Evangel Magazine https://www.evangelmagazine.com Evangel Magazine Mon, 02 Mar 2020 17:12:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 127330868 Looking for Love in the Right Places https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/03/looking-for-love-in-the-right-places/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-for-love-in-the-right-places https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/03/looking-for-love-in-the-right-places/#respond Mon, 16 Mar 2020 09:00:53 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4873

L OVE: Perhaps the most powerful word, in any language, in any culture, at any time. We’ve written poems, ballads, and secular and sacred music declaring its worth. If we as Christians allow love to be wrongly defined by pop culture or even the church, we are in dire trouble. Unfortunately for the English language, […]

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OVE: Perhaps the most powerful word, in any language, in any culture, at any time. We’ve written poems, ballads, and secular and sacred music declaring its worth. If we as Christians allow love to be wrongly defined by pop culture or even the church, we are in dire trouble.

Unfortunately for the English language, we only have one word for love; and this is, well, love! We understand its definition by context: I love God, I love my wife, I love chocolate. By simple context, a listener understands what is meant by my “love” for each of these.

In 1984, pop diva Tina Turner won the “Song of the Year” Grammy for, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Answer?  Everything. But we see embedded in this song an idea of how a fallen culture understands, or rather misunderstands, love. Turner called love a “second-hand emotion.”

This is a perfect example of the self-centered view of love in our culture: Love has nothing to do with it, I’m going my own way, and I will protect myself.

Love is not just a “second-hand emotion” to God.

This brings us to one of Jesus’ most powerful parables, often called “The Prodigal Son.” In actuality, it could be called “A Parable of Love: A Father and His Two Sons.”

Many misinterpretations have occurred because of ignoring the context of Jesus speaking to Pharisees. The most often repeated error is that this is simply a story of a lost son who finds himself eating pig food until he comes to himself and returns to his father in repentance. Yes, that is part of the story, but only part.

There is something deeper in this parable. One way to get at Jesus’ meaning is through the word love. Though the word itself is absent in the parable, its presence dominates the story in three ways: (1) the love of the younger son, (2) the love of the older son, and (3) the love of the father.

The Younger Son. He loves “things.” From what we can glean from the story, he is impetuous and short-sighted. He leaves home for a faraway place; from safety and the familiar to the reckless and unfamiliar. He leaves a father, brother, and home for what? The KJV says, “riotous living” (Luke 15:13)—probably an understatement. He goes to “a far country.” Such a journey gives him time to plan his debauchery. Once he gets “there” (v. 14), wherever “there” was, he burns through his inheritance. This brings him to the pigsty, which brings him to a repentant heart, which leads him home—to the love of his father.

The Older Brother. He loves his own righteousness. The “elder son” (v. 25) gets a footnote at best in our usual telling of the parable. However, we can learn quite a lot about him in this short story. He is hard-working, he has friends, and he is faithful to his position and to his father.

We also glimpse a darker side to the older brother. He refuses to even call his brother a brother! He says to the father, “this son of yours” (v. 30 NKJV), with disdain dripping from his lips. He notes specifically that his brother had wasted his inheritance on prostitution. How would he know that unless something in his brother’s character had displayed itself earlier in life?

The older brother is quick to point this out to the father, perhaps trying to make himself look better than his younger brother. Obviously this underscores the anger and hatred he has towards his younger sibling, who brought shame on the father and the family name.

The Father. He has probably worked hard all his life, building up a reputation and a level of wealth. The father is loving, kind, generous, and wise. He loves his sons equally. There is nothing in the story to suggest favoritism either way. He is a forgiver, standing ready to meet the needs of either son.

So back to context. The younger son is the sinner, the “tax collector” in this story. The older son is the religious one, the “Pharisee.” One has turned away from God and to open sin; the other is self-righteous. The older brother hates anyone less perfect than himself. He has turned to what he loves—his own perfectionism.

Jesus seizes the moment to speak of a Father who profoundly loves both types of sons. Both are sinners, and both are trapped. One is trapped in “I’ll live my life my way” (know anyone like that?). The other son is trapped in perfectionism—morally and legally right, but with a heart of unforgiveness, anger, and bitterness. He is hiding behind a cloak of self-religiousness and has no hesitation to point out the sins of others (know anyone like that?).

Through it all is the intense love of a father who knows the flaws of his two sons. Don’t think for a moment the younger son’s actions and wild living shocked the father. Don’t think for a minute the judgmental, condescending heart of the older son escaped his watchful eye. Remember, he is their father, wise and astute.

Note the father’s love in this story and its many layers. He loved one son enough to let him go, to wait, to watch diligently for his return, and to give him the best robe in the house—his own. Try to imagine the moment. The transformational moment in the younger son’s life was not when he lifted his head from the pigsty; it was when he felt the warm embrace and love of his father who loved him enough to kill a fattened cow and throw a “welcome home” party.

The father also begged forgiveness toward the sinner come home. He told his oldest son, “All that I have is yours” (v. 31 NKJV), and pled with him to join the party. The transformational moment in the older brother’s life was just inside the house. All he had to do was walk through that “door.”

Now where do I fit in this story? I am all both sons, simultaneously. I am the younger son. I was born in sin, and I have sinned. I have, at times, squandered the blessings my Father has given to me. I can be materialistic. I have, at times, lived my life my way. That never worked out well for me.

I am also the older brother. I am faithful. I work hard. I try to honor my Father. But cross me and I hold a grudge. Show kinks in your armor and I pounce; I judge. I will not even call you my brother or my sister. In short, I do not love Biblically. After all, love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV), right?

Sadly, there is something about this story we do not know. Did the older brother ever go in the house and embrace his younger brother? Did he love him?

Thankfully, love is not just a “second-hand emotion” to God. It is central to understanding Him as our Father. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV). Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NKJV).

Father, help me to love. Help me to love as You love. 

Bob R. Bayles, Ph.D., is professor of discipleship and Christian formation at Lee University. bbayles@leeuniversity.edu


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Jeremiah Generation: GOD’S FAITHFULNESS THROUGH TRANSITION https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/03/jeremiah-generation-gods-faithfulness-through-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jeremiah-generation-gods-faithfulness-through-transition https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/03/jeremiah-generation-gods-faithfulness-through-transition/#respond Mon, 09 Mar 2020 09:00:53 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4868

I n summer 2015, my wife and I were speaking at a youth camp when the Lord began to stir our hearts. We had been serving in co-vocational ministry for 12 years, but now Krista and I were sensing the call of the Lord into full-time pastoral ministry. During that week, two people spoke confirmation […]

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n summer 2015, my wife and I were speaking at a youth camp when the Lord began to stir our hearts. We had been serving in co-vocational ministry for 12 years, but now Krista and I were sensing the call of the Lord into full-time pastoral ministry. During that week, two people spoke confirmation to us; so after camp we began to earnestly seek the Lord for His will.

In January 2017, this pulling intensified. After seeking counsel from my spiritual father and pastor, I made an appointment to speak with our state administrative bishop in May. I shared my heart, and after we prayed together, he agreed to help us find a church.

It wasn’t long before the first opportunity came and went, followed by others that did not work out. But God was leading our path.

At the end of summer, another church opened up. This was a well-known church with a well-known pastor. The church was located in inner-city Cleveland, Ohio. My pastor asked me if I was going to express interest in the church. Though I was interested, I didn’t think I was good enough. Time went by, and my pastor asked me again. This time I told him if the Lord wanted me to pastor that church, He would tell the bishop to call and offer me a chance. My pastor said, “He can’t offer you a chance if he doesn’t know you’re interested.”

To be clear, the church was very different culturally than the church we were in. That day, however, I reached out to the bishop to express interest. He called me a week later and said the congregation wanted to meet us. The interview went well, the Sunday worship service went well, and by that Wednesday the church had voted 95 percent to accept us as the new pastors. God would confirm our calling to the church, and the city, through seven weeks of revival after we arrived.

I would love to say that since then everything has been perfect. However, if you have ever been through a pastoral transition, you know that’s never the case. There have been ups and downs, but God has been faithful in every aspect.

Since arriving, we have worked diligently. The church had been in transition for some time. When we arrived, almost all of the experienced staff had already left. The remaining two would go out into bigger ministries. The buildings were in great need of remodeling and repair, and there were opportunities for the church to reconnect with the community.

Over the last two years, God has risen up an entirely volunteer staff, enabled us to complete nearly $100,000 in much-needed renovations without incurring debt, and opened the door to start children’s clubs and services in our local K-8 school. God has also birthed a monthly outreach to homeless people, and a food bank serving more than 200 families each month.

It has not been easy, but it has definitely been worth it. I think faith always requires some stretching and un-comfortability. It requires our complete reliance on the Lord and His ability, not ours.

God has been faithful through this process. We’ve learned that He doesn’t even know how to fail!

Since moving to Cleveland, Krista and I had our fourth baby, and she is beautiful. However, Ella repeatedly failed hearing tests in her left ear, and doctors believed it could only be hearing loss. They told us she needed surgery, so here we sit as I write this today. The doctor just left the room. A 90-minute procedure ended in 35 minutes because it was determined that the “permanent” hearing loss had been only a large build-up of earwax. Ella’s hearing is completely normal!

I sit here holding back tears and declaring God is faithful in every situation.

Whether you’re waiting for your chance, you’re in the process of transition, you’re a seasoned pastor, or you are one of the sheep, you can trust God.

Josh Burgess is lead pastor of Freedom Church in Cleveland, Ohio. pastor.josh.burgess@freedomchurchcleveland.org

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DON’T PRAY BADLY: If we do all the talking, we silence God. https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/03/dont-pray-badly-if-we-do-all-the-talking-we-silence-god/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dont-pray-badly-if-we-do-all-the-talking-we-silence-god https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/03/dont-pray-badly-if-we-do-all-the-talking-we-silence-god/#respond Mon, 02 Mar 2020 16:16:14 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4861

A t its heart, prayer is worship. At its edge, prayer is mission. In between, God meets our needs. Sadly, our needs are front and center in prayer. We fail to appreciate prayer as worship and see its centering capacity. And we do little missional praying. Two decades ago, I backed into the exploding global […]

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t its heart, prayer is worship. At its edge, prayer is mission. In between, God meets our needs. Sadly, our needs are front and center in prayer. We fail to appreciate prayer as worship and see its centering capacity. And we do little missional praying.
Two decades ago, I backed into the exploding global prayer movement. Spiritual hunger is soaring on almost every continent except North America and Western Europe. Here we try everything but prayer to revitalize our churches and our lives.

There is a reason for that. Prayer has not worked for us. Frankly, more prayer is not what we need—not more of the prayer we now practice. We too often pray “badly,” or “amiss” (James 4:3). Bad praying is self-interested. Our goal is that God please us as we offer our barrage of prayer requests. We grasp at what we think we need and deserve. True prayer is the opposite. It gives; it surrenders; it seeks God’s will.

Paul’s concise prayer theology is a four-part continuum of prayer: petition, worship, intercession, and thanksgiving (1 Timothy 2:1):
1. Petition focuses on provision. This is the first prayer we offer as sinners. However, we get stuck here, never moving from seeking God’s hand to His face, to worship.
2. Worship, or “worth-ship,” is about values. It is God-focused, transformational prayer. Such prayer occurs best over an open Bible. That is the best way to hear God, to rediscover the principles around which a godly life is organized.
3. Intercession is missional prayer. It is others-focused, standing between God and the one in need, under stress, or, most importantly, outside a saving relationship with Christ.
4. Thanksgiving is vocally expressing gratitude for God’s goodness. Grateful Christians are the best evangelists.

We should move back and forth across the continuum of prayer: from self-focused prayer to God-focused prayer, to others-focused prayer, all wrapped in thanksgiving. From the hand of God to His face, and then to His heart for the lost—all while in praise. Daily, we worship, re-centering ourselves in godly principles, declaring dependence on God (petition), and weeping for the lost (intercession). We meet the day with thanksgiving. This is healthy prayer.

Prayer must be more than asking God to make our problems go away. Such praying is earth-obsessed. It is prayer that never escapes this world. It never sits in heavenly places. Even in prayer, we are not free from the world. We merely react to carnal stimuli, some taunt or attack of the Evil One. Neither the world nor the devil should set our prayer agenda; that is the prerogative of God alone.

The best way to stabilize and deepen prayer is to pray Scripture systematically. The old Pentecostals prayed until they “prayed through.” Even when their situation did not change, their disposition was infused with grace. They rose to their feet with joy, lived in peace, and defied circumstances.

Despite our clichés about “power in prayer,” underneath is a vague uncertainty, particularly about our prayers. We treat prayer like a game of chance—you get an answer, and then you don’t. With such low expectations, we pray less. The most important relationship of our lives, a rendezvous with God, is reduced to superficiality and convenience. The result is shallow spirituality.

Answers provide some relief from life’s problems, but only transforming grace makes us better people. We pray to resolve problems, yet problem-centered praying is never as effective as Presence-rich praying. We confuse rewards with answers. Rewards come from seeking Him, not merely an answer from Him.

Seeking the hand of God, we take a to-do list to Him. In contrast, a conference with God over an open Bible may lead to divine disclosures opening possibilities we have never considered. Don’t rush. Value the relationship more than its pragmatic and immediate outcome. Move from a faith that urges God to act in a specific manner, to deeper trust, rest, peace, and joy in the middle of the problem. Draw on God’s strength.

The goal is not that God hears us, but that we hear God.

Martin Luther said, “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” We have narrowed prayer to talking, primarily to asking. What we say to God is not nearly as important as what God might say. In the first two encounters between God and Adam, God alone speaks (Genesis 1:28-30; 2:16-17). His first message is that of blessing. Astounding!

The most critical task in prayer is positioning ourselves to hear God. He wants to talk to us more than we want to talk to Him. Prayer is the context in which God unwraps promises, envisions and empowers, directs and constrains. If we instead do all the talking, we silence God.

Over an open Bible, in prayer, we wrestle ourselves into alignment with God. Vision is birthed. Values are rightly centered. Mission is ignited. Faith is emboldened. Synergy occurs, facilitating the work of God in our working. Without Scripture, we are merely wishing. God’s testament is the basis on which we make demands on the estate of Christ, drawing on the bank of heaven. We cash the promissory notes of God’s New Testament. The Bible is meant to be prayed, not merely read. Read it and pray it. In that process, be filled with its richness, and faith will soar.

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 NKJV). Spirit-quickened, Scripture-based prayer awakens faith and empowers alignment with Biblical principles. Praying the Word of God gets you closer, sooner, to the will of God than any other activity.

While we most often couple prayer with faith, there is a deeper problem. Most Christians do not have a faith problem; they have a love problem. We can never pray effectively to a God whose love we doubt. “Faith,” Paul declared, “works through love” (Galatains 5:6 GNT).

Sadly, we often recruit others to pray for us, confident that God will answer their prayer more than our own. You must settle your love problem. Paul says “we are more than conquerors” when we grasp His love for us (Romans 8:37). Healthy prayer is rooted in confidence, not merely in the ability of God, but His character.

Push back “God help me!” prayers. Instead, pray, “God, I know that You love me, and I love You, with all my heart, my mind, and my soul.” Stop asking God to prove His love through answered prayer, and go back to the great declaration of God’s love at Calvary. Never attempt to love God into loving you. Begin in the face of your unworthiness and the certainty of His unconditional love.

So, what have I discovered about prayer?

1. When God’s love and prayer dance together, faith soars.
2. The best praying is over an open Bible.
3. The goal is not that God hears us, but that we hear God.
4. God wants to talk to us to bless us. But a blessing must be pronounced, whispered in the context of prayer.
5. Rewards are bigger than answers. Praying as a pauper, we focus on minimal needs, distracted from the greater richness of knowing Him and His purposes.
6. Giving priority to seeking God’s face moves us from problem-obsessed to Presence-aware prayer.
7. We pray badly when prayer is self-obsessed; when it grasps more than it gives, and wants more than it worships.

P. Douglas Small is international prayer coordinator for the Church of God. He offers prayer resources, teaching. and coaching. Fresh prayer leadership resources are available monthly through membership in the Praying Church Movement. projectpray.org

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UnCommon Message: Getting the Gospel to Girls https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/uncommon-message-getting-the-gospel-to-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uncommon-message-getting-the-gospel-to-girls https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/uncommon-message-getting-the-gospel-to-girls/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 09:00:02 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4830 Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

A FEW YEARS AGO, I found myself at a bit of a standstill with my life. I am a stay-at-home mom of two wonderful children, which I find to be a consuming job. All I had time for was being a mom, and although I loved that and still do, I wanted to be doing […]

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Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash


FEW YEARS AGO, I found myself at a bit of a standstill with my life. I am a stay-at-home mom of two wonderful children, which I find to be a consuming job. All I had time for was being a mom, and although I loved that and still do, I wanted to be doing something more for God.

No sooner did I ask Him, I quickly felt God leading me to a ministry idea that honestly scared me, and was beyond my knowledge and expertise of pulling off. I was out taking a walk, trying to catch a few moments of alone time and talking with God. He immediately took me down memory lane. I found myself reflecting over my middle- and high-school years, and how in a spiritual sense, I wished they had been different. I had longed for good mentors in my life, spiritual mothers, and a strong Christian community that I just didn’t have.

As I continued walking, God began to lay a few young girls on my heart, and how they have the same desires I had as a teenager. He was telling me I needed to do something. What, exactly? was the question.

So I asked Him: OK, God, what do You want me to do? I felt Him telling me to start something online that would encourage girls through His Word. An outlet they could go to for validation, spiritual encouragement, and guidance, with no judgment or shame put on them.

I knew right away I wanted this to be a magazine. Partly because when I was in high school, I loved reading magazines, and I wanted to take them beyond the usual social-media experience. I wanted something that seemed deeper, more personal.

When I got back home, I began to tell my husband, and he immediately gave me a name for the magazine: Uncommon Girl. Yes, you heard correctly. I wish I had come up with the name, but my husband did! Now, I am not tech-savvy or graphics-minded at all. So, I used my resources wisely and called my sister-in-law, Sarah, who agreed to help me get it up and running. We agreed to pray about it before we started anything.

During our time of seeking God, our families went to the 2018 Church of God General Assembly in Orlando, where God confirmed that I should move forward with this idea.

One morning as Sarah and I were at the pool, we watched a girl, about 15, come and sit by us. She was a very cute girl wearing a very skimpy swimsuit. She laid on a lounge chair and posed over and over again, trying to get a picture of herself in her swimsuit. She undoubtedly was going to show it all to the world. We knew her photo would be on social media within a matter of seconds. This completely broke us—to see a young girl who had no problem showing herself off to find validation. Girls today live in a mindset of “likes.” We knew then God was saying yes to our dream.

Uncommon Girl Magazine was started within three months of that day by the pool. We moved quickly to find social media and magazine writers, craft promo videos, and create social-media pages. Almost before we knew it, our first magazine was out.

My goal for the magazine and overall ministry is to inspire girls to stand out for God’s glory by being uncommon. With the help of the writers, we put out content that includes daily devotionals, writing prompts, Bible-reading plans, guided prayers, modest fashion ideas, and much more. All of this can be found in the magazine and our social-media pages.

Being a ministry that runs strictly on digital platforms, I have faced some push-back. The most repeated concern has been moms saying, “I don’t let my daughter on social media.” Usually this is because somewhere along the line, boundaries were not set up and those young girls got into trouble on social media.

I try to encourage those moms and give them advice in moving forward. Many of them don’t know there are tools out there to monitor what their daughters view and what comes through on their devices. Social media does have downfalls, as do all things in the 21st century.

But if we limit ourselves because it has been known as “bad,” then we will miss out on the good it can bring. That’s what I tell moms—that their girls are missing out on the good things and the positivity that can be found.

I have seen such a tremendous confidence rising in the girls who follow us. I have had girls share their Christian testimony for the first time through their Uncommon Girl Magazine account, and it has brought them, and me, such joy. I see girls living out the Scriptures and being made overcomers by the word of their testimonies.

I hear from girls asking, “Can you talk about confidence? What do I do when I don’t feel good enough?” Society and social media constantly put down girls today, leaving them in a state of comparison and feeling “less than.”

I love that our magazine provides positive role-modeling and gets to build up girls in Christ as the daughters of God they are.

We are a platform that says it’s OK to be different; it’s OK to stand out; and it’s OK to talk about God not only on social media, but in school hallways as well.

In Mark 16:15, God commands us to take the good news into all the world, and that is just what Uncommon Girl Magazine is doing. It may look different to some, but sometimes to reach a new generation we have to be different.

Morgan Wilson and her husband, Stephen, are bringing up their two young children, Willow and Milo, in northeast Georgia. Morgan is a graduate of Lee University who taught in an inner-city high school for two years before becoming a stay-at-home mom.

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“Show Me a Sign, or I Am Going to End My Life” https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/show-me-a-sign-or-i-am-going-to-end-my-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=show-me-a-sign-or-i-am-going-to-end-my-life https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/show-me-a-sign-or-i-am-going-to-end-my-life/#respond Mon, 17 Feb 2020 09:00:49 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4823

W ITH A VISION for lost people, the Lord has placed my family and me in the “melting pot” of the world. With nearly 8.5 million residents, New York City is the most populous city in the United States, and is the primary point of entry for immigrants. Over 800 languages are spoken in New […]

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ITH A VISION for lost people, the Lord has placed my family and me in the “melting pot” of the world. With nearly 8.5 million residents, New York City is the most populous city in the United States, and is the primary point of entry for immigrants. Over 800 languages are spoken in New York, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world. The nations of the world have come to us.

Wherever I am speaking on a Sunday, I am engaged in sidewalk evangelism. This ministry provides a vehicle for churches to connect with the unchurched in their community. I have asked our pastors to mobilize 10 percent of the church membership for one hour, each Sunday, during the service time, to do outreach on the sidewalks outside their church. The church provides free coffee, bottled water, and a monthly devotional book to the people passing by their church. The church also collects prayer requests and contact information.

Sidewalk evangelism serves dual roles: (1) connecting people to the church and (2) providing ministry opportunities for the laity. On Sunday mornings, my family and I arrive at the church where I am scheduled to preach before the worship service begins. We set up a table on the sidewalk and start by ministering outside the wall of that particular church.

January 8, 2017, is a day I will never forget. I was scheduled to preach at the White Plains Church of God. On my way to the church, I felt a strong urge to pull into a gas station en route, even though I did not need gas. As I pulled in, my heart was drawn toward a young man in his 30s fueling his car. After he finished pumping gas, he drove his car from the pump and parked at the gas station. I felt the Lord wanted me to speak with him. I went over to his car where he was sitting inside and waved at him to engage his attention.

After he barely lowered his window, I said, “Hi, I know you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but I felt compelled to speak with you. I have a daily devotion book I would like to share with you; it will take three minutes of your time each day, but you will be inspired and encouraged by the daily readings.”

With eyes full of curiosity and suspicion, he said to me, “Who sent you over here to me?” Then louder than before, he repeated, “Who sent you over here to me?” After this young man asked me that question a third time, I replied, “A God who loves you more than you could ever imagine.”

With his suspicious eyes now filled with tears, he came out of the car stunned and overwhelmed that God had so quickly responded to his prayer: “Show me a sign, or I am going to end my life.”

In tears he said to me, “I lost my lady and was devastated from the breakup, so I started drinking. My excessive drinking got me fired from an excellent job. So many terrible things have happened that my life is so messed up, and there is no way I can fix it, so I am sitting here in my car planning how to end my life.”

I was blown away at the mercies, awesomeness, and accuracy of God. This was a divine appointment; God had intervened with salvation and deliverance for George. I held his hands and started praying for him right there in the gas station. My wife and children, who were in the car witnessing all that was happening, joined in interceding for George.

That morning, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus Christ came down upon George in the parking lot of a gas station, delivering and setting him free from the spirit of suicide and alcoholism.

Steve Smith is administrative bishop of the Church of God in New York.

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A Life Without Power https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/a-life-without-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-without-power https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/a-life-without-power/#respond Fri, 14 Feb 2020 09:00:51 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4850

“My lights went off... my home grew colder and colder ...and my cell phone died.”

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ctober in Connecticut: Nature paints a stunning picture of orange, red, yellow, and brown that attracts people from far and near.

For the last weekend in October 2011, however, forecasters predicted a snowstorm. Shopkeepers were busy as consumers stocked up on candles, flashlights, and food supplies. Soon, generators would become a hot item.

The much-anticipated storm began around midday on Saturday. Life slowed down as people stayed home to wait out what we thought would be perhaps a night and a day of fresh snow.

I sat in my home looking through the windows, admiring the beauty of the snowfall from various angles. About four o’clock, the lights flickered . . . and then the outage began. I waited for a while, anticipating the return of electricity, before I finally decided to light a few candles.

When I went to bed, I figured there would be no church services the next morning due to the heavy snow, but I was confident the power would return soon.

Sunday morning was dismal. The trees on my property were laden with fresh snow, and many branches ultimately collapsed. Not having access to TV or radio, I was kept abreast of happenings through my cell phone.

My home got colder and colder until I was encouraged to leave and seek shelter with a relative. Meanwhile, my cell phone died. Little did I know that thousands of people, including some of my friends, were already resorting to emergency shelters.

A few sections in the community had not experienced a power outage, and, fortunately, my niece lived in one of those areas. I packed a bag with a few essentials and headed off to where there was electricity.

On my way, I saw the devastation the short-lived storm had created. Many huge trees had been uprooted. Branches that were not on the ground looked as if they were bowing in prayer. Citizens were urged to avoid fallen power lines.

On Monday, businesses and some government offices were either closed or operated with a skeleton crew. Many people were unable to leave their homes due to broken branches that blocked their driveways, or they had no running water or heat.

The government provided food and water to many neighborhoods, and people who had the means cared for relatives and friends. Each day there was a glimmer of hope from the electric company that power would be restored in certain areas. However, that hope frustrated citizens where homes remained dark.

Each day, life without electricity created new complications. Perishable food spoiled . . . food supplies became scarce . . . and the price of generators rose tremendously as the demand increased.

Electricity was restored to my house on November 5—one week after the storm began.

After most customers had regained power, weather forecasters cautioned residents of an impending heavy rain and winds that could knock down tree limbs that had been snapped or weakened by the snowstorm. They were right: once the rain began to pour, thousands were plunged back into darkness.

The storm created havoc in many households as relatives and friends huddled together for warmth and safety. Several lives were lost—some by the improper use of generators. For example, a 27-year-old woman had her generator placed in her basement for fear that if left outside, it would be stolen. She died from gasoline fumes.

Relationships were particularly vulnerable, with people being in close quarters and not having television to create a dis- traction. Shelters reported high volume of families that had come to escape the cold. This type of closeness was detrimental to some individuals who already suffered from certain types of psychological and emotional stressors. At the same time, people living alone experienced fear and isolation if no one was able to reach them.

My week with my relatives allowed me to use my time wisely—thinking and reconnecting. We talked about our early existence in Jamaica, where power outages were frequent and many people lived without certain amenities. As the week wore on, I prayerfully connected with family and friends as I thought about their physical and spiritual welfare. Life had slowed to the point where I had time to reflect.

Life without electric power had a meaningful impact that forced me as a minister to contemplate life without the power of God. Without the divine connection that infuses new life and fresh anointing, we become spiritually parched, lethargic, and sickly. We need the power of God to propel us to an existence of meaning.

Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Without His indelible light, we walk in darkness and become numb to the atrocities of this life. We need spiritual enlightenment that illuminates our darkness and dismal worldview, and shows others the way to Christ.

My life without electricity taught me the importance of taking time to love, laugh, and live. As this lesson is transferred to my daily existence, I hope others can feel the impact of godly love and divine power through the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was sent by Christ to clothe us with power (Luke 24:49). The Spirit empowers to exercise our faith, which is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). People trapped in dilemmas of life need God to deliver their bodies and liberate their minds, and we can show them the way.

However, just as we are handicapped without electric power in our environment, we also cannot function effectively without the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. Those who attempt great things need great power.

The Holy Spirit came to empower the Church. If the Church is not manifesting that power, we need to examine our relationship with Him. Evidences of God’s power are spiritual bondages being broken, sick bodies being healed, and demonic forces being overcome.

After a week without electricity, I gained a greater appreciation for everyday blessings like hot water, heat, the light above my kitchen sink, and my washing machine and dryer. More indelibly, I am now more aware of how much I need the wonder-working power of God in my daily life.

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A Startling Invitation https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/a-startling-invitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-startling-invitation https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/a-startling-invitation/#respond Tue, 11 Feb 2020 09:00:20 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4815

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53 NKJV).

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ny time a man can take a few pieces of bread coupled with a small portion of fish and stretch it to feed thousands of people, people will search Him out.

That is what happened when the throngs followed Jesus across the Sea of Galilee and into Capernaum. Testily cornering Him about why He would feed them and then leave them, Jesus turned the tables. He used the occasion to teach them about the one necessity of life—“the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). He declared,

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (v. 51 NKJV).

His words created quite a stir. The Jews began to argue sharply among them- selves, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (v. 52 NIV).

Though the crowd broke into open conflict, Jesus did not retract nor reframe His comments. Instead, He made one of the more difficult sayings He ever uttered: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53 NKJV).

Many people quit following Jesus, never to return. Touchingly, He turned to the Twelve and asked them if they were going to leave as well.

Not once did He alter His stance. He made His teaching a nonnegotiable truth in a world where everything is said to have its price.

What made it so hard for the crowd that day in Capernaum? No doubt, some of their revulsion had to do with the demands of the Law. The Jewish people were strictly forbidden to consume blood. If the mere stumbling upon a human corpse made one unclean, it is not hard to imagine the repugnance the thought of cannibalism created in their minds.

Yet, there is a deeper message here. If they accepted Jesus’ claim, “I am the bread of life” (v. 35), they were conceding the high ground that He was indeed the Son of God. Such acquiescence was more than difficult—it was destructive to their entire religious system. Few of them were ready to accept such a claim.

Fast-forward a couple of millennia. Some still find this text tough to accept. Like the original hearers, we struggle with the imagery.

Fans of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods show have seen some outlandish meals, but nothing from his exhaustive palate prepares us for the notion of cannibalism. Thankfully, Jesus was not talking about eating the flesh draped over His skeleton.

Nor do I think He was, at this time, referencing the reception of His body and blood through the act of Communion. Instead, He gave us the meaning behind the image when He clearly stated, “The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 33 NKJV).

Eating the bread of heaven is a believing reception of the Crucified One as the sole means of salvation (see v. 40). It is the willing appropriation of His work on the cross as the only means of access to the Father.

We struggle with this image if we feel we must earn our way into heaven.

Or, what happens when we realize what the long-range impact of following His command to take His life into ours would be, and how far away from that blessed life we really are? It can so trouble our ego that we ignore the depths of this saying and plead ignorance to what Jesus taught.

We need not run from this text, even if some call it a “hard saying” (v. 60). In fact, we should revel in His words as we are offered two great beams of hope in a dark world. The first lies in the fact that the continual feasting on the offerings of Christ will have a dramatic effect on our life. The old bromide is true: We are what we eat. As we continue to take in the glories of our Lord, we will be constantly shaped into His image.

Second, Jesus made a powerful promise to those who dare to get beyond the surface objections and delve into the deeper truth: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (v. 54).

Our determined devotion to the reception of all Christ has to offer, regardless of the difficulty involved, will bear such tremendous, everlasting fruit in our lives that we must make it a consuming passion. May Christ become more alive in us every day as we continually receive Him fresh and new!

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A SEEKING CHURCH: Finding Lost Sons and Daughters https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/a-seeking-church-finding-lost-sons-and-daughters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-seeking-church-finding-lost-sons-and-daughters https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/a-seeking-church-finding-lost-sons-and-daughters/#respond Mon, 10 Feb 2020 09:00:56 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4801

B OTH OF THE BOYS had enjoyed every minute of swimming, fishing, and building sandcastles; but, as every parent of elementary-age boys knows, the beach is a stressful place. If I had said, “That’s far enough!” once, I’d said it a thousand times as they inched further into the deeper water and bigger waves every […]

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OTH OF THE BOYS had enjoyed every minute of swimming, fishing, and building sandcastles; but, as every parent of elementary-age boys knows, the beach is a stressful place. If I had said, “That’s far enough!” once, I’d said it a thousand times as they inched further into the deeper water and bigger waves every time I wasn’t looking.

Our week was coming to an end. We were packing up coolers and towels and fishing poles for the last day of our family vacation. I scanned the beach like I had done every minute or so for the last week, but something was missing—our 6-year old boy, Luke. We immediately started screaming his name, running up and down the beach, and, finally, wading out into the surf. (Stay with me—this story has a happy ending.)

Jodie and I were in panic mode. It’s crazy, but even as I was yelling and searching, my mind was racing ahead to what happens if the worst possible scenario played out. Life would change forever. I would have given everything I had and everything I would ever have, including my own life, just to find him.

After what seemed like hours (it was really only a couple of minutes) down the beach about a hundred yards, Luke popped up from behind a rock about the size of a suitcase. He was grinning from ear to ear because his practical joke had hit its mark. He had fooled us.

Luke has always been funny, but he quickly realized that his attempt at comedy didn’t sit well with Mom and Dad. I later quoted my own father after I had pulled a similar stunt as a child: “If I hadn’t been so happy to see you, I would’ve killed you myself!”

Well, I let Luke live, and I learned a valuable lesson about God’s love for His lost children: He just wants them to be found. It breaks His heart when His children are aimless and wandering. It breaks His heart when they take a wrong turn in some dark alley and can’t find their way home. He wants them to be found.

Somewhere along the way every local church decides, whether consciously or unconsciously, what they will do about lost coins, lost sheep, and lost sons (see Luke 15). We choose between “Ah, they’ll find their way home when they’re ready” and “Where are they? Let’s go get ’em!”

I am certainly not saying the church I serve is a model for every other congregation to follow, but we do work hard to be a soul-finding church. We haven’t always been focused on finding souls, but we are getting better every day. We’ve learned firsthand some lessons the Bible teaches about finding lost things.

1. Lost coins are always lost in dark places.
It’s our job to help them become acclimated to the light. Ever have someone walk in your bedroom in the middle of the night, flip on the lights, and scream “Surprise!”? It’s shocking, startling, disorienting, and just plain frightening.

That’s what happens when a lost coin (person) is snatched out of a dark place. Yes, it was a dark place, but it was a familiar place. This whole church thing can be confusing for a newbie. We can’t expect a newcomer to understand our culture the minute they walk in. It’s our job to turn the light on, but not the interrogation light.

Instead, they need the warm, comforting light of Jesus. We are all looking for a smile. Maybe we should remind ourselves how we feel in an unfamiliar room, around unfamiliar people, doing unfamiliar things; then we’ll know how to make things a little less intimidating. Church should be welcoming, not frightening.

2. Lost sheep need to hear a voice they understand.

Remember going to Starbucks the first time? You can’t order a “large” like you do at McDonalds. It’s a venti if you choose coffee, but if you choose a large tea, it is called a trenta. It’s like a secret code that only the cool kids know about. I like to think of myself as relatively aware of modern culture; but every time I order a simple cup of coffee, I have to stop, think, and look for sample cups on the shelf behind the . . . What’s she called? Oh yeah, the barista. Only then can I proclaim, like a kid who just recited his multiplication tables for the first time, “Venti; yes, I’ll take a venti.”

Then they always have that next question ready to throw in my face: “What kind?”

“What kind of what? I just want coffee! Just give me coffee! Church should not feel this way!

The greatest compliment I ever received as a communicator was the Sunday morning a totally unchurched 21-year-old approached me after service and said, “I understood everything you said. You didn’t use any big words.” I responded, “That was easy because I don’t know any.” It was my reminder to Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Let’s never change the Gospel message, but let’s be sure we aren’t leaving people confused by speaking in code. In the church world, we use words that are never said in any other walk of life— words like salvation, sanctification, Sunday school, Redeemer, Jehovah, hymnal, prayer warrior, and born again. We should use these words but let’s explain as we go.

A few years ago we were trying to make the turn from being a “feed the sheep” church to a “find and feed the sheep” church. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of communicating the Gospel until a doctor’s wife, who had been attending Sunday morning for a few months, asked, “Patrick, what is this ‘born-again’ thing you keep talking about?”

I was both excited and heartbroken. Excited that I would get to share the Gospel on a personal level. Heartbroken that I had done such a lousy job sharing the message of Jesus.

Before using one of “our” words, I try to ask this question: If I said this word with no explanation to one of my unchurched friends, would they understand? If not, I have some work to do.

3. Lost sons come home dirty.

When Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus did the heavy lifting. Then He said to those around the newly alive Lazarus, “Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:44). It’s a beautiful picture of discipleship. Getting cleaned up takes time.

Do we have a plan for “dirty sons”—a way to help them leave their addictions behind, walk away from their bad habits, and learn about Jesus?

It’s all about relationships. Are we building relationships? Sometimes people fall right back into the pigpen they came out of. What happens then? The soul-finding church is waiting with open arms, just like the Prodigal Son’s father.

We have to create a culture of soul-finding. We need to celebrate the activities we want repeated. Celebrate the people we want mirrored. Celebrate the types of testimonies we want to hear again and again.

Baptism is our biggest celebration. Whoever thought of the baptism t-shirt is a genius. Everybody who gets baptized gets a free t-shirt. Before baptism we remind everyone that we don’t do quiet, dignified baptism. We do loud, rowdy, and proud baptisms. We celebrate. We put pictures of baptism everywhere.

We encourage people to get out of their seat with their smartphones and livestream to their friends and family. Baptism is a touchdown, and we celebrate! At our church, it’s become the most important symbol of changed lives, and we’re seeing it repeatedly.

Just like me, you would have done anything to find your son on that beach. But are we willing to do anything, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, to find God’s lost sons and daughters?

Patrick Wooten is lead pastor of the Grace Pointe Church of God in Irving, Texas. mygracepointe.com

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Did Christ Commend Financial Finaglers? https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/did-christ-commend-financial-finaglers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=did-christ-commend-financial-finaglers https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/did-christ-commend-financial-finaglers/#respond Thu, 06 Feb 2020 09:00:11 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4812

“Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9 NIV).

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wealthy estate owner heard that his estate manager had been guilty of dishonest practices. He approached the manager with the accusations, which were not denied. The estate owner then dismissed his employee, but not before giving him a chance to get his accounts in order.

The estate manager decided on a dishonest stratagem for seeing to his self-interest once he was out of his master’s employment. He would reduce the debts of various businesspeople who owed his boss for purchased commodities—oil and wheat, for instance. The amount of money involved was considerable.

The manager’s idea was that by doing this he would ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors and perhaps get another position. Also, his boss might feel pressured to go along with the plan so others would not label him as being stingy.

The wealthy employer commended the fired employee for his shrewdness without ignoring his dishonesty or reversing the penalty exacted for it. Merriam- Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines shrewd as “marked by clever discerning awareness and hardheaded acumen.” These are qualities valued by any wise employer and worthy of cultivation by any high-level employee wishing to get ahead. The problem with the manager in Jesus’ story is that he exercised them twistedly and with no integrity.

What the estate manager did was patently dishonest. He was continuing the underhand practices that got him fired in the first place. But he did employ laudable intelligence in devising his plan—if one separates the overall result from the method of achieving it.

In the second part of Luke 16:8, Jesus began to interpret His story for His audience. He said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (NKJV). Jesus was referring to the world of affairs—the sphere of the spiritually unenlightened who tend to run things. He stated that these people in their particular spheres of activity behave more shrewdly than the spiritually enlightened. The citizens of God’s kingdom, unable to devise and employ creative strategies for success, may be so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good.

In verse 9, Jesus made a statement that has baffled the most accomplished interpreters, and, frankly, none of the possible explanations completely satisfies the thoughtful reader. The New King James Version reads, “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” The New International Version reads, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Jesus was saying that a citizen of God’s kingdom should use his money to advance Kingdom interests. The cryptic wording of verse 9 need not be allowed to obscure its meaning completely. Money will eventually be gone. We may, while still living, lose it due to unfortunate circumstances. However, every material object will dim in significance in the light of eternity. We need to live in such a way that we can join genuine friends in God’s eternal home.

References to wealth in the New Testament (such as Acts 4:32-37; 1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19) typically point to its potential significance for the kingdom of God. If God is our Master, we use our material resources to enhance the well-being of our true friends—members of the body of Christ, whether local or universal—or potential friends who will join the body of Christ once they hear the gospel. If wealth is our master, we attempt to get more and more for our own pleasure. Meanwhile, the wealth, having mastered us, finally destroys us.

I have watched a hardworking man who, by hook or crook, made much money, bought many properties, and ended up with great wealth. Meanwhile, he neglected his family and had three failed marriages, being abandoned by his last wife when he was sick and dying. Now his wealth is being sold off and divided among his heirs.

I have also watched a dedicated Christian businessman accumulate considerable wealth from shrewd but honest business practices. He has a passion for foreign missions. Every cent he can spare goes into evangelistic ministry in foreign countries. In his 80s now, he enjoys great respect from all who know him. He prays much and still packs into each day as much good as he can do.

The first man accumulated wealth, sometimes dishonestly, that he hoarded. After a wasted life, he made deathbed repentance, thank God.

The second man has enriched God’s kingdom by strategic giving. Jesus’ parable evidently recommends the way of this second man.

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SABOTAGED to FAIL, GRACED to SUCCEED: FRED GARMON’S Incredible Story https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/sabotaged-to-fail-graced-to-succeed-fred-garmons-incredible-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sabotaged-to-fail-graced-to-succeed-fred-garmons-incredible-story https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2020/02/sabotaged-to-fail-graced-to-succeed-fred-garmons-incredible-story/#respond Mon, 03 Feb 2020 09:00:49 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4786

1967: The year of Israel’s “Six-Day War,” the first Super Bowl, and the Apollo 1 disaster. Overshadowing everything was the continuing and escalating hostilities in Southeast Asia. Hundreds of thousands died in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Death, destruction, and devastation were the center of consciousness. War has no favorites or exceptions. Everyone pays […]

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The year of Israel’s “Six-Day War,” the first Super Bowl, and the Apollo 1 disaster. Overshadowing everything was the continuing and escalating hostilities in Southeast Asia. Hundreds of thousands died in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Death, destruction, and devastation were the center of consciousness. War has no favorites or exceptions. Everyone pays the price—especially the children. Siblings are shot; parents die; orphans fight to survive. Whatever “normal family life” might be, it is nowhere in view. One survivor of 1967 could describe his childhood in similar terms. At 9 years old, he was awakened by gun shots outside his home to find his sister murdered. Some five months later, his mother died from cancer.This boy’s overwhelmed father, caught in the vortex of grief and disillusionment, withdrew into alcoholism—just trying to survive. The loss, the abandonment, and the mental agony were not planned; they just happened.

The youngest of eight children, this little boy was born of an unanticipated pregnancy nearly 10 years removed from his closest of seven siblings—and now she had been killed. Another shattered family. Another child left on mercy’s doorstep. “Normal” was nowhere in sight; neither was hope. He was just another child in 1967, but he was not living among the hostilities of Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia. Even though he was not caught in a geopolitical conflict, this 9-year-old was caught in the hostilities of life beyond his control. He was living in Charlotte, North Carolina—a world away from Southeast Asia—yet these two worlds were destined to meet decades later.

Left much on his own by his reclusive, grieving, alcoholic father, Fred learned to share life and drugs with other children of common brokenness who became his “family” (which we call “gangs”). Drugs and gangs offered security, identity, and acceptance. His drug usage began in 1967 with a single cigarette; then came alcohol at age 11. Sniffing glue at 12 became smoking marijuana by age 13. The next year, Fred started using LSD, followed by heroin at age 15. But this was not the introduction to hallucination for this child; life had done this to him. And he had lost the hope of ever awakening from it. Following his third arrest at age 15, Fred was expelled from his high school and from his home state for one year. He was allowed to return a year later at age 16. Concerned authorities had hoped rehabilitation had occurred to some degree, but their hopes were disappointed. However, change was in the air. Fred became enamored with a young lady at high school. She was an all-conference basketball player who refused his overtures again and again. She finally agreed to one date, but she would choose the destination. He agreed. He was to accompany her to church.

On Sunday, January 20, 1974, dressed in disheveled clothes, with long hair, a pierced ear, and a strange attitude, he walked hesitantly into a Church of God worship service in Kannapolis, North Carolina. As the service began, something started to happen inside him. Acceptance . . . identity . . . hope . . . release . . . love . . . family. All these and more seemed to descend on him like a waterfall. This was not a hallucination, but could it possibly be reality? It seemed more real than anything he had ever encountered in his 16 years of chaos. So, Fred invited Jesus Christ into his life as his Savior and Lord. That day, the hiss of Satan was crushed under the foot of the Redeemer, who became Fred’s closest friend and brother. Jesus would never leave or forsake him. With the fervency of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), Fred went home and discarded nearly every evidence of the identity and acceptance he had worked so hard to gain. By that evening, the long hair, the earring, and the tattered clothing had been abandoned. All these were instantly recognized as counterfeit substitutes for what he now held in his heart. They were no longer necessary.

That night Fred returned to church. He looked so different that no one recognized him. It wasn’t until midway into the service that the pastor, Don Anderson, realized who he was.] “Young man, stand and testify,” was the pastor’s call. Fred got up, walked to the front of the church, and stood behind the pulpit. As he began to tell his story, something incredible happened.

From the ashes
of a chaotic life,
MOVED, pushing
back the forces
of destruction
for a little boy
from Charlotte.

As the first words came from his lips, it was as if something of a different world entered the moment and altered the atmosphere. This too was no hallucination. Little did Fred know this would be the first of thousands of times he would declare the wonders of the Gospel before a listening audience—the good news that hope is available to all, no matter how messed up their life may be. The good news that a seed of potential lies buried within each of us.

Eighteen months later, Fred became the first person in his family to graduate from high school. With the assistance of a high-school guidance counselor, he enrolled in community college. What seemed to be serendipitous events led him to Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee. With no financial aid or assistance, working three jobs, he would graduatedebt-free, earning a bachelor’s degree in Biblical education.

From that point, a Christian marriage, many years of pastoral ministry, and two children filled his life with great grace. Yet, something else seemed to beckon. The potential lying hidden within just needed a little sunshine and rain. A friend and nearby pastor provided the inspiration that ignited a further educational journey spanning more than a decade of his life. He earned a master of divinity degree and then a doctor of philosophy in organizational leadership, all while continuing his 33 years of pastoral ministry. Fred’s first international ministry trip took him to Nicaragua, connecting him with friends, colleagues, and a mentor who introduced him and his heart to the missional world. Several years later, his love for missions would lead him to become the executive director of People for Care and Learning (PCL) and the superintendent of Southeast Asia for the Church of God.

After a decade of ministry in Southeast Asia, Fred felt called to take his life’s experiences and education to create a leadership development program. The “Ten Essential Skills of Executive Leadership” and “LeaderLabs 2.0” has trained thousands. The little boy who was sabotaged to fail found grace enough to succeed in Jesus Christ. Clearly someone had prayed for him. Perhaps it was his dying mother who understood Psalm 27:10: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (NKJV). From the ashes of a chaotic life, the hand of God moved, pushing back the forces of destruction for a little boy from Charlotte. The story is not over. Dr. Fred Garmon is still at it—training ministers and faith-based leaders all over the world.

It’s no surprise to those who know his story that the orphan would grow to support so many other orphans and, in addition, use all he learned to help himself to help others.

Tom Sterbens is lead pastor of New Hope Church of God in Kodak, Tennessee.

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“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”
(Matt. 12:32 NIV).

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remember the first time I read Matthew 12:32. I was about 16 years old when I first learned of an “unforgivable” sin. My immediate thought was not one of comfort, but concern. I wondered, An unforgivable sin? Is it possible that I have ever committed one?

Many Christians over the years have become similarly concerned, worried, even bound with fear, that they might have committed “the unpardonable sin.” But is there really a sin God simply refuses to forgive? Or, a sin so extreme it is incapable of being forgiven?

Theologian A. W. Tozer once said there is likely no doctrine in the New Testament that has been misunderstood more than this one. So, in order to understand what this sin truly is, and is not, we must take a closer look at what Jesus actually said.

The setting of this story is essential (vv. 22-37). When studying the words of Jesus, we must also consider the context, or the situation in which the words were spoken. In this case, Jesus had just delivered a demon-possessed man who had been both blind and mute. It was such a miraculous deliverance, most of the eyewitnesses said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (v. 23 NKJV). In other words, Could we be about to experience the restoration of a glorious kingdom? Is God in our midst?

When the Pharisees heard of this miracle, they said something entirely different: “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (v. 24 ESV).

To paraphrase, it is as if Jesus says to the blasphemers: “Are you crazy? How could Satan ever cast out Satan? Or, why would he? No, you are seeing Me cast out Satan by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, be careful what you say about Me, and be very careful what you say about the Holy Spirit. Remember, if you cut Me off from your life, you still have one more hope that is yet to come, the Holy Spirit. But, if you cut Him off, you risk having no more hope” (see vv. 26-32).

Yes, there is a sin that cannot be forgiven. Jesus made this quite clear. The passage is not an elusive one; it is vividly told by Jesus. However, in order to effectively consider and interpret this story and warning in the Bible, it is important to remember seven facts.

    1. Jesus was not talking here to people who were seeking Him.

No. He was warning people who opposed Him.

    2. This event was extraordinary, and so was the sin they committed.

This was a group of enemies in full view of Jesus’ Spirit-empowered ministry and
miracles. Charles Stanley defines the sin they committed as “to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the power of Satan in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.”

    3. The Holy Spirit is God.

He is a member of the Holy Trinity sent here to draw you and me to Jesus Christ. In a sense, the coming of the Holy Spirit represents our final chance of salvation.

There is something profoundly mystical about the Spirit and His work in us. While God the Father is over us and the Son is “God with us,” Jesus said the Spirit is, in fact, in us as believers. When Jesus spoke of the Spirit’s coming to His disciples, He told them the Spirit “will be in you” (John 14:17 NKJV). In other words, His presence will be powerful and personal. We don’t ever want to treat the Spirit, His work, or His presence lightly or frivolously. He is not only the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit. Let us honor Him as such.

    4. The“unpardonable sin” is not a careless act.

Some believe that sacrilegious behavior or irreverence alone is the unpardonable sin, but it is not. The sin Jesus speaks of is something more—it is deeply and ultimately a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is an ultimate rejection of God’s Spirit who is sent to draw us to Jesus.

    5. Jesus said all confessed sin will be forgiven.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV). Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was for all of us—sinners, idolaters, blasphemers, adulterers—all, you name it.

    6. If you’re worried you have committed an “unforgivable sin,” no matter what you might have done, the apostle Paul would tell you he has done worse.

Paul referred to himself as “the chief” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He wrote it to his young protégé in ministry, Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (NIV).

    7. God forgives all sin for which we confess and repent.

John Piper wrote, “Any sin that you can authentically repent of and embrace Christ for will be forgiven.”

When I came to realize as a young Christian that my concern about having possibly committed the unpardonable sin was a sign itself that God’s Spirit was still at work within me, I took great comfort, and the joy of my salvation was renewed. Humility and sorrow of sin is a dead giveaway that one has not committed it. Tozer also said, “The man who knows he belongs in hell can’t go there, because that knowledge is one of a penitent soul. That kind of soul can never die nor commit the unpardonable sin.”

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"Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16 NKJV).

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e are all a product of our choices in life. The people addressed in Revelation 3:16 did not realize they had a big problem until the Lord pointed it out to them. Their message was out of balance with their actions. It was hard to tell whose side the church in Laodicea had chosen. Jesus said they were no longer a reflection of what His church should look like.

Archaeologists have discovered the town of Laodicea had no local water supply. In order to obtain water, an aqueduct system from the hot springs at Hierapolis was installed. Water traveled six miles from Hierapolis to Laodicea. If someone in Laodicea desired a cold drink of water, too bad: By the time it traveled six miles, the water would be warm. This made the water nauseating and repulsive.

The spiritual status of this church was so distasteful to the Lord that He compared it to drinking lukewarm water, and the thought of it made Him sick. What created this condition? Comfort and compromise! These dangerous twins always lead to conflict in one’s spiritual standing.


Most of us have a thermostat in our home. Since we don’t like it to be too cold or too hot, we mix the two together. We come out with an atmosphere comfortable to us.

That is what was happening at Laodicea. They were compromising spiritually for comfort’s sake. It is much more comfortable to attend a church where nobody takes doctrinal issues very seriously—where, for comfort’s sake, we avoid discussions about sin, sanctification, and holiness. Many times out of fear of losing someone to our church, we avoid subjects that confront issues of the heart. Instead of “rocking the boat,” we choose to avoid what God has called us to defend and proclaim.


The Laodicea church was compromising its teachings for the sake of peace and comfort. They had enough truth to salve the conscience, but enough coolness to calm their wills without freezing people out. People could be comfortable there. They would not be rebuked, corrected, or even convicted of sin, but only encouraged and respected. The church compromised for the sake of personal comfort.

What does Jesus think of a church like that? It’s nauseating! Repulsive! The compromise that made them comfortable made Him sick!

The Word of God will bless you, and it will blister you. The Word of God can pat you on the back, and it can slap you in the face. Note that the Lord did condemn the “works” of the Laodiceans as being evil
(v. 15). But this was not enough. Human wisdom interfered with divine truth at Laodicea. The members were listless and apathetic. Something was missing at Laodicea, and the Lord called them out on it.


Recent decisions by the Supreme Court confirm that we are in a conflict. People want to be comfortable with their sins. People want no rebuke, correction, or conviction. But the Church cannot compromise truth.

This week in my city, a group of self- proclaimed “Christians,” led by their minister, were at the courthouse celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold same-sex marriage. Really? I think the Lord just vomited again!

Biblical Christianity has always been threatened by worldliness and false doctrine. Doing what is right in the eyes of God conflicts with what is acceptable in the eyes of people. The Bible demands that people acknowledge their sin and spiritual impotence—the gospel demands a verdict.

Paul taught that our minds needed to be renewed (Rom. 12:2) and we should “set [our] mind on things above” (Col. 3:2 NKJV) because, naturally, we were not born to think spiritually. Doing so requires a choice, and a by-product of that choice is changed behavior.

Changed behavior, or “new creation” status (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV), makes us “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14). A lukewarm message is conflicting to a lost world looking for hope. Like Joshua, we must take a stand and decide “this day whom [we] will serve” (Josh. 24:15).

God has called us to be faithful. The words we should long to hear are “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). The absence of faithfulness is a prescription for disaster for Christianity. Being faithful to the Word of God will not always make us popular, but it is the remedy for what is sickening to God.

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“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 NKJV).

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everal years ago, a woman came to me after a church service broken and weeping, and asked if I would pray for her. She said she was so weary of fighting the emotional battles she was continually in and felt like no one could help her.

This woman told me she was always trying to live the best she could for the Lord, yet things seemed to continually go wrong. She stated that she “watched” church people, and many were doing ungodly things. She said she was living by a much higher standard, and she did not understand why they seemed to have peace while she did not.

She continued, saying she had also seen others who lived much “better” than she did and maybe she just wasn’t good enough to receive the blessings of God! “Everybody is happier than I am!” she declared.

We talked for a good while, and my heart was broken for her. This woman was hurt- ing and needing help. When we prayed together, the Spirit of the Lord began to minister to her. In that atmosphere of God’s sweet presence, revelation was given to her. She had been living in a judgmental mindset, thereby opening her heart to be condemning of others and herself. It resulted in her heart being pulled forcefully back and forth between self-righteousness and condemnation. She was miserable because of it.

One day she would be walking in a self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude, and the next day she was in condemnation, feeling it would be a miracle if she made it to heaven! It was all because she was not heeding the warnings Christ gave in Luke 6:37. She forgave others and herself that night, and was set free!

    Dangerous Practice

When we attempt to judge others, we base our standards of righteousness on how they live. This is so dangerous and contrary to the Word of God. We will always find someone who seems to be doing more for God than we are…and we can always find someone who seems to be living in willful sin. So we swing back and forth from condemnation to self-righteousness.

A self-righteous person never influences the lost. A person walking in condemnation and fear of failure rarely has a large following. And forgiveness is never extended from the judgmental person.

The word judge in this verse means “to decide (mentally or judicially); by implication, to try, condemn, and/or punish for one’s crime or sin.” We are never to take that role of authority in another’s life. When we do, we become miserable with life, and so does everyone around us.

Then there are those who misuse Christ’s words to justify not receiving counsel for correcting a sinful lifestyle. They accuse the one attempting to minister to them as “being judgmental.” Often those who have tried to offer biblical truths to someone in sin have been made to feel as if they have done something wrong and have heard statements like “Who are you to judge me? Jesus said, ‘Judge not!’” In this politically correct world we live in, this is the mantra of those who justify living by their own standards.

While Jesus is warning us in Luke 6:37 to be careful not to fall into a judgmental mind-set, He is not telling an errant believer that he or she should never receive counsel or instruction from another believer. Critically passing judgment on someone is not the same as offering counsel based on biblical guidelines.

    Divine Guide

The Word of God is not given so we can judge another’s faults, failures, or sin and then pass judgment accordingly. Instead, the Word is our guide to live according to God’s standards and help disciple others to walk in the freedom available in Christ.

In Ephesians 4:11-16, we read how Christ gives spiritual gifts to the church “for the equipping of the saints” (NKJV) so we all come to a greater faith in Christ and not be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching” that blows across our land (NIV). We are to present the truth “in love,” never in judgment, but always to benefit the hearer.

As Jesus stated in Luke 6:37, we must guard our hearts so we do not become judgmental. Many snares await us if we make that misstep.

And we must always remember to be willing to receive godly counsel, never mistaking it as someone passing “judgment.”

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“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not . . . done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you’” (Matt. 7:22-23 NKJV).

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s Jesus and His disciples sat together, He began to teach them. He defined what it meant to be blessed. He unfolded the will of God and the necessity of obedience. Jesus gave a model of prayer and called for His followers to consider their motives and to examine their hearts. The content of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount was unlike anything that had been taught before. His doctrine was astonishing, and it was noted that He taught with “authority” (Matt. 7:29).

Jesus’ sermon was encouraging. It was rich in Old Testament Scripture. It was full of practical wisdom for daily living. As He brought His message to a close, Jesus gave a word of warning:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me ,‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (vv. 21-23 ESV).

Though His words sound hard as we read them, I wonder what tone of voice Jesus used. Was His voice raised in fiery, righteous anger? Or did His voice soften— were tears in His eyes as He spoke these words?

We do not know how He delivered these words, but the message remains clear. Many will stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment with a list of good works, but it will not be enough. In these scriptures, Jesus lists three categories of people who are expecting reward, but will be horribly disappointed.

    1. Those who give lip service to His lordship

It is not enough to declare that Christ is Lord; it is necessary to surrender to His lordship, to submit to His rule over our lives. Following Christ is not just a list of dos and don’ts, but there are things to be done and things to be avoided. In His sermon, Jesus outlined some of these:

    • Be reconciled to those you have hurt or who have hurt you.
    • Do good to your enemies.
    • Pray and give, but avoid making a spectacle of yourself.

Every Sunday across America, choruses and hymns are sung about the lordship of Christ, yet our culture remains unchanged, because many who sing of Christ’s lordship remain unchanged. Lordship, obedience, and even relationship with Christ are inseparable. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15 NASB).

    2. Those Who Misuse His Name and His Word

Doing (works) is never a substitute for being (relationship). It is possible to say the right words, to preach the right message, and to claim the authority of the right name and yet to be absent from Christ. Because God’s Word is true and unfailing, He might perform supernatural works when it is preached, even if the preacher is not committed to Christ’s lordship.

However, those who claim to be true ministers of the gospel but use Christ’s name and His Word with wrong motives, seeking to satisfy themselves, will be held accountable. God pronounced judgment on shepherds who use the flock to meet their own needs, while failing to care for the sheep (Ezek. 34:1-10). Our Lord is not just concerned with obedience, but what motivates us to obey.

Then there are false prophets and preachers who attempt to lead believers astray. Some, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, misuse the Word of God and the name of Christ by twisting Scripture and preaching heresy.

    3. Those Who Do Self-promoting Works

God’s greatest motivation is His own glory. His will is to be glorified. This can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially if we tend to make God in our own image or view Him through the lens of our own lives.

When I seek my glory, it is an ugly thing—I am conceited, prideful, and self-centered. When God seeks His glory, it is beautiful, and the outflow is blessings to those who worship Him.

God created us for His glory (Isa. 43:6- 7), chose us for His glory (Eph. 1:4-6), and forgave our sins for His own sake (Isa. 43:25). In His mountainside sermon, Christ reminded His disciples to do good works so God would be glorified (Matt. 5:16).

However, good works are not enough. The only works to be rewarded are those centered in God’s will, motivated by obedience to His lordship, infused with His love, and empowered by His Spirit. All others will bring damnation.

Many of Jesus’ sayings seem hard— hard to understand, hard to hear, hard to follow. Yet in His mercy, Christ tells us the truth in love and then beckons us to remember that He saved us not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace (2 Tim. 1:9). His desire is to be glorified in us and for us to enjoy His glory forever.

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The Most High...is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35 NIV).

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od has always beautifully pursued those far from Him. We did not ascend to glory and find Him. He left glory, became flesh, and dwelt among us—the ungrateful and evil. He declared His mission “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV).

We who love Jesus are to join Him on this mission. Jesus said:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. . . . Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (6:27-28, 35 NKJV).

Jesus excels in taking grace and mercy to bottomless extremes—and calls us to do the same—sometimes causing our flesh to cry out, “Insanity!”

I used to pastor in San Francisco. One Sunday, a man dressed in a woman’s mesh skirt that was utterly transparent was sitting with his lover, waiting on church service to begin. His skirt left nothing to the imagination. I approached him and asked, “Do you intend to cover yourself for service?”

He sat quietly looking at me, so I asked him again, “Do you intend to cover yourself for service?”

He finally responded, “Are you going to kick me out of church?”

I let him know that everyone is welcome in God’s house, but there is a reverence for God and a respect for other people that must be followed. I added that children were present, and they should not have to observe what I was seeing.

The man finally agreed with me and told me he would cover up. I preached on God’s unconditional love that morning, and my heart burned with compassion for this broken man. When I gave the altar call, many came forward, and then I noticed something unusual.

The man with the mesh skirt wanted to come, but his partner was holding him back. I made my way to their seats, and grabbed their hands to pull them apart. I looked into the eyes of his companion and said, “You might not be ready for Jesus, but he is, so let him go.” The man followed me to the altar, where he accepted Christ into his life.

    Light and Salt

To demonstrate love in an antagonistic world is challenging. It takes the supernatural leading of the Holy Spirit. As Christ-followers, we should be concerned primarily with being light and salt, not cursing the darkness.

Cursing the darkness is throwing condemnation at those who are outside of Christ, while being light in the darkness means awakening sinners from their sleep.

The first is done in the same spirit for which Jesus rebuked James and John when they wanted to call fire down on those who rejected Jesus (see Luke 9:54-56). The latter is done in the Spirit of love, recognizing those outside of Christ are under condemnation already, and we have no need to throw more their way (see John 3:18).

If we are to win lost people to Christ, we must do so in the greatest power known to humanity, which is the love of God, who is kind to the ungrateful and evil.

Hate never reached or rescued anyone, but love has proven time and again to rescue the most hardened heart. Jesus died to prove love is real. We are called to do more than talk about grace; we are called to demonstrate it.

In Ephesians 5:11, we are told to have nothing to do with “unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (NKJV). We expose evil deeds by letting our light shine, not by trying to curse the darkness and win a religious argument.

    Like Jesus

When we love like Christ, His light shines and awakens the sleeper from death to life (vv. 13-14). In the words of N. T. Wright, “Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it.”

When we serve the ungrateful and evil, when we are kind and loving to them, we are serving Jesus. Jesus will one day say to us, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40 NKJV).

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“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48 NLT).

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ne of the first prayers I remember praying happened shortly after I watched the movie Superman. My imagination soared as I saw the “man of steel” flying over the clouds and lifting trains without breaking a sweat. I wanted to be just like him!

I had learned in Sunday school that if we prayed in Jesus’ name, we could ask God for anything and expect to receive it. I decided to put that lesson to the test, so I went into our backyard and climbed onto a big rock that was around 3 feet high. After looking around to make sure nobody was watching, I closed my eyes and offered the most passionate prayer I had ever said:

Lord, it’s me, Dave. You said in Your Bible that I could ask for anything in Jesus’ name and You would do it. Now, I’ve never asked for much, but this is really, really important. God, I’m going to jump off this rock, and I’m asking You to make me fly like Superman—just like in the movie. I know You can do it! Please. Oh yeah—in Jesus’ name.

I held my hands out like a superhero and took a literal leap of faith off that rock, and then . . . I flew!

Just kidding. I came crashing down to the ground. My pride and my faith were wounded, so I figured that maybe I had prayed wrong. I climbed back onto the rock and tried praying a variation of my original prayer, but the results were the same. It was disappointing, but I figured that regular people weren’t meant to be superheroes . . . even if they prayed for it “in Jesus’ name”!

As I got a little older and became more serious about learning God’s Word, I stumbled across a line in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that stopped me in my tracks. It seemed to contradict everything I thought I knew about human limitations, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Jesus said, “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

My first thought was, What! I was completely confused. It seemed like Jesus was saying that we were supposed to overcome all of our human limitations and shortcomings and be real-life superheroes. I pictured churches becoming places where everyone showed up dressed in tights and capes with perfect hair, bodies, minds, and superpowers. Maybe I really could fly off that rock in my backyard!

I later learned that when Jesus called us to be “perfect,” He wasn’t actually calling us to be superheroes; He was, and is, commanding us to something even better. In the original Greek of the text, Jesus is speaking in a verb tense called the “aorist imperative,” which ties the past and present together in a way we can’t fully translate in our modern English. Jesus is basically saying, “In light of what God has already done for you, you’ve already been made perfect, so be what you already are. Give expression to God’s presence and perfection within you.”

The call to perfection is an impossible task in our own strength, but I believe this is precisely the point. The call to be perfect is another reminder that we can’t possibly achieve God’s plan for our lives apart from a complete dependence on Christ and His presence and power living in us and through us. On this side of heaven, God might never give us the strength to fly off a rock like Superman, but He has already empowered us to find strength for daily living through the Son of Man.

On those days you’re feeling far from perfect, remember that your strength is limited, but Christ’s perfect power within you is limitless! In faith declare, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13 NKJV).

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“Let’s build a campfire around five important truths:
God creates, God is other, God redeems, God sees, and God inhabits.”

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hen I sat beneath the evergreen at 15 years old, the stars twinkled their brilliance above me. I felt the rough bark against my back while tears streaked my face. I heard the gospel in its entirety (if one can ever hear such magnificence in one perfect package), and I was stunned to silence. I was small, broken, haunted by swirling memories of the past. I lived as a fatherless daughter searching for the Daddy who would never leave me. His bigness. His sacrifice on the world’s behalf. His ability to be everywhere, yet be concerned about me. His speaking things into existence from nothingness. I asked Him to please enter my life in the gentlest way. And He did.

When I think of Jesus-loving people, I venture back to this place of astonishment, this smallness of me compared to God’s immensity. I run back to that place where my mind was overwhelmed by God’s greatness. And I also think of others whose minds held big thoughts of God. I remember the people I met in Malaysia who couldn’t bow low enough to worship God. I remember my friend Su, tears on her face becoming her petition. Oh, how she loved. I think of an unnamed man I met in Urbana, Illinois, who practically beamed Jesus, but who spoke of Him with reverence and awe. Paul in Ghana comes to mind, how his eyes dance when he tells the story of God providing for him in spectacular and mundane ways. Holly, dear Holly, who calls out of the blue because she hears a whisper from God and she must pass His encouragement on to me.

In a world bent on human glory, folks like these stand out. They’re the bewildering kind who think much of Jesus, yet decrease into obscurity like John the Baptist. They understand the proverb, “It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory” (Prov. 25:27).* They see beyond the veil of this world while they grasp the upside-down Kingdom where meek inherit and strong fall, while God reigns supreme overall. I watch these people. I long to be like them, to think like them.

What does it mean to live in the discipline of astonishment? How can we deify God yet subvert our claim to deity? How can we embrace the cliché, “God is God and I am not”? The answer comes from theology, the way we think about God. When you read the word theology, you may yawn a bit, dismissing the term as boring, something relegated to banter in seminary halls. But theology is dynamic. And it’s utterly important if we want Jesus to be our everything. In light of that, let’s build a campfire around five truths.

    Truth One: God Creates

When the world careens out of control, we can rest in the fact that God spun this world with a simple word. Matter from emptiness. Beauty from void. Community from chaos.

Remembering God as Creator reminds us that God is in the growth business. He not only created trees, sky, air, and dirt, but He also matures them: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). I’ve spent a great deal of my Christian life trying to manufacture what only God can flourish. Although I have a choice to submit myself before the Creator of the world, to be humbly repentant, adopting a posture of learning, I cannot cause growth. I must depend on His ability to bring sprouts, limbs, flowers, and fruit.

    Truth Two: God Is Other

God is far above what we can think or perceive or categorize. Remember Isaiah’s oft-quoted words: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9).

I remember the funny song “Please Don’t Send Me to Africa” from decades ago. I remember thinking, This song resonates with me. And yet, decades later, I found myself in Ghana, West Africa, with my then 12-year-old son, Aidan, who dared to believe in God’s otherness. He heard God tell him to dig wells, so he upheaved his comfortable sixth-grade life and followed Jesus’ footsteps to Africa. There we met others who follow this strange, amazing God, and we were forever changed. As I type this, Aidan again stands on Ghanaian soil, following the beckoning of God that woos a now 15-year-old to that same continent.

God is other. We cannot explain Him. We cannot have perfect theology (though we value theology). We cannot attempt to know the mind of God fully. But as believers, we have an eternal resource, the Holy Spirit, who makes known to us God’s intentions. When we consider the otherness of God, the overwhelming beauty and audacity of God to dwell within us can bring nothing but astonishment. The God who created, this otherly God, dares to stoop to such a place as our hearts.

    Truth Three: God Redeems

My friend pushed against God, against me, against anyone who would dare speak truth in her life. She seemed to relish rebellion, yet all the while saying she believed in Jesus. For several years I puzzled over her words and her behavior, so much so that I had to place a boundary on our friendship. Years passed. One day I received a call from her.

“I’ve met Jesus!” she said.

“What? I thought you were a Christian.”

“No, I only thought I was,” she said, I could hear the joy in her voice. “But I finally met Jesus, and I’ll never be the same.”

In that moment and in the subsequent years, I’ve seen radical redemption in my friend’s life. Her words challenge me. Her life shouts Jesus. Her heart, oh, her heart, is so very beautiful. And when she emails or calls, instead of dreading her as I once did,
I stop my day and hang on to her words.

God is a God who redeems. He sent His beautifully sinless Son to take our place, to satisfy for all time God’s wrath upon sin: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

    Truth Four: God Sees

When I traveled to Ghana, my son Aidan and I were part of a team that had already been assembled from another local church. Though I’m sure none of the members meant to exclude me, the nature of the trip and our addition later made it hard for me to fit in. As I stepped onto Ghanaian soil, I prayed, “Lord, help me know that You see me here.” I made a determination to be small, unnoticed. No longer an author or a speaker, I spent my time behind the scenes. But loneliness settled inside me like untreated malaria. I cried out to God from this small, small place.

God’s answer came late one night during a van ride over rough roads where sleeping sheep and goats served as living obstacles. I sat next to my new Ghanaian friend Paul and asked for his story. He shared his heart, how he walked with Jesus, how he met his wife, how he struggled to know whether he’d have another meal. I felt privileged to hear his words. I shared my heart in exchange. Then he said something that helped me know God sees. He told me my empathy encouraged him to share his story. I realized then that I had played a role in my trek to Ghana. To listen. And to hear an amazing story—proof that God saw me and would reward my smallness.

Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, had an encounter with God when she despaired of life, when her smallness bordered on despair. After Sarai mistreated her, she fled to the wilderness and sat down by a spring. An angel of the Lord appeared to her and encouraged her. She would have a son, and she was to name him Ishmael. He’d be “a wild donkey of a man,” and she would live to see him grow up.

After that encounter, she named God El Roi, “the God who sees”: “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said,

‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (see Gen. 16:7-14 NIV).

    Truth Five: God Inhabits

Our daughter Julia heard demonic voices when we lived in France. For several months, we puzzled over her behavior, thinking she simply had a hard time adjusting to the culture and language. But eventually she broke down and told us she heard awful voices telling her to be disobedient to us and mean to her siblings. At night the voices tormented her, woke her up. We prayed for her. We told her about Jesus, but she couldn’t seem to grasp Him or even reach for Him. A few weeks later, some friends from the States came to watch our kids while we went to a leadership summit in Lisbon, Portugal. We pulled them aside and told them about Julia and the voices. They promised to pray for her and be extra sensitive to her while we were away.

During the conference we received a voice message. Julia’s little voice piped through saying, “Mommy and Daddy? I just want to let you know that I asked Jesus to come into my heart.” I could hear the joy in her voice, but inwardly I feared. Would she still be tormented?

When we came home, I asked her how she was doing: “Are you hearing those voices?”

“Well,” she said. “I do hear a voice, but it tells me to make right choices.”

“That’s the Holy Spirit,” I told her. In the moment she met Jesus, He replaced the demonic voices with His Spirit. He truly lives inside our daughter. A few weeks later, she asked to be baptized in the Mediterranean Sea. The pictures are framed above her bed.

It is a discipline to think astonished. Often we are bewildered by the details of our lives, forgetting about the bigness of the God we serve. He made everything. He is utterly other. Yet He chose to redeem us. He sees us. And if we are His followers, He lives within us. We are simply His followers, dependent on Him for new life. The author of Hebrews summed up our need for astonishment:

“Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29).

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My ingenious mom’s decorations preached a sermon.

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ur family moved from Alabama to southeastern Missouri when I was in my early teens. Daddy’s sister and her family had already been living in Missouri for several years. We lived on their farm in a log house (yes, a real honest-to-goodness log house, complete with a dogtrot between the two large rooms). That fall, I helped to harvest the cotton crop by picking it by hand. I vowed then that if I ever owned land, there wouldn’t be a stalk of cotton growing on it!

Once the crops were harvested, we moved to a house several miles away, located on one of the main roads through the area. My father found employment at a dry cleaning business in a nearby town.

As fall evolved into winter, we began to think about Christmas and a Christmas tree. Back home in northeast Alabama, we would go out in December and find a cedar tree to cut and bring home. But in that region of Missouri, cedar trees weren’t as common. Buying a tree was out of the question because our family was poor, and a bought Christmas tree would have been a luxury.

Across the flat farmland near where we lived were some woods. I had explored the woods previously, so my mother told me to go back and bring home anything that looked like a Christmas tree. Scouting through the woods, I finally found a small bush shaped somewhat like a Christmas tree, but it only had bare branches. Nevertheless, I took it home . . . and that was when Mother’s ingenuity swung into gear.

Mother stuck the bush in an old syrup bucket filled with rocks to hold the bush upright. Next, she pulled out a box of Christmas-tree trimmings that had made the trip with us from Alabama. Mother set the tree on a living-room table. Around the base of the bush and cascading down the bucket, she placed cotton to simulate snow. Pulling strands of tinsel from the box, Mother wrapped the bare branches. Next, she hung ornaments on the branches. Finally, the tree was topped with a star. We then looked on with amazement at Mother’s creation. The bare bush had been transformed into a beautiful Christmas tree.

I don’t remember much about Christmas that year—our meal or our gifts, although I am certain they were modest. But I will never forget our special Christmas tree.

Word got around the community about our Christmas tree, and people stopped by to see it. Even the local minister came by one day to have a look.

Over the years, we’ve had many Christmas trees—cedars, firs, and artificial trees—but no tree has ever been as memorable as the special one created by my mother’s ingenuity.

Our family seldom attended church. We were not Christians at that time, so we didn’t dwell much on the true meaning of Christmas. However, in recent years, I have thought much about that special tree and a deeper meaning.

The white cotton used for snow represents the invitation of the Lord found in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

The tinsel Mother wrapped around the branches to clothe them with the splendor of Christmas speaks of clothing ourselves with Christ: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27 NIV).

The ornaments Mother hung on the branches remind me of the true adornment of the Christian life: “Let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:4).

The star Mother placed on the tree has special significance. Long before the Savior came into the world, a promise had been given that “there shall come a Star out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17).

That promise was fulfilled centuries later:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. . . .When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:1-2, 9-11).

Wise men still seek Him, worship Him, and bring gifts to Him. And His star still shines in a dark, distressed world to bring the light of God’s salvation to all people and proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

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“There was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

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here I was, minding my own business as a happy 8-year-old. Stretching out on the floor of our living room, I looked up through the fragrant, brightly decorated Christmas tree and relished the fantasy of the season. There were no “visions of sugar plums” dancing in my head, but I was dreaming about the special toys I hoped to find inside the colorfully wrapped boxes.

My Christmas tranquillity was shattered with the news, “Your cousins are coming over for Christmas.” I was shocked into reality check, pondering the consequences of their arrival. Whenever and wherever these juvenile delinquents appeared, someone was going to get hurt and things were going to get broken (that year, one of my prized Christmas gifts!). Thankfully, Mom and Dad had a way of easing the heartache and helping me get past the pain of early “Christmas realities.” I smile about it now, but it wasn’t funny then!

On a harsh night in Bethlehem, a much more serious reality was developing. At the end of a rugged and involuntary road trip, two brave souls made their way through a crowded city. A baby was on the way, and the expectant mother needed a safe, clean
place for the night. After a dangerous and difficult journey of 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were shut out. They were met with the hard reality of “No Vacancy” in the inn.

Unexpected, unpleasant, and even life-threatening situations may come our way in the Christmas season. Although we wish for a perfect Christmas, our lives are filled with real-world struggles. Like Joseph and Mary encountering no room in the inn, we may find ourselves facing other “ins” of Christmas realities.

    Indifference and Intolerance

Caught up in their own struggles and the web of consumerism, people around us may offer a cold shoulder to the biblical message of Christmas. We sorrow for the spiritual apathy and lukewarm attitude in our adult children, siblings, other relatives, coworkers, and neighbors. Sometimes, indifference may even be accompanied with intolerance.

Some who appear indifferent and intolerant may simply be unaware of the basic truths of the Gospel. Pastor James
Kennedy of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church related the story of a young couple who were blessed with their first baby at Christmastime. They had recently accepted Christ and wanted to send a different kind of birth announcement to her agnostic, secular parents who lived across the country. Seeking to incorporate a biblical witness, their telegram stated (in King James English), “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given—Isaiah 9:6.”

The new grandfather was confused about the meaning. He turned to his wife and said, “Well, they had the baby . . . it’s a boy …he weighs 9 pounds and 6 ounces…but why in the world did they call him ‘Isaiah’ ”?

Biblically literate believers may laugh at the story of someone so clueless at Christmas. Remember, however, that all of us were once “alienated and hostile in mind” toward God (Col. 1:21 NASB).

That is why we cannot be deterred or discouraged at the apparent indifference and outright intolerance of others at Christmas. We must keep the narrative alive, telling the story of Jesus Christ, and celebrating the Christian heritage of our holiday celebration. Christmas is prime time “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).

    Inconvenience and Insecurity

With the inconveniences of fatigue, discomfort, and rejection that night in Bethlehem, there was room for insecurity and fear in the hearts of Mary, a teenage mother, and Joseph, the earthly guardian of a helpless infant. God understood the inner thoughts, restlessness, and insecurity in Joseph’s heart and mind and had already spoken to him through an angel in a dream. “Joseph son of David,” the Lord reassured him, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20 NIV).

Mary also had her human frailties. After the angel Gabriel’s appearance and greetings to her, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God’” (Luke 1:29-30 NIV). Scott Harrup reflects upon her possible thoughts and responses:

Did Mary struggle to see God’s hand when she and Joseph were forced to travel at the end of her pregnancy? Did she feel with apprehension the impending pain of birth as they fruitlessly sought accommodations for the night? Did she question the contrast between Bethlehem’s primitive nursery and the eternal Son of God born and placed in its manger? A young girl carried the weight of her maternal mission in the midst of chaos (“Have a Mary Christmas,” Pentecostal Evangel).

In this Christmas season, as always, we do not need to fear bad tidings: a disheartening doctor’s report, a financial downturn, a struggling marriage, trouble with our kids and grandkids. The Bible promises believers, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). The Amplified New Testament reads, “But [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind.”

As young missionaries in Germany, Janice and I approached the Christmas of 1979 filled with anticipation of another beautiful Advent in this land of holiday traditions. Just three days before Christmas, however, our world was turned upside-down. The overseas phone call came at 4:00 a.m. with the stunning news of my mother-in-law’s death in a car accident.

Moving to the living room of that small village apartment, we sought God in prayer. The comfort of His response was, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:1-3 NKJV). God’s power and presence were real in the midst of our insecurity, pain, and loss.

    Insufficiency and Inadequacy

Even though they were chosen by God and responded with consecrated obedience, both Mary and Joseph struggled with feelings of insufficiency and inadequacy. The challenges and struggles of life come our way and we sometimes wonder if we are up to the task, especially when we are tempted to compare ourselves with others.

At Christmas, we can be tempted to indulge in self-doubt as we compare what we perceive to be strengths in others to our own admitted weaknesses. Others have a way of affording the “perfect” Christmas gift; someone else is viewed as the ultimate holiday cook and home decorator. They seem to have it all together while we deem ourselves insufficient and inadequate.

Christians in Corinth were preoccupied with their own accomplishments and comparing one “great” minister to another. The apostle Paul bluntly told them, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant. . . . We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 3:5-6; 4:7 NKJV).

    God’s Answer: Incarnation and Immanuel

Christmas realities—indifference and intolerance, inconvenience and insecurity, insufficiency and inadequacy—threaten to steal our joy, take away our hope, and turn Christmas into a dreadful and trying season. God, however, has proactively answered every one of the holiday “ins.”

God’s answer is an event called the Incarnation, and a Redeemer called Immanuel. The life-changing Christmas reality is, “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us” (John 1:14 NIV). At His miraculous birth, Jesus was named “Immanuel . . . God with us” (Matt. 1:23 NKJV).

God in Christ lived among us! He was not remote and aloof but fully present in all the realities of life. Jesus experienced the pain and pathos of the human condition. With full empathy and understanding of every life situation, He is our sympathetic and faithful High Priest (Heb. 2:16-17; 4:15).

His incarnation includes the promise to indwell all who receive Him and give them everlasting life—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Conversely, “It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:30 NIV). Christ is in us, and we are in Christ!

When Christmas realities come our way, God promises, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7 NIV). As we live out our new life in Christ, “the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress” and “prays for us” (Rom. 8:26 NLT).

You may struggle, even suffer, this Christmas season, but God promises, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18 NIV). This is the ultimate and eternal Christmas reality!

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Traditionally, local churches and denominations have compartmentalized missions, evangelism, and social ministry into programs or activities. However, the reality is that mission is about who the Church is, not just what we do.

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raditionally, local churches and denominations have compartmentalized missions, evangelism, and social ministry into programs or activities. However, the reality is that mission is about who the Church is, not just what we do.

We are talking about the mission of God. Mission was established and is being sustained by God. Why? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB).

Because “God is love” (1 John 4:16), He sent His Son to reconcile lost humanity to Himself. That is His mission of love.

    The Incarnation

Christ’s incarnation was central to God’s mission. Before Christ came, we could not behold God; but Jesus, who was the eternal Word, became flesh and lived among us. As The Message paraphrases John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Jesus lived among people, growing up as a Jew in a Jewish culture. He fleshed out the kingdom of God in love and power for that time and place.

Before returning to the Father, Jesus made it clear that He was sending His Church to continue the mission. He told His disciples, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21 NASB). The Great Commission passages call and clarify how we participate in that mission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18). The Church is sent into the harvest fields around the world, which are ripe and ready (John 4:35).

As God’s sent-ones, we are incarnated into a particular context to live out the kingdom of God. We are invited to participate in the wonder of God’s mission!

    Incarnational Mission

Leonard Sweet says Christians are called to “incarnate the timeless into the timely” (Postmodern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century World). We make “Christ visible in the world as a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s reconciling love and forgiveness” (Inagrace Dietterich, Cultivating Missional Communities).

As Jesus was the Word of truth fleshed out for all to see in His time and place, He is now sending us to “flesh out” the Kingdom for all to see here and now. Whether we are in a context that is pre-Christian (10/40 Window), increasingly Christian (Latin America, parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa), or post-Christian (North America and Europe), we are to flesh out the Kingdom’s righteousness—its love, justice, hospitality, peace, power, and radical hope.

We are incarnated witnesses who have encountered the King and now share the story with others. This requires getting close and abiding with people. Neil Cole explains that incarnational witness means bringing “Christ to people where they live” (Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens). As we share life with others, we reveal Christ as “His feet, His hands, His eyes, and His mouth.”

The Holy Spirit empowers us to be His witnesses. In Jesus’ ministry, signs and wonders followed to confirm that He is the Son of God. The people around Him witnessed the power of the Kingdom. In the Great Commission, Jesus promises His disciples that “these signs” shall follow incarnational mission (Mark 16:17). Pentecost was about mission—the Lord poured out His Spirit on His witnesses to empower them for His harvest. As Jesus commissions His Church to live out His mission in the world today, the Holy Spirit empowers us.

Finally, the Greatest Commandment shapes incarnational mission. “What the mission of the church is called and empowered to incarnate is God’s love in Christ” (Darrell Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness). Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NKJV).

Love drives mission. If we truly love others, we will be moved into passionate action. Because of love, “evangelism,” “missions,” and “social ministry” are all part of God’s mission. Incarnated love results in holistic mission.

    Examples of Incarnational Mission

There are churches and ministries around the world living as incarnated signs and foretastes of the Kingdom. Though the forms and models differ, these groups are all committed to incarnate the Kingdom in their context. Let me highlight three examples in the Church of God.

The Genesis Project.

In the summer of 2012, I visited a Pentecostal Theological Seminary student intern, Casey Hooper, at the Genesis Project in Ogden, Utah, where Matt Roberts serves as pastor. Located in a suburb of Salt Lake City, the congregation describes itself as “raw Christianity and church reimagined.” Their website (www.genesisutah.com) shares how they live incarnationally:

From the lattes we serve, to the songs we sing, to the conversations around a coffee table, the Genesis Project is a life-giving place that is dedicated to sharing our hope with our city. We know the most powerful way to do this is not through a set of rules or “religion” but through real relationships.

I experienced this during my visit, especially how they serve the city. For a week, the people of the Genesis Project stayed in the city’s central park, fed hundreds of hungry people, had worship/evangelistic services, and served the city through projects. For example, I joined Casey to mow a yard and clear an empty lot of trash. The homeless living in the park proudly joined in the projects to serve their city.

In addition to the church ministries (youth, children, life groups, etc.) and social ministries (including food distribution at the Genesis Project Dream Center), they have a café called “Salt Rock Coffee” where they “serve the spiritual and coffee needs of our city in an excellence that will never be compromised.” The Genesis Project is now multiplying as they plant daughter churches in Utah and Colorado.

Tumaini Brooks Children’s Development Center. In Kenya, David and Alice Hinga established this ministry in 1999. Initially, they fed and provided school to 10 children. Today, they feed and educate 532 children. Their goal is to meet the children’s physical needs by serving two hot meals a day, their academic needs by providing school, their spiritual needs by teaching them the Word of God, and their social needs by providing counselors and social workers. Counseling is also provided for the parents.

In the beginning, many of the mothers did not take care of the children because they lived as prostitutes or had other problems. As mothers have given their lives to God at the church (Gitamiyu Praise Center), their lives have changed. This ministry also provides a day care so the mothers can work. The center is growing and multiplying. There are now satellite centers in other neighborhoods.

According to the Hingas, this ministry strengthens the community and gives these children and families hope. You can view their video on YouTube by searching for Tumaini Brooks CDC.

T42. Marc Morris, the Church of God superintendent of North/Southeast Asia and Oceania, is pioneering a missional church-planting initiative called T42 (“teams for two years”). This initiative seeks to develop international teams that will commit two years to work with local leaders to plant a church. The target nations are Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

The first team will go to New Zealand in April 2014 to work with Eugen and Esther Dupu. The Dupus were students at the European Theological Seminary and came to New Zealand a few years ago. Eugen describes their incarnational ministry:

We live outside Oamaru in a rural community where most people are involved in the dairy industry. These people are very intelligent, and over the years some of them have managed to build sustainable and profitable businesses/farms. The Lord put a burden on our hearts for the lost in this community.

In July 2007, a local youth trust employed us as Christian youth workers. We have done chaplaincy in schools, mentored students, served in youth camps, worked with local council and police, led youth events, and taught in various churches.

One thing we have learned by living in a rural community is that when things grow organically, they grow healthier. Planting a church organically is an important aspect to our vision. The desire and vision of how the church should operate is by serving the people holistically within their day-to-day context as opposed to solely inviting them to programs that minister only to the spiritual aspect of their lives. This has involved supporting and understanding the farmers in their day-to-day struggles by being there when needed.

We believe that a team, such as T42, committed to this vision and working together to reach out and spread Christ’s love to this community is like fertilizer for the seeds already sown and those to be sown in the future.

We need more of Christ’s sent-ones to respond to the call to go into the Lord’s harvest and participate in His mission. Therefore, we continue to pray: Lord, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth— in every context and among every people group—as it is in heaven.

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Finding Hope in a Grief-Filled World https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/12/finding-hope-in-a-grief-filled-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=finding-hope-in-a-grief-filled-world https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/12/finding-hope-in-a-grief-filled-world/#respond Mon, 09 Dec 2019 09:00:56 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4702

Our neighborhood is filled with violence, loss, loneliness, betrayal, abuse, neglect, shame, insecurity, fear, anger, pain, and death. In the midst of that darkness, Jesus Christ brought us light.

The post Finding Hope in a Grief-Filled World appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



hen I was in college, a classmate of mine and her boyfriend were carjacked, tortured, and brutally murdered in a case receiving national media coverage. The local news stations reported on every minute detail of the investigation, trials, and re-trials of the five people charged with their deaths.

It seemed impossible to escape the reality of this tragedy, and even now, six years later, this story still receives regular news attention on top of endless groups, posts, tweets, and shares on social media.

In light of the horror this couple endured and the suffering their families experienced, I felt obligated to relive this tragedy. Even though I didn’t know this girl well, I felt connected to her, realizing it could have been me.

At the time of the murders, my world was rapidly expanding. I was a good kid from a good family in a good community. Growing up, I knew I had it better than most, but it wasn’t until college that I became aware of how much injustice is in the world. Honestly, I felt like I owed something to humanity for not having experienced my “fair share” of pain. So, I followed every bit of the story. I avoided homework, neglected my newlywed husband, stayed up late googling the case and meditating on how my classmate must have felt during the last moments of her life.

I became depressed, nervous, uncharacteristically introverted, and terrified of something happening to me or my family. I had nightmares; I became physically ill from imagining all that was done to this young woman. When my husband expressed concern, I defended my psycho- logical masochism by comparing my suffering to hers. It certainly was not healthy, but I felt like I had to go through this in order to be sensitive to others who were hurting. I was wrong.

Following the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, I watched many of my friends—parents and teachers themselves—go through what I did when my classmate died six years earlier. They became consumed with the news stories, imagining their own children and communities experiencing the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut. Having gotten rid of my television the year before and not being one to frequent news websites, I started feeling guilty for not following the story. Early one morning, as I was driving home from the gym—the one place I actually watch the news and had been inundated with coverage from Newtown—a radio DJ reminded me what the Holy Spirit taught me: This was not my burden to bear. The DJ said, “If you really believe that Jesus Christ died for us—if you believe He took all the sin and hurt of humanity on His shoulders, you don’t have to carry it too.”

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not advocating avoidance or escapism. We may anticipate a heavenly home, but God put us here and now in a painfully broken world in desperate need of a Savior. The good news is that our Savior already came.

The Creator of the universe chose to put on human flesh and dwell among us. He “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 TM), and it wasn’t a pretty place. Our neighborhood is filled with violence, loss, loneliness, betrayal, abuse, neglect, shame, insecurity, fear, anger, pain, and death. In the midst of that darkness, Jesus Christ brought us light. He was born, lived, died, and rose again, and in so doing He brought healing, hope, and redemption.

If you are grieving right now, in no way do I wish to belittle or disregard your pain. You are an emotional creature because God wanted you to experience emotion. There are times you relish in contentment and joy, and there are times you must deal with grief.

Amid your grief, Jesus offers beauty in place of ashes, joy to replace mourning, and “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isa. 61:3 NIV). Put your hope in Him.

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Breaking Financial Strongholds https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/07/breaking-financial-strongholds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-financial-strongholds https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/07/breaking-financial-strongholds/#respond Thu, 04 Jul 2019 08:00:55 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4673

“Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38).

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hy do so many Christians handle their money and possessions so poorly?

The Word teaches the borrower is servant to the lender (Prov. 22:7) and we should not become slaves of men (1 Cor. 7:23), yet many Christians are buried in debt and enslaved.

Christian counselors identify debt as a major problem in marriages. Many Christians pay homage to the credit-card god and are unable to honor the God of the universe with worship in giving.

Here are two ways our world is having an unhealthy impact on Christians and finances:

      1. Lustful hoarding affecting giving to complete the Great Commission
      2. Christ-less spending and incurring of unhealthy debt

Why is our society so materialistic? Dallas Willard said, “There is a tendency with all material possessions to obscure the needs they cannot satisfy. A full hand helps us forget an empty heart.”

The world needs Jesus Christ, but takes Satan’s bait and turns toward their lust for possessions. When Christians lust for possessions and fail to fund the Great Commission, it has to be because our relationship with Jesus Christ is lacking.

Around the end of the 19th century, a tourist visited the home of the famous Polish rabbi Hafez Hayyim. He was astonished to see only a simple room filled with books, a table, and a bench.

“Rabbi, where is your furniture?” asked the tourist.

“Where is yours?” replied Hafez.

“Mine? But I’m only a visitor here.”

“So am I,” said the rabbi.

Christians are not designed for this world; we are made for eternity. As strangers and pilgrims here, we should “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11) and not “set [our] mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:19-20 NKJV). Yet, the way many Christians live in relationship to possessions and finances makes it appear they have been designed for this world and not the world to come!

The insidious pull of culture—through television, movies, and advertising—influences our view of success and possessions. The culture is secular, and thus operates in sharp contrast to God’s financial principles. That should not surprise us. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isa. 55:8 NASB).

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Paul told the Corinthian Church:

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion (2 Cor. 9:10-11 NIV).

Consider how these following statistics fly in the face of those scriptures:

    • 17 percent of Christians say they tithe, while only 3 percent do, reported Barna Research. (No surprise that a thief might also lie!)
    • 37 percent of those attending evangelical churches give nothing to their church (Barna).
    • Giving by Christians is comparatively lower (2.5% of income) than that given in the Great Depression (emptytomb.org).
    • When people who regularly attend Christian church services were asked to describe the importance of various spiritual endeavors, a minority described evangelism and giving 10 percent or more of their income to their church as “important” (Barna).
    • If all Christians went on welfare and tithed, money available to ministry would increase 30 percent.

There is only one conclusion to be reached: Christians are handling their finances and wealth immaturely. Obviously, most do not believe Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (NIV).

These statistics are especially sad in light of two significant trends:

    1. The accumulation of wealth by Evangelicals and Pentecostals in America is reaching levels never before seen.
    2. Opportunities for the church to grow are greater than ever before.

A couple in North Carolina had a lot of credit-card debt, but after they became Christians and attended a money-management class at the local Church of God, they worked hard to eliminate their credit-card debt. As their son advanced in school, he made very good grades. It became obvious he needed a personal computer to continue doing well in school.

The parents discussed how they were going to get a computer for their son. They considered using a credit card, but did not feel good about it. The husband, “Jim,” told his wife they should pray for God to provide a computer. She told her husband that since they were tithers and generous toward God and others, she felt they could go boldly to God.

During the third week of praying, a knock came at the front door. A man from the church was standing there with a huge box in his arms. He said, “I know your boy does really well in school, and I just won this computer in a drawing. I already have a computer, and I thought your boy might want this one. Does he need a computer?”

Jim said he stood there with his mouth open for a few moments, unable to say anything. As he tells this story, he says he wonders why he stood there speechless since this was exactly what he had been asking God to do.

Finally, the neighbor said, “I am not asking you to buy it; I am giving it to you.”

With a smile on his face and a tear in his eye, Jim said, “Oh yes, our son needs a computer. Would you mind coming inside and help us praise God for this miracle that has just happened?”

You will never convince Jim that if he had used his credit card instead of praying, the computer would have shown up at the door. You will never convince his wife that their generosity toward God and others was not a factor in that answer to prayer.

When people are stingy toward God, they have a spiritual problem. They may have heard a lot of teaching and preaching on what the Bible says about money and possessions, but they do not change. The right attitude about finances requires a transformation of the heart.

If you suspect you might not be generous, ask yourself seven questions:

    1. Do you give 10 percent or more of your income to God?
    2. Do you regularly give to help those who are impoverished?
    3. Do you ever wonder if you are giving enough?
    4. Have you ever thought about selling something you own so you can give more to missions?
    5. Do you ever tell other people how much joy you get from giving?
    6. When the pastor preaches on money and possessions, do you enjoy hearing the message?
    7. Are you decreasing your indebtedness?

If you answer “no” to most of these questions, you need to change. It is easy to tell you to start being generous to God. It is also easy to tell you how possessions and money are temporary and you should invest in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, you have heard those things in the past.

Consider Joshua 5:13-15:

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him. . . . Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (NIV).

What do we learn from that passage? First, Joshua worshiped. Second, he asked the Lord, “What do I need to hear from You?” Third, as soon as Joshua was told what to do, he did it.

Worship. Ask. Listen. Do.

Try looking at financial matters as God does. The Bible will guide you.

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"Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (1 Cor. 10:24 NRSV).

The post A Cup or a Crown? appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



here was trouble in the camp! Salome, mother of James and John, was attempting to influence the King on behalf of her sons.

“Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom” (Matt. 20:21 NKJV).

She was requesting preferential treatment among the Twelve. She was looking for a crown; instead, Jesus offered a cup: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (v. 22 NKJV).

James and John said, “We are able” (v. 22), probably not realizing Jesus was talking about a cup of suffering (v. 23).

When the other disciples heard about Salome’s request, “they were greatly displeased with the two brothers” (v. 24 NKJV).

With the coals of ambition and jealousy being stirred—stoking fleshly desires for power, prominence, privilege, and position—Jesus gave them a principle that was foreign to the first-century world in which they lived.

“Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave” (vv. 26-27 NKJV).

Jesus was giving a command for unity, not just for the Twelve but for everyone in His kingdom. Stop clawing at each other like crabs in boiling water. That is the way of the world. The way of the Kingdom is not based on power, but sacrifice; not position, but servanthood; not privilege, but service; not prominence, but submissiveness.

Jesus did not come to establish an earthly throne; He had stepped down from a heavenly one. He did not come to be served by slaves, but to serve and “give his life a ransom for many” (v. 28).

The contemporary corporate world functions on survival of the fittest. This attitude of self-building, turf-ruling, and influence-grabbing has no place in the Church or in the life of a Christian. As believers, we move to a different drumbeat—a biblical worldview of preferring one another.

“Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (1 Cor. 10:24 NRSV).

“Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Rom. 12:16 NKJV).

When the church meal is ready and grace has been prayed, do the church leaders assume a place at the head of line . . . or step aside and wait to be sure everyone is served and there are adequate provisions for all?

When there is an election for office in the church and the voting results report a tie between you and a fellow believer, do you dig in your heels and demand another vote . . . or withdraw your name and affirm your brother or sister?

Do you find yourself grasping for position and power, longing to move up the ladder by any means possible . . . or celebrate the position in the Kingdom where you have been placed to serve? Are you seeking a crown . . . or Christ’s cup?

Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16 NKJV).

For many years, I have worked with local churches, organizing their greeters and ushers—whom I prefer to call “gatekeepers.” Many people want to be on the platform, but no minister in the church is more important than a faithful usher. You may only briefly see these servants; however, their many duties will keep a pastor at peace, keep a service in order, and make a lasting impression on newcomers. Rarely acknowledged or celebrated, they serve in a vital ministry of the church.

In Acts 6, the apostles were becoming overwhelmed with the mundane tasks of maintaining daily care of needy Christians. The essential duties of mentoring, discipleship, teaching, and preaching were in danger of being neglected.

The decision? Seven spiritual men were chosen to take care of the daily menial tasks. These were not platform assignments; they were assigned servant duties. The results? “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (v.7 NASB).

The cup of one of those deacons, Stephen, led to martyrdom. His crown would be received later.

A dear friend of our family is a celebrated minister, a renowned teacher, conference speaker, and prominent staff member at the Azalea Garden Church of God in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The pulpit and the platform are familiar venues for Gloria, and with her take-charge personality, she leads with ease.

However, on this occasion she was inconspicuous, unnoticed by most of the attendants; even those she was serving were at first unaware of her presence. Our family was standing at the front of the sanctuary, receiving over 700 friends who came to offer support and comfort at the memorial service for our granddaughter. Sitting close by, for over an hour, Gloria kept us supplied with tissues and mints. With that same quality of ease and grace she displayed in the pulpit, she repeatedly collected the used, dirty tissues and provided new and clean ones.

No one had asked Gloria to do this. It was not expected. She simply saw a need and filled it. An unexpected irritation was removed because of her simple servanthood. She did not participate in the service, nor did she assume a place of leadership. This servant leader chose a cup, not a crown.

Could it be that the size of your eternal crown will be based on the depth of your cup? The apostle Paul said it this way in Philippians 2:3-8:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (NIV)

In the earlier scene with Salome and her two sons, as Jesus looked at His disciples, I can only imagine how He may have choked back His emotions. He knew what lay ahead for these two brothers. James would be the first of the Twelve to die as a martyr. John would be the last to die and would leave a revelation of the future.

Look for opportunities to serve. Don’t forget—someone else built the platform on which you are standing!

Prefer one another; give in. You do not have to win every race, but you must finish well.

Seek a cup, not a crown.

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Granny Nanny https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/07/granny-nanny/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=granny-nanny https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/07/granny-nanny/#respond Tue, 02 Jul 2019 08:00:00 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4664

The benefits of multigenerational living outweigh the burdens.

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or one year, my wife and I are living 2,700 miles apart.

She lives in a one-bedroom apartment in San Mateo, California—south of San Francisco. Each weekday she walks two blocks to the home of our middle son and his wife, where she cares for their 9-month-old son.

“Granny nanny” is what they call this phenomenon. Once maternity and paternity leaves expire, grandparents across the country are moving close to their adult children, maybe into their homes, to provide child care so both parents can pursue their careers.

A six-hour plane ride away, I am back in our Manhattan apartment, where our youngest son, age 23, is living at home until he lands a job in the worst job-finding environment since the Great Depression.

Our oldest son, meanwhile, is adapting his country house to become a multigenerational household next year, when my wife returns east. I have already had a taste of caring for their 8-month-old daughter, and it is wonderful.

It seems we have joined a growing trend toward sharing living space: three generations (grandparents, parents, and children) or two generations (parents and adult children).

Once common in America, and still common in most of the world, multigenerational households fell out of favor in the years after World War II. Prosperity made it unnecessary on financial grounds, and new suburbs catered to “nuclear families,” not extended families.

The financial picture has changed, as more young adults marry later and find it difficult to get launched in careers, and as older adults live longer on reduced retirement incomes.

Child-rearing is changing, too. Soaring costs for housing and education make two incomes necessary. Daycare can be expensive, often canceling out one partner’s paycheck, and difficult to find, such as the one-year waiting list that required my wife’s temporary move.

This rediscovery of the multigenerational household is not exactly new. Pew Research reported in 2010, “Since bottoming out around 1980, the multigenerational family household has mounted a comeback.”

What I see is that, in addition to hardship factors like job losses, many families are choosing the multigenerational household for social and personal benefits. They want a child reared by family, for example, rather than daycare and after-school care. They want grand- parents around to share the load of home duties, such as cooking and property maintenance, while young parents pursue careers. They want to provide an alternative to nursing homes when late-in-life aging kicks in.

Years before our children were married or siring, my wife and I built the “house of our dreams” in Durham, North Carolina, with multigenerational living in mind: a master bedroom suite on the first floor, bedrooms and a living room on the second floor, multiple options for entertainment and home-office space.

We were not alone. On our four-house cul-de-sac, a young couple was caring for her parents, one with Alzheimer’s, and an older couple bought a house for their adult daughter to share with them.

Immigrant families, meanwhile, are maintaining the multigenerational expectation they brought with them, Pew reports.

Based on my experience thus far, multigenerational living requires patience—never my strong suit—and clear boundaries in parenting and in space. It helps to have enough rooms to escape each other.

As early Christians discovered in their bold experiment in communal living, multigenerational living requires putting the other first, not oneself; approaching decisions with humility; an attitude of gratitude; and paying special attention to the vulnerable. These, of course, are countercultural values, but God is in them.

The good news? The benefits far outweigh the burdens. No one has to do it all. Young
children are surrounded by love. So are we all.

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When the unfamiliar enters your family

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hen Eva first began middle school, she ran to the pickup zone clutching a wrinkled envelope in her hand. She opened the car door, threw in her backpack, and plopped in her seat, announcing as she buckled in, “Mom! I’ve been invited to Stephanie’s sleepover!” Her face was alight with joy as she thrust the invitation at me.

“Who’s Stephanie?” I asked as I pulled out the card and read the contents. I’d never heard of her.

“Oh, she’s a girl in my third-period class. She’s cool!”

No help there. And no real help as I read the invitation. I didn’t recognize the last name or the address or even the handwriting. Ugh.

“Can I go?” It was the obvious next question. I didn’t want to answer it. Actually, I didn’t know the answer. I had to think. And research. And talk to my husband, Evan.

“We’ll see.” A mom’s automatic response to all things unknown.

I hadn’t even begun to adjust to Eva being in middle school. The first day of orientation she’d floored me by carrying down every doll and every piece of doll paraphernalia she owned from her upstairs room and placing it in a heap by our backdoor, announcing, “I don’t need this stuff anymore.”

What? The Cabbage Patch Doll I’d carefully selected and then Eva had “adopted” on her sixth Christmas? The little cradle that went with it? The high chair? “Well, you never know, Eva. You might want them for your children.” Right.

“I’m done with them, Mom,” she said.

Should have been a clear enough clue for the day a few weeks later when Stephanie suddenly became my daughter’s newest interest.

Not only was I not ready for Eva to leave her childhood behind, I wasn’t ready for her to spread her wings out of our tight and happy neighborhood into other subdivisions. Middle school opened access to families who lived farther north, east, west, and south of us. People I didn’t know living on streets I didn’t drive through on my normal errands.

I decided to call Stephanie’s mother and “interview” her to see if I thought it would be appropriate for Eva to attend the sleepover. When the phone picked up, there was a very young voice on the other end, too young to even be Stephanie, I thought. “Oh my mom’s asleep,” the little sister replied.

At 4:30 on a school day? She must be on drugs, I decided. Or sells them. No way was Eva going. (Yes, of course I realize now that I was assuming Stephanie’s mom was like my mom had been. That Eva would go to Stephanie’s and smoke cigarettes and do all kinds of naughty things while Stephanie’s mom was “out of it.”)

Evan thought differently. He thought I was making way too much of things. “Besides,” he reminded me, “you’ll be out of town that weekend. I’ll take care of it.”

My throat clenched. Oh yeah, I was speaking that weekend. If I was out of town, I wouldn’t even be able to drive Eva to and from—and to check things out for myself.

As I prepped for the speaking engagement, I loaded up my makeup bag. I’d been so distracted by Eva’s ordeal that I’d not spent much time preparing my talks. I figured I’d make up for any possible lack of depth by looking good. A song was going through my head, “He who began
a good work in you . . .” I hummed along. Then the song went from the back of my mind to the front of my mind as it finished the words of Philippians 1:6, “he’ll be faithful to complete it in Eva.”

God was the One who began the good work in Eva, and He would be the One to complete the good work in Eva. While it made good sense that I would worry over Stephanie’s slumber party and whether or not Eva should set foot in her house, my worrying over it would do nothing but distract me from trusting Him.

Eva went to the sleepover. She didn’t smoke. She didn’t end up caring about Stephanie all that much. Now I know that while my concerns had merit—mothers very much need to know where their daughters are going and what they are doing there—mine were rooted in fear. Fear of things I didn’t know, didn’t like, didn’t understand, didn’t comprehend how God could use.

Oh, how much I had to learn on this topic! And mercy, how much our children have to teach us! Way back at the baby shower that my friend, Cindy, gave me for Eva, she shared the words that our children can either be our trophies—sitting on the mantelpieces of our lives and proclaiming how very effective and successful we are as their parents—or they can become our teachers, instructing us about our world, our families, and ourselves.

My friend Amy returns from a holy meeting with her adult daughter, a daughter she has strained to know and understand over the years. Amy whispers a prayer in my presence, “Oh Lord, teach me about my daughter who is so different from me. Help me to learn from her and to love her the way she needs me to love her.” I sit back in my chair and receive her words into my own mother-child relationships.

We do life so differently. All of us. As we yield to God completing His good work in us. Young and old. This generation and the one above it and the one below it and the one below that. Each generation chooses its own language of value—and rebellion. Each of us considers our view the “right” view, even the “biblical” perspective, and then we urge others to adopt our view as their own. When they don’t, we scratch our heads in surprise. Or throw darts of judgment in frustration.

I remember sitting on the soft couch in a counselor’s office worrying about my grandson, Marcus. He’d been at our house the night before and, in a moment, I found him squatting on the floor, working his fingers. His thinking was visible as he silently gestured: one, two, three, four, five—and then on to the next hand: six, seven—clearly counting. With his face all crinkled, he looked up, “Yia Yia, how many grandparents do I have?”

“Eight.” We reviewed them together. Then I added my triumphal, “But you only have one BeePeez and one Yia Yia.” To which he smiled, nodded, and agreed. Oh how I love those tie-it-up-in-a-bow moments!

But I worried. I asked my counselor, “How will he sort through all the relationships in his life?”

She replied, “Elisa, this is Marcus’ story. It’s his story that is shaping him. Just as your story has shaped you.”

Diversity births from the unexpected—both tragic and delightful. Each generation—from builders to boomers, and then from boomers to busters to Xers to millennials and on to edgers (or whatever they end up being called)—births a new version of people on this planet. Along with the people come the choices they make: Divorce. Adoption. Disability. Addiction. Fame. Genius. Beauty. Diversity results when we recognize—and learn to welcome—what is unfamiliar into the family.

Brenda didn’t expect to raise a special-needs child. But when her son, Zach, was accidentally dropped on his head and sustained a traumatic brain injury, Brenda opened her arms to a world she never imagined.

Marilyn never dreamed she’d become a widow at age 50. But when her husband died from pancreatic cancer, Marilyn joined the ranks of a “club” she never wanted to join.

At 60-something, Myra learned that her son and his wife would be divorcing after nearly two decades of marriage. She couldn’t imagine her large family enduring the fracture, much less moving through and beyond it. The holidays loomed and she prayed over how to prepare. It seemed her usual, wide-armed, and lavish love would fall in the empty places left by the choices of those around her. Now she struggled over just who to invite to the table. Of course her son. But her former daughter-in-law? His new girlfriend? What a mess!

In church one Sunday, she bowed her head and her heart and felt God leading as she sensed Him saying, Extend your table.

The result was questionable, but her action was obedient. “You’re always on solid ground when you obey—regardless of the outcome,” Myra tells me.

Such differences—such variety, such diversity—threads through the tapestry of our families and, for that matter, through our entire globe, creating dimension, depth, and an extravagant expression of the God who weaves. We are wise to learn to embrace and even enjoy the multifaceted reality about us. As Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf prophesies, “It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference.”

Our concept of a life lived for God can—in the end—be oh so different from His. Our God is, Himself, diverse and He embraces a diverse people. He speaks all languages. He glories Himself through myriad styles of music. He dwells in every country. Every life is special to Him. Things we have no room for, He not only embraces but redeems because He can see in, through, and in spite of.

In some ways my children—in their diverse lives—will always be outside of my comfort zone. But that doesn’t mean they are outside of God’s economy. Brennan Manning writes, “While we love someone for what we find in him or her . . . Jesus loves men and women not for what He finds in them, but for what He finds in Himself.”

God promises to complete the good work He began in each man and woman He creates.

Read those last two paragraphs again if you need to. I did.

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We must give prayer coverage that lasts and leave examples that teach long after we are gone.

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ecember 2007 was a difficult time for my family. My sisters and I knew our beloved mother was soon to be leaving for her eternal home in heaven; yet an almost tangible peace filled her hospital room.

The doctors and hospital staff often commented on the peacefulness and the obvious love we had for each other even in this valley of great sorrow. One of Mother’s physicians was also an instructor at the medical center. He later asked permission to write about “the supernatural atmosphere of the peace” that he felt while in her room so he could discuss it with his medical students.

    Have a Christ-Centered Mind-set

I am the middle daughter of three girls. We are a close family, and the tie that has always kept us together is our common love for God and His Word. Our parents raised us to love the Lord, our family, and our church. We were instructed to always look to the Lord for whatever we faced, because He was the answer to every question life presents.

As Mother was leaving this life, my sisters and I were alone in the room with her. We each expressed our love, and she in turn did the same. I leaned in close and told my sweet mother she was a wonderful example of the “Proverbs 31 woman.” I said she had nothing to fear in leaving us, for she had “clothed with scarlet”—the scarlet blood of the Lamb—“all her household” (v. 21).

I reminded her that she had been the first to introduce us to Jesus. The God she had served so beautifully before us was also our God! I told her we were there to praise God with her as she entered His presence.

What a blessing it was to see her leave in peace and joy, knowing her work here was complete and that an eternal reunion day would be ours to gain!

Our mother wasn’t a teacher or preacher. . . not behind a pulpit or podium, anyway. She led by example in word and deed. She was always supportive of us following God’s will for our lives even if it didn’t seem logical at the time. Her mind-set is reflected in Mary’s words about Jesus in John 2:5: “Whatever He says to you, do it!” (NKJV).

    Keep the Future in Focus

We as Christian parents must lead by word and deed. We must set an example—a clear path—for our children to walk. When we miss the mark, we must be ready to admit it and quickly get back on course, knowing our children will be ever mindful and watchful of our choices and behavior. The adage “Do as I say, not as I do” is just a waste of words!

There are examples throughout the Scripture of parents who got it right . . . others who missed the mark . . . and some who did both. Consider Hezekiah, a king who “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3 NKJV). He trusted in God so much that there was not a king of Judah like him before or after his reign (vv. 5-6). However, at the end of his life, he seemed to lose sight and concern for the future of his posterity. When Isaiah prophesied tragedies concerning his possessions and family (20:17-18), Hezekiah responded, “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good. . . . Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (v. 19 NIV).

Sadly, Hezekiah’s response implied he could willingly accept the prophecy as long as the tragedies did not occur in his lifetime.

If the Lord delays His return, we should be mindful as parents of our children and their future after our departure. We must give prayer coverage that lasts, examples that teach long after we are gone, and words of wisdom for them to live by when we are here only in their memories.

Jacob, unlike Hezekiah in many ways, missed the mark multiple times in his life.

However, in the end, Jacob had learned the value of what really mattered. Hebrews 11:21 records, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (NKJV). His desire was to leave a righteous heritage for his lineage.

    Lead a Consistent Life

As parents and grandparents in our ever-changing world, consistency in our walk is imperative! If we do stumble in our relationship with Christ, we must quickly demonstrate a willingness to repent and return to a right standing with God. We must be consistent in times of joy and
in times of sorrow. We must show our children—regardless of their ages—that our redeemed nature will come through at our place of “pressing” as much as it does when we are in our place of “blessing”! This shines a clear light of truth on the path of life that can quickly become darkened by circumstances we face.

Speaking at our dad’s funeral in 2002, I used Psalm 1, for our father was truly “like a tree planted by the rivers of water” (v. 3). He had faced many challenges in life and had suffered physically in his final years, but his faith was consistent. In the last years of his life, Daddy was confined to a wheelchair, but his spiritual “walk” with Christ remained steady.

The Book of Psalms begins by describing a life that is built on a firm foundation in God, and it concludes with the shout, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (150:6 NKJV).

Between Psalm 1 and Psalm 150, every type of emotion is recorded . . . songs of victory and songs of battles lost are penned . . . sorrows are expressed and joyful anthems are sung and shouted in triumph! Life is like the Book of Psalms. And, just like the Psalms, we must start our children out on a firm foundation in God. We must teach them consistency and demonstrate it before them. In the end, their final declaration will be that of Psalm 150—triumphant praise to God!

    Keep Looking to the Lord

We can teach our children many powerful truths from God’s Word that will bring them joy, contentment, and certainty in these perilous times. Among them, one simple message preached by John the Baptist—who also lived in troubled times awaiting the coming Messiah—is, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Every lesson we teach and every example we demonstrate must instruct our children “Behold the Lamb of God!” Anything less is insufficient, for Jesus is the answer.

As children and young adults, my sisters and I were instructed to always look to the Lord for whatever we faced, because He was the answer to every question life presented. Behold the Lamb of God! He takes away sin and wins the battles that sin causes; He moves mountains and brings victory to impossible situations. His sufficient grace is always available and always amazing!

Let us live daily “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). In doing so, we will keep the path clearly marked and the light shining brightly for those following in our steps, both now and in the days ahead. We will teach our children how to love, how to live, and how to leave this world victoriously.

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Remembering What Really Matters

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worked for two years on our new addition: a 500-square-foot sunken living room with a foyer and a half bath.

After two years of hard work, smashed fingers, lots of cuts and scrapes, and a nasty fall, I was finally ready for the carpet. The color was up to my wife, since I’m still trying to understand why pink and red don’t go together. When I get my two youngest daughters dressed for church, my wife usually has to redress them for proper color coordination.

My wife had this wonderful dream of a living room where everything was always perfect when company dropped by. Forgetting that we have children, she chose a nice, off-white carpet. When I questioned her color choice, she said, “It will be all right. We won’t allow the children to take food into that room.”

I started to tell her I had also heard a good joke, but I held my tongue, and the carpet installer came a few days later. I have to admit the carpet was beautiful; it made the room look elegant. If only we could have afforded furniture!

Our children were happy in this new room with its great expanse. They would endlessly roll and play on the carpet. Then, one day when I came home from work, 2-year-old Elliana and 3-year-old Heather met me at the door. One held a blue marker; the other, a red one.

“Daddy! Daddy!” Heather said excitedly. “Come see the picture we made!”

They slipped their hands into mine, and we walked into the house. As I stepped into the foyer, Heather pointed at the new room and said, “Didn’t we do good?”

The new white carpet now had the biggest blue-and-red smiley face I had ever seen …or at least what was supposed to be a smiley face. The drawing stretched about 10 feet in diameter, reaching across most of the room.

I know I should have looked at my two smiling angels and said, “What a nice smiley you have drawn! My, you definitely have art careers ahead of you!” Instead, what came out was more like a strangled scream.

My wife quickly appeared to see what caused my consternation, and she gasped. She looked like she was about to cry.

After conspicuously confiscating the offending markers and making sure all others were out of reach, I got some carpet cleaner and some old towels and started scrubbing. I grumbled audibly as I worked for four or five hours that evening, even skipping dinner. My wife suggested renting a steam cleaner.

“Why would I need to do that?” I grumbled. “I’m already a steamed cleaner!”

At bedtime, Heather and Elliana approached me cautiously, a book in hand. Our nightly routine was for me to read them a story, coach them on brushing their teeth, help them say their prayers, and tuck them into bed. But this night, as I was finishing up the carpet cleaning, I gruffly told them they would have to skip a story.

Seeing how upset I was, they did not argue. By the time their teeth were brushed, the carpet showed only the faintest outline of a smiley face.

As Heather prayed, she said, “. . . and help Daddy not be mad and still love us.”

Suddenly I felt like a heel, and the colored carpet paled in significance with what really mattered.

“Sweetheart,” I said to Heather, “your daddy will always love you.”

“No matter what?” she said as tears glistened her eyes.

“No matter what,” I answered.

As my two little girls sniffled softly, I pulled them onto my lap. I figured they needed a hug. I know I did.

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A lot of single people who consider themselves Christians believe they can just put off “the God thing” until they’re older.

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n our culture, everybody knows about “the one.”

Romantic comedies, “successful” celebrity relationships, online dating sites, even most of our friends, are constantly repeating this message: “All you have to do to be genuinely fulfilled is to find ‘the one.’ Once you do, everything will be rainbows and hearts and flowers and love songs from then on.”

So even as Christians, we spend a lot of time before marriage searching for that one perfect soul mate. We even reinforce our quest with Scripture. You’re probably familiar with that “seek and you will find” verse. You know, the one in Matthew 7:7-8 where Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (NIV).

You may even have it memorized. If you’re a single follower of Christ still looking for that special someone, maybe you even pray it every day with genuine sincerity: “Jesus, You said I could ask for whatever I want and it will be given to me. You said that if I seek, I’ll find, and that if I ask, I’ll receive. So Lord, this is me asking: Please send me that person who will complete me. You promised. So now You have to do it! Also, thanks. Amen.”

I mean, everybody knows that you can’t truly be happy in this life until you’ve met “the one,” right? If you’re a Christian who’s not yet married, you’ve probably already been seeking that one person who you’re just certain can meet your needs. They’re your future spouse—they just don’t know it yet. And if you’re married, all you want is for the spouse you already have to just step up once and for all and meet all those needs you expected them to. (Why are they so stubborn anyway? Why won’t they just do what you want so you can finally be happy?)

You know the story: Boy meets girl. Boy sees girl is pretty. Boy notices that girl’s hair smells good. Boy’s mind is blown. “She’s the one!”

Of course, girls are much more sophisticated than that. She starts a mass text exchange with all her girlfriends immediately after that first magical date: “OMGosh! So sweet! His eyes are amazing and you can tell he works out!” And what’s the one thing they always say? “We just talked and talked and talked for hours! It felt like we could talk forever!” (Enjoy that while it lasts, ladies.) “He completes me. I just know he’s the one!”

If you’re already married, maybe you’ve prayed that same Bible verse, only slightly modified: “Jesus, You said I could ask for anything I wanted, and that if I asked, I’d receive. I honestly thought this person You sent me was the one. Now I’m not so sure anymore. But I’m asking You: Please change my spouse into the person I know they could be, someone who can complete me. I sure hope You’re listening. Amen.”

Usually, even when you think you’ve found “the one,” it doesn’t take long to question whether he or she really is the one. Things seemed to go well enough at first but then began to unravel. In the long run, finding that special one seems as impossible as panning for gold in the ocean. Why is that? Why does the one never seem to really be the one we were looking for?

I’m convinced there’s a simple reason. While it’s true that you do need to find that “one” to be truly complete, another person can never be “the one.”

Just once I would love to hear somebody say, “I just met someone awesome and godly! We have so much fun together. We have this amazing spiritual bond. You know, I think I might have just met ‘the two!’” Why? Because to really be fulfilled in life, you do have to meet the One.

Here’s the catch: God is your One. Your spouse is your two.

    Your One and Only

Usually, when I address the single people at my church, I have them raise their hands. Then I have them look around and see if there’s anybody else with their hand raised that they might consider a possibility. I really hope that one day—say, 19 or 20 years from now—I start getting graduation announcements from kids at my church named Craig because I helped their parents find each other.

If you’re not married yet, but you hope to be one day, I’d like you to commit to this. I suggest you even write it down and maybe tape it on the mirror in your bath- room or in your car—just someplace you’ll see it every day: “I will seek the One while I prepare for my two.”

If you’re not married and you follow Christ, then, above anything else, you should honor God. You should love Him, seek Him, get to know Him, seek to please Him, and live by His Spirit. You should structure your life so that everything
you do brings glory to God. Don’t seek a spouse. Instead, seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness. When you do that first, according to Matthew 6:33, God will give you everything else you need.

The challenge is that a lot of the single people who consider themselves Christians in our culture today believe they can just put off “the God thing” until they’re older. They figure they’ll have plenty of time to focus on that later in life, convincing themselves that those things don’t really matter much while they’re young.

Single people often seem to think,

One day I’ll get married, and then I’ll get my family in on that whole church thing. But for now, I really just want to have some fun. I’m going to hit a few clubs and try to meet lots of different people. Sure, I might be jumping around from person to person now—and maybe some people might even consider my life sort of shallow or “ungodly” or whatever—but I can always take care of my spiritual business later.

This lifestyle attitude has become quite common, and it’s incredibly dangerous, preventing you from finding the kind of person you truly want to marry.

    Someone Like You

Here’s a very simple principle you can take to the bank: It doesn’t matter what you want; like attracts like. If you hope to have a godly marriage one day, you need to start living a godly life today.

Become the kind of person you would like to marry.

If the kind of person you want is someone who’s had 18 different sex partners, then by all means, go right ahead and be that person yourself. Only remember: If you do the same things everybody else does, your odds of a lasting marriage will be about the same as everybody else’s: 50-50. Your odds of a meaningful marriage will be much less. If you want something different from what everybody else has, then you’re going to have to do something different than what everybody else does.

If you want a spouse who’s sold out to Christ, then you need to devote yourself to Christ. If you want someone who seeks God daily in every area of their life, then you need to start pursuing God daily. If you’re single and you want to be married one day, become the kind of person you would like to marry.

I will seek the One while I prepare for my two.

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Bi-vocational pastors may well be the most important mission force in our world today.

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    We Must Equip Shepherds

ne of the most important gifts Christ left the church is the pastor. Pastors are shepherds and form one of the most vital forces for God and His kingdom in the world today. As the pastor goes, so goes the Church of God.

Today, shepherds are called upon to carry out the mission of God in an age of religious pluralism and materialistic world-views. It is a day when the church and its message are being marginalized. Those coming to Jesus often face opposition from family members and persecution from peers for deciding to follow Christ.

Families are being redefined. People are historically dislocated. It is an age of addiction, and pastors face intense spiritual warfare. For this reason, the Church of God must give priority to affirming, resourcing, training, and caring for its shepherds.

I carry a burden for pastors. The Vital Initiative (vitalinitiative.com) for pastors
of smaller churches was launched through Pastor Michael Nations to say every pastor and every church is vital. Small churches are not failed large churches. God has strategically placed congregations in towns and communities to shine in the darkness. Bi-vocational pastors may well be the most important mission force in our world today.

With 800 million users of Facebook, 40 million Instagrams posted each day, and 140 million users of Twitter sending 340 million tweets each day, I believe social media is one way pastors can be connected and resourced. Faith Matters was launched with the desire to bring matters of faith to the table in a conversational way.

Last summer, the International Executive Committee and I were thrilled to announce the debut of Ministry Source. It is a one-stop website that offers a robust, easy-to-search collection of useful content offering pastors inspiration, training, and continuing education. This site is designed to equip anyone in ministry through live webinars, archived church services, worship music, children’s resources, sermon outlines, and even PowerPoint slides. New content is being added regularly from our network of partners, including exclusive content provided by Lee University’s Division of Adult Learning. Ministry Source is still in beta test, so give us your feedback. The site is free to use, but you must register to access it (MinistrySource.com).

    We Must Employ Social Action

For some time now, I have felt the Church of God corporately needs to regain its prophetic voice. So many issues—including abortion on demand, human trafficking, the exploitation of children, redefining of marriage, religious freedom, poverty, global hunger—call for a word from the Lord and action.

In this regard, I am so proud of Women’s Discipleship. More than $400,000 has been raised for Operation Freedom: Rescuing Servant Children in Haiti. These funds are being used to build a transitional safe house in Port Salut, Haiti, for children rescued from slavery.

World Missions, Men and Women of Action (MWOA), and YWEA are combining their efforts to build a firewall in Africa by establishing seven training centers in Senegal, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zambia, and the Horn of Africa. The strategy includes planting new churches, strengthening existing churches, equipping laity for service, and developing young leaders.

In 2014, MWOA volunteers completed building project number 1,500. They have built and/or remodeled churches, schools, orphanages, clinics, and parsonages in 76 countries and 48 states. We thank God for their tireless efforts.

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inistry: Do we define it by numbers and styles, thinking first of pastors and preachers?

Too many of us clergy find security in allowing our congregation to follow the notion that ministry is for us “big guys.” We allow the church to associate ministry with the pulpit, the songs we sing, and the way we pray so eloquently. In other words, we may be guilty of letting the congregation see our glory, and reject the definition that the Holy Spirit gave John:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 NIV).

Jesus became a clear picture of God’s message in human flesh. Ministry means to portray God’s love in the flesh, revealing His glory. That means I don’t have to be
a clergy “clone.” My ministry is real only when it reveals God’s love and shines His glory on those around me, even if I’m not preaching.

Today, so much of what we define as “ministry” is really entertainment. No lives are changed, no needs are met, and no souls are saved.

On the contrary, I have seen ministry happen in a “Jesus-type” setting. I was in the cab of an 18-wheeler with my friend Jack, who was driving. He explained his burden to take the Lord into today’s troubled society. Tears gave away his heart.

Jack is a minister. Oh, he doesn’t have credentials with any denomination, but I’ve seen him hand out tracts and invite people to church while telling them about Christ’s love. When his neighbor across the street began to become disabled with cancer, Jack was there morning and night to milk the cows and clean up. I’ve watched Jack shovel manure, feed pigs, and lug hay, thereby preaching the Gospel without words.

John 1:14 says Jesus came from the Father with two mighty weapons in His possession: “grace and truth.” If two equalities shine God’s glory instead of our own, they are grace and truth.

Jesus constantly reached out with loving truth. When the religious society spurned certain people, Jesus led them to the throne of grace. By loving them, Christ revolutionized the dark world around Him.

Jack told me, there in the cab of his truck, that he had never won anyone to Christ. For all his witnessing, distributing of tracts, and doing good deeds, he’d never been able to lead anyone to Christ.

At first, I gave him a cliché, “It’s God who grants the increase, Brother.” After a
few moments of silence, though, I began thinking of the times he had encouraged me, his pastor, by praying with me or sharing a testimony that led me to a deeper commitment or more faith.

I turned to my friend and said, “You say you’ve never won someone to Christ, but that isn’t true. All the times you encouraged me as a friend, you were ‘winning’ me to the Lord. I grew from your words, and you led me to a new level of Christ’s lordship in my life.”

As Christians, God gives all of us ministry opportunities—times to reflect God’s glory in our everyday lives. We are dispatched into a dying world with the message of God’s grace and truth. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16 NIV). This is ministry, as defined by God’s Son.

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“Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God,” Nicodemus said (John 3:1-2 NKJV).

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n his account of the life of Jesus, Luke tells that Jesus, when He was “about 30 years of age” (3:23), was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. Immediately following His baptism, Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil” (4:1-2). After His temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit . . . and he taught in their synagogues” (vv. 14-15). Thus, Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee soon after His 30th birthday. Why did He wait so long to get started with the public proclamation of His mission?

    A Logical Answer

One could assume Jesus did not begin His public ministry until He was 30 simply because this was God’s plan for His life (and, no doubt, it was). However, if we look for a logical reason for Jesus delaying the beginning of His public ministry until then, it seems it was because He was a bona fide rabbi. By custom, rabbis were not regarded as mature enough to begin their public ministry until age 30.

This custom was suggested by the law of Moses, which stipulated that priests could not begin their public ministry in full until they were 30 years old (Num. 4:2-3, 22-23, 29-30). In contrast to that rule, Numbers 8:24 says the Levites (who were not priestly descendants of Aaron) could begin their duties at age 25. However, Jewish teachers have interpreted this to mean that between ages 25 and 30 the Levites served as assistants, “and only at age 30 [were] counted as full-fledged members of the work force” (The Jewish Study Bible).

According to the church fathers Origen (AD 185-254) and Jerome (AD 342-420), no Jew was allowed to read the Song of Solomon until attaining 30 years of age. This, too, indicates the Jews regarded 30 as the age at which a devout and learned Jew could arrive at a state of spiritual and moral maturity sufficient to teach and lead others.

    Was Jesus a Rabbi?

Jesus is frequently described by preachers and teachers as an “itinerant preacher.” What does this mean? By strict definition, this means Jesus was a preacher who traveled about from place to place. However, the connotation of itinerant preacher, when applied to Jesus, is often intended to mean He had no education or training for His ministry; and He conducted His ministry of preaching and teaching without any official sanction from the Jewish religious establishment. While Jesus was opposed by many Jewish religious leaders (but not all), the evidence within the Gospels is that He was a bona fide rabbi who taught freely in the synagogues and in the Temple at Jerusalem (John 18:19-20).

Jesus was called “Rabbi,” especially so by His own disciples, and by others. In the Greek of the New Testament, the English word rabbi comes from rabbei (“my master”), from the root word rab (“master”). In the King James Version, only in John’s Gospel is the Greek word rabbei translated “Rabbi” (addressed to John the Baptist and Jesus). However, rabbei, addressed to Jesus, occurs nine times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; but in each of these instances, in the KJV, it is translated “Master.” In the NKJV and NIV, in each of these instances, it is translated (correctly) “Rabbi.” In addition to these texts in the Gospels where Jesus is called “Rabbi,” 44 times in the four Gospels He is called “Master,” with the title Master (Greek: didaskalos) being used as synonymous with the title Rabbi.

    The Role of Bona Fide Rabbis

In Jesus’ time, rabbis were not the official clergy of Judaism. The official clergy, as established by the law of Moses, were the priests, the descendants of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. Their ministry was vitally related to the Temple at Jerusalem, and they were regarded as the official religious teachers and leaders of the Jews.

Among the priests, there were rabbis (notable teachers), and the title Rabboni (“my Great Master”) was ascribed to high priests who were descendants of the renowned priest and teacher Hillel. (Mary Magdalene greeted her resurrected Lord Jesus with the title Rabboni, John 20:16.) However, most rabbis were not priests but lay teachers, noted for their piety, knowledge, and wisdom. While these rabbis were not official clergymen, they were greatly respected by the common people who depended on them for moral direction and judicial decisions (Luke 12:13). These rabbis often had a following, a group of disciples, who were devoted to learning from them. This was the basic pattern of Jesus’ rabbinical ministry, but with some distinctive differences from the usual rabbi-disciple relationship in His time.

To become a bona fide rabbi, there was a generally accepted regimen of education and practical experience a person had to obtain. In Jesus’ time, all Jewish children
were expected to begin their public education in a synagogue school at age 5, and all, both boys and girls, were educated to 10 or 12 years of age. After this, only boys continued with their formal education in the synagogues until they were 20 years of age (considered to be the age of adulthood).

There is much regarding the religious education of adult Jews in Jesus’ time about which we cannot be certain. However, the general pattern for that education seems to have been something like this. If a young man (at 20 years of age) held promise of becoming a religious teacher, and desired to continue his education for that purpose, he would serve an apprenticeship in a synagogue until he was 30. No doubt, Jesus served His apprenticeship in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16), where there were no famous rabbis; while Paul served his apprenticeship in Jerusalem at the feet of the eminent Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; 5:34).

In the opinion of the official religious leaders of the Jews centered at Jerusalem, a rabbi from a synagogue in Galilee would have had almost no intellectual prestige
(John 7:15), compared with a rabbi like Paul who obtained his education and practical training to become a rabbi in Jerusalem from the great Gamaliel. (This was not unlike comparisons made today between ordained ministers with Bible college degrees and those with Ivy League seminary degrees.)

Still, Jesus was an authentic rabbi, certainly in the eyes of the common people in Galilee, and even in the opinion of a good number of the religious leaders of the Jews (John 12:42). Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews,” addressed Jesus as “Rabbi,” saying to Him, “We know that You are a teacher come from God” (3:1-2 NKJV).

To say Jesus was a bona fide rabbi in no way detracts from our belief in Him as the Messiah and Son of God. However, it does help us to understand the religious context in which He conducted His ministry, and the reason why He did not begin His public ministry until age 30.

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Expect a Great Spiritual Outpouring During "Perilous Times."

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o you want the good news or the bad news first?”

You have probably been asked that question a time or two. How do you answer?

When you think about the future in a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams, can you envision any good news . . . or only bad? How can you navigate such a world in a way that honors God, does not fear, and places confidence in Him?

Times are scary. We never thought it could happen. However, with the jailing
of a county clerk in Kentucky for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, Christians in America could go to jail for their faith. Such events provoke thoughts about Christ’s coming.

A discussion of eschatology, or end-time events, can quickly fall into sensationalism. However, there is a growing awareness that the convergence of multiple factors on the world stage could signal events leading to Christ’s return. Much teaching and preaching on the subject has often been geared to speculation and scare tactics not always grounded in sound, Biblical interpretation. God does not want us to be ignorant or fearful. Psalm 33:18-19 says, “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him . . . to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine” (NIV).

    As we contemplate end-time issues, three observations are in order.
1. Whenever someone sets a date for Christ’s return, we know they are wrong.

Jesus said no one knows the day or hour of His coming (Matt. 24:36). It will occur unexpectedly, like “a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10). Many of us remember the book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. It was embarrassing. There have been such failed prognostications throughout history and more recently.

2. Remember that God’s plan for the last days does not revolve around you or me.

It has been suggested that age differences have a lot to do with when we anticipate the Lord’s return. Younger people think it will be a long time before He comes back. Middle-aged people are looking for Him within the next 20 years or so. And older saints feel He could come at any time. The problem is that we expect everything to revolve around our preferences, desires, and comfort.

It is not about us. It is about the fulfillment of God’s plan for the ages. Jesus was born in “the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4:4), and He will return in the Father’s perfect timing. We must be focused on what God is doing, not on what seems best for us.

3. Recall that the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ first coming were unexpected.

Many people missed Jesus’ first coming because they had wrong ideas about how the Messiah would come. If events around His first coming were different than many expected, the same likely will be true of His second coming. However, we know He is coming again.

The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-17 NKJV).

    What should we be doing in light of Christ’s promised return?

Over the years, we have laid out elaborate charts big enough to cover the entire church platform as someone expounded on the precise, chronological order of end-time events. I am not sure it is our job to figure out what the fourth toe on Daniel’s statue represents and require everyone else to interpret it the same way we do. On the other hand, we have lost any sense of urgency about the Lord’s return.

I recall a much greater emphasis on Christ’s return when I was a child. A healthy
dose of such teaching and preaching is needed. In the early church, Christians greeted each other with Maranatha, meaning “the Lord is coming.” A Maranatha mind-set needs to be restored to the Church.

Daniel 12 is clear about the attitude that ought to characterize us as we move into the last days. This prophetic text says we should be living holy (v. 10) and letting our light shine (v. 3). We do not want to be too “works focused,” but neither can we allow the pendulum to swing too far and be duped by false notions of grace. Grace teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13 NKJV).

We have fun at my wife’s expense about her desire to take our little Jack Russel terrier to heaven with her. She jokingly says when the trumpet sounds, she is grabbing Cookie’s leg and taking her along. Sadly, there are many people who believe they will be able to grab onto some things in the final moment, like a faith they never had. Others will want to relinquish some things in that twinkling of an eye . . . but it will be too late then.

As Christians, we should be shining our light brightly to the world around us. When Abraham faced Sodom and Gomorrah, he had a heart for the city. His response was to become an intercessor, begging God to spare the city for the sake of even a few righteous people.

It is questionable how much arguing with people on Facebook about the issues
of our day is going to help. Prayer and authentic, Spirit-empowered witness will make a difference.

    Here is the good news and bad news.

The bad news is that the darkness is going to get darker; times will become worse than ever (Dan. 12:1). The good news is we can “cast off the works of darkness, and . . . put on the armour of light” (Rom. 13:12). The darker the days, the brighter our light will shine as we move closer to the end. “Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever” (Dan. 12:3 NLT).

Scripture describes “perilous times” (2 Tim. 3:1) and “a falling away” (2 Thess. 2:3). The Bible also suggests days of great spiritual outpouring. Which is it? The answer apparently is both. Jesus spoke of weeds and wheat growing up together (Matt. 13:24-30). The fruit of darkness and the fruit of righteousness are likely to ripen at the same time.

There is good news and bad news about the last days. We do not have to fear. God is still on the throne, and He is going to take care of His people. There is a conviction in my soul that as long as I can see His glory, I can make it. No matter what the world does, I want to behold His face.

The world will get worse . . . but the church can get better. God’s people can be renewed for our finest hour. Our family and friends can be saved. That is our strength and great hope.

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Thinking of others first. . . like Jesus did

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inistry occurs when, in the name of Jesus, we reach out to fill a spiritual, emotional, or physical need in someone’s life.

Jesus said He came to earth “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). As Jesus demonstrated in sacrificing Himself at Calvary, ministry is putting other people’s needs above our own, seeking their best, and giving all we have to ensure their needs are satisfied.

For me, ministry has many facets. I often minister when only God and whoever I’m ministering to know about it. It is praying with someone for God’s guidance, for God’s help in finding a job, or for divine healing. It is a phone call, a text message, an email to say someone is missed at church services. Ministry is inviting people to come back to church when I see them around town. It is a visit to a nursing home, a funeral home, a hospital room, or someone’s house to show God’s love.

Ministry also takes the form of time spent preparing a Sunday school, children’s church, or Joy Belles lesson; rehearsing a song; and all those Easter or Christmas play practices with the kids that nobody likes so we can present our best to God and the congregation. Sometimes ministry takes place in the midnight hour when God impresses my heart to pray for someone or when I can’t sleep and I begin to intercede for the sick and lost people associated with our church family.

I minister more frequently to children than to adults. I love children’s ministry because kids are immature, energetic, self-centered yet loving, forgiving, mostly easy to please, and eager to learn. Ministry is being patient and loving with the children when they are active and need discipline and instruction. It is sharing with them the Word of God and insisting they read it for themselves even as I explain each verse. Ministry is teaching children how to pray, how to live pleasing to God, and how to witness to their families and friends.

Ministry is being kind, compassionate, yet firm in instructing them how to respect God, His house, and His people. Ministry is Scripturally showing the children what it means to be saved, why we must be saved, and the rewards of living a saved life. It is explaining to the kids our Church of God heritage and showing them in the Bible why and how we practice Communion, water baptism, and foot washing.

Ministry is Scripturally defining sanctification and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is telling the children about the heaven we can gain and the hell we want to avoid. Ministry is consistently living a godly, Christ-centered life so I bring glory to God. Ministry is even planning trips to Carowinds Amusement Park and Myrtle Beach to show the kids that Christians can have fun.

Ministry can be monetary or it may be a giving of my time or assistance to fill a person’s needs. In Matthew 25:34-46, Jesus says we will be eternally rewarded for ministering to people’s needs or suffer eternally for ignoring their needs.

True ministry is following God’s leading when He speaks to my heart even when I think I don’t have the resources or abilities to do what He is requesting of me. Without fail when I obey God’s leading, I find myself being blessed beyond what I was obedient to give.

Ministry is a daily activity because God is alive in my heart. Daily I pray for God to send opportunities my way so that I can minister in His name. And I pray God will open my spiritual eyes allowing me to see those opportunities.

Ministry is not something that happens only on Sunday or Wednesday or when I’m at church. It is an opportunity I embrace daily. I want to continually share the Gospel—the good news that there is a better way to live, and it is found in Jesus Christ.

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It is not enough to advocate that people study, without emphasizing where and from whom they learn.

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hristians through the ages have not always agreed about the attitude God’s people should have toward education.

On the one hand, proponents of learning quote verses like “If you seek her [wisdom] as silver, and search for her as for hid- den treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:4-5)*; and “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15)— urging believers on the basis of these verses and other similar ones to pursue study and learning.

Conversely, others quote Jesus’ words, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes’” (Luke 10:21); and “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:20)—admonishing those who love God to avoid anything that smacks of intellectualism.

What must we think?

I stand with those who take the position that a man or woman needs both disciplined study and a strong dependence on the revelation that comes from the Holy Spirit. We must embrace the anointing of the Spirit, and we must realize He will anoint what we bring to Him. I think of education and training as the wires along which electricity runs. Wires do not illuminate light bulbs or power appliance motors; electricity does that. But electricity does not arrive without wires on which to travel. Thinking, pondering, studying, knowing, ordering—education—erects the wires on which spiritual truth can be transmitted.

The Bible elevates the importance of the mind that is surrendered to God. Jesus tells us we are to love God with all our mind. He has chosen to reveal Himself in the pages of a book, and to understand that book, we must read and think about what we read. The thinking, when it is anointed by the Spirit, produces a spiritual result. “My heart was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned. Then I spoke with my tongue” (Ps. 39:3).

Education is not an assurance that people will know God. It is possible to be educated in the ways of the world and be a fool in the things pertaining to God. First Corinthians 1:21 declares, “The world through wisdom did not know God.” Who among us has not heard Ph.D.s make foolish and ridiculous statements? No one can defend and recommend education without adding caveats. It is not enough to advocate that people study, without emphasizing where and from whom they learn. All schools are not created equal. It is well known that many colleges and seminaries originally founded upon Christian values have strayed far. They have become environments hostile to faith. The great majority of secular and state schools have taken this direction.

Seek to learn, but do so in the right places. We have decided it is prudent in
the Church of God to concentrate our residential (and distance learning) educational efforts in Lee University and the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, to provide quality instruction founded on a deep commitment to the truths of Scripture. Other quality schools exist that are built on similar foundations.

A college advocacy group advertises, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This is doubly true for a Christian. Education— rightly done—prepares believers to face life and accomplish God’s will. Its aim, in the words of Romans 8:29, is to conform us to the image of the Son. Finally, as Beth Moore teaches, “Satan never wastes a fiery dart on an area covered by armor.”

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Pastor Roberson was not content with simply leading his thriving church; he had to try to help the outcasts of society.

The post Chaplain of Death Row appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



risons are meant to protect society from criminals. They are not a place for renewing one’s spirit. However, they provide fertile ground for ministry.

The Tennessee Main Prison is an imposing gothic structure located in West Nashville overlooking the Cumberland River. From 1898 to 1992, it was the home of the Tennessee State Prison. Like many similar penal institutions of the day, the Main Prison witnessed many riots. It was such a situation that opened the opportunity for Marshall Roberson to go to the Main Prison.

An important institutional function of prison chaplains in the 1950s was to try to bring about peace and tranquility among the prison population through religious services. Often, inmates are angry and feel rejected and neglected by the world. Such deep-seated and pent-up emotion over time begets violence. Prison riots give inmates a forum for expressing their frustration with society. But typically it is a vocal minority that causes prison riots.

In 1955, such a riot took place at the Main Prison. Replacing the previous chaplain was one of the corrective actions taken by Governor Frank Clement. Marshall Roberson accepted the challenge. As he entered the heavy, gray prison doors for the first time, he requested to go into the yard where the inmates congregated for recreation. Upon introducing himself as the new chaplain, one inmate attempting to size up the young preacher asked him, “Are you going to be the administration’s chaplain or the inmates’ chaplain?”

Roberson looked squarely in the eye of the convict and responded boldly, “I am the chaplain of this institution.” He further said that some of the guards needed Christ as much as the inmates. The message got around the yard that the new chaplain was no mouthpiece for the administration.

Each Sunday, Marshall would conduct a service at 2:00 p.m. at the men’s prison and a 4:00 p.m. service at the women’s prison. Counting the two services at his pastorate (Meridian Street Church of God), on most Sundays he would preach four sermons to over 1,000 souls. The pace did not seem to tire him. He was on a mission from God.

When Marshall conducted his first Sunday afternoon service at the prison, few attended. Marshall’s preaching, however, soon piqued the inmates’ attention, as it was full of human-interest stories and humor. He also decided to change the worship music of the services. The stately hymns were replaced with a more contemporary style of gospel music.

Marshall brought along his minister of music, Max Morris, to lead the singing. When Max played the piano, he would jazz up the gospel songs, creating great excitement among the inmates. Max remembers that many inmates gave their hearts to Christ during those services. And an interesting by-product happened in the prison—the riots and violence decreased. Christ can calm not only stormy seas but also prison yards.

Marshall grew quite attached to certain inmates. One such prisoner came to Marshall and confidentially alerted him there was going to be a riot in a particular cellblock on the following day. Marshall informed prison officials. The officials imposed a lockdown on the instigators and prevented the riot.

On another occasion, a trusted inmate came to Marshall and informed him that his wife was going to divorce him. Tearfully, he said if he could only visit his wife on the outside, he believed he could convince her to continue the marriage.

The inmate, serving time for robbery, was due for parole soon. Marshall was compelled by the inmate’s story and moved by the sincerity of his desire to save his marriage. Then, Marshall did something that showed love but little reason. He allowed his compassion to rule his head and agreed to arrange for the inmate to visit his wife one afternoon in East Nashville. The next day, he brought a change of clothes, stowing away the inmate in the back floor of his car under a blanket. He drove past the guard stand with no problem and dropped off the inmate at a local hotel at 11:00 a.m. so he could meet his wife, with instructions for him to return to the drop-off location at 5:00 p.m.

“That day was the longest of my life,” Marshall recollects. “I knew what I did was wrong in the eyes of the law, but my compassion to help my friend save his marriage overwhelmed me. I said to myself, What if he doesn’t show up on time? How will I explain my actions to authorities? I arrived early and exactly at 5:00 the inmate showed up.”

He changed into his inmate uniform and lay in the back floor of Marshall’s car. Marshall reentered the prison, and the inmate melted back into the population without anyone knowing of his marriage-counseling adventure. The marriage survived.

What tempts a man to take such personal risk for someone of dubious background? An act of that magnitude can only be explained through the compassion of a shepherd’s love for one of his flock. Years later when Marshall met this man on the outside, he gave him a high compliment: “Chaplain, your belief in me helped me save my marriage. I shall never forget your kindness.” After the man was paroled shortly, he never again crossed the law. Sometimes all a person needs to turn his life around is for another person to believe in him.

But not all prison experiences turned out this rosy for Marshall. Perhaps the most difficult task of the Main Prison chaplain was to participate in the carrying out of capital punishment by means of the electric chair. Marshall participated in seven such executions. In each of the early dawn executions, Marshall was vividly reminded of a familiar childhood memory—his Uncle Homer’s execution in Georgia for murder. Perhaps this was one reason he had so much compassion for the men as they walked the “Green Mile.”

The final route to the death chamber down the Green Mile was the same for all men. On the eve of the execution, the inmate’s head and legs are shaved to provide good contact points for the electrodes to the inmate’s body. In a last token of comfort, the inmate is allowed to select his final meal. As chaplain, Marshall chose to arrive the night before and be available for counseling, if the inmate desired it. Most did. In these wee hours of the early morn- ing, shortly before their date with destiny, some convicts would open up to Marshall and convey their deepest regrets, and question him about the afterlife. They were resigned to the fact that they were about to pay the ultimate price for their crime.

Marshall had visited Charlie Sullins over the course of several weeks and had developed quite a rapport with him, leading the condemned man to Christ. In Marshall’s mind, Sullins’ conversion was genuine. He approached his death without fear. The final word on their execution came on Sunday, July 31, when Governor Clement, along with Marshall, visited both Harry Kirkendall and Charlie Sullins to inform them, “I have reviewed your court record and find that the sentence was in accordance with the law. Therefore, prepare to meet your God on August 1, 1955.” Sullins was to be executed first, followed by Kirkendall.

On the night before the execution, all Sullins wanted to talk about was eternity—not an uncommon topic for a man facing imminent death. One question he asked seemed to stump Marshall momentarily: “Chaplain, what will I see when I get to heaven?” Marshall quoted the scriptures on heaven and tried to explain the beauty and splendor of this eternal abode where families are united and all things are made new for believers. He said, “Charlie, you will see Christ there.”

Marshall’s description, as inadequate as he thought it was, seemed to bring about
a peace in Sullins’ mind and even anticipation. He then asked Marshall for a favor that no other death-inmate had ever been given: “I know it is not allowed this close to my execution time, but can you arrange for me to see my wife one last time?”

Marshall was touched by the sincerity of the request and immediately went to Warden Bomar and made the request. “Chaplain, we have never granted such a request, but I am going to grant it this time,” replied Bomar.

Marshall then went to the waiting area and summoned Sullins’ wife. He told her that the warden had granted one more visit and for her to remain strong for her husband. When she entered the cell area, they caressed each other through the steel bars. Though separated by cold metal, they still showed the tender and passionate love of a husband and wife. He kissed her and, looking square into her eyes, told her again how sorry he was for the terrible way his life was to end. He promised her that he would see her again one day in heaven.

In accordance with his death wish, Marshall helped officiate at Sullins’ funeral two days later in Wilson County, where the crime was committed. He was able to say to the small crowd of family and friends that Sullins undoubtedly had accepted Christ before his life ended. Without any children, Edna had to bear the reproach of her husband’s crime alone. She lived an additional 52 years alone, never remarrying. Her remains are buried next to Charlie’s at the Wilson County Memorial Gardens.

Marshall Roberson was not content with simply pastoring his thriving church; he had to try to help the outcasts of society. The adage that there are no atheists in foxholes is true in the death cells of convicted inmates. It is the supreme act of love and goodness that God will hear the desperate cries of the hopeless in the moments before death and allow forgiveness. God places individuals in unique circumstances to set the right example and say the appropriate words to fulfill His mission and show His mighty love to all mankind.

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The loaves-and-fishes miracle would not have seemed miraculous without math.

The post My Calling “Counts” appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



s a math professor, intersections appeal to me. On graph paper, two curves meet, and an equilibrium point appears. Thus, resonating within me is Frederick Buechner’s description of calling: “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I envisioned an intersection point—gladness meeting hunger. However, is that enough? When living out a calling in high- er education, what else must intersect?


“Deep gladness” is not always enough. My friend enjoys knitting, but her sweater has
three sleeves. Gifts, abilities, personalities, and strengths vary. Part of faculty calling is teaching.

Whom to teach?

Teacher and student identities intertwine, but we are called to authentic relationships and mentoring. If I “possessed all knowledge . . . but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2 NLT).

How to teach?

Good teaching includes challenging students. Learning is succinct- ly modeled by young Jesus “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

What to teach?

Teaching requires understanding the material. “Knowledge is easy to him who understands” (Prov. 14:6 NKJV).

Why teach?

Teaching requires rationale for learning, connections to life, and awareness that all things, including college classes, “work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

As stewards of gifts, scholarship includes discoveries, authorship, and creative works. Like the parable of the talents, creativity should not be buried, hidden from increase.


Jesus’ parable of the sower describes hard, rocky, thorny, and good soil. My students cite Lee University as “good soil,” contrasting secular schools as “thorny” with sin’s powerful influence and lacking the rich soil of Christian-Pentecostal faith. This emphasizes the influence of college environment.


His boundless love should saturate my graph and be the very ink with which the curves
are drawn. At secular universities, reflecting the gospel is limited; but at Christ-centered universities, a freedom abides, liberating students to consider how their callings fit into God’s story.

After ridicule, Jeremiah attempted silence, but God’s message penetrated his heart “as a burning fire shut up in [his] bones” (20:9). I am thankful for freedom to sprinkle mathematics with the good news.

Thought-provoking questions about math and faith can reveal connections between my academic discipline and the Bible. The loaves-and-fishes miracle would not have seemed miraculous without math.

Leftovers should be small, like remainders in long division. Baskets of surplus are a math miracle!


Being called to faculty has a sense of assignment. A mission field can be a developing-world country, an inner-city slum, or my beautiful brick-covered campus.

Teacher says to a student, “Go light a candle.” He does.

Teacher adds, “Bring more candles, and light them from the first.”

Next, “Has that candle suffered any loss from the fact that other candles have been lit from it?”

This student-professor dynamic is one of sharing gifts, scholarship, and Christian inspiration, and is more complex (in a good way) than an intersection of two curves.
It is a rich and meaningful calling.

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“Have you come to be our mommy and daddy?” a small blonde-haired girl asked me.

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n a rainy day in April 1977, my husband and I, along with our two small children, arrived on the campus of the Church of God Home for Children in Sevierville, Tennessee, to begin our lives as houseparents. In those initial moments, we had no way of knowing that 10 little girls in Cottage 2, ages 5-11, would impact our lives forever.

They were a talkative bunch! After telling us their names, they proceeded to show us their skinned knees and bruises from play. One had a headache; another, a stomachache.

“Have you come to be our mommy and daddy?” a small blonde-haired girl asked.

“We can’t take the place of your parents, but we will love you and take good care of you,” we assured them.

Eleven-year-old Anna spoke up proudly, “I can be your helper. I know how to run the washer and dryer!”

Thank You, God, I thought. We’re going to need a helper! Ten children under age 12!

In the days following, we learned their heartbreaking stories. Two sisters had been abandoned and taken to their aging grandparents, who were unable to care for them. A very thin 8-year old had never know her father; he mother had a debilitating disease and subsequently passed away.

Others had been raped by relatives and/or had parents on drugs and therefore had been taken out of their home. It was tough for them to grasp what love meant, so it was a challenge to win their trust.

Early in our ministry, the resident nurse told me, “Sister Joyce, this is a proving ground.”

It didn’t take long to understand what she was trying to tell us. Each day brought new challenges and much prayer. Sometimes at night, I wept in my bed.

The weeks and months rolled into years, and the task was not easy. But seeing those children learning to trust and accept love, taking pride in themselves and their surroundings, learning how to have a balanced life of work and play, and, more importantly, surrendering their lives to God, made it all worthwhile. Through it all, Anna remained our helper.

The time finally came when we felt our work in Cottage 2 was done, yet we desired to stay connected to the Home for Children in some way. Therefore, when a job came open for a secretary in the Social Services Department, I accepted it, while my husband accepted a job with the Maintenance Department.

In my new position, I was able to have a broader view of the workings of the Home and the opportunity to connect with every child on campus in some way. I often saw the hopelessness in the eyes of a child sitting in the lobby. Other times I could rejoice at a success story. In almost 20 years in that position, I could never become insensitive or uncaring to their stories.

Now I am retired, but I thank God that the vision I had as a 12-year-old girl to someday help needy and hurting children is still intact. When I think of Anna and my own two children, all involved in children’s ministries, I thank Him all over again.

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Teaching Cosmic Possums https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/teaching-cosmic-possums/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teaching-cosmic-possums https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/teaching-cosmic-possums/#respond Wed, 12 Jun 2019 08:00:03 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4592

“That bright little piece of a story or theory might be picked up and sewn into a warm crazy quilt of practical teaching skills.”

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cosmic possum is someone who leaves the Appalachian hills and country life for a more modern lifestyle. This term-coined by Jane Hicks in a 1998 poem—particularly refers to a first-generation college student. While still holding on to the essential values ingrained in native Appalachians—family comes first, every penny counts, and beauty is where you find it-the cosmic possum also understands the life-changing value of knowledge.

I teach cosmic possums at a community college in east Tennessee. Some days, I find the biblical advice “Let not many of you become teachers” (James 3:1 NASB) to be particularly apt. I teach future teachers, and part of my job is to help college students decide whether their heart for children, love of learning, and need for a paying job are enough incentives
to take on the challenges of becoming a teacher. After a semester spent looking closely at the realities of the profession, quite a few decide teaching is not for them and walk away. There have been times when I wish I could, too.

However, teaching is not just what I do; teaching is who I am. God has called me to teach. He has not only gifted me with skills, temperament, and opportunities to teach; He has placed something indescribable in my spirit that continues to pull my heart back to teaching through all the seasons of my life.

A few years ago, a visiting pastor prayed for me in the altar. He told me, “You have this mantle covering you that you’ve worn all your life and you’re so comfortable wearing it! It’s a calling to minister to children-a double portion of your father’s gifting.” And that is as close as I can come to describing it myself.

While my father was not a teacher in a formal classroom, he was involved at church in some form of children’s ministry as early as I can remember. When my little brother was born, I started teaching him, modeling my father’s methods. I’ve always taught. It’s as natural as breathing. Yet, that doesn’t mean it is always easy.

Life in rural Tennessee is difficult. The effects of devastating poverty, poor access to emergency care, high drug use, low levels of education, and high teen-pregnancy rates present real challenges.

Times are tough in Tennessee, but God always enables those He’s called to be light and salt. My personal experiences give credibility to the stories I tell about teaching. I can show my students how concise writing is like working with a tight budget, how creating a great lesson plan is like adapting a coveted recipe, and how synthesizing material to write an essay is like piecing a beautiful quilt.

For me, making a difference means creating possibilities for the next generation right here where I live. I know some of the bits of knowledge I share might end up in the scrap basket. Someday, however, that bright little piece of a story or theory might be picked up and sewn into a warm crazy quilt of practical teaching skills. Confronting poverty, crime, and ignorance is challenging. But God’s calling on my life has proved He’s well able to equip me for it!

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The Rings of the Lord https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/the-rings-of-the-lord/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-rings-of-the-lord https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/the-rings-of-the-lord/#respond Tue, 11 Jun 2019 08:00:22 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4587

Christ calls us to come closer to Him.

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esus had an inner circle. The Bible offers plenty of examples. In fact, He had several circles or rings of relationship around Him.

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to allow her sons to enter one of those rings, He did not deny her request. However, He did ask them an important question: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (Matt. 20:22 NIV). She did not fully comprehend the magnitude of her request, but Jesus certainly did.

Pastor and author J. Oswald Sanders said, “We are as close to God as we choose to be.” God has made it perfectly clear He is vitally interested in being close to every man and woman He has made.

One of my great concerns for the church, however, is that we not only challenge people to grow closer to Jesus, but that we also find ways to help them know when they are doing just that. After all, what would it be like to meet with an athletic coach week after week for years and hear him say again and again, “Win the game!” but he never lets you play? Or you never find out whether you actually are growing and improving as an athlete? But many Christ followers feel exactly that way. Their leaders and the Bible regularly challenge them to grow, yet they remain uncertain about whether they actually are growing.

    The Rings

Consider the rings of relationships that gravitated around Jesus as He walked this planet. I call them the “Rings of the Lord” or the “Circles of Christ.” An overview of the Gospels shows there were at least six identifiable groups around Jesus:

1. The Crowds
2. The Five Thousand
3. The Seventy (or some versions translate this as the Seventy-two)
4. The Twelve
5. The Three
6. The One

Each group represents a circle or ring of relationship to the Lord, six stages or areas in relationship to Jesus Christ. They represent places to which people came and experienced Him.
Each of the six rings of relationship around Jesus was characterized by something important, even developmental, in our relationship to God. Let’s take a quick tour of each.

The Crowds. The outermost ring of association with Jesus and the first one we come to is the Crowds. Crowds started to gather around Jesus early in His ministry. These groups at times probably numbered in the tens of thousands and perhaps more. On one occasion, the Pharisees were so astounded by the Crowds they said, “Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19 NKJV).

Among all the circles of relationship around Jesus, the Crowds were the most impressive in size and yet often the least impressive in soul and substance. The Crowds were the most loosely committed bunch then and still are today. Nonetheless, they represent an important, even precious, place—the place in which all Jesus’ followers begin their journey.

The experience of knowing Christ is more of a lifelong journey than a momentary experience. It is related to not just our position on doctrines but our personal choice in pursuing our relationship with Christ and our proximity to Him.

The Crowds represent those who follow Jesus to the places of watching and listening. They come to watch what Jesus might do and to hear what He has to say. This place requires the least commitment. It was from this ocean of observers, however, that several fish were eventually caught in Christ’s net.

The Five Thousand did more than observe and evaluate Jesus as He touched and helped them. This group followed Him into the desert, desperate not to miss even one of His miraculous works of healing or provision (John 6:1–15).

The Five Thousand represent those who follow Jesus to the places of feeding and healing. They joyfully discovered then, and still do today, that Jesus has many truths to teach and many gifts to offer. Although Jesus willingly and lovingly met so many of their needs and led them to this place, He did not want them to stay there.

The Seventy. Out of the larger groups, this select team rose up to share in Jesus’ ministry. You might say these people left the ring of observation and entered the ring of participation. The Seventy would do the same works they had seen Jesus do.

The Seventy represent those who follow Jesus to the places of working and serving. To this day, many followers of Jesus make it to this ring in their relationship with Him but go no farther. Yes, ministry was and is important, but Jesus wanted them to understand that His call was not primarily to work harder but to come closer to Him. That’s what this journey is all about.

The Twelve. The ring most familiar to us is the Twelve—Jesus’ beloved band of brothers, His chosen disciples: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12–13 NIV). Christ called this “Shepherd’s dozen” to leave all they had and follow Him.

The Twelve represent those who walk with Jesus to the places of leaving all and following Him. As they entered this ring, they left their own wishes and selfish desires and entered into a new place of surrender to Jesus. But as close to Christ as this ring was, there were closer places still.

The Three. One of the innermost circles around Jesus was His “cabinet of Three” (Peter, James, and John). Church history respectfully dubbed this ring the triumvirate—a Latin term referring to a powerful team of three individuals. Of all Jesus’ disciples, there were three who saw, heard, and experienced the most.

The Three represent those who follow Jesus to the places of glory and suffering. These were the confidants of Christ. He entrusted them with insights and experiences the rest of the Twelve were apparently unprepared to hear or know.

The One. Ultimately, only one person bears the distinction of having been the closest person to Christ during His earthly ministry. I like to think of this person as the One, the closest One.

The One sat right next to Jesus at the Last Supper. The One listened closer to Jesus’ words than anyone else and, as a result, recorded more of them than anyone else. The One was the
go-to man when Jesus’ disciples had a question they wanted to ask Him. The One spotted Jesus on the shore when no one else in the boat recognized Him. The One followed Christ to at least one place no other among the Twelve would go.

    Desiring God

Our desire for God is a gift we must regularly open and engage if we are to fully realize and enjoy it. While salvation is an unconditional gift of God’s grace, some intimacies with God come only with a relentless pursuit of Him.

Author and pastor A. W. Tozer warned against rigid and overly structured approaches to God and faith: “The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. . . . We [must remember] that God is a Person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can” (The Pursuit of God).

The promise of Scripture affirms His glorious invitation: “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8 NIV). Make no mistake—there is one place, and one place alone—to which Christ wants you to be when it comes to Him, and that is closer.

Remember . . . followers of Jesus refuse to follow at a distance; if you’re not moving closer, you’re moving away.

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Media on Mission https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/media-on-mission/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-on-mission https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/media-on-mission/#respond Mon, 10 Jun 2019 08:00:11 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4578

We are called to creatively evangelize and disciple all people, using every multimedia tool God has given us.

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ot long ago, I left a stable job in Christian television to pursue full-time church ministry. It was a step of faith that almost seems like insanity in hindsight, but God confirmed the decision and provided for our family in ways I had never thought possible. It was an amazing adventure, but it was also a relatively short assignment.

A few whirlwind years later, full-time ministry is already becoming a fading memory. I am now working again in the Christian media industry, where I sit in a new office, caught somewhere in the blurred middle of corporate and ministry worlds.

As far as our denomination is concerned, I am “in-between assignments,” as I drudgingly mark on my monthly minister reports. But I am not bored, and I am certainly not retired from active duty. In fact, I am blessed to be gaining experience in two very different but related worlds.

    Coming In

During my short season of working full-time within a local church, I was excited to have the task of exploring new ways to draw people into God’s house. As a creative minister, I have an undeniable, God-given drive to pioneer new ground in this area. Ministers built like this are constantly looking for new ways the church can interact with the world around us. Print. Video. Voice. Pencil. Instrument. In these exciting times, we are able to use them all at once.

A creative minister is called to take the limits off and to think outside that box with a steeple on it. Anything less is unsatisfying . . . and falls short of the mission.

As I reminisce about my work within the church, I think of the time we asked members of our congregation to invite their friends and family to an IMAX-style presentation of the life of Jesus and His work on the cross. It was part musical, part video, and all gospel. We designed and handed out simple cards that members could personalize and pass to friends. We went beyond challenging them to invite others and began empowering them to do so. The event made an impact: Our attendance tripled, and so did salvations.

It was a rewarding effort, but we quickly saw attendance return to normal. The salvations became anonymous and hard to follow up on, and the exciting results began to disappear into the fog. Like many churches, we never adjusted. Year after year, we repeated the process . . . and the results stayed the same. As many as we could bring in, we would quickly lose. My creatively evangelistic heart became quietly frustrated.

I wanted to know, Where were these people going, and how could I find them?

My years of church work taught me the value of inviting people to church. This is a necessary strategy, but deficient on its own. Now that I have stepped away, I am learning the value of the opposite approach.

    Going Out

I am taking stock of my new role in a very different environment. I am currently part of a small but scrappy nonprofit team that promotes Christ-centered marriages in a culture where so many have given up on the traditional institution. We teach scriptural concepts as they apply to a married couple, and help them grow a godlier atmosphere in their homes.
We accomplish this by utilizing a diverse array of outlets to distribute our message: television shows, web-based programs, printed resources, streaming media, and worldwide simulcast events. We distribute our message as broadly as we can, and are constantly looking for additional channels that will reach more people.

While MarriageToday does not have a traditional pulpit, it is a discipleship ministry using all forms of media at our disposal to encourage Christlikeness in believers’ lives. In an effort to broaden our impact, we are training church leaders across the country to set up a similar type of ministry in their local congregations. Pastors who work alongside us understand that healthy families and marriages will inevitably produce a healthy church.

Both organizations I have worked with are working toward the same goal, but are operating under different philosophies. While the church has largely adopted the strategy of inviting people to come to a weekend worship service, countless Christian media ministries have decided to go and reach people where they already are. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and when they coexist, we find a well-rounded strategy for evangelism and discipleship. True growth will begin when we both invite people to come and go where they are.

    Finding the People

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) is no secret to either the pastor or the layperson. Yet to see our mission carried out to all people, we must first find where they are hiding. (Hint: It is not inside a church building, where we spend most of our time.)

People today are scattered abroad, with their eyes fixated on glowing screens. Scrolling web pages, tablets, e-readers, media boxes, and the latest smartphones swallow their minds. They are enjoying movies and concerts, be it theaters or in their home . . . or both. They are consuming hours of media every day.

Yes, they are distracted; but they are not unreachable. To find them, the church must reach people where they have already given their attention. With all of the possibilities of modern media, the Great Commission is no longer confined by geography. Even more exciting is that modern media is no longer reserved for million-dollar ministries.

Every church can reach with media.

    Practical Suggestion

There is good news for the pastor or church that wants to begin reaching the world through new outlets: Most of the work has already been done. Your latest sermon has been prayed about, meticulously developed, and delivered during a weekend service. Now there is a crucial decision to make: Will you lay this Spirit-inspired message to rest on Sunday afternoon, or will you choose to broaden its reach?

Why put a limit on a God-given message? Let it breathe in perpetuity, and let it reach an entirely new audience through new media channels. Besides the standard podcast audio, there is a much greater potential. The transcript of that audio could be fine-tuned and transformed into readable text, and then shared on a new type of device. Adding discussion points and questions could turn that content into something new—small-group curriculum.

Perhaps a video of your message could be edited into smaller, more digestible clips, and uploaded to a variety of video-streaming sites. When you make this leap, think with an evangelistic strategy. Where you might previously be inclined to post a longer video titled “Sermon: Sunday, September 5th,” rework the shorter clip titles to something more specific such as, “The Solution for Loneliness.” Think deeply about what someone might need or search for online. Let them know that you have answers for their queries.

Of course, these are mere starting points for changing the world through media, and new outlets are constantly emerging. If you actively engage the creative young minds around you, they will be able to walk you through the possibilities for both now and the near future.

After a decade of work within various church and Christian media organizations, I have formed a definite conviction:

Creative media has always been one of the primary vehicles for God’s mission in the world.

It has been disguised as vivid stories, painted canvases, inked pages, and etched stone. However, the heart of the production has never changed. We, as the church, are called to creatively evangelize and disciple all people, using every multimedia tool God has given us.

Sitting at my desk at MarriageToday, I’m musing on how I can meet this goal of reaching and changing the world. At my disposal are tons of creative ideas, the latest technology, and a sincere heart for the gospel.

The only thing left to do is go.

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It appears we are not “user-friendly” or “seeker-sensitive,” and we speak a strange dialect called

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ecently I tuned in to the daily broadcast of a well-known television ministry and was somewhat shocked to learn most church in our day are missing the mark. It appears we are not “user-friendly” or “seeker-sensitive,” and we speak a strange dialect called

This “language” not only is foreign to church guests; they have little interest in learning it. In order for us to attract more people, the TV minister suggested that changes be made to make everyone feel more comfortable in church.

I am in no way opposed to trying new techniques to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am aware that churches that refuse to change are destined to decline, and we live in a technological age that mandates constant updating. However, the goal of the church is not to blend in, but to stand out; to be different; to be a light in the darkness; to offer hope; to show a better way—the way of Christ.

The strange language we speak is a faith-based language. It is anchored in God’s Word. It allows us to be a positive force in a negative world. When Jesus Christ shared His message, people said, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46 NKJV). Jesus broke the mold of His day by speaking differently than everyone else, even the religious leaders. His words were gospel—“good news.”

It is the role and duty of born-again believers to be positive and use faith-filled words in our conversations. We trust God’s promises before they are filled. We speak peace in the midst of the storm. Regardless of the circumstances, we speak God’s Word and believe for His will to be done. We portray to the world that those who confess Christ are out of the ordinary.

There is tremendous pressure on the church and the Christian to conform to the ways of the world. Tolerance is the push of the day. We do not want to give the impression that we are archaic and out of touch with the times. So we live in an age of diluted doctrine, cussing Christians, sipping saints, bewildered believers and misdirected disciples. We are pressured to abandon biblical teachings to meet the expectations of the unsaved, in the hopes of being interesting enough to cause them to want to come to our churches. Growth must not come at the expense of godliness!

It is not time for us to attempt to be more like what people are trying to escape. If we offer what the world offers, we are nothing more than a social club. Biblically stated, we are “as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1)—an out-of-tune spiritual rhythm section or a second-rate band. We have “a form of godliness” but have no power (2 Tim. 3:5). Powerless churches cannot change lives. Regardless of the number of attendees, a powerless church is a dying church.

We will reach people by showing them the love of Christ and declaring the good news. Where there is food, the hungry will come. Where there is drink, the thirsty will come. Where there is healing, the sick will come. Where there is deliverance, the captive will come. If we lift up Jesus Christ, He will draw people to Himself.

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Sports Fanaticism: How Far Is Too Far? https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/sports-fanaticism-how-far-is-too-far/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sports-fanaticism-how-far-is-too-far https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/sports-fanaticism-how-far-is-too-far/#respond Thu, 06 Jun 2019 08:00:09 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4559

Only Christ Deserves Our Worship.

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akland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr grew up in a Pentecostal home, so he’s used to all the shouting.

That’s good, because everywhere the NFL rookie goes these days, he hears the shouts, the screams, the squeals—and that’s just from the grown men wearing his silver-and-black, number 4 jersey in the stands, at the mall, in the parking lot, and at stoplights.

Carr responds by politely smiling and waving, and sometimes signs autographs with a Scripture reference thrown in—making a point to turn the attention to God.

“I just want to glorify God,” Carr says. “All the praise is His.”

That’s how it’s supposed to be. But as we fill our college football stadiums on fall Saturdays and abandon our pews on NFL Sundays, maybe we need to grab a scorecard and see where our high praise is really going. Are we worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in His sanctuary, or are we worshiping homemade idols brilliantly disguised as superstar quarterbacks and championship contenders?

We can’t idolize football players without making them our idol, and we know how that plays out in Scripture. “You shall have no other gods before Me,” the Lord declares in Exodus 20:3 (NKJV), with teeth-gnashing consequences spelled out in the chapters to follow.

Can we, as Spirit-filled believers, get behind our favorite teams without crossing Joshua’s line in the sand (Josh. 24:15)? Is it possible, in our idol-soaked culture of human worship and sports allegiance, to be a number-one fan without violating the doctrinal premise of the first commandment?

Absolutely, it’s possible—I would know. When the Lord saved me as a 21-year-old sports fanatic, I learned how to worship God and not the Dallas Cowboys.
* * *
How does a 7-year-old kid in a central California farm town become a Dallas Cowboys fan? Easy. Turn on the TV, se a quarterback named Danny White, and decide that’s reason enough to ask your parents for a number 11 jersey.

I wore that Danny White knockoff jersey to a shred, running down my own wobbly passes in backyard games of one-on-none, hearing the invisible crowd go wild. “The Catch” of 1982 didn’t crush my spirit; it just made me more determined to see my Cowboys win a Super Bowl.

As a teenage Catholic, I decided which Mass to attend during football season based on the Cowboys’ kickoff times. For 10 a.m. Pacific time zone games, I would attend Saturday-night Mass. Otherwise, I’d hit the 9:30 a.m. Sunday service to give me plenty of time for 1 p.m. kickoffs.

When the Cowboys won, I screamed and hollered throughout the house. When the Cowboys lost (Babe Laufenberg era, anyone?), I would throw non-football objects across the room and pick fights with my non-Cowboys-fans brothers.

By the time I accepted Christ at a rural Church of God 20 years ago, the Dallas Cowboys were a full-blown idol. Know what I prayed the most for as a kid? That the Cowboys would win, and how I would never do this or that ever again, if God would just let us beat the Redskins on Sunday.

Maybe you aren’t nearly so extreme, but think about it: When Alabama “rolled Tide” through your SEC college team last year—or when Auburn stopped the Crimson Tide—did it ruin your day beyond repair? When your starting quarterback saved all his interceptions for the end of the game, did you snap at your kids over something trivial at the dinner table that evening?

Do you want to name your firstborn after the Super Bowl MVP? Do you skip services because it conflicts with the printable magnet schedule on your fridge? Is Psalm 23 your devotional reading after a loss?

If so, it’s time to solve this potential idol problem the way I began to solve my idol problem when I got saved: by worshiping the Lord harder, louder, and stronger than the
Cowboys or anyone else. Because, if we don’t pour out our praise to God, we’re going to pour it out somewhere—our spirits are wired that way. Our worship needs a better outlet than sports.

For me, the worshiping shift began by missing the kickoff of a Cowboys playoff game because it was during church time. If I was going to shout loud when Emmitt Smith tore off a touchdown run that afternoon, then I had to shout louder in praise to my Lord when we sang from the Red-back hymnal that evening.

A funny thing happened along the way: the deeper I worshiped the Lord, the less the outcome of sporting events mattered. I still cared, and sports were still a blast; but the more I lifted my “#1” foam finger toward heaven, the less I pointed it toward sports and star athletes. When I gave all my praise to God, I did not have enough left in the tank to worship anyone else. If my team lost, God was still on my throne, so all was well . . . even when the Cowboys weren’t.

If I missed my alma mater, Fresno State, winning the 2008 College World Series because I was working at teen youth camp, so what? When I missed my favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, clinching a 2012 World Series title because I was at our church harvest out- reach, big deal.

When NFL quarterback David Carr (Derek’s older brother), a former No. 1 overall draft pick of the Houston Texans, slipped into the back row of our church for a Sunday morning service last year, I didn’t shriek like a 12-year-old girl at a One Direction concert. We didn’t even make a big announcement about who was in the crowd.

Instead, the Lord reminded me of Acts 14. When Paul and Barnabas arrived in the city of Lystra, Paul looked intently on a man who could not walk and said, “‘Stand up straight on your feet!’ And he leaped and walked” (v. 10 NKJV).

Paul may as well have thrown a 99-yard “hail Mary” touchdown pass with no time left to win the Super Bowl! “When the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying . . . The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men” (v. 11). The local priest prepared a sacrifice of oxen. The people all but named a stadium after the apostle!

What did Paul do? He reminded the people that Christ is Lord, not him. “Friends, why are you doing this?” Paul asked them. “We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them” (v. 15 NLT). Paul gave the city of Lystra what all of us SEC-loving fans could use around this time of year—a proper perspective.

An NFL quarterback was in my church, and yet he was just another disciple of Christ, no different from the rest of us if you don’t count his cannon of a throwing arm.

So, next time you see Derek Carr signing autographs at the mall, or walk into City Life Church in Tampa and realize born-again Hall of Fame football star Derrick Brooks is sitting in the next chair over . . . give them a smile and a wave.

And then, go back to walking, leaping, and praising God for all He has done for you.

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“If you are a teacher, teach well” (Rom. 12:7 NLT).

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hether or not we give them an apple, we all appreciate teachers. Without them, we could not read, write, or balance a checkbook. We could not bake our favorite pie, understand metamorphosis, or appreciate great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The same is true in the church. We need God-called teachers who influence our daily lives.

    The Purpose of Teachers

As we approach the Second Coming, more and more wild doctrines will arise. Every member of Christ’s body must have a solid understanding of Bible truths in order to stand against error and grow to spiritual maturity. This is why Jesus gives teachers to the Church (Eph. 4:11-16).

Considering ancient passages such as Leviticus 10:8-11 and Ezekiel 44:23, we see it has always been critical for God’s people to distinguish between the holy and the unholy. Teachers fulfill this role in the church, explaining the difference between truth and error, between holy and unholy living, and between sound doctrine and false teaching.

    The Responsibility of Teachers

Teachers serve a vital function in Christ’s body, so they carry a great responsibility. They are “stewards of the mysteries of God” who must be “found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

While 2 Timothy 2:15-16 speaks to all Christians, it carries special emphasis for teachers of God’s Word. Teachers are devout students who spend hours studying the Bible so they can understand, apply, and communicate its rich treasures. They are committed to “rightly dividing” (literally, “cutting straight”), or “accurately handling” (v. 15 NASB), the Word of God.

The Scriptures contain truths that some have twisted into false doctrines. The diligent teacher, however, knows how to dissect the lies and properly expound the truth.

Being a teacher myself, the Lord imparted 3 John 5-6 to me as a foundation for my ministry:

Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren, and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well (NKJV).

I believe this passage applies to all ministries that influence others down a particular path. By sending them on their Christian walk “in a manner worthy of God, [we] will do well.” In other words, we can expect to hear “Well done!” from the lips of our Savior if we use our giftedness to help others on their journey.

As stewards seeking to be found faithful, teachers need to exercise diligence in many areas:

  • The Word of God—researching carefully and studying prayerfully
  • Time management—properly prioritizing daily responsibilities
  • Talent—continually developing the gift of teaching
  • Health—making sure personal health and grooming needs are met consistently, including the need for rest
  • Personal devotions—ensuring personal time with God is guarded and thriving
  • Family—ensuring proper attention is given to the family while not ignoring God’s call because of family
  • Anointing—guarding it and seeking the Holy Spirit’s revelation of biblical truth
  • Delivery—“speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and following the leading of God’s Spirit
      Examples From Scripture
    Scripture shows us models of godly teachers. Consider these:

Moses taught the Law to Israel and taught artisans how to build the Tabernacle (Deut. 5:1ff.; Ex. 31:1-11).

Aaron and his descendants taught the Scriptures as one of their priestly functions (Ex. 40:13-15).

Ezra taught the returning captives from Babylon, helping them to understand God’s Word and apply it (Neh. 8:1-4).

John the Baptist taught those who would listen about repentance and preparing for the Messiah (John 1:19-23).

Jesus expounded the Scriptures, showing God’s heart and how He is revealed in the inspired pages (Luke 24:27).

The apostles became powerful teachers after being filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:42).

    Are You Called to Teach?

How do you know if you have the gift of teaching?

  1. Ask God to show you.
  2. Consider your spiritual passion. A teacher loves to study and share God’s Word.
  3. Seek confirmation from your family (if possible).
  4. Seek confirmation from your pastor, other church leaders, and fellow Christians.

For those with the gift of teaching, the Bible’s pages contain the guidance needed to fulfill this calling with skill and excellence under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

However, as with any of God’s treasures, teaching requires diligent and sincere searching. This process deposits a fire in our bones that must get out (see Jer. 20:9)!

When we teach God’s Word in genuine love for others and with a desire to help them move forward in a manner worthy of God, we do well. I believe when we hear “Well done!” from our Savior’s lips, it will be worth more than a case of apples, don’t you?

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A sea anemone can’t find nourishment pulling into itself and staying there, and neither can you.

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ost of us have had experiences in church that take all the fun out of playing on the same team. Who hasn’t felt the sharp knife of betrayal, of having been too open too early, only to discover later that the person you confided in didn’t have your back? Experience can make us wise, but too often it makes us hard.

My friend Marsha struggled as a new wife and mother with several tasks relating to managing her home. As a young woman, she felt embarrassed that tasks which came so easily and naturally to others were overwhelming to her. She was raised in a loving home—too loving, as it turned out. With so much done for her by her own mother, she was ill-equipped to manage her own home. Thankfully, a couple of older women from the church came to her and offered to help her—to show her how she could become more organized and productive. Admittedly, it was a little embarrassing revealing her secret failures to these women, at first, but Marsha humbled herself and was ready to grow.

It was a great plan. Marsha was so encouraged . . . until she happened onto a conversation . . . behind the slightly ajar door, where the two women laughed and joked about her incompetence.

The net effect of hits like that makes us impervious to real relationship. Facing the pain of false relationships does that. It’s just not worth the cost. Billy Joel was wrong about a lot of things, but he was right about honesty in relationships: honesty is such a lonely word. To this day, Marsha will tell you she trusts no one. It’s sad—and God does want her to grow in this area—but at one level, I can’t blame her.

Let me emphasize again that this is a messy process. It is not safe and contained. All people struggle, so you will be surrounded by even more problems. As much as the idea of community was never more positive than in the months following the car accident with my son (leaving him a quadriplegic), I must also say that I have never received more criticism and judgment from the Christian community than during this same time period.

When you let your struggles be known, you will also be inundated by the “answer people.” These are the people who can solve all your problems without even knowing you. They are followed closely by the Bible-verse people who simplify your entire life into one or two verses, which, though true, are more likely to incite violence toward them than peace within you. These people are closely related to the “I” club who will instantly relate your story to something in their own lives and then proceed to talk about themselves until you are nauseated. And even the people who act as your friends will occasionally hurt you.

I’ve lived it, and I’m sure you have too. If we’re not careful, we become like a sea anemone, recognizing the slightest touch as a dangerous threat and pull into ourselves.

So, are we going to go with our experience and pull in like that sea anemone? At least we’ll be safe, right? No, not really . . . if we’re honest with ourselves. Even though it might feel safe in the moment, closing ourselves off from true relationship is a place of profound powerlessness. Illusions often provide momentary comfort. The fact is, a sea anemone can’t find nourishment pulling into itself and staying there, and neither can you.

The results are always the same when
in our hearts we retreat to some desert island. You begin to starve, then you give up, then you die. Not an option for the believer, but neither is avoiding struggles. They’re either coming or already here. We were designed to love and to be loved. So, what do we do?

The life of surrender isn’t a life based on achieving equilibrium in our feelings. It’s not a path to wholeness based on how I perceive reality and decided how to proceed. If we are to be truly surrendered, as believers, it must be to what we are told to do. Not what I say or think, or how I feel when struggles come, but what I am instructed to do. Where do we get that kind of information?

It’s not complicated: the Bible.

We will only find strength to struggle well if we surrender our will, our determination to walk in isolation and do what we think best, and embrace the instruction found in the Scriptures—the sword of the Spirit. What do they have to say about this?

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16 NIV).

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2 NIV).

Are you feeling the heavy weight of a struggle or burden right now? God never intended for you to carry it alone. In fact, He doesn’t want you to. Certainly, it can feel like it sometimes. But God wants us to walk together—to keep risking it—to experience the lightness of sharing our failures, struggles, wounds, and burdens, and in so doing, receive a blessing and be a blessing to others.

You risked it before . . . is God asking you to risk it again?

Certainly, we need to be wise, not being careless with whom we are willing to divulge sensitive information. But when it comes to our struggles, God wants to help us and His plan often comes in a disguise that we typically recognize as risk—a person. If God’s answer to sharing your burden and helping you through your struggles (a person He brought into your life) is going to be able to provide the help God intended, the voices of fear and pride have to be silenced and the voice of truth has to be listened to. If we are to bear one another’s burdens, we need to be willing to confess our faults, shortcomings, failures, fears, and wounds to each other.

Where can I find people like that . . . people I can trust . . . people who will have my back after they know my whole story? Where are they?

I’ve got to be honest with you. I don’t know …but God does. He knows right where they are, at this very instant, and He wants you to walk in fellowship with them.

I hate to say this, but for many people, finding real community will never happen on Sunday morning.
You’ll find great music, powerhouse preaching, entertaining stories, big programs often reaching past the local community to the world—orphanages in Africa, building project in Mexico, food distribution in Bangladesh—but Christian community and fellowship across the aisle on Sunday morning? Not going to happen.

Fellowship won’t happen until you and I spend time with each other. Watching a show designed to delight the spectators on Sunday morning doesn’t qualify.

I’m not saying it’s an incontrovertible fact, but taken as a whole, you can’t find true community in a large church unless you become involved with smaller groups of people within the church. We need relationships, not acquaintances. Real community starts with knowing people and being known.

We have to be willing to defeat the impulse to hide from each other. We have to recognize the impulse to live a hidden life as one that does not come from heaven, but from the other place. Because, until you and I are ready to be known, until you and I are prepared to defeat the fear of someone knowing who we are, we will never be ready—we’ll never be able to enter into true community.

So, after failed attempts, false starts, and frustration, why should we try again to pursue Christian community and fellowship?

We do it, first, because God has said this is how He wants it done. God’s way is always best—even after we screw it up. If we won’t share, we can’t bear (one another’s burdens). He doesn’t want His followers living lives of disconnected independence, regardless of how lonely the average person is in the happening megachurch, or the small Bible church down the street, for that matter. We were made for each other—made to love—to walk in fellowship, love, and unity.

In the countless circumstances and trials that encompassed my family’s journey after a horrific car accident, God was right there, loving us through the love of people in the church. Whether it was our roof being replaced after a storm blew a tree onto it, a van needed to safely transport our quadriplegic son, or one of us was feeling low and needing someone to pray with, God repeatedly showed His love to us through other people. Whatever our needs, God meets them through Christian community.

But there are other reasons.

We are to risk it (with those we believe God would have us to be open) because God isn’t at work only in my life, or only in your life. God desires to work His will in the life of the other person as well. When we open up and share our need, our emptiness, our loneliness, our financial need, our pain—risking relationship—we create a safe place for someone else to share what fear had prevented him from being open about.

When you do seek a local church for true Christian fellowship, look for a group of believers who place a premium on open, honest fellowship through relationships in the church rather than programs and activities, even if they sound fantastic. Don’t confuse activities with fellowship. It’s easy to find a church where you can find something to do. The local church must be a place where we actively practice our beliefs, not just show up and be entertained. The apostle Peter said it like this: “Love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 NKJV).

That word fervently comes from the word furnace—the furnace used in refining gold. It’s an intense, refining fire that burns away impurities, leaving only pure gold. You and I were made to be refined in the crucible of fervent, loving relationships.

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“I Love You, But I Want A Divorce” https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/i-love-you-but-i-want-a-divorce/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=i-love-you-but-i-want-a-divorce https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/06/i-love-you-but-i-want-a-divorce/#respond Mon, 03 Jun 2019 13:40:53 +0000 https://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4630

In today’s church world, the number of Christian couples seeking divorce is on the increase. By some reports, it is about the same as the secular average of 33 percent; or even as high as 38 percent.

The post “I Love You, But I Want A Divorce” appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



asked her, “Do you love him?”
She paused, then with tears running down her face, looked at her husband and answered, “I love him, and I miss many things about him . . . but I want a divorce.”

In today’s church world, the number of Christian couples seeking divorce is on the increase. By some reports, it is about the same as the secular average of 33 percent; or even as high as 38 percent. Regardless of the exact number, the divorce rate among professing Christians is heartbreaking, and a terrible indicator of how the church as a whole is not effectively supporting the married couples in our congregations.

As a counselor and minister, it is sad to see the many couples who tell me the same story. Yes, there are different circumstances and events surrounding each couple, yet there are some basic things that always seem to be at the core of strife in the marriage. These core problems are not finances, adultery, or sexual intimacy. Though these areas are sometimes involved, they are not common among all those whom I have counseled.

Scripture gives us insight as to what the core problems are.

    How are husbands and wives to treat each other?

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).

“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself” (v. 28).

“Nevertheless each of you must also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33 WEB).

The wife is commanded to respect her husband in response to her husband’s deep love for her.

So what are the commonalities among these couples who have come for counseling? They are the lack of love and respect in the marriage: the lack of Christlike love on the part of the man toward his wife, and the lack of respect on the part of woman toward her husband.

    How can the local congregation help?

What can the local church do to help stave off the growing trend of divorce in our congregations? I believe if we will teach our couples some basic Bible-based relationship principles, we can begin to head off the rising increase of Christians who are divorcing. There are various ways we can do this:

• Offer Biblical teaching in a marriage class and/or from the pulpit on what is commanded by God for the husband and wife to show toward one another.
• Create a weekend getaway, conference, or retreat for married couples, using trained ministers and Christian counselors who may already be in your congregation who are just waiting to be asked to do something for the Lord.
• Reinforce the fact that going to a getaway, conference, or retreat is not a public statement that their marriage is in trouble or having problems.
• Pastors, recognize the fact that some situations may require more than what you are trained for, and be willing to refer to a trained Christian counselor or therapist.

To pastors: I cannot count the number of couples who have told me they wish they had had some form of marriage class, retreat, or seminar offered by their church. Many have stated that if they had learned Bible-based relationship basics, their marriage would not be in the trouble it was currently in.

To couples: If you are in a marriage experiencing distress, I suggest you carefully study Ephesians 5 and the entire Song of Solomon. Also, seek out a pastor or Christian counselor/therapist who is trained in family and marriage counseling.

Earnestly seek forgiveness and direction individually for your own faith and commitment to God and then as a couple for your marriage. Two wounded people do not make one healthy marriage.

Church: As the body of Christ, let us unite together in helping to turn back the tide of Christian divorce. Let us ask the God who created marriage to build a spiritual hedge around all of the families in our congregations so they will be able to stand against the anti-family culture which seeks to overwhelm them.

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It should not take an emergency to awaken the church to action.

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t was early spring when I took the difficult step of going back to church. Although the pink and white dogwoods were brightly blooming, my heart was filled with the sadness of recent loss

To avoid people’s questions and to protect myself, for weeks I had put off attending church. I did not like feeling that way, but I did not need any more pain. It didn’t take much to cause me to crumble into distress.

However, Easter was different. I hungered to be in church not only to fill my aching soul and worship the Lord but also to reconnect with Christian friends and acquaintances. My wounds were not as fresh now, and I thought I could make
it through a service without any public display of painful emotions. At least I hoped so.

As I sat in the pew that Sunday morning, I thanked the Lord for His power to heal and restore. I drank in the reading of the Word and the encouragement from the sermon. But when I heard the organist softly playing a beloved song—“Because He Lives”—I gulped as I stood with the rest of the congregation to sing.

As I sang the words “all fear is gone,” suddenly the floodgates opened against my wishes. I struggles to brush away my tears and compose myself as memories of pain and loss filled my mind. The question came, What will people think? We are in church!

Shortly after the singing of the last verse, a final prayer was said and the service ended. I turned to leave, still mindful of what had happened but noticing that everyone around me was talking to each other. What had been embarrassment changed to a longing to connect with someone. Slowly I walked down the aisle, glancing all around and then finally leaving the church. No one spoke to me.

The pain of that experience added to the misery I already carried. Wasn’t church where people loved and cared for each other? What was wrong?

That Easter was a difficult experience,
but it became a catalyst in my life to
help bring hope and healing to wounded people. On any given Sunday, church pews are filled with individuals who are struggling with problems and pain. Family problems, health concerns, grief and loss, job-related issues, martial difficulties, and more weigh people down. Many church-goers are depressed and anxious.

All too often, the church does not even recognize those who are living with pain. . . much less do anything to alleviate their misery. As a result, hurting people often withdraw from church until their problems are resolved or they are coping better. But isn’t that the opposite of what Jesus taught?

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). By following His words, the church is challenged to discover what it means as His followers to look, listen, and love.


Although many would say they do look,
it is all too easy to look but not see. How many times do we enter church with our thoughts on something else? How often do we barely notice the people we pass by? How frequently do we sit down in the pew preoccupied with our own lives?

I am guilty of all of these. Blind spots exist, and we often overlook the one sitting near us with tear-filled eyes and a crumbled tissue.

What can we do about this tendency to look but not really see? As we become intention- al on sensing needs, we can change this.

I have found when I focus on seeing and reaching out to at least one person each worship service, I connect better and more deeply. Spending time in prayer before church and asking God to give me His eyes to see those in need enables me to have clearer vision.


How often have you been asked, “How are you?” only to see the person walk away while you were responding? How many times have you found yourself in conversation with someone when another person came along and you never finished that first conversation? Listening must come from the heart as well as the ear.

Too often, hurting people will not have the energy to explain their need in detail. However, if you observe their body language, their eyes, and their tone of voice, you will sense broken hearts and souls starving for someone to care. Asking the Lord to help you listen and really hear the hearts of others is a prayer He longs to answer.


The words of Jesus teach us love is more than words; it is something we do. Love lingers beside the one whose head is bowed. Love cares enough to ask more questions. Love moves in when it’s not convenient or comfortable. Love goes that extra mile. Love asks, “What can I do?” Genuine love is irresistible and winsome. Love keeps reaching.

A few years ago, I walked into church on an ordinary Sunday morning. I turned and greeted a husband and wife seated behind my two daughters and me. We exchanged friendly words, and then the service began.

When the offering was being received, I saw the man who had been sitting behind us was one of the ushers. Suddenly I heard a heavy thud and a few gasps as one of the ushers fell to the floor!

I strained to see what the problem was, and a groan came from behind me as the woman saw it was her husband who had collapsed.

Instantly the atmosphere in the church changed. What had been a routine service became charged with emotion and care. The rescue squad was called. People got up from their seats to stand with this hurting woman as she waited to hear some news. Words of comfort were exchanged and prayers were said. Love was fleshed out in that moment as people connected with each other. The church was alive! I will never forget it.

Eventually, the man regained consciousness and was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. Meanwhile, people had come alive. The worried were comforted, the troubled were embraced with peace, and the anxious were reassured that they were not alone. The people were knit together by their spontaneous prayers.

    No Emergency Required

It should not take an emergency to awaken the church to action. Instead, we should all search our hearts and ask ourselves how well we are looking, listening, and loving. Join me, won’t you? In ourselves we can do little, but as we live in the Spirit He will enable us to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20 NIV).

Wake up, church! The time is now.

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“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11 NKJV).

The post An Encouraging Word appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



f spiritual gifts were books on a shelf, this one might be leaning in the corner, perhaps dusty and hidden by those that capture much more attention. However, without this gift, many Christians in the early church would not have survived the long, difficult seasons they had to endure.

The same is true today. Everyone needs encouragement from time to time. It is a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Discouragement is an occupational hazard for believers—especially those in ministry. Our adversary looks for ways to deflate us, and he sometimes uses fellow believers. In fact, some people seem to have a gift for discouragement!

Thank God, the Holy Spirit supplies the gift of encouragement to the church. Recognizing this gift and those who operate in it can be like a drink of icy cold water on a hot, dry day.

    A Gift for the Heart

The teacher aims for the head, but the encourager aims for the heart. The King James Version calls this gift “exhortation.” The Greek word is paraklesis, which carries the idea of comfort, inspiration, and consolation. This gift often operates in conjunction with another gift that involves communication—prophecy. First Corinthians 14:3 says, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort” (NIV).

Those with the gift of encouragement do not just think good thoughts about others; they give those thoughts away to those who need them.

Encouragers are people-builders. They want others to live up to their potential. They find joy in being used by the Holy Spirit to help others live victoriously. Encouragers are thermostats—a room’s atmosphere and temperature changes because of their presence. Every church needs people with this gift.

In Encountering the Holy Spirit, French Arrington writes, “The gift of exhortation is a special ability given by the Holy Spirit to certain believers, which enables them to minister words of comfort and encouragement to other believers. . . . Those who have this gift are able to speak wisely and provide consolation to the lonely, discouraged, and weak.”

    How It Works

Encouragement is one of the motivational gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8. Encouragers are communicators. They might be preachers and teachers, but not necessarily.

Dan Betzer comes to mind. I have heard Dan speak many times. As pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Florida, he brilliantly weaves Scripture, stories, and thoughts into an inspiring and encouraging tapestry. No doubt, you know other individuals who do the same. Oh, how we need encouragers!

Perhaps Pastor Betzer’s greatest encouragement to me came during a brief encounter when I was a young pastor. We met when he spoke for our church’s missions conference. Sometime later, I ran into him at another meeting, and during a short conversation, he looked at me and said, “You know, God wants your church to be huge.”

That simple statement was great inspiration to me at the time. While not profound, those few words lifted my spirit and influenced me to press on and work hard. Obviously, I have not forgotten them after all these years.

I am married to an encourager. Amy enjoys making others feel better. She does not like to be down, and she delights in helping others get up, which is a good thing for me. Often I can overhear her talking to someone who is going through difficulty and am amazed at the insight the Holy Spirit gives her.

Even in the face of great criticism during some of her darkest days, I have observed her walk in the grace of God and be an encouragement to those around her, many times influencing them to the cross of Christ. There is a supernatural element to it.

There is another woman in our congregation with this gift. While her demeanor is gentle, she has a contagious smile and always has a kind and encouraging word. She sings in our choir and sometimes is a soloist, but otherwise she quietly goes about her business. However, she is an encourager, making the room brighter by her presence.

Encouragers are faith people. They believe God is able to do all things. These men and women have a simplicity to life. They tend to see trials as opportunities and love to communicate that to others. Words carry tremendous power, but add to them a spiritual gift that lifts and blesses, and words become tremendous tools of healing and help.

Words of hurt and destruction can tear down the stoutest of hearts. The Holy Spirit uses the gift of encouragement to build up, restore faith, and bring about positive change.

Amy and I have another friend who has this gift. Through times of difficulty she has been a constant source of comfort and encouragement. She seems to pull thoughts and words out of thin air. No doubt, the Holy Spirit inspires them. She has her own struggles, but you would never know it in talking with her. She lives in constant physical pain, yet she encourages everyone she meets.

Clearly, encouragement is not just a personality disposition. It is a gift the Holy Spirit uses in all types of people.

    Son of Encouragement

The apostle Paul’s ministry companion, Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36 NIV) lived up to his name by operating in this gift.

After Paul’s miraculous conversion while on his way to Damascus, he temporarily moved in with some of the disciples there. Narrowly escaping a plot to take his life, Paul eventually traveled to Jerusalem. The disciples there wanted nothing to do with him because of the way he had once persecuted the church (9:26). How discouraging these series of events must have been for the newly converted Paul!

However, Barnabas personally intervened on Paul’s behalf. The Message describes it this way: “Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him” (v. 27).

You can almost see and hear Barnabas as he speaks up to defuse the situation. What an encouragement this must have been to Paul! The preceding conversation between Paul and Barnabas behind closed doors is reserved for eternity, but it was enough to encourage Paul and convince Barnabas.

In Acts 11, we find Barnabas again acting as an encourager. When the church in Jerusalem heard how Gentiles in Caesarea and Antioch were accepting Jesus Christ, church leaders sent the influential Barnabas to Antioch to explore what was happening. “When he arrived and saw this proof of God’s favor, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord” (11:23-24 NLT).

The lives of those young Christians in Antioch and the newly converted Paul might have looked completely different if Barnabas had not stepped up for them. Barnabas was a gifted encourager who blessed and lifted up rather than criticizing and tearing down. Imagine how encouraged Paul must have been when the Holy Spirit called Barnabas to be his missionary partner (13:2)!

    Life-Changing Gift

The gift of encouragement is life-changing. Though only mentioned a few times in the New Testament, it is as important as the other spiritual gifts. We see its power in the last part of Acts 11:24: “Large numbers of people were brought to the Lord” (NLT). Could there have been a better result?

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (NKJV). Words of encouragement are beautiful and powerful. No wonder Paul said, “If your gift is to encourage others, do it!” I say, “Amen!” In a world filled with discouragement, we need encouragers and their gift.

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God burns with jealousy when we put anything before Him.

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he first two commandments— “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:3-4 NIV)—are dealing with two different problems. The first commandment tells us not to worship false gods. The second is concerned with worshiping the true God falsely.

Here are the two most important questions we must answer: Will we worship the right God? Will we worship the right God in the right way?

      Worship the Right God

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves. Worship no god but me” (Ex. 20:2-3 GNT).

Edmund Crowney said the first commandment defines all others to follow, for in it God defines Himself, establishing His identity and His right to speak commandments for us to obey (How Jesus Transformed the Ten Commandments).

    God Deserves My Undivided Attention

Before God told His people what He wanted them to do, He told them who He is: “I am the Lord.” He is the sovereign ruler, maker, sustainer, and controller of the universe.

Not only is He sovereign; He is also a personal God. When He said, “your God” (v. 2), He used the singular form of the pronoun. He was talking to individuals—to you and me personally. He knows you, and He wants to be known by you.

The personal God is also powerful. His relationship with us is a saving relationship. Most people see the Old Testament as only about the law of God and the New Testament as the grace of God. Yet the first commandment is all about grace. God said, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.” God also spoke to Israel this way in Isaiah 43:1: “I have called you by name, you are mine” (RSV).

The personal and powerful God is also practical. This is the divine order of God: He revealed Himself, delivered the people, and then gave them instruction. Before He gave the Ten Commandments to live by, He gave His loving grace to establish a personal relationship with them. Out of this relationship He gives rules for guidance.

Andy Stanley said, “Rules without relation- ship lead to rebellion” (The Grace of God).

    God Desires My Undivided Affection

The Ten Commandments are not about the law of God but the love of God—His love for us and our love for Him. He is one Lord, and He wants our single-hearted love-fully and completely devoted to Him.

God is too often seen as a God of law, rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts, and “thou shalt nots.” Yet that’s not what the Bible teaches us. God is love, not law, and He wants us to love Him and to love others as He has loved us.

    God Demands My Undivided Allegiance

“No other gods” makes it clear we are to have an undivided allegiance to God. Who is He? He is the Great I AM. What has He done? He has delivered us. What does He want? No other gods before Him. It cannot get any simpler.

When this commandment was made, no other nation prohibited the worship of other gods. Israel’s neighbors were pagans—they worshiped lots of different gods. People believed that certain gods ruled particular geographic areas or natural phenomena. There were all kinds of gods, and the people believed they all had to be kept happy. And while a person or nation might have a favorite god, they certainly wouldn’t think of narrowing their worship to just one god. They could worship whomever they chose and as many as they chose.

People today attempt to make God into what they want Him to be and put that before God. Here are three phrases that frame the meaning of putting something “before God”:

• Instead of God

—we substitute something else for God. I have heard it said, “It’s not that people don’t want God; it’s that they’ve found something they want more.”

• In front of God

—we snub God and make Him an afterthought in our everyday lives.

• In addition to God

—we crowd God out, as shown us in Matthew 6:24: “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other” (TM).

God is saying, “I don’t want to be just first in your life: I want to be the hub of your life that everything else comes from; and if I’m not Lord of all, then I’m not Lord at all.”

In Isaiah 42:8, He states, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (NIV). How do we give glory to another? By sharing our allegiance. We find another god instead of the one true and eternal God—like the god of pleasure, the god of possession, the god of play, or the god of position.

God doesn’t fit until God is first, because that’s where He belongs.

      Worship the Right Way

“You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:4 NIV).

    A Created God Limits Real Worship

Idolatry is the attempt to represent a supernatural God in a natural way by reducing God to the human level. William Barclay stated, “The very essence of idolatry is that it is the worship of a thing instead of the worship of a person; the dead idol has taken the place of the living God” (The Ten Commandments).

Not only does idolatry reduce God to a human level, but idolatry also reaches to the heart level. Martin Luther said, “What- ever the heart clings to and relies on, that is your god. Anything you love, serve, or value more than God is your god.”

A created god limits real worship because idolatry regards God at a dishonored level— seeing Him as “the man upstairs,” a “gimmee” god, our “errand” god, or a “saccharine” god who makes everything sweet. At this dishonored level, we are saying, “Any faith will do, just have faith.” The problem is that we have made God into something He isn’t and then worship Him as the image we have created in our mind, and that is an idol.

    A Created God Leads to False Worship

An improper concept of God causes us to worship the right God in the wrong way. This is false worship. Remember that an idol is a physical image used to represent the spiritual God. Christ said in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (NKJV).

What if a woman came home and found her husband and another woman kissing? And suppose the man said to his wife to justify his actions, “She is so beautiful that she reminded me of you.” Who would buy it? God won’t buy this line either: “God, this just reminded me of You, so I’ll just love on You by loving on the things that remind me of You.”

1. We worship the right God in the wrong way whenever we worship God’s creation above God, the Creator. Jeremiah 14:22 says, “None of the idols of the nations can send rain; the sky by itself cannot make showers fall” (GNT).

2. We worship the right God wrongly by worshiping God for some of His attributes but not all of them. We focus on His love, compassion, and mercy, but leave out His holiness and justice. We try to make God into what we want Him to be instead of allowing God to make us into what we’re supposed to be.

3. We worship the right God wrongly by making the expression of worship more important than the essence of worship. Expressions of worship have to do with style; the essence of worship has to do with God. Whenever our focus shifts from the person of God to the style of worship, we’re in danger of breaking the second commandment.

4. We worship the right God in the wrong way when we divorce our concept of God from the conduct it produces in our lives. Too many people simply go to church, sing a few songs, pray a few prayers, feel some warm feelings, and maybe even get convicted by the sermon . . . but then they can just go out and live the way they want to live. The danger is that the worship experience can serve to bring more plea- sure to us than it does to God! We must have a proper concept of God.

    The Creator God Liberates True Worship

The passionate cry of God is to liberate us into true worship. He said, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5 NASB).

God burns with jealousy when we put anything before Him. While some jealousy is indeed rooted in selfishness, there is an appropriate kind of jealousy that’s rooted in passionate love. God makes this clear in Deuteronomy 32:21: “They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols” (NIV). This kind of jealousy is fiercely protective of one’s rights or possessions, demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.

The emphasis of jealousy here is on Yahweh’s righteous anger in response to any who violate their pledge not to bow down or serve any other god. Exodus 34:14 declares, “Do not worship any other god, because I, the Lord tolerate no rivals” (GNT).

A God who is not jealous over His people is as contemptible as a husband who doesn’t care when his wife is unfaithful to him. God is jealous for us, as I’m jealous for my family; I want what’s best for them, and God wants what’s best for us.

Why are the first two commandments first? Because God is about relationship, not rules!

The God who told us not to make an image of Him has, in fact, given us an image of Himself in the New Testament to worship. Colossians 1:15 tells us Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (ESV). The writer of Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (1:3 NIV). Jesus himself said in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (NCV).

When we worship the right God in the right way, our worship will be centered on the person and work of Jesus, and that will lead to a transformed life.

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Christians are sojourners and strangers in this world.

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his world is not my home; I’m just a passing through.”

The opening line of the hymn popularized by Jim Reeves in the 1950s is more than just a catchy tune; it’s a hope—an expectation of something much better. In a nation that has passed from tolerating sin to openly celebrating it, followers of Christ feel like houseguests that have overstayed their welcome.

Over the past 50 years, Islam and other false religions have moved from being tolerated to actively promoted, alongside a steady erosion of Christian freedoms. There has been an intentional push to remove Christian practices and symbols—such as praying in the name of Jesus and displaying the Ten Commandments—from the public forum.

Last September, an effort by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency was lost in federal court, while various efforts to delete “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance have failed so far.

The American Center for Law and Justice “continues to represent students around the country whose constitutional rights are being violated by school officials that wish to squelch their religious speech,” says the group’s website (aclj.org). “Public school students retain their constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and expression—including the right to wear Christian T-shirts and other religious paraphernalia.”

This June, after receiving a complaint from the FFRF, the U.S. Navy ordered that Bibles (placed by the Gideons) be removed from all hotel rooms on its military bases. Two months later, in response to protests, the Bibles were returned to the hotel rooms while the Navy’s “religious accommodation policies” were being reviewed, a Navy spokesperson told The Christian Post.

Ray Comfort and Emeal Zwayne of The Way of the Master faithfully preached the gospel outside the courthouse in Bellflower, California, for two and a half years, with an estimated 30,000 people hearing the message of Christ. This ended when a Los Angeles County judge issued a court order forbidding public speaking on the grounds of more than 40 courthouses in L.A. County, even though these are public grounds.

And remember how Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality being sinful started a firestorm as A&E attempted to banish him from the airwaves last December?

This world is not our home. . . .

Businesses owned by Christians with convictions against abortion and contraceptives are being forced to provide health insurance benefits that include these “services.” Employers must comply with these government mandates, regardless of their religious and moral convictions. The choice is clear: Violate your conscience and your faith, or face crippling fines.

The attack on Christianity is not revealed only in issues of religious freedom, but also in the way popular culture portrays Christians. Blasphemy is commonplace on television and in the movies. At the time of this writing, eight of the top ten movies in the box office contain misuse of God’s name. One of the remaining two films contains a smattering of other profanities. Popular sitcoms often feature “Christian” characters portrayed as buffoons, hypocrites, or intolerant prudes.

    Looking Ahead

As our freedoms are eroding, our faith is maligned, and the name of our Savior is abused, we must remember that the Bible says this world is not our real home—not our final destination. Scripture calls Christians “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11 NKJV), or “aliens and strangers” (NIV).

Many times, I have been privileged to journey overseas. As much as I enjoy international travel and ministry, it does not take long for homesickness to set in. My affections are on the things at home—my family, my own bed, my wife’s cooking. That is where I want to be.

As we sojourn through this world, our hearts should be focused on what awaits us. Our Lord is preparing a home with no sorrow, sickness, abuse, or persecution. There, His glory will shine and we will enjoy Him forever. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20 ESV).

Forgetting the truth that this world is our temporary dwelling will lead to despair as conditions continue to deteriorate around us.

    Flavoring and Shining

As Christians, we are called to be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Salt is a preservative, and it makes things taste good. Salt also has healing properties. By the Lord’s working in us and through us, we help the world “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Only His gospel will heal our land, and only His presence will preserve His people.

Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12), says we are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). We are called to reflect His good- ness, mercy, justice, and righteousness through the power He gives us. He asks us to do “good works”—works born of the Holy Spirit—so people will see them and give glory to God (v. 16).

These instructions come after words regarding persecution. Jesus declared, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (vv. 10-11).

In the face of suffering, we must remember there is blessing. We are being identified with our Lord, who suffered untold persecution for the sake of His holy name and the forgiveness of our sins. We have the assurance that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

If our faith is mocked and our witness despised, we take hope in the day Christ will return for us. If our hope we’re only in this life, we would be “most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). Our hope is in the promises of God. One day the cares of this life will be over. We will see our Lord and enjoy Him forever.

    Staying Focused

We must respond to loss of liberties by considering the sovereignty of God. He allows the things that trouble us. Things that shock us do not catch our Lord by surprise. He is weaving a tapestry of circumstances to strengthen and purify His church. He is orchestrating history to pre- pare the world for His return.

“Oh, I can’t feel at home in this world anymore” should be the refrain of every Christian . . . or perhaps John’s statement in Revelation 22:20 is more appropriate. Following the final recorded words of Jesus, “Surely I come quickly,” John responded, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

The psalmist David asked, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3). We can keep our eyes on Jesus. He is our only hope in the present and our only hope for our future.

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“They have said, ‘The Lord does not see’” (Psalm 94:7)

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y the late 20th century, the Western world has been so profoundly traumatized by the First World War, the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the ongoing threat of nuclear and ecological destruction that our culture was being characterized as a “culture of death.” The cause was generally attributed to developments in science and technology that contributed to mass casualties and the potential for the destruction of life on our planet as we know it. The irony of our so-called progress was its capacity to destroy us.

The most sinister threat to human life, however, did not originate in a scientific laboratory, a concentration camp, or on a battlefield. Ironically, it originated in a court of law that was directed against the most innocent among us; namely, the unborn. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ruled that a woman has the right to end a pregnancy with an abortion.

Prior to the ruling, abortion in America was considered legal only in cases where it was necessary to save the mother’s life. The court ruled instead that abortion was a privacy right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In other words, a pregnant woman could simply choose to abort her child. What the Supreme Court did not consider, as it should have, was the right of the unborn to live.

Following the Roe v. Wade ruling, the issue of abortion became heavily politicized. Left-wing politicians, in particular, found abortion to be a useful plank in their party’s platform that could appeal to women and minorities. Those on the right opposed the ruling on moral and humanitarian grounds and insisted that the ruling should be appealed or, at least, strongly restricted.

Those who advocated a mother’s “right to choose” an abortion spun their rationale with a false declaration that abortions would be “legal, safe, and rare.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. It is estimated that some 60 million abortions have taken place in America since it was legalized in 1973.

The abortion clinic run by the infamous Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia testifies to how horrendous abortion can be. In May 2013, Gosnell was sentenced to three life terms for killing three babies born alive at his clinic, then stabbed with scissors.

Currently, nearly 30 percent of pregnancies in New York end in abortion (abort73.com). On January 22 of this year—the same date when the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973—the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill that “removes restrictions on abortions, essentially allowing babies to be killed up until the moment of birth. . . . Cuomo directed that several landmarks, including the One World Trade Center, be lit up in pink to celebrate the new legislation” (NIFLA.org).

Days after the so-called “Reproductive Healthcare Act” passed in New York, the Virginia State Legislature considered its own bill, H.R. 2491, that would allow an abortion “through the third trimester . . . all the way up to 40 weeks,” according to its sponsor, Kathy Tran.

When asked if he supported this bill, the newly elected Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, said:

When we talk about third-trimester abortions, it’s done in cases where they may be severe deformities. . . . If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the father desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother (vox.com).

Thankfully, H.R. 2431 was tabled when all five Republican members of an eight-member subcommittee voted against it. However, Virginia law already permits certain third-trimester abortions.

Do these things go unnoticed by the Giver of life? Will God hold the wrongdoers responsible for the death of these innocents? “Even a good society may sometimes engage in immoral actions, but a good society cannot survive if it calls immoral things moral,” said conservation Jewish commentator Dennis Prager.

At conception, the Creator imparts life and gender identity to the person He has created. The human fetus is not a part of the woman’s body over which she has a right to do with it what she wills. The fetus is a living soul to whom God gives a body. The mother’s purpose and privilege is to cherish, nourish, and nurture the son or daughter in her womb.

“If you are pregnant,” one repentant abortion doctor said to mothers, “you should remember that you are not carrying a blob of tissue, as some would have you believe; you are carrying your son or daughter.”

In Psalm 94, the psalmist asks God, “Can a throne of destruction be allied with You, One which devises mischief by decree? They band themselves together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. . . . He has brought back their wickedness upon them and will destroy them” (vv. 20-21, 23 NASB).

In this psalm, the writer implores the Lord to avenge His people for the wickedness that is enacted against them:

O Lord, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth, Render recompense to the proud. How long shall the wicked, O Lord, How long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly;
All who do wickedness vaunt themselves. They crush Your people, O Lord,
And afflict Your heritage.
They slay the widow and the stranger
And murder the orphans.
They have said, “The Lord does not see, Nor does the God of Jacob pay heed” (vv. 1-7 NASB).

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were commanded to destroy the Canaanites and drive them out (Deuteronomy 20:16-17; Joshua 23:12-13). The destruction of Canaanite cities like Jericho was an act of God’s righteous judgment against a morally depraved people whose measure of sin was full. The people were immersed in idolatry, cult prostitution, spiritism,
and the detestable practice of sacrificing their newly born children to their gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).

When iniquity is full and overflowing—as it was at the time of the Great Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God’s judgment against the Canaanite cities that sacrificed their sons and daughters to Molech—God’s mercy gives way to His vengeance. These Old Testament examples of God’s judgment against the sins of that day are a type and foreshadowing of the final judgment of God against the sins of our time. Christ will soon return in righteousness to avenge the wickedness of evildoers, overthrow every worldly power, and establish His righteous kingdom on earth (Revelation 19:1-6).

In Moses’ final exhortation to the Israelites, the great prophet presented the alternative that God was setting before the people—a choice that pertained to covenant obedience and the sacredness of both physical and spiritual life: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NKJV).

Those who choose life over death are called to pray against the forces of darkness that seek to steal, kill, and destroy life (John 10:10). We must pray for expectant mothers, fathers, medical professionals, and organizations that encourage and support life.

The temptation to abort a baby is intensified in our contemporary society by the convenience of abortion clinics, the misinformation routinely given to pregnant women in crisis, and the rationale for abortion promoted by a culture of death. We must pray that women, regardless of their circumstances, will not succumb to the temptation to abort their babies.

We are the voice for the unborn and we must use it to speak out. We must actively engage the abortion issue and let our legislators know that we will not vote for politicians who support abortion or infanticide. God promises blessing on those who choose life.

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“Whoever has the gift of giving to others should give freely” (Rom. 12:8 NCV).

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s a child, my three favorite days of the year (in order) were Christmas, my birthday, and Easter. I prioritized these days based on the amount of gifts I would receive during each celebration!

Even though I came from a family with very limited resources, I eagerly anticipated the gifts I would find on Christmas morning, the birthday presents my family and friends would give me, and the candy-filled basket I would open before church on Easter morning. I seldom thought about giving to others—all I cared about was receiving more gifts. While this may be a normal perspective for small children, as we grow older, our outlook should shift. We should discover the joy of giving to others.

    A Blessed Gift

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Giving is so central to Christian living that instructions for generosity permeate the Bible (Luke 6:38; Acts 2:45; 2 Cor. 9:6-7; 1 Tim. 6:17-19; 1 John 3:17). Whereas all Christians should be generous givers, some believers are endowed with a spiritual gift of giving.

In Romans 12:8, the Greek word for giving means “to give a share in.” The gift of giving is the “God-given capacity to share with others one’s personal possessions . . . whether money, food, clothing, or shelter” (French Arrington, Encountering the Holy Spirit). Those who have this gift are to “give generously” (NIV) to others—to give freely, without concern for repayment or recognition.

    The Gift in Action

In the New Testament, numerous people exemplify the gift of giving. The greatest example is Jesus Christ, who gave all He had to give for our salvation. “Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world” (Gal. 1:3-4).

The apostle Paul was another exemplary giver. He said, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak” (Acts 20:35 NIV). This statement reveals two key components of giving:

1. Generous giving always includes giving of oneself, just as Paul devoted himself to “hard work” that would benefit others.
2. The giver’s fruit of labor should be shared with “the weak”—with those who cannot provide adequately for themselves.

Paul’s persistent devotion to assisting others with their spiritual and physical needs indicates he was blessed with the spiritual gift of giving that motivated him to give his all to others. He said he was willing to make the most extreme sacrifice possible: “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Rom. 9:3-4 NIV).

Another remarkable example of the gift of giving is Zacchaeus. Before he met Christ, Zacchaeus was a greedy tax collector who cheated others for personal gain. However, after he put his faith in Jesus, he declared to Jesus and those around, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8 NKJV). His newfound generosity exceeded normal restitution for his previous extortions and extended to liberal assistance for the poor! The words of Jesus indicate Zacchaeus’ encounter with the Savior would impact him forever (v. 9).

One of the most inspiring examples of giving is the story of Dorcas, who “was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did” (Acts 9:36 NASB). When she unex- pectedly became sick and died, the disciples grieved for Dorcas and called for Peter to come quickly to their location. After Peter arrived, her widowed friends showed him “the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made” for them (v. 39 NIV). Peter prayed for Dorcas, and God miraculously raised her back to life!

Dorcas may not have been a wealthy person, but she graciously and consistently shared her life and resources with those around her, exemplifying the gift of giving. As Jesus taught, God does not judge our giving by the amount given, but by the amount left over after we give (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).

    A Gift to Remember

While pastoring in Louisville, Kentucky, I was fortunate to have an elderly member in our church who reminded me of Dorcas. She was one of the most faithful and committed Christians I
ever had the privilege to pastor. Sister Ruby had many remarkable qualities, but two especially were evident—her passionate praying and generous giving. She may not have had earthly abundance, but she lovingly created gifts for her friends and family.

When people received one of these precious creations, they knew it was an expression of love and that Sister Ruby had prayed for them while making the gift. She particularly loved making homemade Christmas ornaments to give away, and our family still has a wonderful collection of these gifts that we treasure.

When Sister Ruby went to be with the Lord, I was honored to speak at her funeral. During my message, I asked everyone in the crowded auditorium to raise their hand if they had ever received a homemade gift from Sister Ruby. I was not surprised when almost everyone raised their hand. Her giving had touched every family represented at the funeral service!

    A Proverb to Live By

As Christians, God calls us to give generously to His work and to those in need. However, some people are blessed with this wonderful gift of giving. Believers with this gift gladly give of themselves through service to others, ministry engagement, and sacrificial giving of their goods and resources. Their giving is characterized by humility, generosity, servanthood, and selflessness.

Most of us know people who have this gift. We have witnessed and experienced their generosity, which should inspire us to share our lives and resources with others. Then we, too, can
be blessed by our giving, as Proverbs 22:9 declares: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (NIV).

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Imagine what it would be like if everyone told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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magine what it would be like if everyone told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That’s the call of God’s ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Ex. 20:16).

    What Does This Commandment Mean?

The first four commandments teach us how to love God, while the last six teach us how to love our fellow man. The ninth commandment suggests that based on a proper love for God we are to love our fellow man enough to speak the truth and not spread lies and untruths about him.

Martin Luther offers an insightful definition in his Small Catechism. We should fear and love God so we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. It’s all about telling the truth and nurturing relationships.

    Dishonesty Today

Being dishonest is a way of life these days. It is very difficult to discern who is telling the truth. Many try to balance the risk of being caught in a lie against the benefits of lying. Exaggerations, overstatements, understatements, false statements, spins, cover-up, and disclaimers fog the truth. Sometimes it’s blatant and other times more subtle.

In recent months, several prominent authors, politicians, and scientists have admitted to plagiarism. They took someone else’s work and words and claimed it as their own. So prevalent is this tendency that the editors of the Evangel will put this article through a “plagiarism check.” I’m OK with that, because authors of much more notoriety have fallen by the wayside for such dishonesty.

God wants us to replace lying and misrepresentation with honesty in our words, hearts, and thoughts.

Another troubling tendency toward bearing false witness is the amazing ease in which we accept and repeat unfounded information about others. While so much positive and helpful information is immediately available via the Internet, irresponsible bloggers and gossip columnists often make it their business to destroy reputations with half-truths and lies.

Long before this particular lightning-speed communication tool, British author Terry Pratchett wrote, “A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on.” It is disturbing to come across gossip and slander on the Net, but even more so when it is repeated. While truth is lacing up its boots, the mis- information has already made its rounds.

The ninth commandment is intended to protect us from defamation of character and uphold an honest person’s reputation.

    The Consequences of Lying

Telling an untruth is a monumental wrong, difficult if not impossible to make right. To tell a lie is to open a pillowcase of feathers to the four winds. A day later, go find every feather and reassemble the pillowcase. You can’t do it. Like the feathers, lies keep traveling.

A few years ago, one of my favorite college football coaches was recruited to leave Georgia Tech for Notre Dame. After a celebrated eight years in Georgia, he lasted only five days at Notre Dame when it was discovered he had deliberately padded his résumé—falsely claiming degrees he never earned from institutions he never attended. He is now coaching a lower-level team, and his reputation is forever ruined.

Other examples abound. The damage is done. Yes, God is willing to forgive, and life goes on. Better, we can avoid this unnecessary suffering by committing to truthfulness and honesty.

    Pursuing the Truth

A few years ago, I was invited to join the local Rotary Club. At the end of each weekly meeting, we recited the Rotarian ethical guide for personal and professional relationships known as the “Four-Way Test.” I learned that many of the members adopted this test as a guide for ethics and relationship in their businesses; therefore, I decided to adopt it as well. I’ve invited my ministerial colleagues in Oklahoma and Kansas to join me in this commitment. In fact, we gave a coffee mug to each minister with the “Four-Way Test” of the things I think, say, and do:

1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Sounds a lot like the ninth commandment, doesn’t it?

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Loving Lost People Into the Church https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/05/loving-lost-people-into-the-church/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=loving-lost-people-into-the-church https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/05/loving-lost-people-into-the-church/#respond Fri, 24 May 2019 08:00:44 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4477

My unchurched friends do not listen to Christian radio, nor are their lives touched by billboard evangelism.

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od why isn’t my church growing?

That was my rant one morning as I paced back and forth in our sanctuary…partly praying and partly complaining. I was in the fourth year of my pastorate, and our congregation was stuck.

I was growing frustrated and I cried out, “Why? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my church?”

I really did not expect God to answer me, but He did. He prompted me with this thought:

Marty, I have called you to reach lost people, but you have not done it.

Those words pierced my heart, and I responded, “God, I don’t know how.”

I had grown up in a mill village where I was taught to come out from among the world and be separate. I was very comfortable with that lifestyle. Now, however, God was calling me to go back into the world and make a difference. I was willing, but I simply did not know what to do.

Shortly thereafter, God placed me in a group of ministers who taught me how to engage with the culture in an authentic and compelling manner. I came to realize that many unchurched Americans are insulated from Christianity. I discovered that my unchurched friends do not listen to Christian radio or watch Christian television, nor are their lives touched by billboard and bumper-sticker evangelism. However, they are open to friendship with a genuine person.

If we are going to lead people to Jesus, it begins with developing relationships with individuals God brings our way. He will use these relationships to open the door of faith.

    Invest and Invite

Exactly where do we start? I tell our congregation, “Be nice to people.” I know that sounds elementary, but sometimes we overlook the simple things. Yet, it’s more than just being nice. I tell the church, “Focus on becoming friends with people outside the faith. There are people all around us headed for a Christ-less eternity, and many of them are waiting for someone to show them the way. God has placed us here to share the good news.”

There are easy ways to do this. First, look at where you shop. You buy groceries, purchase gas, and shop at department stores. Embrace these mundane errands as ways to make new friends.

Second, consider your recreational activities. If you play golf, add an unchurched person to your foursome. If you are a walker, invite an unsaved person to walk with you. What about youth sports? I coached basketball and baseball in our county recreation department for 10 years. I met new families every season. There are people in our church today as a result of those connections.

Third, look at the relationships you already have established and start praying for your friends. I believe God will open the door for you to share your story. Such a conversation often begins with your new friend asking questions about your faith. Be ready to offer a simple answer and then let the conversation flow. Next, invite them to church.

You can describe this process in two words: invest and invite. Invest your time in developing friendships and then invite those friends to church. Studies show the number-one reason people visit a church is because someone made the effort to invite them.

At Stevens Creek Church of God, we encourage our people to invite their friends to church. Several times each year, we provide cards that have service times and our location on them. This helps members to invite people to come to church with them. We tell our congregation, “If you will do what we cannot do by inviting your friends, then we will do what you may not feel comfortable doing—presenting the gospel in an easy-to-understand and compelling way.” We understand we are partners in evangelism.

    Welcome and Engage

Each week we plan our worship services with unchurched people in mind. We try to create a friendly environment so individuals who have never been to our church will feel welcome. This begins in the parking lot. Each week we have a team of smiling people directing traffic and helping our new guests find their way. Once they enter the building, a first-impressions team member greets them, helps them check their kids into the children’s ministry, and points them to the auditorium. We pray that this process will communicate to our guests that they matter to God and they also matter to our church.

Visiting a new church can be intimidating. We want to ease people’s fears and prepare them to receive God’s Word. When people walk into the sanctuary, give them a worship guide. This bulletin provides information about the church, general announcements, and a connect card. In addition, the worship guide gives the guest something to read during the minutes leading up to the start of the service.

The service begins on time and typically starts with music. We place the words of the songs on large screens so everyone can sing along. If someone is truly unchurched, the music portion of the service can be awkward. Unchurched people typically do not sing aloud nor do they sing with a group of strangers during a normal week. They often describe this portion of the service as a “concert.”

People typically enjoy concerts and we find that the music presented in our services helps position people to receive the message. If the music is too long or too loud, it can become a barrier for guests. So we think about them as we plan our music.

As the pastor, I consider guests when presenting my message. The average person in America does not know the Bible. They do not know the difference between the tabernacle and the church; they don’t know apostles from epistles. If I am going to engage them with the Scriptures, I need to lead them through the process.

I typically display the major points of the sermon and the Scripture verses on a large screen when I speak. It is important for the message to be clear and easily understood. Clarity is more important than cuteness.

If you don’t have a video projector, put sermon notes in the bulletin or provide a Bible for people who do not have one. When people come to learn, present the message in a way they can understand. You are a modern missionary carrying God’s Word to an unreached community. Learn to speak their language.

People relate to stories. Jesus used parables to communicate with people of His day. We must do the same. Consider using personal testimonies, video clips, and dramas to capture their attention and share the gospel.

At every service, provide an opportunity for people to receive Christ. Whether it is Mother’s Day or Reformation Sunday does not matter. Take five minutes at the end of the service and ask people if they would like to be saved. Then lead them in a prayer of salvation.

At the conclusion of the service, always offer a next step for new believers. We tell our congregation that faith is a personal decision, but there comes a time when that personal decision goes public, and that is called baptism. We offer a class for new believers and encourage them to be baptized and join the church.

    Perpetuate the Mission

It’s been over 20 years since the day God prompted me to focus on reaching lost people. Since then, we have seen over 2,000 people saved, baptized, and join the church.

Our mission is not complete. We still believe people matter to God and therefore they matter to us. Each week we boldly proclaim that Stevens Creek Church is a place where the lost can be found and the broken can be healed.

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Let’s make our actions speak plainer than words, compelling the lost to join the body of Christ.

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n my first day working with special-needs children, I was waiting for a young girl to finish her task and move on to a new one. I wasn’t aware that my hands were on my hips; it was just a natural stance.

The girl interpreted it as a challenge, and when I looked down, she was in a kung-fu pose, ready to pounce! Of course, I did the professional thing—I ran!

All these years later, I still think about the position of my hands, my facial expression, and my tone of voice when interacting with a student. My body language matters . . . as a teacher and as a Christian.

In Ephesians 4:15-16, Christians are pictured as a body, “growing in every way more and more like Christ….He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (NLT).

As the body of Christ, we say it is our goal to grow, but what does our body language say? Do we take a defensive stance or exhibit a detached demeanor? How does the world around us interpret our intentions? Are we content to minister to each other within the walls of our churches, forgetting we are mandated to go to the highways and byways and “compel” others to come to Christ (Luke 14:23)?

We should reach out, looking at people eye to eye.

One day while drinking my coffee at a fast-food restaurant, writing out my lesson for kids church, a woman nearby became verbally aggressive, saying I had stolen her cup of coffee . . . but her cup was still sitting in front of her! I told myself to keep my eyes down and she would eventually go away, and she did.

Later that day, my daughter told me that woman used to be a teacher at the local high school, but had experienced a mental breakdown after losing her husband, sending her life spiraling downward.

We may never know the back-story to people’s heartache. The world is full of people who look fine on the outside, but inside they need the hope we as the body of Christ can offer them. It is easy to become complacent and spiritually look away, hoping they simply leave.

We are called to pray for lost people, including those that “despitefully use” us (Luke 6:28). I would like to say I am a strong prayer warrior, but I had to reevaluate my spirituality when I realized the only prayer I had offered for a particular person was the would move out of state! Shame on me—I needed to remember to not take another person’s anger so personally.

I once worked with a substitute teacher who kept telling our special-needs children they were in her “personal bubble.” I thought, If you have a personal bubble, you’re in the wrong line of work!

We Christians need to come out of our private bubbles and church comfort zones to become living testimonies of God’s love and forgiveness. Let’s make our actions speak plainer than words, compelling the lost to join the body of Christ.

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“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12 NLT).

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n a culture where it is easy to dishonor what God honors and to be entertained by what He condemns, we must take a fresh look at the Ten Commandments. The times demand it and our future depends on it.

The fifth commandment states clearly and succinctly, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12 NLT).

The Hebrew word translated honor comes from a root word meaning “weighty.” It implies an attitude of placing value and the weight of importance on one’s father and mother—regarding them as ordained by God and truly significant in one’s life.

This is more than a mere suggestion; it is a command. God gives a wonderful promise—a long and full life in a God-given land—to those who obey it.

In a court of law, some people “plead the fifth [amendment]” when they do not want to respond to the queries of the prosecution. We in the church need to “plead the fifth [commandment]” by
defending this timeless law, teaching our children to lead a life of honor toward their parents.

This commandment does not say children are to honor their father and mother until they turn 18, and then they are free of any responsibility. Honor is commanded for a lifetime. It is the heartbeat of God for the family. But is this doable?

The ideal is that the child will never shame his or her parents, never bring them any heartache, and never display any anger toward them. However, the reality is not always so pristine.

What about when parents do not exemplify lives deserving of honor? It goes back to the vertical relationship with God expressed in the first four commandments. When that relationship is intact, our horizontal relationship with others, specifically our parents, becomes easier.

While sons and daughters whose parents honor God will probably find it easier to keep the fifth commandment, realize that honor does not always mean to agree. It means a submission and level of respect countering a culture that is more about the “I” and the “me” than the “we” and the “us.”

The apostle Paul reiterated this case for honor in Ephesians 6:1-3:

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” . . . If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth” (NLT).

Obedience is a result of belonging to the Lord and heeding spiritual authority as the right thing to do. Obedience is the fruit of honor. It produces a harvest of favor and longevity. God always honors those who honor Him and that which He loves.

Conversely, disobedience is the fruit of dishonor. If we fail in life, it could be because we choose a life of dishonor. It is impossible for God to simply overlook the breaking of this commandment by those thinking it is irrelevant and unnecessary. The heart of honor is willing to protect, care for, yield, submit, listen, and learn. One preacher said, “Honor is a seed that will outlast a lifetime.”

Thankfully, my sister and I had parents who loved the Lord. It was an exciting adventure to be the daughter of Garland and Louise Mann. They taught this scripture for what it is—a commandment, not a suggestion. They were clear. If we obeyed, there would be privileges. If we disobeyed, there would be consequences in this life and in the one to come.

I am chuckling now as I write about our parents’ instructional techniques for this text. There are times when I am teaching my daughter about this same verse that it seems I am opening my mouth but my parents’ words are coming out!

Today I plead the case for the fifth. Love it. Live it. Lavish honor on your parents and enjoy the journey. It is God’s plan.

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“When the king heard what was written in the BOOK OF THE LAW, he tore his clothes in despair” (2 Kings 22:11 NLT).

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evival is needed during desperate times. The injustice and social issues we see create the urgency needed to stir up a spirit of prayer within the body of Christ. When saints pray and seek God, He will show us what needs to be purged in order to bring revival and restoration to our lives and communities.

The reign of King Josiah, recorded in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35, gives us a pattern for seeing revival, renewal, and restoration come into our most desperate situations.

In order to get the appropriate setting for the environment in which Josiah became king, we need to look briefly at the reign of the kings who came before him—his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. I’ll start with his great-grandfather, Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a godly king who, if you will recall, became ill and asked the Lord to extend his life. God granted his request, and Hezekiah ruled righteously for the rest of his life, bringing revival back to the land. But then after Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh (Josiah’s grandfather) came into power.

Manasseh was one of the most wicked kings Israel ever had (2 Chronicles 33:1-20). He had the longest reign—55 years—during which he led Israel into all kinds of idolatry, witchcraft, sorcery, and divination. As a judgment against him, God had the king of Babylon come and take Manasseh from his throne in Jerusalem and put him in prison in Babylon. While he was in prison, Manasseh repented because he recognized he had messed up, and God restored him to his throne in Jerusalem.

Manasseh’s story is one of the most amazing accounts in the Bible of an individual who was involved in all kinds of witchcraft and divination but repented. The Bible says he humbled himself, and God brought him out of prison and restored him to his throne in Jerusalem.

When he died, his son Amon took over the throne.

Amon was also an evil king (33:21–25). He only reigned for two years before his servants conspired against him and killed him. After they murdered him, the people of the land caught everyone who conspired against Amon, killed them, and made Josiah their new king.

When Josiah ascended the throne, he was only 8 years old. His father had just been murdered, so he was coming into a pretty bad situation. Being so young, he probably had someone helping him to rule the kingdom. Immediately he got on track to become one of Israel’s greatest godly kings. He was responsible for repairing the house of God, which had been in disrepair and neglected. He restored the Passover to the land, the priesthood back to its purpose, and praise and worship back into the house of God. He was also responsible for rediscovering the Law of God, which had been completely lost.

Josiah’s reign is a model for how revival and restoration of the land—the earth—starts with the people of God. That is why this message of what to pray and what to expect in desperate times is so important. We are in a time of desperation in our world. What is evil is being called good; what is good is being called evil. There are things in our lives that must be purged if desperate times are to give way to times of revival and glory. Let’s take a closer look at the steps Josiah took to restore God’s glory among his people, heal the desperation of their times, and usher in the last revival the people of Israel would see before their captivity in Babylon.

    Purge the Land

In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a young boy, [Josiah] began to seek out the God of David his father; and in the twelfth year he began to cleanse Judah and Jerusalem from high places, Asherah poles, idols, and carved and cast images. So they tore down the altars for the Baals, and he cut down the incense altars that were above them and smashed the Asherah poles and carved and cast images. And he crushed them to dust and scattered them before the graves of those who sacrificed to them (2 Chronicles 34:3-4 MEV).

What’s interesting about Josiah’s beginning actions as king is that this young man had no Book of the Law. That wasn’t discovered until later. All of his actions at this point were based on his desire to seek God. And with that desire, God put in Josiah’s heart the motivation to remove idols and images from throughout the territory. Josiah began with purging the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem.

How do we apply this in our own lives?

    Get Rid of Idols

Josiah’s story shows us that as we seek God, He will give us the desire to get rid of the ungodly things in our lives. As you seek God, you find Him. And as you come into His presence, conviction comes, and you begin to want to take on His image, which is holy. You are motivated to remove things from your life that separate you from God and His standard of holiness. A person who is seeking God for any period of time will begin to remove the idols and unclean things from their life. That’s why you cannot tell me someone is truly seeking God and still holding on to idols. This purging is also a picture of deliverance.

See, we often want revival, but we don’t want to get there God’s way. We want to see a move of God in the land; we want peace and freedom in our lives; we want fulfillment of dreams; we want blessings; we want fruit, increase, and multiplication; but we don’t want to seek God and begin to deal with the things in our lives that we place before God. But this is what should happen and what Josiah modeled for us during his reign in Israel.

    Dig Up and Destroy Roots of Bondage

Then he burned the bones of the priests on their altars and so cleansed Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:5 MEV).

What Josiah did here may seem harsh or extreme, but the priests were false priests, and it shows the level of godly righteousness and zeal in this 20-year-old man. He doesn’t just deal with stuff in a nice way, which is a problem we have sometimes. We want to deal with the Enemy and his devices in a nice way, but that is not how we break free. Sometimes it takes righteous zeal to tear down the idols and things in our lives and in our land that rise up against the knowledge of God. We can’t just pat them down. Sometimes we have to cast them or throw them down.

So the Bible is telling us that Josiah began to break stuff down. He dug up the bones of the false priests—as if their control and false prophecies over the people were not dead enough—and burned their bones. It is as if he called the coroner’s office and had their bones exhumed just to make sure every evil thing they led the people into was good and dead.

Josiah recognized that his city was defiled and unclean, that it needed to be cleaned up in honor of the God who had given them the land. He was dealing with the things every ungodly king before him brought into the land. He knew one of his own forefathers had led the people into rebellion and permitted all kinds of wickedness and evil. He was turning the tables and cleaning up strongholds and bondages that were generational.

We often talk about getting deliverance from generational spirits. Some of the things that we battle have been introduced into our lives or our communities as a result of what our ancestors have done. It could be smoking, drinking, perversion, lust, uncleanness, drug addiction, witchcraft, or mishandling money and resources.

However long those issues have been in your family, when you begin to seek God, He will give you the desire to get them out of your life, to be cleansed, to pray for revival to come, and to want His blessing to come upon your life. His Spirit will cause you to want to get rid of those things so you can have the fullness of God instead.

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“Whoever has the gift of showing mercy to others should do so with joy” (Rom. 12:8 NCV).

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o you remember where you spent Christmas in 1980? I do. As a thoroughly hopeless and broken young man, I was cowering in a Salvation Army shelter for the homeless in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I had lived on the streets for the previous three years due to a crippling addiction
to alcohol. Now, pursued by paramilitary gunmen, I was hiding in the only place in Belfast that would shelter me. I detested Christians, yet the only thing keeping me alive was mercy shown to me by Christians!

You might think their mercy would have prompted some kind of gratitude, but my sinful rebellion was such that it only increased my hatred. I did everything I could to make myself objectionable to those Salvation Army people. I cursed them, spat at them, and blasphemed their Savior. On one particularly dark and chaotic night, I tried to kill the captain who managed that shelter . . . dropping a beer bottle toward him from three floors above. I still wonder if it was intoxication or the grace of God that spoiled my aim and saved me from being guilty of murder.

That Salvation Army captain, a Welshman named George Hardy, consistently responded to me with grace and mercy. His active and continual practice of mercy, in the face of the most extreme provocation, eventually melted my heart in a way no sermon ever could.

    The Gift of Mercy

All Christians must be merciful (Luke 6:36), but not all have the gift of mercy (Rom. 12:8).

The Greek word for mercy is primarily an action word. It occurs most often in the New Testament in connection with Jesus’ healing ministry. It goes way beyond nice feelings, denoting instead the taking of positive action in order to eliminate misery. As Christians, we should all show mercy in active ways, yet God calls some of us to do so in a much greater and more effective manner.

When Pentecostals think of the gifts of the Spirit, mercy is not usually the first to spring to mind. Yet, if we accept the scriptural identification of mercy as a gift of the Spirit, then we should excel in this gift. Pentecostals should be more active and more effective in addressing poverty and injustice than anyone else in the world!

The history of Church of God World Missions provides some stirring examples of the spiritual gift of mercy in action. Think of Margaret Gaines and her steadfast commitment to the Palestinian children of Aboud in the West Bank . . . Fred Garmon and the incredible mercy being displayed through People for Care and Learning in Cambodia . . . and Rick Waldrop’s passionate insistence in Latin America that a commitment to social justice is integral to being truly Pentecostal.

Amazingly, however, we still have a few voices within the Pentecostal ranks that speak disparagingly of involvement in social justice as if it were somehow incompatible with a strong commitment to the Word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. My own life and ministry, both as a recipient and a giver of mercy, have convinced me of the awesome power of this spiritual gift.

    Becoming Merciful

Two months after I entered the homeless shelter, I found myself kneeling at the front of a church, crying out to Jesus for pardon and salvation.

Two decades later, as overseer of the Church of God in Ireland, I asked myself who the most unloved people in my nation were. That was an easy question to answer. Large-scale immigration into Ireland has included over 10,000 Roma gypsies. Their lifestyle, often characterized by stealing and begging, has made them a target of hatred and abuse. Their reputation is such that it is almost impossible for a member of the Roma community to find a job, and their subsequent reliance on state welfare increases the resentment towards them from the rest of society.

The Church of God in Ireland made a decision to practice unflinching mercy towards this community. It has not been easy. Since 2000, I have found myself in many tense interviews with police and government officials. Yet today we have eight Roma congregations, and over 15 percent of this marginalized community are now members of the Church of God!

I don’t know if I have the spiritual gift of mercy or whether I am simply struggling to manifest the mercy every believer should exercise. I know I fall far short of the extraordinary mercy exemplified in someone like Margaret Gaines. Nevertheless, my experiences with mercy thus far have convinced me that, as a Pentecostal, I want to be part of the most merciful people on earth.

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Early on in my ministry, I neglected the Sabbath. I justified my actions because I was doing the ‘Lord’s work.’

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his article is due today. I probably should have written it yesterday, but I could not because yesterday was my day off.

I take every Monday off. I am not legalistic about it. I just believe if I can protect it, I will. So I have sanctified it—I have set Monday aside. Let me explain why.

    Some Things Need Explaining

Since 1997, my wife and I have been parenting twins. Obviously, raising one child is a huge responsibility; raising two is twice the responsibility. It is our job to help them grow up into responsible, respectable Christians.

In our endeavor to help them mature, we have had countless conversations about what they should and should not do. Some of the instructions are short. They are easy to comprehend, and they do not require lengthy conversations. At other times, we must go into more detail to drive the point home.

In giving the Ten Commandments, God kept some short: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal. He elaborated on some of the other commandments—especially the fourth one. God uses 99 words in the NIV (94 in the KJV) and four verses to teach His children about the importance of observing the Sabbath:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Ex 20:8-11 NIV).

I do not believe any one of the Ten Commandments is more important than any one of the others. God gave all of them to us for a reason. However, when it comes to Sabbath, we can easily get caught up in our busyness and push this commandment aside.

God knew this could easily become a neglected area of our lives, so He explains in detail the expectations He has concern- ing the Sabbath. Sabbath is a commandment, not a suggestion.

    Who’s in Charge?

Man and woman were created just before the first Sabbath. Before God allowed Adam to work even one day, God invited him to partake in this wonderful day of rest. The Sabbath is not, therefore, a question of only resting when we are tired, but a sign of commitment to our Father.

God requires that we rest. He alone wants to be God.

When we don’t participate in Sabbath, we are saying it all depends on us. When we neglect the Sabbath, we are creating ourselves as lord over our lives. If you are like me, I have never been successful at being my own master. I fail miserably when I try to control my life seven days a week.

    The Things That Matter Most

The Sabbath commandment bridges the commandments concerning our relationship with God and the ones about our relationships with one another.

As the speed of our lives increases, the quality of our relationships decreases. Our relationship with our spouse suffers. Our relationship with our children weakens. Our relationship with our closest friends is found wanting. If the quality of these tangible relationships decreases, imagine what happens with our relationship with our unseen yet ever-present God.

The problem with busyness is we become too busy to notice we are too busy! We don’t purposefully neglect these relationships. It just happens. Sabbath gives us one day a week to focus on the only thing that we can take to heaven with us—our relationships.

    Corporate Rest

Every July, my church participates in Sabbath. We intentionally rest as a corporate body. We still meet on Sundays, but we cancel all small-group activities and plan family-friendly events. I teach our parishioners the importance of rest and relationships.

We have done this for seven years now. I believe marriages have been saved and families restored because of our annual Sabbath month. I have watched people grow in their walk with God. They trust Him to do what they cannot do.

    It Applies to Me Too

I will let you in on a secret, but please don’t tell my church. Our annual Sabbath is more for me than it is for them. I need it. I have a tendency to fall back into my old habits and routines. Every summer, God’s Word reminds me to rest. Just like the Sabbath rest for the land mentioned in Leviticus 25:4, my life becomes more fruitful when I sanctify a time of rest.

Early on in my ministry, I neglected the Sabbath. I was at the church seven days a week and worked long hours. I justified my actions because I was doing the “Lord’s work.” In all of the good I was doing, my family was suffering. God convicted my heart and I had to sanctify the Sabbath and keep it holy.

As a lead pastor, I still work on Sundays. But now I take every Monday off to focus on my relationship with my God, my spouse, and my children. I rest from the worries of my job. I allow God to do more in that one day than I can get done in six days.

I know there are things to do and people to see. There are never enough hours in a day. So, stop. Recognize God as the Creator, setting aside one day for rest. Be still and know that He is God.

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The gift of prophecy should be the most common gift operating in the church!

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he gift of prophecy is classified as a gift of inspiration (along with the gifts of tongues and the interpretation of tongues) because the inspiration of the Spirit is required for its function. Prophecy seems to be especially significant, since Paul mentions it 22 times in 1 Corinthians 11–14.

    What the Gift of Prophecy Is Not

The gift of prophecy is not . . .

• Foretelling the future.

Foretelling future events can be an aspect of any prophecy, but it is never the primary meaning or purpose of it. Prophecy is more about forth-telling than it is foretelling.

• Preaching.

Some people believe whenever an individual preaches a sermon, he or she is implementing the gift of prophecy. While prophesying may resemble preaching in some aspects, it is entirely different. In preaching, the Spirit engages the natural mind; in prophecy, the Spirit’s mind is operating through a person’s natural speech. A preacher expounds the written Word of God, but the one prophesying spontaneously and supernaturally speaks inspired words from the Holy Spirit.

• Rebuking.

The individual implementing the gift of prophecy will make statements that lift up and encourage the body of Christ. Correction comes from preaching the Word and from direct confrontation by authorized spiritual leaders.

    Prophecy: Speaking for God

The gift of prophecy is a supernatural and spontaneous utterance in a known tongue—speaking one’s own language in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the original Greek, to prophesy means to “speak for another.” Consequently, to prophesy is to speak for God!

Like the other gifts of the Spirit, it is a divine intervention at a particular moment to meet a pressing need of God’s people. The person declaring a prophecy is caught up in the Spirit and, in his own language, speaks a message to the church directly from the heart of God.

Much like the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation, the believer experiences a strong, almost uncontrollable urge to declare the words of God. Almost uncontrollable is appropriate because the individual does not lose control, for “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32). One can and should control when and how the message of prophecy is given.

The gift of prophecy should not be confused with the office of the prophet, listed as one of the fivefold ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11. Only the names are similar. The office of the prophet is a gift from Jesus to His church, while the gift of prophecy is given by the Holy Spirit to an individual. In Acts 21:8-10, we clearly see the difference: four virgin daughters of Philip the evangelist who “did prophesy” (gift) are contrasted with a “certain prophet, named Agabus” (office).

God calls certain individuals in the body of Christ to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. However, any Spirit-filled believer can be used
to speak a prophetic word. In the Old Testament, the prophet Joel predicted the connection of this gift with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (2:28 NKJV). In Acts 19:6, when Paul laid hands on twelve men in Ephesus, they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. At that moment, “they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (NKJV).

    Why We Need This Gift

In 1 Corinthians 14:3, we find three purposes for the gift of prophecy: “He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (NKJV).

1. Prophecy edifies (“builds up”). Jesus is building the Church through the salvation of sinners, and the Holy Spirit is building up the Church through manifestations of His power. The gift of prophecy strengthens men and women who are weary from spiritual warfare, and replaces doubt with faith and hope.

2. Prophecy is a source of exhortation (“encouragement”). In the original Greek,
to exhort signifies “to call near.” When a church or individuals within a church are straying from God or in need of revival, God will use this gift to call His people back to Him. Men and women will hear and know the grace and compassion of a God who longs to fellowship with His people. Like the Prodigal Son, they will know they can come running to the Father.

3. Prophecy provides comfort to the congregation. If certain members are being persecuted, or the church is going through a trial, God will speak words of consolation and support.

As with the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues, prophecies should be given responsibly and in harmony with the Word of God. First Corinthians 14:29- 33 gives explicit guidelines for the gift of prophecy:

• No more than three people should give out a prophecy in a church service.

If this rule is violated, a spiritual leader—preferably the pastor—should step in. The leader should explain to the church why he is stopping the speaker, taking the opportunity to train his people. After the service, he must meet with the violator privately and lovingly correct him or her.

• It is the responsibility of the church in general, and the church leadership in particular, to judge the prophecies.

If anything is spoken contrary to Scripture, a church leader should stop the message or address the issue immediately with the congregation. They should be told to disregard what they heard, and the pastor should meet with the erring member in private to deal with the matter.

    The Power of Prophecy

On January 26, Tim Hill was the guest speaker for our 15-year church anniversary. At the conclusion of his message in the second service, he prophesied to our church: “This is the Amos 9:13 season—the season when the plowman overtakes the reaper. As soon as you sow it, you’re reaping it. And as soon as you can reap it, the ground is so rich and so fertile, it’s time to sow again. That is your 2014!”

Our leaders, members, and I believed the spoken word and knew God was going to accelerate His work. By the end of February, we had received 15 new members into our church and had nearly broken our tithe record!

We have too many members of Pentecostal churches believing the gifts are only for a chosen few. Any Spirit-filled believer can be a channel through which these special graces flow to minister to God’s people. We need to heed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:39: “Desire earnestly to prophesy” (NKJV). The gift of prophecy should be the most common gift operating in the church!

If you are not operating in the gifts of the Spirit, ask the Holy Spirit to flow through you. Tell Him you are a candidate—a vessel He can use. Ask Him to replace any fear with faith, and start living with the expectation that God is going to use you. Soon, you will know the power and joy of flowing in the gifts of the Spirit.

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The Holy Spirit is not just a doctrine we learn about or a dove on a stained- glass window.

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n January 20, 1951-in the home of Rose Marie Underwood’s parents-Bill Williams pledged his life and love to the only girl he ever dated. Eleven months after the wedding, Bill enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and, after basic training in Geneva, New York, was assigned to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. Rose Marie traveled
by train to join him, and they shared a small, four-room house on Holiday Street with another couple.

After graduating second in his class, Bill was sent to Mid-western State University to
prepare to teach in Air Force training school. He and Rose Marie saved enough money
to buy a car, and they started attending the Maurine Street Church of God. There, under the care of Pastor L. L. Green, my dad was nurtured in the faith.

As a young Christian, my father carried a small New Testament in his pocket. He looked for opportunities to read and pray. He longed to know God and to discover God’s purpose for his life.

Dad had a simple trust in God, believing that through Him all things were possible. But when it came to Spirit baptism, Dad looked on with suspicion. He watched as people worshiped in response to the Spirit’s moving and heard them speak with other tongues. He observed their behavior both in and out of church, and concluded he was not interested in receiving this scriptural experience. After all, he would remark to Rose Marie, some of them who shouted the loudest did not even pay their tithes.

Revival time came, and Evangelist Jack Crutcher came to the Maurine Street Church. Bill and Rose Marie invited a couple to join them for a service. Brother Crutcher was greatly used by God in ministering through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so Dad’s friend walked forward to stand in line for prayer. Upon meeting this man for the first time, the evangelist looked at him and said aloud, “You are living a lie! This woman you are with is not your wife. You have paraded yourself to be single, but you have a wife in Cincinnati, Ohio!”

The man immediately fell to his knees, begging God for mercy. That convinced my dad there really was something to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He earnestly began seeking God for the baptism in the Spirit, and on January 16, 1954, Bill Williams received this gift. Dad often called it a defining experience that changed his life.

The Holy Spirit is not just a doctrine we learn about or a dove on a stained-glass window. He is God himself—the God who has “invaded our lives with transforming presence,” as Craig Keener put it.

The Church of God is a Spirit-empowered movement whose mission is to proclaim the full gospel of Jesus Christ in the Spirit and power of Pentecost. We must do more that simply acknowledge theologically the modern activity of the Holy Spirit. We must be open to the demonstration of the Spirit’s gifts. In the words of Jeff Kennedy, “Christianity cannot be seen as a credible option in a culture where it is reduced to a mere historic curiosity, devoid of wind and fire—absent the Spirit of life.”

The word of the Lord that came to Zerubbabel comes to us in the 21st century: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6 NKJV).

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Honoring God Through Music

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urn your music down!” is the cry of many parents to their teenagers.

Even in churches, music is often a point of contention between the generations.

What kind of musical instruments can we use in worship? Should choir members wear robes or regular clothes? Should we sing with hymnals or projection screens?

Worship should be sacred, but contention over worship music can wear away at the foundation of a congregation. What should worship look like? What types of songs are acceptable? What is the church’s answer to the complaints, and how does the church encourage all participants to enter into worship?


Many older people live and breathe by hymns, while the younger generation wants the new, seemingly more “alive” music. The older generation forgets that hymns were once new songs, while the younger generation often fails to realize the hymns were written out of dynamic, intimate encounters with the Spirit.

The psalmist David wrote, “He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord” (Ps. 40:3 NKJV). We should use new songs in our worship, and we should also use weathered songs (which were once new).


Many of the older hymns have archaic wording (such as “Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing” and “Hangs my hapless soul on Thee”).

The generation which grew up loving the hymns argues that “more recent praise choruses seem to ignore all the rules of good composition, giving us not well-shaped melodies but just one note after another” (Chuck Colson, “Worship Wars,” The Christian Post). I have heard my retired pastor-father, who is in his 60s, argue that worship songs are just repetitive.

It is important to incorporate songs in our worship services that are biblically and doctrinally sound. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 NKJV).


Cathy Grossman wrote, “Nearly 50 percent of Protestant churches now say they use electric guitars or drums in worship, up from nearly 35 percent in 2000, according to the recently released Faith Communities Today study of 14,000 congregations” (USA Today News, Nov. 2011).

Some churches advocate nonelectric instruments only, while others use full orchestras. The argument against instruments, or certain types of instruments, becomes valid when the focus is placed on the instruments rather than the One being worshiped. However, if God is receiving the glory, instruments should be allowed. Psalm 150 says we should “praise Him” with stringed, percussion, and wind instruments.


Worship should not cause dissension. Focus on the Lord is the key. In Revelation 4:11, the 24 elders cry out, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (NKJV).

If everything we do as Christians is supposed to give honor and glory to God, it must break His heart for us to argue over worship music.

The genre of a song is not important. If it gives honor and glory to God, it is appropriate for worship.

If the lyrics honor God, the song is acceptable for worship.

If the instruments demand all the attention, detracting focus on God, they should be toned down. Otherwise, they are appropriate for worship.

Churches must seek unity in every aspect, including worship music. This sometimes means reminding all generations that worship is not for the worshipers, but for the One being worshiped.

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Leaders who see the power of connecting generations—choosing to live with the tension it brings and do the hard work of leading through it—will set their churches up to fulfill the Great Commission with greater effectiveness.

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he Bible commands us to confess to one another (James 5:16), so here I go: I was wrong. Before you judge too quickly, I was not willfullywrong. It was an accident-I promise. Nevertheless, I was wrong.

See, when it came to generational ministry in the local church, I was a separatist (for lack of a better word). I believed all age groups deserved and needed their own environment at church.

As the person responsible for overseeing the spiritual development of children and youth, I frequently lobbied for rooms and resources. I insisted that we have age-appropriate teaching so kids could “get the gospel on their level.” I contended that in order for our youth to thrive spiritually, they needed their own place to worship. I even supported our senior adults’ endeavors for fellowship and Christian education in their rooms and on their terms.

However, I was wrong. While age-focused ministries are important, I was wrong for not realizing how much the generations need each other. I was so adamant that every group should have its own space that I diminished the enormous value in bringing generations together. I missed the significance in being with and learning from each other.

We can never move to where we need to be without speaking honestly about where we are. Many congregations face the problem described by Peter Menconi:

“Churches with one dominant generation, no matter what generation it is, are most at risk for ineffectual ministry” (The intergenerational Church).

In those churches, major decisions are based on how they affect a specific demographic. Churches who use this restricted filter limit their potential to fulfill the Great Commission. Menconi believes effective intergenerational churches allow all age groups to feel at home as they participate in the life of the church.

The struggle is that intergenerational ministry presents challenges. I am not a homebuilder, but I’ve read it is easier to build a new house than to remodel an old one. Clearly many pastors and church leaders apply this philosophy to ministry. They choose to start over rather than to shape and add to what is already established. Intergenerational ministry requires people to see the necessity of honoring their heritage while engaging their future. Intergenerational ministry will force churches to live with the tension that it brings. Incorporating a few principles will make living with that tension a little easier.


Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away (Neh. 12:43 NLT).

Usually, worship experiences serve as the central ministry of a church. They are the center of the hourglass. In order for all generations to feel part of the church, there should be regular opportunities for multigenerational worship.

If kids and students never participate in “big church,” they never get the sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. Even worse, if they are exposed only to the age-appropriate environments we’ve created for them, they could become focused on style rather than substance.

The danger is when they graduate from these specialized environments, they begin to ask questions like, “Why don’t we sing my kind of music?” If they do not get what they want at your church, they may decide to go to the hipper, cooler church that started on the other side of town.

An effective multigenerational service is not accomplished by just throwing a bone to each generation. If that is all we do, people will leave church not remembering the elements catered to them, but being upset about the parts that were not. A true multigenerational service involves the generations. Kids, students, adults, and seniors serve as greeters, ushers, Scripture readers, and worship leaders. At our church, we include focused prayer as a part of every worship service, and I love it when we team up our kids with adult prayer partners. It is beautiful to see kids and adults praying together.


Be like the Son of Man. He did not come to be served. Instead, he came to serve others (Matt. 20:28 NIrV).

Over time, organizations tend to turn their energies inward. This is true for churches as well. Every church plant (at least the ones not the product of a church split) starts with a passion for the Great Commission. However, as time passes, even the most outreach-minded churches will begin to assess the needs of their own people. In that process, it is easy to lose sight of the needs of the lost because, well, they may not be in church every week . . . but we are.

One of the best ways to escape that trap is by implementing community service. Serving our community takes the focus off ourselves and rightly puts it on others. When you have a paintbrush in one hand and a hammer in the other, the style of music last Sunday suddenly doesn’t matter as much. When you go with a person from another generation to take food to a needy family, you realize you’re on the same team.

When we’re serving, it’s impossible not to have the mind-set described in Philippians 2:4: We no longer focus on our own interests, but we instead focus on the interests of others.


He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Mal. 4:6).

When it comes to the generational divide within our tribe, I land somewhere in the middle. I’m young enough to know that kids talking about The Hunger Games are not planning their next “Daniel fast.” However, I’m old enough to have a degree from Lee College. As someone in the middle, I need to value both the voices older than me and younger than me.

No matter your age or experience, you need to value those younger than you. Their opinions do matter. Their concerns, as hard as they may be for you to understand, are real. If you do not value those younger than you, when you finally do decide to pass along your faith, you may find there is no one left to receive it.

Likewise, it is vital that you listen to the voices of those who have gone before
you. Stylistically, you may differ. When it comes to methods, you may not agree. However, their wisdom can help you avoid the pitfalls they’ve already experienced.

We can read about the worst “church split” in history without going onto the Internet. Bad leadership in the midst of a generational challenge caused it (2 Chron. 10). Rehoboam, the newly appointed king, made a huge mistake. Before making his first major decision as king, he sought the wisdom of two generations. However, he chose to follow only the counsel from friends who had grown up with him. He listened to the folks who looked like him, talked like him, and thought like him, ignoring what his elders had to say. Within days, the nation of Israel split in two.

As church leaders, we need to listen to the voices and opinions of those younger and older than us. Too often church leaders do not listen, and too often the results are similar to what happened to Rehoboam. Conversely, leaders who see the power of connecting generations—choosing to live with the tension it brings and do the hard work of leading through it—will set their churches up to fulfill the Great Commission with greater effectiveness.

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Equipping Parents to Be Spiritual Leaders

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ecently, a mom of a second-grade boy emailed me to say she was keeping her son out of kids’ church on Sunday as punishment for bad behavior. Not a good idea!

Then, another mom told me she did not know how to discipline her child and would be talking to her pediatrician for advice on handling her child’s misbehavior. What?

Yet another young couple recently expressed their gratitude for the resources our church provides to them because they previously had no idea how to approach child-rearing from a Biblical and spiritual standpoint.

These examples point to the great need for local churches to support and resource parents in raising their children to love and serve Jesus as they pass on a first-hand faith to the next generation.

In a 2018 Barna Research survey, three out of five Christian parents (59%) said they are primarily responsible to develop their children’s faith. More than one-third of parents (39%) said it’s mostly up to them, with the help of church leaders (barna.com/parentsandpastors).

Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, and Ephesians 6:4 urge parents to take the spiritual training of their children very seriously. As parents, our main effort at spiritual training is often bringing our kids to church. For example, in the Barna survey, 89 percent of the parents said they take their teen children to church, while only 59 percent said they pray with them. However, church attendance is only a small part of planting and nurturing spiritual truth in our kids’ lives.

In our local fellowship, we believe it is our job to equip parents to effectively train their children in the Christian faith as they engage in events of everyday life, including mealtime, homework, and recreation. Faith is far more important than just two hours on Sunday. This process of passing on faith begins even while the parents are expecting a child and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. Our aim is to partner with parents in the following ways as they endeavor to train their children in faith.

    Expect Something

Our ministry to expectant parents and those with children up to one year of age is called “Expecting Something.” We gather with young parents three to four times per year for a light breakfast and an opportunity to hear stories of where they are in their parenting journey. For expectant parents, we want to know when their due date is, how mom is feeling, if they’ve heard the heartbeat yet, if they know the gender of their baby, if they’ve chosen a name, and all the other exciting components of expectant parenthood.

What about the parents who have recently given birth and are now experiencing for the first time (or once again) the sleepless nights, the uncertainty of nutrition and health concerns, the joy of the first smile, first words, and their love and pride blooming for their new little one? We give them the opportunity to tell their stories and ask for advice and opinions from other parents who are further along in their child-rearing journey. At every gathering, we pray for the parents and assign them partners who make themselves available for prayer and conversation as parents call on them for support.

In Expecting Something gatherings, we take tours of the nursery area of our church, meet the nursery workers, and help new parents become familiar with the procedures in anticipation of their child becoming part of the nursery ministry. Additionally, we determine a date that we can host a church-wide baby shower for the new parents. This is a dynamic way to introduce expecting parents to the church family as a whole and shower the expecting couple with gifts and necessities. We also present the opportunity for parents to dedicate their child to the Lord before the congregation.

    Family Dedication

Family Dedication includes a workshop with the family/children’s pastor helping new parents begin to understand the responsibility and privilege God has given them in entrusting them with their new child. We share the Biblical mandate from Deuteronomy 6:7: “Repeat them [God’s commands] again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (NLT).

We encourage young parents to begin having intentional faith talks with their little one by reading Bible stories, surrounding their child with spiritual music, making the most of teachable moments, and praying blessings over their child. At the dedication itself, besides the traditional elements of the pastor praying over the child and extended family and friends surrounding the couple, we encourage the parents, in their own way, to pray blessings and a prayer of dedication over their child.

We have witnessed parents pray their own personally written prayers based on Scripture, parents and other family members singing over the new little ones, toddler cousins laying their hands on their newest little cousin, and even babies being handed from grandparent to grandparent for prayer over their new grandchild. This personalization of the family dedication, after helping parents understand the privilege of spiritually training their child, gives special meaning and purpose to the event.

    Family Devotions

On Sundays, we resource parents with children of all ages with a weekly devotional activity for them to engage in with their children in preparation for the next Sunday. We don’t want parents to pick up their kids after church and ask, “What did you learn?” Instead, we want kids to be familiar with the truths of that week’s Bible lesson because mom and dad have already introduced it to their children during that week. This is God’s plan—that mom and dad “start children off on the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).

At church, we will be surrogate spiritual parents to any child who should need that covering. However, that is not God’s best plan; parents leading the way is best.

As children grow to the preschool/kindergarten age, we invite families with kids in that age group to attend a fun luncheon activity. We serve a tasty, kid-friendly lunch, play games, and offer door prizes before the highlight of this special event—presenting Bibles and Bible storybooks. For children not yet ready for kindergarten, they receive a Bible storybook. For the children going into kindergarten, they are given a Bible.

After the awarding of the Bibles, we hand out the next week’s family devotional activity and, as an entire group, we walk through how to have family devotions. Parents and their children sit together in their own family group as step-by-step we lead parents in using the weekly devotionals we provide. Our desire for this luncheon is to equip parents with tools and some practice time to see how simple and rewarding it is to sit down with their children to read God’s Word and pray together.

    Salvation and Baptism

During the elementary years, parents are invited to a “Leading Your Child in Salvation” workshop. The goal is to help them understand how to lead their children to a saving relationship with Jesus, as well as how to begin discipling their kids.

As the Holy Spirit begins to lead a child in the desire to know Jesus as Savior, parents should be ready to engage their child in a Scripturally based conversation and pray with their child for salvation.

Once a child has trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we encourage parents to help their child to follow the example of Jesus in baptism. We offer a short video about baptism for parents and children to watch together, with an accompanying fill-in- the-blank worksheet. This worksheet also helps the child to organize their thoughts about their salvation experience. The child’s words are used in a video testimony that is played at their baptism.

    Equipping God’s People

God’s design for passing faith to the next generation is through the context of the family while the church plays a supportive and equipping role to this endeavor. The church’s responsibility is to “equip God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT).

The intention of family ministries is to work toward the common goal of faith development in this generation of children by resourcing parents with tools to accomplish this task.

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“Ministry” is no substitute for relationship with god

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his is not easy to talk about. There is always the danger that we would look condescendingly on the struggles of others or somehow imagine it could never happen to us.

There is a reason God gives us these warnings:

• “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12 NKJV).
• “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1 NKJV).

The number of ministers succumbing to one form of temptation or another that strips them of credibility and effectiveness has reached epidemic levels. Pride, abuse of power, lust, and excessive lifestyles are all too common. We painfully watch peers paw through the ashes of ruined lives, families, and ministries. We have seen it too many times.

This should motivate us in a couple of ways. Galatians 6:1 says our capacity to restore is a measure of our spirituality and maturity, or lack thereof. We believe nothing is beyond God’s grace and that, with complete repentance, there is complete restoration.

We should also make sure safeguards are in place in our lives. Understanding why some preachers fall should serve as preventative medicine. While this is not an exhaustive list, it should help us to think through the health and strength of our lives and callings. What are some reasons preachers fall?

    1. Slipping in Prayer

In every instance that I have assisted in restoration, in some way this has been the case. Like you, I have seen those I was sure would never fall. Being aware of my own weakness, I have become convinced my prayer life is one of the primary things that has kept me from falling.

I do not intend that as a self-righteous or superspiritual self-witness. I do mean it as a witness to the power of prayer. Regular and sustained periods in the presence of God expose me for what I am and connect me to God’s power, like plugging an appliance into an electrical outlet.

    2. LackingAuthentic Ministerial Relationships

When I have the opportunity to spend time with other ministers, I find a common weakness. We can’t stop being preachers long enough to be people. We love the people whom we pastor, but there are things we cannot tell them. Some things only another minister can understand.

Whether it is the Methodist pastor across town with whom I can eat breakfast, or my friend in another state I can call, I better make sure there is somebody. I have to spend some time cultivating a few of these friendships; they usually won’t happen by coincidence. I should see it as another dimension of my ministry, because I need it, even if my congregation does not always understand it.

At times, I have traveled significant distances to be part of a pastoral prayer gathering. I have done so not only because I have a heart for prayer, but also for the value of the connection with other pastors. It has helped sustain me.

There is not much good we recall about Joab (captain of King David’s army)—he was a rascal. But when faced with enemies on both sides, he told his brother, Abishai, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the people of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will come and help you” (2 Sam. 10:11 NKJV).

If you do not have a strategy like that in place in advance, it may be too late when the battle comes. You may know lots of people, but that is different from building a few deep, meaningful relationships with other ministers.

    3. Making Ministry an Idol

Next, preachers tend to substitute ministry for relationship with God. They are not the same thing. I can’t just study the Word in order to get something to preach—the Bible is not merely a sermon resource manual. I should be ministering to people out of my overflow, seeking Him for myself. Preaching won’t be a problem after that.

It is easy to make an idol out of ministry. We get more excited about ministry than about knowing God. We have to remember that being is far more important than doing. In Acts 6:4, the apostles gave us their philosophy of ministry: “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”

Perhaps the main reason so many preachers are falling is that we have deserted our primary calling—our personal walk with God.

As a pastor, I cannot lead people where
I have not been. I cannot take them any further than I myself have gone. There will be no more anointing on my church than there is on my life. My church will be no closer to God than I am.

    4. Cracking Under Pressure

Ministry is a pressure cooker, perhaps more now than ever. Pressure cookers have a valve that periodically lets off steam, when necessary. Unless preachers find release from stress through the right means—relationship with God, Sabbaths, and godly friendships—it will be released in the wrong way, such as sexual indiscretion. The foundational problem may not be sexual, but it is expressed in that way.

God will sustain me with His grace as long as I need it, but I must avail myself to it. When the pressure gets excessive, I must find the proper relief.

    5. Failing to Find Healing

All of us in ministry have scars; it goes with the territory. Scars do not indicate we are wounded. Instead, they show we have been healed.

It is not easy for us to talk with someone else about our wounds; it may be a pride issue. We are so accustomed to being the one up front that we find it difficult to listen. We are so used to giving that receiving proves a challenge.

How can we expect to help others find healing if we do not receive it for ourselves? It concerns me that in a large worship gathering I can usually identify the preachers, and not because I know them. They are probably the ones who are not worshiping. Have we taken the platform for so long that we can’t even worship God anymore unless we are in charge? We need safe places in which we can receive from God and others.

    Depend on the One Who Can Keep Us

In the end, it is vital that you are possessed by a conviction. You never want to imagine you are beyond falling, but you do not have to live in fear of it, either. Believe in “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24 NKJV).

We should not be naïve to our propensity to sin, but neither should we doubt the power of God to sustain us. We are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

I have gone into hotel rooms for a personal prayer retreat and literally turned the TV toward the wall to avoid watching things I should not. Could it be turned back around? Yes, but it was a reminder to keep my thoughts pure. And I have learned to listen to a wife who was strong enough to confront me over my pride or other concerns, even if it wasn’t pleasant at the moment.

People who pour concrete understand expansion joints—spaces for the concrete to expand and contract with changing temperatures. Wise individuals build some spaces into their lives that will keep them healthy in the end, and they trust in God’s ability to preserve them for His purpose.

God is more than able to keep me, if I want to be kept. There is no reason to fall, so long as I am depending on His strength and not my own.

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Who better to carry the banner of healthy living than holiness people?

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grew up in the 1960s and ’70s as a Church of God preacher’s kid. One of the greatest things about our church was fellowship. Usually, fellowship meant food . . . and lots of it.

There were lots of activities we were not allowed to do, so going out to eat was a world-class event. The conversation on the way to church usually consisted of “Where will we eat after church?” I was not taught the importance of practicing a healthy lifestyle, and it was manifested in my physical life as the years passed by.

As I grew older, I abused my body through eating the wrong things and not exercising enough. My weight peaked at 333 pounds. Like most everybody who is over- weight, I tried many diets and lost hundreds of pounds in the process. Nothing ever worked long-term. The taste of food always won the battle over the thought of being at a normal weight.

In July 2009, I changed my life. A crisis moment compelled me to decide I would never be obese again. The best way I can describe this moment is Romans 12:2: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

The decision to change my life was a transformation due to the renewing of my mind. I was a changed man in one day and began the process of dropping weight. Over the next 16 months, I lost 110 pounds. During this period, more was happening than the loss of weight. I was learning about fit living and actually enjoying it.

When my journey began, I was mostly interested in losing weight. Having attempted fad diets in the past and gaining the weight back, I knew I had to change my habits and begin honoring God with my body. I learned that diet is a noun, not a verb.

Along with eating a healthy diet, I began walking 25 miles a week. Eventually, the walk became a run, and today I compete in races all over the country. I have completed one full marathon (26.2 miles) and over 60 other races in 20 states. It has been five years since I began the journey, and I have successfully maintained my weight loss. More importantly, I have learned about healthy living. It is who I am, not what I strive to be.

Here are seven steps to consider in becoming healthier and fit.

    1. Make the decision.

Choose to transform your life by the renewing of your mind. The first step to good health and fitness is to change your thought process. Nothing about a fad diet or a fitness-center membership will do that for you. You have to do it yourself. Anything else is just putting a Band-Aid on the problem.

    2. Have a plan.

When I made the decision five years ago, my plan consisted of walking 25 miles a week. I did not intend to become a runner; that just happened. Running did not cause me to lose weight; you cannot outrun a bad diet! Healthy eating is vital, and you should exercise by doing something fun. Biking, swimming, hiking, walking, lifting weights, running—it doesn’t matter which you do, as long as you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you will quit.

    3. Set a goal.

I wanted to weigh 190 pounds, but I never reached that goal. However, I have maintained my weight at around 215 pounds for over three years. My weight, however, is not as important as eating healthy. My goal of 190 pounds was the catalyst for a weight loss of 110 pounds in 16 months.

You need a goal, and you need to own it. Make your goal known through social media or other means. It keeps you accountable. I still have the blog I wrote about my goal and read it frequently. Even if you don’t quite reach your weight goal, the ultimate aim is leading a healthy life.

    4. Become obsessive.

Some people are obsessed about their sports teams; I am obsessed about my
health . . . and everyone around me knows this. I have to be obsessed in order to maintain. Obsession is good if it’s about the right thing. There is a difference between being obsessed and obnoxious.

    5. Educate yourself.

When I started five years ago, I had no clue about healthy living. I have educated myself about what to eat and drink. I am still learning every day.

I have learned that Americans don’t eat real food; we eat processed foods. However, we can learn to enjoy genuine food instead of processed junk. The Internet is full of great resources. The key is to avoid those websites that are attempting to sell a particular product.

Here is a good start: Stop consuming foods and drinks from cans, and stop using artificial sweeteners. Start eating organic foods. Eat little or no pork and red meat, and eat more fish and chicken. Drink water. Add spices like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne. God has created real food for us, but man messed it up by adding chemicals. Research “super foods” and consider adding these to your diet.

    6. Help others.

I wrote a book called All My Strength. It is my story and my way of attempting to help others. We have a responsibility to help each other with the knowledge we attain. I wish I had learned about healthy living earlier.

    7. It’s a spiritual matter.

If the Lord gave us a beautiful vacation home for the summer, would we take care of it? Would we attempt to leave it in better shape than when He gave it to us? I believe most of us would.

In fact, the Lord did give us a house to live in. He calls it “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19 NKJV), and He compels us to take care of it. It is good for us and our families, and it is God’s best for each of us.

Who should lead the way in healthy living? Who better to carry the banner of healthy living than holiness people?

We have always been wise in warning against the health risks of smoking and drinking, but what about the risk of eating the wrong things? It is my desire to see a health revolution invade this church to the point that our healing lines are shortened. There is healing in God’s food; there is disease in man-made food.

Let’s embrace personal holiness by treating our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Not only will we live longer . . . we will also live better.

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Our calling as Christians is that we not be conformed to the world, but that we be conformed to Christ in our attitudes, words, and deeds.

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oly living, Christlike living, and Christian integrity are all vitally related; so much so, it is not possible to have one without the others. Doctrinally and practically, all three are the same.

    Question About Holy Living

It is somewhat amusing that so many Christians are reticent about holy living as God’s way of life for Christians. Ask a Christian of any stripe (Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal), “Do you believe holiness is God’s standard of living for His people?” and you will get silence more than anything else. But ask those same people, “Do you believe Christians should live Christlike?” and each of them is likely to answer with a definite “yes.”

These contrasting responses strike me as strange. Is not Christlike living holy? Is not holy living Christlike? Is not Christian integrity holy and Christlike?

Why are Christians reluctant to affirm holiness is God’s standard of living for them? Consider three factors:

1. There are Christians who believe holy living is not possible, at least not for most Christians, themselves included.

2. Some Christians have been turned off to any consideration of holy living by the “holier-than-thou” attitude of certain Christians they have known.

3. Many Christians simply do not understand what is meant by “holy living,” and they do not know how a believer in Christ becomes holy. They mistakenly equate holy living with the evils of legalism and self-righteousness.

These three issues need to be addressed by stating what holy living is not, and what it is.

    What Holy Living Is Not

Holy living is not legalism. As it relates to religion, legalism is the attempt to save oneself from sin by obeying the commandments of God and doing good deeds.

Holy living is not self-righteousness. Making oneself righteous is the end product sought by legalism, but is, in fact, never possible to obtain. Simply stated, we cannot make ourselves righteous in the sight of God, no matter how hard we work at it.

In any honest discussion of holy living, two crucial questions must be answered:

(1) What must I do to be saved from sin?
(2) Once I am saved from sin, how ought I to live?

Both questions are answered in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (NKJV).

We do not—in fact, we cannot—lead holy lives to save ourselves; but when we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. Doing these good works (“walking in them”) is living in holiness with Christian integrity.

    What Holy Living Is

When we understand from Scripture how a person is made holy, and what holy living is, we realize it is not legalism nor self-righteousness—holiness by virtue of one’s own goodness.

In the Bible, certain places are regarded as holy because of some memorable manifestation of God’s presence in those places; and objects such as altars, tables, cups, and buildings are regarded as holy because they are dedicated to God’s service in worship. Things are made holy by their relation to God, who is holy.

Likewise, people are made holy by consecration to God, because God makes holy those whom He brings into relationship with Himself. In simplest terms, sanctification (holiness) is consecration to God that results in our being made holy by God.

As told in Scripture, as Christians we are made holy by God imputing to us (giving us credit for) His righteousness and the righteousness of Christ. Also, God makes us holy by imparting to us His holiness and the holiness of Christ. This He does by the agency of the Holy Spirit applying the cleansing blood of Christ to our lives in conjunction with our belief in and obedience to the sanctifying Word of God.

Practically, for the Christian, holy living (living in holiness) is the pursuit of spiritual and moral excellence in likeness to Christ by dependence on continual cleansing from all unrighteousness by His blood (1 John 1:9); by submission to the holy influence of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16); and by sanctifying belief in and obedience to the Word of God (John 17:17). This pursuit of spiritual and moral excellence in likeness to Christ must be done with an attitude of humility toward God, and without an attitude of moral superiority to others (1 Peter 3:15). If the pursuit of holiness is done in the wrong attitude, the endeavor fails (James 4:6-10).

    Our Belief in Holy Living

Early in our history as a Christian movement, the Church of God adopted the doctrinal position that “holiness is God’s standard of living for His people.” In the “Resolution Relative to Principles of Holiness of Church of God,” adopted by the General Assembly in 1994, the first paragraph reads: “The foundation of the Church of God is laid upon the principles of Biblical holiness. Even before the church experienced the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, its roots were set in the holiness revival of the past century. It was, and is, a holiness church—holiness in fact and holiness in name.”

While the Church of God has long taught that holiness is God’s standard of living for His people, we did not invent this doctrine, and neither did our Wesleyan-Holiness forebears invent it. The apostle Peter restated God’s commandment to Israel, “Be ye [all of you] holy; for I am holy,” as a commandment for Christians to obey (1 Peter 1:16; cf. Lev. 11:44). Reading the church fathers and major Christian commentaries on Scripture leaves no doubt that the belief that holiness is God’s standard of living for His people has always been an essential part of orthodox Christian doctrine.

    Holy Living and Christian Integrity

The word integrity can have a number of definitions, depending on how the word is used. Generally speaking, integrity is associated with being honest and good. However, it can mean being loyal to a code of professional, scientific, political, or artistic values that may or may not be consistent with the values taught by Holy Scripture. For many, integrity is regarded as being true to one’s own character, which may or may not be good when judged by God’s Word. Therefore, it is important for Christians to define integrity from a Christian perspective.

For the Christian, a life of integrity is not the practice of socially acceptable morality; it is something far superior—it is living in holiness before God, which is Christlike living. Christian integrity is a reflection of the integrity of Jesus Christ, in whom all the virtues of true godliness, righteousness, and holiness were found.

Our calling as Christians is that we not be conformed to the world, but that we be conformed to Christ in our attitudes, words, and deeds.

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The rude mom who cuts you off in the kindergarten pickup line is still a beloved child of the King, as are frazzled patrons who shout expletives in a drive-through for no good reason.

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ecently, I read about a woman who was cursed out in the Starbucks drive-through. She and another driver had pulled into line at the same time, unsure who should go next. Apparently, the other driver assumed this woman had tried to cut her off, and started yelling expletives at her as she pulled forward.

Rather than honking, yelling back, or praying God would smite the other driver, the woman tried to buy the offender’s coffee in hopes of brightening her day. This experience was especially poignant because the author of this story had been praying to see people as God sees them— His children who may be tired, frustrated, and even desperate for some coffee-and to respond with love.

I like this story. I shared it on social media. It made me feel good…for a minute. Then I felt convicted.

The day before reading the article, I found myself in nearly the same situation. I was in line to pick up my kindergartner from school. The traffic situation was a mess, as usual. I had arrived at school 40 minutes early just to get in the line, yet I was still nowhere near the front. When I finally got close enough to pull into the parking lot, another woman was ready to pull in from the adjoining cross street. She looked like me—a young mom in a minivan, her children’s name cards resting on the dash to identify which students go to her car. She even had a pink card-the color for kindergartners-and I wondered if our kids might be friends. Any other day, perhaps we mom would be friends…but not that day.

Common traffic laws dictate that the car turning right (me) has the right-of-way, while cars turning left (her) must wait until either traffic clears or a compassionate right-turning driver decides to wave them on. Usually I am the compassionate driver because, while the cross-street drivers have probably been waiting 10 minutes compared to my 40, I recognize that one or two cars hardly makes a difference as to when I see my kid.

However, when I saw her try to rush her red van ahead of me—even as I pulled forward to indicate I was proceeding with my rightful place in line—I thought, How rude! I’m not going to let her snatch up my spot! I’ve been in this line for almost an hour!

When she did not back down, I gave a little honk—not a long, loud honk that often accompanies unfavorable hand gestures—just a quick “beep” to let her know I was there.

Immediately the other driver threw her arms up in the air and mouthed an exaggerated “Take turns!” Feeling vindicated as I moved into position, I raised my eyebrows, shook my head no, and looked away.

I know the rules, here, lady! I thought. I have the right-of-way! Back off! The car behind me, probably a kind person like the author of the Starbucks story, saw the woman’s frustration and waved her on. As the red van pulled up behind me, I began to worry. I prayed, “God, please don’t let that woman’s child be in my daughter’s class. I don’t want to face her at the Christmas party!”

    Things Unseen

A few years ago, I was moved by a song that asks God to open our eyes to things unseen. I began making that my prayer, asking God to allow me to see others through His eyes. Miraculously, He
has answered that prayer many times, impacting how I view rude cashiers at the grocery store . . . troubled teens in my youth group . . . and exotic dancers I meet through a local outreach ministry.

In them, I see myself before Christ intervened: broken, insecure, frustrated, and depressed. I also see the people God created them to be—healed, whole, peaceful, secure in Christ, joyful, and fulfilled. I thank God for His blessings every day.

However, when I went through that car line, I chose to see with my flesh a rude, self-righteous, impatient mom who could not wait for a few more cars that had earned their place in line by arriving long before school let out!

Looking back on the situation with spiritual eyes, I missed seeing the precious child of God who was driving that red van. Maybe there was a screaming baby in the backseat making that mom feel like every second counted to get this kid back home to sleep.

Flashback to my own battle with postpartum depression: If a honk—even one like my short little “beep” to establish my presence—upset my colicky baby, I would be ready to scream and cry too. Maybe that’s one reason Jesus taught us to love our neighbors. To quote a popular mantra, “Everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

    Backgrounds and Battles

Sometimes I wonder about the backgrounds and battles of the people Jesus encountered in the New Testament. Consider Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector from Jericho featured in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was wealthy, held a prominent position with the Roman government, and probably looked like he had it all together. Sure, common people knew him as “a notorious sinner” (v. 7 NLT), but he probably brushed off those judgments as others envying his wealth or status; or perhaps he thought they were bullies who picked on his small stature.

I imagine him strutting through Jericho as if to prove his confidence and security. But deep down, something troubled Zacchaeus. He was so dismayed that when Jesus passed through town, he climbed a sycamore-fig tree just to get a peek. When Jesus called to him, he scampered down the tree and joyfully welcomed Jesus into his home.

Joyful Zacchaeus promised to give his wealth to the poor and repay with interest those he had cheated. Jesus responded by validating him as a “true son of Abraham” (v. 9 NLT)—an identity that seemed lost through Zacchaeus’ extortion and disobedience to God’s law. Salvation came
to this home because Jesus saw through Zacchaeus’ façade to his broken spirit, and loved him right where he was.

Honestly, I don’t think Zacchaeus planned to reconcile with God and others when
he climbed that tree earlier in the day. Maybe he just wanted to see if anything seemed different about this Jesus; then he could approach Him later, when no one was looking, like Nicodemus did (John 3:1-21). However, when Jesus took the time to see Zacchaeus with divine eyes, it changed Zacchaeus’ life.

    A Different World

How would our world be different if we viewed all our neighbors through God’s eyes rather than our flesh? The rude mom who cuts you off in the kindergarten pickup line is still a beloved child of the King, as are frazzled patrons who shout expletives in a drive-through for no good reason. The love of Christ is life-changing; we should never forfeit an opportunity to share it with others.

My prayer from the other day has changed: I do hope that mom’s child is in the same class as my daughter, and I hope to run into her again someday. She needs to hear about the hope I have . . . and an apology for my traffic attitude is probably a good place to start.

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It takes time to be holy, and it will take holiness to see God!

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tanding near the Southwest Airlines gate counter at T. F. Green International Airport in Rhode Island, my level of uneasiness steadily escalated.

It was a sunny summer Sunday evening; I was on my way back to Washington, D.C. Thanks to a Ford Foundation Grant, I was about to finish my research on the African Diaspora. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I was determined to get to D.C. soon enough to start working early Monday morning.

My thoughts raced, my conscience kept yelling, and the Holy Spirit persisted. I knew I could not go. Research or no research, there was only one right thing to do. I asked the gate agent to take me off the flight, and I turned in my boarding pass. Rather than moving on as if nothing had happened, I had to stop and make things right with my daughter.

In my haste from the pulpit that Sunday morning, to a hurried meal at the house in the afternoon, and in a rush to get to the airport, I had spoken harshly to her. The Holy Spirit rebuked me, but I had just kept going.

Now I was in a taxicab on my way back to the house with my heart bleeding with remorse; I must make it right. When I walked into the house, I went straight to her and said, “I’m sorry, Honey. I should not have spoken to you like that. I was wrong.”

“It’s OK, Dad,” she replied.

“No; it is not OK. I was wrong.”

I guess the way we live out personal holiness is much more important than the way we talk about it.

Growing up Pentecostal, I was taught externals—holiness that could be seen. So we did not swim with the opposite sex, neither did we play sports or work on Sundays. We could not go to the movies or attend dances, and we could not wear trendy clothing. We never wore jewelry, and girls could not use makeup or lipstick. Personal holiness was all about what we could not do.

Over time, keeping the rules became easier but not always enjoyable. I guess these restrictions helped us to be disciplined, but they were not sufficient. They did not provide the tools we needed for self-examination that engenders internal holiness. They never showed us how to examine our lives through the lens of the Holy Spirit.

Keeping rules never taught us how we could become so committed to the Lord that regardless of what others did, like Joseph we could question, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Or, like David, the rules could not teach us to cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

As I mature in my walk with God, I often search deep inside to ensure I do the right thing. Sometimes I have had to lay aside my pride and humbly surrender to God’s will.

When I asked my daughter to forgive me for being harsh with her, the Holy Spirit had already spread multiple layers of holiness over the depths of my soul; so when the time came, I was responsive to His insistence and just did what was right. It was not easy, but I had to do it.

This aspect of the Christian life is not conjured up in the fires of emotionally charged worship services. It takes time to be holy, and it will take holiness to see God!

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The United States of America is at a crossroads. Will we be guided by a view of Scripture or by the value system of secularism?

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ith the excitement of independence boiling in the streets of Philadelphia, John Adams rose early on July 2, 1776. Sitting as a small desk in a rented room, he wrote a note to his wife, Abigail:

The second day of July 1776 will begin the most memorable epoch in America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other from this time forward forevermore.

July 2, 1776, was the day for final debate regarding Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence. The document would formally and publicly declare that America would no longer live under the British crown. It was officially adopted two days later.

However, declaring freedom did not make it so. As Congress met in Philadelphia, warships massed in the harbors of New York. Adams also wrote to Abigail that he was aware of the “toil and blood and treasures it will cost us to maintain this declaration.” The statement proved prophetic. Adams forecast the seven years of violence that followed to eventually break free.

For those of us who reside in the United States, it is important to reflect on those tumultuous days 238 years ago—to pause for more than a moment so we can transport ourselves from our high-tech world of convenience to the uncertain future that faced our ancestors. Those 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence immediately became outlaws and objects for the hangman’s noose. Most paid dearly for their desire for self-government.

Five were captured and tortured before their deaths. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost sons in battles. Nine fought and died from wounds received. Many of them were wealthy farmers, lawyers, or businessmen, yet the majority of these founding fathers wound up bankrupt and destitute. independence cost them everything.

The last sentence of the declaration reads, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Unquestionably, God has blessed America. The question today, “Is America blessing God?”

History is filled with the obituaries of nations that forgot God. The Medo-Persian Empire was once great, but their citizens drank their way to debauchery, and their civilization collapsed and disappeared from the earth. Egypt flourished under Joseph and, for more than 400 years, they enjoyed God’s favor. But after Joseph died, Egypt turned their back on God and the nation fell into ruin. Alexander the Great conquered the world, but he could not conquer himself. He died in drunken debauchery, and the civilization of Greece collapsed.

Rome was thought to be an eternal city, built on seven hills and complete with roads, aqueducts, coliseums, and marching legions. It was once said, “The sun never sets on the Roman Empire.” But luxury and lust struck at the heart and soul of the once mighty nation, and the greatest empire crumbled to the dust—collapsing from within.

I believe the United States of America is at a crossroads. Will we be guided by a view of Scripture or by the value system of secularism? I ask you to join me in prayer for this nation. Pray that God will save and bless America, and in turn, that America will once again bless God.

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There is no special formula or secret ingredient. The only way to break through is by choosing to worship.

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he sanctuary lights are dim, and the music is loud. Everyone is standing with their hands stretched high, eyes closed, in an act of surrender to God. Some people are weeping, others clapping, some laughing, and others swaying with the music. One thing is for sure—if you’re not feeling it, you need to have a spiritual tune-up.

Aren’t those the preacher’s words when he enters the pulpit after a wonderful time of worship in song? I think we all know what he means, and I know we all love those services. Why, then, are those times rare even in Pentecostal circles? Why are people always trying to find the right church that checks off every one of their preferences, allowing them to “truly worship”?

I had the chance to attend a megachurch in Texas. The lighting, music, audio, and media all helped create an exciting atmosphere. Music played before the service began, helping the congregants to prepare their hearts to focus fully on God. They sang songs that worshipers could relate to and help them move into a deep level of worship.

I have also been in small churches with no special lighting, poor sound quality, and maybe a piano and a couple of singers, where the Spirit of God moved powerfully. So, what constitutes true worship?

In Pentecostal churches, we love to feel the excitement of worship—the person beside us is jumping up and down, others are clapping, and the whole room is filled with electricity. It drives the worship inside our hearts, and makes us want to move. It is easy for us to get revved up when everyone else is feeling it too. However, when those around us are checking their watches and whispering back and forth, it is difficult for us to worship God.

As a worship leader, this is the hardest part of my ministry—getting people to move beyond their emotions into true worship. It is easy to worship when the situation is right and everyone around us is enthusiastically praising God, but that should not be the reason we praise Him.

In John 4, Jesus has an important encounter with a woman whom He meets at a well in Samaria. Being a Samaritan, this woman had been taught to worship God on nearby Mount Gerizim, where her ancestors had built a temple three centuries earlier. She asks Jesus why the Jews worship at the Temple in Jerusalem instead of at Mount Gerizim.

Jesus tells her, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (vv. 23-24 NIV).

It no longer mattered is a person worshiped here or there; what mattered is how one worshiped.

The Scriptures give us many reasons to worship God, but our primary motive should be Jesus’ sacrifice for us. For some people, the joy of salvation motivates them to worship exuberantly—they might shout and dance. For others it is solemn reverence, and they kneel at the altar.

Over time, that initial reaction begins to fade away. We can sing the words while making a shopping list or trying to decide where to go for lunch. Attending Sunday worship can easily become nothing more than a routine.

More than once, I have heard a longtime churchgoer tell a new Christian, “Oh, you’re excited now, but soon it will fizzle out and you’ll be like the rest of us.” Sadly, it is often true. After a few months, too many new believers take their salvation for granted like other Christians easily do.

We try to rationalize our indifference by saying, “I am a mature Christian, and I do not need that type of worship to be close to God,” but our justification just covers up our waning desire. We get into a rut, and we find ourselves going through the motions.

How, then, do we break through? We might go from one church to the next looking for a place that will boost our passion. We find evangelists and revivalists who can pep us up. We look for the “next big thing” to help us encounter God. However, when the services are over, that same old feeling creeps back in, causing us to begin looking for the next high.

There is no special formula or secret ingredient. The only way to break through is by choosing to worship.

When everyone looks to the style of music, the setting, or the type of preacher, no one will be completely satisfied. To meet everyone’s preferences, we would have to organize churches by labeling them: (a) the church with acoustic worship, dim lighting, and a mellow preacher;
(b) the church with a choir, bright light- ing, and a loud preacher; (c) the church with flashing lights, a praise band, and a seeker-friendly preacher; (d) many other combinations. No church will check off every box on a person’s preference list.

The solution is choosing to worship. No matter the musical style, choose to worship. No matter the lighting, choose to worship. No matter the preacher, choose to worship. When we think about who God is and all He has done for us, we should be prompted to worship Him.

Our worship is an act of expression to God of our appreciation, love, and reverence to Him. Our choice to worship— whether we run the aisles, kneel, or lift our hands—will move the heart of God.

If we want God’s Spirit to move in our worship services, it is time that we stop trying to make Him move, and just let ourselves worship Him.

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God is not looking for once-a-week performers but daily practitioners.

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t was a Saturday afternoon, and a group of neighborhood children had congregated in our kitchen. They talked excitedly of the adventures they were going to embark on that afternoon. The pirate ship they had created in our yard was about to come under attack after this short interval for juice and cookies. Their imaginations created a world of possibilities that made this ordinary Saturday afternoon an extraordinary day.

As they set out into the yard, the conversation rapidly changed to which role everyone was going to play. Some were deemed worthy of the role of pirate, while the girls became mermaids and princesses. When all the roles were filled, each character headed out to the “high seas.” After several hours of playing, tired from the sword fights and treasure hunts, the small group of friends went their separate ways, heading home for dinner and bed. Just like that, the game was over. There had been no fatalities, no permanent damage—just a lot of swashbuckling fun.

As I watched this scenario play out, the Spirit of God reminded me that the adventure we are called to as His children is not an imaginary one. It is not a call to pretend for a few hours each weekend at church or to pretend with each other in our relationships. Just because we are considering changing our towns, cities, and neighborhoods and have a desire to see people saved, transformed, and restored does not mean this will happen, though this is the start.
Unless we marry our desires with a partner called action, then we are only playing pretend when it comes to turning around our communities.

We are called to something that is much more serious. God has called us each to play our part in a real adventure. The fight we are called to engage in is very real—and our enemy is not playing games.

In 1 Peter 5:8, we are instructed to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (NIV). The Enemy is not messing around, nor is he merely threatening to bring harm. He is seeking people to devour and destroy. He is seeking those who are living unaware of his schemes, whose imaginary play has left them vulnerable in this very real battle.


God is not asking people to merely think about turning our world around; He is relying on us to do it. It’s not just a nice thought for us to talk about or a potential adventure for us to consider embarking upon. God has enrolled us all in His commission; therefore, we are to stop pre- tending and get serious about the responsibility God asks us to carry.

Our society today is in danger of having many dreamers who are not real doers. All you have to do is flick through your TV channels to see countless programs where people have been told: “You can be the next greatest star if you just believe.” You can watch thousands standing in line, waiting to be auditioned in the latest pop-music singing competition, hoping to find a shortcut to fame. While many in the line are hardworking musicians who deserve to be heard, they are always outnumbered by thousands of people with no musical background or practical experience in playing an instrument. These hopefuls are standing in line thinking they might stumble into an escape route to the celebrity life. They believe that just by showing up at the auditions, they will somehow end up a potential star.

These imaginary contenders, much like the children in my backyard, are looking to play a role in a world they have dreamed up. Big dreams come crashing down for these aspiring artists, when after standing for a few hours in the cold, waiting for their big moment, they are stunned when one of the judges faces them with the reality of their lack of talent. Deflated and often emotionally volatile, they are forced to face facts and leave the room in which their dreams collided with reality.

As believers, we need this experience where dreams face reality. As God’s children, we are not called to stand in line, hoping for our own moment of greatness, or wait to become some spiritual superstar. There is no shortcut to God’s turnaround. God does not give imaginary callings, nor does He play pretend. We need to enter God’s reality room, not to be judged but to allow His Spirit to nudge us from our dream-state into a realization of what serving the turnaround God requires from each of us. We are not called to pretend-play the change; we are commissioned to be the change. Our lives are not about the end performance but about the discipline of daily practice. God is looking for those who will faithfully commit to develop their spiritual gifts and grow in faith. He is looking for those who will not waste time standing in a line but instead will invest a lifetime into helping needy lives.

God is not looking for once-a-week performers but daily practitioners. He wants people who are taking what they have learned and passing on their wisdom, taking what they have grown and helping others to grow. We are not given gifts and talents so we can entertain or impress one another but so we can help the people whom others pass by. We need to position our lives and ministries so that real challenges of this world shape the priorities of God’s people. We must be ready to respond to the call of the broken, lost, and vulnerable. Our stage is our streets; our greatest gift is our acts of service.

Wherever God’s people gather, we need to commit not merely to enjoying one another’s company, but to allowing our commission to shape our conversations and making the needs of others affect our choices. We need to talk about real problems and determine to play a real part in being an answer. When we see the full scale of what we are called to do, when we see the real reason we are called to turn things around, then we will stop standing in line dreaming and instead start taking our turn and doing.

Let’s consider those who have biblical legendary status: Joseph the prime minister, David the giant killer, Daniel the lion tamer, Elijah the fire starter, Peter the rock, Solomon the wise, and many more. None of these men was a performer. They were never found wasting time in a line dreaming of being great. Instead, these men went to obscure places to be faithful, to serve diligently, and to commit to being a disciple of the difference they sought to see.


The apostle Paul said, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15-16 NIV). Paul was asking Timothy to give himself wholeheartedly and regularly, not in a one-off grand statement of commitment, but with a consistent commitment to preserve his growth ethic.

Often the difference between those who make a difference and those who imagine they are called to make a difference is the word diligence. It’s the commitment to show up even when no one else will. It’s the study no one sees and the sacrifice no one applauds. It’s David’s diligence on a hillside to protect a few sheep when no one else is looking. It’s the diligence shown by Joseph in prison to be a faithful steward when no one expects it.

Our community does not need God’s people to charge in like knights in shining armor. They don’t need promises that are never going to be kept or commitments that are never seen through to completion. God’s turnarounds require those who understand what it is to persevere and to be diligent.

In our city, we have been involved helping the street girls for over ten years. The reason that their lives are being turned around is not because we impressed them with our gospel presentation or that we quoted our best messages to them. The reason they want God to turn their lives around is because we have diligently turned up.

Diligence is a language the Enemy hates. He can’t throw diligent people off their cause with a few problems because they have developed a perseverance that will keep them turning up. Paul knew Timothy had a call on his life to turn people to Christ, and he wanted Timothy’s commitment to reach maturity so his diligence would forge in him a deep determination to see the job for which he was sent completed.

God is looking to you and me to grow up and to progress from the flight simulator of Christianity into the real work that we are called to do. God’s turnarounds require His people not just to show up, but to grow up and to mature. There are many risks out there that we will need to embrace, but God is waiting for you and me to get to the height they require.

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My Journey to Pro-Life Ministry https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/05/my-journey-to-pro-life-ministry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=my-journey-to-pro-life-ministry https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/05/my-journey-to-pro-life-ministry/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 08:00:42 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4371

Abortion affects each of us. Women and men are suffering in silence in our churches.

The post My Journey to Pro-Life Ministry appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



n a typical day, 3,400 unborn babies are killed by abortion in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute. Does this shock you? It stunned me. With that in mind, I want to tell about my journey into pro-life ministry.

My trek began with a step in the wrong direction. Although I grew up in the Church of God, during my teen years I walked away from my Christian upbringing. While in my early 20s, an unmarried friend confided in me with tears streaming down her face that she was pregnant. I strongly advised her to have an abortion.

I gave my friend this advice because I viewed the unborn baby as only a clump of cells or tissue. Thankfully, my friend did not take my advice. Somehow, she found the courage to continue her pregnancy. The first moment I held that precious newborn, I immediately knew how wrong I had been to even suggest abortion. The Lord used this experience as the driving force in my passion for pro-life ministry.

    From Quiet to Active

I was quietly pro-life for years, even after returning to the faith. Then one day while shopping in a thrift store, the Lord guided me to Abby Johnson’s book unPLANNED, which tells her story of being the director of a Planned Parenthood abortion center. After eight years of working in the abortion industry, Abby witnessed an ultrasound-guided abortion. She saw a 13-week fetus struggle and lose his battle for life.

Abby left her job and became an advocate for life. She credits her conversion to
the peaceful prayer vigil 40 Days for Life (40DFL), which began on the sidewalks of the abortion center she managed in College Station, Texas. Her book sparked a fire in me. I could no longer just say I was pro-life; I had to do something. I contacted the local pro-life ministries and joined this worthy cause.

Soon I became part of the planning committee for my city’s 40DFL campaign, which is held in the spring and fall each year. This campaign draws attention to the evil of abortion through a three-point program: (1) 40 days of prayer and fasting for an end to abortion, (2) peaceful prayer vigils on the sidewalks of abortion centers, and (3) community outreach.

The mission of 40DFL, now international, is to unite the body of Christ in prayer to abolish abortion. The results have been astounding. According to their website, since 2007, 41 abortion clinics have closed where 40DFL has been held. More than 7,500 babies and their parents have been spared from abortion, and 83 abortion-clinic workers have left the industry. There is tremendous power when God’s people join in focused prayer.

    Changing Minds

During last spring’s 40DFL campaign, I was praying outside a Planned Parenthood center on a busy abortion day in Mobile, Alabama. A man who brought a young woman to the clinic for an abortion was standing near me, and I was given the opportunity to speak to him. He told me the young woman was his sister. I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to gently say, “You know that is your niece or your nephew she is carrying.”

This simple sentence seemed to awaken him to the reality of what was happening. Her niece or nephew was about to be aborted. He went inside to talk to his sister. About 10 minutes later, they both came out and stood at the door talking. Then she walked toward the car with her hand in his. As they approached us, she said with a smile, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to keep my baby.”

Those of us praying on the sidewalk rejoiced in a life saved, knowing this young woman would not suffer the pain and regret of an abortion.

We also have learned of instances when women have changed their minds simply because of a person standing or kneeling in prayer on the sidewalk. Being present makes an enormous difference.

    A Church Issue

Since 1973, when abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court, some 50 million babies have been aborted. When I learned nearly two-thirds of women having an abortion profess the Christian faith, it made me realize the church must address this issue. These women need to feel loved and know forgiveness and healing can be found in Christ.

There are many ways to participate in pro-life ministry in a Christlike way. In addition to participating in 40DFL (40days forlife.com), my home church, Forest Hill Church of God (Mobile, Alabama), assists the local crisis-pregnancy center by giving monetary donations and baby items.

We are also involved in a nationwide event called Life Chain. It features an annual public witness of individuals who peacefully and prayerfully line up along the highway in front of the church, some holding pro-life messages. We are also working to provide a confidential Bible study to help post-abortive women begin their journey to healing.

Our involvement in these ministries is a visual statement that the church supports the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception. The psalmist David wrote, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (139:13 NIV). We believe abortion kills children created in the image of God.

    Spiritual Battleground

Abortion is a spiritual battleground. We read in Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Abortion is a weapon the Enemy has used to destroy the lives of millions of babies and to mar the lives of countless mothers and fathers who suffer the consequences of a deadly decision.

Abortion affects each of us. Women and men are suffering in silence in our churches. Many children are learning of siblings they will never meet because of abortion, and our society has lost the contributions of 50 million people. We can no longer ignore this evil. The church must be an open door preventing abortion and providing healing.

You can make a difference by simply spending one hour a week in prayer on the sidewalk near an abortion center, or volunteering at your local pregnancy center. You could be the vessel God uses to save His next great evangelist, artist, educator, or scientist.

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Establishing A Pattern Of Prayer

The post From Discipline to Delight appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



rayer is an essential to our spiritual life as food is to our physical body. There are many different types of prayer mentioned in the Bible—prayers of praise, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praying in the Spirit, just to name a few. They are all important and useful. There are times I feel led by the Holy Spirit to pray in a particular way, and this may change from day to day.

The most important element of prayer is the simple fact that we pray. Prayer is dependence on God. It is where we humble ourselves before God and He turns our weaknesses into strengths through a transfer of His power.

James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask” (NKJV), so our first step is to simply talk with God. We must establish a pattern of prayer in our life.

This is the beginning of a new year and a good time to set a new pattern in our lives. It takes about 21 days to establish a habit.

I set aside time for prayer early in the morning. I love the stillness of the morning, and this time works best for me. It is important for you to find the time of the day that works best for you. My grandpa, Rev. E. L. Newton, found that late at night, after everyone else was in bed, worked best for him.

Whether it is morning, noon, or night, put together a pattern of prayer in your life. If you do not have a plan of action, you will not have a successful prayer life. However, if you do establish the discipline of a daily quiet time, you can move from a discipline to a delight! Once your prayer time has become a delight, it can then move to discipleship.

I begin my quiet time with God through reading the Word of God. It has become such a delight for my life that each night as I go to bed, I anticipate this time of reunion with my God. During these early morning sessions, God speaks to me in powerful ways.

I also like to take a daily walk with God. As the hymn says, “He walks with me and He talks with me.” Each day presents new circumstances and challenges, but “the Lord’s mercies . . . are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23).

The next step of my pattern is intercession, which for me includes worship and praying in the Spirit. I have many responsibilities, so I have found this type of praying to be essential. There are times I feel overwhelmed and do not know where to even start praying, but the Holy Spirit is always there to lead me and intercede through me according to the will of God:

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26-27 NKJV).

Here are some suggestions to help you in establishing a daily time with God. These are taken from experience and have been used in discipleship training.

    Make Prayer a Priority

Jesus spent much of His time in prayer. Luke 5:16 says Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (NKJV). We need time to get alone with God to hear His directions and receive His strength. Battles are waged and victories won on our knees in prayer.

If Jesus, who was the Son of God, needed to get away to spend time in prayer to maintain a life of victory, then how much more do you and I need to pray?

Are you facing a battle today? Are you in need of peace or direction for your life? If so, pray about it. You have worried about it long enough. Pray today in expectation of meeting with the God of heaven.

    Listen for God’s Voice

Over the years, I have learned God will rarely interrupt my busy life nor shout at me over the noisy activities of my day. However, God does speak to me when I take time to get away from the busyness and sit quietly in His presence.

Elijah found this to be true as well. He did not hear the Lord speak in a mighty wind, a powerful earthquake, or a raging fire, but in “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12 NIV). God speaks clearly but quietly, so we must listen closely. True prayer involves both talking and listening.

Could it be that God wants to speak to you today? You might never know unless you get alone with Him in a quiet place. Do you have a quiet place to get alone with God and pray? This is an essential element in developing a deep relationship with Christ.

The Word of God says those who know the Lord will know His voice (John 10:27). The Bible is one of God’s ways of speak- ing to us. Listen to what He says to you through His Word, and listen to His gentle whisper as He speaks to guide your life.

    Practice Persistence

Jesus instructed us to “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1 NIV). Persistence in prayer is another secret to our victory.

Not only do I set aside regular time to get alone with God, but I also like to have a continual conversation with Him. This sometimes takes the form of an outward talk, but many times it takes place in my head and spirit. That might sound strange to some, but I have found this continual walking and talking with the Lord to be very helpful. It follows Paul’s instruction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Try it. Such prayer can be transformational.

    Learn to Wait

Have you been praying and waiting on an answer from God? Sometimes the answer is not “yes” or “no” but, rather, “wait.” But we don’t like to wait! We want instant gratification. We have microwaves, fast-food restaurants, and instant messaging. . . and we expect the same “quick service” from God. However, God doesn’t always move on our timetable. The psalmist said, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Ps. 37:7).

    Start Now

Establish a daily quiet time that works best for you. Pay the price of discipline, and in time, praying will become the delight of your life. Once this time is a delight, you will grow as a disciple.

God speaks to me through His Word and prayer each day as I seek Him. I daily dig out nuggets of truth and encouragement and listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Out of this overflow He has allowed me to grow in discipleship.

I now share these daily words of encouragement to others through Facebook, Twitter, texting, and a daily radio program “An Apple for Today.”

Don’t wait another day. Set a new pattern in this year to have a daily time alone with God.

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Faith Works https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/faith-works/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-works https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/faith-works/#respond Mon, 29 Apr 2019 17:00:50 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4446

In Inner-City Baltimore and Everywhere Else

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eet Justin. This past Christmas, he became the proud owner of a 2009 Pontiac G6. Justin lives right where he was raised— inner-city Baltimore, Maryland; a hotbed of violent crime.

Meet Billy Humphrey. He too was brought up in Baltimore, where he still lives. Billy and his wife, Sarah, pastor Pathway Church of God and run Baltimore’s City of Refuge.

These three individuals met many years ago, and they have developed a strong and lasting bond. They met not by accident, but because someone had the basic understanding that true Christian faith must bear fruit. In other words, daily application of Scriptural knowledge must be applied by professing Christians if the world is going to believe that Jesus Christ is who the Bible says He is.

The apostle James put it this way: “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17 NASB). Said in a different way: Jesus is still dead to a nonbelieving world when they observe people of faith every day who profess Jesus, but do not follow that belief with action.

Baltimore’s City of Refuge is a place where faith is put into daily practice. When you walk on the grounds, you witness people putting their faith into action through their works. They minister to the hurting—people who are hungry, raggedly clothed, and homeless. They also share the greatest message the world has ever heard—salvation through Jesus Christ.

Justin accepted Jesus Christ through this ministry. Justin is a young man whose greatest support system is the church. He doesn’t get it from home because to him, home doesn’t have the same meaning as it does to millions of others. There is no white-picket fence, two-car garage, or community center for youth to enjoy. His “picket fence” consists of abandoned cars; his “garage” consists of parking on the street; and his “community center” is a corner where drug deals come down and prostitutes are hired.

According to Pastor Humphrey, Justin’s story can be any one of a thousand stories of youth in Baltimore. The problems are many, but the Church of God has a lighthouse there that is making a difference, one person at a time.

For a young person to begin the climb out of poverty, they must get a good- paying job. In order to get that job, they need to be trained with a skill that will cause an employer to want to hire them. Then, to get that job, they must have transportation. Public transportation
isn’t good enough for most employers to hire a young person from the inner city. Employers need employees whom they can count on to get to work on time every day.

The struggle that young people have in cities like Baltimore are multiplied throughout America and around the globe. In Justin’s case, “faith with works” showed up on time. The Church of God family went to work. Money was raised and a call was made to a friend of the church who owns car dealerships. Ken Jones is a man who understands the powerful combination of faith with works. He found a car for Justin, checked it out, assisted in its purchase at his expense, and delivered it to Maryland just before Christmas.

In addition, for a 19-year-old from inner-city Baltimore, the least-expensive liability insurance we could find was around $2,000 for six-months. But what would be a game-stopper for most people was another opportunity for faith to produce some more works. Twelve pastors, congregations, and individuals from the Delmarva-DC region put their faith to work and paid the insurance for Justin’s first year.

What is the point of this story? Simply this: You can say you have faith and preach that you believe the Bible; but until your faith becomes visible action, there is no proof of your belief system.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
—James 2:18 (NKJV)

The apostle was not saying we are saved because we do works. Instead, he was saying we do good works because we are saved. Faith in Jesus Christ produces visible, tangible acts of love and kindness to the world.

Most everyone that I know loves fruit. You probably prefer some fruit over others (I’m not a grapefruit fan); but most of us love to eat certain kinds of fruit. The world may not always say it, but they love to see the Christian faith produce good fruit. Christian faith lived out produces such fruit.

According to Jesus, faith acted out:

    (1) glorifies God and
    (2) allows others to determine if Christians are real or fake, based on the fruit they produce.

He said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8 NKJV). Our heavenly Father is glorified when His children produce visible fruit. In addition, we move from “might be” or “could be” to “will be” disciples once we begin producing this fruit.

Think about it this way: What good is faith without obedience? James says even the demons in hell believe. They take it a step further than most and “tremble” at what they believe (James 2:19). For us as Christians, faith is taking God at His Word and obeying Him even when we don’t fully comprehend it. Obedience is the process where works are applied and lived out in our daily lives.

Until I have obeyed, I have not really trusted. When I do not obey God, I’m saying, God, I really don’t trust You or Your Word. I know what You have said, but I’m going to do it differently.

It is not those Christians who only hear God’s Word who are found faithful; rather, it is those who hear and obey. That is what Romans 8:14 tells us: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (NIV).

The ingredients of faith are simple. First, God’s Word must be heard. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (NKJV). To have faith, you must know what God has said and what God is saying in His Word. Faith comes by hearing, not by having heard.

Second, the Word must be believed. Hearing God’s Word is absolute; however, acting upon what we hear and believe is also mandatory.

People who do not believe are not dealing with an intellectual problem; they are dealing with a moral problem. It is not an issue of the head, but an issue of the heart.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
—Hebrews 3:12 (NASB)

Faith is a response to God himself. God created my eyes so they would respond to light, my ears so they would respond to sound, my nose so it would respond to aromas, my hands so they would respond to feeling, and my spirit so I could respond to Him.

Third, the Word must be obeyed. Faith has always been linked to obedience. Faith that does not lead to obedience is not the lifestyle of a disciple of Christ. Just as light and heat are byproducts of fire, so works and obedience are byproducts of genuine faith.

There are countless people just like Justin around our world who need God’s people to act upon the faith Christ has imparted to them. As the hymn writer John H. Sammis penned:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

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We Must Never Forget Israel https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/we-must-never-forget-israel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-must-never-forget-israel https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/we-must-never-forget-israel/#respond Mon, 29 Apr 2019 08:00:34 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4349

God is calling Christians to come alongside the Jewish people— praying for them, blessing them, and comforting them.

The post We Must Never Forget Israel appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



erusalem! It is difficult for me to say that name or describe this land without emotion spilling our of every word. I am mesmerized by the sites, the history, and the people—but, most of all, what I know will happen here in future days.

From my balcony, where I am writing now, I see the ancient walls surrounding Mount Moriah, where the temple of God once stood. Ascending from the south, I see places where Jesus stood and taught on so many occasions.

After living here with my wife, Gina, for many years, it still seems new. Perhaps I’m sentimental, but anytime I travel from here, I come to this balcony to take a mental picture of the city one more time. When I return, it’s not long before I’m standing once again gazing at those walls and at the Mount of Olives where Christ will return.

This compelling love for Israel I have is not mine alone. Over the past few decades, the hearts of millions of Christians have been captivated by the land of Israel and the Jewish people. Without hesitation I can tell you, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Israel’s Purpose

Israel is unique. No other nation can rightfully claim they are the chosen people of God. In the opening pages of the Bible, we hear God promising Abraham he will father a nation that will be a blessing to every family on earth. He also promised the land of Canaan as Israel’s inheritance forever.

The purpose of God’s choosing Israel is not revealed until Exodus 19. Here we catch a glimpse of Israel camping as a little flock before Mount Sinai. Dramatically, God reveals their earthly destiny. He says to Israel, “You shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (vv. 5-6 NKJV).

To seal their calling, God descended on the mountain with fire, completely surrounding it with smoke, accompanied by violent shaking. Then a trumpet blast grew louder and louder until God’s thunderous voice was heard by every person present.Wow! What an ordination service! What a revelation of the purpose of Israel’s existence!

Among the many responsibilities of priesthood, none is more significant than being the revealers of God and His Word—precisely what Israel has done. We would know nothing about God’s existence, the creation of the earth, the fall of humanity, and God’s efforts to bring us to Himself without these revelations that came through the Jewish people.

Most important, the Jews were exclusively chosen to present Jesus the Messiah to the world, demonstrated by what He said to a desperately inquiring Gentile woman:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24 NASB).

Furthermore, all the apostles chosen by Jesus were Jewish. The early church was Jewish, and the spreading of the gospel in the first century was generally a Jewish movement. Of course, many in the nations became believers and began spreading the word as well.

In A.D. 70, Jerusalem was tragically destroyed and the Jews were scattered throughout the nations of the earth, where they existed for over 1,900 years. Their path was unbelievably difficult, suffering persecutions and expulsion from one country after the other. To the casual observer, their priestly calling was apparently withdrawn.

    Israel’s Restoration

In the late 1800s, God began stirring the hearts of the Jews to return to their homeland as the first wave of Jewish immigrants made their way from Eastern Europe to reclaim their promised land. A half century later, after the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, just as the prophets proclaimed, Israel and its people came back to life in 1948, when Israel officially became a nation once again.

From a prophetic point of view, these are the days of restoration spoken of by the prophets. Ezekiel described Israel as nothing more than dry bones scattered across a valley. But then he watched as the Spirit of God breathed on them, giving them life. God said to Ezekiel:

Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves’” (37:11-13 NKJV).

And the prophet Isaiah stated it would be Gentiles who would help bring them home:

Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders” (49:22 NKJV).

It is no coincidence that when the Iron Curtain came down in 1991, numbers of Christian ministries from the nations, including Ministry to Israel (MTI), crossed into the former Soviet Union to help bring Jewish people home.

I remember one particular time in the Ukraine when we were bringing Jews by bus to the airport in Kiev to fly to Israel the next morning. We had ridden for eight hours, and it was late. There was a 40-year-old invalid woman on the bus and no one was coming to help her, so I picked her up in my arms and carried her into the airport. As the automatic doors opened, the words of verse 22 exploded in my heart: “They shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.”

Tears began streaming down my face. The next morning we flew 186 Jews to Israel. Since we chartered the flight, just before landing, I had the opportunity to speak over the public-address system, telling them that their God was finally bringing them home. The whole plane broke out into applause.

Today, MTI and her sister organization, Ezra International, have over 200 Christian workers in the former Soviet Union helping Jews return to Israel. To date, we have assisted over 130,000 Jews to return home. Also, MTI has established the Jerusalem Support Center and the Israel Sup- port Network of Jewish fellowships, where we have assisted tens of thousands of new Jewish immigrants, including thousands of Lone Soldiers (members of Israel’s military whose families live abroad).

    Understanding the Spiritual Events of Our Time

These are remarkable days. In our times, after 1,900 years of waiting, we are seeing the final ingathering of believers from the nations while also watching the miraculous return of the Jewish people to their beloved Promised Land. With great precision, the Lord is setting the stage for His soon return to the nation of Israel. Jesus said, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16 NKJV).

This is His work, His final intent in these days—one flock, one Shepherd.

The restoration of Israel, however, is by no means complete. It is a process, not an event. Though they are coming home physically, there is still a spiritual void in the hearts of many Israelis. As darkness approaches the planet, Israel will become more isolated than ever. God is beckoning to Christian believers to come alongside His people—praying for them, blessing them, and comforting them.

The reason Christians are so drawn to this land and the Jewish people is because we have been gathered into their flock, adopted into the priestly calling, and grafted into their olive tree. They are our spiritual family. Like Ruth the Gentile and Naomi the Jew, we are inseparable. May we never forget.

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When You’re Betrayed https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/when-youre-betrayed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-youre-betrayed https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/when-youre-betrayed/#respond Fri, 26 Apr 2019 08:00:51 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4343

If you leave a decaying apple in the bowl long enough, the other fruit will rot along with it.

The post When You’re Betrayed appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



e have all been touched by some form of betrayal.

Maybe you can remember when…

• He said he would love you and you alone. But the note on the table says he’s not coming back. He asks for
a divorce, and his attorney’s card is stapled to the note.
• She said she would always be your best friend, but now she’s taken your place with him.
• It was your idea. He listened to you share it over dinner, and then he took it to the boss and got the assignment.
• You shared something very personal and believed everyone understood it was confidential. Now you’re embarrassed beyond belief, and deeply hurt that someone you trusted betrayed you.

When we feel the bitter sting of disappointment and betrayal—as Joseph did when his brothers betrayed him (Gen. 37:23-28) —we have to deal with the hurt. There will be no peace until we settle this issue.

A wise friend once told me, “When someone trusts you, it is a heavier weight than when they don’t!” Broken trust may never be fully restored. Watch marriage partners struggle to regain their relationship after dealing with unfaithfulness. It’s indescribably difficult. Observe the businessman, whose partners sold him out for a large profit, struggle to even speak peaceably with them again. Anger is inevitable when faced with betrayal. Emotions run deep.

Several years ago, I was the victim of vicious criticism by two men I trusted and believed in. Although I am not usually sensitive to such things, there was something in this act that hurt to the core. When I overheard these men talking about me, enumerating my abilities and shortcomings, I was wounded. To my knowledge, they never knew I was around the corner. To this day, I doubt they even recall their words. Unfortunately, I do. When it happened, I quietly left the building and started home. Only God and I knew what was in my heart. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks and my heart screamed, Why me?

The only time in my life I believe I saw a vision was in the car driving home that afternoon. In the vision, there was a beautiful bowl of fruit on a kitchen counter. I saw a body move past the bowl and accidentally knock it off the counter. The bowl and fruit came crashing to the floor. While I saw no faces, I heard a voice say, “Pick it up and put it back into the bowl. Nothing is hurt.”

The voice was wrong. The fruit had been bruised from the fall. If you place a bruised apple in a bowl with healthy fruit, no one would notice—for a while. But over time, the apple would decay. If you left it in the bowl long enough, the other fruit would rot as well.

As I drove, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, That’s what will happen to you if you allow this bruise to go unattended.

“But it’s not my fault,” I protested. “I didn’t do anything to them.”

Even so, the bruise is yours to deal with. It is your spirit that will be affected. Then I remembered the words of Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me . . . to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). I realized the Lord would have to help me deal with my bruise.

“That’s what I want!” I cried with all my heart. Supernaturally, the Lord
touched me in that car. By the time I got home, I was a different person. I still remember the experience, but I am not negatively affected by it anymore, because the Lord set me free from the bruise I had suffered.

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Through The Storm https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/through-the-storm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=through-the-storm https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/through-the-storm/#respond Thu, 25 Apr 2019 08:00:55 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4340

The Bowling Family Keeps Singing

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hether in a large concert hall, a Gaither taping session, or a church service, The Bowling Family communicates the power of the gospel through their music and through their testimonies of God’s faithfulness to them following a serious bus accident. The group is comprised of Mike and Kelly Bowling, their daughter Hope, and a longtime friend, Troy Peach.

    First Songs

Kelly, born in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, remembers singing her first song, “He’s Still Working on Me,” at age 3. She was saved at age 14 shortly before attending a Church of God youth camp. About the same time, her family broke up and later became part of a blended family—the Crabbs. For 17 years, Kelly sang with Jason Crabb, twin brothers Aaron and Adam, and their sister Terah.

Mike grew up in London, Kentucky. At age 8 he started playing piano for his church. His mom paid for piano lessons, but his teacher finally said, “There’s not much I can do with him because he insists on adding chords and playing his own style.”

Mike loved piano so much that he wouldn’t let anyone else play for services in his home church. He also loved to sing solos. “My favorite time to sing was during the offering when no one was shouting and everyone was quiet.” He admits that’s not the case today, but the spiritual lessons he learned as a child in that country Holiness church stand true today. “I remember my daddy telling me, ‘Son, don’t ever step on the stage without the anointing.’ The Holy Spirit taught me how to do that,” he said.

When Mike was 16, he rode a Greyhound bus to Atlanta to begin singing and playing the piano with the popular LeFevre Trio, who attended the Mount Paran Church of God. “I was privileged to live with Uncle Alphus (LeFevre). He was my mentor and the closest thing to a saint I had ever known,” Mike said. “I had to finish high school by home schooling, which wasn’t popular at the time.”

After high school, Mike attended college and earned a degree in respiratory therapy before returning to the music world. In 1995, he joined the New Hinsons, a singing family known best for their song “The Lighthouse.” This was a perfect blend, considering Mike’s vocals are similar to those of the late Kenny Hinson. After a short time, Mike joined another successful group of family singers, the Perrys.

In 1996, Mike was singing lead with the Perrys when he met Kelly. The first year of their marriage, he traveled with the Perrys; she traveled with the Crabb Family until she got pregnant. Then he traveled with the Crabb Family and opened for them as soloist. Although this was his first time as soloist since his childhood days of singing for the offertory, his first single went to number four on the Southern Gospel charts. Mike and Kelly knew they would sing together, but it was all in God’s timing.

    The Bus Accident

On July 1, 2010, the Bowling Family’s touring bus was involved in a serious acci- dent. Kelly describes what happened:

“We were on our way to a TV taping in Indian Trails, South Carolina, which is close to Charlotte, North Carolina. Most of the time we travel at night, but on July 1, most of the family was up front. The weigh-station sign should have been posted ‘Full,’ but it wasn’t.

“Going 60 miles per hour, our bus hit a semitruck that was stopped in traffic. Mike was holding Katelanne, our youngest daughter, in his lap. He was knocked unconscious and sustained a brain injury and bleed, a broken arm, lacerations, and bruising. Katelanne had a large cut on her face that barely missed her eye, and her clavicle was crushed. They were both airlifted to the hospital in Charlotte, and the rest of the family was taken to a Charlotte hospital by ambulance.

“My back was broken. Our families were eight hours away. Terah Penhollow, who was singing with us at the time, was not injured seriously, so she was able to go through the tests with the three children.

“When tragedy strikes, you realize, It’s just me and God. In the ambulance, I remember thinking, This could easily be the worst day of my life, but I know God is with me. After five days, I was released from the hospital, but I lived in a body brace— what I called my turtle shell—for many months, and then I was on a walker.

“I had never been sick, but now I couldn’t even give my 3-year-old a bath or hold her in my lap. My bones were collapsing at one point, and the doctors thought I would need surgery, but God intervened.”

Mike said, “You can’t help but think, If we were in God’s will, this would never have happened.” Then he read Jesus’ words about Lazarus in John 11:4: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (NIV).

    The Healing

“My mother’s home looked like a hospital room with wheelchairs, hospital beds, and months of physical therapy,” Kelly said. She experienced the words to the song she had sung for years with her brothers and sister: “He will take you through the fire again.”

The Bowlings were unable to travel and sing for seven months. Mike said, “We couldn’t take care of our kids, and we had no way of supporting the family. The days seemed unbearable, but God provided. Every day when the mail ran, the checks came in so that we never missed our payments. Singers like Ricky Skaggs, the Gaither Vocal Band, and many others held several benefits for us that made it possible for us to regroup and survive.

“Katelanne required plastic surgery, but God was so faithful. Even with a crushed clavicle, in three weeks she was turning cartwheels. I believe this happened so we could encourage others. God didn’t cause the accident, but He used the outcome to reveal His plan.”

    Back in Ministry

“It was natural for us to fear getting back on the bus,” Mike said. However, their calendar is now filled with 200 dates a year, and all of the Bowlings are doing well.

“It’s hard work when you’re home three days a week and gone four, but God has opened so many doors for us,” Kelly remarked.

One Alabama pastor, Tony Matheny— who has had the Bowlings minister in his church more than once—said, “Mike and Kelly Bowling are an amazingly talented family. I have been listening to Mike Bowling sing since he was with the New Hinsons. He sounded so much like one of my all-time favorite singers, Kenny Hinson, but over the years he has developed a style that is all his own. Most of all, I love his heart and his desire for ministry. He and Kelly are true examples of what Christianity is all about.”

Mike offers this advice to anyone who desires a singing ministry: “Be sold out
to God first. He gives gifts to imperfect people, but you must put God first and work hard. Ask yourself,

Why do I want to sing?

If it’s because you’re a good singer and want to be heard on the radio, it’s not the right reason. You can have a great gift, but you also have to love people.”

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This season you’re in may puzzle you, but it does not bewilder God.

The post Oh, So This Is Bootcamp! appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



n November 28, 1965, the fighter plane of Howard Rutledge exploded under enemy fire. He parachuted into the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and was promptly placed in the “heartbreak Hotel,” one of the prisons in Hanoi.

When the door slammed and the key turned in that rusty, iron lock, a feeling of utter loneliness swept over me. I lay down on that cold cement slab in my 6-by-6 prison. The smell of human excrement burned my nostrils. A rat, large as a small cat, scampered across the slab beside me. The walls and floors and ceilings were caked with filth. Bars covered a tiny window high above the door. I was cold and hungry; my body ached from the swollen joints and sprained muscles…. It’s hard to describe what solitary confinement can do to unnerve and defeat a man. You quickly tire of standing up or sitting down, sleeping or being awake. There are no books, no paper or pencils, no magazines or newspapers. The only colors you see are drab gray and dirty brown. Months or years may go by when you don’t see the sunrise or the moon, green grass or flowers. You are locked in alone and silent in your filthy little cell breathing stale, rotten air and trying to keep your sanity (In the Presence of Mine Enemies).

Few of us will ever face the austere conditions of a POW camp. Yet to one degree or another, we all spend time behind bars.

    • My email today contains a prayer request for a young mother just diagnosed with lupus. Incarcerated by bad health.
    • I had coffee yesterday with a man whose wife battles depression. He feels stuck (chain number one) and guilty for feeling stuck (chain number two).
    • After half a century of marriage, a friend’s wife began to lose her memory. He had to take away her car keys so she wouldn’t drive. He has to stay near so she won’t fall. They had hopes of growing old together. They still may, but only one of them will know the day of the week.

Each of these individuals wonders, Where is heaven in this story? Why would God permit such imprisonment? Does this struggle serve any purpose?

As long as Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV), he will wreak havoc among God’s people. He will lock preachers, like Paul, in prisons. He will exile pastors, like John, on remote islands. He will afflict the friends of Jesus, like Lazarus, with diseases. But his strategies always backfire. The imprisoned Paul wrote epistles. The banished John saw heaven. The cemetery of Lazarus became a stage upon which Christ performed one of His greatest miracles.

Intended evil becomes ultimate good.

As I reread that promise, it sounds formulaic, catchy, as if destined for a bumper sticker. I don’t mean for it to. There is nothing trite about your wheelchair, empty pantry, or aching heart. These are uphill, into-the-wind challenges you are facing. They are not easy.

But neither are they random. God is not sometimes sovereign. He is not occasionally victorious. He does not occupy the throne one day and vacate it the next. “The Lord shall not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the thoughts and intents of His mind” (Jer. 30:24 Amp.). This season in which you find yourself may puzzle you, but it does not bewilder God. He can and will use it for His purpose.

Rather than say, “God, why?” ask, “God, what?” What can I learn from this experience? “Remember today what you have learned about the Lord through your experiences with him” (Deut. 11:2 TEV). Rather than ask God to change your circumstances, ask Him to use your circumstances to change you. Life is a required course. Might as well do your best to pass it.

God is at work in each of us whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not. “He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way” (Lam. 3:33 TM). He does not relish our sufferings, but He delights in our development. “God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again” (Phil. 1:6 NCV). He will not fail. He cannot fail. He will “work in us what is
pleasing to him” (Heb. 13:21 NIV). Every challenge, large or small, can equip you for a future opportunity.

Howard Rutledge came to appreciate his time as a POW in Vietnam. He wrote:

During those long periods of enforced reflection, it became so much easier to separate the important from the trivial, the worthwhile from the waste. . . .

My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for a steak. . . . I wanted to know about the part of me that will never die. . . . I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. . . . It took prison to show me how empty life is without God. . . .

On August 31, after 28 days of torture, I could remember I had children but not how many. I said Phyllis’ name over and over again so I would not forget. I prayed for strength. It was on that twenty-eighth night I made God a promise. If I survived this ordeal, the first Sunday back in freedom I would take Phyllis and my family to their church and . . . confess my faith in Christ and join the church. This wasn’t a deal with God to get me through that last miserable night. It was a promise made after months of thought. It took prison and hours of painful reflection to realize how much I needed God and the community of believers. After I made God that promise, again I prayed for strength to make it through the night.

When the morning dawned through the crack in the bottom of that solid prison door, I thanked God for His mercy.

Don’t see your struggle as an interruption to life but as preparation for life. No one said the road would be easy or painless. But God will use this mess for something good. “This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. . . . God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best” (Heb. 12:8, 10 TM).

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Knowing What You Know https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/knowing-what-you-know/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=knowing-what-you-know https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/knowing-what-you-know/#respond Tue, 23 Apr 2019 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4360

What belief do Christians hold that aren't aligned with the Bible, just because someone told us they were right?

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ast December, some coworkers and I watched the funeral of President George H.W. Bush. One of the news commentators stated the President was going to be behind at the University of Texas. I knew that was wrong. He actually was going to be buried at Texas A&M University. (If you are from Texas, or if you pay any attention to college sports, you know there is a big difference between the two schools.)

I corrected the faceless voice on the television, saying it was “Texas A&M University,” not “the University of Texas.” For emphasis, I said the full name of the school: “Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University.”

One of my coworkers, Jeff, was sitting with me when I made that statement. He looked at me with a puzzled expression. He asked me if I was certain the A&M stood for “Agricultural and Mechanical.” I was—at least until he questioned me about it. A quick search on my phone confirmed it was, indeed, Agricultural and Mechanical.

Once I confirmed I was correct, Jeff laughed out loud in disbelief. He said for 50 years, he had believed the A&M stood for “Agricultural and Mining.”

Why did he believe that? Because his father had told him that when he was a small child, and he never bothered checking it.

Jeff’s father loved to joke with his son, and he would often tell him exaggerated stories or make humorous comments. He would generally correct them after a short while and tell his son the truth. However, he forgot to correct it on this occasion; or maybe he did correct it and his son wasn’t paying attention. As a result, Jeff had spent most of his life believing A&M meant something different than it does.

We had a bit of laugh about this, but it made me think:

What beliefs do Christians hold that aren’t aligned with the Bible, just because someone told us they were right?

Stated differently: How do we know what we “know”?

We lived in an age where we regularly hear terms like fake news and situational ethics. However, it is important that Christians know the truth about what we believe and how we conduct our lives.

An action is not right simply because it is popular or politically correct. Likewise, something we have done for many years should be reevaluated if it is not aligned with the teachings found in the Bible.

If you were blessed to grow up attending church, you were probably taught lessons in a variety of settings ranging from Sunday school to pastoral sermons. However, those aren’t sufficient.

Christians are directed to study the Word of God instead of relying on someone else to do it for us. The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV). Timothy was a young minister, but Paul’s directive is relevant to every Christian.

We are all ministers of the Gospel whether or not we stand in a pulpit on Sunday mornings, and we cannot fulfill that obligation if we do not know what is taught in the Bible.

The only way we can truly understand the Word of God is to study it. Through regular Bible study, devotion, and prayer, we can be certain that we know what we know as Christians.

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God Gives Peace When We’re In Pieces https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/god-gives-peace-when-were-in-pieces/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=god-gives-peace-when-were-in-pieces https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/god-gives-peace-when-were-in-pieces/#respond Tue, 23 Apr 2019 08:00:16 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4326

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 NKJV).

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handed my husband, Kurt, the phone and held my breath. He listened for a few moments, then turned toward me and mouthed “tumor.” I clasped my hand over my mouth as tears poured down my cheeks.

The minute Kurt heard the news, he felt God’s peace come over him. Not so for me. While we rushed to the doctor’s office, I repeated, “Our God is mighty; our God is great.” Yet all the while, I cried.

The brain surgeon showed us Kurt’s MRI result and said he needed to operate on Monday. The tumor was most likely cancerous and growing fast. This was Friday.

Kurt came out of the shower the next day and surprised me by saying, “I feel strongly that God wants me to speak during the church service. He wants someone there to know they need to put their trust in Him.”

Kurt had never asked to speak at church before, but he wanted to be obedient to the Lord. He called our pastor and explained everything. The pastor readily agreed and said it even fit in perfectly with his sermon.

Throughout the agonizingly long weekend, I repeated, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6 NKJV). I knew God would help me get through this crisis, but I was still afraid. After hearing Kurt speak at church, God’s perfect peace came over me.

Our pastor told us a woman who heard Kurt speak had been contemplating suicide, but immediately those thoughts had disappeared. We didn’t know the whole story until a year later.

Amanda contacted us and wanted to meet Kurt. “He saved my life,” she said. We were eager to meet with this woman so we could explain it was God, not Kurt, who had rescued her.

As the three of us sat in a coffee shop, Amanda told her story. She had experienced so many health issues, discouragements, and other crises that she felt she could not handle them any longer. She developed a suicide plan. Her husband would be out of town on a particular Saturday night. She was going to enjoy a leisurely dinner, then swallow a full bottle of pills and lie down. Her husband would find her body when he returned from his trip.

However, that afternoon she sensed God urging her to attend church the next morning. “I don’t want to,” she said aloud. But in her mind she kept hearing,

Go to Church!

Amanda struggled for hours, then found herself driving to church. She does not even remember getting into the car. She had not showered nor changed her clothes that morning. Yet, she was on her way.

Amanda sat in church with her arms crossed and head held low. Why am I here? I don’t want to be here!

She nearly got up to leave several times. However, when Kurt stood in front of the congregation and began to speak, her eyes were drawn to him. The message spoke to her heart; God loved her and wanted her to put her trust in Him. Immediately, God’s peace came over her. She no longer wanted to kill herself; she wanted to live!

After relaying her story, Amanda reached over and hugged Kurt. “See?” she said, misty-eyed. “You saved my life.”

Kurt and I gently took hold of Amanda’s hands. “God saved your life,” Kurt said. “He spoke through me so you would know you needed to trust Him.”

Amanda nodded and hugged us both.

If Kurt had not obeyed God by speaking at church . . . and if the pastor had not agreed that he could speak . . . and if Amanda had not obeyed God’s urging to attend the service, she would probably not be alive today.

God gave Kurt, Amanda, and me His perfect peace—peace that comes when we put our trust in Him. As Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 NKJV).

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Tired To The Bone https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/tired-to-the-bone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tired-to-the-bone https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/tired-to-the-bone/#respond Mon, 22 Apr 2019 08:00:57 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4320

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NIV).

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hen I was a little girl, my daddy would come home from a long day of working at the chicken plant. He would be nasty-dirty, covered with . . . well, you can imagine.

As I would run to meet him, I would ask, “How was your day, Daddy?”

His response was always the same, as I hung onto the dirty leg of his faded blue jeans. “Hard, Sissy—hard and dirty. Daddy is ‘tired to the bone.’ Let me go get cleaned up now.”

Many years later, I came to understand that phrase “tired to the bone.” It hit me particularly hard one day when I was huge pregnant with our second child. Jim and I were struggling to get our little church going, and things were very tight financially. I’d taken a job at a local doctor’s office three days a week—sometimes four. We had events at the church nearly every night of the week it seemed, trying to get attendance up and make people in the community aware of the ministry.

While I truly enjoyed our work with the church and was very involved in the women’s group that was forming, I also loved my work at the clinic and had become quite good at being a medical assistant. On any given day, I might be called on to take and develop an x-ray of a child with a broken bone or an elderly man with emphysema; or I might be the one to share the results of a pregnancy test with a new mother. Sometimes a patient was happy beyond belief, while at other times, a patient was simply, well, unwilling to believe.

One particularly hard day, I had been on my feet for eight hours. My feet were swollen over the tops of my white nursing shoes, and my huge baby belly was causing my back to ache until I could barely stand it. I was watching the clock, waiting and hoping for the end of the day. The clinic had been packed all day—full of sick people and those who weren’t sick but thought they were.

About 5:00, just before closing time, I heard a frantic banging on the back door of the facility, just off the exam rooms. Wondering who on earth would be there when most everyone used the front entrance, I hurried to the door. Standing in the late afternoon sunset was a young mother and father and their little boy. I knew them well. We had seen her through a recent pregnancy and rejoiced in the birth of their beautiful baby girl.

The mother was holding the baby close to her breast, and a look of utter terror was on her face. Shoving the baby toward me, she said,

“Do something! Please do something! She is not breathing!”

Seeing the tiny bundle held tightly in her mother’s arms, my heart nearly stopped. It seemed like yesterday when this baby with black curls had been born. I had rejoiced with the family as she squalled in all of her squirming glory, turning beet red, when she had her six-week checkup.

Ushering the family to an empty exam room, I turned to find the doctor at my elbow. The receptionist had alerted him of the crisis. As I watched, he gently took the tiny girl from her mother’s grasp.

Laying her on the exam table and turning back the soft blanket, he did what all good doctors do—he tried his best to find any sign of life. There was none. It was too late. The beautiful little girl was waxen and white, only a shell of what she once was.

We all wept as we stood helplessly in that cold, stark room.

I remember well that feeling of being tired to the bone.

During my life, I have felt that tired just a few other times…but I will save those episodes for another day. It’s a feeling of desperation—being caught in a situation you can do nothing about— being hopeless.

Yet, Jesus Christ tells us to cast all our burdens on Him. He says, “Come to
me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30 NIV).

A few months after the woman lost her baby daughter, she came in for another doctor’s visit. I was again on duty that day, and was asked to run the blood work to see if she might be pregnant again. As I watched the test turn positive, I didn’t know whether to rejoice or to cry. How would this young mother react to knowing she was once again pregnant shortly after losing her little girl?

By this time I had my own baby girl to hold and cherish, and could not imagine the pain of losing her, as had this mother.

As the doctor and I together shared with her the results of her pregnancy test, joy filled her eyes and her face. She began sobbing and thanking us for giving her the good news.

A few months later, this mother was blessed to hold another beautiful baby girl in her arms. I remember rejoicing as I saw the sweet head nestled to her mother’s breast and realizing there truly is rest for our weary souls. And that “bone-tiredness” does not last forever if we lay it at our Savior’s feet.

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God Is Our Rock And Strong Tower https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/god-is-our-rock-and-strong-tower/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=god-is-our-rock-and-strong-tower https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/god-is-our-rock-and-strong-tower/#respond Fri, 19 Apr 2019 08:00:42 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4316

God’s miraculous intervention for the Robinson family

The post God Is Our Rock And Strong Tower appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



eeing the Declaration of Independence on the 237th anniversary of its adoption, followed by a spectacular July Fourth fireworks display, concluded what was to be the first part of our family’s 2013 vacation to Washington, D.C., and New York City. That night also culminated a five-week endurance of increasing but tolerable pain in my stomach and lower back.

The next morning, when Ginger and I, along with our daughters, Madray (14) and Mallory (13), left Washington to travel to Norfolk, Virginia, I was suffering from what I had come to think was a kidney stone. We were going to spend a couple of nights with friends Les and Tressa Woodard, and then I would preach on Sunday at the Azalea Garden Church of God.

After arriving at the Woodard home that Friday evening, we drove to the Chesapeake General Hospital, expecting my self-diagnosis to be confirmed. However, after several tests and scans, Ginger and I were shocked from our relaxed, vacation mindset when shown that my right kidney had a very large tumor. While the emergency-room doctor hesitated to tell me I had cancer, he was clear that it might be and told me I was very sick. He strongly urged us not to continue our vacation to New York but instead to return home immediately and find a urologist.

My wife of 20 years and I walked out of the hospital stunned, and before leaving the parking lot we held hands and prayed. I said, “God, You are our rock and our strong tower. We don’t even have a general doctor; we don’t know any doctors. Thankfully, we have not been sick. We don’t know what to do—You are going to have to lead us from this moment.”

As I finished our brief prayer, Ginger told me that right then, at the outset of our new journey, God had just given us a confirmation of His presence. Unknown to me, while I had been undergoing one of the tests that night, she had sat alone in the exam room resisting the Enemy’s voice of death and despair by repeating over and over, “Lord, You are our rock and You are our strong tower.”

Unable to stay and preach in Norfolk, we left early Sunday morning for a hectic, holiday weekend drive back to Washington, D.C., where we had arranged to fly home. Becoming much weaker and suffering intensifying pain, I reluctantly had to let Ginger and our daughters handle the luggage as I dragged myself through the airport. Another of God’s provisions was experienced when we were upgraded to first-class tickets, which enabled us to avoid incredibly long security lines at Reagan International and also have a more comfortable flight home.

We boarded the plane to fly nonstop to St. Louis with much anxiety about what was taking place, but with a sense that God was ordering our steps and going before us into the storm we sensed was brewing. We did not know how dark that storm was becoming with every passing minute. However, the Lord knew! We learned later that our friends from a church on our district—Pastor Doug and Lynda Bowers, and their Granite City Church of God praise team—had felt an intense and unplanned burden all day Sunday to pray and intercede for “someone’s” healing. I am fully convinced the Holy Spirit called them to pray when at the time no one—including us—knew how much we needed prayer.

After an almost two-hour delay, with us sitting inside our plane on the tarmac and many flights being canceled due to poor westerly weather conditions, our flight was rerouted and we took off. After landing in St. Louis, our plan was to ride the Metro Link train from the airport to downtown and spend the night at the Parkway Hotel that adjoins the sprawling Barnes-Jewish/Washington University Hospital complex, where I would “shop” for a urologist on Monday.

Once in St. Louis, we made our way through the airport to the Metro Link station. Thinking we might miss the train, we rushed to board it. The moment I stepped onto the train, I announced I was about to faint. I collapsed into an empty seat as the train began moving from the platform. With my eyes rolled back, extreme difficult breathing, profuse perspiration, and my lips turning blue, Ginger held my head in her hands.

Just as the train was leaving the station, someone pressed the emergency button to stop the train while strangers offered water and comforting words of support. One man asked if he could pray, and he did so fervently “in Jesus’ name.” After coming to a sense of my surroundings and thinking I could still get to the hotel, a Washington University medical student on board assured us we needed immediate medical attention. He called ahead to the university’s security staff in order to have a wheelchair ready for me at the Central West End station, which was several stops away. After getting off the train, I was quickly wheeled into the full, bustling emergency room of this massive hospital.

The next few hours were filled with tests that revealed the tumor on my kidney had actually grown through the renal vein and up the Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) toward my heart and lungs. When running to board the Metro Link in St. Louis, three pieces of the tumor had broken off and passed through my heart and into my pulmonary arteries. In the words of my cardiac-thoracic surgeon, Dr. March Moon, “One tumor clot should have killed you instantly—let alone three.”

With one of the tumor clots approaching the size of a golf ball, Dr. Moon used the word “miracle” to describe how the tumor clots had “nudged just enough to let a trickle of blood through” until I could get to the emergency room. With my difficulty breathing, there was discussion with Ginger about the possibility of life support as my condition grew more critical. After being stabilized, I learned that if I had arrived at the hospital just one day later, I would probably not have lived.

The decision was made to proceed with major open-heart surgery to inspect for almost certain heart damage, remove the three tumor clots from my lungs, remove the tumor and right kidney, and determine the extent of any possible cancer. By Monday afternoon, we were told to call our family to come from Tennessee and other parts of the nation as the 12-hour surgery would be critical. One out of three people don’t survive such a surgery, and I was as risky of a patient they had seen. In fact, my urologist, Dr. Arnold Bullock, told his wife that he was not sure about the rationale of even attempting such a surgery, given my condition.

That night, I asked Ginger, “What do you do on what could be your last night?” I’ll never forget the heart-wrenching discussion with my family—especially with Ginger, Madray, and Mallory—of things I wanted and felt I needed to say to them if God didn’t bring me through the surgery the next day. Though against policy, given the severity of my condition, Ginger was allowed to stay with me the night before surgery. We held hands through the night, with Ginger occasionally awaking to make sure our hands were still clasped if this were to be our last night together.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 9, just four days after first learning about my illness, I entered the operating room with several teams of doctors standing by to each do their part. In addition to prayer from our family at the hospital and those unable to come—as well as many of our incredible local congregation gathered across the river in Bethalto, Illinois—hundreds of people worldwide were fasting and praying with us for God’s hand to be evident . . . and evident it was!

The 12 hours reserved for the operating room turned out to be unnecessary, as the surgery only lasted four hours! The large tumor was removed in a very uncharacteristic single piece without any need for the vascular team to fish for any fragments. Incredibly, there was no damage to my heart. The tumor clots were easily taken from the pulmonary arteries, and there was no evidence of any cancer spread to any other organs or nearby tissue. Rather than keeping me sedated for 24 to 48 hours after surgery as planned, I was awakened the next morning. Within a day after surgery, I was moved out of ICU. By Sunday, I was discharged with no pain medicines needed. Three weeks later, I started attending weekly worship services at our church, and was able to preach for the first time on September 15.

As of this writing, all scans and tests continue to show no evidence of further cancer! For the next several years, I will continue to be checked regularly for any possible recurrence. For now, I’m not on any medicine, have had no type of treatment, and am finding out how easy it is to live with just one kidney. And, yes, what I knew before is now clearer than ever no matter the future:

God is our rock and strong tower!

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The call of God can best be described as an unmistakable, inescapable, irresistible, inner compulsion and constraint; a sense of absolute urgency and necessity to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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he heartfelt cry of the believer and the secular person alike in the 21st century is for a presentation of truth that will make a profound difference in life.

In spiritual terms, that means a message from someone who knows what the Bible says and who shares it in the power of the Holy Spirit. The sharp rebuke of Jesus to the would-be preachers and teachers of His day was, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power
of God” (Matt. 22:29 NKJV). As in His times, the need of the hour is for preachers who know the Word and who deliver its eternal and unchanging truths under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

That kind of preaching is relevant and life-changing in today’s world.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:

I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Savior, and the magnificence of the gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him.

    Called to Preach

How do you know if you are called to preach? For me, the call of God can best be described as an unmistakable, inescapable, irresistible, inner compulsion and constraint; a sense of absolute urgency and necessity to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripturally, it is probably best expressed by Paul: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).

The call of God came to me on Sunday night, November 23, 1983, at the Conn Center on the Lee University campus. I had transferred to Lee the University of Denver as a premed major on an academic scholarship, hoping to complete my studies, continue to medical school, and become a cardiovascular surgeon. But God had other plans for me.

On the surface, things were going great for me, but inwardly I was miserable and dying. That Sunday night in chapel, Lee president Dr. Ray H. Hughes preached a sermon on Calvary, “What Does the Cross Mean to You?” As the Holy Spirit brought me face-to-face with the Cross,
I saw Jesus in all the glory of His passion. I saw myself and all my pitiful attempts to direct my own life. But I also saw a world that was lost and hopelessly dying. In broken repentance I cried out, “God, why do you need me? You have Ray Hughes, T. L. Lowery, Billy Graham, Steve Brock, and all those other preachers. I have no talent, nothing to offer You. But if You will help me to hide Your Word in my heart, I will go where You want me to go, I will be what You want me to be, I will say what You want me to say.”

With simplicity and sincerity, I accepted God’s call and that vivid experience—as real to me as my conversion-has served as a point of reassurance through years of ministry.

In my understanding, the call to preach follows a Trinitarian formula: The authority to preach comes from God the Father (“As the Father has sent me, I also send you” [John 20:21]); the message preached is Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; and the power for preaching is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This frames a theology of preaching that encompasses the God who speaks, the Son who saves, and the Spirit who empowers.

    No Better Way

Voices arise from time to time suggesting there ought to be a better way to communicate the gospel than preaching. Surely with all the new technology that exists, they say, someone should come up with a new way for the church to maintain itself and proclaim its message. But, according to Scripture, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Preaching is God’s plan. Those who look for an alternative are usually young believers who do not know better or old believers with poor memories.

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How My Mom Found Christ https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/how-my-mom-found-christ/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-my-mom-found-christ https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/how-my-mom-found-christ/#respond Wed, 17 Apr 2019 08:00:16 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4300

However, Jesus had set me free from drugs and alcohol, and I had confidence knowing I would spend eternity in heaven.

The post How My Mom Found Christ appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



y mom was trapped in a prison of alcoholism. I knew she couldn’t escape alone, because I had spent time in that same place.

However, Jesus had set me free from drugs and alcohol, and I had confidence knowing I would spend eternity in heaven.

With my newfound assurance and freedom, I was determined to help my mom receive Christ. I joined a Bible study at my church so I could learn the “right way” to share the gospel with her. I learned how to present the salvation message using five Bible verses and a little dialogue.

I tried this with my mom, who let me know she was not interested. I tried to explain how full life could be with Christ at the center, but I could not get through to her.

After months of trying to make her see, I gave up. I told God, “If You want her saved, then it’s up to You! I can’t make her understand!”

A few days later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She promised God, “If You give me one more chance, I’ll stop drinking and start going to church.” But she still didn’t ask Christ to forgive her and make her whole.

She focused on what she would do for God instead of what He had already done for her.

One night we were both having trouble sleeping, so we stayed up late talking. I silently prayed, “Lord, if You want to use me tonight to share the gospel with me mom, please put the right words in my mouth.”

Then I explained again how none of us can earn our salvation, but how the death of Christ paid our debt for us. All we can do is accept this gift as the payment for our sins.

She looked thoughtful. She said, “Vicki, there is one thing I have never understood. Why did God make Jesus die?”

“God didn’t cause Jesus’ death; we did,” I explained.

“No, I mean, why didn’t God just forgive us automatically? If God is so good and loving, why did He require His Son’s death?”

I didn’t know how to answer; I hadn’t been taught this at the Bible study. I felt panicky, but then a quiet voice told me,

Just be honest. Tell her you don’t understand it all, then explain what you do understand. Trust Me to guide you for the rest.

“Mom, I don’t understand all of the ‘whys,’” I admitted, “but I do know it has always been this way. Blood has always been the only acceptable payment for sin.” I then talked about the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, and how Jesus became the final sacrifice.

My mom pursed her lips, furrowed her brow, and pulled her blankets up around her. “Well, I’m tired,” she said. “I think I’ll go to sleep now.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said, hiding my disappointment.

Why wasn’t she ready to accept Christ? Maybe she would never be ready.

I went to bed feeling frustrated. The next morning, Mom called me into her room.

“Vicki, guess what! . . . After you went to bed last night, I asked Jesus to come into my heart.”

I felt like leaping into the air and shouting, “Hallelujah!”

My mom’s life changed dramatically. Before, she had been so unhappy, spending most of her time in a drunken stupor. Now the fragments of her life started coming together, and she was at peace.

Meanwhile, she underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, followed by a year of chemotherapy “just in case.”

Mom began living each day to its fullest. She started walking for exercise, soon covering almost five miles most days. She was active in church, enjoyed taking care of her yard, and generally loved life.

Mom experienced two or three years of good health before it was discovered the chemotherapy she had endured “just in case” had destroyed her bone marrow, causing her to develop leukemia. She fought with all of her heart, but in the end it finally stopped beating.

Through my mother’s coming to Christ, I learned the Holy Spirit works through people like me to reveal the gospel to those who are unsaved. God can use anyone or anything to show salvation comes only through His Son, Jesus Christ.

I thank God that my mom isn’t trapped anymore—not by alcohol, sickness, or old age. She is forever free.

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Trading In Our filthy Rags https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/trading-in-our-filthy-rags/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trading-in-our-filthy-rags https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/trading-in-our-filthy-rags/#respond Tue, 16 Apr 2019 08:00:30 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4295

The Lord Our Righteousness

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he expression “The Lord Our Righteousness” is found only in two verses in the Bible. Both are in the Book of Jeremiah:

•“In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (23:6).*
• “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (33:16).

Both of these verses refer to the reign of Jesus Christ when He returns to the earth as “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev.17:14). At that time, the Jewish people will be gathered from all the countries where they have been scattered and once again dwell in their own land.

The beginning of this reality was seen in May 1948, when the nation of Israel was reborn in their ancient homeland. It will be completed when the Jewish people “in their own land shall dwell safely under a ‘Christ-ocracy,’ far more privileged than the old theocracy” (Jamieson, Faucett, and Brown Commentary).

    The Lord Our Righteousness

The Jewish people can look forward to a time when they will dwell in peace and safety in their homeland during the reign of the Messiah . . . but how does this apply to Christians?

Although Jeremiah 23:6 and 33:16 are promises to God’s chosen people, Christ is also “The Lord Our Righteousness” to Gentiles who accept Him. The apostle Paul declared, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

In the Old testament, righteousness often was associated with deeds. “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us” (Deut. 6:25). However, under the new covenant, righteousness is associated with a relationship with the Lord.

It is in Christ and through Him alone that we obtain righteousness before God. The apostle Peter said we “have obtained like precious faith . . . by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ . . . as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:1, 3).

The Bible sets forth the inadequacy of our righteousness: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteous- nesses are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6).

    The Lord My Righteousness

I first attended a Pentecostal church more than 52 years ago, shortly before Wilma and I married. Six weeks after our wedding, I attended my second Pentecostal service on Valentine’s Day 1962. That night, kneeling side by side in the altar, Wilma and I accepted the Lord’s righteous- ness into our lives.

We discovered the truth if Paul’s words” “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). We had no works of righteousness, but that night we “became heir of the righteousness which is accord- ing to faith” (Heb. 11:7).

    The Promise of Righteousness

Although our righteousness is inadequate, we have the promise of receiving the righteousness that comes through faith in The Lord Our Righteous- ness. “You are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

The Lord Jesus Christ “bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

His obedience unto death is the justifying righteousness of believers, and their title to heavenly happiness. . . . “The Lord Our Righteousness” is a sweet name to a convinced sinner; to one that has felt the guilt of sin in his conscience; seen his need of that righteousness, and the worth of it (Matthew Henry Commentary).

Yes, Jesus Christ our Savior, the Lord of lords and King of kings, is The Lord Our Righteousness—not only to the Jewish nation, “but as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

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He Is In Control https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/he-is-in-control/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=he-is-in-control https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/he-is-in-control/#respond Mon, 15 Apr 2019 08:00:01 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4290

The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev 21:6 NIV)

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t had been raining all day in Seluck, Turkey. The clouds were scattered consistently along the dark tapestry beneath the sloping hills of Ayasoluk, near the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

As the rain receded, my emotions were like the tossing of the nearby sea of Ionia. For the second time this year, I was with archaeologists and professors of ancient church history leading me through ruins from the first 300 years of the Christian church.

I was in a midlife crisis, looking for some answers for “my” troubling world. I never imagined I would be alive to see the world in such a troubling position or the Christian church in such a persecuted posture.

As the sun began to break through the clouds, I stood over the remains of the baptismal tank in the Basilica of Saint John, just a few feet from his grave site. John died a martyr, and now Christians living in the Middle East are facing severe persecution.

During the past three years, I have eaten many dinners with members of the persecuted church—the underground heroes of faith. To my surprise, I have found them to be just like you and me. They are not superstars or superheroes. No, they fear death, and are often troubled for their family’s safety. They lament the loss of jobs due to their faith in Christ, and they bleed when touched by the sword.

Ironically, in the midst of their trouble, they possess an uncommon strength to believe God is in control. Yet, I sometimes struggle with this issue even as I preach the gospel without fear of persecution.

However, even my “peaceful” world is a troubling place where the lukewarm church is masquerading as a warring army . . . the boldness of sin penetrates family systems . . . we witness child abductions, violence against the weak, and cruelty toward the elderly.

The unkindness of men propelled my spirit to ask,

God, where are You, and why don’t You do something? Have You left this world? Are You simply watching us from afar?

I pleaded for God to “get involved” in my life and in this world, for it can seem like man is in control of history instead of God.

As I was pouring my heart out to God, I noticed a rainbow forming directly over the church. To my surprise, it was a double rainbow. It seemed to begin at the baptismal tank and flowed like paint strokes over the skies that covered the apostle’s tomb.

There, near the burial place of the writer of the Book of Revelation, I began to understand the peace of Christ in a troubled world and the impact of Jesus’ declaration, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

    The Name ‘I AM’

When you call someone by name, you attract his or her attention. In the Mediterranean world, names tell you about a person’s identity, beliefs, and character.

Emanuel Swedenborg said the divine name of “I AM,” revealed in the Old Testament, signifies “the being and coming forth of all things in the universe.” Life starts with God.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I am . . .

• “the bread of life” (6:35)
• “the light of the world” (8:12)
• “the door” (10:9)
• “the good shepherd” (10:11)
• “the resurrection and the life” (11:25)
• “the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6) • “the vine” (15:1).

I have grown to realize during my troubled days that Jesus is the sustenance I need to live. He is the light that shines in my dark hours, and the doorway to a conversation with God. He is kind, caring, and protecting like a good shepherd. He renews my life because He is truth and life. Without Him, I would not bear fruit, but would die. Through Him, I will live forever.

    The Alpha and the Omega

You probably know alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet, and omega is the last. However, when Christ calls Himself “the Alpha and the Omega,” what does it mean to those of us who seek an answer for our troubled times?

Christ is lifting up two opposites to emphasize the totality of all that lies in between. He is expressing His sovereignty over human history. He will bring it to an end by salvation and judgment. God is the beginning and the end of all things. He transcends time and therefore guides the entire course of history. Vladimir Putin and Barrack Obama can do nothing unless God allows it.

“Alpha and Omega” is Christ’s double signature declaring that God’s presence surrounds your beginning, middle, and end. Nothing that has happened or will happen can change that fact.

Take heart. Be encouraged today. Christ stands alone as the Creator and Ruler of everything. Nothing you will face is outside the realm of His retina.

As the Alpha and the Omega . . .

• Christ controls not only the beginning but also the outcome. He will bless you in due time.
• Christ is never caught by surprise. He is in control of your enemies and your friends. His name encompasses all of history; therefore, He is faithful throughout all time.
• Christ controls not only the beginning and the end, but everything in between.

As I rested against the column of the ancient remains of Saint John’s baptismal pool, I could not help but sense that God is in control. His names recorded by John were screaming the fact that He is sovereign.

On that day, my head let my heart take over in the territory of the unknown as I smiled at the internal realization that the Alpha and the Omega is faithful in the beginning, the middle, and the end. Amen.

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Because I Said So! https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/because-i-said-so/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=because-i-said-so https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/because-i-said-so/#respond Fri, 12 Apr 2019 08:00:33 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4265

When I was growing up, I hated hearing "Because I said so," which seemed to be every adult's favorite line.

The post Because I Said So! appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



hen I was growing up, I hated hearing ” Because I said so,” which seemed to be every adult’s favorite line.

I was a curious kid, which kept me in trouble. I wanted to know and do everything, and if I was told “No,” I wanted to know why. After one such because-I-said-so lecture, I promised myself never to use this excuse with my children.

Throughout my adolescence and into adulthood, it seemed God was just another authority figure refusing to give me real answers. When my prayers seemed unheard or unanswered, why didn’t God just tell me why? I loved God and served Him . . . but sometimes resented Him.

It wasn’t until I became a mother to my own kids, as well as to a multitude of foster children, that I finally listened to what God had been saying all along.

The answer came through a precious 4-year-old who lived with us for a year, and whom we loved as one of our own. She had sandy blonde hair, and when she first joined our family, she did not even know how to smile for a photograph. We have tons of pictures of everyone else smiling beautifully, but there she is with one eye closed, scrunching her nose and baring her teeth. It was precious and heartbreaking at the same time.

“Sandy” made it clear she had her own mother and father, and we were not them. She called me by my first name, and when it was time for a visit with her family, she sang and danced around the house in excitement.

Her story has a happy ending, for her parents worked hard and she was eventually able to go home, but it was a long road. We hung photos of her family around the house, drew pictures for them, and prayed for them every night—anything we could do to make her time away easier.

I’ll never forget the day she padded into the kitchen, her favorite teddy bear tucked safely under her arm. In a matter-of-fact tone, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Holly, Id on’t want to live at your house anymore.”

This was an important moment. She had come to me with her heart on her sleeve and deserved a real answer to all the unsaid questions:

How much longer do I have to be here…why can’t I be with my family . . . why can’t I just go home?

I wrapped her in my arms and said, “I know you want to go home, and I’m sorry you have to go through this. But I am here for you, and we will get through this together.”’

I felt like I had just given her a fancy version of “because I said so.”

The truth is, that’s exactly what she needed to hear. Her 4-year-old mind could not understand the complexities of her situation, and laying out the plan to get her home would only frustrate her and seem like an eternity. The most loving thing I could say was, “I know this is hard and you don’t understand, but I love you and I am here for you.”

There are time we walk hard roads as well, wishing we could fast-forward to a happy ending. Facing difficulties with no directional signs in sight can be frustrating…but we must not forget that just because we don’t see God working, doesn’t mean He’s not.

In the second chapter of Ruth, we find Ruth elbow-deep in grain in the field of her kinsman Boaz. She had lost the love of her life, the promise of children, the comfort and security of the home she once knew. The future laid out before her was anything but a dream. Everything she saw, heard, and felt said her current road was permanent—there was no evidence that her situation would ever change. Ruth had no way of knowing that she was only days away from “happily ever after.” God had not forsaken her; He was carrying out the plan that had always been in place. All she had to do was stay on the road He had called her to walk.

When you feel abandoned, it is normal to be tempted to take things into your own hands. In those moments, remember God will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5 NKJV). Why? Because He said so.

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¿Por qué Dios Nos Pregunta? https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/por-que-dios-nos-pregunta/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=por-que-dios-nos-pregunta https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/por-que-dios-nos-pregunta/#respond Thu, 11 Apr 2019 17:56:08 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4277

El preguntar es un arte.

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l preguntar es un arte. Los grandes maestros de la historia han sido aquellos que basan su pedagogía en los cuestionamientos; no precisamente porque no conocen las respuestas, sino, porque a través de ellas los aprendices interiorizan sus necesidades, temores, aspiraciones, sueños y se confrontan con su realidad.

El diccionario define el término “pregunta” como: una interpelación que se realiza con la intención de obtener algún tipo de información. Al pronunciar esta interrogación, se espera recibir una respuesta que incluya los datos buscados.

Desde muy pequeños, preguntamos y preguntamos: ¿para qué sirve esto? ¿cómo funciona este juguete? ¿qué pasa si presiono aquí?, un conocimiento que se construye con interrogantes.

Conforme el tiempo avanza, no son ajenas esas preguntas exitenciales que tarde o temprano nos planteamos: ¿quién soy? ¿para qué estoy aquí? ¿hacia dónde voy? Seguramente todos, sin excepcion hemos tratado de colocar a Dios en la silla de los interrogados: ¿por qué a mí?, ¿dònde estabas?, ¿por cuánto tiempo más? y exigimos respuestas, mientras más rápido mejor.

Pero, qué sucede, cuando las respuestas que esperamos son contestadas con preguntas del mismo Dios omnisapiente, por aquel que tiene el conocimiento absoluto de todo, y al igual que a Job nos dice:

“Pórtate como hombre, y prepárate; yo te voy a preguntar, y tú me vas a responder” (Job 38:3 RVC).

Imborrables momentos, experiencias y emociones, cuando escuchaba en labios de mi padre, ¡Carlos! Tengo que hablar contigo, hay una serie de preguntas que tengo que hacerte. Yo sabía que tenía que ceñirme los pantalones y prepararme para lo que estaba por venir. Sin embargo, mi padre, nunca tenía una actitud de juez, mucho menos de tirano y acusador. Eso sí, cada pregunta pronunciada y emitida por sus labios, esperaban una respuesta sin ambiguedades y rodeos; al fín y al cabo lo que más anhelaba él, era ayudarme, enseñarme, corregirme para que yo tomara la decision correcta.

¿Es posible que Dios nos pregunte algo? ¿estará Él interesado en escuchar nuestras respuestas? ¿por qué Dios nos pregunta? La Biblia esta plagada de muchas preguntas que Dios hace a los seres humanos. Basta con leer el libro de Job, y observar que en tres de sus capítulos aparecen más de cincuenta cuestionamientos que forman parte de  la interpelación divina en los capítulos 38 al 40.

Sin lugar a dudas, muchas de las preguntas que Dios nos hace, son en momentos específicos y dependiendo de la circunstancia en la que nos encontremos. Sin embargo, esa primera pregunta que Dios hizo en la Escritura en el libro de Génesis 3:9 ¿Dónde estas tú?, sigue teniendo vigencia, y nos confronta a evaluar y conocer nuestra realidad.

Seguramente, Dios conoce dónde nos encontramos; pero cuando Él pregunta, es porque nosotros mismos necesitamos la respuesta. Al igual que Adán, despues de haber desobedecido y tratado de esconderse de Dios, la pregunta es una vez más, ¿Dónde estás tù? No el vecino, no el amigo, ni el hermano, o el cónyuge, sino, “tù”. Esta pregunta que perfora la conciencia de inmediato y nos llama a meditar en la condición en qué nos encontramos. ¿Es este el lugar y la condición en la que Dios me quiere?

Veamos el cuestionario de Dios; y no olvidemos que para responder nos demanda lo mismo que a Job, “Pórtate como hombre, y prepárate. Yo te voy a preguntar, y tú me vas a responder” (Job 40:7).

Ante la indiferencia, quejas, apatías, inconformidades y reniegos constantes, Dios nos pregunta ¿Qué te he hecho, en qué te he molestado? (Miqueas 3:6). Una pregunta para reaccionar. Recordemos las maravillas que Él ha hecho con nosotros.

En un momento en el cual pudieron habernos fallado amistades, familia, aún la misma iglesia, Dios nos pregunta ¿qué mal te he hecho?, en gran número, las cosas adversas que atravesamos son fruto de nuestras malas decisiones y consecuencias de la misma desobediencia. Traigamos a la memoria de dónde Dios nos rescató, cómo vivíamos antes de conocerle, y lo grande que Él ha sido en nuestro peregrinaje por la vida.

Amararemos los cinturones, y recordaremos que nuestras respuestas deben ser realistas, sinceras, sin fingimientos, no aparentando una falsa religiosidad. Por tal razòn, contestemos aquello que le preguntó a Caín en el principio de los tiempos: ¿Dónde está tu hermano? Génesis 4:9. Curiosamente la respuesta de la gran mayoría sigue siendo esquiva: ¿acaso soy yo el guardián de mi hermano?

Dios, ¡estoy vivo! ¡me encuentro bien! ¡no me falta nada!, la vida de mi hermano, es cuestión de él. Esta es una de esas preguntas que incomodan. Probablemente pensemos: ¡suficientes problemas tengo! ¡yo debo dar cuenta de mi familia! ¡los demás no son mi responsabilidad!

¿Dónde está tu hermano? Es un recordatorio, evocando que debemos compartir con los demás, abriendo las ventanas de nuestras casas, observando el dolor ajeno, con el fín de llevar esperanza, justicia y verdad. Yo conozco de Jesùs, soy salvo y amo a Dios con todo mi corazón, pero . . . ¿Dónde está mi hermano?

Las preguntas que Dios nos hace, no tienen fecha de caducidad, siguen resonando en la mente de aquellos que le aman. ¿Qué tienes, qué te pasa? una interrogante del Padre Eterno a una mujer  marginada, desechada y abandonada en el desierto. El llanto agonizante de esa madre en medio de la soledad. Pero Aquel que conocía aún su nombre y veía las lágrimas que se mezclaban con la arena y el viento frio, ¿Qué te pasa? Génesis 21:17. Una pregunta, que va más allá  de un simple formalismo, y que denota un verdadero interés. El Dios que conoce nuestro andar y presta atención a cada circunstancia y nos recuerda con su pregunta, “yo cumpliré, lo que te prometí”.

Cuando Él pregunta, es porque nosotros mismos necesitamos conocer la respuesta. Abramos nuestros oídos y escuchemos lo que Dios nos está preguntando: ¿dónde estás? ¿qué te he hecho? ¿dónde está tu hermano? ¿Qué te pasa? No dudo que hay otras interrogantes que Dios nos plantea, con el objetivo de llevarnos de la mano en su pedagogía divina para seguir acompañándonos en el día a día.

por Carlos Jiménez
Director Latinoamericano de Generación Emergente

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“I AM Has Sent Me To You” https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/i-am-has-sent-me-to-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=i-am-has-sent-me-to-you https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/i-am-has-sent-me-to-you/#respond Thu, 11 Apr 2019 08:00:41 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4260

No Need For Fear Or Intimidation

The post “I AM Has Sent Me To You” appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



ighty-year-old Moses is tending sheep in the Midian desert, where he has been living since killing an Egyptian four decades earlier. On the backside of nowhere, Moses sees something extraordinary—a bush on fire but not being burned up.

God calls to Moses from the midst of that fiery bush, refers to the hot desert floor as “holy ground,” and calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage.

Aware that idolatry and superstition were the norm, and knowing that many believed in regional and local gods, Moses does the unthinkable—he asks Almighty God to identify Himself.

“When I . . . say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13).*

God replies, “I AM WHO I AM. . . . Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’ ’’ (v. 14).

The name I AM is related to the Hebrew verb meaning “to be,” and it speaks of the absolute existence of God. God exists . . . period. No debate; no defense. This name takes us back to words written by this same Moses, who simply pronounced, “In the beginning God . . . ” (Gen. 1:1), and to the profound message of the apostle John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

It was from this understanding of God that the writer to the Hebrews said, “He who comes to God must believe that He is” (11:6), and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8).

By calling Himself I AM, God announces to us His eternality. He was not created; He has no beginning, and He has no progenitor. The triune God existed before the mountains were born, and His existence spans “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2). As mortals, our time is chronological and linear, but God is timeless. He is not I WAS, nor is He I WILL BE. He is God of the ever-present now—I AM.

The name I AM also signifies God’s all-sufficiency. To arrogant Israel, God said, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness” (Ps. 50:12). David proclaimed, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (24:1).

The prophet Isaiah also declared the Lord’s self-sufficiency: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable” (40:28). Since God is self-sufficient, He has no lack, no want, and no need.

Jesus boldly identified Himself with I AM of the Old Testament, thus announcing His deity. As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus set all of Judaism on its heels when He declared, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). They fully grasped He was declaring Himself to be God, and thus, according to their law, a blasphemer, so “they took up stones to throw at Him” (v. 59).

The apostle John identified Jesus with I AM when he stated that Jesus (the Word) was with God in the beginning. He further proclaimed that not only was He with God, but He was God (1:1); all created things were made by Him (v. 3); and that He was the revelation of that I AM whom no one had seen (v. 18).

Jesus identified Himself with I AM in response to an inquiry from Philip, who said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (John 14:8). The response of Christ was to ask why the disciples had not already beheld the Father through the Son. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (v. 9), said Jesus to Philip. “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me [and] the words that I speak to you I do not speak
of My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (v. 10).

No less than eight times, Jesus introduced Himself with the words I AM. He proclaimed, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “I am the bread of life” (6:35), “I am the door” (10:7), “I am the good shep- herd” (v. 11), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6), and “I am the true vine” (15:1).

Most astonishing of all, the resurrected Christ declared, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End . . . who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).

As believers in Christ, we have been called to serve the ever-present, all-sufficient I AM. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), and He has assured us that He will supply our needs (Phil. 4:19).

As Moses was called to liberate the people of Israel, so we are called to proclaim liberty to those who are spiritually captive (Luke 4:18). Our message is unlike the message of any other religion or so-called faith. We are called to go and proclaim the gospel, making disciples for Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).

Do not be afraid. Do not be intimidated. When they ask who sent you, say, “I AM has sent me to you.”

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The God Who Hears https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/the-god-who-hears/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-god-who-hears https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/the-god-who-hears/#respond Wed, 10 Apr 2019 08:00:45 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4255

While believing God will hear and act, we need additional categories of prayer.

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he ancient Israelites were formed by their songs to recognize God as the One who hears their prayers, supplications, and cries, and were exhorted to put this recognition to the test through prayer.

In the New Testament, the disciples never ask whether God hears. Such a belief is already entrenched in their mind-set. However, they do ask Jesus how to pray.

The Gospels portray Jesus both as a person who prays often and extensively, and as a teacher who criticizes the prayers of Pharisees as hypocritical and ineffectual. Jesus is, therefore, both model and critic, and His disciples want to pray in ways that conform to Him and also keep them from falling under His critique. While we have heard it said, “Everyone knows how to pray, so just do it,” we can follow the disciples’ example and seek instruction.

This was brought home to me in March 2008 at the Society for Pentecostal Studies conference. The presidential address by David Daniels was on the “Sounds of Pentecost,” wherein he argued that Pentecostal services were distinctive not only because of the theology preached, but because of the sounds heard during the meetings.

Daniels played a recording of a Pentecostal at prayer. There was something familiar about the earnestness of the man’s tone, the rhythm of his speech, and the trust of his declarations. But what really transported me back into time, enabling me to imagine being a kid again at the Canton Temple Church of God, was the audacious, bold manner of address to God. There was no tempered emotionalism, no pious intonation of voice. This man roared at God in a manner akin to what Lee University’s Rickie Moore called “raw prayer” that “speaks straight to God.”

Such prayer to the God who hears brought a smile to my face. Then a tear came to my eye, so to speak, as I asked myself, Why did this recording “take me back” rather than remind me of “now”?

I have spent the last few years reflecting on that presentation and my response to that recording. I certainly would not advocate a return to something just because of nostalgia, nor would I assume that such “roaring” was a sign of a time when the church was more attuned to God than now. Perhaps that Pentecostal forbearer believed similarly to the Israelite psalmists before him—namely, that confessing God hears entails a belief that God acts, too. The two are sides of the same coin. I suspect this is the import of Elijah’s scorn of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel: the inaction of Baal means Baal is a deity that cannot hear, and therefore is no god at all.

Understanding God as the hearing-acting God, however, can lead to an exhausting prayer life and a frustrated life of discipleship, the quality of both determined by the success one has at getting God to adopt one’s action plan. If prayer to the God who hears and acts always seems like making a case for action, then there is hardly any relationship to God beyond that of lawyer to judge or middle-management to the CEO. Our time and energy is used up trying to hone a good argument—that God is simply the supplier of needs, and prayer gets reduced to petition and intercession.

The solution to this challenge, I believe, is not capitulating to the doctrine of divine sovereignty, where we simply wait for God’s will to transpire—as if it were some abstract plan disconnected from our personal histories of desire, trouble, mis- sion, and active cooperation. Rather, while believing God will hear and act, we need additional categories of prayer.

Two things happened during the 2011-12 academic year that helped crystallize this idea for me. The first was praying every morning with a group of male students
at Lee University. How could we four pray every morning without it becoming inanely repetitious? The second was during a “Theology of Prayer” graduate class I taught at Lee. In that class, we read books, essays, devotionals, and treatises on prayer that spanned 1,800 years.

Out of these two experiences, a liturgy of prayer developed that forms the structure of my own prayers and that of those students I still pray with every morning. This liturgy of prayer follows a precise pattern of prayer-forms (confession, adoration, lament, thanksgiving, petition and intercession, and benediction with blessing).


puts us in our proper position before God; that is, a fallible creature before the infallibly holy Creator. However, we only begin here because to tarry in confession too long would necessarily bring despondency.


opens us beyond our insufficiencies to the super-abundance of divine love and gives us the opportunity to declare to God and to one another God’s greatness.


which follows the style of many of the Psalms, is complaint to God because of the unjust condition of the world and God’s unresponsiveness. This third form is never to stand alone; otherwise, we would fall into cynicism. It is to be surrounded by both adoration and the fourth form,


, whereby we express gratitude for what God has already done and is doing.

Such grateful recognition naturally leads to the fifth prayer-form,

Petition and Intercession

, which involves requesting God to do new things and meet new needs. The benediction recapitulates the themes of the prayer session. It also pronounces God’s blessings for the day and requests that we might leave the place of prayer under the power and with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

What would make this pattern a Pentecostal liturgy of prayer? While one prayer partner offers the respective prayer form, the others are invited to quietly and simultaneously pray in the Spirit.

The incorporation of various prayer-forms during prayer sessions enables Pentecostals to strive with God while also recognizing His action toward us in ways that are not reduced to meeting petitions. The God who hears, then, is the God . . .

• who acts in forgiveness and mercy to the confessors
• whose magnificence and extravagance is recognized through worship
• who responds with comfort and strength in the time of trouble
• whose bountiful gifts are recounted by thanksgiving
• who is implored to intervene with petitions
• whose presence is requested to be with us in our lives
• who speaks to us and through us while praying in the Spirit.

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Our Indescribable God https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/our-indescribable-god/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=our-indescribable-god https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/our-indescribable-god/#respond Tue, 09 Apr 2019 08:00:59 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4248

God reveals himself through His spoken Work, the written Word, and ultimately through the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

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owhere in scripture do we find a writer that tried to prove the existence of God. As far as the Bible is concerned, the existence of God is an indisputable fact. The opening phrase of Genesis, “In the beginning God,” sets forth the basic assumption of the Bible—God is. The fact of a “living God” (Ps. 42:2; Rev. 7:2) is so indelibly impressed on virtually every page of the Bible that to consent to its teaching is to brand atheism a sheer heresy.

That God exists is evidenced in nature: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1 NKJV). “His eternal power and divine nature” can be seen in the things He has made (Rom. 1:20 NASB). The design, harmony, and purpose of the universe offer a glimpse of the wisdom and intelligence of a sovereign Creator. Man—made in God’s image, positioned “a little lower than the angels” and “crowned . . . with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5 NKJV) reflects “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

Although evidence can be seen and arguments made for the existence of God, “the depths of God” and “the limits of the Almighty” are higher than the heights above and deeper than the depths below (Job 11:7-8 NASB). His judgments are “unsearchable” and His “paths beyond tracing out” (Rom. 11:33 NIV). Nature alone cannot reveal the depths of His riches or the height of His love. Thus, God has chosen to more completely reveal Himself through His spoken word, the written Word, and ultimately through the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

Through Jesus Christ, we come to understand that God is personal. More than mere energy, a blind force, or the sum total of all that is, God is a Spirit who speaks, loves, reveals, and longs to have fellowship with His creation. He is not like an idol, with hands that cannot reach or eyes that cannot see (Ps. 115:4-8). “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers”(1 Peter 3:12 NKJV). God invites us to call upon Him and promises to answer us with “great and unsearchable things [we] do not know” (Jer. 33:3 NIV).

God is infinite in His existence.

He is eternal—the God who is, was, and is to come. Men and angels are immortal, but only God is eternal. Men and women have a past, a present, and a future; but with God, the past and the future are now! He is the great “I AM,” the absolute present tense.

God is also immutable and unchanging.

He is unaffected by the changes of space and time, for He exceeds both to the infinite degree. He neither increases nor decreases. He is not subject to development or self-evolution. God cannot be wiser or holier. He cannot be more or less righteous. He cannot be less or more merciful. God is absolutely above all laws that govern time and change. He is unchanging in His Word and His will. In Malachi 3:6, He declares, “I am the Lord, I change not.”

God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present.

There are no bounds or limits to His knowledge, presence, or power. While the devil has power, he is far from almighty. Only God reigns supreme. He is glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, and performs wonders (Ex. 15:11). He remains the “great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:3).

John Piper said, “It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about Himself.”

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This Thing Called Sin https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/this-thing-called-sin/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=this-thing-called-sin https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/this-thing-called-sin/#respond Tue, 09 Apr 2019 08:00:11 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4241

If You Sin, You Will Suffer. All Sin Carries A Price

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hatever happened to old-fashioned moral decency? The rage these days is reality TV. Am I the only one, or does anybody else think reality TV is just raunchy TV? Did the Ten Commandments suddenly expire and no one let me know?

At the age of 80, Karl Menninger, the world-renowned mental-health worker and founder of the Menninger Clinic, wrote a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? Good question. We need a wake-up call concerning this thing called sin.

    All Sin Has a Consequence

Reality check: No sin is inconsequential. God’s Word says, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Matt. 10:26 NIV). And every sin has a consequence.

1. Sin will humble you. Your sin will find you out, and when it does, you will be humbled.

• Many whose names were once revered are no longer revered because of sin.
• Churches are humbled by the sin of its members.
• Wives are humiliated and humbled by the sin of their husbands.
• Husbands are humbled by the sin of their wives.
• Parents are humbled by the sin of their children.

Your sin will find you out, and when it does, it will humble you and those around you.

2. Sin will do more than humble you- it will ruin you. Sin will ruin a marriage, destroy a life, and devastate a church. The person who says sin is no big deal will find out that it is. One act of rebellion can, and often has, ruined an otherwise promising life. If you sin, you will suffer. All sin carries a price.

    No Exceptions to the Rule

Reality check: You are not the exception to the rule. Our natural tendency is to assume that, though something may be wrong for everyone else, we are the exception.
We human beings are remarkable in our ability to rationalize behavior. Two teenagers in the backseat of a car . . .a businessman cheating on his taxes . . .
a corrupt politician . . . an adulterous wife . . . a cheating husband—all think they are the exception to the rule.
If I said I have heard every excuse, that would not be true. There are as many excuses as there are sins. But I have heard my share of them. Here are a few:

• “But I love him.”
• “The government takes so much of my money. I don’t think it is cheating.”
• “If my boss had paid me what I’m really worth, I would never have done what I did.”
• “If you had to live with the wife I live with, you’d cheat on her too.”

I counseled a man who had decided to leave his wife. He was already having an affair with another woman. When I asked, “Don’t you know what you’re doing is wrong?” His response was, “I have prayed about it. And I have come to the believe God wants me to be happy.” In other words, “I am the exception to the rule.”

Let me make this very clear: I am not the exception to the rule. You are not the exception to the rule. If you sin, you suffer. There are no exceptions to the rule.

She was 19 years old, a beautiful student at Tulane University. At the insistence of her mother, she came to my office. With a rather smug attitude, she recited an entire litany of sins: the men she had slept with, the drugs she was currently taking, the parties she had recently attended. This went on for quite some time, until finally she said, “And I don’t have to feel guilty about any of this.”

Being more than a little concerned, I asked, “Why shouldn’t you feel guilty?” to which she replied, “Because my therapist tells me that I am a product of my environment and not responsible for my behavior; therefore, I need not feel guilty.”

Not knowing what to say to her at that point, I just stared at her for a while. Finally I asked, “I know what your therapist has said, but how do you really feel?” I have never forgotten her response. She paused for a moment, then her lips began to tremble, and her eyes began to moisten. She hung her head in her hands and said, “Oh God, I feel so guilty. I feel so terribly, terribly dirty.”

There are no inconsequential sins. And there are no exceptions to the rule.

    Grace Is Sufficient

Reality check: Grace is sufficient when repentance is forthcoming. Let me repeat: all sins have consequences. You are not the exception to the rule . . . but grace is sufficient when repentance is forthcoming.

Our God is the God of the clean slate, who takes every sin and places it as far away as “the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12). He buries your iniquities in the depth of the sea and remembers them no more (see Mic. 7:19; Jer. 31:34). He takes sins that are as scarlet and makes them as white as snow (Isa. 1:18). “If we [will] confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Grace is sufficient to forgive you and give you a second chance and, if need be, a brand-new life. If the life you have lived is too far gone to restore, He will start all over with you and build a new one.

I heard of a man who had a warehouse to sell. It had been empty for years and had not been kept up. Finally a buyer expressed interest in the property. The owner met the prospective buyer at the warehouse. When he saw the condition of his property, he was embarrassed. The doors were off the hinges and the glass was broken out of the windows. The entire place was full of trash, with rats running everywhere. Afraid he might lose the sell, the owner assured the potential buyer, “If you buy this property, I promise to put the doors back on the hinges, fix the windows, clean up the trash, and get rid of the rats.”

“Don’t bother,” the buyer replied, “I don’t want the building. I just want the lot it sits on. I’m going to build something brand-new on it.”

When I think about it, that is precisely what God does. We worry so much about fixing our lives because they’re such a mess, but God says, “I don’t want your life. I want your heart. I plan to build a new life on it.”

Grace is always sufficient.

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The message of unconditional eternal security-"once saved, always saved"-is appealing because the doctrine is so comforting.

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he message of unconditional eternal security-“once saved, always saved”-is appealing because the doctrine is so comforting. To think that if we (or our loved ones) fall into sin, our salvation remains secure has a strong appeal to us. With the growing sense of uneasiness and insecurity in our world, the assurance that nothing—including sinning and unbelief—can separate us from God appeals to the postmodern generation.

We live in a world of the haunting realities of nuclear bombs, earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, kidnappings, school shootings, and other crimes against people. Growing out of this is a real need of security at the human level, to say nothing about our need of security in Jesus Christ. God, however, gives us great assurance about our eternal salvation on the condition that we continue to abide in Christ after becoming children of God. Therefore, salvation is conditional, not automatically inevitable. A person is free to “get in” . . . or, as a believer, free to “stay in” or to “get out.”

    Four Major Problems

Let’s consider four major problems in regard to the teaching that it is impossible for Christians to fall away from God and finally be lost.

First is the view that the Christian is guaranteed salvation, regardless of whether he or she lives a godly life.

It is true that from the moment of conversion, the believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), but is this absolute assurance that under no circumstances will the Holy Spirit withdraw His presence from one who has accepted Christ? The biblical warnings against dangers of falling away are not to be taken lightly. These warnings indicate that a believer, an heir of eternal life, is to grow in the Christian graces and resist temptations by trusting in Christ. To do otherwise places one’s relationship with Christ in spiritual jeopardy. The final end of the process of falling away is apostasy—the complete abandonment of faith and surrender to temptation and carnal desires. As a result, the Holy Spirit withdraws His presence from the life of the individual.

The Bible clearly teaches that the security of the believer depends on a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ (John 15:6) and on godly living by the help of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26).

A second problem with the idea of unconditional security is that it gives people a false sense of assurance.

The Bible calls our attention to the dangers of turning away from God and, thereby, forfeiting the gift of salvation. The warning of such dangers may appear to be contrary to popular Christian assurance. After all, the Bible repeatedly reminds us of our spiritual rights and possessions in Christ. God’s Word breathes an atmosphere of confidence and promises that God is able to keep us from falling into sin and unbelief (Jude 24-25).

The intent of this article is not to undercut the believer’s assurance of salvation in Christ, but to undercut a false sense of assurance, indeed a presumption that a Christian can live a sinful lifestyle and remain a Christian. The doctrine of unconditional eternal security appears in Genesis 3:4, where the serpent said to Eve, “You surely will not die!” (NASB). As an agent of Satan, the serpent gave Adam and Eve a false sense of security, making them willing to sin. They proved the error of this doctrine when they sinned and forfeited eternal life on the earth.

There is no doubt that Christ gives the assurance of eternal life to those who love and serve Him. The Bible clearly teaches that believers who walk in obedience to Christ are kept eternally safe. He holds them securely. Nevertheless, believers must never think of themselves as absolutely perfect (Phil. 3:12-15). Their security depends on being grounded in the truth and living in obedience to it. “If indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard . . .” (Col. 1:23 NASB). Genuine faith is seen in steadfast, day-by- day Christian living, but Christians who choose a sinful lifestyle place their salvation in jeopardy.

The third problem with unconditional eternal security is that it fails to agree with the biblical view of salvation.

Scriptures teach that personal salvation is a process—from conversion to glorification—but “once saved, always saved” makes glorification inevitable, regardless of the quality of the character of the believer. This teaching has wide appeal among many Evangelical believers because it offers a false sense of assurance that everyone who has ever trusted in Christ will finally be saved. Salvation, however, does not depend simply on the gift of life we receive at the moment of conversion, but on a continual relationship with God in which we appropriate the blessings of God by faith.

The Christian life is a process, but it is a process that can be ended at any stage before our death or before we are completely transformed at the coming again of Christ. When the result is transformation, also called glorification, it is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit. In short, believers become more Christlike as they respond and cooperate with the grace that God provides through the Holy Spirit. The final out- come is the full realization of salvation.

Final transformation is promised to all Christians, but it is not easily attained. There is a constant need of spiritual disciplines to enhance Christian growth and maturity. “Once in grace, always in grace” not only breeds a false sense of security, but this doctrine also sabotages the responsibility of the believer to make use of the grace God gives for further growth. The culminating feature of God’s grace is that at first sight of Christ, believers “will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2 NASB). The whole of the Christian life is the pressing on to that future goal. Consequently, salvation involves character formation, a dynamic process working itself out in godliness and holiness. Believers put themselves on shaky ground in assuming that security in Christ is unconditional and that by continuing in sin there is no possibility of falling away from the grace of God. Nowhere does the Bible teach that kind of assurance.

A fourth problem created by unconditional security is that it diminishes the importance of discipleship.

Once a person is saved, the perilous doctrine of unconditional security can contribute to moral and spiritual laxity. It casts a shadow on the importance of Christian discipleship and endangers believers’ spiritual welfare, making them think they can live in sin and remain saved. This teaching fits whatever lifestyle a person may wish to live. It may contribute to a person’s thinking there are no ethical demands or requirements to bear the fruit of the Spirit and reach full Christian maturity. Such a doctrine assures all believers they will go to heaven regardless of their lifestyles. Jesus saves us from sin, but not to live in it.

Paul insists that continuing in sin is impossible for the Christian. He raises the rhetorical question: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” To indicate the absurdity of such a practice, he asserts, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom.6:1-2 NIV). Habitual sinning is incompatible with salvation. The two do not mix any better than oil and water.

Therefore, eternal security can be seen as providing a license for careless Christian living; but the nature of saving grace is such that instead of encouraging sin, it breaks sin’s fatal grip so that we may live as Christians. We are to live in accordance to who we are in Christ. That is done as we live in faith and obedience, which is the condition
for our security in Christ. W. T. Purkiser said, “No one objects to the perseverance of saints. It is to the ‘perseverance of sinners’ we oppose.” Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient for our deliverance from sin, but that deliverance requires
an ongoing appropriation of the saving benefits of Christ’s death through faith and discipleship.

    Security in Christ

Christians must be urged to maintain their faith and to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Exhortations through preaching and teaching, and encouragement of one another strengthen believers in their confidence and hope in the life of faith. Meeting together in worship and other spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, and the study of God’s Word provide avenues through which the Holy Spirit strengthens believers in their commitment to Christ.

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The Potter’s Loving Hand https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/the-potters-loving-hand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-potters-loving-hand https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/the-potters-loving-hand/#respond Thu, 04 Apr 2019 08:00:21 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4229

Reshaping lives in Santa Cruz, California

The post The Potter’s Loving Hand appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



ne night, I received a grandfather in Arkansas whose teenage granddaughter had run away to Santa Cruz. He asked me if I knew where she was. I sadly said, “No, but I will pray and look for her.” He thanked me and gave me his number.

The next morning I received a call from the runaway girl! She had heard about our ministry and asked how she could reach me! This was the Lord at work.

I went directly to where she was. Her clothes were dirty and wet from rain; she was hungry; and, most of all, she was so young to be alone. I bought her dry clothes, lunch, and a bus ticket back to Arkansas. I also gave the bus driver money so she would have food as she traveled. She made it home safely.

    The Call to Santa Cruz

When my wife, Kathy, and I moved to Santa Cruz, California, to plant a Church of God congregation in 2001, we did not know we would reach runaway teens, war veterans, unwed mothers, foster children, widows, and mentally challenged individuals. We just knew the Lord had called us to the city where I had accepted Christ 14 years earlier.

We started the “Potter’s Hand” mission, and one morning the Lord gave me this clear word:

Forget everything I had ever learned in ministry, and just do two things—obey God and love people.

This startled me, because I had always obeyed God, and I really love people. I listened and continued with the church plant.

In May 2003, the Lord impressed me that if Kathy and I would pray, fast, and consistently share His Word everywhere in the city, we would reap a harvest for His kingdom. I began praying about how to reach a city that proudly brandishes the slogan “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” . . . where a Church of God had never been planted. . . and where in its recent centennial celebration, there was no mention of God.

Later that year, God gave me a dream—something that never happens to me. In the dream, the Lord instructed me to create a nonprofit foundation called “Acts of Love,” through which He would show mercy to the city. It was time to do acts that were undeniably from the Lord—loving acts that would draw the lost to Christ.

God showed much favor to us from the beginning. We began ministering in the streets and parks of Santa Cruz while also meeting in our mission church. We accepted people as they were, sharing the gospel of Christ in word and action. The Potter’s Hand grew beyond the capacity of our building, so we moved our church services to the parks and streets.

The city became so aware of our church that I was asked to meet with the mayor. When I went to the City Council Chambers, most of the city leaders were present. To my surprise and anguish, they said we had to stop what we were doing!

I explained we were being successful in helping clean up the city and getting people off the streets and to their families. The mayor responded, “Yes, your success is your problem and ours. You are too big for our city! There is no room here to do what you do.”

The Lord gave me the peace I needed as I left the meeting, although I was feeling like death had come to what was once alive through His promises to me. We decided to continue to pray for God to open the door the city leadership had closed.

The next morning, I received a phone call from a City Council member asking Kathy and me to meet him at the Family Shelter in Santa Cruz. The council member and the shelter director offered to let us use the building as a place for our benevolent ministries. I reminded them I was a pastor and that I bring the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever I go to serve. The director responded, “I know, and that is fine with us.”

I was almost in tears! Two city leaders had invited us to share Jesus with disadvantaged people! Kathy and I quickly realized we had not witnessed a death but a miracle! We have now served for 13 years in Santa Cruz, and the civic leaders and other faith-based leaders show us great favor. We serve 350 people each week, bringing a message of hope and encouragement, helping meet physical needs, and providing counseling. We have helped countless hurting people get on a positive path.

    Changed Lives

Recently, a man working for the Salvation Army said to me, “You may not remember me, but eight years ago you preached a message at the Clock Tower in Santa Cruz called ‘Keep On Keeping On.’ Because of that message, I am now in my own home, and I have a car. I am wearing clean clothes, and I have self-respect again.”

After hearing that testimony, I praised God all the way home!

A few weeks ago, a man came to the Family Shelter during our worship service to say “thank you.” He stated that because of our help, encouragement, and message of hope, he now has a great job and owns a car. He and his wife and three children are living in their own home.

One day when we were ministering at the city center, a woman approached me with three little children. I could see fear in her eyes. She said she had been hiding in a hotel because her husband beat her all the time! After quickly researching the matter, we were able to immediately get plane tickets for her and the children. They flew out the next day to her family back east, finding safety in the home where she had been brought up.

    Thanksgiving Dinner

This past Thanksgiving, we invited the whole county to dinner at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. The city supervisors of Santa Cruz paid for the auditorium rental, and an insurance company covered the insurance expense.

Through the Acts of Love Foundation, we raised $4,700 of the $9,700 needed, and we had 250 volunteers. We fed 1,175 people a beautiful Thanksgiving meal cooked by Michelin star chefs, who volunteered their time. It was our largest Thanksgiving event ever, and for the first time Jesus Christ was publicly honored at the meal. We prayed for the United States in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior!

God has been true to His promise: the Potter’s Hand Church of God is touching all of Santa Cruz.

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Love The Wounded https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/love-the-wounded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=love-the-wounded https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/love-the-wounded/#respond Wed, 03 Apr 2019 08:00:17 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4222

The church is a place for the weary, the broken, and the hurting...but is it a place for those in recovery?

The post Love The Wounded appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



he church is a place for the weary, the broken, and the hurting…but is it a place for those in recovery?

Sadly, the church has often rejected and condemned people who profess to know Christ but are dealing with some form of addiction or compulsion.

We in the Church of God know Galatians 5:19-23 says Christians will bear the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh. We believe in the sanctification and wholeness offered in the redemptive work of Jesus. We have seen miraculous conversions, healings, and deliverances. However, we who have witnessed such miracles have sometimes looked down our religious noses and doubted the salvation of believers who struggle with an addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral issue resulting from something horrific in their life.

While 1 John 2:1 says we should “not sin,” the writer adds, “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (NIV).

Why does the church have reservations about those who come into the congregation from a life that most of us have never lived? Is it lack of knowledge or understanding? Is it that we have kept our secrets hidden so we will not be rejected or judged by others?

From talking with many people inside and outside the church, I hear the same misconception—the church is a place for perfect people. The church is not seen as the place for individuals who need ongoing support. Has the church so often shot its wounded that even secular society has come to understand the church is only for those who don’t need healing and deliverance?

During the last decade or so, the church as a whole has begun realizing we have been remiss in dealing with churchgoers struggling with issues from their past life. What can we as individual Christians do to help those who love Jesus and are truly repentant, but are struggling with issues from their past life?

1. Love the person unconditionally.

Jesus accepted you as you were, so don’t make yourself greater than Jesus by rejecting someone who does not live up to your convictions or beliefs.

2. Don’t enable.

Sometimes when trying to help someone, it is easy to say things that actually help keep him or her in a vicious cycle of repeating and repenting, falling down and getting up, with nothing of substance being communicated to help break the cycle. Do not condone the wrong.

3. Get educated.

Some churches continue to reject anything to do with psychotherapy or counseling outside the church walls. While sin is often the person’s problem, sometimes it is not. In some situations, a medical or mental issue is affecting a person, and professional help outside of the pastor or church counselor’s office is needed.

4. Initiate a ministry.

There are good programs a local church can use to help bring healing to those who are struggling. One ministry—“Celebrate Recovery”—is active in 20,000 churches to help individuals with “hurts, hang-ups, and habits.” Talk with your pastor about what your church can do. Consult medical and mental-health workers in your congregation. Learn from another church’s effective recovery ministry.

We who are in the body of Christ must not expect perfection from those who profess Jesus and then “shoot our wounded” when they fall and cry out for help. Instead, let us embrace them with the love of Jesus, help them bear their burden, and carry them (if need be) back to the throne of grace.

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Starting Over https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/starting-over/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=starting-over https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/starting-over/#respond Tue, 02 Apr 2019 08:00:24 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4217

You do not have to continue living the way you are living right now.

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read about a man who picked up his local newspaper one morning . . . and found his own name in the obituaries! There in bold type was his full name, his correct birth date, a date reported to be his death, and the announcement that funeral arrangements were pending.

Flabbergasted, he hurried to the editor’s office. “This is going to cause me no end of embarrassment and humiliation, and might even cost me my business!” the man yelled.

The editor apologized profusely, but the man continued to rant and rave, demanding that something be done immediately to correct the mistake. At last, the editor said, “If it will make you feel any better, I will put your name in the birth announcements tomorrow. That way you can have a new beginning!”

There is One who can give you a new beginning—Jesus Christ can revolutionize your life. He can say to you, “Your past is over, your present is secure, and your future is bright and glorious.” He can set right what is so wrong.

Jesus, the Son of God, came into this world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He came so we “might have life . . . and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He came “to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18), and “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v. 19 NIV).

“Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43 NIV). “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12).

You do not have to continue to live the way you are living right now. You do not have to continue to carry guilt and a tormenting, embarrassing, incarcerating sense of shame. You do not have to continue to live without hope or without God in this world. You can have peace you never knew existed and joy that is inexpressible. You can be changed, transformed, and recreated! You can be set free! “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

My dad, William Fenton Williams, was born on March 11, 1931, in Olcott, West Virginia. Olcott was a mining camp owned by Black Diamond Coal Company. Dad’s father, Ernest, like most other miners of that day, was paid in script, which was used to rent a company house and purchase goods at the company store.

In 1938, when a job opportunity as a plant superintendent opened for Ernest at a chemical company in South Charleston, he and his wife, Ruth, moved there, eventually settling in a three-room house at 4802 Floyd Street in Spring Hill. It was here, “the old home place,” that so many memories were made.

Though guided by a loving father and mother, one thing was glaringly absent from the Williams family—faith. Alcoholism had Ernest in its grip. Some of my father’s earliest memories are of riding in a car with a drunken dad or trying to assist him to his room after a drinking binge. Ruth had red hair and a temper to match. The only time the name of God was ever mentioned was in a swear word. All of that changed, however, when my father (Bill) met Rose Marie Underwood.

After playing basketball with Paul and Raymond, these brothers invited Bill to their home, where he met one of their sisters, Rose Marie. Dad was smitten.

Though he was shy, it did not take him long to ask her out for a date. To his surprise, he learned that Rose Marie, Dora Lee, Nora Vee, Raymond, and Paul were all children of a Church of God preacher, Reverend R. B. Underwood; and the only place Rose Marie would go with Bill was to church. Cheap date, Dad said to himself. The time was set, and the plans were made.

It was a storefront Assemblies of God mission in St. Albans, West Virginia, where my father, Bill Williams, first heard about Christ. As the altar invitation was given, a layman, Mr. Burnside, walked back to where Bill was and asked him to come forward to pray. “Sir,” he said, “I do not know how to pray.”

Assured of his help, Dad accepted that invitation, and together they walked forward to the altar. Mr. Burnside showed my father 1 John 1:9—about Christ’s readiness to forgive sins—and led him, step-by-step, in a prayer to receive Christ. Though Bill knew absolutely nothing about God, church, or the Bible, he was gloriously saved.

The same glorious gift of salvation and new life is available to you. Today is the day; now is the time. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31 NIV).

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God Encounters on City Streets https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/god-encounters-on-city-streets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=god-encounters-on-city-streets https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/04/god-encounters-on-city-streets/#respond Mon, 01 Apr 2019 08:00:15 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4205

“There’s a burnin’ in my chest— what have ya done? Make it go away!”

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n Scotland, 93 percent of the population does not attend church. People generally do not believe in God, the Bible, heaven, or hell. Over the last 30 years, over 550 Church of Scotland buildings have been closed, auctioned, or sold.

After arriving here in 2002, I soon realized my missions degree and Bible-school training were not enough to make an impact. As a Spirit-filled minister, what was I to do? Could the power of Pentecost make a difference in Scotland?

    Jesus, Nice to Meet You!

Bob had shoulder-length, curly, bluish hair. After my wife, Joanie, prayed for him on the streets of Glasgow, he demanded that she meet all of his friends. So Joanie and an elder from our church were brought into a circle of 25 Goth kids. Bob said to his first friend, “Ian, I want you to meet Jesus.”

One by one, the kids said, “Hi, Jesus, nice to meet you!”

Isn’t that what it means to be Pentecostal—to be Jesus to everyone we meet?

There is an aroma, a beauty, and a power in the presence of God that bypasses the mind. Our ministry is called “God Encounter,” and our church, “Encounter Church Edinburgh.” You get the idea. Pentecost has enabled us to be filled and to flow with the Holy Spirit. We have seen time and time again His power change lives.

Following a short prayer, Greg, a 27-year-old heroin addict, asked if I was a witch. A witch! Greg said, “There’s a burnin’ in my chest—what have ya done? Make it go away!”

“Greg, that’s Jesus,” I said. “He is a consuming fire. He is alive!”

Paul wept for five minutes, not knowing what was happening as the power of God came upon him. We led this man, broken by sin, into eternal life!

Bobbi, another Goth girl who comes to our weekly Saturday outreach in Edinburgh, finally realized God was real. She said, “I can see Him in your eyes. I hear Him through your voice and smile.” She too came to the Savior.

A university student said to us, “I can tell you have had an encounter with God. . . . I would give anything to have one.” Following the amazed look of discovering the name of our ministry, we asked her, “Would you like a God encounter right now?” Smiling tentatively, she said, “Yes,” and, standing on the street, met Jesus!

    ‘Open Your Mouth and the Presence of God Will Fill This Place!’

I spoke those words to my wife as her fingernails gripped my hand following this announcement: “Our American friends are here, and Joanie is a singer. We want her to sing us a song!” Joanie sang “He Looked Beyond My Fault” to the tune of “Danny Boy.” This small pub where over 75 people had gathered to dance, drink, and forget about their sorrows was soon filled with the presence of God! They clapped and shouted, “Sing us another, sing us another!”

Immediately after her second anointed song, several men lined up behind the small two-seat table where we were sitting and asked me to pray for them. I glanced over to Joanie’s side, where women in tears were confiding in her, asking for prayer.

One gentleman, eyes wet with tears, said to me, “Please forgive me, Son. I used to be a godly man, but the drink has gotten the best of me. Please pray for me.”

    God’s Answer in Us

God invades people’s lives in supermarkets, restaurants, homes, streets, trains, subways, taxicabs, libraries, and coffee shops. When 93 percent of a nation’s population does not go to church, we must reach them wherever we can.

Jesus Christ has sent the blessed Holy Spirit to earth to fill us, His followers, so we can bring the nations to Him. Yes, Jesus is the answer, but He has put that answer in you and me! We are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19 NKJV)—the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. We are the carriers of His presence . . . let us also be the releasers of His presence!

    The Tron

Every Saturday we perform in song, dance, drama, and preaching in the heart of Edinburgh at the Tron—a church built in 1641 where the Wesley brothers, D. L. Moody, and other greats once preached. At one time, over 10,000 people would gather for prayer at this spot. Today it is empty and being used on and off as a bar.

Pray for us as we try to buy this building for more “God encounters” in the capital.

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The Holy Spirit Deserves Our Respect https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/03/the-holy-spirit-deserves-our-respect/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-holy-spirit-deserves-our-respect https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/03/the-holy-spirit-deserves-our-respect/#respond Fri, 29 Mar 2019 08:00:30 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4203 Born-again Christians should not joke, imitate, or laugh about speaking in tongues, spiritual manifestations, or spiritual worship.

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ome of my favorite moments growing up in the Church of God have been “Holy Ghost services.” In these sacred meetings, I have found a sense of freedom to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Such services are often punctuated with anointed singing, fervent prayer, dynamic preaching, and inspiring testimonies, followed by a miraculous altar service. At
the altar, I have witnessed people “saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8), healed and delivered, receiving miracles, and filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit are manifold when the altar service is filled with people led by the Spirit.

The Church of God was born of the Spirit during the Holiness Movement in the late 19th century, followed by a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since then, the Church of God has been a singing church (Eph. 5:19), a praying church (1 Tim. 2:8), a preaching church (2 Tim. 4:2), and a worshiping church (Acts 2:47). Through the years, all of our effectiveness in ministry has been predicated on the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet now, as a Church of God pastor, I am observing how the mood in our worship services is shifting away from the move and operation of the Holy Spirit. Much to
my chagrin, disrespect to the Holy Spirit is displayed in worship services when there is . . .

• truancy rather than punctuality
• routine rather than renewal
• conversation rather than conversions
• looking around rather than looking up
• distractions rather than discernment
• recession rather than intercession
• hastiness rather than holiness.

Born-again Christians should not joke, imitate, or laugh about speaking in tongues, spiritual manifestations, or spiritual worship. To refer to the incoherent speech of an individual or the illegible handwriting of another as if one should pray for the interpretation thereof is a disgrace to the Holy Spirit. I am afraid too many people in too many Pentecostal churches have grown accustomed or familiar to the demonstration of the Holy Spirit to the extent they remain seated in their pews engaging in text-messaging, reading a church bulletin, or conversing with their neighbor.

During an altar service in a church I once pastored, several people were sincerely seeking the Lord while two men chose to get up from their pews, walk to the back of the sanctuary, and stand against the wall in order to talk while looking on at what was happening at the altar. In their attitude and action, the church service was reduced to no more than a mere spectacle or show. The Holy Spirit is not in this world to entertain us but to draw us to the Father (1 Cor. 2:10-13).

After preaching one night in a church revival, I gave the altar call, and many came forward to seek the Lord. However, several men chose to promptly walk out of the church to smoke cigarettes. An individual at this same church once told my father that he was “not interested in the Holy Ghost.” In both instances, these men were spiritually bankrupt, if not altogether spiritually dead. These men evidenced qualities of “carnal” Christians (3:1-3).

In a distant church several years later, the Holy Spirit began to move mightily in leading us in worship. Worship was both vocal and demonstrative as the Spirit moved across the congregation like a wave of the sea. At that time, a young woman who had been standing up during the worship service quickly sat down, pulled out a mirror, and began frantically putting on makeup. Such things “ought not so to be,” as James wrote about “blessing and cursing” coming out of the same mouth (James 3:10). There is a “more excellent way”—the way of sincere love (1 Cor. 12:31).

It would be wise for all of us to show respect to the Holy Spirit by following these practices:

• Arrive early for prayer, fellowship, and worship. Peter and John arrived at the Temple “at the hour of prayer” (Acts 3:1).
• Be attentive to the music and message of the church service (see Luke 8:18). We should be good listeners who “receive with meekness the engrafted word” (James 1:21).
• Listen intently to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church (Rev. 1:10; 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
• Know how to behave in church(1Tim. 3:15). This admonition is applicable not only to bishops and deacons but to all who attend our church services.
• “Receive ye the HolyGhost”(John 20:22). This commandment comes from the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit—Jesus Christ our Lord. Later, the apostle Paul
inquired of disciples at Ephesus if they had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-2). When they said no, Paul “laid his hands upon them” in prayer, and they each received (v. 6).

May we welcome the Person, the presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit in all that we do. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

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f done right, holding a church heritage Sunday has rich rewards. It is like a family reunion—sharing experiences of the past, renewing old acquaintances, rejoicing for God’s multiple blessings, and looking ahead in unity.

Whether your congregation is one hundred or one decade old, there is value in having a heritage Sunday as everyone reflects, rejoices, and responds.

    Reflect on the Past
“Look at what God has done!”

Reviewing the past provides a path to the future. If you do not know where you have been, you cannot outline accurately where you want to go. Reflecting on the past includes telling how the church began, stories of peaks and valleys, outreach achievements, community service projects, building projects, and pastoral and lay leaders.

“We have a glorious history; we will praise God for what He has done.”

As Moses told the Israelites: “Remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out” (Deut. 7:18-19 NKJV).

Promotional ideas. Prepare displays (pictures, artifacts), a historical video, and a church scrapbook, and feature uplifting testimonies.

    Rejoice for Blessings Today
“Look at what God is doing in our church family!”

Focus on the spirit of unity that exists, the spiritual blessings taking place, current testimonies, and the impact of the church on community life. “We have glorious blessings; we will praise God for what He is doing!”

Jesus said, “He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:36 NKJV).

Promotional ideas. Feature an article in the local newspaper, invite city officials to
speak or send appreciation letters, prepare a progress brochure and video, give away a commemorative keepsake to everyone.

    Respond to the Opportunities of the Future
“Look at what God wants to do!”

Heritage Sunday is an ideal time to present plans for the future—intentional discipleship focus, mission trip, a new worship format, planting a church, a building project. “A glorious future is before us; we will respond to what God wants to do!”

In his prophetic book, Habakkuk wrote, “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it’” (2:2 NKJV).

Promotional ideas. Form an “achieving our possibilities” creative team. The team can suggest and plan projects advancing the mission of the church

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Mentoring Students To Find Their Calling https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/03/mentoring-students-to-find-their-calling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mentoring-students-to-find-their-calling https://www.evangelmagazine.com/2019/03/mentoring-students-to-find-their-calling/#respond Wed, 27 Mar 2019 08:00:51 +0000 http://www.evangelmagazine.com/?p=4191

Exposing Some Youth Ministry Myths Will Speed the Process

The post Mentoring Students To Find Their Calling appeared first on Evangel Magazine.



ne of the greatest challenges of youth ministry in a post-Christian era is weaving culture and Christ into the same conversation. The church has made enormous strides and some mistakes in this journey, and we will continue to do so as long as we attempt to engage young people where they are. Helping them understand and embrace “calling” has been and will be no less challenging.

    There’s an App for That

Calling has never been a discussion of convenience . . . and our society begs for convenience. Consider your cell phone. Lost and need directions? There is an app for that. Looking for a specific type of restaurant? There is an app for that. Need to purchase something on the fly? Well, there is an app for that too.

Just like downloading an app to our phones, we must assess needs, investigate options, and apply choices to lead youth into their callings. Each person and each ministry context is responsible for communicating with Christ and coordinating with the Holy Spirit to gain the information needed to make the decision God wants.

Years spent leading and investing in the lives of youth has led me to two general conclusions about mentoring them. First, without the trust that comes with investment, I have no voice; second, young Christians continue to pay a heavy price for their faith.

    In or Out

For the last two years, I have been blessed to lead the Church of God Winterfest event for Southern California. One of the most encouraging outcomes is seeing youth crowd the altars not just for salvation and deliverance, but also to find their calling. They are hungry to be used by God. In one altar service alone, more than 100 youth came forward with a confirmed call to ministry.

There seems to be a genuine resurgence of passionate young people who are serious about Jesus, His calling on their lives, and their commitment to discipleship. Culture has sharpened the edge of choice—either you are in or you are out. Christian American youth are conviction-driven.

It’s a costly choice, and youth want to know what they are giving up their lives for. Religion in America, especially among youth, is not passive. The status quo is unacceptable. Our summer church camps and youth retreats may not be as popular as they once were, but those who come do so with reason—to be used of God.

    Sacred Calling

To mentor and train, we must understand as Christians we are all called in two fundamental ways—vocation and our highest/ best use. The secularization of America is pressing for the polarization of these two realities. In Christ, there is no distinction between sacred and secular calling. We do not work in factories and corporations by day and become Christian superheroes by night. Being a high school student is sacred. Playing sports is sacred. Working at a fast-food restaurant is sacred. Going to church is sacred. This is the call.

Our calling has always been to love God and love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). Our calling has always been to serve with integrity, passion, and faith. Nehemiah, Joseph, and Esther all had to serve masters who could have eliminated them with the snap of a finger. Our calling has
always been to our highest and best use in every capacity (1 Cor. 10:31).

God is relentless in His pursuit of us. The billboard of society may scream that youth are abandoning faith; but to the contrary, they are abandoning dead-weight mechanisms that are too heavy to carry with so much at stake. They want an “app” that meets their needs, navigates them through life, and ushers them into the full purpose of God. God has not changed one degree to the left or right. He is always calling. He is always leading. He is always searching for the next generation of willing vessels. As leaders, we must have the passion and commitment to help our youth find and develop the calling God has for them.

    Ministry Myths

The worth of an app is found in its ability to meet the needs of the person who is using it. The app needed for your church or student ministry must be built exactly that way. There are many highly beneficial materials that exist to help leaders train and mentor students. Yet, a copy-and-paste approach to discipleship and training is rarely effective. Take in all the information you can, process the information through your ministry framework, apply what fits, and discard what doesn’t. This takes hard work, prayer, wisdom, and commitment. Exposing a few myths will speed the process.

• Myth 1: You have to have a large group of students.
• Myth 2: You have to have the perfect facilities.
• Myth 3: Only experts can train and mentor.
• Myth 4: It is expensive to mentor and train youth.
• Myth 5: Whistles and buttons are better.

Jesus took 12 men who had virtually none of these things and changed the world.

    Intentional Process

Our student ministry has 18 leaders who are in ministerial training (CAMS or MIP) or are licensed ministers. We have more who cannot wait until they are old enough to begin the process. How have we done it? We have built apps that work for our student ministry. We have made it an intentional part of our church, leadership, and vision to train youth for ministry. From children to college, we train students for ministry, and apply that training in legitimate ministry contexts.

• Education:

We offer courses on everything from teacher training to sermon preparation. Students also have access to online, DVD, and face-to-face formats for learning basic doctrine and statements of faith.

• Community Outreach:

At Easter, one of our main focuses is a children’s ministry outreach. Over 600 nonchurched children came to our outreach last year that is nearly 100 percent led and staffed by youth. In addition, each year the students play a large role in our “Hope Fulfilled” ministry to single moms and their families. Students translate, serve food, perform skits, lead worship, and load cars with groceries for the families.

• Evangelism:

In Texas, Ecuador, and in many other venues we have sent as many as 50 students and leaders to train, witness, and preach on their own funding. There is possibly no better opportunity to help youth discover their calling than missions work, domestic or abroad.

• Worship:

Every age group of our student ministry has an age-specific opportunity for worship. This is their time to connect with God and define their callings. This is where students learn to worship with their peers, pray for their peers, and serve with their peers.

    The Fundamentals

Here are five fundamentals for building the student ministry app you need.

1. While money is important, it does not drive ministry. Passionate people drive ministry. No amount of funding will be enough to cause youth to want to discover and develop their calling. The app that works is connecting young people with their passion.

2. Investment comes with a price called opportunity. Training does not always yield the immediate results we desire. Mentors take risks and make mistakes. Youth will do the same when given the chance to practice and develop their calling. However, the investment of heart and skill training will yield results.

3. Environment is everything for development. We must create an atmosphere where leaders train leaders. My pastoral team has one job: find, recruit, and train others to do ministry. We must become facilitators of a volunteer force. Empower and equip others to serve, and they will.

4. Potential is most often seen in glimmers. An act of compassion, eagerness to serve, or a glimpse of influence is sometimes the only clues you will get to discover a goldmine of ministry in a young person. It’s not the tons of dirt you dig through that makes one wealthy; it’s the few flakes of gold found in the midst of it. We must keep our eyes open for every possibility to develop our students.

5. Open doors and open minds will generate energy and build momentum. Allowing your students to create and work within their own ministry context is a huge paradigm shift. Remember, the app is designed to support them, not us. Our job is to help them establish the boundaries, understand the potential hazards, give them the tools they need, and support them every way we can.

Remember, we are all called of God to do a work for Him, which requires a willing heart and an obedient spirit. As leaders, our call is not to get more people; it’s getting the people we have to get more people. There is an app for that, but we have to be willing to build it.

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