Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When Does God Run?

"We believe that God is real...alive, and...Jesus Christ is His Son...He is the way to eternal life." Johnson Bowie,, continuing with fourth part of his series "Furnace", actually delivers this message off the stage because he wants his audience to know that God, the Creator of the universe, is with us in prayer. When we see someone praying on stage, we tend to relate in our prayer the same way; on stage or at a distance. So, Johnson thought to bring the message physically to the same level of those in the crowd.

Recapping, the first week Johnson talked about Matt 4:4. Jesus says that we need the Word of the Lord for our spirit to live just like we need food to physically live. Prayer time, the scriptures and sermons are ways to find the Word. We can't just eat a "cheeseburger in 1998" and expect that to grow us. Often, we remember a great spiritual experience and expect that to carry us on. In the second part of the series, Johnson's team talked about finding our own voices in prayer. The best translation of the bible is the one that's read. "Just read it!" Whatever works for us, whether it be climbing a mountain or just listening, we need to find our ways of communicating with God. The third part of the series was experiencing and encountering God in prayer. One of the stand out examples in the bible was Jacob wrestling with God and refusing to let go of Him at one point until he received a blessing. Do we wrestle with God in prayer? Do we get to a point where we won't give up until He blesses us?

"One of the things that I see as the secret to prayer...and its bigger than using big words, being dedicated to prayer or even being consistent ..... It's called confidence"

When Johnson was 14, he went to a youth conference where Andy Stanley was speaking. He was thinking about how he had this great spiritual experience, but then...he went home. His dad was a Presbyterian minister, so Johnson already knew some things about the bible. He knew God was really big, God created everything and the Old Testament was really boring. He knew Jesus was the Savior, that God got really mad when people messed up and that God would often kill them. It wasn't anyone's fault, it was just Johnson's personal experience. So, going to the conference was a great step towards truly knowing Christ, but now it was a time to try and work on it at home.

He would read one chapter a day and Proverbs 3. It wasn't enthusiastic, but he started by reading one chapter and then praying until he fell asleep. For years, he practiced this, but for years it wasn't working. There was really no confidence in his prayers. We have issues, right? We have lusts and pride. Everytime Johnson failed to avoid doing what he knew wasn't right, he would feel unworthy. At the time he was just a 15 year old kid. It's like his impression of God was God doing these amazing things for other people, but then looking at Johnson and shaking his head in disappointment. One night, Johnson said (funny delivery), "God, if I masturbate again, then you can kill me....I didn't really keep my end of the deal." He was later driving back from a friends house and he was convinced that God was going to take him out. He visualized himself seeing his car fall off a cliff and he started mentally doing the "Hail Mary's".

We do that don't we? We feel like we are on some sort of spiritual probation. Then, whenever we sin, we do things that we think might be best like keeping our distance from God; not praying or reading the bible for maybe 3 days. Sometimes, we think maybe we can do something good to offset what we've done like helping an old lady across the street. We go back to God like this can have bearing. Another way we deal with our sin is we wait or take time for it to blow over. The irony of these approaches is that our reactions actually have more influence on our spiritual lives than our screwups! Genesis 3:9-10, Adam and Eve have just sinned and God calls for Adam, who answers, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Johnson was talking to a couple several months ago because they hadn't returned to church in 3 months. He found that they had stopped going to church because they weren't tithing! It's like they didn't feel worthy as "hypocrites" to worship!?!

There came a point where Johson begin to pick up on stuff that brought him out of the slide of rejection. One of the stories that stood out was Peter's denial of Christ three times. You could look at Peter's REACTION though. Judas, after betraying Jesus, hung himself while Peter ran back to Jesus. When Peter saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead, he jumped out of the boat and swam to hug Jesus. His sin drove him to Jesus. This gave Johnson hope! Jesus didn't reject Peter at all. In Song of Solomon 1:5, it says we are dark and we are lovely. Somehow, even in our sin, God still loves us. We can hear this, but has it found its way into our hearts?

There's a difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction says go back to God, get restored and get up and run. Condemnation means we are cast away or judged. Romans 8:1 tells us there is no condemnation now! Two people can look the same on the outside, but have two completely different hearts. There is a difference between someone who sins because of their weakness and someone who sins because they have a hard heart towards God and is rebellious. This can look exactly the same on the outside.

In Hebres, it talks about how Jesus, through his sacrifice, has made us perfect in the eyes of God. At the same time, we are being made Holy. A lot of times we go into prayer wondering why God is putting up with us. But on the flip side, if we understand that we are being made holy, if wer remember Peter running to God or if we are reminded that we are dark but lovely. These things drive us to CONFIDENCE

Hebrews 4:16- "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." We will never pray our hearts out or wrestle with God or go back to new areas of prayer without confidence! Johnson believes there are 3 things that we have to have for an effective prayer life.

1) Dedication - Our commitment to pursue and communicate with God
2) Devotion - A desire and want to be close to God. (This is where many of us stop)
3) Confidence - The idea that God actually loves us back, even in our sin.

Lots of us have had this thought; that God is pure, loving and perfect except for His one blemish of character, the fact that He hates us. We think, "Why does God have all this grace for other people?" But somehow, Peter moved past this and had a confidence that Jesus would hug him back.

We have this cycle, right? We experience God and love it, we pray, we sin and then we walk away for a while until another experience with God. But if we have the confidence that He loves us, we will continue to experience more and more of God at deeper levels. 1 John 4 talks about how God gives us His Spirit. John, the author of this passage has seen and testifies that (Jesus) is the Savior of the world. John was the one who put his hand on Jesus' chest on the last night Jesus appeared after His resurrection. John was the last remaining disciple and nearly 90 when he wrote this. 1 John 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him." So we know and rely on the love God has for us.

1 John 3:1 tells us to just step back and behold that God loves us. We want to experience love we can RELY on. Right? He wills that we know his love so that we are confident in the day of judgement. "We love because God loved us first." In this world, we are like Jesus and this should give confidence! Many of us think that the day of judgement will be horrible. The earth will be torn apart and people will be thrown into a lake of fire. It will be the worst day for those who do not know Him. But if we have the love of God, we can have confidence, even when it all comes crashing down. There is no fear in love. There is no rejection in perfect love BUT, if we can be confident on the day of judgement, how much more confident can we be today?

We don't have to be afraid of God. We don't have to view him like our imperfect dads. He is the perfect Father. We don't have to sneak back into his presence after sinning and quietly put the key back in the door hoping not to be caught. God is not waiting for us in the prayer room, tapping his toe in disappointment. God is waiting for us, like the Father of the prodigal son, waiting for us to come home. We need to anchor in our thoughts the vision of God running to us like the most loving of fathers. In our weakness, He is strong FOR US! It is so easy to fall into the trap of condemnation, but God wants us to run back to him to gain more confidence. We will screw up over and over and over. But we need to get up and be confident enought to continue the great race. Quit keeping score because God isn't.

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