Who Prayed For Paul?

The headlines ran red. If there were a secret first century parchment bearing news, prayers and encouragement, circulating the dispersed believers, surely it read, “ Steven, our beloved brother in the faith, perished at the hands of Saul and the religious leaders. He breathed his last yet full of the Spirit and testifying to the goodness of Jesus.”

Maybe, John picked up that parchment or maybe he wrote it, heart aching. What a loss for the early church! No doubt Christians across the known world knelt in their homes and small gatherings, praying fervently for Steven’s family, the progress of the Gospel, their own safety and Christ’s soon return. But who prayed for Saul?

The early church knew who was responsible for much of their terror, and God asked them to do the unbelievable. After Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, He approached one of His own, a man named Ananias, and told him to go to Saul and lay his hands on him: “ ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ ” (Acts 9:13, 14)

I wonder about that as our own headlines run red. Every single day we learn of more Christians, more People of the Cross, losing their lives for the name of Jesus. And, I kneel. I kneel by my bed and pray with tears streaming down my face. My emotions boil, a hot alloy of anger, fear, compassion and longing for justice. I lift up the Coptic Christians, those in Syria, Pastor Saeed Abedini, the orphans, the widows and those fighting for freedom.

But who prays for ISIS? Who prays for the Muslim Brotherhood? Who prays for Boko Haram and Vladimir Putin? Who prays for Al Queda?

Last Sunday, I served on prayer team at my church. Five of us huddled in the church office praying for the service and everything the Spirit laid on our hearts. We prayed for the church worldwide, but in that hour, none of us prayed for the persecutors. I have to confess, that even on my own time, I am reticent to pray for them. It’s not that I haven’t thought of it; it’s just that I don’t want to.

But in the biblical account, God didn’t let prayer warriors off the hook. In Acts 9:15-17, He replied to Ananias, “ ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ ”

If Ananias had refused God, if he had found praying for the murderer of his Christian brothers just too hard, what would have become of Saul? Who would have become Paul? Who would have written the majority of the New Testament? Who would have written Romans, the consummate doctrine of salvation by grace through faith?

God may have asked Ananias to do the unbelievable, but God proved that He will do the impossible. The bulk of our sacred New Testament was penned by the very man who once slaughtered People of the Cross.

Might God dramatically change the trajectory of history if Christians today pray for the persecutors? Can you imagine, for a split second, the magnificent manifestation of God’s glory if those perpetuating evil turned their hearts toward Jesus?

Do you think we should be praying for terrorists? What should we pray?

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Deflating the Misery Index

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy … “ Romans 15:13

Statistics show that you are miserable—albeit less miserable than you were last year.

Did you know that there’s such a thing as the Misery Index? In the 1970s, Arthur Okun, created a simple formula to measure the happiness of the average American. The equation is the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, and as of February of 2015, the number is the lowest it’s been since the mid-1950s.

But, Americans still express a dismal outlook about the next six months. A recent article on NPR suggests that the formula is just too simple for today’s economy. They factor wage growth and consumer debt into the equation and surmise that the economy is still the culprit for our misery.

But what if there’s more to it? St. Augustine said, “”You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” And God’s own Word tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Even those who deny the deity of Christ or shun His saving sacrifice, understand the need for hope, joy and peace. It is the lack of those things that inflates our misery index—not simply empty pockets. As Christians, we possess the antibody to the world’s misery. In the grip of Christ, misery is indeed foreign to us; the love of Christ has dispelled it.

As we brave the world today, let’s flavor our witness with joy. The world is ripe for it.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hitler’s Third Reich: A Wake Up Call To America

flag-650x400What does the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich have to do with America’s current sociopolitical climate?

An interest in German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has resurged, perhaps because of parallels with Christians in the current United States. Bonhoeffer’s biography crystallizes the spiritual nature of Hitler’s rise to power. Here are a few ingredients trending in current culture that have a troubling precedent in Hitler’s rise to totalitarianism …

Read the rest of this article by Emily Tomko here:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hitler’s Third Reich: A Wake Up Call to America

The Fruit of Fretting

Most of you know, my husband is currently deployed. This article was written several months ago, but I find it again relevant–even to me, the author.

We recently talked  on LASTing Peace, about fear being idolatry. This article explains another way that fear, also known as fretting, can sabotage our Christian lives.

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He started it.

Yes, he snapped at me first, but you’d think I could’ve held my tongue and finished with a “win”. Especially after all my praying lately.

Just two days ago, I even sent my husband a text message telling him that I prayed to be a Proverbs 31 wife to him: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

With all my heart I want to learn to control my tongue; to face temptation and make the right choice—not to sin. In that moment, just before I retaliated, I saw the choice, clear as an angel and a devil perched persuasively on my shoulders. I saw it, and in the split second that it takes to activate one’s vocal chords thoughtlessly, I snapped right back. And just as James says, I set a fire.

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6

After his harsh words, my husband apologized immediately. He came toward me to give me a hug. With self-righteous flare, I turned my back on him. “No, I don’t want it. You’re not sincere, you’re just trying to make me stop being angry.”

He dropped the fight. That’s one thing I simultaneously admire and hate about my man. He  can simply drop his arms, turn around and let the whole argument go. All the while, the heat of anger and bitterness simmers in my chest. He settled into the couch with his computer, but a fire had already broken loose in me.

Tearful, I huffed into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. “God, why? Why is he so heartless and uncaring? Why doesn’t he care about making up? Why doesn’t he notice that I’m really hurt?”

I don’t know who I was more angry with—myself or my husband. Yes, Patrick’s words were hurtful and the capstone to my mounting frustration as I played second fiddle to his computer games all weekend. But still, when the opportunity to express forgiveness, to respond with abundant joy that rests on Jesus and not on my husband’s behavior—when the opportunity to engage the Scripture I’ve been memorizing presented itself, I glanced away from the proverbial “angel” and bored full ahead into my husband with a devilish piety.

God says His Word never returns void. So true. Even as I sat there, sulking over my hurt and groveling in my shame, my newest memory verse came to mind. Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

That morning, in my quiet time, I had examined a couple of those words in the Hebrew. Fret means “to be incensed, to get hot”—in American vernacular think of “smoldering anger” or “fuming”. The most poignant definition of the word evil is “to shatter”.

As the evening waned, I sat in the darkening corner of my bedroom and listened to my Heavenly Father. Gently, without accusation, He prodded my heart with the truth: I could choose to fret and be angry. But if I did, I was playing an active role in shattering my relationship with my husband, to say nothing of my own peace.

Often we are told that fretting or worrying is pointless. We are reminded that being angry or bitter hurts us more than the person at whom it is directed. But God’s Word takes it even further. To simmer, steam or be hot and angry tends only to shatter—relationships, peace of mind and communion with our Heavenly Father.

I wish I could say I came out of my room right away with a glowing countenance and words of restoration. No, I sat there a while longer and wrestled with God. In fact, it took me until the following morning to face my husband and humbly ask his forgiveness. When I did, I saw the fruit of God’s Word bloom. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”

The wonderful thing about knowing Jesus is that even when things are shattered, He is our healer. He can restore all things, even relationships and a peaceful heart.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps. 147:3

Book Review, Farewell Four Waters

My husband grew up in a missionary family. His father was a medical doctor in Guatemala for 10 years of Patrick’s early life. When he was 15, they returned to the states.

Ever since we began dating, I’ve treasured the stories of his family’s experiences outside my little world. From their living conditions to the simple, satisfying food; from the rare but frightening stories of hostility to the warm recollections of friendships forged through the bond of mutual service, compassion and faith. Over the years, I began to detect a different tone when his mother relates the stories. Her voice holds longing, a hint of lost or distant identity.

Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.52.06Longing…that is the tenor of Kate McCord’s, Farewell Four Waters. In this sequel to, In the Land of Blue Burqas, McCord unwinds the painful process of saying goodbye to her Afghan life—in truth, leaving her Afghan self. Deftly, she details the circumstances that led to her final decision to return to America.

In 2008, Marie, the author’s representation of herself, was working to develop a literacy program for women during a uniquely tumultuous time. Afghanistan conflict, she explains in the book, is almost always regional, and for years her beloved city of Shektan was calm and safe. But suddenly, at first with no explanation, violence erupted. Three people were killed within a span of a few days, one a female aid worker—gunned down right out in the open, two others by police.

A quiet tension, a sort of underlying panic ensued. That’s difficult to understand from the North American cultural perspective of non-violent demonstrations that only occasionally devolve into street riots. Aid workers began a slow, steady exodus. Even Marie’s dear friend, roommate and architect of the literacy project, Carolyn, abandoned her post. Marie was left virtually alone.

But that’s what sets Marie’s story apart. Shored by her faith and willingly but warily dependent on the Afghan friends she’d come to love and trust, Marie refused to leave. She would stay until she had no other option.

Farewell Four Waters is a delicious story. The narrative moves slowly, mirroring the progress of Marie’s choices, her endurance, longing and letting go. While the first half of the book is not laden with excitement, it does take an inexplicable grip on the reader, causing them to feel that if they don’t finish the story something in their own lives will remain unfinished.

I highly recommend this book. In addition to the pure joy of exploring a distant world, the reader will walk away with greater knowledge of the Afghan culture, a splinter of understanding of what it’s like to bear the mark of Jesus in a hostile environment and will fertilize the spiritual fruit of long-suffering in their own life.

Shame’s Sneaky Relatives

Shame: “The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another:”

That’s what dictionary.com says shame is. And, being the lover of words that I am, I knew that. So, I really didn’t think I had a shame problem. But that was before I knew that Shame has a half-sister and two evil step-daughters.

I first met False Humility, Shame’s sneaky half-sister when I was a young teenager. I’ve always been average—not excellent or super smart. I’m not super athletic, super talented or super funny. I’m just plain-jane average. Cast beneath the spotlight of my brilliant younger sister, I quickly discounted anything positive about myself. She was everything I was and more; everything I did she could do better.

When we were kids, I quit playing softball and became the bat-girl for her team. I quit learning piano and quit the swim team because she did those things better, too. I played the martyr at home, always the one to give in, defer or tap-out.

It kind of looked like humility when I stepped aside and applauded her successes while mumbling something like, “I’m okay, just not awesome.”

Next, I was introduced to Shame’s step-daughter, Pride. She raised her ugly head in the middle of my battle with anorexia. For fourteen years I excelled at starving. No one wanted to compete with me, but I competed with everyone. In my malnourished mind, I “won” every time I was thinner than another girl, every time I turned down food that another person simply couldn’t resist, every time I went for a long run in the rain while others pulled the sheets over their heads and enjoyed the warmth of a cozy bed. I was an excellent anorexic. All the while, shameful thoughts about my body and personal value swam circles in my mind.

Fear arrived shortly after my recovery from anorexia as I began to share my testimony for the glory of God and the encouragement of others. Fear is Shame’s other step-daughter. When I wrote my book, got a publisher and saw it appear on Amazon, Fear started to mock me. No one is going to buy or read this book. You are going to let down your agent, publisher and family. Everyone has had such high expectations of you and believed you could do this—they are going to be so disappointed. 

I felt sluggish and demoralized for several days, muddling through the successive concussions of fear following the publication of my book. But fear forced to me look to the God who loves me, because “perfect love casts out fear.”

One morning, I opened my Bible to Psalm 25. This single chapter has a lot to say about shame in the life of a Christ-follower. As I read, hope and renewed energy flooded through me. Shame has no place in my life and no power over me.

“I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed…no one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame…O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.”

Got Troubles? Here’s What To Do…

Please enjoy this guest post by Esse Johnson:

Alesia Brown recently interviewed me on Touch A Heart Talk Show about my blog post, Breakthrough Now: From Stress to Rest. In the post I exhort that Jesus does not want you to bounce from joy to fear, paycheck to paycheck, and breakthrough to breakthrough, but from glory to glory, peace to peace, and faith to faith. That is, the breakthrough you need is not foremostly in the natural, but in you.
Fill in the blank. The Bible says, “Be anxious for _____________.”

Real People, Real Problems
A man called in to ask the question on everybody’s mind, essentially saying: yeah, but what do you say to the people struggling to pay bills every month? Maybe it seemed like I was out of touch, preaching from an ivory tower with no personal understanding of the struggles of life. I didn’t emphasize enough of my past and how I lived by miraculous provision for years. In any case, he was very kind and not just spewing out doubt. He genuinely needed an answer from the perspective of nitty gritty reality.

This is why Jesus was born in a dirty shed, made to rest in a cow-feeder (manger) and raised among common people, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15 NIV). These truths don’t change just because we face challenges in the natural. It’s precisely then that we get to show up as real believers!

The caller mentioned the failing economy and the housing market. I imagined a single mother working full time and barely making ends meet. He asked me for the top two or three things I would say to people like the single mother in my mind. How can I expect them to find peace?

Lord, I thought, give me not just a word that is true, but the “now” word of Truth that will birth faith in every listener (Rom 10:17).
Before I could think, the words just flew out my mouth like a bird from a cage: ACT LIKE A BELIEVER!

The Gentiles Worry
The normal Christian life is filled with the fruits of the Spirit, which don’t include fear, worry, anxiety, or freaking out. They are love, joy, and peace. If you walk in fear, you’re acting like an unbeliever. The Bible tells us to be anxious for nothing. Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear. Seek peace and pursue it. Be diligent to enter His rest. You know these verses. The scriptures are so clear; yet, we allow ordinary challenges and circumstances to rock us way off the Rock.

“So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things (Mt 6:31-33 GNT).

That’s the word. Either you believe it and act like it, or you don’t, and you act like a Gentile. Faith is a gift, but believing is a choice.

Forgive me for sounding harsh. It’s not against you, but against the oppressor, and for you.

What does the King “require of you”?

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (Jn 6:29 NLT).

Hallelujah! The word for “believe” (pisteuó) means “entrust.” To believe is not an intellectual exercise. It means to entrust yourself to Jesus. Entrust your life, finances, children, fitness, health, everything to Him. That’s acting like a believer. Every challenge is allowed in order that you might draw nearer to Jesus.

Your faithfulness to Jesus (through trust) draws heaven; but anxiety and fear attract darkness. Those emotions put you in agreement with the powers of darkness. If the Kingdom suffers violence and the violent take it by force, a Christian responds to a trial with violent diligence to cast her anxieties on the Lord, seek peace and pursue it, refuse to doubt God, go deeper in intimacy and worship. The other stuff is of the flesh, and (fill in the blank) the flesh profits _______________.

My Testing

Ever since I released that word, I have been tested it seems on every front. It’s not the first time. I’ve lived “lean” by supernatural provision alone. I’ve lived rich and poor. I’ve believed for healing. I’ve learned to act like a Christian. I’m so thankful the Lord is testing me so I can be reminded how the Spirit is faithful to rise up and multiply grace and peace to me when things in the natural seem to be falling apart. That caller maybe thought I was speaking from an ivory tower, but I was in the thick of it myself. Nevertheless, in eternity, God will remember that I chose not to doubt Him, but to remain in His rest and bring glory to His name. This is the secret behind miracles. It’s relying on Him alone.
Beloved, God is not challenged by your natural circumstances. He’s working day and night to teach you to set your mind on things above, and not things of the earth (Col 3:2).

The scripture says to be anxious for NOTHING. That eliminates the option to worry about bills, kids, even matters of life and death. I didn’t write it. He did.

I love how The Message translates this scripture (Phil 4:16):
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life (MSG).

And:
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil (Ps 37:8 ESV).
You are more than a conqueror. You are a supernatural being. Want to see miracles? When trials come, don’t spin your wheels. See the plan and intent of God by drawing near to Him. God, I thank You for giving my friend Your spirit of wisdom and understanding, even as Moses, to know the ways of God. Let nothing shake you from the assurance of faith.

If ever there was a rebellion, it is choosing fear and worry over the Holy Spirit who produces peace in you. I say this with tenderness of heart, knowing full well that I speak it to myself whenever trials come: ACT LIKE A BELIEVER!

Then, you’ll see the victory of a believer.

I hope you enjoyed this guest post by my Spirit-filled friend. Esse has blessed my life in so many ways and I know God intends to use her to bless millions. Please, please follow the links here to purchase the book, 50 Shades of Grace, and visit her blog.

Merry Christmas!

For a truly life-transforming revelation of God’s amazing grace, read 50 Shades of Grace: Free At Last, by Dr. Eddie Summers. You will never be the same. Purchase it here or instantly download a free excerpt.

Esse Johnson is a blogger, ghostwriter and burgeoning publisher through S.E. Works 111 ® . Read more from Esse at KissOfChrist.com and facebook.com/KissOfChrist.

Faster in the Wrong Direction

Did you ever read the story of Winnie the Pooh and the sand pit? I’ll sum it up for you:

Pooh Bear and his timid sidekick Piglet got lost in the woods. They didn’t even know they were lost until Piglet pointed out that they kept passing a very familiar sand pit. Could it that they were just going in circles? No, Pooh asserted, the sand pit was following them.

What do you do when you’re lost? I’ve got some great stories about being lost.

There was the day after my wedding, when I traveled with my dad to pick up my car, that for reasons I won’t go into, was in a small town about an hour away from my new home. Once, I was settled behind the wheel of my own car, Dad waved goodbye and drove off toward his own house. I promptly took the ramp to the interstate—cluelessly, in the wrong direction. I didn’t realize I was lost until an hour had passed and I wasn’t home yet. And then I did the worst thing I could possibly do. As anxiety mounted, my foot got heavier. I could find no where to turn around! I sped faster and faster. In my mind, the faster I went the sooner I would find a solution and fix my error. As you can imagine, going faster only sent me farther in the wrong direction—faster. As well, I missed the first opportunity to correct the situation. 

That wasn’t the first, nor the only time I’ve done something like that. I’ve gotten lost when out for a simple run, on roller-skates, in my grandparents neighborhood, in many an airport and more. Suddenly, nothing looks familiar; instead of slowing my pace and thinking clearly, I push faster and faster praying that home is around the next corner. However, it wasn’t until recently that I noticed my tendency to accelerate when I’m lost.

Speaking of praying…

What do you do when you feel spiritually lost? I don’t mean lost as in unsaved, or doubting your salvation. I mean lost like, “God, what am I supposed to do with my life? What am I supposed to do in this situation? What am I supposed to do about this relationship?”

Have you ever felt that way?

Since I’m baring my soul, being honest about my disabilities (directionally challenged) I’ll admit that I do the same thing when I feel spiritually lost—I go faster.

Many times, after a move with my husband’s career, I’ve felt detached, floating, essentially lost. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a church. I don’t have kids. Who am I? What do I do God? What did you make me to do?

And usually, I start running. I make lists of all the volunteer opportunities I can find, call them all and offer to be there tomorrow. I sign up for every club. I give my number to every smiling face at the dog park and suggest, “Let’s meet for coffee sometime! I’m sure we have a lot in common.” I visit 15 churches in 15 Sundays.

Suddenly, I’m swamped, overwhelmed and more lost than ever. None of my new activities seem to be “homey”. I’m overcommitted and under-fulfilled, over-used and under-serving. You see, I can’t really serve the way I want to, the way God calls me to, if I’m trying to do everything and really only doing it for my own self-fulfillment.

This year, 2014, God gave me on word to wrap my life around: Walk. I asked Him for one word to guide my pursuits this year, to focus my Bible study; one word to plow the Scriptures with and put on like shoe leather. He simply said, “Walk”.

I have to think this means a couple things. 1) My most delicious prayer time is spent on long walks with my dog. I know there I’ll find Him, when I’m undistracted by the to-do list and to-see people. 2) I need to walk with the Spirit. The Word says when we do this, we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh. He doesn’t say to run with the Spirit. There’s intention in the slow, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other; the rhythm of walking. 3) No matter how useless I feel, or briefly how disconnected, I need to walk slowly through change. Whether it be into my new life when my husband and I move next time, or any other upset of routine. I must set aside the choking panic of impending solitude and take steady, meditated steps, placing each foot in the footprint of my Father.

I don’t know that these lessons will be well applied to my propensity to be physically lost. I’ve got enough to think about merely applying them to my obedience to Christ. But, perhaps they might. And if not, I always have my iPhone 🙂