Saturday, March 31, 2012

Challenges of pastoral ministry

It's been a couple weeks since writing anything on this blog. This was a deliberate choice on my part. I refrained from writing so as to pray, search my heart, listen to God through Scripture, listen to those who disagree with me and also to listen to those who mentor and pray for me.

Ministry update: Sermons from I Corinthians
The last three to four weeks have been some of the most challenging times in my ministry. For those of you who are not aware of happenings in the life of this pastor, let me give you a quick update:

I will be a pastor now for twenty-eight years this summer. Even before my ordination to pastoral ministry my approach to preaching and teaching has been to develop all my themes for sermons, bible studies, and even theological formulations from Scripture. I enjoy preaching and teaching through the bible. And as long as God lends me breath, I expect to continue that mode of teaching.

Despite moving to Chicago, I have maintained this practice and approach: open up the Scriptures, try to get out of the way and let the word of God speak. I know this sounds simple but it is actually complicated. This challenging approach to preaching and teaching came under fire recently as I preached through Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Particularly, my interpretation of chapters 5, 6 and then our new associate pastor's interpretation of chapter 7.

Some would say we took a traditional position that failed to incorporate the ways in which human beings have changed and the many ways that human beings can love and express intimacy with each other. Furthermore, our positions were heard as insensitive, inflicting pain and rejection of those who are faithful, obedient followers of Jesus, but who also live as homosexuals or lesbians, etc.

Since preaching I Corinthians 5-7, we hosted a forum. Members of the congregation gathered to allow me the chance to respond to many concerns raised about my preaching, teaching and my ongoing pastoral ministry at the church.

Lessons learned
So I took a break from writing and went into prayer to examine my heart, my preaching; to listen to audio versions of the sermons, to be quiet before God and also to listen to others. Here are some things I am learning:

1. In the heat of "challenge" your true friends emerge. Generally, everyone likes or tolerates their pastor as long as the pastor generally says what they like to hear. But in moments of great challenge you will discover the ones who are your friends. I am not saying supporters, or backers, friends, who reach out to you even when they may not agree with everything you are saying and doing.

2. Pastors and church leaders must lead with conviction. Without a sense of rootedness, vision, commitment to a way of living, you will be blown off course by every wind, complaint or dissenter. Conviction helps you stand and take the heat in the kitchen.

3. Pastors and church leaders must lead with humility and patience. Reject the attitude that the pastor is the repository of all truth. Have convictions, but share them with gentleness, humility and patient endurance (2 Timothy 4:2).

4. Pastors and church leaders must never value reputation above character. There is a world of difference between reputation and character. People can smear your reputation because it is malleable and often driven by other's perception. But your character is the core of your life. Your reputation is the way people perceive you; your character is the way God sees you and knows you. The Lord told Samuel, "Man looks at the outward appearance (reputation), but I look at the heart  (character) I Samuel 16:7. In the end, God will judge us not on the basis of what was popular or how many people appreciated us, but on the basis of obedience to his will. So stand on principle and character.

5. When you stand on principle or core convictions be prepared to lose people. Every pastor would like to know that the impact of their ministry and response to their ministry is always positive, up and to the right on the growth chart. But this is not so. John 6:66, Mark 10: 22 just to name a few, all show people offended by Jesus' words and then left.

6. Lean on God. I used to sing a song back in Jamaica, "Learning to lean, learning to lean on Jesus. Finding more power than I ever dreamed, I am learning to lean on Jesus." Well, I am still learning. The challenges of the ministry are never greater than the resources and the love of God. God will sustain me and our congregation during these tough days.

I solicit your prayers, your feedback, as I seek to be faithful to Scripture and to the God of Scripture. To God be all glory and praise!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A song for all seasons

The Deer's Cry

I arise today through the strength of heaven 
Light of sun, radiance of moon 
Splendor of fire, speed of lightning 
Swiftness of wind, depth of the sea 
Stability of earth, firmness of rock 

I arise today through God's strength to pilot me 
God's eye to look before me 
God's wisdom to guide me 
God's way to lie before me 
God's shield to protect me 

From all who shall wish me ill 
Afar and a-near 
Alone and in a multitude 
Against every cruel, merciless power 
That may oppose my body and soul 

Christ with me, Christ before me 
Christ behind me, Christ in me 
Christ beneath me, Christ above me 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down 
Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me 

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me 
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me 

I arise today

"Lisa Kelly quoting the Breastplate prayer of St. Patrick" 

Monday, March 19, 2012

In the world but not of the world

The subject line is easy to read, but very complex and difficult to practically live out in one’s life.
Here’s a summary of the sermon I preached based on I Corinthians 8:1-13.

The problem of food sacrificed to idols
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1 )
The Corinthian Christians wrote Paul about the problem of food sacrificed to idols. They lived in a Greco-Roman culture where it was common for people to sacrifice to numerous gods in a pagan temple. People in that day did not get a lot of meat. But when they did sacrifice an animal, three things happened:
1. One part would be offered up in the fire to the pagan god.
2. A second part would be given to the pagan priest and if he had enough meat, he would sell the meat in the market place.
3. A third and final portion would be given to the worshiper who in turn would invite his friends and family to a dinner party either in the temple or in some one's home. 

No one questioned this practice except for devout Jews or converts to Christianity. They would find it uncomfortable to accept an invitation to this party.

How does the follower of Jesus live in the world but avoid being shaped by the practices of the world? Here are four questions to ask when trying to navigate such challenges:
  • What does Scripture say
  • What does my conscience say?
  • How will my actions affect others or affect me?
  • Is this a loving thing to do?
      So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4).

What additional questions would you suggest when trying to decide on matters Scripture does not forbid?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Healing Ministry of Jesus

And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
(Matthew 8:14-17)

Matthew 8 depicts Jesus with power and authority over sicknesses, demons, and even nature:
  • He heals the leper Matthew 8:1-4
  • Heals the paralyzed servant of the centurion Matthew 8: 5-13
  • He heals Peter's mother-in-law Matthew 8: 14-17
  • He took our illnesses and bore our diseases. A reference to Isaiah’s prophecy of the servant (Isaiah 53), focusing on Jesus’ messianic role as healer (see Isa. 53:5).
  • He calms a deadly storm Matthew 8: 23-27
  • He heals two demon possessed men Matthew 8:28-32
What are we to believe about the healing ministry of Jesus? Are the above incidents unique to the ministry of Christ, never to be repeated, or is he still working through his church?

These controversial questions arise as to whether gifts of healing have ceased in the church. Particularly in the wake of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, these questions have divided Christians into two camps: cessationists (those believe that the gifts of healing, etc. have ceased), and noncessationists. 

Some believe that healing was nothing more than a sign of the kingdom of heaven. His healing ministry drew people into his orbit to hear his message and believe that he was the coming Messiah. 

After his resurrection and ascension, Jesus charged the early apostles with the task of preaching the gospel and making disciples. The apostles laid the foundation of faith for the building of the church and therefore, signs of healing are no longer expected.

I do not share this view. Before his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus promised, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

I believe that Jesus did ascend to God. Jesus is with his church in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. His presence and power are working through his church and he is still healing people today. 

When he was on earth he did not heal every person (Matthew 13: 57-58). In the same way, those who practice the healing ministry of Jesus should not expect to heal every person who comes to them for help.

Ultimately, God’s plan must be done. Physical healing is not the ultimate miracle. The greatest miracle remains transformation of the human heart from darkness to light, from sin to salvation.

Thank God for the coming promise of Jesus, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).”

A day is coming when there will be no more sickness, or pain, or brokenness: and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

The ultimate healing is to be home free, in the presence of God. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The greatest sermon ever preached!

Preached by Jesus
The Sermon on the Mount is without question the greatest sermon ever preached. Why is this? Well, to begin with it came from the lips of Jesus.

Contrary to what many think, the original sermon was probably quite long, possibly even hours long. What we have in Matthew 5-7 is a distillation of his teaching.

The Sermon on the Mount is the outline of Jesus' theology and it reflects the entirety of Scripture.

What is it's theme? Entering the kingdom of heaven.

The sermon exposes everything
Read and ponder this sermon, but read with care because you are exposing yourself to an x-ray or an MRI. These words will penetrate to the center of your soul and expose the hidden secrets of your heart. But in the end, this sermon will diagnose the problem of sin, urge us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Read the Beatitudes, or what some have called, "The Beautiful Attitudes!" These are attitudes evident in the lives of those who call themselves followers of Jesus the King (Matthew 5: 2-11).

Explains true conversion
Recently, I read the story of the famous 1950's gangster Mickey Cohen and how he became a "Christian."

At the height of his career, Cohen was persuaded to attend an evangelistic service at which he showed a surprising interest in Christianity.

Hearing of this, and realizing what a great influence a converted Mickey Cohen could have for the Lord, some prominent Christian leaders began visiting him in an effort to convince him to accept Christ. In 1957 Time Magazine wrote a brief about Mickey Cohen meeting with Billy Graham. Cohen said, "I am very high on the Christian way of life. Billy came up, and before we had food he said—What do you call it. that thing they say before food? Grace? Yeah, grace. Then we talked a lot about Christianity and stuff."

Eventually, the word on the street was, Mickey converted. But with the passing of time no one could see evidence of conversion in Cohen's life. Finally, they confronted him with the reality that being a Christian meant he would have to give up his former way of life.

Cohen's response went something like this: there are Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians, why not a Christian gangster?

This story illustrates what is happening to many who claim to confess Christ. They attend church, engage in religious activities, but continue living as if nothing has changed. No repentance, no contrition, no joy in the Lord. They have not experienced what Jesus calls the blessedness of being poor in spirit.

During these days of Lent read through Jesus' sermon and allow it to orient our lives toward God's kingdom.

Question: Which part of the Sermon on the Mount has challenged you the most?

Monday, March 12, 2012

App for Living Well

This year's eighteenth annual men’s retreat was an equipping event. Our speaker, John S. K. Ng, Ph.D, President of Meta in Singapore ( ), taught over 60 men about The App for living well.

John's most recent book, Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon is also an excellent tool for addressing conflict and living well in your home, church and work place. 

Physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual energy are needed in order to live a life filled with the presence and power of God.

One of the highlights of the retreat was hearing the powerful, acapella singing of my brothers reverberating off the walls of our meeting space. The song below is one of the songs that stopped me in my tracks.

For me, living well, is living for Jesus. Thank you Dwayne and Jim and all the organizers for making this event a life giving experience for all the men who call First Pres. Evanston their spiritual home!

Living For Jesus
  1. Living for Jesus, a life that is true,
    Striving to please Him in all that I do;
    Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
    This is the pathway of blessing for me.

    • Refrain:
      O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee,
      For Thou, in Thy atonement, didst give Thyself for me;
      I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne;
      My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone.

  1. Living for Jesus Who died in my place,
    Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace;
    Such love constrains me to answer His call,
    Follow His leading and give Him my all.

  1. Living for Jesus, wherever I am,
    Doing each duty in His holy Name;
    Willing to suffer affliction and loss,
    Deeming each trial a part of my cross.

  1. Living for Jesus through earth’s little while,
    My dearest treasure, the light of His smile;
    Seeking the lost ones He died to redeem,
    Bringing the weary to find rest in Him.

    By Thomas O. Chisholm

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Our Common Struggle

Temptation a blessing?
A word about temptation: Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before (William Butler Yeats).

And then Paul had this to say: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. I Corinthians 10: 13

Jesus tempted by Satan
In Matthew 4: 1-11, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sustained a direct, frontal assault from Satan. His aim? To do anything and everything to stop, disrupt, or even destroy God’s redemptive plan.

He succeeded in the garden with the first Adam; now he hoped to achieve a similar victory over Christ, the second Adam.

This temptation was real. This was not a game like the games I played with my kids. When they were younger we often played a game of basketball where I would give them an eight point advantage in a ten point game. No matter how they tried they couldn’t beat me, even with an eight point lead.

For Jesus, this was intense, human suffering. The outcome was not predetermined. It would be a mistake to say that his temptation was a harmless exchange between God and a lesser force. Satan tempted Jesus because he hoped to defeat him.

The fact that Jesus was tempted does not suggest moral failure. To be tempted does not equal sin. In every respect, Jesus was tempted as we are tempted, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Here’s the beauty of Jesus’ temptation:
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).

Jesus has walked a mile in our shoes; he understands what we are going through. Even when we succumb to the devil’s traps, Jesus sympathizes and ministers rich grace and forgiveness to all who sin.

How to fight temptation
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)

When tempted, follow James' instruction, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7)." This is what Jesus did, and we can do no better.

May the Lord grant us strength to resist the devil by Christ's word, his blood and our testimony of faith in Christ (Revelation 12:11).


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Something to think about!

Should We Support Gay Marriage? NO 
by Wolfhart Pannenberg
Good News Magazine

 Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other things more than God.

   Jesus said, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me..." (Matt. 10:37, NRSV). Love for God must take precedence over love for our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth commandment.

   The will of God be the guiding star of our identity and self- determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus' teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees' question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

   Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator's will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9). Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus' word is the foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus' teaching, human sexuality as male and as female is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior.

   Jesus' perspective, by and large, corresponds to Jewish tradition, even though his stress on the indissolubility of marriage goes beyond the provision for divorce within Jewish law (Deut. 24:1). It was a shared Jewish conviction that men and women in their sexual identity are intended for the community of marriage. This also accounts for the Old Testament assessment of sexual behaviors that depart from this norm, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual relations.

 The biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection, and all its statements on this subject agree without exception. The Holiness Code of Leviticus incontrovertibly affirms, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22 NRSV). Leviticus 20 includes homosexual behavior among the crimes meriting capital punishment (Lev. 20:13; it is significant that the same applies to adultery in verse 10). On these matters, Judaism always knew itself to be distinct from other nations.

   This same distinctiveness continued to determine the New Testament statement about homosexuality, in contrast to the Hellenistic culture that took no offense at homosexual relations. In Romans, Paul includes homosexual behavior among the consequences of turning away from God (1:27). In 1 Corinthians, homosexual practice belongs with fornication, adultery, idolatry, greed, drunkenness, theft, and robbery as behaviors that preclude participation in the kingdom of God (6:9 10); Paul affirms that through baptism Christians have become free from their entanglement in all these practices (6:11).

   The New Testament contains not a single passage that might indicate a more positive assessment of homosexual activity to counterbalance these Pauline statements. Thus, the entire biblical witness includes practicing homosexuality, without exception among the kinds of behavior that give particularly striking expression to humanity's turning away from God. This exegetical result places very narrow boundaries around the view of homosexuality in any church that is under the authority of Scripture. What is more, the biblical statements on this subject merely represent the negative corollary to the Bible's positive views on the creational purpose of men and women in their sexuality.

   These texts that are negative toward homosexual behavior are not merely dealing with marginal opinions that could be neglected without detriment to the Christian message as a whole. Moreover, the biblical statements about homosexuality cannot be relativized as the expressions of a cultural situation that today is simply outdated. The biblical witness from the outset deliberately opposed the assumptions of their cultural environment in the name of faith in the God of Israel, who in Creation appointed men and women for a particular identity.

   Contemporary advocates for a change in the church's view of homosexuality commonly point out that the biblical statements were unaware of important modern anthropological evidence. This new evidence, it is said, suggests that homosexuality must be regarded as a given constituent of the psychosomatic identity of homosexual persons, entirely prior to any corresponding sexual expression. (For the sake of clarity it is better to speak here of a homophile inclination as distant from homosexual practice.) Such phenomena occur not only in people who are homosexually active. But inclination need not dictate practice. It is characteristic of human beings that our sexual impulses are not confined to a separate realm of behavior; they permeate our behavior in every area of life. This, of course, includes relationships with persons of the same sex. However, precisely because erotic motives are involved in all aspects of human behavior, we are
faced with the task of integrating them into the whole of our life and conduct.

   The mere existence of homophile inclinations does not automatically lead to homosexual practice. Rather, these inclinations can be integrated into a life in which they are subordinated to the relationship with the opposite sex where, in fact, the subject of sexual activity should not be the all-determining center of human life and vocation. As the sociologist Helmut Schelsky has rightly pointed out, one of the primary achievements of marriage as an institution is its enrollment of human sexuality in the service of ulterior tasks and goals.

   The reality of homophile inclinations, therefore, need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife particularly, adultery.

   The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

   Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

   Wolfhart Pannenberg, arguably the preeminent contemporary theologian, recently retired after 27 years as professor of systematic theology at the University of Munich, Germany, and director of the Institute of Ecumenical Theology. Translated by Markus Bockmuehl for publication in the Church Times; copyright Wolfhart Pannenberg

Friday, March 9, 2012

What to look for in your next pastor

I call John the Baptist the anti-seeker-sensitive preacher. He is not a mainstream preacher but lives on the edges of society, preaching a plain, direct message to all who will hear.

John's lifestyle

His home is in the wilderness: a dry, deserted place haunted by wild animals and demonic spirits.

You can tell from his clothing that he does not shop at Brooks Brothers; his cuisine is rather strange. When was the last time you tried to survive on locust and wild honey?

John's Preaching style
And then his message was not heart warming, sentimental or therapeutic preaching. It was politically incorrect: repent of your sins and turn to God. Why? The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1-3)

When the religious leaders showed up to hear him, he blasted them: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Matthew 3:7

John's qualifications
John was not a self-appointed preacher. He was appointed by God. He had no degrees from any college or accredited seminary. He was accredited by God. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah predicted his coming. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness: prepare for the Lord’s coming. Isaiah 40:3

I wonder how many churches today would hire this kind of preacher who made smug, religious people squirm and who courageously challenged political leaders to be morally responsible? Hardly anyone would hire John. And yet this is the kind of preacher that our society needs today.

What to look for in a pastor (by no means a definitive list!)
If your church is looking for a teaching pastor, look for someone who loves God more than self.

Look for someone who loves God’s word more than the praises of people.

Look for someone who believes in the power of God’s word to change human hearts.

Look for someone who cannot be intimidated, or bought, and who is willing die for the sake of the gospel. 
Look for someone who loves people and longs to see them come to Christ

Look for someone who personally hates sin in his/her life

Look for someone who wants to build a great church for the glory of God!
Look for someone with the heart of a shepherd; who will protect God's people from wolves and false teachers. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What to do with the rest of your life

But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:43-44 ESV)

When was the last time burglars sent out a note saying, “We will be in your neighborhood this weekend and will be breaking into homes?”

If this happened home invasions would cease, so would the need for security systems and locks.

Jesus is like the burglar. He has no intention of advertising his second coming. This means our only defense is readiness; preparedness; anticipating the possibility that he could come today.

Scripture was 100% accurate on his first coming. It is safe to assume that it will not miss the target on his second coming. What does readiness and preparedness look like?

He came once into our world as God in human flesh; he’s coming again not to suffer at the hands of sinful men but to usher in new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-5)

How do you know if you are ready?
1. You know you are getting ready when you resist the values of this age. This is what the people in Noah’s time failed to do. They were busy living their lives without any awareness of God’s plan through Noah (Matthew 24:37-39).

2. You know you are getting ready when you take responsibility for the work Jesus gave to the church. Readiness means to be occupied doing the Master’s work.

The rest of Matthew 24 and 25 talks about the master going away on a trip.  He called his servants, gave each an assignment to fulfill. He did not tell them when he will return, but simply told them to be faithful and be good stewards of his gifts.

Christ gave us this one, single, solitary life. He gave us time, talents, and money. How we use these gifts speaks volumes about our readiness for his coming. And when he comes, he will ask us, “What did you do with the life I gave you? What did you do with the talents I gave you? What did you do with money I gave you?

What are you going to to do with the rest of your life?

Monday, March 5, 2012

A prayer for grace to love and serve those in the grip of pornography

The following prayer was written by Pastor Scotty Smith on his Heavenward blog.Visit his blog everyday, for powerful, heartfelt prayers that speak to the heart. 

   Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? . . . Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Rom. 7:21-248:1-2
Lord Jesus, we praise you for the promise, provision and power of the gospel. There’s no crisis or snare beyond the reach of your grace or outside the claims of your kingdom. Today our hearts goes out today for friends and their spouses whose lives are being assaulted by the enslaving grip and ravaging effects of pornography. O, that our churches, and we ourselves, would become less surprised and better equipped to walk with one another through these kinds of stories…
Lord of resurrection and redemption, bring your mercy and might to bear in stunning fashion. Things impossible for us are more than possible for you. You have come to set captives free and to heal the brokenhearted. Pornography is creating an overabundance of both. We look to you for wisdom, courage, compassion and hope.
Jesus, for friends living somewhere along the pornography continuum of titillation to addiction, we ask you to reveal yourself in the deepest place of their souls. The issue isn’t moral reform, but heart capture. O how sin has corrupted the legitimate longings you have given us for intimacy and connection…
Grant the gift of godly sorrow—conviction before the face of our gracious God. Worldly sorrow will only drive them into further despair and death (2 Cor. 7:10). Only your non-condemning love has great power to deliver those who cry, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Rom. 7:24). Lead them to that cry, Jesus—that holy and liberating cry.
Where pornography has desensitized our friends, re-sensitize them so they can see and feel the horror of their entrapment and more so—much more so, the wonder of your deliverance… and us standing right there with them, not throwing stones, but throwing open our arms to extend your welcome and hope.
For our friends who are married to someone in the talons of pornography, dear Jesus, theirs may be the greater pain and struggle. No one but you can help them with the anger, the disgust, the wound, the shame, and the mistrust that goes with this story. Help us walk with our friends who are right in the middle of this heart-wrenching vortex. Show us how to validate their feelings without confirming hurt-driven conclusions. Give patience and perspective, forbearance and faith.
Jesus, only you can rebuild the trust. Only you can bring a willingness to hope again. Only you can heal the places in our hearts which have suffered the greatest violation and harm. Absolutely no one understands all this like you, Jesus, and absolutely no one redeem these messes but you. So very Amen we pray, with confidence in your great and glorious name.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The meaning of Freedom

In his book, The Contemporary Christian, the late John Stott, said this about freedom:

According to the first two chapters of Genesis, God created mankind male and female to be both morally responsible (receiving commandments) and free (invited but not coerced into loving obedience). We cannot therefore acquiesce either in licence (which denies responsibility) or in slavery (which denies freedom). Christians know from both Scripture and experience that human fulfillment is impossible outside some context of authority. Freedom unlimited is an illusion. The mind is free only under the authority of truth, and the will under the authority of righteousness. It is under Christ's yoke that we find the rest he promises, not in discarding it. 

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
(Galatians 5:13 ESV)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Very Creative Picture!

One of my Pennsylvania friends sent me this picture. I have no idea who created it or how they did it. But I thought you would appreciate the way the image shifts before your eyes!