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Choose Life, Choose Christ

By Michael W. Raley

What if we could extend God’s grace to those around us?

What if we could embody love in a time of anger and hate?

In a time of hedonistic pleasure,

The call for a return to virtue goes almost unheeded.

People choose to live by their own truths

Instead of the universal truths of God.

There are those who call out their own virtue

Without understanding the true nature of justice, righteousness, and love,

Bringing shame and humiliation to anyone who may disagree.

Brothers and sisters, this ought not be so.

Though we may have different skin tones and languages,

We bleed the same red blood.

However, the time has come for us

To stop shedding the innocent blood,

To stop the hate, the violence, the ridicule

And the mob mentality.

For our Lord is calling us to a time with Him,

A quiet time of prayer and reflection.

Perhaps it is a time of listening to the Lord

From His holy hill, allowing Him to transform us

Into who we should be,

Not what the world wants us to be.

The Lord is calling us to a spiritual paradox-

We must separate ourselves from the darkness

While being a light in that same darkness.

Choose this day whom you will serve-

The day or the night?

The darkness or the light?

Death or life?

Virtue or sin?

Choose Christ and choose freedom.

2 Thessalonians and the Lawless Times

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The United States is experiencing a time of lawlessness, the extent of which I have not witnessed in my lifetime. The politicizing of the Coronavirus, protests for social justice, and the rioters who have taken advantage of said protests have created a tinderbox of lawlessness.

In major cities all across the country, mayors have ordered police departments to stand down as these cities have been burned and destroyed, which give them the appearance of a war zone. There are increasing calls to defund police departments and there is certainly no respect for the government or the president. I’m not going to inject my personal politics into this discussion, but I want to use this unruly time to draw a biblical parallel.

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he takes the time to clarify the End Times timeline. From the text, it appears that someone either inside or outside the Church of Thessalonica has spread the message that Jesus’ return (the day of the Lord) has already past. This news, of course, has upset many members of the church. However, Paul takes the time to reassure the believers of the sequence of events.

“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, NASB).

Imagine the feeling that you missed Jesus’ return or you missed the rapture. The Thessalonian Church members must have felt devastated and hopeless. Paul goes on:

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.  Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-6, NASB).

First we will see people fall away from Church teaching and people will began to live their lives as they see fit (1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:2-4). We can definitely draw a parallel to our times and Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians.

Out of this chaos, a leader is going to rise, who of course will be the Antichrist. An interesting side note, the term anarchist means “without a ruler,” thus someone who doesn’t want to live by the rules, especially God’s rules. So under the guise of this false freedom, the Antichrist will demand worship. Paul’s reminder of his previous teaching is also a reminder for us to turn back to God’s teachings.

The current state of the world is nothing new, as there has always been rebellion against authority and God. The seeds of this rebellion go far beyond current headlines.

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,  and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,  in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, NASB).

What then, should be the Christian response to the current state of affairs? I believe we should hold onto the teachings of Christ. I believe we must exercise great discernment before we jump on any political bandwagon. In the age of the Internet and Social Media,movements go viral and gain steam before anyone really takes the time to learn about said movement. I also believe Christians need to look after our brothers and sisters during this time. These uncertain times have created a time of social and physical isolation, as many could not attend church services in person. I believe this is a time for the Church to find ways to draw closer to God and each other.

Paul concludes this section with encouraging words:

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.  It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:12-17, NASB).

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Review- American Gospel: Christ Alone

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I was scrolling through the “Recently Added” section of Netflix when I came across the 2018 documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone. Directed and written by Brandon Kimber, American Gospel provides an in-depth look at the heretical teaching known as the Prosperity Gospel.

I have to say that Kimber’s research and passion for the project comes across in the documentary. The first thirty or so minutes of American Gospel relies on interviews with theologians, pastors, authors, apologists, and church historians to lay a firm foundation for the presentation of the true Gospel. The case presented is solid doctrine and a great reminder for all Christians to study the Word of God for themselves.

Once the foundation is set, American Gospel presents an examination the false doctrine of the prosperity message and its prominent teachers such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Todd White, Bill Johnson, and Joel Osteen to name a few. The documentary traces the roots of the prosperity message back to Kenneth Hagin, who in fact plagiarized from the works of E.W. Kenyon. As a lawyer would systematically breakdown an argument in court, strong biblical teaching and the experts refute the doctrine and merits of the prosperity message until it is revealed to be the heresy and deception that it is.

American Gospel is not simply an academic or theological debate, but also provides personal stories from people whose lives were affected negatively by the prosperity teachers. One of these people is Costi Hinn, the nephew of Benny Hinn who has renounced the false teachings and is now warning believers about the prosperity message. I related with the heartbreaking stories of the everyday people who fell in with this dangerous message. As a young believer, I lacked discernment and was part of a word-faith type of church for a number of years, which taught that God always heals, God wants to bless, and placed the onus on our works and not the finished work of Christ.

No matter if you are a new believer or one who has been in church for decades, I highly encourage you to watch American Gospel: Christ Alone. I rate it five stars out of five stars. The documentary is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Dangerous Doctrines and Pandemics

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NASB).

As I write this post on April 24, 2020, there are 2.73 million cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19), with 890,000 confirmed cases in the United States where I live. As of this moment, 192,000 worldwide have died from the virus, with 50,372 deaths in the United States. Not in my lifetime have I lived through such a pandemic. Life has ground to a halt and the world economy is on the verge of collapse. However, as with Coronavirus and other catastrophes, there are people who will seize upon the situation politically, financially, and unfortunately, spiritually.

I know that many churches and charitable organizations are struggling during these times. I know these organizations are doing the best they can to serve their respective communities and be a light in this darkness. I pray these groups get the resources they need in these times. My beef, however, is with the so-called “prosperity teachers.”

The prosperity gospel, aka “the health and wealth” gospel teaches that God will bless His followers with material wealth and physical health if they are faithful with their giving. The prosperity message is not new, as this heresy dates back to at least the 1940s and 50s, with the teachings of Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts. The playbook  is exactly the same for today’s prosperity teachers, which include Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paula White (President Trump’s spiritual adviser), Joel Osteen, Jesse DuPlantis, and Creflo Dollar to name a few.

One of the reasons the prosperity gospel is so successful is that it appeals to the greed which lies in the human spirit. Who wouldn’t want to get a fortune from making a simple donation, or “planting seed,” as the prosperity teachers say? These false teachers take Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 13:18-23) out of context. Jesus clearly states the seed represents the Word of God, but the false teachers claim seed is money, which is where they promise a thirty, sixty, or hundredfold return on your investment into their ministry. However, if you look at the net worth of these so-called teachers, it looks they are the ones prospering from those spiritually and financially vulnerable.

During this Coronavirus pandemic, Kenneth Copeland has been out front and center, blowing “the wind of God” on the virus and telling followers to keep tithing, even though they may be out of work. Here is a video which summarizes Copeland’s antics. I don’t own the rights to the video.

These kind of teachings are dangerous because they take advantage of people in their weakest mental, financial, and spiritual states. Early in my faith, I fell victim to doctrines such as these, which were reinforced by the church I was attending at the time. However, as I began to study deeper into Scripture and hear what was really being taught, I turned away from this false doctrine and I pray you do as well if you are caught up in this false doctrine.

These heretics are exactly what Scripture warns us about:

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NASB).

Brothers and sisters, it is time we expose these heretics, these clouds without rain, these false teachers for who they are. Read the Bible for yourself. Exercise discernment and throw these snake oil peddlers off to the wayside. Don’t give these people your money, instead, donate it to your local church or a food bank. Above all, let us put aside greed and seek to be a blessing to those around us in these troubled times.God bless you.

The Lawless Times

“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”

Matthew 24:12, NASB

It is so easy to turn a deaf ear and form a cynical heart towards community decay. Newscasts are filled with stories of people being shot, crime, rape, child abuse, political bickering, and an overall disregard for established law and order. If the incidents take place blocks or miles from our comfortable existence, we can become insulated and isolated in our thinking about our community’s pain.

Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) discusses what the times will be like before His return- wars, natural disasters, persecution of believers, false prophets, and rebellion to name a few signs. (Jesus also speaks of these events  in Mark 13 and Luke 21).

God knows our limitations as people and He knows how overwhelming bad news and events can weigh on our minds. Just the major events in our own lives- the death of a loved one, addiction, divorce, job loss, and financial problems can trigger anxiety and depression, causing us misery upon misery.

As overwhelming these events seem in Matthew 24:12, that people’s love for each other and God will grow cold, Jesus us offers us hope.

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13, NASB).

Verse thirteen is not dealing with eternal salvation, it is dealing with a sense of protection or deliverance in the midst of suffering.

Now that we have a reason to hope, Jesus gives us an assignment.

“The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then, the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NASB).

We live in lawless times, but there is a way not to become overwhelmed and unloving regarding people and their suffering. We must reconnect with the love of God by repentance, prayer, study, and being community with other believers. As we grow in our love for God, our love for people will be a natural offspring and a platform for sharing the gospel with them. God bless you.

Abiding in Christ

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I was reading 1 John recently when the word “abide” caught my attention. Abide is a word we don’t use much anymore. The word abide started me down a biblical concordance rabbit hole.

The Greek word for abide is Meno (Strong’s 3306), which means “to stay in a given place, state, relation, or expectancy.” Meno is also used for the word dwell. Upon further study, I came upon some interesting tidbits about the word abide:

Abide is used 31 times throughout The Gospel of John, 1 John, and 2 John and only 18 times throughout the rest of the New Testament.

The same word for dwell is used 11 times throughout John’s writings, but only once in the rest of the New Testament.

Bonus fact: For you King James readers, Meno is also translated as “continue” 5 times in John’s writings and 6 times in the New Testament.

Now that we have established the meaning and usage of the word abide, what is its context? John’s writings use abide to indicate a continuous relationship with Christ. Thus, we are staying in a given place with Christ, similar to staying in a marriage or friendship. For the believer and the non-believer alike, what does abiding in Christ entail? This is not a comprehensive list, but I would encourage you to study this on your own as well.

The Holy Spirit comes to abide in us when we receive Christ

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever-the Spirit of truth…”                  (John 14:15-17a, NKJV).

*See also 1 John 2:27.

We will have joy and we will perfect our love for others

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you , that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12, NKJV).

We will be fruitful in our walk with God

“Abide in Me,and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine,neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”(John 15:4-5, NKJV).

We will not live in spiritual darkness

“I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46, NKJV).

“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”              (1 John 2:9-10, NKJV).

We will be able to separate truth from error

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36, NKJV).

As with any relationship, whether it’s spiritual, romantic, or friendship, the more time you spent with someone, the better you get to know them. The more you get to know them, the more you will be able to separate the real person from an impostor. This same principle applies to our relationship with Christ. The more time we spent with Jesus, whether its through prayer, fasting, or personal study, the more we come to know the authentic Jesus. In this day and time, we need more discernment than ever. God bless.

Learning to Live in Grace

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Faith and grace often rise up during our lowest times. My walk with Christ has enabled me to overcome and work through very dark and difficult situations, such as sickness, family issues, mental health, career and financial struggles, and the dissolution of my marriage, all of which have taken a physical, mental, and spiritual toll. I haven’t been perfect in my faith or responses, but I am learning to live in grace.

My church is doing a series called “90 Days with Jesus,” where Monday through Saturday, we read one chapter of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I am halfway through Mark, which is just action packed with miracles and powerful teachings from start to finish. What has always struck me about the gospels is how a person’s lifetime of physical or emotional suffering came to an instantaneous end when they encountered Jesus. However, if many of us were to be honest, we’ve read these stories and petition God as to why He’s never healed us or a loved one of an affliction, why He’s not listening to our prayers, we wonder where are you, God?

God’s grace provides us with the strength we need to face our daily difficulties. Grace and faith should be realistic-not every situation is going to end in a miracle. There will be dark times, there will be struggles, but we must remember to rely on God’s strength to carry us through those times.

The Apostle Paul faced what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” which was a constant struggle in his life. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talked about his struggle and how on three different occasions he prayed God would take it away, but God did not. Some people  would argue Paul was physically sick, others would state Paul’s thorn was the constant persecution he faced. I personally lean toward the persecutions as his thorn. Even spiritual giants such as Paul had their struggles and that should comfort us. We must remember that God is working to perfect our character and prepare us for long-term growth, even if it comes at the expense of our perceived short-term comfort, as Paul wrote:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to  torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NASB).

So as we go about our day and our lives, let us remember that during the weakest moments, God’s grace is to be our strength. We must change our mindset concerning our suffering and difficulties and look for God’s guidance and direction. As we look toward God, our faith will increase. God bless you all.

Step Out of the Boat

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To start off the new year, my church is doing a 90 Days with Jesus Bible study, where we read one chapter of a Gospel each day Monday through Saturday. One of this week’s readings I found intriguing was Matthew 14:22-32.

Matthew 14:22-32 tells the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jesus earlier in the day had taught, healed, and miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the events of the day, Jesus tells His disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side. After Jesus dismissed the crowd, He prayed late into the night on a mountainside.

While the disciples were in the boat, a storm came up on the lake. Just before dawn, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them, but they were fearful, saying,”It’s a ghost.”(Matthew 14:26, NIV).

“But Jesus immediately said to them:”Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27, NIV).

Peter throughout the Gospels is often portrayed as the most impulsive disciple in the group, as he often speaks and acts without thinking, is not waiting for Jesus to come to him, as he says:

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”(Matthew 14:28, NIV).

“Come,” He (Jesus) said. (Matthew 14:29, NIV).

Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water. However, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and notices the storm around him, in which he begins to sink. Peter cries out for Jesus to save him, which he does, and rebukes Peter for his lack of faith. The wind dies down and the two men get into the boat, where all of the disciples worship Jesus, proclaiming Him the Son of God.

In my twenty years of being a Christian, I’ve heard this story taught numerous times. The teaching always boils down to rebuking Peter for his lack of faith in taking his eyes off of Jesus. Peter, of course did so, but what if were to look at the story from a different perspective?

The text tells us that only Peter called out to the Lord and went out on the water- not James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, or anybody else-only Peter got out of the boat. Yes, maybe Peter’s thought process was rash, but he was the only one who stepped out. Peter took a literal step of faith when no one else would. I would like to think over time, Peter internalized the times he fell short with Jesus and it strengthened his faith.  The Book of Acts tells us it was Peter who stood up at Pentecost and proclaimed the Gospel, to which 3,000 souls were saved. Not bad for a fishermen who couldn’t walk on water.

What I glean from this story is that no matter the obstacle around us, we must be willing to take the first steps toward change. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and face the possibility we will not get it right the first time. This lesson can be applied in any aspect of our lives. Are you wanting to get back out and date after a divorce or break-up? We must step out. Are you changing your diet and exercising to improve your health? You have to get started. Are you trying to advance or change your career? You must take the steps to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

If we seek to grow deeper in our relationship with God, Jesus is telling us “Come,” the same as He did with Peter. Jesus could have easily teleported Peter out of the boat, but He didn’t. Jesus watched Peter make the effort to come to Him. Remember this day that Jesus is in the midst of your storm, but you have to take the steps. God bless you.

A Year of Restoration

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As 2018 ended and 2019 began, the word restoration kept springing to mind. To restore something whether it be a relationship, physical health, or house, simply means to bring an item back to its original state. Restoration is my word for the year as I seek to rebuild my relationship with God and my life.

Restoration in the Bible, like our word in English, can mean many things, such as the restoration brought about by prophecy, healing, the restoration of the Temple, and the restoration of the merciful/righteous. My focus on restoration will be the aspect of returning to God after a period of sin and trials.

2019 will mark twenty years since I first accepted Christ, and it has been a wild ride. I have faced many trials over the course of these years, which have often led to me questioning God’s plan, my decision making, leaving church, going back to church, and so on and so forth. I truly admire those who have spent their lives serving God without reservation or hesitation. I would like to get to that point and stay there.

This year I am working on restoring my relationship with God, while continuing to grow as an individual. There are numerous verses, Old and New Testament, concerning coming back to God after sin and trials. I would like to share a few of them.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” -1 Peter 5:10 (NIV).

“And when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I’ve commanded you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you.” -Deuteronomy 30:2-3 (NIV).

“Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” -Psalm 80, verses 3, 7, and 10 (NIV).

As we go forward into this year, let us be mindful of God’s grace. No matter what we’ve gone through, even if the situation pushed us away from God, we can always come back to Him. God bless.

Rebuilding My Faith

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I went to church Sunday morning. I know a lot of people go to church on Sunday morning, but for me this marked the first time in over a year. With the events of the past several years, I had wandered from my faith. God was silent and I was finished with the  whole thing.

Until…

I began to feel a tug on my heart that I needed to get back to church. So I began the process of getting back into seeking God’s mercy. I walked into church and it felt like I never left. The worship was sweet and the pastor preached about the glory of God.

It was all so humbling that God still wanted something to do with me- after my wandering, my incorrect beliefs, and my not wanting anything to do with Him. God’s grace is greater than our sin and I understand that now.

“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1(KJV).