Count the Cost

count the cost

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

19 years ago, Rutendo and I bad farewell to our family in Zimbabwe. We thought we would be overseas for one year or so. Yet, here we are, raising a family, building a life, and serving God 10,000 miles away from home. It hurt to say, “Goodbye,” to our relatives. My mother-in-law was ill, none of our immediate family members had gone to live overseas. We were terrified to leave all that is familiar for a land we knew nothing about.

Although we moved from a developing country to a developed country, we missed our family, dearly. We missed our parents. We missed the communal gatherings. We missed the expressive, and often spontaneous, worship. We missed speaking in our mother tongue – Shona. We missed the food – sadza nenyama. We missed the familiar, comforting sounds and unique scents that fill the African air.

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The transformation from our old lives to now, felt like a loss, yet we gained so much. The transition cost us the familiar yet gave us great relationships. We had to count our blessings to discover what we “lost” God repaid a hundred-fold. Following Jesus is costly, yet beneficial. There is peace and contentment in following the costly route on which Jesus leads us.

We do not have to necessarily bid farewell to our families to follow Jesus. Yet, following Jesus will cost us something. Our relationship with Jesus challenges us to forgo worldly pleasures, exclusive personal goals, and selfish desires. Disciples of Christ are those who are willing to give it all up to gain ALL Jesus provides. Are you ready to give up the familiar to gain the eternal? Count the cost.

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Meaning of Christmas

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The Christmas season evokes various emotions in people. Some people, and certainly retail stores, love this season. It’s the season of shopping – big business. To some people, the Christmas season has been high jacked by unbridled consumerism. To some the Christmas season is the time to remember the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Whatever your feelings are during this season, I want to remind you of the familiar cliché, “Jesus is the reason for the season!”

I have come up with a couple acronyms for the word Christmas to help you meditate on the meaning of Christmas.

CROSS. Jesus came to go to the cross. His death on the cross was not a surprise. He was born to die for our sins. Thank you, Jesus.

HOLINESS. Jesus is Holy. He came to prepare a way for us to experience holiness.

REDEMPTION. Christmas reminds us that Jesus bought us at an expensive price – the price of His precious blood which was spilled at Calvary.

INCARNATION. Christmas reminds us that God came to earth, put on human flesh, and spoke our language so we could be saved.

SALVATION. Christmas reminds us we were meant to die, but Jesus died for our sins. His birth and subsequent death brought us our salvation. Hallelujah!

TESTIMONY. Christmas reminds us that Jesus is God’s testimony of love His undying love for us. Jesus came to tell us of God’s Kingdom.

MIRACLES. Christmas reminds us that the conception and birth of Jesus were miraculous. Jesus performed many miracles which pointed at God. Jesus continues to perform miracles in the lives of His followers.

ATONEMENT. Christmas reminds us that Jesus came to repair our broken relationship with God. He came to reconcile us to God. He came to make us one with God.

SERVANTHOOD. Christmas reminds us that Jesus came to seek the lost. Jesus came to save the perishing. Jesus came to serve the least, the hopeless, the helpless, and the suffering.

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So, what should we do this Christmas?

Cheer, compliment others. Everyone is fighting a battle. Call your grandparents

Help. Random acts of kindness. Do dishes, buy coffee, carry stuff,

Rise to the challenge. Don’t cower away or give up.

Inspire/influence someone. Our children, grandchildren, and others are watching us. Whether we realize it or not, people are watching us. Someone somewhere is wishing they could be like you. Inspire them for good.

Serve others. We are at our best when we give of our selves – when we serve others. Serve at home, serve at church, serve at work, serve everywhere.

Tell others about Jesus. Tell your story of salvation to the lost.

Minister to others. Be present. Listen. Be available. Visit the hospital, nursing homes.

Adopt-A-Family with your family. Sacrifice your Christmas gifts, for others.

Sponsor a child overseas, buy a goat, cow, etc for a family in developing countries.

merry-christmas

Do Something

Do Something

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was brushing his mane-like white hair when his son Bramwell stepped into the room. “Bramwell!” he cried. “Did you know that men sleep out all night on the bridges?” “Well, yes,” the son replied. “A lot of poor fellows I suppose do that.” “Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have known it and to have done nothing for them!” his father retorted.

And when the son began to talk about the Poor Law program, General Booth waved a hand and said, “Go and do something! We must do something!” “What can we do?” “Get them a shelter!” “That will cost money,” replied Bramwell. “Well, that is your affair. Something must be done. Get hold of a warehouse and warm it, and find something to cover them. But mind, Bramwell, no coddling!” That was the beginning of Salvation Army shelters.

–W. Wiersbe, “The Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers”

Do something. This is an interesting command from General William Booth to his son. It was almost as if Bramwell had not been doing something, but at its core was a challenge to never tire of doing something for others.

DO GOOD

In James 2:14-26, we are challenged to show our faith through our works. James argued that stagnant, theoretical faith is not enough. Please note: James is not advocating that works lead to salvation. Works do not save us. Works prove we are saved. He wrote that real faith is supported by corresponding works. Good deeds are not the root of salvation, but they are the fruit of genuine salvation.

Saved humanity reciprocates by serving God and others. In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:17).

We could argue that faith without works is incomplete, empty and irrelevant. Such faith is incapable of challenging others to transformation. James challenged all Christians to get rid of their laurels, stop warming the pews and get busy for the Lord.

Actions speak louder than words. Actions reveal whose you are, and in whom you have believed. James noted, As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (2:26). Actions give flight to the faith we proclaim. Serving others injects life into our religion. Doing something for others lends authenticity to our faith. Good works unlock closed doors and soften hardened hearts.

There is a time for prayer, Bible Study, fasting and worship. But there is also a time for action. People’s physical and material needs necessitate prayer and action. I fear that we sometimes say, “I will pray for you,” as an excuse to avoid meeting the physical needs of others. It is not enough to quote Scripture and throw prayers to people who are facing real physical problems. Talk is cheap. Faith remains purely academic and theoretical until it is put into action.

Faith is not just to be cherished and hidden in the deepest parts of the soul. Faith must ooze out of our pores, showing itself in vigorous and dynamic works. Faith is not to be buried under the soil. It must be allowed to break forth, germinate, sprouting out of the soil to reveal its actions.

Many people in the world and in our communities are hurting. Families are struggling. The hungry, the hurting, the hopeless and the helpless seek our assistance. How do we respond?

Do something.

Others

What can you do?

  1. Go through your kitchen cabinets and donate the food that sits uneaten. Buy two cans of food when you would usually buy one, and donate the second can.
  2. Purge and donate the clothes and shoes in your closets.
  3. Give money to our social services and food bank.
  4. Volunteer your time at the food bank.
  5. Tutor children in the after-school program.
  6. Create care packages for those experiencing homelessness and hand them out as you drive around town.
  7. Serve in the corps as a youth leader, Sunday School teacher, janitor or to fulfill any other need you see.
  8. Join Community Care Ministries and visit nursing homes. Read books and the Bible to people you meet there.
  9. Visit patients in hospitals. Read books to children in the children’s hospital.
  10. Be a foster parent or adopt a child.
  11. Go on a mission trip locally or overseas. Do ministry in urban areas.
  12. Invite a lonely person to your home for dinner.

As William Booth once said:

“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight;
while children go hungry, as they do now I’ll fight;
while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight;
while there is a drunkard left,
while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight,
I’ll fight to the very end!”

 

What will you do?

Do something today.

This Christmas

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Into the office, walked in this frail looking, frame of a man.  He had two children on either side of him.  His beautiful, yet weary looking wife walked behind.  This is a young family of four – father, mother and two young children (7 and 2 years old).  They had come to The Salvation Army to register for Christmas assistance.

The 32-year-old father, in between thoughtful pauses, proudly explained how he had been the family’s bread winner.  He shared a few of his hopes and dreams.  But now, his dreams and hopes were flickering away, like a dying flame. Sadly, the man was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. This is not how life should be. He should be able to work till retirement. He should be able to celebrate his children’s milestones – graduations, weddings, the birth of his grandchildren, and so forth.  But this was not to be.

His wife listened intently. She then, shyly and softly, mentioned how she had struggled to find gainful employment. She desperately wanted to help ease her husband’s financial concerns. The little money she received for cleaning houses was not enough to sustain the family’s needs.

The Salvation Army employee, leaned forward and asked the husband, “What would you want for Christmas?”  If I were the one asked that question, I would have said, “a Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks jersey, Coca-Cola collectibles, a Kobe Bryant jersey, or a Manchester United jersey.”  But not this father. In his frail, broken voice he responds, “I do not need anything material. Nothing for me. Please just help my children.”

With a nod of affirmation, the worker turns to look at the wife.  She asked the wife the same question. The wife’s eyes welled up; warm glittery tears flowed down her rosy cheeks. She reached for the Kleenex box and uttered, “I am praying that my husband doesn’t die.”

The husband looked at his wife, touched her cheek and said, “Please don’t cry, honey. It’s going to be OK.”

We do not know what the future holds for this father, but we know God holds the father’s future in His hands.

 Christmas

Here at The Salvation Army, we are working hard to ensure a blessed Christmas for this lovely family.

This Christmas, we are helping many other families such this beautiful family.

This Christmas, we are bringing sunshine to many a family’s cloudy condition.

This Christmas, we are bringing love to the unloved; and care to the lonely.

This Christmas, we are giving food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and jobs to the jobless.

This Christmas, we are loving the least, supporting the last, and serving the lost.

This Christmas, we are responding to God’s call, to give a cup of cool water in His name.

This Christmas, we are putting a priceless smile on many children’s faces.

This Christmas, we are grateful to God, who has made us a conduit of His grace to the helpless, hopeless, and the hurting.

Will you join us?

Will you pray for us?

Will you donate to us?

https://give-sc.salvationarmy.org/fundraiser/1805038

 

We are hopeful today

Hopeful and Hopeless directions.  Opposite traffic sign.

Isaiah 40:29-31, “God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV) 

We are hopeful today.

There are times when we feel hopeless and helpless,
There are times when we feel weak and incapacitated.

There are times when we feel our efforts are in vain
There are times when we wonder if it’s all worth it.

Despite it all, we have every reason to be hopeful.

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We are hopeful today.

We are hopeful for a better, brighter America.
We are hopeful for a meaningful, fruitful life.

We are hopeful for good health for us, our families and friends;

We are hopeful for success in our business ventures

 

We are hopeful today.
We are hopeful for love, joy and kindness among us.
We are hopeful for peace in our time, the end of all wars.

We are hopeful for the safety of mothers, children, & the defenseless

We are hopeful for the freedom of the sexually trafficked, & the enslaved

 

We are hopeful today.

We are hopeful for the eradication of polio and other ills.

We are hopeful for solid friendships among all people

We are hopeful for effectiveness in our delivery of services to the community.

We are hopeful for the transformation of lives through our efforts

We are hopeful today. Are you?!

Hope

Can You Hear Me Now?

Verizon

A few years ago, Verizon Wireless had a commercial where a man on a cellphone would walk a few steps and ask, “Can You Hear Me Now?” The commercial claimed that with a Verizon Wireless cellphone, you could get reception anywhere the guy in the commercial stood. The commercial asserted that there were no obstacles that would interfere with your hearing the other person, if you had a Verizon Wireless phone. With Verizon Wireless, whether you were in a valley, on a mountaintop, on a freeway in the middle of nowhere, you could still hear the person on the other side. We all know that is not entirely true. Also, that gentleman in the Verizon Wireless commercial, is now working for Sprint Wireless, claiming Sprint is superior to Verizon! Cellphones have their limitations, there are places where the reception is low. There are people with whom we cannot communicate because they do not own a cellphone, or they live in areas where cellphones do not work. Any form of communication could fail if there are obstacles in the way.

Effective communication is a two-way channel. The sender dispenses the message, the receiver must receive the message. Sometimes miscommunication happens when the sender sends the wrong message, wrong words, uses the wrong channel, sends the message at the wrong time. The receiver could miss the message if the receiver does not engage with the message. In James 1:19, we read, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” This verse encourages people to take time to listen to a message. Most people are born with the ability to hear. Listening is an art. You have to teach yourself to listen.

Look at the construction of the Chinese character for listening. It is called, “Ting.”

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Ear = What you use to listen (hear). Hear, don’t let it go through when ear and out the other.

Undivided Attention = Pay attention as if the other person were king (obey). Respect. Time, value of words. Let them finish.

Ten = Maximum effort, as if you have ten ears. Critical thinking. What are they saying? What do they mean? What do I think about it?

 Eye = Be observant with your eyes (heed) (Look at me when I am talking with you). Minimizes distractions.

One = Listen with individual attention (attend to). Appointment. No other interruptions. Multi-tasking. Phones, TV, computer, other people.

Heart = Listen also with your heart (in addition to ear and eye) (hearken). Engage emotions. Read between the lines.

The Red Cord of Salvation

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One of my favorite TV shows is called Shark Tank. On Shark Tank, ordinary people come to pitch their innovation ideas to a panel of multi-millionaire investors. In 2013, two young innovators pitched the idea of an internet video doorbell idea. The Ring Video Doorbell equips the owners with the ability to monitor their house front door. This offers security and peace of mind knowing wherever the homeowners are, they can see who visits their house. Often, robbers have walked up to a front door, noticed the Ring Doorbell, and they turnaround. They know they are on camera. They would not be breaking and entering into this home. Soon, robbers know not to mess with this house.

Red cord

In Joshua 2, we read of Rahab who saved the lives of the Israelite spies by letting them down through the window. She asked the spies to promise her they would protect her during the impending Israel attack on Jericho. The spies told Rahab to place a red cord out of her window. When the time of destruction comes, the red cord would be a sign to the Israelite soldiers to know not attack this house. The homeowner, Rahab, had the peace of mind knowing that her house would be spared. Her salvation came through the red cord.

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This reminds me of the 10th plague recorded in Exodus, right before Pharaoh let the Israelites go. After nine plagues, Pharaoh would not let the Israelites free. The 10th and final plague was about the death of all first-born people and animals. However, God promised he would not destroy the Israelites’ first-born children and animals if they had the blood of a lamb painted on the door posts of their houses. Exodus 12:23 says, “For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.” The angel of death passed over the houses whose doorposts adorned the red blood of the lamb.

The Ring Doorbell camera sends the would-be robbers away, passing over the house because the owner is watching over the house. The red cord was a promise which reminded the soldiers to pass over Rahab’s house. The red blood of the lamb stood as a protection for the Israelite families, the angel of death had to pass over. We all need protection from physical and spiritual harm. We need protection from the enemy who seeks to destroy us. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

I Peter 5:8, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

The red blood of Jesus on the doorposts of our hearts serves as a reminder to the devil that we belong to Jesus. We have the red blood of Jesus as a promise of God’s protection. The blood of Jesus protects us from spiritual attacks. Our salvation and safety are through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Do you have the covering of the blood of Jesus? Pray for protection. Pray for the blood of Jesus to cover you, your family, your work, everything you touch and do.

You Sing Over Me

One of my favorite songs by Stevie Wonder is called “Isn’t She Lovely?”

As you begin playing the song, your ears are warmly greeted by the sounds of a crying new-born baby. Stevie Wonder recorded this poignant, tender moment of the birth of his baby, Aisha. He rejoiced over the birth of his daughter by singing the song, “Isn’t She lovely?” Listening to this song, you hear the adoring, loving voice of a father smitten by the arrival of a new life. Stevie Wonder could not help but compose a song to express His utter amazement and unconditional love of little baby Aisha.

The Salvation Army Pasadena Tabernacle Songsters have been singing a new song written by Heather Sorenson called “You Sing Over Me.” The words of the chorus of the song go like this:

“Sing over me your songs of joy

Your songs of healing and salvation

Sing over me

Anthems of love crescendo above!

I’m the carol of your heart

I’m the theme of your song as I sing to You

You sing over me!”

In Zephaniah 3:17, we read, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you but will rejoice over you with singing.” Did you catch that? The God of heavens and earth, the Creator of the universe rejoices over you with singing. God composes a personal song which heaven harmoniously sings over you. I imagine a parent holding their baby, singing a lullaby of joy over their baby. I imagine God holding you, singing a song of blessing over you. Imagine God singing words of affirmation and encouragement over you. God loves you deeply (John 3:16). God cares for you, and He thinks of you always (Psalm 139:17-18), He wants to rejoice over you with singing because you matter to Him. You are the apple of His eye, the theme of His song!

When you feel lonely, rejected, unloved, dirty, disappointed, frustrated – God cares for you. Do you hear the melodies of heaven playing over your situation? In reference to you, the song could be, “Isn’t he/she lovely?”

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Got Hope?

In the late 1950’s, the government of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) warned the villagers that the Zambezi Valley would be flooded, as the newly built Kariba Dam wall would create a huge lake which would flood the whole valley. During the time leading up to the flooding of the valley, villagers stopped fixing broken fences; disregarded fixing leaking roofs; or sprucing up their properties. Why would they bother? The houses would be submerged under water soon. Slowly, the village and nearby town began took look like a ghost town. Many sections of the town were in disrepair. The village looked deserted before the inhabitants left. This this quote by leadership author, John Maxwell says it best, ““Where there is no HOPE for the future, there is no power in the present.”

Hope

What is hope? The dictionary defines it this way: “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true.”

All people are born with a sense of hope. We hope for a better future. We hope for better school results. We hope our sports team wins. We hope for better weather. We hope for many things in life. As Christians, our hope is not just a wish, it is a belief in someone greater than us. Our hope is not anchored in people, places, or possessions. Our hope is anchored in God. Our hope longs for God’s power, presence, and protection. Our hope is a confident anticipation of God’s redemptive grace, and a bright eternity in heaven. Our hope endures the pain of the presence in exchange for a peaceful, painless future. As Christians, we do not only want hope, we must exhibit hope, and we must dispense hope to the hopeless.

Here is an acronym I wrote to help me define hope:

HEAVEN. Hope represents our salvation. Hope represents our eternal future in heaven. Life with Jesus gives hope. Life without Jesus equals hopelessness. Many people think they have hope, but true hope comes from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

OPTIMISM. Hope means we are full of optimism for the future. We are optimistic in all situations. We believe that the best is yet to come. With Christ, all things are possible.

PROMISE. Hope means we stand on God’s unshakable promises. Hold on to your promise. God will do it. His promises are sure. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:20

ENDURE in expectancy. Hope means we endure pain knowing that we may be down but not out. When we get knocked down we rise in victory! Hang on in there. Don’t give up. Endure today, one more time, your victory is just around the corner. “There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.” – Clare Boothe Luce

Keep your hope anchored in Christ.