Encouragement From The Word

The importance of listening

I had a conversation the other day with a pastor friend who told me a story that he has given me permission to share.  He was driving home from a conference he had been attending when another driver, not looking properly, sideswiped his car on a busy street.

Both my friend and the other driver were shaken up, as can happen even with a minor fender-bender, but neither of them was hurt.  As is common in such difficult situations, they exchanged information.  The other driver, who had admitted to it being her fault, wanted to attempt to get the repairs to my friend’s car made without going through insurance (and possibly pushing her rates up).

My friend told her he was a pastor, and that he had a Christian friend who is a mechanic who deals with people fairly and honestly, and that he might be able to give her a decent quotation on the cost of repairs to my friend’s car.  (As it turned out, the quotation was higher than expected, and the lady opted to go through her insurance.  Happily, she had a clause in her policy that had accident forgiveness!)

As my friend and the other driver were exchanging information and conversing, she was asking him about his church, and seemed interested in the Christian faith.  All the while, my friend sensed the Holy Spirit saying to him, “You need to pray with her.”

He resisted, understandably, because it just seemed an odd time and an odd circumstance to pray with a stranger.  But the more he resisted, the more clear the Holy Spirit’s prompting became:  “You need to pray with her.”

So he said to her, “I know this sounds kind of weird, but can I pray for you?”

She consented.  He prayed for her.  And over the course of the next few days as they spoke on the telephone to get repairs looked after, she mentioned how she has a teenaged son that she wants to get engaged in a youth group.

She lives closer to a different church than my friend’s, and so she may end up taking her son there.  Either way, it’s a win for God’s Kingdom.

But what if my friend had not been listening for the Holy Spirit to speak into his life, even in such an unusual situation as a car accident?  Or what if he had continued to ignore the prompting of the Spirit to pray with the woman?  Would she still be interested in the things of God?

It’s vital for all followers of Jesus – not just pastors, of course – to listen for the Spirit of God all the time.  It’s a muscle that we need to exercise.  After all, if we want to lift weights, we need to exercise the muscles that lift the weights.  And if we want to hear from God, we need to exercise those spiritual muscles, too.

Read the Scriptures daily.  When you pray, don’t do all the talking; sit in silence and let the Lord speak to you, through his Word and by his Spirit.  Then, when you are out in the world, engaged in normal, everyday activities, who knows what God may say to you by his Spirit that could change someone’s life forever?

Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given —and you will receive even more.  To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given” (Mark 4.24-25a, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

We can ‘be’ change

The mass shooting in Las Vegas last weekend is a terrible tragedy.  Many lives were lost, many more people were injured, and emotionally, a lot of people are going to need help to resume some semblance of normality – not just the injured and the families of those who died, but also the bystanders and the people who work at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooting took place.  Long after the news stops talking about it (news channels always find something new and shiny on which to focus), people will still be struggling.

Of course, in this era of social media where everyone seeks to share an opinion, lots of folks are talking about the need for greater gun control, tighter immigration policies, or tougher screening to weed out terrorists.  But there is something else that can be done.

Parents can raise their children.

That might sound like an incongruous non sequitur, but think about it:  if parents raise their children – not just give birth to them, not just feed them, not just provide for their wants and needs, but raise them – we will have a generation of people who become adults who don’t have a hankering to kill people.  That sounds simplistic, but I know too many moms and dads who have engaged in the hard work of raising their kids whose children turn out to be kind, loving adults to believe it can’t be done.

To be sure, there are countless outside influences that work against what conscientious parents are doing, but that only raises the level of the challenge.

It seems like an insurmountable job, and it is.  Parents can’t do it on their own.

Parents need God’s help, and they need God’s agents to help them: the church.

When parents acknowledge that the job is too difficult for them to do alone, and they submit themselves to the Lord who knew their children before they were formed in the womb (Psalm 139.16), they give their children to God, recognizing that even parenthood is a form of stewardship; children are ours to raise on God’s behalf.

Then, the community of faith can partner with the parents to help kids grow up to be good, law-abiding citizens, yes, but also to love and serve the Lord.  When we introduce God into the lives of children, the Holy Spirit becomes an invisible player in the game of child-rearing – that unpredictable, love-engendering, tongues-of-fire-giving Spirit supports the work of diligent parents and churches.  And the result is a generation of adults who in turn raise their children the same way.

Will this work perfectly?  Undoubtedly not; because of sin, there will always be challenges to God’s plan for families.  But while we pray for those affected, while we work to bring change where change is needed in society, let’s start with our own families.  We can bring change; we can be change.

If you love me, obey my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (Jesus, John 15.16, NLT).

spiritual formation

Fear Not: Spiritual Direction For Protestants

Here’s a talk I gave at a gathering of The Renewal Fellowship Within The Presbyterian Church in Canada about understanding spiritual direction, something that is new to many contemporary Protestants.  It’s a half-hour talk that hopefully will help you understand it better.  Feel free to comment with any questions you may have.

Biblical Messages

Living In and Through

Following up on last week’s message, this one is intended to help us understand the importance of living in and through the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, the church is dead.  With the Spirit, the church has joy and power.  Based on Galatians 5.16-26, you can listen to the message here:

Biblical Messages

Supernatural Church

With this message, we wrapped up the series on the Holy Spirit, based on Francis Chan’s book, Forgotten God.  It’s based on Acts 2.42-47.   At a pause near the end, you can stop and watch this video; there’s only a bit of the message that follows it.  You’ll notice in about the last five minutes, the sound changes; that’s because I had a technical glitch during worship this morning (the memory got filled up on my digital voice recorder), so I had to re-record the last few minutes at home!

Listen to “Supernatural Church” here:  

Biblical Messages

Why Do I Need The Holy Spirit?

Many mainline churches have a different idea of the Trinity.  Instead of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, they have “Father, Son and Holy Bible.”  The Spirit doesn’t come into play, and there are varieties of reasons for this – none of them legitimate!

The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the church, and today’s message highlights that the Spirit should not be the “Forgotten God”.  Based on John 14.15-31, you can listen to this message here: