November 2012


Prayer Focus: Uganda

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 10-13

Scripture:

7b  Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Observation:

Paul suffered from an affliction that he never names.  Many have speculated that it had something to do with his eyes.  There are even many bread crumbs dropped in scripture that support this theory.  Acts 9:30 describes his Damascus Road conversion that includes a bright light.  It was bright enough that he was many days recovering.  Gal. 4:13-14 talks about a “bodily condition”.  Gal. 4:15 Paul says, “I know you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”  Implying that he would have need of new eyes.  Gal. 6:11 says “See what large letters I use as I write you with my own hand.”  (As an aside it was common then to dictate to a scribe, where the author would sign the closing greetings.)

In today’s reading Paul confesses that he’s prayed for this affliction (whatever it was) to pass three times before he heard from God.  And when he did, it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Application:

There is a trap that I believe many of us fall into; a lie we want to believe that says “If I love  and obey God well enough, He won’t let bad things happen to me.”  When you say it out loud like that it’s easy to see the fallacy in it.  After all, He didn’t spare Job, Joseph or even his own son from terrible things.

It’s wrong of course but still, we persist in thinking this way because it’s the way we strive to treat our own kids.  It’s the treatment we want for ourselves.  We trap ourselves into attaching our feelings of being loved to the level of our comfort.

When each of these  men looked back on their particular afflictions, and tried to make sense of what had happened in their life, Job said “should we accept good from God and not trouble?”  Joseph said “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”   Jesus said “If it be possible, let this cup pass.  Never the less, not my will but thine be done.”

God told Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  It seems that it was the perfect thing to answer Paul’s inner struggles on the matter because he got it.  It made sense to him and he turned his frustration over.  The affliction became the thing he boasted in for it gave him the assurance that he would still be useful to the Lord, that “his power may rest on me.”

I don’t know where you are in your journey.   Are you going through trials?  Have you asked for God to take it way?  Do you doubt that he hears you?  Have you fallen into the trap of thinking that the terrible thing you are facing is because he doesn’t love you?   Are you broken, sick, lonely, tired or afraid?  I confess that I have thought all of those things.

I entreat you to keep talking to Him about it though.  He will have answers for you, if you don’t walk away.

Prayer:

Lord, forgive me for the times I’ve caught myself measuring your love for me by the events in my life.  I am so grateful for your Spirit that reassures me of your love, independent of the events that shadow me.

I pray also for those who are in crisis, that you would speak to them in their weakness and show them the sufficiency of your power over their circumstances.  I pray that their faith would deepen during this trial and they would come to know you better and trust you even more.  Amen

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Prayer Focus: Uganda

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5-9

Scripture:

giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.  (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus. (2 Corinthians 7:5-6)

Observation:

This passage of Scripture contains some of my favorite verses, particularly the portion on being Christ’s ambassador. . . working alongside God to accomplish His work . . . how cool is that! (way cool in case you’re not sure which side of that coin I hang out on). So imagine my surprise when I felt the Spirit tugging me to the above passages. First observation, no matter how familiar the passage there is always something new to see. Second observation, new things, are often familiar things, from a different perspective. Third observation, no matter how familiar or how different, God’s character and His purposes will be consistent.

Application:

Here in these verses, I hear extensions of our partnership with God – played out no matter what our circumstances. It’s the age old thinking – I’ll come to God [for salvation, for fellowship, etc.] when I get my life together, but right now I’m a mess. . .  which of course doesn’t make sense at all because without God, we have little hope of  truly turning toward Him.  In this context, we think – I’ll serve God when the kids are grown, I’m out of debt, I’ve retired, etc., but right now I’m focusing on my [self, family, marriage, career]. . . . I don’t get to think that when I hear Paul’s letter. No matter where you are in Paul’s list – whether your conflicts are external – persecution, abandonment, imprisonment, ridicule, labors, sleeplessness, etc, or within – fears that incapacitate you and rob you of your strength, fears that you are unworthy or have nothing to say, fears that you will be exposed to external conflicts like persecution, abandonment. . .well you get the idea. Bottom line – we are called to live in such a way as to not discredit the ministry of the Gospel – the ministry of reconciliation. Behold, now is the day of salvation. the old has gone and new things have come. Therefore we are Christ’s Ambassadors.. . . see what I did there. . . God’s character and purpose are consistent. . . Commendable.

Prayer:

Father, help me to live my life in such a way as to not discredit You. I will fail, I won’t always get it right, but in every way, help me to point to You so that in my failings, You are still glorified. Through my failings, You are honored. Through my failings, that I am teachable, and strengthened, and comforted by the Titus’ of Scio that you have placed in my life. And, Father, may I be a Titus to others. Help us to not be afraid of conflicts, if they are righteous conflicts arising from our obedience and walk with You. Give us discernment to recognize and know where You are at work, and join You in it. Make us Your Ambassadors. . . For your Kingdom and Your Glory. . . Forever. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Turks & Caicos Is, Tuvalu

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1-4

Scripture

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; 4:8-10)

Observation

Life is hard…but God is good. He is compassionate. He is our comfort. Jesus understands suffering and grief and pain and even death. The celebration of this season is the incarnation—He became one of us.

Application

I write this sitting in the waiting room of a hospital as our daughter is treated for chronic pain. Few things are more agonizing than a suffering child. Today’s passage reminds me that God is with me. He understands. As I am comforted, I can comfort others. There are other children here in far more dire straits. I am truly blessed…and I want to be a blessing to others. We serve a Master that did not delegate, but took suffering and pain and death upon Himself in order to offer us the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Hallelujah!

Prayer

Jesus, thank You for becoming one of us. Thank You for leaving the comforts of heaven in order to comfort us. I continue to be overwhelmed by Your love, grace and mercy. I am so blessed. Show me how I can be a blessing to others. In Your precious and powerful Name, amen.

Prayer Focus: Turkmenistan

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 15-16

Scripture

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.  1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Observation

The heart of the gospels is the climax; Jesus appearing to his disciples after being bodily raised from the dead.  It’s the twist ending that no one was expecting, but the entire thing hinges on.

However, there were many who didn’t believe in the resurrection and there was precedent for that.  The Sadducees, a sect in Judaism, did not believe in a resurrection.  The Gnostics, who started showing up in the Christian churches later in the first century, believed that flesh was evil and spirit was good.  They taught that Jesus was only spiritually raised from the dead and must have shed the evil flesh when rose again.  Yet, the Apostles, who knew Jesus personally, saw Jesus in the flesh after he rose from the dead and that’s what they taught.  Yet, just like today, many of the Christians then would believe what sounded good rather than what was actually true.  That false teaching continues today and right around Easter every year you’ll see the documentaries on “what really happened after Jesus died.”  James Cameron tried to fool the world with the Jesus Family Tomb claiming to have found the bones of Jesus.  Even after scholars (Christian and non-Christian) found it laughable it still gets airplay.

Application

But why are we so quick to believe that Jesus didn’t rise from the grave?

It’s an interesting question to ponder because Paul makes it plain that Christianity hangs on the Resurrection of Christ.  If it didn’t happen and we’re saying it did, then we’re all just pitiful fools.  If it did happen, and we say it didn’t, we aren’t saved.  The Resurrection is as essential and critical as you can get.  Which puts us in a very precarious position because the most basic and essential component of Christianity is to believe something that science and our natural minds tell us couldn’t possibly be true.

It’s outlandish.

And yet, hundreds of people saw it with their own eyes.  It was a miracle.  Well, it was a miracle to us.  To God it was just another day at the office, so to speak.  After all if God can create the universe simply by speaking it into existing then he can raise Jesus from the dead.

The only question left is; are you ready to believe something so outlandish?

Prayer

Dear Lord, as Paul said You are indeed raised from the dead.  You have paid the penalty for our sins and rescued us from death and hell.  The more I look at my own life in contrast to how great You are the only part left that is truly outlandish is that you would bother to save me at all.  But thankfully You did it for Your glory to show how great a God you are and when You are glorified we benefit.  We are the recipients of Your love, grace and mercy because You rose again both body and spirit.  Amen.

Prayer Focus: Turkey

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 12-14

Scripture

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13)

Observation

Although this “love chapter” was read at our wedding and that of countless others, the context is not a marriage. It is, rather, the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Application

This is how we are to treat one another…always. We can’t manufacture agape love. We must experience it from the Source, Almighty God. His unconditional love is unlike anything in a Hallmark card or chick flick. It’s not dependent upon emotions or feelings. It is a decision. It is the greatest!

Prayer

LORD, thank You for Your unconditional, agape love. I want to love You and others in the manner in which You love me. Thanks for demonstrating Your love, Jesus. You didn’t just talk about love; You put it on display for all to see as You hung on the cross, the greatest expression of selfless love. I love You because You first loved me. In Your Name, amen.

Prayer Focus:   Turkey

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 9-11

Scripture –  Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law(though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.  – Cor 9:19-23

Observation-  Paul at this point in his ministry is reaching out to all that will listen, and  trying to reach out to those who won’t listen.  He preached to Jews,  Romans, Greeks and Gentiles.  He went to them where they lived and tried to see through their own eyes how they viewed the world and where God’s place in it was.  He built relationships and preached the Good News in the language and manner each group could understand in order that he “… might  save some.”  Even Paul, as great a preacher and minister that he became, knew that he could not save them all.  (Indeed, even he could not save one. Only the spirit can reach the lost… but that’s for another day)   Because God gave us free will to accept his gift, many can and will choose to not accept it.  Even for Paul, it was true.

Application –  We are called to find our neighbor, whether that be the Good Samaritan of Luke 10:25, or a thief that hung on a cross next to Jesus in Luke 23:40.  Ok, maybe we don’t have to face those extremes.  But the message of Paul in the verses above does teach that we are to reach out to those around us and that we are to be intentional in our relationships, we are to learn to see through their eyes, so that they can learn to see through ours.  We’ve been talking  a lot about being a missional church, of reaching out to the people and the community around us and helping them to see the love of Jesus through our every day lives.  I don’t think we need to become Jewish to minister to the Jewish, or Muslim to minister to the Islamic.    But we do need to understand what they think and how they view the world.  Because by understanding that we can help “…save some.”

Prayer – Lord help me to love my neighbor, and help me to build relationships with my neighbor, that I might get to know my neighbor and they would get to know me.  Help me to be example of what a Christian should be, help me to be a good example and that Christ love shows through me.  Help my neighbor see Christ through me.  Amen.

Prayer Focus: Tunisia

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 5-8

Scripture:
Concerning food sacrificed to Idols:

6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1Cor. 8:6-13

Observation:

I couldn’t help but use the verse talking about food on the day after Thanksgiving.  We live in such a different time and place from the culture that this was written to that it’s easy to dismiss it as not applying to us.  I mean, when was the last time you knew anyone who actually had dinner with food that had been ritually sacrificed to appease one god or another?  It seems ridiculous to us now, but back then this was happening all the time.  Once the animal was dead and the sacrifice made, the leavings went to use.

It was causing problems in the church, to see people eating at these temples, because of the narrow scope of their understanding.  (If you don’t recognize the power of a wooden idol, how can the meat have any power?  It doesn’t.  So they ate.  But to the ones who were weaker, they saw this behavior (without the understanding) and participated in it.  This played havoc with their faith, messed up their thinking.  Today we have divisions in the church not based on food sacrificed to idols, but because of viewpoints on alcohol, tobacco, how we dress, dancing, etc..

Application:

While the idea of eating meat sacrificed to an idol seems silly to us now, we still have idols today.  We don’t sacrifice animals, we sacrifice our time, energy, resources and ambitions to things that lead us away from God.  We don’t wear sacrificial robes, instead we wear team colors, gang colors and business attire.

During this Thanksgiving weekend, while you are numbering your blessings and grateful for the things God has given to you, I urge you to invite the Holy Spirit to help you search your life for the things you have made into an idol.  The two tools to pull out and lay on the table beside your bible to help you make this examination accurate, are your calendar and your checkbook.  Where you spend your time and your money indicates where your treasures are.

Prayer:

Lord, Matthew 6:21 tells me: For where my treasure is, there my heart will be also.  Help me father, to invest in you and your kingdom.  Let me be open and listening for what you want done with the resources that are yours through me.  Reveal to me, Lord the places in my life where my thinking has become clouded,teach me understanding through your Word, then give me the courage to follow you.  Amen

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