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What are YOU good at?

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The other day my wife handed me a piece of paper on which she had quickly written something she had heard somewhere. Here is her message:

“In the church we’ve gotten really good at worship, but not so good at service to the Lord.”

As I reflected on this it struck me in a profound way that what she said was very true. For so long our churches have focused so much of their resources on creating the perfect “worship environment”(whatever that is), that it’s come at the high cost of neglecting others, and more importantly, Him.

If we aren’t serving others, how are we Christlike?

If ministry is not our primary purpose, what exactly is our purpose?

If we aren’t being salt and light in this world, why does this world even need us?

If we aren’t anointed and equipped for service, then who is doing the work of the ministry?

Father, as David prayed, so do I.

Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Teach me that serving others is serving You. Take the blinders from my eyes that I might see the needs that are all around me. Help me to understand that my neighborhood is my mission field, that souls hang in the balance, and that yes, I am my brothers keeper. Instruct me in your ways Lord, and let me not fail to praise you for the untold blessings that have been given to me. Amen

Ron

 

 

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Love doesn’t quit

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This past week my Pastor and I were privileged to visit a ministry to the homeless called “Jesus Loves You Ministry” which is located in Port Charlotte, Fl. For the better part of an hour we were given a tour of the facilities and learned about all of the services this great ministry provides.

I asked a lot of questions and our tour guide Ashley was very gracious and patient in answering them all. I have to say that this young lady has a heart for this ministry that is as big as all outdoors.

As we began our tour, I was struck by a sense that this place was different somehow. After a few minutes I think I started to figure it out because what I felt in that place was love. Nothing more, nothing less, just the unconditional love of Christ.

Listening to Ashley talk about the mission of Jesus Loves You Ministry left me humbled by her genuine love for the people she calls her family. No judgement, no “holier than thou” attitude, nothing but love.

And RESPECT.

Because this ministry is so well organized, I thought I would share just a few examples of the types of ministry that take place there:

  • Identification: Identity documents such as birth certificates, ID cards or Social Security cards are often lost and expensive to replace. They assist with the process of obtaining these documents and the ministry absorbs the costs involved to do this.
  • Benefits: They assist with the application for SSI, SSDI and Veteran’s pensions.
  • Medical Attention: Often a low priority, they encourage regular physicals, prescription and follow up visits as recommended by a health care provider.
  • Employment: they assist with job search and applications and provide transportation to interviews.
  • Wellness Services: Transportation is provided weekly for showers (200 a week), two locations of which provide haircuts, clothing and lunch (served Monday thru Friday). They encourage regular contact with relatives by providing access to a telephone. They provide clean clothes and hygiene packets as well.

This ministry also has it’s own thrift store, and proceeds go right back into the ministry. Here is a picture of their building, which was as clean as a whistle I might add!

Jesus loves you ministry

This visit really touched me, and served as a reminder that the homeless are really no different than you and I. In fact, while there I mentioned to my Pastor “but for the grace of God, go I”.

I’ll go back to Jesus Loves You Ministries, and hopefully will get the opportunity to chat with a few of the folks who are served there. Meanwhile, I am reminded of what the Bible teaches us about loving others who are in need.

 

17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 1 John 3:17-19

Let us not love with words only, but in doing. Love never quits!

If you would be so kind, please lift up Jesus Loves You Ministry in prayer. Their web site is currently being redesigned, but if you go to their current site you can still learn a great deal about them. I’m sure they would be very grateful.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

Real heroes of the faith are still among us: part 2

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I am of the opinion that real heroes of the faith are still among us. They are not likely to be found however on TBN, Daystar, SBN or EWTN. You will not find them hawking their latest sermon series or music DVD at a church ministry conference.

You will find them however in the house churches in Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and other nations hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. While we here in the West live in relative peace and security,there are an ever increasing number of countries that are now hostile to the Gospel, as evidenced by the following “top 50 map”.

2018 watch list

You will find these heroes living in unimaginable conditions in the prisons of the above mentioned countries. You will also find them in unmarked graves after being tortured and murdered for their faith.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi are names you probably don’t recognize, however they are truly modern day heroes of the faith.

Who are they, and why are they heroes of the faith?

These are four Christian men who happen to live in Iran, a nation that is extremely hostile to the Gospel. Because Christianity is viewed as a threat to Iranian national security, the Christian religion is severely persecuted there.

Their church looks a lot different than yours or mine. Church services must be held in secrecy in the homes of believers or other nondescript locations in order to avoid detection and arrest.

No steeples, no ornate stained glass windows, no neon sign out front welcoming attendees.

These four Christian brothers were recently given 10 year prison sentences for partaking in Christian worship. It was originally thought that they would receive “only” six year sentences, given their original charge of “acting against national security”.

The charges were upgraded however to “promoting Zionist Christianity” and running house churches”, thus an additional four years were added to their sentences.

But wait, there’s more. Two of the four were also sentenced to two years’ internal exile, far away from their families.

Additionally, “Mr Omidi, Mr Mossayebzadeh and Mr Fadaie are waiting to hear the outcome of an outstanding appeal against their September, 2016, sentencing of 80 lashes for the consumption of communion wine at the time of their arrest in May, 2016.”

Did you catch that? 80 lashes. EIGHTY LASHES for partaking of communion!

We here in the West seem to have a very cavalier attitude about church, worship, and all things God compared to those suffering persecution abroad. We decide when and if we want to go to church. We decide how serious (if at all) we wish to become about our faith.

We choose whether or not to attend church or go fishing (or countless other fun activities). We choose whether to believe the Bible or not, and in some cases choose to ignore certain parts of the Bible that may not line up with our personal feelings about it.

We Christians in the West seem to have a lot of freedom of choice, don’t we?

Maybe that’s why there are so few (if any!) real heroes of the faith living here. Having faith here costs us nothing compared to our brothers and sisters in Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan,etc.

We who live here get by on a cheap, easy believism type of religion that demands nothing of us. Count the cost as commanded by Jesus? I don’t think so. Count our blessings for certain, but we want no part of a religion that costs us anything.

We have succumbed to the spirit of Anti-Christ that says God exists solely to bless you and cause you to prosper. This is the same spirit that seeks to elevate man to a god-like status while denying the true God of the Bible.

You will find no heroes of the faith in such a religion. What you will find instead are greedy, selfish, all about me individualists determined to control their own destiny rather than submit their lives to Christ.

Rather than partake of Christ’s suffering as taught in the Word, what we really want is a pie in the sky genie ready to blow gold dust on us just because we have somehow convinced ourselves that we are a superior brand of Christian.

Contrast this so called Christian lifestyle with those living in places where just the mention of the name of Jesus can land you in prison, or much worse. One must conclude that these two groups cannot possibly be worshiping the same God!

There are real heroes of the faith living today, heroes who have forsaken all for the cause of Christ. The men and women who are being imprisoned, tortured, and killed are examples of the faith that the Church should be holding up as the gold standard.

Who knows, you and I might one day be required to look to their sacrifices as the model of faithfulness and endurance needed in order to overcome that which has come upon us.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real heroes of the faith are still among us: part 1

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The New Testament book of Hebrews contains a record of what many call “heroes of the faith”. In fact, chapter 11 of Hebrews is commonly referred to as the faith chapter because it lists what some call the “faith hall of fame”.

As you read through this chapter, one is struck by the presence of some very familiar names. Abraham, Moses, David, Samson, and Gideon to name just a few. Readers who are familiar with the Old Testament can no doubt recall some of the events associated with these well known men of God.

Yet there are references to other,unnamed heroes of the faith that are recorded here as well. While the writer of Hebrews doesn’t mention them by name, he does list some of their “qualifications” for enshrinement into the “faith hall of fame”.

Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.  Hebrews 11:35-38

Though lesser known than the Old Testament patriarchs or kings, these “others” were nonetheless uniquely qualified to take their place alongside their more famous predecessors.

These were men and women who refused to bow the knee, but instead held fast to their faith in God and believed that a better day was coming. Put to the severest of tests, these faithful soldiers endured unimaginable persecution because they counted their lives as nothing that they might win the ultimate prize.

Our minds today simply won’t permit us to comprehend the untold sufferings described in the verses noted above. Being stoned to death is itself a terrifying method of execution, but can you imagine what it was like for someone to be sawn in two?

Church history reveals that tens of thousands of Christians were persecuted by some of the most vile,heinous, and satanically inspired means imaginable in an effort to eradicate the true Church. Yet somehow, the sustaining grace of God kept alive a remnant, for which you and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

In our present culture however, I am often surprised at the apparent unwillingness of many in the church to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints” (Jude v3). Indeed, there seems to be an attitude of spiritual entitlement among us that would be totally unrecognizable to the early church.

No doubt this is due in part to the prevalence of the gospel of “easy believism” and “health and wealth” that is pandered about today. It should be noted as well that neither of these false gospels would have ever been taught in the early church.

In fact, I’ll go on record and say that such teachings are part of what Paul described as “another gospel”, one that he said anyone preaching it is accursed (Galatians 1:8). That is for another day however.

 

In part 2 of this series, I will introduce you to some modern day heroes of the faith. Their identities may not be well known among believers today, yet their stories are no less inspiring than those found in the book of Hebrews.

Until then!

Ron

The day two “only son’s” met

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How many of us have ever been at the end of our rope? Like many of you, I’ve had my back to the wall so many times I’ve lost count.

Well, if this describes you, or if you’ve ever been to the point of hopelessness, I have good news for you.

God will meet you at your place of brokenness and despair. He doesn’t wait until your world is back on track and all is well before he decides to come to you. No, He comes in the midst of whatever struggles you may be facing, and no one does it better than our Lord.

Jesus’ ministry revolved around people. Broken people. People who, just like you and I, were at the end of their rope. Such is the following story from Luke’s gospel. There is something so incredibly powerful about this story that I just had to share it. I trust that it will bless you today.

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.   Luke 7:11-17

On this particular day a mother was in the funeral procession of her only son. The fact that her son was dead was made even more tragic because this mother was also a widow.

The Bible doesn’t give us the details about the deaths of her son or her husband, and I suppose it really doesn’t matter because in reality, in turns out that death wasn’t the real story here after all.

What is important to know however is that during this period of time, if a man died his sons were expected to become the caretaker and provider for the remaining family members.

Losing her only son meant that this woman would likely become destitute, as women in those days had no viable means of supporting themselves. A quick glance at the story of Ruth and Naomi gives us a glimpse into the world of poverty and desperation that she was about to enter.

Not only was the woman consumed with grief, but I have no doubt that a feeling of complete despair had come upon her. How would she live? How would she provide for any other children?

I’m sure she must have been thinking that her world had collapsed around her after losing first a husband, and now her only son! Wouldn’t the average person be thinking ‘how much more can I bear’?

She was destined to become dependent upon the kindness of others in order to survive. Fortunately, if she had anything at all going in her favor, it was that the large crowd assembled for the burial indicated this family was well known and respected in the community.

Her future, if you could call it that, was bleak indeed.

I imagine all of this was going through the mind of Jesus as he approached the funeral procession, and he was moved with compassion for this family because He knew what was in store for this widow if he did not intervene.

Now, here is what I find so powerful about this particular encounter: On this day two “only son’s” met, no doubt for the first time. One son was dead, yet destined to live; one Son was alive, yet destined to die.

Isn’t that amazing? Do you see the irony in that? Who but God could do such a thing as this? He is an on time God my friends!

The message here is clear: even when it looks like all hope is lost, Jesus Christ is the death defeater. He is a way-maker even when there doesn’t seem to be a way out. When you’ve exhausted all of your abilities and resources, let go and let God!

A widowed mother had her only son restored to her, while God was soon to lose His only Son as a sacrifice for us all.

And yet He is not dead, but alive forevermore!

Be blessed in Jesus name!

Ron

 

 

 

Is your focus inward or outward?

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Me!  Me!  Me!

Does that sound like someone you know?

I!     I!     I! All about me

Does this sound like someone you know?

Is it all about them?

Does the world revolve around them?

Do they have no time for anyone but themselves?

Of course, most of us know people like this. The world is a very selfish place, after all.

But what if we substituted them, they, and themselves for me, us, and ourselves?

That changes things a bit, doesn’t it? It sort of places us in the uncomfortable position of determining whether our focus is inward or outward.

As Christians we know that we cannot live our lives only for ourselves because the Bible is very clear that this life is not all about us, our wishes, our desires, or our needs.

It’s actually ALL about Him.

Because it’s ALL about Him, our focus then must be outward and not inward. As difficult and as challenging as that might be at times, we have no other choice. The fact is, we have been commanded to love others just as Christ loves us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   John 13: 34-35

Loving one another is one of the foundational truths of the Church. Our love and concern for one another tells the world that we have Christ abiding within us.

The world in which we live however, says that YOU are number one, that YOU are the most important person in the world. This concept is both unbiblical and self-defeating because it attempts to lift us up while denigrating God.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he reminded them that through love they were to serve one another. To emphasize this, he also gave them a warning that if they did not do this, but rather turned on one another, they would eventually destroy each other.

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! Gal. 5:13-15

Helping handsOurs is a call to serve, to prefer others, to put another’s needs before our own. This is the litmus test of whether we are who we say we are, or if we are yet another in a long line of imposters.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.   1 John 3: 17-18

Do you and I care about others?

If so, do they know it because we tell them, or because we show them by our actions?

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.   Gal. 6:9-10

By focusing outward instead of inward, we are presented with innumerable opportunities to minister to others.

From where I set, I think the world could use a whole lot more of that.

Be blessed!

Ron