True Confession: What I Prayed for Ukraine

My heart grieves over what is going on in and against Ukraine. Yes, I was one of many who naively thought that civilization was beyond this…beyond rogue leaders being able to mobilize a national army to destroy a peaceful nation with brutal disregard for all human life. The Ukrainians have faces and families, connections to my world, to our world. My friends have taught in Ukraine. My sons’s best friend is Ukrainian; though he lives in the United States, he has family there, or perhaps had family there. When disturbing war images first invaded my television, I had a hard time falling asleep at night; when I did fall asleep, I woke up thinking about the women and children trying to flee, the men — and women — staying behind to fight an army that far outnumbered them. These days, I often fall asleep praying for God to intervene in the attack on Ukraine.

I pray because this is spiritual. We see the physical attack in 3D on the news, but this is just another round in an invisible spiritual war that has raged since the Garden of Eden when Satan first tried to destroy God’s most prized and precious creation — people. This is spiritual. At Ukraine’s National Prayer Breakfast held before Russia’s invasion, event Coordinator Pavel Unguryan said more prophetically than he knew, “Ukraine has become the epicenter of a global spiritual battle.” According to Christianity Today, “Two-thirds (65%) of the population identify as Orthodox Christians (split across three groups), 10 percent as Greek Catholic, and a further 8 percent as ‘simply a Christian.'” There are lots of people seeking God in Ukraine. On the other hand, Putin prefers to stamp God out, increasingly oppressing Christians. Russia adopted a law in 2016 making it unconstitutional to be a Christian, despite the Russian constitution saying that all are free to profess any faith. The law specifically increases regulation of evangelism, including a ban on the performance of “missionary activities” in non-religious settings. Under this law, anyone who declares Christian belief, publicly invites someone to church, or shares an invitation to a Christian conference on Facebook can receive a huge fine or be jailed for up to 3 years. Sometimes even attending church brings these penalties and punishment is worse if you are a pastor or church leader. Putin has set Himself up against God and aligned himself with Satan, evidenced by the Russian ruler carrying out his plan to steal, kill and destroy in Ukraine. Unequivocally, this is spiritual.

So I began to look in scripture at how God intervened in His peoples’ battles and started praying accordingly. In 2 Chronicles, Chapter 20, men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir were coming to attack God’s people. So King Jehoshaphat, representing God’s people, prayed fervently. “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (Does an unfair invasion by an outnumbering army sound familiar?) Well, in a nutshell, here’s what happened. God sent directions to the King saying (paraphrased), “Don’t worry, just go out there and face them tomorrow. I will be with you.” And, in fact, God went before them. Scripture tells us God, Himself, set ambushes for the ungodly men who were coming against His people so that the attackers fought against each other! “The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.” (2 Chronicles 20:23)

And that is what I started praying. “Lord, you know that an army of godless men are trying to destroy people in Ukraine. Please throw the invading army into confusion and cause them to destroy each other. Please bring relief to Ukraine, go before them and fight for them.” Recently, I was scanning headlines (admittedly looking for any good news on the conflict) and saw numerous publications reporting that Russian troops had been “shooting themselves in the leg” in March to avoid fighting and allegedly even shot down their own aircraft by accident. In late April Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence reported intelligence saying that two groups of Soldiers of the Russian Federation (one from Chechnya and another group from Buryatia) shot at one another in occupied Kyselivka. Over 50 soldiers on each side took part and the exact number of casualties and fatalities was unknown.

Now don’t get me wrong. It is not my habit to pray that anyone would “take someone else out.” All life is given by God and only He has authority over life and death. His plans are right even when I don’t understand them and history shows that God is able to use even evil things people do for good outcomes. Perhaps God is opening people’s eyes to our need for Him or awakening skeptics to the fact that Satan is still roaming the earth looking for people to devour. Also on the side of good things, we certainly see the free world uniting against this Russian campaign of terror in an unprecedented way. I don’t know all the good that God will bring from this, but my heart longs for the evil to stop.

By the way, before I prayed for the invading soldiers to fight against each other, I prayed that God would grab hold of the hearts of Putin and his soldiers. I prayed God would turn these men from evil to good, moving them to see their actions as sin against God and the humanity He created. Yes, I prayed that Putin and his soldiers would repent, be saved, and be transformed into people who follow Jesus Christ to His glory and who love and care for people. I know that nothing is impossible for God. I still pray that, but I also pray that God would intervene for His people as He did in biblical times. I don’t have any influence over Putin, but I know the God who has influence, even total authority, over all things. I know He hears my prayers. So I’m going to keep praying for an end to the suffering, however He chooses to do it. Nothing is impossible for God.

How are you praying today?

You Are Loved

Whether you have a human “Valentine” or not…You Are Loved.

With the purest kind of love…You Are Loved.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Whether or not you feel worth it, by One who gave everything for you,…You Are Loved.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
(John 3:16)

To an extraordinary depth…You Are Loved.
(Jesus) “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
(Philippians 2:6-8)

Whether or not you are the best, the biggest, the strongest…You Are Loved.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Romans 5:6

Though you do not love back perfectly…You Are Loved.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
(Romans 5:7-8)

Aside from any earnings or performance, any qualities you developed…You Are Loved.
“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”
(Deuteronomy 7:7-9)

With an infinitely dependable love…You Are Loved.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 8:38-39)

With an eternal love…You Are Loved.
” ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
(Isaiah 54:10)

My prayer for you is to know that….You Are Loved.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:14-19)

How Will the Last Mile Shape the Next?

Here we are…at the brink between December 31 and January 1. Behind us may be a landscape of mountains or valleys, of personal highs or personal lows, of accomplishments or failures. Ahead of us lies a vast expanse of undefined terrain…the land of “What Will Be in 2022.” At this moment every year, we often focus on getting a fresh start or second chance. These are marvelous things, but there’s also value in considering how the mountains and valleys we walked through in 2021 could have prepared us, could even direct us, for a new path ahead.

What items in your backpack, gathered on the 2021 trip, should be dropped before the 2022 border?
Failure you have let define you.
So you botched a relationship, quit a job you shouldn’t have, or didn’t save as much as much money as you said you would. Failure is what you did; it is not who you are.
Regret you have allowed to paralyze you.
So you vented on social media, or to someone’s face, and wish you could take it back. You didn’t make time for the priority or person you said you would at the start of 2021. Don’t let past neglect of a responsibility or a person chain your ankles as you look to step into 2022. Empty your backpack of whatever condemns or cripples your progress in the new year.

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
(Isaiah 43:18-19)

Don’t let stuff in your backpack weigh you down, but DO use it to motivate and shape the new steps you take in 2022. What is the first thing you’ll do toward restoring the relationship? What decision will you take ownership of? What consequences will you take one step to overcome? How will you make the first move to pursue the right job, or the career you sense you were meant to have? How will you bridle your words today or this week so that they build up instead of tear down? What priority needs to be moved down your list so that you can spend more time on the most important responsibility or with the person to whom you truly need to give the most attention? What will you schedule on your calendar so your intentions translate to real life?

Now, you can’t do it all overnight. Pick one thing you don’t want to repeat from 2021, define the new path in 2022, and then take the next right step…and then the next…and the next. Marathons are won one step at a time. What is the best thing you can do to set your feet on and stay on your new course?

Instead of letting past failure or regret limit you, let them launch you.
Allow God to do a new thing in your life in 2022 — to give you a new life in this new year. Leave behind anything of 2021 that you could call wandering, wilderness or wasteland, but let them propel you into the wonder of walking with God as He makes all things new in 2022.

HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE & HAPPY 2022!


A Christmas Parable: What Have You Done with the Puffy Coat?

Little 4-year old Juan lived in Florida where there were way more palm trees than pines. Though “White Christmas” played often on the radio, Juan had never seen snow. His attention lately had been focused solely on the toy commercials he’d seen on TV. 

Finally, the morning sun sparkled through his window (as it always did), and Juan remembered…it was Christmas! He bounded in and out of his Mom and Dad’s room,  announcing the day, and headed straight to the plastic Christmas tree in the living room. Brightly wrapped packages of all shapes and sizes had appeared overnight and he could see his name written here and there on the tags.

Wrapping paper flew and smiles grew as Juan recognized toy after toy from the TV commercials. There were socks in one box and new shirts in another, but those were quickly tossed aside in anticipation of the next toy treasure. When the frenzy died down, his Mom said, “We saved the best one for last,” and she pulled a large flat box out from behind the tree.  

Anticipating a huge Lego kit or new game, Juan ripped off the paper and tore into the box…where he paused. There was something blue and puffy in tissue paper. He thought it was the thickest fluffiest raincoat he had ever seen. As he wondered what he was supposed to do with it, his Mom pointed out a card with words on it at the bottom of the box. He knew the letters.  S – K – I    T – R – I – P.  His Mom explained that they had planned a family trip where there would be mountains and lots of snow and it would be really, really cold so he would need this special coat. 

Now Juan loved the sound of big mountains and snow, but having lived his whole life in Florida, he had no idea what “really, really cold” meant. He thought the puffy coat was dumb. The flat box was thrown aside as Juan went from new toy to new toy playing and creating new adventures for days, but January came and it was time to go on the trip. Juan hadn’t given the puffy coat a second thought since he had opened it, decided it wasn’t anything he needed, and pushed it away. But Mom had tucked it away in the closet and as they got ready to leave for the airport, she handed the puffy coat to him. “You’ll need this when we get off the plane,” she said. Juan pushed it away, whined something about not needing it and how he would look like a blue marshmallow in it, and ran to get his raincoat from the closet. He put it on, opened the door and stepped outside. “See, I’m not cold,” he said. His Mom decided not to fight this battle.

No, Juan wasn’t cold — not in the car ride to the airport nor on the airplane. And he didn’t pay much attention when the flight attendant announced that they’d be landing in Denver, Colorado shortly and the current temperature was 25 degrees with strong winds. But walking out of the airport in what amounted to a windbreaker against below freezing temperatures and something called “wind chill” definitely got his attention. The air took his breath away; it swirled around him like icy fingers trying to pull off the little light jacket that was no match for the conditions in which Juan suddenly found himself. He ran back into the airport for shelter faster than he had run out in his excitement, dragging his Mom and Dad with him.

His Mom had tried to tell him before, but he had refused to listen. Thankfully for Juan, his Mom had graciously still packed the warm, puffy coat which he now gladly put on. It wrapped around him in warmth and comfort. Having the right coat fully prepared Juan to step back out into this new adventure to enjoy his new beautiful world of mountains and snow for the week.

The Baby Jesus came at Christmas to bring us a special gift, too — the gift of salvation from our sin and of eternal life in a beautiful new world that is different from what we’re used to. Jesus was the first gift of Christmas…wrapped, not in bright colored paper, but in swaddling clothes. He came not just for the cradle, but for the cross, where he bought us the gift of salvation with His very life. Yet how many of us react to this gift like Juan reacted to his puffy coat? People have told us about it, but we refused to listen. We don’t think we’ll ever really need it because it doesn’t seem like we need it now. We’re getting by with what we have. So we push the gift away. We throw it aside as unimportant. 

Thankfully for us, Jesus keeps it packed and continues to hold it out to us — over and over — even now — He offers His precious gift of the Coat of His Goodness, His Righteousness. He is waiting for you and me to reach out, take it from Him, and put it on…to allow Him to wrap us up in his warmth and comfort, His forgiveness, peace and love. Without it, we can never stand before God in the new adventure of Heaven, accepted. 

If you or your loved ones still treating Jesus’ perfect gift of salvation like the puffy coat, I pray that this is the Christmas you choose to unwrap that gift and take it from Him for yourself…so that you are well prepared to step into abundant life here and eternal life with Him forever.

May your Christmas be full of warmth, peace, joy, love and many blessings!

The Word Became Flesh (Wait, What?)

I confess. Before last week, I had never thought much about Biophysics, Cellular or Molecular Biology, or Embryology. As only God could time it, I got to hear some amazing teaching from an expert in those fields (Dr. Jeff Hardin, Hardin Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison) — last week — right before Christmas. What I learned about Embryology gave a new kind of concrete meaning to what John’s gospel says of Jesus — “The Word became flesh…” (John 1:14)

To grasp the magnitude of this, the first step is understanding that “The Word” refers to Jesus. This phrase is really a picture of relationship, the relationship between God the Father and God the Son (Jesus). (Yes, there are “three persons or divine entities” in the one true God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — but we’ll get to the Holy Spirit shortly. Incidentally, all three — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — are all equally God and work in perfect unity with each other. They really are One God in three persons. This may be old news if you’re familiar with God and the Bible. If you’re not, it may be a brain stretch. (It is for everyone and I didn’t want to leave anyone out.) So…Jesus is called The Word because He “goes out from” the Father.

Consider the biblical account of creation. All three “divine people” of the One true God were involved. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis1:3) God the Father spoke. Words went forth from Him. At that point, Jesus did not yet have a human body; He gets that later. The One we call Jesus was in the Words that went forth from the Father. Where was the Holy Spirit? Genesis 1:2 says, “…the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Jesus is God and Jesus is The Word that goes forth from God the Father.

Jesus is called The Word because
He “goes out from” the Father.

So how did Jesus, The Word, who had no human form until that first Christmas “become flesh”? Well, that how is the WOW where Embryology comes in. Jesus could have just appeared on earth from Heaven as a man, taught us how to live, and then died on the cross. Instead, He chose to relate to the nitty gritty of who we are. The same voice of God the Father that spoke all light and life into being at creation spoke life into being within Mary, Jesus’ human mother, who had never had any physical relationship with a man. It is that point for Jesus that God the Father’s process for how a human embryo develops kicked in.

Now forgive me, I am not going to do this justice or use all the correct scientificky words like the expert did last week, but I hope I can share enough of the process to amaze your Christmas socks off. Once Mary agreed to God’s plan of carrying baby Jesus (God is a gentleman, after all) and God the Father declared that there would be life within Mary, then somehow there was a fertilized ovum or egg within Mary called a zygote.

A zygote, the starting point, is a single cell in which God has packed all the DNA information necessary to develop into a human baby. Let that sink in. So that single cell starts dividing. One becomes two. Two become four. Four become eight and on and on. According to a website by a Cambridge University scientist, it takes about 41 divisions to produce the 2 trillion-ish cells that make up a human baby…in our case, the baby Jesus. But the process doesn’t involve just random multiplication and division. God ordains that, to actually get a human baby, specific cell movements and stages and reshaping must take place in just the right order.

The process continues, forming something called a “blastocyst.” At about 100 cells, an area of fluid forms and a specific set of cells called the “inner cell mass” (from which the baby’s delicate fingers, toes, heart, brain, etc. develop) moves to one end of the fluid; cells for the placenta and nourishment move to the other end of the fluid. In explaining these processes, Dr. Hardin emphasized their inherent intentionality; the cells are moving around and actually building the embryo…knitting the baby together in the mother’s womb as the Bible tells us in Psalm 139:13.

Next comes a process called “gastrulation” where the blastocyst changes to have 3 layers, each one primed to develop into a different kind of tissue. This is followed by “neurulation” during which something called the neural tube forms, the foundation of the baby’s nervous system. Next comes “organogenesis,” the beginning of the baby’s heart, kidneys, and other internal organs.

Zygote. Blastocyst. Gastrulation. Neurulation. Organogenesis. Intricate. Astounding. Miraculous for any human baby. How much more miraculous to consider that The Word became flesh. Jesus, present at creation — never before bound by limitations of space — humbled Himself to be carried in a human body, in order to be “clothed” in His own human body.

Jesus became flesh to convey the depth of His love. He became flesh to convey that He values you and me and every human at every stage. And He demonstrated the ultimate expression of His unconditional love when the same flesh that was knit together in Mary’s womb hung on the cross for us 30 years later. Jesus wanted us to know that He intimately related to our human condition. He did not skip any part of the human experience, except that He never rebelled against God the Father. Jesus never sinned so that on the cross, He could die our death, pay the penalty for our sins, and open the way to life forever with Him.

Jesus — The Word — became flesh.
In doing so, He gave us abundant life in the flesh, and made possible eternal life beyond the flesh.

May you feel valued and loved in a whole new way during this holy season.

Happy Advent. Merry Christmas.