Faulty Thinking

The Bible is amazing!  I love studying it and recently I’ve spent a lot of time in the book of Genesis (even though I frequently wander away for other studies).  I especially like praying through the scriptures as the Holy Spirit leads.

I read a verse recently that nagged at my thoughts for a while—two brief, rather cryptic (in my opinion) sentences that seemed to conceal an emotion-laden situation packed with potentially tragic consequences.  “While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine.  And Israel heard of it.”  (Genesis 35:22)

My immediate response— “What was he thinking?”

What indeed!

Was he motivated by lust? Or was this a power play on his part, challenging his father’s authority and attempting to establish himself in a position of influence over his brothers—a position that was already his because he was the firstborn.  Perhaps he did this because he had a skewed moral code.  Whatever the case, he was wrong to sleep with his father’s concubine.

Granted, his father had not followed the pattern God established for marriage at creation—one man married to one woman for a lifetime—yet that was not a valid excuse for Reuben’s behavior. 

Making excuses for ourselves because of what someone else has done (or is doing) is never enough to release us from accountability for our own behavior—whether we are followers of Jesus or not.  Yet as Christians, we have all the resources of heaven, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, and the promises of God, available to us.  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Many nowadays seek to challenge the Father’s authority by rejecting, debating, or qualifying His inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word—the Bible.  However, (speaking from experience here), it suits us more to deny or attempt to re-interpret God’s Word to suit sinful and broken human nature instead of acknowledging the fact that we are indeed sinners, our lives and our thinking are broken, and we are all in need of God’s Spirit and His Word to change both our behavior and our thought processes.

The book of Proverbs has sage counsel on those who rely on their own wisdom:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”  (Proverbs 3:5-7) and…

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  (Proverbs 26:12)

The prophet Isaiah wrote through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:  “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Whatever pushed Reuben towards such an error in judgment (sin), it did not work out well for him.  This is what Jacob pronounced regarding Reuben in his final blessing/prophecy over his sons: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.  Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!” (Genesis 49:3-4)

Things will not work out well for us if we fail to recognize the authority of God’s Word (or are not intimately acquainted with it), for whatever reason—whether rebellion, indifference, or misguided compassion.  It is contrary to the purposes of God to solve problems or confront evil with evil!  And sometimes we all too easily forget just how “great is our God!” with circumstances blinding our eyes to His righteousness, justice, and sovereignty.

Sometimes we think he needs our help to do His job, yet this He affirms:

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’  Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him.  In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”  (Isaiah 45:22-25)

I have learned these lessons the hard way! —there are no exceptions to God’s Word and the tenets by which He has called us to live. …nor His principles in governing our thoughts.  Only when we stand on the heights of eternity will we grasp the majesty of our Creator’s sovereignty and recognize that His hand truly was directing the course of history.  I am blessed as I have gotten older, to see just how good and how faithful God is to those who love Him, and to the broken of this world.  Trusting Jesus really is the best course for our lives!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fractured Relationships

No doubt about it, I love the holidays! …the music, the movies, the food, the festive atmosphere—all of it!  But mostly I love being with family and friends.  Of course, some of the demands and schedules get a little harrowing, but for the most part, the upsides outweigh the downsides.

Mostly.

I don’t know if that is true for everyone, though; because for some, the holiday season often hides some dark threads weaving through thoughts, emotions, and relationships.  Sometimes expectations and personal history cast dark shadows over those moments that could hold the most joy for us. 

I still feel the pain as my thoughts cried out to God recently, “Why can’t we forgive?”  “Why do we have to hold on to offenses even during one of the most sacred times of the year?”  “Why can’t we let go of what divides us for just one day out of the year?”

I think we have the notion that, since we cannot accept the behavior of another or our perception of what they did to us, we cannot let that person into our lives for even a day.  Seems to me that belief is sourced either in self-righteousness or unforgiveness.  Unfortunately, both of those attitudes—self-righteousness (pride) and unforgiveness—are so much more easily recognizable in others instead of ourselves.

God has a few things to say about our attitudes; but to recognize sinful attitudes within our hearts, we need to humble ourselves before Him, allowing the Holy Spirit complete access to our souls.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24) And we need to listen to hear what He has to say!

Writing this is difficult because I have struggled so much with my own heart attitudes.  I have been (painfully) self-righteous, pride does whisper into my thoughts, I have claimed to forgive and then turned around to gossip or condemn another in conversation.  Thank God for His grace and the Holy Spirit for faithfully alerting me to the “grievous” ways in my heart and leading “me in the way everlasting!” 

I cannot sit here and write, “Why can’t they forgive, why do they hold on to offenses?” without yielding my heart to God and inquiring, “Where have I not forgiven; where do I nurture offense?”  Or how many times have I whispered in my heart, “I am better than that,” and unconsciously thought, I am better than them. …or thought, “I am glad that I am not like them!” 

Although we are horrified by the attitudes and behaviors of the Pharisees, can we not honestly admit that at times our thoughts reflect the very same postures Jesus condemned?  We isolate ourselves from others – if not physically, then emotionally – when we become aloof from others by the judgments and criticisms we entertain: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’…  (Luke 18:11-12)

It is so much easier to visualize our worth through good works and through our good behavior, and condemn others for not living up to the imaginary standards we set for ourselves, or them, (which we ourselves quite often are unable to achieve—my judgment of other drivers is an excellent example of that…condemning another for not using his or her turn signals and then forgetting to use mine).

The apostle Paul admonished the Roman believers, “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.” (Romans 2:1) My inclination is to immediately retort, “No I don’t!”  But God knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves and He says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind….’” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

But it was when we were at our worst, in the depth of our sin, that Jesus reached out for fallen, broken humanity.  “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11).

The best place for us to stand is far away from hypocrisy and, like the tax collector, bow our hearts before God. … “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14).

The monumental difference between these two men is that one attempted to justify himself and the other was justified by God.

The is no legitimate excuse, no justification for self-righteousness or unforgiveness when Jesus so freely extends reconciliation to us!

Instead, let us heed the wise counsel of the Holy Spirit:

“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.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like Jesus

I thought, mistakenly so, that when the presidential campaign in the U.S. was in our rear-view mirror, the vitriol, the accusations, the fear and fearful predictions would rapidly abate.  Didn’t happen.  In fact, if anything, the anger, hatred, and fear have greatly escalated.  Decades of political process are being tried in the courts of opinion and for many, coming up as a broken system.

Can we ever be the “United States of America”?  It certainly doesn’t look or sound like it!  I couldn’t possibly take on the many issues dividing us; most people are impassioned about their opinions, making it virtually impossible to interject scriptural perspectives if one is not inclined to receive them.  The apostle Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth: “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word…and even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2-4).  Scripture also reminds us that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

It is easy to proclaim that certain individuals are the source of our nation’s problems and possible (in some minds) demise.  However, without a common moral foundation supporting us, or unity of purpose and understanding of justice to serve as a compass to guide this country, there is little hope for America to be united. 

And it is so easy to forget the spiritual war raging around us in the unseen realm when we are inclined to engage in arguments to support our views as Christians.  Scripture counsels, “He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.  Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:7-10).

When Eve stood gazing at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, an aspect of satan’s deception was the enticement to be like God—she looked at the tree and viewed its desirability to make her wise, and she longed for a wisdom equal to, but apart from, God.  The apostle John referred to the wisdom offered by demons and rampant in this world “the pride of life.”  “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).

If one is not serving the God of heaven, he or she is held captive by the devil and constrained to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26).  Pride is a huge prison for many people as it was also satan’s pride that cast him from the presence of God.  Interestingly, Ezekiel speaks this of satan: “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17).  It is in pride that wisdomi becomes corrupt!  –The tricky thing about pride is that it is so much easier to see in others than it is to recognize it in ourselves!

God’s wisdom is much different from the wisdom of this world: “Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.  Therefore, let no one boast in men” (1 Corinthians 3:18-21).

Sometimes I feel baited into responding to “discussions” or the assumptions (and accusations) about choices Christians should or should not make in the political arena.  Sometimes I am frustrated by the prognostications of the fearful and the media manipulators.  Sometimes I am angry at the suppositions some make of my character and my faith in Jesus.  Always I am perplexed by those who use the name of Jesus, who profess to be Christians, but also think that it is morally acceptable to destroy the lives of unborn children.

It is inexplicable to me just how intensely I am drawn to the controversy raging in this country—and I think many people feel compelled to join in, which is a problem, I believe, for Christians.  The enemy and his agents come at us with anger, hatred, and intimidation, and exposing ourselves to his lies makes us vulnerable to them.  His strategies rarely change, though; he initially attacks the moral character of God (and His children), and he proffers worldly (which is demon-inspired) wisdom, and tempts us with a sense of entitlement.

Our best response is to “…lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…and run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2); and to pray that we, as God’s church, will “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that [we] may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Colossians 1:9-12).

Winning arguments is not at all important in this world held captive by the forces of darkness; however, being like Jesus and extending His life, His compassion, and His ministry is essential.  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him….this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:16-19, 23)

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Spirit of Fear

“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:7).

Some days I spend way too much time on social media – I need to do something about that!  However, spending a little time scrolling through the various posts has proved to be quite informative!

By far, the most intense post-election emotion that I’ve been reading about is fear; and that fear has been a springboard for anger, hatred, rebellion, and violence.  For Christians, it is essential to recognize the spiritual component behind fear (“spirit of fear”) and respond as warriors equipped for battle:

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” [That’s us! We are his brethren, and we have a responsibility to “be strong in the Lord!”]  “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 host of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

It has been easy to blame individuals and the media for misinformation, bias, and misrepresentations—and for igniting tremendous fear and violent responses—without acknowledging the spiritual forces motivating the divisions and hatred.  Scripture lays out for us many characteristics of demonic activity:

Deceit, Fraud, Enemy of all Righteousness, Perverting the straight ways of the Lord:Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?’” (Acts 13:9-10).

Unrighteousness, Hatred, Jealousy: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.  For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:10-12)

Murder, Absence of Truth, Telling Lies: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)

We, as Christians, need to suit up for battle and take our fight to where the war is being waged—in the unseen, the “heavenly” realms.  We can start by taking control of our own thoughts: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Arguing with people is fruitless (as many have discovered by now), particularly with those who refuse to accept the lordship of Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul wrote this to Timothy, “If anyone…does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.  From such withdraw yourself.”  (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

And: “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.  And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

Wow!  Think about this—those who lie, who oppose the truth are captives of the enemy and are commissioned by him to do his will; they are his spokesmen, his press secretaries, if you will.

And when we give place to the demons of fear, anger, or rage, we become their slaves— “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey…?” (Romans 6:16)

As Christians, we must confront the enemy where he is, with the armor given us for warfare: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:13-18)

Paul also counseled Timothy, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Talking about problems and complaining are so much easier to do that praying—but God calls us to pray, to “fear not”, and to trust Him.  Let us raise a banner to God in the midst of the battle!  Let cry out to Him in faith—let us worship Him who is the author and finisher of our faith!  And let us pray for His kingdom to come, and for His will to be done on earth!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weighing in…

I’m pretty sure most people living in the United States right now would admit that tension is extremely high in anticipation of the November presidential election.  It seems that much is at stake, no matter what your political views are—which is why so much emotion, tempered by angst, is propelling angry, vindictive words, actions, and strategies during this political season.  And it is true, the decisions we make now could affect the character of our country for years to come.

As a Christian, I am adamantly pro-life.  I read one pro-life blogger, though, post that she wouldn’t vote pro-life because there are other considerations to take into account—yet I have to vote to protect the least protected in our society.  I couldn’t help but remember the title of a book, “Small Sacrifices”, written by Ann Rule about a woman from the area where I lived at the time, who shot her three children—one died, one was paralyzed, and though the other also survived, she suffered a stroke as a result of being shot.  I personally cannot let there be any “small sacrifices” for what some may think are bigger, more important issues.

How is a Christian to approach the hostile climate in which we are living right now?

My daughter and I were talking this morning about how, sometimes circumstances we encounter seem to smack us in the face, forcing us to decide whether to believe what the situations are telling us or trust what God’s Word says is true.  When we see dishonesty or corruption in government, while “legally” supporting the murder of innocents, and immorality and perversion as identified by scripture, it may be difficult to accept that God’s Word also declares, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2).

Which is why it is important to vote, as long as we have to opportunity to do so.  Even if it is only for one issue, to save the lives of many innocent babies. 

And still consider the Children of Israel, foreigners, and slaves in a hostile land.  God worked through Pharaoh’s pride and hostility to accomplish an astonishing delivery for His people.  Also, God used pagan kings to bring about the rebuilding of the temple, the return of His people to Jerusalem, and the reconstruction of the city walls after the Babylonian captivity.

Remember the caution given God’s people through the prophet Isaiah, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  We have, over the millennia, not managed to get smarter than God!

I know there are a number of social issues that concern many people, such as poverty, addictions, homelessness, brokenness, immigration, and racial tensions, just to name a few.  As easy as it is to pass the responsibility off, the answer is not in a more socialistic government that continues to dive deeper into debt; as Christians, we must respond to the needs we see around us—not compromising truth, yet serving others with compassion.

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27).

“Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him…” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 5:2).

The church must step up and be the people of God.  And we must pray!

The apostle Paul instructed Timothy, his son in the faith, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people.  Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.  Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NLT).

Sometimes it is difficult to know how to pray effectively (praying, “Lord, strike them with lightning” isn’t actually a legitimate prayer), because it is easy to forget in the midst of animosity and conflict, that the Holy Spirit goes on to say to Timothy through the apostle Paul, “…This is good [praying for all people and interceding for those in authority] and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” (vs. 3-4)

Praying for the salvation of those in government, both elected and appointed officials (supreme court), and those running for office is a good first step.

Approaching God in faith as we pray is essential, knowing that “it is impossible to please God without faith [and] anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6); therefore, we acknowledge, in faith, that Jesus is “mighty to save!” (Isaiah 63:1).

design

Here are some prayers for our nation based on passages from the book of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 18: “You are sovereign, O God; you establish nations and tear them down.  I live in a nation that once honored you, but many of our leaders and citizens no longer have any regard for you.  Selfishness, greed, stubbornness, human understanding instead of godly wisdom, calling good evil and evil good, idolatry—these are just a few of the characteristics of many countries who have rebelled against you.  Forgive your people who have been seduced by the lies of the enemy.  Give us humble hearts to turn back to you in repentance.  Grant us courage and perseverance to intercede for our families, for your people, your churches, and for our nation.”

 “Raise up Godly leaders in this nation who will listen to you and lead with integrity.  Protect your people from the injustice and hatred that the enemy stirs up against us; give us courage to defend truth with love when spiritual opposition undermines and assaults righteousness.  Grant your people discernment to walk with integrity, avoiding compromise with the cultures of this world.  Draw the hearts of the leaders and people of this nation back to you, I pray…In Jesus’ name, amen.”

design

Jeremiah 19: “I lift up both civic leaders in this nation and spiritual leaders within your church; I pray that the Holy Spirit would bring them to account for their words and actions.  Forgive your people, forgive this nation for their rebellion against you—humble our leaders and guide us to repentance for idolatry and sacrifice of young lives on altars of selfishness, pride, and rebellion.  Encourage your people to stand strong against the lies and intimidations of the enemy, O God!”

“I pray for families—parents, children, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—all who have opportunities to influence young lives—and ask for your wisdom in raising our little ones to know you and grow up to serve you.  Touch our hearts with conviction when we are inclined to selfishly sacrifice the needs of children for our own interests and diversions.  Forgive us for our misguided priorities, Father, for spending more time on our computer, our phones, in front of the television, or whatever else keeps us away from the people you put in our lives.  Teach us to love you most, and our families more than anything else in this world.  In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”

design

Jeremiah 22: “O God, I lift up the leaders of this nation—only you know the intentions of their hearts.  Yet it seems injustice and unrighteousness abound!  Do not let oppression succeed; expose every lie and deception of the enemy that are cloaked in what appears to be good.  Give your people discernment to recognize evil at work and grant us courage to stand strong for truth and righteousness.”

“Raise up leaders in this nation, and in your church, who will oppose oppression, who will do justice, uphold righteousness, will do no wrong to the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow, and will not shed innocent blood.”

“Encourage your people to listen to you and obey your voice.  Expose every attitude of rebellion in our hearts and lead us to repentance.  Raise up shepherds for your church who will seek you and speak truth.  Expose false shepherds whose hearts are swayed by the direction of the wind—I ask that they would humble themselves, repent, and turn back to you.  In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”

design

Jeremiah 23: “Father, I lift up the leaders of this nation and ask that you expose the deeds done in darkness, every evil intention motivated by greed or lust for power, and the enemy’s attempts to discredit you or your people.  Release your Spirit of righteousness and justice, I pray.  Give your people singleness of purpose to honor you with their words and their lives.”

“Your presence fills the earth and skies, O God; you are near at hand and far away.  You observe the secret places and see the intentions of all hearts.  You alone are faithful and true—I worship you!  Expose everyone who speaks falsehood in your name and raise up leaders who speak truth—may your name be exalted throughout the earth, Father!”

“Grant me wisdom and understanding—keep my words from perverting truth.  I pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.”

design

I cannot pray for this nation without remembering to pray for Israel because God made a covenant with Abraham, saying, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3); God also told him, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.  And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7-8).  King David proclaimed, “Pray for peace in Jerusalem.  May all who love this city prosper.  O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces.  For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘May you have peace.’  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6-9 NLT).

And:

Jeremiah 3, 16, 30: “Father, I pray for peace in Jerusalem and ask that you would restore the fortunes and heritage of Jacob; fulfill your promises to Abraham, O God!  Remove every veil from the eyes of the Jewish people and help them to recognize Jesus, the Messiah.  Draw the hearts of faithless Israel into your covenant of grace.  Cleanse their land from all that is abominable and restore their inheritance, I pray.  Establish your kingdom and throne in the hearts of your children, Lord, and draw all peoples and all nations unto you.  In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”

design

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Regular Folk

One thing I enjoy about Bible narratives, other than just loving to read stories, is recognizing the humanity that characterized ancient civilizations and individuals continue to exemplify who we are/I am many, many centuries later.  We can see (if we are willing to look) those sins, attitudes, and behaviors which either drew men and women away from God in ancient times, or elevated their relationships closer to Him, still at work in individuals, societies, and churches nowadays.

Genesis 27 records the account of Rebekah conspiring with Jacob into deceiving Isaac, securing for Jacob the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau.  I am sure that Rebekah felt justified in doing such a thing because she had God’s promise to her, “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).  Apparently, she believed God needed a little help in getting His purposes accomplished; and Isaac made blessing his son contingent on getting a good meal!

There are a couple of things from this account that touched my heart; the first one concerned Rebekah and her collusion with Jacob to deceive Isaac.  Admittedly, Jacob was not a child at this point, and he was capable of making his own decisions whether to trust God or take matters into his own hands, yet Rebekah was the parent, supposedly the model of faith and faithfulness to God and to her husband.  We are told very little about Rebekah other than the chronicle of how she became Isaac’s wife, this story, and the fact that she did not like the Canaanite women that Esau married.

I am impressed with the understanding that parents have the potential to influence their children well into adulthood; and I am convicted about some of the ways I have not modeled faith in God to my children…and my granddaughter, who I am blessed to take care of while her mom is at work or deployed.  While I am driving down the road, having a conversation with my daughter and complaining about other drivers, complaining about the weather, “discussing” difficult people, or commiserating with friends or my kids about difficult circumstances or work situations without breathing words of faith or hope into our conversations—and my granddaughter is sitting in the backseat listening to me—I am not demonstrating faith in the sovereignty of God, His ability to “work things all together for good” (Romans 8:28), nor obedience to His admonition to let my speech always be seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6).

We had an interesting experience the other day at Walmart.  After unloading our purchases into my car, my daughter noticed a little thirty-three cent skein of embroidery floss hidden underneath our bags in the shopping cart.  I put it in there but also knew that I hadn’t seen it or paid for it when I came up to the register.  She handed it to me and asked what I wanted to do about it—I could see her eyes probing mine, and I knew what I didn’t feel like doing, taking it back to the store and either purchasing it or putting it back on the shelf, which was the right thing to do. 

I could see an intensity in her eyes as she watched me.

Because I have a rather sensitive conscience, I took it back and put it on the shelf (because I didn’t have change with me and I didn’t want to use my debit card).

Currently, she is facing one of the most difficult transfers of her career and we are experiencing several difficult decisions.  Some of the people in authority over her have implied that things would be so much easier for her if she was not completely honest—yet my daughter is not willing to compromise her integrity.  More than that, we know that the One who spoke the worlds into existence is able to move mountains for us. 

There are no insignificant decisions for Christians, as Jesus indicated: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).  This doesn’t mean we don’t explore legal and legitimate options available to us while maintaining our integrity—not resorting to lies, deceit, or manipulation—it’s just that Jesus is there when we come to the end of our resources, and He can accomplish what we cannot.

It also touches my heart that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29)—this is true for the nation of Israel, as it is for every person who has really messed up their life at one point or another, yet returned to God in humility and repentance.  We have this admonition tempered with amazing assurance, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but give grace to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

I love the stories in the Old Testament because honesty informs me that I am looking into a mirror at many of the mistakes, errors in judgment, and lousy, ungrateful attitudes—sins—that have characterized my life in the past and still have a propensity to tempt my soul even now.

But God…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“But God Promised!”

I am continually amazed at how some very familiar portions of scripture have verses tucked away in them that seem incongruent with what I imagine are God’s intentions and the way He works.  I like them! …those challenging verses.  I like being caught off guard so that I can pause in my reading the Bible to come before the Father with my, “hey, wait a minute”-s. 

That happened the other morning when I read Genesis 25:21. “Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”

Here’s what we know about Isaac:  He was the promised, long awaited son of Abraham and Sarah.  Even though Abraham had other sons by Hagar and Keturah, Isaac was the intended son of the covenant that God made with Abraham…  “Then God said: ‘No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.” (Genesis 17:19).  Yet, Isaac and Rebekah were married for 20 years, and they had no children.

How is it that God waited until Isaac pleaded with Him before allowing Rebekah to become pregnant? 

What drove Isaac to his knees?  Despair?  Hopelessness?  Fear?  He had the promise of God, he just didn’t have its fulfillment—he grew up in a household of faith, in fact, his father is considered “the father of all those who believe” (Romans 4:11), however, Abraham’s faith was not sufficient for Isaac.  God knew that the promised Messiah was going to come through the lineage of Isaac, so why did He wait for Isaac to pray? …and why did God wait until Isaac prayed for his wife to cause the conception of their twin boys?

…which leads me to ask, “what drives us to our knees, to cry out in anguish?”  We have the promises of God, so are we unclear about His intentions or do we not know (or believe) what His Word says?  Do we forget to claim the promises found in God’s Word if we think we don’t need them— or Him?  Can realizing God’s specific promises be bound up in a relationship with Him, where it is necessary to ask instead of assume?  Could it possibly be that God waits until the “last minute” to respond to our prayers because we waited until the last minute to plead with Him?  Are we too slow to pray for those we love, our family members and closest friends, as well as our enemies, because our hearts are clouded with indifference or presumption?

Jesus taught, by way of parable, that we ought to always pray without losing heart (Luke 18:1-5).  He also instructed, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7, 8).

I’m not so good at seeking, in fact, I often wonder if I even know what it means to seek—until I misplace something or some paperwork that I really need and I search every place I think it could be (and even the places I think it couldn’t be).  Seeking God is a lot easier than searching for something I have lost—for there is only one place to look, and that is to our Father, and there is only one resource for our search and that is His Word— which is why knowing scripture and praying it is so essential for us!

Although Isaac had God’s promise, God didn’t move to fulfill it until he prayed.

Lest we think for a moment that the genealogy of Jesus and the history our redemption hinged on Isaac’s response to God, I believe that it was God’s work in his heart and Isaac’s desperation that caused him to cry out to the Father.  The apostle Paul reminds believers that God is at work in our hearts “both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

This is God’s promise to the children of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah (a conversation we can listen in on and claim for our own): “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

I find that seeking God is an elusive concept; for me, guilt is built into the idea of seeking God, because if I’m not hearing or experiencing the answers I hope for, then I figure that there must be something wrong with how I am approaching God, that I am not praying accurately or hard enough.   Why is it that religious “works” are so often associated with what must be received by faith?  The issue isn’t so much about my seeking or inquiring of God—the issue, for many of us I think, is “with all your [my] heart.”   I’m quite sure that there are times when God does not have all of my heart or my attention, that frequently I try to work out my own solutions first and when they fail, I turn to Him.  And there are times when people have asked for prayer, for encouragement and help during a trial or for healing, that I have whispered prayers, yet came away knowing that all of my heart, my soul, and my commitment were not engaged.

There is a place for guilt in our lives, though, when we deliberately violate God’s intention for us— “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil:  whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10).  Also, consider Jesus’ words to His disciples; “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:5, 7).

James admonishes in his epistle, “…you do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2).

God also allows the testing of our faith: “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 in nothing” (James 1:2). 

And, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

I think prayer is a challenge for most people.  We are so easily distracted, particularly in this electronic age!  Sometimes it takes coming to the end of ourselves or of our resources to ignite a desperation that causes us to cry out to God.  We say we have a relationship with Him, which we do through faith in Jesus Christ; yet often our praying or our seeking is based on “Need Help. NOW!” moments instead of a daily sharing of our lives and intimacy with our heavenly Father— yet intimacy with God is available to us!  Since we have been reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus, we are encouraged to “draw near to God, and He will draw near to [us]” (James 4:8).

Let’s do that!  Let’s spend more time considering God’s Word and abiding in Jesus; let’s spend less time assuming (and presuming) and more time opening up our hearts and sharing our lives with Him!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment