Sunday, August 17, 2014

What Would Happen If ...?

What would happen if we obeyed Jesus' instruction to believers to become one?  Just before Jesus' crucifixion he prayed for the disciples and all those who would believe on his name. He prayed that we would be one just as he and the Father are one. (John 17:11-23)

~ "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the    name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one." (verse 11)

~ "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them  may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (verses 20-21)

~ "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in  them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (verses 22-23)

What would the body of Christ in America look like today if we lived according to the appeal of this prayer? What would happen if we put aside our differences of peripheral beliefs, stopped public and private nitpicking and served one another in love according to Jesus' example? What would happen if we sought peace and unity in the body of Christ rather than arguing, belittling or seeking to discredit one another because of differences of belief? I see no honor, no glory - no Christ-likeness in this picture.

I can hear the apostle Paul 's chastisement of the American church today, not unlike his chastisement of the church of Corinth as recorded in 1 Corinthians 1: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided?"

My paraphrase is as follows: "I follow Calvinism"; "I follow Wesleyianism"; "I'm a Baptist"; "I'm a Presbyterian"; "I'm a Pentecostal"; "I'm non-denominational"; "I'm evangelical"; "I speak in tongues", "I don't believe in speaking in tongues"; "I believe in keeping the Sabbath"; "I believe Sunday is the Lord's day"; "I believe in tithes"; "I believe tithes is of the Old Covenant"; "I believe in the assembly of the believers (church)"; "I don't believe in the assembly of the believers (church)". "I don't believe in celebrating Christmas. That's not the day Christ was actually born. Rather I believe in celebrating Christ every day." "I believe in celebrating Christmas"; "I believe drinking alcoholic beverages is fine for Christians"; "I don't believe Christians should drink alcohol"; "I believe in miracles today"; "I believe miracles were for the New Testament Church"; "I believe without water baptism one can't be saved"; "I believe water baptism is the demonstration or symbolic act depicting salvation"; and the list goes on. 

Rather than focusing on our differences of belief and causing divisions and discrediting the name of the Lord, are we not to focus on that which unites us in faith and promotes peace and unity? Is not the unifying crux of our faith - Christ, born of the virgin Mary; was without sin; suffered and died on the cross to redeem us from sin and death; was resurrected on the third day; that he is the only way, the truth and the life, no one gets to the Father except through him (John 14:6); that it's not by works that we are saved but through faith in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9); that we must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead for salvation (Romans 10:9,10); that we are commissioned to go and make disciples of all nations according to Matthew 28:18-20; and that Jesus is coming back again for his bride, the holy church that is without stain or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27), and that without holy living no one shall see God (Hebrew 12:14)? Not forgetting one more important truth upon which all of the above hinges upon: that we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. If we do not believe the Bible is the Word of God, then we have no foundation for Christianity at all.

Does my appeal for unity sound too simplistic? Is not the message of the cross simple so that anyone, even a child can understand and believe? Does my appeal sound foolish (and not mine but Jesus' really, for it is he who prayed that we would be one even as he and the Father are one)?
For the sake of peace and unity, let's adhere to the principle of the following instructions from Paul:
1) "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters... Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification... So whatever you believe about these things (disputable matters) keep between yourself and God." (Romans 14:1-22)

2) "We who are strong out to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself... May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:1-6)

3) "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." (Romans 15:7)

 Pray and teach as Jesus did, that we would be one, that we would be unified. Then the world will know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, the only begotten Son of God that was sent into the world to demonstrate the love of God for humanity.

The spirit of unity generates peace, love and power. The enemy's ploy is to cause division, destruction and dishonor. Choose to be one. 

Father, may we humble ourselves and be obedient to your Word and may your love and peace pervade our hearts and minds so that we may be one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Church Or No Church?

Of late I've been buried with work and family, but I've been hearing snippets of dialogue concerning the viability of the modern day church and the error of those who attend organized churches. My initial internal response was, "How arrogant!"  Secondly, the Jim Jones fiasco came to mind as an example of what happens to those who start following independent, self-acclaimed spiritual experts and leaders and have no accountability. Then recently the Holy Spirit brought to mind the vein of scriptures below.
- Matthew 18:17, "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."
- 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."
- Ephesians 4:12-14, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. . .
- Matthew 13:24-30, "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?'"
"He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Before there was the internet, there was the church. Before there was TV, there was the church. Before there was the telephone, there was the church, the ecclesia (EKKLESIA), the gathering of believers together under one "roof;" be that someone's home or a larger structure. Christian programming and instruction via TV, internet, blogs, books, seminars and the like are not to replace the church, but enhance it.
What is a shepherd without sheep? What good is it for God to give the gift of pastoring if there's to be no congregation? Are there corrupt pastors? Yes, too many, but that condition wasn't foreign to the early church as well. There will always be false teachers and charlatans, i.e. "tares."  Does this mean you should abandon the church? Some, yes, without a doubt, but by no means does that mean one should renounce the divinely instituted congregating of believers who gather for corporate worship and instruction in a small or large building. (God instituted corporate worship from the times of ancient Israel.) Should one condemn all churches or relegate them to be "of the devil" because of a proliferation of secularism and sensationalism? Not according to the spirit of the parable of Matthew 13:24-30. God will avenge. God will expose them for who and what they are in his time.
 Has God called you out of church, or at least a particular church? Then be obedient. He will lead you to a flock where you can grow and where your gifts can be used to edify others. It is rare and not without special purpose when God calls one out of a church fellowship. Every church group is not a fit for every Christian. (I've experienced this personally.) This is not heaven. We are to love each other and work towards peace and unity with each other, but people are in different places of spiritual growth and have different needs at different times in their lives. You should always seek the Lord as to what fellowship to join. 
The church has and will continue to be under attack. And yes, I am fully aware of the difference between the corporate gathering of local believers and the church at large-- the body of Christ. The local church is comprised of members of the body of Christ, those seeking Christ and those who are "tares" and "goats". 
Have you read Romans chapter 14? Do you understand the spirit and principle of Romans 14? Then let me finish with this, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another,  (or one form of fellowship over another), another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. . ."
Church or no church? If you don't believe that the church is an organism created by God to build up the body of Christ, then be fully convinced in your own mind, but don't judge those who do believe. God is able to make them stand.

For those who do believe the Scripture and the sanctity of the church as Jesus conferred on her by calling it the "house of prayer" and his treatment of the temple when he cleansed it of those treating it as a commerce center instead of a holy place to reverence God --stand. Stand and pray. As in the days of old when the Israelites desecrated the temple, so many have desecrated the church today with lust, adultery, thievery, greed and lies. Come out from among those that are corrupt lest you become influenced by their corruption. Pray and trust God to lead you to a fellowship where they worship him in spirit and truth and reverence his holy Word. Remember, it is in unity of the spirit that we're able to stand.

May the love of Christ and the peace of God pervade your heart and mind.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Your Biggest Witness

As Christians we sing songs of praise, songs of victory, songs of faith and songs of adoration every Sabbath or every Sunday. We listen to Christian radio. We teach Sunday school, Sabbath school and various Bible studies. We preach, lead in worship, go on missions trips, lead men's and women's groups; translate scriptures, give sacrificially or are even prayer warriors. Yet none of these are our biggest witness. In fact, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:

        "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,
          but have not love, I am only a resounding gong
          or clanging symbol... and if I have a faith that can
          remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
          If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender
          my body to the flames, but have not love,
          I gain nothing." 

So what is your biggest witness? Love for one another demonstrated through unity in Christ. One of Jesus' last prayers was, "My prayer is...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)

It was Jesus who also said, the greatest commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all soul and with all your mind... 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)

Then in 1 John 5:3, the Word says, "This is love for God: to obey his commands." In fact, the way that we know that we have come to know God is if we obey his commands. "The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1John 2:3-4)

How is love demonstrated among us? Yes, it is when we give of our time in service. Yes, it is when we give of our resources to the poor and serve one another. However, the biggest demonstration of love is unity in Christ- in obedience to God's commands.

Love isn't all the grandiose things that we do for God or in God's name. It's how we treat one another. "Love is patient, love is kind...It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.(!) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.(!) Love never fails..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Since then this is the character of love, why are we not bearing with one another more? Why do we not endeavor to walk in unity, to overcome misunderstandings and offenses? If we say that we are following Christ, that we are his disciples and have the power of his Holy Spirit within us, ought we not then to more readily overcome the perceived slights or offenses that we may encounter from within the body of Christ?

I reiterate Paul's appeal in 1 Corinthians chapter one, "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."
To agree with one another does not mean that we will agree on every point, for it is clear in scripture even the disciples didn't agree on every tenet of faith. For example, the Word of God says in Romans 14: "One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables...One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike... let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way...Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. " (Verses: 2, 5, 13, 19)

The world will not come to know Christ because of the gospel we preach with our mouths, but rather with the gospel we preach with our lives. Paul told Timothy in 1Timothy 4, "...set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (verse12). And to "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (verse 16).

Jesus loved us with his life. "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ...if any fellowship with the Spirit..." Paul exhorted, "then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ..." (Philippians 2:1-5)

When you're tempted to give up on someone, a relationship, a brother or sister in Christ, or even your church, think of Jesus' prayer: "My prayer is...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)

Your biggest witness is demonstrated in how you love and get along with your brother and sister in Christ. How's your witness?

My prayer:
"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give (us) a spirit of unity among (ourselves) as (we) follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth (we) may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Amen
(Romans 15:5)

Friday, January 25, 2013

What's Wrong With Traditions?

The Pharisees said to Jesus, "'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?...' Jesus replied, 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?... You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.'" Matthew 15:2,3,6

Years ago I heard this story (paraphrase). A mother was about to bake pork roast for the holiday season. After seasoning the roast, she cut off about an inch off the long end on each side. Her young daughter asked her, "Mom, why do you cut off the ends of the roast?" Her mom answered, "That's a good question. I learned that from my mom and she learned it from her mom but I'm not sure why it's done." So the mother of the little girl asked her mother and her mother didn't know either. It was just tradition. Thankfully, the great grandmother was still alive. When the great grandmother was asked why she'd always cut off the ends of the pork roast she said, "Because the pan I cooked it in was too small. I had to cut the ends off to make the roast fit." What was wrong with that tradition?

Some traditions are great and meaningful, while others are outdated or even deliberately invented with evil or devious intent. In this passage of scripture Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law because they created a  tradition to circumvent God's commandment. Read it for yourself when you get a chance (Matthew 15:1-20). Jesus called them hypocrites! He repeated the words of Isaiah's prophesy, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'" (verses 8-9).

I would like to think that the majority of traditions have their roots in good intentions, but it would be naive of me to believe that there aren't many traditions that were also deliberately developed with the intention to misguide and even repress others. The apostle Paul instructed the Colossians to, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy; which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

We have to be alert, prayerful and discerning of practices in which we participate; especially in the church and among believers. Satan is cunning. He often uses man's good traditions and practices to blind men and rob them of God's best. Scripture is replete with such examples and Jesus exposed the malady of them at every turn.

For example Jesus said to one man, "'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'" (Luke 9:59) Well that was a reasonable and good practice. What was wrong with that? Only that it trumped God's direction at that time. God in the flesh was telling the man to follow Him now, not in a few weeks or months, as the traditional process for a Jewish burial and time of mourning required. (The Jewish mourning for a parent lasted up to twelve months.)

 In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus lists a series of traditions and laws and gives a higher, unearthly (heavenly) outlook. Jesus said, "You have heard it said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." Again he said, "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress... Again, you have heard that it was said to people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all;...' You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

What about the good practice and tradition of hospitality, can anything be wrong with that? In Luke chapter 10, Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary. In this passage Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to what he had to say. On the other hand, Martha was running around making preparations for her guest. Frustrated with Mary's apparent  slackness, Martha approaches Jesus and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" To which Jesus replied, "Martha, Martha,... you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..." (Luke 10:38-42)

What is wrong with traditions? Nothing as long as they do no supersede God's plan, God's word, or God's way.

As you continue on your journey through 2013, I encourage you not to get so busy and caught up in the traffic and traditions of life that you fail to take time to listen for God's instructions that may be contrary to life's normal routines. Remember Isaiah 55 which says, "God's ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts." Don't let your traditions, trump God's direction.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

It Pays to Obey

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."
~ Proverbs 3:5, 6

Proverbs 3: 5-6 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I recite it to myself regularly to encourage myself. It's so easy to "lean on our own understanding." The last two and a half years have been an interesting journey in trust and obedience. In March 2012 the Lord told me to leave Maryland and go to Connecticut to help my sister. I'd been living in Maryland for eighteen years, had my own office/business, long time friends and ministry opportunities. I think that's the side most people saw and therefore found it difficult to believe that God was moving me to CT. I encountered quite a bit of opposition and disbelief, even from my spiritual leaders. Nevertheless, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was being directed by the Lord to go to Connecticut. Though on the surface, i.e., in the natural, it seemed impractical and I didn't know all the reasons why the Lord was instructing me to go, I was looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect with my two sisters and get to know their children. I had also been pretty sick for almost a year and was looking forward to some rest.

On my own I would never have thought to relocate to Connecticut. The Lord knew this, but he also knew just what I needed and his timing was perfect. I no longer owned my own home, I had no children, I wasn't married or otherwise engaged and the lease on my apartment was about to end.

Three weeks after my move to Connecticut, my beloved nephew was murdered and I was the first person my sister saw and came to when she received the news. I'm so glad I was there. During the year and four months that I lived in Connecticut I got to know my other nephew and two nieces. I also reconnected with other relatives, published my first two books and got my artwork into a bookstore in Connecticut. What if I had disobeyed God and stayed in Maryland?

After my season in Connecticut ended I received an invitation to go to Florida, another place I had absolutely no desire to move to, but my older brother invited me to come and I felt the Lord was telling me to go. Once again, I received a good deal of opposition. This time it came from a few family members. I'd been job hunting and interviewing for about three months by the time my brother invited me to move to Florida and I had just gotten a couple decent job prospects. The job market in Florida on the other hand looked bleak. But because I knew this move was also the Lord's will, I obeyed.

It's been ten months since I relocated to Florida and the Lord has done some wonderful things. Once again the Lord put me in a position to renew my relationship with another sibling. He's been opening doors for publicizing my books and art. He's given me a number of new, heartwarming friendships, allowed me to start a new business venture and opened up ministry opportunities for me at my new church. Today as I reflected on God's direction over the last two and a half years, I marveled at his design and I'm glad that I trusted him and obeyed.

 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways  higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts," says the Lord. (Isaiah 55: 9)

To God be the glory.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me

"I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.'" (Psalms 122:1, KJV)

I just love being in the house of the Lord. There's something special about being in corporate worship and the way God moves in a corporate setting. As much as I love our intimate time together, God has ordained and blessed the gathering together of his people to worship Him and minister to each other.

So "let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25, NIV)

"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." (Romans 12:4-5, NIV)

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV)

We need each other. We can't be in "unity" all by ourselves. "The body has many parts..." By ourselves we only represent one part- one member of the body. Don't underestimate your value to the body of Christ. Step up and step out. Use your gift(s) to aid in the development of the body of Christ.

 "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." (Romans 12:6-8, NIV)

We need you.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Whose Report Will You Believe?

There are only two agendas or two parties: God's and the devil's. Which one will you believe and follow?

Years ago when I was nineteen or twenty years old I was faced with a similar question. It was Black History month and I was the youth minister and learning a lot about African American history in preparation for our youth program in honor of Black history month. After all my research and preparation, I had to ask myself, "Who am I?" In the end I did a personal monologue with God as part of the program addressing: "Who am I?" It wasn't unlike the question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" My monologue went something like this: "I am a woman, I am Black; I am a Christian," I mused out loud. "Do I dissect myself? No. I am all those things, but first and foremost, I am a Christian. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17)."  The apostle Paul says it again this way, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

There are only two choices though the world would have you believe otherwise. There are only two kingdoms and one was doomed from the beginning. There is the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. The battle, no, the war, is a spiritual one. Don't lose sight of that and get caught up in the devil's agenda to confuse and divide us. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood." When Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees about Caesar and who we should pay taxes to in Matthew 22:15-21, it was a religious and political ploy and tactic of the enemy to take the focus off the real issue of light and darkness. Don't get caught up now with the devil's tactics.

This is not a political race we are currently confronted with, but another one of the devil's spiritual ploys. It is a race against spiritual forces of evil. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan is certainly raging. "Be self-controlled and alert..." God tells us in 1 Peter 5:8, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" with his schemes. Again, don't get caught up. Don't get side-tracked. Stay alert. Pray and continue to be prayerful.

Finally, "Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then, you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).

A Messenger.