Dead To The World: Destruction And Dysfunction We Just Won’t Miss

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 5:4; Romans 6:11

sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number six of 12: “We are now ready for God to give us new characters that reflect that of His Son’s.”

Most of us hate death! If you scour a Facebook timeline at any given time, you are likely to see the hashtag ‪#‎cancersucks‬. This is just one example of the hue and cry against the convicted murderer called cancer who has ripped so many families apart. People are fed up and exhausted by death and cancer is one of the chief culprits.

A friend of mine shared that she was sad due to a loss in her family. She talked about wanting to be “strong” for her loved ones by not crying around them, especially not at the funeral. I told her that sadness is natural at these times. God did not create us to be separated from each other through death. Death is an evil with which we must contend now, but will meet its own demise a thousand years after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. At that time, there will be no more death, sorrow, or pain. Sin, the grave, and death will be cast into the lake of fire that will burn with brimstone. But until then, we will mourn when people die, and God will provide comfort in our times of need.

I don’t know if you realize this or not, but oftentimes we mourn the loss of things we should be happy are dead. For example, some of you have been locked up in dysfunctional or abusive relationships for years. When that abusive man or sexually unfaithful woman decided he or she just could not stomach being another day in a relationship with you and left, you cried real tears. Despite the fact that your lover demonstrated disrespect for the God who lives in you, and by whom you are called, you were chained in your mind to that relationship. When it died abruptly, you mourned. Dry your tears and rejoice! That sort of relationship does not lead you closer to eternity with God. Good riddance.

Some of you are mourning because you are not as desirable a companion to longtime friends after you received Christ into your life. When they go to the bar, they no longer call you to ask if you want to go. When they go on vacations to enjoy the most opulent casinos in the world, they don’t look for you. When they go out to be wined and dined for a night out on the town, you are no longer on speed dial. They go without you. Dry your tears! Do not mourn the death of that aspect of your relationships. Yes, you should want to have their companionship if you miss them. But your new focus is leading them to experience your newfound relationship with God so they, too, can be delivered from eternal death. Do you see where I am going with this?

There are times in our lives that we should welcome death! And before you misunderstand my point, I am not talking about being suicidal, reckless, or having a death wish. I am saying that we should welcome the fact that just as Jesus miraculously died the second death in our stead (that is, eternal separation from God—the penalty for sin), we can die to sin. By faith in Jesus, we can die to sinful desires, addictions, and soul-destroying habits and relationships. If we choose to surrender our lives to Him, to be empowered to do His will, we should rejoice that we can be dead indeed unto sin.

But wait; there’s more! We not only have the privilege to revel in our death to sin but also in our life unto righteousness. Just as Jesus miraculously took His life back from the tomb the Sunday immediately following His crucifixion (He said that He would lay down His life, and He would take it back again), He is miraculously giving people all over the world new lives of righteousness. He is releasing people overcome with pride, greed, drunkenness, rage, laziness, and violence from their tombs. They are, we are, dying to sin and being raised to live according to God’s plan.

So commemorate the day you chose to allow God to crucify your evil character and be thankful for the opportunity to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. This is a necessary, blessed step on your road to recovery from sin.

Conscience Cleared And Ready

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: “Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more:” (Amos 7:7–8).

sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number five of 12: “We confessed to God, and when necessary, to people we have offended, the exact nature of our offenses.”

Is your life plumb with the Word of God?

I admit that this is an unusual question. Unless you are a tradesperson, the odds are that you have not even used the word plumb lately, mush less, in this context. But it’s a valid question nonetheless.

As my wife and I prepared for sleep last night, she asked me whether I was sure I had confessed all my sins. It was clear to me that she was working through the process of confession in her mind and how we know whether our sin record is clear from day to day. I told her that I have developed a habit (more so recently) of talking to God all throughout the day about our relationship and my sins. There are times that God reveals when I have sinned, and I talk to Him about it immediately. There are other times that I am wondering if there is some nuance in what I said or did that may have crossed the line. I don’t leave that up to chance because I want to live in harmony with Him at all times. This should be the desire of all believers, but I am particularly sensitive because I am a servant leader who has been entrusted with the responsibility of helping others stay connected to God. There are emergencies and crises of faith that come about suddenly, and it would be a shame if my unrepentance got in the way of helping someone through their crisis. We need to live as ready at all times to be of service to those who want a connection with God but are struggling to have it.

Imagine making an emergency services call because your house is on fire; your father is having a heart attack, or armed assailants are staging a break-in at your home. What if the line were busy? What if the dispatcher did pick up an asked you to call back in 15 minutes so she could see if any paramedics, police officers, or fire fighters were awake and their vehicles are gassed up? How would that make you feel? What if one of those whose job it was to be ready in case of emergency said that they needed to read a 30-page manual and get back to you? What would be the outcome?

The truth is that so many of us are not prepared for emergencies. What if we died suddenly and had no time for deathbed confessions? What if a friend needs prayer because they are being oppressed by evil angels as in Mark chapter five and literally destroying them? What if a loved one is headed down the wrong path and they need someone to intercede for them every day until they come to their spiritual senses? If we choose to continue to sin without remorse and let time pass before we confess our sins to God and accept His power to live according to His holy principles, the consequences are dire.

open bibleYou may wonder how we are to know when and how to confess our sins. By what measure do we determine our next move? What is the plumb line or tool to measure how straight our lives are? Here are a few verses for your consideration: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4). “All unrighteousness is sin…” (1 John 5:17a). Here’s one more: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 1:8–2:4).

The principle standard of righteousness is God’s commandments. The Ten Commandments reveal right and wrong for those who are willing to see. In fact, the Bible says, “…I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Romans 7:7b). We do not need to grope around in darkness wondering when we have done right or wrong. We have the blessed Holy Spirit who brings sin and righteousness awareness to our minds according to the Bible plumb line (John 16:1-13). He also provides the power we need to do God’s will.

I ask again: Is your life plumb with the Word of God? If not, now is the time to accept God’s invitation to live in harmony with Him. Do not let another moment pass before you do. There is far too much at stake.

When Confession Is Humiliating

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 38

sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number five of 12: “We confessed to God, and when necessary, to people we have offended, the exact nature of our offenses.”

Talk about scandal! If you want to read riveting stories of the worst humanity has to offer, look no further than the Bible. You don’t need to burn time watching contrivances on television thought up for your entertainment and little in the way of redeeming value. At least in the Bible, we can learn through God’s inspiration, how to overcome our evil character traits.

The storyline from today’s Scripture reading is too sordid and has too many twists and turns for me to summarize for you here. Be sure to read it for yourself. Suffice it to say; things got complicated, really fast. The deception, sexual indiscretion, betrayal, and surprises all point to the fact that we need to submit ourselves to God before we self-destruct!

There are times we find ourselves in complicated situations that seem too embarrassing to rectify. This may have happened to you. You may have committed a crime, and the security camera footage was flashed on the news, and it’s time to turn yourself in. You thought you got away, but you didn’t. You may have birthed a child for a man who is not your husband and the resemblance to his best friend is uncanny. You should have been faithful to your husband, but you allowed a moment of passion to rule you and life just got more complicated. It’s time to come clean. You may have lied about your employment history, which netted you the job of a lifetime and one of your staffers congratulates you for out matching her. You got the job, and she didn’t even though she was the one qualified for the position. It’s time for you to confess and step down.

Confession of sin and wrongdoing is not fun. Confession can be a very humiliating experience to be sure. But the Bible says that if we confess our sins, God will faithfully forgive and cleanse us from all our evil. We should be specific and speak openly with no dodgy descriptions of our offenses and let God help us face the consequences. If we ever hope to recover from sin, we must let go of our guilt, shame, and secrets so God can deliver us. We can trust God through the process and no matter what happens, if we choose honesty over deception, He will see us through.

Keep The Horse In Front Of The Cart-How To Have Spiritual Success

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Friday, May 13, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: James 4:7

sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number three of 12: “We have decided to submit our wills and lives wholeheartedly to God.”

Have you ever heard the phrase, “They’ve put the cart before the horse?” This is an instructive phrase. I am uncertain of its origin and first use. It is probably safe to say that it was not intended to be spiritual, although it does communicate an essential principle. Let us keep our priorities in order; first things first.

What good is a horse that is intended to draw a cart of passengers if, instead of it being in the front pulling the cart, it is in the rear? How likely is it that the cart would reach its destination? In our walk with God, it is important to keep Him first. He is the One, who has the power to draw us in the right direction.

Many conscientious people have made up in their minds that they will be successful spiritually, no matter the cost. Many of them strive unto blood to resist sin. One problem is that they appear haggard and more. A checklist of dos and don’ts is their focus. It is true, to keep our minds free from lust, we should not watch perverted movies. It is true that we should do our best to resist evil thoughts. It is true that we should help the poor and afflicted. Is it possible that all of these true things could still be displaced? Could it be that in conscientious service to God, we could be putting the cart before the horse?

The Lord intends for us to live pure and holy lives. The key to such an existence is not so much related to mere striving and behavior modification as it is being submissive to Him. The only way to prosper and be holy is to put God first, not good habits. It is when we are humble before God that we can please Him. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The reward and victory comes in seeking God, not resisting the devil. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

When we are submitted fully to God we are cooperating with Him, and then He is able to effect lasting change in our lives.

Prince Part 2: Subtle Heart Indicators

The late rock star was spiritually conflicted about his legacy. That authenticity drew some unlikely fans.

Speculation about how Prince died has gotten so intense that even the DEA has joined the investigation into his death. Many will undoubtedly be skeptical of the tabloid accusations. So far though, no one is disputing the stories about Prince’s spiritual transformation from a profane sexual libertine to the man who once gave a four-hour Biblical lecture to singer Bilal, rapper Common and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots.

Thompson shared a story with NPR’s Terry Gross that captures the dynamic tension between who Prince had been and who he had become. “We’re at Paisley Park (Prince’s home/studio complex), and maybe I let the s-word slip,” Thompson said, referencing a commonly used expletive. “And he was like ‘yeah, that’ll be a dollar’.”

At that point, Prince grabbed one of those water jugs that some people use to save coins and bills. He was using it as a “cuss jar.”

“Actually, you’re rich,” Thompson said Prince said to him. “That’s $20. No cursing.”

“Cursing?” Thompson said he replied. “Wait. You’re the one that taught me how to curse.”

As Prince fans know, his earlier work contained enough profanity and explicit sexual references that it drew the ire of Tipper Gore, ex-wife of former U.S. Senator and Vice-President Al Gore. Ms. Gore, who had purchased Purple Rain for her then 11-year-old daughter, was outraged by some of its content and launched a crusade to mandate warning labels for albums with adult-oriented material. Thompson said that Prince seemed bothered by the idea that his music had influenced Thompson to use profanity.

“I saw the look on his face,” the hip-hop drummer recalled. In Thompson’s opinion, this discomfort – guilt, maybe? – motivated Prince to become the secret philanthropist that only a few knew him to be. “Saving schools,” Thompson said. “I mean, people to this day not knowing where this $3 million check came from. That was all him. I felt like maybe in the last 20 years of his life he felt the need to over-compensate or pay forward – that maybe he damaged some of us who grew up listening to his music.”

Political commentator Van Jones also knew about Prince’s quiet charity. He said the artist supported Green For All, an organization that creates environmentally sound jobs in poor communities. Prince also supported #YesWeCode, which teaches inner-city youth about technology. “The truth is that you’re either here to enlighten or discourage,” he told an MTV interviewer in 1999. By this time, Prince had begun Bible studies with legendary bassist Larry Graham, who is a Jehovah’s Witness.

electric heart
Duality: How did fans–Christian ones–reconcile lyrics and lifestyle with an artist who was engaged in spiritual and natural struggle?

Graham’s initial fame came from his stint with Sly and the Family Stone and then his own band Graham Central Station. By 1999, Prince had recruited him to join his New Power Generation band. He and Prince grew so close that Graham began calling him “baby brother.” “Larry has been so kind as to help me with a lot of things that I didn’t have quite a firm grip on,” Prince told a Dutch television interviewer in 1999. “There’s a lot of temptation out in the world. And it can confuse you and get you wrapped up in something that keeps you from the truth, but with a loving brother like that by your side you usually do alright.”

“Kudos to Larry Graham for reaching out,” said David Thomas of Take 6, a long-time Prince fan. “And to other people who reached out when they sensed there was a struggle there, and actually became brothers in Christ that reached out to Prince.” Thomas told Message that Take 6 and Prince crossed paths several times through the years. One of their most memorable encounters for Thomas was when the group was in Los Angeles to perform with Stevie Wonder for the 2001 broadcast “America: A Tribute to Heroes.”

Prince, who has cited Wonder as a role model, invited Take 6 and Wonder to join him later at his club Glam Slam in L.A. “If Prince invites me to his club, I’m going,” Thomas said. When he and his wife Marla got there, they were ushered into the VIP area at the side of the stage. Prince was already on stage, playing guitar and jamming with his band.

“As soon as he sees that I walked in, he immediately switches over to start playing ‘Mary, Don’t You Weep’,” Thomas recalled. “It was a seamless transition. And he was playing it more in a blues style.” The whole band joined in as Prince played and sang the Take 6 staple. It was confirmation for Thomas that Prince was a fan. Anyone who has been to a Take 6 concert in recent years has seen the section where the group, widely known for its gospel repertoire, pays tribute to their secular musical influences. That’s when Thomas, who sings the fourth tenor part in the sextet, goes to the piano and sings a Prince song.

Thomas first heard Prince as a child, but he had to hide his interest in the artist. “My parents didn’t let me listen to that kind of music,” he said. So he would go out and buy Prince albums without their knowledge. At first, Thomas was drawn to the uniqueness of the rhythm of Prince’s arrangements, the melody of the songs and the raw passion of his performances.

As he got older, he and his friends began to discuss the challenge of reconciling Prince’s explicit lyrics with their Christian faith. “What I found in Prince’s music is sort of a duality,” Thomas said. “There are times when he is speaking profoundly Christian messages in some songs, and there’s some times when he’s not. That kind of resonated with me as well. There are times when I feel more connected in the Spirit, and there are times when I don’t, when I’m struggling.

“Kudos to Larry Graham for reaching out,” said David Thomas of Take 6, a long-time Prince fan. “And to other people who reached out when they sensed there was a struggle there.”

“And it’s very strange to me that when we see people struggling that we tend to judge, versus trying to figure out what they’re struggling with.”

While many are uncomfortable with or even offended by the raw nature of Prince’s older material, Thomas believes that Christian music should strive for that level of authenticity. He pointed to the imprecatory psalms, also known as the “cursing psalms”, as examples of harsh, real feelings being expressed in a spiritual context.

  • “Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave.”Psalm 55:15
  • “O God, break the teeth in their mouths.” Psalm 58:6

“I was raised in a Christian family,” Thomas said. “Everybody’s not always happy. Things are not always honkey-dorey just because you’re a Christian.”

During the Dutch television interview, Prince was asked what he considers his “destination” to be, since he once said that the more songs he writes, the closer he gets to it. His answer reflected an awareness of, and appreciation for, the dynamics of his own spiritual journey. “I would say complete oneness with the Spirit of God,” Prince said. “And a knowledge of the truth.”

Paisley Prince art by Michelle Paccione/Shutterstock

Call On God’s Authority To Break Free

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, May 9, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalms 61

sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number three of 12: “We have decided to submit our wills and lives wholeheartedly to God.”

I can attest to the fact that God’s ears are attentive to the prayers of those who love Him. He is ready, willing and available to answer us when we call. The problem is that too many of us neglect to call upon Him. Too many of us put God last on our to-do lists.

Let me tell you a story. I was at a meeting with church leaders this past Saturday night. After several minutes, there was a knock at the door. It was one of our elders (servant leaders who support pastors in facilitating relationship with God among the membership). He said that there were two people down in the sanctuary who were thought to have medical emergencies, but it was evident that they were being oppressed by evil angels (as in Mark 5). They were not sick. So, a group of us armored up, prayed and confessed our sins to God, so we could intervene under the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the authority of Jesus.

To make and incredibly long story short, it was true. These two people were under the direct oppression of evil angels. I will not say all that happened, but suffice it to say, as we all prayed, read Scripture, and sang holy songs in the Sanctuary with them, when it was my time to anoint and pray over one of them, I did so in the spirit of Psalm 61.

I asked the Lord to hear my cry to Him. My heart was overwhelmed as I called on His name for assistance. I spoke of the fact that we already knew that He loves them. Jesus gave His blood for them. I spoke of the fact that we were in His house, and in the memory of the future King David’s disdain for the evil Philistine giant taunting the people of God, I asked God why He was allowing such a thing in His house. I asked Him where we had gone wrong and like Daniel and Isaiah confessed whatever could have been our part. I asked Him to be jealous over His honor and to get glory in the situation by breaking the yoke and set that captive free. I knew (we all did) that there was safety under God’s wings of protection. We had full faith and assurance that God wanted to deliver those dear ones to be in control of themselves. I asked the Lord to forgive them for whatever they had done, which may have created a foothold in their lives for the enemy to take over. I asked Him to teach them to love Him and serve Him. In the spirit of verse seven, I asked Him to protect and reign over them. I could not hear what the other team of elders were saying with the other person, but I am sure it was very similar. We love and believe in the same God.

I am delighted to report to you that God came through. (What did you think would happen?) He delivered those two people whom He loves so dearly. He manifested His pleasure in giving people the opportunity to know Him and live eternally without the devil forcing them to do his evil bidding. The key to their deliverance was the authority of King Jesus who has repeatedly defeated the devil on many fronts, God’s people (in this case a few leaders) making certain that we were in full submission to Him ourselves before we even attempted to step on that battlefield, and simply asking God to do what we already knew He wanted to do.

If you want to have victory in your life, ask God to teach you whole life submission to Him.

Guess what else I asked God to do? In the spirit of verse eight, I asked Him to teach those folks to praise Him for His goodness to them and to serve Him. Whenever God is so gracious to condescend to help us, we must be certain to thank and praise Him. I don’t know how many of us realize this, but God is very busy. He has a universe to run. He is kind enough to attend to our needs and some of our wants too.

If you want to have victory in your life, ask God to teach you whole life submission to Him and make the following verses your life’s motto: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9).

If God could deliver those dear children of His from this terrible ordeal, what in your life is too difficult for Him? Nothing.

Recovery Principle: Submitting Through Trials And Correction

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: Isaiah 54:4-8
sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number three of 12: “We have decided to submit our wills and lives wholeheartedly to God.”

I admit that some of us Christians behave as though we can do no wrong, which is evident in the way some of us find fault with people before we lend a helping hand. Don’t get me wrong, those who love God must help people who are consistently doing things God does not approve, but if we are to be effective, we must take our cues from Jesus. He always called sin by its name. He never sugar-coated it just to make people feel better. He knew that to shroud the facts would be detrimental to those living outside God’s will. The key, however, was to help people see the error of their ways as He empowered them to live holy lives.

When hypocritical leaders heartlessly dragged a woman caught in the act of adultery into the temple, Jesus did identify that she sinned, but He also empowered her to turn from it, rather than to condemn her to hell. She had a choice to either accept His love and power or reject it. The leaders chose to reject His grace and hold on to their hypocrisy to their detriment.

I know a prominent pastor whose story is the embodiment of our theme verses. At what may have been considered the apex of his career as a church leader, he found himself in a world of trouble. For some time, he engaged in sins that became public and devastated many who looked on. People were unable to reconcile the fact that he was such a powerful man of God and that he engaged in such activity. He had led so many people to right relationship with God. He had trained so many leaders for service. He was a great family man and a lover of all things holy, yet he fell prey to evil desires.

Pastor with umbrella
“For a small moment have I forsaken thee; But with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; But with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, Saith the LORD thy Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8).

He had a decision to make. Would he wallow in self-pity and turn his back on God forever or would he accept the consequences of his actions, invest time in righting his wrongs, and emerge from the experience a more refined believer than ever before? I am pleased to report that he chose the latter. I met him and spent lots of time with him over the years since then and his story of triumph in the Spirit is nothing short of remarkable. What I discovered was that his favorite text had become: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; But with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; But with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, Saith the LORD thy Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8).

Like Israel of old to whom this referred, this man experienced the incredible love of God. He experienced the pain and shame of having deviated from God’s path for a time. Like Israel, He felt the loneliness of exile when some colleagues and so-called friends wrote him off as though his sins were more egregious than theirs and that he could scarcely be recovered from his fault. He experienced the pain of feeling forsaken by God, but in mercy, our heavenly Father gathered this gentleman under His banner of protection. God gave this man of God the gift of repentance and has made his ministry more fruitful than it had ever been before. And many people have learned how to submit their lives to God even through their roughest, most embarrassing trials.

His story is an encouragement to me. If I did not already know that God loved me and could deliver me from any problem or sin, I certainly found out as I experienced this man’s living testimony. God taught him submission. He can teach you too!

Choose Life

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Sabbath, May 7, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number three of 12: “We have decided to submit our wills and lives wholeheartedly to God.”

While not all of us have been addicted to drugs or alcohol, all of us have been addicted, at some time or another, to sin. We each have exercised our free wills and made conscious decisions to serve ourselves, to serve sin. We may have harbored unforgiving feelings, had the love of money, doubted God’s love for us, or harbored some secret habit that seemed it would never loosen its grip.

The blessing is that as easily as we have become addicted to sin, God can give us new minds so we can become fixated on life. When we surrender our thought lives to God and allow Him to take complete control of us, we learn to choose life over death. We learn that there is no temptation God has neglected to give us the power to overcome. We learn that there is no infraction, big or small, that others can commit against us that we will not forgive. We learn that choosing life over death is not merely about overcoming bad habits, but finally being able to see or God for the loving, gentle Father He is. We finally learn the utter futility of pursuing fleeting earthly pleasures and embrace the blessing of eternal life with all the saints and our God, who gave all so we could choose life.

Recovery Principle: U-Turns Permitted

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Thursday, April 28, 2016

Today’s Scripture Focus: Acts 9:1-9

sin recovery planWe are focusing on sin recovery principle number one of 12: “We admit that we are powerless against sin and thus we cannot manage our lives without God’s miraculous intervention.”

Do you see the light? Have you ever been on one path in life and suddenly something so pivotal happened that it changed your life forever?

Saul’s story of God accepting U-turns is amazing. He was on a mission with one clear outcome in view—havoc. He thought he was in control. He had very specific plans laid. He had an idea of how things should be. And he marched steadily toward his goal. But God arrested that situation. This is how good God is. There are many times we think we understand life and are marching steadily toward destruction, but God will intervene and arrest our attention. He might use sickness, our feelings towards the death of a loved one, loss of employment, or a marital breakup as a catalyst to get our attention. It is often when we are most vulnerable that we become the most receptive.

Saul has a direct encounter with God, gets blinded, knocked of his (high) horse, and startled. The one who was bullheaded and completely off-course was now humbled and receptive. God introduced Himself to Saul in a way that he could understand. A powerful man like Saul needed to experience the One who could nullify his bravado. The blessing is, that as Jesus spoke to Saul, and spoke directly to his issue, Saul’s heart instantly became pliable. God can work with even the roughest of us if we just press pause and become pliable. In his wounded state, Saul was transformed to become one of the most powerful soldiers for the kingdom of God the world has ever seen.

What’s your story? Are you living in opposition to God right now? Is there some area of your life you’ve not submitted to Him? Has He been arranging your circumstances to get your attention? Have you been listening or running the opposite direction? God welcomes U-turns.

Maybe you are already a friend of God, but you still try to live as a co-pilot in your life, rather than allowing God to fully take over the controls. Yes, God does want our cooperation, but we need to just let Him fly the plane. And when we do, we are guaranteed to arrive at our destination safely.

Whether we are God’s friends or not right now, I realize it’s extremely difficult to admit we are not as powerful as we once thought. However, if Saul, a well-educated and decorated enemy of God could surrender his heart, there is no reason we can’t. Jesus is on His way. He’s coming back to take people who love Him to heaven for a thousand year vacation while He prepares to recreate our home, the earth made new. It would be a shame if what stands between us and eternal life is a simple decision to surrender under the power of His Spirit. God allows U-turns. Turn to Him today and follow Him for the rest of your life.

Prince: Were There Signs Of A Struggle?

The Artist Formerly Known As Risque Rock Star Had Spiritual Questions

Editor’s Note: The story of Prince Rodgers Nelson is a baffling example of contradiction. When he died unexpectedly last week, the news resurrected old questions: how does someone who grew up in a conservative Christian denomination and later practice a surprisingly devout lifestyle turn out like him? Considering the continuum of religious experience, it should not be a surprise says writer David Person, who is working on the next article about Prince. He’s looking for first-hand anecdotes. Got any? Write us:


L.A. Reid, chairman and CEO of Epic Records, told what may be the most compelling story about Prince, the rock/funk legend who died on April 21. Reid was being interviewed the next day on CBS’s This Morning show when he referenced the artist’s 1984 hit “Let’s Go Crazy,” which has this line: “And if the elevator tries to bring you down/Go crazy, punch a higher floor.”

Reid then recounted what he said was a portion of a private conversation he and Prince had. “You know what the elevator is right?” Reid said Prince asked him. “The elevator is the devil.” Reid said he found it “haunting” that Prince was found dead in an elevator in his own home. And for many, that is the highlight of Reid’s story. But they may be missing a more interesting insight into the controversial artist who was born Prince Rodgers Nelson.

Here are the opening lines to “Let’s Go Crazy”: “Dearly beloved/We are gathered here today/To get through this thing called life/Electric word life/It means forever and that’s a mighty long time/But I’m here to tell you/There’s something else/The after world/A world of never ending happiness/You can always see the sun, day or night.”


prince papers 2Was Prince, in his own way, exploring existential, spiritual, perhaps even religious ideas, in the song? And if the elevator in the song symbolized the devil trying to bring a person down, could the advice to “go crazy, punch a higher floor” also been a spiritual suggestion? It seems more likely than not, especially in light of Prince’s more obvious explorations of political, spiritual and even overtly Christian themes over the course of his 39 studio albums. The rock star who made his name with such sexually-charged hits as 1979’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and 1980’s “Darling Nickki” later released the socially-conscious, electro-funk hit “Sign O’ The Times” and the overtly Christian rock anthem “The Cross,” both in 1987 – as well as 2004’s “Cinnamon Girl,” a politically-charged defense of Muslims, and 2015’s “Baltimore,” a tribute to Freddy Gray, the man who died in police custody.

“Prince’s music was informed by his spirituality, but most important, his religion,” said Dr. Darrell Ezell, director for Interfaith Action and the Center for Religion, Culture, and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University. “A lot of people thought that Prince personified party, that Prince personified celebration. But Prince was transformation.”

Some have called him a “modern day Mozart,” a comparison that must rankle classical music purists. But for most, it was not just his prolific proficiency as a songwriter or virtuoso guitar solos that defined Prince. It also was his unabashed sexuality, unapologetic androgyny and occasional blasphemy that made him a star.

Prince grew up a religious child. He was raised Seventh-day Adventist and would attend the Glendale SDA Church with his grandmother. His dramatic, provocative transformation into a risqué sex symbol must have been a shock to many who knew him back then. His conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness faith must have been just as surprising to the legions of fans who had embraced his joyful flaunting of religious and societal traditions. The Associated Press was the first news outlet to report Prince’s newfound faith in 2001, which he had revealed in an interview with Gotham magazine.

“He often mentioned in his writings and even interviews that he struggled with comprehending and understanding the world, and the two worlds that exist, the sacred and the secular.”

“When I look at the violence, I wonder where the parents are, but also where is God in their lives?” Prince told Gotham. “A kid is an open computer ready for programming. Some weird relationships happen, smoking too early and sex.” But as early as 1987, it was clear that Prince had more on his artistic mind than sex.

“With that song ‘Sign O’ the Times’ in particular, the brother was calling out major issues taking place in the world in 1987,” Ezell told Message. “Sign O’ The Times,” first verse: “In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name/By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same/At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun/Is being in a gang called ‘The Disciples’/High on crack and totin’ a machine gun.”

Ezell believes that Prince had been looking for spiritual answers for years and his art reflected this. “He often mentioned in his writings and even interviews that he struggled with comprehending and understanding the world,” Ezell said. “And the two worlds that exist, the sacred and the secular. So how do you co-exist in the middle, and make both audiences feel ok in doing so?

“I think that what Prince did was he incorporated his religious convictions into the secular, pop music world.” Longtime Prince guitarist Dez Dickerson suggested something similar to Touré, author of the 2013 book “I Would Die 4 U.”

“There’s maybe three Prince personas,” Dickerson told Touré. “One of them is a very calculated marketing mind. That’s where the ’embodying pure sex’ thing comes from. Another of them is ‘I’m gonna be the baddest musician there ever was.’ “And then there’s the guy who really is thoughtful and introspective and holds religious considerations close to his heart and ponders those questions sincerely and genuinely and deeply. And those are the three guys who, over the years, have vied for the microphone.”