It’s been a wearisome few days. Hard to get a full night’s sleep. Heartache. Headache. Not many words to say. The police officers in Dallas showed full integrity in their vocation in the face of tragedy (see yesterday’s post).
Yet, it’s another day. I must get out of this bed. I have a lunch appointment. But first another challenge to myself:
Prayer without action is ineffective prayer.
This is what God says:
“If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” – Holy Scripture, James chapter 2
It is right to ask/pray/think/desire peace and healing in our families, cities and world.
A true prayer for peace results in change.
A change to stop the turmoil. To prevent further violence. To bring understanding. To unite and heal our community. To keep our families safe. To change systemic injustice. To alleviate generational poverty. To provide access to education and healthcare. To provide avenues to create wealth.
Yet when our voice calls for change, the first ears to hear must be our own.
Uh-oh. You mean I might have to be part of the process?
Yes. Peace comes through peacemakers.
The one who sees turmoil and offers prayers/thoughts/desires for peace, yet does nothing, has dead faith. It is an ineffective prayer/thought/desire.
Living faith breeds action.
Action proves living faith.
What does peacemaking look like for you? Only you know and God know your heart.
Maybe it’s time to finally pursue that diplomat position to help countries negotiate. Maybe it’s time to start that NGO to help alleviate poverty and suffering. Maybe it’s time to build that health clinic or school. Maybe it’s time to engineer designs for better farming and more effective food distribution. Maybe it’s time to join a demonstration. Maybe it’s time to fight for integrity in your vocation. Maybe it’s time to offer a smile and handshake to a colleague or to someone who represents a segment of the population you scorn. Maybe it’s time to finally meet the neighbour. Maybe it’s time to offer “Welcome” to a refugee trying to establish a new life in a new culture.
These are some ways to answer the prayer for peace.
Maybe you’re upset and thinking “God is powerful enough to bring peace without me! Let’s not forget that God is God!”
Yes, as the Maker of all things, God All Powerful.
However, God does not sprinkle fairy dust upon the Earth to bring about peace. God uses peacemakers to bring peace. They are blessed and called children of God.
Our cities will not magically change apart from people. Spiritual change occurs in people. And people build cities. People are responsible for the life or death of their city. I am challenged to reflect on how I contribute to the flourishing of my city. I am challenged to ask if I am spiritually awakened and matured by God to be a wise peacemaker.
Jesus said the Church is the salt of the Earth and the light of the world.
Faith without works is simply dead faith.
The thought of wanting peace without the willingness to make peace is an empty and vain thought.
— Christ, when I asked You to bring peace, I asked in the hopes that You would do it quietly, without interrupting my life and status quo. While turmoil occurred around me, I had hoped I could avoid being inconvenienced and keep the plans I made for myself. But what an invasive surprise You are! I asked You to bring peace and You told me to go make it in my home, community, city, and world.
You gave us peace when You gave Yourself. Now in Your peace we peacemakers go. Christ, have mercy.
Kayla, a prisoner of ISIS, died in a recent Jordanian airstrike. Below is a copy of a letter to her family. Though Kayla was imprisoned, I was moved by her description of being free and resting in the sovereignty of God….”by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in free fall.”
“Everyone, If you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cell mates (starting from 11/2/2014) have been released. I have asked them to contact you + send you this letter. It’s hard to know what to say. Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.
I wanted to write you all a well thought out letter (but I didn’t know if my cell mates would be leaving in the coming days or the coming months restricting my time but primarily) I could only but write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears.
If you could say I have ‘suffered’ at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.
I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else…. + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.
I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another…
I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation. I have had many a long hour to think, to think of all the things I will do w/ Lex, our first family camping trip, the first meeting @ the airport. I have had many hours to think how only in your absence have I finally @ 25 years old come to realize your place in my life. The gift that is each one of you + the person I could + could not be if you were not a part of my life, my family, my support.
I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be your duty, if there is any other option take it, even if it takes more time. This should never have become your burden. I have asked these women to support you; please seek their advice. If you have not done so already, [REDACTED] can contact [REDACTED] who may have a certain level of experience with these people.
None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes. I wrote a song some months ago that says, ‘The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left…’ aka-­-The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength.
Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.
All my everything, Kayla”
A tough morning lesson from the book of Genesis (“genesis” means “origin). This is a tough lesson because it will strike at the core of our being. We will be faced with the reality that we think we’re wiser than God. The reality is, God loves us and provides His wisdom to us in Christ Jesus. I am weak, but He is strong!
“The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” chapter 3, verse 13
SCENE: The Woman (Hebrew word = “ishshah”) and the Man (Hebrew word = “adam”) have eaten the fruit of the tree they were commanded not to eat. Their act of disobedience against Yahweh, the Creator, has changed things forever. The Man (“adam”), has acted cowardly and childlike. He has failed in his responsibility to Woman, and, like a child, blames someone else for his irresponsibility. In this case, he blames Woman and God.
Yahweh asks Woman, “What is this you’ve done?”
She replies, “It was the serpent. He deceived me, and I ate.”
LESSON: Deception is subtle. Deceived people believe they’re making good decisions.
The Woman and Man were not acting in a rebellious fit of rage against God when they ate the fruit. They were deceived. They did not wake up that morning in the garden and, over breakfast, decide to fight against Yahweh later that day. They were deceived. They did not willfully decide to wreck humanity and nature. They were deceived. Deceived into defiance. Consider the details:
After some effort (this Woman was not easily swayed!) the serpent’s seeds of deception finally take root in the Woman. She questions the truth, goodness and authority of God. Then, “The Woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that is was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”
Do you see the subtlety of the deception? The Woman believed she was making a good decision. She didn’t see a tree full of poisonous berries. She didn’t see rotting fruit. She didn’t think eating the fruit would cause her to become foolish. She saw
– the fruit was healthy // “the tree was good for food”
– the fruit was beautiful // “delightful to look at”
– the fruit was beneficial // “desirable for obtaining wisdom”
When Man and Woman ate this fruit, they believed they were making a good decision. Alas, their decision, based on deception, was fatal.
They were deceived into defiance.
Yahweh clearly provided wisdom: “On the day you eat the fruit from that tree, you will die” (Genesis 2.16).
Humanity chose to act upon their own wisdom. Their wisdom led them to defy God’s design, thus putting them at enmity with Yahweh.
Whew. That’s heavy. That’s me in the garden: subtly being deceived…
If you’re being deceived today, it won’t be obvious. The deception will be subtle. There will be a series of decisions made that on the surface appear harmless, but when inspected, will produce nothing but bad. Be careful about the small decisions you make today. Let the decisions be rooted in God’s Wisdom, which is found clearly in His Word and applied to our lives through the Holy Spirit. Don’t have a bible on your desk, or can’t look at your phone all day? MEMORIZE THE WORD. And MEDITATE upon God’s wisdom during the day. He gave us His wisdom for our good.
Chances are you didn’t wake up today with plans to have an affair. So rethink that “harmless” lunch or text message.
Chances are you didn’t wake up today with plans to gossip. So rethink what you’re going to do with that juicy information in your possession. Chances are you didn’t wake up with plans to deeply resent and fight with your co-worker, teacher or boss, so pause before engaging in the usual passive-aggressive words or actions. Chances are you didn’t wake up today with plans to throw a fitful rage of rebellion against our merciful and loving God. So be careful that you’re not “drawn away and enticed by your own evil desires.”
When we’re deceived into thinking our wisdom trumps God’s wisdom, then we’re on the road of defiance headed to the city of destruction.
Thanks be to God that His kindness leads us to repent from our foolishness and that in Christ Jesus, we have all we need for life and godliness!
Remember how our Lord taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
The Lenten season both scares me and excites me. It is a grueling, humiliating, repenting, life-giving, soul-grieving, sin-confessing, grace-ridden, mind-transforming, Holy Spirit-empowered, hesed-saturated six weeks of my life. Every year I like this holy season less and less. So what’s exciting about enduring a suffering season? The fruit of the suffering? No. Think about it. How sweet and tasty is fruit grown in barren land?
The fruit of barren land is not tasty. Nothing is tasty, that is, if you can cultivate anything at all.
However, the Lord is good. Taste and see that the Lord is good. I AM the Bread of Life.
The Bread of Life does not need a field to grow wheat, nor a millstone to crush grain or a baker’s kitchen to produce a delicious loaf. The Bread of Life is the Person of Christ Jesus. God in flesh, bone and spirit. What’s exciting about enduring a season of suffering is that one is able to share in the very essence of God; His holiness.We share in this holiness through a personal relationship with the Bread of Life, Jesus. His disciples utterly trust every crumb is sufficient to sustain. Even when taking six weeks to follow Him into the deserted wilderness.
To blindly follow the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted will crush and destroy 99.99% of all humans. [The 1% not to be destroyed – but is crushed, Isaiah 53 – is God Himself. See the fourth chapter in Matthew’s gospel.]
We enter into the desert not blindly, but equipped with the presence and Person of the Light of the world. God is light. In Him there is no darkness. If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Annually, this spiritual desert highlights two fronts at work in the life of the disciple:
1. God relentlessly defines our mission.
2. Satan relentlessly defies our mission.
A book could be written on those two concepts alone.
On the first concept, Scripture abounds regarding God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, compassion, relationship, intentionality to build His Church, extending a measure of grace to each of His children for the purpose of edification, and even preserving His people – through physical death! – so that we enjoy Him forever. On the second concept, Scripture teaches of a fallen angel working to destroy creatures made to be in relationship with the Creator, forces of darkness waging for our joy in Christ, a spiritual lion on the prowl looking to devour the weak and selfish, an adversary standing to condemn us and keep us paralyzed in our past; preventing us from living an abundant future.
Putting the book outline aside, God has encouraged me in a couple of ways this Lenten season. He continues to graciously reveal areas of weakness, selfishness, and sin. His continual kindness is leading me to repentance. It’s difficult. However, Jesus is the sweet fruit, the Vine. He is the sustaining Bread of Life from heaven.
God has also taught me that when in the desert, Satan will attempt to defy God’s work. See Matthew 4 for the physical, mental and spiritual temptation of Jesus. In the final temptation, Jesus was tempted to have all the reward (Kingdoms) without the cost. I wonder if this is why Jesus called Peter an “adversary” in Greek = Satanas, Satan. Get behind Me, Satan! Jesus had just announced that His God-given mission was to suffer, die and resurrect on the third day. Peter says to Jesus I won’t let this happen! Peter basically infers to Jesus that the reward should be all His sans the cost. Jesus had seen this temptation before…in the desert…in a much deeper way. So when the temptation pops up later, Jesus recognizes that Peter’s (good?) intention does not serve to define Jesus’s mission, but rather to defy. Thus, Jesus can say I’ve seen this before. Get out of here, Satan. You didn’t win in the desert, you certainly won’t win here.
There are people in my life who have (good?) intentions to shape me into their own image. They don’t like the mission God has given me, thus they attempt to defy this mission. Some prefer I remain a musician only in the Church. Some prefer I go back to sales. Some prefer me to adopt their particular brand of religious tradition and Bible interpretation. Some prefer I adopt their method of loving my wife or raising my children or tending my garden. Some prefer I work with this charity or that. There are people in your life who do the same. They want to define your mission. Only God has the authority and ability to define your particular mission within His mission of global redemption. Some people, however, will work to defy the disciple’s mission. They (sometimes knowingly) are being used by forces of darkness. They desire to see disciples distracted and destroyed. Such desire is rooted in darkness. They desire to keep disciples paralyzed in their past. I’ve seen this before. Get behind me, satan. You’ve got no more power over me. Go ahead and throw your darts at me. The Lord Jesus now fights my battle. I abide in Him. And HE through me, bears much fruit.
The suffering will not end on this side of the parousia of Jesus. You and I must wipe away our tears for now. But on the day Jesus returns to make all things new, He will wipe away every tear and remove every ounce of pain, grief and suffering!
There’s one week left in this holy season. Stay focused on Him. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. If you feel like you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t lose sight of the reality: you’re walking through the shadow of death. The shadow is not the substance. The shadow disappears when light comes. The True Light who gives light to everyone has come into the world. The dawn of Resurrection Sunday is one week away. The power of the Spirit of Jesus provides all the power disciples need to focus on God and the mission to which we’ve been called in Christ Jesus.
Endure discipline/teaching. God is dealing with you as His full-blooded child…He does it for our benefit, so that we can share in His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead. Hebrews 12.
Jesus is using this Lenten season to provide some unusual ups and downs in my sanctification process. Here’s a prayer to encourage those walking through the fires of refinement.
But I call to You for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer meets You.
Almighty God, majestic in Holiness, incorruptible in Power, inexhaustible with Compassion, never-failing with Love:
I call to You for help.
I am in despair. I am afraid You don’t want to meet me this morning. All night my tears have been my food. Anxiety has been my companion. Darkness has overcome me. The morning has come, but Your mercies are not new. And I don’t know why.
I am afriad I am not good enough to be in Your presence. I am afraid You are distant. I despair that my will-power is too weak to make me holy and good. I despair that this morning I am unusually looking to my will-power to make me holy and good. I am trusting in horses and chariots.
I fear what people may think if they know of this weakness. I despair that in this moment I am tempted to please people. I despair that I am thinking more highly of self than I ought. I despair that I desire to show You, myself and others the wonder-working power of my strength.
These things I never want to think!
Yet today, what I don’t want to think I find myself thinking. What a wretched man that I am! Who can deliver me from this present darkness?
What is my strength? What is my will-power?
My strength is nothing. My strength is dead. My will-power is lifeless. Powerless. Eternally impotent.
What purpose can be found in my weakness? What purpose is found in Your heavy conviction?
Perhaps Your glory and my good…
O Precious Holy Spirit of Christ, Great Comforter and Teacher. Thank You for revealing this great truth: all night and morning You have been a Faithful Gardener tilling the soil of my heart. Uprooting rocky idols and killing useless thorns and thistles. My cry for help has been answered! You are not avoiding me. You are sanctifying me. You are refining me. You, – Who fully adopted me and called me to Yourself through the precious blood of Christ and have promised condemnation no more! – You are not distant. No, the opposite. You are near. Very near. Too near for me to control. Too near for me to fight. You know my tendency is to look away from Your holiness. But in Your hesed, Your faithful love, You have brought the Holy to me. You became flesh and dwelt among us. Undeserved. Unmerited. You tear down walls I build in my heart. You invade my innermost rooms. You take captive every evil deed and thought and effortlessly bring them to submission under Christ, where they are securely imprisoned in eternal chains of darkness until the day He returns to make all things new!
This morning, God, make me weaker! For when I am weak, then I am strong. Your grace is sufficient for me. Your power is perfected when my will-power is destroyed. I have been crucified in Christ. I no longer live, Christ now lives in me. I died in His death. Now I live in His resurrected life.
Christ, make me weak so that Your power may reside even more in me. Use in any way You choose, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, stress, sickness and daily concern for Your congregation to conform me into the image of Your Son, Jesus. Is this a dangerous prayer, Lord? Is it dangerous to request You do what it takes to fill my heart and life with nothing but love for You? Absolutely not! It is a far more dangerous thing is to stand before Your bench of judgement and hold as my only defense: “I am good enough.”
You know the deep places where spiritual forces wage war for my joy in Christ. You know where enemy spies want to see treason against Your atoning death and resurrection.
Tear down the citadels fueling my reluctance to surrender all things to King Jesus. Silence every voice tempting me to negotiate the terms of my citizenship within Your Kingdom.
Your word this morning has proven again to be living and effective and sharper than any blade I’ve held. Your Divine scalpel dissects my heart precisely where selfish ideas and thoughts abide. Nothing is hidden from You. Continue Your work. You are the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me that Your eternal purpose set forth in Christ Jesus might come to fruition through the gifts You’ve apportioned me. All to the glorious praise of Your grace.
I called to You for help, and You heard my cry.