blanket fower - tulip - golden cannaAnd after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19: 12 (NLT)]

God’s nudges—we all get them and, all too often, we ignore them.

Last week, one of my pastors felt an uncanny impulse to call an old friend who lives across the country. As far as she knew, all was well with her friend and, as often happens with that sort of thing, she got busy and forgot about making the call. Today, she was reminded of her failure when she received a call telling her that her friend had died suddenly over the weekend. As she shared her regret, she reminded us all to respond to God’s gentle nudges. As Elijah learned, sometimes God’s voice is in a whisper!

When asked how to know whether we’re getting a nudge from God or simply have an idea, the pastor suggested we look to the source; if it comes from our heart, it’s probably from God and if it comes from our head, it’s probably us. Nevertheless, our own feelings and desires certainly can influence our perception of the idea and, for some people, “God laid it on my heart,” is just a euphemism for, “This is something I want to do.” A friend’s ex-daughter-in-law claimed that God “laid it on her heart” to leave her husband and children for another man—proof that our hearts can be as deceitful as our thoughts. We must be cautious of attributing our feelings to God. Not every good idea is a mystical message from the Lord; sometimes it’s just an idea!

Discerning the voice of God is not always an easy task. When something is weighing heavy on our heart, perhaps we ought to weigh the message against God’s word. Every one of God’s nudges will match up with His word and none will be something Scripture forbids! Of course, the better we know His word, the easier it is to recognize His voice. Checking Scripture, however, doesn’t mean randomly opening the Bible, picking the first verse we see, and saying that is God’s specific word for us; that’s little different than using a Magic 8-Ball for decisions.

Not everyone will get the same nudge and what God lays on my heart may not be what He lays on yours. His nudge is for us alone and rarely does anyone need to know the reason for our actions. Moreover, we should never say God told us to do something merely to add credibility to what we’re doing. Finally, just because someone says God laid it on his or her heart doesn’t mean He actually did! Just as we, on occasion, can mistake our own desire for one of God’s nudges, so can others. If someone tells us that God laid it on their heart that we should join choir or donate to their cause, we must be wary of getting pressured into something that isn’t God’s plan for us. If God really wants us to do something, most likely, He’ll be the one to tell us!

If God is nudging me about something of major consequence, I pray, study His word, and do research. For the most part, however, those little God-nudges are pretty easy to identify and don’t ask much of us: cross the room to speak with someone, make a call, offer to pray with them, give a hug, ask what you can do, or invite him to church. When in doubt, as long as it’s not contrary to Scripture, I’d rather risk looking foolish than miss a God-given opportunity. Most important, when we get a God-nudge, we should respond (and the sooner the better). We certainly wouldn’t want to miss our last chance to chat with a dear friend.

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. [Isaiah 30:21 (NLT)]

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27 (NLT)]

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If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. [Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT)]

scarecrowLast week was “Fall Prevention Week” but it wasn’t about keeping summer’s flowers blooming or preventing Jack Frost from coloring the maple trees. Although accidents can happen, most falls are preventable and last week was dedicated to preventing those falls. Apparently, because my age puts me in the group most at risk of falling, my son sent me an article identifying the best ways to prevent falls. Instead of clearing walkways or installing non-slip tape and a grab bar in the tub, I ended up thinking about ways to prevent another kind of fall—the one into sin. In reality, I’m far more likely to fall that way than to stumble over my entry rug.

When most of us think of sin, we usually think of the “felony” sins: theft, murder, adultery, drug abuse, drunkenness, perjury, idolatry, bribery, extortion, wantonness, sorcery and witchcraft. Billy Graham, however, described sin as “any thought or action that falls short of God’s will.” Falling short of God’s will includes all sins, even those  “misdemeanor” ones like complaint, envy, attachment to possessions, selfishness, irreverence, laziness, arguing, hypocrisy, greed, backbiting, whining, jealousy, anger, broken promises, shortness of temper, and even gluttony. Sin isn’t just missing the target; it’s anything short of hitting the bull’s eye!

While the bathroom is the number one danger zone for slips and falls, it’s probably not our biggest danger zone for sin. That zone is harder to identify and probably varies from person to person. For some it may be the computer or refrigerator, for others the water cooler at work or an afternoon with the bridge group. It may seem as obvious as a bar, bachelor party or casino or as innocuous as the mall, TV, or the in-law’s house. It’s wise to identify our personal danger zones and either avoid them or do our best to slip-proof them. Sometimes hazards, like a child’s toy or spilled water, can be where we least expect them. Even a chat over coffee after church can turn into gossip or disparagement. No matter where we are, if we want to prevent either kind of fall, we should always be looking for hidden hazards. Keeping homes and work places tidy by cleaning up our messes is another bit of advice that works both ways. When our personal lives are in disorder and disarray, when we’re too rushed to spend time in prayer, when we’re not honest with others or ourselves, when we’re disgruntled or discouraged, sin has a way of tripping us up as easily as can a pair of shoes left in a hallway.

According to the fall prevention article, one of the best ways to prevent falls is exercise which increases flexibility, builds muscles, and improves balance. We don’t need get in our 10,000 steps or lift weights to avoid falling into sin but we do need to build up our spiritual muscles with Bible study, Christian fellowship and prayer. Using things like night lights, photocell outdoor lights, or photoluminescent tape to light the way was the final bit of advice in the article. While fine ideas, they’re not very effective when avoiding sin. A better solution is the light of Christ; He’s the light of the world and our never-ending supplier of spiritual light. His light allows us to spot temptation and step away from sin. His Holy Spirit enables us to look at life and people with godly eyes—and walk in God’s will. Stay safe!

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  [John 8:12 (NLT)]

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THE REST OF THE STORY (The Lord’s Prayer – 2)

Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen! [Psalm 41:13 (NLT)]

Praise the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does such wonderful things. Praise his glorious name forever! Let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen! [Psalm 72:18-19 (NLT)]

musk mallowLuke’s version of what is called “The Lord’s Prayer” differs from the version given during the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 6. Both prayers, however, are probably shorter than the prayer most Protestants recite today. Missing is the phrase, “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” Because this phrase was not found in the two earliest Greek manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel, many modern Bible translations do not include it. Although found in later manuscripts, most Biblical scholars believe it to be a later liturgical addition to the original prayer. So, how did we come to pray this prayer in its present form?

That those words were not found in the early manuscripts doesn’t necessarily mean Jesus never said them; after all, the gospels don’t include everything our Lord did or said. Moreover, it was not uncommon for Jews to end their prayers with what was called a doxology: a short, hymn-like verse exalting the glory of God. If the words did not come from Jesus, they probably came from any one of several psalms, 1 Chronicles, or some other Jewish prayer. Jesus never said this was the only prayer to be said nor did He tell His followers to stop saying the prayers they learned in the temple. We know Jesus often visited the temple and scripture specifically tells us that Peter and John visited the temple for 3:00 PM prayers. It’s understandable that this prayer, taught to Jewish disciples by a Jewish Jesus, took on some of its Hebrew heritage and flavor.

The version with which most of us are familiar comes from what is called the Didache. Bearing neither date nor author, it was written as early as 50 to 90 AD. The only complete copy has two titles: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. While not considered God-breathed or inspired and not part of the Biblical canon, it is still a valuable document. A sort of handbook for the early Christians, it gives us insight into the early church. Along with describing the rituals of Baptism and the Eucharist, it gives instructions to recite what we call the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. This instruction is not unusual and again reflects Christianity’s Jewish heritage; Jewish men were supposed to pray three times a day. So now, as famed broadcaster Paul Harvey would say, “You know the rest of the story.”

Neither pray you as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray you: Our Father, Who are in heaven, hallowed be Your name; Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; For Yours is the power and the glory for ever and ever. Pray this three times in the day. [Didache, 8:3-8:11]

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength. O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! [1 Chronicles 29:11-13 (NLT)]

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THE DISCIPLES’ PRAYER (The Lord’s Prayer – 1)

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.” [Luke 11:1-4 (NLT)]

When one of His disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he alluded to John the Baptist’s prayer. Perhaps this nameless student had been one of John’s disciples. While we have no idea what John’s prayer was, we do know that he both prayed and fasted with his followers. We also don’t know if this disciple was one of the inner circle of twelve or one of the seventy-two that had been sent out by Jesus. We only know that he wanted to learn to pray, which was not an odd request. Rabbis often gave prayer formulas to their pupils and, since Jesus frequently prayed, the disciple knew that prayer was an integral part of his teacher’s life.

In at least two different times and places, Jesus said what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Actually, that title is a misnomer; this is not a prayer our Lord prayed, such as the ones prayed for His disciples in John 17, in Gethsemane, or as He hung on the cross. This is not His prayer, it is ours; rather than praying this prayer, Jesus was teaching it and giving this prayer to His disciples. The pronouns are not singular but plural; it’s not give, forgive, or let me but rather give, forgive, and let us. It’s not the food I need or the people I forgive who sinned against me; it’s the food we need and the people we must forgive who hurt us. This is a prayer meant to be said with one another; a prayer of community, it is a corporate prayer of submission and dependence.

When St. Cyprian wrote about the Lord’s Prayer, he emphasized the importance of praying it with other believers as a way of uniting them with their church family. He said, “Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one.” With that in mind, perhaps a more appropriate title for this well-known prayer would be “The Disciples’ Prayer.”

When in Florida, we worship at two vastly different churches. Saturday nights, we attend a liturgical church and Sunday mornings we attend a non-denominational non-liturgical church. Pastored by a gifted preacher, Sunday’s message is inspiring and uplifting, but there’s something about Saturday nights that lifts my spirit and strengthens my heart. Saturdays, we raise our voices in song, responsively read a psalm, recite the creed, and say the Lord’s Prayer as one. The small groups in that church often end their sessions by joining hands and praying the Lord’s Prayer together. Singing, declaring, and praying with one voice, especially when physically connected with one another, reinforces our oneness in the Spirit and the Lord.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. [Acts 2:24 (NLT)]

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Anna Maria Island beachYou will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God: Your towns and your fields will be blessed. Your children and your crops will be blessed. The offspring of your herds and flocks will be blessed. Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be blessed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed. [Deuteronomy 28:2-6 (NLT)]

When praying for the Church one recent Sunday, we asked our Creator God to bless wild animals and family pets, prairies and kitchen gardens, beaches and sandboxes, mountains and hearths. While I’m used to asking God for spiritual blessings, to bless people and even activities (such as a ministry), I’m not as used to asking Him to bless physical things (and certainly not sandboxes and beaches).

While people may present their pets for a special blessing of the animals, I’ve never thought to ask for God’s blessing on creatures such as the squirrel, panther, skunk, or alligator. I frequently thank God for the beauty of His wildflowers but have never asked Him to bless the prairie displaying those flowers and, when saying grace, I ask Him to bless our food and those eating it but I haven’t thought to ask Him to bless the farmer or the garden that grew that food. I often asked God’s blessing on my children while they dug in their sandbox or played at the shore but I didn’t ask Him to bless either the sandbox or beach. When gazing at the Grand Tetons, in awe of God’s power and majesty, I thanked Him for His magnificent mountains. It didn’t occur to me that I could ask Him to bless those peaks and I’ve never asked Him to bless the slate on my fireplace hearth or the granite on my counters.

Ministers and priests often ask blessings on sacramental objects like baptismal water, bread, wine, and even wedding rings, but I’ve not heard them ask God’s blessing on the reservoir, wheat field, grape arbor or gold mine that produced those things. Yet, asking blessings on things is not so odd. When I asked God to bless my brother-in-law, I didn’t know that the wings he proudly wore on his Navy uniform had been blessed in a special ceremony when he graduated from fight school. An annual Blessing of the Fleet has been a tradition for boaters, sailors, fishermen, and the Navy for generations. The Roman Catholic Church has specific rituals for the blessing of things designated for sacred purposes, such as vestments or a chalice, and also for those designated for ordinary use, such as a cornerstone, houses, schools, and hospitals. Whenever we sing “God Bless America,” we ask God to bless our nation and I suppose we can ask for God’s blessing on anything, as long as it isn’t evil or would lead to sin. Nevertheless, I seriously doubt that God blessed any of the assault rifles brought to a ceremony last February that was sponsored by the Sanctuary Church and Rod of Iron Ministries (offshoot of the Unification Church).

God is the source of all good things and, in that Sunday’s prayer, I think we were asking Him to shower His goodness on all of His creation so that it would sing with joy. We were asking for His divine care and the restoration and protection of the world in which we live. We asked God to reveal Himself in His creation and, as we asked for His blessings on it, we offered Him our praise and grateful hearts. Most of all, the words of that prayer reflected the love that both God and His Church have for all of creation. They also served as a vivid reminder of the obligation and responsibility we have to care for all that has been given to us.

Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings. Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps. [Psalm 85:10-13 (NLT)]

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Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

black vultureA few years ago, unaware of what the day would bring, a family friend kissed her new husband good-bye as he left for work. While riding the train that morning, the young man collapsed; he died of sudden cardiac arrest less than an hour after that tender kiss. That same year, another friend, whose wife’s body was ravaged by cancer, knew how short the time was he had with her. “While watching TV,” he confided downheartedly, “I looked over at Maureen and realized that next year her chair will be empty and I’ll be alone!” Today is Patriot Day, an annual remembrance of those who died or were injured during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Thinking about that tragic morning seventeen years ago when so many lost their loved ones unexpectedly, I remembered these two widowed friends. Which is worse: watching the one you love deteriorate and knowing that you’re running out of time for kisses or kissing a loved one in the morning and not knowing that will be the last kiss you’ll ever share?

I can’t imagine the anguish of either scenario and am thankful that God doesn’t give us a choice in this matter. But, I do know what would be more heartbreaking than either scenario. Instead of kissing one another when parting, it would be worse if our last words were angry or harsh ones. How tragic if, instead of sharing a few loving words, we spent our last moments together in heated discussion or spiteful silence. What if we squandered our last opportunity to say “I love you,” to apologize or forgive, to pray together, to laugh with one another, or to share a kiss?

Whenever we say good-bye to my mother-in-law, we always give her a kiss and express our love. Since she’s nearing her 102nd birthday, we understand that each time we see her might be the last. This day of remembrance, however, is a powerful reminder that we can’t see what the next day will bring. There is no guarantee of tomorrow or even the next hour. We don’t know when our last moments with someone may be, whether they are 102 or only 12, dying of cancer or in the prime of life. We mustn’t waste the time with which we’re blessed. Let’s fill our lives, and the lives of others, with love, peace, and joy.

Father in Heaven, may we all learn to live each day as if it is our last. Remind us, O Lord, that this could be the final day, not just for us, but for those we love. May your Spirit guide us so that we truly appreciate the time and people you’ve given us. Let us leave no forgiveness denied, no love unexpressed, no apologies unoffered, no conflicts unresolved, and no thanks unspoken.

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Stephen Grellet]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

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