Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Day 18 of 40 Days of Prayer: Begin with Brokenness

We resist being broken.  While it is understandable and right to desire strength, resilience and endurance, there is a natural recoiling from being stretched past the point of one’s limitations until one breaks.  Yet, is in the place of encountering one’s limitations that one is most likely to have a heart prepared to experience true fellowship with God. It is also from that place, that the power of prayer is effectively launched.

The Psalmist understood this truth and wrote of it when he penned, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”  The Scripture also promises that while God is “opposed to the proud” He “gives grace to the humble.”  It takes humility to meet brokenness head-on and then to turn to the One Who can restore us to wholeness so that we can minister to others in their brokenness as well.

When you find yourself in a hard place that breaks you, don’t deny it  or hide because of it. Instead, turn to the Lord.  Allow Him to use your brokenness as the beginning point of powerful transformation that will not only restore and bless you, but lead you reach out to bless others so that they can be restored too.

Remembering Those Who Serve In Every Season: Even the Bitter Cold!

When you step out into the briskness today and bristle against howling winds and biting cold, consider those who are facing these punishing conditions in training.
There is a discussion in a closed group to which I belong, reminding everyone to pray for those soldiers in the midst of meeting the requirements of the US Army Ranger School at this very moment in one of the harshest winters in years. While we fight the cold on our own terms, these amazing volunteers fight it on the unrelenting terms of the US Army Ranger School, outdoors, 24/7.
Some members of the group reflecting on their own similar experiences in the mid 1980's, recall the mission objective literally becoming survival. I recall receiving news during that era of 2 Ranger students and an instructor dying of hypothermia when caught in a particularly sudden and wicked winter storm. Many other soldiers and military personnel from all branches of service similarly continue to train as the demands do not relent in inclement weather for anyone on mission.
Do not fail to pray and give thanks for those who eagerly give of themselves for the rest of us. Consider this as you snap your coat and bundle up for today's frigid temperatures!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Day 17 of 40 Days of Prayer: Be A Servant - The Sledgehammer School of Learning

I met Mr. Tom Petty the 1st semester of my first year in seminary.  He needed help unloading an old Toyota pickup he called “Doulos II” that was loaded with fresh vegetables for the cafeteria.  After I finished helping me, he asked me if I was interested in coming alongside him for ministry training.  I was delighted, as Mr. Petty was known far and wide as someone deeply committed to ministry and an excellent disciple-maker.  He seemed satisfied and told me to meet him at his home where my instruction would begin early Saturday morning.  He told me to dress very casually.  “Definitely my type of guy!” I thought to myself.

I arrived at Mr. Petty’s house bright and early that Saturday morning.  He was waiting for me and greeted me warmly with a friendly handshake.  He handed me a pair of work gloves and pointed me to a sledgehammer laying at the end of a very long and uneven concrete path. “Sam.” He began with his soft-spoken Southern gentlemanly drawl, “I want you to bust up this concrete for me.  It will probably take all day.”

It took all day.  I stopped only for lunch and a few water breaks, and by the end of the day, had busted up all the concrete, and was soaked with sweat from the late summer South Carolina sun.  I was also furious.  “I came here to minister!” I thought to myself. “And this joker has me doing his manual labor for him!”  As if he had read my mind, Mr. Petty put his hand on my shoulder and said, “If you want to minister, you must learn how to serve!” “Wax on, wax off!”  I thought. “I’m training with a Southern, Christian version of Mr. Miyagi!” 

I wasn’t far off target! For the next 5 years I spent in Columbia, Mr. Petty taught me how to serve, assigning me countless tasks, great and small, all focused on serving others.  Many of them were extremely physically challenging and time consuming.  Being ready to serve anytime, anywhere also made me available to rub elbows with some fantastic leaders and allowed me have some very visible moments of ministry with the Governor of South Carolina, leaders in Washington, D.C. and opened the door for me to take part in a special mission to the Philippines that was a truly life-changing experience!

A great classic from the 60’s was titled, “If I had a Hammer” citing the great changes the singer would make with his world changing instrument of justice and freedom.   Well, I had a hammer, and it enabled me to begin a journey of learning through the school of sweat and elbow-grease, teaching me what serving truly means.  Jesus said, “The one who wishes to be greatest among you, must be servant of all.”  I am still learning lessons in service, but know that the Heavenly Father calls His children not to Lord over others, but to kneel and serve.  Help me, Lord, to keep carrying my hammer, continuing to serve and to be a blessing for others!

Chicken Carbonara al Jacksoni

Chicken Carbonara al Jacksoni

Parmesan cheese, chicken breasts, pasta, onion, (veggie of choice: kale, asparagus, and bell pepper work well), bacon, whipping cream, chicken broth, cream of mushroom soup, salt and pepper, olive oil.

The Process:
Lightly coat chicken breasts with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese

Pan fry breasts in olive oil until nice and brown and cooked on the inside. Set aside when cooked.

Sautee veggies of your choosing (we used onions and kale, which we later added to the sauce. You can use red bell pepper, parley or asparagus as well.)

Fry a few strips of bacon (or use already cooked bacon) and set aside.

For the sauce, we cheated and used ream of mushroom soup to start, added whipping cream, some chicken broth and parmesan cheese, brought them all to a boil, add the veggie mixture, crumbled bacon, then simmered at very low heat.

Cook the pasta of your choice. Drain.

Mix the sauce and pasta, place in serving container.

Slice the chicken breasts place on top of the pasta and sauce.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and you’re done

Season to taste along the way!


Monday, January 15, 2018

Day 16 of 40 Days of Prayer: Yes! When It Hurts the Most , Be A Peacemaker!

On the night I began preparing this devotional thought, my daughter shared an experience of personal and racial insult that had been directed towards her that fired the fury within me.  As I shared my angst through posting and contemplated how I might deal with the situation, I remembered the subject at hand – Be A Peacemaker!

As I considered Biblical ammunition that would support a more martial approach to conflict resolution, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven. A time of war…” I also remembered the words of Jesus in Luke Chapter 6,  “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil… Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”  Soon thereafter, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount came to mind, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” 

It occurred to me that the most important time to act like a Child of God, is when people call you everything BUT a child of God!  When the conflict is most intense, the need for peace is most acute.  The Bible is clear, when conflict arises, peacemakers must rise up as well, ready to combat hostility with truth, love, forgiveness, resilience and joy.  After sharing, Victoria invited me to pay a game of indoor catch while we swap stories and discuss matters of import.  Our time was cathartic and allowed me to renew my thoughts and regain my resolve to answer hatred with loving compassion.

It is the peacemakers that Jesus said bear unmistakable resemblance to the Heavenly Father.  The best time to display traits of the family of God is when the heat is on!  Let us obey His commands to love our enemies and pray for those who provoke and disparage us, “that [we] may be children of [our] Father in heaven.”

Living As A Disciplined Peacemaker - Pastoral Thoughts On Political Banter

For many years, while I lived as a Christian, I evaded a call to ministry that I knew deep in my heart I needed to embrace.  After a period where I was in Jonah-like flight from my calling, the Lord used painful but effective means to capture my attention and redirect me to acknowledge and pursue my calling. 

Once I embraced the call, I truly began my life as a follower of Jesus, and took great care in how I approached that call and conducted my life. One area that demanded and still demands on-going wisdom and care is the area of political commentary.  I have observed that preachers are often been called upon to endorse candidates or political parties, or to "anoint" a personality as "God's person" of the hour, extending a specific blessing or curse towards someone based on a policy position or stance. I resist such endorsements and refuse to use inflammatory language towards someone I do not necessarily admire. 

I won't speak to the spiritual condition of public figures when I don't know them personally, and especially when their standing is ambiguous or "shape-shifting." I will, at times, comment on situations or issues that arise when I believe it is necessary for Gospel clarity and when I believe it might be of benefit to others.

I refrain from general political commentary and exercise care in taking part in many discussions because of the incendiary nature of many of these "discussions" and I have not found such "discussions" to be particularly helpful, edifying or informative. If I do comment or address a specific issue I attempt to take great care in respecting others regardless of their stances or positions because I am commanded, as are all believers, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18).

I also try to keep in mind that written and verbal statements now remain easily accessible for perpetuity. It is therefore prudent to make sure that one's statements accurately represent what one truly believes and reflect, at the very least, an attempt at exercising care for one's message and respect for the opinions of others.

More than anything, I attempt to stay on mission, encouraging and loving others while applying this Scriptural reminder to my life and practice:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

And so, in faith, I press on, seeking to live a disciplined, peacemaking life!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Day 15 of 40 Days of Prayer: Real Love Equals Real Action

Many of the conflicts and much of the strife that damages relationships amongst Jesus followers comes from a lack of love. These conflicts can disrupt church life and disrupt the effectiveness of the prayers we lift up before God.  

Perhaps one of the sources of problems with respect to insufficient love comes from the erroneous belief that love is primarily about one’s emotions or feelings. While emotions and feelings are certainly an aspect of what love is, love is more than anything, action and deeds. 

1 John 3:18 gives this directive for the follower of Jesus, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  Loving words have a place, but it is loving action that melts hearts, breaks down walls and most decisively identifies those who know and follow Jesus.

As we approach God’s Throne of Grace, let us be sure to live and act as agents of His love and Grace. In our service and help, let us be identified as His children, in sync with Him in our prayers, obeying His call among one another and everywhere we go.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Day 14 of 40 Days of Prayer: Teach Others What You Know

Though we have eternal life in Christ, our earthly voyages are limited, and every generation is mortal.  Nevertheless, while we have limited physical longevity, we can  keep our spiritual heritage alive by entrusting what we have learned in our walk of faith to others who follow our path.  Paul called his faithful student Timothy to follow the example Paul had set for him with these words,
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
In the course of your walk of faith, invite someone else to walk alongside you.  Pass on the knowledge you gain in your experiences and studies to someone else. Be intentional.  Take opportunities to pray with them, meet them over coffee, share meals and just hang out to pass along the wisdom and insights you have gleaned from your personal walk with Jesus.

It is a wonderful to grow in one’s personal walk with Jesus. It is even better to help someone else grow to increased maturity, strengthening the legacy of faith for generations to come.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Day 13 of 40 Days of Prayer: Forgive One Another

A challenging line of the Lord’s Prayer that is known by heart, yet not frequently lived from the heart is, “… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  While we are deeply thankful when we are forgiven, we are often hesitant or even resistant to forgive the wrongs done to us.

Jesus connects forgiveness directly to the effectiveness of prayer.  Want forgiveness? Forgive others.  Have a disagreement with your friend? Don’t give an offering, take communion or expect your prayers to travel higher than the ceiling until you do all you can to make things right. 

Jesus is serious about His followers living lives of forgiveness.  In this season of prayer, take an inventory of your relationships.  If any are characterized by strain or conflict, don’t delay in taking the time to seek healing, by either offering forgiveness or asking for it.  God is generous and gracious.  He expects us to be too!

Remember Jesus’ words, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Thus, it is written.  Let us live to this standard in spirit and truth!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Day 12 of 40 Days of Prayer: Be Controlled By the Spirit

Perhaps the primary indicator of a mature walk of faith is the evidence shown by a life under the control of the Spirit of God.  This evidence may manifest itself in numerous ways: an even temperament, careful and thoughtful speech, clear thinking, and the absence of unfounded fears to name a few. 

In our spiritual wrestling, we lose battles when we are controlled by our appetites, selfish desires and sinful passions.  God calls us to resist being led by our flesh and to submit instead to the control and leading of His Spirit. Romans 8:5 warns that only living by the Spirit allows us to think on the things of the Spirit, which in turn influences what we consider praying for.  If my mind is on fleshly things, I will pray selfishly, with goals fixed on answers that satisfy my temporal longings. 

If my mind is Spirit controlled, my thoughts will also be spiritual and my prayer focus as well.

Let us resist our flesh and submit to God’s Spirit so that our petitions might reflect God’s Kingdom agenda that will surely be heard and have eternal impact. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Day 11 of 40 Days of Prayer: Forfeiting Our Agendas

Planning for a day’s activities by organizing an agenda is a natural undertaking.  Most people begin a day with thoughts of how that day will progress and have goals they desire to see accomplished by that day’s end.  Sometimes, however, events transpire during our day that give us opportunities to do God’s work in a way we hadn’t planned in circumstances we hadn’t expected.

Proverbs 16:9 proclaims that truth in this way, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”  In our prayers to be useful to God, are we truly open to those times when His agenda is at odds with ours?  Are we ready when we pray to be His hands and feet that the answer may call for us to reroute our path and rework our schedule to be where He wants us to be, doing what He wants us to do?

Praying for God’s will to be done may call for our will to be placed on hold or put away forever, never to be realized.  Jesus was willing to do just that for our sake.  Are we willing to do the same for His?  “Not my will, but yours, O Lord!”

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Day 10 of 40 Days of Prayer – Bear the Fruit of the Spirit

Jesus said that a tree is known by the fruit it bears.  As followers of Jesus, the fruit of our lives should bear witness of our identity with Him.  As people of prayer and people who are led by God’s Holy Spirit, we should be conspicuous by the characteristics that describe us. 

Among the attributes of spiritual fruit we are expected to display in our daily walk are these: “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness and self-control.”  If we display these attributes consistently, it serves only as evidence of an intimate walk with Jesus, and a closeness to Him that will guide how we pray and prepare us to act when He answers.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

Day 9 of 40 Days of Prayer: Honor His Name

In this rotation of prayer, January of 2018, this day of prayer happens to fall on a day that is personally very significant to me – my mother’s birthday!   During my growing up years, a concept that was impressed upon me with great importance was the value of representing my family’s name with honor.  It was expected that everything I said and did would reflect in a way that brought respect and dignity to our family’s identity.

As much as I desire to honor my family name, I desire to honor God’s Name even more! How? By elevating the things that are important to God to be the utmost priorities in my own life.  The greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and to love others as ourselves.  Our prayer lives should reflect these priorities, causing us to prioritize our prayer according to the father’s will and to prioritize praying for our efforts to minister to others.

Let us honor and value God’s Name in prayer by not trivializing our focus in our prayers, but praying with purpose, Kingdom focus and in such a way that even our smallest requests, reflect the greatest respect for our glorious God!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Day 8 of 40 Days of Prayer: Keep praying

It is easy to lose heart when the answers to prayer seem slow to arrive.  Nevertheless, Scripture tells us to persist, continually seeking, asking and knocking on “Heaven’s Door” in prayer.  The scripture gives us further confidence when we pray according to the Father’s will.  We can pray confidently for His Kingdom’s work to continue, for the spiritual growth of His people, for our faith to be preserved, even in the midst of trial – all things clearly in God’s will according to the Scripture.  

Even in things less clear, we should not lose heart, but ask that His will be made clear for us to understand, accept and follow.  As we continue in a dedicated season of prayer, let us persist and not lose heart, believing that God hears, cares, understands and will answer!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Day 7 of 40 Days of Prayer: What Kind of Soil Are You?

Are you the kind of person that God can use whenever and however he needs you?  We’d all like to think that we are, but upon closer examination, I can see in myself that much work needs to be done.  In Matthew 13, Jesus shares a parable describing several different types of soils that correspond to the responsiveness of human hearts to the Word of God. 

While we most often think of this parable in light of salvation, some biblical students correlate it to believers responding in varying degrees of obedience to the call to serve God.  Some hear and don’t respond, others are only enthusiastic on the surface, but don’t have conviction to serve, while others begin with excellence and serve well for a time, but eventually get distracted by the cares of life and other desires and drift off the field of service to the sidelines.

Nevertheless, there is a remnant whose hearts have been broken, like fallow ground, watered by God’s Spirit and become usable and moldable for him to grow whatever seed is planted in them.  These servants, because of their brokenness, are moldable for God’s use, constantly ready to be broken again, so that a new crop can continually be planted upon the soil of their hearts, consistently producing fruit.

This has caused me to take pause and reassess what could be happening when my plans are disrupted. A changed schedule could mean meeting someone I wouldn’t have met.  A disrupted day could mean spending more time with a friend who needs me more than I need to check off every item on my daily list.  As I pray daily, I am seeing that I need to pray that the soil of my heart remains breakable, that I might bear fruit for God.

Lord, let us bear fruit, but let us be willing to be broken that others might grow, know your healing and bear fruit for you too!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Day 6 of 40 Days of Prayer: He Must Become Greater!

The focus of this day hits home.  During my seminary training, my classmates and I were warned about the 3 Deadly “G’s” of ministry – “Gold, Girls/Guys, and Glory!”  Of these deadly distractions, perhaps the sneakiest is “glory.” 

It is natural and appropriate for one to desire to see the ministry one leads grow and succeed.  However, with the desire to see growth, often comes a desire to see one’s credit for the growth increase as well.  It’s as if a quiet, inner voice whispers just out of reach, “this victory isn’t as sweet, if you don’t get the credit.” 

Such thinking is contrary to mission accomplishment.  A leader I greatly respect once shared a simple but powerful leadership axiom: “It’s amazing how easily you can lead your group to success, IF you don’t care who gets the credit for the success.  The mission’s success is more important than your recognition!” 

John the Baptist had a firm grasp of this concept. When his disciples questioned Jesus’ increasing fame and prominence over him, John retorted simply, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  In our prayer lives, let us pray that we serve in such a way that God gets the glory. Let us also embrace His answers to our prayers, so that when others are called to prominence to accomplish God’s will, we celebrate the victories, even if our role in mission success is secondary or out of sight. HE must increase… 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Day 5 of 40 Days of Prayer: Search Me, O God

In one Biblical account, Jesus describes two people who approach God in prayer.  One is occupied with pointing out the flaws in others, overlooking his own faults, while the other takes an honest appraisal of his own plight and beseeches God for mercy in heartfelt contrition. 

Towards the end of the 139th Psalm, David became enraged as he remembered the wickedness of others around him, when one can almost imagine the Spirit of God whispering in David’s ear, “Uriah.” It seems that David abruptly remembered his own sinfulness, which included incredible offenses to God such as adultery and murder.  David then asked God to search him and know his short-comings and to lead him instead in the ways of everlasting righteousness.

As we pray for all of the issues that concern us, let us also ask the Spirit of God to inspect us, not for condemnation, but for purification and restoration so that God’s mercy and grace might abound in our lives and in the lives we seek to touch in the Lord’s Name.

Day 4 of 40 Days of Prayer: Purify Your Heart

Our hearts dictate our motives in prayer - what we ask for when we pray and why we ask.  The Book of James says that one of the hindrances to answered prayer is impure motives.  James says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” We cannot expect to receive anything from God when we ask to receive from Him with only our own pleasure in mind.

Jesus showed us the way to pray with a pure heart.  When faced with the excruciating execution on Calvary, Jesus punctuates His prayer to the Heavenly Father with the qualification, “not my will, but your will be done.” As we continue our 40-day prayer journey, approaching our Heavenly Father about all manner of needs and situations, let us be sure to purify our hearts from the contamination of self-centeredness and temporal focus.  Let us seek to calibrate our minds to seek and obey God’s agenda, praying with all sincerity, “not my will, but Your will be done!”

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

40 Days of Prayer – Day 3 – Help Needed! Confess Pride/Embrace Humility

It can be challenging to admit one’s need in an era that values self-sufficiency. But that’s just what the Lord asks of those who would follow Jesus.  In Matthew 23:12, after having issued a series of warnings against haughty thoughts and self-promotion, Jesus warns, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Prayer requires voluntary humility.  It is an admission of one’s own limitations and one’s need upon the provision of God.  It is a declaration of dependence and admission of vulnerability in a world obsessed with independence and strength over others. 

God beseeches us to ask Him for what we need and to admit our weakness and need of His help.  “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” Let us demonstrate our trust in God, humbly approaching Him with our needs in joyful expectation of His readiness to answer and to help.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

40 Days of Prayer - Day 2 - Remember God's Power!

On this 2nd day of 40 days of prayer, our devotional reminds us to remember God’s power!  God calls His people to remember what He has done and what He is able to doing. He says,
Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’
Isaiah 46:9-10 (NKJV)

As you seek God in prayer, remember His character and nature. Nothing is too difficult for God.  He will see us through any of the problems and challenges we face.  He hears and He is able to answer!  We serve an All-powerful God! Trust Him and remember His power as you pray!

Monday, January 1, 2018

40 Days of Prayer - "Help My Unbelief!"

On this first day of 2018, the Hope Community Church family is beginning a journey together titled, 40 Days of Prayer.  On this first day of the journey, we are called to avoid the tragedy of unbelief.  Upon reading the devotional for today, I was reminded of the Mark 9 passage, where a man’s son is besieged with an evil spirit and Jesus assures him that he can be healed if he believes.  The man’s answer is honest and noteworthy, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Oh, how I identify with those sentiments.  Yesterday, I shared something with our entire congregation that I have to this point, shared with a limited number of people.  Many years ago, I learned that I have a chronic kidney disease.  It is a condition that progressive gets worse and will eventually lead to some significant steps to assist the function of my kidneys, including dialysis and ultimately, transplantation.  As that time nears, I find that I often wrestle with doubt regarding some basic truths: “God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”  Jesus said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As I process the challenges ahead, I also must reflect on the victories behind, as well as the testimonies of countless others who have trusted the Lord in every conceivable situation and found Him faithful.   I am also crying out in the uncertainty of my personal situation, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Friends, we all face challenges, or will face them, that test us and stretch us beyond our normal daily expectations.  Don’t fear taking your doubts to the Lord. Deal directly with the worries that may hound you.  Take your burdens to Him as you pray, and allow His comfort to surround you, sustain you and give you peace. Let us press on together, in spite of our doubts and fears, in prayer and faith!