SOMETIMES ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN PRAYERS

By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. [Luke 10:31-32 (NLT)]

great egretYesterday’s devotion got me thinking more about the movie War Room. Elizabeth is a woman whose marriage is crumbling and Miss Clara is a fervent prayer warrior. Clara could easily have done her “Christian duty” for Elizabeth by offering to pray for the young woman’s marriage in her “war room” of prayer. Instead, Clara asks Elizabeth to give her one hour a week and offers to teach her how to fight for her marriage with the right weapons. With her offer, Clara lays herself open to rejection, being called a busybody (or worse) and the inconvenience and challenges that come whenever we become enmeshed in another person’s messy life. In short, Clara does more than pray for this troubled woman—she takes action.

I saw parallels between Miss Clara’s actions and those of the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. A Judean is attacked by thieves and left naked and half-dead on the side of the road. When a priest sees him, he crosses to the other side of the road and passes by his fellow countryman. When a Levite passes, he goes over to look at the man, and then walks to the other side of the road to continue his journey. Both men heard the man’s groans and yet these supposedly religious men of good character ignored their Jewish brother’s needs. Neither one wanted to be delayed, get involved or dirty his hands. I wonder if either man assuaged his conscience by saying a prayer for the man which would have been faster and easier than getting involved. In this case, however, the dying man needed more than prayers—he needed immediate help and both the priest and Levite were capable of giving him assistance. It was the despised Samaritan who bandaged the man’s wounds, let him ride on his donkey, took him to an inn, nursed him through the night and paid the man’s expenses. It was the Samaritan who, instead of offering prayers, sacrificed his time and money to help a stranger.

Although Jesus’ purpose in telling this story was to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” it got me wondering whether the two supposedly pious men might have promised the dying man their “thoughts and prayers” before going on their way. In Letters to Malcom, C.S. Lewis points out that our prayers for others often “flow more easily than those we offer on our own behalf.” But, he adds, that’s not necessarily out of Christian charity. While praying for someone else’s faults is easier than working on our own faults and failures, it also is easier to pray for others than to do something for them! “It’s easier to pray for a bore than to go and see him,” says Lewis. Indeed, offering only our “thoughts and prayers” is far easier that actually offering our time, hands, hearts, or finances as did the Samaritan and Miss Clara. Prayer is not a substitute for action when action is what is needed!

There are many divinely ordained opportunities when more than our prayers are required. I often say, “I’ll pray for you,” but there certainly are occasions when I should be doing far more than that. None of us want to be considered busy-bodies or meddlers but sometimes, like Miss Clara and the Samaritan, we need to offer more than our prayers to someone in need.

Lord, help us discern those opportune moments when you want more than our prayers—when you want us to turn our petitions into exertion and our compassion into action.

God does not need your good works, but our neighbor does. [Martin Luther]

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:10 (NLT)]

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IF HE CAN

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my disbelief!” [Mark 9:23-24 (NLT)]

Beauty Berry FlowerPrayer is calling on God’s power; it’s like calling in the big guns to fight the battle. When doubt in the efficacy of prayer sneaks in, however, it’s more like calling in the big guns but not believing they’re loaded with enough ammunition. I am often like the father in Mark 9 who qualified his request that Jesus heal his son by saying, “If you can.” Like that father, I profess to believe but I need God to help me believe more! Sometimes, the enemy sneaks into my heart and causes me to doubt both the ammunition and God’s aim.

Looking for a feel-good movie to escape from the challenges of the day, we recently streamed the War Room. Not to be confused with the 1993 documentary The War Room, the war room in this 2015 movie is a converted closet with prayer requests covering the walls rather than an Arkansas political campaign headquarters. Focusing on the power of prayer, the story is about a crumbling marriage that is redeemed by prayer.

In one memorable scene, Elizabeth Jordan, the woman in the troubled marriage, and Miss Clara, a prayer warrior extraordinaire, are walking together when they’re confronted by a knife-wielding mugger demanding their money. As Elizabeth starts to get out her wallet, Miss Clara successfully defies him just by saying, “You put that knife down right now in the name of Jesus!” The next scene shows a frazzled Elizabeth reporting the incident to a skeptical policeman while the unruffled Miss Clara enjoys some ice cream.

Even the most positive reviews of this movie were critical of the unreality of those scenes but, as improbable as they were, their inclusion in the movie were necessary because they demonstrate the absolute faith—the total certainty—that is necessary for truly powerful prayer. Facing that mugger, Miss Clara had no doubt that she was in God’s hands and was certain that He would rescue her if she called on Jesus’ name. Later, as she calmly consumed both her and Elizabeth’s ice cream, it is obvious she wasn’t surprised by God’s protection. She expected it, as should we all if we truly believe. After all, nothing is impossible with God!

I’m not sure that God wants us to respond to a weapon-wielding robber the way Miss Clara did but I think He does want us to have the kind of faith demonstrated in that scene. When we come to Him in prayer, we must have faith enough to put our entire lives in His hands. We must believe that our prayers can actually make a difference. Indeed, prayer is the key to winning all those battles we can’t win on our own.

When we pray, do we ask with our lips but doubt in our hearts? When we ask, are we surprised when we receive? Father in heaven, I don’t know why I still doubt when you’ve shown me over and over again that my prayers do not fall on deaf ears. I have faith, dear Lord; please, help me have more!

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will. [Ben Stein]

But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. [James 1:6-7 (NLT)]

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

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NEVER “JUST” ANYTHING

Do not let anyone treat you as if you are unimportant because you are young. Instead, be an example to the believers with your words, your actions, your love, your faith, and your pure life. [1 Timothy 4:12 (NCV)]

mother and daughterWhen a service group recently asked a young friend if she would serve on their board of directors, her response was that she’s not qualified since she’s “just a mother.” Her response reminded me of when I once thought of myself as “just” a mother. Many years ago, long before Facebook or LinkedIn, I received a questionnaire prepared by my high school’s reunion committee. Along with personal questions like marital status, it asked about my education, jobs, achievements, and awards. Once returned, the responses were Xeroxed, bound, and returned to us prior to our 25th reunion.

When I received the book and read about my old classmates, I felt like the greatest underachiever in the world. I’d attended a private arts academy and my class was filled with bright, talented, and intense over-achievers (except, apparently, for me). Some classmates played in well-known orchestras or had become celebrated soloists but I played piano for children’s Sunday school, accompanied the kid’s choir, and strummed the autoharp at sing-a-longs around the campfire. One classmate composed symphonies played by major orchestras while I’d written several unmemorable songs for Girl Scout camp. Several classmates had acted on Broadway, one had a featured role on a popular sit-com, and another had been nominated for an Academy Award. Rather than Broadway, I did readings at church, moderated political debates at candidate nights, and read bed-time stories to the kids. Fellow grads danced with the ABT and Twyla Tharp while I danced the hokey-pokey with my Brownie troop. Several alumni had become physicians but my medical skill was limited to removing splinters, putting on Band-Aids, and kissing “ouchies”.  A few classmates had their PhDs and taught at prestigious universities but, rather than lecturing at university, I helped kids with homework, volunteered at the school, and became adept at science fair projects. Fellow alums had published books while I wrote the local League of Women Voters’ newsletter and did publicity for a local art fair. Several classmates had traveled the globe and lived in exotic locations but I lived in a small town and traveled the county ferrying kids to activities or meals to the homebound. One person had his art work displayed in major museums and another rescued people from cults. I was skilled with Play-Doh and crayons and the only things I liberated were the fireflies caught on summer nights. In short, I was “just” a mother.

After reading everyone’s accomplishments, I was embarrassed by what I’d written because my life seemed so mundane in comparison to theirs. It’s not that I didn’t like my life—I loved it! I just thought I should have done something more impressive in 25 years. Imagine my surprise when, at the reunion, one of my over-achieving classmates greeted me with the comment that he loved reading my profile. “I’m just a mom and my life is so ordinary,” I protested. “But, you’re so happy!” he responded. His words gave me pause and I looked again at my reunion booklet. I wrote of faith; others wrote of fame. I wrote of giving; others wrote of getting. I wrote of family; others wrote of colleagues. I wrote of church and service; others wrote of accomplishments and honors. Indeed, I was happy and content with my life as “just” a mother!

God gave missions of great consequence to people like Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Jeremiah, Gideon, Peter, and Paul but few of us will ever be asked to do anything as far-reaching as were they. That our achievements won’t be recorded in history, our names won’t be listed in a Hall of Fame, and no awards grace our shelves, does not negate our value. That most of us live in obscurity does not mean our lives are insignificant or unimportant.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy not to let anyone disregard him just because he was young. Like Timothy, we must never allow anyone (not even ourselves) to think less of us because we are “just” a youth or senior, mother or father, handyman, secretary, maid, or anything else. We are children of God and followers of Jesus! Like Timothy, our words, actions, love, faith, and morality are to serve as examples in daily, practical, and relational ways. Let us look forward to the day we hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” After all, His opinion is the only one that matters!

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me”. [Erma Bombeck]

There are different kinds of gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve but the same Lord to serve. And there are different ways that God works through people but the same God. God works in all of us in everything we do. [1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NCV)]

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SELLING YOUR SOUL

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. [Romans 3:23-24 (NLT)]

Many stories, novels, operas, musicals, and movies have been based on the theme of selling one’s soul to the devil. In Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, a brilliant scholar who’s sure he’s learned all there is to know by conventional means turns to magic and ends up summoning the devil Mephistopheles. The two agree that, after Faustus has enjoyed twenty-four years of absolute power (with Mephistopheles as his servant), his soul will belong to Lucifer. When the handsome Dorian sells his soul so that he will never age in The Picture of Dorian Gray, he enters into a lifestyle of debauchery. While Dorian remains handsome, his picture changes to reflect the immoral and sinful life he’s led. In the 1968 horror movie Rosemary’s Baby, the naïve Rosemary discovers that her husband sold both his soul and her womb to Satan for riches and career success. As expected, none of those tales end well. The Devil and Daniel Webster, however, does but only because of the eloquence of the famed lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster.

While it was Daniel Webster’s persuasive arguments that saved the soul of Jabez Stone from the clutches of the devil, it is Jesus who saves ours! Before we came to Christ, we all were in bondage to sin and condemned to death. Satan may have authority over those who aren’t Christ followers, but he doesn’t over us. Just as Jesus set the demoniac free, he sets us free, as well.

While stories of selling one’s soul are morality tales that vividly illustrate the wages of sin, they are fiction and the concept of making a deal with Satan is not Biblical. Nevertheless, let us not forget that Satan is a deceiver and tempter who is committed to opposing God and all who follow Him. While Jesus has freed us from condemnation, He has not freed us from temptation.

Satan tempts us with things like power, riches, or status every day, just not as blatantly as he did in those fictional accounts. Rather than offering us a contract to be signed in blood, he subtly offers a seemingly trivial compromise one day followed by a minor concession or false rationale the next. Dangling some reward in front of us, he whispers that everyone else is doing it, we deserve whatever it is, no one will ever know, or that we’ve got to look out for ourselves since no one else will! With each concession, we surrender a little bit of ourselves in the false belief that what we’ll gain is more valuable than what we lose.

Temptation is an inevitable part of living in this fallen world but we have not been left defenseless. We won’t need Daniel Webster’s skillful courtroom arguments because we have prayer, self-discipline, and God’s armor. We wear the belt of truth and the breast-plate of righteousness and have the Gospel of peace for shoes. We carry the shield of faith, place the helmet of salvation on our heads, and fight with the sword of the Spirit and God’s Word. Our souls are not for sale!

As the most dangerous winds may enter at little openings, so the devil never enters more dangerously than by little unobserved incidents, which seem to be nothing, yet insensibly open the heart to great temptations. [John Wesley]

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

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SAINTS AND SINNERS

But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” [Matthew 9:11-13 (NLT)]

The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. [John Stott]

moth mulleinLast week, after posting the second of two devotions mentioning David Bennett, Sr. (who received a pig’s heart in a ground-breaking transplant), I checked news links for an update on his condition. I was surprised to learn that 34 years ago, when Bennett was just 23, he was convicted of stabbing Edward Shumaker seven times, a violent assault that left the 22-year-old paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Bennett was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served 6 of those years before returning to society and moving on with his life. As for Shumaker, after enduring 19 years of staph infections, sepsis, bedsores, a stroke, and moving in and out of nursing homes, he died a week before his 41st birthday.

Understandably, Shumaker’s survivors had difficulty processing the news that the man who caused such heartache and suffering for Edward not only went on to have a normal life complete with children and grands but also received a new lease on that life with his life-saving heart transplant. For Shumaker’s sister, it seems outrageous that someone guilty of such a violent crime could undergo this lifesaving procedure when so many more “deserving” recipients die or become too ill for transplant surgery before a heart becomes available.

Officials at the Baltimore hospital where Bennett received his new heart explained that the decision about Bennett’s transplant eligibility was based solely on his medical records, explaining that they provide, “lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.” Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University, elaborated, “The key principle in medicine is to treat anyone who is sick, regardless of who they are.…We are not in the business of sorting sinners from saints.”

Caplan’s words made me think of Jesus—the Great Physician who came into this world to heal mankind. There is no record of His assessing the purity or sinfulness of those he restored to determine whether or not they deserved healing. He didn’t evaluate people’s righteousness before making the lame walk, the blind see, or the deaf hear. He didn’t categorize acceptable from unacceptable sins or sort out the honest from the corrupt, the moral from the immoral, or the law-abiding from the criminal before healing leprosy, mental illness, fevers, or hemorrhaging. When He fed the multitude, Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to offer food only to those virtuous people worthy of receiving it and He broke bread with both the respectable and the disreputable. When it comes to God’s healing, mercy, love, provision, or forgiveness, not one of us is more or less deserving than the next; none of us are worthy because we all are sinners!

Just as the medical profession is not in the business of sorting sinners from saints, neither is the Church. Someday, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats but, until that day comes, let us remember that His Church is a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints! We don’t scrutinize those who come to us and weed out all of the swearers, liars, ex-cons, crude, self-righteous, alcoholics, doubters, adulterers, divorced, gossipers, or scoundrels before welcoming them through our doors. If we did, both our pews and pulpits would be empty! Our pasts, no matter how soiled or violent, do not bar us from the healing and restoration of the Lord!

Grace is the very opposite of merit… Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor, shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite. [Harry Ironside]

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:7-8 (NLT)]

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TWO MEN AND TWO CHOICES

You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you. You have received the Holy Spirit from God. So you do not belong to yourselves, because you were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies. [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NCV)]

peonyAlthough Elijah had just won an amazing victory over Baal and his prophets, we find the prophet running for his life in 1 Kings 19. The journey of over 120 miles left him physically exhausted and, having endured so many setbacks and challenges, the disheartened prophet was emotionally exhausted, as well. Wanting what he saw as a hopeless situation to end, He begged the Lord for death and he’s not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to do so. Overwhelmed by the heavy burdens he carried, Moses cried to God, “If you are going to continue doing this to me, then kill me now. If you care about me, put me to death, and then I won’t have any more troubles.” [Numbers 11:15] A discouraged and frustrated Jonah told God it would be better for him to die than to live. Job, in his despair and agony, and Jeremiah, in his disappointment after decades of prophesying with no appreciable results, were so miserable that they cursed the day they were born! Even the Apostle Paul admitted having been nearly overwhelmed by his troubles. Yet, as hopeless at their situations seemed, none of them died when they wanted to and none took their own lives. God did not abandon them and they did not abandon life.

One week ago, in a Maryland hospital, 57-year-old terminally ill David Bennett, Sr. underwent open heart surgery and received a genetically modified pig’s heart as a replacement for his own severely damaged one. That same day, in Cali, Columbia, 60-year-old Victor Escobar chose to die by euthanasia. While Escobar suffered from intense pain, his condition was not terminal and he fought for two years in Columbian courts for the privilege of ending his life on his own terms. “I do not think God will punish me for trying to stop suffering,” he said. In stark contrast, Bennett, whose condition was terminal, said, “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.” One chose to die while the other (who was well aware of the risks) chose to continue living for as long as possible.

I’m not going to enter into the controversy regarding assisted suicide, euthanasia, or the use of animal organs in transplants. There’s nothing I can add to what theologians, ethicists, physicians, and lawyers have already said. Nevertheless, I can’t help but ponder the choices made by these two men. If I were in Bennett’s shoes, knowing the risks and low probability of long-term survival, would I make such a last-ditch effort in hope of gaining of few more days, weeks or months?  On the other hand, were I confined to a wheelchair and suffering from diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and spasms as was Victor Escobar, would I beg God for death? If I felt like I were living in a torture chamber, would I consider suicide or euthanasia?

Looking to Scripture, we have Paul’s words that we belong to the Lord, body and soul. Just as we have no right to tear down our neighbor’s house no matter how dilapidated it may be, we have no right to destroy our broken-down bodies; they are not ours to destroy. We are the Holy Spirit’s temple, were purchased with Christ’s blood, and our bodies belong the Lord! While we may long to depart this world, the where, when and how of that departure is God’s choice, not ours. Although I’m not sure I would make Bennett’s choice of such radical surgery, I do know I will never make Escobar’s of euthanasia.

I suspect that, like those Biblical heroes, there will be times in every believer’s life when we dread waking up to another day—there certainly have been in mine. Wanting whatever is plaguing us to be over with and gone, we might even cry, “I wish I were dead!” Yet, as desperate and despondent as were Elijah, Moses, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah, and Paul, none of them took their lives. God heard their cries of despair just as he hears ours.

A Christian will part with anything rather than his hope; he knows that hope will keep the heart both from aching and breaking, from fainting and sinking; he knows that hope is a beam of God, a spark of glory, and that nothing shall extinguish it till the soul be filled with glory. [Thomas Brooks]

Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, because God’s temple is holy and you are that temple. [1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NCV)]

We do not live or die for ourselves. If we live, we are living for the Lord, and if we die, we are dying for the Lord. So living or dying, we belong to the Lord. [Romans 14:7-8 (NCV)]

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