christian Not Christian

Exploring Contemporary Christianity

Author: sherry.l.macintyre@gmail.com (page 1 of 2)

Is Your Prayer Drawing People To God, or Pushing Them Away?

Prayer Unites, Prayer Divides

Some Christians wield prayer like a weapon. I had a friend who liked to pray before every meal. At the coffee shop, at lunch out at a restaurant, with a group of Christians or non Christians, didn’t matter. I didn’t really begrudge her this, though I was not much of a Christian at the time, but one of our common friends, also a believer, got sooo frustrated with this behavior!

Thing is, Sister Super Christian would always wait til someone took a bite of food to say “hey, how about if we pray first?” Thus embarrassing and annoying the diner with her mouth full of food. This one woman had this happen to her one too many times and  threw her fork down and folded her hands, definitely Not in a prayerful way.

It’s kind of funny now, but it really illustrates how we can make prayer something that comes between even fellow Christians, let alone non believers.

And then there’s the kind of prayer that I experienced last Wednesday and again yesterday. A group of humble, servants of God, praying sincere and fervent prayers with a faith that is palpable, and fills the room. I will say, there is nothing more beautiful than being a part of that. Feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence and love, with people praying for you…it’s indescribable and powerful. When we unite in prayer for a common purpose,  it’s like the very air in the room changes.

Closer to God Through Prayer

Praying together can bring us closer as brothers and sisters in Christ, but also is vital to building a close, intimate relationship with God.

I never feel nearer to God than when I am praying, honestly and openly, from my heart. To a God who is always there, always listening, always straining to hear what we have to pray. And hoping we will take just a minute to listen to what He has to say back to us. We don’t always think of prayer as a two-way street, but if what you want with God is a relationship, not just a sounding board, then listening needs to be part of the equation.

It’s great to have a friend who listens to you, but if you never listen to them, the relationship can only go so far. It’s really no different with God.  We start out turning to God with our laundry list of complaints, requests and laments –  pleading for help. And that’s an okay place to start.  I think many, if not most of us, start our faith journey this way.

But going deeper in relationship with God necessitates that you give Him a chance to speak into your situation. I mean, it’s what we want, right?  Ultimately, anyway.  I don’t think, deep down, we really just want to pray and have everything  ‘magically’  made right in our life, with no real sense of knowing God better or feeling closer to him.  Listening for God’s response after we pray can make all the difference!

For some great ideas on different ways to pray check out these websites  http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/hottopics/faithvalues/8-ways-to-pray.html and http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/prayer/2009/10/21-ways-to-pray.aspx?

What If God Was One of Us?

 

Fully God, Fully Human

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Mt 14:13

Jesus is told by John the Baptist’s friends that he has been beheaded in a bizarre and surreal scene at Herod’s birthday party. (Check out Matthew 14:3-12 here  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+14   )

 When Jesus hears this news, he goes to the mountainside to pray. Some think he left to avoid a similar fate by Herod’s men. Some say he retreated to pray to his Father;  about what to do next, or perhaps concerning the care of his weary apostles, or even about  feeding  the 5000 disciples who had followed him.

We don’t actually know what he consulted the Father about, we are not told in scripture. But we do know that Jesus was a compassionate, caring man, every bit as human as you and me. I like to think he may have been praying out of sadness and grief over the loss of his cousin, his friend, the man who heralded his coming, John the Baptizer.

If we read too quickly, it doesn’t even occur to us that Jesus might pause to grieve. We sort of think he should just accept the death of this important person in his life and move on.  Because we see the story in context of the big picture. And in hindsight, it seems like a fairly small point in the story.

But imagine it!  A friend, a supporter, a disciple being murdered in this horrific way. Of course he must have grieved! Jesus was fully human. He lived like us,  he felt like us,  he related like us.  When the bible says ‘fully human’ it means  Fully.  Human.

Jesus was upset,  bewildered, distraught and sad – most likely.  We don’t know what he felt, but those are all likely because he was fully human.  We see him display very human emotions of compassion, love, and even anger at various times in his ministry.

Fully Human in the Garden

We see him in the garden of Gethsemane, nearing the end of his life on earth, where Jesus asks his Father to save him.  Just as we would have done. He knows what’s coming. He knows he has to go through this terrible thing  that will end his life.  It has to be done.   It was part of the plan and  Jesus  knew it.  Anticipated it.  Agreed to it.

But at the last moment – he asked for a reprieve. He sweated blood.  He agonized.  He cried out.

Fully Human.

Of course, ultimately, he accepted that which was the agreed upon plan all along. Where would we be if he hadn’t?

But we forget that he was fully human.  We forget that what Jesus went through was as hard for him as it would have been for us.  We think it was easy for him because he was fully God too.  

But in the dichotomy of fully God and fully human, they don’t cancel each other out. They magnify the Being of Christ.

Being God didn’t make it any easier for him to be human, than it is for us.  What Jesus went through, the temptation he experienced, the isolation he felt, the fear, the loneliness…he struggled through it all so he could have the perspective, so he could know  what it feels like to suffer.

So that when we struggle, when we suffer, we know he can comfort us with the comfort of someone who has been there. This is our God,  communicating His great love for us.  Showing us the lengths He was willing to go for us.

You see, we’ve never been through anything that Jesus can’t relate to – that he can’t pull us through, with empathy, comfort, and understanding.

And that’s why fully human is such an important part of who Jesus was.

 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…Heb 4:15
…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Ph 2:7

 

Should We Maybe Stop Praying So Much?

Prayer is such a comforting thing to offer, but I wonder if offering it to those struggling might be sometimes counterproductive.  I heard a Rabbi who was starting a Jewish ministry recall his first encounter with the host of a Christian ministry and TV show.

He said something like   ‘Pat, when I told you I was struggling, that things were off to a shaky start, and you told me you’d pray for me, I thought, ‘Oh great, another Christian praying for my ministry’.   The Rabbi went on to say that he was surprised and touched by Pat’s follow up phone calls, offers of help and a donation check that arrived in the mail.

I had a similar experience when I was at our local farmers’ market and two of the farmers were relaying to a few of us what a bad couple of years it had been for the crops.  Being rather new in my faith, with lots of enthusiasm, but not a lot of wisdom, I told them I would pray for them,  their crops and their livelihood. The skepticism was evident in the small smile and shrug of the blueberry lady in response to my offer of prayer.  I could see in her eyes that it meant almost nothing to her.   In light of these incidents I realized that prayer
alone doesn’t always do for the person everything God intended for us to do.
After all, we are His hands and feet!  God put that person in our path for a reason.  Prayer’s great, but back it up with some help, some agape love, expressed through service or action. DO Something!

I would almost go so far as to say  don’t  tell someone, outside the faith,  you’re going to be praying for them if you don’t plan on doing something to support that prayer and  to show that person what Christian love is all about.

Sure, go ahead and pray, but maybe do it quietly.     And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others… Mt. 6:5     We come across as insincere or fake, or all talk and no action when we constantly run around telling non-Christians that “I will pray for you.”  And then we disappear from their life, patting ourselves on the back, thinking we’ve done such a good deed.  

This actually  does a disservice to the perception of Christianity in the secular world, I believe.  We are viewed as pitiable creatures who woefully plead with an invisible God whenever something goes wrong, and that we are helpless to do anything, and vulnerable in the face of catastrophe.

Putting Prayer Into Action

But we can mobilize. Your prayers for someone battling sickness or disease may be comforting, but it doesn’t have to stop there. You can add to the prayers an offer of driving their kids to soccer practice for the next month.  Or you could make them a meal, take up a collection and pay for a house cleaning service, or get a gift card to a restaurant or even just send them an uplifting card, or check in with them regularly.

Even these small gestures mean so much when added to offers of prayer.  They are practical, tangible offers of God’s love and in so doing them, we show those outside Christianity what it means to be a Christian. It’s not just all talk and prayer.  It’s backing up the words with action, it’s letting God’s love be expressed through us in practical and helpful ways that really do make a difference. You may have heard the phrase ‘faith without works is dead’.   In the bible, James writes: Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? Jas 2:15-16
What good, indeed?

So, back to my initial question : Should we stop praying so much?
Of course not. Prayer is the backbone of our relationship with God. Perhaps, though, we should stop talking about praying so much and just do it.  And throw in a helpful, practical act of kindness for good measure.

For some great suggestions  go to http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/hottopics/faithvalues/20-great-ways-to-put-your-faith-in-action.html 

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys

Star Wars…Lord of the Rings…Harry Potter…Rocky…DC Comics…XMen…Indiana Jones…Karate Kid…

We love movies that pit good against evil. We love to see impending peril overcome by a knight in shining armor. Why is that?  

Because sometimes life  is one big, epic battle of Good vs Evil.

We fight temptation all day long. Not just the big stuff. The everyday stuff;  the stuff we say that we wished we  hadn’t, the stuff we think that we wish we wouldn’t, our attitudes, our feelings and our -largely selfish- desires.

Succumbing to temptaion, back in the day,  became spiritual death to all. The destruction and mayhem it caused (and continues to cause) was and  is, nearly unceasing.  

Then Jesus arrived on the scene,  not unlike a knight  in shining armor.   And he battles death and sin and difficulty in us, with us, and through us daily.  By the minute, really.  The good guy is on our side!

Not only that, his spirit within us guides, protects, consoles,  strengthens, encourages and empowers us! It’s a package deal that is really too good to pass up.

         In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light  shines  in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Jn 1:4-5

Remember as a child how scary darkness was? When the power went out, there was a panic, a fear.  A single lightbulb, flashlight or candle could mean all the difference.

Jesus Is that light in the midst of our pain, our confusion, our hopelessness and our fear.

Jesus is sometimes spoken of as the light at the end of the tunnel, but I prefer to think of him as the track lighting on the road In  the tunnel. He never leaves you , never forsakes you.

His light shines on while you are walking through the valley of your challenges. He’s not just waiting at the end of it all. He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  He’s there, waiting for us to reach out to him.

      You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jer 29:13

He is already there!

We just need to begin to search.  His light is shining.  Burning bright. He has already chosen us.  He’s already chosen You.

He is just waiting for you to choose him back.

Thanksgiving Afterglow: How Giving = Getting

My husband and I delivered Thanksgiving baskets through our church a couple of weeks ago and, though we are of course aware that there is need all around us, even close to home, it is still somewhat startling to witness it first hand.  It makes you even more grateful for all that God has blessed you with. So, here’s an addendum to my previous gratitude list:

  • Thank you Kensington Church (https://kensingtonchurch.org/) for the opportunity to serve.  I am grateful that we are in a situation to help and I am doubly grateful that they provided the opportunity.
  • I’m even more thankful that 3 years ago we were awakened to the fact that there is something greater that we are all called to do, something greater than just live our lives and be good and decent people, but that we can mobilize and we can help, and we are called by God to do so.  There are literally hundreds of things that you can do to help someone, somewhere in a small or a big way this holiday season.

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Giving Equals Getting

Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta  talks in a recent sermon called “Be Rich” about how we are called to serve others and how it enriches our lives more than money ever can. If you want to check out the sermon visit http://northpointonline.tv/  go to Be Rich series, message #3 ‘Love’.

There is also a fun ‘wheel of ideas’ that you can spin at https://berich.org/love/ , click on ‘Get Ideas’.  It’s  super motivating and gives dozens of suggestions on how  you can help. It’s really great for families. Some ideas cost nothing some  cost a small amount…but just wonderful ways to get involved with your friends, your neighbors, your family, people in your community, school, church, and even people you don’t know yet.  I urge you to check it out. There is no better feeling than doing for someone else.

I read somewhere that there is no such thing as true altruism. You know, giving and doing for others for a purely generous purpose, with no payback in mind. And maybe that’s true because when you give, you do get so much more in return…gratitude, peace, joy, compassion. The act of doing something for others usually makes the giver happier than the receiver.

And finally:

  • I’m thankful for my new-found faith. Jesus isn’t just the ‘reason for the season’. Jesus is the reason for everything, if you’re a believer.  And I’m grateful to have come to that. I’m grateful for the circumstances that have brought me to a situation where I began to explore my faith. And I’m grateful that Jesus is walking with me every single day and that I never need to fear because he will never leave us nor forsake us.

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

 

 

Welcome to the Re-Launch of My Blog

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Thanks for stopping by!

Please scan my recent posts and take a look around the website. I am still making improvements as I continue to learn about the technology end of things.

Come back next month, when I will add a new page entitled ‘Scripture Study’ where we can discuss passages from the Bible. I will give you my take, and I hope you will join the conversation and let me know what you think as well.

In the near future, I will begin to write about  my journey to faith. It is a very personal story, as it is for most people, but I hope you will join me, and maybe share your story as well.

Please give me your feedback in the Comments section, I really want to know what you think!  The Comment box  can be found at the end of each entry, if you first click on ‘Posts’ and then on one of the titles. (Doesn’t work from the home page, still troubleshooting  this).

I would love for you to subscribe as well! You don’t need to use your real name, and your email address will not be public. I promise not to litter your inbox! I’ll be  posting once a week – max.

Thanks again for visiting and I hope you’ll come back soon!

Sherry

 

Giving Thanks

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It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a gratitude list!

Here’s mine:

  • I’m thankful for Michigan’s beautiful seasons. Fall is my favorite and I never tire of the beautiful display of color from Labor Day to Thanksgiving!     photo-1476728986388-24bf950ea3b3
  • I’m thankful for open discussion and frank conversation, and the ability to do both without fear of governmental reprisal.
  • I’m thankful for the peaceful protestors, the respectful dissenters. And I’m thankful that every 4 years we get another chance to voice our opinion and make that opinion count. Our opinions matter – every one of us.
  • I’m thankful for intelligent conversation, between family and friends, and for those who have not resorted to name-calling, backbiting and insults… 
  • BUT – I’m thankful to live in a country where even when people do resort to unsavory rhetoric, there is no fear of retribution, we are free to air our viewpoint even if we don’t always do it eloquently.  I’m grateful for those who can disagree peaceably and respectfully and without damaging relationships and friendships.
  • I’m thankful for family,  gathering this week. For food on the table and the resources that provide it  all – and so much more.photo-1475502085205-ffe028919c87
  • I’m thankful for  farmers who provide us all the good, healthy food we can eat. They are the backbone of this country – where would we be without them?
  • I’m thankful for our military; the fact that they put their lives on the line,  and their families’ lives on hold. Too many make the ultimate sacrifice  for our safety, for our freedom, and for freedom of people around the world.  There is no greater gift than that.
  • I’m thankful for people whose word still means something. People of integrity, who do their job and honor their commitment like it’s the most important thing on earth. From teachers to health care workers to the kid who bags your groceries and the handyman who shows up when he says he will.  It always touches me when someone does a really good job and  takes real pride in giving you the best service they can.
  • And I’m thankful that we can worship God freely and without fear. Anytime, anywhere, any religionphoto-1461709444300-a6217cec3dff we choose. It’s a pretty awesome privilege, if you think about it.

I urge you to find something to be grateful for this week. And to thank God for it.  No matter how bleak things may seem, there is always something to appreciate!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever. Ps 107:1

At the risk of sounding cliche, life  really is  10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

What’s at the top of your gratitude list?

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Why You Don’t Need to Fear Donald Trump Part II

Take heart, America! We are bigger and better than one man or one woman and it will take a lot more than a single contentious election to bring us down. Have faith. Pray for those in power. Get involved. It will all work out in the end, because God is ultimately in charge.

It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. Ps 118:8
The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Ps 27:1

When we couple our faith with postive, productive action, we can overcome fear. It feels good to rant on facebook but I think we can all agree it doesn’t really do much. Better to use your feelings to propel yourself into action.  I say this respectfully yet regrettably – and I most definitely include myself in this –  The apathy and the ignorance about politics in our country is appalling and  sad.  

That is one thing Donald Trump did for us.  He got people’s attention. He fired us up, whether we were for him or against him. He inspired a call to action for so many. Whether you are happy he won, or you’re upset about it, either way, you’re fired up, you’re motivated. Now is the time to
DO SOMETHING!

Some ideas to consider:

  • Write your congressman about issues that concern you
  • Get on their mailing list to stay informed
  • Read.  Use the internet to educate yourself.photo-1464660756002-dd9f9a92b01b
  • Brush up on our political history
  • Contact your party’s local chapter to see what you can do to help. In Michigan, the websites are:  http://www.migop.org/   http://www.michigandems.com/
  • Volunteer. Anywhere. Becoming more aware of the needs right in your own community makes you a more informed citizen.

For a big picture perspective on how much our Founding Fathers were willing to risk for the sake of our present freedom and democratic society, Here is an excellent video narrated by Paul Harvey about the signers of the Declaration of Independencehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kX-APfe3i8Q

After watching what those men and their families were willing to risk to preserve our freedom, I hope you are inspired to get involved, even in some small way.

And one final suggestion?

  • Pray.  For God to give our next president the grace, compassion, and wisdom to lead our country in the right direction. To keep us safe. To unite and not divide. To help those who truly need it and to do it all fairly, treating everyone with equality and pursuing and preserving liberty and justice for all.

 

 

Why You Don’t Need to Fear Donald Trump

Let’s face it, after a presidential election, roughly half of American voters are  thrilled and the other half are upset. Rarely is an election a run away anymore. Not since Reagan in 1984 (nearly 59%) has a president won with more than 55% of the popular vote.(http://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/popular-vote/)  Most presidents are elected with 45-55% of the popular vote.

I feel compelled to mention the following:   Because of the negativity surrounding both major candidates, I decided about a month before the election (when I was still unsure of how I would be voting) that I would not tell anyone who I chose to vote for. Even my husband does not know who I voted for, and I plan to keep it that way. The way I see it, you have five basic choices in each presidential election; Democrat, Republican, Third Party, Write In, or stay home and not vote. In the six elections that I have voted in prior to this one, I have voted twice Democrat, twice Republican, once Third Party and once I wrote in a candidate. So, I am truly an independent voter and have no real affiliation for either major party.

I think what scares half of Americans after this election is the same thing that excites the other half- Trump is not a politician. For sure, he’s going to shake things up. That could go very badly or it could go very well, that remains to be seen. But he is going to be the next president and he needs to be given a chance.

Some things to consider:

  • No one runs this country alone. Trump is a smart, successful businessman. He’ll surround himself with people whose strengths will be utilized to their fullest.
  • His campaign promises will be tempered by sanity. He will adjust the extremes to align with reality. Cooler heads will prevail. “Campaigning is not governing” I have heard the pundits say.
  • Our country has weathered worse; we can withstand anything for four years.
  • The beauty of term limits and re-elections.  An opportunity for change presents itself every four years.

No president can change this country single-handedly in  four short years. President Obama made changes that  some weren’t happy with and now Trump will tweak them back a bit (Obamacare, for instance).  It’s all give and take, the pendulum swings left and right over time, as it should.  No one man or administration can bring our country down. Our foundation was built stronger than that and we are better than that as a people.

Incidentally, if Clinton had gotten in, most of what I just wrote would still apply.

Built-In Safeguards

If you think about the magnificent job our founding fathers did in crafting the constitution, the document our  country is based on, you will realize that they took into account so many possibilities of error, failure and circumstances and adjusted for it.  

Separation of powers, checks and balances, safeguards, the whole nine yards.  I don’t claim to understand it all, but it works, and it works well. We are still standing. We have survived good presidents, bad presidents, riots, protests, scandals, impeachments, the pendulum swinging left and right, and we still manage to be the greatest Republic on earth.

For a great website on our constitution visit http://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-constitution-amendments/

No single administration, in four or eight years can destroy America. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and  I believe that the Constitution was divinely inspired.  It is no secret that the founding fathers were men of faith and I believe that  God’s guidance played a role in these men coming  up with such a beautiful, complete, all-encompassing plan of governance. The foresight they had was astounding. So respected is this document, that over 100 countries have used our constitution as a template for their own.  (for a great website on our constitution visit  http://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-constitution-amendments/ )

Another good website to check out is by Tara Ross, a retired lawyer and author of several books on American history and government. She does an excellent job explaining the electoral college here:://www.taraross.com/2016/10/electoral-college-myth-8-candidates-who-lose-the-popular-vote-shouldnt-win-the-white-house-the-system-is-rigged/

Come back next time for part II on this topic

Who Are You Praying for On Election Day?

As Christians, we all know how important prayer is. We pray mostly small, intimate prayers. Prayers about our own lives, our spouses and kids, our  jobs, our finances, our own relationships and then, for the needs of those around us, our families,  friends, acquaintances,  co-workers.

But how many of us go outside our intimate circle and pray for those we don’t know? How many of us really take time to regularly pray for society in general or American politics, for instance.  How many of us pray for our country regularly?  

I’ll be honest, I don’t.praying-man-silloutte

Or, at least, I haven’t until just this week when I was thinking…I wonder what God thinks about the mess we’re in today, in American politics?  I can’t even imagine which way he would want it to go. What does he think when he looks down on us, in this election year. How disappointed he must be in our behavior, attitude and reactions.  Is the average Christian right now praying for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?  If you’re a Democrat are you praying for Trump?  If you’re a Republican are you praying for Clinton?

Jesus said to love God and love your neighbors and that all the commands and the prophets hang on these two.  But shortly after that, he said pray for those who persecute you. Many of us feel that it has come to that in politics. That the other side is ‘persecuting’ us.  

If your candidate doesn’t get in, what are you going to do for the next four year?  Complain, point the finger, sling insults and say see I told you so?  Is that what we’re called to as Christians?  Or are you going to pray for those who persecute you?  We are all in this together. It’s still my country, it’s still your country, either way.   No matter who gets in.  We’re still all on the same side,  we are still all Americans.  The office of the presidency should be respected no matter who is occupying it.  Whoever gets in will represent our country and if the ‘wrong’ person gets in, in your opinion, even more reason to pray for them.

Non- believers will say  “Oh, pray, pray, pray, you’re going to sit in your little prayer huddles and pray and you think that does something –  Well, it doesn’t ”    and you know, I understand that viewpoint.  Three years ago that was my viewpoint – quit wasting your time praying and Do something.  Well I think the ideal lies, as it usually does, somewhere in between.

To just sit and pray is not enough and to do, do, do, without prayer and asking for God’s guidance is not enough either.  So if the ‘wrong’ person gets in, we really, more than ever, need pray and then to mobilize and  do something. We need to motivate even more so if our guy or gal didn’t get in. Pray, yes. But maybe spend some of the time that we use spouting off on social media to write our congressman about a specific issue that hits close to home. Or contact your party’s local  chapter to see what they recommend you do to help and to show your support. It seems like posting on social media satisfies the need to make our voices heard without following it up with any action. There is a false sense of accomplishment.

The concept of praying for your opponents applies in other areas of our lives as well. Are feminists praying for sexists, are the more tolerant praying for the more bigoted, are cops praying for criminals, are those who love praying for those who hate?  Are liberals and conservatives praying for each other? Or are we all just hating whoever doesn’t agree with us?  

We are not going to change another person’s heart by insisting that they see things our way.  Only truth spoken in love can change someone’s heart. We need to stop trying to force our will onto other people. No matter how right you are or how right you think you are, you’re not  going to change someone else by spewing hatred, by demanding that they’re wrong and  you’re right.  Only love is going to change someone’s heart. and it’s not simply love that we possess that can do it.  It’s tapping into the power of God’s love that changes hearts and minds.

God uses us to communicate His love. His power is  in  us. And the best way to tap into the power of God’s love is through prayer.

If you want to change hearts and minds, ask God, in prayer, to help you speak His truth, in love.

Do you believe that prayer can benefit our political system and society at large?

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