prayer (44)

Everyone's Dealing with Something

One of the unexpected revelations during my cancer and chemo journey last year was that everyone is dealing with something. If you’re facing a life-threatening foe like cancer, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself and act as if you’re the only one having a rough time – but it turns out you’re not alone in your trials.

Let me explain…

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was amazed by how many friends told me their own stories about facing that dreaded disease, either in their own life or with a loved one. I had no idea this was such a widespread experience.

However, many friends came to me with stories about dealing with other kinds of difficult situations. Some were having conflicts in their marriage or were disappointed in the decisions their kids were making. Others were feeling devastated by financial setbacks or emotional pain such as grief, depression, or loneliness.

Several months ago, I had an enlightening conversation with some church friends who seemed to have the perfect marriage and family. At least it looked that way on Facebook and Instagram. Seeing their public persona, I’ve often been tempted to envy them.

Yet these friends shocked me by sharing about some recent conflicts in their marriage. And while their children all looked like little angels on social media, it turned out that each of their kids was dealing with some kind of problem too. I had no idea.

Suddenly I realized that the reason these friends could be so vulnerable about their own difficulties was because they knew about my health struggles. Bald from chemo and having virtually no energy, it was obvious things weren’t going very well in my life. This was embarrassing to me at first. I would have preferred to project a more positive, victorious image.

But how surprising it was that my hardships ended up providing an unexpected blessing: Seeing the struggles I was facing, people felt like they could safely confide in me about their own battles.  

Perhaps an even greater epiphany was that everyone on this fallen planet is dealing with some kind of challenge in their life. The stressed-out cashier at Walmart…the frustrating colleague at work…the grouchy neighbor…the annoying driver on the freeway…the Facebook friend who posts angry political tirades – whether we realize it or not, everyone is dealing with something.

What an important lesson! Just as I want people to be patient with me when I’m going through hard times, I need to have patience with the “thorny” people I come across in life. Whether I can see it or not, they’re all dealing with some difficult situation, no doubt.

As the apostle Paul wrote, temptations and trials are “common to humanity” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB). So if you’re dealing with unpleasant circumstances today, join the club. You’re certainly not alone.

Amid Job’s terrible hardships described in the Bible, he was reminded by his friend Eliphaz: “People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire” (Job 5:7 NLT). Good point! To one extent or another, trouble is an unavoidable part of the human experience.

Although Job’s friends sometimes did more harm than good, in this case Eliphaz continued with some good advice: “If I were you, I would go to God and present my case to him. He does great things too marvelous to understand. He performs countless miracles” (Job 5:8-9 NLT).

Notice that these words present a difficult paradox. On the one hand, humankind will inevitably face trouble along life’s way. But on the other hand, we’re told that God is a miracle-working God. In every situation, we must go to Him and present our case.

Perhaps you are feeling like Job today. If so, my heart and my prayers go out to you. But as hard as it may be to realize in the midst of fiery trials, God is not mad at you and He’s not your enemy. He’s inviting you to run to Him and present your case, based on the promises in His Word.

At the end of his story, Job’s life was restored in every way. In fact, “the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12 NKJV).

My friend, whether in this life or the next, God’s plan for you and me is a happy ending. Yes, there will be trials and tribulations along the way. But that’s not the end of the story.

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The Law of Replenishment

Have you ever run out of gas? Of course, the smarter thing is to periodically check your gas gauge to see when it’s time to replenish your supply.

But many years ago, I had a car with a defective gas gauge. It was pretty scary to never know how much gas was in my tank.

Lately I’ve been think about why the Law of Replenishment is a vital lesson of the Christian life, keeping us from running out of gas spiritually. This principle is especially crucial for leaders, caregivers, and anyone with an active ministry.

Simply stated, the Law or Replenishment says we must periodically refill our spiritual and emotional tank or risk a meltdown.

One of the most insightful statements in the Bible is found in Acts 20:35: It is more blessed to give than to receive. However, while that is certainly true, we must be careful about the application. Giving is only a blessing when we truly have something left to give. The Law of Replenishment warns us against the folly of continually giving, without ever taking time to receive a fresh supply from God.

Jesus, the Model

The world has never seen a more giving person than Jesus. Day after day, He preached, counseled, arbitrated debates, and explained Scriptures – not to mention healing the sick, casting out demons, turning water into wine, feeding hungry multitudes, and raising people from the dead.  

Jesus loved people and loved being a giver, but He also understood the Law of Replenishment. The Gospels are full of illustrations of how He made sure to get replenished after a time of stressful ministry. Here’s one example:

At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.

And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You” (Mark 1:32-37).

This short passage contains three distinct scenes:

  1. From sunup to sundown, Jesus was in demand by every sick, depressed, or demonized person who could find Him.
  2. Needing to recharge after freely pouring out His life, Jesus went away to a place where He could be by Himself and pray.
  3. Soon Simon found the “solitary place” where Jesus was praying, and he cheerfully notified the Lord that everyone was looking for Him – the beginning of another day surrounded by needy people seeking His help!

In addition to modeling the Law of Replenishment in His own life, Jesus taught it to His disciples after they participated in a time of intense ministry:

The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone (Mark 6:30-32 NLT).

Elijah, Learning the Hard Way

Many of us struggle with this lesson of periodically withdrawing from people in order to refill our spiritual and emotional tanks. Like a car seemingly running for a while on gas fumes, we continue on our journey until we’re absolutely empty.

Often I’ve been like the prophet Elijah, who had to learn the Law of Replenishment the hard way. After courageously confronting hundreds of false prophets on Mount Carmel, things took a downward turn when his life was threatened by Queen Jezebel.

Knowing of Elijah’s great boldness in the past, we would have expected him to easily rebuff this threat. But instead of confidently standing up to Jezebel, Elijah fled for his life. Soon he was cowering in a cold, damp cave – depressed, purposeless, and wanting to die!

Fortunately, in his desperation Elijah had found a solitary place. There were no false prophets to challenge. Nor did he have to call down fire from heaven. And the taunts of Queen Jezebel were far away.

So what did Elijah do? First, he slept a lot. Then he ate some food.

Before long, the prophet was once again able to hear God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). And after his spiritual juices were replenished, Elijah was able to receive a new commission for the next phase of his life (1 Kings 19:15-21).

The Rhythm of Replenishment

Someday I’ll probably have to write a book on the Law of Replenishment. Why? Because it’s a principle I’ve violated time and again. Trying to be a spiritual Superman, my kryptonite has been a failure to regularly check my gauges and realize I’m running on empty.

I should know better by now! The Bible lists a variety of ways God wants us to fill our tanks. Here are three of the most basic:

  • The quiet time principle. Like Jesus illustrated, the best investment you can ever make is to set aside time each day to be still in God’s presence. The amount of time isn’t nearly as important as the consistency of the time.
  • The Sabbath principle. God took a day off after He created the world in six days, and He expects us to have a day of rest every week as well.
  • The holiday principle. Several times each year, God prescribed that His people celebrate a “feast,” consisting of one or more days in which they were to do no work. Although these days had profound spiritual significance, they also provided a yearly schedule akin to our vacations and holidays.
  • The sabbatical principle. Moses and Jesus both went away for 40-day periods to disengage from the humdrum of life and spend time with the Father. Most of us can’t do this each year, but from time to time we need more than a three-day weekend or one-week vacation.

Do you see the beautiful wisdom in this tapestry of rest and renewal God has designed for us? Instead of waiting until our tank is empty and our car is stalled on the side of the road, He prescribes a steady rhythm of replenishment and resupply.

It’s time to get in the rhythm! When you do, the long-term benefits will dramatically change your life. If you don’t…well, remember Elijah’s depressing experience in the cave? You don’t really want to go there.  

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Navigating the SUDDENLIES & the SLOWLIES

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is that God can work either suddenly or slowly. I’m incredibly glad the Bible calls Him “the Lord of Breakthroughs” (1 Chronicles 14:10-11 NLT), because we all need a sudden breakthrough of His miraculous power at one time or another.

But God also presents Himself as “the Lord of the harvest” (Luke 10:2). While some harvests occur more quickly than others, this word picture is quite different than for a breakthrough.

By definition, a breakthrough is something that comes SUDDENLY, while a harvest is something that develops more SLOWLY, in response to seeds that have been sown over a period of time.

Before a harvest comes, there’s a period in which you may think nothing is happening. Although the seed is growing, it’s still in the hidden realm beneath the soil.

I’ll be honest: I’ve always liked God’s breakthroughs more than His harvests, because I like His suddenlies more than His slowlies.

That’s why I love Bible stories like the one where God “suddenly” sent an earthquake to deliver Paul and Silas from prison (Acts 16:25-26). And it’s thrilling to read about the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when the breakthrough awaited by Jesus’ followers came “suddenly” (Acts 2:1-4).

However, I’ve found that some of God’s greatest miracles happen slowly rather than suddenly. For example, aren’t you glad babies are born after a slow, nine-month process rather than just suddenly appearing on your doorstep? They come as the awaited harvest of a seed implanted months earlier.

A Kingdom Parable

Although Jesus often healed the sick, cast out demons, or raised the dead after proclaiming the nearness of God’s kingdom (Matthew 4:23-24), His parables about the kingdom often presented a much different side of the equation. For example, Jesus began His brief parable in Mark 4:26-29 (NLT) by saying, The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.” 

When I read this recently, it was a LOL (Laugh Out Loud) moment. Think about it: Of all the ways Jesus could have described His mighty kingdom, He said it was like being a FARMER!

Hey, I have great admiration for farmers. But I’m a city boy, and I’ve never really thought of myself as a farmer for the kingdom of God.

Yet Jesus wanted us to know that many of the miracles in His kingdom come as the result of a process rather than an immediate breakthrough of power. Instead of the miracle in this story coming all at once, Jesus said it was progressive:

First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come (vs. 28-29).

The harvest in this story took a while to develop, but that didn’t mean the farmer had any doubts about the outcome. In fact, Jesus said this man was so confident in his seeds that he went to sleep after planting them!

The apostle Paul made a similar statement in Galatians 6:9 (NKJV):

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Notice Paul’s unwavering confidence that the harvest would come. “We SHALL reap…” he declared. It was as good as done.

However, he also warned against our tendency to expect the harvest to always come quickly. Yes, we can be confident our harvest will come, but only “in due season.”

You see, farmers always must deal with the GAP between their season of planting and their season of harvest. No wonder patience is one of the earmarks of a good farmer (James 5:7).

And as farmers in God’s kingdom, Paul says we must “not lose heart” while we’re waiting. How sad it is when we give up hope right before our prayer is about to be answered.

Suddenly or Slowly?

So, what does all this mean on a practical level? If you are seeking a breakthrough in some area of your life today, I pray it will come soon and suddenly. And one thing is for sure: The closer you draw to “the Lord of Breakthroughs,” the better positioned you will be to receive the miracle you need.

But while you’re waiting, don’t forget about the lessons of the farmer. Although he had to wait, he was confident in an eventual harvest. He knew he had sown powerful seeds in preparation, and he was trusting the ground to do its work.

In the same way, farmers in God’s kingdom must rest securely in His great faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21-24). Our miracle may come suddenly, or it may come slowly. And in some cases, the breakthrough won’t occur until we pass into eternity.

Let me leave you with a word of advice and encouragement from the psalmist: Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:5 NKJV). This is such good news. When you commit your difficult situation to your Heavenly Father and heed His instructions, you can trust the outcome to Him. The answer may come suddenly or slowly, but He will always be faithful.

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The Sentence of Death?

As most of my closest friends already know, doctors have recently diagnosed me with cancer. Unbelievable. I certainly never thought it would happen to me.

Although this is supposedly a highly “treatable” form of cancer, that’s not particularly comforting. In the old days, cancer was virtually a death sentence, which has caused me to reflect on some insightful words from the apostle Paul:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NIV).

Paul wasn’t dealing with a cancer diagnosis at the time, yet his overwhelming circumstances and tribulations felt like “the sentence of death.” While Paul would write elsewhere of God’s faithfulness in providing a way of escape during times of trouble or temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), here he admitted that the trials seemed “far beyond our ability to endure.”

You see, cancer isn’t the only circumstance that can feel like a death sentence. In Paul’s case, he encountered severe persecution and countless other hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). For you, the problem may be a job loss, insurmountable financial pressures, divorce, or addiction in your family.

I’m really glad Paul honestly shared about his tumultuous circumstances and inner turmoil. It’s somehow comforting to know that the mighty apostle – God’s man of faith and power – had his own dark days. Yes, Paul knew how to pray, but sometimes he experienced the Lord’s sustaining grace despite a “thorn in the flesh” that refused to immediately go away (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Thankfully, Paul learned an incredible lesson amid his apparent death sentence: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

What a great message for us when we encounter overwhelming challenges in life. The purpose of our trials is to teach us to rely upon the Lord instead of upon our own strength and ingenuity. Even if it seems we’ve been given “the sentence of death,” we have nothing to fear: Our God even raises the dead!

No matter what you might be facing today, I hope you experience the joy of knowing you have nothing to fear. How liberating!

In my situation, I know there’s a Name far above the name of cancer (Ephesians 1:19-21). For that reason, I have no need to fear cancer, chemo, or even death itself (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Actually, since the days of Adam and Eve, all of humanity has been under a death sentence – it’s just a matter of time (Hebrews 9:27). However, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:53-57). As believers, we know a day will come when we’ll be “absent from the body.” But that’s okay, Paul says. When that day comes, we’ll be “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Like the three Hebrew young men who faced the prospect of a fiery furnace, I’m confident that “the God we serve is able to deliver” (Daniel 3:17-18). Isn’t that good news?

Paul’s conclusion ended up being remarkably similar:

[God] has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:10-11).

Paul’s confidence of victory over his present and future trials was partly based on how God had faithfully rescued him in the past. Can you relate? If the Lord has helped you overcome some previous “death sentence,” He can surely do it again.

It’s also beautiful to see Paul’s recognition that the prayers of his friends would play a huge role in His expected victory. In recent weeks, I’ve never had so many people praying for me – and I know they’ll share in my victory when it comes.

Although I don’t fully know what lies ahead for me on this health journey, I’m sure God will be with me every step of the way. And if you are passing through a dark, shadowy valley during your own journey today, let me assure you of His presence with you as well (Psalm 23:4).

The Bible warns that this life will not be trouble-free, even for believers (John 16:33). But although you may have to pass through deep waters or fiery trials at times, Isaiah 43:1-3 says to fear not!

Of course, the natural human response is to desire immediate deliverance from our difficult circumstances. That is certainly my preference as well. I know that God is a supernatural God, and He can change things in a mere moment.

However, in spite of my desire for speedy relief, I have an even greater desire that my journey will reflect the heart of Jesus. His soul was troubled as He neared the cross. But instead of praying for an escape plan, He said, “Father, glorify Your name!” (John 12:27-28).

May that always be our quest, for there is no greater victory.

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When God Enacted Daylight Saving Time

Most people hate Daylight Saving Time. So why do we still have it?

As the time changes once again, people will inevitably lose sleep and be grumpier than usual. Researchers point out that DST disrupts our body’s circadian rhythm, creating an effect similar to jet lag. Studies have shown an increase in traffic accidents, workplace injuries, depression, suicides, strokes, and heart attacks immediately following a time change. Yikes!

But as much as I dislike Daylight Saving Time, I have to admit that God Himself sometimes uses it to accomplish His purposes. For example, one day Israel needed more time to complete its victory over enemy armies:

On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said,

“Let the sun stand still over Gibeon,
    and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.”

So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies (Joshua 10:12-13 NLT).

In this case, the time apparently didn’t “fall back” only one hour. For an entire day, “the sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day” (v. 13). During the entire time, God was mightily at work on His people’s behalf: “Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!” (v. 14).

There are some very encouraging principles contained in this brief account – lessons so powerful that I’m almost reconsidering my hatred of Daylight Saving Time:

  • God wants us to pray BOLD prayers. Lately I’ve found myself praying only timid, trivial prayers, as if not wanting to ask anything that might be too difficult for the Lord to answer. No wonder God has to challenge us from time to time, Is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Be audacious in what you ask Him!
  • When we feel like time is running out, God can graciously give us a reprieve. This point is very personal to me. I have an ambitious list of things I want to accomplish before I die, and I’m not sure how much time is left on the clock. Just as Joshua needed additional time to finish his assignment, sometimes we find ourselves in a similar predicament. This happened one day when King Hezekiah was on his sickbed, but cried out to the Lord for more time. In a scene similar to Joshua 10, God replied, I will bring the shadow on the sundial…ten degrees backward” (Isaiah 38:8). Wow! God literally turned back time for Hezekiah, giving him another 15 years of life.
  • We must not use God’s grace as an excuse for procrastination or laziness. Yes, more time was granted to Joshua and Hezekiah. But that doesn’t mean we can count on God to miraculously intervene and give us more time if we’re unfaithful in doing our part. These were exceptional miracles, after all, not occurrences that happen every day: “There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer” (Joshua 10:14 NLT). Recently a doctor told me I seemed lackadaisical about my health. He perceived that I was hoping he or the Lord would do some medical miracles for me, even though I wasn’t committed to my own end of the bargain. What a lesson: We can stand upon God’s promises much more confidently after we’ve first “done all” that we can do (Ephesians 6:13).

These Biblical examples might not be sufficient to make you a fan of Daylight Saving Time. But isn’t it good to know that God can help you save some of the “daylight” remaining in your life? You may not need the sun to stand still, but He can give you a new lease on life to fulfill your incomplete assignments.

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Discipling & Harvey

Our tragic Hurricane Harvey has a golden lining: thousands of people praying, caring, & sharing their faith while working together to rescue lives and meet needs caused by that crisis.

But what do you suppose will happen when the spotlight shifts to the next public crisis? Yes, you're probably right: Emotion, money, and momentum will move mostly to that next media moment. And then the next one after that.

As a fellow disciple with you, and in the context of discipling others whom you influence, may I suggest some brief, basic observations and recommendations?

7 Observations:

   • Many non-Christians are also significantly helping victims of Hurricane Harvey.

   • It is common to care in a crisis.

   • Although it is both practical and vital for Christians to care in a crisis, that alone does not distinguish Christians from people of other faiths. (Ponder 1 Cor 13:3.)   

   • Selfless love [agape] -- the "love" in 1 Cor 13 -- is steadfast. It takes that critical 1st step of care, but continues beyond it. This love continues after the media spotlight turns away. That is one of its distinguishing features. Like the steadfast love [hesed] of God toward us.

   • Effective disciples cultivate agape love (1 Cor 13). This alignment of heart/attitude/behavior is directed upward to God as a daily act of personal worship.

   • But selfless love (secondarily)also provides a distinction, and a model for mentoring other Christ-followers (John 13:35).

   • One significant way we can bring a smile to our Father's face is for us, as influencers of others, to pray & plan wisely for the post-crisis phase of this trauma.

So . . .

3 Suggestions - Thru your church, parachurch ministry, and/or an informal group:

   • As you pray, care, & share in your response to Harvey's tragedies, embrace and embody agape love as an act of personal worship to Him.

   • Model Christlike character [agape] to another of His disciples, mentoring and including that learner as a participant in your response to Harvey.

   • Plan and delegate where possible the continued discipling of Harvey victims. As God's Spirit works, bring them (1) to faith in Christ and then (2) to maturity in Christ.

Your thoughts on this? (comment below)

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As every student of history knows, America was in crisis in 1863. Despite Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in January of that year, the Civil War raged on, with no end in sight.

Today America is in crisis again, even though the symptoms aren’t yet as obvious. And while presidential candidates promise to “make America great again,” they offer solutions that fail to recognize what made America great in the first place. Their faulty premise is that greatness will return if we have better trade deals, more jobs, a more equitable tax structure, or a stronger military.

We can argue about whether such things are an improvement. But none of them will make America great again.

In stark contrast to what is being promised today, on March 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation “Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.” Calling the nation to repentance and a spiritual awakening, he pointed to our need for God’s grace and favor. In support of this, he paraphrased Psalm 33:12, saying, “Those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord”:

Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord…

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or follower of some other political philosophy, I hope you will grasp the power of Lincoln’s message. We need more than better politicians or better policies. We need a spiritual awakening that begins with you and me.  

In addition to Abraham Lincoln’s diagnosis of our need for national repentance and revival, the words of nineteenth-century historian Alexis de Tocqueville are amazingly prophetic today: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Forgive us, Lord.

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Kitchen Sink Prayers

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"And pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people." ~Ephesians 6:18, NIV     

I have always loved to pray. From the time I was a small child I believed that there was a God who could hear me. I talked to Him, read Bible stories about Him, and eventually gave my life to Him. For someone living with partial deafness, it was nice to know that God was one of the few people I could always hear. 

Like all introverts, I prefer deeper relationships with a few people rather than surface relationships with many. So my praying tended to also be "deep," in the sense that I focused best on God when I had extended times of uninterrupted quiet and stillness. I didn't know that there were "varieties" of prayers that could be offered, or other "kinds" of prayers as Ephesians 6 describes above.

For a while, even as a single young adult, this was not a problem. Of course, I worked during the day and had other commitments to attend to, but I cultivated a deep relationship with God in my "off" hours. Sundays especially were devoted to Him: church was followed by hours of blissful peace in my quiet apartment,  doing what I now laughingly call "swooning with Jesus!" 

Then I fell in love and got married. 

- Keep Reading Here! http://www.hisinscriptions.com/blog/kitchen-sink-prayers#sthash.8rwzOrAM.dpuf

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Praying Against Spiritual Fog Prior to the Election

Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or simply a member of the Apathetic Party, I feel an urgency to bring something to your attention. In the fog of the election season and all its political ads and pundits, it’s easy to overlook root issues that must be addressed before Election Day.

Although I don’t usually write much about the devil and demons, the current situation demands an exception. Whether you are for Hillary, Trump, or someone else, there’s an important matter not mentioned in any of the party platforms…

Before the final votes, we need to pray against our national spiritual fog.

Our central problem isn’t the Democrats or Republicans, but rather the demons and strongholds--and the spiritual apathy that allows them to remain.

The candidates all have their "demons." And let’s face it: American has its demons, and this has led to our crazy match-up of candidates.

The apostle Paul told the Ephesians that their real battles were not a matter of flesh and blood. Likewise, I’m sure he would remind us today that our struggle isn’t primarily between political ideologies:

We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

Thankfully, Paul also wrote that Jesus is positioned higher than any of these unseen enemies:  

He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church (Ephesians 1:21-21 NLT).

You see, our prayers have spiritual authority to lift the demonic fog that’s blinding so many people’s eyes to the real issues facing our nation. Romans 11:8 calls this fog “a spirit of stupor,” and it’s extremely dangerous to have an election unless that spell is broken.

Before it’s too late, will you join me in praying for our country? Will you join me in humbling ourselves before the Lord and repenting of our national sins and narcissism?

It gets down to this: Instead of just having the right outcome in the election, we need the right hearts and a spiritual revival. Rather than just choosing the best person to be President, we need to look to King Jesus for “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17).

When we submit ourselves to God, the Bible says we can resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4:7). That’s really good news, isn’t it?

May our nation submit to God once again, starting with those of us who profess to follow Jesus as our Lord (1 Peter 4:17).

Then let the national house-cleaning begin!

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A Biblical Leadership Principle from Wayne Gretzky

Today is the birthday of former Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “The Great One.” After 20 seasons in the National Hockey League, Gretzky became regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time.

I’ll be honest, I know very little about hockey. But I’ve always been impressed by a brilliant key Gretzky used to become so successful.  

“I go to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been,” Gretzky explained.

That sounds obvious, I suppose. But during my 40+ years serving in various leadership roles in businesses and churches, I’ve been astounded at how seldom the Gretzky Principle is implemented.

Consider this…

- Too often, new businesses just try to imitate the success of Amazon, Google, Apple, or some other notable company. That seldom works! A better approach would be to anticipate “where the puck is going” and come up with a whole new paradigm and business model.

- Too often, new churches mimic some other church that has been successful—but seldom with the same results. Why do so few churches break new ground with a unique, cutting-edge vision from God?

My concern is that many leaders are simply going where the “puck” has already been. And, sadly, many of my fellow Christians are especially guilty of this. We claim a desire to be culturally relevant, but our understanding of the culture is typically 5, 10, or 15 years behind the times. By the time we get around to implementing our new initiatives, the “puck” has long since moved on.

So what about you? Are you continually frustrated because you’re always a few steps too late in chasing the puck?

The reality is this: Very few people are gifted to be visionary leaders, able to anticipate the future. In the past 100 years or so, we can name innovators like the Wright brothers, Einstein, Steve Jobs, and some others. But the list isn’t very long. There’s clearly a shortage of people who are able to accurately foretell where the puck is going.

However, I’m convinced that God has already been to the future, so He knows all about it. And the closer we get to Him, the more we’ll be in sync with what’s ahead, not just with what’s behind.

The Bible describes a number of people who changed the world in innovative ways, and I aspire to be like them. For example…

  • David impacted the world by serving the purpose of God in his generation (Acts 13:36).
  • The sons of Issachar “understood the times” and had a strategy for what God’s people should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).
  • Queen Esther was a model of someone perfectly prepared “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).  

I encourage you to take a few minutes today to ask yourself, “Where is the puck going, and how can I best position myself and prepare?” You’ll be surprised by how this new approach will change your outlook and your life.

 

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Elijah's Unanswered Prayer

Although the prophet Elijah is famous for his mighty prayers, I’ve always been more intrigued by the prayer God ignored.

James 5:17-18 recounts Elijah’s amazing feat in praying for Israel’s rain to stop for three and a half years, then praying for the rain to suddenly be restored. In-between those two monumental events, Elijah found time to supernaturally multiply a widow’s food, raise her son from the dead, and call down fire from the sky on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 17 & 18).

Pretty impressive stuff. The Bible says nothing is impossible for God, and it seemed as if nothing was impossible for Elijah either.

But there was one prayer that didn’t get answered. Elijah prayed this just as earnestly as any of his other prayers, if not more so. Yet the Lord ignored him.

The surprising scene occurred when Queen Jezebel threatened his life and Elijah escaped into the wilderness: “He prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life’” (1 Kings 19:4).

The prophet prayed that he would die.

Perhaps you’ve never prayed a prayer like this—or won’t admit that you have. But at times some of the rest of us have prayed this, and we can learn some important lessons from Elijah’s story.

Based on Elijah’s track record of answered prayer, we might have assumed God would simply say okay and grant his request. If his other requests were so easily granted, why wouldn’t the Lord give him what he wanted this time?

The answer is this: As we see later in the chapter, God still had plans for Elijah. Yet those plans were hard to see while Elijah was hiding out in the cave and feeling sorry for himself.

It’s interesting that before giving the prophet his new commission, the Lord made sure he got some rest and nourishment (1 Kings 19:5-8). The story shows how our state of mind can be negatively influenced not just by difficult circumstances, but also by things like fatigue and poor nutrition.

Next, God whispered to Elijah with a “still small voice,” cutting through all the noise and hoopla that had been surrounding him (1 Kings 19:11-12). If you’re feeling depressed and hopeless today, nothing will help you more than to tune out the noisy distractions and hear God speak to you again.

One of the other causes of Elijah’s hopelessness was his sense of loneliness, feeling that there was no one left but him to follow in the ways of the Lord. Twice he told God about his woeful aloneness:

I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life (1 Kings 19:10, 19:14).

Have you ever felt disconnected from family, friends, or the community of believers? Or perhaps you’ve felt all alone in some of the battles you’ve been facing. This is a depressing place to be.

But God pointed out that Elijah’s perspective was all wrong! While the prophet felt like he was the only one left to stand for righteousness, the Lord told him, I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18).

How could Elijah feel so alone at a time when the Lord still had 7,000 faithful followers? Maybe you’ve felt this way in a megachurch or at a conference or concert. Sometimes the loneliest feeling of all is to be surrounded by thousands, yet not truly connected to anyone.

Elijah clearly tended to be a loner in his personality type, but even loners need to be connected. God took care of this with the final step in the prophet’s restoration, giving him a new relationship that was central to his new commission and purpose.

When the prophet felt as if his life’s purpose was over, the Lord gave him a new mission and vision. Elijah first was told to anoint some new kings, but then the pivotal moment came when God said he must anoint Elisha “as prophet in your place” (1 Kings 19:16).

The prophet’s new commission was to train his replacement! How would you respond to a mandate like that?

Elijah didn’t initially seem too happy about training someone to replace him. But isn’t this what true ministry is all about? Isn’t the primary task of every leader to equip others for their role in God’s kingdom? (See Ephesians 4:11-12.)

To sum up this story, God ignored Elijah’s request to die. Instead, He showed him a new purpose—one that ultimately had more significance than anything he had done before.

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end until a “double portion” of his spirit rested upon his successor, Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-15).

Think about that for a moment. What if the Lord said to you, “I don’t want your life to end until there’s a double portion of blessings resting upon your kids and those you mentor in the next generation”? Nothing is as important as that.

So it’s okay if you take some time to rest and get nourished, even if you have to hang out in a cave for a while. But then listen for God’s voice and His new commission in your life. And don’t be surprised if it has something to do with training your replacement and equipping the next generation.

As long as you still have breath, God still has plans.

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The Surprising Christmas Story in John's Gospel

7 Life-Changing Christmas Facts in the First Chapter of John

When we think about the Christmas story, we usually start with the Gospel of Luke and Gospel of Matthew. There we see the shepherds, the magi, and the angel Gabriel’s stunning declaration to Mary. Other colorful characters appear, including Elizabeth and Zacharias, Simeon and Anna.

But John’s Gospel presents the rest of the story. As the final of the four Gospel accounts, it reveals the deeper meaning of the events in Bethlehem that first Christmas.

In the first chapter of John, we see 7 important facts about the true meaning of Christmas… 

1.     Christmas is about eternity, not just about Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

You see, Christmas didn’t start with Gabriel’s appearance to Mary or with the manger scene. The Son of God stepped out of eternity as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Numerous Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Him, and these amazing predictions came through several different people over the course of five centuries from 1000 to 500 BC. Twenty-four specific prophecies were fulfilled in just the 24 hours before Jesus’ death.

Just as your Heavenly Father could look down through the centuries and foresee the details of Jesus’ life, nothing in your life is catching Him by surprise. The same God who fulfilled His promises in intricate detail in the life of His Son Jesus will be faithful to fulfill every promise of His Word for YOU today!

2.     Christmas has been under attack since its inception, but Jesus and His message are invincible, destined to prevail.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [overcome] it.

King Herod massacred babies in an attempt to eliminate the newborn King (Matthew 2:16-18). Throughout history, others have tried to diminish the memory or message of the Messiah.

But John’s Gospel points out the wonderful fact that darkness is powerless to overcome the light. That’s very good news if you are facing some kind of darkness in your life today.

3.     Although we love the Christmas stories about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi (people who loved Jesus), many people either were unaware of Jesus’ coming or else completely rejected Him.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

Even today, there still are billions of people in the world who have never heard the name of Jesus even once. Others know about Him, but have rejected His message.

Instead of being offended by this rejection or taking it personally, we should be motivated all the more to proclaim the name of Jesus, the only One who can save humanity from their sins (Matthew 1:21). 

4.     Christmas ultimately is not just about a baby born in a manager; it’s about His power to give a new birth to anyone who receives Him as Lord and Savior.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

As C.S. Lewis well said, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” Our physical birth is not enough, Jesus told religious leader Nicodemus. We must receive a spiritual birth too, being “born again” in order to see and enter God’s kingdom (John 3:1-7).

5.     Christmas is the story of Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14), and His presence is always characterized by both grace and truth.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

God loved the world so much that He didn’t just send a letter, a postcard, an email, or an Instagram. He became flesh, personally stepping into our world.

In contrast to the example of many of His followers today, Jesus was full of BOTH grace and truth. This is a great reminder that we’re called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)—never shrinking back from sharing the truth, but always communicating it with grace.

6.     Christmas would be a meaningless event if it hadn’t been for Jesus’ death and resurrection.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The baby in Bethlehem grew up! John the Baptist accurately discerned His calling as God’s sacrificial Lamb—the Savior who was born to die (Isaiah 53).

7.     Christmas illustrates the promise of an open heaven, with God not only sending His Son, but also every other blessing we need (Ephesians 1:3, Philippians 4:19).

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus was referring to Jacob’s vision of an open heaven, with a ladder between the heavenly and earthly realms (Genesis 28). As John’s Gospel unfolds, we’re told clearly that Jesus Himself is the ladder or bridge to heaven, and there is no other pathway but Him (John 14:6).

Yet Christmas is about more than just getting people to heaven. Jesus also brought some of heaven down to US, and He told us to pray for heaven to be revealed through our own lives as well (Matthew 6:10).

Along with Jesus, we’re privileged to receive everything else that’s included in God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). That’s why Paul could say in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us ALL things?”

This Christmas, I hope you’ll remember that the God who loved you enough to give you His Son will also hear your prayers and give you the other things you need in life. The next time you hear someone say, “Merry Christmas,” keep in mind that it’s not just about a historical event in Bethlehem. It’s a transcendent reality meant to change your life today—and your future in eternity as well.

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Becoming the Richest Person in the World

I have good news: You don't have to win the Powerball Lottery in order to become the wealthiest person in the world.

Let me explain…

Years ago I was driving down the road, reflecting on a TV interview of Bill Gates I’d heard a few days earlier. Gates clearly is a remarkable guy, and the interview discussed how he founded Microsoft and became the richest man in America in the process.

Gates earned his first billion dollars by age 31, and his wealth has now soared to $79 billion—that’s 79 with nine zeroes behind it!

While pondering all of this, I sensed the Lord giving me an entirely different perspective on Bill Gates’ amazing wealth.

“Bill Gates isn’t really the richest man in America, Jim,” God assured me that day.

“Oh really, Lord,” I replied. “Then who is?”

You are!” He said with a chuckle.

“Lord, I admit that I don’t keep track of my bank account as closely as I should. But the last time I checked, my balance was a little short of Bill Gates’ $79 billion!”

I was astounded by His reply: “Jim, the most ordinary believer who is connected by faith to the resources of heaven is far richer than Bill Gates.”

The Lord’s message to me that day was brought to a pointed conclusion when He asked, “Would you rather have Bill Gate’s $79 billion, or have all the resources of heaven at your disposal?”

Frankly, His question made me squirm, because it wasn’t as easy for me to answer as it should have been. I had to think about it! If I had $79 billion in the bank, at least it would show up on my financial records. On the other hand, my credit rating might not improve much if I told the bank I had “all the riches of heaven” at my disposal!

As I struggled to answer the Lord’s probing question, He brought to mind what He told His disciples about this very issue: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). In addition to moths, rust, and thieves, I’m sure today He would mention stock market crashes and recessions as some of the dangers to our earthly wealth.

From this I realized that I’m not only the richest man in America, I am also the most secure. Not only do I have all the riches of heaven at my disposal as I act in obedience to Christ (Ephesians 1:3), but those riches will never be affected by Wall Street or any other earthly factors.

When the truth of my incredible financial well-being began to sink in, I became grieved at how often the issue of money has deterred me from pursuing the things God wanted me to do. Instead of asking His will first, and then trusting Him to provide the finances, I too often do an assessment of whether or not I can afford it. I have a bad habit of trusting in my own visible resources, which are relatively few, instead of relying upon His invisible resources, which are infinite.

So, you are and I are much richer than we could have imagined. I guess you could even say we won the lottery.

If you’re ever in the Charlotte area and want to meet the richest man in America, I invite you to give me a call. However, if it’s a loan you are after, I will probably turn you down. Instead, I will try to help you see that you really don’t need a loan. Why? Because if you’re in touch with your Heavenly Father, you are the richest person in America too.

 

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Will You Settle for Less than the BEST?

If given the choice between a meal at the fanciest gourmet restaurant or McDonald’s, which would you choose? There are several reasons people frequently opt for fast food, and this points to some larger issues in how we make important, life-altering decisions in our lives.

Of course, sometimes you might just be having a Big Mac attack, craving greasy, high-calorie food instead of things that are better for you. Yes, there is some immediate pleasure, but how does that make you feel a few hours later?

At other times, your decision to settle for fast food may be a matter of cost. Hey, you can get LOTS of food at McDonald’s for the price of a good steak at Ruth’s Chris. But think about it: You also can buy dog food relatively inexpensively if that’s what you are willing to settle for.

Although I don’t eat much fast food these days, I’m sure it’s main attraction for me was simply SPEED and convenience. Even when I could afford Ruth’s Chris, I didn’t want to spend an hour or two to eat there. Usually, I was in a time crunch, on the way to some meeting or appointment. Sitting down for a gourmet meal wasn’t enough of a priority to carve out time in my schedule.

I’ve been challenged by these principles lately, for they don’t just apply to my diet, but to other priorities and decisions in my life.

For example, am I truly willing to practice delayed gratification instead of indulging my “sweet tooth” for momentary pleasures? Am I willing to patiently pay the price to receive God’s BEST for my life instead of settling for mediocre options and outcomes?

Many Bible stories speak to these issues, but I’m especially intrigued by the prophet Samuel’s quest to find the next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). The Lord had instructed him to select the new king from among the sons of Jesse, which at least narrowed down his search.

But it turned out that Jesse had many sons, so it potentially could be a long day to determine which of them was God’s choice.

Starting with the oldest son, Eliab, the prophet began his review process. “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!” he said enthusiastically (v. 6).

This misguided assumption by Samuel should cause each of us to pause and realize how we might be prone to the same error. Like a McDonald’s drive-through, the easiest decision would be to simply anoint Eliab and be done with it.

Yet as the story continues, God tells Samuel his perspective is all wrong:

Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (v. 7).

Think of how this might apply to your own life today. If you’re considering a business deal or new career offer, are you content to merely examine how it appears on the surface? If you are seeking a wife or husband, are you prone to be swayed by their physical appearance rather than what God has done in their heart?

One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons came before Samuel, and the Lord surprisingly turned each of them down. From a human perspective, each of these young men probably seemed like good candidates: handsome, strong, and with a good upbringing.

But could you imagine how Israel’s history might have been different if Samuel had settled for one of these first seven options? It would have been quite easy to do so, especially when Option #8 hadn’t even appeared on the scene yet.

Samuel must have been puzzled when God refused to put His stamp of approval on any of Jesse’s first seven sons. “Are ALL the young men here?” he finally asked in frustration (v. 11).

No one had even thought to invite David to the big event. After all, he was the youngest, assigned to the menial task of caring for his father’s sheep.

Like Samuel, perhaps you’re looking at your options today on some important matter. Maybe you’ve already discarded the first seven possibilities, and you see no other prospects on the horizon. So…will you wait for Option #8—the option that’s still hidden from your view?

It had been a long day for Samuel, just as our selection processes in life may seem long and arduous. But when David finally appeared, there was no doubt that He was God’s man. “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Samuel said, certainly with great relief.

My friend, God has wonderful plans for you. He wants to give you His best. But that means you’ll have to be patient, waiting for the other options to pass by.

Your “David” is right around the corner. I hope you won’t settle for anything less.

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 “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” (Marcus Aurelius]

 

To live without praying to our Father is to behave as if our Savior were still entombed. To “pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17] is literally to “come to rest” in grace.

 

To neglect conversation with Christ is to miss the joy of intimacy with the living Lord. To listen for His voice is the prelude to indescribable peace and incomparable cheer.

 

To attempt do-it-yourself living is to forfeit the enabling assistance of the Holy Spirit. To humbly depend on Immanuel is to find God with us unfailingly more than enough.

 

“The person who has My commands and keeps them is the one who really loves Me, and whoever really loves Me will be loved by My Father. And I too will love him and will let Myself be clearly seen by him and make Myself real to him.” [John 14:21 Amplified New Testament]

 

Johnny R. Almond

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Interim Pastor, Nomini Baptist Church; Montross, Virginia

Blog & book info http://GentleWhispersFromEternity-ScripturePersonalized.com/

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Down-to-earth Living

“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.” (President Theodore Roosevelt)

 

Private quiet time with God in rarefied spiritual heights is enjoyable. In fact, His company may be so sweet we consider constructing a shrine to revisit now and then; we may even feel we’d like to permanently move to our mountainside retreat. To escape the world’s polluted atmosphere and breathe pure oxygen, to be reenergized by invigorating heavenly elevation—what could possibly be any better? Reveling in friendship with God, we may wish we could just stay on Transfiguration Mount.

 

But being a hermit does not fit into our job description. We need frequent mountain climbing, to pray in solitude and keep our relationship with God on course. We also need to come down to earth to care for people. God is Love and He wants us to be loving. Preparation for ministry happens on peaks, but practical application occurs on everyday plains and depressed ravines.

 

We need to pray alone, and we also need to relate meaningfully. We need to ascend to commune with our Lord, then descend to serve others. It’s wonderful to enjoy tranquil interludes, so we can be strong in noisy chaos. But we should be careful not to become so heavenly minded we’re of no earthly good. When our head is in the clouds, God help us not to forget the crowds.

 

Though Jesus reveled in glory, when He sensed humanity’s plight He stooped to help. The King of kings descended the majestic mountain, assuming a servant’s role to compassionately care for a world in desperate need—now it’s our turn.

 

“Then Moses turned and went down the mountain.”  (Exodus 32:15 NLT)

 

Johnny R. Almond

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

[This devotion based on Day 54 of Gentle Whispers]

http://GentleWhispersFromEternity-ScripturePersonalized.com/

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After the Lord gave me the privilege and joy of writing Gentle Whispers from Eternity and it was published in March 2013, I began praying that God would bless this book to change lives and glorify His name around the world. This prayer is being answered in amazing ways.

 

Gentle Whispers from Eternity has now been published in Urdu, the language spoken by millions in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. The book is currently being translated into Telugu, the primary language spoken in India’s second largest province; publication is scheduled for later this year. Jesudas David, missionary translating the book into Telugu, said he believes the book “will create a spiritual atmosphere in the Christian world in India and also around the globe.” Olga Tsifrynets, who teaches in a seminary in Kiev, has expressed her desire and intention to translate the book into Ukrainian and Russian. Veronika Lihov, who ministers to the homeless in Crimea, has offered to translate the book into Russian. I praise God for working in the hearts of these people to get His Word out to the world through this book.

 

It is exciting to know that Jamil Thomas, translator of Gentle Whispers from Eternity into Urdu, is distributing the book to individuals, pastors, priests, teachers, churches, and institutes. Pastor Thomas has given several lectures on the introduction and purpose of the book to people of various religions. Readers are sharing  that they have been encouraged by the book. A bishop in Faislabad said he uses the book to prepare his sermons. A priest in Toba Tek Singh said he “found the book very, very beneficial.”  A reader in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, wrote “I have done proof reading of many Christian books, but I found this very much different. The first time in my life I truly felt that Jesus is the only God and Lord. Every day I use it in my morning prayer; it seems to be the second Bible.”  These stories excite me and encourage me to keep sharing the book every way I can. It is clear that my prayer that the book have worldwide impact is being answered.  

 

For a couple of months, I had no contact with Jamil, and wondered why—perhaps he was heavily involved in other ministry projects (you can see how comprehensive his work is by checking his website www.Aim4Faith.org.  Then last week I received an email, sending pictures of people who had received copies of Gentle Whispers from Eternity, in which he said “we had very bad days after 11th January. I wanted to write email, but I was not able to write you.”  When I asked, “Do you mean bad weather?” he responded: “No, my wife and I were coming back from villages where we had distributed Bibles and Gentle Whispers from Eternity to 30 people, when a group of militants attacked us, beat us badly, and took my laptop, camera, books, Bibles and motorbike. I was in hospital for 3 days and my wife remained there more than a week, so depressed and worried that she had a heart attack and stayed there 15 more days in ICU. We were out of the home and they broke into our home and took my desktop computer and printer from my office. Then they sent me a letter to stop preaching and stop distributing Bibles, Gentle Whispers from Eternity, and other Christian material. Thank God we are okay now and God has given us our lives back to proclaim His Word among the nation like Pakistan.”

 

When I asked Jamil for permission to share his story, he replied, “Yes, brother Johnny. You can share it with many more people, we need your prayers. What a wonderful thing if people from another continent pray for us in Pakistan.”

 

I have been thanking God for His marvelous answer to my prayer that He would bless, with a global influence, the book He inspired me to write. Now I’m earnestly praying for Jamil Thomas and his wife, faithful servants of Jesus Christ—that God will protect them as the apple of His eye and hide them in the shadow of His wings. Will you join me in prayer for their spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being?  Please also join me in prayer for Jesudas David in India, Olga Tsifrynets in Ukraine, and Veronika Lihov in Crimea—that God will give them grace to persevere in their translation goals of Gentle Whispers from Eternity—for His glory alone.

 

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NLT)

 

Johnny R. Almond

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Interim Pastor, Nomini Baptist Church; Montross, Virginia

Blog & book info http://GentleWhispersFromEternity-ScripturePersonalized.com/

               

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When Your First Options Hit a Dead End

Few things are as frustrating as hitting a dead end on some endeavor. This is especially true when you are well-intentioned and desirous of God’s will.

Yet this happens all the time. I don’t want to break your idealistic Christian bubble, but dead ends are sometimes part of God’s plan. Among other benefits, they teach us a lot about our character, as we either keep trusting the Lord or try to take matters into our own hands.

Abraham and Sarah hit a dead end in having a baby, and they ended up devising an ill-fated plan of their own (Genesis 16).

Samuel hit a dead end when trying to figure out which of Jesse’s sons should be the next king, but fortunately he waited long enough to discover David, the youngest of the sons (1 Samuel 16).

But I’m particularly struck by what happened when the apostle Paul hit a dead end during his quest to take the gospel to unreached areas.

When they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:6-10).

I don’t want you to miss how wild this brief story is. First of all, notice that the Holy Spirit forbade them to preach the gospel in Asia! The same Holy Spirit who energizes us to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) sometimes blocks our pathway in doing so. Why? Surely the people in Asia needed to hear about Jesus.

But sometimes God brings a dead end to our plans because there’s a better option.

Paul and his team proceeded to Plan B: preaching in Bithynia. However, the Spirit did not permit that well-meaning venture either.

“What’s going on here?!” Paul must have wondered. “I’m just trying to be faithful in fulfilling the Great Commission, but God keeps blocking my path.”

Exasperated, Paul didn’t seem to immediately have any Plan C in mind. So he went to sleep—a picture of entering into God’s rest. (Side note: When the Lord wants to do something really GREAT in our lives, He sometimes puts us to sleep so we won’t get in the way. See Genesis 2:18-23, Genesis 15:12-21.)

Plan C thankfully came to Paul from that place of rest and trust. He saw a vision of a man in Macedonia, pleading for him to come and share the gospel. Instead of just coming up with his own plans, this time Paul concluded that “the Lord had called us.”

You see, Plan A and Plan B could have been considered GOOD things, but Plan C was a GOD thing. There’s quite a difference!

Acts 16 goes on to describe how a powerful church was planted in Philippi when Paul followed God’s leading to enter Macedonia. I’m sure his initial frustration in hitting dead ends was replaced by great thankfulness when He saw the Lord’s amazing purposes unfold.

God’s plans are good plans, my friend. But sometimes you have to wait for Plan C.

Be patient. Keep praying. Keep listening. And you may also want to take a good nap.

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Is God Stirring Your Nest?

Don’t get too comfortable. That seems to be what God is saying to many of us these days. He’s reminding us that our comfort zones can easily become our coffins if things aren’t shaken up from time to time.

A beautiful Scripture passage describes this very uncomfortable process. After providing an assurance of God’s great love for us as “the apple of His eye,” it goes on to depict Him as a mother eagle teaching her babies to fly: Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft” (Deuteronomy 32:10-11).

Picture the scene, which you may be able to relate to: Some baby eagles were enjoying life in their comfortable, well-protected nest, on a mountaintop high above the mundane life of lesser birds. Kept warm and well fed by the mother eagle, they remarked to each other, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”

Just about that time, something drastically changed. The mother eagle, once so nurturing and protective, suddenly went on a rampage. She horrified her chicks by stirring up—and even destroying—their comfy nest.

When it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, the mother took an even more drastic step, casting each of the baby eagles high into the thin air above the canyon below. One by one, the terrified chicks plunged downward to what seemed like a certain death.

However, at the very last moment, their mother intervened. As the verse depicts, it “spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” This process happened over and over, until the young eagles finally understood their mother’s objective: “teaching them to fly” (Deuteronomy 32:11 MSG).

Take a moment to assess where you are in this process. Have you been resting comfortably in your nest? That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the Bible says our Good Shepherd knows we need to “lie down” at times (Psalm 23:2).

But maybe you sense that God is stirring your nest, making you uncomfortable with the surroundings that once seemed so carefree and secure. If so, you must remember this: He loves you! You are the apple of His eye, and He wants what is best for you. That’s what this process is all about.

Yes, sometimes you might feel like you are plunging to your destruction, but the Lord has other things in mind. He’s teaching you to fly! It’s time to grow up and learn to soar like all eagles are meant to do.

If you don’t understand everything that’s happening to you right now, that’s okay. You’re not alone. Some things don’t seem to make sense at the time, but God will explain them later, whether in this life or in the next.

So wait upon the Lord, and He will renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31). Then get ready to SOAR!

 

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The Secret to Thanksgiving All Year Long

Thanksgiving is clearly the greatest holiday ever created in America—and not just because of the great food and the football games.

This year I had a new revelation while writing Thanksgiving notes to some friends. In past years, I would say something like, “I’m thankful for YOU this Thanksgiving.” That certainly was true enough, but it missed an important point: I wasn’t only thankful for these friends on one day of the year, but rather was grateful for them all year long.

Suddenly my mind was flooded with Paul’s words to his friends in Philippi: Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God” (Philippians 1:3 MSG).  

Isn’t that cool? At the mere thought of his friends, Paul had a “Thanksgiving moment.” Even when distance or jail cells prevented him from seeing them face to face, his Thanksgiving rose to God whenever he even thought of these people he loved so much.

I hope you have friends and loved ones who brighten your life like that. Whenever someone mentions their name or the Lord brings them to mind during your prayer times, you light up inside. You find yourself welling up with gratitude that such a person would be a part of your life.

This year I found myself realizing in a whole new way that if you have good friends and are a person of prayer, you can experience Thanksgiving anytime. There may not be any turkey or football, and your loved ones may not be physically present with you at the time. But you can “break out in exclamations of thanks” nevertheless.

Let’s be honest though: We all know people who don’t bring such a cheery reaction when they come to mind. Rather than sparking joyous praise, they bring us concern or sadness or even a tinge of anger when they come to mind. This could be someone who has wronged us, who we’ve not yet forgiven. Or perhaps it’s a spouse or child who’s not living like we think they should.

Fortunately, Paul has an answer for this kind of situation too—when instead of thankfulness, we feel burdened down when we think about how another person is doing. Just a few verses after the words above, Paul adds one of the most beautiful promises in the entire Bible: I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Look at how these two verses work together: In verse 3 Paul describes his great joy and thankfulness every time he remembers his fellow-believers in Philippi.

But in verse 6, he reveals the secret of why he could rejoice even when some people weren’t doing very well: He knew God was still at work! Instead of remaining distraught about the circumstances of such people, Paul knew He could commit them into the Lord’s loving hands, confident in His ability to change their heart and turn things around for them.

Do you see how your whole perspective changes when you look at the people in your life through this two-fold lens in Philippians 1? Every day—and every moment of every day—can become a time of spontaneous Thanksgiving. So you don’t have to wait another 364 days—let the hallelujahs ring out now! 

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