So If The Son Sets You Free, You Are Free Through And Through

“So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through”

(John 8:36, The Message).

If you have ever been to a circus, one of the things you will notice is that great big elephants are being held captive by a little chain around one of their ankles connected to a post. It is amazing to think that such a little chain, connected to such a little post, could restrain such an enormous animal. An elephant could simply take a swipe at the chain and either break the chain or pull up the post.

But circus elephants don’t just break chains and uproot posts. When they were babies, their trainers taught them that when they felt the chain, they were supposed to submit. Thus, baby circus elephants never receive an opportunity to experience their true greatness, their true identity.

Like circus elephants, we are restrained by so many things in life that prevent us from experiencing true greatness, our true identity. We hear about the power we have through our Creator, but a little chain holds us down. Why is that?

A few weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost, a celebration of God's Spirit being poured out on all people. God's Spirit is associated with power. There is no power on earth that is greater than the power of the Holy Spirit. To be quite frank, no one can live a truly victorious life except with the help that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. To convey the meaning and significance of the “Spirit-filled” life, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, used the phrase “holy and whole.”

Becoming holy and whole is what happens when we follow Christ. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is the holy and whole life that is the Spirit-filled life. Holiness is both personal and social: personal as it relates to our relationship with Christ and social in relations to our work with the poor, the powerless and the marginalized.

In thinking about the process of becoming holy and whole, I am reminded of the story of the farmer who moved to a big city. The first time he saw a mall he was with his son and his wife. He said with enthusiasm, “I’ve got to see this place. I’ve never seen anything like it!” As the farmer and his family were wandering around the mall, they came across a bank which had a large vault inside.

They didn’t quite know what a “vault” was because the farmer was used to saving his money by hiding it under a mattress or burying it in the backyard. As they were trying to figure out what the vault was, an old lady entered the bank. Slowly and with the help of her walker, the old lady approached the vault and went inside. Seconds later, a beautiful young woman strolled confidently from the vault.

From the farmer’s perspective, he saw an old lady goes in, and a gorgeous young woman comes out! He leaned over to his son and said, “Hurry up, go get your mother.” He wanted an instant transformation for his wife.

Just as the farmer’s wife would not have been immediately transformed, nor will we be immediately transformed through our “Spirit-filled” life. Holiness and wholeness do not happen instantaneously; however, we do have control over the pace at which the process takes place. We speed up or slow down the process depending upon our willingness to become more like Christ.

According to the Scripture, "like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness, then you’ll grow up mature and whole in Christ" (1 Peter 2:2). When we grow in Christ, we allow the Holy Spirit to break the chains that hold us captive then we are free to experience our true greatness, our God-given identity.

Many Blessings,

Pastor Mike

 

Make Prayer Your First Response

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything . . . 

Then you will experience God’s peace.”

(Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

Former Philadelphia Eagle wide receiver and radio announcer, Mike Quick, sparked my interest during the YMCA 25th Annual Gloucester County Mayors' Prayer Breakfast on December 1, 2016. As a former Chairperson of the YMCA Christian Emphasis Committee, I served on the Mayors' Prayer Breakfast Committee, which plans the Annual Prayer Breakfast event.

For the 25th annual event, we invited Ed Herr, President of the snack foods giant, Herr Foods, Inc., to be our special guest speaker and Mike Quick as co-speaker to talk about family and prayer. Both men, who are longtime friends and happened to have lost their mothers last year, took turns sharing life lessons they learned from their mothers.

Mr. Quick's words resonated with me as he shared how his mother lived a life of prayer, taught him how to pray and insisted he make prayer a priority in his life. He recounted many situations in his life when he called his mother to ask for advice and his mother would say, "Son, just pray." Mr. Quick recalled complaining about some injustice he was encountering, and his mother's response was, "Son, just pray."

He called his mother to ask her opinion about a possible date, and to that, she would say, "Son, just pray." No matter what the concern, he was lovingly reminded to "just pray." Mr. Quick convincingly shared that his mother's advice has been the guiding star in his successful career as a former wide receiver and now radio announcer.

The advice of Mr. Quick's mom captures the very words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi: "Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything" (Philippians 4:6). Paul was particularly concerned about the disagreement between two Christian women in the church, Euódia, and Syńtyche (Philippians 4:2). Paul's advice for handling conflict in the church is to spend little or no time on the seat of anxiety. Instead, he encourages Christians to spend much time in the secret place of prayer.

Similar to that of Mr. Quick and the church in Philippi, I too have been influenced to pray about everything. In 1978 while traveling from Montclair, New Jersey to Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a student of Oral Roberts University, I stopped for the night in St. Louis, Missouri. During the night the Lord spoke to me in a dream and impressed upon me that when faced with a circumstance, challenge, concern or condition, I was to make prayer my first response.

Ordinarily, I was the kind of person who became anxious and acted first, then prayed later. God spoke to me that night and said, "I want you to make prayer your first response." "Seek first God's Kingdom and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).

While there is a host of actions and reactions that a person can take in response to life's challenges and concerns, including those of the church, God's command is to seek his guidance through prayer first. The Holy Spirit reminds me to make prayer my first response ever since that memorable night in St. Louis. Along with Mike Quick, I can attest to the fact that you will not only receive God's favor and divine guidance for your life but also, along with countless others, you will experience God's peace when you elevate the role of prayer in your life. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Let's pray!

Pastor Mike

Put On The Full Armor Of God

“Put On The Full Armor Of God”

(Ephesians 6:11)

When I was five years old, I missed several days from school because I was sick. I had a temperature of more than one hundred degrees. As I lay in bed, my little body drenched with perspiration, I was becoming increasingly listless.

I lived in Jamaica at the time, and I don’t remember being visited by a doctor. I do remember, though, being visited by my grandmother. We called her Granny; others called her Grandma Fletcher. She was about eighty years old.

Granny was known in our family and her church as a “Prayer Warrior.” Prayer Warriors believe that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, they have enlisted in the Lord's army and therefore have an assignment to pray – a ministry of prayer. Granny believed that prayer is a spiritual weapon that can overcome the fiercest enemy.

There are many enemies in life. Sometimes the enemy is sickness, sin, or even Satan. Sometimes the enemy is a school bully or a terrorist plotting an evil act. The enemy could be a spirit of intolerance, injustice, hate, or prejudice.

My grandmother defeated the enemy of sickness that very day she came to visit me. Granny laid her hand on me. She prayed for me to get well. No sooner than she left the room, the fever broke. I got up, had some soup, regained my strength, and the next day I returned to school.

I firmly believe God is calling each of us to be "Prayer Warriors." To be a Prayer Warrior, I must learn to pray. Every disciple of Jesus should learn to pray – Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1). John Wesley, the founder of The United Methodist Church, said, “God does nothing except in response to prayer.” God’s word explains that there are enemies, (spiritual forces) that will not be defeated except through prayer.

My restoration of good health depended upon my grandmother’s prayer. Someone else's life situation depends on your prayer. The way forward for the United Methodist Church depends on our prayers.

Bishop John Schol invites all United Methodists in Greater New Jersey to join him in "Praying Our Way Forward." The Council of Bishops' prayer initiative began January 1, 2017, and continues through Spring, 2018. Each conference is registered to participate for a week of prayer, and Greater New Jersey has been assigned the week of January 29, 2017. I have registered our church's commitment to pray each day of this week. Please join Bishop Schol, Greater New Jersey Methodists, and me in praying our way forward for the unity and mission of The United Methodist Church.

If politicians could solve the problems in our communities, our communities would be better places. If money could solve the problems of life, America would have fewer problems. If weapons of war could bring peace, the world would be a peaceful place. In contrast, God said in his word “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b).

Therefore, “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). Someone’s life depends upon your prayer.

Let's pray!

Pastor Mike

What Matters Most In Life

“For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion

nor disregard of religion amounts to anything.

What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.”

(Galatians 5:6 The Message)

There once was a rich man whose lands produced bountiful harvest. He thought, “I don’t have enough space to store all my goods. What should I do?” God had blessed him so much he did not know what to do with all he had.

“Here is what I’ll do – I’ll tear down my barns and I will build larger ones. Then I will rest, eat, drink and be merry,” he decided. But God reprimanded the man, saying, “You fool. This night your life will be demanded of you and then to whom will all your things belong?” (Luke 12:16-21).

This man only thought of making himself happy. It did not occur to him that God had blessed him so he could be a blessing to other people – maybe he received all those blessings from God so he could share with the poor and the needy. In our time, such a man could give in support of orphanages; help to eradicate hunger in the world; help stop the spread of malaria in Africa; support breast cancer research; support the educational dreams of inner-city children; or support the work of the church: spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Instead of sharing his bounty, all the man decided to do was build a bigger barn, today’s equivalent of saying, ‘I will put my extra stuff in storage. I won’t give any of it away. I will keep on adding to what I have.’ The man missed out on what matters most in life – faith expressed in love for others.

In the first two verses of 1 Corinthians 13, God says the same thing in different ways. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith than can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

God says, if I don’t live a life of love, nothing I say will matter; nothing I know will matter, and nothing I believe will matter. Words without love are just noise. All the knowledge in the world cannot compensate for love, and all the faith in the world is worth nothing without love.

“For in Christ … what matters is faith expressed in love.” (Galatians 5:6). Our faith in Christ and our love for Christ is expressed when we seek out ways to help the least, the last and the lost improve the quality of their lives and connect them with Christ. God says if you miss that, you have missed the most important thing in life.

When our days in this life are over we will stand before God, and God is going to evaluate our lives. He is not going to look at our bank accounts, he is not going to look at our list of accomplishments, he is not going to look at our grades, he is not going to look at all our sports trophies nor awards and he is not going to look at our resumes. God is going to evaluate our lives on one basis – our love for Christ and our love for others.

The heart of the matter is to love Christ enough to express his love to others. The Scripture says, “If I say I love God and hate other people, I am not telling the truth.” (1 John 4:20). I cannot say that I am right with God and be out of sorts with other people. My relationship with God affects my relationship with my spouse, children, neighbors, brothers and sisters, in-laws, and my co-workers. My relationship with God affects my treatment of the poor, the homeless, the sick, and even the way I treat my adversaries.

The only thing that matters to God is whether we love Christ and whether that love is expressed in our love for others. The Scripture says, “let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18).

Many Blessings,

Pastor Mike

The Secret Of A Great Life

 

“The Secret of a Great Life”

What kind of year are you having so far – a good year or a great year?

Jim Collins, former Stanford University professor, and national bestselling author, wrote a book entitled Good to Great. According to Jim, “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

Jesus calls his disciples not just to a good life, but also to a great life. He said in John 14:12, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the father.”

In the economy of God, greatness has to do with works of service. On Wall Street and on Main Street greatness is attributed to money, influence, connection and power. Not so with the Lord! He says, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).

The secret to a great life, then, is service to others. Think of some of the great people you know – chances are many of them are committed to serving others. Jesus himself “came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Until we learn to serve others, we will limit ourselves to what is simply a good life.

Our understanding of service begins at home. The home is a training ground for what we expect in the world, and genuine service in the world is an extension of our homes. Therefore, we must teach children:

  • To make up their own beds
  • Take out the trash
  • Wash the dishes
  • Pick up after themselves
  • Help with housework
  • Lend a hand when needed
  • Volunteer at the local food pantry.

In addition, those of us who are parents should of course lead by example.

Not long ago I tried to turn on a tape recorder I had owned for some time and it would not work. After a little investigating, I realized because I had not used the recorder in quite a while, the batteries were corroded and had leaked all over. Not only were the batteries ruined but the tape recorder was also damaged. Likewise, you and I were created for service. When we do not extend ourselves in service to others we become corroded, damaged on the inside.

Serving others is the way to serve God. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me . . . As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:35-37 and 40). When we serve others, we seize our opportunity to serve God.

The more you serve the greater you are. Think of the great Mother Teresa who dedicated herself to serving the people on the streets of India. Not everybody can be Mother Teresa, but everybody can serve. Our church has many opportunities for service. Let us explore together how you might be in service to God and therefore raise your level of living from good to great!

Many Blessings,

Pastor Mike

 

Weeping May Last For A Night

“Weeping may last for a night,

but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5).

A number of years ago, someone came up with the great idea of putting playrooms in pediatricians’ offices. Oftentimes parents bring their sick children to the doctor and have to wait to be seen. The playrooms are designed to distract children from the pain of their problem until the doctor can see them. These playrooms give the children (and their parents) joy through a tough situation.

That is the way God works. Though things may not be going the way we would like them to on the surface, God has designed a “playroom” in our souls. In the midst of our troubles, He intends for his joy to distract us from our pain until He makes provision for us.

In John 17:13 Jesus prayed, “I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Jesus prayed that we would have his joy within us. He wants us to have his joy, because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

I must mention that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is short-lived but joy is long lasting. In John 16:21 Jesus teaches us the enduring nature of joy. He says, “When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world.”

I have seen this picture of a woman in labor up close and personal. I was in the delivery room for the birth of each of my three children and I must say labor looked like it really, really hurt! Giving birth is an agonizing experience. However, in an instant a mother’s pain becomes joy as she meets her baby for the first time. Jesus says that is the way times of trial work.

Today, there is much pain and grief in Pakistan because of the Easter Sunday suicide bombing, but Pakistan will rise again. That is what Jesus promised the disciples as well. The disciples would see Jesus die on the cross, but they would later experience his resurrection. God delights in performing resurrections in our lives. We do not live in a world without pain but God promised to take our pain and turn it into joy.

The Bible says, “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). If I had the option, I would order the joy without the suffering. Yet, Jesus said, that is not the way it works. Joy comes not from a change of circumstances – joy comes from having Jesus in our hearts.

Have you discovered joy through a personal pain that has allowed you to form a deeper relationship with God? Have you discovered the joy of releasing fear of death and looking instead to certainty of an eternity with God? Have you discovered the joy of knowing that whatever happens you are going to be all right because God is with you?

Jesus prayed that you would have his joy in you. Do you?

Many Blessings,

 Pastor Mike

February 2016 - Roses will bloom again!

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest,

cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

(Genesis 8:22).

Many churches are in need of what every football team has: cheerleaders. The job of a cheerleader is to tell everybody “we’re going to make it!” Cheerleaders cheer all the way through the last minutes of the game and act like the team is winning by a big score even when victory is improbable. No matter how bad things look on the scoreboard, cheerleaders’ spirits are high and they lead the fans into joyful and hopeful cheers for the team.

When folks come into today’s sanctuary with broken lives, they need to run into some cheerleaders - folks who are willing to cheer them on and tell them that they are going to make it.

Wherever you are emotionally, I want you to know that roses will bloom again! While I do mean this metaphorically, I am also thinking about Winter Storm Jonas, which dropped record amounts of snow across the East Coast January 22 through January 24, 2016. The snow affected 80 million Americans causing thirteen states to declare a state of emergency. Thirty-one people lost their lives. Jonas also brought extreme flooding to parts of the Jersey shore.

Generally, winter is not my favorite time of year. Winter is a time when the most beautiful of gardens become patches of earth with mere shadows of that which once was. It is a time when the streets become destitute of people and those who do appear move quickly through the often cold, windy and slushy streets. Wintertime is when the body’s immune system gives into the pressures and symptoms of colds and flu. The days are short, the nights are long, and savings accounts dwindle under the rising cost of heating oil. Winter is a time when some church folks stay home.

Yet, as sure as the unfolding of winter is a present reality, so much more is the future reality of spring – roses will bloom again! “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22). Because we know that roses will bloom again, we can be content for a season with trees without leaves and gardens without flowers.

Recently a distressed senior was asked how she was feeling. She said, “I feel so bad that I am encouraged because when my feelings change it can’t get any worse. It has to get better.” This woman serves to remind us that we can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only a few seconds without hope. Roses will bloom again!

Are you feeling the emotional downswing of a seemingly never ending winter in your life? If so, I am here to remind you that roses will bloom again! The uncertainty of life might be a pressing concern for you in this season of your life, but I want you to know that roses will bloom again! The joy of a happy marriage or relationship may be a fleeting memory for you, but I want you to know that roses will bloom again! You might be going through the temptation of your life but take note: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13). Roses will bloom again!

 Roses will bloom again when you allow yourself to go through the winter. Don’t give up now. Don’t quit. Keep on going. Winter will soon be over. As the word says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b). Roses will bloom again!

Roses will bloom again when your faith meets God’s grace. God’s grace (his unmerited favor) has been with you since your birth. God loves you so deeply he allowed his only begotten Son, Christ Jesus, to die for you so that believing in Jesus you will be saved from your sins.

Believing in Jesus will not erase your winter but it will ensure your future. God votes for you, the devil votes against you and your vote determines the election. Exercise your faith in God today. Faith points us beyond our problems to the hope we have in Christ Jesus. Trust God! I assure you – roses will bloom again!

Pastor Mike

January 2016 - Where are you going in the new year?

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

(Hebrews 13:8).

A businessman had to travel to a small town for a meeting and he invited his wife to go with him. She was excited about the trip until she learned her husband would be flown to the small town in a twin-engine Cessna plane.

“Honey, I’ve decided not to go,” she said. “What! Why not?” “I am not going on a little bitty, twin-engine Cessna.” Her husband smiled knowingly. “Honey, your faith is too small.” She responded, “No, the plane is too small.”

The businessman really wanted his wife to go with him, so he cancelled the Cessna and booked their travel on a major airline. His wife was once again excited about the trip, not seeing that the object of her faith determined how much faith she decided to have.

The beginning of another year offers us an opportunity to look in many directions. A new year offers us the opportunity to look back on the past year, take stock of our lives and the choice to look forward to the year ahead with great optimism. The Scripture says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). So wherever we look, we can be assured that Christ is never far away - He stands in eternity, which has neither beginning nor end. Let us look back, look forward, look inward and look to Jesus.

Let us look back at the past year positively and thankfully. Acknowledge how far God has brought us as a people and as a nation and how far we still have to go. Last year was a difficult year, but we are still here. But for the grace of God we are here. We give God thanks for the evidence of faith overcoming doubt, hope overcoming despair, courage in the midst of suffering and eternal life overcoming death.

Let us also look forward to the year ahead with faith, hope and love. Love conquers all things. It is not a coincidence that the New Year comes right after Christmas. Christmas brings good news that God is with us and if God is with us who can be against us? In Christ we have a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Because God is with us we can look at each new day with keen anticipation and hope. Because God is with us we know that tomorrow is going to be alright. “He is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Let us also look inward. Take stock of yourself. Ask yourself: Am I where I want to be? Am I doing what God wants me to do? Am I growing in love with God and increasing my faith? Am I offering my time, talents and treasure to help the least, the last and the lost? Am I maximizing my potential or am I just taking up space and marking time? The Psalmist prayed “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Finally, let us look to Jesus “the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). In 2016 let us seek to spend more time with Jesus who endured the worst so that we can have the best – a personal relationship with God in this life and the next.

Imagine a conversation an unhappy kite was having with itself. The kite said, “If only I could get rid of this string. If the string was not holding me back, then I could really fly. I could fly above the clouds. I could fly as high as I want to. If I could get rid of the string, there would be nothing holding me back! I am limited by this string.”

One day the kite got its wish. The string broke. The kite did not fly high above the clouds. Instead the kite came crashing down. What the kite did not realize was that the string that secured the kite to earth, kept it up in the sky. Cutting the string did not free the kite. The severed string meant a downward spiral and the end of its possibilities.

Staying connected to Jesus in 2016 will keep us uplifted. Whatever we may encounter tomorrow, or next week, or next month or six months from now, let us look to Jesus each day growing more like Him in faith and love. He will see us through to new possibilities. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Pastor Mike