The Sin That So Easily Ensnares Us

THEREFORE THEN, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us… (Hebrews 12:1, Amplified Bible)

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert on Bible exposition. I’m a student and learning but sometimes I feel like Paul and have to say, “this is me speaking, not necessarily the Lord.” My thoughts about this passage are one of those times.

Regardless of the number of commentaries I read or the number of Bible scholars I question, no one can tell me to my satisfaction exactly what “the sin that so easily ensnares us” really applies to. Some say it’s the sin of unbelief. Others say it’s sin, in general. My personal feeling is that it’s the sin that I – personally – struggle with. The sin that so easily ensnares, or entangles, or besets you may be totally different than the sin that I struggle with.

And for years, my struggle has been with anger.

I used to have the kind of temper that would cause me to throw things, pitch a fit, have a temper tantrum, etc. You know the ones. Someone who, today, would be advised to take anger management classes and learn to deal with anger in a more constructive way.

That was me.

After many years of prayer, God truly changed me, though. Praise His Name!! He removed so much of that anger and frustration from me… I didn’t even recognize myself. I might still get irritated about something, and even mildly angry. But those feelings don’t last and they certainly don’t cause the out-of-control, losing it kind of anger I used to experience. THAT is God at work in my life. And I am truly thankful!

Sadly, anger is still the sin that so easily entangles me. If I let my guard down, anger is where the enemy hits me the quickest, and the hardest. And that’s something I never want to experience again!

Maybe, like me, anger is the sin that so easily ensnares, or traps, you. Maybe it’s something entirely different. Whatever the specific sin you struggle with, know that – just as He did for me – God can cleanse you of that sin, and especially the damaging effects of it, if you’ll let Him. I pray you’ll let Him help you, heal you, and cleanse you of your troubling sin today. The freedom such cleansing brings is beyond description.

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Mentors and Teachers

photoTuesdays around our house are becoming family dinner night with my beloved brother-in-law, Jerry. He often joins us for a home-cooked meal, dessert, and gab. Last night was only the second in a row that we’ve kept this new tradition, but as I do whenever he’s around, I thoroughly enjoyed Jerry’s stories (even the ones I’ve heard many times before), and his knowledge of life and the “old ways.” I’ve learned so much from him in the years I’ve been married to his brother, and I treasure his old-fashioned wisdom and teaching.

Having eaten entirely too many chicken and dumplins’ – which Jerry taught me how to make – and coconut cream pie that I made from scratch from the kind of recipe I’ve hunted for years – it’s probably no wonder I didn’t sleep well. I’m sure the two large glasses of sweet southern tea didn’t help either. Especially considering the fact that I rarely sleep well at the best of times. So I guess I wasn’t surprised when I was wide awake at 4:00 this morning.

After trudging downstairs to the bathroom, then tossing and turning for what seemed like hours after I crawled back into bed, I finally surrendered to the need to pray deeply for those the Lord brought to mind. (Have you ever noticed how God seems to choose the early morning hours when everyone else is still sleeping to share His most profound thoughts? At least He does with me. Maybe that’s why I consider myself a “morning person.” It’s my favorite time of the day.)

At any rate, the Lord soon brought a very special friend to mind. Pastor Neal Stover. He’s the man who led Greg and me to the Lord on October 2, 1983.

The stench of cigarettes and alcohol from our Saturday-night drinking didn’t scare this man of God one bit. He loved us anyway and welcomed us into his small Nazarene church until, three weeks later, we surrendered our hearts and our lives – as they were – to Jesus. And we’ve never looked back!

I love this man like a father, and in fact, he is my spiritual father. That’s why it hurts so bad to know that, unless the Lord chooses to miraculously heal him (which He can!), Neal will not likely be with us much longer. Having developed mesothelioma from his days as a pipefitter, Neal is battling stage 4 lung cancer that has aggressively invaded his bones as well. Radiation is no longer a viable option and they’ve said chemotherapy won’t work so it’s just a matter of time.

As such I’ve been spending a lot of time lately praying for him, his lovely wife, Peggy, and his family. I’ve also been praying for Greg and for myself. His passing will be a celebration for this precious man who loves Jesus supremely, but for me and many others, it will be a heartfelt loss that I’m already dreading.

Thinking about Neal and his impact on my life, I realized this morning that there is no one else in my life who can fill his place. He has encouraged me in my ministry like no one else, other than Greg. He has gently corrected my thinking when he thought I needed correction – and he’s one of the few I would listen to! And he has let me cry then prayed for me when life seemed so unfair and unjust. Having been my first pastor, he has remained my counselor, advisor, confidant and encourager ever since.

And while I have good friends and a pastor who would listen and help any way he could, there is no one else with whom I would feel as comfortable to go to with any problem, question or concern I might have. Neal truly is my spiritual father. And there is only one of those.

Realizing no one else can fill Neal’s shoes in my life makes me wonder if I would be missed the same way by anyone who knows me.

Of course, Greg would miss me, and a few others. But since I’m no longer pastoring, I find I’m not mentoring others in the way I used to. And I’m not discipling others in the way I used to either. I truly hope that’s not a sin. I know it’s a shortcoming and a failure. But by God’s grace, it’s one I intend to work on in the coming months.

We all need to learn from the Jerry Bishop’s in this world – those who can still teach us how to cook, garden, preserve food and more like “the old folks” used to do. And we all need to learn from the Neal Stover’s, too. Those who can still teach us how to love Jesus, live for Him and put Him first in our lives. I pray Jesus will help me become just a little bit more like each of these special men in my life, while I still have them to guide and teach, and long after they’ve gone on to their permanent home with Jesus.

Barn image © Neal Stover. All rights reserved. Please do not copy.

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What Should We Pray?

photoPrayer is such an important aspect of our Christian faith. That’s probably why there are hundreds – or thousands! – of books and articles on the subject of prayer. The majority of them it seems address the issue of how to pray, when to pray, what position to hold while praying, etc. Yet there are few resources that discuss what to pray… what kind of things to actually say when you pray.

As a minister, it’s sad to admit that my own prayers bore me at times. My lack of imagination causes me to pray the same things over and over…

     Lord, meet their needs.
     Draw them to you.
     Forgive them.
     Open their eyes.
     Heal them.
     Touch them.

While the desire is to see God work – and that’s a good thing – there are times when I yearn for more creative, original expressions for my thoughts when praying.

Here are three things that I’ve learned from others whose prayers have touched my heart and reached into my soul. Perhaps they’ll help you as well.

• Pray the Scriptures.

There are hundreds of beautiful passages in the Bible that truly draw our hearts toward God. The Psalms, being poetry and songs, especially seem to invite us to let the words become our own.

Psalm 100 has always been a favorite of mine, perhaps because it was one of the few I memorized as a child. But Psalm 51, Psalm 37 and Psalm 24 have also meant a lot to me in times of need and I have prayed them often.

When looking for other passages, the books of Isaiah, Joshua and John come to mind as offering a number of sample prayers. Then there’s the well-known “Prayer of Jabez” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10) and of course, Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-12) which are classics. But there are many, many more.

Note the verses that speak to you as you read and use them as you pray. They’ll add new life to your prayer time.

• Pray a song.

Many of the old hymns, in particular, are actually prayers. Select your favorites and sing or recite them to the Lord. But don’t neglect newer songs. Many contemporary songs offer amazing, creative approaches for communing with God.

Bob Carlisle, best known for his hit, “Butterfly Kisses,” has recorded several songs that I’ve personally used as prayers many times. His songs “Use Me” and “Chance I Have to Take” from his debut album had more to do with me accepting God’s call to full-time ministry than anything else in my life at the time. The lyrics of these two songs became, literally, the cries of my heart. And God heard those cries and called me to full-time service for Him.

Caution: Be careful what you pray for. 😉

• Read the prayers of others.

Books of Christian poetry often contain prayers. You can also visit some wonderful Websites with prayers and poems to help you creatively draw near the Father. The poetry of Helen Steiner Rice, which is readily available online, is a wonderful example of poetry that is prayer-worthy.

While I’m not a member of the Roman Catholic church, I thoroughly enjoy the idea of praying the Apostles’ Creed as many Catholics do. Then there is always the “Serenity Prayer.” You can also search Google for “sample prayers” for many other options.

Other possibilities for what to pray include memorized prayers, silent meditations and simple conversations with God. Prayer doesn’t have to contain flowery phrases or uniquely imaginative words, but it does help us to put some thought into our prayers. We certainly don’t want them to become simply “sounding brass” or “clanging cymbals” in the ears of our Lord.

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Free Online Resources for Your Church

FreeAs a Christian minister, I’ve met many pastors and church leaders over the years, the majority of whom serve small churches with 50 or less members. Most of these men and women are unaware of the vast array of free and low-cost resources available to them and their congregations via the Internet.

There are literally thousands of Christian websites and organizations that provide materials to church leaders on a wide range of topics. Google boasted about 310,000,000 listings under “Christian resources” at the time of this writing. Add the word “free” to that search and the results drop to 205,000,000. Of course, not all of these are worthy of mention, but for those of us with more time than money, there are innumerable helps to be found online. A small sampling include such things as:

• Articles and newsletters on church growth
• Full-length texts from John Wesley, John Bunyan, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Elmer Towns, and many other Christian writers and preachers
• Photographs and graphics
• Vacation Bible School and Sunday School curricula
• Original skits and full-length plays
• Poetry and Christian readings
• Powerpoint presentations and worship materials
• Sermon outlines and illustrations
• Bible studies and object lessons
• Commentaries, concordances, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias
• Printable puzzles, worksheets and crafts
• Online prayer chains and support groups
• Statistics on the state of the church and Christianity in the United States
• Games, activities, devotionals, etc. geared to specific age groups
• International recipes, language helps and other mission study resources
• Printable tracts
• Creative evangelism aids and ideas
• Church management, accounting and Bible study software
• and much, much more!

While the Internet poses opportunities and temptations for abuse, the value it offers Christians far outweighs the risks when used wisely and with discretion. As a minister, I thank God for the low-cost and no-cost options it affords when we take the time to look.

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The One True God

photoPsalm 46:10 tells us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Maybe like me, you’ve always read that scripture to mean that you need to be quiet before the Lord and let Him speak to you, to listen for His voice and allow Him to have control in your life. And that’s a good way to see it! We need to listen and let Him be our Lord.

But this struck me in a completely differently way this morning as I was reading.

We also need to recognize that this verse is pointing us to the One True God.

Consider it this way…

“Be still and know that I AM God” (Italics mine).

Be still and get to know that Jehovah, that Great I AM, that God. The ONLY God. Not a god – not a god of our making or another god of our choosing, but God. The One True God. His name is I AM.

Maybe you don’t catch the significance of that phrase, but it speaks volumes to me!

In this world filled with so many gods, it’s easy to say “Thank you, God!” or “God is so good!” and yet not really know the one True God, not really understand Him at all.

There are aspects of God that only the One True God can claim. He is…

• the Creator of the Universe and all things in it, including mankind
• Omnipotent – all-powerful, all-mighty, able to do anything
• Omniscient – all-knowing, nothing can be hidden from God
• Omnipresent – everywhere, there is no place you can go where God isn’t
• Love – it’s His very nature
• Righteous – He does the right thing every time (even if we mortals can’t see it, or don’t understand it)
• so much more!

He is I AM. He is God and all that entails!

We learn this name of God from the story of Moses in Exodus 3. God told Moses he was to speak to Pharoah and tell him to release the Israelites and free them from their slavery to Egypt. Moses asked God what he should say to the Israelites when they asked him the name of the God who had sent him to do this.

God told Moses to “say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (verse 14). I AM. That name says so much about God, don’t you think?

It’s wonderful to talk about “God” and what He’s doing in our lives and how much we love and appreciate Him. But let’s be sure we’re talking about the real God… Jehovah God… the Creator God… the Great I AM. There is no other.

Photo courtesy Pinterest/prettylea.

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The Key is Surrender

The Key is SurrenderWhen I look back on my life and all the mistakes I’ve made and all the sins I’ve committed, it amazes me to see where God has brought me to today. I was an angry, rebellious, loveless young woman who knew nothing of joy, peace, kindness, goodness, self-control, or any other aspect of the fruit of God’s Spirit living in me (Galatians 5:22-23). But He changed all that when He changed me! And He changed me when I surrendered my heart to Him and let Him have His way in my life.

Dont’ get me wrong. There is no “magic formula” to being the kind of person God wants you to be. The key is simply to surrender. To allow God to choose the path you take. To live by His rules rather than your own. To let Him have control – and the final authority! – in every area of your life.

If His Word (the Bible) says something is right or wrong, believe it and live by that belief. If you feel a conviction in your heart that you need to do, or not do, something, listen to that conviction.

It’s that simple. But it’s not always easy!

But if I can do it, with all the baggage I carried around, anyone can do it who truly wants the peace that only comes from knowing you are forgiven and you have a restored, right, relationship with God.

Learn to pray about everything. Just talk to God like you talk to your best friend. Ask Him where He’d have you go and what He’d have you do. Then listen with your heart. You probably won’t hear an audible voice, but you’ll know the answer in your spirit if you sincerely listen for His truth. And you’ll begin to see tremendous changes in your attitude and in your life as you let Him have His way in your heart.

Never believe you are “too far gone,” you’ve made too many mistakes, you’ve committed too many sins or any other lie of the devil that says God can’t make something wonderful out of you! Your Creator – the one who formed you body and soul – can turn you into an amazing, awe-inspiring person if you let Him be the Lord of your life. Trust Him and let Him prove what He can do when you surrender to His will.

As always, feel free to contact me if you want someone to talk to. I’m here if you need me.

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This is the Day the Lord has Made

Enjoy this Guest Post from Rev. Greg Bishop

This is the Day that the Lord has MadeWhy are we in such a big hurry for this day, or week to end?

We use a lot of catchy phrases like “Thank goodness, it’s Friday,” or on Wednesday we say, “Hump day, only two days ’til the weekend,” or “Boy, you can sure tell it’s Monday, can’t wait ’til 5 o’clock.” Then Sunday evening it’s “Where did the weekend go?”

I want to encourage us to look forward to every day of the week. Each day has it’s purpose. Enjoy every day and appreciate the fact that you have today, and today is like no other day.

We need to individually decide how to be productive – mentally, physically, and spiritually – as we enter into each day. I can only offer a suggestion, you must decide how to make your own agenda Sunday through Saturday.

S – Start the week off properly. Worship with your Christian brothers and sisters. The Word of the Lord says for us to assemble together (Hebrews 10:25), and the purpose on Sunday is to give praise and worship to our heavenly Father, Who is worthy of all our praise.

M – Make an extra effort to do a good deed today. Make Monday a smile day. If you go to the fast food drive-thru, be pleasant to the person at the window. He or she could be having a bad day and your smile and kindness might just brighten an entire week. You may even want to try it at the bank, the grocery store, maybe even Wally-World. It really does work most of the time.

T – Take time to be alone with the Lord. He wants to hear from you and He wants to speak to you. You are important to Him. Remember He gave His very best for His beloved creation – you! We shouldn’t just confine this to Tuesday, it needs to be the norm for every day. Just make a special effort today.

W – Walk with integrity. don’t give anyone a reason to condemn you. The Bible tells us to refrain from even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Doing so will ensure no one can legitimately condemn us for any reason.

T – Talk to someone about the Lord today. It will not only help them in eternal matters, but it will give you a sense of satisfaction in the Lord. The Holy Scriptures tell us to be prepared in season and out to give an account for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). We’re busy people and we don’t always get an opportunity to witness as we would like, so make the best of every chance that comes along. Wouldn’t Thursday be a great day to tell someone about Jesus?

F – Finish the work week with a sense of accomplishment. Know that you’ve done your best. You’ve heard the old adage “don’t worry, be happy.” Jesus mentioned this. He was telling us that worrying about things won’t change them. If you know you’ve done your best, rejoice in that fact.

S – Saturday can be your day of rest, as it probably is for many people. Look back on your previous six days and enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Be good to yourself today. Don’t dwell on the things that didn’t go exactly the way you would have liked. Instead, concentrate on the good things from each of the days of this past week. And look forward to next week for what it is… a blessing from God.

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What are You Going to Do?

What are You Going to Do?A Christian speaker and friend posted Romans 5:6-8 on his Facebook page awhile back:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It struck me how much we should love Jesus for what He did. Don’t you think?

Consider this situation for minute…

Someone is threatening your life. A masked thug with a gun steps out of an alley and says, “Give me all your money or die!” You hand him your wallet, but you can tell he’s so high, he’s going to shoot you anyway. You know you’re about to die!

Suddenly, someone steps into the alley behind you. You don’t know this guy. He looks like someone you’ve seen around the neighborhood, but you’re not sure. Apparently, he was walking down the sidewalk and saw what was happening to you.

The man yells, “Hey, buddy!” And instead of shooting you, the gunman turns and fires at the newcomer. You jump behind a dumpster as the gunman runs away. In the stillness, you step out and look down the alley to your rescuer. You can tell he’s been hit. You slowly move toward him. When you’re within a few feet, you realize he’s dead. This man you didn’t even know just saved your life!

Let me ask you something… What do you do with that?

I mean, really.

What do you do with that?

• Do you walk away and pretend it never happened?

• Do you think, “He didn’t have to do that. I don’t owe him anything!”?

• Do you get all emotional and grateful, but a week later forget what happened and go about your business as usual?

• Do you deny what the man did for you, telling your friends it was all a mistake and convincing yourself you must have imagined it?

What do you do?

Common sense says you need to recognize that man’s sacrifice. You need to acknowledge that he gave his life for you and that you owe him your very existence. Don’t you agree?

I’m sure you know where this is going. Yes, it’s about Jesus.

Yes, He did that very thing for you.

Yes, you owe Him everything.

In fact, you owe Him much more than just your physical life. You owe Him your eternal soul.

Jesus didn’t die to save you only from a physical, life-threatening situation on earth. He died to save your very soul, your very being, from eternal, everlasting death.

He died to give you life. Abundant life. Life that lasts forever. Real life that is so much more than what you have here.

So, the question is… What are you going to do with that?

• Walk away and pretend it never happened?

• Think, “He didn’t have to do that. I don’t owe Him anything!”?

• Get all emotional and grateful, but a week later forget what happened and go about your business as usual?

• Deny what He did for you, telling your friends it was all a mistake and convincing yourself you must have imagined it?

Or are you going to surrender your heart to Him and acknowledge the priceless gift that He gave because He loves you.

I don’t know about you. But I know what I’ve decided to do. I’ve given Him the life He so graciously saved. I hope and pray you’ll do the same.

Need someone to pray with or talk to? Contact me. I’m here if you need me.

Photo courtesy Flickr/furryscalyman.

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Prevenient Grace

Prevenient GraceI woke up recently with this phrase, prevenient grace, on my mind. No, I hadn’t been reading about it, talking about it, or even thinking about it lately. When that happens I always know it’s the Holy Spirit bringing something to my attention. So I began to think and read up on prevenient grace.

According to John Wesley, there are three kinds of grace:

• prevenient, or preparing, grace
• accepting, or justifying, grace
• sustaining, or sanctifying, grace

Justifying grace is that grace of God which saves us and forgives our sin.

Sanctifying grace is the grace of God which enables us to live the kind of holy life He calls us to live.

And prevenient grace, or preparing grace, is that grace of God which “comes before” our salvation and which enables us to see and accept God’s justifying grace.

Wikipedia says that prevenient grace is “divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done.”

So in the realm of Christianity, prevenient grace is the grace God gives us as sinful humans before we ever do a single thing. We don’t pray for it, hope for it, or even think about it. It’s just there. It’s God’s grace that prepares us to eventually be able to make the decision to follow God’s way for our lives and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

Like all forms of grace, we don’t earn prevenient grace. We haven’t done anything to receive it. We don’t deserve it. We didn’t pay for it. There is absolutely no logical reason that we are due God’s grace. It’s a free gift from God who loves us.

Prevenient grace is the grace that keeps us alive and well as the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and draws us to Jesus. And it’s the grace that prevents us from dying with our souls in a lost state without the salvation that Jesus provided by His death on the cross and His resurrection.

Prevenient grace. It’s one of the most important aspects of Christian theology and Christian thought. It’s God’s grace at the highest level. Not grace that deals with Christians who are “working out their own salvation,” but grace that deals with those who have not yet accepted the Truth of salvation.

The thing about prevenient grace is that one day it must run out. It must become either accepting, or justifying grace that we receive when we accept forgiveness of our sins. Or it must pass away as we leave this earthly body to face eternal judgment.

Are you operating under prevenient grace today? Is God’s grace protecting you from ultimate destruction while His Holy Spirit draws you to His Son? If so, I pray it lasts long enough for you to make the right decision for Him.

Need someone to pray with or talk to? Contact me. I’m here if you need me.

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Ever Wonder Why…

God is LoveDo you ever wonder why the Bible directs us to love one another? One reason is because love is the very essence of who God is. 1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him.”

Loving our friends, neighbors, church family and relatives manifests the very presence of God in their midst.

This week as you go about your routine, think of ways you can show God’s love to others. And know that Jesus loved you enough to give His very life’s blood for your salvation.

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