United We Stand

As we began our revival history tour, I couldn’t help but feel the minister at Park Street reminded me of George Whitefield or Jonathan Edwards (but without the white wig).  His message was from John 17

Whitefield & Edwards with wigs
George Whitefield & Jonathan Edwards

Rev. Kris Perkins-Park Street

…Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so He can give glory back to You” (Jn. 17:1).

The night before, our group gathered around a table and shared what brought us on the trip.  We each expressed a passion for prayer and a heart for revival.  Though from many different backgrounds, we were united in mission.

Park Street Church was founded in 1809 by handful of people, who united to address Unitarianism.  They were clear about their purpose, emphasizing biblical theology, revival and spiritual renewal, and worldwide mission.

Park Street Church

As a congregational church, they’ve consistently emphasized mutual accountability and the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9-10).  As a church that loves the Gospel, they’ve hosted great revival preachers through the years like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, and Billy Sunday.  They gathered 40,000 on the nearby Boston Common to hear Billy Graham.

Graham on Boston Common

As a missional church, they were part of sending some of the first cross-cultural American missionaries, who sailed to India in 1812.  In 1819, Park Street commissioned its first team of missionaries to the Sandwich Islands.

Sandwich Islands Mission

Living out their faith through social action, William Lloyd Garrison hosted anti-slavery meetings at Park Street, and the American Educational Society was founded there.  They were among the first to provide Sunday School for those without access to formal education, during a time when this was looked down upon as “working on the sabbath.”  This calls to mind Jesus’ question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” (See Luke 6:7-11 for His answer).

Bicentennial Quilt

Each week, 40-50 different nations are represented by those who gather to worship King Jesus at Park Street.  I was blessed to worship beside a brother in Christ from Nigeria.

How could a local church be true to her mission for over 200 years?

“I have revealed You to the ones You gave Me from this world. They were always Yours. You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” ~Jesus, John 17:6

As we worshiped with this biblical, Gospel, missional church, the minister spoke from John 17 on what Jesus wants for us.  The night of His betrayal, just before His suffering and death, Christ prayed for our unity.  Let’s not miss the significance.

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are one—as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in us so that the world will believe You sent Me.” ~Jesus, John 17:20-21

This was Jesus’ last prayer for us before the dawning of a new era.  The season of the Spirit was about to be inaugurated through His death and resurrection.

Jesus could have prayed for many things.  Just as Park Street’s message that morning could’ve covered many topics.  But Jesus prayed and the minister preached on unity in mission.

“I have given them the glory You gave Me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me.” ~Jesus, John 17:22-23

Preaching at Park Street
“Let’s follow Christ’s example and pray for unity!” ~Rev. Kris Perkins, Associate Minister at Park Street Church

We so often allow differences to divide.
We underscore what makes us different instead of our Gospel commonalities.

We attempt all sorts of programs and expansions while neglecting Scripture, prayer, and mission.  And we wonder why modern religious methods fall so short…

Will we learn from a 200-year-old church who has stayed united and true to her heritage?

Memorial to God's faithfulness at Park Street

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know You, but I do; and these disciples know You sent Me. I have revealed You to them, and I will continue to do so. Then Your love for Me will be in them, and I will be in them.” ~Jesus, John 17:25-26

Chime in.  I’d love to hear from you…

In what ways are you pursuing Gospel unity and missional priorities in your community?

Jesus & Marriage

The Bible teaches that marriage was designed by God to be a picture of the relationship Jesus has with His Church.  The Church is a living body made up of people — men, women, and children — in right relationship with their Heavenly Father, who have trusted in the Lord Jesus and surrendered their lives to His saving grace. 

Each of us has broken God’s Law, the Ten Commandments, by lying, stealing, hating, and lusting.  Our relationships with others so clearly reveal our need for forgiveness.  Jesus taught that if you’ve been angry with your brother or called him a name, you’ll be held accountable for it when you stand before God on Judgment Day (Matthew 5:21-22).  When you hate someone, you’ve murdered him in your heart (1 John 3:15).  Human anger is often tainted by selfishness and ill motives.  “…Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20). 
Jesus knows every secret thought and attitude of our hearts.  He views all lustful thoughts and actions as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).  If we come to God expecting to earn a place in Heaven because of our good works, we are in for a terrible surprise.  We deserve only God’s judgment in Hell.  However, He wants us to experience His love and a union with Jesus that marriage was designed to reflect.  He offers it to you today.
The good news is that God came to earth as Jesus.  He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and rose to life again.  Like a Groom coming to claim His bride, Jesus will return again for all those who have turned from sin and put their full trust in Him.  Jesus gave His lifeblood because of His desire to become united with those He loves.  He paid the bride price with His own life.  Husbands likewise are called to serve their wives by dying to themselves and making personal sacrifices that their wives might draw closer to Jesus Christ. Wives are called to respond in self-giving love by serving their husbands — that together the couple might be a ministry team for the Master.
Jesus is calling you today to join His Bride, the Church. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus” (Acts 3:19-20). Jesus has promised to return to bring His Bride home to be with Him forever.  Have you trusted Jesus?  Have you surrendered your heart and life to Him?  He’s calling you today.
Together, Bridget and I desire to create a home and marriage that reveals to all who encounter us, the beautiful heart of Jesus for His Bride. Would you join His Bride, the Church, today by turning from sin and trusting fully in Jesus to save and heal you?
For more beautiful truth about coming into a growing relationship with Jesus, please visit: www.needGod.com
www.areyouagoodperson.org and www.saveyourselfsomepain.com.
Scripture to consider:
On Marriage & the Gospel: 
Hosea 2:16 & 19; Isaiah 62:5; Matthew 9:15; 22:1-14; Revelation 19:7
On the Powerful, Redeeming Love of Jesus:Titus 3:4; Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:1; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; John 10:10-11; Luke 15; Isaiah 53; Genesis 3:15; Colossians 2:15
On the Reality of God’s Judgment and Hell:Hebrews 4:13; 9:27; Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:47-48; Luke 3:17; Revelation 14:10-11; 20:10 & 14-15; 21:8
man and woman s hands on top of ball bouquet
Photo by Wendel Moretti on Pexels.com

Who are you?

There they sat at an Italian establishment, discussing what they would name their first child. The husband had been reading a book on the Roman Emperor Constantine. And the dad-to-be liked the name Flavius, a hero in the story. His wife knew she needed to think fast. There in that Pizza Hut, she had an epiphany.

On a napkin, she wrote a name, which formed an acronym of her and her husband’s full names. She wrote, “Marcus.” These two were my parents.

In biblical times, names entailed great meaning. They were given with purpose and often prayerfully. A man’s name represented who he was. People usually lived up to their names.

Jacob was a “deceiver.” He “wrestled with God” and was renamed Israel. Isaiah’s ministry prophesied, “Yahweh is salvation!” Joseph, called Barnabas, epitomized a “son of encouragement.” Phoebe was “bright” and “radiant” as she shared the Gospel alongside the Apostle Paul.

Marcus means “mighty warrior.” I have affinity for Ephesians 6, where Paul urges believers to be clothed in God’s armor, so we can engage in spiritual battle. Marcus has been the name of a Roman orator, a pope, a politician, a statesman, and now a news editor and open-air preacher.

My middle name, Arthur, comes from words meaning “bear” and “stone,” and it makes me a namesake of my dad and my Grandpa Pemberton. When Elizabeth in Scripture became pregnant in her old age, her husband was likewise expected to pass on a family name to their son. However, Zechariah obeyed the LORD’s prompting, naming him John, which means “God is gracious.” Constantine is Greek and means “constant” or steadfast.

I strive to live out my name, as a mighty warrior, bold as a bear, steadfast as a stone, constant in the faith, conducting myself in a manner worthy of Christ’s Gospel (Phil. 1:27). What do your names mean?

When seeking to properly place you, people may ask, “Who are you?” I’ve gotten in the practice of answering, “I’m a child of God and a follower of Jesus. My name’s Marcus.” Whether your name means “deceiver” or “Yahweh saves,” it does not determine who you may become.

When you know who you are, you can live confidently. No excuses are needed for a life of surrender to the Holy Spirit. It is for freedom that Christ sets us free (Gal. 5:1). We are not to submit to slavery again. Only Jesus frees us to fully live as He intends. What holds you back from becoming who you could be?

Are you known by extravagant love for Jesus? They will know by our love that we are His followers (Jn. 13:35). Why do some professing Christians talk about seemingly everything except Jesus? Treating Christ like a hobby breaks the heart of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). We are called to love Him and not this fallen world. When we live in His freedom, unbelievers may think our love is excessive. They should.

Remember, they hated Jesus first (Jn. 15:18). He loved perfectly, and they nailed Him to a cross. Out of our union with Jesus flows that sacrificial love, intimacy with the Father, and soft heartedness toward the Holy Spirit. He is our power source (Acts 1:8).

Christ followers have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). We have received new names (Rev. 2:17; 3:12). It’s against our new spiritual nature to act contrary to the LORD’s will. Live in light of who you truly are. When we know who we are in Jesus, we can live confidently in His love, faithfully in His power, and freely in His grace. Believers could spend an eternity pursuing the beauty that becomes ours when we join Christ’s Bride by faith. And we will.

Leaving a legacy: the cloud of witnesses

Henry “Butcher” Varley, the British revivalist, gave a charge that gripped D.L. Moody’s heart. Moody recalled Varley saying, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” Moody replied, “By God’s help, I aim to be that man.”

As students of the Bible and followers of Jesus Christ, consider the legacy we have inherited. Believers throughout history, who pressed to make their Lord Jesus known, have entrusted it to us: witnesses like Moody, Varley, Torrey, Noah, King David, Mary, Lazarus, Peter, Paul, and John.

This great cloud of witnesses spurs us on (Heb. 12:1). Their histories bear continual witness to the Gospel of Jesus. Their testimonies exemplify surrender of self to the declaration and demonstration of His full Gospel. The great cloud calls to us, urging us to walk in their footsteps, follow their examples, and build on their foundation.

“Imitate us as we imitate Christ!” their lives beckon. Someday soon, those serving the Lord Jesus will join that cloud of witnesses. Their legacy urges, “As the Lord tarries, call future generations to Gospel-centered lives through your faithfulness today!”

Moody heard that call from his friend Varley. In 1873, Moody asked Varley to repeat his words that had spoken so powerfully to him just a year earlier. Varley looked at him blankly. He did not recall uttering any such charge.

 

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” ~Henry “Butcher” Varley

“By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” ~D.L. Moody

According to Paul Gericke’s Crucial Experiences in the Life of D.L. Moody, Moody responded to Varley, “Ah, those were the words sent to my soul, through you, from the Living God. As I crossed the wide Atlantic, the boards of the deck of the vessel were engraved with them, and when I reached Chicago, the very paving stones seemed marked with [them]. Under the power of those words I have come back to England, and I felt that I must not let more time pass until I let you know how God had used your words to my inmost soul.”


What are you preparing for those who will come behind you? Like sewing squares into a patchwork quilt, you can choose each day to add beauty to your legacy. What are you forging that you plan to pass on?

When believers stand before Jesus, our works will be tested by fire. Only treasures stored up in Heaven, the precious metal and gems of work done for Christ, will endure (Mt. 6:19-21; 1 Cor. 3:13-15).

Leonard Ravenhill advised an evangelist, “Make sure when you die that you aren’t standing knee deep in ashes.”

As we proclaim the Gospel and run this race with perseverance, the ripple effect of our legacy may touch nations. Our calling is to bear witness by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). As we faithfully serve, we remain unaware of the full extent of our legacy until we arrive in glory.

The end

A few days ago, I went to the bank and added a beneficiary, payable on death, to my accounts.

I sat across the desk from the banker, who was dressed in her business suit and blue collared shirt. In my sweater and jeans, I supplied my information and signed the paperwork. The banker seemed strangely nervous. Suddenly, it struck me: I wonder if she thinks I’m planning to end my life.

 
After all, she knew my address was Moody Bible Institute. Why would a young college student want to add a payable on death to his accounts? I looked into the banker’s eyes and decided to clear things up.
 
“I’m graduating this semester and thinking about endings,” I chuckled. “I’m not planning on dying anytime soon.” Right then, it hit me. Who does? Today could very well be our last day. I saw an opportunity to share about life and death.
 
“But I know I won’t live forever,” I clarified. A slight misstep. “At least, not here on earth. When I die, I’ll live in Heaven because of what Jesus has done.” The banker nodded as she ushered me toward the door. When I asked about her spiritual background, she mumbled about being Baptist and said she’d received a million-dollar gospel tract before. 
 
Encounters like that move me to pray about the end. As I answer questions about future plans and listen to the Holy Spirit for next steps, I’m reminded of Ephesians 5:16-17. Time passes so quickly. You can become either disheartened and immobilized or reminded and energized. Redeem the time. Make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil. Consider it a challenge. If you follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s power is available to you.
 
If we’re to live this abundant life that Jesus lived, died, and rose to provide, we must become skilled in a few key areas (Jn. 10:10). We’ve got to realize that our days are numbered and our time on earth is short so that our hearts may overflow with wisdom (Ps. 90:12; 23:5).
 
Get in the habit of listening prayer. Spend time quietly waiting before the Lord Jesus. Keep a pen and paper nearby. As you’re learning to hear the Spirit’s voice, test what you hear according to the Bible (Acts 17:11). Your discernment will grow with practice (Heb. 5:14). We must be filled with the Holy Spirit that we might discern His will (Eph. 5:17-18).
 
Learn to say “no” to things outside His will. Throw off sin and anything that hinders (Heb. 12:1). Over committing will kill you. Refine your schedule and eliminate activities that don’t contribute to expanding Christ’s Kingdom, your spiritual growth, or your rest. What monkeys have you taken on your back that you need to surrender to the LORD?
 
Also, learn to say “yes.” As you grow to know Jesus more intimately, you’ll learn more about yourself. How has He gifted you? What do you love doing? As you discern His will and calling for your life, seek confirmation from mature believers. We learn His will from His Word, His church, and His Spirit. When we ignore the good we ought to do, we grieve the Holy Spirit (Jm. 4:17; Eph. 4:30). Adrian Rogers said, “Procrastination and disobedience are just different shades of the same sin.”
 
The Father may call you to bold new territory. In fact, He will always nudge you out of your comfort zone, so you learn to trust Him. Take holy risks. Love boldly. Make it your practice to step out in faith. I never expected I’d preach the Gospel in the open air. It’s one of my ministries that thrills and stretches me most. Join me! After all, our lives are rapidly coming to an end. The question is: will yours be a glorious one?

 

letters on yellow tiles forming the end text

Valentine’s life provides model of holy love

Saint Valentine upheld the sanctity of marriage and the holy beauty of Christ’s Gospel, even in the face of an emperor who made his work illegal.


According to Lutheran tradition, in around 270 A.D., Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage in Rome. The emperor needed soldiers to defend his empire. He believed the loyalties of married men rendered them less effective warriors. Claudius also outlawed Christianity, proclaiming himself the supreme god and Emperor of Rome. 
Valentine served as the bishop of Interamna. He secretly performed marriage ceremonies for couples in his area. According to Roman Catholic tradition, Valentine also partnered with Saint Marius and his family to assist persecuted believers. Some accounts of Valentine’s story include him helping condemned Christians elude imprisonment and execution.

Claudius captured Valentine and demanded he renounce his faith and serve the empire and Roman gods. Valentine refused to deny his Lord Jesus. Awaiting his martyrdom, he continued to preach the Gospel and win converts to Christ. Some accounts record that while in prison, Valentine healed the jailer’s daughter, Asterius, of blindness. Other legends record Valentine and Asterius falling in love. He wrote her a final letter, signed “From your Valentine.”

Though Valentine was imprisoned, he was well liked by Emperor Claudius. He was not condemned to death until he shared the Gospel with Claudius, attempting to convert the emperor. Claudius ordered him beaten with clubs and stoned to death. When he survived this torture, the emperor had him beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate in Rome around February 14th, 270 A.D.

The Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated book printed in 1493, includes a woodcut of Valentine with an inscription, calling him, Valentinus, a Roman priest and martyr, during the reign of Claudius the Goth also called Claudius II. The caption explains Valentine illegally married couples and aided persecuted followers of Jesus. 

Roman Catholic tradition records that Pope Julius I dedicated a church near Ponte Mole to Valentine’s memory. For many years a nearby gate, now called Porta del Popolo, also bore his name. It was formerly called Porta Valetini. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14th a commemoration of Valentine’s martyrdom. Valentine is recognized as the Patron Saint of engaged couples, beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, plague, travelers, and young people. He is often pictured with birds and roses.

In the years following Valentine’s martyrdom, zealous priests opposed heathen romantic practices. They used Valentine’s story specifically in decrying one such pagan tradition. On February 15th, girls would write and sign love notes, placing them into an urn. Boys would draw notes and pursue the girls whose names they believed their goddess, Februata Juno, had caused them to choose. 

Present-day Valentine customs more closely resemble this pagan practice than remembrances of a holy man’s ministry and sacrifice. Saint Valentine’s Day was instated for holy recollection and worship. Have our hearts and ears become so clogged with romantic notes and chocolate candies that we hear not the call of Saint Valentine echoing through the catacombs and into our day? “Come out! Be free. Live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Risk all. Defend the covenant of holy love. Uphold Christ’s Gospel at all costs!”

In honor of this saint, let’s proclaim with words and lifestyle the treasure of marriage and the unending worth of the Gospel, a message worthy of our complete surrender and even our very lives.

Divine appointments

Sitting aboard a 6:30 a.m. Megabus, I was overcome with the reality of the sovereign power of God. Lightning illuminated a dark sky. As we drove through a pouring rainstorm devoid of thunder, I recalled the morning’s events.

I’d planned to take a 5:30 a.m. Brown Line train to make my bus with wiggle room. The day before, I worked from morning till midnight, showered, and set out clothes with excitement to visit my sweetheart and family over New Year’s.

I slept through my alarm and sat up in bed at 6 a.m. in a daze. I dove from the top bunk and confirmed my bus would leave at 6:30. My thoughts raced as I hurried around my room: could I catch a later “L” train and still make it? The train schedule didn’t cooperate with mine. Of course, a taxi! I was struck at that moment with a bolt of truth. The LORD was answering my prayer offered up the day before: “Lord Jesus, as I go, set divine appointments for me to share the faith.”

I flew down the hall, onto the elevator, and out the front door. Abduhl, my Muslim cab driver, spotted me flailing my arms and splashing through puddles down Wells Street.

As he hit the gas toward Union Station, he asked if I was studying religion at Moody Bible. Our spiritual conversation accelerated.

He told me about his religion and warned me not to go as a missionary to his home, Somalia: “They won’t listen, and it’ll be a waste of money.” Abduhl asked me, “Who is Jesus to you?” I explained, Jesus is God in flesh, and He died to defeat death and conquer the devil (Jn. 8:58-59; 10:30-33; Col. 2:15). When it came time for payment, the fare was half what I’d expected, and I’d kept my first appointment. In the rush, I’d left a few items in my room, but I’d also left a Gospel tract and my email with Abduhl.

I boarded a crowded bus and filled one of the few remaining seats. The open spot beside me was soon taken by Josh, the tech guy for a creative nonviolence group in Chicago. He and his wife were also traveling for the holiday. He’d heard of Moody and was gracious during our few minutes of conversation. I asked if he planned to sleep on the bus. When he nodded yes, I noted his organization’s website and gave him a Gospel tract with my email. He thanked me and agreed to consider my message. Appointment number two kept.

My itinerary said I’d have only five minutes to make the transfer onto the bus that would carry me home to family. I’d heard these buses were often delayed. I sat in the dark, wondering if I’d make it. In that moment of anxiety, I surrendered to the LORD’s sovereignty. The Living God, who woke me up on time for my Gospel-sharing appointments, would lead and guide me safely to His intended destination with or without an alarm clock.

We rolled in about half an hour early, and I shared the Gospel with a few people at the bus station and a non-practicing Jew named Mike during the final leg of the journey. Each appointment had been purposefully set by my Heavenly Father. When I arrived, I learned some Jehovah’s Witness friends of the family wanted to talk about theology. “Can I set an appointment?” a beloved family member asked. I knew an appointment had already been set on the Lord’s calendar. On the return trip, I kept appointments with a confused college student named Andy, John from Mexico, and Samson from Japan.

Could it be that my temporary challenges were necessary in the glorious outworking of God’s plan to draw these people nearer to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Our present suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). The King of the universe turns darkness into light and makes the rough places smooth (Isa. 42:16). He’s trustworthy and in control.

Lessons from Nonna Maria

Nonna Maria, my maternal grandmother, is 91 years old. She and her husband, Nonno Ignazio, were married 44 years and 4 months. They emigrated from Sicily to Rochester, NY in 1956, over 50 years ago. Nonno passed into eternity in 1994.

 
Nonna worked as a seamstress for 20 years. She gets an $82.42 monthly pension because of her efforts. Most of her coworkers were Italian and her boss spoke Spanish, so they got along communicating without English. After decades in America, Nonna still speaks broken English. We speak Italian with her in our home. She loves to tell stories of her life in Italy.
 
Nonna’s mother, Giuseppina, was a generous woman of faith. When she cooked for her family, before they ate, she and her daughters would bring bowls of pasta and bread to those living on the streets in their village. One day, Nonna Giuseppina arrived home with only her slip on. When questioned about her appearance, she explained she had met a homeless woman. She knew she could buy or make herself a new dress, but that poor woman could not.
 
Nonna told of her mother faithfully attending church every weekend. When the children were young, she and her husband would attend mass at different hours, so one parent was home with the babies. When her husband traveled for business, Great-grandmother brought all her children to church with her. Nonna had nine siblings. At that time, two were still babies.
 
When the children grew noisy and restless. A woman sitting in the pew behind leaned forward to complain. Nonna’s mother told her, “I wanted to come to church. My husband’s on a business trip. If you don’t like the noise, go home.”
 
Nonna tells another story of her mother walking along the cobblestone street in their Sicilian town, warmly greeting everyone she passed. As they walked on, my Nonna, then a young girl, finally asked, “Do you know all these people?” Nonna Giuseppina answered, “No. But, the LORD knows all about them, and He wants me to greet them and give them His blessing.” Everywhere we go, we should be about the Father’s business. Everyplace you go, endeavor to bless it for Jesus. Be His witness, His ambassador, His representative.
 
As a boy, I’d often spend weekends at Nonna’s house. One weekend, I brought an empty notebook and asked Nonna if we could cook. Together we made everything from pasta sauce and chicken cutlets to chocolate cookies. I recorded these treasured recipes as best I could, trying to discern how Nonna’s “pinch” or “dash”  translated into standard measurements.
 
Once after Nonna came to live with us, she and I were watching a TV special about the persecuted church. A young Chinese girl refused to spit and step on an image of Jesus. Following her example, the rest of the children at her school stood firm in their faith. All the children were martyred. As the show was in English, Nonna did not understand. But looking up from her chair at my tears, she began to weep with me for our fallen brothers and sisters who laid down their very lives for the Lord Jesus.
 
Nonna says we are to live “tutto nel Signore,” meaning, “all in the LORD.” Nonna keeps it simple. When I ask her what she believes happens after we die, she says, “If you believe in Jesus, you go to Heaven; if not, you go to Hell.” She’s right.
 
I enjoy sharing these stories and lessons from Nonna. The Bible commands us to honor the aged. Proverbs teaches that gray hair is a crown of splendor for the old (16:31; 20:29). It’s good to be old. It means you’ve endured. If you’ve trusted your life to Christ, old age means you’re closer to Heaven.
 
While you’re alive, learn from those who have lived longer than you. Ask questions. Learn to be a wise listener. In those conversations, be bold in sharing the gospel of Jesus. It might be someone’s last day on earth. Redeem the time. The old have wisdom to share. Let’s listen.
 

Nonna has taught me to hold my life in an open hand and to seek the will of Jesus. She’s often said she would love to be at my wedding and to kiss my babies “se Dio vuole”—if God wills. Let’s flesh out our faith, seeking the will of Jesus that we might perform it and honor Him in all things until our last breath.

Nonna Maria, pictured at age 90
(photo by Joshua Harrison, Audio Scripture Ministries)

 

Bear much fruit

My Momma came bolting up the stairs nearly in tears. She was ecstatic. Something important had clearly transpired in her life. Why the excitement? Why the emotion? What was happening? She proceeded to explain in decibels that demonstrated the masterful design the LORD used in creating the human ear.


“It’s my fig tree!” she exclaimed. “It’s finally produced figs—three of them!”

How long and patiently she had waited for her fig tree to produce figs. My godfather Padrino Gino, a Sicilian immigrant, had given her this treasure two years before in the late summer. Growing figs is a time-honored, Italian tradition. Mamina planted it in an elephantine plastic pot and watered regularly. It displayed nothing but leaves for several years.

You started to wonder, “Is fig season ever coming?” She explained that she told the tree it would be cursed if it didn’t produce. A few short weeks later, her efforts paid off in the form of three plump, tasty figs.

In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus approaches a fig tree, looking for fruit. He is hungry but finds only leaves. He curses it, saying, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately it withers. Mark 11:13 adds the detail that it was not fig season.

According to Evangelist Ray Comfort, there are only two proper times to preach Word: in season and out of season. Many, who stall, delaying for the exact proper moment to share the Gospel, neglect the Scriptural command to witness and preach the Word in and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2). There is no excuse for neglecting the ministry of the Gospel. We are called to be prepared. We must love, know, and study the Gospel so deeply that it flows from our lips with ease. Believers will continue to discover the glorious depths of the Gospel in Heaven as we pursue knowing Jesus for all eternity. On earth, we must rely on His Holy Spirit to be ever prepared to share His good news.

Jesus taught that true and false prophets are discerned by their fruit. Those without good fruit are cast into the fire of Hell. This fruit is more than good deeds. Jesus explained that unless our works flow from a genuine, personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus, they are worthless (Mt. 7:15-23; Lk. 6:43-45; 13:5-8). Not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” and does good in His Name will be in Heaven. The true believer has surrendered his life to Jesus, and his life, transformed by the Holy Spirit, evidences it.

Paul urges professing believers to examine themselves to ensure they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). John the Beloved’s first letter was written as a test we can use. He penned, “I write these things to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). James reminds us that a fig tree doesn’t produce olives, and a pure heart doesn’t praise and curse (3:9-13). The way we speak and live evidences our true heart condition.

Momma has placed her fig tree in the garage now to protect it from the coming frost. Last season, she covered it with a cardboard box in the garage away from the draft of the door. Once a month, she gives it a cup of water. This year, it’s blossomed so large that she may wrap it with a box and then cover it with a blanket. The leaves will all fall and only the stem will remain.

For those who live in falseness and pretending, the Bible gives a solemn warning. When their lives are called upon to produce figs seemingly out of season when they don’t expect it, their disobedience will be brought into the light, and they will be accountable for their neglect and ultimate fruitlessness. Be connected to the True Vine (Jn. 15:1-5). Bear much fruit.

Two of Momma’s first figs (7-12-10)

Laurie leads Chicago Harvest Crusade

Greg Laurie led the Chicago Harvest Crusade in Allstate Arena on Sept. 24-26. According to Harvest.org, 47, 600 attended the three days of free-admission meetings. 105, 773 participated via webcast, and 4,758 professed decisions to follow Christ. Among musical guests were the David Crowder Band, the Katinas, Kirk Franklin, and Skillet.


John Lee, sophomore pastoral ministries major, attended the Friday opening session. He said, “The event brought out a sense of unity in local church outreach.” Before the event, monthly prayer meetings were held at area churches, who partnered with Harvest Ministries.

Lee recalled, “Seeing old and young, ritzy and poor, and all ethnic groups coming publicly to take a first step of faith was breathtaking.” He added, “As churches put heart and effort into connecting disciple-makers with each one, the seed of life could still be cultivated and harvested. It’s never a waste to go all out for the sake of the Gospel!”

Michelle Gesualdo, junior evangelism and discipleship major, attended one of the volunteer training sessions in late August and served as a follow-up decision worker during the altar call at the Saturday session. Laurie shared his testimony, interweaving a retelling of the prodigal son parable. Gesualdo commented, “There were a lot of appeals to emotion. He did talk about God’s love for us and sin, that we have violated God’s Law.”

She expressed concerns about aspects omitted from Laurie’s message, saying, “I’m confident he acted out of love for people and passion to see them come to Christ. But, our desperate state before a holy God was not clearly illustrated.” Gesualdo questioned, “How can we say the Gospel is being communicated accurately if essential elements like the gravity of sin, Hell, condemnation, and repentance are omitted?”

Lee stated, “I was reminded that these events are not pep rallies for Christians but a way for lost people to see God worshiped and love extended. If that doesn’t happen, we might as well call it off.”

Gesualdo urged, “We must make sure we don’t just talk about the benefits of salvation. Jesus always talked about the cost of discipleship. May we seek to love this generation enough to communicate Scriptural truth in a way they comprehend, ensuring the truth is never compromised.”

She reported, “The place was packed with teenagers. When I surveyed the audience my heart was broken. It was when I was a teenager that people first talked with me about Jesus Christ.” She prayed with one teenage girl, who responded to the altar call.

Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel called the Sunday session, “the most full night yet” with “standing room only.” It was titled an “Evening of Hope,” during which Stephen Curtis Chapman and Jeremy Camp performed and together with Laurie spoke of experiencing death in their families.

The deaths of Chapman’s young daughter Maria, Camp’s first wife, and Laurie’s adult son were remembered. These men testified to the eternal hope they have in Jesus. Laurie explained everyone will either spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. He concluded, “Help has a Name, and it’s Jesus Christ.”

Hundreds flooded the floor in response to an altar call given by Greg Laurie during the Sunday session of the Chicago Harvest Crusade at Allstate Arena on Sept. 26 (photo by Marcus A. Constantine).