When I was working full time in youth ministry, Cindy Morgan was one of my favorite female Christian artists. While working in Columbus, Indiana at a Methodist Church, Cindy was one of the featured artists at an outdoor concert at Mill Race Park. The album that touched my heart the most was Real Life. At this time, there wasn’t many artists who addressed real life issues like How Could I Ask for More?
For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved ([c]delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; 9 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself,] Ephesians 2:8-9.
As a child, the alure with being rich and famous is common. Yet, when my parents moved to a wealthy area of Ohio and my girlfriend Leanne lived in an affluent suburb in Chicago, the emptiness of wealth was revealed to me. I didn’t see what I expected except for a desire to keep up with the Joneses. Looking back, the lyrics of How Could I Ask For Me reminds me that happiness comes the love of Jesus. So as my future job in South Carolina is still unknown, all I can do is thank God for the little things as I wait.
From a musical point of view, the Beatles were one of the most influential bands of all time. Despite being from England, the sound of the Beatles was embraced by Americans and idolized as their popularity grew. From a spiritual perspective, there isn’t much that John Lennon, Paul McCartney and I agree upon. However, there was one project released as a non-album single inJuly 1967 that I believe in. The title “All You Need is You” said all you need to say.
For I have derived great joy and comfort and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints [who are your fellow Christians] have been cheered and refreshed through you, [my] brother. 8 Therefore, though I have abundant boldness in Christ to charge you to do what is fitting and required and your duty to do, Philemon 1:7-8.
One of the apostle Paul’s first century letters highlight what love can do for your life. Paul is reminded by comfort, encouragement and joy derived from the love of Jesus poured out upon him from fellow believers. When the hearts of a saint are full of the Holy Spirit, love bubbles over as a form of spiritual refreshment. Paul’s advice to one of the servants on his ministry team is to do what it fitting and required as a child of God.
Be alert and on your guard; stand firm in your faith ([b]your conviction respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, keeping the trust and holy fervor born of faith and a part of it). Act like men and be courageous; grow in strength! 14 Let everything you do be done in love (true love to God and man as inspired by God’s love for us), 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
Paul takes a different direction in a letter to the Church at Corinth. Love doesn’t come naturally. Rather, you need to be alert daily, regularly on your guard and stand firm in your faith. As Christians maintain their conviction and devotion for God, love can keep you going even when you don’t have the strength to carry on. According to Paul, love should be your motivation for everything you do, loving others as Christ loved the church.
A person who is actively opposed to or hostile to someone or something is an enemy. This adversary often becomes a nemesis who will do whatever it takes to resist a cause or movement. In the first century, Jewish religious leaders had the most to lose as Jesus’ popularity began to skyrocket. When members of local synagogues began to refer to Jesus as the King of the Jews, enemies sent this innocent man to die on a cross.
For there are many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, who walk (live) as enemies of the cross of Christ (the Anointed One), Philippians 3:18.
One of these enemies of the cross wrote a majority of the books in the New Testament. Perhaps, Paul’s past aggression toward Christianity tugged on his heart. If not for his encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus, Paul may have continued to be an enemy of the cross. When Paul saw his former friends continue to persecute and harass Christians, tears began to stream down his face.
They are doomed and their fate is eternal misery (perdition); their god is their stomach (their appetites, their sensuality) and they glory in their shame, siding with earthly things and being of their party, Philippians 3:19.
Well before Paul wrote his epistles, Jesus warned his disciples of the hatred that awaits his followers, John 15:18. In other words, don’t take the enemies of the cross personally. Behind the scenes, there are spiritual forces at work that will overwhelm you if you’re not prepared, Ephesians 6:12. The best way to cope with modern enemies of the cross is to put on the armor of God, Ephesians 6:13-20. As you do, you’ll be able to fend off criticism with the love of Jesus.
When tragedy strikes, most people need a shoulder to lean on, an attentive ear to listen or a hug to be consoled. During his several missionary journeys, the apostle Paul endured agitators, harassing crowds and mobs that wanted to silence his teaching about Jesus. On a couple of occasions, Paul was nearly beaten and stoned to death. Despite this persecution, Paul found time daily to kneel before the Great I Am.
For this reason [seeing the greatness of this plan by which you are built together in Christ], I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 For Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named [that Father from Whom all fatherhood takes its title and derives its name]. 16 May He grant you out of the rich treasury of His glory to be strengthened and reinforced with mighty power in the inner man by the [Holy] Spirit [Himself indwelling your innermost being and personality], Ephesians 3:14-16.
In a letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul reveals the secret to his prayer life. Upon his knees, prayer rejuvenated Paul, replacing his own needs with a desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Apparently, prayer strengthened and reinforced Paul, sensing God’s presence as he poured our heart in prayer. Paul exercised his faith in prayer by making a permanent place in his heart for Jesus.
17 May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love, That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; 19 [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]! – Ephesians 3:17-19
Over time, Paul’s faith in Christ was deeply rooted, like the firm foundation of a skyscraper. The daily discipline of prayer conceived and established the love of Jesus within Paul’s soul. When people become devoted to prayer, selfish desires are replaced by the fullness of God. When you begin to experience the abundant life, John 10:10, a spiritual addiction is born. Instead of allowing the world to dictate your mood, praying in the Spirit is like a wave flooding your soul with God’s presence. This is why Paul was driven to his knees.
Whenever you do a quick review of your life, there were times when you needed encouragement, hope or a friend to lift you out of depression. If you didn’t receive a call, have someone come over to your house or pray for you, you may not have recovered. Last week I heard a sad story of a first responder to the Coronavirus who committed suicide. Apparently, she took her own life, afraid she might infect someone she loved. This tragic event reminds me an expression used by the apostle Paul. In a letter to the church of Rome, Paul suggested that this is a critical time to love.
Besides this you know what [a critical] hour this is, how it is high time now for you to wake up out of your sleep (rouse to reality). For salvation (final deliverance) is nearer to us now than when we first believed (adhered to, trusted in, and relied on Christ, the Messiah), Romans 13:11.
Human nature has a way of lulling individuals into a false sense of security. If you are not disciplined, focused or in tune with the Holy Spirit, you may first yourself falling into a deep spiritually sleep. Daily updates about new cases of and deaths from COVID-19 can make normally optimistic people comfortably numb. Whenever you stop moving forward, neutral can quickly turn into reverse. If the current Coronavirus pandemic isn’t calling you to act now, what are you waiting for? As Jesus said in the first century, “the harvest is ready, but the workers are few.”
The night is far gone and the day is almost here. Let us then drop (fling away) the works and deeds of darkness and put on the [full] armor of light, Romans 13:12.
Instead of leaving readers in the dark, the apostle Paul offers directions. The first step is to stop enabling your flesh to indulge sinful desires. Once you put to death your old self, Colossians 3:1-4, you can begin to put on the armor of God, Ephesians 6:12-18. Those who make a successful transition from darkness to light are in prime position to shine during times of crisis. If you stop for a moment to take a look at all of the needs around, a sense of urgency will conceive a desire to love. Franklin Graham’s ministry Samaritan’s Purse has led the way with their field hospital in Central Park to show the love of Jesus to Coronavirus patients fighting for their lives.
If you have ever experienced what I call a God instance, recalling this account to others often unveils bizarre details. In the passage below, I stumbled upon the most detailed version of Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. While explaining his new allegiance to Jewish leaders and Pharisees, the apostle Paul reveals the words spoken to him from heaven. Instead of listening to conviction from the Holy Spirit, Saul was persistent to hold on to his religious upbringing. Instead of embracing Jesus’ teaching, Saul kept kicking against the goads through a vain and perilous resistance.
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice in the Hebrew tongue saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you continue to persecute Me [to harass and trouble and molest Me]? It is dangerous and turns out badly for you to keep kicking against the goads [to keep offering vain and perilous resistance], Acts 26:14.
When you are raised to adhere to, believe and follow a certain set of values, outside opinions usually fall upon deaf ears. Similar to Paul, I grew up Catholic, raised in a strict Roman Catholic church. While I did learn to fear God at an early age, the love of Jesus in the New Testament was rarely emphasized. Thus, as I began to be introduced to Christians who were actively participating in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Romans 10:9-10, I didn’t know how to respond. God used nightmares in the form of a reoccurring dream of dying over a two year period which finally brought me to my knees, giving up my own vain and perilous resistance.
Those whom I [dearly and tenderly] love, I tell their faults and convict and convince and reprove and chasten [I discipline and instruct them]. So be enthusiastic and in earnest and burning with zeal and repent [changing your mind and attitude]. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears and listens to and heeds My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he [will eat] with Me, Revelation 3:19-20.
Today, we live in an age of resistance. For the past three years, Democrats, Liberals and Progressives have failed to accept the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election. Instead of learning from their failed attempt to elect the first female president, Hillary Clinton, a resistance campaign has been executed daily with impeachment as the latest plan to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, when individuals fail to embrace the reality of truth, no substitute will do. No matter how hard you may try fill the void in your heart with earthly hobbies, pastimes and treasures, peace won’t be found until vain and perilous efforts to resist God ends. In the passage above, John has a vision of a special door. Heaven’s side doesn’t have a door handle, only a knocker, trying to get our attention on earth. While God knocks, only you can let the Lord in. May this blog inspire you to end vain and perilous resistance by accepting God’s free gift, Romans 6:23.
As a former Catholic, you can tell a lot about the direction of a church based it’s leadership. Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, is now calling for priests to forgive any woman who has terminated a pregnancy. During a recent interview on cable news, a member of a local archdiocese summarized this theological change. In the past, female Catholics who had an abortion were excommunicated from the church, viewing this act of killing an innocent life. Today, Pope Francis wants to focus on love and forgiveness by extending grace to those who have fallen short of God’s glory.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” 2 Corinthians 12:9.
When I heard excerpts of this interview, I wasn’t sure what to think. However, now that I have had time to digest this new stance, there are two possible explanations. First, the church is lowering the bar by altering the expectations of what it means to be a modern day Christian. Just as public education has changed the standards for a passing grade, clergy is now more accepting. As godliness diminishes within society it’s hard to find willing servants of Jesus. Thus, many churches are being forced to overlook past transgressions to fill half empty buildings and worship services.
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace, Romans 11:6.
The other logical explanation is a shift from an Old Testament view of God’s wrath and judgment toward a New Testament approach based upon the love of Jesus. This theological position points to the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. God is already working in the lives of the righteous according to Matthew 9:9-13. It’s the rebellious, lost and those wandering in the dark who need help. Instead of emphasizing church growth, pastors have become more evangelistic to reach out to a generation of people who have not grown up in the church. Depending upon your theological beliefs, you may lean toward one of these two positions. Nonetheless, the church is suppose to be the hands and feet of Christ, like a beacon of light piercing into the darkness of a spiritually dead and dying world.
If you get the chance to go to the movies, you will see a series of previews of coming attractions that will appear in theaters sometime in the near future. This is an easy way to promote a return visit by wetting your appetite. Following these trailers, visual images of food and drinks may entice you to break for the snack bar before the featured film begins. However, as cable options continue to improve in the form of movies On Demand, families are waiting to watch films in the comfort of their own homes.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, Galatians 2:20.
While listening to a sermon last weekend, the pastor compared becoming a Christian to previews of coming attractions. The point he was trying to make was that those who decide to follow Jesus are suppose to become more like Christ day by day. The preview illustration refers to actions, behavior and words that should emulate the love of Jesus. This transformation should result in noticeable differences. Thus, the next time you encounter someone who has recently accepted Christ into their hearts as Lord and Savior, expect a kinder, gentler soul.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing,” John 15:5.
To keep this new life going, Jesus introduces an analogy to encourage individuals to continue growing spiritually. The source for life is compared to a living vine. Spiritual progress is made by remaining connected to this source. However, anyone who get’s disconnected, unplugged or removed stops growing. Anyone who decides to find life in anything else becomes idle and will eventually lose all momentum like a withering branch. If you claim to be a Christian, what are you previewing? Are you a hypocrite like me at times, displaying a watered down faith or are you bearing spiritual fruit daily? May this sermon speak to you, serving as inspiration to get reconnected to the living vine, Jesus Christ.
In the final fight scene within Independence Day over the skies of a California desert, Bill Pullman plays president Thomas Whitmore. America’s last hope, this former fighter pilot leads a cast of misfits to plow the road for the last jet with a missile hoping to bring down an alien ship about to destroy their underground hide out. Without this cover, defeat was inevitable. Who will risk their life today to plow the road for future generations?
Looking to politicians won’t find you much inspiration. Nor do most professional athletics provide the type of consistent leadership the youth of this country need. Unfortunately, the frozen chosen, church going believers often behave more like Pharisees than the body of Christ. As a result, people of faith are putting up road blocks to God instead of demonstrating the love of Jesus.
In Luke 9:57-63, Jesus is trying to separate the lukewarm from truly devoted followers. Setting the bar high, one by one, the wishy washy walk away, unable to met the standards set by God, disqualifying themselves. Not much has changed today as individuals still struggle to live in the world without losing faith, Matthew 19:16-24. Instead of plowing the road, storms have blocked the path Jesus blazed. 1 John 2:6. Despite this reality, its never too late to change. Therefore, one light at a time, Matthew 5:13-16, let’s plow the road for others to follow.
Eight teen years ago today, I took the plunge, walking down the altar to a new life with my wife Leanne. Three kids, two states and one adventure after another has etched fond memories of the past two decades together. With marriages, relationships and vows not lasting as long as they once did, an anniversary day prayer is necessary to keep the flame of love alive.
As Adam learned eons ago, Genesis 2:20-24, finding a suitable helper isn’t easy. Maybe this is one of the reasons why King Solomon continued to seek wife after wife according to 1 Kings 11:1-3. Unfortunately, even one of the wisest men to ever walk the face of the earth forgot to consider how being unequally yoked would influence his own relationship with God, 2 Corinthians 6:14-15. All you have to do is read Proverbs 19:13 and 21:9 to understand Solomon’s regrets about rushing into marriage.
With this in mind, I am thankful for waiting, watching and trusting God to provide a godly spouse. Although each of us have our own imperfections, the Lord has guided our steps together as a couple, Galatians 5:25. Whatever the future holds, I am grateful to a loving wife, 3 great kids and daily bread. Prayer is what has held my family together, offering up loved ones to God and asking angels to keep watch when you are not around. In the end, one of my favorite prayers is for God give me the wisdom of Solomon, the love of Jesus and the favor of Joseph from Genesis. May you find the same joy and peace that I have experienced over the last 18 years.