God’s Power in the 2016 Presidential Election

Today we are exactly 7 months away from the 2016 Presidential Election. Back on January 8th when I posted my first Election blog (“Political Prayer Preparation”) I wasn’t hearing much about the election, now it’s everywhere I look. In that blog I asked that you pray for our future President and for our current leaders. I hope you’ve been able to do that, it’s very important. In the second Presidential Election blog (“Decision America Tour 2016”) I talked about what Franklin Graham was doing in leading our country in prayer and asking people to sign “the Pledge.” Graham was just in California last week and had great things to say about the people praying here for the election.

Today, 7 months out, it is important for us to consider God’s power. In my personal devotionals I’ve been reading the story of Moses going before Pharaoh, at God’s call, to request God’s people to worship Him (Exodus 5:1). Moses gives God all kinds of excuses why he’s the wrong person for the job but God has chosen who He will use. God didn’t have to ask Pharaoh to release His people, He had the power to annihilate every Egyptian on the planet and let His people walk out – but God is always teaching. God says to Pharaoh, “for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you…” (Exodus 9:16). It was the one true God who even allowed Pharaoh to become Pharaoh, and that same God will allow our next President to become President. But with the caveat that God’s power will be shown.

Just as He did with Israel God desires that we worship Him. Just as He gave Adam and Eve a choice in the Garden of Eden with the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2 & 3), we are given a choice to obey Him or not. Without choice there is no love. Therefore, if you love God and you want to worship Him and you want to obey Him, you must abide by His rules.

His rule and His request of you is this: “if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV).

Heal their land?! Don’t we need that? We can get so caught up in which candidate said what, and how that infuriated us. We can talk louder than everyone else, spouting obscure, second-hand psedo-political facts. But at the end of the day, we’re called to pray. We’re called to ask God to heal our land. We’re called to ask God to give us clarity on who to vote for and then actually go out and vote!

Today I am reminding you that God will reveal His power through the next President, do your job, make your choice at obedience and agree with God that His power should be shown and that we humbly ask that He heal our land.

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Decision America Tour 2016

A little over a month ago I posted a blog (Political Prayer Preparation) as a request to pray for our politicians, the election and for God’s will to be done in our country. Now I found out that Franklin Graham has started something called the Decision America Tour 2016. He’s hitting every state preaching the gospel and asking for people to pray for the politicians. Recently I heard someone say you can’t complain about the government and politicians unless you’re praying for God to do something. Franklin Graham is doing something and I challenge you to come alongside him and do the same. If you go to this website: https://decisionamericatour.com  you can get all of the info and one of the things I would challenge you to do is to “Sign the Pledge”. The pledge will be explained when you go to the website but basically it’s just an agreement to pray for God’s will to be done in America. Don’t think of it as if you’re just signing up for something but think of it as giving your word to God that you will seek Him. Also consider the impact that it will have on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritans Purse for them to know that there are millions of Christians who stand with them and support them through very difficult times. I’ve signed the pledge, will you?

God bless

Devotional # 174. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5

Devotional # 174. 2/1/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5.

Intro. Two weeks ago (Devotional #172) we started the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”) and we talked about how Paul wrote this letter to encourage the church there. In verse 1 we saw Paul’s multi-layered greeting and the significance between God being both “the Father” and “our Father.” And we saw the multi-layed title/name of “Lord Jesus Christ” as being very important.

Today we’ll have a lesson in two huge tenants of the faith: “thankfulness” and “prayer”. And we’ll also see the three attitudes of the Christian: faith, hope and love. Lastly, we’ll see four things that the gospel came “in.”

v. 2. Just in this one verse Paul gives us possibly the two most important rules to live by in the Christian faith: thankfulness and prayer. As was Paul’s custom, and we should make it our own also, the first thing that he does is to give “thanks to God“. By being thankful he puts his heart and mind in the right place. He knows that whatever he’s about to say, whatever he’s going to do and however he’s going to exhort them or correct them it is with thankfulness to God for providing the wisdom to do these things. If Paul recognizes how blessed he is and the church recognizes how blessed they are, their thankfulness will pour over onto non-Christians and they will have to seriously consider who God truly is. And so Paul is thankful to God “always for you all” which tells us that Paul is never not thankful for them (“always“). No matter how lackadaisical or frustrating or seemingly perfect our sisters and brothers in the faith are we should “always” be thankful for every single one of them (“all“).

And then Paul says that he, Silas, Timothy and others make “mention of you in our prayers.” What an encouragement to know that men like Paul and Silas and Timothy were praying for you! That they remembered you and your needs and brought them before God. This doesn’t just have to be a thing that we fantasize about, this should be something that we do in our own lives. For us to go out of our way and get to know little churches all over this country and all over the world will take some time but we have more than enough resources. When we start to recognize the names and families of people that we may have never met it starts to change her heart and that’s when God can use us. It may seem trivial but it will put a little more weight behind your prayers of “and God take care of the church around the world.”

From “thankfulness” and “prayer” will come everything that we need to know to do in the Christian faith. Think about it, if we’re not thankful for what God has done, is doing, and will do, why would we be willing to serve Him or help others or share Jesus with others? And if we’re not praying about it how will we know what is God’s will for us to do, who we should speak to and how we should love? It all comes down to “thankfulness” and “prayer”.

vv. 3-4. I like lists, or at least lists from the Bible, because it helps me clearly see what I’m supposed to do. Here Paul shows us three things the Thessalonians were doing: 1. “work of faith”, 2. “labor of love” and 3. “patience of hope.” The “work of faith” can be simply being used by God for anything He asks you to do. He’ll never leave you to do it alone, He’ll always have prepared you (even if you don’t know it) and He’ll have given you the spiritual gift(s) to accomplish it. We’re used to hearing the expression “it was a labor of love.” It generally means something was a lot of work but it wasn’t that bad because you enjoyed doing it. That’s exactly what God is saying here. He will give you a passion that you never had, to do work you never knew, to impact others you never cared for. This passion you have is not something you came up with on your own, often it’s the furthest thing from your mind, but once you’re saved His thoughts become your thoughts, His passion becomes your passion and His love becomes your love. Lastly, the “patience of hope” is an attitude only available to a Christian. Really, without Jesus no one has “hope” and so the believer has a comfort and “patience” in knowing that this world is not the end and there is always “hope” in Jesus. Each of these (the work, the love and the hope) were done “in Jesus” and with God the Father watching (“in the sight of“).

Next we see the Thessalonians “election” was evident to Paul by their unceasing “work of faith” their “labor of love” and “patience of hope.” God had “elected” them to salvation and to do these things while still on earth. This is a great thing and still applies to us to this day! But I must make a warning: if you’re like me you like lists because they clearly tell you the expectation of what’s due. In other words I don’t like “to do” lists but if I have to do stuff I like it clearly stated and separated. The mistake we can make here is to look at this as a “to do” list and think that we’re working ourselves into getting “elected” to go to heaven. But that’s wrong. All signs here (and elsewhere in the Bible) point to the opposite. Let’s look at it again. Their “work of faith” was in who? Faith in themselves and their abilities or Jesus’? Their “love” came from themselves or Jesus? Their “patience of hope” was a hope in themselves and how great they were, or in Jesus? It clearly states here it was “in our Lord Jesus Christ.” So it is only after we have been saved by Jesus that we have the power to do any of the things that God works into us. Let’s look into that power in the next verse…

v. 5. When Paul says “our gospel” he’s not saying that it’s his and Silas and Timothy’s. He’s saying “our” as in it is something shared by all Christians, including the Thessalonians. They should be proud of their spiritual heritage and the blessing of being “elected” and hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here we see four things that the gospel came in 1. “word” (not in word only, implies that it did come in “word”), 2. “power“, 3. “the Holy Spirit“, and 4. “much assurance“:

It would be amazing in and of itself that the good news of Jesus came in “word” only but if that word didn’t include “power” then at best it would be just another religious writing. But it did come with “power” – the power to heal people’s physical bodies, to heal their minds and to heal their spirits. The gospel also comes with the power of the “Holy Spirit”, one member of the Trinity, God Himself! And the power of the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of it sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8). Amazingly it is both the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sin and comes to live in our heart when we accept this gospel of Jesus. And lastly the gospel came “in much assurance” which just means that the people prior to this were assured by God that this good news was true and for them.

Conclusion. We have received much today. Keep in mind the reminder to be “pray” and be “thankful.” Practice the three attitudes of the believer: faith, hope and love. Treasure how the gospel came: in “word”, in “power“, in “the Holy Spirit“, and in “much assurance“. Have a blessed day!

Devotional # 173. 1/25/16

Devotional # 173. 1/25/16.

I was blessed with a conversation at church yesterday (yet another reason every Christian should be going to a physical church!) where I was challenged to really think about my devotional life. This last week I read my Bible every day as a checklist instead of looking at what God wanted to teach me through it. Today I read Proverbs 2:3-5:
Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (ESV).
I think this really stresses the importance of praying that God will reveal Himself to us even before we pick up the Bible. Today’s devotional is short because I want to give you some time for homework. Pick up your Bible and put it in front of you, now before you pray I have a challenge: attempt to spend at least the first 30 seconds of your prayer without using words like “I” or “me” or “we”. See how difficult it is to get your mind and your words off of yourself and just to focus on how great God is, what He has done and what He will do. I pray that your prayer is a blessing to God and what He reveals to you and His word today is a blessing to you and those that you share it with!

Devotional # 171. 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Political Prayer Preparation

Devotional # 171. 1/8/16. 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Political Prayer Preparation

It is exactly 10 months until the United States will vote in our new President. We’re being told what party to vote for, what candidate is best and who will bring the most impactful changes. But there is something you can do that is more powerful than a vote, a candidate or a party.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 tells us, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

The truth is that we should be praying for our future leaders right now, not in 10 months but right this minute. If we truly believe that God can impact our nation for good, in a way that He’s never done before than we start now. Although I don’t fully dismiss petitions and picketing, I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where that is our best course of action. So often we let the “works” aspect become our foundation, the rock that we stand on because it feels good to make signs, or go door to door and collect signatures. And I believe these things have their place, in fact in 2013 I headed up our church’s effort on collecting signatures for Proposition 8 and the Co-ed bathroom bill. Specifically for AB 1266 (co-ed bathroom bill) we collected 620,000 signatures when only 504,760 were required. However, California’s election officials dismissed 131,857 signatures and drove the bill into law. It was never put on a petition where voters had the chance to agree or disagree. This, along with many other things, has shaken my faith in the men and women upholding what is right and lawful and best for our cities, states, countries and the world. But the thing that has never swayed is God. If I pray to God about these things He promises to answer my prayer. That doesn’t mean that it will go the way I want it to (which I’ve found to sometimes be a good thing since I have a finite mind that only sees a limited sphere). But He will answer in one of three ways: 1. Go (“Yes, that is My will”), No (“It is not my will”) or 3. Slow (“It is not My timing…YET”).

Today, I encourage you to pray for our leaders: present and future. Keep in mind the November 8, 2016 Presidential election coming up. Pray that God would raise up a man or woman that would do His will in leading our country and that they would appoint other godly women and men into offices that can impact not just the United States but the world for Jesus. I would also ask you to pray for spiritual leaders. Whether they head up a big church or small church, a local ministry or a global organization they need prayer. Pray that they rely on God in making decisions and that they hold to the tenants of the faith in these times of the Church being “tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14). I encourage you to pray that these spiritual leaders would impact the political leaders on a personal scale, loving them to faith in the one true and just Judge and Ruler.

Devotional # 137. Philippians 4:4-6

Devotional # 137. 5/18/15. Philippians 4:4-6.

Intro. I have two friends that have started new jobs and both of them are dealing with stress. They are in leadership positions, expected to do more with less people. I have another friend that is finishing up school soon, will she be able to get a job in order to pay back the school loans? I know someone else who’s company just let a bunch of people go and they aren’t getting any new work so will the company go bankrupt? I have a friend who’s dad just died. Another friend has cancer in his leg and now his baby daughter has to get multiple operations.

There are different ways of “managing” stress. Maybe you work more (at your job maybe that’s  overtime or at home maybe that’s every week night and weekend). Or drinking alcohol more often. Or trying to be entertained all the time. Filling up on movies and TV and music. But whether the problems are money or health, they threaten to distract you and pull you away from God. And if that’s true then the real problem is that God is allowing you to go through something to bring you closer to Him but you’re trying to do the exact opposite.

So how do you fix it? “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Does this seem trite? Have we heard this verse so much that it doesn’t resonate? Well does stress and pain resonate with you? Then lets give Paul’s words a second chance.

v. 4. What is the context of what we have been studying? In 3:18-19 Paul says that there are some people who consider themselves Christians but really they are selfish and “their mind” is “on earthly things.” In 3:20 we were told that our citizenship is in heaven, in 4:1 Paul says that his sisters and brothers in the Lord are his “joy and crown” and just prior to this (4:2-3) he settles a minor argument by asking two ladies to be of the “same mind in the Lord.” He then reminds everyone that their “names are in the Book of Life.” In 7 verses Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. So when Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always”, he is coming from a background of stress and pain but always with the mind that Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).

Paul doesn’t want us to fake our joy, but wants it to be a true fountain gushing up from our soul. In church yesterday we sang the song “We bring the sacrifice of praise” (which comes from Hebrews 13:15). When we praise God we see our joy perfected, but mind you, it’s a sacrifice. This kind of joy that comes from knowing life is hard but we have heaven to look forward to and a “peace that passes understanding” (v. 6) here on earth is exciting and worth repeating. And so Paul does. He says, “Again I will say, rejoice!

v. 5. It is easy to not pay attention to this verse when it is book-cased by such famous verses like 4 and 6. When Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men” the word “gentleness” stands out to me. Does that mean that we’re supposed to be weak and let everyone know about it? Let’s look at the original Greek. The word “gentleness” is epieikes (G#1933) meaning “seeming, suitable” or “equitable, fair, mild, gentle” (Source 1). That kind of gives us more questions than answers. Where else in the Bible is this used? It is the same word as used in Titus 3:2 which says we should “speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness to all men” (KJV). With an understanding that “meekness” isn’t weakness but the opposite – strength under control – we can see that this portion from Titus is saying for Christians not to bad mouth others, not to get in fist fights, not to be rough and not to abuse their strength in a threatening way. Getting back to our verse in Philippians, one commentator translates this: “let your sweet reasonableness be known unto all men” (Source 2). So it comes down to not being offensive and harsh to others but be a person that they want to be around. Understanding the “reasonableness” of a Christian is important too. To not be a bigot who is irrational and difficult is another way to put this.

As a Christian who has many family members and friends who want nothing to do with God and have no interest in heaven or hell or salvation, I still have opportunities to talk with them. But I’ve found I don’t have to be irrational because I believe in God. Sure, there are some things that are supernatural and therefore not normal to the worldly person, but that doesn’t mean its irrational. God is a Lord of order and precision. The Bible is full of well documented, connected points. Me saying ‘I believe that purple elephants are the best musicians’ is a lot different than saying, ‘sometimes life is really hard and really bad stuff happens.’ Or ‘isn’t it cool that everything produces after its own kind?’ When you quote from the Bible in your own words there is rationality. When you start with an idea that everyone can agree with, it’s a lot easier to follow up the ‘really bad stuff happens’ statement with ‘if there is really bad stuff then there must be really good stuff too, otherwise how can you contrast something as really bad?’ And that conversation can continue with talking about good and evil, and morality and a moral law Giver (God!) . A conversation that starts off with everything producing ‘after its own kind’ naturally flows into how it makes sense that it is designed and if its designed then there must be a Designer (God!).

So is that what you are? Are you rational with your conversations? Are you willing to admit when you don’t have an answer? Are you willing to say that it does seem crazy that God would come in the form of a human (Jesus) and save us from our sins? But are you able to make the points that convinced you that Jesus is God and did save you from your sins, to them? If not I suggest you think that one through for yourself before you try and talk to someone else! If you are someone who won’t rip another person’s head off and you admit that you don’t have all the answers you will begin to have a “sweet reasonableness” that is infectious. People will want to know where your “rejoicing” (as we just read from verse 4) comes from. People will ask you why you’re not stressed in difficult situations (as we’ll see in verse 6).

Paul says “the Lord is at hand.” This wasn’t a threat but a reminder. We need to be acting with a gentleness and reasonableness when we explain our hope, because Jesus could come at any moment. We shouldn’t be worried about how we’re acting but worried about where non-Christians are at with Jesus. Have we done all we can to lovingly present Jesus as He is, to these people?

v. 6.  This famous verse has been dissected many times, in many ways. For the best understanding we need to be reminded of the context: remember, in short, Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. Now in verses 4 & 5 we’ve been told to rejoice and that our “gentleness” and reasonableness should be known by everyone we come in contact with. If these things are in our mind then hearing that we shouldn’t be “anxious” about anything, isn’t just a cheap catchphrase but actually touches and impacts our lives and the lives around us. If Paul recognizes that the world is tough and bad stuff happens but that we have a tangible and real eternal hope, then we should be willing to listen to why we shouldn’t be stressed.

The reason isn’t because the longer we’re a believer the more levels of enlightenment we’ve climbed. It’s not because some fake prophet has told us to get over our stress and stop worrying because everything will be fine. It’s not because it’s irrational. It’s not because if we’re religious enough and do enough good works we won’t have anything to worry about. If anything, we’ve studied in Ephesians and Philippians, Christians will end up with more weight on their shoulders. So why shouldn’t we be “anxious about anything”? Because if we do what God asks us then we are guaranteed “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” which will “guard” our “hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”

Paul gives us three things: “prayer”, “supplication” and “thanksgiving.” But first we have to recognize that this applies to “everything.” We don’t get to give 95% over to Him but keep one or two little things to worry about. We shouldn’t feel like we’re giving up control because really…we never had control of our lives in the first place! Instead this should be a relief that we are to give everything over to Him. Let him have all the doubts and fears.

So first we are to do everything by “prayer.” Payer is one of the gifts God has given us to talk with Him. It shouldn’t be a memorized bunch of words without feeling or meaning. Prayer is the single greatest weapon we have against Satan. Prayer is just as much us listening to God as it is us talking to God.

Second, we are supposed to “supplicate” ourselves to Him. What is “supplication”? The word “supplication” is an action of asking for something humbly (as I mentioned in Ephesians 6:18-20, Devotional 120). So when we first tell God about the bad stuff in our life… the stress in our new job, the cancer in our leg, our dad dying… through “prayer” then we can humbly ask that we have peace. We can humbly ask to “rejoice” (v. 4). We can humbly ask to be more “gentle” (v. 5). You thought I was going to say, ‘we can humbly ask that God take it away’, huh? Why would I only ask for God to take it away when I’ve learned that He has me learning and growing through whatever the issue is? First, I ask that His will be done (but I have to really mean it!) and then I can ask if it’s His will to take it away. But when I “supplicate” myself I am recognizing that He is God and I am not. I am asking Jesus to sit on the throne of my heart and allowing Him to do what’s best. See I probably wouldn’t be in such a mess if I had just listened to Him in the first place! So why do I think I still know what’s best? No, I need to recognize that I am His bondservant and that I want His will over my own will.

Lastly, I pray and supplicate with “thanksgiving.”  When I name off the things I have been blessed with it does something to me. I am in awe of how good God is to me. I don’t deserve anything but He always provides above and beyond what I need. When I come to Him prayerfully recognizing what I’ve already been blessed with it changes how I pray. Instead of “give me this” or “get me out of that” it becomes “God, I have seen you prove yourself over and over again, so Lord if you want me to get this thing then great, but if not, thanks for that because You know best and it probably would have caused me a lot more trouble.” The great American evangelist, pastor, educator and writer R.A. Torrey said about “thanksgiving” in prayer: “Returning thanks for blessings already received increases our faith and enables us to approach God with new boldness and new assurance. Doubtless the reason so many have so little faith when they pray is because they take so little time to meditate upon and thank God for blessings already received. As one meditates upon the answers to prayers already granted, faith grows bolder and bolder” (Source 3).

Conclusion. We must take verse 4 with verse 6. If we “rejoice in the Lord always” then we will have a much easier time of not being anxious (v. 6).

 

References:

Source 1: epieikes, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1933&t=KJV

Source 2: Matthew Arnold, quoted by J. Vernon McGee, Philippians and Colossians, 1977, p. 89.

Source 3: R.A. Torrey, How to Pray, p. 60.