A Prayer for America

pray-for-AmericaPrayer prayed for the National Day of Prayer by Pastor Greg Laurie, honorary chairman for the NDOP in Washington, DC, May 2nd, 2013:

Father, we come to You to pray for our nation, the United States of America.

How You have blessed us through the years, Lord! We rightly sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” Yet we see trouble in our culture today. We see the breakdown of the family, crippling addictions, and random acts of horrific violence.

Lord, we need Your help in America. In recent days, we have done our best to remove Your Word and Your counsel from our courtrooms, classrooms, and culture. It seems, as President Lincoln once said, that we have “forgotten God.” But Lord, You have not forgotten us! You can bless and help and revive our country again.

Scripture tells us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Lord, in Your mercy, we ask that You would exalt our country again. We have had a number of great awakenings in America. We have experienced times of refreshing, and revivals that changed not only the spiritual but also the moral landscape. As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, so that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6).

That is our prayer for America today, Lord. Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, back to you. You have told us if we will humble ourselves and pray, and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways, that You will forgive our sins and heal our land (2 Chronicles7:14).

Forgive us today, Lord, and heal this troubled land that we love so much.

We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Counter Culture

Just last week I purchased David Platt’s new book Counter Culture. I’ve only read the introduction. It’s worth sharing (and it looks like it’s going to be a worthy read.)

DavidPlatt

What if Christ in us actually compels us to counter our culture? Not to quietly sit and watch evolving cultural trends and not to subtly shift our views amid changing cultural tides, but to courageously share and show our convictions through what we say and how we live, even (or especially) when these convictions contradict the popular positions of our day. And to do all of this not with conceited minds or calloused hearts, but with the humble compassion of Christ on constant display in everything we say and do.

Isn’t this, after all, the essence of what it means to follow Christ in the first place? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Talk about countercultural. In a world where everything revolves around yourself–protect yourself, promote yourself, comfort yourself, and take care of yourself–Jesus says, “Crucify yourself. Put aside all self-preservation in order to live for God’s glorification, no matter what that means for you in the culture around you.”

And isn’t this, after all, the main issue in any culture? Maybe better stated, isn’t he the main issue in any culture? What if the main issue in our culture today is not poverty or sex trafficking, homosexuality or abortion? What if the main issue is God? And what might happen if we made him our focus instead? In a world marked by sex slavery and sexual immorality, the abandonment of children and the murder of children, racism and persecution, the needs of the poor and the neglect of the widow, how would we act if we fixed our gaze on the holiness, love, goodness, truth, justice, authority, and mercy of God revealed in the gospel?

Well said. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more.

How Now Shall We Pray?

Much has been said, written and debated about last Friday’s Supreme Court decision: blurred lines about right and wrong, confusing ideas about how love wins, and foreboding realities about a court of nine whose decision mandates a country of millions. Fears abound regarding potential threats to religious freedom. Regardless of what comes next, you can do one thing: pray. That freedom can never be revoked. You can pray in a courthouse, the White House and your house. No one will hear you but God…and He’s the one who matters.

How now shall we pray?

  1. Pray for informed children. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that kids spend 7 1/2 hours a day “consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games.” Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Youtube and Google promulgated much of the errant message regarding right and wrong in the recent gay marriage campaign. Pay attention to what your children are hearing, watching and reading…and pray.
  2. Pray for faithful marriages. Inattention to a biblical definition of marriage among heterosexual couples gave way to a widespread redefinition of marriage among everyone. When one lesbian couple was asked in a CNN interview what the rings meant on their fingers they responded, “Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just a ring.” Sadly, their view of marriage is no different than many heterosexuals’ view of marriage.
  3. Pray for Gospel clarity. Paul asked believers in Ephesus to pray for him. “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel...” (Ephesians 6:19, NIV) The good news that Jesus died for sinners, whatever their sin, and rose from the dead is inherently powerful. The proclamation of the Gospel is the hope of our country.
  4. Pray for gracious truth-telling. The new intolerance suggests that disagreement equals discrimination, that principled thinking is prejudiced thinking.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15 ESV) Grownups speak truth to one another. A sign of maturity is gracious truth-telling.
  5. Pray for a genuine turnaround. Though written to a people in different circumstances, God’s message in 2 Chronicles 7:14 still resonates today: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV)

Billy Graham said, “To get nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees.”

It’s time to get on our knees.

God Will Have His Way

Eli, Israel’s priest was aged and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas were worthless rebels. Rather than assist in the temple worship they gorged themselves on the sacrifices. They mocked worship and blasphemed God. Eli, who knew better, only helped them. Israel’s future depended on a gluttonous priest and his two spoiled brat sons. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. (1 Samuel 3:1 ESV) Even God had gone quiet.

But God will have his way.

What Israel didn’t know was who God had waiting in the wings. He wasn’t a decorated general or a celebrated politician. He didn’t run a Fortune 500 company or lead a major non-profit organization. He was a boy–his name Samuel. Born from the former barren womb of the anguished Hannah, she gave him to God. Little did she know that her boy would step up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. God called little Samuel to a big task.  And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Samuel 3:10 ESV)

God will have his way.

Within a short time of Samuel’s call, Israel fell to the Philistines. In a day 30,000 Israelites died, including Hophni and Phinehas. When Eli heard the news, he collapsed and died of a broken neck. Why did God judge Israel? Because Eli refused to discipline his sons. Why? Because he refused to heed God’s warnings. Phinehas’s wife was pregnant. When she heard the news of the defeat of the Israelites and the death of her husband, she went into labor. She aptly (and sadly) named her baby boy Ichabod saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!”

But God will have his way.

God called Samuel. Samuel answered God’s call. Though God’s glory had departed from Israel, his love for Israel had not waned.

And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. (1 Samuel 3:19-21 ESV)

I am convinced that the answer for our country’s woes will not come from a politician. It definitely won’t come from media moguls or dot.com executives.  Somewhere in the shadows is a Samuel.

Because God will always have his way.

Why Marriage Matters

“So what’s the big deal?” you may be thinking. Why does it matter that the Supreme Court presumably “redefined” marriage? Consider the following realities about marriage:

  1. Marriage predates civilization. God invented marriage. It is astounding to think that God deemed all of creation good until the sixth day. Then, with Adam in the middle of paradise and even with no hint of sin, God said it “is not good” for man to be alone. So he put Adam to sleep, removed a rib and created Eve. Marriage was God’s design before government ever regulated it.
  2. Marriage replenishes civilization. Once God created Adam and subsequently Eve he gave clear instructions: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV) Every boy or girl since Adam came from the womb of a woman and the seed of a man.
  3. Marriage prefigures Christ and the church. Jesus refers to the church as his “bride.” It is interesting that Scripture begins with a wedding (between Adam and Eve) and ends with a wedding (the marriage supper of the Lamb). The story of redemption is one large unfolding romance between a God who is crazy about us, the Son he sends to rescue us, and the bride he makes us to be.
  4. Marriage is the ultimate love relationship. Ravi Zacharias aptly says, “Love is given one word in English but there are four words in Greek. Agape is God’s love. Phileo is friendship love. Storge is protective love. Eros is romantic love. Marriage is the only relationship that pulls all four of these together. When you say “I do” to the one you’re saying “I don’t” to all the others. When you say “I will” to the one you’re saying “I won’t” to all the others. Any departure from that beauty and sacredness of the full confluences of love is not the biblical notion of what it means it to be married.”

The Supreme Court may misconstrue marriage but they cannot redefine it.  God made his opening statement in Genesis 2 and his closing argument in Revelation 19.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:6-8 ESV)

That wedding day will come. God has never lost a case.

How Now Shall We Act?

In light of Friday’s Supreme Court decision Christians find ourselves in a predicament. The new reality in America today suggests that, if you do not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision, you are intolerant, prejudiced or even bigoted. Is it possible to disagree without disrespecting, to love without compromising? I say “yes” if we practice the following five principles:

  1. Stay anchored in God’s Word. Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV)  Right is still right and wrong is still wrong–and right and wrong are found in God’s Word.
  2. Speak the truth in loveRather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV) The church has always swam upstream, gone against the flow, spoken into the ills of its day. This time is no different.
  3. Remember love is always rightSo now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV) While those outside Christianity struggle to understand this paradigm, it is possible and necessary to love sinners while speaking out against sin.
  4. Don’t confuse people with politics. Friday’s decision was more politically motivated than people oriented. As Christians we must never confuse the two. Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV)
  5. Remember who you are. While the church has become the whipping boy for many problems in the world, the church has been and still is the source of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, starting hospitals, ministering to the desperately sick in developing countries, responding to natural disasters all over the world, defending freedom, fighting sex slavery, loving orphans…you get my point.  Jesus, the hero and object of our faith, had this to say. Let his words resonate in your mind and hearts today: Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. (John 15:20-22 ESV)

Martin Luther said, “Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?” Let’s be the church.

A Different Kind of Fast

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Isaiah 58:6-7

Israel was steeped in sin.  God, through his prophet Isaiah, is calling them out.  He surprises them (and us) by his prescription for revival.  It isn’t a series of sermons.  It isn’t a prayer meeting.  It isn’t old fashioned fasting.  As a matter of fact in verse 4 of this same chapter they point out their fasting to God, and bemoan the fact that he hasn’t noticed it.

So he prescribes a new fast to them.  It’s found in verses 6-10 above.  Is not this the fast that I choose…to share your bread with the hungry?  Israel complained because God didn’t see their fast.  God wanted them to give up food…but for someone else.  He instructs them to bring the homeless into their own homes, to cover the naked (with their own clothes)–in other words he says, “don’t hide yourself from your own flesh (other people).”

What is God saying?  Give up food…for someone else.  Give up a bedroom…for someone else.  Give up clothes…for someone else.

And what will happen when they do what God says?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.  Isaiah 6:8-10

What is God saying?  Worship me, not only with your words, but with your deeds.  Worship me, not only with your deeds, but with your heart.  Then…(read verses 8-10 again!)

For our First Wednesday fast look for opportunities to feed the hungry, house the homeless and clothe the naked.  Tell us about them.  Without breaking anyone’s confidence whom you help, share them on this blog.  We’ll have a time in the service to share brief stories, to brag on God and the opportunities He has given us.

He Has Told Us What to Do

This summer Daniel Tripp interned at Grace.  A significant part of his internship was to examine the problem of hunger in McDowell County and North Carolina.  Food insecurity is the most broadly-used measure of food deprivation in the United States. The USDA defines food insecurity as meaning “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

So let’s talk about food insecurity in North Carolina…and McDowell County.  This is what Daniel discovered.

  • North Carolina ranks 7th in the country in the national food insecurity rate
  • North Carolina and Louisiana lead the nation with the highest percentage of children under 5 years of age who are food insecure on a regular basis:  1 in 4.
  • Approximately 170,200 different people in NC receive emergency food assistance in any given week.

This is equivalent to the entire current undergraduate enrollment of all 16 colleges and universities that make up the overall University of North Carolina system.

  • McDowell County is the 8th worst county in NC in food insecurity
  • 8,120 people in McDowell County are food insecure
  • Senior adults are also among the most vulnerable…

In the United States, there has been a 32% increase in the number of food insecure older adults since 2007 and a 79% increase since 2001.

We can quote stats until we are blue in the face.

Some of these people live beside you.

A grandmother of two in your neighborhood most likely chose between food and medicine this week.

A 3-year-old girl who loves dolls, lollipops and hugs cried herself to sleep in hunger last night.

A fourth-grader walked into the cafeteria today…and ate the only food he had eaten since he was in that cafeteria yesterday.

Hunger is real.  And it’s real close.

Here’s what we’re doing at Grace.  We’re putting together a task force to figure out what we’re gonna do.  Lunch Bunch is great…but not enough.  Our food pantry is invaluable…but isn’t designed to address the source of the problem.

If you want to serve on this working task force (and it will be work), please email robin@graceforall.org.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

He has told us what to do.

It’s time to do it.

Why I Think You Should Call the NC Senate Today

Tonight, the North Carolina senate will vote on proposed tax legislation.  If passed, and ultimately approved by the house, this legislation would forever change your ability to give to non-profit organizations and receive tax exemption.

At 1:30 today I spoke with Daniel from Ralph Hise’s office to confirm the report regarding the effect on this legislation regarding non-profits.  He assured me that the tax reform legislation includes removing the ability to claim gifts to non-profits on one’s taxes.

Why does this matter?

Lunch Bunch receives $45,000 annually to help provide food for children who currently receive free and/or reduced breakfast and lunch.  Every gift is tax deductible.  Under this proposed legislation, according to Ralph Hise’s office, gifts to Lunch Bunch will no longer be tax exempt.  Mr. Hise plans to vote for this legislation.

Churches receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts each year in McDowell County.  They use these funds to spread the Gospel through tangible means, such as benevolence and food pantries.  Under this proposed legislation, according to Ralph Hise’s office, gifts to churches will no longer be tax exempt.  Mr. Hise plans to vote for this legislation.

Foundations pour tens of thousands of dollars into McDowell County to help alleviate poverty.  Examples include the Corpening Foundation, the McDowell Foundation, the McDowell Endowment and the Community Foundation of North Carolina.  In addition, we have begun the Grace Generations Foundation to support the “Embracing a Community” arm of our purpose statement here at Grace.  Under this proposed legislation, according to Ralph Hise’s office, gifts to these foundations will no longer be tax exempt.  Mr. Hise plans to vote for this legislation.

While I do not pretend to know all the details of this legislation, according to Ralph Hise’s office, the legislation will prohibit gifts from receiving tax exemption that are made to non-profits.  Mr. Hise plans to vote for this legislation.

Please call Mr. Hise’s office at 1-919-733-4111.  Have an intelligent (and Godly, truth filled) conversation with whoever answers.  You can email Mr. Hise at ralph.hise@ncleg.net.

I love God’s Word in times like these:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.  Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.  To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.  Proverbs 21:1-3

Pray that our leaders will do righteousness and justice.

And call too.

God’s Surprising Recipe for Revival

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Isaiah 58:6-7

Israel was steeped in sin.  God, through his prophet Isaiah, is calling them out.  He surprises them (and us) by his prescription for revival.  It isn’t a series of sermons.  It isn’t a prayer meeting.  It isn’t old fashioned fasting.  As a matter of fact in verse 4 of this same chapter they point out their fasting to God, and bemoan the fact that he hasn’t noticed it.

So he prescribes a new fast to them.  It’s found in verses 6-10 above.  Is not this the fast that I choose…to share your bread with the hungry?  Israel complained because God didn’t see their fast.  God wanted them to give up food…but for someone else.  He instructs them to bring the homeless into their own homes, to cover the naked (with their own clothes)–in other words he says, “don’t hide yourself from your own flesh (other people).”

What is God saying?  Give up food…for someone else.  Give up a bedroom…for someone else.  Give up clothes…for someone else.

And what will happen when they do what God says?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.  Isaiah 6:8-10

What is God saying?  Worship me, not only with your words, but with your deeds.  Worship me, not only with your deeds, but with your heart.  Then…(read verses 8-10 again!)

Lunch Bunch is one opportunity for churches in McDowell County to see our light rise in the darkness and our gloom be as the noonday.  Give to your local church for Lunch Bunch with all your heart.  If your church isn’t participating, ask them why.  Get them involved.

lunch bunch

Summer 2013 is gonna be bright.

Darkness dissipated.

Gloom dispelled.