Where Is the Power for the Church Today?

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

The Gospel doesn’t need us.

By Darin Smith | 
After a month of tumultuous political discussion on my social media feed, I had to ask the question:

Where is the power for the church today?

Clearly, if this month proves anything, it proves that it does not find its power in politics. We must discard the budding belief that power politics are what it is all about. I’ve been reminded lately that politics and political parties aren’t where Christ-followers look for hope. Instead, I am thankful that we have an all-sovereign, all-powerful King to find hope in times such as these.

Romans 1:16says that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

Practically, in today’s modern church landscape, what does this mean for us if politics aren’t the answer? Here are nine brief reminders for us:

1. We need to stop trying to make the Gospel relevant—it’s always relevant.

To center on and proclaim the Gospel is to be as relevant and powerful as the apostolic early church (Rom. 1:4).

The Gospel doesn’t need you. The Gospel doesn’t need bright lights or a fog machine. The Gospel doesn’t need the government or politics.

The Gospel doesn’t need us. It saves us, captures us, equips us, compels us, and trains us. It wants us.

It doesn’t need my help or yours—we need not worry. The Gospel will be just fine. The Gospel ultimately wins.

2. When we lose the magnificence of the Gospel, we substitute icon, formality, and allegory.

The power of the Gospel is complete. Nothing “poses a threat” to the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s power loose in the world. It will not be prevailed against. Ever. R.C. Sproul said, “You can’t improve upon the Gospel because God put His power there.”

3. An excess of P.R. & church-growth schemes won’t save Christianity from being irrelevant.

Can you show me in the Bible that we need more ingenuity and creativity? Only the Gospel has such power. We can have the best music, the best performers, the best communicators, the best programs, but without the Gospel properly shared and lived, there’s no power of God.

Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Thus, we must trust the Gospel means he’s ordained to build his church.

4. Don’t let techniques, transitions, and technology replace the Gospel.

When it comes to excellence in the worship service, there’s a difference between adorning the Gospel and trying to help it. A church’s increasing attempts to excite me in the worship service become increasingly boring.

Pastor, if you’re dreading corporate worship Sunday, it may be due to the entertainment standard you’ve set for yourself. It’s called “corporate worship” and not “individualistic entertainment” for a reason.

Idol makers rioted against the church because business tanked (Acts 19). This wasn’t accomplished by protesting, but by the spread of the local church and Christians with the Gospel.

According to 1 Cor. 2:2, our vision is the Gospel. Our strategy is the Gospel. Our method is the Gospel.

5. Our Christian subculture’s obsession with spiritual fads and religious hoaxes distract from the only power stewarded to us: the Gospel (1 Tim. 4:7).

To infer from Jesus’ get-together with big crowds that churches must focus on consumer-driven tactics is to have selective-hearing in the Gospels. The pillars of Paul’s mission strategy were verbal witness and evangelism, personal and corporate discipleship, and church planting (Acts 14:21-23). What is your strategy?

1 Thessalonians 1:5 reminds us: “Our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” What was God’s strategy for making the church bold? According to Paul, it was to imprison her leaders (Phil. 1:14).

The Gospel changed me, rescuing me from shame, sin, hell, depression and hopelessness. No advertising stunt can do that. I’ve found that in all my pastoral care for aching people in the local church, nothing cheers, emboldens, & transforms like the Gospel.

Christian, programs will never make a church evangelistic. Only the biblical Gospel will mutate an ice-cold church into an evangelistic church.

What great news! The power of God isn’t in us but in his Gospel. Our job is to preach, proclaim, and propagate it. The Holy Spirit will take it from there.

7. Let’s stop supposing the Gospel’s power ceases at one’s conversion.

The Gospel is God’s divine power for justification through glorification. It’s the power of God for a conversion experience and for total life transformation. The Gospel clarifies the eternal worth that we need to know. The Gospel doesn’t change, but neither does our need for it.

8. Fetching “the Gospel” out twice a year for special occasions reveals something about a church.

Even the most caring, loving, and kind church will lose people who love their sin if it preaches the Gospel and true repentance.

When the Gospel is truly preached, people are brought to the church without entertainment, events, or promises beyond those given by the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t a platform, trick, stage, or merchandise to me. It is sustenance, liquid, sunlight, and protection for every church conversation, gathering, prayer, program—and everything in between.

9. Pastor, preach as if you yourself are the greatest sinner in the congregation in the greatest need of the Gospel. It’s probably true anyhow.

Our daily evangelistic endeavor is to proclaim the Gospel to our spouse, our children, our friends, our church, our neighbors, our world, and ourselves. And we repeat this process.

Luther’s counsel to pastors in modern terms was simple: “First we need to get the Gospel into their heads and then just keep pounding it down into their hearts.” If those who believe the gospel you preach aren’t being altered by that same Gospel, you might need to reconsider what you’re preaching.

Christian, let’s not lose hope, lose heart, or lose our nerve. Let’s boldly pray that through the simple-yet-fathomlessly-eternal message of the Gospel, God will continue to use our churches to reach those without Jesus as Savior (2 Tim. 2:24-26)—and that without the power of politics.

‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ Should Not Be Taken Out of Hymnals, Says Popular Pastor Blogger

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

 

By Michael Gryboski , | 

 

 


 

A Michigan pastor whose columns on the intersection of faith and everyday life has argued that hymns like “Onward, Christian Soldiers” should not be removed from hymnals.

Shayne Looper, pastor of the nondenominational Lockwood Community Church of Coldwater, wrote in a syndicated column published Saturday that “there is still a place in our hymnody for hymns and gospel songs that make use of military metaphors, like ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ or ‘Soldiers of Christ, Arise.’”

Looper argued in part that hymns with military metaphors were acceptable because the New Testament itself is full of such metaphors.

“Take, for example, the Apostle Paul. He repeatedly chose military metaphors to make important points regarding Christian living,” wrote Looper.

“He referred to his co-workers as fellow-soldiers, and in so doing evoked an image of the kind of all-for-one, one-for-all camaraderie that is characteristic on the battlefield, and ought to be in the churches.”

Looper also argued that military metaphors are also important because “Christians need to be reminded that they are part of something bigger, the advanced guard of a kingdom that is coming but has not yet been established.”

“They are on duty. The Christian life is not a walk in the park with the savior but a mission for the king. It calls for alertness, determination, cooperation, endurance, and strength,” he continued.

“The Christians who have made a difference in the world — who have cured diseases, cared for the poor, freed slaves, and ended wars — were not people who valued comfort above kingdom. Nor are they today.”

Multiple hymnal editions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have excluded the song; in 1989, The United Methodist Church almost removed it, but changed direction only after a strong outcry.

“This hymn, with its ‘hut-two-three-four’ tune and its warring call for Christians to raise the battle flag, has long outlived its usefulness,” reads a 2012 column published by the Christian Century.

“In a world grown weary of religious strife, a world where the word crusade arouses more anger and embarrassment than resolve, few are nostalgic for a hymn that celebrates Christian soldiers marching to war.”

Grammy-Award Winning Gospel Music Pioneer Edwin Hawkins Dies at 74

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

 

By Michael Gryboski , | 

 

Edwin Hawkins, the multi-time Grammy Award-winning Gospel music mind behind such famous songs as “Oh, Happy Day,” has died. He was 74 years old.

Bill Carpenter, Hawkins’ publicist, reported to media that Hawkins died at his home on Monday in Pleasanton, California, the cause being pancreatic cancer.

A native of Oakland, Hawkins was raised with a musical background, having performed with family and church groups throughout his life.

Expand | Collapse
(PHOTO: THE RECORDING ACADEMY / ILYA DREYVITSER / WIREIMAGE.COM)Neil Portnow, The Winans, Sandi Patti, Edwin Hawkins, and Walter Hawkins pose at the Grammy Salute to Gospel Music event at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC., on Wednesday, June 18, 2008.

The website AllMusic called Hawkins a “trailblazing force behind the evolution of the contemporary gospel sound.”

Along with Betty Watson, Hawkins founded the Northern California State Youth Choir, which in 1968 recorded the influential album “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord,” which included the hit song “Oh Happy Day.”

“Among the highlights of Let Us Go into the House of the Lord was the track “Oh Happy Day,” which unexpectedly found a home on underground FM play lists across San Francisco; the single soon began earning airplay on mainstream R&B and pop outlets across the country,” noted AllMusic.

“… in the spring of 1969 it reached the U.S. Top Five on the on its way to selling an astounding seven million copies and taking home a Grammy award.”

A reworking of a 1755 hymn of the same name, the 1968 recording of “Oh Happy Day” was added to the National Registry in 2005.

“What made ‘Oh Happy Day’ resonate is anyone’s guess. The original version by British educator Phillip Doddridge was published in 1755 — four years after the composer’s death — and was sung in a yearning plea similar to some Appalachian songs,” explained Bill Carpenter in an essay published by the Library of Congress.

“Hawkins unintentionally transformed the song from a church hymn into more of a mainstream pop record with a catchier arrangement of the chorus that featured subtle jazz drumming, some Latin percussion and an echoey upright piano groove that buttressed the slick but passionate choir harmonizing against soloist Dorothy Morrison’s earthy, straight-from-the-church vocal technique.”

Beginning in 1979, Hawkins also oversaw an annual conference known as the Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar, whose purpose was to help advance knowledge of sacred African-American music.

Alongside his brother Bishop Walter L. Hawkins, who passed away in 2010, Hawkins organized nondenominational conferences along the themes of worship and music.

“In my travels, I meet many talented young folks whose only outlet is in the church. There needed to be ways to help them further develop their skills and abilities, to the glory of God,” explained Hawkins in an entry on the conference’s website.

“I decided to help them find themselves in the arts. I felt it incumbent upon me to marshal the finest artists and musicians, who are able to teach this diverse perspective of music and arts. Happily, it has resulted in a nation and international interest in music and arts.”

 

Christmas Around the World: A Look at 6 Different Countries’ Traditions — From Festivities to Secrecy

December 26, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

 

By Stoyan Zaimov 

Christmas is celebrated by Christians in different ways around the world — some honor the birth of Jesus Christ on different dates; some observe the holiday by featuring giant Christmas trees, markets, and Nativity plays; while others are forced to celebrate in the deep secrecy under the most oppressive regimes.

It remains one of the holiest of days for believers, marking the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and is a day for faith and family, bringing hope to believers in many corners of the globe where they might not have much cause to celebrate otherwise.

 Some traditions, such as the elaborately ornamented Nativity scenes in Italy, go back 800 years, while in other places, like in Russia, Christians have only been able to resume their Christmas celebrations in recent decades after nearly a century of being suppressed.

Here are six countries where Christians mark Christmas in different ways, including the  town of Jesus’ birth:

 

1. Egypt

 

(PHOTO: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY)Egyptian Muslims and Christians celebrate Coptic Christmas eve mass, at Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 6, 2013.

 

Coptic Christians in Egypt make up only a minority, around 10 percent of the population, but have longstanding Christmas traditions, such as the Feast of the Nativity.

The Copts observe the month of “Kiahk,” starting from Nov. 25 through Jan. 6, where they fast and eat a vegan diet, not eating anything made from animals.

As Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, explains, 40 of the 43 days of the Advent fast signify the period of time that Moses waited to receive the Word of God in the form of the Ten Commandments.

The other three days commemorate the number of days Egyptian Christians fasted for the miraculous moving of Muqattam mountain over 1,000 years ago.

Throughout the month of Kiahk, all liturgical and worship hymns lead up to the birth of Christ.

Like other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Christmas Day for Copts falls on Jan. 7, with believers going to church for a special liturgy on Coptic Christmas Eve, which is midnight on Jan. 6.

“Family and friends congregate around the Eucharist, the most tangible manifestation of our Lord’s sacrifice to, and love for, mankind to fully appreciate and receive the Word Himself,” Angaelos explains.

“The liturgical service is then followed by a fellowship meal where the faithful break their fast and continue to rejoice in the Nativity in a spirit of joy and love.”

 

2. Italy

(PHOTO: REUTERS)A traditional Italian nativity scene in this undated photo.

Italy begins its Christmas season with the religious Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, which is also a national holiday where Catholics celebrate the conception of Mary.

The Castel Sant’Angelo museum in Rome fires off a cannon to mark the start of festivities, which includes parades, bonfires and fireworks.

Nativity Scenes, which are used in many Western countries and worldwide as representations of Jesus’ birth, are especially popular in cities like Naples. The tradition of the crib scene is believed to have originated in the 13th century when St. Francis of Assisi asked a local villager to create a manger to help re-enact the Nativity. It has played a huge role in Italian Christmas art and decorations ever since.

The Vatican hosts a full Advent and Christmas calendar, lighting its Christmas tree early on in December, with a midnight Mass at in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve serving as one of the highlights.

After delivering the homily on the meaning of Christmas on Christmas Eve, the pope then delivers his annual Christmas message on Christmas Day at noon, sending out his traditional blessing to Rome and the world.

3. Mexico

(SCREENCAP: YOUTUBE/CASALASMARGARITAS)One of the Mexican Christmas celebrations are “Las Posadas” and “Patorelas” seen here performed by children in a video posted December 15, 2011.

Mexican Christmas celebrations are often centered around Las Posadas, with nine days of observance counted down from Dec. 16 through Christmas Eve.

The tradition, which is also popular elsewhere in Latin America, is based on Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay before the birth of Jesus, with “posada” meaning “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish.

The Posadas celebrations include Christmas carols, with people acting out the roles of Mary and Joseph in different homes each night during the nine days.

The get-togethers include Bible reading and prayer, with guests breaking pinatas and children given candy.

In Mexico the holiday continues through Jan. 6, marking El Dia de los Reyes, the day of the kings or the wise men, which is when children receive their gifts.

4. Russia

 

(PHOTO: REUTERS/ALEKSEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN)Russian President Vladimir Putin (5th L) and believers attend the Orthodox Christmas service at a local church in the settlement of Turginovo in Tver region, Russia, January 7, 2016. Most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar on January 7, two weeks after most western Christian churches that abide by the Gregorian calendar.

 

In accordance with the Julian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. While the religious holiday is not as popular as New Year’s Eve celebrations, it is growing in a country where it was banned for most of the 20th century due to Communism.

Two important meals are observed by practicing Orthodox Christians, one on Christmas Eve, which consists of 12 meatless dishes, representing the 12 apostles.

“Kutya is a concoction of grains and poppy seeds sweetened with honey, which serves as one of the main dishes of the Christmas feast. Vegetarian-style borsch or solyanka, a salty stew, may also be served along with salads, sauerkraut, dried fruit, potatoes, and beans,” Tripsavvy.com explains.

Midnight mass at Christmas Eve is attended by prominent figures, including President Vladimir Putin in recent years.

Meat is allowed to be consumed during the big Christmas Day celebrations, including side dishes such as aspic, stuffed pies, and various deserts.

5. North Korea

(PHOTO: REUTERS/DAMIR SAGOLJ)A North Korean soldier guards the gate on banks of the Yalu River, north of Sinuiju, North Korea, April 1, 2017.

Although in total secrecy, Christians find a way to mark the birth of Christ even in North Korea, the country that has been ranked as the most oppressive place for believers in the world for 15 straight years by major watchdog groups, such as Open Doors USA.

As South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported in December, leader Kim Jong Un has prohibited any gatherings involving singing or alcohol in a measure to ban anything that could be suggestive of celebration.

Open Doors explained that despite the heavy oppression and careful monitoring by authorities, in a country where simply owning a Bible could get one sent to a prison camp, Christians do manage to gather and celebrate Christmas in remote areas.

“Christmas is mainly celebrated in the heart of the Christian,” said  Brother Simon, who coordinates the work of Open Doors in North Korea, in 2007.

“Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real gathering. For fear of retribution it is necessary to keep your faith hidden from the neighbors.”

On rare occasions, as many as 60 or 70 North Koreans may gather together at secret locations in the mountains for service, the watchdog group added.

6. Bethlehem, Israel

(PHOTO: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)A general view shows Manger Square, near the Church of Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, during Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 24, 2013.

Some of the biggest Christmas celebrations fittingly take place in the Israeli town of Bethlehem, where the Bible says Jesus was born.

In past years the big influx of tourists to the town has brought in over 100,000 people to mark the birth of Christ.

Multiple services and processions are led by various Christian denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian and others. The town’s streets are strung with Christmas lights, with Christmas plays, markets and trees adding festivity to the scene.

The main processions pass through the world-famous Basilica of the Nativity, which is believed to be the site of Jesus’ birth.

As Abu Batrous Naameh, a priest from the Syrian Orthodox Church, said last year, “celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem allows one not only to reconnect to the time of the birth of Jesus, but also the place.”

“We consider this day as if it were the same day, 2016 years ago, and remember Jesus, who sacrificed himself,” Naameh said, according to Jerusalem Post, adding that “the new year is an opportunity to make a pledge for peace with all people around the world and in the Holy Land.”

 

Who Is Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us?

December 26, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

Good enough to judge, but good enough to save.

By Cary Schmidt | 
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

Jesus is… God enough to judge, but good enough to save.

Big enough to execute cosmic justice, but small enough to cry from a manger.

Angry enough to vindicate all evil, and righteous enough to absorb judgment.

Holy enough to be comprehensively good, and loving enough to offer me His goodness.

Tough enough to endure the cross; tender enough to walk with me in suffering.

Outside and above me enough to rule the universe; with me enough to guide my steps.

Powerful enough to speak all things into existence; gentle enough to speak comfort into my doubts and fears.

Frightful enough to make the powers of darkness tremble in terror; beautiful enough to win my heart.

High enough to be worthy of all the worship; lowly enough to call me friend.

Authoritative enough to never owe us answers, but gracious enough to give us His word.

Hard enough to withstand the forces of Hell; soft enough to care about my day.

Righteous enough to judge me; gracious enough to save me.

Judge enough to indict me; advocate enough to defend me.

Strong enough to hold all things together; caring enough to hold me together.

Supernatural enough to do the miraculous; normal enough to help me do tomorrow.

Dominant enough to vanquish the universe; close enough to vanquish my self-centeredness.

Big enough to build an eternal kingdom; intimate enough to invite me into it.

Ancient enough to weave the fabric of history; present enough to weave a plan for my salvation.

Colossal enough to hold the universe; caring enough to hold my hopes.

Commanding enough to control galaxies; compassionate enough to command my heart.

Eternal enough to have no beginning and no end; human enough to be wrapped in flesh and die for me.

Everlasting enough to create time, and real enough to enter time and snatch me from its sin-cursed claws.

Timeless enough to defeat death with life; present enough to live His life through mine.

Transcendent enough to come from another world; earthly enough to understand mine.

High enough that no one can touch Him; low enough to be touched with my pain.

Divine enough to reveal an eternal world; human enough to invite us into it.

Loud enough to thunder His love to the world; soft enough to whisper His love to my soul.

Fiery enough to incinerate evil with His white hot holiness; warm enough to wrap His redeeming arms around me.

Regal enough to command angel armies; simple enough to receive the worship of shepherds.

Royal enough to be called the Son of the Highest; accessible enough to be called the Son of Man.

Kingly enough to reign over all kings; lowly enough to become the servant of my salvation.

Forceful enough to break through the barriers of sin; meek enough to teach me to trust Him.

Fast enough to create a cosmos in six days; patient enough to cultivate my growth in His grace.

Terrifying enough to say “Fear not,” but friendly enough to say “Follow me.”

Speaking enough to transform my life; quiet enough to care about my prayer.

Present enough to hear my cry; personal enough to cry.

Sufficient enough to not need me; generous enough to let me need Him.

Abundant enough to do anything for Himself; generous enough to give Himself away.

Separate enough to stand alone forever, but personal enough to want me forever.

From supremacy to peasantry, from transcendence to tragedy, from splendor to suffering, from throne to thorns…

…from the heights of Heaven to the horror of a cross to the hallmark of an empty tomb—this is Jesus.

This is Emmanuel—God with us!

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

 

Holy Decisions Spark Holy Desires

December 7, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

By Dan Delzell | 

     Have you ever noticed that the word “holy” tends to get a bad rap? After all, “holy rollers” are said to be too extreme in their spiritual views, while other religious folks get described as “holier than thou.” In both cases, the word “holy” is used to describe something off-putting.
In the Bible, however, the word “holy” is a beautiful term that describes a key aspect of God’s nature. In fact, the third Person of the Trinity is called “the Holy Spirit.” There is absolutely nothing within the God of the universe that is not perfect in holiness, righteousness, and truth.

When God created Adam and Eve, the first two human beings had nothing but holy desires within them. And yet somehow, when the crafty serpent seduced Eve’s mind, she began to entertain evil ideas. This was introduced to her from the outside. And Eve’s choice to contemplate forbidden fruit led to impure desires, which in turn led to this infamous decision:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6)

As we grow in our life of Christian discipleship, we tend to start making better decisions. The old adage “three steps forward, two steps back” gradually develops into “four steps forward, one step back.” That is, if we choose to obey God in those areas of our thought life, speech, and behavior that present us with daily options to choose good over evil, and holiness over wickedness.

Even the “one step back” is something the Holy Spirit is very concerned about in our life. After all, He is always holy and therefore only promotes righteousness and holiness. We, on the other hand, still make sinful choices at times. Our sin may involve something as simple as thinking wrong thoughts about another person for 30 seconds, or giving into some other “vain imagination.” (Romans1:21)

As believers, we are instructed to guard our thought life. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) Eve lost the battle in her mind before she and her husband made the choice to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve’s misguided thinking preceded the sin of eating the fruit God had placed off limits. And eating this fruit brought desires into human beings which God did not want man to experience. Nevertheless, those desires came flooding into man’s heart the moment Adam and Eve opened the floodgates to sin.

“Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin.” (Romans 5:12)

And one of the biggest proofs that the soul of man “died” in the Garden of Eden is the fact that human beings ever since have experienced sinful passions of various kinds and given into so many unholy desires.

There is no getting around this fact: Holy decisions spark holy desires, whereas unholy decisions spark unholy desires.

Susanna Wesley stated it beautifully: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.”

So how are things going in your life of discipleship? Do you find your soul being filled with God’s love and with songs of praise? Or do you find yourself spending most of your time battling unholy desires. While temptation is certainly going to be a part of every believer’s life, we at times make it harder on ourselves than it needs to be. That is, we make choices which cause us to be consumed with unholy desires, rather than staying under God’s mighty flow of grace, goodness, and purity.

The solution? Well, we can place all of our transgressions under the blood of Jesus by asking the Lord to wash away the sins we committed in our thought life and behavior. And then we can seek to remain “under the waterfall” of God’s abundant wellspring by choosing to say “no” to unholy options, while saying “yes” to praise, worship, obedience, thanksgiving, prayer, service, and trust.

There is not one of us who can pull off such a feat in our own strength. But God is more than able to do it in us and through us. As we yield our mind, body, and decisions to our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of holy desires within us. And once we find ourself back in the flow, it is much better to stay in the flow than to continually move in and out of God’s will by unwise decisions.

This of course is the plight of every Christian, or if you prefer, the opportunity of every Christian. There is actually no need to see this dynamic in a negative light. After all, we as believers have been redeemed from sin, death, and the devil. And it is marvelous to celebrate this good news as we bask in the glow and the flow of the Holy Spirit’s power through faith in Jesus Christ.

No matter how far you may have drifted from a place of spiritual peace and confidence in Christ, this could be your day to once again choose holiness over sinful thoughts and forbidden behavior. And when you do, you will be quickly reminded of why it is always better for a believer to obey God than to make the same mistake Adam and Eve made in the Garden of Eden.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. But the pressing question is this: “Will I learn from my previous missteps and sinful choices, or will I continue jumping into the same pit over and over again?”

We often hear people say, “It’s only natural.” Well, here is a spiritual principle that is not only natural, but also supernatural: Unholy decisions spark unholy desires, and holy decisions spark holy desires.

It was true in the Garden of Eden, and it is true in our lives today. If you don’t think so, just try writing down your decisions over the course of an entire day, and take note of what desires flow from those decisions. You will find that your life is no exception to the rule.

God’s living water refreshes man’s soul with grace, forgiveness, and holy desires. And without the cross of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we would be lost forever in a sea of unholy passions and wicked desires. Tragically, many people have gone to their grave in such a condition.

Will we learn from our own experience, as well as from the experience of those who have already left this world? Or will we simply allow ourselves to be swayed by whatever temptation or desire presents itself along our path on any given day?

God gave Adam and Eve free will. Unfortunately, human beings don’t always use such freedom to pursue God’s best for our lives. By the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit in our heart, let’s begin anew today to “hate what is evil” in our thought life and behavior as we “cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

How else could we ever hope to make progress in our life of Christian discipleship?

 

A Message for Those Who Are Grieving the Loss of a Loved One This Christmas

December 7, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

Grieving is incredibly hard—and different for each of us. We can’t replace the lost lives. The holiday season of celebration is incredibly hard when we miss those we love. God knows.

Updated By Karen Farris | 
With the Christmas tree decorated and the cabin trimmed in holiday cheer, everything was as it should be until the phone rang. Life instantly shifted.

The world, as my grandson knew it, was irrevocably changed by a car accident that took the life of his best friend and his friend’s dad—who was also his coach. A drunk driver cut short the lives of four people in that car—two fathers and two sons.

Some of you have gotten calls like that—losing those you loved in an instant. Perhaps others of you had more time, but it was just as final.

As the Christmas tree lights twinkle softly and the line-up of toy snowmen on my fireplace mantel smile innocently, what can I say to a broken family?
Those who mourn rightly ask—why does God take such young people? We do not know.

But here’s another question: In whom can we lean when we grieve with such awful wrenching sorrow? God.

Not able to contain my grief within the four log walls of the cabin, I walked out into the darkness of night.

The brilliant display of millions of stars reflected the majesty of God, but these untimely and devastating deaths reflected the brokenness of this world.
God knows that devastation. He lost His son too. But first, He gave him to us on Christmas, so that we’d never walk alone as we travel through life, with all its shards of brokenness and pain.

We can walk with Someone who understands our pain and collects every tear we ever shed.

Grieving is incredibly hard—and different for each of us. We can’t replace the lost lives. The holiday season of celebration is incredibly hard when we miss those we love. God knows.

But He heals us in ways the world never will. So, breathe in deeply and let Him into your heart to begin the healing. God knows how.

“I am God your healer”. Exodus 15:26

 

Treat Every Day Like It’s Thanksgiving and Christmas

November 28, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

Mark-Nation | 

     ”We love all of our lights. The crazier, the better!” I had found myself in Manila, Philippines, in what was my first ever October-November business trip outside the U.S. And here I was, gazing with wonder at the extensive display of lights on practically every house and small business throughout this gritty, densely-packed city. These weren’t just any lights – they were Christmas lights! Little did I know just how much the Filipino taxi driver would enlighten me on this humid, autumn evening.
“We just love Christmas. You know the Filipino people, we always look for any excuse to celebrate, and we can think of no better reason to celebrate than the birth of Jesus Christ. So, we light up the night with every color you can imagine because it reminds us constantly of the reason for our hope, even though many of us have endured so much difficulty.”

My taxi driver chimed in with a smile, “You Americans have a special occasion that marks the origins of your country, making November a special time for you. We don’t have that in November here, and we’re not too big on Halloween. For us, it’s all about getting to Christmas as soon as possible!”

Then he said something that will stick with me forever.”We don’t need another holiday getting in the way of Christmas,” he said sharply. “Besides, we try our best to treat every day like it’s Thanksgiving.”

Treat every day like it’s Thanksgiving. What an incredibly simple, yet profound idea.

Suddenly, an epiphany broke forth in my mind with a thought I was sure God had deposited directly into my spirit: “They got it right, and Americans are missing it completely,” I thought to myself. “It’s like we’re suffering from a holiday version of ‘waiting for Friday’ – all year, every year. What would it look like if, instead, we treated every day like it’s Thanksgiving? And Christmas too for that matter? Like two sides of the same coin.”

Each November, I come back around to this idea and share this moment from Manila with others. Considering the numerous troubles we’re witnessing in our world today, I feel led to expand the conversation to include each of you this year. Perhaps this paradigm shift can be one of the small gifts you share this season.

Here are just a few ways you can “get into the holiday spirit,” starting today and enduring into the New Year:

- If God has blessed you – and I’m most certain he has in some way – then tell someone! Declaring our thankfulness draws us closer to God.

- Consider today, and every day, to be a precious gift. If you’re still fogging up the mirror and are blessed to be surrounded by family and friends, then give thanks.

- Remember the little things. Shoes on your feet, a warm meal, or the laughter of a tender child – don’t overlook these simple gifts.

- Both holidays are about giving, not taking. Find a way every day, as simple as it may be, to be a blessing to others.

- Slow down. Enjoy this special season without worry of where you need to be next or work that needs to be done.

- Don’t take a minute for granted. There’s never a day wasted when it’s spent on quality time with those you love.

I returned to the Philippines many times over the next few years, developing a deep love and appreciation for the Filipino people and the way they approach life with consistent, daily gratitude. Despite the countless challenges they face as an emerging economy, so many of those I’ve met from across this special place always seem to remember the One from whom all blessings flow. Thanksgiving flows so naturally to them and through them.

So now I ask you: Are you thankful enough for all the blessings in your life? Please don’t wait until the turkey is served or the Christmas tree is laid bare, stripped of its gifts. Look around and observe your world with fresh eyes. You are truly more blessed than you may realize. We all are.

I pray God will continue to shower you and your family with love, joy and peace this holiday season and all throughout the year.

Billy Graham Evangelical Leader 99th Birthday

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

By Michael Gryboski , | 

One of the most famous preachers in American history, if not world history, the Rev. Billy Graham is 99 today.

For decades, Graham has preached to large crowds and written many advice columns and books, contributing a vast wealth of spiritual wisdom.

How Your Church Should Prepare for an Active Shooter

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

 

By Thom S. Rainer 

 I hate the title of this article.
I hate that I even feel compelled to write about the topic. But many of you contacted me after the tragic murders at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Here are some basic issues:

1. Don’t be in denial. Church shootings are increasing every year in America. And while the percentage of churches with shootings is relatively small, this issue is one where we must be prepared. The downside is just too great.

2. Have a church security plan. This plan should include all issues of security, from active shooters to child abuse. Local law enforcement is almost always very willing to work with churches and make recommendations.

3. Remember that church security is a ministry more than an expense. I have little patience with church leaders and members who say they can’t afford church security. The church doors should not be open if it can’t afford to keep members safe and secure. The church or leaders may have to spend money to go to a training seminar, or to retain a local police officer every weekend. Those are investments in security, not expenses.

4. Keep church security as a matter of prayer in your church. While we should work as hard as possible to make our churches as secure as possible, let’s never forget that we should seek God’s power, strength, and protection.

6. Keep your facilities secure. Too many churches have too many members with keys and access to the church buildings. It is not unusual for doors to be left open and security to be lax because of the nearly unlimited access. I know one church where a former member had a key and decided to have a meeting at the church without asking anyone. Your church needs clearly controlled hours of operation and clear guidelines on access. If the locks have not been changed in a while, it’s probably time to do so. Ideally your church can move to digital access that can be changed at anytime.

7. Strive for total member awareness. Remind your members from time to time that they should watch for anything unusual at the church. Greeters at different places in the church facility, from the parking lots to the worship center, should be trained toward awareness as well. Those with keen eyes and discernment can save lives.

Continue to pray for First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. And as we pray for them,  pray for wisdom and protection for all other churches.

Active shooters are a harsh reality of church life today.

We can be prayerful.

And we can be prepared.

 

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