Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Volume 4 No. 227 July 11, 2014

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Sunset in Naples, Florida, USA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Bible Readings for This Sunday (July 13)

2. Sermons for This Sunday (July 13)

Sermons For the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_5th-sunday-after-Pentecost.htm

3. Featured: Serving Even When We Feel Exhausted: Revisiting the Miracle of Feeding 5000

Luke has a different objective (a different slant on the miracle of feeding 5000) that he's trying to convey when he shares the details of this miracle. Same details, but clearly focusing on a different issue!

Because for Luke the focus isn't on the crowds, or their off-base political aspirations in response to the miracle! In fact, in Luke the miracle itself seems secondary to an even greater concern in Luke's mind:

The issue of how Jesus' disciples should respond to people when those people invade their quiet space or their needed alone time with God; when they're tired and exhausted and feel they need to get away from people to recharge their physical and spiritual batteries! ....

4. God Provides, Even When We Can't See It

 While it's easy for us to recognize the hand of God on the right, we fail to see him working on the left. We're grateful for the clarity of his guidance and the comfort of his blessings, but find it difficult to discern his hidden hand during times of discouragement, disappointment, suffering, and trial.

The Scriptures abound with examples of saints who had the same problem. ...

5. Our Anchor in the Daily Storm

What does it take to live a godly life in an ungodly world? The signatures of sin and evil are all around us. There has to be something more that we can do than just white-knuckle our way through temptation.

Simply put, our anchor is Jesus Christ. He is our only salvation from sin - the anchor of our souls that holds firm (see Hebrews 6:19), especially when the storms of life threaten and the enemy's temptations blow hard against us. ...

6. Putting the Letters Together: When You Find It Hard to Pray

Someone clipped a comic strip called "One Big Happy” and left it on my desk. The first panel shows a little girl kneeling by her bed getting ready to say her prayers. It must have been a long day for her because she begins this way: "I’m so very tired tonight that I can’t even remember the words to my prayers.” ...

7. Be Salt. Be Light. Be Love

To help us keep Jesus' teaching about salt and light in context, notice that it immediately follows the Beatitudes - and specifically the part where Jesus said 'you are blessed when you are persecuted and insulted and lied about in an evil manner simply because you follow Jesus.' The "you" here is plural. All of us together, suffering together, is a blessing. ...

8. The Power of Doing Good

With what certainly appears to be an escalating amount of tragedy and evil in today's world and in our country, it certainly makes one think that the existence of goodness has become more of an exception than the rule. Unfortunately, acts of kindness remain overlooked by the media and rarely, if ever, make the evening news. While we should never seek recognition for our good works, for as Christ says, "when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does," (Matthew 6:3), we should never underestimate the power of small acts of goodness performed with love. ...

9. Family Special: What's Wrong (and Right) with Spanking

Spanking. The act and even the word itself have become controversial. To many it is abuse, not discipline. People claim that it gives birth to frustration, anger, and violence. They say that it does not bring about any good, instead it does harm… and they are right. ...

10. About Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (July 13)

Sermons for This Sunday (July 13)
This Week's Features

Featured: Serving Even When We Feel Exhausted: Revisiting the Miracle of Feeding 5000

by Dr. Jeffrey F. Evans

Gospel: John 6:1-15 / John 6:25-66 / Luke 9:10-17

Today we come to a text we're all familiar with - The feeding of the 5000. Few of us seated here today, or few kids who have ever attended Sunday School growing up, are unfamiliar with the details of this story! I fall into that same category.

So, when I skimmed the passage a couple of weeks back, in order to get ready my preaching schedule for the upcoming weeks, I simply glanced over a text I thought I knew well, combined it with a few things I knew from John's account of the feeding of the 5000, and put together the topic and title I would preach on: "Feeding the Hungry – The Christian's Duty, the Inherent Dangers and the Inevitable Delinquents."

But I got that topic and title by focusing more on John's text than Luke's text, because in John's account the emphasis IS more on Jesus feeding hungry people in need; them seeing that in Jesus they have found a leader who can actually multiply food out of very little, have their food supplied and stomach's filled without doing anything, and thus desire to make Him king.

After all, who wouldn't want someone as king who could make an abundance of food for His people out of next to nothing, without them having to work under the hot sun to earn the money, or spend the money they earned to buy it? It would be the ultimate welfare state!

Who wouldn't want as a government leader someone who supplied all the food they needed for free?! Because in their day, it wasn't housing (or one's mortgage) that took the biggest chunk out of their monthly budget, it was buying food to feed the family.

Thus, John (unlike Luke) records for us that after Jesus miraculously fed them, "they intended to… make Him king by force." (John 6:15).

And Jesus perceiving their motives goes on to rebuke them 11 verses later where he tells the same people: "I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw a miracle (a sign of the inbreaking of the kingdom, and proof that I am the Messiah) but because you ate the loaves and had your fill."

So I intended to preach on the age-old problem that has always gone along with meeting people's temporal needs - the problem labeled on the mission field as creating "Rice Christians." People who come for nothing but the handouts, with no interest whatsoever in Jesus, or the salvation of their souls.

People, who by the way, stop following Jesus in this text when He tells them later on in the same chapter what He's really all about and what He expects from them (John 6:53-66)!

So, as you can see, that's where the title I originally intended to preach on came from - John's account of the feeding of the 5000, and not Luke's! The Christian duty of feeding the hungry, the inherent danger of simply producing an unhealthy dependency, and how it often leads to people who simply walk away as delinquents when they realize what Christ really expects of them. Which is true to the overall message of John's account.
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The problem, of course, is that I'm not preaching through the Gospel of John! I'm preaching through Luke's Gospel! And Luke clearly has a different objective (a different slant on the event) that he's trying to convey when he shares the details of this miracle. Same details, but clearly focusing on a different issue!

Because for Luke the focus isn't on the crowds, or their off-base political aspirations in response to the miracle! In fact, in Luke the miracle itself seems secondary to an even greater concern in Luke's mind:

The issue of how Jesus' disciples should respond to people when those people invade their quiet space or their needed alone time with God; when they're tired and exhausted and feel they need to get away from people to recharge their physical and spiritual batteries!

That seems (from the context) to be one of Luke's main concerns in recording this event! And for that reason I ask you right from the start - "What do you think Jesus would say to us if we were tired and exhausted and on a spiritual retreat, and had our space invaded, or were interrupted by people in need, who ruined our time of being recharged in that personal private time with Jesus?"

"What do you think He would say to us?" And instead of me simply telling you, let's look at the text, and see what IT has to tell us, since that seems to be one of Luke's primary concerns as he records the circumstances leading up to this miracle!
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FIRST, we have to remember the background to the text. The disciples have just returned from a whirlwind short-term missions trip to all the local towns and villages where they preached about the kingdom of God / cast out demons / and healed people everywhere!

They've been busy, and on the go, and living by faith. They took no provisions with them and did for the very first time all the things Jesus had been doing all along, having been given by Jesus, a share of His divine power and His kingdom authority!

And in verse 10 we see them return from that trip to report to Jesus what they had done. It's what we might call a "debriefing session." A time to share what had happened during their intensive, busy, fully-booked schedule of outreach to the local area, where they were doing it all -- preaching, healing and casting out demons!
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Yet rather than simply listen to their stories right there, what does Jesus do?

"He took them with Him, and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida…" A beautiful little sea-side resort town along the coastline of the Sea of Galilee.

And from what we can discern from the context, this "withdrawing by themselves" is intended to be a mini-vacation, or a weekend getaway or a spiritual retreat for them where they can catch their breath, be physically refreshed, and spiritually rejuvenated. At least that's how the disciples seem to perceive it if we read their response right in verses 12-13.
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Yet as they head out on their retreat, word slips out where they are. "The crowds learned about it," we are told in verse 11, and "they followed Him."

And much to the dismay of the disciples (I submit to you), when all thousands of people start showing up and interrupting their away time with Jesus, as we are told in verse 11b, "He welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those needing healing."

So, what started out being a time to get away, and debrief with Jesus, and rest physically and get renewed spiritually ended up being just another busy day of ministering to huge crowds of people!

Making the somewhat abrupt imperative comment of the disciples in verse 12 a bit more understandable, where they say: "Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging...."

Not, should we send the crowd away, or do you think we should send them away, but very bluntly "Send them away…" (almost as if its said with a slight tone of irritation - though they do try to mask that irritation with an air of apparent concern when they add, "for we are in a remote place."

And much to their surprise, Jesus responds and says: "YOU give them something to eat." And you can almost picture their response! "Us?! All we have is five loaves and two fishes!"

Which they quickly interpreted to mean they themselves (with so little food at their immediate disposal) after yet another full day of ministry to huge crowds of people / would have to go to the surrounding villages themselves / buy enormous quantities of food for the crowds / carry it back a great distance (to that remote place) on their own backs and distribute it! (With no Land Rovers or vehicles of any sort!)

Luke even adds in parenthesis that: ("About 5000 men were there.") And I believe, like most, that it means "There were about 5000 men there, not counting women and children!" (Estimates for the total crowd ranging anywhere from 7-10,000 people!) So we're talking a lot of food, for a lot of people, carried on the backs of very tired disciples, who were expecting a time to relax and kick back and be alone with Jesus!
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Which brings us to our SECOND point - the whole point of my sermon - that Jesus occasionally calls us to serve even when we are feeling tired and exhausted and in need of being served and waited on ourselves.

And here please hear me well: I know there are times when we do need to get away to be refreshed. I do. I know all to well what its like to be in the throws of burnout and to have to step back and separate myself from people and ministry for the sake of my own health and spiritual well-being.

So please don't hear me saying we should never seek to get away and rest! That would be contrary to the teaching and example of Jesus Himself and the sermon I preached way back in Luke 5:12-16 about "The Balancing Act – Making Time for Ministry, Taking Time to Pray." Occasionally we must do it! It's not a luxury; its a necessity!
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That's why understanding a passage in its context is so important! Because what we have going on here is not a planned time of ministry, but an unexpected and interrupted time of rest!

There are times (as we see in this text) when we need to plan to get away and be refreshed. This text assures us of that because that's what they initially start out to do! But it also shows us that sometimes, the most important opportunities to minister arise at the most inopportune of times!

And when that happens, as disciples of the one who came to serve and not be served, and as people empowered by the Holy Spirit, and thus not limited to natural resources alone, we need to push ourselves beyond what we think is possible and serve even in our exhaustion!

Not in a way that never takes time out for personal refreshment, for we are still human despite the empowering of the Holy Spirit, and need to be wise and make sure we don't get so depleted that we're no good to anyone!
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Yet one of the obvious messages of this text is that there are also times when we think we have nothing left to give, and cannot muster up the strength to do another thing, and God miraculously supplies what we in our humanness lack.

Which means there are TWO miracles spoken of here! The miraculous PROVISION OF FOOD for the hungry crowds, and the miraculous SUPPLY OF STRENGTH to the disciples which enabled them to serve others when they thought they had no strength left! And if you've been a Christian for any amount of time, you'll probably be able to testify to this type of experience.

For me it happened when I returned form the Dominican Republic. I was burned out and exhausted and going through reverse culture shock (with a little re-entry depression mixed in) when I got a call from an old drinking buddy on the football team I had played on in high school who heard I was home and invited me to a party at his house.

Every bone and muscle and ligament in my body said: "Do not go! Just climb into bed and get some rest." And then, like a still small voice came the whisper - "Most of the people who'll be there still don't know Jesus. This is an opportunity you cannot pass up!"

And thus, tired as I was, and just wanting to hit the sack and get some sleep, I got ready, drove down to his house, and started to talk with my old friends that I hadn't seen for at least 2-3 years – telling them about my time as a missionary in the Dominican Republic.

I even got to speak to one person (big guy about 6 foot 4 inches tall, and 250-260 pounds) who was getting into yoga and eastern religions and turning against the Christian faith his family had tried to raise him in. We must have talked for an hour and a half, sometimes very intensely, about Jesus being the Son of God, and what that meant, and how the Bible spoke of Him as the only way of salvation.
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And the weirdest thing happened - as I continued to speak with him and others I felt myself being filled with an uncanny strength that came from somewhere other than me! To the point that when I left well after midnight, I was so energized that it took quite a while to get to sleep (which I used to pray for each person I'd spoken to)!

And not only that, when I did wake in the morning, I woke feeling more refreshed than if I'd gone to bed at 7 o'clock the previous night and slept those extra 5-6 hours!

Why? Because I believe God was the one who told me to go there. And when it's God (as I discovered that night and have rediscovered time and time again) that asks us to do something, He will always supply what is needed to do the thing He calls us to do!

Sometimes He's woken me out of my sleep, in the middle of the night, with a burden to pray for someone that is so strong that to refuse to do it would be an act of outright disobedience! And I used to complain! "But Lord, I've been so busy and I need the sleep!"

Yet once again, as I learned very quickly: Whenever God calls me to miss sleep to pray, He makes the time I do sleep hyper-refreshing, so that I wake energized and feeling like I didn't miss any sleep at all!

That (I believe) is at least one of the things this text is trying to tell us. It is good to plan times to relax and be refreshed physically and spiritually. But there are other times, when we think we couldn't do another thing (and if we were limited to our own human resources and nothing more that would be true) that Jesus calls us to get up and watch Him supply.

Because we're not limited to our own pitifully inadequate human resources! That's why Jesus can come to us on occasion, even in our exhaustion, and say: "Tired as you are, I want you to give them something to eat."

"But Lord I don't have anything to give, except a little piece of bread and some fish."

"Do it," He says, "and as you do I'll miraculously supply what you need-both the food to feed them and the strength to serve it. I'm able to do that you know! It's a miraculous provision that's no less miraculous than any other miracle!"
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Which brings us to our THIRD point - sometimes it's our ministering in our exhaustion that speaks the loudest about our love for others, and our trust in God's ability to supply what we need. Because, after all, God is our Master, and serving others in His name is our calling.

William Barclay makes a good point when he says: "Far from finding (the intrusion of people upon His time) a nuisance, He was moved with compassion for them. Premanand, the great Christian who was once a high-caste Hindu, says in his autobiography" ‘As in the days of old, so now our message to the non-Christian world has to be the same, that God cares.' If that be so, we must never be too busy for people, and we must never seem to find them a trouble and a nuisance… We must never deal with people with one eye on the clock, and as if we were anxious to be rid of them as soon as we decently can."

That's convicting, is it not? For which of us in our hurry up society has not done so on occasion? Ever been praying, and enjoying the pleasure of quiet, uninterrupted time with God, only to have your child burst into the room all excited about some accomplishment or discovery (and not having any idea you were praying), only to have you verbally chew them out for interrupting your private time with God? Sends the kids a strange message about God, and prayer, doesn't it?

God has chastised me a few times on that one! And told me that if they were to interrupt such glorious times of prayer in the future, the best thing would be to do what Jesus does in this passage, and welcome them, invite them to pray with me! Invite them into that time! That would say a heck of a lot more than the selfish, irritated response they sometimes got!

Premanand, as Barclay goes on to share, speaks of an incident that he believes could well have changed the whole course of the spread of Christianity in India. He speaks of an incident where the first Metropolitan Bishop of India (for the Church of England) failed to meet with the late Pandit Iswar Chandar Vidyasagar of Bengal because he was too busy.

The Pandit (who was somewhat like a Hindu ambassador) had been sent as a spokesman for the Hindu community in Calcutta, to establish friendly relations with the Bishop and the Church.

Yet Vidyasagar (who was founder of the Hindu college and an author of quite some repute), returned without ever being able to see the Bishop, and as a result formed a strong party of educated and wealthy citizens in Calcutta to oppose the Church, and the Bishop, and guard against the spread of Christianity. The Bishop's refusal to allow his schedule to be interrupted, says Barclay, "turned a friend into a foe."

And as Barclay goes on to point out: "What an opportunity for Christ was lost because someone's privacy could not be invaded... Jesus never found any man a nuisance, even when his whole being was crying out for rest and quiet - and neither must his followers."
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Then LAST, I need to share that although we do need times or rest and recreation, and private times alone with God and even times to simply kick back and do regular things, we also need to know when to forego them for the sake of our Gospel witness, and what our preferring them to ministry might say to those earnestly inquiring about Christ. It's a point I'll convey simply by sharing one last story - a true story (though I will refrain from using the man's name since someone who hears this message might know who it is I'm speaking of)!

It was late in the Fall of either my first or second year at seminary. And I went to hear a speaker (a pastor) who had suffered much and been imprisoned for his faith behind the iron curtain during the cold war.

And I must confess that his message and the experiences he shared and the things he said so moved me to tears (and not just me, but 5-10 others in the audience) that after the presentation we all went up to speak more at length of the topic of needing to stand firm in our faith, and suffer whatever might come our way for being faithful to Jesus.

Not because we simply wanted to talk to him, but because our hearts were stirred, and our spirits were convicted, and we needed some things clarified in our souls.

Anyway, he fielded our questions for about 5-10 minutes, when all of a sudden he looked at his watch and said, "Look guys, I really like to get home and watch the football game." And he turned around and left!

And I remember standing there in absolute shock! Because he'd just shared a stirring, convicting, challenging message on persecution and the need for unconditional commitment to Jesus, and then when we went up to inquire about it more, he considered getting home to see a football game more important than addressing soul concerns!

And you know what? It ruined, at least for me, everything he'd just said! And I know I wasn't the only one for which that was true.
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Now, was it wrong for him to want to watch a football game? No. I love football and have watched many myself - even using them as opportunities to witness to others.

But here's the key: When a person is under great conviction by the Holy Spirit / When their soul has been stirred to see the things of Christ in a new way / When they're contemplating the momentous things of life and dealing with issues that touch on the ultimate realities of God, forgiveness, salvation, and commitment to Christ…. To say to a person dealing with those things that you'd rather be home watching a football game is an affront to Christ and a contradiction of the Gospel!

In fact, if that person were an unbeliever who was under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and their soul is touching the things of eternity, and it felt like nothing on earth could be more important than getting right with God and had a preacher or an evangelist say that to them at that point - it would be to so trivialize the Gospel, and a sin so grievous that it could possibly turn them off to Christianity for good!

Jesus knew that, and we should as well. It's not wrong to want to relax, but when people are soaking in the Word, and under great conviction by the Holy Spirit, we need to lay EVERYTHING else aside - even things that would be perfectly appropriate and acceptable at other times, and minister to the need at hand.

God Provides, Even When We Can't See It

by Brian G. Hedges

In his book Brain Rules, John Medina tells the intriguing story of Dr. Oliver Sacks, a British neurologist, and one of his patients, an elderly woman who "suffered a massive stroke in the back region of her brain that left her with a most unusual deficit: She lost her ability to pay attention to anything that was to her left." Medina explains the effect this had on her perceptive abilities:

She could put lipstick only on the right half of her face. She ate only from the right half of her plate. This caused her to complain to the hospital nursing staff that her portions were too small! Only when the plate was turned and the food entered her right visual field could she pay any attention to it and have her fill.

Sometimes I think we're like this in our spiritual perception. While it's easy for us to recognize the hand of God on the right, we fail to see him working on the left. We're grateful for the clarity of his guidance and the comfort of his blessings, but find it difficult to discern his hidden hand during times of discouragement, disappointment, suffering, and trial.

The Scriptures abound with examples of saints who had the same problem. Think of Naomi, bereft of her sons and her husband, now back in Bethlehem after a decade in Moab during a time of famine. She is soon the talk of the town, and the women of Bethlehem ask, "Is this Naomi?" But Naomi, whose name meant "pleasant," retorts,

"Don't call me Naomi…Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." (Ruth 1:20-21)

Once she enjoyed fullness, now she is empty. Once she was happy, not she is bitter. Naomi is convinced that God's hand is against her. But she doesn't yet realize that Ruth, the young woman at her side, will be the Lord's means of bringing an heir to her household, redemption to her estate, and ultimately redemption to the world. (Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David and one of only four women named in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1).

Or take the old patriarch Jacob. With his family facing famine, his sons had ventured to Egypt to find food. Now they have returned, leaving Simeon behind, and with the mandate from the prime minister to bring their younger brother Benjamin back with them. To make matters worse, the money they had paid for provisions in Egypt is now back in their bags! This isn't good. Are they being framed as thieves? In near despair, Jacob cries out, "Everything is against me!" (Genesis 42:36). What Jacob doesn't know is that God is working behind the scenes through his long-lost son Joseph, to provide for the whole clan of Israel. As Joseph will later say to his brothers (who had sold him into slavery, thus landing him in Egypt in the first place), "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20).

We're just like Jacob and Naomi. We misinterpret our circumstances. We feel hopeless, though hope stands right at our side. We feel like everything is working against us, not realizing that God is actually working everything together for our good (Romans 8:28). As poet and hymn-writer William Cowper said,

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His works in vain
God is His own interpreter
And He will make it plain. [ii]

The problem is our limited perspective on the providence of God. The doctrine of God's providence teaches that God governs over all things in creation. He's not an indifferent watchmaker who made the world and then left it to tick away on its own. He is rather a good and wise king, who governs human affairs. "The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all," declared the psalmist (Psalm 103:19). But not only is he our king, he is also our Father, intimately concerned with the smallest details of our lives. For Jesus said,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

My favorite definition of God's providence comes from a 16th century catechism that asks, "What dost thou mean by the providence of God?" Answer:

The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but be his fatherly hand. [iii]

This is good news, but we must have faith to embrace it. Neither our circumstances, nor our feelings, are reliable indicators of what God is up to in our lives. Sometimes everything will seem to be against us. Sometimes we will feel empty and bitter. But when we do, we should remember how limited our perception really is. Like Oliver Sacks' patient who couldn't see anything to her left, sometimes we can't perceive the presence of God's goodness or the wisdom of his plan.

Let's remember, then, this wise exhortation from Cowper's hymn:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace
Behind a frowning providence,
he hides a smiling face. [iv]

About The Author:

Brian G. Hedges is the the author of several books including 'Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life'. Brian also blogs at www.brianghedges.com

References:

[i] John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Home, Work, and School (Pear Press, Kindle edition. Loc. 1106-1116).

[ii] William Cowper, from his hymn, "Light Shining in Darkness," better known as "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," 1774.

[iii] The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 27.

[iv] Ibid.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

Our Anchor in the Daily Storm

by Dr. Michael Youssef

What does it take to live a godly life in an ungodly world? The signatures of sin and evil are all around us. There has to be something more that we can do than just white-knuckle our way through temptation.

Simply put, our anchor is Jesus Christ. He is our only salvation from sin - the anchor of our souls that holds firm (see Hebrews 6:19), especially when the storms of life threaten and the enemy's temptations blow hard against us.

Does this mean that we can escape the troubles of this world? No - but it does mean that we set the compass of our hearts on Christ, the Shepherd of our souls. Then, when the aggressive winds and tumbling waves of temptation come, we will not be overwhelmed by them.

Jesus knew that we would face serious temptations and trials. The night of His arrest, He prayed for us: "[Father], my prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it" (John 17:15-16).

We can begin living the godly life Christ has given us when we Anchor

Have a heart focused and set on Christ. We do this by being committed to prayer and the study of God's Word. We can't set our hearts on Christ or learn to live godly lives unless we follow the instruction manual that God has given to us, and this is His Word - the Bible.

Refuse to get caught up in busywork, believing that we are pleasing to God. The greatest gift you can give the Lord is not a full schedule that includes one church meeting after another. We should not allow anything we are doing for God to prevent us from being with God.

Realize that God loves us with an unconditional love. There are consequences to sin that are unavoidable, and one of these is that we sense God's rebuke because we have grieved His Spirit. But when we pray and ask Him to forgive us, He does - and He restores our fellowship with Him because His love has the ability to cover a multitude of sins (see James 5:20). God's grace is a gift that cannot be purchased by good works. When we draw nearer and nearer to Christ, our desire to follow the way of temptation will fade.

Invest in our spiritual future. We are involved in a spiritual battle. Unseen forces wage war against us, but the ultimate victory is won in Christ. Only faith in Jesus Christ wins the battle. It is faith that is built and maintained through love and devotion to God's Son.

Our heavenly Father has provided all that we need to live free of Satan's temptations, tactics, lies, and snares. If you are struggling to follow His leadership in your life, stop and ask Him to help you understand the depth of His love for you. When you do, you will find that He is giving you the strength you need to live a godly life in an ungodly world.

Source: Leading The Way

Putting the Letters Together: When You Find It Hard to Pray

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Someone clipped a comic strip called "One Big Happy” and left it on my desk. The first panel shows a little girl kneeling by her bed getting ready to say her prayers. It must have been a long day for her because she begins this way: "I’m so very tired tonight that I can’t even remember the words to my prayers.” In the next panel she folds her arms on the bed and adds, "But since you already know what I’m going to say ...” She then begins to say the letters of the alphabet: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z.” In the final panel she looks plaintively toward heaven and says, "Maybe you could put the letters together in the right way. Thanks and Amen.”

We all feel like that sometimes.
Prayer is easy until it isn’t.

I remember getting the phone call some years ago that my mother had died. We quickly rounded up our boys and drove to Alabama for the graveside service. The whole trip is a blur in my mind. One moment you’re home, and your life seems to be running smoothly, then suddenly you are hundreds of miles away greeting old family friends you haven’t seen for decades. It was a true "wrinkle in time” for me where the past, the present and the future all seemed to come together for a fleeting moment. Then just as suddenly, you’re back home again trying to get on with the demands of life.

I do remember that I had trouble praying during the trip to Alabama. Perhaps "trouble” isn’t precisely the right word. Perhaps I mean that for those few days I felt distracted and unable to concentrate. It was emotion plus weariness plus being somewhat under the weather plus seeing so many old friends so suddenly. But for whatever reason, prayer was difficult and came in spurts, when it came at all.

What happened to me was not uncommon. The pressures of life sometimes make prayer difficult.

It is precisely at this point that I take comfort from the little girl’s prayer. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:26 that often we do not know how to pray. We don’t know the words, we aren’t sure what to say, our minds can’t focus, and the strength simply is not there. In those moments we have the consolation that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we can’t pray for ourselves. He speaks to the Father with groans that cannot be expressed in human words. This means that we need not feel guilty when we cannot pray. When you come to the moment of complete exhaustion and can no longer frame the words, you don’t have to worry. The Holy Spirit will pray for you. In your weakness he is strong. When you cannot speak, he speaks for you.

Take heart if you feel overwhelmed today.

The Holy Spirit can "put the letters together” when you can’t find the words to say.

Source: Keep Believing Ministries
Copyright © 2014 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved. 

Be Salt. Be Light. Be Love

by Kayla McClurg

Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

To help us keep Jesus' teaching about salt and light in context, notice that it immediately follows the Beatitudes - and specifically the part where Jesus said 'you are blessed when you are persecuted and insulted and lied about in an evil manner simply because you follow Jesus.' The "you" here is plural. All of us together, suffering together, is a blessing. Suffering alone - not so great. But suffering together, Jesus says, is like getting some good news! Eternal blessing lies ahead! So it is a privilege to live a Way together that puts us into a different rhythm from the world's rhythm, to do what we couldn't do alone - to align our lives with God's holy adventure described by Isaiah as one having such distinguishing marks as ending oppression and injustice and restoring the streets of our cities so that they, too, will be in alignment with the all-encompassing vision of God. And when we live this way of blessing, we are given the awesome privilege of suffering.

We don't head out into the world each day with a personal goal to be salt and light any more than we go out looking for some persecution. Together we simply practice "a Way" lit by Love, described in the Beatitudes as a Way of spiritual humility, measured by practices of mourning and poverty and meekness and mercy and peace and submission to God's order instead of our own. As we practice living in these ways, we are given the gift of being insulted and persecuted. We don't put on an attitude of salt and light as armor against the insults…we simply become salt and light, which is another way of saying that as we die to our private selves we are cast into the only Love that has what it takes to end oppression and injustice in our world.

THE SUN NEVER SAYS
(A poem by Hafiz)

Even
After
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

"You owe
Me."

Look
What happens
With a love like that.
It lights the
Whole
Sky.

Jesus says WE, the community that calls itself "Christian" - followers of Jesus - the Church, are the ones called to be a living model of what happens when life is lived in Love. Love in action seasons the whole world, lights the whole sky.

A missionary asked Mahatma Gandhi, "What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?" His answer was immediate: "Christians." And I wonder, might the greatest hindrance to the future of the Church be the Church?

You might think from Christian Sunday School training that "to be nice" was Jesus' primary message, but nowhere did he say, "You are the SUGAR of the earth." Nothing wrong with being sweet to each other, but we mustn't confuse it for the gospel. The kind of devotion God requires, according to Isaiah, is a bit bolder than that. He speaks in the imperative voice: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice (who? [you]); [you] share your food with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your homes. And don't just help the strangers in your midst; help your families, too. In other words, step beyond your own small circles of belonging…but don't ignore your own small circles. The salt and light of healing is for everyone. Isaiah is naming the challenging call to put love in action.

For a few years I lived and worked at Providence House in New York, which is a network of homes where nuns and a few others live together with women who are fresh out of prison, or escaping domestic abuse or homeless for other reasons. The extent of their needs was overwhelming. These women, along with their children, didn't need only housing or access to health care or education or emotional healing or child care or jobs or the chance to begin again - they needed all of these things, and more. They needed an entire culture and society to be healed and to work in a different way…so that their own lives could work in a different way. It was at Providence House that I was forced to face whether or not I really believed what I had said I believed since childhood: Jesus has saved the world. When we grew discouraged that we would ever be able to do anything truly life-changing for these women, Sister Elaine, who started Providence House, would say, "Remember, Jesus already saved the world. Our job will be something different."

Today's message is that the "something different" we are called to do will alter the very milieu in which we live. Whatever it is, it will relieve oppression and injustice…it will be salt and light. Salt so as to preserve what is worth preserving and corrode whatever stands in the way; so as to draw out the unique flavors of life; so as to sustain a balance, as salt balances our electrolytes and helps us stay on an even keel; so as to create thirst in those longing for the waters of Life; so as to thaw what is icy and to heal what is wounded. Giving ourselves in a way that is not too much, not too little. The qualities and uses of salt are as varied as each of us, unique crystals carrying some unique aspect of God into life. And light - erasing the dark so that we simply cannot keep living in denial. Jesus was describing not only a hoped for vision, but what he already saw in this ragtag little community that was on the verge of becoming the Church.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in "Letter From Birmingham Jail": "There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society." Even if it weren't winter, we would know that having a thermometer on the wall is not adequate, regardless of how accurately it measures the temperature. The temperature only changes if there is a thermostat - or a hotter fire.

As we, a collective of churches called The Church of the Saviour, move into the next phase of our common life, we will become more aligned with the vision of Isaiah and Jesus, or we will become less aligned with that vision. This is always the choice before us - there is no static option. We are always becoming more like God's ultimate vision, or less. So the question for us is not "What does it mean to be The Church of the Saviour at this juncture?" The question is, Does God want to use us now? Does the fire of the Spirit burn in the inter-connectedness as well as in the separate belongings? Does an intentional connection restrict us or send us forth even more boldly?

I want to close with some words from an essay in a church publication:

"The life of the church revolves around the question, 'What can we do to guarantee our future?' And we conclude that we have to 'play it safe'; we have to do what it takes to stick around….

"[But] in order to be worth having around, the church must risk not being around. It must realize it is called to die. The church cannot carry a cross or worship in the presence of a cross and then attempt to live in ways that play it safe….

"The church is called to live in ways that jeopardize its future. The real business of the church is to die. Each generation of the church should consider itself the last. Each should understand its mission to be believing, saying, doing and standing for those things that reflect the values of God and that render its continuation in the world highly questionable….

"The purpose of the church is to live as Jesus lived, and let the consequences be the consequences. The purpose of the church is to live so imaginatively and courageously in making its faith visible in the world that it explodes in a marvelous super nova of faithfulness, brightly shining forever in the memory of those who witness its passing.

"People in churches all over the globe huddle together in dismay about their future…. The question, as always, is 'How shall we survive?' It's the wrong question. 'Which ditch shall we die in?' is the question. 'What is worth dying for today?' is the question….

"The church is called to be seed cast by the Holy Spirit upon the soil of the world. The seed does not fret over its own survival but gives itself to the task at hand, which is to die - trusting itself to the grace and sustaining power of the One Who is God.

"Just as it is the seed's job to die, and through dying to bear much fruit, so our job as the church in this generation is to die - not to save ourselves from the awful possibilities of life in the world, but to expose ourselves to those realities and live within them as the people of God."

(by Jim Dollar, "What Are We Here For?" from the journal Presbyterians Today, Nov., 1993)

What IS worth dying for? Salt fulfills its purpose by disappearing. Light serves best by absorbing and overcoming the dark. By dying, they radically change whatever space they enter. We, too, serve God's vision best as we give ourselves away, like salt, like light, like love.

© 8th Day Faith Community

The Power of Doing Good

by Judy Keane

With what certainly appears to be an escalating amount of tragedy and evil in today's world and in our country, it certainly makes one think that the existence of goodness has become more of an exception than the rule. Unfortunately, acts of kindness remain overlooked by the media and rarely, if ever, make the evening news. While we should never seek recognition for our good works, for as Christ says, "when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does," (Matthew 6:3), we should never underestimate the power of small acts of goodness performed with love.

In a recent homily said at Mass at the Domus Santae Martae, in the presence of employees of the Governorate of Vatican City, Pope Francis said that "Doing good is a principle that unites all humanity, beyond the diversity of ideologies and religions, and creates the culture of encounter that is the foundation of peace." The Pope continued, "The Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our hearts to do good and do not do evil." In addressing those who do not believe in God, Pope Francis went on to say that, "we must meet one another in doing good. 'But I don't believe Father, I am an atheist.' Even then, but do good ' we will meet one another there." The saints are also excellent examples of the power of performing acts of goodness. Saint Bonaventure, whose Feast Day will be celebrated on July 15, is known as the "Seraphic Doctor" because he revealed a certain warmth towards others as a divine fire. His leadership with the Franciscans, following St. Francis of Assisi, expressed itself by showing charity, goodwill and ardent affection towards all others.

Admittedly, in my own daily stresses and busyness, I sometimes fail to see the needs of others and respond as I should. Perhaps this is the case for you from time to time as well? So how can we become loving, good and kind more consistently in our lives? Saint Bonaventure gives us a good tip. He tells us to look carefully at the crucified Christ and ponder his wounds and the tremendous sufferings he underwent for each of us. Gradually, this ongoing practice will enable us to become more compassionate, understanding, and kind toward others, even those we consider our enemies. It will help us to truly become Christ's extended hands in our hurting world, for when we look at the sufferings of others, we see in them the suffering Christ. It is also helpful to meditate on bible verses which guide us in the way of kindness, perhaps the most notable being Matthew 25:37-41, "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

We must also realize that while we work personally to better ourselves true transformation comes with divine assistance by the power of the Holy Spirit when sought in prayer. Perhaps there was no better example of kindness in modern times than Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who said, "Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor… Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting." Similarly Saint Vincent de Paul said, "We must love our neighbor as being made in the image of God and as an object of His love." So what does love in action look like? According to Saint Augustine of Hippo, "it has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."

Therefore, never underestimate the impact of your warm smile, a kind word of support, a compassionate touch, a heartfelt compliment, a listening ear or a warm greeting. Be aware of those who might be hurting around you - perhaps the person at the check out counter, someone you work with, someone sitting next to you on a plane. Why? Doing good is powerful! It has a ripple effect. It directly counteracts the evil of our times. It has the power to transform hearts, minds and souls. It transforms and uplifts ourselves and others - making extraordinary things happen. Above all it is pleasing to God for as Saint Faustina says, "Pure love … knows that only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love - love, and always love," - Divine Mercy in My Soul.

So throughout each day let us look for opportunities to do good. If ever the world has need of massive amounts of good deeds - it is now!

About The Author:

Judy Keane is a Catholic writer and a communications/marketing executive who resides in Phoenix, Arizona. She holds an MBA in International Business and is currently working on her first book.

Source: Catholic Exchange

Family Special: What's Wrong (and Right) with Spanking

by Jen Thorn

Spanking. The act and even the word itself have become controversial. To many it is abuse, not discipline. People claim that it gives birth to frustration, anger, and violence. They say that it does not bring about any good, instead it does harm… and they are right.

"Spanking has been shown to weaken the bond between kids and parents, slow mental development and increase antisocial, violent and criminal behaviors." (NY Daily News)

A child is caught lying to his mom, she grabs him by the arm, hauls him off to another room, lays him over her knee and gives him a good spanking. A boy sasses his dad who has had a bad day. He pops his son on the mouth telling him that he better not disrespect him like that. These are examples that are all too common when it comes to spanking. Such responses flow out of anger or frustration and accomplish nothing good. The Bible confirms this…

"The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." (James 1:20)

Angry, harsh discipline slowly destroys the parent/child relationship. It breeds hostility and violence in many children. On that count, the world is right… this is sin.

But this does not mean that spanking, in and of itself, is bad. I believe the Bible actually shows us that corporal punishment, or spanking, can be good and fruitful when it is done according to the will and wisdom of God.

Why Spank?

Before we consider more on this controversial issue, we need to go back to the authority of the word of God. The Bible is right and true, without any error. Therefore, we cannot ignore the parts that are hard to understand or make us a bit uncomfortable. We must always remember that God's ways are not our ways, but they are good.

Secondly, we need to remember that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and this includes even our dear children.

"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15)

I find the concept of spanking to be something of a mystery. I don't really understand how it all works, but I trust that God knows how humans function and how to best to lead us from our folly when we are young.

"A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother." (Proverbs 29:15)

The rod is a symbol of authority that a parent holds within the home. It includes everything from time-outs to corporal punishment. It doesn't demand only one way of disciplining a child, but it certainly does not forbid spanking. It certainly endorses it. But like all authority, we must be careful to never misuse it.

If You Spank

This is not a post on how to spank your child. There are wonderful books and sermons that go into great detail on that topic (Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp, for example). But I strongly encourage every parent who will or is considering spanking their child when warranted to take these words to heart.

1. Never discipline in anger.

It is sin against God and against your child because you are, in that moment, not motivated by love but driven by selfishness.

2. Discipline in private and not around other siblings or friends.

Spanking should never be a means by which a child is shamed. They are to be corrected and comforted.

3. Make sure the punishment fits the crime.

Spanking should be reserved for specific situations, restricted to certain ages. Not every sin deserves a spanking. We reserve such discipline for lying and blatant disrespect. In our house spankings have been infrequent but fruitful.

4. Make sure they understand why what they did was wrong.

This is why anger must be put away. We must be able to talk to our child through the process as best as possible.

5. Make sure your child knows that this is not a break in the relationship, but a means by which it is established.

Punishment should always be followed by hugs and words of love and encouragement.

The World Is Wrong

The rod of correction is not to be used when our child embarrasses us or when we are irritated. It is not something to wield when we are mad or in a bad mood. While the world is right that this kind of discipline does more harm than good, it is an overreaction to declare that spanking should never take place.

Don't believe the hype, but don't trust your heart either. Trust God's Word. Discipline that is meted out with kindness and love restores a child and honors God.

About The Author:

Jen Thorn lives in Illinois where she serves alongside her husband, Joe, at Redeemer Fellowship. She loves studying theology, reading the Puritans, and has a passion for all things chocolate. Jen blogs at jenthorn.com as well as goodmorninggirls.org.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

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