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Where Our Loyalty Lies

"Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness."  Psalms 115:1

“Heavenly Father, when I enter into worship with you help me not be distracted by worldly pursuits.  I want to praise you with all my heart and mind – not as a divided servant.  In my busy day I carve out time to give you glory of which you are deserving of so much more.  So LORD, especially while I am in your house of worship I lift all glory, honor and praise to you and you alone.  Amen”

About a year ago I tried out a new church.  The people were very friendly and the staff welcoming.  We were asked to rise at the beginning of the service and the doors to the worship center opened.  As a color guard entered the room with the United States flag the small band played a patriotic song.  And I thought, “I love this place already.”  

We sang songs calling us to action and freedom and my heart swelled.  When the pastor began his sermon, he was riled up!  He launched into a religious-political speech like no other I’d heard before.  Now, granted many of the churches in my area were shutdown.  This church was in defiance of that action – something I was looking for.  And this pastor was fervent about pushing back against the oppressive state.

I left electrified and full of thoughts of civil disobedience.  It was all right up my alley.  Until I went to my current church’s life group meeting that next week.

I hadn’t even brought up the topic and yet God wanted to speak to me about “church” and where my loyalty lies. He did so through another member.  She, seemingly out of the blue, started talking about her past church searches.  And she said this, “I want to go to a church where the sole focus is on worship and learning about God.  Not about praising a country.”  Whoops.  Now I know some of you may take issue with this.  But notice she didn’t say she’s not a patriot.  She didn’t say praising a country is wrong.  She said she wants what goes on in the House of God to be about….God.

"Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

This simple statement by this woman suddenly shifted my perspective on who and what I was worshipping.  I was placing country first then God somewhere down the line.  

I recently heard a rumor that the church I am attending doesn’t have an American flag on the worship platform because the pastor worries it would be offensive to black Christians.  It sounded a bit odd so I shot off an email to a staff member seeking clarification.  One of the pastors replied with this:

“The reasons we do not fly a flag on our platform have nothing whatsoever to do with the pastors or elders feeling it might be offensive to black Christians (who I think would find it offensive that people would think they would find it offensive).  Our general philosophy for worship services is that we do not want to have anything on the platform that wouldn’t be on the platform in heaven, if you will. Second, we try to only sing songs that we would also sing in heaven. We have no problem with patriotic songs or the American flag, but we do not feel they have a place in a worship service where we have gathered to worship God.”

Friends, I’ve come to realize having a country flag is not the issue (would we be annoyed if we didn’t see a French flag on the church podium in France?).  It’s always about where our attention is focused.  It’s always about turning our hearts and minds completely over to giving glory to God – especially during set aside times of worship.  Having a country flag in our churches isn’t wrong but if there isn’t one, should we really care if the reason is to put our laser-like focus only on God?

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A Useful Servant

If you ever talk to a non-Christian and they give you the line, “The Bible is just some old book written thousands of years ago and society has evolved since then,” you might want to share the story of a slave named Onesimus, which means “Useful.”  Not the Onesimus in the book of Philemon – we’ll get to him later.  No, the Onesimus of 1716.  It shows God’s total sovereignty over this world and how He weaves His way throughout all time.  He works through all of us to complete His plan – whether a believer or not.  The story of the black slave Onesimus shares striking parallels to the Bible’s slave written of in the New Testament.  

Puritan minister Cotton Mather of Boston was gifted a slave by a parishioner in 1711. It’s believed Mather changed the slave’s name to Onesimus. And like Philemon’s slave, Onesimus was considered a liar and a thief by his master.  But in 1716, Onesimus told Mr. Mather something he did believe: That he knew how to prevent smallpox. He shared with his master how in his home country people would rub pus from an infected person into an open wound on the arm.  This would cause mild symptoms and would inoculate the person against smallpox.

Mather was fascinated. He verified Onesimus’ story with that of other enslaved people.  Mather, while attempting to spread this great news during the smallpox epidemic, was vilified.  How dare he take the word of a slave? A black slave at that? But Mather pressed on. Combining efforts with physician Zabdiel Boylston, the two inoculated their children and enslaved workers.  They then began inoculating other willing Bostonians.  Of the 242 people they inoculated, only six died—one in 40, as opposed to one in seven deaths among the population of Boston who didn’t undergo the procedure.

While history doesn’t give much credit for Onesimus being a key part of the development of immunizations, he can be found in the story.  Like Naamans’ Jewish slave girl, his desire to be useful and seeking a better relationship with his master saw him sharing a cure for so many.  

"It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me." Philemon 1:9-11

How useful are we to God?  How are our new beginnings lived out for the world to see the glory and gifts of God?  For the Boston slave Onesimus, he appeared to never have accepted his master’s Christian religion.  He did, however, buy his own earthly freedom by giving Mather enough money to purchase a different slave.  But for the Bible’s Onesimus, who stole from his master and ran away to Rome, his freedom was purchased for him.  Once by Jesus, when he, after being discipled by both Philemon and Paul, accepted the Lord as his savior.  And his earthly freedom was paid for by Paul who stated, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”  (v 18)

Paul exhibited a great lesson of our faith in Jesus, to stand for those who cannot stand on their own.  And in doing so, lived out an example for Philemon to follow.  If Philemon believed in what Jesus taught, not just believed “in” Jesus, he knew he must live out the fruits of the spirit – kindness, compassion, forgiveness, grace, etc.  This was no small feat.  Just as in the world of the 1700s, slaves were a valued commodity.  And allowing a slave to run away without punishment was bad enough, but to allow a thieving slave (like both were) to do so was unheard of.   Mather suffered public humiliation by accepting his slave as an equal partner in curing a deadly disease.  Philemon was certain to suffer the same fate from other slave owners if he accepted Onesimus back as an equal in Christ.

But what about the Bible’s Onesimus?  Where does he fit in God’s plan?  Notice that our worldly sins and crimes are not erased without any repercussions.  Paul did not say Philemon should just welcome Onesimus back with all debts forgiven.  A crime had been committed and it needed to be repaid by someone.  

Onesimus took a number of steps in his life to become useful to God.  He first sought out Paul in Rome when his life had become a mess.  He accepted Jesus as his savior.  And like the first 3,000 Christians, he sat at the feet of a great teacher to learn about Christ and his expectations of us.  He then, apparently, asked to go home and face Philemon, his old master.  

15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. Philemon 1: 15-16

We can only imagine the scene of Onesimus and his fellow travelers arriving at Philemon’s door.  Hat in hand.  A posture of humility most likely.  Asking for forgiveness.  He became God’s instrument to help others learn how to forgive, how to love, and how being a Christ follower transforms us.  My friend Andrea has been the person in my life to model forgiveness.  I’ve watched how she has forgiven well-trod hurts and has been eternally grateful for receiving forgiveness.  By seeing her transformation, it has helped to transform my heart.  She has been very useful to God!

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps are well known by many.  And placed in a Christian context may help some of us to follow in Onesimus’ footsteps to being fully available for God’s purposes.  To be “useful” in our new beginning.  With a few minor edits, those 12 steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over (sin)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that (God) is greater than ourselves and can restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God (forgive) all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove(/forgive) our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to (all sinners), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Jesus paid the price to be our intercessor, our kinsman redeemer.  We are accepted by Him in full.  But it’s now up to us to do the work to live out being acceptable to Christ each and every day with our new beginning.  

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Free At Last

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

There’s been a lot of talk (and screaming) about slavery the last few years.  Some people stating that relatives of people who were enslaved in the United States prior to 1862 – over 150 years ago – should receive financial contribution from people who have never owned a slave.  The details of this idea get quite complicated.  Which new government department will receive millions or billions of dollars in funding to manage this program?  How would it be proven someone was a relative of a slave? Would people whose relatives didn’t live in the United States prior to 1862 be required to contribute?  I saw one estimate, based on a city government’s financial proposal, that in the end the recipients would actually receive a paltry sum.

Is slavery bad?  Absolutely.  Does it go on still today in many forms? Yes.  As a Christian we should all know the dirty secret of slavery.  Our individual submission to sin causes the most destructive and widespread slavery of all – placing our souls in shackles.  In some cases, that sin leads to what we think of as “traditional” slavery – the illicit sex trade, illegal employment practices, and more.

There’s really only one answer to eradicating slavery – Jesus.  So today I praise God that He and He alone offers us freedom.  The true freedom we all need.  Freedom from the slavery of sin.

For me, I still have to work daily with God on not willingly putting back on the shackles of fear and worry and doubt.  Of pride and selfishness.  Of allowing my flesh to rule my life. Giving in to those sins causes me to treat others in very non Jesus-like ways.  When I focus on myself, I take my eyes off serving others and helping them out of slavery.  When my feelings are hurt, I want to hurt others.  When I’m really worried or afraid I might pour myself another drink.

Each day I turn to God and commune with Him He gives me strength to shake off those shackles.  Each day when tempted to fall back into my sin I can proclaim with Him that I am free at last no matter my physical circumstance.  For some, an extra $100 or so either given out of their pocket or given to their pocket might feel like enough. But for me, no amount of money can ever replace God’s gift of freedom.


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She Counsels with Truth + Love

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

“We are pretty much the only hope that God has for reaching people who need him.”

Joyce Meyer

On a recent visit with my daughter back in St. Louis, Missouri, she invited me to her friend’s 50th birthday gathering.  It was to be just a small group as her larger party had already taken place.  My daughter, who is 23, is blessed to have a number of women in her life who are not only mature in their marriages and in life in general, but in their faith.  As I sat listening to them, I said a silent prayer of thanks to God.  He, once again, put me right where I needed to be.

I listened as these Christian women of varied ages shared memories of shared events and the joy of being disciples to younger women.  You see, their church encourages all ages to seek being discipled by more experienced Christians – something I haven’t experienced in the 20 years I’ve been an active Christian.  

The birthday girl’s good friend suddenly announced we were to all take turns expressing what we loved about the newly christened 50 year old.  She turned to me and said, “You don’t know Renee well so you don’t need to say anything.”  I disagreed.  I definitely had much to love about this woman that I had just met.

As each woman spoke, I felt the love flow throughout the group.  It was sweet and brave and authentic.  And at my turn I’m sure they all wondered what I would have to say.  

“As a mother I miss my daughter terribly.  She’s so far away.  She has no family for hundreds of miles.  And now with a baby on the way it grieves me that she is alone out here.  But I realize she isn’t.  I am so thankful she has Renee as her friend and godly counsel.  A mother couldn’t ask for anything better besides being here herself,” I said.

You see my daughter’s friend, Renee, has taken her under her beautiful wings.  She provides wise counsel about marriage, faith, motherhood and more.  I could be jealous when I hear my daughter talk about her relationship with Renee.  But my faith progression has brought me instead to a place of thankfulness.  My daughter is incredibly blessed to be surrounded by Christian women who are prepared and ready to offer Biblical counsel.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" Luke 4:18

That’s Jesus in the above verse.  Jesus our wise counselor setting us free from our prisons.  And He trained up His disciples to spread His message of salvation and freedom.  Like the old shampoo commercial goes, “and they told two friends and so on and so on.”  Which brings us thousands of years later to this little group at a café in Missouri. 

Here’s what I noticed about those six women I sat with that night.  1) They didn’t gossip 2) They lifted each other up with genuine compliments 3) They showed love and concern for each other 4) They were confident in expressing their faith and 5) They were eager and willing to take up being disciples.

"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

These women are living the Great Commission.  Teaching and guiding and loving Jesus’ flock.  I sat there like a fan-girl marveling at being in the midst of ordinary women who were so extraordinary.  Yes, ordinary women.  They aren’t pastors or scholars although one is in fact a trained Christian counselor.  They are students of Jesus.  It gave me hope of what I could achieve with faith and the blessings of God.

I took the opportunity to ask a few of them a Christian counseling question.  

“If I find myself in a situation with a fellow Christian who is struggling with an issue, what’s your best advice?” I inquired.

Without hesitation three of the women, including my daughter who herself disciples young women, said: “You need to really get to know the person.  There needs to be a sense of trust that you come from a place of love.”   And the birthday girl?  She emphasized my old favorite, truth plus love.  Not being afraid to speak God’s truth into someone from a loving perspective.   Remember that Jesus trait of having a warrior spirit?  Renee takes it to heart.  She knows the end game – saving a soul. 

“As you being the process of bringing correction into someone’s life, put yourself in his shoes.  If you were the one sitting there, would it be easy or difficult for you to hear what is about to be said?  If the person you are correcting acts closed at first it may be that he’s just embarrassed or reacting out of insecurity.  Therefore don’t stop the conversation unless you can see that he’s just being combative.  You need to be patient and slow in judging their reaction to your correction.”  

Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek

Isn’t this the reaction we worry about the most when we need to speak truth to our Christian friends or family members?  A fear of making someone angry or embarrassed?  But here lies the reason why “Wise Counselor” sits at the end of our faith progression.  Without love, without a sense of serving God, without courage, without knowledge of the Lord’s will, we will probably fail at being what our friend, child, sibling, co-worker, or sister in Christ truly needs.  

So, when Jesus asks us to “follow” He isn’t just offering Himself up to save us from eternal damnation which by itself is a pretty amazing gift.  He’s saying “join me in a journey.”  He’s saying, “we’ve got work to do together.”  And if we stop partway on the journey and decide we are “fine” where we are at, we miss the opportunities He wants to put in front of us to free more captives.

I don’t know about you but I need wise Christian counselors in my life.  And if I could be like Renee and be a blessing in other’s lives, I know it’d make Jesus smile.  My imperfect progress, as my friend Betsy likes to say, is still progress.  I want to know and live out having the mind of Christ.  I’m not where I was when I started and I still have a ways to go.  Thankfully, I can trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are my guides and cheerleaders.

When we started this journey, I invited you to say a prayer of confession I found in Sparkling Gems from the Greek.  And true to God’s ways He put another in front of me to close out this series.  Please join me in this prayer and confession.  I pray that you seek love, humbleness, courage, and wisdom on your journey.

“Lord, I ask you to help be kind and patient when it is essential for me to bring correction.  Help me to not be offended if the person I’m trying to help doesn’t respond at first the way I wished he would have.  Help me put myself in that person’s shoes and to sympathize with how he might feel.  I ask You to give me wisdom to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.  I also ask that You give the other person the grace to hear what I am telling him so he might see that I have his best interest at heart and that I am only trying to help him.  I pray this in Jesus’ name!”

“I confess that I have the mind of Jesus Christ!  When it is needful to me to speak correction to someone else I do it with love, kindness and patience.  I refrain from allowing anger to rise up inside me.  I am careful about the words that come out of my mouth, and I refuse to participate in vain arguing.  I remain in control of myself as the Holy Spirit works mightily inside me.  My words bring life to all who hear and receive them! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”


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Solidarity

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 
Hebrews 12:14

I was having lunch the other day with a friend and she shared with me a disturbing trend in her two Bible study groups.  She said to me, “I’ve had it.  I’m exhausted.  I don’t want to hear either side anymore.”  You see, the Christians in her group forgot who was in charge of their lives and the great gift of peace bestowed on believers.  They started arguing about politics.  In fact, one of her groups completely dissolved because of this.

When we think about the status of our faith, we usually concern ourselves inwardly.  But throughout the New Testament we are charged with guiding our fellow believers closer to God’s truths and blessings.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15

So often that “bitter root” that gets fomented in our churches, faith groups, Bible studies, etc causes people to disconnect from their faith journey.  And if we have joined in creating that situation, we must count ourselves at least partially responsible for the results.

It is easy to throw stones at others, but glass houses should whisper caution.

Charles Spurgeon on A Political Dissenter

That’s not to say we aren’t to discuss the worldly goings on and the effects they have on our lives.  But our primary focus should be always on God and being peacemakers.

When the Covid pandemic hit and a Bible study I was in was still meeting we were discussing our fears and such.  The group leader proclaimed, “I believe God is sending us this pandemic as punishment for what we have done to the environment.”  I’m sure that just caused everyone reading this to divide into camps.  Now, I love the environment but I’m not an “environmental activist.”  And that statement didn’t sit well with me.  But instead of going on the attack I kept my mouth shut for once realizing that nothing I might say would change her mind or be helpful.

We seem to have evolved into a society where our opinions absolutely must be heard and must be accepted or else we are prepared to judge our “adversary” in all manner of ways.  And when this happens within a Christian group, I can tell you one thing for sure, Satan is quite happy.

This quote by AW Tozer is a bit long but he handles this issue very well:

One thing must be kept in mind: We Christians are Christians first and everything else after that. Our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are grateful for political freedom. We thank God for democracy as a way of life. But we never forget that we are sons of God and citizens of another city whose builder and maker is God. For this reason, we must not identify the gospel with any political system or make Christianity to be synonymous with any form of government, however noble. Christ stands alone, above and outside of every ideology devised by man. He does not join any of our parties or take sides with any of our great men except as they may come over on His side and try to follow Him in righteousness and true holiness. Then He is for them, but only as individuals, never as leaders of some political faction. The true Christian will be loyal to his country and obedient to those in authority, but he will never fall into the error of confusing his own national culture with Christianity. Christianity is bigger than any country, loftier than any civilization, broader than any human ideology.  

A.W. Tozer

I’ll be honest, I’ve really struggled with this issue for the last few years.  I want to live in God’s peace but I also am a lover of freedom and America.  For the last few months each time I work myself up to being outraged over some issue I’ve turned to God.  I remind myself that He is ultimately in charge.  I remind myself that my job, as a Christian, is to share His Word and live faithfully by it.  That means showing grace and compassion.  It also means “allowing” God to handle everything until He tells me He needs me to do my part.

When we truly desire to be peacemakers and have Christian solidarity as a goal, we change our conversations and words.  Instead of sending around an inflammatory news article or Facebook post to our Bible study group and letting it drop like a bomb, we should share with them the struggle we have with the issue and where we see God in it.  

The apostle Paul dealt with strife amongst some of the churches.  Because let’s face it, our churches are just made up of people.  People with varying points of view and opinions.

I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  
1 Corinthians 10:2-6

We should not be “waging war” like the world does.  Our fight should not be with each other – working to destroy one another’s faith.  We need to turn our focus back on to God and help our brethren to do the same.  

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15 Transforming Prayers

I confess that I am free because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The shedding of His blood paid the ransom for me. The hold Satan used to have on me is broken, and I am liberated and set free! Now God’s divine power operates mightily in me, and I have authority over the enemy who used to control me!

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

Sparkling Gems from the Greek

Prayer excerpts from Pray It Till You Make It series


A prayer to be deeply knowledgeable about God’s Word

Holy God, I confess that I have spent much of my Christian life hearing your Word and yet not absorbing and living out our Word.  I’ve sat in your Holy presence at church and listened, then walked out of the doors and turned my thoughts solely on selfish and worldly pursuits.  So I often, when I hear a conviction through your Word, I think of someone else who needs to hear the message – all the while it is me that needs to accept the correction.  I allow my endless “to do lists” to take time away from learning more about you, from soaking my soul with your loving spirit.  I allow my “study” of your Word to just be catchy verses that scroll by on social media. LORD, with your teaching and guidance I will proclaim that I am deeply knowledgeable about your character through your Word.  I will be your faithful student.  I lift this up in Jesus’ name, Amen.


A prayer to live a joy-filled life.

Gracious God your gifts and blessing to me cannot be counted.  And yet so often I turn to the negative parts in my life and place my constant thoughts in them.  When I rise I forget to be thankful that I have yet another day in which to serve you and be blessed by you.  And as I go about my day when you place joyful moments at my fingertips I take them for granted.   When I lay my head down to sleep I can easily recall all that went wrong in the day rather than what went right.  But your joy is there for the taking.  I want to live basked in your greatness, your beauty and your joy.  I can and will, with your help, find joy in every circumstance.  You are working for my good at all times and I just need to remember that promise.  Thank you for giving us your Son who implanted the Holy Spirit in us – a spirit of joy and of goodness.  I pray this in your Son’s Holy name, Jesus.  Amen


A prayer to be a patient person

Faithful Father, I get so caught up in the busyness of life that I forget that my needs and desires are not the same as everyone else’s. When I’m running late, I want to yell at the drivers in front of me for not moving quickly enough.  The slow grocery store bagger receives my glare when she doesn’t work at the same speed which I expect.  Or when a friend doesn’t respond to my text as prompt as I need, I get frustrated.  I’ve come to realize, LORD, through your holy Word that my impatience is an outgrowth of my lack of humility.  Your admonishment to love one another needs to be on my lips when I feel that frustration and anger well up inside me.  LORD, I know there is nothing more important to you than having your children express compassion and love for each other.  Rest your loving hand on my shoulder as a reminder for when I forget this.  Quell my impatient heart and mind and replace it with grace.  In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.


A prayer that I would share the Gospel with others

Merciful God, your Word has healing power for the sick and your Word gives hope to the downtrodden.  Your promise of eternity is a promise for all who believe.  But I allow my worries and my fears about worldly judgement guide my discipleship.  I keep your holy and powerful gifts to myself, not sharing them with those who need them.  LORD, our one true purpose here on earth is to serve you and by doing so we are asked, even required, to speak of you to all who will hear.  Help me to succumb to your strength and guidance rather than that of the world.  I know you will put the right words in my mouth at the right time.  I just need to be willing to speak them.  Each day place someone who needs to hear from you in front of me.  With the strength of the Holy Spirit urging me on I will be faithful in spreading your gospel of Good News.  In Jesus name, Amen


I rest my worries in constant prayer

LORD, I confess that I can cite Philippians 4:6 quite easily but it is the actual doing that I struggle with.  In fact, when I get very distressed, I forget about you and turn inward to try and solve my problems.  Or I call friends and family to lay all my worries upon.  Too often it seems you are my last gasp when all else fails.  Thank you for giving us your Son to remind us that you are the only source we need to turn to in times of trouble.  With His guiding words I will place you front and center of my difficult situations.  Through constant prayer and communion with You I will find everlasting peace.  I lift this up in Jesus’ name.  Amen


A prayer to speak only when needed

LORD, I would like to make this brief but I seem to have an issue with words.  They flow freely from my mouth without filters.  At times I gasp at myself for the words that exit me.  James is so right when he shows me that my mouth is like the rudder for my ship.  And I want to be on the right course with you, God.  Sometimes I need the entire trinity to help me grab hold of my rudder.  But I know with practice, your grace and the urging of the Holy Spirit I can and will be the quiet captain of my ship.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


A prayer to keep my body strong and dedicate it to serve God

Heavenly Father, I regularly make the commitment to keep my spiritual life active and strong.  However, when I make choices about exercise or my diet, I rarely see that as part of my devotional life.  My spirit, my soul and my body all belong to you.   You ask us to be your warriors in the name of Christ.  And warriors are strong spiritually, mentally and physically.  Starting today, LORD, I recommit my entire body to you.  When I am weak and want to forgo exercise or eat food I know just isn’t good for me I ask that your Holy Spirit remind me that I need to be strong to accomplish all that you have planned for me.  I lift this up in your Son’s Holy Name, Amen.


A prayer to live without regret

Holy God, it’s been many years since I accepted your gift of salvation, which along with that gift came forgiveness.  And yet, so often I am unable to forgive myself.  My heart still twinges when I think of the times I lived in sin.  And once saved, I look back at the years I realize I wasn’t fully committed to obeying your Word.  I’ve wasted enough time, however, not accepting your grace.  I am learning how much you love me, LORD.  And with that, I’m working to accept that I am a new person because of your son Jesus.  The old me can’t take up any more precious time when you are filling up my heart with overwhelming love.  I admit I sometimes need stern admonishment from you to keep me on track.  But at other times please send me a gentle kiss or unexpected hug to remind to live in today, not the regrets of the past.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


A prayer to act when directed by God

Dear God, I used to think that my faith was solely a personal, spiritual pursuit.  But I keep hearing the word “obey.”  I admit that obeying isn’t a comfortable word for me.  It implies me giving up something for someone else.  In your covenant world however, “obey” just means holding up my end of the bargain.  You are always faithful, LORD, and I need to be faithful as well.  James said it best when he admonished us to be “doers of the Word, not just hearers.”  Sometimes I allow the world to drown out your Holy Spirit who speaks your will to me.  Or I worry that I’m not worthy or ready to do your work. But I’m tuning in to you and listening, watching, and anticipating for your direction.  Give me opportunities to be your hands, your feet and your heart.  I will obey.  In your Son’s name I pray this.  Amen


A prayer to always speak kindly of others

Merciful God, so often when I think of sinful behavior, I rarely attribute my own tendency to gossip and tear down others.  And yet throughout Jesus’ time here on earth he reminds us to love one another.  Help me to remember to love not just with deeds but with my words.  You speak so kindly of me, LORD, and I have many, many flaws.  Not only do I need your help in not speaking unkindly, but also in being your servant to exalt your people.  I know that a kind word is all that is needed to cure so many of our world’s ills.  Guide me in controlling my lips so that they drip with kindness rather than bitterness.  In Jesus’ name I lift this up to you.  Amen


A prayer to be a blessing to those around me and my community

Holy Spirit I get so wrapped up in my everyday problems and to-do lists I forget to pause and look at the world around me.  I rush out in my car and don’t stop to say “hi” to my elderly neighbor.  I see the trash someone has left behind at the nearby lunch table and I assume someone else will pick it up.  I watch the mother with two kids struggling to get her groceries in the car and I think, “thank goodness that isn’t me.”  Oh, how I know you keep whispering to me to stop and do your work.  But I prioritize my list and sometimes you aren’t on it.  LORD, I say I want to be a blessing to others and yet I let so many opportunities pass me by.  Today, I will be that blessing.  Today I will recognize the need to slow down, reach out, and do your work.  I will be your mustard seed and help build your Kingdom into all it’s glory.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.


A prayer to not be judgmental of others

Holy God, we live in a world that judges us on a photo that gets scrolled by in an instant, our decision at the ballot box, the type of car we drive, or even the color of our skin.  I am guilty of making snap judgements about the people I encounter throughout my day.  But in your world, LORD, we are all equally loved.  I have discovered the uniqueness of your message through Jesus – that you are the father, king, counselor, protector of ALL people.  You are at work in all of our lives, believer and non-believer.  Through the life lessons of Jesus and the prompting of the Holy Spirit I will be the type of person who loves first, rather than judges first.  I want to be loved and accepted for who I am uniquely made to be and I will see others in that same light.  I pray this in your Son’s name, Amen


A prayer to avoid using coarse language

Holy Father, it has become so easy for me to use your name in un-holy ways.  There was once a time that when angered or frustrated I would just say some silly old saying.  But as I drew closer to the ways of the world my language followed.  I want to be closer to you instead, LORD.  I want to speak like your son, Jesus.  I know that anger, impatience, laziness, and bitterness are all roots of my use of foul language.  Help me, Holy Spirit, to cut out those roots so that out of my mouth comes praise, prayer, forgiveness and grace.  I will use my mouth, with your guidance, for these rather than obscenity and coarseness.  Amen


A prayer to constantly praise and thank God

Mighty God, I admit that when things go wrong in my life I am quick to ask for help.  But when my life is running along smoothly or even when a prayer is answered I’m equally quick to forget to thank you.  Each and every morning when I rise, I commit to thanking you for what you will send my way that day – even the “not-so-good.”  Because even in those times I know I have the opportunity to grow in my faith.  And throughout my day I will remember to thank you even for the little gifts you send my way.  LORD, at the end of my day I’m frequently so tired.  But you are never tired of hearing my praise for you.  I will, before my eyes close, remember the ways you revealed yourself to me that day.  Whether you acted as my counselor, comforter, King, creator, or protector, I will praise you.  In your son’s name I pray, Amen.


A prayer to love myself

Heavenly Father, so many of my perceived short falls come from my poor sense of self-worth.  I look in the mirror sometimes and to be honest I don’t always see what you see – a beautifully, wonderfully made daughter of God.  And I confess that my lack of love for your creation can spill over to my inability to openly love others without judgment.  But I don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit any longer.  My heart, body, mind and soul were created by and belong to you, LORD.  With the reminders found in your Holy Word to love my neighbor as myself I will look into that mirror with newfound love and admiration for your creation.  Thank you for my life, thank you for making me uniquely me.  I lift this up in Jesus’ name, Amen


bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Faith, Jesus Follower, Transformation Prayer, Uncategorized

Free To Be

But one thing I do: Forgetting 
what is behind and straining 
toward what is ahead, I press 
on toward the goal to win the 
prize for which God has called 
me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 
Philippians 3:13-14 

A prayer to live without regret

Holy God, it’s been many years since I accepted your gift of salvation, which along with that gift came forgiveness.  And yet, so often I am unable to forgive myself.  My heart still twinges when I think of the times I lived in sin.  And once saved, I look back at the years I realize I wasn’t fully committed to obeying your Word.  I’ve wasted enough time, however, not accepting your grace.  I am learning how much you love me, LORD.  And with that, I’m working to accept that I am a new person because of your son Jesus.  The old me can’t take up any more precious time when you are filling up my heart with overwhelming love.  I admit I sometimes need stern admonishment from you to keep me on track.  But at other times please send me a gentle kiss or unexpected hug to remind to live in today, not the regrets of the past.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


I don’t know about you but I’ve done some very non-Christian things in my life.  I spent about five years of my younger life seeking inappropriate relationships with men.   I thought that if I turned over my precious gift of intimacy that I would find love.   We can watch endless movies, read countless novels, and dispense wisdom about how fruitless this path is and yet never seem to apply it to our own lives.

The first time I said a desperate prayer was when, at 19, I thought I was pregnant.  I begged God to save me from myself.  And He did.  I don’t really know why since I know others were not.  I bargained with God to do His part and I would stop such reckless behavior.  And I did not.  I wasn’t a Christian at the time – although I believed in God.  So maybe He was giving me a few allowances.  I won’t know until the day of my eternity when I can ask Him.

Fast forward a few years and I was a young mother with two kids.  I was a Christian by then.  And yet I continued, time after time, to disobey God.  Boy did that lead to a lot of unnecessary hardship.  Of these two situations it’s actually this second that I tend to regret the most.  Because I truly knew better.  I think of all the wasted hours of tears and painful relationships I could have avoided.  I think of the times I could’ve been a better mother and wife and friend had I just surrendered myself completely to God.

If we confess our sins, he 
is faithful and just and will 
forgive us our sins and purify 
us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

I realize that by holding on to my forgiven past it’s like a log tied around one ankle.  It hinders me to fully grab onto the joy of today and promises of God.  It’s not that we need to forget our past.  We can learn a lot from our choices and their consequences.  But when we accept Jesus as our savior we must accept that we are now changed in our spirit.  Sometimes we just need to remind our heart and mind of that change.

Friend, I don’t know what sinful choices you may have made in your past, but Jesus came so we don’t need to live an entire life of repentance for our past regretful choices.  We need to turn those sins over to God only once.  And turn our faces toward today.  

There’s a lot from my past that I’m still working on fully releasing to God.  He has already forgiven me for them.  I just need to let go of the string and allow them to float into the heavens.  With His gentle reminders of His love for us we can be free.

If you want this too, add the prayer to your daily prayer list and watch and see how God works in your life!

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

His Promised Freedom

“I, the Lord, have called you in 
righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
 to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon 
those who sit in darkness.
Isaiah 42:6-7

In the United States, during particularly heated political disagreements, you’ll hear a lot about an issue’s “constitutionality.”   The United States Constitution is our country’s guardrails.  It’s our safety net and our guiding path for laws.  To many, it was a divinely created document.  The wisdom and foresight our founding fathers had when creating it was nothing short of amazing.  

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble, United States Constitution

The precursor to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, was a bold statement by many of the same people.  For some, it was like signing their own death warrant.  But the goal of both was not to create a new kingdom where one man would rule the peasants.  No, it was to place God firmly as the head and the people to organize and live in His ways.  Lest anyone try to convince you different, a visit to the highest court in the United States – the Supreme Court – will show images of Moses and the Ten Commandments in both sculpture and engraving form.  Enshrined on the bronze doors of the Chief Justice of the court you will find these same images.  

And although the Ten Commandments and the US Constitution have the commonality of “do not” in their directives, so much of what they are purposed to do is about freedom.  The Constitution, unlike many world government founding documents, is about limiting what the government can do to its citizens – giving a wide berth to freedom.  And the basis is that our freedoms are given by God and God alone.  

Likewise, God’s plan and promise for us is about freedom.  When we accept Him as our safety net, our guiding path, He removes not just the past sin, but puts us on the path to removing the future desire to sin.  He takes the alcoholic and the drug addict and the sexually immoral out of their old ways and leads them to freedom.  He opens our eyes to His love and compels us to live in our new selves by loving others as Christ loves us.  He removes the fears and anxieties that imprison us by giving us eternal life.  

I lived a lot of my life as a “woulda,” “coulda,” shoulda,” person.  It was a prison of my own making.  And the world was happy to hold the key.  I never felt good enough or kind enough or smart enough.  I looked out of my prison bars at people that seemed happy and fulfilled.  I allowed competitiveness and outrage and hurt and worldly desires take control of my heart, mind and soul.  I sat in the darkness of the dungeon.

By all accounts I looked to have a perfect life.  A very busy and active life.  But I prayed constantly for joy and peace and lightness of spirit.  Yes, you got that right – I was a believer and still felt this way.  And one day I realized I believed but I didn’t follow.  You see, we can believe in all kinds of things but then not pay much attention to them.   There are many people in the United States that understand the laws and Constitution but choose not to follow what it says.  That leads to tumult and strife.  I believed in God but I didn’t believe God. I read the Bible but didn’t put my full faith and trust in its directives and lessons.

Therefore, if the Son makes you free, 
you shall be free indeed.
John 8:36

The day I decided to grab hold of God’s safety net was the day He smiled at me and said, “Finally.”  It set me firmly on His path to removing the old me and old lies and refocusing my sights on what God wants from me. It was freeing.  My eyes are truly open and my prison bars have melted away. I have chosen not to dance around the hard lessons of the Bible, His Word. And in doing so I have found my life so much simpler.

For those who are led by the 
Spirit of God are the children 
of God. The Spirit you received 
does not make you slaves, so that 
you live in fear again; rather, 
the Spirit you received brought 
about your adoption to sonship.
Romans 8:14-15

We are so good at disobedience — since the beginning of time. And we don’t like people to tell us what to do. And for many, following God is seen as taking away freedoms. It’s true, we aren’t to engage in any number of sinful behaviors. But time and time again society proves that so much of that behavior creates bondage rather than freedom.

When we follow the laws of our communities, we find ourselves in safer and calmer environments.  When we follow and believe God, He opens our eyes and unlocks our prison doors.  He promises a life of joy, a love greater than we can ever know, and eternal salvation.

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

A Clean Sweep

One of my favorite types of tv shows are the ones where brave souls go in and clean out other people’s houses.  In one show, just one room was to be completely re-done.  The host would help the homeowner remove all the items from that room and put them out on their front lawn.  There were three piles: Keep, Toss, Sell.   I’m a confessed tv “back talker” so I yell at and talk to the tv all the time.  What typically happens during these shows is I yell at the homeowner saying, “What on earth do you need that for?” or “That is the ugliest chair I have ever seen!  Get rid of it!”  I’m always mystified by the amount of junk people pile up in their homes and how difficult it is for them to get rid of it all – even under the threat of eviction or possibly social services removing their children.

Most of us look at a hoarder’s life and recognize how destructive it is.  The filth, the squalor, the sheer quantity of stuff is appalling.  We sit in judgement thinking, “I would never get to that point in my life.”  The truth is a hoarder’s problem isn’t with the “stuff” it’s with their heart.  Even on shows such as “Biggest Loser” we find most contestant’s real issues lie within their hearts, it’s just that they have turned to food to fix their pain.

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you, which can save you.”  

James 1:21

Now doesn’t that sound easy?  Just about as easy as a hoarder having to let go of the paper their 40 year old son wrote as a second grader. On day 1 James made it clear we would have trials and tribulations.  Some of us have been physically or emotionally abused.  Others have been neglected by loved ones.  While others have experienced unbearable loss – of a child, a parent, a friend, a job, a home.  And there are the multitudes whose dreams and hopes have yet to materialize.  And yet none of those gives us license by God to sin, to bring “moral filth” into our lives.

Warren Wiersbe says this about filling our lives with immorality:

“For God to be able to use us as vessels we must be empty, clean, and available.  He will take us and use us for His glory.  But if we are filled with sin or defiled by disobedience, He will first have to purge us.”

Purge us.  That is the death we read about frequently in the Bible.  In Matthew 16: 16, Jesus states this, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”   We purge the world from our hearts and minds and live a life worthy of being God’s vessel.

Some might think this means we take away freedoms, we remove fun and laughter, we become like monks or nuns.  But think back to a hoarder’s house that is now cleaned out.  Or even your own house after a good purging and cleaning.  We breathe a sigh, put our hands on our hips and declare, this is good, this is real good.  We even start imagining being able to invite our friends over for dinner, new uses for that now empty cupboard, or how easy it is to find what you need.  We feel a sense of freedom, of joy, of completeness.

It may be hard work but a clean house sure feels good!

Now take that same feeling and apply it to our other actions or decisions.  Do you have that same sense?  When we are unforgiving, rude, vengeful, deceitful, unfaithful, untrustworthy, does that give you the same feelings of joy?

One of the reasons we might not take a stand against the filth infiltrating our lives is the fear of man.  In fact, the disciple Peter was a great example of this.  He talked a good talk about being faithful to Jesus and the other disciples.  But when it came time to stand firm, he chose to protect himself.  He was afraid of what servant girls would think or do to him if he confirmed he was a disciple.  And yet, in John 18:15 the story clearly states “another disciple” also stood with Jesus in front of his accuser.  That unnamed disciple wasn’t afraid of man.  He wasn’t afraid to declare himself a follower of Jesus.  What in your life do you know is wrong, is moral filth, and yet you are afraid of the people around you attacking you or judging you should you declare it would no longer be a part of your life?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said about constantly fighting the battle against the moral filth of the world, “When all is said and done the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every weapon against the flesh.”  Meaning just like a severely overweight person who needs to battle their demons to help them lose weight, the road to cleaning our hearts and minds is constant and challenging.

Even Nelson Mandela said,

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”


So how do we go about this cleansing?  We definitely don’t want to be like the Pharisees that Matthew admonishes in 23:25, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”  Remembering that James is written to people who profess to be Christians, we need a heart and mind change, not just a physical one.

Have a conversation with God: We already know some of the areas of our life that don’t measure up to God’s desires for us.  But He may also reveal other areas that we have hidden away, possibly underlying causes for our behavior and actions.  Ask Him to shine a light on your “moral filth.”  Ask him to take it away.  Ask him to strengthen you.  Ask Him first thing in the morning to set up your day for success.  Ask Him to help you as you encounter your trouble areas, thank Him for His protection.

“In the morning Lord you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

Psalm 5:3

Listen to God: He speaks to us through His Word, the Holy Bible so read it and study it like any other self-help book.  Write down passages that speak to your particular issues and needs.  He speaks to us through other people.  There are probably people in your life already telling you what areas need to be cleansed.  Stop being defensive and start being thankful!  God whispers to us directly and guides us.  If, as you’re walking into the bar you know you shouldn’t and that voice keeps telling you to go home, then go home.  Stop ignoring Him.

“I will listen to what God the lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants.”

Psalm 85:8

Act on His Words: We all know people whose lives are a mess.  They’ve heard the message over and over about how to fix their lives.  The part that’s missing is just doing it.  When we absolutely know we shouldn’t text that person and yet do it anyway we dismiss God’s will.  The recognition that God is the most powerful, all seeing, all knowing being must be part of our lives.  We can’t hide from God.  We can think we are deceiving Him but we aren’t.  He is our “over watch,” – He looks ahead and see the enemy’s position and provides us protection.  But if we choose to take a different path we put ourselves in danger.

“Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.”

Psalm 37:27

What is distracting you or holding you back from fully following Christ?  What rooms in your life need to be purged and left clean?  Ask God for his loving spotlight to shine in every recessed area.  Listen for His guidance.  And walk with faith and strength knowing He is guiding you.

What is an area that you are struggling with the most when it comes to following Christ?