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Substitute Preacher…

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As I mentioned in my last post, this past week I have been filling in for my Pastor, who is taking a few days off for some much needed rest.

Since we have both Wednesday evening and Sunday morning services at our church, I needed to prepare two different messages, and when you add in hospital visitation it was a busy week.

Well, not that busy, but busier than what has become my new normal since retirement.; )

If you’ve never done something like this, it is both exhilarating and somewhat frightening, especially if you’ve been “out of the saddle” for awhile. It also helps a great deal to know that there are people praying for you, and I sincerely appreciate those of you who lift me up in prayer.

A lot of prayer and study time is necessary to deliver God’s word effectively, at least that’s how it is for me. I understand that many ministers preach from a sermon outline they’ve purchased online, and many simply purchase an entire sermon series which they then tweak to fit their needs.

I decided long ago however that I could not do it this way, preferring instead to spend time in the Word and in prayer in order to hear from the Lord as to what He would have me to deliver to the congregation.

This is not something I take lightly, and I approach it as if the Lord Himself were listening. Which, of course, He is.

As it turned out, it was well worth the effort, and I am happy to report that both messages were received with a lot of sincere enthusiasm, and many reported to be encouraged and strengthened.

I count it a privilege to be able to pray with people who have been broken by the cares of this life. Hearing them pour out their hearts to God, and to be able to pray and weep with them is an honor I do not take lightly.

It is humbling to be reminded that the Lord will still use a willing vessel, and I am thankful for the drive and passion for ministry He has instilled in me.

Sensing the presence of God was just icing on the cake, and that makes it all worthwhile for me.

Have a great Monday everyone!

Ron

 

 

 

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The Hostile Act of Prayer?

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I have written before of the severe persecution of Christians in North Korea and other nations that are closed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sadly, that trend continues unabated as nearly every day a new story surfaces detailing the imprisonment, torture, and killing of believers.

When U.S. citizen Kim Hak Song was arrested in North Korea on May 6, 2017, he was told that his crime was the hostile act of prayer. Officials there had records of an email he had sent to his church asking them to pray for the people of North Korea, and they also knew that he had led morning prayers for a worship group.

Amazingly, after just a year in prison, Kim Hak Song was released from prison a few weeks ago in a “goodwill” gesture prior to the upcoming meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

While this news was received with gladness, there are still an estimated 50,000 Christians imprisoned in North Korea’s brutal prison system. Their “crimes” of being faithful to Jesus Christ have earned them unimaginable treatment including starvation, torture, forced abortion, and separation from their families.

For reasons I fail to understand, Christians here in the West remain willingly ignorant of the plight of their brothers and sisters in North Korea and other countries. It is almost like a game is being played out where if it doesn’t impact me, it’s not my problem.

What we fail to realize however is that this does impact us. Whether we like it or not, we are all one body, united in the Spirit. Christians suffering in remote prisons are no less a part of the Body of Christ than you or I.

You see, in the Kingdom of God we are all seen as equals, for the ground is level at Calvary.

While we here in the West argue over carpet colors, styles of music, the brand of coffee being served in the church cafe, pews or theater seats, or a hundred other insignificant items, thousands of our fellow believers are wondering if today will be their last day on this earth.

If you remain unconvinced as to our responsibility to care for those such as Kim Hak Song and the hundreds of thousands worldwide who are currently suffering for the cause of Christ, I offer these words of Jesus:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the,holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;

36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?

38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?

39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’    Matthew 25:31-40

I am not suggesting that anyone fly to North Korea to try and win the release of Christian prisoners. That would be incredibly foolish and you would no doubt find yourself in the same situation as thousands of others there.

What I am suggesting however is that you take just a few moments each day to pray for those I consider to be our generation’s true heroes of the faith.

They would willingly do the same for you and I, even at the risk of imprisonment.

Hostile Acts of Prayer? The only thing remotely hostile would be our continued indifference to the plight of those now suffering for Christ.

Be blessed in Jesus name,

Ron

For a detailed account of the scope and magnitude of Christian persecution in the world today, I invite you to go to https://www.opendoorsusa.org/  where you will find an amazing amount of information related to this matter.

I’ll take the prayer of faith any day…

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I was recently made aware of someone that has been dealing with some on-going health issues. It was nothing catastrophic, but serious enough nonetheless.

I made inquiries about their present condition and was told “They’re hanging in there”. Not sounding very convincing, I asked again and was told “They’ll be alright”. Still not convinced, I decided to probe a bit deeper as to how they were really doing.

The person proceeded to say “well, they don’t like to profess anything negative”. Of course, I immediately recognized this as classic word of faith (WOF) teaching because one of their beliefs is that your words have creative power, and you can bring negative things into your life just by speaking them.

My response? I told them that I believed in professing the TRUTH, in telling it like it is. If I feel great I’ll say so. If I feel sick I will say so. Saying “I don’t like to profess anything negative” doesn’t do one thing to mask the pain and discomfort when that’s what I’m feeling.

If you want to drill down to it, it’s actually dishonest to do this!

I’m paraphrasing here, but WOF adherents believe that if you speak positive things like blessings and prosperity, blessings will be coming your way shortly. However, speak anything they interpret as being negative such as pain, disease, or sickness, and bad things are coming upon you.

Now, the purpose of this post is not to do a comparative analysis of all that’s wrong with WOF theology. I simply want to point out that the scriptures do not teach what the WOF adherents believe as it pertains to sickness or disease. For example:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.   James 5:14-16

James is recognizing that there are sick people among the congregation. Why didn’t he launch into the benefits of positive confession if indeed that is all that is required? Or why didn’t he scold the people for confessing negative things like sickness, or for their apparent lack of faith?

Instead, James says to call for the elders of the church to pray for the sick. He did NOT say to call for the elders to speak a positive confession over them. He told them to pray a prayer of faith.

Could it be that James knew what he was talking about? Well, I’d like to believe he did! While James apparently did not become a believer until after the resurrection1, he had no doubt seen the power of prayer up close and personal.

What he did NOT see was a Sermon on the Mount about the benefits of a positive confession. Nor did he ever see Jesus admonish a grief stricken parent for their lack of faith, or for speaking negative words.

What he DID see however was the power of prayer in action.

And that my friends, trumps a positive confession any day of the week!

Be blessed!

Ron

1 John 7:5, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 1:19

Is God really doing a “New Thing”?

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You hear preachers say it all the time: ‘God’s doing a New Thing today’. This implies that the hearer should be expecting God to do something great, something that has never been done before.

In preacher circles, this is what is known as a cheer-leading statement, one used to elicit an exciting response from the crowd. After all, most people like to be in on a new thing coming down the road. And what could be bigger and more exciting than God Himself doing something new?

If you were to Google “God is doing a new thing”, it would bring up about 170 million results. You can take your pick from memes, rap songs, sermons, and videos. In other words, there’s something for everybody!

See, I told you people really want to be in on a new thing!

I have heard this repeated so many times in church from so many different preachers that I’ve lost track. Where does this statement come from, and what does it really mean? And who is it speaking to anyway?

Well, the phrase is part of a verse of scripture found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. In context, this verse belongs with verses 43:16-28 in which God reminds Israel that it was He who delivered them from bondage, and it would be He who would bring them back from exile.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. Isa. 43:19

This verse speaks specifically to the Jews. It does not speak to the church, nor does it speak to individual Christians. There is nothing prophetic about it apart from their soon return from Babylon. It was spoken to the nation of ancient Israel. Period.

It’s incredible how we Christians will take a verse here and there and somehow invent a new doctrine, as is the case with the above verse. Then again, we are living in the time when Paul said that men would turn their ears from the truth.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.  II Tim. 4:3, 4

Yet this does bring up an interesting question, at least in my mind. Why are God’s people always looking for the ‘next big thing’?

Why do we constantly need to be told that God is up to something? It seems that some believe that unless we are fed a steady diet of ‘new things’ we will lose interest and begin to drift away.

Which begs the question…

What is wrong with us?

Here’s what I think. I think if we were to humble our hearts, commit to seek His face on a daily basis, spend quality time alone with him in prayer, and study to show ourselves approved unto God, we would find that we would never need to look for the ‘next big thing’.

Our lives would be so full of excitement and enthusiasm coming directly from the Holy Spirit that we would no longer need to hear about ‘a new thing’.

We would be living it every day!

Now that’s something to get excited about!

Be blessed!

Ron

 

 

The renewal of Spring

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The first day of Spring brings to mind thoughts of Renewal.

While much of the Northeast and Midwest are bracing for yet another round of snow and ice, winter is about to loosen its grip. It has to at some point, just as it does every year.

Soon the ice will melt away, and the snow drifts will become smaller and smaller until we almost forget about those snowplow mountains.

It’s time for Spring. Time for the seasons to change. Time for the Crocus to pop through the cold ground.

spring crocus

Photo by Wilfried Santer on Unsplash

All of us look forward to the close of another long winter, and impatiently wait for the warm spring breezes that are surely on their way.

It’s time for renewal.

As a nation, as individuals, we all need to be renewed, to be cleansed.

We all need to wash off the cobwebs and dust that have collected over these past months. The time has come to snap out of these winter doldrums!

The prophet Jeremiah knew a thing or two about renewal when he prayed for Israel to be restored to their proper relationship with God. How his heart must have been breaking when he prayed these words!

Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored;
Renew our days as of old,   Lamentations 5:21

My hope is that all of us would pray this prayer:

Lord, we have wandered far from you, so far that we can scarcely remember how we once enjoyed your presence. But we know that you are faithful to forgive us, both as a nation and as one of your children. Father, we pray for renewal. We pray for the new growth of Spring, that it will restore in our hearts that which the locust has eaten and the worm has destroyed.

Revive us O God. We are desperate for Renewal.

Ron

And we wonder why….Part 1

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The recent massacre of 17 children on Valentine’s Day in Parkland Fl. has turned my thoughts once again to the plight of America’s children, and the ever increasing dangers they must contend with in a society rendered (seemingly) helpless to protect them.

Though this most recent mass shooting occurred about three weeks ago, I have purposely delayed writing this series of posts until now in order to clear my head and heart of the emotions I’ve been contending with as a result of this tragedy.

Parents and average citizens alike are outraged, as well they should be, that yet another mass shooting has taken place in one of our schools. The senseless, cowardly attack on our children has once again left our nation grief-stricken, searching for answers.

Searching for someone, or something to blame.

True to form, whenever a tragedy of this magnitude takes place, the inevitable call to do something about guns, particularly guns such as the AR-15 rifle, soon follows.

Of course, it is understandable that grieving parents would lash out at what they perceive to be the primary cause of why they must now bury their child.

Who wouldn’t?

Also true to form, the moments after such a tragedy find our elected representatives on both the Left and the Right politicizing the event, as if the murder of seventeen innocent children were some sort of sick, twisted, political football to be tossed back and forth.

How sick and perverted is it when the people we elect to represent us cannot lay aside their differences in the face of such a tragedy, and come together in the spirit of unity and compassion for the betterment of the nation?

No offense, but if this doesn’t cause you to feel outrage, you should have someone check your pulse.

Surely one would hope that the cries of anguish from a broken-hearted mother would be able to break through the self-imposed impasse that prohibits having a reasonable, rational discussion among the stakeholders.

You think?

Some say it’s the fault of the NRA, or the Congress. To others it’s the fault of the President. Depending on which side of the political pendulum you swing from, it’s either the fault of the Conservatives or the Liberals.

None of which is completely true. Rhetoric rarely contains more than a thumbnail of truth, after all.

You see, when we don’t know what to do, we look for a scapegoat. For those of you unfamiliar with the word scapegoat, it comes from the Old Testament book of Leviticus.

On the Day of Atonement, the sins of the people were ceremoniously placed upon a goat called the “scapegoat”, who was then released into the wilderness to wander.          Scripture reference Leviticus 16:5-10

When our children are mercilessly slaughtered, our righteous grief and anger demand that we affix blame; hence we look for our own version of the Levitical scapegoat.

And who could blame us? Sins of such magnitude stir within us the desire for revenge and justice. Someone must pay! Someone must be held accountable!

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, the murderer of the 17 kids at Stoneman Douglas High School, confessed killer Nikolas Cruz, will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But does that bring any of those children back? Does a lifetime sentence for Mr. Cruz mean the end of school shootings in America? The answer I’m afraid is NO to both questions. Let me explain why I believe that.

Our nation is drowning in violence, hatred, and evil, and as a nation there is no longer a life preserver of righteousness or morality for us to grab hold of. This is the path that we have chosen, despite those who would say otherwise.

We have systematically removed the one Source from this nation that is capable of defeating the evil that is upon us. Indeed, our “Life Preserver” has been tossed overboard without us. Consider the following:

  • We have outlawed public prayer nearly everywhere. Heaven help you should you want to open a public meeting with a moment of prayer.
  • The ACLU has made sure that the Baby Jesus can’t show up at the town square at Christmas.
  • Football coaches are forbidden to pray with their students before game time.
  • The Ten Commandments have been removed from our courtrooms.
  • Christians who denounce SIN are now denigrated as haters.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States.
  • The names of God or Jesus cannot be used least someone become offended. Of course, if you want to use those names in a curse, then no harm, no foul.

And we wonder why we’re killing one another?

We’ve removed GOD from America, and what has He been replaced with?

In Part 2 of “And we wonder why”, I’ll share with you just one of the things that has replaced God in America. I’ll also show you some startling facts about the efforts taking place to steal our children’s innocence, and the devastating effects it is having upon them.

Until then…

Ron

Of course you can do it your way,but…

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Human nature being what it is, most of us are pretty sure we know what’s best for ourselves don’t we? Think back to when you were a teenager for example. Your parents no doubt tried to steer you the right way so that you would avoid making mistakes. Or perhaps a teacher tried to influence your choice of careers.

If you’re like most teenagers you probably let all of this sage advice go in one ear and out the other, because after all, you knew more than your parents or your teachers. Am I right?

God also wants what’s best for us, and He surrounds us with influences in the hope that we will pay attention, learn, and avoid making bad choices.

The Word of God, for example, is a powerful influence on our behavior. If we will heed its instructions, we can be assured of avoiding the negative consequences so often associated with making “less than intelligent decisions”.

Sometimes however, we deliberately choose to ignore God’s instructions. When we do this, we can be sure that there will be serious consequences to follow. For example, take the story of Israel and their desire to have a king reign over them.

In the book of 1st Samuel, chapter eight, we find the children of Israel telling Samuel that they wanted a king to rule them, just like all the nations round about them had. By this time, Samuel had grown old and had appointed his son’s judges over the people, but the people rejected them because they were only in it for the money and prestige.

Now, this demand for a king did not sit well with Samuel, and so he prayed to God about the situation. Here is the Lord’s response to Samuel’s prayer:

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them”.             1st Samuel 8:7.  NKJV

God told Samuel to give the people what they wanted. In essence, they were going to be permitted to have it their way. Up until now Israel was a theocracy, meaning God Himself was their ruler.

So desirous were they of the nation’s surrounding them and their monarchical systems of government, Israel rejected God in favor of man.

And God said “OK”.

There is, however, more to this story. For certain, they would indeed have it their way by having a king rule over them. But listen to what they were getting for a king.

Samuel told the children of Israel that their new king would take their sons and daughters, their fields and vineyards, even their sheep and donkeys (verses 10-17).

Doesn’t sound like such a good deal after all, does it?

So harshly would their new king deal with them, that Samuel told them the day would come when they would cry out in despair over their new leader.

But the Lord would not hear them in that day (verse 18).

Scary stuff there, when God refuses to listen to their voices any longer. When I really think about it, there aren’t too many things that I can think of that are worse than God turning a deaf ear to me!

How many of us are familiar with the expression “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”? I’d say Israel could identify with that particular saying.

The moral of this story of course is that we are free to choose who will lead us. We are free to choose this world’s leaders, or we can choose God. We can freely choose to be like everyone else, or we can choose to be identified with God.

It really does come down to choices.

Choices…and their consequences that is.

Have a blessed day, in Jesus name!

Ron

 

 

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