Book Review – Jason Mandryk’s “Operation World”

This book is an anointed, catalyst-ic, missions informative, motivational, chronological, prayer guide.  I was not aware that such a book was in existence and I am so glad to now have my own copy.  It is inviting as I found myself thumbing through and stopping at pages which captured my attention.  Already it has brought clarity to my prayer life in regard to praying for other countries and peoples.  The paragraph # 3 on The Effective Functioning of Local Congregations and # 4 Leadership Development especially spoke to me.  We are living in a very challenging time and we need God called, adequately trained pastors and church leaders to help the church (each “organic entity”) embrace the moving of the Holy Spirit as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

Ekklesia

Ekklesia is a Greek word that means “called out ones.”  This word is used to describe/define the Christian Church.  Throughout our lives we will get to listen to quite a few different people share their opinions on what Christianity is supposed to be, what the Christian Church is supposed to be, what Christian worship is supposed to be, and so on.  The problem with these opinions is that they all have bias attached to them.  It’s as though with every experience that we go through in life – success or failure, happy or sad – there are a pair of prescription glasses we’re wearing that are being continuously altered to change the way we look at things.  We all have bias.  I certainly do too. However, when we let these biases become Christian doctrine, we set ourselves up to look as foolish as Pharisees standing before Christ.

The “Holy Christian Church” and the “Communion of Saints” that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed are ways of saying “all believers past and present who are recognized children of God through faith in their Savior Jesus.”

The word “church” today is so intricately connected with the idea of a building that you can hear in the way people talk that they have no idea what the New Testament is referring to in the concept of “church.”  “Our church looks really nice all decorated for Christmas.” “Our church is freezing today.  Someone needs to adjust the thermostat.” “We go to church weekly.“  Even we pastors misuse the word church.  Ever heard a pastor say something to the effect of “It’s great to be in the House of God today!” ?  Or, have you heard parents reasoning with their kids, “We need to behave because we’re in God’s House now.”?  Honestly, none of this really has anything to do with New Testament Christianity or the New Testament Church.  And it’s not just benign talk either.  The reality is that it reflects more the mentality of Judaism and paganism, which ultimately has some damaging consequences.

Old Testament Judaism revolved around 3 basic elements – the Temple (where God’s local presence dwelled), the system of priests as mediators between God and man, and the system of sacrifices to atone for sin and make believers right with God.  In short, when Jesus came, he brought an end to each by fulfilling the purpose of each.

In the Roman Empire, paganism had similar elements – temples (specific buildings for worshipping gods), priests (specific individuals you had to go through to worship gods), and sacrifices (specific things you had to do to please the gods).  New Testament Christianity didn’t know these things.

In not one place in the New Testament do we find the term church (ekklesia), temple, or house of God used to refer to a building.  In fact, the first recorded use of the word “church” to refer to a specific meeting place comes from the church father Clement of Alexandria in 190 AD.  He was also the first person credited with using the phrase “go to church.”

Okay, so if church is not a building, what exactly is it you ask?  Of the 114 times the Greek word ekklesia appears in the New Testament, it always refers to an assembly of people.  In fact, until Emperor Constantine, Christian history and archaeology knows of no Christian buildings except the homes in which the early Christians met for worship.

Jesus is obviously responsible for what Christianity is today.  Perhaps more than any other human, however, Constantine is responsible for the way Christianity looks today.  What’s so scary about that is that even today scholars debate whether or not Constantine was actually a genuine Christian.

If you’re not familiar with who Emperor Constantine was, here’s the abbreviated version: In 312 AD, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge to become Caesar of the Western Empire.  On the eve of that battle, Constantine claimed he saw a cross in the heavens and became a Christian (if that sounds a little fishy, yeah, that’s not typically how Christians are formed).  He promised God at that moment that if he won the battle, he’d Christianize the empire.  He did…and he did.  Christianity went from becoming first officially recognized as a religion in Rome in 311AD under Galerius to becoming the official religion of the state only a few short years later.  In 324 AD, Constantine became Caesar of the entire Roman Empire.  And then the buildings began.

Over the next several hundred years, church architecture took several interesting turns from the basilica phase to the Byzantine phase to the Romanesque phase to the Gothic phase. However, the design, almost unwaveringly, seemed to continuously point more and more to the transcendence and awe-inspiring nature of God, rather than to God found in the gathering together of his body, the real “church.”  And thus God also seemed to go from accessible to inaccessible.

I’m not fully promoting a return to “house churches” today, a concept that has gained tremendous popularity in the past 30 years in our country.  What house church leaders don’t seem to fully grasp is that if early New Testament church leaders had the legal freedom to worship as we do, the early church might very well have done things differently.  But the point, nonetheless, remains that perhaps God (even by means of working through the oppression of the Roman Empire) was establishing the type of environment that best leads to the healthy assembly of Christians.

Left-Brained or Right-Brained?

The sciences often overlap subject matter.  Two sciences that tend to overlap are biology and psychology.  Psychology is concerned with behavior and mental process.  This definition leads to the study of the brain.  The science of biology can assist the science of psychology to a point.  There is debate concerning the makeup of the brain and the breakdown of its function into a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere.  Are there such individuals as left-brained persons or right-brained persons?  Yes, because there is evidence that supports this theory.  The brain is composed of different parts however the portion that centers in this debate is the cerebral cortex.  Lahey states the following: “The cerebral cortex made up of two rounded halves called the cerebral hemispheres” (Lahey, 1995, 69).  The two halves are connected by the corpus callosum.  The two halves are involved in different mental process.  The left side is more analytical and the right side is more practical.  The two sides communicate through the corpus callosum.  A person would not recognize what side of the brain is being used unless the corpus callosum was severed.  This surgical procedure has been performed and the study supports the theory that the left side and right side perform different functions.  The right side of the brain cannot use language to describe a stimulus but the left can.  The left cannot identify the stimulus from touch but the right can.  Both sides are part of the body that has been created by God.  The body is a remarkable creation and functions in complex ways.  The science of psychology can learn from observation of the body and describe, predict, understand, influence and help others.  Personally, I lean more in the direction of being left-brained.  How about you?

Lahey, Benjamin B.  Psychology: An Introduction, (Dubuque, Iowa: Brown & Benchmark
Publishers, 1995).

Prayer by Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone (Merton 1958).

The Gospel for Broken People

As ministers, we work with people who have broken lives.   Sometimes this brokenness is caused by a person’s own sin or sins.  Sometimes this brokenness is cause by the sin or sins of other people.   Sometimes the brokenness is caused by the fact that we live in a world that has sickness and weakness – things which are the general effects of the fall into sin of Adam and Eve.   Many times it is a combination of these things.   Sin is the problem.  We have Jesus Christ who came into this world to save sinners.   We have Jesus Christ who not only saves people from the curse of sin but also saves people from the power of sin.  He can help!  So, when we minister we need to think carefully about where Jesus Christ fits in every situation.   How can we present the gospel as good news for the person who asks for our help?   How can that good news become even better good news as Jesus Christ continues to do His work in that person and in us?

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,

The Father, the Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

True God from True God,

begotten, not made,

of one being with the Father;

through Him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

He came down from heaven,

was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary

and became truly human.

For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

He suffered death and was buried.

On the third day He rose again

in accordance with the scriptures;

He ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead,

and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,

who proceeds from the Father,

who with the Father and the Son

is worshiped and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

We acknowledge one baptism

for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen

The Apostle’s Creed (Traditional Version)

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried;*

the third day he rose from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,

and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic** church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

*Traditional use of this creed includes these words: “He descended into hell.”

**universal (catholic here means “universal” not Roman Catholic)

MLK Day: Was His Dream in Vain?

The plight of African Americans from the time of slavery in America to the era Civil Rights is one of immense suffering and martyrdom.  One could say that many died in martyrdom for the cause of freedom.  However, it might be more accurate to say that the countless African Americans who died at the hands of others during this time was a Christian martyrdom.  As slaves sought survival and freedom their plight was subject to the exposure of Western culture mixed with their African culture and heritage.  Within this mixture arose a strong biblical faith which became the strength and hope of many who suffered at the hands of the taskmasters.  The taskmasters seemed to want slaves to be religious as to bring about peace and harmony amid the plantations and cities of the South.  What taskmaster would want a dishonest slave?  None.  Therefore, a door was opened for the slaves to become religious in the South.  Early on the slaves were allowed to worship.  One threat for the Whites was the slaves assembling together and learning the Bible and any other source of education.  As long as African Americans remained illiterate, Whites would have an advantage.  When African Americans were exposed to the truth of God’s Word the sin of their unjust treatment resonated within their hearts.  Hope of liberation came to life through the Biblical passages/narratives.

Perhaps the most common narrative from which many gleaned hope was that of the Exodus motif.  The Israelites were in Egypt for some 440 years.  The first 40 years seemed to be a time of peace and harmony for the most part.  However, the Bible states the following: “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8 NIV).  From that time on the plight of the Israelites was one of bondage and mistreatment at the hands of taskmasters.  As slaves, the Israelites had no rights.  What the Israelites did have was faith is God and that He would send a Deliverer.  Moses was called to be the mouthpiece for God and to be used by God as His mighty Deliverer.  Moses did not see himself as one that was apt for the task, yet he trusted God and became obedient to the call upon his life.  Through the messages from God to Pharaoh through Moses, “let my people go” (Exodus 5:1, 7:16, 8:1, 8:20-21, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3 NIV).  And through a series of ten plagues/judgments sent by God upon the Egyptians, Pharaoh did let the Israelites go.  The Bible tells of how God brought the Israelites to himself on “Eagles wings.”  This metaphorically tells that it was by God’s grace and power that the Israelites experienced freedom.  After the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground, God ultimately delivered the Israelites from their oppressors by drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea as the waters rescinded.  God did not abandon them in the wilderness as we see, “Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘this is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:3-6 NIV).  May we speak these words to African Americans today?  God brought you out by His grace and by His power.  He will sustain you.  He will keep you.  He will not abandon you.  He will guide you and bless you.

The African Americans could relate to the oppression of the Israelites and glean from this Exodus motif, hope that God would send them a Deliverer such as Moses.  The name Moses became synonymous with leaders that offered the hope of freedom.  A practical theology arose through Biblical narratives such as the Exodus and became known as Black Theology.  It was the embracing of God’s promises, protection and provision.  Though the Whites could bring about torture and even death to the African American slaves, what the Whites could not do was take away the hope which had taken residence within their hearts, minds and souls.  When the African Americans would sing, they sang with conviction and hope.  When African Americans fought they fought not against flesh and blood.  Paul’s word’s, “We fight not against flesh and blood” was manifest through the actions of the African Americans from the time of slavery through the era of Civil Rights.

In time, deliverance from slavery came.  However, it was a freedom that came with great sacrifice.  Many died for the cause of freedom for the African American slaves.  The families of slaves were split as the slaves were sold and family ties were lost.  A sense of identity became an issue for all the African Americans.  In the midst of this tragedy, God brought about a bond that only African Americans can truly understand.  It has been asked, “When you look into a mirror what do you see?”  The African Americans say that they see a black person.  The Whites would simply say that they see a person.  This is sad commentary on the lasting effect of slavery and the continuance of mistreatment toward African Americans.  When a White looks into the eyes of an African American what is seen?  Is it a continuance of the sins of the past or has there been progress?  Can the White see the pain in the African American eyes?  It is only a thought in our discussion but what if the race was reversed?  Just for discussion purposes, would we see things differently?  We think so.  As much as it would be commendable to report that we have recovered from such a travesty as slavery and the unjust treatment, through the years of African Americans by Whites, we are not able to make such a report.

As in times past, the Scriptures continue to offer hope.  Hope is available not only for the African American but for all who have asked God for forgiveness and cleansing from the evils of the past.  The Bible teaches the following: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NIV).  There will come a time for every believer when the pain of the African American’s plight will be redeemed.  As recorded in Joel:

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten — the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.  You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.  Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.  ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the survivors whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:25-32 NIV).

Yes, God has spoken His oracle through His prophet and the promise is to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.”  Salvation is available.  Also, God has promised, “I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten….”  We can debate and continue to ask, “Why did slavery in America take place?  Why did God allow it to happen?”  Or we can accept His Word for us today and live toward fulfilling His will.  Perhaps, God’s will was demonstrated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Was his dream in vain?  We certainly think not!  However, as it has been said, “this is not a time for people to continue his dream but to awake and bring it alive in our actions.”  Let us take from our discussion the words of the true Master, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.‘  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

The Lord’s Prayer (Greek)

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς

ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου•

ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου•

γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,

ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς•

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον•

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφελήματα ἡμῶν,

ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν•

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,

ἀλλὰ ρῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

[Ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας•]

Resolutions for a New Year

Many Christians make New Year’s resolutions to pray everyday, to read the Bible everyday, and to attend church regularly.  These are fantastic resolutions.  However, these are things that we, as Christians are supposed to be doing anyway!  So, what sort of New Year’s resolution should a Christian make?  Here are some suggestions:  (1) Pray to the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5) in regards to what resolutions, if any, He would have us to make; (2) Pray for wisdom as to how to fulfill the goals God gives us; (3) Rely on God’s strength to help us; (4) Find an accountability partner who will help us and encourage us; (5) Don’t become discouraged with occasional failures; instead allow them to motivate us further; (6) Don’t become proud or vain, but give God the glory.  “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:5-6).  Happy New Year!

Thanksgiving: Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.   And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, GIVING THANKS to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:16-17 NKJV).

Gratitude has been defined as a thankful attitude.  As Christians we should always give thanks to the Lord.  We should maintain an “ATTIITUDE OF GRATITUDE but that, like most things we hear in church, is easier said than put into practice.  How can one have an attitude of gratitude when he or she has recently experienced something as; losing a job, filing for bankruptcy, grieving over the death of a loved one, divorce, major sickness or anything that turns our world upside down?  Is it possible to live positively in a negative world?  The answer is yes but it is not as easy as it may sound.  It is easy to say that Jesus is the answer to all of our problems but how does that simplistic of an answer help in times of disaster?

For me the answer is keeping Jesus in focus and what He has done me.  If it were not for His mercy, grace and love I would have been consumed a long time ago.  When our hearts are filled with gratitude we have the power to overcome.  This Thanksgiving I hope that your hearts will be filled with what the Lord has done for you, in the past, present and the future!

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” Matthew 12:34b NKJV).

Reflections From the Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel was written by and about a man of great faith.  The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament alludes to two stories from the book of Daniel:  “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” Hebrews 11:32-34 NKV).  The book of Daniel is also one of the apocalyptic books in the Bible, giving prophecy of the end-times.  Jesus, in His teaching on the end times, refers to Daniel the prophet, and mentions one of his prophecies (see Matthew 24:15).  In addition,  the book of Daniel gives prophecy concerning when the Messiah or Christ was to appear the first time.  Daniel gives this prophecy more than 500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  Finally, the book of Daniel emphasizes the sovereignty of God.  It is important to know what the Bible says instead of what others say about the Bible.  People also like to speculate about end-time subjects.  Speculating can be fun, but it can also be destructive.  I look at what I know about apocalyptic literature in the Bible, and at times I like to speculate too.  But I always need to come back to the fact that the Bible does not tell us every last detail about the end of time and the events leading up to it.  Speculating about the end-times has very wide error bars.  Bible prophecy was not written for us to predict the future; it was written so that we would recognize events when or as they happen.  It was also written to both warn us of things that will happen, and to comfort us by showing us that God is in control no matter what happens.  Knowing your Bible prevents you from being led astray!  Daniel contains more than just end-time prophecy.  It shows us the life of a man of faith, who even though he was in a terrible set of circumstances, was completely sold out for God.  It teaches us about who God is and many of His attributes.  It shows us that God is in control!  And it does provide prophecies predicting the Jewish Messiah and when He was to come!  Daniel provides major prophetic evidence that Jesus Christ is the Messiah!

The Application of Practical Wesleyan Theology

John Wesley came to America as a missionary to the Indians.  While in Georgia and other parts of early America, he often rode on horseback from one church to another to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been told that on one such journey, he was stopped by a thief who shouted, “Halt, your money or your life.” Wesley got down from his horse, emptied his pockets to reveal only a handful of coins.  He even invited the robber to search his saddlebags – which only carried his books.  In disgust, the thief was turning away when John Wesley cried “Stop, I have something more to give you.”  Puzzled, the robber turned back.  Wesley then leaned towards him and said “My friend, you may live to regret this sort of life in which you are engaged.  If you ever do, I beseech you to remember this: ’The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’”   The robber hurried silently away, but Wesley got back on his horse & rode on his way praying in his heart that the Word might be fixed in the robber’s conscience.  Later, at the close of a Sunday evening service, a stranger stepped forward and earnestly begged to speak with John Wesley.  Wesley recognized him as the robber who had stolen from him before, but now he was a well to do tradesman and better still, a child of God.  Raising Wesley’s hand to his lips he affectionately kissed it and said in deep emotion, “To you, dear sir, I owe it all.”  Wesley replied softly, “Nay, nay, my friend, not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin.”  Let us remember that one of the best ways of bringing glory to God is through our witness.  When others see us excited about Jesus and our involvement in His church it takes the focus off of us and places it on Jesus.  “It’s not about us and what we want.  It is about others and who they need, Jesus.”

“Hold the Fort” vs. “Advancing the Kingdom”

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20 KJV).

Fort Macon located on Bogue Banks Island just East of Atlantic Beach, NC is one of my favorite places.  Last month I had the opportunity to visit this historic site once again.  This brick fortress is best known for its use in the Civil War.  However, it has come to  have several different meanings for me as it has often been a place of prayer and meditation.  Recently, my mind has been pondering a hymn titled, “Hold the Fort” (Lyrics printed below)  It was written by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876).  His life along with his wife’s ended tragically in a train wreck.  Mr. Bliss did not think that “Hold the Fort” was a good hymn.  Yet, it was popular in his day.  Personally, I do not like the hymn either.  The lyrics and the title do not adequately describe the role of the church.  We are not commissioned to hold the fort.  Sometimes it might appear that we are holding the fort, bunkering down in fear waiting for Jesus to come rescue us.  However, we are supposed to be going into the highways and byways and telling people about Jesus!  Let’s not embrace a “Hold the Fort” mentality but an “Advancing the Kingdom” mentality!  As we look forward the Christ’s Second-Coming let’s be busy fulfilling the “Great Commission!”

Hold the Fort
Ho, my comrades! see the signal waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing, victory is nigh.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;
Mighty ones around us falling, courage almost gone!
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s Name we triumph over ev’ry foe.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near;
Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer!
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”

Offer Them Christ

One of my favorite pieces of art is a painting by the American artist Kenneth Wyatt for the Bicentennial Celebration of American Methodism in 1984.  On June 18th, 1999 (my 35th birthday) my dad presented me with a framed print of this painting.  It is now hanging in my office at the church.  The painting depicts John Wesley bidding farewell to Thomas Coke and his party as they embark for America from the Village of Pill on the River Avon in 1784.  With a dangerous and uncertain trip ahead of them, John Wesley keeps Thomas Coke’s charge simple: “Offer Them Christ.”  My hope and prayer is that we will never lose sight of that simple charge!

Reclaiming Corporate Worship During the Summer

With the end of school and the beginning of the summer break I want to encourage you not take a break from corporate worship.  I am not suggesting that we should not take family vacations.  I think we all should and we should have a great time this summer but please don’t sit out of church or call off ministries.  These are challenging times as individuals and as a church family.  We need everyone active in worship and ministry.  What I have seen as a pastor is that after a person or a family misses church for about 3 weeks in a row it becomes really difficult for them to get back attending on a weekly basis.  One of the saddest things is that some churches have no choice but to practically close for the summer because the lack of attendees.  What makes this truly tragic is during the summer when we run into someone, only to find out that, yes, they are still in town, but that they are not attending church during the summer because there are no classes for the kids, or because their extended family or friends are not going to be in church.  Throughout this nation churches are failing because of spiritual complacency and the lack of commitment to corporate worship.

One of my hopes is that we will recapture the evangelical spirit that brings with it a commitment for corporate worship and ministry.  For some it will be tough to turn down that 9:00 AM tee time on Sunday during the summer or refuse to leave the beach early enough on Sunday morning to get to their home church in time to join in corporate worship.  I know it is not popular but I would like to ask that you join with me and lets reclaim the summer months for God and His work.  Challenge others to fight the urge to “take a break” from church during the summer.  As worshipers the summer can be a time of renewal, revival, and spiritual growth instead of a church sabbatical.  In all honesty, it took decades for churches in this country to abandon the summer months as a mission field and to declare June, July, and August a shallow period for the faith.  We probably will not reclaim this time in a single season.  But we do need to start.  We need to keep praying, keep worshiping, and keep serving during the entire year.  Amen?  Amen.

Seven Types of Biblical Praise

Psalm 150 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  What does it mean to praise the Lord?  Webster defines praise as expressing approval, to glorify. The Old Testament has many Hebrew words which in our Bibles are simply translated as “praise.” Through word studies we can see that each of these words describe how to praise God biblically.  The following are seven Hebrew words for praise and their meanings

1..“Barak” – To Bow, Kneel, Lay Prostrate, Bless (Psalm 72:15).
2.  
“Zamar” – To Make Music (Psalm 150:3-5).
3.  “Yadah” – To Lift Hands Upward (Psalm 134:2).
4.  “Towdah” – To Lift Hands to Receive (Psalm 100:4).
5.  “Shabach” – To Make a Loud Shout (Psalm 33:3, 95:1).
6.  “Tehilla” – To Sing a New Song, Spiritual Singing (Psalm 33:3).
7.  “Halal” – To Be Hilarious and Joyful (Psalm 149:9, 150:4).

Not everyone praises the Lord is the same manner.  However, there should be an understanding and acceptance of praise among believers.  Praise is magnifying the Lord. When we magnify God in our lives we minimize the problems in our lives.  Then we gain a fresh vision of the greatness of God. Many times when the enemies of Israel would encamp around them, Joshua would send out the tribe of Judah first. Judah means praise. Judah would go out before the enemies of Israel, armed with nothing but instruments of PRAISE. When the tribe of Judah would begin to praise God would ambush the enemy, and confuse them. The same principle happens in the spirit realm today. When we really begin to praise God, our praise literally confounds the enemy. Remember when our praises go up…  the blessings of God come down.  Let’s praise the Lord and allow everything (or everybody) to praise the Lord without frowning upon them.

Ministries Should Provide Connectivity

We are living in a day when people are more disconnected than any other time in history.  I believe that God wants us to be connected to Him and to each other.  Ministries at church should be designed to connect people in relationship with God and with each other.  In this hectic day in which we live, it’s easy to get so busy that we neglect the important matters.  Too often the cares of this life keep up from developing positive, healthy relationships.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “You are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.”  God calls us members of His family.  The family is designed to be a close relational unit, but how can we say that we are in God’s family if we are not connected?  Unfortunately, I’ve seen many people suffer in times of crisis because they did not have the support that strong relationships can bring.   God wants us to be connected with Him and with each other.  At church there should be many opportunities for everyone to “Get Connected.”  Each ministry should focus on helping people develop relationships with God and with each other.  The most natural place for people to become connected is in the arena of similar interests.  We all have things in which we are interested and these can be a basis for developing happy, healthy relationships.  I would like to encourage you to discover an area of interest/ministry and get connected in your local church!

Gratitude 101: Count Your Blessings

Have you counted your blessings lately?  One of the old songs I love to hear in church challenges us to “Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings see what God has done.”  Certainly, my heart is full of gratitude for what the Lord has done, not only in my life but what He has done among His church.  And I am excited about what the Lord is doing now and what He is going to do in the days to come!

When we humble ourselves in prayer and seek unity in the Body of Christ everyone is blessed.  I sense the Lord is blessing many of His people with “Showers of Blessings!”  There will always be those songs of gloom but that is all the more reason for us to be on our knees in prayer.  Remember, “People need the Lord.”  It is important for me to remember the valley experiences in my life when gratitude seemed illusive.  When I encounter someone that is depressed, angry, resentful and sometimes just plain mean to folks, my heart aches for that person.  Somewhere in the past that person has most likely been hurt and has not been able to let go of that hurtful experience.  I am grateful that the Lord has provided for us everything that we need to live victoriously.  If you encounter someone that is not nice to you, I would like to challenge you to pray for that person.  Pray that his or her heart will experience healing.  We need to help and encourage those who are in the valleys.   I have learned that one of the best ways to help others is to pray for them.  As we continue praying, let us encourage one another in the Lord.  Remember, God does not want to withhold any blessing from you!

MLK Day: Coretta Scott King

Moments after the fatal shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he stood upon the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968, his wife Coretta Scott King’s life would never be the same.  No longer would she be the one walking alongside one, if not the most significant Civil Rights leader in American history.  The loss of her husband could have plunged her into and endless depression.  However, Coretta embraced the legacy of Dr. King, Jr. and lived to make her own mark as a Civil Rights leader.  In our discussion we will see that the life of Coretta Scott King was one of extraordinary faith, fortitude and frailty.

Spring speaks of life with the flowers blooming and birds singing in the joy that winter has ended.  It was during this season and on April 27, 1927 that Bernice McMurray Scott gave birth to Coretta.  Bernice and her husband, Obadiah Scott, who was also known as “Obie,” were farmers and worked hard to provide their children with the best possible education available.  Coretta attended Lincoln High School, a private school in Marion.  Coretta had a passion for music and was very talented.  She was able to learn music and could play several musical instruments by her teenage years.  She took vocal lessons and rose to be very active in her church’s music ministry.  After graduating from High School she attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio where she continued her study of music.  She transferred to Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music in 1951 and it was there that she and a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a doctoral candidate met.  They were married on June 18, 1953 at the Scott home in Marion.  Following the wedding they return to Boston where they both completed their degrees.  She received her bachelors in music in 1953.

Coretta’s upbringing and education helped her achieve great faith in God.  She was an anointed musician and her early life stands as a model for many young African American young women to follow.  Not only was Coretta dedicated to her studies and her music but also her   parents were supportive of her goals and ambitions.  When she met King her life of faith was strengthened as she would not become the wife of this young Baptist minister but she would be his partner in sharing the Gospel.  She would often provide the music for worship services.  The Kings would travel around the world to such places as Ghana and India.  Together they made their mark upon humanity as not only promoters of Civil Rights and Social Justice but most importantly as people of faith.  The King’s had four children; Yolanda Denise King born in 1955, Martin Luther King, III born in 1957, Dexter Scott King born in 1961 and Bernice Albertine King born in 1963.  As a young woman, wife, musician, and mother, Coretta was a busy woman.  Her life was one of great faith as she did not accept the tide of discrimination or segregation as the will of God.  She believed in the cause of Civil Rights and Social Justice.  As her faith was tested she proved to be committed to the Lord and was able to be a pillar not only for her children but for many African Americans who needed to know that their cause was not ended when James Earl Ray fired shots in Memphis ending the life of her husband.

Coretta understood that her priority of Christian parenting meant that they would need to be nurtured and carried through their own grief.  She sought to provide her children with a home of much love and protection.  During the days following the assassination of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. she would be seen as a mother comforting her heartbroken children.  Though experiencing great pain herself she provided the strength and fortitude needed for her children to continue on and cope with the loss of their father.  Coretta would raise the standard not in retaliation or hate but in peaceful protest against the throng of segregationist and racist.  Though her partner was gone she remained a fortress of unparalleled commitment.  Just after his death she took up the mantle and led in a nonviolent march in Memphis for the sanitation workers.  Her talents, her beauty, her education and her youth could have easily won the heart of many young men.  However, Coretta remained single and did not remarry after the death of King.  Certainly, this proved to be evidence that she was a strong woman that looked at the continued legacy of King as more important than any personal desire to find romantic love with someone else.  Because of her fortitude and decision to remain single she would always be known as the widow of Dr. King. Jr.

As strong as Coretta was, her life was marked with frailty and her life came to an end at the age of 78.  Her body is now at rest alongside her husband in Atlanta beside the Ebenezer Baptist Church.  It was a fitting place for their bodies to be laid to rest.  It was this place that held many memories of not only King but also to Coretta.  His childhood home is located just a few steps away from the church.  And now this area of Atlanta is known as a National Historic Cite in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.  This was because of Coretta’s work to see a lasting memorial in honor of King.  Truly, her life was one of faith, fortitude and in the end frailty.  Now, that the frailty of Coretta’s body has succumbed to death and her soul is with the Master and Martin, we can see that the mantle has been passed to this generation.  If her life’s work is not in vain then the mantle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will not go un-grasped.  It is up to us all who cherish freedom, and equality to make the “Dream” not only live on, but continue its maturity beyond its infancy.  There is a perpetual flame burning at the near the tombs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta.  The flame is burning not only at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA, but within the hearts of a new generation.  This is our time to stand when others are sitting.  This is our time to sit when others are standing.  This is our time to love when others are hate.  This is our time to shine when others are hiding.  This is our time to embrace the “Dream” and consciously work toward its maturity as Coretta so embraced her time.

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