“Fall Protection”

My daughter took a safety class recently and one of her assignments was to create a PowerPoint presentation on Fall Protection.  She let me view it before she left for class, and as I was thinking about it a bit later, I was struck by how very applicable this topic is to the Christian life! …not like falling off a jet; rather, stumbling, tripping, or falling in our relationship with Jesus.

Time and again we see this caution in scripture – Take Heed!  It is interesting that God gives us some very specific areas where we need to be mindful:

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them…” (Matthew 6:1)

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones…” (Matthew 18:10)

“…Take heed that no one deceives you.”  (Matthew 24:4)

“…Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”        (Mark 8:15) [This one comes across to me as significant in that, He is not only referencing religious opinions, but also political stances that run contrary to scripture.]

“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”  (Mark 13:33)

“…Take heed how you hear.  For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”  (Luke 8:18)

“…Take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.”  (Luke 11:35)

“…Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.”  (Luke 12:15)

“…Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life…”  (Luke 21:34)

          “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”               

(1 Corinthians 10:12)

Falling isn’t about losing our salvation because we have these assurances:

“…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Romans 10:9)

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know then, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”  (John 10:27-29).

It’s about those things that interrupt our fellowship with God, our peace, and our relationships with others—and I can think of no greater benefit of our salvation than friendship and intimacy with God.  We have this assurance, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

Having some huge failures in my past, I recognize that the stumbles began in my thoughts, thinking because of the brokenness of my past, there could/would be a “special” dispensation for me, that God’s requirements for holy living were adjustable for individual lives; or looking at circumstances with a sense of being overwhelmed—allowing them to dictate my emotions and thoughts.

More recently (in the past week), I’ve become aware of my propensity to sympathize or commiserate with others without speaking the truth found in God’s Word.  …not even just acknowledging the problems facing those I love, and then moving on to encouraging praise to God for His love for us and His sovereignty (both integral to who He is and our relationship with Him), but getting stuck in attitudes of frustration and victimization, resulting in complaining and speaking derogatorily about those people or institutions that are causing friends or family members grief.

It is quite easy to fall when it comes to my attitudes and the words I speak.  It is especially poignant that scripture declares me an overcomer, but my words betray what I actually believe.  “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  (1 John 5:4-5)

●●●

The apostle John wrote these words to the church at Ephesus: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; Repent…” (Revelation 2:2-5)

It was to this church, Paul had previously written:  “In Him [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise…”; “…Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers…”; “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 1:13, 15-16; 2:1)

At what point did this congregation, the ones who Paul rejoiced with, saying, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast…,” (Ephesians 2:8) begin to put the emphasis of their lives on “works” while shifting their focus away from the gift?  Even now, it is all too easy to do, given the environment of our culture and the needs of various ministries.

Notice, the Holy Spirit’s warning through John about the church becoming consumed with “good works” and fighting evil while abandoning their passion for Jesus, was given to the same Spirit-filled church that the apostle Paul had written pointedly and powerfully about spiritual warfare: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places….” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

What happened to this congregation over time?

Could it happen to us if we don’t “take heed”?

tryagain

“Be sober, be vigilant;

Because your adversary the devil walks about

Like a lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Resist him, steadfast in the faith…!

 1 Peter 5:8, 9

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A Place for Us

Christians in the military face a dilemma most people don’t have to address, either at all, or as frequently as those serving their country.  Many Christians face opposition or antagonism in their workplace when they acknowledge their faith and take stands for righteous living as defined by the Bible; yet not all believers need to find a new church home every two to three years!  Living with my daughter for the past six years, and hearing about some of my son and his wife’s experiences through their PCSs (Permanent Change of Station), have given me a greater appreciation for the many struggles faced by “all-in” Christians serving in the armed forces.

This post isn’t necessarily about those serving in the military, though; it is about finding a “home” amongst other believers in Jesus.

I think most Christians recognize these verses in Hebrews (10:24, 25): “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

For those who have been wounded by other Christians, who may see the church full of hypocrites, who may have more important things to do on Sunday mornings (or any other time of the week), or don’t think they need fellowship with other believers, the imperative to “meet together” is optional and not worth considering.

This post isn’t about that, either. …not exactly, anyway.

It’s about belonging; it’s about a place for the broken and sinners (that is all of us) to find hope, healing, and a God-appointed destiny.

I recently decided to read through the New Testament again to update my New Testament prayer journal, and I kind of got stuck in the first chapter of Matthew (this is going to be a looooong project!) reading through the genealogy of Jesus.  My attention was grabbed (I noticed this before when I read this chapter, but I wanted to give it more attention this time) by some of the names mentioned here.  For instance:

“…and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…” (Matthew 1:3)

Judah separated himself from the rest of his family; he met and “took” a Canaanite woman who bore him two sons (the Canaanite people were notorious for their idolatry).  Judah took a wife, Tamar, for his first-born son, Er—who was put to death for his wickedness by the Lord.  Tamar was then given to the second son, who behaved wickedly in God’s sight, so the Lord put him to death, also. 

Judah told Tamar to remain a widow in her father’s house until his third son grew up; however, Judah did not keep his word to give her to his son, blaming her for what happened to his other sons.  So, she dressed as a prostitute, sitting by the side of the road when her father-in-law walked by – and he did not recognize her, but went in to her…

When Judah found out that Tamar had been “immoral”, he wanted to have her stoned—until he realized that he was the father of her twins, Perez and Zerah.

…and Perez the father of Hezron…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.”  (Matthew 1:5, 6a)

Rahab was a prostitute, and Ruth was a Moabite (Moab was the result of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his older daughter—she initiated the union for fear that she would never meet someone to marry and have children).

“…and Jesse the father of David the king.  And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…” (Matthew 1:6).

Jesus, perfect Redeemer, Lion of the tribe of Judah, was a son, a descendant of David, who was an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon, known for his wisdom and notorious for his many foreign wives.

Yet, Grace and Justice win!

Just as those of questionable character and heritage found a place in the lineage and family of Jesus, there is a place in His body, the church, for all who have received Him. 

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Ephesians 2:17-19).

I cannot help but be moved by the fact that many people who seem to be most comfortable in church, should be the least comfortable.  And those who are the most broken amongst us, who may feel the least comfortable, should be the ones truly at home!  …as Jesus’ words confirm, “And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’  And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” (Luke 5:30-32).

●●●

We moved earlier this year, not sure if you know that I live with my daughter, who is in the Navy, and my granddaughter—because my daughter’s job takes her away from the small one quite a bit.  This is our family dynamic:  A divorced grandma, a single mom, and a little girl.  The search for a church home hasn’t been quite as easy with this move as the ones in the past.  More this time than past moves, I’ve had to let go of my expectations of what a church should be or should offer as far as “ministries.”  Absolutely no compromise about core tenets of the faith—inerrancy and God-breathed infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the fruit, the gifts, and the power of the Holy Spirit…

Yet, church families—like all families—have differing dynamics, and it is God’s Spirit who leads us, and works in our lives to knit us together with other believers. 

This post is about more than finding just the right place where we “fit”, though, and the ministries we desire for nurturing our relationship with God, our Father, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit.  I’m writing about fitting ourselves into a body of believers where we can be used by God to embrace, encourage, and support others—turning our eyes outwards from what we want or expect to how we can serve those sitting in the rows surrounding us.

That is my hope and prayer for every one of us…

 

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Pursue Peace!

Life has been pretty crazy lately, pretty full of “shoulda’ dones,” “shoulda’ knowns,” “shoulda’ been tolds” —so much going on! …aaaaaand my daughter and I have been involved in a Bible study on the armor of God.

I don’t know if you have had this experience, but it seems like every time I study about spiritual warfare or the armor of God, my commitment to “standing firm” gets rattled in one way or another.  I’m not sure the battle becomes more intense; I think it likely that I become more aware of the circumstances surrounding me that have the potential to shake up my faith, my intimacy with God, and my responses to life as it happens.

Lately, my attention has focused more on two of the lesser emphasized pieces of armor—the “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace,” and, “the helmet of salvation.” (Ephesians 6:15, 17)

I’ve kind of faltered in my understanding of having gospel shoes on. …sort of thought that meant being equipped with proof texts for convincing people to believe in Jesus.  Kind of overlooked the peace part; and feeling the pressure to “prove” something has very little to do with peace!

Here’s the good news, the gospel: “…God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.  They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-43) Might I add, Hallelujah!  We have peace through Jesus Christ! 

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

Here’s my dilemma, though.  I’m not always ready with the good news of peace to “count it all joy…when [I] meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2) In fact, it seems, more often than not, I forget “that for those who love God [I am one of “those”] all things work together for good, for those [that’s me] who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) So, instead of the peace that comes through my relationship with Jesus, I frequently respond to those impositions of life on my happy little place of well-being with grumpiness, entitlement (“why is this happening to me” or “they could have handled this better”), a sense of imposition (“you’re bothering me”), fear, or just plain old anger—essentially, anything but joy!  It becomes a serious problem when I choose to talk to others about my frustrations and disappointments instead of “casting all [my] anxieties on him, because he cares for [me]. (1 Peter 5:7)

The “helmet of salvation” is the other piece of armor that, as reading through this portion of scripture, in the past I’ve quickly skimmed over, thinking, “I’m saved, it’s all good, I’m covered on this one!” …not recognizing that, even though I am saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus and his redeeming blood, I still need take up the helmet of salvation.  I still need work getting my thoughts in line with His thoughts.  I still need to confront the enemy’s lies and tear down the strongholds where he holds sway over my thoughts, my attitudes, and my reactions to life happening in ways that seem challenging.

Interesting.  It is to my extremities, my head and my feet, that I haven’t paid careful attention regarding the armor of God.  Not even quite sure where to put that in my “significance” file … just something to note.  Perhaps we need to consider that the enemy likes to focus his attention on the places in our lives where we are not so careful to pay attention!

I’ve found that demons take fiendish delight in launching attacks against the very core of our identity in Christ.  I think those of us who experienced damaged relationships growing up and broken relationships as adults wage a significant war grasping and holding on to who we are in Jesus.  One of the lies that echoed throughout my soul was, “I am too broken to be used by God.”  The truth, on the other hand is, I have been chosen by God to bear fruit! (John 15:6) Because of Jesus, I am holy, and I share in God’s heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1); and, I belong to a chosen race, a royal priesthood a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession and created to sing His praises (1 Peter 2:9-10).

There are places in our souls that provide target practice for the enemy—we need to remember that we have an adversary prowling around, seeking someone to devour!  Sometimes critical thoughts consume me, sometimes pride.  Sometimes frustration screams in my ears—yet always I know the only way to combat lies is to overwhelm them with truth.  And the only solid, unwavering basis for truth is in Jesus and God’s Word, the Bible. 

 

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind

is stayed on you,

Because he trusts in you.

 Isaiah 26:3

tryagain

I’ve had a lot going on in my life since I began writing this post, which is why it has taken me so long to finish it.  Just recently, someone very close, very dear to me, discovered a lump in her breast.  The trying to get in to see the doctor, the uncertainty of what they will find, the fact that she is away from home because of work…

Life happening has a way of threatening our peace, exposing our thoughts and our vulnerabilities to the onslaughts of the enemy—  NOW is the time to take our thoughts captive to Jesus.  NOW is the time to dress for battle, ensuring that our helmets are in place. …and it is ALWAYS the right time to walk in the peace that comes from knowing Jesus! 

 

 

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I’m Not Like That!

Sometimes, it takes a couple of things coinciding to get my attention, to wake me up to sin in my thoughts or attitudes.  Some of the things I seem to write about a lot, like judging others, are so deeply embedded in my human nature, that, even though I am a Christian, I need to continually walk in the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.  I need to ensure that strongholds, places where the enemy has had undue influence in my life, are pulled down and stay down by taking my thoughts captive to Jesus!

We went to a baseball recently and as we were sitting in our designated seats, we watched as a family of three arrived after the game had started.  It appeared that they were having difficulty trying to figure out where they were supposed to sit and moved around several times before they settled on some seats several rows ahead of us.  I had a running dialogue in my head wondering about how difficult is it really to figure out your row number and seat number, assessing their appearance and making assumptions.  Finding boxes and putting them in while totally submersed in my judgments and thought processes.

Later, I found out from my daughter that some other people were sitting in their seats and refused to move.  That caught me up short and exposed to my consciousness the sin in my heart.

I know these texts on judging:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite…!” (Matthew 7:1-5a)

The problem is that we can’t see our own logs because they are blocking our view!

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1, 4).

The problem exists in our denial, “I’m not like that!” …whether it is the sin we perceive in another’s life or our attitudes and the judgments we are passing.

It is so easy to condemn others, forgetting that, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).

Unconsciously, many Christians suppose that people need to quit sinning, quit their sinful lifestyles (especially really “bad” ones), and then God will forgive and save them.  Forgetting that Jesus told the accusers of the woman caught in adultery, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7); forgetting that all [every single one of us!] have sinned and fall short [still doing it!] of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23-24).  And he told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (v. 11).  The command to “sin no more” came after forgiveness was granted.

Yet here I was doing it!  Judging.  Condemning.  Falling short.  Forgetting that, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly … – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6, 8).

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I just finished reading a book about the Holocaust—a novel based on the lives of women both employed and incarcerated at the Ravensbrück Nazi concentration camp.  Such unthinkable atrocities!

It shakes me to the core that unbridled prejudice and hatred can go so far; how human life can lose significance, how violence and murder is justified in the minds of some people.  But it cannot be justified!  Not in God’s eyes—and this kind of hatred is becoming increasingly prevalent!  It is not a huge step between threatening words and actions.  Yet, and this is so scary to me, this kind of hatred toward “outsiders” is often lurking in the hearts of Christians, though not recognized. 

God forgive us!  Cleanse our hearts from impurity.  Refresh us daily in your Holy Spirit and teach us to live Spirit-filled lives.

Remind us of your words: “…everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever say, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22).  Convict us when we are inclined to excuse our attitudes and behaviors, O God!  Help us to acknowledge that enmity, strife, fits of anger, dissensions, and divisions are works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20).

The Holocaust happened because someone decided that society would be better off without certain groups of people, and many agreed.  That same spirit exists in the hearts of all who harbor resentment and hatred towards people groups who, in the thoughts of some, do not have the right to exist.  As believers in the Messiah, we must acknowledge that everyone deserves the opportunity to know God and receive His amazing gift of salvation.

I know some would object to my suggestion that we, as Christians, would intentionally harbor thoughts of anger, hatred, and murder.  Yet some of the words professing Christians speak belie attitudes incongruent to the life and mission of Jesus.  We must also consider that there is one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, who influences thoughts, and without discernment, and the constraint and the power of the Holy Spirit filling our lives, there is little control where those thoughts may lead.

We have this counsel from the apostle Paul: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raise against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ….” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

In a world, in a nation where “united” was once a description, it is no longer a reality.  As Christians, we must neither be swayed by the hatred, the vitriol characterizing the spirits of this world; nor through compromise, discard the belt of truth encircling our lives through the knowledge of God and His Word.

●●●●

“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

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Back to the Front!

Recently, there’s been a stunning story with an accompanying picture in the news—that of a brave aid worker carrying a small child away from the bodies of her family, from under the hijab of her dead mother, and through the deadly gunfire of ISIS fighters. 

Sometimes images strike such a deep chord within me that they just won’t let go, especially the pictures of this little girl and the deep wells of sadness looking blankly into the camera.

My thoughts are all over the place as I consider the images of this rescue—the first thing that popped into my mind was that, while many people and the media are busy condemning Christians, particularly the “fundamentalist” type, there are Christians engaged in physically ministering to and rescuing people, everywhere, not just in Iraq. Meeting very real physical needs.  Doing what Jesus told us to do, no matter what people say or think about them or what they are doing.  Not intimidated by the “bullets” of a hostile culture—Christians ministering in love, generous with time and resources.

But society doesn’t want to see the good Christians do; rather, they would prefer to focus on the fact that we defend the Bible, respect God’s definition of marriage, and seek to preserve human life from its inception.

It is our responsibility, though, to pray for those who oppose us, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us—that is what Jesus told us to do.

More concerning, in my mind, are the ones who profess to be Christians yet condemn or criticize various ministries on the frontlines of reaching out to those who need a touch of grace.  (Also alarming are those churches that seek to discount or provide personal interpretation of scripture to justify sinful behavior.)

Jesus taught us, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38).  The context here makes me think that we will get back the judgment and condemnation that we extend towards others… 

I know that it is easy to look “with a critical eye” at those who are more engaged than we are in serving Jesus.  I also know that when we recognize our sin, confess and repent, that God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse unrighteousness from us (1 John 1:9).

A couple of concerns people have expressed over publicized, high-risk ministry is that the ones in those ministries are exalting themselves.  Another perspective, though, is that they are putting their lives at risk by revealing their activities.  However, I wouldn’t have known the severity of suffering in the Middle East and other parts of the world if brave warriors for the gospel didn’t make it known.  And as disturbing as some of the pictures are, I want to get shaken out of my complacent, lukewarm-Christian way of thinking and “doing life”.

The other concern I have is the argument that those going to distant lands to minister and save children should stay home and focus on their own communities and nation.  Not sure I should even say more than what Jesus commanded … “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15).  There are no borders in God’s kingdom, and those who raise this concern might look within their own communities to see that there are many ministries where they personally can become involved by committing their time and resources.  Also, there is no ministry we can’t be a part of if we are willing to intercede with God for them.

My plan for where I was going with this post is that we are all called, in one way or another, to spread the love of Jesus in this dying world.  People will criticize Bible-believing Christians, let the criticizers and condemners criticize and condemn—meanwhile, let us, you and I, do what Jesus said—be light and salt (Matthew 5:13-16), and take care of the “least”, the smallest of significance in this worlds eyes (Matthew 25:35-45).  Rather than sitting back and observing what others are doing, may we push forward, praying for the lost and broken, and serving God in the places He has called us.

tryagain

Recently I was typing up a prayer I wrote after reading Genesis 21, where we find the story of Hagar and Ishmael, rejected by Sarah and sent out from Abraham’s household: “When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes.  Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, ‘Let me not look on the death of the child.’  And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.  And God heard the voice of the boy and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar?  Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Up!  Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’…And God was with the boy….” (Genesis 21:15-18, 20).

This is my prayer…  Father, I am touched by the compassion you showed towards Hagar and Ishmael—you heard the boy’s voice as he cried out.  There are many children nowadays who are crying out in desperation—children who are hungry, who are thirsty, children who are abused, enslaved, and who are suffering in ways I cannot imagine.  Hear their cries, O Lord!  Reach out your hands and your heart to them through your people.  Open our eyes to ways we can nourish and refresh others.  Bless and protect those who are risking their lives to save and minister to children and families, I pray!

            Convince your people to live with honesty and integrity.  When faced with conflict, grant us wisdom and generous hearts, trusting you to take care of us.  Help your children to live at peace with others whenever it is possible to do so.

            You are our God—the everlasting God—and I commit my ways to you.  You are my Savior, my Lord, and my friend, and I trust you.  In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

rescue

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“Just Trust Jesus!”

Sage advice, in any case… that is, to “just trust Jesus!”  I’ve given that advice many times, I am sure, and yet have felt a bit of hollowness after speaking it—I gave my daughter that advice with a slight variation recently and didn’t feel the same “excusing myself from your problem” as I have at other times.

My message was, “Praying that you will be at peace and trust God for your job!”  I’m a little bit embarrassed to be sharing this and I can imagine she is less than thrilled to have me write about it; however, the Holy Spirit has been speaking to my heart about how I/we can effectively support others when they are experiencing “stormy seas” in their jobs, their relationships, and the many obstacles that the enemy throws in our paths to derail us from intimacy with God.

With internet viruses, phone scams, and a myriad of ways for people to defraud others popping up every day, our trust is something we are wise to guard.  We need to have a history with and an intimate knowledge of a person before we open our lives up to them.  That speaks of time—time to experience life together and get to know one another—and it speaks of a commitment to the relationship.

Perhaps better advice for a friend, an acquaintance—or ourselves—and anyone who is experiencing difficult or trying circumstances is to know Jesus.  I have experienced the faithfulness and goodness of God through the trials in my life—there have been some deep wounds from my childhood and as an adult.  I know the faithfulness of God to heal the broken-hearted (Isaiah 61:1) because of the joy in my heart and the “garment of praise” (Isaiah 61:3) covering my life.  I also think that our healing will become complete only when we see Jesus and He wipes “away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, [and] the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

We have this amazing resource, the Bible, which God has preserved through the ages, that reveals who He is and His character; and yet sometimes it feels like drudgery to read or to meditate on the Word.  I’m guessing that has a lot do with what we may unconsciously think about the Scriptures.  Some parts of it are easy to read, while others are a challenge.  No part of it is without significance, though.  In fact, the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, identifies the Word of God as the “Sword of the Spirit”, an offensive weapon in the war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:17, 12).

I write about spiritual warfare quite a bit, but I am also amazed at how quickly I forget that there are invisible factors at work all around us; and the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Of course, the enemy would not want us to grow in our knowledge of and intimacy with Jesus!  Naturally, by their very nature, demons would want to disable our use of the weapon given us to cause them harm!

One strategy of the enemy is to treat the Bible like a smorgasbord, picking and choosing the parts we like, agree with, or feel comfortable with, and disregarding or discounting the rest—in particular, writing-off portions of scripture that pertain to marriage, the beginning of life, and the justice and judgment of God in response to pride, idolatry, and rebellion – sin!

And the assaults, verbal, physical, and financial, against “fundamentalist” or “evangelical” Christians, those who believe the Bible and commit to sharing the Good News, are growing—knowing Jesus comes at a cost; however, a very insignificant one in the light of eternity and experiencing “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Another phrase we can be careless in using with someone experiencing pain or thorny circumstances is, “I’ll pray for you.”  My hope is that the Holy Spirit will ignite in me the commitment to pray every time I say that I will!  I do not want to be lazy in prayer because prayer is powerful.  Yet often, because our expectations and timing are not met and we do not perceive what God is doing in the unseen realm, we are too quick in abandoning the powerful resource we have in prayer. 

All too often, we lose the heart; however, Jesus recognized our weakness when it comes to prayer: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.  He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.  And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.”  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”’  And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.  Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8).

We have an adversary, the devil (1 Peter 5:8), who does not want justice for God’s people.  We also have Someone who represents us before the Father, one who “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

Completing the “suiting up” of our armor is the admonition, “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

tryagain

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  For,

‘Whoever desires to love life

And see good days,

Let him keep his tongue from evil

And his lips from speaking deceit;

Let him turn away from evil and do good;

Let him seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

And his ears are open to their prayer.

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”

 1 Peter 3:8-12

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Who God Says We Are!

My daughter and I experienced encounters with others recently that presented challenges to both our identity and joy.  Often, I unconsciously interpret the unkindness of others as a reflection of my worth, forgetting that my value as a human being is determined by a God who loves me and was willing to give up His life for me—not by someone who sees with earth-bound eyes and perceives with human judgment.

Some “religious” or legalistic interpretations of Christianity also communicate messages about a person’s worth based on his or her adherence to rules and interpretations of “laws”—good when you follow their formula for salvation (yet ignoring the place where sin resides within each person), bad when one doesn’t follow the stipulated rituals (traditions, practices, or rites).

Besides man-made religion or humanity’s perception of what a Christian is or should be, society is a demanding, tyrannical factor in conveying what is acceptable (or unacceptable) for approval and valuation of personal worth.  The car you drive, where you live or work, the clothes you wear have become more simplistic standards for judgment (though many still look with a critical eye at those who have less).  Christians who seek to honor God, who are devoted to knowing Him and studying His Word are nowadays deemed uncaring and intolerant.  Sadly, many bow to the pressure of criticisms and judgments of this world’s culture, while disregarding or disbelieving the Scriptures and the judgments of God. 

Compromise.  It makes life on earth more tolerable, more acceptable in a society where the tide of opinion, instead of the Word of God, determines what is right and wrong, what is justice or what is injustice.  And when we say that abortion is murder and God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman, we put targets on our backs for arrows of hatred generated, first and foremost, by Satan.

But we often forget! —we forget that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 6:12).  And we also forget Jesus’ command, “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)—sometimes it is difficult to hear, or remember, those words, particularly when the lies and manipulations of the enemy, the twisting of truth and rejection of scripture, dominate the news and even some of our relationships.

There is an interesting story in the Old Testament when the leaders of Israel came to Samuel the prophet and they didn’t like how their nation was being run and they had some legitimate concerns about the leadership.  They told Samuel, “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”  This was God’s response to the prophet’s prayer, “And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:5, 7).

The Israelites, God’s chosen people, thought the answer for their problems was in being like other people, like other nations; seeking God and trusting Him did not appear to be a consideration for solving the issues involving the leadership of their nation—they wanted to blend in, to be acceptable within the culture of their day.

The Holy Spirit instructed the Corinthian church, through the apostle Paul: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with unrighteousness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God… ‘Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord…and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty’” (1 Corinthians 6:14-16).

For the sake of “getting along” or maintaining peace within the culture, many are sacrificing peace with God—either out of ignorance or the rejection of the His Word!

Yet God, our Father, identifies us as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once [we] were not a people, but now [we] are God’s people; once [we] had not received mercy, but now [we] have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are sons and daughters of God, we are His people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; yet it is not at all difficult to become intimidated or threatened by a culture that does not know nor understand the righteousness, the love, or the justice of God.  Fueling our insecurities and the questions that lurk deep within us about our identities in God is an enemy who seeks to undermine our rightful position in Jesus and threaten our commitment to serve Him with our whole hearts.

I admit that frequently I want to defend myself and God’s church against the verbal and written attacks claiming that Christians are intolerant and hateful.  I also recognize that the “accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10) is fueling the tide of opinion against Christians, and that those who reject God will reject us—and they will not be able to hear truth.  It is important for us to live and speak with integrity, to live as His children, with distinction as God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation, within a twisted culture. 

James, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” counsels, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 1:1, 4:7-8).

As Christians, we are who God says we are, not who the world thinks we are or how society seeks to define us.  We will become increasing secure in our God-given identity as we draw closer to Him!

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