Declaration of War: People are Leaving the Faith, I Want to Help

I’m declaring war against an epidemic in America. No more timidity. No more holding back. There is too much on the line. What is at stake is too important.

If you follow Stand Firm Ministries or anything I’ve been up to the past couple of years, then you have heard my story. And I know, it’s yada, yada, but again–here I go. If you’re familiar with the story, you have my permission to skip the next paragraph, but not permission to exit the screen!

I was serving as pastor at a church I loved, with people I love. Life and ministry was great. We’d been there for 11 years. The church and the community were our life, and life was good! Then I began to follow a long-time prompting of the Holy Spirit to write. In doing so, somehow, I began to write about prophecies in the Bible that we often overlook, prophecies that not only tell about the political and doomsday-type stuff at the end of the age, but rather tell how we will be in terms of our faith and morality. The image Scripture gives us is not good. Matthew 24:10 warns, many of us will turn away. That prophecy opened my eyes to the reality all around us—many had already left the faith in America. An astounding forty-two million by 2015. When faced with challenges in life, many professed Christians are splitting from the church and often the faith. This was alarming, especially since other prophecies tell us those challenges will only grow more difficult.

In response to the leading of the Spirit and the findings mentioned above, I left that pastorate and began Stand Firm Ministries and Prophecy Simplified. Stand Firm Ministries was established to encourage believers to hold-on to their faith, and Prophecy Simplified to share Scripturally and simplistically the challenges that will come our way in the future.

My number one hope is to encourage local churches across the nation with the message to hold on to their faith and identify the coming challenges to the faith. Due to the stigmatism that accompanies prophecy, I have carefully guarded what I say, not wanting to hinder future opportunities. Let’s be honest, we tend to think prophecy teachers are tin-foil hat wearing crazies. At least I did. So, I have walked on eggshells constantly laying out the prayer-fleece, so I’d not cross the line into crazy-town. But I can’t walk that tight rope anymore. I can’t suppress the truth. Too much is at stake. 

Millions across the nation are departing the church and faith. Europe already has. This very morning, the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting held a meeting on the possibility that the denomination was dying. Yes, part of all this turning away is just the “wheat and tares harvest”, but the causalities do not have to be so high. Church members need to be encouraged to hold the line now, and we need to begin ministries to welcome back those who have walked away.

We need to know what the Bible is clear about in terms of the end. We need to recognize what has been and is being fulfilled before our very eyes. We need to be prepared to remain faithful now and in the future.

There I’ve said it.

I put my foot in my mouth.

I committed myself.

I exposed a calling, I’ve carried out sheepishly.

I hope you hold me to it. The stakes are high. Therefore, I declare war. My gauntlet is thrown down. On this hill I die. I declare war on silence. I declare war on not shouting down warnings from the wall. I declare war on the challenges that are blindsiding Christians and causing them to abandon their faith. I declare war on not being chicken-little announcing the sky is falling because it is.

Please, consider having me share in your church about this message. More than that, declare war yourself, commit to hold on.

The stakes are high—Stand Firm.

 
Also join our newsletter. Twice a month get a load of tools to help you hold on and fight this war, too. Register here

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
Jake McCandless is an award-winning author and the executive director for Stand Firm Ministries and Prophecy Simplified . A long-time pastor who is now co-pastor of the innovatve “above-ground underground,” online church, Endtime.Church., Jake has a B.A. in Bible and Pastoral Studies from Central Baptist College, and an Advanced Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book Spiritual Prepper released through WND Books, He also is a regular contributor to WND News with voices such as Joseph Farrah, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Ben Carson, Chuck Norris, Joel Richardson, Carl Gallups. He also writes for the The Baptist Press along with other publications. He is also a regular guest on national radio and streaming web shows, along with hosting his daily radio program Prophecy Simplified Radio and weekly podcast Hold On.  Jake is married to Amanda and they have two daughters Andrea and Addison. You can follow all Jake’s work at www.jakemccandless.com. 
  

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Uncertain About What’s Next

The tassels on each end of the golden honor chord, bright against the black collegiate gown, swayed slightly with each step. She paused, took a deep breath, and waited for what came next. As our daughter’s full name was announced, followed by, “Bachelor of Science, Missions, Magna Cum Laude,” Marinna crossed the stage, shook the hand of the college president and received the degree she worked so hard to earn – with honors.

Mixed emotions flooded my soul. Pride, awe, relief, joy, fear, confidence, peace, and uncertainty for what comes next.

Pride, because from the beginning of her college search, she targeted one place for one reason. She chose a specific private Christian college to equip her to serve the Lord in ministry. To be sure of her convictions and her calling, my husband and I offered options. She held firm to her decision and received the necessary scholarships to resolve any financial obstacles. What Christian parent wouldn’t be pleased with that?

Marinna felt God directed her, and she held on believing He would provide.

He did.

I stand in awe of her spiritual growth, focus, and her Christian convictions. While far from perfect, as a deacon’s kid and a pastor’s kid all her life, Marinna’s consistent exposure to the Word of God set a firm foundation for her. However, a strong-willed, openly opinionated child combined with our parenting faults and failings, created a real opportunity for quite the opposite. More so, I stand in awe of all God placed before her despite our parenting mistakes. I praise Him for giving her the wisdom to make good choices. As her parents, we hold on trusting God to finish the good works He started in her. (Phil 1:6)

As our graduate paused next to the college president, turned, and smiled at the camera, I released a long, slow sigh of relief as if letting go of the spiritual breath I held since her adolescence. The challenging seasons of preteen, teen, and college passed without irrational decisions, irresponsible behavior, or irreparable damage. The chick in the nest remained safe and ready to fly.

With college finished, for now at least, joy fills us for many reasons: her ministry focus; academic accomplishments; finishing college without debt. But what fills me most with joy is witnessing her growth in the Lord – both scholastic and spiritual.

Is she still strong willed, opinionated and stubborn? Yes! Imagine those traits, coupled with quick wit and a fearless nature all focused on the Lord and not the desires of this world. I fear for the opposition she will face, for her sake and theirs. Strong-willed individuals are famous for their relentlessness – a doubled edge sword for sure. Oh, the stories I could tell, but I won’t – not yet, anyway.

Marinna exudes confidence and self-assurance. However, my confidence in her arises not from her own, but from God. I hold on knowing God clasps my daughter in the palm of His hand. Wherever He takes her, whatever He calls her to do, whomever He calls her to be, He will equip her, supply her needs, and finish His great work in her. As long as she remains in the center of His will, peace settles in my heart.

Then, uncertainty disrupts the peace when my mind speaks louder than my heart. The mental conversation seems more like a ping pong match between the two. So many unsettled questions served up in one part of my mind end up answered by another. “What’s next? Will she be close, or far away? Will she immediately find vocational ministry, or remain in a secular job?” Then, “God knows. God’s got this. God’s got her.”  Letting go proves difficult, especially for the parents of an only child.

            Maybe you feel the same. Whether your child is graduating kindergarten, high school, or college, maybe you also wrestle with the uncertainty of the future even as you know, “God’s got this.” Or maybe a heavy heart weighs on you as our cunning enemy lures your child away from God. Are you burdened with guilt, questioning every parenting decision you ever made, wishing things for your child would turn out differently? Maybe even as a model parent, your child chose a path contrary to the Will of God leaving you standing by, stunned, and unsure of anything.

            Maybe you are the graduate and you are fighting the fear of an uncertain future.

            Read these words.

            Hold on.

            Do. Not. Give. Up.

Trust God no matter what. Hang on in faith and pray.

Please understand, I know those words are easier said than lived. God never promised our walk with Him would be easy. Our strength for the required endurance comes from Him.

While we are proud of our daughter, God is the hero of this story – not Marinna, and certainly not our parenting skills. [If only you knew!] Even just one wrong choice opens the door for a very different outcome. Sometimes someone else’s wrong choice impacts us and changes everything.

As parents, we desire the best for our children. We want to protect them.

We know the dangers of this world, potential pitfalls, and the active work of an enemy who wishes to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). We see evidence of his destruction and evil every day. We pray – and we should, without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

God holds the answers to all things, is everywhere, and can protect my daughter no matter what. Knowing this gives me peace and provides comfort when I am uncertain about what comes next.

I pray you find peace and comfort in that as well.

           “For I know the plans I have for you – this is the Lord’s declaration – plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 HCSB)

 

(Editor’s Note: Thank you, President Terry Kimbrow, and the faculty and staff of Central Baptist College of Conway, AR, for our daughter’s quality Bible education.)

Rita Halter Thomas is a staff writer for Prophecy Simplified, providing HOLD ON Stories to encourage you to hold on to your faith. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of a college missions major.  She is also an award-winning writer, the founder of The Write Editor, http://thewriteeditor.com, and a former newspaper and magazine publisher with 23 years’ experience in print and digital media. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
 
  

 


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Sometimes We Must Let Go to Hold On

My pulse increased. The whooshing in my ears deafening. My mind ran wild with
 jumbled details and I sensed the walls closing in. 

            Grr. Grr. Grr.

            Completely overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time to get it all done, I felt a full-blown meltdown brewing.

            To make matters worse, “spaghetti brain” surfaced. Spaghetti brain. That’s the term I use to describe the funky thing that happens in my head when so many thoughts are competing for my focus.

            Ugh.

            Do you ever feel this way?  As if you will drop all the spinning plates of responsibilities, chores, hobbies and other commitments?

            I easily become overwhelmed when I have too much on my plate. I am a “doer,” so I live by lists.  Lists help prioritize, categorize, delete, change, and realign my activities with the most important tasks at hand. Not to mention how great it feels when I mark something off my list.

            Not only that, but lists save brain power. Believe me, spaghetti brain can’t afford to waste brain power. Otherwise, the cranky side of me emerges amidst my panic. Trust me. No one wants to see my cranky side.

            Being a “doer”, I lean toward agreement words such as: yes, of course, absolutely, and no problem.  As the wife of a bi-vocational pastor, mother, full-time member of the daily work force, writer, and living on a small farm with livestock, there are far more tasks to do than time in which to do them.

            Sometimes even the weight of serving the Lord leaves us with a drowning Spirit gasping for air. Despite a doer’s eagerness to serve the Lord, when that service overwhelms and exhausts, doers often let go, step back, and in some cases, even leave the church in search of rest. Ironic, isn’t it? Those who find joy serving others in the Lord lose it from the same, giving the enemy more room to work his destruction.

            Satan’s clever, isn’t he? Little by little he claws away at us, even intertwined in our church activities, urging us to do more and more, all while he’s lurking in the shadows, plotting to destroy us, picking us apart one sliver at a time until everything comes crashing down around us.

            Hear me.

            Serving the Lord grows us spiritually along with quiet time spent with the Lord, Bible studies and prayer. We must serve, but we must serve as God and God alone calls us. We must learn to recognize His call, not the distraction of the enemy. We must remember Satan uses God’s own Words to deceive when it suits him.

            God’s relationship with each person is unique and personal. Trying to join the Lord in every area He’s working is beyond reality for any individual, so each believer must discern what role he or she must play. Leave God to knit each role together to serve His purpose.

            If you are a list-maker, make lists to help prioritize, categorize, delete, change, and realign your activities.

            Whatever you do, pray for God to guide your decisions. Pray over your lists – everything on them, the way they are prioritized and categorized. Pray about what needs to be removed from your activities. Pray, truthfully and earnestly before you commit to anything. Accept God’s permission to say, “No” to things that hinder His calling in your life. Accept God’s urging to “let go” of areas to which you cling for your own benefit. Let go of pride, hold on to His promises, and allow Him to realign your path. Let go of someone else’s opinion of where you should serve or what you should do and cling to God’s desires ahead of theirs and your own. Let go of past hurts, past failures, past sins and attitudes that grieve the Spirit.

            Let go and just trust Him, then hold on until He changes your direction.

            Please understand. Serving the Lord is often exhausting, difficult, frustrating, and in some cases life-threatening. God may call you to hold on and stand firm through the most tragic difficulties. At the same time, God may simply ask you, or a brother or sister in Christ to let go of one area of service only to be redirected to another for reasons unexplained.  Whatever the case may be, let go of anything, including attitudes, which threatens your grip on your own relationship with Jesus. Keep your focus on the path God placed ahead specifically for you. Remove your eyes from the path God set for another.

            Before you assume, no, I don’t “have it all together.”  Writing this feels a bit like “the pot calling the kettle black”, as my grandmother used to say. I too am reminded to remain focused on my own relationship with Jesus and the path He placed before me.

            I am reminded that sometimes we must let go just to hold on.

 

           
“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” Proverbs 4:25
 
Rita Halter Thomas is a staff writer for Prophecy Simplified, providing HOLD ON Stories to encourage you to hold on to your faith. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of a college missions major.  She is also an award-winning writer, the founder of The Write Editor, http://thewriteeditor.com, and a former newspaper and magazine publisher with 23 years’ experience in print and digital media. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
 
  

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Roots to Stand Upon

                “Oh, yay! I will finally have roots,” our eight-year-old daughter squealed.

            I remember well that day in 2004. My husband and I felt God calling us back to Arkansas from the Midwest, so once our direction became clear, we shared our plans. Marinna’s response to our announcement struck a chord in my heart.

            Roots. That word settled deep in my soul.

            Why I never thought about her absence of roots, or her need for it, I really don’t know. Preoccupied? Oblivious? Who knows? But in her excitement I realized she spent more time without extended family surrounding her than with them. When we left our home state five and a half years prior, Marinna was only two years old. Her young mind remembered very little of the years we lived near family.

            Living 750 miles away, trips home were limited to once or twice per year.

            She wanted roots.

            Without family in the area when we moved to Nebraska, we depended upon new relationships to fill the void. (God intervened, and that’s great story for another day.)  With a fourteen-hour drive one way, weekend visits were not an option. We also moved four times in five and a half years for my job.

            No family ties. No roots.

            Not in Nebraska.

            Not in South Dakota.

            Marinna attended schools with children whose families lived in the same area for generations. The towns were small so many of her friends’ classmates attended school with their cousins. She desired that familial connection. She wanted that link to her history and her heritage.

            She needed roots.

            No wonder the news of our return to Arkansas resulted in her spontaneous squeal of excitement.

            But not just anywhere in Arkansas.

            Central Arkansas.

            Home.

            Finally, Marinna connected with her roots. Family – not friends who became family – a blood link.

            My friends, as Christians, we have a blood link through Jesus Christ. We are family, adopted heirs of the throne through our faith in Jesus, by the blood He shed for us as an atonement for our sins. When we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we are rooted in the family of God.

            When we accept Him, we have roots like no other roots.

            When we accept Him, we have a home like no other home.

            When we accept Him, we have family like no other family.

            There is no distance too great for Him to cross every single moment of every single day.

            There is no place beyond His reach; no hurt He cannot heal; no family He cannot repair; no home He cannot rebuild; no promise He will ever break.

            Are we dysfunctional at times? Without a doubt. But while we are flawed human beings, we are His children. He is our Father.

            Christian, trust Him with everything.

            Stand firm on your Heavenly roots.

            Hold tight to your Holy family tree.

            Fourteen years ago, our young daughter erupted with excitement about finally being home with family, firmly planted in her roots.

            God rooted deep within us a desire in our hearts for Him; the want to be near Him; to need Him.

            As Christians, when we make our heavenly move home, we will no longer feel unsettled, restless, or sometimes distant from the one and only God who loves us so much, He gave us the life of His son, Jesus.

            That’s some kind of deep root.

            That’s some kind of blood link.

            That’s some kind of love.
 
 
 
 
Rita Halter Thomas is a staff writer for Prophecy Simplified, providing HOLD ON Stories to encourage you to hold on to your faith. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of a college missions major.  She is also an award-winning writer, the founder of The Write Editor, http://thewriteeditor.com, and a former newspaper and magazine publisher with 23 years’ experience in print and digital media. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
 
  
 

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A Faith that Stands Firm Through Generations

While compiling historical information for a recent family reunion, I discovered countless fascinating stories of adventure, fear, tragedy, joy, loss and sorrow, faith and hope. Many of these stories reflect a firm faith in God – a hold weakened in present day America.

 For a moment, let’s journey back to the year 1815.

 A looming threat of famine compels many to leave their homeland for the chance at a better life in another country. A man and his family board a ship in Switzerland, bound for America. That man I know only as Mr. Little.

 During the six-week journey, the ship begins to take on water. In desperate effort to empty the hull faster than it fills, every man aboard sets to work at the pumps. All unnecessary cargo is thrown overboard. The situation is dire, so the captain prepares his passengers and crew for death.

Imagine the desperate prayers of those aboard that ship, praying for God to save them.

After two days and nights of constant effort leaves everyone exhausted, a hole in the hull is discovered. A ham of beef stuffed into the breach slows the flow of water. I imagine the trickling and seeping water is a welcomed sight compared to the pouring threat of impending death. While not free of danger, hope survives.

 And hope lands them in Baltimore, MD. Imagine their appearance, dirty, ragged and worn, as they depart the ship.  Perhaps that is why a “benevolent country man” feels compelled to provide a free meal to every passenger on that ship. What a welcomed gesture since many aboard would be indentured for years to pay the balance of their passage, including Little who is $60 short.

 Sometime after his indenture is complete, Little presses westward with his family to Washington County, PA.  Loading all their meager belongings onto a single covered wagon drawn by one horse – a borrowed horse – they set out to cross mountains and rugged forest terrain. In this primarily uninhabited country, the horse dies and leaves the family stranded.

 With no way to rescue themselves, they cry out to God for mercy.

 God answered their pleas. Once again, they are spared.

 In the middle of nowhere arrives a traveler who informs them of a settler living just six miles ahead. He offers to carry the baby, probably on horseback, as the Little family follows behind on the trail. Eventually the family arrives safely to a warm welcome from strangers.

Making a life in a new country – starting over from nothing – was hard, and trials appeared regularly and were often life-threatening in those days.

 Often a little perspective gives us the courage to hold on to our own faith during trying times. Sometimes that same perspective leaves us feeling a bit ashamed of what we consider a “trying time” in present day. I am spoiled to modern day life, in comparison. Without conscious effort, self-sufficiency can result in less dependence upon God, unlike our ancestors who had only God to depend upon.

God desires for us to be fully dependent on Him, not ourselves. We are not to worry, but to cast our cares upon Him. He desires for us to depend upon Him for everything, including the direction of our lives. We must trust Him for provisions, for the food we eat and the clothes we wear. (See Matthew 6:19-34) When we trust God in the “little” things, we are better prepared to hold firm when we are rattled and our faith is shaken to the core.

Before placing his family aboard a ship, and crossing the ocean to America, I imagine Mr. Little seeking God’s face in fervent prayer. There is no way to be certain – I don’t even know his first name – but at some point, my fourth great-grandfather passed his faith along to his children – one of whom is my third great-grandmother, Barbary Little Waggoner.

From a newspaper article published in 1899 following her death, it is reported that, “Mrs. Waggoner well remembered her father was not cast down by misfortune but exhorted his children to ‘thank God’ and ‘to be glad we have come to America where people are so good and kind.’”

Whether or not He came to America under God’s direction is hard to say, but it is easy to imagine Mr. Little as a man who held firm to his faith through so much hardship – enough for his daughter to affirm it and pass it to her own children.

“We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” (Psalm 78:4, NIV)

 “…he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deed but would keep his commands.” (Psalm 78:5-6, NIV)

May we be good and kind people – the kind of people who thank and praise God, hold firm to our faith, and pass that faith to our children.

The kind of faith that stands firm through generations.

 

            (Author’s note: Thanks to my cousin, Nancy Breeden Mitchell, for her extensive historical research of our family, and to my cousin, Dianne Chichlowski Johnson, for providing the specific story referenced above.)
 
 
Rita Halter Thomas is a staff writer for Prophecy Simplified, providing HOLD ON Stories to encourage you to hold on to your faith. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of a college missions major.  She is also an award-winning writer, the founder of The Write Editor, http://thewriteeditor.com, and a former newspaper and magazine publisher with 23 years’ experience in print and digital media. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
 
  

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How to Keep Your Life on Track

One week, an evil, hate-filled act claimed the lives of 17 people in a Florida school shooting. The next week, the great evangelist Rev. Billy Graham died at age 99.

One heart filled with deeds of evil.

One heart filled with goodness and love.

 Such contrast prompted me to consider the hearts of those of us living somewhere between the hardened heart of someone like the school shooter and the heart of a man like Rev. Graham.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)

Everything flows from the heart.

Words.

Attitude.

Action.

Reaction.

Ponder this. What emotion did you feel when you first learned of the Parkland, Florida shooting?  Shock? Anger? Sadness? Nothing? Maybe you just shook your head and thought, “Again?”

I am not asking this of those directly impacted, or in the peripheral of such tragedies, but those of us well removed watching or reading from the safety of our homes and businesses. What did you first feel? Was it different the first time you learned of a school shooting?

I am ashamed of my answer, and disturbed that I’m not alone.

I just shook my head, and thought, “Again?”

Have I allowed my heart to become somewhat calloused from the commonplace of these events?  I wasn’t glued to the television eager for the latest reports like the first time. Have I allowed myself to become desensitized and disconnected? What about you?

The thought alarms me.

Guard the heart, above all else.

“The greatest need in the world is the transformation of human nature. We need a new heart that will not have lust and greed and hate in it. We need a heart filled with love and peace and joy, and that is why Jesus came into the world.” – Rev. Billy Graham, 1918-2018

Did you know the word “heart” appears 830 times in 762 verses in the KJV Bible? God repeatedly addresses the condition of the heart.

The hatred of all that is good destroys life – physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually.

Love gives life, joy, peace, hope and so much more.

Evil takes. Goodness gives. This is not a new revelation.

The issues of life, everything regarding the issues of life, flow from the heart.

Simplified problem: Anything less than a pure heart needs healing.

Simplified answer: Jesus.

Yes, the problems and answers are more complex, but draw a straight line through it all and the attitude of the heart rests at the core. The heart drives our words, actions, and reactions. From sensitive and pliable, to hard and calloused, the heart influences our decisions. Since the only heart we can truly know is our own, it is our responsibility to guard it with all the power of Heaven.

We should not guard against feeling heartache. We must guard against losing the ability of the heart to ache. To do that, we must remember this:

“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV)

When we love God in this way, the condition of our heart in all other areas of our lives falls into place.  When we focus on our relationship with Jesus, we protect our heart’s capacity to love others the way God loves us, even when others may not be so lovable. After all, aren’t we unlovable at times, and yet God still loves us?

I think back to the contrast between those two news stories—the Parkland shooting and Rev. Graham’s death, and I believe we all should want to finish the race of life as Rev. Graham did. I know I do. One of the striking aspects of his life is how he diligently guarded his heart. Christianity Today recently wrote about “The Billy Graham Rules.” There is no coincidence that a thoroughly protected soul produced a remarkable godly life.

Maybe you’re a preacher or teacher of the gospel, but the daily tasks of ministering to those lukewarm in their faith is eroding the joy in your heart. Maybe a painful situation has left you bitter and defensive. Maybe you’ve never noticed the numbness creeping in and stealing the compassion you once felt, until now.  Whatever your situation, surrender everything in your heart to the Lord. He alone heals the hurt, removes walls of bitterness, enables forgiveness, and instills the capacity to love the way He loves – even as we face the evils of this world.

They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up to your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 1:18-25, NIV)

Possessing knowledge, behaving honorably, living well, and being charitable is nothing if we do not love God first, and others second.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1Cor. 13:2-3, NIV)

Living in the world is painful, but without pain, we cannot know love. Without love, we are nothing and we have nothing.

Guard your heart above all else, to do so will keep your life on track, for a pure heart is everything to Christ Jesus.

Oh, to have a heart like His…
 
 
 
 
 
Rita Halter Thomas is a staff writer for Prophecy Simplified, providing HOLD ON Stories to encourage you to hold on to your faith. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of a college missions major.  She is also an award-winning writer, the founder of The Write Editor, http://thewriteeditor.com, and a former newspaper and magazine publisher with 23 years’ experience in print and digital media. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
 
  
 

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A Forgotten Responsibility of the Pastor

Since high school I’ve been working in churches, and the past ten years as a senior pastor. And I believe pastoring is one of the most difficult jobs in the country. For me it was the wearing of the thirty million different hats that made it so difficult. You know how it is—as a pastor, we must be administrators, counselors, wedding planners, funeral directors, chaplains, architects, janitors, teachers, preachers, and the list can go on and on, right? So, the last thing I want to do is add something to your already overwhelming list.

But I want to tell you of a forgotten aspect of pastoring that is absolutely necessary for this time in history we now live. It’s a responsibility that pastors of the past and in other parts of the world today carry-out, but not so much here in America.

In the midst, of all the different hats we wear and activities we do, we’re driven by God-given spiritual tasks that we as pastors seek to accomplish within our congregations. As a pastor, we know we are called to evangelize. In each activity within our ministries, we try to share the Gospel with our flock. We also know we are called to disciple and again in each thing we do, we work to foster spiritual growth within our congregation. We also have been given the spiritual task of equipping our congregation for missions and ministry. These three spiritual tasks are why we plan the events that we plan. These tasks are why we establish the programs in our churches. They permeate every different proverbial hat we wear out within the pastorate.

But one other task needs to be weaved in the mix. Pastors, we have a responsibility to prepare our congregation.

Maybe you know this, but I didn’t. I never looked at one of my pastoral responsibilities being to prepare my congregation to stand firm and hold on to their faith in difficulties now and in the future. The books I read and conferences I attended, encouraged me and helped me assimilate new members, share the Gospel more effectively, train leaders, take members deeper in the Word, and how to structure our church; but, never once did I hear anything about preparing my people.

In the process of preaching through the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, I was captivated by Matthew 24:10 in which Jesus warns that “many will turn away.” Each time after this moment, when I stood in the pulpit and looked out at my congregation, my heart was haunted with the question—have I prepared them enough to not turn away? This verse warns that a majority of those who profess to be Christians will turn away; therefore, if my congregation faces that prophesized time many of them will turn away.

As I was asking myself this question, I realized if you took our “membership roll” you would see that many had already turned away. And for many of those on that list, they had shared with me their story. When I would follow-up on members who were no longer attending our church, the conversion typically went, “Pastor, I used to attend church and was involved in this and that, and then this or that event happened in my life and I just left.” In other words, when faced with difficulty, they turned away. I began to realize that I had these conversations all the time. Usually, the event that caused the turning away was the loss of a family member, a divorce, or hurt feelings within the church.

Not only did I realize this was happening in my neck-of-the-woods, but as I began to write my book, Spiritual Prepper, on the issue, I saw that the statistics pointed to this happening all over the nation. In fact, 42 million professed Christians who once attended church were no longer attending. So, chances are you are hearing the same conversations I was hearing. Like me, I’m sure, you’re frustrated with the lack of commitment and participation you see from your congregation.

Now I don’t know if we are at the prophetic fulfillment of Matthew 24:10 because Jesus was talking about a specific time—the birth pains. But regardless, we are seeing people under our pastoral care leave the church.

Are we preparing our congregations to remain faithful?

Now, there is no doubt that we have taught the truth enough that our congregations should have the ammunition to remain faithful. But have we intentionally prepared them to remain faithful?

Pastor, I believe we need to start.

Of course, since I’m so passionate about this subject I have some suggestions. But more than sharing those thoughts, I hope you become captivated by the need to prepare your congregation as I became captivated.


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8 Realities American Churches Must Be Prepared to Face

If you have read any of my posts or books, or if you have heard me speak, then you have heard me say that as individuals and churches we need to be prepared. And you have heard me say that pastors need to prepare their congregations. So, the question then becomes—in what areas do we prepare?

Good question! So, here are eight realities in which we need to be prepared to face.

 

  1. The personal trials and tribulations we face are a normal part of following Christ.

Depending on your interest level of end-time prophecy this first reality is either disarming or a let-down. I feel strongly that we need to preach, teach, and hear more about the end-times. The Bible supplies so much that we can know. But I don’t know how we can even talk about the perils of the end-time events when we can’t even survive difficult trials today. A prolific biblical point is that followers of Christ will face trails and tribulations on a regular basis. The fact of the Christian facing trials is not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”. We see this over and over again in passages like 1 Peter 4:12: 

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.1 Peter 4:12 (NIV84)

Unfortunately, therapeutic and prosperity brands of Christianity has deceived most American Christians into thinking following Christ is just a bed of roses. There will be challenges to the faith, and as American Christians, we don’t know this; and, American pastors aren’t telling us anything different. Therefore, we are sheep headed to the slaughter. Right now, 42 million professed Christians in America have given up on their faith, and most of which did so when faced with a difficult trial. American Christians have to be prepared to face difficulties.

 

 

  1. The Christian persecution seen on the news is a normal part of following Christ.

Along the same lines as the previous point, Christians should expect difficulty. Scripture even goes as far as to teach that we should expect persecution. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 10:22-23:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted… – Matthew 10:22–23 (NIV84)

Did you catch it said “when” you are persecuted? America, has been an anomaly compared to Christian history and most of the world today. Persecution is the default response from the world to Christians. So, as stories of Christian persecution in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and North Korea shock us in America, we must realize that is the norm. We also need to know that we are called to remain faithful when faced with persecution. American Christians need to know that God has called us to be martyrs and not to deny our faith. And unfortunately, we must know this because at some point towards the end-times there will be universal persecution. If America is around at that point, then one can guarantee Christians in America will be persecuted.

 

  1. The United States will not exist as a world super power forever.

You were probably tracking with me until I put on my tin-foil hat and wrote this, but it is absolutely true. Contrary to what is often said, we are given many clear details of the end-of-this-age. In those details, we can know the nations involved in the empire of the Antichrist and the Battle of Armageddon. Even within the aspects that are debated, it’s clear that America is at best diminished in power before the Antichrist rises to power, which is before the seven-year tribulation. And for America to at the minimum diminish in power, there has to be difficulty in the nation. At the minimum, this would be economic hardship, but could easily range to far more difficult tribulation. And if we’re struggling to remain faithful now in America, we’ll fare even worse in the face of national calamity. We need to prepare to remain faithful when life is difficult.

Now, I don’t pretend to know a time-frame for this. It may not be for another 100 years, but there are some clear signs that point to us being near the end-of-the-age. I write more about that here. But one sign that brings near certainty is the fact that Jews are back home in Israel.

 

  1. The American Church as we know it will change.

This reality that we need to prepare to face, goes hand-in-hand with the previous reality. If America faces tribulation and change so will churches in America. But I believe church as we know it can change far before that point. Under the eight years of Obama, it appeared the freedoms of our churches were headed for fundamental changes. One possibility I have heard mentioned is the possibility of church giving losing its “tax-deductible” status which  threatens to change church as we know it. What happens to Christians in America when there aren’t elaborate children’s ministries? What happens when the cutting-edge music has the plug pulled? What happens when there are not full-time pastors? What happens when big buildings can’t be afforded? Again, if we are struggling to remain faithful in such times of blessings how will we then? Whether that is a way in which things for the church will change who knows? And at that, the loss of giving is probably the least of what could happen to the the American church. 

 

  1. The Rapture may not be pretribulation.

Don’t “x” out yet! Please hear me out! For most American Christians who do have an inkling of care about the end-times, they predominantly believe there will be a rapture before the seven years of tribulation. For one, in the previous points I have argued that tribulation may come to our lives long before the actual seven years. But we need to consider that the rapture might not happen before the tribulation. I have been a long-time pretrib guy, but when I finally studied the passages used to defend that view I realized they are very shaky. And when I approached the Bible with an open-mind about the rapture it actually seems to say the opposite of a pretribulation rapture. Take 2 Thessalonians 2 for an example, the passage clearly says that the Antichrist will come first. But regardless of what view is right, we need to understand that we may have to face the tribulation. We need to realize that the pretribulation rapture view is not solid. Because if we go into the tribulation without being raptured that alone will cause some of us to give up on God because we have taught that to be the truth.

 

  1. The Restoration of Israel is central to the story.

The doctrine of God restoring the nation of Israel at His return is hotly debated, but it shouldn’t be at all. Many teach that the Jews and the promises made to them about their coming kingdom, no longer applies to them, but now apply to Christians. To believe that Gentile Christians have replaced Israel is absolutely erroneous. Believing this is true is to basically discard the entire Old Testament. It is important that we are prepared to see that the whole story of the Bible and salvation history will center back on Jerusalem at the end-of-the-age and the age to come. This is made very clear in Romans 11:25:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.Romans 11:25 (NIV84)

 

  1. The Empire of the Antichrist may be rising.

As I have spent the past five years of my life diving into the study of the end-times, I have been shocked out how little critical study has been given to the end-times. Many of the prevailing views have extremely shaky biblical support—one of which is the restoration of Israel. The predominant view of replacement theology flies in the face of the bulk of biblical support. This phenomenon is also true when it comes to the location of the empire of the Antichrist. Nearly uncontested since the first century, Christianity has held to the idea that the empire of the Antichrist would be a revised Roman Empire in Rome. But the biblical support for this is very weak, while all the while there is clear evidence in Scripture for a Middle Eastern location of the Antichrist’s empire. It is also clear that empire of the Antichrist will be a revised Ottoman Empire or in other words, an Islamic Caliphate. With this being the case, the present rise of Islam and especially Turkey means that the empire of the Antichrist could be rising.

 

  1. The Millennial Kingdom will be awesome.

The previous seven realities dealt with negative tribulations that we need to be prepared to face. Seven challenges that could cause us to turn away from God. But this final area is a positive that we are not prepared to enjoy. Listen, we do not make Heaven as awesome as it will be. And when we study about Heaven, we see that first there will be a 1,000-year time period in which Jesus will rule on earth from Jerusalem. He will sit on the throne of David and rule His Eternal Kingdom. This is real and tangible. And we will be able to enjoy it. We need to be prepared for the awesomeness of the Millennial Kingdom.

 


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Does the WHOLE Bible Story Guide Your Church Leadership?

What part or books of the Bible do you believe most sermons today are derived from? What about your own sermons? I wish I had a scientific survey, but I don’t. But I do have the fact that I have heard a lot of preaching! And I believe it’s a safe bet to say that most present-day preaching is derived from the Gospels, the Epistles, and occasional blockbuster Old Testament stories. Would you agree? My sermons were. The Gospel of Matthew probably leads the way in my sermon history.

I’m not here to debate what our sermon passage quota should be, but I’m hoping you can visualize how that if most sermons are from the teachings of Jesus and teachings in the Epistles then therefore our churches and Christian practices reflect those sources. And it does, doesn’t it?

In this post, I start with the biblical root of our sermons because that picture is easier to see. If I preach on the instructions Jesus and the apostles gave then my congregation is going to focus on living out those teachings.

But now, think with me, what part of the Bible or Bible book does our philosophies of ministry, mission statements, vision statements, etc. for our churches and ministries derive? What biblical instruction shapes your paradigm for pastoring and church leadership?

Again, I wish I had a scientific study, but I’ve been to a lot of church growth conferences and have read most of the books on the subject. And again, the Gospels and the Epistles lead out with the addition of The Book of Acts. Our church leadership is modeled after the apostles. Our leadership paradigm is motivated by the instruction of the Great Commission. And this is definitely how it should be, for the Great Commission is our mission. I’m not opposed in any way to this foundation for our church leadership practices.

But, I believe we lead our churches without considering the whole story of Scripture and the whole story of salvation history.

Digressing a bit, but at some point, in my elementary career, I was told the easiest way to complete a maze was to begin at the end and work our way out. It’s definitely easier to begin at the end of the maze, right? Do you know this secret? If not, try it!

Now if we only had the knowledge of the ending of the mission of church and ending of salvation history, then we would have the end of the maze of life, right?  We then could lead our churches through the maze much easier. Pastoring would be much easier!

Wait a minute! We do have the end. In Scripture, we know how this age ends. We know what the age-to-come is like. We know how the church age will wrap up. Yet, how many church leadership decisions are we making based off this knowledge? Yes, our mission will always be the Great Commission, but The Book of Revelation and prophecy throughout the Bible provide even greater clarity and motivation for the Great Commission.

Pastor and church leader, we are leading through paradigms that only consider part of the story.

Pastor and church leader, we are leading from the middle of the maze and not the end. When we actually have the end of the maze!

Pastor and church leader, we need to look at the end, and let it show us how to lead now.

And pastor and church leader, looking at the end will give us a leadership paradigm that priorities preparing our congregation to remain faithful—to stand firm.

 

 

Connection: So, if we need to prepare our congregation then what do we need to prepare them to face? Learn here!

 


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Love No Matter What

Have you ever winced upon learning that a long-time friend has left your church? Even harder, did your friend appear to doubt much of what he or she used to believe about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Church, and the Christian faith?

If so, how did you respond?

That’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it?

Over the years, after making almost every mistake in the book, I’ve discovered and enjoyed using 10 counter-intuitive yet powerful steps…with amazing, God-blessed results. So has each member of my immediate family. So have many in my church. I pray that’s your experience, too!

First, love your friend unconditionally.

Second, invite your friend to tell his or her story. When they do, just listen. Don’t ask questions. Don’t interrupt at all, except to quickly affirm that you’re actively listening.

Third, be unshockable. Truth be told, we’ve all broken the Ten Commandments, at least in our heart. Confession is good for the soul, so let your friend just talk. Don’t react to anything he or she says, no matter how ugly or angry. They’re not angry at you, even if it sounds that way. 

Fourth, after your friend has finished talking, remain quiet. Keep listening. While on business in Orlando I met a man named Leonard who poured out his heart to me. I didn’t say a word. I just kept listening intently. When he was done, I kept looking into Leonard’s angry, deeply hurt eyes and didn’t say anything. After a minute, with deepest sadness he said, “All I needed was hope and mercy.” What a profoundly haunting lament. Yet if I had started talking, I never would have heard what he needed.

Fifth, once your friend tells you what he or she needs, still don’t say anything. After Leonard told me, “All I needed was hope and mercy,” I remained quiet for another minute. I let my eyes do all the talking. His eyes and facial expressions began to soften and change. Only God’s love can do that. Then Leonard told me, “And by listening to my story, you’ve given me both.”

Sixth, whatever you do, don’t promise to meet your friend’s needs. Often they want to know the answer to their burning question, “Why?” You don’t know. Don’t even try to guess. Speculation will only ruin your credibility. 

Seventh, if you and your friend have a mutual friend who has a strong faith in Jesus Christ, explore the possibility of inviting that mutual friend to join you at some point in the future. If your friend can share his or her story with a second person, it’s often helpful. That mutual friend may be a pastor, a professor, a psychologist, or another respected Christian leader. Or that mutual friend may be an “ordinary” but wise individual you both know you can trust. 

Are you asking for their story?

Eighth, ask your friend if you can pray for him or her. If they’re in agreement, pray right then. Then remind them from time to time that you’re still praying for them. Prayer invites Jesus back into the picture. 

Ninth, at the right time invite your friend to read the Bible with you. Read one of the four Gospels together. As you read, pray that your friend will fall in love with Jesus again. 

Finally, stay in touch with your friend no matter what. Your friendship can’t be contingent on whether or not your friend comes back to faith in Jesus Christ. That’s up to Him, not you. You may have to hang in there for years before your friend re-embraces faith. No problem. 

Never give up on your friendship. True, some will walk away. But never let it be said that you walked away.

 

Editor’s Note: You’re welcome to share these 10 steps with your church. Just be sure to “give honor where honor is due” (Romans 13:7), starting with recognizing the author and source, of course!

 

David Sanford is an author and speaker. His latest book, Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think, is available wherever good books are sold. His professional biography is posted online at www.linkedin.com/in/drsanford. His personal biography includes his wife, Renée, their five children, and twelve grandchildren (including one in heaven).

 

 

 

 

 


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