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Make America Great Again?

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Catchy slogans are just that: slogans.

make America great

They’re words on a billboard,magazine cover,or TV ad.

Oh, and they’re on ball caps too.

Mostly though,slogans are just words that someone thought would provide motivation to accomplish a goal or a task.

Did you know there are companies that employ people to make up slogans? I found that out when I was still working. Go to any trade show or conference and you will see booths plastered with eye catching slogans.

So while the slogan “Make America Great Again” sounds wonderful,we must be careful to understand that it is impossible for a simple slogan to make that happen.

It’s sort of like our paper currency. The slogan “In God We Trust” sounds wonderful. But does it actually encourage people to trust in God? I think you know the answer to that.

You see, patriotism and nationalism aside,and forgive me if I don’t sound like a team player here,but neither hard work,government intervention,or catchy slogans can make America great again. Any more than riots and demonstrations in the streets will make America great again.

I happen to believe that slogans and demonstrations aren’t what is needed in order for America to become great once again. Oh sure,they may effect change at the local level,and they can be effective at rallying the troops.

Our need however,is so much greater than that. For America to become great again she must look beyond herself. Far beyond herself.

Our priorities are out of order. We seem to think that we alone can fix what ails us. Lest we forget, the brightest minds and trillions of dollars combined have failed to right the ship.

This is what happens when a people is lifted up with so much pride that it replaces God with themselves. We cannot see the forest for the trees! We have bought into the lie that we are in control of our own destiny because our collective pride will not permit us to recognize One greater than ourselves.

And if we are brave enough to dig even deeper, what we have in America is a consciousness problem. As in…

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,” I Timothy 4:1-2   emphasis mine

Paul’s letter to Timothy contained an important message for the church of today. What we have failed to recognize is that as the church goes, so go the nations of the world. Think about that for a few moments.

I will end this post by saying this. A couple of thousand years ago a warning went out to a group of churches located in what we now refer to as Asia Minor.

revelation_Turkey_map

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Revelation 3:17,18

While the verses above were directed to the church of Laodicea, America clearly resembles these words from Revelation almost to a “T”.

Make America Great Again?

The only way for America to become great again is for Americans to make God great again in America.

I’d like to see that on a ball cap.

What happened to my church?

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“Ron,what’s happened to my church? It seems they no longer want us older saints. They are shoving all of us aside and replacing us with younger people. Don’t we matter any more”?

A precious,dear saint of God named Sarah* said those words to me over twenty years ago.In her confusion,hurt, and grief she wanted to let me know that she was struggling with all of the change that had suddenly engulfed her world.

Change can do that to us,to all of us,can’t it?

You would have to know this dear sister to fully appreciate her sense of despair.A woman of very humble upbringing,married but never able to have children,her church became her whole life.

Though limited in education and resources, she long ago had committed herself to doing all that she could do for her church. Indeed,it sometimes seemed as though the church was the family she never had.

She was there when the doors were open.She prayed daily for her church,not once but several times each day.And let me tell you,when Sarah prayed she got down to business with God! She had a way of praying that made me think that this woman was in touch with Something not of this world.

To her,the church was the very epicenter of her existence and she was determined to do everything within her modest means to ensure it remained healthy.She gave faithfully.She loved everyone.She also believed in “telling in like it is”,if you know what that means.She dished out love and correction with equal fervor.

She read and studied constantly,and she had a way of presenting the gospel that made it seem to come alive.Though she never attended Bible college, she could hold her own and then some when someone wanted to show off their knowledge of the Bible. Listening to her one could almost sense the love of God embracing you as she spoke of her Savior.

Unbeknownst to Sarah however ,her world was about to be turned upside down.

A meeting had been called at the church.Something about needing approval for something or other.Comments were made during the meeting about the need to become more modern,to do things the way other,more progressive churches were doing them.

It didn’t seem to matter that the church was vibrant(oh my,you should have heard our choir!),attendance was growing weekly,or that we had an established ministry of feeding the homeless.

The community where the church was located enthusiastically embraced the church’s various ministries.The church was always mentioned as one of the denominations shining examples.

There was something very special about this church that you could feel the moment you walked into the sanctuary. Expectation.Enthusiasm.Loving people loving each other.New faces and kids everywhere. What could possibly be wrong with this?

Evidently,plenty.

We were told that we must change our focus. Time to shift our priorities they said. It’s a new day,a different time the leadership team declared.We needed to move away from “traditional ministry” and focus more on attracting a younger crowd.We needed programs and activities geared more toward them,we were told.

I never understood why we couldn’t do both.

Like good foot soldiers,everyone tried to follow this new ministry direction.After all,that’s what we’re supposed to do isn’t it? Bit by bit what was once a thriving faith community was reorganized into the church that leadership said the community needed. But it wasn’t the same any longer.

Tragically,it was not just the members who felt that way but the entire community noticed it as well.So much so that they stopped coming. Funny isn’t it,how those on the outside can tell there’s something wrong on the inside?

And here’s the real kicker: even the homeless stopped coming.They no longer felt welcomed in the church.You see,in the scramble to reorganize in order to make our church more attractive to the new audience they wanted,the homeless had been forgotten. Left out. Abandoned.

So they went elsewhere.Or nowhere.

As I said previously,this happened over twenty years ago. The church that I loved,the church that Sarah and so many just like her loved,closed it’s doors within a few years of that fateful meeting.What had once drew the multitudes from afar had ceased to exist.

It’s members scattered here and there,some finding a new church home while others never fully settled in someplace else. Some gave up searching altogether.As for Sarah,she found a new church home and immediately went to work for the Lord there.

You may ask why I am telling you this sad story of something that happened so long ago,and what could it possibly have to do with us today.Well,let me try to explain.

In this life we are privileged if we find something that so touches our hearts that it becomes a part of us.Like that one true love,the man or woman of our dreams.That one who will be your forever soulmate.They come around once in a lifetime and we treasure them dearly.

I feel the same way about God’s church.Even though I may say things about the church that many wished I didn’t,I love the church.I say the things I do because I have a very keen sense of what the church can and should be,and it is painful to sit and watch what has happened to the family of God.

I cannot,I will not remain silent.

Most of the readers of this blog are aware that I recently moved to another part of the country.Without a doubt,this has been a life changing event,one that has caused me to spend time in reflection,both past and future.

One part of this reflection is that I’m reminded how precious my memories of church are,especially as we attempt to find a new place of worship in what to me is a new and very different world.

You see,from my perspective church today isn’t what church used to be. Of course,there are many, many voices out there proclaiming that it can never be what it once was. Just as life can never be what it was.I get it.

Things change constantly,culture is ever evolving and morphing into the next new phase. I certainly get that. And I am not,as my sweet Princess loves to remind me,living in the past. This time.

I think of church as community,or family. My fondest memories of church seem to center around togetherness and gathering together to worship in unity and love. Perhaps it’s because growing up my own life was so void of those things that I cling to these precious memories.

And I’m struggling to find that right now.

Visiting a new church for the third time where the only two people that greet you are the pastor and his worship leader is not my idea of community. Can someone explain to me how 100 people can stare at you and never smile or offer a handshake? Hey…I even showered!

It begs the question to be asked “what,or who are you if your character more closely resembles a zombie than one of God’s children”? Ummm…where is this abundant life Jesus spoke about(John 10:10)?

Someone whose opinions I value greatly told me recently that “I should forget everything I knew about church. That church is dead and will never come back”they said.

“The best you can hope for is to just find a place to attend,sit through their programs,and realize that you have nothing to offer them by way of engagement or involvement.Just sit there,sing along,nod at the appropriate time,and go home”.

Talk about painful to hear!   My God!

I confess that this does not sit well with me. This is not the model that the Disciples gave us concerning the church. In fact,the Disciples would not recognize the church of today.

They were a part of something that was alive and powerful. The churches they established shook up the known world. Indeed,it was said that their message was capable of turning the cities upside down(Acts 17:6).

I don’t know about you,but I’m not seeing any communities being turned upside down for Jesus today. I’m not seeing the lasting effects of a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ.What I am seeing is a church that has embraced the world while forsaking its roots.

In our zeal to be more culturally attractive we have forsaken the old paths(Jer 6:16). In their place we now have a politically correct, counterfeit church that wouldn’t dare rail against sin for fear that what is hidden in its own tents might be exposed for the world to see.

See,I told you I wasn’t going to remain silent.

Please understand me. I am not against necessary change,especially if it means winning the lost and ministering to the needy. I’m all in. Matter of fact,I’m getting desperate to find a place where I can get involved! Refusing to change when it is necessary can be fatal!

What I don’t understand is why we can’t do all of that,and still be the church. A powerful church emboldened by the Holy Ghost to be the hands and feet of Jesus…to all people. Isn’t that our assignment? I mean…where’s the love?

I guess I’ve now lived long enough to fully understand what sister Sarah said all those years ago:”what’s happened to my church?”.

  • Sarah is not her real name.Out of love and respect for her I have chosen not to reveal her real name.

Priorities

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Priorities. We’ve all got them don’t we?

For most of us,priorities are fluid in that they are constantly changing and evolving.

If you’re like a lot of people,your priorities will usually end up on an itemized list like this:

No doubt your list will differ from my list. Yours may look more like a top ten list,while mine may have just a couple of items on it.For many, priorities revolve around family or career,or perhaps your education.Some people are very good at putting their priorities on a list,while others of us struggle to sort it all out.

Whatever it is that makes your list will become a goal that you must work hard to achieve.After all,nothing is given in this life.If you want it you have to earn it.And that takes work.A lot of hard work.

Jesus talked about priorities too.In fact,He even told us which ones should make it to the top of our lists.You can read all about it in the book of Matthew,chapter six.

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.   Matthew 6:19-21  NKJV

Lets look into these verses a bit deeper.Notice the first words Jesus said were for us NOT to lay up treasures,or our priorities, on this earth because they were subject to destruction.Subject to failure,destruction,loss, and disappointment.Isn’t that the nature of things here on earth?

Now,if you and I were to compare these words of Jesus to our personal list of priorities,or our list of treasures,would we find that our list is in harmony with His words?

Or would we find that our personal list of priorities are pretty much dominated by earthly,or material things?Not saying we can’t or shouldn’t have priorities while we’re on this earth,but is your list of priorities dominated by them? Is your list out of balance? Many of us are probably like that aren’t we?

Life definitely has a way of twisting our priorities around.

  • Bills to pay
  • Dr.visits
  • Job loss
  • Divorce

All of these and countless others are life events that can turn our world upside down,and along with it our list of priorities.Which tells us that focusing the majority of our priorities on earthly things will leave us longing for something better.

Which is why Jesus tells us exactly where out treasures,or priorities,should be.He said they should be in heaven,because in heaven there will be no destruction of them.

Heaven.That place that you heard about as a child but maybe no longer believe in.That place where there is no night.That place where every tear is wiped away.That place where sorrow and pain will never make an appearance.

That place.Jesus told us to place our treasure,or our priorities,in heaven.

Maybe Jesus understands more about our nature then we like to let on.Maybe Jesus knew something about what motivates us.Maybe that’s why Jesus said this:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

Your treasures,or your priorities, will capture your heart.If your treasures,or priorities,are carnal than your heart will be as well.If our focus is predominantly on self or what we can get,it’s a sure bet that our heart will be intently focused on those things.

Funny thing about Jesus.He never left us guessing as to whether or not there was a “middle of the road” position to take did He? That is clearly evident with these few verses as well, for if we are earthly minded,our heart will be also.Oh,we may give a token thought or action to things above,but our first priority,our best efforts, will be geared towards the things of this life.

If we are heavenly minded,our heart will be also.Our hearts are fixed on heaven,on things eternal.We look forward to that day when we leave this life and step into a new one,one where things are not corrupted.Where thieves do not break in and steal.Where the Lamb is the light of the city.

Priorities.We’ve all got them don’t we?

Mine are changing with the passing of time.Having been a Christian now for 40 years my priorities have been to be a good provider for my family and to make heaven my eternal home one day.And I can see more clearly than ever before that both my treasures and my heart must be on things above.

The important things are the things that last,not the temporary things that we work so hard to attain.One day all of those earthly,temporal things that we prioritized in this life will sift through our fingers like grains of sand, and be gone.

They don’t seem all that important when you look at it this was,do they?

Laying up our treasures in heaven,having our hearts fixed on heavenly things,these are the things that stand the test of eternity.

Priorities.Where are yours today?

Be blessed,

Ron

Seasons

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Yesterday was the 1st day of spring and after the cold winter we experienced here in Ohio,it couldn’t be more welcome! We did a bit of shopping south of where I live and it was 68 wonderful degrees,and the bright sunshine was truly beautiful to behold.When we came back home it was “only” 54 degrees and it felt cold after enjoying the earlier warmth of the day.But as we say here in Ohio,if you don’t like the weather… just wait a day and it will change!512px-Four_Poplars_in_four_seasons (1)

Experiencing the changing seasons is not unlike the changing seasons of life when you really think about it.In fact,everything about this life is constantly changing.Even the scriptures remind us that this life is an ever evolving cycle of change.

King Solomon,considered to be extremely wise beyond his years spoke of this in the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes when he said this:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
According to Jewish tradition Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon during his younger years, Proverbs in his middle years, and Ecclesiastes in his later years.If that is true it would make sense that in his later years he would begin to understand that there is indeed a season for everything in life.
Solomon had experienced the major highs of being a servant of the Most High as well as the major lows of this life brought on by his own idolatrous ways.If you read about his life it is apparent that at the end of his days he was disillusioned with materialism and earthly pleasures as the road to happiness,and in fact he never again recaptured the joy he once knew.
All of which has me wondering this Sunday morning if any of us are really that much different than this once wise king? We start out in life thirsting for knowledge and once we reach a certain level we seek even more.All the while ignoring the fact that there is but One TRUTH,Jesus Christ.
Or maybe we start out with a grand plan to acquire great sums of wealth,only to accomplish that goal and realize it did not yet satisfy us.Sort of like the man in this story from Luke chapter twelve…
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
Always looking for more….
The next great adventure over the horizon
The next opportunity
The next romance
The next promotion
That’s the thing about Seasons
They bring with them the winds of change
A shift in direction
A realignment of priorities
As I write this I have had a season of change handed to me and it is unclear to me what this new season will entail.My future plans had been set and I have been working towards accomplishing those plans for some time now and the end was in sight.What is that saying about “the best laid plans…?
Or as my pastor stated “it may be that God has been in the arrangements all along and is directing all of this as an answer to prayer?”
Maybe,just maybe…. God has another plan?
But such is this life,is it not?
To every thing there is a season…
How we respond to the seasons of change will show the world our true character.
It will reveal to ourselves if we are who we say we are…
Only one thing is certain and that is that God is God and that will never change.Seasons come and seasons go but He remains the same.
Is there a more sure foundation upon which to stand than that?
Be blessed,
Ron

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