Afraid to Pray?

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

Are you ever afraid to pray? Afraid that God will not hear, or worse yet, that God will hear but reject your prayers?

The Bible has much to say about fear and our worship of God and in our conduct before God. We are supposed to have a healthy “fear of the Lord.” After all, God is Sovereign. He holds absolute power over life and death, both in this life and throughout eternity! We should have the kind of awe and respect we have for one whose power is so great. We fear forces of nature, such as fire, floods, earthquakes and tornados. We should be afraid of God’s power in relation to our own. But what does this mean in relation to prayer? Does fear have any place in our pursuit of prayer?

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (ESV)

The “fear of the Lord” has to do with God’s power and authority to punish sin. We live in a fallen, sinful world, and we are fallen, sinful people. Our natural response is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden– to hide from God, and try to avoid His righteous judgment against us. Those whose consciences have been seared will lose this healthy and natural fear– they will be proud in their defiance against God. They will say that God is not sovereign or Holy; that He does not have the power to judge them; that they can “bargain” with God about their eternal destiny– they will even deny His very existence. Others will claim that God is Holy, but not “Good.” They claim that He is disposed to judge harshly; that He is vindictive and without mercy; that He demands too much of us. Even Christians can become so disposed to seeing God as their friend and advocate that they forget His awesome Holiness and Power. Christians have no reason to be afraid of God, but we have every reason to stand in AWE of Him!

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

The Truth of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ is that God is LOVE– perfect and everlasting Love! While He has the power and the authority to judge, it is His desire to lavish mercy on us! Such love should compel us to run TO God, rather than run away from Him! We fall on our knees in worship and adoration, not in abject terror.

So what could still cause us to be afraid to pray?

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

Perhaps we are still in sin, or we have strayed back into sin. Christ has already paid the penalty for Sin– it has no real power over the believer who “abides in God.” But it still has the power to draw us away from God and damage our relationship so long as we hide it, refuse to confess it, or repent of it. Even as we know that Christ has paid the price for our Sin, we also know that we need to abide in His Love to grow into a more perfect relationship with Him.

Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels.com

Perhaps we are holding on to old patterns of thinking and old guilt. Satan is an accuser. Even after we have confessed our sin and received God’s forgiveness, Satan will try to keep us enslaved to our guilt and shame. He will try to bring it to mind, or have others treat us with condemnation or condescension, so that we feel unforgiven or unlovable. We need to follow the advice of the Apostle Paul:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
Photo by Rubenstein Rebello on Pexels.com

God’s love is PERFECT. But our love is not. Sometimes we are praying, not out of love, but out of duty or even selfish motives. We pray for God to give a green light to our wants and desires and plans, rather than listening for His wisdom and grace in our situation. We pray for God to “change” that person who annoys us or persecutes us, rather than praying for God’s blessing on them, and listening to the ways He may want to “change” us! Sometimes we cannot see the wisdom of an outcome we don’t like, and we are afraid of the unknown path we must take– even with God’s continued presence by our side.

We don’t have to be afraid to pray. But when we feel apprehensive, it may be a sign that we NEED to pray–honestly telling God what He already knows and asking for the grace and wisdom to listen to what He so lovingly wants to tell us.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (CSB)

When God Uses a “Wasted” Opportunity

God’s ways are NOT our ways. And often, we can become discouraged by things that have happened in our past or things that seem like obstacles in the present. But our vision is limited by both time and space. We can’t see things from the outside looking in, and we can’t see things unfolding before they happen. Instead, we use our imagination, which can give us a vision that is wildly out of perspective.

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Take the case of Jonah (see Jonah 1-4). Jonah was given a clear mission from God– go to the great city of Nineveh and give them a message of judgment. Jonah could not “see” the outcome, but he could imagine a lot of things that made him run in the opposite direction! Nineveh was the capital city of his arch-enemies. The Assyrian armies had swept through Jonah’s land, and had very likely killed several of his family members. They were notoriously violent and Jonah must have presumed that there would be great danger involved in traveling into Nineveh, let alone proclaiming a message of certain doom!

Photo by Alex Andrews on Pexels.com
Photo by Guillaume Soucy on Pexels.com

Jonah didn’t just ignore God’s command– he went as far as he could in the opposite direction. He wasted the opportunity to see what God had planned, choosing instead to run away. He boarded a ship for Tarshish. He probably thought that God would have to use someone else, or that He would bring judgment upon Nineveh without any warning. At least he, Jonah, would be safe. But God’s ways were not Jonah’s ways. God brought a fierce storm that threatened to sink the ship. The sailors were terrified, but Jonah felt the weight of his guilt. He told the sailors to throw him into the sea, and God would save them from the storm. Though the sailors probably felt they were sending Jonah to his doom, they obeyed. And they were amazed as the storm disappeared! Nothing about Jonah’s words or actions caused these sailors to see God’s glory, but see it, they did. And they worshipped

Jonah missed the opportunity to see how God worked “around” him to amaze the sailors– instead, he got another lesson in how God’s ways were not Jonah’s ways. Jonah may have expected to drown, but God sent a big fish to swallow him, instead. Jonah spent three days inside the fish, being saved from the icy waters of the sea, and transported back to land, where the obedient fish “spit” him out onto the shore.

God did not find someone else to send the message. God did not change His plans. God simply changed Jonah’s situation and gave him a second chance. This time, Jonah obeyed. And God performed another miracle. Instead of killing Jonah or ignoring his warning message from the Lord, the Ninevites believed. And they repented– from the King down to the lowest citizen. God relented and showed mercy in the face of such repentance. Jonah had the opportunity to see God’s mercy and wisdom.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

But Jonah wasted this opportunity, as well. Instead of seeing the gracious hand of God at work to change the hearts of his enemies, Jonah only saw that God had not acted with vengeance and harsh judgment. (Later, when the Ninevites returned to their old ways of life, God DID send destruction, but Jonah missed that, too.) In fact, Jonah was angry with God, and threw a temper tantrum as the Ninevites celebrated God’s kindness and mercy. Jonah was a prophet– he very likely had a long career doing God’s work. He probably had many successes, but the Biblical account we have of him tells only of his failure. In spite of that, we can see in the story of Jonah how God can use even failure to bring salvation and redemption to the lost. God’s ways are not our ways!

Photo by Daka on Pexels.com

Today, I want to be encouraged by Jonah’s story. So often, I get bogged down in the mistakes of my past–missed opportunities and failures, things left unsaid, or actions that can’t be undone. It is important that we acknowledge our sins and mistakes; that we do what we can to make amends, and that we repent. But we must also acknowledge God’s power to make all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) and remember that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) Know too, that God knows the plans He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11) even though you and I cannot see the end of the story. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8); they are higher and Holier. His wisdom and power are infinite, and His plans are ultimately for our Good.

“Wasted” opportunities need not lead to years of guilt and self-torture. Instead, they should be learning experiences that lead us to greater faith, quicker obedience, and greater joy!

Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

When I was a child, my Mom used scripture to teach and correct me. One of her favorites was found in Numbers 32:23b “..you may be sure your sin will find you out.” This was a warning not to try to hide or excuse bad behavior. I could lie about cleaning my room, but sooner or later, Mom would find out. I could pretend to eat my peas at dinner, but sooner or later, my pile of uneaten veggies would show up as evidence. And I could be nice to my little sister around company, but that wouldn’t fool those who knew us well, or convince my sister that I wasn’t going to be bossy after they left. Most importantly, God would know what I did– and I would know that God knew!

Sin is more than just a simple action, or an accident. Sin is an infection–a poison. And it leaves traces, and scars, and has consequences– not just in actions or consequences, but in the shaping of our minds, attitudes, and character. Sin– concealed, denied, ignored, or excused–breeds and grows; it poisons our thoughts and emotions. Instead of reacting openly and honestly, we become defensive, secretive, paranoid, and apprehensive.

Photo by Meruyert Gonullu on Pexels.com

Praying involves communicating openly and honestly with God. Sin will get in the way of that communication. Not on God’s part– He is unchanging. But on our part– we will not be fully open with God. We will be suspicious of His goodness, and doubtful of His mercy. We will try to hide our guilt and our true motives. As early as the Garden of Eden, this is the pattern. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. “Where are you?” asked God (Genesis 3:9). Certainly He knew where they were, and why they were hiding. But Adam replied, “…I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10) When God asked Cain about his brother, Cain tried to cover-up the murder with distractions. “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”(Genesis 4:9) God never asked Cain whether or not he was responsible for his brother. But God already knew that Cain had killed Abel; Cain’s attempts to redirect the conversation did nothing to hide his guilt– it merely confirmed that Sin had wormed its way into his thoughts and attitudes. Cain never asked for forgiveness. He never confessed to the murder of his brother. Instead, he received the punishment for his sin– banishment and isolation. Later, Cain’s descendants even bragged about their family history of murder and exile! (Genesis 4:23-24)

Photo by NEOSiAM 2021 on Pexels.com

Of all the people we might try to impress, God cannot be fooled by our false righteousness. He cannot be impressed or distracted by arguments or justifications. And He can’t ignore how Sin is poisoning us, and leading us toward death– both physical and spiritual death. Even “little” “secret” sins will infect our relationships– with God and with others– and cause us to grow emotionally and spiritually numb. Unfortunately, the poison of Sin can cause us to withdraw further from the very source of healing. We attempt to bargain with God; to justify or excuse our actions in our own eyes, asking Him to ignore our condition. We may even be defiant, knowing we deserve punishment, but doubting God’s willingness or ability to bring about justice. We march boldly in the opposite direction, doubling down on our bitterness, anger, or shame.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

We need to seek God’s mercy and grace through confession and repentance. God is faithful to forgive and eager to restore to us the joy of His salvation (Psalm 51:11) He will do what all our mind-games and excuse-making cannot do–He will remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). And once the poison of Sin is drawn off, we can see and hear, think and act with a clear conscience, free of guilt and shame; free of secrets and excuses. We may still face the earthly consequences of our actions– punishment for things we’ve stolen or lives we’ve hurt, broken relationships or changed circumstances–but the eternal consequences of death and separation from God have been erased by the Blood of Christ and removed forever.

Photo by Akshar Dave on Pexels.com

And that will lead us to prayers of worship and thanksgiving, freely and joyfully raised!

For more discussion on this principle, see https://www.gotquestions.org/be-sure-your-sin-will-find-you-out.html

Of Lighthouses, Watchtowers, and “Friendly” Reminders…

I live just about an hour away from one of the Great Lakes. Within a comfortable driving distance, there are at least three beautiful lighthouses along the lake. Driving to or from the lighthouses, we pass through an area known as the “Fruit Belt.” Orchards, vineyards, and croplands are bursting this time of year–the very air is redolent with the smell of ripening apples, grapes, corn, beans, berries, wheat, and more. Some of the orchards and vineyards still have old watchtowers, though many have been removed or replaced with digital cameras.

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

Lighthouses and watchtowers serve a purpose– one that is still important today. Lighthouses help ships and other lake traffic avoid dangerous reefs and rocks along the shore, as well as sandbars. They guide travelers in the dark, and through storms. Watchmen in towers protect crops from dangers such as fire and predators. They watch for storms, and signs of draught and frost. Both lighthouses and watchtowers are fixed, steady, visible, and convey safety and security.

Photo by Travis Rupert on Pexels.com

I’ve been reading through the prophets lately– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…the prophets were sending out a warning to the rebellious people of Israel and Judah. Even though the imagery is often graphic and stark, the message was one of steady love and warning from God. God loves us enough to guide us through the rocks and perils of life. He sends warnings– not to harm us but to keep us from harm. He sends faithful friends and other messengers to stand firm with us through the storm and drought and danger around us.

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

Just like the light from the lighthouse, or the sound of a foghorn, the message may be glaring and unpleasant, sometimes. We may be sailing along with no notion of the rocks ahead. Or we may be strolling through the vineyard, unaware of a prowling animal or a fire just over the next rise. We may even resent the warnings we read in the Bible or hear from friends. We may be afraid to BE the one giving out the warning– afraid of being misunderstood or resented or even rejected.

God asks us to be watchmen– to be lighthouses– ready to shout out a warning to those who may be in danger. He also asks us to be vigilant and ready to heed the warnings He sends through others.

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

How do we know when “friendly” reminders and warnings are true? How can we be sure that they are not just petty criticism or overreactions?

Check them against Scripture. And check them in the context of Scripture. A single verse, taken out of context, that seems to contradict other passages should always be suspect. But a general principle, found throughout the Old and New Testaments should be heeded.

Look for consistency. Lighthouses and watchtowers don’t bend and sway with the winds of change. “Warnings” that change with circumstances, or seem relative to certain situations should be suspect.

Listen for (and speak with) Love. Friends may speak words of warning, but they will also speak of mercy and hope.

Listen for (and speak) truth–warnings should contain specifics, rather than vague fears or blanket accusations.

Listen (and speak) with humility. That doesn’t mean that we cannot speak in our defense, but we should not be defensive or resentful– even if the warnings are spurious. Remember, Jesus was accused of being “from Satan” during His own ministry, yet He answered firmly and gently, not with anger or hatred.

Give Thanks! Give thanks that God sends us warnings, and gives us opportunities to recognize danger and error, and opportunities to repent and change course, and encourage others to do the same!

Turn, Turn, Turn

Back in the 1960s, Pete Seeger “wrote” a new folk song, later recorded by a group called The Byrds.  All but the title and the last six words of the song were taken directly (though the word order was changed) from the book of Ecclesiastes.  Essentially, Pete Seeger wrote seven words and some music; the rest was written by King Solomon almost three thousand years ago!  Learn more about the song here…

timelapse photography of stars at night
Photo by InstaWalli on Pexels.com

When God created the world, he instituted times and seasons– day and night; winter and summer; weeks and months.  We are bound by time while we live here.  Sunlight and darkness help determine when we are active or sleeping (less so since the advent of electric lighting); summer and winter (or rainy/dry seasons) determine when we plant or harvest, what we wear, how we travel, and what activities we plan.

snow nature forest winter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But Solomon reminds us that there are also “seasons” that don’t depend on the weather or the amount of light filling the horizon.  There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time for laughter and a time for weeping; a time for war and a time for peace.  Our world is not static– it is filled with changes, and times for turning away from one thing and facing another.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV)
Photo by Jenn on Pexels.com

Our prayers will change with these seasons– prayers of wonder and prayers of wondering why; prayers of great boldness and reluctant, halting prayers; prayers that come from joy, and those that come with wracking grief.  There will be seasons of chaotic busyness, and seasons of loneliness and long hours; seasons when we help lift the burdens of others before our own, and seasons where others help us lift burdens we cannot bear alone.  There will be seasons of fierce, pounding spiritual warfare, and seasons of relative peace and rest.

green grass field during sunset
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Solomon lays out the concept, but I like Pete Seeger’s addition of the phrase, “turn, turn, turn.”  It reminds me that the seasons of my life will change, but I need to change as well.  I need to turn, first of all, to see where God is working in my life and the lives of others– that’s where I need to be and where I need to be focused.  God will never leave me nor forsake me, but He loves me too much to “leave” me in a rut– He needs me to move on and finish the race He has set out for me.  Change can be difficult, but without it, there is no growth!

Photo by jonas mohamadi on Pexels.com

Second, I need to turn from habits and activities that are “out of season”–young parents will have a completely different way of mapping out their time, including time for prayer and Bible study, than empty-nesters.  People in mourning will have a different approach to prayer and worship than those who are in a season of celebration.  There is a season to break down–to end bad relationships and turn from bad habits–and a time to build up healthy relationships and habits.  There is a time to speak– to share prayer requests and spend time in corporate prayer; to ask questions and persist in our requests.  But there is also a time to stay silent– to meditate and listen more than we talk; to be still and know, instead of pace and ponder.  I don’t wear a heavy coat in the middle of summer or run barefoot in the snow– I need to turn in alignment with the season I am passing through.

barefoot basket blooming blossoming
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Finally, I need to turn away from temptation and sin.  God gives me the power, through His Spirit, to turn and walk away from the quicksand of complaisance, the tidal waves of desire, the live wire of unchecked rage, or the bottomless pit of envy, but I must turn away from them.

This life is full of seasons and change– some good, some dangerous.  But God is outside of time and seasons.  He provides endless variety, but He never changes His essential nature.  No matter where we turn, He can be found!

photography of maple trees
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Objects In the Mirror…

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear…” This notice is on the side rear-view mirror of my car. It serves to remind me that I cannot judge distances by what I see– that my mirror is meant to show a wide-range view, rather than one that is precise and in-scale.

Photo by Miguel Mallari on Pexels.com

Many things in life are similarly distorted. The actual objects in my rear-view mirror don’t appear distorted, but if I back up without considering the warning, I am likely to run into an object and “distort” my back bumper!

The Bible also warns us about distortion and mirrors. In James, chapter 1, the Apostle writes:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:22-27 (NIV)
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

We can easily read what the Bible says; we can easily hear the truth; we can even recite Scripture– and still be deceived and following a distorted version of God’s Word. As I write this, I can quote James, or another passage of Scripture, and walk away from the keyboard only to spread gossip, or snap at my husband, or in some other way distort what I know to be true about myself and about God.

The Apostle Paul also references mirrors in 1 Corinthians:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13: 8-12

Even though this chapter is famously known as the “Love” chapter, it also addresses our need to be alert, humble, and committed to acting on what we know to be true. We can speak of love, even perform acts of self-sacrifice, yet distort what it actually means to practice Love. If we glance at our lives in the distorted mirrors of pride or worldly comparison, we will lose our perspective and our proper focus– and end up damaging more than just a bumper!

Photo by Foss Valentine on Pexels.com

This distortion can also infect our prayer life. We can pray on “auto-pilot”– looking at things in a distorted mirror, instead of focusing on God and putting things in their proper perspective. How many times have I prayed that God would help those in need, without ever considering how He might want me to DO something? Have I asked locally if there is a need I can help meet? Not just with money, but in time or service? Do I pray “globally” but ignore those right in my own back yard? Sadly, I must answer than I have been guilty of such distortion. Or how many times have I been in the one in need, praying for a miracle, while refusing the practical help that someone has offered? Have I prayed that God would “change” someone else’s attitude, without seeing that mine needs to change as well (or instead!)? Have I confessed a sin, without really repenting? There is temptation, waiting in my rear-view mirror– and much closer than it appears!–but I want absolution without discipline. I want help without humility. I want to love others– when it is convenient.

Thankfully, God WANTS us to see clearly. He gives us warnings about the mirrors we tend to use, and His Word helps us correct our focus.

Photo by ZaetaFlow Sec on Pexels.com

God wants us to see things as they really are– both the horror of our sin and rebellion, and the wonder of His Grace. And sometimes, that means grappling with the distortions in the mirrors of our own making.

Fishers of Men

Earlier this week, my husband and I went fishing. As we were enjoying our time on the lake, and catching a few fish, I was reminded of the old song I learned in Sunday School:
“I will make you “fishers of men”…if you follow me.” Jesus said these words to His early followers, who were fishermen by trade (see Matthew 4:19). But what does it mean to be a “fisher of men?”

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

The primary meaning is that we have a commission– found in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations..” We are to go and “catch” men and women, taking them out of the sinful lifestyles we see around us, and bringing them into the Kingdom of God, much as fishermen take fish out of a lake or sea and bring them into the boat. But what practical implications can we take from the practice of fishing, that might help us as we carry out our spiritual commission?

  • First we much go where the “fish” are, and actively work to catch them. I can go to the lake, dip my toes in the water, even get into a boat and go sailing, and never catch a fish. The fish will not jump into my boat, or jump out of the water into a net. I must make an effort. I can follow Christ, and go to church every Sunday, participate in many spiritual activities, even pray every day, but if I never interact with lost and hurting people I am unlikely to become a “fisher of men.”
  • Next, we must recognize that we won’t “catch” all the fish! I know some Christians who become discouraged and depressed if they go out for one day of “evangelizing” and don’t make converts. They give up after one negative or unsuccessful encounter. “I’m not an evangelist.” “I can’t share the gospel– I just don’t have what it takes…” Imagine if fishermen responded that way– “I cast out three times, and never got a fish– I give up!” This is especially discouraging because our Great Commission is not to “convert” everyone; not just to go out and “catch” men and women with a hook or a net, but to make disciples. It is a process, but it comes with risks and no guaranteed “return” on our investment. Some “fish” are not ready to be caught. Some are meant for other fishermen. This should not lead us to be apathetic about lost neighbors or relatives, but it should remind us that we are God’s witnesses, not His SWAT team. Even Jesus didn’t “convert” everyone He met! But He did love them!
  • Third, and closely related, we must expect resistance. It is not natural for most people to respond immediately to the Good News of the Gospel. After all, it involves admitting our need for salvation, and submitting to the will of God. Fish that are taken from the water will die! And we must “die” to our selves and our selfish nature if we are to become Disciples of Christ.
  • Finally (and this is a bit of a stretch of the analogy, but bear with me…), we must have the right bait. This is not to say that the Gospel is inadequate or insufficient for the task. Rather, that we are not meant to hit people over the head with only our words– even when they come from Scripture! We do not create disciples by offering a bare hook. People are hungry– hungry for answers; hungry for hope; hungry for peace; and hungry for love. The Gospel lives in US– WE need to offer more than just the words of the Gospel–we need to LIVE the Gospel! To offer only condemnation or smug arrogance makes a mockery of the very Gospel we are supposed to share. Likewise, we do not create disciples by offering a shiny but “fake” gospel of easy answers and “cheap” grace without truth or repentance. It may hook a few desperate or gullible people for a moment, but once again, it is not our mission to merely “hook” people.
FISHERMAN#3/OK, 5/30/01, 3:52 PM, 8C, 8808×10935 (0+505), 150%, FISH, 1/10 s, R120.4, G94.7, B105.7

David and I enjoy fishing– we enjoy spending time in God’s beautiful nature; we enjoy the quiet and peace; and we enjoy the challenge of finding where the fish are “biting” on a particular morning. And I’m so glad that Jesus gave us such wonderful analogies and word-pictures to help us understand His love for us and His plan for spreading the Good News. Finally, I’m glad that I’ve been taken from the “lake” of sin and given new life by the great “Fisher of Men!” I pray that I can help others find and follow Christ, as well.

The Ones Jesus Didn’t “Save”

“For God so loved the World, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.”

John 3:16 (KJV)
Photo by Rafael Cerqueira on Pexels.com

This is probably the most well-known verse in the Christian Bible. It has given hope to millions, as it explains that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ allows anyone to find forgiveness, faith, and new/eternal life. But what about those who don’t believe; those loved ones (and others) who die without the hope of salvation? Doesn’t God care about them? Why does he let them die without hope? Why do they go to eternal suffering, instead of being forgiven?

Photo by Saeid Anvar on Pexels.com

I can’t give a complete answer to those questions…I don’t comprehend the entirety of God’s plan or His mind. But I do know this– God understands our heartbreak and our grief over our unsaved loved ones. After all, Jesus spent three years preaching and announcing the Gospel, yet He was betrayed by one of His closest friends. Jesus– God in the Flesh; Emmanuel; the Perfect Son of God–didn’t “save” everyone He knew. We have the wonderful story of the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus– what about others who didn’t “see the light?” There may have been hundreds, even thousands who heard Jesus preach; who watched Him hanging on the Cross; who heard the rumors that He had risen, only to reject His message–what about them? Jesus had met them. Maybe He had healed them, or eaten at their house, or studied with them at the Temple when they were younger. Some may have been His brothers, or cousins, or mentors and teachers.

On the night before He was crucified, Jesus was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was in anguish about what He would have to face, but some of His anguish and grief had to be in knowing that, while His death and resurrection would save so many, there were still others who would choose to turn away and reject the Life and Hope and Peace that He suffered to bring.

Even during His ministry, Jesus didn’t heal everyone who was diseased or lame or blind. He even made reference at one point to the kinds of disasters that often leave us questioning God’s mercy:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus could have “saved” those Galileans from having their sacrifices desecrated; He could have provided a miracle to save those who were killed by the tower that fell in Siloam. And just as we grieve today for the senseless loss of life in places like Afghanistan and Haiti, or New York City on 9/11/2001, Jesus felt the loss of innocent strangers. Just as we plead with friends and loved ones to repent and seek God’s face, Jesus preached the need for all people to confess and seek forgiveness.

Jesus could have forced Judas to turn from his plan to betray the Master. He had the authority to cast out demons and demand that angels come to honor, protect, or comfort Him. He has the authority to make every knee bow down and every tongue confess that He is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. And someday, He will! But Jesus won’t save people against their will– even those close to him. He doesn’t compel grudging obedience, or demand abject servitude. There are some who choose to serve Him in that way, but that is not His desire. Instead, He compels us with His mercy. We choose to love Him because He first Loved us– sacrificially, unreservedly, without limits or conditions. (See 1 John 4:19)

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Jesus patiently spoke to Nicodemus in the dead of night. He chased Saul down on the road to Damascus and gave him three days of blindness to reconsider the direction of his life. He called His disciples and asked them to Follow Him– even Judas. He invited Himself to the house of Zacchaeus. He spoke with compassion to those who were broken, and outcast, and lost. And just like Judas, they had to make choices– some of His friends and followers abandoned Him when He needed them most. Some of them stumbled. But they HAD followed Jesus. They had learned from Him, and they came back and persevered.

Being loved by God comes without conditions and without reservations. Being “saved” by Christ’s atoning blood comes with a price–not just the price He paid on the cross, but the price of our repentance and acceptance of His Lordship, and yes, even the mysteries of His Grace.

Photo by Munmun Singh on Pexels.com

As Jesus hung on the Cross, He was positioned between two convicts who were justly condemned. Both were sinners; both were paying the penalty for their crimes. One cried out to a dying Savior, and was saved. The other mocked and cursed. Jesus had the power to save him. He did not desire that the other man should suffer. But the other man chose to reject who Jesus was, and so rejected all the mercy and power He could have shown.

Jesus died to save “whosoever” would believe. He did not die to save “howsoever.” We may not fully understand why He chose to offer Salvation in this way, but we believe it to our everlasting joy, or reject it to our everlasting anguish.

Building Walls

I’ve been reading in the book of Nehemiah this week. Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem may strike a discordant note in today’s Western culture. Back in ancient times, most cities were enclosed with high walls. This kept invaders out, and gave protection and a sense of identity to those who lived within. Today, we have cities spilling into other cities in sprawling metroplexes. We have trains, buses, and airplanes constantly shuttling between cities. Walled cities are not practical. Even the borders between nations have become porous and flexible (except during times of war or distress!) It can be difficult for modern readers to share Nehemiah’s distress at the state of Jerusalem’s wall, or his passion to see the walls rebuilt. After all, Jerusalem was a conquered city, being ruled by foreigners–the invaders had already gotten in! The project seems to us like a waste of time, materials, and energy. Even in his own day, the project seemed problematic, and Nehemiah faced resistance on many fronts.

Photo by Steven Putong on Pexels.com

Yet God put it upon Nehemiah’s heart to do this; He answered Nehemiah’s plea to soften the King’s heart, and provided Nehemiah with an abundance of materials and even protection for the journey. It seems as though it was important to God that these walls were rebuilt. Why? How does God feel about walls, anyway? Did He not give Joshua great victory by making the walls of Jericho collapse? Does He not command the Israelites to welcome and be kind to foreigners? Did the Apostle Paul not say that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28 ESV)? How do walls fit in with God’s plan for our lives?

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on Pexels.com

Part of our confusion may lie in our understanding of walls in ancient cities. We know they provided protection from invading armies, but they did much more–and they represent much more in the Bible. Walls not only provided protection to ancient cities– they provided structure and definition. Walls kept strangers out, but they also had a series of gates to let people come and go in an orderly fashion. There were gates used for commerce, gates that served ceremonial functions, gates that smoothed travel through the city, and even gates that were mostly used to transport garbage and dung outside of the city.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Walls and gates also gave a sense of identity to people in and around the cities– some people lived close to (even in or on) the city walls. All those who lived within the city “belonged” to that city– and those who lived and farmed close by could claim the protection of the city walls in times of danger– whether from siege or natural disasters. They could also expect the city dwellers to be a ready market for their products or services. Travelers and traders could expect to be safe inside the walls of a friendly city– such protection could not be found on the open road, nor in many smaller towns. Cities tended to have more public services, better systems of laws and more stable economies. Walls could help control the flow of commerce, ideas, and loyalties.

Just before the book of Nehemiah is the book of Ezra. Ezra was a priest and historian who also traveled to the fallen city of Jerusalem. His mission was to help rebuild the Temple, and to make sure the priests were purified and re-establishing the Jewish religious practices after years of exile. At the end of the book of Ezra, it is discovered that many of the returning exiles have broken the Jewish laws by intermarrying with foreign women, and “adding” idol worship and pagan practices to their worship of the One True God. The city –and all of its structure and identity–had been destroyed; the Temple and the Walls were gone, and the area was open to all the peoples and practices of the surrounding cultures. Over time, even the priests had become defiled, no longer obeying, or even knowing, their own laws and customs! It is in this context that Nehemiah’s book begins to make more sense.

Photo by Suliman Sallehi on Pexels.com

God is concerned about the “walls” in our lives– boundaries in our behavior and worship. Some walls may need to crumble and fall like those of Jericho– walls that keep us locked away, smug and proud, defiant and unapproachable. Walls that create barriers without providing protection or shelter. Walls that stand in the way of God’s authority in our lives. Other walls may need to be strengthened and rebuilt– walls pocked with compromises that have eroded our commitments; unguarded gates where lies and confusion have stolen in and weakened our faith; areas where the pressures and stresses of life have chipped away at the building blocks of our Christian walk.

In the very first chapter of Nehemiah’s book, there is a prayer– it is not about rebuilding a wall for power or protection–it doesn’t even mention the wall– rather it is about repentance, restoration, and recommitment:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

Nehemiah 1: 1b-11 NIV
Photo by Nicola Barts on Pexels.com

May we be willing to pray for the walls in our lives– those that need to come down, and those that need to be rebuilt!

Sifting Through the Ashes

A Poem for Ash Wednesday

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

Father, I look around, and all I see are the ashes:
Broken dreams, lost opportunities, burned-out passions..
Everything else is consumed.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I sit here, on this heap of ashes: sifting through cold dust motes–
There is no heat, no burning embers, no trace of what was.

Such is the nature of sacrifice.
You don’t desire the stench of a half-burnt ram, or a singed goat.
You don’t relish a pile of smoking bones, or a half-hearted heart.

But you honor ashes and sacrifice given
With a whole and willing heart–
Even a broken one.


Your holiness consumes all that is temporal.
The ashes left are what you desire; the essence, the emptiness.
In exchange for them, you pour out
Life and blessing, gladness and healing.

As I sift through the ashes, I will not find the life I built,
The dreams I nurtured,
The honor I sought:
Instead, I will find evidence of the Holy Fire.
The ashes will be scattered to the wind.
They will fall on the waters.
They will become incense and prayers.
I will wear them on my forehead:
Your Holiness has burned away the dross.
My sacrifice is gain, not loss.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑