“A Responsible Church Will Help You Grow”

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.    –Colossians 1:28 (NIV)

 

     Would you start a baby out in life then just sort of stop guiding them shortly thereafter?  Would it be better if you still loved on the baby over the years?  How about if you still fed them and clothed them through to adulthood?  While these are all very good things to provide a baby, an important part of parenting is guiding and teaching that baby as it grows towards maturity.  It would be irresponsible to start a baby out in life and not provide as much as possible to help them develop properly.  The goal of parenting is to raise children into mature adults with certain morals, values, and beliefs.  And so it is with the church.

     This year’s theme scripture gives very clear directions for us to “present everyone fully mature in Christ”.  As a responsible church, we must complete four actions designed to make sure we reach the ultimate goal of ministry this year and fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples.  These four actions are: 

  1. Proclaim
  2. Admonish
  3. Teach
  4. Present
    
#1.  Proclaim— “He is the one we proclaim…”  Paul is talking about proclaiming Christ!  Proclaiming means to declare publicly and with specific emphasis.  If we are to do like Paul and proclaim Christ, we will preach the Gospel, whereby we understand that we are sinners who need a Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ—the one who was born of a virgin, Mary, was crucified, died, was buried and resurrected to grant salvation to all who believe.  Proclaiming Christ is declaring this:  It is through his sacrifice and resurrection that our sin debts are forgiven, and it is through Christ that we are able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Proclaiming Christ makes his authority clear.

 

#2.  Admonish— When we admonish, we warn firmly and advise strongly.  In this instance, we are to warn others in an attempt to make every man aware of his fallen state and advise them on how to pursue a life that glorifies God. When the alternative is judgement and an eternity in hell, it is a crucial admonishment and critical advice.

#3.  Teach— Teaching everyone with all wisdom involves insuring everyone understands how to live in line with the scriptures that define the Gospel, outline the Ten Commandments, and dictate all aspects of how we should operate as believers in community with one another and with God. 

#4.  Present— The goal of our church ministry is to “present everyone fully mature in Christ”!  When we present something or someone, we make a ceremony out of offering something or someone up for review, consideration, and acceptance.  Our goal as a Church is to help believers to develop into mature Christians acceptable to God.  It is a process to grow from a new convert into a mature Christian!  How involved you are with the ministries of this church has a lot to do with how you grow towards Christian maturity.  Attendance at church services, bible studies, Sunday School, and ministry meetings are all a part of the activities designed to help with this whole process. 

     We’re going to feed you at this church.  We’re going to show you love.  We’re also going to guide and teach you!  As a responsible church, the leadership must strive to “present everyone fully mature in Christ”.  We are a responsible church!  We will continue to focus on this goal through our ministry activities.  Get engaged and GROW!

 


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“Why Ministering to the Total Man Matters”

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.  –Colossians 1:28 (NIV)

 
In our efforts at ministering to the total man (body, soul, and spirit), we should understand why this is important to God.  When I look at Colossians 1:28 in the NIV bible, it comes up under a section with the heading of “Paul’s Labor for the Church” in a letter written to the church at Colossae.  This body of believers was threatened with heresy from outside the church. The traditions and beliefs of the surrounding community were not Christ-centered, and this letter was meant to encourage these converts.  (See Colossians 1:24-29.)  The goal was to bring them to maturity in Christ.  And so it is the same for us today!

 

We use Colossians 1:28 as the scripture in conjunction with our annual theme of “2020 Vision – God’s Plan for the Total Man” and recognize that it is an incredible responsibility for our church to serve God in this way!  It is a serious opportunity for every one of us to build one another up in the faith, and to do the work of this ministry.  Somebody cared enough about each one of us to minister in a way that brought us to Christ.

 

Over 25 years ago, when I was sorely in need of a savior, an elderly woman befriended me in a grocery store parking lot. She was so taken in by my son’s smiling face that she invited us over for dinner on the following Sunday.  I was low on money and low in spirit. How did she know? When that Sunday came, I went to this lady’s house. She ended up ministering to my body through the food she served. She ministered to my soul through the encouraging conversation. She ministered to my spirit through the prayers she prayed for us, and the constant reminder that God was ever-present. This went on for months.  I think back to that experience and recognize the impact she had on my life at that time. Remember, ministering to the total man, by definition, will “provide something necessary or helpful” to the spirit, the soul, and the body of man. This lady did that for me, praise God! She let God use her, and I am incredibly grateful for God’s intervention at that time. 

 
God uses faithful believers to minister to the body, soul, and spirit of people to bring them to maturity in Christ.  Think about your own conversion. Can you see the evidence of God at work in your life?  Can you understand the impact that “ministering to the total man” can have on a person’s life? There is someone out there in need of a savior where your willingness to minister may make the difference. There is someone who knows Christ but needs your encouragement to continue growing towards Christian maturity. I encourage everyone, as committed believers, to take an active role in the work of this ministry. This is an awesome opportunity to serve God, and it is going to take all of us working together to impact our community.

 


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“Ministering to the Total Man”

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. –Colossians 1:28 (NIV)

 

The full scope of kingdom building can easily become overwhelming.  There is so much that needs to be done!  People have all sorts of needs.  What is most important?  Which areas do we focus on first?  How do we begin to determine what ministry work we should be doing?  On our own, this is easily so overwhelming that we end up spinning our wheels and having little or no impact OR we try to do it all and burn ourselves out.  One of the reasons an annual theme matters is that it helps us to hone in on which area of ministry work should be the focus for this year.  This year, we are refocusing on the Vision!  Having 20/20 vision suggests that we see clearly.  So, it is important that we understand the Vision and put our ministry efforts to work to help fulfill the Vision. 

 

The Vision involves ministering to the total man, which includes man’s spirit, soul, and body.  (See 1 Thessalonians 5:23.)  Ministering means “attending to the needs of…, or providing something necessary or helpful.”  In order for us to minister to the total  man, our ministry work should attend to the needs of or provide something helpful to the spirit, the soul, and the body of man. 

 

Our body has these five senses:  taste, touch, hearing, sight, and smell.  Ministering to the body should effect at least one of these sense in order to impact the body.  It’s one reason why food fellowships make good sense in our church!  Our soul concerns “our minds, our emotions, and our will”.  Things that impact our intellect, activities that are encouraging and uplifting, and opportunities to pursue our purpose here on earth—these affect our soul.  Participating in various ministries can minister to our soul.  Singing in the choir, serving as an usher, attending Sunday school and bible study are all important.  Our spirit is at the core of our being, and anything we do to experience God is important to our spirits.  Activities that minister to man’s spirit include worship, prayer, reading and meditating on scripture.  When we give a bible to newly baptized Christians, we equip them to both study and meditate on God’s Word.  There is so much that we can do to minister to each part of the total man!  Many ministry activities will overlap and impact multiple parts of the total man. 

 

Ministering to the total man is an awesome Vision with a tremendous mission!  We are already doing many things that are in line with the Vision, yet we have opportunities to do more and to impact more people.  As this new year begins, we need everyone doing their part to help  us minister to the total man.  Let’s get a renewed desire to do the work of this ministry—starting today! 

 


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NEW YEAR’S THEME: 2020 Vision – God’s Plan for the Total Man

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. –Colossians 1:28 (NIV)

 

Since before we moved into the new church edifice, back when the Vision was given to me, and as I began to reveal to our congregation the dynamic personality of this ministry, one crucial aspect has been the idea of ministering to the total man.  According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, God created man with these three parts:  a spirit, a soul, and a body—each with its own characteristics and function.  Our body has five senses that allow us to exist here on earth and to experience life here on earth.  Our soul includes our minds, our emotions, and our will, which gives us our personality.  Our spirit is that deepest part that allows us to experience God.  John 4:24 confirms this by saying, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truthfulness.”  God created us with these three parts, and it is therefore, crucial that our ministry efforts consider all three.  We strive to pattern our ministry efforts after Jesus’ earthly ministry in an effort to impact the total man.

 

Evangelizing, discipling, ministering, fellowshipping, and worshipping—these are the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. With these five key elements— (1) preaching the good news of the Gospel, (2) teaching people how to live obediently in the will of God, (3) ministering healing to their brokenness with the grace and power of God, (4) connecting believers with other believers so they can build one another up, and (5) revering and acknowledging the supremacy of God at every turn—our ministry mimics the authenticity of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Authentic ministry always involves these elements, and this gives us a better opportunity to be effective at kingdom building.  Under the variety of ministries here at New Cedar Grove M. B. Church, we label these elements as (1) evangelism, (2) discipleship, (3) ministry, (4) fellowship, and (5) worship, and every ministry works to conduct activities that address all five.  These five elements together help us to gauge our ministry effectiveness.  We have so much ministry work yet to do!  If you have not yet gotten involved in a ministry here at New Cedar Grove, let me encourage you to make this next year your year to do just that!  Ministry of good works and fulfilling God’s vision for our church family is going to take everybody doing their part. 

 

As we enter into a new year in Christ, may we build on the power of our unity, especially in corporate prayer, so that we may make a difference in our community.  May we begin to discover more opportunities to minister to the total man with these key elements of ministry.  Let our individual ministry efforts create more effective ministry opportunities for our entire church family, and may we have renewed strength and increased power to do greater works in the lives of people of all ages.  2020 Vision… May we see even more clearly than ever before just how to fulfill the Vision God gave me for New Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church!  May God be glorified in all that we do! 

Happy New Year and God bless every one of you! 

—Prophetess Smith

 


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“How would Jesus spend New Year Eve?

When I was a little girl, New Year’s Eve was a time to celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of a new one.  We’d be around family and friends, and we’d have some sort of family gathering/party.  Many in the neighborhood would be shooting fireworks, and my dad would pull out his rifle and give us each a chance to shoot it off the back balcony into the sky.  Mom would make us all eat a bite of black-eyed peas…for luck.  We’d go to sleep at some point and reawaken into a brand new day in a brand new year!  As time went on, and as my mother began to heed God’s call on her life, our family traditions began to change.  Praise God!  Nowadays, the thought of missing New Year’s Eve Watch Night service at New Cedar Grove doesn’t even feel right on any level.  Gratefully, my own children understand the significance of our Watch Night service.  It’s not just being in church, though.  It’s the idea of focusing on God that is important.  With gratitude for the old year’s experiences and a healthy reverence of God as we enter into the new year, it’s just a very good way to start the year.  This got me to thinking:  How would Jesus spend New Year’s Eve?

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40)

Jesus’ purpose was to fulfill the will of God.  Everything Jesus did was in obedience to God.  With that in mind, this is most likely how Jesus would spend his New Year’s Eve:

1) Interceding for us:  “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus…” –1 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)

Jesus prayed for people.  Jesus healed the sick.  Jesus set things back in right order.  Jesus wouldn’t ignore these needs on New Year’s Eve to focus on celebrating the start of a new year.  Jesus always prays for us and always intercedes for us. 

2) Preaching the Good News:  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” –Mark 1:14-15 (NIV)

Yes, Jesus would most likely remind us of God’s love for us that carried us throughout the past year.  Jesus would call for genuine repentance, and urge us to do so quickly. 

3) Reaching out to the unloved:  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. –Matthew 8:3 (NIV)

Jesus would spend time with those less fortunate.  Jesus would reach out to those most people would turn their noses up around.  He would visit the unwanted.  He would be open to all those nobody wanted to engage, even those privileged people who had earthly riches but needed a savior.  Jesus would reach out and extend to grace to every one of them—even those who simply got off track and left the church for no good reason.

4) Making disciples of all nations:  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

Jesus always does what God commands.  The Great Commission is surely something Jesus might be found doing on New Year’s Eve! Oh, but wait!  That’s what WE are supposed to be doing!  WE are the ones who should be doing God’s Will here on earth!

 

Jesus Christ is now seated at the right of God the Father in heaven, and on this New Year’s Eve, He will be sitting on the throne as we worship at our Watch Night service.  Jesus Christ will be continue to draw men unto himself, but it will continue to be our job to lift Him up! 

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32)

 


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“Christmas According to the Gospel of Mark”

There are no angels, no shepherds, no wise men, and no manger in the Gospel of Mark.  Mark 1 starts out this way:  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…” (Mark 1:1 NIV). 

 

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of all the Gospels, and it does not include the traditional Christmas story.  But it does label Jesus as the Messiah—the promised deliverer, the savior.  Christmas was not something celebrated in the early church.  The early Christians were focused on the coming Messiah.  They realized that they were very much in need of a savior, and they were rightly concerned about this moreso than our traditional Christmas celebrations of today.  Mark points us to Jesus. 

 

There is nothing wrong in celebrating Christmas, because of what it all means to us today.  We include the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, and the manger.  We set the Nativity Scene, and we celebrate Christmas.  We celebrate Jesus at Christmas because he is the promised Messiah, the one prophesied in the book of Malachi, and also in Isaiah as he who would come to save us from the eternal consequence of our sin.  If you read the accounts in the other three Gospels (Matthew, Luke and John), you will find more of these traditional details.  The most important point of all of the Gospels is Jesus Christ as Savior!

 

Yes!  The Good News of the Gospel is all about Jesus Christ!  Jesus came to the world as a baby, born of a virgin Mary.  Most of us know the rest of this story.  We know what happens 33 years after Jesus was born.  We understand that the Christmas story is a reminder that God sent his Son to earth for our benefit.  This is why we celebrate Christmas—because of the Good News of Jesus Christ! 

 


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“We are the Light of the World”

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  –Matthew 5:14-16

 

As Prophetess and I were talking recently, she remarked to me how our being the light of the world meant so much more than we might actually imagine when we first read Matthew 5:14-16.  Light dispels darkness.  Light is of God, and the darkness…well, we have an idea that darkness is sin and of satan.  It is ignorance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and typically means something negative.  Light, on the other hand, usually refers to godliness, goodness, righteousness—everything that sin is not.  Light is having knowledge of the hope of salvation. If we are to be the light of the world, then we must understand more about our responsibilities as light-bearers.  It pricked my ears and my heart when Prophetess explained this fascinating thought about this scripture!  “That light will draw them to Christ,” she said.

 

There are many people who are wandering around lost and in darkness.  What will draw them to Christ if not our light?  That light comes out as love and caring guidance.  It is firm but not harsh.  It is certain but not judgmental.  It does not drive people away.  It draws them, and over time, God does his work on the inner man.  Our responsibility is not to save people, but to let our light shine before them—for the glory of God!  Hallelujah!

 

I recall a song I learned in elementary school many years ago!  It’s an interesting song that highlights the Beatitudes while including Matthew 5:14-16.  The original lyrics have long since been changed by the author, but I still recall them.  (If you look up the song by Jean Anthony Greif, you will likely only find the updated words.)  I have listed the original chorus as a reminder for every one of us about why we are to be the light of the world. 

 

We are the light of the world;
may our light shine before men,
that they may seek salvation in Christ,
and give glory to God.

 

As this Christmas season quickly approaches, and as all of the colorful bright holiday lights shine all around us, be sure you are letting your light shine!  As disciples of Christ, we should be drawing others to Christ so they might seek salvation.  Let your light shine brightly during this holiday season, and help draw others to Christ. 

 


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“Peace”

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. —John 14:27 (NIV)

 

The disciples had walked with Jesus through his three years of ministry up to this point, and they had seen Jesus’ peace in action!  To the disciples, Jesus was never afraid or overcome by fear. Jesus never retaliated against those who wronged him.  Even when he was moved by the circumstances, such as at the death of Lazarus, during the storm, or when falsely accused by the council, Jesus still exhibited his peace.  What on earth is this peace Jesus gave his disciples?

 

Jesus’ peace is the assurance of the Gospel, a certain confidence in God that no situation or circumstance or man or institution on earth could affect.  Jesus knew his purpose and his mission.  And as his time of death drew near, he encouraged the disciples with his peace.

 

Jesus’ peace is all a part of God’s plan.  From the time of Christ’s birth through today, peace has been crucial!  In these trying times, unless we have Christ’s peace, we will puzzle over things and our faith will waver.  We will  become overwhelmed, without Christ’s peace, and we will go under.  But this is why Jesus made his peace which “surpasses all understanding” available to us, to help us endure difficult times…to help us have firm confidence in the hope of the Gospel.

 

God knew that we would benefit from the peace of Jesus Christ even today.  As Christmas approaches, remember the gift of Jesus’ peace.  Praise God with the angels as you take hold of the peace of Jesus Christ!

 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” —Luke 2:14

 


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“Jesus gave thanks”

And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you:  This do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying,  “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” —Luke 22:19-20

 

We observed the Thanksgiving holiday with a big family dinner.  We traveled out of town to be with family and friends.  And when the hour for the dinner had come, I found myself hungry and wondering when we would actually get to start eating!  Then, I was reminded of my desire to be both thankful and full of praise for God this time around.  As I refocused on that idea, I thought about the Last Supper.  I thought about today—first Sunday…Communion Sunday, and what it might have to do with Thanksgiving.

 

Scripture tells us that at the Last Supper, when Jesus knew the hour of his death was soon to come, He gave thanks!  Jesus knew why he had come to earth.  He knew his purpose at that time.  He demonstrated to all present at this supper how he was to be the Passover Lamb—the one to die for the atonement of our sins!  Jesus understood who he was and what was about to happen to him and why.  He was to be our redeemer, the one who would be tortured and beaten, and he gave thanks! 

 

These days, when we celebrate Thanksgiving, many of us make a point to express our gratitude.  We often say grace and give thanks before our meals, but the Thanksgiving meal is especially marked by thankfulness.  It is the Last Supper that serves as the historical example for how we as Christians give thanks, especially every Thanksgiving. 

 

So, today, with thoughts of Thanksgiving still fresh in our hearts and minds, remember to be thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  Remember to give thanks for your salvation.  Remember to give thanks for God’s Holy Spirit.

 

Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.  —Psalms 136:26

 


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“Thanksgiving and Praise”

Now, our God,  we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

—1 Chronicles 29:13 (NIV)

 

In 1 Chronicles 29, King David reminds a great assembly that everything he has and everything he had become was because of God.  King David goes back to his humble beginnings all the way through the years and down a long list of blessings to lay out a pretty comprehensive list of reasons to thank God, and he praised God greatly out of his gratitude.  Out of sheer gratitude for all that he had acquired and accomplished in his life up to that point, King David gave God great praise!  It was King David’s gratitude towards God that made his praise of God so fitting. 

 

What, then, is the difference between thanksgiving and praise?  We praise God for his attributes…for who he is apart from what he does for us.  We thank God for what he has done for us—for his blessings and for his gifts.  And the two, thanksgiving and praise, go hand in hand. 

 

Most every Thanksgiving, our family gathers around, usually holding hands in a circle to pray together just before we eat dinner.  We usually go around the circle with every person mentioning at least one thing he or she is thankful for.  I recollect many answers from the past, including family, jobs, financial blessings, and good health.  We are all grateful and eager to begin eating, but we never let the opportunity pass to thank God specifically.  But this year, I will suggest we add an extra does of praise for God, out of sheer gratitude for all that we have acquired and accomplished in our lives because of who God is! 

 

Yes, thanksgiving and praise go hand in hand.  Both gratitude and praise are important to God.  Our praise should match the value we place on whatever it is we are grateful to God for, because God didn’t have to be a loving God.  God didn’t have to show us mercy or bless us for our obedience.  But because of who God is…GLORY!!!  You see, just like an appraiser establishes the value of an item— such as a diamond or a work of art, for example— so we establish the value of God’s blessings in our lives through our praise of Him who gave.  So, as Thanksgiving approaches, think not only about all of the reasons you have to be grateful, but think also about all of the reasons you have to praise God! 

 

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. —Psalm 100:4

 


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“Don’t Give Up”

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  —Galatians 6:9

I worked with an older kindly gentleman some years ago—a very intelligent and skilled doctor who had been so tainted by his experiences in medicine that he professed himself to be an atheist.  This topic came up on a fairly regular basis, especially whenever we were discussing a case of terminal illness.  One day, I decided to press him further.  “Why is it that you don’t believe in God, Dr. T?”  He explained, “If you had seen what I’ve seen in my many years of practicing medicine, you wouldn’t believe either.  So many sick people, many through no fault of their own, suffering illnesses that I could do nothing about.”  Needless to say, I knew better than to invalidate his perspective, but over time, I made it my business to try to help him rediscover his faith in God.  He was a very nice gentleman with a gift in medicine who had become so overwhelmed with discouragement that he’d lost all heart. 

It is understandable that we might begin to feel discouraged if we have been struggling with something for a long time and we do not see the breakthrough we’ve been praying for.  And when it happens over and over and over again, and the sovereignty of God totally escapes our understanding, any of us might begin to feel greatly discouraged.  And if we aren’t careful, we might lose all heart like Dr. T. 

There are many Dr. T’s out there who gave up under the weight of discouragement while doing good!  If that is you today, don’t give up!  Galatians 6:9 encourages us not to grow weary while doing good.  Sure, sometimes you won’t get the thanks you deserve for your good works.  But keep on doing good!  Sometimes, things won’t go the way you hope and pray they will go.  But keep on doing good!  As Galatians 6:10 goes on to insist,  “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men.”  Take advantage of every opportunity to do good to all men!  Yes, keep on doing good!   Don’t give up!

What better time than the fast-approaching holiday season to do good?  Consider Galatians 6:9-10 during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  When discouragement tries to wear you down, remember this:  Don’t give up.  Keep doing good.  Don’t lose heart.  Do good to all men every chance you get! 

 

Amen!

 


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“A Warning Against Distractions”

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. —Psalm 119:148 (NIV)

 

The Psalmist understood the danger of distractions. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 9 people die every day as a result of accidents caused by distracted drivers! Distracted drivers are the leading cause of preventable accidents. It is a costly epidemic that continues to grab the headlines today! These drivers are mostly on their cell phones, but there are many other distractions. Even with the many laws and awareness campaigns that portray ghastly images of horrific accidents, many of us are still driving distracted!

 

The dictionary defines ‘distraction” as a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else. Distracted people, therefore, have allowed a thing to prevent them from giving their full attention to something else.  Distracted people tend to live distracted lives. Whenever anyone is distracted, they are unable to focus and concentrate. Mistakes happen. Responsibilities get overlooked. Bad decisions are made. There is a danger in being distracted! 

 

Every Sunday, many of us struggle to focus on worship and everything going on during the worship service, myself included. Distracted worship is just one symptom of a distracted Christian probably living a distracted life. Many of us are mostly on our cell phones, but there are many other distractions…illnesses, financial concerns, problems with our children, our spouses, our jobs, and the list goes on! While it doesn’t seem nearly as deadly as distracted driving, I suspect God sees it more significantly than we might care to realize. The Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22:37 reminds us to love God with all of our heart and soul and MIND! God wants our undivided attention, and for good reason. Distracted Christians are not as effective as they should be! Distracted Christians are unable to focus and concentrate on God and the purposes God has given. They make mistakes, overlook responsibilities, and make bad decisions. Satan loves to distract us so we fall short of our purpose. There is no way to avoid all distractions, but we can definitely be more mindful of things that prevent us from giving God our full attention! 

 

Like distracted driving, distracted living is an avoidable epidemic. Scripture warns us of the consequences as Christians—against getting caught up in the cares of this world (Mark 4:19). There are many scriptures that warn us against distractions that keep us from doing what matters most. We must keep our focus on God and continue to trust Him. If we do this, we won’t be easily distracted. We’ll live more intentionally, and we’ll be more effective as Christians.

 

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. —Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)

 


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“Prayer in the Fellowship of Believers”

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. –Acts 2:42 (NIV)

On Sunday mornings, our church is filled with people who probably agree that prayer is an important part of what we do as a church.  Along with sharing a set of doctrinal beliefs around fellowship, communion, baptism, and worship, praying together is perhaps the most significant and powerful activity we do.  We know that unity is powerful.  Unity in prayer is definitely powerful.  In the fellowship of believers, corporate prayer is very important to the church.  We must pray together.

 

Hearing the issues and needs of others prayed aloud reminds us that we are a part of a fellowship…a family.  We are members of the body of Christ, and this reminds us that it’s not just about us.  We have our own needs and concerns, surely.  Then we hear of others’ needs and concerns and our hearts are stirred.  We pray for one another.  We pray for the physically and mentally ill.  We pray for the victims of crimes on the news, locally and abroad.  We pray for those who are homeless and in need of employment, etc.  We pray for those suffering through “acts of God”, like hurricanes and tsunamis…in Puerto Rico and Texas.  We pray for those struggling to survive the wildfires in California.  We pray for those living in brokenness of all kinds.  We pray for those in power, who have opportunity to effect the lives of people in the community and throughout the world.  We pray for all people, and not just ourselves.  We encourage one another.  We become more sensitive to God’s will here on earth.  When we pray together about the needs of the people, our communities, and the issues of the world around us, we are edified and unified through our common faith in God. 

 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. –Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

 


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“The Greatest Joy”

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” —John 14:26

 

One of my greatest joys in recent years is the discovery that the Holy Spirit is in fact leading and guiding me.  It is He who whispers truth to me. We each have a God-shaped void.  What fills that space is the Holy Spirit of God who mysteriously and miraculously takes up residence within us from the moment we believe for salvation.  That divinely-created need for a relationship with God the Creator is met by His Holy Spirit.  He is the One who guides, speaks, corrects, teaches, comforts, counsels, and reminds us of everything Jesus said.  But a “reminder” is only really useful when it’s something you’ve read or seen or heard before.  That means we must read and take in the words of Jesus from the entire Bible, if we want to hear the Holy Spirit speak “reminders” and more.

 

Like any deep relationship, recognizing the Holy Spirit…the tones, knowledge, meanings, and subtle nudges…takes significant time.  Think about this in terms of our earthly relationships.  God states, “my ways are higher than your ways,” so we must learn the gentle manner of His Spirit’s intimate communication to be able to hear what He truly says.  Yes…developing this type of deep relationship with the Holy Spirit is a life-long process.  No matter how old (or young) you are, it can become a delightful aspect of your comfort and joy to pursue a deeper relationship with God through His Holy Spirit.  I pray this will be your desire and your goal, and that it will lead to your greatest joy all the days of your life!

 


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“Where Are the Others”

Luke wrote the story of Jesus walking one day toward Jerusalem, hearing ten lepers shouting at him from a distance, “Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus instructed them simply but plainly to “go and show yourselves to the priests.” As the men obeyed, walking toward the synagogues, they discovered they had been healed. Imagine their happiness, their wonder at seeing their now clean, smooth, perfect skin. Immediately, one of the men turned back and ran to Jesus, fell on his face at His feet and gave Him thanks. And Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:11-19).

Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” —Luke 17:18-19 NIV

I can’t imagine not returning to thank Jesus for the gift of healing. But then I realize I too fall short of maintaining an attitude of gratitude for the many every day gifts He gives. It’s easy to slip into a negative mindset when faced with so much trouble and chaos in the world around us. Life is filled with ups and downs. I have to stop and think about how much grace and mercy I have been granted up to this point in my life.  When I do this, I feel so much gratitude towards God.

As Christians, being thankful is tied to trusting God—to believing all He does is good and for our good. By showing our gratitude, it is also a way to please God. Gratitude begins in the heart. Children learn it best from moms and dads who demonstrate a grateful heart as a way of life.

As recipients of His abundant kindness will you purpose to be more grateful?  For His grace and unmerited favor, will you teach your children to give thanks also?  Let us resolve to please God with an attitude of gratitude. It will make our lives that much better.

 


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“Uniting Voices to Glorify God”

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:  “He is good; his love endures forever.”  Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud…  —2 Chronicles 5:13 (NIV)

According to the Master Plan for Ministry here at New Cedar Grove, “The purpose of the Music Ministry is to facilitate the worship and praise of God through song, as well as readying the hearts and minds of the congregation to hear the word of God.”  The Mass Choir is an integral part of the Music Ministry, and the objective is to play a vital role in facilitating worship.  The choir is to sing in unison and in harmony, as the director dictates and in accordance with all of the musical support.  The choir’s role in worship matters to God.  But why? 

 

There are more than four hundred references to singing in the Bible!  Fifty times, we are commanded to sing!  The book of Psalms is a book of songs that contains 150 chapters with over 2,400 verses!  Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs matters to God for a variety of reasons.  We obey God when we sing.  We praise God when we sing.  We are edified and strengthened when we sing.  We illuminate the scriptures and spread the Gospel when we sing.  All of this happens when the choir sings!

 

I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”

—Psalm 9:2

 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. —Colossians 3:16

 

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart… —Eph. 5:18-19

 

When we see the theme, “Uniting Voices to Glorify God”, we see that the choir has identified a most important reason why singing matters to God.  It brings Him glory!  When the choir unites their voices to glorify God, it is so much more impactful.  Unity comes from God’s Spirit as we follow Jesus. In John 17, Jesus prayed for the unity of believers so that the world would know that God sent him into the world as his Son.  We want to be united so that our praise can bring glory to God.  Unity is a process through which the world learns of Jesus. At the same time, we glorify the Father who sent Jesus to save us. Leading others to Jesus and glorifying God — what better goal is there for a choir than this?  Romans 15:6 says “…so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Praise God today for a mass choir whose members have devoted themselves to fulfill their ministry mission.  Glory to God!  Amen!

 


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” The Law and The Gospel”

Many people read the Bible a bit selfishly…as if it were fundamentally all about us: our improvement, our life, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a disconnected series of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply them. We read it as if it were a heaven-sent self-help manual including a divinely delivered “do not do” list. But by reading the Bible this way, we risk missing the whole point. Unless we stay focused on Jesus, even devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own self-absorbed self-improvement plans. God’s goal in speaking to us in the Bible is profound. We can say that all of God’s Word comes to us lined up under two key Words:  the Law and the Gospel.

 

The Law is given because we need to be reminded that there is something to be forgiven even when we are doing our best works and during our proudest achievements. The Gospel comes to tell us of God’s grace which says again and again that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

 

     The Law is God’s word of demand, and the gospel is God’s word of deliverance. The Law tells us what to do, while the Gospel tells us what God has done. The law can crush us, but not cure us. The Law can kill us, but not make us alive. The Law can defeat us, but not deliver us. The Law illuminates sin, but is powerless to eliminate sin. The Law points to righteousness, but can’t produce it. Nobody can live up to the Law, and nothing but the grace of God can take away our sin.” The Law is God’s first word, but the Gospel is God’s final word. The Law forces us to face our sin, but only the Gospel can forgive us our sin. The Law accuses us, while the Gospel acquits us. The Law exposes, but only the Gospel exonerates. The Law may curtail bad behavior, but only Grace can transform the heart of the behaver.

What if we keep the Ten Commandments, though? A low view of the Law makes us think that its standards are attainable, its goals reachable, its demands doable. A high view of the Law, however, demolishes all such confidence.  Only an inflexible picture of what God demands reveals the depth of our ongoing need for the Gospel.
     Only when we see that the way of God’s law is absolutely inflexible will we see that God’s grace is absolutely indispensable. A high view of the Law reminds us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s perfection, not our progress. A high view of the Law produces a high view of Grace. A low view of the law produces a low view of grace. God’s good Law reveals our desperation; God’s good Gospel reveals our deliverer. If “Law” was the final word of God– if the Bible were basically a book of instructions– we would be doomed. Jesus announced that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, and He did. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His Grace. The overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the works of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The primary message of the Bible is this: The law-maker became the law-keeper and died for me, the law-breaker!  Glory to God!   (adapted from CT Online)

 


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“Keep Hope Alive”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. —Romans 15:13 (NIV)

A very well-known journalist is hosting a special documentary on the justice system in America.  A trailer around the show highlighted an inmate’s comments on his perspective as to why the justice system needs reform.  He didn’t talk about the unfairness of any punishment, or racial disparity amongst the imprisoned.  He spoke about hope.  He made a simple statement about how powerful hope is and how damaging it is to have no hope.  “Hope is everything,” he said.  And it really resonated with me.
 
Prophetess Smith hosted bible study the other week and she focused that Tuesday night’s teaching on “hope”.  Hope is defined as a confident expectation of something that is to come.  We reviewed a number of scriptures that reinforced the significance of hope in the lives of Christians!  And we discussed how hope and faith work hand in hand.  Faith is “now” while hope is involved with the future. 

 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. —Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

In these days and times, we hear and see a lot in the news that challenges our hope (and faith).  Some dreadful things happen when hope fades away.  When contentment gives way to disappointment and discouragement, marriages fail, families break down, companies fold, communities suffer, and people give up.  As a nation, hope is vital.  As Christians, hope is vital.  Hope fuels our dreams for the future—here on earth and for our eternal state. So I must encourage you to maintain your hope! 

 

History reveals how powerful hope has been in transforming nations.  It’s more than just optimistic thinking.  Hope is a very powerful force when anchored in God and unleashed in the life of a believer!  When discouragement is turned into hope, the impossible becomes possible.  Defeat turns into victory.  Despair and fear fade away.  So search the scriptures about hope and get anchored!

 

A college classmate of mine usually ends every conversation with this declaration: “Keep hope alive!”  So, I’m going to take a page from his book today and tell you this very same thing:  KEEP HOPE ALIVE!

 


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“Happy 10th Anniversary”

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. —Matthew 16:18b (NIV)

It was during the week leading up to Sunday, August 30, 2009, that Pastor Smith led us into the new church building.  Those of us who were here during that time should recall the zeal and excitement we felt.  God had favored our pastor and our congregation.  Since that time, God has continued to show us favor.  He has continued to sustain us.  He has continued to bless our congregation in many ways, starting with our pastor!  Praise God!

 
As it should be with any church building, this building is just a part of the vision God gave for our local church family of believers.  Prophetess Smith has shared with us on a number of occasions how the vision for our church includes ministering to the total man.  Where are we on this? 

All around us there are people who are hurting and defeated. There are people who are discouraged, sad, lonely and depressed. These people will continue to live this way until we demonstrate to them a much better way.  We must show them the hope of life in Christ Jesus!  It is for those who are still lost and in need of a Savior that we have to find continued zeal for ministry.  And that’s why the Pastor’s vision is about more than a building!

 
Where are we on the Pastor’s Vision?  According to Matthew 16, Jesus built a church upon a rock that would withstand “the gates of Hades”!  That sounds like a pretty strong church!  You see…in addition to reaching the lost, a strong church will weather the storms of the day and serve as protection, shelter, and a place of refreshing for its members.  A strong church will build the people up, so much so that when others come into the people’s presence they should feel the love, acceptance, strength and security of the God we serve.

 

Our prayer today must be one of thanksgiving, for God has surely done a marvelous thing in the building and sustainment of our church.  Let this day also include a call to continue the work of the ministry.  Let us all do our part in helping this church to fulfill the vision of ministering to the Total Man.  Ask your ministry leader how you can help?  And if you are not actively involved in a ministry here, that should be your next step. 

 


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“The Most Important Person on Earth”

Who is the most important person on earth?  There are many important people on this earth—some with power and authority and personal influence that makes them come to mind as soon as the question is asked.  When you need provision, perhaps the richest man on earth comes to mind.  When you need a healing, perhaps the most talented and skilled physician comes to mind.  The first answer to that question for most of us depends on our greatest human need at a given point in time.  However, for the Christian, there is only one answer that makes sense.  The most important person on earth is the Holy Spirit! 

Many of us are familiar with the idea of the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but we sometimes forget that Holy Spirit is a person.  Taking nothing away at all from God the Father or God the Son, God the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity at work on this earth in the lives of believers—helping, leading, guiding, and empowering us.  God is a triune being, and the three persons of the Trinity are unified, yet unique…three persons with three distinct personalities that each pklay a vital role in our redemption.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38 KJV)

We know this to be so, but do we understand what the Holy Spirit does?  Here are some work the Holy Spirit does here on earth in the lives of believers:

1.)  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.  When we first come to Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to recognize our need for a Savior.  It is the Holy Spirit that continues to helps us recognize sin. | When [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8 ESV)

 

2.)  The Holy Spirit guides us.  The Holy Spirit helps us to understand the scriptures and to recognize what is truth and what is not, and also what is sin and error to help us navigate around it. | But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13 KJV)

 

3.)  The Holy Spirit fills us.  The Holy spirit fills us and empowers us to do the work God has purposed us to do. | “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52 NIV)

 

4.)  The Holy Spirit works through us, bearing fruit.  The Holy Spirit constantly helps us to bear the fruit of the Spirit throughout our lives. | But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no


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“You Are the Church”

…On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  —Matthew 16:18b

It has been thousands of years since the church was first established, and directions have been given in the scriptures regarding various

aspects of the church as the body of Christ, the people of God, and the Bride of Christ.  Even with all of this, we can sometimes get confused about what a local church actually is.  So, let’s take a moment to

consider these interesting thoughts about church:

  • Church is not a building, though this lovely building can house a church and its ministries.
  • Church is not a denomination, yet a set of beliefs is important to our church.
  • Church is not about Sunday, still we should not forsake meeting together.
  • Church is not about one person or personality, however we recognize that our pastor is a gift to our church.
  • Church is not about size or growth, though we are all called to make disciples.

As such, we must not focus too much on the address or location of our church, but think about the church as something dynamic and mobile.

  • Don’t think of the church as something built to stand in one place, but think of it as something established to be sent.
  • Don’t think of the church as where you go a few hours each week, but rather what you are every day of the week. Because the church is the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  Feet shouldn’t sit still.  Hands shouldn’t be idle.  Feet go.  Hands do.
  • Don’t think of the church as something you’re sitting through right now, because…

YOU are the church.  Now GO, and BE the church, then DO what the church was established to do in the Great Commission:  spread the Gospel and make disciples.  (Matt. 28:16-20)

 


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“5 ways to build up God’s Kingdom”

The Great Commission is the call for disciples to make other disciples:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:19-20 

As Christian disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to help in building up the Kingdom of God. We all intend to do it, but often talk ourselves out of it with a variety of excuses.  The number one excuse is that we don’t have time.  Another excuse is that we just don’t know how to really go about doing it.  Evangelizing is bringing others to Christ.  It is not the same as making disciples, but it is an important first step.  See, a person can be saved by God‟s grace without becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. Discipleship means you are personally dedicated to the life to Jesus Christ.  That’s why The Great Commission requires two actions:  1.) baptizing them…, and 2.) teaching them… 

Here are the 5 areas where you can get to work fulfilling the Great Commission:

  1.  In Your Own Life: Strive to set a holy example to your family and friends. People notice whether are not you walk the walk of a Christian disciple. Check whether or not you line up personally with the scriptures.  Start with the 10 Commandments.  Assess how the fruit of the spirit shows up in your life.  Do you have a prayer life?  Do you study the scriptures?  People are watching.
  2.  In Your Home: Who are you at home? Does your family see you living up to the standards of a Christian Disciple?  Whether you are a child or a parent, your family should see you setting the example, and demonstrating Christian values in our home.
  3.  At Your Job: I recall a soldier walking up to me while serving in the Persian Gulf, and he told me he noticed that I was straight-laced and figured I was a Christian. I had never had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with this solider about religion or faith, but his comment made me realize that people at work, even in a wartime environment, notice your behavior and pick up on whether or not you demonstrate Christian values.  Your, customers, clients, co-workers, and supervisors should be able to see light of Christ shining in you!  And when given the opportunity, that measure of credibility will make it even easier to do deliberate kingdom building.
  4.  In Your Community: We often talk about outreach, and undertake annual projects around the holidays. These are important opportunities to do kingdom building in the community.  It is so important to consider that there are probably people living within a mile of our church who have needs the church can address.  Do they know we are here to help?  Do they see us reaching out beyond our church walls?  More importantly, has God laid on your heart any idea or project that could help where you talked yourself out of speaking up because it seemed like too much to handle?  Giving to a charity, participating in outreach, or hosting your own project are all great ways to do your part in some kingdom building. 
  5.  At Your Church: Every member of our church has at least one gift. Everybody here should be serving here at church in some capacity.  We have a variety of ministries where every member should be able to find a place to help in the church’s efforts at kingdom building.  We should all be doing our part to fulfill the Great Commission.  Remember that the Great Commission requires us to baptize believers and teach them to become disciples.  We must be about doing what we’ve been called to do. 

 


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“Prayer Still Works”

Storms come in all shapes and sizes.  They can be personal, like health crises, financial burdens, or relationship problems.  They can involve public interests, like politics and social issues.  Storms are looming all around us, and these days, its no surprise to feel overwhelmed by all that is going on.  It seems that there is no area of life unaffected by some negative force,  Some are even considering that the godless condition of our nation adds to that storm to create a feeling of hopelessness.  What, then, can we do? 

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people…” — 1 Tim 2:1 (NIV)

In 1 Timothy 2:1-8, Paul set some priorities for the church when he gave Timothy directions regarding prayer.  Prayer would make a difference in the early church, for the nation, and in the lives of the people.

As the terrible weather forecast is playing out in real time in Louisiana, I found myself thinking back to a time many years ago when I was caught driving on the interstate in extremely high winds and extremely low visibility. I had slowed down from 60 mph to about 20mph.  Suddenly, I could barely see anything but leaves and debris hitting the windshield.  It felt like a tornado was coming down on top of us.  I glanced over at my son riding in the passenger seat, and his eyes were closed, his hands were clinched together, and he was praying.  A few more seconds, and the wind calmed down enough for me to be able to see the cars all around ours.  It was somewhat of a miracle that we hadn’t been hit!  I often think about that time, and how it reminded me of the power of prayer.  Prayer is useful in every situation.  No matter what, prayer still works!

All throughout scripture, we can find evidence of the power of prayer.  It’s not that there is a magical formula to prayer that forces God to answer in the way we demand.  The power in prayer comes from the measure of faith we have when we approach God, matched with the right motives and a humble attitude.  There is power in corporate and individual prayer!  When what we seek from God lines up with his word, and when we truly believe that we can have what we ask, our prayer has power.  In reality, any power in prayer is directly related to the power of God who can do anything and everything as he so chooses. 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.—Heb. 4:16 (NIV)

As long as we live, we will continue to face storms.  The important thing is to face them with confidence that God is with us…to help us in our time of need.  No matter the circumstances…when all else fails…prayer still works! 

 


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“God Said So!”

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” –Hebrews 13:5b-6

We say we have faith. We say we trust in God.  Yet we have fear.  Fear of what man can do to us.  Fear that our boss will terminate us from our job.  Fear that the bill collector will take our house.  Fear that the crook will steal our property.  Fear that the judge will rule against us.  Fear.  But we say we have faith, and that we trust in God.  What then can we do in these instances when we find ourselves giving in to fearfulness?  We can remember the point of these verses from Hebrews 13:  The Lord is with us!  God said so!

In Psalm 118, David gives a similar declaration in verses 5, 6 and 7: 

“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.”

At times, when fear begins to overwhelm us, we can lose sight of this fact. But the scriptures are here to remind us of God’s attributes—one of which is that He will never leave nor forsake us.  The scriptures remind us that we need not fear any man.  The next time you find yourself in a situation where you begin to feel fear rising up inside of you, take it as a nudge to pray to God as David did and seek the scriptures for reassurance of this comforting truth:  No matter what man tries to do, if you are a born-again believer, God has got your back.  No matter what the circumstances say, trust God.  No matter how bleak things look, trust God.  Even if things don’t go your way, trust God.  No matter what, trust God. 

At the end of the story, when our time on this earth has passed, no matter what man may or may not have done to us whilst we were on this earth, God will still grant us the eternal life He has promised to all who accept the gift of salvation.  So, do not worry about mere mortal men.  Live with confidence knowing God will never leave nor forsake us. Remember, God said so.

 


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“An important role in the process of worship.”

Ushers & greeters play an important role in the process of worship in the house of the Lord . These gatekeepers and doorkeepers originated from amongst the Levites.  In 2 Chronicles 8:14 and 23:18-19, you can find a reference to the role of ushers as gatekeepers. 

Old Testament ushers were the overseers that David had assigned for service at the gates in the Lord’s temple. Some of their duties as keepers of the temple gates are well known, such as literally being in charge of who gets to enter in and handling disruptions.  Other duties are less known, like going in before high-ranking people to clear the way and literally striking down those who went beyond their rightful place in the temple. Ushers in scripture had many duties, and they sometimes had to wield weapons to carry them out.  It was the ushers’ responsibility to make certain proper reverence was used in worship of the Lord upon entering the temple. Can you imagine one of our ushers brandishing a sword as you tried to enter the sanctuary unprepared for worship?

David and Nehemiah relied on the Levites as gatekeepers to serve the Lord in all of their many duties, much like our Pastor relies on the ushers and greeters today.  Ushers today still have a hefty task of helping the worship leaders set the atmosphere for worship and to carry out certain other responsibilities. (Just watch them in action today.) Although the various duties have changed somewhat, the essence is still the same.  Worshippers arrive at church in all sorts of conditions.  I, myself, am guilty of arriving at church in a rush—all busy and unfocused—and it takes me a few minutes to shift my mindset off of my tasks and into worship.  But we should all think about the usher’s role in our church and also about how we hinder or help them in the discharge of their duties. 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds — Hebrews 10:23-24

God’s Word tells us to “spur one another on”.  When we approach the Lord’s house ready to worship God, we help make the Usher’s job a bit easier.  More importantly, we glorify God when we approach His presence with a healthy reverence and ready for worship.  Let us encourage our ushers and greeters, as God-ordained servants, to continue serving the Lord.  God will get the glory when we do.

 


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“Gratitude for our Fathers”

“For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen. 18:19 NIV)

Father Abraham…I recall singing a song as a child about this great father of many nations.  The blessings on this man of great faith can be ours as heirs to the promises of God.  This scripture speaks to us today, especially the fathers. 

From Genesis and the time of Adam, God has given men great responsibilities.  Fatherhood is one of them.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, we all have certain rights and obligations.  But it is men, especially fathers, who God chose and gave the responsibility to “direct his children and his household”.  God expects godly fathers to direct them in the ways of the Lord.  And there is a blessing for fathers who fulfill their responsibilities.

Fathers, along with their mothers, have a role in making sure that what goes on in their home honors God.  It begins with their decision to serve the Lord.  Joshua understood all too well that he had a great responsibility as the father and head of his household.  He didn’t try to pressure people outside of his house, but he was clear that his entire household, which included his wife and children and all of his servants, had to serve the Lord.

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15b NIV)

As we learned from Genesis 18, a good father who directs his household well will enjoy the promises of God.  So, fathers, be encouraged.  Becoming a father is easier than being a father.  Did you catch that?  Becoming a father is easier than BEING a father.  Fathers have all sorts of concerns!  They have to provide and protect and guide and lead.  The father’s job is difficult.  But God’s Word is full of promises that should give fathers wisdom and strength for their great responsibility. 

To all of the fathers, we acknowledge your hard work and your desire to lead your children in the right way.  We appreciate you for the roles you play in our families and in our church.  We love you and we are praying for you.  Happy Father’s Day!

 


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“What is Pentecost Sunday?”

Question: “What is Pentecost Sunday?”

Excerpt from Gotquestions.org

Answer: Pentecost Sunday is a commemoration and celebration of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the early church. John the Baptist prophesied of the first Pentecost when Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). Jesus confirmed this prophecy with the promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in John 14:26. He showed Himself to these men after His death on the cross and His resurrection, giving convincing proofs that He was alive. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit, from whom they would receive power to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:3-8). After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the men returned to Jerusalem and joined together in prayer in an upper room. On the Day of Pentecost, just as promised, the sound of a violent wind filled the house and tongues of fire came to rest on each of them and all were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were given the power of communication, which Peter used to begin the ministry for which Jesus had prepared him. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples did not stay in the room basking in God’s glory but burst out to tell the world. This was the beginning of the church as we know it.

Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this service, John 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4. It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39).


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“Do you truly believe”

Easter was just a little over a month ago.  We celebrated our risen Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Those of us who have professed a hope in Christ agree that we BELIEVE!  We believe that God sent his son, Jesus, to die a substitutionary death for our sins.  We believe that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.  We believe that he rose on the third day with all power in his hand.  We believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life.  We believe that our salvation and eternity depends on our faith in Jesus Christ.  We truly believe. 

Or do we?

Our lives were changed once we believed.  The old things we used to do, we don’t do anymore.  Sure, we struggled for a moment with temptation (and still do sometimes), but our new nature won over the old sinful nature, and we began to mature in Christ.  But, if that is true, and we truly believe, why does our faith in God stop short of what we seek Him for in our daily lives?  Why do we believe in such an ancient and miraculous event as the resurrection, but falter on things we need today?  Perhaps it is a matter of faith.

We start out with a measure of faith, as Paul suggests in Romans 12:3.  But when the issues we face are seemingly too hard to imagine in our human minds, we begin to waver.  How, then do we grow this measure of faith into that strong, unwavering faith?  There are at least four things we can do:

1.) We can HEAR God’s Word.  If “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17), then we need to hear God’s Word.  I remember getting a call from a good friend at the sudden passing of her young husband.  She said she called, because she wanted to talk to someone who would “speak life” to her.  You cannot listen to all the naysayers and grow your faith!  You have to hear those promises in God’s Word that will encourage you!

2.) We can CHOOSE to believe God’s Word.  Sounds silly, perhaps, but just like we can choose to forgive, or to trust, or to love, we can choose to believe.  Finding a promise of God to stand on can help us with this.  There’s an old song, “God said it. I believe it” which reminds us to make the choice to believe every time doubt tries to creep in.  And every time you make that choice, your faith grows!

3.) We can TAKE HOLD of God’s Word.  This is a deliberate decision to keep our focus on God’s promises, no matter what the situation looks like.  It’s not easy, but it’s crucial to growing our faith.  “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10:23). 

4.) We can ACT on God’s Word.   We know that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), but it is even harder to act out what we hear, choose, and take hold of.  But if we want that strong unwavering faith, it’s what must happen.  “Unwavering faith is to count those things that be not as though they are, (Rom.4:17; Mark 11:22-24). 

There is no need for us as believers to be trapped in fear, weakness, poverty, or despair during any situation. We must grow our faith.  We must truly believe!

 


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“A Message to Our Graduates on Choosing Wisely”

Graduation is a busy time.  After years of making choices about everything to get to this point, you spend time finishing up studies, and fulfilling all of the requirements for graduation!  Before you know it, the time comes to move to the next phase of life.  Whether it is going off to college or pursuing a career dream, every graduate is faced with choices—before, during, and after.  Making choices never ends.

One choice, though, is very important to every Christian graduate. 

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” —Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

I once read a story about a young Christian who went off to college.  After spending his whole upbringing seated every Sunday morning in church with his parents, he had decided to exercise his newfound freedom of choice.  He was out on his own and away from home.  He and his college roommate had decided to spend their first Sunday morning in the park—just hanging out with friends and having fun.  On his way to the park, he heard a church bell ringing the start of the morning service.  He tried to ignore it, but that nagging voice would not leave him alone. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” –Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)

Without much more thought, the young Christian suggested to his friend that they stop by a church– just to see what it was like– and, then, head on to the park.  They did, and both continued serving the Lord throughout college and even afterwards.

As Joshua said to the Israelites, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Every one of us must make that decision.  Nobody can make it for you, and you can’t make it for anybody else.  Sometimes the decision isn’t easy.  Because of our sinful nature, we all get tempted to do our own thing.  So, it really comes down to this: Do you really want to serve the Lord?  If you do, then God will give you that resolve.   When the Lord came to Moses and spoke to him through the burning bush, Moses basically said, “I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say. I stumble over my words.”  But later in Exodus we see him facing off with the most powerful man on the face of the earth at that time. That is because God gave him the strength. 

In this same way, God will give you the strength to do what you need to do to serve the Lord and to live a life pleasing to Him.  It won’t be too hard, and you will find that you still have time to do things outside of church.  As we recognize our graduates, let us also urge every one of them to make a good choice to be completely committed to Jesus.

 


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“Psalm 39: Put Your Hope in the Lord”

I said, “I will watch my ways
    and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
    while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent,
    not even saying anything good.
But my anguish increased;
    my heart grew hot within me.
While I meditated, the fire burned;
    then I spoke with my tongue:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    My hope is in you.
Save me from all my transgressions;
    do not make me the scorn of fools.
I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
    for you are the one who has done this.
Remove your scourge from me;
    I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,
    you consume their wealth like a moth—
    surely everyone is but a breath.

“Hear my prayer, Lord,
    listen to my cry for help;
    do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
    a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
    before I depart and am no more.”

 


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“God’s Motherly Love”

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” — Is. 66:13

 Mother’s Day is a man-made holiday, but mothers are part of God’s design for the family.  But why?  God is intentional.  Everything he does is deliberate and with a long-range, inside and out view of each of our individual lives.  Nothing that God does is accidental or coincidental. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28

God was intentional when He created mothers.  God even had Mary, the mother of Jesus, present at his crucifixion.  Perhaps it was so we would see the tenderness of God’s love even while His Son was dying on the cross.  God had a plan to redeem the soul of man.  And in that process, God imparted principles that work right alongside the Gospel message —principles around hope and love.  In His intentional way, we can see God’s motherly love for us.

During Israel’s exile and the overwhelming feeling of despair, God had to remind them that He had not forsaken them.  God used the example of a mother to let Israel know He had not forgotten them!  God, who we know as “Our Father”, uses the imagery of labor and childbirth, a mother nursing a child, and a child being comforted by a mother all throughout Isaiah 66 to bring out the concept of hope.  A disobedient nation could have hope because God, our Father, also has the capacity to exhibit what we understand as motherly love.

Mothers are as different as each of our unique personalities suggest.  Some are soft and gentle, while others are firm and hard.  Still, there is something about a mother’s love.  It’s almost indescribable!  We honor our mothers today, not only because God’s Word tells us to do so, but also because we recognize the many unselfish and sacrificial ways that mothers have poured into our lives.  We are grateful to God for our mothers.  And we are grateful to God for His motherly love!

 


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“Living with Eternity in Mind”

I’ve been to several visitations and funerals over the past 7 days, and I found myself thinking about the very different ages and stages and stories of each person’s life.  While their life stories were very different, every one of these precious people had professed a hope in Christ.  At some point, each one had made a decision with eternity in mind.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. — 1 Peter 4:7-11

God’s word encourages us to have an eternal perspective—to think beyond the daily routine of our obligations and earthly pleasures and to consider eternity.  Having an appropriate view of eternity should affect how we live, how we handle life’s ups and downs, and how well we prepare for the end that will surely come. 

This could seem sort of dark and sad, however, it is actually appropriate.  It should give us hope.  Christ lived his life with “the end of all things is near” mindset.  He knew he would endure great suffering as part of God’s plan for mankind.  He had a healthy view of eternity. 

None of us knows the day when Christ will return, but we do expect that he will.  None of us knows the exact number of our days either, but those of us who have confessed a hope in Christ expect to go to heaven when we die, and we expect to live eternally.  That is our hope. 

We must live purposeful lives—according to God’s will.  And we must not get overly concerned about the when and the where of Christ’s return, but determine to heed the words from 1 Peter 4 and live our lives with eternity in mind.  No matter what life may bring, love deeply, be hospitable, serve faithfully and graciously…“so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

 


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Trust God

I heard someone say the other day, “If you don’t know it is NFL Draft weekend here in Nashville, you must be living under a rock!”  Yes, the NFL Draft festivities started this past Thursday!  32 teams were selecting athletes from a crowded field of hopefuls!  I did my research and learned that there are about 3,500 eligible players for about 254 spots plus a few free agents.  If you caught any of the draft rounds, you saw the excited athletes surrounded by an entourage of cheering fans and family as their names were called.  For these athletes, the years of hard work, training and preparation, topped off by their performance at the NFL combine, has caught the attention of the decision-makers for at least one of these teams.  With all of the fanfare, even with those who give God praise and thanks for being drafted, there are over 3,000 athletes who don’t get chosen.  What about them?  And what about those aging out of the NFL at the ripe old age of 30?  Both of these groups are impacted right in the midst of the excitement of this draft weekend. 

For the undrafted, they ask “What now?”  For those aging out, they also ask “What now?”  Fortunately, the answer is the same for all:  “Trust God!”  Or as the scripture so eloquently teaches, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

There are times when we have to face the truth of whether or not we truly trust God.  This applies to everyone involved and affected by the NFL Draft Weekend events.  It applies to all of us, too!  We all can probably recall a pivotal moment in our lives where we had a similar draft weekend-like experience, and our faith was tested.  Maybe it was receiving an admissions letter from a college…or a denial letter.  Perhaps it was an audition, or a job interview, or a promotion—and whether or not we got what we were going for made all the difference to us.  In moments of great joy and in moments of uncertainty and insecurity, we are called to trust God…either way. 

Some of us are in the midst of our Draft Weekend-like experience, and we are waiting for our names to be called.  Some of us see it coming in the near future, and our faith will be tested.  Whichever it is for you, and  whichever way it works out, remember this one important lesson:  Trust God.  No matter what it looks like in the moment, trust God.

 


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Let Your “Hosannas” Ring True!

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” –Matthew 21:9 (NIV)

Today is Palm Sunday—a significant day for the Christian in this the season of Bright Sadness where we mourn and celebrate all at the same time. On this day, scriptures tell us the Prince of Peace triumphantly entered Jerusalem, the “City of Peace”, as the crowd of people lined the roads and cheered, “Hosanna!” meaning, “Save!” Ironically, these were some of the same people who days later would cry “Crucify him!” 

But even then, Jesus had foretold of his own suffering and death.  While the crowd was crying for him to save them from the Romans (Acts 1:6), Jesus had entered the city to save them from something even more significant—eternal death. Jesus knew he would soon have to endure great suffering and shame to save all of mankind.

Can you imagine the confusion that followed the first Palm Sunday?  Towards the end of this same week, the joyous cries would give way to fear and doubt. The disciples—those who had followed Jesus and sat under his teachings—would fall asleep on him, betray him, deny him, run away in fear, fall into despair, and essentially fail…at first. Can you imagine what it was like for them during this next week’s events over 2000 years ago? (As Jesus’ disciples today, we should put ourselves in their shoes and think about this for a moment.) When Jesus was crucified, the people had no idea of Easter back then. The disciples watched Jesus, their king and savior, be arrested and whipped and humiliated and crucified. What hope of resurrection did they have then? It hadn’t happened yet!

We, however, have the good fortune of hindsight.  Because of the scriptures, we can see the happenings of Palm Sunday in a more meaningful light. We can think about the events of this next week already knowing about the resurrection—not only that Jesus died, but also why he died and that we are the reason. Our cries of Hosanna today are because we know Jesus to be a savior! So as we enter into Holy Week, let us praise God for who he is and for what he did in sending his son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for our sins. Let us honor Jesus as the one who saves!

As disciples of Christ who really get what this whole Easter season represents, let our “Hosannas” ring true!

Hosanna!  Hosanna!!  Hosanna!!! 

 


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A message for the Youth – “Trees of Righteousness Planted by the Lord”

A seed is an interesting creation of God’s.  It is wildly amazing when you compare the size of a seed to the plant or tree that grows from it.  And that’s how we tend to think about our children!  The youth in our church are seeds in one sense of the word, where we guide, nourish, and encourage them to reach their full potential.  They are also striving to be the seeds in the sense that their ministry theme declares: spiritually enlightened and empowered disciples—SEEDS.  (See the front of this program.)  We give the Youth Ministry members opportunities to participate in the Sunday services.  We support their ministry efforts and their development.  We want our S.E.E.D.s to become full-grown “Trees of Righteousness”, and they must pursue it!

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers” (Ps. 1:1-3).  

Righteousness is “the state of moral perfection required by God to enter into heaven”. The Bible tells us that we can never be righteous apart from God.  We must rely on God.  We must trust in the Lord to help us strive for this perfection.  Nobody’s perfect—our children aren’t and neither are we!

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8).

We are well aware that trials and tribulations will come.  Our youth are not immune to their own share of trials and tribulations.  We would do well to remind them of who they and whose they are.  We would do well to keep these S.E.E.D.s firmly planted in the rich soil of God’s Word, watered by the Lord, and basking in the warmth of the Son.  When our young people are tested, we all need to remember what is declared over them:  They are SEEDs destined to grow into trees of righteousness planted by the Lord.  (And a tree planted by the Lord is not easily moved!) 

Youth:  It won’t always be easy, but keep your trust in God, pursue righteousness as you grow up, and let your lives bring glory to God!  We are praying for every one of you!

 


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“Only One Way”

What would you think of a doctor who, instead of telling you the truth, told you what you wanted to hear?  “Oh, I see you’ve gained a little more weight.  Even though belly bulge is a risk factor for heart disease, you will probably be alright.  You seem as healthy as an ox otherwise.”  And if believing that doctor’s softened diagnosis, you suddenly dropped dead, what would you think then? 

Most of us would prefer the hard truth in a situation like that.  “C’mon, doctor.  Give it to me straight.  What’s going on with me?  What do I need to do?”  But when it comes to the Gospel, some of us prefer to share a watered down version that is easier for the unchurched to accept.  But like the doctor, when we don’t tell the whole hard truth, people will miss the fact that they are in danger of dying without the promise of eternal life.

And so the doctor tells you that if you don’t drop 50 pounds and change some of your lifestyle habits, you are most assuredly going to have a heart attack or a stroke.  You could even die.  You listen to the hard truth and strive to make the changes necessary so you might live. 

How would you feel if you had to complete a very difficult task, but someone told you there’s a shortcut that will save you time and effort?  How would you feel when you found out that the shortcut, while a much easier way, actually places you on a path to nowhere?  So, imagine how disappointing it will be to those with which we share the Gospel when they discover we gave them a shortcut to salvation that doesn’t actually save them!

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

The hard truth of the Gospel—the one way to God—is extremely important to share with the unchurched.  Every one of us has to understand how wretched and lost we are without Jesus as our Savior.  We must resist the urge to try and soften the truth to make it easier to hear.  We must not try to create a shortcut to God just to make it easier for people.  It won’t work. 

Springtime is here!  As the Easter season quickly approaches, remember there is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus!  Share this truth and help someone come to Christ today. 

 


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“The High Cost of Forgiveness”

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. –Eph. 1:7

Like most mothers, I think my children are “the world’s greatest, bestest, most well-behaved, precious, loving, and all things good in the earth” children in the whole wide world.  Even still, because nobody’s perfect (ha!), I had to try to teach each of them a very important lesson around relationships, trust, offenses, and forgiveness.  See, I believe that the art of forgiveness is a value that can be taught.  When it is based on the scriptures, it makes it easier to learn, especially when we are a family of believers.  Nevertheless, there is a vital difference between us and God.  While God’s word teaches us that God will forgive us when we repent and ask for it, humans are not always that easily receptive to an apology.  So I wanted my children to understand this difference when it comes to human relationships.  Once you offend a person, all you can do is try to make reparations and ask them to forgive you.  You can’t make them forgive you.  While I also teach them that it is right for us to forgive, we all have a free will.  You can’t make people forgive you and you can’t make them reconcile.  It is in these moments when people can begin to seriously consider the high cost of forgiveness. 

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 6:23

Forgiveness is essentially covering someone else’s debt.  Forgiveness is not making an excuse for the offense or pretending it didn’t happen.  Our all-knowing, all-seeing God doesn’t do that either.  God made a way for our sins to be forgiven.  God made a way for our sins to be covered by the blood of Jesus!  Man broke God’s heart when we chose to sin against him, and his forgiveness definitely came at a high cost!  It cost Jesus Christ his life!

When we think about our sin, and how God sent his only Son to be the sacrifice to make a way for us to be forgiven, it is very important that we think long and hard about it.  Around Easter, we are able to take the time to think about the agonizingly cruel death Jesus suffered on the cross.  Most of the time, though, we tend to gloss over it without dwelling on how awfully gruesome crucifixion actually was.  And Jesus was innocent.  That makes it worse, doesn’t it?  Yes, forgiveness comes at a high cost!

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

–Luke 11:4

Praise God for his Son, Jesus Christ!  I am so grateful that God is not like us humans!  I praise God because of his lovingkindness and his grace and his mercy!  God sent his Son to save us from our sins, and it comes at a high cost.  Remember that.

 


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“Never Stop Praying”

Never stop praying.  —1 Thessalonians 5:17

Yes, that is essentially what that verses says.  Other translations say “pray continually” or “pray without ceasing”.  The point is the same…never stop praying! 

Now that probably seems like an obvious command.  Then again, when you try to actually do it, you begin to think it’s an impossible command.  Why would God lay out such a seemingly impossible directive for his children…for us to keep our heads bowed and eyes closed all day long?  Well, that’s not what the scripture means.  (I know you knew that!)  It means that we are to resort to prayer as our first and last activity of the day, our primary ongoing response to every situation, and a consistent part of our regular routine throughout the day and night.  With this in mind, we are actually able to follow the command as God designed.

“Never stop praying” means we should have an awareness of God’s power and sovereignty all of the time.  We must become so keenly in tune with how actively God is involved in our lives that we immediately turn to him in prayer for all of our issues and concerns.  Essentially, the minute we encounter issues, we automatically go to God in prayer. 

But it’s not just about going to God only when we have problems.  It’s also about having that ongoing relationship with God before, during, and after a problem.  We’ve previously established that prayer is communicating with God.  We’ve established that prayer is indicative of our relationship with God.  We’ve established that prayer is important for many reasons, including whether or not we are relying on God as opposed to ourselves.  Prayer is key to our Christian walk.  It’s for our good! 

If you already know this, then check yourself against the ideal.  Do you pray without ceasing?  If not, why not?

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul commands us to depend on God and to commune with God through prayer—non-stop.  So…NEVER STOP PRAYING!

 


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“What happens when we look back?”

As I sat down to write today’s meditation, one question kept demanding to be answered:  What is the real purpose behind our looking back at our history?  Over the years, I have known there is no good reason not to look back, but I needed to answer this question clearly so that the deeper significance of our annual activities would come to light.

 

There are several things that happen when we look back at our history:  1.  We reflect on how far we have come as a people.

  1. We honor our ancestors who made sacrifices and who accomplished great things that benefit us still today.
  2. We consider where we are today, and with a hopeful heart, we determine to continue striving towards freedom and equality and reward.

 

Interestingly, each of these things has a spiritual benefit.  When we reflect on how far we have come as a people, we must acknowledge God’s presence in our story.  The Gospel truth was never far removed from the cries for freedom in those old days!  When we look back, we can see the bigger picture and better understand God’s plan at work for all of humanity.  When we honor our ancestors for their sacrifices and accomplishments, we have no choice but to also honor God!  We find examples of God’s love, and deliverance, and blessings.  We know that everything we are and everything we have is because of God.  And when we consider where we are today, hope arises in us anew.  We know that all things work together for our good.  Our history teaches us about unity, about faith, and about sacrifice in a way that should help us to better understand the principles of our Christian beliefs. 

 

From the beginning of man, since Satan entered in and had his way, there has been a people bound up in sin in some fashion.  Oppression and all of its ugliness has been a problem for many centuries.  Even today, some ugly situation makes the headlines and a new movement is spawned to take it on.  Some of you will sit here and dwell on the many issues we all face and become overwhelmed.  But let me caution you against that.  We have a future hope that should turn all of the present-day evil on its head.  Hope is the one ingredient we must nurture—in ourselves and in those we have an opportunity to affect.  We must maintain hope.  Hope is the reason we are here today.  Hope is the reason we look forward to tomorrow.  Hope is the reason we keep going.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. —Rom. 15:13  

 


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“Called to Prayer”

As Christians, we have been called to pray.  Prayer is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life. You cannot live the Christian life without prayer, and you cannot live the Christian life well without praying well.  How we pray says something about our relationship with God.  So, to pray well, you must have a good relationship with God.  This means you pray according to scripture, and you do it often. 

 

When you pray, you are actually talking with God.  That sounds simple enough yet many Christians struggle with prayer. Many Christians are not satisfied with their prayer life.  They feel awkward approaching God.  They feel apprehensive praying out loud and with others.  They feel a need to develop a better prayer life.  How do you feel about your prayer life?

 

We have been called to pray, so there are three things about prayer we should all think about:

1.)  Prayer is a privilege.  If prayer is communication with God, then what an awesome privilege it is for us to be able to talk with God…to make our requests  before the creator and ruler of the world and have a reasonable expectation that He hears us and answers us. 

2.)  Prayer is a discipline.  Scriptures tell us things about the importance of prayer, and also how to pray.  As we learn to pray according to Scripture, our prayers can be transformed from a one-way monologue to a two-way dialogue with God. 

3.)  Prayer is a responsibility.  One key reason to pray is because God has commanded us to pray. If we are to be obedient to His will, then prayer must be part of our life in Him. 

 

We pray to God because we can.  It is a vital part of our relationship with him.  We understand it is important, so we must strive to develop a solid prayer life.  We also realize that it’s purpose often extends beyond ourselves. God has called us to prayer. Prayer is a divine privilege, a worthy discipline, and an awesome responsibility.  As Colossians 4:2 commands us, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” 

 

When God calls, we must answer.  God has called us to prayer.  We must respond.

 


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