DEVOTIONAL MOODS

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. [Colossians 4:2 (NLT)]

Ghost Ranch NMIn his classic satire The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives the reader a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, advising the novice demon on ways to secure the damnation of his “patient,” an ordinary young man. Warning that the demons are defeated whenever man directs his gaze toward God, Screwtape encourages his nephew to keep the patient (a new Christian) from praying. If prayer can’t be prevented, he advises getting the fellow into a “devotional mood… since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s [God’s] service.” Screwtape reassures Wormwood that “lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.” It won’t be difficult to redirect the patient’s attention, he tells his nephew, since humans aren’t really as desirous of “the real nakedness of the soul in prayer” as they suppose.

We know that Jesus prayed frequently and fervently. Luke, who was a physician, tells us Jesus prayed so hard in Gethsemane that He sweat blood. This rare condition, called hematohidrosis, was reported by both Aristotle and Theophrastus more than 300 years before Christ. Under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress, the tiny blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands can constrict and then dilate to the point of rupture; blood then flows into the sweat glands and a person can literally sweat blood. That night in Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized in the garden, there was nothing superficial or lazy about His prayer.

After reading Screwtape’s counsel to his nephew, I thought about my morning devotional time. By 5:30 AM, I am in a comfy chair, sipping a latte, and surrounded by iPad, Bibles, books, notebook and pen. During the next 90 minutes or so, I read assorted devotions and Bible commentaries, get through a few chapters in the Bible and whatever book I’m studying in small group, journal, and pray. Unfortunately, with prayer being last, it often is least and, while sincere, it can be rather generic and hurried. Screwtape’s devilish words helped me see how easy it is to mistake my “devotional mood” for prayer. Thinking about God, even spending time in His word, is no substitute for talking with the Big Guy Himself! I don’t think God expects us to pray so passionately that we sweat blood; nevertheless, I do think He expects us to bare our souls in His presence.

Establishing and reinforcing our connection with God, prayer is far more than study and reflection or telling God what it is we want. It is a concentrated, purposeful and deliberate time of worship, praise, thanksgiving, self-examination, confession, repentance, acceptance, intercession, and petition. Rather than being in a “devotional mood,” prayer is attending to God and His voice with undivided attention and submitting to His will with an undivided heart.

Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray. [Samuel Chadwick]

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

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DON’T DRAW STRAWS! – Election Day 2018

Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights. A gift gets attention; it buys the attention of eminent people. The first speech in a court case is always convincing—until the cross-examination starts! You may have to draw straws when faced with a tough decision. [Proverbs 18:15-18 (MSG)]

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. [Edmund Burke]

scarecrowHere in the United States, we enjoy political freedom. We have free and fair elections, competitive political parties, and the candidates we elect actually do govern. The opposition isn’t powerless and plays an important role in government while the interests of minority groups are represented. That level of freedom is not enjoyed by most of the world. According to the independent watchdog organization Freedom House, only 45% of the world’s nations are considered “free,” 30% are “partially free,” and 25% are “not free” at all. Tomorrow we have an opportunity to exercise our freedom by voting. In less than a week, we will honor those who fought for us so that we can have this priceless opportunity. Let them not have fought in vain.

Regardless of how you stand on the issues, I suspect many of us are disillusioned by the whole political process. The amount of money spent on advertising has been astronomical. $244 million has been spent on the Illinois governor’s race alone! It’s not just TV ads; both our snail mail and email mailboxes are filled with propaganda and we’re hesitant to answer our phones because of all the political robocalls! I have yet to see or read any ad, from either party, that hasn’t been negative, accusatory, and misleading. The issues on both sides have been blurred and distorted and it’s not easy to find the truth.

Some people may have clear ideas about the many candidates and issues on the ballot while others may still be confused. Here in Florida, with multiple county, state, and federal candidates and twelve proposed amendments, we have the longest ballot our voters have seen in twenty years. Throughout our nation, many voters may feel like their choice of candidates is between dumb and dumber, bad and worse, or crook and crookeder! Nevertheless, our vote matters. The people we elect and the decisions we make today will have an impact on our environment, economics, health, education, safety and quality of life for years to come.

Some choices we have to make are so tough that we may be tempted to take Solomon’s suggestion in Proverbs 18 and draw straws. Nevertheless, while easier, simply drawing straws or flipping a coin is not the way to preserve our nation. I would hope that, instead of letting luck guide us, we prayerfully will ask our Father in Heaven for some much needed political wisdom. Come Wednesday morning, regardless of who is elected, let us all start praying for our leaders.

Father, guide us as we cast our ballots. Help us see through the slick advertising and empty promises to the truth. Let your Holy Spirit show us how to apply our Christian principles when making choices in the voting booth tomorrow.

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressman and government officials, but the voters of this country. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. [Romans 13:1-2 (MSG)]

Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down, He provides both intelligence and discernment, He opens up the depths, tells secrets, sees in the dark—light spills out of him! [Daniel 2:20-22 (MSG)]

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OTHER DEMONS

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39 (NLT)]
Halloween ghost

Yesterday, I wrote of the emotional vampires that can plague us but there are other demons even harder to spot than those two-legged ones. Invisible, they go by the names of guilt, anger, doubt, resentment, shame, regret, fear, and worry. They haunt us with “if only,” “what if,” “should have,” and “could have” and leave us discontented, sullen, resentful, fearful or worried. They are the hobgoblins that whisper lies and half-truths in our ears: we’re unlovable, contemptible, unforgiven, helpless, inadequate, or worthless. Like vampires, these monsters also can suck the life out of us. Friends of the enemy, they keep us from living boldly, stepping out in faith, and leading the fulfilling and joyful life Jesus promised.

It’s time to declare war on these monsters; they have no place in our lives. In the old movies, evil was repelled by the crucifix—a mere religious symbol. In real life, however, it is the power of Jesus that defeats the enemy! Through His power, we can banish those demons that steal our joy and suck the life from us. We can face our secrets, shed our shame, forgive others (and ourselves), know we are loved, release our anxiety and fear, trust God and choose His truth. The voice we hear can be that of the Holy Spirit rather than the unsettling voice of the enemy. With the power of the cross, we will be able to step out of the haunted house of our lives not in fear, but in faith—not in darkness, but in light.

Heavenly Father, help us look into the dark corners of our lives and, through your power, banish the demons that keep us from the abundant life you promised.

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls. [Edgar Allen Poe]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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OVER COMMITTED

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13 (ESV)]

waterfallYears ago, facing overwhelming responsibilities, I stood in the middle of the Home Depot garden center, broke into tears, and prayed, “God, I just can’t do it all.” A very gentle voice said, “You don’t have to!” and then put into my mind the names of people who could help me in the many tasks that lay ahead. Not long ago, when planning another major event, I approached that same feeling of desperation and felt much like a gerbil on an exercise wheel—running hard and getting nowhere. I was running out of ideas, time, energy and patience. Circumstances over which I had no control were part of the problem but so was I! Pride made me both hesitant to ask for help and reluctant to share the glory. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things since that day at Home Depot so I did some serious praying and humbly asked for help. Friends and family came together in the most amazing way and incredible solutions appeared for what had seemed to be unsolvable problems. It was as if God was saying, “See, you can do it—just not all by yourself!”

Solomon’s kingdom flourished because the wise king delegated responsibility; he appointed governors over twelve districts, another governor over them, and eleven other high officials. Even Jesus knew He couldn’t do it all when He lived as a man. He chose seventy-two disciples to act as advance men in the towns He would later visit. Later, when the Apostles learned that the widows weren’t getting their share of the food, they asked the church to appoint seven men to take on that responsibility. Paul appointed elders in every church, delegated leadership responsibilities to men like Timothy and Titus, and encouraged them to find other trustworthy men to pass on God’s word.

God gave Eve to Adam for more than procreation; “I will make a helper who is just right for him.” [Genesis 2:18] We’re not meant to go it alone. When Solomon delegated, his kingdom prospered and grew. When Jesus delegated, He trained the disciples to pass on the faith. When the Apostles delegated, they were better able to use their gift of teaching. When Paul delegated to other evangelists and elders, he demonstrated his trust in their ability. When I delegated, the result was far better than I could have imagined and I was able to share the joy of accomplishment with all who helped.

God is God and we are not. As mere mortals, we can only do our best. Sometimes, however, doing our best means allowing other people to do it! We have been instructed to serve one another but, for that to happen, we must be willing to let others serve!

Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it. [Ziad K. Abdelnour]

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17 (ESV)]

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)]

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GOD NUDGES

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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FALL PREVENTION

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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