Safety and Surroundings

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Today began like any other day in my normal routine, but it didn’t end that way.  It was one of those days – and I’ve had a few of them over the years – where life just completely stops me in my tracks and gets my attention.  I catch my breath, exhale a sigh of relief, and fall down on my knees to God.

My morning started in the usual way.  I woke up and scanned my phone for messages and glanced at my calendar.  My daily tasks start running through my mind – it’s trash day, I need gas, I have a meeting in the office – and I look at all the other breaking news alerts that have become far too common in our world.  Then I saw a grieving post from a friend on facebook.  Another classmate from my child’s younger school days had overdosed and committed suicide.  That is the second classmate in the two years since my son graduated high school.  Two funerals by the age of 20.

I cried out to God.  I cried out for mercy.  Mercy for our children, whom Satan wants to destroy.  Mercy for our country, and for the challenging times we live in.

And then as I do every morning before I leave the house, I prayed for “safety and surroundings”.  That’s my way of praying for the safety of my family for the day and for safety in our surroundings that we encounter – the people and circumstances we meet along the way.  And then I headed out to work.

On my way back home that afternoon, the traffic slowed down to its usual crawl on the interstate.  Five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I noticed the car behind me changed lanes as soon as the traffic slowed down.  It seems people are always trying to jump into a faster lane.  And then in a split second, I glance back up to my rear view mirror to see a large camper coming very fast toward me.  Within inches of hitting the back of my car, the camper miraculously swerves into the next lane.  I saw the camper was also pulling a large trailer with a car on it.  I don’t know how the driver was able to maneuver such a large vehicle and trailer at the last minute without hitting me or anyone else in the next lane.  Then the camper continued swerving to the outer lane where it almost hit the concrete wall before coming to a complete stop.  The driver must have been very shaken, because once he finally stopped, he did not begin to move again for at least another minute or two.

I began to cry.  I couldn’t believe what I just saw.  If the other car previously behind me had not changed lanes a few seconds earlier, the camper surely would have hit them and they would have hit me.  I don’t know how the camper missed hitting all the other cars in traffic, or how it was even physically possible that he did not hit my car.

I immediately thought back to my morning prayer of safety and surroundings.  Once more I cried out to God.  I thanked Him for His mercy on my day.  For His protection.  For His miracle.  For my life.

I have no doubt that prayers are essential to getting through this life.  No matter how late I may be in the morning, I will always stop and pray and begin my day first by talking with God.  It’s too important, because I never know how an ordinary day will turn out.

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In Jesus’ Words: Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)

70x7This is a hard one.  When I first started studying and writing about Jesus’ spoken words, my intent was to shut out all the noise and opinions coming from the world and just concentrate for a while on exactly what Jesus had to say.  His recorded words, not anyone else’s.  Most of the time that has been very encouraging, sometimes it speaks close to my heart, and other times like this one, it can be a little hard to swallow.  I kept wanting to add a “yes, but…” to Jesus’ words when reading this next passage.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Slave

Then Peter came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

“At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

“At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.

“Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother.

70×7.  Catchy phrase, isn’t it?  I think Jesus knew it would get our attention more than just saying we are to forgive forever.  Not only are we to forgive “70 times 7”, but we are to forgive with our heart.  In other words, we are to mean it.  Sometimes we pretend to forgive the one that wronged us.  We start talking to them again, resume our lives, but it’s not 100%.  We’re still a little mad in our hearts.  Maybe it’s because they didn’t ask to be forgiven or admit they were wrong, or we know they’ll do it again.  But aren’t you glad God did not put any restrictions on our own forgiveness, no matter how many times we fail?  As someone once said, “We want mercy for ourselves and judgement for others.”

God invented forgiveness.  It comes from Him.  Forgiveness is for us, not for the other person.  It means we are free from carrying all that resentment.  We are no longer responsible for the outcome, and through the act of forgiving, we are saying that we trust God to deal with it in His way instead of our own.  Forgiveness brings us closer to God.  How can I go to God with my prayer requests and thankfulness if I am holding a resentment in my heart?  We are to cleanse all of that before we seek God’s presence.

And the best reason… forgive so that we may also be forgiven.  Once we are forgiven, we owe no debt to God.  We are free to start over.  We are clean in God’s eyes.

Is it still hard?  Yes.
Is it worth it?  Yes.

The last thing I want to do is be hypocritical when I am writing about Jesus, so in full confession, I admit I have a grudge that has been hard for me to forgive.  I have carried this burden for a couple of years now, and although it is a minor offense, it can drive wedges.

My prayer today to my heavenly Father, and every day going forward, even if it takes me 70 X 7 days, is that I can completely forgive the grudge in my heart.  I am asking God to help me forgive.  And perhaps when I do that, others I know who have been affected will also be able to forgive. Who knows where this could lead?  I’ll never know if I continue to stay in the same place I am today.

Author’s note: I held on to this posting for a couple of days while I sought to forgive.  I can honestly say I feel a lightness and optimism in my heart that I didn’t have a few days ago.  It feels good.  It is a daily journey, but God promises us that it will be worth it.

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In Jesus’ Words: Where two or three are gathered in My name (Matthew 18:15-20)

wedding-prayerThe couple didn’t want to see each other before their wedding, but they wanted to pray together. (Image source: K.D. Burke Photography. Article from The Blaze, June 15, 2013)

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

Wouldn’t you like to have Jesus as a guest at your wedding?  Some people say they don’t believe in organized religion or the control of a church.  Some people prefer to worship Jesus from the privacy of their homes, but are not comfortable attending a church or Bible study.  However, there is something very wonderful that happens when believers come together in prayer, in worship, and in celebration.  It is like an invisible strength.  It is an indescribable power, like a boundary of protection.  To the outside world, it may not look like much, but to the spiritual world, it is the most powerful thing.  Jesus said He is there among you.  And where you have gathered with two or more in His name, God has intervened.  You have fought off more demons than you know.  You have aided in more answered prayers than you know.  You have changed the world.

As difficult as this world may be at times, can you imagine how much worse it would be without our prayers?  Christians may not be feared by man but are feared by demons.

~ Matthew 18:15-20  Jesus’ advice to the church ~

“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.

Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

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In Jesus’ Words: A Mother’s Faith (Matthew 15:21-28)

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What is most important to you?  For those of us who are mothers and fathers, we almost always answer that it is our children, for their safety and happiness.
God sees us the same way.

What is second most important to you?  Beyond the immediate physical needs most of us answer in the first question, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we will most likely say that we wish to be in good standing with God.  Everyone wants to know who God is and what He thinks about you personally.
God wants to know us too.

Combine these two answers together, and you will have the answers to just about everything in life.  Anything else – our jobs, worries, sickness – are all temporary.

Below is a beautiful story of a woman crying out to Jesus for help with her child.  Jesus doesn’t answer her right away, nor does He with us sometimes, but neither does He send her away.  With the mother’s consistent pleading and prayer, when Jesus knows her faith is where it should be, He answers her.

~ Matthew 15:21-28  A Gentile Mother’s Faith ~

When Jesus left there, He withdrew to the area of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came and kept crying out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly tormented by a demon.”

Yet He did not say a word to her. So His disciples approached Him and urged Him, “Send her away because she cries out after us.”

He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came, knelt before Him, and said, “Lord, help me!”

He answered, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!”

Then Jesus replied to her, “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.” And from that moment her daughter was cured.

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In Jesus’ Words: A warning about careless words (Matthew 12:33-37)

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“On the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
– Jesus

Of all the things I may regret, my spoken words are probably at the top of the list. We all say things at times we wish we could take back, and those words could quite possibly change the course of a life.
And of all the things I remember, the spoken word – whether kind or harsh, comes to my mind the most. It’s personal. We easily forget what we read in books and memories fade, but the spoken word stays with us the longest. It reaches our soul. It can ruin a person’s career and it can save a person’s life.  Most of the time, we are not even aware of the impression our words have on others.

~ Matthew 12:33-37  Careless words ~

Jesus said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I do not want to be careless – with life, with people, with money, with gratitude, or with the words I speak.  Jesus, I pray that your spirit will always give me the right words to say.feet with waves cropped