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Jesus Christ

~Falling away~

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My motivation for writing this blog is twofold:  First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations.  Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles.  Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20).  To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.

I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus.  I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do:  make disciples.

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Apostasy means to fall away from the truth.  To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy.  The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence.  Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity.  Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc.  Some churches do this.  Others do not.  But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers.  It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary.  It is aimed at everyone in the church.  But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling.  That’s okay.  But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists?  Are you supporting them in your tithes?  Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?

The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love.  It is what Jesus asked us to do.  People are going to hell.  Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him.  He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well.  This is what He wants.  Is this happening in your life and church?  Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in.  If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.

In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers.  Our comfort is important to us.  But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met.  Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs.   I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in.  Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus.  The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians.  He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment.  He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.

The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more.  For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask.  But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian.  This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.

Is this too harsh?

If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives.  Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ.  For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.

Pastors have a huge job before them.  They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints.  This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians.  Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape.  According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc.  This is truly sad and dangerous.  Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians.  I hope you’re right.  But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.

People are going to hell.  The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society.  Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium.  They are supposed to be fishers of men.  Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion.  This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.

The Christian Church needs to wake Up!

Christianity is under an ever increasing attack.  Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms.  Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms.  Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots.  Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach!  Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working!  Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell.  This is the sign of apostasy within the church!

Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly.  There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word.  There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness.  It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world.  There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before.  Let’s not give up nor become discouraged.  Let’s support one another in prayer.  Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God.  Let’s tithe properly.  Let’s witness.  Let’s take risks for Jesus.  Let’s do what He asks of us.

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).

 

~I want to be “Just Like “You”~

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I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris

So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.

Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”

This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

~Finding The Samaritans Outside Of The Church~

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Testing the boundaries of outreach evangelism.

Yes, to Heal the Abused

In our quest to find the broken hearted and ostracized of life we called upon other ministries that function primarily outside the walls of the church to present the gospel hope of Jesus Christ. We found astonishing evidence that a loving presences of evangelistic workers makes a difference in getting the gospel outside to a dyeing world. I had an interesting event happen in my life in a “Crack House In Perris Ca., I went to deliver some packages and was overcome with remorse and a strong unction to pray for those in that trailer and it reshaped my life and introduced me to the Help Mate I now have in my life.

An out-of-the-way topless bar and club off the highway was a regular Thursday evening destination for Anne Polencheck and her outreach partner. Every two weeks the women faithfully toted gift bags of handmade cards, homemade cookies, earrings, and lotion to the bar and club. With a word of kindness, a prayer, or a hug, they hoped to share Christ’s compassion with women who worked there.

Polencheck, a former software engineer, leads New Name, a ministry to strip clubs, bars, massage parlors, and so-called spas in the western suburbs of Chicago. Volunteers pray together and regularly visit venues. It’s a slow-going ministry that emulates Jesus leaving the safety of the fold to seek the one lost sheep. Often the workers are busy with customers or simply aren’t interested in chatting.

One week, Polencheck met Debbie, a 20-something who recognized the “church ladies” from their previous visits. “I’m seven months pregnant. I need a new job,” she said. After their visit, Debbie stepped outside and prayed: “God, if you’re real, can you help me?”

When Polencheck and her ministry partner returned one week later, they handed Debbie a flier for Refuge for Women, a Kentucky residential program for those choosing to leave sexual exploitation. It usually had a wait list, but it had one opening.

Debbie’s plea came after years of despair. Her childhood was marked by sexual abuse that started when she was 5. At age 9, Debbie was placed in foster care after she showed up at school black and blue from violent beatings. Twenty times, she was shuffled in and out of foster homes in part due to her anger-driven rebellion.

The wounded girl grew to become a broken woman who numbed her pain with alcohol and drugs. Her husband, an abusive drug addict, introduced her to strip clubs. She began exotic dancing and using more drugs. Debbie’s horrific background is not unusual for women working in strip clubs. About 90 percent of women who have received care at Refuge were sexually abused as children.

“Jesus would want us to look at these women as our sisters,” says Ked Frank, director and cofounder of Refuge. “They’re living out of pain and trauma, and our hearts should be broken for them.” At the residential facility, Debbie found family in seven other women with similar experiences as well as a church community and mentors who listened, prayed, and encouraged her.

Before graduating the yearlong program, Debbie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, accepted Christ, and was baptized. She now leads worship at her church and mentors teenagers in the youth group. Debbie holds a job as she raises her 2-year-old daughter and volunteers at Refuge, hoping to help other women who bear the invisible chains of abuse and exploitation.

“God is at work, and his presence is found in the clubs,” Frank says.

So, would Jesus hang out with people in a strip club? I believe he’s been doing just that.

Jesus unconditionally loves us all, including club owners, dancers, and customers. He is still calling us to leave the safety of our church walls and extend a hand of hope to a broken man or woman.

 

Three Views: Would Jesus Hang Out in a Strip Club?

No, He Wouldn’t

Joe Carter

In 1896, Charles Sheldon, a Congregational minister in Kansas, wrote In His Steps, a novel that became an all-time bestseller and spawned the ubiquitous phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Back then it was an open question—as Sheldon makes clear—whether Jesus would condone hanging out at a boxing match. Today, we’re wondering if we can give reasons why Jesus wouldn’t hang out at a strip club. Times have changed.

Initially, I assumed this must be a trick question. Are there Christians who ponder, “What Would Jesus Do?” and think, “Jesus would probably be hanging out at a bar where people go to watch women undress”?

It’s hard for me to believe there are Christians who think Jesus would hang out in a strip club. Are we talking about the Jesus who had a high opinion of women and a low view of lust? Hanging out at a strip club doesn’t sound like something he would do.

But since the question is being asked, I assume there are people who think he would. I have to assume they think that since Jesus ate with sinners, he’d have no problem eating at a buffet next to a stripper pole.

Jesus did sit and eat with sinners (Mark 2:16–17). In Luke 15, we again find the oft-quoted claim made by the Pharisees: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What is often left out is the lengthy reply Jesus gave. After hearing their charges, Jesus tells three parables—about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a prodigal son. Each of these stories has the same theme: rejoicing over the repentance of sinners. It’s possible, even likely, that some who ate with Jesus—such as during the feeding of the 5,000, or at Simon the Pharisee’s house—left unrepentant. But there is no evidence that Jesus ever ate with sinners or even spent significant time “hanging out” with them without calling them to turn from their sin.

There is no place in Scripture where Jesus was uncritically present when sin was occurring or when an action that mocked God was taking place. In fact, in the most famous example of Jesus witnessing an act where sin was taking place and God was being mocked—a scene recorded in all four Gospels—he made a whip of cords and drove sinners from the temple. Do we think this Jesus would unreservedly hang out in a place where men and women were mocking the dignity of the human body?

I wonder if what many people want to know is not whether Jesus would hang out at a strip club, but whether he’d have an issue if they hung out there. For those people, I’d recommend meditating on the words of Matthew 5:28–29.

Yes, to Shine in the Dark

Strip club? Crack house? Porn convention? Casino? Fill in the blank, and every response of mine is an absolute yes—Jesus would hang out in these places. Here’s why: There is no context, environment, or event that Jesus would choose not to be in.

Our limitations on where he might go are based on not fully understanding the desperate need for Christ in these godforsaken places. There are an estimated 400,000 strippers working in nearly 4,000 clubs in the United States. As followers of Christ, we should hang out in these places too.

In January 2002, Craig Gross and Mike Foster launched a ministry at a Las Vegas porn convention. The organization, XXXchurch.com, is devoted to being the presence of Christ at these events. There, volunteers have handed out thousands of Bibles with the words “Jesus loves porn stars” on the cover. I was taught about the deep and lavish grace of God not by a seminary professor but by the sex industry. In our moments of pride, we say that “those sinful people” have nothing to offer us, that we are there to save them. But a great desire of God is to ruin our spiritual pride. (If you don’t believe this, go to an AA meeting.)

Fear is the core reason why many of us would say “no” to Jesus hanging out in a strip club. Fill in the blank of what you might be afraid of happening: it might look bad; it wouldn’t be very productive to do ministry in that environment; people would be dragged down into a life of sin; someone would have to explain our actions to religious people.

I am sympathetic to these fears and their power. But such comments expose the smallness of our religion. A Christian leader once said to me, “Don’t blame the dark for being dark. Blame the light for not shining in the dark.”

God is the God of “yes” and the God of “go.” We have made our faith too heavy and our walk burdensome and scary. We are so great at making the gospel complex that we forget about the simplicity of Jesus. He is not held down by manmade restraints, restrictions, or rules. He easily strolls into the space of need and the lives that are desperate for healing.

Here is my purely marketing move: If I were acting as brand consultant for Jesus, I would tell him to go to the strip club. No place is off-limits to the gospel. In Luke 5:32 Jesus proclaims, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Everyone is looking for attention and trying to get their message out. Do you want to stand out? Then do what other teachers, religious leaders, and followers refuse to do. In my opinion, light shines the brightest in the darkest places—places like the neighborhood strip club.

~My More In Life Is Found Only In Jesus~

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Romans 5:1-11New International Version (NIV)

Peace and Hope

My cable company sent a postcard inviting me to check out its latest improvements in TV channels. The card indicated that I needed to contact the company to get the necessary new digital equipment and explained how to hook it up and activate it. After that, the ad said I was just to “sit back and enjoy the World of More.”

The card made me think of the “World of More” that Christians are privileged to live in. When God transports people from the darkness of sin “into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), a whole new life opens up.

Romans 5 tells us some of the more that we have in Christ: We have been “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (v.10) and therefore have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). We have access to God and His grace (v.2). Rejoicing in trouble is now possible because we understand that it’s an opportunity to grow in our character through trusting Him (vv.3-4). Additionally, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to live in us, pours the love of God into our hearts (v.5). And sin no longer has the same hold on us (6:18).

As Christians, we have unlimited access to a real “World of More.” Wouldn’t it be selfish not to invite others to join us in that special world?

The world seeks fulfillment in The pleasures they adore; But those who follow Jesus Christ Are given so much more.
Belonging to God brings boundless blessings.

 

~His Work Is Continuous In Us: He’s A Good Parent~

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Lately, there has been a passage of scripture that has been echoing in my mind.  I can’t think of any reason at all for this except to say that perhaps God is wanting me to focus on it.  The passage of scripture is Phil. 1:1-6 which says, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (KJV).  I am drawn to the final verse; and as I think about it, I am encouraged.

We need the confidence of knowing that the Lord is working in us, that He has not left us alone, and that He is very concerned about us.  Sometimes we experience that stale and dry season where we seem to have reached a stone wall in our spiritual development.  Of course, this could be true for many due to sin or rebellion of some sort.  But, for those who simply seek God and desire to experience Him more and more and yet find themselves wondering and waiting, this verse is for you.  It has three main parts:

First, the work that was begun in you was regeneration.  When you trusted in Christ and were born again, you were changed.  This is the beginning of the work of God in your hearts.  God saves us as we are, but He does not leave us as we are.  He changes us.  Initially, when we are saved, we are justified; that is, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes.  That is the easy part because it is all done by the Lord.  The hard part is the changing part.  It is called sanctification and is the process God puts us through to conform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus.  It is this second part, this sanctification, that is hidden in the phrase of Phil. 1:6 where it says, ” . . . will perform it . . . ” In other words, the Lord is “performing” (KJV), “perfecting” (NASB) us.  This perfecting will proceed until ” . . . the day of Jesus Christ.”  This is a reference to the return of Christ.  By design, the Bible leaves us with the impression that the return of Jesus can be accomplished at any time.  This work will continue in all Christians in all places and in all times until the return of Jesus.  Once He has been revealed, we will all be with Him (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2); and we will no longer as a whole church or as individuals need to be perfected since the full manifestation of our salvation has been realized in the resurrection and/or change of our bodies to the incorruptible state.

So, Phil. 1:6 carries with it the past, present, and future work of God in us and for us because of what Jesus has done on the cross.  Remember, it is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus that the Lord will and is working in us.  If you are having problems of some sort, doubting your salvation, unsure about your growth, let the Lord speak to your heart by spending time in prayer and reading His word.  He uses these things to “perfect” the work that He has begun in you.  Remember that the Lord will never forsake you or leave you.  He cannot be unfaithful, and His love for you cannot fail.  To the Lord be the glory.

~The Stature Of Alpha and Omega~

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The Jesus of the Incarnation provides us with a more authentic leadership than “alpha males” in the wild or in politics, for in His differences He is Alpha and Omega.

Some of us learned a new term during the late and unlamented presidential campaign. Campaign observers, drawing on something learned from studies of animals in the wild, told us that one of the candidates was trying to learn to behave as an Alpha Male. An Alpha Male. What does that mean?

In the wild, certain creatures become leaders of the pack and exhibit the sort of behavior that makes others follow them instinctively. Gray wolves, for example, will travel in packs, and one male and his mate will emerge as leaders. A certain aggressiveness, a body endowed with powerful limbs, the ability to react swiftly to danger, a protective spirit – all of these things mark the alpha male among gray wolves. And similar behavior can be found in the animal kingdom in a variety of creatures, from chimpanzees to iguanas. The alpha male is the one who takes charge, asserts himself, makes things happen, and allows for no rivals. Every inch the leader of the pack. The one others follow. The one who keeps peace in the pack by the force of his leadership.

We need alphas. We human beings are not exempt from the need to have someone to follow. Today we might quarrel with the insistence on alpha males; there are, and must be, alpha females too. But we need alphas. We need someone we can follow. We need someone with a vision of peace, a strategy for peacemaking and peacekeeping. Most of us are not made of alpha stuff. We must have in front of us a leader whose strength is indisputable, whose intellect is powerful, whose spirit is indomitable, and whose character is unquestionable. We must have someone who is committed to creating a peace-filled and orderly world.

But where shall we find such a person? Who will give us that sort of leadership? Who can make peace and keep peace for us. Will we find such a leader in politics? Some of us quickly became accustomed to the idea of a presidential vacuum during the recent election crisis. Some of us felt that the nation had not so much chosen a leader as it had waffled on both of the candidates. They just did not seem to inspire great passion, one way or the other. No real alpha males there.

Shall we find such a leader in the business world? An alpha male among the megamillions of the dotcom pioneers or the inventors of new biotechnologies? Will wealth make peace?

Shall we find an alpha in the academic world? A philosopher who can put all wisdom together and create peace?

Or in the military world? An alpha general who can marshal military muscle sufficient to hold the field for peace?

In a world of change and conflict, in a time of suspicion and terror, if we are to have peace, we must follow a leader who is an unquestioned alpha. Someone who stands without blemish at the head of the pack. Someone whose life, whose heart, whose mind, whose spirit we may trust.

Two thousand years ago, all of the same pursuits toward peace we use today had been tried and found wanting. The world had tried politics and there was no peace. Augustus Caesar on his throne in far-off Rome held that throne through intrigue and terror, not trust. Men followed Augustus because they had to, not because they wanted to. And there was no peace. There was no alpha.

Wealth had not created peace either. In fact the pursuit of wealth had wreaked havoc on humanity, for slavery was everywhere, and the unbridled pursuit of wealth made life miserable. Everywhere there were thieves and highway robbers. Decent people could not be safe, even in their own homes, when the publicans came around. King Herod, a small-minded man with a penchant for a pretty face and an appetite for self-indulgence, could have cared less about his people. No peace, no alpha there to guard the public trust.

Nor had military might made peace. Oh, Rome had imposed its own understanding of peace on the empire, but it was bought with a great price. Someone quipped that the Romans entered your land, destroyed it, made it a desert, and then called that “peace”. They came to destroy and not to build. And they governed with self-centered little men like Pontius Pilate, more concerned about being noticed by Rome so that a promotion would come than about building up the people. No alphas there, no leaders to be trusted.

Two thousand years ago, as now, the world was hungry for true peace. And needed someone to bring it peace. Needed an alpha leader to follow. The wonder of it all, that on a starlit night on a Judean hillside, heaven and earth saw Him born. A babe, but not just any babe. The prince of peace. A child, but not just any child. The alpha, the word made flesh.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

I submit to you tonight that Jesus the Christ, the child of Bethlehem, is the world’s alpha male. He is the one we must follow if there is to be peace. He is the one who can be trusted. He is the one who knows the secrets of our hearts and can bring us to authentic peace. He is our alpha.

Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads out of poverty and humility, not out of wealth and pompous prestige. Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He shows us that whoever is worth following is worthy because of the qualities of character he has, not because of the trappings of power around him. Leadership is not what you have, it is what you are. Leadership is not what stuff you have accumulated, it is the stuff you are made of. Jesus is our alpha because He leads us not with wealth or political power or military muscle, but with the force of His character.

Gardner Taylor is known as a prince of preachers. Many have tried to imitate his inimitable preaching style. The story is that years ago, one young preacher, noticing that Gardner Taylor often preaches with his pulpit robe hanging open, decided that would be his style too. He went to his pulpit, opened his robe, then opened his mouth, and quickly demonstrated that it’s not the robe on the outside of the man, it’s what’s inside the man inside the robe that makes a preacher. Jesus is our alpha, for he leads from a lowly stable, dressed in swaddling clothes, with nothing to persuade us of His importance. But He is our alpha by the force of His character.

Martin Luther King taught us a few years ago to be sure to measure others not by externals, like the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. He reminded us to measure others by the content of their character. Jesus Christ is without spot or blemish, without failure or flaw. He is our alpha, for He leads us not by the stuff He has, but by the stuff He is.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Further, Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads by identifying with us. Not by lording it over us, but by identifying with us. By living among us, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see, tasting what we taste, suffering what we suffer. He is no lofty philosophical ideal, above it all, untouched by the human predicament. He is the word made flesh, right here, getting his hands dirty, with us. With us. Immanuel, God with us. He identifies with us, just as we are.

If you travel around the world and see the images of Jesus as they are presented in various cultures, you will see a remarkable thing. You will see Jesus’ face taking on the characteristics of all the peoples who worship Him. In Japan, His almond-shaped eyes look out at you from rice paper paintings. In Peru, His high cheekbones are those of an Inca noble. In Poland, His features are unmistakably Slavic. In northern Europe, His image looks a bit like mine. In Africa, His image looks like many of you. It’s not that any of these images are historically and literally correct. Very likely Jesus the man looked something like your Jewish or your Arab neighbors. It’s not that these images are historically correct; they’re not. But they are spiritually correct. They are spiritually true.

Jesus is our alpha because He identifies with us. It is He, not Santa Claus, who knows what you’ve been thinking, for He knows who we are and what we face. He has been here. He has walked among us. He is like us and yet unlike us. Not a God a way out somewhere in the stratosphere, remote and untouchable. But with us. Among us. Like us. Jesus is our alpha, our prince of peace, for He identifies with us.

Further, Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life, a way of life which, if we take it seriously, will lead to peace. Jesus is our alpha, our pioneer, for He teaches a way of life like no other teacher who has ever lived.

I am persuaded that the sickness of modern Christianity is that we have not taken seriously the radical demands of our master. When Jesus tells us that if someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to turn the other, we dismiss that as unrealistic idealism. When Jesus teaches us that when that person who is so demanding, so insistent, and we’ve already given him as much as we think he deserves — when he asks for even more, we can’t handle it. We don’t like it. We won’t do it. But Jesus teaches that if any one asks of you your coat, give him your cloak as well. What a radical teacher He is! And we have never really taken Him seriously.

This coming year I hope to lead an outreach that will be second to none into a year of rediscovering Jesus. I want to gain buy-in of all denominations to form a coalition to push the initiatives of the gospel to a degree that gang-bangers and addicts alike would receive the essential Jesus. I hope we will conclude, as did the Temple officers reported in John’s Gospel, “Never man spake like this man.” How true that is! With what matchless insight He probes us and instructs us and leads us! Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life.

~The Keys To Kingdom Building As We Are led~

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It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.

David Allan Coe

Screenshot_2014-10-07-16-32-01 Screenshot_2014-10-07-16-39-06

In my desire to help further the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dyeing world I have taken the liberty of starting this blog. There are so many challenges associated with ministry and one can be compelled to stall his or her efforts if not for the help of the holy spirit. It is our work to give to the whole world–to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people–the saving truths of the gospel of reconciliation and to herald the third angels message. But it has been a difficult problem to know how to reach the people in the great centers of population. We are not allowed entrance to the churches. In the cities the large halls are expensive, and in most cases but few will come out to the best halls. We have been spoken against by those who were not acquainted with us. The reasons of our faith are not understood by the people, and we have been regarded as fanatics who are ignorantly looking to the heavens and Jesus Christ for salvation. In this work I have been perplexed to know how to break through the barriers of worldliness and prejudice, and bring before the people the precious truth which means so much to them. The Lord has instructed us that the innovation and culturally sound presentation of His word is one of the most important instrumentalities for the accomplishment of this work.

This outline is for May and I to use to build a culturally sound church community within our vision of Second Chance Alliance. We believe that as much as possible we should infuse our community with the core beliefs of our existence as it is wholesomely apart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some church leaders find planning a formidable exercise. In reality, the planning process is simple —conceptually. It can be described as answering seven key questions:

  1. Spiritual Needs Assessment: What are the greatest spiritual needs of our church and community?
  2. Strengths and Weaknesses: What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of our church?
  3. Opportunities and Threats or Barriers: What are the most significant ministry opportunities for and potential threats (or barriers) to our church, given the answers to the first two questions?
  4. Ministry Options: What appear to be the most viable options for strengthening the ministry of our church?
  5. Ministry Platform: What is the primary ministry platform on which our specific ministries should be built? Included in the ministry platform are our statement of faith, vision statement, mission statement, philosophy of ministry, and listing of ministries.
  6. Ministry Goals: What goals is the Holy Spirit leading us to strive for to enhance our church’s ministry over the next year? The next two to three years?
  7. Action Steps: What action steps must we accomplish to achieve these goals?

Getting your team to agree on the answers to these questions (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) may or may not be simple, depending on the circumstances and the relationships of leaders in your church. We feel strongly about fellowship with our leaders to gain leverage in togetherness and creating a 360 degree circumference around our team to solidify our ranks.  We are compelled to this undertaking by the need to fulfill the Scriptural model of Titus 1:5; to set churches in order through the appointment of godly leadership.

What not to do

In Hemet Ca, where we live, potholes are in abundance on most side roads. Some can be avoided, while others come upon you so quickly they are difficult to miss. On the avenue called planning, it’s important to know the potholes to avoid:

  1. Making Planning Too Complex: There are usually two or three key issues that will be discovered, and, if acted on, will lead to enhanced health and vitality. One church in Covina Ca. narrowed their planning to: (1) revising the organization chart, (2) enhancing community life, and (3) streamlining priorities. When these three issues were named, each ministry team could set goals for day-to-day ministry, based on them.
  2. Not Reaching Conclusions and Making an Action Plan: Tie up loose ends along the way, and outline appropriate action steps.
  3. Not Keeping the Action Plan Simple: One church I worked with had such a long document, with dozens of goals and action steps, that it felt overwhelming and didn’t win approval. The objective is to create a plan that every member can articulate without having to refer to any documentation.
  4. Not Revisiting the Plan: Your plan should be adjustable along the way, revised and renewed according to the needs and resources available to you. Keep your planning documents alive. Don’t shelve them, file them, or formalize them in pretty documents. At Second Chance Alliance, we hold our plans loosely, in a “white paper” format, with lots of room for give and take each step of the way. May and I are learning as we go how to build and implement viable concepts that will help us with the trajectory we desire to get our model off the ground and receive excitement and commitment with buy-in to our visions.

Taking Too Long: Don’t let your planning team tire and begin to complain about the value of doing this. Keep the group moving forward toward conclusion and celebration.

Trusting Your Instincts apart from Prayer: As a team, lean fully in God’s direction to hear his voice, feel his heart, understand his will, and trust his empowering presence to lead you. Strategic planning in a local church or business is a process that God through his Holy Spirit must direct. Become a people of prayer as you trust him for his design for your church!

~Be Careful The “Hater” Isn’t “YOU”~

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Don’t worry if you have haters; Jesus Christ was perfect, and they still hated him! What should we expect being imperfect?

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on therighteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I think it’s important to first say a little about why loving your enemies is necessary. Jesus gives us the answer in verse 48. Based on everything that has gone before in this chapter (as well as the concept of loving your enemies), Jesus says you cannot be perfect without it. The word perfect in verse 48 comes from the Greek word “teleios.”   And while “perfect” is a good translation, I think it distracts from the meaning here. Another way to translate teleios is “complete” or “mature.” So what I think Jesus is trying to say here is if you wanted to be a complete person, or a fully mature human being, loving your enemies is something that you have to do.

 

 

haters

“They hating on me!” or “Haters are going to hate!” are common phrases that some use to justify reasons why someone or a group of people have an unfavorable opinion of them or their activities.  The term “haters” has become popular in the last few years to describe others, but can you actually “hate” on yourself?  Read some ways the person hating on you could be in the mirror.

1. Comparing Yourself to Others – If you are constantly comparing what you have or don’t have to what others do or don’t have, then you may be borderline hating on yourself.  Comparisons may ignite low self-esteem and depression and have been one of the top five causes of why relationships end.

2. Not Listening to Your Inner Voice – Your inner voice, your conscience, or whatever you prefer to call it can be your saving grace for so many reasons.  Usually, your conscience is based upon your mind and body’s history and best practices in each situation.  Sometimes your natural reaction may not be your best reaction and it’s that inner voice that tells you to do differently. Listen.

3. Doing Just Enough to Get By – With the exception of trust fund babies, “self-made” successful people usually have a story of sacrifice, hard work, perseverance and dedication.  The only person “doing just enough” hurts is yourself.  When you can, do more, give more, show how much “more” you are than people realize.

4. Not Being a Man or Woman of Your Word – One of the quickest ways to get “realistic” haters is to lie about who you truly are.  Saying one thing and not following through gives a false representation of who you truly are. Don’t allow others the satisfaction of misinterpreting you. Give them the real “say-what-i-do-and-do-what-i-say” self.

5. Not Believing In Your Ability – We can sometimes be our own worst enemy.  Saying that you “can’t” or that something “never” happens to you is speaking to your own downfall.  Use words like “I can” and “I will” to verbally affirm your current and future positions.  Research has shown that those who visualize their goal on a consistent basis are 33% more likely to achieve those goals.

6. Saying That You Have Haters (When You Really Don’t) – Be honest with yourself:  are people really “hating” on you or are they telling you the truth?  Sometimes the truth hurts, but can lead to healing.  It may do you good to take a look at what the person says (not how they say it) and see if it’s true.  If it’s true, do what you need to do to be better. If it’s false, do what you need to do to stay strong.

Remember, announcing that you have haters rarely does anything to help your case, as nearly everyone has haters nowadays.  The differentiating factor is how you rise above despite your obstacles.

 

 

~Does There Have To Be A Ground Under You Before You Believe You Can Walk?~

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Now, God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair.

William Shakespeare

Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son… I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven; …because thou hast obeyed my voice (Genesis 22:16-18).

And from that day to this, men have been learning that when, at God’s voice, they surrender up to Him the one thing above all else that was dearest to their very hearts, that same thing is returned to them by Him a thousand times over. Abraham gives up his one and only son, at God’s call, and with this disappear all his hopes for the boy’s life and manhood, and for a noble family bearing his name. But the boy is restored, the family becomes as the stars and sands in number, and out of it, in the fullness of time, appears Jesus Christ.

That is just the way God meets every real sacrifice of every child of His. We surrender all and accept poverty; and He sends wealth. We renounce a rich field of service; He sends us a richer one than we had dared to dream of. We give up all our cherished hopes, and die unto self; He sends us the life more abundant, and tingling joy.

And the crown of it all is our Jesus Christ. For we can never know the fullness of the life that is in Christ until we have made Abraham’s supreme sacrifice. The earthly founder of the family of Christ must commence by losing himself and his only son, just as the Heavenly Founder of that family did. We cannot be members of that family with the full privileges and joys of membership upon any other basis.

We sometimes seem to forget that what God takes He takes in fire; and that the only way to the resurrection life and the ascension mount is the way of the garden, the cross, and the grave.

Think not, O soul of man, that Abraham’s was a unique and solitary experience. It is simply a specimen and pattern of God’s dealings with all souls who are prepared to obey Him at whatever cost. After thou hast patiently endured, thou shalt receive the promise. The moment of supreme sacrifice shall be the moment of supreme and rapturous blessing. God’s river, which is full of water, shall burst its banks, and pour upon thee a tide of wealth and grace.

There is nothing, indeed, which God will not do for a man who dares to step out upon what seems to be the mist; though as he puts down his foot he finds a rock beneath him. Please have faith with us that Second Chance Alliance will become a reality in God’s time. Click the insignia to view the cause and offer your prayer if not your talents or treasures.

Empower A Felon

 

I Obeyed The World’s Military and Failed; I Now Serve God’s Service and Won~

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Aaron ribbons

Luke vii.2-9. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself; for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard these things he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

There is something puzzling in this speech of the centurion’s. One must think twice, and more than twice, to understand clearly what he had in his mind. I, indeed, am not quite sure that I altogether understand it. But I may, perhaps, help you to understand it, by telling you what this centurion was.

He was not a Jew. He was a Roman, and a heathen; a man of our race, very likely. And he was a centurion, a captain in the army; and one, mind, who had risen from the ranks, by good conduct, and good service. Before he got his vine-stock, which was the mark of his authority over a hundred men, he had, no doubt, marched many a weary mile under a heavy load, and fought, probably, many a bloody battle in foreign parts. That had been his education, his training, namely, discipline, and hard work. And because he had learned to obey, he was fit to rule. He was helping now to keep in order those treacherous, unruly Jews, and their worthless puppet-kings, like Herod; much as our soldiers in India are keeping in order the Hindoos, and their worthless puppet-kings.

Whether the Romans had any right to conquer and keep down the Jews as they did, is no concern of ours just now. But we have proof that what this centurion did, he did wisely and kindly. The elders of the Jews said of him, that he loved the Jews, and had built them a synagogue, a church. I suppose that what he had heard from them about a one living God, who had made all things in heaven and earth, and given them a law, which cannot be broken, so that all things obey him to this day — I suppose, I say, that this pleased him better than the Roman stories of many gods, who were capricious, and fretful, and quarrelled with each other in a fashion which ought to have been shocking to the conscience and reason of a disciplined soldier.

There was a great deal, besides, in the Old Testament, which would, surely, come home to a soldier’s heart, when it told him of a God of law, and order, and justice, and might, who defended the right in battle, and inspired the old Jews to conquer the heathen, and to fight for their own liberty. For what was it, which had enabled the Romans to conquer so many great nations? What was it which enabled them to keep them in order, and, on the whole, make them happier, more peaceable, more prosperous, than they had ever been? What was it which had made him, the poor common soldier, an officer, and a wealthy man, governing, by his little garrison of a hundred soldiers, this town of Capernaum, and the country round?

It was this. Discipline; drill; obedience to authority. That Roman army was the most admirably disciplined which the world till then had ever seen. So, indeed, was the whole Roman Government. Every man knew his place, and knew his work. Every man had been trained to obey orders; if he was told to go, to go; if he was told to do, to do, or to die in trying to do, what he was bidden.

This was the great and true thought which had filled this good man’s mind — duty, order, and obedience. And by thinking of order, and seeing how strength, and safety, and success lie in order, and by giving himself up to obey orders, body and soul, like a good soldier, had that plain man (who had certainly no scholarship, perhaps could barely read or write) caught sight of a higher, wider, deeper order than even that of a Roman army. He had caught sight of that divine and wonderful order, by which God has constituted the services of men, and angels, and all created things; that divine and wonderful order by which sun and stars, fire and hail, wind and vapour, cattle and creeping things fulfil his word.

Fulfil God’s word. That was the thought, surely, which was in the good soldier’s mind, and which he was trying to speak out; clumsily, perhaps, but truly enough. I suppose, then, that he thought in his own mind somewhat in this way. ‘There is a word of command among us soldiers. Has God, then, no word of command likewise? And that word of command is enough. Is not God’s word of command enough likewise? I merely speak, and I am obeyed. I am merely spoken to, and I obey. Shall not God merely speak, and be obeyed likewise? There is discipline and order among men, because it is necessary. An Army cannot be manoeuvred, a Government cannot be carried on, without it. Is there not a discipline and order in all heaven and earth? And that discipline is carried out by simple word of command. A word from me will make a man rush upon certain death. A word from certain other men will make me rush on certain death. For I am a man under authority. I have my tribune (colonel, as we should say) over me; and he, again, the perfect (general of brigade) over him. Their word is enough for me. If they want me to do a thing, they do not need to come under my roof, to argue with me, to persuade me, much less to thrust me about, and make me obey them by force. They say to me, ‘Go,’ and I go; and I say to those under me, ‘Go,’ and they go likewise.

And if I can work by a word, cannot this Jesus work by a word likewise? He is a messenger of God, with commission and authority from God, to work his will on his creatures. Are not God’s creatures as well ordered, disciplined, obedient, as we soldiers are? Are they not a hundred times better ordered? A messenger from God? Is he not a God himself; a God in goodness and mercy; a God in miraculous power? Cannot he do his work by a word, far more certainly than I can do mine? If my word can send a man to death, cannot his word bring a man back to life? Surely it can. ‘Lord, thou needest not to come under my roof; speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.’

By some such thoughts as these, I suppose, had this good soldier gained his great faith; his faith that all God’s creatures were in a divine, and wonderful order, obedient to the will of God who made them; and that Jesus Christ was God’s viceroy and lieutenant (I speak so, because I suppose that is what he, as a soldier, would have thought), to carry out God’s commands on earth.

Now remember that he was the first heathen man of whom we read, that he acknowledged Christ. Remember, too, that the next heathen of whom we read, that he acknowledged Christ, was also a Roman centurion, he whom the old legends call Longinus, who, when he saw our Lord upon the cross, said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ Remember, again, that the next heathen of whom we read as having acknowledged Christ, he to whom St. Peter was sent, at Joppa, who is often called the first fruits of the heathen, was a Roman centurion likewise.

Surely, there must have been a reason for this. There must be a lesson in this; and this, I think, is the lesson. That the soldierlike habit of mind is one which makes a man ready to receive the truth of Christ. And why? Because the good soldier’s first and last thought is Duty. To do his duty by those who are set over him, and to learn to do his duty to those who are set under him. To turn his whole mind and soul to doing, not just what he fancies, but to what must be done, because it is his duty. This is the character which makes a good soldier, and a good Christian likewise. If we be undisciplined and undutiful, and unruly; if we be fanciful, self- willed, disobedient; then we shall not understand Christ, or Christ’s rule on earth and in heaven. If there be no order within us, we shall not see his divine and wonderful order all around us. If there be no discipline and obedience within us, we shall never believe really that Christ disciplines all things, and that all things obey him. If there be no sense of duty in us, governing our whole lives and actions, we shall never perceive the true beauty and glory of Christ’s character, who sacrificed himself for his duty, which was to do his Father’s will.

I tell you, my friends, that nothing prevents a man from gaining either right doctrines or right practice, so much as the undutiful, unruly, self-conceited heart. We may be full of religious knowledge, of devout sentiments, of heavenly aspirations: but in spite of them all, we shall never get beyond false doctrine, and loose practice, unless we have learned to obey; to rule our own minds, and hearts, and tempers, soberly and patiently; to conform to the laws, and to all reasonable rules of society, to believe that God has called us to our station in life, whatever it may be; and to do our duty therein, as faithful soldiers and servants of Christ. For, if you will receive it, the beginning and the middle, and the end of all true religion is simply this. To do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven.

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~Family, Friends, Coworkers, Neighbors, How Do You Love Them In Difficult times?~

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Someone has defined friendship as “knowing the heart of another and sharing one’s heart with another.” We share our hearts with those we trust, and trust those who care about us. We confide in our friends because we have confidence that they will use the information to help us, not harm us. They in turn confide in us for the same reason. This week the winds of adversity have blown strong with deceit, arrogance, and piety from family and friends alike. I found myself troubled beyond measure today because of all the mess in the world that is more important than some of the family issues and church issues I have had to deal with.

We often refer to Jesus as our friend because we know that He wants what is best for us. We confide in Him because we trust Him. But have you ever considered that Jesus confides in His people?

Jesus began calling His disciples friends rather than servants because He had entrusted them with everything He had heard from His Father (John 15:15). Jesus trusted the disciples to use the information for the good of His Father’s kingdom.

Although we know that Jesus is our friend, can we say that we are His friends? Do we listen to Him? Or do we only want Him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on His heart? Or do we only want to tell Him what’s on ours? To be a friend of Jesus, we need to listen to what He wants us to know and then use the information to bring others into friendship with Him.

 Sweet thought! We have a Friend above, Our weary, faltering steps to guide, Who follows with His eye of love The precious child for whom He died.

One of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry is dealing with difficult people. These are people who need help but seem to challenge you at every turn as you try to provide that help. How should the church respond and minister in these situations? Everyone has to relate to difficult people—and most of us have been difficult people ourselves at one time or another! Therefore, every Christian should know how the gospel guides us in these relationships.

Two passages that guide me in this are 1 Peter 4:8 and Ephesians 3:14-19. In the 1 Peter passage, we are called to “love one another deeply.” The word translated deeply can also mean “constant”. “Keep love constant” would be a good translation. The word describes something that is stretched or extended. The love of the saints keeps stretching, in both depth and endurance. This connects nicely with Ephesians 3 where Paul prays that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Persevering love grows out of the gospel. You must start here if you are going to find the strength and incentive to go the distance with people.

With these scriptures as guidance, I offer a list of ten pastoral skills that I learned as I discipled one individual who came with many difficult problems.

I will call her Tonya. She is in her 40’s and seems to be a sincere believer in Christ. She is in a bad marriage. She is someone who would classically be labeled bipolar or manic-depressive. She has successfully isolated herself from people in her church because once they get to know her, they become overwhelmed by her. Here is the challenge: How do I love Tonya well? What will it look like to be useful to her in her growth in grace? These lessons have taken me many years to learn—and I am still learning with other “Tonya’s” that God graciously and wisely places in my life. I will speak directly to you, the reader, about the difficult people God calls you to serve. Sometimes I will refer to Tonya  in particular and sometimes to difficult people as a whole.

Lesson 1. Pay Attention to the Heart (Yours and Theirs)

The category of the heart must be kept on the radar at all times.

  • Yours—God has ordained that this person be in your life. The first pastoral exercise is to pay attention to the common temptations to sin that different kinds of difficult people pose to you. Manipulative “borderline personality”? Angry and oblivious? Addicted and deceitful? Unstable “bipolar”? You may be tempted to overpower, or to appease, or to avoid such people. You will likely move typically in one of these directions or bounce back and forth between them in an effort to get some relief. You end up, if you are not carefully attending to your own heart, sinfully responding to the challenges that the difficult person is bringing into your life. If you do this, how then can you call this person to respond to life in godly ways when you aren’t even responding in godly ways? This, by the way, is true of any relationship.
  • Theirs—As you get to know difficult people, you begin to see the particular types of suffering that each person has experienced. You begin to see typical ways that the person tends to respond. With people who evidence what may be a more physiological component, keep that in mind as you seek to pastor them well. With someone who is manic-depressive, don’t let behavior on either extreme of the continuum fool you. Don’t get hijacked by the momentary emotional state. With Nancy, many elements were at work at any given moment when I would talk with her: a bad day with her husband, children, person in the church, no sleep, fear of the future… or a good day with her husband, children, person in the church, and lots of sleep. Each person is responding in either a godly or ungodly way to events. What patterns do you see as you get to know them and move towards them? What are their typical ungodly ways of dealing with life and what tends to drive those behaviors? There will be opportunities to help a person see these things. Find simple Scripture passages that will provide guidance during these times, and experience the joys of biblical repentance in the midst of the difficulty.

Lesson 2. Clearly Define Who Sets the Agenda

The common language that is often used here is the language of “boundaries”. I think that can be helpful but it does not go deep enough. Who sets the agenda in any relationship? God does. The only difference is what the agenda will be not who sets it. God sets the agenda in all of our relationships and He does here as well. Recognizing this, reminds you that you—the helper—are also under the gaze of God. The language of “boundaries” typically gives the impression that as the helper, you must set boundaries in order to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. If we think of this in terms of God setting the agenda, the end result will be you loving the person well rather than just protecting yourself.

With Nancy, because God set the agenda, there were times when I made sacrifices that were appropriate. Some of these decisions affected my family and lifestyle: the phone call at home late at night, or the sudden appearance at my house or office. Then there were other times that I told her I could not speak with her at that moment but would be willing to talk to her at some later time that we both agreed would work. There were times though, that I was tempted to agree to speak to her immediately because I did not want her to dislike me, or I was fearful that she would tell someone in the church that I had not cared for her like a good pastor should. Saying no at these times was an expression of godliness and love for Nancy. There were instances that I told her to go home and get some sleep and then call me that afternoon at the office. Grace-driven acceptance of a person does not mean open-ended availability.

It is important that you take the initiative to communicate some guidelines for the relationship and to alert the person that there will be many times when you will not be available. Be clear about when and where you may be contacted. Do this with love and then have godly courage to say no a few times early on when you think the person has moved beyond what is appropriate for the moment. If you are too available, it will likely lead to anger in you, because you assume that the person should respect boundaries like other people do. Don’t make that assumption. Another reason to set limits for people is because otherwise it may be too easy for them to go to you before they cry out to God. You, in effect, could be the very person who is making it too easy for them to avoid dealing directly with and depending upon Christ.

Lesson 3. Have Biblically Realistic/Optimistic Goals

Here is a place where your theology of the Christian life means everything. The doctrine of sanctification sees the Christian life through the biblical lens of slow, steady, back and forth progress. It’s realistic: change is incremental. It’s also optimistic: there is progress. For me, as I got a handle on the practical pastoral implications of this biblical understanding of the Christian life, it made all the difference in the world.

When Nancy was really depressed, I was thankful that she was still coming to church and seeking help. When she was particularly upbeat and euphoric, I would avoid being duped and then let down when she was depressed again. Without this leveling view of the Christian life, you will be a manic-depressive enabler!

Lesson 4. Redefine Love

If you do not re-define love biblically, you will be very disappointed if you are called to help other people— especially difficult people. A succinct definition of love is found in I John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” That’s it. Love means death. Let me nuance that some. Loving people well is the most inefficient thing you could ever do, but according to Jesus, it is the godliest thing you can ever do. I John 3:16 goes on to say, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Another way of thinking about this is exchanging the word “servant hood” in place of the word “success.” We are not called to fix people; we are called to serve them. The sooner we lay hold of this biblical priority, the sooner we will not be undone when someone does not “get better” right away or remains in our lives for a long time. Imagine in John 13, when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet—if he thought in terms of success—he would have kicked the bucket over, screamed at the disciples and stomped out. When you look at the characters in the room that night, success would not have been a word that would come to mind. And yet Jesus served. Paul Miller makes this wonderful observation in his book Love Walked Among Us, “Jesus’ tenderness with people suggested to me a new, less “efficient,” way of relating. Love, I realized, is not efficient.”1

It was through the “Tonya’s” in my life that I realized what it was like to work with people. It’s messy and inefficient and I don’t like that. And yet, it was just where God wanted me. I needed Nancy as much— if not more— than she needed me. I needed her in the sense that I needed to be more like Christ. I needed to see how much I wasn’t like him. I needed to see how desperately selfish I was and that if I did not redefine love along biblical lines, I would continue to be a selfish person who only met with people because I had to.

Lesson 5. Give the Person Hope

For someone like Tonya, change doesn’t seem to be something that is very visible or tangible. There were times when she was so discouraged that she thought suicide was a possible option. One of the practical ways to help someone like Nancy have hope is by clearly defining some things that can reasonably be accomplished and stating these in simple measurable ways.

Ask the person, “What do you want to see God do in your life over the next week?” You will be amazed how this reframes the person’s view of the future. This question encourages them to think about the possibilities of being different and of living differently in the coming week. Maybe their circumstances will not change, but maybethey can change instead. The simpler the goals are— the better. Do this within the context of the gospel and Christ’s covenant love for them.

Lesson 6. Call the Person to Serve

Another critical place a difficult person often needs to grow is in the area of loving others. The Bible says that everyone has been given gifts and can encourage, bear burdens, and be used in the lives of other people. As you attend to the heart issues in a person’s life and as you frame the relationship to serve the sanctifying purposes of God, a hopeful call to loving others is only appropriate.

Nancy had a husband and two children whom she could love and serve. She was surrounded by other wives who were struggling in their marriages. It is not good for difficult people to simply “take” from their families and friends. This is destructive behavior that is not pleasing to God and it is driven by a host of attitudes that God will not bless. Calling people to serve others will move them towards people and outside of themselves. It will help them see that they are valuable members of the body of Christ,and are not the only people who struggle.

Lesson 7. Connect the Person with the Body of Christ

This is important for two reasons. First, it is only within the context of others that difficult people are going to die to themselves. Secondly, it is only within the context of other people that you can adequately help the person. My experience is that difficult people need a host of helpers that are all doing basically the same thing in concert with one another.

I always encouraged Tonya to stay connected. I knew that I was not sufficient for her growth. But that is nothing new, is it? We all need many people around us speaking into and acting in our lives and on our behalf. I would structure contexts for discipleship for her. Thankfully, she would do a lot of this on her own, too. Though sometimes her involvement with others was selfishly motivated, thankfully it was with wise women who knew how to love her well. She was also connected to a small group Bible study where she was surrounded by a group of people who would keep up with her.

Your failure to do this reveals as much about your heart as it does the heart of the difficult person. When people are overly needy, and we do not share the load, it reveals that we may be overly needy of their need of us!

Lesson 8. Work Wisely with Other Helpers

It is inevitable as you work with difficult people that you will be criticized by them. Sometimes they will do this to your face, but most of the time they will do it with others who are reaching out to them. The illustration that I think works here is the illustration of a child. If the child does not get what is wanted from one parent, the child will complain to other parent in an effort to get it. If you are helping a difficult person, chances are you are not the only person in their lives. They are amazingly connected! If you know this from the outset, you can begin to find out who else they depend on. With that information, you can wisely seek appropriate ways to make sure that the various helpers do not get caught between the complaints of the difficult person. When a difficult person complains to you about someone who has not helped them, use this as an opportunity to remind the difficult person that the person they are speaking about does care for them. Encourage the others to do this as well.

There were occasions with Nancy where I would have to remind her of how much God had been good to her by giving her the friends she had. It was also an opportunity to challenge her to learn to love even when she was not getting what she wanted from others.

Lesson 9. Connect the Person to Christ Himself

What could be more obvious and yet what could be least obvious. People need something and someone more than you. They need Christ. If you are not careful, you may be the one person that keeps them from him if you love yourself more than you love the difficult person. One of the temptations in pastoral ministry is to forget who the Chief Shepherd of the sheep is. A gentle reminder: it is not you. I remember being in the midst of a broader family crisis with Nancy. The weight of it all was coming down on me. Sometime that week a friend called me and sensed the weight in my voice. He spoke gently and lovingly to me when he said, “Tim, remember, you are not the ultimate shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is.” His words cut and healed at the same time. They called me to repent of my people, control, and success idolatries. At the same time, they reminded me that Jesus was more concerned for and able to help this person than 1000 pastors working at once. We need to connect people to Christ to remind them as well as ourselves that we are not the Chief Shepherd of the sheep.

Lesson 10. Remember: We are All Difficult People

Finally, a helpful reminder that is always appropriate to remember as we serve difficult people. From God’s point of view, aren’t we all difficult people? Romans 5:8 sums it up nicely when it says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Verse 10 goes on to say, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.”

Conclusion

These 10 lessons are practical ways that I have grown in wisdom within the context of pastoral ministry. Helping difficult people is challenging but if you see it as extension of the gospel into the everyday lives of God’s people, your path will be clearer and your love more “constant” because it depends less on you and more on the God who calls you to do it.

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~Living In Faith While In The Worlds Tribulations~

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Recently, God has handed me some pretty big challenges. Challenges, one might question why we are given some of the toughest situations in our every day life. Your life is flowing along smoothly, things are great, one couldn’t ask for more. You tell people “My life could not be any better. God really is taking care of me.” You start to get very comfortable on easy street, so comfortable that you start slacking in three of the most vital importance’s, of one’s life… staying in the word, church/fellowship and prayer.

Suddenly, you have forgotten to praise God when you wake every morning. You forget to thank him for his blessings, comfort and protection as you go through your day. You don’t try to but when one is in their “comfort zone” they begin to turn their focus on earthly things instead of on God above. Then, just when you think that nothing could go wrong, you hit rock bottom. Suddenly, your life is shattered, crumbling before your eyes. Panic sets in and soon you are grieving. You ask “ Why God Why?” “What have I done to deserve this?” You tell God, as in my case, “Have I not suffered enough?”

 

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You see, in my case my life crumbled a year and a half ago.  After many years of working hard to keep things together, protect my children and provide a good family life for them.  One in which we did not always have.  But, for years I thought that Gods plan for me was to keep it together no matter the cost or what kind of destructive effect it had on my life.  At that time I was in the word every day, I prayed constantly and was very involved in my church.  I found myself screaming at God questioning him and then begging his forgiveness for subconsciously allowing Satan to have an inch of control.  I constantly had to remind myself to refocus, that God had a purpose for my suffering and that he had a better plan for me.  I remembered my faith and knew that he was just waiting on me.  Waiting on me to ask for him.  His hope for me was to stop trying to live my life alone, taking care of everyone around me, avoiding any help that I might need and thinking that I could do it myself.

I remember being on my knees one day, tears streaming down my face.  I humbled myself before God.  I was so tired and fragile.  I feared that I no longer had the strength to push on.  I can remember crying and telling God that I was sorry for my mistakes, for letting him down and most of all for being upset with the one person who has carried me my entire life, Jesus Christ.  I prayed to God that day and said “God, I am so tired.  I do not think that I can do this anymore.  Please God, tell me what you want me to do?  Help me God, please!”

Suddenly, there was such a peace surrounding me, a warmth that radiated through me.  And then I heard him.  He told me to surrender to him, to give him all of it  .  To lay it at his feet. Most of all I can remember him telling me to be still, know that he is God, listen and wait.  It was amazing at how different I felt at that very moment.  Such a weight had been lifted from my life. Slowly, things began to brighten.  I was praising God for saving me once again.  The sudden   changes in my life were amazing.  I had gained my strength back, only this time I became not only a stronger, more faithful Christian, I became the strong individual that God had intended for my life.

My life started to get easier.  The tears dried up and I was facing things in my life.  Facing them with confidence and a strength that I never thought that I had.  I started to put my life back together again.

God is merciful and good.  He knows us inside and out.  And his plan for us is the ultimate plan for anyone’s life.  So, I started to get comfortable again.  Thanking God everyday for the many blessings in my life.  For my peace, my children, Paris and Kenny, and Leander and little Aaron, for my life.  Even though I was in God’s word, trying to walk in the paths that he was leading me I began to get back in that “comfort zone”.  And before long, my life started to shatter once again.   My health was failing, my job was suffering because of my health and the problems of the past began to come back to haunt me once again.

And once again I found myself asking God why.  “What am I doing wrong God that I am once again faced with a fear that I can’t understand?”

I found myself re-evaluating myself in wonder as to where my weaknesses lay.  And the answers were quite clear.  I had to let go and let God.

You see, when we face darkness in our lives we sometimes forget that there is a comfort and a peace that is there waiting for us if only we open our hearts to receive it.  Facing life’s trials and tribulations is a mysterious component of our lives that only God understands.

I reflect on a passage from 1 Peter when he speaks to a group of Christians  who are suffering their faith.  Peter reminds them how much Jesus suffered.  Jesus suffered for us that we might have a life of faith and peace.  In 1 Peter he tells us that through our faith we are shielded by God’s power until Jesus returns again.  He tells us that while we rejoice in this we may have to suffer in all kinds of trials.  He tells in 1 Peter 7 “These (sufferings) have come so that your (our) faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  Jesus Christ suffered and died for us so that his glories would follow.

We need to trust God.  We need to be still and listen to God.  He is not going to tell us anything except for at his appointed time.  You might ask when?  There is a price to pay for every privilege.  Life will not always be fun.  One cannot go from dating to marriage without struggle.  We cannot go from our old ways to a reborn Christian without struggle.

We are to enjoy the season that we are in.  Enjoy the journey.  When we worry, we cannot enjoy life.  Allow God to take care of you.  Trust in him and believe in him for all things.

John 7 tells us that we all might think that the timing is always right, but Jesus told those at the feast of the tabernacle that “The right time for me has not yet come, for you anytime is right.”  If we take a look at our lives, our expectations of everyday Jesus was right.

Through trial and tribulation we are faced with the challenges that God has set before us.  I know that I am guilty of planning first then praying afterwards.  This is not God’s plan for us. He wants us to pray first and then plan.  To learn to be sensitive to grace.  By being sensitive to grace, laying it in the Lord’s hand and then allowing him to do the work, we are filled with peace and enjoyment.  Let’s face it, outside of grace, we are miserable.  Am I right?    It does not work when God is not in it.  It ultimately has to be in God’s timing, not ours.  In times of trial and tribulation we must remember that God will not be late.  He may never be early, but he will not be late.  By trusting in him we find that God’s timing is always on time.  Trust God for the right time in your life.

When you face your trials in life take a look at those around you.  The key to peace about one’s suffering is to put your problems into perspective.  Look at the problems that you have, look at those around you and you might just find that you are thankful for the blessings that you have.

So, my friends I leave you with these thoughts to ponder on…..  Is it not better to cooperate with God and wait for him.  Is he not waiting on us?  Should we not remain stable, not get frustrated thus distracting us from Jesus?  We should stay focused.  Do we not tend to spend our lives running around putting out Satan’s fires?  We need to attend to God’s business and he will then attend to ours.  I feel that until we can learn to be happy where we are at, we cannot and will not get to the next place that God wants us to be.  We need to have a better attitude and learn how to deal with the difficult things that God gives us.  If we learn to have the victory during trials and tribulations we can be victorious in God’s almighty grace.  Now isn’t that something to give us a hope.  A hope of the unknown?  A hope that no matter how hard life is at times, God is still right there beside us waiting on us to give it to him.

So often people say to me “How can your faith be so strong with all that you have gone through and continue to go through?”  My friends, I tell you that no matter how much it hurts and how many times I ask the question why, my faith carries me through.  I don’t like what I have to face in life at times, but I do know that if I remain faithful, God will bless me in the end.  He finds a way to bring back my focus on what his plan is for me.  He wants me to be victorious in him and in carrying my faith and love and belief for him, I ultimately am victorious.  I am becoming the righteous woman that he has set out for me to be.

As I face my uncertainty and fears in life I know that I can face them with the understanding that if I just allow God to take it from me, to trust in him that I can face anything.

I leave you with my love and with this poem that my dear friend gave to me last year in one of the worst trials that I ever had to face.  It is a poem that I will read every day for the remainder of my life here on this earth.  The words are words that bring me to the peace that God wants for my life.  Remember to be still my friends and know that he is God.  And that he loves  Aaron and us all   so very much and will always be there just waiting…..  Never ever forget to wake each day thanking God for the blessings that he bestows upon your life  You might just find your day a little more peaceful!

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                                                                                                                    “LET GO & LET GOD”

                                                                                                       As children bring their broken toys,

                                                                                                                 with tears for us to mend,

                                                                                                       I brought my broken dreams to God,

                                                                                                                 because he is my friend.

                                                                                                            But then instead of leaving Him

                                                                                                                   in peace to work alone,

                                                                                                           I hung around and tried to help,

                                                                                                             with ways that were my own.

                                                                                                       At last, I snatched them back again

                                                                                                      and cried, “How can you be so slow?”

                                                                                                      “My child” He said, “What could I do? 

                                                                                                                    You never did let go.”

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~Whose Play Book Are “You” The MVP Of?~

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Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. —Jeremiah 1:5

When an NFL player, and every one of them is an amazing athlete, gets traded to a new team, he has to learn the playbook. He can’t bring in the playbook of the Dallas Cowboys when he’s been traded to the Chicago Bears. He doesn’t say, “I’m a professional athlete. I don’t need to learn another set of plays.” It’s because he’s such a great athlete that he can learn a new offense, a new defense, and so forth.

Every one of us has a non-Immanuel background. We’ve been traded from some other team. So as we come together and want to score touchdown after touchdown, we have to run the same plays together. What is our playbook? What are the understandings we all need to share together, and how do we “run those plays”? That’s what we’re going to define for several weeks now.

We begin today with this basic question. What is a Christian? Jeremiah 1 tells us something about being a Christian that writes our first play in our playbook. In this passage God says you are a person of destiny, and almost nothing in this world helps you to believe that. The political parties see you as a voting block. Businesses see you as a market niche. Therapists may tell you what a victim you are. But this world knows nothing of your dignity in Christ. You are a person of destiny. That’s what God says. Don’t let anyone but God define you. Receive his call on your life, and go for it. He promises to be with you as you dare to follow him.

You do not have to create your own significance. Many try to. Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, wrote, “We disguise our struggle by piling up figures in a bank book to reflect privately our sense of heroic worth. Or by having only a little better home in the neighborhood, a bigger car, brighter children. But underneath throbs the ache of cosmic specialness, no matter how we mask it in concerns of smaller scope.” Without a God-given sense of cosmic specialness, we sink into, as Becker puts it, “a blind drivenness that burns people up; in passionate people, a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.” This is why Jesus said, “Come to me. My yoke is easy.” He has a call on your life, and it will not burn you up. It will cost you. But it will also fulfill you – like nothing else.

Let’s look at the greatness of the call of God upon us.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” —Jeremiah 1:4-5

 

The passages narrates Jeremiah’s call as a prophet. But it applies to all of God’s people. In the Old Testament God calls his people “my anointed ones, my prophets” (Psalm 105:15). In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is poured out on all of God’s people so that “they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says that, if all the members of that church will prophesy, they’ll make an impact (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

What are we talking about? We’re not talking about being prophetic in the sense that I walk up to you and say, “God told me thus and so.” That’s a power play. When I hear that kind of thing, I’m not impressed. God speaks through the Bible. We are prophetic not through hunches but through truth. That’s what we see in the book of Acts during the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit in history: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). That’s being prophetic.

Here’s the wonderful thing we learn from these verses in Jeremiah 1. God personally handmade you and me for this task. We shouldn’t say, “But that isn’t my spiritual gift.” That’s what Jeremiah’s about to say. And it was a pretty good excuse. He really wasn’t the ideal candidate for a prophet. But God called Jeremiah. God called Jeremiah to transcend himself. God called Jeremiah to do hard things for him, things he was unprepared for. And God promised Jeremiah that he would be with him. God even built weakness into Jeremiah, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). So here’s the truth. God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called. The call of God is all you need to be confident. His command comes with his promise. If you will obey, you will succeed, because his call upon your life is not just a future challenge; his call started a long time ago and got you to this moment right now. Before you existed in your mother’s womb, God loved you and set you apart to himself and defined your mission in life. He gave you a job to do. He appointed you a voice for the gospel to the whole world today. See yourself that way.

When you look at your life and say, “For this I was born” – what is it about your life that you’re looking at when your heart says that? Is there anything in your life that makes you say, “For this I was born”? God wants to fill in that blank for you with his true purpose: “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Do not trivialize your life. God has a call of greatness for you. And Immanuel Church is here to serve you by helping you fulfill your destiny. But following God’s call is not easy for us. It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah. We see that in verses 6-8:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” —Jeremiah 1:6-8

We can always come up with reasons to say No to God, because what he calls us to do is impossible. The will of God stretches us to the limit and beyond. But throughout the Bible we see people just like us who accomplish things they never dreamed possible. Why? Because when we step out to obey God, he goes with us: “I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah’s excuse was “Lord, I’m young, I’m inexperienced, I’m untrained. There are some really smart people out there. I won’t know what to say.” That is not a profound objection. Isaiah at least had a profound objection. When God called him, he said, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). He was saying, “I’m too sinful to speak for you” – a pretty good point. But God touched Isaiah’s mouth and said, “Your guilt is taken away; your sin is atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). So, what’s your excuse? Our minds will always come up with reasons to put God off. Let’s not be shocked when we find ourselves screaming defeat even as we’re standing in victory. It’s how we sinners think, and it feels somehow logical.

What does God do about that? How does God respond to our inadequacy? God doesn’t say to Jeremiah, “No, Jeremiah, you really are impressive. You even make me feel complete. Jeremiah, I feel so much better with you on my side.” No, Jeremiah was right. He was inadequate. And Isaiah was sinful. But God is just changing the subject to himself and his grace. Look in this passage how God insists on a positive new God-focus in your life:

I formed you, I knew you, I consecrated you, I appointed you, I send you, I command you, I am with you to deliver you.

What does God tell Jeremiah to do? Just two things: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,'” and “Do not be afraid.” The whole tilt of the passage leans toward how much God does for Jeremiah and how little Jeremiah does for God. What does God want Jeremiah to do? “Stop telling me who you are. I know that already. What matters for you to fulfill your destiny, Jeremiah, is not who you are but who I am, not your ability but my purpose.” Let’s get our eyes off ourselves. Self-focus will paralyze a church. The whole point of the gospel is that we are no longer limited to ourselves. We are freed from our pettiness and smallness. We are now living in union with Christ in all his grandeur (1 Corinthians 1:30). The key to your becoming a prophetic voice for Christ is Christ – Christ before you, Christ over you, Christ in you, Christ with you. He is sending you. He is commanding you. If you will obey, you will succeed and your life will make an impact to the ends of the earth.

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” —Jeremiah 1:9-10

What matters is not your mouth but whose word is in your mouth. Billy Graham might be a better evangelist than you, but his gospel is no better than yours. The gospel you have to share has all the same power of God to create a new human race. All you have to do is receive God’s words into your mouth, and then let them out of your mouth. I remember an old friend named Wilbur Smith telling me years ago about Billy Graham sitting down with the president of some foreign country and Graham’s first comment to this world leader, as they sat down for dinner, was not “What a lovely country you have” but “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” That is the all-important question we must ask everyone we can: What do you think of Jesus Christ? God orchestrated and launched and is supervising all of human history for this one reason: to display his glory in Christ. Therefore the central question for every life throughout the length of human history is not about politics or economics or race; the primary question is, What do you think of Jesus Christ? And God will use any believer, however timid, whose mouth will open up for his glory.

St. Francis of Assisi was famous for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” That is wrong. Sure, we want our lives to line up with what we say. But a life without words is not enough. What does God do here? God puts his words into Jeremiah’s mouth – not just his character into Jeremiah’s heart or his deeds into Jeremiah’s lifestyle but his words into Jeremiah’s mouth. It is gospel words that have the power to bring down strongholds of falsehood and establish new worlds of peace and joy and justice in people’s lives and families and neighborhoods. That’s why the devil wants to silence you. It’s okay with him if you live a “good Christian life,” if you’ll just keep your mouth shut. But when God puts his words into your mouth and you let them out of your mouth, you are prophetic. What did the Sanhedrin tell the apostles not to do? “They charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). And the apostles, who were shaken by that – can you imagine seeing your face on wanted posters all over town? – the apostles went back to the church and they had a prayer meeting. What did they ask God to do? Not to make all the wanted posters disappear. This is what they begged God for: “And now Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). God helped them, and their influence was unstoppable to the ends of the earth.

God can make a worldwide difference through you, beginning today: “See, I have set you this day over nations and kingdoms.” Jeremiah didn’t have to strive for influence; he only had to speak, and God do the rest. When you speak openly for Jesus, his Word redirects the course of human history, one person at a time. You start pushing over dominoes all around you, without even knowing it. And do you see these words of destruction (pluck up, break down, destroy, overthrow) followed by words of construction (build, plant)? What’s that about? Francis Schaeffer used to say, “If I had one hour with a modern person, I would spend the first fifty minutes interacting on the problems, on our lostness and emptiness and despair and bondage and guilt, and then the last ten minutes on the good news.”

Schaeffer understood that the gospel first plucks up and breaks down and destroys and overthrows the false hopes we dream of and the fraudulence of our culture, and then it builds and plants with the solid realities of Jesus. Billy Graham said, “The problem is not to get people saved; the problem is to get them lost.” Too many people “make a decision for Jesus” before they know why they need him, and people don’t change that way. They don’t love him. They don’t even want him, not really. They just accept him, to escape hell. Their inner world has never been deconstructed and then rebuilt in Christ. Their minds and hearts are still locked down with well-established structures of pride and fear and error. The gospel sets people free from that. Think of the structure of the book of Romans. Paul explains the gospel in chapters 1-5, in two steps. He starts out in 1:18-3:20 explaining the wrath of God, then in 3:21-5:21 he explains the grace of God. Why? Because the good news starts with bad news. The gospel has some hard things to say to us, harder than anything else we’ve ever heard. And it has sweet things to say to us, sweeter than anything else we’ve ever heard. God breaks down and he builds up. That’s how the gospel changes people – beginning with us.

Now, how should we respond to this passage? From verses 4-5 we can say to God, “Thank you for how you made me. I see that I am not fundamentally a problem to you; I am fundamentally a strategy from you. Thank you. I dedicate my life to doing your will.” From verses 6-8 we can say to God, “Father, I renounce my negative self-focus, and I receive your promise to be with me and deliver me as I speak for you.” And from verses 9-10 we can say, “Lord, I want to become more articulate in the gospel – removing objections, bringing down the obstacles, building and planting new thoughts, new feelings, new reverence in the hearts of my friends as we interact over the gospel.”

So here is the first play in our playbook. Every member of Immanuel Church is trained to be a voice for the gospel. Every member knows how to explain the gospel and is ready and available to explain the gospel with anyone. That’s the play. Let’s run it.

Let me ask you something. What are you doing every Sunday morning at 9:00 that’s more important than learning how to improve your fluency in the gospel? That’s what C. A. Stilwell is helping us to do here every Sunday morning at 9:00. Where are you during that hour? If you’re not here, if you’re somewhere else because you’re good at this already, we still need you here to help the rest of us. And if you’re not here because you need extra rest before work on Monday, is there anything preventing you from going to bed at 10:00 Saturday night, setting your alarm for 7:00 Sunday morning, turning out the lights and getting nine hours of sleep, so that you wake up Sunday morning feeling great, with two hours for a leisurely cup of coffee and newspaper time before you’re here at 9:00? What else do you have to do that’s more important than you fulfilling the call of God on your life?

God said to Jeremiah, “I have consecrated you.” That was good news. It meant that Jeremiah would not waste his life. And that is the call of God on you and me. But there’s better news. Jesus said, “I consecrate myself for their sake” (John 17:19). Your future is not limited to you; your future is opened up by him, because he is committed to you. Trust him. Obey him. He will be with you, you will be prophetic, and your life will count forever.

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~Biblical Reversed Engineering~

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A good engineer thinks in reverse and asks himself about the stylistic consequences of the components and systems he proposes.

Helmut Jahn

Take the example of a business man.  When this now president of the company first began his journey in the working world he did not start as president but at the bottom of the corporate ladder.  Although he started at the bottom of the corporate ladder, yet this was not his original goal or intention; rather, being president was.  His originally goal or desires was accomplished last in execution, but his starting at the bottom of the corporate ladder, which was his goal last in order, was accomplished first in execution. With God’s decrees I call this purpose and execution; where purpose is the order of the decrees, and the execution is precision mirrored or reversed engineered implementation of these purposes.  Ecclesiastes 7:8, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning.”

 

And so, God who is infinite in wisdom has His end goal as His original intention—this is the first decree—but his last decree is what He starts first in execution, and continues to take a series of reversed engineered steps of execution until His original goal is accomplished.  This original goal is the public illuminary and supremacy of Jesus Christ, and the pinnacle instrument to accomplish this is a public, redeemed bride married to His Son, enthralled with eternal joy and praises of Him.

In any case, Adam and Eve in the garden were not God’s original intention and design for man; rather, their creation was at the bottom, in regards or order of goals; and so, as a result they were first in execution.

As I have said before, the fountain, the original and perfect example of love, is the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father, through the infinite energy and motion of the Holy Spirit. This is the original love, which all other types of love is patterned after, started from and for, and then also terminated back into this original LOVE. Therefore, the perfect type of audience for Christ to receive the highest form of public supremacy is the type of audience that is united to Christ as Christ is united to the Father in the Spirit.  This is the starting and spring of human existence and of the election of the church of God.

This was the original plan both for Christ and the church.  Adam was not God’s original plan for mankind, because Adam was not created one with Christ, united to Him in the Spirit, as Christ is with the Father.  This only happened after the cross and will only be completed in heaven with glorified saints living with Christ, full of the Spirit and united to Him as He is to the Father!   Adam in the garden, (and then the fall, and then the incarnation, (etc.)), was a starting point to get Christ and the church to the original goal of Christ fully displayed in public supremacy, by a church that is as united in love in the Spirit to Him as He is to the Father, (within the context and capacity of the public).

The result is that the Church not only finds the joy in knowing Christ, but does so only because Christ found her in her sin and filth and then died in her place to bring her to Himself as a spouse.  This great mercy or great COST given by God insures and brightens the supremacy of Christ, even more than freely given love, for it insures and enlarges the churches ability to (1) know, (2) become and (3) enjoy Christ more through it!

NLT Ephesians 1:10, “And this is His plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ– everything in heaven and on earth.”  And what is the goal of this?  Christ’s public supremacy!   Colossians 1:18, “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything [i.e. preeminence, supremacy].”

God’s mercy is that He takes away our sins.  Therefore, let us read the force of verse 32 of Romans chapter 11 with that in mind to see more clearly the weight of what is being said.  God appointed all (in context to the Jews) to disobedience so that He might take away their sins!  That is an incredible thing to say!  This is why Paul simply ends with praise to God’s wisdom and Supremacy after teaching on such incredible doctrines as this.

1 John 4:9,  “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”  As said before, God’s wisdom concluded that the best possible way for us to enjoy God’s love was by us tangibly experiencing it through “mercy.”  God’s love to us is proven by mercy; this was God’s plan.  He conceived it, decreed it, and then made it happen.  God ordained the fall so that He could have mercy on us, which is the absolute and fullest measure of God displaying His love and assuring us of that love.  This was by God’s design, not by an accident, which God merely used.

One of the reasons God has it this way is because it helps to teach us about Himself and His character and ways.  Take for example how someone might ask why would God take so long to implement the New Covenant of Christ’s blood; why did God give us the old covenant and law?  Galatians 3:24, “Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian and teacher [tutor] to lead us until Christ came.”

Why do we have teachers, go to school, and have tutors to help us?  We have teachers and tutors because the end to which we are striving to accomplish (best in business, first in the orchestra, or best singer(etc.)) is too difficult and big for us to grab right now and so we are helped until the point we are ready.  This is similar with the Old Covenant and the New, or as some call it Law & Gospel.  In other words, the New Covenant of Christ’s blood was so spectacular and big and complex with so many bright glories that mankind needed preparatory aid and help to prepare them for its arrival.

Being taught and going to school is not my first goal, but getting a high paid job at a company is.  Accordingly, the tutor or Old Covenant of the law was not the first goal; rather, it was the New Covenant with a redeemed bride married to Christ.

It is important to note that the scripture is filled with this basic structure of the first idea introduced is the tutor, antitype and example and the conclusion is the actual or first intention.  In light of seeing how the first desire of God will be the last thing executed in history we see why patterns, antitypes, examples and tutors in scripture are not the original but reversed engineered from the original preparing us to understand and for the original desire or goal.

Now, we will take a quick detour into establishing the importance of the metaphysical in light of God’s predestination and decrees…

Applying God’s Sovereignty to both His Decrees and Creation:

 

Since this public creation is founded on God’s sovereign “good pleasure” to be a display of how Famous He really is through His Son, then God does not desire to “merely” give vague ideas of His Moral Beauty or Holiness, rather, His sovereign Will is to publicly reveal details about His Divine Nature and then act faithfully in this public world to this revelation so that His glory is clearly seen and adored by all watching eyes.  See Exodus 32:11-14, Psalm 79:9; God appeals to this in first person in Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:11, Ezekiel 37:16-33; also compare Psalm 25:11 to 2 Samuel 9:1-12; also 1 John 1:9 –God is “just” to forgive in keeping to the promises He made.

The point I wish my readers to keep in mind is this: behind any one Revelation of God, in the smallest statue, command or reward regarding what He will do, is behind it the Infinite Sovereign Will and Pleasure of God that established for His Son to have creation as a gift with Jesus as the public image of God, with His Son having the central public Supremacy and Preeminence.

Take for example God telling Joshua and the Israelites that He will cause and destine them to defeat their enemies.  Did Joshua say: God, because you predestined us to win it takes all the value and seriousness out of it?  No, of course he did not, for his is not stupid; rather, Joshua loved and sincerely longed for a homeland (taking the creation serious) and so God’s predestination (taking the Divine perspective serious, or the decrees) made the victory sweeter and the fighting of his enemies more passionate.  Here Joshua consistently applied God’s sovereignty over the creation and the God’s decrees.

In any case, in my experience when talking of God’s sovereignty people revert to 2nd graders and will apply God’s sovereignty to His own decrees yet will forgo applying this same sovereignly will over creation; or reversely, they fail to apply God’s sovereignty over His own decrees, but will do so over creation.  If we would only consistently apply and  believe God’s sovereignty over both the creation and His decrees and see the harmony between them, then many issues would be solved.

The source that gives God’s decrees and predestination their value and importance is God’s sovereign will.  Likewise, the source that gives the creation and all that is in it, including God’s revealed commandments for man, its value and importance is the same Sovereign will.  The same sovereign will that predestined, giving the future its value, is the same sovereign will that established creation giving it its value.  The value of any given thing in the creation is only as great as God’s decree made it to be, and only strongly as He sovereignly made this thing relate and reflect to the centrality of Jesus Christ in public.

As I excepted God’s sovereignty in my life when He called me to reverse my beliefs and conduct, the end of that thing became better. My drug addiction was solved, my alcoholic disposition was solved, my selfishness was solved, my sinful lifestyle was solved. When I got back up from my fall reverse engineering in the gospel appeared:

Proverbs 24:16

For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.

Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Pray our strength and patience in pursuing our goal to help others see the need for reverse engineering through scripture for their life. Click the link to view our passion and thanks in advance for your prayers and support.

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~I am A Conqueror In-spite Of What I See~

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Oh while I live, to be the ruler of life, not a slave, to meet life as a powerful conqueror, and nothing exterior to me will ever take command of me.

Walt Whitman

As the sun began to set tonight, I had a perfect view of the rolling hills around me. I realized I was really free and It is all because of the God that see’s  me as I couldn’t ever really see myself as a free man from addiction and riotous living and a covetous individual. I wanted everything that had a shine to it, I wanted everything thing as big as Texas. I wanted to have more, a insatiable appetite for everything and I would do evil things to acquire it. I am so glad I know my Savior and I can now say I see myself as a conqueror because of the finished work of my strong “Man” Jesus.

This campaign(Second Chance Alliance) is very toiling. Because I don’t want to fail, I am looking at the other campaigns and losing my identity as a conqueror. I thank you O’ Lord for being steadfast in your unshakable presence in my life.

Never Forget That You Are More Than a Conqueror!

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through him that loved us. — Romans 8:37

How do you see yourself? As a champion who wins nearly every fight? Or as a loser — someone who struggles along, never seeming to conquer a single problem? How you perceive yourself is very important because it will ultimately affect the way other people see you.

Have you ever met someone who had a bad self-image or who always seemed to carry an air of inferiority around with him? It isn’t hard to discern this attitude in people. They feel so badly about themselves that they exude their negative perception of themselves and their sense of insecurity. On the other hand, if you’ve ever met individuals who are self-confident and self-assured, you know that it’s easy to recognize their confidence. Why? Because a confident person exudes confidence.

It is simply a fact that you will inevitably project what you feel about yourself to others. So this question about how you see yourself is very important. If you see yourself as a champion who wins every fight, that is exactly how others will see you. But if you see yourself as someone who struggles and wrestles with a bad self-image — that is precisely how others will perceive you.

So let’s turn to Romans 8:37 to see what the Word of God has to say about us. In this verse, Paul declares that “…we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” I want to especially draw your attention to the phrase “more than conquerors.” It comes from the Greek word hupernikos, a compound of the words huper and nikos. By joining the words huper and nikos together into one word, Paul is making one fabulous, jammed-packed, power-filled statement about you and me!

The words “more than” are derived from the Greek word huper, which literally means over, above, and beyond. It depicts something that is way beyond measure. It carries the idea of superiority — something that is utmost, paramount, foremost, first-rate, first-class, and top-notch; greater, higher, and better than; superior to; preeminent, dominant, and incomparable; more than a match for; unsurpassed, unequaled, and unrivaled by any person or thing.

Now Paul uses this same word to denote what kind of conquerors we are in Jesus Christ. We are huper-conquerors! Paul uses this word huper to dramatize our victory.

This is what Paul meant to get across in Romans 8:37:

“We are greater conquerors, superior conquerors, higher and better conquerors!”

“We are more than a match for any foe!”

“We are utmost conquerors, paramount conquerors, top-notch conquerors, unsurpassed conquerors, unequaled and unrivaled conquerors!”

But we must continue to the next part of the verse, where Paul calls us “conquerors.” The word “conqueror” is from the Greek word nikos. The word nikos describes an overcomer; a conqueror, champion, victor, or master. It is the picture of an overwhelming, prevailing force. However, the word nikos alone wasn’t strong enough to make Paul’s point, so he joined the words huper and nikos together to make his point even stronger!

When you put these two words together, they form the word hupernikos, which declares that in Jesus Christ, you are an overwhelming conqueror, a paramount victor, or an enormous overcomer. This word is so power-packed that one could interpret it as a phenomenal, walloping, conquering force!

That’s precisely who you are in Jesus Christ! So stop looking at yourself as a struggling loser. Regardless of your past experiences, you must begin to look at yourself through God’s eyes and in the light of Romans 8:37. This verse declares that you are always the winner and never a loser! And when you begin to see yourself the way God sees you, it will change the way others see you too.

Resolve right now to see yourself the way the Word of God does — as a walloping and conquering force! You are more than a match for any adversary or foe that would come against you today! 

sparking gems from the greek

My Prayer for Today

Lord, I thank You for making me a phenomenal, walloping, conquering force! Because of what Jesus has done for me, I am no longer a struggling loser. Instead, I possess the power to be an enormous overcomer! Holy Spirit, I ask You to help me take my eyes off my past failures so I can focus on the power of the resurrection that lives inside me. 

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

sparking gems from the greek

My Confession for Today

I boldly declare that in Jesus Christ, I am a conqueror who is utmost, paramount, foremost, first-rate, first-class, and top-notch; greater, higher, and better than; superior to; preeminent, dominant, incomparable; more than a match for; unsurpassed, unequaled, and unrivaled by any challenge that would ever try to come against me! 

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Lord Help Us To Be Wise When Dealing With Failure

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We gave it our all with the knowledge we had at our disposal. The momentum we need to get started is not taking place with the  campaign. We want to keep it running for 3 more weeks. If we haven’t reached our goal of at least getting our applications 501c3 & 501c5 completed we will return the money already donated to those who have sown into it’s coffers.

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My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.

Abraham Lincoln

Empower A Felon
Empower A Felon

 

 

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Everyone wants to be a success. I have never met anyone who purposely set out to be a failure. Undoubtedly, this is why so much has been written on the topic “How to be a Success” and why these books are so popular. I think it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” The simple reality is that failure is one of those ugly realities of life—a common experience to all of us to some degree. Thus, the ability to handle failure in its various forms and degrees is a vital part of the spiritual life and another sign of maturity. A careful study of the Bible reveals that most of the great figures of Scripture experienced failure at one time or another, yet those failures did not keep them from effective service for God. As a partial list, this was true of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Peter. Though they failed at some point, and often in significant ways, they not only recovered from their failure, but they used it as a tool of growth—they learned from their failure, confessed it to God, and were often able to be used in even mightier ways.

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The manner in which a leader meets his own failure will have a significant effect on his future ministry. One would have been justified in concluding that Peter’s failure in the judgment hall had forever slammed the door on leadership in Christ’s kingdom. Instead, the depth of his repentance and the reality of his love for Christ reopened the door of opportunity to a yet wider sphere of service. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

A study of Bible characters reveals that most of those who made history were men who failed at some point, and some of them drastically, but who refused to continue lying in the dust. Their very failure and repentance secured for them a more ample conception of the grace of God. They learned to know Him as the God of the second chance to His children who had failed Him—and third chance, too.

The historian Froude wrote, “The worth of a man must be measured by his life, not by his failure under a singular and peculiar trial. Peter the apostle, through forewarned, thrice denied his Master on the first alarm of danger; yet that Master, who knew his nature in its strength and in its infirmity, chose him.

Understanding the amazing grace of God and His incredible forgiveness and acceptance through Christ, a mature Christian is one who has grasped the truth that his or her failure is not the end of an effective life with and for the Lord. While there may be consequences to live with (as with David) and serious issues to work through, the mature believer rests in the grace of God and uses the failure as a backdoor to success through growth and understanding.

A favorite hymn for many Christians is “Victory in Jesus” because there IS victory in the Savior. In fact, Christians are super-conquerors in Christ. They are those who have, as translated by the NET Bible, “complete victory” (Rom. 8:37). Significantly, this statement by Paul is made in a context that considers the reality of the varied onslaughts of life which must include failure.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or death? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39).

In view of this, we often speak of the victorious Christian life. But the truth is there is a lot of defeat in the Christian’s life because none of us will always and perfectly appropriate the victory over sin that Christ has accomplished for us by the cross. Further, the amount of deliverance we each experience is a matter of growth; so on the road to maturity and even after reaching a certain degree of spiritual maturity, Christians will sin and fail—sometimes seriously so. We don’t like to talk about it or admit it, but there is a lot of failure. Failure is a fact of life for the Christian community, but God’s grace is more than adequate to overcome any situation. The mature Christian is one who has learned to apply God’s grace remedy for failure.

The Prevailing Attitude About Failure

Presently the bookstores are full of popular “How to Succeed Manuals” on every conceivable subject. And why is that? Because we are so concerned with the glory of God? I would hope so, but there are also other reasons. Too often, it is because we look at failure with eyes of scorn. We view failure as a Waterloo. We see it as the plague of plagues and as the worst thing that could happen to us.

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As a result, the fear of failure has many people in neutral or paralyzed or playing the game of cover up. We consciously or subconsciously ignore our sins and failures because to admit them is to admit failure and that’s a plague worse than death. People often refuse to tackle a job or take on a responsibility for fear of failure. People believe if they fail they are no good. They think failure means you are a bad person and you are a failure. But, as previously mentioned, most of the great leaders in Scripture at some time in their careers experienced some sort of failure. For instance:

  • When Abraham should have stayed in the land and trusted the Lord, he fled to Egypt because of the drought. And this was by no means the last of Abraham’s failures.
  • Moses, in trying to help his people, ran ahead of the Lord and killed the Egyptian. Later, against the command of God, he struck the rock in his anger.
  • When David should have been out in the field of battle, he stayed home and committed adultery with Bathsheba and then plotted the murder of her husband.
  • Peter, in spite of his self-confidence and his great boast, denied the Lord, as did the rest of the disciples who fled before the evening our Lord’s arrest was over.

There is a fundamental principle here. Sometimes God must engineer failure in us before He can bring about success with us. Our failures are often rungs on the ladder of growth—if we will learn from our mistakes rather than grovel in the dirt.

This is not to make excuses for sin or to place a premium on mistakes or failure. This does not mean that a person must fail before they can be a success, but our failures, whether in the form of rebellion or just foolish blunders, can become tools of learning and stepping stones to success. The point is, we should never allow our fear of failure to paralyze us from tackling a job or trying something that challenges our comfort zone.

Nor should we allow past failures to keep us down or keep us from recovering and moving on in the service of the Savior. This means we should never allow failure to make us think we are a failure or that we can never change or that we can never again count for the Lord or that God can’t do anything with us because we have failed in some way. The Bible says we are all sinners and prone to failure, but in Christ we can become overcomers.

After the horrible carnage and Confederate retreat at Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee wrote this to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy: “We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.

Mature Attitudes About Failure and Success

(1) Mature believers understand that a Christian can become successful in spite of failure because of God’s incredible grace and forgiveness. We may have to live with the results of some of our failures or sins, yet God is free to continue to love us in Christ and use us for His purposes because of grace (cf. John 21 & Peter).

(2) The mature believer seeks to use failures as lessons for growth and change. Mature believers will act on two principles: (a) They understand that failures remind us of the consequences of our decisions. We reap what we sow. This is the law of harvest. Failures remind us of what can happen, they can make us careful, but they should not be allowed to paralyze us. (b) The mature believer recognizes that our failures show us what we should and should not do; they become lessons in where we went wrong and why. You know what they say, “hindsight is 10/20.” It can help us avoid the same mistake twice if we will learn from history.

Thomas Edison invented the microphone, the phonograph, the incandescent light, the storage battery, talking movies, and more than 1000 other things. December 1914 he had worked for 10 years on a storage battery. This had greatly strained his finances. This particular evening spontaneous combustion had broken out in the film room. Within minutes all the packing compounds, celluloid for records and film, and other flammable goods were in flames. Fire companies from eight surrounding towns arrived, but the heat was so intense and the water pressure so low that the attempt to douse the flames was futile. Everything was destroyed. Edison was 67.

With all his assets going up in a whoosh (although the damage exceeded two million dollars, the buildings were only insured for $238,000 because they were made of concrete and thought to be fireproof), would his spirit be broken?

The inventor’s 24-year old son, Charles, searched frantically for his father. He finally found him, calmly watching the fire, his face glowing in the reflection, his white hair blowing in the wind. “My heart ached for him,” said Charles. “He was 67—no longer a young man—and everything was going up in flames. When he saw me, he shouted, ‘Charles, where’s your mother?’ When I told him I didn’t know, he said, ‘Find her. Bring her here. She will never see anything like this as long as she lives.’”

The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Three weeks after the fire, Edison managed to deliver the first phonograph.161

(3) When mature believers fail they:

  • Acknowledge their failures and refuse to hide behind any lame duck excuses.
  • Confess any sin to God when sin is involved is involved in the failure.
  • Study or examine what happened so they can learn from the failure.
  • Put it behind them and move ahead (1 John 1:9Phil. 3:13).

Being assured of God’s forgiveness, we are to put our failures behind us, count on and rest in His forgiveness, and refuse to use them as an excuse for morbid introspection, pessimism, self pity, depression, and fear of moving on for the Lord.

(4) Mature believers grow through failure. They will know and act on certain truths:

  • We are accepted in the Lord on the basis of Grace, not our performance.
  • We are human and, as a result, we are not now perfect nor will we ever be.
  • God still has a plan for our lives. God is not through with us yet, and we need to get on with His plan.

(5) The mature believer will be one who understands there are different kinds of failure.

  • There are those who have genuinely failed according to the principles of Scripture. If we fail to know why we believe what we believe and then fail to give an adequate reason to those who ask for a reason for our hope (1 Pet. 3:15), then we have failed in our responsibility to witness. That can become a stepping stone to getting equipped and to becoming bold in our witness, but at that point there was failure.
  • There is a false guilt of failure because of a wrong view of success. Many missionaries have labored faithfully in foreign countries without much success by way of converts, but that by no means indicates they are failures. A biblical illustration is Isaiah. Right from the beginning, after seeing the Lord high and lifted up, after confessing his own sin and that of his nation, and after saying, “Here am I, send me,” God sent him to preach to a people who would not listen and told him so beforehand (see Isa. 6:8-10). In the eyes of people, he was a failure, but not in God’s eyes.
  • There is another class of failure; those who mistakenly believe they are successes! These believers may earn an honest living and be fine supporters of the church. They unconsciously (or sometimes all too consciously) consider themselves examples for others to follow. Yet they do not realize that from God’s perspective they are failures. One man put it this way: “I climbed the ladder of success only to discover that my ladder was leaning against the wrong wall!”

Heaven will be filled with surprises! Many “successful” Christians will be nobodies, and some whose lives were strewn with the wreckage of one failure after another will be great in the kingdom.

(6) The mature believer is one who understands the importance of choosing the right standard of measurement to determine success and failure. There are a number common worldly beliefs about success that people apply to themselves and others, but they are all distortions of the truth. 

Most of these are based on some form of faulty comparison. To those who were guilty of this kind of foolishness, the apostle Paul wrote: “For we would not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12, emphasis mine)

Fundamentally, this is the distortion of comparing ourselves with others. We are all to do our best according the abilities God has given us and we are right in using others as models of Christ-like character. Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). But this is not the same as when we compare ourselves with other people from the standpoint of their gifts, abilities, bank accounts, possessions, position and other such standards and then attempt to determine our success or failure or that of someone else based on such comparisons.

When in seminary, we wrote our test answers in a little booklet called “The Blue Book.” After the tests were graded, they were placed in our mail boxes in the seminary mail room. Naturally, we all anticipated or dreaded, as the case might be, looking through the little glass door and seeing that little Blue Book stuffed in our box. The tendency for students was to inquire about the grades of their classmates or to loudly declare the grade they received, “Great, I made 100!” Many students refused to be involved in this game and kept their grades to themselves because of the foolish comparisons that sometimes occurred. Some students, regardless of how hard they studied, actually began to see themselves as failures because they were not able to make the high grades of some of their class mates and questioned whether or not they should even stay in seminary.

Other people determine their level of success by their bank accounts as measured by the luxury items they are able to purchase—a huge home, furniture, automobiles, boats, etc. Lutzer writes,

If money is a basis of judging success or failure, it is obvious that Jesus Christ was a failure! Consider this: when He had to pay taxes, He asked Peter to find a coin in a fish’s mouth. Why? He didn’t have a coin of His own.

Christ was born under the shelter of a stable’s roof. Most of us would be appalled if our children could not be born in a modern hospital! When He died, the soldiers cast lots for His garment. That was all He owned of this world’s goods. He died naked, in the presence of gawking bystanders.

Was Christ a failure? Yes, if money is the standard by which He is judged. The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man did not have a place He could call home.

Of course, earning money (and even saving some) is both legitimate and necessary. But the amount we earn is not a barometer of God’s blessing.

And I might add, lots of money and things are never an evidence of success in God’s eyes. Many who are wealthy are failures from God’s viewpoint. The point, then, is the absence or presence of money is not in itself proof of success or failure.

The comparison game reaches out to almost every area of life. It may involve comparing friends, i.e., name-dropping to suggest that one is successful because he runs with the right people. Or it may involve believers comparing the size of their church, the size of their mission’s budget, the number of books one has had published, etc. None of these things are in themselves a proof of success in God’s eyes. A classic illustration is when Moses struck the rock when God had told him to only speak to the rock.

Water flowed. The people were jubilant! Was Moses a success? Yes, in the eyes of men. No, in the eyes of God! His disobedience brought water, but it also brought punishment.

Results in themselves are not a proof that God is pleased. It is possible to win attendance contests and disseminate the Gospel and see results; all these activities can be done without pleasing God! Such results can be achieved by deceptive gimmicks or for purely personal satisfaction. It is not enough to do God’s work; it must be done in his way and for His credit.

There are many causes for failure. Some are the product of specific acts of sin, but some are not. Some are simply the product of ignorance or of circumstances beyond our control like a drop in the stock market or extreme weather conditions (drought, floods), which can cause a farmer or rancher to lose his shirt, as they say. Naturally, this kind of failure, as serious and painful as it is, is not as serious as spiritual failure like, for instance, the sin of David. While David did recover from his sin and was still used of God afterward, there were lifelong consequences in his life and in the lives of others.

Whether caused by sin or by the many things that can happen beyond our control, all failure teaches us the important truth of just how desperately we need God and His mercy and grace in our lives. Sometimes our failures are mirrors of reproof, but always they can become tools for growth and deeper levels of trust and commitment to God if we will respond to them as such rather than rebel and become hardened through the difficulty. “God is adequate for all kinds of failure. Some failures may not be our fault, but they serve as reminders that we must live with eternal priorities in mind. Other failures are directly the result of our own sinful choices.”

Regardless, God has made more than adequate provision for us in Christ and His finished work on the cross, which is the sole basis of our relationship and forgiveness with God and our means of a meaningful and productive life with Him.

The Person of Becoming “A Church”

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“I am a church” is my declaration. Mortar and clay isn’t the church I am, I see myself as the fingers and hands being used by God to proclaim the gospel. I hope we all become what God sees us as “His bridegroom” the living church.

When I was a kid growing up I would spend the summer with my grand parents in North Carolina on their farm, one of the annual jobs I always looked forward to was the “chicken harvest.” I guess I should apologize in advance for the somewhat graphic nature of this illustration; however, it best illustrates my point. Nonetheless, I looked forward to the chicken harvest. No, I wasn’t some deranged youngster, there was something I considered out of the ordinary that would always happen and it amazed me. Now, for those who have never experienced this, well, let me say it’s not for anyone with a weak stomach. You see, on our farm, the chicken harvest was woman’s work, but being a young boy, I was allowed to participate. The chickens would be caught early in the morning and brought to my grandmother. She would then methodically remove their heads. Here’s where the amazing part happened. With their heads gone, these chickens would run around the yard like crazy. I just couldn’t believe it. It just amazed me. Once, I asked why the chickens did this? The answer – “they don’t know they are dead yet!”

Laodicea was a very, very wealthy city, founded by Antiochus II and named after his wife Laodice. The city was strategically located where three highways converged, thus it was highly commercial. It was well known for its banking industry, its manufacture of black wool and a medical school that produced eye ointment. The wealth in the city had been used to build theaters, a huge stadium, lavish public baths and fabulous shopping centers. Sound familiar? Sounds like any typical American city. So wealthy was this city that when an earthquake almost entirely destroyed it in 60 AD, its wealthy citizens refused help from Rome in rebuilding the city. If you were a real estate agent at the time it wouldn’t be hard to sell Laodicea. It was a great place to live. The land of opportunity. Sound familiar? The only real negative about the place was its lack of an adequate water supply (we will deal with the details regarding this shortly).
The church here in Laodicea was most likely founded by Paul. He actually wrote a letter to them that was lost (cf. Col. 4:16). It will be quite apparent when we “get into” the text that the Christians here had become victims of their environment. Indeed, a valuable lesson for us all today! Vs. 14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write…

For those of you who were not in our class, there is no commendation here! In writing to the other six churches, Jesus found something good to say, he recognized something positive about the congregation. Not here!
The Amen… says this – In the Greek, this phrase means firm, stable, sure, established and trustworthy. What point is Jesus trying to get across? He’s saying, “Don’t kid yourselves, what I’m about to say may shock you, but you can take it to the bank!”
The faithful and true Witness… says this – Who is on trial? This church! Who is the key witness? Jesus Christ. Thus, there can be no excuses, it’s time for an honest examination followed by honest repentance and a genuine desire for a change of life.
The Beginning of the creation of God, says this – Jesus is the origin, the cause, the Creator of all things (cf. Col 1:16-17). He is the Creator of this earth and the things in it. Unfortunately, the Christians at Laodicea had grown to love and put their faith in the “things” of world, not their creator!
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Vs. 15: I know your deeds…

What a powerful and sobering truth! Jesus knows our deeds, both individually and as a church. Jesus knew all about the church at Laodicea, the details of which we will get to momentarily. What about us? Does Jesus know our deeds? This is not one of the key issues I want to focus upon in this lesson; however, when I ponder this truth… well, it stands as a sobering reminder for us all to examine ourselves from time-to-time. A couple of passages come to mind here: Mark 4:22: For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light. Col. 3:17: And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…

Jesus, the true and faithful Witness, indeed, He knows our deeds! Now, back to the text before us. What were the deeds of the church at Laodicea? Look again at verse 15. Jesus says they are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. What is Jesus saying here? We all know the answer, He’s saying they are lukewarm!
This is perhaps the most familiar passage in the book of Revelation. Many, many lessons and sermons have been given from this text. Lukewarmness is a characteristic which is most despised among Christ’s churches, even today! So popular is this verse, we often fail to recognize that the Laodiceans were guilty of another serious sin which is often overshadowed by their lukewarmness. We will deal with that momentarily. But first, what is lukewarness? According to the dictionary, it means lacking warmth of feeling or enthusiasm. To a Christian, it describes a state of indifference, complacency, or apathy. Perhaps because they are self-satisfied, or feel self-sufficient. In reality, they are like a chicken with its head cut off – dead, but don’t know it yet!
How would you describe a lukewarm church today? If I were to take your definitions, what would be included? How about a church that just goes through the motions. They gather to worship and mindlessly go through the motions. There is no heart, no zeal, no focus in their worship. When they sing, it’s just blah! When they pray, study, and remember our Savior at the Lord’s Table, their minds simply wander. They don’t worry about spreading the gospel, visiting the sick, carrying for the those in need – they don’t do anything for Christ! Would that be a lukewarm church?

Wait a minute, let’s look at verse 15 again, Jesus knew their deeds, in particular they were lukewarm. But what about Jesus’ desire for them? He said, I would (I wish) that you were cold or hot. Now I understand His desire for them to be hot. Have you ever wondered why He would prefer them to be cold?
He is using a local, well known problem relating to their water supply to allegorize a spiritual meaning. I told you we would eventually get to this. This is a sort of parable, if you will!
Laodicea, as rich as it was, had a serious water problem. The city’s water was “piped in” from six miles out. It came to them along an aqueduct. By the time it arrived it was lukewarm. The city of Hierapolis, just seven miles north of Laodicea, was famous for its hot springs. Colosee, less than ten miles away, was known for its cool water. What was Jesus saying to them in His desire that they be cold or hot? He’s saying their spiritual condition is of no benefit. He would rather they be spiritually beneficial like a refreshing drink of cold water or like the soothing warmth of the hot springs! What’s the message? If we are simply going through the motions, if our heart is not in it, if we are not living and working for Christ everyday of our lives, we are of no benefit to Him! I don’t know about you, but that thought scares me!
How does this condition of lukewarmness really make Jesus feel? Let’s look at the next verse in our text. Vs. 16: … I will spit you out of My mouth.
Again, did my chicken harvest illustration make you sick at your stomach? If so, it accomplished the desired effect for a church’s lukewarmness makes Jesus sick at His stomach! Jesus says that because of their lukewarmness, because they are of no spiritual benefit, He will spit them out. The Greek word here means “to vomit.” John could have used another Greek phrase that means simply “to spit.” If a church of our Lord has become so passionless, so indifferent… if a church of Christ has become of no spiritual benefit, if we as individuals have become of no spiritual benefit, it makes Jesus so sick, that He wants to vomit! Folks, this should make us all examine our walk with Him. Jesus knows our deeds. There are no secrets. Where do we stand with Him today?

Lukewarmness, being of no spiritual benefit is a serious issue; however, as stated earlier, because we have given this topic so much attention, another serious sin at Laodicea is often overlooked. Let’s continue reading our text. Vs. 17: Because you say, “I am rich,

Here we find the second spiritual problem with the church at Laodicea. They had become infected with the love of material things. Perhaps the most dangerous point made here is the fact that they are so “caught-up” in their wealth, they were unaware of their sinful state – they were dead and didn’t know it!

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We could approach this from many different angles. We as American’s are so blessed. Compared to most of the world, we are a modern day Laodicea. There is a very, very important lesson here for us today! Our time is running short and there are so many points one could make here. When I read and contemplate the message here as it relates to me, here’s what I consider:

Giving – I’ve often listed things that my family spend money on during any given week – we eat out, costing a family of four anywhere from $20 to $50; we go to the movies, another $20; we buy toys, toys, and more toys for the kids; we take vacations, we collect things… well, you get the point. I find myself comparing our discretionary spending (spending on things that I could do with out) to what we give the Lord each week.

Self-dependence – Can we get to the point in our lives that we have so much and are doing so well that we think we don’t need God?

Thanksgiving – Can we get to the point where we have so much and are doing so well that we fail to realize and be thankful for the source of all our blessings?

Priorities – Can we get to the point where we have so much and are doing so well that we become slaves to our things? Can our priorities change such that we put having things, doing things, more and more things in front of God?

Jesus knew the condition of the church at Laodicea. Not only were they wretched and miserable (dead and didn’t know it), notice again what Jesus says about their condition in the later part of verse 17: they are poor blind and naked.
Jesus, in pointing out their areas of misery, contrasts all the riches of the city.

Poor – there was plenty of money here, but they were spiritually poor.

Blind – known for it’s eye salve, yet all of the salve in the world wouldn’t cure their spiritual blindness.

Naked – known for the finest wool in the world, all of which couldn’t cloth their spiritual nakedness.

Is there a cure? Let’s continue to read our text.

Vs. 18: I advise you…

If Jesus were to give us advise today, do you think it prudent to follow it? The truth is, He is giving us advise today, we are all reading it together. What was His advise to them and any today who are “dead and don’t know it?” To buy from Him! Jesus provides the only true cure for spiritual sickness. It can’t be found in banks, goods, medicine or in any worldly treasure. A true cure can only be found in Christ! How do we do that? Let’s continue with our text.

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Vs. 19-20: Those whom I love… repent.

Though blinded by their wealth, love of material things and lukewarmness, Jesus still loved them and provided an opportunity for repentance. The same is true for us today. He stands at the door and knocks. We have to make the next move, it’s our responsibility to open it!

 

Being Created In Jesus Likeness Through Challenging People

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One of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry is dealing with difficult people. These are people who need help but seem to challenge you at every turn as you try to provide that help.

In my quest to become more like Christ and humble in remaining teachable this morning I ran to the scriptures to find the answers I need to fuel my soul to yield to the challenges God has put into my life by way of difficult people and trials of life. I thank God for the many blessings of yielded vessels He has put in my life that allows me ears and hearts to bounce difficult question off and be rendered an array of insights to glean from. This being a sensitive issue, I had to seek many tried men who have experienced the intricate struggle of loving in-spite of being disrespected and targeted for hatred.

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How should the church respond and minister in these situations? Everyone has to relate to difficult people—and most of us have been difficult people ourselves at one time or another! Therefore, every Christian should know how the gospel guides us in these relationships.

Two passages that guide me in this are 1 Peter 4:8 and Ephesians 3:14-19. In the 1 Peter passage, we are called to “love one another deeply.” The word translated deeply can also mean “constant”. “Keep love constant” would be a good translation. The word describes something that is stretched or extended. The love of the saints keeps stretching, in both depth and endurance. This connects nicely with Ephesians 3 where Paul prays that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Persevering love grows out of the gospel. You must start here if you are going to find the strength and incentive to go the distance with people.

With these scriptures as guidance, I offer a list of ten ministerial skills that I learned as I discipled one individual who came with many difficult problems.

I will call her “Nancy”. She is in her 40’s and seems to be a sincere believer in Christ. She is in a bad marriage. She is someone who would classically be labeled bipolar or manic-depressive. She has successfully isolated herself from people in her church because once they get to know her, they become overwhelmed by her. Here is the challenge: How do I love Nancy well? What will it look like to be useful to her in her growth in grace? These lessons have taken me many years to learn—and I am still learning with other “Nancys” that God graciously and wisely places in my life. I will speak directly to you, the reader, about the difficult people God calls you to serve. Sometimes I will refer to Nancy in particular and sometimes to difficult people as a whole.

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Lesson 1. Pay Attention to the Heart (Yours and Theirs)

The category of the heart must be kept on the radar at all times.

Yours—God has ordained that this person be in your life. The first pastoral exercise is to pay attention to the common temptations to sin that different kinds of difficult people pose to you. Manipulative “borderline personality”? Angry and oblivious? Addicted and deceitful? Unstable “bipolar”? You may be tempted to overpower, or to appease, or to avoid such people. You will likely move typically in one of these directions or bounce back and forth between them in an effort to get some relief. You end up, if you are not carefully attending to your own heart, sinfully responding to the challenges that the difficult person is bringing into your life. If you do this, how then can you call this person to respond to life in godly ways when you aren’t even responding in godly ways? This, by the way, is true of any relationship.

Theirs—As you get to know difficult people, you begin to see the particular types of suffering that each person has experienced. You begin to see typical ways that the person tends to respond. With people who evidence what may be a more physiological component, keep that in mind as you seek to pastor them well. With someone who is manic-depressive, don’t let behavior on either extreme of the continuum fool you. Don’t get hijacked by the momentary emotional state. With Nancy, many elements were at work at any given moment when I would talk with her: a bad day with her husband, children, person in the church, no sleep, fear of the future… or a good day with her husband, children, person in the church, and lots of sleep. Each person is responding in either a godly or ungodly way to events. What patterns do you see as you get to know them and move towards them? What are their typical ungodly ways of dealing with life and what tends to drive those behaviors? There will be opportunities to help a person see these things. Find simple Scripture passages that will provide guidance during these times, and experience the joys of biblical repentance in the midst of the difficulty.

Lesson 2. Clearly Define Who Sets the Agenda

The common language that is often used here is the language of “boundaries”. I think that can be helpful but it does not go deep enough. Who sets the agenda in any relationship? God does. The only difference is what the agenda will be not who sets it. God sets the agenda in all of our relationships and He does here as well. Recognizing this, reminds you that you—the helper—are also under the gaze of God. The language of “boundaries” typically gives the impression that as the helper, you must set boundaries in order to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. If we think of this in terms of God setting the agenda, the end result will be you loving the person well rather than just protecting yourself.

With Nancy, because God set the agenda, there were times when I made sacrifices that were appropriate. Some of these decisions affected my family and lifestyle: the phone call at home late at night, or the sudden appearance at my house or office. Then there were other times that I told her I could not speak with her at that moment but would be willing to talk to her at some later time that we both agreed would work. There were times though, that I was tempted to agree to speak to her immediately because I did not want her to dislike me, or I was fearful that she would tell someone in the church that I had not cared for her like a good pastor should. Saying no at these times was an expression of godliness and love for Nancy. There were instances that I told her to go home and get some sleep and then call me that afternoon at the office. Grace-driven acceptance of a person does not mean open-ended availability.

It is important that you take the initiative to communicate some guidelines for the relationship and to alert the person that there will be many times when you will not be available. Be clear about when and where you may be contacted. Do this with love and then have godly courage to say no a few times early on when you think the person has moved beyond what is appropriate for the moment. If you are too available, it will likely lead to anger in you, because you assume that the person should respect boundaries like other people do. Don’t make that assumption. Another reason to set limits for people is because otherwise it may be too easy for them to go to you before they cry out to God. You, in effect, could be the very person who is making it too easy for them to avoid dealing directly with and depending upon Christ.

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Lesson 3. Have Biblically Realistic/Optimistic Goals

Here is a place where your theology of the Christian life means everything. The doctrine of sanctification sees the Christian life through the biblical lens of slow, steady, back and forth progress. It’s realistic: change is incremental. It’s also optimistic: there is progress. For me, as I got a handle on the practical pastoral implications of this biblical understanding of the Christian life, it made all the difference in the world.

When Nancy was really depressed, I was thankful that she was still coming to church and seeking help. When she was particularly upbeat and euphoric, I would avoid being duped and then let down when she was depressed again. Without this leveling view of the Christian life, you will be a manic-depressive enabler!

Lesson 4. Redefine Love

If you do not re-define love biblically, you will be very disappointed if you are called to help other people— especially difficult people. A succinct definition of love is found in I John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” That’s it. Love means death. Let me nuance that some. Loving people well is the most inefficient thing you could ever do, but according to Jesus, it is the godliest thing you can ever do. I John 3:16 goes on to say, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Another way of thinking about this is exchanging the word “servant hood” in place of the word “success.” We are not called to fix people; we are called to serve them. The sooner we lay hold of this biblical priority, the sooner we will not be undone when someone does not “get better” right away or remains in our lives for a long time. Imagine in John 13, when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet—if he thought in terms of success—he would have kicked the bucket over, screamed at the disciples and stomped out. When you look at the characters in the room that night, success would not have been a word that would come to mind. And yet Jesus served. Paul Miller makes this wonderful observation in his book Love Walked Among Us, “Jesus’ tenderness with people suggested to me a new, less “efficient,” way of relating. Love, I realized, is not efficient.”1

It was through the “Nancys” in my life that I realized what it was like to work with people. It’s messy and inefficient and I don’t like that. And yet, it was just where God wanted me. I needed Nancy as much— if not more— than she needed me. I needed her in the sense that I needed to be more like Christ. I needed to see how much I wasn’t like him. I needed to see how desperately selfish I was and that if I did not redefine love along biblical lines, I would continue to be a selfish person who only met with people because I had to.

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Lesson 5. Give the Person Hope

For someone like Nancy, change doesn’t seem to be something that is very visible or tangible. There were times when she was so discouraged that she thought suicide was a possible option. One of the practical ways to help someone like Nancy have hope is by clearly defining some things that can reasonably be accomplished and stating these in simple measurable ways.

Ask the person, “What do you want to see God do in your life over the next week?” You will be amazed how this re-frames the person’s view of the future. This question encourages them to think about the possibilities of being different and of living differently in the coming week. Maybe their circumstances will not change, but maybe they can change instead. The simpler the goals are— the better. Do this within the context of the gospel and Christ’s covenant love for them.

Lesson 6. Call the Person to Serve

Another critical place a difficult person often needs to grow is in the area of loving others. The Bible says that everyone has been given gifts and can encourage, bear burdens, and be used in the lives of other people. As you attend to the heart issues in a person’s life and as you frame the relationship to serve the sanctifying purposes of God, a hopeful call to loving others is only appropriate.

Nancy had a husband and two children whom she could love and serve. She was surrounded by other wives who were struggling in their marriages. It is not good for difficult people to simply “take” from their families and friends. This is destructive behavior that is not pleasing to God and it is driven by a host of attitudes that God will not bless. Calling people to serve others will move them towards people and outside of themselves. It will help them see that they are valuable members of the body of Christ, and are not the only people who struggle.

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Lesson 7. Connect the Person with the Body of Christ

This is important for two reasons. First, it is only within the context of others that difficult people are going to die to themselves. Secondly, it is only within the context of other people that you can adequately help the person. My experience is that difficult people need a host of helpers that are all doing basically the same thing in concert with one another.

I always encouraged Nancy to stay connected. I knew that I was not sufficient for her growth. But that is nothing new, is it? We all need many people around us speaking into and acting in our lives and on our behalf. I would structure contexts for discipleship for her. Thankfully, she would do a lot of this on her own, too. Though sometimes her involvement with others was selfishly motivated, thankfully it was with wise women who knew how to love her well. She was also connected to a small group Bible study where she was surrounded by a group of people who would keep up with her.

Your failure to do this reveals as much about your heart as it does the heart of the difficult person. When people are overly needy, and we do not share the load, it reveals that we may be overly needy of their need of us!

Lesson 8. Work Wisely with Other Helpers

It is inevitable as you work with difficult people that you will be criticized by them. Sometimes they will do this to your face, but most of the time they will do it with others who are reaching out to them. The illustration that I think works here is the illustration of a child. If the child does not get what is wanted from one parent, the child will complain to other parent in an effort to get it. If you are helping a difficult person, chances are you are not the only person in their lives. They are amazingly connected! If you know this from the outset, you can begin to find out who else they depend on. With that information, you can wisely seek appropriate ways to make sure that the various helpers do not get caught between the complaints of the difficult person. When a difficult person complains to you about someone who has not helped them, use this as an opportunity to remind the difficult person that the person they are speaking about does care for them. Encourage the others to do this as well.

There were occasions with Nancy where I would have to remind her of how much God had been good to her by giving her the friends she had. It was also an opportunity to challenge her to learn to love even when she was not getting what she wanted from others.

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Lesson 9. Connect the Person to Christ Himself

What could be more obvious and yet what could be least obvious. People need something and someone more than you. They need Christ. If you are not careful, you may be the one person that keeps them from him if you love yourself more than you love the difficult person. One of the temptations in pastoral ministry is to forget who the Chief Shepherd of the sheep is. A gentle reminder: it is not you. I remember being in the midst of a broader family crisis with Nancy. The weight of it all was coming down on me. Sometime that week a friend called me and sensed the weight in my voice. He spoke gently and lovingly to me when he said, “Tim, remember, you are not the ultimate shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is.” His words cut and healed at the same time. They called me to repent of my people, control, and success idolatries. At the same time, they reminded me that Jesus was more concerned for and able to help this person than 1000 pastors working at once. We need to connect people to Christ to remind them as well as ourselves that we are not the Chief Shepherd of the sheep.

Lesson 10. Remember: We are All Difficult People

Finally, a helpful reminder that is always appropriate to remember as we serve difficult people. From God’s point of view, aren’t we all difficult people? Romans 5:8 sums it up nicely when it says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Verse 10 goes on to say, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.”

Conclusion

These 10 lessons are ministerial ways that I have grown in wisdom within the context of ministerial ministry. Helping difficult people is challenging but if you see it as a extension of the gospel into the everyday lives of God’s people, your path will be clearer and your love more “constant” because it depends less on you and more on the God who calls you to do it. My pastor and other ministers and brother of the faith have made me see my errors in dealing with difficult people by looking at my struggles first. I have great men of God surrounding me and keeping me accountable to Christ and ministry. I am struggling with being faithful to my calling due to the discomfort surrounding serving God in a time when dogma’s and tradition supersede the simplicity of Jesus Christ gospel, but Jesus sat down and had dinner with these same struggles and brought about the New Testament of Righteousness by Faith. Let us work while it is still day.

My strength and Crutch for life Is God’s Promises In His Word

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“Whatever brings you to your knees in weakness carries the greatest potential for your personal success and spiritual victory.”

When I am weak, then I am strong.” These words, taken from Paul’s writings in 2 Corinthians, bring thoughts of contradiction. How can we be strong, when we are weak? How can we function, when it feels as though our world will break and fall apart? Shouldn’t we try to hold everything together, not letting anything slip beyond our control, our rescue, or our grasp?

Some of you who read these words know the pressure that comes from trying to keep everything in check and looking nice and orderly on the outside. But on the inside, a torrential river is raging its way throughout your life.
None of us can escape the pressures of life. Most of us know what it feels like to be disappointed. We know the painfulness of embarrassment, the sting of rejection, and the sorrow of failure. Regardless of the level of control we have over our lives, there always comes a time when the stove top settings end up on high and lids come boiling off the pots and pans.

What pots are boiling out-of-control in your life? Is there a financial need? Maybe there is a relationship problem you are facing, and your prayer each night before you turn off the light is for God’s wisdom and guidance in handling it. Countless people have physical needs that go far beyond what many of us can imagine.
Regardless of what your situation is, you can trust this principle: whatever brings you to your knees in weakness carries the greatest potential for your personal success and spiritual victory.

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No one enjoys feeling weak, whether it is emotionally, spiritually, or physically. There is something within the human spirit that wants to resist the thought of weakness. Many times this is nothing more than our human pride at work. Just as weakness carries a great potential for strength, pride carries an equally great potential for defeat. It cannot co-exist with God’s Spirit of love and humility. Pride was Satan’s downfall, and it is the one element that must be removed if we want to experience the peace that comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
As long as pride is involved, there will be a distance between you and God. This happens because pride resists the loving nature of God. It can’t stand to be humbled, and this is the very thing God calls us to be. (James 4:6; 1 Peter 3:8) Instead of moving you toward God, pride separates you from Him by tempting you to be strong in your own strength and not in the strength of Christ.

Paul learned a valuable lesson in this area. God allowed him to be buffeted by a severe trial in order to humble him and remove the potential for pride. (2 Corinthians 12:7) As a young man he was trained by one of the greatest scholars in Jewish thought and culture. He understood the elements of the law and practiced them with great zeal. Yet when he came face to face with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road his life was changed. He no longer viewed the world around him through human eyes. God gave him spiritual insight that far surpassed anything he had known.
Still, he had to be broken further so that he could be used in an even greater way by God. Like everyone else, Paul faced temptation. He was not spared affliction. One in particular was severe enough for him to pray three times for its removal. Later, he recorded its existence in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

It was through this time of weakness that Paul learned a new principle: weakness is strength. Frailty in a certain area is not something that should bring embarrassment. When we are humbled before God, He sees the meekness of our hearts and sends His strength and blessings into our lives.

Even though Paul could have listed many personal accomplishments, he chose to tell his audience what he believed was the key to experiencing a victorious life, and that was in accepting his weakness so that the strength of Christ might live fully in him. He was writing about living a completely surrendered life to Jesus Christ. “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (v. 9).

We are called to be strong in Christ. Our strength is not within ourselves or our ability. It is in Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:19) God knows until we come to the end of ourselves there is little chance we will turn over the reins of our lives to Him. He has given you a limited free will. This means that at any time He can step in and put a stop to a problem or a certain course you have chosen to take. Many times, He does not do this because He wants you to see that on your own you will struggle and fall, but in Him you will have strength and victory.
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We do not know the trial that Paul was facing. He called it a “thorn in the flesh.” In the Greek, the word thorn means a stake used for torturing or impaling someone. This was not a gentle infliction. It was painful. He writes that he was buffeted by it, indicating that the trial was either ongoing or recurring. When Paul felt he could no longer withstand the blows leveled against him, God reassured him that His grace, the grace of God, is sufficient for anything he faced.

There are several ways you can respond to trials. You can blame others or even God for your circumstances. You can become bitter and resentful; you can give up and end up fighting feelings of depression; grit your teeth and strive to keep all the lids perfectly on the pots, even though the heat is turned up on high; or you can surrender your desire to control your life and let God take care of you.
There is true value in weakness because it helps you view your life under the light of God’s mercy. You may accomplish great things. People amass financial fortunes having never established a close personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They climb the ladder of success, drive expensive cars, build huge homes, and travel around the world, but without the hope that Jesus brings, their souls are empty.

What the world views as being strong is really nothing more than weakness under wraps. Strength that withstands the stresses and blows of this life comes from one Source, the eternal indwelling presence of God within the life of every believer.

When we accept our weaknesses and the fact that we cannot handle them on our own, God goes to work. He sends encouragement and a sense of creativity, helping you to try new avenues that lead to hope and fresh beginnings.
Are you weary from trying? Has exhaustion made its mark? Are you afraid others will see your weaknesses and laugh? Is there a thorn in your life that could expose your deepest fear? Let it go. Release your fears to Jesus who loves you. Let Him strengthen you. Nothing compares to the freedom that waits for you within His loving arms. Nothing will ever bring more completion to your heart and soul than knowing the unconditional love of God. It is yours today.

The Power Of Our Weaknesses
None of us enjoys feeling weak. We like to think we are strong and can do anything we are given to do. However, it is at the point of our greatest weakness that God comes to us speaking words of hope and encouragement.
Why does weakness work in your favor?
Weakness has the ability to bring you to the end of yourself. It is there you realize your need for Someone greater. Only Jesus Christ can calm the storm that is battering your life. Only He can provide the wisdom you need to stand and not fall in times of temptation.

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Obedience and commitment are two key principles for spiritual success. When we submit our lives to Jesus Christ we are telling Him that we are ready to obey His commands. This is an indication that we are committed to Him and seek to lay down our human desires in return for an eternal perspective. Submission is a tough command, and you cannot do it without the help of Christ.

If we disobey the Lord, He will allow us to hurt until our wills are broken. Painful as it is, experiencing a season of adversity may be the only way many will relinquish their need for control over their lives.
However, trials are not always a result of sin, they come to strengthen us and fit us for God’s service. Submission to Jesus Christ is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of holy allegiance, or great internal strength, power, and peace.

God’s goal is for you to be weak from a human perspective but strong from a spiritual one. It is then that He fills your life with a resilient strength far beyond the comprehension of this world.

Truly Amazing

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Romans 5:6-11 (New International Version)

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6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

I read these words on a young woman’s personal Web site: “I just want to be loved-and he has to be amazing!” Isn’t that what we all want–to be loved, to feel cared for by someone? And so much the better if he or she is amazing!

The one who fits that description most fully is Jesus Christ. In a display of unprecedented love, He left His father in heaven and came to earth as the baby we celebrate at Christmas ( Luke 2). Then, after living a perfect life, He gave His life as an offering to God on the cross in our behalf ( John 19:17-30).

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He took our place because we needed to be rescued from our sin and its death penalty. ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Then three days later, the Father raised Jesus to life again (Matthew 28:1-8).

When we repent and receive Jesus’ gift of amazing love, He becomes our Savior, Lord, Teacher and Friend. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1 ). Looking for someone to love you? Jesus loves us so much than anyone else possibly could. And He is truly amazing!

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Amazing thought! that God in flesh
Would take my place and bear my sin;
That I, a guilty, death-doomed soul,
Eternal life might win!

The wonder of it all–Just to think that Jesus loves me…..

Selfish Christianity

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John 6:22-27
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
22 The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone. 23 There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

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Words to the People

26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

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Think honestly about this question: Which interests you more—who Jesus is or what He can do for you? I’m afraid that too many of us are more concerned about what the Lord can give us than we are about getting to know who He is.

But this is nothing new—Jesus had the same problem when He walked on earth. The crowds often sought Him out for what He could do for them. Even though their needs were quite often legitimate, Christ knew their motives.

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There is a fine line between selfishly trying to use the Lord to get what we want and humbly coming to Him with our needs and struggles. Some of the issues we bring to Him are so pressing and urgent in our minds that our desire for Him to take action in the way we want becomes greater than our willingness to submit to His will. At times, what we call “faith” is really a demanding spirit.

We must remember that our earthly needs will come to an end, but Jesus Christ will remain forever. If our prayers have dealt only with presenting our requests to the Lord, then we are missing a great opportunity to get to know the One with whom we are going to spend all eternity. Let’s invest time in pursuing intimacy with the great God who created us. Then we can enjoy all the benefits of that relationship forever.

How much of your communion with God is devoted to your needs—even legitimate ones? Are you spending any time getting to know the Lord? Although God delights in our prayers and tells us to pray about everything, He also wants us to come to Him just because we enjoy being with Him.

Overcoming Disappointment – Ezra 3

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The year is 537 B.C. The place is Jerusalem. The Jews have just returned from a long captivity in Babylon. Some have been gone from their homeland for 70 years. Others have been gone for 50 years. They were sent into captivity as part of God’s judgment on generations of disobedience. Now at last the first wave of Jews is returning to the land. But everything has changed. The countryside is in the hands of their enemies. The city of Jerusalem lies in ruins. The walls have been torn down and buildings have been looted. And worst of all, the temple built by Solomon 500 years earlier is no more. It’s gone. Vanished. Utterly destroyed. So complete was the work that it seemed as if the temple and all its glory had been some strange dream. The Babylonians took the gold and the silver and everything else of value. The temple itself was razed. The Ark of the Covenant is gone, the altar of sacrifice is gone, and the temple implements are gone. In its place lies a field of rubble.

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So the Jews go to work with vigor and determination. First, they rebuild the altar (vs. 1-6). Second, they relay the foundation of the temple (vs.7-9). Then they pause for a public praise celebration (vs. 10-11). In the midst of the cheering and the singing, a strange thing happens: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:12-13). The young folks danced and cheered while the old folks wept bitter tears. And the shouts of joy mixed with the weeping so that no one could tell them apart. What a strange scene.

If you do the math, it all makes sense. The temple had been destroyed in 586 B.C. Fifty years later the Jews return from captivity and begin to rebuild it. The older folks who could remember Solomon’s temple were at least 65 years old. Meanwhile, two whole generations had been born in Babylon. Those young people had no memory of the glories of Solomon’s temple. Having grown up in pagan Babylon, they cheered the beginning of a new temple. But to the old folks, it was like comparing a tar paper shack to the Taj Mahal. How pitifully small it seemed to them when compared with what they once had known. Their disappointment was so great that they wept while others rejoiced.

Misplaced Expectations

Everyone knows disappointment sooner or later. Friends break their word, marriages end in divorce, our children move away and never call us, colleagues betray us, the company lays us off, doctors can’t cure us, our investments disappear, our dreams are shattered, the best-laid plans go astray, other Christians disappoint us, and very often, we disappoint ourselves. We live in a world of disappointment, and if we do not come to grips with this truth, we are doomed to be unhappier tomorrow than we are today.

English author Joseph Addison declared, “Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments.” We have all heard the story of Alexander the Great who wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. Hugo Grotius, the father of modern international law, said, “I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life.” John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the U.S.—wrote in his diary: “My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations.” And this is the epitaph written by famed author Robert Louis Stevenson: “Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much.” Cecil Rhodes opened up Africa and established an empire, but what were his dying words? “So little done, so much to do.” Joe Torre is the manager of the New York Yankees. Years ago he was the broadcaster for the California Angels (now the Anaheim Angels). During a broadcast one night, he mentioned that a little boy had asked him before the game, “Didn’t you used to be somebody?” And perhaps you’ve heard Abraham Lincoln’s reply when he was asked how it felt to lose the race for U.S. Senator to Stephen Douglas in 1858: “I feel like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

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Dr. Jerome Frank at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore talks about “our assumptive world.” He means that we all make certain assumptions about life. Often our assumptions are unstated. Deep down, we believe that if we do certain things, others will treat us in a certain way. We assume that we have earned certain things out of life. If those expectations are not met, we are disappointed. There is a strong correlation between good mental health and having assumptions that match reality. And there is a high correlation between misplaced assumptions and a variety of emotional problems, including depression. Put simply, we are disappointed when things don’t go the way we thought they were going to go. Wrong expectations lead to disappointment, and disappointment leads to despair.

Why were the old people disappointed? They remembered how good things used to be. And because they were living in the past with all its glory, they could not deal with the present reality. If we are ever going to overcome that sort of disappointment, three things are necessary. We must do what the Jews did in Ezra 3.

I. A New Dedication—Rebuild the Altar
The returning exiles began by rebuilding the altar so they could offer sacrifices to God. Verse 1 notes that all the people (“as one man”) assembled in Jerusalem. The two key leaders knew what to do. Jeshua the high priest and Zerubbabel (the man who led the exiles back from Babylon) led the people in reconstructing the altar of God. When it was finished, they began to offer the morning and evening sacrifices as God had mandated in the book of Leviticus. Then they made offerings for the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4). “After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred feasts of the LORD, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the LORD. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid” (Ezra 3:5-6).

They built the altar even before they started rebuilding the temple. Why? Worship must always come first. Out of the rubble of their past disobedience, they first made sure they were right with God. In a sense, by making sacrifices first, they were saying, “Lord, we want to get right with you.” The altar was the symbolic center of Old Testament religion. It was the place where they brought their lambs, goats and bulls to be offered to the Lord. They killed the animal, poured out its blood, and burned the flesh before the Lord. Without the altar there could be no proper worship, no assurance of divine protection, no guarantee of forgiveness, no access to God, and no lifting of the burden of guilt and failure. The altar was the link between God and man. During all the years in Babylon, the people had no altar and thus no clear access to God and no assurance of forgiveness. Their disobedience had taken the altar away and broken their fellowship with God.

There are times when we all need a new beginning with God. Sometimes we need a new beginning because of our own sin. Sometimes the circumstances of life have so defeated us that we need a fresh start. Sometimes we feel that hope is gone forever. And in those moments, we must do what the Jews did. We must return to the altar of sacrifice. For Christians, that means returning to the cross of Jesus Christ where his blood was shed for our sins. That’s why I often say, “Run to the cross!” And not just for the unsaved but for Christians, too. We all need the healing that comes from the cross of Jesus Christ. And we need it every day.

The Man Who Denied God

Often we wonder if God will take us back, or will he turn us away? The answer is yes, he’ll take you back, but you’ll never know until you make that journey on your own. Several months ago I was the guest host on Open Line, the question-and-answer program headed up bu a wonderful spirit filled “Woman of God”. With about three minutes left in the program, I took one final call. As soon as I heard the man’s voice, I knew he was distraught. He proceeded to tell me a story unlike anything I have ever heard before. “I used to be a Christian but my wife left me for another man. When she told me she was leaving, I got angry and ripped up the Bible in front of her. Then I denied God in the name of the Trinity.” His voice broke and he started weeping. “I know it was wrong to do that, but I don’t think God will ever take me back. What can I do?” I glanced at the clock and saw that we had about 90 seconds left in the program. It was a dilemma because this was the kind of call you wish you had a whole hour to discuss. But the seconds were ticking away and I had to say something quickly. “Sir, I don’t have much time, so let me tell you this one thing. I know God loves you just the way you are and he will take you back.” “But I ripped up the Bible in front of my wife.” “Sir, I know God loves you and he will take you back.” “But I denied God in the name of the Trinity.” “God loves you and he will take you back.” The man wept openly as I said those words. Now we were down to the last 30 seconds. “We’re almost out of time so I want you to listen carefully. Your broken heart tells me that God will take you back. The Lord never turns away a broken heart. When this program is over, I want you to get on your knees, put the Bible in front of you, tell the Lord you know the Bible is the Word of God, and ask him to forgive you. And I want you to renounce your denial of faith. Tell the Lord that you know he is God, and ask the Lord Jesus to forgive you. Ask him for a fresh start. If you do that, you will not be turned away.” With that, our time ran out and the program was over. I never heard from the man again. I don’t know if he took my counsel or not. But I am sure I told him the truth. No matter how great sin may be, if we turn to the Lord, he will abundantly pardon. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).

II. A New Obedience—Relaid the Foundation
Having rebuilt the altar, and thus re-established their relationship with God, the Jews proceeded to relay the foundation of the temple. This involved a massive cleanup effort. Remember that when they came back, they found a city basically turned into rubble, like Berlin at the end of World War II. And where Solomon’s temple had been, they found a field of rubble—piles of rocks, smashed bits of wood, with weeds and bushes growing up amid the debris. When they first saw it, there was nothing that looked like a temple. Nothing. All had been destroyed, torn down, and then burned. “Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, as authorized by Cyrus king of Persia. In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work, appointing Levites twenty years of age and older to supervise the building of the house of the LORD” (Ezra 3:7-8).

As I study this story in its larger context, I am struck by two facts: First, they committed themselves to follow the Lord in the details of life. Verses 2 and 4 emphasize that when they rebuilt the altar, they did it “according to the Law,” that is, they followed the details of what God told Moses to do. That’s significant because nearly 1,000 years had passed since God had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai. Lots of water had passed under the bridge in the intervening centuries. Empires had come and gone, Israel itself had gone through the conquest, the period of the Judges, the reign of the three great kings, Saul, David and Solomon, then the bizarre period of the divided kingdom, and finally the humiliation of total defeat and exile in Babylon. Now it was time to start over. What do you do then? You go back to the basics, back to the drawing board, you go back and read the instruction manual so you don’t make the same mistakes all over again. That’s what they did in Ezra 3.

Second, they relaid the foundation in spite of the enemies all around them. As the story unfolds in the chapters that follow, those enemies will do everything they can to discourage them, to harass them, to oppose them, and to stop them altogether. And in fact, the enemies will succeed for a period of time. It takes courage to stand against a hostile world. When the enemy lines up against you, what will you do then? You put faith ahead of your fears.

Put it all together and it looks like this. In spite of the rubble and in spite of the opposition, and in spite of all that had happened in the past, the people of God banded together and got to work. They raised money to buy new cedar logs, they organized their workers into teams, and everyone pitched in and went to work. They picked up those huge boulders and dragged them to the side. They cut down the bushes, dug up the weeds, cleared out the broken timber and the jagged pieces of metal. Little by little, day by day, week by week, they worked to clean out a half-century of neglect.

Do not miss the point. When you are disappointed and don’t know what to do, take a lesson from the Jews.

Do what you know is right!

Do what you know is right!

Do what you know is right!

You can’t stay in bed forever. Someone has to mop the floor. Someone has to take out the trash. Someone has to open the office. Someone has to turn on the lights. Someone has to pay the bills. Someone has to fix the motor. Someone has to enter the data. Someone has to make the sales presentation. Someone has to review the charts. Someone has to make the lesson plans. Someone has to see the patients. Someone has to grade the papers.

Don’t let your discouragement keep you from doing what you know you have to do. If you can’t keep your big promises, keep your small ones. If you can’t follow the big plan, follow the small one. If you can’t see ten steps into the future, then take two or three steps. Or just take the next step in front of you. Motivational speaker John Maxwell said, “The smallest act of obedience is better that the greatest intention.” He’s right. Better to do a little than to sit around dreaming about doing a lot.

If you cannot obey God in some grand gesture, then obey him in the small things of life. Do what you know needs to be done, and do it for the glory of God.

III. A New Priority—Resolved to Praise the Lord
“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid” (Ezra 3:10-11).

Once the foundation was laid, the people and their leaders stopped and gave thanks to God. This is united, public praise. It is intense, emotional and God-centered. When they sang, they declared, “He is good,” not “We are good.” They didn’t even say, “We did this with God’s help,” even though that would have been true. They openly gave God all the credit.

I am struck by the fact that they did not wait until the building was done to praise the Lord. Even though laying the foundation was significant, there was a mountain of work left to do. Years would pass before the temple was finished. This was only the first step, but they stopped anyway and gave thanks to the Lord. What a lesson that is for all of us.

Yesterday May and I were at the county hospital. We happened to tune in while a preacher was talking about the importance of praising the Lord. He made the point (loudly) that praise is a choice, not a feeling. “You aren’t supposed to wait until you feel like praising the Lord. You’re to praise the Lord at all times whether you feel like it or not. Many times you won’t feel like praising the Lord. That doesn’t matter. Praise isn’t about your feelings. Praise is a choice we make without regard to our feelings.” He was exactly right. Don’t wait until the victory is won to praise the Lord. Stop and praise him before the battle is begun. Then praise him in the midst of the conflict. And praise him even when things seem to be going against you. Do what the Jews did and praise him for a good beginning. That will put your soul in the right place to continue to work with joy in the days to come.

It is a great advance in the spiritual life if you can praise the Lord even when things are not going well. In the midst of the devastation of Jerusalem, with only the foundation of the temple relaid, with rubble on every hand, after returning to find their homeland controlled by their enemies, still the people said with one voice, “God is good.” That’s true faith. Anyone can praise God when the sun in shining, all the bills are paid, your marriage is strong, your kids are doing well, you just got a raise, and the future is bright. It’s something else to praise God when things are far from perfect. It’s a great thing to be able to look at your life and say, “It’s not what I wish it was, but God is still good to me.”

Why Young and Old Need Each Other

So why did the young people rejoice? Because Babylon was all they had known. They had never seen Solomon’s temple, didn’t remember its glory and hadn’t witnessed its destruction. All they knew about that, they had heard from their parents and their parents’ friends. The older generation told them tales of the glorious olden days. But they knew none of it by experience. So when they saw the temple foundation relaid, to them it was an amazing answer to prayer. It was the closest thing to a temple they had ever seen, and they saw no reason to weep. This was a time to celebrate the goodness of the Lord.

But I do not think we should be overly hard on the old folks. They remembered how good things had been, and they recalled what had been lost through disobedience. It was well that they should weep, and even better that they should pass on the lessons learned through bitter experience many years earlier. It is still true today:

The young need the old to remind them of the past.

The old need the young to encourage them about the future.

Four Life Lessons

As we stand back and survey this amazing, touching episode, four lessons stand out to help us overcome the disappointments of life.

A. Yield your memories and your dreams to the Lord.

Was your past better and happier than your present? Yield it to the Lord. Was your past filled with sadness and pain? Give that to the Lord, too. Do you have great dreams, bright hopes, big plans for the future? That’s wonderful. It’s good to dream big, but in all your dreaming, and all your hoping, and all your planning, yield it all to the Lord. Lay it at his feet and say, “Your will be done.” Take the past with its happiness and sadness, take the future with all its unlimited possibilities, and give it all, past and present, to the Lord who spans the generations. Say to him, “Lord, you are the God of yesterday and you are the God of tomorrow, I yield them both to you so that I may live for your glory today.”

B. Accept your present situation as from the Lord.

To “accept” does not mean passive resignation to the problems of life. This is not a call to give up and stop fighting for what you believe in. But it does mean accepting the reality that you are where you are right now because this is where God wants you to be, because if God wanted you to be somewhere else, you would be somewhere else. Only those who have a high view of God can come to this conclusion. Sometimes you must come to this certainty by a conscious choice of the heart. Blessed is the person who can say, “I am here by the sovereign choice of a loving God, and I know my Lord makes no mistakes.” This does not mean it is wrong to change your situation if you need to (and if you can), but it gives you the bedrock confidence that Higher Hands are at work in your life and that you are being led by the Lord. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 KJV).

C. Resolve to obey God right where you are.

Disappointment may cause us to become bitter, and bitterness may make us lethargic toward the duties of life. We may find a thousand excuses not to do the things we know we ought to do. And little by little things begin to slide, jobs are not done, chores are not finished, projects are left uncompleted, phone calls are not returned, appointments are not met, messages are not answered, papers are not written, goals are not met, and down we slide into a bottomless pit of despair. The answer is so simple that we often miss it. Resolve in your heart that you will obey God right where you are. No excuses. No delays. No hoping for better days, happier times, or more favorable circumstances. If things aren’t what you wish they were, roll up your sleeves anyway and go to work. Who knows? Your willingness to do what needs to be done may change the way things are. And even if the situation does not improve, you can hardly make it worse by doing what needs to be done. And if you somehow make it worse, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you made it worse by doing your duty, not by giving up and throwing in the towel. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

D. Praise God for his goodness in spite of your circumstances.

This is what the people of God did in Ezra’s day. They rolled up their sleeves, got to work, and as they worked, with the fulfillment of their dreams still far in the future, they offered public praise to God. If this were a parable, I would say, “Go and do likewise.”

Rough Seas Make Great Sailors

And let this be the basis of your thanksgiving. God’s goodness is proved not only in what he gives, but also in what he allows. Hard times are hard precisely because they force you out of your comfort zone. They put you in a place where you are virtually forced to trust God. They move the spiritual life from theory to reality. You can hear all the sermons you want about how God takes care of his children, but it’s not until you experience it for yourself that those truths become the liberating foundation of a life that cannot be blown away by the winds of adversity. Here’s a quote I found this week: “One can learn about sailing in the classroom, but it takes rough seas to make a great sailor.” Well said. You can read about sailing until you know all the nautical terms by heart, but you’ll never learn how to sail, much less be a great sailor, until you take your turn at the helm while your sailboat fights through a squall off Cape Fear. When the waves are pounding, the wind is howling, and the rain rolls across the deck in horizontal sheets, then you’ll learn how to sail and how to survive. If you don’t learn at that point, you probably won’t survive. When the storm has passed, you will thank God for the knowledge and confidence that could not have come any other way. There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. So give thanks to God even though your circumstances are not the best.

Better to Begin Small

As we come to the end of this message, there is much we need to ponder. For one thing, God’s grace is so great that, no matter how great our sin, there is always the possibility of a new beginning with him. The very fact that the Jews returned from Babylon proves this fact. No matter how checkered your past may be, the grace of God is always greater than your sin. While the scars of the past may be with you forever, those scars do not determine what your future will be. So if you need a new beginning, turn to the Lord with all your heart because he will not turn you away. There is a second truth the flows from the first: When we have been humbled by God, our praise will be sweeter because it will be unmixed with sinful pride. The Jews could never say, “Look at us, we did it, we brought ourselves back from Babylon.” No way. God humbled them, he punished them, and when the time came, he brought them home again. And he gave them the strength to relay the foundation of the temple. Human pride had been crushed years earlier. Now God alone would get the glory.

Let’s close with two statements I would like you to repeat out loud. That’s right. Wherever you happen to be right now, I’d like you to say the next two sentences aloud:

It is better to begin small with God than not to begin at all.

It is better to rejoice over what you have than to weep over what you used to have.

Disappointment is a tricky emotion. It’s not wrong to remember the past and it’s certainly not wrong to grieve over what you lost. If our loss was caused by our own stupid choices, then grieving may keep us from making the same mistakes again. But eventually there comes a time when we must move on. At that point our beginnings are likely to be small and insignificant. Do not despair. From tiny acorns mighty oaks someday grow. When God wanted to save the world, he started with a baby in a manger. Small beginnings are no hindrance to the Lord. Go ahead and get started. You never know what God will do.

How long are you going to allow your future to be defined by your past? How long will you choose to stay in your disappointment? Don’t despise your present because it’s not what you wanted it to be or because it’s not what your past used to be. Lay your disappointments at the foot of the cross. Let Jesus have them. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there. Give thanks for all your blessings. Then by God’s grace, move forward with your life, determined to serve the Lord. Amen.

Actions and Results

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The D.B. Cooper investigation
( FBI / European Pressphoto Agency )
An artist’s impression from 1971 of the hijacking suspect known as D.B. Cooper. The FBI is looking into a tip from a witness who contends the hijacker died 10 years ago. The witness was brought to the FBI’s attention by a retired law enforcement officer. An FBI agent provided few details, but said the bureau considered the tip credible. The bureau is attempting to match fingerprints taken from belongings of the dead man to fingerprints gathered 40 years ago from the cabin of the jetliner that Cooper hijacked.

Romans 5:12-19
New International Version (NIV)
Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

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On November 24, 1971, a man known today as D. B. Cooper hijacked a commercial flight between Portland and Seattle by threatening to blow up the plane unless he received $200,000. After landing to receive the ransom money, he ordered the plane back into the air. Then he lowered the rear stairs of the 727 aircraft and parachuted into the night. He was never captured, and the case is still unsolved. This act hastened the age of aircraft security in which trust and confidence have been replaced by suspicion and fear. What he did affected us all.

The Bible describes two actions that changed the world in a far more significant way. Through Adam’s choice, sin and death entered the world, “and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” ( Romans 5:12). But through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God provided a remedy for the results of sin. “Through one man’s [Adam’s] offense judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s [Christ’s] righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

Christ did what no one else could do when He broke the power of sin and death by His resurrection. He offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who will accept His gift. And for that we thank Him with all our hearts.

When Adam sinned, death spread to all
One act condemned the human race;
But Jesus’ death upon the cross
Provides mankind God’s saving grace.

The cross of Christ can cure the condemnation of Adam’s choice.

Becoming Bilingual

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We’ve heard the church bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world: Peter and the apostles speaking boldly before the Sanhedrin. Peter preaching Law and Gospel on the Day of Pentecost. Stephen bearing witness to Christ and becoming the first martyr of the church in the process. The church giving verbal testimony to the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling people to repentance and faith in his name–this is what we see in these readings from Acts.

But all of those examples that I just cited involved the early Christians bearing witness to their fellow Jews. We have not yet seen how the church bore witness when speaking to Gentiles, that is, to non-Jews, pagans. Today, we do. It is the story of Paul preaching in Athens, moving from the Jewish synagogue to the Gentile, pluralistic marketplace of ideas. And so this has great relevance for us today, for this is the world we live in. Thus our theme this morning: “Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus.”

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So Paul is in Athens, the great intellectual center from Greece’s glorious past. This was the city of the philosophers–Socrates, Plato, Aristotle–great names from the golden age. Athens was Greece’s “University City.” And the Areopagus was the place where the professors and the intellectual avant-garde would gather, always eager to hear the latest thing.

But that’s not where Paul goes first. Our text says that “he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews.” Remember, the Jews had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean world for centuries. In every city of any size, there was a Jewish synagogue. And so the first stop in most any city Paul went to was the synagogue. “To the Jew first and also to the Greek,” that was Paul’s pattern. Why? Because at the synagogue Paul found a ready-made audience for the gospel. They were already familiar with the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. What Paul then did was to show how Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of those Scriptures, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah promised from long ago.

For example, earlier in Acts 17, Paul was in Thessalonica, where, it says, “there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded.”

Acts 17:28

King James Version (KJV)
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

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It is possible–in a society that seems increasingly indifferent to the gospel–to communicate the good news to people who don’t share our faith?

One way to connect with people who are unfamiliar with the things of Christ is to become “culturally bilingual.” We do this by communicating in ways people can easily relate to. Knowing about and discussing music, films, sports, and television, for example, can offer just such an opportunity. If people hear us “speak their language,” without endorsing or condoning the media or events we refer to, it could open the door to sharing the timeless message of Christ.

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Paul gave us an example of this in Acts 17. While visiting the Asparagus in Athens, he spoke to a thoroughly secular culture by quoting pagan Greek poets as a point of reference for the spiritual values he sought to communicate. He said, “In Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ “(Acts 17:28). Just as Paul addressed that culture by knowing what they were reading, we may have greater impact for the gospel by relating it to people in terms they can readily embrace.

Are you trying to reach a neighbor or a coworker with the gospel? Try becoming bilingual.

To earn your neighbor’s ear
And prove you really care,
Use terms he/she understands
To show you are aware.

The content of the Bible must be brought into contact with the world.

Healing from Heaven

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Experiencing life while walking with the Father of Life is a painful, yet blessed encounter. I am in so much discomfort tonight due to the state of my life and our nation. I realize God is still in control, but to gain knowledge by way suffering is not in vain. I count it all joy to be considered worthy to grieve from the conditions that God wills for my life.
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2 Corinthians 1:1-10 (The Message)

1 I, Paul, have been sent on a special mission by the Messiah, Jesus, planned by God himself. I write this to God’s congregation in Corinth, and to believers all over Achaia province. 2 May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours! Timothy, someone you know and trust, joins me in this greeting. 3 All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! 4 He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. 5 We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort – we get a full measure of that, too. 6 When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. 7 When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it. 8 We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. 9 We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally – not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! 10 And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.

Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was an Irish songwriter, singer, and poet. His talents brought joy to many who saw him perform or who sang his music. Yet, tragically, his personal life was troubled by repeated heartaches, including the death of all five of his children during his lifetime. Moore’s personal wounds make these words of his all the more meaningful: “Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” This moving statement reminds us that meeting with God in prayer can bring healing to the troubled soul.

The apostle Paul also saw how our heavenly Father can provide solace to the hurting heart. To the believers at Corith he wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Sometimes, though, we can be so preoccupied with an inner sorrow that we isolate ourselves from the One who can offer consolation. We need to be reminded that God’s comfort and healing come through prayer.

As we confide in our Father, we can experience peace and the beginning of healing for our wounded hearts. For truly “earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.

Prayer is the soil in which hope and healing grow best……

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