LIVING ON PURPOSE
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Yielding our will so that we can obey His
I was at my daughter’s home a few years ago doing some painting, and yes, these are things that retired fathers are happy to do. She was in another room organizing a closet while listening to some music and the Michael Jackson song, “The Man in the Mirror” was playing. I listened intently. Certain songs occasionally stick in our heads and I sensed the Lord speaking to me about this profound message.
We all have mirrors in our homes and they are generally used to make sure our hair and clothes look presentable or if we have barbecue sauce on our face, but there is also a deeper thought about reflection when we consider what type of person we are on the inside. Spiritual transformation comes when we are convicted to examine our conscience which is exactly what God has been trying to communicate to us since the beginning. You see, we are born with a default spirit that must be changed.
The chorus of the song says, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.” Actually, God is the one demanding for us to be conformed to His will, but a critical component within this process is that first, we must yield our will to Him. Until the desire to change becomes stronger than our desire to remain the same, satisfaction with our default existence will continue.
Each week I encounter people that are in different stages of their journey and part of my mission as a minister and counselor is to help and encourage them however the Lord leads. One of the strongest obstacles when it comes to letting go of what we want and embracing what God wants is an aggressive passion to protect our position as the master of our own destiny. Individuals might listen to motivational messages to improve their lifestyles, but many modern churches are failing to explain God’s demand for sanctification. For Christ to be our Lord, our carnal nature must die.
Most people are familiar with the word covenant and realize that it is a binding agreement between two parties. God made His blood covenant promise when He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins. However, accepting this offer of forgiveness is not the complete idea of salvation. It is God’s side of the contract. Since Jesus gave Himself for us, our promise within this covenant is to give ourselves to Him. Without a complete transformation of our spirit and mind, we are playing religious games.
Colossians 2:20 talks about being crucified with Christ, yet abiding in Him and allowing Him to control our new life. In chapter 3 and verse 3, God declares to those who are born again, “For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” Romans 6:11 says, “Likewise In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”Many will say I raised my hand when asked who wants to go to heaven, but it was not explained that I am to be possessed by Him. Grace is an opportunity to love and serve God, but was never intended to be a license to live however we want.
It seems the new comfortable way of celebrating salvation is being relieved that God rescued us from eternal death, while ignoring the need to examine our soul to see if He is pleased with our dedication and responsibility to this covenant. A fundamental difference between many people and the story of the rich young ruler is that he truly believed what Jesus said about the conditions to be a child of God. He walked away depressed because surrendering his will was too painful to his flesh. Today, many evidently do not believe God’s warnings and walk away content to create their own philosophies.
God loves us and invites us to love Him, but He has no intention of allowing us to remain the same. The last few verses in Matthew chapter 16 remind us about taking up our cross which is a symbol of a torturous death. Again, this is about sacrificing our depraved nature so that Christ can be our Master. “You mean believing there is a God is not enough to be saved?” No. “The demons also believe and tremble” James 2:19.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
A divided heart lives in deception
I’m reminded again of the quote from Scott Fitzgerald, “You do not write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say.” I can relate to those who are called to express the burdens within their hearts and thankful for the opportunity to share mine. These freedoms may not always be with us as the world is becoming aggressively opposed to God and His disciples. I write for several secular publications around the country and I’m often warned about toning it down with Jesus as it might offend those who disagree. The subtle hint here is that being selective with my words would be better than having no platform at all. Many newspapers have already closed the door on spiritual content because of political, social, and cultural resistance.
The Living on Purpose column is recognized as a source of encouragement and faith, nevertheless, as a watchman I must never ignore His warnings. Pastors and teachers will agree it’s easier to talk about doctrines and Biblical history, but it’s a solemn responsibility and personal sacrifice to deliver a specific and urgent message from God Himself. In the Bible when He would choose a servant that He could trust, often their obedience brought persecution and for some, it cost them their lives. This is happening right now. I’m referring to those few individuals that are not afraid to speak divine truth about sin even if they are silenced with force. The religious “fluff” will continue adapting and compromising as a part of their self-preservation, but sadly this fear of offending is causing many churches to reconsider their stand against sin as a solution to maintain popularity while avoiding hostile spiritual warfare.
Along with most assemblies reinventing themselves, we notice a decline in the promotion of prayer. Why is this? Because the masses would rather be cozy and comfortable, to be entertained, and listen to short “feel good” devotions that are non-threatening. Serious prayer does not fit into this format, even though intercession generates the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the services and increases discernment, anointing, and maturity. When prayer was removed from the public education system, the enemy won a major battle, but why do we not hear more about how the absence of a praying church causes a spiritually powerless nation? One reason is the average religious person only calls for prayer when they need something. If prayer was a top priority of Christians, there would be prayer meetings every day.
How often are we desperate for God? Do we anticipate Him whispering for us to go somewhere private and seek Him? I realize I talk about the human will all the time, but I do not apologize as it is the key to the meaning of life. Our free will is the command center within the human experience that has everything to do with our spiritual connection with our Creator. Until the word of God convicts the will and the mind is transformed to be completely dedicated to Him, there can only be a hypocritical facade. If we choose to fill our minds with the poison of the world, we will not be convicted to pray or have a passion to walk in the awareness of His presence. So, why is the reverential fear of the Lord hardly mentioned anymore? Because the masses do not want to hear that lukewarmness is a result of being filled with more of the world than the Holy Spirit. We are what we think and when we refuse to guard our minds, our conscience easily becomes contaminated. When pleasure becomes more important than pleasing God, our dirty heart separates us from Him.
If we allow God to purify us with His refining fire, there is no way we can continue absorbing the corruption of wickedness. We have two choices: continue pledging allegiance to the darkness or become a living sacrifice for Christ. We can’t love two masters and being neutral is serving the darkness. Beyond the motivational talks and inspirational stories, we must own all aspects of truth, we must demonstrate what we confess. Until we surrender our will to Him, we will not change. We’ve heard about being born-again, but not a lot about what it really means. When a person accepts Christ as their Savior and Lord, they no longer serve themselves. All control has been given over to their new Master, and to continue living exactly the same “after” we make our holy vow to Jesus is a fraud.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Are you in love with God?
The Almighty has the power to unlock all doors and break down every obstacle. We also believe He can do whatever He wants, but often are left clueless to comprehend His decisions. I’ve heard testimonies from individuals who were in a grave situation and suddenly they were delivered. Coincidence? No, I believe God had a precise plan that would bring Him glory. On the other hand, as a chaplain, I’ve been on scene where someone was involved in a terrible accident or had taken their own life and obviously, He did not prevent that. No human can understand why sometimes He intervenes and other times He does not, but His sovereignty is defined as Him being the Omniscient judge with all authority. Didn’t we pray, not my will but thy will be done?
So what about our desires and choices? If we want to spend time each day praying for a stronger spiritual awareness, and focusing on developing a closer relationship with Christ, we certainly have the opportunity to do it. He designed us with free will which means we choose what we do and whom we serve, and it’s evident who desires to be filled with God’s Spirit and who could care less. The religious masses will scoff and say, “It’s ridiculous! No one can think about God all the time!” Really? This is not true. Responses like this are a defense mechanism trying to disguise guilt by justifying rebellion. There is a remnant today that is devoted to being one with God. They desire to pull away from the dark persuasions of the world and passionately invest their entire lives in drawing nearer to Him. Are you included with these disciples?
I can hear the arguments now, “Am I supposed to live in a monastery and chant day and night, I have a family and I want to enjoy the pleasures of life!” Did I say the only way to know and love God was to live in the isolation of a dungeon? I’m just trying to relay that every Christian can live in the awareness of God’s presence while also receiving all the blessings that God wants to graciously give. What I’m talking about is love. It would be amazing if we loved Him only a fraction of how much He loves us. Do we love Him enough to give Him our will completely? Let’s see, should I pray, study, and worship, or watch this next movie? I’ll do it later. We are guilty of drawing blueprints for our lives, but shouldn’t we be following the plans God has made for us? There are consequences when we manage our daily affairs without first consulting our Master.
I know a man that had a wonderful wife, two beautiful children, a great job, a nice house, and new cars, but one day he sold everything and set out to walk with God and live completely by faith. I consider him a Bible scholar, but he thought that by pulling away from trusting and depending on this world, he could lead his family into the realms of a higher spiritual existence. However, instead of finding peace and joy, he was confronted with every possible attack imaginable. They faced fear, worry, discouragement, frustration, and stress, and after all the money was gone, he was haunted by feelings of failure. Since this idea was supposedly sanctioned by the Lord, he felt accountable to hold firm to his faith. Long story short, his wife took the children and divorced him.
I realize there are different opinions about this story, but whether God intervenes or not, or even if we relocate to an igloo in the North Pole, we are still who we are and our relationship with Him is in our heart. The only reason why we would not live in the awareness of His presence is because we are not really in love with Him. Going off-grid and living in a recreational vehicle does not make us more holy, it’s all about loving Him to the point that we want to be with Him more than anything else in the world. When this happens, the nature and character of Christ will be seen within us wherever we are. Beyond the words and deeds, walking the narrow path is to know God so intimately that we are constantly listening for His still small voice, however, we cannot obey God and live according to our own decisions at the same time.
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LIVING ON PURPOSE
Preventing seeds of unforgiveness to sprout
How much grace does it take to love our enemies? That’s a good question. Tragedies occur all around us and it’s true we are heartbroken and disturbed, but how do we react when our family is harmed or we are personally offended? I admit that I do not always have the character of Christ when I’m being threatened or provoked to anger. Our natural reaction is to retaliate because that’s a natural part of our carnal nature. Most of us agree that people need to be punished for their evil deeds, but Christians must remember the temptation to hold unforgiveness against anyone must be resisted. Yes, we will face challenges and situations that attempt to lure us into loathing attitudes but, it’s forgiveness and love that keeps us on the narrow way of peace and contentment.
When we dwell on retaliation, our joy which is our spiritual strength evaporates and we become weak and discouraged. The brooding desire for revenge will emotionally, mentally, and spiritually hold us in the bondage of misery. If we allow ourselves to become weighed down with animosity, our relationship with God suffers which is why it’s so important to not become entangled with the poison of hatred. To those around us, we may seem fine, but on the inside, we are seething with contempt. Do you secretly have resentment against someone today? Let us remember this internal agonizing battle is not forced upon us, we choose to embrace it. Our natural mind loves to justify corrupt attitudes, and if we continue to focus on vengeance instead of asking for God’s help we are allowing the darkness of sin to control and hold us hostage. Sadly, many would rather live in the agony of hostility instead of releasing their misery to God and allowing Him to heal and execute justice His way.
As a chaplain, I remember a few years ago being called by a healthcare facility to pray for an elderly gentleman that was near death. He was barely able to understand or communicate because of the heavy doses of morphine. His son was sitting next to the bed and after a while, he started to talk about his dad. They were not close, and he began to describe a man that was not only harsh and uncaring but abusive. I could sense the deep emotional pain as he began to tell a sad story about a disappointed and wounded family. The son was a Christian and had been dealing with resentment for years. As he continued to share about the power of forgiveness, I could sense the love and peace of God in his countenance. If we sincerely repent and ask the Lord to step into our situation, He is the only one who can bring true healing to our hearts and minds.
When watching a toddler, we notice they react to basic experiences of hunger, affection, disappointment, happiness, and anger but are only beginning to learn what it means to be offended. Resentment and bitterness are negative attitudes and it’s only through inviting Christ to become our Lord and allowing His truth to transform our minds that we can be molded into His way of merciful thinking. He wants us to be honest with Him and not suppress these ugly imaginations that not only can build a wall between us and the Lord, it also makes us toxic to those around us. Just how serious is unforgiveness? Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Hatred is silent but deadly and is like a growing infection that can desensitize us from having compassion for anyone or anything. Since the Christian’s greatest asset is love, the enemy of our soul will use anything he can to prevent us from forgiving and praying for others. May we never discard our responsibility to humbly serve and obey Christ just because we are blinded by our longing to get even with someone. Whatever they have done to hurt us, we have the choice to let it go so that we can live in the joy of God’s presence. Some may declare they cannot forgive but this is not true. Forgiveness is a choice as the Bible reminds us in Proverbs 13:18, “Poverty and shame will come to those who refuse instruction: but they who embrace correction will be honored.”
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LIVING ON PURPOSE
Taking a moment to share my life and appreciation
For those of you that read this column, I hope the insights and considerations are worth your time. I have political and social speculations like all of you, but I would much rather stay focused on how awesome God is. I’m just a student desiring to understand what I believe, while also trying to listen carefully and be discerning about the convictions of others. Everyone has their own opinions about everything, and when we become involved in endless criticisms and accusations, it accomplishes nothing. In fact, it makes things worse and we have enough of that already. It’s important to me that I know why I believe my views and this can only be accomplished through prayer and study. If we desire to present Christ to a confused world, He pleads with us to surrender our will and learn how to live in the awareness of His presence.
Some of you have been asking me to share a few things about my personal life, so first of all, our daughter-in-law had twins last month and Mother and the babies are perfect. Thank you, Jesus! Our four-year-old grandson now has a brother and sister! They are so beautiful. We also have another adorable 10-month-old granddaughter that lives in Denver. I realize I’m preaching to the choir when I say that grandchildren are amazing. Our grandson loves to spend the night at our house on Friday nights, and it’s always non-stop action of laughter and entertainment. He is so smart and never forgets anything. We pray for these young ones and are concerned about the evil world they will face, but I’m sure people thought the same thing about us. It’s true, the world is declining spiritually, but when we read I John 4:4, we are assured that God’s light always overcomes the darkness.
I’ve been a Christian minister and truth seeker for 40 years, and have earned four degrees from two Seminaries. I am currently working on a Ph.D. in Biblical history from a third Seminary. I just want to know more about God. Some of you might know that I’m also a certified fire district chaplain with our county and a volunteer chaplain for a Veteran’s healthcare facility where I lead Bible studies and sing old hymns with my guitar. I enjoy being with people and have realized that just taking the time to listen to others is one of the greatest ways we can show that we care. I was having lunch the other day with a good friend that is battling cancer, and he said that life can change very quickly along with our attitudes and perspectives. When healthy, we are confident in our own strength, but when we are weak, we understand more about humility, faith, and priorities. In the end, hopefully, we will know that life was all about love. The love God gave to us, and how much love we passed on to others.
When it comes to my writing, I began back in the early eighties writing, singing, and recording music about faith and personal intimacy with God. This led to sermons, devotions, blogs, funerals, weddings, videos, CDs, and books, and eventually expanded from a church environment to the realm of public media. I’m not sure how many newspapers or news agencies publish “Living on Purpose” each week, but at one time it was estimated that around 200 newspapers were using my work. It’s an honor as a freelance/non-syndicated columnist to have the opportunity to reach this many readers. Thank you for all the emails and letters, they are very encouraging. I’m also a content coordinator for Best Version Media where I write feature articles for one of their many monthly magazines, and currently working on my fourth book. You can read more about the books on Amazon and my website.
Along with a small group of volunteers, we operate a non-profit charitable organization called, “Walking Thru Ministries” a weekly food distribution program for the needy. Stores and co-ops give us food and we give it out to families, churches, and other outreach ministries. There are many people, especially children in our area that are struggling to make ends meet. I do not have room to share all the activities my wife and I are involved in, but I just wanted to say how much we appreciate your kindness, prayers, support, and friendship. It’s a privilege to serve God and discuss His word with you each week. “Blessed are the ones who find wisdom, and those who gain understanding” Proverbs 3:13.
Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Will the return of Christ interfere with your plans?
Henry Allan “Harry” Ironside was a Canadian-American Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, and author who pastored Moody Church in Chicago from 1929 to 1948. It is said that Harry Ironside was one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 20th Century and published more than 100 books, booklets, and pamphlets, many of which are still in print. He also wrote several hymns including “Overshadowed” “His Grace Proclaim” and “The Wonder of His Love to Me.” One editorial reviewer wrote in a 2005 republication that, “Ironside’s commentaries are a Christian standard and have stood the test of time.”
In his comments on Isaiah 57, Dr. Harry Ironside shares this true story: “Years ago, before the First World War, Professor Stroeter, a well-known prophetic teacher in Germany, would travel through the country giving lectures, and using charts to explain the dispensations. His meetings attracted the attention of the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, who despite of his many idiosyncrasies, was quite a Bible student himself, and would deliver sermons in the palace chapel on many occasions. One day the emperor invited Professor Stroeter to his royal mansion so that he could have a personal session to learn more about the information the professor had been teaching. The professor was taken into the library and he began to spread his charts out on the table. The emperor listened closely as he pointed out various prophetic stages that led up to the glorious Second Coming of the Lord.
After a lengthy conversation the emperor said, “Do you mean to say that Jesus Christ is coming back literally, and when He returns all the kingdoms of the world are going to be destroyed and He will set up His kingdom on the ruins of them all?” Professor Stroeter said, “Exactly, your Majesty.” The emperor backed away with a look of disappointment and said, “Oh no, I can’t accept that! This would interfere with all of my plans!” What an honest but troubling admission from a man who professed to be a student and teacher of the Bible. There are indeed many interpretations and opinions about what the future may bring, but Christians can agree there is coming a day when this world will be no more and God will establish His heavenly kingdom forever.
We look around and notice that many people are working hard to build their dreams. I know individuals that are making plans 10, 20, and even 30 years in the future, but are these divine blueprints that God has drawn? Have you known or heard about individuals that had their lives all mapped out, but were suddenly taken out of this world at a young age? It’s worth considering whose voice we are following as the Bible declares there is nothing more important than keeping our spiritual eyes and ears open to where the Lord desires to lead us. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
Many of us add Christ to our long list of things we are interested in, but there are only so many hours in our already crowded schedule. Yes, we all have responsibilities, but ignoring God and not being prepared comes with steep consequences. Are we just seeking the God we want without taking the time to know Him? Maybe our busyness is a way of hiding our brokenness. We notice in Luke 5:15-16, Jesus was becoming very popular and multitudes were constantly seeking Him for His wisdom and power to heal. Yet, the more hectic things became, the more time He spent praying and maintaining His relationship with the Father.
How often do Christians stop and consider that when they made a vow to surrender their will to God, their lives were no longer their own? They declared to the world that from now on they will only follow His voice. So, I ask myself; is there anything in this world that would cause me to wish that Christ would wait a while before He returns? Our daughter-in-law recently had twins and of course, I want to know my grandchildren and watch them grow, but what could be better than for us all to go to heaven today? What about you dear friend, are things like enjoying your wealth, building a house, seeing the world, finishing college, getting married, having children, getting that promotion, retiring, or completing some project you’ve been working on for years, more important than the return of Jesus?
Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Published – 4/10/23
A burden for souls is the heart of evangelism
Everyone has their thoughts and interpretations when it comes to sharing the gospel, but there’s not a more terrifying word among the average Christian than evangelism. Just ask a believer when was the last time they verbally shared the love of Jesus with an unbeliever and the answer will probably be a moment of silence. Evangelical Christianity is widely known, but maybe we should briefly explain what it means. This sect believes the world is separated into two groups, those who are lost and those who are saved. They believe that Christ died and was resurrected so that all who believe can be spiritually born again and dedicate their lives to following Him. This is summed up in John 3:16. They also have the highest regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate standard and authority.
Thirdly, they are called to express and demonstrate God’s love at all times which makes them, “In season and out of season” certified, and bona fide missionaries to proclaim God’s message whenever they hear His directions. And lastly, they develop an awareness of God’s presence and are focused on this “good news” and how to explain the sacrifice of Christ is the only way anyone can be redeemed and made righteous. These distinctions and theological convictions for the most part define the movement. It’s also noted they are not controlled or influenced by political, social, or cultural trends. Many evangelicals rarely use the term evangelical to describe themselves, focusing simply on listening and obeying the instructions of the Holy Spirit. Though it varies, most devout evangelicals believe in the Armenian doctrinal system that emphasizes personal choice as the means to salvation, while reformed theology or Christian Calvinists are convinced that Jesus came to earth to pay the debt of sin for those who are referred to as God’s elect.
A story was told of two men waiting in line at a coffee shop. One was a pastor, and he began a conversation with a young man. After they received their order, they sat at a table and the pastor told him a story about a lonely boy who was afraid, but one day someone told him that Jesus was always with him even when he could not see him. The young man became a little fidgety but finally gathered the courage to admit that he could relate to this story. He said the world was becoming a scary place and that often his anxiety made him uncomfortable. This allowed the pastor to share the gospel with what is commonly referred to as a divine appointment. This means that God knows everyone who has come to a point in their journey where they are open and receptive to knowing more about God’s love and mercy. What a great example of how every Christian can make a difference in the world just by being spiritually discerning. If this Christian had not been sensitive to the Holy Spirit, this young man would have walked out the door and the opportunity would have been lost. However, because of spiritual awareness, a brief connection was made, and the perfect moment for a simple chat was accomplished. Did this young man accept God’s invitation for eternal salvation? According to the story, he did not receive Christ at that moment, but the seeds were planted, and hopefully, the life-changing words of truth were watered by other mysterious occurrences that the young man would eventually realize were not coincidences.
When one considers why it’s so difficult to share the gospel with others, many answers are given, but the common excuse is usually being afraid of looking weird, awkward, and a religious extremist. In our celebrity-obsessed culture, looking uninformed, nonintellectual, and unattractive is the highest social humiliation. However, since Jesus was not afraid of the shame or persecution that came with dying for us, His followers should lose their pride, and not ignore their responsibility or be intimidated to suffer being uncomfortable for Him. Christians are not called as Christ’s church to proclaim our integrity or lofty reputations as we have none, but rather to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:19. The bottom line to being a bold witness for the Lord’s amazing grace of salvation is having such love and overwhelming burden for souls, that you would rather risk being made to look like a fool than to live with the guilt of being ashamed of God.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
The angel said, “Jesus is not here, He is risen!”
This is the time of year when Christians focus on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Spring is a season of new life as His followers remember how He suffered and shed His blood on the cross and after three days He arose victoriously from the grave. To be honest, holy week is not so much a jolly time of celebration but rather calls for serious meditation, humility, and being grateful for the precious gift of salvation. It is bittersweet because it’s never pleasant to imagine an innocent person being brutally tortured, but knowing that Jesus miraculously came back to life, is a demonstration of His infinite power and authority and why we are so filled with humility and joy. Jesus Christ demonstrated His passion by surrendering His life so that we could live.
I admit I am an emotional person. I remember going to see the Passion movie when it was released, and I was deeply touched, to say the least. It’s not uncommon for me to shed a tear when I witness something that moves my soul and this was no exception. Recently, I was watching a story about the “Make-a-wish foundation” and how they provide a way for very sick children to experience a happy but most likely last request and I cried through the entire program. As the scenes of what Christ went through were presented, I wondered how anyone could watch this and not be convicted. I’m not ashamed to wear my feelings on my sleeve. I have no desire to hide behind a mask to pretend I’m not spiritually discerning. I often write about how easy it is to become calloused by the harshness of life and the danger of losing the sensitivity of our conscience.
I think about the life of Jesus and the reason why He came to earth which is explained so clearly in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of John. I think about how He was betrayed by those He trusted and was denied by His closest friends. The religious community rejected His message as did the political system along with the demands from the general population, who eventually agreed to publicly execute Him for admitting He was the Son of God. Sadly, things have not changed that much. We know that Jesus existed, that He was an amazing teacher and had the power to demonstrate miracles, but it’s when He rose from the dead that proves He is truly the Messiah and sets Him apart from every other religion in the world.
We notice that He was constantly approached by those in desperate need and it was His character to be concerned and compassionate. The world has always been filled with human suffering and He is always ready to respond with love and mercy. Being knowledgeable about the Bible is good but that does not necessarily mean that someone is following Christ. It is what they do with what they have learned that transforms emotions into spiritual obedience. When we see someone who needs help or even an encouraging word, what good does it do to just look at them with pity? Christ was always ministering to those who would reach out to Him by faith and two thousand years later He is still pouring out His grace and forgiveness to anyone that will call upon His name.
As His followers, we have been called to focus our attention on becoming more like Him despite a troubled world that justifies walking over the wounded and being self-centered. His command to take up our cross includes letting go of our natural way of selfish thinking and willingly allowing Christ to be the hope of glory within us. The more we learn about His life, the more we realize that His love was more than words. As we meditate on His mission this week, His grace gives us a deeper understanding of who He is, and how He desires to live through us. The reverence and awareness of who Jesus is and why He came is heaven’s promise of eternal life, and it’s our responsibility to remain steadfast in our obedience to Him. Beyond the new clothes, the feasts, and the Easter festivities, may we give honor and worship to Christ that rescued us from being permanently separated from God. Dear friend, without being forgiven of our sins, we are carrying the weights and chains of misery and hopelessness. Come to Jesus today and He will set you free, save you, and be with you forever.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
What will be your wager about God’s existence?
God’s offer for everyone to accept His salvation is the greatest gesture of compassion and grace the world has ever known. However, for those who reject His invitation, as the rich young ruler did, choosing to embrace the default and ignoring the divine will be the most devastating decision a person will ever make. The image of a red devil with a pitchfork is not cute or a joke and neither is the holiness of God who has always demanded honor, reverence, and respect. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” Proverbs 9:10. Having factual information and accepting it are two profoundly different things and whether we want to admit it or not, we choose whom we will serve every moment.
It’s no secret that seekers of truth have lots of difficult questions. I guess the most important at the end of life is, “How much truth did the seeker find?” and, more importantly, “How much of it did they comprehend and demonstrate?” It’s been said that knowledge is merely the accumulation of information, but wisdom is the understanding of knowledge. We use the concept of levels to describe just how far and how deep we will venture in our quest to know the mysteries and secrets about God and the meaning and purpose of our lives. Sadly, the passion to discover these revelations seem to only matter to a fraction of the population, which is peculiar.
With the help of technology we receive a constant flow of communication at the push of a button and most consider this a blessing. Nonetheless, what the masses fail to realize is that information is commonly mixed with biased and opinionated commentary that contaminates the message, which in turn can distort our perspectives. In this light, things are not always the way they seem, thus the critical need for spiritual discernment. Deception is like an infection of the mind and soul. The modern views about philosophy and spirituality declare that truth is relative to what the individual believes, and there is not a divine standard of truth for everyone to trust and obey. Yet, the Bible is very clear about there only being one God and one truth which means that what we believe has everything to do with whether we are right or wrong. When it comes to our state of being in the next dimension, we do not want to be on the side of error and face judgment for conforming to the culture.
I’m sure with the hundreds of newspapers that publish this column each week, there are skeptics, agnostics, and maybe even a few atheists that read it and I’m honored. There is a growing audience that is interested to know if anyone can prove that God exists, and this is the most important question anyone could ask. I can give examples of what I believe confirms He is real, but at the end of the day, I cannot knock on God’s door and literally introduce Him to you. There is just as much faith in rejecting God as there is in embracing Him and we are accountable for our choices. In the spirit realm, divine truth is absolute, but in the natural world, there is virtually no absolute proof outside of pure logic and mathematics. For that reason, courtrooms do not require absolute proof to reach a verdict; rather, they seek to present reasonable doubt and consider what’s most probable.
Some have heard of Pascal’s wager which is a pragmatic argument presented by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, and theologian Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). He considered that all human beings wager with their eternal future concerning whether God exists or not. By the way, these decisions are not optional. Merely by existing we are forced to decide even if we are convinced we are not participating at all. Pascal’s presentation basically declares that if we wager that God is just a fairy tale and we are correct, we have lost nothing. However, if we believe that He is real and we love and serve Him, we have gained everything. Yet, many gambles against the odds and will risk losing their souls, knowing there is overwhelming evidence for the reality of God. Read Mark 8:36-37. You see, believing in God does not require blind faith, but neither can it overcome determined resistance. Airtight, sound arguments will remain unconvincing to those who are resolved to doubt.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
What does having a pure heart mean to you?
Many are familiar with the beatitudes which are a section of a larger discourse spoken by Jesus in His earthly ministry. They are found in His sermon on the mount in Matthew chapter 5, and some of them are mentioned again in the sermon on the plain found in the twentieth chapter of Luke. Both homilies are filled with spiritual wisdom and laid the groundwork for New Testament Christianity. There are also beatitudes found in the Psalms, and all of these truths are timeless and just as life-changing and relevant today as they were when they were spoken. The Greek word for “beatitude” simply means blessed, fortunate, and content, and presented in the context of living each moment with a relentless determination for having a clear understanding of right and wrong and demonstrating boldness to accomplish God’s purpose no matter the cost.
When you think about the condition and direction of your life today, do you see consider yourself being this type of Christian? It’s easy to read over these precepts while yawning, but they were never meant to be options or suggestions. You might have heard the old saying that beatitude is short for “be-in-this-attitude” and this is a good way to make them more personal. When we take the time to meditate on the deeper meanings, we realize they are pillars in the foundation of our faith and our relationship with God and humanity. Today I want to focus on one of these statements found in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Within the context of the next two chapters, Jesus is basically teaching us what being His follower is about. Christ is clear about the importance of being holy and pure in our conscience, but how do we develop this attitude and retain it?
As we ponder about the state of being pure, we also notice Jesus mentions the word heart. What do you think of when you hear something like, “well, bless your heart”, “she broke his heart” or “he loved her with all of his heart?” Some say it is the conscience, the emotions, the intellect, and our will, others believe it is the deepest recess of the soul. Whatever, or wherever it is, it is the most sacred place of our existence and the very location that God wants us to surrender to Him so that He can dwell there. Daniel 1:8 talks about how Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with sin. In this light, we see that it is our responsibility to guard and protect our inner sanctuary from the darkness and corruption of carnality.
The first several chapters of Proverbs explain that we are to store the treasures of God’s word in our hearts and the authority of His truth will produce joy and peace. “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear to my sayings. Let them not depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” Proverbs 4:20-23. This is about staying focused and being consistent which by the way is one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life. A pure heart is not divided and as James 1:6-8 reminds us, a double-minded person does not receive help from the Lord. A pure heart for God walks with integrity, repents often, and does not fear what the world thinks of them. A pure heart embraces humility, comprehends and embraces our identity in Christ, and makes a covenant vow to surrender our will in order that we might accomplish His.
It’s a beautiful thing to be close enough to God to feel conviction from the Holy Spirit. This is His way of getting our attention when He wants to correct or give us special instructions. Hebrews 10:22 talks about drawing near to God with a true heart in the full assurance of faith, and having our hearts purified from an evil conscience. Living in God’s presence and being pure in heart does not happen by accident. We see what we are trained to see. May we be awakened and allow the refiner to have His way. Let us be consumed with a passion to be holy, knowing those who are pure in heart will see God.
Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Walking on bridges that human eyes cannot see
Soon after Jesus had resurrected, we find a beautiful account found in John chapter 20 that is a wonderful example of how much God loves us and desires to help us. The friends and family of the Messiah were gathered together after his horrific crucifixion and were still grieving over his death when suddenly, He appears in their midst. Even though they remembered how He had promised to return I’m sure they were still awestruck. Jesus stretches out His hands and reveals His wounds, and of course, they are overjoyed to see Him again. He spoke peace over them, commissioned them, filled them with the Holy Spirit, then vanished.
Thomas was not there that night and later when he returned he was told that Jesus had visited them. He responded that until he saw Jesus with his own eyes, he would not believe. Eight days later the group came together again and like last time Jesus miraculously appeared except this time Thomas was present. Christ looked at Thomas and told him to reach out and touch the scars, and he did. Jesus said, “Be not faithless, but believing,” and Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God.” When we are discouraged and struggling to believe, we can know that God will make an extra effort to prove how much he loves and cares about us.
Have you ever needed Jesus to inject faith into your doubt? Are you feeling the heaviness of fear and discouragement today? You see, Thomas is not the only person who ever doubted. Actually, he’s a perfect example of you and I. God realizes how hard it is for us to believe. Yes, Thomas had a chance to literally see Jesus, but does this mean we will not believe? This is where faith understands that just because we cannot see and touch Christ, does not mean He is not there. In verse 29 we read, “Jesus said unto him, Thomas because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Trusting God is having the ultimate optimistic and positive attitude, as faith is choosing to believe there is a way when there seems to be no way. Trust is paying tithes when we only have a small amount of money in the bank. Faith is resting in the promises that God’s word cannot fail. Yes, it’s difficult to demonstrate confidence in His infinite power and authority when all we can see is discouragement and hopelessness, but let us remember, not if – but when the Almighty intervenes in your situation, miracles happen and nothing is ever the same. I John 5:4, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
So, how can we have more faith? We must consistently ask God to teach us how to believe. Faith is not only a source of spiritual hope and strength but Hebrews 11:6 reminds us, “But without faith, it is impossible to please Him: for he that approaches God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” In Acts chapter 16, we read that Paul and Silas were being held in a dark and dreary prison, yet they began to praise and worship the Lord. Why? Because joy is not confined to a geographic location, a mood, or a feeling, but is activated when the determination to trust God becomes stronger than the temptation to doubt. We cannot live in faith and fear at the same time. If we feed our faith, our fears will starve! These men made a choice to perceive reality with the eyes of their spirit instead of being controlled by their emotions and today we have the opportunity to do the same thing.
Whatever trial we are facing, we use faith that we developed in the past as mountain-moving faith is not created in one day, but rather with a lifetime of learning. Our natural senses are associated with our emotions, but spiritual faith declares that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Humans tend to rely on their intelligence, but God wants us to place our confidence in Him. True peace comes from knowing that He is listening and moving on our behalf. Thomas Aquinas is quoted as saying, “To the one who has faith, no explanation is necessary, but to the one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
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LIVING ON PURPOSE
Only two options: The broad or the narrow way
Those who identify with following Jesus are usually satisfied with being comfortable and cozy in their religious styles. Let’s just say that suffering for God is not on their bucket list. When we take a peek at the last six thousand years, we learn that countless numbers of people who loved the Lord literally gave their lives for Him. It’s only within our modern secluded religious environment that we assume persecutions and deaths no longer happen. By no means of the imagination is this true. According to Open Doors World Watch List, in 2022 many Christians were imprisoned and killed for their faith, and countless churches were attacked and closed. Last year, 360 million Christians, or 1 in 7 believers around the world, experienced horrific persecution for their faith. With over 6,000 martyrs in 2022, this means an average of 16 believers were murdered every day just for following Jesus. When we accept Christ into our lives, many are focused on Him being a Savior instead of Him being their Lord, as the latter involves not only living for Him but possibly dying for Him.
In the New Testament, Jesus talks about temptations and decisions, but basically, the main two choices are good and evil. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus describes what we all face every day, “Enter in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many will choose this: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.” It’s true, there are only two choices, God’s way, and our way. The narrow path is good but difficult because it involves surrendering our will to God. What does this mean? It means we no longer serve our desires because we have made a covenant promise to obey God and only do what He says. Obedience is what the Christian life is about and His grace invites us to live in the awareness of His presence. The wide highway is evil, but it’s so easy as the great majority will gladly give all control to their flesh and allow their carnality to lead them. The masses ignore their conscience and resist anything that has to do with listening to God or the Bible. But wait, there are grave consequences attached to this philosophy of living, remember? This popular road is more than a blasphemous rock song, it’s a torturous eternal destination far removed from the hope of a second chance.
There’s not a lot being said nowadays about an everlasting punishment for those who do not love and serve God. The modern ideas about religion argue that this sounds too extreme, and it’s just too negative to think about. Hmmm…but aren’t these the same people who watch paranormal programs and personal testimonies about demons and hell for hours and believe it? When divine truth is rejected it’s a sure sign of Holy Spirit conviction and the rebellious will always avoid feeling guilty for living in sin. Our old depraved nature loves to do whatever feels good and is very defiant against anyone including God that tries to interfere. Yes, the Christian life is difficult and filled with sacrifices and accountability, but wouldn’t a lifetime of obedience to God here on earth be worth an eternity of living with Him in heaven? Being a follower of Yahweh requires a concerted effort on our part as well as an infinite supply of His mercy.
We realize this analogy about the two paths causes some to question the fairness of God. I often hear if He really wants to save everyone, why doesn’t He just let everyone go to heaven? You knew someone was going to say that, didn’t you? When people hear the word narrow, they tend to associate it with a predestined selection as it sounds as though God has rated us all on some scale of acceptability and only allows a few favorites to experience His glory. However, a few verses earlier, Jesus clarifies this within the context, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” God made it clear: the path to eternal life is open and available to all who want to follow Him.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
God’s invitation is to all who believe Him
Kentucky is having amazingly warm weather for February and actually broke records the other day. My grass is turning green and soon everything will be budding and we will be out mowing. Kentucky has also been in the news about having a spiritual revival at the Asbury College campus for the last several weeks. We are encouraged to see that many revivals are now happening around the nation. I’ve written a couple of columns recently about spiritual awakenings, and that we do not need to wait for someone else to repent and cry out for God, we can do it ourselves anytime we want. Revival is a “personal” event that is ignited within the individual when we see our need to be filled with His Holy Spirit and we choose to draw closer to Him.
It is said the Asbury revival started with confessions of sin, sincere repentance, prayer, worship, and testimonies of God restoring and saving those who received Him by faith. This went on for several days and when the word spread to social media, hundreds of people began to come. So what is at the core of a spiritual movement? Is it repentance? Is it being convicted of sin? Can we see the holiness of God at work? Some might say these are emotional feelings, but when people testify they were lost before they arrived, and they gave their lives to God and were saved and restored by His grace and love, we cannot deny the Lord was leading them to His salvation.
This week my wife, a good friend, and I went to see the new movie, “Jesus Revolution.” I do not believe it’s a coincidence this is being released at the same time these revivals are going on across America. It’s about how Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa California began back in the late sixties and early seventies. Because of the obedience of a few people who felt the Lord leading them, there are now over 1000 churches that are serving God today. The basic theme of the movie is exposing the negative and condescending religious attitudes that have been around since the beginning. Has anyone out there ever felt snubbed by the church? The spirit of religion relies on tradition and legalism that refuses to see that God loves everyone and is also inviting them to the banquet feast. Many churches have closed their doors to people who do not look like them and do not fit the preconceived molds that religion requires in order to be included as a member of their clubs. Is this not the sin of prejudice and being judgmental, based on our carnal opinions?
When we read the New Testament, we see that Jesus also faced much criticism from the religious world because they wanted Him to act like them and support their haughty spirits. Instead, we discover that He mingled with the outcast, the poor, the sick, and those who felt rejected. He ate with them, prayed for them, and embraced them as precious human beings whom the Father loved as much as anyone. In fact, Christ came to give His life for all who would accept that He was the Father’s plan for the believers to be restored to God. He boldly rebuked the leaders of the church for being blind and refusing to understand spiritual truth. The ones who thought they knew everything about God, actually knew very little. One problem with this arrogant attitude is that it tries to control instead of seeing others as God sees them. If Jesus was here today, sadly His teachings would not be welcome in many churches.
There is a huge difference between being religious and having a personal relationship with God. There are many differences and divisions in the spiritual realm, but this is the most serious. The message to everyone including the religious is that God is pleased with consistent faith and obedience. There are many levels of commitment and dedication, but God is seeking those who want all of Him and are willing to give all of themselves to Him. Every person decides what percentage they will receive and how much they will give. Many pretend to serve God by only attending church while living a spiritually lukewarm life. Mary was so desperately in love with Jesus, she anointed Christ with costly perfume as a way to express her worship and adoration to Him. When Jesus becomes our Lord, we will live in the awareness of His presence.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
God is waiting to pour out His glory on us
Last week we talked about the recent revival in Wilmore Kentucky. Anytime there are 1500 people in one place worshiping God around the clock, we know the Lord is stirring hearts. We had a trip to Denver planned last week, but I was able to attend three different times before we left and it was very humbling to see a hunger for God on this level. We sang “I Exalt Thee” and you could sense God was there. I mentioned recently that spiritual moves of God’s glory have nothing to do with geographical locations, but rather are manifested within those who simply want more of Him. Until our flesh is disciplined by our will and the Holy Spirit is given control to lead us into submitting to Him, there is no spiritual advancement. When we fall deeply in love with God and are no longer embarrassed to stand boldly for Him, there is no limit to what can be accomplished for His glory.
While observing what was happening before my eyes, I wondered why do we not see this attitude of repentance and worship in every church every week. A genuine excitement for God should be present within every follower of Christ, however, many of us are not as consistent as we should be. Often we settle for mediocrity by just living for God when we feel like it. We realize that we can be filled with His Spirit, but if do not maintain our relationship with Him, the fervor of our love and the strength of our joy can leak which will leave us weak and weary. If we could maintain our zeal for God, we would not need to be revived, but for most of us, this is not the case. One day we are on the mountain and the next day we are exhausted, sad, and need encouragement.
The Azusa Street Revival was a historic series of meetings that took place in Los Angeles and was led by William J. Seymour an African-American preacher. The revival began on April 9, 1906, and continued until roughly 1915. On the first night, Seymour and seven men were praying and waiting on God on Bonnie Brae Street, when suddenly, as though hit by a bolt of lightning, they were knocked from their chairs to the floor. The men began to shout and praise God as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The news quickly spread, the city was stirred, crowds gathered and services were moved outside to accommodate the people who came from all around. Those who attended were so overwhelmed by the power of God’s presence they could not stop weeping as manifestations were evident such as individuals being delivered from evil spirits, and the sick were healed.
I was raised in a church where they would schedule a revival by inviting a guest speaker to hold special meetings for a few days. There was anticipation about what God might do. People would invite their lost loved ones and, those who had drifted away from the Lord in the hopes and prayers they would be saved or restored in their relationship with Christ. We used to sing an old hymn that said, “Send a great revival in my soul, let the Holy Spirit come and take control.” This is a great song and asking God for a personal awakening is wonderful, but there is always repentance and fervent prayer involved. In other words, I do not see a powerful move in our lives while we are playing video games. The Bible mentions in Romans 12:1-2 about being a living sacrifice, but usually, we would rather do a good deed instead of yielding our will. A devoted life of allowing God to possess us will cost us more than we can imagine. If we are seeking a deeper more meaningful relationship with Christ, we are promised that if we seek Him, we will find Him.
So what gives us this desperate hunger and thirst for God? Fasting is not popular, but it shows that we are serious about being closer to Him. James 4:8 promises, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” If we really want to be on fire for God, let us remember we can live as close to God as we choose. We do not need to travel any further than our conscience to discover He is always waiting to pour out His glory on us.
Learn more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com
LIVING ON PURPOSE
It’s encouraging to see people wanting more of God
There is a move of the Holy Spirit happening in Wilmore Kentucky where the small evangelical Asbury University and Seminary are located. As the regular chapel service began Wednesday morning in Hughes Auditorium, it was not long before things became extraordinary. Many students did not leave and continued to worship as the band kept playing. The message that morning focused on confession, repentance, and how true love for God and others is more than just words. News traveled quickly and soon more students started coming in. Many said they felt the power of God drawing them to examine their hearts and make a fresh commitment to Christ. College students have joined in from other colleges including the University of Kentucky as Christians from other states are making the journey to experience this 24/7 manifestation of God’s presence. It is not known at this time how long this outpouring will last, but there has definitely been a lot of excitement in the last five days. The crowds are growing as the worship, praying, reading scriptures, and personal testimonies of God’s power are generating faith and a glimpse of what normal Christian life should be like.
Asbury president Kevin Brown spoke on John 17 Friday night, a passage that calls for unity. “So when people see us, they see one accord. For this generation, for the church, for the world, the edification of our neighbor, and the glory of God. This is not an Asbury thing, this is a kingdom of God thing.” Saturday night all 1500 seats were taken with many people standing around the walls. When the Asbury website started posting daily updates, soon the site had so much traffic it crashed. Growing numbers watching the live stream are sending prayers not just from around the country, but also from places like Paraguay, Indonesia, Africa, Australia, and India. The editor of the School Newspaper said, “We are encouraging each other to have this posture of radical humility. We are trying to understand God’s love in a greater way. It’s not about us, it’s about Jesus and I believe this is why it continues.” Some of the older generations may remember another outpouring here in February 1970. It began when the Dean at that time invited students to share their testimonies and miraculously, the worship and praying lasted for 144 hours straight. Classes were canceled for the week and many traveled around the country sharing about what God had done in their midst.
Another comment from a news site, “We see depravity now in America, every day, wherever we look. It’s encouraging to see young people on their knees in prayer. May this revival spread like wildfire across this land. America has never been in deeper trouble. Lord help us.” I have written about revival in the past and it can mean several things like renewal, awakening, restoration, repentance, or making alive again. It’s associated with those who once were on fire for God but they have drifted away into what is called a cold or lukewarm state of being spiritually lethargic. To be revived means to be convicted by hearing God’s truth and seeing the need to be reignited in our passion to be completely sold out to Jesus. In Revelation chapter two we see the letter to the church at Ephesus where Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love.” He is saying that when Christ is at the top of our priority list, our love for Him will blaze like a roaring fire. However, when we allow the cares of the world and our carnality to become more important than our relationship with Him, we become ashamed and nonchalant like smoldering embers.
Revival is a gift of God’s grace and yet the only thing that is preventing it from happening anywhere is an attitude of our heart. It begins when someone wants to become a living sacrifice for God. What does this mean? It means the realization that living holy is how we please Him. Our gratitude and love for Him is not just about what He can do, it’s for who He is. You do not know that God is all you need until you realize He is all you have. He’s either the Lord of “all” of your life or He is not really your Lord at all. We will discuss more about revival next week.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Do we only follow God when we feel like it?
Have you ever wondered what is the purpose of television, games, movies, and social media? Many will say it was created to entertain and inform us, but what we may not have noticed, is that when we are constantly focused on these things, we are usually not listening to what God is saying. To understand what He wants us to do, we must give Him our undivided attention. This is accomplished when we find a quiet place where we can pray, worship, and be still before Him. To those who are not followers of God, this sounds silly, but the ones who cry out for His refining fire to purge their minds and hearts, realize the desire for entertainment can become a snare trap distracting us from our mission.
There is an old saying when a person is easily distracted, someone will say “squirrel!” This means they are like a dog or cat that cannot keep themselves from chasing a squirrel no matter how much the owner tells them to stop. Are we like this with God? I’m reminded of a story about a king who wanted his daughter to be married. There were three suitors and as a test, they were to carry a full cup of water across the banquet hall without spilling a drop. The first contender was booed, and he spilled his cup. The second was cheered, but he also spilled the water. The third man received much screaming from the crowd but he managed to hand the cup to the king without spilling a drop. When asked how he was successful, he said, the others became distracted by the people and took their eyes away from the task. I decided not to listen to anyone and to only focus on the king’s desires.
In our modern world, the Christian tries to live in both the secular and spiritual worlds at the same time and often ends up frustrated and exhausted. It has to do with focus and this is a result of our love. How so? Since we do what we love, we are also serving whom we love. You see, there are only two paths; God’s way and our way. Humans are creatures of priorities and what we do reveals what is important to us. Free will has always been alive and well and was present when Adam and Eve chose to ignore God. We can blame others for our lack of concentration, but in the end, we make our own decisions. Yes, we are influenced by those around us and of course, there is such a person called the devil who has been given the authority to whisper lies and subtle persuasions to lure us away from what God has called us to do. Nonetheless, our carnality and rebellion does not remove the responsibility of a Christian to live in the awareness of God’s presence.
I realize this is fairly straightforward, but in a world where doctrinal corners are being rounded and the truth is being watered down, let us not forget the commitment of our profession of faith includes standing for God no matter how unpopular or uncomfortable. Some might shrug their shoulders and think this level of enthusiasm is for extreme radicals, but may we be reminded that many have willingly sacrificed their lives for their faith. This causes me to wonder if enough evidence could be found to prosecute me. God wants to encourage us today and to remember the same conviction that drew us to Him, is the same stirring we have to serve Him. How else can we prove to God how much we adore Him than to do what He says? Christianity was never supposed to be a one-way relationship where God does everything and we do nothing. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” John 14:15.
I just thought about what I would do if God told me to do something I didn’t want to do. What would you do? Would we do it or would we ignore Him and justify our disobedience as a misunderstanding? Some would say it depends on what it was. Ha! That’s a good one! Do you believe there are consequences for ignoring the Lord? In my last book, I said the meaning of life is to know and love God, but accepting Christ to be our Lord and Master means our dedication to serve Him is constant, not just when we feel like it.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Appreciating every day and every hour
I have a good friend that is seriously ill with late-stage cancer. When he was diagnosed about 2 years ago, he began to write and send a daily text thread to friends about his treatments, how he is doing, the weather, anything associated with astronomy, and a generous amount of philosophical thoughts. His personality is that of a thinker who appreciates the beauty of simple things. As I have read his thoughts and was allowed to see into his soul, it has been such a blessing and encouragement to see the good work that God has been doing in his life. He has gone through a lot more discomfort and challenges than we know. He has always been an optimistic person and now even in his difficult moments, his light of love and hope cannot be hindered. The Bible mentions in Psalm 91:1-2 about finding a secret place with God where nothing or no one can penetrate, disturb, or threaten. It is a refuge where even though the storms may be intense and the violence of spiritual warfare rages all around us; we are safe and at peace in His presence.
When he writes about sitting next to the window in his recliner covered with several layers of blankets, those of us who are constantly on the go can hardly grasp the beauty of being still before God. When he allows us to enter into his world of simplicity with things such as watching the rabbits and squirrels running around the yard doing what they need to do to survive, we see the quiet analogy of how he is doing the same thing. He talks about the neighbor’s dogs and cats and how he imagines their daily routines or things like watching the snowflakes falling and how as a child he loved to try to catch them on his tongue. He often mentions the importance of community and how we need to care about each other and not be consumed with the fast pace of life that we forget to live. Humility, meekness, and an attitude of gratitude help prevent haughtiness from gaining control.
And there is the frequent mention of the trinity as this is a reference to the awareness of God’s Spirit and the passionate desire to be in His will. To me, he is more than a survivor; he is a lighthouse. His lifestyle of sensitivity and compassionate lifestyle has always been a contrast from how the fast-paced world operates, and now that he has opened the door for us to get to know him on a more personal level, it’s the Lord that is reminding us what walking in His Spirit actually means.
It’s fascinating to realize that when we are not feeling any pain and have the energy to do whatever we want, we do not think about what it would be like to be sick. When we hear about those who discover they have a terminal disease, we are sad and say a prayer, then off we go back to our busy lives and the carousel of what we believe is important. It’s when WE receive a serious report that our merry-go-round comes to a stop. If there was ever a time in our lives to take the lantern of self-examination down the path into our soul, it would be then. When the distractions and clutter are removed we can make things right with everyone, especially God. Our perspective changes as our world is now different. Beyond the reality that God is the ultimate authority, this does not mean that we do not have the opportunity to make critical choices. We can allow the feelings of hopelessness and fear to dictate our minds and hold us in depression, or we can see the glass half full and be humble and thankful for all the blessings and good things that God has given to us throughout our lives. Instead of becoming bitter, we could invest our time into interceding for others.
My friend has always loved kayaking and admiring the beauty of God’s nature. He looks forward to going this spring and always includes at the end of his posts that he will see us creek-side. He closes the thread the same way every day by encouraging everyone to find the stillness within God’s grace. His heart sings, he is grateful, and he is always wearing his sunglasses because God’s love and mercy is shining on him so brightly.
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LIVING ON PURPOSE
Maybe we should let someone hold our mule
“Hold my mule” is a figurative expression from the American South that means when a person is leading a mule and they need to go somewhere or do something very important they will ask someone to hold their mule. Sometimes it meant they were going to enter into a confrontation be it a verbal or physical one. Nonetheless, in church settings where the members were not embarrassed to express their emotions, the phrase also meant they were getting ready to get happy and praise the Lord or spend some time at the altar crying out to God. Do churches still have altars?
When it comes to people expressing their worship, I’ve been in a lot of assemblies over the years and witnessed several worship styles. I was raised in a conservative Baptist church where I sang wonderful hymns and later became a worship pastor for more “lively” groups such as Vineyard, Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God churches. I love all styles. I’ve written and recorded several albums of Christian music and wrote a book about worship, but whether we raise our hands or we are more reserved, God knows what we believe in our hearts.
Spiritual music is dear to my heart, and often I feel that God is speaking to me in a song. Powerful emotions well up inside and many times tears will flow as it seems the Lord is embracing me with His love. I will never forget a day back in the 80s, I was driving and listening to the radio when Steve Green began to sing “In God Alone” and I just started weeping. Among many others, I remember another song that is very special in my life and that is, “His blood” by Shirley Caesar. If you’ve never heard these songs, I highly recommend them.
As a young minister, I used a small segment of “His Blood” as the intro for some of my teaching cassette tapes. You do remember cassettes, don’t you? Anyway, if you are familiar with Shirley Caesar’s music, you know that she gives everything she has when she sings. She was known around the world as the First Lady and the Queen of Gospel which included 17 Dove Awards, 10 Grammy’s, 12 Stellar awards, and forty albums. She would always say, “I’m called to be a preacher first, and a singer second.” When you hear her minister, you will know what she’s talking about.
One of Shirley’s songs is called, “Hold My Mule” where she tells a story about an 86-year-old man named John, who joined an ultra-conservative church where everything was dreadfully sophisticated and solemn. From the moment John began attending, his presence disturbed the reserved and comfortable congregation. He was such a positive and encouraging personality and would come in beaming with joy. As the sermon was being preached he would loudly exclaim amen and praise you Jesus with sincere enthusiasm. Everyone raised their eyebrows in disapproval and when the deacons tried to intervene, they could not contain him. I’m reminded of the passage in Luke 19:40 when Jesus spoke out and said if these people keep silent, the stones will cry out in praise.
One day the deacons when to see John dressed in their finest and driving their big fancy car. They found him around back plowing his field with a mule. He saw them coming and said, “I know why you are here, you want me to stop worshiping my Jesus.” They replied, “John we don’t act like that in our church. There are dignitaries and many wealthy and important people in our midst and they have a reputation to protect. If you don’t stop shouting, dancing, and praising we are going ban you from our church.” With tears in his eyes, John said, “Well, then you’re going to have to put me out because I can’t hold my peace. Let me tell you why. Look at all that beautiful land that you just drove through. God gave me that land. Look at my children. God gave these blessings and they all love Him and have never given us any trouble. Look at me, I’m 86 years old. I’m still able to walk behind this old mule and harvest my crops. So, you don’t want me to show Jesus how much I love Him in your church? Here, hold my mule, because I’m gonna sing and dance and shout and give thanks to God right now!”
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Can you hear Him calling for you?
Life is changing all around us. With technology providing an opportunity for every person on the planet to speak and listen, we are surrounded by so many opinions about everything, it’s becoming more difficult to discern what is right and wrong. Not only is this massive amount of information chaotic and much of the time unnecessary, but it has reached a point where many people no longer think for themselves. It’s concerning when individuals become so addicted to the lives of others, they ignore the responsibility to develop a meaningful life of their own.
Some might believe there is no harm in using communication as a constant entertainment, but Christians have been warned to not be consumed with the spirit of the world as evil imaginations will attempt to distract and build strongholds of dark attitudes. Ever since the human race could speak and write thoughts, motives and intentions have been to teach and explain. While a portion of instruction can be beneficial, there is also the danger of receiving contaminated information that comes from the desire to control and deceive. This is the snare trap of our day. Romans 12:2 says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
There is right and wrong, just like there is truth and error. God is always right while we mortals struggle in the quicksand of deception as the result of a lack of spiritual wisdom and understanding. Life contains a specific purpose for each person and it can be discovered, but our earthly journey also gives us the freedom to do whatever we want, and unfortunately, this is what we usually choose. Every minute we are either doing God’s will or our will and they do not agree. I believe we can say with confidence that if a human ever accomplished anything worthwhile; they were being guided under the inspiration and direction of God.
In the book of Philippians the third chapter, we find an analogy that is used to describe how dedicating our lives to Christ is like participating in a marathon. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” We also see this idea of running in II Timothy chapter 4, “I have run my race I have finished my course” and in Hebrews the twelfth chapter, “laying aside every weight of sin as we run with patience the race that is set before us.” This does not sound like the traditional idea of salvation where a person raises their hand, repeats a prayer, and that’s it, but rather the concept of running denotes constant participation and relentless determination to accomplish whatever God is telling us to do.
We have the potential to know the meaning of life and our unique destiny, but generally speaking, we would rather not be bothered with such things. We desire to live to the fullest, have amazing experiences, and enjoy everything we can while we have the chance. However, when confronted about the consequences of making wrong decisions, we become hostile as we dig in our heels. Those who rebel against God become like fugitives that are always on the run. They become very uncomfortable when confronted with anything that reminds them they are going the wrong way. The beautiful thing about God’s amazing grace is that He does not stop intervening and convicting the conscience of those who are His children.
In the book of Luke chapter 15, we find a few parables, and one in particular Christ talks about a man who has 100 sheep. A good shepherd (which represents God), watches over every sheep and never takes their eyes from them. Verse four declares that if the shepherd loses a sheep, he will leave the ninety-nine and go search for the one until he finds it. When the sheep is found he places it on his shoulders and carries it home where he calls his friends and neighbors saying rejoice with me for I have found the one that was lost. Jesus goes on to make the point that there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents and God brings them back to His presence. The Great Shepherd watching over us today but there is a strong temptation by the world to lead us astray. Are you lost? Can you hear Him calling your name?
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Accomplishing God’s will is our purpose
It’s disappointing to God that most people are usually more concerned about what they want in life than asking Him what He requires of them. Since our eyes were opened in the garden, our fleshly nature specializes in the skills of compromising and justifying. Self-deception is common Only a few will take the responsibility to obey Him and get serious about dedicating their lives to being a living sacrifice for Him. Yes, included with the blessings of this life is being accountable.
You might have heard the unpopular verse found in Revelation 3:16 where John relays what Jesus thinks about the church at Laodicea. “So then, because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” We realize parables and analogies are common in the Bible, and without trying to explain the different interpretations of what this verse means, let’s just say that we want our coffee hot and our iced tea, well…cold. Within the context, Jesus is referring to their attitude. In short, He was saying their hearts were in a state of being lackadaisical, apathetic, and lethargic. And, not just this certain group, He is using them as an example of the dangers of backsliding when anyone takes their eyes away from His truth and drifts into the temptations of carnality.
Let us not forget that He is speaking to members of an established Christian church who were supposedly followers of Jesus and His teachings. This letter to Laodicea is the harshest of the seven churches that are mentioned in chapters two and three. There is no beating around the bush on His disappointment and He is warning them about trying to make the Christian life into a comfortable social club. By His judgment of their works, He makes it clear this is a dead church. What does this mean and can it happen today? Definitely. Whenever the members of an assembly see themselves as independent, materialistic, and self-sufficient, they have already slipped into a state of religious indifference.
Jesus continues to be more specific using cutting words such as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Their lukewarm faith had become hypocritical. The lifeless atmosphere of the services, was the result of a lack of enthusiasm and passion for Christ in their minds and hearts. They had become backslidden and maybe there were a number of individuals that had never been converted, and were just pretending to be Christians. It’s not an exciting topic but there is such a thing as People who practice a form of religion, but their conscience is one of self-righteous complacency. They claim to be taking up their cross and following Jesus, but their hearts are unchanged, and their game-playing is sickening to God.
Many of us have been blessed beyond measure, but having daily quiet times where we pray and worship God, can help us remain humble and aware of the holy respect of His presence that is so vital to our intimate relationship with Him. Just because we have resources, does not mean we are to rely on them more than our faith. Instead of being proud of what we have accomplished let us realize that everything we have has been graciously given to us by the one who owns everything. In modern language, God offers us salvation through Christ and this gift of grace allows us to be transformed into a new person. Our spiritual identity goes from being blind and lost, to being filled with hope and joy that we have been rescued to do His will. Changing our mind changes our attitude.
A common defense of being lukewarm is that it does not matter. This is not true! Being backslidden is a big deal. When we lose our sensitivity and no longer feel convicted by the Holy Spirit, we are in serious danger. Becoming spiritually numb causes us to not care how our sin affects those who see it including God Himself. We do not realize the impact our halfhearted attempt of being a follower of Christ has on everyone. If demonstrating God’s character and accomplishing His will is not our purpose, what is? Accepting Christ is not all there is to salvation, it’s just the beginning. It’s an opportunity, a privilege to serve Him. Like Laodicea, the Lord is demanding for us to repent and get back on the straight and narrow. He is long-suffering toward the lukewarm and forgiveness is available today, but we must see our need and call on Him.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Enjoying the comforts of remaining the same
As God continues to move upon the earth, He has never stopped calling His children to be truth seekers, to speak His words, and demonstrate His character. The painful fact is this does not happen automatically. There must be a passion to advance into God and this means the closer we come to Him the more we will become the best version of ourselves.
Most people have never really studied religious history and know very little about why we believe the way we do. The traditions the masses learn about God derive from what they have been told and very few have the desire to research on their own to see if the information is correct. I better stop there before I make too many waves, but one thing we can agree on is that personal transformation is one of the foundational pillars of the Christian faith.
When we watch a baby grow and progress in their learning, we celebrate and rejoice in their development. Likewise, there is no reason to doubt that God feels the same way about our spiritual maturity. Changes within our society and culture are inevitable and it’s easy to look back and remember how life used to be and how technology is always coming up with something new. Remember when we used to go to the movie rental store and used pay phones? When we look in the mirror, we can see that our bodies are slowly changing and unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it. However, there is an area in our lives where change will not happen unless we want it to. We are in control of our spiritual growth.
When we think about God and the spiritual life, it’s relatively easy to construct ideas about the way we believe, and it seems that everyone has private interpretations. We have been given free will to make decisions and we are basically in control of what we think and do. Very few comprehend what it means to surrender their will unto God. We can go to church, sing songs, and even give a few dollars in the offering plate, but no one including God is going to force us to develop an intimate relationship with Him. Christians have been given a new spiritual identity with the capacity to be convicted which is the ability to discern what is right and wrong. However, we can override our guilty conscience by ignoring God, and like a lawyer presenting a case in a courtroom, we can justify our thoughts and actions in the light of intentional self-deception.
There are numerous examples of characters in the Bible who have rebelled against God including His favorite people the Jews, as no human is a robot that He can control. One of the dangers that every child of God faces is compromising with the world’s system which by the way is the easy path and very common among the lukewarm crowd. Only those who have developed an awareness of God’s presence will ever have the faith to stand for His truth. And what is this truth? Well, truth means a lot of different things to many people, but the truth I’m talking about is believing that God is who He says He is. Remember Pilate said to Jesus, “what is truth?” At this hour, this question has never been more urgent. In the preceding verse, Jesus said that He was a king bearing witness to divine truth, and everyone that understands this truth can hear His voice.
I’ve mentioned the comfortable path where we just try to get along with the system without offending anyone, but this is not the way Jesus lived and neither is it the way He wants us to be. The desired path is a commitment to ignore our so-called dignified reputation and declare that obeying Him is our highest priority. When we make this choice, let us be prepared to experience a similar negative reaction that He faced. Taking up our cross and following His demands is not for the faint of heart because it places us on the front line of spiritual warfare. Will we choose the broad or the narrow way? Could it be that our New Year’s resolutions are the result of spiritual conviction? Are we being reminded by the Lord about what He wants us to change? What a perfect time to examine our hearts and dedicate our lives to God more than ever before.