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Conversations with God

Do you sometimes wonder what to pray for specifically? I pray for a lot of things and a lot of people, but the other morning I was sitting in my quiet time and decided to ask God what He wanted me to pray for instead of my usual list.  God wants us to have conversations with Him and we can ask questions and then listen and pay attention for the answers.

During my journaling and Bible reading that followed, I did what I sometimes do when I am not sure where to read; I held up my Bible and asked God to open it at a place He wanted me to read. On this occasion, it opened near the back of my Bible past all the books of Scripture. At first, I was not sure what to read, but it did not take long to notice one of the headings that read, “God Gets the Glory; We Get the Joy” under the section called “Reading the Bible” in the back of my study Bible. As I began to read the first paragraph, there it was, in the first sentence: “The Bible shows that prayer is near the heart of why God created the world” (English Standard Version). I am still amazed when God does these things. This is one of the many reasons I am in awe of Him every single day. It went on to say that when we pray, God gets the glory, and we get the joy.

In summary, this led me to three specific prayers that we should pray for as we make our longing for God’s name to be hallowed in the world, as central to our prayers. #1: For God’s church (all over the world) to be filled with the fruit of righteousness, to the glory and praise of God (Col. 4:3-4). #2: For the Gospel to spread and awaken faith in Jesus, among all nations (Romans 10:1).  #3: That the many who do not believe would be saved (Romans 10:1).

The aim of God’s word and the aim of prayer are the same: For the Glory of God and salvation of the nations through Jesus Christ. As an example, Jesus told his disciples how to pray as we see in Matthew 6:9-13. To hallow God’s name is to make it holy, greatly revered, and honored. We also see another prayer by Paul for spiritual strength in Ephesians 3:14-21. I am grateful for the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts.

The prayer for awakened faith reminds me of a song we sing at church that has stuck with me this week and was prominent on my mind at every waking moment during the night. It is called, God of Revival by Bethel Music. This is also a beautiful prayer for our city and people. I know in my own journey after becoming a Christ follower, it felt like I had just woken up from a self-induced stupor and that I had slept walked for most of my life. I hope you will join me in praying for a great awakening and revival and if you get a chance listen to this song.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Beware of Traps

One particularly chilly morning after a rainy day, I stepped out on the pavement before taking off to run to check for ice. It seemed wet but not icy, so I ventured out. I saw a bridge covered in water ahead but forged on to cross it in an area of low water thinking I could squeeze by without getting my feet wet. As soon as I hit the bridge my foot slipped, and I immediately come to a screeching halt. I tiptoed over to the sidewalk and got past the danger zone before I continued.

This is so like the enemy. Just when we think it is all smooth roads ahead and we are happy, the enemy will try to trip us up. He lays in wait to attack us at any moment with traps of all kinds that appear to be good but are not at all. He makes bad things look good and tries to convince us to do that thing you have been thinking about. Truth is he is the one who put the temptation on your mind and makes it look good to us.

The best way to defeat the enemy and stay continually cautious of his tactics are to study the Word of God. The more we know God’s truth the easier it will be to recognize the enemies’ lies. Matthew 16:10 says, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’. Have you ever wondered what that means? I was directed to this in my Bible reading while working on this message; so, I looked up the definitions. A Pharisee is a self-righteous person, a hypocrite. A Sadducee is someone who denied the afterlife and lived only by the law. In other words, these are false teachings from people who try to trip you up. Yeast is a symbol of sin and evil- deceptive teaching falls into that category.

My dad used to tell a story from the pulpit about a young banker who wanted to make sure he did not accept any counterfeit bills, so he began to study them. An older banker asked what he was doing and when he told him he was studying the fake money so he would recognize it, the older wiser banker told him that was unnecessary, if he studied the real thing, he would easily recognize the fake. (the day after I wrote this message, I read almost the exact story in my “100 Ways to Brave” devo by Annie F. Downs-A powerful little book by the way!) What a great message. Study God’s truth for yourself and you will recognize the counterfeit (or false teaching) others try to pass on to you.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil., He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. Ephesians 6:14

Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees- religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. Luke 20:27 (verse that led me to Matt. 16:10)

In the Garden

She carefully planned each step, stretching her little legs as far as she could to reach the imprint her father made in the fresh tilled soil. She placed her tiny foot inside each of his impressions two or three times before moving on to the next.

Heeding to his instructions she dropped one or two seeds into the holes he prepared. He did not need her help to accomplish his goal but delighted in teaching her the way as his father had shown him.

The tiny building beside the garden where livestock once found shelter from the storms now only housed the dry dung from days gone by. Using the dirty silver bowl, she found inside, she joyfully scooped one serving at a time and carried it to the garden as a fertilizer to ensure ultimate growth.

The dry parched land lapped up each drop she gave the seeds to drink from the jug, as she gripped the handle tight. Helping her father in the garden was hot work but would be most rewarding when new life sprang forth.

Many years have come and gone, and her earthly father has passed. But, once again, with childlike wonder, the little girl carefully follows in her Father’s footsteps to help Him in the garden; trying her best to follow her Father’s every instruction. With each drop from her bucket a thirst is quenched.

She spreads the seeds of His love in the cultivated hearts, fertilized with the dung from her past. She knows she may not see the final stage of new life that springs forth, but she is content to be able to share even a small part of their unique journey.

The living water that flows from the Father above into her life below and into the lives of others is enough. She joyfully sings a new song He places on her heart and praises His name for the freedom it brings.

Free as a bird to soar overhead and carry His messages and spread His love.  All of this He could do on His own- but He chose her for His purpose to give meaning to her life and help her grow in full richness of His glory.

We are part of His grand design to follow His path and help each other using our gifts for His glory. The few who find it and follow in His steps will be blessed beyond measure. The more we lift to Him the more that will be poured back down, it will return to us even better than how we released it.

In the garden of life, He has set forth a path for each of us to follow. He goes before us to guide us each step of the way. In childlike wonder we look up to the Father. He will lift us up on His shoulders for a new perspective that we are to share with others. The path leads to His kingdom and a glory not yet known. But its beauty will amaze you – don’t you want to come along?

The Art of Listening

I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to have lunch with a lady who had significant hearing loss since birth. She did a very good job of reading lips. I on the other hand did not do as great a job making out her words. I saw right away this was going to be a challenge for me even though she managed her words very well for someone who could not hear.

I began to focus on each word as it escaped her lips so I could see the shape of her mouth to anticipate what she might be saying so I could respond appropriately. When I could not understand a particular word and had to ask her multiple times to repeat it, I felt really bad. Although she is probably used to that and did not seem to mind repeating and trying her best to help me make out her words. I paused after each sentence before I responded. I repeated over and over in my head, “Help me, Holy Spirit.”

I admittedly have not been a great listener in the past. I will attempt to inject my two cents worth before the other person completes their thought. I am aware of this and have been training myself to be intentional about listening to understand instead of thinking about my response. I also try to pause before responding and ask the Holy Spirit to help me with my answer. Having lunch with this kind lady gave me some much-needed practice. I realized more than ever how intently I was listening.

Isn’t this what God wants of us? How much do you think our Heavenly Father wants us to be still, listen, and pause for an answer? Maybe He even wants us to take our time while praying and communicating with Him and not rush through our prayers- He is a great listener. But, once we have all our thoughts out, we need to give Him a chance to speak.

 You may be surprised what He has to say.

James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters; take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Perseverance & Protection

Did you know God gives us resources to ward off the enemy? Maybe you have read about the armor of God in Ephesians 6:11-17.  Paul’s metaphorical descriptions of the “armor of God” along with instructions on how we should wear it to protect ourselves are clearly listed. But did you know he gets many of the parts from the OT, in the book of Isaiah? He even quotes Isaiah in the book of Romans that relates back to the armor of God. We sometimes dismiss the OT for different reasons, but there are many great messages and instructions for us in those books. The entire Bible is composed by people just like you and me whom God revealed his Word so that we could benefit from it, even today. It is God’s story. Everything in the OT points to the coming of Christ and everything in the NT is about Jesus’ life on earth in human form as well as His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. It is there for a reason, not to just take up space.

Regarding the armor, Paul gets the belt of truth or faithfulness from Isaiah 11:5, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” The ESV study Bible explains that the Messiah is not clothed with the trappings of human ego but is truly qualified to rule the world. Isaiah 52:7 is quoted in Romans 10:14-15, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who bring the good news, who publishes peace, who brings news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, your God reigns.” Isaiah 59:7 states, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head, he put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.” God “put on” the powers of a fully equipped warrior to fight off sin. He was committed to His victory from the depths of His being. We are to do the same with the resources God gives us. Like a soldier going to battle we can fight off our enemy, Satan, because of Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for “whole armor” is panoplia and relates to the complete equipment of a fully armed soldier with shields and weapons. The metaphors Paul uses for spiritual resources are given by Christ and are truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God are all aspects of God’s and the Messiah’s own character and work, as depicted in Isaiah, with which Christians are now equipped. The armor of God is the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace (always ready to proclaim the gospel), helmet of salvation, sword of the spirit (word of God) and he adds to this perseverance and to boldly proclaim the gospel while staying alert for the enemy. Did you know the opposite of perseverance is disobedience? So, in essence our basic obedience to God helps us fight off our spiritual attackers and helps us cloth ourselves in God’s armor.

Human resources are not enough, we must take up the whole armor of God to go up against spiritual forces. These are made available to all believers. We can stand firm against the enemy as Christian soldiers in a battle. The weapons of warfare are spiritual because they are rooted in prayer, the main and most powerful resource we can use. Paul says to pray “at all times”, “with all perseverance”, and “in the spirit”. Jesus’ prayers, when he was on earth, were always heartfelt and tearful. His prayers were answered then and He now stands with every Christian to intercede on their behalf so that ours are answered now.

We, as children of God, because of Jesus, can come boldly to the throne, in fact we are encouraged to do so. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) That is only possible when our sins are forgiven through sacrificial and the intercessory ministry of Jesus. God’s throne implies that Christians have the privilege of a personal relationship with God and can have confidence to speak to Him honestly without fear. Just like a good father expresses to his children and wants them to come to him; we can go to God.

Jesus did not leave us unarmed and unprotected when He ascended into heaven. Jesus Himself prayed for us as future believers before he ascended. I find that comforting. He also left us the gift of peace, and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us until He comes back for us.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“it is to your advantage that I go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” (John 17:20)

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages and notes referenced are in the English Standard Version.

My Friend, Jesus

Let me introduce you to my friend Jesus. Have you ever felt an instant connection with someone your best friend introduced you to? Simply because your friend knows them, loves them, and cares about them, you have the desire to get to know the person better. It is even more true when Jesus is the best friend we are introducing to our friends. When they see how much we love Him and the difference He has made in our lives, hopefully they will have the desire to know Him as well.

This is also true when Jesus introduces us to one of His friends by crossing our paths. When we see they also know Jesus, it gives us an instant connection, a bond, and desire to get to know them better because Jesus loves and cares about them. The truth is Jesus loves and cares about everyone. Because Jesus is our best friend, we need to love everyone too. If they do not know Jesus yet, it is a great opportunity to introduce them.

I read something this week that resonated with me and provided a framework for what it means to be in a relationship with God and to believe in Jesus. It is not just to know about him in the intellectual sense, and believe He exists, but to fully know Him in our heart. To believe in the power of his saving grace, rooted deep, anchored, steadfast.

We can accept Him and believe with our whole heart, repent, and ask for forgiveness of our sins and enjoy a relationship with Christ. He is a mighty King who takes care of and protects His sons and daughters, so that we can live with Him in eternity, not because we deserve it, but because Jesus is worthy, and He went to the cross for us.

Have you ever stopped to ask God what he wants for you? It is a life changing question. I will tell you what He wants. He wants the best…ALWAYS! He wants to be in an intimate relationship with you. When you ask this question in sincerity, the weight shifts from your shoulders to God’s shoulders. If I had known it would be like this, I would have done it so much sooner. If you do not know Jesus as your friend and protector, what are you waiting for? Jesus saves. We cannot just say we believe in God and go on about our business. Jesus is the best friend we will ever have. He promises never to leave us or forsake us. Jesus is the only way to the Father.

Now more than ever we need to tell everyone we know about our friend Jesus. Sadly, there are people in this world who call themselves Christians who do not reflect the biblical image of Christ at all. It has put a bad taste in some people’s mouths. We cannot group them together with true Christ followers. God will handle those people in due time. But we are still to love and pray for them even when they seem unlovable. I pray that God opens their eyes, minds, and hearts to His truth. I boldly and proudly call myself a Christ follower. For those of you who have a bad taste in your mouth or have been hurt by the church, first let me say how sorry I am for that, and I pray you will see the difference and not give up on God. There is much joy in a true and intimate relationship with Jesus.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)

“Vengeance is mine, and recompense (I will repay), for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Heart Condition

Have you ever heard someone ask the rhetorical question, ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ I propose, to get the answer, one must first understand the falsity of the question. According to Romans 3:10 no one is righteous, not even one. In other words, none of us are ‘good’. The bad things that happen are the result of sin and a broken world. Thankfully, one’s salvation does not hinge on one’s good or bad behavior, but rests solely on the finished work of Christ.

It is the work of the Holy Sprit within one’s heart that changes their desires as they seek to be a better person according to God’s will. This is called regeneration. It is an important factor in becoming a Christ follower. We are all born with heart condition and the only remedy is through a relationship with the Ultimate Physician. When we surrender and ask what God wants for us, we no longer want to follow the things of this world but do that which pleases our Father.

For me, I remember being as far down as I could possibly get; I exhausted all my own options before I finally looked up to ask the most important question of my life, “God, what do you want?” At this point, I relinquished control and surrendered my way for God’s way. The change that occurred was gradual, not immediate, but none the less obvious. We are justified (forgiven) immediately and forever, because of Jesus, but the work of sanctification is a life-long journey and will not be complete or perfect until we are with God in our eternal home. But we can ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to be more like Jesus every day until one day it will be so.

No Pain, No Gain

You have heard this phrase many times. It was probably derived from a new exercise plan, but I want to take it to the next level.

Any woman who has given birth can tell you, the pain is all worth it once they hold the baby in their arms. When the birthing process is complete. new life is received as the miracle and gift from God that it is. It brings much joy, and the mom can put the pain behind her.

I can relate this to the pain from my past that God saved me from. I went through a re-birth when Christ entered my heart and I surrendered to Him. I was able to put the pain from the self-inflicted wounds of my past behind me to receive the new life which brings pure joy in the rarest form because of Christ.

All the pain is behind me and I have everything to gain. God wants the same for all of us. His grace is enough.

Romans 3:10 says “No one is righteous- not even one.” Verse 12 continues: “No one does good, not a single one.” But His grace covers all of us. Allow His seed to take root in your heart and grow into the beautiful bloom that you are. Soak up the “Son” in all its radiance and celebrate this new life.

A mascaraed party masks the lies; but a celebration of life reveals the truth and uncovers the lies for ultimate joy and peace and true freedom is revealed.

This means that everyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

In the Know

Do you feel special when you are one of the first to know something? You have the privilege (if it is good news) and maybe the responsibility (if it is bad news) to be the one who informs others. This can bring a sense of importance like carrying a torch.

Sometimes when we are not in the know we feel left out or insignificant when we finally hear the news from another source other than the person, we thought would have told us first. Could this be another form of jealousy? For that answer we must dig deeper and ask the One who knows our heart to reveal anything we need to discard to make more room for God. We need to get over ourselves.

Maybe this is how we feel when we do not know what God is working on. We think we need to be in the know with everything He is doing; but the truth is we could not handle it. God knows how much to give us and at just the right time. If we rush that process, we will not be ready. He is always working and knows the bigger picture and plan. But He also prepares us for the outcome- that is the journey we can enjoy along the way, until He reveals the final picture and brings it all together.

When we rush it, we are controlling it; even if we think we are not. If we can truly let go and wait for God to do His job then the outcome will be so much better. We cannot imagine the half of what He is doing-our minds are too small and our vision too narrow. But God has a higher view over our lives and can direct us on the right path for what lies ahead.

The times I have been able to see if from this perspective and truly let Him have the reins-there is an indescribable freedom. The weight is lifted off my shoulders and put squarely on the Father who knows best.

Form this view I can safely carry on about my day waiting for Him to drop a crumb to show me the path He is laying before me, one step at a time. I can enjoy this God-given journey without fear or worry about what is next. This requires staying in communion with Him, aligned to His will, not mine, being in tune to His presence. He has it under control.

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21

Grand Central Station

Central Park

Have you ever been to Grand Central Station? Was it a hurried trip to get to another destination or was it a leisurely excursion that allowed you to take in all the intricate details of the architecture and explore each nook and cranny where even a whisper can be heard across the hallways?

Most people who travel through this area are not taking the time to slow down and admire the artwork, design, or listen for anything much less the echo of a whisper. They are rushing through with only their destination in mind. Such is life.

When is the last time you slowed down to admire the handy work of God’s architecture? His landscapes? Have you put much thought into the colors He used to accentuate the astonishing design of each season or take in the wonder of a snowflake? To listen for the echo of His whisper as you take it all in and meditate on the power and thought that went into every detail that was woven into the fabric of the world around us. It leaves me breathless.

This should be enough to cause every person to pause and take notice of the God who created us. But that is not always the case. Despite overwhelming evidence and obvious visible architectural surroundings there are those who refuse to believe it and instead make up foolish ideas that only make their minds dark and confused (Romans 1:19-21). These things only condemn them. According to Paul in 1:20, “they have no excuse for not knowing God.” In many cases, we trade the truth for a lie. “…they worshiped and served things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Romans 1:25) Anything we place above our Creator is an idol.

But God still uses *natural revelation to awaken people to the reality of the one true God. When coupled with the empowering work of grace, beauty, and intricacy of the world, it can encourage someone to search for the Creator, the one true God, who offers salvation through Jesus Christ. By reading of Scripture and meditating on His word, one can receive **special revelation to know and experience His salvation. Believe. Accept. Redeemed. Eternal joy.

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4 )

*when God speaks to people indirectly through the world of nature, he has created

**when God speaks to people directly through his word