UNARTICULATED PRAYERS

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. [Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)]

peony - field bindweedI couldn’t tell if my vague sense of unrest was because something was missing or there was something I needed to do. I couldn’t articulate it but I knew it was there and, as the days went by, the sense of disquiet continued. I simply asked God to reveal whatever was troubling me; perplexed, I didn’t know what else to pray. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit did!

A week later, when I was asked to serve on the church board, I realized my unrest was because I needed to step out of my comfort zone and do something more to grow both as a Christian and a writer. I finally understood Paul’s words that the Holy Spirit will express our prayers for us when we don’t have the words. When the pastor asked me to pray about the offer, he didn’t know that I’d been praying about it for a week without knowing I was. In fact, the board position was the answer to my unarticuated prayers!

Last fall, a young musician in Kentucky felt a longing to deepen his faith through music. While looking for music ministry positions in his home state, he found an opening not far from the Florida town where he frequently performs on weekends. He certainly didn’t ask God to lead him to a new church that meets in a park in southwest Florida but that’s where the Spirit led him. Now he’s leading worship at our church. Was that coincidence or did the Holy Spirit speak for him? His new position answered his unspoken prayers (as well as our spoken ones for a worship leader).

Several years ago, my friend Lynn moved to a town where she knew no one. Away from family, with two active toddlers, and a husband whose business kept him away for weeks on end, she was overwhelmed by motherhood’s demands. While talking to a friend 1,000 miles away about her loneliness and need for a break, the phone call was cut short by a knock at the door. Standing there was the answer to Lynn’s unuttered prayers: a girl who lived nearby and was seeking a mother’s helper/babysitting job!

As it turned out, Lynn was the answer to this girl’s unvoiced prayers, as well. The teen’s mother was gone and she lived with her father and four brothers in a house heavy with testosterone. Sports reigned supreme there and no one talked about things important to teen-age girls or could help her with make-up, hair, or fashion. That, however, was right up Lynn’s alley and she was the perfect surrogate “aunt” to guide the girl through adolescence; Lynn even taught her how to cook and sew. I doubt this teen had prayed about finding a refuge from sports central any more than Lynn had prayed for someone who offered companionship and purpose along with babysitting. Yet, God heard their prayers!

We often are in the dark when it comes to our needs and how to pray but those unarticulated prayers may be the best ones. The Holy Spirit utters wordless prayers on our behalf and intercedes for us according to God’s will. Even when we don’t know what or how to pray, we can remain confident that God will arrange circumstances to work out beautifully in a way that we’d never imagine. He has a wonderful way of knowing what it is we need long before we do!

In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. [John Bunyan]

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

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COMPOUND INTEREST

Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

sawtooth sunflowerIn a nutshell, compound interest is getting interest on interest; when it’s on money you have, your investment keeps growing. When it’s on money you owe, however, you pay interest on your interest and end up deeper in debt. The economics lesson is because of C.S. Lewis’s words that “Good and evil both increase at compound interest.” While Lewis then switches metaphors from the bank to the battlefield, Scripture often uses the metaphor of sowing and reaping for the same concept of the exponential growth of both good and evil.

After planting just one sunflower, for example, we’d get between 1,000 and 1,400 seeds per head. If each of those seeds were planted, we’d have between one and 1.96 million sunflower seeds the next year and, if we planted those, we’d have between one and 2.7 billion sunflower seeds the third year. If those were perennial sunflowers, we’d also get seeds from the previous years’ plants! Like compound interest, that’s exponential growth (which is what happens with good thoughts and actions).

Of course, if just one Canada thistle seed got planted in that field of sunflowers, it could produce as many as 5,300 seeds that first season! Those thistle seeds would get dispersed by the wind and sow themselves far and wide. Should those seeds take root, more than 28 million new thistle seeds could be blowing through our fields the second year, with the potential of more than 148 billion seeds the following one. With that kind of exponential growth, our beautiful field of sunflowers soon would be overrun by thistles. Worse, those thistles would have spread into our neighbors’ fields. Noxious weeds and evil have a way of doing that!

Since thistles also sprout from their roots, that one thistle could grow into a six-foot thistle patch in a year. Turning to Lewis’ battle metaphor, that loss of acreage is similar to a general losing an asset like a seaport. Worse, because thistle seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to twenty years, like an enemy who’s patiently waited for our troops to get careless, those weeds can spring up years later when least expected. Just as the farmer has to be vigilant in his fight to keep thistles from overtaking his fields, the general must keep his troops battle-ready.

The subject, however, is neither military science nor agriculture; it’s spiritual warfare. Generals and farmers don’t want to cede territory to their enemies, nor do we. Our battle isn’t against armed troops or thistles; it’s against evil. Rather than tanks or herbicides, we need obedience to God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit! When we act as would Jesus, by sowing seeds of goodness, it’s like planting another sunflower in the garden of life. But, every time we follow our own sinful desires, instead of losing a field to thistles, we lose ground to Satan. In our every act, either a seed of good or evil is planted and, like a thistle seed, any seed of evil is one seed too many!

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. [From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis]

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

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ONLY ONE MASTER (Part 2 – Luke 16:19-31)

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. [Luke 16:13 (NLT)]

primrose willowBecause the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is the only parable in which names are used, some people in the early church believed that it was a real-life incident. Whether a true story or a parable is of no consequence because its lessons remain the same.

What the parable doesn’t tell us is that the poor automatically go to heaven and the rich to hell. After all, Abraham was wealthy and yet he’s there in Paradise dining with Lazarus! The angels didn’t carry Lazarus to Abraham simply because he was poor. The name Jesus chose to give him tells us Lazarus is there because he was godly. His name means “whom God helps” and Lazarus knew his help was in God. He’s named in this story because, like Abraham, he was known to God.

Just as Lazarus wasn’t carried to Abraham simply because he was poor, the rich man wasn’t condemned to his fiery torment simply because of his wealth. Although the man dressed in expensive purple cloth and fine linen, lived in luxury, and ate sumptuously every day, there was no sin in that. There’s no reason to suspect that he was a dishonest tax-collector, a double-dealing business man, a corrupt judge, or a thief and we’re not told that he beat his wife or abused his servants.

That the rich man knew Lazarus by name is what convicted him of sin. He knew Lazarus and his plight and yet ignored the poor man every time he walked in and out of his house. It was not the man’s wealth that condemned him; it was his hardness of heart. Although the Torah was filled with admonitions to care for the poor and oppressed, the rich man deliberately turned a blind eye to the suffering man at his doorway. We never know the rich man’s name because God didn’t know him and he didn’t know God!

To the first century Jew, riches were considered a sign of God’s blessings and poverty a sign of His judgment. Rather than a sign of blessing, however, Jesus taught that riches test man’s faithfulness in stewardship. Just a few verses before telling this story, Jesus gave a clear warning that we cannot serve both God and money. What isn’t said but is implied is that we can serve God with our money! Neither wealth nor poverty determine salvation; we are saved by grace through faith. Nevertheless, our faith is demonstrated by how we live and use whatever wealth with which we’ve been blessed.

Christ did not object to the riches of the rich man but to his impiety, infidelity, pride and cruelty. … [People] to not need to fear riches but vices. They should not fear wealth, but avarice. They should not be afraid of creaturely goods, but of greed. Let them possess wealth…with faith. Let them have it, and possess it, and not be possessed by it. [Augustine, Sermon 2999e.5]

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. [Luke 12:48 (NLT)]

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KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:5-7 (NLT)]

white ibis - juvenileAfter his wife complained about the roaches that had invaded their garden and begged him to destroy their underground nest, a Brazilian man poured gasoline into the hole he believed to be the source of the infestation and then tossed in lit matches! Within seconds, a massive explosion destroyed his yard while his home security camera captured the entire thing. “I had no idea that this could happen!” he said. Although the man did destroy the roaches, he destroyed his yard in the process! I’m not sure where he got his bright idea but I would guess that his Smartphone was involved. A quick search with mine told me that pouring gasoline on a roach colony is an effective way to eliminate the pests. Assuming a certain amount of common sense among its readers, however, the site had no warning about the explosive nature of gasoline vapors!

According to Apple, we pull out our smartphones some 80 times a day; I suspect many of those times we’re consulting Google. While our phones give us easy access to an extraordinary amount of information, they don’t make us any smarter; they just make us think we’re smarter than we really are. Long before the internet, Solomon warned us about being impressed with our own wisdom. Nowadays, knowledge is abundant but true wisdom is scarce!

Proverbs is a treasure trove of Biblical wisdom. Written mostly by Solomon, the book stresses the importance of godly living so that people will ”live disciplined and successful lives” and do “what is right, just, and fair.”[1:3] At least six different Hebrew words are translated as wisdom in Proverbs and the first one of those is chokmah [1:2]. Used 41 times in Proverbs, this Hebrew word also referred to the technical skills and abilities used in doing things. God endowed the weavers, goldsmiths, architects, and other artisans who fashioned items for the Tabernacle with chokmah. Rather than theoretical knowledge, this wisdom is a practical application of that knowledge; it is making the right choices at the right time and in the right way.

The five other Hebrew words used in Proverbs are binah (understanding, comprehension) leb (heart), ormah (craftiness, prudence, shrewdness), sakal (prudence, common sense) and sekel (insight). None of those words have anything to do with the knowledge of facts—they are about understanding, evaluating, and discerning how to use knowledge. Wisdom is skill, expertise and competence in understanding how life really works and how to achieve positive results. It is a keen insight into life and the ways of dealing with life’s problems. It’s been said that “Knowledge knows that a tomato is a fruit but wisdom doesn’t put it in a fruit salad.” It could also be said that knowledge knows that both gasoline and fire will kill roaches but wisdom doesn’t mix the two! Let us be wise in our use of the vast array of knowledge that lies at our fingertips!

The decisions we make are either wise or foolish and Proverbs makes it clear that the beginning of wisdom lies in fear of the Lord. While it’s easy to get information on line, true wisdom comes from God! Granted, Scripture doesn’t specifically warn us about dropping matches into a gasoline-filled hole, but Proverbs 14:16 tells us, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.” That the Brazilian man also posted his folly on line aptly illustrates two other proverbs: “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness,” [13:16] and “The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge, but fools broadcast their foolishness.”[12:23]

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. [Charles Spurgeon]

Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. [Proverbs 3:13-15 (NLT)]

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THE PLEDGE

A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do. [Numbers 30:2 (NLT)]

Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to me. The people will declare, “The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength.” [Isaiah 45:23b-24 (NLT)]

green heronEvery Tuesday, we begin our afternoon Bible study with prayer and by saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Bible. The words we use are attributed to Homer Grice, a Southern Baptist minister, who wrote them for Baptist Vacation Bible Schools in 1925. He combined two verses from Psalm 119 into this simple vow and versions of it continue to be used by Vacation Bible and Sunday Schools, Christian homeschoolers, and even adult Bible studies. Because it reminded me of elementary school and standing by my desk with my hand across my heart, starting class with this pledge seemed rather childish at first. Once I carefully considered the words, however, I realized that saying this pledge always reminds me that the Bible is at the center of a Christian’s devotion to Jesus Christ. It was in Him that the Word became flesh and, through Scripture, God continues to speak to us today.

A pledge is a formalized promise but pledging allegiance to the Bible means more than simply promising to read it. The promise of allegiance indicates our loyalty and obedience to God’s holy word. The Bible is unlike every other book ever written—ones written to entertain, inform, explain, improve, or motivate us. Its author is God and its words are there to transform us! The Bible is more than words; it is the Word—the living breath of God. This simple pledge of allegiance reflects the importance of Scripture and its vital role in the life of a believer.

The pledge’s words mean that we honor and respect the Bible; we will let its words govern our thoughts, words, and actions. We vow that God’s words will be a lamp to light our way in this dark and difficult world so that we don’t get lost or step off His path. We promise to hide the Bible’s words in our hearts to keep us from sin (just as they did when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness). This pledge reminds us that studying God’s Word is a matter of the heart with these words: “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. May it be a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and may I hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.”

I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. … Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. …Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. [Psalm 119:11,34,105 (NLT)]

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CHECK YOUR SOURCE

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

columbineBroken people were drawn to Jesus but Mary Magdalene was not as broken as many people think. Magdalene was not her last name; it simply means “from Magdala” and the Gospels’ writers added it to distinguish her from the many others Marys: Jesus’ mother, Martha’s sister, the wife of Clopas, and the mother of James and Joseph.

When we first meet Mary Magdalene in Luke 8, her name is linked both with women “who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases” and those who “were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and the disciples.” Luke then elaborates that Jesus cast seven demons from her. Nowhere does he (or any other gospel writer) say anything about Mary’s immorality. In fact, since she was one of the women helping to financially support Jesus’s ministry, it appears that she was an upstanding, respectable and wealthy woman.

Whether it was because Luke’s first reference to Mary Magdalene follows the story of the nameless sinful woman who anointed Jesus’s feet or that Mary had been cured of seven demons but the idea developed through the centuries that she was immoral and probably a prostitute. Mental illness in 1st century Palestine was attributed to evil spirits and those demons probably were a mental illness of some kind. While we don’t know if her disorder was epilepsy, depression, paranoia, psychosis, or something else, Scripture gives us no reason to question her morals. We must never make the error of confusing mental illness with immorality.

It didn’t help Mary’s reputation when, in 1324, the Roman Catholic Church established a home for “the rescue and maintenance of fallen women” and called it the “Magdalen House.” Her reputation suffered further harm when, in 1591, Pope Gregory I gave a sermon associating her seven demons with the seven vices and then fused her with both the sinful woman and Mary of Bethany (both of whom washed Jesus’s feet). When monks and priests read Gregory’s sermons rather than Scripture, the erroneous story of Mary continued to be told.

It was not until 1969 that the Roman Catholic Church declared that Mary Magdalene was not the fallen woman who washed Jesus’ feet. Unfortunately, people seem to love a juicy story and Mary’s undeserved reputation still lingers. She continues to be portrayed as a repentant prostitute, the nameless woman caught in adultery, or even as Jesus’ lover or wife. There is absolutely no Scriptural basis for any of those assumptions.

Mary Magdalene appears in all four Gospels and is mentioned thirteen times. We are given no reason to think that she was anything other than a once ill woman who helped financially support Jesus and the disciples. In fact, when she’s mentioned with other women, her name usually comes first, implying that she was their respected leader. It is only when she is standing at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ family (His mother and aunt) that her name follows those of others. What we do know from Scripture is that, when others fled, Mary Magdalene was there. She was present at the Crucifixion, sat across from the tomb with the mother of James and Joseph as Christ’s body was laid in the sepulcher, was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection, and was the first to preach the news of His resurrection.

While I wanted to restore a good woman’s reputation with this devotion, its main purpose is to caution us as to where we get our Biblical knowledge. While it’s tempting (and often easier) to get it second-hand—from sermons, devotions, commentaries, conversations, books, websites, movies and other media—those never should be our sole source of information. God’s word is our spiritual nourishment and, just as a vitamin pill is no substitute for eating real food, there is no substitute for reading Scripture first-hand. After all, to discern between opinion, fact, and fiction, we must know the truth and the gospel truth is found only in the Gospel!

Just because it’s in print doesn’t mean it’s the Gospel. [Michael Jackson]

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. [2 Timothy 2:15-16 (NLT)]

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