The Lake Elsinore Fire, Fear and Faith

The Lake Elsinore Fire, Fear and Faith. The fire is raging. Fear and anxiety are growing, but God is in control. With thankful hearts, we pray.

The fires have been raging for 3 days here in Lake Elsinore. Dark smoke and ash are everywhere. Sore throats and massive headaches are a constant. We were told a little while ago, that voluntary evacuations were underway. The stress of fire and evacuation are difficult to endure, emotions are high. After all, who really wants to lose a home. Fear, dread, and anxiety are common among us and our neighbors. Many have started evacuating. This fire is not easy for anyone, especially for a family of Eleven. As planes above dropped fire repellent, I kissed my wife and said, “It is time for you to go”. With tears in our eyes, I hugged my wife and nine children good bye. I gave a few words of wisdom and encouragement, before giving each one a kiss. I reminded everyone how much I loved them. With smoke all around,  I gave a tearful wave and then saw our ash covered, family, van drive away. They mean the world to me. The breaths are weak when they are not around. I promised them I would leave the moment it was mandatory. Our dog, Sasha, stayed as my sole companion to help me watch and pray. In these moments of fear and anxiety I find peace.

Isaiah 41:10 New King James Version (NKJV) “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Lake Elsinore Evacuation

A year and a half ago, I managed to convince my beautiful wife that we could possibly own a home. It started out as a prayer; asking God to provide for us a home, then it moved to faith. It was a dream and a hope. The wife and kids needed a safe place to live. I also wanted a home that was free of criticism for my oldest son, Jeremiah. Jeremiah has White Matter Syndrome. He likes to scream for no apparent reason and to put holes in the wall, as a way of expressing frustration. He lacks the necessary communication skills and understanding that most of us have. He has a difficult life, filled with love and support. Most Landlords are not to tolerant of their property getting torn up. We live in an era of harsh, judgmental attitudes, so renting was difficult. It was my hope to free my wife and kids from the stress of perfection, a refuge where they could be at ease and call their own. A home where a kid could mess up and it was ok, because it was ours.

God in His goodness, agreed. After a hard search and a miracle loan approval; we moved into our new home in beautiful, Lake Elsinore. Our family loves it hear. The home is not perfect and it needs some work, but it is a place of love, joy and laughter. Lake Elsinore is a wonderful community. We have fantastic neighbors; who put up with our large family. They have shown us such kindness and grace. The church we found is so loving and welcoming. It has been a blessing to live here.

We don’t want to lose our home; but we will trust God. God has given us much, with thankful hearts, we will pray. We will pray for safety, our homes and the firefighters, who are putting their lives on the line for us. God bless those hard working fire fighters. Give them strength and endurance. May the good Lord bring us back to our homes, safe and sound.

Proverbs 3:5-6 New King James Version (NKJV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Keep Your Life Calm With Love

Let’s be honest with each other; the world today needs love and needs to know God’s love.

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Everyday I hear the comments from liberals and conservatives wondering why we can’t get along. Interesting enough each group blames the other. Each side claims the other group is rude, angry, intolerant and full of hatred. I realized some years ago, what ails America is a lack of love. This is why we are a sick nation. I am not talking about tolerance, I am speaking about genuine selfless, patient, love. All sides of the hostile American political system are missing this. In the above passage, the word flesh is to be understood as your selfish desires. Paul, who wrote Galatians, was stating that all of God’s laws were directing us towards love. Those who love God, let His love fill their lives through Jesus. It is through His love for us that we are able to love one another. Christ demonstrated that love by willingly sacrificing His life on the cross for us. Those who really follow Jesus as their savior understand this and live by it. Yes, I am making a clear distinction between those who follow Jesus and those who claim to be Christians. Jesus also made the distinction.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

What does the love of a true Christian look like?

Paul makes that clear as well; we are to serve one another. It does not require a rocket scientist to figure this out, but love that serves does so without a self motivated agenda. It is compassionate, patient, forgiving, and gentle. True love never speaks a harsh word, it never responds out of anger or hurt. The one who serves others encourages and builds up. This was demonstrated to us by Jesus. This is how we, who claim to be Christians, should act. Study the death of Jesus. Show me the harsh words He uses. You will not find them, because Jesus came to serve. Jesus came to love.

45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Paul does give a warning in the passage from Galatians. It is the warning that every American needs to hear. It is a message to every person who claims they are good. It is a warning to the prideful and the arrogant. Read it carefully.

15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:15

There seems to be a push by many Americans for violence. Violence will not solve anything. It will result in the death of millions. Innocent people will suffer, especially children. Violence, anger, hate will consume and destroy us all. This is why we need to love. Love never fails. Love always wins. So love deeply and love often.
P.S. To the people of Singapore I love you and am praying everyday for you. May the love of Christ fill your hearts with joy and peace. May you endure to the end. Run the race with everything you have until you fall into the arms of Jesus.

Are You Being Guided by Truth?

Reading the Bible needs to be at the forefront of what we do in life.

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

A while back, I posted The God We Should Worship . The purpose was to bring some clarity to the incorrect understanding that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. The central argument is that Christians worship Jesus because He is God, the Triune God. This is the core of Christian belief. We get this theology from the Bible. Jesus made this claim several times. Muslims view Jesus as a mere prophet whose teachings they regularly ignore. The differences between Islam and Christianity are apparent. One only needs to read the Bible to know that there is no grace of God in Islam. Grace is a character of God that he reveals in the Bible.  Through the scriptures, God reveals Himself to us. I have found myself in awe of God as a result of seeking Him. One gets to know God by studying the Bible, memorizing scripture and praying. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. The more I love Him, the more I desire to be in His presence. I love him because he first loved me. For God is love. It is in His love for me that God reveals His Divine character of truth through His word.

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him”.(John 18:37-38)

The whole world claims we want truth, honesty, integrity, and transparency. The fact is that most people don’t even seek it. They personally don’t want truth to interfere in their daily lives. They don’t want truth to destroy their misguided conceptions of life. Most people would rather believe lies about themselves. They live in the guilt and shame of their failures. They can’t comprehend that God could love them. The truth of God’s word, tells us that He loves us. Those who truly seek truth become doers of truth. The person who does not apply the word of God to their lives is failing to live a Christ centered life. If you are not reading God’s word, you can’t apply it. If you are not reading and applying the Bible to your life; your Christianity is worthless.

“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (‭‭James‬ ‭1:21-22‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

Are you of the truth? Do you hear the voice of Jesus? Jesus told Pilate, that everyone who is of the truth hears His voice. If you don’t read God’s love letter to you, how will you distinguish the truth from a lie? Are you listening to the stranger’s voice? Examine your life for a moment. Is your Christianity weak? Do you struggle with your walk with God? Are you focused on loving Jesus or are you living in doubt? There are things that you can do to draw closer to God.

  1. Ask God for help. Seek His wisdom.
  2. Read the Bible everyday. This is critical. It’s good to have a plan. Write down what you learn. I journal through my Bible Everyday
  3. Memorize scripture. Take time while you are standing around and memorize scripture. (I use an app called fighter verses.)
  4. Pray. Write down your prayers and your answers .  If you have a hard time praying, pray through the scriptures. (Try the Psalms)

God loves you! Let God’s grace shine on you. Seek His truth.

I Need to Know the Cost

The cross shows us our value to God. It demonstrates God’s love for us and how precious we are to Him.

We despised him and rejected him;
he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
we ignored him as if he were nothing.
“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
(Isaiah 53:3-5)

I do not consider myself a poet, that word belongs to those who dedicate themselves to that art. This past year, I have had some amazing times with God and have been  inspired to write some of my thoughts down. I am confounded by God’s love for me. It overwhelms me at times and leaves me drenched with love, understanding and awe. On one such occasion, I wrote the following poem:

I Need to Know the Cost.

I need to know the painful cost,
of the blood He shed upon His cross.

So gruesome a price Christ did pay, His life, our sins He did slay.
Unworthy of Him who bore my sin.
All for love my soul to win.
His body so broken, His flesh torn to shred.
My life to be saved, with his blood that was shed,
I need to know the epic cost, of the life Christ gave upon His cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

Oh Holy Communion remind me still,
of the precious blood that was spilled.

Repentance I need for my sorrowful sin.
His body so broken for my soul to win.

How precious is the life Christ gave, by grace and love, my life to save.
I need to know the painful cost, of the life we hung upon that cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious  is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

© 2018 Stephan Caraway. All Rights Reserved

Final Thoughts: Since we are approaching Palm Sunday, ask yourself the following: Is your love for Jesus real, is your praise genuine or are you just a fan?

A big Happy Birthday today to my hero, friend and the best sister in the world. You  inspire me with the way you live a conquering life for Jesus. Happy Birthday Rebecca!

Enduring and Persistent Communication…

“No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.”
― Martin Luther

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Recently I wrote about what to do in the midst of The Crazy Chaos of a Busy Life… Prayer is the most important tool we have. Most people fail to use it effectively, if they use it at all. The following passage explains a few of the attributes effective prayer should have.The follower of Christ should not wait for difficult times to pray, We should pray in preparation for them.

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,  saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, Give me legal protection from my opponent.’  For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.”And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said;  now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Prayer is effective communication with a responsive God who has the desire to have a relationship with you. E.M. Bounds once said, “The [prayer] closet…is the battlefield of the Church; its citadel; the scene of heroic and unearthly conflicts.” The fact is that many Christians take prayer for granted. Why are we failing to pray? A pastor once told me, that the most difficult event to get people to come out to was a prayer meeting. He mentioned that he would be lucky if 10 people showed up out of his thousand member church. We wonder why there is so much evil in the world, yet we fail to pray. In this technology era of texting and twittering there is very little deep emotional conversation that takes place. In the same way that it affects the natural world it is also affecting the spiritual world. Recently, articles ranging from CNN to The Huffington Post discuss the dangers of losing face-to-face communication. ( Too Much Texting Could be Harming Your Relationship ) This lack of communication is also affecting the way people are praying to God. Are your prayers becoming like a twitter post to God? Are your prayers enduring and full of conviction or are they soulless babble? 

Let see what Jesus wants us to learn about prayer.

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,(Romans 12:12)

God wants us to have enduring prayer times. Luke basically gives the parable away by telling us what it is about. We are to pray at all times and not to lose heart. Pretty simple idea, so why do we have such a hard time with it. Texting allows us to cut out the chit-chat, it keeps our interactions brief and to the point. We have even reduced whole sentences to a simple emoji. Because of the influence of social media and technology we are failing in our interpersonal communication. In this same way, we have reduced our prayers to simple sound bites. God wants enduring prayers. A person who is devoted to prayer, perseveres through difficult situations and rejoices in the hope that God provides.

We need to devote our selves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

He wants us to have deep conversations with him, prayers that take time. God wants to hear our problems, sorrows, our brokenness, our praise and gratitude. This takes time. God wants our time. The problem with society is that if we don’t have a result from our communication we move on. Our impatience and our need for results drives us away from God. God is not going to solve your problems with a Twitter response and an emoji. He wants to transform your life and behavior into something beautiful. What excuses do you use to not pray? Is your prayer effective? Are you enduring in your prayer time? God wants you to be persistent in prayer. Is your love for God evident by the way you pursue Him? A person with a committed prayer life has direction and purpose. That person is led by God to level ground.

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.(Psalm 18:6)

God wants heartfelt prayers. God wants us to pray from our heart. God wants us to reveal our deepest pain to Him. The widow was crying out for justice. She was praying with conviction. Do you pray this way? Abraham Lincoln said this,“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
Because God loves us, He wants to hear our concerns, our problems, our needs and our joys. God is love. He knows what is happening, but He is relational. It is when we communicate our thoughts to God that He reveals a better path for us. He opens our heart to his will. It is through this time of heartfelt prayer, that love grows inside of us. God is the source of this love, it is His perfect gift to you. Do your prayers flow with love?

By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

Enduring prayers of conviction breeds faithfulness to God. Jesus reveals the character of God in this parable. Persistent prayer reveals justice for the oppressed who follow Him. God is faithful to those who are faithful. The word Elect is used to describe those who follow after God.

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16b).

This is not our righteousness but the righteousness of Jesus Christ that abides in us. It is not a matter of just believing in God, but it is the constant state of mind to be chasing after God. I would often ask myself, “How can I expect to have an enduring and persistent prayer life if I fail to have an enduring and persistent relationship with Christ?” For most of my life my prayers were short and brief. I just wanted to get to the point. I always wondered why my relationship with God was so weak. I now realize that I had it backwards. My Prayer time was what grew my relationship with God. I needed to humble myself before God and confess my wrongs to Him. Prayer is communication. Can any relationship grow without enduring and persistent communication? Just ask any marriage counselor and they will tell you that without good communication your marriage will fail. The same is with your relationship with God. To have an effective relationship with God you need to pray and your prayers need to be persistent and enduring.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.(Psalm 145:18)

Does your prayer time carry your faith in difficult times?  Jesus ends the parable with a question. He is referring to His second coming. When He returns, Jesus asks, “Will he find faith on the Earth?” Is your faith evident by your prayer life? Do people refer to you as a prayer warrior? America needs revival. The Church needs revival. The only way for revival to come is through enduring and persistent, heartfelt communication with God. This is what prayer needs to be. It is time for the Church to pray. It is time for the followers of Jesus to be driven to their knees in prayer. We need to bring our brokenness, our tears, our confessions to the cross of Jesus with enduring prayers. Oh men and women of God I plead with you; pray, pray and pray some more.

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7)

The God We Should Worship

How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust,
And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.                 –Psalm 40:4

There has been much made in the last month about whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians. The most peculiar part of the discussion has been the lack of scripture used by those in support of the claim that Muslims do in deed worship the same God. Most have even failed to support the very basic tenants of Christianity. These prideful, well intentioned individuals have lapsed into falsehood. So let us begin with the very core of Christian doctrine, Jesus. For the Christian everything  begins and ends with Jesus. Jesus said this in the the Gospel of John, You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) 

Jesus was stating that eternal  life comes through him. He later claimed in John 10 that He and God are one. (John 10:30) Muslims do not believe this, they believe that Jesus was a prophet and therefore could not grant the forgiveness of sins. It is this unbelief in the incarnate Christ that separates Muslims from Christians. Jesus argued against this unbelief when he said, “He who rejects me rejects the One who sent me.”(Luke 10:16) This means that if you reject that Jesus is God then you are rejecting God and his love for you and you are rejecting the purpose of why Jesus came.

Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

The Muslim rejects Christ as the Savior of the world and is repulsed by what the cross represents. They do not even believe that Jesus died on the cross. (Surah 4:157-158 Qur’an) They “worship” a God made in their own image, this is what God refers to as an idol. Muslims deny the Holy Trinity of  God and they deny the Deity of Jesus. The scripture says,

And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9)

The follower of Christ is drawn to the cross of Jesus with tear filled repentance and worships God for what he has done. (John 3:16) We recognize that it is nothing we could do but it is all about what Jesus did on the cross. This is why Paul said in 1Corinthians that we are to preach Christ crucified. In the end it is all about love, the love God has for us and the love Christ showed for us on the cross. It is about a love that we can’t repay, it is a love that binds the broken hearted and saves the lost. It is the love for what Jesus did on the cross that causes us to surrender to God and with a deep gratitude we worship Him, as our God. It is this love that heals our soul. Let me leave you with these words from the mouth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world…

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 
and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 
and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47 Read vs 52 and ask yourself, who did they worship?)