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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation when a brother sins against you

By Mark Ellis
In one of the earliest teachings Jesus gave to the church, he taught about a process to find healing and reconciliation when a brother or sister sins against you.
In the Book of Matthew, chapter 18, Jesus said:
”If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Here Jesus gave some instructions about how to deal with a fellow believer who sins against us. Jesus did not say if your brother irritates or offends you in a minor way, that you confront them in this manner.
Pastor Ray Stedman noted that there is another word in the Christian life that covers irritations coming from difficult people: that word is forbearance. We are called to bear with one another. We put up with difficult people, the grace-growers around us, often without saying anything. Sometimes they drive us to our knees – if not almost crazy.
If the offense rises to the level of sin, you must take the initiative to go to the person privately, just the two of you. Don’t wait for the person to come to you. Often, they will never take the initiative. They may be blissfully unaware they’ve even hurt you.
One of our former senior pastors, Steve Krantz, warned in a sermon about “triangle-ing.” Triangle-ing is when you go to somebody else first, instead of directly to the person who sinned against you.
This is our human tendency, to go to somebody else and say, “Whoa, do you know what so and so did to me?” Then we unload the dump truck in their lap. Then it gets passes around.
Triangle-ing can quickly turn into gossip, which leads to dysfunctional families and dysfunctional churches. If we start telling other people, that in itself is a sin.
None of us likes confronting someone else about a sin matter. Your attitude when you go is all-important. You should go in a spirit of gentleness, speaking the truth in love, with compassion, sympathy and mercy.
You should not be self-righteous, harsh, or condemning. If the person listens and accepts what you’ve said and stops their sin, there is nothing more you need to do. You’ve won your brother or sister.
If the person won’t listen and rejects what you’ve said, then you take one or two others with you. Our model for this process is God Himself. He goes after his sinning children to bring them back. And he uses the church as a means to do that.
If the person still refuses to listen, tell it to the church. In my experience this is extremely rare that it would get to this level, and usually this is reserved for a church leader who has had a significant moral failure.
But these are the instructions of Jesus himself. At the last stage of this process, if the person refuses to listen to the church, Jesus says to treat them like a pagan or a tax collector.
In our church, we would probably treat a pagan or tax collector pretty well. But in that day they were not treated well; they were treated like outcasts. So I believe Jesus wants  the church to protect its holiness and keep the sin from spreading. To accomplish that, the person was removed from fellowship.
Again, this would be extremely rare today in any church. But even if we give up dealing with a person caught up in habitual sin, even if our human efforts fail, God can take over the process, and that is what usually happens.
God has his ways of getting the person’s attention, and that can be very painful for that individual.
I went through a Matthew 18 process many years ago as an elder who had to confront a pastor that I loved and admired. I put this man on a pedestal, which I should not have done. When he had a moral failure, it almost destroyed my young faith. It was one of the most painful times of my life.
This man finally broke down and admitted what he had down, with great emotion, in front of a group of elders meeting in his home. After that, he went around the room and asked each of us to forgive him.
And that was really difficult for me to do. In fact, I couldn’t do it at that moment. I was too deeply hurt, my wounds were too raw. But I came to realize much later the importance of forgiveness, that it often involves a decision rather than a feeling.
If I waited until I felt like forgiving him that would have been a long, long time.
Just as loving your spouse if a decision, not necessarily a feeling (our feelings go up and down) forgiveness involves a very important decision at a time when we may not have any inclination within ourselves to forgive.
There are times when I really don’t want to forgive someone else. But Jesus’ parable at the end of chapter 18 has become very important to me in understanding why I should forgive. In this parable, Jesus responded to a question that came from Peter.
Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered,”I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. ”Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents (equivalent to more than $10 million) was brought to him.
Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
”The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
”But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (equivalent to about $20). He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.”
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
”But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger, his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
”This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
In this parable, Jesus holds up a mirror so we can see ourselves. The great king represents God, who has forgiven us all our sins, an enormous debt. The amount he forgave was way beyond our capacity to repay.
At a staggering cost to himself, the king forgave this huge debt. What was the huge cost to God? The death of his only begotten son, Jesus, to pay for your sins.
But this man, who should have been grateful because he was forgiven so much, refuses to forgive someone who owes him the equivalent of about $20 dollars.
The rabbis had a rule at the time of Jesus that you should only forgive someone three times for the same offense. Peter thought he was being generous when he asked if we should forgive someone seven times.
But Jesus says, no, don’t forgive seven times, forgive seven times seventy times. His point to Peter is that we shouldn’t even bother to count. He said there should be no limit on the times we forgive our brother or sister in Christ.
In human terms, this seems completely unfair. I might say I try to forgive someone, but often I don’t forget and it feels awkward around that person. I say that I bury the hatchet, but I leave the handle showing so I can grab it whenever I need it.
Do I really have to forgive?  It goes against everything I’m feeling. I want justice! Justice! I want them to pay.
It seems unreasonable until I think about how many times God has forgiven me. How many times have I gone to God and confessed the same darn sin? I can’t count that high. What if God said there was a limit of three times or even 7 times to forgive me for that? What if God had a three strikes rule?
There is no limit on how many times you can come before God and ask for forgiveness. Aren’t you thankful for that? He never counts the times we come before his throne of grace. He freely forgives us and washes us clean.
God not only forgives our sins, he forgets our sins. The Scripture says that as far as the east is from the west, that is how far God has removed our transgressions from us.
Why should I forgive those who hurt me? First, God has forgiven me so much. He cancelled all my debts; he wiped the slate clean. If he has forgiven $10 million of my debt, how can I withhold the forgiveness of $20 in debt from somebody else?
Why should I forgive those who hurt me? If you notice the end of the parable, the unmerciful servant is thrown into prison, to be tortured by his jailers. Unforgiveness is like a torturous prison.
By not forgiving that person, you end up hurting yourself even more, as the resentment and bitterness eat away at your heart. You can even make yourself sick due to this self-torture.
Why should I forgive? Because I need forgiveness every day myself.
When I forgive that person who wounded me, I don’t let them off the hook. I simply take them off my hook, and place them on God’s hook. I relinquish my right to get even and give all those rights over to God. He has a better arsenal than I do.
There is a day coming when God will settle the score completely on all sin and injustice in the world.
But there won’t be healing in the world until there is healing in our hearts. It begins right here. Because of the grace God has shown each one of us, we can begin to extend grace to each other.
 Because of the grace God has shown you and me, you can be an instrument in his process of healing, one heart at a time.
Mark Ellis is a senior correspondent for ASSIST News Service and the founder ofwww.Godreports.com.  He is available to speak to groups about the plight of the church in restricted countries, to share stories and testimonies from the mission field, and to preach the gospel.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Seven questions in light of heaven

By Mark Ellis
Many believers entertain vague, incomplete, or even faulty views about heaven, a condition that may rob them of fullness and joy during their relatively brief lives on this side of eternity.
Author Randy Alcorn, in his outstanding book, “Heaven” (Tyndale House), seeks to rectify this problem in an exhaustive treatment that answers almost every question the most imaginative minds could conjure about our lives to come.
The stark reality is that about 250,000 people worldwide die every day and go to either heaven or hell, as Alcorn notes.
As we pass through the doorway of death, like a ship disappearing over the horizon headed for a better land, Christians enter into an “intermediate” heavenly state, which is temporary, according to Alcorn’s understanding of Scripture.
This represents the transitional period between our lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth. But Christians often miss the crucial distinction between this temporary place and our true eternal home.
“When we tell our children ‘Grandma’s now in Heaven,’ we’re referring to the intermediate Heaven,” Alcorn notes. “The intermediate Heaven is not our final destination. Though it will be a wonderful place, the intermediate Heaven is not the place we are made for – the place God promises to refashion for us to live forever.”
In the intermediate Heaven, we’ll await the time of Christ’s return to the earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and the New Earth, Alcorn notes. “If we fail to grasp this truth, we will fail to grasp the biblical doctrine of Heaven.”
Randy Alcorn
Alcorn devotes most of his book to exploring the beauty, greatness, and grandeur of our lives on the New Earth. “God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth,” he notes. “We must not lose sight of our true destination. If we do, we’ll be confused and disoriented in our thinking about where, and in what form, we will spend eternity.”
“Just as we die, the earth will be destroyed; and just as we will be raised, the earth will be renewed,” Alcorn notes.
A New Heaven and a New Earth will be merged together. “The future Heaven will be in the human realm, on Earth,” he writes. “The dwelling place of God will be the dwelling place of humanity, in a resurrected universe.”
As the Apostle John foresaw in the Book of Revelation, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.”
In the vastness of the universe, it is sometimes hard to grasp God’s exclusive plan for planet Earth. “Earth is unique,” Alcorn notes. “It’s the one planet – perhaps among billions – where God chose to act out the unfolding drama of redemption and reveal the wonders of his grace. It’s on the New Earth, the capital planet of the new universe, that he will establish an eternal kingdom.”
In the light of the many facts presented in Alcorn’s book about Heaven, he asks every Christian to ponder these all-important questions:
  1. Do I daily reflect on my own morality?
  2. Do I daily realize there are only two destinations – Heaven or Hell – and that I and every person I know will go to one or the other?
  3. Do I daily remind myself that this world is not my home and that everything in it will burn, leaving behind only what’s eternal?
  4. Do I daily recognize that my choices and actions have a direct influence on the world to come?
  5. Do I daily realize that my life is being examined by God, the Audience of One?
  6. Do I daily recognize that the only appraisal of my life that will ultimately matter is his?
  7. Do I daily reflect on the fact that my ultimate home will be the New Earth, where I will see God and serve him as a resurrected being in a resurrected human society, where I will overflow with joy and delight nearer to God by studying him and his creation, and where I will exercise, to God’s glory, dominion over his creation?
Alcorn relates the story that after Columbus discovered the New World, Spain struck coins with the Latin slogan “Plus Ultra.” It meant “More Beyond.” This was a horizon-expanding message, encouraging the people to believe there was more beyond their shores.
Likewise, every Christian should have their imaginations set aflame with anticipation of the wonders of the New Heaven and the New Earth. In God’s new universe there will always be more beyond…

Mark Ellis is a senior correspondent for ASSIST News Service and the founder ofwww.Godreports.com.  He is available to speak to groups about the plight of the church in restricted countries, to share stories and testimonies from the mission field, and to preach the gospel.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Enabled Not Disabled

Oscar Pistorius: ‘The Fastest thing on no legs’

By Nico Bougas
Special to ASSIST News Service

SOUTH AFRICA (ANS) -- Oscar Pistorius is an inspiration and one of the world’s great sporting icons who was voted in Time Magazine's top 100 People of Influence.

Oscar Pistorius in action
This 25-year old South African, described as “the fastest thing on no legs”, is a real-life champion, and no fictional figure.

He was born with missing fibulae in both his legs due to a congenital condition. Before his first birthday, his legs were amputated below the knee.

At school he excelled in rugby and water polo, but a knee injury terminated his rugby career.

He was introduced to athletics while undergoing rehabilitation.

Oscar’s first major competition was the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens. He came third overall in the T44 100 m event, which included single amputees.

According to www.google.co.za,  he qualified for the final after falling in the preliminary round for the 200 m, but Oscar has a different version of the truth. “I did not fall. There were several false starts and the starter didn’t give us enough time to pause on the set position before starting the race so when he fired, I presumed that he had false started again.”

But there was nothing accidental about the final. Pistorius went on to win it in a world record time of 21.97 seconds, beating single amputee American runners Marion Shirley and Brian Frasuee.

Oscar runs on carbon-fiber and steel blades attached to his knees. They were especially developed  and are called Cheetahs.

Recently, Pistorius finished a 100 m race in a magnificent time of 10.91 seconds.
By the way, Oscar does not perceive himself as disabled. “I don’t see myself as disabled. I just don’t have lower legs.”

In 2007, Pistorius took part in his first international competitions for able-bodied athletes. However, his artificial lower legs, while enabling him to compete, have generated claims that he has an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its competition rules to ban the use of “any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device”. The federation claimed that the amendment was not specifically aimed at Pistorius. After monitoring his track performances and carrying out tests, scientists took the view that Pistorius enjoyed considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs. On the strength of these findings, on 14 January 2008 the IAAF ruled him ineligible for competitions conducted under its rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. This decision was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 16 May 2008, the Court ruling overall there was no evidence that Pistorius had any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.

Pistorius is annoyed about allegations that his so-called bionic legs give him an edge over other runners. “I train as hard if not harder than many athletes. I diet, sleep and base my life around athletics and it is a shame as too when either spectators or critics try and base my success on my apparent bionic body or my prosthetic feet.”

The 25-year old athlete is extremely popular internationally. In March 2007, journalists of a German magazine, Der Spiegel, spent two days in South Africa to do an extensive article on Pistorius. There are plans to write a biography on him.

But he keeps his feet firmly on the ground, and he knows who the source of his strength is.

“God is the most important person in the world to me. If I’m on the right patch spiritually, it helps with everything else.”

He grew up in a Christian home, and accepted Christ as His savior “more or less before I could remember.”

Asked why he needs Christ in his life, he says: “Because He is the reason for my success and the one that takes me from strength to strength.

“Christ makes all the difference. He aids me in my struggles and makes my glories that much greater.”

To other athletes, Pistorius has this advice: “Believe in yourself. In the final seconds before a race, I tell myself: I wouldn’t be here unless I qualified, and I know I can do this.”

Nico Bougas is the International Development Director for Hellenic Ministries.He has a master's degree in communications from Wheaton Graduate School and M. Div and D. Min degrees from Trinity Theological Seminary. He is the author of five books. He previously worked for Youth for Christ in South Africa and was Editor of In Magazine and Christian Living TODAY and currently serves as Consulting Editor for JOY Magazine and is an Associate of Sports Outreach Africa. For further, information contact: nico@bougas.info

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Old Man Is Gone and a New Man Appears

The Holy Ghost brings salvation and new-found freedom in Christ Jesus

By Grelan Muse Sr., founder of Inside The Pew
Special to ASSIST News Service

BATON ROUGE, LA (ANS) -- Going to church on Sunday as a kid was always interesting. My family and I used to attend an old wooden church which sat on the hill in Amite, Louisiana. We did not have central air to keep us cool, only a box fan. Service got going at 11 a.m. and the time we shared with the Lord and in fellowship with each other was priceless. The only heat that went on at our church was the fire the congregation showed for the Lord.

The old saints would rejoice and all we had was one big drum and a few tambourines to work with. We clapped our hands and sang praises to the Lord such as “Payday is Coming After While” and “It’s Gonna Rain.” Then, the spirit of God encompassed us. The young people had to get up and testify as well. We were so happy to do so and tell how good God had been to us that week. I could feel the power moving all around me and others in the room.

As a teenager, I didn't understand everything that was going on, but I knew it was the anointing that destroyed the yoke, and, at that time, the anointing had broken down the strong holds of the enemy. We were so enthralled with the spirit the physical conditions of the church were no longer a concern.

Rural Louisiana Church
Now I can appreciate what was happening within my congregation. The Bible says we all were born into sin. The experience of falling in love with Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Ghost and being born again in the spirit separates us from sin. Once we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our minds and heart, we can live the life Jesus lived. At this point we are free, and we graciously allow the Holy Ghost to come into our lives. This is why you see adults and teenagers crying like babies because there is no more sin in their lives; they are new creatures in Jesus Christ. We are babes in God's sight (1 Corinthians 3:1, KJV).

My experience reminds me of the story in Acts 2:1-4 when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (KJV).

The old man is gone, and a new man is here. The scripture shows the importance of letting the new spirit come in. I can see God working even as I write this column. I encourage those who have allowed the eternal flame to fizzle out to rekindle it. I pray the Holy Ghost will move in your life once again and bring you closer to the One who loves dearly loves you.

Grelan Muse Sr. is founder of Inside The Pew and Emanuel and The Mainline Ministries. Email responses to this column to pewnews@aol.com. Follow Pastor Muse on Twitter @gremuse. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Does the L-Word Belong in Business?

So I was standing in line at Starbucks, doing my usual coffee routine, and I saw one of the baristas, Carla, in the background taking orders for the drive-through. She’s talking on one of those hands-free headphone things, so I can only hear her side of the conversation:
“Is that you Barbara? How’s it going?”
“OK… Is that decaf? The usual?”
“Yeah, I know. That must have been great.”
“All right hon, that’s $4.50.″
The car drives up to the window, and I watch her conducting the transaction. As I walk over to the counter for milk, I hear Carla’s parting comment to the customer:
“Ok, see you soon. I love ya!”
You could practically hear the dubbed-in record scratch as I did an audible double-take. Did she really just tell that customer that she loves her?
This blatant profession of love in the midst of public enterprise made me cringe—and melt, all at once. Part of me, the Jesus-Spirit-Christian part, wanted to wave palm branches in her general direction for establishing a new pinnacle of customer service. (Take that, Zappos!) But the buttoned-up business manager in me was tapping his foot, questioning the appropriateness of that exchange.
At first glance, there would typically be no call for expressing love while achieving your management objectives. Business is about process and profits, after all. And market share and competition. There’s nothing sentimental about it.
Plus, one generally attempts to portray some level of professionalism at work in order to maintain a commanding presence, or to earn the respect of colleagues. A measure of guardedness comes with the territory, especially for those in management positions (think Facebook vs. LinkedIn).
However, there’s no denying that our organizations are made up of people, not machines. All that equipment and technology—well, they don’t just work spontaneously of their own accord. It's the human beings who are running things, and at their core, people just want to be loved.
Martin Luther King once said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”
There is a lesson here for leaders.
We are all too familiar with the concept of power in business—the drive and resolve to get things done. None of us would be successful in our careers without some of that. But for too many, that’s where the discussion ends.
Plenty of research keeps cropping up showing that people at work are much more productive when they also feel cared for. Even loneliness, the perception of isolation or estrangement from others, has been shown to reduce an employee’s overall productivity, both in individual and group tasks. And it doesn’t take a PhD from Harvard to understand why. When you don’t fit in it makes you depressed, moody, negative.
Author Adam Kahane suggests that love, expressed as compassion and solidarity, is completely appropriate in business. But leaders must strive for a balance, he says. A system that follows only power will sacrifice its people, while a system that follows only the impulses of love will lose its competitiveness.
That's all well and good, but here's my takeaway: isn't love the ultimate link between our spiritual life and our work? Not Valentine’s Day love, but the every-day kind of love that says you care about the well-being of others. The kind that gives the best of yourself at work, in a compassionate and caring way. I suppose this is what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 13, and it is more or less the main thing Jesus wants us to do.
When you strip out all the formalities and jargon of doing business, at the end of the day we are all just needy human beings trying to get stuff done. And I’m thinking, wouldn’t that really lift everyone’s spirits at work, if we tried to love each other?
Image by Joshua Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Bradley J. Moore.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Just A Minute

A Compelling New Book from Wess Stafford

By Janey DeMeo
Special to ASSIST News Service

VISTA, CA (ANS) -- Ever feel overwhelmed by the dilemma of the world’s hurting children? Whether from neglect, poverty, sickness…the statistics on child suffering are daunting. It’s tempting to look the other way and do nothing, mostly because we feel inadequate to do anything useful. But anyone can help a child. All it takes is a minute.
Book cover

In his latest book, Just A Minute (Moody Publishers, Jan. 1, 2012), Compassion International CEO, Wess Stafford, shows how one minute can count in big ways to a little person.

Just A Minute is a compilation of true stories and testimonies of people—ordinary people, celebrities and historical figures—whose lives were impacted for good or bad by someone who took “just a minute” to build them up or tear them down through words, action or attitude. The author also showcases the immeasurable reward experienced by those who pour encouragement, godly direction, affection, inspiration, hope . . . into the heart of a child.

Stafford compels us not to underestimate our influence but to weigh the power of our words, hugs, body language, financial support (sponsoring a child or children’s ministry), our kindness or even our harshness. Children are impressionable. They absorb everything around them and, more notably, everything that’s directed at them.

Anyone can help mold a child’s future. But Christians, especially, are both equipped and called to imprint God’s love in children’s hearts. 

Just A Minute promotes Compassion International but with a little creativity, similar organizations helping children could also use it in their fundraisers or awareness campaigns. The book is worth the read and some of the stories take just a minute to read. A minute well spent.

Note: This article first appeared in The San Diego Christian Perspectives Examiner (www.examiner.com/christian-perspectives-in-san-diego/just-a-minute-review)

Janey DeMeo is founder and president of Orphans First, a non-profit organization providing food, shelter, education and Christian teaching to underprivileged children in several countries. Janey and her husband, Louis, were missionaries in France for 22 years and have resided in Southern California for eight years where they now have a house church in San Clemente. Janey is also an author.
Her websites, Twitter and Blog are:

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