STANDING IN THE GAP

I sought for a man among them who would … stand in the gap … but I found no one.

Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV
When Chris Milbrath went to work with

Co- Mission in the Ukraine, the last thing he envisioned was being hospitalized. He experienced a persistent stomach-ache and his doctor diagnosed a ruptured appendix and told him that without surgery he’d die. Things didn’t go well and infection set in. Halfway across the world a lady who was one of Chris’s supporters woke suddenly during the night. She didn’t know why, but she knew she had

to pray for him. Later, comparing notes and making adjustments for the different time zones, they discovered that her prayer-burden ‘just happened to coincide” with the time he was clinging to life. Within 24 hours a missions group in Moscow heard about the situation. A small jet ‘just happened to be available” to airlift Chris to Geneva where one of Switzerland’s best surgeons ‘just happened to be available” to perform additional surgery that saved his life. Chris later said, “I can’t help wondering what would’ve happened to me if that woman had just rolled over and said, ‘I’ll pray for Chris tomorrow.”

God says, “I sought for a man among them who would … stand in the gap … but I found no one.” Interceding is a
lonely business. You don’t volunteer-God calls you. True intercessors realize what’s at stake and stay on their knees until
they sense they’ve broken through and God’s heard them. James writes, “When a believing person prays, great things happen” (Jas 5:16 NCV). So when God prompts you to pray for somebody, don’t wait-do it! Your prayers may be the only

thing standing between that person and catastrophe.


LOVING THE UNLOVABLE

Her parents didn’t want her so at birth they placed her in foster care. Shuffled from place to place, she dreamed of the day they’d return. It never happened. So she lashed out at the world by attempting suicide. Then through a series of events she found her parents again. She lived with them but things were strained. When they told her they wanted to adopt a baby and “start over,” she longed to be included. But when she said, “I don’t want to be a burden, so maybe I should go,” her dad helped her pack. Cramming her possessions in a grocery bag, he pressed $10 into her hand and said goodbye. Today she Jives on the streets, sleeps in doorways and eats from garbage cans. Sadly, her story’s not unique. It’s been multiplied into infinity. In fact, there’s probably somebody just like her in your neighborhood-forgotten, unloved and isolated. They’re usually the hardest to reach because they feel unwanted and useless. They wrestle with inferiority, poor self-image and lack of self-respect. What do we do? Instead of loving them we label them. Instead of caring, we criticize. What should we do? Open our hearts. Love is much more than shaking hands in church. It takes

time to develop and grow. So be gracious. Remember, that tough exterior is just a cover-up. Look for new ways to reach out, encourage, and show hurting people you care. Why? Because Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these . .. you did it to Me.” And that’s reason enough!



HAVING A GRATEFUL HEART

Where are the other nine? Luke 17:17 NIV

One day 10 men with leprosy came to Jesus saying, “Have pity on us!” Pity-it was an admission that they were desperate for whatever charity another person might provide. “Go, show yourselves to the priests” was Jesus’ response. “As they went,” the Bible says, “they were cleansed” (Lk 17: 14). But the story doesn’t end there. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan” (Lk 17:15-16 NIV). What takes place next is very interesting. Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine?” (Lk 17: 17 NIV). Jesus is making a point: gratitude is important to Him. This story is there to underscore the importance of having a grateful heart. Two statements are worth underlining: “He came back,” and “Where are the other nine?” Gratitude is “coming back” to say thanks to the One Who made it aU possible. Gratitude isn’t a natural or instinctive thing for most of us, it’s a learned discipline, one that comes with a realization that we neither deserve nor are entitled to God’s blessings. At best, we’re graced recipients of all we have and are. The old cowboy doffs his hat and says, “Much obliged.” The words imply humility: that I cannot get along by myself. They imply reliance: that I need people around me, and that I need God. They imply value: that I recognize the cost involved in giving. They imply gladness: that my life has been filled with ajoy that only comes when I reach out to, and receive from others with grace.



WAYS TO ENRICH YOUR MARRIAGE

Live in … harmony … each with the attitude of Christ toward the other. Romans 15:5 TLB

Somebody said the difference between courtship and marriage is like the difference between the pictures in a seed catalog and what actually comes up in your garden. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Author Steve Stephens offers this

advice:

“Start each day with a kiss … always wear your wedding ring [it was placed there to cut off your circulation!) … go on

regular ‘dates’ with your spouse … accept your differences . . .be polite … be gentle. . . give little gifts … smile often . . . touch. . .talk . . .about your dreams . . . adopt a song as ‘your song’ . . .give back . . . rubs … laugh together … send cards for no reason . . .do what your partner wants before they ask … and learn to listen for what isn’t being said … encourage one another. .. do it his or her way . .. compliment one another daily … call during the day … slow down … hold hands … cuddle … ask for your mate’s opinion … be respectful. .. always welcome your spouse when he or she comes home at the end of the day . . . make an effort to always look your best.. . wink at each other . . . celebrate special events . . .learn to apologize … forgive quickly … set up regular romantic getaways … ask, ‘What can I do to make you happier?’ … be positive … be kind        be vulnerable … respond quickly to your spouse’s requests . . . talk about your love … reminisce about favorite times together. .. treat each other’s friends and relatives with courtesy … send flowers on Valentine’s Day and anniversaries … when you’re wrong, admit it. .. be sensitive to your spouse’s sexual needs … watch sunsets together. .. say ‘I love you’ often … never go to sleep angry … end every day with a hug … get professional help when you need it. .. and above all, pray daily for (and with) each other.”



THE POWER AND REACH OF MEMORY

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!  -Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

Gordon MacDonald writes, “When I asked a ninety-three year-old man if he and his ninety-year-old wife ever have conflict, he assured me they do. I asked him how they treat each other in such moments, and he told me how important it is that he speaks tenderly to her. When I asked why, he told me that when his wife was a girl her father always spoke to her in a harsh and hurtful tone of voice. ‘Now whenever she hears any man speak in an angry manner, the feelings of hurt and fear return. ‘But that was eighty-five years ago,’ MacDonald replied, are you telling me that she still remembers?’ ‘More than ever!’ he responded emphatically.” In our earliest years we watch those who are largest in our lives and note how and when they express anger, joy, sadness or fear. And we take our cues from what we see. So, “What do I do with those painful memories? you ask. The Bible gives us at least 4 answers: (1) Practice repentance;

acknowledge your own mistakes. (2) Demonstrate grace; forgive others-and yourself. (3) Show gratitude; focus what’s

good not what’s bad. (4) Find wisdom; turn your pain into a learning experience.

When Israel crossed the River Jordan, God commanded Joshua to erect a memorial of 12 stones saying: “In the future.,

. when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean. tell them … These stones are to be a memorial” (Jos 4:6-7 NIV). In other words, remember with repentance, with grace, with gratitude, and with wisdom.



REPAIRING THE PAST

Zacchaeus discovered that you can’t be right with God until you’re first right with those you’ve hurt. Joseph discovered that being Prime Minister doesn’t mean much if your family relationships are strained. Relationships are like a house. If you don’t maintain it your task won’t be to repair it-it’ll be to rebuild it. We each Carry within us the experience of our yesterdays. They influence our relationships, our choices, our view of ourselves, even our understanding of God. You can’t live in a spiritually healthy fashion if you’ve an unrepaired past.

For a long time Jacob lived that way. He took advantage of his brother Esau, manipulating him out of his inheritance. When when things got bad between them he fled the country. When he returned home, he did so fearing the face of his brother. In his case the relationship was healed, but it doesn’t always end that way. Repairing the past is best done immediately. Patching up wounded relationships, dealing with festering regrets, letting go of feelings toward someone who’s betrayed you; these issues lie deep within us as if asleep. Then suddenly they’re awakened by some “trigger.” It could be an anniversary, an old face in the crowd or a particular song on the radio, but they don’t go away until we deal with them. How? By forgiving, and when possible making restitution. You see, forgiveness isn’t just for the other person’s benefit-it’s for yours. So, is there a relationship you need to repair today? If so, take care of it!



GENEROUS WITH … WHAT?

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other.   1 Thessalonians 3:12 NIV

So, what does it mean to be generous? And generous with … what? (1) Your time. Listen: “May the Lord show mercy

to … Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains … when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me” (2Ti 1:16-18 NIV). Wouldn’t you love to know more about Onesiphorus? He’s the kind who’ll stand by you when you’re under attack-he’ll even visit you in prison. Ever visit a prisoner? Jesus said you should! (See Mt 25:35-40). (2) Your encouragement. Paul had a friend named Barnabas (“son of encouragement”). It was Barnabas we have to thank (in part) for the incredible success of Paul When the early church doubted Paul’s conversion, Barnabas welcomed him into fellowship. The last we hear of Barnabas is defending John Mark, a failed young man who needed a second chance. Are you willing to do that for others? God did that for you! (3) 11mI’ money. Jesus watched folks giving to attract attention. Interestingly, none of them are named in Scripture. Who was? A poor widow. Suddenly Jesus called His disciples and said, “Hey, I want you to watch this.” People with little to give, tend to be avoided. Who notices them? Jesus! Listen: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on” (Mk 12:43-44 NIV). We tend to seek out glamour and power, but the eyes of Jesus seek out true generosity. So you say you’re generous? Generous with … what?



KNOWING GOD INTIMATELY!

Luke gives us a fascinating description of a lady called Anna, who recognized the Christ-child when His parents first brought Him to the temple: “Anna the prophetess was also there … by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshipping night and day … At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the [Christ] child to all” (Lk 2:36-37 TM). Anna never stopped searching for God! What a challenge to those whose spiritual life has never evolved and deepened with age. They slowly empty their tank of yesterday’s zeal, and now go through the motions of a faith that makes no sense and has no appeal on the streets of the real world.

Oswald Chambers once made an entry in his journal that reads, “A great fear has been at work in my mind, and God has used it to arouse me to prayer. I came across a man I knew years ago, a mighty man of God. Now ten years have gone by

and I met him again-garrulous and unenlivened. How many of us seem to become like that after forty years of age?” Garrulous? It describes someone who talks a lot but says little. Unenlivened? It describes a person whose spirit is nexercised, undeepened, and starved almost to the point of death. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you; the rest of your life can be the best of your life, if you dedicate it to one purpose- knowing God intimately.



DEVELOPING SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE

Just talking about spiritual discipline won’t get you very far. Nor is there any value in talking about how badly others

need it. Describing some friends he’d known for a lifetime, Scott Turow writes, “Many years ago I learned their dirtiest, most crabbed secret. That their passion to change the world derived from the fact that they could not change themselves.” Hello! Do you talk a lot about things you haven’t personally experienced, as a kind of smokescreen for your own shallowness? Understand this: developing spiritual discipline is demanding, mostly done in secret, usually humbling, and not always fun. Let’s break that down.

Demanding? Absolutely. It means being harder on yourself than you want to be. It calls for regularly examining your speech, relationships and life choices, then correcting them if necessary. Done in secret? Yes. When you’re striving to develop spiritual discipline it’s wise not to talk too much about what you’re in to. Talk is cheap. “Just do it,” goes the well-known slogan. Humbling? No question about it. Some days it will feel like one step forward and two back. Spiritual discipline calls for “staying the course,” while others walk away in denial or excuse making. Not always fun? Developing a life of spiritual discipline is a satisfying experience, but it’s not always fun experience. Listen to Paul: “I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself’ (ICo 9:26-27 TM).



UNTIL THE LAST SPIKE IS DRIVEN

I press on toward the goal to win the prize. Philippians 3: 14 NIV

Stephen Ambrose’s book, Nothing Like It in the World, tells the story of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in America. He describes the moment when construction was to begin and certain people decided that there ought to be a great ceremony. A host of dignitaries were invited to gather at the place where the first rail was to be laid. One of those invited was Collis Huntington, perhaps the railroad’s most important West Coast backer in California. But he declined, saying, “Anybody can drive the first spike, but there are months of labor and unrest between the first and the last spike.” When construction of the railroad was finally completed in May, 1869, the last spike, a golden one at that, was pounded into place and a telegram sent to President Ulysses S. Grant: “Sir, we have the honor to report that the last rail is laid, the last spike is driven, the Pacific Railroad is finished.” Now Collis Huntington had something to celebrate!

Paul felt that way too: “Forgetting what is behind .. .I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Php 3: 13-14 NIV). Almost fifty years ago Thomas Merton wrote, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair. But ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for – Christ!” That’s a question we each need to ask ourselves-daily!




 

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