Central Ministries Considers Multisite: A Story of How Two Churches Came Together

get_connected-title-3-still-017My mind flashed back to a moment in the early 1990’s. I was sitting in a pew on a Sunday night with my parents in a church building singing along with a man and his guitar who was leading us in a praise song, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me…” My heart has always resonated with that song, and I have always heard the words of it through that man’s baritone voice. Rick Zehr was the man who led worship that night for a tiny group of believers who were ready to start a new church.

Fast forward to the end of 2016, over 25 years later. Pastor Rick (as we all call him), is now on staff at the church and school I lead. He has been a part of our church for many years now and he is one of those men I lean on for advice and support when faced with major decisions. On this uneventful day at the end of 2016, he stood at the door of my office and wanted to share something with me.

He shared with me that there was a church in the community which might be open to the idea of partnering with us. My ears perked up and he had my full attention because our leadership had been praying about going multisite for over a year now. The name of the church was Church of the Good Shepherd, which was located right across from Leo High School. In that moment, my mind flashed back to the night I sat in the pew as a junior higher trying to worship God. I did not know that I would someday be a pastor. I was in junior high. I loved sports and was starting the awkward stage of being interested in girls. Being a pastor wasn’t on my list of future career opportunities. But God, who knows the future, could see what was going to happen 25 years later.

What happened to me toward the end of 2016 would be called by many an epiphany. The past connection myself and many others at Central Ministries had with the Church of the Good Shepherd was uncanny. Our theology lined up well. Our philosophies were similar. We were both nondenominational churches. It all sounded too good to be true.

I thanked Rick for the information and told him that I would definitely pray about it and he walked away. Immediately, I felt a stir in my heart that this was from God. So, I got up from my desk and walked across the hallway into Pastor Don’s office (Don is still on staff at Central Ministries as our small groups pastor and was the former lead pastor for over 25 years; and he has been the overseer at Church of the Good Shepherd for years). I told Pastor Don about the possibility of our church partnering with their church and he also felt a stir in his heart that this was of God. We decided that he (Don) should contact Pastor Brad (lead pastor at Good Shepherd) and invite him out for coffee at the Perk (Central’s coffee shop). As Pastor Brad and Don met, they both sensed that God might be up to something.

Pastor Don called me (I was in my office studying) and asked if I was available to meet with the two of them. I walked into the Perk and the three of us continued the conversation. As the three of us met, we all sensed that God might be bringing us together, but we wanted to take this slow, as we knew that this type of move would require a great deal of humility on both sides. We parted ways that morning and decided that we would pray about it for several days and if we still felt like God was stirring our hearts, then we would present it to our elders.

Over the next several weeks, we met with elders, staff, financial teams and other key leaders to see what their response would be in regard to the idea of partnering together. The response was overwhelmingly positive filled with excitement.

In January, we asked both congregations to start praying. We didn’t tell them what the big announcement would be, but we simply asked them to pray for 30 days leading up to the announcement so that we could all feel the unity of the Spirit.

This last weekend (Feb 3-5), we both shared with our congregations the idea of partnering together and becoming ONE CHURCH at TWO LOCATIONS. The enthusiastic response from both congregations has been incredible.

Practically speaking, what does it mean that we will be partnering together? Here are a few of the details of how this will look if this is affirmed by both congregations in March:

Church of the Good Shepherd will become Central Ministries. Central Ministries would then have two campuses.

The vision and values of both campuses will be the same.

Pastor Jeremy will become the Lead Pastor of both campuses and would therefore preach at both campuses.

Pastor Brad will become the Campus Pastor of the “Leo Campus” and will focus on shepherding, administration and leader multiplication.

The “Leo Campus” will be resourced in many ways so that both campuses will exhibit the same style and passion in worship, youth and children’s ministries.

I believe this is the future of the Church. Not just for Central Ministries, but for the global church. Denominations will continue to crumble. Isolated churches will continue to be frustrated that their reach is never enough. But what if like-minded churches would decide to pull together in unity for the sake of the central message of the cross? I often sense in my heart that our city doesn’t necessarily need another church to be planted right next to an existing church. We are often referred to as the city of churches with over 300 local churches. What would happen if churches of all sizes decided to work together in unity? What would happen if churches would share their talents and their resources with each other? Then each of those churches within that network of campuses would become thriving places where people who are searching for answers will be presented with the good news of Jesus Christ. Just think about the power in those statements.

This last weekend, I presented this vision to our Friday night service. I stood up on stage at the 8:00 a.m. service on Sunday and presented the same vision. At 9:30 a.m. I spoke to a gym full of people while many watched in the chapel at our video venue service. And finally, at 11:00 a.m., I cast the vision for a 5th time in the same crowded gym. From a practical standpoint, we have to expand to another location. But that is not the thought I want to leave with you.

At the end of the 5th and final service, there was a line of people who wanted to talk with me. I enjoy talking with people and listening to them and trying to answer any questions they might have in regard to the sermon or to our church. At the end of the line, there was a young lady in her early twenties who wanted to share something that happened to her that morning. She was the final person I talked with at the church that day and looking back I know that this was God telling me that what He is doing is something bigger than any one of us.

She had not been to church for about 1.5 years. She dropped out of church for various reasons and in many ways had drifted away from God. Over the last few months, her friends had invited her to Central Ministries, but for whatever reason, she just wasn’t able to come. Until today. February 5. On the way to church that morning, she felt like God was whispering to her that He was going to blow her mind. She wasn’t sure what exactly that meant, but she was anticipating learning something inspiring. When I stood up on the stage and started talking about the possibility of Central Ministries partnering with Church of the Good Shepherd, she couldn’t believe it at first. She had been away from church for 1.5 years. That church she had left was Church of the Good Shepherd. She had not been to any other church during that time. And I was talking about the very same church on the very same day that she had decided to give church a try again. What are the odds!!! Was this a coincidence? I highly doubt it! She could feel in her heart that God was speaking directly to her. For her, God was confirming that He was looking after her and was keeping her safe no matter where she had gone. To me, this was an amazing story showing how God is divinely working in everyone’s life to fulfill His ultimate purpose in and through them.

Whether you are a junior higher sitting with your parents in a church on a Sunday night, or you are a twenty-something who has given up on church, never underestimate the supernatural power of the God who watches over you. You are never alone. You are never overlooked. You are specifically loved by the One who controls the Universe.

 

 

The One New Year’s Resolution that Actually Works

new-yearsHere we are again. One calendar year is closing while a new one is just beginning. Something seems to happen in many of us this time of year. We feel the urge to make new year’s resolutions. But if we are honest with ourselves, these resolutions just do not work. Research has calculated that 90% of resolutions started on January 1 have been broken by February 1. After just one month, 9 out of 10 people have quit their life changing commitments. And by spring time, most of the remaining 10% have also failed. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why so many people try to make these resolutions if they fundamentally do not work?

New year’s resolutions do not work because they are starting at the wrong place. When people make resolutions, they start with making their SELF better. That sounds really good, and in some ways it is, but it just doesn’t work because our SELF gets in the way of making our SELF better. Just look at the top resolutions people make every year. Every. Single.   Year. These resolutions are always at the top of the list. Notice the common theme: lose weight and get fit, quit smoking, learn something new, eat healthier, get out of debt and save money, travel to new places, be less stressed, drink less, enjoy life to the fullest, fall in love.

This time of year you are offered gym memberships at a discounted deal, you are told that there are magic drinks out there that will make you healthy, you see commercials about dating sites to find true love, and you watch advertisements about exotic vacations you cannot afford to pass up. Everything you see this time of year seems to focus on YOU being happy. But sadly, these things don’t seem to bring us lasting happiness.

These types of resolutions are all about SELF. This is why most people fail in fulfilling them. When we focus on our SELF, then we usually end up feeding what the SELF desires. And the SELF usually desires that which is not good for it. So, the reason most of us fail in keeping our resolutions is because we are starting with SELF. Where should we start, then?

Instead of making a short list of 2-4 resolutions you want to accomplish for this year to make yourself a better person, start with just one resolution. This resolution will force you to focus on something besides yourself. And that will ultimately be good for you. Are you ready for this resolution? Every morning, wake up with this goal in mind. This should be your mindset for the day. Here it goes: “Today, I will love God and because I love God I will show love to others.”

I have never heard this as a new year’s resolution. But this phrase is considered by Jesus as the greatest activity which you can be engaged in. This resolution is focused on God and others. Never underestimate the power of loving God and how that will change you from the inside out. When you love God with all your heart and you start to see people with God’s eyes, you become a better person. You will actually want to change in some areas for God, not just for you. You will want to change for the people you love, not just for you. When you love God and others, you will want to stop smoking. When you love God and others, you will want to become healthier. Do you see the difference?

I truly believe this is the only resolution which has supernatural power. Too many times, we try to find the courage deep inside of us to change, but after a month of trying on our own, we give up. For the next 365 days, start your day off with this phrase: “Today, I will love God and because I love God I will show love to others.” After just a few weeks of starting your day off with this focus, you will start to see God changing you in ways that you will appreciate. You will start to notice God at work in you during your day like never before. You will notice someone who needs your care and your heart will extend to them. And you might even notice an area God convicts you in which you need to change, and because you love Him, you will change.

Do you see the difference? When we change to please God, and it is genuine, we will be transformed. But when we change to please ourselves, we will usually fail. Commit to this phrase and make it your new year’s resolution: “Today, I will love God and because I love God I will show love to others.”

Hold off on that new diet, for now. Don’t sign up on that dating site just yet. Wait a little longer on joining a gym. Focus first on God this year, and these things will be added unto you. Will you commit with me this year to start off every day focusing on loving God? If you do, you will be fulfilled in ways you never thought were possible.

 

 

 

 

 

Kids & Racism

ellie-swimOver the last year, I have seen too many pictures of racism. For too long, I have witnessed people of different color and ethnic backgrounds depicted in pictures slandering and hurting each other. When I turn on the television news, I see racially motivated riots. When I scroll through my social media newsfeed, I read about one act of hatred after another. It has made my heart sad, and I am sure it has brought a certain type of despair to your heart as well.

And then I saw this picture. It was in real life and in real time. My eight year old daughter had just made a friend. We were over a thousand miles from home and swimming in a resort pool and my daughter was laughing and playing with an African American girl. As soon as I saw them, it warmed my heart. It was just what I needed to see, even though I didn’t even know that I needed to see it.

My eight year old daughter didn’t see it as a big deal because in her eyes it isn’t a big deal. In fact, she probably didn’t even really notice that her new friend was an African American. She just noticed that she was about the same age and they started to talk and they realized that they wanted to be swimming buddies. If it were only that easy.

Maybe our daughter didn’t see her friend’s color because she is so used to interacting with children who have different ethnic backgrounds. She has cousins who have different color skin. She has friends at school and church who have different color skin. So why did I sense something so meaningful in a swimming pool? Could it be that there might be some spiritual implications in this random interaction?

This event took place less than twenty-four hours ago, and yet I have probably thought about it more than anything else that has crossed my mind since the moment it took place. My mind continues to think through the simplicity, the pure love and acceptance shown by both of these girls. When the African American girl had to leave, they hugged and said goodbye to each other. Could it really be that simple? Could there be something that is inside children which adults need to pay more attention to? We always focus on what we must teach our children, but in this instance, should we be learning something from our children?

Something Jesus said about children has replayed itself inside my mind since this pool interaction. Someone asked Jesus who the greatest type of person was in the kingdom of heaven. For an object lesson, Jesus called a little child to himself and asked the child to stand in his midst while he proclaimed:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

In another conversation Jesus had with others, he made it clear that heaven will be made up of little children. There must be something important about the faith of a child. As an adult, it is difficult for us to venture back to those days of childhood faith. To have a vivid imagination where you don’t need logic, but you just need some free time. I remember when I started to lose my child-like imagination. I was approximately twelve years old and I was playing with my matchbox cars. After a few minutes of playing with them, I started to feel a sense of boredom. I fought against this feeling that what I was doing was not worth it anymore. After a few more minutes of trying to imagine in front of me a huge highway system, I told myself that it was okay for me not to enjoy this anymore, and so I put them away and went outside to play basketball. I never got my matchbox cars out again. I am not sure why I remember this moment with such clarity, but it was a pivotal point in my journey towards becoming a young adult. And it was okay. This is simply what happens as we get older. I notice it in my twelve year old daughter. There are some things she just doesn’t enjoy doing anymore. And that is okay.

But there is another type of childhood faith that does not involve imagination. A type that is much more important. This type of childhood faith involves trust. As a child grows older, the child learns to not trust everyone. For various reasons, certain older children and other adults have done something to rob them of the virtue of trust. The older we get, the more skeptical we become of other human beings. And we have good reason to be skeptical of some people, for there are evil humans in our midst. But when Jesus was referring to this childlike faith, he wanted us to be able to trust in him no matter what. Jesus was not asking us to trust everyone, just him. Because Jesus is the one who can save us, we must be able to place our trust in him, knowing that he has good in store for us.

I believe that we can learn an important principle from Jesus: Trust without prejudice. Don’t worry about teaching your child this principle, they are probably already living it out. You, as an adult, probably need to learn it much more than your child. What does  trust without prejudice look like? It means that your first impression of someone is to think the best of them no matter what their skin color. How many adults have made too quick of a judgment about someone because they are a different skin color than them? And how many people have given too many people the benefit of the doubt just because they wear the same skin color as them? Evil comes in all types of colors. So does good.

This principle is found in the Bible: “Love always trusts” (1 Corinthians 13:7). In some translations, it says, “Love believes the best.” No matter what someone’s skin color, do you believe the best of them when you first meet them? When you first meet someone who has a different color, do you think, “I wonder if we will be great friends someday?” Or does that not even enter your mind?

I would like to add one more aspect to the principle of trust without prejudice. Children love to play, but they loath sitting around to talk about something that is rehashed over and over. Adults seem to be the opposite. Adults seem to think that sitting around and talking about the same thing over and over will fix the problem. But often, talking with no action usually just makes the issue less attainable. I have heard so many times over the last year that we need to start discussions about racism and somehow magically all that talking will solve the problem.

I have heard this topic discussed on sports radio, evening news and even expert panels. But it seems that very little good has come out of so much of these “talks.” Those who seethe with racism cannot be changed with just dialogue. The racist needs to rub shoulders with someone of a different color and play with them. I am not talking about swimming, but I am talking about their world expanding. Like I said, children can teach us so much if we would just open up our eyes. Maybe we need to stop talking so much about this and instead learn how to play again. Look around in your swimming pool. How big is it? Is it big enough for everyone?

 

What if You Lost Your Christmas Traditions

christmas-traditionsI was struck by the question my wife asked me last night as we were laying our heads down on the pillow to sleep. She asked, “What if we stripped everything away from Christmas? What if we got rid of all the good things we look forward to every December? The family gatherings. Decorating the tree. Filling the stockings. Buying presents for loved ones. The food. The ugly sweaters. Watching the same movies. The time off. Watching sports. What if we stopped all of those traditions? Would it still feel like Christmas?”

Would it?

What if all we had every December 25 was the knowledge that Jesus came to this earth to save humanity from their sin problem? Would that be enough for you? As soon as my mind started to process this question, I considered that first Christmas and it was fascinating to comprehend the reaction of everyone who came in contact with Jesus.

 The shepherds GLORIFIED AND PRAISED God after they met baby Jesus (Luke 2:20).

 Simeon was MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT when he was in the midst of eight day old Jesus (Luke 2:27).

 The prophetess Anna GAVE THANKS to God as she interacted with the newborn Jesus (Luke 2:38).

The magi BOWED down and WORSHIPPED the toddler Jesus when they arrived at His house (Matthew 2:11).

The theme of that first Christmas was the realization of the divinity of Jesus and the response to worship Him. What if that was all we had this Christmas? Would that be enough? I think for some of us, it wouldn’t be enough.

The church I lead is offering six different services this weekend. Several people have come up to my wife and I and have lamented at this task that they believe is a burden for myself and ultimately my family. We are busy on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th. I then read an article about many churches which are canceling their services because Christmas Day is on a Sunday and their ultimate goal is for families to be able to spend it together.

Can I say something that is true, but will not be popular to your ears?

Christmas is not about family.

Don’t get me wrong. One of the wonderful traditions of Christmas is the ability to “get-together” and spend time with family. But Christmas isn’t about family. We have allowed our cultural values (which are good) to get in the way of what is most important.

Never forget this truth: Christmas is about the worship of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

And if the worship of Jesus Christ is the reason to celebrate Christmas, than wouldn’t we be excited to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ to worship our king?  I wonder if we have forgotten what Christmas is all about. It is about meeting Him and bowing down to Him and giving thanks to Him and worshipping Him. It is not about a big family meal. It is not about opening the presents. It is about Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

I am not asking you to stop your Christmas traditions. My wife and I have many Christmas traditions and we will continue them into the future. But we know that if all was stripped away, we could still enjoy Christmas because we know that it is all about worshiping our leader, Jesus Christ.

So don’t feel bad for us that we have to be at six different services this weekend (it is not that different than a regular weekend anyway). We will still be able to spend time with family. We still decorated a tree. We will still open up gifts. We will still have time to relax. But there is a joy which we have found in gathering with other Christians around this time of year that has become a favorite for us.

And when you realize what Christmas is all about, it is not only worth it, but a privilege which we will cherish for all eternity. Just think about it for a moment. What will we do when we get to heaven someday? Will we open presents? Will we hang lights up on our homes? Will we stuff the stockings? I am not sure about those traditions, but I do know one thing we will be doing. We will be worshiping Jesus Christ as the leader and forgiver of our eternal life.

Therefore, the older we get on this earth, the more we should realize that what we do here should reflect what we will do in heaven. So, make sure you focus on the most important aspect of Christmas. Otherwise, you will be teaching those around you that Christmas is all about the “other things,” when it is really simple. It is about Jesus, and giving Him the honor He deserves.

 

 

 

A Warning to Jezebel

Have you ever wanted something so much, but you knew that it was off limits to you? Have you ever wanted something so much that was off limits to you, that you manipulate your way into getting it? You even murder people who stand in your path so that you get what you want? No matter who stands in your way, you are determined that you will win? I’d like to tell an ancient story which gives us four warnings for today’s leaders.

Warning #1: Leaders should be servants of the people, but when a leader forces the people to serve their selfish purposes, the subjects will always suffer.

 Once upon a time, there lived a woman named Jezebel. Her named means “pure” and “wholesome” and yet she lived in such a way that contradicted those attributes. She was one of the most evil queens Israel had ever seen. She went to great lengths to get not only what she wanted, but what her husband wanted as well. Her husband’s name was Ahab. This couple was, without a doubt, the most wicked husband and wife to ever rule the land of Israel.

jez6Jezebel and Ahab partook in many evil deeds, but the one involving an innocent man by the name of Naboth might be the most sinister of all. Naboth had a beautiful vineyard beside the palace of Ahab. Ahab saw this vineyard and he wanted. It was a breathtaking vineyard. But it wasn’t his. It was Naboth’s vineyard. So Ahab demanded that Naboth give him the vineyard, but Naboth refused to sell the land. It’s not like Ahab just asked for the vineyard without offering a substantial amount that would equal if not go beyond the value of the vineyard. Ahab even offered a better vineyard in its place. Ahab also offered cash instead of land. In Ahab’s eyes, he was offering Naboth the vineyard of a lifetime. So, what was the problem? Why wouldn’t Naboth sell?

Naboth told Ahab that the Lord forbid him to give the King his inheritance. Naboth was a God fearing Israelite who obeyed the Mosaic Law. Naboth was not just being greedy or stubborn. His actions were based upon a biblical principle. This is why he refused to sell his inheritance:

“No inheritance of the sons of Israel shall be transferred from tribe to tribe, for the sons of Israel shall each hold to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers” (Numbers 36:7).

In other words, no transaction should ever be made permanent, but Ahab wanted to make a permanent purchase. Naboth knew that this was not God’s will, so he refused the King, knowing that it would probably cost him his life.

So, what did King Ahab do when he was turned down? He went home and pouted. Ahab laid down on his bed, turned away his face, and refused to eat. He behaved like a two year old when he or she does not get their own way.

jez1

When Ahab’s wife Jezebel saw that he was sulking in his bed, she told him to lighten up because she would get the land for him. Jezebel had grown up in a culture where the rights of individuals were not honored as they were in Israel. It seemed incredible to her that Ahab would not just take what he wanted. That was how a king should act, according to her way of thinking. If he would not do what was necessary, she would do so and without hesitation.

Jezebel devised an evil plan to kill Naboth. Her heart was stone-cold. She set up a meeting in Naboth’s town and hired two low-lifes to accuse Naboth of something false, but worthy of the death sentence. After hearing these false reports, the leaders took Naboth out of the town and stoned him to death. This royal family was guilty of four things that God abhors (Proverbs 6):

            Lying.

            Hiring false witnesses to spread lies.

            Shedding innocent blood.

            Devising a wicked plan.

Warning #2: Leaders who MANIPULATE, LIE and CONSPIRE SINISTER PLANS to get what they want ignite a zealous anger in God.  

The royal family got what they wanted…the vineyard. But what they didn’t realize was that God was watching all of this and His fierce anger burned against their total corruption of power. God places people in leadership to do good for the common people, but this couple manipulated and destroyed many lives for their own benefit.

The leaders who followed the directions of Jezebel obviously feared Jezebel more than they did God. And maybe they justified it because they were just taking orders. But surely they could see the injustice? Right?

Jezebel got away with it, again. She got away with it because no one had the courage to stand up to her evil plans. A lack of courage allows Satan’s plan of destruction to succeed. Have you ever kept quiet about something that you knew was not right, but you didn’t want to face the consequences of speaking out, so you remained silent? Maybe you talk in your protected pockets of individuals, but when it comes to letting people know exactly how you feel about an evil, you are scared. And when you do see people speaking up against evil, you continue to be silent because the world looks at them as fanatical and you don’t want to be placed in the same category as them. Play it safe, remain silent…that is, until all your rights are taken away from you.

Jezebel told Ahab that Naboth was no longer in the picture and he could now have his precious vineyard. So he went down to the vineyard, thinking he was going to enjoy it. Little did Ahab know that he was going to run into his old buddy, a fanatical truth-teller. The man’s name was Elijah and he always made Ahab feel like he was an evil man.

jez5The Lord told Elijah to confront Ahab at the vineyard. As Ahab was checking out his new vineyard, Elijah stepped out from behind a vine and said, “Congratulations, Ahab!”

“You again!” seethed Ahab. Ahab for years had been trying to kill the truth-teller named Elijah, but God protected him. Evil people hate truth-tellers, because their sinister plans are often times blocked by truth-tellers.

“Yeah, its me, and you know why I’m here. You know that what you did was evil in God’s eyes. You know that you just killed a righteous and innocent man.” Elijah rebuked Ahab directly.

Elijah told Ahab that God would sweep him away because of his evil ways. Dogs would lick his blood when he died. He also told Ahab that God would allow dogs to eat Jezebel because of her evil ways. It was a common practice for dogs to roam outside of the city and actually lick the blood from the deceased and eat their flesh when they were left dead.

No leader ever gets away with murder. No leader ever gets away with conspiring evil plans. No leader ever gets away with lying so that they will get elected. No leader ever gets away with evil. God eventually punishes every evil leader.

Warning #3: Wicked leaders will eventually be SEVERELY JUDGED by God.

What happened to Ahab?

Three years after getting his vineyard, Ahab was mortally wounded by an arrow in battle and as they washed the blood that was on the chariot by the pool of Samaria, the dogs licked up his blood (1 Kings 22:38).

What happened to Jezebel?jez3

During an insurrection, Jezebel was thrown out of a window. Her body crashed to the ground and killed her. Some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall. They went to bury her, but they found nothing more of her than her skull, her feet and the palms of her hands because the dogs had eaten her (2 Kings 9:35).

What happened to Ahab’s 70 sons?

God would not allow Ahab and Jezebel to leave a legacy. These 70 sons were beheaded and their heads were piled upon at the entrance of the city of Jezreel (Naboth’s hometown).

jez4

Wicked leaders will eventually be severely judged by God.

 Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard so much that he allowed Jezebel to falsely accuse Naboth and kill him, but in the end both Ahab and Jezebel were killed for the evil they did to Naboth.

Warning #4: Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes the worst thing that could happen is for you to get your own way.

The spirit of Jezebel has lived on past her despicable death. Every once in a while throughout history, the wretched Jezebel rises to power in a new time period. We see her arise in the early church when the congregation tolerated a woman who had this same type of leadership style (Revelation 2:20).

Has she arisen once again in our time period of history? Is her spirit alive and well in this nation? You be the judge of that. Let’s hope and pray that anyone who embodies the spirit of Jezebel never leads our nation, for we have been warned from our past.

Sadly, history always repeats itself. But there is hope if enough truth-tellers stand up against the lies and the murders and the dark-minded strategies. Never forget that whenever there is a Jezebel in the land, there is always an Elijah. The question is: which one do you align yourself with?

A Warning to Jezebel

Have you ever wanted something so much, but you knew that it was off limits to you? Have you ever wanted something so much that was off limits to you, that you manipulate your way into getting it? You even murder people who stand in your path so that you get what you want? No matter who stands in your way, you are determined that you will win? I’d like to tell an ancient story which gives us four warnings for today’s leaders.

Warning #1: Leaders should be servants of the people, but when a leader forces the people to serve their selfish purposes, the subjects will always suffer.

 Once upon a time, there lived a woman named Jezebel. Her named means “pure” and “wholesome” and yet she lived in such a way that contradicted those attributes. She was one of the most evil queens Israel had ever seen. She went to great lengths to get not only what she wanted, but what her husband wanted as well. Her husband’s name was Ahab. This couple was, without a doubt, the most wicked husband and wife to ever rule the land of Israel.

jez6Jezebel and Ahab partook in many evil deeds, but the one involving an innocent man by the name of Naboth might be the most sinister of all. Naboth had a beautiful vineyard beside the palace of Ahab. Ahab saw this vineyard and he wanted. It was a breathtaking vineyard. But it wasn’t his. It was Naboth’s vineyard. So Ahab demanded that Naboth give him the vineyard, but Naboth refused to sell the land. It’s not like Ahab just asked for the vineyard without offering a substantial amount that would equal if not go beyond the value of the vineyard. Ahab even offered a better vineyard in its place. Ahab also offered cash instead of land. In Ahab’s eyes, he was offering Naboth the vineyard of a lifetime. So, what was the problem? Why wouldn’t Naboth sell?

Naboth told Ahab that the Lord forbid him to give the King his inheritance. Naboth was a God fearing Israelite who obeyed the Mosaic Law. Naboth was not just being greedy or stubborn. His actions were based upon a biblical principle. This is why he refused to sell his inheritance:

“No inheritance of the sons of Israel shall be transferred from tribe to tribe, for the sons of Israel shall each hold to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers” (Numbers 36:7).

In other words, no transaction should ever be made permanent, but Ahab wanted to make a permanent purchase. Naboth knew that this was not God’s will, so he refused the King, knowing that it would probably cost him his life.

So, what did King Ahab do when he was turned down? He went home and pouted. Ahab laid down on his bed, turned away his face, and refused to eat. He behaved like a two year old when he or she does not get their own way.

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When Ahab’s wife Jezebel saw that he was sulking in his bed, she told him to lighten up because she would get the land for him. Jezebel had grown up in a culture where the rights of individuals were not honored as they were in Israel. It seemed incredible to her that Ahab would not just take what he wanted. That was how a king should act, according to her way of thinking. If he would not do what was necessary, she would do so and without hesitation.

Jezebel devised an evil plan to kill Naboth. Her heart was stone-cold. She set up a meeting in Naboth’s town and hired two low-lifes to accuse Naboth of something false, but worthy of the death sentence. After hearing these false reports, the leaders took Naboth out of the town and stoned him to death. This royal family was guilty of four things that God abhors (Proverbs 6):

            Lying.

            Hiring false witnesses to spread lies.

            Shedding innocent blood.

            Devising a wicked plan.

Warning #2: Leaders who MANIPULATE, LIE and CONSPIRE SINISTER PLANS to get what they want ignite a zealous anger in God.  

The royal family got what they wanted…the vineyard. But what they didn’t realize was that God was watching all of this and His fierce anger burned against their total corruption of power. God places people in leadership to do good for the common people, but this couple manipulated and destroyed many lives for their own benefit.

The leaders who followed the directions of Jezebel obviously feared Jezebel more than they did God. And maybe they justified it because they were just taking orders. But surely they could see the injustice? Right?

Jezebel got away with it, again. She got away with it because no one had the courage to stand up to her evil plans. A lack of courage allows Satan’s plan of destruction to succeed. Have you ever kept quiet about something that you knew was not right, but you didn’t want to face the consequences of speaking out, so you remained silent? Maybe you talk in your protected pockets of individuals, but when it comes to letting people know exactly how you feel about an evil, you are scared. And when you do see people speaking up against evil, you continue to be silent because the world looks at them as fanatical and you don’t want to be placed in the same category as them. Play it safe, remain silent…that is, until all your rights are taken away from you.

Jezebel told Ahab that Naboth was no longer in the picture and he could now have his precious vineyard. So he went down to the vineyard, thinking he was going to enjoy it. Little did Ahab know that he was going to run into his old buddy, a fanatical truth-teller. The man’s name was Elijah and he always made Ahab feel like he was an evil man.

jez5The Lord told Elijah to confront Ahab at the vineyard. As Ahab was checking out his new vineyard, Elijah stepped out from behind a vine and said, “Congratulations, Ahab!”

“You again!” seethed Ahab. Ahab for years had been trying to kill the truth-teller named Elijah, but God protected him. Evil people hate truth-tellers, because their sinister plans are often times blocked by truth-tellers.

“Yeah, its me, and you know why I’m here. You know that what you did was evil in God’s eyes. You know that you just killed a righteous and innocent man.” Elijah rebuked Ahab directly.

Elijah told Ahab that God would sweep him away because of his evil ways. Dogs would lick his blood when he died. He also told Ahab that God would allow dogs to eat Jezebel because of her evil ways. It was a common practice for dogs to roam outside of the city and actually lick the blood from the deceased and eat their flesh when they were left dead.

No leader ever gets away with murder. No leader ever gets away with conspiring evil plans. No leader ever gets away with lying so that they will get elected. No leader ever gets away with evil. God eventually punishes every evil leader.

Warning #3: Wicked leaders will eventually be SEVERELY JUDGED by God.

What happened to Ahab?

Three years after getting his vineyard, Ahab was mortally wounded by an arrow in battle and as they washed the blood that was on the chariot by the pool of Samaria, the dogs licked up his blood (1 Kings 22:38).

What happened to Jezebel?jez3

During an insurrection, Jezebel was thrown out of a window. Her body crashed to the ground and killed her. Some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall. They went to bury her, but they found nothing more of her than her skull, her feet and the palms of her hands because the dogs had eaten her (2 Kings 9:35).

What happened to Ahab’s 70 sons?

God would not allow Ahab and Jezebel to leave a legacy. These 70 sons were beheaded and their heads were piled upon at the entrance of the city of Jezreel (Naboth’s hometown).

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Wicked leaders will eventually be severely judged by God.

 Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard so much that he allowed Jezebel to falsely accuse Naboth and kill him, but in the end both Ahab and Jezebel were killed for the evil they did to Naboth.

Warning #4: Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes the worst thing that could happen is for you to get your own way.

The spirit of Jezebel has lived on past her despicable death. Every once in a while throughout history, the wretched Jezebel rises to power in a new time period. We see her arise in the early church when the congregation tolerated a woman who had this same type of leadership style (Revelation 2:20).

Has she arisen once again in our time period of history? Is her spirit alive and well in this nation? You be the judge of that. Let’s hope and pray that anyone who embodies the spirit of Jezebel never leads our nation, for we have been warned from our past.

Sadly, history always repeats itself. But there is hope if enough truth-tellers stand up against the lies and the murders and the dark-minded strategies. Never forget that whenever there is a Jezebel in the land, there is always an Elijah. The question is: which one do you align yourself with?

 

The Most Important 5 minutes of the Presidential Race

In the fog of what has become one of the most bizarre presidential races ever, it is important for Christians to remember what is truly important to God. Sadly, too many Christians have really gotten lost in all the arguments involved in this race, and so hopefully this can be a brief thought to help us re-focus on what is possibly the greatest sin America is committing right now.

I must admit that I am still stuck on the Vice Presidential debate and the discussion of many individuals afterward. This statement has haunted me the last few days spoken by a fellow Christian: “It is disheartening to see people base a decision as important as who you are going to elect to represent you, to a single issue…”

Logically, it makes sense. Why would someone base their decision upon one issue out of dozens of issues? No one should, based on human reasoning, unless you understand what this issue really means. I agree, it is not the only issue. But it is a deal breaker for me, and should be for every Christian. The issue at hand is abortion.

During the Vice Presidential debate, the last several minutes for me were amazing. I wept as I listened to Mike Pence plead the case for the preciousness of life. I am not sure if I had ever been more proud to be a Hoosier. He spoke about how sacred life was in the womb and how we needed to create a culture of life and make it easier for families who want to adopt to connect with women who are thinking about having an abortion. And then Governor Pence looked right into the eyes of Tim Kane and asked him how, being a man who believes in the sanctity of life, could he support partial birth abortion. This is not just abortion at 9 weeks along, but abortion at 30+ weeks. Just think about the name for a moment…the baby is actually part of the way out of the womb, and yet it is somehow still a woman’s right to abort this child? Mr. Kane had just talked about how his faith was important to him, but he kept telling the audience things like: “We have to leave it up to the woman. It is a woman’s right to choose” and “We should not punish women.”

An inner anger burned within me that was ready to burst. Mankind was trying to justify something that is utterly evil to God. As important as the economy and our security is to me, I don’t lose sleep over them. But I had a hard time sleeping that night as I heard two entirely different perspectives from two men who each called themselves Christians. One man’s perspective seemed to align with God’s written word, while the other man’s perspective seemed to align with the self-consumed, wickedness of the world. But somehow, they are both Christians? This type of contradiction has confused me for years; that is, until I came across an often over-looked reality found in the Bible.

Over and over throughout the history of the kings in the Bible, many of the kings would follow God in some areas of their life, but totally miss the mark with certain areas that were incredibly important to Him. Here are six examples:

Asa, who reigned for 41 years in Judah from 910-869 B.C., “did what was right in the sight of the Lord…but the HIGH PLACES were not taken away” (1 Kings 15:11-14).

Jehosophat, who reigned for 25 years in Judah from 872-848 B.C., “did right in the sight of the Lord…but the HIGH PLACES were not taken away” (1 Kings 22:43).

Joash, who reigned for 40 years in Judah from 835-796 B.C., “did right in the sight of the Lord all his days…only the HIGH PLACES were not taken away” (2 Kings 12:2-3).

Amaziah, who reigned for 29 years in Judah from 796-767 B.C., “did right in the sight of the Lord…only the HIGH PLACES were not taken away” (2 Kings 14:3-4).

Azariah, who reigned for 52 years in Judah from 792-740 B.C., “did right in the sight of the Lord…only the HIGH PLACES were not taken away” (2 Kings 15:3-4).

 Jotham, who reigned for 16 years in Judah from 750-735 B.C., “did what was right in the sight of the Lord…only the HIGH PLACES were not taken away” (2 Kings 15:34-35).

What were the HIGH PLACES like? In the high places, people would build monuments to certain gods and then worship them. When the people gathered at these high places, drunkenness, sexually indulgent orgies and self-mutilation were the forms of worship. It was pure evil and abhorrent to the One true God. One of the gods the people worshipped in these high places was called Molech. The people would begin to worship this god Molech by bowing down to a statue of it. This statue was actually a large oven that contained a burning fire within it for the purpose of sacrifices. The out-stretched arms of Molech welcomed the human sacrifice. But it wasn’t just any kind of human, it was a human baby!

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Moms and dads would work themselves up in a frenzy on top of this high place, and at the right moment, would toss their child into the flames of Molech. They called it an act of worship.

Just think about what is going on up on these high places. The men and women were engaging in promiscuous sex and because of those actions, the woman would periodically get pregnant. But this pregnant woman looked at this new addition to her life as inconvenient and decided to get rid of this unwanted baby. What better outlet than giving it as a sacrifice to the god that condones all of this behavior. Do you see the process here? Have sex with whomever you want. Get pregnant every once in a while. Dispose of the unwanted infant before it altars your lifestyle.

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While most of the kings just looked the other way and acted like this horrible evil wasn’t happening, some of the ancient kings of Israel actually participated in this. King Manasseh is one example, as he “sacrificed his own son in the fire [of Molech]” (2 Kings 21:6). Please understand that God has an abhorrent hatred for the “shedding of innocent blood” (Proverbs 6).

Is Molech the modern abortion industry? Is the purpose of Planned Parenthood ultimately the same as this ancient practice of infanticide? The similarities cannot be ignored.

The main reason this evil industry brings in millions upon millions of dollars every year is because abortion is really the worship of the god of self. Our culture is so self-absorbed that it is not willing to do anything that seems inconvenient or takes away from our self-indulgent activities. Let’s face it, most people get abortions because they don’t want “it” to interfere with their career or lifestyle, or they think they can’t afford “it” or they don’t have the support of a partner or family. Even doctors (the great healers) suggest abortion as an option when there might be a suspected flaw in the baby. Many of my friends have been told by doctors to abort because there might be something wrong, and thankfully they didn’t listen to the doctor because these children are now in high school and amazing kids! And some of those kids do have disabilities, but they are still loved all the same! This is the worship of self in the most wicked manner.

Since I am a Christian and follower of the God of the Bible, I cannot and will never (to my knowledge) vote for someone who is “pro-choice.” The politician might be a Christian who is struggling with a high place in his or her life. But that is no excuse. The kings were severely judged for allowing the high places to co-exist in their kingdom. In fact, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were both conquered by other nations because they could not follow the ways of God, which included most importantly the elimination of the high places. In the same way, the politicians of this land will someday be the focus of God’s all-consuming, fiery wrath that will utterly destroy them.

And if you are a Christian, yet you somehow logically conclude that there are other issues more important than this one about the “sanctity of life” and you decide to vote for someone who tramples on the rights of the unborn, then you will have to stand before God someday and answer why you looked the other way when the high places were erected in your neighborhood.

I mentioned the fact that several kings did good in the eyes of God, but allowed the high places to remain. I want to leave you with the hope of one leader’s ability to see into the heart of God and do whatever it takes to please God:

Hezekiah reigned for 29 years from 715-686 B.C., and “he did right in the sight of the Lord…he REMOVED the HIGH PLACES” (18:3-4).

This is my prayer for this election. That a leader, just like King Hezekiah, will arise and take down the high places of abortion so that the value of human life can flourish in the United States of America. I pray that this leader will cultivate a society that takes care of the unplanned child and gives a home to the orphan by making it easier and more affordable for good parents to adopt. I pray that this leader can encourage people to come along side men and women in crisis and show them loving support throughout the entire pregnancy and into the early years of child development.  I pray that we will all see the value of life regardless of limitations and disabilities. I pray that this leader can stare this demonic monster in the face and strike a blow to it by reversing Roe v. Wade. And finally, I pray that every Christian in America opens up their eyes and burns passionately for the protective rights of the unborn, for all men [babies] are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

4 Churches: Which one do you attend?

Dreams arouse the motivation to change. Dreams scare the sweat out of people. Dreams inspire courage to do what is right. Dreams lead people to make foolish decisions. Dreams should often be forgotten. Dreams can even be the voice of God describing truth in our subconscious.

I had a dream. In this dream, I visited four churches. All four of these churches were located in the United States of America, but each were different. Different not only in physical appearance, but different in purpose.

In the first church, I could feel the hard surface of the wooden pew beneath my body. The pews reminded me of the church I had grown up in. It appeared that the worship service was already underway, because the pastor was preaching up on the stage. As I listened intently to the sermon, it became clear that the preacher was angry at something or someone. Even though the pastor was speaking many different words, the only words I could understand was “I hate you” and “I hate the world” and “I hate sinners” and these words were all dripping with the venom of a poisonous viper.

As the worship service came to a close, the song leader stepped up to the piano and led the congregation in the song, “They will know that we are Christians by our love,” but as I listened to the people around me singing, I only heard these words: “They will know that we are Christians by what we stand against!” I tried to clean out my ears, but no matter what, this is the only phrase I could hear.

Finally, the people were dismissed and as I stood up to walk out, I could feel the judgmental stares of the men and women around me. They could see my hidden sins and they were glaring into my soul with thoughts of “How could you?” and “I would never do something like that!” and “A good Christian would never even think about doing that!” and the worst one: “God is going to send you to hell, buddy!” An indescribable darkness surrounded me at that moment. I couldn’t find the exit fast enough. I needed to get out of this place. They might have felt like they were one happy family, but I felt like an orphan being thrown into the garbage.

I walked outside the church facility and noticed that there was a large clear bubble surrounding the building. Whenever someone walked away from the building and into the bubble, they would burst through it and receive a smaller bubble that would surround them as they would leave the property. They would be safe from the sinners in this bubble.

Standing in the parking lot of this church, I could feel a gentle breeze coming from the east. This wind whispered something to me: “This church knows the truth, but has forgotten how to love. Do not be like this church.”

I woke up from this dream sweating. For me, it was a night mare. I had lived this feeling too many times in actual churches from my past. I laid in bed staring into the darkness, not wanting to fall back asleep too quickly. Hoping that the longer time I spend away from my subconscious, the more likely I would avoid that dream sequence again. Immediately, when I drifted off again, I found myself in a large auditorium with nice cushioned individualized seats. The people around me were singing and lifting their hands and seemed to praise God, but floating above the raised hands of the people were phrases that shocked me: “I come for an hour to feel good about myself” and “God must be happy with my efforts” and “I wonder what I am going to have for lunch” and “I hope I meet a beautiful women here” and even “Games on this afternoon, get-together with friends tonight, this is a great day!” Hundreds of people were singing, but their minds were on autopilot. They were not trying to connect with the God of the universe. They were in the most ironic twist, worshiping themselves as they sang. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so-called Christians loving themselves in the sound of the beat. But there was no contrite hearts, no feeling vulnerable before a Holy God. This worship service was for their pleasure, and they were enjoying it.

After the singing, a man dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt stepped up on stage and gave an uplifting, positive talk. In fact, I felt like I was listening to a motivational speaker trying to convince the crowd to buy into his 8-step program so that they could become a success, just like he is now a success. But just as I was starting to feel great about myself, I looked down at my feet, and the floor opened up. At first, I fought against looking down, for I knew that I would be looking into hell. But something in me forced me to gaze into the fire beneath me. I could see someone with no face shouting up at the speaker saying these words, “Tell them about sin! Tell them about hell! Let them know that it is God who transforms their hearts! Help them understand that they need a savior!” I could hear these words, but the speaker could not. I could then look into the brain of the speaker and he was filled with happiness whenever people would laugh at his jokes and when the crowd would shed a tear for a touching story.

How could something that feels so good be so wrong? I thought to myself. As the speaker closed his talk in prayer, I didn’t bow my head, but instead my eyes were focused on a scoreboard that was lowered out of the rafters and hovered right above the speaker. God was keeping score. On the scoreboard it gave the number of days since the speaker had mentioned the problem of sin, the reality of hell and the depravity of the human soul. The scoreboard read, 2,378 days. This church had formed 2,378 days ago with a small group of people who wanted to focus on God’s love and encourage people, instead of focusing on anything negative that might turn people away. And they were growing. Who could argue against such growth? If it grows, then it must be God, right? Not always.

After the service, I walked to their lobby and saw dozens of people sipping on their coffee, all smiling, and conversing with each other. It seemed to be such a great place to hang out until I felt that breeze again come into the building when someone opened up the door. This time the wind came from the west, and it whispered a second warning to me: “This church is tolerant of sin and avoids presenting the complete gospel. They have forgotten that Jesus came to die on the cross to save sinners. They believe it is best to show a love that really isn’t a love at all, because they are sending people to an eternity without God by ignoring the problem of sin. Do not be like this church.”

I did not wake up from this dream, but disappeared from the second church and then reappeared in the third church, or at least that is what it felt like. There was something unsettling about this place, more so than the first two churches. Once again, I was sitting in a pew, this time with cushioned padding and the worship service was just starting. I was astonished as I listened to someone give an announcement about an event they were having at the church. This event would be a celebration of the very thing God condemned in His Word. As I looked around the sanctuary, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, for everyone in attendance had a chest blowing up with pride. They felt great about being inclusive of all types of lifestyles, and they paraded it for the world to witness. I sat there dumb-founded that this church promoted what was clearly spelled out in God’s Word as sin.

The pastor wore a long, black robe. When it was his time to speak, he decided to spend his 18 minutes lecturing about how “love wins” and that we all must accept every lifestyle no matter what because that is exactly what God would do for us. At first, I was captivated by the idea that everyone can do whatever he or she wants and we should just accept it and even lift up the idea that if it makes them happy, then it must be good. But my soul just couldn’t accept this teaching. I knew the truth, and if everyone is right and there is no wrong, then there is nothing but chaos. And worse yet, if what the Bible says is a sin and yet it really isn’t a sin because we interpret it differently than we used to, then what is the point of following the Bible anyway?

As the congregation was reading the apostle’s creed in unison, I heard something else from their lips. It was eerie to watch their mouths open and speak these words: “My freedom to live how I want is more important than submitting to God. I desperately want to be loved by this world. I want people to praise my efforts and tell me that this is how the church should really be engaged in our society. I will not be convicted by the truth, but will listen to the pride of my heart and allow what God has called an abomination to be an act of worship here in my church.”

When the worship service ended, the people exited the sanctuary, and I was frightened to see demons suspended just a few feet above them. These evil spirits were patting them on the back, telling them, “You should be proud of yourself. You are enlightened. Those other churches are close-minded bigots. You are doing a great work. You will bring about a utopia!”

After the last person left the sanctuary, I could feel the breeze again come into the building. This time from the south. This wind whispered a third warning to me: “This is not My church. This place is a den of the devil. This is not a reflection of My love. For My love is holy and pure and I have standards in which I demand obedience. Their pride has puffed them up and their destruction is near. Do not be like this church.”

I woke up again. This time I was freezing. Not only did I lack covers, but I had fallen off the bed. This last church disturbed me to such an extent that I could not fall back asleep for about an hour. I laid there, tossing and turning, thinking about these churches and how the majority of churches today fit in one of these categories. As I started to drift back to sleep, my mind wondered what kind of church God wanted. What does a God-honoring church look like? I thought to myself as my consciousness turned into the subconscious.

In the fourth church, I could not tell if I was standing or sitting. I could not tell if I was in a traditional style church with a steeple or a modern auditorium. There were no pews or chairs. I couldn’t tell if the church served coffee or donuts. Everything about this church was blurry, except for one thing. There were two words standing up on the stage and they were of equal size and both words were speaking at the same time. As I looked upon the stage at these two words, there was a spotlight that came from the rafters that lit up the words with a radiant light. It was almost as if there were two kinds of light. One part of the light was physical, and there was another part of the light that allowed these two words to be seen outside the building from miles away.

These two words spoke with such passion and yet gentleness. The two words were bold and kind and revealed the complexity of God and applied faith to practical living. When I comprehended what those two words were, my heart filled with joy. I could sense that God was well pleased with the presence of these two words in His church. The first word was TRUTH. And the second was GRACE.

TRUTH was so clear and honest as it spoke. It called sin an abomination to God and told everyone to repent of their wickedness. But as TRUTH spoke, it pointed to the word GRACE and said, “Here is your hope! Here is your salvation!” GRACE then took over and agreed with TRUTH and told everyone the good news of God. The good news was that Jesus came to this earth to die for each sinner so that he or she can have full access to God. The good news is full of TRUTH and GRACE. You cannot have one without the other.

After looking upon the stage, I glanced around me and saw all kinds of people of all different kinds of color. I could see in their hearts as they looked to the stage. Some people were in a right relationship with God, while others were living in sin. Some of the sinners were listening to the TRUTH and GRACE in order to break free from the chains of their past mistakes. And there were other sinners who were offended at TRUTH and they convinced themselves that they didn’t need the church. It all looked messy, but there was a beauty in the mess.

I didn’t want this worship service to end, for I knew that I was experiencing the will of God for His church. But then all at once it ended abruptly. I could see every kind of weapon…bombs, guns, knives, chemicals…being used to destroy what was happening. Even though this should have been a disturbing sight, it brought a peace to me, because I knew that Jesus promised that His truth church would have trouble in this world.

Once again, I heard the gentle breeze on the back of my neck. This wind was from the north, and it had a new kind of warning about this kind of church: “TRUTH and GRACE are the foundation of My church. But few churches know how to balance TRUTH and GRACE. This church is under attack because it is My church. It is the true light of the world, and the evil one hates this and will do anything to destroy it. A time will come when My church will not be tolerated anymore. But do not lose heart, for I am with you always.” And I woke up with a warm feeling surrounding my entire body. I could sense the love of God around me.

The entire next day, the haunting reality of this dream followed my thoughts constantly. I knew in my heart that this was the problem with America. It wasn’t “Washington” or the “liberal media” or “Hollywood.” It was the American Church. Instead of being a light to clear the way, the Church has become confused as to what its purpose is on this planet. And because the Church is confused, the people are confused and no one wants to follow someone who is confused.

The day after the dream, I had hoped that I could just forget about those first three churches. “It was just a dream,” I would tell myself. But every time I would try to convince myself that it was just a dream, my soul shouted out the truth: “When the end is near, many people will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

Did God Watch the Presidential Debate?

abeThe other night I watched the presidential debate. I have watched many debates before, but only a few minutes into listening to these two “so called” leaders arguing back and forth, I felt something very different than at any other time in the past elections. I felt despair. Despair is the complete loss or absence of hope. Several times during the debate my mind drifted into a visualization of past presidents. I wondered what Abe Lincoln would be saying if he was standing on that honorable platform. I pictured our first president, georgeGeorge Washington, looking into the camera and inspiring the republic to unite in the pursuit of liberty. I longed for a day when a leader like this would arise and guide America with a renewed spirit of freedom.No matter how many times I heard the phrase “stronger together” or “make America great again”, I just couldn’t shake the despair. And the longer I watched, the worse this feeling became. I am invested in this country. I have voted in every single election since I was able to in 1996. It is still a great nation to live in, but there is something different, utterly scary, surfacing upon the horizon. It is a new age for our nation, and my fear is that it will not be kind to those who hold the ancient values of Lincoln and Washington.

My fear is not for myself. I have been given every opportunity to achieve the American dream that our forefathers spoke about. I grew up in a time when most of our forefather’s values were still held by the majority of Americans. But the despair enters my heart when I realize that I have children who will inherit our decisions. I have despair, not so much for me and my pursuit of the American dream, but for the crippled chaos we are placing our children in.

Towards the end of the debate, I could hear my five year old daughter crying upstairs in her room. She had awakened from a nightmare and was scared. I left the comfort of my couch and walked upstairs into her room and hugged her and told her that everything was okay. I knelt down beside her as her eyes were slowly opening and closing, fighting sleep, yet giving into the heaviness of her eyelids. I felt the need to sing to her as she was drifting back to sleep, knowing that a song can sooth the soul when there is turmoil. My mind raced through all the different possible songs I could sing, and a few seconds later I found myself singing softly: “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” As I sung about how God has the “itty bitty baby” in His hands, the peace of God overwhelmed my heart because God was speaking something profound through this song: God has always been in control and He will still be in control in the future.

As I walked back down the stairs after finishing the ninety year old American spiritual, my mind flashbacked to some of the worst times and places to live as a follower of God. I pictured the plight of the Hebrews, who, for four hundred years (ca. 1800-1400 B.C.), were cruelly enslaved by the Egyptians. My mind fast-forwarded ahead to the latter years of 700 B.C., when the Assyrians captured and led away many people, including the Jews, to become statueslaves. This evil empire was notorious for cutting off limbs, gouging out eyes, burning little boys and girls alive and even hanging the heads of victims from tree branches throughout all the cities they conquered as a testimony of their brutality (they were the modern day ISIS). Then, I envisioned what it would have been like in the A.D. 60s, when the Roman Emperor Nero fed Christians to wild animals and crucified them. Possibly worst of all, Nero impaled these Jesus followers on a pole, poured oil on them and lit them on fire so that he could walk through his garden at night. Wow…life was difficult for most people who have lived in our ancient past.

Then my heart was convicted by how corrupt the purest religion on the planet could become as I imagined how the Crusades (began in 1095) morphed into a blood-thirsty conquest for power and riches. Many of these Crusaders were found to have raped women and killed anyone in their path who might have possessed any personal treasure. After this, I felt a punch to the gut as I thought about how during the Spanish Inquisition (began in 1231), the Holy Catholic Church executed thousands of people who were seeking after God, but were branded as heretics because their beliefs didn’t match up with their man-made traditions.

All of these flashbacks were happening in the course of just a few seconds. It is a fascinating reality that the mind can think through a myriad of ideas within a split second. This was happening to me.

hitlerThen my mind shifted to the 1940s, when the German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler sent millions of Jews to their death at concentration camps. Next, I saw the face of Maodictator1 Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, who killed over 45 million people in a little over four years in the late 1950s in the name of national progress. Finally, I could see the small country of Cambodia on a map, with the mugshot of the 1970s dictator Pol Pot, who was responsible for the death of almost one million people who were not valued in the eyes of the government. A few other recent dictators like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-un flashed through my mind, and I could feel the despair once again.

As I stopped at the bottom of our stairs, my inner spirit was shaken. I was gripped by the utter evil of so many leaders of history. Most countries, over the course of her existence, will experience the great tragedy of allowing a leader to rise up who will selfishly change the course of that nation. Because of this leader, the nation will spiral down into the mud of desolation and will never be the same. This thought made me thankful for the geographical grace that God has granted to me to live in a country that has been led by men and women who have honored God throughout the centuries by protecting the rights and the dignity of humanity.

As I laid my head down to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but ask this question to God: Is the end for our nation near? Is this part of Your ultimate plan to humble the great prideful giant that is called the United States of America? God did not give me an audible answer that night, but I felt His answer in my soul. And even though it was the answer I feared, I fell asleep quickly that night as my head hit the pillow. Why? Because I believe in the sovereignty of God. I believe that God has the world in His hands and I believe because of this, He has my family, and my church, and my entire existence in His hands. And He has your life in His hands too.

Do you believe in the sovereignty of God? Do you passionately trust in the God who is always in control? Do you live out your faith in ways that honor God? As you pray, you teach yourself that God is the leader of your life. As you pray, you realize that you need to seek guidance from the One in heaven. No matter who is in control of our government, our hearts do not despair for long, because we believe that “in His hand are the depths of the earth” (Psalm 95:4).

The Old Man and his Horse

As we are turning the page from 2015 to 2016, I would like to share with you one of my favorite stories. This legend has a wonderful lesson about patient wisdom and not stating too quickly whether something is a curse or a blessing. Enjoy…

horse

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. People offered fabulous prices for this horse, but the old man always refused. One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came out to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed. “We told you that someone would steal your horse. You could have sold him before he was stolen, but you refused, and now you are left with nothing.” The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know. The rest is judgment.” The people of the village laughed and thought he was crazy.

But after fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen, but had run into the forest and returned with a dozen wild horses. Once again, the people gathered at the man’s house and said, “You were right and we were wrong. This was not a curse but a blessing.” But the old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that a dozen horses returned with him. That is all we know. The rest is judgment. If you read only one page of a book, then how can you judge the entire book?”

Maybe the old man is right, they thought to themselves, but deep down they believed he was blessed because he had a son who could now train those wild horses easily and then sell them for a nice profit. The old man had his only son train those horses, but after a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both of his legs. Once again the village gathered and said, “This was a curse. Your son has broken his legs and you have no one to help you.” The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that my son broke his legs. That is all we know. The rest is judgment. If you read only one page of a book, then how can you judge the entire book?”

It so happened that a few weeks later the old man’s country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded because of his legs. Once again, the people gathered around him and said, “You were right. Your son’s accident was a blessing. Our sons are going to die, but you still have yours.” The old man said this: “No one really knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

As something happens to you this new year, don’t judge the event too quickly. Be patient. Be wise in how you respond. We do not know how God is working out His purpose in our life.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).