Praying for Our Communities

Every community has issues. Some may only have minor concerns while others have major problems. I was reminded of this as I was listening to a sci-fi novel yesterday while out for a walk. The characters were talking about how a particular community had become more rundown than they remembered it. That got me to thinking of these verses:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. – Jeremiah 29:4-7, ESV

The message to Jeremiah was for God’s people to go and be an active part of their communities. There were others, false prophets, that were telling the Israelites to isolate themselves in order to “remain pure.” God had a different plan. He wanted the Israelites to be a part of their communities. He wanted the Israelites to rub off on the community. God wanted to change the community for the better. He told the Israelites to actively pray for the community and for its peace and health and wellness. Their prayers and their active involvement would ultimately result in peace and health and wellness for God’s people.

This hits home as we talk about how our communities have issues. As congregations are we getting together and praying for our communities? Are we getting actively involved in them? It’s easy to set ourselves apart, walling ourselves in the fortresses that we call churches and lament what is going wrong outside the walls. That’s not the way God would have us do things, however. He would have us be engaged, not only physically but spiritually, too.

Would you seek the welfare of your community? If you aren’t already, would you actively pray for your community? Would you do so regularly? Also, if you aren’t already, how could you become more involved in your community? How could your church be more involved? If we want our communities to grow and improve and become places of peace, health, and wellness, we must take an active role. If we don’t, we will find that our own peace, health, and wellness will be negatively impacted by our troubled communities.

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Beating Childhood Cancer

Child Cancer AwarenessNote: I feel this post is important enough to post across all my blogs.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month here in the USA. Here are some statistics:

  • In 2014, an estimated 15, 780 children (ages 0-19) will be diagnosed with cancer in the USA.
  • In 2014, an estimated 1,960 will die of cancer here in the United States.
  • That averages to between 5 and 6 children dying of cancer every day, just here in the United States.

There’s a lot of talk about “surviving” cancer, meaning you hit the 5 year mark after diagnosis. That’s a misleading statistic, as I’m about to explain. Here are some more statistics:

  • 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive (don’t make it to the 5 year point).
  • The average age of diagnosis is six years-old.
  • With current treatments, 60% of childhood cancer survivors suffer after-effects.

Campbell’s Story:

A more comprehensive telling of Cam’s story can be found on this blog and on this Facebook group. Here’s the short version: Cam was diagnosed with cancer when she was 3 years old. She beat it. However, certain symptoms came back, which led to re-checks. The cancer had come back. Despite all efforts, including experimental treatments, Campbell died from cancer. Technically, she is a survivor, because she made it past five years (5 years, 2 days). However, Campbell is no longer with us. Therefore, the statistics stating 12% of diagnosed children die of childhood cancer should be higher.

If you do the math, Campbell died at eight years old. She passed away despite heroic efforts from donors to cover expenses and lobby her insurance carrier to cover the experimental treatments, medical personnel performing everything they could do (numerous brain surgeries, clinical trials, experimental treatments), positive thoughts and prayers, and even celebrities taking the time to make some of her wishes come true.

How do I know about Campbell? Campbell’s dad is a Citadel classmate of mine. Because of Campbell’s fight, I became more educated on childhood cancer. Childhood cancer is the leading disease cause of death in children. Every form of childhood cancer we can find a cure for means more bright, young lives saved. Furthermore, given how much damage current treatments do, we need better treatments for survivors. All of this requires research. Research requires funding. As a result, I’m trying to raise awareness about it now.

What We Can Do:

I don’t believe in issuing challenges. If this touches you enough to give, then please do. If not, I realize there are many excellent causes and efforts out there. Please try and give something to one or more that have meaning to you. Here’s what Cam’s family specifically asked for, because this puts research dollars forward for the doctors who were treating Cam and her particular form of cancer. You can mail donations to:

Weill Cornell Medical College with GREENFIELD Ependymoma Research in the memo field.

The mailing address:

Ana Ignat
Department Administrator
525 East 68th St, Box 99
New York, NY 10068

Or you could choose another childhood cancer charity/research fund. If you do, please check with a site like Charity Navigator to see how efficiently that charity uses the donations it receives. I know that particular charities in the past have sounded great but when you do the research… not so much. That’ll help you ensure that more of your donated money goes to research.

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Do we understand God’s hatred for sin?

Do you have something you can’t stand? Something that provokes a violent and immediate reaction in you? For some folks it might be snakes or spiders. For me, it used to be cauliflower. If “kill it with fire” comes to mind, you know exactly what I mean. Have you ever stopped to think that God feels similarly about sin?

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
- Nahum 1:2-3, ESV

We don’t like to talk about God as a jealous, avenging, and wrathful God. After all, those qualities in us are terrible. Our jealousy, even if well founded, typically leads to sin. Our avenging tends to go too far. Wrathful, being a description of strong anger and a sense of revenge, almost always results in too much. However, the rules change with God because He is perfect. All of those qualities are held in keeping with the rest of His character. The verses which follow explain the limits of His vengeance and his wrath and the fact that He is slow to anger.

Wrath, vengeance, and anger are strong emotions, though. They aren’t to be taken lightly. They are the consequence of God’s hatred for sin. We talk about God’s great love and His mercy. We call Him “Daddy” or “Father” because the Scriptures tell us we can use “Abba.” We like God as a cuddly teddy bear, as a supernatural Santa Claus. To only characterize God in this fashion, however, is to have an incomplete view of what God has shown us about Himself.

The Scriptures make it clear God hates sin. God may be slow to anger (as opposed to most of us), but He will deal with sin. That’s why verse 3 reminds us that God will not clear the guilty. He deals with sin powerfully and completely. He is, after all, a God of justice as well as a God of love. And He has shown that He is willing to “kill it with fire,” as was the case with Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why do we play with sin? If we know God hates it and we know God’s reaction is going to be in keeping with that hatred, why do we toy around with it or, worse, embrace it? I think we have been lulled into forgetting just how much God hates sin. This doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility or the accountability of our sin. After all, God delineates clearly His view of sin and the punishments He has thus far been willing to deliver for those who dabble or delight in sin. This is one reason regular Bible reading is so important to the Christian walk. We are reminded of God’s view on sin and His correcting of it. Our minds are refreshed on the subject.

Let us, through our love for Jesus Christ, begin to feel the same way about sin as He does. Let us reject it in ourselves as surely as He would. The temptation is to look at someone else and say, “I’m not as bad as that person.” The problem is that God doesn’t do that. His comparison for us is against His own perfection. We fail miserably there. That’s why we need grace. However, let us not be so flippant to sin because of grace that we don’t take sin as seriously as He does. He hates sin. He hates the sin in us. We should, too.

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Are you too complacent?

I look around and I see comfort. I see a lot of comfort. I’m comfortable. My children are comfortable. Folks at church are comfortable. We are all very comfortable. And this strikes me as not right. We’re too comfortable.

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
and from there go to Hamath the great;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
and bring near the seat of violence?
- Amos 6:1-3, ESV

Those who were in Zion (Israel) were at ease. Those who were in Samaria felt secure. However, were they right with God when they felt this way? God, through Amos, called them to look upon other lands and peoples. God asked them a key question, “Are you better than them?” How should we answer that? Am I any better than the folks in Haiti, in Guatemala, in Sri Lanka, in Albania, or in the downtown area of my city? I am more comfortable than many in these locations. However, if my standard is God’s standard, I am not better. Moreover, not only am I not any better, but my nation is not any better, either, which goes to God’s second question. I’m not better, but I’m more comfortable. Should I be worried?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”
- Amos 6:4-7, ESV

I believe I should be worried. Most believers relaxing in such abudance should be worried. The warning in verses 4-7 is exactly against such an easy, comfortable life if we aren’t grieved over our brothers and sisters who are suffering. A brother in Christ recently wrote that he was having a hard time after coming back to the United States. He has been on several missions trips to a particular South American country. There, the folks are ecstatic over a single room house we’d classify as a shed, one meal a day, no electricity, and no frills to speak of. Meanwhile, if we get bored and are awake at 3 AM, there’s likely at least one fast food joint open near us with a hot meal and free WiFi. This is a huge and drastic separation in fortunes. It did not sit well with him. It hurts me to say this, but most of the time I don’t even think about the wide gap which exists. The constant comfort lures me into forgetting about my brothers and sisters.

Therefore, the condemnation and judgment I read in verse 7 is deeply concerning. While the specific context of the prophecy was Israel, it reveals the character of God. He is not pleased when His people luxuriate in comfort while their brothers and sisters suffer. The only conclusion I can reach is I am too complacent. A desire to help is not about guilt and it’s certainly not about a tax write-off. I love my Lord Jesus. His Word tells me He loves and is concerned for my brothers and sisters facing greater hardship than I. If I love Him, my love should extend to them, too. Real love in this scenario involves action. What am I doing for the love of others? What am I doing to overcome my complacency? Are you too complacent as well? If so, what will it take for you to overcome this complacency that lures us away from the love Christ would have us demonstrate?

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Is your offering acceptable?

Have you ever thought about what you offer back to God? When we say offering, most folks immediately think of money. Money is easy because it’s tangible. However, when the Bible speaks of offerings, it speaks of more than just money or goods. Case in point: read through Colossians 3. That portion of Scripture tells us that what we do are supposed to be offerings, too.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of the house of Israel or of the sojourners in Israel presents a burnt offering as his offering, for any of their vows or freewill offerings that they offer to the Lord, if it is to be accepted for you it shall be a male without blemish, of the bulls or the sheep or the goats. – Leviticus, 22:17-19, ESV

One of the things that stands out to me in these verses is that God may reject an offering. This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Cain’s offering was rejected. What about our offerings? Are they acceptable to God? What is acceptable? Do our offerings meet the standard?

Note the qualifications for all of the offerings: a male without blemish. There are other passages, such as Leviticus 3:1, where the gender doesn’t matter. The “without blemish” does. If we were back in the day and age where animal sacrifices were made at the tabernacle or the temple, we should be offering animals without blemish. Since we’re not in that era, how does this apply to us?

Let’s take it back to love. Whatever we do, if we’re trying to live by grace, is done for the love for our Lord, Jesus, and not out of a sense of obligation nor out of a sense of racking up the score on the “good” tally. When we do something out of love, we tend to do the best we can. On some days the results may be better than others, but the effort is still the same. Therefore, it makes sense that God expected an animal without blemish. And it also makes sense that God would expect our best and reject the rest.

Applying this standard is hard. If we’re truthful with ourselves, we’re likely not going to like the results. However, if we want our offerings – whatever we give back to God – to be acceptable to Him, we must meet the standard. Do I give my best when I go to worship? What about when I pray? Or do I allow myself to be distracted by things that don’t matter? When I’m helping at a work project, am I giving full effort or am I spending much of my time talking and socializing? Is my attitude right? Can I honestly say I’m giving my best? Am I doing what I’m doing for the right reason: I love God and want to do something to bring Him joy? Let us be this critical with our efforts. And let us present acceptable offerings to the One who offered Himself up for us.

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Forget the fleeting; pursue the permanent.

In today’s world there is so much pulling at us. Much of it is of little permanent value. Some examples which come to mind:

  • Our position at our place of employment
  • Our position at church
  • The size and market value of our house
  • Our obsession over a sport
  • The type of car we drive or we how we customize it

Some of these things have counterparts which are important. Having a decent job allows us to provide for our family and contribute to the Kingdom. Serving God out of a sense of love and adoration is part of the Christian life. We need shelter to keep us safe. And in some areas of the world, especially in the US, getting back and forth is significantly easier if we have our own car. Those things, in proper perspective, are fine. It’s when we cross the line into obsession and love that we have a serious issue. Only one item on the list doesn’t have a solid parallel, but having grown up playing sports and being a fan, I’ve seen sports do amazing things. Things like stop a civil war: in 2006, when the Ivory Coast qualified for a World Cup, the warring factions agreed to a ceasefire to support their national team, though fighting resumed in 2011.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17, ESV

When we look at our goals, our priorities, our relationships, and our desires, we will reject some as ungodly. Those are the easy ones. Hopefully we will have the courage to turn away from them. However, if you’re like me you’ll find you have some which aren’t easily categorized or which you will find are even put in the godly stack. These others should raise the question, “Why am I pursuing them?” For instance, am I pursuing a relationship with someone because I genuinely want to get to know that person and become a friend or am I doing so because of what that person can do for me? Am I latching on to this latest business opportunity because it’ll add more comfort to my life or because there’s a genuine Kingdom purpose in doing so? Am I serving in this ministry role because I feel called by God to be in the spot I’m in or is it because I like the reputation it gives me and perhaps even the power behind it?

In each case, the argument can be made that there’s a genuine, godly reason to do those things. And in each case we can find a very worldly reason why those things are pursued. This is the point of John’s words. Why am I doing what I do? Why are you? Are we pursuing things of the world, the desires of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life, or are we pursuing Christ? Anything that we pursue that isn’t of Christ is fleeting. It won’t last. What is of Christ is forever. Let’s expend our efforts for what is permanent. Let us invest in what will stand the test of eternity. Let us do these things for the right reason: our love of Christ and our adoration of Him. And let us put aside that which is born out of a love of the world and what it considers precious.

 

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What desires war with Christ?

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to do things but they occurred at the same time? Do you remember how it felt to be torn in two directions? What’s worse is when those two options aren’t about pleasure or leisure but a sense of duty. You can only pick one. Those situations can leave us with emotional pain. We can find ourselves fighting internally to make that choice. So why would we willingly put ourselves in that situation day after day?

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. – James 4:1-3, ESV

James wrote about the passions that are at war within us. T. W. Hunt pointed out in The Mind of Christ that this is often the case in practice. If we look at our goals, our relationships, and our desires, we’ll see items in conflict with one another. For instance:

  • I want to live for Christ but I don’t want to miss a football game.
  • I want to be a prayer warrior but I want time to sleep a bit longer (and I don’t want to go to bed earlier).
  • This friend often puts me in a position where I’m in the presence of coarse joking but I want to be closer to Jesus.

We are choosing to allow these conflicts to remain in our lives. These passions war with each other. As a result, we end up somewhere in the middle, making no progress, and losing out on joy. We see this happening in our individual lives and that carries forth into our churches and into our world at large.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we are willing to be honest with ourselves and if we are willing to let the Holy Spirit show us the truth, we’ll see the conflicts. We’ll see what goals, what passions, what relationships, what desires, are godly and what aren’t. We’ll also come to understand which ones can go either way and why. Then we have hard choices to make. Are we willing to let go of the ungodly ones? Are we willing to choose the godly goals, relationships, and desires?

This is a hard path to follow. However, if Jesus is our all, if our desire is to love Him and bring Him joy, this is the only valid path. Holding on to the ungodly is holding on to something that Christ is at war with. Think about the implications of that for a moment. How can we draw closer to Jesus if we intentionally choose to hold onto to something He is against? How can we say we are seeking to please Him if we decide to continue in a direction that He has spoken against? What will you do with your warring desires?

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