Persecution Today

Persecution is a word that is seldom used in our culture.  Instead we hear words such as bullying, disrespect, bias, prejudice.  The list goes on. These are little persecutions.  These are the ways average people deal with annoyances today.  These little persecutions break down the barriers to larger and more brutal persecutions.  We don’t see these yet in the U.S. but if we look beyond our safe little bubble we’ll see that there are much larger wrongs in the world. 

Persecution exists.  It is thriving in our world today.  Religious persecution happens every day, in every country of the world.  The persecution of Christians in Muslim countries is growing with the rise of Islamic jihad.  People pay dearly to worship Jesus and the one true God.  They pay with the loss of their families, their homes, their jobs.  People pay with their lives.  In some communist countries Christians aren’t allowed to worship God at all.  The penalty for being caught?  Death.  Over 4,000 Christians have been killed this year and 245 million are estimated to be living in areas of extreme persecution.

So what is this that is worth dying for?  According to the Apostle John, Jesus said, ” I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus was explaining that the only way to eternal life and heaven is through believing in Him.  He went on to explain that those who believe in Him would surely be persecuted, as He was.  In John 15:18-21 He says that because the world hated Him, it would hate His followers also.  The reason for this hatred stems from not knowing God. 

People who don’t know God look to themselves or other people to determine what is right and good, as well as what is evil.  Anything we don’t understand can, and often is, termed evil.  This is how persecution is born.

Are you interested in something that’s worth dying for?  Is there an emptiness within you that nothing has filled?  Join us Sunday morning at 10:55 a.m. in the sanctuary (964 W. Hwy 190 Copperas Cove, TX) or on our Facebook live-stream.  Pastor Ann will be delving deeper into the persecuted church.

Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. we’ll be checking out a movie about the church in Iran! Please come learn with us.

An Authentic Faith

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” —Romans 4:1-3

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” —Romans 1:17

One Sunday afternoon many years ago, my wife and I asked our sons what they learned in Sunday School. With great animation they recited what their teacher had humorously said during Sunday School: “Dude, man, you got to have faith!” That has become one of our favorite sayings.

Faith. It is scattered throughout the pages of Scripture. We believe it. We have it. And yet we often struggle to understand exactly what faith is. Since we are called to live by faith, it stands to reason that we should have a working definition to guide us along the way.

Too often, our definition of “faith” becomes so subjective that we lose touch with reality. Christians must be in an interactive relationship with God and their neighbors. This is continually displayed and defined in Scripture. Paul went as far as to state that everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Faith leads to the inward obedience of the heart that provides confidence in our actions. The believer, having faith in God, acts on behalf of the will of God. Faith is naturally connected to what we do (this is why James connects faith to works).

In Romans 4, Paul addressed the need to live a life of faith through the story of Abraham.

Through this story, we understand that the many accomplishments of Abraham were only made possible through his faith. Paul is very clear that for every believer, works come as a natural expression of authentic faith. Abraham’s circumcision was the sign of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. Our actions done in faith have eternal value: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (v.3). That is authentic faith; accepting God’s Word to the same measure that it is put into practice. 

When it comes to wrestling with the cultural issues of our day, we need faith.

As God continues to speak to us through the written Word, His Spirit, and the church, we must have a hunger to hear Him and set our hearts to obey His instructions.

May our hunger for God’s Word and His presence increase as our faith continues to grow.

Through faith, God aligns our beliefs with His heart. Faith calls us to believe God. As a result, we are to trust Him and apply His Word with increasing measure and in practical ways in our lives, which include keeping our minds and bodies “from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). We are called to be a people who live by authentic faith—no more and no less than what Abraham experienced. We are called to believe God and His Word as we live in His righteousness.

Prayer for the week: God, today, I choose to live a life of faith. As You speak Your words over me, I will align myself with Your heart. As You affirm Your presence in me, I will apply it in the most practical of ways as your Spirit directs. I agree with Paul’s confession, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. Yes, the righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17).

Jim Thornton is lead pastor of Tulsa Hills Church of the Nazarene in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.

Written for Coffee Break.

More Than Turkey

Once again that favorite American holiday is upon us!  Thanksgiving!  I can almost smell the baking pies and roasting turkey now.  Can you?  It’s an iconic day that holds special things for nearly everyone.  Folks who like parades wait all year for Macy’s extravaganza.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t excited to eat too much and then there’s football for that time when you can’t move anyhow.  And we certainly can’t forget that Black Friday starts on Thursday now…. or sooner.

In school we were all taught about the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.  Some families still talk about the actual traditions surrounding this day.  But what if we look further back than that?

In nearly every culture there are harvest festivals of some type, offering thanks for the bounty of the year.  In Christianity, we are taught to be thankful for more than just a bountiful harvest.  Because Jesus came into the world and paid for our sins, we believe that following His teachings will give us eternal life.  THAT is a pretty big thing to be thankful for!  He doesn’t promise that our lives here on earth will be perfectly smooth with no problems, but He does tell us that God knows exactly what’s going on & that He hears us when we call out to Him.

The apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7 that we should worry about nothing.  Instead we should pray “with thanksgiving” and trust in the Lord.  He repeats this message in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1Thes 5:16), the Colossians (Col 4:2), and in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph5:20).  This is a pretty serious teaching to be repeated so many times!

Praying with thanksgiving is simply trusting that God not only hears us, but that He cares and responds when we ask for His help or blessing, according to His will.  We serve a God who hears us!  We serve a God who responds to us!  Giving thanks in our hearts and with our mouths before our prayers are answered acknowledges His relationship with us.

If you’d like to hear more about this, we encourage you to join us tomorrow morning at 10:50 a.m. as Pastor Ann brings us the fullness of His message!  We look forward to seeing y’all then.

Would You Say Yes?

Imagine for a moment that its mid-day and you’re going about your usual routine.  Suddenly, your phone rings. Without checking the number, you answer.  The voice on the other end is one you recognize, but don’t believe would call you.  What you’ve heard is:

“Hello?  This is President Trump.”

How are you going to respond?  Would you say:

“Yeah, right” and hang up?                       “I think you have the wrong number” … and hang up?

“Let me give you a piece of my mind!”     “Stop fooling around (friend’s name)!”


“Hello sir.  Are you certain you have the right number?”

If you have the courage for the last response, his next words will knock you off your feet.

“Yes, I have the right number.  I was meeting with my security council this morning and they’ve informed me that we have invaders on the east coast.  I need you to take care of this for your country.”

“Oh, and by the way, the armed forces aren’t available.  So it’ll just be you and whoever will answer your call.  We’re behind you all the way, so just let me know how many people you get and we’ll talk again.  Thanks!”

I don’t know how you’d be feeling, but I’d be shaking in my boots!  Maybe now would be a good time to move to Canada or Mexico, or take a slow boat to China.  Anywhere but here!  Then again, it’s possible he called you because you served in the military or play Fortnite, Call to Battle or another game in that genre that he thinks has equipped you to handle this kind of pressure.  Obviously he believes you can handle the situation.

Did you say yes?

Pastor Lisa Palmer will be our guest speaker this Sunday.  She has a message about a situation like this and how God is able to use the most unlikely person to accomplish amazing things.  If you’d like to hear how this story ends, please join us Sunday morning at 10:50 a.m.  We look forward to seeing you then!

Common words and strange meanings

It seems that every group of people with a specific area of interest develop their own sort of language.  They seem to be using words we know but not in a way we understand.  We’ve all been to the doctor and had him toss out a term like “diet”… Explaining we aren’t “on a diet” just muddies the water more.  He’s really just wanting to know what we’ve been eating.  So why doesn’t he say so? 

Churches are a great place for this to occur.  We talk about freewill, saving souls, lifting people up, gifts and calling.  It can be pretty bewildering and a bit scary.  We aren’t putting souls in a jar, we don’t have any weight-lifting contests, we aren’t handing out presents with pretty bows and we frown at people using their phones. 

Here’s what we are trying to say, in plain English (I hope).   When we say “save” or “saved” we are talking about accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior; about recognizing Him as God’s Son; about admitting that we are spiritually broken and need Him to straighten us out.

The simple definition of “freewill” is choice.  God created us so that we can think and choose for ourselves.  We can make good choices and obtain good consequences.  If we make bad choices in our life, we get to live with those consequences too.  Either way, God lets us decide what we want in our lives.

When we say “lifting people up” we mean that we are asking God to help those folks in their situation.  This might mean we are praying for healing, but could also mean that we are asking for endurance and patience.  We may be asking for wisdom and insight, but the bottom line is that we are asking God to focus His attention on that person or family.

God’s “gifts” to us are discussed in 1 Corinthians 12.  We believe that the Holy Spirit gives every person gifts that we can nurture and use to help others.  In the world, people talk about their potential or talent.  There are people who are gifted in every area of life so that humankind can thrive and support one another.  People who are “saved” use these “gifts” to help others in such a way that God receives the glory, credit and praise for every result. Finally, we talk “calling” or “being called.”  In some churches this only applies to the pastor, as in “being called by God to preach.”  We believe that God “calls” each of us to fulfill His will.  We believe that He has given us our “gifts” so that when He calls us we will have all the tools we need to serve in whatever way He asks.  This might mean we do something as humble as emptying the trash and sweeping the floor.  It might mean we cook meals for those who can’t.  Sometimes it means being a taxi.  For others it means teaching.  I hope you’re getting the idea.

Name of Praise

In ancient times names held great meaning.  A child would be named to commemorate an event, to encourage a direction for his life or possibly to acknowledge a patriarch.  The old Hebrew families often incorporated God into their names.

Thus, Judah was blessed by his mother, Leah.  She chose his name to praise God.  Later his name became the name of the southern portion of what we now think of as Israel.  Jerusalem lies within the territory of Judah. 

So why does that name stuff matter today?  It matters because God chose the Hebrew people to be His people.  It matters because He chose Judah as the family line that Jesus would descend from.  It matters because one woman chose to praise God through the name of her child.  And God chose to honor that by placing His Kingdom throne in Judah, thus becoming enthroned by His people’s praise.

Why does it matter to us?  It matters because it guides us in how to think about our approach to God.  If we are truly seeking a relationship with Him, praise encompasses a big portion of that time we spend with Him.  We all know that in human relationships praise creates harmony and open communication.  So it is with God. 

Next time you reach for God, praise Him for all that he has done for you; praise Him for all that He is doing for you; praise Him for all that He will do for you.  He designed us for relationship with Him.  He designed and created us in the love and joy that is Him.  Let us celebrate and rejoice in that design every time we think of Him.

Praise Challenge

On the 27th of September we offered y’all a challenge.  We invited you to find something to praise God about every day for 30 days.  We’re hoping that you took us up on that challenge and that you are beginning to see the impact that praise has had in your life.

If you missed that post**, you can try praising Him for the next 30 days and see what happens.  If life looks bleak right now and you don’t think this is possible for you to do, consider the fact that you have life.  That means you have an opportunity to change things and circumstances, if you are willing. 

Not everything in your life is under your control.  Other people are not under your control.  The weather is not under your control.  You have no control over decisions made above your pay grade.  You DO have control of your thoughts, emotions and actions. 

Praising God is an act of love that comes from your ability to recognize His blessing.

When we praise God we are letting Him know that we recognize His Kingdom and His sovereignty (right to rule) over our lives.  Praising God focuses our attention on Him.  It reminds us of who He is and who we are or who we want to be.  As we praise Him our love for Him grows.  Once we begin looking for a reason to praise Him, we find more reasons each day. 

If you don’t know Jesus as your personal savior yet, this may seem like a foolish thing to ask of you.  It may not make any sense to you to give God credit for anything.  All we ask is that you try this out and see what happens.  At the very least, nothing will happen.  But we believe something incredible will happen.  Do you want to know what?  Take our challenge.

If you are curious about what praising God looks like in a church……

Join us Sunday morning at 10:55 in the sanctuary, if possible, or on Facebook as we livestream the amazing message Pastor Ann will bring us about praising our most high and awesome God!

**That post can be viewed at

Who Do You Know?

 Posted in: COFFEE BREAK

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” —2 Tim. 3:14-15

When I was five, my dad decided that having a family was not for him, which left my mom as a single parent of two boys. I used to look forward to Saturday mornings because I got to spend many Friday nights at my grandpa’s house. These Friday nights and Saturday mornings with grandpa allowed him to step into the role that my dad didn’t fill. Each Saturday in the summer, we would get up just before dawn and go to the golf course. We would tee off right after dawn with the grass still wet from the dew.

Even as a boy, I could hit the ball pretty far—at least a lot farther than my grandpa could hit it. He would take his diminished swing and hit the ball a short distance, only to have to hit it again several times to reach the green. I felt sorry for my grandpa. He could not hit the ball nearly as far as I could, and I was only 10 years old. But somehow, every time we reached the green, I found that my grandpa had beat me by one or two strokes. How could he beat me every time?

One day, the answer became clear. I could see my footsteps across the grass, and I noticed that they crisscrossed all the way to the hole. My grandpa’s steps were different. You could see his steps perfectly follow the straight lines left by the little cart he wheeled behind him. His steps went straight down the middle. My grandpa beat me because he played golf like he lived his life—right down the middle.

My grandpa was a wonderful man. He was a model in life and faith.

Somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to live my life like he did.

I wanted to follow in his steps because I saw how he lived and experienced firsthand how he loved. Paul did not ask the early believers to just believe. He told them to trust in those they had seen and heard. The way we live our lives is important because the only model of faith some people will ever see is what they see in our lives. Christianity is not just Jesus and me; it involves the people I work, live, and worship with as well. Seeing my grandpa’s steps changed me. What do our steps say to others? 

Prayer for the week: Heavenly Father, at the start of this new day, or in the middle of this ordinary week, I thank you for the routine moments of life. Help me not to seek one mountain top after another, but to see Your presence in each moment. You have sanctified each moment because You came and forever joined heaven and Earth, even the routine moments. Amen.

Doug Ward is the senior pastor of Mundelein Church of the Nazarene in Mundelein, Illinois, USA, and teaches at Olivet Nazarene University.

Written for Coffee Break

God has Feasts?

Many of us have seen the movie, The Ten Commandments.  If we haven’t seen the movie, we have at least heard that phrase.  Moses was given the 10 Commandments of God after he led the Israelites out of Egypt.  What many of us don’t realize is that God spoke with Moses for 40 days and gave him all of His Laws.  They can all be found in the books of Exodus and Leviticus if you’d like to check them out.

God’s law is divided into three parts. The 10 Commandments were the base and they relate to how to live spiritual and moral lives before God.  The civil law relates to governing the people and the ceremonial law describes the building of the tabernacle and how to worship God. 

What we want to look at today is a ceremonial law.  In Leviticus 23 God sets forth specific times of the year that He wants His people to stop everything and come before Him.  There are 7 of these times and they are often referred to as Feasts of the Lord.  The 7th of these is called The Feast of Tabernacles.  Tabernacle, in the historic sense, is simply a temporary dwelling, much like what the Israelites may have lived in as they sojourned in the desert those long 40 years.  He asked the Israelites to build these small booth like huts and dwell in them once a year for 7 days. 

Why would God want us to do that?  He wanted Israel to remember that it was Him who brought them out of Egypt.  He wanted them … and us … to celebrate and rejoice that He is the God who loves us.  He loved the Israelites enough to rescue them from Egyptian bondage.  He loves us enough to rescue us from sin and eternal damnation.

So I don’t know about y’all, but to me that’s worth setting aside a specific week every year to really consider all that He has done for me, all that He has blessed me with and all that He has promised me.  Let’s celebrate our God this year! If any of this sparked your interest, we sincerely invite you to join us on Sunday morning at 10:55 a.m. in the sanctuary (964 W. Hwy 190) or on Facebook for our live-stream of Pastor Ann’s message.  She’ll explain it much better than this, I promise!

Life’s Entanglements

“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer . . . Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”— 2 Tim. 2:4, 7

Growing up, I had a deeply ingrained mental list of all the things I wasn’t supposed to do. I was not allowed to swear or use other “questionable” words. Even though I knew swearing wasn’t allowed, I was seriously reprimanded when my mom heard me utter a bad word after missing a shot in the neighborhood basketball game. I also knew that I was not allowed to smoke. I was told, and really believed, that God would strike me with a lightning bolt if I even tried a cigarette. I had a clear understanding of curfew and knew that good grades were a priority. A strong understanding of right and wrong was a major part of my growing up years.

Most of us have a well-established list of things we would never dream of doing. We know where our moral line is, and there is little chance that we would ever cross that line. If this is true, then we should never have to worry about walking away from our faith, right? If we know the difference between right and wrong, then we should have nothing to worry about.

There is a problem with this theory, and it is one that Paul seems to recognize.

The things in life that tempt Christians the most are typically not on any list of things that are objectively wrong. Rather, problems arise when anything pulls us away from Christ.

Often, the things that distract us from Him are not immoral on their own. We pursue the next promotion with a singular focus. The travel soccer team in which our child participates demands all of our time and attention. Trips to our lake home become a priority. We can rightfully ask, “what is wrong with playing soccer or trying to earn more money?” The answer is “nothing,” unless the love for those things nudges us away from our love of Christ.

When Paul reminds us that no military leader entangles himself in civilian affairs, he seems to bring up a similar point. In this passage, notice that Paul does not speak in terms of good and evil or even right and wrong. There is nothing evil about civilian affairs, but they are not important for the military leader. There is also nothing wrong with a promotion, a vacation, or a travel soccer team. Yet, any of these things has the potential to distract us and slowly pull us away from our love of Christ.

When Christians walk away from their faith, it is rarely because they went from faithfulness to visible failure in a single day. It is almost always the result of a long, imperceptible drift that started long ago. Perhaps the standard for Christians is not a well-developed right vs. wrong list. Instead, the standard should be, first and foremost, faithfulness to our leader. Avoiding wrong things is good, but it is not the primary task of the Christian life. We have a higher standard.

Prayer for the week: Almighty God, thank You for filling our lives with good things. We are so undeserving of all you have blessed us with. Help us to see the value of the things around us in a holy and proper way so that we don’t pursue the less valuable and lose focus on the thing most valuable: our faith in Christ. Amen.

Doug Ward is the senior pastor of Mundelein Church of the Nazarene in Mundelein, Illinois, USA, and teaches at Olivet Nazarene University.

Written for Coffee Break.