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My newly published book is now available for sale on Amazon.  This book promotes a closer relationship to the Lord for the reader and congregations of Christians.  I emphasize the value to spiritual disciplines through an emphasis on the practice of silence before the Lord.  Readers will be inspired through the highlighting of Scripture and examples of the power of God’s grace working through his gifts of Scripture, prayer, others and his presence.  If you want to enjoy a closer and more intimate relationship with the Lord and to help others experience the same, I encourage you to purchase and read this book.  It includes contributions by a host of other Christian ministers from varied areas of giftedness.  Click on the title below to see it on Amazon:

To Be Silent: The Too Busy Church

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No matter how things look in the world, the Bible encourages the following: Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Jesus called the devil a murderer from the beginning.  He is the author of chaos and confusion who comes to steal, kill and destroy.  We are seeing his work all around us.  There was something demonic about the police officer’s murder of George Floyd and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and there is something demonic about these riots.  The answer is the experience of Pentecost.  The answer is the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh and the coming of the kingdom in power and might in us and in our land.

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What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to come and be with you and in you and around you?  He is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of the Father and the Son.  He is the Spirit who descended on Christ at his baptism, empowered Christ in his ministry and who raised Christ from the dead.  He is the Spirit in whom the disciples were baptized and by whom they were clothed in power on Pentecost.  He is the Spirit who empowers in us spiritual gifts for the common good and building up of the body of Christ.  He is the Spirit who gives us wisdom and revelation to know Jesus and the Father. He is the Spirit who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to know the hope of the kingdom of heaven.  He is the Spirit that fills us and overflows from us and brings the kingdom of God among us.  He is the living water welling up in us to eternal life.

Before any of this, he is the Spirit that is infinite with no beginning or end.  He has always been and will always be.  He was at the creation hovering over the waters applying the power of God to form from nothing all that is in the universe.  He is the power of God that came upon people of old enabling them to do great exploits by faith in God.  All the great men and women of God mentioned in Hebrews 11 were empowered by this Holy Spirit.  He came upon them and they were transformed into new people with the gifts of God.

The Holy Spirit inspired the words and writings of the prophets.  He breathed God’s word into them as he carried them along in life. And he is the Spirit bringing it all to pass not allowing one jot or dot to disappear from God’s word until it is all fulfilled.

In the prophecy of Joel that is preached and confirmed by Peter at Pentecost, God promises to pour out his Holy Spirit on all flesh.  This is the Spirit of God coming upon all people – not only a select few but coming into the world as a shower upon humanity.  The effect of the Spirit’s presence will be the word of God proclaimed, the mysteries of God revealed, repentance charged, forgiveness of sins received and salvation from God experienced.

The Holy Spirit first comes upon people to give them the awareness and desire for God’s presence and salvation.  God comes to save through graciously encouraging a person to invite him into themselves through repentance and receiving salvation.  This is what Peter encourages the people to do at the end of his proclamation on Pentecost:

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Until a person receives the Holy Spirit by God’s grace through faith, the Holy Spirit works on them to bring about repentance and salvation. Jesus describes this work of the Holy Spirit when he says:

John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

This conviction that the Holy Spirit brings about is that very experience described in Acts 2:37 of being “cut to the heart” by the preaching of the gospel.  Later in Acts 3, Peter is preaching again and encourages the people to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  He proclaims to them,

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

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The Holy Spirit convicts and when we repent and call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit is also the one who refreshes us with new birth and new life in Christ.  The Apostle Paul describes the experience as New Creation. (2 Cor 5:17)  This is what the Holy Spirit does.  He is the one by whom we are born again through Jesus.

I love the way God describes this event in the prophecy of Ezekiel when the prophet describes what is fulfilled in us when we are born again and receive the Holy Spirit:

Ez 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

 The Holy Spirit comes to live in us and he transforms us and leads us to live according to God’s leading and holiness.  The Apostle Paul describes this in Romans and Galatians as being “led by the Spirit.”  Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would come and lead us.  He says in John 14:17 that the Spirit of truth, he dwells with you and will be in you. And then in 16:13 that he will guide you into all truth.

I want to highlight three specific things that the Holy Spirit does in us when he comes:

The first is that he manifests himself to us and in us.  In other words, when the Holy Spirit comes, he makes himself known.  He expresses himself in word and deed to us and in us so that we come to know him.  For example, he speaks to us about Jesus; he pours the love of God into our hearts; he bears his fruit in us which is an expression of his character– love, peace, joy, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience and self-control.  In Ephesians 1:17, Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation by whom we come to know Jesus better.

The second wonderful action of the Holy Spirit in us is that he sanctifies us.  To sanctify us means that he makes us holy or that he makes us like Jesus through and through.  This is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in us that works down deep in our soul and is displayed fully in our lives.  This is, in fact, something Jesus prays for us in his prayer of John 17.  In v. 17 he prays to the Father, Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 

 We can be sure that this is a prayer God is answering through his Holy Spirit of truth in each of our lives.  It also gives us a clue that the Holy Spirit uses the word of truth the Bible to sanctify us.  At the closing of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica in vv 5:23-24, Paul also prays for our sanctification:  He writes, Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

 The outcome of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is that we are transformed and conformed to the image of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit makes himself known to us – He manifests himself to us and in us and he sanctifies us.  He also does something that Jesus emphasized when he talked to the disciples after his resurrection.  This is a primary working of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to what Jesus says at the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of the book of Acts just prior to his ascension:

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high….you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In addition to manifesting to us and sanctifying us, The Holy Spirit empowers us to live as ministers of Jesus in the world.  This is the ongoing experience of what John the Baptist said would happen by Jesus: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  This happened initially on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2:  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

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The Holy Spirit enables us to know the Lord and to be transformed into his image, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can minister in word and deed.  The reading from 1 Corinthians 12 elaborates on this empowering by the Holy Spirit for ministry among ALL of us:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. …11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

 The power of the Holy Spirit in us eliminates the excuse of “I can’t” when it comes to ministry or service to which God has called us and to knowing God and living a holy life.  I can because he empowers me.  It doesn’t mean I can do what God called you to do specifically.  And it doesn’t mean you can do what God called me to do in my area of giftedness.  It means each of us has the power of God to fulfill his calling and commands for us.  For all of us that includes bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  What Pentecost means is that if we are born again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we have the Spirit of God with us and in us.

The manifestation of the Spirit, the sanctification by the Spirit and the empowering through the Spirit are all works that begin immediately and are all ongoing through our lifetimes.

Now what?  What do we do?  We ask and receive and we keep asking and keep receiving the fullness of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  We keep giving him more and more room in our lives, our families, our church, our work, our dreams and everything.  We remove limits and restrictions on him.  We spend more and more time with him enjoying his presence.  And we act in obedience to him in courageous faith.  We investigate the promises and gifts in Scripture and we ask for them and receive them, declaring them and walking in them.  We become the people God wants us to be by the Holy Spirit and we start living in the character of Jesus as we keep our eyes on him the author and perfecter of our faith.  By God’s grace, people will come to know him by the witness of our relationship with him.

In the last few days, I have thought to God…”I really don’t know how to pray for everything or what to pray for. “  The events of the world are overwhelming.  Another promise of the Holy Spirit is that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)  The Holy Spirit prays for us and helps us to pray.  He sighs and groans within us and inspires our prayers to the Father.  Let his groaning within you inspire you to pray more and more.

For ourselves, our families, our churches, our communities and our nation, we can pray always “Come, Holy Spirit, Come.”

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My son Jack had a dream that he shared with me the other day, and it led to a discussion about overcoming challenges in life through faith.  I think that what evolved in our spiritual exploration is a healthy pattern for facing challenges in life and pursuing our own earnest desires and endeavors. The following is a pattern for prayer for a positive pursuit or desire that also deals with a negative confrontation by the spiritual forces of evil or our own doubts and fears.

I will use an example from my own life to help convey the pattern of praying.  Something that God has called me to do and that I want to accomplish is to speak to groups of people whether in church or other venues.  I believe that God has gifted me in this ministry and pursuit and has put me in positions to do it for his purpose and glory.  Public speaking and preaching can be challenging and often fear provoking because we imagine failing, being rejected and looking foolish.  The spiritual forces of evil instigate those fears, because they don’t want any of us to become bold in preaching about Jesus or giving our own testimonies or even being successful fulfilling God’s purposes.  So evil spirits oppose our expression of God’s calling and gifts.  They will try to make us afraid by saying we will fail, that we are no good at it, that people will reject us or that we have no business getting up in front of people.  If it comes to preaching, they will accuse us of being frauds, hypocrites and in no way worthy to act like a “good” Christian.  These accusations and fear mongering, of course, exacerbate our own vulnerabilities to shut us down.

I hope you can imagine how you might apply this to your own prayer concerns and challenges in life. This pattern of God’s call versus Satan’s opposition plays out over and over in Christians’ lives.  Where demons’ confront us with lies and oppression often reveals the very place that God is working for us.  The devils say “You can’t speak.  Nobody will listen to you.  Who do you think you are?!”  We can take it to the bank that God is for sure calling us to speak and giving us an anointing to do it, and will give us favor with people.  The evil spirits themselves often reveal God’s promises in our lives!  For example, if the devil says that you will always be poor and will never have enough money, that reveals God’s promises that he will provide for all of our needs and if we have faith he will prosper us.  We need to have faith and exert our faith.  That’s what I want to show you how to do.

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So back to my example of speaking and preaching.  The first step is to Praise God.   We approach God in worship and praise because he is the Holy One and is the Lord Almighty who is worthy of all praise and honor.  So I might begin my conversation with God like this:

“Father, You are great and high above all powers and might, because you created all things.  You reign over heaven and earth.  Nothing is impossible for you.  You are seated on your throne in glory, and Jesus you are at the right hand of the Father and are the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Your Holy Spirit is with me and has all power in the earth.  I praise you that you hear my prayers and love me more than I can imagine and desire to do good for me and in my life.”

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The second step is to Make Your Request to God in prayer.  It is important that we ask God specifically for the desire of our heart and his help in the endeavor of our pursuit.  What is the thing the enemy is telling us we cannot do or have?  What are we afraid of doing?  What is the negative experience of our foreboding?  We need to ask God for the positive ability, for specific success and for help in the action.  We need to ask God to give us the courage, boldness, joy, vision, inspiration and power that would overcome the negative we are imagining or experiencing.  Of course, we can also ask God for something in our life we want or need. Our prayer might be like this:

“Father you are good and your promises to me are good and true.  You have called me to preach and to speak, and I pray that you help me to express your word and my story effectively.  Help me to be confident, courageous and bold in my speaking.  God I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit and the words to speak.  Give me your anointing to engage powerfully with those in the congregation and audience, and I ask you to give me favor with them.  Father, please give me visions of success that will come to pass as I move in faith to do what you’ve called me to do.  God I ask you to silence the voice of the enemy and smash and break all the images of failure and rejection.  Replace the lies and fear of the devil with your word of encouragement and truth.  Help me to do all I can to be a helpful speaker and preacher.”

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Now that we have offered our prayerful requests to God, we receive his answers and demonstrate our faith by Giving Thanks to Him.  Giving thanks to God is an expression of our belief that God has heard us and that he will in his goodness answer our prayer, especially because we are praying in accord with his call and purpose and against the spiritual forces of evil.  We must believe that God is answering our prayer.  I would pray like this regarding the prayer above:

“Father, I thank you that have heard my prayer through Jesus Christ.  I know that you are good and have all power to do what I have asked you based on how the Holy Spirit has inspired me.  I thank you that you are loving and kind to me.  I thank you Father that you are making me a successful and effective speaker with an anointing to preach and to speak powerfully.  I thank you that I have nothing to fear, because you are with me to give me favor and success in all situations.  Thank you Lord that I will continue to improve in my ministry and will be fruitful.  I also am grateful that you have given me a desire to fulfill your calling and have made me joyful in the pursuit and accomplishment of it.  I also praise and thank you that you have overcome the spiritual forces of evil that oppose me and the work that you have called me to perform.”

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The next thing we do is boldly and confidently, with great faith, Declare the truth of who we are and what we are doing in the Name of Jesus.  This is a matter of expressing the truth of what God is doing in and through us and speaking life to ourselves and our circumstances.  At this point, our words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and they are words of power and authority that serve to accomplish their purpose. In the speaking of the present reality of our request, our faith and boldness grows.  And this is a statement of faith:

“I declare in the Name of Jesus that I am an effective and successful speaker and preacher.  I declare that I speak well and powerfully and make an impact on those who hear.  I declare that I have favor with my audiences and that my words are well received.  I declare that the Holy Spirit is with me to help me and inspire my words that he applies with power and conviction for greater impact.”

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The final act is to Rebuke the enemy of our souls and God’s kingdom.  Our battle is against the spiritual forces of evil that oppose the goodness of God and all that God is trying to bring about in the world.  As God’s children and ministers, the spiritual forces of evil oppose us.  They try to steal, kill and destroy.  They lie and accuse.  They oppress and depress as much as they are able. So after we submit to God, we resist the devil and all demons who would oppose and come against our prayer request and work of faith.  Something like this we speak to the spiritual forces of evil:

“In the Name of Jesus and by the power of his shed blood and resurrection, I bind the spirit of fear and every lying spirit from interacting with me in any way.  I command you spirits of fear, oppression and lies to leave me in the Name of Jesus and go to where Jesus sends you and do not return to me.  I bring the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ between us as my protection and rebuke you from interfering with my work in any way.  I belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have no place in me, so be removed from me now and forever.”

After this you might want to continue to praise the Lord and to follow the above pattern as he leads you.  The above prayers and statements can be as brief as one or two sentences.  It all depends on the time and intensity of the situation.  This is a pattern that you can always use to pray for yourself and over other people or groups of people.

Now one more encouragement, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “Compensation,” “Do the thing and you shall have the power; but they who do not the thing have not the power.”  After all is said and done, we must walk by faith in taking one step or leap of faith after another.  So press on and go forward in faith with courage and boldness.

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I think for Christians during this season of Covid-19, we are struggling with having faith and courage in our daily lives in the face of so much fear and contradictory guidance.  We are bombarded with the cacophony of the latest “they said this” article, pulled in different ways and constantly under siege from fear and anxiety.  How do we stand in faith and walk by faith in the midst of warnings, mandates, worst case scenarios and the readily available tragic stories and statistics?

I want to spend a few minutes highlighting faith in the midst of it all.  Because as Christians, we are called by God to have faith rather than fear.  In Luke 18, when concluding a parable about how “they ought always to pray and not lose heart,” Jesus asked his followers “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?”

Jesus and the teaching of Scripture exhorts us and propels us to demonstrate faith in God and his word.  At a men’s prayer group this week, we were remembering a friend from the group that passed away a few years ago.  We all characterized him foremost as a man of faith – the kind of faith that you stand on and live by.  That is what Jesus is looking for among us.

In Romans 1:17, the Apostle Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk applying his words to Christians: “The righteous shall live by faith.”

What does it mean to live by faith?  The Bible gives us a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  The author of Hebrews goes on to write in v 6 that without faith it is impossible to please God.

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Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we as Christians “walk by faith, not by sight.”  Faith requires that we fully believe and act upon something that is not apparent or easily grasped or obtained.  We don’t need faith for what we have but faith produces the fulfillment of our God-inspired hopes.  For example, we don’t need faith for healing for ourselves when we are healthy.  We don’t need faith for safety when there is no threat.

When I began my doctor of Ministry dissertation a few years ago, I was afraid I would never finish it and that it would be futile.  By God’s grace, I prayed and had faith that he would help me complete it for his good purpose, and I pressed on.  When my wife and I left our home and jobs in Charleston SC to move to Ambridge PA so I could go to seminary, we didn’t have the money for it all.  We had faith that God would provide and work things out. If we had the money up front, we wouldn’t have needed faith for that provision.

Where does faith come from?  There are three sources of faith I want to highlight: Scripture, a gift from God and experience.

Paul writes in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  The gospel and the promises of God with the testimonies of Scripture produce in us faith in God that empowers us to walk according to God’s word and promises even against the conventional wisdom or conspicuous contradictions of the world.  Faith in God is based on his word.  That is what we stand on.  That is what leads and guides us in our faith.  We don’t activate faith in our own competencies, or on luck or chance or on our feelings or imaginations and definitely not the news.  Faith in God is securely fastened to his word.

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For example, our faith that our sins are forgiven and that we are saved is based on God’s promises like 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  And Romans 10:9 “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Our faith is our conviction that these promises are true for us so that we are forgiven and saved.  But if someone says, I think everyone who tries to be a good person and has some belief in God will go to heaven that is wishful thinking and not Christian faith.  Christian faith is based particularly on the right understanding of Scripture and does not contradict Scripture.

Faith also comes as a gift from God by the Holy Spirit directly to us or through another person.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:9 that the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith to some people.  This is an extra measure of faith to believe in God and to take extraordinary steps of faith.  This is great faith to believe against seemingly insurmountable odds. This faith can be placed in our hearts by God, and it can come in conjunction with a word or promise or command that God gives to us through another Christian, his Spirit or as we read his word.  Such a message from God ignites greater faith by us.  For example, God might say to you or put it on your heart to give financially above and beyond your comfort level or he might command you to initiate a ministry for the first time or he might convict you to stop an addiction that seems too hard.  These days, maybe he will lead you to give someone a hug without fear.  These are words that spark accompanying faith because if God commands it then he will enable it.  And for each of these, you can find supporting Scripture to strengthen faith even more.

Faith also grows from experiencing God fulfill his word and come through to meet our faith with his own faithfulness.  The more we walk by faith and the more testimonies we hear from others walking by faith, the more our faith grows.  We have to keep exercising faith, building it up, inviting God to graciously increase our faith.  The more our relationship with God develops the more we will know his character as being loving, powerful and good to us.  This inspires more faith in him.  Experiencing more of God and hearing more about him from others helps us to trust that he has our good in mind and will not fail us.  As we trust God financially in providing for us and blessing us as we give, the more we can be faithful financially.  The more we experience God leading us in life decisions, the better we can trust him even when the outcome is not apparent.  The more testimonies we hear of God healing people, the more faith we can have in his promises of healing.

Faith comes from the word of God, the Spirit of God and experiences with God.

So having and practicing faith in our lives requires devotion to God’s word, a devotion to and communion with the Holy Spirit and praying to God so that we can experience God answering our prayers.  In addition to these, our faith is enhanced through the fellowship of other faithful people who also share God’s word, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and their own testimonies of how God has worked in and through them.

There are great obstacles to faith in the world and in ourselves.  How are you feeling about your health today, your finances, the church, the future, your kids’ education, your family’s situation or this nation?  Are your reactions to each of those more influenced by the news of the day, rumors, the latest statistics, your own worst case scenario imaginations or are your reactions based on God’s promises, the quiet voice of his Spirit and your experience of his faithfulness?

Are there areas of your life where you are afraid? Are any of your practices right now based on fear and anxiety rather than courageous faith?  As Christians, we want to get to the place where we are exercising proactive courageous faith in all areas of our lives.  When any red flags appear and shake us in an area and we start experiencing fear or getting worried or imagining how bad it could be, those should set off alarms that cause us to return to God’s word, to pray to him, listen to him and to reflect on his character and faithfulness so that we restore faith to that area of our life.

It seems especially difficult these days to find any rock solid truths that you can stand on.  Is it safe to go to the grocery store or not? Can I let my child around other children? Will my business survive? Are Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates trying to control everyone? Oh no, I shook that guy’s hand….now what? This all contributes to our anxiety and stress.  We must ever more earnestly find our footing and path on the word of God and follow his Spirit’s leading.

As you continue to face challenging decisions and realities, I encourage you to begin asking “What does God say about this?” and even asking God directly “Father, what do you say about this?”

When it comes to churches and reopening, what I keep hearing about is social distancing, cleaning everything, how the virus spreads, is it safe to sing, should we wear masks, do we ever need Communion again, what if someone gets to close to someone else, etc.  What I’m not hearing about is faith.  Can we trust God to keep us healthy and safe in our churches while being wise about things? Are God’s promises in Psalm 91, for example, trustworthy?

There are all the reasons to be scared and to stay home – you don’t need any faith or spiritual discipline to be afraid.  You don’t need to search the Scripture for the bad news. There was that one church that had choir practice and people died.  The media says that if you go to church, there is going to be a surge and you will kill your neighbors.  As Christians, we are not striving to be stupid but to be courageously faithful and follow a loving God who is all powerful.

We don’t need to wake up thinking, “Boy I hope I stay a safe distance from everyone today.” Or “God help me not to encounter anyone with this virus.”  No, we need to wake up declaring “God I thank you that you are my healer and that I am healed by the wounds of Jesus.”  I don’t pray for people to keep a safe distance from me.  I pray that God will fill me with his Holy Spirit and healing presence and that his rivers of living water will flow through me to bring contagious healing to those around me.  I also pray that God will give health, healing and safety to those in our church by his presence and his angels.  I pray that God will cleanse the church from any virus bugs or sicknesses.  And I wash and sanitize my hands.  Is it foolish, presumptuous and stupid to believe in the promises of God – that he is present and active in his children’s lives to keep them healthy and safe according to their faithful prayers?  Is it foolish to believe that he will raise us from the dead and give us a place in his eternal kingdom?  The basis for these hopes is the same – the promises of God.

These are the things that I hope for.  These are the things that I am convicted that God promises us and has purchased for us on the cross.  I’m basing my declarations and prayers on the promises of God, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, my own experience and the testimonies of other faithful Christians.

This, I believe, is how we walk by faith.  It is simple, but not easy and definitely not automatic.  Faith is not stupidity or presumption, even though to the unbeliever it may seem like both.  How stupid do you think Noah looked while building a boat on dry land when it had never rained.  Or how stupid do you think Jesus sounded to his critics when he said he would rise from the dead?  Base your faith on God’s word, his Spirit and your relationship with him.  Test your faith by the counsel of other faithful believers.

Be courageous in your faith.  We are going to spend eternity in heaven.  I want to spend those days knowing that I did my best to trust in God and to have faith.

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On Sunday evenings, I teach a discipleship group for middle school aged kids.  Over the last couple years, we have going through the Bible from the beginning and highlighting people to study them and gain insights into the themes their lives teach.  This week, we studied Nehemiah.  Nehemiah’s story is found in the book that bears his name.  It begins with Nehemiah hearing reports of the state of Jerusalem from those who have returned from Jerusalem to Babylon (recently conquered by the Medes and Persians.)  The Jews have been allowed to return from exile back to Jerusalem and rebuild it; however, the building is not going well.  Nehemiah is distressed and in anguish over the disrepair of Jerusalem, especially over its gates and wall that are in heaps.

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Nehemiah is so overwhelmed that he spends five months in prayer and fasting over Jerusalem.  His prayer is summarized in his outspoken prayer at the end of that time:

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Nehemiah 1 Nehemiah_s prayer

This prayer is representative of other similar prayers offered to God by his prophets and leaders on behalf of God’s people.  Moses, Josiah, Hezekiah, Daniel, David and of course Jesus are among those who intercede on behalf of those they love who have transgressed against God and are in great need.

Like others, Nehemiah’s prayer flows from his great distress and passion —  Distress over the state of affairs and passion for God’s will to be done and for the well being of his people.  Nehemiah’s prayer acknowledges God’s greatness, his character, his commands and promises.  Nehemiah confesses his and the people’s sinfulness that he wrath, and asks for God’s forgiveness based on God’s promises.  Nehemiah then places his hope in God’s mercy and God’s own desires for his people’s welfare.  Lastly, in this case, Nehemiah asks specifically for success with the king whom he serves, so that he can lead the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.  God answers his prayer, and he does it.

We, like the prophets of God, have a responsibility and a privilege to pray for our community, even confessing our universal sinfulness and asking God for mercy and for his will to be done.  We can also request specific actions by God like Nehemiah does. This is a means to love our neighbors as Christ loved us through prayers and intercession.

A helpful resource for praying for our neighbors is Blesseveryhome.com  This is a website that gives you the names of your neighbors and helps you to pray for five of them each day.  I have found it beneficial, and it is easily incorporated into my prayer life.  After signing up, I went to the settings and increased the homes to 250 to cover more ground.  I get the five homes and names of at least one person in the home to pray for by name.  I can also pull up on a map where the homes are.

I recommend that you sign up for this free prayer resource today.

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“What the heck is going on?!” Isn’t that what we want to know? On the way to and from Lynchburg two weeks ago, my son Jack and I listened to Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam, an audio book about a soldier and his army dog in Vietnam. In the chaos, destruction, suffering and fear of war, the soldier named Rick shouted out many times “What the heck is going on?!!” Thank God we are not in the war situation like Vietnam or other wars; however, we are in a season of chaos, destruction, suffering, fear and anxiety. If we have been involved with life at all, we have likely asked out loud “What the heck is going on?!” And likely nobody has answered that question satisfactorily. Nobody seems to know the right answer.

The resurrection of Lazarus from the grave also ought to make us stop in our tracks and wonder “What the heck is going on here?!” And that response, being like what we ask in the face of the present crisis, might make us wonder if the story of Lazarus has anything to contribute to that question about our lives today.

In a crisis like the world is experiencing, our faith is tested. Either our faith in God sustains our hope, our joy, our love for others and our commitments or it fails and proves of little value against the crises of our times. The Proverb asserts that “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (24:10) and Isaiah prophesies, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” (7:9)

For Mary and Martha along with Jesus’ disciples, they must have wondered how their faith in Jesus’ person and power may have missed its aim. For Mary and Martha, they wondered where Jesus was and why Lazarus continued to be sick and then died with Jesus nowhere to be found. The disciples wondered at Jesus’ response to the news Lazarus was sick. He didn’t seem bothered and then he led them back into the hostile midst of those who had already tried to kill him. The statements by Thomas who says “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” (16) and then Martha and Mary at his arrival who say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” (21, 32) seem to resoundingly ask “What the heck is going on here Jesus?!”

In this story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there are at least four indications of what is going on with Jesus that I think also apply to today and can give us insight into what the heck is going on:

1. This event is for the glory of God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We may forget sometimes that we are not the most important thing to God. No doubt we are important…he loves us so much that he gave his one and only Son to die for us. The glory and praise of God is at the center of the universe, not humanity. All things exist for the glory of God. The work of Jesus glorifies God. In heaven, all creatures encircle the throne of God and bow down in worship before HIM.

Jesus says flat out of Lazarus’ illness and death, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (4) This is God’s priority. What is going on in this story is that God is being glorified in Jesus. It so happens that when the Father and the Son are glorified people receive the blessing.

Can we have faith to believe today that in the midst of this crisis that God is being glorified and Jesus is being glorified through it? Can we make that our prayer? “God be glorified in this crisis…May the Name of Jesus be glorified.” Even in the face of the impossible, Jesus confronts everyone like he did Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (40) Don’t doubt that God’s glory will be revealed and prevail. The more we believe the more we will see.

I know we want to be safe, secure, comfortable, well off in all ways. A greater purpose than those things is that God would be glorified.

2. The glory of God reveals his goodness and salvation so that people will believe and be saved to eternal life. Jesus does this work of raising Lazarus from the dead after four days, “so that you may believe.” (15) When Martha confronts him and laments her brother’s death that Jesus could have prevented, Jesus emphasizes to her that this death is not the end. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (25-26)

This is extraordinary. Jesus is life over death. By believing in him, even though we die in this flesh, we shall live. And in fact if we believe in him our true self will not die but live forever. This would be unbelievable except that Jesus is about to prove his power that confirms its truth. He calls forth Lazarus from the dead after four days and proves he is life over death and that he has power to give life.

Jesus confronts Martha, “Do you believe this?” (26) Are you willing to base your life on this? Will you devote yourself to this truth?

That is what is going on…Jesus is showing his power to save and asking people to believe. Jesus even says his prayer aloud to the Father that people might believe in him. (41-42) Today, what is going on? Perhaps Jesus is allowing this crisis to occur and continue so that we would turn to him and believe. Because clearly we have no power to save ourselves, and none of us can avoid death eventually. God is getting our attention so that we would believe in him as the only one who can save for eternal life. This is a greater goal than anything in this earth. Pray that people would believe in Jesus. Make sure that you are believing in Jesus. The time any of us have left on this earth does not compare at all to the time we have after death. Believe for your eternal life and pray for others to be saved.

lazarus

3. What else is going on? The gospel story shows us that Jesus is involved with people. He is in the midst of the distress, the crisis, the chaos and the suffering. Jesus certainly could have healed Lazarus from a distance. He did it for others–healing with a word, but he doesn’t exclude himself from the midst of suffering and mourning. He goes right into it allowing Martha and Mary to seize him with their grief. Jesus is in no way unemotional or detached relationally. He is fully God and fully human; both are exquisitely displayed in this story. Jesus came into humanity’s suffering, and he continues to do so today.

In verses 33 & 38, John’s gospel twice describes Jesus as being “deeply moved.” This could be literally translated as “snorting with anger,” “groaning,” “being indignant,” “scolding against the situation,” “intensely emotional,” etc. The bottom line is that Jesus was emotionally charged in a deep part of himself and demonstrated it. In the midst of the mourning and indignation, “Jesus wept.” (35) Jesus was moved by the suffering of people. He was moved in his heart and in his gut.

What is going on is that Jesus experiences intense empathy and compassion for people in their suffering. Today, what the heck is going on? Jesus is present with everyone who is suffering and is grieving and is being frightened. Jesus has compassion and great love toward all people and is present. He is not distant from us but near us that we might reach out to him and cry out to him. Now is a time when we need to be equally moved to cry out to him and reach out for his presence. Perhaps he is waiting for us all to do just that. If you have not bared your soul to Jesus and been praying earnestly to him, I have to ask “Why not”? If not now, when? Turn to him and pour out your heart to him. He is present with you.

4. One more thing that is going on…Jesus is destroying the power of sin, death and Satan. Jesus is overcoming all of the curses of sin that bind people to Satan, sin and death. Jesus absolutely hates sin and death. He hates the curse of suffering. He is not passive against these enemies of God. He actively overcomes them. Lazarus is bound in death. He is bound to the curse of sin as he was bound to darkness and Satan in life. Jesus yanks him out of death’s grasp and frees him from the trappings of sin and Satan. Jesus is Son of God and also Son of man. Do you think he likes to win, to experience victory like any of us do? Like any man, he likes to win. His battles are life and death for eternity. This story of Lazarus is an example of Jesus winning a victory over his enemies and stomping on them. “Move the stone, Lazarus get out here, Unbind him, Come on!” Yes, victory. Shout Hallelujah!!

What is going on today? Jesus is winning. He is saving people everyday from the bondage of sin and death. He is setting people free from the devil’s grasp. Suffering and death are not the end. They are grotesque enemies that Jesus continues to conquer today for eternity. The resurrection of Lazarus and especially the glorified resurrection of Jesus demonstrate the eternal victory Jesus has over death and the grave. It is manifesting today, even though we might not see it on the news. Have faith that Jesus is conquering death all around us. And Pray for Jesus to completely conquer this sickness in the world and remove it from the face of the earth and demonstrate the victory for all to see. He can do it! Maybe he is encouraging us to believe for it. Maybe he is waiting for his perfect timing. Maybe he is accomplishing his purposes throughout the world in the midst of it. He has the power to do what he wills.

Today we are looking for wins that matter. I love sports and to win and for my team to win. And I honestly haven’t missed watching sports that much, because the focus has been on a greater battle…a battle for life, for health, for civility, for businesses, for healthcare workers, for food, for freedom, for lawfulness, for sanctity of life and for people repenting and turning to Jesus. We are cheering for rescue and salvation. Jesus is winning and is going to win ultimately.

What the heck is going on?! Jesus is Lord of Lord’s and King of King’s and his kingdom is coming soon. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed and it is real and spectacular. Rejoice in the Lord, Pray continually and Give thanks in all circumstances. Yes, Jesus is the Victor and cannot be defeated.

Christians are called and commanded to live by faith. The Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews confirm the word of the prophet Habbakuk, “The righteous person shall live by faith.” (Hab 2:4) So it is imperative for us as believers who have received righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ to understand what it means to live by faith.

The New Testament shows us that nobody achieves righteousness (or a right relationship with the one and only God) by works – not one (Romans 3:10). Paul makes it clear Romans 3:23-25 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  And in Ephesians 2:9-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We receive Jesus and his righteousness by faith. The evidence of this transformation of being born again will be an ongoing life lived by faith in Christ, God’s promises and his kingdom. To receive Jesus by faith is described as asking him to forgive our sins and come into our lives. At this time of being born again, we begin running a race. The race has an end, but we don’t know when that is exactly. What we know is that to finish the race and win it against the forces of evil in the world, against sin & death, we have to run each step to win from start to finish. We run each step by faith, even as we took the first step by faith. At the last step of the race we will enter into the fulfilment of all of our faith in God’s kingdom with Jesus – whether we go to him or he comes to us.

The author of Hebrews defines faith for us. Living by faith means living in the assurance of things hoped for and with the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) The “things” hoped for and not seen are the fulfillment of the promises of God and the presence of the kingdom of heaven.

So think about these question: Are you living with the assurance of having what you hope for? Are you living with the conviction of what is not conspicuously apparent? How do you answer these for yourself? How would an observer of your life answer them? We could also ask whether our hopes are based on the promises and purposes of God or on selfish and worldly desires. Are we hoping for the right things?

The author of Hebrews in chapter 11 (vv 4-19 for this writing) comments on some folks who lived by faith, demonstrating assurance of hope and a deep conviction in God’s kingdom. This also shows the benefit of reading the Old Testament. It shows us how to live by faith.

We learn from Abel’s life that faith commends a person to God and that faith speaks…loudly and boldly. Does your faith grab God’s attention? Does it speak to the world?
Enoch’s life shows us that by faith we draw near to God, please God and walk with God and that by faith we go to be with God and experience rewards in heaven.
Noah shows us that faith builds a life in obedience to God that bears witness to the world. He shows us that by faith we receive an inheritance that lasts forever — beyond life in this world.

Abraham’s and Sarah’s lives show us that by faith we pursue a kingdom that is not of this world and that God will move in our lives according to his promises and power that have no restrictions except our willingness to believe him. Abraham received righteousness by believing God. He lived in faith by obeying God. His life proved his faith. His faith was tested and proven when he was willing to offer Isaac, the child of promise, to God as a sacrifice. When God saw this, he stopped him. Genesis 22:12 “He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.'”

Seeing your life, does God know that you believe him?
God has prepared for us a kingdom to be received by faith in him. This kingdom is the everlasting homeland of those who live by faith looking to Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews calls him “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2) The more we spend devoted time to him, practice awareness of him, communicate with him and look to him, the more our faith grows and is exercised.

Jesus assures us that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) We should not fear that God will withhold any good thing from us. In fact, the Psalmist writes,

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:10–12)

Paul in confirmation of God’s goodness and generosity writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

All that is God’s kingdom, God has been pleased to give us in Jesus Christ. If you want to know what the kingdom of God is you can look to Revelation chapters 7 and 21-22. It is a kingdom where Jesus reigns and where nothing opposed or contrary to the good and loving will of Jesus exists.

Jesus instructs us in Luke 12 how to live in the world by faith according to his kingdom. He has promised us (also in Matthew 6) that God will provide for us, that he knows us and cares for us. He will answer our prayers according to his love and abundance. We can therefore seek his kingdom and not worry about our lives.

Jesus commands us to live dressed and ready for action with our lights on, to be like people actively preparing for the coming king, listening for his knock, watching for his sign, eager to move on his behalf in the midst of our lives in the world. This is a life of constant faith readiness.

I suggest that a sign of this life of faith and “ready for action” posture is the ongoing immediacy of prayer on all occasions, some planned and intentional and some unplanned and spontaneous. And this, among some other kingdom of heaven “things,” is what the world needs.

This past weekend, after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I wondered what God was hoping for from his people. We saw the impotent idiocy of politicians and the media – all with their agendas and biases. But what does God urge for his people to do by faith in Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. And I wondered is this what will occur on Sunday in our churches and during the week in believers’ lives together.

What do you think God requires at such a time of his people called by his name? What action to perform and what work to accomplish? Be careful. It is dangerous to answer such a question. It requires courage and a willingness to serve Jesus in faithful obedience to his answer.

Abraham’s intercession for Lot as example:

In Genesis 14, Abraham’s (at this time still Abram) nephew Lot and his family are taken captive along with many from Sodom and Gomorrah (before their destruction) by four kings who defeated five other kings in battle. Abraham heard of this and immediately gathered 318 men from his household and went to rescue Lot. They defeated the four kings in battle and rescued and took back all that was taken plus more. Abraham declared afterwards “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of Heaven and Earth.” This was an act of courageous faith in intercession of others and to assert God’s authority in the earth over evil.

In Genesis 18, Abraham again intercedes for his nephew Lot. This time it is through intercessory prayer to the Lord who has determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah due to the severity of their wickedness. Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare the city for ten righteous people. God answers the prayer by delivering Lot and his family from destruction to the extent they are willing to escape. Destruction still comes in the world, as it did in Sodom, but prayer facilitates the rescue and intervention for those for whom we pray.

Both of these actions of intercession and rescue by Abraham demonstrate the life of faith that does not abide the destructive forces of sin to go unchecked and unchallenged. This is what I believe God is calling for by us as we live our lives of faith, dressed for action for the kingdom of heaven. Our action is to rescue people from the destructive powers of darkness and to expand the kingdom of light by our actions and our prayers. God will inspire us and empower us as we offer ourselves to him. Be ready. Be courageous. The knocking of the Lord on the door is for you.

When you respond in faithful obedience, the Lord will come and serve you with the blessings of the kingdom of heaven. He will give you the victory and your intercession will find good effect as both occurred for Abraham. It pleases the Father to give you the kingdom. You must decide if you want it…today and every day.