THE RIGHT POWER AT THE RIGHT TIME!

THE RIGHT POWER AT THE RIGHT TIME

IMG_2525

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, invented dynamite and was an immensely successful arms dealer. He made a fortune selling heavy artillery to countries at war. When his less well known brother Ludvig died, a French newspaper mistakenly published the obituary of Alfred instead under the headline: “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” When Alfred Nobel read his own obituary, he decided he did not want to be remembered for dynamite or war, so he donated his vast wealth to create The Nobel Prize. IMG_2945

It’s true power can be destructive, but the right power operates CT Scanners in Children’s Hospitals, Fire Alarms in Retirement Centers, and a thousand other life giving necessities. Jesus said the Christian witness is dependent upon power. “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48-49) In fact, the Greek word for power, used by the Lord, is “dunamis.” God’s “dynamite” is constructive not destructive! Jesus said we need the dynamic power from “on high” to be effective witnesses.

When the early church had prayed for 10 days the power from on high came in the form and presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1ff). If the eyewitnesses needed the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, what does that suggest to you about us?

Since so many people around us need the Lord, and since we are called to be His witnesses, isn’t it also true that we need the power of the Holy Spirit? Of course it is. Right now, ask the Lord to fill you and empower you with the Holy Spirit so you too can be a powerful witness for Jesus.

Living a Spirit-filled life won’t earn you a Nobel Prize, but it will give you dynamic spiritual power to share the gospel with someone this week! Ask Him for the Holy Spirit’s power, then go in that power and make a dynamic difference in someone else’s life.

IMG_2947

~JKB

3 WAYS FASTING OPENS DOORS

JKBcircle

3 WAYS FASTING OPENS DOORS

Every follower of Christ who seeks God with fasting and prayer can experience sudden and surprising open doors of spiritual opportunity, even if those open doors were never apparent before. It has happened in Scripture and it has happened to me. I am certain it will happen for many others as well.

A BIBLICAL PATTERN

A prayer summit, involving a handful of key leaders, opened unexpected doors as the leaders were worshipping, fasting, and praying. Paul and Barnabas, and 3 other gifted and significant leaders had been in the midst of a genuine city-wide spiritual awakening in Antioch for well over a year. Hungry to know the steps they were to take next, they pulled away from the day to day ministry to hear from God.

The Holy Spirit spoke to them clearly and gave them a vision and a direction they had apparently never considered before. At least 10-15 years had passed since the Resurrection had occurred, and since the Great Commission had been issued, but no one had made any substantial efforts to reach the Gentile world yet. While the devoted team fasted and prayed, however, a new door suddenly opened. The Spirit clearly directed them to spread the gospel to Gentiles.

image

That unexpected open door led to what we commonly call Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4). The world was permanently changed out of that prayer meeting when a new door opened as God’s people fasted.

MY OWN OPEN DOORS

Open doors always swing wide to reveal God’s continuing plan to save more people. It happens when we fast and pray. Recently it happened to me as I was participating in a city-wide call to 40 Days of fasting and prayer. While the open door I experienced obviously cannot compare to Paul’s call to world evangelism and missions, it was, nevertheless, an exhilarating and eye opening opportunity for ministry I never saw coming. The more I considered what God was doing in my life, the more my mind raced with faith, fresh ideas, and vision for our church and our city. There is no doubt in my mind this door burst open because several of us were fasting and praying. As this new door of ministry was unexpectedly opening before me I felt, and described it to others, as if I had stepped through a previously unnoticed door, into the blessing of God. 

That’s the way God works. We fast and pray, committing our time and disciplining our bodies, and God blesses us with amazing opportunities for His work which we find to be richly and unpredictably satisfying. When you are in the center of His activity, it seems to be the nearest thing to heaven you ever find on earth.

HOW GOD WILL OPEN DOORS FOR YOU

How can you experience the blessing of open doors? God is sovereign and frequently resists our simple and sometimes self serving formulas-especially if they are an attempt to manipulate how or when He will act. However, since His character never changes, it is possible to glean from Scripture what God expects of us when we desire to walk through open doors of unexpected blessing. Here are three principles to remember.

IMG_1539

1) The Holy Spirit can speak to us individually – and He does-but in the New Testament it is far more common to witness a fresh burst of God’s unfolding plan when God’s people were fasting and praying together. So, as you fast and pray, join with other like minded and devoted believers and fast and pray as a group. It’s amazing what God does when we unite.

2) Rick Warren said it best-“it’s not about you!” The unexpected open doors that ultimately bring you the most satisfaction are those which bring the most glory to God. That’s what you want isn’t it? Aren’t you tired of the false promises of a “me centered” faith? Expect and “pray into” the open doors which further the gospel of Jesus and accelerate His mission through you. You will experience far more of God’s best when you focus on His agenda.

3) Always take action-no matter how small the step may be-in the direction God is leading. Paul’s first trip was not really that far from his ancestral home in Tarsus. But that first trip expanded his capacity for more. When the door opens-go through it. Leave the extent of the blessing to Jesus. Just be obedient in the small steps and He will likely broaden your path in the future.

IMG_1538

When we fast and pray we put more spiritual “octane” on our service and ministry to the Lord. Fasting and prayer boosts the intensity of everything we do for Jesus. In addition, fasting and prayer helps us recognize the open doors God places before us. Why wouldn’t we want all of this?

If you have rarely or never fasted before, seek some practical guidance, start from where you are, then pray and believe.  Ask God to use you as never before as the doors begin to open!

JKB

PRACTICAL AND SUPERNATURAL: TWO WAYS FASTING CHANGES EVERYTHING

JKBcirclePRACTICAL AND SUPERNATURAL: TWO WAYS FASTING CHANGES EVERYTHING

The miracles accomplished in Scripture were often directly related to fasting. One of the most remarkable examples is found in the biblical story of Esther. When the entire Jewish race was facing genocide, Esther called the Jewish people to a 3 day fast (Esther 4:16).

The results were incredible and the Jewish people were saved from extinction almost 500 years before the birth of Jesus. Every year the Jewish people still celebrate the miracle of deliverance described in the book of Esther. The festival is called Purim which involves gift giving, parties, and good food preceded by a day of fasting. Purim is March 11-12 this year. This is a great time to be reminded that God-through fasting and prayer- can change our problems into praises.

While Christians do not traditionally celebrate Purim, the miracle detailed in Esther is part of our spiritual history too, and we should recognize the power of fasting and prayer to change the direction of problems that appear insurmountable. When life looks out of control it’s time to fast and pray.

Actions in the story of Esther saved the Jewish people. How? There are two principles taught in Esther’s story that can still be true in your story.

1) The first principle almost has to be practiced to be believed. Fasting creates a culture of change. In Esther 4:14-17, Esther had become the Queen while keeping her Jewish religion confidential. Meanwhile, a law had been passsed to kill every Jew. One of her relatives-Mordecai- gets Word to her secretly to do whatever she can to stop the killing of her people. Although she was the Queen, she had no real power or authority. She needed a miracle because the law was out of her hands and circumstances were out of her control. So what did she do? She called a 3 day fast. “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

Scripture is clear. It was the fast that triggered the change in circumstances that eventually led to the reversal of the evil planned against God’s people. Fasting always creates a climate for change.

Are there circumstances in your personal life or in your family that appear to be out of your control? Perhaps they are out of your control but nothing is outside of God’s control. He still changes things that seem to be unchangeable. Individuals, families, cities and nations can still be changed by the power of God when His people fast and pray.

IMG_1458

I have also noticed when I fast and pray the will of God seems clearer and God often surprises me with the unexpected. Perhaps it’s because my faith is more acute during a fast, and my spirit is more receptive to what God is already doing all the time. Lisa Bevere insightfully recognized this phenomenon when she said, “A diet changes the way you look. A fast changes the way you see.” Is it time for you to see your problems differently? Try fasting and prayer.

IMG_1459

God can change your problems or He can change the way you recognize His solutions, but either way fasting and prayer always creates change.

2) The second principle found in the miracle of Esther is needed as much today as it was back then. Fasting creates the courage for change.

Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

Some problems back us into a corner where we see no way out unless God intervenes. Esther was in that kind of dilemma. She had one option and if it failed she could have been executed. It was the 3 day fast that emboldened her to take the risk. She said, “…hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

The culture of fasting always activates the courage for change. A few years ago I did a long fast in order to deepen my walk with God. During those days the Lord did a strong work in my life in which He challenged me. Honestly, at times I didn’t understand why the Lord was dealing with me in a way which at the time seemed severe. But the next few years required a spiritual resolve on my part that was developed as I had persevered through that difficult time of testing and correction, during the long fast. I have always believed since that I could not have faced the challenges of some hard years had I not gone through “the refiners fire” of the fast. God knows what we need before we need it and before we know it! Fasting develops spiritual courage and motivates us to take action even when there is risk involved.

Do you need a burst of spiritual courage to take action on your convictions? If so, fast and pray and watch God work in your life.

As we fast and pray for 40 days there’s still plenty of time for you to join us. Sign up for a day or more and expect God to take action in your personal life, in your family, and in the world around you. Expect the unexpected because when you do, change is on the way!

Sign up at hpbc.org/40days

-JKB

WHAT IF HUNDREDS OF CHRISTIANS FASTED AND PRAYED FOR 40 DAYS?

JKBcircleWHAT IF HUNDREDS OF CHRISTIANS FASTED AND PRAYED FOR 40 DAYS FOR THE SPIRITUAL CLIMATE OF ONE CITY?

A group of pastors in Austin, Texas believe God can change one of America’s most secular cities. They are calling for 40 days of prayer and fasting for the Greater Austin area.

How would it happen? What difference would it make? Why now? Who else is doing it?

WHO?
The Unceasing Prayer Movement in Austin, Texas was meeting for prayer and planning when Will Davis, Jr announced he thought calling a 40 day fast would be the right thing to do. Immediately everyone wasn’t so sure, but after praying about it, the rest of us agreed. Therefore, we are calling on Christians everywhere in the Austin area to join us.

WHY?
Fasting and prayer always precedes breakthrough. Consider the biblical examples.

Moses experienced breakthrough on Mt Sinai during a 40 day fast when God suddenly and personally engraved the 10 Commandments onto two stone tablets.

Elijah was defeated, discouraged, disillusioned, and ready to die. But, near the end of a 40 day fast, God appeared to him, spoke to him, and recommissioned the prophet for some of his most effective ministry yet.

Daniel fasted 21 days and received a vision of the coming Messiah and the end of time.

Ezra called an entire people group to a 3 day fast to seek God’s physical protection for a long journey across a dangerous desert. It was granted. God heard their prayer and kept them safe.

Jesus began His public ministry in a 40 day fast gaining victory over the enemy. Nothing about Jesus’ life was ever the same again.

The early church was fasting and praying when the Holy Spirit intervened and sent Paul and Barnabas on the first mission trip to win Gentiles to Christ. That single action changed history.

In biblical examples and in personal experiences we note that big breakthroughs follow periods of fasting and prayer. What breakthrough have you been hoping for? img_1400

HOW?
We do not expect everyone to personally fast for 40 days (although some may choose to do so). We are encouraging a “relay fast” where Churches sign up as many as possible to fast and pray for spiritual breakthrough in our families, our churches, and especially our city. This fast is for spiritual awakening in our hearts, in our homes, and for our City.

Some may fast only 1 day per week. Some may block out a few days or week for fasting and prayer. Whatever we do we want to do it together so that someone is fasting and praying everyday and night during the 40 days. You can sign up for a day- or as many days as you want- at hpbc.org/40days. You will find practical guidelines there too!

WHAT?
Fasting is refraining from food for a period of time to feed your soul on God’s Word and prayer. The Greek word for fast would be translated literally “no eat.” In Hebrew, the word fast translates the ancient word meaning literally, “shut mouth.” That’s pretty clear!

If you’ve never fasted before you might start with half a day by fasting through breakfast and lunch eating nothing until the evening meal. Or, you may fast 24 hours. Either way, avoid any solid food or dairy, and all sugary drinks. Instead, drink water and 100 % fruit juice. (If you’re a coffee drinker you might drink a cup to avoid headaches associated with suddenly stopping coffee.)

If you take a medication that requires you to eat, but you want to fast, eat only the minimum needed to take the meds and spend more time worshipping God through prayer. You can do this.

Throughout the 40 days, keep your focus on God, being obedient to His Word, and especially pray, pray, and pray some more. You’re not alone. I will be writing frequently to encourage you on the journey.

Hundreds of other Christians are fasting with you. Don’t lose hope- this is how breakthroughs happen!

img_1399

JKB

YOUR STRESS FREE BIBLE READING PLAN

JKBcircle

YOUR STRESS FREE BIBLE READING PLAN

OK, you’ve tried before. The last few times might not have worked out but your intentions and instincts were right so you should definitely start again. Reading the Bible everyday is worth it.

START
You need a manageable goal. One chapter a day is a good place to begin. Allow 10-15 minutes per day. It will probably take even less time most days but give yourself the margin.

Let’s start with one month in mind. The gospel of John has 21 chapters. Starting today you will complete the entire book in 3 weeks by reading one chapter a day. After that, read the six chapters of Ephesians. To round out the first successful month of your daily Bible reading habit, read the little but powerful book of 2 Thessalonians.

CHOOSE A BIBLE
There are 2 things to think about in choosing a Bible. First, I recommend a modern language translation. I use the English Standard Version because it reads well and it’s more literal than the popular NIV. Some other version might  work better for you. No matter which Bible you choose, I recommend you use the same one each day so you can feel familiar with it.

The second thing to keep in mind is whether to choose a digital or a traditional paper Bible. Both have advantages. A digital Bible is more convenient since it can be stored on your phone. A traditional paper Bible is easier to see “at a glance” if you’re following a daily reading plan. I also find a traditional paper Bible easier to keep notes in than the excellent digital options available. Eventually, you will want both at your disposal- I go back and forth between the two depending on the need- but this month you’re getting a habit started. Choose the best for you and stick with it.

READ-DON’T STRESS
There won’t be a quiz at the end! Too often I have seen believers worry they should know more, or they feel internally pressured to find “deep” revelation every time they read God’s word. Stop worrying and start reading. God will speak to us sometimes in dramatic ways and more often in gentle whispers to our conscience. He can handle that part. For now, don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. Why should you? If you’re reading daily, you are doing great!

Our goal right now is to get started and to keep going. So read without overly stressing out if you don’t understand a name, geographic reference, or even a concept. Keep reading and God will speak to you in His own way and His own timing. img_0627

Finally, feel free to write yourself notes in the Bible or a notebook to keep track of your questions, thoughts, and moments of inspiration. Try to maintain a daily schedule but if you miss a day, start over where you left off. It takes time and consistency to develop a new habit.

Don’t worry about next month. Just get started.  Start today.

~JKB

CULTIVATING A LISTENING HEART

JKBcircle

CULTIVATING A LISTENING HEART
(1 Samuel 3:1-14)

Imagine one sound being played evenly at every frequency the human ear is capable of hearing. That’s “white noise.” Some people swear by their white noise machines humming through the night as they sleep. For these people, the cacophony of sound, similar to a small fan whirling, is the best way to block out other distracting noise that would otherwise keep them awake.

In our regular routines, it’s easy to hear “too much” due to the constant alerts on our phones, traffic everywhere, the perpetual sound of other people’s voices, and a thousand other sounds- both welcome and unwanted. Distracting clamor is part of life in the 21st century but unfortunately so many other conflicting sounds can create spiritual white noise, restricting our ability to listen for the one Voice that matters most.img_0021

God still speaks to His children today but to hear Him requires an intentional focus. We need to cultivate a listening heart. It can be done.

WAITING IN HIS PRESENCE

When the prophet Samuel was young, he was an attendant in the Tabernacle where he lived (1 Samuel 3). The Ark of God was housed there too and always represents the presence of God. One early morning just before dawn, while sleeping in the Tabernacle, near the Ark, Samuel heard the voice of God calling to him (v.3). He did not recognize it at first-but the old priest Eli helped him cultivate a listening heart for the voice of God. We can train ourselves to listen!

The Tabernacle was obviously quiet while everyone slept. The Ark of God was nearby. Samuel’s entire life was devoted to serving the Lord. Those three factors-stillness, God’s presence, and devotion- are good guidelines for us when we need to hear God about decisions we face, when we are seeking closer fellowship with God, or when we are maturing in the exercise of the spiritual disciplines.

To reproduce a similar atmosphere find a quiet place where outside distractions cannot interrupt your listening heart. Prepare your heart by reading Scripture to invite the presence and the clear Word of God into your life. Confess your sin so your life is clean and devoted to God.

Then, like Samuel, respond to the prompts of God’s Spirit. He said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
(1 Samuel 3:10)

DOES GOD STILL SPEAK? OF COURSE!

Some will argue that God doesn’t speak today but He does. Some will argue we don’t need to “seek His presence” since He is everywhere and “omnipresent.” It’s true He is everywhere but there is a difference between saying “God is everywhere” and “God is right here.” In Scripture there is a clear distinction between His presence and His “manifest presence.”

A few weeks ago the Unceasing Prayer Movement hosted a 24 hour prayer and worship room in Austin in association with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention held in Austin this year. Several people from around the city and state, and obviously from different churches, prayed for 24 hours. People were coming and going the entire time. Several of my friends, some who do not know each other, shared with me they sensed God speaking to them during that anointed time in the prayer room. I find that fact revealing. Several people, including me, heard from God. Why? The presence of God was powerfully conspicuous as worshippers poured out their hearts in prayer! The presence of God opens up the probability of hearing God.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HEAR HIM?

It is obvious God wants to be heard. The bigger question isn’t whether God is speaking but whether we are listening! When we put ourselves in a posture, place, or position to listen, it is almost impossible to miss His voice. Even a casual reading of Scripture reveals the God who communicates to people. He hasn’t changed at all over the years. He is still speaking and looking for a people who are listening. When we put ourselves into the proximity of His presence – whether through sustained fasting, focused Bible study, or unhurried worship- we train our heart to listen and appreciably enhance the probability of hearing His voice. img_0019

-JKB

40 YEARS WITH JESUS

JKBcircle40 YEARS WITH JESUS

Today, December 10, 2016 is an important anniversary for me. On this day, 40 years ago, I started following Christ in a walk of personal discipleship. I was a teenager in Fairbanks, Alaska 5 days away from my 20th birthday. Today, I’m 5 days from my 60th. I thank God for the journey.

I often say I should be further along in my Christian life by now but, thankfully  I am a long way from where I started. Along the way I have learned some lessons and developed some disciplines that have fashioned my life. Here are a few of the most consistent truths that have guided my steps.

1) Persistence is the key to everything. No one feels like pressing forward everyday. Sometimes we want to coast or even give up but that’s when persistence kicks in. No one ever quit half way through the race to win the victory.

Marriages should persist during tough times-that’s one way our spouses know they can count on us. Parenting isn’t easy but we can’t quit on our kids. Following Jesus demands daily consistency too, because sometimes it’s hard to remain faithful. The enemy attacks, temptations are always a factor, and sometimes we just want our way rather than His. Yet, without a commitment to finish strong, compromise can slowly erode our once unquestioned resolve. No wonder even the Apostle Paul said, “I press on.”

I have learned to press into Jesus and rely upon Him even when I don’t feel like being strong. I know if I do, soon my natural sense of dedication and commitment will surge back.

2) My personal relationship with Jesus is paramount. It is my life. If I don’t walk with Jesus on a daily basis, I will soon fail Him, disappoint my loved ones, and be no good for anyone else. Therefore, daily prayer and Bible study are essential for my Christian life. It’s not selfish to prioritize your own spiritual growth, it’s mandatory.

Aboard a commercial airplane the flight attendants routinely demonstrate the oxygen mask system before the plane takes off. Passengers are always instructed to put their own masks on first before attempting to assist other passengers. Obviously you can’t help the person next to you if you have passed out from oxygen deprivation!

In the same way, I make my own spiritual growth a personal priority because if I dry up spiritually I will not be of any spiritual help for anyone else. For this reason, and more importantly because I love to fellowship with God, I have not missed a day of Bible study in more than 35 years. In the first 5 years of my walk with God I might have missed a day of Bible reading occasionally, but I never missed 2 days in a row. But over the last 35 years my daily Bible study is as important to me as breathing so I never miss a day and I never will.

Similarly, I am helpless as a follower of Christ without prayer. When I was in college in the 1970’s I committed to pray 30 minutes a day. Admittedly, there have been days when I’ve prayed less, but thank God there have been many days when I prayed much more. The key here has been commitment and persistence. I’ve learned to keep going regardless of how I feel or the circumstances around me.

Today, I’m more devoted to the ministry of prayer than ever before. And I’m more convinced of the power of praying with other highly devoted prayer warriors than I’ve ever been. That’s why I’ve joined with the Unceasing Prayer Movement in Austin and a team of highly committed prayer leaders to make Austin, Texas the most prayed over city in America.

Never before have I been more desirous of moving from merely having a prayer life to actually living a life of prayer. I believe prayer moves the Hand that moves the world.

3) Finally, the people in my life are more important to me everyday. I love my family, my church, and my friends. I’m grateful for the power of love and my life is better because of the people I love and those who love me. Always.

In a few days I will turn 60 and I’m loving it. I started with the Lord 40 years ago and I’m happy to look forward to 40 more. When I turn 100, perhaps I’ll have some more advice to share! img_9946

-JKB