The Purpose for Our Life

Act 13:36  For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption,

This verse is one of the first verses that comes to my mind when I think about purpose. David a man with many failures in life served the purpose of God in his generation. Regardless of all his mistakes the purpose in which God called David too was fulfilled. This is my prayer; my desire is to serve the purpose that God has called me too in my generation. This is my prayer for you my friend too!

When I think of purpose I also think of the apostle Paul who was locked up in a prison cell in Rome. Paul with a possible death sentence hanging over his head wrote these words in Philippians 1:19‐21, “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul here is in prison for preaching the gospel, but he’s in prison preaching the gospel! Paul here could’ve been discouraged and upset but instead he understands his purpose, he says to live is Christ, and to die is gain! Paul is saying it doesn’t matter what you do to me: If I live or if I die…Jesus will be magnified! If I live I am going to live for Him and if I die I am going to be with Him! I can’t lose!

How was Paul able to have such confidence and boldness? I believe one of the key factors to Paul’s success was his understanding of the purpose. And how did he know what that purpose was? Because one day, on the road to Damascus, on his way to arrest some Christians, he got blasted off his horse and fell on his face in the dirt, where Jesus spoke to him. And when Paul was before King Agrippa he testified of what Jesus spoke to him, Jesus said, “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:16‐18)

Paul understood exactly what his purpose was! God had a plan for his life. My friends, we must know that we were created for a purpose. As Paul continued to speak to King Agrippa, the roadmap to our purpose was revealed. In Acts 26:19‐20 he continues to speak, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”

We must repent and turn to God! We must do works meet for repentance! Another translation says, “Do things that prove they had changed their lives.” First comes salvation, and then the opportunity to live out the purpose God had for us. Our number one purpose in our generation is to glorify God! That is our ultimate purpose. We are to love the Lord thy God with all of our heart, and with all of our soul, and with all of our mind, and with all of our strength: this is the first commandment. (Mark 12:30) We are to let our lights shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16) We should do all to the glory of the Lord and we should do it heartily as to the Lord and not as unto men. (Colossians 3:23) We are bought with a price: therefore we should glorify God in our bodies, and in our spirits, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20) We glorify God in our bodies through walking in holiness: presenting our bodies as living sacrifices that are acceptable unto God. (Romans 12:1) Friends, whatever you may accomplish in this life nothing will compare to fulfilling Gods purpose for you which is leveraging your life for God’s glory!

Honoring God

The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:10-11



I have heard the term “giving God honor” a lot recently, but what does it mean? When one looks around at the church today, one can get a mixed message on what honor actually means! In a culture of comfort, entitlement and self-indulgence, the lives of believers in Jesus Christ should declare a very different message. I don’t mean only what we say and sing on Sunday morning, but the very testimony of our living sacrifices, our whole bodies—flesh and spirit—presented to God as holy and acceptable (Rom. 12:1). When we honor God, we are demonstrating the high regard we have for Him. We are reflecting His glory back as praise and worship.

The Bible shows many ways to honor and glorify God. We show Him high regard and reflect His character by being sexually pure (1 Corinthians 6:18–20), by giving of our income (Proverbs 3:9), and by living lives devoted to Him (Romans 14:8). It is not enough to merely honor Him outwardly. God desires honor that comes from our hearts. “The Lord says, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’” (Isaiah 29:13). We ought to delight in the Lord, seek Him in everything we do and make choices that reflect the place He has in our hearts, regardless of the cost or what others think of us! When we honor God in this way we bring Him the greatest honor.

When you consider the religious freedom we enjoy in America, it is difficult to imagine many instances where following God would be costly, especially compared to some places in the world where such a choice can cost you your life or family. But don’t be mistaken we are faced with choices each day and our decisions reflect on who we are honoring. Refusing to cave in to pressure at work could cost you a promotion. Choosing not to join in on some activities could cost you socially. Sharing your faith in Christ may invite some strong opposition from others. Distancing yourself from gossip may cost you friendships. Choosing not to push the envelope on tax deductions will cost you financially. We are faced with these and many other choices daily that cost us! But in the end there are no real sacrifices because nothing is better than honoring and obeying God. The Lord rewards those who choose to honor Him and follow His ways. At the time such choices can be painful, but faith enables us to push through these uncomfortable situations. Making choices that honor God is one way our faith is developed. If all our choices were easy, our faith would be weak. We can be grateful that God gives us opportunities to face opposition because few meaningful things in life come without a cost. So Christian, regardless of the cost of the decision you are facing, honor God! Don’t make decisions because they are easy, make decisions that are right in the eyes of God! This is what it means to give God honor!

Getting Beyond The Lid

 

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This letter was recently shared with me by a father that is incarcerated. Although he is hundreds of miles away from his children and behind razor wire and chain linked fence, he still chooses to be a positive influence to his children. I believe you will be blessed as you read this letter that he wrote to his children.

Have you ever felt like you’ve poured “Your” everything – heart, mind, soul, and strength – into a valuable project and even though you are waiting for it to bloom…it never does? Well, I have. In fact, several times. By no means would I ever boast to know everything; that would be foolish. However, I have learned this from experience…if you want to get beyond the lids of life you need God and for me it was as simple as that.

Some folks won’t accept advice unless it comes from a qualified advice giver. That’s right. Who wants medical advice from a mechanic? However, if that mechanic has survived a medical crisis that I am now experiencing, then maybe the mechanic actually knows more about my situation than a doctor who has never actually experienced it beyond his diagnosis. I’m no mechanic or doctor, but I do have some experiences that could qualify me to share a little advice about getting beyond the lids of life and it may help, if you are inclined to listen.

  I’ve survived the high school experience, I even graduated. I was a teenage parent, maybe not a good one, but what can you expect from a teenager? I’ve been in love with young ladies, older women, money, marijuana, music, and even making love (to put it nicely). I’ve served as a soldier in my family, in the street, and even in the active duty military.

I’ve dreamed of being famous, wealthy, and respected, and did whatever it took to pursue those aspirations, “All I wanted to be was…the richest man in your city.” I even made songs about it. I’ve been addicted to the game and played games with addictions. I’ve been a loving father as well as a dead beat dad. I’ve been engaged, married, and unfortunately divorced. I’ve been liked, loved, and hated; I’ve been unemployed, an employee, and yes, I’ve been the boss. I’ve owned this, that, and the other, and then I’ve turned around and lost all.

I’ve lost people that meant the world to me and I’ve survived dreadful pain that I thought would never heal. I’ve been a great inspiration to some and a drastic disappointment to others. I could probably fill this entire page with the things I’ve started, but never completed. Know anybody like that? I’ve been poor, hungry, and angry; I’ve been tired, hurt, and done wrong by those I treated right. You may not have been through any of this…but it doesn’t mean you won’t. That being said, maybe we should have a conversation.

As people, we have a tendency to “start over” when we don’t actually have to. For example, someone has already invented the wheel, so why not start from where they left off, instead of starting from scratch? Finally learning this simple lesson has worked wonders for me.

In the Old Testament Bible culture, the word “Son” is “Bane” and it means, “One who builds on the family name.” In order to do this, we must know what others in our family have already built up. Obviously, it is impossible to build on the dreams of our parents that we don’t know they had.

I am guilty of not being a good son, in that I did not purpose to build on the dreams of my parents; and I am guilty of not being a good father, in that I did not actually teach my children to build upon anything. My excuse is that I didn’t know, but of course we know what they say about excuses. The fact is this: The moment I started producing children, it became my responsibility as a man to learn what I didn’t know. None of us are exempt.

Unfortunately, it took me over 36 years of surviving foolishness to finally come to this realization. Hopefully, you will acknowledge what I am writing and get it in less time…maybe not. Either way, it won’t stop me from advising you on lid raising. I do this because I love you.

I remember how my Uncle Naman offered me the opportunity to drive trucks with him. In essence, he was presenting me with a chance to raise my lid and build on the family name. Because Uncle Naman is a man of God, I would have not only learned to drive trucks, I have no doubt that I would have also learned a lot about the Lord. I realize today he was trying to fill the father role in my life where my biological dad was absent. Maybe if I had taken his loving offer, I would not be incarcerated at this time.

Today, I have grandchildren I have never held and adult children I haven’t embraced in over 10 years. One thing I think we all know from experience is this: tomorrow is not promised. Yes, I’ve been down some roads, physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, but so have you and maybe we can learn from each other about getting beyond the lids of life. I would be honored if you built on my experiences instead of starting from scratch, but since I’m still building I am not beyond using your experiences as building blocks.

The greatest disadvantage of starting from scratch is that we often make mistakes that someone else has already figured out, it wastes time that could be spent more productively. As a business man, you know I hate to waste time, and as a minister, I love to talk about the Lord.

In the Holy Bible I found a treasure of helpful information and a wealth of building blocks. God has already figured it all out if we would only listen. That lesson alone took me 32 years to learn. After trying almost everything else, God’s way not only made perfect sense, His ways actually work. Today, not only has He got me beyond the lids in my life, but now I am honored to build on the family name of God.

I heard it put this way by an old woman of God. She simply said, “Son, you need to try Jesus.” It took a while, but I finally took her advice and the lids were lifted; in fact, they are still being lifted. So as I stated before, “If you want to get beyond the lids of life, you need the Lord, and for me it was as simple as that.”

An Attack on Family

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One of the institutions that God designed in this world is family. We know from looking around us that family is under attack in this world. In fact I believe it is on the top of Satan’s to do list to destroy this institution. He seeks to turn husband against wife, wife against husband, children against parents, parents against children and sadly He has been successful. The divorce rate is around 50 % and there are approximately 18 million children across the United States growing up in fatherless homes. Many of these fatherless homes are due to the fact that over a million fathers are incarcerated in the United States. This is the very reason why I believe courses like “Inside Out Dad” are important inside of prison. I have made this course from National Fatherhood Initiative, a priority in the prison I serve at because I want to help fathers increase their involvement, responsibility and commitment to their children and the mothers of their children even while incarcerated.

Another interesting fact is that the family is one of this country’s most valuable weapons in fighting crime. Prisoners who receive visitors, maintain family ties, and are released to a stable home environment are more likely to succeed in leading productive, crime-free lives. Families provide an incentive for prisoners to grow, learn, and change. It’s not always easy, but parents in prison can contribute positively to a child’s upbringing through letter writing, phone calls, and family visits. This is why it is important to pray for the families of the incarcerated and help them remain connected if at all possible.

I believe one of the overlooked set of people in this world is the families of the incarcerated. When the father goes to prison it creates a void in the home. There is really no way to replace it! I would like to challenge us as Christians to reach out to the families of the incarcerated. They are all around you, it may be your neighbor, the person you work with, or the family you attend church with. Reach out to them, not with a self-righteous attitude but with a caring one. They get judged daily by people just because their father has been incarcerated. When you caringly ask a mother how her child is coping with her father’s incarceration and offer to pray for the family, this is as much a ministry as sending children to summer camp or providing Christmas gifts. In fact, it may be even greater. We as Christians need to make time to boldly bring the needs of prisoners’ families before the throne of God! Or maybe you’re okay with the status quote. I’M NOT!

Know God, Not the Plan

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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

When working in ministry you are asked questions sometimes that are rather difficult to answer. Over the last several years I’ve asked many of these questions, “How long will you remain in ministry?” What if God had something else for you?” and “What is God’s plan for your future?” Answers to these questions aren’t always easy for several reasons. First, because ministry never ends, yes we may stay in certain areas of ministry for a season but as a Christian wherever you are and whatever you do, the need and importance of ministry is still there. The second reason these questions are difficult for me to answer is that I don’t know God’s plan. God has led me to have a passion and love for the incarcerated and I chose to follow His leading so that I may glorify Him through disciping men and equipping them to make disciples among the incarcerated. I can plan and map out the way in front of me if I want but it still only remains my plan. I can speculate changes in my future but it still only remains my speculations. There is one thing I don’t have and that God’s master plan.

Throughout my past I have heard numerous sermons about finding the grand and glorious plan that God has already mapped out for you.  If only we can figure out God’s plan, then we’ll be set.  But I have not found that to be true in my life. In fact out of curiosity I Googled “God’s plan” one night and had hundreds of results that came up, all about focusing, finding, and following God’s plan for you. I have come to this conclusion at this point in my life that God isn’t going to tell me His plan.  God’s plan is on a need-to-know basis, and apparently, He thinks I don’t need to know.

So does following God cause uncertainty at times in our lives? Yes and No! Yes it may cause uncertainty at times but it should never cause us to distrust God. The problem for many of us adults is that we don’t really trust God.  If Jesus himself drove up to our house and said, “Get in,” we’d have some questions we would want answered. “Where are we going?” “How long is this going to take?” “What do I need?” We would waste a bunch of time trying to figure out what Jesus had planned before we would agree to go along.  And that is how most of us live our lives.  We are obsessed with finding things out, especially as they relate to us and our lives.  We want to know where we are headed, how we are getting there, how long it will take, and what will we need. And we won’t budge until we have all those questions answered.

The secret to finding out God’s plan for your life isn’t to keep asking God to tell you the plan. It’s to get in the car and go.  It doesn’t matter where God is taking you.  Just go. The reality is none of us know where God is taking us.  And our obsession with knowing the plan is just our obsession with control.  We want to know so we can feel more in control of our destinies. God has never promised to tell us the plan for our lives.  He has only promised that if we want to, we can know Him. The reason most of us are obsessed with knowing God’s plan is because we don’t really know Him.  Faith is not knowing the plan.  It’s going even if you don’t know the plan.  And faith comes from knowing God.  God hasn’t promised a plan.  He’s promised Himself.

So my reply to the questions that have been asked of me is this. I am God’s creation and when he formed and created me, He put inside of me a passion and love for the incarcerated. God has opened doors and led me to serve Him through prison ministry and I am willing to stay where I am at and be faithful in service to Him or go and serve Him elsewhere if He leads me. Ministry will not have an ending date in my life as long as I live because as a Christian it is what I’ve been commissioned to do. I don’t know God’s master plan and rather than me trying to determine and know His plan I am choosing to pursue and know the God that is leading me.

Why Church Matters

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I was recently asked the question, “Why does Church matter? Why do you believe meeting together is biblical? Do you believe in Jail House religion?”

The person asking these questions claimed to be a Christian but wouldn’t fellowship with other Christians due to his believe of Jail House Religion. My response was immediate as I pointed out that yes, Jail House Religion does exist but not with everybody and that the purpose of meeting together as believers is to glorify God.

I love the verse in Acts 2 which I consider the purpose statement for the church.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42 According to this verse, the purposes/activities of the church should be teaching biblical doctrine, providing a place of fellowship for believers, observing the Lord’s Supper, and praying.

It is important that believers attend church, regardless of all the excuses that are made for not attending church. It is important so that we can be grounded in our faith by the teaching of biblical doctrine. It is important to regularly be in a place of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honor one another (Romans 12:10), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and most importantly, love one another (1 John 3:11). It is also important that believers observe the Lord’s Supper together, remembering Christ’s death and shed blood on our behalf.

The last purpose of the church mentioned in Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church is to be a place that promotes prayer, teaches prayer, and practices prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The concept of Jail House Religion also exists outside of the prison walls. Our churches sadly are full with people who only attend church to get what they need from God but live their daily lives as if God doesn’t exist. Is that an excuse for not attending Church? Is that an excuse for not fellowshipping with other Christians? NO! When the church gathers and teaches biblical doctrine, provides a place of fellowship for believers, observes the Lord’s Supper, and prays, God is glorified and you will be quickened in your faith.

Another commission given to the church is proclaiming the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, In Matthew 28: 18-20, Jesus commissioned His disciples with these words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The church is called to be faithful in sharing the gospel through word and deed. The church is to be a “lighthouse” in the community, pointing people toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is why I believe as Christians we need to be all about church growth and I believe prisons are a great place for that to happen! We need to set aside the negativity that is attached to prisons and begin planting churches behind the walls of prison! Churches that will reproduce themselves! Churches that both promote the gospel and prepare its members to proclaim the gospel! Churches that will last long after you have left. That is my purpose in ministry! Will it be yours too?

The Importance of Family (Prison Family Night Update)

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Family is important, but in today’s society families are beset by divorce, the absence of parents, imprisonment, breakdown of authority, and a host of other problems. The concept of family is extremely important in the Bible and was introduced in the very beginning, as we see in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” God’s plan for creation was for men and women to marry and have children. A man and a woman would form a “one-flesh” union through marriage (Genesis 2:24), and they with their children become a family, the essential building block of human society. Families are building blocks that impact society and society impacts our country. So an ideal country is not only build by government but also each and every family member.

Recently I was again reminded of this importance as we had “Family Nights” at the prison in which I serve at. This was the first time that the men inside of our Faith/Character Based Honor Dorm had a family night since November, 2009. This night was a reward to those men who had stayed out of trouble and had chosen to live in a more structured lifestyle. It was a night where their family members could join them for a 4 hour visit and eat all the Pizza, snacks and cookies that they can. It was a night where they could be together as family! Many things happened during these family nights that brought tears to my eyes, tears of sadness and tears of joy. I saw children hanging out with their daddy’s, wives with their husbands, moms with their sons, dads with their sons,  sisters with their brothers, brothers with their brothers, grandma’s with their grandsons and even grandchildren with their grandpas. I also saw many who sat and ate their pizza alone with no family. The anticipation each night was evident as the men waited in the visitation area for their family members to arrive. You could see by the looks on their faces who was expecting family and who wasn’t.

Each evening I made a point to walk from one table to another and talk to the men and their families. One guy eagerly introduced me to his grandmother and sister who had driven several hundred miles to see him that night. Another man introduced me to his wife of 50 years, another introduced me to his five year old granddaughter, and another introduced me to his mom who was sitting on a wheelchair whom he had not seen in six years. Each table was busting with excitement and conversation, each family was back together for this one night.

As I looked at what was happening before my eyes I was reminded how important it is to nurture and protect our families. For those who had no family visiting them it was just another night of loneliness, another reminder of that devastating moment in which they lost their family. Some lost their families due to the crime they bad committed, some families had given up on them, some of the men had been incarcerated long enough that all their family had died and others were separated by the distance between them.

Friends, a true family is the one and only place where your life begins and love never ends. You may have lots of people in your life, but family is your blood and they are the people who accept you for who you are, who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what. Love your family!

A “God First” Servant 


As Creator, Sustainer and Source of all good, God deserves the first place in our lives. Our service to God should be based on the conviction that God always comes first: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matt. 6:33). When we become believers, we acknowledge a transfer of ownership—a transfer of priorities—moving from self-centered to other-centered, where we place God at the top of the list. Submitting to God’s ownership, to the lordship of Christ, provides the “why” of service.

I recently read of a survey that was conducted among Christians and the question was asked, “How much do you agree/disagree: With reference to my values and priorities, I can honestly say that I try to put God first in my life?” In response, 36 percent indicated they “agreed strongly,” while another 35 percent said they “agreed somewhat.” While no genuine Christian is completely content with his or her level of obedience to Jesus Christ, we ought to be concerned that 29 percent of these professing Christians hesitate even to attempt putting God first in their lives. As people who work in ministry, we’ve all had concerns about those who come forward during a public invitation, prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” but then seem to display little evidence of the lordship of Christ in their lives. Repentance isn’t merely apologizing to God for our sins and then continuing to live as if we control our own lives. Paul says we’ve been transferred “into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). This and many other passages tell us that the gospel transforms the believer’s identity, ownership, and destiny, yet it appears many respondents either lack solid exposure to the essence of what it means to be a Christian, or they’ve chosen to ignore the truth that being a Christian means putting God first.
Knowing that Jesus’ life was perfect in regard to putting God first, we should look at the way He lived His life and imitate Him, attempting to walk in the manner that He walked. Jesus’ life was characterized by submission to the Father’s will, service to others, and prayer. It is interesting to note that Jesus never pursued worldly ambition in any way and never pursued the glory of this world. He had every gift, talent, and ability to make Him the most famous and wealthiest man who ever lived. But there was only one goal that He considered worthy of His talents—the glory of the Father. This should be an example to believers. The time, resources, energy, gifts, and knowledge of God that we’ve been given should be used not to gain influence, make money, or fuel pride, but instead to multiply glory for the Kingdom and to save the souls of the lost as we trust in God to protect us and provide for us. As an example to those who believe throughout the ages, Jesus sought first the Kingdom of God, and laid down His life for His friends. His life was a perfect picture of loving God with heart, soul, and strength, putting Him first. Christian we have no option in this life but to be a God first servants! I pray that the church, the Body of Christ will abandon its self serving way of life and make important what really matters to God which is a God First Servant!

Happy New Years!

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As we turn the page and begin a new year in our lives, I wonder, what this new year will hold. What new joys await us this next year? What challenges? What trials and heartaches? What new lessons? What dreams will come true, and what new ones will be birthed?

The great news is that God is the author of 2016! He knows each and every twist and turn that lay ahead both for you and for me. He has planned 2016 down to the tiniest detail—all with the goal of his glory and our good.

So when it comes to facing the new and unexpected, when the future seems frightening and uncertain, and when we come to a new and unfamiliar junction in the road of life, the best and greatest thing we can do is pray.

While the list of things we could pray for this year is endless, I’ve created a list to get us started. Will you join me in praying these things for ourselves and others?

  1. That we would know the love of Christ.This is one of Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians. It is a prayer that opens our eyes to seeing Christ’s love in new and fresh ways.

    “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:17-19).

  2. That we would love God’s Word.It was God’s Word that started this blue marble that we call Earth spinning and twirling in the darkness. It is His Word that brings life and sustains life. It is His Word that decreed redemption was accomplished when Christ cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” And it is His written Word that shows us the path of life.Scripture tells us all we need to know about who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. It also His Word that changes us and sanctifies us.

    “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

    Let us pray this year for hearts that love God’s Word.

  3. That we would desire Christ above all else.We cannot love God on our own. Left to our own devices, we would only love ourselves. Only God can bring our dead hearts to life, giving us hearts that love and desire to obey Him.

    “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Eze. 36:36).

    Let us pray this year for hearts that love Christ above all else. Let us pray for hearts that are dissatisfied with the fast-food offerings of this world. Instead, let’s pray that we would develop a taste for the rich and deeply satisfying love of Christ.

  4. That God would show us the idols of our heart.All the things we bow down to in our heart—the things that we love more than Christ—are idols. Success, affection, affirmation, money, possessions, family, jobs, can all be idols of the heart. Pray that God would reveal what idols stand tall on the altar of your heart. Pray that He would help you remove them and put greater love for Christ in their place.
  5. That we would be quick to repent.Martin Luther described the Christian life as one of repentance. As long as we live in this sin-stained world, we will continue to sin. Let us pray for hearts that are quick to repent. May we readily turn to the cross and apply what Christ has done for us, washing ourselves anew in His forgiving grace.
  6. That we would think less about ourselves.Tim Keller says, “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.” This year, let us pray that we would spend less time consumed with ourselves and more time thinking about loving God and loving others.
  7. That we would have gospel joy.Gospel joy is the joy that anchors us in the midst of the ferocious storms of life. It is the constant steady horizon in the swells of life. It stays with us no matter our circumstances. This is something I pray for quite often because I tend to notice the storm clouds and forget the sun shining above them. Gospel joy comes from knowing what Christ has done for us, who we are because of Him, and the eternal hope we have through Him.
  8. That we would love like Christ.Just as we can’t love God on our own, we can’t love others on our own either. We need to pray that we would have a love like Christ—the kind of love that seeks the best in others, takes the last place, serves, and sacrifices. The apostle John said that we love because God first loved us. This year, may we focus on the love Christ has for us, and may it propel us to love others as He loves us.
  9. That God’s will would be done.In the fictional Mitford book series, Father Tim would tell others that he was “praying the prayer that never fails.” Praying that God’s will would be done is the prayer that never fails. May we submit all our prayers and desires to God’s will, trusting that His will is perfect, holy, righteous, and good.
Portions of this post were originally written by Christina Fox at reviveourhearts.com

Christianity vs. Islam

Last week 717 Muslims died during a stampede in Saudi Arabia during the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Mina. When I read about this I couldn’t help but wonder of the importance of such a pilgrimage and what would cause these people to trample others? If we look back over the years this is an reoccurring incident. In 1990 a stampede inside the Al-Ma’aisim tunnel leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims. In 1994 a stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims, in 1998 at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamarat Bridge. In 2001, 35 pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede and in 2003 another 14 pilgrims’ were killed. While in 2004, 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede and in 2006 at least 346 pilgrims were killed and 289 more were injured. When I look at these numbers it saddens me to think that each one of these numbers represent people who have died and went to hell.

In my studies I found out that this annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj, is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims. It must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult male Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah. During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka’aba, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha. Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit that provides the Muslims with an opportunity of self-renewal and also serves as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when Muslims believe people will stand before Allah.  To every Muslim that was trampled last week and in the years past this is why they traveled thousands of miles to participate. It is of great importance that they fulfill the obligations of Allah in order to be saved.

I must tell you that I am thankful that I do not serve Allah, but a God of grace and mercy. A God whose love is not a response to our goodness, but in spite of our lack of goodness. A God who proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). But even more than dying for us, God the Son rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, and He offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by His grace through faith in Him. The apostle John wrote, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). His love for all people is unconditional.

The Qur’an teaches that Allah loves those he chooses to love and hates those he chooses to hate. It appears his love or hate is in response to human behavior. “Allah loves not those that do wrong,” says the Qur’an (Surah 3:140), neither does he love “him who is treacherous, sinful” (Surah 4:107). “Those who reject faith and do wrong – Allah will not forgive them nor guide them to anyway – Except the way of Hell, to dwell therein forever. And this to Allah is easy (4:168-169). We can also read in the Qur’an that Allah is not truly personal, knowable, or approachable. The Qur’an depicts him more judgmental than gracious and it is considered blasphemous to “presume” that one can know God or claim any sort of close, personal fellowship with Allah. The Qur’an also teaches that Allah did not, would not, and will not die for you, nor would he send anyone to die for you. In fact it says that there is no need for Allah to provide a sacrifice for sin because ignorance of Islam, not sin, is man’s problem and staying away from major sins will automatically result in one’s “small” sins being overlooked by Allah (4:31).

So as we consider what happened last week we see a people who have been deceived. A people that understood what it meant to submit to Allah as servants and if they didn’t perform this ritual while they were able, that Allah might judge against them. While we can respect their submission which is also a Biblical aspect of our relationship with God, it is incomplete. As Christians, through Jesus, we know that we move from being servants to becoming sons and daughters. So friends, please take some time today to pray for these men and women that they would have a full revelation of the true God and His loving character. Pray that they will also understand that God desires for everyone to know Him as children and not as slaves. Pray that they would get saved, pray that they will be convicted of sin and know true repentance. Pray that they would experience God’s total forgiveness and thus be able to forgive others. And also pray that they would know the assurance of salvation through Jesus, something Islam can never offer them!