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Book Review – John Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”

“The Life You’ve Always Wanted” is a book about spiritual formation as one seeks to live out the good news.  Beginning with the premise of a disappointed life he offers hope through transformation to real living.  He states, “The good news as Jesus preached it is not about the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven when you die.  It is about the glorious redemption of human life – your life.  It’s morphing time” (26).  Ortberg borrowed the term “morph” from the children’s show Power Rangers.  The Power Rangers would announce morphing time which signaled the transformation from ordinary human life into the martial art super heroes.  We cannot change with just an announcement.  However, the announcement precedes transformation and the Holy Spirit provides the power needed for us to live extraordinary lives in Christ.  Ortberg provides such an announcement for transformational living through the application of spiritual disciplines.  It is a good book and would be great for a group study.

Prayer by Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone (Merton 1958).

Book Review – John P. Kotter’s “Leading Change”

Leading and implementing change in a local church is very challenging and is often unsuccessful.  Kotter addresses the process of leading change in the business world.  I chose this book because my doctoral dissertation includes transitioning the leadership structures within the local church.  Kotter offers eight stages of the change process:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision and strategy
  4. Communicating the change vision
  5. Empowering employees for broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

From Kotter I have gleaned valuable insight such as the need for “buy in” from the people.  Change is a process which does not happen quickly and must be managed in such a way that the leadership does not lose creditable influence and the people do not become complacent.  Having the backing of a leadership team is essential in order for a pastor to lead a congregation in change.  This is a great book which complements “Managing Transitions” by William Bridges and provides resources needed within my context of ministry.

The Gospel for Broken People

As ministers, we work with people who have broken lives.   Sometimes this brokenness is caused by a person’s own sin or sins.  Sometimes this brokenness is cause by the sin or sins of other people.   Sometimes the brokenness is caused by the fact that we live in a world that has sickness and weakness – things which are the general effects of the fall into sin of Adam and Eve.   Many times it is a combination of these things.   Sin is the problem.  We have Jesus Christ who came into this world to save sinners.   We have Jesus Christ who not only saves people from the curse of sin but also saves people from the power of sin.  He can help!  So, when we minister we need to think carefully about where Jesus Christ fits in every situation.   How can we present the gospel as good news for the person who asks for our help?   How can that good news become even better good news as Jesus Christ continues to do His work in that person and in us?

Book Review – Walter Brueggemann’s “The Prophetic Imagination”

Brueggeman, an Old Testament Professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur Georgia, challenged me to not just use the tools of Biblical Interpretation but to also use my imagination.  Brueggeman states his hypothesis early on, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us” (3).  Even so, it was a difficult book for me to read.  I came to the book with some intimidation and skepticism because of Brueggeman’s position as a well-known liberal OT scholar and the introduction of using imagination is new to me in Biblical studies.  However, as I continued to plow through I began to see the similarity of my own preaching style in what he calls prophetic imagination.  Because of the Fall (sin) we are in a state of hopelessness but Jesus is the answer to our hopelessness.  However, it is not enough to have a historical quest for Jesus.  God is active in the world and having a prophetic ministry is not just about emphasizing God’s wrath and judgment.  Brueggemann brings imagination to flow from the roots of the Text and includes in his liberating view of hermeneutics.  Royal consciousness unfolds as Brueggman traces God’s purpose from Moses through the kings, prophets, to Jesus.  There is a shift of consciousness because of the power available through Christ.  What I have gained most from this book is the need to stay focused on the Text (after correct methods of Exegesis have been taken) then to move to application with imagination of how the world could be as a result of the Text.  As a future doctor of the church I see myself operating in prophetic ministry to the point of proclaiming what social justice in the world can and should look like from God’s perspective.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,

The Father, the Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

True God from True God,

begotten, not made,

of one being with the Father;

through Him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

He came down from heaven,

was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary

and became truly human.

For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

He suffered death and was buried.

On the third day He rose again

in accordance with the scriptures;

He ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead,

and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,

who proceeds from the Father,

who with the Father and the Son

is worshiped and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

We acknowledge one baptism

for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen

Book Review – Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”

This is a book which has been on my reading list for a long, long time but I have never taken the initiative to tackle in depth.  I should have because the book provides valuable information on some key areas in my life.  Covey names the habits and explains the application as a new paradigm for personal effectiveness.  I have glean the following from the each of the  7 Habits.  First, I need to “be proactive.”  As a leader, I need to take charge and not be passive about my role as a pastor.  Second, I need to “begin with the end in mind.”  I must keep my focus and have a clear vision of the expected outcome and goals.  Third, I need to “put first things first.”  There should be a priority list made concerning task and I should approach the list with the most important or most pressing need being handled first.  Fourth, my attitude with others should reflect a “win-win” scenario.  I want to help others and discovering common ground can assist me in having the preferred outcome.  A less preferred outcome would include a loss and the loss would come at an expense to either me or the person I am coaching/ministering.  Fifth, “seeking first to understand, then to be understood” will help improve my listening skills and gain the platform to help others.  Sixth, “synergy” is vital in ministry as it makes room for teamwork.  Having the resources of others is vital for productivity and time efficiency.  Seventh, “sharpening the saw” is something which seems like I am always engaged.  I must be a student of God’s Word and a student of the people to whom I am called to serve.  I must seek ways to continue and improve myself.  The book was helpful and practical.

The Apostle’s Creed (Traditional Version)

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried;*

the third day he rose from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,

and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic** church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

*Traditional use of this creed includes these words: “He descended into hell.”

**universal (catholic here means “universal” not Roman Catholic)

MLK Day: Was His Dream in Vain?

The plight of African Americans from the time of slavery in America to the era Civil Rights is one of immense suffering and martyrdom.  One could say that many died in martyrdom for the cause of freedom.  However, it might be more accurate to say that the countless African Americans who died at the hands of others during this time was a Christian martyrdom.  As slaves sought survival and freedom their plight was subject to the exposure of Western culture mixed with their African culture and heritage.  Within this mixture arose a strong biblical faith which became the strength and hope of many who suffered at the hands of the taskmasters.  The taskmasters seemed to want slaves to be religious as to bring about peace and harmony amid the plantations and cities of the South.  What taskmaster would want a dishonest slave?  None.  Therefore, a door was opened for the slaves to become religious in the South.  Early on the slaves were allowed to worship.  One threat for the Whites was the slaves assembling together and learning the Bible and any other source of education.  As long as African Americans remained illiterate, Whites would have an advantage.  When African Americans were exposed to the truth of God’s Word the sin of their unjust treatment resonated within their hearts.  Hope of liberation came to life through the Biblical passages/narratives.

Perhaps the most common narrative from which many gleaned hope was that of the Exodus motif.  The Israelites were in Egypt for some 440 years.  The first 40 years seemed to be a time of peace and harmony for the most part.  However, the Bible states the following: “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8 NIV).  From that time on the plight of the Israelites was one of bondage and mistreatment at the hands of taskmasters.  As slaves, the Israelites had no rights.  What the Israelites did have was faith is God and that He would send a Deliverer.  Moses was called to be the mouthpiece for God and to be used by God as His mighty Deliverer.  Moses did not see himself as one that was apt for the task, yet he trusted God and became obedient to the call upon his life.  Through the messages from God to Pharaoh through Moses, “let my people go” (Exodus 5:1, 7:16, 8:1, 8:20-21, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3 NIV).  And through a series of ten plagues/judgments sent by God upon the Egyptians, Pharaoh did let the Israelites go.  The Bible tells of how God brought the Israelites to himself on “Eagles wings.”  This metaphorically tells that it was by God’s grace and power that the Israelites experienced freedom.  After the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground, God ultimately delivered the Israelites from their oppressors by drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea as the waters rescinded.  God did not abandon them in the wilderness as we see, “Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘this is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:3-6 NIV).  May we speak these words to African Americans today?  God brought you out by His grace and by His power.  He will sustain you.  He will keep you.  He will not abandon you.  He will guide you and bless you.

The African Americans could relate to the oppression of the Israelites and glean from this Exodus motif, hope that God would send them a Deliverer such as Moses.  The name Moses became synonymous with leaders that offered the hope of freedom.  A practical theology arose through Biblical narratives such as the Exodus and became known as Black Theology.  It was the embracing of God’s promises, protection and provision.  Though the Whites could bring about torture and even death to the African American slaves, what the Whites could not do was take away the hope which had taken residence within their hearts, minds and souls.  When the African Americans would sing, they sang with conviction and hope.  When African Americans fought they fought not against flesh and blood.  Paul’s word’s, “We fight not against flesh and blood” was manifest through the actions of the African Americans from the time of slavery through the era of Civil Rights.

In time, deliverance from slavery came.  However, it was a freedom that came with great sacrifice.  Many died for the cause of freedom for the African American slaves.  The families of slaves were split as the slaves were sold and family ties were lost.  A sense of identity became an issue for all the African Americans.  In the midst of this tragedy, God brought about a bond that only African Americans can truly understand.  It has been asked, “When you look into a mirror what do you see?”  The African Americans say that they see a black person.  The Whites would simply say that they see a person.  This is sad commentary on the lasting effect of slavery and the continuance of mistreatment toward African Americans.  When a White looks into the eyes of an African American what is seen?  Is it a continuance of the sins of the past or has there been progress?  Can the White see the pain in the African American eyes?  It is only a thought in our discussion but what if the race was reversed?  Just for discussion purposes, would we see things differently?  We think so.  As much as it would be commendable to report that we have recovered from such a travesty as slavery and the unjust treatment, through the years of African Americans by Whites, we are not able to make such a report.

As in times past, the Scriptures continue to offer hope.  Hope is available not only for the African American but for all who have asked God for forgiveness and cleansing from the evils of the past.  The Bible teaches the following: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NIV).  There will come a time for every believer when the pain of the African American’s plight will be redeemed.  As recorded in Joel:

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten — the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.  You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.  Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.  ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the survivors whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:25-32 NIV).

Yes, God has spoken His oracle through His prophet and the promise is to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.”  Salvation is available.  Also, God has promised, “I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten….”  We can debate and continue to ask, “Why did slavery in America take place?  Why did God allow it to happen?”  Or we can accept His Word for us today and live toward fulfilling His will.  Perhaps, God’s will was demonstrated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Was his dream in vain?  We certainly think not!  However, as it has been said, “this is not a time for people to continue his dream but to awake and bring it alive in our actions.”  Let us take from our discussion the words of the true Master, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.‘  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

Book Review – Andrew Murray’s “Key to the Missionary Problem”

This book has provided me with a wake-up call, a fresh understanding of the history if missions, the importance of every believer participation, and my position as a pastor of a church.  Although Andrew Murray, South African Pastor, Evangelist, missionary, was not able to attend the April 1900 Ecumenical Missionary Conference in New York he did respond to the papers submitted at the Conference.  The Key to the Missionary Problem is largely that response and a challenge to pastors and parishioners to take missions seriously.  Instead of training missionaries we should ignite missions in the heart of every believer.  Pastors should see the world as their parish and seek the fulfilment of the Great Commission as the church’s chief end.  The church’s response to missions has been affected by the world and lack of prayer.  Murray brings out the important work of the Moravians.  “In the first twenty years of its existence the Moravian Church actually sent out more missionaries than the whole Protestant Church had done in two hundred years” (46). We are indebted to the Moravians for their great work which shows up in the Wesleyan churches.  “Three great principles taught by the Holy Spirit in any time of His mighty working are these: (1) that the church exists only for extending the kingdom (2) that every member must be trained to take part in it and (3) that the personal experience of the love of Christ is the power that fits for this”(53).  The Missionary Problem is a personal problem within the life of every believer.  Therefore, as preceding the Day of Pentecost every believer must prepare to receive the Holy Spirit by forsaking, consecrating, and surrendering all to Jesus Christ.  A deep spiritual life connected and in tune to Jesus Christ is the key!  Murray states, “Every believer has been saved with the express purpose to save others” (100).  For this reason we must commit ourselves to prayer!

The Lord’s Prayer (Greek)

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς

ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου•

ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου•

γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,

ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς•

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον•

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφελήματα ἡμῶν,

ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν•

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,

ἀλλὰ ρῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

[Ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας•]

Resolutions for a New Year

Many Christians make New Year’s resolutions to pray everyday, to read the Bible everyday, and to attend church regularly.  These are fantastic resolutions.  However, these are things that we, as Christians are supposed to be doing anyway!  So, what sort of New Year’s resolution should a Christian make?  Here are some suggestions:  (1) Pray to the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5) in regards to what resolutions, if any, He would have us to make; (2) Pray for wisdom as to how to fulfill the goals God gives us; (3) Rely on God’s strength to help us; (4) Find an accountability partner who will help us and encourage us; (5) Don’t become discouraged with occasional failures; instead allow them to motivate us further; (6) Don’t become proud or vain, but give God the glory.  “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:5-6).  Happy New Year!

Thanksgiving: Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.   And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, GIVING THANKS to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:16-17 NKJV).

Gratitude has been defined as a thankful attitude.  As Christians we should always give thanks to the Lord.  We should maintain an “ATTIITUDE OF GRATITUDE but that, like most things we hear in church, is easier said than put into practice.  How can one have an attitude of gratitude when he or she has recently experienced something as; losing a job, filing for bankruptcy, grieving over the death of a loved one, divorce, major sickness or anything that turns our world upside down?  Is it possible to live positively in a negative world?  The answer is yes but it is not as easy as it may sound.  It is easy to say that Jesus is the answer to all of our problems but how does that simplistic of an answer help in times of disaster?

For me the answer is keeping Jesus in focus and what He has done me.  If it were not for His mercy, grace and love I would have been consumed a long time ago.  When our hearts are filled with gratitude we have the power to overcome.  This Thanksgiving I hope that your hearts will be filled with what the Lord has done for you, in the past, present and the future!

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” Matthew 12:34b NKJV).

Reflections From the Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel was written by and about a man of great faith.  The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament alludes to two stories from the book of Daniel:  “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” Hebrews 11:32-34 NKV).  The book of Daniel is also one of the apocalyptic books in the Bible, giving prophecy of the end-times.  Jesus, in His teaching on the end times, refers to Daniel the prophet, and mentions one of his prophecies (see Matthew 24:15).  In addition,  the book of Daniel gives prophecy concerning when the Messiah or Christ was to appear the first time.  Daniel gives this prophecy more than 500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  Finally, the book of Daniel emphasizes the sovereignty of God.  It is important to know what the Bible says instead of what others say about the Bible.  People also like to speculate about end-time subjects.  Speculating can be fun, but it can also be destructive.  I look at what I know about apocalyptic literature in the Bible, and at times I like to speculate too.  But I always need to come back to the fact that the Bible does not tell us every last detail about the end of time and the events leading up to it.  Speculating about the end-times has very wide error bars.  Bible prophecy was not written for us to predict the future; it was written so that we would recognize events when or as they happen.  It was also written to both warn us of things that will happen, and to comfort us by showing us that God is in control no matter what happens.  Knowing your Bible prevents you from being led astray!  Daniel contains more than just end-time prophecy.  It shows us the life of a man of faith, who even though he was in a terrible set of circumstances, was completely sold out for God.  It teaches us about who God is and many of His attributes.  It shows us that God is in control!  And it does provide prophecies predicting the Jewish Messiah and when He was to come!  Daniel provides major prophetic evidence that Jesus Christ is the Messiah!

The Application of Practical Wesleyan Theology

John Wesley came to America as a missionary to the Indians.  While in Georgia and other parts of early America, he often rode on horseback from one church to another to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been told that on one such journey, he was stopped by a thief who shouted, “Halt, your money or your life.” Wesley got down from his horse, emptied his pockets to reveal only a handful of coins.  He even invited the robber to search his saddlebags – which only carried his books.  In disgust, the thief was turning away when John Wesley cried “Stop, I have something more to give you.”  Puzzled, the robber turned back.  Wesley then leaned towards him and said “My friend, you may live to regret this sort of life in which you are engaged.  If you ever do, I beseech you to remember this: ’The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’”   The robber hurried silently away, but Wesley got back on his horse & rode on his way praying in his heart that the Word might be fixed in the robber’s conscience.  Later, at the close of a Sunday evening service, a stranger stepped forward and earnestly begged to speak with John Wesley.  Wesley recognized him as the robber who had stolen from him before, but now he was a well to do tradesman and better still, a child of God.  Raising Wesley’s hand to his lips he affectionately kissed it and said in deep emotion, “To you, dear sir, I owe it all.”  Wesley replied softly, “Nay, nay, my friend, not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin.”  Let us remember that one of the best ways of bringing glory to God is through our witness.  When others see us excited about Jesus and our involvement in His church it takes the focus off of us and places it on Jesus.  “It’s not about us and what we want.  It is about others and who they need, Jesus.”

“Hold the Fort” vs. “Advancing the Kingdom”

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20 KJV).

Fort Macon located on Bogue Banks Island just East of Atlantic Beach, NC is one of my favorite places.  Last month I had the opportunity to visit this historic site once again.  This brick fortress is best known for its use in the Civil War.  However, it has come to  have several different meanings for me as it has often been a place of prayer and meditation.  Recently, my mind has been pondering a hymn titled, “Hold the Fort” (Lyrics printed below)  It was written by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876).  His life along with his wife’s ended tragically in a train wreck.  Mr. Bliss did not think that “Hold the Fort” was a good hymn.  Yet, it was popular in his day.  Personally, I do not like the hymn either.  The lyrics and the title do not adequately describe the role of the church.  We are not commissioned to hold the fort.  Sometimes it might appear that we are holding the fort, bunkering down in fear waiting for Jesus to come rescue us.  However, we are supposed to be going into the highways and byways and telling people about Jesus!  Let’s not embrace a “Hold the Fort” mentality but an “Advancing the Kingdom” mentality!  As we look forward the Christ’s Second-Coming let’s be busy fulfilling the “Great Commission!”

Hold the Fort
Ho, my comrades! see the signal waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing, victory is nigh.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;
Mighty ones around us falling, courage almost gone!
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s Name we triumph over ev’ry foe.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near;
Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer!
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”

Offer Them Christ

One of my favorite pieces of art is a painting by the American artist Kenneth Wyatt for the Bicentennial Celebration of American Methodism in 1984.  On June 18th, 1999 (my 35th birthday) my dad presented me with a framed print of this painting.  It is now hanging in my office at the church.  The painting depicts John Wesley bidding farewell to Thomas Coke and his party as they embark for America from the Village of Pill on the River Avon in 1784.  With a dangerous and uncertain trip ahead of them, John Wesley keeps Thomas Coke’s charge simple: “Offer Them Christ.”  My hope and prayer is that we will never lose sight of that simple charge!

Reclaiming Corporate Worship During the Summer

With the end of school and the beginning of the summer break I want to encourage you not take a break from corporate worship.  I am not suggesting that we should not take family vacations.  I think we all should and we should have a great time this summer but please don’t sit out of church or call off ministries.  These are challenging times as individuals and as a church family.  We need everyone active in worship and ministry.  What I have seen as a pastor is that after a person or a family misses church for about 3 weeks in a row it becomes really difficult for them to get back attending on a weekly basis.  One of the saddest things is that some churches have no choice but to practically close for the summer because the lack of attendees.  What makes this truly tragic is during the summer when we run into someone, only to find out that, yes, they are still in town, but that they are not attending church during the summer because there are no classes for the kids, or because their extended family or friends are not going to be in church.  Throughout this nation churches are failing because of spiritual complacency and the lack of commitment to corporate worship.

One of my hopes is that we will recapture the evangelical spirit that brings with it a commitment for corporate worship and ministry.  For some it will be tough to turn down that 9:00 AM tee time on Sunday during the summer or refuse to leave the beach early enough on Sunday morning to get to their home church in time to join in corporate worship.  I know it is not popular but I would like to ask that you join with me and lets reclaim the summer months for God and His work.  Challenge others to fight the urge to “take a break” from church during the summer.  As worshipers the summer can be a time of renewal, revival, and spiritual growth instead of a church sabbatical.  In all honesty, it took decades for churches in this country to abandon the summer months as a mission field and to declare June, July, and August a shallow period for the faith.  We probably will not reclaim this time in a single season.  But we do need to start.  We need to keep praying, keep worshiping, and keep serving during the entire year.  Amen?  Amen.

Seven Types of Biblical Praise

Psalm 150 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  What does it mean to praise the Lord?  Webster defines praise as expressing approval, to glorify. The Old Testament has many Hebrew words which in our Bibles are simply translated as “praise.” Through word studies we can see that each of these words describe how to praise God biblically.  The following are seven Hebrew words for praise and their meanings

1..“Barak” – To Bow, Kneel, Lay Prostrate, Bless (Psalm 72:15).
2.  
“Zamar” – To Make Music (Psalm 150:3-5).
3.  “Yadah” – To Lift Hands Upward (Psalm 134:2).
4.  “Towdah” – To Lift Hands to Receive (Psalm 100:4).
5.  “Shabach” – To Make a Loud Shout (Psalm 33:3, 95:1).
6.  “Tehilla” – To Sing a New Song, Spiritual Singing (Psalm 33:3).
7.  “Halal” – To Be Hilarious and Joyful (Psalm 149:9, 150:4).

Not everyone praises the Lord is the same manner.  However, there should be an understanding and acceptance of praise among believers.  Praise is magnifying the Lord. When we magnify God in our lives we minimize the problems in our lives.  Then we gain a fresh vision of the greatness of God. Many times when the enemies of Israel would encamp around them, Joshua would send out the tribe of Judah first. Judah means praise. Judah would go out before the enemies of Israel, armed with nothing but instruments of PRAISE. When the tribe of Judah would begin to praise God would ambush the enemy, and confuse them. The same principle happens in the spirit realm today. When we really begin to praise God, our praise literally confounds the enemy. Remember when our praises go up…  the blessings of God come down.  Let’s praise the Lord and allow everything (or everybody) to praise the Lord without frowning upon them.

Ministries Should Provide Connectivity

We are living in a day when people are more disconnected than any other time in history.  I believe that God wants us to be connected to Him and to each other.  Ministries at church should be designed to connect people in relationship with God and with each other.  In this hectic day in which we live, it’s easy to get so busy that we neglect the important matters.  Too often the cares of this life keep up from developing positive, healthy relationships.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “You are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.”  God calls us members of His family.  The family is designed to be a close relational unit, but how can we say that we are in God’s family if we are not connected?  Unfortunately, I’ve seen many people suffer in times of crisis because they did not have the support that strong relationships can bring.   God wants us to be connected with Him and with each other.  At church there should be many opportunities for everyone to “Get Connected.”  Each ministry should focus on helping people develop relationships with God and with each other.  The most natural place for people to become connected is in the arena of similar interests.  We all have things in which we are interested and these can be a basis for developing happy, healthy relationships.  I would like to encourage you to discover an area of interest/ministry and get connected in your local church!

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