For the Record, Please Include an Upbeat Hymn

I have never been involved in a group-funeral-planning-session with the person whose funeral was being planned. Until that day.

I have never been involved in a group-funeral-planning-session with the person whose funeral was being planned. Until that day.

There I was, seated in a cozy living room…the kind of room where you actually have uninterrupted visits and maybe even engage in profound conversations of life-changing proportions, because there is no television to act as the central attraction, or to detract from what the actual central feature should be in living rooms: people.

I listened mostly, because that is my nature. When it comes to spoken conversation, I have always taken time to process the previous dialogue and reply with measured responses. And this was one of those days when more listening than talking on my part seemed appropriate.

Questions were asked about what main message she wanted preached, which scriptures she wanted shared, and which songs she desired to be sung.

“She” was my aunt. A woman dearly loved by her family and friends. A woman who was admired and adored by all she encountered.

She was clear about wanting the message of having a relationship with Jesus Christ and allowing God to be in charge of judging others, not us, to be at the core of the pastor’s sermon. The scripture she chose coordinated with that message well. And after the funeral, there was agreement that her wishes had been carried out in a way that honored the life she lived and her God.

The music she chose was comforting and touching. During the planning, a question of whether one of the songs was too upbeat was voiced. She is the one who raised that question if I remember correctly. The consensus was that a funeral of someone who served God and was looking forward to spending eternity with Him is a perfect setting for a triumphant, upbeat song to be sung.

I know that expected funeral decorum is that of reverence and respect, but I believe funerals are an opportune time for reminding the living of what our eternal future holds as well. If we accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and relationship, our eternal future will certainly be a place of victory and celebration. Upbeat songs work well in that capacity.

I have a God who loves me beyond description in spite of my doubts, my sin, and my anxiety problem that turns me into a complete mess from time to time. He loves you beyond description too. He sees the potential in us. He placed it there. When we accept Him as our savior, new life in us begins, because His love compels us to want to become more like Him. When my time here is nearing an end, if I am able to be a part of planning the funeral, that is the message I will want communicated to those who gather to remember me. My aunt felt this message was something to sing about. I wholeheartedly agree.

For the record, please include an upbeat song at my funeral.

Gwen Thielges

Read more from Gwen at: gwenthielges.com

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Ready For Some Character Development?

Who is building my character?

Have you ever become interested in a television series after it has already aired for a season or two? And have you then gone back to see the earlier seasons and noticed how different some of the characters seem?

I recently stumbled on an old episode of the television series J.A.G. which originally introduced the NCIS character Abby.  I mention this because I was fascinated to see how much Abby has changed since this introductory episode.  Even if you are not a fan of the show, hang in here with me for a few minutes.

In this original episode she is almost normal, leaning towards Goth, fairly calm, happy, savvy, and sarcastic. She dresses in dark clothes, wears a large necklace, and listens to music while working in her lab. In current episodes of NCIS, Abby is Goth, hyperactive, happy, gullible, and trusts virtually no one outside the immediate team. She dresses primarily in black, wears a spiked dog collar and bracelet, and listens to extremely loud heavy metal music.

What happened? Character development. The scriptwriters wanted to more clearly define this character, so over time Abby changed. Episode by episode, season by season, the actress, the writers, and the directors built her character.

It makes me wonder –

Am I any different today than I was two years ago?

Who is building my character?

2 Peter 1:5-8  is all about character building. “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”   When I look back even a few months I can see the difference in myself.  Day by day, step by step, season by season, I am making every effort to allow the Lord to use His Word and the situations in my life to change and build my character.

Pauly Perrette, the actress playing Abby, could have resisted efforts to change her character and remained the cute but rather dull person in that original episode.  But instead she embraced the challenges of each new script and quickly became a pillar of the show.

I do not want to resist the work God is trying to do on my character. I don’t want to stay the same, I long to grow! I want to be more knowledgeable, more persevering, more loving today than I was yesterday. And it will take new situations and trials to bring that out in me. As well as time spent in His Word. So I choose to embrace the challenge.

What about you? Care to join me in some productive character development?

Shellynne Wucher

Read more from Shellynne at: light4mysteps.wordpress.com

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The First Fantastic Four

followers

“Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” Matthew 4:21

Long before Stan Lee, the comic book craze, and the Big Screen, Jesus called four fishermen. Two sets of brothers to be exact. They weren’t kings, presidents, politicians, attorneys, or priest. They were ordinary men who made their living breaking their backs, as they cleaned their nets.

Peter, his brother Andrew, James whose father was Zebedee and his brother John, were casting those nets into the Sea of Galilee. Jesus found them and gave His one-line elevator pitch: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew singled out the four, and we don’t know why.

Maybe, just maybe, there is a reason. Jesus began His ministry at Galilee, these men were the first four called, and they lived in Galilee, but is there more to it than that?

I think there is. Let me suggest two thoughts:

  1. The CALL of the one line pitch is to Follow Him. That’s universal. From Salvation through Sanctification WE are called to follow. We are NOT leaders we are followers. Somewhere we have mistranslated the call.

Today much more emphasis is placed on leaders than followers. We want followers on Twitter. We want friends on Facebook. But that shouldn’t mean the at we are leaders because we have followers. We are all called to be followers with Jesus as our leader.

  1. Be Fishers of Men. This phrase meant something to them because they were fishermen. They got it. Jesus didn’t use this phrase for Matthew the Tax Collector. It simply means you will help gather more followers (fish) for Me.

This has to with evangelism, but it also means to make disciples. Not every Christian is a great soul winner. However, as Christians use their gifts, soul-winning and discipleship are accomplished through the local church.

These first fantastic four and the rest of the twelve are listed in Matthew 10:2-4. They were commissioned and sent out. They didn’t possess special power before they were called, but they received special power from the One who called them.

Every Christian has been given that power. Are you using it?

Keep Looking Up!

Pastor Rodney

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5 Ways to Wreck Fear

Fear has left its mark on me.

Fear has left its mark on me.

It was how I did life. Most of my decisions were based on fear—not fear of God— but fear of everything. Will anyone be upset if I do this? Will so-and-so be mad at me if I do that? What will my neighbors/friends/relatives think if I do this? Worse yet, what will THEY think? THEY is a very powerful group. THEY have been making life miserable for the rest of us for many years. We need to vote THEY out of power. Why? Because THEY will  keep us from following HIM.

Peter did it.

He finally beat THEY and took back his power.

I’ve been thinking about Peter.

How did he go from a three-Pete denier to the man who stood and preached like his heart was a-fire? Poured-out, filled-up, all-in man of God. I want that.

Let’s look at what happened to Peter in the book of Acts.

Jesus and Peter are having a conversation. Peter declares he is ready to go the mat for Jesus, but Jesus knows better.

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me. […]

58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22

Peter was all talk and no walk. He couldn’t deliver. I have been Peter—fired up at the conference and fast burn on the drive home. But, Peter changed.

How did it happen? How did God wreck fear?

Let’s look at God’s Peter Transformation Plan: From Fearful to Fearless

  1. Spend time weeping. Go back and read Acts 3:62. Just admit it and be done with it. Tell God you have failed, and you need Him to break your heart and put it back together again so it beats only for Him. Ask Him to do whatever it takes so you will fear only Him.
  2. Spend time with Jesus. A lot of time. Peter spent 3 years doing daily life with Jesus. How many hours do we spend each day with Jesus? Perhaps the more accurate question is, How many minutes do we spend each day with Jesus?  If you are serious about change, you’ll be spending serious time with Jesus. Luke 5:11
  3. Spend time in prayer. In the time between the Ascension and Pentecost, Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples spent their time in the Upper Room in prayer. God used extended prayer to change Peter’s heart. Acts 1:14, Acts 4:31
  4. Spend time in fellowship.  Peter did not become fearless by hunkering down by himself in his house.  Effective outspoken Christians are not loners. We need others to encourage, confront and hold us accountable as we walk with Jesus. Acts 1:14, Acts 4:31
  5. Spend time in Scripture. Start at Acts 2:14 and read Peter’s speech to the crowd. How did he know what to say? Hours in the word of God. An Acts 2:14 kind of witness requires time, effort, perseverance and faith.

I have added one more element to this list: fasting. For this Lenten season, I have given up my favorite: Jason’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. Yep. It hurts. But God honors my sacrifice. By the way, I don’t expect to not ever feel fear again. I want to act in faith despite the fear. That’s what I’m talking about.

There we have it. The perfect recipe to wreck fear: prayer, repentance, scripture, fellowship and Jesus. Join me on this journey to wreck fear. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Leave me a comment on our Facebook page about your journey of faith. I’d love to chat with you.

Mary Kane

Read more from Mary at: onlybyprayer.com

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Start Living For God Today

We should stop pretending to love Jesus while inwardly craving other desires.

If God really is who He says He is and heaven and hell actually exist, would you live any differently? Would any of your priorities get rearranged? Would you start seeing this world from a different lens? Would you tell others about Jesus…instead of hemming and hawing around? I often contemplate such questions as I struggle to pull myself from my comfortable, safe, little world.

We should stop pretending to love Jesus while inwardly craving other desires.

Religion apart from God is dead; it is merely an effort to clean our outer shell. Possibly without realization, we are trying to make ourselves look good and fit in with the crowd. Possibly without personal reckoning, we are hoping to feel good about who we are.

God sees through the superfluous and cuts right through to our heart. He is not concerned about fancy new toys or the Who’s Who List of your city.

God is after you.

During the time of Jesus, there were some superficial believers…their names are the Pharisees and Sadducees. They spent their time combating Jesus and playing games as “Goody Two Shoers.” They thought they had all the right answers, convincingly laying down arguments. Jesus sees right through their camaraderie and points out their issue with pride.

This sect of the Jews seemingly were seeking after God, but in reality were self-seeking. They didn’t see their problem with sin, and likewise, didn’t admit their need for a Savior. They thought they knew God because they could rattle off facts. They were full to the brim with head knowledge. We must be careful not to fall

We must be careful not to fall into the same trap…God wants to transform us completely.

A stern warning is given to those who dilly-dally with God. Those who talk the talk, but don’t come close to walking the walk. Those who say they love God, but their lives don’t come close to showing it. In Isaiah 29:13, God says, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”

Church, I think it is time for us to stop pretending.

And church, I think it is time for us to really know God.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:21

To live a surrendered life requires obedience.

To live by faith and fixate our eyes on the heavenly realm requires prayer.  To live this way, I must ___________________________ (fill in the blank). Ask yourself, are you willing to pray, “Father, glorify your name” (John 12:28)?

Start afresh today by making your relationship with God your top priority. Place Him at the center of your life. Honor Him in all that you do. Allow Him to mold and shape you. Living for God means putting ourselves in the passenger seat and allowing God full access to our lives.

Sue Allen

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What Do You Do in Galilee?

followers

“He departed to Galilee…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah…The people who sat is darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” Matthew 4:12-16

Here in Matthew 4:12-16, Jesus started His ministry. It was immediately after His baptism, and then the Bible tells us He began to preach. Jesus ministry began in Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to Capernaum.

Very often the call of God is moving from a place we know into the unknown. It’s a shove of our faith to launch out into the unexpected. Maybe God is moving you from a safe place to a stretch place?

Are you ready?

Whatever the season of life we all start out in Galilee. It’s the first place of ministry. We may not feel prepared but for that place we are. You may not be a polished pastor, a gifted speaker, or a well-worn writer but Galilee is calling you.

Like Jesus, we must go because those folks who are there are either lost (“darkness”) or in the “shadow of death” (maybe of hope) and a new light must dawn. We are the ones who should bring the light of Christ to every ministry God calls us to.

Our text says the people “have seen a great light.” When Saul (Paul) was called, that’s exactly what He saw. However, it’s a humbling call. Paul would later write some of the most beautiful words on God’s call in the Bible:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

He tells them all I know is Jesus, the Great Light. Then Paul says, I was weak, scared, and didn’t have the right words. Been there?

When God calls us to Galilee, Corinth, or the Church in the Wildwood, we just give them Jesus. In our speech, spirit, and especially in our actions. When Jesus is all we know, then the people will see His light in us.

Are you in Galilee?

Keep Looking Up!

Pastor Rodney

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Pondering before Expressing: “Cross-Trained” before Cultured Trained

Jesus' death requires a personal response and there has to be depth beyond social media.

If you visit social media any time soon, you will be met with scenes of the cross, memes of Jesus’ death on that cross, Scripture verses, church sermons and more … I’m thankful for these times I can log on to social media to be met with posts filled up with Truth, aren’t you?

“He died.” This reality of Jesus’ death as a human being keeps playing in my mind. It is a thought I can not seem to pause so instead I continue to ponder. My pondering leads me down a road of personal experiences with death and how instinctive it is to grieve when death becomes the face of someone we love.

Though everyone grieves differently there seems to be some components of it we all share; the taunting and gut wrenching agony of losing the one we loved, the haunting darkness that encompasses that season of life, the knowing the trajectory of our life will never be what it once was. We grieve in this way because we loved them deeply. This type of grief naturally causes the grieving one to ponder up, in their hearts, the significance of that relationship.

Jesus was a human being, a person. We often talk on his love for us and our love for him. Have we pondered up, in our hearts, his death? “Jesus died on the cross to take away the sins of this world” is a truth painted all throughout the Gospels, but do we feel something about it? His death requires a personal response and there has to be depth beyond social media.

Our intimacy with our Savior has to be more than a Facebook status producing a number of “likes”. This man is the Savior and a relationship with him has to pierce our souls to produce everlasting fruit (John 15). It is like being handed a glass of water when you are parched. Instead of taking the water and gulping it down to quench your thirst, you instead walk around showing everyone you have a glass of water. All the while people are looking at you curious and confused, wondering why on earth you aren’t drinking it then!

Our souls are parched and the quenching happens when this grand narrative of Scripture makes a personal collide with our souls. How is this collide going to start kicking up some dust if we are not taking back our right to ponder things up in our hearts before we express them over social media? Furthermore, how do we even know what to express before we have pondered?

Christians dont worship the Bible by any means, but we believe there is tremendous power in it. We believe it is the revelation of God. We read the Bible because we need an encounter with God; we need to hear His words. These days we are always reading words-scrolling Twitter, reading emails, text messages, and the pretty Instagram quotes. We want quick inspiration. Reading Scripture, however, is slower, quieter work. It takes time, patience, and attention, but if were looking to nourish our souls, nothing can compete with it. (Melissa Moore, Entrusted Bible Study by Beth Moore)

If you don’t mind, I’d like to leave you with a charge. Pondering up Scripture is your right, privilege and responsibility as a Christian. You are entrusted with this right to ponder up Jesus’ death on the cross and I can’t help but ask, have you?

I’m going to borrow a term Beth Moore likes to use here  and that’s being “cross-trained”. As Christians, we have to be cross-trained every time we are culture trained. Culture is training us up to share our thoughts long before we have pondered them up, so what does “cross-training” look like for you this Easter season?

Ponder: to weigh in the mind :  appraise. pondered their chances of success, to think about :  reflect on pondered the events of the day, to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply

 

pondering with you,

Maria Bowersock

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You can read more from Maria at: www.awomannamedfree.com

God Will Not Fail You or Forsake You

Throne

“The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.’” Psalm 2:4-6

God is on the throne. Terrorism is not the first war He’s seen! It’s not the first time that nations have rebelled against Him. God says, “You have plans to stop My purposes? You take your stand against Me? That’s funny!”

He judges nations. How? Biblical history teaches that God judges nations through other nations. He judged the wickedness of the Canaanites by sending the Israelites to take the Promised Land.

Later, He judged the wickedness of the Israelites by sending Babylon to carry them to captivity. God judges’ nations through nations.

There God sits as Judge over all the world. He’s perfectly aware that all His purposes and plans, despite all opposition, will be accomplished. Psalm 29:10 says, “He sits as King forever.”

All the uproar in the nations doesn’t threaten His plan.

“Behold, they [the nations] belch forth with their mouth; swords are in their lips, for they say, “Who hears?” But You, O LORD, laugh at them; You scoff at all the nations.” Psalm 59:7-8

God sits and laughs! With all earth in rebellion, God remains seated. He has set in process a plan that cannot fail. While there is wildness on the earth, there is wonderful calm in heaven. But even though God sits, He is not a distant, silent, unconcerned spectator.

After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

We must remember that. The God of all the earth is on our side. The whole world may come against us, but the King of the universe is in our corner.

He will not fail you or forsake you. God Himself, rules and reigns and there is no one who can stop His plan for this world or your life.

Keep Looking Up!

Pastor Rodney

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Waiting in Harmony

f there is one thing we all have in common, it’s that we hate waiting. We despise it. In our fast-paced digital world, waiting is a monotonous waste of time.

If there is one thing we all have in common, it’s that we hate waiting. We despise it. In our fast-paced digital world, waiting is a monotonous waste of time.

And yet right before Jesus ascended to heaven, He told the disciples to stay in town and wait on the Holy Spirit. (See Luke 24:49.) He didn’t tell them exactly where to stay, how long they would be there, or what they should do with their time. Nor did He explain what it would be like when the Holy Spirit came.

He just told them to wait. And then He left His followers behind.

The Waiting

Fifty days. That’s the amount of time between Acts 1 and Acts 2. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but it must have felt like forever to the 120 people who put their lives on hold to wait for the Holy Spirit.

But they didn’t wait passively. During those seven weeks, they

  • prayed continuously
  • ministered to one another
  • shared what they had with those in need
  • loved and prayed for one another
  • told stories of Jesus’ life
  • mourned Jesus’ death and
  • celebrated Jesus’ resurrection.

The Harmony

“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer…” (Acts 1:14 NAS). The KJV states, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication….”

That’s 120 people repeatedly gathering in one room for 50 days. Not fighting. Not panicking. Not seeking their own interests.

They were waiting in “one accord.” The Greek word for this phrase means “with one mind, one accord, one passion.” The expression combines two thoughts, “to rush along” and “in unison.” This creates a musical image, reminding us that a number of different notes must be combined to create a unique harmony.

All of Jesus’ followers were regular people. They had their own backgrounds, emotions, and beliefs about what God was doing. They didn’t check their individuality at the door when they walked into the upper room. But through prayer, they surrendered their own desires and wills to that of Jesus. As they submitted to Him, they were able to live and worship together, in true harmony.

The Results

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1 KJV).

When the big day came….when God showed up in full force…when thousands were gathered together outside… Jesus’ followers were ready! Because a small group of believers chose to be obedient and wait on the Lord, three thousand people were saved that day. And thus the gospel began to spread across the world.

Our Turn

As Christians, we still wait on the Lord. Individually, we wait for Him to give us guidance, for healing, and for loved ones to be saved. As a Church body, we wait for fresh movements, revival, and for the second coming of our King.

The great news is that we now have the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit within us! If we will allow Him to move in our lives and within the Church, He will direct us to Jesus—with one mind, in one accord, and in complete harmony.

If 120 people could start the Christian movement, imagine what the Church can do today!

Holy Spirit, help us to focus on Jesus. As we set our sights on Him, help us to live in harmony with You and with one another.

Ashley L. Jones of BigSisterKnows.com

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A Great Resource

If this topic interests you, I highly recommend the The Centurion’s Wife. This is an excellent fiction book set within the fifty days that occurred between Jesus’ resurrection and the day of Pentecost. It’s the first in the Acts of Faith series by Janette Oke and Davis Bunn.

How Do We Experience Victory?

victory

“And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Romans 6:13

Many believers are not experiencing the victorious Christian life. One reason this is happening is because we still try to run our lives. We fail either by submitting to our flesh or by not yielding ourselves to the Master.

Our verse tells us how to walk in victory.

Present—we either present ourselves to sin or to God. It is the same word as in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

Present yourself. The idea of the surrendered life or yielded life goes completely against our old nature. Our flesh never likes to yield. This is where progressive sanctification comes in. Every day we surrender to the will of the Holy Spirit.

But there is a problem.

A little girl fell out of bed one night and began to cry. Her mother ran into her room picked her up, put her back in bed and asked her little girl, “Honey, why did you fall out of bed?”

The little girl replied, “I think I stayed too close to the place where I got in.”

And that’s why too many fall, get stuck, or never walk in victory. We are staying to close to the world and yielding to our old nature.

Victory only comes when we walk as Jesus walked, completely surrendered, and yielded, presenting ourselves to God every day. Remember He wants us to experience victory.

What does God have for you today?

Keep Looking Up!

Pastor Rodney

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