Are You Ready for a Fresh Gust?

Have you ever been in a sailboat when it seemed there was absolutely no breeze? While experienced sailors somehow can catch the wind when there is no wind, amateurs like me often find ourselves dead in the water, going nowhere.

Sailing is such an apt metaphor for life. Winds come and go, blowing from one direction or another. But no matter what winds we encounter, we must resolutely set our sail and rudder toward our desired destination.

Yet this is a mystery in some ways. Even Solomon, known for his great wisdom, admitted he didn’t understand how ships can stay on course, even amid adverse winds (Proverbs 30:18-19).

So here’s a question to ask: Which way are the winds blowing in your  life today? Are you experiencing pleasant breezes or fierce, unrelenting windstorms? Or perhaps you find yourself wearily praying for a “second wind” or a gust to help you get unstuck from your present doldrums.

From time to time, we all need a fresh gust of wind. Whether in our family, our finances, our ministry, or our career, things get pretty stale if no wind is blowing.

Although I’ve tended to shy away from sharing “prophetic” impressions in my blogs, recently I sensed God speaking to me through the metaphor of sailing. Even though the past few months have been fantastic in many ways, I sense that they’ve just gotten me ready for what’s ahead.

As I was praying about these things, I felt that God was saying quite distinctly, “Get ready for a gust  in August!” I took that as very good news. I’ve never liked to drift listlessly in the water, so it was great to hear that a new blast of wind was on the way!

However, I’ve also experienced times in my life when God sent a fresh gust of His Spirit and I wasn’t prepared. A strong breeze does a sailboat no good if the sail isn’t ready and the rudder isn’t set. Even worse, it can capsize the boat if the sailor isn’t paying attention!

Will God truly send “a gust” in Au-gust? We will find out soon! But one thing is for sure: It’s best to be ready.

Sailboats are a lot like eagles, for both rely heavily on wind currents to supply their propulsion. We’re promised in Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

The message here for eagles, sailboats, or Christians is clear: Continually needing new strength and inspiration, we must wait expectantly for God to send a new gust of His divine wind. And based on Isaiah’s promise, we can expect a gust of God’s Spirit anytime, and any month, we’re willing to wait for it.

So now’s the time to prepare our hearts to be ready when it comes!

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You, the Magic Kingdom & Happily Ever After

Magic Kingdom

I had a strange dream last night. I was doing a Q & A session at a Christian conference, and someone unexpectedly asked, “What do you think of Mickey Mouse and the Magic Kingdom?”

Considering it a very odd question, I initially started to brush it off. “Well, I don’t really have much to say about Mickey from a Biblical perspective,” I said.

But suddenly I had a flash of insight…

“One thing I would point out, however, is that the original Disney franchise thrived because people were thirsting for something magical—which we would call supernatural or miraculous in the Christian life,” I explained. “Glass slippers, fairy dust, magic wands, and kisses that can raise the dead were symbolic of the kinds of things we’re yearning for God to do in our lives. We inherently sense that we’re unable to accomplish these things without His supernatural involvement.”

As the dream continued, I pointed out other parallels. “God’s kingdom IS a ‘magic’ kingdom. When Jesus preached on the kingdom of God, He performed healings and did all kinds of miracles. In His kingdom—as in an old Disney movie—each of His sons and daughters is a prince or princess, and we should treat other Christians like that today.”

Right before the dream came to an end, I went on a rant about how our churches and our Christian lives today should rediscover the “magic”—reflecting more of the miracle-working power of God.

Living Happily Ever After

After waking from this unusual dream, I’ve been reflecting on why we love the Disney fairy tales so much. Yes, there have been some great love stories, like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. But it’s not just  that the protagonists are handsome, beautiful, hard-working, or intelligent. They’ve needed something magical  and supernatural  in order to get to their happy ending.

In the same way, the Christian life is a magical, supernatural life, energized by the Holy Spirit instead of mere human effort. Without Christ living His life through us, all we have is dead religion—which doesn’t make for a good fairy tale at all.

Just as in the Cinderella story, we all need three things in order to experience a happy ending in our Christian life: (1) A love relationship with Jesus, the Prince; (2) Recognition of our glass slipper, the customized purpose we were born to fulfill; and (3) Reliance on the power of the Spirit to bring about His “magic” in our life.

Cinderella’s life was dreary until she experienced these three things, and ours will be as well. But the good news is that God wants to come on the scene and work some of His magic to turn things around for us.

Yet you may ask, “Is it really possible to experience a ‘happily ever after’ kind of life?”

I understand why you may be skeptical. This world is full of discouraging circumstances, making it exceedingly difficult to “wish upon a star,” as the Disney theme song prescribes.

Nevertheless, King David’s words at the end of Psalm 23 show us that “happily ever after” is possible, after all: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

David was a king who had met the Lord as his loving Prince and Good Shepherd. And He was confident the “goodness and mercy” of that Prince would last him all the days of his life.

And notice that while we all hope for a “happily ever after” outcome in this present life, God gives us something even better to look forward to—happiness with Him for all eternity…forever.

No wonder the classic Disney movies are so popular. They tap into our heart’s longing for our Heavenly Prince, our glass slipper, and the magic available by His Spirit.

It’s fitting that we’re treated to these classic Disney stories decade after decade. We all need periodic refresher courses in the supernatural, love-filled Christian life, reminding us of our high calling as princes and princesses in God’s magical kingdom.

Some stories never get old, nor should they.

 

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Decaffeinated Coffee & Other Oxymorons

I woke up this morning craving a good cup of coffee. Not the decaffeinated kind, but REAL coffee. You’ll never convince me decaffeinated coffee is legitimate. After all, they’ve removed the most important and most valuable ingredient. How can they still call it coffee?

That got me thinking…

Fill in the blank: “Coffee without caffeine is like _________________.”

Lots of things could be put in the blank, I suppose. Bread without gluten. Milk without lactose. Or what about sugarless ice cream?

What a weird world we live in. Some days I feel like I’m living in an Alice in Wonderland culture, where nothing is real.

It’s one thing to change the composition of our food products through the magic of modern chemistry, but many of the extractions today have far more serious consequences:

  • Loveless marriages
  • Fatherless homes
  • Christ-less Christmases
  • Churches and Christians with no evidence of the Holy Spirit

These are all quite grievous—never God’s plan. Marriages just aren’t the same without love and passion. Families without fathers are precarious at best, needing an extra dose of God’s grace and a mother’s love.

And what can we say about churches and Christians that have an absence of Christ and the Holy Spirit? Nothing could be a bigger travesty than that.

Yet we’re living in a day when there seem to be lots of decaffeinated churches and professing Christians. At first glance they may look like the real thing, yet they’re lacking the most important ingredient.

And one more word picture…

Perhaps decaffeinated Christians could be compared to a helium balloon that has lost its helium. There’s still some hot air, but no lift. Instead of rising high and victorious, the forlorn balloon languishes on the floor. It’s hard to have much of a party with balloons like that.

What about you? Have you allowed life’s most important ingredient to escape? If so, there’s still time to get it back.

And here’s the good news: You don’t have to put up with the agony and frustration of Christ-less Christianity (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s not too late to regain the joy and wonder of Christ living His life through you by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:27, Acts 1:8, Ephesians 5:18).

Friend, let’s not settle for empty substitutes. I don’t know about you, but I need as much “caffeine” as possible.

 

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The Canary in the Coal Mine

 

We all need an early-warning system about the hazards of life.

I woke up today thinking about how coal miners used to take a canary with them into the mine shaft to warn of the buildup of carbon monoxide and other toxic gases. The poor bird, much more sensitive than the miners, would keel over sooner in the face of dangerous conditions. That would give the miners time to escape or put on protective respirators.

We all need a canary in our mine shaft—a hypersensitive early-warning system to alert us to approaching dangers. Just as carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless toxin, the dangers of life often will arise undetected unless we are warned by a canary or some equipment beyond our own senses.

For a Christian, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate early-warning system. He is constantly speaking to our human spirit, giving us discernment about things we can’t see with our natural eyes. He can detect dangers in the spiritual realm and warn us of coming threats.

However, sometimes I’ve ignored the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I’ve allowed my spiritual senses to grow dull. I’ve become like a miner who arrogantly thinks he no longer needs to take the canary with him.

But it’s dangerous to ignore or disable our early-warning system. And to use another analogy, we periodically need to check the batteries in our home CO2 or smoke detectors. Having detectors with dead batteries will just give us a false sense of security.

In addition to the direct voice of Holy Spirit, God has put people in the church and the culture who are called to sound a prophetic alarm when unseen dangers are on the horizon. Like canaries in the mine shaft, these folks are sensitive to things most of us are oblivious to.

But let’s be honest: Prophetic people can also be irritating. They’re hypersensitive by nature, and hypersensitive people often are annoying and hard for the rest of us to deal with. And sometimes it’s much worse than that: Some of those claiming to be “prophetic” are just strange, delusional, or puffed up with thoughts of their own importance.

And history has shown that sometimes those who claim to have a prophetic warning for the church or for society are just plain wrong. We need alarms, but not false alarms. If a canary in a coal mine drops dead, the miners might assume the problem is toxic gases. But the canary’s demise could also be the result of old age or other causes. We have to be careful how we interpret  our “prophetic” promptings.

Although canaries and prophets can be problematic at times, I hope you have a few of them in your life. We all need faithful friends who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and who love us enough to warn us when danger is approaching. And on gloomy days these canaries may even sing us a song of encouragement to boost our spirits.

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Untapped Potential

Over a year ago, my precious wife Mary got her first iPhone. She bought a nice blue case for it, and the phone looks really pretty.

Before getting her fancy new phone, Mary just had a very basic cell phone that she used for making calls and sending text messages. And after having her iPhone for more than a year now, she still uses it for exactly the same purposes—phone calls and texting.

I’ve gently tried to point out to Mary that she is using on a very small percentage of the phone’s potential. There’s so  much more that the phone could be doing for her!

Mary’s phone could  have been used to wake her up in the morning…show the week’s weather forecast…remind her of the day’s schedule…provide navigation to her appointments…keep track of her contacts and her finances…surf the Internet…check emails…provide restaurant reviews and movie show times…read her the Bible in multiple translations…play audio books…take pictures and immediately post them to Twitter and Facebook—and much more!

Why buy an expensive phone and not use even close to its full potential?  It seems like such a waste to me. But despite my repeated attempts to reason with her, Mary still uses the phone for little more than talking and texting.

As I’ve pondered this exasperating situation, God has convicted me that I’ve been doing something far worse  than not using the vast potential of my smart phone. “Jim,” He has challenged me, “do you realize the incredible potential I’ve put in you by the power of the Holy Spirit?”

How convicting! When Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit, why do we still rely so much on our own ability and ingenuity? And how come we utilize such a small portion of the overwhelming power available to us?

Of course, some believers are simply ignorant of what God has made available. They’re surrounded by other people who aren’t tapping into the power of the Spirit either, so their Christian life seems quite “normal” to them. Like a person who has no idea of all the features available on their phone, they simply don’t know what they’re missing.

But I’m convinced the problem often is spiritual laziness  rather than ignorance. Many people have heard  about the amazing apps available for their phone, yet they refuse to take time to download the apps and learn how to use them. This isn’t really very difficult, but they must see a need for each app and be willing to invest a little time to download it and put it to work.

I wish I could claim ignorance about the power of the Holy Spirit, but I can’t. I’m quite familiar with fantastic Bible promises like these:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”  (Philippians 4:13).

“He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father”  (John 14:12).

“God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery…which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”  (Colossians 1:27).

Sadly, I have to conclude that I’ve been no different than Mary with her iPhone. Despite the incredible power at my fingertips, it has gone mostly untapped.

Paul prayed for the believers at Ephesus to see the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power”  (Ephesians 1:18-19). Today, let’s pray this same prayer for each other. God has some amazing new “apps” to show us in the days ahead.

 

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