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Sutter’s Vision

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”Hebrews 6:10

DSC00213eNear the end of our recent trip to Northern California, my husband, son, and I visited Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento. Because I grew up in California, I figured I had a pretty good grasp on its history. But I really learned a lot! John Sutter was fascinating person, though his story is tragic.

Sutter immigrated through the existing United States to California from Switzerland. California was part of Mexico at the time, so Sutter became a citizen of that country. The Mexican government welcomed him because they appreciated his vision for the area and wanted to encourage him. Sutter dreamed of creating a strong, agricultural community. He invited immigrants to live at his fort, free of charge. He only asked that they work to learn a trade and support the community. He trained farmers and blacksmiths and merchants. He even invited the Native American population to be a part of it all.* In fact, according to the narrative at the fort, he is the one who taught them to weave the blankets so popular now at southwestern, roadside souvenir stands.

Sutter was generous and well-respected, known as a true gentleman. And all was going well until some kid just happened to find a bit of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Generosity, community, and cooperation were replaced by greed just that fast.

One of the seven deadly sins? Oh, yes.

Sutter spent the rest of his life fighting for the rights to his land and died alone in an East Coast hotel, a penniless pauper. His story broke my heart!

DSC00190eAs we traveled through Northern California, though, from San Francisco to Sacramento to Grass Valley to Paradise to Chico to Yuba City . . . we were surrounded, not by gold mines, but by crops. Walnuts, Almonds, Peaches, Apples, Strawberries, Grapes, Lettuce, and Rice . . . lots and lots and lots of rice! It seems to me that Sutter’s dream eventually came true. The Sacramento Valley is a strong agricultural community. Evidently, some of the people he taught stuck to the trade instead of seeking gold. Others returned to the trade once they recovered from gold fever. And others came after to follow in Sutter’s footsteps. Sutter never saw his dream come true—and yet, it did!

It’s a lesson to remember. When God gives us a vision of some good that we can do, our place is simply to do it, leaving all results to Him. When we serve Him faithfully to show Him our love by caring for His people, He is faithful to us in return. We may never see the fruit of our labor, but our God will not forget. We can trust Him with this.

Father, please show us daily how we can best serve You. Help us remember that we love You best by loving people, by doing our part to build Your Kingdom on Earth. Thank You for seeing and remembering the work we do for You. It’s a honor to do what we can. Amen.

DSC00208e*Note: I used Wikipedia to double-check some facts and discovered that it doesn’t portray Sutter’s character in such a positive light, indicating that he actually coerced the Native Americans of the area into working for him. Other sources imply this was an act of self-defense: they attacked; he enslaved them in order to teach them his ways. Sutter’s own words indicate this is probably true: “The Indians began to be troublesome all around me, killing and wounding cattle, stealing horses, and threatening to attack us. I was obliged to make campaigns against them and punish them.” According to the story as the fort told it, however, he did teach them agricultural skills, just as he taught the other inhabitants of the fort. He even had his cooks learn to prepare meals they were accustomed to and to serve them in the manner they would have served themselves. It seems to me that, in the end, he hoped the different cultures would learn to get along, but only God knows the motives of anyone’s heart.

This post is listed with the Missional Weekend Link Up. Visit that site to find more inspirational posts.

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Praying about Angry Words

Parachute PrayerNot too long ago, my youngest son brought a blog post to my attention. It was written by a Christian entertainer who wanted to encourage Christians to do as Augustine and Wesley and others have encouraged: to be united in the essentials of our faith, but to show love in all else. This young artist simply wanted to see Christians love each other and get along in spite of different points of view.

Sadly, in offering examples of controversy among Christians, he made some vague statements that led some of his readers to question his personal beliefs. He didn’t actually come right out and say what he, personally, believed or didn’t believe about such things. But some of his readers, misunderstanding or misreading his intent chose to fill in the blanks themselves. Next thing he knew, this artist who had simply asked for peace found himself under attack. It was a great big, ugly mess.

It broke my heart.

This artist wrote one response to defend himself which only brought more painful comments from readers. Since then he has been quiet.

This breaks my heart, too. I fear he’s facing the temptation to build a wall, to hide his gift, to protect himself when he has so much to share with the world. This would be a tragedy.

How amazing could the situation have turned out if those who questioned this young man’s words would have taken the time, first, to try to see his heart, then, if necessary after gentle questioning, to prayerfully respond as Priscilla and Aquila did when Apollos didn’t quite have all of his facts straight? (See Acts 18:24-28.)

Today’s Parachute Prayer comes from this unfortunate situation. Knowing that behind every blog post, tweet, FaceBook update, news headline, and book is a flesh and blood human being created in the image of God, let’s pray fervently for those who come under attack for the words they write—especially for those who come under such attack for simply trying to say something helpful, encouraging, or good. When we see negative comments or hear verbal criticism about something we’ve seen in print or published on the internet, let’s pray both for the heart of the one receiving the criticism and of the one who delivers it. Let’s pray that God will give wisdom to both, that He’ll help the one who receives the negative words to hear anything necessary and to disregard the rest and that He’ll guide anyone tempted to deliver a painful blow to take a step back to prayerfully consider the most Christ-like response. If they’ve already delivered the painful blow, let’s ask God to open their eyes to the wounds they’ve inflicted and lead them to set things right, if possible, and learn a better way for the next time.

People are imperfect, and their words can be messy, jumbled up, and completely misunderstood. Let’s take the time to see the intent behind the words, to clarify what confuses, to show grace and compassion before jumping to judgment, and to correct (when it’s called for) only as Christ would. And when we see angry words appearing in the comments about what we’re reading on our computer screens, let’s always remember to pray.

Father, please help people remember that there are people behind words they see and to respond to those people with love instead of to words indiscriminately. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Following Jesus’ Example in Confrontation or Conflict

DSC01451e“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps . . . When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”1 Peter 2:21, 23

Jesus set a perfect example for us in everything He did. By studying the Gospels and letters from those who knew him when He walked on this earth, we learn how to live. First Peter 2:23 gives us a clear, yet challenging, example to follow when people give us a hard time.

I’m not talking about when people who care about us approach to lovingly offer constructive criticism. I’m talking about when people come to us in anger with no goal other than to vent their frustrations. These people are not seeking peace or understanding. They don’t care about our point of view, our feelings, or our friendship. They feel offended; they demand to be heard. They want to inflict their pain on us with their words.

Though our first impulse may be to fight back or defend ourselves, Jesus shows us a better way. If the person is being abusive, hurling insults or making threats, our best course of action is to remove ourselves from the situation as quickly as possible. Jesus didn’t have this option when He was on trial, but He used it on other occasions. If the situation warrants it, we must feel free to do so, too. Don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings if that person is threatening you. Protect yourself and walk away.

If the person is not abusive, we can:

1. Listen politely, patiently seeking to understand their point of view.
2. Thank them for sharing their thoughts.
3. Assure them we will consider what they’ve said . . . at home . . . privately.
4. Follow through, taking the matter to Jesus in prayer, entrusting ourselves to the One Who judges justly.

In Jesus’ case, He knew He was right. Jesus is always right. We might not always be, however. When someone confronts us, rather than rush to defend ourselves or our position, we should listen with an open mind then seek God’s opinion on the matter and His wisdom concerning how to proceed. Upon prayerful reflection, we may find we owe someone an apology or a thank you for setting us straight. It’s better to learn this early on, in God’s Presence, rather than after a lengthy, frustrating, and heated debate, the kind that leaves both parties feeling hurt.

Then again, once we’re alone with Him, God may assure us that we’ve done nothing wrong. If so, we can move forward in confidence and peace whether or not the other person ever accepts us or our point of view. Jesus didn’t retaliate or make threats. He doesn’t force His way on others either. He has presented the Truth through His life, death, resurrection, Word, and the testimony of His witnesses throughout history. He has fulfilled His mission; now we’re following in His steps to the best of our ability in everything we do.

Thank You for Your example, Lord. Help us to remember it when people give us a hard time. Teach us to respond with love, patience, dignity, and grace, entrusting ourselves to You. Amen.

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When Praying Is All You Can Do

There’s a phrase I ponder from time to time. It’s one most of us use. I’ve even used it myself, but I’m questioning whether it’s true. It may be very true, but lately it seems wrong to me.

The phrase is: All we can do is pray.

It seems to me that if prayer is talking to the God Who created the universe and all that is in it, the all-mighty, all-powerful, for-Whom-nothing-is-impossible God of everything, that prayer is doing something pretty big. God raised people from the dead. God fed thousands of people with only a few pieces of bread and fish. God pulled a coin out of a fish’s mouth in order to pay His taxes.DSC01220e

And so I would say that prayer is not a last resort. It should be the first thing we do whenever we need help—and, in reality, considering how much power an all-powerful God has, it’s probably all we need to do. We give Him our problems; He doesn’t need our help.

Imagine a little kid facing a big school bully. He knows the bully is bigger than him and will win, but he also knows his big brother is bigger than that bully. Would the kid face the bully alone? Or would he get help from the one who can spare him some pain?

I raised boys, so I know they don’t always go for the logical answer there, but, then again, neither do we. We put up our little fists and try to fix the situation alone while God quietly waits for us to pray. Then, when we’ve exhausted ourselves with the effort, we sit back and tell God that the situation seems pretty hopeless, but He’s welcome to give fixing it a try. If God is God and has all the power to do anything, that seems like living backward to me.

Prayer is not our last resort. Prayer should always be our first move. It’s the most effective action we can take.

On the other hand, sometimes we do pray first. Then we do what we can do—as we should. God may use us to answer our own prayers, so we should do what we can. Yet sometimes we use up all our ideas and exhaust all our resources until finally we know that praying really is all we can do.

But even then, even when we reach that point, there’s more going on than just prayer.

When Praying Is All You Can DoPaul said, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I think he must have been writing about just such a situation. As we wait for God to act, we joyfully anticipate whatever He will do, knowing without a doubt that is it God Who will do it, and that He will get all the glory, honor, and praise as He deserves. We joyfully hope for the best because God is in charge, and He loves us.

As we patiently wait for Him to act, we learn that God’s timing is perfect and that His plans may be different than ours. Have you ever prayed, like I have, “Lord, we’re running out of time here. If You’re going to do something, You’d better do it now. Really, Lord, now. Now would be really good.” But only God knows when the timing is right; deadlines mean nothing to Him for He can work around them easily. Or we may see a perfect opportunity for God to fix everything in one fell swoop. So we tell Him about it, then sit back and watch to see Him work. But His plans aren’t ours, so He doesn’t do what we suggest. He’s working on a bigger, more perfect picture than we can see or imagine. So we patiently wait some more, knowing God is truly in charge. Yet while we wait, we faithfully pray—and we grow ever closer to God.

I leave you today with two thoughts:

Prayer is never a last resort–always pray first, then pray all the way through.

When prayer is a last resort, when it’s truly all that you can do, know God is at work. Trust Him as you faithfully and continually pray.