grace

A Sign of Real Strength

If you faint in a crisis, you are weak.

Rescue captives condemned to death,

and spare those staggering toward their slaughter.

When you say, “We didn’t know this,”

won’t the one who weighs hearts take note of it?

Won’t the one who guards your soul know it?

Won’t he pay back people for what they do? (Proverbs 24:10-12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 24:1-22 GW)


A myriad of cliches are tossed about when difficult times comes.

There’s the famous British saying—Keep Calm and Carry (or Chive) On. How about the classic American expression—When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

But when a crisis hits, especially a life-threatening one, cliches are like chaff in the wind. They have no substance nor weight. Action not words is needed.

People of character rise to the occasion in a crisis. They’re able to meet challenges beyond their control because they don’t trust in circumstances. Their trust is anchored much deeper.

Those who are strong in character and within times of crisis are not centered on themselves. They don’t trust in themselves. Their world is larger than themselves.

Looking beyond ourselves

When our life and world revolve around our self, it leaves us unprepared to handle the change and interruption of a crisis—whether small or great.

Also, a self-absorbed and self-focused life insulates a person from others. This breeds an unhealthy isolation. It also pushes a person towards indifference—an apathetic attitude toward others.

Left unchecked, indifference leads to a hardness of heart. Everyone of us needs to guard against indifference and hardness in our hearts—it can keep us from fainting in times of crisis.

Those who don’t faint in a crisis are those who have more concern for others than themselves. Looking at verses 11-12 reminds us the world is much larger than us. As is often said, “It’s not about you!”

More than that, each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Coming to the rescue

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. When I think of rescuing captives (verse 11), it brings many people into view with vastly greater needs than my own.

Many women and children are trapped in the inescapable maze of human trafficking. Unless we or others intervene, they are condemned to a living hell—even death at the hands of merciless captors. It’s not just a global problem but a much more local one.

They need mercy. They need rescue.

Millions of people suffer under oppressive and repressive governments or now live as refugees who fled savage warfare into an indefinite life stranded between danger and uncertainty. Their plight is through no fault of their own and is beyond their control or power.

They need a hand of grace extended to them. They’re crying out for mercy.

Thousands of people are trapped in addiction or in bondage to something too powerful for them to overcome on their own. They need merciful and gracious intervention—just as the Lord showed us.

Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36 GW)

If we say, “We didn’t know this,” or “It’s not my problem…I’ve got my own problems”—we aren’t excused. We can’t just look the other way.

This is the heart of what Jesus spoke of in His Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5:3-9) and Sermon on the Plain (in Luke 6:27-37).

Those of us who are Christian believers—who trust in the Lord Jesus as our Savior—we are called to be like Him in relationship to people we encounter in life and as we become aware of the needs of others.

We are to be salt and light in the world (Matt 5:13-16), an extension of His heart of compassion, grace, and love to those around us.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8)

Reflection—

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. Each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself wrapped up in your own concerns or worries, ask God to help you look beyond yourself. Ask the Lord to fill you with His compassion and love—His mercy and grace—towards people in your circle of life and beyond.

If you’d like to help extend mercy and grace—

To help those trapped as victims of human trafficking— here are 4 organizations to consider—

To help people under oppressive and repressive regimes, as well as refugees—you can contact my friend Mike Parks with Global Hope Network Intl. or click on these links—Refugee Families in Lebanon / in Iraq

©Word-Strong_2019


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Joy!

Joy!

Watching the faces of young people singing praise and worshipping the Lord with hands extended, I felt unbridled joy.

Joy often overflows from my heart when I see genuine, heart-felt worship reflected in the faces of a new generation of worshippers—fresh followers of Jesus—led by young leaders and mentored by those who were once fresh faces in a crowd of worshippers themselves.

Why? Because their worship exalts Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Also, authentic worship fills those who exalt Jesus as they worship with a deep and humble joy.

True authentic worship exalts Jesus and fills worshippers with joy

Although it would have been without any liturgy or our modern instruments and settings, I imagine similar expressions on the faces of the shepherds in the field and the wise men who traveled far to witness the divine intervention of the Lord Jesus’ birth.

Jesus first

If you're a Christian believer, you've probably heard the expression, J-o-yJesus first, others second, and yourself last—that's what corporate worship is like for me.

Photo credit: LIghtstock.com

Photo credit: LIghtstock.com

Corporate Christian worship is focused first on Jesus, the One who is worthy of all worship. As we worship together in one accord, each of us forgets about ourself in the midst of worshipping the Lord.

This is the picture given of the shepherds outside Bethlehem when the Lord's birth was announced by angels (Luke 2:8-20).

When the shepherds saw the Savior of the world in the manger—just as the angels had told them—they went out with great joy and told others about this event and their experience.

New generations

During a worship service overseas, I looked around at the many young faces engaged in worship and was blessed to see the young worship leaders. Most of them I’d known when quite young. Now I saw them leading other followers of Jesus—a newer and younger generation.

This is what the church was designed to do—generation after generation—mentor and lead those who are younger to become leaders. It is the responsibility of older generations to train up younger ones, then step back so they may lead others, as I wrote recently.

My wife and I were surrounded by others younger than we, just as it was decades ago when we were the young faces in the crowd. We also saw this in the young women we cared for at Rainbow Village who now have their own families.

Worship Him!

After Jesus was born, some Magi (wise and learned men) came from a distant country seeking the One whose star announced His birth. They sought the King of the Jews and had "come to worship him." (Matt. 2:2)

Worship is more than singing songs of worship in a congregation, it is an expression of the heart and a way of life. True worship isn’t restricted by our setting or situation, it ought to overflow into everyday life.

Genuine worship that overflows with joy can take place whenever or wherever we are. It is the overflow of a heart and life in awe of Jesus who came as a newborn but who proved He is the Lord of Lords by His resurrection from the dead.

Worship is an expression of the heart and a way of life

When we give ourselves to Jesus and in service and leadership of others, we experience the great gift of God—his favor—His grace and kindness. Experiencing and receiving this favor is part of what overflows our heart in worship and is expressed in how we live our lives.

When we truly experience God’s grace in our life, it results in a humble joy that changes us internally and causes our heart to overflow as we worship the Lord. As the popular Christmas carol expresses— Joy to the World!

May you have a blessed Christmas as you worship the Savior of the world, Jesus—the King of the Jews, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Lords.

Combatting Compassion Fatigue

Whoever has pity on the poor lends to the Lord,

and he will repay him for his good deed. (Proverbs 19:17 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 19:15-29 GW)


“Bad news travels fast” is an old saying and the internet enables bad news to travel faster than the speed of thought. The converse of this is good news is under-reported or ignored. A simple example is how quick gossip and rumors spread that subdue or suppress the truth.

Hearing bad or disturbing news over and over can wear a person out and numb us to the needs of others. The effect of hearing of relief efforts and needs following disasters can bring what’s called compassion fatigue.

Here’s a hard reality—poverty and neediness is a human condition not just an economic problem. That’s not to say those living in poverty brought it upon themselves. That’s just not true. But it’s not possible to solve the problem of poverty and need with money. It’s deeper than that.

Photo by  Fancycrave  on  Unsplash

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

As Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you….” (Mark 14:7 GW) Jesus wasn’t being cold-hearted about the issue of poverty but realistic.

As Mother Teresa once said about the overwhelming needs of the poor—If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.

Thousands and thousands of missionaries and relief workers understand this. They know the task is to do what needs to be done the best you can—one day at a time.

It’s not about solving a global problem but caring for and engaging with people.

I have a few personal heroes—everyday heroes who are living testimonies of doing the best they can with the needs in front of them every day. They do what they do because of compassion fueled by the love of God in their hearts.

A good friend of mine goes into parts of the world the US State Department says are too dangerous for travel. He and his organization go into war-torn and disaster devastated regions after the big non-profit agencies have come and gone.

They focus on education and community development. It’s difficult and time-consuming work. It’s the long view of relief work and is restorative and preventative.

A young woman I know, through a long-time friend, goes into war-torn areas like the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Brazil and Ukraine to work with women who’ve endured loss, rape, and violence. With the help of her church, she established a ministry of empowerment and restoration.

She teaches them basic self-defense combined with the hope of the Gospel. I’m amazed with her heart and boldness and life-giving vision.

Another long-time friend and pastor developed an international ministry for those impacted by HIV–AIDS. It’s a ministry that extends mercy and grace in tangible and sustainable ways with the hope of the Gospel. It grew out of a response to needs of people in his church in the US.

Each one of my personal heroes aren’t just showing compassion to the poor, they are in a partnership with the Lord. They are confident in the Lord and His call on their lives. Confident in God’s faithfulness and grace, as He honors their hearts and ministry.

And if you want to help any of them and their ministries, just click on the links above. I can personally and highly recommend each of them and their ministries!

Reflection—

Do you see giving to the poor as “lending to the Lord,” as a partnership with Him by caring for others? When we have a heart to see people as the Lord sees them, we’ll be moved to care for them as He would.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for God to open your eyes to the needs of people in your life and sphere of influence. Ask God to help you see beyond yourself to enter into partnership with Him in reaching out to others with His mercy and grace.

©Word-Strong_2018


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The Power of a Gentle Answer

Photo by  Alfonso Ninguno  on  Unsplash

A gentle answer turns away rage,

but a harsh word stirs up anger.

The tongues of wise people give good expression to knowledge,

but the mouths of fools pour out a flood of stupidity.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

They watch evil people and good people.

A soothing tongue is a tree of life,

but a deceitful tongue breaks the spirit.

 (Proverbs 15:1-4 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:1-7 GW)


I don't know about you but I'm fed up with the rancorous political rhetoric and mudslinging that goes on at election time. And it seems to get worse each election!

And the news media, including social media, plays off of it all and ramps it up even more. It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you're on—it comes from all sides. If it doesn't bother you too, you're probably caught up in it too much.

All of this rancor and uncivil debate confirms the second line of this verse—

...but a harsh word stirs up anger.

But what about the first line of the verse? How can a gentle answer turn away anger or rage? At first glance, it may seem absurd or naive. But it's true. I've seen how it's true firsthand.

I can get emotional and passionate about what I think is right or when I think I'm right in a heated discussion (aka– argument). My wife and good friends have turned away my anger and rage on more than one occasion. Thankfully!

It's been helpful to me personally but also an example for me to do the same. I'm also thankful I've become less easily angered over time, as the Lord continues to work His grace into my heart and life.

Perhaps this is why I'm bothered by combative talk, especially when one party really isn't hearing or considering what the other is saying.

As said many times before, it's not just what you say but how you say it. So, how can a person do this? How can we learn to give a gentle answer in the face of someone else's wrath?

The first thing is to observe how effective it is when someone else does this. For starters, we can all learn a lot from how Jesus deflected the animosity and opposition aimed at Him.

But how is really more about who—our character. This isn't an encouragement about self-improvement exercises or things to say. It's about an internal change in us—our heart, our nature.

It's about an internal change in us—our heart, our nature

Reading further in this chapter, three verses stand out to me in relation to this first verse—

The tongues of wise people give good expression to knowledge (Prov 15:4a GW)
The lips of wise people spread knowledge (Prov 15:7a GW)
A soothing tongue is a tree of life (Prov 15:4a GW)

The first two verses speak of the character of a person and how they speak and what they say. Wisdom isn't gained by osmosis or by birth—it doesn't just come by being around it. It's gained by taking wisdom in, considering it, understanding it, and then living by it.

The first part of verse 4, the third verse mentioned, is very similar to the first verse. It's a little different in its wording but conveys the same thing—a gentle answer... a soothing tongue. These words have power but are not intimidating.

When you speak gently to a scared animal, it tends to calm them down. Talking loudly and forcefully only reinforces the fear in an animal or a person.

When a baby is crying it doesn't help to yell, "Stop crying!" at the baby. But when you speak in a soothing way with encouraging and comforting words, it helps relieve tension and is reassuring. This is true for a baby, a child, and an adult.

So, when confronted with someone's anger or rage next time, try answering them in a gentle way and speak with a soothing tongue—whether in person or in some form of social media. Choose to lower the tension. Choose the wise way—the godly way.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18)

Reflection—

If we want to give a gentle answer in response to anger or wrath, we need to embrace the wisdom from above and let it bring a change deep in our soul—our heart and mind.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God daily for His wisdom—it's pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere—so you're able to give a gentle answer in the face of anger or rage.

©Word-Strong_2018


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An Antidote for Hate

Hate starts quarrels,

but love covers every wrong. (Proverbs 10:12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 10:1-12 GW)


The book of Proverbs begins with personalized encouragements, admonitions, and instruction from a father to a son. The first 9 chapters also include parables that contrast wisdom with foolishness in general.

But starting in Chapter 10, various topics are addressed more specifically—mostly with contrasting couplets and comparisons. Proverbs 10:12 is a great example of contrasting statements very relevant to our present time. Here it is in another version—

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs. (Prov 10:12 NIV)

Hatred is defined in various ways—extreme dislike, disgust, ill will, resentment, prejudiced hostility, animosity—you get the idea.

Hate is often expressed by finding fault or projecting blame or making false accusations. Sound familiar? There's way too much of that going around! Regardless of its motivation or source—it stirs up strife...conflict...quarrels...even war.

Hatred doesn't have to run too deep to accomplish this. Think of the many times "I hate you!" is hurled by one person at another. It's pretty common among siblings in childish fits of anger and all too common between spouses. Sadly, I know this from experience.

But love is a powerful antidote for hate!

We have historical examples of love "covering" hate—Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and of course, Jesus who said this as He's crucified—Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

But examples are only valuable to us if we learn from them and follow what they model. These couplets of wisdom are intended to be useful and practical for daily life. How can we apply this bit of practical wisdom?

The next time someone throws some flaming words your way or tries to start an argument—extend kindness and conciliatory words. Don't answer with a bitter barb of your own—extend forgiveness and grace.

It will take some practice but it could change the world—at least your own sphere of it. Who knows, if enough of us keep extending love for hate, the world just might change much faster than you or I can imagine—one opportunity at a time, one relationship at a time.

Reflection—

When someone throws flaming words your way or tries to start an argument—extend kindness and conciliatory words—don't answer with a bitter barb of your own—extend forgiveness and grace.

Prayer Focus—

Prayer is much needed to extend love for hate in the process of daily life, so ask for God's help often—even throughout the day. The Lord is an expert at extending grace and mercy and love to people who don't deserve it—people like you and me.

©Word-Strong_2018


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