Category Archives: Matt’s Moment

Thoughts on Naomi

Two weeks ago, I started preaching through the book of Ruth. It is one of my favorite books in the bible. I love this story of love, devotion, and redemption. Several times a week, I’ve read through this wonderful little book and enjoyed the story of this family. Many times over the last couple of weeks, I have pondered Naomi and her feelings at the beginning of the story.

To give you some background, there was a terrible famine that struck during the time of the Judges. During this famine, food was scarce in Bethlehem in Judah. So, Elimelech packs up his wife and two sons and moves to Moab where there is food. After they’ve been there a while, he dies. His two sons grow and marry and then, after ten years, they two pass away. This leaves Naomi alone with her daughters-in-law.

We know something of the character of Naomi in the reaction of her daughters-in-law to her after their husbands die. They love her deeply. This isn’t a Hollywood in-law situation in which the kids don’t get along with their in-laws. Instead, these girls have found a second mother in Naomi.

Hearing that the famine in Israel has passed, Naomi decides to go back home. Other than Orpah and Ruth, she has no family in Moab and the loss she has suffered is bitter. As she prepares to leave, her Orpah and Ruth pack up to go with her. When they reach the road that will lead back to Bethlehem, Naomi tells the girls to return to their families. It is a painful moment, because the girls really love her. There are tears shed and they cling to each other desperately. Both girls want to go back with her, but she prevails upon them to go back home and find new husbands who will love and care for them. In a moment of tearful farewell, Orpah turns and returns to her family. Ruth, on the other hand, dearly loves Naomi. More, she has come to know Naomi’s God (YHWH) as her own. Resolved to stay with Naomi, she convinces her to let her go to Bethlehem with her.

When Naomi and Ruth reach Bethlehem, Naomi is greeted by her family and friends. They are excited to see her, but home has given her no more peace than Moab. In Moab, she left behind her husband and sons, but here at home, she is confronted with all the memories of her youth. She remembers her wedding to the man she loved, the two sweet little boys she held in her arms, and the joyful times they had. Her heart is filled with bitterness.

When she is greeted, she responds, “ “Don’t call me Naomi. Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21)

I’ve thought a lot about this passage. Naomi is so bitter. In the Hebrew, she actually says, “The Lord has testified against me.” She feels like she’s being judged for something she did. I’ve pondered her thoughts. Perhaps she felt like she should have spoken up when Elimelech decided to move out of Israel and to Moab. She may have thought that, if she’d warned him about staying in the promised land, she may not have lost her family. Or, perhaps she was the one who urged Elimelech to leave. In her worry over seeing her children fed, she may have urged him to pick up and leave their land only to lose her family in another one. Perhaps she felt guilty that her sons married girls who believed in different gods. Maybe she just didn’t know what to think. She only knew that she’d lost those she loved the most and couldn’t understand why.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever wondered why you’re going through a situation that you don’t understand? You may ask, “What did I do?” “Why is this happening?” “Does God really care?” You may think to yourself that God has set himself against you as Naomi did. You may even be bitter toward God as she was.

What Naomi couldn’t see was the story about to unfold. She was caught up in God’s redemptive plan for our world. God planned for Ruth to play an important part in the history of both Israel and for the world. It is through her that the bloodline of David comes and it is through his bloodline that Mary’s is established. And, through her, passes the bloodline to Jesus. God uses Ruth, a Moabite girl who loved Him and who loved her mother-in-law, as a step to His own Son. But, that’s not all. In the very story of Ruth’s life and Naomi’s, we see God’s love and devotion for those who love Him. We see in Him our Redeemer. We see in Him the Groom who is coming to claim His bride. In the same way that Boaz acts to restore Ruth and her family, our God acts to restore us to Himself. It is a beautiful story.

The pain that Naomi felt was very real. The loss of her husbands and sons was something that she could not understand in the moment. But, later, as she looked down into the eyes of her grandson as she cuddled him, she could see the beginning of a new life. God restored joy to her. He renewed her heart, her spirit, and her life. She saw a new hope.

Naomi wondered what she did to deserve judgment. I believe that the answer would be the same we see in John 9:3. This happened so that the works of God may be shown in her and in Ruth. We don’t always understand why God allows things to happen. But, we can rest assured that God has a plan in action for those who love Him. Like Naomi and Ruth, in God’s timing and through God’s plan, we will find restored hope, heart, and life.

A Christian Response to the ISIS Situation

This Sunday, I preached a sermon on the response of Christians to ISIS and terrorism. In the past year, we’ve seen Christians driven from their homes into the mountains and left to starve, Christians abducted and beheaded, women and children sold into sexual slavery, and governments being overturned. We’ve seen atrocities committed that have shocked most of the world.  Many in the world want to see ISIS eradicated and the men, women, and children who serve it and its ideals destroyed. So, what should a Christian’s response to terror and groups like ISIS be?

I believe that there is a two-fold response from the believer. The first is an understanding and support of a governmental response. In particular, I refer to Romans 13:4b, “…But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for [the government] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Governments are, by nature, designed to counter those who break the law. With ISIS and terror organizations like them on the loose, I believe it is the responsibilities of the governments of our world to step up and fight this evil. It is OK for a believer to pray for the fall of ISIS, the Taliban, and other terror organizations. We have an example of these types of prayers throughout the book of Psalms. We can and should pray that God will remove evil such as this from our world and we should support the government when it makes moves to remove this evil.

What does this look like for a believer? Some may join the armed forces and fight when action is taken against these groups. Others may do things to support our men and women in the armed forced. We may be outspoken in our desire to see our government counter these attacks. And, we should encourage our government to ally with those who are working to destroy this evil. It is OK to be angry about what is happening? Yes it is, as long as the anger you have does not turn to hate. I also believe that it is OK to defend against this evil if it comes to our doorstep. However, I believe there is also a complementary response.

The second response is a desire to see the men, women, and children who support ISIS and terror organizations like them to repent and surrender to Jesus. As much as I hate seeing what these people are doing, I pray that they surrender to Christ.

In Acts 6-9, we see the story of Stephen and Paul (Saul) unfold. Stephen is taken before a false court because of his witnessing about the works of Christ and the works he is doing. While before the court, he delivers one of the most beautiful accounts of the gospel found in scripture. What he teaches so enrages that the men in the Sanhedrin that they cover their ears and rush in anger at him. They drag him from the city and prepare to stone him. Stephen, knowing he is about to die, does not pray that they be judged or killed.  Rather, he prays that they be forgiven because they don’t truly understand what they are doing. His prayer mirrors the prayer of Christ on the cross.

As they prepare to stone him, they lay their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. Saul watches and approves of the stoning of Stephen. In fact, Stephen’s stoning whips to flame a desire to do more of the same. At the beginning of Acts 8, we are told that Saul begins to ravage the church. He is so inspired by Stephen’s stoning, that he begins a wholesale rounding up of Christians so that they may be put to the death. Because of him, the church is scattered as people flee the persecution he begins. However, the story doesn’t end there. Saul has an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and he was changed forever as he surrendered to Christ. The man who was the worst persecutor of the church became the one who would lead the charge in taking gospel beyond the Jews and to the gentiles. This man, who watched Stephen die and went on to be a driving force in the death of other Christians, became one of the most influential Christians of his day. He went from a man who was violently opposed to Christianity to willingly laying down his life for his belief in Jesus Christ.

Just as with Paul, we should be praying that those who are committing these atrocities will come to a point that they surrender to Christ. It is my prayer that one of those men who beheaded the twenty one Christians will, himself, become a believer in Christ and share the gospel with those who do not believe. We should be praying for the believers who come into contact with them, that they will speak as the Holy Spirit leads and that their eyes and ears should be opened.

Is it OK to be afraid of the threat these groups pose? Yes. There is a reason why God tells Joshua three times to “be strong and courageous.” There is a reason we are given armor and told to “be strong” and “stand firm” in Ephesians 6. The Christians who learned of Paul’s conversion were terrified of him. It took Barnabas accepting him and bringing him before the apostles in order for him to be accepted. Being afraid is a natural response, but God also gives us what we need to stand firm in the face of the threats facing us. While we may be afraid, we should not let that fear stop us from following where God leads us.

Is it OK to pray for the destruction of a group like ISIS while at the same time praying for their salvation? Yes. The response of the government is to destroy evil and we should pray that it be destroyed. It is understood that, when governments act and war happens, there will be people (both believers and those who do not believe) who will die. We do not want people to die, but we do want evil destroyed. We pray that evil not find a foothold but, when it does, we pray that it be destroyed quickly.

God, speaking to Israel and the evil that had crept in among them, in Ezekiel 18 says, “‘I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live.'” God is speaking directly to a situation like this. He is preparing to use Babylon to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah and Ezekiel are both prophesying and telling the people to repent. God would rather people repent than to see them destroyed, but he will move to destroy evil when it is allowed to continue.  We acknowledge in our prayers that something must be done and we ask in our prayers that there will be those who are saved.

Finally, as we consider this two-fold response of the believer to threats such as ISIS, there must be a going of believers. Right now, there are missionaries that are staying in these countries. There are men and women who are choosing to go there in spite of the danger and knowing that their lives may well be given in the endeavor. Armed forces can fight and destroy the strongholds of these groups. They can wipe out the armed forces of the enemy. But, it takes believers who are willing to live out the message of Christ to see a heart change in the men, women, and children who espouse terrorism. Remember, all of us had this same evil in our hearts. All of us have sinned. When we surrendered to Christ, that evil and that sin was left behind in his sacrifice. So, pray for these people that they may know the truth and experience the changing work of Christ.

I hope that you’ll consider your response to these threats prayerfully and by going to God’s Word. Pray for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted and killed for their faith. Pray that they will remain strong, that a remnant be delivered, and that their sacrifices will lead to the turning of the hearts of those who are persecuting them.

 

Desiring the real food of scripture

I’m blessed to be the daddy of two amazing little girls. Each day, they surprise, please, and sometimes frustrate me. I couldn’t be happier than to be their daddy. Each has her own personality and is unique in her own way.

On Christmas Day, we began to feed Aleah real food. For weeks, she was grabbing at our food as we were eating. She would reach for our drinks, our plates, our forks, and even our hands as we were eating. Just days before Christmas, I was eating a sandwich and she grabbed it out of my hand and tried to put it in her mouth. She was READY to eat!

Hannah, on the other hand, has become picky in what she eats. Often, she refuses to eat what she once loved. In fact, sometimes, she’ll ask for something and then refuse to eat it when we fix it for her! All she seems to want are gummy bears, peaches, and cheese. She doesn’t understand that there is better food and better tasting food to be had if she’d just be willing to taste and see.

As I was watching my two little girls and their eating habits, I began to think about how much they mirror the growth of a Christian. As a Christian grows, they should desire to move on from the milk of Scripture to the meat of scripture. Just as our bodies demand a greater level of nourishment as we grow, our spirits do as well. And, just as we have stages of growth, so do we spiritually as well.  So, what are the three stages of spiritual growth?

1. Infancy and Milk (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Both Hannah and Aleah were breastfed. The amazing thing about breastfeeding is that the mother’s milk is almost a perfect food. When Hannah was a couple of months old, she stopped having dirty diapers. After several days, we began to grow concerned and took her to the doctor. He told us that the mother’s milk is so well designed that there is often very little waste left over after a baby digests it. He said to only worry if she went over 10 days without a dirty diaper as long as she was having wet diapers. I can tell you, we were floored! A mother’s milk provides nutrition, immunization, fluids, and everything that a baby needs to grow during one of the periods of the fastest development the human body experiences. As the baby grows older, the content of the milk even changes to aid in the new demands on the baby’s body.

Like a mother’s milk, the scripture has everything that a new believer needs. In the early stages of belief, a believer is unable to grasp the deeper things of theology and spiritual growth and that’s OK.  Scripture provides everything we need.  In fact, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:2-3 to desire the pure spiritual milk. It helps us to grow as believers in our salvation. But, there comes a stage when we should desperately long for something more than just the milk of scripture. We should be grasping at the thicker food, the food that helps us to move on to the next stage of growth.

2. Childhood/Adolescence and Food (1 Cor. 3:1-2)

As we move from infancy into childhood, our needs change. We need something that gives more fuel than milk does. This doesn’t mean that milk is no longer needed. But, it becomes more of a supplement to the full nourishment that we find in solid food.

Right now, Aleah is eating solid food, but she is still nursing. She still needs the milk that is helping her to grow and develop, but she also needs the solid food that provides more energy, greater endurance, and the joy of taste.

In the same way, as we grow, we should be striving to move from milk into the solid food of scripture.  We should be moving from the basics of belief into deeper areas of study and experience as we develop and grow our personal ministry to both believers and unbelievers. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, expresses his frustration that he gave them milk while visiting them and as he writes, they still have not progressed from that milk.  There comes a time when we must be weened, but unlike infants and toddlers, our bodies don’t demand a change in our spiritual eating habits. We often ignore the demands our spirit places on us for growth and miss its call for more food. Or, we find one or two things that we really like and are afraid or unwilling to move on to a greater variety of food. In this, we come across three dangers.

Danger #1 – Refusing to Eat (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Just as Hannah has entered into a stage of pickiness, Christians can do the same thing! I know there was a long time when I would fight trying anything new. There were certain foods that I wanted to eat and that was that. But, as I grew, I began to try new foods and was amazed at the variety that was available. Now, I am willing to try new foods and, while I find there are some I don’t like, I often find that I fully enjoy what I’ve tried.

If only I could get Hannah to understand that. Oh, I’ve managed to get her to try a few things and, once she’s tried them, she wants to eat more (at least during that setting). But often, she just says no, blows a raspberry, or turns away with her lips pursed.

Christians do the same thing. They become comfortable with certain foods and that’s all they want to stick with.  They are often unwilling to allow scripture to stretch them and grow them, because they’re afraid that they won’t like what they find. So, as long as they don’t try it, then they believe they’re OK.

Danger #2 – Junk Food (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

As I mentioned above, Hannah would live on gummy bears, peaches, and cheese if we’d let her. She wants sweets. In fact, we live in a junk food society. It is easy to get, takes little or no time to prepare, tastes sweet (or salty) to the tongue, and gives a quick burst of energy. However, the downside of junk food is that it has little or no nutritional value, it leaves us thirsty, it leaves us hungry, it robs us of endurance, and can even lead to illness. We often know the dangers…and eat it anyway!

We are warned of junk food in scripture. Paul warns Timothy of a time when false teachers would abound and people would seek them out. They would want their ears tickled with teachings that are not sound, provide no spiritual nutrition, and rob them of their growth and vitality as believers. They want spiritual food that makes them feel like they’re getting something when they’re really worse off after eating it than they were before they ate.

Today, there are a plethora of false teachings about the Bible. I often hear people talk about the bible, but their understanding of it doesn’t come from studying it, but from what they’re hearing or reading that fits what they believe scripture should say or shouldn’t say.  Just like a well-prepared and nourishing meal takes time to prepare and consume, studying and understanding scripture takes time and effort.

Danger #3 – Food Fights (Rom. 14 & 15:1-6,13)

This is more of a danger within the church than in an individual’s life, although the individual believer plays a key part in it. Paul has a lot to say in the book of Romans, Philippians, 1 Corinthians and other books about allowing fights over preferences drive a wedge into the church. In Romans 14 and 15, he warns immature and mature Christians about just that. There were believers in the Romans church who were maturing in their belief. They were moving from milk, to meat, to a more well seasoned food. As they were growing, they were letting go of legalities.

Others in the church were less mature. They were newer, growing slower, or not growing at all. These were hanging on to the few things they liked. However, they weren’t just content to hold on to what they liked, they were judging and accusing those who were growing of being somehow less in their walk because they’d moved past a certain point.

Those who were growing were growing impatient and judgmental of those who hadn’t yet matured as much. In fact, we often see this in children. Before I became a pastor, I was at church and listening to two little girls speak. They were both around 5-6 years old. One was watching her little sister play and said, “When I was a little girl, I was just like her. I’m glad I’m not anymore.” I had to laugh! She was still a little girl! Yet, she was frustrated with her little sister.

We Christians can be just like that. We have to remember that, regardless of our maturity, in God’s eyes, we still have a LOT of growing to do! We should be looking for ways to grow and, if we see a believer who isn’t where we believe he or she should be, then we should be patient and understanding. After all, we ourselves still have room to grow!

And, as we grow, we reach the third level of our growth.

3. Adulthood – Seasoned and well-cooked meals (Heb. 6:1 & 1 Cor. 2:6-16)

Finally, we grow into adulthood as Christians. We reach a level of maturity where we become teachers, disciplers, and we take on the work that is expected of believers. We understand the need for healthy and nutritious food and we seek it in God’s word. We understand the dangers of junk food and we’ve grown past the stage where we get into food fights.  We look forward to the opportunity to experience the fullness of God’s word and, as we share his word with others and they become believers, we start them on the milk of scripture and then help them to grow to appreciate the fullness of God’s word.

God’s word is amazing in that it provides a full diet. From milk, to solids, to the fullness of a feast, God provides for us in each stage of our growth!

A Simple Thanksgiving

There are so many things for which I’m thankful. God has blessed me and my family in ways that I cannot enumerate. So, today, I just want to give a simple thank you to my God for the new life that was secured for me through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. I want to thank Him for the new record that was given me in the shed blood of Jesus on Calvary. And I want to thank Him for the new heart He gave me when I surrendered to Him. He saw me on the cross, He knew me when He went to the grave, and He had my eternity in view when He rose from the grave.

I want to thank Him for the parents and family He gave me who have been by my side throughout my life. They shared the truth of Christ with me, gave me opportunities for growth, have been by my side during times of adversity, and have laughed when I’ve been filled with joy.

I am thankful for the bodies of believers that God has led me to throughout my life. In each, I have learned more about my walk with Him. In each, I have seen Christ lived by men and women and have been humbled by that experience. And, in each, I have been challenged to grow.

I want to thank Him for my friends. What a blessing they have been in my life. God knows just who and when we need friends and he sends just the right people. Sometimes, a friend walks with you for a moment, for a season, for an era, and sometimes for life. So, for all of my friends, both those who are close and those who are remembered with kind fondness, I am thankful.

I am thankful for my beautiful children. I grew up wanting to have children, but I never fully understood how having children would change my life. They amaze me every day. Watching them grow, laugh, and learn. Comforting them when they cry. Watching them with a heart that overflows as they sleep and I tuck them back in at night. My heart overflows with joy.

And, I am thankful for my wife. She is an amazing woman. She prays for me, knows when I need a hug, laughs with me, and makes me laugh. God has graced her with beauty, wisdom, and grace. In the marriage relationship, the wife reveals to her husband how he should relate to God in the eternal marriage that He has with His church. From my wife, I have learned gentleness, respect, sacrifice, joy, peace, and how to grow in faith. I can only pray that God will help me mirror for her the tender and full love in my relationship with her that Jesus has for His bride, the church. My heart melts when I think of her and I can’t help but smile.

For these things and so many more, I am thankful.

Family Fun and Firsts

I am amazed at our fast our little girls are growing up. Just this week, Aleah rolled over from her back to her belly for the first time. She was already rolling from her back to her side, but she’s found out that she can make it all the way over. Hannah is speaking so clearly now and has started to sing little parts of songs. Tonight, while Molly was working in the office, Hannah was sitting off to the side saying her ABC’s and other little ditties. Both of them are so happy and fun. Children are such a blessing.

On the 27th of September, we hosted the 5th Annual 5K Run and Walk Benefit at Vesuvius Baptist in conjunction with Vesuvius Heritage day. We sponsored a youth in our area named Matthew Koogler and had a great turnout for the event! During the event, we had hayrides, bouncy houses, firetrucks, race cars, a silent auction, a clown, great food, vendors, and even the national ring jousting champions. There was a really neat booth set up that talked about drunk/buzzed driving and had “drunk goggles.” There were two objectives when wearing them. One was to throw beanbags into a target circle. The other was to walk a straight line. Just when you thought you’d done it, you’d take the goggles off and find you were way off target. I had a lot of fun with that one.

While we were having the event, Hannah got her first opportunity to ride a horse. The ring jousters allowed kids to have rides around a rink they set up in the lower field. Hannah was a little nervous when she first got on, but after the horse started walking, she was hooked! She kept wanting to go back and ride again and again.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed each other. Whether it has been at church, at the park, or just coinering around, we love to be together!

I am so thankful for my family and the joy they bring.

A natural born rider!
Hannah’s first horseback ride!
Hannah's first ride on a horse!
A natural born rider!
Hannah and Aleah sharing some time together.
My sweet girls
Aleah and Daddy at the park!
Aleah and Daddy!

Three Principles of Faith for a New Generation

Joshua 1:1-9, 1 Timothy 4:12, Matthew 28:18-20

This past Sunday, I preached on Joshua’s calling. If Joshua was anything like me, I’m sure he felt overwhelmed when he learned from God that Moses was dead and that he was the new leader of Israel. Moses, after all, was the greatest leader Israel had to that point. How in the world would he fill Moses’ shoes?

God cast a vision for Joshua that he would lead Israel to fulfill the promise given to Moses that they would inherit the land promised to Abraham. As part of that vision, God promised that no one would be able to stand against Joshua. He would be with Joshua just as he was with Moses. He would neither forsake him or leave him.

I would have hated to try to follow Moses as the leader of the nation of Israel. Those are big shoes to fill! They were a hard people to lead, but they’d come to trust Moses and his leadership. Furthermore, he led them for a long time and they were used to his style of leadership. Now, God was tapping a new generation of leadership to take the reigns and forward God’s plan to its next step of completion.

God knew, when the people were leaving Egypt, that Moses would not lead his people into the land. He knew that a generation would rebel and pass while wandering in the desert. Early in their voyage, he planted a vision in the heart of two young men who spied out the land of the Canaanites. They saw a rich land. It was a land to be desired and they knew that God had promised it to them. When the people refused to cross into the land, those two young men never lost the vision of taking the land that was promised to them. God knew he would use Joshua and Caleb to lead his people into the land.

Moses had a big job to do. God used him to free his people from slavery. He used him to lead them to a place where they would be tested and refined. Through Moses, God taught his people about faith, dependence, discipline, and revealed his love and character to them. But, when it came to actually leading the people into the fullness of that promise, God had someone else in mind.

Joshua Didn’t Have to Fill Moses’ Shoes

Joshua stayed close to Moses and learned about leadership. He saw him after he came down from the mountain still touched by the glory of having seen God. He knew the struggles that Moses had, the victories, and the failures. And, when the time for leadership to change hands came, God chose him to be the new leader.

Joshua wasn’t Moses. He had a different personality, a different style of leadership, and a huge job ahead of him. There is a reason why God tells him to be strong and courageous three times and assures Joshua of his eternal presence twice.

He is about to take charge of a people who were set in their own way of doing things. They had become comfortable in receiving manna and quail daily. They’d fallen into the routine of moving from once place to another in the desert as they sought water. In fact, most of the people he was now leading knew no other way of life. Moses led their parents out of Egypt, but now they were being called to go into the promised land.

Joshua would have to lead people as only Joshua could. He would have to convince them that the faith they’d and lessons they’d learned in the desert were the same faith and lessons they’d live while taking the land. This doesn’t mean he tossed out all Moses did and did his own thing. On the contrary, in verse 8, God cautions Joshua to follow all of Moses’ teachings, to meditate on them day and night, and to not turn from them. In this, he would find the key to his success in achieving the goal God had set him. He was to live and lead in a way that honored and acknowledged Moses. He was to teach the same lessons of faith taught by Moses, but he would do so in his own way and with the unique gifts God had given him. In Joshua’s story, we find three principles of faith for each new generation of leaders.

God’s Plan For You Is Already in Place

When God called Joshua to leadership, he already had the plan for Joshua in place. He was giving a land already conquered into Joshua’s hands. All Joshua and the people had to do was be faithful in taking that land. When God gave his promise to Abraham, God knew Joshua would fulfill that promise by leading the people into the land.  Just as God used Moses to free his people from slavery, so he was going to use Joshua to lead his people into his promise.

When we think of the generations before us, we see great men and women of faith. We may even wonder if we’d ever be able to lead like they did. Yet, with the passing of time, we find ourselves in the positions they once held. And, it can be overwhelming to think that now we must be the leaders. It can be even harder if the older generation is looking on as a new generation take up the reigns.

But, we have a lesson in scripture that is seen time and again. Each generation is called to step out in faith to live the plan God has laid. Each new generation is responsible for teaching the next generation the promises of God, the salvation won in his Son, and how to live a life faithfully surrendered to him. The trappings of the faith may look different from generation to generation, but the substance of the faith is the same and it takes men and women of courageous faith in each generation to carry forward God’s kingdom plans. This is why Paul warns Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). Timothy was following Paul in leadership. He was young, but God’s plan for him was just as important and necessary as Paul’s own. He would be reaching people and advancing the gospel to a new generation long after Paul was gone.

God Is With His People

Just as God had been with his servant Moses, God promised to be with Joshua. It was a promise that covered every difficulty he’d face, every battle he’d fight, every failure, and every success. God had placed his man where and when he wanted him to be and promised to be with him. There is great reassurance, joy, and peace to be found in the sovereignty of the Almighty God.

I believe, more than anything else, that this promise drove Joshua. It was to this promise he turned again and again. All he had to do was look at his own life of leaving Egypt, God’s providence in the delivery of his people, and his sustaining presence throughout their sojourn to know God was with them. More, he had watched God guide and minister to Moses. Knowing God’s promise allowed him to step out into faith.

Be Strong, Courageous, and Faithful

God showed his sovereignty in Joshua’s life by calling him to fulfill the next step of his kingdom plan. Joshua’s response was to be one of faithful and courageous obedience. God warned Joshua that, not only would his calling be difficult, it would be scary. He is encouraged three times to be strong and courageous. In fact, the second time, he’s told to be strong and very courageous.

In following God, our strength does not come from within ourselves. It comes from faithfully knowing God and following his instruction. God cautioned Joshua not to turn to the left or the right from what he was taught. While his leadership may differ from Moses, the faith behind that leadership was to be the same. The promise is that, if he carefully follows God’s full instruction, then he will have success wherever he goes.

Further, he is cautioned not to let the Word of God depart from his mouth. He is to meditate on it (the HCSB translates this as “recite it”) day and night. This means that each day and each night, he is to read (recite) the Word, think about the Word, and make the Word a part of himself. In other words, he must desire God’s Word and actively pursue it so that he may be careful to follow what is written in it. The promise is that, if he dwells in and lives out the Word in this way, he will prosper and succeed in all he does to fulfill God’s kingdom plan.

Joshua’s life was marked by his faithfulness to God’s promise and ours can be as well. Each generation, God raises up new men and women of faith. With each generation, he furthers his kingdom plan.

Going Forward in Your Ministry

As you consider the ministry in which God has placed you, whether that is in your family, your church, your place of work or school, or the neighborhood where you live, know that God has called you to further his kingdom plan. You don’t have to worry about filling someone else’s shoes. He has a unique plan just for you that takes into account the way he created you and the gifts he gave you. He created you for just this time and just this place. As you answer his call, he promises to neither leave nor forsake you. His promise to you and his presence is eternally with you. However, you must make the decision to accept the responsibility he has given you. Serving him can be difficult, dangerous, and scary. The resistance and challenges you meet must be met with strength and courage and you find that by walking in God’s instruction and dwelling in his Word. So take up the ministry he has given you, go out and make disciples of all the nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Teach and encourage a new generation to walk faithfully and courageously in obedience to God. And, know that God is with you always.

A Life Changing Moment

Six years ago tonight, my life was changed.

Molly and I started dating in January of 2008 and I knew pretty quickly that she was the one I was going to marry.  She was fun, funny, smart, pretty, and a strong believer in Jesus Christ. We had been dating for quite a while when Molly invited me to a big family reunion that her cousin throws every couple of years. We had a wonderful time, but I had plans for that evening. Unbeknownst to her, I went that night planning to ask her dad for her hand in marriage. While she was taking pictures with her mom and grandmother, I was in the garage with Tim asking him if I could marry Molly. To my complete joy, he said yes.

Then came the time for sneaky plans. I told him that I wasn’t going to tell Molly that I’d asked him and he agreed to tell Ruby. So, for the next couple of months, Molly had no idea that I had asked her dad. In the meantime, I purchased her ring and she and I made plans to visit her parents in Pennsylvania in September. We wanted to see the musical Wicked and I thought that would be a perfect time to pop the question.

As the day approached, her parents, my parents, and I planned out our stay and they were having a great time looking forward to her big surprise. To keep Molly from being suspicious, I told her that, on Sunday, I was going to ask her dad to let me marry her. During the week, we had a great time! We played tennis, visited the Pittsburgh zoo, visited a mall where Molly “picked out” her engagement ring. I already knew what she was wanting and had one custom made for her that was very close to what she chose that night. I remember telling her, “I’m pretty sure that whatever ring I get will be really close to this one.” Little did she know that the next day, she’d see that ring.

On Saturday Sept. 6, 2008, Molly and I went on a marvelous date. Molly’s parents took pictures of us before we left and the ring was burning a hole in my pocket! I made reservations at Isabela on Grandview. It’s a beautiful restaurant that overlooks Pittsburgh. We had a delightful dinner and a beautiful view of the city as we enjoyed each other and looked forward to the night ahead. Inside, I was all jittery. I planned on asking her after the musical, but could hardly contain myself.

After a wonderful dinner, we went to the Benedum Center and were ushered in to our seats. We had a great view of the stage and absolutely loved Wicked. During the intermission, I can remember standing and looking down over the crowds from the mezzanine and thinking that I could propose at that moment, but I didn’t want to ruin the play for Molly. It was so hard waiting for the right moment. But, the second act started and we enjoyed the rest of the show. When the show was over, we walked out on the Mezzanine and were looking down over the audience as they made their way from the building.

I looked at Molly and asked, “Has the evening been everything you hoped for?”

With a big smile, she said, “Yes.”

Then I said, “I can only think of one thing that would make it better.” Then, I got down on my knee and she turned to face me. I can still see that moment like it was just minutes ago. As I opened the box, I heard a woman behind me exclaim, “Oh look! He’s proposing!”

Then I asked that fateful question, “Molly Beth Hurst, will you marry me?”

Everything focused into that moment. The crowds faded away, the chandelier behind Molly lent her a heavenly glow and, as she said “yes”, I slipped the ring onto the ring finger…of the wrong hand. Yep. Sure did. I put it on the wrong finger! She started laughing and switched it over and we hugged and kissed on the mezzanine amid the crowds. It was a magical moment.

The rest of the evening was a whirlwind as Molly called her parents, my parents, her friend Amy, and others to tell them about the proposal. We had a quick snack on the way home and I was on cloud nine.

That night changed my life. Molly said, “Yes” and nine months later, we were married.

I cannot say how much she meant to me then and how much I treasured her. I can say this, though, as much as I loved her then, I love her so much more now. We have shared good times and bad. We have looked down into the faces of two beautiful daughters. We have prayed together and loved each other.

Molly, when you read this, I would marry you again. I love you!

Here we are enjoying Molly's family reunion. Little did she knew I was about to ask her dad!
Here we are enjoying Molly’s family reunion. Little did she knew I was about to ask her dad!
While we were at her parent's house, I made cider apple chicken in mushroom sauce.
While we were at her parent’s house, I made cider apple chicken in mushroom sauce.
Getting ready to leave for our big date!
Getting ready to leave for our big date!
I love this picture of Molly! Little did she know that in just a few hours, I'd be popping the question!
I love this picture of Molly! Little did she know that in just a few hours, I’d be popping the question!
At our table in Isabela.
At our table in Isabela.
See that grin? I couldn't get enough of looking at her and I still can't!
See that grin? I couldn’t get enough of looking at her and I still can’t!
Newly engaged and so in love!
Newly engaged and so in love!
Holding her tight! My partner for life.
Holding her tight! My partner for life.

Treasure these moments

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.” Psalm 127:3

Tonight, I was sitting on the floor playing with Hannah. She was laughing and giggling as I attacked her belly with her “Sing-a-ma-jig.” She was laughing so hard. Then she ran over and jumped in my lap. I flipped her upside down and then set her on her feet and she was off in a flash. Soon, she was back for another round with the “Sing-a-ma-jig.” We played with two of her giraffes, a Minnie Mouse car loaded with toy animals, and her pink and black monkeys. We had a wonderful time.

When she ran off again, I moved over to Aleah. She was swinging in her swing and looking content. When I leaned over and cooed at her, she gave me a big baby grin and started “talking” to me. She cooed and gooed and was so cute that I couldn’t resist scooping her up in my arms.  As I was holding her, Hannah came running back. She looked at me and said very firmly, “Baby to mommy.”

Now, I can’t tell you how great that was! Hannah adores Molly and more times than not, she’s saying, “Baby to daddy” so that she can have time with Molly. This time, she wanted to keep playing with me. Molly came over and she and Hannah went to change Aleah’s diaper. I sat back and just enjoyed the moment. Soon, Hannah was back for more before bedtime prayers, songs, and bedtime.

So often, we get wrapped up in our daily lives. In today’s age, we have so many things to distract us. We have TV, computers, tablets, smart phones, and, for me, books. It is so easy to miss these moments that are so precious. I can’t get over how fast Hannah has grown or how quickly two months have already passed with Aleah.

I watch parents at the park as their kids are playing. Often the parents are sitting and looking at their phones. As their kid yells for them to “watch me”, the parent nods absently and misses the moment of joy and, sometimes, the moment of disappointment.  And, it reminds me to put my own phone away.

Tonight was a treasure, because the phone was away, the books laid aside, and the iPad turned off. I just had time with my girls. One was laughing, the other was giving sleepy smiles and cooing and gooing. I encourage you, don’t miss these moments! Treasure every moment that your child wants to play with you or talk to you. Listen, play, and enjoy them. It goes so fast. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

And, while you’re at it, make sure you cherish your spouse and the time you have with him or her. Make a special time to spend together. It’s an investment you’ll never regret! Now…time to get off and go spend time with my wife!

I’ll leave you with just a few of my treasured moments:

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Hannah and I are wearing “hats” during bath time!
singamajig
Hannah’s little “sing-a-ma-jig!” She loves this thing!
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Some fun cuddle time at Grammy and Pawpaw’s.
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Going for a walk together on the Chessie Nature Trail.
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This is one of my favorite times of night. After prayers are prayed and songs are sung, we carry Hannah to bed, cut out the lights, and Hannah wants mommy to hold her before she falls to sleep.

 

 

 

Understanding Grace: A Eunuch’s Story

(This is a story I wrote back in 2011 based on the story of the Eunuch in Acts 8. It is his perspective of the events that took place that day.)

I am proud that I can trace my ancestry all the way back to the days when Babylon attacked Jerusalem.  While Nebuchadnezzar was sacking the city, a group of my ancestors fled south.  They established themselves in Ethiopia and we’ve had a strong Jewish presence there ever since.  I was raised to be faithful to YHWH, my God.  You see?  We learned the lesson that he was trying to teach us.  He wanted us to be faithful to him, not to other gods.  He wanted to be first in our lives.  So, when we arrived here, we built a synagogue and we’ve been faithful in our worship.  Imagine the joy of my ancestors when the temple was restored and we were, once again, allowed to come to our God in worship and to offer the yearly sacrifice for our sins.  I wished I could share in that joy.  But, I could not.

I am a eunuch.  I didn’t choose this.  It was forced upon me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bitter…or at least, I’m not anymore.  Candace, my queen, has seen that I have a quick mind, I’m shrewd in trade, and I’m a great bookkeeper.  She’s placed me in charge of the entire Ethiopian treasury.  When she holds banquets, I’m allowed to sit at her table and I am wealthy in my own right!  I lack for very little.  Even though I am her servant…well, truly I am her slave, I have a great deal of freedom.  I cannot marry.  That has been denied me, but that’s alright.  I know quite a few people who are normal who’ve never married.  Instead, I’ve contented myself with the responsibility I’ve been given and with the pursuit of my God.  And, it’s my pursuit of God that led me to a crisis.

You see?  As a Eunuch, I could not truly worship my God.  Because I am a eunuch, I cannot prove that I am a Jew and according to the law, I’m not allowed into the Assembly.  I’m welcome in the court of the Gentiles, but I’m one of God’s people!  I wanted so badly to be able to enter the Assembly, to worship with the rest of my nation, and to receive that special ministry from my priests!  I wanted to be able to sit and listen and discuss God’s word.  And you know what’s so wrong with this?  The gentiles could move from the gentile court to the Assembly by becoming Jewish!  They could convert and be circumcised!  They could enter fellowship with fellow Jews and I couldn’t!  Because I couldn’t be circumcised, I could never move beyond the court of the gentiles and by birth I am a Jew!  The desire to learn about God was so strong in my heart, but I was considered unworthy of teaching because I could never truly become a recognized Jew or move into the Assembly.  So, I tried to learn on my own.  I read God’s word faithfully and struggled with understanding.  In fact, the scripture says that the fear of the Lord comes from understanding and I wanted nothing more than to understand my God and not just understand him, but to have the deep relationship with him that I see our forefathers share with him.

My story, then, begins on a day when I was returning from Jerusalem.  Once again, I had traveled to Jerusalem to worship and once again, I was only allowed into the court of the Gentiles.  But, I love my God and I worshiped as fully as I was allowed.  I had so many questions, but I wasn’t allowed to ask them.  After the time of worship was finished, I was on the long trip back to Ethiopia.  I was on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza and it was a hot day.  In fact, it was especially noticeable because we were riding through a desert area.  I was reading from the book of Isaiah and pondering it out loud.  Have you ever read something in the Torah and not understood it?  Well, this was one of those passages.  I’d always wanted to ask someone about it, but whom could I ask?  I’d prayed for understanding, but it never came!  Anyways, I was reading this section out loud hoping that it might help me to come to grasp with it if I heard it out loud.  As I was reading, I became aware of a man running beside my chariot.  I was surprised when he called out over the rumble of the chariot wheels, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

With a touch of of bitterness and frustration, I answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  Like that was going to happen.  As I said, before, I was never really considered worthy of teaching, because I could never move beyond the court of the Gentiles.

He introduced himself as Philip and asked if he could sit with me.  He said he’d been waiting for me to come along.  I was a bit skeptical, but even though he was a bit dusty from running next to my chariot, he was dressed well and looked educated.  To my surprise and that of my guards, I actually invited him into the chariot.  Once he was settled and had a chance to refresh himself with a drink from his water bottle, I showed him what I was reading and read it out loud, “Like a sheep led to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.  In his humiliation, justice was denied him.  Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken from the earth.”

“About whom,” I asked him, “does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”  You see?  I could relate to the feeling of the person about whom this was written!  I felt like justice was denied to me as well!  I mean, how just is it that I, a Jew, would be denied worship with my brothers just because a part of my body was amputated?

Then, Philip began to explain the scripture to me.  Beginning with Genesis, he started to share the story of God in a way I’d never before heard it explained.  He took me book by book, promise by promise, and explained to me about how man had chosen to turn his back on God.  He fully explained how anytime a person sins, he is breaking God’s commandments, because he is placing himself and his own desires before those of God.  He explained how God had called his people to be a beacon of light and how badly they’d failed.  Explaining the Law, he showed that no one was righteous enough to come before God.  It wasn’t just me as a eunuch, but it was every man, woman, and eunuch.  He explained that the law was supposed to drive us toward God.  We were supposed to see how impossible it was to be the perfect person God demands that we be, because we are flawed by sin.  Then, continuing with the law, he showed me why a sacrifice was necessary.  Yes!  I know!  I wanted to take part in the national sacrifice!  I mean, there were special provisions for people like me, but I was never fully allowed to worship.

He grinned and continued, explaining the need for the yearly sacrifices and the offerings.  I learned that, while the sacrifices were given annually, they weren’t sufficient.  He explained that they were designed to point toward one ultimate sacrifice, one that must be provided by God.  He led me through the story of Abraham and Issac and showed me how God provided the necessary sacrifice after Abraham demonstrated his faith.  The day passed as he told the story of Moses and how God provided salvation for his people by their deliverance from Egypt, from their hunger and thirst in the desert by giving them bread from heaven, and their deliverance from the desert into the promised land with Joshua.  I listened raptly as he took me through the many stories of sin and salvation at the hands of God’s appointed judges, the sweet story of redemption with Ruth, and the establishment of the kingdom under David after the failure of Saul and the promises given to David because of his faith.  In those promises, God said that he would establish his throne forever through David’s descendant.

David’s fall and redemption fascinated me and he took me through prophet after prophet and and their calls to repentance for a rebellious people.  He even quoted some of the Psalms and took me to the book of Daniel.  I was amazed to learn that God didn’t just call us, the Jews, to repentance.  He called all of the nations!  And, he showed me the promises of a Messiah, a promised one who would provide the means of that repentance.  He showed me the one who would establish God’s kingdom and explained how he was also to be the one who would offer the sacrifice that would end all sacrifices.  And that brought us back to my original question.  “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?”

Then he started to tell me about the coming of the Messiah, one Yeshua of Nazareth.  In Greek, his name was Jesus.  He told me of the years that he’d spent living with and learning from Jesus.  From his conception to his resurrection, Philip showed me how Jesus met the prophecies concerning the Messiah.  He told me about the ways Jesus was tempted and how he resisted and he shared with me the the ways Jesus had made the Torah come to life for his followers.  He explained how Jesus, through his sacrifice, had met the need for the sacrifice.  All thoughts of my voyage were forgotten as I listened to this man explain the scriptures to me!  Finally, someone was willing to talk to me!  Someone was willing to explain!  And my heart was close to breaking with the joy of what I was learning.

And then it broke.

He paused in his teaching and said something special to me.  He explained to me that we come to God through faith.  It isn’t the physical mark of circumcision that gives us entrance into the presence of God.  It isn’t the physical mark of circumcision that allows us into the Assembly.  We’re allowed in through circumcision of the spirit.  In his grace, God provided His son Jesus as a substitution to receive His wrath and as a sacrifice to remove our sin.  We gain entrance through faith in this Jesus, the Messiah.  He even explained that Jesus had taught that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no man can come to the Father except through him and that God so loved the world that He sent His only son, so that any who believed in him would be saved from God’s wrath and that they would have eternal life.  He told me wondrous stories of Jesus healing the blind, the sick, the deaf, and raising the dead.  He told me of Jesus accepting prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, zealots, and all manner of folks.  He told me of how Jesus is the bread of life, the water that flows up and quenches our spiritual thirst eternally.  Unbelievably, he showed me that Jesus was not just a man, but that he was God and even gave me scripture to back it up!  He explained to me about our need for a savior because we are drowning in our sin.  And he explained how Jesus is that Savior.  He told me of those who had repented of their sins; those who had surrendered their lives to Jesus as their Lord, their ruler, their savior…their God.  He told me of their new faith, their new lives, the joy they shared, and how they had been baptized to show their entrance into the Kingdom of God, an entrance already gained through their acceptance of the faith given to them by God! He explained to me how our bodies were the true temple and told me about how the Holy Spirit comes into and dwells within his believers.

As I listened, my heart broke!  It broke because I realized something.  While I might never be able to be circumcised, that didn’t matter.  What mattered was the faith that I had in YHWH, my God.  What mattered was my willingness to surrender control over my life to Jesus.  I knew how to be a servant.  It was my profession, but while I was a servant in body to Candace, she’d never owned my heart.  It had always been my own.  And, in that moment, I surrendered my heart, my body, my whole life to Jesus.  Suddenly, I felt close to my God like never before in my life!  I realized that I had finally entered the Assembly, passed through it, and stepped into the Holy of Holies itself to stand and worship before my High Priest, Jesus of Nazareth!  I was never able to enter on my own.  While I’d always blamed my physical imperfection, I truly wasn’t able to enter because of the sin in my heart.  I was as guilty of those sins as our forefathers who brought down God’s judgment on our land and led to my ancestors’ need to flee the land.  And though I was unable to enter the Assembly in the temple in Jerusalem, that was no longer important.  God’s temple was right here!  When I surrendered, the presence of the Holy Spirit entered in and I was free to worship!

I wept!  I shouted with joy!  I did a dance in my seat.  I grabbed Philip and kissed him on the cheeks and hugged this laughing man close!  Then, looking out the window, I saw an oasis.  Hoping against hope, I asked, “See?  Here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

I shouted for the chariot to stop.  In front of God, my guards, and my driver, Philip led me down into the water.  I proclaimed my faith out loud and with a warm smile he looked me in the eyes.  “I baptize you in the name of YHWH, our Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  As he lowered me he said, “Buried with Christ in baptism” and the water closed over my head.  Then as the water cascaded off me, he pulled me back up and said, “Risen again in the newness of life.”  I’d done it!  I was not only in the Assembly!  I was finally recognized as a part of God’s kingdom!  I ran to my guards and drivers, hugged them, shouted in joy and turned to thank Philip.

He was gone.  I looked all around the oasis and the desert that surrounded us, but he was no where to be found.  I can only believe that God sent him and then took him away.  But, his disappearance did nothing to diminish my joy.

I am no longer just a eunuch.  I am a man, a new man, a man of God!

Acts 8:26-40; John 3:14-21; John 14:6; Isaiah 53; and Deut. 23:1

Want a powerful change in your prayer life? Pray the Lord’s Prayer!

(This is an article I wrote back in June 2011)

You know, so many people want to know how to pray. It’s one of the cornerstone disciplines of our faith. It’s the time that we listen, surrender, share, praise, and draw close to our God. One of the things that amazed me about the Korean brothers and sisters that I knew in Seminary was how strong their prayer life was. Prayer for them was a deep time of communion with God and they could spend half an hour, an hour, or several hours in prayer. Ten minutes, to me, seemed like hours. After ten to fifteen minutes, I found I was repeating myself, losing my train of thought, getting sleepy, or becoming frustrated at feeling like my prayers were shallow and that I wasn’t really saying what was in my heart. It reminded me of the apostles who listened to Jesus pray and were amazed at the depth of His prayers. They listened to Him day after day and night after night and wanted to understand how to pray like He did.

While in Seminary, one of my professors, Elmer Towns, taught a class on called “Spiritual Foundations of Church Growth.” In that class, we studied the Lord’s Prayer. He’s written a book called, “Praying the Lord’s Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough.” While taking that class, one of the things he wanted us to do was to spend a solid hour in prayer. It was through learning how to pray the Lord’s Prayer that I found my prayer life explode.

Jesus wanted His disciples to experience the joy, power, and peace of prayer. When they asked, He gave them the skeleton of a prayer. I timed it one day while preaching. In a congregational setting, with everyone praying together, it takes 32 seconds to pray the prayer. But what is interesting is that He says, “Pray like this (emphasis mine):” Mt 6:9-13. This prayer, when expanded, becomes a powerful prayer and it can drastically change your prayer life. There are eight sections to the Lord’s Prayer (Towns breaks it down into 7). Praying this way can help you stay on track, not find yourself repeating things you’ve already said, and it will keep you interested and focused so that you can listen.

The first section of the prayer begins with praise. “Our Father Who is in heaven, Holy is your name.” When you begin to pray, start out with a time of praise. This can be in song, prayer, or both. This section of the prayer is saying, “You are our Father. You unify us and we see You as the most special Person in our lives. We set you apart and bow to You on the throne of our lives, because of what You have done for us and the love You have for us.” Take the time here to really thank Him for the things He has done in your life. Trust me, if you start praying for all the blessings, all the times He’s stood by you and carried you, all of the prayers He has answered, all of the times He has revealed sin in your life so that you can grow closer to Him, and all of the special moments that He has shared with you, your prayer can easily stretch on for a long time. More important, though, is that this will bring your spirit into a place where you are focused entirely on Him. It will place your heart in a place of thanksgiving, joy, and humility.

The second section of the prayer is for guidance and evangelism. “Your kingdom come.” First, we’re praying that we come into alignment with God’s kingdom principles. We must remember that not only is He our Father, He’s our King. He wants us to live in a way that acknowledges and honors His kingship and to have a life that is marked by willing obedience and submission. Second, He wants us to work on sharing His kingdom. We are deputized in Matthew 28:18-20 to go out into the world, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey the commands He’s given us. Because of that, we should be praying that God will make us available. That He will motivate us to share and that we will have the courage to open our lives to build the relationships that will allow us to share His word with our neighbors, family, enemies, and the whole world. This is an excellent time to pray for those people to whom you are reaching out or even to pray for the courage to reach out. A great place to start is with your family or the people who live right next door to you.

The third section of the prayer is seeking and surrendering to His will. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One of the hardest things for me in my walk has been learning to listen for God’s will and then to surrender to it, especially when His will and my own don’t agree. In heaven, God’s will is done enthusiastically, willingly, and perfectly. We’re praying that His will work in us the same way. That’s one of the reasons we need the Holy Spirit so desperately in our lives! He is the only one who can give us the strength to even attempt to do God’s will! When we pray this part of the prayer, especially if we’re praying for a specific situation, we should be listening for His answer. Bring your Bible to your prayer. Search out the areas of scripture that have the principles that deal with the situation about which you’re praying. Listen for that still small voice. You can even pray for confirmation. This is when you can test God’s will. No, I’m not saying put the Lord your God to the test. That’s different. That’s when you’re praying in such a way that you’re challenging God to meet your will. “God if you do this, then I’ll do this!” That’s a terrible prayer to pray. What I’m talking about is a prayer like the one Gideon prays and that Ahaz is encouraged to pray in Isaiah and refuses. It’s when you pray, “God, I believe that you’re wanting me to do this, and I want to make sure that I am in your will. If it is your will, please give me this sign.” Be specific so that you’ll recognize His answer. It takes a while, but the more you step out in faith on His leading, the easier it becomes to learn to do his will. This is also when you yield to His will. Let’s face it. We’re all put in situations where we want something that He does not. In fact, sometimes we’re praying for something we want when He’s wanting to give us something that we need. The two aren’t always the same. God’s will should always supersede our own and we should willingly surrender. This comes much easier when you’ve already entered into His presence with praise in your heart.

Fourth, Jesus encourages his disciples to pray for their needs to be met. We all have needs. Our most basic necessities are food, clothing, and shelter. We have health needs, things that we want to pray for when we think of others. This is the time to lift those needs to God. By lifting them to Him, you are surrendering those things to His care. This is why it’s so important to be yielded to Him, to be seeking His guidance, and to be coming to Him with praise in your heart. With the praise, you’re already focused on how God has provided in the past. You’re seeking His guidance in your life, and you’ve yielded to His will in your life. With those things in mind, you’re saying that you’re going to let go of your needs and place them at His feet with the faith that He will meet your needs. God enjoys meeting our needs. It allows us to grow in our faith as we see how faithful He is in His care for us. In fact, he often goes beyond just meeting our needs and gives us our wants or, sometimes, surprises us by bringing something or someone into our lives that we didn’t even know we needed OR wanted. This is the point where you’re truly learning to surrender.

The fifth section of the prayer deals with forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Why did Jesus place this here in the prayer instead of sooner? I believe it is because we’ve been focused through praise, we’ve sought His guidance and asked to be brought in line with His heart for evangelism, we’ve asked Him to reveal His will for us and have yielded to that will and we’ve surrendered our needs to Him. If we’re in the process of surrendering, if we truly want to fulfill His will, if we’re opening our lives so that those who do not know God can see His work in our lives and if we’re honoring Him as our King, and if we’re truly thankful for all he has done for us, then how can we not forgive others the way He forgives us? His forgiveness is absolute, it looks past our sin to see the person, it releases the sin so that the person can grow. Forgiveness frees us from bondage. When you are holding a grudge, then you are in bondage to the person against whom you are holding the grudge AND you’re in bondage to sin. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you allow a person to continue to mistreat you. You can remove yourself from a situation like that. However, it does mean that you’re willing to look past the wrong done you and love in spite of it. You are forgiving because God forgives. In forgiveness, you find freedom, joy, and peace. The person you are forgiving may or may not respond to that forgiveness, but you will grow because of it. Remember, not everyone responds to forgiveness. God loved the world so much that He sent His son Jesus. Whoever believes in Him receives eternal life. Whoever does not believe does not receive that life. Also, when praying this portion of the prayer, be aware that God may well reveal to you someone from whom YOU need to seek forgiveness. If He does, be sure to do so!

Next, we’re told to pray for victory! “Lead us not into temptation.” We’ve been led through a time of praise, guidance, yielding, surrender, and forgiveness. Now it is time to seek victory in our lives! As Christians, we will face temptation in our lives. God does allow us to be tempted. It is how we learn to realize the danger of sin and the signs for which we should be constantly vigilant. As Christians, we can fall to sin. I’m sure you can think of times when you have. I know I can. In fact, I often find myself jokingly praying at this point, “Lead me not into temptation, ’cause I can find enough of it on my own!” When we are saved, we suddenly find ourselves caught in a constant struggle. Our spirit has been brought to new life through Christ. We have received a new heart, new life, and new record. Our spirit desperately wants to live for him. We have a problem, though. Our flesh is still fatally infected by sin. It still craves what is bad for it and for us. Compound that with the fact that Satan and his angels want us to fail as Christians. He knows that our salvation is secured through Christ. He can’t separate us from the love of Christ. But, he does want to make us ineffective. So, this is where we put on our underwear (1 Cor 3:12-17) and our armor (Eph 6:10-18). This is where we pray for the strength and courage to stand firm on the ground that God has won for us. It is where we make sure that we are writing on our hearts the Word God has given us (Josh 1:6-9). In this way and through the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, we can avoid temptation and sin and find victory.

And, as we’re praying for victory over sin and temptation, we pray the next section of the prayer. We pray for protection from Satan and his evil. As I mentioned above, Satan is very active in trying to disable Christians. He wants nothing more than to see us become ineffective in our ministries to our families, friends, neighbors, enemies, churches, and the world. In fact, everything for which we pray in this prayer, he wants the opposite. He wants to do us harm, to fall to temptation and be disabled through sin, to bicker, fight, and hold grudges, to seek our wants to the exclusion of our needs or the needs of others, to be willfully opposed to God’s will and to refuse to seek Him out, to refuse His guidance and attempt to place ourselves upon the throne of our lives and deny the Kingship of our Lord and King, and to take for granted all of the things God has done for us as if we are entitled to those things rather than that we have received a bounty from our loving Father. In this part, we are praying for God’s protection and willingly accepting that protection. We need to be constantly aware that we are involved in spiritual warfare. We take fire from all directions, even those that should seem like our strengths. It is through surrender and reading His Word that we are prepared. But, He acts as our cover, our fortress, our stronghold, our shield, and our rock (Psalm 18). In Him, we find refuge, protection, care, and healing. We need to be aware of our enemy and seek shelter in our God.

Finally, we close the prayer with praise. “For Yours is the power, kingdom, and glory forever.” This is an excellent time to find peace in the fact that God does listen to our prayers. It is the time to bask in the joy of His presence and to find comfort in the nearness of Him. It is the time to read your scripture, perhaps listen or sing a thoughtful song of praise, or maybe even just to sit and listen quietly.

I hope that you take the time to really pray the Lord’s Prayer. Take the skeleton of a prayer that Jesus gives and really flesh it out. I truly hope that learning to pray His prayer will help to change your prayer life the way it has mine and is continuing to do so!