Intentional/Structured Prayer

Recently I read this question online:

Everyday I’m in conversation with God. I start in the morning. I spend 10-15 minutes reading his word. And then, he’s with me everyday, every hour. I talk to him like a friend… All. Day.

Anyone else?
I feel like it’s a continuous prayer. But it’s not structured. It’s really a conversation. And maybe I’m crazy… But I believe. And that’s how I feel/see it.
I am active in my evangelical, bible based Christian church. I feel like understanding my faith will help those offering assistance.
What I’m concerned about is I don’t take enough time to pray! Targeted, “I sat down and said a prayer”, kinda praying.
Is this something I should work on?
If I’m having that conversation all day, should I also still be setting aside a time for structured prayer?
I’m beating myself up about it.
Suggestions?


I will first point out that even Christ at times got away from everything else to intentionally pray, so I believe that is a great example to consider.

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Luke 5:16 NLT

Do you feel there are certain people, needs, topics, etc that you are missing out on discussing with God?

Structure is there to help us not miss remembering important things that we might forget otherwise. It is there so that we don’t miss heartfelt and genuine reflection, and intimate conversation with God about these important things.

We don’t want our prayer life to be so shallow/narcicistic that it is only about bringing God into the minutes of our own day — nor do we want It to be so structured that it is all the right words and topics, but nothing that delves deep into our heart to bring reflection, conviction, and change.

I like to remember that the example Jesus gave His disciples is a lot less about “me and my day” than about Him, others, and my role alongside Him:

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.”
Luke 11:1‭-‬4 NLT

Practically speaking, if you need a little help remembering things — I suggest that you check out the prayermate app on your phone. You can set up essentially flash cards for different high level topics/areas or specific needs/requests that you want to be intentional about — then whenever you have time to pray intentionally during the day, you can swipe through those cards to kick off each topic. Think of it as going into a meeting with a basic 5 point agenda so that you are intentional and purposeful about topics and direction – rather than following rote repetition.

My Prayermate

Also, going deeper in the Word with a Bible Study that has you digging, pulling roots, seeking understanding, and strengthening your knowledge of the Word of God for several focused hours each week will build you up in ways that a morning devotional just cannot. That’s the practical/pragmatic advice that I can offer.

Spiritually speaking, if it is an area of conviction, decide to receive the discipline/correction from the Holy Spirit, and change your direction in order to bring you closer into intimacy with God and more in line with His will and purpose for your life.

If it is measuring yourself in comparison to others and comes from guilt or envy, still make changes — but make sure that it isn’t just a lure into dead religious activity/tradition/repition and away from alive heartfelt intimacy.

Either way, don’t waste time beating yourself up — just choose today to take one small step closer to God, and keep doing that. And when (not if, but when) you make another mistake (and you will) praise God all the more for the Blood of the Lamb and the redeemer we have in Christ Jesus, and take another step.

This narrow way is narrow not because there is such an exact checklist to live up to, but because the heart it takes to surrender newly, die daily, and humbly rely on Christ alone to see us through to the end. Amen.

An Unlikely Friend

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 NLT

I spent my lunch yesterday talking with Calvin, the bartender at the Sushi restaurant across the street from my office. Looking at us from the outside, one might consider us an unlikely pair of friends — he is a young, extremely tall, athletic black man wearing his waiter’s attire, and I am an older, very short, portly, white gentleman wearing dress pants and shirt with a sweater vest from The Masters. But here we were listening to hip hop music, talking about Rap City’s the Bassment “back in the day”, talking about bettering ourselves daily, and how important it is for us both to lead our families through avoiding some of our own mistakes and knowing that one big mistake isn’t “the end”. It is wonderful how much we truly have in common where it really matters!

I mention Calvin in reference to this verse because he is a father who genuinely loves his kids (you can see it in his eyes when he talks about them). And he wants them to not make foolish mistakes that will cost them their best life.

And this is God’s perspective on sin, my friend. Even with sin that is pleasurable to us for a season, He knows that it comes with a higher cost than anything it offers in return. He isn’t “arbitrarily making rules” to enforce upon his subjects so they will “obey Him” — like some harsh slave owner with an eager whip in hand watchful for an opportunity to use it. Choice comes with consequences — that is the very definition of choice — we choose and we get what we choose.

“Sin” is just a fancy, religious word for choosing what is not best — making a foolish decision. So the consequence of a life of “sin” is a “death” of things like opportunity and purpose. People will always argue amongst themselves over the list of “rules” — but “sin” isn’t just a checklist of 7 laws of Noah, or 10 commandments on stone, or 613 Levitical commandments.

And there is a contrast that happens as we begin to understand this free gift of God and as we get to know Jesus Christ (who is quite different from us, yet also like us) as a friend. His friendship, a closeness with Him, accepting His offer of a relationship (which we will do repeatedly not just once) is a free gift that will lead us and guide us away from the foolish decisions and into the wise decisions — away from costly consequences and into beneficial consequences — away from death and into fullest life.

And all that I’ve mentioned up to this point, even an atheist can understand and see the clear benefit upon cultures and societies of the core teachings and example of Jesus Christ, while they note the horrors and atrocities of wars and atrocities committed under the disguise of “religion”. We can see throughout history the wisdom of a community/nation full of people making wise choices versus the cost and foolishness of a community/nation full of people making foolish decisions. It seems easy to hide our individual “sin”, but when foolishness runs rampant, it is clearly a cancer killing us and not a party to just be enjoyed. And this visible truth reveals evidence of something greater and beyond just this physical life that we can see and touch and taste and smell. We are promised a life eternal — something after — something even greater — with all kinds of evidence that these promises are true.

If a man chooses Christ instead of sin — on this side He has chosen benefit and blessing and peace as His consequences. And I’m not talking about guaranteed health wealth and prosperity (those can actually be “sin” if we give up what is best in trade for them). But if a man chooses sin in this life, there will be those consequences and cost in this life.

If you have “sin” in your life that you know is costing you unnecessarily — I’m not here to guilt you into shame over your “wickedness” or being “evil”. As a father myself, that perspective when dealing with my daughter just isn’t particularly useful or helpful if I want her to learn and change her habits. But acknowledging “foolishness” and how the best might be “stolen from her” by poor choices is valuable. God isn’t surprised by your “sin”, you aren’t so especially wicked or evil or foolish — because all of us have fallen short and given up opportunity and purpose at times in this life.

But He offers us a reminder, a hand reached out in love, an example in His life, a guide in His Word, and a teacher in the Holy Spirit — to lead us not just through this life, but to prepare us for our forever home!

Is Christ your friend?

Would you like Him to be, but you aren’t sure how?

He promises that if you genuinely seek Him that you will find Him.

Time in His Word, praising and worshiping Him alongside other believers, and intimate time with Him in prayer are key.

And once you have seen that He is a trustworthy friend and a Good Father, believe Him, accept His promises, confess your belief, and share the reason for your hope through baptism and a life of loving and serving others and sharing what treasure you have found.

Does God and creator of the heavens and earth seem to be an unlikely friend to “someone like me”? I know, right? Nevertheless, He is. Truly, He is.

If you have any questions or would like help, please feel free to comment below or contact me.

Everything is Going to Be Okay

Yesterday, my phone was lost at Carowinds, along with my ID, credit cards, etc.
We checked with guest services, and no phone had been turned in. We retraced our steps and there was no phone anywhere we had been.
The last time that we saw it was when Mia and I had met a Hispanic couple who didn’t speak much English with their young daughter who was clearly enjoying the new experience of walking. But it took us a while to figure out that last moment with the phone when we discovered it missing at least an hour later.
I had work to do in Charlotte last night that would require me to have my ID in order to get into the data center. I also had work to do last night that I wouldn’t be able to do without my phone which has my MFA authenticator set up. I was calm throughout the ordeal, because we can cancel cards and file an insurance claim with Verizon for a lost/stolen phone — but the emotion of it all was too much for Mia (my 10 year old daughter). She was afraid, she was hurt, she was disappointed, and she broke down crying right there in the middle of Carowinds. So I just held her and told her that everything was going to be okay. She is a lot like her mommy, and doesn’t like it when things don’t go to plan. I’m “the spontaneous one”.
I reassured her that we were okay. And let her know that we still had the gift card that I had received from my employer for getting vaccinated that I had promised her she could use to buy herself something. I had promised her that in trade for going to the data center with me after Carowinds to get my work done. She didn’t want to use it to buy the stuffed animal that she had been excited about all afternoon because she knew that it was all the money that we had right then. But I reassured her and then finally insisted to help her break through her fear of the circumstances.
As we left the park to drive 2 hours home, I told her that I was confident there was a reason this happened and it wouldn’t be a bad thing — but sometimes we figure out the why and sometimes we might have to wait until “the after” to find out the why.
As we were driving home, Mandee was able to get my card canceled and confirm it hadn’t been used. As soon as I got home, I was able to use Samsung to track my phone, put it in battery saving mode, and turn on the ringer. We called it again this time, and since the ringer was now turned on, we heard a voice answer in broken English. He said “Hi, you remember my daughter?” in his best English. It was the kind Hispanic man we had met. We immediately arranged a meet up at his home in Gastonia and he gave me the address and his phone number as best we could communicate with each other, since the park was closing at this point.
As he drove home from Carowinds, I drove back from Campobello, SC to his home in Gastonia, NC to meet him there. He wanted to be sure to let us know that everything is there, and almost had some of the same fear I saw in my daughter earlier as he didn’t want to take the reward that I was offering him. But I said, “You have blessed me today. Please use this for your daughter and let me bless you in return.” I could understand how his broken English and being in a “foreign land” could probably leave him fearful and untrusting of a white man, or of authority, or of situations that might be misunderstood and put him and his family at risk. But after much insistence on my part, he accepted and I told him that I hope the Lord blessed him greatly for blessing me today.
I could have looked at the situation and thought the worst of this man. I could have reacted in anger and judgement and accused him of stealing since he didn’t turn the phone in. I could have used the tracking information as evidence and involved the police, and there may have been enough evidence to cause this man a lot of trouble and pain. I don’t know the true intentions of his heart, but I chose to use this as an opportunity to see a good neighbor and be a good neighbor. Someone will call this naive — but I’ve met too many inside the cell block to want to see someone go there without giving them the full benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to see love, grace and mercy in action.
And I returned to Charlotte by myself to complete my planned work, and my daughter didn’t even have to sit through it with me. Since I worked quite late, I stayed in a hotel here in Charlotte, and I got to sleep in this morning at the hotel instead of having to get up and take the dogs out early in the morning. And we will get to repay Mia for her generosity yesterday (letting us use that gift card to cover necessities until we had access to our bank account again).
Plenty of things yesterday “went wrong” if I’m measuring them by what I expected to happen — but I am grateful that my daughter saw several examples of peace and faith today. I probably still fell short of how she would envision a perfect daddy behaving yesterday, but she’s learning through all of this to show me grace too.
It just really touched my heart, so I wanted to share.
God bless!

Who have you invited?

Who we invite says a lot about us.

Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
Luke 14:14 NLT

The natural man understands these three things:

  • Inviting rich and respected people who can pay him a good return on his investment in inviting them
  • Inviting those very much like himself in appearance, standing, opinions, and passions to build support for his own causes
  • Inviting a poor man as long as his display of pity towards the man can be applauded and praised

But what about the man whose heart for them drives him to invite just as easily the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the rich, the comfortable, the healthy, and all men of all walks of life?

Could we say that such a spiritual man was just, and impartial, and kind, and humble — and might have a glimpse at what great value lies beneath the varied outward coverings in every case?

Might we do well ourselves to lay down those familiar traditions and perspectives — and turn away from those old, natural ways of invitation contrived for the means of manipulations and exclusions?

Lord, help us to see your example of grace and mercy — giving us what we could not earn nor could we ever repay. Help us treasure this in our hearts and be molded and shaped to be more like you. Amen.

Remembering Accurately

Associated reading:

  • Genesis 8 & 9
  • Psalm 8 & 9
  • Joshua 8 & 9
  • “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling

As I read the chapters yesterday and today, they helped remind me of the the importance of remembering accurately. It also helps that I’m listening to another book on the subject of accuracy vs misconception on Audible (“Factfulness” by Hans Rosling), that was given high praise on LinkedIn by a co-worker.

When we are given instructions on how to do something — as Noah was with his instructions concerning the Ark, as Joshua was with his instructions concerning the town of Ai, and as the Israelites were in receiving their instructions for life through Moses — it is important that we remember accurately those instructions, so that we can follow them accurately. And this is critically important in the short term. Like daily manna, if we rise from our slumber and go out into God’s Word each day to gather our daily bread, and if we meet with Him in the garden for intimate time alone with Him, and on the seashore for time of restoration, and even at the cross for reflection and repentance — we will remember Him more accurately through our day’s plans, tasks, circumstances and surprises.

We also do not want to forget what He has done for us in the past or remember wrongly the history of our lives, of our family’s history, and the history of the world. Relying upon our own memory alone can be tricky — as we have a tendency to forget, to embellish, or to be selective in our long term memories of things. We are not perfect in our memories like God, even though God has favored us so undeservedly as David describes, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them… You made them only a little lower than the heavenly beings”. Humankind not only has our individual memories, but we have our spoken and written and recorded history as well. We have all that we speak amongst our families, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and strangers during our waking lives. And we have all that might be read, listened to, or watched that we have done that might even exceed that short span of our breath- filled lungs.

Since God is of utmost importance in the story of the life of one who “walks in The Way”, shouldn’t He be the ever present salt that flavors our shared remembrance, and the testimony of our trials be the pepper and herbs, and our profession of Christ risen from the dead be our life giving drink? Just as Joshua sat the people down to hear the whole of God’s commands then, shouldn’t we gather together to read and hear the whole of His Word amongst ourselves?

As I am going through this “Old Testament” reading plan ( http://bible.com/r/H ), I don’t look at this example and pat myself on the back for making it 9 days in faithfully — because I remember accurately how many times I have started and never finished such an undertaking. And I’m not ashamed or in despair either about it. Nor am I flippant about my wanting to make it through to the end consistently this time. It reminds me accurately that but for the grace of God, I would be those people drowned outside the Ark, I would be those enemies appointed for judgement, I would be like Achan who stole from the Lord and deserved to be set up as an example of “what not to do”.

But for the grace of God, what would be remembered accurately about our lives?

What history would be left in the wake of our selfish, prideful, foolish, wicked, sinful lives if a better way (even the best and only way) hasn’t been revealed to us?

As I sat down for lunch with a leader yesterday, we talked about how our “default setting” is not that best way and that we both rely on God’s grace and power daily to strengthen us and carry us through. That too often, we make the same foolish mistakes as all the other characters in the Bible, save the one perfect Lamb of God who “got it right”. It is so refreshing and encouraging to sit with friends over a meal and just experience friendship and fellowship together!

As for me and my house, I want us to remember accurately all that the Lord has done for us. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like or how we live it out consistently, day by day — for our own benefit, for the world to see, but most importantly for the glory of God — but I’m eager to see what the Lord has in store, and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it. Amen.

Safety or Danger

I learned about Mark Wahlberg’s daily schedule last night and began rethinking my own, so I read my chapters for today before bed and “slept on it” instead of reading it first thing. I took an intentional step last night to better prepare me for the day ahead — just like establishing and implementing a plan for exercise (both physical and spiritual) will better prepare me for the days ahead.

Associated Reading:

  • Genesis 6
  • Psalm 6
  • Joshua 6

As I read Genesis 6, Psalm 6, and Joshua 6 last night, I found Noah finding safety from the world in his task of building the Ark, and David finding mercy in a time of trouble through prayer, and Rahab finding safety when Jericho fell because of her choosing to help the people of Israel — and this was a stark contrast to the depravity of mankind to be destroyed in the flood, the enemies who will turn back ashamed and horrified at what they have done to David, and the city of Jericho and everything in it utterly destroyed as a tribute to the Lord.

There was a clear contrast in each reading between what led these intentionally into safety, while others continued on unmodified towards their own destruction. And there is the same for us today.

Benjamin Franklin put this wisdom into easily accessible and non- religious words when he said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” And we also have some great quotable that we can pull from scripture about planning, about being intentional, and for aligning our purpose with God’s will:

Proverbs 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Proverbs 16:3 Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

Luke 14:28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?

Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

We are choosing today to intentionally receive this word into our minds to be written upon our hearts. We ask our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who prays on our behalf at the right hand of God the Father, that our purpose and plan would established one step at a time in His will and His purpose. In that, we find safety not damger, and mercy not shame, and deliverance not destruction. We are no better than Noah the drunk, David the adulterous murderer, or Rahab the prostitute in our own sinfulness, so we rely upon the mercies, grace and blessings of the Lord just as they have. And just as they are no longer called drunk, murderer, and whore neither are we. By His blood and through the faith we have been granted, we are children of God. Safe in our Heavenly Father’s arms. Amen.

A, B or No

Have you ever had someone ask you if you’re this or you’re that — proposing a type of multiple choice question to you as if those are your only options — when your answer may not fit either of those options? Where they want you to confirm and show your support for either a simple answer of A or B, but the complexity of the situation may have you answering outside their question with a “No”?

The first thing that comes to mind is political parties. Yes, there are people that are die hard fanatics for a certain political party versus another and who will blindly follow whatever propaganda is fed to them by those handing out the manipulations and the agendas. But many rational, reasonable and wise people can see the corruption and wickedness on both sides of an issue. In fact, any judge with time on the bench will tell you that the true rarely lies exclusively on one side or the other side recalling of the events of a dispute, but it is most commonly found “somewhere in the middle”.

I love how Joshua 5:13-15 provides us with a wonderful picture of this type of interaction. Joshua encounters unexpectedly a man with a drawn sword and asks in a way — Are you A) for us or B) for our enemies? Expecting a confirming answer from this warrior…

Let’s stop right there for a moment, and let’s try to make this a little more real. Imagine you are about to go into your favorite football game between your team and their rival, and this impending moment is foremost and up front in your thoughts. You see another person within a block of the stadium carrying a football, but not wearing the colors of either team. And you ask, “Are you for the Clemson Tigers, or are you for the Alabama Crimson Tide?”

This more familiar situation might make the ego-centric nature of the question be revealed a little easier — because I’m not sure how many of us have commonly encountered unshielded men with drawn swords in our day to day lives (at least if we are talking physical reality and not metaphorically speaking). Can we see that the question of A or B in these situations imposes upon others that what is most important and familiar to us in a situation — most assuredly must be important to them as well.

We make these types of mistakes with other people constantly — labeling people as friend or foe when they are really just stranger or acquaintance, stereotyping and judging people wrongly, etc. And we also make these same types of mistakes about God.

How many of us fools pray “trying to get God on our side” of an issue or problem or challenge, and never talk to Him again until we need to place another order at the metaphorical drive-thru “have it my way” fast-food prayer line? Missing out altogether on who is God and who isn’t in this equation, and missing out on the work that prayer is meant to do within us more often than around us.

Some of these bratty children that I see demanding things from their parents, and some of these bratty adults that I see and hear demanding things from society and others, some of us in our wants and desires — need to hear a surprising “No”.

Some of us need to understand that our personal perspective may be blocked and hindered because we have been only considering A or B, me or them, etc. — when the right answer is “No” and our response is instead, “What does the Lord have to say to His servant?”

And when we reach this place of holy surrender, we aren’t just standing upon holy ground where we can stack up stones to create an altar or marker that others can see. We are establishing a point and time in our lifesong where a true miracle of correction, revelation, repentance and spiritual victory has been won. Amen.

Related Reading:

  • Genesis 4 & 5
  • Psalm 4 & 5
  • Joshua 4 & 5

Bullies

Yesterday, while driving back from a morning shopping and setting up the LEGO Bonsai Tree at my office in Greenville with my 10 year old daughter, we talked about bullies.  I explained that I can remember people in my life that have acted like that — bossy, mean, aggressive and hurtful, and asked her if she had too. Her initial, sweet and soft hearted answer was no. She didn’t want to label or call anyone such a thing because she hopes the best for everyone around her. But I knew of a few examples that even she would be aware of — and I explained that acknowledging and discussing “bully behavior” doesn’t mean that we’ve written them off as “that is who they are”, and we were able to discuss and laugh about several examples.

Bullies are “people acting like enemies”, short and simple. And if we are honest with ourselves, we have all done these types of things in our lives and hurt and opposed others and not been perfectly patient, kind, gentle and loving. But the Bible tells us that our enemies are not flesh and blood, but that our battle is spiritual. This does not mean that we are innocent of any and all wrongdoing, but that there truly is an enemy of and a bully of mankind.

Genesis 3 introduces this enemy into the narrative, and we can see that his bullying isn’t just knocking books out of people’s hands, sticking signs on their backs, calling them names, and acting physically aggressive like we might see bullies portrayed in TV shows and movies about school life. No, this enemy is slick and smooth in how he opposes mankind, misleading, manipulating, lying, and confusing. And in Psalm 3, David acknowledges how it feels as a man facing his own son seeking to kill him and the enemies that have been gathered against him.

And Joshua 3 has a wholly different type of enemy revealed.  In verse 4, it is revealed that the people need a guide since they have never traveled this way before, and verses 4 and 5 reveal the need to “[keep] a systems” and “purify yourselves” as they could put themselves in danger coming too close to the Ark. The Ark is not an enemy, but staying too far away or straying too close both were a danger. A hard hearted person who hates God may think of God’s striking people dead for accidentally touching the Ark, or leveling whole cities for their sinfulness, or flooding the whole Earth and its inhabitants as a bully and an enemy — but this is how the true enemy twists and manipulates the whole truth to hurt mankind.

We can’t just think of enemies and bullies in the obvious and stereotypical way that we see them portrayed in the movies. Just like my daughter initially dismissed acknowledging any darkness in those around her in her life, when we really get down to examining the topic — we can see that there really is an enemy.

So what do we do about it?

The enemy uses us against each other. The enemy even twists God’s words against people who try to listen to the words God has spoken and follow them like rules, but don’t understand or trust the heart and reason behind those words — like with Eve. If we get too wrapped up in religion without a strong, close personal relationship with God, we will be a devil ourselves, knowing just enough “about what God said” to be used by the enemy to mislead others like Eve. But if we humbly cry out to the Lord God like David, and if we “prepare ourselves” like Joshua urged the people, we can face any enemy.

Christian, it is encouraging to not see enemies/ bullies everywhere, or “find the devil under every rock”, because God is with us and is our shield and our faithful protector. But just like it is good for me to prepare my daughter with discussions about what bully behavior looks like, it is good for us to prepare ourselves with what our Good Father has to tell us and to guide us.

The greatest thing we can do about bullying/enemies?

Know the Lord close, recognize and trust His voice and guidance, and not be filled by the enemy into hurting others.

The second thing?

Acknowledge and admit that we haven’t always gotten this right ourselves, repent, confess to each other our failures, call out to the Lord for help, do our best to not make those same mistakes, and humbly do our best to repair what damage has been done.

When we are truly a friend and a servant to even our bullies/enemies, and when we are humble about what we can do ourselves to clearly show them the love of Christ – walls can come crumbling down and God can do the fighting for us. And He can even change both our hearts and theirs to a place of reconciliation.

God bless, friends!

Associated Reading:

  • Genesis 3
  • Psalm 3
  • Joshua 3

The Contrast

There is a great contrast between the grace and mercies found in intimate closeness to God — versus the harsh reality of death, darkness, and destruction that comes to those separated from and opposed to God.

Genesis 2 lays out for Adam and Eve an explanation of the consequences of “choosing the wrong side” when they are told “If you eat its fruit, you will surely die.” And Psalm 2 contrasts those who do not submit as “you will be destroyed in the midst of all of your activities” to “what joy for all who take refuge in Him!” And even Joshua 2 lays out a choice and consequences for Rahab the prostitute, who helped them.

In each of these situations, we see kind advice communicated — like a good father would warn his children about not touching a hot stove top — but we also see the opportunity for submission or opposition. And even more importantly, we see that the ones giving advice and extending grace have the wisdom and insight to indicate the “If you choose X, your consequences will be X — our If you choose Y, your consequences will be Y.” It would be foolish for a father to not warn his child about the consequences of a hot stove — just as it would be foolish of a child not to heed his father’s advice about the hot stove.

But we have all at times in our lives ignored the advice of our heavenly Father and traded what is best for a different set of consequences. In fact, being a slave to sin is having our joy and our greatest blessings stolen from us repeatedly, day after day, as we are tricked into giving up willingly what is best — in trade it for the momentary pleasures of “sin”.

Instead of seeing sin as “getting to do what I want instead of having to follow God’s rules” — we must understand that sin is always us “giving up what is best for us in trade for something less”.

A good father knows that his child might be foolish, and isn’t telling him “don’t touch the hot stovetop” to keep him from enjoying exploring some new areas of the kitchen — but to protect him from the hurt that he knows will be the inevitable consequence. In fact, a good father isn’t waiting eagerly to beat the foolish child for touching the hot stove and getting burnt — he longs to share wisdom and good advice for the benefit of the child.

Unfortunately, I fear that much of what extreme evangelical teaching has used (seemingly as a shortcut for denomination centered religious “conversions” not Christ centered life-altering “salvations”) — by scaring people with an emphasis upon hell and eternal torment and a wrathful, vengeful Father God, with Jesus as a “get out of hell free card” if they can explain the “Roman road” and recite a “sinner’s prayer” — has completely skewed the common understanding of God as Heavenly Father and how “sin” is understood. I know that I personally misunderstood this for decades of my young church going life.

To look at “sin” from a “do this and don’t do that” perspective alone is having information but not knowing how to truly understand it. This is what is meant by “the letter of the law kills”. That is the religious, judgemental, hypocritical perspective that would enjoy and take pleasure in repeatedly beating a child for placing their hand on a stovetop that wasn’t even hot — while using the excuse “it’s for his own good” to justify their perverse pleasure in doing harm to the child. That is not how God operates, and those who act as if it is — not only do not know Him personally — but clearly know very little “about Him” as well.

When we look at the love of a father who warns us of the dangers, yet allows us to learn — either by being his advice and enjoying the fruit of wisdom — or by ignoring his advice and experiencing the consequences of the prodigal — that grace available for both the wise and the foolish, will either have us grateful like the prodigal son, or confused and mad like the jealous older son in that story. This is the gospel, and it sees things from a spiritual perspective.

Related reading:

  • Genesis 2
  • Psalm 2
  • Joshua 2

Songfire

Sometimes someone else’s “songfire” is just what we needed to set us ablaze!

So what do I mean by “songfire”?

It isn’t just about singing, but the power of song is something universal that most people will understand. We’ve all heard certain songs and singer’s performances that reach out and captivate us beyond the pretty sounds and melodies and harmonies — that somehow touch us deep inside personally.

And fire is also another concept that we can grasp and understand how a little spark when fueled and stoked by the winds can level whole forests. And we’ve all felt how those internal flames can at times burn white hot and uncontrolled — and leave scorched earth in the wake of our careless actions or words in a “heated moment”. That’s even what we call it — a “heated moment” — acknowledging this universally understandable concept of “internal flame”.

So what is “songfire”?

“Songfire” is your worship. And whether you are religious or not, we all “worship” something.  It is whatever sets you ablaze and lights up your being. It is whatever captivates us and drives us in that unique way that sets fire to us and to those around us.

We see this in movies about love stories where we are spectators to others “songfire” being poured out onto each other, and it inspires and influences us.

We see this in addictions where people’s whole lives have become clearly centered around one thing and it is clear where the “songfire” of their life is being sucked out of them and consumed by their addiction, and it convicts us and serves as a warning.

We see people passionate about certain causes and standing up for their side of an argument strongly against others who are passionate on another side of an argument spewing their “songfire” at each other like arrows, stones and hellfire, and it opens our eyes to how the proper source and use of our “songfire” makes all the difference in our own lives — and in how our lives will impact others.

What lights you up?

What gets you excited?

What is your “songfire”?

What do you worship?

If it is things of this world, those things will pass away, rot, rust, decay or be destroyed eventually.

If it is a person, they will eventually let us down when we set them upon a pedestal high enough for them to fall from.

If it is riches, they will prove a neverending chase, with less and less true satisfaction — proving the more that we gain, the more that we will desire — if that is our “songfire”.

If it is pride and honor amongst others, that is also fleeting vanity and will not last — as loyalty amongst men is only as faithful as,”What have you done for me lately?”

However, if your “songfire” comes from the eternal flame of the spirit of Almighty God, what could ever extinguish such a fire? And who could stand in our presence and not be touched by the tongues of these flames if we are ablaze with such “songfire”?

Are you hungry for this type of “songfire” in your life?

Have you had a taste of it yourself, or felt the tongues of someone else’s flame, and you want more of it for yourself?

“Songfire” is worship. And worship is abandoning those other things that have been hindering or distracting us — giving up what is bad — or even giving up what is good — for devotion to what is best.

Decide today the source and focus of your “songfire” friends. It really matters Decide, and time is valuable and fleeting..

Decide today who you will serve, what your life will worship, and consider how that will impact all around you as well.

Talk to Jesus about this, friend. He is a wise advisor, an authentic advocate for what is best for you, and a friend whose “songfire” is warm and freeing to your soul and to those around you. His “songfire” will not leave scorched earth, but will refine your heart and remove the impurities and poisons that have been holding you back and stealing your joy. Amen.

1 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
Acts of the Apostles 2:1‭-‬4 NLT

23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
John 4:23‭-‬24 NLT

1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Romans 12:1‭-‬2 NLT

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. 16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Colossians 3:12‭-‬17 NLT

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Matthew 5:14‭-‬16 NLT