Sunday, 27 January 2008

Spiritual Formation - Dreams & visions

This week I talked on dreams and visions as a pathway to encounter God. I don't know why but I felt more nervous today, more tongue tied talking on this topic than I did talking on scripture or prayer. I guess this one is more associated with the wired and wonderful even though the scriptures are stuffed with people encountering God through dreams & visions.

Even saying the phrase today made people a little nervous. Let me put you at rest: Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: " 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Acts 2: 14 – 17

In our western secular material world we find it hard to live outside the intellectual explanation of such phenomena. We find it hard excepting such mysteries like encountering God in dreams and visions. Yet Christianity is a mystical, supernatural faith; we believe in what we cannot see and we talk to a God we cannot touch. The irony is we talk to God and call it prayer we hear His voice and then we call it madness. But we are OK with that right? I mean with the thought of talking to God and hearing His voice.

It's tempting to rubbish dreams & visions; I've been that guy. I said you cannot initiate, prompt a dream or a vision but that doesn't mean there is nothing we can do. As we draw close to God through prayer, scripture, fasting, enjoying creation (in my case cities) gathering and joining with the community of faith in corporate worship, we open our souls up to experiencing God and encountering Him. So here's what we can do:

1. Stay committed to connecting with God, which by the way does cost us time and sacrifice. Intimacy costs!
2. Posture our heart towards Jesus.
Hey you might never have the dreams or the visions but if your heart and mind is open then the good news is we can expect God to communicate to you in some way.

Here's another weekly devotional to help you connect:
Day 8
Praying during difficult situations

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Psalm 22:1-2 (New International Version)

The words written in this Psalm are the same words that Jesus spoke in his final hours before he died while hanging on the cross. Jesus spoke the words to God when he, in view of his suffering condition, poured out his heart to his heavenly Father.

Through these words, those who are children of God can be comforted in knowing that Christ, who also suffered, directed his attention toward the One whom he believed could free him from his pain and suffering.

Jesus joins with the ranks of Christians who suffer from the pains of this world. He gives us consent and encouragement to pray unto God for help in our suffering condition--to pray for help during our hard times. This may mean in times of sickness, in times of war, in times when there is a lack of finances, in times when there is a spiritual low in our lives, in times when there are marital problems, in times when there are family problems, or in times when God just seems to be so far.

In the book, More Prayers that Prevail, Clift Richards and Lloyd Hildebrand write, “The greatest sustaining factor in the lives of Christians throughout the centuries has been prayer. It has enable countless martyrs to face burning at the stake, the “hot seat” of ancient Rome, decapitation, imprisonment, mockery, persecution, misunderstanding, torture, and injustice. Most of the martyrs turned to God in audible prayers of trust as they went to their executions.”

Today’s prayer:
Father, teach me how to pray in times of difficulty. Allow me to always remember Jesus and his sufferings and the example he has made for me while here on earth.

Day 9
I Am The Gate!

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” John 10:7 (NIV)

The image of Jesus as a shepherd is rather common. I recall seeing various pictures depicting Jesus carrying a lamb or holding a shepherd staff—images that are warm and inviting. But a gate? I have never seen an artist’s rendition of Jesus in this way. Frankly, I just don’t have that same warm reaction when I think about Jesus as a gate. Why did he choose to describe himself this way? The answer lies in the analogy. In Jesus’ day, sheep pens did not have gates, so one was formed when the shepherd would lay across the opening of the pen; thus, any adversaries who wanted to attack the sheep would have to cross the shepherd or climb the walls of the pen.

Are you sensing some adversaries? Jesus described them as thieves and robbers who are intent on harming the sheep. Perhaps the robber comes to you in the form of an unexpected debt that has you worrying and wondering where is God when you need Him. Maybe the thief is showing himself by making something look attractive that in the long run is destructive to your relationship with Jesus. If Jesus is to be our gate, we must choose to submit everything we see, hear, say or think to Him. He promises that as we do this we can know His voice and discern His leading.

Today’s prayer:
Jesus, thank you for laying you life down for me and living to protect me from harm. Thank you for being my gate. I choose this day to trust you with my life. Enable me to hear your voice and give me the courage to follow your leading.

Further Reflection
Psalm 23
“The Heights & Cry Mercy” (Track 9 &10) David Crowder All I Can Say

Day 10
Bringing Hope to Life

43Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44And Lazarus came out, bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
John 11:43-44 (New Living Translation)

These are the final verses of the amazing story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In all versions of this story, there is simply a “space” between verses 43 and 44. We read this story and it flows quickly from “Lazarus, come out!” to “And Lazarus came out...” But for the mourners gathered around the tomb, that “space” would have been immense. They had already begun mourning. They had already begun the process of accepting the loss of their friend and brother. However, in that brief moment between verses 43 and 44, while they stared at the darkness of the cave, they were billowing with something they had already let go of… hope. Could Jesus really be that powerful? Could he really do something that everyone knew was impossible? Then the darkness of the cave was disrupted. And Lazarus came out.

False hope is the expectation that “chance” will alter what seems to be impossible. Real hope is trusting in the promises and the power of Christ to alter what seems to be impossible. Have you given up on reconciling your relationship with a friend? With a family member? Have you given up on the possibility of having a vibrant, trusting marriage? Have you given up on your desire to be a powerful agent of change for His Kingdom? Look one more time into the darkness of the cave. Give Jesus a chance to bring life into something that you believe is dead. Allow Jesus to bring real hope back to life.

Today’s prayer:
Father, I trust in your power. I trust in your ability to do that which I think is impossible. I invite you to revitalize my hope in relationships and situations that you still plan to redeem.

Day 11
Generosity…a symbol of our Love

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." John 12:2-9

Mary’s generosity was an act of sacrifice and wiping his feet with her hair was a symbol of utmost devotion and reverence. Jesus recognized Mary’s act of devotion and sacrifice and affirmed her. In fact, in the book of Mark, Jesus said that this woman’s act of generosity and devotion would be told throughout the ages. His appreciation was in sharp contrast to Judas' attitude of belittlement. Judas didn’t “get it.”

When I think about Mary and about her heart, I am touched. Women in that day had no power and were basically invisible. She was not invisible to Jesus. She was so overwhelmed by love for Jesus she wanted to show him in her most generous way. As I serve in the Vineyard, I see many acts of generosity from people who can least afford it-- people whom others may regard as “invisible”.

Can you remember a significant act of generosity or kindness that was done for you? Can you recall a time when you were generous to the point of sacrifice? What motivated you to do this?

Today’s Prayer:
Lord, give me the opportunity to day to reach out with your extravagant love to someone who is in need, someone who feels “invisible”.
God please show me how I can honor and worship you with my resources. Let me know how I can pour perfume on the very feet of Jesus this week and please help me learn to love others with an extravagantly generous heart.

Day 12
In the in-between

"All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:25-26 (New International Version)

One of the limitations of being human is that we often forget more than we remember. That must be why we repeat things so much. I often find myself saying things repeatedly, especially when interacting with my kids. We usually say the same things when we leave them with a sitter for the evening.

“We’re going to be out tonight kids; I want you to obey and listen to the sitter, they know everything and will help you to bed. We love you and we’ll be back before you know it.”

Of course, what we tell them and what they hear are often two different things. They’ll remember eventually, but not as readily right away. A good sitter makes all the difference. A little guidance is the perfect the reminder.

In John 14, Jesus takes special care with his friends as he prepares them for the tumultuous days ahead. He knows that they aren’t fully prepared for the heart-rending drama that is about to unfold. The times will get confusing, dark, and hopeless, and they need to be reminded of what is truly real.

Could they live from a different perspective when challenged at their very core?

There’s always a choice. We often have to walk into where we can’t see, to become who we can’t be. That’s the life in-between. That’s a life rooted in the one who is the “way,” the “truth” and the “life.”

Wonderfully, Jesus promises never to leave us alone. “…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said…” He takes it upon himself to teach and remind us so that we can stand in his physical absence.

Hey guys, I’m going away for a while. Not to worry, my Father is sending you His best man. He’s been with me from the beginning and will care for you till I return. I love you and I’ll be back soon.

Living in the in-between has a promise attached to it. The Counselor will be with you.

Today’s Prayer
Father, let me experience afresh today the promise of your Holy Spirit. Fill me with what I don’t have, to be the person I can’t be, so that at the end of the day I will be amazed at what you’ve done in me, through me and all around me.

Day 13
Jesus as Lord of All Things

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
John 5:39-40 (New International Version)

John 5 begins with the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man who had spent thirty-eight years lying by the pool of Bethesda. The pool was believed to heal those who would enter it when the water was stirred or agitated by an angel of the Lord, and this unfortunate man had been waiting for someone to help him into it so that its moving waters might heal him. Imagine his surprise when Jesus, a man about whom he knows nothing, tells him to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Such a command must have seemed haughty, irrational and even mean-spirited. However, the man immediately feels the healing over his body, picks up his mat and walks away.

In this chapter John shares with us the absolute transcendence of Jesus’ Lordship. Jesus needs not wait for the water to be stirred; he heals at his command. Jesus doesn’t wait until the Sabbath has passed to do his work; he rises above the Mosaic law. Jesus does not challenge John the Baptist, whom many believed to be the messiah, but rather allows John to prepare the way for his coming. Jesus even transcends the scriptures themselves, as he declares that the sacred writings were meant to tell the story of his own coming. In John 5, Jesus is not bound by tradition, by superstition or by religion; rather, he recognizes and demonstrates his Lordship of all things.

What do you believe Jesus is capable of doing in your life? In your family? In your community? Are you, like the paralyzed man at Bethesda, waiting on something outside of God to heal you? Jesus is Lord of all things, even those things that you are most afraid of and most plagued by, and the amazing part is that he wants to heal you.

Today’s prayer:
Jesus, help me to see you as Lord of all things in my life, and to let myself be healed by you. Please help me to give over to you that which I hold onto the tightest, so that I can be made whole by your all-powerful hand.

Day 14
Conversations at the supper table

John 16 and Psalm 33

I don’t suppose that many of your family discussions during supper were as serious as the one Jesus was having with His disciples in John 16, but then again, this wasn’t any ordinary night--it was the last supper that they would share together until He came back again. Like an officer preparing his troops for war, telling them of what they might encounter, Jesus prepares the disciples. There is just one minor problem. True to the disciples’ character, they just don’t get it. Jesus tells them that He must go away, but that is not what they are expecting from their Messiah; they are expecting a mighty warrior coming to conquer.

Even though it may not be what you expect, God's plan is dependable. He is in control even when our human eyes can’t see it. In Psalm 33:19, God promises “to deliver their (our) soul from death and to keep them (us) alive in famine.” I like the sound of Him saving our souls from death, but did you notice the word “famine”? Famines don’t sound like too much fun.

In John 16, Jesus predicts the grief that His disciples will feel when He is put to death. He compares it to childbirth. Although my nephew is such a joy now, as I watched my sister in childbirth I honestly thought "is it worth this?" If you ask any woman who has given birth you tend to get the same answer…yes. The momentary pain is left far behind when the big picture is revealed. Jesus was about to reveal that big picture--a new dimension of our relationship with God.

“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” Up until this point in the history of the world, people couldn't live through an exposure to the presence of God--they couldn’t even say His name. Everything happened through the Priest in the temple. Now Jesus is saying that after His return we can say His name, have a personal relationship with God, approach the throne boldly, and dwell in His presence. He must first go away, but because of this He will send a “Helper,” a.k.a. the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Prayer
”Lord, thank you that your plan is bigger than mine and bigger than any of the problems and trials that I see before me now. Thank you for bearing the pain so that we could experience life, and not just any life, but life to the full. Lord, help me to have a new understanding of my relationship with You; show me through the Holy Spirit how to approach You boldly and experience Your peace.”

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