Be Persistent

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  Luke 18:1

“OK, OK, I’m coming,” Judge Barker growled, grabbing his bathrobe as he stomped down the hall. He flung open the front door and squinted into the porch light. The old woman was a familiar sight, silhouetted against the blanket of darkness. She smiled sweetly and held out a flower. “Your Honor, I haven’t heard from you in a couple of weeks, and your secretary stopped taking my calls. I just wondered if you’d made a decision about my case.” The judge glared at the wilted flower. “Did you pick that out of my yard?” “Well, yes sir, I hope you don’t mind. I hated to come emptyhanded.” The judge slumped against the doorjamb and sighed. “All right. You win. I’ll hear your case first thing in the morn—” His words were cut off as his visitor grabbed him around the neck. “Oh, thank you, sir!” He mumbled a curse, but she glimpsed the hint of a smile just before he closed the door.

What an odd story Jesus told to remind us to keep praying. God is not a grumpy judge, so why would Jesus compare Him to one? He is using contrast to illustrate the differences between a grumpy judge and our heavenly Father. If a grumpy judge would grant a persistent request, how much more does our Righteous Judge listen to the requests of His children when we persist in prayer. We have thousands of throw-away requests:Help them not to see me here!” “Let that guy turn right!” “Make my bank balance not say what I think it says!” But important issues are worth our persistence. After we’ve exhausted our list of silly requests, we can get serious about what really matters. And if it matters that much to us, it matters that much to Him.

What in your life is worth persevering in prayer about? Have you given up? Jesus said to keep praying.

A Summons from the Most High

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“Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. 
You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”  Exodus 3:10

Moses shifted his bare feet on the hot sand as the words hit him. Pharaoh? Egypt? He’d left them behind years ago. Maybe the Lord didn’t realize that. Moses jabbed a toe into the sand and scolded himself. Of course the Lord realized it. The basket in the reeds. The palace. His destiny had been ingrained in him since birth, and this burning bush had ignited that old yearning. How he’d wanted to belong, but his enslaved kinsmen had only offered fearful bows to his royal garments. He had ached to free the grandpas and uncles who suffered while he dined in the king’s courts. But all that was behind him. He’d blown it. He thought he’d forever cancelled any chance of redeeming himself. But this burning bush. The voice of God. He approached the flaming bush as a shepherd; he walked away as the leader of his people. He had answered a summons from the Most High.

Moses is not the only recipient of such a summons. Thousands have heard that Voice and bowed before Him. Maybe you’ve heard it too, but like Moses, you came up with excuses. You ran. You blew it. You thought you’d forever cancelled any chance of redeeming yourself. But there it came again: “I have a job for you.” Prayer is the way we bow before that burning bush, and when our lives are positioned to obey, He speaks. We are invited to take off our shoes and put on our purpose. We may approach Him filled with excuses; we walk away a chosen vessel whenever we answer a summons from the Most High. 

Learning to Pray

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. 
Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  Luke 22:42

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“Oh God, please heal my daughter!” 

“Lord, if you are willing, don’t let me get fired.” 

“Oh, Father in heaven, please let me marry Jordan in fourth hour!” 

Heaven resounds with billions of desperate pleas by people like us. Many of them were answered; many were not. Most of those prayers did not end the way Jesus’ prayer ended, and that’s why God couldn’t answer them the way we prayed them. Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry Jordan in fourth hour? And aren’t we glad Jesus was willing to go to the cross anyway? Jesus laid His request before the Father, but He kept praying until His will matched God’s.

In those few words, Jesus gave us a model for our prayer life. He passionately made a request of His Father, but He didn’t stop there. We usually stop there. We think we’re showing faith if we lay our request before God and walk away. Jesus didn’t think so. He knew that what His flesh wanted did not line up with what His Spirit wanted. So He left the decision with God. He kept praying until He could agree with God’s choice. 

We must do that too. We may not want “Thy will be done” the first ten times we fall on our faces and cry out for help. That’s why we must keep going back, like Jesus did, until our hearts are aligned with His. Only then can we cooperate with God’s plan. And we are forever grateful that He did not go along with ours.


The Prayers God Doesn't Want

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, 
even his prayer is an abomination. 
Proverbs 28:9

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Wait! What? You mean there are some prayers God doesn’t want? 

According to scripture, yes. Prayer is a universally accepted idea, but we want to set our own rules for it. The majority of adults claim that they pray, but is God listening to those prayers? Scripture commands us to pray, but there are some guidelines for those prayers. For example, will God honor the prayer of a man who flings himself off a skyscraper with the words: “God, keep me safe?” Or would God honor the prayer of a murderer asking for nice weather for his next kill? Obviously, God does not welcome every prayer, but we want to think that He always hears ours. But does He? How do we know? Fortunately, He’s spelled it out pretty clearly for us.

God is all about the heart, because the heart determines our actions. We may say, “I don’t believe in stealing,” but we slip a twenty out of our employer’s cash register. We lied. We do believe in stealing. We may say, “I don’t believe in having sex outside marriage,” but our significant other is moving in next week. We lied. We do believe we can do whatever we want. Actions are our hearts on display. We may say we love God, but our actions indicate whether or not we are lying (1 Jn. 2:4). So, when we continually defy God’s clear commands, He doesn’t want to hear our requests. They disgust Him. He’s not fooled by our lying lips; he sees our hearts. When we’ve become our own gods, He knows it and He does not listen to idol worshipers.

Are you turning your ear away from hearing God’s law? The only prayer He wants to hear is repentance. 



Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?

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Is anything too hard for the LORD?”  Genesis 18:14

Her husband is an atheist. His daughter is a lesbian. Your best friends are considering becoming Muslim. These situations and a thousand more dot our lives like stickers in the lawn. They’re painful, and we pick our way around them trying to hang on to joy. We may continue to pray about them, but in reality, we often write “The End” over seemingly impossible situations. 

That’s what Sarah had done with the idea of ever becoming a mother. Even when God got in her face and said, “If I said it, I will do it,” she laughed. It wasn’t a happy laugh. It was a “Yeah, right,” laugh and God did not appreciate it. He doesn’t appreciate our snarky attitudes either. When we confine the Lord God Almighty to our teensy understanding, we make a big mistake.

God is in the miracle business, but when He doesn’t perform on our schedule, we get cynical like Sarah. We secretly answer this Bible question with, “Yes, some things may be too hard for the Lord.”  When we hit a concrete wall, we assume God has too. 
But the truth is, atheists can be born again. Ask Lee Strobel. 
Lesbians can repent and live purely. Ask Rosaria Butterfield. 
Muslims can have their eyes opened to the truth of Jesus. Ask Nabeel Quereshi. 

If God can put a baby inside the uterus of a 90-year-old woman, and from that baby, create a nation that still exists today, then He can handle your problem.

What concrete wall in your life looks too hard for the Lord? 
Is it harder than what He did for Sarah?


Where Are the Bereans?

This question is for the Church of 2017: 
What about this picture is growing increasingly rare?

The Setting: 

Paul and Silas enter the region of Berea and head straight for the synagogues, preaching their message of salvation through faith.  They present their too-good-to-be true gospel, but instead of immediately accepting it, the Bereans "received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teachings were true" (Acts 17:11).

That means they searched the Old Testament books to see if Jesus the Messiah was found there. They refused to embrace a new-and-improved teaching simply because it sounded good. It had to pass critical tests before they allowed themselves to be influenced by it. And because they knew God's word, they recognized that Paul's words were validated by the "whole counsel of God"(Acts 20:27). ONLY then did they accept this new message with gladness. 

The Question:

Where are today's Bereans? We are the most literate generation in history to be the most biblically ignorant. Scriptural counterfeits are everywhere, deceiving the masses.  A flamboyant personality can rip a verse or two out of the Bible, scroll it across his TV persona, and millions instantly pronounce him a "man of God." Who is checking his doctrine? Where are the Bereans who know their Bibles and will cry out, "Not true!" The few remaining Bereans have been buried under the weighty labels of "Judgmental," "Pharisee," and "Legalistic," their voices discounted as being among the unenlightened. 

So when a movie pretends to explain God by introducing universalism, shelving the Bible, and cancelling the need for repentance, do we become Bereans? No.Instead, Christians create Sunday School lesson plans around its theology. When a megachurch prosperity guru cuts-and-pastes verses from his Message Bible until the unrepentant are convinced that God only wants them to believe in themselves, do we become Bereans? No. Christians crown him "America's Pastor." Sadly, that is the kind of "pastor" America wants.  

So fellow believers, the Bereans are calling to us, rebuking us, and challenging us to follow their example. Heresy quickly overtakes gullible souls without a Berean heart.  The most seductive heresies are those that make us feel good and insist that love is God's sole characteristic. Those sermonettes sound like encouragement; they seem to define love. They are what we want to hear and they're ALMOST true. But if we don't know how to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), we are easy prey for the enemy's counterfeit. 

How do you think the Bereans would have responded if Paul had presented Yahweh as a woman? Or what if Paul's gospel was that Jesus went to the cross so that they could believe in themselves? Do you think the Bereans would have accepted Paul or his gospel? 

Me neither. Let's become Bereans! 


How To Love God 101

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

“How do we love God?” Sheldi wondered. “I want to learn, but He’s invisible. I don’t have money, or valuables, or even any talents He needs. How can someone like me learn to love an all-sufficient, invisible Spirit I can’t even touch?” Have you ever wondered that? We’re dependent upon our senses and God is outside those. So when we read Bible verses telling us to love God, deep down we think, “How can I have feelings for Someone I can’t see, hear, feel, or experience in the real world?” 

God knows we struggle with that, because He’s the one who made us physical. So He gives us practical ways to sing to Him a thousand love songs. “Take care of orphans,” He says. “Look out for the helpless, for people who cannot defend themselves, for grannies on fixed incomes, and children without fathers.” When we take on the burdens of people who are not our responsibility, we are loving God. When we say “NO!” to our fleshly desires, turn away from temptation, and discipline ourselves to be obedient to Him, we are loving God. When we make a choice simply because He wants us to, He notices and approves. Those physical offerings are translated into heavenly currency and are gladly received by our loving Father.

Have you wondered what it means to truly love God? Make His passions your passions and you will find out. 


I Love God But I Hate You!

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20

“I’m a Christian, but I hate Muslims! I hate gays! I hate fat people! I hate Republicans, Democrats, Independents, liberals, conservatives…”  Have you heard—or said—something like this: “I love God, but I hate_____?” In our minds, such thinking makes sense. After all, God is perfect and easy to love. People, not so much. Some people seem to deserve our hatred by the way they treat us or the things they stand for. But God clamps down pretty hard on that kind of attitude, even going so far as to say that if we claim to love Him but we hate other people, then we are liars. Liars? Isn’t that kind of harsh?

What we forget is that every human being—even those who belong to groups we shun—is a unique creation designed by God Himself to reflect His glory in a way that no one else can. C. S. Lewis explains it this way: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal...remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…” To truly love God is to love what He loves and hate what He hates. He hates sin, but He loves people, so we must follow suit. We learn to love God by seeing His reflection in even those hard-to-love individuals. We love a God we cannot see by loving the people we can see.

Do you hold on to prejudice and hatred toward someone while claiming to love God? You can’t do both.


Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength


“…you must love the LORD your God with all your heart… 
 soul…mind, and…strength.”  Mark 12:30

God requires that we love Him with all four components of our lives because until we do, we are susceptible to Satan’s traps. 

The HEART is the seat of our affections. When we love the Lord with all our hearts, we lose our affection for things contrary to Him. Idols, vices, and ungodly relationships lose their attraction when we love the Lord with all our hearts. 

The SOUL is the seat of our decision-making. When we love the Lord with all our souls, decisions are viewed through the filter of God’s word. Disobedience is not an option. To love with all our soul means we voluntarily lay aside our rebellion in favor of: “Thy will, not mine, be done.”

The MIND is where our battles take place. Satan is at war with God, and the human mind is his battlefield. If Satan can introduce doubt, heresy, or blasphemies, he can control the information the mind sends to the heart and soul. We are commanded to renew our minds (Rom. 12:1-2) and to destroy every lofty idea raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5). When we love God with all our minds, we bow our intellect to His often-unfathomable ways and desire His truth, not our ideas, to prevail. 

And STRENGTH is the daily determination to follow and obey no matter what is coming against us. Instead, of using up our physical and emotional energy with guilt, envy, or judgement, we actively engage in serving Him with passion. Every moment is weighed in light of eternity and we use everything at our disposal to please and honor Him with all our might.

Do you love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? 
Which of the four do you withhold? 


Reboot Your Life

Create in me a clean heart, O God; 
and renew a right spirit within me.  
Psalm 51:10

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“This stupid computer keeps freezing up!” Andy shouted and kicked away from his desk, throwing his hands into the air. “I hate computers! Now I have to call the geek squad again.” 

Dan set his coffee cup carefully on the edge of the desk and peered at his co-worker’s screen. “Restart it,” he suggested. 

Andy frowned. “Nah, that won’t work. I probably need to throw this away and buy a new one.” 

Dan shrugged. “It’s your money, but I’d restart it. Sometimes it just needs a fresh start and it will work like new.” 

Andy frowned at his co-worker, but did as he suggested. In moments, his computer was working perfectly. 

Dan tried not to look smug as he picked up his cup. “Yep. Thought so. Just needed a fresh start. Wish I could reboot like that.”

Psalm 51:10 tells us that we can. Our lives get a reboot when we confess our sin and turn away from it. Like computers, our lives collect garbage that weighs us down and freezes our relationship with God. Sometimes the past seems overwhelming and we feel stuck in a sea of bad decisions. We have no way to free ourselves, so we give up, assuming we are worthless. But God doesn’t give up on us. Like Dan, He suggests, “Restart it.” We restart our lives when we bring our mess to Him and agree to obey Him. He erases the stains on our hearts and replaces despair with hope. He renews our thinking and helps us move on.

Does your life need a reboot? Confess your sin to God and agree to do things His way. He gives fresh starts.

Prayer: Father, I feel like that computer. I feel frozen by my past and current sins. But your word says you can free me and make me new. I surrender it all to you now. Take this sin from me, cleanse my heart, and renew me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Suffering Is Temporary

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You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again… Psalm 71:20

Maybe last year wasn’t your best year ever. Maybe the one before it wasn’t so great either. Life can be cruel and painful, and sometimes the cruelty and pain comes in waves. Job losses. Relationship sorrows. Death. Disaster. Failures. Hardships are bad enough when they happen to other people. But when they are ours, they can be overwhelming. We all go through seasons of difficulty when it seems like the troubles just keep getting worse. So if that is your story, then this verse is for you.

Hope is the hand we cling to when walking through dark valleys. Hope is rooted in the truth that the bad times won’t last forever. Suffering is temporary. The very One who allowed us to suffer for a short while will also restore us to life again. God never wastes anything that is dedicated to Him—even suffering. Only God can turn mourning into gladness, sorrow into joy, and brokenness into beauty. When it seems that heaven is silent and God is ignoring our cries, faith reminds us that He is allowing what He hates to accomplish what he loves. Night does not last forever. Morning will come, and with it a restoration that lasts for all eternity. 

God will take us to the mountaintops—if we don’t let go of Him in the valley.

If you’re struggling over the hardships you’ve faced, keep clinging to the One who restores to life again.

Everyone Can Do Something

Do not neglect the gift you have… 1 Timothy 4:14

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Shelly rolled from beneath the pickup and sat up with a smile on her grease-streaked face. “There! All fixed, Mr. Bellows. Just needed a couple of adjustments.” As she brushed the dust from her jeans, her elderly neighbor leaned on his cane and beamed at her. “I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t live next door, sweetie,” he said. “You’re such a help to this old man.” Shelly frowned. “Ah, it’s nothing. Just a couple of truck repairs and lawn mowings. Since I don’t have any real gifts I can serve God with, I just help people, but I really wish I had gifts of teaching or prophesying, or…you know, one of those cool ones.”

Have you ever felt like Shelly does? You hear gifted speakers, admire talented musicians, and learn from dedicated teachers who are clearly using their spiritual gifts. And then there’s you. Compared to them, what can you do? Oh sure, you love taking care of other people’s babies, or you’re always bringing stray people home. Sure, they call you when the lights don’t work or the door breaks and you’re the first in line to give or to volunteer, but you want a REAL gift. A spiritual-looking gift. The truth is, you have it and you don’t know it. If you belong to Jesus, then He has equipped you to serve Him in such natural ways that you don’t realize you are gifted to do it. It just feels like YOU. It’s who you are. You were made for this. Whether it’s fixing your neighbor’s engine or leading a revival, God wants to see big returns on His investments. Don’t neglect your gift.

What gifts are you neglecting because you either think they’re not important, or you’re scared to try?