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Romans 7:21-8:4

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Romans 7:21-8:4

Dear God, this is yet another passage where the chapter and verse breaks do us a disservice. Paul wrote Romans 7:25 and 8:1 as one thought. He was a slave to sin and you sent Jesus, so now there is no more condemnation for anyone who belongs to Jesus. That’s condemnation from you, but it’s also self-condemnation. It’s shame. It’s guilt.

This is what the person who pursues morality apart from you misses. They miss that none of us are good. They miss that they cannot be the moral person they strive to be. Then, when they inevitably fail to love up to the standard they themselves have set they sometimes throw in the towel in despair. Shame takes over. Hiding. Guilt. Then depression can follow that.

Father, first, thank you for giving me a path out of the holes I put myself in. Thank you for forgiving me while still calling me to press on towards you and the man you have me to be. Help me to know how to offer this to others. Give me the words, the courage to say the words, and the mercy to live the words out towards others.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2021 in Romans

 

Colossians 4:5-6

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Dear God, I’m about to spend the morning among a lot of people who need you, but it will be awkward because they will be people who are in line for food. Guide me in each interaction. Show me how to love. Show me what to say. Show me what you would have me to do. This is a pretty simple prayer today. Rich Mullins had a song called “Let Mercy Lead.” Help men to lead with mercy, Father.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2021 in Colossians

 

James 5:13-18

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
James 5:13-18

Dear God, I’m assuming this was the verse of the day for Bible Gateway because it is the National Day of Prayer. I confess to you right now that I’m kind of numb to this being a thing. I don’t really believe it. I don’t really believe that our nation cares about praying. I don’t really think I am joining all of these other people for this special day. But I’m a fool. I’m a fool.

You are doing great things through your people. No, as a country we are failing you in innumerable ways. As a church, as your church, we are failing you in innumerable ways. But there are individuals out there. There is a remnant. There are those who are faithful to you. There are those who repent of their sin and seek your healing. There are those who love you with all of their heart and strength and love their neighbors as themselves. There are those who are more loyal to you than to political or religious dogma. There are those who are willing to die to themselves, take up your cross and follow you—not just believe in you.

Father, help me to be one of those people. As I start this day, I repent. I repent for my selfishness, my self-pity, my arrogance… There is so much for which I repent. I’ve been convicted over the last 18 hours or so that I’ve started to believe some of my own press and I am greater than I am. I am sorry. I repent. I need you. I need you for everything. I need you to help me be my wife’s husband. I need you to help me parent my adult children. I need you to help me lead at work. I need you to love through me—especially when I don’t want to. I need you to inspire and move me. I need you to provide everything. Use me however you will, but do it for your glory. Not for my glory, but your glory, oh Lord!

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2021 in James

 

Acts 15:1-11

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 15:1-11

Dear God, we just don’t know. We are so confused, and the more we start to realize just how big the world is the more confused we get. It was easy for the disciples to know what to do when the converts were Jewish because that was their paradigm. They too were Jewish so it fit within their view of the world. But with the great commandment they had to confront their racism and figure out which edicts were important and which ones weren’t. In their case, the first things they came up against were unclean foods and circumcision.

Sexual immorality seemed easy enough to them, but now we are in a time when people are having true sexual identity crises, and the church—your church—is unsure how to respond. But sexual immorality is actually very broad and nearly every current American Christian has offended you in this area. From premature sexual activity outside of marriage to the use of pornography, there aren’t many people who sit in church blameless. I know someone who goes to church with his wife and young children every Sunday after having left his previous wife and children for the woman to whom he’s now married. And yet he is welcomed in their church while a committed homosexual couple isn’t. Which of these couples offends you more?

Father, open my eyes so I can see. I’m still not totally sure the apostles final ruling was the right one. Why did they draw the line at strangled animals? Blood? Were those edicts originally for their physical health? I’m a strong believer in monogamy and sexual purity away from pornography, but I don’t know that that doesn’t leave room for a committed same-sex relationship. To paraphrase Lloyd Dobbler from the movie Say Anything, “I don’t know. I can’t figure it all out today so I’m just going to [love everyone I can].” Please show me the way.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2021 in Acts

 

Romans 12:9-10

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

Dear God, as someone who does fundraising for a nonprofit, this is an issue I remember facing early on—the difference between genuinely loving someone as opposed to trying to manipulate them to give our organization money. I had to approach this in such a way that I had to care about the people donating to our nonprofit or I would feel like a salesman only interested in closing the deal.

I still remember the book Dale Barron, the resource development director at the World Hunger Relief Farm, loaned me. It is called Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as a Ministry. It helped me to see the donors as people to be loved as opposed to people who could give me money. Instead of them having something I wanted, it became a challenge to figure out a way to make sure they received more than they gave through the process.

There are others I’m supposed to love too. It starts with my wife. Okay, I’m wrong. It starts with you. I’m supposed to genuinely love you, Father. I’m supposed to love you with all of my mind, soul, and strength. Do I? Is my love for you genuine? The honest answer is, “Sometimes.” Sometimes I really love you. Sometimes I don’t love you like I should.

Father, help me to love you like I should. Help me to love others like I should. Let it start with you and then flow to my wife and children. Then let it flow to relatives and friends. Then let it flow to donors, clients, and strangers. Then to my community, state, nation and world. Put the things on my heart that you want me to respond to. Show me the human need you want me to care about, and then give me the passion and vision to pursue it with complete faith in your provision. Do it all for your glory, oh, Lord!

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2021 in Romans

 

“Do the Next Thing” by Fred Smith

Dear God, I read this blog post from Fred Smith yesterday, and I thought it was great. I even shared it with a couple of friends. Here are some of the highlights for me:

  • “Now and then I host what Quakers call a Clearness Committee for an individual working their way through an issue about direction or a decision. This committee is a group of friends who know a person well and the group’s only role is to ask questions. They cannot make statements or prescribe what a person should do. They cannot offer advice based on what they think they would do.”
  • “So many of the men and women we consider spiritual giants have suffered from [losing confidence]. Abraham loses confidence in God’s promise of a son. Moses loses confidence immediately and tries to get out of what God has called him to do. Gideon discounts his abilities to fight the Midianites. Elijah hides in a cave. The Samaritan woman slights her worth. Peter denies Christ and despairs. David is discouraged almost as much as he is sure. Solomon despairs of everything, and Job is a whole book about dealing with confidence in God and inexplicable loss.”
  • From Oswald Chambers: “In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went to sleep when they should have stayed awake, and once the realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair. We say, ‘Well, it’s all over and ruined now; what’s the point in trying anymore.’ If we think this kind of despair is an exception, we are mistaken. It is a very ordinary human experience. Whenver we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair. But Jesus comes and lovingly says to us, in essence, “Sleep on now. That opportunity is lost forever and you can’t change that. But get up, and let’s go on to the next thing…'”
  • “So far, I have found nothing better for those times when I feel I have done something irreversible or lost my confidence. “Get up, and do the next thing.”

First, I love the idea of a “Clearness Committee.” No answers offered. Just questions. As I pondered this yesterday, I wondered how pointed those questions can me. i suppose the spirit of it is that they not be too pointed. Like saying, “Don’t you think you should [fill in the blank]?” That would not be in the spirit. But to ask a friend more general questions that will help her or him see through the “fog of war” could be very powerful. I’m going to try to remember this for future use.

Second, I never thought of some of those biblical characters’ live experiences as being crises of confidence. It makes sense. I’ve just never put that label on it. The Elijah example is the one that’s always struck me as I read it. After such amazing success (calling down fire on the altar and killing Baal’s prophets), he went to such depths of fear. How did this happen? Maybe the question isn’t how can I keep this from happening to me. The better question might be, “When this happens, how do I find my way out?”

Third, the idea of accepting the loss of a missed opportunity. Oh, how many missed opportunities are in my past? How many did I miss today alone (and it’s not even noon). Opportunities to share your presence with a friend. Opportunities to do the right thing with my wife or children. Even big things like job opportunities. Or opportunities to bless someone instead of cursing them. Satan can try to take all of these things and lock me up with them. Destroy me with them. Shame me with them. That’s what he did with Peter after Peter’s denial of Jesus. But Jesus later came along and told Peter to do what’s next (“Feed my sheep”).

Finally, do what’s next. That’s living in the moment. One of the most influential things in my life was when I read C.S. Lewis’s words in the 15th letter of The Screwtape Letters when the one demon tells the other demon to do what it takes to distract his human from the present time, because the present is the one point in time that interfaces with you. The past is full of distraction. The future is full of distraction. But the present is what’s next.

Father, even now, as I sit here at 11:17 on a Sunday morning, show me what’s next. Not what do I need to do this afternoon. What do I need to do at 11:18. That’s what I need from you in this moment and every moment. What’s next? Thank you for the forgiveness you give me to accept the things I cannot change (the past), the courage to change the things I can (the present), and the wisdom to know the difference.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2021 in Miscellaneous

 

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Faith

I prayed and prayed, never heard a sound.

Keith Green
Dear God, I have a lot of cliches that I've kind of developed over the last few years going through my head. One is, "There's a fine line between living by faith and living in denial." Another is, "I measure time in days, weeks and months, but you measure it in years, decades and centuries." 

My wife and I pray together every morning. We pray for our children and their significant others. We pray for immediate and extended family. We pray for friends and coworkers. We pray for ourselves as individuals and our marriage. We've prayed for work things in the past. We've prayed for healing. And sometimes it can feel like we are praying into the thin air. Sometimes it can feel fruitless and hopeless. Sometimes, I don't see the point. But according to Hebrews, "faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see." There are times I feel like my prayers are pure faith and I start to wonder is my faith real, or am I just living in denial. Or I wonder if I am expecting the wrong thing from you, and you are telling me no. 

Something happened today to showed us what you've been doing while we never heard a sound. And it's not like I know really what you're doing, what your endgame is, or how you are going to enact your will. But today, at least in this moment, we heard a sound, and it brought me to weeping tears. 

Father, thank you. Thank you for being smarter than me, more knowledgeable than me, and for not giving me what I want when I want it. Thank you for teaching me along the way. Thank you for helping me to work out my faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Thank you for honoring your promises to us. I know that I need these trials to draw me closer to you. I wish I didn't, but I do. So I submit to whatever path you have for me and those I love.

In Jesus's name I pray,

Amen
 
 

Job 19:21-29

“Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for the hand of God has struck me. Must you also persecute me, like God does? Haven’t you chewed me up enough? “Oh, that my words could be recorded. Oh, that they could be inscribed on a monument, carved with an iron chisel and filled with lead, engraved forever in the rock. “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! “How dare you go on persecuting me, saying, ‘It’s his own fault’? You should fear punishment yourselves, for your attitude deserves punishment. Then you will know that there is indeed a judgment.”
Job 19:21-29

Dear God, I have had so much difficulty interpreting Job in the past. I tried reading it on my own and my attention span was too short to make it all of the way through the book and get a bird’s eye view of it all at once. I would read a chapter here and a chapter there, and my problem was that it all sounded pretty reasonable to me. I couldn’t parse through what was good theology and what was bad theology. So I finally used a biblical commentary to go through it, and that’s when I learned a basic truth. Job and his friends were still looking at you as a God who punishes and rewards. They saw good things and assumed your blessing and they saw bad things and assumed your curse.

So in the case of this passage, Job recognizes you as his redeemer and has not yet turned his back on you, but he also makes one critical error in verse 21: “…for the hand of God has struck me.” He was wrong. Your hand had not struck him. If anything, Satan’s had had struck him. You might have allowed it, but you didn’t cause it. In fact, what Satan didn’t realize through all of his glee at Job’s misfortune and torment is that you were using the crises to mold Job into something he never would have become otherwise. Not only that, but you used it to teach us thousands of years later.

Father, I have friends who are going through trials. Use them for your glory. I have trials of my own. Use them for your glory. Job’s ultimate lesson was that his life was not about him, but it was all about you. This is something that Paul figured out remarkably fast as he suffered for your kingdom’s sake without complaint. Give me the insight and courage to do the same. I’m sorry for the times I’ve questioned you. I’m sorry for complaining about the lot in life you’ve given to me. I’m sorry for being disappointed that you didn’t give me something I thought I deserved. I bring it all to you and simply say thank you for being such a glorious God and for loving me. What else could I possibly want?

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2021 in Job

 

The Creator Who Abhors Me

You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing?

The Monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Volume 2, Chapter 2.

Dear God, my wife and I have been reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to each other for the last couple of weeks, and I came across this sentence as she was reading last night. The thought just fell on me while I listened to her: What would it be like if my God—my Creator—abhorred me? How lonely would that feel? Would there be any hope in my life? In my existence?

There are many children who never feel loved or liked by their parents. Some even feel hated and abhorred. And those wounds cut deep. They leave tremendous scars. But that seems less significant than what the monster is communicating to Victor Frankenstein here. He is lost in a confusing world, and his Creator abhors him.

It made me grateful for your irrational love for me. You have been gentle with me. You have allowed me to go into valleys of my own making and walked with me through valleys that were not of my own making. You have inspired me. You have imparted your vision to me. You have said yes to some of my prayers and no to others. But one thing you never did. You never ignored me. Instead, you come looking for me when I’m lost.

That’s one thing that struck me as we read the story up to this point—after Victor created the creature he didn’t follow up. The monster disappeared and Victor did not follow. He was too self-absorbed to follow. That’s one of the weird things about you, God. You aren’t self-absorbed or narcissistic, and you have a right to be. In fact, you want us to worship you, but the odd twist is that it ends up being for our good. The more we decrease and you increase in our own eyes the happier we become. It’s an incredible paradox.

What if Satan were my creator? What if he ruled heaven? What if selfishness and narcissism ruled the day. What if my creator abhorred me and lived for my torment and destruction just for his amusement?

Father, help me to remember at every moment to offer my neighbors your love. Help me to remind them that you are a lover of their soul. Help me to explain the peace, love, joy, faithfulness, gentleness, patience, goodness, and kindness that are waiting for them if only they will turn loose of themselves, believe, and follow you. And help me to be a spokesperson for the idea of not just believing in you but following you. Following you, after all, is what you called even the first of your disciples to do.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2021 in Miscellaneous

 

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John 10:11-21

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” When he said these things, the people were again divided in their opinions about him. Some said, “He’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” Others said, “This doesn’t sound like a man possessed by a demon! Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
John 10:11-21

Dear God, it’s so interesting to see how Jesus apparently referenced Gentiles in this speech here (I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd) and, while people probably didn’t understand the reference at the time, John was careful to include it in his account of what Jesus had said. Yes, indeed, I not only have a right to be here praying to you this morning. You want me with you.

So, do I know your voice when I hear it? Going back to my common theme over the last few weeks, am I simply a believer in Jesus or a follower of Jesus? Do I believe there is a shepherd or do I follow the shepherd?

Father, it starts with me. I am prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. I am prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. I will do my best to be a follower of you. Thank you for wanting me in your flock.

In Jesus my shepherd’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2021 in John