“No More of This!”

As Christians, we recognize the authority and power in Jesus’ words…

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.  He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; He puts the deeps in storehouses.  Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!  For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6-7)

And…

“…they went and woke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’  And He awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.  He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’  And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him?’” (Luke 8:24-25)

With all the authority of heaven, Jesus also spoke these words to His disciples:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John `5:12) …

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

And with that same authority, Jesus spoke to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane—

Confronted by an angry mob armed with swords and clubs, bent on murder, the disciples responded with fear and defensiveness: “‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.” (Luke 22:49, 50)

Jesus responded, No more of this! And he touched his ear and healed him.” (v. 51)

I was gripped with the passion in Jesus’ words the other day when I read this account—amazing how we can be so familiar with various portions of scripture and in a moment of reading it again, the Holy Spirit brings them to life in dynamic, vibrant new ways!

I envision the hostile mob reactions toward anyone who supports an unborn child’s right to life, who believes the Bible’s definition of marriage and morality; and the animosity towards those who are not willing to compromise God’s perspective of truth and justice for the “wisdom” of this age.  (“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’  Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 1 Corinthians 1:18-20)

Sadly, I recognize in many Christians the same fear and defensiveness characterized by the disciples when they drew their swords.  Perhaps not in physical ways with actual swords or clubs; but rather, using words in reaction to hostile accusations and confrontations, to bludgeon with our words and our attitudes those who oppose us.  …sometimes, with a subtle current of “thank God, I’m not like them” flowing stealthily beneath our thoughts.  And perhaps, with an unconscious fervor that, “If I just shout louder and longer, then the opposition will be silenced”?

However, the enemy is not silenced by our shouts or arguments!  And our enemies are not people; rather, “the rulers…the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Jesus’ response to the violent mob was to bring restoration—in a situation that pulsated with conflict and death, time seemed to momentarily stand still for one man as Jesus reached out and touched him.  In that moment, there were just two people face to face, there was no clamor, no mob—there was just the touch of the Savior’s fingertips on this man’s ear.  Could he raise his eyes and look into the eyes of God?  I can only imagine what took place in his thoughts, how he was affected—and how he responded.  Perhaps like Peter who, when he realized that he did the unthinkable by denying the Lord three times, he went out and wept bitterly?

All we know for certain is that Jesus brought healing to a man who was seeking His death.

Jesus taught us the way to face hostility and angry confrontations.  It began in the Garden before the mob approached— “And He came out and went, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him.  And when He came to the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-40)

He knew what was coming and how to prepare for it; and He was calm while hell was rampaging!

The Holy Spirit instructs us through the apostle Paul to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (in contrast to our own persuasions and opinions).  He goes on to say, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” [Perhaps considering whether we are more inclined to be ready with the gospel of peace or our own arguments and defenses?].  “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation [taking every thought captive to obey Christ], and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:1, 14-18)

Previously, Jesus cautioned His disciples, “…then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:9-12)

And later the apostle, John, wrote: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13)

The animosity daily assailing Christians mustn’t surprise us!

…understanding that it is important for us to be strong in the Lord, while recognizing His authority and power on earth!

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As Christians and Citizens…

There is a political furor in the United States right now—lots of accusing, finger pointing, and outrage.  As Christians, we recognize that outrage can be useful for good, energizing us to, with wisdom, effectively address difficult situations; or anger can be an opening for satan to run rampant over our lives and relationships.  “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger; and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26)

As much as I would like peace and unity in the “United” States, I also acknowledge Jesus’ words: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39)

This is not an easy passage; however, it is comforting in an unusual way—Jesus’ words affirm that serving Him will not be easy, but faithfully following Him will be rewarded. 

I’m not saying here that there is only one way to view a conflict of opinions (they are, after all, opinions) because I’m pretty sure there is no one person on social media who has all the verifiable information available and can accurately express it. 

Here are some interesting scriptures to consider:

“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.” (Zechariah 8:16-17)

“Repay no one evil for evil, [I have to remind myself frequently that this also means by our words] but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:17-18)

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19)

It is not easy to hold on to or employ Biblical truth in the hostile social and political climate currently pervading the U.S., and elsewhere; however, finger-pointing, accusing, and spreading hatred does not qualify as what makes for peace!  Neither does a judgmental or manipulative use of scripture.

What we can do is to pray and ask God for wisdom.  In fact, prayer is the first step in pursuing “what makes for peace”: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

It is also important that we abide by scriptural directives (and there are times when this is difficult): “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Like kids in a classroom, I sense the hands going up, quick to ask a question; “What if the “emperor” or the governors are the ones who are doing evil?”  Then pray for them, pray for their salvation!  We also need to ask ourselves whether we believe God and trust His Word; if so, then we can “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Here are a few scriptures that provide a basis for praying for our leaders:

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves!  Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.  The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:1-4) I pray that the shepherds, the leaders in government would turn away from selfishness, their own agendas, and the special interests that drain the citizens of this country.  Engulf with guilt those who vote to raise their own incomes while broken people in the land suffer, who put on a show of doing good while making sure their own interests are satisfied.  Lead them to repentance and salvation!  Let righteousness, justice, and compassion fill the hearts and minds of those in authority, and may they govern with wisdom.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law, he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2) I pray that our leaders would reject the counsel of the wicked and surround themselves with Godly counselors who promote righteousness and justice, who will respect God’s Word as the basis for governing.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.  Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.  To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:1-3) I pray the Lord’s hand would direct the hearts of our leaders in a way that will honor God and promote righteousness and justice; I ask that the Holy Spirit search the hearts of those in authority and convince them to seek what is right in God’s eyes instead of their own.

 “Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear.  They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’  They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.” (Psalm 64:2-6) I pray that the evil intentions and secret plots and snares of the wicked will be exposed and their bitter words will fall uselessly to the ground.  I also pray that our leaders will allow the Holy Spirit to fill their lives, invade their thoughts, and manage their words so that they will bring healing and life.

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) I pray against pride and deceitfulness, and attitudes that exalt politics over citizens.  A false witness is an abomination to the Lord—I pray that there will be a turn around in the media so that honest reporting will become a standard.  I also pray that those in positions of authority would seek unity instead of discord.

I think a lot of media reporting is done with the intention to incite emotional responses, supporting their own agendas instead of conveying information—thus, media bias.  That is just my opinion, and it is important to recognize these things.  Here are a couple of verses I find helpful in guiding my prayers for the media:

“You shall not spread a false report.  You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” (Exodus 23:1)

“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.  There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.  Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.” (Proverbs 12:17-20)

Wherever we live, whatever the social climate, my hope is that we will seek God for wisdom and pray for discernment, praying also for those in authority, and that we will be careful in our attitudes and our words.  …that as citizens of this world and God’s kingdom, we will bring honor to His Name!

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“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 1:9-11

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Graceful

When I hear the word “graceful”, I envisage someone who is elegant, one who carries him or herself with a flowing, poised bearing.  Someone much different from myself, who tends to trip over my own feet and snort when I laugh. 

My perspective is shifting, though, as my encounters with God’s grace are growing.  Defining grace as “unmerited favor” and experiencing God’s amazing grace amidst the many trips and stumbles of my Christian walk seem to be two completely different things.  When I was bound in legalism, I could give you the definition.  When Jesus saved me from my sin, my brokenness—and my self-righteousness—and proceeded to fill me with His Holy Spirit and bless my life in innumerable ways, what was once theoretical became substantial.

Now, instead of picturing someone who is graceful as merely characterized by their demeanor, I recognize that the transforming touch of God’s grace modifies each believer’s heart, his or her attitudes, and their relationships with others—being filled and overflowing with God’s grace will affect the way we live, the words we speak, and how we behave towards others.

The most important thing to recognize about grace is that it is a gift, not earned nor bartered for.  It has already been purchased through the sacrificial blood of Jesus through His death on the cross of Calvary—and it is ours to receive, to enjoy, and to share with others:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25)

God is generous with His grace!

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ…” (Ephesians 1:7-10)

And I love this verse in Hebrews: “But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9) 

The Bible also delineates some of the characteristics of God’s grace, which are attributes I want people to not only see in me, but also experience from me.  …characteristics that, I hope, reverberate from the lives of every Christian, showing that we truly are “Grace-full!”

The grace of God is visible in our outreach to others with the gospel and how we treat those who are culturally different than we are: “But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11:20-24)

God’s Word embodies grace, building up, sanctifying, and ensuring our eternal inheritance; therefore, I want the foundation of my life to be God’s grace and His Word: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

God’s gift of grace at work in our lives affects how we think, our behavior, and our relationships: “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity [some manuscripts say “holiness”] and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.” (2 Corinthians 1:12

Grace affects our attitudes by igniting thankfulness: “…knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15)

Grace is not passive, it is active!  I think this is an important aspect of grace – it is the part that isn’t so much about what we receive; rather, it demonstrates that we have surrendered our lives to the Lord, received His grace, and are willing to share it with others:  “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.  Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started so he should complete among you this act of grace.  But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.  (2 Corinthians 8:1-7)

God’s grace abundantly equips us for ministry:And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’  He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-10)

God’s grace is powerful: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God’s grace glorifies Jesus, which begs the question, if our attitudes, behaviors, and activities do not glorify the Savior, are we truly demonstrating God’s powerful, transforming grace?  “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

God’s grace comforts His people, giving us hope—affecting both how we live and the words we speak.  “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

God’s grace commissions us:Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (2 Timothy 1:8-9)

God’s grace provides us with gifts for service (no one is left out!).  “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11)

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This has been an amazing study for me.  I am discovering that grace is like a multi-faceted gem and I am only beginning to discover its beauty.  I believe as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), the depth and the richness of His grace (there is no such thing as “cheap grace”) will become increasingly evident in our lives.

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No Time for Complacency!

I mentioned to a friend not long ago that it appears the conflicts in the Middle East are increasing and intensifying.  Her response was that the violence in that region is nothing new—things have always been like this.  After the activity in Syria, Israel, and involving Iran recently, and now with the U.S. embassy in Israel relocating to Jerusalem and the accompanying violence that the move has triggered, it is a little difficult to not acknowledge the increasing aggressiveness of these nations.  Not being there, though, can separate us from the intensity of the situation.

As I’ve thought about what to write in this post, how to express my heart (which is what this blog is about), I read a statement on social media by a ministry leader that speaks to the essence of my concern:

“I tend to post dramatic photos and stories of how I see it first hand because it often takes stirring, moving photos and heart wrenching stories to get Americans impacted enough for prayer and support outcomes.”  – Victor Marx, All things Possible Ministries 

I’m not sure what it is in the minds of other people that causes them to separate from what is going on throughout this nation or the world—and sometimes in our own communities—but for my part, it has to do with relevance to my day to day life, my own personal concerns and family circumstances, and feeling restricted in my ability to do anything about larger or global affairs.  However, I cannot even begin to understand our alienation from “the bigger picture” without recognizing that “the rulers, …the authorities, …the cosmic powers over this present darkness, …the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly [unseen realm] places” (Ephesians 6:12) seek to affect our thoughts and attitudes, focusing us more on ourselves and our limitations than the needs of others.

The Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah, spoke the word of God to the people of Judah during king Josiah’s reign.  He warned against complacency in the midst rebellion, idolatry, unbelief, and distance from God—and he warned against the coming “day of the Lord.”  Although he spoke of the coming destruction and captivity by the Babylonians, there is also an intimation of a distant day of the Lord.

“At that time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’” (Zephaniah 1:12)

The definition of “complacent” describes a dangerous place for Christians to dwell: “pleased, especially with oneself or one’s merits, advantages, situation, often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied.”  This is different than contentment, which is, “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”  The apostle Paul wrote this to his son in the faith, Timothy: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

However, here are some things he communicated about the attitudes reflected in complacency: “Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)

And the apostle John, in speaking to the seven churches, admonishes:  To the church at Ephesus, he wrote, “…I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first…” (Revelation 3:4, 5).  And he wrote to the church at Laodicea, “…I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked…” (Revelation 3:15-17).

I think our position on the “complacency continuum” can be determined by our relationship with Jesus, manifested in our prayer life and our relationship with God’s Word, the Bible.  It is also evidenced by our concern and care for the “least of these.”  Do we believe in the power of prayer and God’s listening ear to the point that we are praying for peace in Jerusalem, praying for the leaders of the country and region in which we live, and Israel, and interceding for lost friends and family?  Do we trust God enough to commit our ways unto Him, allowing Him to direct our paths—not leaning on our own understanding?  Do we turn away or turn towards the stories and pictures of those who are broken and suffering, or avert our eyes from the broken and suffering ones in our own communities?

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will wake me up and wake up Christ’s Church, that we will be able to recognize callousness and complacency in our lives and repent.  I pray that we will hunger and thirst after righteousness, putting on the mantle of compassion, taking up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), and praying “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…. [Keeping] alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:18).

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“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

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United in Prayer

Today (May 3, 2018) is the National Day of Prayer in the U.S.  The good thing is that God’s people, His church, do not have national boundaries in the spiritual realm, and anyone in any country can participate—prayer is not limited in any respect except for scriptural guidelines.  Here are a few:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)

“…You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2,3)

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27, 28)

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:18-20)

I am grateful that the Bible teaches so much about prayer, because I’m pretty sure the enemy, the ones who come to steal, kill, and destroy, whose mission is to seek and devour unwitting victims, also seeks to interrupt our communication with the Father—and the remarkable authority and power available to Christians united in faith and in prayer.

The National Day of Prayer was created in 1952 to be held on the 3rd day of May each year—the NDP Taskforce sets the priorities for prayer each year; an overriding theme for this year is Unity.

As much as I long to see God Bless America, with hearts and lives striving for unity in this country, my greater desire is to see the church worldwide become united under the banner of the cross, committed to acknowledging and teaching the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God—truth without the taint of error, united in the presence power of the Holy Spirit, choosing to love God above all else and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  I pray that the single light each one of our lives provide will unite together and provide a blazing testimony to the gospel, the goodness, and the grace of God.

Together, we are many more than two or three.  Together, if we ask God for Spiritual awakening across the land and around the world, we can expect the Father to do great things!

Father, purge hypocrisy out of our lives; help us to love you and love people more than we love things.  Change our hearts, cleanse bitterness and unforgiveness from our lives.  Help us to love and pray for those who abuse and mistreat us; restrain us from repaying evil with evil.  Cause our words to reflect the good changes you are making in our hearts, O God!

I pray for leaders and people in positions of authority in this country—Lord, grant them wisdom and surround them with Godly advisors.  Do not let evil prosper, Father!  Jesus taught, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3)

I pray that unjust covenants made is darkness will be revealed, that subversive and evil conversations will be exposed.  Confound and frustrate every attempt of the enemy to steal, kill, and destroy lives and freedom.

Awaken your people, Lord!  Create an atmosphere of unity without compromising truth or righteousness within our homes, our countries, and within your church.  Bring believers together in your Name; together may we agree to speak truth, stand against the liar and his lies, and powerfully live out your righteous purposes for our lives.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Cold Heart

I think most people are familiar with the story of Solomon and the moment of intense foreboding when he called for his sword, declaring that he would divide an infant in half to settle an argument between two women:

“Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him.  The one woman said, ‘Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house.  Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth.  And we were alone.  There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house.  And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him.  And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast.  When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead.  But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had born. …And the king said, ‘Bring me a sword.’  So, a sword was brought before the king.  And the king said, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.’  Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, ‘Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.”  But the other said, ‘He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.’  Then the king answered and said, ‘Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.’” (1 Kings 3:16-21, 24-27)

This account began a saga of wise leadership through David’s son, Solomon, because “the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” (1 Kings 3:28)

This story stirs up all kinds of “mom” emotions in me.  I cannot read these verses without experiencing a bombardment of “whys?” and “what ifs?”  I do not understand how any woman, whether a mom or not, could be willing to kill a child—but I also recognize that many women are willing to destroy unborn children. 

I hadn’t considered abortion when I began this post, but to not say anything would be a mistake.  What so grips me now is that there must have been something cold, something hardened in that woman’s heart which prompted her to call for the baby’s death.  Sadly, what may have appeared “fair” in her opinion for the women did not serve justice and was not fair at all for the child!

I recognize that this account is about God’s wisdom and justice demonstrated through king Solomon; however, I have thought a lot about these two women.  They were prostitutes, yet they had an audience with the king, they had his attention and his intervention in their lives.  Can you not see the magnificent grace of God in this story?  They were not sent away with an admonition, “You got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out!”  They were not treated as “lesser” citizens of the kingdom because of the choices they made or their lifestyle. 

And this is us! 

We can either come before our King, broken; or we can come with an air of cold-heartedness, minimizing or unwilling to admit our own brokenness and sin, unwilling to accept the wise judgment of a gracious God towards broken people.  Calling for judgment and death for others, but not recognizing nor acknowledging our own complicity.  The thing is, we are no better, nor are we worse than anyone else appearing before our sovereign King!

Sadly, though, I have heard calloused, cynical speech come from the voices and communications of professing Christians—often rushing in on legalistic or self-righteous gusts, quick to condemn and relegate to eternal separation from God those who desperately need the kindness of our Savior!  Forgetting that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

The Holy Spirit continues to admonish us through the apostle Paul, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

And remember?  Jesus taught us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

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Jesus, when speaking about the approaching end of days, warned, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:11)

I hope and pray that we, as Christians, will guard our hearts from the iciness of legalism, that we will recognize callousness born of unrepented sin, and not distance ourselves from God nor His people through the isolation of self-righteousness.  May we not be so intent on defending our “rights” rather than considering the rights of others to become children of God. (John 1:12) My soul’s cry to God is that the Holy Spirit will continue to soften our hearts – hearts that once were stone.

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An Opportunist

Not long ago, I read an account of a young man who, at a younger age, made a costly error in judgment.  Though he received forgiveness from God and his Christian parents, he still was plagued with a sense of shame.

Clearly, demons take fiendish delight in tormenting any person who has sinned (that is includes everyone), anyone one who makes mistakes (who doesn’t?), those who fall short of the expectations they put on themselves, and/or have disappointed the ones who love them most.  And that makes every one of us targets of the enemy’s vicious attacks!

Recently I read in the gospel of Luke the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.  This verse concluded that account: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)

Undoubtedly, satan attempts to “devour” us (1 Peter 5:8), tempting us with everything our humanity and flesh finds attractive; however, he is also an opportunist!  Examining the temptations that he carefully couched for our Savior, we can recognize that the devil not only sought to cause Him to sin (in similar ways that satan, himself, fell!), but he also wanted to destroy Christ’s ministry—His outreach to broken, helpless, and hopeless humanity—and His relationship with the Father.

Of course, demons want us to sin, to hamper our communication with God; and experience conveys (and so does scripture – Revelation 12:10), that the enemy also seeks to cast shadows of guilt and shame over our hearts.  Enemy forces seek to destroy our intimacy with the Father; they also seek to damage relationships within the church and our families and render us ineffective regarding our usefulness to God and personal ministry to others. 

Jesus taught, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  This is who we are designed to be and who “the thief” resolves to destroy: “…the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16) – because demons do not want our Father in heaven glorified!

We are also called and gifted for divine purpose:

 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

I write about spiritual warfare a lot—I think it is because I have so many, “How did I get here?” moments.  I recognize my propensity to dive into pools of guilt and shame, though; and I realize the enemy, not missing an opportunity, comes along with “helpful” pushes.  And when I see the storm clouds of judgment or legalism brewing, I’m learning to run into the shelter of the cross.

Jesus graphically taught us in the parable of the sower one of the enemy’s opportunistic tactics: “A sower went out to sow his seed.  And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it…. Now the parable is this:  The seed is the word of God.  The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:5, 11-12)

It is easy to dismiss this verse, thinking it just relates to our eternal destiny; however, the Greek word for saved in this verse, (sōzō), also infers making well, healing—restoring to health, being made whole.

I admit, there are pathways in my heart!  Places where God’s Word has difficulty penetrating, places that have been trampled by life—making easy access for the enemy to come along to snatch away from my memory the dynamic truth in God’s Word, causing me to forget the promises, the admonitions, and the hope so abundantly available to God’s children.

The prophet Hosea counsels, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hosea 10:12)

And the Holy Spirit counsels us through the wisdom writer: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). 

Seeking the Lord, guarding our hearts with vigilance, and rejoicing in trials are ways to effect faith-building, light-bearing, and seed-growing change in our lives.

Rejoicing in trials? Yes!  “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4); and, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

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