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Posts Tagged ‘religious activity’

The sales person pitching their wares will often tout their product with the line “An opportunity so huge you won’t want to miss it.”  If we listen just a little we are drawn in and before we realize it we are purchasing this must-have item that 30 minutes before had never seriously crossed our minds.  Such is the power of salesmanship.  There are amazing opportunities in life, but the majority of them arrive without the fanfare of a huckster working the crowd to drum up business.  In fact the greatest opportunities are often disguised as challenges, a difficulties, or a crisis.  Today the world faces a number of major challenges.  That means we are on the cusp of some amazing opportunities.  In times of trouble it is imperative that we fix our eyes on the Lord and follow His leading for the crisis to be transformed into the blessing that He can bring.  Let’s look at one of the opportunities today.

The rise of ISIS (and Iran) in the Middle East is a major crisis.    I have been perplexed by the lack of outcry from more moderate Muslims over the violent actions by ISIS.  We don’t know all the motivations, but I assume fear of being targeted by the extremists is part of it.  However my recent study of the subject reveals that the true nature of Islam is revealed in the rhetoric and actions of ISIS.  If we peal away the politically correct rhetoric and misrepresentations of the “religion of peace” and get to the heart of the teachings of Islam, we find a movement that is commanded to achieve world domination through whatever means necessary.  Lying and violence to achieve the spread of Islam is not just condoned, it is encouraged.  This is a sobering realization and one that is vitally important that we grasp.  What Hitler wanted to do in the name of the Aryan race, ISIS wants to do in the name of Allah.

Up to this point my prayer has been, “Lord please stop ISIS.”  “Lord, please protect our soldiers.”  “Lord, please give our leaders wisdom in dealing with ISIS.”  But yesterday I realized I was missing the opportunity that lies before us, an opportunity that I believe the Father wants us to participate in through our intercession.  That is the evangelization of the Muslim world.  You see, the Muslim faith exerts very strong restraining pressure to keep people from leaving the faith.  From the total loss of family and friends to loss of life, the negative societal implications for a Muslim to convert to another faith is practically overwhelming.  Yet today the stark, brutal nature of the religion and its moral bankruptcy when compared to the teachings of Jesus have never been more clear.  This presents an opportunity to reach moderate Muslims with the true Gospel of peace.

We support a dear family that has been ministering in Muslim lands in central Asia for 11 years.  They recently relocated to a country very close to Iraq.  Obviously I have been praying for their safety.  They answered God’s call to missions as a newlywed couple and now, four children later, they minister as a family of six dedicated souls.  The Lord has laid it upon their hearts to find people of peace.  These are Muslims who God has put the notion in their heart that there is something more, something greater, and they are willing to ask questions that Islam forbids.  In their last place of service the Lord brought a young Muslim family into their life because one member had a vivid dream of Jesus coming and speaking to them.

Our opportunity is to join with the Lord in praying these divine encounters into being.  There are many Muslims right now who are scared and searching.  While ISIS is making a big show of their brutality to westerners, they are that much and more brutal off-camera toward moderate Muslims.  This is a time when the door of opportunity to reach a very hard people group with the gospel exists.  Jesus specifically commanded His followers to pray for this in Matthew 9:38 and Luke 10:2.  From Luke, Jesus told them, “The harvest in plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.

Here are a few specifics that the Lord has put on my heart to pray for as well as suggestions our missionary friends have offered as prayer points.

1) Pray for the Lord to stir the hearts of Muslim people to seek Him.  This will include supernatural visitations of God’s power.

2) Pray for the Missionaries to make contacts with “people of peace” in other faiths who are open to talking about the gospel and truth.

3) Pray for protection, including invisibility from the enemy during the crucial formative stages of this movement.

4) Pray a hedge of protection for the missionaries, their families, and the new converts that God will bring into the body.

5) Pray for courage for Muslims to take their next steps and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

6) Pray for Muslim families to convert so that home churches can begin in their homes.

7) Pray for provision for this work to go forward.  Provision is first God’s hand directing and leading all these efforts.  Second it is the prayer covering that we are talking about right now.  Third, it is the meeting of the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of those engaged in this work.

May the Lord bless you today with His mercy in abundance as you go forth to love and serve the Lord.

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Good Morning and Welcome to Lent 2015. Lent is the season of preparation immediately preceding Easter. In the early church this time was spent in final training for Easter baptism for persons who had decided to give their life to the Lord.  While the faith and commitment of a life given to God remains the same, there have been many adaptations through the years.  As we begin our Lenten journey together this year let’s take a look at some of the roots of the Christian faith and allow our Father to inspire us this year to deepen our walk with Him.

Life commitment.  For much of the history of the church, being objects of persecution has been the norm.  The Roman Empire had a god and he was the Caesar.  In reality they had a lot of “gods”, but what was officially frowned upon was a religion that espoused a solitary, supreme God that was not under the Roman boot.  As such the early church experienced repeated periods of intense persecution which included being treated as second-class citizens, torture, and even publically sanctioned murder simply based upon the fact they were Christians.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24 – 27 sets the bar for what it means to follow Him.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” 

Becoming a Christian is not simply responding to an altar call to receive a get-out-of-hell card.  It can start there, but the Lord is calling us to something so much more demanding and so much more rewarding than that.  And the early church dedicated time to teaching initiates about that with Lent being the final exam if you will.

As Christians in the western world we have experienced very little persecution directly impacting our lives, yet the reality is it has always existed.  The prince of this world, Satan, has and still does wage a relentless attack against the people of God.  Recently we have had the brutality and evil of it exposed in the atrocities committed by ISIS.  This is not really new however.  In the past 1200 years over 270,000,000 people have been murdered in the name of Islam.  To be Jewish or Christian and to hold to that faith was to be under a death sentence.  And in large parts of the world today it still is.

The point of this is that a commitment to follow the God of the bible, to trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, cannot be taken lightly.  What God calls us to is not a life of ease (although we are to rest in Him) nor is it a trouble-free life (but do not worry because Jesus has overcome the world), but it is a life that will be filled with God’s grace and abundant love.  When a person accepts Jesus as their savior and Lord, they truly move from death to life.  While that may make us targets of Satan (and Islam) it also comes with so many amazing benefits – Jesus’ promise to never leave us or forsake us, we are given the Holy Spirit as our counselor and helper, we are sealed as God’s possession forever, and the list goes on.

Over the coming weeks let’s dig deeper into what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  I would love to hear back from you.  Please share your thoughts or experiences with how God has stretched you, taught you, and helped you grow in your faith.

Until tomorrow I pray you will be blessed and be a blessing to another.

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We attended a beautiful and fun wedding this weekend.  By the way, May God richly bless your marriage Ryan and Jessica.  Make God first in your marriage and He will make it the most enriching and fulfilling experience you can imagine.

As we left the wedding party I was struck with the thought – “That’s the setting Jesus often joined.”  His first miracle recorded in John 2:1-11 was at a wedding in Cana.  At that wedding the party was obviously pretty big as the wine gave out early in the evening.  Jesus’ mother noticed and pointed it out to Jesus, drawing Him into the host’s dilemma.  To run out of wine would be a big disgrace.  Jesus responded by turning water into wine… between 120 – 180 gallons of it.  Thus ensuring many more wedding invitations in the future.

This isn’t the only party Jesus attends in the three years of His earthly ministry.  In fact as time goes on Jesus shows up in so many party situations that His detractors began deriding Him for being a “friend of sinners”.  We know that on a couple of occasions Jesus taught thousands at a time out in the open fields away from the towns.  In terms of popularity He was an ancient world rock star.  He was as comfortable seated at a friend’s wedding as He was in the pulpit of the synagogue.  Jesus went wherever there were people in need and He offered them life and hope.

Jesus is unique in many ways, but in the context of today’s discussion one aspect strikes me as particularly profound.  Jesus entered so many different life situations and yet He was without sin.  He lived a perfect, sinless life.  This was essential so that when He died on the cross He was able to be the perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sin.  If He had sinned at any time, then His death upon the cross would have been just punishment for His own sin.  As it was, the plan He and the Father had devised was that Jesus would live a life like all of us, but without sin so that He would be able to be our substitute when God’s rightous judgement punished sin.

Jesus did not come for just the righteous.  Nor did He come for just the Jewish people although He came to and for them too.  He did not come for just the poor and needy, although they were definitely on His list.  Jesus did not come just for the rich, affluent, and powerful although it’s obvious that He came for  them.  He was in the midst of every one of these groups in party and dinner settings.  In all cases He shared words of life that spoke to the group and to individuals.  In many cases He also performed miracles which both met real needs and spoke of God’s real and present power.

As I look through the scripture there is only one group that really struggled to like Jesus – the religious leaders.  Jesus never condoned sin, but He always treated sinners with gentleness and compassion… except for religious sin.  In fact the times we see Jesus angry, and yes He got quite angry, was in confronting sin within the religious leadership.  Greed, pride, hypocrisy were all sins that Jesus confronted head on.  Interestingly even many of these rebukes were delivered in private parties in the homes of the religious leaders.  Jesus was just too amazing a person to ignore.

Now some might point to Jesus’s divinity as the reason He did not sin.  While I know that He was fully God, Philippians says He emptied Himself of all the privileges His divinity might give Him and He became fully human.  He was tempted in every way as we are and yet He was without sin.  So as Jesus entered all these situations which held many temptations, He was not immune to their allure.  He did not fall to them though.  Jesus spent time alone with His Father… consistently… intimately… frequently.  This was the source of His power over sin.  And this same source of strength is available to all who call upon Him and rely upon the Lord God.  We’ll talk about this more in a later post.

The children’s song – “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so” is absolutely true.  Jesus’ engagement with people in any and all situations shouts that loud and clear.  Was Jesus a Party Animal?  Jesus was (and still is) a lover of people and if that requires entering a raucous wedding party, a gay bar, or a high brow dinner party to share the gospel and save a soul He will.  Since we are His hands and feet today, then we must listen to His voice and follow the prompting of His Holy Spirit in this.  Jesus example was to enter places fraught with darkness and sin, yet He carried light, love, and faithfulness to God as He went.  He touched lives, He spoke life, He gave hope.  He expects us to do the same.

Love you all.  Grace and peace to you in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

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We all need a few Ebenezer’s.

Samuel was the last of the old testament Judges. During Samuel’s day the Israelites and the Philistines were constant enemies. In 1 Samuel 7 we read a story about one of the clashes between these two groups. The Israelites had come to a point of contrition and through the leadership of Samuel they were engaged in a time of corporate repentance and rededication to the Lord at a place called Mizpah. The Philistines took note and decided this was a golden opportunity to attack hoping to wipeout their enemy while they were distracted with their religious activity.  The Israelites were not ready for battle and fear seized them as they realized the Philistines were soon to be upon them.  The Israelites cried out to God and He responded.  God thundered from the heavens throwing the Philistines into confusion.  Then the Israelites attacked and the ensuing battle was a rout with the Israelites defeating the Philistines all along the way back to their land.  After the victory Samuel instructed the people to set up a large stone in that place which he named Ebenezer which means “the stone of help”.

As I look back over my life I see several Ebenezers, several memorials of when God showed up in marvelous, miraculous, mighty ways.  These show up in the God-stories our family tells when we get together.  They are the touchstones I go back to when facing difficulties.  They are the faith strengthening memories that I rely on when the present is either dark and challenging or bland and boring.  (I don’t do bland and boring well.)

Take a few moments to ask God to remind you of the times when He showed up with the help you needed.  The bible says God is “an ever-present help in times of trouble.”  If you have walked with God then you have received His help, possibly more than you even realize.  After you have thought of a few times God showed up ask Him to help you create an Ebenezer to commemorate them.  It doesn’t have to be a rock on the side of the road, but I suggest it be something tangible.  For me it is family stories.  For you it might be a poem, a song, a verse, a picture… something that captures for you a reminder of God’s help when you really needed it.  Next I suggest that you put this in a place where you can periodically take it out and remember what God has done for you.  Let this remind you how much He loves you.

God truly is an ever-present help.  He desires to be involved in our lives, but He is also a gentleman.  He does not force Himself upon us.  Look to Him and ask Him to get involved with you right now in whatever you are dealing with.  Don’t wait for the big problems like when the Philistines (or their modern-day equivalent) are breathing down your neck.  Call upon Him for guidance and help on the daily issues of living more fully for Him today.  Then follow His lead.

Have a blessed day my friend.

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