Be Careful What You Pray For (you might just get it!)

Jesus had much to say about prayer. The New Testament has many examples of His teaching others how to pray. Not only did the Lord frequently teach on this important topic, He modeled what a devoted prayer life ought to look like.
The gospel accounts record Jesus praying at various times, from early in the morning and also late at night. Jesus prayed often, which should encourage us to do the same.
My focus for this article is the fact that Jesus also prayed with great faith. He did not pray hoping that God the Father might hear Him. Instead, Jesus prayed as if He were talking directly to God (which He was!). Jesus knew, as we must, that our all-powerful and all-knowing God supernaturally is able to communicate with all people simultaneously. For us to be aware of this awesome fact is a gift of faith, for my finite mind can in no way get around it, yet in my heart I know it to be true.
Allow me to share the true story of how I became certain that God hears all our prayers and hence the title of this blog: Be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it!
A little background first to help you get the full impact of the way God opened my eyes and heart to his prayer answering ways. In May of 1991 I was admitted to a de-tox facility as the first step in my recovery from alcoholism. After spending three weeks there I was feeling so much better physically, and through the care of the professionals on staff, I was becoming aware that my only hope for long-term sobriety was to admit my total defeat at the hands of booze and to trust in a Higher Power to give me the strength I would need to stay sober each day.
As a child, my parents had dragged me to church with them every Sunday. Though it meant nothing to me then, apparently the stories I had heard repeated there stuck with me as did the messages of hope I had heard, for in those early days of treatment I came to know that Jesus Christ was indeed this Higher Power. (I am blessed these days to know Him as the Highest Power!) I began then a habit that continues to this day; in my morning prayers I ask that He give me the strength I need to stay sober today. Nearly 27 years later, He has perfectly filled my request each and every day.
But I’ve gotten a little ahead of the story. My prayers at the beginning of my new life, though consistent, lacked any real depth. I knew what I needed, for me and my family, and I asked. God graciously responded. It was one particular response that I want to share with you that truly opened my eyes to how closely God listens to us and how He patterns His response in the way that best speaks to us individually.
After de-tox I spent another 28 days in a rehab facility. This I know now was another blessing as I was able to begin to deal with the disease I had. I was learning about the damage it had done to me and to those closest to me, especially my wife and our firstborn child.
Those who are familiar with the ravages of addiction know full well the scope of this damage. My wife, one of the greatest gifts God has given me, decided early on to stick with me, offering gracious support as she herself began a journey of recovery from the effects my illness.
Though we committed to each other to go all-in on this new opportunity for life we were given, it was not going to be easy. My drinking had ruined us financially. As I emerged from treatment, we were faced with a huge financial burden. I owed in excess of $100,000 in back taxes (a sizable sum in 1991) and we had no income. We had to rely on Social Services and the kindness of family and friends just to stay fed and to have a place to live in the summer of 1991.
I have come to see the truth in scriptures like Jeremiah 32:17 which says nothing is too hard for God. Our situation was indeed dire, but not impossible to overcome. God did (and does) have a plan for each of us.
I began to more fully experience God’s mercy after I finished my 28-day in-patient rehab. Out of work and with few marketable skills, God stepped in. A good friend had a well-placed friend in one of the three nuclear power plants nearby. With the right strings pulled, I was hired as a temporary employee for a position that was to last 6 months.
There was a slight problem, however, I didn’t have a car to get there and back. Again, no problem for God, as He provided one. Another friend in our small town was aware of our troubles and sold us his 1975 Chevy Chevelle for $100. This car was a true winter-rat. The driver’s side door didn’t open from the outside, there was no floor board in back and the catalytic converter caused the passenger-side carpet to smolder after about 15 miles.
Here’s where I learned the lesson that God does have a sense of humor, as in hindsight I came to understand about being careful what I pray for. This junker of a car was well beyond my ability to fix if anything else went wrong with it. So I prayed, “God please keep this thing running for 6 months so that I can get back and forth to work.”
The job started on October 8th, 1991. It went well and with lots of overtime worked we started to chip away at the mountain of debt I brought on us. That Chevelle ran all winter, getting me through some horrendous snowstorms along the way.
April 7th, 1992 was my last day of employment there. I got out of work early and stopped at the noon AA meeting here in town. I got into my car when the meeting ended, and it would not start. It was dead; no life, no horn, no nothing. Then with a smile I remembered my prayer. God had answered it alright, to the minute! That car ran for 6 months, exactly as I had asked God to do.
I share this account to encourage everyone who prays to never sell God short. He does listen to us and He does respond, just not always as we expect or even hope.
I’ll conclude for today with what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21

The List

‘A’ list celebrities, bucket lists, grocery lists; even Santa Claus has a list. His being so important we are told through song that he checks it twice! We have Top 40 lists, honey-do lists, greatest plays lists, blooper lists and play lists on our electronic devices. For organization, we often list things alphabetically. Lists are seemingly everywhere, as many aspects of our lives seem to be in list form.
I for one am a list maker. I find my most productive days are ones in which I have made a list of the things I want/need to get done. Driven by equal parts memory retention issues and my orderly nature, I seem to work best when I can see my goals written out.
I will also admit to a certain satisfaction when an item gets scratched off the list at its completion. I’ll leave for another time a discussion of my tendency at days end, as I review the list, to write in other things I have gotten done that were not originally on it; just so I can scratch them off too!
The Bible contains many lists too. The Book of Exodus (chapter 20) records God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, making it safe to assume that God favors lists as well. The Almighty, having created us to be favorably disposed to using lists, gives us His Law in 1 through 10 form.
Jesus himself was also inclined to using lists to teach people. The 12th Chapter of the Gospel according to Mark records a conversation between the Lord and one of the Jewish teachers of the Law that gives evidence of Jesus using a list as a valuable teaching tool.
(The teacher asked him), “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus not only gives the answer as a list of two things, He goes even further and prioritizes them. In brief, Jesus tells us to place God first, others next and then ourselves in our plans. When Jesus lists things is a particular order, it’s a good bet He did so for a reason: For us to follow it as is!
Here lies the key for all us list makers/followers: Priorities. A list loses most of its ability to be a guide for us if there is no order to the items on it. For example, if I place mowing the lawn ahead of making a bank deposit in the checkbook to cover rent, the lack of priority may have repercussions for me. So as important as listing making and following it is for me, without a thought-out plan to do all these things, I may still end up merely chasing my tail.
Some years ago, my wife Betsy came up with a brilliant yet practical idea to help me get and keep my priorities in order regarding my lists. As a Christmas present, you gave me a 5’ x 7’ pocket notebook. On the top of every page, she printed the name Jesus; giving me an instant and on-going reminder to always place Jesus at the top of all my plans:
What a great gift! It helps me in several ways. (Here comes another list!):
Serves as a reminder to pray about how I spend my time.
With Jesus at the top, my priorities are already in order. No matter
how urgent/important an item I put on the list, Jesus is already on top
of it
Allows me to continue using a method that has been successful for me.
Gives me a conversation starter when talking lists with others.
If you are reading this and are already a follower of Jesus Christ, I hope the sharing of my ‘Jesus’ list helps you to remember where to keep your focus. I know it does that for me, especially when I check my list and it seems to be growing as time passes instead of decreasing. I can take a deep breath and pray that the God helps me to re-focus on the most important item on it, Him!
But if you are not (yet) a believer in Jesus, I hope these thoughts on prioritizing your to-do list is helpful. I will be praying that the day comes soon that Jesus will be atop all your lists as well. (BTW, I just added you to my prayer list to receive salvation!)

“I’m Very Busy”

Most people I know are quite busy. Many of my peers are constantly juggling the responsibilities of work and family, often wearing themselves out in the process. Add in the kids, grandkids and all their social activities and a great majority of people are going through their days in a daze.
For some reason, I began to take notice of how my friends were responding to my generic greeting, “How are things going?” I started to keep track in my head how often I got the answer, ‘OK, just very busy.’ My very non-scientific methods resulted in 75% response rate! On average, three out of four people have begun their conversations with me by saying how busy they are. I was floored. It seems to me that folks are defining themselves by the amount of activities they can cram into any given day.
To be clear at the start, I have friends that are non-Christian and Christian alike. Please understand I did my study randomly, as the opportunities presented themselves. I mean no judgment on anyone. My faith-professing friends and those with no leaning in that way have both been consistently running at the before mentioned 75% when asked how things are with them.
I certainly do not put myself above this, either. I have often espoused when asked how that I needed more than 24 hours in a day to get to everything on my list or that having a third arm might be helpful in getting all this stuff done. Being honest, having more hours in a day would simply allow me to schedule more things to do and a third arm would only help carry the extra stuff I would then need!
It seems that being busy has become our Red Badge of Courage. I reference Steven Crane’s novel of a young soldier during the American Civil War who longed for a wound, the badge, that would announce his bravery even though he had acted like a coward. A bloody wound would speak volumes to anyone who saw him, even if it didn’t speak the truth.
Though I do not question the integrity of those answering me that they are so busy, I have begun to wonder if we are, at least to some extent, wearing our busyness like a symbol of our struggle in daily life. It’s as if being busy is an end in its self, that somehow not running full-speed all the time is to be empty.
Jesus shared some heavenly wisdom on this very topic. The Gospel according to Luke, 10:38-42 is where it can be found:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened here home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha makes the mistake that many of us do today. Far too often we allow the doing of whatever task is at hand to obscure the importance of what is going on around us. In this case, the opening of her home and the duties that went with it were important, but she allowed the busyness of preparation to steal her joy of the moment. Martha, like I and so many others have done, blurred the lines between doing and being. She made the getting ready her sole focus, and in so doing lost sight of why she was doing it in the first place.
How many times have you and I settled for a good thing that caused us to miss out on something far better. This happens to me when I get tunnel vision, which only lets me focus on something I must get done, that somehow my completing whatever it is going to be vital to everything else that happens. I need to be reminded to get over myself from time to time!
Continuing with the analogy of wearing our busyness like a badge, and I don’t mean this judgmentally, perhaps Martha enjoyed being the martyr. She was so busy, and her sister Mary was just lolling about at the feet of Jesus. It’s like Martha was saying, ‘Can’t you see what I’m doing here all by myself? Won’t you make it better for me somehow?’ If you can honestly admit to having feelings like that, you’re not alone. We do tend to bury ourselves in the stuff we do. In the end we must ask ourselves who it is we are really doing these things for.
Our pride can be a tricky thing. It seems to be able to sneak in where we least expect it to. In the case of Martha, pride jumped up, confusing and upsetting her. She couldn’t see that her singular focus blinded her to the others around her. Jesus gently pointed this out. While recognizing her discomfort with the situation, the Lord was also trying to get Martha to re-focus. She wanted things to be just right for this important visit, but in trying to accomplish this she was missing the whole point. That is why Jesus told her that Mary had chosen what is better.
What are well-intended busy people to do? To start with, slow down and take a breath. Don’t allow the accumulation of tasks to get done overwhelm you. It is ok to ask for help. You need not allow yourself to be on a low boil because no one is helping you. Other folks are just as crazy busy. Perhaps if you take the risk of admitting you could use some help, others will not only step in to lend a hand, but also take a look at their own situation as well.
Being busy ought not to be a badge we wear or a cross to bear. Rather, let all your activities reflect the love and kindness of your Savior. He knows how we struggle in this area. Insert your name into verse 41: “. . . you are worried and upset about many things.” Now take to heart His offer to choose what is always the best, Him! Only He can set you free to know the peace that He brings; the peace that surpasses all human understanding. Don’t be so busy that you miss it.

Giving Thanks

I am a big fan of the Thanksgiving Holiday, though maybe not in the more traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy overeating the seasonal dishes served at this time, as well as the opportunity to visit with family and friends that I don’t get to see regularly. I also quite enjoy dozing off while ‘watching’ a football game after the big meal.
No, what really stirs me every late November is taking the time to intentionally thank God for the countless blessings He continues to pour on me, and to hear so many others doing the same as they too ponder the great depths of our always giving God.
Psalm 107, verse 1, captures what the position of a thankful heart should be: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever. (NIV) Ultimately, all creation owes thanks to God simply because He is good. Yes, I believe it is right and proper to thank Him for individual blessings, but truly our whole countenance ought to be thanking Him always, simply because He is good and that His love endures forever.
However, the thanks we give to God is not quite like the thanks we give to one another. It is customary in our culture to say, ‘Thank you’ to the person who has done a kindness toward us. This is of course proper. We ought never forget to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of another. It is not the giving of thanks that is to be different with God, but the order in which we do it.
The Bible teaches that we are simply to be thankful to God. This tells me that I need not wait until God delivers on a promise, but rather I am to be thankful regardless of my circumstance. The Apostle Paul captured this idea in his letter to the Philippians: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil. 4:6 NIV).
Did you catch it? We are to offer our thanksgiving with our request. This is a great reminder of what our heart position needs to be in relation to God. We are not to think of Him as merely a cosmic giver of gifts from afar, but rather as Someone with whom we can, and should be, having daily fellowship with.
When we align our hearts in proper to submission to God, we will find what Paul says next to be reality in our lives: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7 NIV). God promises His peace, even if the answer to our prayer happens to be no. Giving thanks to God, then, is to be the normal and natural expression of our faith. He is the Creator of all, and His desire is to have close relationship with His creation. And He has made this wonderful truth possible by bridging the gap between us and Him with His Son Jesus Christ. That fact alone gives us a lifetime of things to say thank you for.
But the giving of thanks is also an action that we should be taking often. One of the best ways we can express our gratitude to God is to provide care for others around us. We find this directive in James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)
It has been said, correctly, that gratitude is an action word. By daily taking inventory of all God has blessed us with, humility should not be hard to come by. As we recognize the abundance He has shown us, it should become more natural that we honor Him by blessing others who are in need. God does indeed bless His faithful followers, but not simply for our pleasure or convenience, rather that His name may be given geater renown. Simply put, our thanks to God should be tangible. Yes, we are to thank Him in our prayers, but also in our actions.
So a Happy Thanksgiving to you from Lakeside Christian Ministries! May you enjoy the day with family, friends, food and fellowship. And remember to thank God, always and in everything!

A Forgiving Father and another Prodigal Son

Regardless of a person’s familiarity with the Bible, most people seem to know the story of the Prodigal Son. But in case you don’t, it can be found in the 15th Chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. It is the third of three consecutive parables told by Jesus about how God saves us. The first two use the example of lost sheep and a lost coin. Jesus often taught by telling stories that used illustrations that His hearers would be well acquainted with. The beginning of this chapter tells us that Jesus was in the middle of a gathering of every day sinners (of which I would have fit in comfortably) as He uses these common place illustrations to so wonderfully explain what the forgiveness of God means to us.
The parable of the prodigal son contains three main characters, a Father and his two sons. The father represents of God, the older son is the judgmental religious leaders of that day and the younger son is a picture of everyone who is selfish, disobedient, foolish, wayward, etc.
If you don’t know the story, please allow me to quickly paraphrase it. A Father had two sons, the older of which was duty bound, carrying out the requirements of life that the order of birth, in that culture, placed in him. The younger one had a wild and impulsive side. He demanded that his Father give him his portion of his inheritance, while his dad was still living! An incredulous demand in that time; it reveals a selfish attitude that cared nothing for the feelings of anyone but himself.
Maybe even more incredible is the fact that the father grants the young man his request and gives him what he was due (In those days the father’s wealth would have been split with 67% for the first born and 33% for the other). Jesus then states that the younger brother gathered all his possessions and headed for a far-off country. He was leaving his family with no intent to return. The story then tells us he quickly squandered all his money (prodigal is defined as a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way).
More problems soon follow as an awful famine strikes that land and the younger son is left destitute. With no money and even less hope, this selfish guy farms himself out to a lower than low job, tending to pigs. There’s a whole cultural message contained just within that idea that I won’t cover now; suffice to say no little boys grew up back then hoping to slop pigs for a living!
It is at the nadir of his life that the prodigal son comes to his senses (Jesus’ words, not mine: Luke 15:17). He realizes that it is his choices and actions that have brought him to this point. Feeling genuine remorse for what he has done, he humbly heads back home to acknowledge his guilt and to bear the consequences of his actions. The younger son recognized and understood he had given up his rightful standing in the family and was willing to throw himself on the mercy of his Father for his very survival.
Here the parable Jesus tells gets to its focal point, the forgiveness of God our heavenly Father. The narrative tells us that while the wayward son was still far off in his return journey, the Father saw him coming. What a wonderful picture; this Dad, undoubtedly deeply hurt by his boy’s actions, is still hoping for his return. Why else would he be looking in the direction his son had left?
Not only do we see the eternal hope of God’s love illustrated here, we get to see it in action! For Jesus then says that after seeing his son was coming home, the Father runs to meet him. As they embrace, the Father lavishes his love, forgiveness and acceptance of his once lost child. Rather than reacting in understandable anger, love led to “mercy”—God’s compassion for the helpless, issuing in action for their relief. There is an inexhaustible treasury of such mercy in the loving heart of God. (The Expositor’s Commentary).
Please don’t miss the richness of this truth, God’s love is beyond what we can imagine and is available to all who seek it, no matter what type of ‘pig-pen’ your choices have turned your life into. But, we must understand that although God’s love is unending, for us to truly experience it we do have a part to play. Like the younger son, we must examine our hearts and admit our failures before our heavenly Father. I realize the thought of coming clean is unsettling. The question becomes; will we allow our stubbornness and fear of change to keep us immobilized? Hopefully the answer is no, for we must see past the current state of our affairs and into the wonderful fellowship God is waiting to bestow on those who seek Him earnestly.
There is no depth you or I can sink to that is beyond God’s ability and desire to reach. Not only has my personal experience with alcoholism taught me this, but also the many other lives I have seen reborn by the power of the Almighty. What this change looks like will vary with each individual, but be assured, the changes God implements will certainly be for our good and His glory.
Consider as an example the major change that comes over the prodigal son as Jesus tells this story. When we first met this young man, he was telling his Father to give him his inheritance, now. What disrespect; as if he were telling his dad that he was already dead! His only concern was for his wants to be fulfilled, regardless of how much his actions might hurt others.
Once he undergoes the powerful transformation of his heart, the young man returns to his Father with another request: This time it is, “make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19) Realizing he is no longer worthy to be called a son, he asked only that he be able to earn a living to provide for his basic needs.
It is at this point that Jesus reveals the necessity that we see our sins for what that truly are, affronts to God, and then ask Him to forgive us. The lavish response of the Father in the parable tells us what divine forgiveness looks like. It is complete.
There are many passages in Scripture that speak of the total forgiveness that God grants, here are just two: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and, as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
The key word in these two examples is if. God’s forgiveness is indeed complete, but we must humbly seek it. We must also know that it doesn’t come cheap, that Jesus Himself paid the ultimate price by His death on the cross to make it available to us. Once we do seek to be forgiven, we are restored into the family of God just as the younger son was restored to his family. And don’t miss this: God keeps no records of our wrongs. He forgives us and when He does, it is as if we hadn’t sinned. He will not hold onto the memory of our transgressions to hold over us at some future time.
What an encouragement for all! What’s more, though this story was told some 2000 years ago, God is still seeking prodigal sons and daughters that want to come back to him. If that’s you, don’t wallow in your mess any longer. Come to your senses and ask God to forgive you, because He will. His love is far greater than any darkness inside of you. Remember, His loving eyes are searching, not to bring shame or punishment but to simply love you and help you set your heart right. He is ready to welcome you back with open arms, are you ready to let Him?

Please Pass the Salt

If, as our oldest child has stated, life is a pie chart that can be divided into 4 equal parts of 20 years, then I am well into my third slice. As such, and with my family history of coronary disease, I should be more careful about what I eat and how much exercise I get. To be honest, I am not very good at monitoring either of these.
One area that I am successful in however, is keeping in check my salt intake. Other than sprinkling some on fresh sweetcorn, I rarely if ever add salt to anything I eat. I find the various tastes of food pleasing enough that I see no need to add more salt.
However, should you ever come to our house for a meal, don’t shy away from salt just because I do. Used appropriately, it can certainly increase how much you might enjoy the food, and, (though not a worry when Betsy cooks), salt can also add life to a bland offering. Also, many good recipes suggest that you ‘salt to taste.’ I like that, for it reveals a great truth; each person’s tastes, in food and in life in general, are different.
Perhaps you have guessed by now that the topic today centers on salt. As we look at the last section of Colossians at Lakeside Christian Ministries this week (vv.4:2-18), we discover the bible yet again makes a reference to salt. In both the Old and New Testaments salt is often mentioned for use as a seasoning, preservative and disinfectant as well as metaphorically signifying loyalty, usefulness and purity.
Colossians 4:6 uses it this way: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
A brief review of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church reveals that he wrote this it to believers in Christ who were being negatively influenced by some dangerously false teachings that were attempting to contradict the truth of God that these people had learned when they came to faith. In this short letter Paul gives a concise description of the facts: Jesus was/is the Son of God who came physically to the earth to bring salvation to absolutely everyone who would believe in Him. He then goes into what the practical application of this wondrous truth ought to look life in the everyday life of a follower of Christ. Included in this is the verse above with the instruction to have your conversation seasoned with salt.
Before adding any salt however, please take note of what our conversation is to be full of; grace. The word translated as grace here is rich in meaning. God’s grace is accurately defined as His unmerited favor. It is a gift He gives, not because we earn it or somehow deserve it, it comes from His heart to us simply because He loves us.
In using grace to describe what are conversations are to be full of, the Apostle Paul is reminding all readers to remember this great gift. Because we are to be always mindful of it, all that we say and do is to give evidence of this grace being active in our lives. For example, every conversation you have with me might not mention the Savior Jesus, but how I communicate, the words I use, the topics I discuss and even how well I listen all ought to reveal the love of God at work in my heart.
The Expositor’s Commentary says this about the grace we are to speak in: Grace, a word that usually denotes divine favor, seems here to be used in the broader sense of pleasantness, attractiveness and charm, as these ideas are all implicit in it.
As I consider this analogy regarding what Paul was/is telling his readers, I can easily see how it can be applied to all my conversations, especially those that have to do with the things of God and faith.
First, all my conversations are to be full of grace. This means that all I say, within a given context, is to be tied in to the goodness of God. We all know how badly words can hurt. The beginning of the third chapter of the Book of James discusses the power of the spoken word and how much harm can be caused by them. It is vital, then, that we all stay aware of the power of our words; remembering to have them be full of grace will go a long way toward helping us do this.
With this as a backdrop for how we speak to one another, we can then see the importance that only wholesome words being on our lips. As we practice this style of speech, we should find little to no room for slander or gossip to be coming out of our mouths. Speaking gracefully means to never publicly tear down another or to spread unsubstantiated accusations. Obviously, speaking one to one with another is most generally the appropriate place for rebuke or correction, but even that is to be done in a loving and graced filled way.
We are also to salt to taste. I like that, especially in this context. I can close my eyes and remember that last tasty ear of sweetcorn with just enough salt on it to really make the flavor pop. I like sweetcorn without salt, but I like it a whole lot more with it!
So it is to be with our conversations. Paul admonition is for believers to be able to express the truth of the love of God to everyone, and in ways that can be interesting and worthy of the other person’s attention. In a sense, it is up to all who profess faith in Jesus Christ to be able to add the proper amount of ‘spice’ to our discussions so that they will be enticing enough to make the hearer want more.
Much as a sour dispensation on the evil of sin in another person’s life will be unlikely to attract many to come to your table; that same conversation can be flavored with God’s never-ending mercy to all His creation, thus making it much more palatable. I am not suggesting that we water down the truth of God’s word in any way, He hates sin, but I am suggesting that we discuss the truth of His character in ways that invite questions and introspection, not heartless judgment.
Using the analogy of salt in our discussion means to bring scriptural truth from a bland, ‘I’ll eat some if I have to,’ list of ‘dos and don’ts into an engaging conversation that reveals the love of God toward all as the entrée. To do this well and in a way that honors God, I, as the believer, must know what is on the ‘menu,’ so to speak. Part of the work of every follower of Christ is to be continually growing in the knowledge of God.
We do this with daily reading of the Scriptures, praying that God’s Spirit would open our minds to a better understanding of what has been written. As Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans, For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4 NIV).
It’s not a hard recipe to follow: Have faith in Jesus, add liberal doses of the bible and plenty of prayer and the results are sure to be delectable. For we please God when we come seeking more of Him, and it pleases Him to give more of His unlimited self to those who seek. As the ‘the cooking process’ that is life blends these ingredients together, out comes a meal that is right and fitting for everyone. So please do pass the salt and apply it as needed, there is enough for all at the banquet table of our God!

We’ve all got problems

You’ve got problems, I’ve got problems, we all have problems. Many times, our day to day lives are all but consumed with the problems that face us. They are far too numerous for me to mention in this short blog, so suffice it to say that one common denominator for humankind is the fact that we face trials, difficulties and uncertainties. I find verification of this statement in the very words of Jesus; “In this world you will have trouble.” (Emphasis added)
The problems you face, like me, can seem overwhelming at times, so please don’t take anything I say in this forum as underestimating the significance of what you are up against. Many are facing traumatic situations, severe family dysfunction or life challenging illness. These issues are real and can hold much power over us.
As we venture into the 2nd week of our study of the Book of Colossians, please let me share the hope that God gives us all: For he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14 NIV).
As much as my heart goes out to those facing some of the above-mentioned struggles, I share with you the words of hope from the Bible so that you may begin to perceive that the greatest problem of all is a life lived without Jesus Christ in it. As empty as life is without Him, and regardless of the pain and loss you may be living in this moment, the pain and loneliness of eternity without Jesus as Savior is incalculable.
The hope of the gospel is just that, hope. This is not hoping for, like so far off wish list; but is in fact a certainty that God places in your heart and mind as you accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior. Please know that when the bible teaches about hope, it is a certainty. We all need this hope that only God provides, because we share the biggest problem of all, sin.
Sin is a word most of us are well familiar with, as for many we are taught from an early age the difference between right and wrong, with the wrong often referred to as sin. However, for us to better understand the real problem sin is to all of us, we need to get a handle on what the bible teaches about it. It only makes sense that we more fully understand what it is that Jesus is to forgive us of.
The bible teaches that sin entered the world as Adam and Eve believed the lie of the serpent in the Garden. From that point until today, each human born is stained with the sin nature inherited because their fall. Our fallen nature prevents us from having the daily and perfect fellowship God desires us to have with Him. This chasm that exists between us and God cannot be breached by any human effort. We are separated from God, as sinfulness cannot exist where His holiness is.
The only bridge possible over this span is the love of God, as evidenced in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ; what we commonly referred to as ‘the cross of Christ. For us to be fully restored into God’s favor, we must put our faith in the saving power of the Lord. Paul explains this in Colossians 1:13-14: For he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
“Ok,” you might be saying, thanks for the theology lesson, but where is the practical application of this good news in the face of the many troubles I am facing today?” The answer, dear friend, is in perspective. I do not mean to short-change or downplay anything you are going through, but once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you can begin to see things with a much clearer and bigger picture in mind. In other words, once you know your eternal future is absolutely secured by God, the issues facing you today lose some of their power over you. That is a blessing of having your hope in Jesus.
This is not to say that simply trusting Jesus to rescue you from an eternity separated from God will make this life be a stroll through the roses. My experience, as well as the experience of many faithful followers of Christ, has been filled with challenges, pain and setbacks. But again, here is where active faith carries you through. My hope is firmly placed in what Jesus has done and is doing for me, today! That is encouragement enough to see me through anything.
Yet, a part of me wants all the nastiness and burdens of today to be done and gone. They never will be, however, this side of heaven. Here’s why: First, I have the very human tendency to get complacent once satisfied. I believe a certain amount of the trials I go through in this life are designed by the Creator so that I will learn to lean on and trust Him more. If I have it all, to my liking, what do I really need God for anyway? This type of thinking leads me to nowhere good.
And speaking of nowhere good, some of the problems I/we are up against on any given day are because of bad choices we have made. There are consequences to our actions, and if these choices are harmful to self or others, we can fully expect repercussions. For example, if you smoke, abuse drugs or drink alcohol to excess, the sickness you feel or the trouble these choices bring you are self-inflicted damage. Or, if your personal relationships are a mess (and these things just mentioned can do a number on them), consider how your words or actions are affecting others. Try using some empathy to see how that person is feeling or why they are reacting to you in a certain way. The bible tells us to consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:4).
This brings us back to the point about perspective. The truth is this: On our own we just aren’t all that important. But as a person who believes that Jesus has forgiven them and permanently has restored relationship with the God of heaven for you, we come to know how important we are to Him! Remember this as you go about your day, with thanksgiving in your heart that God has placed such importance on you that He has made the way back to Him possible. By practicing this, and it does take practice, I am convinced that how you see and react to the circumstances surrounding your life with change for the better. Putting your complete trust in Jesus doesn’t make all your problems go away, but I promise you it makes anything life throws at you more manageable because you know that no matter what, God has taken care of the most pressing problem you have, your separation from Him, away. May you live this day in the joy of that most awesome news!

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Is it ever proper to hate?

We live in divisive times, where acts of violence against innocent people is a growing scourge on society.  What was seemingly unthinkable not so long ago is now filling our news feeds from around the globe.  The blatant disregard for human life is appalling.  Most of us, if we have a human heart beating in our chest, finds feelings of hatred growing within toward those who perpetrate such acts of violence.

As a person who is biblically trained, I must admit to experiencing conflict in my heart and mind by these feelings.  As I ponder those people who were simply walking on the London Bridge recently that had their lives snuffed out, I feel deep disgust against those who did this.  And if I am to be perfectly honest with you, a part of me feels that those who carried out this attack got just what they deserved as the authorities gunned them down.

The conflict I mentioned above stems from my knowledge of what Scripture tells me about such things.  Jesus Himself taught that His followers are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 6:44 NIV)

But Jesus, how can I do this? You know far better than me the pain caused by those who actions are driven by hatred, and yet you love them.  But I’m not you; I see the terror caused and think of the victim’s families being torn apart.  How do I love those who cause such devastation?

Thankfully, God’s word supplies me with the answer to this difficult question.  The Apostle Paul writes: Love must be sincere.  Hate was is evil, cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:9-10 NIV).

I am to act on and in love, not in hate.  In fact, these words from Paul are a description of how I am to examine my own life and motivations, not those of anyone else.  With (much) practice, this helps me get closer to the place where I can ‘hate the sin but love the sinner.’

For my love to be sincere, as the Bible teaches, I must acknowledge the sinful and selfish thoughts, words and deeds that still exist within me.  As I do, as uncomfortable as this type of self-examination gets, I begin to get a clearer picture of who I am in the Lord’s eyes.  It is necessary for me (and anyone who would be saved), to get and maintain this proper perspective.  God, in His holiness, has made a way for the impure (me/us) to be made acceptable in His eyes.  It is only through the perfect sacrifice that Jesus made Himself to be that we can be lifted from our desolate future that otherwise would be apart from Him.

I say this to help us all have the correct view of God.  When we begin to have an understanding of who He is through this high view of His character, we can start the process of coming to grips with the awful events happening in the world today.  Though we may not understand why these things are happening, we can rest assured that God does indeed have all things under control.  That there is deep-rooted hatred around the globe is evidenced with greater clarity every day.  As it increases, we can see clearly that it fuels itself; hatred begets more hatred.

This darkness that permeates the world is the direct opposite of God’s intention for His children.  Jesus declares in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (NIV)..We that have been called by Him need to be in the front lines in this spiritual battle against evil.  Like David versus Goliath, we can see success in the field, if our faith is rooted in the Lord and in His power.

My friends, let us not expend our energy and time in hating those who perpetrate the atrocities we witness, rather allow yourself to see the ugliness of their actions in the light of us needing to deepen our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Take time today and every day to meditate and contemplate on God.  Let Him fill your heart and mind with more knowledge of Him.  As the saying goes, ‘the more we know of God, the more we will realize how desperately we need Him.’

Our task is to pray for those who are suffering in these attacks, that they may know God’s comfort in profound ways.  Pray also for those who plan and commit these acts, that God’s love would replace the hatred that currently drives them.  And pray for your fellow believers, that we may all grow in our faith, desiring to share with the world around us the goodness of God.  As we do, we can spread the message of God’s promise that He will never leave nor forsake us and that His love will ultimately conquer all.

Give and Take

The practice of making mutual concessions.  That is Webster’s definition of the common phrase ‘give and take.’ It is how we most often use it; I’ll concede something to get something in return.  The idea being that the result is mutually beneficial to both parties.

Jesus has something far deeper in mind in the passage of Scripture we are considering today, Matthew 11:28-30.  To paraphrase, Jesus invites all who are weary and burdened to give their problems to Him in return for taking His yoke, which He tells us is easy and light.

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we are clear on the basics: Putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, being saved, is the beginning of our new life, not its destination.  Those who humbly accept the free gift of forgiveness from God which comes through the death and resurrection of Christ, are saved for a purpose, to spread this Good News to others.  If it were not, wouldn’t God simply sweep believers into heaven once they had come to this saving knowledge of Jesus?

Yet, as we have all experienced, this life we are left to live for God’s purpose can be and  often is difficult. Our faith is tested by any number of trials and tribulations; be they of a physical nature regarding health, finances or relationships.  Those of us with children are certainly aware of the struggle of raising kids can be in the world today.  Also, those who openly profess faith in Christ are being increasingly ostracized as the world falls deeper in to the clutches of evil in its many forms.

The bottom line is this: living in our world today as a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy.  Thankfully, the Bible assures us of many blessings for the journey, one of the greatest being that the Lord is not only aware of our struggles, He offers us relief from them.  Make no mistake, there is no ‘easy button’ promised to the faithful, but there is power from on high that will lead and guide us through the turbulent times, should we seek it.

Jesus Himself told His followers “that in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).  That having been said, the stuff that comes against us that tries to dampen our spirit shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Thankfully, John records that Jesus went on to say to the disciples that He told them about the coming troubles so that they could find peace in Him.  That promise still holds true today!

Getting back to Matthew 11:28-30, we find that Jesus is once again offering peace to those who will turn to Him.  The Lord promises to shoulder our burdens if we will take on his yoke.  Are we simply trading burdens one might ask?  The answer to that is a resounding no! Nowhere is the Lord’s on-going love for His people more evident than in this promise.  He offers us peace and rest for our souls in return for giving our burdens to Him.  The Expositor’s Commentary sums it up this way: Jesus’ yoke is not light because he demands less, but because he bears more of the load with us.

Jesus claims in these verses from Matthew 11 that His ‘yoke is easy and his burden is light.’ What does this mean to you and me? First, it means that we must humbly recognize that we need help in this life.  Our burdens will eventually overwhelm us if we try to take them all on in our strength only.  I realize that this flies in the face of our do-it -yourself culture.  I only ask that you take an honest look at how you are truly doing on your own in the face of your struggles.  If you feel as if you are being swamped by them, maybe it is time to give them to Jesus and take from Him what He has for you.

Jesus died and was resurrected to free us from the penalty of sin.  He lives on today to lead His followers in the paths He would have us walk.  As we give Him our burdens, He sustains us with loving-kindness.  What an opportunity He presents to us all! Give Him your struggles, pain and discouragement and take from Him His gentleness, peace and power.

You and I should not be trying to go it alone in this world.  The Savior, Jesus, wants to unburden us so that we can be blessed by what He has for us instead.  What these blessings are/will be I cannot say, but I can assure you they will be eternally better than the trouble that is currently bogging you down.

This give and take I’m talking about is heavily tilted in our favor.  In return for giving our burdens to the Lord we receive peace and rest for our souls.  Though there will never be an easy button to push in this life, the undying love of Jesus Christ is available to all.  If you are indeed weary and burdened, won’t you please take Him at His word? He will lighten your load and make the way clear for you for He has infinitely more for us to take than we can ever give.