Sunday Preview

January 31, 2013

We wrapped up our season of fasting and prayer last night with a dynamic worship service in our sanctuary, attended by several hundred people. I want to thank everyone who participated from Living Streams, Kineo and Arcadia churches. The last four weeks of sacrifice and dedication will bear fruit in our lives for a long time to come. There have been significant breakthroughs in the lives of many people already; and the fruit of most fasts is not manifested until weeks after they end. I really appreciate you who have prayed for our church and for me personally. I have been refreshed and encouraged by the Holy Spirit and I’m grateful for your love and intercession.

My sermon this Sunday is called, “The Kingdom of Heaven.” I’m going to focus on Matthew 11:11-12, and other references to heaven in Matthew chapters 1-11. Most people think of heaven as the place that people who love God go when they die. Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus brought the reality of the Kingdom of heaven to earth.

Most of us have had glimpses of heaven in God’s presence, and we taste it when our fellowship is really deep. I think the Lord wants us to experience more of heaven here on earth than we have ever imagined. We can discover it as we let go of our fears and follow Christ together with all of our hearts.

On a recent Monday morning, I walked the winding trail to the top of the small mountain in the preserve just south of our home. At the peak, I took off my iPod and turned off the podcast I was listening to. It was a clear day and the sun was starting to warm the morning air. I sat down on a flat rock and looked over Paradise Valley in north Phoenix. I like to sit on the mountain overlooking the city and pray.

We came to Phoenix in 1984 with four children and a truckload of furniture. At the time I didn’t know what the Lord was going to do in our lives. One day I read a promise in Deuteronomy 6:10-11 that gave me hope. “I will give you a splendid city, with houses you don’t have to build and wells you don’t have to dig.” We now have wonderful friends, a great church and a beautiful home in this splendid city.

As I began to give thanks on the mountaintop, I saw something scurry up the rock below me. A large lizard had come out of the cold shadows and stretched out on the warm surface of a rock. As the sun began to warm its body, the lizard began to shiver. It was adjusting itself to the warmth of the sunlight, like someone coming out of the ocean warming up on the sand of the beach.

Earlier that morning, I had stretched out on the carpet on the floor of our bedroom and shivered like that lizard. I wasn’t shivering from the cold, but from depletion. On Friday and Saturday, I had made several trips to Hospice in Scottsdale to be with Paul Pittendrigh and his family. Paul was in a coma dying from a stroke. Paul and his wife, Naomi, had been with us at Living Streams when the church was still in our living room in 1984. They left Phoenix to serve with YWAM for many years and returned to live out their retirement. Paul was ninety years old and a man who showed his love for the Lord by his acts of service. He drove tractors and heavy equipment helping YWAM develop their University in Kona, HI, as well as on the mission field. He went to be with the Lord on Sunday afternoon, just as our morning services were ending.

Loving people deeply takes all the strength I have on many days. It is not a chore for me to love God’s people, it is a privilege. Jesus commands us to love one another because he knows that it is the most enriching way for us to live. However, watching someone you love as they die, even when you know their life has been full, is very challenging. We can’t love deeply people without being vulnerable.

When I feel drained, it is easy for me to get agitated. That doesn’t go over too well at our house. Kristina has low tolerance for anyone who gets frustrated or angry and starts directing it towards her. She definitely expects the one who preaches about the Spirit-filled life on Sundays to live the Spirit-filled life on Mondays. Therefore, I have had to find a remedy for depletion, one that works quickly and surely, or else I have to find a remedy for an upset spouse, which can add layers of complication to a depleted soul.

So I often lay face down on our carpet, or on a towel in the backyard in the shade of our porch, calling on my Father in Jesus’ name. Just like a lizard shivering in the warm sun, my soul gets warmed as the Holy Spirit fills me up. There is no specific formula for prayer, any more than there is a formula for good communication with a friend or your spouse. I start with being honest about my need for God’s grace and I stay on my face until my heart warms up. I may need to confess something I did wrong, or I may need to simply confess that I am weak. I get strength, and sometimes good ideas, simply by waiting quietly in God’s presence. I pray for other people as they come to my mind, but my main goal is to connect with my Father. He knows me, loves me, and hears my prayers. Like the lizard receiving energy from the morning sun, I sometimes shiver when God warms my soul with grace.

Sunday Preview

January 17, 2013

I hope you are doing well. I have been encouraged by the response of many people to our season of fasting and prayer this month. There have been spiritual breakthroughs in the lives of some of our members over the last two weeks.
I want to encourage you to pick your fast up again if you have had difficulty sticking with your original commitment. Years ago I made a commitment to fast for three straight days. I was really busy with my construction work at the time and got so hungry the second day that I broke the fast. The food tasted great, but when the meal was over I felt like I had failed. I waited another two weeks and then started the fast again. The second time I had more determination and I was blessed and renewed when it was over. If you have never done it, you will be surprised how wonderful a simple meal will taste after three days of fasting. The best part for me is when the Scriptures seem to light up and prayers get answered.

When Jesus fasted in Matthew 4, he had three distinct encounters with the devil. First he had to deal with the temptation to end the fast prematurely. Then he was taken to a high place and had to resist the temptation to assume he was no longer bound by the law of gravity. He also said “no” to an offer to become the ruler of the world in exchange for his worship of the devil. Fasting from food and comforts can give us more time to seek the Lord, but it can also leave us more easily agitated. It can help us draw strength and receive refreshing from the Lord, but it can also leave us vulnerable to feeling down and discouraged. It can bring breakthroughs in relationships and tear down barriers, but it can also bring conflicts with spiritual forces of wickedness.

There is no easy way to glide through life in this fallen world; but there is a way to overcome evil, bear good fruit, and enter eternal life. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus can teach and guide us so that we know God as our Father. We can trust our Father with all our hearts because He loves us with all his heart. When we fast we are doing what Jesus did, making our relationship with the Father the priority of our lives. There is suffering involved in fasting, but the glory that can be revealed and the breakthroughs we experience are more than worth the price we pay.
May the Lord refresh your soul and enlighten your understanding as you continue to seek him with all of your heart.

Sunday Preview

January 11, 2013

Yesterday, I had a discipleship group followed by a pastor’s meeting that lasted most of the day. During the meetings, my phone vibrated with messages and texts. At home last night, I had many e-mails from friends and members of Living Streams. Most of the messages said “Happy Birthday” and many were accompanied by blessings from the Lord. It was humbling and heart warming to receive so many precious messages. I am a privileged man to be blessed with great friends and such a loving church.

I was reminded of a story about a man on his first safari in Africa. The safari group was walking for several miles through the jungle at a fast pace when suddenly the men carrying the camp equipment stopped and sat down. “What’s wrong? Are you tired?” He asked the men who were now sitting quietly on a log.

“We are not tired. We are letting our souls catch up with our bodies.” One of the men replied.

I like that concept. I want to sit quietly for awhile today so that the blessings of God, sent from the hearts and prayers of my friends can catch up to me.

As we conclude the first week of our January “Fast, Pray, Grow” emphasis, I hope some of the blessings of God are starting to catch up with you. Everyone will have another opportunity to add growth opportunities, and delete food or distractions from their lives as we continue to draw near to God together.

I’m looking forward to being with many of you on Sunday in our services. In the meantime, may you discover that the One who is pursuing you loves you so deeply, that you can trust him completely, and rest in his presence.

Sunday Preview

January 3, 2013

I hope you had a blessed Christmas and New Year’s Day. I enjoyed the holiday celebrations and I’m now looking forward to our Fast, Pray, Grow season from January 7-30th. Though fasting is a discipline that has some painful dynamics, it is a great help to get us in good spiritual shape. I first embraced fasting as a spiritual discipline many years ago because Jesus tells us to fast, just as he did. Fasting helps me feel close to the Lord and tuned in to the Holy Spirit. God honors fasting and prayer times in wonderful ways.

Last Sunday one of our members came up to me with a big smile and said, “God changed my life when we were fasting last year!” It brings me joy to see people get spiritual breakthroughs and see God answer prayers each year when we have this season of seeking the Lord with special intensity. It is more than worth the temporary pain of letting go of food and activities that are self indulgent when the Lord brings refreshing from the Holy Spirit.

We want to encourage each member of our church to write down three things and place your list on the prayer wall which will be on the altar in our sanctuary.

1. What you are going to fast from during January 7-30th.
Some people will fast from all food and drink except water for one or more days, or several meals each week. Others will give up all sweets, alcohol, coffee, etc. Some will fast from TV, Facebook, video games, or other time-consuming diversions. Many will choose to fast in a combination of these things.

2. The focus of your fast.
Write down a couple of your spiritual goals or special prayer requests that you want the Lord to honor.

3. Your commitment to spiritual growth.
We strongly encourage each of you to make a commitment to join a new class, small group, One-Year Bible study, or ministry. Our pastors and leaders are offering a great variety of new groups during January to help you grow in faith and ministry skills. Some groups will be just for the fasting season, others will go on longer. My sermon this weekend is called, A Vision for Growth and Blessing, from Matthew 13:1-23. I hope this will be a new season of growth and blessing for you.