Meditation–CRISIS IN AMERICAN CHURCHES

God’s church in America is in crisis. Various Protestant denominations have splintered over doctrinal issues, while the Roman church faces increased scrutiny and legal challenges resulting from failure to protect congregants from unfaithful clergy. What does this mean for us as faithful members? Who is to blame? All of us? Whose responsibility is it to work through the mess, ours or just the paid leaders? What do non-believers see when they see the church in disarray? Let’s take a quick look at what’s happening within one church — the United Methodist Church — as it struggles to minister to its membership about the homosexual community in light of the Bible’s teaching.

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“Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 (NASB)

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. … They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” — 2 Timothy 4:3a, 4 NIV)


THE AMERICAN CHURCH IS IN CRISIS TODAY.

J.Meditation.ChurchInCrisisThis is not the first time, and the Bible tells us it won’t be the last, but this is now, and whatever happens, it will be our legacy — the legacy of those of us who are alive now.

Just check the headlines of our national media, and you’ll see scandals in the Roman church, fractious debate among Methodists, soul-searching within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Look back a short while, and you’ll see divisions within the Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches.

While the specific issues differ within each denomination, the core issues are similar: in some way, they revolve around sex and gender, human relationships, faithfulness, and expected gender roles. (A quick Google search will pick up relevant articles in addition to the above links.)

The issues can be specified further with pinpoint accuracy: the result of man’s sin nature and constant rebellion against God.

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THE PRESBYTERIANS, Lutherans, and Episcopalians have drifted from the headlines for the time being, while the Roman Catholic Church and United Methodist Church have filled the gap.

The Roman church is paying a heavy price for its institutional failure to confront sexual abuse of children — boys and girls, but mostly boys — and of women, called to serve alongside ordained priests. Legal battles and court settlements will burden the institution for years to come, but the greater damage will be its tainted witness to a world in need of answers.

Right now, I want to focus on division within the Methodist church.

The Methodist church is exposing its inner divisions to the world at large over the issue of homosexuality — both its active practice among congregants and the calling of active homosexuals to the clergy and  bishops.

views2As an international body, the Methodist church is split further between the more liberal church in America, which teaches tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, and the more traditional branch in Central Europe and especially in Africa, which strives to follow the Bible’s authority.

A recent vote by delegates to the General Conference exposed the rift as Americans largely voted to adopt a more inclusive church discipline, while the Africans voted to stay with a stricter interpretation of Scripture.

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THAT DECISION did not sit well with many American Methodists, some two-thirds of whom preferred a less restrictive plan that would have permitted each congregation, and its pastor, to determine its acceptance or rejection of homosexual clergy and members.

Unfortunately, the public dialogue from disaffected Methodists has served only to exacerbate the division.

Most of the commentary has been to lament those who want to maintain Biblical purity as being “intolerant” or “judgmental,” as people who claim a “moral superiority” and “smug rightness of viewpoint” and who, of course, are “legalistic.”

Words matter, and the terms we use frame the debate. While the reformers term the debate between “traditionalists” and “grace-filled,” the debate might better be termed as between the “faithful” and the “revisionists.”

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AT THE HEART of the Methodists’ quandary is the role of Holy Writ; specifically,  whether the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God or whether it is merely inspired text written by men, who were flawed (as we all are) and wrote against a 64. Church_Doctrinehistorical and geographic backdrop far different from our own.

The distinction, then, is whether the 21st century American believer should read God’s Word as being eternal and universal because God is perfect and never changes, or if the Bible should be read in some “holistic” manner, in which the reader inhales the overall “sense” of the Bible and then fills in the details according to the current culture’s understanding.

The rift is huge, and the debate rages on. We are left to wonder how much prayer goes into the argument, especially among those who declare that “God didn’t write the Bible.” We can rest assured that those who quote Scripture telling us God did write the Bible are on their knees in prayer for direction.

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WHERE DOES THIS GO?

Jesus established His church to proclaim His message to the world and to provide love and support for those drawn to it. He vowed that “all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). He said His church will prevail.

In the end, Jesus wins.

But what does it do for a weary, broken world now, when those who claim to love their Lord and have access to His Holy Word are so unfaithful in the conduct not just in their personal lives but in their witness through the various church bodies?

While we are all “treated” to the current discord within the Methodist and Baptist churches, and difficult legal issues confronting the Roman church, let’s not forget the Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopal churches, whose divisions continue to simmer.

We need a heart change.

Forgive us, Lord Jesus.


PRAYER

O FATHER GOD, we have fouled up Your church so badly. We have  scandals in one J9. OPEN BIBLE w IMAGEbody, discord in another. We fight over important matters with members who don’t hold to the Bible’s eternal and universal truths, and we quarrel with others about trivial items that have no impact on our witness. Lord, You told us Your church will prevail, despite our arrogance, greed, and pride. Lord, we ask You to forgive us as we lay down our sins at the foot of the Cross. Lord, we repent of our selfishness. Lord, forgive us and supernaturally make Your church a strong voice for Truth. In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen


Questions for Personal Meditation and Group Discussion:

1. How impacted are you personally by the rancor, faithlessness, and discord within the various church denominations specifically and across the board in Christendom? Does the issue affect your worship experience or is it, for you, just a matter for church leaders to handle?

2. To what do you attribute the divisions that exist within the various denominations? Do you believe in any way you have contributed to the problem, and do you believe you can make a difference to bring healing?

3. Have you (or your family) switched church denominations or congregations within a denomination within the last 10 years as a result of divisions within your church? Have you (or your family) prayed for church healing? Where do you see the various church denominations going over the next generation?

Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

Meditation–GOD CALLS US TO WITNESS

As believers in the Word of God, we are called by Him to witness for Him in the way we conduct ourselves and how we speak. There is no wiggle room, nor should we look for any. Instead, we should pray for opportunities to witness, praise God when they come, and then speak in gentleness and love. Before speaking, however, we are called to live lives that glorify God. Why? Because our testimony is hallow if our lives are no different from the world’s and because our witness is faithful only if we are transformed–truly converted. The Holy Spirit will change the way we live and give us the words to say. Hallelujah!

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“Abraham was only one man when I called him. But when I blessed him, he became a great nation.” Isaiah 51:2b (NLT)


IN MY NEW LIFE as a born-again Christian, one of the loneliest moments I feel is when I sense an opportunity to witness verbally for the Lord. No, I’m not proud of that, because I long for and pray for those opportunities.Men Sharing Gospel

The problem is, I often feel totally inadequate.

I am never certain of whether the moment actually is the right time, or if the person before me is a willing recipient.

I don’t know if I’ll sound like a self-righteous Bible-spouter filled with judgment and condemnation … 

Or — and this is my hope — I’ll sound like the committed believer I really am, eager to share the Good News of my salvation and to extend an invitation to the other person.

In other words, in my mind, it’s all about me! Of course, I realize that’s not what the Bible teaches us. Jesus reminds us to “abide” in Him and He promises to “abide” or “remain” in us (John 15:4-7).

We are given assurance throughout Scripture of God’s faithfulness. The Bible tells us, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” — Psalm 37:5 (CSB)

Still, I know that, in that moment, all the other person will see is me standing or sitting in front of him or her while I feel very much like the weight of their eternity rests on my shoulders.

It does not, and I know it does not, but I still feel it does.

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GOD IS FAITHFUL despite my inadequacies. If there is any failure to communicate the message of salvation, that fault rests with me. God has given me the gift of speech, the knowledge of Scripture, the heart to share, and I have prayed fervently for this opportunity.

Why then am I struck dumb with fear?

If I could write the script, I would place the encounter within a congenial conversation, with both of us sitting and sharing our observations of life.Woman Sharing With Woman

Then, the conversation naturally would lend itself to giving a personal testimony. I don’t shrink from that situation, nor do I shrink from those  conversations were the other person either asks me about my faith or even chides me about my faith.

Where I am fearful is when there is no obvious entry point to the conversation, when we’re rushing to go about our day, or when there is a palpable discomfort between the other person and me.

Is this the right moment? Perhaps so, perhaps not.

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IF THE SITUATION involves a family member, then I am in greater anguish because I feel a greater responsibility, even though I know that if my listener rejects me or my message of hope, he or she actually is not rejecting me but really is rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 10:16).

Our Lord instructs us as parents to teach His ways to our children (Deuteronomy 11:19), so my failure to teach my daughters about the Lord when they were young weighs heavily on me, especially when I contemplate their eternal fate, if they don’t accept God’s offer of salvation.

Our Lord says the world’s sin is that it has rejected Him (John 16:9; Jeremiah 2:13), but Paul reminds us that they cannot accept what they have not been taught (Romans 10:14).

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IN THE END, I need to trust in the Lord and His faithfulness, knowing that His love for my children and family members, my friends and neighbors, my co-workers and even total strangers who come into my life for a moment or two far outweighs the love I ever could have for them.

At the right time, He will tug at their heart, and then they will decide whether to accept the blessings He offers or continue to stumble in darkness (Rev. 3:20; John 6:44).

My job is to remain faithful to my Lord’s promptings, knowing that He remains with me forever (Matthew 28:19-20).


PRAYER

50. Open_BibleO Lord, merciful and mighty, come into our hearts in a big way, overwhelming us with love, forgiveness, grace, and compassion, so that we might share those blessings with all You call us to serve. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen


Questions for Personal Meditation and Discussion:

1. How do you feel when you are in conversation with someone and you sense God is giving you an opportunity to witness for your faith? Do you feel energized (you should!) or fearful (understandable). Afterward, how do you assess your obedience? Did you witness or let the opportunity pass?

2. Does God’s calling on your life seem real to you? Can you take in the idea that God calls you as a believer to minister to others, that it’s not just the job of professional church staff, missionaries, and those “specially called” but that He loves to use the simple, the humble, and the contrite of heart?

3. Can you imagine the thrill of meeting someone in Heaven who is there because you’ve lived your life as a model of grace and compassion or because you offered encouragement from the Lord that led them to conviction? Can you meditate on how amazing that would be?

Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

Meditation–TRUSTING OUR GOD

Sometimes it’s difficult for us to let go and accept — in faith — that this is God’s universe, not ours, and that He is in control, and we are not. That’s true not just for the big things but for the little things, as well. Just as the Father knows when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), so He is involved in the intricate inner workings of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). The Lord wants our obedience (1 Samuel 15:22) over worship, which means He requires our faith and acceptance of Him (Hebrews 11:6). In return, the Lord promises us life (John 10:10, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28).


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“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways.”  Psalm 139:1-3 (NKJV)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”Isaiah 40:28 (ESV)


THAT AMAZINGLY PROLIFIC AUTHOR, Anonymous, penned these words, and they are so true:

“God knows the future, you don’t. So stop worrying and make wise decisions based on His Word and trust Him with the results!”

J28.Trusting Our GodMost of us want some control over our lives. Some of us go so far as to be called “control freaks,” meaning we strive for absolute control over the events around us, people’s actions, and even the outcomes.

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GOD TELLS US THROUGH His Holy Word that this is His universe (the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind” — Daniel 5:21 ESV); He has sovereign rights over it; and we are not in control.

Jesus tells us, Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25 NIV). The Lord’s half-brother, James, warns us against self-confidence. How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14 NLT)

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INSTEAD OF TRYING to claim God’s glory, we need to let the power of God’s Holy Spirit work through us. Jesus assures us that we should “abide” in Him and He will “abide” in us, “for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NASB)

When we place our faith and trust in Almighty God, we’ll find He can exceed our every expectation, “above and beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 CSB).

J28. Trusting_Our_GodGod is in charge. He loves us, and through the blood of His Son, He claims us. We should not strive to take His glory or run His universe or even control our lives and the lives and events around us. We should humbly ask Him to graft us onto His tree of life and live lives that testify to His goodness.

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JESUS COMMANDED IT: In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NET).

Peter repeated it: “Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming.” (1 Peter 2:12 GNT)

Trying to accomplish everything ourselves is not only failing to trust in God, but it turns us into our own god. Besides not working, it violates God’s First Commandment (see Exodus 20:2a-3 BSB):

“I am the LORD your God. …  

You shall have no other gods before Me.”


PRAYER

O Lord God, Our Heavenly Father, forgive us when we fail to trust You, to know, Father, that You alone are worthy, You alone are good. Through our pride and arrogance, we usurp 50. Open_BibleYour authority over Your creation and, most of all, over our lives. That leads to our peril. Lord, help us bend the knee to Your glory and goodness and learn to lean on You in all our ways, knowing You will make our paths straight. Lord, we pray these words in the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN


Questions for Personal Meditation and Group Discussion:

1.  Do you find it difficult to recognize fully and completely that God is in charge of His universe and we are not, that our actions will be in accord with His plan or we will be in disobedience?

2.  Why is it difficult for you to relinquish control over your life? Do you believe that God exists and that He has a plan for your life, or do you reject God and proclaim “this is my life, my body, my will” and seek your own glory? 

3.  How real is God for you? Is He a figment of our imaginations or does He live in Your heart? How big is your God? Is He big enough to require your attention? Can He deliver on His promises? Should you strive to obey His will? Is He just a Sunday morning ornament or is He an everyday companion? Can you claim for your own life God’s promise in Jeremiah 30:22 CSB: “You will be my people, and I will be your God.”

Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

Meditation — LIVING BY FAITH, NOT REASON

God’s promises to mankind are based on His good provision but require our acceptance. Why? Because He graciously gave us the gift of free will. That means we can accept — or reject — life. We cannot reason our way into salvation, where we take control, connect the dots, and conclude that salvation is possible and that we possess the means to attain it. It is a matter of faith, where we place our total confidence in the Lord to provide for our needs. Because we cannot attain salvation on our own, we also cannot lose it on our own. God keeps us for His glory.

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Comments welcomed. Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion. Why not forward this blog post to a relative, friend, or neighbor who might be blessed by it?

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 (CSB)

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NET)

WE COME TO GOD T56. Prayer-Partners-menHROUGH FAITH, NOT THROUGH REASON.

Our sinful natures and finite minds cannot combine to produce within us a saving power apart from the grace of God. It is His will that we may be reconciled to Him. It is not of our own doing, that we might boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

LET’S SEE HOW THIS WORKS.

A man (or woman, if you’re a woman) comes into your life and asks for some help. He (or she) is struggling with life and thinks you might be able to help. Why? Well, because you’re a bit older, more mature, more settled in your life, which is a good indicator that you may have experienced whatever it is that he (or she) is going through now and lived to tell about it.

So you set up shop, share a cup of coffee and a Danish, and sit back to listen to this person’s tales of woe.

You say: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

Other person says: “?”

He (or she) is stumped.

He (or she) mumbles something about going to church or having spent a couple of weeks one summer at church camp and, then 20 years ago, memorized a few verses before his (or her) grandmother got sick … and, basically, that’s it.

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NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY, you’re unable to get this person to acknowledge, beyond some lame comment, that he (or she) even has a need for such a personal relationship, assuming that such a thing actually exists.

72.Family_Bible_StudyThe Bible is clear that such a thing actually does exist and that we are ~commanded~ by God to seek it. He promises this: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” — Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV)

Yes, God draws us to Him first (John 6:44), but we have the privilege — and responsibility — to respond through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

Jesus said to store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20), not in this world, because our heavenly treasures are under God’s faithful keeping and will not be tarnished or broken or lost. They will be ours forever.

We then pray with our young charge and exhort him (or her) to begin praying to Jesus Christ to ask that He would intervene in their lives and show them where they have 15 minutes a day they weren’t aware of to spend in prayer and Bible reading. You say that if he (or she) is sincere in that prayer, Jesus will deliver.

You remind them of what the Bible says: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV).

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AS YOU PART FOR THE DAY and watch this child of God drift away, you raise a silent prayer on their behalf, asking God to give them eyes to see and ears to hear. You know that if he (or she) does not turn to the Heavenly Father, whatever difficulty they may be facing will not end well.

If, however, this person does turn to the Lord, then he (or she) can lay claim to God’s promises to be with them and protect them through the storms of life (John 10:10).


PRAYER

O LORD, our merciful and majestic Redeemer, our Creator and Sustainer,  our Savior, we 44. Cross_on_Biblethank You for the opportunities You give us to reach out to others when they are in need, when they come to us for help. Lord, may we always point them to You, to Your sustaining grace, to Your everlasting love, to Your merciful justice. We pray also, O Lord, that as they ask You in prayer for time in their day to spend personally and intimately with You, that You will shower them with time and desire and so change their lives. In Jesus’ powerful name we pray. AMEN


QUESTIONS:

1. Do you find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a regular time each day for prayer and Bible reading? Do you think it’s even necessary to spend time alone with God every day? Would you feel comfortable asking God to find the time for you, or do you think He’s way too busy with more important stuff?

2. Why do you think it might be a good idea to hear from God’s Word each day and enter into prayer with Him regularly? Do you believe He intervenes in human affairs and longs to intervene in your life?

3. Are you uncomfortable with the idea that our response to God’s gift of salvation is a matter of faith and not of reason? Do you see that faith means we’re placing all of the burden on God, whereas reason means we are the ones who have earned salvation?


Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.


 

LORD, Teach Us How to Pray

Prayer is a privilege bought by Jesus’ blood. The Father grants us the right to come to Him in conversation, to praise His holy name, to ask forgiveness for our sins, to thank Him for all of His blessings to us, and to ask Him for additional gifts … all of which He wants to do. If we don’t see the privilege for what it is, we should ask Him to grant us joy in our prayer life, and He will do it.

You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. (John 14:13 NLT)

“We do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18 ESV)

“You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3 NASB)

What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words. (Proverbs 18:21 GNT)

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HERE’S A QUIZ.

GOD TELLS US TO PRAY.

59. John 17-Jesus Prays for UsOne of the most endearing images among the Bible’s 66 books is recorded in John, Chapter 17, when Jesus, the Christ of the living God, prays to God.

The Bible tells us the mystery of the Trinity, in which each of the three components of the one unity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — are God, yet here we have the Second Person of the Trinity praying in the Third Person of the Trinity to the First Person of the Trinity.


What does He pray about? Well, in verses 20 and 21, He prays for us!

Yes, He also prays for Himself as He’s about to be arrested, flogged, spit upon, mocked, stripped, and then nailed to a Cross for our sakes; and, yes, He prays for His disciples, those men who soon enough will begin to spread the message of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world.

But He also prays for us, those of us who were to be born more than 2,000  years later.

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IN LUKE CHAPTER 11, JESUS’ DISCIPLES asked Him to teach them how to pray.

This is such an amazing request because, as we’ve seen, the disciples have watched as their Teacher finds a quiet spot to pour His heart out to the Father and to seek guidance. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He [Jesus] went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” (Mark 1:35 NKJV)

59. Jesus-Praying-to-GodThe disciples at this point realize there is something special about Jesus, but they cannot fathom that He is God, and that when He prays, He prays to God.

There is such mystery in the Trinity!

Jesus gives them a prayer template, which we call the Lord’s Prayer, but Jesus assures them that they should pray in His name and that He will answer their prayers (John 14:13). This means that the One who kneels before us in prayer also promises to answer our prayers when we pray to Him.

Later, after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected and then returns to Heaven, his younger half-brother James, one of the new church’s pivotal leaders, picks up this theme of praying in Jesus’ name.

James says in James 4:2-3 that we do not receive answers to our prayers, in part, because we never come to God in prayer and ask … and, in part, because when we do ask, we pray with selfish motives.

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IT SEEMS SO HOPELESS SOMETIMES.

How are we, as unworthy as we are, to approach the throne of the Creator of the universe and make known our petitions? What do we do when we are told that most of our prayers are self-centered?59. Woman-praying

In his best-selling book on prayer, Circle Your Prayer, Pastor Mark Batterson says that if we’re honest with ourselves, “most of our prayers have as their chief objective our own personal comfort rather than God’s glory.”

That means that when we approach the throne of Grace, we treat the moment like young children waiting to sit on Santa’s lap at the Mall with our list of toy demands.

Pastor Rick Warren, in his classic book, The Purpose Driven Life, reminds us that we are made in God’s image, and that “God designed your spirit to communicate with him.” God wants us to pray to Him, Warren says, noting that “worship is your spirit responding to God’s spirit.”

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DANIEL GOT PRAYER RIGHT.

Everyone remembers Daniel as the dude in the Lion’s Den. Because he  refused to bow down to worship an image of the king, he was thrown into a den with several very hungry lions and lived through the night because God kept the lions at bay.

Humble-Man-PrayingWhen Daniel prayed daily to God, he did not do so out of pride or entitlement or obligation, nor did he waste God’s valuable time on a grocery list of selfish wants and needs. He prayed for forgiveness of the sins of his people and for God to refresh his soul.

“We do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness,” Daniel says in one prayer, delivered on his knees in deep reference and humility, “but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18 ESV)

In other words, Daniel humbly told the LORD he was using the moment to ask for grace, not because Daniel felt he was deserving of God’s blessing but because he acknowledged that God alone is good.

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SO, HOW DO WE USE OUR MOMENT?

How do we come to the Creator, who grants us access through the blood of His Son, to present our petitions, to seek forgiveness, to ask for healing, to give praises and thanks?

Pastor John Piper offers various thoughts based on Scripture, leading with these: we should pray that God would exalt His name in the world, that God would extend His kingdom in the world, that God’s holy Word would triumph in the world, and for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in each of our hearts.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with petitioning God for a better job, or help in marriage, or healing from affliction, or children who are better behaved, or even that God will help us find our car keys — all of those are warranted — but it does mean that somewhere in the prayer we should recognize the need for God to proclaim His glory throughout the world … and that such proclamation should start with us.

59. Standing-At-CrossJesus modeled that prayer, starting with “hallowed be Your name” followed quickly by “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Then, Jesus said we should ask the Creator for personal benefits.

In fact, the Bible says that God will place in our hearts the very desires He wants us to pray for, then when we pray for them, He grants them.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV) leads to “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4 ESV).

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ASK YOURSELF THIS ABOUT YOUR PRAYERS: If your prayers were answered, just as you asked God to answer them, in the manner and timing you wanted, to accomplish the goals and objectives you set, would the answer benefit anyone besides you?

If not, do you (we) need to make any changes in our prayers?

Here is a prayer request offered by the apostle Paul: “This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love.” (Philippians 1:9 ERV)

The apostles Peter and John, when released from prison, led the other disciples and followers of Jesus in a prayer for continued boldness in witnessing: “Now, Lord … enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29 NIV)59. Girl-praying-with-dolls

When was the last time you (or I) asked God to increase our love for other  people and that God would increase our knowledge and understanding along with that love? When was the last time you (or I) asked God to increase our boldness for the Gospel?

Yes, asking God to provide safety for our wife when she’s out shopping during a sudden rainstorm, or help in preparing for a new business presentation, and health and healing for an aging parent are all wonderful prayer requests — and so is seeking divine revelation to locate those car keys — but God may well be calling you (and me) to join Him in something greater.

Perhaps He is calling us to ask to be part of His glory, to play a role in His goal for our lives. Paul said this 2,000 years ago to the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:11 NCV), but the words apply equally to us today, “that you will be filled with the good things produced in your life by Christ to bring glory and praise to God.”

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44. Cross_on_BiblePRAYER: O LORD, our Heavenly Father, let us not hold our precious prayer time with You to be something of drudgery or something we fear. Help us to realize the incredible privilege You afford us, You, the Creator of the universe and all of life, created us in Your image and then gave us — even after we rebelled against You — the privilege of coming to You in prayer. LORD, may prayer change our lives, and may You use our changed lives to change the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Galatians 6: “Doing Good to All”

Those who are faithful in their pursuit of God’s will should not give up or become discouraged if all of their prayers are not answered immediately, but they should remain faithful in continuing their prayers. So much of God’s Word, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, shows that God most of all wants us to trust Him, to pursue Him, and to count on Him for our blessings and the wellbeing of ourselves and others. He is less interested in answering our prayers for immediate needs than He is in building our characters for an eternity with Him.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7 NIV)

“And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up.” (Galatians 6:9 TLB)

This meditation is Part 6 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is here. Part 3, “Law and Promise,” is here. Part 4, “Born of the Free Woman,” is herePart 5, “Freedom in Christ,” is here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

PICTURE A MAN ON HIS KNEES, HANDS FOLDED, ELBOWS RESTING ON HIS BIBLE.

53. man-power-of-prayerPicture a woman clutching a photograph or child’s drawing, her hands resting in her lap as she sits in a quiet room, her eyes shut tight, her lips moving slightly as she mouths words of petition.

Both are bringing adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and petition (ACTS) to the Lord in prayer.

Both are opening their hearts — and their souls — to the Creator of the universe, the One who purposed their lives before the world began, asking, begging, praying that the Great Healer will intervene in the lives of a loved one.

There is nothing more powerful than the prayer of a righteous man or woman (James 5:16) in petitioning the Throne to heal the body or save the soul of another person.

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THERE IS NO PRAYER MORE MEANINGFUL than the penitent’s open confession of sin and repentance, mixed with thanksgiving and praise, for the Savior’s sacrifice to reclaim our lives for God’s purpose.

When Jesus prayed to the Father before He was arrested, He prayed for us, for those who53. woman_prayer_sunrise
would believe in Him without having seen Him in bodily form.

“I have given these people the glory that you gave me,” Jesus prayed, “so that they [us] can be one, just as you and I are one.” (John 17:22 NCV)

Yet, Paul, in a powerful teaching to close his letter to the Galatians, reminds us not to “become tired” or “lose heart” or “grow weary” or “become discouraged” or “get discouraged” (as translated in the NCV, NASB, ESV, AMP, and TLB versions) in our prayers. That is because we are not promised immediate and full responses to our prayers.

The reason is because the Lord wants to build character and perseverance in our lives. It is through character development that God develops His disciples who will then make disciples who make disciples. (Romans 5:4)

Yes, He has the power to snap His divine fingers and heal everything and everyone, but He will not do that. He could, if He chose, give us the clarity of vision we so desperately desire, yet He prefers to help us build faith in  Him and trust in His provision. (Hebrews 11:1)

Man’s sinful behavior ruptured the good universe the Lord created, and what we have now is a mild glimpse of the divine, a distortion of the perfect. 

Fortunately for us, God, in His mercy, has given us an escape from the eternal consequences of our sin, through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross.

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JESUS, IN HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY, taught us that we may petition the Father in His name, and the Father will hear us. Jesus also taught us that we must be persistent in our prayers.

In Luke 11, the Lord tells of a man who asks a friend to give him some bread to feed a guest who has just arrived from a journey.

53. Jesus-teaching-apostles-friends“Open the door, friend, and help me,” the first man says. “I have a friend who has journeyed and he just arrived at my house, but I have nothing to offer him.”

“Don’t bother me,” the homeowner responds. “The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” (Luke 11:7 NIV)

Jesus says that the first man’s persistence eventually pays off, and the homeowner, reluctantly, gets out of his warm bed, finds some bread, opens the door, and gives it to the first man.

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THE LESSON THAT JESUS DRAWS is that if sinful man can grumble and  still give good gifts to others, then how much more will a loving and gracious Heavenly Father give to those who ask?

In John 16, Jesus tells us that we can ask anything of the Father in His name, and the Father will grant it.

Those prayers that the Father will answer are the ones that meet His plan for our lives. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:13 (ESV) that the Father “is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

The psalmist said nearly the same thing in Psalms 37:4 (ESV)— “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”53. Man_Woman_praying

That is, God builds the desire in your heart to please Him, then when you desire to please the Lord, ask Him, and He will help you do that.

As our imaginary man and woman are giving their hearts to the Lord in prayer, the Father is working in their hearts — hearts that believe in His Son — giving them the desire to obey Him.

Then, as they — and we — pray, the Lord will strengthen us to do those very things.

Since this is a process, designed to prepare our hearts for eternity, the Father has little interest in instantaneously acceding to our requests. God is no Genie-in-a-Bottle. He is not Santa Claus. He is the Great Shaper. He has “begun a good work in [us] until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6 NIV), meaning when Jesus returns.

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WHAT AN INTERESTING MESSAGE Jesus was telling us. One one hand, He says we can pray to the Father in His name and be heard, yet we shouldn’t expect a complete answer right away. We need to be brought along, to be trained to obey as He obeyed, to be 47.Open_Biblefaithful and trust in the  Father.

He wants to teach us the lesson of Hebrews 11:1 (NASB), that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We should pray with full confidence that we will receive — “you must have faith and not doubt.” (James 1:6 CEV)

There’s a final point to be made.

We need to keep going back to our imaginary man and woman of faith, deep in prayer, bringing their hopes and dreams, sorrows and pains, and faithfulness to Almighty God.

Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:7 there is an accounting for our lives. Not only should we not give up in “doing good,” he says, but we should also realize that we will “reap” (“harvest”) what we “sow” (“plant”). That is, the rewards that are ours in eternity will bea direct result of how we live our lives now.

Those who are faithful in their pursuit of God’s will should not give up or become discouraged if all of their prayers are not answered immediately, but they should remain faithful in continuing their prayers.

So much of God’s Word, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, shows that God most of all wants us to trust Him, to pursue Him, and to count on Him for our blessings and the wellbeing of ourselves and others.

We cannot fool Him, for He will judge us fairly. That’s in His nature. Paul also tells us in Romans 2:16 (NLT): “And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.”

It’s all in His hands.

Praise God!

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PRAYER: O Heavenly and most gracious Father, we ask You to search our hearts and find what angers You and then help us to turn from those sins and be reconciled to You. Please forgive us. Train us to turn to You in all our circumstances, from seeking forgiveness, to asking for help, for giving praise and for giving thanks. Help us to keep being faithful until You return or call us home, not doubting in Your goodness. Reclaim us, O Lord, and makes us Your sons and daughters and heirs. In Christ Jesus we pray. Amen

Galatians 5: “Fruit of the Spirit”

In Galatians, Chapter 5, the apostle Paul reminds us that two spirits are at war within us — the spirit of darkness, which rules this world, and the Spirit of Light, which is God’s eternal Spirit. Through Christ’s work on the cross, we no longer are slaves to our sinful natures; however, we need to choose to live by the Spirit. Moral impurity, idolatry, and jealousy are some manifestations of the spirit of the flesh.  But the fruit of God’s Spirit include love, joy, peace, and patience. The contrast is startling. Through Christ, we, indeed, are new beings.

“Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants. … They are opposed to each other. (Galatians 5:16-17 GW)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 ESV)

This meditation is Part 5 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is here. Part 3, “Law and Promise,” is here. Part 4, “Born of the Free Woman,” is here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

I AM FREE!

WOW! YES, I AM!

Free to be me, free to laugh, free to dance, free to say whatever I want. No  chains to bind 45. Children_Ignoring_Parentsme, no tasks to complete, no master to please.

I am my own man (or woman) …

… and who are you to say any differently?

How does “my thing” (whatever it might be) in any way harm you, keep you from being you, doing your own thing, get in your way.

I’m not hurting anyone. So. Leave. Me. Alone!

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WOW, INDEED.

Does that litany strike home? It does for me.

I can remember those youthful collegiate and graduate school days spent pouring over books, writing term papers, making new friends, dreaming big dreams, and just thoroughly enjoying being a young adult.

Except that I wasn’t really free at all, not by a long shot.

52.SinI was a slave to my sinful nature, but I was unaware of it. I had no clue. I imagine that put me in some pretty stellar company. There are a lot of people who have no clue how beholden they are to the pull of their sinful nature. Sadly, many of them are Christians … or, at least, church-goers … let’s call them “church-ers.”

Because of God’s grace, that would change. The voice of Jesus Christ would penetrate the surrounding fog: “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] came that they [men and women] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB, emph. mine)

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THE APOSTLE PAUL writes to us in Galatians, Chapter 5, to live our lives not according to the will of the flesh, but of the Spirit of God. He reminds us that those two spirits — that of God and that of the flesh — exist in tension within us. They compete against one another. 

One spirit leads us into darkness, lies, and slavery, while the other frees us from bondage and leads us into the light — the only place where we truly can be free.52. Sinful-nature-at-war-with-God

It’s easy to tell the two spirits apart, Paul reminds us; in fact, He tells us “the acts of the flesh are obvious” (Galatians 5:19 NIV): among them are sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, and so many others.

Then, he warns us that “those who live like this,” that is, those men and women who are unrepentant in their hearts, who have not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, who persist in living in the bondage of their sin, those people, he says, “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21 NIV).

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WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE like that.

Jesus told us in His earthly ministry that He had a better message: “Come to Me, all of you  who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 CSB)

He told us if we listen to His words and build our lives on solid ground, His grace and mercy would help us withstand the storms of life, and, yes, those storms surely would come. (Matthew 7:24-25)

“Then you will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 BSB)


LOS FRUTOS DEL ESPIRITU

Amor, Gozo, Paz, Paciencia, Benignidad, Bondad,

Fidelidad,  Mansedumbre, Dominio Propio.

Contra tales no hay ley. — Gálatas 5:22-23


Those who, in Paul’s words, “belong to Christ Jesus,” are set free from the bondage of sin. “They have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24 ESV)

Of course, remaining sinful beings, we will continue to commit sins, but we no longer will live in sin or be attached to or enslaved by sin (1 John 3:6 ESV).

And what are the signs of that Spirit, the Spirit of God’s holy grace? Paul says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

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Against that Spirit, he says, “there is no law,” that is, the Old Testament law does not apply, but the new covenant, the covenant of God’s grace DOES apply.

Paul’s parting shot in this chapter are words we need to claim for our own and write them in our hearts, much like the ancient Israelites were instructed by God through Moses to obey the law (Deuteronomy 6:6).

Our obedience to God hasn’t changed through the millennia; only the covenant has changed because God has replaced obedience to the law with obedience out of love to His grace.

Paul says: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 ESV)

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PRAYER: O LORD, our majestic Savior and King, we humbly come to You, unworthy of prayer except as You grant us through the life blood of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Place within our hearts a love for the Lord, a desire to be holy, a willingness to serve. Let us focus each moment on the spiritual gifts that You require of us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, because against such virtues, O LORD, there is no law. In His Name be all the glory and honor. Amen.