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“This work isn’t for wimps”…

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I recently heard these words from a sermon preached by a young minister named Reggie Abraham. Reggie and his family attend the same church we have been attending the past several weeks, and this was my first time hearing him minister.

The thought behind this statement was that we all stumble and fall as we journey on with Jesus, but that just as our Leader stumbled on the way to the Cross but got up and continued on, so must we.

I was struck by the irony of Reggie’s statement for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s true that we are often knocked down and must pick ourselves up and start again. Sometimes we have the help of fellow believers to assist us, yet there are also times when it takes the Lord to raise us up and right our ship. Either way, we press onward.

I also found it ironic that Reggie spoke about falling down, because for the past six years he has had more than his share of being down. You see, six years ago Reggie suffered a serious stroke while riding his motorcycle. His right side was paralyzed and it was a miracle that he was able to get his bike stopped, especially considering how fast he was going.

While I don’t know all of the details, having just met him, I do know that he has spent a long, long time trying to rehabilitate his body and return to some sense of normalcy. Today, six years later he is still greatly afflicted on the right side of his body and just recently was able to find employment.

What is so remarkable about Reggie, and others like him who have had to overcome tremendous obstacles in their lives, is his indomitable spirit. His smile is contagious and his sense of humor will leave you laughing along with him as he delivers the Word in a manner that is guaranteed to touch your heart.

All of us face obstacles don’t we? I honestly don’t know a single person who can truthfully claim that their life has been one without hardship, regret, illness, or some sort of catastrophe.

I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but I have yet to meet the person who lives in a bubble, unscathed by the world and all its trappings.

Jesus in fact told us that we would have trouble in this life. He said “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world“.   John 16:33.  ESV

I love how Jesus tells us to “take heart”. Even though trouble will no doubt come our way, He’s saying to us to be encouraged and empowered because He has overcome the world. Do you know that because He has already overcome, you also are an overcomer through Him?

He has gone before you and has walked in some of the same places you walk through. Scripture reminds us that “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“.   Hebrews 4:15.  ESV

It is a faithful saying that Jesus understands your predicament. He’s been there, done that. Your greatest temptations, the ones that knock you off of your feet, the ones that send you reeling from their consequences, know that Jesus understands them because no one has ever endured the magnitude of temptations He endured.

Unlike many of us however, He successfully overcame them all, and so can you if you’ll place your hope in Him.

As Reggie said, “this work isn’t for wimps”. We all know serving the Lord brings with it unique challenges, and sometimes the journey can seem difficult at best. But the great thing about it is we don’t need to fight or overcome by our own strength or abilities.

Thankfully, God isn’t looking for perfect physical specimens to carry out His work. He isn’t concerned with our BMI, or if we have 13.1 or 26.2 decals on our car windows.

No, we have a great high priest who is leading the charge against our enemies. Our hope, our ultimate victory, is assured in Christ. His resurrection spelled defeat over Satan, over death, over Hell, and over the grave!

And besides, even if you are a wimp, it’s not your battle to fight but Jesus’s. All we need to do is get out of His way!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

Looking for something to brag about?

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I was listening to someone today sing a song when they mentioned that it wouldn’t matter to them if they lost everything as long as they had Jesus. I thought that was a noble thing to say,and I really do hope they meant it.

I hope all of us would feel this way,especially since an ever increasing number of Christians are experiencing exactly that across this world.

For me the song made me stop and think hard about that particular statement. Would it matter to me if I lost everything except Jesus? My honest answer is yes,it would matter a great deal to me.

Shocked? Disappointed? You shouldn’t be, because if you’re anything at all like the average American,you love stuff as much as I do. And if I can go one step further while I’m being honest, I am learning that I love stuff far more than I should.

I do not fancy myself a Biblical scholar,and while I have studied the Word for close to forty years now,it is increasingly evident that I must have slept through this part from the Apostle Paul:

I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

The King James Version translate those verses to say that Paul had learned to be content in whatever state he found himself.Using these two verses as a measuring stick,it is apparent that I have a ways to go.How about you?

I love also that as great a man of God that Paul was,he still remained humble before the Lord. Though he had reached that place of contentment that so many of us struggle to attain,he had this to say regarding his position in Christ:

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:12-15‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

Amazing isn’t it,what happens to a man who holds nothing back,but completely gives his life to God.He had it all at one time, respect of his peers,wealth and prestige beyond his fellow teachers.It was only after Jesus met him on a dusty road that he began to realize that he possessed nothing of real value.

If you’ve ever bragged on your own abilities,ever thought that you were smarter or knew best,or even once thought yourself just a little superior to those around you,just remember this man named Paul.A man that was taken up to the third heaven and heard things that are not lawful for  man to hear.A man that wrote most of the New Testament.

His boast was in the cross of the Master.All that the world could offer him meant nothing because he had died to the pride of life and the lust of the flesh. What mattered to this man of God was seeing the lost repent and come to Jesus.

Oh God,let this be MY prayer from this day forward.

If you have a few moments,give this song a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

So you want to be a follower of Jesus do you?

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I admit it. I’m old school.I was taught that anything worth having was worth working for.That if I were to ever accomplish anything or have anything nice I had to put my nose to the grind stone.That no one was going to give me anything.Boy,has this proven to be true!

I’ve basically lived my entire life with this being one of my guiding principles.I started working for wages at 15 years of age at a local farm.If any of you have bailed hay from the time the dew has dried until dusk you know what hard work is.

I recently retired after nearly 28 years at an automotive manufacturer,and my total working career is somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 years.In that time I’d like to say that I think I earned my keep. At least I tried to.

I see that same philosophy of hard work and dedication being necessary in the Lord’s work as well.While the current wave of easy believeism and “no cost” church membership is all the rage,I maintain that there is a price to pay if we’re to follow Jesus.

Rest assured,I am not referring to salvation here.That is not something any of us could ever earn by our own merit,works,or good deeds.Salvation is the ultimate free gift that the Father has given to all of us,bought and paid for by His only Son Jesus.

No,the philosophy of hard work and dedication I’m referring to is an essential component of true discipleship.A study of the gospel of Matthew points us to this fact as Jesus is teaching his disciples about the high cost they must pay to be a follower of His.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  Matthew 16:24

Prior to this particular verse Jesus has just shared with his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem,be killed,and raised on the third day.After sharply rebuking Peter for not accepting this word,Jesus tells them of the high cost they must pay if they are to follow Him.

There is something both powerful and frightening about this.

Powerful,because in these words Jesus clearly lays out the “formula”for becoming a follower of Christ.It could not be any clearer.I hear many today touting their own version of a plan,or formula.Sadly,most of these involve your money.

Which is why the worldly church of today has invented a “discipleship for dollars”,aka sow a seed method for discipleship. Let’s face it,giving money is very easy compared to denying ourselves anything.Why deny myself anything when I can just write a check?

This verse is also frightening because what Jesus expects of us is perhaps the most difficult thing he could have asked of us.To deny oneself is not easy.In fact,it is extremely difficult.Especially for those of us that like to do things our own way.Which is nearly all of us.

Lets look closely at this three step discipleship mandate from Jesus.

  1. They must DENY themselves
  2. The must TAKE UP his cross.
  3. Only then can they FOLLOW him.

This denying of oneself is something most of us rarely think about,especially in the consumerism driven world that we live in.If you think about it,is there ever a time when we are not bombarded with the media telling us that we deserve it? TV,Web,Magazines,it’s seemingly endless!Whatever it is…we have to have it!

The entire world of commerce is predicated upon the belief that the consumer is number one.This is 180° opposite of the command of Jesus to deny our self.If I can be very plain here,Jesus is actually telling us that if we are to follow Him,WE can no longer be number one! How does that sit with us?

Perhaps you know someone like this.No matter the subject,it inevitably comes back around to them.It’s the American culture,it’s all about ME because I’m special,or to be blunt it’s because we have exalted ourselves in such a prideful manner that we can scarcely think of anyone but ourselves. We are number one and that’s just the way it is.

Kind of hard to deny ourselves with that mindset,isn’t it?

Jesus then tells the disciples that they must take up his cross.Did you see how Jesus personalized the cross? They must take up his cross. That’s right,your cross.Did you know you were expected to pick up your own cross?

The cross was known for one thing,a cruel method of crucifying the flesh that ultimately ended in the death of the one who was crucified.That’s what Jesus is saying to his disciples and us,that if we are to be a follower of Him we must crucify this flesh.

Just as the straw is burned when it comes in contact with fire,so must our selfish desires burn away that we might take up our cross.We are to take up our cross and gladly carry it through the good times and the bad.This friends,is the mark of a follower of Christ.

When self has been denied,the cross is more easy to bear.

It is only after we learn to discipline ourselves through denying this flesh,then taking up our cross daily,does Jesus invite us to follow Him.This is the only way,just as Jesus is the only Way.There are no shortcuts beloved.This road can be long and dusty,but a journey worth the effort.

My hearts cry for the church is that it will return to the command of Jesus to deny ourselves,take up our cross,and follow Him.The world needs this more than it can imagine.

Jesus,the Hope of Glory must work through His church.You and I make up His hands and feet,His very heart.This world is dying a painful and horrific death,alone and destitute for the love of God. The love of God that must come through you and I.

I wonder sometimes,do we as the church somehow think that God is going to do this all by Himself? If that were so,why would He need you and I? The easy believeism I mentioned earlier is a perfect example of this.

I see it all the time: “repeat this prayer after me,now say… I am saved”. That’s all there is to it they say. But where is the discipleship?Where is the instruction on how to walk with the Lord?This is one reason why so many who start out for the Lord fall by the wayside!

So you want to be a follower of Jesus do you?

Well get ready,because it’s going to cost you something.

Just remember:anything worth having is worth working for.

Have a great Thursday everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

Prosperity: God’s way

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Last week my wife and I were privileged to minister at the Eastview Church of God in Dayton,Oh. It was so wonderful to hear my wife sing the praises of God while I accompanied her on the guitar.She is such a blessing in my life and there is no doubt that God himself smiled upon this unworthy man the day she came into my world.

Since it has been far too long since my last post,I thought I would share a bit from the message I delivered last week.I do apologize for this,but we are currently consumed with moving and I haven’t had the time to really think about the blog.

My message for the day was based on 2nd Chronicles 15:1-8. The theme of these verses is God’s clear instruction that if you walk with Him, he will walk with you,but if you turn away from Him he will also turn away from you.

Though Judah had previously enjoyed God’s blessings they now found themselves broken,discouraged,and defeated. They had in effect walked away from God.

Sin will destroy a nation.

Every time.

Yet because Asa turned his heart to the Lord God gave him rest and peace during his reign. Stability was also one of the hallmarks of Asa’s reign as he ruled for 41 years. Contrast that with the fact that during those 41 years, Israel had crowned seven different kings!

Asa tore down the pagan gods. He even destroyed the images his own mother had erected!asa-cuts-down-image

Clearly there is an historical precedent that we could learn from by examining what the Lord said unto Asa. Lets read together from my text from last week’s message.

1 Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded.

2 And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him: “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.

3 For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law;

4 but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them.

5 And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands.

6 So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity.

7 But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”

8 And when Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage, and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had taken in the mountains of Ephraim; and he restored the altar of the Lord that was before the vestibule of the Lord.       2nd Chronicles 15:1-8  NKJV

“The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you”.

Could the God of heaven make it any more plain than this?

Contrast this Word with what America is hearing from its pulpits today. We are being told that the way to prosperity is to GIVE. TV preachers constantly use the same tired,worn out shtick that if you give,it will be given to you…

Of course the Word says that. But the last time I checked,there were also an additional 65 books of the Bible that teach us the full understanding of God’s plan of prosperity!

Can you imagine that the God who said that the earth and the fullness thereof is the Lord’s is at all behind such lunacy?

For us to prosper as individuals and as a nation,the die has been cast. There is no “formula” or “special prayer” that will cause us to prosper.You can give all you have to your favorite hipster preacher and it will not prosper you one bit so long as their remains sin in the camp!

No, it is a heartfelt commitment unto the Lord that brings prosperity to our lives, to our nation.

“For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law;”

Sound familiar? Recognize any similarities? Hello North America!!

“But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”

Clearly,God wants to prosper His children. But it can only happen when we turn again to the Lord.He will not prosper us if we are double minded,if we live like the world and partake of it’s sin. God said rather that He would turn away from us.

I told the congregation that I’m around people all day who make the sign of the cross but speak as though they spend most of their time in the bars! It should be obvious to anyone that we cannot have it both ways!

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.   3rd John 1:2  KJV

Have a blessed Sunday everyone!

A Final Thought From The Vine

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12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”.       John 15:12,13   NKJV

The gospel of John is far and away one of my favorites books out of the 66 books that make up our Bible.In it you will find just about every conceivable human trait on display at one time or another,and I often marvel at the sheer range of emotions found within it.

Jealousy…Anger…Bitterness…Love…Forgiveness…Greed…Grief…Despair

All of these and more are on display. Life is on display here.

Whenever I read John’s gospel I look to the end of the book with apprehension,knowing of course that before I get there Jesus is going to be violently murdered.But before the lies and betrayal, before the accusers line up to spew forth their hate filled demands for vengeance, Jesus spends His final hours doing what He always did.

He taught.

About love.

Jesus taught his disciples that He had a commandment for them. And that commandment was that the disciples were to love one another as Jesus had loved them.

What? Jesus is within a few hours of enduring the most horrific death imaginable. And He knows it’s coming.It’s unavoidable. He knows it’s coming because it was for this hour that he came into the world.

Yet His focus is on imparting one last word to those who had walked with him for over three years. His focus was on love,and more specifically that the disciples would love one another like He had loved them.

All of this begs the question “what kind of love is this”?

Well,for one thing Jesus loved them to death,didn’t He? He even went so far to say that there was no greater love than this,that a man would lay down his life for his friends.

Other worldly love. Incomprehensible love. God love.

I’d like to know that someone loved me this much,wouldn’t you?

How about you?

A Follower of Jesus?

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What exactly is a “Follower of Jesus”?     Can anyone be a follower?

This morning as I was reading my bible,I came upon the verses below from Luke’s gospel that deal with the topic of following Jesus.And so I got to thinking about this subject and what it really means.And it has prompted me to do some very critical thinking all day today.

Actually,it’s pricked my heart is what it’s done.

I hear a lot about following Jesus. A lot.I suppose every person who goes to church would say they are a follower of Jesus.It’s what church folks do,right? We follow Jesus.

So how do you know a “Follower” when you see one?                way to Jesus

Now there’s a great question isn’t it?

I mean….do they look different than everyone else?

Do they talk differently than everyone else?

Do they act differently than everyone else?

All good questions I think. So lets take a look at what Jesus Himself said about this. After all,He would be the expert on the subject,not me.

23 Then He said to [them] all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

24 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

25 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?

26 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His [own] glory, and [in His] Father’s, and of the holy angels.

[Luk 9:23-26 NKJV]

One of the first things we notice here is that if we are to follow Jesus we must do something. Well, right away some are not going to like that because lets face it…we don’t like being told we have to do anything. It’s that pride thing don’t you know.

As a matter of fact the first requirement to be a follower of Jesus is likely to be a major stumbling block to most of us.The words “let him deny himself”immediately causes us to wince in pain at the thought of us,or self,not being the most important thing on the planet.

Ouch.

Funny how that life has a way of distorting our priorities as “Followers” isn’t it? This is especially true of those of us who call ourselves Christian.For example,if you listen to any of the hundreds of con men masquerading as men of God you would think that God exists for one purpose,and that is to serve them.

And yes,I know that some don’t like to hear those things but I’m long past worrying about whether or not I hurt someone’s feelings because I call out their favorite TV rock star preacher for stealing from the sheep and sowing discord among the brethren.

Ouch again.Sorry….couldn’t resist.

How pathetic we must appear to a lost world that is dying and going to Hell if all we can offer them is the same old tired mantra of “sow your best seed now and God will bless you”….Or translated for those who have ears to hear “send me your money so I can get rich at the expense of the needy”.

Why would anyone who can discern even basic biblical concepts think that such a thing is what Jesus meant when He told us to deny ourselves? These are “Followers of Jesus”? These are our examples? God help us.

OK, sorry for the diversion……….back to the topic at hand.

In addition to denying ourselves Jesus then said we were to “take up our cross daily”….Take up our cross? What is that all about?

A lot of people think this means bearing burdens and suffering hardships for the Lord. No doubt there are times when that is the situation we find ourselves in.In fact,when I was a young Christian that was the prevailing sentiment in the church.But there is a deeper meaning if we consider the entire context.

  • What is the purpose of the cross? For one thing,it is an instrument of pain and affliction but more than that,it was an instrument of death and complete and total sacrifice.
  • Jesus said to take up our cross and follow Him. He bore His cross and we must bear our cross and follow Him.
  • So….”taking up your cross” refers to sacrificing your whole life to God, just as Jesus was about to give His life for us. As I mentioned previously,this often involves bearing heavy burdens, but it actually goes far beyond that.
  • It is a total,complete dedication of our life to Him.Our whole life is to be given to His service.

All of which started me thinking this morning about my own track record of following Jesus. And you know what?

I’m doing wonderfully,fantastically,incredibly great at it.No problems here!

NOT!

Deny myself? Really? Me,the guy who wants what he wants when he wants it and has very little patience while I’m waiting on it?

Me?

Here’s what I think. I think if I lived like Jesus has told me to live,which means a sold out,crucified life to Him,I think I would have far less “stuff” and a whole lot more Jesus in my life.

I think I would focus a whole lot more about eternal things than I do my 401K,or terrorism,or the up and down price of a gallon of gas.

If I was living a sold out crucified life I would care more about the hungry and poor among us,rather than which team will win the football game.

So what about you? How does your walk stack up to”deny himself” or “take up your cross”?

Notice any gaps in your life? Anything you need to work on?

To answer an earlier question, followers of Jesus do look,act,and talk differently than everyone else.

Because they understand that their life is not their own,but rather they have committed it all to Jesus.

And Jesus makes all the difference in our lives.

Be blessed,

Ron

Christ, and Christ Alone…..

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I’ve been reading and thinking quite a bit lately about the single most important “thing” in this life,and most certainly the life to come. This “thing”,for lack of a better term, is “Salvation”.

“Salvation”. No matter how you describe what happens at the end of this life,every Christian has this hope within them that by the grace of God they will be…

  • SAVED
  • REDEEMED
  • RESCUED
  • SPARED
  • RANSOMED

Call it by whatever name you, your church, or your denomination calls it. The meaning is still the same.

Abiding within the Christian is a promise from God who cannot lie that we are going to be saved.Awaiting us is a new home in Glory,and an eternity that will be spent in His presence. Never again will our bodies suffer disease.Pain will be a thing of a past that we will no longer remember.

For the rest of eternity we will never know the heartbreak of a loved one going on before us. Every tear shall be wiped away,for in that place of eternal joy there will never be another tear of sadness or grief shed.

Sounds great,doesn’t it? So how do I get this Salvation?

Well, it cannot be earned or bought with money. You can never do enough good deeds to receive it. No one else can get it for you. It’s something that millions,perhaps billions have attempted to gain but in spite of their best efforts to buy it,earn it,or steal it have fallen short of the mark.

No friends,this Salvation is made possible because of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the Cross. In other words,the price has already been paid.Now if that isn’t the best news you’ve ever heard!!!!

So how can you know that this is real and not some made up tale from long ago? How about we search the scriptures for some proof?

The apostle Peter delivered quite a message to the chief priests,rulers,and scribes the day after he and his fellow disciples had been imprisoned for teaching the people about Jesus. In this message,which I have included below, Peter spells it out very plainly in whose name comes this salvation I am speaking about.

Acts 4:1-12…

1:And as they spoke to the people, the priests, and the temple commander, and the Sadducees came on them,
2:  being grieved that they taught the people, even to announce through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
3:  And they laid hands on them and put them under guard until the next day, for it was already evening.
4:  But many of those who heard the Word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
5:  And it happened on the next day that their rulers and elders and scribes, gathered to Jerusalem,
6:  and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest.
7:  And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name have you done this?
8:  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders of Israel,
9:  if we are examined today on a good work for an infirm man, by what this one has been healed,
10:  be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in this name does this man stand before you whole.
11:  This is the Stone which you builders have counted worthless, and He has become the Head of the Corner.
12:  And there is salvation in no other One; for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.   Emphasis mine

Well there you have it friends. Salvation comes from Christ and Christ alone. No other name that has ever been spoken can save you except Jesus Christ. Praying to or calling upon any other is futile.

Christ, and Christ alone…..

Romans 10:9-10
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Be blessed,

Ron

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