Category: John (Page 1 of 28)

Hearing God in Holy Relationship

Hearing God happens in holy relationship. If you’re not in a close, personal, and dynamic relationship with God in Christ, you’re going to have trouble hearing his voice.

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep… the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” ~John 10:2-4

This whole passage in John 10:1-18 is about relationship. The sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice because he owns them; they belong to him. He calls his own sheep by name. That’s a big part of it – this belonging. But it’s much more about relationship. Notice that Jesus doesn’t use his voice to lead all the sheep; he speaks to his own. Jesus knows his sheep. His sheep belong to him. He calls them by name. They’re always together and they’re listening and they hear his voice and they follow.

“I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” ~John 10:14-15

The sheep who hear the shepherd’s voice are in a close, tight relationship with the shepherd. And it’s not just mutual – it’s comprehensive! It’s total! Jesus and his followers have an intimate relationship, the same relationship, he says, that Jesus has with God the Father. That’s staggering! That’s mind-blowing! Jesus is willing to die for you not just out of obedience to God, but also because of the close relationship he has with you. And in this mutual relationship, this committed and devoted relationship with Jesus, is where we hear his voice.

“The one who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” ~John 8:47

If you have a hearing problem, it might be that you have a relationship problem.

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My dear friend Valerie Gooch was asked to preach Sunday at Messiah’s House Church in Amarillo and, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit who lives inside her, she knocked it out of the park.

Valerie is the founder and Executive Director of The Panhandle Adult Rebuilding Center, or PARC. It was her God-ordained vision to convert the old Route 66 strip club on 6th Street in Amarillo into a day center for those experiencing homelessness. And it is thriving today as a unique Christ-centered sanctuary of love and grace where lives are being changed. Valerie was one of my biggest encouragers during our ten years at the Central Church in Amarillo – we were blessed to partner together in ministry in that downtown space and I was blessed by her pep talks and prayers for me. I still am. She encourages me a couple of times a week by her PARC email updates and with a text every few months when I seem to need it most.

You can watch her sermon here. It begins at the 56-minute mark.

The story about smelling marijuana made me laugh.

Valerie’s illustration about the eyeball and how wonderfully made we all are in the image of God and how we have to look for that in others, even when, especially when, it’s not always easy to see – I’m stealing that.

God doesn’t call us to fix people, he calls us to love people – I’m stealing that, too.

And the story about Reggie made me cry.

God bless Valerie and Royce and every person who walks through the doors at The PARC.

And Go Stars. Huge game tonight.

Peace,

Allan

Normal Discipleship

You’ve seen NFL quarterbacks doing that on the field during a game. What are they doing?

The quarterback has a tiny little receiver (there’s a Wes Welker joke right here, but I’m letting it go) in his helmet so the offensive coordinator up in the pressbox can talk to him. The quarterback is trying to block out all the noise from the crowd in the stadium so he can hear the only voice he really needs to hear. He’s trying to block out the distractions so he can hear his coach who has a broader view of the field and a bigger picture understanding of what’s happening in the game. He needs to hear the voice from above, the voice of the one who wrote the playbook and developed the game plan, the voice he most needs to hear.

You’re never going to move in your discipleship unless you know that our God is dynamic and personal and active in his communicating with you. You’ve got to intentionally listen for his voice and it’s got to be more than just the Bible.

Now, hold on. Before you get all tuned up, let me explain.

The Bible is the voice of God. I believe that with all my heart. I believe and I preach and teach and live by my belief in the inspiration and authority of the Bible as the Word of God. The Bible is the voice of God. But the voice of God is not limited to the Bible.

What about Christians who never owned a Bible? What about the tens of millions of Christians over the past two-thousand years who have never even seen a Bible? Can they not have a relationship with God? Why does God’s Holy Spirit live inside us if everything we need is in the Bible? Being guided directly and personally by God’s Spirit within us is normal for a disciple of Christ.

“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” ~Romans 8:14

The book of Acts is OUR book and finding a pattern in Scripture is OUR thing. And in Acts, it’s normal for Christians to get God’s Word both from Scripture and outside of Scripture.

In Acts 8, an angel of the Lord speaks to Philip and tells him to take the Gaza Road. The Spirit, it says, tells Philip to jump in the chariot.

In Acts 9, the Lord calls to Ananias in a vision. Ananias answers, “Yes, Lord.” He knows who’s talking to him. The Lord told Ananias to find Saul, another guy he’s been talking to in a vision.

In Acts 10, an angel of God speaks to Cornelius. This non-Christian answers, “What is it, Lord?” He knows what’s happening. The angel tells him to find Peter. Later on, Peter is being addressed by the voice. Twice, it says, the voice speaks to Peter. And Peter acknowledges it as the voice of the Lord.

In Acts 16, the Holy Spirit tells Paul and his companions not to preach in Asia. The Spirit of Jesus, it says, would not allow them to go to Bithynia. During the night in Troas, Paul has a vision of the guy in Macedonia which caused them to leave immediately, “concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them” (Acts 16:10).

The way Luke gives it to us in Acts, it’s normal. He doesn’t write, “By the way, this was really weird.” It reads like the standard operating procedure for followers of Jesus to be led by the voice of God. So is the book of Acts a collection of exceptions or a collection of examples? Is hearing the voice of God no longer relevant for life in Christ, or is it the way life in Christ is supposed to be?

I was raised in and by the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Dallas, a medium-sized and very conservative congregation of God’s people. But we articulated these very things in our worship together every Sunday. We would pray for the preacher to have a ready recollection. We would ask God to bring us back at the next appointed time. We would pray for the Lord to guide, guard, and direct us (for the longest time, I thought that was one long word, like a theological word in Greek, like guidguardandirectus). It was normal for us to pray for God’s daily direction.

We would sing it, too. Guide me, O thou great Jehovah. He leadeth me, O blessed thought! Break, thou, the bread of life; beyond the sacred page. He walks with me and he talks with me. My God and I, we walk and talk as good friends should and do. We would pray it and we would sing it, but we would never preach it or teach it – that two-way communication with God is normal.

There are several reasons you might not be hearing God. One might be that you don’t expect to. If you’re not expecting to hear God’s voice, then you’re not listening for it. Maybe people told you that you can’t hear God or that God doesn’t talk anymore. Maybe no one ever taught you how to hear God. Or maybe you don’t want to hear God. Maybe you prefer a silent God. A non-talking God is a lot easier to deal with. If you hear the voice of the Lord, it might change your agenda, it might blow up your whole life.

In John 5, Jesus tells the religious experts, you diligently study the Scriptures, but you’ve never heard the Father’s voice. It’s possible to be an expert in the Bible and be lousy about hearing God.

How will Jesus know his disciples? They hear my voice, he says.

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection People

Christ Jesus is risen and that means you’ll be raised, too. Your resurrection is guaranteed by the One who’s gone before. Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live!” We can possess and experience right now today the power of Christ’s resurrection as lean into it and yield ourselves to it. And live it.

If we’ll embrace the resurrection, if we’ll claim the promises of the resurrection as our own, it will radically impact the way we see ourselves, the way we view others, and the way we interact with the world around us. We will have no problem risking our well-being, our reputations, and our very lives for the sake of our Lord.

The resurrection means we’re not afraid of death. So my first priority is not my personal security, it’s not preserving the institutions or saving the country. No, it’s so much bigger than that! And if we’ll own it, we’ll not worry so much about temporary things, and we’ll devote more of our resources and energies to eternal things.

Because of the resurrection, we’re not scared. We’re risk-takers. We have a clear vision of what’s important and what’s not and we’re not afraid. And that makes us dangerous.

A Christian hospital can accept more welfare patients than might be economically advisable because it knows God’s love for the poor does not depend on its continued existence. A Christian business can hire ex-cons and former felons because it knows God’s grace and forgiveness doesn’t end if their business goes under. Professors at a Christian university can call for total disarmament during a cold war because they know the future of the world does not depend on the survival of their nation. Christians can risk their lives because we know this life is not the end!

The resurrection invites all of us, it calls us, to walk through the door into a brand new world where the ultimate reality is not death, but eternal life in the One who brought our Lord out of the grave. To know the resurrection, to live the resurrection, means to act with boldness and courage. No fear. Brakes off. Full steam ahead.

Because of the resurrection, a Christian church can take bolder risks in evangelizing our neighborhoods, bolder risks in ministering to the homeless and hungry, bolder risks in loving our enemies and forgiving those who hurt us, bolder risks in protecting the helpless and defending the weak. The resurrection means we say Yes to bigger Gospel dreams and we say No to maintaining the status quo.

We can risk anything and we can give everything in denying self and sacrificing self, knowing that the salvation of the world and the salvation of my body and soul is in the powerful and loving hands of the God who promises and delivers the resurrection. We can be a Resurrection People who live to give life to others. And that will bring everlasting glory and praise to our God.

Peace,

Allan

Spiritual Leadership

When a church is selecting its leaders, it needs to look for spiritual leadership, not worldly leadership. The difference between the two is huge. It’s leading by sacrifice and service instead of by authority and power. It’s paramount. If we’re following the example of our Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, this is a non-negotiable.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” ~John 8:28

Jesus says, in other words, “When you see my dying, when you watch me willingly give up my life for others, you’ll know I am the promised Messiah, the Good Shepherd.” Jesus is always completely surrendered to God’s will. He is doing God’s will in God’s ways. The proof of that is in his willingness to humble himself, to make himself the least important person in the room. To die.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” ~John 4:34

My food, my passion, the thing that sustains me, the thing that motivates me, what keeps me going, my everything – is to do God’s work in God’s ways. My Father sets my agenda and he alone determines how I conduct my ministry: with sacrifice and service and submission. That’s how a shepherd leads. Never by power. Never by authority. It’s spiritual, not worldly.

The mother of James and John tells Jesus to ordain them as rulers next to Jesus in the coming Kingdom. He asks if they can pay the price. She says they can. He knows they can’t. The other disciples are indignant. So Jesus gathers all twelve together and gives them a lesson in the differences between spiritual leadership and worldly leadership.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (nations) lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life.” ~Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus is talking about government leaders and business boards and military commanders. The way they lead is not the way we lead. Good shepherds lead from the back of the line, never the front. They lead by washing feet and dying, never by dictating and demanding. No chain of command, no hierarchy, no flow charts. The biblical model of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, turns all that upside down. It’s the exact opposite of the way the world leads.

We mess this up in the church sometimes when we select worldly leaders as our spiritual leaders. It doesn’t work. Our culture tells us to choose successful men which means men who make a lot of money and dress nicely and drive expensive cars and live in massive houses, men who are leaders in the community, influencers in politics, and members of the board. Don’t do it. That’s exactly the opposite of spiritual leadership.

Peace,

Allan

 

Relational Leadership

You’ve got to look at this incredible pass from Luka to Hardy during last night’s Mavericks win over the Pacers. Put the video on full screen and let it roll for like three times. It’s just unfathomable what Luka does almost every single night. It’s not enough to keep them from completely blowing the end of the season – was there anybody who thought the Kyrie trade was going to work? But, man, Luka is a special dude. I pray they haven’t totally ruined him with that putrid trade and this monumental late season collapse. Watch this crazy pass.

This Sunday is our deadline at GCR Church for recommending new shepherds to join our existing eldership. And I want to remind us and anybody else who might be reading this in a different context that we are looking for relational leadership, not positional leadership. Too many churches are led by strangers who are not recognized by the sheep. A true shepherd is followed not because God has given him authority, but because the sheep recognize his voice. In the Bible, God doesn’t tell his people to respond to a leader because he has an office or a title. It has to do with relationship. Uphold these men, the Bible says. Recognize them. Follow them. Not because their names are in the bulletin or because they approve the budget. But because of their hard work. Because of their love for the Body. Because of relationships.

“I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” ~John 10:14

Shepherds in Bible times were not day laborers who show up for work in the morning, put in eight hours with a lunch and a couple of 15-minute breaks, and then call it a day and go home. They lived with their sheep. Day and night. Season after season. They fed them, protected them, loved them. The sheep knew their shepherd’s touch, they recognized his voice, and they followed no other shepherd. It’s about relationship.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” ~John 10:27

Picture Jesus with his disciples. Eating with them, walking and talking with them, working with them, teaching them, encouraging them; praying for them, correcting them, loving them; washing their feet and dying for them. Ordaining elders is about acknowledging relationships, not appointing positions. This doesn’t mean elders don’t have a title, but it means their authority comes from their lives and hearts and Jesus in them, not the title. They have the title because people follow them, not the other way around.

It’s one part of the church saying, “This man is a wonderful shepherd to us and we think he’d be a great shepherd for the whole church.” And the rest of the church saying, “Yeah, please shepherd us, too!”

When we’re looking for elders, WHO he is is a lot more important than WHAT he is. Relational, not positional.

Peace,

Allan

Take a Break on Your Take

“Everyone has to have their take. That’s how it works now. If you don’t have a take, you don’t have a voice. If you don’t have a voice, you don’t exist.”
~ Quintin Sellers, Vengeance

Ashton Kutcher’s character in the movie Vengeance perfectly describes today’s loud and polarized culture. We have rapidly been conditioned by the internet over the past twenty years to react immediately and strongly to every single thing that happens and to take a side. All of us are compelled to take a position on everything as soon as it occurs, staking out immediate and immovable opinions on matters large and small before any conversation or reflection can transpire. Those hastily formed opinions then become our identity and our “cause.” You’ve chosen a side. And the other side will take the other side just to take the other side. Louder and more aggressive. On and on it goes, proving, as Quintin Sellers says, the defining truth of our time: everything means everything, so nothing means anything.

It’s so bad now that not saying anything, not having a take, not making immediate and loud conclusions about an event, is worse than having the wrong take or saying the wrong thing. Saying nothing is an even faster way to be labeled now as part of a side or a cause.

I think that happened to Nicodemus.

The most highly esteemed rabbi in all of Israel had met with Jesus under the cover of darkness – the conversation is recorded in John 3. We’re not really sure of his motives. Is he investigating Jesus on behalf of the Pharisees or is this a personal visit? Either way, when Jesus tells him he must be born again, Nicodemus sounds like somebody who doesn’t believe and won’t ever believe. He sounds immovable. It sounds like he has taken a side. Maybe.

By John 7, Jesus has stirred up some controversy among the religious and political set. The police and the religious-political leaders come together to discuss their options, and Nicodemus sounds somewhat sympathetic to the troublemaker. He asks the gathered leaders, “Does our Law condemn anyone without first hearing him out?” And they ripped Nicodemus to shreds.

“Are you from Galilee, too?!”

Are you on his side? Are you taking up his cause? Is this who you are? Is this your “take?”

There was no room in this heated political and religious environment for measured conversation and careful reflection. And this was several years before TV, much less the internet.

By the end of the Gospel, all the apostles have deserted Jesus during the night. And there’s Nicodemus, in broad daylight, with permission from the government, taking care of Jesus’ body.

Our society is in trouble largely because all the “thinking” we do is expected to be immediate and public. If you don’t have a position posted as soon as some question emerges, somebody’s going to ask if you’re really “one of us.’ Someone will say your “silence is deafening.” But that’s not how human beings change our minds about anything. We change after we wrestle through questions, as we ponder and reflect, as we talk with others and read new ideas, as we experience different views and cultures, as we pay careful attention to all sides and show grace and mercy to others and to ourselves.

None of that can happen under the pressures of our “post-your-take-now” culture.

Take a break on your take. Leave some wiggle room. Give yourself and others a cushion. And, above all, take your time. Show some restraint. There’s a big difference between reconsidering a viewpoint and losing an argument.

Peace,

Allan

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