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The True Vine

It’s quite amazing to me how much insight the seemingly insignificant objects and circumstances of our lives have to offer us if we’ll just stop for a moment to look and listen. Like word pictures on a life size screen they patiently wait for us to focus on them to impart to us their message.

Last week I gathered together the remnants of the partitions that I had moved from the ministry center and used them to construct a playhouse for my daughter. It worked out nicely because I also had several bundles of shingles that had been left sitting in the yard by my brother in-law to use for the roof and this was the proper motivator for me to deal with them.

As I was sitting outside admiring my handiwork one evening in the relative coolness that so blessedly replaces the intense midday heat of August,  my attention was drawn to the artificial vines that I had draped across the structure. I was impressed by their realistic appearance as they moved with the occasional light summer breeze.  So beautiful! Unlike the real vegetation in my yard that was starting to wither from the heat, they were unchanged…

I saw these real grapevines growing and so I snapped this shot to use for comparison.

They look as if they’ve been through a hot summer. Most of the leaves have wilted and fallen off allowing a better view of the delicious fruit they’ve given their all to produce.

All of this vine viewing caused me to take a serious look at my own spiritual life.

Is my Christian life just about appearances?

Do I really have a connection to the true vine?

Given the choice,would I rather not “get real” if it meant that I couldn’t remain unchanged and indifferent to my environment?

Am I really so superficial that I’d prefer to be something with practically no value primarily because it required nothing of me other than to go through the motions?

Am I “okay” with never bearing any real fruit because deep down I know what a drag it is being a fake…

John 15:1/5

1I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

My recent evangelistic/ministerial efforts fell pretty far short of what my hopes were for them but I feel as though I learned many valuable lessons in the process. I’m still very interested in seeing my vision of a ministry center happen, I think it’s a great idea that could produce a lot of fruit!

Basically the idea is for the church to connect with people by providing assistance with many of the common issues that are causing both the churched and unchurched so many problems today. It’s more than just mentoring, it’s free help with things like exercise classes and health maintainence information, diet and food issues, money stewardship, family skills and counseling, substance abuse and addiction support meetings. All centered around the practical application of biblical principles as the solution to every need!

Why not put it all under one roof and make it convenient and organized so that people could be more easily helped? There would be paid teaching/training positions as well as a lot of volunteer work done by members of  local congregations which would provide their members with great opportunities to  stir up the gifts within them as they serve God and their communities!

According to the statistics I’ve read put out by The Barna Group we’re losing the battle for souls in this nation. If I were to speculate as to why that is I’d have to say that it seems as though the church has gotten a reputation for being about all of the wrong things. We’re hypocrites, child molesters, thieves and con men in peoples eye’s who it seems really only care about one thing and that’s money!

And according to author Anne Rice who recently “quit” Christianity,

we’re primarily known for what we’re against, not what we’re for…

What better way can you think of to let people know what we’re actually “for” ?

This can be accomplished by promoting what it means to live victoriously in a tangible way they can easily relate to.  As the true vine we’re called to love above all things, which can perhaps be defined as being willing to ask,

“How can I help?”

We as the church must attempt to reach everyone that’s “wrestling” with all of the weapons that have been formed against them by the powers and principalities of our enemy. The only way that we can lose is If we continue to do nothing but sit back and wait for the lost to come to us instead of going to them.  Instead we should be open compelled to do whatever it takes to share the good news of salvation and deliverance with everyone who’s life is plagued by the effects of sin!

The Father gave us the resources to build multi-million dollar churches, He left us with His Holy Spirit to help us, and He sent us Jesus who defeated the Devil for us so that none of these weapons can prosper against us unless we allow them!

What will we as the church do with all of that?

I guess that depends on who and what we really are…

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

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Let It Begin

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If you should attend an American Christian Church it’s likely that at some point you’ll hear the term “Revival” used. In conjunction, you’ll probably also hear the word “Evangelism” spoken as well. These words conjure up images of fiery preaching that takes place in a tent on a steamy summer night by a traveling minister of the Gospel. Or perhaps a man standing on a street corner passing out gospel tracts to passersby attempting to engage them in a one on one discussion as to the eternal destiny of their souls. Everyone who calls himself a Christian has  been commissioned to “go out into the world and make disciples” by whatever means is available to them. To that end,  Americans give enormous amounts of money to support our local church’s and overseas missionaries. Some of us are also involved in various capacities within the church or are busy conducting outreach ministries. With all of these ongoing evangelistic endeavors I wonder why the church is still in need of revival. What I mean is,  given the number of Christians in this country and all of the efforts being put forth by them I would think that we would have folks standing outside the doors of our church’s waiting to get in but of course that’s not the case. Instead, statistics I’ve seen say that for every church that opens one closes and that most of the new members added are simply people who became dissatisfied in some way with their previous church.

It’s really not that difficult to get new people to come to your church.  As I mentioned previously,   Some congregations offer relevant targeted programs designed to be of interest to people outside the church to get them inside the doors. There are door to door invitations that are extended to people and even personal canvassing of one’s own friends and extended circle of influence. All of these are good and you’ll almost always get some response from them.  And while you may see a bump in the attendance numbers for a few weeks too often that’s about it! While this is perhaps an acceptable scenario if one is selling Amway or some other multilevel marketing product to people, I don’t feel as though it’s an outcome that we as the church should be satisfied with.

Being able to keep what you have is a critical principle of heating and cooling that’s accomplished by using insulation, we can get all of the people we want into the church but without having Jesus to meet them and keep them there we’re wasting our time!   If we’re NOT living in victory and demonstrating to them a genuine and powerful life changing faith empowered by His Holy Spirit or offering them a hope that’s beyond this life and showing them the love that’s been shown to us then exactly what do we have to offer them?  If people who come to our church’s can’t see Jesus in us then we have a much bigger problem on our hands than how to fill our sanctuaries. If we’re not living examples of what having Jesus in your life means then about all they’ll see is a bunch of hypocrites! The devil will make sure of that…

Of course we’re not perfect, but I believe that we as the church have got to get serious about allowing God’s Holy Spirit to fill us and help us to put our own spiritual house in order if we truly want to be the vessel He uses to bring revival in our nation!  It’s our personal choice to make whether we want to be the church of Laodacea or the church of Philadelphia, I say personal because each of us is a walking talking “church of something” we’re all “selling what we’re living”!  I say “choice” because God gave all of us a free will, and we’re free to decide which area’s we do and don’t give over to God.  We each must individually choose to make Jesus Lord over everything in our lives! The alternative is to presume that the Holy Spirit is going to cohabitate with a bunch of dirty stinking rotten sin that we’re still holding onto in our lives…or even worse, that He’s unable or unwilling to deliver us from it… which is a lie straight out of the pit of hell!

That’s living in defeat, not victory!  We’re called to Holiness which is the highest expression of love toward Jesus,Others and Yourselves! It’s also the greatest aversion to everything which isn’t holy, that means that we as individuals should have no tolerance for any form of sin in our lives! It is to be rooted out and dealt with. No exceptions, no blaming or finger pointing at each other, no excuses as to why we just can’t do that or why “That stuff just happens” …We’ve been empowered by the blood of Christ to be that Holy, spotless, bride of Christ and we’re either going to pick that up and run with it or we’re going to let the Devil deceive us into “Not being so unrealistic” or perhaps he’ll convince us that by doing that we’ll be “over our heads” and might find ourselves in places we’ve never been that are scary! Oh they’re scary all right, but not to us! they are however terrifying to the demons we’re harboring and if you want to see the devil squirm and panic build an altar in your home and then use it!  Keep a prayer log of things you’ve prayed for and the answers you’ve gotten, or how about getting rid of that “portal of sin” known as a television!!! OOOHHHH! you really hate me now! You choose! blessings or curses, excuses or victories, ourselves or Jesus, our will or the Fathers, We’ve been deceived into believing that we can have both by the liar and we most certainly…cannot.

More than anything, I want to truly be crucified with Christ, to be a new creation that the Holy Spirit would find willing, empty and ready to be filled, So let it begin with my surrender!

I can’t change anybody,  but I believe that if I die to myself and am filled with the Spirit then ALL things become possible with Christ!

John 12:32

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

He said that by His death, which happened when they lifted Him up on a cross after nailing Him to it…that all men would be drawn unto Him.

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You want a revival so great that you won’t believe it? Do you want to see a move of the Spirit like what happened at Pentecost? I’m looking for it to happen at least one more time before He returns for His church, and I believe that when it does happen it’s going to stun and bewilder the entire world! I want to work that harvest, and even though it’s late in the day I’m signing on…Will you come too?

This is my first move!

Father God,

I humbly ask your forgiveness for my pridefulness,my arrogance, and for all of the ways that I have fallen short and sinned against you. Father, search my heart! I ask that you would send your spirit again to convict me of all the sin in my life that has to go. Even though I’m so unworthy of it my desire is to be a surrendered vessel filled with your Holy Spirit. To be empowered to victory over those sins by the atoning blood of my Lord and Savior Christ Jesus who was crucified,died, and rose on the third day. Father, I’m so thankful that you sent your son that I might receive His righteousness and be restored In Christ to a right relationship with You. Help us as your children to be obedient that we might be worthy of your calling and to call you Father God.

Father we ask these things in the name of Jesus!

Amen

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In His Hands

I didn’t grow up going to church, I have very few memories of the times I did go.  I was sent off on the bus by my aunt when I stayed with her so that she and her boyfriend could be alone on Sunday morning. I remember I had to wear those blue plaid pants with the puckered out pockets that I hated and how much I loved my bible study teacher and how he taught us the story of Joseph.  I remember the day I came forward and accepted Christ after the Holy Spirit had gotten ahold of me one morning, I was about nine. I always enjoyed singing, there was one song in particular that I remember…

“He’s got the whole world, in His hands,in His hands

He’s got you and me and brother,in His hands”

You know the one, everybody’s heard it. It’s fun to clap along with and it’s the children’s equivalent to a negro spiritual.  I think there’s a lesson in those words that we as adults would do well to mind. We carry some pretty heavy loads at times, wouldn’t it be great if we could just put them in His hands? Truly let them go, trust in Him enough to simply thank Him before we see it, and maybe even spend a little more time with Him?

What would you put in His hands?

Your finances? Your children? your marriage? Your health?

It seems ironic to me that Christian people can profess a faith in God and trust Him with their eternal soul’s, and yet not trust Him in this present moment with the simple (to Him) problems of our lives…all I know is that I want Him to be Lord over everything!

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In His hands,in His hands”

“He’s got the whole world in His hands”

It’s nothing more than a children ‘s song unless we do more than talk about it. Nothing more than a wonderful story until we walk down to the waters edge, stick our foot in, and watch the waters part! That’s a place few of us really want to find ourselves, being totally dependent on Him, but that’s the blessing I’ve experienced in a very real way over the past couple of years…But Alton, haven’t you just lost your home, your car, and just about everything else you own? Oh, and didn’t you spend ten days in jail last year?

YES!

But in the process I’ve been made keenly aware of my dependence on Him, I’ve seen the waters part! I was given a car, provided with food, a job, a place to live without charge, and in spite of everything I have PEACE! He’s given me a ministry that continues to bring meaning and fulfillment to my life, and an opportunity for me to boast about the unmerited favor of God and all of the great things the Lord has done for ME!

Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Romans 1:5

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

2 Timothy 4:5

5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

Life can turn on a dime, this morning at four AM I was awakened by my brother in law who informed me that there was an unknown person in our bath tub. A 19 year old young man who had a four wheeler accident down the road from our house walked in and sat down in our bathtub and proceeded to draw himself a bath…very strange indeed! We called an ambulance and they came and got him. I’m quite sure that when he took off on that ride he never anticipated ending up in some strange peoples’ bathtub!

The complexities of my situation, my choices,and a few bad breaks have led me to where I’m at now (my own variety of hot water) which is as I said a point in which I have no other good alternatives that I’m aware of  other than to do what I’m doing which is to take each day as it comes, thank God for His grace on me, and be so glad that I’m in His hands!

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Life does throw us curve balls…

In this crazy world it’s a great

feeling to know that I’m in

Gods hands!

Are YOU in Gods hands?

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E.R. Theology

3241942159_69069ffaa11One of the primary reasons our health care system is in so much trouble is that as a society we tend to wait until we’ve reached the critical stage of a condition or a sickness before we decide that the thing to do is walk through the sliding glass doors of the emergency room of our local hospital. It’s by far the most expensive option thats available to us in just about every way possible… monetarily, physically, and even psychologically!

Why is it this way? Opinions vary, (that seems redundant) Here’s mine,

The powers that be, (aka insurance companies,hospitals)
Are playing a statistical numbers game with us. By paying lip-service to the idea of preventative care they know that they’ll come out ahead if they just let people show up at emergency rooms for health care because there’s a high probability that you might die before you ever get there or perhaps just go ahead and die while your there and that’s a bunch cheaper for them than it would of been to,

A) Provide an easily accessible health maintainence structure
B) Treat the conditions they couldn’t prevent
C)Couldn’t think of a C but I left it open (This is an interactive blog, you fill it in)

The cockle bur under my saddle today has to do with what I see as people in the church operating from an eerily similar mindset.

At times it reminds me of a scenario like this, You walk into a hospital E.R. and tell the doctor “I’ve got a sharp pain right here in my chest,close to my heart” what does the doctor do? He hands you a medical book that covers all known sicknesses and illnesses both mental and physical and says “Son, the answer to your problem, your treatment and subsequent healing, are here in this book! open it and start reading, when you get to a point that you don’t understand something look in the back…there’s a glossary of terms and other helpful stuff to answer all of your questions, Okay? thanks…”

Should you press your case, or return later after having read the book and still don’t have the answer to your problem or feel any better they’re ready for you with the stock answer of “there’s lots of stuff we just don’t know, we try to do the best we can with what we’ve got”

listen, here’s a thought…why not lay down here on this gurney,we’ll take you up into our operating room and cut a few things out of you that we think may be involved! rest assured that we’ll bring to bear ALL of the vast medical knowledge we possess where your treatment is concerned…you remember how impressive that was to you before? You’re not in anyway hesitant or reluctant to trust us are you?  after all, we are the “only game in town”  we’re sanctioned by the AMA, Please, please, just trust us! Oh why doesn’t anyone seem to trust us anymore?  Where was I when you just needed someone to talk to about your stress issues, or your diet concerns?  I was here! doing my best to deal with my own stressed out life with my huge belly hanging over my pants…I don’t understand why you never came to me before!

Years ago I saw a billboard that asked this question…Would you do for the truth, what the enemy does for a lie?

I can assure you that our enemy wastes NO opportunity to infuse his lies and deceptions upon mankind as a whole and upon us as individuals.  I’m talking home field advantage here, the fix is definitely in, and the only way that we as Christians can ever hope to “beat the house” is through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about what The Apostle Paul meant when he said that we are “more than conquerors, through Him that loved us” At His ascension, Christ told us that he would leave us with the comforter,the counselor, the friend who is closer than a brother, and that it was good that he should go because the “Spirit” could be in all places at all times as opposed to He (Jesus) who walked in the flesh. Many people in the church know this and are perhaps frustrated or even discouraged because they haven’t seen a move of the Spirit in their congregation. I believe that the Spirit longs to move, longs to pour Himself out upon us and empower us to be the church of the book of Act’s,

So whats stopping Him?

He’s looking for a church that truly is “broken and spilled out” A church that’s become so sick and disgusted with the ways of this world being crammed down their throat that they’ve vomited then out and are laying there prostrate with absolutely no other option than for Him to come and fill them. He’s looking for a church where the self has been crucified, that the gift of His presence will only glorify Christ! Not any man… and in todays world that’s getting to be harder and harder to find.

How can I tie all of this together somehow, or in what direction should I go from here?

These thought’s come to mind.  I must be the change I want to see in the world, My ability to affect or to “change the world” for Christ begins and ends with my own openess and subjection to the only real power available to me to effect that change upon myself, that power being the Holy Spirit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the blood that was shed that made available that power and victory to you and I, which was done for us while we were yet sinners, not after we shaped up and started to fly right! Where more forgiveness is needed the grace of our Heavenly Father abounds even more unto us. I’m going to start walking, there’s no need to wait for everything to be given to me, When does a father give his son the ticket to ride the train? right before he steps on board thats when…

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ice storm witness oppourtunity

Actions,speak louder!

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As you may know, we had a hum-dinger of an ice storm here where I live in Southeast Mo. It knocked out power for an extended period of time and left “tree debris” everywhere in our town. The ministerial alliance in our community got together and decided to go out into the community and clean up peoples yards last Saturday, I volunteered!

2009-Ice218 by CountryGuys.

We cleaned up the large limbs, and cut what would be usable as firewood into stove logs. It was a wonderful feeling to help the mostly older people who really appreciated it!

AK000702 by you.

AK000706 by you.

I was talking to one of the pastors who told me about a lady who’s yard was full of limbs. He had offered to clean up her yard but she simply couldn’t accept that anyone would do it for free and was very reluctant to allow it. I told him about a man who we had worked for who had insisted on giving us money, after we had explained that we were “volunteers”…he said “I can’t see you guys doing all of this work for nothing” I told him “we’re not” and that we were happy to do it because we truly believed there was a blessing from the Lord in it for us, and also that we were happy to help him because of what the Lord has already done for us! (set us free from sin). There were some confused expressions on the faces of people, which grew into smiles, and seemed to warm the chilly morning.

the smile on your face by tonebastiansen.

I can totally relate to people being reluctant or being confused by this “free lunch.” I can remember how I felt when people told me about Gods gift of salvation,and how I thought it sounded too good to be true. I had, like many people been let down by many things I had trusted in before. The memory of the pain was a strong deterrent to me being able to accept Christ or this “gift” I had heard so much about. Our worldly mindset tells us that there are always strings attached to things that seem to be free, so it’s better to pass on things that not only don’t make sense to you but that also might obligate us somehow with the fine print we didn’t understand when we accepted the “free” item. It’s a dark bit of business that our enemy is up to, convincing us that we’re unlovable by anyone… that we are hopelessly condemned to blindly fumble through life searching for the square peg to fit into our square hole, and that we’re failures, or “losers” because we can’t find that “peg” in the things or stuff of this world. I spent the majority of my life doing just that, but it was Gods ACTIONS toward me that opened my eyes and my heart to what He had for me. Not simply the many times he saved me from my own incredibly dangerous stupidity, or delivered me from the addictions I was ensnared by, but mostly for what He did for me on the cross. I grew to love Him after I began to understand how much He loves me! ME! and friends, that is the silver bullet to the werewolf of this world! It is the antidote to what this world has to try and scare me with! whats going to happen with this economy? (God loves me and He’s in control) My job…? Whats going to happen to me and my family if,if,if, same answer! I can face anything that this world can dish out, (even death) how? because of the love of Christ, FOR ME! He stood up in my place, He took my punishment, He paid my debt, and someday, I’ll go to where He is for eternity! I know, too good to be true right? but it IS Because He is the WAY,the TRUTH, and the LIFE! and He’s waiting for YOU!