Finding a Great Church

Friends, I don’t know about you, but my gut tells me something big is going to happen in the next couple of months. Regardless of whether it is some sort of attack or an economic crash (or both), millions of people will find themselves without hope and desperate. In my book Rude Awakening, I describe how most of us in the United States seem to be serving the gods of comfort, convenience, and control. What happens when all three of those are gone? It’s time to not only examine our hearts but also consider our associations. Now more than ever it is vital that we get before God and let him cleanse our hearts. In addition to our inward repentance, we also need an outward support system. The following is an excerpt from my book which goes into the importance of finding a great church.

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A Place to Call Home

So far we have focused on five areas vital to not simply surviving as a Christian but thriving. Those five are:

  1. Obtaining access to God through the blood of Jesus
  2. Getting to know God through reading and speaking His Word
  3. Praying higher levels of prayer
  4. Worshipping God in spirit and in truth
  5. Receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit and yielding to His leading

 Technically, we can do all the above without any help from any ministers. So we can probably be the best Christians we can be simply by relying on our personal pursuit of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, right? No, friends, that is not the way God set things up.

 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11–12).

 Simply put, if there were not a need for all five branches of ministry gifting, there would be no reason to have them. Pastors have a special equipping to be shepherds and overseers, nurturing those who are under their care. God has set pastors up in their respective churches and given them spiritual authority to lead, feed their congregations, foster the members’ spiritual growth, and equip them for works of service. That was God’s design, not the design of man. Granted, there are pastors who were never really called by God to be pastors. However, the office of pastor was God’s plan, so when you choose not to attend and get involved in a church, you are attempting to skirt God’s plan. You are basically saying to God, “God, I know You set this system up for my benefit, but I think I know better than You. I really don’t think I need it. I can do this Christian thing on my own.” Is that really what you want to say to your Creator? Admittedly, there are thousands of churches whose pastors/leaders have succumbed to pressure from their peers or pressure from society, watered down the message of Jesus, and implemented programs that glorify people rather than glorifying God. This is sad, yes, but it is absolutely not an excuse to stop looking for a church that has stayed true to course!

 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Heb. 10:24–25).

 Many people have quit attending church because they decided to watch church on television or the web. If someone simply cannot attend church due to physical reasons, then yes, that may be a legitimate alternative. However, many able-bodied Christians have chosen convenience over commitment. After all, if you watch online, you do not have to shower or get dressed, you can avoid the travel time, and you can watch the pregame shows on a nearby TV. What a deal, right?

It is convenient, yes, but it is also very expensive in terms of your spiritual health. If you make your decisions based on convenience, you will be an easy target for the enemy. You need to find a church that preaches the uncompromised Word of God and plug in, not just as an attendee but also as a volunteer. Your attendance and involvement at church actually fits into both the “loving upward” and the “loving outward” categories. Sitting under the anointed teaching of your pastor will facilitate a deeper relationship with God, while being involved will also give you ample opportunity to show love to others by helping and encouraging them. We will cover the loving outward part in chapter 7. Here, we will briefly cover the benefits of being in church and then go into the importance of being in the right church.

  •  At your local church, you will position yourself under a spiritual father, someone who is accountable to God for you and someone to whom you are accountable. Obviously you need to find a pastor who takes that accountability very seriously and corrects you (or the congregation as a whole) when necessary.
  • At your local church, there is a corporate anointing over the worship that is offered to God and the word that is delivered from God.
  • At your local church, you will build lasting relationships with people who will (or should) help support you in trying times.
  • At your local church, you will be reminded that you are not in this alone—that many others are experiencing the same trials and temptations that you are.
  • When you tithe to your local church (where God wants the tithe) and invest time volunteering, you will be positioning yourself to receive blessings from God because you are blessing others.

 The list goes on, but you get the idea. While some preachers and teachers on television are great, even they cannot and should not take the place of your local pastor.

What to Look for in a Church

When you look for a church, it is very much like a period of dating. There are many qualities for which you should be looking to determine if a long-term relationship is possible. Just one date (visit) is usually not enough. In addition, before you even start looking for a church, you need to have a clear-cut set of criteria by which will you determine whether a long-term commitment is even on the table. At the very least (the following is not an exhaustive list by any means), you should look for a church where the answer is yes for each of the following questions. In fact, you could apply these questions to any minister (teacher, evangelist, etc.):

1. Do they teach that the only way to God is through the redemptive blood of Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, who died on the cross for us and rose again, achieving victory over sin and death?

2. Do they teach about Hell, expose sin for what it is, and establish the need for true repentance when we come to Christ, or do they seem to imply that a simple prayer is all you need.

3. Does their teaching move people to seek God’s heart first (intimacy) rather than seeking only His hand (His blessings)?

4. Does their teaching motivate people to truly love others as they love themselves? (We will cover what each means in the next two sections of this book.)

 The questions above represent core principles of the Christian faith, yet there are many ministers, even well-known ministers, who have abandoned one or more of these principles and are teaching things that are more palatable to the world. Friends, run from those “ministers” because it is likely they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may not appear to be wolves in their demeanor. In fact, they may be kind-hearted, care for others, and know the Bible like the back of their hands, but that does not mean they are not wolves. Remember, the devil quoted the Word when tempting Jesus. I am convinced that most preachers who are wolves do not even realize the enemy is using them. We will dig deeper into this later, but for now, if you are looking for a church and could not answer yes to all four of the previous questions, keep looking. Even when you do find a church that qualifies with four yes answers, you may want to consider three additional questions:

5. Do they teach about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and our need to foster a spiritual environment in our lives where the Holy Spirit can operate in and through us in an ever-increasing way?

6. Does their teaching hurt at times, in a good way, meaning that it is hard for the flesh but good for the spirit, or is the teaching always “feel good” in nature?

7. Do they reach out to the community on a regular basis?

I would like to point out some questions that are purposefully not listed here: How cool is the pastor? How contemporary or edgy is the music? How fancy is the building? How impressive are the graphics, videos, or other media? Bottom line, those areas do not matter in the end. What matters is the extent to which you will grow spiritually if you attend the church. I believe a wonderful example of a church that totally fits the list of seven items I listed and does not bother with the superficial items is Times Square Church in Manhattan, founded by David Wilkerson. Years ago, when Rev. Wilkerson began his ministry to street gangs in New York City, he did not try to be “down” with the gang members by attempting to talk like them or dress like them. If he had, he most likely would have been killed. Rather, he simply loved them. He was (and his ministry still is) a world changer, and the “coolness factor” was not part of his arsenal; he relied on lifting up Jesus rather than himself.

 There are probably more questions to consider when looking for a church than the seven I listed, but let’s move on. Once you believe you have found the church where God wants you to plug in, treat that relationship like a marriage. Be committed, be supportive, be quick to serve, and be a giver rather than a taker. There are millions of people who go to church as a spectator rather than a participant. Know that your home church will in many ways be like the people you live with at home. You will get out of it what you put into it. And just to prepare you, there will be times when someone will say something that will hurt you or offend you because we are all human. My wife and I have unintentionally said and done things that have hurt, offended, or frustrated the other, but guess what? We are still married. Because we all are human, it would be impossible to be in a marriage relationship without some bumps in the road now and then. That is part of life. We must have tough skin and tender hearts, not the other way around.

 You may be thinking, Mark, I agree with you that we should be in church, and I go to a church where the answer is yes to all of the questions you asked. The problem is, I am bored with it. It just is not satisfying to me. What do I do? I have been there, and I understand. I will pose several questions to you now:

  1. Are you spending quality time in the Word on a daily basis?
  2. Do you take some time every day to intercede for others?
  3. Do you set aside time each day to praise and worship God in a focused, fervent way (you are doing nothing else)?
  4. Are you witnessing to others about what Jesus has done for them?
  5. Are you ministering to the needy in your community?
  6. Are you going to church looking for someone you can encourage?
  7. Are you tithing and volunteering at your church?

 There are two points I am trying to make with the above questions, and I have fallen prey to both situations. First, church was never meant to be a replacement for your own passionate pursuit of God; it was meant to enhance it. If you are looking for church to pull you out of the state you got yourself in by being undisciplined and lazy in your personal walk with God, most of the time you will be disappointed (though occasionally God will come through out of His mercy). Pastors are there to encourage you in your walk, not carry you so you will not have to walk.

 Second, maybe there is not enough of an outflow in your life outside of church (or even inside church). Maybe you are not getting anything in from your church because you are not giving anything out. If your answer was yes to all the above questions, then ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what is going on. It is possible that you are carrying hurts or offenses that are short-circuiting your ability to receive. It is also possible that your pastor is going through some struggles. Have you interceded for him lately? Have you encouraged him? Have you thanked him for sowing into your life?

 Maybe you left a church for a completely legitimate reason and have decided to take a break from church altogether. Please, for your own good and the good of all those God wants you to touch, plug back in somewhere. You simply cannot be and do all God has called you to be and do without the covering and support of a local church.

 I was talking with a friend several years ago, and she happened to mention that she had terrible credit. When I asked her why, she said that she had gotten mad at her phone company, so she simply stopped paying her phone bills. I was dumbfounded and patiently explained, “Did you really think that would hurt them? It hurt you much, much more!” I further explained that if she really wanted revenge, the best avenue would have been to pay the outstanding balance, switch companies, and then tell all her friends, family, and coworkers how great the new company was. Word would get out, and especially with social networking, positive referrals can spread like wildfire.

 You might have laughed when I mentioned what my friend did, but if you have quit church altogether because of one or more bad experiences, you are following the same logic. A much-better route would be to find a better church and tell everyone about it. A word of warning here: It is okay to talk up a church you like, but do not speak against a church that you don’t. How do you know you were not part, or all, of the problem? As we continue in this book, we will approach some difficult questions that may expose hidden selfishness in our lives. Because you could possibly hold some of the blame, do not tarnish the reputation of your former church or pastor. We will address that later in the book as well. For now, realize that God created the role of a pastor, so your involvement at a local church is absolutely, positively part of His plan for your life.

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If you’ve read my book, you know that I place a heavy emphasis on fostering unity amongst Christians (aka the Body of Christ). The last thing I would want to do is plug a particular denomination because of the possibility of alienating people who didn’t subscribe to that particular set of doctrinal beliefs. However, I will say that I recently read the book Assemblies of God: History, Missions, and Governance and gleaned valuable insight from it. Consider the following:

The Assemblies of God was founded to be a missionary agency rather than an institution. It is a cooperative fellowship. This means it has the strength that comes in numbers (unlike a single, non-denominational church entity) yet it doesn’t have the top-down governance like many other denominations. I think about it this way:  an institution sits while a missionary agency moves. The former is passive, the latter is active. The former rests on doctrine, the latter carries doctrine into experience.

I remember my high school football coach describing how I should run with the ball. “You don’t want to slow down and raise up when you’re about to be hit. Not only will you be tackled, it’s a good way to get hurt. Stay low, speed up, and hit your would-be-tackler harder than he’s hitting you. That’s how you break through. Make him remember you.” Of course, I also was aware of the importance of having teammates around to block opponents, encourage me as needed, and celebrate victories with me.

Maybe it’s time to find some good teammates. Maybe it’s time to get back to church. Maybe, soon, we’ll need a good support system.

Real Love Wins

Four years or so ago I was finishing up my last day on a contracting assignment. My manager, a Muslim, walked me out to my car. This was my second time working with him and we had been through the wringer together. Often high-stress situations and aggressive deadlines bring out the worst in people, but it brought out the best in each of us and we developed a great relationship. He has said on multiple occasions that he considers me a brother rather than just a friend. As he walked me out to my car I could tell he was a bit nervous about something. He explained to me that many people have misconceptions about Islam and he gave me an Islam tract. I’m pretty sure he remembered a couple of late night talks when we had discussed God, terrorism, abortion, and other topics, so I was a little surprised he would try to convert me knowing that I was a Christian. Despite my surprise, I took it, thanked him, told him I appreciated it, shook his hand, and told him I hoped we got a chance to work together again in the future. He didn’t yell at me or call me an infidel. I didn’t feel the need to argue with him or give the tract back. I could recognize the fact that his gesture was because he cared about me as well as my spiritual well being. Because I saw that, it made it all the easier to respectfully listen rather than reject or argue his message.

To be clear, I am eternally gratefully to Jesus, by whom and through whom I have access to my Father in Heaven and eternal life. I am firmly rooted in my faith and therefore know that I will never convert to my friend’s religion or worldview. Yet I hold dear the fact that because he is firm in his convictions, he felt the need to share with me. It’s what people who care about others do. It’s called love. If a corner of my neighbors’ house is on fire and I know they are asleep, I’m going to bang on their windows to wake them. Yes, it might jolt them awake and they may take issue for a moment, but once the big picture is revealed, they will thank me for my efforts. This, to me, is what I love about America. We can be neighbors, even in the face of disagreement, when we share our beliefs out of a genuine concern for the well being of the other.

We no longer live in that America.

Unfortunately, in rapid pace, the radical activist America has hijacked the “real” America. I was recently encouraged to read about the gay and lesbian couples who contributed to the support fund for Memories Pizza, explaining that despite the fact that they don’t agree with the owner’s support of traditional marriage, they were fans of free speech and ashamed of those from their side who went as far as to threaten to burn the restaurant down. The former is the real America (their words, not mine) and the latter is the radical fringe that wants to shut down free speech. From what I’ve heard and read, that radical fringe does not represent the views of the vast majority of those who live a homosexual lifestyle just like the views of the Westboro Baptist Church folks are not shared by the vast majority of Christians. The media and social engineers/experimenters want to pit us against each other in all out war. They want to tell us that a Christian and a Muslim can’t be friends. They want to tell us how we’re supposed to believe and behave because apparently they think we’re unable to figure things out on our own. Those forces are at work to label us and divide us as Americans because they know that divided we will fall as a republic. However, as a united country, we will stand. Maybe it’s time for some real love. Real love never fails. Yelling at people in anger like the WBC does not reflect real love. Taking away the inalienable right to free speech out of spite does not reflect real love either. Real love isn’t afraid to voice concern to the other but does so with respect. Real love recognizes that concern and appreciates it, even when there is disagreement. #RealLoveWins

Growing Down

Lately I’ve felt prompted to meditate on what it means to have childlike faith. In the past I considered it to mean that we must simply trust and obey. That’s certainly part of it, but being a father of three, I’ve seen enough to now believe there is much more to it. Jesus said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (See Mark 10:13–16 NKJV.) That’s serious business! In the realm of society (relationships/responsibility/reward), a young person is likely consumed with growing up, but we as Christians should be looking to “grow down” in many aspects of our faith. The following are some characteristics of a child that we would do well to apply to our faith:

1) A child engages with the parent during play. Children seek parents’ feedback on practically everything. Often my kids say, “Hey, Daddy, look at this!” twenty or thirty times during the course of an evening. God never tires out and never ceases to delight in such a request. Our heavenly Daddy isn’t the kind of dad who watches television from the comfort of a recliner and barely notices his child attempting to solicit his feedback. Rather, He wants us to bring everything to Him (even the “little” things”), and He is quick to respond. Not only that, He’s the kind of Daddy who gets down on the floor and engages on our level.

2) A child has a sense of awe/admiration/adoration for the parent. You may hear a little girl express a desire to be just like her mom and a boy express a desire to be just like his dad. Do we have that same attitude in the way we feel about our heavenly Daddy? Do we want to be more like Him each and every day?

3) A child is who is absolutely convinced the parent has his or her best interests in mind is automatically trusting and obedient. God does have our best interests at heart. The degree to which we are convinced of this is evidenced by our ability to trust and our willingness to obey. If we struggle with trust and obey reluctantly, we don’t truly know Him and the height, length, width, and depth of His love for us. God will never leave us or forsake us. If you feel separated from God, you moved, not Him. Come back home.

4) A child is dependent. A child realizes there are things unattainable without the help of the parent. Without Christ we can do nothing of eternal value. However, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

5) A child is humble. Prior to being arrested, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:9 NKJV). Have we emptied ourselves of our will for the higher purpose/calling God has for us in the center of His will?

6) A child has a sense of curiosity about practically everything and is hungry to learn. God delights in revealing things to those who ask, seek, and knock. The Bible says that His secret counsel is with the upright (Prov. 3:32). Yes, He loves teach us this and that, give us revelation, and increase our knowledge, but it seems to me that the best part for Him is the conversation.

7) A child deeply desires the constant presence of the parent. I remember lying in bed last December watching my two-year-old daughter sleep (on TV/cam). For several months she would get out of her bed, place her blanket on the floor by the door (hard laminate), and just sleep there the whole night because she was that much closer to her mom and me. I remember thinking to myself that when we do that with God—leave this or that comfort to get as close as we possibly can to Him—He’ll actually open the door.

More often than not, when God is teaching me in a certain area, He will lead me to a song that facilitates that learning. Currently that song is “Wonder” by Amanda Cook. As you give it a listen, if you’ve lost your sense of childlike wonder, ask God to restore it (because He is a faithful God, and He will answer that prayer).

May we always be wide-eyed and mystified.

How To Offend God

Every morning I watch the sun rise (weather permitting). The beauty of it demands a response. More often than not, the conversation below ensues:

Me: Wow, Father God, that’s just…breathtaking. You’re amazing.

God: I knew you’d like it. Do you know I love you?

Me: Yes, I know you love me. I love you too.

God: Do you know how much I love you?

It is at this point that the conversation takes one of three paths.

Path 1
I quickly evaluate how I’ve done over the past several days and determine that I’ve managed to put together a good streak of things I think will please God.

Me: You love me quite a bit, God, I’ve done…(this, that, and the other).

God: Put away your scorecard. That’s offensive to me. My love for you is not based on your performance. That’s what the Pharisees did and it got them nothing. Your righteousness is like filthy rags to me.

Path 2
I quickly evaluate how I’ve done over the past several days and realize I’ve messed up. I have not lived up to a “good Christian” label.

Me: Um, you’re probably struggling to love me, God, I’ve done…(this, that, and the other).

God: Put away your scorecard. That’s offensive to me. My love for you is not based on your performance. My love is everlasting and my mercy endures forever.

Path 3
I start to fill out my scorecard with the things I’ve done recently and then I catch myself. I remember that God’s love for me is not based on my performance.

Me: You love me so much that Your only begotten Son was tortured and killed so that I could have the opportunity to approach you and fellowship with You.

God: Yes, that’s true, but in the here and now, do you realize how much I love you?

Me: Probably not. I want to know more. How much do you love me?

God: I love you with the same passion and intensity that I love Jesus.

Me: But…Jesus was/is perfect, and I am definitely not.

God: My love is perfect. It’s unwavering. It’s unconditional. I know you desperately want to mature and grow, but you’re going about it all wrong. You’re trying to manipulate your outward actions without the inner fuel that will influence those actions. Ask me more about my love. Seek more intimacy with me. Knock on the doors of greater revelation regarding who I am and who you are in relationship to me. I will answer, you will find, and the doors will be opened. That’s where true victory starts.

Me: Thank you, Daddy. Thank you. Thank you for your perfect love. I will think of this sunrise throughout the day today as I remember how much you love me.

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My book Rude Awakening was written to address this Scorecard Syndrome in my life. It was written to an audience of one – me. By God’s grace, I am learning to walk Path 3.

Something In Your Teeth?

Recently I went out to breakfast with a friend. It was good to catch up on how things are going with him and spend time encouraging one another. I had Eggs Benedict Florentine, which includes steamed spinach. We talked for at least an hour and I excused myself to visit the men’s room. I glanced in the mirror and realized I had a rather significant piece of spinach caught between one of my front teeth and the smaller one next to it. Ugh! I couldn’t believe I had been smiling and laughing for an hour without realizing it was there. It’s bad enough with a piece of bread or dough, but at least that is light-colored. Nobody could miss dark green! So that’s why the server was smiling so big every time I responded to her questions. How embarrassing!

God’s Word is like a mirror (James 1:22-25). Without it we can live our lives thinking that we are doing fine, when in actuality there are adjustments that need to be made. When we spend quality time in the Word, God reveals to us the areas of our lives that need to be changed. I’d much prefer to look into the mirror of the Word and promptly make the adjustments instead of having my faults, obvious to everyone except me, put on display. Thank God for His mercy and grace. Have you looked in God’s mirror today?

Outside the Biodome

The post below is an excerpt from my book Rude Awakening.

In the mid-’90s there was a movie called Bio-dome that was a bit silly. I don’t recommend it, but it is interesting to take the lessons learned from it and apply them to our tendencies as human beings and even as Christians. In the movie, the biodome was simply a giant terrarium (a transparent enclosure for keeping or raising plants or usually small animals indoors). Picture a large glass bubble, a self-sufficient environment where food is readily available and no contact with the outside world is necessary. The plants feed off the light and soil and in turn provide food for the animals. The moisture that is trapped inside serves to water the plants and animals. It’s an Eden—a utopia. Why? Everything you need is inside, and therefore no contact with the outside world is necessary. You are free to make everything perfect according to how you like it. Nobody can mess with you. It is the ultimate comfort zone.

But there is a problem. Despite our human, fleshly desires and attempts to satisfy ourselves and build our own utopia, we simply were not wired that way. We were made in God’s image. God loved those on the outside so much that He sacrificed His only Son to help them. Jesus left His comfort zone and allowed Himself to be tortured and killed.

It seems to me that many of us as Christians have created our own biodomes. Yes, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and promised to meet all of our needs according to His riches in glory (Phil. 4:19). I could list all the ways God has blessed us and provided for us, but you get the point. We may have successfully learned to love our families and our church families, but many have stopped there and decided that was good enough. Even unbelievers love their families and friends, so how exactly are we differentiating ourselves? In essence, many of us have built ourselves huts smack dab in the middle of the biodome to separate ourselves as much as possible from the faint cries of those outside who are hurting and need our help. What do we do now? Will we dare to walk up to the glass, wipe away the condensation, and look into their eyes? Are we actually willing to venture outside a place of comfort and help others?

Oops, there’s one problem—that would mess with our ultimate comfort zone. We might have to rely on Someone else. We might not find things so predictable. We might have to give up some convenience. We might not be so comfortable. We might have to show love to someone other than ourselves. We might have to be more like Jesus.

Outside the biodome, we will find other categories of people God has called us to love. One of those categories is made up of all those who are often overlooked by society. This list can seem endless, but a good starting point is the groups Jesus mentioned in Matthew 25. He mentions those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing or shelter, sick, or in prison and who need to know people care. Again, sending money to organizations that meet these needs overseas is good, but that is so quick and easy that one can often do it without truly getting involved. Because of the long-distance nature of the outreach, it is easy to just open our pocketbooks without opening our hearts as well.

Yes, we absolutely should give overseas, but what about all those who have the needs mentioned above who are in your own town? Do you know what a $2 bag of ice would mean to a poor, elderly person who does not have air conditioning and is enduring one hundred-plus-degree weather? The ice will mean a great deal, but personally delivering it and telling said person that you care about him or her will bless him or her even more. God is looking for people who are willing to actually engage with others.

Mark E. Donnelly
Author of ‘Rude Awakening: What If Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong?’

The Arms of God

One of my favorite ways to show love to (and build trust in) my children is to hold them with my hands under their arms, throw them up to where they are parallel with the ceiling, and then let them free-fall (with my hands still holding them) until I stop them such that they don’t hit the floor. It’s easy to do with my 19-month-old daughter and not too difficult with my 5 yr old son. My 6.5 yr old son, however, is getting heavier, but that didn’t stop me from fulfilling his request for a turn. I felt a twinge in my shoulder and mid back the day I tried it. The next morning I was all out of whack and in quite a bit of pain. I knew at some point I’d have to stop things like that, I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. My plan? Don’t concede yet. Work out more. Buy some more time.

That experience got me thinking about the arms of God. Yes, His arms are mighty to save you in your times of distress. Yes, His arms will hold you tight when you need a safe place to rest. But His arms, shoulders, and back are fully capable…and patiently waiting…to throw you around in love when you move to Heaven. Imagine what that will be like. I am looking forward to being thrown several miles up and free falling back into His loving grasp. We as His children will not have to beg, “Do me next, Daddy!” He can juggle, millions upon millions at a time, so turns will not be necessary.

Maybe that scene is hard for you to imagine. After all, we have been conditioned (a clever strategy of the enemy) to view God as a deeply philosophical, grayed-haired-and-weathered-faced individual who is off in the distance somewhere and well “above” such activities. It’s a complete paradigm shift for many of us, but God really is our heavenly Daddy. When is the last time you called Him Daddy? When is the last time you got quiet before Him and simply enjoyed His Presence? He’s waiting.

Mark E. Donnelly
Author of ‘Rude Awakening: What If Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong?’

 

A Centurion’s Journal

For centuries they have expected him. Many generations have spoken of this mystery man who is supposed to become their king. So much so that they have allowed their hope to cloud their common sense. The news about this man has quickly spread and we hear the word “messiah” once again. Nobody can even pin down where this man is from or who he really is. Yet they are so desperate they grasp at anything that offers them the slightest bit of hope. In fact, the man who started this story, “The Baptist” they call him, has since been imprisoned and proven to be insane. These people deserve to be under our control. In fact, they have to be. They are dumb sheep, following whatever moves. That can be dangerous to our empire. They don’t think. They believe this man despite his lack of training. His so-called miracles have yet to be proven. We Romans are smarter than that. I am smarter than that.

*******

What would possess a man to throw away a promising career and a life of luxury and security? I have mixed thoughts running through my head right now. You see, the man directly over me, a centurion, is in danger of losing rank. His servant, who is like a son to him, fell gravely ill. Desperation clouded his reason and he decided to seek out this man Jesus for a miracle cure. By some strange coincidence, when he was gone, his servant recovered. It is plain for me to see that it was just luck, but my centurion is convinced it was Jesus. My comrades and I have all been pleading with him to keep his mouth shut. His servant is well. He has a career that many long for and dream of. If he keeps quiet, he can have the best of both worlds. So why are my thoughts mixed? On the one hand, I hate to see a man of his caliber throw away everything for which he has labored. On the other hand, I would love to see it. I am in line to take his position. I have worked hard and deserve to be there. I could soon be on top of the world. Much higher wages. Opportunities to impress Pilate. Honor, respect, a certain amount of fame. How could life be better? As for me, well, I would never give it up. Never. It is not worth the sacrifice.

*******

Jerusalem has been restless this week. This man Jesus made his grand entrance and the throngs are following. On top of that, the Jews will soon be celebrating their Passover feast. I need to keep an eye on things and prove that I deserve my promotion to centurion. Unrest could quickly turn to an uprising. It has been reported among my soldiers that even many of his own people want Jesus dead. If he were legitimate, the religious leaders would support him. There would be no controversy or division. If things don’t settle down on their own, we will have to make an example of this man.

*******

Where do I begin? I thought I was doing my job. I thought I was doing the right thing. One of Jesus’ own betrayed Him and the religious leaders unanimously wanted Him crucified. That would make anyone think Jesus was a fraud. I did. I watched as two of my soldiers whipped this Man and I sneered and scoffed. Good riddance to Him. He deserves it. How dare He say or do anything that threatens our control. A trail of blood was left as He was led away to be crucified. Normally I would have those under me pound the spikes, but my hate toward Him drove me to participate. I showed the soldiers how I wanted it done and loved every moment of it. One of the other criminals challenged Him to save Himself. Nothing. I figured at that moment all those who once believed in Him would realize their mistakes and leave, but many still lingered. The weather started turning worse. Never before have I seen it like that. The people needed to leave. Jesus’ mother was at the foot of the cross and I approached her. Normally we kept our distance from those hung up on display. They were all worth less than dung, and more often than not the criminals would try to spit on us or relieve themselves on us. We got the last laugh by breaking their legs and watching them expire. This time, for some reason, I approached. As I reached out to touch the shoulder of Jesus’ mother and get her up, something hit the back of my hand. I looked up at Jesus and realized it was a tear. Several more tears fell as I looked into His eyes and He looked at me. I expected to see a look of hate, anger, and terror like we always see. None of that was present. Just a look of kindness, sadness, and…and…love. I looked back at my hand as if to recreate this again and make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I looked at my knuckles, swollen from the blows I had inflicted on Him. Of all people who He should be angry with, He should certainly be angry toward me. I looked up at Him again and saw something I never expected. It was slight because He was so weak, but I know I saw it. It was a smile. It was as if He knew what I was thinking. He sensed my remorse for the things I had done to Him, and He forgave me. He lifted His head toward the sky, spoke something, and died. The earth quaked. Jesus’ brother grabbed hold of their mother and everyone scattered. I dropped to my knees and clung to the cross. Somehow I knew I’d be okay there. The quake ended. I struggled to rise because my knees were weak and trembling. I didn’t care if my soldiers heard me – I had to proclaim it, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” All my soldiers agreed.

*******

Yesterday I heard something from two soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ grave. They said someone in glimmering white had appeared and rolled the cover stone away. It has to be true. They could face a penalty of death if they are found to have fallen asleep at their post. Nobody would risk that if it had not really happened. In addition, the high priests offered them enough money to retire several times over if they only changed their story. Several others soldiers accepted the bribe. These did not. They saw Him walk out of the tomb. Though my mind cannot fully understand it, my heart knows it is true. It was not those who followed Jesus who were blind and deceived, it was me. Now I see. Now I believe. Now I have hope. Now I am alive!

He is Risen!!!

Written by MarK E. Donnelly, author of ‘Rude Awakening: What If Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong?’