Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Come and See Witness

The first chapter of John grows longer every day, or so it seems. I set my goal for 2018, to memorize a chapter of the Bible every month, without much consideration for the length of chapters. Unfortunately, the first chapter I chose is 51 verses long. I need much longer than a month to memorize it, but I’m finally at verse 42, and, at last, I’m on the home stretch.
The time in John 1 is well spent. I read this chapter at least twice every day, in addition to all the times I quote the verses I memorize. This year alone, I’ve read the first chapter of John well over 100 times, and my understanding deepens with every reading. 
There’s an important truth in this chapter I’m only beginning to understand: Everyone who met Jesus and followed Him did two amazing things. First, they testified to Who He is and, second, they invited someone else to follow Him, too.
Recognizing Jesus 

For example, I love the moment John recognized Jesus as the Promised Messiah. God told John to watch for the person on whom the Spirit descended and remained. “He’s the One.” The day Jesus presented Himself for baptism, the Spirit descended like a dove and remained on Him. The manifestation shocked John. “I didn’t recognize Him,” he said repeatedly. (John 1:29-34)
Since Jesus was John’s cousin, they’d known each other all their lives. Only when God revealed the truth of His identity did John understand Who He was. From that day on, he gave a clear witness to any who would listen every time he saw Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Giving a clear and simple witness

John’s two disciples stood with him the day he looked up and saw Jesus walking in the distance. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:35-36) The disciples heard John’s very clear witness, left his side. and followed Jesus. Those two young men followed Him for the rest of their lives. 
John's witness did not contain a detailed sermon on the prophecy concerning Jesus or a high-brow theological treatise. Instead, he simply said, “Look. He’s the One.” His witness invited others to see Jesus and left the rest to them and to our Lord. 
John served as a human road sign, pointing the way to Jesus, and we should be, too.

Inviting others, one by one

Andrew stood with John the day he pointed to Jesus. He left John to follow Jesus. After a day spent with Jesus, He immediately left to find his brother, Simon and invite him to come and see this man he believed to be the Messiah…and on it went. One after another, someone met Jesus and could not be contained. They had to tell someone.
This morning, I reviewed this chapter again and questions filled my mind. Who did I invite to meet Jesus recently? Ponder that for a moment. Did we tell anyone in the last month about Jesus? Did we tell anyone who didn’t know about him already? Are we so excited about meeting Jesus that we share the news with anyone who will listen?

A challenge that must be met

The life, light, truth, and grace of God Himself reside within us. Chew on that for a moment. The light of God Himself dwells in us, and the love of God compels us to share the only light capable of casting out the darkness in sin-sick souls. We dare not keep it to ourselves.
Friends, the “come and see” witness is tried and true. “I’ve met the one who’s changed my life. Come and see.” If they see Him us, they will want to see Him for themselves. 
Share the light.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John 1:4

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Prayer and Politics: How to Pray the News and Why We Should

According to Scripture, the prayer of a righteous man, like Elijah, is effective and powerful. (James 5:17,18) It makes a difference in greater ways than we can imagine. If that’s true, and I believe it is, we should be vigilant observers of our culture and the world around us. We should look for opportunities to invite God into situations and ask Him to intervene. 

Christians, if we believe prayer is powerful, we should pray the news.

By that, I mean we should scroll through our news feed (not Facebook feed but actual NEWS), stop long enough to read the stories that catch our attention, consider how God might want to become involved, and pray Scripture over the situation. Please check or some other online source to verify the accuracy of the news report unless it comes from a reliable major news outlet. 

Will combining prayer and politics, prayer and culture change anything? It depends, in small part, on how you view prayer, and, in a larger part, how you view God.

What is prayer?

The Online dictionary defines prayer as “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship,” or an “earnest hope or wish.” I define prayer as a conversation with the One who loves me most, Almighty God Himself. 

When we choose to follow Jesus, we choose a relationship intended to be intimate and loving. The Bible, God’s word, is, in a way, a letter from God to those He loves. It’s designed so that we can know more about Him by reading what He’s said. Conversation, or prayer, should be the natural response to time spent in His Word.  We learn to know Him through time spent with Him in conversation and through a faithful life of obedience. 

Talking with God, or prayer, is not limited by space, time, or whether or not a Bible is in our hand. Because God is omnipresent (everywhere at once) and omniscient (knows everything at once), He is wherever we are and knows whatever we’re doing. He sees what we see and hears what we hear. He is with us.

What prayer is not

Prayer is not the token we insert into the cosmic dispenser of wants and desires with the expectation that whatever we ask will mysteriously appear. It is not the command of a general to a lower ranking soldier with instant obedience expected.

It is the humble request of a rank recruit requesting a favor of a 5-star general, the request of a child snuggled in the lap of a beloved daddy. 

His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. His response (Matthew 6:9-13) focused more on who God is and what He wants than our desires and needs. He began with worship and honor to God, then God’s will, then personal requests - for needs, rather than wants. Our prayers should follow that same formula. 

Why pray about politics?

The God who loved us enough to send His Son (John 3:16), who forgives our sins and carries our burdens (Psalm 68:19), cares about us. He’s concerned about the things that concern us. God desires righteousness and justice and, according to Scripture, is involved in the affairs of men in significant ways.

Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” If God can change the heart of a king, do we want Him to change it to a focus on righteousness and justice? Certainly, we do. 

The most important reason to combine prayer and politics, however is God commands it. 

“First of all, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

How to pray from the newsfeed

Regardless of our political party or ideological preference, we are to pray for those in authority, whether we agree with their policies or not. Those “authority figures” include elected officials, political appointees, and law enforcement officials, as well as the managers and administrators in offices, teachers and administrators in schools, pastors, elders, and deacons in churches, and parents in homes. Even committee chairmen hold a position of authority over those in the committee. 

Those who have direct impact on our lives, whether as leaders of other nations or retailers in our communities, need our prayers as do our family and friends.

Rather than allowing the news to become a source of controversy, arguments, and emotional outbursts, we do well to let it drive us to our knees. A few examples of prayer needs from my recent newsfeed include:
  • school shooting in Florida: family and friends of victims, impact on the students and community, safety of students in our schools. Issues of troubled teens and intervening before the problems become catastrophic. 
  • Issues of gun control and first amendment rights, as well as poor decision making concerning these issues. Prayers for wisdom and protection, especially of children.
  • Olympics and our focus on excellence as well as the pervasive feel that only gold winners are champions.
  • Hate groups in the US on the rise. Pray for unity, racial healing, and and end to violence and hatred.

There are, of course, many more news articles and many more needs for which we should pray. 

What should we pray? 

Prayers for peace, healing, hope, and protection are appropriate in any situation. Prayers for righteousness and justice to rule, as well as for evil to be defeated are good choices. Pray Scripture. I use the Psalms on a daily basis to help direct my prayers, but the prayers of Paul and, of course, of Jesus are also excellent models. Perhaps the best prayer of all, however, is the prayer Jesus prayed when He faced the cross. “Not my will, but Thine be done." (Luke 22:42

What will God do?
According to the prophet Jeremiah, our job is to seek God with our whole heart. If we do, He promises we will find Him. We are to call, come, and pray and He will listen and respond. (Jeremiah 29:11-14) If we begin by delighting ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart. Does that mean we get all we want? All we ask? No. God will change our desires to Him, then give us what we desire. (Psalm 37:4-6)

Will He intervene in our societal and cultural issues? Yes, according to Proverbs 21:1, He will intervene, direct, and adjust the climate to accomplish His desires.

Are you tired of the changes in our culture? Frightened by the decline of the moral code in our nation? It’s time to make a difference, and you can help. Open your news feed, bow your head, and discuss the situation with the King of Kings. Your prayers have more of an effect than you know.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Contentment Regardless of Circumstances: Why It Matters

Comfort is my preference. Last Friday, when a downed tree crashed through my fence, my plans changed in an instant. Editing gave way to fencing, even though the sky was overcast and rain threatened. I didn’t mind repairing the fence on a beautiful day with blue skies and perfect temperatures, but fence work on a cold and rainy day is not my favorite. I did it anyway, because it had to be done.

The ease of comfortable discipleship

When the weather is perfect, the circumstances of life are pleasant, and health is good, the obedience of discipleship is fairly easy for me and, I suspect, for most of us. I enjoy a time of few challenges. When those circumstances change, however, I’m not always as enthusiastic about the work of hard, painful service. 

The peril of uncomfortable discipleship

Sickness. Broken relationships. Financial woes. Wayward family members. The list of problems we face is long and coping is hard. If we’re not careful, our level of comfort can affect our faithfulness in ways we don’t intend. It’s easy to move our focus from Jesus to whatever difficulty we face.

A story from Luke 6:1 shows us the disciples’ response to less than perfect circumstances, and it’s one we should adopt. Here’s a quick paraphrase:

Jesus and His disciples headed out from here to there, walking through a grain field.The disciples were hungry, so they broke off some of the grain heads and began to eat them. Raw grain. Straight from the stalk. Not a single complaint about the fare or demand to stop somewhere to eat cooked food. No one grumbled or whined about the less than idyllic provision.

Elaborate meals and constant comfort were not part of their contract. Jesus called them to follow, and they did, whether the trek led through a sumptuous feast or a grain field. If they were hungry, they ate what Jesus provided along the way.

Our response to discomfort 

I prefer perfectly seasoned, well-cooked meals when I’m hungry. I can eat raw grain from the field, but I don’t often choose it. As I read the story this morning, I wondered about my response to Jesus’ provision if I’d been walking with them that day. Would I have complained aloud? Secretly seethed? Grumbled in my heart or offered whispered whining to my fellow disciples?

When Jesus called Peter and his partners to walk away from the miracle of a boat-load of fish, He did not promise comfort. He simply said, “Follow me.” No matter where the disciples went, they knew Jesus would be there with them, in the circumstance. He shared the good times and they bad. 

Discipleship is contingent upon nothing.
It's easy to be a disciple when we are comfortable. The question we all must answer is whether or not we will follow in a difficult and uncertain situation. 

Discipleship contingent upon favorable circumstances is not discipleship at all. 

Serving Christ is because of Who He is and not what He gives. Just as important, serving Christ includes accepting what He provides without grumbling or complaining. It also includes accepting what He chooses not to provide.

Jesus promised the disciples trouble, tribulation, and difficulty, (John 16:33) but He also promised He had already overcome all the difficulty the world might bring. Discipleship, He told them, involved picking up a cross and carrying it with them every single day. To save their lives meant losing them. (Luke 6:3-24) 

The blessings of hard discipleship and contentment

Nowhere did He offer ease. Instead, Jesus offered peace, rest, His presence, and the promise of an eternal home in Heaven. He promised our basic needs, not our extravagant wants, would be met.  The pages of Scripture are filled with the promises of God. He gives what we need and He is with us in whatever we face. 

Disciples trade their desires for Christ’s provision. It’s that simple. It’s that hard. Let’s invite a Holy Spirit inspection of our heart, our expectations, our desires, but be prepared to see our hearts as God sees them.  Are we content with what God has given us, or do we complain and continually ask for more? Do we hold back from abandoned obedience because of fear of less than we want? 

Today, let’s pray for a heart that is content with whatever God provides, and grateful for whatever circumstances He allows. Let’s serve our Savior no matter what He chooses to give or withhold.

“…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Philippians 4:11

Monday, February 19, 2018

What Will Life be Like if I Do my Father's Business?

Just after 4 am, the train roared down the tracks, horns blaring, “Coming through. Coming through.” There’s no chance of sleep when the iron horse rides, for me or the dogs at the end of the bed. Too cold to drag out of my comfy cocoon, I pulled the covers tighter and pondered a bit. “Lord, what should I write about today?” Seven simple words came to mind. “I must be about My Father’s business.” 

When You Lose the Son of God

You may remember this story, but here’s a quick review and Leanna Paraphrase. It comes from Luke 2:41-52. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year. They traveled in a caravan, probably for safety’s sake, so there was always a crowd around. 

By the time He was twelve, Jesus was probably familiar with the city and comfortable moving around there. I’m not sure how it happened that He slipped away, but his parents headed back home with the caravan after the Passover like always. After a day’s journey, they realized Jesus was missing, and went back to search for Him. 

The search for the missing Savior

I imagine Mary and Joseph looked in all the typical “boy” places, maybe the souk or the pool of Siloam. He had vanished, or so it seemed. Imagine their panic for a moment. God entrusted them with His only Son and they lost Him. Consider how you’d explain that problem to the Almighty. 

Finally, they went to the temple, the last place imaginable for a young boy to hide. He was in plain sight, sitting in the midst of the teachers, having a lovely conversation and asking questions. 

Mary responded like every other scared mother in the world. “We were scared to death and thought something had happened! We’ve looked everywhere for you! What were You thinking?” 

The Divine perspective 

Jesus just smiled and shook His holy head. “Mom, why were you worried? Didn’t you know I have to be about My Father’s business?” 

The twelve year old God-boy saw the opportunity to speak with the most learned scholars in Israel, and He took it. Surely those teachers realized He was no ordinary boy, for His insights came only from God. Did they wonder whether He might be the Messiah? Maybe. Seated at their feet, He challenged them with His words and planted hope in their hearts. The warmth and mystery of their meeting would stay with them for years.

Start early to accomplish God’s will

Even at twelve years old, Jesus kept His eye on the end goal, paved the way for His coming public ministry, and never looked back. I lay, snuggled under layers of blankets, and wondered what my life would’ve been like if I had “been about My Father’s business” at such a tender age. What if I had focused so completely on doing God’s will? I’d have a different life and, possibly, the world might be a little different, too. 

Complete surrender

In 1872, Henry Varley spoke words that still ring true today. 

Varley’s vision was of men and women so surrendered to God that their lives focused on “being about their Father’s business.” 

It’s not too late. 

We, too, can, and must, surrender to such a degree that our first priority is to be about the business of our Lord, to love Him with all of our being, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to make disciples everywhere we go.

Today, let’s ask ourselves this hard question: Am I completely surrendered to God’s will and work? Am I focused on “my Father’s business?” If not, let’s take a step closer and ask Him to make His will our own. We, too,  can do our part to change the world for Him. 

And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? Luke 2:49 KJV

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Four Reasons We Should Honor the Sabbath Rest Today

This time last week, I pondered my great need to finish edits on my novel and wondered if God would give me a pass on the Sabbath. He didn’t, and I spent a quiet day of intentional rest, instead. Today, I asked the same question I ask every Sunday morning…Why should we honor the Sabbath? Here are four good reasons to take time to rest today. 

#1 - Rest prepares us to do the work we set aside.

Monday morning, in a moment of extreme clarity, I realized the rest I embraced last weekend cleared my mind and refreshed my body for the hard mental exertion of the week to come. I awakened full of energy and ready to do the work I’d set aside. 

I worked from home most of this past week. For long hours every day, I reviewed, edited, changed, edited some more. This is the final round—I hope, and, after more than three years of writing, I’m ready to finish. Last night, close to 8 pm, I reached the end. I still need to go back to the last pages I covered to confirm my edits, but this part of the work is done. Next, write a proposal and send it to my agent. He reviews the proposal and, if no changes are needed, uses it to sell the book to a publisher.

The rest last weekend prepared me to do the work of the week ahead.

#2 - Rest as an act of obedience is more important than my busyness.

Today, my first thought was of the Sabbath. The next, of the proposal I need to write. My to-do list is insanely long. A miracle is needed to get it all done, especially the part that needs to be done this week. 

I wondered, for a moment, if I could work on the proposal this afternoon, but didn’t bother to ask. The answer to that foolish question is no. Busyness as an act of disobedience is not blessed work. I choose to rest.

#3 - Sacrificial rest is a form of worship. 

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “worship,” a verb, as an act of honor or reverence. Obeying God’s command to honor the Sabbath it is an act of reverence and respect to Him. It’s a form of worship. 

#4 - Obedience to the Sabbath brings blessings. 

I wrote about this last week, (The Benefits of Sabbath Rest) but it’s worth remembering. “The simple act of obedience in Sabbath rest yields delight, abundant provision, authority, and influence, as well as blessings for those who bless you and curses on your enemies.” They’re blessings worth having, aren’t they?
I choose Sabbath rest. After church, I’ll play with the dogs, take a walk, read a book, watch the ducks on the lake. I won’t work on proposals, clean bathrooms, or sort through papers. My inactivity will not be due to laziness, but faithfulness.

God blesses obedience; He makes rest worth it. 

Today, let’s continue our worship all day long by choosing rest as an act of obedience and thank Him for the blessings it will bring.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work…” Exodus 20:8-10

Here are a few more posts you might enjoy: The Benefits of Sabbath Rest 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Taking Heart Despite the Signs of the Times

Yesterday, I planned to finish a chunk of edits on my fiction work-in-progress. They’re dangerously close to past-due, so all my attention was glued to the manuscript. I was editing a terrorist attack and imaging the sound of gunfire when a noise from outside stopped me in my tracks. 

Automatic weapon fire, quickly followed by a loud explosion.

My heart lurched in my chest. My first thought was, “Whoa. They’re here, in my yard!” My second thought, “Who’s outside my house with an automatic weapon? They’re gonna hit my horses!” 

I jumped out of my chair in an instant and raced outside to confront the shooters, no weapon in hand except a hearty dose of indignation. I arrived to find the automatic weapon fire was 1/3 of an old oak tree splitting off from the main trunk. The explosion was the sound of the enormous tree hitting the ground.

The catastrophe and danger I envisioned was nothing more than an act of nature. The only destruction was to my fence. A few of the bigger branches (the size of trees) had broken the wire in two places and knocked all four strands loose for a long stretch.

I heard the sound clearly, but failed to interpret it correctly.

Signs of the times

Jesus taught his disciples about occurrences, both in nature and society, and warned them to take note of the signs of the times and interpret them well. (Matthew 24:29-31)
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:25-28
When we see and hear the signs He said, interpret them wisely. The shaking of earthly powers signals one important thing: Jesus’ imminent return. There's no need for dismay or despair, even if the signs suggest an expectation of terrible things to come.
If there was ever a time of dismay, of fear and expectation of what will come next, it is now. Powers around the world are shaken. Governments are in disarray. Citizens protest and fight in the streets all around our world. 
We live in an increasingly troubled world, but there is no need for fear. From the beginning of the signs of the times, we’re to recognize a new day is coming. Though all around us are seized with fear and panic, we, the disciples of Christ, must lift up our heads with anticipation. 

Redemption draws near

We serve a risen, reigning, and returning Savior. At just the right time, Father God will declare the moment, and Jesus will return on the clouds. We’ll all see Him, as well as the angels who accompany Him, and those who love Him will be gathered up with them in the clouds.
We live in a broken and hurting world, but this place of sorrow is not our home. One day, we’ll enter that eternal kingdom where tears and sorrow are not allowed. Only joy, and love, and peace. 
Until then, recognize the signs and lift our heads, for redemption draweth nigh. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

School Shooting: Stop Blaming and Start Helping

I am sickened by the wanton destruction and meaningless loss of life as a result of the school shooting in Florida this week. I am also sick of hearing who’s to blame for the tragedy. If we want the truth for a change, we need to stop accusing the other side and listen up.

It’s OUR fault.

We, the American people, have embraced the idea of a car for every licensed driver and a chicken in every InstantPot. We’ve put TVs in every bedroom and video remotes in the hands of every child. We’ve painted our little girls like china dolls, wrapped them in satin, and called them princesses. We’ve built man caves and taken girl trips and declared that we are in great need of sand between our toes. We’ve indulged our materialistic desires and blamed someone else when unwanted consequences came our way.

Wear a crown, but skip the rhinestones.

People of God, if we want to wear a crown like the child of a King, don’t choose a tiara. Choose the crown Jesus’ wore. A crown of thorns.

Ponder that for a lifetime.

Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve.

He was also very specific about wading into the darkest situations and bringing light and life to the most hopeless, and he set the example. His light shined in the darkness and the darkness DID NOT overcome it and it still doesn’t. 

Be part of the solution, not the problem.

If you have never volunteered to help the homeless, never served a meal, embraced a homeless person, wept with them, prayed with them, or helped close-up-and-in-person, do not speak to me about the problem of homelessness and do not dare to cast blame or offer a “solution."

If you have never reached out to a troubled teen and invested in their lives by teaching them a new way, mentoring, or simply loving them, do not talk to me about the “problem of youth” and do not dare to cast blame or offer a “solution.”

If you’ve never done anything to make a real, tangible difference in this world, I don’t want to hear your theories about the problems. You (and we) are part of the problem, and it’s time we take a close look at ourselves and change.

Change begins in the heart, not in the legislature.

New laws will not solve the problem of our hearts. We cannot legislate morality and that, dear friends, is what we’ve lost. We’ve discarded the Judeo-Christian ethic as if doing whatever we wanted would always be right. The school shooting, and the seventeen left dead this week, prove its not. 

Our choices reveal who we are.

Regardless of our opinion about Christ or religion, our choices result in consequences and we the people are reaping what we’ve sowed. A kid in trouble needs help, needs someone to learn his name, listen to him talk, and try to intervene. 
School teachers must teach, and they have more to do than they can get done. They cannot be expected to train up a child in the way he or she should go, too. That’s the responsibility of we the parents.
Lead by example. Please.

We’re supposed to teach our children the difference between right and wrong by words AND the example we’ve set, to teach AND demonstrate the importance of loving and forgiving others, to teach AND demonstrate the need to love and care for the least, most troubled, most vulnerable among us. 
Our children learn from us and they are a reflection of us. Certainly, they make a choice about their actions, but their choices, in general, reflect what they’ve learned and lived at home. What are we teaching?
Stop blaming and do something.

Violence in schools and the decline of our society are not problems caused by “the other side,” by our current or any previous President, or by the legislature. They are a reflection of our hearts. 

If we want change, we must be the change. Volunteer. Offer to read books to the class for an elementary school teacher and choose the books wisely. Invest in the life of a child by participating in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club. Help at the Salvation Army. Google “programs for troubled teens” and get involved in your community, and take your own children along as you go. Welcome people from troubled circumstances into our churches and our lives.

Don’t just pray.

The thousands of people directly impacted by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School need our prayers today and for years to come. The sound of gunfire will echo in heads, hearts, and dreams for a long time. We must pray, but let our prayers move our feet to action. 

Ask how we can help, then do it. When someone puts out a call for volunteers, step up. You don’t have to be an expert. God uses the ones who show up, even when they don’t feel equipped. Help anyway. 

One day, we’ll answer for what we didn’t do.

What we don’t do matters as much as what we do. This morning, one Scripture rings in my head, breaks my heart, and drives me to action. May it do the same for all of us. 

“The King will…say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me…For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick in prison and you did not look after me…’ Truly  I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:41-45