CLASSICS

Say not, poor Christian, “It is impossible to bear this affliction, or pass that temptation.” Let faith follow the promise, and God will loose these knots that sense and reason tie. Luther bids, crucifige illud verbum, quare? [or] Crucify that word, wherefore? Obey the command, and ask not a reason why God enjoins it. It is as necessary to bid the Christian, in great afflictions and temptations, to crucify the word quomodo? [which means] How shall I go through this trouble, hold out in that assault?

Away with this “How shall I?” Hath not the great God who is faithful given thee promises enough to ease thy heart of these needless fears and cares, in that He tells thee, “He will never leave thee nor forsake thee, His grace shall be sufficient for thee”? Nothing “shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And a hundred more as comfortable assurances from the lip of truth to stand betwixt thee and all harm. Why then dost thou trouble thyself about this improbability and that mountainous difficulty that sense and carnal reason heave up and interpose to eclipse thy comfort from thy approaching deliverance?

“Shut the windows, and the house will be light,” as the Jewish proverb saith. Judge not by sense, but by faith in an omnipotent God; and these bugbears will not scare thee.

Let faith follow the promise, and God will loose these knots that sense and reason tie.

The Christian in Complete Armor, 1865

By William Gurnall

The Reading Disciple

By: Chelsea Swain

Forgiveness. You can pray for it. You can yearn for it. You can seek it. But how do you know that you have truly forgiven someone with all of your heart? It is not something that can be done simply with words. It is something that must be a spiritual work done in your heart with the help of God.

We all know that wounds do not often heal overnight, and some wounds are certainly deeper than others. These take time and need proper care and attention. Deep wounds, if not cared for properly, could become infected and in turn infect your entire body. Likewise, do not let your unforgiveness infect your whole body and make you bitter. Give it to God. Pray about it, continually, and God will change your heart. In giving our heavenly Father control of our lives and allowing Him to take care of our healing we find that He is willing to help bear even our deepest pains.

For the multitude of sins we have committed, God could have given up on us long ago. Instead, God chose to love us, to wait, to be a gentleman, and forgive us when we turn to Him. If the God of the universe can pardon our sins, how much more should we pardon the sins of others? Ephesians 4:32 instructs us to “Be kind to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”  And Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

To be sure that we are seeking spiritual healing and nourishment, we must be connected to the true Vine, Jesus Christ (John 15:5), and through seeking His Kingdom first forgiveness will abound and God will transform your heart and renew your mind so that you can move on to what He has for you. Here are a few reading suggestions to help you stay connected to our Father:reccomend-read

I am a huge fan of Joyce Meyer. I love how her words are so convicting and not condemning, yet also powerful and motivating. In her book Anxious For Nothing she encourages readers to trust fully on God and seek His Kingdom and His will above all else. Meyer reminds us of the sound counsel found in Matthew 6:34, “Do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own troubles.” This is a familiar passage we often quickly forget.

Another great point Meyer shares is that when we find ourselves in a state of frustration, we are probably trying to do God’s work for Him. As followers of Christ, we need to be spiritually mature and seek Gods will before our own (James 4:15). We do this by staying connected to God through an active prayer life and also through personal communication and fellowship with other believers. When we are patient we will see that God is faithful.

Another book I would recommend is The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller. Whether you are married or single this is an amazing read. Keller states that, “Marriage is not about personal fulfillment. It was created to be a reflection on the human level of our ultimate love relationship and union with the Lord. It is a sign and a foretaste of the future Kingdom of God” (p 14). I love this because so many people today marry with the attitude of “what’s in it for me” and wait in expectancy with a consumeristic mindset.

However, being married for several years now, I think we can all agree that a mindset like this will not lead to a lasting marriage. Keller also discusses how marriage today is idolized in movies and in the media. This “dream marriage” is portrayed so much that people find themselves comparing or seeking that truly false ideal. He says that marriage helps spouses become their future selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship (p 151). In addition, Keller focuses on the roles of a husband and a wife and even speaks about the “gift of singleness.” Check out his book for a deeper understanding on marriage and how it affects our walk with the Lord.

Do you ever open up your Bible and feel overwhelmed with what to read? Unsure of where to start? YouVersion.com may be a great resource for you! YouVersion contains the entire Bible in many different versions and it is free. I have it on my Iphone, Nook, and can access it, of course, on my PC. I have access no matter where I am!

Specific reading plans of multiple durations and topics are available. You will find over 144 devotional plans, including Learning Spiritual Discipline, Growing Patience, and Talking with God in Prayer. There are topical Bible plans, partial Bible, whole Bible, youth and family plans. Each day you can have a specific reading from the Bible to help you stay connected with God.

I am currently working on the Bible-in-a-Year Plan and thoroughly enjoying God’s Word and learning more about Him! The Bible is the living Word and it should be a very important part of our daily life.

Another wonderful feature of YouVersion is that if you fall behind on your reading, you do not have to give up on it. You can simply “catch up” to where you currently are and keep on moving forward and seeking God’s face.

Friends, I urge you to stay connected to our Father, Our Creator. Put Him first in your life and seek His Kingdom above all else. I encourage you to enjoy these books and resources and I pray they would help you in your walk with the Lord.

recommended-read-bio

 

 

Chelsea Swain is a disciple of Christ. She is married to Steve Swain and they have two beautiful daughters and a baby boy on the way.

The Power of Forgiveness, The Doom of Remorse

Consider the vastly different ends to the lives of Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.  Both were hung on trees, but only one of them was hung (and crucified head-down) for Christ’s sake.

As one of the Twelve, Judas would have known Jesus and His teachings intimately, witnessing firsthand the unfolding of His ministry of love, self-sacrifice, and revelation.  Though Jesus foreknew Judas’ betrayal, His choice of Judas as one of the Twelve was not tainted with failure, it is simply a formidable example of Jesus allowing anyone, along with their imperfections (no matter how severe), the opportunity to follow Him.

Despite Judas’ penchant to pursue his own will (ultimately to his doom) he was offered and afforded numerous occasions to repent, and though his final doom was an inevitability so that Scripture would be fulfilled (John 13:18) there is also Scriptural proof that Judas’ own free will was not violated1.  Moreover, his wretched choices were made even after being advised and warned of his evil intentions and ill fate.

This brings us to the question of Judas’ damnation or salvation.  Matthew 27:3-5 reveals that when he saw Jesus being taken to Pilate, Judas regretted his betrayal, but he did not repent.  And his immediate actions indicate that he remained unsaved from damnation, for in his guilt he returns the blood money he had accepted and then hangs himself.  He never asks for mercy or to be forgiven.  Such is the conduct of a despairing guilt-ridden conscience and anguishing spirit, not a renewed conscience and forgiven spirit.  Even Judas’ admission “I have sinned” is not a confession to faith, it is merely an accurate observation.  Also, during one of Jesus’ prayers to His Father He refers to Judas as “the son of perdition” (John17:12), meaning one who is headed toward destruction and personal ruin.  Although His prayer was prophetic in nature, Jesus’ foreknowledge did not rob Judas of his self-determination- Judas’ own actions continually confirmed his own rebellion.

In contrast to Judas there is Simon Peter, who chose to pursue Christ in spite of his own obstinacy.  Peter discerns early in his discipleship that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, but stumbles habitually through being directly influenced by Satan and rebuking Jesus, denying any association with Jesus, cutting off the ear of a high priest’s servant, and failing to watch and pray during Jesus’ most critical hour of need2.

Yet where Judas failed, Peter excelled in that he placed his faith in the Person of Christ rather than in himself or an ideal.  And Peter never lost sight of Who Jesus was or the salvation Jesus offered, humbly owning his personal flaws and striving to grow in Christ’s grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18)3.  Herein, Peter remained free of the shackles of remorse.  In the fullness of his time, the apostle Peter accomplished his mission for the Kingdom and gave his life by taking up his own cross and dying upon it.

We each have a cross to bear as we follow Jesus Christ, and though we may not be crucified upon our “crosses” we must surely crucify our flesh daily and entreat the Spirit to empower us to also fulfill the Law, by loving God and loving others.  Jesus’ spiritual authority was in direct proportion to His intimacy with the Father, thus our spiritual authority will be in direct proportion to our intimacy with Jesus…

Endnotes:

  1. John 6:70-71; 13:10-11, 18, 21-27; Matt. 26:25, 50
  2. John 6:68-69; Matt. 16:22-23; 26:69-75; John 18:10; Mark 14:37-42
  3. Acts 2:14-41; 3:1-10; 1 Peter 4:1-2

 

  • Jpower-of-forgivenesson Birch is cofounder of Recover Church, a discipleship-driven movement purposing to recover and promote the early church model as recorded in the book of Acts where Christ, close relationships, and discipleship-apologeticswere the pillars of Christianity. He is also the author of Simplifying the Complex.

    For more information visit veritasunum.org.

 

Forgiveness is Not Optional

Candy Abbott

“Pray for me to be able to forgive my husband,” Kitty confided as she took a seat in a chair that our Sisters in Christ affectionately call “The Lord’s Lap.” Two other prayer partners and I stood over her. “Pray for my attitude,” Kitty added as we gently laid our hands on her head and shoulders.

Words formed in my Spirit, and I sensed a prophetic message coming—something new to me. When I opened my mouth to repeat what my spirit heard, my own voice startled me. It came out loud and authoritative—a booming, amplified sound—that originated not from my mind but from the very depths of my being. I was as eager to learn the profound truth I was about to utter as Kitty must have been. The message came haltingly, one word or phrase at a time, and I spoke it as it came:

“Forgiveness.”

“Is not.”

“A nice thing.”

What? I could barely breathe. That makes no sense!

During the pregnant pause while I stood there feeling like a fool with “Forgiveness is not a nice thing” hanging in the air, rather than interject some flimsy explanation of my own, I waited. The women waited. And then the Lord formed the remaining words in my spirit:

“. . . It is required of all who call themselves My children.”

I can’t speak for Kitty, but those words changed my life. Since that day, I began to see forgiveness as mandatory, not something I could take or leave based on how heavy or light the offense. Over the years, I have learned to forgive quickly and thoroughly, which is so freeing! People can say and do horrendous things, but the pain they inflict, intentional or unintentional, has no hold on me. Forgiveness breaks its power. To nurse a grievance and rehash it only serves to keep me stirred up and in bondage. Some things are easier to relinquish than others. On occasion, I may still wallow in the injustice for a few days—but the sooner I forgive, the sooner I am able to go on my merry way, unencumbered.

I had the privilege of working with a man known for his positive influence and ability to get things done. For two decades, I enjoyed working side-by-side with him. But then he changed. He suffered multiple health problems and nearly died. After surviving emergency surgery, he had a miraculous recovery and returned to work. But instead of his optimistic self, my co-workers and I quickly realized his personality had become, well, tyrannical. Critical and demanding, I felt the brunt of his verbal abuse day-in and day-out. So, every day, I had the choice to let his remarks wound me and keep score of the incidents—or forgive him often and thoroughly. After all, there would be more the next day, and the day after that. I couldn’t afford to let these things consume me or I would become bitter and tied up in knots . . . and what kind of Christian witness would that be?

Other co-workers felt the sting, too, and looked to me as an emotional barometer. “How is he today?” “How do you do it—how do you stay so relaxed and cheerful when it’s like walking on egg shells around here?”

I’d say things like, “Forgive is an action verb.” I put this and other positive sayings on cards and kept them in my desk drawer for quick reference. On occasion, I handed them out.

Never have I been so dependent on my Bible. In clinging to it, I discovered that I couldn’t forgive by my own determination. For it to be authentic, I had to be connected to the Vine and let the Lord do the forgiving in and through me (see John 15:5).

I prayed the Fruit of the Spirit for my co-worker (see Galatians 5:22-23). Every day for one week, I would ask the Lord to grow “love” in him . . . the next week, “joy” . . . the next week, “peace” . . . “patience,” etc. There seemed to be fewer incidents during those weeks—my co-worker seemed less confrontational. Others commented that the atmosphere had changed. Whether God was working in my co-worker, I can’t say, but by exhibiting these qualities, the Holy Spirit impacted my own attitude and perspective. If insults or barbs came my way, I practiced letting them roll off. After a while, these things no longer penetrated my peace of mind. It became “normal” for me to not take offense.

My co-worker didn’t ask to be this way. I doubt if he even knew how his behavior affected those around him. But even if he were the kind of person who took pride in being annoying and cantankerous, it wouldn’t make any difference. We all have faults and needs. I read something once that has stayed with me: “People who are the most obnoxious are the ones who need love the most.”

Seven Things to Keep in Mind When Dealing with a Difficult Person:

  1. Commit to forgive. If you are a child of God, forgiveness is not optional, nor is it easy. But it is beneficial. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).
  2. Forgive quickly. Don’t let the hurt and anger fester or you will be in bondage, giving power to others’ negative words or actions. “If you are angry, do not let it become sin. Get over your anger before the day is finished” (Ephesians 4:6 NLV).
  3. Stay in your Bible. Get a red-letter edition, and read the words of Jesus. Savor them. Let them breathe life and peace into you as you embrace the very mind of Christ. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had” (Romans 15:5 NIV).
  4. Pray for those who irritate or torment you. Nothing will help you flip the switch from anger to compassion faster than praying blessings on those you’d rather smack in the face. Take it to the Lord in prayer. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44 NIV).
  5. Be kind. If it doesn’t come naturally to show kindness to a mean-spirited person, think in terms of killing him or her with kindness. When we practice forgiveness, we preach without words. The tone you set may even serve as a catalyst that will inspire other someone else to forgive. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).
  6. Remember, it’s not about you. Forgiveness is not about you and your emotional pain. It’s about God’s sacrificial love and your willingness to apply His example to your life. As a child of God, you are required to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [yourself], not looking to your own interests but . . . to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).
  7. Forgive in God’s strength, not your own. To forgive as far as east is from west, you’ll need divine intervention. Connect to Christ at a root level, and let Him do the work. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:5, 10 NIV).

seasoned-with-salt

Candy Abbott is an author, publisher, inspirational speaker, and grandmom. But most of all, she sees herself as a “fruitbearer” as it is her life’s goal to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in all that she does. She began writing in 1983, around the same time she co-founded Sisters in Christ. Candy is a charter member of Southern Delaware Toastmasters, elder and deacon at the Georgetown Presbyterian Church, director of the annual Fruitbearer conference, founder of Delmarva Christian Writers’ Fellowship, and president of the Delaware Association of American Mothers. She and her husband Drew own and operate Fruitbearer Publishing, LLC. They have three children and four grandchildren, all in close proximity to their home in Georgetown, DE. Visit www.fruitbearer.com or www.fruitbearerevents.com.

Forgiveness Unplugged

Troy’s View:

marriage 2.jpg    Defining forgiveness can be accomplished in many ways, utilizing a variety of metaphors and word pictures; but what comes to mind as I color forgiveness in my own thinking involves birds.  There is nothing more sad then seeing a flightless bird struggle on the ground because it has injured its wing.  It is vulnerable to predators and will soon die if it is not relieved.

Forgiveness is like giving flight to a helpless sparrow.  When people commit wrongdoings they become weighted under the guilt of their offenses.  To forgive is to give the guilty fresh wings.  The art of forgiveness is a skill that we discover many times throughout our life.  A life of forgiving cannot be ignored for it is typically a daily adventure that becomes so common place that it is often taken for granted, ignored, and regulated to everyday life.  Rarely do we see the practice of forgiveness as a spiritual enterprise that is shaping who we are and who we are becoming.

To forgive is to embrace our own humanity, acknowledging the simple yet profound truth that each of us is capable of any crime and any offense.  The statement “I can’t believe you did that!” or “I can’t believe you said that” disconnects us from the fullness of forgiveness because it sets the stage for pride and superiority.  In truth, as we approach forgiveness, we should say within ourselves, “Yes, I can see how you would do that or say that because I too am human.”

Concerning marriage, one could view it like a studio in which couples learn to paint.  Sharing forgiveness with your spouse allows you to become the rescuer of the wounded bird, giving your spouse the ability to heal and fly again.

Dionne’s View: 

When I was a child, I thought forgiveness was something that was owed to me if I simply said, “I’m sorry” (even if I had my fingers crossed behind my back).  As a young adult, I understood forgiveness to be something that I gave to someone if they begged and pleaded for it and then promised to never hurt or disappoint me again in life.  And you know what that got me?  More hurt and disappointment.

Now, as a married woman of 22 years, I have discovered a new way of viewing forgiveness.  The compound word forgive contains two words: FOR and GIVE.  Depending on the situation, I now say, “FOR the sake of our friendship, I will GIVE you understanding.”  “FOR the sake of our children, I will to GIVE you the benefit of the doubt.”  “FOR the sake of your heart for me, I will GIVE you grace.”  “FOR the sake of the forgiveness I have received from Jesus Christ, I will GIVE you an extra dose of love.”  Etc, etc, etc.  You fill in the blanks.  Looking at forgiveness in this way has empowered me to be generous with this special gift.

So you may be asking, “But what can my spouse and I do so that we don’t find ourselves needing forgiveness so much?”  Here are a few tools we have used over the years that have been beneficial for our relationship.

Forgiving Yourself

It is impossible to completely forgive another if we cannot forgive ourselves.  Self-forgiveness is like self-love.  Jesus said that we are to love others as we love ourselves.  He was operating under the assumption that we naturally love and care for ourselves.  In order to do the same with forgiveness, we must lose our false ideas of perfection.  This side of heaven, we will never be perfect.  Sin will be part of our story until we meet God.  This does not mean that we treat sin lightly, but it should mean that we forgive ourselves abundantly and often.

It has been my experience that I have discovered God’s grace for me only after some bout with failure.  Jesus has whispered His love to my heart in moments of weakness and wrongdoing and reminded me of His eternal commitment to me.  Yet, at times, I have failed to forgive myself.  If I am to extend the kindness of forgiveness to Dionne, I should frequently give it to myself.  God already has forgiven me and if I resist self-forgiveness, it weakens the forgiveness I offer to my wife.

Checking-In

One of the greatest tools that Dionne and I have used over the years is something we call checking-in.  We have always been intrigued by how couples communicate in public.  Together we have witnessed many good moments when spouses honor one another with kind, respectful words and warm touches.  We have also witnessed the opposite where couples criticize each other and demean a person’s character.

It is not difficult to imagine why some struggle in their relationships particularly if it is so easy to treat one another with disrespect around others.  After recognizing this for a while, we decided to always ask each other if anything was said or done that made the other feel uncomfortable or disrespected.  We simply take turns asking, “Did I say or do anything that bothered you tonight?”  This has been so very valuable for us.  There have been times when I had to tell Dionne that I didn’t like it when she interrupted me in the middle of a conversation, and she has had to tell me that she did not like a particular comment or joke.  We answer each other honestly and quickly, not giving the issue time to grow.  We have made this such a habit that we instinctively became good at not having many offenses between us.

Often it is the little things that produce problems in a relationship – like little foxes that spoil the vine.  If we can learn to end problems before they begin, we will find ourselves needing to forgive less and enjoy one another more.

Vault Talk:

When I think about vaults, I picture Fort Knox or, on a smaller scale, a safety deposit box at a bank.  These vaults contain very precious treasures and only a few people have access to them.  Over the years, we have developed a vault where either of us can share anything without risk of judgment or condemnation.

For a moment, we take off the husband/wife hat and become honest friends.  During this time of sharing, there is no fear of rejection or abandonment.  The pressure of hurting the other’s feelings or creating an argument is lifted.  It is simply a space to be completely vulnerable and transparent when dealing with a topic that isn’t normally involved in everyday life.  After the conversation has ended and closure is achieved, it is locked away in the vault, accruing value, only to be brought out and cashed in when mutually agreed upon by both of us.

So, what kinds of conversations deserve to go in the vault?  Here’s one.  After being a stay-at-homeschooling mom for 11 years, I went to work at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  I loved my job and felt a new sense of accomplishment.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the attention I started to receive from males on campus.  Whether it was a professor or a college student, this interest affected me.  It was time to go the vault.

I told Troy that we needed to go to the vault when he was ready.  Once ‘there’ I was able to freely share how it all made me feel great about myself, how I momentarily thought about what clothes I would wear to work, etc.  The beauty of having this vault talk was that before we even began, our guards were down.  I wasn’t worried that I would somehow make Troy feel inadequate as a husband and he wasn’t tempted to say something like, “WHAT! I don’t give you enough attention??!!”  Instead, he listened like a friend and encouraged me like a sister.

Once this was locked away, we were stronger as husband and wife. Now, you must know that this concept only works if you are completely honest the first time you go to the vault.  You can’t say, “Remember that vault talk we had five months ago about x, y, and z?  Well, a, b, and c also happened and I’m telling you now because…”  This scenario is a recipe for disaster!

Acceptance vs. Forgiveness

Another tool that has been useful for us is learning the difference between when acceptance is needed versus forgiveness.

Many times I was trying to find it in my heart to forgive Troy, when really, I needed to accept the beautiful creation God had formed in him. This comes easier with time as you get to know one another.  Each time you check-in after being in the company of others, or have a vault conversation, you are growing in your understanding of one another.  The deeper this understanding goes, the easier it is to trust the other person’s heart and diffuse offense before it has a chance to turn into a situation where forgiveness is needed.

I remember a time when Troy and I were at the store.  We decided to split up to get one or two items and meet back at line 12.  Well, I got my item and was at line 12 in no time.  I waited, and waited, and waited.  I realized I had a choice to make.  I could have stomped through the store trying to find him, stayed there fixing the look on my face so when he finally turned the corner he would know how mad I was, or I could’ve had a talk with myself, reminding me of his heart for me and how he would never want me waiting alone like this unless it was for something important.

So, I picked up a magazine and waited some more.  Sure enough, when he got to me, he quickly apologized then explained who he was talking to and why.  Thankfully, I was already in a good place mentally and I had an opportunity to re-accept why I love him so much in the first place- he generously gives himself to people.  Because I accepted him, he didn’t have to beg for forgiveness.  We were at peace.

Beyond Religion

As we think about the many layers of forgiveness, it is important that we rid ourselves of religious language and legalism that actually prevents forgiveness.  It is very easy to hide behind religious activity and never truly forgive or ask for forgiveness.  Religion in some forms can mistakenly give us a license to be dishonest.

Growing up in church, everyone seemed to ‘have it all together.’  You’ve heard it said that people wear their best masks to church.  But what would happen in the church if married couples could be honest about what is happening in their relationships without the fear of judgment or rejection?  How many homes could be saved if more honesty was expressed?  What would happen if we learned to be vulnerable with our fears, temptations, failures, and triumphs?  Could we begin to see statistics move in a more positive direction?  Let’s endeavor to have honest, caring, and healing relationships so we can soar… just like the birds.

marriage-bio

Pastor Troy and Dionne have served the congregation of Freshwater Dream Center for 6 years.  They fellowship at 921 Mt. Hermon Rd. Salisbury, MD 21804.  For more info visit: freshdreams.org

Evangelism Without Legalism

Forgiveness and unforgiveness are matters of the heart, they are not merely topics to address by way of intellect.  Yet how many of us legalistically proclaim “forgiveness” from behind the bars of our spiritual prisons of secretly and not-so-secretly harbored cynicism, selfishness, sadness, emptiness, hatred, and anger?

Far too often and far too easily we talk of Truth and propriety with no intention of truly being proper in our ethic, except, perhaps, before those who would expect such decency.  And we are proudly unrepentant of this, forgetting that there is freedom in being forgiven.  For when we cease to forgive as we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ, a spirit of un-forgiveness flourishes and births all manner of evil (2 Cor. 2:10-11).

So why do we fear men and their judgment rather than the One Who ultimately judges our hearts?  Do we know who we are?  Do we know Whose we are?  My heart aches to see so many of Jesus’ own “leaving their first love,” which is Jesus Himself (Rev. 2:4).  Their former eagerness and fierceness in holding fast to Christ has faded and been exchanged for a holding fast to self, adopting a faint-hearted devotion to Jesus’ teaching while neglecting Him as Teacher, leading to faint-hearted prayers that seek only what God can give rather than worshiping Who He is.

Indeed, a darkness has crept into the Church Body that steals hope, breaks the human spirit, and wears down the soul to the point of despair.  The world itself is broken, though Jesus offers comfort in His counsel that because lawlessness abounds, the love of many will grow cold; but he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 24:12-13).  And who can endure to the end?  No one, save those who cling to Christ alone as Savior and Lord.

The enemy is sowing doubt, suffering, and despair as never before.  In turn, the testing of Jesus’ followers (particularly in the West) will demand discipline and sacrifice as never before.  Being that the prison of un-forgiveness of self and others is the root of most people’s emotional and spiritual pain, it is our objective via Isaiah 61:1 and John 14:12 to work with Christ through relationships and revelation toward freeing those around us from such darkness.  Though we must ask ourselves, Have we been set free from bondage through the same?  If not, then speaking of being unbound from any bondage will ring silent, for it is our living example of being liberated in Christ that fills the hollow of hearts in desperate need.  Just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among men, so our words must become flesh that supplies substance to what we preach lest our counsel be barren.

Think of the adulteress who sought forgiveness at Jesus’ feet, and received it.  She had been brought to Jesus by the Jewish “judge and jury” to be stoned according to the Law (Lev. 20:10; John 8:1-11), but Jesus fulfilled the Law by loving her and offering grace (Matt. 5:17).  The infinite power of forgiveness was demonstrated as Jesus expressed His love for the woman by averting swift judgment and emboldening her to “sin no more.”

evangelismSurprisingly, there is also a commonly overlooked expression of mercy toward the woman’s accusers embedded within this incident.  Upon being pressed concerning the stoning of the adulteress, Jesus began to write on the ground with His finger, then challenged that any among them without sin should cast the first stone.  Of course, all standing in judgment of the woman encountered a conviction of conscience and so left with no stones pitched.

But what was Jesus writing on the ground?  Jeremiah 17:13 provides revelation: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be ashamed.  Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.”

The forgiven adulteress undoubtedly has her name written, not in the earth, but in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27).  The potency of forgiveness cannot be trivialized and should never be undervalued in the life of one who claims to follow Jesus.

evangelism

 

Jon Birch is cofounder of Recover Church, a discipleship-driven movement purposing to recover and promote the early church model as recorded in the book of Acts where Christ, close relationships, and discipleship-apologetics

were the pillars of Christianity. He is also the author of Simplifying the Complex.

For more information visit veritasunum.org.

 

In – Step Ministries

Rich and Geri Campbell of Hebron, KY are living a normal life raising two young children, and are doing their best to serve God with everything they have.  In 2003 they started a traveling drama outreach called In-Step Ministries, and now, eight years later, they are still at it.  In 2012, they logged 5,700 miles of travel with over 20 bookings! Their ministry faithfully exhibits the message of God’s love and forgiveness which reaches across denominations, ethnicity, gender, and age.  Signet Ring had the pleasure of discussing with Geri the heart of In-Step Ministries.

What is In-Step Ministries?

In-Step Ministries is a drama ministry with four original programs, but one underlying theme: the message of God’s love and forgiveness.  I am the actress and writer, and Rich is a behind-the-scenes tech guy, so when God called us to full time ministry, visual arts seemed the perfect way to proclaim the Gospel to a lost and dying world.  We travel all over the US ministering the message of God’s love and forgiveness in churches, conferences, camps, half-way houses and prisons.

What is the vision and mission of In-Step Ministries ?

Our Mission Statement:

“Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Gal. 5:25

Dedicated to serving the Lord through the arts by proclaiming God’s unrelenting love and unending mercy while partnering with, unifying, and uplifting those who also heed His call, thus keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, and each other, in order that we might reach a lost and dying world with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

How did God call you into this ministry?  When?  Was anyone else involved to start the ministry?

Rich grew up in church, but I have a different story.  I was saved at the age of 14 but turned my back on the Lord.  There were some dark years.  Something happened to me in my early 20’s that broke my heart, and I felt that God didn’t care about me, that He didn’t love me.  I decided to leave church and walk away from the Lord forever.  I tried to forget that I ever knew Him and I returned to my sinful life.

The trouble was, I couldn’t forget Him.  It was like Jesus was running after me, pursuing me.  After seven years of being away from church and away from my Christian friends, God was still there, trying to get my attention.  One night I was alone in my bedroom, and out of nowhere the presence of God and His love just filled the room.  I remember thinking, “No Lord, go away, I don’t deserve to be in Your presence. Don’t you know what I have become?  Maybe once I could have served you and loved you, maybe once when I was a good girl, maybe once when I was in Bible college, but not now. Not after all I’ve done.”

Then for the first time in my life, the only time, I literally felt the arms of Jesus wrap around me. Then, in my heart, I heard the Lord whisper the words, “You are my beautiful bride.”  I wondered how He could still call me that.  Yet it was that night I fell to my knees in tears and repentance, and said, “Lord, if You’ll take me back, I promise I will use my gifts and talents to tell other people that there is always a way back home to You.”  It took me a whole year sitting in my car on my lunch hour, but I wrote The Story of Gomer during that time.  I performed it at my home church for a ladies’ tea and word of mouth spread.  I had fourteen bookings in the first year!  That is how it all started.

In what ways have you seen In-Step Ministries help with an individual’s spiritual development?

We have testimonies of marriages being healed and of people experiencing unconditional love for the first time during our plays.  We know a lady who told us two years of marriage counseling suddenly became real to her as she watched Hosea forgive Gomer.  That is what keeps us going.

How does your ministry exemplify Christʼs love?

One of our original plays is called Eve Remembered.  It shows how sin came into the world through man’s disobedience, and that sin is what hurts us, not God.  The play points toward the love of a Savior, and toward the hope-filled promise of Genesis 3:15.  Eve Remembered is an in-depth look at the day that Cain kills Abel, and at Eve’s reaction to the pain of sin.  I wrote this play because so many people in today’s world turn away from God because they wonder how a loving God could allow such pain.  I know, I’ve been there.  It is only when we realize we brought suffering upon ourselves by disobeying God (Adam was the first to disobey and thus we are all sinners) that we realize God is not hurting us.  He is not to blame, for through His love He kept His promise to provide a way out, to provide a way back to Him through Jesus Christ.

Of the portrayals that you have done, do you have a favorite and/or which one has impacted you the most?

The Story of Gomer, which is the love story between Hosea the prophet and Gomer the prostitute (see the book of Hosea).  Of all my shows, the message of Hosea is really my heart. In this hour long, one person play, I pour out my personal testimony into the script.  I can truly identify with Gomer, a woman who had to be forgiven time after time.  Every time Gomer ran away, her husband Hosea was running after her, waiting for her to turn to him.  That is so much like Jesus.

Where do you see the Lord leading this ministry in the next 5 years?

We had always hoped that our drama ministry would support our family at some point, but after eight years we both still work full time jobs and travel as much as we can using weekends and vacation time.  Sometimes people give up because they see success as making a living at their ministry.  But every time I get tired or discouraged all I can think of is that God’s heart is broken, and He wants to run after those sheep who have wandered away.  Therefore, I need to be His arms, His hands, His feet- just as any disciple of Christ should be.  I know He has used me and the shows that I perform to call His people back to His heart.

I have taken 2013 off from traveling to commit to writing the novel of The Story of Gomer.  The book can reach people I could never reach just doing the play, so I hope the next five years finds us with the novel published and perhaps even a feature length film.  Only God knows where it will take us; all I know is I’m keeping In-step with Him!

You can read more about us and watch for info on the release of the novel, The Story of Gomer, at in-stepministries.com

Rich and Geri live in Hebron, KY and in addition to running their own drama ministry, they are also both employed by Answers in Genesis, a non-profit apologetics ministry where Rich runs the print shop and Geri is in Guest Services at the Creation Museum.  They have a twelve year old daughter Mercy, a nine year old son named Chris, and two cats, Big Kitty and Little Kitty.  What do they do in their off time?  SLEEP!

Mission Focus: North Africa

Primarily all of the North African nations are classified as “restricted” to Christianity, a few are even classified as “hostile” toward Christians with some nations progressing toward such hostility due to Islamic jihad, civil wars, and outright barbarism.  A collective survey of North Africa yields a concentration of 82.9% Muslim, 13.9% Christian, and the remaining 3.2% consisting of indigenous religions and animism.*

Signet Ring recently contacted “Beth” and inquired of both her evangelistic outreach and status in her country of service.  We are truly thankful to have disciples of her caliber spreading the Gospel in places where it is most urgent.

Beth started following Jesus early in life and by the time she was in her teens she knew
she wanted to share Christ with the orphans and the destitute in lands that have yet to be reached with the Gospel.  Beth is currently living in North Africa learning the language and working with street boys’ centers, teaching art and serving as needed.  She states that “It’s a crazy life and there are hard days, but it’s such a gift.  I can’t believe I get to live here!”

For the sake of sensitivity and security, some specifics have been altered.  [As of early 2013 the safety of Beth and those with whom she works and lives (in her country of service) has been threatened.  Please pray for her protection and strength to fulfill Jesus’ call on her life wherever He leads her.]

  1. How did God lead you into this mission work and what is your role in the ministry?

I have wanted to live in Africa since I was about 16.  I never pictured myself living in a Muslim country, but after a period of working and waiting this was missions2the door that God clearly opened, and I ran through it!  Presently I am almost
two years into my first term in North Africa.  It has been spent learning the language, building relationships, and mostly working with two street boys’ centers.  I teach them art and handicrafts, using it to build revenue for them and the centers, and I spend time trying to pour the love and attention into their lives that they are aching for.

  1. Are you able to share the Gospel and disciple people freely in your country of service?

 

No. I live in a closed Muslim country. I can speak of Christ, but any whiff of evangelization to the government will get a person kicked out of the country and/ or imprisoned. I have seen both things happen to friends and fellow workers. I speak freely of my love for Christ with friends and language teachers, as well as at the centers. But I do need to be careful, especially at the centers. There is more scrutiny lately from the government and it is illegal to do Christian teaching with the boys from Muslim backgrounds.

3. Please tell of someone whose life was impacted with the Gospel and of the change you saw in their life.

This country is still largely unreached with the Gospel. It is very much still in the “sowing of seeds” stage, if you will. There is “harvesting” going on, but that’s with workers who have been here for many, many years. I have only been here two years. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. I have absolutely heard and seen the evidence of the Lord moving in hearts and lives here, but I have not personally led anyone to the Lord. Since so much of my time is spent at the centers, that is where I have largely seen the Lord moving.

Jesus Christ is transforming boys from the streets from drunk, glue sniffing, angry kids to boys who are happy, joyful, and doing well in school. I see them stop running away, learning to trust and receive love. I see them transition from not knowing anything of Jesus to singing songs about Him. I see graduated boys, who ten years prior were in the same place in life as the younger ones, taking the time to invest in them, loving them like brothers. These boys are walking witnesses of God’s redemptive grace. They are the future of the church here. Pray that the seeds planted in them will be spread far and wide. The impact of the Gospel can be sudden and huge, but sometimes it is a kingdom that is slowly built. That is what I have seen in my time here so far. As I, Godwilling, continue to live in this land, I long and pray to see it spread even more

4. What has been your most noticeable spiritual change since you began ministry as a missionary?

Oh goodness!  I still don’t feel spiritual enough to even carry the title of “missionary,” and I still have so much to learn.  Each season brings change.  We can always die to self more.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My first year I learned a lot about God’s provision and resting in His provision for all my needs- mental, physical, emotional.  In this most recent season I have learned about courage, and that fear is a sin.  Fear is opposite of faith and trust, two essentials to a life following Jesus.There is so much I don’t know, so little in my control in this life.  Maybe I won’t get a return visa, maybe I’ll be kicked out, maybe the centers will be shut down.  Maybe I’ll be robbed again or have another house fire.  Probably I will be treated inappropriately by men… perhaps even every day this week.  But I will not fear.  No matter what comes, I will not fear.  I will speak the truth, even if my voice shakes.  I will trust in the Lord, leaving only my fear for Him and none for man. God is for me, what can man do to me?

5. What is the greatest spiritual need in your ministry?  Physical need?

There is increasing persecution against Christians.  Earlier this year a church compound where one of the boys’ centers I work with was attacked.  Destroyed.  Christians have a great deal of uncertainty about the future.  Even the futures of our street boys’ centers are not certain.  So the greatest spiritual need is prayers for protection and peace.  The physical need is for believers to simply be in country, but more so to be a good witness even under pressure, lending surety to those around them.  Many Christian “workers” here face uncertain futures about visas and such.  There is no guarantee any of us will be able to stay in the country.  There is fighting and war all over.  Racial and cultural wars, religious persecutions and genocides.  It is overwhelming, really. But we trust in the Lord Who goes before us and is over all!

   6. Please share your church experience and worship in your country of service (How are church services different or alike?).

I live in the capital city and there is an international church that has an English service.  The service is on Friday (coinciding with the Muslim holy day) and there are probably 150-200 people from all over the world that attend.  It is maybe 25% Western with a few Asians, and the remainder of people are from all over Africa.  Every week it’s like a taste of what heaven will be like.  Worship is semi-Western, but heavily African.  Though there is a pastor, he shares the pulpit often and we frequently get to hear from people all over the world.  It is a much longer service than most in the US and you never know what a service may bring, but it is a Spirit-filled place and one I am so grateful I get to attend weekly.

   7. Please describe your personal Bible study and prayer schedule in the mission field.  Is it difficult to maintain?

 I try to spend time in the Word every day.  I am usually able to.  Lately I have also been enjoying the writings of Henri Nouwen.  I spend a good deal of time during the day on foot or public transport, spending much of those times talking with God.  Journaling has been an integral part of my spiritual growth for many years.  This is how I process and slow down to listen to God.  There absolutely are occasions where I find it difficult to find time to be in the Word, and if I do, to have the concentration to glean anything from it.  There are days or weeks that I am so mentally, emotionally, and physically drained (9 months of the year here the temperature is in triple digits!) that it’s an easy thing to neglect.  I meet at least weekly with other believers for corporate prayer.  It functions as a sort of accountability as well.  It’s so important to be saturated with God’s Word if I hope to have anything to give.  Time with other, older, wiser believers has certainly been integral to my growth here.

   8. What most encourages you and what do you enjoy most in your missional work/service?

There is a deep-rooted joy and satisfaction in being here.  I feel entirely confident that this is where the Lord opened the door for me to go.  When times are rough I still absolutely want to be here.  This certainty keeps me going.  Positive encouragement from other workers about the work I’m doing with the boys is great emotional fuel as well.  The absolute best thing has been that as I have increased in language and communication ability, I get to build direct relationships.  When I feel like I am able to share life and go deeper with people, especially people that I could not be any more different from, it is altogether amazing!

*www.persecution.com/public/restrictednations.aspx

 

The Prison of Unforgiveness

Are you going to Hell?  If we truly understood and took to heart the implications and the reality of hell, we would take more seriously the Word of God, finding truth and consequences in all that it says.  The last vestige of our transient possessions in this life is our ability to determine whom we like or dislike.  It’s the last place that we must go the moment before we die: Do I forgive or do I hold on to my anger forever?

On answering this question there hinges heaven and hell, life and death, freedom and imprisonment.  Why are we taught so little of this when our lives are so very dependent upon it?  Forgiveness is the most basic foundation of our beliefs.  It is the reason we believe in Christ, it is the reason He placed himself upon the cross, and it is through this that we are allowed eternal life with Christ in Heaven.  Moreover, eternity is entirely dependent on forgiveness, yet we are taught belief in Christ and not the reason why He is the Christ at all!  This is the cross of Christ and why He died for you, that you might live forgiven of your sins.

God says that to not forgive is to not be forgiven, for Jesus said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37, NKJV).  Thus, as we are forgiven we must also forgive.  How can that be interpreted any other way?

Worldly souls condemn themselves to eternal judgment in hell, imprisoned by their sense of self-pride and lack of forgiveness.  We are told to not judge them for they are already judged.  If we are allowed to do anything at all, it is to forgive them of their trespasses in this world and toward ourselves.  They are imprisoned within the walls in which they were born and still abide.  Sadly, we Christians often imprison ourselves within the walls of unforgiveness even after we have been freed from such prisons by Christ’s love.

When we fail to forgive, we re-condemn ourselves and in this we need to understand the implications of eternal damnation, for harboring unforgiveness forces ourselves into positions that cause us as much suffering as if we were never saved from Judgment.  And the question must be asked, “If I fail to forgive, how can I remain forgiven?”  There is a dire need for this teaching in the church today.  Many continue to harbor the cancer of unforgiveness within their hearts, imprisoned by their own need for vengeance or retribution (Romans 12:19).

Often I have wondered how Stephen could forgive while being stoned, how the Lord could forgive upon the cross, how Peter and Paul forgave those who mocked, beat, tortured, and killed them.  And only by the Spirit can I understand the nature of their forgiveness when, in terrible contrast, unforgiveness is a need to hurt a person in return.  It is demanding a penalty of pain and damage against another while we sit in our self-created prison cell coldly awaiting our own judgment.  Understanding this fact will hopefully open our eyes to the emotions we are allowing to control us.  To hate or resent someone is an emotional response to a perceived wrong, and places blinders on our eyes.

The Lord taught us saying, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12, KJV).  We cannot disregard the applicability of these verses in our walk with the Lord.  Additional Scripture reveals to us the need for and power of forgiveness not only from the Lord towards us, but from us towards others (John 20:23).  Unforgiveness is a poison that we sometimes perpetuate within others as well as ourselves.  By resenting and feuding with someone, we have created sin in their life, for which we are accountable before God (Matt. 5:22-26).

Again, If we are to be forgiven then we must also forgive.  We have received the gift of forgiveness from Christ, thus we must extend that gift to others as freely as we have received it.  God gives us nothing that we are to hoard within ourselves, but all of His gifts are for us to grant to others.

As Stephen was being stoned, he was extending the forgiveness of God towards those who meant him harm.  He was effectually cleansing his own soul so that he would be forgiven of his own sins the moment he crossed over into heaven, yet this was not done out of any legalistic sense.  Rather, Stephen understood wholly the implications of unforgiveness because he knew Christ and cherished His love, and in the last moment before he was to meet the Lord, love prevailed.

            We, therefore, must aspire to forgive for we are all a moment from death.  Even Jesus understood the effects of unforgiveness.  He knew we would create prisons for ourselves, and He provided His Word so that we may all know the perfect freedom of His love.

-Greg French

prisons-bio

 

I have nothing to say about myself other than I think my forte might be in the ministry of the nuts and bolts of God’s word. It’s an active word that necessitates the action of its participants. It is a “If he abides in me and I in Him, ask what you will and it will be done for him,” ministry.

Reflections on Heaven, Part 3

I expect to be in Heaven in the near future: both because of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and because I do not expect to live much longer.  I am 81, a cancer and open-heart surgery survivor.  I am not improving or getting any younger but, praise the Lord, I will soon have a new body (maybe I will be 33 again) and be like Jesus!

People will say that I have died but actually I will be more alive and happier than ever!  I think the first thing I will do when I get to Heaven is praise our Father God and thank Jesus repeatedly for paying the price of my sins through His death on the cross and crediting me with His righteousness and worthiness of Heaven.  I imagine wanting to apologize to our God and Savior for my sins contributing to His suffering and death.  Wow!  Talk about shame and regret…

Next, I think I will look for Mom and Dad.  I was the youngest of three sons and very spoiled.  My parents were both employed.  Mom was an office worker for the U.S. government and my dad operated a machine that made the lead type used to print the newspaper.  We were comfortably well off but not wealthy.

Jo Ann and I were married in 1950.  We were both nineteen and sophomores in college.  Our parents paid our tuition and helped us with our living expenses.  I became pastor of Trinity Methodist church in Margate City, near Atlantic City, when I was twenty.  This church provided us with an apartment over their fellowship hall plus an annual salary of eighteen hundred dollars.  We started having children about every eighteen months and had six of them by the time I graduated from seminary in 1960.

During this first decade of marriage our parents were so generous, and I am not sure I ever adequately thanked them.  Today in our retirement we live quite comfortably and it is due to both our Father’s care and that of our parents.  I look forward to the opportunity in Heaven to thank them and to tell them how much I truly love them.

There is also a Christian businessman I want to find.  He owned two Christian radio stations.  We were good friends and cared deeply for each other despite many dissimilarities!  He contacted me to officiate at his wife’s funeral service, but when his own passing occurred I did not attend his funeral observance because no one notified me of his death.  It pains me that I was not there to pay my respects, yet I anticipate seeing him again in glory!

There are numerous laymen I want to find from the seven churches we served in our 46 years of ministry.  These are laymen who honestly loved us as we loved them. They were dear friends and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  What a joy it will be to see them again!

Do you think we will recognize each other?   I think we will, though we shall have new bodies.  Praise the Lord!  No more groaning.  No more pain or weakness.  We are going to be like Jesus so there will be no more sin, and we shall serve Him perfectly.  We will truly live in love.

I pray that you will join me in accepting Jesus’ invitation to repent, believe, and follow Him (Mark 1:14-17).  Then we can look for each other in Heaven and join together in worshipping the Father, the Son, and the Spirit!

See you there!  Praise the Lord!

-Pastor Dick Bridge

heaven-bio

 

Pastor Bridge has been married to Jo Ann, his childhood sweetheart, for over 61 years.  They pastored churches for 46 years. They no longer go on bicycle tours and race kayaks but they do enjoy rides on their motor cycle trike.  Praise God!