How Do We Know When God Speaks to Us?

22 12 2014

First of all, God most clearly speaks to us through the pages of Scripture. As a Southern Baptist, I believe that while the Bible is authored by God, it “was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man.” Plain and simple, the first place we go to find a Word from God is to the Word of God, the Bible.

Secondly, we can consider godly council, that is wisdom from fellow believers. We can learn much from those who have been through similar situations and can now look back with great perspective. Knowledge comes to us in many forms, but wisdom comes through experience. A wise person will gain perspective from his own experience but the truly great will also seek wisdom through another’s experience. The caveat here is that godly council must always comply with scripture. Again, the Word of God is authoritative, not the word of man.

Occasionally, (and I venture to say more often than we realize) God speaks to us directly. Divine revelation, as it is often called, comes to us by way of the Holy Spirit. If I had to guess, I would say this is the crux of the original question. Many times, when we pray, we think that we are to talk to God but some of my most meaningful times of prayer are when I stop and listen. Cultivating an ear for the Holy Spirit is no easy task. It is wisdom. It takes time. It takes repetition. The difficulty with trying to discern the Holy Spirit is that, unlike the Bible, it is not explicit information.

For example, in scripture, we are told to love one another. We don’t have to wonder if there is any one that we shouldn’t love. It is straightforward: If you’re a human, I’m to love you. With the Holy Spirit, though, we might encounter something like trying to decide where to go on a mission trip. Maybe we know that we are to go and two trips are available to us. Which one do we choose? That’s where it can get hairy. That’s when we seek godly council from trusted believers. But that’s the type of situation in which our faith, trust, and dependence on the Spirit can be strengthened.

So, to recap, God speaks to us in three ways: 1) Through the pages of the Bible 2) Through godly men and women 3) Through divine revelation by the Holy Spirit. God does not contradict Himself. He can’t. Therefore, any advise (a word from without) or thought (a word from within) must be vetted through the lens of the Bible.

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Extend a Hand, Not a Stiff-Arm

21 08 2014

When you hear the term “social media,” what do you do? Some of you might become a bit giddy when you start thinking about that latest cat video you saw. Others become emotional because you long to see just one more picture of your grandkids. A few, after receiving more “likes” than anticipated, don’t know if you’re elated or gassy. There are even some of you (and ironically, you’re reading this post) whose nostrils flare and eyes widen as you believe social media indicates the decline of the human race.

I’ve seen similar responses to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. At first, folks were excited, if not intrigued. “What’s this all about? What is ALS? Is that what Lou Gehrig had?” Many began to look forward to the next hilarious video. Celebrities, from Hollywood to professional sports, have gotten in on the action. It seems like a good thing. Either you donate to ALS research or you have a bucket of ice cold water dumped on your head. Many people, I presume, just go ahead and do both. Do a search for the numbers and you’ll find that ALSA.org has raised more money in the last few weeks than all of last year. Mission accomplished! Yay! Everybody get a bucket and a checkbook…

…BUT WAIT…

There’s more to this story. If at first, many were excited, I’ve actually read some folks who have become irritated. “How many more ice bucket challenges must I see on my news feed? Why do people feel the need to go public with their donations? I don’t like social activism; I want to go back to seeing videos of cats!” Yep, there are those flaring nostrils again. I haven’t polled everyone, but my guess is that families who are struggling with this horrible, debilitating disease are ecstatic about the awareness and fundraising efforts that have come by way of the ice bucket challenge on social media. Soon enough, this fad will fade, the donations will drop, and you can go back to watching cats. But be warned, there will be another challenge. Your news feed will fill up again with some new fad.

Another fad?

Yes, given the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I predict that someone will begin a new challenge soon enough. And, if the responses to this one are any indication, folks will either embrace it or reject it. However, as a Christian, I want to share with you what I believe is wrong with both embracing and rejecting this ALS Challenge and offer an alternative.

Embrace It

As a Christian, I’m to show compassion to the world. This seems like an easy and fun way to show the love of Jesus. Not only will I donate, but I’ll pour cold water on my head and challenge my friends to do the same. I’ll even wear my “Jesus Saves” t-shirt in my video. What’s wrong with this? After doing a little research, I’ve learned that the ALS Association supports clinical trials using embryonic stem cell research. As someone who believes in the sanctity of life, I cannot support an organization that benefits from abortions.

Reject It

If I can’t join in on this challenge, if I can’t send money to this organization, then I need to distance myself from this by avoiding the Ice Bucket Challenge and the ALS Association. I don’t want to support something I believe to be morally reprehensible. This, in no way, suggests that I don’t care for, am not heartbroken over, people with ALS. I want to help people. I am just conflicted about enabling embryonic stem cell research. What’s wrong with this? People think you’re just being mean. You’re distancing yourself from the culture that you’re supposed to be engaging.

Redeem It

Let me offer a third option. What if there was a way to join in on all the fun, help people in need, share the love of Jesus, and not conflict with your beliefs? Would you be ok with that? As a Christian, I hope you would. How about we redeem the culture? I’ll assume that you can find your own creative way to dump cold water on your head and that you know how to upload a video to social media. Let me help you now with the donation part. If you want to donate to research and care for ALS patients, here are some alternatives:

Team Gleason

John Paul II Medical Research Institute

The Kimberly Kim Foundation 

Let me caution you to do your own research. If you find an issue with one of the organizations that I’ve listed, please let me know. Further, (and this might be the reason for this entire post) don’t look back 5 years from now and say, “Hey! Remember that one time that I donated to that one organization?” Come on Christian! Give to your church, to mission organizations, to other non-profits that carry the banner of Christ and do it regularly. Live generously.





My New Brothers in Christ

12 08 2014

For about a month now, my youngest son, Joshua, age 5, has been telling me he wanted to be baptized. This has led to many conversations. What is baptism all about? Why do you want to be baptized? Why do you need to follow Jesus? What is repentance? What is sin? What is the result of sin? Having been raised in a Christian home and church environment, the boy knew a lot of the answers. I humbly submit that he can explain the gospel better than most adults. But I needed to know that he wasn’t just regurgitating what he’d learned in Sunday School and AWANA. There have been conversations in the past in which he blended stories from the Bible with stories about super-hero vegetables.

Sometime last week, he and I had a lengthy conversation (10 minutes or so) about, again, baptism. And again, he knew a lot of the “right things” to say, however he tripped up on one issue. He admitted that he had sinned, but he had not sinned bad enough to “go to hell.” I explained how any sin condemned people to hell. He was dumbfounded. I told him we’d talk about it some more.

In the days to follow, I took the opportunity to talk with my oldest son, Micah, age 7, about some of the same things Joshua and I had discussed. Again, the boy knew all the answers. He’s got it. He can explain the gospel and occasionally throw in scripture to back it up. He’s known the gospel for a couple of years now. That brings me to last night.

I asked Micah to leave the room for just a minute. (He needed to brush his teeth anyway.) Joshua and I talked. He told me he was ready to be baptized; that he was ready to repent from the path of satan and follow the way of Jesus. Honestly, I don’t know that it gets any simpler and truthful than that. We talked a bit more and then I asked him to tell God all that he’d told me. What followed was that simplest, sincerest prayer I’ve heard in a long, long time.

Next, I asked Joshua to leave the room and had Micah come back in. Micah and I talked again about baptism and following Jesus. He said, “I know all of that, I’m just not ready.” As he hung his head and doodled on the carpet, I asked him what he was waiting for. “When do you think you’ll be ready?” He told me that it just wasn’t the right time. I said, “There will never be a better time than right now.” He looked up at me with an unusual glow in his eyes and a coltish grin, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Ok.” He then prayed to God and told Him he was sorry for his sins and that he wanted to follow Jesus.

After that, Joshua and Lindsey joined us in the bedroom. She shared with both boys from the front pages of her Bible what she had written shortly after they were each born; that her biggest dream for them was to know Jesus. That dream was fulfilled last night. The Bible says that when one sinner repents there’s a party in heaven. (Luke 15:1-10, oh go ahead, read the whole chapter!) I can’t help but think of all the saints before me who were celebrating last night. My grandparents, Marshall Coile, and countless others were partying with the apostles and angels.





When you get what you want, are you satisfied?

18 10 2013

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:35

They were the best I’d ever had and twelve years later, I still haven’t found any tacos that compare. I was an exchange student in Mexico City when I discovered tacos al pastor from a roadside restaurant. The flame kissed pork, homemade tortillas, and fresh pico de gallo…oh, how I’d love to make it back there some day! Perhaps you have a favorite dish. Most of us do. Maybe it’s something that reminds you of the holidays or from your favorite restaurant. Interestingly, no matter how many times we satisfy that longing, we still find ourselves wanting more. We can’t wait until we can eat it again.

The longing for food is but one of our physical longings. Just as we experience hunger, we also thirst, have a desire for comfort, etc. I believe these physical pangs help us understand a deeper set of longings, those of the spirit. We long for peace, hope, love, and righteousness. But how do we fulfill these spiritual longings?

As Jesus fed the 5,000, He satisfied the physical hunger of the people, but their hunger returned the next day. They again found Jesus, looking for another handout. (This sounds strikingly familiar.) Jesus then pointed them to a deeper, spiritual longing. He claimed to be the “Bread of Life” that would forever fulfill them. If they would eat of the Bread of Life, they would never hunger again.

While he could provide them with food for their stomachs, His purpose was to satisfy that deep sense of hunger within their spirits. He serves the same purpose today. He gives us peace and hope. He shows us love and clothes us in righteousness. He wants to fill your hungering spirit. He is the Bread of Life that has come from heaven, and He is the only one that can satisfy. Do you know Jesus in this way? Let Him fill you and you will never hunger again. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Father, I have a spiritual hunger that I cannot satisfy on my own. Let me find fulfillment in Jesus. Amen.





Who are your people? Where are you from?

24 09 2013

Have you ever wondered where you came from? – Not biologically. I mean, who are your ancestors? Where did your great-grandparents live? What about their great-grandparents? Who are you? What is your family heritage? Who are your people? I believe most of us have asked similar questions. And so, when I come to a verse (2 Chronicles 7:14) where those addressed are “My people, who are called by My name” it causes me to ask:

1) Who is speaking? In this case, evidence is given to us by the context of the verse. It is God. “My people” are God’s people. “My name” refers God’s name.

2) Who is addressed? Who are God’s people? In the immediate context, this verse refers to the nation of Israel. Those people who’s lineage comes from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel was (is?) a theocracy – a system of government ordained by God. Israel was the nation that bore the the name of God. They were called by His name. However, in light of what we find in the New Testament, God’s name is also given to those who have trusted Christ. Those of us in Christ are called the church.

If this seems at all confusing, let me try to clear it up. (If for no one else but me.)

* Whether this applies strictly to Israel or is expanded to include the Church, we certainly can’t expect people who are apathetic or antagonistic toward God to be among those addressed here. But this discussion isn’t even the primary focus. Let me caution you to not jump to the end, either. This verse is not intended to provide a way to “heal our land.” Many Christians in the U.S. use this verse as a way to “restore” the country to resemble some notion of the past. While that might be a noble quest, to do so is to miss the grander concept.

This passage is not about restoring an institution (political or otherwise), but about redeeming individuals to a Holy God. The verbs within this verse point us in that direction.

1) I humble myself. When we begin to see God for who He truly is, in all of His majesty, and glory, and holiness, our only appropriate response is humility. As Isaiah cried, “I’m as good as dead! For I have looked God in the face. I have seen the God of Angel Armies” (Isaiah 6, loosely adapted from The Message)

2) And pray. Amazing! This holy God wants me to commune with Him! Stop for a minute and let that soak in. (In fact, stop reading this post, turn off the music, close the door, and ponder this: The One who spoke creation into being and breathed the breath of life into humanity wants to speak to you! So stop. And listen.)

3) Seek His face. He wants to be known by me. When I seek Him with my whole heart, I will find Him. Jeremiah 29:13

4) Turn from evil. I’ve got to lay it down. All of it. I must repent of my selfishness. My evil desires. My pride. My sin. I must turn from that. Here, Jesus, take it.

Thankfully, I don’t attempt any of these under my own power. It’s not that I won’t, but rather…I can’t. Holy Spirit lives within me. He empowers me. He overcomes sin. Through Him I am humbled and pray. Through Him I seek the face of God and turn from evil. And the real treasure is that through Christ ANYONE can be called the people of God. Humble yourself, pray, seek Him, and repent. And if/when all this happens, what does God choose to do with “my land?”…I’m not sure. When I see the face of God, I have wonder how much anything else matters. In the final analysis, this isn’t my home anyway. And for other Christians, “my people,” this isn’t your home, either.





Why “Ragamuffin Warrior?”

29 03 2013

So what is a “Ragamuffin Warrior” anyway? I’m glad you asked. The title for this blog is a blending of one of my favorite books with one of my favorite movies.

First, the book: “Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning

In his work, Manning describes a ragamuffin as someone who is, at best, a-pieced-together-work-in-progress. (My words, not his. To read his, and I pray you do, pick up a copy of his book. Or let me know and I’ll loan you one.) A ragamuffin has nothing of real value to offer. He has mastered no skill nor relies on any great talent. The best he can do is to just make it through the day. His spirit is somewhat rebellious, prone to wandering. A ragamuffin limps through life, tilted halo, broken wings. He has warts and wounds. A ragamuffin hurts others, even when not intentional. Most of all, he’s desperate. Whether he knows it or not, whether he acknowledges it or not, he has a longing to be caught up in a grand story. A ragamuffin longs for significance, but isn’t quite sure how to find it.

And the movie? Braveheart

There’s a line from Braveheart in which the narrator recounts the victory of the Scots. He says that they fought like “warrior poets.” A warrior is someone who is brave and strong. He doesn’t run from opposition, but holds his ground and fights. A warrior trains, mastering the necessary skills to be victorious in battle. He plans and schemes. A warrior learns the methods and maneuvers of his adversary. He is noble and just. A warrior does not fight simply because he can, but fights when it is required of him. Most importantly, a warrior fights for the heart of his king. Unselfishly, he lives to advance the kingdom.

 

So, what to make of these two contrasting, yet juxtaposed ideas of manhood. First of all, I am a ragamuffin. My best efforts often fail. But the grace of God doesn’t leave me there. He gives me purpose. He allows me to join in a great story, the great story, His story. The Bible says that as a Christian, I am part of God’s Kingdom. I am a warrior. The first two things a warrior learns is who he is fighting for and who he is fighting against. Christ is my King. I fight for His heart. His heart is the redemption of man. He longs to restore people’s hearts and to give them purpose, meaning, life, and joy. He wants to know you and for you to know Him.

The adversary is the devil. That might come as a shock to those outside the church and should come as a reminder to those within. The adversary is not a politician. Not a race. Not this group of people or that. It’s not anything of this world. We must remember this, “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:12)

So that’s me, a Ragamuffin Warrior. I’m not always sure of what I’m doing or if what I’m doing is working. But I am clear about who it is that I serve and who it is that I fight.





That’s My Boy!

23 02 2013

Today I was filled with about as much pride as I have ever experienced. Before you go spouting about how “pride cometh (drop the “th” already) before the fall,” let me explain a bit more. This wasn’t a pride in the selfish, sinful kind of way. No. It was pride that I experienced through someone else. He happens to be my 5 year old, excuse me, 5 1/2 year old son, Micah.

This is the last day of our 3-day skiing vacation. Each of the first two days, Lindsey and I have taken him out of his ski school a bit early so that we could ski with him. Yesterday, the boy skied down the big mountain with us. Today, he successfully skied a blue slope. (For any non-skiers out there, that’s an intermediate level.) After that, I was a proud papa. But it gets better.

Our next trip was to the other side of the mountain where we could try a slope that was a bit longer. It is one of the resort’s easiest slopes. Nice and wide with a gentle down-hill grade. As we were riding the lift up to the top, we noticed the wind picking up just a bit. When we got off the lift, the wind was really blowing. And the snowfall had picked as well. It’s not unusual for the wind to be stronger at the top of the mountain and so with Lindsey leading the way, we tried to ski down a little and hopefully get below some of the wind.

After skiing down about 50 yards or so, we came to the most awful snow storm I’ve ever seen. The wind was blowing snow up the mountain. Total white out. I could barely see Lindsey and there, just a few yards behind her, was Micah, arms crossed over his chest, slightly hunched over. We were all slowly moving forward. I still don’t know how Lindsey knew where to go, but she did it. And Micah followed right in her tracks.

We finally made it down to a spot where some trees gave us a bit of a break from the wind. Lindsey stopped and Micah caught up to her. I saw her talking to him as I pulled up beside them. She was reassuring him that it would be alright. He turned and looked at me, tears in his eyes. He was cold. Miserable, actually. As Lindsey took off again, I told him we were going to be alright but we had to keep moving. He nodded and followed after Mama again.

The wind never stopped, but did lighten up as we moved down the mountain. At some places, Micah was slowed a lot by the wind. I’d catch up to him, grab his hand and sling-shot him forward. Eventually, we made it to the warming house to enjoy the best hot chocolate you can imagine. As we sat near the fire place, that’s when the pride swelled from deep within. My son grew up a little bit today and while I’d never wish to go through that again, I wouldn’t trade the closeness I felt to him for anything. “That’s my boy!”

It made me think about my relationship with God, my Father. There are times when this world throws things at us that just seem unbearable. We’re not sure how we ended up here and we don’t see an end in sight. Sometimes we just want to sit down and cry. But that doesn’t get us very far. We have to point our feet forward, put our heads down, and just keep moving. Whenever we think we can’t keep going, that’s when God takes us by the hand and propels us on. It breaks His heart to see us go through it, but when the storm is over, I believe He looks down and says, “That’s my boy!”