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Monday, December 1, 2014

An Expression of Divine Unity


Before there was time, there was a Holy Community. The Almighty, the Word, and the Spirit. These three were one and lived in Perfect Holy Unity, just as they do today. So there has always been community. At some point this Sacred Trio chose to incorporate a new creation into their Devine Circle; Holy Angels. These servant companions we created to share in the perfectly unified community of Heaven.

Then, the Godhead held Holy Council and conceived of a plan, a plan so grand all the angels were intrigued with it, but God shrouded it in mystery deep within the Word to be reviled in the distant future of the Divine Drama. This, Paul called “the purpose of the ages,” and was the reason for all temporal creation.

The first clue to this Holy Mystery was revealed in the statement; “Let Us make man in Our own image, in Our very likeness…” Yes, our God chose not only to include mankind in His Sacred Community, but He chose to produce on earth a collective body of people who reflect the unity of the Trinity.

Christ came to create the community, prayed to unify this group, and died so He could be embodied by these people.

He called the disciples to follow Him, gave them new names and a new purpose, He shared with them the greatest gift; Himself. He continually corrected their selfishness and showed them what true community looked like. When His time with them on earth was nearly complete, he prayed:

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one... My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one… My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:11-26 NIV).

 

He left this life with the assurance that the Spirit would fill them, empower them, perfect them, and unify them. As the Spirit moved in God’s chosen community, men and angels stopped and took notice!

Paul said, “God told me to make clear to everyone how the mystery came about. In times past it was kept hidden in the mind of God, who created all things. He wanted the rulers and authorities in the heavenly world to come to know his great wisdom. The church would make it known to them. That was God’s plan from the beginning. He has worked it out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:9-11 NIRV).

God doesn't give us just any place in this community. No! He ties us more closely to Him than we can be with anyone or anything else. He lives in us through His Spirit and we make up who He is in His Son.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:11-16 NIV).

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ… God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:2-7 NIV).

So the Godhead brings about His great, eternal, work; drawing us into Divine Unity. But! There is another force at work, one at work destroying this fellowship ever since God began to reveal it. Our adversary lead Adam and Eve out of perfect unity with God, tried to drive Job from his relationship with God, deceived David, the king of God's Holy people, accused the High Priest Joshua who was appointed to serve in drawing the people closer to God, tempted and attacked the Lord in His work to reestablish mankind’s fellowship with God, and is still driving a wedge between us and the Holy Community.

One way he loves to do this is by setting us at odds with each other. This is why Paul warns us: “Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can stand firm against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing.” (Eph. 6:10-13 NIRV)

But Satan wants us to believe it is a battle against flesh and blood so we fight against our brothers and sisters, our fellow man, instead of him! This is why we should pray for ourselves what Elisha prayed for his servant: And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. – (2 Kings 6:17 NIV).

What better weapon could Satan have than causing us to believe he's not acting when he really is. When we hear about Satan appearing, demons possessing, rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world and the heavenly world we immediately relegate it to Biblical times and in our minds all these have become little more than myths. Meanwhile Satan convinces us that, instead of making up Christ and finding our identity there, we are just sinners saved by grace. This way we accept that, at our best, we are just sinners. The truth is this; we may not be perfect but we are being perfected by God’s Spirit. But Satan would have us focus on our imperfections, or, better yet, the imperfections of others. Now we are back to warring with the very people with whom God wants us united.

When we have the eyes of faith to see where the true battle lies and who the true enemy is, it becomes a simple choice of who we want to be united with: The Godhead or the devil. So which is it? Do you want to share in the perfectly unified community which is older than time? Do you want to take your place in forming the very identity of Christ? Partaking of the divine nature, as Peter calls it? Or do you want to be a play thing in the hands of the adversary? Make your choice. Take a stand. Don’t miss out on fulfilling the greatest mystery of universe, the purpose of the ages, and the plea of God’s Holy Son.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What's your worth?


How much are you worth? What’s your first thought?  I’m priceless? Cynics would say we all have a price. Judas for thirty pieces of silver sold his beliefs and his friend (not to mention savior), Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, politicians sell out for campaign endorsements, and we sell out to peer pressure all the time. But if you had to stop, think about it, and put a price tag on yourself, what is your worth?

I can’t say I ever gave much thought to it until the other day. Here is what shook me up.

“I found him!” Angie told me. She was obviously upset, but I had no idea who “he” was, so I asked. “The guy who gave me AIDS! At least I think it was, because he was there for treatment the same time I was.”

Empathizing is not the difficult part of my job, but sometimes comprehending is. What would it be like A) to know you have a deadly autoimmune disease, and B) to see the person who give it to you? I honestly cannot begin to imagine what is going on in her heart, mind, body, or soul… all I can do is love her, listen to her, and “mourn with those who mourn.”

“The woman at the desk saw that I recognized him. She said ‘he’s been getting treatment for a while.’ But I know him! He knows he has AIDS and what he’s doing, Steven. He buys a different girl every night!!

“I talked to my case worker about it and she said I should report him… it’s a crime. So, pray for me, cause I’m going down to the police office to report him. I’m so scared, but someone has to do it so no one else gets sick by him. Those girls have no idea; they were just like me. They don’t know that for $10 they are being killed… a long, lonely, painful death.”
 
$10… I heard very little after that. $10? All of this, the AIDS, the prostitution… all of it is new to me, but $10?! If it was $100 it wouldn’t make it any less sad and terrible. But you want to believe that someone’s body, life, safety, health, and dignity are worth more than $10.

This really changed things for me, because Angie and I have been talking for a long time. One thing that nearly always comes up is her value. To be honest, it's a conversation I have with every battered man and woman I meet. “Whatever you have been told or made to feel, you have value! I value you, and more importantly, God values you, enough to give His Son for you. You deserve better than the life that you’ve had.” I mean these words, every fiber of my being is committed to this belief and to convincing these precious children of God of this truth… and yet it often seems to fall on deaf ears. The reason for this finally hit me. In her mind, Angie is worth $10.

What would you have to go through to lower your worth to that price? That, my brothers, is the true cost of sin. Satan robs me of my worth and leaves me with the guilt and the pain. But, Christ offers forgiveness, He makes me new, He makes me a joint heir, He exalts me from my humble, miserable state, strengthens my weak knees and helps me to stand.

It may take a long time for Angie to experience that, for her to see herself as a precious, beloved, child of the King, but that is why it’s important for someone to commit himself to giving as much time as it takes. This is why it’s important for her to be greeted with love rather than reproach, with a smile instead of a scowl, a prayer and uplifting word in place of a curse, and the love of Christ instead of the judgment of the self-righteous. It is a tall order for someone who has had the luxury of being sheltered from this world must of his life. But Jesus didn’t turn from the woman caught in adultery, he didn’t reject Levi, or Zacchaeus, the tax collectors just because he had never done the things they did. He connected with them in their suffering. He saw their worth, just as He sees Angie’s.  I can’t take her pain away but I can sit with her in that pain. I can show her the love she shows me, and our Lord shows us both.

 “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4 ESV).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lord of the Harvest


Our God is amazing and he teaches me more of His glory each day. Some lessons, however, are easier to take than others are. In the month of June, we had 13 baptisms! That’s the most we’ve had in any one month this year. The Lord made it clear though, He gave the increase; we just shared in the blessing.
 
Randy looked no older than 18 when he walked through our doors, though he claimed to be older. I knew he’d never been here before, so I asked him to sit and talk with me. He told me, “I don’t want to hear any God talk, I’m not a believer.” So, I offered him what kindness I could, and told him I was still glad to talk to him and asked him to remember me if he changed his mind.
Randy was soon a regular and we talked frequently, but the door to his heart was still closed. Then one day he disappeared. This isn’t unusual, but it saddened me because I’d tried to talk to those around him about God, praying he would take an interest, but now he was out of reach. Oh, how much we convince ourselves we can achieve on our own. A week later, Randy stepped into my office and asked for a Bible. I jumped at the opportunity, but before a word left my mouth, he said, “I don’t want to talk about it. I want to read it on my own.” And read he did.
One week later, Randy stood at my door and asked, timidly, “… do you baptize people here?” You can guess my answer to that question. He was finally ready to talk. “I’m a believer now, and the Bible says believers should be baptized, I’m already working on the repenting part so, I’m ready to be baptized.”
“What changed?” I asked. He said he saw the evil ways people lived and it made him believe there had to be good to counter it. “So I prayed... I didn’t even know where to start, what book, what faith, but that day I saw a cross wherever I looked so I came and got that Bible from here and I just started reading. It was kinda simple from there.”
As I left my office, overjoyed, Margret, another client, was coming to my office. “I’ll be with you as soon as I get back, we’re going to a baptism,” I said. “That’s actually what I came to see you about!”
I could hardly believe my ears. I had to take a moment and thank God for His awesome power. He walked them all the way to the water and just brought me along for the last mile of the way. After the baptisms, we rode back to the ministry, talking about their new church family. Then Margret yelled, “Stop the car! There’s my daughter, I haven’t seen her in ages!”
They spent a little while catching up and then Margret shared Jesus! “Honey I just gave my life to Christ, don’t you think it’s about time you did that?” And she agreed! Sometimes God’s message is as simple and agreeable as “Just be available and I’ll do the rest.” But not all His lessons are that way.
 
Once in a while, a drought follows rain. Satan seemed to block every attempt to bring someone to Christ this July. Some said “tomorrow,” and never showed. Some said, “I know it’s what I need to do but I drank this morning and I want to make sure I’m sober when I do this and that I stay sober this time,” only to show up drunk the next day or disappear. Some even called and said “I’m coming in the morning! Be ready for me,” only to leave me waiting and let their phones ring.
This lesson was hard to swallow, and I wasn’t even sure what the lesson was. Doubt crept in. Maybe I’m not the man for the job, maybe I have forgotten how to show compassion, maybe I should have been harder on them, etc. July 31st came with another failed meeting. Suki had to leave for work as soon as she realized she needed to be baptized. “Meet me early; I really want to be baptized tomorrow before I go to work!” And there I sat in an empty parking lot.
I prayed that the Lord would help me not to be discouraged but to keep my faith in whatever He was doing. Then two women started yelling at each other, “just what I need,” I thought, and stepped out to calm things down. One of the women left and things did calm down.
A few minutes later, Jeannie, the woman who walked out, tapped on my window. “Can you pray with me?” she whispered. When we sat down, she told me that she knew she shouldn’t have yelled but the Lord gave her strength to walk away instead of letting her anger build any further. She said she was really trying to grow in the Lord and I asked if she’d been baptized. She said she wanted to be but needed a church home so that she could really be a part of the church and not just get baptized and walk away. She is now a Christian, in one of our housing programs, and worshiping with us.
 
And what did God teach me? To really wait on Him, and be reminded one more time that this is His work and to see the importance of just one soul.
 “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Cor. 3:7
 
Please consider supporting this apprenticeship or River City Ministry. Feel free to forward this newsletter or share our contact information with them. Thank you and God bless you.
 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

He Left Everything and Followed Him



“I just woke up one day and knew it all had to stop.” Keshon said when I asked what made him give up drug dealing. Coming to Christ, for him, is about more than changing his mind, saying a few words, and getting dunked—it’s a new life at a high cost.

“You can’t just walk away from the drug game—it follows you. I knew I couldn’t live for God and stay in it, so I walked away. That meant no income, no rent money—so no home—but that wasn’t the worst of it. I stayed in the shelters ‘cause I knew I didn’t need to be around my old friends and their bad ways. When I went out looking for work, I got jumped by one of the other dealers and his guys. I told them I was done, I didn’t want any trouble, I just wanted to live for God. They thought I was a snitch, so they beat the tar out of me and told me that if they ever saw me again they would kill me.”

“I went to the hospital and as I was checking in, I saw someone I knew, but I didn’t think anything of it. I guess they made phone calls, ‘cause when I walked out of the ER, the waiting room was full of people who were mad that I left my old life. I sat down so there would be witnesses around, but one of the other dealers told me ‘you gotta walk back at some point.’”

Keshon feels like there is a target on his back wherever he goes now, but he knows what he has to do. “It’s hard to hang on sometimes. I know I can’t turn my back on God, but it is hard when it’s been days since your last meal, you have no money in your pocket, you’re sleeping under a broke-down truck and you know that in a matter of hours you could have several thousand dollars by dealing.”

“I learned something though, every time I’m put to the test, when I’m not sure how much longer I can make it, and I choose trusting God, He comes through. Someone will offer me some food, or a place to sleep, or I get a call, like today, telling me I got a job! It’s not the kinda money I was making, but God is showing me that He’s enough.”

Keshon was even able to help his uncle to leave his old ways and draw closer to God. I haven’t seen Keshon in a month. I pray he’s just busy working, but I don’t know. Sometimes discipleship comes at a greater cost than we would imagine. Levi walked away from his tax booth and left everything to follow Christ. James and John left their father and the family business. Keshon left friends, family, home, wealth, and puts his life on the line every day.

People like Keshon are why I’m at RCM. God’s message changes lives and is making a real difference here in North Little Rock.

In the 11 months of my RCM apprenticeship, I have helped to lead 140 people to be restored and 47 baptized. I look forward to the opportunities that God allows me in the second year of this apprenticeship.
God bless you all.

“After this, Jesus left the house. He saw a tax collector sitting at the tax booth. The man’s name was Levi. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him. Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28).

 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Woman's Worth

We live in a male dominated world. We take a day, like today and "honor" mothers, but I wonder if it only emphasizes the difference in how we treat women every other day of the year. Women have gone from being property to objects, and some days I have trouble seeing the difference.

Women are still sold, just take the awful mass kidnaping that has been on the news for an example. Sex slavery is a real thing, as a matter of fact, there are now more slaves in the world than there were at the height of 1800s. Women are still treated as objects of male fantasy. Women are fed adds representing the image of who every woman "should be." When women don't live up to this image they are ignored, while those who try to become what they see in magazines or on TV are called sluts by the same men who do the fantasizing.

Women are made to feel that if they do not have a career they are "only a mother," as if that was some small and unimportant identity. At the same time, women who do enter the work place are paid less than men doing the same work. Women are viewed as somehow less valuable.

Listen to music or the language boys and men often use and you will find that ladies have been reduced to hoes, sluts, bitches, and whores. Men abuse women sexually, physically, and emotionally and justify and joke about it. Men who refuse to take responsibility for their actions leave women to raise and provide for children on their own and then treat them as lesser beings for being in their situation. Men who stay with their women often act as if they are kings who make all the decisions and cannot be questioned for their actions.

It was not intended to be this way! God did not make men to behave like this, or women to be treated like this. Just take a look at what I mean.

Genesis 2 tells us that God placed man in a beautiful garden, he gave him every tree good for food, beautiful scenery, a source of life everlasting, and a purpose, but something wasn't right.

Everything God created He called good, but then he looked at Adam, alone in the garden and He said "It is not good..." God created man to have a relationship with him, he showered him with blessings, but He saw that for man to be without the woman was "not good."

He said, "I will make the companion he needs, one just right for him." This word translated companion or helper is not best translated this way. It is actually the same word used to describe God over and over in the Old Testament when He is called strong deliverer or savior. God said, man is in a terrible situation, I will make a savior to deliver him from loneliness. But God did not make her right away.

Now, God could have made woman in that moment, but He did not. God does all that He does for a reason. He wanted man to appreciate what he had, so he allowed Adam to come to understand his aloneness and desire deliverance. He brought all the animals before Adam, everything that crawled and everything that flew, but Adam did not find a companion who was right for him. No animal could play the role of savior and deliver Adam form his lonely state. When it says there was no one right for him, the term literally means to stand in front of. There was no one Adam could look at, face to face, eye to eye and share his experience with. No  animal knew what it was to be Adam, when he looked into the eye of the animals and birds, he could see no mirror back into his own soul.

Only when Adam realized this did God act. He caused a deep sleep to come over Adam and He took a rib from Adam's and formed Eve. He did not use one of Adam's toes to form the woman. Had He done this it would suggest that the woman was below the man. He did not use part of Adam's skull to form her either. Had he done this it would suggest that the woman was above the man. No, God took a rib from his side. This was the only one who could stand in front of Adam, an equal, taken from his side.



When God brought her before Adam, he was amazed! In the moment of face-to-face, when he looked into the eyes of his equal, he gained understanding of who he was, he found his identity. He said I am man and she is woman, flesh of my flesh. He used a new word here, the word translated as man, up to this point was Adam, but now he recognizes himself as man because he sees himself and something not himself in the woman, the same, but different.

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness... So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

The image of God was expressed in man and woman. A complete picture. In seeing this, Adam saw himself cast in a different light. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one. (Gen. 2:24). Because the man's identity is not in his heritage, not in his title, not in his inheritance, but in his wife. What a beautiful picture. Relationship according to God's design.

So what ever happened? Sin! The very next chapter tells of the fall and the curse. We know the story, but there is a part of the curse we seem to always forget, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

This was not the plan, this was the result of sin, the curse. This explains why it is so hard to leave the man who mistreats and underappreciates you. The woman's desire is no longer toward her God or toward herself, she no longer finds her identity there, her desire is towards the man, and she does not know who she is without him. This allows the man to rule. But there is hope which comes from the seed of woman!

In Christ all are one! Christ is the true savior of all! He delivers us from sin, from death, and from the curse! Your identity is not in any man, it is in your relationship with God.

The woman was made to complete the representation of God in mankind, to deliver the man from his loneliness, and to experience oneness with man and God. What is a woman's worth? God said that without her the crown of His creation was not good, but together they were very good. That is worthwhile!

Women, take pride in the place God has given you. See yourself for who you are. Understand your identity in light of who your God made you to be, not in light of the way you have been treated by anyone. You were made because man needs you, not because you need to put up with any man mistreating you. 

Men, treat your women right. Be a man! Admit your need and treat women with respect remembering that she was made so that you could have an equal.

Things don't have to be so twisted, we can have the relationship God made us for if we are delivered by His Son and live as He guides us. Christ left everything for His bride and he promises her everything. Take a lesson from him.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Redeeming a Reluctant Spirit

“Praise the Lord… his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate… He provides redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever... holy and awesome is his name.” - Psalm 111

We have a great and powerful God and there is nothing He cannot accomplish. Through wonders, signs, and miracles He brings about His will, and He uses whomever He pleases to accomplish it. God uses servants with willing spirits, like Abraham, Joshua, Samuel, and Isaiah. Men who were ready to answer God’s call whenever it came. But what about those with reluctant spirits? What can God really do with them? What does God even want with them? Remember back in Psalm 111:9 when the psalmist said God “provides redemption for His people”? This includes even those with reluctant spirits. God wants to redeem the reluctant spirit, and He is willing to provide whatever it takes.

Jonah is a perfect example of this. God gave Jonah a mission, provided him with an opportunity, and Jonah ran (Jonah 1:1-3). He ran because God’s Spirit prompted him to do something he didn’t want to do. This is often the case when God reveals His will to us. Moses did not want to go to pharaoh, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, Jesus did not want to suffer crucifixion and asked for the cup to pass from him. 
 
Sometimes this prompting of the Spirit is an occasion when God makes it clear that there is someone we need to forgive, there is a habit we need to give up, a relationship we need to get out of, or something we need to start doing. Last month, for me, it was a sermon I didn’t want to preach, but God kept bringing me back to it. For Sharon, it was a combination of many things, but it began with giving up her habits.

Sharon was one of the first people I studied with when I came to River City Ministry. She has been growing closer to God, she was baptized last year, but she was stuck in a cycle of bad relationships. The more she read her Bible, the clearer it became to her that she could not please God and keep on having sex when she wasn’t married. Sharon knew this, but she had lived this way so long… the easiest way to deal with it was to act like it wasn’t real, not address her situation, and just stay put.

When God told Jonah to go, he did more than just stay put, he ran the other way. Because of the pains of his past, the cruel things he saw the Assyrians do to his people, Jonah refused to go. He said “…I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity… That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.” (Jonah 4:2). So he boarded a ship headed to the edge of the known world and God began providing his redemption. “…the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” (1:4). God provided the storm to begin the process of bringing Jonah back to Him. When the sailors realized the storm was because of this Jonah running from his God, they asked all about him and Jonah said, “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (1:8-9). This was something Jonah needed to realize himself. If he took stock of this in the first place, would he have ever tried to flee? Jonah needed to stop and think about who his God was.
 
 
Like Jonah, we need to realize who our God is. When Sharon finally did this, she had to make a change. She told her boyfriend (the man she had called her husband in public because she was ashamed of her sin), “I can’t keep sinning like this, no more sex!” This was a tremendous move for Sharon! But it was only the first step, and there was trouble. You see, Sharon was living with her boyfriend who had started out as a roommate to help with half the rent. She told him he had two choices, he could respect her and keep to his side of the house, or preferably, he could move out. He refused to move and he took the other news even less well. He started beating Sharon. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse, but really, God saw another opportunity to provide Sharon with what she needed.

Jonah saw who God was, and he realized that he was in the wrong, but the only solution was bleak. “’Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and I will become calm…’” (1:12). When the men finally did this the storm stopped and the sailors worshiped the one true God. Sinking into the sea, Jonah thought this was the end, but hey, at least he got out of going to Nineveh. Little did he know, God was not done with him. God did not want Jonah dead, he wanted him redeemed.

“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”(1:17, emphasis added). God provided Jonah an escape from death, he preserved Jonah’s life, and even though he was stuck in the belly of a huge fish, he was alive. It may have been a miserable three days, but it got Jonah out of deaths grips and back where he needed to be.
 
This time when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, that is exactly what Jonah did (3:2-3). He preached, as swiftly as he could (only saying “forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed”), and went away and pouted (3:4-4:3). He was still too angry, too hurt by his past to move on and forgive as God was ready to forgive.


Sharon’s time in the deep came too. She dealt with the sin problem but she was still stuck in the same kind of abusive and destructive relationship that she knew since childhood. This time, when the abuse got worse, she considered suicide. Like Jonah, she thought, “I’m going to die, but at least I will be done with this life.” But God did not want Sharon to die, he wanted her to be redeemed. God provided Sharon with something that she did not have the last time she was in this kind of relationship. God provided a family for her; a father in heaven who she now knew to be a loving and caring God, and church family, friends who she knew loved her and would help. And help they did.

Jonah needed some help too, and, as always, God provided. When the whole city of Nineveh repented, Jonah was so filled with anger and self-pity that, again, he wanted to die (4:1-4). “Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.” (4:6, emphasis added). But God was not done, “But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.” (4:7). Then Jonah became so angry he wished he was dead (that’s pretty angry). But God provided the plant and the worm so He could provide Jonah a lesson; “But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”’ (4:10-11).
 
We don’t know if Jonah got the message, if he changed his ways and got the redemption God offered. But Jonah’s response is not the most important thing. What is more important to see is what God was willing to provide to redeem Jonah, if he would just reach out and take it. What may be even more important is what God was able to accomplish with such a reluctant spirit. The storm was because of Jonah, but it was for the sailors. God used Jonah and the storm to bring the sailors to the one true God. God used a prophet who hated those to whom he preached, yet they all repented. God’s will was accomplished, and Jonah could not stand in the way of it. Look at all the people in this book for whom God provided redemption!

I am proud to say that Sharon found her redemption, not just the redemption of her soul, but also the redemption of her relationship, life, body, and image. She was able to find help at RCM and RCC. She is now out of that relationship and looking for a man who cares more about God than himself, a man who cares about her, and God, enough to wait, to treat her right, and to marry her. She turned to God and her church family rather than taking her life. She is now living alone and is safe. And, God has revealed how precious he believes Sharon to be, which has helped her to find healing and rediscover the image of God that he placed within her. And as great as her story is, like Jonah, Sharon’s story may not even be about her, it may be about those around her who hear her story and turn to God because of it.

In the end, God wants the same thing for a willing and a reluctant spirit, redemption. The truth is, no one, not even Abraham, Joshua, and Samuel were always willing, and Moses and Jonah were not always reluctant, like us, they were some of both. Either way we choose to be, God will accomplish His will. But if we surrender, we will find that God provides opportunities for growth, which, although painful at times, lead to redemption. If we stand in His way, God will still accomplish His will, He may just have to run over us to do it.
 
Sharon's story is far from over. She is struggling to come out of her past and into the life God wants for her. Please pray for her to have the strength and determination to cling to God rather than harmful relationships. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Best Me


When God formed you in His image, when He shaped you into an entirely unique representation of Himself, He made you unlike anyone else. God breathed life into you as He did Adam He made you a living being through His Spirit (Gen. 2:7). The word breath and spirit are the same in Hebrew, to say God gave man the breath of life and he became a living being is to say God gave man the spirit of life and thus man lives. Just like when Jesus breathed into His disciples and told them to receive the Spirit (John 20:22).

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15-18).


All things were made through, by, and for Jesus, and He is the one that holds them all together. In Him we live and move and have our very being (Acts 17:28). If that is true, how can we separate ourselves from God? God and His creation are inseparable. So what does this mean about the way we live?

How can we set this time aside for God and that time aside for ourselves if we are connected with God at a subatomic level? I used to believe that when I chose to do something outside the will of God that it was my decision and it would only hurt me; I make the choices and I will deal with the consequences. But it’s not really like that. If God’s presence is continual, how can I bring God into my sin? This is why Paul said that when we sleep with a prostitute it’s like joining Christ with that prostitute (1 Cor. 6:15).

The way that I’m living right now, is God happy with me dragging Him into it? This is why sin is so disgusting to God. Not only did God not create us to be dragged into sin, He never intended us to try to drag Him along with us. God can sever that inseparable tie, we can quench His Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19), God’s Spirit will not struggle with man’s forever (Gen. 6:3), we can experience spiritual death, and be eternally separated from God in Hell (2 Thes. 1:9). So then, how can I live in God’s presence? How can I get rid of the sin?

Usually when we talk about sin, we addresses it as the problem, but I don’t believe that is entirely correct. The sins we often commit, our addictions, our habits, our dysfunctions are really only symptoms of the real problem. Violent acts that we commit come from our anger and our anger usually comes from our own deep hurts and pains. Now, we can address our behavior, learn to control our anger so that we don’t allow it to force us into an action that we will regret, but this doesn’t take away the anger, it only helps us control the outcome of our anger. If we don’t deal with our anger, we will end up finding another outlet for it. If we deal with our anger but never face our hurts and pains, we will find another way to cope with them. We may choose drugs or alcohol, and those may be sinful habits, but the true problem is still the hurts that lead us to these habits. Sexual acts that we commit come from our lusts, and our lusts usually come from deep feeling that something is lacking. Perhaps we were never loved as we needed to be, or maybe we lack confidence and use sex to boost our ego. We can stop having sex but not address our lusts and end up finding another way to get what we need. We can even address our lusts, but if we never deal with the feelings that something is lacking, we will end up using something else to fill the void.

What we really need to do to remove the sin, the hurt, the void, and anything that would keep us from experiencing the full joy of God’s presence and being the person He created us to be is take a deep look inside our selves at where the problem really lies. To get to the heart of the problem we have to look deep inside ourselves and ask, why are these unhealthy things so appealing to us? We have to ask ourselves, why are we going to our sinful habits to find relief? Why am I making the same mistake Adam and Eve made?

Instead of going to God with their desires, Adam and Eve went to the forbidden tree, the listened to Satan, and they tried to be the answer to their own problem. I don’t have to keep doing the same. I can turn to God, submit to His will, put myself in the hands of the potter who shaped me in the first place, and let Him shape me back into the true me.

This is not about me becoming what anyone else says I should be (that’s how this whole thing began – Gen 3:5), this is not about me becoming someone else, this is about me becoming the best and truest me. Christ didn’t come to change everything, but to reconcile everything. That means to end the conflict and put things back the way they belong. Look at Colossians chapter one again.

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel...” (Col. 1:15-23).

It’s time to stop trying to be someone else, and start dealing with the hurts and pains that lead us into sin. God never wanted this for you, instead He wants you to partake in His divine nature and escape the corruption caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:4). He wants to be one with you!

Put those pains, hurts, and labels to death. Come to Christ and be born again, be a new creature, be the you that you were made to be, that no one else can be. It’s not just about losing yourself, it’s about finding yourself and being truly free.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

WHAT DID JESUS REALLY ACCOMPLISH?

I am trying a first. At the bottom is a link to an audio file of the sermon, you are welcome to read, or skip to the end and listen, or both. 
 
When I come into River City Church and I look around, I see a beautiful sight! I see men and women, brothers and sisters, black and white, side by side. I see the power of God at work. I see racial reconciliation, I see forgiveness, I see understanding, and oneness. I see unity and a celebration of racial and ethnic diversity. Not a lie of colorblindness, but an appreciation and respect for our differences and the beautiful array of giftedness that God blesses us with.
I feel gratefulness for the freedom to speak about a legacy that is not my own, but inspires me daily. In the last week of Black History Month I got to share something that has been on my heart since January 15th, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
 
On MLK day, I read an intriguing article about Dr. King (you can find the link at the end of this post).  A young man, only three generations from slavery on a Virginian tobacco plantation, was raised by a father who worked his way from a share cropper to a good paying blue color job. This father grew up in the days of the Jim Crow laws, the days when there was no high school for blacks, and though he was only able to earn a 7th grade education, he was able to provide his son with a quality college education.
 
His son thrived on this educational experience and his eyes were opened to a new world of Black Nationalism. He discovered and devoured the autobiography of Malcom X. When he came home and visited his father he mentioned that he believed that Dr. King just didn’t go far enough and that Malcom X was willing to go where he couldn’t. His father told him that Malcom X didn’t accomplish anything like what Dr. King did.
Here’s the kicker, his son asked “So what did Dr. King accomplish besides giving a great speech?” Wow! His father was stunned and told him “You have no idea what Martin Luther King actually accomplished!”
You know what? Most of us have no idea what Jesus Christ actually accomplished! What do we talk about Jesus doing? He saved our souls! That’s amazing! But that’s not all. That was not His whole mission, and if we miss what Jesus actually accomplished, we miss out on everything!
 
So often we limit what Jesus did. We make it a very external and intangible thing. We end up with portraits of Jesus that don’t resemble Him at all. Read Jesus message, how often does He specifically talk about saving our souls? He doesn’t! Yes, Paul tells us that through Christ we receive this (1 Peter 1:9), but why does Jesus say He came? Let’ face it, most of us don’t know what Jesus actually came to do!
Martin Luther King didn’t just march, he didn’t just make great speeches; that was not what he accomplished. The father of the young man whose story we began with gave his son the answer. He told him, you don’t know the horrors I grew up with. The lynching, the senseless killing, the beatings, the sheer hatred we faced and the fear it created. We were in such fear of the racist white man and what he would do if we stood up for our rights that we were trapped. But he showed us how to take a beating and not fight back. He taught us how not to lower ourselves to their level. He showed us that we could take the worst the world had to throw at us and we could get back up and keep going. He showed us the power we always had and never know was there. What did Martin Luther King Jr. actually accomplish? He ended racial terrorism in the south.

So, what about Jesus? What did he actually accomplish? We tend to create an image of a very small Jesus. He is able to forgive our sins, to save our souls on the Day of Judgment, and give us entrance to heaven, but is very ineffective in changing our lives in the here and now. He is a God of the past because He can take away the sins we committed, and he is a God of the future because he is preparing a place for us, but not a God of the present.
We make him a God who saves the soul but leaves heart, body, and mind to fend for itself. We make Him a Jesus who doesn’t care about our problems, only our soul. A Jesus who would have turned to that woman with the bloody issue who touched his robe and said “I know you didn’t just get blood on my robe!” We create a Jesus who would tell the sick and demon possessed to come back when they were ready to get their lives right, who would never have sat down with that floosy at the well because he wanted to save souls, not deal with their personal problems. We end up with a polished, censored, shaved, and rationalized Jesus … a picture painted by Satan himself.
Nothing could be farther from who Jesus is! Jesus came to end spiritual terrorism. Jesus came to give abundant life, not at the end of time, not at his return, not at the end of your life, not 20 years from now, not tomorrow, but today!!
Satan likes nothing more than to trap us with fear. The truth is we can receive the forgiveness of our sins and allow Satan to keep us trapped in the system of sin. Satan would love to keep us blinded to what Jesus actually came for.
Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17). What does that really mean? It means calling us to a new life. A new life which is actually an old one, because it’s the life God always intended for us.
Christ came not just to forgive sin, not just to die for the sins of our past, but to free us from the system of sin.
Christ has set us free. He wants us to enjoy freedom. So stand firm. Don’t let the chains of slavery hold you again (Gal. 5:1).
Close your eyes. Picture yourself shackled by the hands of Satan. From those shackles hang the links that are my sins. Picture your sins, all you have ever done against the Lord, hanging from your wrists, entangling your whole body. You lift them up and try to carry them forward, but the weight is too much. But there is Christ! He says, you don’t have to carry these any more, you’re free! And he gives us the key to the shackles. But we never take the chains off. Instead we continue to let Satan have control, we make more and more links because we stay in that same old system of sin.
 I can keep wearing the chains even though I’ve been set free. “I wear the chain I forged in life, I made it link by link, yard by yard, I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you? Or do you not know the weight and length of your own.” Or, I can channel the power God has given me and break these chains and never put them on again!
 
Jesus was called the Son of Man for a reason! He showed us the power God has put inside of us that Satan has convinced us never existed. Jesus stepped into a boat. He went over to the other side of the lake and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a man who could not walk. He was lying on a mat. Jesus saw that they had faith. So he said to the man, “Don’t lose hope, son. Your sins are forgiven.”
3 Then some teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is saying a very evil thing!”
4 Jesus knew what they were thinking. So he said, “Why do you have evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
Then he spoke to the man who could not walk. “Get up,” he said. “Take your mat and go home.” 7 The man got up and went home.
8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with wonder. They praised God for giving that kind of authority to men.
 
We have the power from God to forgive sin?! Yes, we can tell Satan that rather than embracing anger, guilt, grudges, and strife we choose to forgive. We can get up and walk in the power of the Lord now that sin has no hold on us, and we can stand against everything Satan throws our way.
10 Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can stand firm against the devil’s evil plans. 12 Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world.
13 So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing. (Eph. 6:10-13).
The Lord came to show us how to take a beating. He taught us how not to lower ourselves to Satan’s level. He showed us that we could take the worst the Satan has to throw at us and we can get back up and keep going. He showed us the power we always had and never knew was there. What did Jesus actually accomplish? He ended Spiritual terrorism and delivered us not only from judgment, but from the system of sin. What are you waiting for? Break free!!
 
Audio file
(hold control and click on link above)
 
Article Link

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reaching the Poor

A question which I am often asked and weighs heavily on my heart is how to reach the poor. I have given this topic much thought and I take it to God every day, seeking for the answer. Here is what He has given me.

The answer, as I see it, begins with asking a deep soul searching question. How dirty are you willing to get your hands? Seriously, look at what Jesus did. When Jesus began His “war on poverty,” if I may borrow President Johnson’s phrase, He was completely intentional in all He did. By this I mean that it was no mistake that when He was born there was “no place” for Him or His parents. It was no coincidence that his parents were so poor they paid the beggars tax of two turtle doves when they went to the temple. It was not mere happenstance that Jesus became a homeless man that had “no place to lay his head.” It was not because of a wrong turn that Jesus ended up in Samaria with a woman the world shunned. It was not by chance that Jesus befriended the prostitute, tax collector, sinner, leper, thief, and outcast.
 

Jesus fully embraced the poor and their world. He walked in their shoes, he felt their pain, their hunger, their rejection, their sorrow and their loneliness. He didn’t judge, but instead saw the humanity, the value, the person He created, deep within the sinner. He did know “what sort of woman” washed His feet, and He looked at her with love, not disgust. Seeing the lost and lonely state of man, knowing what it was to have no place in this world, He called out to them, He showed them that they were valuable, He created a place for them by making them His community, His family, He gave them hope, He made them His life, and then He gave His life for them. Nothing that He did was not intentional. And He didn’t do this so we wouldn’t have to, He did it to show us how.
 
 
 So, I ask again, how dirty are you willing to get your hands? Are you prepared to step out of your comfort zone and into another world? Are you prepared to make room in your life, to prepare a place for those who have no place? Can you forget everything you think you know about the poor and see their precious souls?

Our goal at River City Ministry is to serve in the spirit of Matthew 25, while seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10). We believe that the work that Jesus said he came to do in Luke 4:18-19 is the same work we are here to continue. We thank you for your concern, support and love. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to learn firsthand how to reach the poor. Please continue to pray for us and for the poor and homeless. God bless you all.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21).