A Lesson of Thanksgiving From Inside A Belly

What are your favorite memories surrounding the holiday of Thanksgiving? I will wager they don’t immediately center around the idea of “self-sacrifice.” Mine sure don’t. Mine center around the fragrant smells of yummy foods in the oven, selfish gluttony around the dinner table (as large quantities of those foods are consumed), and the inevitable selfish snooze in my rocking chair. Talk about self-indulgence.

This year I plan to pause for a moment before taking that snooze, as the foods reach my belly and begin to digest. I am going to pause and consider another belly, a now-famous belly: the belly of a great fish, which once attempted to digest a Prophet of the LORD.

I have learned a secret of thanksgiving that I am passing along to you.

Really? A secret lesson from inside the belly—of a great fish? Yes.

Have you ever prayed a prayer from inside the belly of a great fish?

Jonah did.

I think we should listen to him:

“While I was fainting away, I REMEMBERED THE LORD; and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple; I will sacrifice to You, WITH THE VOICE OF THANKSGIVING” (Jonah 2: 7, 9).

You might not be sitting inside the belly of great fish right now like Jonah was, but there is a parallel here. Any hard trial you are facing, any difficult circumstance, or feelings of personal insecurity, loneliness, ingratitude, or failure—can be likened to this dark moment of Jonah’s life. He was feeling those things, too.

Yet he suddenly responds by opening his heart to seek the LORD.

He “REMEMBERS” the faithfulness of God. God provided that great fish to swallow him. That belly experience was his salvation from the waters of the deep that would have drowned him.

No wonder he could say, “Salvation is from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).

He brings the only sacrifice he can muster at the moment: THE VOICE OF THANKSGIVING.

Let me be honest. You have to train yourself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to remember the faithfulness of God when you are in the middle of the belly (I mean, your own individual moment of trial).

Jonah managed to keep his focus on the GOODNESS of God, and to THANK HIM and PRAISE HIM in the midst of his trial.

So Jonah goes to battle against this self-reliance and self-centeredness by the simple sacrifice of THANKSGIVING.

You must train yourself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to THANK HIM and remember HIS FAITHFULNESS in spite of any pain or situation you are in.

Try it! It works! The focus changes from YOU to HIM!

Begin right now to consciously thank the LORD for every possible blessing in your life. Out loud. Like he did. “Remember” the LORD and bring forth a sacrifice of praise from your own lips.

Just as many of you are, I am personally in the middle of a “trial” as I write this blog. Yet if I pause right now, and consider the many ways that God has been faithful to me in the past years, months, weeks, days and even hours, I am suddenly transformed from self-centeredness to prayerful praising!

The focus of my heart goes off of me (and my circumstance and trial) and goes to praising HIM.

What kind of belly of a “great fish” (i.e. trial or circumstance) are you in the middle of?

Now consider the faithfulness of God to you:

His Divine favor.

His protection.

His provision.

His love.

His goodness & mercy.

And the list goes on. He HAS been faithful to you. He IS FAITHFUL now. And HE WILL BE faithful to you in the future.

So remember the lesson of Jonah from inside the belly of the great fish. Especially on Thanksgiving Day, but more importantly as you choose to make EVERYDAY a Thanksgiving Day of sacrifice and praise from your lips.

“Enter into his gates with THANKSGIVING, and His courts with praise! GIVE THANKS TO HIM, bless His name” (Psalm 100:4)!

So go ahead, trade your own self-indulgence of that Thanksgiving turkey for a new daily habit of self-sacrifice: THANKSGIVING that can resound from your lips—every moment of this upcoming year.

“In all circumstances, GIVE THANKS, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Do You Hear Voices?

With Donald Trump rising in the Polls, I thought I would share a little unknown fact about me: 10 years ago I applied for The Apprentice: the Mark Burnett hit show, starring the Trump Himself. After 4 personal interviews by casting directors in 3 different cities, I was invited to an all-expense paid week in L.A. as a Finalist for the show.

I was nearly cast as one of the most embarrassing potential Apprentices on NBC!

I endured a fun and grueling week of interviews with Producers and many exams (I am under contract still not to give away their secrets). But what I can share is: one of the questions on the exams was,

DO YOU HEAR VOICES? Circle Yes or No.

How would you answer that one? Most people if ever faced with that question would answer, “NO!” I mean, who wants to be locked up in a straight-jacket in a room with rubber walls for the rest of their life, right?

Well, needless to say, I am not “most people.” I am first and foremost a Christian.

What sets a Christian apart from the rest of the world?

The gift of eternal life in fellowship with God? Yes.

The infilling of the Holy Spirit (who comes to live inside your human spirit and lead you, day by day, in the will and ways of the LORD)? Yes.

This is a bit of an introductory devotional blog on the vast and amazing subject of learning to hear God’s “voices.” Yes—I did say, “voices.”

Now, when I say, “voices” I am perhaps introducing a kind of revolutionary truth. Each member of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has a unique “voice” of their own.

To simplify this thought, I find in Scripture that the Father many times speaks through His Creation, the Son many times speaks through His living Word and through other people to you, and the Holy Spirit many times speaks from WITHIN your spirit and you “sense” His voice (watch for future blogs where I will elaborate more on each “voice”).

Most of the Christian world today follows the written WORD as the primary means of God’s speaking to man. I would agree that the Bible IS one of the most amazing means. Though, when you read the Book of Acts, you will find there multiple, different ways that God communicates to Christians; in other words, multiple different “voices,” through the Trinity, that He is choosing to utilize in His awesome love for you.

Here are just 7 of many examples of THE VOICES of God in the Book of Acts:

  1. The “Inner Witness” of the Holy Spirit, combined with “intuition” (Acts 8: 29, 17:16).
  2. Inner Desires, Feelings, & Emotions (Acts 13:1-5, 15:39).
  3. Visions (Acts 2: 17-21, 16: 6-9).
  4. Dreams (Acts 18: 9-10).
  5. Prophetic Words & Confirmations by 2 or More People (Acts 19:21, 21:10-13, 23:11).
  6. Angels (Acts 12:7).
  7. Audible Voice (Acts 9:3-8).

Please note! These are “in order” of what I call, “most common” to “least common” ways that God speaks and communicates with His redeemed. The probability of you EVER hearing an AUDIBLE VOICE or chatting over your lunch break with AN ANGEL are very low; whereas, the probability of you hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, from within, as a kind of “INNER WITNESS” is very high.

I find God speaking to me multiple times a day in this manner. All I have to do is tune my spiritual ears to listen.

So in conclusion, what do you think I answered to my question as I prepared for the Final Round of casting for Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” show years ago?

I circled boldly a resounding, “YES!”

I DO hear voices! Every day. Everywhere I go.

And when I told the Producers this, they simply did not know what to do with me. In the end, I was too much of a “wildcard” for Trump, and did not get cast.

But that’s okay. I’m happy being an Apprentice to Jesus, the real Master Mentor, and listening to the many VOICES of the Trinity each week.

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Why Did Jesus Heal the Sick?

AN ANSWER FROM THE PAST AGE

God’s design for your body was initially perfect. There was no sickness/disease, sin, or death in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve both sinned and fell short of the glory of God. Decay and death entered creation, affecting all the created order including our body.

Enter God and His faithfulness to His followers. He provides healing for sick bodies in the wilderness for Israel (every healing then a “sign” of the eternal promise of a redeemed creation). He even reveals a portion of His glorious nature for healing, calling Himself the title,I AM THE LORD YOUR HEALER (see Exodus 15: 22-26 for further study).

Hundreds of years later, the people rebel, sickness and disease take over, and the promise of His healing seems lost. Enter Isaiah! His promise is music to our ears! Deliverance is coming in the promise of the Messiah.

“Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble! The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35: 3, 5-6).

So healing is coming! Literal eyes will be opened! Literal ears will hear! Literal lame will walk again! And all are the signs of the promise of restoration of all creation.

AN ANSWER FROM THE PRESENT AGE

Jesus, claiming to be the MESSIAH who, as promised, would begin the restoration process of His own created order, does it. He preaches and then offers one of the signs that His word is true: the sign of healing the sick. Sickness is “death in process” and was not a part of the original plan, and certainly is not part of the future plan. It is an enemy and must be destroyed.

So He set about doing the initial work of breaking the three-fold curse from Adam and Eve in the Garden: sin, sickness, & death. All three are part of the curse, and in His ministry, He began the reversal of these curses in all 3 areas. He forgave sin, He healed sickness, and He raised the dead.

And even more startling: He commands His followers to continue this ministry until His return, in His name and for His glory! Forgive people their offences in His name, and receive daily forgiveness yourself. Heal the sick. And raise the dead too, while you are at it. All in His name, of course!

So Jesus, through His followers, continues His own ministry, until He returns and there is no more need for it.

Thus He commands all who will follow Him to follow in His footsteps and keep on with healing the sick:

“And these signs will accompany those who have believed (that command from Jesus still remains in effect), they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16: 17a & 18b).

AN ANSWER FROM THE AGE TO COME

Every healing that Jesus did (and still continues to do) is a kind of “foreshadowing” of the future coming Kingdom, a realm which contains no sickness or disease and is shown to us briefly in the closing visions of Revelation,

“And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month (continuously!); and the leaves of the tree were for the HEALING of the nations” (Revelation 22:2b).

IN CONCLUSION, AN IRISH TESTIMONY

On one of my earliest missionary endeavors, God sent me to Ireland. While there, I was invited to pray for people in a youth service on a sprawling country estate. A young girl, about the age of 8, came up holding her mother’s hand. She told me, “She cannot hear. She was born completely deaf in one ear, and only partly able to hear in the other. Can you pray for her?”

I looked to heaven. Surely the God who created hearing can re-create that blessing for this young child?

I reached out my hands in faith, and only had time to lightly touch her one ear. I prayed out the words, “IN THE NAME OF JESUS” and she fell instantly to the grass. When she looked up from the ground, her countenance changed and she began to weep.

She shared that when she landed on the grass under the power of God, her deaf ear opened up instantly, and her other ear was healed almost fully. For the first time in her life, she could hear the worship music, and wept because now she could fully worship the LORD with her hearing restored!

So then I started crying! I tear up when I think of it.

Jesus stepped in. I did not heal this girl. HE did it. For His glory.

Isaiah was right, “the ears of the deaf will be opened.”

A sign of His glory now. A future sign, too: that in eternity with Him, we will all hear and participate in the worship together. The curse of sickness forever broken, and the leaves of the Tree of Life, next to the river of life, eternally present for us.

And that’s why Jesus healed the sick. Amen.

Feel free to join this conversation and post your own thoughts or testimonies.

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Is Your Prayer Life a Monologue or a Dialogue?

Is Your Prayer Life a Monologue or a Dialogue?

Welcome to my second blog post on the subject of prayer as a dialogue with God.

For some, this may be a challenging thought!

I must confess that it’s taken me many years of walking with God as a Christian to become comfortable with a prayer life that dares to listen to the Almighty. I was raised in a traditional Lutheran church setting. The evangelical community around me prayed, but nobody seemed to be listening on the other end of their prayers. That was my impression. We prayed as a family at every meal. The prayers we prayed were memorized and short. “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food, Amen!”

It was the perfect “monologue prayer.” William Shakespeare himself would be proud. All I was missing was an English accent!

Easy. No need to expect God Himself to answer that prayer. I’m sure He appreciated hearing how thankful we were to eat that day, but I never even considered the idea that, in these and other prayers we prayed, perhaps He would TALK BACK to me in prayer (if I was willing to listen).

In the ancient world, approaching God in dialogue and praying to Him, while also expecting Him to speak and communicate back, was virtually unheard of. Genesis of course is the place to start. After the Fall (the sin and disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden), we find very few instances of God initiating dialogue with man. Abraham is a prime example of how rare it was for God to speak to man (you can read Genesis 18 and find a record of a most incredible dialogue between Abraham and God).

Thousands of years of history pass by until the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, would enter the scene of world history and recreate God’s heart of relationship with us. He opened up the lines of communication! Heaven itself thundered with the voice of the Father, who declared, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him!” (Luke 4:22 & Matthew 17:5). On the cross, Jesus became the final blood sacrifice for mankind, and poured out His life as an offering of love. He restored man and woman to relationship again with Father.

As a Christian, you have the unique privilege to call God, “FATHER,” just as Jesus did. You can expect that as you call out in prayer, He will answer you in one of a number of ways, out of His own love for you, personally. Jesus showed us how to pray and receive His love. His own prayer life was a moment-by-moment dialogue with the Father, and they walked closely, like Abraham once had.

It’s time to transform your prayer life from a monologue to a dialogue!

The greatest need of this desperate hour is to hear from God: for ourselves. Don’t rely on others to hear from God for you. You must develop a listening ear and a heart that is ever seeking to share an ongoing dialogue with your Father.

I invite you to lay down your “prayer monologue” and stop “doing Shakespeare” every time you approach God! Talk with God like Abraham did. Listen to Father like Jesus did. Dare to listen as He desires to speak back to you!

Here are 2 keys to get you started, and 4 simple ways to open your dialogue with God:

  1. EXPECT HIM TO SPEAK (BY FAITH) CLEARLY: “Anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that He exists and that He cares enough to respond to those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6b, The Message Translation).
  2. TAKE TIME TO LISTEN: “And your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).

4 SIMPLE WAYS TO DIALOGUE WITH GOD: God initiates communication with you in many creative ways; in fact, in the Book of Acts there are at least 10. Here are just 4, and I invite you to open your heart to all of them on a regular basis.

(1)  He dialogues with you through His Living Word.
(2)  He speaks in the “still, small voice” of your inner spirit.
(3)  He communicates through other people to you.
(4)  He leads you through dreams and visions.

So, are you ready to listen to God by faith today & transform your prayer life from a monologue into a dialogue with Him?

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