Weekly Prayer (Week of Feb. 1, 2016)

We’re trying out some new things here at AMFG . . . more announcements coming soon, but one of the things that’s been put on my heart is to offer a weekly prayer, just to get your week off to a good start. We are already overflowing with prayer requests, and I expect that to continue. We can’t respond to each one individually, but we do see them and we’re keeping you in our prayers.

Each week, a member of the AMFG Prayer Team will pick just a few to highlight. We’ll offer prayer for them, for you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. In the meantime, feel free to post your prayer requests on the Prayer Wall below. And be sure to scroll down to other prayers and click “I prayed for this,” — it lets others know that someone is holding them in prayer.

God bless you, have a great week and . . . keep praying!

Lee and the AMFG Team

[prayerengine_s enmpe_sw=6]

 

One Race

“The genetic changes responsible for our varying shades of color are miniscule. Just a handful of mutations out of the 3 billion letters that make up the human genome form the basis for our entire concept of race.” It’s time we start counting the ways we’re alike instead of the ways we’re different . . .

Messenger’s Note: I wrote this earlier in the history of this project, but I’ve updated and expanded it. I figured it was worth another look. — LES.

I love God. I love exploring big ideas and deep philosophical questions. I love seeking a deeper understanding of what’s going on here on our beloved blue ball and how it all fits in with the larger story that The Author is writing. I also love science. I love how new information can stretch the mind and explain things.

Now I’m not one of those people who believes that science and God are “mutually exclusive.” I don’t think you HAVE to choose. What I DO think is this: If you refuse to choose between science and God — if you accept that both can coexist — well, it opens up new doors into your faith. At least it does that for me. It makes me expand my idea of God. It makes me connect dots that may not usually get connected — but once connected, they make me say, “Of course!”

Take for example the National Geographic Channel’s special “The Human Family Tree.” In a nutshell: Geneticists collect DNA samples using oral swabs from a diverse group of people in Queens, New York. With it, they can trace your lineage back THOUSANDS of years. To be clear: It won’t give you specific data about your personal lineage; but it will tell you that somewhere along the way, your DNA has genetic markers that match genetic markers of people from central Africa, New Zealand and Central Asia. Check your local listings to find out when it’s airing again. It’s worth watching.

Among the more interesting concepts (and I’ve only seen the first half):

  • Everyone alive on Earth today are descendants of “Genetic Adam” and “Genetic Eve” who are from Central Africa.
  • Drastic climate changes once narrowed the human population down to about 2,000 people. We were an endangered species.
  • There are more than 3 BILLION genetic markers that we all share. Only a handful account for the differences of pigmentation that we call “race.” Watch this video:

“The genetic changes responsible for our varying shades of color are miniscule. Just a handful of mutations out of the 3 billion letters that make up the human genome form the basis for our entire concept of race.”

Which means that the social concept we call “race” is almost completely an invention of the human imagination.

Which isn’t to say it’s not real. It’s very real. But much of “race” and “racism” can really be traced back to our earliest tribal roots. Even on those African savannahs, there was an “us” and there was a “them.”

You typically trusted people from your tribe, with whom you shared a culture, a religion, a language . . . and sure, physical similarities, including skin color. In parts of the world where tribes competed for resources such as food and water, it was not only natural but necessary to be leery of outsiders.

Evolutionary psychologists might say that those behaviors are “hardwired” into humanity now. If that’s true, it would explain a lot and it would completely change the conversation about race relations in America.

After centuries of military, economic and cultural domination, are “white” people hardwired to feel superior? And after centuries of subjugation and slavery, are “blacks” genetically prone to mistrust “whites?” What about other “races?”

Or do these questions miss the point altogether? Let’s rewind: Out of 3 BILLION genetic markers, only a very tiny fraction of them have anything to do with skin color. In virtually every other way, we are all members of the same race. The HUMAN race.

Maybe the problem isn’t that leftover tribalism separates us; maybe it’s that we need to expand our idea of who’s in our “tribe.”

This is already happening, by the way, and it’s been happening for centuries. From when the first Europeans encountered the first American Indians, we have been expanding our definition of “tribe.”

These days, with the way we are able to electronically share ideas, music, food, art, literature and culture, we are evolving into the realization that we are ONE race. Whenever we witness tragedy around the world — an earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in Japan, genocide in Syria, terror attacks in France — we don’t see skin color. We see humanity. We see ourselves.

So what does any of this have to do with God? I can’t help but think about all the times that Jesus taught us to love one another as we love ourselves. He taught us that even “the least of these” were the same as him. He taught us that we all belong to the family of God.

There is one race — the HUMAN race. It’s time we start counting the ways we’re alike instead of the ways we’re different.

Much More To King Than a Dream

If you think Dr. King was inspiring as a Civil Rights leader, you owe it to yourself to read his sermons, many of which can be found in "Strength To Love."
If you think Dr. King was inspiring as a Civil Rights leader, you owe it to yourself to read his sermons, many of which can be found in “Strength To Love.”

Like so many of us, I’m remembering the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Being born in 1969, I belong to the very first generation of people for whom he’s never been a living being – he’s always been a larger-than-life legend, an icon of the rather quaint notion that we are all HUMAN first, and skin pigmentation much later.

In an age where Barack Obama nears the end of his historic presidency, an era when blacks had to drink from different water fountains seems like ancient history. By comparison, there’s a generation of young people coming up now who have no memory of Sept. 11, 2001 – but whose lives have been shaped by it in ways they can’t imagine.

The great speaker that Dr. King was, it is so tempting to boil him down into a few sound bytes. That’s how he got stuck with the cliché of a moniker “The Dreamer.”

I don’t want to minimize the power of that dream, or the work he did in striving for racial justice. It’s just that the more that I get to know Dr. King through his speeches and writings, the greater I revere him as a profound spiritual teacher – a man whom, like Jesus, I strive to pattern my life after.

It’s easy to forget that before he became a civil rights activist, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or a fixture on African-American living room walls … he was a preacher. He was a minister. He was a man of incredible insight and depth, and without understanding that, our society misses the true genius of the man – which is why I want to focus on Reverend King for a bit.

It was 2009, in the midst of a nasty and brutal divorce. I had already decided to meet the circumstances with the principles that Jesus taught – loving your enemies, praying for those who seek to harm you. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

That all sounds well and good, until you actually try to do it. There’s a reason why these principles aren’t practiced commonly in human conflict: it’s counterintuitive to love someone while it feels like they’re trying to destroy you. It’s difficult to pray for someone who seems to be praying for your downfall. It’s a bitter pill to forgive someone who seems to know exactly what they’re doing.

To stay focused, I read a lot of spiritual books –“The Bhagavad Gita” (an ancient Hindu text),“The Tao Te Ching” (a Chinese book of wisdom), the teachings of the Buddha and of course, Jesus’ Sermon on The Mount.” But I was looking for something different one night, when I stumbled upon Rev. King’s “Strength To Love” in the family library.

“Strength To Love” is a collection of King’s sermons, and if you’re struggling with some issue or problem in your personal life, it’s hard to read it and come away feeling hopeless. Indeed, Rev. King spoke to my soul and helped guide me through the darkest period of my life.

He taught me the importance of having “A Tough Mind and A Tender Heart:”

“What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?” King wrote. “Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove.”

Rev. King taught me how to keep pressing forward, even after life had left me only “Shattered Dreams:”

“Shall we permit adverse winds to overwhelm us as we journey across life’s mighty Atlantic (Ocean) or will our inner spiritual engines sustain us in spite of the winds?” he wrote. “Our refusal to be stopped, our ‘courage to be,’ our determination to go on ‘in spite of’ reveal the divine image within us. The man who has made this discovery knows that no burden can overwhelm him and no wind of adversity can blow his hope away. He can stand anything that can happen to him.”

And he taught me that it is very much in one’s own self interest to work for the common good of mankind. From the chapter called “The Man Who Was A Fool:”

“In a real sense, all of life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King wrote. “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I think you owe it to yourself to read “Strength To Love” – especially if you are going through something. You will learn something that you can use. You will feel yourself lifted out of despair. You will be inspired to go make a difference in the world.

But I also think that as a society, we owe it to Rev. King to explore his teachings beyond what he had to say about race in America. As poignant and timeless as the “I Have A Dream” speech is, it takes on much greater meaning when you connect with the spiritual foundation that his civil rights work was built on.

On Nov. 17, 1957, Rev. King delivered a sermon on “Loving Your Enemies” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. – after the bus boycott but long before the March on Washington, the “I Have A Dream” speech and Selma.

No, on that day, Rev. King was still just a 28-year-old pastor of a small Alabama church. During the sermon, he laid out scriptural reasons why loving our enemies is important. He said that loving our enemies requires us to analyze ourselves; it demands that we look for the good in our enemies. He preached about the redemptive power of love. And he closed with a benediction that still resonates nearly 60 years later:

“Oh God, help us in our lives and in all of our attitudes, to work out this controlling force of love, this controlling power that can solve every problem that we confront in all areas,” he prayed.

“Oh, we talk about politics; we talk about the problems facing our atomic civilization. Grant that all men will come together and discover that as we solve the crisis and solve these problems – the international problems, the problems of atomic energy, the problems of nuclear energy, and yes, even the race problem – let us join together in a great fellowship of love and bow down at the feet of Jesus. Give us this strong determination. In the name and spirit of this Christ, we pray. Amen.”

Amen. And amen.

Tornado takes cancer survivor’s home, but not his faith

Marvin Tracey Davis – “Tracey D,” as he’s known among friends, of whom I am one – didn’t have to go to work on Dec. 23. He had every reason to stay home that day, and not report to work as a 911 dispatcher in Benton County, Miss.

It was more or less his first time going back to work since he underwent surgery in October. That would be his second surgery in a 12-month period. His first surgery last December was supposed to be a preventive measure, to head off fears of colon cancer.

Instead, while performing the procedure, surgeons discovered that Tracey had already been living with Stage 2 colon cancer. They got to it in time, but Tracey still was facing months of chemotherapy – that, on top of healing from a major surgery and adjusting to the new normal for his body.

“I never felt pain like this before,” he told me after he went home.

He will be the first to tell you that it was his faith, his personal relationship with God that brought him through the surgery, the chemo, the physical and emotional pain. But even that faith was forged through trusting God through tough times in the past.

“As a child, I had a lot of devastating things happen to me that most kids haven’t had happen,” he said, but declined to comment further. “I’ve always felt really blessed, and I always had a good understanding of who God is and how to trust Him. It was taught to me from a very young age. I know that no matter what is going on, it always gets better and it always has.”

Marvin Tracey Davis, a colon cancer survivor who recently underwent a second surgery, lost his home and two cars when a monster tornado ripped through Benton County. So why is this man smiling? Two words: his faith. “There’s no rearview mirror when it comes to faith," he said. "You gotta keep looking ahead.” (Courtesy photo by Marvin Tracey Davis)
Marvin Tracey Davis, a colon cancer survivor who recently underwent a second surgery, lost his home and two cars when a monster tornado ripped through Benton County. So why is this man smiling? Two words: his faith. “There’s no rearview mirror when it comes to faith,” he said. “You gotta keep looking ahead.” (Courtesy photo by Marvin Tracey Davis)

Faith was what brought him through that second surgery in October. Which brings us back to Dec. 23, the day when Tracey didn’t have to go to work. The day his family expected him to stay home while they visited his wife’s family elsewhere in the Ashland area.

The day last week that a monster tornado ripped his home off the ground and sprinkled it across the Benton County landscape. Two days before Christmas.

Ironically, he learned that the storm had rendered him homeless while he was taking 911 calls. A neighbor called in to report the storm’s path and he recognized the address as his own.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I don’t have a home right now,’” he said. “But I was thankful. I knew where my family was.”

His coworkers suggested he go see about his family, but knowing they were safe, he chose to stay and help others survive the storm. Only about an hour after the storm had passed, he posted a video on Facebook from the rubble of his home.

“Some of y’all thought I was playing when I said I’m still praising (God),” he said in the video. He was both smiling and holding back tears. “But you know what? I’m still praising Him and I’m still giving Him the glory because God is about to set me up for even bigger and better things.

“The reason I’m doing this video is so that somebody else can be encouraged,” he continued. “Through the hard times and the bad times, praise God. Keep praising Him….All my stuff is gone, all I got is what I got on right now. But that’s alright. God is going to bless me beyond anything. And he’s going to use people to do it. Amen? Amen.”

The Davis family indeed had a blessed Christmas. First of all, they had each other, thank God. But family and friends rallied to make sure that they had shelter, clothing, cash and gifts for the kids. Mutual high school friends of ours drove up from Hattiesburg and took Tracey shopping for clothes and supplies. Blessings have poured out.

“When I think of a blessing, I don’t ever know or try to define or anticipate how blessings will come, because that’s how true blessings work,” he said. “It’s nothing short of miracles happening every day in my life, and that’s what I appreciate most about God and His process.”

Tracey isn’t the only one to survive tough times. He’s not even the only one to survive this storm, thank God. In fact, my prayers are with the families of the 18 people who died that day.

But when you look around you and your life has been reduced to rubble, it takes a special kind of faith to not shake your fist at the sky and scream, “Why, God?” It takes special faith to thank God even in the midst of your storm, indeed to even thank God FOR the storm itself.

“People need to know that they can make it through anything they’re faced with in life. Anything,” Tracey told me. “If they just hold on long enough to their belief and faith, anybody can make it through anything. If we allow and accept his will, it will always work out for our good. And I just trust and believe in a higher power.”

None of us knows exactly what 2016 will bring, but I can guarantee you that it will bring you mountains and valleys, joy and pain. In all circumstances though, you can choose how you meet the day. You can choose to be loving and kind. You can choose to have an unshakable faith.

“Your faith is something you have to be certain in; you can’t allow doubt to creep in,” Tracey said. “There’s no rearview mirror when it comes to faith. You always gotta be looking ahead.”

NOTE: Family members have set up a GoFundMe page for Tracey and his family. If you’d like to help, visit https://www.gofundme.com/tsdavis. To give to overall relief efforts in Marshall and Benton Counties, contact Belinda Sims at Holly Springs City Hall: 662-252-4652, or donate to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency online: www.msdisasterresponse.org.

Peace in our lifetimes . . . if we agree and give it a try

It's not a thousand years away if we all say yes and give it a try . . .
It’s not a thousand years away if we all say yes and give it a try . . .

Get to know me for any length of time, and you’ll find out that I’m a notorious fan of the musical genius known as Prince.

Oh, and not just Purple Rain 80’s Prince, either. I’ve stayed with The “Purple Yoda” the whole time, even when he was posing naked on tulips and scrawling “slave” on his face. I’ve always admired not just his musicianship, but his lyrics, the way he puts words together. Sure, he built his fame talking about sex, but fans like me know that Prince has always had a deeply spiritual side. You don’t have to look hard to find him talking about things like God, Jesus, world peace and compassion.

And so this Christmas season, the Prince song on my mind isn’t “Another Lonely Christmas” — a fantastic song, by the way. That song is about a lover dying on Christmas Day. Thank you, God, that I have not had to endure that tragedy.

But I do find myself saddened this holiday season. Seems like every week there’s another mass shooting. If it’s not a mass shooting, it’s a police officer involved in some sort of questionable shooting.

The rough news keeps coming in waves, so fast I can’t keep up. For instance, the ISIS-inspired mass shooting in San Bernardino happened so quickly that it almost made me forget the terror attacks in Paris. Which almost made me forget the Russian airplane that was shot down. All of that violence happened just in the past two months. Two months.

So, in this season where we declare “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men,” my mind drifts to a hidden Prince gem from 1990’s Grafitti Bridge. It’s called “Still Would Stand All Time:”

It’s not a thousand years away, it’s not that far my brother,
When we will fight injustice instead of one another
It’s not that far away if we all say “Yes” and only try
Then Heaven on Earth we will find.

“If we all say yes, and only try.” Have we tried? Do we try on a daily basis?

I’m probably going to get into some hot water here. It is common for Christians to complain about the problems in our world, right before we talk about how Jesus will fix it all when he comes back. People have been waiting for Jesus to return for at least 1,000 years. People have always thought they were living in the end times.

I’m not about to proclaim that I know when Jesus returning to Earth. And I’m certainly not going to question whether Jesus is coming back. But I absolutely don’t believe Jesus wants us sitting on our hands while our world is suffering.

The problem with “waiting on Jesus” to solve our problems is that it lets us avoid responsibility. It allows us to buy into the notion that our problems are beyond our power to change. It lets us think small. It allows the status quo to remain the status quo.

Except Jesus expected us to be responsible for our fellow humans. Jesus was unafraid to upset the status quo. He told us we could do everything he did and more, through The Christ. He told us that “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”

To be clear, I’m not saying we can do these things without God. I don’t think we can. To be honest, I’m not even sure that things like human conflict, hunger, poverty and sickness are problems that are meant to be solved. But I do believe that the ills of our world are there for us to take a stand against.

There are so many reasons to be hopeless and defeated. It can become so easy to just give in, to accept the tragedies in our world, to give up striving to leave a better place to future generations.

But we have to try.

We must fight fear with love and compassion. In the face of terror attacks, we must forgive, even as we mourn. And when the world tells us that everything is going to hell, we must work that much harder to bring a piece of Heaven to Earth.

Every act of love and compassion, every word of kindness, every forgiven mistake brings a little more light into the world. And in a world that seems mired in darkness, every little bit of light matters.

Take the challenge. Be optimistic, not just about your own life, but about your family, your nation and our world. If you see an opportunity to bring goodwill toward men, take it. If you don’t see an opportunity, create one.

Like Prince said, a better world is not a thousand years away.

All we have to do is agree that it’s possible. Then give it a try.

Building Bridges Between Wealthy & Poor — While Building Homes

It’s not hard to imagine Jesus volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. After all, he was a carpenter.

He would have been right at home in the Uptown neighborhood of Memphis this week, working alongside everyday people to provide affordable homes for the poor. I could easily imagine him passing a hammer to country music stars Garth Brooks or Trisha Yearwood, who were also on the work site in Memphis.

Or perhaps he’d have been sharing a cup of coffee with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. The former First Couple have been cornerstones of Habitat for Humanity for more than 30 years — and beyond lending a famous name or simply donating money to the cause, when they come, they come to work.

“Before we worked with Habitat, we were good Christians. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would go to the welfare office to find the family of someone who needed a turkey or something we could take to them,” Rosalynn said during a Monday press conference at the Memphis work site. “But we weren’t doing what we should have been doing until we got involved with Habitat for Humanity.”

And what exactly “should” they have been doing, you might ask? President Carter, now 91 years old and battling cancer, probably should be somewhere resting, right? But beyond sheltering the homeless, he sees this work as bridging the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

“Just think about how many poor and extremely poor people your family knows,” Carter asked the assembled media. “I don’t know you personally, but I would guess that’s very few. Those are the kinds of people we talk about in church and in synagogue and in mosques but we very seldom know them.

“Habitat opens up a way for wealthy people like you, me and Rosalynn to join in and work side by side with a poor family, and get to know them personally,” Carter continued. “One thing we’ve noticed since leaving The White House, and especially with Habitat, is that those poor people are just as smart as I am. Their family values are just as good as mine, they’re just as ambitious, just as hardworking.

“They just need a chance, a glimpse of hope that things can be better for them.”

In other words, like Jesus, President Jimmy Carter is challenging us to see beyond a person’s circumstances to see the person.

On this day in Memphis, the person is Arlicia Gilliams, a 25-year-old surgery scheduling coordinator with a 3-year-old daughter. Gilliams currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment, but will be moving into the house that the Carters, Brooks and Yearwood are working on. She’s worked on Habitat sites before, but this one was “surreal.”

“It didn’t affect me until I saw the president strolling across my yard,” Gilliams said. “That’s when it hit me. That’s when the tears started flowing and the emotion started coming out because I work with volunteers, but not to this magnitude. It’s wonderful and it’s overwhelming. I am blessed and highly favored.”

As I thought about President Carter’s challenge to the media that day, I also asked myself: How much do we know about the plight of the poor in modern society? Think about it: As debilitating as poverty is, we don’t see much coverage of it in the news. The plight of the poor isn’t talked about the way people talk about Obamacare, Syria or what Cookie said on the latest episode of Empire.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about the wealthy here, I’m talking about all of us. Often, when we do talk about the poor, it is to complain. We talk about how “Pookie” needs to get a job, or how you shouldn’t drive through “that” neighborhood.

But when was the last time you talked to “Pookie?” Did you know that he put in six applications last week, but it’s hard for him to find work because he has a record? Did you know that the neighborhood you shouldn’t drive through actually has more law-abiding citizens than criminals? Do you know that they want the same things you want — good food, clean water, a safe neighborhood and good schools?

And what President Carter is saying to us is: How would you know any of this if you never get to know the poor people in your community?

“Most people who have a religion, one of the things we are taught by God is that we should break down the barriers between the wealthy people who have everything they need — like Rosalynn and me — and the poorest people who have never had a decent place to live,” Carter said. “That’s very hard to do. To break down that barrier, to cross that chasm that exists between us.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us: “As you do for the least of these, you do also unto me.”

Imagine that. If you knew that “Pookie” was Jesus, would you help him find work? Would you buy him a meal? Would you even say “Hello?” Or would you pass him by, while checking to see how much juice your phone has left?

By all means, give to charity. Write a check to Habitat for Humanity, or to your local food pantry. Get some help to your local Salvation Army and others who are helping “the least of these.” But while you’re there, do like President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter and pick up a hammer.

You might make a new friend.

What Is The Difference Between a “Sin” and a “Mistake?”

Which of these is not like the other one? Hmmmm . . .
Which of these is not like the other one? Hmmmm . . .

“What is the difference between a sin and a mistake?”

From time to time, I’ll post that question on the “A Message From God” Facebook page (www.facebook.com/amessagefromgod). Of course, I have my own thoughts, and generally get into those after my readers respond. For many, it comes down to intention vs. ignorance.

“When you know something is wrong against God and do it anyway it is a sin. A mistake could be an error in judgment,” one commenter posted.

“Sin is deliberate rebellion against God’s commandments and a mistake is a bad choice in judgment that turns to a sinful act,” wrote another.

And I get it. Ever since we first heard the story of Adam, Eve and “The Original Sin,” we have been taught that to willfully — let alone defiantly — disobey God is sinful. To know something is wrong and proceed anyway fits that bill.

Mistakes? That’s different. Your intentions can be pure, but you could be acting on bad information. Or you might be acting with good intentions on good information and things just don’t work out because . . . well, because we’re human and we make mistakes.

But in God’s eyes, are they REALLY different? I don’t think so.

We all make mistakes, and we all can agree on that. Likewise, if you believe Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So apparently making mistakes and committing sins are things we are simply destined to do from the cradle to the grave.

But, to me the REAL proof that sins and mistakes are no different really boils down to the fact that God treats them the same way. They are both to be forgiven.

“Forgive them Father, they know not what they do,” Jesus said as he hung on the cross, moments from death. Think about that for a second.

An angry mob lynched Jesus. They’ve cursed him, spat upon him, mocked him, beaten him and stabbed him with a spear. They are murdering him, and they are quite excited about it. And how does Jesus look at them? Metaphorically speaking, he shakes his head.

They’re misguided. They actually think they’re doing the right thing.

In the simple phrase, “Forgive them, they know not what they do,” Jesus gives us an incredible and powerful tool for forgiveness. He’s saying that even the most unforgivable actions come not from intention, but from ignorance.

Nobody actually sets out to do “the wrong thing.” Nobody wakes up and says, “Let me deliberately do harm to those I love.” Nobody moves through their day seeking out ways to fail, whether it’s failing in school, in relationships, at work or in life.

The difficult truth is this: Each of us — ALL of us — are doing the best we know how, given our upbringing, our life experiences, our view of the world. We set our sights on a goal, and we move in the direction of that goal as best we understand how. And life is an ever-unfolding cycle of trial and error. When we learn better, we do better.

Seems like far too often, we hear about bullies at school — children who deal with their own issues by taking their pain out on another child. Is that a sin? Or is it a mistake? If the bully knew a better way to deal with their pain than causing pain for another, would they not do so?

Those who tried and crucified Jesus thought they were punishing a man for claiming to be God. They simply did not realize that they were one with Jesus, and in torturing and killing him, they were also torturing and killing themselves. Had they known that, they likely would have made a different choice.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Lee . . . what about when people DO deliberately set out to hurt others? What about people who know something is wrong and do it anyway? What about sins like lying, stealing or abuse?”

Even “bad intentions” are born from people acting on bad information. They are still errors to be corrected, mistakes to be forgiven.

If you are a “liar” and you could get the outcomes that you wanted without lying, wouldn’t you do it? If you are a thief, but you could get what you want or need without taking from another person or risking jail time, wouldn’t you do it?

Domestic abuse? I’ll bet money that if an abuser really understood the damage they are causing they would choose differently. If a father really knew that when his daughter sees him hit her mother, that someday the same daughter is likely to be abused herself, would he not think twice? Or if he imagined that his child one day could grow up to walk into a movie theatre and start shooting strangers, would he stop?

More fundamentally, if he knew a better way — a nonviolent way — to deal with his own pain and those he loves . . . would he not use it?

Use this tool in your life. When someone offends you or hurts you, say to yourself: “Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Ask God to show you the pain behind the behavior. Pray that God heals that pain and shows them a different way to move through the world. A better way.

Spiritually, sins and mistakes are treated the same way: with love and forgiveness. They both are born not from bad intention but from bad information.

At the end of the day, we are all human — with pains to be healed, souls to be restored. We all want our mistakes to be forgiven.

So be forgiving.

Pray With Your Actions

How do you pray?

For many of us, the act of going to God in prayer involves closing our eyes, clasping our hands together, submitting ourselves to God and then . . . we start talking. We start telling God what we want, what we’re grateful for, what we’re struggling with, what we need help with.

Sometimes these prayers last a few minutes, among loved ones. During church, we all seem to know that one pastor or deacon who can pray the hinges off the doors. One who can pour so much emotion and passion into a prayer that it moves you and the entire congregation.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these types of prayers. It’s what comes after the prayer that is the problem for many of us.

Too often, after we rise off our knees, open our eyes – or dry them, as the case may be – we compose ourselves and go about business as usual. We expect God to change our situations to fit our desires, but when it’s time for US to change, we are reluctant if not resistant.

We’ve all heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” It resonates with us because people can easily say one thing and do another. But how often do you apply this concept to your prayers?

Is it possible to pray with your actions? Does God respond more to this type of prayer? And what exactly would it look like? My mind jumps immediately to Matthew 14: 22-32. The “Get Out of the Boat” episode, that is. Peter and the rest of the disciples were out at sea, but the water was choppy and the winds were rocking the boat.

I’ve been aboard a small boat in this situation before. There’s a LOT of praying that happens – before, during and after you finish vomiting. You are begging and pleading to God to get you back to shore safely, promising you’ll NEVER do this again. That was Peter. But all that praying didn’t settle the sea down one bit.

“Get out of the boat,” Jesus beckoned. “Come here.”

Reluctantly, Peter took a step – he put his prayer into action. For a split-second, his belief and his actions were lined up, and that’s when he stood up on water. Once his doubt crept in, Jesus shook his head, rescued him and scolded him. “Why did you doubt?”

It’s easy to say your word prayer. That’s the easy part. The hard part is ACTING on what you are praying for. It is called walking in faith, and yet it is absolutely imperative that we back up our word prayers with faithful and focused action. Otherwise, our prayers are empty, hollow and weak.

So what does praying with your actions look like?

  • If you are praying for good health, praying with your actions would include exercising, eating healthful foods and dropping unhealthy habits like smoking.
  • If you need a financial blessing, praying with your actions would include setting and following a budget, saving money, avoiding debt and investing wisely.
  • To improve the quality of your relationships, praying with your actions would include not being easily offended or angered, being forgiving, empathizing with others and being generous and grateful for your loved ones.
  • In areas of work and career, praying with your actions would include studying and working to improve your skills, being excellent, enthusiastic, service-minded and genuinely happy with your work.
  • If you are praying for a solution to a problem, praying with your actions would include asking God to reveal the necessary steps and then to begin taking them. It involves working not just for the solution of your own problem, but seeking to help others solve their problems as well, for we are all connected. Indeed, in showing others that God can solve their problems, it reinforces your own faith that God will solve yours.
  • If you are praying for peace in your communities, praying with your actions would mean demonstrating unconditional love for your neighbors – volunteering to help the homeless, mentoring children and youth, caring for the sick and elderly, providing food and shelter for those in need.

By all means, continue to put words to your prayer. Fill them with passion, love, hope and life. Pour everything you’ve got into them, so that God can work with it. I believe that what you hold back from God you also hold back from yourself.

As you use these simple tools to empower your prayers, you will move away from thinking of prayer as a single event. It will become something you do continuously, with each passing breath. Your ears will become tuned to God’s frequency, and you will hear God’s guidance in the moment, pointing you in the direction of God’s will for your life.

Prayer will no longer be something you DO.

Prayer will become what you ARE.

Meet More Messengers!

As this project continues to grow, the vision has always been to bring a wide range of voices, ideas and insights to our readers. As I quickly point out to those who ask what qualifies me to call this “A Message From God:” I’m not THE messenger; I’m just A messenger. God gives each of us something to say, and different voices may resonate for different people. As long as whatever you find here helps you develop a closer and more meaningful relationship with God, that’s the desired effect.

So with that set up, I’m excited to introduce two messengers whose insight you’ll be seeing plenty of going forward. Both of them have their own successful online projects going, but have agreed to allow me to share their wisdom with you:

Finding the Holy in a Mundane World (dailydevotionblog.com):

Rachel writes "Finding The Holy in a Mundane World."
Rachel writes “Finding The Holy in a Mundane World.”

I first ran across Rachel’s writings in some of her comments on the AMFG Facebook page. I went over to her site to dig deeper and found a treasure trove of thoughtful, insightful and inspired writing. Many of our readers have asked for detailed Bible-based teachings, and I think for those of you looking for a daily helping of soul food, you are in for a treat!

 

 

God’s Precious Pearl (iamgodspreciouspearl.blogspot.com)

Carmen Patton writes God's Precious Pearl
Carmen Patton writes God’s Precious Pearl

Carmen Patton and I first met at another mutual interest of ours: we are both HUGE fans of The Memphis Grizzlies NBA Basketball team. I eventually learned that she not only does excellent basketball commentary, she also has some beautiful and important things to say about the evolution of our souls.

 

And of course, you can still count on me to chime in with whatever God gives me to say. I’m very excited to add these new voices to our page! Tell a friend to tell a friend!

God bless and peace be with you!