Category Archives: Intercession

To Explain or Experience? That is the Question

There is a hunger, a craving in all of us for something more. Something we can’t explain or describe. This longing is a desperate need that can’t be satisfied with facts, figures, or fickle fantasy. It won’t be met with any of the alternatives we, as desperate human beings, have attempted to substitute throughout our generations of habitation on this earth. No—power, position, prestige, money, sex, food, drugs, idols, and a thousand other endless, empty pursuits simply lack the power to quell the gnawing pangs of an internal hunger generated from the very genesis of our DNA. Blaise Pascal, a 17th century mathematician and Christian philosopher, summed it up this way: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are…”

 This is not a “me” or “you” problem—this is a human problem. This satisfaction, this craving and helplessness as Pascal calls it, is etched in the primordial memory of our consciousness. The problem is no created thing can scratch this infernal itch and we can’t seem to remember what or perhaps who can.

That is—except God. Pascal provides the solution to the unanswerable question and the insatiable internal appetite: “…Since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”  This abyss in our soul and spirit needs far more than you or I can cram into it—we need God.

We were created by God for God. Let that sink in for a moment. God needs nothing so he did not create us out of a need. No, he created us out of desire. A desire fuel by an unconditional love he longed to lavish on created creatures made in his likeness and in his image. God desired that his heart be experienced—that is known intimately.

Sadly most of us have spent our entire Christian life in an attempt to explain God in a way we can understand. We demand rational explanations, deductive arguments, and laboratory experiments, which are finite at best and flawed at worst, to explain the infinite. We preach three point sermons with revelation, application, and illustration on things we cannot comprehend, or teach in-depth, perhaps inept lessons on things we have no real clue about, or worse, we write endless articles, papers, and books with seven steps to this and twelve steps to that when we are totally out of step in our flawed, yet limited approach. Yes, God did give us a brain to think with, but he also gave us five senses, an impassioned soul filled with emotions, and a spirit that can only receive communication on God’s personal frequency. God is not looking to be explained. He never explains his omnipotence, his omnipresence, or his omniscience. He simply declares it or demonstrates it. So why should we think we can explain him. No, God is intent on our experiencing him.

Perhaps this kind of thinking frightens you to death. Perhaps it sounds dangerous—you know that right brain stuff oozing into good, solid theological thinking. Perhaps you have been trained not to trust your emotions, and because of this, have shut them off completely in your pursuit of God. Instead you have chosen to be dependent on rational, intellectual, and cold, hard objective facts and figures to gratify that voracious hunger. So how is that working for you? Have the fangs of your ravenous soul stopped gnawing? Has your heart stopped longing for something more? Are you still cramming things that don’t fit in that God-shaped vacuum?

Stop the explaining and begin the experiencing. You can use your brain, but realize you are far more than a brain—you are a spirit, soul, and body with a brain, not vice versa. Psalm 46:10 (KJV) says, “Be still and know that I am God…” To paraphrase this powerful statement—stop cramming everything you can into an infinite abyss and allow an infinite and immutable God to satisfy that ravenous desire he’s hard-wired in you.  Be still—stop explaining! And know—start experiencing!

A Life-Changing Moment (Part 4)

Village School Playground

Some life-changing moments grab hold and won’t let go. They affect you deep within and their memories seem to haunt you like a bad dream. That moment demands that you do something, but what has yet to be determined. Let me share one and perhaps it will seize your heart as it has mine.

One afternoon, we took a ride out into the countryside east of Parras to see some of the villages. The scenery changed very little on the trip out, with the landscape dotted by mesquite and cactus framed by the jagged peaks of the Sierra Madras. Twenty miles out, we turned off the main road and pulled into one of these villages.

Every village of any size has a small one or two room school with a playground. There is usually a soccer field of some description and the houses are made of adobe brick with most left unpainted. This particular village had been the recipient of some of their tax money at work. A new bridge had been constructed by the state and a half block of black top paving installed on either side. To me, this seemed a little out of place since the road leading to and away from the bridge was dirt, but oh well, the politician who secured this was pleased.

That’s when I saw something that still gnaws at my heart whenever I think about it. On the south

The Ruins of Ebenezar Baptist Church

side of the village was a building without a roof, doors, or windows. It was in ruins—seemingly abandoned, while its white washed walls were slowly deteriorating under the hot Mexican sun. What I was looking at were the remains of the Templo Bautista Eben-Ezer (the Ebenezar Baptist Church). It reminded me of a bombed-out building you might see in Iraq or Baghdad.

Every scene has a story and this one is heart-breaking. At one time there was no Protestant evangelical church in the village. The only church there had a policy of taking rather than giving, and these people had nothing to give. One of the churches in Parras took this village as a mission field and established a fledgling body that began to grow. In time, they moved into this building owned by two men, one was a believer and the other was not. The church began to impact the village and Satan began to lose the hold he exercised through witchcraft, drugs, and alcoholism. Things were changing.

In time, the job of one of the building’s owners took him away and he (the believer) sold his half to the unbeliever. A few weeks later, the new owner evicted this body of believers, tore the tin roof off, removed the doors and windows and sold them for scrap. Today the shell of a church building bakes in the sun as a reminder that our enemy is real and he is busy guarding what he considers his. Today this village is once again filled with drugs, alcoholism, abuse, and witchcraft and the local church that remains still takes and takes and takes, while offering nothing in return.

My heart was broken as I stood and imagined what could have been. This village was being

Adobe Village House

transformed. Lifestyles were changing. Bondage was being broken. Generational poverty and ignorance were being eradicated. Was and were (past tense) are the key words right now. The building is now empty and that body of believers is gone—but God is still waiting on someone who will take a stand against the enemy, love these people, and proclaim God’s glory. As I stared God began to stir within me a “what if.” What if a body of believers in America were to invest themselves in this little village twenty miles east of Parras, Mexico? What if indeed!

I’m not sure what will happen or what I can do, but God will show me. This scene out in the mesquite and cactus is an ongoing life-changing moment for me. It continues and who knows what its outcome may be. Who knows? God does and he’s looking for some life-changers!

Destination Israel. The Power of Gethsemane (Part 10)

Garden of Gethsemane Olive Treee

The Garden of Gethsemane is one of the highlights and one of the holiest sites for any pilgrim visiting Israel. This ancient olive grove is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives on eastern slope above the Kidron Valley within the walled grounds of the Church of All Nations. It was here in this garden that Jesus prayed while His disciples slept (a situation too often repeated) in those fateful moments just before He was arrested and later crucified.

            This was a favorite spot for Jesus and His disciples when they attended the Jewish feasts and festivals in Jerusalem. They would often spend the nights here—tucked securely away from the crowds seeking miracles and the religious leaders seething with murder. As the sun would set, Jesus would retreat down the eastern slopes of Jerusalem along the winding trail from the Eastern Gate through the valley and into the garden. In the silence of these cool nights, they would talk of that day’s ministry and message, and pray together in preparation for the next. This was the spot were tired bodies found a respite and tired spirits were revived by the Holy Spirit.

            This was the place where Jesus led His intimate band of followers immediately after their historic supper where the last Passover Meal was celebrated and the first Lord’s Supper was instituted. Among these olive trees Jesus left the larger group and took Peter, James, and John with Him a little deeper into the grove to pray. It is likely that some of these very trees (some over 2,000 years old) witnessed the great cosmic battle that transpired as God’s will became the only will worth dying for.

The Rock of Agony

  As you step into the Church of All Nations (also known as the Church of the Agony) the focal point of the church is a huge flat stone that rests inside a short wrought iron fence in front of the altar. It was here that Jesus prayed alone as His three close friends were overcome with sleep. This stone soaked up every droplet of blood that fell from Jesus’ forehead as He prayed and wrestled with the direction of His destiny.  On this rock, the Rock of ages was chiseled into the cornerstone of a new house that Father God was building for His own personal residence.

            In this garden, the second Adam did not succumb like the first to the ancient serpent’s tempting words, “Has God really said…?  And with the victory secured, Jesus watched the torches of the temple guards led by Judas snake their way back and forth down the crooked path from the Temple and awaited the traitor’s kiss that would seal the fate of sin’s deadly dominion once and for all. This secluded garden had just witnessed a prelude in the darkness of what would transpire in the light over the next three days. The Son would rise and the light would overwhelm the darkness.

            The power of Gethsemane is not the ancient trees Jesus knelt under or the stone Jesus prostrated himself on. No—the power of Gethsemane was that simple prayer that shattered the power of hell. A prayer so powerful it echoed back through the portals of time to another garden where one act of self will had set in motion this amazing act of selfless will. The power rests in these simple words uttered by our Lord—“Not my will but Thy will be done!” In that surrender the victory came.

            That power is available for any situation or circumstance you face, but you must surrender and allow the Father to squeeze or press (Gethsemane means oil press) you until like Jesus you confess, “Not my will but Thy will be done!” In that surrender victory will come.

God Lessons Learned in the Storm (Part 2 of 3)

Unique days are never forgotten. Those moments impact a person by marking them for life. Wednesday, April 27 was one such day in my life. It was a defining moment that will guide me for the rest of my life.

I awakened to the news that a tornado had struck downtown Cullman about 40 miles north of my home. My first thought was of two friends who are church planters and lead Desperation Church near the center of the downtown. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited…and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.

The weather was deteriorating, moving quickly from bad to worse. The television meteorologists were tracking a huge storm that was bearing down on Tuscaloosa. They were using descriptions and scale numbers far above the levels they had been taught in school. I have family in Northport and two more friends who are church planters and lead Refuge Church in Tuscaloosa, so I prayed…hard.

I will never forget the next few minutes. One of the television crews had parked on a hillside east of Tuscaloosa and was filming the horizon when a gigantic black tornado over a mile wide at the ground appeared and began moving from left to right across the screen. Homes, businesses, trees, and people’s lives were sucked up in the churning vortex of this monster’s mouth and obliterated in its massive jaws. A numbing helplessness crept over me as the tears ran down my face.  Familiar places were disappearing before my very eyes—the Big Lots, the Chevron Station on the corner of 15th and McFarland, and the Full Moon Barbeque—all gone in a moment—in the blink of an eye. Places I had been just a week earlier. Homes, apartments, and businesses vanished. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited….and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.

This particular storm stayed on the ground and headed north toward Birmingham—churning its way through Pleasant Grove, Pratt City, and eventually Fultondale, leaving a path of devastation, desolation, and death. We heard its roar as it passed seven to ten miles south of where we live. I prayed and prayed and prayed, and then I prayed some more.

Prayer is the equivalent of throwing your hands up in surrender without giving up hope.  Let me explain what I mean. There are moments (far many more than we are willing to admit) where we are helpless. In prayer we surrender the selfish independence that makes us think we can take care of our own selves. We can’t! In prayer, we cry out for provision or protection from One who is unlimited in power—omnipotent. We call for the Lord God to come—to help—to protect—to defend—to whatever it is we need in those moments. And…God always comes. He never leaves us, even in the midst of a killer mix of swirling wind, unrelenting hail, twisted metal, and the blackness of lost hope.

Twenty-three tornadoes bathed in countless prayers finally brought this horrendous day to an end. The day is past, but the physical and emotional cleanup will take months and years to complete—if ever. God is answering the prayers. Stories are surfacing of miraculous moments in the midst of those monsters’ grips. His faithfulness is being shown in a myriad of different ways.

And…during that day two welcomed texts—one from Cullman and one from Tuscaloosa appeared without warning on my cell phone. Thank you Lord for hearing my prayers!

Lessons Learned in Silence School (Part 4)

As I pursued this strange silence with an insatiable hunger and a knawing fear, I disappeared behind a strange, but wonderful veil. Veils were designed to hide beauty from leering eyes and intimate places from unwanted visitors. This veil I discovered was never erected to keep us out, but rather as a personal invitation to enter. No one who enters this veil does so by force or manipulation. It parts only for the one who passionately hungers for the presence of God. You see, the soothing silence is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—God must be the final destination of my starving heart. Otherwise, the silence that I find is only the absence of noise, not the presence of God.

Behind this veil, or as the Scriptures so elegantly put it—under His wings, is a hidden place to rest—to cease that daily struggle we all endure. It is only here, away from the unreal expectations, the unwanted demands, and the incessant deadlines, that you or I can find a place to be still. Now this trip may be in a quiet retreat, a closet, at lunchtime, or on a crowded bus. The location is not as important as the destination. For it is here the truth of Psalm 46:10 is discovered and internalized. God says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will…”

Stillness insures a silence deep within our spirit. Once our spirit is still, the soul and body will follow, although their required attendance may come with a bit of kicking and screaming. But once you’ve found this place of passion and presence, the material and immaterial you will have found its purpose for creation. This peaceful spot behind the veil is much like the Garden of Eden our human parents walked in so long ago.

Let me share what I have discovered here. It is a place of experience. The Hebrew word is yada, which means to experience in the fullest sense. God desires intimacy with you and with me. He knows us, yet He wants to know us. We hunger to know Him, but fear what it might cost. That cost has already been absorbed by Christ.

It is occasionally a place of conversation and we will deal with that later. But, it is often a profound place of silence. It is a place to gaze and be gazed at. It is a place to admire His beauty and to be admired because of our beauty. Intimacy is a mutual enjoyment by two friends of each other. Nothing is demanded, yet all is given. It is possible for two intimate friends to know each other so well that the only conversation is the antiphonal beating of their hearts. God enjoys the silence far more than you do. For in that soothing silence dawns the full experience of knowing and being known without regret, or fear, or a thousand other things we’ve been mistakenly taught in Sunday School, catechisms, and religious traditions.

Lesson #4: There is a place if you search for it with all your heart under God’s wings where you can passionately experience relationship to its fullest extent. Conversation is optional, but the fulfillment of knowing His presence is insured. It’s all about destination, not location.

Prayer: Thy or My Will be Done?

Is your vision God’s vision? Do you want what God desires or what you desire? The answer will determine what you are satisfied with and the things you pray for. Too often our prayers are “God bless the things I want,” instead of “God, I want only the things You will bless.” Are our prayers empty, selfish manifestations of what we truly are, or are our prayers living demonstrations of who we believe God to be? Who we are now and what we pray for will determine the future. The prayers of today determine the landscape of tomorrow.

King Hezekiah experienced some of the greatest answers to prayer recorded in the Bible. When confronted with total destruction by the Assyrian army, Hezekiah sought a word from God through the prophet Isaiah and prayer. God answered in a miraculous way by sending the angel of the LORD to destroy 185,000 Assyrian warriors during the night. Instead of invading, the Assyrian army returned home in utter confusion and never returned.

Hezekiah also sought the Lord in prayer for physical healing. God not only graciously gave him fifteen more years of life but also caused the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz. Time paused and even moved backwards, as God responded to the prayers of Hezekiah. Hezekiah’s prayers were living demonstrations of who he believed God to be, and they were not ignored.

Alas, this prayer warrior became proud and satisfied by “his” accomplishments. 2 Chronicles 32 states that Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him (v.25) so scripture says, “God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart” (v.31). This testing involved a visit from the Babylonians and Hezekiah’s prideful display of all “his” treasures. He literally, through his total disclosure of Judah’s God-given riches, invited the Babylonians to invade the city of Jerusalem. God’s response through His prophet Isaiah was all the treasures stored up by your ancestors will be carried off to Babylon…and some of your descendants will be taken into exile(Is. 39:6-7).

Hezekiah’s selfish response would prove devastating for his posterity: The message of the LORD is good. At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime (39:8). In essence, he said, “Whew Lord, at least I’ll be O.K. How sad was the final commentary of a great king and prayer warrior, whose legacy, a son named Manasseh, would prove to be Judah’s most wicked king.

How can the end be so bad when the beginning held such promise? Hezekiah’s lack of prayer at a critical point became a curse for the future. If you hear nothing, please listen to this with all your heart – your prayers matter! The future of your family, your church, your nation, and your world hang on your prayers. It is the height of arrogant pride to think that God will bless what you want instead of what He wants. Repent of those selfish visions, and seek the pure vision of God as you pray. Tomorrow’s victory depends on today’s prayers.

Kingdom Prayer: Transformation (Part 6 of 6)

Wow! You look so different. I know what you’re thinking: I can’t see you from where I am in the mist of the world-wide web. I may not know what you look like, but I know what you feel like on the inside. And it’s better to feel good than it is to look good, no matter what the guy used to say on Saturday Night Live. A sense of freedom is springing up, and a transformation is starting to occur in the ground you have invaded and occupied through kingdom prayer.

That is the final phase that must take place for kingdom prayer to reach its fullest potential. That ground, held so long by the enemy, is now being changed. You are now ready to pray “on earth as it is in heaven.” Call forth in spiritual authority the will of God, which is done perfectly in heaven, into the realm you are standing in. Declare that heaven’s perfect order casts out all chaos and confusion. The enemy has been routed, so stop worrying about him, and build something permanent to the glory of God on this peaceful little spot of your life. This is redeemed ground now. The realm of your King has been empowered here. Heaven has come to earth in this one little place. The kingdom of God has not only come near; it has been established in this spot.

This kind of prayer—“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”—radically changes everything it is applied to. It is the full surrender to God of our hopeless independence in exchange for a full partnership of life with Him. If you have completed your invasion, occupation, and subsequent transformation, there has been a change in your form, your appearance, your nature, and your character. You are drastically and dramatically different, and you know it. You have invited the King to be King, and He heard you and established His throne over another area in your life. That area, which was once enemy territory, has now been transformed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

This is not rocket science. This is hearing the Word of God and applying it specifically to your life. Kingdom prayer is activating the King’s promises. Enjoy the abiding peace and the quiet calm of this moment. Enjoy it, but don’t think this is it.

When you’ve had time to catch your breath, sharpen your sword and tighten your armor. I hear there’s another invasion happening soon. Grab your gear and load the landing crafts. The word is: The King wants all the territory held by the enemy in our lives. Hang tough. I’ll see you on the beach.