GIDEON: MIGHTY WARRIOR

God knows that each one of us is weak, yet He has chosen to work through us to reach broken humanity. We cannot do it on our own, but He does not expect us to. Instead, He will empower us through the Holy Spirit. In His Bible, He shows us how He can take a simple man like Gideon and turn him into a mighty warrior.

When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12 NIV)

But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)

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Comments welcomed. Let’s share what God says to His saints.

GIDEON — YES, THAT GIDEON OF THE BIBLE — was not anyone’s idea of a gifted leader.

Yet, we read that an angel of the LORD appeared to him one day and called him “mighty warrior.”

62. Gideon_And_AngelWhen Gideon heard this word of affirmation, he replied with that famous battle cry: “Pardon me, my lord.” 

Hmm.

Not too commanding, was he?

“Pardon me, my lord” was the ancient world’s equivalent of our “Say what? You talkin’ to me?”

Let’s go back to the scene. Our hero, Gideon, is busy with the post-harvest chore of separating the wheat from the chaff. The best way the ancient world had for doing this was labor-intensive: the farmer stuck a pitchfork into the bale and threw it into the air, where the wind current would blow the lighter chaff away, thus separating it from the heavier wheat, which would fall into a heap.

Normally, this was done in a location where the wind currents were felt.

But Gideon was found in a winepress, which is a depression out of sight of those on the ground. The wind currents were not very strong there, but it afforded him sight protection from the enemy Midianites, who were prowling about.

If they saw Gideon, they probably would have run him through with a sword and taken the wheat.

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SO, HERE’S GIDEON HIDING from the Midianites, when an angel of the LORD comes down and sits under an oak tree. His greeting? “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

At this point, Gideon chides the angel, reminding him that if the LORD were watching over Israel, if the LORD were doing His job the way Gideon thought He should, then why were the Israelites afraid for their lives. Heck, why was Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress.

Here’s the angel’s response: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Can you hold onto that question for a moment: “Am I not sending you?”

Where have we heard that one before?

Was it not Moses at the burning bush asking the LORD who should he say was sending him to free the Israelites from Egypt, and the LORD replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Ex. 3:14)

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GOD’S COMMANDS TO US ARE ACCOMPANIED BY GRACE.

He never sends us out without promising to be with us.

The LORD requires us to speak, think, and act according to His will. Our job, according to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), is to teach others that God has come into the world to save us from our rebellion, our hardness of heart, our human pride.

We are to take the message of redemption and forgiveness to a broken world.

All the while, He promises this: “Remember that I am always with you until the end of time.” (v. 20 GW)

62. RedemptionOften we fail. Some of us, quite often. Even when we do the right thing(s), our hearts might be looking for our glory, not His. So we repent, He forgives, He toughens us up, and we grow. Next time around, we do better. We’re stronger … until, again, we fail. The process repeats itself until we’re in glory with our LORD.

How comforting to hear our LORD’s promise to sustain us. He will not forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) nor leave us as orphans (John 14:18). He tells us not to be afraid because He will hold us up (Isaiah 41:13). When He has commanded us to do something, He says He will be with us while we do it (Joshua 1:9).

Our faith is essential to this process (Hebrews 11:1) for without faith, we cannot please Him (Hebrews 11:6).

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GOD CAN TAKE A WEAK MAN LIKE GIDEON and turn him into a mighty warrior, a warrior mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8). God’s will will prevail. His word goes out and accomplishes all that He has tasked it with. It will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

Now, it becomes our turn to go, to be obedient, to share the Word of the LORD, to encourage others — in the name of Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD asks whom shall He send, let’s be like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV).

Well, Gideon was no Isaiah, so he didn’t quite say, “Okay, I’m your man.” Instead, he said, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh [one of 12 Israeli tribes], and I am the least in my family.”

That is where many of us stay. We know there’s Kingdom work to be done, but too often we feel we’re just not qualified to do it. The Lord certainly knows our limitations.

Most of us, if pressed, could readily point to someone else to take our place, someone else whom we think is much better equipped to handle the task the LORD has laid on our shoulders. In fact, we’re very eager to supply names, e-mail addresses, and mobile phone numbers — just to help out. We can be very helpful that way.

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WHEN WE LOOK TO THE BIBLE’S LIST of great leaders — Nehemiah, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul — we find that each one of them was prepared by the LORD to handle the task he was given before the task was assigned.

It’s not our position or title in a group that makes us a leader — not any more than expensive sneakers makes us an NBA star or nifty skates takes  us to the Stanley Cup.

62. Hockey skatesWhat makes a leader is character, and character is developed over time, usually starting with a vision, then denting that vision with adversity, then wrapping the result around perseverance. (Romans 5:3-5) (James 1:2-4)

Other examples of “leaders” were of lesser stuff. We think immediately of Barak, who would lead Israel into battle only if the female judge Deborah accompanied him.

Then, of course, there’s Gideon.

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THE BIBLE’S ACCOUNT OF GIDEON’S TRANSFORMATION is an interesting story.

First, Gideon places God’s messenger under a variety of tests or “proofs” that he is, indeed, sent from God. Of course, the angel passes every test with ease.

Then the LORD tells Gideon to assemble an army. He adds a caveat that if Gideon wants further proof that he was anointed by God, he could sneak up on the Midianites’ compound. When Gideon does — with a companion, of course — he hears the Midianites proclaiming their fear of Gideon and his army!

Yes, there’s also the winnowing down of Gideon’s troops from 30,000 to 300 because God said He wanted Gideon and the Israelites to know that it was He, the God of the Israelites, that delivered the enemy over, not the might of the Israelite army. (Judges 7:2)

First, God let every man afraid to go into battle to leave — that dropped the total by two-thirds — then He wanted only the men who lapped water by scooping it up in their hands instead of sticking their faces in the drink — that whittled most of the rest of them.

With 300 men, Gideon was fodder for a slaughter … except that the LORD’s mighty sword was raised on behalf of His people. They “won” the skirmish without fighting. The Midianites slaughtered one another.

After the battle, the Israelites wanted to crown Gideon their king, but he would have none of it. Not only would he not rule over them, he said, but neither would his son. “The Lord will rule over you,” he said. (Judges 8:23 NIV)

That often happens, too, with leadership.

Once you take the reigns for a time or two, the job is yours forever. People are quite content to let someone else handle the chores.

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EACH ONE OF US CAN BE A LEADER. To do that, we need to take ownership of our jobs. Of who we are and what we can do.

So, what is leadership?60. Faith

Leadership is character. It is not about being the boss or having one’s way. Sometimes, leadership is nothing more than looking around and seeing what needs to be done … and then offering to do it.

A leader — or one who aspires to be a leader — must dig into areas of character, priorities, attitude, and vision.

A leader has to discipline himself not only to set the agenda but sometimes to set the table for others to succeed.

Leadership is not just about our own enhancement or our position or our glory. It is not about attaining our will. It’s about sacrificial service.

Remember our LORD at the Last Supper when he got up from the table, wrapped his cloak around his waist, filled the wash basin, and kneeled down to wash the feet of His disciples — including, we presume, the feet of the man who, within hours, would betray Him.

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WHAT IS THE CALL IN OUR LIVES?

Where is the LORD’s cry in your life?

Has He been laying on your heart a task you think is too big for you, has He given you a word of encouragement that you’ve been hesitant to deliver, has He prepared you for a role in your life that He’s starting to unveil to you?

What does it take for you, for us, to take that first step of obedience?

John C. Maxwell, author of the book, Developing the Leader Within You 2.0, tells us this:

62. Bible_Leaders1. There are never enough leaders.

2. Every leader needs development.

>Moses spent 40 years being educated in the Pharoah’s house, plus 40 years of tending sheep in the desert;

>Joseph spent years in servitude to the Egyptian hierarchy and many years in prison;

>Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the Babylonian king;

>Paul was trained as a Pharisee before he was knocked to the ground by a bolt of light; and

>Jesus was … well, He had spent forever in the Trinity and then 40 days and nights being tempted by Satan.

Every leader needs encouragement, training, prayer, support. Are we giving each other that kind of encouragement? Are we coming alongside each of our brothers in prayer?

If we heed these lessons well, no one will end 2018 asking: Where have all the good leaders gone?

Instead, they’ll ask: Where have all these good leaders come from, and how can I become one of them?

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Cross Over BiblePRAYER: LORD, Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth and all creation, we give You all the honor and praise; O LORD, we take joy in worshipping You. Forgive us weaknesses, Father God; forgive us our hesitation to spread the Gospel of redemption; forgive us when we fail to honor You with our words and our deeds … knowing, O Father God, that at the root of this is our failure to honor You in our hearts. Equip us, O LORD, to be mighty warriors for the Kingdom, knowing that You’ll part the waters for us, that You’ll give us the words to say, and that You’ll hold our hands through every task, every abuse, every questions, every prayer request, every plea for understanding and help. LORD, love on us so mightily that we will love on those you place in our way. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

QUESTIONS: 

  1. Do you feel God’s calling you to some task right now, something that seems just too big for you to handle? Are you thinking you’d like to recommend someone else for the job? Why do you suppose He chose you?
  2. What would it take for you to step out in faith and say, as Isaiah did, “Here I am, LORD, send me?” instead of what Gideon said, “Pardon me, my lord.”
  3. Who can you turn to for pray support and help in this matter? How can you pray for God’s will to be done on earth, this time through you?

Reaffirming God’s Perfect Design for Men & Women

God created men and women in His image and gave them traits that He, Himself, has. Every bit of courage and grace, protectiveness and nurturing that He gave to men and women, came from Him. He possesses all of every trait, but in His wisdom gave more of some traits to Adam and more of other traits to Eve. In His design, Adam and Eve … and their progeny … were to work together to mimic the Godhead, where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each one God and equal in status, have different roles, which complement one another.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

When God created humans, he made them in the likeness of God. (Genesis 5:1 GW)

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31 NIV)

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Comments welcomed. Let’s share what God says to His saints.

DOES GOD PROMOTE THE ORDINATION OF FEMALE CLERGY?

This question, and questions similar to it, are taking center stage in Christendom as men and women of faith search their Bibles for answers — and disagree about what they find.

For every person’s reference to 1 Timothy 2:12 NIV (“I do not permit a woman to teach or 64. Man-Woman-Createdto assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”) comes someone’s reference to Galatians 3:28 NIV (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”)

Not only are the verses used to square off against one another, but the two sides to the question disagree about what the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, meant when he wrote them. In other words, does one side or the other misread Paul’s words?

Against the backdrop of church doctrine is the secular world’s various opinions about the role and status of women generally, not just in Western countries influenced by Christianity but also in non-Western countries, where Christianity’s reach often is tenuous to non-existent.

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WITHIN THE BODY OF CHRIST ARE WRITINGS from men and women of strong faith and conviction who see the issue from radically different  perspectives — and this difference contributes to disunity within the church.

64. Journal WritingIs that disunity a healthy sign of vibrant thinking, top-notch scholarship, and faithful prayer, or is it the troubling signs of satanic meddling intended to scramble the energies of clergy and lay leaders, alike?

Major church voices — like John Piper, Tim Keller, and Wayne Grudem — argue quite strongly and persuasively that God has laid down a “complementarian” position, where men and woman are equal in their Creator’s eye in spiritual significance but whose assigned tasks in life differ according to the strengths and weaknesses He designed into them.

Other leaders — Bill Hybels and Charles F. Stanley, for example — take a different approach, while not driven by secular culture still more acceptable to it, known as “egalitarian.” This view strips away gender-related differences as nonessential, leaving bare the person’s  individual skills, interests, experiences, and dreams as the driving force in church and family role.

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BECAUSE THE CHURCH EXISTS IN THE WORLD, what happens in the world around the 64. Globechurch affects its theology. That does not mean “changes” its theology, so that church doctrine bends toward the worldly view. It means that it “impacts” the thinking, the questions asked, the answers given, the prayers raised, the interpretations advanced, the factions created.

Paul urges us in his letter to the Roman church “not [to] be conformed to this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 BSB)

So, it is clear from Paul that the world’s clamor for doctrinal clarity is not the standard by which the church should be led. Instead, the church — both the institutional organizations and the body of believers as individuals — should be directed by God’s pronouncements.

So, what does God say about the matter?

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TWO POINTS SEEM TO BE VERY CLEAR in God’s calculus.

One is His clear assignment of leadership and headship responsibilities to Adam, not to Eve. Also clear is His presentation of Eve to Adam as his helper, not the other way around (Genesis 2:20b-22).64. Male-Female_Brains

The second is His statement that, as a result of Eve’s deception, her desire would be to rule her husband, but he was to have a fiduciary or protective role over her (Genesis 3:16).

Also clear, because of Adam’s disobedience, God decreed that Adam’s toil would be made more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19).

The difference in makeup and role carries starts with the family and carries over to the church.

The marital relationship involving men and women was established by God in Genesis 2:24 NIV (“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”).

The relationship is explained in detail in Ephesians 5, where Paul tells women they are to “respect” their husbands and men are to “love” their wives. The duties of “loving” and “respecting” set up dual roles — which are complementary but not identical.

A man is supposed to use his physical strength, deeper voice, tougher body, and aggressive hormones to shield his wife from harm, even to the point of laying down his life for her, if required. Of course, the directive to  lay down his life can be analogized easily into self-sacrificial love for his wife, so that he cares for her, ensuring her well-being.

The directive for women to respect their husbands is to recognize the man’s 64. Partnershipsresponsibility to care, protect, and provide for his wife and children. The wife is to acknowledge her husband’s servanthood and the sacrifices he makes, the risks he takes, and the responsibilities he shoulders to keep them housed, fed, educated, insured, and safe.

God’s design keeps men and women in a mutually reinforcing partnership that mimics both the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) as well as God’s relationship with us (Christ and the Church).

Paul called this relationship a “profound mystery.” (Ephesians 5:32a NIV)

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WHY, THEN, IS THERE SO MUCH TURMOIL over the question?

There is no doubt but what our sin-stained lenses distort our vision of God’s creation. When the Almighty says through Paul that “Christ is the head of every man,” and “man is the head of a woman” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NASB), this either sounds, on one hand, as comforting as warm bath water or, on the other hand, as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard.

64. Church_DoctrineThe alignment established by God is completed when the woman submits to her husband, who in turn submits to Jesus Christ, who in turn submits to God the Father (1 Corinthians 11:3b NASB).

No doubt that men and women have sinned their way way from the “love” and “respect” cycle, so that men use their advantages of strength and dominance to disrespect and badger women while women use their advantages of cunning and wile to milk a man of his assets for their own selfish needs.

No wonder few of us can come to the doctrinal table without stained hands and distrustful hearts. After all, who can trust the other sex when the conflicts of our sin-infused world have led us away from the model God created and taught us.

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THE ISSUE OF FEMALE PASTORS and church leaders has been hijacked by those who look not to the Bible for instruction but to their own reasoning. It was never intended to be about superiority and inferiority or higher  ranking and lower ranking.

The complementarianism of God’s creation was designed to enhance mutuality, where 64. Perfectly_Onethe various strengths our Creator gave to men and women were intended to compensate for their corresponding weaknesses — a man’s strengths compensate for the woman’s weaknesses — and the woman’s strengths compensate for the man’s weaknesses.

God created us in His image, so that every strong, noble, and courageous trait that Adam and his progeny possess came from God — just as from God came every graceful, elegant, beautiful, nurturing, and tenacious trait that Eve and her progeny posses.

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WHILE THIS MEDITATION believes the “complementarian” position is aligned better with Scripture, and the “egalitarian” position is a misreading of Scripture, our LORD grieves when doctrinal disputes interfere with church unity.

Perhaps believers were never supposed to have all of the answers to life’s questions, for Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Jesus reenforced this by saying God’s gift of salvation is based on our faith, not our reason: “At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.” (Matthew 11:25 NLT)

Instead of human pride leading to church spin-offs and hurtful accusations, this could be a moment when humility would lead all believers to join in prayer for God’s direction.

“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)

What is it that is unseen?

“Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 BSB)

God’s grace. Our faith.

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PRAYER: O LORD, we pray that You will open our eyes to  the Truth of Your Word. Humble 44. Cross_on_Bibleour hearts so that we turn to You for direction, not to rely on our own ways, thoughts, and desires. Lead us to see the wisdom of Your creation and to follow and obey You, honoring how You made us. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen

QUESTIONS:

  1. When answering life’s deepest questions, do you search the Scriptures as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11) for God’s answers, or do you rely on your own understanding and reason?
  2. How do you handle Scriptural teaching that may conflict with your thoughts? Do you ask God to explain His Word or do you substitute your reason for what you read?
  3. How do you help other people, some who are struggling believers and some who are skeptics and deniers, understand God’s eternal truth?

Today Is … Loving Others as Christ Loves Us

The Bible tells us as followers of Christ to live lives that are worthy of respect so that we will reflect well on the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts. We’re also to be ready to testify to the life-changing power of Jesus’ love.

“My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring.” — 1 John 3:18 (NCV)

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” — 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)

God calls us to witness for Him 24/7/365. We are to live out the Gospel in how we act, think, and talk. While this includes sharing a word of encouragement with a brother or Cross Over Biblesister, and looking for opportunities to do so, it’s also about putting God’s Word to use in how we live our lives.

Then, when someone asks about the joy we feel, we should be ready to explain how Jesus Christ has changed our hearts. That’s when we share the Word in personal testimony.

QUESTION: Are you ready to share with someone — a family member, co-worker, neighbor, or even a stranger — your faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Whether you answered “yes” or “no,” could you take a moment and pray along with me and other readers of this post the following prayer for God’s guidance?

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PRAYER: O Gracious LORD, our Heavenly Father, we thank You for being a God of love and a God of mercy. Work on our hearts, O LORD, to turn them from stone to flesh, from hard hearts that are self-centered and prideful into hearts of love, hearts of mercy, hearts of service, hearts of encouragement, hearts of teaching, hearts of testimony. Lead us to serve You, for Your glory. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Praising the Lord in Our Grief

How do we comprehend the arrogance of humans, whose lives are but a wisp of smoke, who rebel against the eternal truths set by a loving and all-knowing Creator, a self-existing Creator who lives outside the dimensions of time and space? Yet, when troubles come, and they will in this life, He is our only refuge, our only solid ground. How marvelous it is to know the Creator as friend and savior, to walk with Him through this life as He prepares us for eternity with Him.

Job said, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” (Job 1:21 GNT)

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11 NIV)

Praise the LORD, because he heard my prayer for help. (Psalms 28:6 NCV)

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)

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MANY OF US KNOW THE STORY behind the Christian song, “Praise You In This Storm,” by Casting Crowns. It’s the story of a young girl who loved the Lord Jesus, but her life on earth was cut short by a painful battle with cancer.

The band’s lead singer and chief songwriter Mark Hall talks about praying with the 60. Sick-Young-Girlfamily for Erin’s health only to face repeated heartache. He wrote  the song for her. It begins: “I was sure by now, God,/that you would have reached down/And wiped our tears away,/Stepped in and saved the day.”

It didn’t work out that way. Erin left her earthly mother and father for the loving arms of her Lord. While Erin was at peace, those left behind grieved, yet, as children of the living God, they knew without doubt that He felt their pain.

The closing words of the song express this faith: “And though my heart is torn/I will praise you in this storm.”

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IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, CHAPTER 18, JESUS shares with His disciples what the NIV headnote calls “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.”

Luke prefaces the story with these words: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (v. 1)

The point of His story is that prayer is not a one-time thing, a one-off request to the Great Genie in the Sky who then snaps His divine fingers to bring our wish to us, no matter how noble the request or selfless it might seem.

60. Faith-in-Jesus-ChristJesus emphasizes this point when He ends His story with this question: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (v. 8)

Jesus was assuring us in the parable that the Father loves His creation and longs to do good things for us, but what He wants more than fulfilling our Christmas wish list is to grow our characters to be more Christ-like, and that is a process that takes a lifetime.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL acknowledged that by saying we should take “joy” in our troubles, “because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character.” (Romans 5:3-4 NCV)

James, the half-brother of Jesus, echoed that thought when he encouraged us to “Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3 ESV).

“Steadfastness” is another word for “character,” or “faith in God,” which is God’s goal for our lives.

Finally, the apostle Peter encouraged his readers, who were facing persecution, to remain strong in their faith. “The purpose of these troubles,” he said, “is to test your faith as fire tests how genuine gold is. Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory, and honor to God.” (1 Peter 1:7 GW)

How important is our faith to the issues of “prayer” and “troubles”?

Listen to the writer of Hebrews, who sums it up this way: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)

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HOW, THEN, ARE WE TO PRAY?

Seriously, how can we really give thanks when we’re hurting, when a loved one is suffering, when we’re feeling down, lost, confused — when quitting looks like the only reasonable way out.

60. Depravity-GenicideOne of the great strengths of the Bible is that the LORD allows so many  passages showing human weakness, evil, cunning, disobedience, and irreverence. We know the reason why: He’s showing us how we appear to Him, not the wonderful exemplary individuals we see ourselves to be. We also are to see how desperately we need a Savior.

The writer of Psalm 107, for example, lists several items of distress, where people were “hungry and thirsty,” or were “prisoners suffering in iron chains,” or “became fools through their rebellious ways,” or “reeled and staggered like drunken men.”

In each case, the writer assures us, “they cried out to the LORD in their trouble.” What was the LORD’s response? “He saved them from their distress.” (all quotes from NIV)

Yes, Jesus became man and walked among us, feeling what we feel. In one passage, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 ESV)

There’s another story Jesus told, where the punch line was yet more assurance of God’s mercy: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11 NASB)

These are just a few of the many biblical examples demonstrating the LORD’s amazing patience, love, and mercy with His creation.

That does not mean He will make all the pain go away immediately — or, even at all — in this world. It means only that He walks with us if we allow Him, and our reward will be a blessed eternity with Him.

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YOU JUST KNEW THIS MEDITATION would circle back to “faith.”

The whole point of God’s goodness — His love, His mercy, His forgiveness — is to teach us to depend on Him, to believe in Him, to rely on Him to walk us through the storms of our lives.60. Faith

It was never about healing in the moment. The moment vanishes like a wisp of smoke.

It was never about our happiness. Temporal joy vanishes quickly.

It was never about our satisfaction. We don’t know what’s good for us.

It was always about God remaking us in His image to become the men and women He purposed us to be.

The prophet Jeremiah says God has a plan for our lives. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 TLB)

The psalmist tell us that God knew us even before we were born. “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 NLT)

Our role is to believe and to go to the LORD in prayer, even when, as in the song by Casting Crowns, He hasn’t taken our pain away.

As difficult as it may seem, He calls us to find the joy in all circumstances when we cast our cares at His feet.

“Give thanks in everything,” the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CSB), “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

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44. Cross_on_BiblePRAYER: Our gracious and merciful Heavenly Father, Your love for us is greater than we can fathom. Your joy in our growth is more than we can imagine. Your sadness at our rebellion would break our hearts if we had even the smallest portion of understanding. Occasionally, we see glimpses of Your majesty, and we’re in awe. LORD, love us and hold onto us. Keep us against Your bosom through the storms of our lives and deliver us onto the peaceful shores of Paradise. We pray in the Master’s name. Amen

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QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you find it easy to give thanks to God for His many blessings in the midst of your pain? Do you see that He might have a plan that is for your good even though it eludes your understanding? Can you believe that?
  2. When you pray for healing, do you expect an immediate response? What is it? Healing? Or do you think He might be growing your faith?
  3. How do you comfort someone in their pain when you fight your own doubts? Can you be authentic with them?
  4. Do you pray for God’s will to be done, even while telling Him your wants and desires?
  5. Is this a hard lesson for you to learn? Do you struggle with this? How do you handle the struggle? Do you seek His help?

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)

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

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

Blind to Our Sinful Nature

Thankfully, our LORD takes us to the mountaintop from time to time, that lofty place of rest, where we can fellowship with other believers and just feel good all over, bathed in the Holy Spirit; but God, in His wisdom, never leaves us there for more than a moment. The real work is done in the valleys, where conflict reigns. We need to leave the mountaintop and engage in Kingdom-building. He strengthens us for the task and reminds us to abide in Him and He will abide in us. Once He shows us the sin in our hearts and our total dependence on Him, then and only then can He use us to be His ambassadors.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? — Jeremiah 17:9 WEB

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. — Mark 7:21-22 ESV

You say, ‘I’m rich. I’m wealthy. I don’t need anything.’ Yet, you do not realize that you are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. — Revelation 3:17 GW

All of us are dirty with sin. All the right things we have done are like filthy pieces of cloth. — Isaiah 64:6 NCV

Miss a blog post? Find blogs at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

WE DON’T STAY AT THE MOUNTAINTOP FOR LONG, DO WE?

Nothing is more energizing than to join in Christian community in a weekend retreat. Without fail, retreat centers are strategically placed along mountain ranges, or beside pristine lakes, or shaded by a forest of bright leaves.

58.Men-Spiritual-HuddleThe joyful sounds of praise and worship ricochet off the walls, as celebrants eagerly jot down telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of newfound friends and pledge to keepin touch, just to encourage one another in their faith walks.

It’s all great stuff.

But a few days later, if that long, the bubble bursts, and we’re thrown right back into the midst of real life.

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ON THE MOUNTAINTOP, we can forget our sin for awhile. Sin takes a back step when we’re feeling alive in the Holy Spirit.

But Satan is watching our drive home, just waiting for his chance to pounce. We won’t see it coming; we’re still resonating to the joy of our holy huddle.58.Ways_Satan_Attacks

Temptation will creep in, and we’ll be a little slow in batting it away. Then it will grow and sprout its evil leaves, and we’re thrown into a head spin.

What happened?

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LIFE HAPPENED.

The Bible is clear that since the Fall — meaning the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3 — when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin has encased our hearts. We are driven by our love of sin … and we’re usually blind to it, even as it eats holes in our soul.

Sin is so much a part of who and what we are that Jesus, Himself God in human form, told us 

that what defiles us is not the food groups we  should avoid or whether we wash our hands or cups before eating, but what comes from out of our hearts, our minds, our 58. Sin-Stained-Heartinner selves.

God sees the filth that we hide, or at least try to hide, from ourselves and from one another, even while we recognize — at some conscious level — that it resides within us and that we’re not being honest with ourselves when we deny its existence.

The apostle John hit this one hard when he wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV).

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IN HIS BOOK THE PURSUIT OF HOLINESS, Jerry Bridges says “One of Satan’s most powerful weapons is making us spiritually blind—unable to see our sinful character.” Bridges goes on to describe the cure that God has provided for us: “No one can understand it [sin] and expose it except the Holy Spirit.”

Yes, it is God’s Holy Spirit that exposes our sinful selves to us and stirs within us the desire to be holy, to be Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and actions.

It is God’s Holy Spirit that convicts us of our disobedience, whether it’s  the commission of an immoral act, a casual conversation that slips into a slanderous or judgmental remark, or even a careless thought or fantasy.58. Holy-Spirit-Shines

As Bridges says, “The Holy Spirit opens the inner recesses of our hearts and enables us to see the moral cesspools hidden there. This is where He begins His ministry of making us holy.”

It’s an uphill climb, but the “good work” that Christ has begun in us will continue until the day Jesus returns or calls us home (Phil. 1:6). Bridges notes that our sinful natures, combined with the evil powers of spiritual warfare, “are too strong for us to persevere unless the Holy Spirit” is alive and working within our souls.

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GOD IS SO MERCIFUL.

The immortal, merciful, invincible God could, if He wanted to, blot us all out as a horrible experiment gone wrong from the first. He washed away the first bunch of humans for their unrestrained evil (Genesis 6:5), so He could do it again.

How fortunate we are that He promised not to resend the floodwaters to wash mankind away (Genesis 9:15). Instead, he sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the evil we do and thereby give us the promise  of reconciliation with Him (John 3:16; Romans 5:9).

We’ve seen this “mountain top high leads to valley low” before in the Bible.

58. Golden-CalfRemember Moses, spending 40 days and 40 nights on the mountaintop with God, who gave him the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets? When Moses began the long trek back to the Israelite community, as recorded in Exodus Chapter 32:7 (NIV), God said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.”

Moses returned to the camp to see his countrymen dancing drunk around a golden cafe they made to worship. He was so angry, he smashed the two tablets.

Then, in Matthew 17, we see Jesus take three disciples with him to the mountaintop to witness the Transfiguration, where the LORD’s appearance was changed to reflect His glory. When He and the three disciples began their descent, it was to find a commotion among his remaining disciples and a man who had brought his epileptic son for healing.

Jesus was so distraught, He said, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, … how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17:17 NIV)

58. Spiritual-GrowthThe mountain top may be where inspiration and emotion reign, but it’s only in the valleys that we encounter real life — that’s where the growth occurs.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL TELLS US that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)

James, the half-brother of Jesus, counsels us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV)

God gives us those blessed moments on the mountaintop to reassure us, to comfort us, and to pour His love and peace on us in an unhindered way. It’s really the closest to Heaven we experience in this world. It’s just a sample of what lies ahead.

God will take us to the mountaintop, but He doesn’t leave us there. He has work for us to do and work He has to do in our hearts to prepare us for those tasks that lie ahead. Paul tells us, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of  Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV)58.Witnesses

Paul goes on to encourage us. “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?” (Philippians 2:1 NLT)

If that’s the case, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit from your time on the mountaintop, then go, you believer in Christ, as He calls you to minister to a world hungry for His message.

Leave the mountaintop and mingle with the world. “Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4 CSB)

God wants us to leave the mountaintop and do the Kingdom work to which we are called: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8 GW)

Once He can show us the sin in our hearts and our total dependence on Him, then and only then can He use us as His ambassadors.

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PRAYER: Heavenly Father, too often we are content to stay on the mountaintop, where we can huddle with fellow believers, hear inspirational testimonies, praise You in song, and engage in spirited discussions, when the real work of Kingdom building is done in the valleys after we descend. Forgive us our hesitation to leave the good feeling of that peace — and thank You for allowing us that respite. Please quicken our hearts to engage the world with our witness with eagerness and humility. In Jesus Name, Amen

Controlling the Unguarded Tongue

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He gave His disciples — those standing before Him and those, like us, who would follow — that He wants us to use our words to spread His message of forgiveness and redemption, yet all too often we use our words to let someone else know the extent of our displeasure with them. Not the same thing. Not what He said. Not pleasing to God. Instead of using our tongues to spread lies or hatred or zingers or greed, the Christ wants us to use our tongues to speak for Him. In His final words on earth, He said this: “You will be my witnesses.”

And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. (James 3:6 NLT)

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11 ESV)

Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 BSB)

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

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

HERE’S A QUIZ.

How many of us have heard the nursery rhyme that ends with these words: “but names can never hurt me”?

Most of us.

Now, how many of us believed it?

I never did. Anyone else?

57.Playground-taunts

Years gone by, when a playmate’s taunt got to me, I got defensive. Then some adult (usually my dad) would recite that little rhyme, with the admonition not to let the little stuff get to me.

Well, it did … and it wasn’t little stuff, either.

Instinctively, I sensed with my little-boy brain what the grown-up me has come to know:Behind whatever the “mean” words were was a mean feeling. It came from the other person’s heart and merely shaking it off  was not enough for me.

Jesus spoke about the heart to His disciples when the Pharisees complained that they were not ritually washing themselves before eating. Our LORD looked sadly at the speaker, then searched the faces of each of the synagogue leaders gathered before Him.

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” our LORD declared, enunciating each word for effect, “but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11 ESV)

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WORDS NOT ONLY CAN HURT, they can set into motion a whole set of actions and reactions that quickly spin out of control, often to the speaker’s surprise.57.Ritual-handwashing

Here’s an example:

“That’s not what I said!”

“Yes, it is. I was right here. I heard it.”

“Well, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Maybe you didn’t, but that’s what you said. How was I supposed to know what you meant?”

Or these examples:

“Did you hear that …”

“You know what really galls me?”

“You’re about one inch from getting a piece of my mind.”

“You’re such a brave woman. I could never wear that shade of green this time of year.”

“You know what the matter with you is?”

While many of the bromides thrown about are not intended to hurt, many are.

Try this. Cue up FaceBook and scroll through the offerings. Don’t comment on anything, just go through the list of what your “friends” are posting. Now look at some of the comments posted in response to the original posts and the responses to those comments.

57.Girl-cryingDon’t count them, but just notice the number of times someone uses the occasion — maybe it’s the anonymity of cyberspace — to lance someone.

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NOW, LET’S GO BACK TO THE BIBLE.

Let’s compare the types of words many of us hear every day … and maybe even we say … with how Almighty God wants us to talk.

Try to hear our conversations against the backdrop of Jesus, who said that a person’s speech marks his or her character, because the words come from the person’s heart. They reflect what the speaker is feeling.  (Matthew 15:11)

Or listen to the apostle Paul remind us to say only those things that will benefit someone else, not harm them. He said: “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 BSB)

Or Solomon, the wise king of ancient Israel, writing that we’re responsible for what we say, both the good and the bad. He said: “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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SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

God left it to James to “tell it like it is.” James is such a good choice because he was the oldest of Jesus’ younger half-brothers. (Imagine growing up with God as your older brother! James never caught on to who Jesus was until He was resurrected from the dead.)

James tells us that the “tongue is a flame of fire.” He said it is “a whole world of wickedness, corrupting the entire body.” (James 3:6 NLT)

That’s pretty serious.

57.Tongue-fireIf we go back to the Gospels and watch how Jesus handled his accusers, we see that He never, ever sunk to their level rhetorically. He modeled love, patience, and understanding. Yes, He had the advantage of being divine, but He also was fully human.

Speaking just for myself, I find the standard set by Jesus very difficult to match. Even when I graciously hold my tongue, I am still frustrated because I often do not have a replacement sentence immediately available; you know, a sentence that would encourage my accuser or signal forgiveness and fellowship. Instead, I remain silent and pray that my silence will be a form of reaching out.

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IN THE END, OUR MASTER HAS GIVEN US the words to say … and a mission to fulfill.

After His resurrection and immediately before His ascension into heaven, our LORD told His disciples (and, by extension, all of His followers down through the ages — including us), what that mission is. 

He wants us to go to our neighborhoods, and our communities and states, and throughout our country and even to the ends of the earth with a message of hope and redemption.57. JESUS - Ascension 2

He said our mission is to share the fruit of the Holy Spirit: words of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 (CSB) directs us to spread the word, to tell everyone the world over about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”

Instead of using our tongues to spread lies or hatred or zingers or greed, the Christ wants us to use our tongues to speak for Him. In His final words on earth, He says it this way: (Acts 1:8 ESV), “You will be my witnesses.”

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PRAYER: O LORD, our God, hear our prayer. How often we grieve the Holy Spirit with our words. We use our words to reduce others, to put them down, to spread rumors about them, to malign them. Oftentimes, we don’t actually say the words out loud, but we say them to ourselves. That’s just as grievous to the Spirit. Guard our tongues, O LORD, and help us see how hurtful our words can be. Our LORD and Savior told us to use our words to tell others about Him and His love for us. We undermine that message with our sinful talk. In Jesus’ loving Name we pray. Amen