Nuggets: What Christians Must Remember About Donald Trump …

( … and all elected officials)

I didn’t stay awake to watch the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, but I did know that at 3 a.m. I would check the results with my baby in my arms–a baby who will keenly experience the repercussions of America’s decision last night.

And praise the LORD.

It’s no secret who I voted for. Evangelical voters turned out in droves for Trump and I have no shame aligning myself with that crowd.

But as I rejoiced, I felt a warning rise up in my spirit:

In recent days, I’ve heard many Christians espouse their strong assurance that God is in control. When it seemed like Hillary might win, we declared that no matter what happened, God is on the throne.

We remembered that it doesn’t really matter who is in office. God sets up kings, leaders, rulers and God tears down the same. We remembered that He does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth in the seas and all the deeps. “HE it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightenings for the rain and brings for the wind from His storehouses.” (Psalm 135:6-7)

Now, lest we rejoice in our new found political stature as conservatives, lest we find hope in supreme court justices, a majority in the US Senate, the US House, a prolife president or the resounding commentary on the outgoing administration: let us remember what we said yesterday as we cast our ballots.

‘It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.’ Daniel 2:21-22

Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Psalm 100:3

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God’s Version of Show and Tell

show and tellThere’s a woman whose daddy has been praying for her for years. All he wanted was to see his precious daughter healthy again, strong, fertile, free. How he longed for God to just tell him a little bit about the future, “Please God, just tell me that she’ll be okay!”

Now, she’s praying for him, “Please God, just tell me he’ll be okay.” Last week, her daddy’s hand was mangled in a workshop accident with a saw. He’ll live; the doctors did good work. But his heart is achy. All he wants is for God to tell him that he will still be useful and effective and capable.

Other hurdles have mounded in front of this godly family. A beloved elderly grandmother makes full days into over-full days, exhausting the daughter she lives with. An uncle suffers from unexpected heart problems. It’s wave after wave. Won’t someone just tell them it will be okay?

God, can’t you just explain the map a little bit? Can’t you point out the hope on the horizon?

I’ve been pulled into prayer lately. It’s magnetic, irresistible. More than the needs to pray, I feel compelled to know the heart of prayer.

God, I want to know how this works. I want to know why it works and why sometimes it seems like a crapshoot. God, I want to know why you care at all when our feeble voices wind heavenward like wisps of dissipating smoke, and why sometimes the floor heaven seems made of iron—impenetrable.

The only thing I know for sure, when my words seem worthless, God must attend His own Word. He is all truth, the essence of what is, the imaginer of all we believe real, so He simply cannot betray His own Word.

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long,” Psalm 25:4-5.

I pause.

Remember “Show and Tell” in kindergarten? Who would have cared if all we did was describe our dearest treasure? Who wants to merely hear a story when the option exists to reach out and touch the subject?

As a writer, we are constantly schooled to, “Show, don’t tell.”

A familiar phrase echoes the halls of literature, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

So I hear God say, “I could tell you, but I’d rather show you.”

Why is it I want God to tell me the future, to reveal the fearful mystery of what I cannot yet see? Why do I implore God to inform me when all He really wants is to show me?

Colorful fingers tug at my own, “Come here, Abby! I want to show you something!”

Why disillusion her by insisting that she should just tell me what it is? Why pretend I have better things to do than follow that precious girl and praise her painting, such as it is—the full palate of colors splattered on paper?

What I would miss if I chose not to follow her! She wants to see my expression, behold my admiration of her creativity.

Maybe God is the same way. “I could tell you, but I’d rather show you.” To show us, God must walk a half step ahead.

To show requires present and presence. When we arrive at the future, hand in hand with our Shepherd, we behold those terrifying unknowns in the present and are comforted by the presence of the Prince of Peace.

The Prayer That Works

It’s a wonder I still believe prayer works.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do believe prayer is powerful and effective. It can change the course of history. Earth is still spinning 24 hours behind where it should be based on the creation timeline—ever since Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still. People have walked the planet who never would have without prayer—think of Samuel and Joseph and the Shulamite woman’s son. Peter might have died in prison if a whole horde of people had not been praying for him in the house of a woman named Mary one dark night.

So yes, prayer works, but I have personally prayed for many things that never happened, for blessings that never materialized, healing that took forever and sometimes never came.

One might find comfort in the empathy of Mary and Martha. You remember them, the sisters of Lazarus and good friends of Jesus. Their brother fell sick; they knew he was dying. How they must have frantically scribbled the note; no time for frilly affections or casual comments. They simply wrote, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

But Jesus didn’t come in time. Within two days, Lazarus had died. The sisters wrapped him in fragrant cloths and buried him. Then, Jesus showed up.

It’s a fabulous story—one of perfect love, death, miracles, passion, sorrow and elation. But you probably already know that story. Even those who didn’t grow up in Sunday school have heard it and know it contains the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

I’m searching for a new lesson in this story. I’m search for a reason to pray, a way to pray. Because, even if I took some comfort in the fact that Jesus seemed to ignore Mary and Martha too (it’s not just me) ultimately, He not only responded to their call of distress but performed a miracle for them. What did they do?

For years my most persistent prayer was, “Lord, please heal me of this eating disorder! Take it away! I love you God, I love you with all my heart. I want to be obedient. Help me to put this idol behind me and to live for you alone. Help me Jesus!”

Now, there’s nothing ultimately wrong with that prayer, but I heard a pastor say recently, “Nothing moves the hand of God like the love of God.”

Look at their prayer again, or better yet, see if you remember it. What did they say to Jesus?

Compare their petition to mine.

Me: “Lord I love you, please help me!”

Mary and Martha: “Lord, you love Lazarus! He needs you!”

What drove Jesus to respond to the sisters; to come and resurrect Lazarus, was not their love for Him, but His own love for Lazarus!

It’s time we re-worded our prayers. More than that, it’s time we rewired our hearts. It’s a false belief, but nonetheless the underlying motive most of us employ when seeking God’s favor—that if we love Him more, if we convince Him that we are completely “sold out”, He will capitulate and favor our request.

God doesn’t need His ego stroked. He does not bend His ear to earth because we are radically devoted to Him. God bends low to hear us because of His love for us, his unwarranted, unprecedented, deadly, life-giving love.

Psalm 25:4-7 says, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

God’s love is so unbounded that it overrode my theological errors. Although I often pleaded for healing based on my love for and promised commitment to God, He reached out and healed me for the sake of His Son Jesus, whose radical love cost Him His life in order to reconcile the whole world to its Creator.

Now, I am praying again; I am praying differently. Now I am praying for healing for others, for broken bodies, broken marriages, aching hearts, physical needs and more. Some of those I’m praying for do not love Jesus, and oh the wonder of the truth that their lack of love is not the deciding factor in God’s answer.

Even those of us who love God, only know love because He loved us first. If the answers to our prayers hinges on the veracity of our love for God, we are doomed. Thanks be to God, that the prayer He hears, the prayer He answers, a worthy prayer cries, “Lord, I am the one you love!”

Listening For Footsteps

Ever feel like a spiritual ant?

I’ve been swimming in theology lately, neck-deep in books by historical and modern spiritual greats: A.W. Tozer, Dallas Willard and Brother Lawrence. And I’m learning, I’m learning just how far I’ve yet to go, or better said, how deep I’ve yet to fall into Jesus.

Though I’ve called Jesus “Savior” for 28 years and spent time in His Word, attended church, even taught and written Bible studies, apparently, there are infinitely more levels of relationship with this, our Awesome, Amazing, Unparalleled, Personal God. “Who on earth is a god like you?” (Exodus 15:11)

Brother Lawrence’s book, Practicing His Presence, is the most revealing title of the books I’m reading. It sums up the monstrous concept I’m trying to grasp, the overwhelming experience I’m desperate to have.

We’ve had an unusually white winter here in Tennessee and just in the last 48 hours has the sun decided not only to grace us with her light and warmth, but to evoke gratitude in the hearts of us People of the Cross.

“He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.” Psalm 147:16-18

As I tip-toed over the rivers of melting snow in the church parking lot, I suddenly caught a momentary glimpse of His presence. It was in the world around me, in the collision of His Word in my heart during morning devotions and His beauty in the world around me—His own Word melting the snow, creating the wind, sweeping away the puddles.

It was glorious! In a split second, I knew that I wanted to dwell in this presence constantly. I wondered, “What must I do to feel this all the time?”

I would say this presence lingered, but more accurately, I was rapt. I could not, or would not, walk away. In meditation, and digesting the wisdom of the aforementioned authors, I’m coming to understand how my prayers must change, my reading of God’s Word must change. If I want this new and deeper relationship with my Father, I must approach Him differently, meet Him in a different way and be prepared to walk with Him farther—out of my comfort zone and familiar disciplines.

I want to feel Jesus. I am tired of mere intellectual study and measured application of His Word. I am tired of praying: “Show me what you want me to do! Let me see what you have to say to me in your Word! How does this apply to me? Help me to see myself as you see me!”

I want to ask different questions. I want hear more than an answer, and enough about me already! I need this relationship to go beyond long-distance communication. I want to go beyond words, beyond hearing, to engaging God with all my senses—experiencing, practicing His presence.

I hear Jesus asking me: “What if you look into my eyes and not simply out from them? What if you pray and read the Bible not only for instruction on life and solution to problems, but instead you look into it to see me—stop looking for what I have to say to you and start looking at me personally?

If you listen for me and not only to me, perhaps you will hear me walking right beside you. Instead of only hearing my voice, you will hear my footsteps. “

When You Don’t Know What to Say

My sisters and I watched Mary Poppins more than any other movie growing up. If you get me started on one line, it’s likely I could quote the rest of the movie—at least I could 25 years ago! But even if you’ve never seen the movie, it’s a safe bet that you’ve heard the famous word:
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

It’s a made up word that Mary Poppins, the incomparable nanny, taught her charges, Jane and Michael, to say when they didn’t know what to say.

Most of the time, true to my female gender, I’m quite well supplied with things to say. However, there are those moments in prayer when I’m uncomfortably tongue-tied. Usually this happens when I’m grappling with that baffling request. You know the one. It’s the same request you’ve been presenting to God for as long as you can remember with seemingly no answer. You’re at the point when you wonder if God cares about this request at all, or if you mention it one more time, He might throw His hands in the air and say, “Enough already!”

Other times I lose my words when I’m struggling with how to ask God for what I want so badly to happen. Those are the times when I want someone healed or someone saved. I want a miracle, but tremble every time I ask God, and tack on the caveat, “But only if it’s your will!”

Recently, I have faced both of these daunting scenarios. I sat silent on my back porch, journal, pen and Bible open beside me and nothing to say. But in that hush, that God whispered to me. (Makes me wonder if I should be quiet more often!)

It was Jesus’ conversation with His disciples in John 12 that spoke to me. In verses 27 and 28, Jesus tells his listeners:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Jesus too, had come to that place where He desperately wanted God to do a miracle. Could the world be saved by a different method? He wanted to ask God to spare Him the suffering of the cross. But Jesus stopped. He didn’t plead with God, but neither did He recant the request or wonder what the will of God was. His response was simply, “Father, glorify your name.”

When I’m faced with those impassable questions: “What is God’s will? What will He do? What should I do? What can I ask for?”, the only right answer, the only plea I can know with certainty that God will answer, “Yes!”, is, “Glorify your name”. And I know that His glory and my good are one in the same. I can trust Him.

There’s also the problem of ongoing requests. There are people whose salvation I have prayed for for so long, that I almost gloss over the intercession, “God, you know.” The day after God whispered to me during my quiet time, He also provided the answer to this conundrum.

I stood in front of the mirror getting ready for church. Prayers echoed in my head as I listened to worship music. I came to a particular person and stopped. “God, I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what to ask. It seems like you’re not hearing me!”

Quietly, but very clearly, I heard God respond. “I have been waiting for you to not know what to say. It is in those moments, however brief, that you stop trying to tell me how to run the world. You can rest; you’re not responsible for the outcome.”

A few days later, I sat again with my pen and journal, hopeful to capture the essence of what God had been speaking to me. As I waited, He framed His grace and future sufficiency for those baffling requests in the context of what Jesus did for me on the cross:

Have you ever wondered how Jesus faced the impending agony of the cross? How the Son prayed to the Father in the shadow of such a future? Have you wondered how Jesus woke morning after morning and spoke, touched, taught and healed with the foreknowledge of such forsakenness, agony, pain and abandonment?

Through Jesus, I myself have endured the agony of unwelcome answers, resignation to a will beyond a mind of dust, and walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I can identify with your questions and confusion and repeat the promises that, “All things work together for good”, and “I will glorify my name.”

Dear one, you cannot reach ahead and pull the burrs from tomorrow. You cannot reach forward and hang the sun over those future days to illuminate them. You’ve one day, one moment really and I love you more than all of time combined. I reached through and looped up all of time and life in one all-inclusive, redeeming act. Though tomorrow is yet unavailable to you, it is redeemed and you can truly rest. ~ Your Father

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?

How to Have A Happy Heart

love-tree-1077047-mI’d been at my new editing job for less than a week, and already I’d offended someone. No matter that I’d prayed over every single article, prayed for my attitude, humility, comments and thoughts–still, somehow I’d allowed an author to feel as if her work wasn’t good enough. It was an accident! I want so much to honor the writers I edit.

A brief email. She wasn’t rude, but I could read between the lines. I’d hurt her feelings, maybe overstepped my bounds with the changes I’d made to her article.

It took a few hours, a few emails; finally we seemed to resolve the issue. Surely, I could carry on with my evening–just let it go. But my heart was still stuck in my feet. I hate to let someone down. I hate to hurt someone’s feelings. Back to the computer, I kept reading, kept typing, kept working.

Ding! A new email, but I was hesitant to check it. Bravely, I clicked through to a message from another author. She wrote, “Hi Abby, Rough day? Feel free to do anything you want [when you edit my articles]. (They are His articles-not mine!) Rewrite, edit, change, etc.”

My spirits rose. As I whispered a prayer of thanks. Proverbs 12:25 came to mind, “Anxiety in the heart weighs a man down, but a good word makes him glad.”

Whose heart can you buoy with a good word today?

Debt Free

As the holidays loom and my wallet constricts as miserably as Santa on a diet, I came across a familiar verse. I’ve never seen the Lord’s Prayer in this light before…I hope this is fresh to you too.

“And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12a (ESV)

Daddy raised his girls to be debt free. “The borrower is servant to the lender,” he would quote Proverbs 22:7. I’ve been blessed by his instruction and counsel fiscally, but is there another kind of debt? Am I someone’s servant or am I keeping others indentured to me?
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, part of His memorable reply is, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The obvious interpretation is God wants us to forgive those who wrong us. But another version says, “forgive us our debts” and perhaps this is more true to the Greek. The word interpreted as “trespass” or “debt” is opheilēma, meaning: that which is owed. Laying aside for a moment, our individual sins against God, isn’t it true that summarily, “we owed a debt we could not pay”? We owe God worship, obedience and love and we fall miserably short, every, single day. He not only forgives specific sins, He daily forgives our insurmountable debt incurred by simply being human. Now He calls us to do the same—to release others from the burden of what they “owe” us.
It’s so easy to declare that my husband owes me affection, my children owe me respect, my employer owes me a raise. But Jesus prayed that I would not only forgive specific offenses but overall, forgive the debts rightfully owed to us. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says love keeps no record of wrongs and does not seek it’s own way. Love has no concept of what it deserves.
Father, teach me to forgive as you do.