As I have pondered the recent crisis in the beloved Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, I am greatly heartbroken and upset. Businesses damaged, homes destroyed, the mountains scorched and the smoke filling the air. Photos of the tragedy are disturbing and sobering. The night of the fires, the wind blew strong over our little house in the hills and now I can only imagine what some people witnessed: the fire being carried from ridge to ridge and engulfing buildings as people were evacuated and displaced. I don’t have family around there. I don’t have friends who live there. I have visited many times and it is an area I am familiar with and very much enjoy. I think of the Alamo, a restaurant that Julie and I spent a joyful evening of our honeymoon, totally gone. Many family trips to Dollywood, where the fire threatened but is safe and unharmed. Trips to the Aquarium, where it is good to hear the animals are safe.
I feel a particular burden about all of this. I think it is because I live in East Tennessee and consider it my home. And since I have lived here I have grown to love the history, the people, and culture. So, thinking about this fire and the devastation, I sit here crying as I type. Because, as in the words of Dolly Parton, “these are my people.”
I certainly think that this is a time to pray for those affected by the wildfires and to help practically in any way that we can. The practical love of Jesus being shared is vitally necessary for the church. It is a critical time when many are open to the gospel who would not otherwise be open, not to mention just the value in loving our fellow man.
With all this in mind, I am gripped to the heart that there is a specific message that God wants to send us with the fires. I came across a Facebook post shared by a friend of a friend who was helping with the House and Grounds Team at Dollywood Theme Park. It included a picture of two pages of the Bible, he had found under a bench soaked from the rain. It was a passage from Joel 1 and 2.
CLICK HERE for the more info about it.
For those who may not know what the book of Joel is about, it is a message to Israel in a great time of crisis. They were facing economic crisis in their day (new wine, oil, and grain were dried up) and they were facing the threat of an invasion by a foreign army.
The passages that were included on that paper found in Dollywood were. In the King James…
14 Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord.
15 Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?
17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.
19 O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.
20 The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
21 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:
In verse 14 it sums up a prescription for what to do in a time of crisis. I believe it is a message that the Lord is speaking and continuing to speak to us. Joel 2:12-17 is very similar.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
13 So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
14 Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him--
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the Lord your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
16 Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and nursing babes;
Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber,
And the bride from her dressing room.
17 Let the priests, who minister to the Lord,
Weep between the porch and the altar;
Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord,
And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’
How could these wildfires happen in our region? How could this be? Is it possible that God has lifted His protection because of our idolatry and sin? Because we have walked in disobedience and turned away from Him? Our region is soaked with innocent blood. Thousands of abortions have taken place in our region. We worship idols of self-pleasure, self-gratification, self-will. Immorality is rampant. And the truth is, it is not just the “heathen” or the unchurched. It is in the church of East Tennessee.
If we want to see a change, His protection again, even a great move of the Holy Spirit in our region, we must return to the Lord, with our whole heart. Will we heed the truth in the Scripture? What do we do in a time of crisis? Will we hear the trumpet of warning being blasted yet again to warn us to turn back to Him? Will we see His prophetic message in the edges of a burned Bible page in the middle of great destruction that contain words of warning and hope?
So thinking about the wildfires of the Great Smoky Mountains, I am burdened to pray and intercede for the victims and those working to help. I am burdened to help in practical ways, too. But I believe there is a greater, overarching message that we must hear and respond to.
There is a crisis. The prescription is clear. To gather. Fast. Pray. Humble ourselves. Cry out to Him.
It’s not just an event but a lifestyle change.
I don’t want to be guilty of reading the word without coming to the Lord while I read the Bible. By coming to Him, I mean connecting with Him, talking to Him while I read the verses.
In John 5:39-40 Jesus has a message for the Jewish leaders
39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. (Emphasis Mine)
OHHHHH! What this verse describes is lifeless religion with no connection, no conversation with the Lord in the study of His Holy word. It’s a warning for us to not be like this; reading and studying to gain head knowledge without also experientially knowing Him! He warns them that what they are doing is missing the mark. They are missing HIM!
I have recently revisited a resource by Mike Bickle at the International House of Prayer that I was impacted by about 15 years ago. It is a simple study on Journaling: How to “Pray-Read” the Scripture.
It is an exhortation to talk to the Lord as you read through the Bible. You pray passages from the Scripture back to the Lord. Mike Bickle gives instruction about what do when you encounter two categories of truth. First, truths that exhort you to believe and secondly, truths that exhort you to obey.
I. When you come to truths exhorting you to believe:
A. Take time to actually thank Jesus for the specific truth you are reading
B. Ask Him to reveal His truths to you in a greater way.
II. When you come to truths exhorting you to obey:
A. Commit yourself to obey what the passage describes.
B. Ask the Lord to empower you to obey the Scriptures.
He encourages you to journal by writing down the prayers to God.
Here is an example of this if I were reading through Colossians 1:15-18:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
I see it is a Scripture exhorting me to obey. I could take a moment and thank Him for the truth found in this Scripture, specifically verse 16.
“Thank you Lord that you have created all things. ‘All things’ includes me and my family, also my church family. You have created the beauty we see every day. The rolling hills and beautiful scenery. It is all created for you. I am created for you. Thank you for your creation. Thank you for creating me.”
It is helpful to remember the Lord is present with us and wants to engage with us. We can slow down and be patient as we thank Him. The Holy Spirit can use this to tenderize our hearts by simple declarations of thanksgiving.
I can take the same Scripture and ask Him to give me greater understanding of His truth.
“Lord, help me to see and understand this passage in a greater way. Open the eyes of my heart (Ephesians 1:17-18). What does it mean that all things were created through you and for you? What does that show me about the world around me? What does that show me about myself? My purpose? What does it mean for you to be preeminent?”
By doing this the Holy Spirit will cause our insight to gradually increase.
Another example would be coming to a Scripture that exhorts me to obey like 1 Peter 5:8-9:
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9
I commit myself to obey the truths here.
“Lord, I commit that I will walk sober. Help me to be calm and collected in my spirit. Help me to be vigilant, observant and watchful, understanding that the enemy is at work. Help me to be faithful to resist the enemy, to make choices for the Lord. Help me to hold fast to truth, to read and study the truth.”
It matters that we tell Him the intent of our heart. It is helpful for our resolve and will bring strength to our obedience.
I can also ask for Him to help me accomplish this commitment. Ask the Lord to empower you to do what He asks. When you ask of Him, He will answer. We find ourselves growing in grace over time.
These simple applications of prayer while we read the word are huge. It helps us engage with the Lord and “come to Him”
Jesus talked about sending Holy Spirit and that He is the Helper sent from the Father that will testify of Himself (John 15:26) and that He (Holy Spirit) will guide you into all truth, speaking what He hears and telling us things to come (John 16:13).
What a dynamic time awaits us in the word as we come connecting to the Lord, talking and conversing with Him, receiving help from Holy Spirit! It should encourage us to dive deep and talk often.
In Song of Songs 2:14 the Bridegroom is saying to His bride.
“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the secret places of the cliff,
Let me see your face,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet,
And your face is lovely.”
Jesus wants to hear our voice. What fuel for our quiet times! What encouragement for our Bible reading! He wants to hear me and I want to hear Him.
We had a really special blessing for our November Lampstand meeting: Bethany Pedigo came to lead worship! Bethany is a long-time friend of ours from back in our days at King College (now King University). She lives in KY now with her husband, Josh and their three children. We love and value their friendship a great deal as it has spanned many years and many miles and we are all still pursuing the Lord's heart. What a gift these long-time friendships are!
Bethany did a beautiful job of leading us in worship and there were several things that God highlighted through that time. The testimony came to us after the meeting from one friend who attended that the songs that were selected and the prayers and words ministered specifically to emotional and physical needs this person was carrying. Praise to the Lord! Our prayer is that in these times the Lord would receive praise and be lifted up and that people would have opportunity to encounter the Lord and be fueled in His presence.
Matthew shared about staying connected to the Holy Spirit and specifically doing that through the process of pray-reading the Scripture.
What he was sharing was so simple, yet so critical. Too often we read through the Scriptures as going through a mental exercise, and we fail to bring our hearts near to Jesus as we read. Matthew shared a Scripture from John 5:39 that says, "You search the scriptures for you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."
Jesus was reprimanding the religious leaders of His day, saying that even if you search out the Scriptures day in and day out, if you never COME TO JESUS, you won't find real life in those Scriptures.
So how critical for us still today to bring our hearts and minds TO JESUS as we read His word. Matthew exhorted us to stay in conversation with Jesus as we read the Word of God. Begin an ongoing dialogue. Talk to Him as you read!
He handed out a couple very helpful worksheets that offer ideas for how to do this.
The primary one was about Prayer-reading the Scripture. The idea is to actually pray the Bible passages back to God. There are two broad categories of truth: truths that exhort you to believe and those that exhort you to obey.
1. When you come to truths exhorting you to believe:
-Take time to actually thank Jesus for the specific truth you are reading.
-Ask Him to reveal His truths to you in a greater way.
2. When you come to truths exhorting you to obey:
-Commit yourself to obey what the passage describes.
-Ask the Lord to empower you to obey the Scriptures.
On the other handout were several Scriptures to use as examples for us; so, we took time to pick and talk to the Lord about it. We then shared some thoughts about these together. I so love and value the interaction time that meeting in a small group like this allows. It is so precious to engage with the Lord and then share from the place of encouraged connection with Him.
I am so grateful for those who gather and are willing to share what the Lord is saying to them in the midst of these times!
So I wanted to post about the election before the election, but that didn't happen and honestly, what I want to say doesn't change at all based on it being after the fact.
This was a difficult election and the wake of it continues to be turbulent. Here are ten thoughts, listed in random order.
1) No man (or woman) can save us. Jesus alone can save us as individuals, and ultimately as a nation as well.
2) God really does rule in the affairs of men. See Daniel 2:20-22 and 4:32. He raises up kings (and presidents) and He brings them down.
3) We had a choice and the fact that these were our choices says something that ought to make us pause and consider where we are as a nation.
4) We, as Christians, really ought to wrestle with the Lord. I intended this to be before the election and say that we needed to ask God for wisdom about who to vote for. I saw many people doing that and I think God certainly was using the difficulty of the choice to cause many to turn to Him and ask, "What should I do?" I think this still applies. We should continue to wrestle with Him and ask, "What are you doing in the midst of this? What is my response supposed to be?"
5) We really did face a difficult election. I've never been so grieved over the choices before me as well as the state of our nation in general. I've never been so undecided up until the final week or so before the election. This means that there wasn't an easy choice for many people and there isn't an easy way forward.
6) Pray. Pray, pray, pray. If it's not time now to do what Joel 2 and Zephaniah 2 prescribe (gather together, repent, and cry out for mercy), when will it be? Our nation is so divided and our leaders (as well as the Church, and the nation in general) need our prayers!
7) Trump, Hillary, and President Obama are real people. They each face so much hate and opposition from various groups, and they really do need our prayers. Also, those who are selected to lead, whether we like them, agree with them, or think they are the worst thing that can happen to the earth, need prayers for wisdom. God commands us in the Word to pray for kings (presidents, yes?) and all those in authority.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. I Timothy 2:1-4
8) It sounds cliché but we saw a sign declaring before the election, “On November 9, God will still be on the throne.” It really isn't cliché and should become a rock for us in these times. Jesus really is King. He's not going to be our President, but He is the forever King. And, that should affect how we think, feel, and act in the midst of a divided and difficult time.
"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man." Psalm 11:3
9) A little bit of kindness goes a long way. We heard an excellent message that you can find here about a response to the election. In it, Mike Bickle cuts through who we like or dislike and talks about excelling in kindness in these times. This isn’t a trite, Sunday School lesson for kids. This is how we win! We choose to let the fruit of the Holy Spirit grow in us and we practice kindness. That doesn’t mean we agree with all people around us. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t firm or confident in what we believe. But, it does mean that we can treat people who disagree with kindness and be willing to really hear them.
10) Our nation needs healing. Our nation is deeply divided. The only solution for a division so deep is healing. What do you do for a man who has been slashed down the middle with a sword? You sew him up and pray for healing. It feels our nation is in such a critical place. What can truly sew us back together again?
As I was weeping one night over the racial divisions in our nation, the words “heal our land” were ringing in my ears.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
It’s time. It’s time to pray, repent, and truly live as Christ has called us to. If not now, when?
Matthew or Julie Wine