I wrote a book a while back called “Letters from Jesus: A Study of the Seven Churches of Revelation“, and it’s FREE on Google Books to read and download as PDF. It’s all about how Jesus speaks to us in unique and special ways to encourage, correct, challenge and train us.
The book won an “Award of Merit” from The Word Guild’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2009. I learned so much writing this book, and hope you will come check it out. I would love some reviews too, if you are so inclined. :-)
If you would like an actual, paper copy, the last few are on sale at Salem Storehouse in Ottawa, ON for $8.
From the Back Cover:
Pastor Allan Descheneau invites the reader to “walk along with the letter carrier of the Roman Road” as he takes them on an exhilarating journey in his book Letters from Jesus. Well organized and simple to understand, Pastor Allan reveals Jesus’ hopes for His church and their need for repentance, grace, encouragement, and a revitalized relationship with Him. Although these letters were delivered to specific churches almost two thousand years ago, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Allan is able to draw out the many truths for us today. Just as Ephesus struggled to make love a priority, Smyrna faced persecution, Pergamum endured the flank attacks of Satan, and Thyatira compromised its morality, so do many Christians and congregations struggle with these same issues today. Above all, Letters from Jesus invites the reader to ask, “What would Jesus’ letter be to me?”
I feel some of you may need to hear the advice I recently gave a friend who is going through a tough time:
“Sometimes we feel bad after praying that God would take our burdens and then picking them back up again after we say “amen”. We think that there might be a limit on the times we can release our pain to Him and retract it, absorbing back into ourselves. There isn’t. He will let us put it down and pick it up as many times as it takes until we are ready to walk away without it. Just remember to keep putting it down.”
Here’s a powerful song by Kathryn Scott that brings me encouragement during these times:
I have some friends that are in a difficult place, trying to help some people they know reconcile hurting relationships. I offered to give them some helpful articles and tools, and believe that they may be able to help others.
Meditation is a multifaceted and religiously loaded term. There are many Christians today who shy away from practicing meditation because they aren’t sure that it’s “allowed”. Let me assure you it is, and it is the key to developing a deep life and focus on God’s priorities for you.
Christian meditation only has two components: Stopping and Listening. Other religions have meditation as a religious practice, particularly eastern religions, but for them, meditation is designed to purge all thought, desire and will – it is to empty themselves. Christian meditation is not an emptying … but a filling of ourselves with God. In Christian meditation we focus on our obedience and faithfulness to God and the person of Jesus Christ.
First, let’s talk about Stopping.
For some of you that period of silence we just had before I came up was refreshing, for others it was annoying, and maybe even agonizing. Take a second and think: What was going through your mind? Godly thoughts? What was your body doing? Were you at peace, or were you keyed up? Some of you are so tired that if there is no sound or activity, you will just fall asleep. For those of you who are staying awake with me, let me ask you about your feelings about “stopping”. How do you see stopping? Is it a sin? Are stopped people, lazy people? What emotion does the word “stop” conjure up?
Christian Psychologist Carl Jung said,
“Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.”
Why? Because when we don’t stop, we cannot listen to God, love our neighbour, serve the church, or worship properly. We must make the time to stop. It is the first step in meditation.
John Ortburg, in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” talks about “Hurry Sickness”, and he gives a few symptoms of people who are “hurry sick.” Let me ask you to identify any of these in your own life, because if you have “hurry sickness”, then you will not stop. And if you will not stop, you cannot meditate. And if you cannot meditate, you will not deepen yourself, or hear the voice of God.
The First symptom is “Constantly Speeding up Daily Activities”. Do you find that everything in your life is a race because you are plagued by the fear that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done? Do you read fast, talk fast, and keep nodding so the other person will speed up their talking? Do you find yourself being anxious about which line to stand in at the store, or what lane to be in when driving? Do you ever find yourself rushing around, even when there’s no need to? You’re just so used to going at 110% that you can’t stop. Do you find yourself making up pretend races with your kids or loved ones so that you can get them out of the way at the end of the day? People do this. They tell their kids to race through brushing their teeth, and taking a bath, and then race through reading them a book… because they need to get them to bed. Married couples race through dates and even sex so they can get through it so they can do something else. Are you always speeding things up?
The Second symptom Hurry Sickness is “Relentless Multi-Tasking”. Do you find yourself unsatisfied, or even feel guilty, if you are only doing one thing at a time? Some people do. They can’t just read. They have to read with music, and the news on, with the computer on in the background, while sitting next to someone having a conversation. Some people can’t just sit outside and have a coffee… they have to bring a crossword puzzle, or a grocery list, or something else… because somehow just sitting there with a coffee is somehow a sin. Some people can’t let the phone ring… they have to answer it. Do you always have to multi-task?
Third, “Clutter”. A hurry sick person cannot fathom simplicity. They have every time-saving gadget in the world, and ten things strapped to their belt, and in their backpack. Their closets and bedrooms are stuffed to the brim with things they never use or wear, but will “get to later when they have time.” Do you lead a cluttered existence?
Fourth, “Superficiality”. Richard Foster calls it “the curse of our age.” Relationships are superficial because time is not given to deepen them. Marriages break down because the depths of love are not plunged. Spiritual life is superficial and unsatisfying, so people go to all kinds of sins and idols to fill their spiritual hunger. So many people live their life on the surface, and have no idea that there is a depth to existence they will never see unless they stop, wait and listen.
The end result of hurry sickness becomes an inability to love. This is the most serious danger of hurry sickness. We race and run and live a superficial lives and we become jaded to love, and unable to love. Why? Because love and time are indelibly tied. We cannot hurry and love. Love takes time.
When we hurry, we lose our sense of gratitude, and our sense of wonder. Carleton Place, and the Ottawa Valley are truly beautiful, but you won’t really experience its beauty if you whiz by in a plane or a car. To really appreciate it you have to get out of the car and take a walk, go on one of the bike-paths, or sit in a park. You’re spouse is wonderful, but you won’t fully experience that sense of wonder or gratitude to God for them unless you stop and truly experience them for a concentrated period of time.
Jesus knew how to stop.
And He did it often. He had the most important mission in the history of the universe, and yet He took time to stop.
When Jesus heard about the beheading of His cousin John the Baptist he was in the middle of an itinerant preaching journey. But he stopped. Matthew 14:13, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” But the crowds were relentlessly following him. So Jesus teaches them for a time, miraculously feeds them and then dismisses them. Now many of us would have went for a nap, or went with our friends somewhere, but Jesus sends His disciples away in a boat, and then stops again. Verse 23 says, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” Why didn’t Jesus get swept up in all the things we get swept into? Because He stopped regularly to listen to God.
Before Jesus chose the disciples He stopped to listen to what God had to say. Luke 6:12-13, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” We get the impression from the Gospels that despite Jesus’ popularity, people coming to Him day and night, dealing with family matters, having to train the disciples, teaching, preaching, miracles, traveling, the Pharisees chasing him down, and all the rest, Jesus took time away to be with God. If Jesus needed to do this… how much more do we?
Second, let’s talk about Listening
Not many people are good at this. And it is certainly not something that is encouraged in our culture. Richard Foster says,
“What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart.”
Think of your inner life like a building that you have been working on for some time. God started you with some materials to work with, your parents gave you pieces and tools to build more, hardships and life events added to the design, and so did your schooling and friends. You have this inner house built up that represents every part of you. But when you ask Jesus to take over your life, what you are doing is asking Him to rebuild your house.
When we stop and listen, what we are doing is giving God the time and focus to rebuild our house. During our meditation time, God opens doors that we had locked and stuffed full of anger, bitterness, and pain. He takes our favourite trophies down off of our shelves. He points out the structural problems and weak designs we have incorporated into our house. And He starts the process of rebuilding us. And in our listening we have time to ask Him, “God, does that have to go?” And we listen to when He says, “Yes.” And we ask Him, “What parts of me need to be added? What needs to be torn out? What should be kept?” And in our listening time God begins that work.
So often we love to go to others for this advice. And there is certainly a place for that. But if we really believe that we live in a universe created by a personal God who loves us and still speaks to this day, then we must listen to Him.
How to Listen to God
There are many ways that we can listen to God, but let me tell you the two most helpful that I’ve found.
First is listening to scripture. Open the bible and read it as though it was written to you. Now, I don’t mean bible study. I mean just take a bible, without study notes, and meditate on one part. Maybe one section, or one verse, or even one word, and let God speak to you about it. Use your imagination to put yourself in the place of Elijah by the stream, or Paul on the road, or become one of the throngs of people listening to Jesus on the mountainside. What do you hear, see, sense, feel? Meditate on scripture and let God speak to you through it.
Next, just get quiet. Take a period of time and just turn everything off and listen. Indoors, outdoors, wherever. Don’t pray, or talk, or read, or listen to music, or bring a friend… just listen. If you’ve never done this, it’s going to be really hard. Try it for 1 minute. Then 5 minutes. Then 15 minutes. Then half an hour. Don’t feel guilty if your mind is racing and you can’t focus.
Once you get to the 10 or 15 minute mark, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and then go find someplace to just listen. If something comes to mind that you need to do… write it down. I have to do laundry… write it down. I have to talk to someone… write it down. I should pick up frozen corn next time I go to the grocery store… write it down. Get it all out on paper and just listen. If you don’t write it down then you’re going to keep hearing the same thing over and over. Eventually your brain will stop coming up with distractions and you will be able to listen for God’s voice. If and when He speaks… write it down.
And then go check out what you’ve been listening to with the Bible and another Christian friend/Pastor. Simply say, “This is what I’ve been hearing from God and what I believe He’s saying… what do you think?” That will help you from being deceived, and will keep you accountable.
What do you need to do this week to get started?
1. Ask for the desire to listen. The ability and desire to meditate is a gift from God. Begin by asking Him for the want to and gumption to actually do it. This is certainly a prayer He will answer. God loves to give us gifts that bring us closer to Him.
2. Slow Down and Stop. Deliberately do things that make you practice waiting. Drive in the slow lane for a month. Get in the long line at the grocery store. And then find ways to stop. Declare an electronics free day, or week. No ipod, no tv, no cell phone after work, no computer after work.
3. Make Space. Set a time in your calendar that will be a meditation day for you. A couple of hours, or a whole day where you will just go and be alone and listen. Tell people that you’re going, and set the date. Then find a spot to be alone. Not the mall, or the coffee shop, or the gym. How about the park, or a place by the Ottawa river, or alone in your room? And don’t take anything! Nothing. Nothing. Nope, not that either! Ortburg says,
“Solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mould us.”
Who do you want to mould you, society, or God?
Don’t get worked up if this is hard for a while. No one can do this perfectly. But God honours those who seek Him… He promises we will find Him.
I spoke on Meditation this week, beginning with a story of a man named Robin. Do you see yourself in his story?
Robin wakes up once again to the beeping of the alarm clock, and hits snooze one more to see if he can squeeze out nine more minutes of sleep from his morning. He didn’t go to bed until well after midnight last night, and hasn’t gotten more than 6 hours of sleep any night in the past week…
As the alarm goes off again he looks at the time. Great, now he’s going to be late. He jumps in the shower, thankful that he has the special 2-in-1 shampoo, so he doesn’t have to take all that important time up having to use two bottles. He runs into his bedroom and tries to find something to wear in the disaster he calls a closet. He finally just grabs the clothes he wore yesterday, gives them a quick sniff, throws them on and bolts out the door, skids into the kitchen, grabs a banana and a granola bar, and prays that God will miraculously open up the traffic the way He did the water for Moses at the Red Sea.
He gets in the car, and hears that familiar “ding!” that reminds him that something is wrong with the car… but he doesn’t have time to worry about that right now. As he’s pulling out of the driveway, there’s another “ding!”, and he sees that he’s out of gas. He doesn’t have time for that either, so he prays that God will miraculously keep his tank full enough so he can get to work.
On the way to work Robin dodges in and out of traffic, weaving from lane to lane, cursing the transport trucks and anyone who gets in his way. His mind flies through every map he’s ever seen of Ottawa, wondering if there is a route to take that would shave valuable minutes off of his commute. He mentally reminds himself to check the map later… he’d write himself a note, but he’d probably crash if he looked down to find a pen.
He pulls into work, and gets through the door with seconds to spare. He throws his banana into his locker and walks straight into doing his job.
When lunch time comes, Robin goes through is daily routine of grabbing a coffee, checking his e-mail, updating his Facebook status, looking at sports scores, and looks over the paper in the break room. Then in walks Phil… or is it Paul… whatever, it doesn’t matter. He starts with “Hey Robin, how’s it goin’?” “Oh, great”, Robin thinks, “he wants to chat.” Robin pretends to be busy doing something, and asks “What do you need… uh, man… I’m right in the middle of something.” “Oh, sorry!” is the reply, “I’ll leave you alone.” And he walks back out the door.
After dodging that bullet, Robin decides he really does need to get back to work. The end of the day comes and Robin wonders if he’s done enough… if not he’ll just put in some overtime later to catch up.
On the way to the car a catastrophic thought strikes Robin’s already very tired mind. “Oh no… it’s Jane’s birthday tonight!” Now he’s torn. He’s tired and doesn’t want to go. He probably should, seeing as it’s his sister, but he didn’t have time to get a gift, and he’s already looking at a list of things to do at home. All he’s had to eat today is a banana, 5 coffees, and some Timbits someone brought into work, so he’s hungry… and no one likes someone comes to a party hungry and eats all the food. His clothes don’t smell right, and if he went home to shower and change, he’d probably be late. Jane probably won’t mind if he misses the party… although he did miss last year’s too. But he sent her a really nice e-card a couple days later.
And Robin is getting upset again… “Jane is always asking for things like this. It’s always about her. Doesn’t she know I have things to do?” And Robin decides there and then not to go. So he quickly texts Jane with an apology and says they’ll catch up later.
When he gets in the car Robin hears “Ding!” and then “Ding!”. And his head hits the steering wheel, when he realizes that he’s going to have to stop for gas. The first “ding!” will have to wait another day.
As Robin pulls into the gas station his phone vibrates with another e-mail. He pulls off the gas cap, shoves the pump into the car, and gets to work replying to the message. But the longer he stands there, the more impatient he gets. “Don’t they have the technology to make gas pumps any faster? They can put a man on the moon, but they need to me to stand here for this long to put gas in my tank?” “Click!” goes the pump, Robin hangs it up, and rushes into the store, still trying to finish the e-mail on his phone.
But there are two lines in the store. Robin quickly sizes up the lines. Who has their wallet out? That guy’s got chips and a pop which will take longer. So he picks his line… but keeps looking up from his phone to see if the other line is moving faster so he could jump into it if need be.
After waiting an agonizing 5 minutes he finally pays for his gas, runs to the car, fires it up, hears the familiar “Ding!” and speeds away… leaving the gas cap on top of the car, and the little gas-door open.
As he’s shoulder checking to see how narrowly he can cut someone off, he notices the open gas door and lets out a couple of swear words. Now he’s going to have to go all the way back to the gas station! Robin is angry again.
On the way back his phone rings. “Hi Robin, it’s Paul.” “Yeah, what?”, Robin barks. “Robin, I think we need to have a chat. Can I come over tonight?”
“Oh, I don’t know Paul… I’ve got a lot do to.” Robin replies.
“Ok, well, give me a call sometime when you’re free.” Paul replies.
Robin goes home, and now it’s getting late. He heats up some leftovers for dinner, leaves the dishes sitting on the counter, checks his e-mail again, updates his Facebook, sits down in his chair and flicks on the TV. A passing thought rolls through his mind… “Maybe I should go to the party.” But he puts it away. Another thought… “Well, maybe I could call Paul.” But he puts that one away too. “I still have to do some grocery shopping.” But he’s too tired. “Maybe I could read some bible before bed.” But he puts that thoughts aside too with the conclusion that he’s too tired to concentrate on it anyway. Now he feels tired and guilty.
After too much time in front of the TV watching nothing-in-particular, it’s late again. Too late. He’s going to pay for this tomorrow. Robin groans and slumps off to bed. Before his eyes close, Robin prays to God in his mind, “God, I sure wish I knew you better. I wish I had some more friends. I’m sorry for getting upset so much today… and yesterday. God, please take care of my mom…” and before he has time to finish that sentence he’s asleep.
Do you see yourself in that story? What would you say to Robin? Would you call him a deep person? A friendly person? A focused person? What will his life look like in 5 years?
While writing this article I was reminded about this song by Casting Crowns called “Does Anybody Hear Her” which seems to hit the nail on the head.
Do Churches Still Help?
I had a conversation recently where we were discussing the place of “para-church ministries” within the realm of global and local missions and it dawned on me that North American churches (and many para-church ministries) are lagging way behind the secular world when it comes to having the reputation of being helpful people.
Back in “the day”… [you know “the day” when your granddad had to walk back and forth from school, up-hill both ways, in 6 feet of snow (and he was only 4 feet tall), in only his socks, dragging a 300 pound bag of books, and only ate dirt for lunch… and LIKED IT!]… it used to be that the church was the premier place to come for help, protection, comfort, healing and peace. We were the first call for education, healthcare, protection from tyrants, help for the poor, the lonely, the bereaved, the lost, etc.
But now, honestly ask yourself: Why would anyone call the average North American Church for help? Or for that matter, the average North American Christian? If they are sick, they go to the hospital. If they’re poor, call the government. Hurt, lonely or afraid? Call a 1-800 help line. If they’re addicted to drugs, they can get into a secular program. Protection from tyrants? Go to the police. If they feel bad or need to make a life change, call a psychologist. If they are unhappy, call a psychiatrist. It seems that the church has lost (or given up) almost everything it once did to help people.
Individual Christians have a hard time with this too. We have lots of excuses why we don’t stop to help someone in need. “I have to protect my family.” “I could get hurt.” “I don’t know anything about medicine or cars.” “I’m too busy.” Lots of excuses… most of which stink.
The Speed Dial Principle
So, here’s a challenge for all Christians to get back to their roots of being people full of grace and mercy. I’m going to call it the “Speed Dial Principle”.
Here’s how it goes:
I propose that we do everything we can to be the first call on everyone’s speed-dial. It is my hope that those around us, without a shadow of a doubt, know that we can be counted on to help NO MATTER WHAT is going on in their life!!!
- How many phones do you have with speed-dial?
- Who are the top 3 people and why are they there?
- Are you on the top of anyone’s speed-dial list?
- Using your position on other people’s speed-dial as your reference, how good is your reputation as a helper? [First call, second call, last choice, not even thought of]?
I propose we try to live our lives as someone trying to make themselves the number one person on everyone’s speed-dial. We want to be their #1 button because they know we are a great friend will never let them down, we have resources to help, and will be there full of joy and without condemnation. Whether it’s helping carry in the groceries, driving someone to another province, helping a kid with homework, cleaning someone else’ house, making a meal or picking up your drunk friend after too much partying… what can you do to be the first person they call.
What about you? What do you think of the “Speed-Dial Principle”? Is it realistic? How can we help our local churches reclaim their ministries of grace and mercy?
Oh toothpaste, how you have let me down! You promise so many things! In your TV commercials you tell me that no person can respect, love or enjoy the company of someone without shiny, white teeth. You tell me that the reason that I’m not successful in life is because my choppers are too dull. You say that if my bicuspids were whiter, I’d smile more often, be more popular and have a more positive attitude towards life.
And it’s not just the positive hopes that have imprisoned me in your diabolical trap, but also the fearsome negatives… those scary promises that you and your cohorts with the drills have pounded into my brain since the days of my youth. My enamel will never, EVER grow back! Drinking pop or coffee may as well be drinking battery acid! If I forget to brush before I sleep, when I wake, after I eat, or snack, or chew too much… I could contract all sorts of terrible, fatal diseases like tartar buildup, halitosis, bleeding gums, heart disease, arthritis, or even cancer!!!
“BUT NEVER FEAR!”, you say, “I, TOOTHPASTE, will make it all better!”
And I try to follow your ways! I try to keep up with this maniacally strict regimen of brush-rinse-floss-rinse-pick-swirl-massage-rinse-repeat, but FORGIVE ME TOOTHPASTE for I have sinned — it has been 12 hours since my last brushing! Cleanse me of my filmy iniquity, wash me from the foul odor of last night’s garlic pizza.
I live in a world which is more concerned with my dental color and oral freshness than my talents, skills or personality qualities — so I need you. I need you to make me right with the world. I need you because there’s an outside chance that my wife and children may knock me out and leave me for dead on the side of the road if I wake up with dragon-breath one more time…
But alas, and to the shame of my family and kin, I have been using an older brand of toothpaste; one not fit for today’s diabolical dental attacks. And so I have given my offering unto another, better, NEWER toothpaste! It’s got baking soda. It’s got peroxide. It’s got ultra-foaming-action. It whitens, brightens, lightens, heightens and frightens plaque away.
And I brush. Two times a day I brush. Yea, verily, three times daily do I brush. Surely the wondrous technology captured within the chemicals of this intoxicatingly minty-mixture will overcome my shortfalls. Surely this seven dollar tube of menthol flavored miracle juice will make my life better. Surely the science behind this cool-blue gel will finally bring me everything I’ve ever wanted: success, fame, fortune, the adulation of an adoring public, respect, a secure home, a blissful, pain-free existence! Surely this is the missing link, the key to everything that I’ve ever hoped for!
But alas no. It has been two months now and I have no more fortune, success or adulation than I did before. And so I have turned my wrath unto the giver of the great promises… my toothpaste. I am angry with my toothpaste. It has let me down.
But I saw a commercial last night for something called “botox” and those people were pretty happy… hmm…