Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ye Who Are Weary, Come Home

By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service

SWARTZ CREEK MI (ANS) -- I have become aware of the condition of a friend who is experiencing some trials lately. None of the experiences are, perhaps, unusual in themselves, but their almost simultaneous visitations could test anyone's spirit. He is trying, not to make sense of these sorts of life-happenings -- because everything makes sense or nothing makes sense, and "time and chance happen to all men," as Proverbs says -- but to cope, simply to cope. Have you ever been there?

In less than a calendar year his special-needs niece died; his nine-day-old granddaughter died; his wife, after multiple long-term illnesses, is to choose between dialysis and hospice; and his sister, who lost her home in Hurricane Sandy, is losing a battle with HIV that was long held at bay. My friend says he keeps fighting the seduction to moan about his own condition, his own emotions and reactions to these matters.

But he knows -- that is, he too infrequently remembers -- that it is not about him. It is about these loved ones. And about God. Usually, when nothing makes sense to us, and God seems to be somewhere in the story, it means that God is EVERYWHERE in the story. The man's wife, for instance, has been cited by many, many people through the decades as an inspiration: encouraging people to faith and endurance. And his sister, after years of rebellion, has come to know Jesus, drawing closer to God.

Why do we find it so hard to see the silver linings to the dark clouds? Why are we always surprised at the grace that infuses every "crisis"? Why do we forget that the sun shines, not only after the storm clouds pass -- but all the time, even when the storm clouds temporarily are overhead and, to our eyes, blot the sun from view?

Just like the natural tendency to be sad when a loved one dies, such emotions are a brand of selfishness. Any reactions we can summon should be channeled to the loved ones in their difficulties, and to God on their behalf.
We cannot believe that God is in control only when the course of events magically follows our own scripts. God wants us, more than anything else, to trust in Him. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is not summoning patience until God does what we want. Faith is, sometimes, to stop obsessing about our understanding everything.

And faith is humility. Yield to His commands, trust in His love, accept His plan. My sister, newly a friend of God, is blessed not just by the power and balm of the act of praying, but of praying on her knees, specifically. There is a language of prayer, in some gifted circumstances; and, surely, there is also an attitude of prayer.
And sometimes, my friend has discovered anew, there is the biblical concept of the "sacrifice of praise" -- when you don't feel like praying, and even less feel like praising, is when to do it. Loudly and confidently, or softly and tenderly, do it.

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If you never have clicked on a music video after one of these messages, please do watch this one, the completion of this message. The classic hymn "Softly and Tenderly" was written a century a quarter ago by Will L. Thompson on similar reflections, and among its verses, "Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, Passing from you and from me; Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, Coming for you and for me." But followed by: "Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised, Promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon, Pardon for you and for me." And the promise in the chorus: "Come home, come home,You who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!" Sung by RoseAngela Merritt of NewSpring Church, Anderson, S.C.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

TobyMac has the number one album in the United States

By Ginny McCabe
Special to ASSIST News Service

NASHVILLE, TN (ANS) -- TobyMac’s new studio project, "Eye On It" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 this past week. It is the first time in 15 years and only the third time ever that a Christian album has topped the charts.

“It’s my honor to write songs and even a further privilege that people choose to listen and make them part of their lives,” said TobyMac in a press release, upon hearing about the No. 1 debut. “My hope has always been that these songs would somehow remind people that though we are flawed God offers us love, hope and refuge.”

"Eye On It," led by the No. 1 single “Me Without You,” is being recognized by many as Toby’s strongest set of pop songs to date. In support of the album, TobyMac will launch a fall “Eye On It Tour” and follow that up with a “Hits Deep Tour,” which will continue throughout the holiday season.

On Nov. 1, 1997, LeAnn Rimes ranked No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 with "You Light Up My Life - Inspirational Songs," which spent three weeks on the chart as No. 1. Prior to that, only one Christian project achieved this noteworthy status. Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses/Shades of Grace" hit number one earlier in the summer of 1997. In 2011 and 2012, other Christian artists that have come in at the No. 2 spot, include Casting Crowns, Red and David Crowder Band.

As for TobyMac, he has claimed a spot on the chart nine times and he has been in the Top 10 three times. DC talk, the trio made up of TobyMac, Michael Tait and Kevin Max, also had five more albums on the top of the charts, including "Supernatural" in 1998, which came in at No. 4.

For more information about TobyMac, "Eye On It" and the upcoming tour dates, visit www.TobyMac.com. Also, check out his Youtube channel at www.youtube.com/user/tobyMmusic, where Toby talks about the story behind the hit single “Me Without You.” and the bestselling track “Forgiveness,” featuring Lecrae, and more.

Monday, July 9, 2012

This Upside-Down World

By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service

Springhill Sod Farm,  Bozeman, MT

SWARTZ CREEK MI (ANS) -- The world’s easiest job just might be Foreman of a Sod Farm. All day long, nothing but calling out, “Green side up!” Here are some thoughts that connect “keeping things rightside up” and the saying, “the grass is always greener”... with a bit more wisdom, trust us, than that lame joke. Our culture, in fact, is acting on upside-down values these days.

"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” The lesson implicit in this aphorism, that we should be satisfied with what we have, ignores the possibilities that you are standing in an awfully barren patch, or that the other grass IS greener, or perhaps that a life represented by greener pastures is not just our desire but a necessity.

Human beings have a problem with sorting out desires and necessities. It is always worthwhile, for instance, to pray for discernment so that we might ask God for what we need, not what we want. Spiritual maturity is when we know He will answer along those lines anyway: but we must keep our priorities straight. We should look less to the pastures over the fence and over the horizon, and more to the One who nurtures those pastures.

Our culture (what the Book of Common Prayer calls “the world, the flesh, and the devil”) continually distorts this understanding. The tendencies of our natures to be dissatisfied with what we have, combined with the spirit of the age that tells us that human devices ultimately will be sufficient to satisfy every human yearning, add up to an upside-down world. Upside-down values, upside-down actions, upside-down results.

The world’s literature is filled with tales of men who try to recapture a lost or misspent youth, and, contrarily, youths who aspire to manhood before the wisdom that comes with experience -– the literal meaning of premature. Closer to home, I turn to something I have observed about American society. I rely less on charts and graphs when I think about certain things, trusting instead to random half-hours at shopping malls. I have lost count of the number of teenage girls I have seen who, evidently, cannot wait to be women: excessive make-up; clothes and undergarments that (they apparently believe) make them look 30 years older; smoking and rough language; making babies like Mom did. I notice in equal numbers women who need to fool the world, or themselves, that they are still 30 years younger: tattoos; clothes designed for teens; and, again, cosmetics and clothes that are more camouflage than fashion. Upside down.

It extends to more serious realms (not that I don’t think that corruptions of age, gender, and role models are not serious). Ours has become a culture where the blessings of science and medicine run on simultaneous tracks -– more miraculous techniques of delivering premature babies and rescuing at-risk lives... and devising more efficient means to euthanize babies and “mercy kill” the sick, the elderly, and the “inconvenient,” conspiring in laboratories and courtrooms. Upside down.

Politicians say one thing and do another. Upside down. Many of society’s role models would have us think that bodies are indestructible and souls are fragile and off-limits; upside-down advice, because Americans abuse and overburden our bodies to an alarming degree; and even preachers don’t always act like they know our souls can handle all manner of tough love. 

And they should, to stay healthy.

Competition is good for people. One way we can test this is by observing that self-destructive elements in America have transformed it into a dirty word. Yet there is a fine line -– the fence separating the greener grass, if you will -– between the healthy impulses of ambition, and mere dissatisfaction or cynical pessimism. If we wallow in hypocrisy, we are a heartbeat away from fatal defeatism as a culture.

... these are all secular observations, very secular. Upside-down values are guaranteed in a secular culture, because secularism by nature does not have an Anchor. Does America yearn for better things, or are we into a cycle where we will reflexively keep hating what we have, and what we are?

By returning to God and to biblical principles, we can be free of the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil; we can find self-respect in ways other than upside- down role reversals dictated by TV shows and commercials; we can be patient and confident, not impatient and full of doubts.

Boys act like men and men act like boys? Girls act like women and women act like girls? Scientists act like killers and killers act like scientists? Here’s another one: Every day, everywhere, people act like God. Does God act like us?

Well, we should be grateful that God does not act like us. But one time, in one unique way, He did. He chose a nexus-point in history to become man, and to dwell amongst us. Of the many reasons for this, chief of these to provide a means for our salvation, God wanted assure us in case we ever forget (!) that He knows our sorrows, He shared our pain, He understands temptation, He is not offended by failure and He appreciates repentance, He can forgive sin, He wants to live within us so that we can have a better “self” to self-respect.

He tells us that the color of the grass over the fence does not matter. After all, there will always be other fences and distant pastures. What matters is His promise that All things will be made new. Consider the words of that promise singly, separately, in any combination: All. Things. Will. Be. Made. New.

Meditate on the words of this promise, and the upside-down will pass away, whether green or slightly greener. Whatever. Things are rightside-up in God’s world, the Kingdom Come.

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We have context this week that inspires, supports, and illustrates the message. Beautiful thoughts and images from the anointed Beanscot Channel on YouTube; and a tender but powerful song by the gifted singer-songwriter J. J. Heller. “All Things Are Made New.”
Click: Kingdom Come  

Rick Marschall is the author of 65 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia Magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture”) to history and criticism; country music, television history, biography and children’s books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals; co-author of The Secret Revealed with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. His history of cartoon Advertising, Drawing Power, will be published in July 2011 by the Marschall Books imprint of fantagraphics Books. In October his major biography of Theodore Roosevelt, BULLY!, will be publ;ished by Regnery History of Washington DC. He is currently working on a One-Year CDevotional for Tyndale House; and edits the the reissue of Harper's Weekly -- the Civil War Years for NOVOink e-books. Rick is a former Director of Product Development for Youth Specialties. He is recipient of the 2008 “Christian Writer of the Year” award from the Greater Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, and produces a weekly e-mail devotional, “Monday Morning Music Ministry.” His e-mail address is: RickMarschall@gmail.com.

A Matter of Faith

Celebrating Evidence of God

By Carol Round
Special to ASSIST News Service

CLAIREMORE, OKLAHOMA (ANS) -- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” — Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV).
Illustration of the God particle

On July 4th, America celebrated its freedoms with fireworks and picnics. On the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland, scientists at the world’s biggest atom smasher celebrated that day too. They believe their discovery of a new subatomic particle called the Higgs Boson, or “God particle,” is one more step in proving their Big Bang theories.

Since I didn’t understand this scientific discovery, I had to “Google” this news item. The Higgs Bosom is supposed to be the particle that imparts mass to matter, meaning that without first interacting with this particle, nothing would have mass. They believe this particle actually holds the universe together. According to one physics professor, “It's helping us understand the big universal question, which is what are we made out of.”

While scientists admit that the discovery won’t have an instant impact on everyday life, they see great potential for the future. Another physics professor said, “This is not going to be able to give us a solution for the energy problem or climate warming or the other, the immediate, pressing problems that face us. It is, however, a piece of the puzzle that we need … to understand the world.”

Understanding our world begins with humans trying to find the answers to some very complicated questions, such as, “Why do we exist?” and “How was the universe created?”

As a faith-filled believer in a God who created our beautiful universe and everything in it, including man, I was not impressed with this discovery. Of course, I don’t have a scientific mind.

While I am not making light of their beliefs, I know in my spirit that God does exist. Once you’ve had an encounter with “The Living God,” who will continue to pursue you until you say, “Yes,” you are never the same. I’ve discovered that once you have a relationship with God, not only do you see Him, but you feel Him, hear Him and know, without a doubt that He exists. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.”

I recall an incident that happened more than 30 years ago. As I was taking an early morning walk with my oldest son, he stared at the colorful sunrise and said, “Mama, God sure got up early this morning.” When I asked Casey how he knew, he replied in child-like faith, “Because He’s been busy painting the sky.”

We don’t need an atom smasher to uncover evidence of His existence. All we need to do is look at everything He created. How could a Big Bang create such diversity in life forms, including people, animals, plant life and more? The next time you see evidence of His existence, try celebrating.

Are you as close to God as you want to be? Please check out my new book, “Journaling with Jesus: How to Draw Closer to God,” available at www.journalingwithjesus.comwww.amazon.com or at your local bookstore.

Carol Round turned her passion for writing into a full-time career after retiring in 2005 from a northeastern Oklahoma public school system. Her passion, however, is using her writing to inspire others. “A Matter of Faith,” her self-syndicated column, is currently running in 12 Oklahoma newspapers. Two collections of her columns are also available in book form and are available through her blog, www.carolaround.com. Ms. Round’s latest book, “Journaling with Jesus: How to draw closer to God,” was just released and can be purchased atwww.amazon.com or at www.journalingwithjesus.com. Readers may contact her atcarolaround@yahoo.com.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Is the Christian Faith Supposed to be “Blind”?

By J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Detective
Special to ASSIST News Service

MISSION VIEJO, CA (ANS) -- Sometimes Christians have a mistaken definition of “faith”. 

Because faith is sometimes described as believing in things that cannot be seen, Christians often think of faith as an act of believing in things that have no evidential basis. In essence, some Christians believe that “true faith” is believing in something in spite of the evidence or believing in something when there is no evidence to support the belief in the first place!

But this is not the Biblical definition of faith. While it is true that God is a Spirit and cannot be seen, it is not true that there is no evidence to support the existence of the unseen God. While we may not see anyone throw a rock in a pond, we may indeed see the ripples that the rock created on the surface of the water and come to the belief that someone threw a rock into the pond on the basis of this evidence. In a similar way, there are many good reasons to believe that God exists, and the Biblical model of true faith involves examining the evidence for God's existence. Let's examine the Biblical model of evidential faith:

Christians Are Called to Use Their Minds

God tells us that we are to love Him with more than our heart. We are to have a relationship that is emotional and intellectual (Matthew 22:37-38).

Christians Are Called to Understand the Value of Evidence

God has given us a number of good evidential reasons to believe that He exists and that Jesus is who He says He is. We are not called to have blind faith, but to have a well-reasoned, evidential faith (Acts 1:2-3, Acts 17:2-3, Acts 17:30-31).

Christians Are Called to Examine Their Beliefs

God wants us to know what we believe and why we believe it. We're not called to numbly trust everything that might be taught in our world today, even if some Christian teacher is the source! We're expected to be critical, skeptical and thoughtful (Acts 17:10-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, 1 John 4:1).

Christians Are Called to be Convinced of What They Believe

God wants us to be certain and base our certainty on evidence that can be articulated to others who may have doubts (Romans 14:5, 2 Timothy 1:8-12, 2 Timothy 3:14).

Christians Are Called to be “Case Makers”

Once we have examined the evidence and have come to the conclusion that Christianity is true, we are called to be ready to make a strong defense for what we believe (1 Peter 3:15).

The Christian life is a rational and reasonable life that is rooted and grounded in the evidence of the Resurrection and the truth of the Bible. Christians are saved by placing their trust in Jesus, but Christians become a powerful force in their world when they commit themselves to being “case makers” for what they believe. Christians can be “case makers” precisely because the Christian faith is an evidential faith. When we, as Christians, argue for the truth of the Christian Worldview, we are not sharing an opinion.

There either is a God, or there is not. Jesus is that God, or He is not. Salvation comes through Christ alone (as Jesus Himself maintained), or it does not. This is not a matter of opinion, personal preference or wishful thinking. The Christian faith is grounded in evidence that can be assessed and evaluated. The Christian faith is an evidential faith.

J. Warner Wallace is a detective (currently working cold case homicides), a missions leader and a church planter. He earned a Master’s Degree in Architecture (UCLA) and a Master's Degree in Theology from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. J Warner is the director of Please Convince Me Ministries and hosts the www.PleaseConvinceMe.com website, blog and podcast. He can be contacted by e-mail at: jim@pleaseconvinceme.com

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sunday, July 1, 2012