Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sharing in their Suffering, helping in their Work

An odd series of things have happened recently that, taken together, confirm an increasing concern on my part about persecution of the church and the direction we are headed. 

The discussion at my office was about Sudan and the terrorists there. That led to a discussion of terrorism in general, and those imprisoned for their faith in particular. Because I do not watch TV, my friends and family make an effort to keep me informed about the happenings of our world, and my boss is no exception. He had seen the story of Dr. Meriam Yahia Ibrahaim, a young Sudanese woman, a physician, who had married an American man, and thought I should know about her. She had been raised as a Christian and had been Christian all her life. Her husband was also Christian. 

Unfortunately, when her husband attempted to get a visa to bring his wife back to the US, he met with considerable delay. They had a child and she was pregnant with a second child when a terrible thing happened. Because her father, who had abandoned her as a child, was Muslim, she was considered Muslim by the Sudanese government. Because she is Christian, she was arrested for adultery (because her marriage to a Christian was not recognized by the Muslims) and for apostasy (leaving the Muslim faith of which she has never been a part). She refused to recant her faith and was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death for apostasy.  

Because she was pregnant, her sentence was delayed until the birth of the child. When she recovered from giving birth, she was to receive her lashes and, when her daughter is two years old, she was to be executed. She has committed no crime. She was imprisoned and facing death simply because of her faith. 

Ultimately, she was cleared of the charges and given emergency travel documents to leave the country. She, her husband, and their two children made it as far as the airport. On June 24 (just four days ago), she was arrested again. 

Last evening, I attended our church's Music Camp presentation of the children's musical "I AM".  It was wonderful on many levels, but the closing scene was particularly memorable. It was taken from Exodus 17 and the campers acted out the battle between the children of Israel and the Amalekites. As long as Moses held his hands with the staff of God in the air, the children of Israel had the advantage. When he lowered his arms, the Amalekites began to win. When his arms tired and he could no longer lift them, his friends, Aaron and Hur, held his arms up until the victory was assured. 

Imagine my surprise when I returned home and was flipping through the new Voice of the Martyrs newsletter. The entire edition was dedicated to front-line workers, those believers who are on the front lines for the persecuted church and face grave danger on a daily basis. Theirs is not just a danger of imprisonment, but of torture and death for themselves and their families. The passage on the first page was a quote from Exodus 17, asking readers to "hold up the arms" of these fearless workers. When asked what they need, they all had replied "Please pray".  Voice of the Martyrs is asking for volunteers to agree to adopt a worker for a period of one year and give them what they most need and desire - prayer coverage. Money is nice but not essential. They have wisely discerned that money will be of limited help if prayer is not given first. 

The very exciting thing about this project is that, if we volunteer, they will send us the name and photo of "our" worker, as well as a summary of their story. (For safety reasons, these names can only be released privately.) Our job will be to pray our hearts out for the workers entrusted to us. 

You can do it. We can do it. Go online to 2014 and join the effort to take the good news of Jesus to those who are literally perishing because of their faith. My adopted worker's information is already on the way! Please join with me in this effort.

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 NASB)

Special Seed (Luke 8:5,11)

"The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up.

"Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God...(Luke 8:5 NASB)

As Jesus began to explain His parable to the crowd of disciples, He made it clear from the start that the seed was the Word of God. The seed was not the myriad of regulations of the Pharisees, the commentaries of scholars, or the studies written by noted teachers of the time. The seed was not the word of popular speakers or preachers. The seed was not the Word of God plus anything. The seed was simply, completely, totally, and only the Word of God. 

When we understand that one principle, we take a great step in discipleship. No one can write words that replace His Word. No one. (not even this prolific blogger) There is a very important place for a cogent, coherent explanation of Scripture. Well-written exegesis can expand our understanding in amazing ways, but it is still only the Word of God that is the seed. 

"Why is this so important?" you may ask. That's a good question.  Especially in today's culture, where compelling voices compete for our attention, there is a tendency to listen to the loudest or most entertaining voice. Although there is nothing wrong with listening to those voices, at the end of our listening, it is only the Word of God that matters. Does what we hear line up with what God has said? That is the plumb line that must be used. 

There is one very important characteristic of seed that is vital to this understanding. You can't have a harvest without it. There is no way to produce a harvest of any kind without a "real" seed. In the life of a believer, there is no harvest without the work of the Word of God in our lives. Scripture describes the Word of God as a lamp to our feet, and a light to our way (Psalm 119:105). If we allow it to have a harvest in us, not only will we bear fruit that lasts, but we will be able to clearly see the next step on our path. We will have clear direction! In these tumultuous times, knowing the right steps with certainty is invaluable. 

Are you allowing the Word of God to be like a seed planted in your heart? Today, read the words I've written and use them as a magnifying glass to help you see the Word, the Word of God, with clarity. Meditate on that good seed found in the Scripture and allow it to take root in your life. There's no other way to have a harvest. 

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will allow the seed of the Word of God (and that only) to be planted in the fertile soil of our hearts. 
Link to last night's excellent guest post:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday night with Friends: Self Control by Debbie Hayden

Sorry I'm late with this. I went to music camp presentation at my church. 

Our Friday Night with Friends guest blogger is my dear friend Debbie Hayden. When she first sent this to me, I thought she had a word from God for me and was stunned at how astute she was. It went right to my heart and left me changed. I pray it does for you as well. Be sure to share your love and thanks with her! We want her to write some more. She's a superb writer, and this comes straight from her heart!
God has graciously given me an eye for beauty, especially for the beauty of his creation. Every spring I tell myself: "Self, you will not buy tons of plants this year", but each spring I come home from the different garden centers in my area with armloads of beautiful flowers. And oh, the money I have spent! I think I would spend my last dime on a plant that I "just had to have." 

I was thinking about that one morning, as I was admiring all the beauty around me, and admitted to myself that I have a problem with self-control. I see, I like, I buy! That's a foolish thing to do. With all of the things God has blessed me with, I'm always looking for more, be it a flower, or garden ornament or anything that catches my eye and I think I have to have. 

Then I started thinking about King David. God gave him just about everything his heart desired but it wasn't enough. He had an eye for beauty, as well, and when he saw Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop, he had to have her. Never mind that she was married to one of his finest most loyal soldiers, he COULD have her, so he WOULD have her. When she ended up pregnant, with his child, he then conspired to have her husband killed in order to make it seem legitimate. How foolish was that? 

God let David have his Bathsheba, but he paid a pretty hefty price for her. He lost the baby (conceived out of wedlock with Bathsheba) and his house was forever fraught with violence and heartache. God still loved him, but he had to suffer the consequences of his sin.

Through our failures and the suffering we endure because of the consequences of our sin, we are being shaped into a more perfect person. Wouldn't it be better if we weren't so foolish in the first place? Sin is our nature, but Praise God, He sent Jesus to pay the ultimate price for our sin! 

Self-control takes much prayer and practice to achieve. I will admit that it is a weakness that I haven't yet conquered, but I'm working on it. I also know that my Lord loves me and will forgive my failings in that area, but sadly, there will be consequences, as well. I pray that eventually I will learn that lesson and avoid the unpleasant consequences. I pray that for you as well.

What will you do with Jesus? (Luke 8:4-9)

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. (Luke 8:4-9 NASB)

Remember the crowd in the previous post? It was full of every sort of listener from truly transformed disciples (including those twelve apostles)  to seekers who wanted to know more to skeptics to critics. Everyone heard the same words. At the end of His parable, Jesus said something very surprising. "He who has ears, let him hear."  

We don't know if the crowd was surprised by this, but they must have been. They all had ears, and two of them. Of course they had ears! What kind of comment was Jesus making? They had ears and they could hear, but for many of the people, His words made no sense. Jesus was suggesting that they hear with more than the two appendages on the sides of their heads. He wanted them to hear with their hearts. He was saying, "Think about this, and figure out what it means for yourselves." 

He didn't want them to simply understand the symbols in the story, He wanted them to ponder His words long enough to understand both the symbols and how the story related to their own hearts. Which kind of soil did they have in their hearts? 

What did the crowd do in response to His challenge? It seems that most people drifted away. Maybe they felt He was being purposely vague and thought it was too much trouble to parse it out. Maybe they didn't care enough to try to figure it out. 

Regardless, it was only that small segment of the group, the disciples, who were given a clarifying explanation. (Don't forget that the apostles were only a twelve-man team that had been separated out from the disciples). They received understanding and insight only when they asked for it.  

Before we look at the different soils in this story, we need to ask one important question. Are we in the group of disciples who want to understand in order to become more like Jesus or in the larger group who want to hear His words but not allow them to work in us? Are we eager to be more like Jesus or do we prefer to stay exactly as we are? 

A large crowd of people attended the preaching service where Jesus spoke these words.  Every person in the crowd had a choice to make. What would they do with the words Jesus spoke? It was only those who were willing to be changed by Christ who stayed close. The rest listened, made their choice, and walked away. 

What kind of choice will you make about the words of Christ? Will you let Him change you or insist on staying exactly as you are?  What will you do with Jesus?  

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will long to understand His words and obey. Pray that the days of "walking away" will come to an end and we will stay close by Him. 
Here's the link to last night's post:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Loose Teeth

"Hey Mom, did you know I have a loose tooth?" Ryan said one night as he was getting ready for bed.  
"Let me see..." There were actually two loose teeth, and one was so wiggly I worried it might fall out in the night.  I suggested pulling it, but Ryan wouldn't hear of it.
"It might hurt," he said.
"But Ryan, it's nearly out anyway.  Hold still and let me pull it."  

When he finally relented, the tooth was so loose I barely touched it before it came out.  Now the new tooth - bigger, better, and more permanent - had room to move in.

Once the old tooth was out, Ryan and I talked about how it was a lot like sin in our lives; we know it needs to go, but we struggle to let it go.  God wants to help us remove it so it can be replaced with something better - something that lasts.  We hold on for all we're worth.

Is there anything in your life that's like that loose tooth?  The purpose of the pulling is to get rid of something temporary in order to make way for something permanent, something better.  It's the same way with whatever it is that you are holding onto.  God wants to replace it with something better.  Will you let Him?

This article first appeared in "Physician" magazine, January/February 2002

The People in the Crowd (Luke. 8:4)

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable..." (Luke 8:4 NASB)

This verse is an introduction to the story we are soon to consider, the Parable of the Sower. In this verse, a crowd was beginning to form. As you will remember, Jesus was making a preaching/teaching tour, moving from city to village. He was accompanied by His twelve apostles as well as some women who had been healed of both sickness and evil spirits. Jesus had quite a few people traveling with Him, and as He traveled, the news began to spread. 

People began to come from everywhere, especially from the cities, and a large crowd began to assemble. Jesus addressed the crowd by speaking in parables. He later explained the parable to His disciples, but the crowd would have to sort it out on their own. In some ways, the parable described the people in the crowd around Jesus. 

Not everyone in the crowd was a disciple. In fact, most people probably were not disciples. They were simply taking a jaunt out of the city to see the most popular and controversial man around. Some of them were, almost certainly, true seekers, hoping to find life-changing truth in an unlikely place. The usual array of critics and skeptics would've been there, as well as those hoping to find a cause they could mold to suit their own purposes. The smallest group would've been the people who not only believed but had been transformed by grace. 

The crowds around Jesus are not much different today. We still have skeptics and critics, seekers and disciples, manipulators, and those just looking for a place to be accepted or to have a good time. Our tendency is to look around us and try to fit those in our crowd into one of these categories. We would do much better to evaluate our own reasons for our place in the crowd around Jesus. 

Why are you there?  Why are you attending church services on Sunday?  Are you a true disciple, a seeker, a sceptic, or just in the crowd by force of habit?  Our reason for being near Jesus has a direct correlation to the receptivity of our heart to His message, and the coming parable will show us how important right motivation can be. 

Today, pray that God will reveal our motivations, as well as those of our loved ones, change any that are not authentic, and draw us from the crowd to walk close beside Him. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Writing Dog

People frequently ask, "How do you write so much?" The answer is usually that I don't watch television, which is technically true. I do occasionally (okay, rarely) watch old McGuyver reruns on Netflix. I cancelled my Direct TV because the programs made no sense to me and the commercials are maddening. The inability to use my remote was only a very small part of rejecting subscription programming, no matter what anyone else says. 

The empty nest, of course, likely has more to do with all my writing time than the television boycott. With no one to tend but the animals, the demands on my time are not as great as when I was running a taxi service and attending some sort of livestock show every weekend. As county fairs start gearing up, I miss hauling cows/goats/horses to the fairgrounds in all the nearby counties for summer shows. Ahh. Those were the days!  

But I digress. One of the reasons I'm able to write so much is that I have a writing chair and a writing dog. There is a big green chair and ottoman in my great room where I always sit to write. Because it's the writing chair, my mind begins to focus on writing as soon as I head toward it. 

Another great help is my writing dog. She doesn't actually write, of course, but she sits in my lap while I write. Maggie the Wonder Dog has the enviable ability to get very still and to listen when I read aloud. Mamie, on the other hand, is not a writing dog. She runs in circles non-stop, constantly hops, and jumps out of the chair almost as soon as she gets into my lap. She is very cheerful and has great enthusiasm, but no focus. 

Mamie is always fun to have around (unless you are trying to write).  A lot of us are like Mamie, aren't we? Full of energy, we run in so many directions that we don't get near as much done as we'd hope, nor do we complete all the tasks we start. It's like we are always muddling around. 

I think I'd rather be a Maggie. She can focus, she can be still, and she can carry a task through to the bitter end (especially if it involves chasing chickens). I'd like to be more like her, wouldn't you? I'm not going to chase the poultry, but finishing what I start would be a great improvement, as would continuing to  work on something until I'm completely done. 

Maybe the key is to pay attention from the beginning, as well as start small and build up. After all, "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much." (Luke 16:10 NASB)

Are you a Maggie or a Mamie? How much are you accomplishing? Maybe what you need to do is to focus, get still, and get started. 

Almost Anonymous (Luke. 8:2,3)

and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:2, 3 NASB)

In this passage, Jesus was traveling from city to village, proclaiming the gospel. He was accompanied by the twelve apostles, as well some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses. They were apparently women of some means, because they helped to support His work from their private funds. Little is known about most of these women. Only three are mentioned by name. Their gifts to the work of Christ, however, were important enough to merit mention in Scripture. 

According to these verses, the women had experienced miraculous healing at the hands of Jesus, and they were staying close to Him. Women of means likely were accustomed to servants and comfort, but that paled in importance next to being a servant themselves.  They viewed the work He had done in their lives as of such significance that they willingly contributed both time and money to His cause, enduring hardship along the way. 

In addition to the three mentioned, there were "many others". These women were not seeking recognition, and did not need their name listed as a sponsor. They gave to Jesus, and did it without publicity or public commendation. At the time, all they had in exchange for their service was a spot in the crowd, or so it seemed. In reality, they were storing up treasure in heaven. More than two thousand years later, we still remember their gift.  For some of those women, their name was remembered only by God, but that was more than enough. 

Jesus spoke of this kind of anonymous (or almost anonymous) giving on more than one occasion, and His words are worth reviewing. 
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 NASB)

Did you get that? There is something very powerful and very blessed about giving "in secret". When we give "secretly", God sees and rewards. It's like a transaction between us and God, with no middle man, and it is great fun!  There has been much written in recent years about "random acts of kindness", doing small acts of aid and kindness anonymously and mostly in such a way that the giver is neither seen nor known. It is a very Christ-like way of giving, and worth a try. 

How about our giving? Do we give with one eye on the tax receipt or do we give freely, without regard to personal benefit? Do we give without recognition? In God's economy, some of the best giving is that done anonymously, or nearly so. 

Today, pray for a giving heart, then make an effort to give to someone in need, and do it in such a way that only God knows it was you. The results and the effect in your life and in those around you might just surprise you!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Being an Elected Official

There has been so much hype recently about the Mississippi Republican Senate run-off that I am just grateful today was the day to vote. I am tired of this campaign. As a voter and as an elected official, I'm bothered by all the hype and the mudslinging.  I guess I see things a little differently from most candidates. 

The first time I ran for alderman in Blue Springs, I did it only because several people presented the need for help in preparing for the changes that the Wellspring Project would almost certainly bring, and pressed their case until I relented. I didn't want to do it. I had told God in no uncertain terms that I would do anything except politics, and I had reiterated my position to The Almighty on numerous occasions. He knew how I felt. It turned out that my refusal didn't matter much. As one of the elected officials explained the need, I realized it was a job I was uniquely equipped to do, and dread set in. I hate to admit it, but I cried and begged God not to make me do it. It didn't take long for me to see it was mine to do. That year, there were five positions and five candidates. I was elected by acclamation. 

The Wellspring Project evolved into Toyota Mississippi and tremendous change for Blue Springs. Suddenly, we needed a 25-year comprehensive plan, ordinances, building codes, subdivision regulations. The list seemed endless. We've had help every step of the way, but it's still been quite a bit of work. There was a tremendous amount to learn, and none of it had been covered in medical school. I took the Certified Municipal Official Course and learned as much as I could. 

It turns out that being an elected official is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day a year job. At $85 per month, I make about 11 cents an hour, and now, in my third term, I would do it for free. Getting things accomplished takes what seems like forever, it's impossible to please everyone, and there is never enough money to do all I would like for our people. 

On the other hand, the nicest people in America live in Blue Springs. They also have the most sense of any people I know. Our citizens seem to understand that life requires give and take. We've always been able to work out our problems by talking it through and working together. There are no words to describe how much I love this sweet little town. 

I fully recognize that not every elected official would work for free and not every official considers their position a sacred trust, but I wish they did. Tomorrow, we will learn who won this round. In a few months, we will know who won the race. No matter who wins, the losing side will predict dire consequences and the winning side will predict amazing prosperity. It's likely neither one will get it quite right. 

There is one thing we need to remember. No matter who wins, there is One who has the final say. When we least expect it, He can intervene. When we most need it, He can  move. No matter who is elected. 

If you are worried about the future of our country and what the candidates will do, don't waste time grumbling and complaining. Talk to the One who is, ultimately and completely, in charge. His name won't be on the ballot, but He has more to do with our future than anyone whose name is listed there. 

"The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." (Proverbs 21:1 NASB) 

Willing to Go (Luke 8:2,3)

and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:2, 3 NASB)

In addition to Mary of Magdala, two other women are mentioned by name. We know little about them, except that Joanna was married to Herod's steward, and had likely been in and out of the royal palaces frequently. As a result of his job, her husband had been in close proximity to Herod on a daily basis. We know from this passage that Joanna was one of the women who had been healed by Jesus, either of evil spirits or a terrible sickness. Whichever, her healing was noteworthy and she kept close to Him. Because she and the other women accompanied Jesus, some commentators think they may have been widowed or never married, which allowed them more freedom in being away from their husbands. 

Another possibility is that Chuza, Joanna's husband, was still living and working as Herod's steward, and that he supported Jesus with as much enthusiasm as she. My reasoning for this supposition comes from this verse: 
Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. (Luke 23:8 NASB)
By this, we know that someone had been talking to Herod about Jesus and the miracles He performed. Because Herod was glad to see Jesus and "had wanted to see Him for a long time", it is likely that He had heard positive reports about Him from a disciple of Jesus rather than one of His enemies, such as a Pharisee. There is no one more likely to have the opportunity to share about Jesus than Herod's personal steward, whose own wife had been miraculously healed by the Galilean preacher. 

Regardless of her current circumstances, Joanna was not a woman from one of the rural villages. She was likely more accustomed to an urban, more sophisticated lifestyle, yet she willingly accompanied Jesus on his preaching tour, helping to support the work from her private means and walking dusty roads for miles every day without complaint. 

It's a little easier to identify with Joanna, rather than Mary, in some ways. Her lifestyle was certainly a little more like ours than Mary's had been, but she willingly left her comfort to go where Jesus would go, eat what Jesus would eat. That choice is a little harder to embrace, isn't it? Comfort is very appealing, and hard to leave. 

Jesus's purpose in leaving the comforts of His own heavenly home was not an earthly wilderness trek. It was the redemption of sinful man, and He left home and comfort willingly, so that the work of redemption could be accomplished. 

How willing are we to be uncomfortable for Christ? 

How willing are we to leave the comforts of home to go where Jesus would go, live as He would live, in order to bring others to Him? 

How willing are we to speak out about our faith to those who need Him? 

Today pray that we and our loved ones would be willing to be uncomfortable for Jesus in order that all might know His truth, and that, willing, we might follow His call wherever He leads. 

Link to last night's post is here:

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Big Bonus

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he 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. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:5, 7, 8 NASB) 

Last night, I promised you that we would talk about the great bonus we receive when we bear abundant fruit. This is very exciting, so don't miss it!

In a vineyard, the branches have no importance if they are pruned and lying on the ground. Branches only have meaning and significance if they are connected to the vine. It is through the vine that branches receive nourishment, and it is through the vine that the life of the branch is sustained.  The branch can only bear fruit if it is connected to the vine, and that is, of course, the very purpose of the branch.

In that same way, we can only bear spiritual fruit when our lives are connected to Jesus. John 15:7 gives us a very important promise.  The one who abides in Christ will bear much fruit. If you are not bearing fruit, you need to check your connection to the vine. Abiding is not optional for fruit-bearing believers.  

In fact, there is a two-fold promise in this verse.  If you abide, you will bear much fruit.  If you do not abide, but attempt to live and minister apart from Jesus, you will bear no fruit. In fact, you will do nothing.  Did you get that? Apart from Jesus, nothing you do will have significance.  Nothing you do will be fruit that lasts.  Whew.  That's a hard word.  Abiding is a full-time job, and it is not optional.

Now, here is where we find the big bonus.  Look again at Luke 15:8.  If we abide in Christ, and His words abide in us, we can pray whatever is in our hearts, and it will be done.  Do not misunderstand this.  It does not say that we will get whatever we dream up.  It says that, if Christ's words abide in us, we will have answered prayers.  If His words are abiding in us, you can be sure that His words will pour forth when we are praying to the Father. In that instance, we can pray with confidence that the Father will answer the prayers that have originated from His Son.  

This is going to sound strange, and I beg you to understand that I mean what I am about to say in all sincerity, and that I know without a doubt that it is true and accurate.  Those words that abide in us from Christ come from the very One who dreamed up the rhinoceros and the giraffe, the macaw and the clown fish.  He is the most creative, amazing God imaginable, and He can think up some very surprising words to pray, and sometimes in the most unexpected places.  Do not be surprised if, in your abiding, you find yourself praying for the most unexpected things imaginable.  Part of the fun of abiding is allowing the words of Christ to flow through you in prayer, then watching what God does in response.  

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been serving food for a large group, realized mid-way through that there was not enough of one dish or another to go around, prayed out loud in front of believers and non-believers alike for a "loaves and fishes miracle", and found, when everyone had been served, that God had given me what I asked. It had nothing to do with me and everything to do with God. I just let His words flow through me.  

The most important part comes next. When I prayed for a miracle in front of believers and non-believers and the miracle was done, who was glorified?  It wasn't me.  Everyone who was there knew that God had done the miracle.  All I did was pray and keep serving.  

That's the whole point.  It's like a chain reaction.  We abide in Christ.  He abides in us. We bear fruit.  His words abide in us.  We pray what we hear.  God answers our prayers by doing what we've asked.  He gets the glory.  We bear more fruit.  It proves we are His disciples. People are drawn to Jesus by the lives of the disciples.  More fruit.  More glory for God.  What a wonderful plan, and what great fun!

Here's the challenge for you:  Abide in Christ, let His words abide in you, and pray whatever He tells you, then hold on and watch what God does.  It will be the most fun you've ever had, and you are going to love it! I can hardly wait to hear what happens!  

Have fun, enjoy your bonus, and happy abiding!

Trophy of Healing, part 2 (Luke 8:1,2)

Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, (Luke 8:1, 2 NASB

In the previous post, we learned that Jesus was accompanied by "some women who had been healed".  They served as a kind of "trophy of grace", as they were living, breathing proof of His power over sin, sickness, and evil. 

The first woman mentioned is Mary Magdalene, Magdalene being used to indicate her hometown. This was the Mary  from Magdala, and not the Mary from Bethany. She is described as having seven demons that had "gone out" from her. They had, indeed, gone out, but not willingly. They had "gone out" at the command of Jesus. 

The number seven is an important number in the numerology of Scripture, and is used to indicate perfection or completion. The presence of seven demons implies that she was completely evil, as we can well imagine with seven demons residing inside her. She was likely completely controlled by those demons. She was completely controlled by demons, that is, until she met Jesus. He cast them out and set her free. As we would expect, that freedom was such a relief that she never wanted those demons back again, and she did the only thing that could assure her freedom. She left her evil lifestyle, and kept close to Jesus. 

There are three very important lessons to learn from Mary Magdalene's presence in the group. First, once Jesus cleanses us, our sin no longer belongs to us. He has removed it as far as the East is from the West. She was no longer "Mary the devil woman" but Mary from Magdala. It's important to remember that we, and those we love, become new creatures in Christ. We must be willing to loosen our hold on what Christ has removed, and embrace the new person, the cleansed person He is creating. 

Second, Mary's presence was a testimony to the power of God, not the power of the demons. They were her past. It was her new life that was compelling, and it focused totally on how powerful God was, not on how bad she had been. A recitation of her sins is not included, because what she had done was not the important point. It was what Christ had done that mattered. 

The third point should bring great hope to those who have loved ones mired in sin. Not even one who is completely controlled by evil is beyond the redemptive power of God. All have sinned; all are in need of a Savior; none can be saved except by the blood of Jesus, even one who is completely evil. 

Do you know someone who is filled with and controlled by evil?  Do not give up hope for them. Remember that Mary Magdalene was controlled by evil until an encounter with Christ set her free, and He can do the same for those we know and love, as well. 

Are you struggling with the power of sin in your life? That power can be broken, but only by the work of redemption accomplished by Christ. Invite Jesus to set your free, then stay close to Him so you can stay free. 

Mary Magdalene became a trophy of grace, and we, by the power of God, can be trophies of grace as well. 

Link to last night's blog post:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Gift Garden

Since God started Adam and Eve in a fabulous weed-and-thorn-free garden, it has always seemed to me that a garden should be the preferred place to live. For the past quarter-century, I've been planting with a God-garden in mind. As I wandered around my yard over the weekend, I realized that I not only have a God-garden, a place where I can visit with our Lord, but I also have a gift-garden. Many of my perennials were originally gifts from friends and family, and every time I see the blooms, I'm reminded of the giver and their sweet gift of love.  
This peony was a gift from my sweet son, Ryan, one Mother's Day when he was not yet a teenager. 

The rose growing on my arbor (built by my neighbor Sam) was a cutting from my Grandaddy Thaxton's prize rose and was a gift from my cousin Skip. 

The Bee Balm was a gift from Jan Musgrove's garden and has created an impressive display this year. 

This delicate rose was another Mother's Day gift. 

Angel Trumpets were a birthday gift from my sister (Cookie Pennell) this year, and were shared from the impressive plants on either side of her front porch. 

Two banana trees were gifts this year from my friend and fellow alderman Lynda Bramlett. 

For more than twenty-five years, my neighbors, Sam and Jamie Wiley, have given me azaleas every Christmas, a tradition they began with the first owners  more than twenty-five years before my arrival. Fifty years of azaleas makes quite a display. 

I love the flowers because of the ones who gave them, but I also cherish the fact that they are perennials. They come back again every year, bigger and more beautiful than the year before, and those recurrent blooms seem a little like getting the gift all over again. They have been a gift that lasts. 

The Bible is full of references to gardens and plants, as well as the fruit they produce. One of my favorite references compares our relationship with Christ to vines and branches. He is the vine and we are the branches, it says in John 15. (Don't miss the fact that the vine is another perennial!) The fruit growing on our branches is what we produce by the quality of the life we live. Jesus also told a parable about a sower and his seeds. (Matthew 13) Some of the seeds failed to sprout at all, some failed to grow to maturity, but some of those seeds produced an impressive harvest. That's the kind of harvest I want to have in my life. Seeds yielding a hundred-fold harvest and fruit that lasts, a little like a perennial. 

What about you? Are you living the kind of life that makes a difference in the world around you? Are you bearing the kind of perennial fruit that will still be yielding a harvest long after you are gone?  You can't do it alone, but with Jesus, abundant fruit is possible. Don't miss out! 

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 NASB)

(Tomorrow evening, we will look at the great bonus we receive when our lives yield abundant fruit.)

Trophies of Healing (Luke 8)

Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, (Luke 8:1, 2 NASB)

Jesus proceeded on His city and village tour of proclamation, accompanied by His twelve apostles.  He was training them to be "Fishers of Men" and what better way than to include them in His work! They would see Him ministering to people from every level of society and learn what it meant to be a servant by watching Him who came to serve. 

His entourage included more than the apostles, however. In a time of evidence-based medicine and court TV, we want to see the evidence. We want proof to support the claims that are presented. In that, we are no different than the people of Jesus's time. If they wanted proof of the freedom and healing He promised, and they did, then He provided it in the form of living, breathing people who had been healed of both evil spirits and of sicknesses.  

In addition to those apostles, who had their own problems from which Jesus was healing them, His traveling companions also included a group of women who had experienced the healing power of Jesus. They had not just been healed of sickness, but also of evil spirits, demonstrating that there was nothing beyond His power to heal, nothing too terrible for Jesus's healing touch. 

Those women were trophies of the divine. They were the indisputable proof of His claims, of the new life He offered. We, too, should be trophies of the divine, demonstrating clear evidence of the transforming power of our Lord. We should be a living, breathing picture of grace for the world around us, but are we? 

In what ways do you and I demonstrate the power of God in our lives? Are people drawn to Jesus simply by the transformation we have experienced?  

Pray today that we would experience the transforming power of God in such a way that our lives would be a clear witness for our Lord to those around us, especially those we love the most.