For All the Beauty All Around Me

Today is the third week I have not been able to make it to church.  Two weeks ago I was in too much pain to go.  Last week we were all snowed in and church was cancelled. Today I am suffering again from pain.

Feeling a little down – I miss my church family, I miss the corporate worship and most of all I miss hearing the sermons my pastor shares.  Although I am sure I am a little prejudiced because my pastor is my daughter, she is one of the best speakers I have ever heard and I always seem to find something to encourage me or challenge me when she speaks.

My husband and I did our own devotions.  As I thumbed through my Bible afterwards I came across this beautiful old song.  It reminded me that whether I am in church or at home,  whether I am in pain or not, whether my spirit soars or descends – there is so much beauty around me.

So I choose to remember all the goodness of the Lord and reflect on these words:

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies.  For the love which from our birth over and around us lies. 

Lord of all to thee we raise, this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of the hour, of the day and of the night.  Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child.  Friends on earth and friends above.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For each perfect gift of thine to our race so freely given.  Graces human and divine, flowers of earth and buds of heaven.
Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: JOHN RUTTER
For the Beauty of the Earth lyrics © WORD MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC INC (CHRISMON MUSIC DIVISION), OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS UK

Why Do I Pray?

Growing up in a Christian home, I learned to pray at a very young age.  Prayer was an important part of my family’s life.  Every meal we took turns thanking God for our food.  As the “baby” in the family my first prayers over meal time were memorized prayers like

God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.

But as I started school it was expected that my prayer would become a “real” one prayed from my heart and not my head.

Before we went to bed at night we would all gather in the living room and pray together as a family.

So prayer to me is just a natural part of my life.

Lately, however, I have asked myself “why do I pray?”  Is there “magic” in prayer?  Does my prayer change God’s mind?  If I did not pray for someone, would their need still be met?  If someone’s request is answered, is it because I prayed?

Prayer is a mystery.  There have been times I believe I prayed and saw immediately a direct answer to that prayer.  There have been times I prayed and wondered if God even heard me.

So, since I have no real answers to these questions about prayer, what do I pray?  Why do I believe in prayer?

First I pray because of the example Jesus gave us.

  • And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
  • In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

Even in his greatest moment of anguish He prayed.

  • My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as You, not I, would have it.

Second, I pray before Jesus told us to.

He gave parables about the importance of continuing to ask and not give up.  He also gave us specific things to pray about.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

This is one prayer I think the church may have forgotten as we hear such hateful language now directed toward those who disagree with us.

Several times in his teachings he used the phrase When you pray.”

Not “if” but “when.”

He told us to pray for laborers to share the gospel.  He told to pray that we would not yield to temptation.  In the Lord’s Prayer He made it clear that praying with unforgiveness toward someone else in our hearts will be a barrier to our prayers being answered.

But perhaps the main reason I pray is that it strengthens my relationship with God.  As I pray to God, I am again reminded of my need for Him.  I am encouraged to know I can talk to the Almighty and that He cares for me and my needs.

I think of my relationship with my husband.  Our closeness would not last long if we never communicated with one another.  A good marriage requires good communication.

As I pray I maintain that relationship with God.  Recognizing that prayer is for me one of the ways to keep my relationship with God thriving, I know my prayers must be more than just a grocery list of “God, do this and God, do that.”

Again, in my communication with my husband if I only spoke to him when I had a list of chores I wanted him to do, our relationship would not be warming and loving.

My praying to God helps me remember all the blessings I have received and to maintain a grateful heart and attitude.

Finally as I pray for others my heart is opened to their needs and I find myself not just praying for God to help them, but I often find ways that God can use me to be that help to them.  It opens my heart to others.

So I pray.  I pray with expectancy that I speak to one who is loving and powerful and that although I do not understand it all, prayer matters.

 

 

 

 

 

Stand Firm – Love Well

My church has been doing a sermon series on the book of Daniel.  At first glance you might wonder how a book written thousands of years ago has any relevance to today.  As I listened to the messages each week I found it clearly spoke to our current culture today.

As a Christ follower I often find myself in total disagreement with the values all around me.  Much of society speaks and acts in ways so opposed to the words of Jesus Christ.  Everywhere I look – entertainment, fashion and especially politics I find much to disagree with and can often find myself feeling overwhelmed.

How should I respond to my culture when I am so many times in disagreement with it?

Probably each generation thinks they are the first ones to face this perplexing situation – when our own values and lifestyle seem so different from the lifestyles about us.

But we are not the first.

Looking at Daniel we see a young man taken by force from his own home and placed forcefully into a totally alien culture.  The food was different, the religion was different, the customs were different.  Even his name was changed from a name that meant “God is My Judge” to Belteshazzar which meant “Bel protects his life.”  His very identity as a believer in the God of Israel was challenged by this new name honoring an idol god of the Babylonians.

I struggle with the friction between speaking the truth, not backing down from the principles I strongly believe to be right and showing the love of God to those whose beliefs are different than mine.

How do we “stand firm” but “love well.”

Daniel is a good example of that.

He and his friend stood firm on their foundation of faith refusing to bow down to idols and continuing to speak to God when the king said they could pray to no one but himself.  They were willing to lose their lives for their belief in God.

However, if you read Daniel’s interaction with the king he was always respectful and never spoke in anger or showed irritation with the king.  He served within the Babylonian government and obviously worked for the good of the government disobeying only when his basic belief in God was challenged.

We need to follow his example.

Stand firm – never compromise our principles even when it may led to persecution or difficulty.

Love well – never treat those who disagree with us with disrespect or hatred.

My pastor ended Sunday’s sermon with a powerful question:  Do we truly love our enemies as Jesus told us to do.  We often say to “hate the sin, but love the sinner” but in truth do we love the sinner?

A great example of this today I feel is how so many famous Christian ministers are calling for the church to pray for Donald Trump.  We should do so.  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who are in authority over us.

But where is the call for pray for Nancy Pelosi or Adam Schiff?  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who persecuted us.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum – which ever politician you would view as the enemy, I challenge you to pray for them.

Let us Stand firm but love well!

 

 

How Do You React When Persecuted?

It’s the holiday season and so it begins.  Many Christians complaining because people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  I hear claims that we cannot now say “Merry Christmas.”  But no one is stopping us from saying that.  A few employers may ask their people to use the “Happy Holidays” response to customers, but they still can wish a “Merry Christmas” outside their employment.

Is this persecution?  I don’t think so.

Last Sunday was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Want to know about “real” persecution.  Read my post:

“Miracle Boy”

Now that is persecution!

Reading today from the book of Acts I was impressed again with the early church’s reesponse to persecution.

Ater the apostle were jailed for preaching about Jesus and warned not to do so again, they immediately went to the church and there was a prayer meeting.

Now, if that was us I think our prayers would be:

Lord, we are being so persecuted.  Please save us!  Please destroy the power of our enemies.  Protect us!

But that was not their prayer.

They prayed:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.   They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Consider their threats and make us bold to keep sharing your word.

Let’s stop worrying about whether others say and let’s just keep sharing the love of God.

 

 

Is Your Body Suffering?

Today I went to church.  I walked from my car in a public parking lot with my Bible in my hand and never once felt afraid.  Entering the foyer of my church, I visited with fellow worshipers in front of large windows without once looking to see if anyone was watching us.  When it was time for the service to start I joined with others as we sang loudly and our musicians played loudly without worrying that someone might hear us and report us to the police.  My pastor stood up and gave a sermon reading from the Bible without any fear of being dragged out of the church and off to jail.

For me the worst persecution I might face because of my beliefs is hearing some comedian make fun of Christians.  But I really know nothing about real persecution

Today was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I wonder how many churches actually took time to pray for their brothers and sisters who face real difficulties because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

The book of 1 Corinthians compared the church to a body.  In that chapter it states:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…”

One group who documents persecution in other countries has listed North Korea as the country with the worst persecution of Christians.  To be a Christian in North Korea is to be seen as an enemy of the state.  If someone is found to be a Christian they are treated as a criminal and sent to labor camps or even killed.  Their family also faces harsh treatment.  They cannot meet openly and it is very dangerous for them to gather in more than groups of two or three.  Because being a Christian is so dangerous, it is even hard to know if someone you meet is also a believer as everyone has to remain secretive about their faith.

In Afghanistan no expression of faith except Islam is permitted.  To become a Christian is seen as betrayal of the family, the tribe and country.  Anyone who becomes a Christian is exposing themselves to death even by the hands of their own family.  They are considered to have brought shame on the family and the family honor must be protected at any cost.

In India it is the radical Hindu nationalists who view Christianity as alien to their way of life.  Christians are often physically attacked and churches burned or bombed.

In Myanmar persecution of Christians (and other ethnic minorities) is backed by the army which leans toward Communism.  More than 100,000 Christians live in camps for displaced persons, deprived of access to food and health care.  Buddhist monks have taken over churches and made shrines to Buddha on the church property.

These are only a few of the places where the body of Christ is suffering.  The causes range from corrupt government to the various other religions of the world.

But today as fellow Christians are suffering, I have to ask myself if the body of Christians in America share in any way in their suffering.  Where are the prayers?  Where is the concern?

I believe a large part of the problem is we simply do not know how we can help.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Become informed.  There are several organizations that can help you gain more understanding of the persecution taking place around the world.
  • Pray.  We often under estimate the power of prayer.
  • Write letters to those who are in prison.   Many who have been released from prison have testified how much getting letters meant to them, giving them courage to endure.
  • Become a spokesman for helping the persecuted church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Here are a few organizations that work with the persecuted church.  Check them out and learn what you can do to help.

  1. OpenDoors: One of the most well-known ministries advocating for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  2. Voice of the Martyrs: Another well-known ministry that raises awareness and provides support for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  3. Samaritan’s Purse: Their ministry focuses on providing physical and spiritual aid to people around the world. They also provide opportunities to donate to the persecuted church. (Donate)
  4. PrisonAlert: Prison Alert is part of Voice of the Martyrs. (Advocate, Write, Donate, Pray)
  5. Be-a-Voice: Part of Voice of the Martyrs as well. It focuses on providing prayer points and writing letters to the persecuted church. (Pray, Write)
  6. icommittopray.com  (Pray)

Part of the body of Christ is suffering?  How does it effect you?  Are you suffering with them?

 

 

Do All You Can

Today’s devotion was the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana found in John’s Gospel.  Every time I read this story I try to imagine how the servants must have felt when Jesus had them filled up the jars with water and then told them to take it to the guy in charge of the wedding feast.

Questions I have:

  1. Did they hesitate at all?
  2. Did they taste the water first to see how it tasted?
  3. Could they tell the change in the water by just looking at it?  I’m guessing that wine would look much different than water.
  4. Did they hang close by to see the man’s reaction when he tasted the wine?
  5. What stories they must have had to tell their family that night about this miracle!

My first few times reading the story I wondered why Jesus had them fill the jars with water.  Could he not just have spoken and had wine fill the jugs?

Of course the answer is open to anyone’s interpretation but here is mine.

  1. They could verify that the liquid in the jars had been water and that Jesus did not somehow find wine and put in the jars.
  2. More importantly, they would be a part of this miracle.  They could say “we filled the jars with water for Jesus.”

And my own personal take away from this is that I should not just sit and wait for Jesus to meet a need.  I need to be willing to do what I can.

My husband often says:

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When I have done what I can – God will do what I cannot.

Do not mean to imply that we do what we can before we ask God or trust Him.  But too often I think we tell someone we will pray for their need when we should also ask what we can do to help meet their need.

Often we are helpless.  But many times we can and should be the hands and feet of God to meet a need.

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?  Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  1 John 3:17-18

 

 

 

 

With Awe and Reverence

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Great and holy God

awe and reverence

fear and trembling

do not come easily to us

for we are not

Old Testament Jews

or Moses

or mystics

or sensitive enough.

Forgive us

for slouching into Your presence

with little expectation

and less awe

than we would eagerly give a visiting dignitary.

We need

neither Jehovah nor a buddy—

neither “the Great and powerful Oz” nor “the man upstairs.”

Help us

to want what we need…

You

God

and may the altar of our hearts

tremble with delight

at Your visitation

amen.

Frederick Ohler