Introduction

This is an experiment–in my own pursuit of a deeper, richer prayer life, I want to share some of the struggles and triumphs I have had in and through prayer.  I would also like to share (and gather) suggestions to enrich how we can grow closer to God, closer to others, and closer to becoming more Christlike in our daily walk.

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Featured post

A Whole "Lot" of Trouble

I’ve been following the story of Lot– a Biblical character in the book of Genesis, and the nephew of Abram/Abraham. I left off in Genesis 13, where Abram and Lot had to separate their flocks and herds. Abram offered Lot the opportunity to choose the best of the land– and Lot jumped at his opportunity. He chose the well-watered valley along the Jordan river, near the thriving cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and moved his tents just outside of Sodom.

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But the author of Genesis (likely Moses, writing generations later) adds a single sentence that foreshadows events to come: “ But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.” (Genesis 13:13 NLT via http://www.biblegateway.com). It doesn’t take very long for this small detail to add up to a “lot” of trouble. The fertile Jordan valley may look like a paradise, but there are perils and pitfalls all around. In Genesis 14, we hear of a great war– five regional kings against four– with Sodom and Gomorrah caught in the middle. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+14%3A1-16&version=NLT) The armies and kings of Sodom and Gomorrah flee the battlefield, and straight into a series of tar pits. The opposing armies loot the cities, taking all the food and supplies. They also kidnap Lot and take all his possessions, because he was “living in Sodom.”

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Notice two important details here– Lot is no longer pitching his tents outside the city; he has moved into Sodom. When we make the choice to live “on the outskirts” of evil, thinking we will remain separate and untouched, we are asking for trouble. Lot cannot live in paradise and avoid the evil and war all around him. And he isn’t prepared for the consequences. The war is happening all around him, yet he has made no plan to escape or to fortify his home or property.

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Secondly, Lot wasn’t among the army or fighting with the kings– on either side! Lot stood for nothing; fought for nothing; defended nothing. Lot placed all of his hope and faith in blind chance– thinking somehow he would be spared the violence and war happening all around. He seems to have had no concern about his neighbors or their fate. He seems indifferent to their losses, and uncaring of their needs. One might argue that if the neighbors were so wicked, Lot had no obligation to help them, but his level of apathy and inactivity suggest that Lot was both self-centered and inept.

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One of Lot’s men manages to escape and bring word of this disaster to Abram, who mobilizes his men, makes a daring night raid on the army of the five kings, rescues Lot and restores all of the stolen property and other kidnapped people. The king/priest of the city of Salem (meaning peace) blesses Abram. The rescued King of Sodom offers Abram all the captured loot in exchange for the people, but Abram refuses. Unlike his nephew, who is enticed by lands and goods and wealth, Abram seeks only peace and goodwill.

This might have been the end of Lot’s troubles; he might have learned a valuable lesson. But he didn’t.

Will we?

Winning the "Lot"-tery

The character of Lot in the Biblical book of Genesis is one that often gets overlooked in favor of his uncle, Abram/Abraham. Yet Lot lingers in the background, following Abram to Canaan, and later to the area between Bethel and Ai. (See the end of Genesis 11 and the beginning Genesis 13.) Curiously, we don’t hear anything of Lot when Abram and Sarai travel to Egypt during a period of famine. He isn’t there to support his uncle, or share his burden. He isn’t there to alleviate any of Abram’s fears relating to Sarai (See Genesis 12). Abram resorts to lying about his relationship, and causing difficulties with Pharaoh, but there is no mention of Lot until Abram and Sarai return from Egypt. Lot rejoins his uncle and they move into a fertile region– so fertile, in fact, that their flocks and herds soon grow too big for the area.

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At the beginning of Genesis 13, things have come to a crisis point. Abram, as the elder, could have used his age and position to demand the best grazing land and force Lot to fend for himself elsewhere. But he doesn’t. God has already promised that Abram and he will become a great nation and own the land of Canaan. Abram, in faith, tells Lot that he can have his choice of the land– anywhere he goes, Abram will pull back and take the leftovers.

It must have felt like winning a prize–being given carte blanche– first dibs on the best land in the region, while your elder agrees to give you even more space to expand. And Lot makes the most of this golden opportunity. He chooses the best land in the area– well watered, green, and near wealthy centers of commerce and culture–what could go wrong?

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Before we explore the answer to that question, let’s stop and consider Lot’s character and choice in comparison to his uncle’s character and offer.

Abram reveals much of his character in a pattern of “calling on the Lord.” He does it in Genesis 12:7, 13:4, and again after the separation from Lot in Genesis 13:18, where he built an altar. There is no mention of Lot ever calling on the Lord for anything. Not to seek His face, or give Him praise, or memorialize an event. Lot is not a giver– he is a taker. He takes advantage of his uncle’s wealth and standing time after time, but we never see him thanking his uncle or showing deference to him as an elder. This is not to say that Lot never showed gratitude or deference, but he seems not to have made a habit of it. In taking the best land for himself, Lot acted with supreme self-interest. He could have sought out good land elsewhere, leaving his older uncle in possession of good land close by. He could have taken time to consider more than just the obvious good points of the land he chose. But he didn’t. He jumped at what looked like an amazing stroke of luck. But in the end it turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing.

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How often am I like Lot? When have I jumped at the chance to take the “easy” path, never bothering to consider how it impacts others? Have I developed the bad habit of taking “good fortune” for granted? Do I thank God, and those who have poured into my life, for their care and help? Am I dependable– am I “there” for my friends and family in good times and in times of famine, hardship, or pain?

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Lord, help me to learn these lessons from your word. Help me to be more like Abram, and less like Lot as I go through the day and week ahead. And Thank You for Your character of faithfulness and grace, that chose to rescue Lot (twice!) in spite of his selfish choices. Help me to show the same grace to others I encounter.

A Lot to Discover…

I spent part of last year taking a closer look at some of the figures of the Old Testament. This week, I’d like to take a closer look at one of the lesser figures of Genesis: Abraham’s nephew, Lot.

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We tend to focus on the teachings of Jesus, and the writings of the apostles in the New Testament. We should. But we should not neglect the lessons to be found in these ancient stories. They have a “lot” to teach us about human nature, and about God’s response to it. They are rich with characters, patterns, metaphors, and foreshadowing.

We first meet the character of Lot, along with his family, at the end of Genesis 11:
27 This is the account of Terah’s family line. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. 30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive. 31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. 32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.
(Genesis 11:27-32 NIV, taken from http://www.biblegateway.com)

When I was reading this passage the other day, I was struck by something I never noticed before, and have never heard in any sermon or Bible study–Lot’s mother is never mentioned, and there is a strong implication that Lot’s parents were never married. The text merely says that Haran became the father of Lot, and that he died. The next sentence, however, says that both his uncles married– and it names their wives. The Bible does not state explicitly that Lot was illegitimate, or that he never knew his mother, but if that is the case, it makes certain things about his life stand in sharp contrast. And, though it says Haran died while his father was still alive, we don’t know how long he was a part of his son’s life. Lot is part of a family, but his position is not well-defined. He is a grandson, and a nephew, but he has no parents or siblings, and he is not adopted or named as an heir by either of his uncles. (Even before Abraham becomes a father, his “heir” is a servant named Eliezer of Damascus, not his nephew– see Genesis 15:1-3) He travels with his grandfather, and then “moves about” with Abraham (Genesis 13), but doesn’t seem to be a part of Abraham’s household. Instead, he is raised by his grandfather, who seems to have given him his father’s portion of the inheritance. Lot isn’t abandoned by his father’s family, but he is not embraced, either.

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Lot seems almost to be included in this family history by chance. And, indeed, his name connotes chance and happenstance. People cast lots, play the lottery, and talk about their “lot in life.” Lot, much like his name, seems to depend on chance as he travels through life. His birth is mysterious and obscure, but he has connections to a great and wealthy family. He has great success in building his flocks and herds, enough that the “land could not not support (he and Abraham) while they stayed together” (Genesis 13:6a), but he doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble. He gets used as a pawn in a territorial war (Genesis 14), and must be rescued by his uncle, only to return to the wicked city of Sodom. Angels must drag him out of the city to rescue him again, when God decides to destroy both Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Bitter and pouting, Lot becomes a pawn for his own daughters in the aftermath of his rescue, ending his days as a footnote in history, as the ancestor of two of Israel’s fiercest enemies– the Moabites and Ammonites.

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Why is the story of Lot woven into the chronicles of Abraham? What can we learn from his character and life story? How does Lot play a part in the genealogy of Jesus?

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I’ve challenged myself to learn more–may I pray that you might do the same? Nothing about Lot’s story is written without some purpose–let’s search out what a “lot” God has to share with us in the life of this one man.

He Already Knows..

Prayer is a wonderful thing; sometimes it’s also a curious thing. Why do we pray to a God who is omniscient? If He already knows our needs, why do we bother to ask? If He already knows everything we’ve done, why do we need to confess? If He already knows about my neighbor’s cancer, why do I start a prayer chain?

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Prayer is much more than sharing information with God. It is sharing my heart with God. What I pray, who I pray for, how and when and even where I pray– all come from my heart. God knows the information. He knows my heart, too. But He longs for me to take the time and effort to share it with Him (and to listen to His response!). God doesn’t want to be the one I turn to when I’ve tried all the other options. He is my Father, and He wants me to come to Him at every opportunity.

Moreover, when I pray, God is not surprised by anything I say, but sometimes I am! I find that one confession often leads to another– God already knew all that I had done and all about my attitude, but I lied to myself about my motive or about a small act or comment. Only in prayer does God have my full attention, and His Spirit uses that opportunity to help me see myself better, and clean the slate. Sometimes, I ask God for something I want, and God’s Spirit causes me to see what I really need, instead. Often, when I pray for someone I know, the Spirit will remind me of other ways I can pray for them, or bring another person to my thoughts. I may not know the other person’s need– but God already knows!

Finally, I find it a great comfort to pray to the one who holds everything together– the one who knows the end from the beginning, and everything in between. I don’t pray to a God who is kind, but ineffective. I don’t pray to a God who knows, but doesn’t care. God is the maker and sustainer of the universe; He is the lover of my soul, and the Almighty and Eternal One.

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Today may be full of surprises– some good, some disappointing, some even overwhelming. God already knows. He knows our anguish, our hopes, our faults, and our triumphs (even the tiny ones). Many things about my life are difficult to understand or anticipate. I don’t have to know all the answers. I don’t even have to know all the “right” questions. God already knows!

Christians, Christ-followers, and Jesus Freaks

I see a lot of articles, posts, and religious sites as I wander around the internet. And there has been a lot written and shared lately about the word Christian getting a “bad rap.” Many writers and church goers are no longer comfortable calling themselves Christians. They don’t want to be identified with “bad” Christians– hypocrites, political extremists, etc., who loudly and proudly use the label while treating others with contempt, and generally acting like bullies and/or clowns. The growing trend is to use the term “Christ-follower” to describe a lifestyle that seeks to mirror that of Jesus Christ during His life on earth.

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Proponents of this practice point out that Jesus never called His followers “Christians.” Instead, He consistently invited people to “Follow me.” The term “Christian” is associated with the earliest Gentile churches and with the scattering of the persecuted church across Judea, Samaria, and Asia Minor. The term originated in Antioch a few years after Jesus’ resurrection:

19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (emphasis added)

Acts 11:19-26 (NKJV via biblegateway.com)

For a more detailed look, check out this link: http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-acts-11-19-26.htm

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Christian was not a positive or honorable label for the early followers of Jesus Christ. There are still many places in the world where the label “Christian” invites arrests, beatings, and death threats. There are places where the name “Christian” invites scorn and derision. What has changed (or seems to have changed) in the intervening years is that we see and hear of more and more places in the world where the label “Christian” brings up images of sneering protesters condemning gays or smug white faces spouting self-righteous phrases to justify greed, racism, and/or injustice. “Christians” are not just unwanted or misunderstood by others–Christians are unwanted by their own; misunderstood and misrepresented, at odds and at war with one another.

So what can be gained by followers of Jesus Christ in re-branding themselves as “Christ-followers?” After all, it’s just a name. In the 1960s, many Christians were condescendingly labeled “Jesus Freaks.” Jesus Freaks were viewed much like Hippies. They spoke of Peace and Love and Acceptance. They taught about kindness and unity. They were often young, and generally disillusioned with the older generation and its way of life. They acted a lot like Hippies; they just didn’t do as much experimenting with drugs and free sex. Much like the early Christians, they were labeled by those who dismissed their message and their way of life. They rejected traditional or mainstream Christianity, and were dismissed by many who called themselves Christians. Some were openly critical of previous generations of Christians. Many of those who wish to be called “Christ-followers” now are the descendants (or remnants) of the Jesus Freaks of the 60s. The mind set is very similar– disillusionment with others who have misused or abused the name of Christ, and a desire to “rescue” the reputation of the church.

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There have been other groups across the centuries who have tried to re-brand and re-label their devotion to Jesus– God-fearers, Disciples, Reformers, Witnesses, Saints, Fellowships, etc.. And there is no command in Scripture that we must all call ourselves by a particular label.

But is seems odd to me that the very label, “Christian,” that came about because of persecution, that came about as a derisive, sneering, condescending term, was embraced by those it sought to shame and intimidate. Why didn’t the original “Christians” re-brand themselves to make their cause less offensive? Why has this term, “Christian,” endured over the centuries?

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I think there are a few very good reasons:

  1. “Christians” bear the name of Christ, whatever other name they give themselves. When I say I am a Christian, I know that there are people who will compare me to others who make this claim. But I am not just a member of a group that likes the idea of Christ; I’m not just a Facebook follower of Christ, or a fan of Christ, or a student of Christ. Christ is my Lord; my life; my identity. Christ– Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. Not Joe Smith down the road who also attends my church, or a famous evangelist or Bible teacher, or even one of the Apostles, or Saints. Jesus– son of Mary and Joseph; Son of God and Son of Man. This same Christ was arrested, given a sham trial, condemned to be crucified like a common criminal, and hung, naked and tortured before a mocking crowd. He was humiliated, misunderstood, and abandoned by those who claimed to care the most. THAT is the name I willingly bear.
  2. “Christian” is a label. I can label myself in any number of different ways– “Woman,” “American,” “Caucasian,” “College graduate.” But there are many others who can use those same labels. They may define what I am, but they don’t define who I am. I may be appalled (and I am, sometimes) at things other women do, at things other Americans say, at the history of Caucasians and their interactions with indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, at the snobbery of other college graduates…But I don’t say, “I’m no longer going be an American; I want to be known as a resident of the United States, but I have my own system of government and culture and language independent of those living in Missouri or Idaho or Chicago– they don’t represent who I am.” Of course they don’t represent who I am–they never did. We all, collectively, are Americans AND residents of the United States. I can’t decline to be a woman because I don’t like the way other women behave or speak. And I can’t choose to be “other than” a Christian…all I can do is give it another label.
  3. Finally, who I am is not found in a name or title or label. It is the sum total of my character and the way I live my life. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples that they would be known by any particular name, but He did say they would be known and identified by their love: 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NKJV). That doesn’t mean I have to approve of everything other “Christians” do– in fact, if they use the name Christian and do not have love for others, they prove they are liars– but it means that I must do everything in the name of Christ.
    I am a Christian first, before I am a woman or an American or any other label. That means that I am the co-heir and sister to a young man in India who has been rejected by his family and expelled from his school for being a Christian. I am an ambassador of Christ to the woman I meet in the grocery store whose children are taxing her patience and whose cart is blocking the aisle I want to enter. I am an example of Christ’s love to the young couple who have been victimized by other “Christians” because they are “different.” And I am a Christian in a world of “fake” Christians, and confused Christians, and faulty and very human Christians just like me, who need correction, mercy, justice, and wisdom to follow Christ, to die to self, and to bear the honor of His name. Ultimately, I can call myself a Christian, a Christ-follower, a Jesus Freak–any other label I want. Whether I AM a Christian or not will be determined by how I live, not what I call myself.
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If you are a Christian reading this– how are you bearing His name today?

Sticks and Stones…

Children can be very inventive when finding ways to hurt other children. Name-calling, shunning, shaming, or just pushing, shoving, and tripping each other on the playground. As parents, teachers, and concerned adults, we should be working to instill compassion and discipline in our children– compassion to see how such actions and words hurt, and discipline to keep them from speaking and acting out of emotion and carelessness. We also spend time wiping away the tears and comforting those children who have been bullied and hurt by their peers. And we teach them sayings like, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words (or names) can never hurt me.” Such sayings mean well, but they are not entirely true. Words and names can hurt. They DO hurt. And they don’t just hurt the person who is the target of such words. They hurt the speaker and everyone who lets the words fall unanswered, or who picks up the words to hurt someone else.

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Christians should stand out as beacons of light and love. Yet many of us are guilty of throwing “sticks and stones” every bit as hurtful and thoughtless as those hurled by playground bullies.

A few years ago, I read with some shock a hate-filled article from a Christian woman who was urging all her Christian friends to boycott “Operation Christmas Child”, a group sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, a charitable organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of the famous Evangelist, Billy Graham. Every year, Operation Christmas Child sends out millions of shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts, meant for some of the poorest children around the world– orphans, refugees, and those in extreme poverty. But according to this woman, Operation Christmas Child was a hate-filled organization, spreading racism and condescension by sending “white” “western” baubles meant to taunt the recipients–useless articles like dolls and toy cars and color books with crayons. She also called out Mr. Graham as a racist, homophobic, hate-monger who should be — well she did stop short of asking for his assassination, but not by much. (I’m not here to champion Mr. Graham. But she gave no examples of racism and homophobia, nor did she give Mr. Graham any chance to defend his organization.)

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Her proposal was that anyone wishing to help someone in a “third-world” country should instead send their donations to a group that provides livestock– goats and chickens–to struggling farmers and families in developing countries, giving them the means to be self-sufficient, independent, and providing practical help instead of “frivolous toys”.

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I spent hours crafting a response to this woman’s article– one I later deleted without sending. I believe her proposal came from a heart that sincerely wanted to help others. And I think her hatred and disgust for Operation Christmas Child was based on criticisms she felt were warranted. But her article left me in tears for three reasons:

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  • It was hateful and filled with the kind of name-calling and condemnation that Christians should not just avoid, but mend and correct with love and grace. That doesn’t mean that we cannot say anything negative about other Christians or criticize their actions if they seem inconsistent with the Gospel. But there are Biblical guidelines for doing so.
  • Second, the article was divisive. She did not allow that anything about Operation Christmas Child could be done with a loving motive or a positive outcome. Because she found issue with the founder and with the design of the boxes and certain contents, she felt justified in condemning everything and everyone connected with it. And because she had found a solution that made her feel virtuous, she wanted every Christian to follow suit.
  • Finally, I believed her article was driven primarily by the passing emotions of rage and disgust self-righteousness, instead of a desire to do whatever she could to honor God and help those He loves. In fact, the majority of those living in poverty around the world (and thus subject to the goals of the charities she contrasted) live in urban areas–often they are homeless or live in crowded refugee camps or sprawling housing complexes. Sending livestock can certainly help farms or families who have land and food available to tend them. It is a helpful and loving gift to send a goat to a family or small village–it is however, impractical to send a pair of chickens to someone living in a high rise in Nairobi, and her advocacy shows a “western”, “white” naivete that rivals the one she sees in dolls and color books and caricatures printed on the boxes used to send them.

My response was no better–it pointed out her faults (as I saw them), and was designed to make her feel foolish and little and “wrong”. And just because I deleted it then, I obviously have not forgotten the incident. But I bring it up now because I see in it an ongoing problem—one to which I am not immune, even as (or maybe especially as) a Christian. It is very easy, especially with social media, to speak “in the moment”– and often in the emotion of the moment. We react, rebuke, chime in with our “two cents,” and let our tongues (and fingertips) destroy when they should be building up.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” Proverbs 25:11

Taken from pinterest.com, based on Proverbs 25:11

So, for this new year, am I hurling sticks and stones, as I sneer at those with whom I disagree? Am I like the playground bully, finding delight in calling others names, or laughing at their expense? Am I tearing down other Christians because I hear others being critical? Or am I using my tongue (and my keyboard) to bless others? Do I speak the truth (harsh as it sometimes is) with love and grace, or with pride and condescension? Do I listen more than I speak? Would I want Jesus to read my Facebook posts or hear my conversations? (Because He DOES!) Does He speak through me?

May His words take up residence in our hearts and spill out of our mouths and fingertips today!

A New Command

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NIV) taken from http://www.biblegateway.com
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Jesus was about to be tried and condemned to die. He was giving His disciples last instructions and reminders. But in the midst of it all, He gave this “new” command. I’ve read this passage dozens of times, and yet it struck me, possibly because we have just started a new year, that Jesus calls this a new command. Love one another. As if this was a revolutionary concept; as if it had never been spoken before.

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So I began to search. ” You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. ” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV) “Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. ” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites are commanded to love God and to love their neighbors, especially to those who might otherwise know only hatred or injustice– enemies, conquered peoples, resident aliens, widows, orphans, etc.. Most often, the commands are given in negative terms– how NOT to treat others. “Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not bear false witness…”

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There is nothing completely new about Jesus’ command in John 13, but it IS new– it is a positive command to show love for one another. And Jesus goes further– “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This goes beyond simply seeing that others are treated fairly within the broader society. Jesus washed feet. He went out of his way to speak to those who were despised and marginalized– tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers. He didn’t write a check to a non-profit charity and pat himself on the back. He didn’t share a political cartoon about Pharisees or the Roman Emperor with his followers or join the Jerusalem March for Jewish Rights–he challenged the Pharisees face-to-face about their unjust practices and healed the family members of Roman officials. He gave His life– not just on the cross, but in serving others’ needs throughout His earthly life.

Love One Another. It isn’t a suggestion. It is a command–one Jesus gave directly to His disciples. It is not a new command to the Church; but it is one we have not obeyed fully. We love those Christians in our small group at church, or those who share our politics, or those who look and talk just like us. Or we “love” those Christians who are struggling thousands of miles away– from our safe and comfortable lives thousands of miles away.

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I find myself often reading this command, but trying to obey it the same way I look at the Ten Commandments– obedience by omission; obedience in the negative. “Thou shalt not offend. Thou shalt not intrude. Thou shalt not condescend.” But that’s where I stop. I don’t wash feet. I don’t visit the sick or disgraced. Sometimes I send a check or donate a box of unwanted items.

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What would this new year look like if I followed this command more fully? What if, instead of just showing love to those I already like, or when it’s convenient, I reached out across town or across the globe to share my time, my heart, my resources, my skills, with those who need them most? What if I obeyed Jesus’ command to love those around me as Jesus has already loved me?

What if I dared to pray that God would bless others through me, instead of just asking that everyone would “be blessed.”

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In this new year, God, let this be a new command– one that I follow with my whole heart– that I should love others as You have loved me!

Writing the Next Chapter

Welcome to the year 2020! The next 366 days stretch before us– new, unknown, and ready to be discovered, experienced, LIVED!

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It is tempting to make bold plans, resolutions, or vague wishes for all the days at once– trying to fold the entire year into a single goal or set of goals. But is this consistent with Biblical principles?

Today, I want to pray, as Jesus did, that God would “give us THIS DAY our daily bread”– that I would walk and talk with my Savior each day, each moment as it comes. That doesn’t mean that I make no plans or goals for the future; rather, I keep things in a proper perspective. God knows the future much better than I do. I know where I am and where I’ve been (hopefully!), but only God knows everything that lies ahead. My job is not to dream about the finish line, but to continue running the race– step by step and moving forward, my eyes fixed on Jesus:

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) taken from http://www.biblegateway.com

Life is like a long race; it’s also like a story. As we enter a new year, we can look around and see where the story has brought us. Some of us are in crisis. Some of us have just defeated a giant, or survived a trip down the raging rapids. Some of us are headed for disaster, or about to head into battle. Some of us are caught in a trap and we can’t see any hope of rescue.

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I can’t change the race course I must face in the coming year. Nor can I change the story I’ve lived so far– I can’t change anyone else’s. But I know this– the next unwritten chapter is in God’s expert hands. God, the author of miracles and second chances. God, who turns shepherd boys into heroic kings; God, who transforms prostitutes into saints; God, who sends Himself naked and shivering into His rebellious creation knowing He will suffer and die at the hands of those He loved into being, and knowing that this death is not the end, but a glorious beginning! This God has a triumphant and joyous ending in store for me– for you!

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God has given us the amazing story of our lives–and the next chapter is here. God also gives us the amazing opportunity to write the next chapter. He will guide us through the process– bring in new characters and plot twists, or send us to new places through unexpected channels–but we have the power to choose the next step. Today and every day.

My prayer for this new year is a prayer for this new day. Tomorrow, I get the gift of taking the next step; of writing the next sentence!

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20/20 Vision, Blind Faith, and Prayer

As we approach the arrival of a new year, there is a lot of talk about vision–20/20 vision, that is. For the past few years, I’ve heard of companies, community groups, even churches using the year 2020 as a target date for planning, and using the phrase “2020 Vision” in their mission statements, fund-raising drives, and talking points.

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The phrase comes from 20/20 vision, considered clear or “good” vision. Someone with 20/20 vision has no need of corrective lenses or surgery to improve their reading, or correct their sight. Figuratively, 20/20 vision suggests good planning or foresight. So it is desirable to plan with clear “vision” and forethought, rather than jumping into a project, or from one unmet goal to another.

But, while it’s clever to borrow the idea of 20/20 vision and tie it to the coming year, it doesn’t guarantee that our future plans will be wise or successful just because the calendar says 2020. In the same way, just because we have 20/20 vision, it doesn’t mean that we can see everything around us perfectly. We will see clearly those things on which we focus– those things that are right in front of us and not obstructed. Even with “good” vision, we cannot see things that are hidden from sight or things that are outside our scope of vision.

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Even the old phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision,” doesn’t mean that we will always gain clarity with time. Sometimes we understand past experiences in a different light after time has passed. But sometimes, we are still left wondering and asking about events from our past; no wiser or less damaged by setbacks or failures, and no better prepared for future trials and pains.

If vision, even good vision and planning, is no guarantee of future success, perhaps it would be better to trust to “blind faith.” After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “walk by faith, not by sight?” Except the Bible doesn’t exactly say that. Instead it says:

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NKJV via http://www.biblegateway.com)

This verse often gets taken out of context and twisted to suggest that “faith” is opposed to “sight,” and therefore faith must be “blind” to reason, experience, or reality. Many good articles and sermons have been written to clarify the concept (see one example here:
https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/theologically-driven/walk-by-faith-a-misused-verse.html). Faith is not blind–or should not be blind. Rather, it utilizes the ability and practice of seeing what is hidden or indistinct in the present. If our faith is based on empty myth, rumor, conjecture, or cloud dreams, it is not faith at all–it is nothing more than a mirage. Faith is seeing beyond the obvious, the blatantly visible, and trusting more than just what we can immediately see. We don’t walk through life ignoring reality, or dancing across a superhighway full of speeding cars. But we see our circumstances as having hidden elements; our lives have unseen depths, and are lived on both physical and metaphysical spheres. There is more to life than meets the eye– and while faith may not always show us a clear picture of what lies beyond our sight, it causes us to know that something beyond our “20/20 vision” exists and matters.

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The great old hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” speaks to this as well. No matter what our circumstances look like, we can have confidence that “It is well, it is well, with my soul!” “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight..” We look forward, even as we look around, and look back to the finished work of Jesus our Savior. We see the present, but we walk in the knowledge that there is more than what our eyes behold.

Faith doesn’t negate the need to use our senses and common sense to navigate life. And using planning and vision for the future doesn’t negate the need for faith. Rather, they work together. And they work together best in prayer.

When we pray, we are exercising our faith– speaking to the One we do not see, though we know Him and trust Him. And we bring to Him our plans and visions and hopes and dreams. We lay them in His Hands, trusting that where our vision is “good,” He will empower and bless us; where our own vision is lacking, His Spirit will help us to refocus and see enough of what lies beyond to keep walking forward.

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As we walk into a new year, may we have more than just 2020 vision– may we have faith and hope in the One who has perfect vision!

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