AN ACTIVITY BASED ON A RELATIONSHIP

For the past several years, I have been privileged to be included on a prayer list of concerns raised by some precious children in a nearby elementary school.  They participate in The Good News Club, an after school ministry for a couple of hours once a week, and part of that time is spent in prayer.  They then give the leader their prayer requests and it is sent to the various praying participants via email.

As an older adult, it is heart-warming, and sometimes humorous, to read some of their prayer requests. 

  • Praise that a child’s mom came back to be with her family.
  • Prays that his great-grandmother gets better.
  • Pray for her teacher’s daughter, that she stops coughing.
  • Pray that a fever blister in her mouth will go away
  • Pray that he can pay attention
  • Pray that the dog will stop barking

Each request, however, reflects a concern that these precious children have, either at home or at school.  In other words, these concerns touch their entire universe. 

As adults, we have learned to be a bit more obtuse when we pray.  Asking for some specific thing for our own selves might be too brash. So, we will phrase it in some other way so that we might be able to trick God into thinking we are praying for others, when it is actually our own desires at issue.  Even when intervening on behalf of someone else, most often we tell God what we want Him to do.

In the Canterbury Cathedral, as in the other cathedrals we visited in England, there were many tombs of various persons and heads of the church.  We found it interesting that the archbishops were, almost always, depicted with their hands clasped in prayer.

canterbury-cathedral-tomb
Ornate tomb of an archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

I don’t know if they were praying for their own soul or if they were praying for their congregation, but I do know that prayers of intervention for others are appropriate.  For example, Paul says:

We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong, and our prayer is for your perfection.

 2 Corinthians 13:9.

tomb-of-one-of-the-archbishops-of-canterbury
Tomb of Archbishop John Bird Sumner, 1780-1862, Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

In Colossians 1:3-4 he tells his readers that he thanks God for their faith when he prays for them.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…

Notice, however, that Paul’s prayers are not a laundry list of things that Paul wanted.  He certainly did not see the Father as a giant Santa Claus in the sky who would give out goodies for his personal benefit  … he didn’t even pray to be released from prison!  Read Acts chapter 16 for the incredible story of Paul in jail in Philippi, which was a leading city in the district of Macedonia.

Rather, Paul’s prayers related to strengthening the spiritual welfare of the believers, to the continued spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for healing to occur so that God’s power would be revealed and He would get the glory.

Paul understood that, fundamentally, prayer is a conversation between two parties … the believer in Christ Jesus and God.  But these parties are not peers:  they are not equal in any manner.   We are the creation, and we are mortal.  We are sinners and the best we have to offer God is likened to giving Him filthy rags. 

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Isaiah 64:6 [NIV]

But for God’s sending Jesus Christ, we would not be able to have any prayer life because we could not approach God due to our sin.  Christ’s life, death and resurrection defeated the control sin has over us when He clothed us in His righteousness.  That is what God sees … sinners clothed in Jesus’ righteousness who were saved by His Grace through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son and our Lord. 

Thank God for the righteousness that has been given to you through Jesus Christ.  Grow in your relationship with the Father, feed it with study of His Word, sit quietly and let Him speak to you so that your prayers are not a one-sided conversation that is a thinly veiled demand that God act in a certain way to satisfy your temporal desires. 

praying hands
Praying Hands.

While we can, and must, pray for the children and their concerns, our prayers must first be recognition of Who God is and we should give thanks for God’s gift of grace, His holiness, His attributes of love, patience, goodness, beauty, … the list could go on. 

Through prayer, we can have an intimate relationship with God, the Creator and Sustainer of all. But we must remember that we cannot just barge into God’s court with our demands even if they are camouflaged as requests.  We must have respect and reverence for the Almighty God.   So, start your prayer with time in adoration of Him.  Then, that adoration will naturally lead to confession of those times when we have fallen short of His desires for us.  This will flow into thankfulness for the forgiveness and cleansing from our sin that He gives to us through Jesus Christ.  And then, and only then, launch into a prayer of supplication.  This pattern of prayer is often referred to by the acrostic ACTS.

  • A – adoration of God
  • C – confession of our sins
  • T – thanksgiving for His cleansing of our sins
  • S – supplication for others and then, and only then, for ourselves

Offer God prayers of praise and thanksgiving multiple times per day.  Praise Him for His love and wondrous works on our behalf.  Praise Him for allowing us to come before Him in prayer. Thank Him and let your spirit be, first and foremost, one of gratitude in prayer.  Then see if your prayer life takes on new vibrancy when you intercede for others.

A singer from my youth was George Beverly Shea, who frequently sang at the Billy Graham Crusades.  On his album Echoes of My Soul, he sings a song entitled “Early in the Morning”.  Listen and think about what you can thank the Lord for today!

 

Father, I thank You for giving me the privilege of coming into Your presence through Your Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I thank You for promising to hear my petitions and I know that You will answer them according to Your divine will.  I praise Your name for Your grace and love, extended to all those to believe in the name of Your Son.  Strengthen us in prayer as we seek to serve you in our world.

IT’S ALL AROUND US – DO WE SEE IT?

Just can’t get away from it this week.  One of our grandsons turned 13 and the next day our daughter turned … well just say she is still less than 40.   Then we have Valentine’s Day, and the next day another grandson has a birthday, turning 9 years old.  Just can’t get away from it.

 

Child sleeping at the table (C)
Child asleep at the porch table.

This little guy on the porch just turned 13!

 

Baby Liz standing at table (C)
Young child standing by holding on to the side table, taken a while back!

This little girl is … well, several decades older than she was in this picture!

 

 

And this little guy is now 9 years old.

Asleep in swing
Child asleep in swing at the day care center. To tired from playing!

 

I really am not talking simply about aging, although that certainly stares you square in the face sometimes.

 

 

I’m talking about LOVE.  When birthdays come, we rehash and revisit the day of that blessed occasion.  Pictures sometimes are produced but, even without the Polaroid or digital image, we remember and we smile.  Children are God’s gift to us.

 

 

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127:3-5 ESV

 

I have heard it said that grandchildren are a gift from God presented as a reward for not killing your own children when they were teenagers!  I don’t believe that for a moment, but I do believe that there is a special bond between grandchildren and their grandparents that the children cannot understand.  How often do we hear (usually with a fake pout on the face) “You didn’t let me do that when I was a kid!”  Our response is, of course, “You don’t understand. This is not my child — it is my grandchild.  There is a difference!”

 

And, of course, love between parents and children, between grandparents and grandchildren, between husband and wife and between all the other significant people in our lives is celebrated at Valentine’s Day.  I understand  that this is a day most likely created by the greeting card industry, but it is a good day and I’m glad we have it.  In our hectic world, we don’t take the time to say “I love you” often enough.  So celebrate your love with your Valentine and then remember to continue the celebration for more than one day!

 

The reality is, however, that our celebration of love upon one’s birth or throughout the child’s life, or on the special day created for such celebration, pales miserably when compared with the love that God has for His children.   Consider just a few of the hundreds of passages in Scripture that speak of God’s love:

 

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,… “

Exodus 34:6 ESV

 

 

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:26 ESV

 

 

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:7-8 ESV

 

Easter in Canterbury (C)
Easter in Canterbury, England

 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 ESV

 

 

Notice that last passage — Paul says that he is convinced, he is sure, that nothing in creation can separate us from the love that God has for us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

The world may think we are irrelevant.  Society may write us off as being of no value.  Your boss may not value the effort that you put into your work every day.  Your family might take your service to them for granted, never saying a positive word about how you look, what the meal was like or anything that you have done for them.  You may have been abandoned and rejected by those you love.

 

 

But, Beloved, you are loved.

 

God, the creator of the universe and the One who holds the universe, including your life, in His hands, sent His only Son to be a sacrifice on the cross in an act of atonement for sin.  He did not die as an atonement for His sin as He was sinless.  No, the wondrous truth is that Christ was the sacrifice for your sin and for my sin.  Read Romans 5:7-8 again.

 

 

What incredible love God has for us that He would send His Son into this filthy, sinful world so that God’s justice would be satisfied when sin was paid for and so that His grace could then extend to sinners who believed on the name of Jesus as their Savior, Lord and King.

 

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 ESV

 

 

I pray that this offering by Selah of the song “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” [with lyrics] will be a blessing you.

 

This Valentine’s Day while you tell those around you that you love them., be sure to praise the Lord for His love and grace.  In fact, let praise to God be the first thing you express every day!  Try this as an experiment. I suspect your day will take on a whole different dimension!

 

 

Father, I praise your holy Name for your love and mercy extended to me on a daily basis.  I thank you for sending Jesus to be the sacrifice required to pay for my sins, and I thank you for your Holy Spirit’s presence in my life to guide and comfort me as I walk through this world.   May I worship you in thought, word and deed and may praise be continually on my lips, even the first thing in the morning. 

 

GIANT SEQUOIA TREES ILLUSTRATE PERSEVERANCE.

After going to the Maricopa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, I have a tremendous amount of respect for these gentle giants of the forest.  Their size can only be described as gargantuan and their age makes Methuselah sound like a teenager!

But one of the characteristics I note with particular interest is what I would call “perseverance”.  Now, I know that the trees have no awareness or sense that they have persevered through difficult times.  But, the fact remains, that there is evidence on many of these old creatures of significant trial, especially by fire.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

 

These are two of the Giant Sequoia Trees which show the fire scars as evidence of the trees’ perseverance through ferocious wildfires through the centuries they have lived.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree
Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

God, in His ultimate wisdom, created these trees knowing that they would be around for a long time and that, in the natural order of things, fire would destroy some of the forest ground cover as is necessary for a healthy forest environment.  So, God gave the Giant Sequoias the ability to survive severe fire damage, this being, according to the National Park Service, “a remarkable characteristic of the Sequoia.” I spoke of this characteristic in a prior post, “Difficulties Can Produce Beautiful Fruit” posted August 19, 2015.

The focus here, is not so much the physical fact of their survival, but the concept of perseverance … or, as is applicable to Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, perseverance of the saints.

I realize that the trees can’t just pick up and move when the going gets hot.  They are “stuck” there, so to speak.  Notwithstanding this truth, consider what is visible from the trees pictured below — above the top of the fire scar there is green growth and abundant branches.  The trees are not just alive; they are healthy, surviving and flourishing.  They endure the flames and then survive and keep on prospering, right where they are.

Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.
Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.

God knows me, too.  He knows that trials will come and the heat may be intense.  He also knows that I cannot face it alone.  In His grace He has not left me alone – He has provided a way for me to survive, not through a layer of cambium but through Jesus Christ as my Savior, the Holy Spirit as my Companion, and the Body of Christ, the Church.

Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

Whether grandiose and ancient as seen in the 1,400 year old Canterbury Cathedral, or small and rustic such as the historic Cades Cove Church in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the church building is the meeting place for the Body of Christ.

Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Believers, themselves, are the Body of Christ when they work together for the spreading of the Gospel of Christ and in support of each other as the family of Christ and children of the Living God.

When Daniel’s three friends, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to bow down to him, they told the king that they would only worship their God.  In rage, the king threw the three men into the fiery furnace, but when king looked into the furnace, he saw four men in the fire.  Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were retrieved from the furnace and they were not burned or singed and they did not even smell of fire.  See Daniel 6:23-27.  God walked with them in the fire, and they were unharmed because they persevered in their faith and in reliance upon God.

I have the same God who went into the fire with His children as recounted in Daniel chapter 6.  He is the Great Healer, my Companion and my Guide. He has given me His Word (the Holy Bible) and He has ordained that the Body of Christ, the visible church on earth, be available to me as a believer in Christ for support, prayer, strength, encouragement, and help in time of need.  This does not mean that struggles will not come, or even that I am guaranteed that the struggle will not be stronger than I am — but it does mean that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the love of God that I have through Christ Jesus.  Read Romans 8:35-39.

God's roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him -- the Holy Bible.
God’s roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him — the Holy Bible.

In short, He has provided the way and the strength to persevere through the trial so that, at the last day, I will be able to stand before Him, clothed in the righteousness of His Son and be accepted by Him as His child.  My obligation is to joyfully take advantage of the strength He has provided when difficult times come.

James writes in his letter that we should “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4.

I don’t know about you, but I normally do not consider it “pure joy” when a trial comes my way.  No one wants hard times – but hard times do not play favorites. Jesus promised that there would be hard times for the Christian … it is not a matter of IF there is a trial; it is simply a matter of WHEN the trial will arrive.  Perseverance in our Christian walk comes as a result of enduring the testing of our faith, and the result of perseverance is maturity in Christ.

The Giant Sequoia tree reminds me that perseverance is possible.  The Lord has provided these trees with protection and healing after a fire.  He has provided me with the Comforter who is with me not only for healing after the fire has passed but the Comforter is with me even during the trial, giving strength, encouragement and, yes, comfort.   And He has provided the Body of Christ, the Church, for my support, encouragement and aid.

Thank you, Father, for sending Jesus Christ into this world as the atonement for my sin.  Thank you also for providing means of grace so that I can persevere when difficult times assail, thank you for the Holy Spirit present within and the Church present without for strength and encouragement, prayer and praise, help and aid during times of testing. Help me to be of encouragement to your children through your Spirit and the Word.  Rather than fighting the test, Father, help me to embrace it and persevere through it so that I will be mature in my faith.  Thank you for being with me, even in the furnace of testing.  I praise your name and glorify you in all things.

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?

It certainly is no secret that a new baby in the house upsets the applecart for parents as well as for older siblings.

Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital
Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital

It sometimes is a stressful time with the older siblings wondering if Mom or Dad have enough love to go around.  This is especially true given the emphasis (rightfully so) on the newborn baby which has now taken the place of priority over that of the older children.  “Mom, do you still love me with all your heart?  You love me more than the baby, right?”  Of course Mom would respond that she loves both the children with all her heart. Then she is asked: “How can you love both of us with all your heart – you have 2 hearts?”  Math and biology have now become real issues!

Child looking at infant sibling
Child looking at infant sibling

We smile at the question, but as adults, don’t we sometimes wonder how much we are loved, whether it is by our spouse or our children or our friends?  Sometimes, during hard times, we even wonder if God still loves us … if He did, surely He would have prevented “X” from happening.  [You fill in the blank.]

When it comes to God, I think the answer to how much God loves us is encapsulated in the saying:

“There is nothing that I can do to make God love me more than He does; and there is nothing that I can do to make God love me less than he does.”

I believe that this saying captures the definition of divine security.  Human love is strong, but it is sometimes fairly conditional.  Not so with God.  Scripture teaches that His love for me began even before I was born and it will continue throughout eternity. I did not earn it, I did not merit it, and I cannot lose it.

In Psalm 139, the Psalmist describes God’s creation of his being and the intimacy of God’s knowledge of him personally.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.

Psalm 139:2-4 [NIV]  (Emphasis mine)

The Creator of all things knows me so intimately that He knew the number of my days even before I was born, before I “came to be”.  Further, He knows what I am going to say, even before I say it!  [That thought is difficult for me to even put into a post – praise Him for forgiveness!]

The scope of God’s knowledge of us and of His love for us is beyond my comprehension; I can only bow in thankful praise and abject submission to this God of love who sent His Son to be my Savior.

Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The depth of His love is shown by Calvary and the tomb; and, His power over death is shown by the Resurrection!

Philippians 2:8-11 describes Jesus’ sacrifice like this:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  [ESV]

Praise the Lord that He has reached out and has adopted us into His family, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  We are children of the Sovereign Almighty God.  We are members of God’s family, and we are sisters (and brothers) of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  See Romans 8:15-17.

There is no question that God loves His children.  His love is more than sufficient for His children; it is perfect and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.  We read in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 that:

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. [ESV]

Thus, the real question is “Do you love Jesus?”

Jesus asked this very question of Simon Peter, the disciple who often seemed to put his foot in his mouth before thinking.  The impetuous Peter had affirmed his devotion to Jesus in the Garden before Judas and the guards came … then, during Jesus’ “trial”, he denied that he knew Jesus, not just once but three times.

After the resurrection, Jesus was with Peter and he asked “Do you love me?” three times – paralleling Peter’s three denials.   The story is told in detail in John 21:15-19.

Peter said that he did love the Lord and Jesus’ response was to direct Peter to “feed my lambs”, to “take care of my sheep”, and to “feed my sheep”. [NIV]  In other words, saying you love Jesus is not the end of the inquiry … you have a job to do.  In Peter’s case, it was to be a missionary feeding, caring and tending for the Lord’s sheep, and ultimately dying a martyr’s death.

That may not be what Jesus calls us to do … but He does call us to do something for which He will equip and provide direction and strength.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 [ESV]

So, how much do you love Jesus?  Enough to obey Him?  Enough to be a witness for Him wherever you go?

Father, help me to be a witness for my Lord.  Give me strength when I think I cannot go on, and give me wisdom to know when I should simply express love.  Help me to let Jesus shine through me in all things for your glory and praise.

TO GRIT OR NOT TO GRIT — THAT IS THE QUESTION!

Okay, I will admit that I was born and raised North of the Mason-Dixon Line and that I had never had grits until I was in the process of moving from Chicago to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I had stopped for the night, somewhere between Nashville and Chattanooga, and had breakfast at the restaurant adjacent to the motel.

When ordering breakfast, I asked for “milk”.  Does anyone know what “sweet milk” is?  The waitress, for clarification of my request for “milk,” asked if I wanted “sweet milk”.   After declining either chocolate milk or milk that had added sugar in it, the waitress walked away.  There clearly was a failure to communicate.  I am confident that she was thinking “Bless her heart”, in the southern way that means “poor, pitiful person!”

(I have since learned that in the South, at least when this occurred, restaurants would have buttermilk available for their patrons, so to distinguish between it and what would be regular milk in the North, non-buttermilk was often referred to as “sweet milk.”)

When the meal came, I saw a serving of eggs, bacon, toast, and oatmeal on the plate with white milk as the beverage.   Now, I was not used to eating oatmeal on a plate – we always used bowls.  But, I was moving into the South, so I attributed it to different customs, etc.

So, after eating the rest of the meal, I poured cream onto the oatmeal and after a bit of swishing it around, I took a bite.  It really did not taste like oatmeal to me – it wasn’t bad, just really odd oatmeal.

When the waitress came back, I asked why the oatmeal was served on a plate because it made it very difficult to eat.  You can understand, it ran all over the plate and couldn’t be corralled onto my spoon.

The waitress said “Oatmeal?  Did you want oatmeal too?”  I responded “No, I had not asked for it but it was on the plate.”  To which she grinned and said with a voice that sounded like the quintessential southern belle:

“Honey, that wasn’t oatmeal – that was grits!”

Who knew?  In the South, at least 40 years ago, you got grits whether you ordered them or not … they were the ubiquitous food made from ground corn that just showed up on your plate.

Obviously, my introduction to grits was not particularly formal or well-timed, although it was apparently humorous as I recall people in the restaurant watching me slurp my “oatmeal” all around the plate.  I am sure they knew I was not “from ‘round here” when I said “GRITS?!” a bit too loud to be proper.

After four decades, I have grown in my culinary skills and tastes so that now I will even order grits, on purpose, when eating out.  I have made instant grits at home (even though “No real southerner would dream of eating instant grits”, a comment that calls to mind the cook at the diner in the movie My Cousin Vinny.)

Proof of this transformation can be found in the fact that I just downloaded a recipe for cooking stone ground grits in the slow cooker – here is the picture of the grits from this recipe, in a cup I might add!  [http://addapinch.com/cooking/easyrecipe-print/2224-0]  Apparently, I have morphed into a quasi-southern girl, I guess!

Picture of grits that were prepared in a slow cooker.
Picture of grits that were prepared in a slow cooker.

I am at a loss, though, about one question … can you eat just one (1) grit?   Who would want to … it certainly would not fill you up.  But you never hear that “a grit” was served at the meal.  You only hear of “grits”, plural.  As a collection of grits, they are beneficial and healthy; and, with some cheese melted into them, they taste incredible.  In short, grits are better when there is more than one.

Moving to the spiritual plain, I think grits are somewhat like Christians.  I am not talking about being in a commune or cult, nor am I advocating withdrawal from society to be with your group alone.

You certainly can be a Christian all alone, and indeed, your relationship with Jesus Christ as a child of His is intensely personal.  No two people come to the Lord in the same way, and He ministers in and through His people in unique ways equipping them with various abilities, all for His purposes.

But, Christians are called to meet together for teaching, preaching, fellowship, and ministry.  While our faith in Jesus is personal, it is not in isolation. We come together as a family of believers and worship our God and His Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ..  Some of our houses of worship are large and grand.

Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

Some are not are grandiose, or as ancient.

Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC

Some are more rustic, but the Spirit of our Lord resides within the believer and, when we come together, there is the Spirit of the Lord.

Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

And sometimes we even come together in our homes, to study the Bible, pray and fellowship with each other.  We come together as did the early church in Acts 2:42, 27:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The writer of Hebrews said:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We do not become Christians simply by being around Christians.  We must have our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ for that new birth transformation to occur.  But, we will have a hard time staying on the path of Christ if we do not avail ourselves of one of the means of grace provided by our Father, His Son and The Holy Spirit – the Body of Christ, the Church.

A grit will still be a bit of ground corn even if it is not with any other bits of corn.  But it will not serve its purpose until and unless it is with a group of other grits; and then it will become nourishment for those who consume them.

A coal burning brightly in the fireplace will still be a coal even when it is taken out of the fire and put on the side.  But it will go out without the nourishment of the fire.  It will not be doing that which it was created to do unless and until it is returned to the fire so that it can burn hot and provide light and heat to those around it.

A Christian can be a Christian without being an active part in the Church; but the likelihood is that the light will become dull and the witness will be shallow and undernourished without regular intentional fellowship, worship, teaching, studying, serving and communion with fellow Christians in the Church.

Father, thank you for the lesson of grits.  May I determine to be part of a Bible believing church that follows the pattern of Act 2 in learning the Scripture and the apostles’ teaching, in prayers with and for others, in fellowship with Christians who worship and serve my Lord Jesus Christ, and in regularly sharing communion with fellow believers as we remember the sacrifice that our Lord made for us.  Thank you for the means of grace you so marvelously provided.  Forgive me when I have either ignored them or taken them for granted.  Such arrogance is sin and I ask forgiveness, in my Lord Jesus’ Name.

WHERE IS THE PEACE?

Our world is so frenetic, we often feel that we are penned in by so many obligations that there is no way out. We have the calendar calling our name when the alarm rings in the morning. We have the cell phone buzzing to tell us people need our viewpoints immediately, whether we are ready or not. We have the children calling for our attention even as we are trying to work or fix breakfast. We have our spouse who seeks our attention even as we are preparing the evening meal. We have the iPod clanging that we have new emails that have not yet been read, and when we break into our activity to attend to the emails we find that they are advertisements for products we don’t need. The telephone distracts our attention with a recorded message for the politician or for the survey that some marketing company wants. Then there are the charities that call, the handicapped, the symphony, the church, the various ministries that we support … EVERYONE wants our attention on a daily, hourly, minutely basis! Peace is a desired characteristic of our daily, personal life but it often seems to be an illusion of the highest order in the reality of daily duties.

But then the news wreaks havoc on any semblance of peace that may otherwise have survived the daily distractions. Something extraordinary is subject of “Breaking News” and our mundane disturbances are brought into sharp focus as being what they are, relatively minor inconveniences.

Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC

Indeed, we have become aware of such “Breaking News” this past week when hatred interrupted a prayer service by barging into the walls of a beautiful, historic church in Charleston, South Carolina when a gunman opened fire and killed nine innocent people.   (Picture of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, taken from the church website.)

Because of the cell phone videos and the media coverage swarming the area, we who are miles away from the scene participate in the shock and sickening disgust at the carnage the actions of a lone gunman can cause. The actions were particularly malevolent given the place in which they occurred; the sanctuary of a church where people go to pray and seek solace from God and their brothers and sisters in the Faith. Such evil is almost impossible for us to contemplate.

Clearly chaos was released into that building that day. But, the gunman’s actions did not kill Christ’s peace notwithstanding the havoc wreaked on the victims’ physical bodies. The Spirit of peace, of love and of forgiveness was brought into dramatic contrast to the spirit of evil when the victims’ families told the gunman that, despite their profound grief, they forgave him and were praying for his soul.

Such love and peace is impossible on our own. Jesus commanded that love was to be the primary characteristic of His people. John 13:35. The Apostle John said:

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

I John 4:16.

Jesus further instructed that He would give peace, even in times of extreme distress. One such time recorded in Scripture was when Jesus told His disciples of His imminent betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Needless to say, His disciples were confused and afraid.

After telling them that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to them, He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:17.

Then just before His crucifixion, Jesus told them:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The empty tomb is evidence that death has been overcome; Satan and evil have lost the cosmic war. Although in the short-term it may seem that evil is winning the contest, Jesus is the final victor. In other words, no matter what happens, we can have peace because, as He promised in John 16:33, He has overcome the world, including the evil therein!

Without a doubt, hatred won the headline for the day – but, those believers who were praying at the time of the shooting won the war.  Through Christ, they were victorious over evil on that dark day in Charleston.  They are with their Savior and are beyond any pain, tears or grief.

Because Jesus has overcome evil and death, His believers can have peace …

  • a peace that is resident within them through His Holy Spirit;
  • a peace that overcomes the evil in the world;
  • a peace that enables the victims’ families to forgive in the midst of their grief;
  • a peace that is truly beyond understanding. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7.

This peace was on display when the victims’ families expressed love and forgiveness for the one who had inflicted this unutterable loss on them.  No one was hiding their grief — this peace was transcendent over their grief.  This is the peace that is available to all who believe on Jesus’ Name and repent from their sins, accepting Him as their Savior.

Do you have this peace?