WORDS MATTER, AS DO BLACK LIVES

Our country is in upheaval, as bands of angry protestors, some of them peaceful and some of them violent, march up and down our city streets, shouting slogans through bullhorns, brandishing hate-filled banners, and clashing with police striving to maintain order. How we respond to our social ills says a lot about our core values. When some are willing to destroy our physical communities as well as our metaphysical sense of community, the body of Christ needs to awaken from its lethargy and promote a spirit that exalts the living Messiah.

Matthew 12:36 (ESV): “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Colossians 4:6 (NIV): “Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV): “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

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WHERE IS THE CHRISTIAN VOICE?

LIKE MANY AMERICANS, and people throughout the world, I spent much of the summer months watching in horror as bands of lawless thugs mingled with angry protestors, destroying not just the physical structures of our great cities but also laid out a full-scale assault on American values.

Not only did many set fires, smash windows, and loot small businesses, but additional thugs desecrated statutes raised to honor our nation’s history. Even those statutes raised to honor Confederate troops were erected originally to help restore honor and dignity to those forces that suffered defeat in the War Between the States (some call it the Civil War).

Thuggery says that if you disagree with me, your view is evil and must be smashed. If you persist in expressing your view, then you must be smashed.

This is not the essence of what America is about … but it might well be essence of what America is becoming.

ALL WORDS MATTER

JUST THINK ABOUT how words matter and how quickly we can misrepresent something beautiful with a minor tweak in the lettering.

5740847 - abstract speaker silhouette with colorful lettersTake, for example, the slogan “black lives matter.” When stated with lower case letters, the generic message says the  lives of a certain race created by God in His image matter to Him and should matter to each of us, just as the lives of members of all races matter to Him and should to us.

However, when the slogan is capitalized, as in “Black Lives Matter,” the words reflect a brand endorsing a political group favoring the left-wing politics of division and intersectionality.

SAME WORDS, DIFFERENT MESSAGE

WHILE THE WORDS are the same, the message is different.

We cannot come together as a country and a nation when some people use the political slogan to bludgeon those who oppose the group’s left-wing political goals while affirming the beauty of the generic words, the beauty that black lives—and all other lives—created by God in His image and for His glory, matter.

That’s why many of us push for an end to abortion, introduction of alternative schools to improve educational outcomes, and an influx of private investment in impoverished communities to improve employment rates and economic growth.

Because the lives of those left behind matter.

DO BLACK LIVES REALLY MATTER?

IN THE REAL WORLD, do black lives matter?

What about black babies? Do their lives matter?Black_Teenage_Mother

  • A recent study showed that black women continue to have the highest abortion rate at 27.1 per 1,000 women compared with 10 abortions per 1,000 white women (American Journal of Public Health).
  • Black women accounted for 36 percent of the abortions in 2015, a figure almost identical to the percentage of abortions (36 percent) that year among white Americans, who made up 76.6 percent of the population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • The Guttmacher Institute (a pro-abortion group) says “black women are more than 5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion.”

What about the job prospects of black youth graduating from high school? Do their lives matter?

  • Nationwide, black students graduated at a rate of 69 percent. Hispanics graduated at 73 percent; whites graduated at a rate of 86 percent.
  • While dropout rates for all racial groups have dropped in recent decades, the black population remains higher than that for whites or Asians, with males more likely than females to drop out.
  • Males comprise about 50 percent of the high school  population but 60 percent of the dropouts. This harms their ability to provide for their families.
BREAKDOWN OF BLACK FAMILIES

WHAT ABOUT black families? Do their lives matter?

    • Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics.financial charts.
    • A government report in 1965 outlining the destruction of the black family reflected an out-of-wedlock birth rate of 25 percent. That figure jumped to 68 percent in 1991, 72 percent in 2011, and, in 2015, it rose to 77 percent—77 percent of black babies born to unmarried mothers.
    • As for divorce, a study showed that over the last generation, the marriage rate among black Americans has declined while the rates of divorce, separation, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, and children residing in female-headed households have increased.
SERVING OUR LORD

THOSE STATISTICS are heart-breaking. While different studies yield slightly different numbers, the story remains the same: in most categories of life, black Americans lag behind other racial groups.

When Jesus told us that whatever we did “for the least of these” we did it to Him, He referenced those who were hungry and thirsty, in need of shelter or clothing, or were in prison, but He could just as well have pointed His divine finger at entire communities today where poverty, discouragement, and violence run rampant.CLASSROOM

A colleague of mine recently veered from my point about language, saying, in effect, that if you are the victim of abuse, you don’t worry so much about how the words are written, you express yourself from the anguish in your heart.

True enough, but the upper case version of the words “black lives matter” is a brand, with a website proclaiming its vision, which is specific and not God-honoring. We who follow the Word of God do not need to repeat the brand name to reflect the beauty of the generic words.

RAY OF HOPE

AS STATISTICS SHOW, the need is great, but all is not lost. There is a bright ray of hope bathing the land.

Every school child in America is afforded free public education through 12th grade, with scholarships and low-interest loans available for continued education in community colleges and trade schools.

image-10Every hungry child in America qualifies for free or subsidized meals in school.

Every child, whether gifted or special, disturbed or healthy, has access to a school guidance counselor, nurse, and an army of caring adult teachers and coaches to guide and mentor them.

Affirmative action laws guarantee preference in hiring, as long as the applicant has the necessary skills.

Finally, statistics show that any child can advance out of poverty simply by:

    • Graduating from high school;
    • Getting a job before marriage;
    • Getting married before having babies.
POSTSCRIPT

OUR JOB AS CHRISTIANS, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to care for those God has placed in our lives. Some of those people are youth looking for guidance, while some are  elderly who can use some help around the yard or an occasional visit.67.Jesus_Welcomes_All

Often, though, the need is just greater than what one man/woman can do on a one-day mission, whether it’s ministering to those in prison, or spreading the Gospel to a foreign land, or eradicating life-crippling poverty.

What is clear is that we need to work together as the body of Christ to make our mark on the world, to shine our light into the darkness.

That effort is hampered when some Christians, thinking they are helping, misuse the upper case brand name “Black Lives Matter,” which promotes a message counter to the love of Christ, instead of the lower case generic phrase, “black lives matter,” which gives the glory to God.

Words matter. We use them to communicate.

PRAYER

lone_crossO LORD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we humbly ask You to heal our land. Soften our hearts, O Lord, so we can hear Your voice as well as those who need our help. Father God, we also pray that we’ll recognize the difference between one set of words that means one thing and a similar set that means the opposite. The evil one will try to deceive us into thinking there’s no difference when there  is. Lord, help us to understand how we can be of service to You and our fellow man. We humbly pray in the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 2 of 2)

Now that you’re “all in” for Jesus Christ, what are you to do? What comes next? You know the Great Commission tells you to share the Gospel with the whole world, starting with your family and neighborhood and branching outward. You know you are commanded to love one another and to serve others, even “the least of these.” You know that each believer is awarded spiritual gifts, which are different from those awarded other believers. So, what form does all of this take for each one of us?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

2 Cor. 2:14 (ESV): “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)

Col. 1:28 (NLT): So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

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LIVING OUT OUR FAITH

You say you are saved?

Wonderful! Praise God!

57. JESUS - Ascension 2What have you done about it?

When we read the Epistle of James, we start with an amazing proclamation in the very first verse, a proclamation so stark we’re compelled to stop right there and meditate on its significance.

James proclaims himself to be the “servant,” or, depending on your translation, the “bond-servant” or “slave,” of Jesus Christ. James is the half-brother of Jesus, a sibling whom Scripture relates not only disbelieved in the Lordship of Jesus but also mocked Him during His public ministry.

Last time, we discussed the significance of James’ coming to faith. This conversion was sparked no doubt by the meeting mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7, when Jesus “appeared” before James. This was after Jesus was crucified, pronounced dead, buried, and then rose from the dead.

This time, we want to focus on the second part of James 1:1 — what James did after Jesus as Lord intervened in his life.

As we look at James, we need to keep this question in mind: So what? What are we doing after the Lord’s intervention in our lives?

PAYING WITH HIS LIFE

WE’RE TOLD FROM the Bible and other writings that James rose to become the leader of the Jewish believers living in Jerusalem and later suffered a horrific martyrs’ death for his faith.

We read in Acts 15 that it was James who lent the authority of his family ties with Jesus to recognize that God in His mercy had extended salvation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

The apostles Paul and Barnabas had recounted their evangelism to the Gentiles before the Jewish believers meeting in Jerusalem. The council was debating whether Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could be saved or whether they could pass directly from being heathens to salvation.

Luke records the meeting this way (ESV): “After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brothers, listen to me. … Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.’” (Acts 15:13, 19)

That settled the matter for “the brothers, both the apostles and the elders” who then conveyed that message to their Gentile brothers. (v. 23)

FOLLOWING GOD’S PLAN

NOW THAT YOU received God’s Holy Spirit into your heart, what does God expect you to do with it?

We can see what James felt called to do. Here, he is writing a short letter filled with advice and directives on how a new believer should act. Yes, in the Jewish tradition, he focuses on the law and actions, but he ties them in to faith and conversion.Walking_in_Jesus'_Footsteps

“You say you have faith?” he asks. “Well, show me your faith by your actions. Don’t just tell me about your good works. Show me.” (James 2:18 editor’s trans.)

Whereas Paul’s letters focused on creed, James was concerned with conduct. Paul wrote about belief; James, about behavior; Paul was doctrine, James was deed. The two narrative styles complement one another.

Of the 108 verses in James, 54 contain a directive on conduct.

Commentators note parallels between his writings and the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

BECOMING FISHERS OF MEN

SO WE ARE TO BE mindful of the evangelizing function, referenced in the Great Commission, among other teaching.

image-6Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of  men.” (Matt. 4:19 NKJV)

If you’re not sharing the Gospel, you’re not being obedient.

2 Cor. 9:13 (NCV): “It is a proof of your faith. Many people will praise God because you obey the Good News of Christ—the gospel you say you believe—and because you freely share with them and with all others.”

How do you share the Gospel?

LETTING OUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN

JESUS TELLS US in Matt. 5:16 (NIV) to let our “light shine before others” that they may see our good works, or our good deeds, “and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Isn’t this what James said by matching our deeds with our faith?

This means acting according to the commandments our Lord gave us: to love one other, to forgive, to serve, to show compassion, to respect, to honor, to refrain from coveting, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, hatred, violence.

Then, when we are given the opportunity, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT), to explain our “hope as a believer,” we should “be ready to explain it.”

In his book, Talking With My Father, the late evangelical pastor and author Ray C. Stedman, says it this way:

[Lord] Keep us from being ineffective, ordinary Christians. Challenge us to be true followers of you, ready to fling our lives away for Jesus Christ, ready to be utterly careless of what happens to us in order that He may be glorified. We pray in His name. Amen 

—Ray C. Stedman, Talking With My Father

POSTSCRIPT

THESE ARE THE questions each of us must answer:

          • Do you know the risen Lord?
          • Do you worship Him in the way you live your life?
          • Are you ready to explain the hope and joy in your heart?
          • Can you show how the Lord’s message of salvation is important for you and can be for your audience?
          • Are you prepared to share the Gospel?

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PRAYER

OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we humbly ask You to guide us as we strive to honor You in our image-5lives. Grow within us a softer  heart, one more gracious, more compassionate; more giving; a heart that does not puff up but pours out, one that does not expect but serves; one that shows we are loved by the King. O LORD, our God, to You belong all the Praise, Honor, and Glory. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray. AMEN

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 1 of 2)

Ever wonder what it took for James, Jesus’ oldest half-brother, to believe that his older brother was the Messiah, the chosen one of God? James grew up watching Jesus and apparently thought He was nutty. When he came to understand who Jesus really was, he worshipped Him, then he became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem and eventually was martyred for his faith. What does it take for you to believe Jesus is the Christ of the living God?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

Matt. 7:13 (ESV): “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

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OUR DIFFICULT ROAD TO FAITH

Some of the most stirring passages in God’s Holy Word are the ones that sneak up on us, the ones we glide over for years as we enjoy our all-time favorites.JESUS_AND_FAMILY

Surely, the opening lines of James’ short epistle are among those easily-ignored passages that pack a wallop when we focus on them: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

James was the oldest of the children born to Joseph and Mary (Jesus was born to Mary but was begat not by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit).

James no doubt was the frequent recipient of his mother’s scolding: “Jimmy, why can’t you be more like your older brother? He cleans His room, helps His father in the wood shop, is kind to the neighbors, and even tutors that young boy with the learning disability. You, on the other hand, are a scoundrel. Your room’s a mess, your grades could be improved, and you’re too rough with your sisters.”

WHEN GOD IS YOUR OLDER BROTHER

OF COURSE, THOSE CONVERSATIONS were not recorded, but we can imagine quite easily that young boys and girls 2,000 years ago acted much like their progeny today.

Except for Jesus.

YOUNG_BOY_JESUSJesus was perfect. The Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52 NASB). Commentary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says this shows Jesus knew, even as a young lad, that he  was “unique” and “set apart by God for a special mission.”

There is no indication in the Bible that his half-brothers and half-sisters caught on. The Bible tells us they wanted Him to give up His public ministry and return home to tend to the carpentry shop Joseph had started. (Mark 3:31-35)

“For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” — John 7:5 (NKJV)

THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING

ALL OF THAT CHANGED after His resurrection.

The Bible tells us Jesus “appeared to James, then to  all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:7 (NET))

That certainly would do it, wouldn’t it? Imagine this … James saw his older brother’s beaten carcass stapled to a cross along the major thoroughfare only to see Him a few days later standing in front of him … very much alive.lone_cross

We can only imagine the love and tenderness the risen Savior showed His unbelieving brother. We can only imagine James’ reaction! At that moment, he must have dropped to his knees in worship.

It was a personal encounter with one of His disciples, Thomas the Twin, dubbed “the Doubter,” that cleared up all cloudy issues in his mind when he could see … and feel … the nail holes and sword’s splice that remained in Jesus’ glorified body.

Thomas, overcome with worship, shouted, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 (ESV))

YOUR OWN FAITH JOURNEY

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU? Are you a believer? If so, what did it take to convince you that Jesus was, and is, who He said He is, the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity?

If you are not a believer, what would it take to convince you to give up your skepticism, your doubt, your hardened shell, and fall on your knees in worship and adoration to the Word made flesh? The One who died on the cross to satisfy God’s wrath against your sins?

James and Thomas had the advantage of a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, but Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29 (CSB))

Think back on James. James, the half-brother. James, the second-born. James, the one compared to his older sibling but, perhaps, not to his credit.

That visit must have been amazing. We read that James, once a skeptic and mocker of his older brother’s ministry, sought His brother’s forgiveness … not as his older brother … but as his Lord and Savior.

As God Himself.

… and when he received it, in grace, as we know he would, he dedicated his life to serving His God.

POSTSCRIPT

LET’S NOT IGNORE the sheer humility in James’ writing, when he describes himself as a “bond-servant” or “slave” of Jesus Christ, not as Jesus’ half-brother.

He was not dropping names here. He did not seek reflected glory.

That conversation must have shaken him to the core.

It was real … and he lived his faith to the end.

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PRAYER

Our Heavenly Father, forgive us our unbelief. Many of us who have come to receive the image-21Holy Spirit find that spot of resistance, where we hesitate to trust You completely. So many around us haven’t even taken that first step of faith to receive the Holy Spirit. Lord, You created us out of Your love to worship and adore You, yet so often we find ways to fail. James and Thomas were “all in” for the Lord, but they, and the other apostles, saw the Lord in the flesh. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see and still believe.” Lord, help us to be those followers who believe, who are “all in” for Jesus, the way Jesus, dying on the cross for our sins, was “all in” for us. We ask this in His glorious and precious name. AMEN

 

TEACHING A DIFFERENT GOSPEL (Part 2 of 2)

Today’s Christian church is under attack from within as Satan sets his sights on dividing us between those who see God’s Word as inerrant and infallible and those who want to “touch it up” to make it relevant to a fallen world. God gives us choices, but He also instructs us on where He wants us to go. Those who reject His instruction are headed for doom. Unfortunately, not only do they misrepresent the Gospel, they also lead nonbelievers astray.

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  • Galatians 1:6 (NET): “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel.”
  • Colossians 2:8 (NIV): “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
  • Titus 2:1 (NIV): “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”

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PREACHING A NEW FALSE DOCTRINE

ON FACEBOOK a few days ago, I saw an article posted from a self-proclaimed Christian that was very  disturbing. The article was written by a pastor fired from his position at a megachurch to become, as a bio of him proclaims, “a rising star of the religious left.”

The “religious left.” What exactly is that?

In its current form, it is best described by its own term: “progressive Christianity,” the post-liberal phenomenon that poses as “Christian” while espousing the same moral code as the progressive pagan political left.DIVIDED_USA

Progressive Christianity’s poster boy is former Democrat Party presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, a gay man who proclaims that God made him homosexual and that most evangelical Christians—described as far-right white nationalist homophobic, xenophobic deplorable knuckle draggers who support the current President and Vice President—are intolerant of one of God’s creatures.

Really?

“REFORMING” CHRISTIANITY

A WIKIPEDIA ENTRY defines “post-liberal” theology as a movement that seeks to “reform the faith via the insights of post-modernism and a reclaiming of the truth beyond the verifiable historicity and factuality of the passages in the Bible” and so-on and blah-blah-blah. It claims not to be synonymous, “necessarily,” with progressive secular politics.

However, when lining up the major tenets of progressive Christianity alongside those of progressive secular politics, one is hard pressed to spot the difference. Progressive Christianity looks very much like progressive politics with an overlay of God-talk, as if that would make its teachings more palatable to the faithful.

Satan, the master of disguise, is at it again, aiming his arrows at the body of Christ, trying to divide the faithful who believe God’s Word to be inerrant and infallible from those who want to fudge it a bit to bring God up-to-date.

 COORDINATED ATTACK

WHERE DOES THIS take us?

First, the religious movement joins forces with its secular counterpart to form a coordinated attack against the Word of God and anyone who proclaims the veracity of the Holy Bible.

Lucifer

Second, because it promotes itself as “religious,” it becomes a useful tool for the secular progressives to use against Bible-based Christianity.

This is readily seen, for example, in the lineup of secular left-wing publications this pastor’s work is featured in: Slate, Cosmopolitan, and Quartz. The last publication says it rejects  “racism and xenophobia,” which it finds, of course, among faith-based Christians.

“PROGRESSIVE” CHRISTIANITY 

PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY is just one step removed from non-Christianity, with that short stride being shortened by the moment.

Not only do progressive Christians mislead themselves by claiming to be Christian, they also claim a superior form of Christianity, bound in intersectional politics.

It’s not enough to cast doubt on the Bible’s relevance, they join forces with the global post-nationalist forces, which promote what evangelist Franklin Graham calls “a secular worldview hostile to biblical values.”

Progressive politics, Graham says, “is a code word for someone who leans toward socialism, who does not believe in God and who will likely vote against Godly principles” that are part of our country’s foundation.

DIVIDING WALL

I LOVE MY FACEBOOK friend and have no desire to create animosity between us. This person has been nothing but good and decent to me, and it hurts my heart to see thisperson pulled in a direction contrary to what the Bible teaches.64. Church_Doctrine

But the dividing line between Bible-based Christians and so-called progressive Christians is becoming a dividing wall. Maybe that’s how it should be. Those who no longer place their faith in God’s Holy Word are promoting a false Gospel, one that dovetails with left-wing secular politics, while pretending to be God’s Word.

The apostle John wrote: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” — 1 John 2:19 (ESV)

We need to pray for them, of course, and not become discouraged as those—many of whom have worshipped in our midst—go a different path. “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20 (NIV)

It is their choice, but the Bible tells us in Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV): “There’s a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

POSTSCRIPT:image-8

OUR JOB AS FAITHFUL Christians is to remain faithful to the Gospel as God wrote it, pray for those who veer from the truth, be bold in our witness, and shine a bright light in a darkened world.

 “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” — Galatians 6:9 (NASB)

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PRAYER

Dear Lord, our Heavenly Father, we know that Your  Word is holy and true, just as You, OLord, are a holy God and in You resides Truth. Forgive those who would twist Your Word in a false attempt to make it “relevant” to today’s world, when You have warned us that You are perfect and never change. Your Word does not need modification. May they come to see the error of their way, O Lord, as You bring them back, like lost sheep, to the fold. In Jesus’ holy name we lift this prayer. AMEN

 

TEACHING A DIFFERENT GOSPEL (Part 1 of 2)

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The body of Christ is under assault from those hostile to the Bible’s teaching, but it is under a greater assault from those claiming to be Christ’s followers who insist on disregarding biblical teaching. They are liberals posing as the true disciples of Jesus’ earthly ministry, as opposed to those they disregard as “fundamentalists,” whose fault is to hold firm to biblical doctrine.

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James 3:1 (ESV): “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Matt. 7:15 (NASB): “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Isaiah 5:20 (NET): “Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.”

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THE WORST ABUSE facing the body of Christ today comes not from those who readily admit they are not believers, but from those who claim to be faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ but just better  Christians than the rest of us.

Who are they, and why is that a problem for the body of Christ?

They are the so-called “religiousWOLF_SHEEP_CLOTHES left,” and they are a problem because the non-believing world cannot distinguish between the statements and beliefs they make from the beliefs common to our world.

In fact, most of what the religious left obsesses about is the faithful doctrine preached and testified to by their faith-based brethren, whom they dismiss with a variety of pejorative terms, like, “religious nationalists,” “far-right doctrinaires,” or “fundamentalists.”

“INCLUSION” or “REPENTANCE”? 

ONE PROMINENT THEOLOGIAN from the “progressive” left claims he wants churches to be modeled after Christ’s ministry, but then he mischaracterizes that ministry and what Christ tried to do.

He says that Jesus, the God-Man, fraternized with the worst dregs of first-century Israel—tax collectors, prostitutes, derelicts, and other street people—to the consternation of the religious leaders of the day.

This pastor proclaims a desire to emulate that community of “inclusion” in which the outcasts could feel dignity as human beings, asserting it was the high-strung moralists who were appalled by Jesus’ choice of friends.

However, this pastor misstates Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus was not building friendship circles of diversity and inclusion, He was reaching out to the “lost,” to the “least of these,” and to the “sick,” to everyone who needed healing.

His goal was to call them to repentance and salvation and invite them into the fellowship of believers.

      • “The kingdom of God is near,” Jesus said. “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
      • “Jesus heard this and said to them, ‘It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.’” (Mark 2:17 NCV)

POST-LIBERAL THEOLOGY

HERE’S THE CRUX of the problem.

This left-wing guru of post-liberal theology wants to figure out how to develop spiritual communities “large enough for everyone” but not one based on “strict doctrine,” which he considers “repressive.”

53. Man_Woman_prayingIn other words, creating a church in name-only, one that looks like a church—with steeples, stained-glass windows, and robed choirs—which stops being the church as soon as the preacher steps into the pulpit.

From that post, the post-liberal pastor can water down the Gospel, and morph it into something “relevant” to the congregation’s “itching ears,” a pablum of feel-good Christianity that reinforces the flock’s desire to feel comfortable and self-righteous.

Why open the Holy Bible if you want to avoid “strict doctrine”? After all, where else would you find strict doctrine but in the Holy Bible?

Why open the Holy Bible if you no longer believe or teach that it is God’s Word—eternal, infallible, inerrant, absolute truth, entirely reliable, and totally believable—but you have to reconfigure it a bit to make it palatable to modern sensibilities.

REVISED HOLY SCRIPTURE

LET’S CALL THIS perversion of the Gospel for what it is: promulgation of sin.

Christian author and teacher John R. Cross condemned the new apostasy this way: “The rejection of biblical absolutes has resulted in a callousness towards wrong, with each generation becoming more comfortable with sin.” The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, GoodSeed International, p. 267 Kindle edition

That’s it! That’s the point! Rejection of “biblical absolutes” is synonymous with rejection of “strict doctrine.”

That is why the non-believing world cannot distinguish between the religious left (progressive Christians) and the general worldview of our times: it’s because there really isn’t a difference.

Those who are standing in the breach are not the tightly wound  doctrinaires and fundamentalists of Christ’s body, as the progressives would calls us—today’s Pharisees—but the faithful men and women who worship the living God, clutching our Bibles and prayer journals, raising our voices in praise, and confessing our need for a Savior.

EVER-WIDENING SCHISM

THIS SCHISM WITHIN the church has widened since the 2016 election of President Trump and Vice President Pence because an overwhelming majority (estimated at 80 percent) of the white evangelical vote was cast for them to lead our great country.

Faith-based evangelical believers voted for them knowing two things: one, the candidates would promote social policies fundamental to civil society, which are held dear by most evangelicals, and two, that the Vice President is a strong believer, but the President needs our prayerful help.

That leaves the progressive left in a diminished position, firing off pop guns and water pistols in its effort to change the political landscape. Of course, that makes them the darlings of their cousins, the secular left.

They are dangerous, not because they wield any power, but because, like Satan disguising himself as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), they lob their rhetorical flimflammery from the pulpits, hiding behind the symbols and denominational names that—like sheep’s clothing—hide the wolves within.

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PRAYER

ABBA, FATHER, ALL PRAISE and glory to Your holy name, O Lord. We  humbly ask You to image-6forgive our sins and heal our land, to lead us in all righteousness for Your name sake, to empower us to be Your witnesses, a light in the dark, salt to the bland, an answer to questions. Let us be the Lord’s witnesses to the world around, starting with our marriages and families and then radiating out. Let our testimony, O Lord, be God-inspired and God-honoring so that everyone will know our testimony is from You. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN

JOINING GOD … Where He’s Working


So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth: the Son can do nothing on his own; he does only what he sees his Father doing. What the Father does, the Son also does. — John 5:19 (GNT)

For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. — John 12:49 (NKJV)


GOD CALLS US to work with Him in the world.

Each of us who has received God’s Holy Spirit in his heart wants to serve the Lord, but where should we serve … and how?

So, the question before you and me is this: Are we serving God where He wants us to be or are we trying to serving Him where we think we should be?

Author and pastor Henry Blackaby frames it this way:

“We don’t choose what we will do for God; He invites us to join Him where He wants to involve us.” (Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God (Kindle, Loc. 1204)

That does not mean that it’s one or the other; the two could be the same. The question is whether the choice we make is driven  by our preference or by His design.

MAKING CHOICES

I WAS CONFRONTED with this choice several years ago after a hurricane tore through our area of coastal South Carolina.

Immediately, we became ground zero for an army of volunteers from Samaritans’ Purse, and many from our church community joined in.

The work involved areas where my gifts — spiritual and physical — are sorely lacking. We were to climb ladders, nail tarps to battered roofs, cut logs, and transport debris to the curb. In short, it was a time of safety glasses and reinforced gloves and  boots.

While I felt a tug to participate in the clean-up operation, I also felt the effort tearing me away from what I thought was my calling: preparing lessons for our weekly church home group, writing meditations and essays for a Christian blog, and meeting the constant demands of shepherding a Christian men’s group that was growing beyond our immediate neighborhood.

I spent time in prayer — maybe too much time — trying to figure out what God wanted me to do. In the end, I spent one Friday in clean-up.

It was the most rewarding experience of that time period for me!

I loved getting involved, being challenged to climb ladders to reach roofs higher than I wanted to walk on, and fellowshipping with God’s saints from our state and those from several states away.

In short, I’m glad I went. I’m also glad I spent only one day.

USING SPIRITUAL GIFTS

WE READ IN THE BIBLE (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12) that God has distributed *spiritual gifts* to each of us to be used to benefit the body of Christ, both our local church and the worldwide church.

We know that from all we’ve read and heard, but are we rightly positioned within His Kingdom to serve Him where we are?

Are we doing the work He has planned for our lives or are we serving Him in the way and manner that feels most comfortable to us?

Have we rightly heard His call as to where we should serve?

IMITATING JESUS

OUR LORD ALWAYS SAID He was listening to His Father in Heaven, and He would pattern His earthly ministry on what He saw His Father doing.

In other words, where was God working in the lives and souls of people around Him? That’s where Jesus wanted to go. Those were the people Jesus wanted to touch.

Blackaby says this:

“God is orchestrating history. He is present and in the middle of all history. God is the One who is at work redeeming a lost world. His desire is to involve His people and His servants.” (Kindle, Loc. 1107)

He adds this:

“Jesus always looked for the activity of the Father and joined Him.” (Kindle, Loc. 1149)

COME JOIN GOD

WHAT GOD IS SAYING to each of us is that He is working in the world right now, all around us, but we can miss the signals.

Blackaby says the Holy Spirit will show us where God is at work. Once we know where He is working, we can adjust our lives and join Him in His work. (Kindle, Loc. 1168)

That is not an easy concept for me to put into practice.

While I understand the point and can discuss it, I find it more difficult to apply it. As my example above shows, to volunteer in Godly work with Samaritans’ Purse, I had to give up time and energy that could have been spent in other Godly work to which I felt a greater calling, yet, at the same time, I felt rewarded with the volunteer labor.

In short, was I serving God where He wants me or where I find the most comfort? Where, at that moment, did He want me? Where, in this moment, does He want me?

GOING FORWARD

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN for me or for you?

FOR ME, I need to be more mindful of what is actually going on around me, how other people may be hurting, who needs my attention or help, or who just needs a listening ear.

FOR YOU, what does it mean?

Many of you no doubt are engaged in a variety of charitable endeavors, volunteer service, and helping out with family members in need of physical or spiritual care, or finding ways to serve at church or in nursing homes or food banks.

Some of you are active in mission trips, whether near your home community, in parts of the U.S. devastated by recent storms, or even overseas. Others are teaching the Word to those who hunger for God’s truth, while still others are engaged in evangelism activities, reaching out to those who are lost.

POSTSCRIPT

IN THE END, we should be attentive to God’s voice showing us where He is working around us so that we can join Him in that effort.

We find that answer through prayer and listening to Him as He speaks to us.

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PRAYER

O LORD, OUR LORD, we thank You for giving each of us a spiritual gift, something special for us that we  can give to the family of believers to benefit one another. Help us, O Lord, to identify those gifts and to use them charitably, not comparing one gift with another or encouraging envy but graciously and enthusiastically contributing where You place us and doing what Your plan calls for. In Jesus name we lift this prayer. AMEN

TELLING OUR CHILDREN


Psalm 71:18 (NET): Even when I am old and gray, O God, do not abandon me, until I tell the next generation about your strength, and those coming after me about your power.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (CSB): These words I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Psalms 96:3 (NKJV): Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.


THE LORD WANTS US to tell our children about Him.

Even though we all come to faith individually — no one is grafted in because of  his or her parents.

We are to share with our children all the good that God has done for us; how He has forgiven our sins, shown us grace and mercy, and loved us unto salvation. 

So many Christians sadly admit after their children are grown that they told their offspring about church, but failed to tell them the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus.

Jesus told the man cured of a demon who begged to accompany Jesus and His disciples, “No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39 NLT)

LIVING THE GREAT COMMISSION

SO, TOO, HE TELLS US we are to tell our families all  that the Lord has done for us. It’s called the Great Commission. (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)

There is no greater thrill, nor greater commandment, than to tell the children the Lord has given us about Him and how He created them for His eternal purpose and glory. 

The day will come when we will stand before the King and give an account of our lives. 

Let’s resolve, with His help and guidance, not to fail this task. 

When He asks us, “Who did you say I am, especially to the children I gave you?” we don’t want to reply, “Umm, well, actually, not much.” We want to proclaim boldly, “We told our children, and those You gave us to testify to, that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

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PRAYER 

O LORD, OUR GOD and our Savior, please give us the opportunity to talk with our children, either  while they are young or when they are grown, about You, and how You have a purpose for their lives. Please give us the words to say and the spirit of boldness to proclaim the Gospel message of redemption and rebirth. Lord, help us not fail in this singular most important task, regardless of their immediate response. Open their ears to hear and their hearts to receive Your blessings. In the saving name, the redeeming name, the loving name of Jesus we pray. AMEN

LEANING ON GOD


Psalm 127:1 (NIV) Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand  watch in vain.

John 15:5 (NKJV) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”


WE WERE NEVER CALLED to do life alone.

Our Creator made us to have connection with Him, to join Him in community and fellowship. He created us for His glory. 

Sometimes individuals, or even churches, are so busy carrying out plans they are convinced will help fulfill God’s purposes they don’t bother to find out what He actually wants.

They skip the most important step!

LISTENING FOR GOD’S VOICE

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT to listen for God’s voice?

Here are two examples:

  • LET’S ASSUME the patriarch Abraham was so disgusted with the sin he saw in nearby Sodom and Gomorrah that he decided, without consulting God, to begin an intense ministry to the cities … on the very day that God had decided to rain burning suffer on them! Wonderful idea,  we might say, but the timing was wrong.
  • OR THIS: A CHURCH believes God is calling them to relocate their presence from a neighborhood location to a busy thoroughfare. To build the much larger building would require assuming major debt. The congregation votes to proceed, assuming that God will provide for His servants … but this wasn’t God’s will for that church at that time. Again, a wonderful idea, but wrong timing.

ANSWERING GOD’S CALL

HOW IS GOD CALLING YOU in ministry? Are you actively listening for His voice, or are you busy telling Him each day all of your wonderful plans for the Kingdom? Are you asking Him to bless your ideas, or are you asking Him for His plans for you?

Nobody can fault your desire to be useful, but Scripture is full of warnings and advice that encourages the faithful to “wait  on the Lord” and to “obey when He calls.” He’s the engine; we’re not.

BEING SHAPED FOR GOD’S PLAN

WHILE WE’RE WAITING on the Lord, we are to be busy praying for His instructions and for preparation so that, when He does call on us, we’ll be ready to go.

He wants to shape us into the men and women He has purposed for the tasks ahead. 

The pastor and author Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, said it this way: “He will always work in you before He works through you.” (KINDLE, Loc. 758)

GOD WORKS THROUGH ORDINARY PEOPLE

THE PEOPLE WE READ ABOUT in the Bible were ordinary men and women, much like us. What turned them into giants of accomplishment was not their own intent or design, but God working through them. 

David was just a shepherd long before he became a warrior and king; Mary was a simple teenage girl chosen to bear the Christ child; Gideon led 300 men against 135,000 enemy troops but only after putting God’s angel to the test three times.

And what about Moses, that man of God? He was a shepherd in the wilderness, who had run off from his home in Egypt after killing a man and then begged God to pick someone else to rescue his people from captivity.

Only when David, Mary, Gideon, Moses, and many others agreed to obey God’s command were they able to accomplish God-sized tasks!

POSTSCRIPT:

WHAT IS GOD PREPARING US FOR,  

RIGHT NOW, TO DO IN OBEDIENCE TO HIM?


PRAYER

Our Heavenly Father, we pray that You can use us in Your Kingdom work, that our hearts will  be softened to see the landscape around us, the needs to be addressed, the people who need help. Forgive us, we pray, for our self-absorption, our inward-focused lives, when You have called us to come out of the ordinary to live lives accomplishing great things with Your power. In Jesus’ mighty and glorious name we pray. AMEN

POWER OF GOD’S HOLY WORD


The Word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword. It is filled with God’s eternal and universal truths; it lifts and sustains us in this life and promises us a glorious future. We are blessed to have several reputable English-language versions, some translating word-for-word; others, thought-for-thought. Becoming familiar with multiple translations is a helpful tool in Bible study because we see the same thought expressed differently. Reading the Word in a non-English language often adds to the richness of our devotional experience.


SOMETIMES, THE POWER of God’s Holy Word comes through with greater force when we experience it in a different English  translation from the one we usually read.

For example, if a believer usually reads the Word in, say, the English Standard Version (ESV), he or she might gain greater insight reading the same passage in the New Century Version (NCV) or New International Version (NIV).

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FOR ME, IT OFTEN COMES through reading the Word in Spanish, a language I have to work through. 

Because of the additional care I take, I often find nuggets of God’s wisdom that I may have missed when reading the familiar words in English.

Today’s text source from Hebrews, where God exhorts us through the writer to care for the salvation of others, is a good example. 

Here are today’s three text source Scriptures in Spanish:

  • Hebreos 12:15 (NTV): Cuídense unos a otros, para que ninguno de ustedes deje de recibir la gracia de Dios.
  • Hebreos 12:25 (NTV): Tengan cuidado de no negarse a escuchar a Aquel que habla.
  • Hebreos 3:15 (RVR60): Si oyereís hoy su voz, No endurezcáis vuestros corazones.

 This is how I would translate each of these verses. Most believers will recognize them:

  • Care for one another, so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. 
  • Take care that you do not fail to hear the One who is speaking. (Or, Make certain that you do not ignore God when He speaks.)
  • If you (this is the plural form of you) hear His voice today, don’t harden your hearts. (Or, don’t harden your hearts when you hear God speak.)

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OUR WESTERN WORLD is blessed with an abundance of translations of God’s Holy Word.

The writer of Hebrews emphasizes that point for us in Hebrews 4:12a. 

Yes, some translations are more reliable than others, and we should be careful that we do not sacrifice the accuracy of God’s Word simply for a “new” translation.

However, guided by the Holy Spirit, we ought to feel comfortable exploring the richness of translations available so that we can maximize our experience. 

  • Here’s the verse in English (NKJV): “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”
  • Here’s the same verse in Spanish (NTV): “Pues la palabra de Dios is viva y ponderosa. Es más cortante que qualquiera espada de dos filos.” 

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POSTSCRIPT

WHICHEVER VERSION(S) of God’s Word you prefer, the most important thing is that you read it every day, meditate on what you have read, and pray over it. 

Then, to the best of your ability, memorize key passages, and live them out as you go about your day.

As you do so, may God bless you! 

(Mientras lo haces, ¡que Dios te bendiga!)


PRAYER

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we thank You for providing Your written Word to instruct us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us in all  righteousness so that we, as believing and obedient men and women, will be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Lord, we give thanks that Your Word is available to us in many translations, both in English and in other languages. May we read Your Word daily, keep it in our hearts, and live out the Gospel in joyous celebration of Your victory over sin and death. We pray in Jesus’ mighty name. AMEN

Christians—Will We Engage In Political Debate in Civil Manner?


God’s sovereignty prevails over the course of men’s lives. His will will be done, regardless of man’s great plans. When countries ignore His moral laws and applaud those who flaunt them, He has said He will withdraw the hand that restrains sin and evil and leave us to our depraved selves. Is that a society we want for ourselves? Christians must lead as “salt and light” of the world, defending God’s moral law and conducting ourselves in civic affairs with love and humility.


Eph. 4:29 (NLT): “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” 

Jeremiah 1:9 (ESV): “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’”

Exodus 4:12 (NASB): “Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”


(SLIGHTLY REVISED MEDITATION PUBLISHED IN 2016 BUT APPLICABLE IN 2020)

TWO THOUGHTS ON THE 2016 U.S. political season, a brief  analysis, and then a conclusion: 

 FIRST THOUGHT: The electorate is angry and divided. During the primaries, three candidates (Republicans Donald Trump & Ted Cruz; Democrat Bernie Sanders) led populist assaults against Washington. 

Of the three, Trump alone survived, leading to a predictable result: Old Guard politicians and establishment figures from both parties joining forces against Trump, their common foe. Too soon to tell if the electorate, wearied from a year of politics, will yawn and back the establishment candidate or continue the assault and overturn the status quo.

(Now, we know. They bucked the establishment and elected the populist.)

†††

Second Thought: The real possibility that Almighty God is withdrawing his protective hand as our country’s arrogant leaders—and a growing number of private citizens—ignore His biblical instructions for our lives. 

The apostle Paul wrote: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” (Romans 1:28 NASB

He also wrote: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Romans 1:18-19 NIV)

Old Testament prophets told rebellious Israel that, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God” (Isaiah 59:2 NLT) and “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the LORD your God?” (Jeremiah 2:17 ESV) 

King David, who lived under the covenant before the Cross, was so fearful of God’s rebuke for his sins, that he prayed: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11 NIV)

 While God after the Cross will not remove the Holy Spirit from His believers, calling His gift “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14), nevertheless, continued disobedience on our parts still erects a barrier between us and the God of mercy. 

This grieves the Lord who has assured us it is our obedience and salvation that He wants to see: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9 NIV)

†††

Analysis: Christian values, as many have seen, have given modern society so much to cherish — among them hospitals, civil liberties, abolition of slavery, modern science, elevation of women, and regard for human life — against the shameful record of non-believers who tout homosexual marriage, abortion-on-demand, civil unrest, antipathy toward individual rights and private property, and disrespect for all authority.

One difficulty with discussing civic matters from a biblical perspective is that the Bible is clear only that some matters pertain to God and His affairs, leaving a whole array of others to the state and to interpretation.

For example, we are to honor marriage as the union of one woman with a man, but  we’re left without biblical guidance on where to set the corporate tax rate or whether legislators should be term-limited.

Unfortunately for U.S. society, our national government now is usurping the moral sphere, replacing God’s moral law with political policy and defending that usurpation on a false reading of the Bible! 

Followers of Christ cannot let that go unchallenged. 

However, we are still called to be “light and salt” to the world and to express our views with humility and love. While God made it clear He abhors homosexual conduct and abortion, Christians could differ on issues such as developing new energy sources or protecting our nation’s borders.

Christians must boldly defend Scripture, but where the trail is muddled, Christ’s followers must reach their positions through prayer and promote them lovingly, even when disagreeing with one another.

†††

CONCLUSION: IT IS IMPERATIVE that followers of Christ lead the way this election year in the U.S. by boldly defending God’s laws and by conducting civic affairs in a civil manner. That would preclude the ad hominem attacks so favored by the unfaithful. 

We are called to support civil government (Rom. 13:1-7), but we must pray that whichever party’s candidates prevail in this ugly election, hearts will be softened to hear—and follow— the Lord’s voice.

POSTSCRIPT: This meditation written before the 2016 election seems equally pertinent as we approach the 2020 election. The electorate remains angry and deeply divided. Again, Trump — this time as President — and Bernie Sanders — launched campaigns against the status quo.

Once more, the Democrats muzzled Sanders’ voice, but Trump was not muzzled by Republicans in 2016 and, since then, has remade the party in his image.

As Christians, our jobs have remained constant: be a voice for Jesus Christ in the public square. The Bible even tells us how to do that:

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)


PRAYER 

Our Heavenly Father, we pray Your grace as our countrymen  vote this November. We pray that our country’s leaders, and those who seek to replace them, will be open to Your voice and seek Your will, not just rhetorically when it’s politically useful, but in their personal lives and public acts. We also pray that You will lift up men and women who follow the Lord to seek political office at all levels of government so that our country, state, local communities, and school districts will be led by those who seek the Lord’s will. We pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen