Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Day 32 of 40 Days of Prayer: Build Up Others!

A word of encouragement in a time of trouble can bring renewed hope to one who has a hurting heart.  A work of building up the life of another who needs help and direction can change a destiny!  As he wrote to a church he knew would face significant trials in the paths they walked for the Lord, the Apostle Paul called the Thessalonian Church to lift one another’s spirits and to invest in each other’s lives. He penned simply,
“… encourage one another and build each other up.”
God is calling His people of all eras to constantly seek opportunities to bless others with “in the moment” words and actions of help and affirmation. He is also calling His people to lift up others with “in the season” acts of strengthening and investing through long-term friendship and support.

Therefore, let us build up others individually and in the church, that we might show the reality and power of God’s love to everyone we meet, everywhere we go!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Day 31 of 40 Days of Prayer: Make a Difference!

Day 31 of 40 Days of Prayer: Do Something!
In a time of great spiritual need, the Lord communicated His desire for someone to take action in addressing the needs by asking the prophet Isaiah a question,
 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
Today, the spiritual needs remain great.  The Apostle Paul informs the church I Corinth that they have been given spiritual resources to address those needs.  He writes,” to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 

What gifts have been given to you by God’s Spirit that you are refraining from using?  The Bible gives many examples of how one person’s putting their gifts to use, changes a situation or even transforms a society.  

Does your community have needs that your gifts might address?  Is your church lacking strength in an area in which your gifts might provide critical support to turn the tide?  Consider Isaiah’s example.  Armed with faith, take a chance.  Step forward.  Allow the Lord to send you to a situation where you can have an impact, in a place needing a difference to be made!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Day 30 of 40 Days of Prayer: Encourage Somebody!

The struggles of life can exert a wear and tear on hearts and souls that tame the heartiest of people.  Even more sobering is the negativity that often accompanies the pain of life, expressed in insults, put-downs and depreciating humor.  There is a critical need for words and actions that offer comfort, respite and encouragement. The writer of Hebrews calls followers of Jesus to turn away from sinful behavior that shoots others down and to instead,
… encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

The Apostle Paul commands the church in Ephesus to
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Encouraging words not only help the receiver, but the deliverer as well!  Encouragement allows the heart to remain sensitive to God’s leading and enables those who choose to encourage to be effective in prayer for and fellowship with the Lord and others.  While the voices of the cultural norm may invite us to sharp-tongued degradation, let us choose instead to reach out in encouraging exhortation to reflect the grace and love of Jesus!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Day 29 of 40 Days of Prayer: Leaders Aren’t Served - Leaders Serve!

Leaders come in all sizes and shapes and execute their duties in different ways.  Studies on leadership offer various categories of leaders along with corresponding styles and the strengths and weaknesses of each style.  While these types of differences are noticeable throughout Scripture, Jesus identifies a common approach that must define every Christian leader who desires to please God and to be effective in their calling.  Even non-Christian organizations recognize the importance of this leadership characteristic: Leaders serve!

According to Scripture, leaders are not to be idolized, waited on, deferred to, or cowered under.  Leaders do not exist for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the One Who called them and for the service of the ones they lead.  Jesus set the example that all leaders in Christ are called to follow.  Jesus said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The Lord’s Church must be a witness of the Lord’s character.  Disciplines such as praying, studying and meditating are impotent without the character reflected in a heart dedicated for service.  As we pray, let us serve, to the glory of God!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Day 28 0f 40 Days of Prayer: Pursue Unity!

The large number of denominational identities that exist within the Church of Jesus Christ is a sobering testimony to the difficulty of maintaining unity among Jesus’ followers.  While churches and denominations do, at times, intentionally plant new congregations to minister more effectively to a variety of needs in a variety of settings, in too many cases, churches split apart due to discord or disagreements on one sort or another.

For that reason, there are many biblical passages instructing churches on how to maintain unity.  The critical key in following those instructions is attitudinal orientation – being mindful of the need to stay united.  Another critical aspect in unity is “keeping the Main Thing, the Main Thing.”  The Apostle Paul implies this in his instructions to the Church in Corinth on staying unified.  Paul writes,
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
If Paul were addressing trivial matters, such as carpet colors or service start times, his instructions might be troubling.  I also believe he is even calling Jesus’ People not to prioritize significant issues that divide and separate, such as political ideologies or debatable theological schools of thought, where earnest and faithful followers of Jesus disagree, but issues that do not accurately measure a person’s walk with the Lord.

I believe Paul is calling local churches to know the powerful main points of faith in Christ, live in obedience to those points, and encouraging others to do the same.  While there are debatable issues in abundance, Paul encouraged another local church in Galatia to focus on matters such as,
 …love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
There are no rules against loving one another – in fact, loving each other is a corollary of the Great Commandment, to love God.  If churches focus on living out the love of Jesus and sharing the message of God’s love through Jesus to all the world, there would be little room for debate, and much more encouragement to be united as one. 

Let us live in unity to such an extent, that “all people will know we are [Jesus’] disciples. [Because we] have love for one another!”

Friday, January 26, 2018

Day 27 of 40 Days of Prayer: Consider Others!

The book of Philippians contains one of the greatest summaries of Jesus’ ministry in the Scriptures.  Getting to the very heart of the scope of what Jesus did, the second chapter of Philippians describes the selflessness of Jesus’ ministry and how He willingly laid aside the riches of Heaven to become impoverished for humanity.

As the Apostle Paul describes Jesus’ actions and attitudes, he calls Jesus’ followers to emulate the Master.  He writes,
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

In all Jesus’ followers do, we are called to consider the interests of others, both eternal and temporal.  Let that mindset guide prayer and action that people might see God in us and that God might do His work through us.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Day 26 of 40 Days of Prayer: Seek First The Kingdom!

It may be natural to seek our own interests, but Jesus instructs those of us who follow Him to establish more lasting priorities.  He encourages us to not worry about the things we will wear, what we will eat, or any other need we might need fulfilled in our daily living. He calls us instead to,

“… seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
“These things” often occupy so much of our time and energy, but God desires for us to prioritize His mission, caring for others, and serving them in His Name, trusting that as we do, He will see to it that our needs are met.  Such thinking is counter-culture in almost any setting one finds oneself.  Nevertheless, it is the standard to which God calls us, and a powerful key to effective prayer. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Day 25 of 40 Days of Prayer: Love Jesus!

“Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so!”  While we are certain of Jesus’ love for us, are we committed in our love for Him?  While any Jesus follower would readily claim such love for Jesus, how can one really show love for Him? 

When instructing the disciples on the freedom they have to pray for anything in His Name, Jesus also shared the test of sincere love for Him.  Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  Those who follow Jesus, and seek Him in prayer, should also obey Jesus in how they live their lives.

As we pray in every season of the human experience, let us remember Jesus’ commands to love one another, pray for our enemies, and to serve rather than be served.  Let us not doubt or fear but live with good cheer because He promised to be with us, even to the very end!  When we live in such a way, we demonstrate with our actions as much as with our words that the words of the old hymn truly apply to us,

There is a Name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth; It sounds like music in my ear, The sweetest Name on earth! Oh, how I love Jesus! Oh, how I love Jesus! Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Day 24 of 40 Days of Prayer: Choose The Path To Healing!

One of the strongest themes of our 40-day prayer journey is the theme of humility.  In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God His people for a period of severe trials that awaits them by explicitly outlining for them the humble steps towards restoration and healing. 

The process God showed His people in those days, also applies to us, His people now when we face times of challenge and pain and desperately long for healing that only God can bring.  God’s process for healing is not complicated.  He tells us that,

“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

This is God’s pathway for powerful healing!  Let us be quick to fall on our knees in prayer, energetic in seeking God’s face, and abrupt in turning from our wickedness, knowing that God will see our humility, forgive our iniquity and heal our infirmities.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Day 23 of 40 Days of Prayer: Choose Your Side!

With the Big Game just over a week away, people have begun to make known the team of their choice.  Most are not shy to tell you which team they favor and which team they dislike.  I remember my own father informing me that the true significance of my following Christ was the fact that I had “picked a side.”

Joshua understood the importance of not wavering in allegiance or trust with respect to following the way of the Lord, and challenged the people of Israel with a call to loyalty,
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

As we approach the Lord in prayer, let us make sure we are allied with Him, and in sync with His will and His plan.  When the question is asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Let us be counted among the faithful!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Day 22 of 40 Days of Prayer: Discern God’s Plan

In the mid-1970’s, Rock artist Peter Frampton released a live album, Frampton Alive, that sky-rocketed to prominence not only on the charts, but in the history of Rock and Roll.  The biggest hit on that album is entitled, “Show Me the Way.” The lyrics strongly suggest that someone is urgently searching for life direction and guidance.  Frampton sings,

Who can I believe in
I'm kneeling on the floor
There has to be a force, who do I phone
The stars are out and shining
But all I really want to know
Oh, won't you show me the way
I want you to show me the way!

An even more famous song writer, David of the Bible, had a similar cry, except that he knows it is God whom is asking for direction in his life. In the 25th Psalm, David sings,

Show me your ways, Lord,
Teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
For you are God my Savior,
And my hope is in you all day long.

God wants us to know His plans for us, but knowing where He is taking us requires staying close to Him in a day by day walk.  God doesn’t usually show us where He’s taking us years in advance.  Draw near to God and stay close by crying out to Him in prayer and searching His ways through His Word.  He will answer and not disappoint.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Day 21 of 40 Days of Prayer: Believe in the God Who Revives!

In Joel 2:25, the Lord comforts His people by assuring them that He insects will restore what appears to be impossible to revive.  He says,
I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.
Locusts are a relentless, marauding band of heartless devouring insects that devastate all vegetation within their path.  One visit from a locust colony upon a field of grain and one’s livelihood could be set back for years.  Yet, God promises that he has the power to restore what seems eternally ruined.

This is especially true with our spiritual condition.  The Lord tells Ezekiel that not only can He restore what is ruined, He can revive what is dead! You may feel that your life is in ruins and that spiritually, you are as good as dead.  Trust in the one who can not only lift you out of the ruins, He can breathe new life into your soul!  Believe in the One Who revives!  

Tales of The Magical Ranger School Trees

Joyce Kilmer expressed a sense of awe for the beauty and wonder of trees when he penned,
I think that I shall never seeA poem lovely as a tree.
Since posting a Blog entry regarding the rigors of the U.S. Army Ranger School, I have been fascinated by the encounters Ranger School Graduates report they had with trees during their training. It seems these special interactions are brought on as the severe result of extreme sleep deprivation (4 hours daily, or less, for over 2 months.) During Ranger School, trees sometimes seem to have a function similar to the "Holodeck" on Star Trek.

My friend and brother, Brett Lewis, shared how he faced a significant challenge trying to convince his Ranger Buddy not to put coins into a tree his buddy was certain was a soft drink machine.While he stopped his buddy from wasting his money, the Buddy was never quite convinced about the tree's identity as merely being a tree.  Upon reading that story, another Ranger Graduate reported having the same delusion, except he actually did put coins into the tree, and began beating the tree with his entrenching tool when it didn't dispense a refreshing beverage after he had inserted his change!

Yet another friend told of how in the middle of the night, his wife suddenly appeared next to him and an argument ensued with him telling her she had to leave because she wasn't authorized to be at Ranger School.  The argument continued for some time, until he was shaken by his bewildered Ranger Buddy, only to discover he had actually been arguing with a tree for the entire episode!  Spouses, soda machines and little green men have all made appearances to Ranger School Students thanks to the magical Ranger Trees!

If you'd like to hear more fascinating Ranger Tree tales, just ask a Ranger! They'll have stories, both scary and funny, to take your breath away from either terror or laughter! I leave you with a slightly edited line from Kilmer's poem, that just may explain the mystical properties of those Ranger School trees,

[Blogs] are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Day 20 of 40 Days of Prayer: Rely on God’s Power!

We are half-way through our 40-Day prayer journey!  More than anything, prayer is a humble admission that ultimately, the power of life and the power to navigate life does not come from us, but from God. This truth is most clearly seen in times of hardship and challenge.  As the Apostle Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10,
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
In the humility of prayer, we bow down to One greater than ourselves – greater than anyone or anything – acknowledging our dependence on Him and His ability to show Himself ultimately powerful in all things. We therefore proclaim, along with the Psalmist that,
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Day 19 of 40 Days of Prayer: Be Salt! Be Light!

Jesus expected those who follow Him to have impact on the society around them.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus informed His disciples that they weren’t just taking up space or occupying hours in some random, meaningless existence but they were created with purpose to carry out God’s will among those who are lost in the confusion of sin and death.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

We are expected to illuminate our interactions with the truth and season the lives of those around us with the love of Jesus.  This mixture of salt and light, grace and truth, characterizes the very nature of Jesus who is “filled with grace and truth” and allows those of us who follow Him to best represent Him and bless others in this harsh and demanding world.

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!