The Walk

2020-08-08 The WalkMy wife and I walk around our neighborhoods, about three to four miles almost every day.  Rising at 7am, my brain doesn’t have to engage while she gets ready, I “snack” a breakfast and a coffee, and we go hiking for an hour or so.  By the time we get back, I am almost awake and ready to take on the day’s tasks. 😉

My Master and I also take a “walk” together almost every day.  But our “walk” covers a lot more ground, usually going around the world.  We start by “visiting family” which extends past my biological relatives to “adoptees” who are as dear to me as my own flesh and blood: from Lexington, we “drop in on” some “family” in Mongolia, back through New Jersey, Peoria, Illinois, Waverly and Marshalltown, Iowa, Kansas City (both sides of the river, from Liberty to Overland Park to Olathe), pass through Phoenix and Yuma, Arizona and wind up north in Edmonton and Calgary.

2020-08-08 US Map

Then we begin a “trek” around Lexington, visiting our neighborhood, the University, our church leadership, our Boomers’ fellowship, and locals of our church and community, reaching out to Winchester and Versailles.  From there we make a loop around the US, starting with friends in China Outreach Ministries in UT (Knoxville), down to Dallas and Houston, Texas and then east to Birmingham and Selma, Alabama.  Continuing east we stop in Atlanta, drop down to the University of Miami and skirt along the coast up through Savannah, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina, Virginia and through a suburb of Washington, D.C..

Stops in Philadelphia and New Jersey take us up to ‘The City’ (New Yorkers are so provincial; they think that is sufficient designation for Gotham 😉).  Jump up to Boston, then turn west to COM at Penn State and up to Toronto.  The westward segment continues through Michigan where we take a sharp hook south to visit three families in Ohio, all from acquaintance at First Alliance Church originally.  We swing back north to Industry, Illinois, Chicago Land and Madison, Wisconsin, meandering south through Iowa City and St. Louis.  A further southern excursion to Branson, Missouri and then it’s up to Kansas City, Kansas again to see some others who are not in my family.  A zig up to Omaha and a zag back to central Kansas takes us then over to Denver.

From there we head north to Libby, Montana, on west to Ellensburg, Washington from whence we head south to Chico, California before going coastal to San Francisco and LA.  A jaunt back east into the Phoenix valley and we conclude our US “tour.”

The second leg of our journey goes around the rest of the world.  We start in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia before sailing north to Viet Nam and universities along the Pacific Rim.  We stop in Hong Kong, move east to Taiwan, then north to Fukuoka and Tokyo, swinging back west through Korea and Jilin, China.  We head south through Beijing and visit Yiwu City and Shaoxing.  There are a four other cities in China that we “visit” by identifying the residents as I do not know in which cities they live, but He knows.

2020-08-08 The World


We go back north to Mongolia, this time to spend some time as there are lots of friends from our 2013 semester at MIU and students with which we are still involved, with a short stop in southern Russia where one of my former students went home.

The next stop is in Dhaka, Bangladesh where my best friend in all my life has lived since shortly after graduating from college.  Then we go east to Nepal and south to India where we have several friends, before moving further west to see friends in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  We hit each of the “stans” north of there before sojourning through Iran and the persecuted church there.  We then go through the unrecognized country of Kurdistan on our way to Istanbul.  Before leaving the Mid East for Europe, we stop in several nations there, bordering on Israel and our final stop is in Even Yehuda.

The north route to Bulgaria takes us across the Bosphorus and on to North Macedonia and Albania.  We then visit some friends in Austria and Germany before crossing the English Channel for a stop in London.  Our final stops are on the African continent where friends live in Tunisia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Tanzania.

As we pass through each of the cities or countries listed in our travelogue, the Lord and I talk about the people I know in these locales.  It may be just to ask for mercy, mentioning their family name, or there may be events in their lives of which I am aware, asking for Father to give them some special attention.  Sometimes we will pause for some time with some of our friends as I try to listen to His “still small voice” for what He wants to say about them.  But each one is prayed over.

Don’t think I am some kind of saint to do this walk.  “Lord knows better than that!” my mother used to say. 😉  Rather it is what He has asked me to do, and how do you say, “No” to a Master?  To One who loves you so much that He went to the cross for you?  To One so magnificent that John could barely find words to describe Him in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

When you know Him, you stumble along trying your best to please Him, and if He asks for something so simple as a cup of water to give to a thirsty soul, well, you give it.  I still mess up plenty, like a baby crying for milk and pooping in its diapers, but He loves me.  So I find our walks refreshing, even though I do most of the whining and gurgling.  But He loves me.  If you do not get anything else from this blog, please recognize that He knows and loves you, too.

So next time you go for a walk, let Him come along.  He wants to be with you wherever you are.  Can you just imagine what it will be like someday when we all see Him face to face!?

Should I Pray for the End of the Coronavirus Pandemic?

2020-04-25 Updated Map of Coronavirus
As the coronavirus “stay-in-place’ orders begin to recede among protests and alternative views of their effectiveness surfacing, I look forward to actually meeting with friends, having them over for dinner, going out to favorite restaurants again, and getting together as Christ-followers to worship and share teaching and encouragement.

See this week’s Wall Street Journal article on The Weekend Interview https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-bearer-of-good-coronavirus-news-11587746176?;
Conclusion, “Most disagreements among scientists reflect differences in perspective, not facts.”, i.e. data is transposed by each scientist’s subjective view to emphasize his/her priorities.  If you cannot access the WSJ article and would like to read it, contact me.

I was invited in a text from a friend, forwarded from a concerned citizen, to join one million people in praying for the coronavirus to end.  My reply was simply that I do not think superstitious prayers are effective in moving Father to act.  I wondered if the originator of the text really thought that of the estimated 2.4 billion Christians in the world, less than 0.05 per cent of them were praying for that?  You do the math: 1,000,000 divided by 2,400,000,000 = 0.000417 x 100.

Add to that the fact that Father does not heed popular opinion polls and can be moved by any individual sincere heart or whenever two or three gather in His name (Matthew 18:9).  ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares Yahweh.” (Isaiah 55:8)  He did not take a ballot whether or not to answer Elijah’s request for drought or rain after three years of empty skies (1 Kings 18:42-44; James 5:17).  Jeremiah did not exactly win a popularity contest when he announced the word from Yahweh in Jeremiah 26, yet his prophesies came true even though opposed by the majority.

It is hard to imagine this coronavirus could happen to the world without the Creator’s fingers in the works somewhere.  We often wonder when bad things happen in the world, especially on larger scales than our immediate circumstances, where is God or what is God doing when such things occur?

Some have speculated that the coronavirus is something of God’s judgment as they notice the geographic regions hardest hit do not reflect their spiritual perspectives.  Others suggest this is baloney because many Christ-followers are decimated by this indiscriminate disease.  I am content to leave such considerations up to Father and remain confident that He knows what He is doing.

He is not the author of bad things happening to people (except in times of judgment), but He knows how to make lemonade from the lemons we sometimes encounter in a fallen world.  (Personally, I do not like this illustration, as I have always enjoyed eating raw lemons, and am not convinced their flavor is ‘fallen,’ but most of you will get the gist. 😊)  In any case, our place is rarely to ask Father, “Why?” but rather to ask, “How can I continue to walk with You through this?  How can You use me to show others who You are and how much You love them?”

These are the questions we should always be asking, not just during a health crisis (if this is even that), and not just when things are out-of-the-ordinary difficult (which the coronavirus has made them).  This is a matter of Practicing the Presence (August 20, 2016), and must be the developing attitude for a Christ-follower every day of our brief lives.

As such, we need to be talking with Father about the pandemic currently gripping our media, the scientists’ attention, and political and social landscapes.  Whether or not to ask Him to end it is up to you in your discussion with Him.  However, we do need to be talking with Him about what He wants to accomplish in our hearts through this, and how we can show how amazing He is, even in the midst of the confusion over what the symptoms are, whether or not testing is accurate, or whose deaths are attributable to it.  He can calm our hearts even when politicians make announcements about each other’s comments that seem harder to follow than a spiked football in the end zone!

Last thoughts: Zoom is nice and I expect to keep up lots of such meetings even after this virus is history, but there is something very special about physical contact and presence for which Zoom or Skype can only act as temporary replacements or necessary accommodations.

So pray however you want about the coronavirus when you talk with your loving Father.  Remember, He understands us even when we do not know for what we should pray.  (Romans 8:26-31)  Whether praying for an end to the pandemic, praying for a friend in need, praying for an opportunity to meet that need . . . simply pray.  He wants to hear from you. 😉

 

Considerations on Praying FOR an Enemy

Perhaps last week’s blog, HOW Are You Praying FOR Your Enemies? (April 14, 2020), would have been better called WHY We Should Pray FOR Our Enemies.  So today I will address some practical considerations for HOW to Pray FOR Your Enemies.

First, keep foremost in mind that Father wants our hearts to begin to align with His despite what you read in the Psalms.  Remember, the Psalms are hymns of praise and prayers offered by fallible humans to their Creator.  This is not to suggest there are errors in the Bible, but just as we do not take theological lessons from the historical books unless they are clearly elucidated elsewhere, we should be careful in drawing lessons from the Psalms when we are reading the pleas of hearts in distress.  When did you hear a “worship song” based on Psalm 109:1-15?

Remember that we were once enemies of the cross, even if you accepted Jesus when you were three or four years old.  Until you surrendered control of your life to Him, YOU were in charge of your life, and God help the one who interfered with YOUR plans!  Many of us remained capricious followers of Jesus even after great spiritual experiences in our youth, unstable and fickle.  While in a fit of pique we may agree with the Psalmist when he cries for Father to make our enemy’s children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit” (Psalm 109:10), it is not Father’s heart to punish children for the sins of their dads (Ezekiel 18:19-20).

Second, however, prayer FOR an enemy does not mean asking Father to make his plans succeed!  When someone intends evil it is our responsibility, as much as we are able, to resist such intentions.  But we are not to hate the person who needs salvation.

When Jesus confronted Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians and criticized them or humiliated them with His superior reasoning, it still came from a heart that was looking for what was best for them, as well as to prevent them from influencing the masses of people from following them.  But when it came to one-on-one His heart went out to those who loved money (or anything else) more than Him or His righteousness (Mark 10:17-22).  Like Father, he wanted His enemies to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).  That is how you and I got into the Kingdom!  Dare we deny someone else entry because we have made it!?

Third, we must be clear in our opposition to that which is opposed to godliness, but we must do so as gently as Jesus, who would not quarrel nor break someone who was bruised by life, nor snuff out one who had even a spark of hope in him (Isaiah 42:2-3; Matthew 12:19-20).  “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24).

The difficulty in “loving the sinner but hating the sin” is more easily understood if we realize how often we do this for ourselves.  (See   for more detail on this.)  When we do something foolish or unrighteous, we make every kind of excuse possible until we finally fall at Jesus’ feet and ask for His mercy.  This is because I sometimes do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).  And my love for myself compels me to hate what I do, more so as I get to know Jesus better.

So when Jesus calls us to love our enemies as ourselves and pray for them, this is what He has in mind.  We are to approach our prayers FOR our enemies recognizing that they were deceived and that continuation on the path they are on will lead to their eternal separation from the Lord of life; isolation where there is weeping, cruel loneliness that never ends, filled with longings that will never be satisfied, and outer darkness that lets in absolutely no light (Matthew 8:11-12).  As you align your heart with His, you will find yourself looking into that abyss and thinking, “I would not wish that for my worst enemy!”

Now you are ready to reach out in love, even to your enemies.  So ask Father to reveal Himself to your enemy.  Ask Him to let them see clearly the results of the choices they are making.  Ask Him to guide others or circumstances around them so they will experience what they need, and not suffer the anger we feel at them.  Ask Him how you might be able to shed light into their darkness (and not heat 😤!).  And prepare to keep on loving them even if they refuse your heart to help.

  • So pray FOR the President that he will recognize his shortcomings and humbly ask for guidance when he needs it.
  • So pray FOR Nancy Pelosi that she will come to understand how her disrespect only reflects her immaturity and inability.
  • So pray FOR that Muslim neighbor with a burka and FOR her husband that they might come to knowledge of the Truth.
  • So pray FOR the pro-abortionist who screams how lucky she is to have had an abortion so that she can now afford a fancy car and easy lifestyle.
  • So pray FOR the neighbor who seems to enjoy harassing you.
  • So pray FOR that ex-spouse that they will experience forgiveness and so forgive you.
  • So pray FOR your son or daughter who has turned his/her back on the faith they were taught.

Some you may see transformed as you live out Christ’s life before them.  Some you may be able to speak with, and influence, even in a small way, to consider their course.  Some you will have to simply leave in Father’s hands, fearing for their end that they may not turn in time.  But pray FOR them, that they will.  That is HOW we should pray FOR our enemies.

HOW Are You Praying FOR Your Enemies?

How do we pray FOR someone evil or with whom we thoroughly disagree?  This is an important corollary to Jesus’ command to love your enemies.  Matthew 25:44 tells us this and to “pray for those who persecute you.”  Now, don’t go all Pharisee on me and say, “It does not command me to pray for all my enemies, just those who persecute me!”

Let me summarize with a quote and then expand, so if you fully understand C.S.Lewis’ quote you can quit reading and do something more important.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”  C.S.Lewis, The Weight of Glory

First, it is important to realize that person with whom you so thoroughly disagree is most likely deceived.  He or she does not realize they are not acting in their own best interests.  Like the phantoms in Lewis’ Great Divorce, there is something they want more than Heaven, not realizing Heaven would provide for them so much more than the meager trinkets to which they are clinging.  “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

These blinded individuals are to be pitied more than hated.  “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13)  Once deceived, they encourage others to join in their destructive behavior (Proverbs 10:17), not realizing they are accumulating corruption and chains that bind them ever more tightly until one day they will have become so entangled there will not be any escape.  Like adding one tiny strand to a rope, each occurrence of mischief entwines layer by layer until they simply are beyond hope, but it is never for us to make that determination while they are still in the land of the living.

Secondly, Father’s heart is to do what is best for them.  That is right, the Creator loves your enemy and wants what is good for them!  2 Peter 3:9 affirms this in the New Testament as does Ezekiel 33:11 in the Old Testament.  The whole Bible is Father’s love letter to a world that chose to ignore His simple direction in the Garden of Eden, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

His intention, His heart was to give us each and all the very best with very little restriction.  But with Adam’s and Eve’s narrow and short-sighted choice, they brought disobedience, deception and death into the world.  And without His loving provision there would not be any hope for any of us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only born Son . . .” (John 3:16). Notice, NOT that He loved those who would choose to obey Him; not that He loved people of a certain geography or genetic line; not that He loved the ones who would learn to abide in Him.  NO, He loved and loves the whole world!

  • That includes the guy who raped a 16 year old girl the day before he shipped off to Vietnam and left scars in her life so she never learned how to develop good relationships with men.
  • That includes the dad who, drunk again, hit his son so hard up the side of his head that he could no longer think straight in school and now has a hard time holding a job.
  • That includes Dr. Levatino (https://www.abortionprocedures.com/about-dr-levatino/) as he performed 1,200+ abortions of babies at every stage of development.
  • That includes a president who may be a misogynistic self-aggrandizing narcissist.
  • That includes a Speaker of the House who may have so little respect for the Constitution or Office of the President that she would tear up his SOTU speech on national view like a child throwing a tantrum.
  • That includes the idiot who drove 60mph up Nicholasville Road and killed a pedestrian.
  • That includes the drug addict who has made a thousand choices that were foolish.
  • That includes the pusher who sells him the drugs.

There is NO ONE excluded from the love that took Jesus to the cross.  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:6-8)

  • That includes me!! And yes, that includes YOU!

So now, thirdly, my problem is to align my heart with Jesus’ and pray FOR my enemies the way Jesus would pray for them.  How would you pray for a coworker who spreads cruel information about you to prevent you from getting respect at work?  How would you pray for a wayward son who refuses to have anything to do with following Jesus?  How would you pray for a spouse who has walked away from faith and wounded you so deeply you do not know if you will ever recover?

Think of how Jesus prayed for his crucifiers while he was dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  Some have said this is one of two prayers of Jesus to which Father said, “No.”  But Father’s answer is not our concern here.  What we need to examine is our hearts to see if we share Jesus’ desire for our enemies.

His Heart is broken for those you find too smelly, degraded or offensive to associate with.  He loves your enemy and makes His expectation of us very clear: “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

So now, how will you pray FOR your enemy?

 

 

Who Are You Praying FOR During This Wuhan Virus Crisis?

2020-04-04 Rosenberg Survey 2
This is a time that people all over the world are becoming more aware of spiritual realities than at almost any time in my life.   Why?  Because we are facing a global health crisis unlike anything since the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920.  Infecting over 500 million people, that pandemic caused between 50-100 million deaths! (50,000,000-100,000,000)

In the current crisis, as of April 4 reliable reports are that more than 1.2 million (1,200,000) have been infected and more than 65,000 have died.  If there is a silver lining, it is that over 250,000 have recovered, meaning the death rate and toll will likely be much smaller than the Spanish Flu, but it is still a life-changing event in our generation.  And the numbers of those infected and deaths are suspect, even though from “reliable” news sources.  The media can only report what governments give them for data.  They could be much higher.

2020 -04-04 Roseberg SurveyAt Joel Rosenberg’s website, he reports on a survey his organization commissioned for McLaughlin and Associates to conduct here in the USA.  To summarize a couple of points, almost half of the respondents see this global health crisis as supernatural intervention in world affaoirs, just shy of the number who believe God has nothing to do with it.  Most interesting is that of the non-Christian respondents 22% of them acknowledge looking for answers in the Bible or online Christian/spiritual resources. (See above bar chart.) You can view the details of the survey here:

https://www.joshuafund.com/learn/news-article/coronavirus_pandemic_is_a_wake_up_call_exclusive_joshua_fund_poll

It is vital that the Church seize this opportunity to invite, educate and guide the spiritually hungry.  But what of the 63% of non-Christian respondents who say this crisis has not changed their interest in spiritual things?

We must pray for them, also.  And note, we must learn to pray FOR them, not against them.  In the words of Jesus, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:44-45

This is not an easy thing for many of us to get our minds around, but praying FOR our enemies is on Jesus watch list to see if we are becoming sons and daughters of our Father.  More on loving your enemy can be found at .

But this is not just a New Testament idea.  Jesus prefaced His command with, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” (Matthew 25:43)  We have no Scripture that uses this dictum, but it was likely a saying of the Zealots.  The Dead Sea Scrolls show the Qumram community was taught to “love all the sons of light … and hate all the sons of darkness,”

However, the God of the Old Testament made the same demand on the Jews of history as Jesus was calling His disciples to.  Leviticus 19:34 called on them to love the stranger among them as they love themselves.  And in the Law, Exodus 25:4-5 called on the Hebrew to help his enemy, even though it was someone he hated.

Then Solomon came along and penned this poetic advice regarding one’s enemy:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
    and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and Yahweh will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)

For a long time, I thought this meant that if I was kind to an enemy, heaping coals of fire on his head would mean I reeeaally “got him good!”  By being kind, I was going to make him so miserable, he would see the error of his ways.  You know, really stick it to him!

But then a wiser man than me pointed out that fire was a valuable commodity in Solomon’s day.  No pilot on a gas stove; no matches from the Safeway store; no camp-fire lighters at Dick’s Sporting Goods.  When you finally started a fire with sticks and twigs and lots of elbow grease, you kept it going as long as you were home.  You saved embers each day so the next day the fire could burn bright again for cooking food or purifying your knife or warming yourself and family against the next night’s cold.

The movies make it look so simple as though anyone could start a fire to mount on a catapult and attack an enemy.   But I challenge you to go outside when the weather has been nice and dry and try to start a fire the way Solomon’s servant would have.  Fire was a precious product, not one you would likely share with an enemy.

When you gave some “fire” to someone, it likely would not be a burning stick, but embers from your fire pit.  Carrying it in front of you would result in the sparks flying into one’s face, so they would load the precious heat into a pot or basket that could be carried on one’s head.  Now, if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is!  “Heap burning coals on his head!”

So Jesus reaffirmed the love of God in the Old Testament, and told us to pray FOR our enemies.  Now, who is your enemy?  Muslim terrorists?  Hindu nationalists?  A superstitious shaman?  How about Nancy Pelosi?  Donald Trump?  Chuck Schumer?
Bring it closer to home, the guy who cut you off at the light?  A rude neighbor?  A boss?  A smelly coworker?  A family member?

We are to pray FOR them, not against them.  So I wonder, who are you praying FOR during this crisis?  Next week we will look at HOW do we pray FOR someone evil or with whom we thoroughly disagree.

A Gift You Keep by Giving It Away

Christmas Gifts.jpgChristmas time and everyone is thinking about, blogging about, shopping about and hoping about gifts.  Here is a gift for you.  The only catch is that you can only keep it by giving it away.  Confused?

Remember that guy in second grade who always picked on you?  How about the fourth-grade girl who copied your test and blamed you when the teacher got suspicious, and you were punished?  Then there was the college girl who pointed at you with her friends who were laughing hilariously at you, and you were left wondering what was so funny.  What about the guy who cut you off in busy traffic so that you had to wait for another light?  Go back to each one in your mind and in your heart of hearts and forgive them, — one — by — one.  Not all that hard to do for these.

But what about the guy who raped you when you were 16?  He died in an auto wreck a few years later; how do you forgive him!?  Or the guy who lied at work and cost you your job and left your family reeling from financial difficulties with which you are still struggling?  The continuous offense of a family member who just will not quit doing that even though it is so offensive to everyone in the family?  The cruel words, “I do not love you anymore,” that left a woman bereft of the love she thought would last forever.  An ex-spouse whose lies and distortions hurt more than if she had an affair.

Forgive them, too.  As hard as this can be, you simply must forgive them.  Jesus almost made it sound like a caveat that God’s forgiveness of you was dependent on your forgiveness of those who offended you.  For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)  Okay, not almost!  He said it specifically so that it sounds like that!  What Jesus is describing here is not a one-time action; it is an attitude of the heart.

Attitude:manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind” according to Dictionary.com.  It is like muscle tone for the brain.  Muscle tone means greater strength, increased mobility and flexibility, and less exhaustion from the same amount of work.  Body BuildingAttitude is this for the brain; it is the automatic positioning of unconscious choices that makes your thoughts work in a certain way.  And development of this can make training for Mr. World seem like a walk in the park, especially where forgiveness is concerned.

We take offense so easily and feel like we cannot love the sinner while hating the sin.  Yet we do it almost every day.  Well, maybe you don’t, but I do.  I do something that I know is offensive to my Lord and Master, and then I just say how sorry I am for messing up again and go on my way like everything is now okay since I sincerely repented.  And it is.

The only trouble is applying this same principle to others when they mess up.  So you see, I really do know how to hate the sin yet love the sinner, as long as the sinner is me.  And in fact, the more I love myself, the more I hate the sin I commit.  What I need more of is recognition that everyone else is living regrettable lives sometimes committing sin they detest.  Does anyone really want to be angry all the time?  Is anyone wishing to be lonelier because of their bitterness?  Who among us enjoys being miserable?

Joy is not an absence of pain, problems or predicaments.  It is a sense of God being in control even in the middle of the trial of tears and tribulation, a confidence that He will balance justice and mercy perfectly one day.  And it is only discoverable as we develop an attitude of forgiveness.

This is what sustained Betsy and Corrie ten Boom through the horrors of a Nazi POW camp.  It is what made Louie Zamperini forgive The Bird who had tortured him in a Japanese prison.  It is what gave Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah confidence to defy the king of Babylon (See Daniel 3).  It is why Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

A word of caution is appropriate here.  I am not suggesting you go tell the offender he/she is forgiven.  That could open a “whole ‘nuther can o’ worms!”  Do this only if the Holy Spirit whispers in your ear that you must.  The issue is not to get kudos from the offender for your being so forgiving.  The only issue is for you (me!) to develop the mental tone, the attitude, the heart-felt forgiveness that you need in order to understand and accept God’s forgiveness of you.

So receive a Christmas gift that you can only keep by giving it away.  Forgive someone who does not deserve it, but needs it.

When You Pray by c.a.post © May 1, 1996
Don’t be fooled to thinking He counts the number of your words
As if pagan repetition can get your prayers heard.
Forgive as you’re forgiven. That’s where prayer has to start,
For He who is unseen looks on the secrets of your heart.

Chorus
So when you pray, go into the secret place.

Close the door, and begin to seek His face.
Wait for Him. Though unseen He’ll meet you there,
And He’ll reward you openly in answer to your prayer.

Those who love the praise of men offer prayers just for show.
When they fast they make their faces sad so everyone will know.
Their reward is to be seen of me, whatever else they may believe.
I tell you now this simple truth: That’s all that they’ll receive.

Now there’s a room within your heart that only two can share.
It’s a secret place He’s made for you to meet with Him in prayer.
And though your conversation may be heard by many more
The Lord comes to the secret place to know who the prayer is for.

Our Father up in Heaven, holy is Your name;
Your kingdom come, Your will be done in Heaven and earth the same.
Provide for us our daily bread. Grant us grace as we forgive.
Lead us not into temptation, freed from Satan’s power to live.

 

 

 

“What have you heard lately?”

Gary has been a friend for several years, but about two years ago he went waaaay up in my esteem.  We were sitting over coffee and had talked about his small remodel project he was considering.  Out of the blue, he asked me, “Well, c.a., what have you heard from the Lord lately?  What’s He saying to you these days?”

Now there’s a mind-bender when you’re not expecting one!  I had blogged about Prayer, Love, The God Who Is There, the Bible, Jesus, and many other Christ-centered themes, but I did not expect to hear from God that particular day.  Like most of us I had settled into my routines and was living for God.  But most of the stuff on my “living for God” list was back to ancient teachings from when I was a kid; basically, a list of things I did not do.

Let’s see:
1. No beating up anybody, although I got very angry at that other driver and would have shot his tires if that would not get me arrested.
2. No swearing, although several unkind words were on my mind about that same driver.
3. No lying.  Actually this one is easy for me because if I lie, I will have to remember what I told someone.  I always tell the truth even when it is to my disadvantage.
4. No porn, although I thought for an awful long time about that girl in the mall with the short shorts and tank top.
5. No cheating on my taxes (okay, so my wife does our annual tribute to the IRS).Ten Commandments 2
6. No smoking; I have never even had a drag on a cigarette, but don’t think one goes to hell for this anyway.

And actually there was a list of things I did DO, but many of them were also part of the routine.  I attended meetings of believers regularly per Hebrews 10:25.  We gave faithfully to the reach of Jesus in the world through various organizations and participated in active missions whenever we traveled, even if the cover for the trip was academic or social.  I prayed fairly regularly for friends and family.  And both of these lists could go on.

But the thing that struck me with Gary’s question was the expectation that if I was living with a living God, Gary expected us to be in conversation!  It was shortly after this that I blogged on Practicing the Presence ().  His question awoke in me an awareness that most of the time I was not listening for Someone else’s voice, ePharisees.pngven as I blogged on Christ-honoring themes.  What a Pharisee I was turning back into!

Not everything about the Pharisees was bad.  Paul even listed off some of the good things his life as a Pharisee meant.  But then he said, But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7)  Even the good stuff of being a religious leader, even the zeal for godliness that came through obedience to the Law of Moses.

So now Gary’s question keeps ringing in my ears, even after two years, and I listen for that Voice more often.  Whether serving my home owners’ association, going out to dinner with friends, shopping at Walmart or Lowes, planning a trip to Arizona to see my brother or Miami to see former students, or dealing with issues with my K.C. family, I try to listen for a Voice, and when I listen I discover He is not silent.  I am not an expert at this, but I am growing and listening more than ever before.

When you gather with other believers this weekend, if you attend a church or small group, consider asking questions that will open their hearts and serve them.
Start with what Gary asked me,
1. “What has God been saying to you lately?”
Then ask two other questions (stolen from Crossway 😉 ):
2. What is the best thing that happened to you this week?
3. What is the worst thing that happened to you this week?

Lisrening.jpgBe prepared to take some time for the answers.  Be genuine in your desire to build up and encourage holiness, obedience and unfettered love among the disciples.  And listen for a Voice that will tell you how to live according to His word in love, faith and hope.  Like Francis Shaeffer said in his excellent book by this title, “He is there and He is not silent.”

What have you heard lately?

 

 

Practicing the Presence (Reprise)

You may recall on August 20, 2016 and August 28, 2016 I blogged on the Practice of the Presence; this is a way of recognizing that The God Who Is There is really here, at all times, in every situation, in all places.  As David prayed in Psalm 139:7-12,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’
    even the darkness is not dark to you;
        the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”

In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Peter Scazzero notes there are different approaches to God based on our emotional maturity.  We begin by “talking at God.”  This he describes as copying our parents prayers, such as mimicking a prayer over a meal.  As we become more comfortable with prayer, we ‘grow’ into using our own words, “talking to God,” rather than simple recitals of memorized prayers, but these prayers are still very self-centered; requests for blessing, provision, answers that we want.  And this, sadly, is where many of us get stuck, never growing up any more, and always coming to Him with our begging and whining, “gimme, gimme, gimme.”  Like little children we have no goals nor ideas beyond our immediate needs for love, provision and comfort.

But there are other levels of communication with God.  The next Scazzero addresses is “listening to God.”  This is where we begin to recognize that prayer is a two-way communication.  Yes, God speaks to us primarily through the Bible, and you can be certain nothing He “says” to you in prayer will contradict that.  For example, if the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:23), He will not tell you in prayer to dump her or walk out on a marriage.  But there are many details of life not addressed in the Bible where His particular guidance can be helpful and is available if we learn to listen (see October 2, 2016).

Finally Scazzero takes us to “being with God,” a place of emotional maturity which is not dependent on activity or disciplines of the Spirit-led life.  This is a place of simply enjoying being together, the way lovers behave when they do not need to talk, but simply rest in each others’ arms.  Make no mistake, the devotional practices of the disciplines of the Spirit-led life get us centered on who God is, how He interacts with us, and what His personality is like, so these lead us to a deeper understanding of what it is like to be in His presence, but it is the “being” there that matters.

Like a marriage, if a person thinks he or she can do anything they want and maintain a good relationship, theirs will be headed for serious problems.  But when a man and woman are engaged in learning about how to please each other and how to provide for each others’ needs, theirs can become the most satisfying relationship apart from the inner practice of the Presence of Him whose love we are imitating.

In the same way, the relationship with Father requires attention to Him, time spent with Him and sharing of one’s life with Him.  The life lived outside of that relationship becomes empty, pointless, and in the end deadly, with a deadness that must be understood in terms of spiritual death like Adam’s and Eve’s (see December 6, 2015 ).  While they appeared to be “living” they had become “dead in [their] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), separated from the Source of Life.  And when we have wandered into the wrong road, one that takes us further into death and away from Life, the fastest way back into that relationship that will ultimately satisfy us as no other, is to turn around and head back the way we have come.  It is possible to get too far down that road that leads to death to recover much of what is lost, and it is even possible to get so far down that road that return of any sort becomes impossible.

But if one does return, like lovers separated as teenagers reunited in old age, who may be able to rekindle their love and find some satisfaction in “the remains of the day,” they must wonder at what has passed.  How much time was lost, how many moments of love were missed, how much influence on others was destroyed, that can never be recovered because the time has passed them by?   God can bring life to dead bones, but how much of life was missed by those one day resurrected, if they had continued in life all along? (See Ezekiel 37:1-14)

So do not wait for too long to find His presence in your life.  He is always here, but where are we?  Walking with Him or in a valley of dry bones?  Do we Practice His Presence?

Practicing the Practice of the Presence

Practicing the Presence of God presents us with a couple of problems.

First of all, by nature we tend to trust our senses and not our faith.  We easily forget what we cannot see or feel or hear.  We even have a saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Secondly, we face multiple distractions.  These can be good things, like a wonderful poem, a marvelous piece of music, a brilliant blog emo wink, or just the busy-ness of doing our job or caring for our family.  These distractions can also be bad things, temptations to do what we know to be wrong, but what looks like a short-cut to what will please us or make us more comfortable.

Thirdly, we are so small in our thinking, it is hard for us to get our minds around the existence of God as He really is, and we must make substitutions in our thinking to accommodate our limited understanding.

Keep in mind Whose Presence we are practicing.  The God Who Is There is more than our tiny brains can process.  His nature is clearly presented in the Bible as being Three-In-One, what we call a “triune being”, a term we invented because we cannot understand how one being can exist in three persons.  Yet one would have to ask, “If I can understand all there is to know of the nature of God, is this really God?”  You see, He has revealed to us enough of what we can understand to show us that we cannot ever fully grasp His complete nature.

He was and is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the One true God and Creator of all things.  Jesus did not become the Son of God when Mary gave birth to the infant boy, but rather the eternal Son of God simply took on human form, personality and limitations in order to fully identify with His creation.  Think of a painter being able to go into his painting to fully experience what he has painted, and though a poor and limited illustration, this may help us grasp the idea of God becoming man.  Also, we should note here that God is a spirit, not a physical being.  So the idea that God had sexual relations with Mary in order to impregnate her is absurd.  Rather with the same creative ability He had when He formed man, He created in Mary a body for the Son using her DNA and His spirit, just as He used the dust and His breath to make the first Adam.

So how do we get around these problems in Practicing The Presence of God?  The following ideas are not set in stone, but rather suggestions for you if you are having difficulty seeing that God is always with you.

First is to use a holy imagination.  As I mentioned last week, just because we are using imagination does not mean He is not really there.  But this is an exercise of our faith.  However, there is a caution here: our imaginations can imagine things that are not of God.  A holy imagination is one informed by the Bible as to the nature, character and behavior of The God Who Is There.  You may be able to imagine God is telling you to rob a bank to pay your bills, but that will be only your imagination, and not God at all!

After exploring some of the Bible’s teaching about what God is like, then, imagine Him leaning in close to your ear and whispering into your life how you should behave, what your response to the things around you should be.  Pretend you are in the company of a King (you are!!) and behave as you would with Him at your elbow.  Some have found adding an empty chair at dinner reminds them of His presence at the meal.  Remind yourself by any creative way you desire of His presence all day long.  He IS there, even though you may not realize it.

Second is to get past the distractions of life.  As noted last week, I do not advocate that we all become monks in monasteries.  Rather, incorporate our unseen Guest in our activities.  When you select a television program, consider asking Him to watch it with you (He will anyway!)  It is necessary to give attention to tasks we must perform, but whenever possible, simply include Him in the task.  Consider if a Royal was beside you, how would you approach this task?  Would you be so quick to get angry at that other driver?  Would you take that next scoop of ice cream?  Would you ask for His opinion on your plans?   Would you do them differently if He was there?  The fact is, HE IS!   As Steve Elliott said, “Act as if He is really there, and you will find He IS!” 

Third is the issue of what we imagine Him to be.  As noted, we cannot grasp everything about God that He has revealed about Himself, and He understands our limitations.  So there may be times you need to see a God who hangs stars in the universe, but at other times you may need to see a Brother who lovingly feeds a hungry baby.  You may need to see a God who can move mountains, a Mighty Warrior who can defend against an evil enemy, or you may need a gentle Spirit able to see through walls or into the cells of a body that needs healing.  Because our little brains cannot imagine all these things about God at once does not mean He is less than He is.  He is all of these and much more, but we can only imagine part of His divine majesty at any one time.

Enjoy His company.  He came a long way to enjoy yours.  He gave Himself to unspeakable torture and death on a cross so that He could be part of your life.   “For God so loved the world that He gave His only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in Him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed.”   (John 3:16, CJB)

Now, if you do not already, start Practicing the Practice of The Presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice the Presence

Any way to treat a king.JPGSuppose a royal came to my house for a visit and I spent the entire time in front of my television set, barely acknowledging the visitor.  Then I prepared my meal of steak and potatoes and green bean casserole, but shared only a piece of dry bread with my guest.  I laid down in my comfortable queen size bed with warm blankets and gave him a small sheet to lay on the floor of the living room.  In the morning I woke and went out the door without even noting that he was in the house, and that he had hoped to go to work with me.

Sadly this is how many Christians treat their King.  He has come a long way to reach us, but we are too busy with other things to share with Him what we are doing.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  I do not advocate a monastic life or suggest we do nothing but spend hours in “devotions” or Bible study and prayer meetings.  In fact, there are times “acts of devotion” become just that: an act, and not a real part of our lives.

In Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence noted: “I do not say we must put any violent constraint upon ourselves. No, we must serve God in a holy freedom. We must work faithfully without trouble or disquiet, recalling our mind to God mildly and with tranquility as often as we find it wandering from Him. It is, however, necessary to put our whole trust in God. We must lay aside all other cares and even some forms of devotion, though very good in themselves, yet such as one often engages in routinely. Those devotions are only means to attain to the end. Once we have established a habit of the practice of the presence of God, we are then with Him who is our end. We have no need to return to the means.”

You see, Jesus was quite serious when He said, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  When you have accepted Jesus as your savior, He gives this assurance that you will never be alone . . . even when you would prefer to be!  A friend recently noted that in order to sin, one has to divorce himself from the presence of God.  This is not entirely true, as in its purest form, sin is simply “falling short of the glory of God,” and I find that even when I am trying my best to be obedient to God and walk with Him, I continually come up less than what I expect He would want me to be, or to what He created me to be.

However, to intentionally sin, which is to decide to do something that I know is against God’s will, my friend is correct.  The only way I can do that is to get a divorce from God, so that I am not with Him.  And if I go through my day pretending that God is not a part of my life, that He is not “visiting my house,” I easily fall into traps the enemy of human souls sets.  I can sin without thinking about His presence, as though He is asleep on the living room floor when I go to work alone.

But that is not the way He wants it!  He wants to be a Present Participant in everything we do.  He wants us to be aware of Him when we watch television.  He wants us to talk with Him about what we are watching, what we are cooking, when we are driving, when we are working.  He wants us to recognize He is always at our elbow . . . even when we wish He was not!  And if we realize He IS there, we will be more inclined to please Him rather than ourselves when choices need to be made.

The Practice of the Presence of God is not natural for us.  It requires a holy imagination, but do not think that just because we are using our imagination, He is not really there!  This is the exercise of our faith.  The fact is He IS present.  Our ignorance of Him bending over our shoulder when we are reading a magazine or newspaper does not mean He is not there.  He is there when we brag about what we have accomplished, when we sit in our chairs and do nothing, when we fill out our taxes, when we envy someone else’s auto or jewelry, when we choose whether to get another doughnut, when we log onto the internet or walk by a swimming pool, when we blow up at a coworker or drive in our cars.  He is always there!  (For more insight into this list, see .)

When one begins to practice the presence of God it will seem unnatural, but by His grace, you will find He really is there, and there with grace.  The first place you will see His grace active in your mind is in helping you to practice!   And you will find Brother Lawrence’s “holy freedom,” a relaxing of rules and regulations, and a friendly communion with One who loves you more than your own mother!

Practice the Presence2When you practice the presence of God, you will find Him whispering in your ear much more that you realized before you started paying attention.  And He is merciful and loving, so when you discover weaknesses and faults in your life, your practice of His presence that reveals these and troubles your mind, will put you at ease with His mercy.  And you will find Him purifying you, first from belligerent sins, and then from some weaknesses that hurt others.

Do not become discouraged as you find more faults than you realized you had!  When you bring a rough diamond under the jeweler’s lamp to work on it, you will see more faults than you saw before.  His light may seem uncomfortable at first, but His grace will help you endure.  And give Thanx for His view, that He that began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)  Next week, August 28, 2016, we will look at some practical tips for Practicing The Presence.

Practice the Presence1