life safely anymore in order to try to be protected from hurt."  Essentially she was saying, which I was proclaiming as well, that I do not want to sit back and not do what God is calling me to do in hopes that I will experience less hurt in life.  The pains in life jade us to a point where we go into a precautionary mode for self protection.  As this grows we lose the recklessness of following Christ no matter the cost because we know that the value of Christ is far greater than the safety we can try to surround ourselves with.

So my challenge to myself today and to you is this:  let's not walk through life safely if it means that we are not following Christ.  When we follow Him there are going to be moments in life where it costs us some pain.  The prize that is Jesus Christ brings us peace and joy that far outweighs any pain.  Are you walking recklessly for Jesus or are you sitting back safely?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Open Skies- Part 1

This week at WNW we began a new series for the month of October called "Open Skies".  We have been challenging the students to spend time in prayer at school and with others over the past weeks as we had See You At The Pole and Global Week of Prayer.  We have talked about the importance of prayer, but still sometimes there remains confusion surrounding the subject.  Sometimes our relationship with God may seem cloudy and it seems there is a barrier between us which is usually because of a lack of prayer in our own lives.  So during this series we hope to clear out the confusion about prayer and help students develop a daily time of prayer so they can clear the barriers between them and God.  

We opened the night with a worship set that included "Song of Hope" (Robbie Seay Band), "I Believe" (Jason Castro), and "Here For You" (Passion).  I began the message asking for some of the excuses that we use for not praying.  Some answers included:  too busy, forget, prayed up, etc.  We often make excuses to why we do not pray, but then we are frustrated that we are not growing in our relationship with God.  Then sometimes we use prayer as a last resort when we seem desperate.

We read Matthew 6:9-13 which is known as the Lord's Prayer.  I then shared a little background about the passage.  This is a moment where Jesus is teaching on several subjects.  If you cross-reference this passage and look at Luke 11:1 you will see that one of His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray.  It is important to note that Jesus begins in verse 9 "Pray, then, in this way."  He does not say "When you pray, repeat this." This is intended as a model prayer and not intended to be repeated liturgical as it has become.  We discussed how this is often repeated as a team before games, but with no realization as to what is being repeated.

We then looked at the Who, What, Why, and Where of prayer
-Verse 9 tells us that we are praying to God the Father.  That seems simple, but sometimes we really forget that and approach prayer too casually.  We forget that we are approaching the God of the universe, who holds the universe in His hands.  He is the one who speaks stars into existence.  He in any moment can create and can destroy.  We forget that we need to approach Him with reverence and respect.  However, we can also approach Him freely as He loves us more than we can imagine.

-What to pray for often comes across as the easy part as we all have our mile-long spiritual wish list.  We know all the things we want to ask God for, but it must be more than that.
-First of all we need spend our prayer time in praising God for who He is and what He has done for us.  Nearly 75% of all prayers in the Bible are prayers of praise.  We read in verse 9 that Jesus says "Hallowed be Your name."  This means that there is no other like God.  He is holy and sacred unlike anyone or anything else.  The question we must ask is how much of our prayers are spent in worship?
-Second, we must ask for God to provide "our daily bread."  This is more than just food itself.  We are asking that God provides just enough for us each day, and nothing more.  Yet if more is provided, then we should pass it along to those in need.  We pray that God will provide enough food, finances, peace, wisdom, etc. to make it through the day.
-Third, we must ask for forgiveness.  Verse 12 points us to this, but we ask forgiveness of our sins with the understanding that we have forgiven anyone who has hurt us.
-Fourth, we must pray for strength against temptation as in verse 13.  We pray that God will keep us safe from temptation, but whenever temptation is presented that we will be wise enough to turn away.

-I think this is one of the most misunderstood areas when it comes to pray.  Many people think that the purpose of prayer is to change the mind of God, which is not possible.  Instead, the purpose of prayer is to change us.  Verse 10 says "Your will be done."  This means that we become completely dependent on God.  As we pray, His desires become our desires, and His will for our lives become our own.  Not the other way around.  We must become dependent on Him through prayer.

-We read in Matthew 6:6 and Matthew 14:23 that Jesus teaches with words and by example that we need to get alone often to pray.  If Jesus needed to do this then so it is necessary for us also.  It is a great thing to gather with others to pray, but if that is the only time we spend in prayer then we are missing out.  We must spend some time alone in prayer to fully connect to the power source that is God.

We closed in a time of prayer and reflection.  I challenged the students to search their hearts to what their excuses are for not praying.  The reality is that any excuse we make for not praying is invalid.  I challenged them to realize the excuses they make, to throw them away, and commit to spending daily time in prayer with God.