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    Living Stone
    devotionals

    God is the great revealer, Satan is the great concealer
     
    Man gave control over the world to Satan, at the beginning, through disobedience to God,
     
    God created all angels (disembodied spirit beings) and humans (spirits living in a physical body) with a freewill, the ability to choose, a will that is free to make decisions independent from Him. Satan and a third of the angels were cast out of heaven when they chose to rebel against God. Man transferred his God given dominion over the world to Satan in the Garden of Eden the moment he chose to hear and obey the devil’s words over the words he had heard from God. From that moment Satan became the god or ruler of this world and the source of all the evil that influences the lives of most of the human race. This is why in the temptations of Jesus, Satan could legitimately boast that “The kingdoms of the world …this has been delivered to me” (Luke 4:5-6 - and Jesus didn’t refute Satan’s claim).
     
    1 John 5:19 We know positively that we are of God, and the whole world around us is under the power of the evil one (Satan). AMP
    2 Cor 4:4 In whom the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. KJV
    Eph 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
     
    In the end Jesus takes back the dominion of the world from Satan,
     
    Rev 11:15 “The kingdoms of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” ESV/KJV
     
    Satan, the concealer, does not want us to know if or how he operates in our lives,
     
    Now Satan’s kingdom is a kingdom of darkness, meaning he operates where there is no light or insufficient light from God, who is light, in men’s hearts to expose his activities. God’s word makes plain to those who have light that Satan has an enormous influence in the lives of all the unconverted and sadly in the lives of many of those converted to Christ but who do not currently walk in the light. But all of these who Satan constantly influences for evil are largely unaware that Satan exists let alone is a dominant factor in their lives. Why? Because Satan is the master deceiver, and able to remain anonymous in the lives of those with whom he proceeds to steal and to kill and to destroy (John 10:10). Hence:
     
    Luke 21:8 (Jesus) “Take heed that you not be deceived…”
    Gal 6:7 Do not be deceived…
    James 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
     
    These are multiple warnings, not to the world that is completely deceived, but to us Christians who also have the potential of likewise being deceived by the great deceiver:
     
    Isa 14:12-17 How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer…You who weakened the Nations…Who made the world as a wilderness And destroyed its cities, Who did not open the house of his prisoners.
    Rev 12:9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…
    Eph 2:2-3 AMP In which at one time you walked habitually. You were following the course and fashion of this world…following the prince of the power of the air. You were obedient to and under the control of the demon spirit that still constantly works in the sons of disobedience…Among these we as well as you once lived and conducted ourselves in the passions of our flesh, our behavior governed by our corrupt and sensual nature, obeying the impulses of the flesh and the thoughts of the mind…we were then by nature children of God's wrath…like the rest of mankind.
     
    The extent of our ignorance of Satan’s operations shows how successful he’s been with us,
     
    The scripture makes clear that Christians were all once under the influence of Satan as everyone else is without exception and, we like they, did not know that we were. Why? Because this master concealer operates through thoughts that he imparts into our thought lives, that we in our ignorance falsely assume to be our own thoughts. These are what the scripture calls the fiery darts of the enemy, thoughts which only the faith that comes from an active, deepening relationship with God can extinguish or take captive.
     
    2 Cor 2:11 Lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices (the same greek word translated devices is translated as thought in)
    2 Cor 10:5 …Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
    Eph 6:16 Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery(thought) darts of the wicked one.
     
    Satan’s principal weapons are thoughts, and are the major source of all evil in the world! Not just thoughts of overt wickedness, but also more subtle thoughts that have the superficial appearance of rightness about them. But they’re thoughts designed to divert us from a full surrender to Christ and to challenge the authority of God’s words to us, just like he did with Adam and Eve. Satan can’t force his will on us, for we have a will and a conscience, but if we don’t know how to discern his influence he’s bound to have some control in our thought lives, particularly with respect to God. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore to learn that Satan, as the great concealer, can disguise the nature of his thoughts so that they appear to us to be both truth and light:
     
    2 Cor 11:14 …Even Satan can disguise himself to look like an angel of light! TEV
    1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (consume with his thoughts).
     
    What are some examples of Satan disguising himself and his thoughts, which he imparts to people, as right and illuminating thoughts? Since there is only one mediator between God and all men, Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5) Satan inspires all the other, seemingly right, religions to divert those he can deceive from becoming Christians. Then within the Church he sows the thought seeds of many, seemingly right, Christian teachings. But they are all false teachings that oppose God and keep Christians from being fully saved and eternally secure.
     
    1 Tim 4:1 Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that…some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. NLT Therefore,
    1 Tim 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine (teaching) closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
     
    He is able to get away with these deceptions because all of the false doctrines that contradict God, that he imparts through thoughts, like - “the inevitability of sin”; “God is in control anyway”; “I can’t lose my salvation” – These teachings all have a strong appeal to and give license to our sinful human nature,
     
    Inevitability of sin,
    1 Jn 3:8 The one who practices sin is of (belongs to) the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the very start. This is why the Son of God was revealed, to destroy the (sin) works of the devil.
    Matt 1:21 …you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sin.
    Rm 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you… NKJV
     
    God in control,
    Matt 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done (because it is being hindered by the kingdom of darkness), on earth as it is in heaven.
     
    Can’t lose my salvation,
    Heb 6:4 …bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened, those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come, and who then turn away from God. NLT
     
    As Christians we do not have to be deceived, provided we grow and walk in God’s light,
     
    God has made it possible for every Christian to see through the deceptions of Satan and continue to walk in the light and not be snared by the subtle works of darkness. God’s two principal requirements to do this are: (1) A heart or spirit that remains tender toward God and receives daily the engrafting of more of God’s light giving words, and (2) A willingness to submit to and do God’s will and thereby remain under the leading and control of the Holy Spirit. Only such Christians as continue to hear and obey God’s voice, God speaking through His word and by His Spirit, and don’t listen to Satan’s thoughts or voice.
     
    John 10:4-5 And when He (The Chief Shepherd) brings out His own sheep...the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger (Satan) but will flee from him for they do not know the voice (thoughts) of strangers...
    1 John 2:26-27 These things I have written to you (God’s word) concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing (Holy Spirit) which you have received from Him abides in you and…teaches you all things, and is true, and is not a lie…
    Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God (your spirit clothed with the protective truth of God’s words), that you may be able to stand against the wiles (deceits) of the devil.
     
    In particular Satan imparts thoughts that contradict the true teaching that every believer in Christ needs to be baptized with and remain full of and under the control of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit is the only One who can cause the word of God to become truth and light in the hearts of believers and so expose all of Satan’s works of darkness.
     
    Acts 19:2 Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?
    Matt 3:11 …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…
    Eph 5:18 …be filled (continually) with Spirit…
    Rm 8:14 …as many as are led (under the control of) by the Spirit, these are the children of God.
     
    Satan does not want to be known, but God wants to be known, He is the great revealer,
     
    1 Cor 2:9-14 ….No (natural) mind has conceived the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit…that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God…But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God…nor can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned (revealed by God’s Spirit to a person’s re-born spirit).
    Matt 11:25 …Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes” (to those spiritually born again and willing to grow up in spirit).
    Col 1:26-27 The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known…this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
     
    Everywhere in scripture our loving and redeeming Father makes indisputably clear His eagerness to reveal Himself to the hearts or spirits, but not to the intellects, of anyone who will allow Him to do so. This of course is the absolute worst thing from Satan’s standpoint and he will do everything possible to conceal this truth. He wants to stop people becoming Christians, and then if they do, to stop them becoming true disciples of Christ. Since they, with Christ actively living in them, will make others of his captives into Christ’s disciples too. Although Jesus Christ defeated Satan at Calvary he still controls the world and most of the Church because of their ignorance of his devices. And what is God doing? He is regaining control one soul at a time, as each soul turns at His correction so that He can make Himself known to their hearts by the Holy Spirit and through His word.
     
    2 Tim 2:24-26 …the servant of the Lord must not strive (quarrel); but be gentle to all men (people), able to teach, patient, in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if perhaps God may grant them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. NKJV
    Prov 1:23 Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out My Spirit on you; I will make My words known to you (to make you holy as He is holy and to expose the beguiling thoughts of Satan).
    Jn 16:33 Jesus, These things I have spoken unto you (the truths in this message!)…In the world you shall have tribulation (trouble, because of the world, our own flesh, and the Devil), but be of good cheer; I have overcome (All your enemies!)… NKJV
     
    Thank you Father for revealing the truth and for making a way for us to be more than conquerors, and to always triumph “in Christ”, Amen!

    William D'Andrea
    devotionals

    Invitation to Living Nativity
     
    by William D'Andrea
     

    At 5 PM, on Sunday, December 16th, 2018, the 29th Annual Living Nativity will be held, in the Sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Greenlawn, New York, where I am a member. 

    Many members of the Congregation will be taking part. Until a few years ago, we held the event outdoors on the front lawn. Some farm animals were brought in, and the high school girls who portrayed Mary, were seated on actual donkeys. Many people from the surrounding communities attended, seated upon bleachers that were rented for the event.

    While I attended, I never could fully enjoy the activity. Late December here on Long Island, is just too cold to be outdoors any longer than necessary. A lot of members agreed with me, but the outdoor event continued anyway; until a few years ago, when a storm was predicted for that evening.

    Then the event was moved indoors, to the front of the Sanctuary. A life size manger scene had been set up on the front lawn. Several of us men disassembled the construction, and rebuilt it indoors around the pulpit, where the event was held, exactly as it would have been outdoors; but in a warm place, and without the animals. That's how we've been presenting our Living Nativity ever since; and that's how it will be at this year’s Event.

    This will be followed by a traditional Christmas Dinner, with all the trimmings, in the Fellowship Hall at 6 PM.

    I'm normally one of the people who helps set up the tables and chairs, and then sets the tables.
     
    A few years ago, on the morning before the Living Nativity and Dinner, just before worship began, the woman in charge of the whole event stood at the pulpit, requesting more volunteers to give a hand where it was needed.

    She said, "We need more people to help set up the tables and chairs. So far, Bill is the only one who's signed up."

    I sat there thinking "What? Me?  Hey, wait a minute! I'm the only one?"

    Then I thought, "I hope they don't mind eating off the floor."

    Fortunately more than enough members showed up, and everything worked out much better than we'd planned; in spite of our best efforts.

    That was also on the day when I'd helped move the Manger Scene inside.

    After everything was set up, the woman who's director of the Church's Youth Group told me, "Now you can finally enjoy it all."

    I said, "'Enjoy’? What is that?" (That was a joke. I'm not being a Grinch.)

    The dinner will be prepared by a professional chef, who is also a member of our Congregation, and volunteers his services. He is also an executive chef. He knows how to assign work; so we don't have a lot of people just standing around, not knowing what to do.

    The first time I helped set things up, I saw the amount of food being prepared and I thought it might be too much. Then when I saw how many people were in attendance, I wondered if there would be enough.

    xxxxxxxxxxxxx

    I originally wrote and posted this part of the article three years ago, on a different writers website, where it received this review:

    “It's a pity I don't live in your city, I would attend your Life Nativity. I see you think that you will have more than enough food and some people can take some home. May I suggest donating this food to a homeless shelter, or make more than enough so some of these poor people will have something to eat? Jesus will be very happy and smile at you.” 

    In reply I stated:

    “We do have our own food pantry, that's open to anyone in need. Also, the dinner is always open to the public, and people in need do show up. 

    Back in 2012, we had a pre Thanksgiving dinner about one week after Hurricane Sandy struck Long Island, and it was a difficult time for all of us. That dinner was actually the first hot meal that some of the people had to eat, since the storm struck. 
    A Merry Christmas to you.”
     
    Xxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Now I return to last year’s Event:

    Last year’s Living Nativity was very different for me. A few days before the Event, I got a phone call from a woman named Debbie; the one who was in charge of the Event that year. She told me that a certain member of the Congregation, who was supposed to portray one of the Three Wise Men, would not be able to take part. She’d called to ask if I’d like to take the part.

    I told her that I was already planning to help set up for the dinner, which we’d be doing at the same time when the afternoon rehearsal for the show was going on. She told me that this time, members of the cast would arrive early. They’d be the ones setting up the tables and chairs and setting the tables. So that was the end of my excuses. I wouldn’t be able to get out of portraying one of the Wise Men.

    When the day came, while we cast members were helping set things up in the Fellowship Hall, I noticed that the two who’d be portraying the other Wise Men, weren’t there.

    I told Debbie, “I wonder where those other two Kings of Orient are?”

    That very lame joke got a laugh out of her.

    Then about an hour before the performance was to begin, the other Two Kings had arrived. We went down to the Choir Room and got into our costumes. 

    I got into a very long robe, which dragged along the floor. It had a belt around the waist, so I was able to lift up the garment, and draped it over the belt, so the hem came down to ankle length, and I wouldn’t be tripping over it. We also put on “crowns”. What I had on my head was a very uncomfortable circular thing, definitely not crafted by any hat maker.

    I was also given some kind of elaborately painted empty jar, which was to be my offering to Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

    Then we went upstairs to the Sanctuary, where a manger scene was set up at the pulpit, and surrounded by the fronts of buildings in Bethlehem. Members of the Congregation were dressed in Middle Eastern robes, portraying residents of the town; or shepherds. King Herod was seated upon his Throne, set up alongside the pews, about halfway between the entrance to the Sanctuary and the Manger Scene.

    There were also children in white robes portraying angels.

    Then the show began, which included recordings of Christmas Music and some live performances. The featured performer sang “Oh Holy Night”. She has a beautiful voice, and had been performing in the Pageant for several years, from her mid to late teens, and now into her twenties. 

    One of the Kings later complained that she had given up her membership in the Congregation, and now only shows up to sing occasionally. I explained that she is now a married woman with a family of her own, and living an entirely different life in a different community. He shrugged, but still wasn’t satisfied with my answer.

    Then, as the final part of the Event, we Three Kings entered. We went to King Herod, asking for directions. Then we went to the stable in Bethlehem, and presented our gifts before the manger with the baby doll Jesus.

    There have been times when the baby Jesus was actually portrayed by a new born baby, with his mother walking beside the woman portraying Mary.

    Then the show ended, and everyone in the pews applauded, along with us cast members.

    After that we went on to the dinner, which was held in the Fellowship Hall of the Christian Education Building, which stands beside the Church Building. That’s when something disturbing occurred.

    One member of the Congregation showed up. He was someone who none of us had expect to ever see at the Church again, for a very good reason. The man had been unfaithful to his wife. She had divorced him, and gone to live with their grown daughter in Indiana. That was enough of a scandal for many of us in the Congregation, to be surprised to see him among us once more.

    He came over to the table where I was seated with the man who’d portrayed Joseph; and the one who’d portrayed Herod; along with one of the other Wise Men, along with their wives. He sat at the end of the table, and joined in the meal with us.

    That was obviously a very uncomfortable situation. What were we going to say? “You don’t belong here”?

    The last thing any of us wanted was any unpleasantness. So we all just sat there being uncomfortably pleasant with him; treating him as if nothing bad had happened.

    The woman Debbie, who was in charge of the entire Event, came over with a big grin on her face, and spoke with a laughing tone.

    “What are you doing with this…” either “despicable” or, “disgraceful” or, “dishonorable” or, “disreputable” or some other word that begins with the letter D. “…guy?”

    Then she walked away, and we continued our uncomfortably pleasant dinner.

    Now I wonder if our unexpected guest was being repentant, and trying to make amends. If he was, he’d come to the right place at the right time.

    The reason Jesus was born into this world, was crucified, dead and buried, then rose again on the third day, is so that we would all receive forgiveness for our sins. The forgiven ones, include the man who showed up, making us uncomfortably pleasant at the dinner; if he was truly repentant. The forgiven sins, include the sins of each of one of us who participated in the Living Nativity, as long as we are repentant, and accept Christ as Savior. Amen.

    A Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this. In Jesus’ Name. Amen. 

    xxxxxxxxxxxxx

    If anyone who’s reading this lives on Long Island; I welcome you to this year's annual Living Nativity; at the First Presbyterian Church of Greenlawn, New York; which is located on the southeast corner of Pulaski Road and Broadway-Greenlawn; in the Village of Greenlawn. The Nativity is scheduled for Sunday, December 10th at 5 PM, followed by the free dinner at 6.

    There will be more than enough for you and your family to eat. You might even be able to take some home with you.

    For further information please go to:

    http://www.greenlawnpresbyterianchurch.org/eventscommunity.html

    Njoku Vivian Chidinma
    devotionals

    I like the Wikipedia definition of temptation which states, temptation is a desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment, that threatens long-term goals. What actually caught my attention in this definition is the word"... that threatens long term goals..." The Devil will come to entice you with something that looks easy but has long term implications. Let me say this; 'No wrong, is little'. In the book of Genesis 3: 1-7 when the snake tempted Eve with the fruit, it was just a bite that cost everything, man lost his place with God. Likewise When Esau was tempted, it was just a pottage (Genesis 25:29) that cost his birthright. Sin always promises more than it gives.
     
    However, temptation itself is not sin but yielding to it is sin. Jesus was tempted (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13), but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Every man is tempted daily but to overcome we need to pray daily. In the Lord's prayer Jesus taught us to pray not to be led into temptation (Luke 11:4).  In Mat 4:1 states; " Jesus was led by the. Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil".  After a 40 days and night fast. God does not tempt anyone but He may allow it. One of the reasons God allows temptation, is to enable us conquer 'self'.  Sometimes the struggle in overcoming temptation subconsciously engages you in self-improvement.
     
    Temptation sometimes comes to check mate you on God's WORD.  In Exodus 16: 2-7, the Bible states that the Israelite where tested (NOT TEMPTED) by God with manna and quails on whether they will obey His instructions or not.Though Moses told them to gather for each day and not leave left overs yet some disobeyed. Obedience to God is evidence of faith in Him. I agree there are some temptations that put us in very compromising situations. But what do you do when your love is under threat? Whose voice would you listen to? Will you take the easy way out and compromise because you know God is merciful or will you stand on the Word of God. Always pray not to be led into temptation but whenever you are faced with a temptation ask yourself these two question; 1. What will Jesus do and 2. Do I want to live a life that worships God? 
     
    Daily we are faced with different choices but we must not be ignorant of the schemes and devices of the enemy. The truth is, there are no short cuts, to believe in Christ is to live for Him. Am not talking about self -righteousness, but the ability to surrender to His authority.
     
    In this article, the temptation of Jesus will be our guide to overcoming temptations because Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). The Lord was not only tempted by the devil at the wilderness, He was undoubtedly tempted at other times (Luke 4:13; Matthew 16:21–23; Luke 22:42), and yet in all this, His goal was to obey His Father.  The book of Luke 22 shows Jesus as the righteous Son of God at the outset of His public ministry and teaches us to follow Him in obedience to the Father.
    Jesus did not only overcame temptation, He conquered self. The cross of Calvary was not the only place He displayed His love, He also did at the wilderness.  The true test of love is what you do when your love is under threat. His unconditional love for the Father was unshaken. If you do not come from a place of love, lust will always eat up your resources.
     
    (To be continued - TURN STONE TO BREAD)
     

    RLHicks

    Before Dawn Breaks

    By RLHicks, in The Reading Room,

    shortstory

    Suffering with a migraine straight from the pit of hell, I decided to turn in early. My mom, Rachel, didn’t believe I had a headache.  In fact, she never believed me when I claimed one of my classic “it hurts so bad I’m going to be sick any moment, someone please turn out the light” headaches. She thought it was an excuse to get out of chores or homework, so as usual she was angry with me. Oh well, such was life.
                  I had a Chemistry final the next day and I couldn’t afford to miss school again.  So downing a couple of extra-strength Excedrin, shutting out the lights and draping a cold wash cloth over my face seemed like the perfect solution.  At quarter to seven, I drenched a rag in cold water and stuck it in the freezer to get as cold as possible. I washed some Excedrin down with a glass of milk since I was skipping dinner, grabbed the rag from the freezer and headed to bed.
                  I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep. It felt like I was feeling my way around a quiet, fog covered forest when I suddenly heard a distant but familiar sound. As I stumbled about, the sound got louder and I began to make out the word, “Sam.” That’s weird, who would be calling my name out here.
                  Louder, the voice called to me, “Samantha.”
                  I heard myself groan and felt myself shift as I realized I was not in a forest but was lying in my soft, comfortable bed with the cold rag still over my face. I peeked under the rag and noticed it was still very dark outside. Oh! Please tell me mom is not yelling for me again.
                  “Samantha Jane,” she hollered, “I need you out here, now!”
                  Oh, for crying out loud. What could she possible need at this hour? It’s has to be what, midnight, 1 am. Head still hurting, I dragged myself out of bed and stomped into the living room. “What?” I shrieked as loud as my throbbing head would allow.
                  “Would you please see what that dreadful dog is barking at?”
                  Seriously, she is 5 feet away from the door. Why in the world does she have to wake me up? She has two legs, two arms and a thinking brain. Couldn’t she have gotten up, walked the 5 feet and checked for herself? I can’t wait ‘til I’m 18! I’m so out here. The familiar mental tapes replayed over and over as I headed for the door.
                  I flung open the door to yell at the stupid dog and stopped cold. I barely noticed the sharp intake of air as I let out blood curdling scream. My mom moved faster than she ever had and was by my side in an instant. “What’s wrong? What is it, Sam?” she frantically yelled as she tugged my arm.
                  I couldn’t speak for the screams coming uncontrollably out of mouth from the center of my soul. I raised my arm and pointed. My mom followed my raised hand to the oak tree in our front yard. Seeing for the first time what I had a moment ago, she screamed herself and collapsed to the ground. There, in the middle of the yard, Michael, my brother, was hanging from the majestic tree. His hands and feet were hog-tied behind his back. My mind did not want to comprehend what my eyes were seeing. This couldn’t be happening. Michael didn’t even live in our sleepy little back-water town anymore. He had run away to Denver a couple of years back in search of father who wanted nothing to do with him and we hadn’t seen him since.
                  I’m not sure how long I stood there transfixed and screaming, or how long my mom sat rocking and wailing on the floor beside me. It could have been seconds, maybe minutes or even hours for all I knew. It wasn’t until our neighbor, Martin, slapped me across the face that I snapped out it. Stunned by the slap I looked away from the grotesque site of my dead brother and stared blankly at Martin. Where had he come from? I didn’t hear or see him or his wife, Wanda, walk up.
                  The howl of sirens echoed in the night mixing with my mom’s cries. As I continued to stare at Martin and the sounds of the sirens drew closer, I realized they were coming for my brother. Then I fell to the ground alongside my mother and wept.
    ⩫⩫⩫
                  It had been a week since the gruesome discovery of Michael’s body. Martin and Wanda were extremely helpful. They called my older sister, Ruth Ann and gave her the news. They put us up in their spare bedroom because we simply couldn’t stay in our house after that. Wanda made sure we tried to eat and drink something later that day. They sat with us after the police left, cried with us, and prayed over us.
    Ruth Ann drove into town the next morning. By the time she made it to the Blake’s house that afternoon, I had pulled myself together enough to help with funeral arrangements. Mom was inconsolable. When she wasn’t screaming, she was crying or moaning. She was cursing God, blaming Him for not saving her only son. She refused to eat and was having trouble sleeping due to nightmares. Doc James finally had to prescribe Ambien to help her sleep and Xanax for anxiety.
    The coroner released Michael’s body to West Haven Funeral Home the day after the official autopsy report had been issued to the lead homicide detective, Patrick Washington, and the district attorney’s office for Wharton County, TX.  Two days later, 10/22/1987, a week and a half after his 21st birthday, we buried my brother.
    ⩫⩫⩫
                   My sister insisted that we move in with her while my mom figured out what she wanted to do about the house. She couldn’t bring herself to go back there especially with that horrible death tree looming over the house. The tree that she used to love sitting under in the summer while she read her latest mystery novel, the same tree we use to swing from on a tire swing when we were kids was now at the center of her nightmares. If she decided to move back to the house, the tree had to go.
                   Three months after funeral we were still living with my sister. I was back in school and Ruth Ann was back at work. Mom rarely left her room or bed. The hunt for Michael’s killer had hit a dead end. Detective Washington was clearly frustrated as he relayed the news. “I don’t know what to tell Mrs. Cooper. We have exhausted all leads at this time. The one suspect we had in our sights has an air-tight alibi. There isn’t any more we can do right now unless someone comes forward admitting to the crime or at least knowing something about it or something new develops. I am so sorry for your loss.”
                   I hadn’t seen my mother cry since Doc James gave her the pills but, when she heard the case had stalled, she broke down again. “A parent should never have to bury their child, never! Get out! Get out, now! You and your department have done nothing to find justice for my boy! Is this what my tax dollars are paying for?”
                   “Mom, stop it! This is not the detective’s fault. They are doing everything…”
                   “Oh, shut up! Just shut up the both of you! I can’t, I can’t… I just can’t!” She turned and walked away leaving me there with the detective in the living room. Once again, she retreated to her room to cry in private.
                   “I’m so sorry Detective Washington…”
                   “Please call me Patrick.”
                   “Okay, Patrick. I’m sorry my mother lashed out at you. She doesn’t mean it.”
                   “No apologies necessary. I know what she is going through. Five years ago I lost my little girl to a drunk driver. Losing a child is the worst kind of pain a person can go through. I only made it through because of my faith in Jesus and the love and prayers of family and friends. I knew Jesus wept with me over the loss of my baby.”
                   “Mom blames God for not saving Michael. I don’t know if she’ll ever go to church or pray again.”
                   “Well, I’ll pray for you both and for your family. Find a way to lean on Him. It won’t take the pain away but it will bring you a peace that surpasses all understanding and the strength to get to the next day. One day you will be able to remember your brother with joy instead of sorrow.”
                   “Thank you Patrick, that means a lot to me. Please let me know if anything new develops.”
                   “Of course I will. Take care of yourself, Samantha, and your mom.”
                   “I will.”
    ⩫⩫⩫
                  By the time valentine’s day rolled around there still had not been any new developments in my brother’s case but things had home seemed to be slowly improving. We were still living with Ruth Ann while our house was on the market. My mom was slowly becoming her old self again, even though she had taken early retirement. She had stopped taking the pills and was back to getting up early in the mornings to have her coffee and read. She was also back to her old habit of waking me up at the crack of dawn to get her said coffee.
                  A week and a half before my 18th birthday, when I woke up at 6:30 in the morning on my own rather than at 5:00 to her yelling for me, I was confused.  It was eerily quiet in the house as I grabbed my robe. My sister was away at a conference all week and wasn’t due back until later that night. 
                  I went to my mom’s room first to see if she had slept in this morning. She wasn’t there so I headed downstairs to see if maybe she had decided to let me sleep in and gotten her own coffee. She was sitting at the kitchen table with her head down as if praying. Something in the pit of my stomach told me she wasn’t. “Mom,” I whispered, “are you okay.”
                  No answer. No movement.
                  Something was off. I just knew it. As I approached from behind I noticed her right arm was hanging at her side and beneath her hand, lying on the floor was my sister’s handgun. I was frozen for a split second as the realization that my mom had committed suicide sunk in… “NO!” I screamed.
                  I screamed again, but this time I realized I was back in my bed. Confused, I stifled the next scream as I collected my thoughts. That was a dream! A stupid, awful, vivid dream! Ugh!
                  Then, I heard it, the sound of my mother’s familiar yell. “Samantha Jane!”
                  I jumped out of bed both relieved and annoyed. I was relieved that it had just been a terrible nightmare. I was relieved that my mother and brother were still alive. Yet, I was annoyed because it had been an exhausting nightmare that had done nothing to ease my raging headache. I rushed into the dining room. “What?” I yelled.
                  “Would you please see what that dreadful dog is barking at?”
                  “Um, what did you just say?”
                  “Can you please see what that…”
                  “No, no I can’t. You want to know what that dog is barking at you get up and look for yourself!” I broke down in tears. When I collected myself enough to speak, I explained my nightmare and subsequent outburst to my confused mother.
     
    © Rebekah L. Hicks 2018
     

    Living Stone
    devotionals

    Why does God need me to pray, for what, who, and how?
     
    God wants me to let Him awaken and open the ears of my heart so that I can hear God’s Spirit speak to me through His word.
     
    Isa 50:4 The Lord GOD…awakens my ear to hear as the learned (His disciple).
    Rev 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says…
     
    Have you chased down a truth in the Bible recently, with your heart? Let’s do that today, let’s chase down the truth of why God needs prayer, and then what He tells us about the way we must pray so that we overcome the certain opposition to Him bringing the answer.
     
    Prov 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter (from our natural intelligence**,** so as not to favor the smartest) But the glory of kings (all Christians are spiritual kings in Christ - Rev.1:6) is to search out a matter (with our hearts).
    Matt 11:25 (Jesus) Father, You have hidden these things from the (humanly) wise NASU and intelligent and have revealed them to (the hearts of spiritual) infants.
     
    Why pray at all, won’t God’s will be done anyway? No it won’t. God says that Satan rules this world and that He (God) doesn’t:
     
    1 John 5:19 …The whole world lies under the sway (the influence) of the wicked one.
    Matt 4:8-9 The devil...showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world...“All this I will give NIV you" he said "if you will bow down and worship me" (Jesus didn’t disagree).
     
    Now Jesus Christ defeated Satan at Calvary and tells us His people, the Church, “I have given into your hand the spiritual land currently occupied by Satan. But the Church, while abiding in Me, is going to have to take that land back and bring it into God’s Kingdom”. Does this command by God sound familiar? It is the identical command that God made previously to His people Israel, under the first Covenant, but this time it is a spiritual land.
     
    Num 13:2 (God)...The land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel...
    Matt 28:18-19 (Jesus to us) "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...”
     
    Satan acquired his dominion over the world legitimately when Adam and Eve bowed their knee to him and surrendered the dominion God had given them, to him. Therefore our righteous God and Father is constrained now to work through the only legitimate agents He has who have authority on earth in Satan’s kingdom, that is us His true Church.
     
    Eph 3:10 To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,
     
    This is why bible teacher and author, Andrew Murray said “God has made the extension of His Kingdom (on earth) dependent on the faithfulness of His people in prayer”. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus lists the essential things we need to pray for each day: For the bread of His word to feed our spirits; For the leading of His Spirit; For deliverance from Satan; For God to forgive our sins as we forgive others; and for God’s kingdom to expand and His will to be done on earth as it is Heaven. By telling us to pray these things, Jesus makes clear that if we don’t pray, these things won’t be done. For God needs our prayers!
     
    Matt 6:10 Pray...Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
     
    The parable of the “persistent friend”, the key to Christ’s teaching on how we must pray:
     
    Immediately after telling us what we must pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus recites the parable of the “persistent friend” in which He teaches us the way He wants us to pray. The parable ends with God exhorting us to seek and ask Him in prayer on everything, but only the way this parable teaches; And specifically to ask Him for the Holy Spirit this same way:
     
    Luke 11:5-6 And He (Jesus) said to them, which of you (Christians, who love Me and always only do what I say - 1 Jo 2:5) shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight (having first prayed and knowing this to be My will – Eph 5:17) and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; (Notice this is not for himself but he seeks bread for another, so it’s intercession. It inconveniences him, its midnight, but he does it anyway).
    7 And he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you' (But the persistent friend, having prayed God’s will, sticks with it and won’t give up on his intercession).
    8-10 I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his boldfaced insistence (his importunity, his refusal to be denied) he will rise and give him as many as he needs. So I say to you, ask (in this same way), and it will be given to you; seek (and don’t give up), and you will find; knock (refusing to be denied), and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks (this way) receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
    11-13 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?…How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those (of His children) who ask Him (in this same way).
     
    Let’s not confuse God with the friend who first wouldn't meet the need but afterward did:
     
    God is nothing like the reluctant friend. God is simply using this parable to make the crucial point that prayer is likely to encounter some obstacles, of the kind that we will see in a minute, before the answer God has given actually shows up. Of course there will be obstacles, because the prayer is being made while we are still in Satan’s territory and he’s going to try and get the person praying to give up on the prayer. The question is, faced with obstacles, will the person praying persist in believing or not?
     
    Mark 11:24 (Jesus) ...Whatever things you ask when you pray believe that you receive them (right now, and don’t give up believing), and you will have them.
     
    Some of the possible obstacles a person praying may run into, that can result in doubt:
     
    A delay between the prayer and the manifestation of God’s answer. It often takes time for the key people and the circumstances to be brought to a place where the manifestation occurs. Or someone close and influential opposes the prayer or states it is unachievable.
     
    Dan 10:12,13 Angel speaking to Daniel, Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. NLT …the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia (the Devil) blocked my way.
     
    While waiting in faith for the manifestation, with circumstances visible to my natural eye not yet in accord with the prayer, dark thought clouds may arise to challenge the prayer. These will be strong thoughts that invade my thought life such as: You are not worthy enough to expect God to answer, this is not the will of God, this prayer is not working, others are not praying this way, you don’t have the faith; all seeking to get me to give up.
     
    When obstacles do confront me, at the first sign of a doubt thought I must go to God, who lives in my heart, to re-confirm His will and to strengthen my faith with more of His words.
     
    Matt 21:22 All things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.
     
    Some key things this parable teaches that are not a valid basis for prayer being answered,
    The request of the friend in need initially met with failure. From this we can conclude that the following things while necessary, when obstacles are encountered, are in and of themselves not a valid basis to expect the manifestation of the answer to our prayer:
     
    Relationship - In the parable it is friendship, in Christianity it is sonship. A right relationship with God will not of itself enable me to overcome prayer’s guaranteed obstacles.
    Need - having a legitimate need doesn’t automatically defeat opposition to prayer.
    Simply asking or praying - A tentative asking in prayer, meaning it is unsure, a wishing and not believing prayer, will be easily overthrown by Satan.
    Jesus wants me to know by this parable that if I base my expectation of an answer to prayer on the wrong premise, when the first road block appears, and it will, I will abandon my prayer and give up quite possibly falsely assuming it wasn’t God’s will. And what God wanted me to have or wanted to bring to someone else, through me, now can’t happen.
     
    Rm 8:26,27 …the (Holy) Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us (and in us)… ESV …the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
    1 Jo 5:14-15 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
     
    What does Jesus say is the only basis on which to expect an answer to prayer in His will?
     
    Importunity, meaning a confident, brazen, shameless insistence that the will of God must be done. A person praying this way clearly will have diligently sought, by God’s word and through God’s Spirit, the knowledge of God’s will on the matter, before praying. But once the heart of that person is locked on the knowledge of God’s will and prays accordingly, they then must absolutely refuse to be denied.
     
    Luke 18:1 (Jesus) …Men always ought to pray and not faint, lose heart or give up.
     
    Consider the key elements that result in successful prayer:
     
    A person made righteous by Christ whose prayer can be heard, the revealed knowledge of God’s will with respect to a specific need, the heart desire to pray and the inspiration for the right prayer, the unwavering faith to believe God for the answer and the answer itself, all come directly from God. This therefore is not me strong arming God to achieve my objectives but it is God using me to achieve His objectives and at the same time deny Satan’s objectives.
     
    Jam 5:16 … The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much - has great power and wonderful results TLB.
     
    After telling us here all that prayer can do, and why it’s necessary, God gives an example:
     
    Jam 5:17-18 Elijah was a man with a (human) nature like ours and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain...
     
    Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain. Then he prayed that it would rain. If we look at his second prayer we find that before he prayed God told him that He was going to send rain:
     
    I Kings 18:1 ...The word of the LORD came to Elijah...saying, Go, show yourself to Ahab; and I will send rain on the earth (couldn’t happen until Elijah prayed)
     
    So, Elijah prayed for something God had already told Him He was going to do; Then God uses this prayer as a blueprint for all prayer. God reveals His will but needs us to pray it into existence.
     
    Rm 4:16,17 So the promise (God’s will on a matter received in prayer) is received by faith… (and faith is certain that what God promised, will come to pass and,) calls into existence the things that do not exist.
     
    Should a persistent, believing prayer be repeated? No, not if it is in faith, just re-affirmed:
     
    When God tells me to ask and keep on asking Him for things, so that His will can be done He means that I should pray with importunity over one need. But before the manifestation of the answer comes, I must also pray with the same importunity over other needs too.
     
    Matt 6:7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do…
     
    The seeming exception to this are prayers prayed with respect to each individual day, such as the Lord’s Prayer. In this we repeatedly ask for the same things, His word, His Spirit, His deliverance, His forgiveness, His will and the expansion of His Kingdom, but they apply to that particular day. Each time it’s with importunity, so this is not repetitious.
     
    Jesus says prayers prayed with importunity will always succeed. Because these prayers lock onto God’s will and won’t let go. They overcome every obstacle and hindrance from Satan, for they are prayed in faith, overcoming faith, the faith of Jesus Christ active in the heart of us Christians. How do we get it? By hearing His words and yielding to His spirit:
     
    Ro 10:17 Faith comes by hearing...the word of God (we know and believe God’s will)
    2 Co 4:13 We have the same Spirit of faith...we believe (what we are led to pray for).
     
    “Our praying, however, needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistency which will not be denied, and a courage which never fails.” — E. M. Bounds
    “Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things ‘above all that we ask or think.’” — Andrew Murray
     
    “God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.” — John Wesley
     
    “All prayer is to God, for men, and against Satan.” — Watchmen Nee

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