Thanksgiving Post w/ Exclusive Song by LAROUTE

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unsplash-logoJunior Moran

The Holidays are coming up, and for many of us things slow down during this time. With that being said, Thanksgiving is a great time to put into practice just that: thanksgiving!

To me, thanksgiving breaks down into two parts: remember and vocalize. It’s that simple.

1. Remember: thanksgiving is actively, purposely thinking about and reflecting on things in your life that you’re grateful for; it’s firstly a mental exercise. It takes time and energy. It requires discipline and effort. Complaining and griping, on the other hand, seem to happen without much effort. This reminds me of healthy eating vs. unhealthy eating. Eating healthy foods require discipline and effort, while unhealthy eating is definitely the path of least resistance.

2. Vocalize: whether you’re giving thanks to God or showing appreciation to others, the second step is always vocalizing your thanks. In other words, you have to say it out loud. This is a simple, but very important part of thanksgiving. You literally “give” thanks out of your mouth. When you vocalize, you add a physical component to the mental one.

So, what are you thankful for this year?

Let me help. Below is an exclusive spiritual song from my wife, Laroute, that I know will bless you. Plus, I’ve included a mediation/prayer that goes along with the song. Feel free to use these resources in your times of reflecting this holiday season.

 

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Morning Meditation

Father God,

All my days belong to You,
You see my coming and my going,
You see my pain, You see my joy,
You see my ups, You see my downs,
Lord, You see me for who I really am.
You are my God.
All my days belong to You.
All my breath belongs to You.
Thank You for all You’ve done,
You are my Creator.
Teach my heart to be thankful.
I thank you for
———————
———————
———————
O Lord, who is like You?
I give thanks for all You have done,
I lower my soul and say “thank you”!
I give thanks out loud for all You’ve done!
Amen.

How God Loved A Cranky Club DJ

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“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…”  – Galatians 1:15-16 

When Jesus saved me, I was a club DJ, and fully engaged in the lifestyle one might expect from a club DJ—late nights, drugs, and partying. I had a foul mouth, a sharp tongue, and a deep-rooted insecurity that affected everything I did.

In comparison to some of the characters in the Gainesville bar scene, I was a pretty decent guy. But I was also extremely moody and emotionally unstable. I carried deep pain on the inside that made me touchy and explosive. I didn’t realize any of this, of course, but anyone close to me could tell you, I was a very cranky and irritable person.

I wasn’t a Christian-kind-of-guy, in any way. I had never owned a Bible. I hadn’t grown up in a Christian home. I can’t even remember knowing any Christian people. Actually, the thought of a “hardcore Christian” gave me the creeps.

But like Paul shared about his own experience, “when it pleased GodHe revealed his Son in me that I would proclaim Him.”

In many ways, I feel like I accidentally became a Christian.

At my father’s deathbed, I had this spiritual experience. And I just couldn’t shake it. Even when I wanted to go back to my old life, I had this growing, inner knowledge of His reality, goodness and presence that I couldn’t get rid of. In the midst of all my darkness and wild living, Jesus opened my heart to Him. “He called me by His mercy and grace” alone.

Thank God too, because I don’t think I would of ever visited a church. Even if a sincere friend would have invited me, I don’t think I would have gone. I was just too afraid—I was a night creature, who had not grown up with much family. So the thought of walking into a bright room, full of old people looking at me, made me nauseous.

So how did I become a Christian?

Again much like Paul, “when it pleased God… He revealed his Son in me so I could proclaim Him”.

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The Events Leading Up to My Dad’s Passing

During my first semester at the University of Florida, I started to hear about “God stuff” happening around my dad, who had been diagnosed with cancer a year before. I heard about signs from God and genuine Christian people coming around him and praying for his healing. I was blown away that my dad was open to something like that. 

Then about two weeks before Christmas my dad passed away, I had a brief, but powerful encounter with a Christian on a bus. He witnessed to me and offered to pray for my dad. I write about it here.

A few days later after talking with the young man, I came home for Christmas break and saw my dad’s genuine faith. Without really knowing what I was doing, I started “proclaiming” God to my dad. Maybe this was first “sermon”. But I shared with my dad about the young man I had met on the bus. I encouraged my dad that my encounter confirmed everything my dad had started to believed. I spoke to his faith— that God was real, and where he was going was real.

When my dad passed, I was in my bedroom. The hospice nurse came in to get me, and she had a testimony herself. She told me how a smile had stretched across my dad’s face, right as he slipped into eternity. I don’t know if this lady was a Christian, but she seemed to be deeply moved by what she had seen. When I walked into the room, I saw the smile for myself.

And then something happened in me.

The way I would describe it: it was like I could see the goodness of the Savior in my dad’s smile. In a moment, I knew Him. I knew this God who had saved my dad. And I loved Him. You see, in 2003, when it pleased God, I believe He granted me a measure of faith (Romans 12:3); it’s the same faith I have to this present hour. I’ve grown a lot since that day, but it’s the same grace in me. It’s the same faith.

So let me encourage you, God is no respecter of persons! What He has done in me, He’s able to do in you! “The arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear”. Jesus has died for all of us! God loved a cranky club DJ. And He loves YOU with the same everlasting love! I pray that you’d see Him for yourself, TODAY.

Who Does Kayne West Think He Is?

How do we know Kayne West is for real? Is it safe for Kayne West to speak out about Christ? Is this just another stunt? Who does Kayne think he is now… a preacher???

I don’t know the answers to the questions above. Now… I have my hunch… I have my opinion… I have my thoughts. But let’s face it: opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one. But more important than opinions, I want to remind you of a nugget of truth: “Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to get angry”. Or maybe you could say “be slow to post, quick to watch the video below, and slow to get angry, critical, offended, or frustrated by something you don’t understand”?

So with that being said, before you gear up to criticize Kanye West, stop and watch this video below, and actually listen to the man.

Before you suggest Kayne West, as a new believer, should silence himself, and remove himself from the spotlight, please consider some thoughts of mine. Remember, they are my opinions…

Could this all be an attention grab by the controversial rapper? Possibly… But I have a different perspective that may help. I’ve been a professional DJ. I’ve been a full time ordained pastor. I’ve been a full time sales/business man… Now, I am a mix of all of them. LOL But my spirituality has always bled into whatever I am doing, and since 19 years old, I’ve seen my faith play out in very different spheres and worlds. But I don’t do it because someone gave me permission. I do it just because it’s who I am. Since the day I had my spiritual encounter with Jesus at my father’s deathbed, I have tried to live out what I found to be true.

So, Kayne West is a fashion designer. Does he have to close down his fashion business? Kanye West is a professional musician. Does he have to stop making records? He is a celebrity influencer. Does he now have to become a recluse until he proves himself worthy to be seen in public?

Now, if Kayne West said he was going to be a pastor and start preaching as some authoritative voice for God’s Word, then that’d be a different story.

But no, watch the video. Kayne West even says that he is a “new convert” and he is NOT the pastor of his current traveling “Sunday Service” program he is doing.

Again, watch the video. And be careful of seeking to sound deep and wise, but actually just being arrogant and foolish.

 

Popeyes vs. Chick-fil-A: A Lesson Hidden In The Recent Craze

By now, I am sure you are aware of the whole “Popeyes Chicken Sandwich” craze. But if you recently woke up from a coma, or just got back from a strict social media fast, then let me give you a quick recap. After 47 years in business, Popeyes fast-food restaurants released their first chicken sandwich. I’ve never eaten at a Popeyes, but it seems they are like a KFC with a New Orleans cajun flare. Upon the launch of their new sandwich, the Miami-based company got involved with a now infamous Twitter scuffle with their chicken sandwich-slinging competitor, Chick-fil-A. This online greasy beef (pardon the pun) got the attention of the internet in a big way. Before long, the internet started to do what the internet does best: creating hilarious “meme” commentary and self-published reaction videos on YouTube and Facebook Live.

Popeyes had (quite unintentionally) “broke the internet”.

Overall, people seemed to agree that Popeyes’ chicken sandwich was indeed better than Chick-fil-A. But here’s what I find most interesting… Within only a few weeks, Popeyes buckled under the weight of it’s new found success. The endless waves of curious consumers were too much for Popeyes to handle. Employees were quickly overwhelmed and overworked, while widespread sandwich shortages caused much anger among people waiting to see what all the hype was about. One video went viral showing an  erratic man start a fist fight with a Popeyes worker through the drive thru window, throwing himself head first into the restaurant, swinging and punching worker and manager alike.

In fact, the surge of activity was so great that it caused Popeyes to remove the chicken sandwich from their menu nationwide with no promised date of return.

Chick-fil-A on the other hand continued with business as usual.

This turn of events reminded me of a valuable lesson I once heard:

Your gifts can take you where your character can’t keep you.

History has shown many who soared high in fame, or wealth, or both, only to see themselves implode under the pressure. In the business world, this pattern is called hubris. There is an extraordinary book about it entitled “Built To Last: How The Great Fall” that tackles this subject with case study after case study of businesses experiencing the age old axiom “pride comes before the fall”.

“AJ, I’m confused. How does character have anything to do with chicken sandwiches?”

Here’s the point: the infrastructure of a fast-food franchise is like the infrastructure of our lives. We call this “personal infrastructure” character. What is character? Character is the fabric of our life, how our life is built; the habits or systems of our daily life. Character is how our life is put together. What it’s really made of. A wise person once said, “Character is who you are when nobody is looking”. And we need character to correctly handle promotion and success in our lives, or we could implode under the pressure of it.

One final thought about promotion, success, and character. Power (or fame or money) may not always cause a person to collapse, but it can do something far worse. It can corrupt a person. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. To me, becoming corrupt is a far more serious situation than imploding under the pressure of success. Why? Because rising and falling can be a blessing in disguise. Failure can make you bitter or it can make you better. It’s your choice. Don’t you agree? Humiliation can have a beautiful way of producing humility in our lives.

Yes, I would much rather collapse than become corrupt. With collapsing, at least there is hope God can do something in me. There’s a chance that when I hit rock bottom, I’ll come to my senses and look up to Heaven. But how can God work in a corrupt heart? Oh, how difficult it is for God to get through to a corrupt man or woman in their hubris.

Here’s a good question to close the blog post with…

How are you building your life?

Have you ever given a thought to your character? Do you want a life that will continually be able to rise to the next level, challenge, and opportunity afforded to you?

Prayer: O Lord, You see all things. You put one person up, and take another one down. All power belongs to You. I pray for You to keep me in the palm of Your hand. I pray that You would continually do a deep work in me, so that I could do the maximum good with the gifts and talents afforded to me. I open my heart and mind to You. Expose the places where I am lacking character and allow me to become more like You. Praise God! I will look to You, and I will be transformed by the light of Your wonders and person. Thank You. Amen.

3 Things You Need To Know About Celebration Church (And Criticizing Your Brother)

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As a pastor of a small church, I held another pastor in my city in contempt. The small fault I found in the ministry of this man was actually there (at the time). But a few years later, the Lord showed this man the same revelation He showed me (and much, much more).

When I was leading my church, the Lord showed me two important truths that I was to lift up and make the center of ministry. One was Water Baptism and the other was Communion. I felt like as a whole the church had lost sight of these two simple things that God said were important. While the modern church was enamored with good things like loud preaching and worship music, I felt like Baptism and Communion had been relegated to an afterthought. In some ways, Baptism had been replaced by “asking Jesus into your heart” and Communion with “three worship songs and a prayer”. 

We held meetings every Sunday evening. While we had good music (my wife is a phenomenal musician) and Bible preaching, Communion was held up as the pinnacle of every service. Some members of a local megachurch, Celebration Church, started coming to our small meetings. They began to lament to me about how their church wasn’t even doing communion on a monthly basis anymore. In my foolishness and pride, I quickly seized the opportunity to lift myself up against my brother. Of course I feigned a love towards this “misguided church”. I’m sure I spun my words in a way that made me sound wise. But my jealous heart rejoiced that I was doing something better than someone else.

The issue wasn’t with the revelation God had shown me. The issue was with my heart. For a time, I was in the right. But here’s something very important:

You can be right but go about it in all the wrong ways. 

And when you behave like this, you will get no reward for being right, but only face judgement for the wrong you have done.

To make a long story short: the Lord eventually led me into a divine detour into the business world. This sounds strange to some people. Why would God do this? Because God knew it was the best way to strip me of my “pharisee complex”, my love of being a pastor (not serving as a pastor, but being seen by men as a pastor). Read Matthew 23:5-7.

After a year into my divine detour, the Lord spoke to my wife that we were supposed to go to Celebration Church, the same church I had held in contempt. I didn’t really like the news, but somehow I knew she was right. So I swallowed my pride and resolved to go with a good attitude. I quickly saw that the Lord was there, as much or more, as anything my wife and I had ever done. The Lord quickly showed me this man, Stovall Weems, was anointed as an apostle. See Ephesians 4.

But then it happened, the Lord gave Pastor Stovall a vision on Good Friday/Passover of 2018. The Lord showed this man everything He showed me (and much, much more). That afternoon, after Easter service, the Lord spoke to me almost audibly:

“You see, this man, Stovall, is my servant. When I speak to him, he will listen. And when I choose to reveal a thing to him, then I will do it. But who are you? Who were you to judge my servant?”

Three things that you need to know about criticism:

  1. You’re likely tearing down a person better than you.

When you judge and criticize, you always run the risk of tearing down a person who is a far better person than you. You may be better at this one small fault. But that could just mean they are a far nobler person with one small spec in their eye (as was the case with me and Pastor Stovall). That’s why the Apostle Paul advised us to take the safer route, “prefer your brother above yourself”.

2. You are foolish when you arbitrarily pick your own standard, and then boast about it.

Criticism is really silly if you think about it. In your pride and blindness, you are basing all your assumptions about being better than another person on a standard you picked out yourself. That’s not really a level playing field, is it? 

3. You may be right, but going about it in all the wrong ways.

Here’s the thing: the fault you are finding with your brother may actually be there! But that doesn’t mean you’re seeing everything in the right perspective. You are merely a man and have a severely limited view on things. Scripture says, “Man looks at the things on the outside, while God looks at the heart”. God sees the whole picture. 

What is more wise? When you find a fault in your brother, keep it to yourself and commit to prayer for that person. Pray to the God who sees all things. You will find at least two things will happen. One, you will grow more love and compassion for that person as you talk about them in His presence. Two, you will see all the areas of pride and jealousy lurking in your own heart. Heartfelt prayer will enable you to deal with that log in your own eye, and truly help with the spec in your brother’s eye.

May God help us to be a people of love and wisdom, not judgement and criticism.

What You Need To Know About Paul and His Letter To The Galatians

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With popular Evangelical leaders floating around a neo-replacement theology, and ideas of “unhitching” from the Old Testament Scriptures, we could all benefit from a fresh look at Paul’s angriest letter, The Book of Galatians.

“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised (if you undergo b’rit-milah), Christ will be of no value to you at all.” Galatians 5:2

The Letter of Galatians can seem harsh in places, and if misunderstood can leave you with the notion that Paul was opposed to being Jewish, being circumcised, rejoicing in the Torah, or following the traditions of Moses. In fact, an early false teaching, known as Antinomianism (literally anti-law), was a misinterpretation of Paul’s teaching. The Apostle Peter, whom interestingly enough was brought up in Paul’s Galatians, references antinomianism when writing his own letter to the church. Peter, with a tone of love and respect, even comments in that “his brother, Paul,” was, at times, hard to understand. That’s 2 Peter 3:15-16.

So, we know Paul was sometimes hard to understand; even the Apostles who walked with Jesus had to take time to chew on what he said. Beyond this, most scholars agree that Galatians was Paul’s angriest epistle. So we have Paul, who is already hard to understand, and now he is hot! But why is Paul so angry? What is happening in the church communities of Galatia that made him furious? Here’s why I believe Paul is so angry:

Under peer pressure, Gentiles were attempting to become Jewish. Why is this a big deal? It was out of order. This was not God’s plan. In fact, Gentiles trying to make themselves Jewish was an insult to God’s gracious gift to the nations, Jesus. God’s plan for the gentiles (Goyim or literally “nations”) was Jesus. For a Gentile to go back to Mt. Sinai and attempt to receive a covenant that was never intended for him was out of order and silly. When God wanted to swing wide the door of salvation to the nations, He did so through His Son, Jesus, and not through His covenant with Israel.

God made a special and eternal covenant with Israel and the Jewish people. His calling is irrevocable and not subject to cancelation. That’s Romans 11:29. If you take issue with the fact that God still has a relationship with the Jewish people/Israel, re-read Romans 9-11. Paul warned us Gentiles about becoming arrogant against disobedient Jewish people. Unfortunately, church history shows us that the Gentile church did the exact opposite. By 350 AD, seeing the horrific judgment that fell on Israel through the Jewish-Roman wars, and the fall of the Temple, the Gentile Church, lifted up in hubris by her new found favor with Emperor Constantine, wrongly concluded that God’s covenant with the Jewish people must be over. Early church fathers started to despise non believing Jews, and they boasted against Israel. Some even foolishly declared that the church was Israel. This idea came to be known as Replacement Theology. This theory was finally shown to be the silliness that it is, when God resurrected the nation of Israel in one day, in 1948 (Isaiah 66:8).

So God has given the people of Israel a special calling. But that doesn’t make the Jew any better than someone else. Much like when a follower of Jesus is called to be a great preacher. This person was simply called by God to do a task. In other words, this person was chosen by God to do something for Him and His purposes. While there is a certain honor in this calling, it does not make that person better than any other believer called to something else. In a similar fashion, Israel was called by God to bring forth both the Scripture, and the Messiah. But just like the great preacher from our example, this does not make Israel better than any other nation.

So a Gentile striving to become a Jew is an affront to the mercies of God. The Jews were given one honor. “Israel is my special possession”. That’s Deuteronomy 32:9. But to the Gentiles another honor was given. “Jesus, the Messiah, is to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles”. That’s Luke 2:32. God also said, “to those I called “Not my people”, I will say, ‘Now, you are my people.’ That’s Hosea 2:23. 

Just like Paul preached in everyplace, God has shown the nations a great honor when He sent His Son to bring them back and to redeem them. For the Gentiles to despise this offer was offensive! Both to God, and to Paul.

I also believe Paul was doing one other thing with his letter to the Galatians. While speaking to the Gentiles, Paul was also simultaneously striking at the prideful attitude of some Jewish believers in this church. Paul’s rebuke is in the same spirit of John the Baptists’, when John warned the crowds of Jewish people coming to hear him preach; John said, “Don’t assume just because you are Jewish by blood that you are so great. Reject that entitled and arrogant attitude, because God could easily take these rocks right here and turn them into children of Abraham.” That’s Matthew 3:9.

Now it’s important to note: no where in the New Testament is a Jewish believer encouraged to forsake his/her traditions, or become a Gentile (Read Acts 21:17-26). But having an arrogant attitude, whether Jew or Gentile, is a stench to God!

At the end of the day, God ordained the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as a reminder, for all people, in every generation, whether Jew or Gentile, that true righteousness comes from Him, and Him alone. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t deserve it. And we must receive it as a gracious gift through faith in His Salvation, Jesus.