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Target Your Missions Petitions – Beyond Foggy Prayers

Pray for MissionariesWho Said It…Dwayne Buhler

Dwayne and his wife Rhonda are Canadian missionaries currently serving with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Mexico City. He directs the Leadership Training Institute know as CETA, which offers a program of evening and weekend classes that provide training for believers. They previously served in Brazil for ten years, and in Canada.

What He Said…Beyond Foggy Prayers

In the battlefield of today’s missionary efforts, Satan uses many weapons. At times these weapons are obviously directly sent from him to obstruct or discourage God’s messengers. Other times his weapons are people who are unaware that they are being manipulated to achieve his hellish goals. Many times his weapons are also subtle circumstances that dissuade, discourage, or distract the missionary from accomplishing God’s purposes.

That’s why prayer for missionaries mustn’t be a vague, uninformed exercise. “Lord, bless the missionaries, whoever they are, wherever they are, and whatever they are doing—I’m sure they need your help” isn’t an effective way to be a partner with God in and through missionaries. As a missionary I often struggle with the task of writing prayer letters that creatively communicate the very real needs that my family and I face. I desire to do so in such a way that their prayers and participation will be effective and rewarding. My experience is that when God’s people pray specifically, He answers those prayers specifically.

Adapted from EMQ (Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 1/04)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to grasp the critical needs of one missionary well enough that You can specifically respond to my prayers on his behalf.

 

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Peace with Justice Sunday – Today!

Peace with Justice Sunday 6

Peace with Justice Sunday

Peace with Justice Sunday

Raise Your Prayer Sights – Constant Prayer

Prayer 9God’s ambassador, as Paul referred to himself, wrote his letters to the churches of Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi from prison.

But his upbeat emphasis is on evangelism, discipling, and prayer. In this paragraph (and a parallel one, Colossians 4:24) he lets his readers know why intercessory prayer is vital.

Interact with God’s Word

Ephesians 6:18-20

  1. How can anyone pray at all times?
  2. How does the Holy Spirit empower your prayers?
  3. Are you praying for the growth of Christians you know?
  4. How can you pray for believers around the world?
  5. What two qualities did Paul single out (in. v. 18) as key in intercessory prayer?
  6. Why do you think these qualities are essential?
  7. What two prayer requests did Paul present for his own ministry?
  8. What lesson is there for us in what Paul did not request prayer for?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the resolve to be alert and persistent in your prayer life, experiencing His power working on behalf of believers both nearby and at a distance.

Ephesians 6:18-20

18 Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere. 19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words as I boldly explain God’s secret plan that the Good News is for the Gentiles, too. 20 I am in chains now for preaching this message as God’s ambassador. But pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Prayer for the Week: Lift my prayer horizons, Lord, above my own welfare to the expansion of Your kingdom.

Peace with Justice Sunday – Sunday, May 31, 2015

Peace with Justice Sunday 5

Raise Your Prayer Sights – …and More

Prayer 9

Key Bible Verse: I assure you, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. Matthew 21:21

Bonus Reading: Matthew 21:18-22

[continued from yesterday] President Museveni asked Bob to help organize a prayer breakfast for Uganda. People of every tribe, religion, and station attended. Speakers admitted the hate they’d held for others, and told how much they’d been changed by God.

Back in his office, Museveni asked Bob how he viewed the situation in South Africa. Bob replied that the country was heading in the right direction after releasing Nelson Mandela from prison. Museveni agreed. “I’m now chairman of the Organization of African Unity,” he said. “I want to send a delegation to South Africa to say that love and reconciliation are the answer to the bloodshed predicted for their country. What do you think?”

“That sounds like a great idea,” said Bob.

“Can you go? We need a white in the delegation to demonstrate our point.”

Bob went and met with Mandela, de Klerk, Buthelezi, and other leaders. He read 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s love chapter. Christians from Kenya, Zambia, and Uganda spoke of how forgiveness was critical to South Africa’s success. This message proved pivotal in that nation’s bloodless transition from white to majority rule.

Bob Hunter’s little group is still meeting to pray for Africa. And mountains keep moving!

—Luis Palau in It’s a God Thing

My Response: What “mountain” have I witnessed being moved in response to prayer?

Thought to Apply: Our prayers lay the track down which God’s power, like a mighty locomotive, can come.—Watchman Nee (Chinese pastor)

Adapted from It’s a God Thing (Doubleday, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lift my prayer horizons, Lord, above my own welfare to the expansion of Your kingdom.

 

Raise Your Prayer Sights – One Mountain…

Prayer 9Key Bible Verse: If you had faith … you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move. Nothing would be impossible. Matthew 17:20

Bonus Reading: John 17:20-21

[continued from yesterday]  Bob took his first trip to Uganda to visit the hospital just as dictator Idi Amin was being pushed out. Convinced that helping the hospital was futile without working on reconciliation in the ravaged country, Bob met the parliamentary leaders friendly to the new president, Milton Obote, and those who opposed him. He found each side willing to meet with him but not with each other.

“Lord, how can we get these guys to sit together and heal their land?” he prayed.

The answer came quickly. Waiting for his plane during a layover at the Nairobi airport, Bob sat next to an American missionary. She was the daughter of Andrew Young, then mayor of Atlanta. She suggested that Bob call her father and ask him to visit Uganda. Bob called. Andrew Young agreed.

They started a process of reconciliation that included opposition rebels, one of whom, Yoweri Museveni, became president in due course. A Museveni adviser who believed in Jesus Christ met with Bob; they talked about forgiveness, reconciliation, and love for one’s enemies. President Museveni was persuaded to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where he acknowledged his own faith. [continued tomorrow]

—Luis Palau in It’s a God Thing

My Response: A time I sensed God using me in answer to prayer was …

Thought to Apply: History belongs to the intercessors who believe the future into being.—Walter Wink

Adapted from It’s a God Thing (Doubleday, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lift my prayer horizons, Lord, above my own welfare to the expansion of Your kingdom.

 

Peace with Justice Sunday – Sunday, May 31, 2015

Peace with Justice 4

Raise Your Prayer Sights – Cover a Continent

Prayer 9Key Bible Verse: The longing of my heart and my prayer to God is that the Jewish people might be saved. Romans 10:1

Bonus Reading: Matthew 9:35-38

“Pray for something bigger than yourself,” Doug Coe told Bob Hunter, a new Christian who asked his friend how to pray. “Pick a city like Washington, a state like Virginia, a country like Russia, or even a continent like Africa. If you stick with it for 25 years, you’ll see God move mountains.”

For some reason, the thought of praying for Africa stuck with Bob. He and one other man studied a map to learn the names of countries formed since they were in high school. Then they began praying for this vast continent. A couple of other men soon joined them.

Back in the 1970s Idi Amin was executing thousands in Uganda. So the group prayed in earnest for Uganda. They asked God to raise up a worker from its capital, Kampala, whom they could support.

Then Bob attended a retreat at a hotel. A group gathering after lunch to pray for Africa was joined by a missionary nurse not attending the retreat. It turned out she worked at Mengo Hospital in Kampala! Bob invited her to visit his family and go to church with them for “Missions Sunday.” When the scheduled missionary speaker failed to show, the nurse from Kampala took his place. Bob’s church soon made the hospital its ongoing project. [continued tomorrow]

—Luis Palau in It’s a God Thing

My Response: Something bigger than myself that I feel led to pray for is ____.

Thought to Apply: More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.—Alfred Tennyson (English poet)

Adapted from It’s a God Thing (Doubleday, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lift my prayer horizons, Lord, above my own welfare to the expansion of Your kingdom.

 

Raise Your Prayer Sights – Target Your Boss

Prayer 9Key Bible Verse: I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people … for kings and all others who are in authority. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Bonus Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Bad-mouthing a manager is commonplace today. Employees crack jokes and bash their leader out of lack of respect, distrust, and dislike. But this behavior only worsens what might already be a bad situation.

Imagine what work would be like if, instead, all the employees began praying for their leaders. If we all chose to lift up in prayer the people we feel at odds with, great things could happen, not just for them but for us as well.

Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 that we’re to pray for everyone. He singled out governmental authorities; but his directive could also apply to leaders in virtually all organizations.

Why pray for your boss? Because God allows us to help Him change people and situations. The more we acknowledge others in prayer, the more God will work in them and the circumstances surrounding them. God helps you through your prayers to see your boss through His eyes—and your heart will begin softening toward this person for whom you’ve previously felt anger, bitterness, or contempt.

Before you leave for work each morning, pray for your boss. This could avert a snide remark or words spoken in anger.

—Stephen Graves and Thomas Addington in Deep Focus

My Response: I’ll commit to pray weekly for ______, my supervisor.

Thought to Apply: God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede. —Oswald Chambers (British teacher, chaplain)

Adapted from Deep Focus (Jossey-Bass, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lift my prayer horizons, Lord, above my own welfare to the expansion of Your kingdom.

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Peace with Justice Sunday – Sunday, May 31, 2015

Peace with Justice Sunday 3

Raise Your Prayer Sights – Bless That Bozo?

Prayer 9Key Bible Verse: And so we keep on praying for you, that our God will make you worthy of the life to which he called you. 2 Thessalonians 1:11

Bonus Reading: Colossians 1:9-12

I became close with five guys in a Bible study on our campus. But one evening a 6’5″ football player burst into our quiet gathering, extended his hand in all directions, and bellowed out his name. Big Wally was joining our group. During the weeks that followed, I listened resentfully to this primitive extrovert boom out his airhead religious views. Wally had ruined our tranquil, reflective atmosphere.

Fortunately, our study leader altered how we opened our sharing time. He asked us to pray silently for each group member, thinking of their needs and claiming God’s assistance in their lives. I prayed for the person on my right and left and then came to Wally, sitting across from me. I tried to pray about the biology test he was facing and the girlfriend who’d dumped him.

That simple act jolted me awake. I just couldn’t think of Wally in the same way. He required my help, and I needed his. I began to see things I admired in this guy. The more we prayed together, the more I came to like Wally, until one evening I found myself jumping on a sofa with him, wildly celebrating an answer to prayer. His raw enthusiasm had become infectious rather than offensive.

—Steven Mosley in Secrets of the Mustard Seed

My Response: Starting today, I’ll pray for _____, who rubs me the wrong way.

Adapted from Secrets of the Mustard Seed (Nav Press, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Lift my prayer horizons, Lord, above my own welfare to the expansion of Your kingdom.

 

Raise Your Prayer Sights – Visible and Vulnerable

Prayer 9Who Said It…John Stackhouse Jr.

John teaches theology and culture at Regent College, a graduate school of Christian studies affiliated with the University of British Columbia. He frequently comments on contemporary religion and culture in the news media.

John enjoys skiing the Vancouver-area mountains with his wife and three sons, and playing basketball and hockey with his students. He also loves to play jazz—on piano, guitar, or electric bass.

What He Said…Visible and Vulnerable

Are those currently riding high in Christian esteem immune to the sins that beset the rest of us?

Even in spiritual matters, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. The very traits that help people succeed make them vulnerable to pride, lust, and greed.

I remember a bishop respected for his compassion for the poor who confessed to financial mismanagement—and a Christian pop singer whose affair with another performer broke up her marriage. I’ve prayed for these and other disgraced heroes, those they hurt, and those left to pick up the pieces.

But I’ve resolved to pray regularly for several leaders who’ve blessed me and have not fallen. I pray that they’ll remain morally upright, care properly for their families, discern how God would best use them, and enjoy walking with Him more and more.

Whose ministry are you glad for? Your pastor? A local writer, speaker, or singer? A renowned Christian whose work has impressed you?

Why not select a few leaders to protect with your prayers?

Adapted from Faith Today (7-8/00)

Prayer for the Week:  Lift my prayer horizons, Lord, above my own welfare to the expansion of Your kingdom.

 

How to Dis Discontent – Being Content

Contentment 2Ephesus was a wealthy city, and the Ephesian church probably had some prosperous members.

Paul advised Timothy to instruct them about how to regard and use their resources. But he also warned Timothy to be on his guard against those whose involvement in the church was based on greed.

Paul’s counsel fits our era just as well.

Interact with God’s Word

1 Timothy 6:5-11, 1 Timothy 6:17-19

  1. If religion shouldn’t be seen as a way to get rich, how can it be the source of great wealth?
  2. How can the perspective of verses 7-8 help you distinguish between needs and wants?
  3. To what extent can advertising to stimulate demand in our consumption-driven economy undermine the contentment urged in these verses?
  4. How much do you think your outlook has been affected by this advertising?
  5. How have you seen greed ruin marriages, friendships, or business relationships?
  6. Why is trusting in the security of savings (v. 17) a trap?
  7. What is the antidote for relying on accumulated wealth (vv. 18-19)?
  8. Do you really share Paul’s confidence (v. 17b) about how God relates to His children?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for satisfaction when your basic needs are met, acceptance of what He’s doing in your life, and fulfillment in relating to others in His work.

1 Timothy 6:5-11, 1 Timothy 6:17-19

5 These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they don’t tell the truth. To them religion is just a way to get rich. 6 Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. 7 After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. 8 So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 9 But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. 11 But you, Timothy, belong to God; so run from all these evil things, and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

17 Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of real life.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make me grateful for Your past blessings, confident of Your future provision, and at peace with my current circumstances.

 

How to Dis Discontent – Gear Glut

Contentment 2Key Bible Verse: True religion with contentment is great wealth.  – 1 Timothy 6:6

Bonus Reading: 1 Timothy 6:5b-11, 17-19

I entered a shelter along the Appalachian Trail late one afternoon after witnessing incredible overlooks and enjoying nature’s beauty up close. But there was one problem—my pack was too heavy. My shoulders were aching, and my neck felt like it needed one of those thick, padded braces.

I’d packed way too much food and dreaded lugging the heavy pack the next day. So I started giving away dried fruit and granola bars to the other hikers settling in for the night. They probably thought it odd, but accepted the provisions I’d (unknowingly) been carrying for them. I’d never been such a cheerful giver!

Today’s verse reminds me that if I carry too much bartering power, my journey will suffer. Understanding my limitations has become the most efficient, least painful way to carry my pack.

Some of us are stronger than others. A friend of mine carries large bank accounts in his “life pack,” and it seems to never slow him down. However, for others of us, our loads are lighter because our heavenly Father knows what we’re able to heft.

Seeking to fill our packs and pockets is a grave mistake. As we learn to trust God more fully, we know He’ll meet all our needs—so there’s no need to overpack!

—Nathan Chapman in With God on the Hiking Trail

My Response: To lighten my “life pack,” I need to …

Thought to Apply: God doesn’t call upon us to give up a single thing that adds to our happiness; all He wants us to give up are the things which blight our lives.—D.L. Moody

Adapted from With God on the Hiking Trail (Doubleday, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make me grateful for Your past blessings, confident of Your future provision, and at peace with my current circumstances.

 

Pentecost – Come, Holy Ghost: A Wesleyan perspective on the Holy Spirit

Central Church's Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

Central Church’s Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

Today’s issue of the UMNS Daily Digest, produced by United Methodist News Service, contains the following article of interest on the Holy Spirit as we prepare for the arrival of Pentecost Sunday this weekend.

While most United Methodists can articulate what they believe about Jesus and are reasonably comfortable talking about God, our confidence might waver when talking about the Holy Spirit.

Maybe that is because we can relate to Jesus as a human being and understand God through personified imagery like “Heavenly Father.”

The symbols we use to talk about the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, are far less human. At Pentecost we read about the Spirit as fire and wind. In Baptism, we recognize the work of the Spirit through water and a dove. Not to mention the confusion caused by referring to the Spirit as the Holy Ghost.

Additionally, cultural understandings talk of specific work attributed to the Spirit like ecstatic utterances and other highly emotive responses. While we do not discount those experiences, many of us have not had them and wonder about the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, may be able to help. The unimaginatively titled sermon “On the Holy Spirit,” from the 1872 edition of The Sermons of John Wesley, seeks to address not the “particularly extraordinary gifts” of the Spirit, but “what the Holy Spirit is to every believer.”

Hymn writer Charles Wesley, brother of John, wrote a song known to many United Methodist congregations even today. “Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire” (The United Methodist Hymnal 603) shares many of the same themes that help us better understand the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Harbinger of Day of Resurrection

Pentecost, depicted in this icon, is the day the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. Photo by МЕЛЕТИЙ ВЕЛЧЕВ, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Pentecost, depicted in this icon, is the day the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. Photo by МЕЛЕТИЙ ВЕЛЧЕВ, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Wesley understood the Holy Spirit as the fullness of God at work in our broken world.

The “sin of Adam,” as the events of Genesis 3 are described in the sermon, distanced human beings from the image of God we were created to be. Addressing Adam’s desire to cover up after sinning, the sermon states, “Well might Adam now find himself naked; nothing less than God was departed from him.”

In Jesus, God has bridged this separation by overcoming sin. “[W]hat we lost in Adam,” the sermon reads, “we might receive in Christ Jesus.”

While that process of reconciliation begins when we put our trust in Jesus, it will not be complete until the Day of Resurrection to come. The Holy Spirit is a harbinger of our future with us in the present.

Spiritual Gifts

Every child of God is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, specially gifted to play a unique and valued role in the body of Christ.

Fountain of love

From the earliest days of the Methodist movement, John Wesley sought to help Christians live faith in the midst of ordinary lives of family, friends, work, bills, and more. He encouraged the Methodists to participate in what he called the “means of grace,” which included acts of piety like worship and prayer, along with acts of service like feeding the hungry and giving to the poor.

These acts are gifts strengthening us to live into the two-fold nature of discipleship: loving God and our neighbors.

In his hymn, Charles invites the Holy Ghost to strengthen us to live our faith daily.

Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire, let us thine influence prove;
source of the old prophetic fire, fountain of life and love.

Revealer of truth

John Wesley often called himself a “man of one book.” That book, of course, was the Bible.

Wesley was an ardent student of the Scriptures. He knew that the same Spirit that inspired the authors would also move in the hearts of readers centuries later, revealing God’s truth to us. The sermon states that the Holy Spirit is “a light to discern the fallacies of flesh and blood, [and] to reject the irreligious maxims of the world.”

In the second verse of “Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire,” Charles prayerfully asks the Holy Ghost to come to reveal God’s word to us.

Come, Holy Ghost (for moved by thee the prophets wrote and spoke),
unlock the truth, thyself the key, unseal the sacred book.

Holy SpiritBearer of New Creation

Having the Holy Spirit among us, a sign of that future day of restoration, also gives us the ability to live as people of that future now. Through the Spirit we see the world not only as it is, but as it will be, and are invited to participate in the work of reconciliation.

In the sermon we read that the Holy Spirit “is some portion of, as well as preparation for, a life in God, which we are to enjoy hereafter. The gift of the Holy Spirit looks full to the resurrection; for then is the life of God completed in us.”

When we sing verse 3 of Charles’ hymn, we pray for that day to come. Using an allusion to the presence of God’s Spirit moving over the face of the deep before the first day of Creation (see Genesis 1:2), we long for the new creation.

Expand thy wings, celestial Dove, brood o’er our nature’s night;
on our disordered spirits move, and let there now be light.

Assurance of salvationHoly Spirit 2

If you have ever wondered if you are really saved, you are not alone. Many Christians, including John Wesley, have gone through seasons of similar struggles. This sermon points to evidence in the gifts we see in our lives.

In “On the Holy Spirit” we read, “[W]here that divine Guest enters, the laws of another world must be observed.” A shift the Spirit brings to our priorities is then described. Where we once were primarily concerned about ourselves, the Spirit enables us to focus on our love of God and others.

In verse four of “Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire,” Charles Wesley writes how love flowing through us is evidence of the Spirit living in us.

God, through the Spirit we shall know if thou within us shine,
and sound, with all thy saints below, the depths of love divine.

It may be difficult for some of us to articulate a relationship with one described as fire, water, wind, or a dove. What we need to know is that the Spirit is the presence of the Holy in and around us each day, enabling us to live into the people God created us to be and will be restored to one day.

The Spirit is the presence of the Holy … enabling us to live as the people God created us to be.

Learn more about the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament, and take an online assessment to help you discover and cultivate your gifts.

Peace with Justice Sunday – Sunday, May 31

Peace with Justice Sunday 2

How to Dis Discontent – Reach for Less

Contentment 2Key Bible Verse: Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.  – Ecclesiastes 4:6, NIV

Bonus Reading: Luke 14:28-30

[continued from yesterday]  The third weapon of contentment is a realistic reach. Before you set a goal, candidly assess the time, the talents, and the resources you have.

Jesus rebuked those who started a tower without calculating what it would take to finish it. We must know our strengths, and limitations. Our lives were meant to be built on the capabilities and personality strengths a good God has given us.

We don’t need to strain to be somebody else. There’s great satisfaction in focused energy and completed towers. If your reach will compromise a quiet center or push you beyond the boundaries of peace, consider it too expensive.

King David revealed the secret of his relaxed spirit: “Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me. But I have stilled and quieted myself” (Psalm 131:1-2).

To be content with our life position cancels out the reach for more. It means that who we are is okay—our looks, our abilities, our singleness.

Where we are is okay too—our address, our school, our job, our position. And contentment includes how we are, even in a sickbed or with an empty wallet.

—Ron Hutchcraft in Living Peacefully in a Stressful World

My Response: When has my appetite for more created the stress I deplore?

Thought to Apply: To feel that one has a place in life solves half the problem of contentment.—George Woodberry (college professor & poet)

Adapted from Living Peacefully in a Stressful World (Discovery, 1985, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make me grateful for Your past blessings, confident of Your future provision, and at peace with my current circumstances.

 

How to Dis Discontent – Equalize the Pressure

Contentment 2Key Bible Verse: Now I can rest again, for the LORD has been so good to me.  – Psalm 116:7

Bonus Reading: Psalm 78:18-28

Our outside environment pushes us to compare, complain, compete, and conquer. To avoid chronic discontent, we need to counter with three kinds of inside pressure.

First, we need to renew our confidence in our secure Source. When something happens to our paycheck or our best friend, we feel fearful and restless. But those are only vehicles of God’s supply, not the Source.

He’s infinitely creative in finding other ways to send what we need. After all, our Father invented manna in the wilderness, water from a rock, and food delivered free by ravens. If we belong to Him, our Source is beyond the reach of any recession, depression, or hydrogen bomb.

Second, we fight discontent with a grateful memory. David’s memory was working well when he told King Saul, “The Lord who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine [Goliath]!” (1 Samuel 17:37).

God sends His gifts to us daily, but because we’re too busy to notice or say thanks, we lack David’s poise. Regular, specific thanks warms our Father’s heart, and reconfirms our contentment. If He’s done it before, He’ll do it again!” [continued tomorrow]

—Ron Hutchcraft in Living Peacefully in a Stressful World

My Response: Is my ultimate security based on savings, investments, or insurance?

Thought to Apply: We should spend as much time in thanking God for His benefits as we do in asking Him for them.—Vincent De Paul (French clergyman)

Adapted from Living Peacefully in a Stressful World (Discovery, 1985, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make me grateful for Your past blessings, confident of Your future provision, and at peace with my current circumstances.

 

After Ebola: A devastated country picks up the pieces

EbolaThe Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone is busy. Crisis responders from all over the world gather around the luggage carousel.  Staff for non-governmental organizations — representing Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom, France, Iceland, China and the United States — are easily identified by their uniforms, luggage tags or dialects.  As the many containers of medical supplies and equipment spill onto the conveyor belt, the responders seem prepared to saturate the country with their enthusiastic support, resources, knowledge and skills in an effort to finally contain the Ebola virus.

With the easing of public health restrictions, Sierra Leoneans not only are weary of the virus but also are becoming more complacent in facing this formidable foe. While hand-washing stations are abundant throughout the capital city of Freetown, many simply ignore them. Public buses are packed beyond shoulder to shoulder, and those manning Ebola checkpoints in and out of the city often wave people through without a glance. All these factors allow the virus to maintain a stubborn grip on the health and psyche of a nation.

Even though Liberia was recently declared Ebola-free, the virus is proving to be an unshakable foe in Sierra Leone. It was difficult to tally accurate statistics at the peak of the outbreak, but the World Health Organization reports that nearly 11,000 have died of Ebola in west Africa, and more than 26,000 were infected. Even now, Sierra Leone reports a few cases a day, but more districts than not seem to have broken the transmission chain that originally fueled the outbreak so virulently in the last quarter of 2014.  More than 12,000 have contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone and nearly 4,000 have died.

Nobody knew what Ebola was

We were there when Ebola first took hold in Sierra Leone.

At the end of May 2014, a United Methodist News Service team was covering the distribution of 400,000 insecticide treated bed nets through the church’s Imagine No Malaria ministry when we heard that Ebola had made its way to the far corner of the country.

The news team and United Methodist Committee on Relief representatives headed for Kenema Government Hospital to confer with the government health team treating Ebola patients. We wanted to communicate the facts to the many United Methodist Church doctors and nurses who might come into contact with Ebola patients.  That was 12 months ago.

Since then, the world has witnessed the devastating effects of Ebola in West Africa. Thousands have died and the fallout has devastated the health, education, and economic sectors of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

From the beginning of the deadly outbreak, United Methodist leaders in West Africa have been on the frontlines. As the virus begins to show signs of retreating, it was time for United Methodist News Service to return to Sierra Leone to investigate how the church might be called upon in the coming years to rebuild all that has been lost during the outbreak.

Despite all the effort that has gone into controlling the epidemic, across the street from the modern hotel that accommodates responders from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, an entire neighborhood endures quarantine. The orange plastic fencing draping the area indicates that for 21 days no one inside the fence can legally leave and their health will be monitored for any sign of the virus.

Joseph Bangura is one of the more than 300 living behind this flimsy barrier. He earns his living at the fish market where a boat arrived a few days ago with a handful of passengers from a northern village. One man on board was already dead from Ebola and the others were whisked away to treatment facilities. Bangura misses his family and has no means of earning a living while quarantined. “I am worried about my family and they are worried about me.”

Over the last year, Bishop John K. Yambasu has witnessed the far-reaching repercussions of Ebola. The United Methodist bishop for Sierra Leone has lost parishioners and pastors to the virus. He has experienced the death of a beloved surgeon, the closing of United Methodist health clinics and schools. And, he has prayed with his countrymen as they struggled to earn a living as society ground to a halt.

“My heart bleeds,” he says, “Ebola broke out in this country and nobody had any idea what it was.”

‘We all came together’

Yambasu steers the Religious Leaders Task Force on Ebola. Early in the outbreak, he directed training of all faith-based health institutions across the country. Nearly 300 attended the information sessions about the deadly virus.

“We all came together, imams and pastors and trained in the area of basic prevention,” Yambasu says. It was this task force that pressured the government to declare Ebola a national health emergency and put into place more stringent controls.

Throughout the unprecedented outbreak, the church has remained a trusted source of information. With the help of United Methodist Communications, Yambasu and Liberian Bishop John Innis have sent daily text messages of encouragement and information to their pastors.

Early on, the messages helped to amplify the reality of the outbreak and empower faith leaders to guide their congregations through the crisis.  Nearly 700 recipients received messages such as, “Ebola is real. It kills with little warning,” and “Don’t fix our eyes on Ebola but on God’s presence…God’s grace is eternal.” The agency also co-produced an award-winning animation, recorded in indigenous languages, to persuade cynics that the virus had become an undeniable reality in the region.

To date, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has poured over $630,000 into the Ebola response in Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as Côte d’Ivoire, where proximity to the two nations put the country at risk.

“Most of our grants included multiple elements like purchase of medical supplies and feeding people in hospitals,” says Francesco Paganini, the manager of International Response.  The mission agency, United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry individually contributed to education and prevention efforts, as well. The United Methodist Women also distributed food to those quarantined and out of work because of Ebola.

On the frontlines in the affected countries, local church leaders organized information campaigns and distributed medical equipment and resources.  When large numbers of people were quarantined, the church delivered food and water to help ease the burden of total shutdown.

Yambasu says it was sobering to witness the breakdown of nearly every social system in the country. “Ebola brought a lot of evil upon this nation but it opened our eyes to realities,” he says. When the outbreak first occurred, Sierra Leone had just a handful of ambulances. Yambasu explains that patients suffering from a variety of ailments, such as malaria or even high blood pressure, often were transported in the vehicles with those suffering from Ebola.

Because of the toxic mix, ambulances were regarded as “death wagons.”  In Kailahun, an area where whole families were wiped out by the virus, villagers rioted when an ambulance approached to pick up a patient.  An influx of new ambulances, a change in procedures and an extensive government campaign is slowly convincing a skeptical society that ambulances are not to be feared.

The recovery plan

The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone is facing tremendous challenges as a result of Ebola and conference leaders have formulated a Post-Ebola Recovery Response Strategic Plan.  The two-year plan addresses the resuscitation and enhancement of all forms of outreach – including health, education and agriculture – while addressing demands created by the sheer numbers of Ebola orphans and widows.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The United Methodist Churches in Sierra Leone and Liberia are struggling to recover from the Ebola epidemic. You can donate to the conference relief efforts online through the Advance.

Sierra Leone Undesignated Advance #00387A

Liberia Undesignated Advance #00382A

You can also give to the International Disaster Response fund Advance #982450 of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Read full coverage of Ebola and The United Methodist Church.

The 18-page report underscores the growing number of vulnerable people in an already overstressed country, especially those who have lost parents or spouses and have no means of support. In addition, the document acknowledges that without a functioning health care system, many chronic diseases have been left untreated, which has resulted in even more deaths and disability than are being reported.

Strengthening the efforts to engage everyone from grassroots to governmental levels, the annual conference report emphasizes the urgent need to reopen the four United Methodist health facilities that were closed in the midst of the outbreak. The Sierra Leone Conference operates 10 hospitals and clinics throughout the country. The plan addresses operational vulnerabilities that were exposed because of the Ebola outbreak with the goal of transforming the facilities into a “robust first class health care system.”

In addition to health care, the church operates more than 300 primary schools and 50 secondary schools. The United Methodist University, slated to open in 2016, will inaugurate curricula that will address food security and nutrition, nursing and evangelization.

This recovery plan will serve as a framework for Sierra Leone Partners Conferences in Germany and Norway this month and in the United States in August.

How to Dis Discontent – Virus Protection

Contentment 2Key Bible Verse: I have learned to get along happily whether I have much or little. Philippians 4:11

Bonus Reading: Philippians 4:10-20

Life is never good enough for some people, while others have great joy even though their lives are plagued by problems.

According to the apostle Paul, the problem for those who are never happy is that “their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15, NIV).

It’s as if a bad computer virus has corrupted all their spiritual files. We’re all created to enjoy this brief life by finding the marks of the Creator in everything He’s made. Yet sin has distorted our vision, making it hard for us to see God’s good work. Instead we see only a world that’s not good enough, a family that’s imperfect, or friends and colleagues who don’t appreciate us.

It’s tempting to just get new friends, change jobs, and bombard our family members with criticism. Yet the problem doesn’t lie out there. It lies in our own corrupted minds and guilt-ridden consciences.

Until we deal with these corrupted files through confession, the invitation to joy won’t compute for us. That’s because joy is essentially an expression of gratitude, and nothing makes us as grateful as believing we’re forgiven. When we’re overwhelmed by the grace we’ve received, it’s hard to be judgmental of the world around us.

—Craig Barnes in An Extravagant Mercy

My Response: Today, I’ll thank God for my most basic blessings.

Thought to Apply: Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out. —JOHN WOODEN (basketball coach)

Adapted from An Extravagant Mercy (Jossey-Bass, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make me grateful for Your past blessings, confident of Your future provision, and at peace with my current circumstances.

 

Re-Creation at Central Church

Re-Creation joined us on Sunday night, May 17, 2015 for a wonderful night filled with music and joyful worship.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to join us, here are a few photos of the evening:

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Our next concert:

will be with the the Southern Gospel group, the GloryWay Quartet, featuring their beautiful four-part harmony at Central Church at 6:00 on Sunday, July 19.

Mark your calendars and plan to join us for another wonderful evening of music in praise of our God.

GloryWay Quartet

 

 

 

How to Dis Discontent – 4-Wheel Dream

Contentment 2Key Bible Verse: Those who love money will never have enough. How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness! Ecclesiastes 5:10

Bonus Reading: Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

In a class I taught on money, I asked one husband, “Peter, if you could drive any car you wanted and didn’t have to pay for it, what would it be?”

With a wide grin, he replied, “A Ford F-250 V-8 pickup truck, every option, extended cab, four-wheel drive with a topper and a ski rack.”

“Should we make it diesel?” I asked.

Bigger grin. “Yeah, let’s make it diesel.”

“Peter,” I followed up, “Say you may have a new Ford like that every year for the rest of your life. However, the trade-off is that you’ll never be content. Or you can drive a 1996 Ford Taurus that’s seen better days. The trade-off is that you’ll always be content. Which do you choose?”

Peter sat there stunned and undecided. He’d always thought, When I get to this level and have these things, then I’ll be content. Was that his conscious thinking? No. Was it his practical behavior? Yes.

As is true for most of us. Our culture has conditioned us to believe our contentment is something “out there.” “When I get the right job …” “When we can afford to move to a larger house …” “When we can afford to retire …”

“When” never gets here.

—Neil Atkinson in The Shrewd Christian

My Response: To move the basis of my contentment from “out there” to “in here,” I need to …

Adapted from The Shrewd Christian (WaterBrook, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make me grateful for Your past blessings, confident of Your future provision, and at peace with my current circumstances.

 

Pentecost Sunday – May 24, 2015

PentecostPentecost Sunday is on May 24 this year.  Pentecost represents an ending as well as a beginning: the end of the “Great Fifty Days” of the Easter Season (Pentecost means “the 50th day” in Greek) and the beginning of the commemorations of the early church.  Pentecost also gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves the question, “What is our community ‘on fire’ about?”

For the early church, Pentecost was the second most important part of the Christian year after Pascha or Easter.  Originally, it commemorated both the Ascension of Jesus and the descending of the Holy Spirit, but became two distinct celebrations by the end of the fourth century.  (As Christianity became legal, there was no reason not to have as many celebrations as possible.)

Pentecost also became a favorite time for baptisms with its focus on the work of the Holy Spirit within the church and within our lives.  The holy day continues to be a wonderful celebrative time for rites of passage including baptism, confirmation and the reception of new members.

How to Dis Discontent – “There’s Your Model”

Contentment 2Who Said It…Richard Bewes

Richard is rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. He grew up as a missionary kid in Kenya.

His love of tennis began there and continued during secondary school in England, where he represented the combined Public Schools of Britain against the All-England Club at Wimbledon.

Richard says his family’s gospel tradition began in 1882, when his grandfather, then 14 years old, responded to a sermon by American evangelist D.L. Moody.

What He Said…”There’s Your Model”

Missionary Ken Ogden used his skills as a carpenter to good effect in one of the developing countries.

At one point he’d shown his local pupils how to build a church. They did it together. They were just about to embark on the final lesson of making the seating when the blow fell. The totalitarian government of the day found fault with Ken and ordered him out of the country with 24 hours notice.

What would you have done? Run ’round to the bank and try to extricate what funds you could? Frantically gather your most precious belongings for a hasty exit?

Ken did none of that. Those last hours he spent with his pupils, and made one seat for the new church. “There!” he said when it was done. “There’s your model. Now I’m going, but you finish the rest.”

He left them, not only with the prototype for a church seat, but also with a standard of how an integrated Christian behaves under pressure. It was the lesson of contentment.

Adapted from Words that Circled the World (Christian Focus, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make me grateful for Your past blessings, confident of Your future provision, and at peace with my current circumstances.

 

Parsonage – FIRE

Central Church - Parsonage Fire - 5-12-2015

Central Church – Parsonage Fire – 5-12-2015

There was a significant fire at Central’s Parsonage this afternoon. Our tenant’s 13-year-old grandson was playing with a lighter in one of the bedrooms and set the mattress alight.

The 4-Alarm blaze brought in fire fighters from Beaver Falls, New Brighton, Patterson, and Big Beaver.

Everyone escaped the building without injury, but the preliminary damage estimate to Central’s Parsonage is in excess of $80,000.

We had a restoration company started on the work before the fire trucks departed late this afternoon, but the work will not be concluded until late this year at the earliest.

Nevertheless, in the light of what could have happened, our prayers are prayers of Thanks to God today that no one was injured.Central - Parsonage Fire 2 - 5-12-2015

 

The Founding Mothers of Mother’s Day

Mother's Day 1In the late 1860s, before there was an official Mother’s Day holiday in the U.S., a Methodist mom organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

When Ann Jarvis was working to establish Mother’s Day as a national event, and when her daughter picked up the mantle from her, they were not thinking about greeting cards and flowers.  Instead the Methodist women who invented the idea in America wanted to honor mothers in a deeper way.

They were thinking about the work of women and the significant testimony that women could give about the need for peace.  Ann Reeves Jarvis organized women’s clubs in the 1860s to serve suffering mothers and children.

Women came together with their sisters in their locations to respond to the needs that they could see. For Ann, she was in a coal mining part of what is now West Virginia. And she could see the needs of women and children. And she could see the effect of the economy of her day on the people that she cared for most directly.  She started mothers clubs. And she talked to them about hydration for fevered babies, about sanitation and nutrition. And then the Civil War came along and they put a field hospital right outside Grafton.

Ann recruited nurses for military hospitals, and after the war formed friendship clubs to promote reconciliation.  Ann Jarvis was convinced that mothers, women, but especially mothers, had to work for peace because they could see the ravages of war in their husbands and in their sons, in a way that was so focused and so clear that their voices would be powerful. And that’s what’s at the genesis of the current Mother’s Day.

In May 1908, Anna Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.  There was also a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Phila00delphia on the same day.

Mother's Day 2In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the USA. Others like Julia Ward Howe and Juliet Calhoun Blakely also advocated for a Mother’s Day type recognition in the U.S. in the late 19th century also.

Mother’s Day is celebrated in a variety of countries.  In Thailand, Mother’s Day is celebrated in August on the birthday of the current queen, Sirikit.  In Ethiopia, families gather each fall to sing songs and eat a large feast as part of Antrosht, a multi-day celebration honoring motherhood.

In the United States, Mother’s Day in 2015 will be celebrated on Sunday, May 10.

Persecution of Christians – After Removing 400 Crosses, China Proposes Where Churches Can Put Them Instead

After Removing 400 Crosses, China Proposes Where Churches Can Put Them InsteadCourtesy of China Aid
Government workers remove a cross in Zhejiang city of Lishui on May 4.

Christianity Today reported this morning that days after at least a dozen crosses were forcibly removed from churches, China formally protested a United States report on its lack of religious freedom.

Now a proposal has surfaced to ban crosses entirely from the rooftops of churches in Zhejiang, one of China’s most Christian provinces.

Zhejiang cross removalImage: Courtesy of China Aid

Zhejiang cross removal

In March, a Chinese bishop reported that the government was finally halting a campaign which has removed hundreds of crosses from “China’s Jerusalem,” the coastal city of Wenzhou. (An interactive timeline was produced by Christian Solidarity Worldwide.)

But stories of more removals continued to surface. The Chinese government now says it won’t stop the campaign until 2016, according to China Aid, which has closely tracked the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign.

In fact, officials have proposed a new rule that would prevent future crosses from topping churches. According to the Associated Press:

A draft of rules on religious structures released by government agencies this week says the crosses should be wholly affixed to a building facade and be no more than one-tenth of the facade’s height. The symbol also must fit with the facade and the surroundings, the proposal says. The draft does not provide the rationale for the proposal.

Zhejiang cross removalImage: Courtesy of China Aid

Zhejiang cross removal

Last week, Zhejiang officials removed 12 crosses from churches in the city of Lishui, burning one when a removal machine malfunctioned. On Monday, the Chinese national government filed a diplomatic protest over this year’s annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which labeled Chinese religious freedom violations “severe” and “systematic.”

“This report … is full of political bias and makes arbitrary and unfounded criticism of China,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told news outlets in a daily briefing. She said that Chinese citizens had “ample” freedom religious freedom under law.

But USCIRF’s 2015 report noted that more than 400 Chinese churches in Zhejiang have had their crosses removed or torn down in the past year, and in some cases those who protested were arrested or imprisoned. The report also states that China designated some house churches “cults” and then issued a directive to “eradicate” them over the next 10 years. One example: more than 100 Christians were arrested during a single raid on a house church last year in Foshan City.

Zhejiang cross removalImage: Courtesy of China Aid

Zhejiang cross removal

“People of faith continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship,” the report stated. “Based on the alarming increase in systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses, USCIRF again recommends China be designated a ‘country of particular concern.’” USCIRF recommended that China be relisted as a top offender, along with countries such as Myanmar and North Korea.

Meanwhile, China Aid’s 2014 report, released last month, said that persecution in China increased 150 percent over the course of last year, with nearly 3,000 detained and close to 1,300 sentenced.

Please remember in prayer our Christian brothers and sisters and their Churches as they continue to be persecuted in Communist China.

National Day of Prayer – May 7, 2015

National Day of Prayer - 5-7-2015The 64th annual National Day of Prayer, May 7, 2015, will have profound significance for our country.  It is an unprecedented opportunity to see the Lord’s healing and renewing power made manifest as citizens are called upon to humbly come before His throne.

The theme for 2015 is Lord, Hear Our Cry, emphasizing the need for individuals, corporately and individually, to place their faith in the unfailing character of their Creator, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men.  To further highlight our theme, I Kings 8:28 has been chosen as the Scripture for this year: Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.”

For the May 7th observances, Dr. Jack Graham, the 2015 Honorary Chairman, wrote a special prayer to be simultaneously read throughout the nation at noon (EDT).  This recitation will create a huge wave of prayer, flowing from one coast to the other, illustrating the unity of God’s people and acknowledging His dominion over the circumstances facing us.  Millions of people will gather to pray at thousands of events facilitated by volunteer coordinators and people just like you!

At this crucial time for our nation, we can do nothing more important than pray.  Please set aside time to participate in the National Day of Prayer this year, and may the Lord’s peace fill your heart as you rest in Him throughout the days ahead.

Christian Persecution

Christian Persecution

What is Christian Persecution?

Christian persecution is any hostility experienced from the world as a result of one’s identification as a Christian. From verbal harassment to hostile feelings, attitudes and actions, Christians in areas with severe religious restrictions pay a heavy price for their faith. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death are just a few examples of the persecution they experience on a daily basis.

According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

Prayer is vital. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.Hebrews 13:3

 

 

John 6:37

John 6--37