Photo: Davide Ragusa
It seems the older I get the quicker life passes by. Recently my wife and I were going through old pictures of our grandchildren. All were either in grade school or pre-school age. Today these little people have become beautiful, handsome and responsible young adults. What happened to our precious little boys and girls? The answer is obvious – they grew up, and yes, we grew older.
On July 9, my wife’s precious sister, Dionna, passed from this life, escorted by angels into the arms of her Lord and savior. This was another reminder of the acceleration of time. Funerals are candid reminders of the brevity of life.
Important questions confront us during times of loss:
- Who are we?
- What’s our purpose?
- Where are we going after death?
- What will we spend our life on – temporal or eternal things?
I have been a pastor for nearly 40 years. I have officiated at numerous funerals where the deceased represented a variety of ages. Here are a few:
- Jayla, age 12
- Sarah, age 8
- Tony, age 48
- Rita, age 51
- Glen, age 49
- Vernon, age 21
Death affects every age! We can’t ignore it and we can’t escape it.
Luke 12:16 – 21 is an in-your-face text. It’s the story of the rich fool who thought his wealth was a result of his efforts. It says in verse 16 that the ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.
This is a vital statement because crops only grow if the ground is sufficiently filled with moisture and nutrients. In other words, only God can make a seed reproduce.
However, the rich man took credit for his wealth and decided to build bigger barns and bins to hold his surplus of grain. His conclusion was, “I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
This overconfident man thought he was totally in control of his life. His plan made sense but his focus was only on temporal wealth.
Notice what God said in response: “You fool. This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be for those who store up things for themselves and are not rich toward God.”
We are only a breath or heartbeat away from death.
Psalm 90:12 instructs us to number our days so we will get a heart of wisdom. A wise person lives their life in the light of eternity. They recognize that life is short and eternity is forever.
Jesus Christ has made eternal life available for all mankind. He arose from the dead making death a transition from biological life to eternal life.
Dr. Paul Rees, editor of World Vision Magazine, described following Jesus Christ with these words: The time to die is now…die now, it helps to get a lot of things settled. Then live forever!
Photo: Aundre Larrow
Women At Risk, International (WAR), was formed by Becky McDonald to help young women who were victims of human trafficking. The stories that are told from this ministry will challenge you.
The innocence and hope of these vulnerable victims is destroyed by human predators. I encourage you to go to their website, WAR International, to get acquainted with this ministry.
Recently, I heard a story from one of the WAR staff members that challenged me in the area of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a challenge for these girls because their captors destroyed their dignity and self-worth. WAR replaces the human slavery and brutality with God’s love and forgiveness. They present the gospel of Jesus so that each knows they are unconditionally loved by God and that He has a plan for their lives. WAR wants each girl to know they are forgiven in Jesus and they can live a life free from control and abuse.
They also want to help their girls develop a way to take care of themselves by making jewelry and practical items people can purchase. This enables them to live an independent life.
This whole positive, new direction for these girls is dependent upon their forgiveness of their captors. This is a challenge, but necessary if these girls are going to live a life of inward freedom.
Matthew 6:14 – 15
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
In essence these two verses command us to give forgiveness to others as a natural response to the unlimited forgiveness that God gives us.
One young lady was chained to a dog house and given absolutely no love so she would never feel the abuse of those who used her for their own pleasure. WAR rescued her and she was overwhelmed by God’s love and the wonderful people who helped her develop a new life.
One day God began to show her that her captor was also a victim of abuse when he was young. His attitudes were controlled by the way he was treated and his brutal behavior was motivated by his own secret pain.
The more this young lady prayed for her former captor, the more God’s love was put into her heart for this man. She actually searched him out and forgave him in a face-to-face meeting. She begged him to receive the Jesus who gave her forgiveness and eternal life. His response was to ask her forgiveness and to receive what she had – Jesus!
There is power in forgiveness.
II Corinthians 2:11 says we are to forgive so Satan won’t get a foothold in our lives. We are capable of forgiving others when we understand how much God has forgiven us.
Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean you trust a person. Trust is earned over time. Forgiveness is giving up the right to punish those who have wronged, hurt or offended you.
Romans 12:19 says vengeance is only God’s right, not ours. If you are holding onto unforgiveness, it’s like eating poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die. Release that person to God by forgiving them and enjoy the freedom that comes from forgiveness.
Dr. Michael Barry has written a book on the relationship between forgiveness and cancer. His findings are based upon credible research and have been proven to be helpful to his patients and others. His conclusion is this:
The stress of unforgiveness negatively affects the immune system. Forgiveness, on the other hand, has an immediate wholesome effect and long-term benefit in strengthening the immune system and positively affecting the healing process.
Forgiveness is offered freely to all of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I John 1:9 promises us that if we “confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
In his book, The Fourth Dimension, Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho shares a story of a young lady who visited his office. When she entered she would not sit down to talk with Pastor Cho, but rather chose to talk with him facing the wall in a shaded corner of his office. He was confused by her behavior and then asked why she would not talk to him face-to-face.
Her answer represents so many people - she was ashamed of her life. She had lived in immoral relationships and had wasted years by making bad decisions. She was convinced that her life was too soiled for God to desire a relationship with her.
Dr. Cho then proceeded to describe biblical forgiveness. He asked her to close her eyes and imagine she was at a lake throwing stones in the water. He asked her to mentally pick up a large stone and throw it into the water. Then he asked her to pick up a small stone and again, throw it into the water.
Then Dr. Cho asked her, “Where are both rocks?”
Her answer was obvious, “On the bottom of the lake.”
“What was the difference between the two rocks you threw into the lake?” he asked.
Her response was, “The size of the ripple in the water.”
Then Dr. Cho explained that Jesus Christ died for big sins and small sins. Both are at the bottom. The ripple of consequences is the only difference between large and small sins.
Our natural instincts push us to perform for God. We try to please God through behavioral change or comparing ourselves with others. However, God does not grade on a curve.
Romans 3:23 puts all of mankind on the same playing field:
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23 further explains the consequences of sin as being death, physically and spiritually.
Why does the Bible teach us about our own sinfulness?
The answer is that we all need grace. Grace is getting something we don’t deserve. Trying to get to heaven on our good works is like trying to mop a dirt floor. The more we mop the dirtier it gets.
Christ came not only to forgive us of our sin nature, but also to change our nature so we could live a life of forgiveness for ourselves and others.
If you identify with this young lady in Dr. Cho’s office, then I encourage you to receive God’s grace by receiving Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Lord and savior. The lady in Dr. Cho’s office made that decision and her life changed from being laden by guilt to one of freedom through forgiveness.
Photo: Steinar Hovland
I recently watched Stephen Curry’s acceptance speech at the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award Ceremony. The NBA told him, “Don’t mention Jesus,” but Curry’s response silenced them all.
He immediately addressed the audience about his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Curry realized that God gave him his talent and basketball was his platform to witness for Christ.
After sharing his love for God and importance of his faith, he honored his family, friends, former coaches and teammates for his success. Curry is a tremendous NBA player and talent; however, he has kept his focus on blooming where God has planted him so others can see the Jesus who lives in him.
There is no doubt that our country is being attacked by spiritual forces of darkness. Over the last fifty years we’ve seen prayer taken out of schools, legalization of abortion and marijuana, a landslide of pornography and human trafficking, and the rising influence of the homosexual agenda. The traditional family is facing extinction.
If we focused on these moral and spiritual deficits we could be overcome by depression and despair. That’s why we need a voice like Stephen Curry, that will once again echo the words of Joshua 24:15b: But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
On August 28, a bold Christian movie will be playing at cinemas throughout the United States, called War Room. It’s all about prayer for our nation to return to God.
The preview of this film depicts an older lady praying a powerful prayer for God to raise up warriors for Christ who will face the darkness that is trying to destroy our country. Behind the landslide of filth are dark spiritual forces that can only be addressed by prayer that agrees with God’s word. [Watch the trailer here.]
The focus of the movie is a call for Christians to engage our culture with prayer. Prayer creates the environment for God to speak to people and for them to listen to Him.
Voices are rising throughout our land that will not submit to the fear of cultural intimidation. Now is the time to confront the blatant sins that threaten our Christian values and lifestyle. We need to follow the example of Peter and John in Acts 4:19: But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes; to listen to you [cultural, anti-God voices] or to Him [God]? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
Be the best at what you do so God can give you a platform to shine for Him. Bloom where you are planted and let’s help usher in the greatest revival the world has known.
Photo: The Billy Graham Library
I recently watched a Trinity Broadcast special on the life of Dr. Billy Graham. His son, Franklin Graham, was interviewed by Jan Crouch at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many of Dr. and Ruth Graham’s ministry experiences are displayed in different rooms of the library through pictures and video presentations.
The library is all about the cross. The door to the library is in the center of a 40-foot glass cross. The displays all point to Dr. Graham’s crusades and interviews where Christ is the focal point. People who visit the library are given the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and savior at the conclusion of the tour. Christians are encouraged in their faith-journey and sharing Christ with those in their sphere of influence.
Billy Graham was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, November 7, 1918. This simple, young man committed his entire life to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Two former presidents and many high profile people in our country attended the inauguration of this library. Among them were President George H.W. Bush and President Jimmy Carter. Both represent opposite political views, but came together to honor a man who influenced his generation.
Both former presidents spoke with humble remarks and appreciation for his influence in their lives. In fact, President Bush was moved to tears as he shared his love for Dr. Graham. Here were men who were elected to the highest office in the United States, giving honor to an evangelist who has been instrumental in affecting the spiritual climate of the world in his lifetime.
Franklin Graham’s concluding remarks challenged me. After his mother died, Dr. Graham had a special meeting with Franklin. He conveyed to him that everything he had was from God. Now he wanted Franklin to help him give back what God had loaned him while on this earth. Everything belonged to God, because He was the rightful owner.
It reminds me of David’s attitude toward building the temple. God did not allow him to build it, so before he died he stored vast amounts of gold and silver for Solomon to use in the building of the temple.
King David and Dr. Graham have given us great examples to follow: Hold things loosely and grasp onto eternal truths.
God has also set eternity in the human heart.
One of the great church fathers said, “Every person has a void in them that only God can fill.”
Dr. Graham realized that there was no lasting meaning in life without Christ. Therefore, his focus was set at an early age to preach the gospel and win as many as he could to Jesus Christ.
Is your focus on temporal or eternal things? The former can be taken away and have limited value. Eternal things last forever. The only thing you can take beyond the grave is your relationships.
Choose Christ because we were created to something beyond this world.
I have the privilege of working with the youth for the summer months. I love to be with young people; their ideas are fun and our talks are honest. It's very refreshing to sit and connect with them. Last Sunday morning we talked about trust issues. It was their idea and it was a good one. As I prepared for the class, I was once again reminded that trusting has everything to do with having a deep relationship with Jesus, family and friends.
The meaning for trust in the dictionary is, 'complete confidence in a person or plan, being certain of something based on a past experience'.
Father God wants us to trust Him ... In ... For and Through ... ALL situations, things, and circumstances, according to Proverbs 3:5-6. We are to, "Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths."
That is so cool! When we trust God, He directs, or straightens out situations for us. It seems like such a simple thing to do. Just trust God. However, many of us have a problem with that. Why? For me personally, I think it's because my trust in people has been broken so many times. But then I look a little deeper and I remember breaking trust myself, for what I thought was a good reason. So, maybe I look at me instead of God and see that complete trust isn't truly possible after all. I even break trust with myself. I say that I'm not going to eat this particular thing ever again! But then after a period of time I find it in my mouth!
God doesn't want us to compare Him with ourselves, or even people we admire. There is no one like our God. He cannot lie, He cannot break our trust. He won't ever leave us, no matter what we did wrong. He is always standing by to forgive us and 'Direct' our path again; all we have to do is come to Him with a sincere heart.
I became a child of God when I was 8-years-old and I can honestly say, He has never broken trust with me. He has turned the worst and most hopeless messes in my life around. His word says that even if our moms and dads forsake us - He won't!
Don't be afraid to put your trust in Him. He loves you. No matter what you face in life, no matter how hopeless or scary it seems, just say, "Lord I trust You with this and I believe You can make it turn out for my good, cause You love me!"
Photo: Jenelle Ball
Today as I settled in for a quiet time with the Lord, I decided to sit and read the testimony of one of our church members.
In his testimony, he shared about going forward in a church service when he was about 5-years-old and saying the sinner’s prayer, thinking that's all that was necessary for him to be one of God’s children. However, much later in life the Lord revealed to him that he wasn't truly 'Born Again'.
He miraculously lived through many different types of serious accidents, from the time he was a teenager through adulthood. Looking back, he knows that it was God who kept him from being killed, so he could know the truth before it was too late.
After serving in the Marine Corps he married and eventually he and his wife joined a local church. He served on the deacon board for 4 years, but during this time he was living a sinful life, committing adultery and involved in many affairs. At the age of fifty, he was elected to be on the elder board; it was then that the Lord told him that he was not His child, that he didn't belong to Jesus.
Conviction filled his heart, and he dropped to his knees and confessed his sins like he had many times before, but this time he asked Jesus to come into his heart and to become his Savior and Lord of his life.
Instantly he felt peace, and contentment as tears flowed down his face. It was at that moment that sexual lust and other areas of torment left him, generational cruses were broken. His desire to read God’s word increased and he wanted to be re-baptized. He then attended a Kenneth Hagan camp meeting and was filled with the Holy Spirit.
I realized in reading his story, that just going forward in a service at any age and repeating a prayer isn't enough. It has to be a heartfelt commitment to Jesus Christ. It is in our brokenness before God that we are transformed into a new creature when we believe in Jesus the Son of God and surrender our life to Him.
I was only 8-years-old when I asked Jesus into my heart, but He made me new that day. When He came into my heart He brought such peace, and I desired to be filled with His Spirit. As I grew in understanding of His word, I grew in maturity as His child. I have never been the same again. I was 'Born Again' into the kingdom of God.
2 Corinthians 5:7
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.
Unless a person is born again, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
If you'd like to be born again, and know for sure that you can go to heaven, just pray this prayer with a sincere heart.
Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God, that You died for my sin, and You were raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. I'm sorry for all the wrong and bad things I've done in my life, would you please forgive me? I want to be made new, to be born again. Would You come into my heart and become my Savior and the Lord of my life?
If you prayed this life-changing prayer with a sincere heart then you are now Born Again! If you don't have a church to help you grow up in your faith, come join us. We'd love to help.
In 1857, Jeremiah Lamphiere was appointed by the Dutch Reformed Church to start a mission in the downtown area of New York City. Lamphiere had been a missionary and had an intense love for God and people.
He tried to reach the diverse group of people in this area with a number of evangelistic ministries. All were unsuccessful. Out of desperation he started to have noon prayer meetings. In a short time hundreds gathered for prayer.
The moral climate was very dark at this time in history; thirty-thousand people in New York City were out of work. Lamphiere’s prayer meetings offered hope and peace to those who attended.
People cried out to God for their city, family and friends. The atmosphere of New York City was energized with spiritual power. Over one million people came to faith in Christ as their personal Lord and savior.
This revival was crucial because America would soon be involved in the worst war in its history – the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln believed slavery was a curse to the United States and that it had to be destroyed in order for God to once again bless our nation.
Lincoln would often stay up all night praying with his pastor for the war-torn nation. The prayer revival of 1857 gave the foundational spiritual strength for our country to abolish slavery and to heal from the effects of war.
Our country is once again in a desperate state.
Natural disasters are claiming lives in America. Economic disasters are driving poverty in America. Agronomists are predicting famine in America. Politicians and school children are being shot in America. Pastors and spiritual leaders are falling into sexual immorality in America. Violent protesters are taking to the streets in America.
We recently witnessed riots in Baltimore that destroyed over 250 businesses. Our foreign policy is falling apart and our country is being threatened daily by Muslim extremist groups.
All the while, some Americans are arming themselves for civil war.
For decades, God has sent prophetic voices from many streams to warn America. Yet the spiritual state of the union has grown worse. Our national debt continues to pile up, abortions are still legal, prayerlessness abounds, and a spiritual avalanche is looming over our churches even as natural threats like the Ebola virus and the Islamic State threaten to cross our border.
George Washington knew young America was no match for Britain’s military might. Therefore, the first flag adopted before he was inaugurated as president had this phrase inscribed on it: An Appeal to Heaven
Without God’s intervention, America would not have been born.
Now is the time for individual and corporate repentance. We need to look to God for help rather than arrogantly think we can conquer these challenges on our own. Let’s return with humility to God and obey the words of II Chronicles 7:14:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Let us appeal to heaven, which is the bedrock for our nation’s greatness and for our personal success.
Photo: Russell Ward
I read a very moving story recently about a minister from Oregon. He was assigned to provide counseling in a mental institution. As he approached the large padded cell, he realized the task he was given was much greater than his years of training.
The cell housed deranged people and the room was filled with an over powering stench from their inability to control human functions. He couldn't even communicate with these people, so how was he going to counsel them? The only response he could get from them was deep guttural moans and high pitched sounds.
It reminded me of the story of Jesus and the demoniac in Mark 5:1-20, and how even the most tormented can find peace when exposed to the love of Jesus.
The minister felt the Spirit of God draw him to the center of the room, where he sat down on the floor. He began to sing just one song, over and over again for the entire hour. The song was "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong."
Nothing happened that first day, but he continued to sing this song with greater conviction. Every day for weeks, he sat down on the floor and simply sang, "Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so."
In the weeks that followed, one by one a patient joined in the singing. Miraculously at the end of the first month, 36 severely ill patients were transferred to a self-care ward. Within a year, all but 2 were discharged from the mental institution.
Such simple words, but such a powerful, life changing message.
I don't know if Anna Bartlett Warner knew that the words she penned in 1827 would be put to music 35 years later, but I'm so glad she took the time to share it with all of us. No matter what difficulties come or failures we experience or how weak, hopeless or tormented we feel, our peace is found in the constant and unconditional love of Jesus. (I John 4:10)
The greatest message, the greatest comfort, the greatest truth is sung by God’s children, young and old: Jesus Loves Me!!! This I Know!!
Photo: Aundre Larrow
My sister and I are unusually close. She taught me that a deep, unselfish bond between sisters is not only possible, but one of the greatest blessings from God that I would ever experience. I know it's hard to believe, but we have never spoken a harsh word to each other in our whole lives. Some people find that hard to believe, but it’s true.
Sis always made me feel wanted; she even took me on a few of her dates. How many sisters do that? I never wondered if she really loved me, it was evident by her actions and words.
However, there was one thing that troubled me from the time I was 8 until the age of 30. I desperately longed to be able to discuss my faith with her. I wanted her to know the love of Jesus and the peace that could change her life forever.
So one night I cried out to God for my sister’s salvation, I couldn't bear the thought of her not being in heaven. He heard my cry and a week later she attended a Bible study with me. We knelt down on the floor and she fully surrendered her life to Christ. That was nearly 35 years ago. I can't put into words the joy I felt, knowing we'd be together even after this life. Our bound as sisters in Christ went beyond what we had known as siblings.
A few days ago she was rushed to the hospital with labored breathing, where they removed a liter of fluid from her lungs. After tests were made, we were told she had a large, cancerous tumor on her lung with no hope of treatment. I anointed her with oil and once again cried out to the Lord for my precious sister. The Lord in His mercy heard my cry!
Today, I just received news that the cells they found were the type that will respond quickly to a new type of chemo and they are sure it will shrink the tumor with little side effects. I'm so grateful to the Lord who gives us hope in the midst of hopeless situations. They cancelled hospice and will start treatment today.
If you wonder if God loves you, if He sees you, if He hears you, if He knows and cares about you.... The answer is yes! If you wonder if the bond of love rooted in Christ is strong enough to withstand the enemy’s attacks.... The answer is yes!
Psalm 130:1-2; 5
Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. I wait for The Lord, my soul [my thoughts - my emotions - my will] waits, and in His Word I put my hope.
As I listen to the stories from the platform, I'm reminded once again of the 'Power of Sisterhood' and what can be accomplished through women who faithfully stand together in the bond of friendship, for the cause of Christ.
May you be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that you may have full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.