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Called to Pray Fervently

Red Lantana“Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so arousing his anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me . . . I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you.” –Deuteronomy 9:18-19, 25

God’s Word touched my heart this morning when I read these words written by Moses himself. In this passage, Moses is speaking to the people he’d been leading for more than forty years. These people, without Moses, are finally getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Though they are the same people, God’s chosen people—the Israelites, they are a different people, a new generation, most of whom have no memory of actually living in and being rescued from Egypt.

They also have no memory of the above event, yet Moses speaks to them as if they were the ones who committed this grave sin: worshiping a golden calf instead of their one, true God.

Why? I kind of think Moses wanted these people at this time to know just how much he cared about them and just how much he wanted them to succeed, even though he wouldn’t be going with them into the Promised Land.

Just think about it: Moses had just spent 40 days and 40 nights on a mountaintop with God, receiving the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. During this time, Moses didn’t eat or drink an-y-thing. He comes down from the mountain only to find that his people have already turned away from God to worship an idol they made from gold. God is ready to destroy the people once and for all, but Moses prays for them.

Does he say, “Lord, please don’t destroy these people. Thank You. Amen.”

No.

He throws himself face down on the ground, I mean nose-in-the-dirt, and begs for their lives for 40 days and 40 nights—again, or maybe still, without eating or drinking.

Now that’s commitment.

I don’t know that I could ever pray that intensely, and I believe Moses needed God’s help to do so. But I do know there are times when God calls us to pray for our people with all the fervency and determination that we can muster—and He will help us, too.

I have a few ideas to share about this, but this post is long enough. I’ll continue over the next few days with thoughts on when and how to pray for others with urgency. I invite you to stayed tuned!

Father, thank You for Moses’ example—and thank You for hearing him. We know You hear us, too. Please teach us how to pray. Amen.

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Book Review: The Cutting Edge

Books!The Cutting Edge by Ace Collins is the story of a popular supermodel who has just received the offer of a lifetime, a dream contract that will make her career. Unfortunately, accepting this offer will require that she compromise moral standards she’s mostly managed to cling to in spite of pressure from her industry. Leslie decides to head home to talk with her parents before making any decision. Before she can get there, though, she’s brutally assaulted in a dark alley. Her attacker leaves her for dead, yet hopes that she’ll live, knowing he stole something that probably meant more to her than life: her beautiful face.

As you’ve probably already figured out, the rest of the book is about Leslie and her family learning to cope with this loss and Leslie discovering the source of true beauty.

The story has potential, but fell a bit short of reaching it. To be fair, I’m writing this review from an unedited ARC (advanced reading copy) that I received from the publisher (Abingdon Press) in exchange for this honest review. The final version may shine. We’ll see what a great editor can do!

The sequence of events leading up to the climax and the final resolution were good. Through the rest of the book, though, characters didn’t always act believably. For example, though Leslie was from and in a small town, she’d been living alone in New York City. She would have known better than to leave the lighted area of a mostly abandoned airport in the middle of the night and to approach a strange vehicle pulling up to the curb. Even though she had called a taxi, those vehicles are clearly marked. A single woman who’d been living in New York City would have known to be cautious. It would have been instinctual. Further, Collins implies that Leslie had no choice but to live with her parents after her attack because she had nowhere else to go. I didn’t understand this. She lost her job because of the attack, but she wouldn’t have lost her bank account. She’d been a successful supermodel. Where did all her money go? Elements like this made it hard for me to engage with this story.

I did appreciate the opportunity to read it, though. And, as it’s the second in a series, I’m curious to read Leslie’s cousin’s story, Darkness Before Dawn. Meg, the cousin, encourages Leslie throughout The Cutting Edge.

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Book Review: How to Talk to a Skeptic

If you’ve ever found yourself challenged by a skeptic, you know it can be a daunting experience. If the skeptic simply wants to share ideas in a mutually respectful manner, the conversation can be beneficial for both of you. Sometimes, however, the discussion can take a nasty turn, so that suddenly, you find the skeptic no longer presenting ideas and trying to understand yours but determinedly trying to destroy all your beliefs. Even if you’re standing on rock solid ground regarding your understanding and practice of faith, this situation can be more than intimidating.

Dr. Donald J. Johnson’s book can help prepare you for this. His goal is to help you, when discussing the Christian faith with skeptics, to keep the conversation on pleasant and mutually respectful ground. I gave my highlighter a workout as I read this book.

In the first section, Johnson helps readers understand that the Christian faith is not a product to be sold. It’s simply the Truth. Our job as believers is not to sell this Truth, but to present it. Those who listen will choose whether to accept it or not. God’s Spirit does the hard work of helping us present the Truth and in drawing others to believe. Johnson goes on to present ideas on how to go about doing your part effectively.

In the second section of the book, Johnson talks about some common misconceptions about what Christians actually believe. I recommend this section to every Christian since many, as Johnson points out, buy into these themselves. Johnson does a fantastic job of presenting Christian doctrine clearly and solidly, according to God’s Word.

In the third section, Johnson gives examples of how to talk with a skeptic by presenting a few possible conversations that might come up and how he would handle them. He makes it very clear at the beginning of this section that it is in no way comprehensive. He has just chosen a few familiar topics as illustrations for readers to consider and learn from. He closes this section with a deeper look into the mind of the skeptic, so readers can better understand what motivates this attitude and, therefore, handle it more compassionately or recognize when it’s time to walk away.

I appreciated the information in this book and enjoyed reading it, too. Bethany House Publishers sent me a complimentary copy for this honest review. It’s one I recommend.

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Revelation 22:17 on My Mind

NewOMM“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” –Revelation 22:17

I think this must be one of the happiest verses in the Bible. Can’t you feel the excitement? The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” It’s a party invitation. And this party includes free water of life for all who are thirsty. Life. Joy. Everything we need.

A key part of this verse, though, can be found in the first few words. Look who’s doing the inviting: the Spirit and the bride. The Spirit, of course, is God’s Holy Spirit, the One Who draws people to Christ, the Source of the free gift of water in this verse. (See John 4:10-13.) The bride, though, is us! If we’ve received this living water and are on our way to the party (eternal life in Heaven with our Lord), we’re not to be silent about it. We’re to yell, “Come!” As we travel, we tell everyone we meet where we’re going and that they’re invited, too. Just picture yourself walking, or maybe even running, toward the great feast in God’s Kingdom that you’ve been invited to. As you go, you reach out toward everyone you see along the way, eagerly taking their hands, looking in their eyes, and urging them to come with you.

“Come!” you say.

“Come!” the Spirit says.

Those who recognize what they are thirsty for will be happy to go with you.

I’ve written this verse on an index card and placed it where I’ll see it often this week. I invite you to do the same. As we meditate on these words, perhaps even coming to memorize them, let’s remember where we’re going and ask God to help us invite thirsty people to come along. In our prayer time, our thoughts on this verse will help us remember to pray that God will cause all people to recognize their thirst and to realize the truth: Jesus is the living water Who can satisfy their needs for all eternity.

Father, thank You for these joyous words. Help us to think of them often this week. Remind us, as we face whatever comes our way, that we’re on our way to eternity with You. Show us how and when to invite other people to come along. We’re looking forward to that future, happy day. We love You, Lord. Amen.

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Recognizing a Call to Worship

Parachute Prayer“Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness.” –Psalm 89:15-16, NLT

I don’t know what the weather’s like around your house right now, but it’s been kind of a gloomy day around here. I’ve opened all the windows to let the sunshine in, but there isn’t any to be found. Even the dog is sulking. He likes to lay in the sunny spot on the floor. I giggle whenever he has to move to stay in the sunshine as that spot moves over the course of a day.

There’s no sunny spot today.

But there is a gentle breeze. I can see it rustling the leaves of trees and bushes around our house. Sometimes it gets a little more aggressive, causing colorful leaves to dance, then fall. Pleasant to watch—even on a non-sunshiny day.

Reading Psalm 89:15-16 sent my thoughts down this path. I thought of walking in the light of God’s Presence. He’s with us all the time every day. But sometimes we forget.

The Psalmist says those who hear the joyful call to worship are happy, rejoicing all day long in God’s wonderful reputation, exulting in His righteousness. That call to worship is available to everyone! Yet, not everyone hears it. Why? It’s something have to want to hear. It’s something we have to train ourselves to recognize.

Thankfully, the God of All Creation has given something to help us with this. When you see the sunshine crawling across your floor or feel its warmth on your skin, let it remind you that God is there. He’s not in the sunshine, but He created it. Let it be your call to worship Him.

Likewise, when you see the leaves dancing and beginning to fall or feel the crisp, cool Autumn air, let these do the same. Recognize the sunshine and the breeze as gifts from their Creator to You, gifts that can call you to express your thanksgiving and praise.

Father, I want to walk in the light of Your Presence every day—and be aware of it as I do! Thank You for simple reminders that You are everywhere, that You created everything, that I can stop and talk to You anytime, about anything. I love You, Lord! Amen.

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Finding Home

Finding HomeIn honor of my newly released book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, I’m launching a regular feature on this blog called Finding Home. Like my book, these posts are primarily for women who are moving, especially those who move often such as military or ministry wives. (Of course, I just happen to be both–a military and a ministry wife. One husband. One adventurous life!)

Since the key to finding home, however, is learning to be content wherever you are, whatever your circumstances–a condition that comes of knowing Christ as Lord of your life–I invite other readers to find encouragement in these posts as well. Sometimes life situations far out of our control can make us feel as if we’ve been kicked out of all that’s familiar. We may not have moved anywhere, yet we still long to find home. If you’ve ever felt this way, these posts are for you, too:

“Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. When you move, I’ll move. I will follow.” -Chris Tomlin, I Will Follow

We sang this song in church yesterday morning and it had quite an effect on me. The powers that be are talking about my husband’s next assignment, and so, we’re praying, again, about my husband’s next assignment. I’m willing to go wherever, but the anticipation of where that’s going to be still has a tendency to rattle me. I just want to know what’s next!

But that’s one of the joys of Army life. You never really know where you’re going until you get there, and even then, the Army can change its mind. This can be perplexing, but the Army sends us where the Army needs us. There’s a bigger picture than what we can see. What perfect training for obedient Christian living! We see this pattern all through the Bible:

God had a plan to create a new nation. This plan required that Abraham and Sarah move. God didn’t even tell them where they were going. He just told them to pack it up and leave.

God had a plan to spare His new nation. This plan required that Esther move–right into the palace where she had to risk her life to save God’s people from genocide.

God had a plan to encourage that nation in its captivity. This plan required that Daniel be taken captive, too. He moved with the people he served, suffering as they did, too.

God had a plan to redeem the whole world. This plan required that Ruth the Moabite woman follow her mother-in-law and move. Ruth didn’t even know the God she’d come to serve, and yet, He used her in a wondrous way. (She’s part of the lineage of Christ.)

These are just a few examples. There are so many more: Joseph, Moses, the disciples, Paul. In order to make a difference for God, they all had to leave home. None knew how it would turn out. (For more information on any of these people, visit BibleGateway.com.)

When I was a teenager, and even a young adult, a lot of my friends talked about being afraid to follow God for fear that He’d call them to be missionaries in Africa. I wanted to be a missionary, so this just tickled me. The truth is, God doesn’t call too many people to move far away from all that’s familiar, from the people they love. (If you picture yourself helping Jesus pack belongings into big moving boxes whenever you sing, “When you move, I’ll move,” you are one of these few.)

What God does call us all to do is obey Him, to do whatever He calls us to do. When we sing Chris Tomlin’s song, obedience is what we’re all pledging. Some of us just get to follow literally like Ruth, and we trust, like all the movers of the Bible, that God sees and blesses this, too.

Father, where You go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. When you move, I’ll move. I will follow–each day. Thank You for leading. I’ll entrust the outcome to You. Amen.

For more about what people are discovering at church, visit Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.

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Climbing Higher

Climbing Rock“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me.” –Psalm 94:18

I tried rock climbing once. My senior class in college took a trip to Yosemite National Park where the rock-climbing club from our campus volunteered to give a lesson to those who were interested. It looked easy enough.

It wasn’t.

Swaddled in harness and ropes, I began my ascent, quickly realizing that the strength I needed would have to come from my fingers and arms–every little muscle in each would be required for the task. My legs existed for balance and support as my hands sought a sure grip for lifting myself to the next level. Halfway up the rock face, I thought I could go no further. I felt exhausted, but had to go on. I began to rely on a voice from above.

That’s where my instructor was.

Below, I could hear friends, my fellow first-time climbers, shouting much needed encouragement as I struggled through my shaky situation. But my instructor was giving the advice I most wanted to hear:

“Move your hand a few inches to the left, Janet. There’s a great handhold there. Do you see it? There! Now place your foot in that crevice and push yourself up. Keep going! Now move your other hand to that small ledge just above the other one. You’ve got it!”

I depended on these words and followed them as precisely as I could. Of everything he said, though, the words that comforted me most were:

“Don’t be afraid. If you start to slip, I’ve got hold of the rope. You will not fall.”

Life is like that climb. We lift ourselves up, one handhold at a time, while listening to that precious Voice from Above. Our fellow climbers shout encouraging words as we make our way to the top. God’s voice is the One to listen for, though. He is there to help us find our way. Better yet, He’s got hold of the rope. We can depend on Him; if our feet start to slip, He’ll never let us fall.

Precious Guide, thank You for holding me tightly with the harness and rope of Your love. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays.

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Halloween Prayers for Our Neighbors

PumpkinsI think the thing I enjoy most about Halloween is getting to greet all of our neighbors right on our own doorstep. Throughout most of the year, our quiet neighborhood is, well, quiet! We might get to wave at a neighbor or two when taking out the trash or picking up the mail or while out on a walk, but that’s about it. On Halloween, though, the neighbors all come out and visit each other. I get to greet the children, tell them how cute or scary or beautiful or funny they are, and give them candy which brings smiles to their faces in exchange for the smile they put on my own. I get to say Hi to all their parents and wish them a happy evening. I get to laugh as our dog attempts to go home with every child who comes to the door. (He just wants to join in the fun!) Halloween may be known for the scary stuff, but I think it’s just a great opportunity for everyone to be extra friendly!

As we greet trick-or-treaters this evening, let’s remember to whisper brief prayers for them, too. We may pray for our neighbors in general throughout the year, but, on Halloween, we can pray for them specifically as we see their faces, greet them, and offer sweet treats. If you don’t participate in this aspect of the day, that’s alright. You can still pray for the families you see through your window or hear walking down your street. Your prayers that they’ll come to know Jesus, if they don’t already, and that they’ll grow healthy and strong both physically and spiritually may be the best treat they’ll never know they received.

Father, bless all the trick-or-treaters and their families tonight. Keep them safe and help them have good, clean fun. Thank You for this opportunity to see neighbors who usually stay in their homes. Help us remember to pray for them not only tonight, but throughout the year. May they come to know You well, then grow in Your love each day. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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Praying for Decision-Makers Whose Choices Concern Us

“May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.” –Psalm 138:4-5

It’s easy to become alarmed when we read or hear in the news that a national or world leader or group of leaders is making decisions contrary to God’s known will, in other words, in opposition to what’s clear in His Word.

We don’t have to be alarmed, though. Our sovereign God is in control. He knows what’s going on, who’s behind it, and how it will end. And nobody does anything without His consent. He may not approve, but He does allow, and when He does, He knows just what He’s going to do about it.

So. No worries. God’s got this.

In the meantime, though. There is something more positive that we can do whenever we hear alarming news such as this. Like the psalmist, we can pray. In fact, he even gave us the words. Psalm 138:4-5 is a prayer for the leaders of this earth. When God brings them to mind through any news source, let’s remember to pray that they will all learn to praise Him. Let’s pray they’ll learn what God has decreed. Let’s pray that they’ll come to sing of His glory as they realize His glory is great.

In Romans 13:1, Paul tells us that “there is no authority except that which God has established.” That being the case, those authorities need direction from God. I have no doubt that He can and will use them for His purposes right where they are right as they are, but just think how much more effective they’d be and how much more fulfilled personally if they were working in cooperation with God, living as His faithful servants, longing to touch His heart.

Father, thank You for the prayers of the Bible. Thank You for leading us to this one today. Help us to remember these words and pray them often, for the good of our world, our nation, and our community, for the good of those who serve in positions of authority. Amen.

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Strength for More Than a Game

Salmon Flowers“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ . . . From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” –Ephesians 4:11-13, 16

Raise your hand if you remember Red Rover, Red Rover, the infamous, school playground game.

I truly hope there aren’t too many of you who do. I remember the day when the playground monitor came out to stop us from playing it and to tell us that the school had decided it was just too dangerous. Someone was going to get their arm pulled out of its socket—or worse!

Part of my then ten-year-old self was outraged that the school would stop us from having so much fun. A bigger part, a part I kept quiet at the time, was oh-so-relieved!

That game was absolutely terrifying!!!

For those who’ve been blessed to have never heard of it:

Two teams line up facing each other on opposite sides of the playing field. Children on each team link arms to make a chain. One team yells, Red Rover, Red Rover send [unfortunate child from the other team] right over. That unfortunate child, often me (I’ll explain why in a minute.), then has to run as fast as she can across the field to try to break through the other team’s chain. If she succeeds, she triumphantly gets to choose one member of the opposite team to join her team. If she fails, she gets caught up in the chain like a convict snagged at the top of a barbed wire fence. Then, when everyone finishes laughing over this child’s humiliation, she reluctantly becomes part of the team she failed to break through. The other team then takes their turn, hopefully not calling the same, unfortunate child back.

Why was I often that unfortunate child? Because I was little. Think about it. A smart team is not going to call the big, football-player-type kid to come hurling at them as fast as he can from clear across the field. No. They’re going to call the child least likely to break through, aka the little girl.

On the flip side, the child who is running across the field is not going to try to break through between two giant, playground jocks whose arms are solidly linked. No. That child is going to try to break through two little girls. That’s right. Me and my best friend, Anne. If we weren’t the runners, we were targets, bracing ourselves for the on-coming blow and praying it wouldn’t hurt too much.

Oh, yeah. We were sorry to see that game go.

Spiritual warfare is kind of like that game of Red Rover. Satan is always looking for the weak link in the Body of Christ. He targets it and throws everything he has as it, hoping to break through to claim someone for his side. But as the Body of Christ, we are one. We are joined and held together by supporting ligaments. We are growing and building ourselves up in love as each of us does our work.

I see two ways this works:

1. Just as someone who wants to excel at a physical sport will eat right, exercise often, and get plenty of rest before a game, Christians train for spiritual warfare.

I don’t think either Anne or I could have built ourselves up enough to stand against the playground jocks in a game of Red Rover. No protein-rich, muscle-building diet or amount of strength-training would have made much of a difference for us. We were just too small. (And we didn’t take the game that seriously!)

But Christians can build themselves up. Bible study is our healthy diet. Prayer, worship, and fellowship with other Christians are essential strength-training. Honoring the Sabbath assures we rest.

2. Just as a team must work together, with every member contributing his or her strengths, Christians help each other succeed.

Think about that game of Red Rover. What if, just once, instead of leaving Anne and I to stand alone against the oncoming runner, one of stronger players on our team had linked arms between us. That person’s strength added to ours might have made the difference to keep the other team from breaking through. Evidently, we weren’t smart enough to figure that out in grade school. (Or maybe, at ten, we were still afraid of cooties.)

But we Christians can apply the principle now. By serving one another in love, we help the weaker links among us to be built up and grow. The whole body benefits when we strengthen each other this way.

We build ourselves up through Bible study, worship, fellowship, and prayer. We build the body through faithful service to our brothers and sisters in Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Father, thank You for drawing us together in Christ as one body of believers. Help us do our part each day for individual and community growth. In You, we stand firm against the enemy. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

To read more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays and Hear It on Sunday; Use It on Monday.