No Counterfeits In Glory

Most believers are totally unaware that there has ever been a need to be wary of counterfeit worship.

In a world where image trumps character, it’s not unusual to find counterfeits of designer label products being sold as the “real McCoy.” Oftentimes winked at in polite society, counterfeiting offers a way of appearing to live the high-life, when one has to live on a budget.

Fake goods may trouble the average consumer, partly because of the ethical issues; but, safety is a far more serious concern. Often of inferior quality, bogus health and beauty products may actually cause harm. Consumer Reports Magazine notes, “At best these. . . will not perform as well as authentic ones. At worst, they can fail catastrophically with potentially fatal consequences.1” CNN Money notes that annually, $461 billion in counterfeit goods are sold globally.2

That large figure, pales however, in comparison to the very large number of believers, fooled by the greatest counterfeit scheme in the history of humanity. Although bogus as a $3 bill, there is an exercise in counterfeiting that has found acceptance among God’s people. Astonishing, given the Bible’s strong imperative that the redeemed should be capable of “. . . rightly dividing the Word of truth.” Still, most believers are totally unaware that there has ever been a need to be wary of counterfeit worship.

Angel Warning

As we conclude our examination of the three angels’ messages of Revelation chapter 14, we find counsel regarding worship. Understandable, given that worship is the central focus of Lucifer’s rebellion.

That God is worthy of worship is undeniable. Likewise, it is undeniable that Satan/Devil wants our worship, too. Track down his manifesto in Isaiah 14:12-14. Lucifer, as he was then called, wanted to be like the Most High. In Matthew 4:9, 10 the devil attempted to secure the allegiance and worship of Jesus by offering the Lamb of God the riches of the world.

Tracking down the origins of most counterfeit goods in our society may not be possible. Nevertheless, the origin of counterfeit worship is indisputable. It can be traced directly to Satan/Devil.

Obedience at the Heart

In this solemn and dire warning, Revelation 14:9 cautions, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. . .”

The messages of the three angels in Revelation 14 begin and end with a focus on worship, not on the substance of worship, nor on the style of worship. No, this call to worship is unmistakable. We are called to worship the Great God of Heaven, and Him only. Any worship that either disregards the Word of God or that is directed at anyone other than the Lord God, is counterfeit worship.

Furthermore, the angel made a direct correlation between our worship of the Almighty God, and our obedience to the will of God. Think of worship and obedience as the twin escorts, which guide believers into the Kingdom of God.

Read what Paul said about worship and obedience in Romans 6:16. There’s no ambiguity. The one we obey is the one we worship. Choosing to obey the Lord is an act of worship resulting in life everlasting. Choosing obedience to the devil is likewise an act of worship leading to everlasting destruction.

Behind the Scheme

Beware of counterfeit worship and its consequences, which is the essence of the third angel’s message. But, that message goes far beyond merely offering a warning regarding counterfeit worship. It also spells out the penalty this bogus worship system brings to those who follow it. They face suffering the wrath of God being poured out upon them, full strength, without the benefit of either grace or mercy.

The counterfeit system of worship orchestrated by Satan is an attempt to replace God’s commandments with the teachings of men. Rather than worshipping God, on the seventh day, as He commanded, (Exodus 20:8-11) the false system of worship has substituted the first day of the week. The net result is counterfeit worship.

Daily around the globe, consumers unwittingly purchase fake merchandise. Likewise, most believers have unwittingly embraced a counterfeit religious system that owes its authority to the doctrines of men, and not the Word of God.

The third angel warns against counterfeit worship, worship as directed by the beast, which receives its authority from the Dragon. Who is the dragon? Revelation 13:2 identifies him as Satan. Then, who is the beast? The beast is symbolic of a system of worship that finds tradition and human commandments subverting the Ten Commandment law of God.

According to Daniel 7:25 the beast attempted to change God’s law. Ezekiel 22:26 tells us, “Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have put no difference between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.” The only earthly organization claiming the prerogatives to adjust both God’s Ten Commandments and the day of worship is the Papacy.

Can we know which system of worship claims our allegiance? Absolutely. A child of God can know whether they are true worshippers according to the will of God, or partakers of a counterfeit system of worship that will ultimately end in destruction. We can know ourselves. We need but compare ourselves with those the Bible says are truly on the Lord’s side. In Revelation 14:12 we read, “Here is the patience (steadfastness) of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

Real or counterfeit? The choice is ours.

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This article is part of our 2018 September/October Issue
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DONALD L. McPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.




Walk out of Darkness-Emerging from the Shadow of My Son’s Suicide

Raising Awareness, raising money, raising our courage. These are ways we fight the epidemic of suicide.

My intent was to be there at the very beginning and to get involved, since I knew that I was truly ready to face this event. Last year’s Out of the Darkness Walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) was a challenge for me. This challenge was a part of my healing – healing of the wound left by the loss of my one and only son to suicide six years, two months, and seven days ago.

It was important to keep busy doing whatever I could. I fully engaged  by helping to hang the banner by the pavilion, and assisting with setting up booths, snack tables. Everyone was diligently performing their assigned tasks. While we worked I kept hearing discussions about “the tree” that the staff was anxious to set up. They didn’t know if the tree would make it due to the rain. They didn’t know where they would set it up either. This tree was really piquing my interest.

Tree of Lives

Soon, walkers gathered. There were families, who had just lost loved ones, walking around with signs and photos showing the dates of their loss. Some wore shirts with sentiments such as: “Your Life Matters You Will Never Be Forgotten.”

Then I saw a bronze-looking object with pipes of different sizes being unloaded from a truck. This, as it turns out, was to become the tree.  Once the pipes, which were actually the limbs, were assembled to the base, there stood the tree, in spite of the wind and rain.

It became a reality, and the meaning was clearer to me.

We were then directed to the craft table where we could choose stock paper, glitter, markers and colored twine to affix pictures of our loved ones to the tree. Slowly, I chose stock paper in my favorite color (blue) and glued to it the picture of my son when he graduated from the University of Phoenix, at the top of his class with a master’s in International Marketing.

“Yes. I was very proud of him.” Marialyce who lost her son to suicide six years ago poses in front of the tree that keeps standing in spite of the storm and rain.

Say His Name

Yes, I was very proud of him.  My McCants LeVon Carter, born November 13, 1978 was a quiet  child who became more confident after high school. He loved and looked up to his older sister, and was so proud of his two nieces. He insisted that they pursue their education. When his nephew came along later, he was equally proud of him.

He was a lifelong learner. My son loved to read car magazines, and books by Ellen G. White, especially The Great Controversy. He graduated from Bowie State University in 2003, and immediately pursued his MBA.

His love was vibrant, and he surprised his sweetheart of seven years, Meredith, with a proposal on stage at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, Maryland. His proposal took place when they both graduated on the same day, with thousands in attendance. He later married her on his birthday. He loved Meredith and their two daughters.

 

Walk into the Light

It was an emotional moment to see the golden tree which bore pictures of our loved ones, even though I wondered why I was even at this event.

Once the ceremonies began, speakers told of their lost loved ones; some also told of trying to end their own lives. We know that people of all ages, ethnic groups and economic strata commit suicide. In fact, the numbers are higher for suicide than for all the veterans who lost their lives in Vietnam. A recent Washington Post article stated that suicide is a national epidemic, and that it needs to be treated like one. Organizers reminded us that AFSP needs more funding to lower these growing, alarming statistics.

The Walk will occur again, and my plan is to participate, again. Last year I walked the five miles, and met some of the walkers. There was a woman who was walking for her son, who lost his close friend to suicide. She wished her son could have been part of the Walk, and hoped her participation would serve as a vehicle for discussion and encourage her son to open up about his feelings.

If I Can Help Somebody

Overall, there was not much conversation as we were all there to represent the loss and to make a statement about the need for funding from the medical arena and the government. Losing a child is truly a tough journey. My desire is to help others get through this painful journey, which may be avoided by assisting others before they feel the need to take this final step.

Fortunately, I have had occasions to offer assistance to parents and family members by encouraging them that they, too, can make it through this trial. God does not give us what we can handle; God helps us handle what we are given

Find out how you can participate in a walk near you. Here’s one near me:

 




Bill Cosby and Our Fall From Grace

“What?” I shouted, swerving and almost sending my SUV careening into the ditch.

Quickly recovering control of my vehicle and pulled onto the shoulder of the road.

I just there, silent and stunned!

America’s Dad, a worldwide hero, Bill Cosby, imprisoned. He had just been sentenced to three to ten years for drugging and raping a woman!

Once our childhood hero, Bill Cosby’s name was pure gold. Now, his life symbolizes the need for pure connection.

Hero Gone Rogue

Bill Cosby was my childhood hero.  I had grown to love his cartoons, educational shows, audio and his video stand-up routines. Finally, I appreciated his two landmark, culture-shifting shows: “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World”.

Although I deeply loved and respected Bill Cosby, I don’t in any way endorse his criminal acts towards women. My support and love for Bill Cosby are for—were for, rather—the positive childhood memories. The transformational experiences I had were valuable. At one point, the word “Bill Cosby” was pure gold.

However, I can no longer watch, read, or listen to anything to which he is associated. The taint of his heinous crimes against so many women ring in my spiritual ears.

The Original Sin-ner

Spiritually, there was another superstar whose life and existence took a similar and surprising fall from stardom. His was not just worldwide. His stardom and resulting precipitous plummet was the sound heard across the entire universe! Lucifer, originally created by God, to serve Him, one day just got tired and made the decision to fall. God, through His prophet, Isaiah, gives us insight into how and why this happened in Isaiah 14:12-15.

Now you might think that my comparison of Bill Cosby and the devil is inappropriate. Others will likely think “he totally nailed it!”

Embed from Getty Images

No Easy Solutions

My goal is not to make a judgment call about Bill Cosby’s character. And, really, we should all be praying for him, his family as well as the many women and families whose lives he destroyed, but I am comparing the reason why they both fell. In one word that reason would be the reason why we all fall, pride.

The reason why we all fall, just as Lucifer did, ends and begins with sin and pride. “I” being the center of it all.

I’ve heard it said that people who suffer from both pride and sin suffer from an “I” problem. At their core, both words have the letter “I” in the middle of them. Both represent and define someone who is focused only on what they want, prize, and desire —to the exclusion of all others.

Pride’s Antidote

So how do we not give in to selfishness and pride?

Jesus, in speaking with His disciples as a group for the last time, gave them instructions in John 15: 1-11. He basically told them (like nine times) how to stay safe and secure from the sinfulness of selfishness. He pleaded with them. Stay connected to Him. I know that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but even I can’t miss Jesus’s point: if you want to stay saved and safe from sin and all it’s consequences, stay connected to Jesus!

How to Get and Remain?

I recently heard a preacher say, “You can’t remain where you’ve never been.” Once you’ve gotten connected (1 John 1:9), just stay there. No matter what kind of good or bad things happen to you, stay connected to Him. Not to other people or to stuff, but to Him. Many of the things that we’re connected to aren’t bad (Christian/inspirational resources, family, friends), but they’re not Jesus. They can’t give you eternal life. Only Jesus can do that.

God’s Cleaning Secrets

Connecting with Jesus is an all-day thing with me. I’m so messed up that I need to have a living and constant connection with Him. But often, life gets in the way and I’m not able to sit and talk with Him as I want. Therefore, I find that the end of the day is a great time for me to re-connect with Him and basically unload on Him.

In our daily attempts to walk with God, to know and love Him better, to love others as He loves us, we don’t want anything—including us—to get in the way of that. When we knowingly get out of step with Him (Galatians 5:16, 25), we immediately confess our sin, ask Him to forgive us and consciously decide to stop breaking our relationship. It is not unlike sweeping up those things that we can see; but what about those things that we do during the day that we’re not consciously aware of—those things that aren’t so readily visible?

Promise of Power over Pride

The answer is the spiritual disciplines of silence, stillness, confession and repentance. They are a wonderful way to daily renew your mind (Romans 12:1) and spirit and get you focused on experiencing God’s best in your life.

If you do this every day, habitually, day in and day out, I promise you, not only will you be able to stay spiritually connected, but you—and more importantly, God, will like the fact that you won’t fall from His grace.

 

 




MESSAGE Power Weekend in Dallas

Please join us if you can at the MESSAGE MAGAZINE Power weekend for powerful worship, testimonies, wonderful fellowship, food and music.

WHERE:

Click to Download this flyer

First Evangelistic Methodist Church,
7575 South Hampton Road, Dallas, TX

Friday, September 7, 2017, 7 to 9 p.m.
Millennial Café

WHO:

  • Featuring spoken word, music, liturgical dance, mime, etc.
    (local talent)
  • 7:30 p.m.
  • Buffet-prepared by local hospitality team. Our menu
    usually involves veggie meatballs, veggie plate, crackers,
    beverage, cookies.

Sabbath, September 8, 2017
9:30 a.m. Sabbath School Workshops
Open with prayer, music and spoken word. Introduction of the weekend. Attendee instructions, greetings, etc.

  • Andrea Trusty King, “Queen Within”
  • Ronnie Vanderhorst, “Man School”
  • Milton Coronado, “Tagged, a Testimony”

12 p.m. Worship Service-Prayer Power

Message Magazine Giveaway/Rally

  • Dr. Jesse Wilson,
  • Local church teams on program throughout regular
    worship service. (Your Praise team, choir, program
    participants, etc.)
  • Message Magazine spotlight, commitments.

1 p.m. Sabbath Dinner

  • Hosted by local hospitality team.
  • Maybe, Donna Green Goodman to supply desert?

Sabbath Afternoon Workshops

  • 3 p.m. Seven Things You Can Do No to Feel Better Tomorrow! Donna Green Goodman and Edward Goodman
  • 4:30 p.m. Sexual Choices in the New Millennium, Dion and Dylin Henry
  • 6 p.m. Comedienne



Sex Trafficking: Closer Than You Think

Two million people are being trafficked as sex slaves globally. I’ve always heard people talk about modern slavery and assumed it was something happening on the other side of the world.  I felt sorry for the people over there, so I’d pray or sign a petition.  Still, I was more concerned with the problems that were going on here.

Little did I know, sex trafficking has become one of the crimes of choice in urban neighborhoods because of its high return and low risk.  You can sell a bag of drugs once, but you can sell a sex slave repeatedly.

A study on sex trafficking in major U.S. cities reveals two-thirds of traffickers are African American.  Two-thirds of those being trafficked are African American also.  Suddenly, the problem that I thought was a world away was getting closer to home. It was a problem in the black community.

Right in My Neighborhood

I stumbled across a documentary on human trafficking entitled, Teenage $ex 4 $ale.  As I watched it, the camera panned the streets I drove on the way to church.  It showed footage in our neighborhood.  My heart broke as I saw young girls sitting on the curb with panties drooped below their knees and police lights swirling around them. Sex trafficking was not a problem in the community, it was a problem in my community.  It just kept getting closer.

Our church partnered with Rachel’s House of Healing, a shelter for former sex workers.  We held benefit concerts and trainings for human trafficking.  We worked with the ladies and taught classes at the shelter.

What struck me about all of them was that they looked like normal church girls who could be sitting in our pews.  Sometimes, they were sitting in our pews and no one had any idea of what they had been through.  These girls were bursting with potential.  Sure, pain and hurt, bruises and night terrors masked it, but it was there.

Persistent Pimps

We wanted to do more than just help young ladies pick up their lives after they had been trafficked.  No new recruits needed to be pulled into this life.  When we hosted a girl’s conference, where we talked candidly with the girls about their worth, destiny, and God-authored design, we hoped to make a difference.  Afterward we gathered some amazing women and men to write a 40-day devotional, Queen in Me. The book reminded our participants that God designed them with greatness in mind.

The event was an all out success.  We poured into those young ladies.  Educated them. Equipped them.  We closed the door to sex trafficking for a good while, we thought.  And, we did––for four whole days.  Nevertheless, four days later one of our young ladies had been picked up by a pimp.

This was too much. Sex trafficking was no longer in the community or down the street. This problem was staring us right in the face.

It was devastating to the young lady, her family, and to me.  I wept, prayed, and was spitting mad.  How dare the enemy come in our church?  The enemy tried it, but glory to God, he didn’t triumph.  By the grace of God, police found her, and they took a serious pimp off the streets.  We rejoiced in her recovery.

How God Preserved

That incident opened my eyes and I began to see there were others in need of help, right in the pews.  I began to look back over my ministry and realize this wasn’t the first young lady that was pulled into sex trafficking.  It was closer than I ever believed.

I also found out that God was closer too.  Many of those young ladies shared how God kept them alive through their horrible ordeals.  They prayed for God to rescue them. He heard them and miraculously answered their prayer.

Jesus says in John 4:18, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” It’s time for us to open our eyes.  There are people who are hurting around us that need our help and God’s love.  There are young ladies who are so hungry for love and attention.  They are desperate for someone to notice them.  If we don’t, a pimp will be happy to notice them.

Get Involved

Jesus came to set the captives free.  He will use our hands, prayers, and influence.  If you want to be connected with an organization to join in the fight against human trafficking in your area, visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org.  If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

 

 




Deadly Loneliness: “I Just Wanted Someone to Care”

Pull Yourself Out of Isolation

Reach Someone Who is Isolated

Many years ago, I was in the bathtub late one night with tears streaming down my cheeks.  A  strong, overwhelming urge came over me:  just slip further and end my life.

I was a wife, a mother of three small children whom I was homeschooling, and very active in my church. By all accounts, people would describe me as happy, bubbly, and positive. Yet at that point in my life, I never felt more alone and isolated. No one would understand the private pain in my heart, I thought.

Sermons or gentle reprimands about my lagging devotional life would be unhelpful. I wanted peace. My aching heart needed comfort. I wanted someone to care.

Alone in the Crowd

From the beginning, God recognized that we should not be alone. Human to human interaction is important for our well-being (Genesis 2:18). But being lonely is quite different from being alone. Even while surrounded by people, we can still feel lonely. Loneliness is “perceived social isolation, or the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships.” See the work of John Cacioppo, University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience (Fortune, June 6, 2016).

Loneliness can be emotional, such as when we lose the close companionship of someone we desire to be with such as a spouse, sibling, or friend; as well as social, such as when we are lacking a broad social network or group of friends. It can also be self-feeding. A 2010 AARP survey of people 45 years old and older found that respondents who indicated that they were lonely “were less likely to be involved in activities that build social networks,” and this includes attending church, as well as participating in volunteer or community-based activities with other people.

Dangers of Opting Out

Each week, many people opt for digital worship where they tune in to a weekly livestreamed church service as a means of receiving the Word. Jude Boyer-Patrick, medical director for two mental health facilities, Thrive Behavioral Health and BTST, learned from personal experience.  While there are benefits to being able to watch a church service online (as in staying home due to illness), there is definitely a different vibe worshiping on a screen versus being there in the flesh.

“I felt distant, as if viewing from afar,” Boyer-Patrick says. “I found my mind wandering instead of being a real part of the service.” Attending church brings a certain “warmth” to the service that a digital format lacks.

“It’s like taking a coal from the fire and setting it apart—it grows cold.” She also points out that attending church regularly is not an antidote for loneliness, but the loneliness can be more pronounced if you are just attending and not taking an active part in the fellowship

Social Media Blues

Others attempt to reach outside of their loneliness via social media, but some studies have pointed to social media adding to feelings of loneliness. Katherine Hobson of NPR reported (March 3, 2017) that as researchers look more closely at this possibility, they are finding that the connection may be tied to what we actually do on social media, versus social media itself being a culprit.

Browsing through profiles and comments, while not interacting or engaging, can bring about a temporary satisfaction to loneliness because while surfing, you can forget about your own loneliness.  That feeling soon fades, and feelings of loneliness can increase, however.

Deadly Isolation: One study found that loneliness affects the body in much the same way as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Another potential downside with social media (and in interpersonal interactions as well) is the temptation to compare your life to those on social media. The constant display of someone else’s happy selfies, personal achievement, and stories of a vibrant social life can, by comparison, make us feel that our lives are boring and insignificant.

Lonely Headaches

Loneliness can also impact our physical health. The Harvard Study of Adult Development found that loneliness in men is deadly, pointing out the connection between isolation and lack of happiness in people and its effects on brain function and physical health. Additional research shows that lacking social connections affects our heart health, blood pressure, and increases our chance of coronary heart disease, stroke, and death in much the same way as smoking 15 cigarettes a day would.

How Jesus Responded to People Forced into Lonelieness

The woman with the issue of blood as mentioned in Luke 8:43-48 was quarantined from her community of believers and treated as an outcast in society because of her medical condition.

I wonder if her prognosis was exacerbated by her forced isolation. In spite of that, she gathered her courage and was healed by reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Interestingly, the Bible records more instances where Jesus Himself reached out and touched others in the act of healing them (see Matthew 8:2-3; 14-15; 9:25, 29-30; Mark 6:4-6; 7:32-35; 8:22-25; Luke 13:11-13; 22:50-51).

Hey there lonely girl: It will take an act of faith to break out of isolation and go for healing you need.

Jesus can relate to our loneliness. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and He is our High Priest who understands our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).

Give–and Receive–a Healing Touch

There is much to be said about a gentle touch, or a hug from someone—without judgment, condemnation, or scorn—just love, and genuine concern. But it first took me to step out in an act of faith, and go after my healing. I called upon some prayer warriors from my church to pray with me. No questions—just prayer. I sobbed as I lay prostrate in the darkness on my living room floor, with the phone next to my ear; listening to my sisters intercede on my behalf. As a flood of relief washed over me, I knew that I was not alone, and Someone did care.

Later that same night, one of the women who had prayed for me came to my home and sat up all night with me; softly reading from the book of Psalms and rubbing my back until I fell asleep. I don’t know when she left, and she never mentioned it when she saw me in church.

When loneliness knocks at my heart, I remember that it can be a temporary feeling—it doesn’t have to stay. I remember that there is power in prayer; power in God’s Word; and power in the fellowship of godly believers.

“Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” James 4:7,8.

 

 




Five Reasons Jesus Wept

Five Reasons to Love Him All Over Again

When I was little, the verse “Jesus wept” was a favorite verse because it was the easiest to memorize. Now John 11:35 claims its place in my heart as one of my favorites, because it carries concentrated meaning. It’s like the little capsules that power out the dirt from a large load of laundry.

Over the years, I’ve learned five transformative lessons and one piercing question from the shortest verse of the Bible.

Weeping not a sign of weakness

Jesus had a commanding presence. He single-handedly flipped over the money-changers’ tables, opened their money bags and cast their currency to the ground, ran off the animal traders’ livestock, and made these men feel so lucky to get away alive that none of them stopped to pick up their money (see John 2:13–17; Mark 11:15–17). This scene, among many others, refutes the notion of a teddy-bear Messiah that’s sometimes promoted.

If we add other bold men of the Bible, we end up with quite a list of tough guys who shed tears. David, the giant-killing warrior-king, wept. Joseph, who was strong enough to resist sexual temptation during a lonely time of life and had the power to forgive his brothers’ betrayal, wept. Nehemiah, skillful and strong enough to use carpenter tools in one hand and wield a sword in the other, wept. If you’ve ever succumbed to weeping, you’re in strong company.

Weeping is not a denial of faith

Jesus told the twelve disciples that He was going to wake Lazarus. His relaxed tone led the disciples to believe Lazarus was on the mend, not in the grave (John 11:11-15). Jesus was fully aware of His identity, position, mission, and power. He knew that as the author of life He had authority over death; and yet He wept (John 6:39-40 & 10:17-18). Christ’s public prayer at the grave of Lazarus served as an announcement that the Father had already answered His private prayer; and yet He wept (John 11:41-42).

Since Jesus wept while constantly confirming His foreknowledge and abilities, it is impossible for weeping to signify a lack of faith. If Mary and Martha affirmed their faith in the Savior’s power while choking back tears, then we can weep while being faithful (John 11:21-32). Now that we know Christians have liberty to lament, the question still lingers: If weeping isn’t a sign of weakness or lack of faith, then why did Jesus weep?

Jesus wept with His followers

The apostle John encapsulated God’s craving for closeness with His creation when he wrote, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, KJV). The word translated “dwelt” comes from the word for “tabernacle,” or “tent of meeting.” Moses’ tent of meeting was made of things like badger skins, but in Christ, God tabernacled with us in a tent of human flesh.

Emmanuel, “God with us,” could finally feel firsthand what we experience in this world. He rejoiced with those who rejoice when He turned water into wine at a wedding party (John 2). Now He weeps with those who weep on the way to Lazarus’ tomb.

Jesus weeps with and for His followers as well as those who reject Him. One day, He won’t have anyone to weep with.

One day, those sleeping in Jesus will be reunited with those alive in Christ as they rise to meet Him in the clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). When God wipes away all our tears and death has died, Christ won’t have anyone to cry with anymore (Revelation 21:4; 20:14). But as long as “people are destined to die once” (Hebrews 9:27), Jesus will dwell with the grieving and weep with those who weep.

Jesus wept for His followers

Jesus wept for His disciples because He could see ahead to the garden, when their self-sufficiency had them sleeping instead of praying (Mark 14:37–40). He wept for them because they didn’t believe His warnings of how seriously their faith would be shaken (see Luke 22:31; Matthew 26:31). Jesus wept for them because He knew that Judas’ conspiracy with the priests was the final stroke that would cut him off from grace. How He wept for the shame His most vocal spokesman would feel after denying Him three times (Matthew 26:69–75).

In raising Lazarus after he’d been dead four days, Jesus inspired the disciples’ faith, so that they would anticipate Christ’s resurrection on the third day. If they had learned from this miracle, they wouldn’t have been terrified after He was crucified. They wouldn’t have doubted the reports of His resurrection. His heart ached for them, yearning to overcome their skepticism and spare them unnecessary anguish.

Jesus wept for His opponents

Jesus wept and continues to weep for those who reject Him no matter what He says or does. Some who witnessed Lazarus walk out of the tomb hated His influence so much that they would plot to kill Lazarus, the beneficiary of His power (John 12:9–11). They recognized His genuine miracle, but refused every merciful call to repentance and eternal life.

The reasons for the people’s rejection of Christ were as numerous as the voices that would soon be shouting, “Crucify Him!” Leaders saw Him as a threat to the social order and the political ties they had formed with corrupt Roman leaders. Hypocrites sought revenge for the embarrassment suffered when He exposed their sins. Some people were disgusted by His humility in mingling with the poor and untouchables. Others faulted Him for not being radical enough and leading an armed rebellion to overthrow their oppressors.

Whatever their reasons were, they were effectively arguing for their release from His protective custody. ” ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, like a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you refused!’ ” (Luke 13:34, WEB).

Is He weeping with or for us today?

Weeping with us was part of the desire that led our High Priest to dwell with us.

He wept bitterly as He interceded for us on earth and continues to intercede for us in heaven (Hebrews 4:15; 5:7–9; Romans 8:34). Because He has walked in our sandals, the Father has committed all judgment to Jesus (John 5:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Weeping for us grieves the Judge who seeks to pardon, not punish. If anyone is lost, it’s not because the Judge isn’t sympathetic to our situation.

Jesus wept then and weeps now, but won’t weep forever. The question is: What kind of tears is He shedding? Is He weeping with you as your High Priest? Or weeping for you as your Judge?

 




The Samaritan’s Second Coming

 

The Good Samaritan is so popular that he’s crossed over from the Good Book to medical and legal books:

“Good Samaritan laws generally provide basic legal protection for those who assist a person who is injured or in danger. In essence, these laws protect the ‘Good Samaritan’ from liability if unintended consequences result from their assistance. All 50 [U.S.] states and the District of Columbia have some type of Good Samaritan law.” (Emphasis supplied)

Not only are protections offered to Good Samaritans, but in some cases, there might be legal consequences for people that don’t offer help:

“A person is not obligated by law to do first aid in most [U.S.] states. . . However, some states will consider it an act of negligence though, if a person doesn’t at least call for help.”

Who was the original Good Samaritan that inspired so many modern laws?

Let’s read about him for ourselves

Luke 10:30-36, God’s Word:

Jesus replied, “A man went from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way robbers stripped him, beat him, and left him for dead.

“By chance, a priest was traveling along that road. When he saw the man, he went around him and continued on his way. Then a Levite came to that place. When he saw the man, he, too, went around him and continued on his way.

“But a Samaritan, as he was traveling along, came across the man. When the Samaritan saw him, he felt sorry for the man, went to him, and cleaned and bandaged his wounds. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day the Samaritan took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. He told the innkeeper, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than that, I’ll pay you on my return trip.’

“Of these three men, who do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by robbers?”

The expert said, “The one who was kind enough to help him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and imitate his example!”

What do Samaritans look like today?

Interesting who Jesus chose to be the “good guy.” Who are the overlooked Samaritans today?

We can’t afford to miss the irony of the Samaritan being the good guy. Who would be the equivalent of a 21st century Samaritan in America? Perhaps Yemenis, Syrians, Haitians, or Guatemalans? Of course, scorning and suspecting African Americans never seems to go out of style. Even when working in helping professions, black uniformed firemen have to produce ID for bystanders to prove they’re not burglars. Some view African Americans as such a menace that they call for police intervention on our 8 year-old girls for selling cold water on a hot day!

The point is that whoever we look down on in our society is the kind of person Jesus propped up as the model neighbor for us to emulate, but it goes deeper than that!

MLK’s Key to a Deeper Meaning

In a 1955 sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  criticized the “The One-Sided Approach of the Good Samaritan.” He stated we must not be content with “patching things up,” but we also need “tear down unjust conditions and build anew.” This was a frequent theme in his preaching.

In his 1962 sermon, “On Being a Good Neighbor,” Dr. King admonished:

Martin Luther King Jr., on being a true Good Samaritan: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. . . It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

“It is not enough to aid a wounded man on the Jericho road; it is also necessary to change the conditions which make robbery possible. Philanthropy is marvelous, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the need for working to remove the circumstances of economic injustice which make the work of philanthropy necessary.”

In his 1967 sermon, “A Time to Break Silence,” King warned:

“One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. . . It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Was King right? Did Jesus’ model neighbor have a deficient, one-sided approach? Or have we overlooked some aspects of the Samaritan’s plan?

The Samaritan’s Wholistic Plan

The Samaritan Promised to Return

“Take care of him. If you spend more than that, I’ll pay you on my return trip.” The Samaritan didn’t tell the innkeeper the day or the hour of his return, but promised to come back. This hotel owner was given an assignment to house and heal a penniless stranger for an unlimited period of time. How will this affect his business plan? What will the other customers think? How much personal and professional time would this take? What if the thugs who beat this man up come looking for more? Most importantly, can the innkeeper trust the Samaritan to return?

The Samaritan Promised to Repay

“Take care of him. If you spend more than that, I’ll pay you on my return trip.” The Samaritan gave a broad command, with no spending limit in sight. Did the hotel owner have confidence the Samaritan had the ability and the integrity to repay? If he really trusts the Samaritan to repay any expenses, will he seek to create a profit margin by cutting corners in caring for his guest? If he truly believes the Samaritan’s promises, then is the innkeeper actually sacrificing anything for coming out of pocket? Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his good deed.”

The Samaritan Prompted Rehabilitation

The Samaritan wasn’t merely a philanthropist. He became an advocate by calling upon the innkeeper to dedicate his time and resources to help relieve the suffering. He entrusted the innkeeper with the ultimate stewardship – a human life. The well-being of this roadside casualty was now in the hands of the hotel owner.

The Samaritan’s promise to return and repay provoked an expectation. The innkeeper was a man of influence, who surely had conversations with other influencers about his mission to restore his new friend to wholeness. He probably appealed to his peers in government and business about the need to eliminate the repetitious episodes of roadside robberies. When they asked, “Why should we be concerned?” He responded, “Because the Samaritan is concerned.” When they argued, “We can’t afford it!” He confidently replied, “Don’t worry. The Samaritan can.”

Doesn’t this Samaritan sound familiar?

Jesus put himself in this parable to identify with the marginalized. Critics sought to insult Him by calling him a Samaritan – basically equating being a Samaritan with being demon-possessed (John 8:48). Instead of seeking to save his reputation by distancing himself from the disinherited, Jesus embraced their slur and transformed it. He proved that we can break the molds others press us into and promote new perspectives for our own lives.

By becoming the Samaritan in the parable, Jesus humbles his critics. They’re called to honor “the other” if they seek to be honored by God. By putting Himself in a story showing what a true neighbor looks like, He also shows what a true follower of His looks like. True followers of Jesus, future citizens of His kingdom, aren’t determined by nationality, race, social status, mistakes, or misfortune.

Rebuilding Jericho Road

Following His example, Christ’s true followers are willing to take on demeaning labels as they help people in need and advocate on their behalf. They – we – I, must remember that when we spend ourselves for others, our efforts will be repaid when He returns. We must also be mindful that the Jericho roads of this world won’t be permanently and perfectly torn down and built anew until the Samaritan’s Second Coming.




Hood Proud Introduces “Sermonic Flow.” Take a Listen

What would it sound like if your preacher could rap? What would it sound like if a rapper could preach? Take a listen to Hood Proud, and you will know.

 

Bradley Tramel and Orlando Boyd form the nucleus of the Hood Proud, a sermonizing, rap group from the Washington D.C. area. Tramel, is a Program Analyst for the United States Department of Energy, while Boyd works as a professional landscaper. Their jobs don’t stand in the way of what they know to be a Spirit-led ministry. They believe the Holy Spirit led them to each other and continues to inspire and move in them.

“Truth is our group is composed of men and women that the Holy Spirit chose based on His unique knowledge of everyone’s heart and mindset towards doing ministry,” Tramel told Message.

Hear how they flow here:

Grace and Mercy

Understatement

Tramel also believes in the Spirit-led, hand-picked collaboration with the rest of the group, including members Lamar Parker, Nathaniel Douglas, Nicole Jacques, and Damon Hill. And, they all credit the divine influence on their friend Frank Dent who, in 2014, shared the idea God gave him. “God gave him [the vision] of the organization doing both outreach and ministry for the youth and impoverished communities worldwide.

What is It?

Hood Proud: Bradley Tramel and Orlando Boyd hope to always move by the Spirit and inspire a generation of young people worldwide.

“Sermonic Flow” encompasses rap, spoken word, and poetry, said Tramel.  “We’ll hear the beat and the Spirit will move as to which form of communication will be used. We flow with the Spirit, hence Sermonic Flow.”

Tramel hunts beats on Soundcloud, and can sense its fit for specific members of the group, including himself.

“I’ll send them the track and the Holy Spirit gives them what to say just as He does with me,” Tramel said.

Until recently, they were working with “a very generic form” of software and equipment. Tramel engineers the track and lyrics by the insights the Holy Spirit gives him.  Recently, they recorded in a studio and Hood Proud is working on a release.

“By Yah’s grace that will continue.”

Hood Proud has enjoyed a positive reception, and have started to receive requests for CDs and live performances. Neither Tramel and Boyd had performance ambitions before this, and they still feel a little sheepish at the prospect, but, in the spirit of ministry, if someone receives a blessing through the Sermonic Flow, they are happy to be used.

New releases of the groups tracks can be found online for free, because members believe the ministry should be free for all. While they know they will encounter costs, realistically, “[W]e leave that in Yah’s hands as He will provide all of our needs.”

You can find Hood Proud on Soundcloud.  

 




What? A Day of Rejoicing?

Readiness and Relationship Creates Blessed Anticipation

When I was a kid growing up in Florida, I remember the shock of being told that my grandmother was coming to visit from Puerto Rico. The sickening feelings I had in the pit of my stomach were akin to having a stomach flu, taking a test unprepared, or the worst of the worst: turning on the TV only to find out that the President was on . . . on all three channels!

Why did I feel this way? Simply because I didn’t know my grandmother the way my mother did. I perceived her visit as drudgery and a fate worse than death! It was something that I had to endure with gritted teeth, counting the days, not until she arrived, but until she left.

I remember my mother spending copious amounts of time speaking with my grandmother on the phone and writing her weekly 20- and 30-page letters, front and back, about everything that was happening in our family’s life. She spent hours looking over and organizing old photographs of her family and fondly reminiscing about her childhood experiences and her family.

Counting the Weeks as Days

Seeing the relationship they had, I guess I can understand why my mother was super-excited. As the time grew closer for my grandmother to arrive, my mother would almost levitate with joy. She would pull out our big family calendar in the kitchen and happily and hummingly (yes, I made that word up) mark the days off one by one.

As the days ticked down, she busied herself in deep and frenetic housecleaning, researching my grandmother’s favorite recipes, pulling out old photo books, and generally making everything perfect for my grandmother’s arrival.

Finally, the day came to pick up my grandmother from the airport. Mom made sure we were extra-clean and presentable—ugh, we even had to wear church clothes! As my mom got to the baggage claim area, she didn’t stop there. Oh, no, she kept on going until we were the very first ones lined up right outside the gate where my grandmother was to exit.

Over the Top Reunion

My brothers and I always got a kick out of seeing my mom’s giddiness and excitement as she waited. While we waited with her, she would regale us with tales of her childhood growing up in Puerto Rico.

Finally, the gate door would swing open, and among the thronging sea of heads, my mom would spot my grandmother. Predictably, my mother would abandon what was left of her already fleeting dignity by screaming out like a schoolgirl. My grandmother in response would also inappropriately scream out; then there would be many tears of joy, hugs, kisses, and lots of squeezing–painful squeezing.

Grandmother and Jesus

OK, maybe I exaggerated, but not much. You get the idea, don’t you? My mother knew, loved, and cherished my grandmother. When told she would be seeing her face-to-face, she just couldn’t contain her excitement and joy.

So why, when hit between the eyes with the reality that Jesus is coming back very soon, do so many people have apathetic, apprehensive, anxious, conflicted, or fearful responses? Many times I get outright “I don’t want Jesus to come” reactions.

Let me be more specific: I’ve been getting those responses from a lot of Christians! This is a big problem! Such reactions are to be expected from others, but shouldn’t we as Christians be excited, joyful, and even come a little unhinged with wild-eyed, frothy-mouthed enthusiasm that Jesus is clearly coming soon, in person, to see us?

Instead, I hear things like: “I don’t want Him to come . . . because I haven’t gotten married, had kids, gotten my first full-time job, gone to college.” The reasons are endless. Now, I’m not trying to be rude or act like I’m “Super Christian Man” or anything, but usually I just respond to their verbalizations with my mouth open. I mean, what am I supposed to say?

It’s Who You Know That Counts

Satan has fooled many Christians into thinking that what’s happening here and now on this broken-down earth is all there is. But it isn’t! The Apostle John warns us:

Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father. The world and the desires it causes are disappearing. But if we obey God, we will live forever” (1 John 2:15-17, CEV).

You see, having a real relationship with Jesus is an “either-or” proposition; you can’t have it both ways.

Is it possible that those responses to Jesus’ coming are akin to my response to being told that my grandmother was coming to visit? Is it possible that there are many Christians who not only aren’t prepared for Jesus to come, but don’t really want Him to return because they simply don’t know Him?

Tale of Two Peoples

Jesus spoke very clearly about this issue in Matthew 25, the chapter following His specific description of what events would happen prior to His return (see Matthew 24). In Luke 21, there is an alternate account of what Jesus told His disciples about the signs of His return. Take note of what the stark difference in response will be between those who know and don’t know Him:

People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (vss. 26-28, NIV, emphasis mine).

Jesus clearly didn’t intend for His followers to wait in fear and dread for His return! In fact, after telling His disciples that He wouldn’t be with them anymore, He reassured them with these words that I think we need to hear today: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:1, 27, NIV). And Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, reminds us that “[God] will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isa. 26:3, NIV).

Holding Hands

When I was a kid I was extremely afraid of the dark, but when I held my daddy’s hand, I wasn’t afraid at all. Monsters could jump out at me from the shadows and it wouldn’t faze me, because I knew the one who knew me, and he had my back. The same holds true for Christians who know Jesus. Their response to what’s presently happening in the world will be dictated by who’s holding their hand.

So let me ask you a question: Who’s holding your hand? I hope it’s Jesus, because if it isn’t, you won’t be able to get through any of what’s happening now or what’s to come.

The Apostle Peter, who initially threw Jesus under the bus, finally got his act together and got serious about knowing, loving, and living Jesus. When he did, he decided to write to Christians and remind us of the reality of what is to come:

My dear friends . . . I have written to encourage you to do some honest thinking. [I love it!] I don’t want you to forget what God’s prophets said would happen. . . . The day of the Lord’s return will surprise us like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a loud noise, and the heat will melt the whole universe. . . . Everything will be destroyed. So you should serve and honor God by the way you live. You should look forward to the day when God judges everyone, and you should try to make it come soon. [WHAT?!] On that day the heavens will be destroyed by fire, and everything else will melt in the heat. But God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, where justice will rule. We are really looking forward to that! My friends, while you are waiting, you should make certain that the Lord finds you pure, spotless, and living at peace\ (2 Peter 3:1-14, CEV, emphasis mine).

Please Come Soon!

So after reading that, how are you doing? Starting to feel some conviction? I sure am. Peter takes aim with both barrels and rightly readjusts both our perspectives and our paradigms. He says that not only should we be excited about Jesus’ return!

In Revelation 21, the second-to-last chapter of the last book of the Bible, the Apostle John, banished to the island of Patmos for sharing his faith, reminds us of Jesus’ soon return. He doesn’t want us to get so bogged down, so broken down, so discouraged, or so distracted that we forget that Jesus is coming soon!

John gives us this incredible description of what heaven will be like: “God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever” (vss. 3, 4, CEV). John gives a resounding reminder that not only will we be living with God but we “will see him face to face” (Revelation 22:4, CEV).

What About You?

So let me ask you a question: As you live your life, read the paper, watch the news, and witness all the things that have been prophesied happening before your very eyes, what is your response? Do you truly know Jesus? Are you excited, hopeful, and eager for Jesus to return? I certainly hope so.

When given those specific visions of what was to come, John’s response was what I hope yours and mine will be. Six simple but powerfully hopeful words: “So, Lord Jesus, please come soon!” (Rev. 22:20, CEV, emphasis mine).