Lessons Learned Under A Broom Tree

Lessons Learned Under A Broom Tree

A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah? He replied, “I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life. (1 Kings 19:13-14 NIV).

 

 

The broom tree is a desert shrub that grows across Arabia and throughout the Judean wilderness. Its deep roots draw in the moisture of land that is otherwise barren.  In the Bible, desert shrubs such as the broom tree appear in moments of despair as well as times of divine encounter.

Chapter 21 of Genesis describes a young mother who was sent away into the wilderness. With little to sustain her, she wandered until her water supply completely ran out. Placing her son under a broom tree to die, she then sat down and wept.  Job describes the broom tree as a place of desolation, ruin, and abandonment (Job 30:3-4).  The Psalmist connects the broom tree with mourning, distress, and punishment (Psalm 120). 

For many Christians the broom tree is most often associated with Elijah.  Elijah is first mentioned in 1 Kings 17, where he proclaimed a drought as penalty for the evil deeds of the kings of Israel.

Elijah later presented himself to King Ahab, telling him to summon the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel, along with all the people of Israel. He confronted the people and told them that if they prepared a sacrifice and called on Baal, he would prepare a sacrifice and call on the Lord. Whichever caught fire would then demonstrate who was the true God. The worshippers of Baal prepared their sacrifice and called upon him from morning until noon, with no answer.

Then Elijah rebuilt the altar of the Lord, prepared the sacrifice, and poured four jugs of water on it. He called upon the Lord, and the Lord answered him by sending down fire to consume the altar. 

After this, the prophets of Baal were seized and killed. When King Ahab told his wife Jezebel what Elijah had done, she vowed to kill him. Elijah was terrified and fled into the desert, where he prayed for the Lord to take his life, then fell asleep under a broom tree. A messenger from the Lord came to him twice, urging him to eat and drink. After doing so, he journeyed 40 days in the wilderness to Mt. Horeb, where he hid in a cave.  Then…..

A Voice said to him, ‘Why are you here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.’ (1 Kings 19:13-14 NIV).  Elijah was anxious, angry, and tired. 

The good news is that God met with Elijah at the broom tree. He revealed himself to Moses in a thorny acacia. He also heard Ishmael’s cries from beneath the bush and directed his mother to a well in the desert.  He rescued Isaac by revealing a young ram whose horns were caught in a bush so Abraham could sacrifice it instead of his son, Isaac.  God shows up in some very thorny situations.

The lesson of the broom tree is that sometimes when God meets us in the desert times of our lives, God provides us relief like a broom tree.  The shade is not enough to last us forever, but enough to help us take the next steps.  It is enough for us to sit under for a few minutes to draw strength for the next step and then the next step.  The journey is not always short, sometimes it takes a long time to get through it. Elijah’s journey took over a month to go from Judah to Mt. Horeb in the hot Egyptian desert.  When he met God at Mt. Horeb, he was still struggling, still searching for a solution to his problem.  God did not make his circumstances disappear.  God did not give him much sympathy.  However, God did give Elijah direction, sustenance for the road, a renewed purpose and later, in that same chapter in 1 Kings, a companion on the road—all things that kept Elijah going.

The broom tree also offers us an image for our mission and ministry. We, like broom trees, spring up in all kinds of places. We can provide shade for those in need of encouragement and sustenance.  Some will come and stay and plant roots in our shade and become part of the plant (Body of Christ) that offers even a little more shade to others. Others may only stay for a moment, just long enough to get the energy to take the next step.  Sometimes a brief rest, a kind word, a simple sandwich may be just what God uses to help someone take the next step.  It has been said that sometimes we are the windshield and sometimes we are bug.  Similarly, sometimes we are the broom tree (the giver), and sometimes we are the traveler (the taker).  Sadly, some in life are forever determined to remain as the latter.

When we are exhausted or depressed, we can be strengthened under the broom tree.  It is there we can find shade when we are traveling through the dry, hot wilderness.  It is there we can find warmth when we are cold and miserable.  It is there we can find nourishment when we are hungry and thirsty.  It is there we find communion with God, as His angels minister to us, like they ministered to Elijah, serving him the bread and water.  This world needs more broom trees providing random acts of kindness and kind words.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for the broom trees that you provide us in our time of need.  Help us to be rooted in You in such a way that the Fruits of Your Spirit are manifested in our words, thoughts, and actions.  Help us to remember that our strongest witness is often absent words but rather in simple acts of kindness.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and a Certified Lay Speaker with the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He is a Board Member for Gulf South Men, an Action Team member for The Kingdom Group, and a Board Member for the Lagniappe Community Walk to Emmaus.  Todd is a Past President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and remains active in this and many other local, regional, and international ministries.  Todd is the proud father of Emma and Kyle and resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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In Search of Equity in the Vineyard and Today’s Society

“But He answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.   Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:13-15 NIV).

The terms “equity” and “fairness” are often used to support an argument in favor of one person that has less resources and against the other person who has more resources.  As a result of our actions in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3, we live in a fallen world and as such there is pain, injustice, and unfairness.  I really wish Adam and Eve had made a roux and turned the snake into a coubion stew!

Now, greed, injustice, and unfairness are prevalent in our society.  There are winners and losers in a zero-sum game for resources.  My understanding of Scripture is such that God is less interested in equity on earth than He is in us accepting Him as Lord and Savior and leading others to Him. 

For those who have been blessed with many resources, they would do well to be generous and remember that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).  Also, they would also be wise to heed the words of Micah 6:8, “ O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Yes, the Lord wants us to do nice things for each other – to practice justice, love, and mercy.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, summed it up with the three rules: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.  On our better days, we all make progress in all three categories, but sadly, on other days we fail.  The good news is that although we are all prone to greed and other sins, God’s love remains steadfast, and we are reminded in Psalm 118:8 to put our trust in Him, not men.

I think God also knows that as sinners, we will fall short, and all of our “good” acts are in reality “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) in His presence.  In short, good deeds are a manifestation of our faith in Him, but there is certainly no salvation through works.  Jesus is the way, not our good acts. 

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20 is a powerful reminder that God uses a different metric than us to decide equity and fairness.  If we work longer than a peer, we want more money than our peer and we will argue that it is not “fair” or “equitable” to pay our colleague the same as us since we have more seniority.    The reality is each worker in the vineyard agreed to work for a given wage, and at the end of the day they received what they were promised. 

I wonder what would have happened if someone had formed a union among the vineyard workers and negotiated a raise for all workers and a bigger raise for those that work longer hours.  Would this person truly be showing love to these workers if he/she was exclusively focused on collective bargaining and did not point the workers to Christ for eternal salvation?  Would the workers be better served in the long-term by the extra dollars on earth or by life everlasting with the Father?  As I typed that last sentence, my mind was drawn to Mark 8:36.  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

If the owner of the vineyard wants to give the new hires the same wage as those with more seniority, that is at the discretion of the owner.   The owner is the owner, and we are not.  God is God, and we are not.  Clearly, this parable is also teaching us that those that come to Christ later in life after years of denying Him will also receive the same reward as those that came to Christ early in life – the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting with the Father.   There is no extra reward in Heaven for life-long Christians as compared to those that recently accepted Christ prior to their death.  The reward for the life-long Christian is that of an entire life spent in and for Christ.

A lack of equity and fairness can rob us of our peace, but a life lived in Christ and for Christ will grant us a peace that transcends all understanding.  A lack of equity is certainly one of the many troubles that we face on earth, but we can take comfort in the Words of our Lord and Savior in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The pursuit of equity and fairness is a noble pursuit but one that will always come up short.  I do not like a lack of equity or fairness and understand that sometimes those with less resources are responsible for their situation and sometimes they are not.  Regardless, I suspect that the enemy smiles when we continually forgo our calling for evangelism and discipleship in pursuit of chasing the ever-elusive goal of equity and fairness.

Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us.  To me, he was telling us that we will always have inequity and unfairness and we should indeed do all the good we can to help them and in doing so we are showing the love of Christ.  Just because the poor will always be with us is not an excuse to become complacent but rather it is an acknowledgment that equity and fairness will never be found on this fallen earth.

Yes, we will always lack equity in resources, but we do not lack equity in our ability to be in covenant with God and reach Him through His word and prayer.  We all have equity in our ability to submit ourselves to God and live out our faith by daily showing the Fruits of the Spirit.  Salvation is equally available to all, and this is the greatest equity to be found on earth!

Prayer:  Dear God, We have not been an obedient church and we fall short in so many ways.  Life is often unfair, unjust, and resources are not distributed in an equitable manner.  Help us to understand that true equity exists in our access to reach You through your Word and through prayer.  Grant us discretion on how to best use our time to bring honor and glory to You and to show true love to our neighbor.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and a Certified Lay Speaker with the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He is a Board Member for Gulf South Men, an Action Team member for The Kingdom Group, and a Board Member for the Lagniappe Community Walk to Emmaus.  Todd is a Past President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and remains active in this and many other local, regional, and international ministries.  Todd is the proud father of Emma and Kyle and resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Grace Or Truth?

Grace Or Truth?

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NIV).

 

One of the more interesting debates in contemporary Christian circles is the debate regarding two terms – grace and truth.   The question inevitably becomes – Do you stand for grace or truth?  My progressive friends tend to favor grace, and my conservative friends tend to favor truth.  My Christian friends understand that this is a false question and favor both.

I don’t mean to be trite, but I certainly can sympathize with Pontius Pilate’s response to our Lord and Savior after He identified His purpose as coming into this world “to testify to the truth.”   As we all know, Pilate infamously responded, “What is truth?” 

Sometimes no answer to a question is the best answer.  Jesus did not respond to the question from Pilate, but I wonder if He considered offering the same response that He previously offered to Peter after He had explained in Matthew 15 the parable of food and cleanliness.  “Are you still so dull?” Jesus said to Peter.  I suspect the proponents of grace are thinking the same of those advocating for truth and vice versa.

One can selectively select Scripture to make an argument for either grace or truth.  However, Scripture is not intended to be selectively harvested to advance anything or anybody of this world. 

In Christian theological terms, grace without truth is incomplete or distorted. Grace, which represents God’s unmerited favor and forgiveness, is inseparable from truth, which encompasses God’s revealed Word and moral standards. Without truth, grace may lose its transformative power and become a license for unrighteousness or a distorted understanding of God’s character and purpose. Thus, a balanced and coherent Christian theology recognizes the indispensable relationship between grace and truth.

Grace without truth can become a form of permissiveness or indulgence.  An exclusive focus on grace allows one to unwisely feel secure in a life of unrepented sin due to the absence of the

refining and correcting element of truth.  This can lead to moral relativism where any action or belief could be considered acceptable, regardless of ethical or doctrinal standards.

On the other hand, truth provides the foundation, the rules and guidelines for understanding our world and our faith. It allows us to navigate our spiritual journey with clarity and purpose.

However, truth without grace can become legalism, an adherence to the letter of the law without the transformative, compassionate, and forgiving spirit of grace.  The truth is we are all sinners and all fall short of the glory of God.

Therefore, grace and truth are not mutually exclusive but complementary. In Christian theology, this is exemplified in Jesus Christ, whom the Gospel of John describes as full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14, emphasis added). Grace forgives and heals, truth guides and corrects.

Together, they form a balanced and holistic approach to faith and spirituality.  Either term without the other is incomplete.

God reveals His divine nature of grace and truth to each through Holy Scripture.  Our understanding of God and His nature is exponentially increased by inviting the Holy Spirit to be with us as we read, study, and meditate on His Holy Word and ask the question – Dear Lord, What message are You teaching me this day? 

From a Wesleyan perspective, grace without truth is insufficient for sanctification.  John Wesley believed in sanctification, or the process of becoming more like Christ. Grace without truth is insufficient for sanctification because it does not provide the moral and theological guidance necessary for a believer to grow in holiness. 

Grace without truth is also contrary to the means of grace.   Wesley outlined means of grace, which are practices that draw us closer to God and allow us to experience His grace more fully, such as prayer, Bible study, and communion. Grace without truth can be contrary to these means, as they all require an understanding and application of biblical truth.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for revealing your nature of grace and truth to us through Holy Scripture.  Equip us dear God with the Sword of the Spirit and the complete Armor of God as we stand strong not in our strength but rather in Your mighty power and Your righteousness against all principalities and powers that do not submit to Your authority in heaven or earth.  All honor and glory is Yours.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and a Certified Lay Speaker with the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He is a Board Member for Gulf South Men, an Action Team member for The Kingdom Group, and a Board Member for the Lagniappe Community Walk to Emmaus.  Todd is a Past President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and remains active in this and many other local, regional, and international ministries.  Todd is the proud father of Emma and Kyle and resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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A Quest For Peace

A Quest For Peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

 

For most of us we want nothing more than peace.  However, there are some that seem to thrive in drama and chaos, but I suspect that if they ever embraced the kind of peace that Jesus offers, they would likely have a different outlook on life.  As I think about those that seem to be void of peace, I see one thing that they have in common – they want immediate satisfaction.  But the more they pursue immediate satisfaction, the more that the peace of God alludes their relentless pursuit.  I think Romans 8:6 provides the answer to this dilemma.  “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”  The life of a Christian is led by love of God, neighbor, and self.  The life of a narcissist is led by love of self and immediate satisfaction of fleshly desires.  Perhaps the Apostle Paul was warning Timothy, and us today, of such people when he wrote, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:2-5, emphasis added).

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John. 14:27).  Note, this is just not any kind of peace but rather it is “His peace.”  And His peace transcends all understanding and allows us to renew our minds.

You may be struggling with a major decision or dealing with a huge problem, and unable to calm your mind.   As you lay in bed at night, your mind may be telling you that you can’t overcome this situation, this problem will never end, etc.  It is important at these times to realize that these voices in your mind are seeking to rob you of peace and are not from God.  Voices come from either God, flesh, society, or the enemy, and a voice that seeks to rob you of peace is clearly not from God.

You may wonder what does this “peace” actually look like?  How do I actually get it?   The peace that Jesus is offering in John 14:27 is a gift.  Jesus said, “My peace I give to you (emphasis added).  Every gift needs a giver and a receiver.  We must step out in faith and receive His peace and hold it tightly as a highly treasured gift, which it is!

We all know that our words have power.  This power is never greater when we use our words to rebuke thoughts that not from God.  Just as Jesus demanded calm on the Sea of Galilee we can rebuke thoughts in His name that seeks to rob us of our peace by using the Spirit within us.

For most people gifts are transactional.  I give you this because either you gave me something (and I feel obligated) or I am giving you this proactively because I want to receive something from you.  Jesus said “… not as the world gives do I give to you.”  We can never provide a return gift that is commensurate with His gift.  So, our best response is to receive the gift and rejoice in the victory that comes with it.

As I think about His peace, I think about spiritual warfare because this is where peace is won or lost.  The Apostle Paul understood this when he said, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians. 4:7, emphasis added).  In Biblical times, to guard something typically involved a garrison of soldiers. 

It is important for us to follow the teaching of 2 Chronicles 20:15 and understand that “…for the battle is not your’s, but God’s.”   When we turn a problem over to God, His peace is an army of angels (garrison of soldiers) protecting our hearts and minds.  Spiritual warfare is vastly different from traditional war.  2 Corinthians 10:3 reminds us, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.”

There is nothing more peaceful than a calm river in the early morning.  The peace of God is the Fruit of obedience to Him.  Scripture teaches us, “Oh, that you had paid attention to my commandments.  Then you would have had peace like a river…” (Isaiah 48: 18).  In Biblical times, rivers were vital to life.  Jesus told us that when we receive the Holy Spirit, “out of our heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7: 37).

Peace is not easy.  However, Jesus never promised us an easy life.  What He did promise was, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).”  Step out in faith and receive the gift and cling tightly to it! 

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for the gift of peace.  Help us to recognize Your voice and rebuke all others in Your name.  Guide us as we seek the peace that you offer and forgive us for the times that we seek peace in ways that do not bring honor and glory to You.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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The Sniper

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Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.   They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32 NIV).

 

I recently watched a documentary in which a sniper was sent to kill a foreign head of state.  The sniper was wearing camouflage from head to toe and found a spot over a mile away from his target and laid and waited for the perfect opportunity.  During this period, the sniper could not eat, drink, or move – only wait and watch.  Then, the opportunity finally presented itself, and the sniper estimated the distance to the target and adjusted for wind, grain of the bullet, air pressure, altitude, temperature, angle to the target, and other factors, and squeezed the trigger to deliver the kill shot.

I think we all see snipers in our daily lives.   The “bullet” are words, and the target is somebody that the sniper is unhappy with.  The word may be true, partially true, or completely false, but that is not nearly as important as the goal because the ends justify the means.  The means is to discredit the other person by firing off seeds of doubt.  The fingerprints of the enemy are evident in the attack.  Just as “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) so too does the sniper.

In the documentary I watched, the sniper was well camouflaged to blend in with his surroundings, which reminded me of the warning from Matthew 7:15. “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”  The modern sniper has much in common with the false prophet as both perceive they are more effective if they are able to influence as many people as possible.

The sniper uses his or her words to attempt to “kill” the target.  Proverbs 18:21 teaches: “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Our words can either speak life, or our words can speak death. Our tongues can build others up, or they can tear them down.   The sniper may be active in the church but is in fact spiritually bankrupt and is cut from the same cloth as the narcissist.  The sniper intentionally choses to live in unrepentant sin and disobey 1 Peter 4:11.  “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very Words of God.”

The sniper is also a defiler.  Matthew 15:11 warns us, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”  To defile something is an act of great disrespect toward God and/or others.  The sniper attempts to slander others but in reality only defiles themself and dishonors God.

Sometimes we are the target of the sniper, and our initial gut reaction is to seek revenge.  However, if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we are the sniper.   When we are the sniper, we feel justified because the target has hurt us, so we feel the need to hurt them back.  We feel the need to speak negatively about this person to try to hurt their reputation, job, and friendships.

The sniper will seek to “kill” the target by speaking words of death to anybody that is close to the target – friends, neighbors, clergy, etc. A character assassination often does little to hurt the character of the target but speaks volumes about the character of the sniper.  A sniper is essentially showing all with eyes to see and ears to hear exactly what is in their heart.  Consider the words of our Lord from Matthew 12:34. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

A lie from a sniper does not become truth just because it is repeated  like a fully automatic weapon with a large magazine.  Most people that hear the accusatory words will dismiss the attack but if the goal is to sew endless seeds of doubt, then eventually one or two will eventually grow even in unfertile grounds. Others may choose to believe the sniper, and that is sad but their choice.  However, if you are a follower of Jesus you know that nobody or no sniper can separate you from the love of God as found in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). 

Most people that hear the accusatory words will dismiss the attack, but if the goal is to sew endless seeds of doubt, then eventually one or two will eventually grow even in unfertile grounds. So, some may choose to believe the sniper, and that is sad but their choice.  However, if you are a follower of Jesus you know that nobody or no sniper can separate you from the love of God as found in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). 

King David was attacked emotionally, verbally, and physically. As a young man, he was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel, but Saul was still king. Even though David served him loyally, Saul became jealous of David and decided to kill him. David had to hide from Saul in caves while lies were being told about him across the kingdom. Yet David never said a bad word against King Saul. He never retaliated.  David was a sinner, but he was also a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).

David modelled a proper response to attacks for us today by writing, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).  David trusted God to defend him.  I can imagine that David wanted to rise up and do something about the attack, but he trusted God to be his defender.  In short, David was living out two Bibles verses.  First, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  Secondly, “For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15).

The best response to a sniper is to stop and read the two Scriptures above and remind yourself that this person is acting out of some sort of unresolved anger and/or mental disease that has come into their heart, found fertile ground, and manifested in words.   Then, pray that God will release them from this bondage, and they can find victory and freedom in His grace and peace.  As you release your anger and disappointment, a peace will fall upon you and the victim that is truly set free is yourself.  The sadness may linger for a period, but the sniper has actually brought you closer in relationship with the Father as you remember, “the LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). 

Prayer:  Dear God,  Forgive us for the times that we are the sniper and speak words of death regarding others.  Forgive us for the times that we become complicit when others speak words of death regarding a brother or sister in Christ.  And, forgive us when we are the sniper and seek to deceive, divide, and destroy.  We know that others will recognize us by our fruits so help us to show the fruits of your Spirit in our words and actions.   Amen!

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Finding Good Fruit In Our Pain

Finding Good Fruit In Our Pain

But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11 NIV).

Is there anything more difficult to deal with in our human condition than pain?  Physical pain can be horrible and so intense that the strongest Christian cries out, “Abba! Father!” to be Healed.   Mental pain from the loss of a loved one can crush our spirit.  All pain is raw and real.

In our times of pain, it is natural to ask, “Where is God?”  I certainly have asked this question before and suspect that I am not alone.  The truth is that God shares the pain of every single person. When we are hurting, He isn’t distant. He is aware of our pain.  He cares for us during our pain.  In my times of pain, I think of how Jesus reacted when He saw the pain and tears on the faces of Mary and Martha because Lazarus had recently died.  Jesus, the God of heaven and earth, stopped and cried with them.  He embraced their pain and I believe that His Spirit does that today for those that chose to turn toward Him.

Our pain presents us with an opportunity to “yoke up” to God by following the invitation of Matthew 11:28-30.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Our pain also presents us with the opportunity to look for someone to blame and seek revenge.  Perhaps you were the victim of an accident caused by a drunk driver.  The drunk driver may in turn blame the bar tender that over served him or his boss for not respecting him which “caused” him to drive while intoxicated.   Sometimes we are an innocent victim, but other times the pain we are experiencing is a direct result of some very poor choices.  The most important thing we can ever do is an honest self-examination, but yet the most difficult thing we can ever do is an honest self-examination.

Pain is inevitable in this life.  Perhaps pain is God’s way of scratching the surface to reveal what is underneath.  I have good friends that have experienced tremendous pain.  They have been scratched deep, but they never lost their joy and the Fruits of Spirit were always manifested in their words and actions.  I have seen others that when gently scratched, a dark underbelly is revealed that indicates mental instability and/or a poor understanding of Scripture.

I wonder if for some their response to pain is a learned behavior.  For example, if a parent modelled for a child that pain requires “an eye for an eye.”  They may see pain as an opportunity to play the victim, seek revenge, and engage in character attacks of their perceived offender.   So, as an adult maybe they are following the same behavior as modelled to them by their parent(s).  Perhaps Numbers 14:18 was written for these situations.  “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation” (emphasis added).

Some people are particularly adept to play the victim and solicit sympathy in times of pain.   This can be done overtly by public slander and defamation or covertly by “planting seeds of doubt” in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of their perceived offender and to further aid in their effort to win the “battle of public opinion.”  These seeds never find fertile ground, never yield good fruit but do speak volumes about the character of the sower.

Jesus experienced pain so we have confidence that when we pray in our times of pain that He understands our pain. Hebrews 4:15 says: “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are.”

He understands emotional pain, abandonment, loneliness, criticism, discrimination, rejection, and betrayal. Jesus also understands physical pain. Can you imagine not only the pain of the crucifixion but also carrying the sin of every evil act done throughout history?  It is important to remember that in His pain and without sin He descended into hell but His victory over sin and death allows us to be presented as pure and blameless to the Father.

The Holy Spirit also shares our pain.  When our pain is so great that all we can speak are groans, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf.  Romans 8:26 reads, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

God shares our pain because He created us. The Bible says, “The one who formed their hearts understands everything they do” (Psalm 33:15). In other words, God is never shocked by your emotions or your thoughts.

There are many Psalms that begin in a similar fashion as Psalm 130:1. “Lord, I cry out to you out of the depths of my despair!”  He not only welcomes our cries of pain, but He understands and offers comfort, if we plant our seeds on fertile ground rather than sowing seeds of doubt.  If you are in pain, remember Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

You’re never closer to God than when you have a broken heart.  This is the time to plant seeds in accordance with Matthew 13:23.  “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  What sort of seeds will you plant during your pain?  Choose wisely because future generations are watching and your actions can have implications for three and four generations. 

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for the invitation to share our pain.  Help us to turn to you in times of pain and to plant seeds that bring honor and glory to you.  Help us to resist the temptation of the flesh to plant seeds of doubt and seek revenge.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Waiting For God In “The Gap”

Waiting For God In “The Gap”

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12 NIV).

 

The period between asking God for something and receiving it is often referred to as “the gap.”  Sometimes, the request is granted instantly (e.g., Matthew 9:35, Matthew 5:25-34, Luke 7:1-10).   Other times, the request may linger for years before God responds.  Joseph waited over 13 years before his prophetic promise was fulfilled.  Moses waited 40 years before he had his divine encounter with the flaming voice of God.  Abraham waited 25 years before God granted him a son. 

We often think of waiting as a waste of time.  We all seek instant gratification, and we often confuse God with Santa Claus and expect Him to answer our prayers on our timeframe.   Perhaps a better way to view waiting is to realize that God is using this time to grow us closer to Him.  The Hebrew word for “wait” is literally “to entwine” — like strands of a rope twisted into one. It is important to note that the Bible contains over 7,000 promises to us, but God does not promise that He will fulfill every one of them instantly.  In fact, God has all of eternity to fulfill His promises. That means that some of His promises are certainly not going to be fulfilled in our timeframe, and it also means that some will likely not be fulfilled until our earthly life is over!

I wonder if God is using the time in the gap to grow our faith in Him.  Perhaps He is waiting on us to surrender all to Him, while we are waiting on Him to answer our prayer.  I wish I knew why God choses to quickly honor some requests and not others.  If so, I could certainly cut down on my time in the gap!  I do know that on many occasions after Jesus instantly answered prayers for healing, He mentioned that the petitioner had demonstrated “great faith” by their request to Him.  These petitioners knew that if they were able to get in close proximity to Jesus to ask Him or just touch His garment, that He would honor their request.

Hebrews 11 is commonly referred to as the Hall of Faith.  This chapter details the remarkable accomplishments of some otherwise unremarkable people that were accomplished through faith and begins by defining faith for us.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  The Apostle Paul expanded upon this concept when he wrote, “For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  This goes against our natural instincts and is very difficult to do. 

For me, faith is waiting for something that you know is coming but you have absolutely no idea when it will come.  The time in the gap requires endurance, and true endurance comes from God.   

God will likely not talk to us through a booming voice in the sky, a burning bush, or a prophet as He did in the Bible.  However, He is alive and talking to each of us right now through Scripture.   He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Our tendency during time in the gap is to look at the problem.  Our tendency in the gap is to look at the mountain rather than the One that taught us that we could move mountains.  Moses modelled the same approach as those that approached Jesus with faith in their hearts and asked for healing. The Bible says that Moses “kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).  Moses showed great faith and we can “move mountains” and do even greater things than Jesus but only through faith.

During my time in the gap, I often asked God, “How much longer?”  I have come to realize that God wants me to build my life on His promises rather than seeking His explanations for not following my time frame. In fact, God doesn’t owe me or you an explanation for anything. God is God, and we are not.  I often think of God’s response when Job questioned His actions.  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:4).

I enjoy being a substitute pastor at local United Methodist Churches.  During these times, I often preach about a topic that is a struggle for myself and likely others in the congregation.  Similarly, I often write blogs for similar reasons.  This is now the sixth time that I have addressed the topic of waiting for God.  I have made progress over the years, but as with many things, I am still a work in progress.

On one hand I have faith in God, but on the other hand I would really like some assurances that He is taking me to the place I want to go.  True freedom comes when I stop asking where we are going and understand that wherever we are going, it will be better than whatever I had planned and we will arrive at the perfect time.  For me the key to finding peace in the gap is to embrace the journey, forget my timeframe, and worship God rather than question Him or lobby Him to embrace my plan.

Prayer:  Please forgive us for our lack of faith in You during times in the gap.  Help us to embrace this time as a time to grow closer to You and lean not on our own understanding.  We not only cast our cares upon you, but we also seek to fasten our yoke to you to lighten our burdens and keep our paths straight.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Fire Consumes Or Purifies

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2 NIV).

 

One thing that is as certain as death and taxes is that in this fallen world is we will have problems.  Jesus said these words in John 16:33 many years ago, but they still ring true today.  “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  To me, this means that our earthly troubles are temporary but our Lord and Savior reigns forever and in Him and through Him we have life and victory over sin and death.  What sort of life does He offer you may wonder?  Well, as we return back to the book of John in chapter 10, verse 10, we learn the answer.  “I have come so that they may life, and have it abundantly (emphasis added)” 

Our troubles often appear overwhelming when we focus on the discomfort of the problem rather than the provision and protection of God.  Also, our troubles can consume us when we try to face them alone rather than with a group of fellow followers of Christ. 

Problems and trouble come in many forms, but they always bring some sort of “heat.”  It is important to understand that the flame that is causing the heat is never intended for our harm. Of course, a fire that destroys a house is terrible, but such a fire would not come from God.  My house was not destroyed by fire but was badly flooded in 2016.  I was devastated, but I watched God work through human hands and eventually my house was repaired, and my furniture was replaced.  Now, I have a powerful testimony to His faithfulness.

Everything that is good about a fire can be listed as a blessing of the Holy Spirit. Fire is a purifying force, and the Holy Spirit is the ultimate purifier.   Rev. Max Lucado wrote in a recent devotional – “We need the cleansing, sanctifying work of the Spirit of God.”  As I first read this devotional from Rev. Lucado my mind drifted to Malachi 3:3. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”  Silver is refined through heat to burn off the impurities.  Similarly, we are refined through our troubles as we grow closer to God and then emerge with a strong testimony of His faithfulness.  I think it is interesting that a silversmith knows that all of the impurities are gone when he can see his reflection in the molten silver.  As we are refined, our face begins to “look” more like Christ and we begin to seek the same things that He is seeking for us.

While we are in the valleys of life, life is certainly hard.  The stress can take a toll on our bodies.  However, this is the best time to invite this refining fire to finish its work in our hearts.  A wildlife in the forest brings immediate devastation, but eventually there is new growth and renewal.  The fires in our lives also bring about spiritual renewal in spite of our physical condition, which I think is the message of (2 Corinthians 4:16).  “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  

The next time you feel the heat of life, stop and realize that God is at work in your life.  If you turn toward Him, you will not only emerge on the other side with a closer walk with our Lord, but also a testimony that is a powerful witness in a world that so badly needs powerful witnesses.  Don’t let the fire consume you but rather let it purify you.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for refining us.  Forgive us for the times we turn from you and help us to embrace the fires of life and yoke to your Holy Spirit to find joy in all circumstances.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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The Spiritual Gift of Presence

The Spiritual Gift of Presence

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13 NIV).

 

Spiritual gifts are something every Christian is given when they receive the gift of salvation. Just as the gift of salvation is by grace through faith, so are the spiritual gifts. 

There are several different spiritual gifts. These gifts are not something we possess; they are God’s supernatural ability to act in our lives in various ways.  There are ministry gifts, manifestation gifts, and motivational gifts.

According to Scripture, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  As a Methodist, my denomination recognizes the following as spiritual gifts:  administration, apostleship, compassion, discernment, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, healing, helping, interpretation of tongues, knowledge, leadership, miracles, prophecy, servanthood, shepherding, teaching, tongues, and wisdom.

 I think the spiritual gift of presence is often overlooked.  It is not one of the seven that is directly mentioned in Scripture, nor is it specifically mentioned by my church.  However, the Bible has several examples of the spiritual gift of presence. 

 One example comes from the book of Job.  He was a prosperous man of great piety. Satan tested Job to determine if Job’s piety is merely rooted in his prosperity.  Job suffered tremendous losses at the hands of the enemy (possessions, family, and finally his own health), but Job still refused to curse God.  Job’s friends came to comfort him in his time of sorrow.  When they finally arrived, Scriptures tells us that they, “sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13).  This is the spiritual gift of presence in action.  It was not necessary for the friends to say the right thing or bring the right gift.

Paul traveled throughout the Mediterranean area.  Most biblical scholars agree that Paul would have traveled over 10,000 miles – by foot!  That would be equal to walking between New York and Los Angeles nearly four times!  Several books of the Bible are based on his letters to the new church in various cities.  Another example of presence comes from Paul’s letter to the new church in Rome.  He wrote, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—  that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11-12). One thing is clear: giving the gift is tied to Paul’s visit. He is the conveyer, and recipient, of the gift because he understands the gift of presence, and it cannot, therefore, be given by letter or proxy.  Paul also knows that we must be present to “greet each other with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

In this post-pandemic world, people are more than ever hungry for human contact.  When we show up and support our friends during their time of crisis, we are using our spiritual gift of presence and bearing one another’s burdens.  In the book “Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard: How to Hear and How to Be Heard in Equal Communication,” David W. Augsburger writes, “Being heard is as close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”  Be blessed as you are a blessing to others.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for all of the spiritual gifts that you have bestowed upon us.  Help us to boldly and courageously use the gifts that you have equipped us with and to do the good deeds that you have prepared in advance for us.  Amen.    

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Can Prisoners Be Free?

Can Prisoners Be Free?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV).

Perhaps the greatest benefit that we have as American citizens is our civil rights and liberties as identified in the Bill of Rights.   We enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly, due process of law, etc. 

The early Israelites were required to follow 613 Commandments from God as provided to Moses.  The Mosaic Law begins with the Ten Commandments and includes the many rules of religious observance given in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, called the Pentateuch. 

God made a new Covenant with us through the blood of His Son, Jesus.  As Christians, we enjoy true freedom due to His sacrifice.  Romans 8:2 reads, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  We have freedom over sin and death, and we will enjoy life everlasting with the Father.

However, I see many people each day that are walking the streets but are not free.  They are enslaved to their sins, unwilling to repent, and unable to enjoy the freedom that comes from the Spirit.   Some are enslaved to drugs, work, fear of the future, etc.  This begs the question, how can a baptized Christian that is an American citizen be enslaved if they are walking down the street?

Sadly, these people have imprisoned themselves in their minds.  This is the worst sort of prison because they have no hope.  Perhaps Jesus was addressing those without hope when He read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). 

So, what does hope have to with faith in God?  Everything.  The connection between hope and faith is explained in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Those without hope do not truly understand that our God is the God of victory, power, and miracles.  Those without faith are not able to walk through the darkest valley and fear no evil as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 23:4.

However, I see many people each day that are walking the streets but are not free.  They are enslaved to their sins, unwilling to repent, and unable to enjoy the freedom that comes from the Spirit.   Some are enslaved to drugs, work, fear of the future, etc.  This begs the question, how can a baptized Christian that is an American citizen be enslaved if they are walking down the street?

Sadly, these people have imprisoned themselves in their minds.  This is the worst sort of prison because they have no hope.  Perhaps Jesus was addressing those without hope when He read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). 

So, what does hope have to with faith in God?  Everything.  The connection between hope and faith is explained in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Those without hope do not truly understand that our God is the God of victory, power, and miracles.  Those without faith are not able to walk through the darkest valley and fear no evil as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 23:4.

I have been blessed to participate in a national prison ministry known as Kairos.  This ministry brings a Gospel message to people that have committed very violent crimes and are unlikely to be released back into society.  At my first visit to the Angola Prison near St. Francisville, La, I was struck by the freedom of several of the inmates.  I heard joy in their voices and saw it in their eyes.  I was initially surprised and then I listened to testimony after testimony from the inmates about what God has done for them.  Years ago, this prison was one of the worst in the country due to number of violent crimes occurring inside the prison.  The warden at the time-built a church in the prison, introduced Kairos, and distributed Bibles. 

In short, he pointed the inmates to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit was welcome and as a result there was freedom.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17, emphasis added).

If you are seeking freedom, the right next step is to ask the Holy Spirit to search you and reveal any areas of your life that have you imprisoned.  Confession and repentance are essential to forgiveness and freedom.  Shame and fear are not fruits of the Spirit.  2 Timothy 1:7 teaches, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”   May be all be so blessed as to live as freely as those prisoners I met in Angola. 

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for your Son and the gift that we have to live as Easter people.  Thank you for the forgiveness of our sins and life-everlasting in your Church Triumphant. Send your Holy Spirit to search us and reveal to us those things that imprison us.  Give us the courage and strength to rid ourselves of the sin and shame that clings so tightly and separates us from you. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Thank you for visiting. We trust that you have enjoyed reading our articles.

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