Remembering God’s Promises

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When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said,

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.

“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’

“The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”

In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer. (Nehemiah 1:4-11, NLT)

Nehemiah was a younger man who was employed by King Artaxerxes of Persia.  Based on what we knew about Nehemiah, he was well trained in God’s Law; this comes out clearly in his amazing prayers throughout the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah had just received news the wall of Jerusalem was not rebuilt yet, leaving the city and God’s temple exposed to people with bad intentions.  His response to this news…he wept, mourned for his people, fasted, and prayed.  He prayed and he took action, both in his prayers and in his physical form…he went to work.  Yes, prayer involves work!

There are some important components to Nehemiah’s prayer:  he praised God; there was thanksgiving; he repented not only for himself, but for his people; he presented specific requests to God; and he displayed commitment to God by reminding God of His Word.  A couple of the characteristics in Nehemiah’s prayers have grabbed hold of my heart and has caused a significant work in me:  repentance and commitment.  It is my hope that God will speak to your heart and some of these characteristics will become part of your being, part of the thread God uses to weave you into His child, made in His image.

First, for most of us a primary portion of our prayers is repentance.  The closer in relationship I get to my Father, the more I find myself in a state of repentance.  You cannot get closer to the Father, without an increase of awareness of your own brokenness.  Personal repentance is both freeing and allows God to show mercy and bring healing.  Nehemiah takes repentance far beyond personal repentance…he accepts the sin of his people and repents on their behalf (Jesus did this in a very final way, John 3:16-17).  Nehemiah, broken on their behalf and saddened by the fact that God’s city is left exposed to the corruption of the world, repents for his entire people prior to repenting of his own sin. He confesses “we have sinned”, then follows up with “Yes, even my own family and I have sinned.”  Nehemiah took on the sin of all his people. He hurt for them, he was broken for them, he was pleading with the God of heaven to forgive his people…God’s people.

So, the question becomes how often do we have a conversation with somebody about how wicked this world is?  Can you believe what Harvey Weinstein did?  Did you read the president’s tweet?  I cannot believe what Planned Parenthood does.  We need to boycott company “A”.  The list goes on. Nehemiah did not do that, he simply fell on his face in front of a holy God and cried out in repentance for his people.  What would this world look like if every follower of Jesus fell on their face in repentance of our people…His people?  What would it look like if instead of gossiping, we simply prayed with one voice for those people or that organization.  I have a personal responsibility, we have a personal responsibility to lead through prayer and repentance, just as Nehemiah did.  And, if we do, I promise you God will honor His people, just as he did for Nehemiah.

Secondly, Nehemiah always gave God the glory for what he accomplished, but many times Nehemiah would remind God of His word, His promises.  Nehemiah stated, “remember what you told your servant Moses…”  Do you think God really needs a reminder about what He said or has accomplished in the past?  Of course not, but this displays Nehemiah’s commitment to God’s word and His deeds throughout time.  Nehemiah’s prayer was a proclamation to God about His goodness to His people, especially when they were repentant and following His laws. (As a side note, His laws had a significant purpose.  Not to regulate and rule over the people, but to provide the people with safety, security, and joy). You will see throughout Nehemiah’s prayers, he reminds God of His Word, and what he himself has done for the Lord.

How often do you remind God of His word in your prayers?  How often do you remind God of the things you have accomplished for him?  God has challenged me in this area lately; to know His Word well enough to speak it in my conversation with Him and also, to not be afraid to remind God of the sacrifices I have made for Him even though my sacrifice is imperfect.  These things are never done in an attitude of pride or an attempt to manipulate, but simply in a humble conversation with our Father.  Furthermore, when I speak these things out loud, they are a reminder to my flesh of what God has accomplished in me and through me, with the goal of aligning myself with His will.  We are created to accomplish His good works (Eph 2:10), and if you are like me, you need a reminder often.  Reminding God of His Word displays commitment to His truth and further cements those very truths in your own mind.

Over the next few days, pray God’s Word as the Holy Spirit guides you, remind Him of His goodness, His mercy, His patience, and ask Him to forgive His people.  Our world is simply a result of people walking away from God’s goodness.  We are disillusioned to believe God’s goodness is oppressive, when the reality is our own sin is oppressive. God’s goodness, His forgiveness, brings freedom!  Let’s pray for freedom in our cities, our state, our country, and our world.  And, just as Nehemiah did, pray and take action where the Lord leads you.

Blessings in the New Year!

Scott

The Black Sheep of Spiritual Disciplines

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How many of us make decisions on something small, significant, or somewhere in between then pause to pray about our decision moments before taking action?  In my late teens and early 20’s I developed a bad habit of making decision based on my feelings at the time.  I am, by nature, an emotional person.  That means if I am not careful, I will make decisions based on how I am feeling.  The danger of that…our feelings betray us at times.  Feelings are not concrete, not based on fact.  They are based on circumstance, hormones, and a host of other factors.  When we make decisions based on feeling the results can be devastating…massive debt, divorce, job loss, obesity, addictions.  The list is endless.

Imagine with me for a moment an alternate earth.  In this parallel world, the citizens of a specific region were god’s chosen people, he and he alone wanted to lead them in the ways that were righteous and would result in their blessing.  Instead of following him they cried out for a worldly leader and in god’s love for them, he provided a king.  Over the years they wandered further and further down the path of doing what feels good and fulfills their every desire.  Due to continuously feeding the desires of the flesh and seeking out leaders who would continue to give them the same, they ended up with a long line of wicked leaders.  Eventually, the wickedness of the culture caused their national security to be severely compromised and they fell into enslavement to a foreign government.  This foreign government took the citizens of a once great country captive and removed everyone from their homeland.  They destroyed the once beautiful capital city.

Fast forward 90 plus years.  The dictator of the country who took the other country captive had groomed a high-level employee to provide his house the best and safest food and drink.  Unbeknownst to the dictator, the head chef was a godly man, who constantly sought out his god for wisdom to perform his job to the best of his ability.  Why?  Because he knew that if he failed at his job it meant his life…failure was NEVER an option in this world.  The head chef was speaking to a relative, who was relaying to him the disarray of the homeland.  He told him how the capital was still in ruins and not rebuilt, even though the foreign government had begun to allow citizens of the chef’s country to return to their homes. The chef was grieved.  He was devastated and emotionally broken, that his fellow people had not realized the blessing they had received by being allowed to return to their homeland.  He was broken that his people chose to live in disarray, devastation and disobedience, instead of being thankful for the opportunity to go home and begin reconstruction.

At that very moment, the chef knew something must be done in the homeland.  He knew his people needed to set their hearts and eyes on their god and begin the restoration process.  He thought to himself, I am of well regard with my boss, the dictator; I need to plead my case and see if he will allow me to go to my homeland for a short period of time to encourage and lead my people.  But instead of taking matters into his own hands, he laid down his own desires for the desires of his god and over the next 4 months he prayed and fasted for his people.  He patiently prayed and fasted daily while waiting for an answer from his god, never taking matters into his own hands.  Then in a split second, everything changed and his prayer was answered…his patience, his faithfulness, his laying down his own desires was being honored.

This fictional story, was birthed from the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.  Over the next 21 days we are going to dive deep into the heart and mind of Nehemiah; one of God’s faithful in the Old Testament.  Nehemiah is often studied for his example of leadership, but if all we ever do is focus on Nehemiah the leader, we will miss much of the wisdom the 13-chapter Old Testament book holds.

Fortunately, our God has more grace then I will ever understand and in His goodness, He has displayed to me a better way over the past few years.  There is value in being patient, slowing down, and seeking God prior to making decisions.  When we encounter an emotional response, we must pause and pray while our mind is still flexible and open to the wisdom of a Father who truly does want the best for us.  We must be willing to sacrifice our fleshly desires through the discipline of fasting and praying to hear our Father’s voice clearly.  Please join us on a prayer and fasting journey (January 1st through the 21st) as we look at the prayers of Nehemiah; a man who sought out his Heavenly Father with patience and faithfulness, believing He would answer his prayers.

Blessings and hope in Him for the new year,

Scott

Man’s Best Friend

ZoeFotorI do not believe in coincidence and I do believe in general revelation.  A little over four years ago, on my oldest daughter’s birthday, we picked up Zoe. Zoe was our first family dog and a beautiful Golden Retriever.  From the beginning she was mischievous, like most Golden puppies, yet she grew into being one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known. She was always the first to greet me at the door with a big happy puppy smile and her bushy wagging tail. Zoe was our family dog, but I was her alpha, and that meant she looked to me for protection and affirmation. It was no coincidence we picked up the little puppy on June 29th 2013, but now we are on the brink of watching Zoe pass away. She has developed a pretty aggressive lymphoma and is in the last days of her short life.

I say it was no coincidence, because pets can be instant common ground that is the beginning of many great relationships. Having a Golden Retriever who is happy to see everybody and stands in your front yard to greet whomever walks by is the easiest way to get to know your neighbors. We developed some great relationships simply by Zoe greeting people in the front yard. Specifically our friends Paul and Sheena whose Goldendoodle bounded into our yard to greet Zoe, and the first conversation started. And now at the end, we had the opportunity to meet one of the most amazing and sweetest veterinarians I have ever met, Dr. Proshek at Kingsbridge Animal Clinic in Garland, Texas.  We have seen him and his amazing team pretty much once per week over the past 3 months as we have walked this journey with Zoe. We have become “regulars” at Kingsbridge and enjoy seeing everybody’s smiling faces as we drop Zoe off for her weekly visit. Zoe hangs out for the day and follows them around the office, takes a nap in Dr. Proshek’s office on the carpet, and simply shares her sweetness with the staff…Zoe has become one of their own. And we are so incredibly thankful for the care and love they have shared with Zoe and our family.

I believe in general revelation. General revelation is the belief that the Father (the Creator) is revealed throughout all his creation. Somebody said that “if I could be half the human my dog is, I would be twice the human I am.” While I am not entirely sure that is true, I definitely get what they were trying to say. Zoe is the sweetest and most forgiving dog I have met…that is something I could learn so much from. I was impacted to my core yesterday reading through the Gospel of Mark, specifically chapter 15. Mark states 4 times how Jesus was mocked and criticized, and yet He never retaliated…He did not seek out justice at a justified point in time; He simply turned the other cheek, and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus was more interested in sacrificing Himself so that those who mocked Him had an opportunity to turn from their ways and pursue a relationship with God. Zoe represents the all too familiar unconditional love of a dog. General revelation of God is very clear, we simply need to open our eyes to the beauty around us.

Zoe is an amazing family pet, one we will never forget and cherish the many memories she blessed us with.  In death and in life there is mourning and joy, we simply have to look in the right places. There are no coincidence, there is only a plan leading to hope in the One who knows all and will bring an end to death and restore His perfect creation forever. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for (divinely guaranteed) will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). What I know is loss is NEVER for nothing, we must stop and look around us for the opportunities of relationships with those who are in need of Hope.

Hope, Love and Blessings,

Scott

 

One Scary Word

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I have a natural tendency to question everything around me, including myself.  This is one of those traits that is both blessing and curse.  My questions usually sound like, “what if we (I) did this a little different, what if there is a better way, what if we (I) have allowed what we (I) see and experience around us (me) to blind us (me) to real truth?”  Most of my life I have been driven by a deep curiosity for all things around me and a desire to do things differently…a desire to live my life serving God’s mission how He wants me to, not how I necessarily want to. I will never claim to have gotten it perfect and I do believe this pursuit has been perceived by some as unstable or unconventional…but, I am more interested in pleasing my Father rather than others’ perceptions.

Lately, I have been challenged in my quiet time to pursue holiness.  And if I am completely honest with myself, that word puts a little fear in my heart.  Fear of what I must give up or what I must start doing in order to confront this challenge head-on in my faith walk.  The sense I have in this challenge is the measure of righteousness pursued is a direct reflection on how God will use me in His mission/ministry and if there is one thing I want in life…it is for God to use me to glorify Himself.  Before I go too far, I fully understand the fact I am already made righteous through my Savior, Jesus Christ.  But this pursuit of holiness is causing me to ask questions, evaluate, and challenge myself in many ways I would not previously have done.

Let me give you a tangible example.  I have a friend who has brought up multiple times how he believes Paul was a “man’s man” and probably used language that was peppered with various “adjectives” and other bad language.  The only thing I can think of is this – it is an attempt to justify his own use of crass language and seeking affirmation.  Here is the part that I am challenged with, a few years back, I would have said the same thing justifying my occasional use of crass language.  These conversations caused me to dig in and truly look at Paul’s life from a biblical perspective.  I am no theologian, but I do have a Bible and a pretty solid understanding of how to study it.  When I need answers…that is where I go.

As I dug into this topic, I could not get away from Ephesians 4:29 (Amp), “Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].”  As I read this over and over again, I consider Paul’s life; his desire to reach the lost with the Gospel message, his understanding of freedom in Christ, yet his willingness to give it up so he didn’t make a brother stumble.  I have to come to the conclusion that Paul was a real person, made real mistakes, but charged all of us (and himself, because most preachers are speaking to themselves at the same time) with ensuring our words build up others and are a blessing to everyone who hears us.  That seems pretty straight forward to me.

I can’t stop there though because Ephesians 4:29 is but one verse, surrounded by other verses that must be taken into account.  We must study in context of surrounding scripture.  The general topic is how we should walk in this life of following Christ.  I should completely discard my past self.  I should reject all falsehood; lying, defrauding, telling half-truths (ouch, no more fishing stories), and spreading rumors (Eph 4:25 Amp).  I can be angry, but I cannot allow it to cause me to sin, let the sun go down while remaining angry, allow my anger to cause resentment, or lead to bitterness (Eph 4:26,27 Amp).  As I read, it all comes back full circle to the challenge of holiness in my life.  Holiness does not come overnight and I am not convinced it can completely come this side of eternity, BUT that does not give me an excuse to not pursue it.

Hebrews 12:14 says we must, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (NKJV).  Other versions use the word strive, work towards, work at, all telling me that it is not easy to find peace with all people and the holiness that God calls us to.  This is something that must be practiced daily and in every area of my life (church, home, business, friends, etc.).  I must work hard at ensuring my actions, my words, my life demonstrates holiness.  Does that mean I don’t screw up?  Nope!  God looks at the intent of our heart and he has grace for us when we come humbly before him and admit our shortfalls, His grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9).

Let me end on this thought.  All my questions, this call to evaluate everything in my life and to pursue holiness, are not me looking at others and condemning their actions.  It is simply me trying my best to walk the path the Lord has called me to.  Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  This charge by Paul gives me extreme hope and assurance I am on the right path.  If we consistently challenge ourselves, ask ourselves if we are simply copying the behaviors and customs of the world or allowing God to change our perspective, then we will understand God’s will for us.  However, the latter must be true then, if all we do is copy the world in our actions, words, and life, then we will NOT understand God’s will for our lives and live in deception.  Holiness is unattainable separated from the Blood of Christ, but that does not mean we can sit back and relax once we have a relationship with Jesus.  My faith is worked out daily as I encounter different situations, learn and study the Bible more, and simply spend time with my Father in prayer.

My challenge to myself and you…Do not fit in.  Be different.  Study the life of Jesus (even His own family took offense at him, Mark 6:3).  Pursue holiness in all you do and you will understand God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you.  When I stand before my Father in heaven, I don’t believe it is the things I did do that will concern me…rather the things He called me to do that I didn’t take action on.

With love, grace, and peace,

Scott

Day 3 – Leadership

We live in a fallen world and to think any different, one has to walk the planet blind. Every single person needs Jesus and the continual sanctification that only comes from a relationship with the Father. This human condition shows up in every country regardless of its state of development.
Our day started off at Services sitting through a “committee” meeting. This was a long meeting where every single person needed their time on the stand. Everybody wants to be involved and everybody wants a piece of the action or at least their sticker/branding on the action. They wanted distribution to happen at the Services camp and not out in the field. BUT, this is why I love WHI…they listen patiently, then go back to the field to get the work done. The people in need are more important then making a committee happy. Context right? We always have to remember context. This country works differently than ours and change is never dictated, but modeled. Saidu and his team “model” leadership and compassion!

From here we went to the field with another NGO to distribute water filters to households in need. This was a far different experience than traveling with people under Saidu’s leadership. Not necessarily bad just different. The group we traveled with were far less organized and allowed outside influence to alter the plan of distribution. In the end, through heated conversations we got out in field.

In the field our first experience was walking up on a body being pulled from the river. Considering we are almost 2 weeks past the disaster it was good we did not see details. It is simply a painful reminder to the community they lost so many family and friends. As a side note, out of respect we took no photos of this location. From there we went climbing in and around the very rocky surroundings of the river basin. We went from house to house training families on how to use and clean the water filters. This is a rewarding experience when you see a family with a look of astonishment on their face when you convert tainted river water to pure drinking water. Understand, they believe the water from the river is untouchable due to the decomposing bodies. We hiked in approximately 1.5 miles, then back out through some intense trails by our standard.  

From there were picked up by Saidu, had dinner, and enjoyed the very efficient traffic of Freetown. Honestly, I would prefer to live in a nice quiet farming village, rather than anywhere close to this traffic:)

This was a day of contrast. People were helped, they have clean water. But this is the contrast of great leadership and… I don’t know the leadership of the people we traveled with today, but I do know the “fruit” was far different. World Hope International, Saidu’s leadership in Sierra Leone, their people, and their compassion are what makes a huge difference. I am so thankful they are Jesus following people who simply want to serve their communities and demonstrate the Father’s love!

Blessings From Sierra Leone…we are coming home tomorrow. Please pray for safe and on time flights home!

Scott

Day 2 – Just Listen

A normal experience for me when I come to Africa is realizing how much I do not know. As Americans we move so fast…always doing, always fixing, always trying to solve some problem, and very little listening. I don’t care how much we practice, how much we think we listen, I am convince we simply do not listen enough. Going into a disaster situation people are hurt emotionally and physically, and sometimes all they need to do is get it out. Disaster situation or not, when emotional conversation starts there is always context. Today we experienced a lot of high emotions; both joyous and anger. We arrived at the compound (which I now know is referred to as “Services”) this morning at about 8:30. Rewind for a second…we arrived after the most bumpy drive I have ever experienced. My kidneys still hurt! Back to Services. Harvey and I received our marching orders and headed to Crab Town to deliver water filters with the team. Crab town is a costal community on the river that flooded.
We arrived at Crab Town and walked along the river through people’s houses. Bedrooms were flooded, full of debris, and were caked with red mud…this is real. We toured through the community and gathered all the residents to come to one main area. In the main area we trained the residents how to properly use the filters so they would last them 5-10 years. The team registered and verified people lived in the community and then we distributed buckets and filters. Harvey and I were able to serve the team and put together filters and help distribute. This was a large and desperate crowd full of emotions. At one point you could sense the tension and then a single individual walked by and started calling us out for being their just for show. Remember these are hurting people…hurt people, hurt people. There was nothing physical, just verbal but it was a good reminder to just pray…I spent the remaining time praying and taking pictures of the operation.
From there we went back to Services and chilled out for a bit; we were hot, sweaty, and burned…oops. About 5:30 we took off with Saidu and visited a sight by the river where a cement platform was built for a water tank. The community leader at this location took us to a place by the river where they collected 65 bodies last week. As we were viewing this location a local resident grabbed Saidu and took us to his house. It was a disaster and he had received no help yet. Turns out this was a guy who was making trouble at Services the day before. Guess what? Hurt people, hurt people. Saidu NEVER got mad at him and simply listened so the man could get it out. He understood he was hurting, because he had lost everything. This was convicting to me…I need to listen and not respond! Saidu promised him that we would be back the next day and I guarantee you, we will be. There was know way this was by chance, this was a divine appointment.

Our day ended with a nice dinner with Saidu. I am more convinced today that we should give people an attentive ear, turn our cheek the other way if necessary, and when they are finished show them the love of the Father. Even when they do not deserve it, because that is exactly what grace is! Grace shows love and does not respond in a like manner. I am not saying we allow ourselves to get run over, I am suggesting we slow down, we listen, look past the emotion, and simply respond with love and truth.

Thank you for the prayers. Please pray for Saidu and his team, they need your prayers and support!

Scott

Day 1 – Assessing Needs and Distributing Goods

All I can say is pictures will never do justice to what we saw today…
Our day started out at a military compound in Freetown where multiple NGO’s were setting up tents and preparing to distribute water, food, blankets etc. Although the human spirit of competition comes out at times, this is truly an amazing opportunity to see organizations work together. It was not uncommon to see Saidu (WHI’s on the ground lead in Sierra Leone) talking with the site leader for UNICEF. They all know their strengths and they support each other where they are strong.

One of the first things Harvey and I were able to participate in was the distribution of balankets. Unfortunately, at the compound there were about 30+ kids who were orphaned or displaced due to flooding. The amazing thing is Daybreak people provided 35 blankets and there was 34 households represented by the children. How awesome is that Daybreakers!!! We also bought some candy at the market and handed it out to the kids. That brings a universal joy to children wherever you are. All I could do is just pray over the kids as we put items in theirs hands, because no word was going to help.

After that distribution we headed out into the field to pass out water filters with an old friend Alfred. This was an amazing experience, as this team has to discern where the actual need is and who is simply trying to get a handout. I watched Alfred multiple times assess his surroundings and know whether there was need or not. Alfred and Jennifer were great leaders and teachers in the field. They would both educate how to use the filters and take care of them long term. The thing I love about WHI is they are in the field, putting there eyes on the need, and this drastically reduces waste.

From there, we came back to the distribution area and observed the WHI team train on the filters. I was able to walk around and interact, getting many pictures. For those of you who have been here and have not, this is a picture you would see on the news…many people, NGO tents all around taking care people’s needs, and water tanks scattered throughout. Pretty well organized with a lot of emotions as you can imagine.  

One last thing on the agenda for the day…Saidu wanted to take us to ground zero of the mudslide. There really is nothing that can prepare you for or explain what this kind of site looks like. Mud, rock, and water in massive quantities are not selective. They destroy everything in its path and 20 yards outside its path. There were boulders in this mess that were 40 feet across, no exaduration. Rocks were thrown through roofs that now looked like Swiss cheese…it was sheer devastation for anything in its path. 

I have taken many pictures, which I will share in time. Right now our wifi signal is limited and text is best.  

What do they need? Prayer! They need The peace of Jesus. And honestly, the love of the Father comes in the form of resources. If you have never been to the World Hope International website, do it now and see how you can help them. They are an amazing organization ran by amazing people!

Blessings,

Scott