It Is Well With My Soul

I’ve been reading through the book of Job this past week. Job’s story challenges us– especially if we trust in our circumstances to confirm God’s love for us. Job was a seeming pawn in a situation beyond his control or understanding. He lost nearly everything– his cattle, flocks, all his children, and even his health. The only thing he did not lose was his nagging wife, and his faithful, but very unhelpful friends.

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At first, Job’s friends seem very supportive. They stay with him, saying nothing, just offering their presence for a week! But then, they start spouting the kind of useless aphorisms and accusations that make Job’s bad situation infinitely worse. They “remind” him that good people don’t suffer–only the wicked experience pain and loss. This knowledge, they assure him, comes from their own experience, and the wisdom of the past. When Job protests that he is innocent, that his suffering is NOT because of his own wickedness, they become increasingly angry and irrational– making up accusations and heaping blame on Job for daring to “question” God.

But Job’s friends, even though they speak with confidence and sound very much like many people we hear today, are wrong. Job’s experience is real–suffering comes to the innocent, while the wicked often “get away with” their sin, living lives of ease and comfort at the expense of others. We see it in the world around us– innocent people are the targets of mass shootings, or war, or famine, or disease. Meanwhile, criminals get “off” on a technicality; decorated war “heroes” destroy entire cities; powerful tyrants bend laws and oppress the helpless.

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Where is God in all this? WHO is God in all this? There are many different responses, but I want to look at three that are all present in the book of Job:

  • Mrs. Job: “Curse God and Die.” Some people look at evil and suffering, and they decide that God must be a fraud. Either He cannot or He will not destroy evil, or He would have done so before now. They declare with great defiance that either God does not even exist, or He must be malicious, capricious, petty, and weak.

  • Job’s friends: “Everyone knows that God rewards good and punishes evil.” Doesn’t the Bible say this? Isn’t this what we learned in Sunday School? Surprisingly, most of us would say, “Yes, that is exactly what I learned as a child, and it is exactly what the Bible says!” But look closer. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It goes on to say that “The Just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17)–not their good works. God DOES reward goodness, and he DOES punish evil– but He also redeems the wicked and causes the good to go through times of trial and suffering. God is more than a two-dimensional dispenser of rewards and punishments. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), and there are times that He chooses not to explain His ways “in the moment” of our suffering, or in the moments when wickedness seems to be “winning.”
    Unfortunately, when bad times come; when we experience pain, or watch someone else going through inexplicable suffering, if our view of God is incomplete or two-dimensional, we are left repeating the little we KNOW (or think we know) about God, and defending, not God’s character, but OUR knowledge. This is especially true if we have not been tested ourselves.
  • Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15) “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 Even when Job struggled with his pain and suffering–even as he defended his character to his accusing friends, Job KNEW that God was GOD. He knew all that his friends were saying ABOUT God, but he also knew God–even when he didn’t understand His actions. And after all the arguments had been made and all the “easy” answers had been spilled out, GOD did not slay Job; he did not leave him in his agony. Neither did He provide Job with detailed answers or explanations. But He redeemed the situation– Job ended up with more blessings than before. More importantly, Job ended up with a greater understanding of who God is.

When all is not well with our health, or our finances, or our safety, or our relationships, it can still be “well with (our) Soul.” God does not change, but He does ask us to trust Him, even when His ways are not our ways. God will reward good and punish evil– but it may not be in our lifetime or as we imagine. God may stay silent during times of great stress and pain, but He will not leave us! In every situation, we can trust Him.

Will we?

As Far as the East is From the West..

In blogging about prayer and in keeping a prayer journal, there is one type of prayer I don’t dwell on very often.  Prayers of confession and repentance are very important, but I don’t  include them in my journal and I don’t spend much time analyzing them.  It’s not that I want to ignore them or that I want to give a false impression that I don’t say them.

arrogant

I’m a saint–but only in the sense that Christ’s blood is my atonement and my only hope of salvation.  He who started the work is still working, and there’s a lot of work yet to be done.  So, while I include prayers of confession and repentance in my practice of pursuing prayer, I don’t write them down or share them publicly.

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Here are some of the reasons I don’t spend more time talking about confession:

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  • Confession is not meant to be a public spectacle.  It is generally private and very personal between an individual and God.  Apologies may be public, and repentance may include public atonement or recompense, but those are not prayer; rather they are the actions taken in conjunction with  and as a result of prayer and confession.
  • Confession is fundamental– it’s not a prayer option, or a stylistic preference–every one of us has sinned, and we all need to admit to our sins, bring them before the throne of God’s grace, and ask for his forgiveness.  Hiding sins, denying sins, or lying about them will get in the way of all our other prayers.
  • Writing about past sins keeps them alive and keeps the focus on me and on my faults, rather than on God and on His Grace.
  • Making confession public has a tendency to devolve into gossip and self-justification.  Descriptions of my sinful actions will necessarily be from my incomplete and very biased point of view.  Other people can be misrepresented and hurt.
  • But the last reason is my favorite– I don’t waste time writing down and discussing past sins because GOD HAS FORGOTTEN THEM!  Writing them down, rehearsing them, analyzing them–even analyzing how I might approach confession won’t change God’s response:

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:10-12 New International Version (NIV)
  • The key is that we DO confess– humbly, consistently, and with a heart of true repentance.  What follows is a free and forgiven conscience, no longer weighted down or pulled off focus by guilt and doubt.
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When Prayer is Not Enough…

“Stop praying and DO something!”

“I’m sick of thoughts and prayers…it’s time for action.”

“Prayer doesn’t work!”

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What happens when your prayers don’t seem to make any difference? People around you complain that you are passive, even apathetic about critical needs. “People are dying!” “People are suffering, and you want to stop and pray?!”

YES! Buy why do I continue to advocate for prayer in the face of overwhelming injustice and evil? Shouldn’t I be talking about action? Shouldn’t I be posting plans to end injustice or poverty or war? Shouldn’t I be willing to say that sometimes, prayer just isn’t enough?

Well, firstly, I believe that Prayer is far more powerful than most people know. Prayer IS enough, because GOD IS ENOUGH! I can’t stop gun violence, or human trafficking, or an epidemic. I can’t– not with all the resources in the world; not with all the action I can muster; not with any effort or plan or army of willing human helpers. And neither can anyone else. I can march in protest, I can write and call and badger legislators to change laws or enforce the laws we already have. Such actions might make me feel better– they might even have some immediate effect. But they won’t “fix” the continuing and underlying problem of Sin. Only God can do that, and He WILL do it. He may choose to work through human agency to right some wrongs or change the immediate future, but our world is broken, and God’s ultimate plan is bigger than just a convenient patch for Sin’s consequences.

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However, I will concede that sometimes prayer, by itself, is not nearly “enough.” Prayer must be paired with Faith. I know many people who say that prayer “doesn’t work,” not because they didn’t pray, or weren’t sincere in their desire or their wish for God to act on their behalf, but because they believe in their desire– their wish or their plan– more than they believe in God’s goodness or His ability to bring good out of whatever struggle we are facing.

This is not a simple concept– that God is eternally good even in the midst of evil and horror– it can be painful beyond words. God may choose to allow the sin of drunk driving to take the life of an innocent person in our family, or leave us permanently paralyzed. Or He may allow war to strip us of all that we own– our home and our freedom. How can we possibly view such circumstances as “good?” Why does God allow for violence and injustice? Why does He allow it to continue– seemingly unabated and unchecked? How can God call Himself “Good” while letting evil touch our lives and the lives of millions innocent people? Praying — and continuing to pray– in such circumstances seems like a mockery of our pain and grief. It seems like God is deaf to our cries– indifferent, or even watching smugly from a distance. Why pray to such a God?

But IS this what God is really like? And why do we believe the worst about Him, rather than trust that His wisdom and Love are actually greater than what we can comprehend or experience in the present? Why do we blame God for the evil we see in others? Why do we ignore our own actions or inaction that often contribute to our situation? Why do we believe that God “owes” us a life without sorrow and pain– even as we see others suffering the consequences of sin– sometimes because of our failures? Why do we insist that God always act in accordance with OUR desires, when we often will not act in accordance with His? Why do we “test” God with prayers in our times of trouble, when we will not trouble Him with our prayers in times of peace and plenty? If anyone should have led a life without sorrow or pain, it should have been Jesus. Jesus prayed all the time– He even taught others how to pray (Matthew 6:9-15). He was completely obedient to His Father. Yet God’s own Son faced heartbreak, betrayal, and a painful, unjust death on the Cross. He wept over the death of a close friend– a death He Himself could have prevented (and later reversed)! (John 11) He was in such deep distress in the Garden of Gethsemane that He sweat blood! (Luke 22:44) God’s plan is not for us to live a life free of trouble, but a life of victory OVER despair and doubt!

Seeking “more” than prayer is often seeking “more” than God–as if we can do better on our own. As though we can out-love, out-give, out-do, and over-power the God of creation;the God of the Cross, and the God of the Resurrection and the Life. Deriding prayer is deriding the God to whom we pray– we minimize His power and His compassion while inflating our own. If God doesn’t exist, one might argue that it doesn’t matter– but then, why waste time deriding what doesn’t exist?! Prayer matters because God DOES exist, and because God matters Trusting God means being willing to wait and accept His will; even if we don’t get the answer we want. God’s ways are not our ways, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior or ineffective. God will not “undo” our circumstances, but He will help us through our circumstances. He won’t take away our grief. But He will shape it into something with purpose– if we let Him.

Finally, there are times when prayer must be paired with action. It IS enough to pray for God to act. But when God prompts US to act, and we do not, our prayers are empty words. Faith may lead us to wait, but it won’t lead us to sit idly by when we have the opportunity to help. Faith may lead me to keep taking the next step– even when I can’t see the way forward. Faith may lead me to let go of a dream I thought would be “enough.” It may lead me into the valley of the shadow of death– in my own life, or on behalf of someone else. I can’t take away someone’s grief at the loss of a child– but I can share in it. I can listen and offer friendship, rather than a quick platitude and a few empty words. I can continue to be there when others fade away. I can’t undo the horrors of war– but I can help care for refugees, and I can work to build peace in my neighborhood, even as I pray. I can take the next step in making someone else’s burden just a little lighter, and making the world a little brighter wherever God gives me the chance. And prayer is one way I can focus on the source of strength, wisdom, and compassion to allow me to do my part better.

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The next time you hear someone saying that prayer is “not enough,” remember that no human effort will ever be “enough” to do what only God can do! But prayer taps into the power and grace that is “sufficient” for all our greatest needs.

Debt Free!

7“Blessed are those

    whose transgressions are forgiven,

    whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the one

    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Romans 4:7-8 (NIV) via biblegateway.com (See also Psalm 32:1-2)

Ask me about my most embarrassing moment, or my greatest failure..better yet, ask one of my friends or relatives! We tend to hang on to our past, especially our mistakes, our hurts, our missed opportunities, and our shortcomings. When I taught public speaking in a local high school, I heard horror stories about why “I can’t get in front of people and talk.” The fear of public speaking rates higher in some studies than the fear of Death! And often, the fear is based on an incident from early childhood of people laughing at a small, but very public mistake. Such moments haunt us.

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As we grow older, we let our regrets live large– those things we “would have, should have, could have” done, or the things we shouldn’t have said, but can never un-say. And even if we try to move on or forget the past, there always seems to be someone who cannot let go, cannot forgive, or cannot forgive. Lives have been stunted and ruined by the ghosts of “what happened” when…

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God is all-knowing. There is nothing we’ve ever done, said, or even thought, that He “missed,” ignored, or “lost track of.” God has total recall over all the centuries and eons of time– past, present, and even future! And yet, God offers to forgive ALL our sins, and to “remember them no more.” God will never bring up “that time when you disappointed me…” God will never look at you with condemnation over anything you have confessed and repented over. It’s not that God will never be able to recall what happened; but He will no longer “charge it to your account.” He has chosen to pay the consequences in His own Blood, so that you can be debt free.

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Imagine if you had no bills. If all your mortgages, utility payments, credit card debt, medical bills–everything that you were responsible to pay– all were stamped “Paid in full.” You never had to worry about interest payments, late fees, repossession, evening phone calls from bill collectors, credit scores, etc. What a weight off your shoulders! Imagine if you had no reason to fear getting in front of a room full of people to speak or sing or give a presentation– no fear that others would judge your every hesitation, or whether your tie was straight, or your hair was mussed, or you stumbled over a word or phrase or tripped on the steps leading up to the podium. Imagine being accepted and embraced by the very one who, by rights, should be your most severe critic.

Sometimes, when we see God as our critic, our judge, or our opponent, we’re not seeing God as He really is– we’re seeing a reflection of ourselves– harsh, judgmental, unwilling to forgive others; unwilling to forgive ourselves. The very first deception of the Enemy was to distort God’s image from Creator and Sustainer to Judge and Tyrant. Yet Satan is called “The Accuser,” not God. God’s Holy Spirit may convict us of Sin– causing us to see that we have done wrong– but His purpose is always to correct and restore us, not to haunt and condemn us. Even the “worst” sins are not beyond God’s ability or willingness to forgive. Jesus forgave His accusers, His betrayers, and His executioners from the Cross!

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Forgiveness is not easy. Sin is real; it has real and terrible consequences. Sin hurts, humiliates, victimizes, and traumatizes. And its effects do not simply vanish if we say, “I forgive.” But hanging on to the pain and anger keeps us from finding and experiencing the healing and wholeness that Jesus offers. Forgiveness does not mean that the sin, or the pain, never happened– God will not “forget” injustice just because we forgive the unjust. Forgiveness means that we no longer need to try to collect the debt from someone else– because God has already promised to pay it back with interest! And forgiving yourself doesn’t mean that your past actions didn’t happen or didn’t cause pain. In fact, whenever there are opportunities to atone for past actions, or ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, we should take them. But where such opportunities are impossible for us, even when we cannot see how such pain could be redeemed or relationships restored, God has promised that we can move beyond our past mistakes and live a new , blessed, and debt-free life.

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When we approach God in prayer, we come as we are– people with past mistakes, very human emotions, including doubt and fear, and unworthy to stand on our own before a perfect God. But it is God who invites us to come to Him– debt free and embraced by His limitless Grace!

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One Man’s Junk…

The story is told of an old, worthless-looking violin that came up for auction. No one wanted to bid on it. The auctioneer began with a modest call for three dollars. No bids. Two dollars? Nothing. One dollar? Surely someone would spend just a single dollar. The violin was in working order. It had all its strings and a bow. No one was willing to spend one dollar for an old violin?

Suddenly, an old man came forward and took the violin off the table where it lay. He picked up the bow and began to play a famous violin concerto. In the hands of a master musician, the old violin came to life. Its haunting and soaring music brought the entire room to tears. The old master came to the end of the piece, and there was a hushed silence as he lay the bow and violin back on the table and returned to his seat. Clearing his throat, the auctioneer started a new bid– one thousand dollars. Several people placed a bid. Two thousand? Three? What had been worthless in the eyes of so many just minutes ago suddenly had great value.

That’s a nice story, but it rarely happens that way in real life. I run a resale shop– antiques, collectibles, vintage and retro items, and yes, what most would probably call “junk.” People come in and look around– sometimes they find a piece or two that they like. Sometimes, it’s priced at just a dollar or two; sometimes the price is a little higher. Some people think my prices are too high; others find them on the low side. They think they are getting a real bargain, and they are convinced they will be able to resell the item for much more on-line or elsewhere. They may be right. They may be wrong. Most of them are just doing what I’ve already done– find an item that seems to be undervalued, and sell it to someone else who may value it more highly.

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“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” That saying applies to many of the objects in my store. But it should never apply to a person. We tend to place a value on someone else based on many superficial factors. We judge people by the way they look– their clothing or their hair or the expression on their face when we first meet. Sometimes we judge them by their skin color or the way they speak– the words they use or if the have an “accent.” We judge some people to be smarter or more important based on who else pays attention to them or how much money they have (or don’t have). We judge their talents and experience based on hearsay or gossip. And we allow others to place their “value” on us. As though some people deserve more attention, more resources, or more love than others.

God sees through all the tarnish, the guilt, the low esteem, and shame that we carry around. Each one of us is equally precious in God’s eyes. There is no “junk” in God’s economy, when it comes to a human life. No matter how dirty, broken, used, misused, patched up, trampled on, or worthless we may seem to others (or to ourselves) we are priceless and cherished by our Heavenly Father.

Jesus sought out the “junk” people of his time– lepers, widows, children, the blind and lame, the sick and weary, diseased, depressed, and demon-possessed. He touched the untouchables, loved the unlovable, and forgave the unforgiveable. Even when He was condemned to die as a criminal, and rejected by His friends and followers, Jesus remembered the Father’s love for others.

In this Holy Week, I pray that I would not lose sight of God’s Amazing Love for us. When we were His enemies– fallen, ruined by Sin–“junk”, Jesus was willing to reach out, to walk with the marginalized and sick, and more than all that, to DIE in order to make us joint heirs and give us the glories of Eternal Life with Him! And when Jesus was taken down off the cross– broken, dead, and “worthless”, God raised Him to Life and gave Him a “Name that is above all names” (Philippians 2).

We pray to a God who cherishes our very thoughts–a God who delights to hear from us! What a powerful thought. What an Amazing Love!

Justice? Or Vengeance?

When violence strikes, I want justice. I want action. I want to make the evil stop.

Just the other day, there was another school shooting in the news. At least six innocent people lost their lives, and another community was ripped apart by grief, shock, and anger.

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But is it really justice that I am seeking? Or is it vengeance?

Justice is permanent. Justice is final. Justice takes time. Vengeance is visceral and immediate. Vengeance is a reaction; a retaliation. Justice, on the other hand, is blind to the emotions of the initial event. Vengeance is driven by emotion. Justice comes through the objective application of the law.

Justice is God’s business. I do NOT understand why or how God allows evil to happen in the first place. It hurts. It doesn’t make sense. It is destructive. But it is the nature of Sin. And Sin infects the entire world. We cannot escape from it. We cannot deny its existence. We cannot put an end to it. We can only follow the arduous and imperfect justice systems that are in place for our community or our country. We cannot achieve perfect justice. But God can. And He has promised to do so– in His time, and in His way. This can be comforting, but it can also be frustrating.

Vengeance is also God’s business. God has emotions, just like we do. But His are always under perfect control. God’s wrath is frightening in its power, and paralyzing in its purpose.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:19 (ESV)
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As imperfect as our systems of justice may be, they are still systems, with order and time to look at the total situation. Vengeance doesn’t stop to count the cost. It doesn’t stop to listen to the full story. It seethes and coils like a rattlesnake, waiting to inject venom into the first victim to cross its path. Human vengeance never leads to peace.

Also, vengeance is limited to the strength and resources of the avenger. If a shooter takes the life of my loved one, my vengeance is limited to the actions I can take. I may kill the shooter; I may take the life of their family members; but I cannot bring my loved one back, nor can I guarantee that the killer will suffer the same amount or the same way I do. Vengeance never looks forward, and it never offers a solution to move forward. It lives in bitterness and anger and discontent.

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As followers of Christ, we are asked to take a stance that seems impossible from a human standpoint. We are asked to keep our hands clean, to keep our minds at peace, and to give our grief, our anger, and our craving for vengeance over to God with no reservation and no option to set the limits or timelines.

To the world around us, this seems weak and even unjust. What if the evildoer “gets away” with her/his crime? What if the victim never gets “justice” in their (or our) lifetime? What if we never “see” justice done? What if God “fails” to avenge us or our loved one? What does the Christian “do” in the face of evil? Nothing?! Fall on our knees and pray?! Offer lukewarm assurances and empty promises?

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The problem with evil– especially shocking violent events– is that we can’t see beyond the immediate shock and pain. That doesn’t mean that there IS no pain or shock or anger or frustration if we choose not to react with vengeance. The pain is still very real, and overwhelming. But we choose to make room for faith that sees the larger picture. Faith makes room to see not just justice, but mercy. It allows us to see the overall tragedy of Sin, beyond our immediate tragedy of an individual act. Faith sees beyond our helplessness to God’s Sovereignty. It sees beyond the present pain to future healing.

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I pray for the families of the victims in this latest shooting– and for all those who have experienced such violence. And I pray that God will show me what I can do to make a positive difference going forward. I pray for the strength and the faith to let go of hatred, bitterness, malice, and outrage. Finally, I praise God, even in the middle of pain and shock, knowing that He can be trusted to bring perfect Justice– and perfect vengeance–the kind that leads to a peace beyond our understanding. These are not “easy” prayers. They are not blind prayers, or prayers prayed without tears and groaning and questions. But they are real prayers, not empty wishes that I could avoid all unpleasantness or that I could exempt myself (or others) from tasting sorrow, grief or pain. Rather they are prayers that acknowledge that Life is more than struggle; that Love and Mercy are stronger than despair, and God has already won the ultimate victory.

Paying for the Privilege

I read a most astonishing article some time ago. Wealthy white American women are paying up to $2,500 for a meal and a gut-wrenching session about how racist and bigoted they are. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/03/race-to-dinner-party-racism-women?fbclid=IwAR12AvWdTyht5RV0vfBfZ5XUEnA4441GU8efLSX8xtdfePI2R9KEesCipI8 Over a fancy dinner, they discuss how their privilege has (arguably) caused them to ignore and/or deny the needs and rights of others, based largely on prejudices and fear.

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I won’t waste space to analyze all that I think is wrong with this scenario– but I will say the following:

  • $2,500 is a lot of money for most Americans, let alone many others around the world It’s more than most people spend in a month for groceries, utilities, and more, let alone one meal.
  • Talk is (according to the old phrase) cheap.
  • If having difficult talks over a plate of overpriced pasta and wine could really solve major problems, I’m shocked that we still have so many problems in the world!

I’m dismayed by this article. I hope that some good comes from these efforts, but I don’t expect such tactics to end racism, bigotry, or ignorance. These women are paying for a privilege on top of all their other privileges– the right to feel righteous and “woke” to lingering problems that have never personally touched them. It would not occur to them to invite 10 women who don’t look like them, don’t live like them, don’t speak like them, and don’t dress like them to come and share their dinner. They would not share their hospitality, their fine china, or their fancy dessert with a working-class woman with olive skin and an accent, or a single mother fighting to make ends meet and losing the battle– of any skin color. They might give another $2,500 to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen across town– they would not befriend anyone who needed those services, however.

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Most importantly, they are likely to believe that by “owning” their prejudices for an hour, they are absolved of their responsibility to “love their neighbor as themselves.” They can be comfortable in the belief that their feelings “do them credit” and make them better than others who “are in denial” about their “subconscious biases” and “micro-aggressions” toward the people with whom they interact (or routinely ignore). They may take high-minded actions to force the government to “deal with” people less fortunate than they, but they will take no steps to get involved personally with the families who suffer from injustice and poverty just outside the gates of their exclusive communities.

But another more insidious problem with the article is the way I can choose to respond to it. Articles like this are designed (on some level) to create anger, division, and a sense of disgust toward those who are considered “privileged.” I look at the hypocrisy outlined in this article, and I may assume that “privileged” rich white people are all alike. I may assume that the “problem” is their affluence and their indifference– that if they could be “made to” care more, or made to pay “their fair share”, poverty would disappear, and with it, prejudice and other issues that separate the “privileged” from the “rest of us.”

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But poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other issues are symptoms of a much greater problem– Sin. And Sin is a problem that can never be solved by sitting down over a meal or writing a large check or even learning empathy with others who suffer. In one very large sense, we all are “paying a price” for Sin. We live in a broken world, where Sin and its effects are felt by all. Even wealthy, healthy, “privileged” people suffer heartache, betrayal, loneliness, confusion, addiction, and loss. None of us has the “privilege” of being untouched by Sin.

And while each of us can and should be active in helping to mitigate the effects of Sin, we cannot eliminate them. We can never “pay” enough to make Sin and its consequences “go away.” Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can do that. The real “privilege” in life is not great wealth, or social standing. It isn’t comfort and the ability to shell out a month’s wages for a single uncomfortable meal. It isn’t the temporary feeling of being more “virtuous” than one’s neighbor–and that brings me to reflect on my own actions and beliefs.

What “privileges” do I take for granted? What makes me feel “virtuous?” What makes me feel guilty or ashamed, that I would “pay” to have someone else make me feel “enlightened?” Jesus doesn’t call me to “feel” virtuous. He calls me to follow Him and become more virtuous. He has already paid far more than a month’s wages (or even a lifetime’s wages) to redeem me from Sin’s curse, and allow me to live with peace and joy– no matter my financial or social circumstances! I have the very real “privilege” of knowing Him! And so can anyone else who puts their trust in Him. Through Him, we have riches that cannot be sold, bought, lost, or traded. But they can be shared! I cannot rid the world of poverty, prejudice, greed, injustice, or death. But I can help others find strength, hope, relief, and joy in their journey, as I point them to the Savior. I can’t give a thousand dollars, but I can give a few dollars to a local food bank, or volunteer time to help others. I can share food or water or clothes with someone who is in need just down the street. I can listen to someone who needs a friend, and I can offer to serve where someone needs a helping hand. I can also give the benefit of a doubt instead of harsh judgment– even to those who seem hypocritical or “unenlightened” in their earthly “privilege.”

Lord, my prayer today is that I would pour out compassion– even on the ladies in this article–and on all who need it most. Your heart is that all of us would live in peace and lovingkindness. Help me to see my neighbors as you see them–ALL my neighbors. All the time.

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The real privilege is not of wealth or comfort. The real privilege is to learn to love and be loved as Jesus loves– freely, sacrificially, whole-heartedly and without limit. May we celebrate in that privilege today.

The Lion’s Share

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
Therefore I will wait for Him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24
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We live in a world of seemingly finite resources. We work hard to save money, save time, protect our joints, take care of our teeth, maintain our house or yard, repair our vehicle, conserve water, protect our air quality, etc.. And we work hard to ensure that we get our “fair share”–vacation time, wages, tax breaks, sale prices, the best return on our investments, the lot with the best view, the window seat on the plane or bus, credit for our hard work, and more.

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God’s resources are unlimited and bountiful. Through Christ, we are joint heirs to all the riches of God. God is our “portion.” And no one who trusts in Him will be left with less than a cup filled to overflowing (Psalm 23:5). We may not fully comprehend or receive our great good fortune in this life, but we will enjoy it the next for eternity! And there is no need to scramble and scrimp, worry, or wrangle trying to get it– it’s our promised “portion” and our inheritance.

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What a world of worry, stress, desperation, and trouble we might avoid if we carried this promise in our memory and LIVED it out. The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words– Jeremiah, the weeping prophet; Jeremiah, whose life was in constant danger as he watched his homeland being invaded, conquered, and exiled. Jeremiah, in the midst of his anguish, took time to write some of the most hopeful and joyful words of prophecy. Jeremiah knew that, even if the nation of Judah was conquered and destroyed, the LION of Judah would still bring ultimate victory. And to the victor belong the “spoils!” Jesus is our victor and our victory. His are the spoils of war to lavish upon those He chooses.

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Jesus (called the Lion of Judah, an image found in both Genesis and Revelation) has already given us victory over Sin and Death. And the “Lion’s Share” of the spoils– abundant life, restoration, redemption, and the Righteousness of God– are for all those who call on His name and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth! He’s reserved a “Lion’s Share” for each of us.

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“The Lord is my portion; Therefore, I will wait for Him.” ” I will trust and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2) “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:8) https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Waiting-On-The-Lord (See also Psalm 37)

Instead of scrambling for a “lion’s share” today, let’s call on the Lion, and allow Him to give us our “daily bread,” knowing that His portion is more than sufficient today and forever!

Afraid to Pray?

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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)
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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.

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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)

Christmas Wish Lists

When I was a child, we used to write letters to “Santa” with a list of what we wanted to find under the Christmas Tree that year. Sometimes this was a school project– practice in letter-writing etiquette, etc.– and sometimes, it was done spontaneously after poring through the Sears “Wish Book” Christmas catalog, or after watching Saturday morning cartoons with their endless ads for toys, dolls, bikes, and sugary cereals.

As adults, we often do something similar, drafting a Christmas “wish list” in our prayers and Advent dreams. Our adult lists may be as shallow as those of childhood–a new dishwasher, or a shiny piece of jewelry; a new “toy” boat for Dad, etc. Sometimes, they sound more virtuous– world peace, a healthy economy, a cure for cancer…

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It isn’t “wrong” to have wishes at any time of year. And we should hope for better things in the world around us. But we can get caught up in the idea of Christmas being all about wishes and desires at the expense of the real GIFT of Christmas– Christ Himself! In fact, we can become numb to the fact that Jesus wasn’t just “another” Christmas gift among our “wish list” items.

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The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1: 9-14 (NIV)

Christ didn’t come that first Christmas in response to any person’s wish list. In fact, the Bible says that when Jesus came into the very world He created, He was rejected, ignored, even despised by those who should have recognized and welcomed Him. He didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper and waiting for us to enjoy Him. He came wrapped in rags, forced to go into exile under threat of death, and honored only by humble shepherds and strangers from foreign lands. No one sought Him out on their own. Even the shepherds and wise men were led by angels and a guiding star.

This year, instead of concentrating on wish lists and our desires (even noble ones!), let’s reflect on God’s wish list– that we would turn from sin and rebellion, and be reconciled to Him; that we would make His gift our greatest desire!

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