The Rolls Royce of Religion

There are tens of thousands of Christian denominations.  Most of these will agree on the major points of doctrine, but the reason there are so many denominations is because they don’t all agree on precisely how the Christian religion should be carried out.  Some are against musical instruments being used in worship service, others believe only men should teach the Bible, still others say that only the King James Bible is authoritative. The list of differences between denominations is, of course, as long as the list of denominations.  So how do we know which religion to follow?

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27 (NIV)

One simple sentence in the book of James has diluted the entire debate down to its pure essence.  God wants us to serve Him by serving others and stay away from the evil distractions found in this world.  That’s what our religion needs look like.

For decades the Rolls Royce was considered to be the finest car made, and perhaps to some it still is today.  These cars are hand made with the finest materials and essentially cost ten times more than other cars.  Many would say that the price of a Rolls Royce is generated largely from its prestigious reputation and not by the actual quality of the vehicle. In other words, people are willing to pay more for a Rolls Royce in order to be associated with what they believe to be a higher class of people.

Indeed, there are those who believe their particular denomination puts them in a higher class of believers. Some believe their denomination is the Rolls Royce of religion; however, if we look at God’s definition of religion we discover a more basic form of transportation is far superior.

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”  2 Corinthians 11:3 (NIV)

Pure devotion to Christ is our basic form of transportation.  As Christians, our religion is to following the teaching of Jesus.  Nothing is to be added to that simple equation.  When we stand before Jesus at the end of our days, He will not ask us which denomination we belong too, or who our pastor was, or which Bible translation we studied; He’s going to look into our heart and discover who we truly are.  The evidence of a true believer is found in their actions, not in the name on the building where they go to church.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  John 13:34 (NIV)

 

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

 

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry

Dustin, Albert, and Mark are twelve-year-old friends spending their summer together in a small town in 1970.  Dustin has a crush on Tanya and gets his friends to help him figure out a way to get her attention.  He is way too shy to even talk to her.  Dustin’s friend Albert thinks it’s a bad idea anyway, since Nick, the local bully, likes Tanya also.  When the three friends are having pizza together, Nick makes his presence known by stealing a slice for himself.  There’s nothing they can do since Nick is much bigger and has his friend to back him up.

Dustin mows lawns to earn spending money and is asked by a cheerful senior citizen, Jonathan Sperry, if he would be interested in mowing his lawn.  Dustin is delighted to get the new business and becomes quick friends with Mr. Sperry.  During their time together Mr. Sperry begins talking to Dustin about Jesus.  Soon, Albert and Mark join Dustin in Bible study with Mr. Sperry.

One day, after Bible study, Mr. Sperry tells Dustin he’d like him to start mowing the lawn of the senior gentleman across the street, Mr. Barnes.  He tells Dustin not to let Mr. Barnes know who’s paying him to do the work.  Mr. Barnes is not happy about the situation but allows Dustin to do the work.

The Bible study with Mr. Sperry grows to twelve boys; and to return the favor Dustin, Albert and Mark take Mr. Sperry out for pizza.  The boys have told Mr. Sperry about the bully, Nick, and he makes an appearance during the pizza outing.  Nick is rude to Mr. Sperry and then gets a big shock when Mr. Sperry tells him he used to know Nick’s father who was a Godly man.  Nick is clearly impacted hearing the news of his now deceased father.

Nick ends up visiting Mr. Sperry to hear more about his father and over time accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior and seeks forgiveness from those he has harmed.  With Mr. Sperry’s help, Nick becomes friends with Dustin, Albert, and Mark.

Dustin finally gets the courage to deliver a note to Tanya, but rather than asking her out in the note he instead tells her about Jesus.

When Mr. Sperry dies unexpectedly, Dustin is devastated.  His mother tries to console him but it’s no use.  Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Barnes shows up at Dustin’s house and tells him he will start paying him to mow his lawn and that he knows Mr. Sperry was the one who paid him before.  Mr. Barnes also tells Dustin that he has started reading his Bible as Dustin suggested.

Dustin’s mother is touched by Mr. Barnes appearance and shares with Dustin that Mr. Barnes was the drunk driver that caused the death of Mr. Sperry’s wife.  Dustin is amazed that Mr. Sperry was paying him to mow Mr. Barne’s lawn.

As Dustin contemplates the life of Mr. Sperry, he realizes the way to honor him is to continue the Bible study group.  Dustin gets the twelve boys back together and begins teaching them exactly the way Mr. Sperry did starting with the early lesson the newer boys never heard.

“The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry,” is a nostalgic look back at a simpler time in a small town setting that leaves plenty of room for close relationships.  The story moves along at a slow comfortable pace with just enough twists and turns to keep it interesting.  This is a beautifully produced film with good acting and a nice musical score.  There are several touching moments filled with real emotion created by well-developed characters.  I think this story would play well to pre-teens but may be a little too simplistic for older teens.  In either case, it may help to have some discussion about what life was like in 1970 before watching.  Overall, this is an enjoyable story that will play well with a family that appreciates a story about Christian faith.

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Following God’s Will

We are all fractured individuals.  None of us is perfect.  The world we live in makes it difficult to stay pointed in the right direction.  There are too many temptations, too many distractions, too many alternative paths leading us astray.  Following God’s will for our lives can feel like an impossible task.  Without constant communication with God, we are doomed to failure.

Communication with God starts in the pages of the Bible.  The Bible is the one and only place we can be certain we are digesting the words of God.  We can then expand that connection with prayer.  But it only becomes real and alive when we put what we’ve learned into practice; when we are honestly following God’s will.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”  James 1:22 (NIV)

Most of us have been through a time where we knew exactly what was needed to be done, yet we neglected to do what was required.  There are some who know they would benefit from losing a few pounds yet continue eating the same weight-gaining foods.  There are others who know they would benefit from regular exercise yet continue to make excuses for why they can’t fit exercise into their schedule.  And there are those who have studied the Bible in Sunday school, in a small group, on their own at home, and in regular worship services for years, yet in some area of their life continue to walk contrary to the teaching of the Bible; knowingly avoiding following God’s will in their life.

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”  James 1:23-24 (NIV)

You will be blessed by Following God’s Will

The Lord has designed our existence here in this world to reflect precisely how following God’s will can transform your life.  If you’re overweight, your doctor will tell you that losing some weight will improve your health.  If you follow that advice you will discover it to be true.  Medical test results before and after will confirm the results.  The same is true for a regular exercise program.  There are undeniably tangible positive benefits from regular exercise.  The same is true for your active participation in all that you learn in the Bible.  When you take what you learn and put it into action, you will discover a great blessing in your life like no other.

“But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:25 (NIV)

 

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Glorious

“Glorious,” is a true story about a young boy named Vince growing up in Chicago.  Tormented by a physically abusive step-father, Vince looks elsewhere for a family connection and ends up as a gang member at the age of twelve.  Older gang members let the younger gang members hold their gun so they don’t get caught carrying.  Vince is put in charge of one of the gang’s guns and ends up using it to shoot a rival gang member.  Although he gets away with this crime, over time his many other crimes keep him in and out of the juvenile detention center.  Eventually Vince is offered a chance to participate in a faith-based rehabilitation program at a residence facility where he works and worships with other young offenders.  Vince rejects the attempts to open his heart to God.  He is too wounded by his difficult life to trust God.

After being released from the faith-based rehabilitation program, Vince meets a nice girl at a local party.  They become close friends but are soon pulled apart when Vince is attacked by a rival gang member and shot in the chest and arm with a shotgun.  Vince survives the attack but has lost the use of his right arm.  Still not fully committed to God, Vince prays for God to return the use of his arm in exchange for his loyalty.  As he recovers, Vince continues his relationship with his girlfriend who is a committed Christian.  She helps him work his way through high school and their relationship grows stronger.

Miraculously, after one year of struggling to live with the use of only one arm, Vince regains feeling in his right arm.  Over the next year, his arm fully recovers.  Finally, Vince agrees to attend church with his girlfriend.   There is an altar call at the end of the service and with his girlfriend’s nudging, Vince walks the aisle and accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

“Glorious,” is a powerful story of struggle and forgiveness.  The storytelling is fairly simple and plays more like a biographical reenactment than a well-developed drama; however, Vince’s life is so compelling nothing is lost.  There is some graphic violence that is necessary to tell the real story of this young gang member.  The relationship Vince has with his girlfriend is a beautiful representation of how innocence can reside in the heart of violent struggle.  One of the best parts of the film is at the end as the credits roll; some footage of the real Vince delivering his testimony before an audience brings the whole movie to life.

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The Empty Tomb

Jesus Christ was ridiculed, horribly beaten, and nailed to a cross to die for our sins.  God, in all his wisdom, determined this to be the most graphic example of His love for us; the ultimate sacrifice.  Although fully divine, Jesus felt every stroke of the whip and every bone shattering nail being driven through his skin.  He felt the pain.  All we need do to realize the reward of the eternal life that His sacrifice promises is to believe.  Believe in God the Father.  Believe in Christ His Son. Believe in the empty tomb.  In so doing, we turn from our sin and follow Jesus as he walks away from that tomb to return to heaven and take His seat at the right hand of God.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”  Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)

The Empty Tomb provides us with Power

As a follower of Jesus, our path is clearly marked by the Word of God.  Page after page of vivid instruction guides our every step.  While this world tries to push us in the opposite direction, we have power and strength provided by the Holy Spirit to keep us on the straight and narrow.  As long as we keep our eye on Jesus, we are moving in the right direction.  No matter how difficult the road becomes, no matter how impossible the odds seem to be, in the end we will have victory.

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.”  Hebrews 3:1 (NIV)

The power of God’s Word is made real when we apply it in our lives through sincere service to God by serving others.  The simple act of believing in Jesus becomes the complex act of living out a true Christian life of loving service to God.  Through diligent study of the Word and constant application of the lessons learned, we grow ever closer to God.

“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”  Hebrews 6:1 (NIV)

A Christian life is not without difficulty.  In fact, in some ways it may be more difficult than the life of an unbeliever.  While we know the ultimate destination is life in eternity with God, we still must travel through this life in a world that is sometimes hostile to our faith.  Prayer and fellowship with other believers will keep our hearts full of joy in spite of times of trouble.  The empty tomb is a reminder of our ultimate victory.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”  Hebrews 10:23 (NIV)

There is absolutely nothing that can prevent a true believer in Jesus Christ from reaching the Promised Land.  All of God’s promises are fulfilled.  The empty tomb was designed to demonstrate that God is in complete control.  The empty tomb is our insurance as believers that the impossible is completely possible with God.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”  Hebrews 12:28 (NIV)

 

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

 

 

 

 

The Longest Journey

Huntington’s disease has been described as a culmination of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS; all formidable challenges on their own.  In addition, Huntington’s often develops in younger people who are in the prime of their life.  “The Longest Journey,” is a documentary about Sharon Shaffer who began noticing the degenerative symptoms in her early 40’s.  Sharon is an extraordinarily positive person and uses her energy to bring awareness to this little known disease.  She is supported in her effort by her husband Renato, and her two daughters.  The film chronicles their most ambitious Huntington’s disease awareness event; a bicycle race across the United States known as the Race Across America.  In previous years, Sharon would take part as a crew member or navigator; however, in the race depicted in the film she is no longer able to take the week long journey and sends her family along with a group of friends to conquer the challenge.

This is a glorious example of how people who love each other will go the extra mile, and in this case it’s an extra 3000 miles.  For a movie about a horribly debilitating disease this is a wonderfully uplifting film.  Inter dispersed between the story of the bike ride across the country, Sharon’s doctor describes all the details about Huntington’s and what the outlook in the future might be.  Sharon is also prominently featured discussing what it’s like to experience Huntington’s and how important the support of her friends and family is to her ability to cope.

“The Longest Journey,” is an inspiring way to learn about Huntington’s and a wonderful celebration of the power of family and friends.  In the end, Sharon reveals the secret of her amazing positive attitude – love.

(The film has no overt Christian theme and there is some profanity.)

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Preaching and Teaching

When Paul sent his first letter to Timothy who was serving in Ephesus, his main concern was the false teachers preaching for personal gain.  He describes them this way in chapter 6 verse 5: “people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” How extraordinary it is to discover that this kind of thing started so early in the life of the church; and how sad it is to realize it continues to this day.  We can all point fingers at men or women that we believe are sharing their version of the Bible purely for financial gain.  Of course, there’s no way for us to know exactly what’s in the heart of anyone professing to be preaching and teaching God’s Word.  This is why it is so critical to study the Bible yourself; so that you will know the difference between false teaching and the truth.

“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing.”  1 Timothy 6:3-4 (NIV)

Preaching and Teaching a Different Message

There are some very eloquent speakers who write compelling books, professing to be preaching and teaching God’s Word, who are actually twisting the truth to entice those unaware into supporting them financially.  Some of these people may have started out with good intentions and after some success allowed the devil to push them in deeper.  Great financial reward can send you down the wrong road and into a dark place: “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (6:10). Everyone professing to be preaching and teaching God’s Word needs to be tested.  Every follower of Jesus needs to take the time to carefully study the Bible from cover-to-cover so they will know truth from fiction.

 “Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.”  1 Timothy 6:20-21 (NIV)

Keep in mind, there isn’t any man or woman worthy of our worship.  Even those who are the most gifted by God, who are faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God, are not worthy of our worship.  There isn’t any individual who holds all knowledge.  It’s a wise practice to listen to many teachers and consider many points of view while diligently pursuing your own personal study of the Bible.

“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”  1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NIV)

 

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Reaching Out to those in Need

Don’t Go to Church

Over 250 members of the Church That Matters in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, just outside of Tulsa, decided not to go to church on Sunday.  Instead, they took part in the church’s annual “Don’t Go To Church Sunday,” community service project.  They divided up into several teams and serviced the community in a variety of ways.  Park cleanup, sorting donations for needy families, landscaping and light construction, were all part of the community wide effort.  One team visited a local laundromat and passed out quarters, detergent, and softener along with an offer for prayer.  You can read about their effort here.

Churches Working Together

In Ypsilanti, Michigan there are several churches doing various kinds of community outreach, including food distribution, providing clothing for those in need, working with incarcerated individuals and their families, and offering space for other community organization programs.  When their services began to overlap, some of the pastors felt a need to begin coordinate their efforts.  They felt it was important to understand they are not in competition, but they are all working for the same goal; to bring people to Christ.  Working as a collaborative group they will be better able to serve the community.  You can read more here.

Connecting those in Need with those who can Help

In Sebastian County, Arkansas, several churches have been linked together through the CarePortal system, a computer program of the Global Orphan Project.  This system is currently used by over 1,600 churches in 16 states and serves thousands of children.  When the Department of Human Services finds families in need, they send out the request via the CarePortal.  Those churches partnering in the system then seek a way to provide that need.  The goal is to meet specific needs, offer mentoring, and prepare foster and adoptive families for the road ahead.  You can learn more here.

Going All the Way

Whitewater Crossing Christian Church in Cleves, Ohio, a church that’s been around since 1915, has developed a comprehensive community outreach program they call Solve 7.  Their goal is to deal with seven issues that impede someone’s spiritual connection to God; food, clothing, family, education, health, slavery (in other parts of the world), housing.  Whitewater encourages their members to participate in these programs, not simply donate money for their support.  By taking this broad-based approach along with various community partners, Whitewater goes a long way toward creating a culture of service to God.  Learn more here.

 

 

 

Finding Ways to Serve God

Your decision to follow Jesus is a decision to spend your life serving God.  The teachings of Jesus are filled with ways to serve God.  The foundation of your service to God is love.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35 (NIV)

For most of us our service to God starts with our family.  Generally, these are the people we spend the most time with and it is for that reason some of them can become difficult to love.  Perhaps the first test of your love for God and your devotion to serving Him will be the way you deal with a difficult family member.  One of the best ways to serve God is to help a difficult person find Jesus.  Your efforts in this regard should be at the top of your list.

“Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  James 5:20 (NIV)

Another of the many ways to serve God is to take charge of your attitude toward money.  The world we live in wants us to believe money is the solution to all problems.  Many believe that happiness revolves on the amount of money you have to spend on your desires.  As a result, some become so fixated on accumulating money their lives are in service to that goal and not in service to God.

 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

List of Ways to Serve God

In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells a story to demonstrate who will be blessed when he returns.  This story is a list of ways to serve God.  He tells this story as though these things actually happened to Him but then clarifies that our service to others is equivalent to serving Him.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

Feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, providing shelter, giving out clothes, helping the sick, and showing compassion for those in prison are all ways to serve God.  Jesus tells us that when we help those in need we are actually helping Him.  He then goes on to make a startling claim that should have us all thinking twice before we turn our back on service.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  Matthew 25:45 (NIV)

We need to carefully consider the above passage of scripture.  Jesus is clearly telling us that when we neglect an opportunity to serve others, we are neglecting Him.  I would hope the last thing you want to do is neglect Jesus.  Sometimes when we are looking for ways to serve God we see things that are far beyond our ability to resolve.  The numbers of those in need can be staggering.  We can’t neglect service to our family in order to serve the larger community.  There is a balance that needs to be found for each individual.  Through prayer and continued study of God’s Word, you will find your balance.

As a follower of Jesus, our lives need to be in constant service to God.  We should wake up looking for ways to serve God.  Our goal should be to follow in His footsteps and become as much like Him as we possibly can.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:43-45 (NIV)

The world we live in is full of distractions designed by the devil to turn us away from God.  The devil tries to tell us money is the only thing that will solve our problems.  The devil tries to tell us we don’t have time to serve others outside our family.  The devil tries to keep us stressed and confused.  We need to get in the devil’s face and tell him who our God is; then we need to get back to serving God with all our heart.

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”  Matthew 4:10 (NIV)

Your Faith in God

When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians he was responding to their endurance during often violent oppression.  The Christians were a minority in Thessalonica and were being persecuted for their beliefs; nevertheless, they remained faithful.  It’s not uncommon for Christians to still face persecution in many places around the world today.  Even living in a largely Christian country it is still possible to face persecution from those who are opposed to Christian faith.  It may be more subtle but it can still be painful.  In all cases, followers of Jesus have each other to lean on as well as the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Your faith in God is what will keep you safe and protected.

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.”  2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

God is watching and taking note of your every action.  As you walk with Jesus know that He is with you in all situations.  Reach out and take hold of the hand of God when things get difficult.  Find your strength in His Word.  Find your strength in your faith in God.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”  2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV)

Faith in God brings Peace

Your faith in God is the assurance that all will be made right.  In time, every wrong will be corrected.  In time, all suffering will vanish.  Jesus is on His way back and He will be looking for you when He returns.  Be ready at all times by standing firm in your faith.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”  2 Thessalonians 3:16 (NIV)

 

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.