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Joshua 1:1-9

After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:1-9

Dear God, sometimes I forget to be strong and courageous. I can be timid and fearful. I can be too cautious as I evaluate all of my options. To be sure, this command to Joshua is not to be reckless, but courageous. Not to be dominating, but strong.

As I go into this day of work, help me to be mindful of this speech to Joshua as he took over for Moses. Help me to do it all under your leadership, following your rules of engagement. Help me to be strong and courageous, working with both compassion and appropriate justice. Be glorified through me so that your will might be done and your kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2021 in Joshua

 

Isaiah 55

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink— even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David. See how I used him to display my power among the peoples. I made him a leader among the nations. You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey, because I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.” Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

Isaiah 55

Dear God, this is such a loving message from you through Isaiah. I know it was meant for another audience. You didn’t necessarily say it with a Gentile in the year 2021 in mind. Sure, it might apply to me, but what it definitely says is that you are so good. You are so loving. You want the best for us as your children.

Not that our lives will be easy. Not that we won’t face challenges, sorrow, or tragedies. But you will be there with us through thick and thin. You will reach out and love us. You will comfort us. Ultimately, we will be with you. We will be free from this. But even if we weren’t, the idea that you’re out there loving me is enough for me…I think.

Father, I confess that I am weak. My emotions ebb and flow. My faith is like the wind, blowing this way and that. I know that if I were to really suffer–and I don’t really know what real suffering is–then it would be harder for me to say words like this and believe them. But in this moment, right now, I am so delighted to call you my God. I love you and I want to do my part to be in this relationship.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2021 in Isaiah

 

Daniel 9:1-3

It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus, who became king of the Babylonians. During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.

Daniel 9:1-3

Dear God, I don’t know my Old Testament timelines well enough. I’ve ranted about the modern misinterpretations of Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

But they almost always skip verse 10:

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.

There are times when I think I focus too much on trying to see the forest from the trees, but sometimes I think it is important to ignore the forest and just deal with the trees for which you have given responsibility. Help me to be faithful with these trees.

Then there is Daniel’s response, from I can learn as well. Help me to be pained by my country’s sin, and help me to start with my own repentance. I should probably be more burdened for the impact my country’s sin has on the poor and/or vulnerable. What impact it has on children. What impact it has on the elderly. Marriages. Friendships. Isn’t it interesting that our temptation as Americans is to read this passage and find hope. Daniel’s response was to be convicted, heartbroken and repent. Let it convict me as well.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2021 in Daniel, Jeremiah

 

1 John 3:16-17

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 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?

1 John 3:16-17

Dear God, I cannot remember if I mentioned this in a prayer the other day, but I know I was talking with a friend about it yesterday. I heard a podcast where two men and a woman were talking about having been to seminary and how they think the examples held up to pastors as those you should emulate are the wrong ones. Even as a society, we often point to those who have accomplished the most with broad influence and power and valued them more than we value the faithful volunteer whose work we never see. One person in the discussion joked that instead of holding up pictures of national leaders who are influential they should hold up a picture of one of the pastors in the conversation who was serving with a seemingly smaller sphere of influence. To the pastor’s credit, he said, “No, we need to hold up a picture of Jesus on the cross. That’s the example we need to be prepared to follow.”

This passage from 1 John 3 made me think of that this morning when I read it. You are my example. You didn’t care about government power or building the kind of power structure the world builds. That was another part of their discussion. One man described the Jesus movement of the 70s and how you had these radical Christians like Larry Norman and Keith Green who went counter-culture. Keith Green made his record label angry because he gave away his records. He bought a piece of property and started a commune for homeless people. But conventional wisdom (what I’m calling the wisdom of man) takes over and says, “Hey, we need to grow our influence and reach. We need to get this out and grow.” Then we start to focus more on strategy and infrastructure and building a kingdom.

I fall into this trap at work. I work at a nonprofit that serves people. It requires staff and money. It requires a facility. And then we meet as leadership and the question we ask ourselves is, what do we need to do to grow? What’s next? And we are certain there must be an answer. There must be something that is next to grow our numbers. But it’s likely we are asking the wrong question. Is the question, how do we add more clients, or is the answer how can we be more effective with the clients we have? How can we make a meaningful impact on a few lives as opposed to a cursory impact on thousands?

Father, I am sorry I do so many things for the wrong reasons. I’m sorry for relying so much on conventional wisdom. I’m sorry for not trying to see each and every situation with your eyes. Let my biblical hero be the widow who left her two coins in the offering. She lived a small life, but it still reverberates through history 2,000 years later.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2021 in 1 John

 

Matthew 22:34

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again.

Matthew 22:34

Dear God, there was something about this particular verse this morning that made me think of our modern politics. These men were so concerned about being right and Jesus being wrong that they didn’t care about truth–seeing it or discovering it. The same is true of our country’s politics today. Those official politicians in power will meet together to conspire against the other side or to support their side, regardless of whether or not their side is right or wrong. And both sides do it. For example, President Clinton’s extramarital sexual escapades were condemned by the right and defended by the left. Twenty years later, the right defended President Trump and the left attacked him for the same reason. Of course, now with social media, that behavior has trickled throughout society.

But I’m above that, right? That couldn’t be me. I don’t judge someone to the point where it keeps me from loving them as myself. Right? Of course, I’m being sarcastic. I’m no Disney Princess. I’m the villain as much as anyone. I have someone I know right now who is hurting because his wife in (I presume) her early 50s died from COVID yesterday. When I went to his social media feed to learn more about her death I instantly judged him for the kinds of posts he had put up while she was apparently dying. Ever since, I have not loved him as myself, but maybe this is the kind of thing, tragic as it is, you can redeem and try to reach and soften his heart.

Father, I need your help to co finished to love you with all of my heart and to love my neighbor as myself. Forgive me for giving into judgment and group think. I simply want to be yours.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2021 in Matthew

 

“Rise Up (Lazarus)” by CAIN and Zach Williams

https://youtu.be/pw8IgPHRBr4

“Rise Up (Lazarus)” by CAIN and Zach Williams

In the dark and all alone, growing comfortable
Are you too scared to move and walk out of this tomb?
Buried underneath, the lies that you believed
Safe and sound, stuck in the ground
Too lost to be found

You’re just asleep and it’s time to leave

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
Rise up, rise up, rise up
Out from the grave like Lazarus

When He said your name, the thing that filled your veins
Was more than blood, it’s the kind of love that washes sin away
Now the door is open wide and the stones been rolled aside
The old is gone, the Light has come, so

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
Rise up (like Lazarus) rise up, rise up
Out from the grave like Lazarus

He’s calling us to walk out of the dark
He’s giving us new resurrected hearts, oh-whoa
He’s calling us to walk out of the dark
He’s giving us new resurrected hearts, oh

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
Rise up (He’s calling you out, no) rise up
Get me up from the grave like Lazarus

Rise up (You don’t have to stay there)
Rise up (oh, we hear You calling)
Rise up (calling us, calling us)
Out from the grave like Lazarus

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Madison Cain / Taylor Cain / Logan Cain / Ethan Hulse / Nick Schwarz

Dear God, the last few days, I’ve started to put these prayer journals together, but I’ve had too much to say on my phone’s keyboard so I’ve waited to write the bulk of them until I got to a real keyboard. But then I never made the time to actually sit down and pray through the things I was thinking when I started each of these. All of that is to say that I’m sorry I didn’t make it more of a priority to really spend some time with you.

When it comes to this song, I came across it in the last couple of days and it made me think of one particular person in my life. She/he is so locked up in secrets. She/he is so defensive of her/his life choices. She/he is so stubborn when it comes to being open to you. I look at the words to this song, and I just sing them for her/him:

In the dark and all alone, growing comfortable
Are you too scared to move and walk out of this tomb?

I remember several years ago I had a relative who was locked in a lot of secrets. I would tell my wife, “There is so much freedom waiting for him if he would just let go of these secrets. If he would just admit he needs help and let us help him.” Then he did, and he was able to have a pretty peaceful life. He still had struggles. He still had to battle (sometimes unsuccessfully) with addictions, but even though he has since passed on, he was able to have a peaceful last few years of his life.

Secrets, secrets, secrets. They are where we give Satan the biggest foothold in our lives. Secrets. Shame. Self-condemnation. Then we look to vices to give us respite from that shame and self-condemnation. Alcohol. Drugs. Porn/Sex. Food. Zoning out in front of a screen watching what we used to call “TV.” None of it works for very long, and all each of them does is destroy us and our relationships even further. There is no life. There is only death. But moving out of that “tomb” can seem like too much to handle.

Father, help me to be exactly who you need me to be. Help me to face the realities of my life. Help me to be what my wife, children, family, coworkers, and friends need me to be. Be glorified in me for your kingdom’s sake. Help me to rise up.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2021 in Hymns and Songs

 

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Isaiah 58

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes. “Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Isaiah 58

Dear God, oh, how I don’t want to be one of those people. I don’t want to be someone who, well, just has to be right, has to elevate myself over someone else, or has to hold a grudge over perceived wrongs done to me or others. I don’t want to be someone who is pious for piety’s sake. I want to be someone who worships you and loves you.

I think it’s the false piety that offends me the most in others and scares me the most about the potential I have for it myself. It’s the being religious and not truly worshipping you. It’s being self-righteous instead of repenting and basking in your forgiveness. The tendency I see in myself and others is the wont to make my faith in you and relationship with you more of a philosophical way of living my life instead of a life born out of communion and relationship with you.

Father, make this real. Make my life lived with you authentic. I am truly sorry for how I failed and how I continue to fail. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for allowing this Gentile to approach the king. Help my life to simply be a fleshing out of my relationship with you and not an empty shell with a Christian veneer.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2021 in Isaiah

 

I don’t know. But I know that I don’t know

Dear God, as our nice, crisp American society here in Texas has crumbled to some extent this week–millions without power in sub-freezing temperatures, indoor plumbing ceasing to work, grocery stores either empty due to resupply trucks not being able to run or employees not being able to arrive to open up–it’s made me think about societies that truly live in even worse conditions all of the time.

Haiti, for example. Puerto Rico after the hurricane a couple of years ago. In those areas, organized crime is high, as is petty crime. The privileged live in compounds with private security guards while the commoners are left to fend for themselves. Every day is a day of waking up wondering if you will be able to meet the most basic of human needs. Food. Water. Shelter. And if I find those things, will I be able to provide them to my family, or will they be taken from me through either organized for petty crime? The inability to defend my family or depend on the authorities to defend me would be unbelievably hard.

Then there are the stories you read in the Bible about a king laying siege to a city. One of the strategies was to surround the city and cut off their supplies. It’s a tactic still used today because it is very powerful. As I saw the food disappear from our own grocery stores and their inability to restock because the trucks couldn’t get through, it made me think of these situations as well. You can have all of the numbers of people you want, but they must be supplied with life-sustaining materials in order to function. What if those supplies are cut off?

And now there will still be thousands in my county alone who will likely be without power for the next week to two weeks. The weather will get warmer so it will be easier to be in their unheated homes, but there are still all kinds of problems to address with no electricity. And then there are the broken pipes. It will be very hard.

Father, there is a movie called Say Anything. In it, the main character, Lloyd Dobbler says a line that I’ve always liked: “I don’t know. But I know that I don’t know.” There are so many things to which I simply cannot relate. I cannot relate to being raised in deep, multigenerational poverty. I cannot relate to not knowing where my next meal will come from. I cannot relate to not feeling like I can physically protect my family. I cannot relate to not feeling like the police or the military are on my side. I cannot relate to being sexually violated. There is so much that I do not know, and I’m grateful to not know it (although I’m sure I take it for granted). But I think the good news is that I know that I don’t know. I know that someone motivated to travel hundreds or thousands of miles on foot or in incredibly uncomfortable conditions to illegally cross an international border only to end up in indentured servitude has experienced things I can’t even imagine. I know that someone who saw her mother stab her father and has no role models in her life might grow up to get pregnant early just to have someone who will love her. I know that someone who cannot provide for his family might be motivated to do whatever he can, including selling drugs, in order to get money to provide. I know that someone who lives in a slum might take their tax refund and, while it is too little to improve their living conditions, it might swing a 60″ 4K TV so that’s how they will use the money. I know that a parent, out of desperation or exhaustion or fear, might make a parenting decision I think I would never make. I don’t know what it’s like to be in these situations (well, maybe I’ve been in at least one of them), but I know that I don’t know. So I cannot solve all of this. I cannot solve the problems of everyone who is suffering in my city, my county, my state, my country, or my world today. I can’t do it. But I can try to solve a least a couple of problems for someone else. So help me to do that today. Help me to do it well and selflessly. And bring your presence into the world for those I help in your name and your power. And raise up others as well as we work together. Use this as a uniting opportunity. Make this pain and suffering count for your glory. Don’t let it be wasted.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

Mark 8:11-21

[11] The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. [12] He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” [13] Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. [14] The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. [15] “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” [16] They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” [17] Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? [18] Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? [19] When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. [20] “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” [21] He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Mark 8:11-21

Dear God, I’ve heard the “yeast of the Pharisees” described loosely before, but I wonder how we might define it more precisely. How might I look at this story and see the Pharisee in me or in church leaders (both local and national) today?

So what did Jesus see when he looked at the Pharisees?

  • People who had lost their first love–you.
  • People who had become too focused on keeping their existing position of power and influence in the community.
  • People who cared more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law.
  • People who judged as inferior things they didn’t understand.
  • People who had made a bargain with the existing political powers so they they and the Jewish religion would maintain its influence.

So what was Jesus saying to the disciples as he made this statement to them? Considering this is likely Peter relating this story to us through Mark, I would say that Peter definitely took a lesson from this story. He didn’t know how to apply it initially, but as the years passed, he got to apply it through the acceptance of Paul as an apostle, the following of the vision to eat the unclean food and minister to and accept Gentiles, and even the ushering in of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, certainly something for which they had no frame of reference.

So what kinds of things might Peter have to say to the American or worldwide church today in terms of what we should learn from Jesus’s words. Politically, there are certainly some national leaders who have made deals with existing political power in order to have top-down influence over society. In fact, they are very yeast-y when you compare them with the things I mentioned above. But they are too easy of a target. What is it in me that tends to be yeast-y?

  • I tend to make an idol out of the man-made structures around me. I put a lot of my confidence in electricity running to my home, access to the Internet, water that comes out of the faucets (both hot and cold), and the ability to communicate with others any time I desire. How do I know this? Because right now every single one of these things has either been taken from me or is being threatened, and it has gotten my attention. I have made an idol out of my American societal infrastructure.
  • I tend to want to influence others to see things my way and act accordingly. I like having an influential role in our local community. I can become prideful in that. I can desire the attention and respect I receive.
  • I tend to be close-minded when it comes to what you might be doing differently today than you were hundreds or thousands of years ago. I am skeptical of those who advocate all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongues and prophecy.
  • I certainly allow myself to love things in my society more than I love you. I embrace the wrong things. I pursue the wrong things. I allow lethargy and complacency to distract me from the different things you call me to.

Father, help me to see the yeast of the Pharisees that is in my life. Help me to identify it and reject it. It starts with the idols I’ve made. The idol of my society providing for me. The idol of my government solving my problems. The idol of my country’s military or economy making me feel good when I walk around instead of you. I heard yesterday about a former bishop in Haiti who is just trying to feed people, but his life is always in danger. He has no one but you. He has no government upon which he can depend. He has not power grid, running water, or Internet connection that he can say with confidence will be running tomorrow. He has no police to protect him. He doesn’t even have the church supporting him. He has only you. I have to admit that I don’t want to have to get to that point to learn that lesson, but I know that it is easy for me to look to my idols instead of you. I am so sorry.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2021 in Mark

 

Romans 8:31-34

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Romans 8:31-34

Dear God, I know I’ve prayed about this before, but this passage reminds me of the idea that we are at our worst as individual Christians or as the church when we are fighting for our own rights, but we are at our best when we are fighting for the rights of others. There are a lot of American Christians feeling like they are currently being persecuted, and have decided to fight for their rights and for top-down influence over society. It’s an ugly look because we are supposed to be able to rest in the peace that we are loved by you, and then we have the opportunity to spread that love to others by loving them as ourselves.

I could go on an on about how the church as a whole should do this for social justice issues, but I wonder what more I should be doing. I think the first thing is relationship. I need to be more purposeful about building relationships with those who are on the other side of the social justice scale than I am. That will be the first step.

Father, in the midst of a lot of strife right now, give me the courage to know what to do, how to help, and how to give.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2021 in Romans