~ I choose To Worship While In The Struggle~

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Father, Adonai, Jesus, we are open now to hear a refreshing word of hope from You, your voice will be heard and we will move in courage and faith to face any suffering, any persecution, any work that you have for us to perform together. We hear your people crying and we know You are inclining your ear to this prayer, the world is dying, the condition & behavior that is ever before you is breaking our hearts as it is yours, but we are your people and we will go to the nations and generations to proclaim victory because our savior is seated on your right hand and has given us strength thru His finished work to change the world, father it won’t happen if we don’t participate with your powerful spirit. Fill us up and send us out Lord to reap the harvest of restoration of laws and unify us to stabilize the injustice in our world and communities.

I want to live a life poured out although I suffer to live

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2 Corinthians 4:4-18 The Message (MSG)

3-4 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.

5-6 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

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INTRODUCTION: One day the great artist Michelangelo was hammering and chiseling away at a great block of stone. It was a perfect and a huge block of marble and to the untrained eye, it appeared that Michelangelo was ruining it. Large pieces were falling to the ground as he chiseled at the stone. It is said that a horrified observer said, “Michelangelo, what are you doing? You are ruining a perfect piece of marble!” And Michelangelo replied, “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”

When God is developing us sometimes it feels like we are losing everything. It feels like our whole world is coming to pieces. That’s God chiseling. That’s God the Holy Spirit cutting away everything in our life that does not look like God. It is often a painful process. Sometimes it hurts. Jesus said the branches that do not bear fruit will be cast into the fire, but the branches that do bear fruit will be pruned that they might bear more fruit.  Sometimes it hurts.

Have you ever started a ministry–maybe it was prayer, maybe it was teaching, maybe it was evangelism–and you began with such excitement and anticipation of God’s blessings and presence and power. Maybe you saw some initial success. Maybe your Sunday school class was growing. Maybe your prayer group was growing. Maybe your evangelism is successful. But then suddenly something happens that almost knocks the blocks out from under you. Suddenly there are some painful experiences in your life. Maybe you were team teaching and the other teacher bails out. Maybe someone in the prayer group stops coming and starts talking about you. Maybe the finances in your family start to shrink and things get tight. Maybe it seems like just as you start to do something for God, you start to invest yourself in the Lord’s work and things around you seem to be falling apart. And you start asking yourself, “What in the world is going on?” You start questioning whether or not you are in God’s will.

I’d like someone to show me where in the Bible it says that when you are in God’s will, everything will go smooth–no bumps in the road, no opposition from people or devils. Is that in the Bible? Because if it is, I haven’t been able to find it.

In fact, when you look at our text, you might come to the very opposite conclusion. In verse 5 Paul said, “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus. . . .” So they were doing the right thing, they were preaching, and they were saying the right thing, they were preaching Jesus, and they were seeing souls saved. But at the same time, Paul said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. . .” He said, “the outward man perish. . .”

What did Paul know that we need to know? How is it that Paul and his ministry companions could keep on keeping on, when the more they did for God, the more they were persecuted by the enemy? When they tried to preach the message of hope he was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hungry, and ultimately beheaded. Why didn’t Paul get mad at God? Why didn’t Paul throw in the towel and quit?

Paul didn’t quit because Paul knew that in the suffering of ministry something of an eternal nature was going on. The outward man perishes, but he did not quit, because the inward man, the spirit man was being renewed day by day. Every storm, every pain, every thorn in the flesh, every beating, every cold night in the dungeon with the executioner standing outside the cell, was merely a blow of the hammer and a pounding of the chisel as large pieces of Paul fell away and the image of Christ was being perfected in him. That’s why Paul could say, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings being made comfortable unto His death” (Phil. 3:10).

We want a quick fix. We want God to make it go away now! And we see some preachers who seem to be able to do it all without setbacks. But that may not be God’s plan for you. You may be asking for deliverance, while God’s plan for you is development. He may be purifying your faith in the fiery trials of life. He may be cutting away the outward man so that the inward man, the spiritual part of your being may breathe and grow to full maturity in the image and likeness of Christ.

I have, to be honest. When God starts cutting away big pieces of Aaron Pratt in order to let the image of Christ grow in me, I often cried out. I often look to heaven and said, “God what are you doing? Why are you allowing me to go through this? I’m doing the best that I can!” Two kids, serving lengthy sentences in prison, a divorce that wiped out everything tangible I had left to survive, two corporations were taken, and two kids dead one to sickle cell anemia, and the other to uterine cancer. I could go on and on, but this homily isn’t about me. it’s about the saving grace of my Lord and savior.

The Christian life is a paradox and sometimes it is difficult to grasp. The outward man has to perish so that the inward man can be renewed. The desires of the flesh have to be crucified in order to let the Spirit have control. Think about it. . .

You gotta die, in order to live.

You gotta lose, in order to gain.

You gotta give to get.

You gotta forgive, to be forgiven.

You gotta be empty before you can be full.

You gotta surrender, in order to win.

Before you can be exalted, you gotta be humbled.

You gotta be last before you can be first.

You gotta become the least so you can be the greatest.

You gotta be like a child, to have God’s power in you.

You gotta be happy about being a servant.

Rejoice when you’re persecuted.

You gotta appreciate problems.

Glory in tribulation.

Bless people that hate you.

Love somebody you’ve never seen.

Follow somebody that you’ve never heard.

Christianity’s a paradox, but it’s the only kind of life worth living.

God uses the issues and struggles and storms of life to perfect our faith. He sent the disciples into a storm. He sent them ahead alone while He stayed back to pray. Why did He do it? I believe He did it on purpose so that they could see in vivid and unforgettable fashion that when their strength was gone when they could do nothing in the flesh, they could look up and see that what was over their heads was under His feet. He came to them walking on the water so that in the midst of despair their faith could be developed.

He wanted them to know, and He wants us to know, that there will be times when we follow God out of Egypt only to run into the Red Sea with the enemy hot on our heals, but if we trust Him, He will deliver and our faith will grow.

We may stand for the truth and refuse to bow to the idols of the world, only to find ourselves being thrown into a fiery furnace, but if we are faithful He won’t let us go through the fire alone, the forth man will step into the fire with us and if we won’t bow to the pressures of life, neither will we burn.

We may be preaching the gospel one moment and find ourselves beaten and thrown into the prison the next, but there has never been a prison built that God could not open. He can open doors that no man can close.

I’m not saying that God will not deliver. He does and He will, but He moves on His time table. He has a plan for your spiritual development and that development may take you through some deserts. It may take you through some valleys. It may take you through some storms. What are you going to do? Are you going to quit? Are you going get mad and bitter at God? Or will you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

CONCLUSION: We are told to glory in infirmities, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, rejoice in suffering, rejoice when fiery trials come, be of good cheer in tribulation. Why, because we know that these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. We know that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” We are looking not on things as they are, not on things temporal, but we are looking ahead to things as they shall be, we are looking for things eternal.

We are God’s workmanship, we are His masterpiece and He is chipping away the stone, releasing the image of Christ in us. It was marred and masked by sin in the Garden of Eden, but God determined to fix the broken vessels and restore the image of God in us.

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Exodus 1-10New International Version (NIV)

The Israelites Oppressed

These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

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~I’ve Seen Him Work In My Life~

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While serving my country in a hostile land I saw God answer my prayers. Held against my will after being in pursuit of the ”mad dog of the Middle East” in 1987, Muammar el-Qaddafi and his family I prayed for a blessing to make it home. I saw God work while serving several prison terms on level four yards and being the focus of antagonism due to the color of my skin, I’ve seen God work in my life when death was not just a scene, but a smell, I’ve seen God heal and work when I lost my kids and I wanted to give up on Him.


As I have reflected over the events of the past few days and months and years of my life I was drawn to the first chapter of James. In the first 13 verses we are given some understanding of the purpose of trials that come our way.

No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence ( 1 Peter 2:21;  3:18;  4:1 ).

The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.

Natural disasters. Terrorist acts. Injustice. Incurable disease. All these experiences point to suffering, and can cause people to question the love and goodness of a God who would let such things occur. In this publication, we seek to consider who God is, and why we can trust Him even when life hurts—and we don’t know why.

Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Genesis 2:15-17).

We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Ecclesiastes 1-12Psalms 78:34-35Romans 3:10-18).

Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17Romans 5:3-5James 1:2-51 Peter 1:6-8).

If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 8:18-19).

The “WHY”

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I’ve lost some joy, I’ve lost some time

Now it feels like I will lose my mind
Journey long and lost my way
And now it feels like I’m lost, is all I say
Searching here and over there
For what I’ve lost where is it, I don’t know

But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
Though my heart is low I’ll find a way to give You praise
I will find a way to love You more

I’ve lost so much down through the years
It seems that all I find of late is a face so full of tears
I search each dark and empty place
The peace I used to know somehow I have misplaced
Searching here and over there
For the things I’ve lost I don’t have them anymore

But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
Though my heart is low I’ll find a way to give You praise
I will find a way to love You more

One thing I’ve not lost is the will to move ahead
And I kept a faith and trust in You Lord
And I find way down within myself
A love for You, Lord, that overflows
But I know that I can love You more
With every loss and through it all

But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
And though my life is broken I’ll find a way to give You praise

My pain is still a reality today. I have put my hands to the plow and honestly moved forward, but like everything in life there is a time to smile and a time to cry. Dates, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and all memorable occasions render times of reflection. I left home at the ripe age of seventeen. I was accepted in the Navy and College at the same time. I had my first child(a son) Demir Deshon Pratt at seventeen part of the reason I was in hot pursuit of success. After completion of boot-camp and a semester of school I went home to get married and set-up my family. Another child was born shortly after my son turned one years old(a daughter named Paris Deshon Pratt). I graduated college and turned down my commission to officer candidate school and went into the fleet. After two campaigns abroad I came home to a sick son who was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, who died shortly after  that. My daughter was left with my then wife who was young and couldn’t deal with the death of our son and being a parent with an absent husband serving his country. Shortly after that my mom past and I was in Beirut and was introduced to what it fells like to take a human life all the while grieving the lost of the Mother that gave me life.

Paris really didn’t get a good chance at life with her mom because she wasn’t exposed to structure anymore. We divorced and my life got more intricate with time due to the demand placed on me by the Navy to serve with honor all around the globe. I would go visit and offer my brief time to attempt to structure my daughters life, but I always was greeted with resistance. Well as time would have it my life went left after exiting the military, not knowing about the hidden scars from nine campaigns I plunged into a dualism existence, serving God and mammon. That behavior landed me into years of not really being stable, drug addiction and riotous behavior led to (Prison). My daughter was left to many types of abuse while living in my home town of Washington D.C. with her mom. She was exposed to the many different effects of a lifestyle her mom could only afford her. Exposure to many men, drug deals and murder and all sorts of dysfunctions that led to her negative behavior. I made one more attempt to right the misfortune of us both and went to get my daughter and afford her a better chance at living, still un- rehabilitated and in sheer delusion that I was in control of my life I brought my daughter to live in my dysfunction of dealing drugs and living a dual life style with my new family and kids. She was jealous and felt neglected although she had structure and siblings to live with that had somewhat of a good model to exude before her. She no longer lived in the ghetto and depraved circumstances, she was in an up scale community, but with a different set of demons still before her eyes.

I had to go serve a Federal obligation for 5 years and she was left with her step mother and siblings, but she couldn’t deal with the boredom and structure living without the iron hand of a man around. She performed so well and achieved academic success beyond any of the other kids, but she wanted to go home to her mom in Washington D.C. where she was neglected and abused. Well today marks the 10 year anniversary of our last talk before she made a fatal choice that would alter her life forever:

Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007

Crack dealer sentenced to life in fatal shooting

Silver Spring woman charged with murder in slaying of District teen

A 23-year-old Silver Spring woman charged in the November 2005 premeditated fatal shooting of a Washington, D.C., teenager in Silver Spring was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Parris Deshon Pratt of the 100 block of Croyden Court was found guilty March 16 of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Phillip Cunningham, 16, who lived in a Washington, D.C., group home.

Pratt shot Cunningham to death because she believed the boy had been ‘‘snitching” to police about her crack cocaine dealing business, Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Feeney wrote in his sentencing recommendation.

The Hon. Nelson W. Rupp Jr., the judge presiding over Pratt’s trial and sentencing, said he was ‘‘struck by the total lack of remorse” Pratt showed when she spoke to the court before her sentencing.

‘‘It’s not going to happen again if I have anything to do with it,” Rupp said before delivering his sentence.

Before the sentencing, Pratt apologized for getting herself into the situation that led to Cunningham’s death and asked for forgiveness from the boy’s family. But she said she felt her life was in danger at the time of the shooting and that she was the ‘‘sacrificial lamb.” She said it was the witness who testified against her that fired the bullet that killed Cunningham. She admitted to shooting Cunningham twice in self-defense.

According to the sentencing recommendation, it was Pratt’s DNA, not that of the witness, which was found on the gun.

‘‘If my back is against the wall, I do the best that I can,” she said before her sentencing. She said she was ‘‘totally out of my character” and abusing drugs when the shooting occurred.

According to defense testimony before her sentencing, Pratt was physically and sexually abused as a child, and abusing the drug PCP by age 14. Several of Pratt’s family and friends testified before her sentencing that she was misunderstood and a product of her upbringing.

But Rupp said it shocked the ‘‘conscience of the court” to see Pratt’s family claiming ties after defense testimony stated that she had been living on the streets, and ordered family and friends, who were weeping when Pratt was sentenced to life without parole, out of the courtroom.

‘‘If there was a way to charge the family … they’d be charged,” Rupp said.

Pratt was charged with first-degree murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony three days after the shooting. According to the sentencing recommendation, a witness to the Nov. 17, 2005, slaying came forward and told police that Pratt lured Cunningham into her car and drove Cunningham and the witness to the 9200 block of Manchester Road, where she shot him in the head three times.

Pratt fired two shots at Cunningham after asking him to take a walk down a driveway on Manchester Road, according to the sentencing recommendation. As Pratt and the witness began driving away, Pratt noticed Cunningham was still moving. She backed up the car, and shot Cunningham in the head a third time.

Pratt then drove to Wheaton after the shooting to sell crack cocaine, according to the sentencing recommendation.

At the time of his death, Cunningham was enrolled as a sophomore at Calvin Coolidge High School in the District. Erica Cunningham, the 24-year-old sister of Phillip Cunningham, said Thursday her brother was a typical teen who was just ‘‘starting to get it together.” Cunningham also had three other brothers, all wards of the Washington, D.C., foster care system.

Pratt also received a sentence of 20 years for the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime, and five years for the possession of a regulated firearm by a prohibited person, to be served consecutively.

After the sentencing, public defender Alan Drew said he would appeal the sentencing and pursue a three-judge review panel.

I have a story of pain and triumphs just like we all do. I am not ashamed at being transparent about my struggles, failure, and challenges for without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Praise God for His grace. I am fighting so many different fronts for myself and my kids. I have another son doing life for the same thing here in California, so you see this is a another part of the “WHY” to Second Chance Alliance. I have real life experience to offer to our communities and families abroad,. My wife has her own story to tell as well. Please pray my strength today. Thanks for your time in reading this blog and for your pondering to assist us in our cause, if you never viewed it click the insignia below.

Empower A Felon

Avoiding Hurt In The Church

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The title of this writing may seem to be rather unusual. After all, we would suppose the church to be a safe place – right? However, unfortunately, the church has sometimes been a place where many have experienced wounds instead of healing. In fact, statistics show that a great percentage of persons who cease attending church, do so because of some type of offense or injury to their feelings that happened there. Sometimes these occur because of the insensitivity of the church; other times, people are themselves at fault for being too touchy or sensitive to misunderstandings. In any case, it is sad that such experiences ever occur, because the church is an indispensable part of the believer’s life. Not only does it provide a place to worship, serve and learn about God, but it is also a community where believers can practice love toward their brethren as the Bible requires; “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Whatever you do, don’t give up on the church. God requires you to be faithful to it and to be accountable to its spiritual leaders. (See Hebrews 10:25; 13:17). If you have been hurt there, don’t run away – but equip yourself with the protection of God’s Word. You may not be able to stop offensive things from happening, but by applying God’s principles you can stop them from hurting you. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165 KJV).

The following 13 steps are the revelations I have found to work in avoiding hurt within the church:

(1) Avoid developing unreasonable expectations of the church — “My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him” (Psa. 62:5).

The definition of disappointment is “the failure to attain one’s expectations.” Don’t expect things from the church or the minister that they can’t deliver, or that the Bible doesn’t teach for them to do. Many expectations have to do with preconceived “traditions” which we have come to associate with a church, perhaps from another fellowship we once attended or grew up in, etc. It’s a good idea to meet with the pastor and ask what you can expect of his ministry and the church.

Occasionally people get disappointed when they find out their church can’t supply all their earthly needs. Most ministers and churches do attempt to help people in every way they can – especially the needy during crisis and emergencies. But some people come to expect the church to meet all their material needs or pay their bills like the early church did. Unfortunately, this just isn’t possible unless everyone agrees to sell all their property and possessions and give them to the church like the early believers (Acts 4:34-35). Most churches would be blessed if everyone merely paid their tithes, however statistics show that only a small percentage of churchgoers give a full tithe regularly.

Neither is it realistic to expect the pastor to spend all his time with you, to attend every social function, or for him to show you constant attention. Instead, learn to place your expectations upon God — He will always be faithful to His promises in His Word and will never let you down.

(2) Don’t place an absolute trust in people —   “Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD” (Jer. 17:5).

Come to terms with the fact that everyone is human and will fail you at sometime or another. Even the pastor will make mistakes. The only one you can trust entirely without fail is God.

Realizing that any human can fall short, the degree of trust we place in people must be limited and will depend on their track record. The more we get to know a person’s character and the history of their behavior, we’ll be able to determine how trustworthy they are. This is one of the reasons why the scriptures tell us to get to know our pastors and spiritual leaders — so from their godly lifestyle, we’ll be able to trust their leadership. “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” (1 Thes. 5:12).

There’s a difference between “love” and “trust.” It’s possible to love and forgive someone, without placing an absolute trust in them. To illustrate this, let’s say there’s a school bus driver who has a drinking problem. One day while transporting a load of children he becomes intoxicated, wrecks the bus and kills all the children. As the lone survivor of the crash, he turns to the church to seek God’s forgiveness for this horrible act of irresponsibility. If he repents of his sin, will God forgive him? Absolutely. Should the church love and forgive this person? Of course. And what if he would then like to volunteer to drive the church bus for us? Do we trust him? Absolutely not! It would be unthinkable to put a person in the driver’s seat who has shown such recent negligence. Certainly, we love and forgive him, but because of this man’s poor track record, we could not risk the lives of our passengers. Over a long period of sobriety and safe driving, this person may be able to prove that he is again reliable or trustworthy.

Remember that love and forgiveness is granted unconditionally, but trust must be “earned.” Trust is the acquired confidence in a person’s actions. We certainly can, and should trust persons who show trustworthy behavior, but because all men have the potential for failure, we should never put an infallible sense of trust in anyone but God.

(3) Focus on common ground — “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).

Avoid becoming highly opinionated. Opinions are the interpretations and ideas of men, which if constantly pressed on other people, can cause division or promote sinful debates and quarrels (Rom. 1:29). Opinionated people are prone to get hurt when others disagree with them.

The Bible teaches for all Christians to “speak the same thing” so that there will be unity in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10). The only way such unity is possible, is for Christians to focus on the common ground of Christ and His Word. That is, we need to “say what the Word says,” to let the Word speak for itself and not try to promote divisive opinions about it. In scripture, we see that Paul instructed Timothy to “Preach the Word,” not his opinions (2 Tim. 4:2). A preacher is intended be a delivery boy of God’s message, not a commentator of the message. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job (1 John 2:27).

Similarly, at one time the news media was required to comply with a very strict code of ethics. They were to report the facts of the news accurately without adding their opinion or commentary. However, as time has passed, news reporting has become less factual and more opinionated — corrupted with rumors and gossip rather than real information. Reporters have evolved into commentators which manipulate what people think about the news. Like reporters, preachers need to stick with the facts.

Naturally every believer has his or her own convictions about a great many things, but if you continually try to push your opinions on others, conflict will eventually emerge. Avoid controversy over scriptures which are vague and foster many interpretations — stand fast upon those common, basic truths — Jesus, His life, death and resurrection — and don’t add to what God’s Word says. “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar” (Prov. 30:5-6).

(4) Don’t expect any church to be perfect — “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Rom. 7:18-19)

It is remarkable to consider that the Apostle Paul — the great author of scripture — openly confessed that he was not perfect. Like us, he experienced struggles in his flesh to do the right things. If one of the leading authors of scripture and apostles of the early church admitted to this, it should not seem too strange if we find other brothers and sisters in the church struggling with imperfections too.

Since churches are made up of people like you and me who have imperfections, there will never be such a thing as a perfect church. Unless people understand this, they’ll have an unrealistic view of the church, and will eventually become disillusioned and hurt.

One of the jobs of the church ministry is to help perfect the saints — like a spiritual hospital, where people go to get well. Instead of resenting persons in the church for their flaws, be thankful they’re there trying to grow in Christ to get better. Learn to love and accept people for what they are — they’re not any more perfect than you are.

Just as it has been said of beauty, imperfection is in the eye of the beholder. A person with a negative attitude can find fault wherever they wish. In contrast the person with a positive outlook can always find the good and beauty in things. The well adjusted person in the church should seek out the good and encouraging things as the Bible teaches (Phil. 4:8). Those who dwell on the negative or continually find fault with the church will eventually get hurt.

(5) Don’t seek to promote yourself or your own agenda — “Do not lift up your horn on high; Do not speak with a stiff neck. For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor from the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another” (Psa. 75:5-7).

Have a humble and meek attitude like Christ (Matt. 11:29, Rom. 12:3). Besides being obnoxious, pride and arrogance will set you up for a fall (Prov. 16:18). Don’t promote yourself, campaign or strive to attain an appointed or elected position. God is the one who puts persons in such positions, and unless He does it, stay away from it. Lift up the Lord in all that you say and all you do. Don’t boast or talk about yourself. “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him” (John 7:18).

Avoid an attitude of competition which creates conflict in unity. A competitive attitude compares self with others, and strives to rise above that comparison (2 Cor. 10:12). The philosophy of Christianity is not to try to outdo one another, but to submit to and lift up one another (Eph. 5:21). We are even told to “prefer” our brother above ourselves. “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12:10). Competition between churches and Christians is divisive and contrary to the faith.

Don’t expect to receive preferential treatment or to get your way about everything. The Bible teaches that favoritism is wrong, and the church will try to make decisions and do things in the best interest of the whole congregation, not just a certain few. “…but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). If you do things for the church or give generous offerings, do it to bring glory to God, not to bring attention to yourself or to gain influence (Col. 3:17). The Bible even says that when you give charitable offerings, do it anonymously so to gain God’s approval, not merely man’s (Matt. 6:1).

Avoid the trap of presuming that your opinions are always divinely inspired or are indisputable. Share your suggestions and ideas with church leaders, but don’t press your opinions or personal agenda. Sometimes, persons feel that all their ideas come from God. They may attempt to add clout to their suggestions or complaints by saying “God told me so.” Indeed, God does speak to His children, but you will not be the exclusive source through which God reveals himself in a matter. If your opinions really come from God, the Bible says that others will bear witness with it, especially His pastors and leaders (2 Cor. 13:1, 1 Cor. 14:29). (You won’t even have to invoke God’s name — they’ll be able to tell if your ideas came from Him. Be cautious, lest you find yourself using His name falsely, a very dangerous thing — Ex. 20:7). Pastors are His representatives in His ordained chain of command, and if He wants to get something across to His church, He’ll bear witness with the persons in charge.

(6) Avoid blaming the church for personal problems — “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).

When you go to church, you should try to dissociate the church from the other personal problems you deal with. The majority of hurt feelings in a church result from wounds and sensitivities people carry in with them. This kind of emotional distress can create “distorted perceptions” which may prevent you from seeing reality the same way others do. Such things as a low self esteem, abuse as a child, marital problems, personal offenses, family conflict, a root of bitterness, health problems or job dissatisfaction can twist your interpretation of words and actions. You may imagine that people don’t like you (paranoia), or misinterpret well-intended words as an offense. Trivial problems will seem like big problems. Blame for unhappiness may be transferred to the church, its leaders or the people. You may lash out against others or be quick to find fault with the church. Remember this: Don’t jump to conclusions over anything, because things are usually not as bad as they seem.

(7) Treat others as you wish to be treated — “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Human beings tend to be “reciprocal” creatures. That is, they reflect the way they are treated. This is why Jesus gave us the Golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” The way that most people interact with you is as a direct result of how you interact with them. If you have a frown on your face, you won’t get many smiles. If you offer friendliness, it will usually be offered back (Proverbs 18:24). Be gracious, encouraging, and a blessing for others to be around. If you have a negative, critical attitude toward people it will tend to generate their critical attitude toward you. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

Many hurt feelings can be avoided if we will realize that people usually react to how we deal with them. Take a close examination at the way you say things, or even how much you talk. “…a fool’s voice is known by his many words” (Ec. 5:3). Don’t be rude and impolite. Check your attitude that you’re not overbearing and bossy — people will be turned off and will seek to avoid you.

(8) Have a teachable, cooperative attitude — “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).

The Bible teaches believers to be cooperative and submissive to their spiritual leaders — something that’s not possible unless the believer is committed to a church and accountable to a local pastor. Accountability to a godly shepherd is a part of God’s order for the spiritual growth of every Christian. God’s Word gives the pastor authority to organize and maintain order of the church, and to teach God’s truth, to correct, and to discipline when necessary to hold his flock accountable to biblical principles. In Paul’s encouragement to ministers, he stated, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). (See also 2 Tim. 3:16, Tit. 2:15, 1 Tim. 5:20.)

A lack of proper respect toward authority is a common problem today. People don’t want to be told what to do, or be corrected if they are wrong. This is one reason why the modern church is turning out so many immature believers. When some people hear something they don’t like, or are corrected in some way, they simply pack up and go to another church down the street, or church-hop until they find one that says things they like to hear. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers” (2 Timothy 4:3).

As long as you are a part of any particular church, you must come to accept that the pastor and leaders are in charge there. Regardless of how unqualified you might think they are, God recognizes them as the authority in that body and will hold them accountable to that responsibility. Consequently, God holds you accountable to respect their authority, to pray for them, and to cooperate — not to be defiant and rebellious.

Always be cooperative, willing to humble yourself. If you have a rigid, inflexible attitude in the church you will probably get hurt.

(9) Don’t oppose or hinder the church — “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16-19).

One of the things that God dislikes most are those who sow discord — who create division and strife in the body of Christ. Don’t be a gossip, a complainer, or stir up turmoil. If you’re displeased with the church in some way, offer your help to make improvements, pray for it, or as a last resort, find another church you’re happier with — but never become a source of agitation or hindrance.

Don’t badmouth a man of God — if you do so, you’re asking for problems. One time when Paul was punished for preaching the Gospel, he unknowingly condemned Ananias, the high priest, who had ordered the apostle slapped. However, when Paul realized who he was, he apologized for speaking against Ananias, knowing that it’s forbidden to speak against God’s representative — despite the fact that Ananias’ treatment of Paul was in error (Acts 23:5). It is a serious matter to “touch” God’s anointed — either with our words or our actions. Imperfect as they may sometimes be, they are His representatives. “He permitted no one to do them wrong; Yes, He reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, “Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm” (Psa. 105:14-15).

If a minister has done you wrong in some way, don’t incriminate yourself by responding in an unbiblical manner — don’t lash out against him, retaliate with rumors against him, or run him down behind his back. You should go and confront him privately according to the scriptural fashion described in Matthew 18:15-17. If the first and second attempts do not bring a resolution, take the matter to the spiritual body, such as the church board, or denominational overseers to whom he is accountable — any correction or discipline should be left to them. Keep in mind, an accusation against a minister is a serious matter and will not be accepted unless the matter can be substantiated by other witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19).

When things are not as they should be in the church or with its leadership, there are honorable ways to help promote improvements or resolve inequities. However, it’s unethical to oppose the church or attack its leadership, and persons who do will likely end up hurt, bitter or possibly worse.

(10) Be committed to forthrightness and truth — “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. “But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17).

When someone has wronged you, Jesus says that you are to first go to them and confront them privately between yourselves. Most offenses in the church result from misunderstandings, and many could be quickly resolved if offended parties would just go to the source and find out the facts. Unfortunately, some offended people will just absorb the offense silently, while growing bitter and resentful. It is important to God, and a matter of obedience to His Word, that such issues are confronted so that (1) you will not become bitter and withdraw from the church, (2) that the offender is held accountable to not repeat his offenses which could harm the faith of others, and (3) so that the offender who has perpetrated sin might be reconciled with God. If they are uncooperative with your first private effort, you are to try a second time, taking witnesses with you. Finally, if no success, turn it over to church leadership.

You should never take one side of a story and accept it as fact without verifying it with the other party. There are always two sides to a story. The scriptures address this very problem, that before we believe a rumor, we are to investigate thoroughly, to verify all the facts. “…then you shall inquire, search out, and ask diligently… if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was committed among you…” (Deut. 13:14).

Without doubt, it is not possible to have a relationship with a group of people without occasional misunderstandings and offenses. And unless you will commit yourself to confront these issues in the way Jesus described, you will become hurt in the church.

(11) Be devoted to love and forgiveness — “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him” (1 John 2:10).

Christians will avoid a lot of problems if they will just commit themselves to an unconditional love for their brethren. The practice of loving the brethren — all the brethren, not just the lovable ones — keeps us from stumbling. Never forget that Jesus takes personally how we entreat our Christian brothers and sisters. When we love even the “least” of our brethren, Jesus accepts that love toward Himself (Matt. 25:40). You cannot love the Lord any more than you love the least in the body of Christ. “If someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).

Be quick to forgive and don’t hold grudges. Unforgiveness and bitterness is one of the greatest reasons why people get hurt in the church and probably the greatest cause of apostasy — falling away. Remember that unforgiveness is one of your greatest enemies. If you refuse to forgive, it will prevent God’s forgiveness of your sins and could keep you out of Heaven. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).

(12) Don’t get caught up in the offenses of others —  “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend” (Psa. 15:1-3).

One of the great characteristics of the body of Christ is to care about the burdens and sufferings of one another. However, as we seek to console and encourage friends that have been offended, we may be tempted to take up their offense against another. In sympathy, we may tend to take their part against the pastor, the church or whoever they blame for the offense. This is very unwise and an unscriptural thing to do, considering that your friend may be the cause of his own offense. His hurt feelings may be due to a misunderstanding, a difference of opinion, his own rebellious attitude, emotional instability — or he may be childish and immature. There are always two sides to a story, and only an idiot develops an opinion based on one side or without all the facts.

Sometimes offended persons will seek sympathy from naive, listening ears. They go about pleading their case, pouring out their bleeding-heart of injustice to those sincere, tenderhearted persons who will listen. Their goal is to seek out persons who will coddle them, support their opinion and take up their offense against the offending party. You should love and encourage a friend with hurt feelings, but reserve your opinion and avoid taking sides, lest you find yourself a partaker in other men’s sins, or you also become offended and hurt with the church.

(13) Don’t personalize everything that’s preached — Obviously, every pastor preaches with the hope that everyone will take the message personally and apply it to his or her own life. “If the shoe fits, wear it.” However, there are always a few who think the minister is pointing his sermon specifically at them. This is a common misunderstanding which causes persons to get hurt.

Feelings of personal focus from a sermon may occur if persons are (1) under conviction about a particular matter, (2) especially self-conscious, (3) under emotional distress, (4) if they spend a lot of time counseling with the pastor, or (5) if he has previously corrected them or hurt their feelings in some way. Keep in mind, a pulpit preacher doesn’t focus his attention solely upon one person. His concern is for the broad range of people in attendance.

Occasionally persons think their pastor focuses on them, the same way they focus on him. When a pastor stands in front of a congregation week after week, they develop a feeling of close friendship with him — they come to know personal details of his life, his family, and other traits. However, even if the pastor knows each person in his flock, it’s not really possible for him to concentrate on each with the same detail that they do on him. It’s easy for dozens of people to know him well, but not realistic for him to know dozens of people in the same way. Consequently, some develop the illusion that the pastor focuses on them when he preaches — that he remembers their personal details in the same way they remember his. But the pastor has too many other people to consider. He counsels with dozens of people, hears scores of similar problems and details. It’s not likely he will single someone out and preach at them, while trying to minister to the whole congregation. If there’s something specific that the pastor needs to say only to you, he will deliver it to you personally, in private — not in subtle hints from his sermon.

Besides this, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to personalize God’s Word to us so that we’ll examine ourselves and search our own hearts. When the Lord is dealing with us about His Word, it may seem like the pastor is speaking directly to us. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may even direct the preacher to unwittingly say things that may pertain specifically to us. The best attitude to have is to listen to each message objectively. In every sermon from the Bible, God has something to say to all of us. Be open to whatever the Lord would have to say, willing to accept His correction or guidance. Defensiveness is usually a sign of resistance to conviction.

It is my prayer that these principles will help and encourage you in your relationship with the church. If you been injured there or have merely strayed away, I urge you to find God’s grace to forgive those who may have hurt you and return to the fellowship of God people. As challenging as it may seem sometimes, the church is Christ’s plan for His people, and it is there that He will develop and mature you into a fully equipped disciple of His kingdom.

“You must die in order to live”

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Philippians 3:8

The Message (MSG)

7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

The autumn season we are now entering is one of cornfields ripe for harvest, of the cheerful song of those who reap the crops, and of gathered and securely stored grain. So allow me to draw your attention to the sermon of the fields. This is its solemn message; “You must die in order to live.” You must refuse to consider your own comfort and well-being. You must be crucified, not only to your desires and habits that are obviously sinful but also to many others that may appear to be innocent and right. If you desire to save others, you must be buried in darkness and solitude.”

My heart fails me as I listen. But when the words are from Jesus, may I remind myself that it is my great privilege to enter into “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10) and I am therefore in great company. May I also remind myself that all the suffering is designed to make me a vessel suitable for His use. And may I remember that His Calvary blossomed into abundant fruitfulness, and so will mine.

Pain leads to plenty, and death to life–it is the law of the Kingdom! Do we call it dying when a bud blossoms into a flower? Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is He sure to bless? Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs, Answer, “Yes.”


Thank You For My Suffering, Why? Because I am being perfected In Them

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Thou Hast enlarged me when I was in distress.( Psalms 4:1 KJV)

This verse is one of the greatest testimonies ever written regarding the effectiveness of God’s work on our behalf during times of crisis. It is a statement of thanksgiving for having been set free not from suffering but rather through suffering. I am writing about this tonight because my wife and I are coming into Jubilee in the morning, we are completing one year of captivity. In stating, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress,” the psalmist is declaring that the sorrows of life have themselves been the source of life’s enlargement.

haven’t each of us experienced this a thousand times and found it to be true? Someone once said of Joseph that when he was in the dungeon, “iron entered his soul.” And the strength of iron is exactly what he needed, for earlier he had only experienced the glitter of gold. He had been rejoicing in youthful dreams, and dreaming actually hardens the heart. Someone who sheds great tears over a simple romance will not be of much help in a real crisis, for true sorrow will be too deep for Him. We all need the iron in life to enlarge our character.


The gold is simply a passing vision, whereas the iron is the true experience of life. The chain that is the common bond uniting us to others must be one of iron. The common touch of humanity that gives the world true kinship is not joy but sorrow–gold is partial to only a few, but iron is universal.

Dear soul, if you want your sympathy for others to be enlarged, you must be willing to have your life narrowed to certain degrees of suffering. Joseph’s dungeon was the very road to his throne, and he would have been unable to lift the iron load of his brothers had he not experienced the iron in his own life. Your life will be enlarged in proportion to the amount of iron you have endured, for it is in the shadows of your life that you find the actual fulfillment of your dreams of glory. So do not complain about the shadows of darkness–in reality, they are better than your dreams could ever be.

I never imagined having a relationship with my creator as I now have and not to forget with my wife and my community. God used this house arrest to achieve many good things that are evident in my marriage to Him, my wife and the spirit. Never say that the darkness of prison has shackled you, for your shackles are wings–wings of flight into the heart and soul of humanity. And the gate of your prison is the gate into the heart of the universe. God has enlarged you through the suffering of sorrow’s chain.

He unleashed nails, whips, beatings, lies, harassment, scandal and every form of bitterness and betrayal upon our King of Kings, but look where He is seated. If Joseph had never been Egypt’s prisoner, he would have never been Egypt’s governor. The iron chain that bound his feet brought about the golden chain around his neck. Be encouraged in this life no matter what the circumstances are, because that is your opportunity to build relationship with God, man, family, hostile workers and difficult people. The church is even going to have iron in it for you to be used to exude maturity in Christ, be of good cheer and keep marching.

My Thorns Have Become My Praise!!!

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I have received full payment and even more. (Philippians 4:18)

It is now T-15 days and counting until my wife and I are able to hit the ground running for Jesus. We have suffered greatly in our inner persons while serving our house arrest time, but we have also been blessed tremendously by God in study and increase of knowledge.

In one of my wife’s gardening books there is a chapter with a very interesting title: “Flowers That Grow in the Shade.” It deals with those areas of a garden that never catch direct sunlight, and it list the kinds of flowers that not only grow in the dark corners but actually seem to like them and to flourish in them.

There are similarities here to the spiritual world. There are Christians who seem to blossom when their material circumstances become the most harsh and severe. My wife and I lost everything fighting this case we have now served 350 days out of 365. We have faced sheer destitution and couldn’t rely on our own strength to provide. Like these flowers we have grown in the darkness of uncertainty and shade. If this were not true, how could we otherwise explain some of the experiences of the apostle Paul?

When he wrote the above verse, he was a prisoner in Rome. The primary mission of his life appeared to have been broken. But it was in this persistent darkness that flowers began to show their faces in bright and fascinating glory. Paul may have seen them before, growing along the open road, but certainly never in the incomparable strength and beauty in which they now appeared. And words of promise opened their treasures to him in ways he had never before experienced.

Among those treasures were such wonderful things as Christ’s grace, love, joy, and peace, and it seemed as though they had needed the circumstance of darkness to draw out their secret and inner glory. The dark and dingy prison had become the home of the revealed truth of God, and Paul began to realize as never before the width and the wealth of his spiritual inheritance.

Haven’t we all known men and women who begin to wear strength and hopefulness like a regal robe as soon as they must endure a season of darkness and solitude? People like that may be put in prison by the world, but their treasure will be locked away with them, for true treasure cannot be locked out of their lives. Their material condition may look like a desert, but “the desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom”(Isaiah 35:1)

Every flower, even the most beautiful, has its own shadow beneath it as it bask in the sunlight. Where there is much light, I’ve learned there is also much shade.

Bowed But Not Beaten

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Worship Bannerworship

A minister was making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was pounding away, he noticed that a little boy was watching him. The youngster didn’t say a word, so the preacher kept on working, thinking the lad would leave. But he didn’t. Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the pastor finally said, “Well, son, trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?” “No,” he replied. “I’m just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”

That boy was watching to see how the preacher would respond to pain. How he would deal with pain. How he would handle hurt. The World is a lot like that little boy. It watches how we (as children of God) act when faced with suffering, injustice, and unfairness. The world expects to see anger, resentment, bitterness, and rage. But that’s not what the world WANTS to see. The world wants to see people who can face difficulties in life with grace and inner strength and thus give them hope for their own struggles.
Too often we fail – I fail – to live up to the potential that God has placed within us to meet those challenges. And yet God understands.

I. That’s why He’s given us the example of David.

Psalm 56 is a portrait of David as a victim: he’s been attacked, slandered, conspired against, and yet this Psalm is a psalm of praise and glorification. It’s a reaffirmation of God’s faithfulness.

Where was David? Verse one of this Psalm says he’d been seized by Philistines. This refers back to the incident that’s recorded in I Samuel 21. David’s life has been one of continuous change up to this point. He started his life as shepherd guarding his family’s sheep, then was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, then faced and killed the Giant Goliath and ended up being the hero of the people because of his successes at war. They begin singing a song of how Saul has killed his 1000’s but David has killed his 10,000’s. But his popularity with his nation created a jealousy within King Saul that resulted in several attempts being made on his life. Finally, on the run from Saul, young David has sought food and weapons (the sword of Goliath) at the Tabernacle and has run for shelter to the Philistine city of Gath… the one place he doubts Saul could follow.

NOW READ I Samuel 21:10-22:1

II. What happened when David reached Gath?

Two things he hadn’t counted on.
1. Being recognized (vs 11). Goliath had been from Gath, and David now had that Giant’s sword in his possession.
2. And that his reputation would precede him. The Philistines knew the song that had once praised his prowess.

David has jumped out of the frying pan (of Saul’s wrath) into the fire (of the revenge of Goliath’s people). The place of refuge was now his prison. Now he sits alone, imprisoned within his circumstances… without hope… and facing a real danger of execution.

I can sense the seeds of anger in Psalm 56. Revue verses 1,2,5,6. David recites his peril and within his words you can hear an echo of what we might say: “It’s not fair. It’s not right. I don’t deserve this!”

Randy Becton was a man who had arrived. But his world became shattered in 1970 when he learned that his mother had breast cancer. “My mother was only 50 years old. She was a beautiful, extremely active, healthy woman. She was the hub of our family.

My father, my older brother, my 2 younger brothers, and I depended on her intellectual, emotional, and spiritual strength. She was the organizing spirit behind every aspect of our family. We thought of her as indispensable and indestructible. We were wrong.

Mother was to have immediate surgery followed by extensive radiation treatments over the next few months. I flew to Washington D.C. to be with her for the surgery. As she lay in the recovery room, I sat in the hospital’s medical library reading detailed articles about this ugly new reality called breast cancer.

That period of study and though is seared in my memory. I felt personally violated, assaulted, invaded by this strange thing called cancer. I resented it. I became incredibly angry. ’She doesn’t deserve this,’ I thought. ’It just isn’t fair!’ I thought about the events of her life. ’She’s had so many discouragements, God. It’s wrong for you to let this happen to her.’”

Confronted by individuals or illness, circumstances can bring us to our knees.

III. As Christians, what we need to see: though we may be imprisoned we don’t have to be beaten

The key is to be found in how David responds to his situation. What does he do? He sings. He creates a new song. He worships. Just like Paul and Silas in prison in the book of Acts.

Audrey my middle daughter later developed cancer and wrote her process of dealing with pain:
“I seemed to be dying physically day by day and I wasn’t doing much better in the emotional and spiritual battle. I struggled to live and at the same time struggled to keep my faith. My friend, Glenn Owen, observed about this conflict: ’Faith does not always come from quiet contemplation or meditation. It is sometimes born among the raging of questions with no answers.’

Pat Harrell, himself a cancer patient, referred to this period of faith-searching as ’religion born in a cry.’ That’s exactly what it was for me. I was sick. I was scared. I was worried.

Time has mercifully erased the terror of those days, but perhaps you’ll understand the intensity of my thoughts through the following prayers written during those times: (and here he shares his song like prayers)
The pain now goes beyond what is bearable… without you
The weariness and fear are more than I can conquer… without you
My eyesight is like a flickering candle, and it’s dark… without you
I confess: I’m scared to death… without you
I have no more resources of faith… without you
So help me, God to take one step at a time… with you.
You are my only hope! God, I’m frightened about
the uncertainty of my life. It seems to be burning out.
The statistics are against me. The advance of the disease is to far. All
I know to do is confess that you are not limited by statistics. You take
the hopeless and renew their hope. You are the living God. How I
yearn to be one of your healed children.

When Life is darkest, we NEED to WORSHIP. We need to seek God out.

IV. What can be the results of David’s kind of worship?

1. David experienced no fear. Psalm 56:10-13
“In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise— in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.”

Helen Keller, who is a classic example of handling life’s problems, said, “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I found myself, my work, and my God.”

2. David received the encouragement.

When Christians are discouraged, what book of the Bible do they turn to? Psalms. Why, because God placed that book in our Bible to be the source of encouragement it often is to His people.

3. We can lead others to salvation (I Cor. 14:24 and 25) “But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

In other words, when we worship in the way we ought to, unbelievers are struck by the power of our God and the weakness of their own lives. They begin to want the type of God we have. Worship, when it’s done right, brings others to the Christ that has helped us.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey was a black jazz musician from Atlanta. In the 20’s he gained a certain amount of notoriety as the composer of jazz tunes with suggestive lyrics, but he gave all that up in 1926 to concentrate exclusively on spiritual music. “Peace in the Valley” is one of his best known songs, but there is a story behind his most famous song that deserves to be told.

In 1932, the times were hard for Dorsey. Just trying to survive the depression years as a working musician meant tough sledding. On top of that, this music was not accepted by many people. Some said it was too worldly – the devil’s music, they called it. Many years later could laugh about it. He said, “I got kicked out of some of the best churches in the land.” But the real kick in the teeth came one night in St. Louis when he received a telegram informing him that his pregnant wife had died suddenly.

Dorsey was so filled with grief that his faith was shaken to the roots, but instead of wallowing in self pity, he turned to the discipline he knew best – music. In the midst of agony he wrote the following lyrics:
Precious Lord, Take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,
Thru the storm, thru the night, Lead me on to the Light;
Take my hand, Precious Lord, lead me home.

If you live long enough, you will experience heartache, disappointment, and sheer helplessness. The Lord is our most precious resource in these hours of trauma. “The Lord, is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Ps. 9:9). Tom Dorsey understood that. His song was originally written as a way of coping with his personal pain, but even today it continues to bless thousands of others when they pass thru times of hardship.

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Conflict In The Church-Is It Growth Or Destruction?

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How do you deal with conflict? People handle it all sorts of different ways. Some seek to just avoid it by either running away from it or by appeasing their enemies. Some go to the opposite extreme and almost seem to welcome it if not instigate it themselves. Then there are those who will not back down from their core issues of belief, yet will also seek to find common ground in which compromise can be made and the issues resolved. While that introduction could be a good introduction to a political speech since the major political parties and candidates differ so much on the issues related to dealing with those that hate America and seek our harm, our interest this morning is dealing with conflict in the church.

I wish conflict among Christians were a relatively insignificant problem. I wish we who believe in Jesus could experience the unity he commended to us (John 17:20-24). I wish there wasn’t animosity within churches and denominations. But all of this is, I admit, wishful thinking. The fact is that Christians often have a hard time getting along with each other. This has been true from the earliest days of the church. The Apostle Paul, who planted the church in Corinth, wrote what we call 1 Corinthians to the believers there principally because of internal conflict in the church. By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the tension was largely between Paul and his church. Even in a healthy church, such as the one in Philippi, conflict was a problem. Thus Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4:2-3). Two prominent women in the Philippian congregation, people who had been Paul’s co-workers in ministry, were stuck in some sort of conflict such that they needed help from Paul and others to try and get along. When I was a young Christian, I used to think that the solution to the ills of the contemporary church was to “get back to the early church.” If we could only believe and do as the first believers believed and did, we’d be on the right track. But the more I have studied the early church, the more I have come to recognize the manifold problems that plagued the first Christians. Among these, conflict played a central role. Perhaps one of the most discouraging things about studying church history, from the first century onward, is to see just how often Christians have been mired in disputes and strife. Sometimes, in our worst moments, we have actually put to death fellow Christians whose theological convictions didn’t measure up to our personal standards. Not a happy story, not at all. This was not what Jesus intended, to be sure. In his so-called “High Priestly Prayer” recorded in John 17, Jesus prayed: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

Do you enjoy conflict? I can’t say that I do. When disagreement surfaces, especially in the church, my instinctive response is usually “uh-oh.”

“Relational conflict is what the Bible calls sin,” reads a discipling manual I came across recently. That says it pretty straight, doesn’t it? But there’s a basic problem with this take on things: It’s not true. While, of course, sin does breed some conflicts, others grow out of nothing more sinister than differences in experience or personality or even spiritual gifts.

Not all conflict is bad. Much tension is life-giving–inviting us to grow, learn, or develop intimacy. Churches that habitually run from conflict (and there are lots of them) don’t just miss out on these growth opportunities; they end up sick.

Chances are, in your church you’ve witnessed some of the crippling consequences of conflict avoidance firsthand.
Making lowest-common-denominator decisions

As one church launched a comprehensive planning process, a member rose and addressed the planning consultant: “One thing you need to know about this church is that we are very careful to not offend anyone.” Translation: “Don’t you dare rock the boat! We don’t want to make any decision that anyone doesn’t like.”

Down this path lies paralysis. Doing nothing until everyone likes it gives the most negative members of the congregation veto power. It insures that new and exciting changes will be rare, and it practically guarantees that many of the most passionate, outreach-oriented members of your congregation will leave. Why? Because by empowering those slowest to embrace change, you are disempowering your most creative leaders. Many of them will find another church that supports them in pursuing the vision for ministry God has given them.


No church can keep everybody happy. Some people are going to leave. But you can choose which group you will lose–your most entrepreneurial, visionary leaders, or those most fearful of change.

One Detroit pastor got this right. During a time of vision work that released great energy in the congregation, one member–a major giver–announced that if the church installed theater lighting in the sanctuary for a proposed ministry, he would leave. The pastor’s answer: “We’ll hate to see you go, but we can’t hold up the rest of the congregation for one person.” That church is well on its way to getting unstuck.
Settling for shallow relationships

Conflict is essential to developing intimacy. Until people have gone through conflict together and come out on the other side, the relationship is untested. Working through differences constructively forges deep bonds of trust.

In the life cycle of a small group, for example, the first stage of group life is the honeymoon. This is followed by a conflict stage through which the group must pass to reach the third stage–community. If a group spends too long at the honeymoon stage–staying at the level of pleasant, superficial acquaintance–a wise group leader will intentionally surface conflict so the group can move ahead on the path toward mature community.

In the same way, the strongest marriages are those where the partners have fought their way through many tough issues to achieve a hard-won mutual trust. These husbands and wives know that more challenges will come, but that doesn’t scare them. They know they can work through them together and be the stronger for it because they’ve done it before.
Sinking into irrelevance

The pace of change in our culture is faster than ever and getting faster. This means that although the gospel never changes, our ministry forms must constantly change to connect with a rapidly changing society. The only alternative is cultural irrelevance.

When a congregation’s leaders commit to cultural relevance, this pushes many of us beyond our comfort zones. Christians passionate about reaching the unchurched will often clash with those more concerned with their own comfort. Between “what I feel most comfortable with” and “the most effective way to fulfill our mission” often stretches a wide chasm.

Pat Kiefert, president of Church Innovations Institute, describes a congregational study done at Emory University by Nancy Ammerman:

It concluded that every congregation that successfully adapted and flourished in a changing community had a substantial church fight. Those that chose to avoid conflict at all costs failed to flourish. No exceptions. (Net Results, January 1996).
Pretending differences don’t exist

A committee member complained to her pastor about a long-standing committee policy that was causing problems. But when the committee discussed the policy at its next meeting, she kept quiet, insecure about expressing disagreement. So, the other committee members still don’t know about the problem and ministry suffers.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, as one person sharpens the wits of another” (NRSV). When people sidestep working through differences, the iron never gets very sharp, working relationships remain strained, and the group tends to make poor decisions. In a healthy church, people know how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Being complacent about complacency

I was having breakfast with several members of a church council who were considering launching a strategic planning initiative in their church. At the end of the meal, one man asked, “How can we convince our people we need this when they are so content with the way things are?” I knew this was a church that prized keeping the peace above almost everything else, so I suspect my answer shocked them. “One of the most important responsibilities of church leadership,” I said, “is to create tension. And you do that by making your people highly conscious of the gap between the way the church is and how God wants it to be. Make your people so aware of the something more that God is calling them to be that they can no longer be content with the way things are.”
In a complacent church, it is the job of the leaders to increase frustration, to introduce conflict.
Avoiding the hard work of correcting sin

Conflict-avoiding churches often empower the most divisive members to wreak havoc. Other members may quietly complain about the bullies, but rarely do they acknowledge that such people are committing a grievous sin and that the church is morally responsible to discipline them.

Why are we so slow to confront people who are damaging the church? Well, we know it’s going to hurt, and most of us don’t enjoy inflicting pain. And we may not relish the prospect of arousing the offender’s anger. But perhaps a deeper reason is that the New Testament instructions for correcting one another are designed to be lived out in the context of intimate community, and most of our churches today have much more the flavor of institution than of community. Spiritual correction doesn’t work all that well outside of intimate relationship, no matter how well-intended.

But, in spite of the challenges, for the church to be healthy, we must find ways to give and receive accountability.
Life-giving conflict

To be healthy, your church needs conflict.

* Every church has defining moments when it must choose between being true to its mission and pleasing people. Obeying God must always trump trying to keep everybody happy.

* The church cannot fulfill its destiny apart from becoming an intimate community, and successfully working through conflict, again and again, is essential to community-building.

* All progress requires change, and all change brings some level of conflict. Working through the conflicts that come with constantly updating ministry will always be part of the ongoing cost of making your church’s ministries culturally relevant.

* No ministry team can thrive while sweeping important differences under the rug. To draw out the best in people, the church must offer safe places where all know that differing perspectives are not only tolerated, but truly valued.

* When a church is complacent, the leaders are responsible to “disturb the peace” by spotlighting the gap between what is and what needs to be until the members become so uncomfortable that they feel compelled to change.

* Finally, when conflict is fueled by sin, the church must respond graciously and firmly, speaking the truth in love, to restore the one who is sinning and to protect and heal the church from the sin’s destructive impact.

One translation of Acts 4:32 says that all the believers in the Jerusalem church “all felt the same way about everything” (CEV). Really? I wonder if that translation team bothered to read the next chapter of Acts, or the one after that. The New Testament church consisted not of a bunch of ditto-heads, but of diverse people who cared–and disagreed–passionately. No, what Acts 4:32 really says is that the believers were “of one heart and soul” (NRSV). Their love for each other and their shared purpose inspired them to work through potentially explosive disagreements while respecting each others’ differences, coming up with creative win-win solutions that embodied kingdom values. (See, for example, Acts 6 and 15.)

Such conflict is not the enemy. In fact, it is an absolutely essential element in the day-to-day rhythm of life in every healthy church.

May your church be blessed with many life-giving conflicts–and the grace to grow through every one of them.

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Silent Enemies

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During my tour of service I could not imagine seeing something like this take place, let alone me taking part in it. My horror experienced while serving has given me issues of depression and coupled with my life horrific experiences while separated from service has made me passionate about others who endure these attacks from the enemy of our soul. My wife and I are preparing ourselves for this type of work. With her almost completion of her studies in psychology and us both getting certified for drug and alcohol counselors, we will have the anointing and life experience to get us through to be affective in shock absorbing our clients pain.

If you want enemies, excel others; if you want friends, let others excel you.


At 21, Jacinda considered her male coworkers in the Navy to be her brothers. That was before she awoke in a drunken haze, bleeding from being anally raped after a party at the barracks.

She couldn’t find her shirt; so she wrapped a blanket around herself and walked directly across the street to the military police. They told Jacinda she shouldn’t have been drinking among so many men, and that she should chalk up the consequences to poor judgment and go home. The military police also intimidated her with threats of imprisonment if her report were judged to be false.

Frightened, Jacinda lied about her injuries when she went to the infirmary.

That was 15 years ago. Today, Jacinda says, “I’m unable to maintain relationships. I don’t trust men. I have no children. I also have OCD behaviors, such as checking and rechecking locked doors. I pull out my hair sometimes, one strand at a time. I chew my nails to the bone, and I suffer from panic attacks and generalized anxiety.”

It took many years and four denials before the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) finally granted Jacinda resources to help treat her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Jacinda says she doesn’t regret her military service, but she wouldn’t do it again.

Jacinda’s story is far from unique. In 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that, while the number of military sexual assaults reported the previous year totaled around 3,000, the actual number of rapes was likelier to be 19,000. And as the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Invisible War demonstrated, military sexual assault (MST) is a veritable epidemic across the armed forces.

TakePart spoke to a handful of survivors about their personal experiences with MST. Their names have all been changed.

Jessica Hinves (her real name) came from a military family. Joining the Air Force at age 24 seemed a natural choice. She was in her room at an Air Force base when an airman she knew broke in through the bathroom and raped her. She went to the hospital, hoping desperately that no one at work would find out.

Hinves failed to receive the privacy she wanted. A girl in the next room found out that Hinves had requested a forensic kit (rape kit) and promptly told Hinves’s supervisor. Hinves was terrified.

She tells TakePart of the man who raped her: “I knew the type of guy he appeared to be. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. He just didn’t seem capable of something like this. I feared I would be ostracized. I needed others to do some of my duties as a jet mechanic. I feared no one would work with me for fear that I would get them in trouble. Sexual harassment was a common thing and accepted throughout my squadron. I knew people would be leery of me and afraid that I might report them as well.”

Treatment proved to be difficult. She tells TakePart, “I thought I was going crazy after this happened. I wanted to be institutionalized to get a handle on my life again, but the only place available had all males on the floor and wouldn’t allow me to lock my door at night. I couldn’t bear it; so I was put in an outpatient facility with combat vets. I was relieved to know someone else was going through what I was, and I wasn’t going crazy. I was sleeping with knives and had weapons hid in my locker at work, in my house, and in my car. I couldn’t sleep because of the dreams. I couldn’t go out of my house for fear of what people were capable of.”

Now 31, Hinves says, “I regret I didn’t know rape was a hazard to military service.… I loved the military. I wish this never happened so I could still be doing what I loved.”

Sienna was 31 when she joined the Navy. She hoped to secure an education and to travel the world. She invited a coworker, who had recently returned from a yearlong deployment, out for beers with her friends. She drank a couple of beers, but he drank far more, and ended up vomiting in the parking lot. She offered to let him crash on her couch.

“He came into my room after I went to bed,” she tells TakePart. “I said no repeatedly and did fight him off. I thought it was over, but after I fell asleep he came back in my room. He pinned me while I was asleep.” She awoke to find the man on top of her, raping her.

Sienna didn’t report the rape: She would have been required to admit that she’d driven a vehicle after having a few beers. She feared being charged with an alcohol-related incident. She also felt that as a female mechanic, it would have ruined her career.

Her PTSD began with sleep problems and progressed to crippling panic attacks. She eventually left work for two months to seek psychiatric help. She also sought treatment in a military PTSD program.

Today, she’s a 40-year-old college student studying to be a trauma counselor. She tells TakePart, “Everything that happened to me has made me stronger. My experiences will help me help others.”