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Posts Tagged ‘Church’

“Are you the church or do we seek another?” These were the words of Pastor Lee Shipp as he preached at New Beginning Fellowship yesterday morning, and they have been thundering in my heart ever since. Just as the life of Jesus manifested the Father, even so our lives should manifest Jesus Christ. “As He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)

But are we? When the world looks at us, do they see the body of Christ, the representation of Jesus Christ, or are they left seeking another because they have seen much of us but little of Jesus? Oh how a world perishes for the lack of Jesus Christ revealed among His people!

Where is the crucified love of Jesus in our midst? Jesus said that He was given the power to lay down His life by the Father (John 10:18) and He has given this power to us…..the power to die to our selfishness and desire to please ourselves, that our lives might be poured out and spent for the Lord Jesus Christ. And how do we do that? By letting that love that’s been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) pour out of our hearts by the power of that same Spirit. It’s a love that reaches out to restore the broken, comfort the hurting, give to the needy, love the unlovely, bring good news to the hopeless. It’s a love that may often be misunderstood and unappreciated. But it is THAT love which will identify us as followers of Jesus. (John 13:35)

If we have committed our lives to Jesus, and our lives are now to be given that the person and love of Jesus may be demonstrated through us then is there any risk, any sacrifice, any scorn too great to bear?

Where does love draw the line? At what point is the cost too great? Shall we love this far and no farther? Is our own comfort and safety the boundary of our love? Shall we love just up until the point of someone else’s displeasure or disapproval? I’m glad Jesus didn’t love us like that…but He loved us all the way to the cross. He didn’t draw the line at thorns and nails. There were no boundaries to His love…none imposed by Himself or by others. Lord help us to be bold enough to love like that….that those seeking Jesus may find Him in our midst.

 

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Last Friday as a young man was passing by on Third Street, I handed him a gospel tract and tried to start a conversation with him. He seemed eager to enjoy his evening and not very disposed to stop and talk until I mentioned the name of Jesus. He stopped in his tracks and told me that he was a backslider.  He had been raised in church all his life and had made a genuine profession of faith in Christ as a young man. He had been active in ministry and diligent in the spiritual disciplines. But he had a struggle that he couldn’t talk about with anyone….until it overtook him. Having been molested by a family member when he was a young boy, he found himself struggling with same sex attraction for years.   He prayed and sought freedom from these desires but eventually grew weary of the fight. He told me that all through those years he was active in evangelism and discipleship. In the midst of his own personal struggle he was always going after people for the kingdom….he said ”and I wondered when is somebody going to come after me”. All up in the middle of church and ministry, yet sinking into the seeming hopelessness of a besetting sin….battling alone and being overcome.   He wept, right out there in the middle of Baton Rouge’s party street….longing to be free….missing the Father’s house.

We prayed together and I trust that the Spirit of God will complete the work of restoration. Please pray for D. and so many, many like him who are slipping away from Christ in the midst of the house of God. Make no mistake….this world we live in is a battle zone. As the people of God, we must war with one another and for one another so that we can all say at the end….”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

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Yesterday I had jury duty. After they had given us all our instructions, we just had to sit there and wait a few hours for them to choose who would stay and who would be sent home. So while we waited, they played a movie on the 2 large screens in the room. It was called “Taking Chance.” Normally I would have gone into the quiet room to read, but for whatever reason I just stayed in my seat as the movie began. The basic storyline was as follows: The main character was a Lt. Colonel in the Marine Corps who worked an office job, but he seemed to feel some stirrings of guilt because was not a part of the very conflict that he had been trained for. He volunteered to escort the remains of a Marine who was killed in combat to the family for burial. It seemed as though on the whole trip he was having an awakening as he considered the young man who was killed in battle as he was sitting safely in a cubicle.

Any my heart was almost exploding because it was like watching a parable of the church….many safe and comfortable on the sidelines while others are risking everything on the battlefield. But there are these moments of clarity when we see…..eternal realities…..God’s purposes….and ourselves somewhere on the outside. It is a moment of truth. A valley of decision. A choice must be made.

I anticipated the ending. He would leave everything and enlist for a tour of duty in Iraq. That was the only reasonable ending. But it wasn’t the ending. He arrived home to his nice house, hugged his wife and kids and shut the door. And the movie was over.

And everything in me screamed “NO…it’s not supposed to end like that!!”

People of God…..please….don’t let that be our ending. We have been trained and equipped for battle and everyone is needed for the fight. It is a moment of truth. A valley of decision. A choice must be made.

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In Judges 19 I have heard an urgent warning for our day….

“As they were enjoying themselves, suddenly certain men of the city, perverted men, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came to your house, that we may know him.” Judges 19:22

(A little bit of background) Earlier in the chapter we are introduced to a Levite who has traveled to Bethlehem to retrieve his concubine who had run away. Getting a late start on the trip home, they found themselves near the city of Gibeah (of the tribe of Benjamin) as night was beginning to fall. Finding nobody willing to take them in for the night (verse 15) they made their way to the open square of the city. About that time the old man mentioned in our verse above came in from his work in the field and invited them into his home for the night. The perverted men of the city (enough of them to surround a house) came to the old man’s house with wicked intentions. The Levite puts his concubine outside the door and she is violated by these men to such an extent that she dies. When this becomes known in Israel, forces gather for war against Benjamin and not only Gibeah, but nearly the whole tribe of Benjamin is wiped out.

Usually I pass through this chapter pretty quickly because, to be honest, I don’t want to spend any more time than necessary thinking on what has happened. But when reading this last weekend I couldn’t pass over it. In it I saw a picture of the day we live in.

Consider this – the man of the house was familiar with the city. It was his home. He knew the kind of people who lived there and the wickedness that was prevalent. His insistence that the visitors not spend the night in the open square indicated that he knew it wouldn’t be safe for them. Yet once they are all safely inside his house, there seems to be no concern about what may be happening outside as they are “enjoying themselves”, or “making merry”. In that little cocoon of safety they enjoyed a carefree meal, eating and drinking…yet evil was gaining ground and about to pounce. And the old man knew the danger, yet did nothing. Possibly he thought that getting them into the house would be enough to protect them. It was not.

In a culture that placed a high value on hospitality, it is extremely odd that they were refused a resting place for the night at anyone else’s home. Except when you consider that the rest of the inhabitants of the city also knew what manner of men dwelt there. And even though they knew these travelers would be in danger, they just weren’t willing to be inconvenienced or put themselves at risk to help.

We cannot afford to ignore the intensity and urgency of the days we live in just because it hasn’t (yet) affected us personally. We are in the safe little house of America, but even here the enemy is working to surround us. While we are busy enjoying ourselves, eating and drinking, and having church, the forces of darkness are advancing at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in other nations are experiencing horrible persecution and our eyes are dry. It isn’t a day to play it safe or worry about how to not have our comfort infringed upon.

The inhabitants of Gibeah who were living in denial of the evil all around and refusing to get involved….they all ended up being swept away in the destruction that resulted from the evil acts commited there.

It is time to seek the face of God like our lives depended upon it. Because it may very well be that they do.

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Last year I began going into Angola State Penitentiary with my church’s prison ministry group. Looking back on that first visit, I remember the fear of not knowing what to expect. Now nine months later, I cannot imagine not being a part of this. We are allowed to go once a month for a 2 1/2 hour service. We see many of the same faces each time and they are no longer “the inmates”. They are my brothers. What a joy it is to walk into that chapel and greet them! And as I stand on the platform to share whatever word the Lord has put on my heart, I am filled with joy to see their faces shining with love for Jesus. Most of these men were violent criminals. Some of them will only leave Angola in their casket. But Angola is where they met Jesus and for them Angola was the mercy of God.

Each month I pray that I might impart some blessing to them only to find that I am the one that has been blessed. How I thank God that He has allowed me to be a part of this!

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Beyond thankful

I have been thinking of all the things that I am thankful for. There are the things that make the list each year: Salvation, Bible, family, job, etc….

But this year there is something new to be thankful for – my new church.

For 12 ½ years I went to the same church. It would be considered a mega-church, with over 10,000 members. In June of this year, after a series of remarkable confirmations from the Lord, I joined a much smaller church. It would be difficult for me to explain what a blessing this church has been to me. I’ve seen such love and compassion from this group of people who are committed to prayer and missions and making Jesus Christ known.

It has been quite an extraordinary change and I’m loving every minute of it.

So this year I am thankful for the body of Christ in a way that is much more personal than I have ever known. Thank you Jesus, for your people.

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“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.”  Hebrews 13:3

Lately I’ve read books and articles about the persecuted church.  I’m always shocked when I read these things, because Christianity in America is so easy.  It’s difficult to conceive of our brothers and sisters being treated so cruelly in other places in the world.  The concept is foreign to our existence.  For now anyway.

Everytime I read of someone persecuted for faith in Christ, it grips my heart, because I know that I have not remembered the persecuted church faithfully in prayer as I should.  It’s not that I don’t care.  I just don’t remember.

But what if I was imprisoned with them?  What if I was tortured with them?  Then this issue of the persecuted church would be in the very forefront of my mind at all times, because of my involvement in it.

The reality is, that because I am part of the body of Christ, I am involved in the persecuted church.  They are my brothers and sisters, beloved ones of God.  So I am asking God to help me remember them, as if chained with them, that I may offer prayers to God on their behalf.

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