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Here is the sermon I recently preached on Discipleship.

This past weekend I had the privledge of preaching for the first time at my church, The Bridge.  It was a humbling experience and made me realize how much work and prayer goes into the sermons my pastor prepares every week.  Please pray for your pastors!

I preached on Psalm 23 and used this text to talk about the attributes of God. If you’d like to watch the sermon it is online HERE.  Feel free to let me know what you think and give me some pointers.  I know I have a lot to learn.

Last night God told me that I was to begin a period of fasting and praying.  I have been reading a book called “The Power of Prayer and Fasting” by Ronnie W. Floyd.  This book opened my eyes  for the first time to the power and importance of fasting.  God has been revealing to me, over the past few months, the power of prayer.  I believe that combining these two disciplines will result in amazing growth in my life. 

As I was reading this book, it struck me that in America we don’t suffer.  We have “hard times” but the most we endure when it comes to physical suffering is getting temporarily ill.  Even then, we are surrounded by drugs and medication to alleviate our discomfort.  Why is this important, you ask?  I am beginning to understand that the main reason that American Christians don’t experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives is because we never suffer. 

In America we lack for nothing.  All of our basic needs are met and we live in the overflow of abundance.  Most of the world is not like this.  To encounter God we must be broken of self-sufficiency, of being satisfied, content, and not hungry.  It is in physical suffering that we are broken and humbled, emptied, and poured out.  Our hearts are exposed and our priorities become aligned with God’s.  It is only when we come to the end of our strength that we can be filled with His strength.  The Bible says that God is near to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18). 

As I was in the midst of contemplating the far-reaching implications of this, my brother Mike called and shared a story from the book he is reading, “The Heavenly Man“, about Brother Yun in China.  The story drops in as Yun has been arrested for sharing the message of Jesus Christ and he is in a van being driven across China.  He is handcuffed and the handcuffs are cutting into his arms as the van bounces along the road.  The pain is excruciating.  It is more than he can bear.  He believes he is going to lose consciousness.  The handcuffs cut into his arms and expose the bone.  He is in tremendous pain and is loosing blood.  He prays to God, “Jesus, this pain is more than I can bear.  Why are you letting me suffer like this.” 

The reply from God is that Brother Yun must suffer so that that he can draw near to God and receive the glory that is his reward.  I couldn’t believe the timeliness of Mike sharing  this story with me.  As I got off the phone a verse came to my mind.  I knew I had learned it years ago.  I went and found it.

 “But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” ~ Romans 8:17

What suffering do I share in?  What discomfort in my American life?  I have freedom to share Christ freely.  I am blessed with financial resources and comforts most of the world can literally not imagine.  Do you realize only 8% of the people in the world have a car?  Over 1 billion people in the world don’t even have clean drinking water.  I can take less than 10 steps from where I’ve sitting right now, turn a spout and I have clean, purified, sanitary, tested, safe, water.  In fact, that’s not even good enough for me.  I want it refrigerated.  I like my water to go through a filter first so it “tastes better”. 

“So, what’s your point”, you ask.  “Is that a bad thing”?  No, God has blessed this nation.  But, it has made us forget our true love.  Just like the children of Israel, we forget Him in our times of prosperity. 

But, what God is revealing to me is that it is more than that.  We need to separate ourselves from all these distractions and refocus on Him.  We need the discomfort and pain.  I know of no other way to experience “suffering” in this rich, fat, bloated, country than by deep, serious fasting.  God is telling me tonight that I must be willing to fast until I can no longer do it in my own strength.  Then I must rely on God’s power and continue.  It is this threshold that must be crossed for the blessings to flow.  The greater the pain and sacrifice the more I must rely on His strength, and the greater His reward.  I must share in Christ’s sufferings. 

I know that this is God’s call to me.  Please do not think that I am saying everyone should do this.  You should only fast as you are called and directed to by God.  I know the road ahead is going to be tough.  But, I am also excited because of what I am confident the Lord will be faithful to do.  The author of this book I’m reading says:

“Fasting and prayer have been the gateway through which God has done supernatural things in my life, my family’s life, and in my ministry.  I will go on record as saying I know of nothing more powerful in my Christian experience.”

“Our culture conditions us to obey our every desire, which results in powerless bondage.  But God conditions us to obey His every desire, which leads us to freedom.  That freedom releases God’s Holy Spirit through us.” 

To truly experience God’s power in our lives we must, “renounce the natural to invoke the supernatural”!  In America we want our cake, or pie, our cars, our bank accounts, our houses, our jobs, our stocks and bonds and retirement funds, our steak, our mashed potatoes with gravy, more than we are willing to feast on the riches of our Heavenly Father.  We can’t have it both ways.  The toys have to go, along with everything else that creates this barrier.  Our desires and strength must be cast at the feet of Jesus.  As the author says, “We don’t need God’s supernatural power as an add-on to our own.  That’s the spiritual equivalent of mixing oil and water.”

I want to wrap this up with these comments by Dr. Ronnie Floyd:

“I honestly feel this enormous, almost indescribable freedom cannot fully be grasped in any other way.  It is fervent prayer and fasting that reaches into the heart of God, motivates us to adjust to what God is doing, moves heaven to action, and changes what we see and do on earth.”

I had what for me was a very unusual encounter with God tonight.  I decided to act on my conviction to simplify my life and remove some of the countless distraction that keep my focus off God.  My wife was at a women’s bible study.  So, instead of watching TV or playing a video game, I decided to read the word.  I read through Colossians, Psalms 139, and 78, but I really didn’t feel any communion with God.  This has been a reoccurring theme for me lately.  I prayed to God asking him why I found the scriptures, and the profound truth contained in them in them, so dry?  Why did it seem like He is so far away?

I decided to play some worship music and praise God.  I frequently have an easier time drawing near to God in worship.  I did this for almost an hour.  I worshiped God deeply, loudly, passionately and genuinely.  Many tears flowed, and I poured out my frustration and longing to be close to God in prayer and song.  After I was done, I went back and read the word again.  It was easier, but I still felt so distant from God.

My frustration was really beginning to mount.  What was missing?  What was I not giving over to God?  I knew of no sin that was unrepented.  I came before Him ready and willing to sacrifice everything for His name.  Why then, was He distant?

After I finished reading, I ran a bath and opened up a book I’ve been reading off and on called “The Power of Prayer and Fasting” by Ronnie W. Floyd.  The words on the page just seemed to jump out at me.  It seemed like he was writing just to me, describing my desires and longing, my frustration and desperation.  I will write more about what God showed me through this book tomorrow.

As I was finishing chapter one, I was having an internal struggle.  I desperately wanted to believe the testimony that was written in front of me, that prayer and fasting is the key to unlocking an encounter with God, but it just seemed too simple.  I wasn’t sure it was really biblical.  I don’t know too many men of faith who cite fasting as their key to a deep encounter with God.  So I was internally wrestling with this. 

Then something happened that I can’t describe or explain.  I have never experienced anything like this before.  It will be hard to put into words, but I will try.  I was attacked.  Not from without, but from within me.  I suddenly had a tightness in my chest, I couldn’t hardly breath.  It wasn’t like an anxiety attack.  It was spiritual, but in a physical way.  I sat there barely able to breath.  Emotion welled within me, washing over me.  This emotion was not happiness.  It was closer to forcefulness.  It was like someone was pushing me down and forcing their will upon me. 

At first I thought I might be under spiritual attack from a demonic force.  I prayed and commanded it to depart in the name of Jesus Christ.  But, it became clear to me that it WASJesus.  I began to sense that it was forceful, but not evil.  The pain would subside for a while and come on again in full force.  The emotion was so intense I began to feel like I would be sick to my stomach.  I kept thinking and praying, “God why are you doing this to me, what are you trying to show me.  I can’t take any more. let me go!” 

This went on for about ten minutes.  It finally got so intense that I did get physically sick.  Then, as suddenly as it came, it was gone.  I was left completely clueless and totally uncomprehending of what had just happened. 

I got back in the bath and finished cleaning.  As I finished reading that chapter I thought came into my mind.  God reminded me of a chapter I had read in Genesis a few days ago (Genesis 32) where Jacob wrestled with God.  Instantly I thought, that’s exactly what that was like.  I just wrestled with God. . . But why? 

I realized that I didn’t even know why God had wrestled with Jacob.  It seems like a strange thing for the God of the universe to do.  I got on line and read a commentary about the incident in the bible and apparently God initiated the physical struggle with Jacob because he was trying to get his attention.  Jacob had been struggling with his brother Esau and his uncle Laban, but God was trying to show him that he had really been struggling with Him all along.  Jacob’s heart was not fully devoted to God, and God needed to break him and show him that He was greater.

I think that maybe God was trying to get my attention.  I think that He was trying to answer my internal struggle about the power of prayer and fasting.  I fully know that God is bigger than me.  If he wants to He can cause me to cease breathing right now.  So, I won’t struggle against him.  I will commit to start praying and fasting and I will believe that it is the missing element that will drawn Him near to me again.  Further, I believe that it is the missing element in God filling me with the Holy Spirit. 

I’m sorry if this post is a little strange and doesn’t make much sense.  It is very hard to articulate this experience.  But, it is another part of this adventure God has me on, and I feel it needs to be shared. 

Today I heard that small voice again, the gentle whisper, as I was driving home from work.  Praise God that he forgives our failures!  This time I did not hesitate to obey it.  “Call your brother Mike“, it said, “He needs to talk to you“.  I picked up the cell phone and called Mike.  No answer.  I left a message and said a quick prayer for him. 

A few hours later, Mike called me back.  He was working a double shift at work and still had several more hours to go.  He said everything was fine and we spoke briefly about plans for the Men’s Fraternity group we are having tomorrow.  He was busy at work and had to go.  He said he would call back when he got a chance.

Several hours went by before he finally got a chance to call.  It was 9:45 p.m. and he was just getting off work.  This time, the tone in his voice had changed.  Instead of the tired, preoccupied, frustration I had heard earlier, there was now a passion.  He said, “I have so many ideas swimming in my head right now.  I need to let them out”. 

Some background is needed here.  This past summer God gave me a clear vision of a ministry, His ministry, that he wants to create.  The ministry would impact the community and win many souls for His kingdom.  This vision was huge, grandiose, and far bigger than anything we could ever accomplish in our own power.  I was amazed and in awe of it.  I was also a little frightened.  I felt unworthy and unable to lead out in the way he was seemingly leading.  I was also afraid that somehow the idea came from my head and not from God.  I knew that if it came from me it would be doomed to failure.  This was the kind of God-sized endeavor that only He could pull off. 

I was reluctant to share it with anyone.  I briefly mentioned it to Mike and asked him to pray for God’s plan.  I knew that the plan needed him, or at least God had seemed to say that Mike would be a big part of bringing it into reality.  I didn’t tell Mike this.  I have rarely discussed it since then with anyone, although it has been on my mind frequently.  I was waiting for God to speak to others and confirm the vision.  But, God was clear to me that I needed to be willing to do this even if no one joined me.

Tonight my brother Mike poured out the ideas for a ministry that were floating around in his head.  I am not ready to talk about the details yet, since God is still showing us His plan.  But, they seemed to line up perfectly with the vision that God had given me months ago.  Conformation.  Mike even repeated the call from God to be willing to do it even if no one else joined! 

After we talked about this for some time, he asked, “What do you think the next step is?”  I said, “I believe the next step is prayer.  We need to make the first step prayer so God can show us the first step, because I have no idea!”  We agreed that we will have to get on our knees earnestly, passionately, and frequently until God does this, whatever it is.  This goes hand-in-hand with my commitment from earlier today, to increase my prayer (see previous post).  If God is going to do anything He will do it as an answer to the fervent prayer of His people, fully submitted to His will.

We are adamant that we will only pursue this mission as long as we are confident that is is God’s plan and not ours.  We have seen similar ventures fail because they were the creation of man and did not find their origin in the perfect mind of the Almighty God.  I firmly believe that I serve Jehovah Jireh, God our provider.  If this is truly His plan he will provide the seemingly insurmountable resources required to accomplish His purpose.

Tonight I read in Genesis, chapter 28, where Jacob lays down with his head on a rock and receives a vision from God.  God showed Jacob a glimpse of His plan, what He wanted to do through Jacob and his family.  The is the covenant that God first made with Abraham.  When Jacob awakes, his response is to consecrate the place and make a vow to the Lord.  He promises God that he will make him his God and serve Him his whole life (with his family and all that he owns) as long as God promises to protect him on the journey he is about to undertake and to provide food and clothing for him and his family. 

Tonight I want to make a similar vow with God in response to the vision that he has given me of what his plan is:

God my father, all that I have is yours to use for your glory and to further your kingdom.  I will go wherever and do whatever you want me to do.  Use me in whatever way serves your supreme will the best.  I know that I am yours.  I have been bought and paid for by the precious blood of Jesus.  I know and believe that you want the best for me and my family’s lives.  I trust that you will provide for our needs like you promised in Philippians 4:19.  I consecrate, set aside, and designate my family for your plan.  May you lead us and help us to lead others in your way.  May the light of our lives (your light) so shine that others see you in us and glorify you.  May I never serve in my power, but solely rely on your Holy Spirit to draw men to you.  Empower us to do your work, and show us your plan.  Amen.