Don and Deyon Stephens know how to dream big. In 1978 they imagined launching a ship that would provide medical care to the poor in undeveloped nations. Thirty-three years later, Mercy Ships, the ministry the couple founded, has expanded that vision to include the world’s largest charity hospital ship.
“Jesus clearly, in the New Testament, gave us the great commandment and the Great Commission, so those are the bookends of Mercy Ships,” Don says. “Those are the two compass points that have helped me develop Mercy Ships.”
2011 began bleak. With 13 million Americans unemployed, many middle-class families had to turn to an unfamiliar source to put food on the table: the church.
Many ministries such as Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida have recorded a 100 percent increase in the number of soup kitchens and pantries that they start to collect and distribute donated food.
The Obama administration has revised portions of the “conscience clause,” which protected health care workers from being forced to perform procedures that conflict with their faith. The new regulations still protect medical workers’ rights not to perform abortions, but professionals can no longer refuse to provide contraception or to give in-vitro fertilization to lesbians or single women.
A new survey found that 61 percent of young people would like to be virgins when they get married. Another 63 percent said they would regain their virginity if it were possible, cites a OneHope survey of 5,108 teens between the ages of 13 and 18.
Sixteen-year-old pop superstar Justin Bieber (below) was outspoken about his pro-life views when featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. Dubbed the “Tween evangelist” by USA Today, Bieber says he is a Christian and released a single titled “Pray” last year. His mother, Pattie Mallette, says Bieber recognizes his singing is “a gift—and a ministry.”
The Holy Spirit is on the move in the small town of Brooksville, Fla., observers say.
With the local economy in shambles—including a 17 percent unemployment rate—even the ever-popular Starbucks restaurant closed its doors. Yet the Rising Sun Café, owned by John and Lisa Callea, continues to buck the trend.
Within a year of his conversion John arrived in Florida in 2005. He was penniless and divorced, but he remembered a message the Lord gave him in 2001: “The church is broken. It’s become a business and has forgotten Me. I will build My church in the marketplace.”
Try this: Turn on your television and flip through the channels. You’re more likely to see sex, drugs and violence than you are positive images.
“The media has helped to shape the young minds with some negative/false images of what is acceptable for a teen to feel valued in society,” says Stacey Spencer, founder of youth-oriented ministry Teen Tyme.
A documentary that follows a Palestinian Muslim, a Palestinian Christian and an Israeli Jew’s journey to bring peace in the West Bank, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem won this year’s Reel Rose Award for Best Documentary at the John Paul II International Film Festival.
In Little Town of Bethlehem, three men born into violence are determined to risk everything to bring peace between their respective religions.
Director Jim Hanon says his documentary doesn’t land on one religious side but instead highlights the need for peace among religions and the biblical model of loving your enemies.
Still, producer Mart Green, whose film company has backed other award-winners, hopes the film prompts audiences to at least ask this question: “Might love be the greatest weapon of all?”
Philippians 4:1-23 Most of us are familiar with the phrase that is "batted about" so casually today: "Don't worry, be happy." There is a way you can not worry and be happy no matter what you are facing in this life—pray. The phrase should be revised to say, "Don't worry, Pray!" If we followed this admonition, our lives would be filled with joy (not just a happy "ha-ha" joy, but an inner joy that will strengthen us in all circumstances).
Worry is a sin. Worry is negative meditation. When we meditate, we roll over and over again in our minds the same thing. When we worry, we keep thinking over and over again the same negative thought. Both my mother and mother-in-law were worriers. I think since they both went through the Great Depression a little worry bug was implanted deep within them, and it was hard to shake it off. Most of the things they worried about never came to pass.
We all have unseen weakness that could make us vulnerable to the enemy’s attack. Here’s how to be on your guard.
Many people who by the grace of God have never been "had" by the devil wrongly assume that all departures from godliness are nothing but rebellion and proofs of inauthenticity. They have no idea of the suffering involved when someone with a genuine heart for God slips from the path.
I don't know how many times I've repeated the statement I'm about to make, but I'll keep saying it until at least one skeptic hears, "Not everyone in a stronghold of sin is having a good time."
Our relationships become healthier when we remember the message of the cross.
In our relationships, it is important for us to remember that mutual love and respect are to be accomplished out of reverence to Christ. To the degree that each of us is subject to Jesus Christ, the Lord enables us to relate to each other lovingly and respectfully.
The reverse corollary is also true. To the degree that we are not subject to Jesus Christ, He will not rule our hearts, and forgiveness will not be built into us as a moment-by-moment daily practice. When we do not submit our wills to Him, we will be subject to one another, but to one another's selfish control rather than to blessing.
Good, bad or indifferent, each of us does relate to every person with whom we come in contact. We affect others in some way. In that sense, we cannot avoid being subject to on another.
Without the presence of Jesus in our lives, we will relate to others only according to the flesh and not by the Spirit. Only when the cross is present is the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ able to transform our relationships to produce blessing rather than harm.
Our distance from the cross of Christ, practically, in daily living, is the reason we have so many broken relationships and divorces today. People are paying lip service to Jesus, but they don't know how to walk with Him moment by moment. They can't maintain long-term relationships because the fire of unforgiveness burns within them.
When a man and woman enter the marriage relationship, the husband and wife often tend to counterbalance each other. For example, if one tends to talk too much, the other is likely to remain silent. If one is a strong disciplinarian, the other probably will be more lax.
When this tendency to counterbalance one another occurs, tensions develop between partners because one or the other is pressed to lean uncomfortably toward behavior contrary to his or her normal temperament or beliefs. This counterbalancing dynamic is also active among siblings, friends and business associates.
The key to overcoming this dynamic is in sensitive applications of the cross and forgiveness. We must evaluate what is happening in all our relationships and put our own ego in proper perspective.
Jesus said, " 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me'" (Matt.16:24, NKJV). We can take the practices of our relationships to the cross through forgiveness so that through the power of Jesus Christ our selfishness can be put to death and our wounded feelings healed.
Find out a few things speaking in tongues empowers a believer to do.
Our spirit language enables us to have spirit-to-Spirit communication with God. Speaking in tongueshelps us fulfill the Scriptures that instruct us to be filled with the Spirit, led of the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, live in the Spirit, and worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.
Our spirit language builds up our spirit man. Praying in tongues charges our spirits like a battery charger powers a battery. Jude 1:20 declares that we build ourselves up in the faith by praying in the Spirit. The apostle Paul also declared in Romans 5:5 that the love of God is poured into our hearts by praying in our spirit language.
Our spirit language is a catalyst that produces all the manifestations of the Spirit of God. Speaking in tongues empowers us to become more Christ-like, produce the fruit of the Spirit and manifest the supernatural gifts of God (see Gal. 5:22; 1 Cor. 12:7-11). First Corinthians 14:4 says, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” Edify means “to build up, enable, empower and charge.”
The gift of the Holy Spirit places a power-producing plant within us that generates the power of God like the Hoover Dam pumps electricity. The dam’s water gate is like our mouths, while the turbine inside the gate is like our tongues. The dynamo in the heart of the dam is like the Holy Spirit within our spirits.
The fast twirling of the turbine’s blades is what causes the rotation of the great dynamo in the heart of the dam. The dynamo is what generates the power, but it’s the turning of the turbine that starts and keeps the dynamo going.
This is what happens when we are filled with the Spirit, open the water gate of our mouths and allow those rivers of living water to flow. As the turbine of our tongues begins to churn out the language of the Spirit, it starts a dynamo activity in our spirits that generates the power of God within us.
From this illustration we understand more what Jesus had in mind when He said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8, NKJV). You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit enables you to generate the power of God by praying in tongues. The reservoir is filled with good evangelical water for cleansing, baptizing and fishing for new converts, but it does not produce any power until it flows through the water gate and turns the turbine.
The spirit language is the activator of the gifts of the Spirit. In short, speaking in tongues grows the fruit of faith, which is the procurer of all God’s promises.
Everybody is either in a trial now or between trials.
You have either just had one, you are going to have one, or you are having one. But why call it a "fiery" trial as Peter does? This is because by its light the fire reveals precisely what we are spiritually.
It is apparent, of course, that this only appeals to those who have a desire to be godly.
For example, our endurance can be tested during a trial by how we respond to it. If we begin complaining and murmuring, we will acknowledge later that we did not stand up to the trial very well for we did not display a godly nature. Thus trials will test our ability to manifest all the fruit of the Spirit. They test our work whether we have been walking in the light, and they expose how spiritual we really are, which is the sum of all that has gone on before.
What makes a trial a trial is that God, as it were, leaves us, and we feel deserted and betrayed. We say, "God, I don't believe this; why would You do this to me? Why desert me at a moment when I needed You the most?" Is that not the way you have felt? That's why it is called a "fiery" trial; God leaves you to test you, to see what is there. And so, this is the thing about the trial by fire: it exposes how spiritual we really are—which is the sum total of all our Christian living so far. We are forced to see ourselves, and we can find out how Christlike we truly are.
Excerpted from When God Says "Well Done!" (Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1993).
Unforgiveness says three things to God (hint: none of them good).
God is no fan of an unforgiving spirit—at all. Jesus was clear about it: “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, your Father will not forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15, NKJV). Why does He so hate an unwillingness to forgive?·
·1. It shows an indifference to the greatest thing God did.
This “greatest thing” was God sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins. To be forgiven is the most wonderful thing in the world. But in order to forgive us, God paid a severe price.·
I predict that when we get to heaven we will be able to see, little by little, what it meant for God to send His Son to die on a cross. We now see only the tip of the iceberg. We see waves of glory, and these overcome us, but we’ve seen little.·
God did for us what we did not deserve. He therefore wants us to pass this on to others who don’t deserve it.
2. We interrupt God’s purpose in the world: reconciliation.
God loves reconciliation. He has given the ministry of reconciliation to us, and He wants it to continue.·
When we are forgiven, He wants us to pass it on. When we interrupt that, He doesn’t like it at all. He sent His Son to die on a cross, effectually calling us by His grace and giving us total forgiveness. But we interrupt that flow by not passing it on.
·3. God hates ingratitude.·
God knows the sins for which He has forgiven us, and He loves a grateful response. Matthew 18 relates the story of a servant who owed a great debt. He fell on his knees before his creditor, his master, and said, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all” (v. 26). The master took pity on him, canceling the debt and letting him go. The master knew the things for which he had forgiven his servant.·
But then that same servant went out and found one of his own servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He grabbed the man and began to choke him, saying, “Pay me what you owe!” (v. 28).·
The fellow servant did exactly what he himself had done; he fell on his knees and said, “Please forgive me. I will pay you back.”·
But the one who had been forgiven a much greater debt refused to extend forgiveness, and he threw his servant into prison. To think there could be such ingratitude!·
Word eventually reached the original master, and the unforgiving servant was also thrown into debtor’s prison.·
Jesus then added, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matt. 18:35).·
God knows what we have done. He knows the sins for which He has forgiven us, the things that no one else will ever hear about. If we turn around and say, “I can’t forgive that person for what he has done,” God doesn’t like that at all. He hates ingratitude.
For 16 years, Annie Lobért was known at various times as a prostitute, high-class escort and stripper. At the age of 18, Lobért willingly entered the sex industry as a rebellious and curious teenager, only to be sex-trafficked later into a life of coercion and threats—and utter misery.
“Ninety percent of prostitutes are sex-trafficked,” says Lobért, who finally broke free from the industry, became a Christian and now lives to help others who want to get out.
She says people don’t understand that although many women enter the industry on their own free will, they eventually lose control of their lives: “In the end, you’re trafficked.”
Joe Hurston and his family know about giving. Hurston has given his life to missionary work in Haiti since 1978, living in the poorest conditions. But this year the tables turned and the longtime missionary family is learning how to receive.
Last year, while the family was away on a missions trip, a plumbing problem caused pipes to burst and flood their Florida home. For almost a year, Hurston and his wife, Cindy, and their three youngest children—Joliet, 17, Peter, 12, and Dieunika, 4—lived in an RV camper.
Hurston was recently working on his mission plane at Tico Airport in Titusville, Fla., when another small aircraft landed on the runway. Inside was Ty Pennington, designer and host of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, who gave him the news that his family had been selected to receive a new home.
“It seems to me that if the primary view of sanctification comes through simplicity, poverty, suffering, [then] if you don’t get those things it’s almost like when God blesses it’s hard to be sanctified because you don’t know what to do with it. What if God wants to sanctify you through not poverty but generosity, not suffering but blessing; and what if it’s not through simplicity but complexity?”
—Mark Driscoll, who questioned Francis Chan’s decision to leave his megachurch and give away everything last year. Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, suggested Chan might be following the “theology of poverty,” a belief that he says is just as detrimental as the prosperity gospel.
“I believe it’s motivated by love and a desire to be Christ-like; I don’t want to suffer needlessly or just to suffer. To me, the core issue here has to be love. I think in times of prosperity, for me, I look at Scripture and go: ‘Wow, this is awesome. Look at this great-selling book, all this money. What do I want to do? I want to give it to the people who need it.’ I get excited about that.”
—Francis Chan, who says he did not needlessly give away his money or step down from his church but was striving to be like Christ
Every 15 seconds a child dies from a water-related sickness. The Passion movement is doing something about that. In April, the ministry will host its second Do Something Now event of 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas, with one goal: to marry worship and justice.
Passion conferences draw thousands of young people every year to pray, worship, and give time and money to causes such as funding wells in India or clothing the homeless. To illustrate the amount of wells being built in India, students are encouraged to pour water into tubes to represent what they give monetarily. At Passion’s January event in Atlanta, students gave more than $75,000 to purchase 24 wells. Overall, the conference brought in more than $1.1 million for charities. Passion leaders are hoping to provide even more wells next month.
In recent years, the body of Christ has been almost overwhelmed with reports of church leaders who have been unfaithful in their marriages. When this happens to our leaders, the result can be that all Christians have deep concerns about who will stay pure.
Thankfully, God offers unlimited grace and forgiveness for wrongdoing. But we must never underestimate the power of sexual sin.
Romans 7:23-25 reminds us of the mind's power as we battle to overcome temptation: "But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me" (NLT).
Throughout the apostle Paul's books, he returns to the message that to overcome sin we must recognize and understand the mind and its power.
Recently my colleague Dr. Joe McIlhaney and I explored new research on human brain activity for our book Hooked: How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children. In writing Hooked, I was struck by the wisdom Paul possessed 2,000 years ago apart from the aid of modern scientific discoveries.
According to science, we are far more complex and intelligently designed than we appear to be on the surface. Understanding this is vital to equipping our response to a sex-crazed culture.
Science reveals a sex-and-brain partnership that fully supports the Bible's guidance to remain faithful in our marriages. As Christians, we need to understand what is going on inside our brains so we can wage war where the largest battlefield exists—our minds.
According to science, the largest sex organ is the brain. Scientific evidence reveals that the brain releases a series of hormones that knit individuals into relationships that complement the biblical vision of two becoming one flesh. For a female, meaningful physical touching produces oxytocin in the brain that bonds her to a mate. Men have the same reaction when vasopressin is released.
These chemicals show us that we are created for committed marriage relationships. But another chemical comes into play—one that can support these bonds or break them down.
Dopamine is a brain hormone that rewards us for doing exciting activities. The God-given gift of sex is exciting and when the bonding act of love is rewarded with dopamine, we become "hooked"—even addicted—to this bonding activity with our spouses. The reaction of all three chemicals support the importance of fidelity in marriage.
Sex is more than just an exciting experience; it's an intimate, cherished act for two individuals to deepen their bond between each other. When we are exposed to the ideas, attitudes and behaviors of this world—the culture of casual sex—the challenge lies in how we respond.
When an individual begins to search for immediate opportunities to fulfill their natural dopamine fix through extramarital relationships, the consequences include a chemical bond that literally addicts that person to sin. God's desire is to free us from such slavery.
Both God and science are calling us to a higher standard. Pastors, spouses, couples, singles, anyone who calls himself a Christian, needs to recognize that the mind is a battlefield and that our actions have a literal addictive effect.
Scripture is clear about how we Christians should revere our marriages—it is depicted in Christ's faithful, committed love for His church. Science confirms fidelity is both God's intent and a gift that was placed in our own brains the day we were fearfully and wonderfully made in His image.
Freda McKissic Bush, M.D., is the co-author of the new book Hooked: New Science On How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children. Maintaining an active OB-GYN practice in Jackson, Mississippi, Bush also serves on the board of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health. Her passion is to help women "raise the standard" to be all they were created to be.
Where there is no opposition to evil, evil will multiply.
Famed philosopher and orator Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It’s true. Doing nothing is easy, but it’s also dangerous. Where there is no opposition to evil, evil will multiply.
We all fall into the trap of complaining about the things that are wrong. But complaining does nothing except discourage us even more. It changes nothing because there is no positive power in it.
Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." —1 Corinthians 15:33
Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote in his masterpiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha, "Tell me thy company, and I will tell thee what thou art." There is some truth to that statement. We are known by the company we keep.
We often believe that this concept applies only in our interaction with unbelievers; however, this can be applied to our relationship within the body of Christ, also.
Some years ago I was in a situation where I found myself unwittingly in the grip of someone who I could see was not good for me. The person was a professing Christian, but I found myself in his grip, and I was leaning on him. I realized that this was wrong, and God delivered me from the situation. I was so thankful.
Am I advising you to avoid altogether unbelievers or certain members within the body of Christ? Most certainly not. However, ask the Lord to shine His light on the various relationships in your life.
Could it be that at this moment you are in this snare? You are trapped with bad company, and they are doing you no good. Maybe, however, you have rationalized the situation and made up excuses, concluding that you can be an exception. You wouldn't recommend anybody else to do what you are doing.
The worst thing that you can do, however, is to begin to think that you are the exception to the rule. For the devil will come alongside and say that you are different, that you can associate with wrong company. Then, before you know it, you are in a trap.
It is a wonderful thing to realize that God delivers us from bad company.
Maybe you are in a situation where you are being wrongly influenced, and as a consequence you have lost the sense of inner peace. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But bad company causes you to lose the peace that God wants you to have. I ask you, are you in the grip of bad company?
Excerpted from Higher Ground (Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1995).