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A Friend in Need…

Acquaintances are nice people and they say the kindest things. They try not ruffle any feathers by saying the wrong things: they are often on their P’s and Q’s. They sometimes give a helping hand when a family member dies or someone gives birth, but don’t expect them to stick with you when your troubles persist, or calamity strikes.

That is why I have several acquaintances and few friends. True friends may not always be around, but they are there when you call them. They stay with you when the path is rough, and they are there even when you don’t solicit their help.  Friends will listen to your crazy talk and tell you the truth. They never abandon you in times of trouble and so the maxim holds true that a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Many dear friends will satisfy a need for food or money if they have the means to do so. However, how many will tell us the truth when we are about to or make wrong decisions; and when we do things that are contrary to God’s word? Friendship that is predicated on lying is a sham. If your friends require you to cover up their wrongs or vice versa to maintain a relationship, you share a broken alliance that is not a friendship. You best encourage and support a friend by influencing them to do right.

Jesus showed his love for us through His death on the cross. He came to earth and put on human flesh, yet He never shared in our sins. That is why He could die for us because He was sinless. In the same way, we can love our friends and not condone or become an accessory to their sin. Unfortunately, today we are seeing more and more Christians support and even participate in ungodly acts done by friends to keep a relationship. In many cases, the party that they are protecting have no loyalty to them and view them as pawns to be used for their purpose.

The most glaring is in the political arena. Christian people become allied with political parties and charismatic leaders and end up losing their identities crusading for causes that are misaligned to Christian principles. They forfeit righteousness and vehemently justify wrongdoing when their political ally is the perpetrator; and they denounce it when the “other” commits the wrong. Essentially, they reject Jesus Christ for mere mortals who have no power and are prone to fail them.  Psalm 62: 9, NIV reminds me how foolish we are when we lose our way by being caught up with people of influence:

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath

In the same Psalm the writer notes that “power belongs to God” and with Him is “unfailing love” (v.11). What profit is there then in rejecting someone who gave up His life for you while you were helpless and blessed you with friendship when you did not deserve it for others who are unscrupulous? Jesus said this for us to understand that He is our true friend:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:12-15, NIV).

God expects us to cultivate friendships and He commands us to love one another. However, He does not want any ideology, thing, or person to trump Him.  He must have preeminence in our lives. He is always our friend in need and our friend in deed.

Jesus is my faithful friend-En-IMG-49

NO VOICE

 

I can hear the deafening silence and it’s unbearable. Where is the man who will stand in the gap and declare the word of God without fear or favor? America is in spiritual turmoil: those who recognize it are afraid to say it; and others who are aware are unwilling to admit this fact, because they fear will share the responsibility to do something to bring about positive change. Others see it but couldn’t care less; and then there are those who have no clue that we are rotting from within.

The state of spiritual degradation that we are facing today did not happen overnight. It happened slowly as Christians grew fat sitting on their couches, listening to flamboyant televangelists who stroke both their egos and their fears. They started abandoning churches where less charismatic preachers stuck to the unadulterated word of God and feasted on “air-brushed” homilies that are devoid of expressions about the wages of sin, hell, and allusions to hell. These glossy sermons are professionally packaged – reminds one of a beautifully wrapped Christmas present that holds nothing but a worthless bauble, when opened.

It’s not only on television that we see such chicanery.  Once God-fearing churches are now adopting tactics to appeal to the world that are moving further and further away from the Bible. The most glaring example is in the music that is dished up to suit the perceived palates of mostly the young and the restless who are searching for authenticity, and the church cannot give it to them because the church is too busy serving up what they have left in the world.

News Flash! When the world comes to church, they expect to have a church experience. Nobody pays money to go an authentic French restaurant and expect to be served a blend of something French. If the food is a mixture of other cuisines, then it should be clearly stated – no surprises.  God’s word must not be tampered with because it has its own power to accomplish its purpose. It needs no special effects to be effective. The reason some Christians want to dress it up is because they don’t believe what they say they believe. They have a “form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof: [and]from such [the Bible tells us to] turn away” (II Timothy 3:5). God can achieve his purpose without the feeble attempts of human intervention:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12 KJV).

The church can be people friendly without compromising its basic principles that are built on the foundation of Christ Jesus. We can use various teaching strategies and the advantages of living in a technological to enrich the conveying of the gospel. Even Jesus used parables to make His messages clear to His audience. However, our intention should not be to mask or minimize the scriptures to draw or entertain a crowd. The whole purpose of the word of God is to bring positive change in the lives of people and not to placate them.

If we abandon the word of God, we have abandoned God and all the other things we do in His name are meaningless. The word allows God to speak through us – without it we have no voice. Our congregants and hearers can only develop a case of spiritual ennui when they listen to us that can only be cured by the very Word that we have rejected. Let’s find our voices again in the Word of God and watch what happens!

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The Cost of Discipleship

Salvation has a price. It cost God the Father the life of His only begotten Son! He was the One who required that cost because he valued the only creatures on earth that He made with His own hands and into whom He blew His precious breath. Christ’s incarnation cost Mary her reputation, and for Joseph, the apparent cost was deferred gratification in the consummation of his marriage and perhaps ridicule for being a cuckolded husband.

The whole purpose of Christ’s dying on the cross was to fulfill the desire of His Father to make sure once and for all that all men would have the opportunity and the right to eternal life through acceptance of salvation. Through His obedience, He left His royal home in heaven, divested himself temporarily of immortality, took on human flesh, and paid the cost for human sin by dying on a rugged cross (Philippians 2:6-8). He humbled himself as a babe in the womb of a young virgin and was born into a poor family and raised by a carpenter in a village where few people would care to settle.

To say that he did not grow up in the lap of luxury is an understatement. His earthly father died early, as was customary, since he was the eldest male sibling of His mother’s children, had to help to support the family. The Gospels of Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56 point to his vocation as a carpenter and state the names of his brothers: his sisters are also mentioned, but not named. Even after his ascension, Jesus is still paying the cost for mankind’s redemption, having gone to prepare a place for us so that we can be with Him eternally (John 14:1-3). He also continually “[watches] over [His own] word, [making sure] it is fulfilled” (Jeremiah 1:12 NIV) and He is “at the right hand of God, who is making intercession for us” (Romans 8:34 NIV). Moreover, Jesus goes over and above, although He is more than capable of keeping us, by sending the Holy Ghost to be our Resident Protector and Comforter Extraordinaire:

 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them”(John 14:16:21 NIV).

 

 

He also knew that not everyone would receive this gift readily, therefore, he instructed His disciples before He ascended into heaven that they should:

 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

2Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

He also revealed to them that:

[they would] receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).

 

Considering that “God commended his love toward us for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), we should have no doubt that he takes soul winning and discipleship seriously. He has showed us the pattern in the Bible while He worked with His disciples during the course of His earthly ministry. Some of His followers were tough, stubborn, weak, fearful, impulsive and with passions like some of us, but Jesus prayed for them and taught them the word in ways that would help them understand kingdom living and building. He chided them when necessary, saw to it that they rested, showed concern for their daily needs and often encouraged them.

He did it all, so we would understand the cost of discipleship is not cheap because man’s life is worth a whole lot to God. We must be willing to try to invest in others what God has invested in us (although we will never reach His mark). As we have freely received, we must freely give without any complaining. I learned a lesson about going the extra mile to see others saved and live a sanctified life in the book of Mark. In Mark II:3-12 (NIV), some friends of a paralyzed man demonstrate exceptional love for him by using unconventional means to get him to Jesus so that he could receive healing. They tried to press through an extremely large crowd with his bed without success. Realizing that it was almost impossible to get through to the Master, they:

 … made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (vv.4-5).

Think about what the men did for the sick man. Although the distance that they travelled to bring the paralytic to where Jesus was, we can glean from the story that they either had to carry or transport him and his litter on a beast of burden. On reaching the site they had to try to push their way through, and after gouging a hole in someone’s roof, they had to pay the owner to cover the cost for repairs -and not to mention the coordinated effort and care to lower him to the floor without causing further damage to his body.

No wonder when Jesus saw their faith, He was moved to forgive the man’s sins and heal his disease. The passage did not mention the man’s faith to diminish the importance of personal faith, but to teach us that we who know about the power of God to cleanse us from unrighteousness should persevere in telling others about Jesus, praying for their salvation, and letting our light shine so that they will come to repentance.

God has not given us a choice in the matter of evangelism and discipleship. WE MUST WORK WHILE IT IS DAY. If the men who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus had not worked while they had daylight to get through the roof, he would not have been healed. We must also seize every opportunity to labor for souls because “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous availeth much” (James 5:16). Our heavenly Father takes note when we intercede for loved ones, coworkers, bosses, students, teachers, enemies and all our neighbors. He is pleased when we stay in the trenches with the fledgling believer and we strengthen our fellow Christians when they are weak.

Don’t give up on an unbeliever! Don’t abandon your Christian brother or sister who has slipped. Keep digging until there’s an opening to Jesus. If the cost was little or nothing, we would lose sight of how much God loves us. Salvation is not cheap because souls are valuable to God. It will cost us to care but it is worth every bit of sacrifice to walk with another on their Christian journey.

 

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Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech in the United States is the right of individuals, groups, and communities to express their opinions without fear of reprisals, censorship, sanctions, or any form of retaliation.  It is part of the over-arching freedom of expression that includes the reception, production and dissemination of ideas and information through various media forms.

The United States is not alone in supporting freedom of expression: it has affirmation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 that consists of 30 articles recognizing an individual’s right in a free society. Article 19 of the UDHR reads: “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

The article was later amended for clarification in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and asserts that the exercise of the free expression is not absolute. Too often, people tend to believe that their right to free speech cannot be challenged in court.  It can be and should be challenged; albeit, the burden of proof is laid heavily on the plaintiff because offensive expression is not necessarily harmful.

 

Free expression may be limited by the intent of the originator to do or incite others to do harm. Some examples of harmful expressions and limitations of speech are libel, slander, obscenity, and divulging classified information and information that may be potentially harmful to public security. Limitation on the latter two examples are important for the protection and security of not only individuals, but for the nation.

 

America stands out among democratic nations as the model for civil liberties and free expression, and it would be a shame if she does the opposite. She cannot lose face by curtailing one of the most cherished rights of her people: yet, she must know when to stop the barrage of apparently innocuous information that may ultimately have dire consequences for the very populace whose freedom of expression she seeks to protect.

 

Who can leash the appetites of a people who have gorged themselves on so much information that many have lost their ability to discriminate between bad and good? America is a world power for many things, but it is no secret that she is dominating the 21st century because she controls how information is distributed in the world. Power names like Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft are as American as apple pie: few places on the planet have escaped their presence – if there are any. Neither can one fail to mention the ubiquitous McDonalds and Coca-Cola who indirectly appeal to their clientele through various media forms while lining their pockets overseas.

 

In the same breath, American music and film industries surpass all that have been mentioned about other industries because these two forms have influence on various groups in any country on earth. Some people in many countries outside of the United States know more about Michael Jackson and Beyonce than what they know about celebrities in their own countries! They listen to their songs and they are affected by what comes from the mouths of these stars and the images in their videos. I was shocked to learn after visiting my native country of Jamaica two years ago, that my relatives were watching more American channels on television than I did here in the United States.

That fact means that American information sells!

 

Therefore, anybody who disseminate information to the public about the government or anything about national security, regardless of how harmless it appears, should think twice about it. Millions of people on this planet are fans of American culture, but there are many on this planet who despise the perceived values of this great country and will use what we publicize for our demise. In this violent political climate that we are living in, tempers flare, impetuous words are spoken, and revenge is sweet. However, there is a price that all will pay when the dust settles.

 

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Life Begins With God

There should be no confusion about when life begins. It begins with God . When He created Adam he formed all men, because He placed in him the seed from which all human beings would originate. God saw each of us as if we were already born. In Jeremiah I:6 (NIV) He informs the prophet:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

He also carefully placed His stamp on every man in the loins of Adam – a stamp that replicates itself from generation to generation. David utters these words in Psalm 139 to remind us that God envisioned us before conception:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (v. 13-16).

Therefore, activity that occurs in the womb is only the continuation of who we are.because we will be what God has fashioned us to be when we receive our glorified bodies. Though death will mar our bodies, our existence will not end. On the other hand,  a baby conceived in the womb is not non-existent because it has not yet been born.

If you think that a fetus has no awareness – think again! Babies are very sentient from the womb and God imparts knowledge to them even there as the psalmist David reminds us:

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place (Psalm 51:5-6, NIV).

 

A Man After God’s Own Heart

 

David the man from whose root sprung the sinless Lamb of God was a “bloody man”. He had killed so many people in war and plotted the murder of an innocent man, therefore, God would not allow him to build the temple, although he requested to do so. Instead, God chose his son Solomon to carry out the task because he brought it to David’s attention that “[You] have shed much blood and have fought many wars” (1 Chronicles 1-15).

However, despite his spotty past, God dubbed David as “a man after his own heart” (Acts 13:22, 1 Samuel 13:14). Why would a righteous and holy God describe a mere mortal in such terms? The answer is clear when he we read David’s history – he was always willing to confess his fault and turn away from his sin. Case in point -when God rejected David’s offer to build the temple, he did not throw a tantrum, but set his to provide materials and instructions for his son to do the task. Who can forget how he lusted after Uriah’s wife, impregnated her, and then plotted her husband’s death to cover his wickedness. Nevertheless, when confronted with his sin, he admitted his wrong and repented (2 Samuel 11:5-27).

God showed that he loved David in all the ups and downs of his life, but God never winked at his sins. He punished David for the wrongs he did while showing mercy to him because he knew David’s heart. He saw that David was a man of humility, righteousness, and honesty. David understood that God despised lying and dishonesty, and like God he hated them too. There are many scriptures in the Bible that expresses God’s distaste for liars and two that stand out are Proverbs 12: 22 ESV: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” and Proverbs 6:16-19:

      There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
 a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
      and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

 

David himself states in Psalm 63:11 (NIV) that:

 

But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God will glory in him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

 

It is therefore a sin to lie continually and support those who lie because God hates deception. Lying has become a pervasive thing in our society because it appears to be the lifestyle of influential people – even the most powerful. It is the norm not to admit that one has done wrong, but to cover up one deception with another deception. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Where will it end if the “righteous” remain silent or continue to approve of the lies of those in high places? What are we teaching our children? Let’s teach them a memory gem I learned as a child in school:

 

Speak the truth,

And speak it ever,

Cost it what it will

He who hides the wrong he did – does the wrong thing still. (Writer unknown)

 

Be after God’s own heart. He will forgive us if we choose to confess our faults.

 

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CELEBRATE LIFE

 

I have been baffling over this anomaly for some time: Why do people come to a church to celebrate death rather than life? Despite the efforts of Christian witnesses in telling people that Jesus loves them and inviting them to church, many have never darkened the doors of a church. They will never celebrate when a family member tells them that they are saved from sin and are getting baptized. In some cases, they will avoid the person or pass them off as a nutcase, fanatic, hypocrite or an enemy. However, they will turn up in droves to honor the deceased, even they ignore them in life.

 

Pastors will often report that congregants that they haven’t seen for years, and some they don’t even know, will call them at the oddest time of the day to ask them to eulogize a family member even if the deceased showed contempt for the church during their lifetime. Families want to save face at the wrong time. However, pastors will honor their requests in order not to add to their grief and to take the opportunity to preach the word of God to the living. Recently, Pastor Chris McNairy of Decision Point Ministries, opened a funeral service with his sermon and not at the end, as is customary. It made a difference because about twenty-two people responded to his message. I mention him not because he is my pastor, but because his focus was on the salvation of souls and not on death.  

 

He was in lock-step with what Jesus demonstrated to his disciples in Luke 9 that it was more important to preach the gospel than to bury the dead. Jesus asked a man to follow Him who made the excuse that he had to bury his father before obeying the request therefore: Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God”(v. 60. NIV).

 

 How often are funerals taken up with eulogizing the dead than with exhorting the living to think about eternity? We must think about what we are doing when we attend a funeral. If the deceased is a follower of Christ, surely, we are celebrating a life well spent because we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  On the other hand, if the deceased has not accepted Jesus Christ into their heart, we are essentially celebrating their passage into hell. Morbid as it may sound, that’s the reality. No one wants to think that hell is a real place and that people we love can go there. However, it is true that good people can go there if they do not accept Jesus into their lives.

 

Talk about the “dead burying the dead!” That’s exactly who we are when we do not know Jesus and we go to bury the physically dead. Saying all the wonderful things about your dead loved one , a friend, or celebrity will not influence where they spend eternity – their life with or without Christ is the deciding factor. Why don’t you accept Jesus into your heart today or encourage someone that you love to do so? There’s nothing to lose. If you do, someone can genuinely rejoice when you die, and you can do the same for someone else. You may weep because you may miss their touch, smile, or their word – but you’ll weep with hope.

                                                             

Think about it. If God did not know that hell was a terrible place, he would not have sacrificed His only Son. In the first place, hell was not created for us. It was created for Satan and his minions. God created man in his resemblance because He wanted us to be a part of Him, and not unlike Him. Sin separated us from Him, but God did not want us to languish in it and die without hope. Therefore, He sent His Son to give us life and life more abundantly.  Let’s choose life now!

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