Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Gift Of Love

One of my favorite storytellers, William R. White, told a story that’s origin is found in Jewish oral tradition. After making a few changes, I have told this story in churches and prisons all across this country.

When God had nearly finished the act of creation, an announcement was made that the only thing left was to create a creature that is capable of understanding and marveling in the greatness of God. “They will be called humans,” God said. “They will not only be on earth, but they will be created in my image. They will have reason, intellect and understanding.”

But Truth approached the Almighty God, pleading with Him not to create humans. “Oh God,” Truth said. “I ask you to refrain from calling into being a creature that is capable of lying. The last thing we need is to have a world full of deception and fraud.”

Then Peace came forward to support Truth’s cause. “Oh Lord,” he said. “I beg you not to create creatures that will disturb the harmony of your creation. I fear that these humans will act with revenge and initiate war.”

Justice stepped forward. He said, “Dear Lord, I must agree with Truth and Peace. I think you will be making a huge mistake by creating humans. Before long they will be robbing, stealing and killing each other. Then this beautiful world that you have created will be full of jails and prisons.”

While they were pleading their case against the creation of man, the soft voice of Love asked to be heard. He said, “Dear God, I know that any being that is created in your likeness will have the capacity to perform great deeds. Filled with your Spirit they will comfort the sick, visit the lonely, and provide shelter for the homeless. They will even minister to the prisoners that Justice spoke of. Such a being could not help but bring glory to you, Oh Lord.”

Although the Lord listened to the voices of Truth, Peace and Justice before He made His final decision, it was because of Love that human beings were created.

When God created man, He did not create a perfect being. He did not create people that are incapable of sinning. But because of His love for us, He is willing to forgive us for our sins if we ask Him. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Christmas

The story was told of a little child that wandered through the streets of a large city on Christmas Eve. Busy people rushed back and forth with their arms filled with presents. Everyone seemed to have a destination except the little child. As he walked around, the bitter cold nipped at his cheeks and bit at his bare fingers. This was no night to be out alone. He must find a place to stay.

He walked down a street that was filled with large homes and beautiful yards. He walked to the door of a gorgeous house and peeked through the curtains at a huge, well-decorated Christmas tree. Inside the house, children were playing and shaking presents that had their names on them.

The little child stood on tiptoes and rang the doorbell. A boy opened the door and looked down at the youngster. “I am sorry,” he said, “Our parents are not home, and they would not like to have anyone upset our Christmas Eve.” The door closed slowly. The little child soon tried another home. This time a woman shouted at him, “Get off my property, right now!”

The wind seemed as angry as the woman when the young child reached the unsheltered sidewalk. He decided to try a street where the houses were smaller, hoping people that were friendlier. He started ringing bells and knocking on doors. One woman was afraid that he would bring germs into her house. A man said that there wasn't enough for his own children. As he went from house to house, people just looked at him, shook their heads, and closed the door.

“There must be some place in this city for me,” he thought. As he walked through the dark streets, he passed houses that were much smaller in size. At the end of one street, he stopped at a house that had no curtains. It was easy to see inside. In the corner sat a small tree with no lights. Near the fireplace, a mother was reading to her small children. “Mommy,” one of the children called out. “Someone is at the door.” They rushed to the door to see who was there. In the doorway stood the little child, shaking in the cold.

The mother picked him up and pressed him tightly to her breast as she carried him to the living room. “Quick, warm some milk,” she said to her son as she rubbed the child’s numbed fingers between her hands. Pushing his tangled hair back, she tenderly kissed him on the forehead and whispered, “We are delighted that you have come to share this Christmas with us.”

For nearly an hour, they stood around the fire until feeling began to return to the frozen body of the little child. When their guest seemed to be warmed, the little girl said, “Finish the story, Mommy.” The mother placed the little girl on her lap and opened the book.

Suddenly a powerful light began to flood the room. The family turned to see the little child being transformed before their eyes. The light from his face became so bright; they were forced to turn their heads. Then the light left the room. As the family rushed to the door, they watched the light ascend until all that was visible was a star that shone brilliantly over their home.

The boy was the first to break the silence. “Was that the Christ child, Mother?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied.

It is said that each Christmas, Christ returns to earth as a little child, wandering through the streets of a city, seeking a place to be warmed. When He is accepted, God sends a brightly lit star to shine on that house.

This Christmas, bless someone who is in need. Then look up and see God's sign.


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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Christmas Story

On a very cold Christmas Eve, a man sat by his window thinking about the Christmas story. He said, “Why would an all-powerful God choose to come to earth the way the Bible says that He did? Why would He choose to be born in a stable? It makes no sense. I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, He would have chosen a more exciting way.”

Just then, he heard a strange, loud noise coming from outside. When he looked out, he saw a flock of geese frantically honking and wildly flapping their wings in the deep snow and fringed cold. They appeared to be dazed and confused. Apparently they had dropped out of a larger flock that was migrating to a warmer climate.

Moved with compassion, the man bundled up and went outside in an effort to save them. He opened his barn door and tried to coax the shivering geese inside and out of the freezing cold. But the more he tried, the more the geese panicked and ran away from him. The man became frustrated. He thought to himself, “If they only realized that I am trying to save them. How can I make them understand that I am concerned for their safety and well-being?”

Then a thought came to him. “If I was one of them, they wouldn’t be afraid of me and I could lead them to safety. I wish I could become a goose just long enough to communicate with them so they would realize what I am trying to do.”

Suddenly, he remembered it was Christmas Eve. A smile came across his face and the Christmas story no longer seemed ridiculous to him. He visualized a little baby lying in a manger. He realized that God became one of us so He could tell us how much He loves us and wants to save us.

He finally understood the Christmas story. Do You?

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Count Your Blessings

William R. White told a story about two merchants that were fierce competitors in a large town. Their stores were across the street from each other. The merchants didn’t measure the success of their business by daily or weekly profits. Their only concern was doing more business than the other. If a customer made a purchase at the store of one merchant, he would taunt his competitor when the sale was complete. The rivalry grew more and more every year.

One day God sent an angel to one of the merchants with an offer. “The Lord has chosen to give you a great gift,” said the angel. “He will give you anything you want. You can have riches, long life, healthy children or anything you desire. Just ask and it is yours. But there is one condition,” the angel said. “Whatever you receive, your competitor will get twice as much. If you ask for a million dollars, he will receive two million. If you become famous, he will become twice as famous. If your business grows to ten stores, his will grow to twenty.” The angel smiled and said, “This is God’s way of teaching you a lesson.”

The merchant thought for a few minutes. Then he said, “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying. You will give me anything that I ask for. But whatever I receive, my competitor will get double. Is that right?” The angel said, “That is correct.” The merchant smiled and said, “My request is that you strike me blind in one eye.”

God wants us to be the best that we can be and use the gifts and talents that He gave us to bless others. But sometimes we lose our focus and look at everything and everyone as our competition. We want the biggest house, the fanciest car, or the largest church.

Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. God is not concerned with what you have or what you accomplish. He is concerned with how you use what He has given you. Learn to count your blessings instead of comparing them.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Did The Turkey Do?

A lady went into a pet store one day to purchase a parrot to keep her company. The shopkeeper told her that the only parrot that he had was once owned by a sailor, and his language was very filthy. The lady believed she could change the parrot’s attitude and vocabulary by showing him love and affection. But when she got home, she found out that the parrot’s profanity was worse than she had thought.
She became so frustrated; she put the parrot in the freezer for several minutes hoping that would teach him a lesson. When she took him out, she asked the parrot if he was sorry for the way he had acted. He said he was and promised not to use that kind of language anymore.

The lady came home from work one day and the parrot started cursing at her. She put the parrot in the freezer again, this time for an hour. When she took him out, he was cold and shivering. She asked him if he had learned his lesson this time. The parrot said that he had, and again, he promised never to use that kind of language again.

A few weeks later, the lady was late getting home from work. The parrot was upset because his supper was late, so he cursed the lady out, using words that she had never heard before. She became so angry; she threw the parrot back in the freezer. Then she went to the grocery store to finish shopping for her Thanksgiving dinner. She returned a few hours later and remembered that the parrot was in the freezer. When she took him out, he had almost frozen to death.

She put him in his cage and asked, “Have you learned your lesson this time?” The parrot said, “Yes Ma’am.” She said, “Are you going to be good?” The parrot said, “Yes Ma’am.” She asked, “Are you going to use that filthy language anymore?” The parrot said, “No Ma’am.” The lady said, “Don’t make me put you in that freezer again.” The parrot said, “Yes Ma’am.” As the lady was walking away, the parrot said, “Excuse me Ma’am. Can I ask you something?” The lady said that he could. With a shaky voice, the parrot asked, “What did the turkey do?”

When misfortune falls upon someone, some of us tend to think it was brought on because of something that person had done. If you lose your health, your house or your happiness, some people will speculate and wonder what you did to deserve such adversity. If you are not careful, you might find yourself wondering the same thing.

Troubles, heartaches and pain are a part of life. God never promised you carefree living. But He did promise never to leave you alone. Sometimes, like the parrot, we bring things on ourselves because of our disobedience. But sometimes we get caught up in situations that are beyond our control. Job was going about his daily routine and lost everything that he had. Joseph was looking for his brothers and was sold into slavery. John The Baptist was preaching the Gospel and was beheaded. The turkey went for a walk when it was too close to Thanksgiving and ended up in a freezer. Stuff happens.

When you see someone who is going through some kind of hardship, instead of wondering what they did to deserve it, ask God for wisdom and strength to help them.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Keep Fighting Until The Bell Rings

My church had our Christian Education Institute last week and I was one of the instructors. Each night, there was a lecture period before the classes began. There was a timekeeper in the front office that rang a bell when classes were supposed to end. It was a long, busy week; therefore, many of us were extremely tired.

On Thursday night, the lecture period went over a little. Since the classes started later, someone went to all of the classrooms and told the instructors that we were going to dismiss a little later. She said, “Just keep going until the bell rings.” Although we only went over a few minutes, it seemed more like it was a few hours. I kept thinking to myself, “When is the bell going to ring.”

When I got home that night, I thought about my brief boxing career while I was in the U.S. Marines. During one of my fights, my opponent gave me all that I could handle, and more. Since he was smaller than me, I thought I was going to have an easy victory. Nothing was farther from the truth. We went toe to toe during the entire fight. When the final round was about to begin, my corner man said that I was ahead on points. To win the fight, all I had to do was fight until the bell rings.

That was the longest round that I had ever fought. I think my opponent turned into Popeye and his corner man gave him some spinach before the last round started. I was hitting him with everything I had, but my punches no longer fazed him. His punches felt like giant boulders, coming from every direction. I was ready to quit, but I kept hearing my corner man yelling, “Keep fighting until the bell rings.” I was thinking to my self, “When is the bell going to ring?” When the fight was over, I found out that I had barely won. That was my third and final fight.

The Apostle Paul wrote most of the books that are in the New Testament, but he had some major battles and suffered quite a few disappointments during his Christian journey. But at the end, he was able to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul didn’t stop fighting until the bell had rung.

We all go through difficult situations. You might be going through something right now. You might be in the toughest fight that you have experienced as a Christian. You might even be questioning your faith or wondering it the Lord is with you. Just remember, Jesus is your corner man. He is saying, “Keep fighting until the bell rings.”

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shattered Dreams

It was the day before Thanksgiving in1975. I was on a small-chartered plane that was flying over Amarillo, Texas. The pilot had just announced that we were going to make an emergency landing. I can remember thinking to myself, "I don't want to die like this. Not here. Not now. Then again, what difference does it make if my life is over with anyway".

You see, the plane that I was on was headed to the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth. As I sat there, chained and shackled to eight other prisoners, my mind began to wonder. What happened? How did I mess my life up so badly? What happened to all of the hopes and dreams that I had once had? I began thinking that it might be better if the plane did crash, and shatter into a thousand pieces, just like my dreams had. Shattered Dreams.

I was at the lowest point of my life. I was a high school drop out with a drug problem and a bad conduct discharge from the Marines. Now, I was sitting on a plane headed to one of the most notorious prisons in this country on the day before Thanksgiving. I thought to myself, "What do I have to be thankful for?” Shattered Dreams.

Oh yes, just like everyone else, I had dreams, but now, all I could do was just sit there, almost in a state of shock, wondering how I had gotten to this point. What had I done to deserve a seat on this plane?

I was not a hardened criminal, and I wasn't a bad person. I had grown up in a nice Christian home with a mother and father who loved me. My father was even providing for my college education while I was still in grammar school. So why was I sitting on a plane, on my way to prison with a federal record, instead of sitting on a plane, on my way home with a college degree. Shattered Dreams.

After we made the emergency landing in Amarillo, we sat on the plane for several hours while the mechanics made the necessary repairs. While we were sitting there, my mind went back to the Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. I could see myself sitting there on the front pew with my grandmother and listening to Rev. Murphy.

I could see myself standing in the Baptismal pool at age nine, staring into Rev. Murphy's face as he was about to baptize me, and thinking to myself that one day I was going to be like him. I must have been dreaming because I could just feel the pride that I had as I stood at my post as a junior usher.

I could even remember the feeling I had years later, when at age 17, I stood in the pulpit of the Galatians Missionary Baptist Church and preached my trial sermon about Daniel in the lion’s den. I was so desperately hoping that this was not a dream, because there I was, a teenager again, fellowshipping and hanging out with all of my Christian friends.

My life had meaning again. I felt like I could dream again. Dream of being a doctor. Dream of being a lawyer, an engineer, or anything I wanted to be, until I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. When I opened my eyes, I saw one of the prison guards standing over me holding a nightstick in his hand and telling me to fasten my seat belt. We were about to take off again.

When I looked around I quickly realized that I was not a teenager again. I was not in Church and these were not my Christian friends. I could forget about the dreams I had about becoming a doctor, or a lawyer, or anything else for that matter. It had all been just a dream. Now the plane had been repaired and I was on my way to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary where I would have to trade my dreams in for a uniform with the numbers 59698. Shattered Dreams.

I want to ask you something. Do you have a dream? What is your destination in life? What are your goals? What are your objectives? Do you have a dream?

In the 37th chapter of Genesis, we see that Joseph had a dream, and he went through slavery and prison, but even with all that, he still knew that he was going to be somebody. Some of you have gone through some difficult situations as well. Maybe it was in your home. Maybe it was at your school. Maybe it was on the block while you were hanging with some of your partners. Maybe you’ve been experimenting with some things that you know you had no business messing with. Or you’ve been doing some things that you know is wrong. Now you are confused because your life is in shambles and you don’t know what to do.

Well I want to tell you something. Your life is not over with. I don’t care what anybody tells you, you can still be somebody. So don't let anything stop you from dreaming and don't let anyone discourage you from perusing your dreams.

If there was ever someone who should have been discouraged from dreaming, it was Joseph. Let us take just a minute or two and look at a portion of his story. Some people probably thought Joseph had no business dreaming in the first place. You see, in Israel, it was the firstborn son who was loved in a special way by his parents and he inherited special rights and privileges.

His Birthright was a double portion of the estate and the leadership of the family, but Joseph was not the first-born. As a matter of fact, he was the 11th of twelve sons. So what right did he have to dream? What made him think that he could possibly be somebody?

Some people feel that you don't have a right to dream either. They think you are just wasting your time dreaming of being a politician, an entrepreneur, or CEO of some major corporation. Your skin is the wrong color, your parents don’t belong to the right club, or you were born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Oh yeah, they will try to keep you from dreaming, but I dare you to dream anyway. Dream as big as you can, and then place your dreams in the hands of God and watch what happens.

There was another group of people who thought Joseph had no business dreaming. They were his brothers. In fact, they hated him because he had dreams, but you don't have to take my word for it. Just look at the last part of verse 8. It says, “And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said." He had told them that he was going to be somebody. Now, you would think that if anyone were going to be on your side, and want to see you succeed, it would be your family or those closest to you. Am I right?

However, there are some people who don't want anything out of life, and they don't want to see you with anything either. They are satisfied right where they are. Sometimes those are the ones that are closest to you, your friends, your family members or your classmates. They cannot see any further than where they are right now. They look at their surroundings and they believe that the only way that they can make it is by running with a gang, selling drugs, or ripping off their own people. They think that going to jail is a badge of honor. They have no hope. They have no vision. They have no dreams.

I once read that when a flea trainer is training his fleas, he places them in a jar. When he first puts them in there, they jump out because fleas are incredible jumpers. I mean, they can jump so high, that sometimes it looks like they can fly.

The training begins when he puts a lid on the jar. The fleas continue to jump, but when they do, they hit their heads on the lid over, and over, and over again. So after a while, the fleas continue to jump, but they no longer jump as high as they can, because they don’t want to bump their heads anymore.

Now the trainer can remove the lid from the jar, and when he does, the fleas will continue to jump, but they will not jump out of the jar. Actually, they won’t jump out because they no longer can jump out because they have conditioned themselves to jump just so high. Now, that is all they can do.

Some of you have conditioned yourselves to jump just so high because every time you have tried to jump any higher than that you have bumped your heads. You have bumped your heads on racism. You have bumped your heads on peer pressure. You have bumped your heads on people telling you what you could not do and what you could not be. You have bumped your heads over, and over, and over again because Satan had placed a lid over your dreams.

Well I want to serve notice on you. When Jesus died on the cross one Friday, Satan thought he had shattered His dreams too. But early that Sunday morning, when He stepped out of the grave, not only was the stone removed from the entrance to the tomb, but the lid was removed from above your dreams. That is why the Apostle Paul was able to say, "I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)

So don't be afraid to aim high. Aim as high as you can. One of my former Pastors, Rev. Joseph Jones, used to say, “While you are aiming, aim for the stars, and if you fall upon the moon you will still be on higher ground.” So aim high.

Joseph was not afraid to aim high, but there will always be someone who is jealous of what they may see in you and they will stop at nothing to try to destroy you and your dreams. Just look at verses 19 and 20 says, "And they said one to another, ‘Here comes that dreamer. Come now, let’s kill him, and throw him into some pit, and we will say, some evil beast has devoured him. Then we will see what will become of his dreams.”

I want to let you in on a little secret. Sometimes you have to stop watching your enemies so close and start watching your back when your friends come around. Some of them are the real player haters. There are so many people whose dreams have been shattered by their friends.

I don't know of anyone who got their first cigarette or their first joint from one of their enemies. You never see a man standing on the corner drinking whiskey or wine with one of his enemies. It is not a person’s enemy who talks them into smoking crack. It is not a person’s enemy who gets them to cut class. It is not a girl’s enemy that gets her pregnant. It is not a boy’s enemy who convinces him to join a gang. It is not a person’s enemy that can destroy his or her dreams in such a way, because no one would let their enemies get that close to them.

Only a friend, a very close friend, someone that you love and trust can get close enough to you to destroy your dreams in such a manner. So what are you saying, preacher? I’m simply saying that sometimes you have to take a step back and take a real hard look at the people that you call your friends.

My father tried to tell me that. He said, “Son. That crowd you’re hanging out with don’t mean you any good.” I wouldn’t listen. I said, “Dad. You don’t know what you’re talking about. These are my friends.” I found out that he was right, because when I was in Cook County Jail, there were so many times that I sat there wondering, “Where are my friends now?”

When the guards were passing out the mail and they would walk pass my cell because I did not have any, I wondered, “Where are my friends now?”

On visiting days, I wanted somebody to come and see me, but I just sat there, trying to pretend that I wasn’t hurting when my number wasn’t called because no one cared enough to come. Many times, I just sat there in my cell, fighting back the tears, and wondering, “Where are my friends now?”

Sometimes I would think about all of the money I had thrown away on drugs, alcohol and wild parties trying to buy somebody’s friendship. Now I couldn’t even afford to buy a bar of soap to wash my face. I wondered, “Where are my friends now?”

In verse 27, we read that Joseph's brothers decided not to kill him, but to sell him into slavery. They decided to compromise. That way, they could destroy his dreams without taking his life. We see in verse 28 that they sold him to the Ishmaelites and he was taken to Egypt.

Let me ask you something. Are you on your way to Egypt? Have you allowed your dreams to be compromised and now you have found yourself in slavery to some drug that’s ruining your life? Are you on your way to Egypt? Have you let someone convince you that you will never be anybody, or amount to anything? Are you on your way to Egypt? Do you think that it's OK to disobey your parents? Is it OK to lie, to cheat, and to steal, just because everybody else is doing it? Are you on your way to Egypt?

The last point that I want to make is that Joseph was not afraid to say no. In chapter 39, we see that Joseph had been sold to Potiphar, who was one of Pharaoh's officials and the captain of the guard.

The Bible says that the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. In the New International Version, Verse 7 says "and after a while, his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, 'come to bed with Me.' but he refused." Joseph said, No. He knew what was at stake here. It was his relationship with God.

Oh yeah, Joseph was a dreamer, but he knew who gave him the ability to dream. It was God, and as long as he had a relationship with God, he knew that he could still dream, no matter what his situation or circumstances were. He knew that he had to make a choice. Either say no to Potiphar's wife, or say no to God, and to his dreams.

You have to make some choices too, and decide who you are going to say no to. Will it be to the temptations in life, or are you are you going to say no to God, and to your dreams? When your friends come to you trying to get you to do something that you know is wrong, who are you going to say no to?

Young ladies, when your “boo” comes to you, talking about, “If you love me you will go to bed with me.” Who are you going to say no to? Young brothers, when your dogs come to you with that joint or that blunt, who are you going to say no to? When they come with that “Player’s Pack” telling you how much money you can make selling dope and poisoning your own people, who are you going to say no to?

There are more than 2 million people who are in prison in the United States today. What happened to their dreams? Our streets are full of women and men who are addicted to crack and are selling their bodies for a ten dollar rock. What happened to their dreams?

So I want to ask you again, do you have a dream? What is your destination in life? Where do you want to be 10 or 20 years from now? Do you have a dream?

When the Dream Busters come at you, trying to make you lose your focus, what are you going to do? When things get so hard that you just can't see how you can make it, what are you going to do? Are you going to just give up and give in, or are you going to stand your ground and echo the words of the Apostle Paul? "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

You guessed it. It’s story time. Two fowlers went to a mountain to spread their nets so they could capture as many doves as possible. After they had set their traps, they left. When they returned, their nets were filled with doves. Desperately the birds flew back and forth trying to escape through the holes is the finely woven net.

At first the hunters were ecstatic over the large number of birds they had caught, but after examining them more closely, they were not very happy with their catch. You see, the birds were very small, and the fowlers were afraid that there would be no market for such skinny birds.

After thinking about it for a while, the men came up with a plan. They decided to buy some mash to feed the birds with, thinking that in a few weeks they would be nice and plump. Everyday the two men brought food and water, which the birds quickly devoured. Slowly, they began to grow in size, but there was one dove that refused to eat.

The other birds had gotten so comfortable in their situation, that they ate everything that the fowlers had brought them. They figured that since they were never going to get out of that net anyway, they might as well make the best of it. So they just laid around, eating and drinking, and getting bigger, and bigger.

However, that one obstinate bird was determined to make it. He refused to get comfortable. He refused to eat their food and he refused to quit struggling.

Then on the day the hunters came back to take all of the birds to market, the dove who refused to eat had become so skinny, that with one last mighty struggle, he was able to squeeze through the net and fly away. He was the only one that made it.

Are you going to be the one who makes it? Are you determined that you are going to do whatever it takes to achieve your dreams? Have you made up in your mind that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you?

Oh yeah, Joseph achieved his dream. No matter how difficult his situation had gotten, he never gave up, and he always trusted in God. So no matter how rough the road may become, never lose sight of your dreams.

Always give it your very best, because one day you are going to stand before the Almighty God of the universe and He is going to ask you, "What did you do with the dreams I gave you?" What will your answer be? Are you going to say, "Lord, they wouldn't let me---? They wouldn't let me do anything. They wouldn't let me be anybody." Or will you be able to say, "Lord, I took advantage of every opportunity that you placed before me, and I did my very best to achieve every dream that you gave me."

So no matter what it is that you are called upon to do, do it with a spirit of excellence. My father used to say, “If a task is once begun, never leave it until it is done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”

So if you're called upon to build buildings, build the best buildings that have ever been built. If you are called upon to design clothing, design cloths so well that even kings and queens will be wearing your labels.

In the words of one the greatest dreamers of all time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "If you are called upon to sweep streets, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote plays. Sweep streets so well, that all of the hosts of Heaven and of earth will pause and say, ‘There goes a great street sweeper, who swept his job well’.”

Dream on.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stop Worrying

When I was a child, we used to travel from Chicago to visit our relatives in St. Louis every summer. I always liked going to my Uncle Johnny’s house because he had a big back yard with swings, apple trees and grass to play on. The rest of my family lived in flats, apartment buildings or projects and we had to play in the streets and alleys.

One summer, my brother and I made some sling shots out of some clothe hangers and rubber bands. We went to the back yard and started shooting rocks at apples, soda cans, or anything else that we could find. I was a terrible shot. I missed everything that I shot at.

Then I saw a bird that was perched on one of the branches. I put a rock in my sling, aimed at the bird and let the rock fly through the air. To my surprise, the bird fell to the ground. When I looked at his lifeless body, a feeling of guilt and shame came over me. I went in the house to tell my mother what I had done, hoping I would feel better. But what I saw made me feel worse. My mother and my aunt were standing in the kitchen, crying. The hospital had just called and told them that my grandfather had died. I thought God had killed my grandfather because I had killed one of his birds. There was no way that I was going to tell my mother that her father was dead because of me.

During the funeral, I was seated in the chair that was next to the aisle. Since the casket was closed when we marched in, I didn’t know that my grandfather’s body was already in there. I thought they were going to roll him down the aisle on a gurney and put him in the casket after the sermon. I spent the entire service worrying that he was going to grab my arm when they rolled him past me because I had killed him. When they started opening the casket, I looked over my shoulder and started crying and shaking uncontrollably. When I saw my grandfather was already in the casket, I realized that I had been worrying for nothing.

You might think that I was just a crazy, mixed-up child for worrying about something that was so silly. But most of the things that we worry about are just as silly, if we are Christians. Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matt. 6: 25) In verse 26, He said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Finally, in verse 34, He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
But we still worry about things that we have no control over. We worry about our health, our jobs, our bills, our children, our parents, the economy, the elections and many other things. Some of us have become sick because of worry. Did you know that 80% of the things that we worry about never happens?

Peter told us to cast all of our cares on Jesus because He cares about us. Worry doesn’t rid tomorrow of its sorrows, it just robs today of its joy. So stop worrying and enjoy the life that God has given you.

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Come Back Home

When I was a child, a little boy named Michael lived next door to us. Michael was a bad little boy. He would do things that would aggravate the older boys and then he would run. Michael used to make us so angry. It wasn’t bad enough that he would do things to us. The worst thing was, while we were chasing Michael, he would be laughing. I don’t care how hard we tried, we could not catch him. I hated that little boy.

One day, Michael did something to me and started running. But that time, I caught him. I started beating him, and beating him and beating him. When I finished beating him, he went in his house, crying. I didn’t care. I was glad that I had finally caught Michael. Suddenly, it dawned on me. I had one little brother, but Michael had four big brothers. They were not just bigger than Michael. They were bigger than me too. I didn’t feel all that good anymore. I went in my house and hid in my bedroom.

About an hour later, while we were eating dinner, the doorbell rang. I thought it was Michael’s brothers, so I jumped up and ran out the back door. My father found me hiding on the back porch and asked me what was wrong. I told him what I had done and I was afraid that Michael’s brothers were coming to get me. My father put his arms around me and said, “Son. When you are in trouble, you are supposed to run to your house, not away from your house.”

When we mess up or get into trouble, many of us run away from God and the church. We are ashamed and afraid of what people in the church will say or think of us. We feel bad because we found out that we are not as holy as we thought we were. Sometime we even doubt our salvation. You must remember that no one is perfect. The Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3: 23)

When we mess up, we are supposed to run to God and the church, not away from God and the church. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1: 9)
If you are one of the runaways, it’s time to come back home.

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
In Stores Now!!! by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Cross Room

In Matthew 16: 24, Jesus said to his disciples, “If any man desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” But many of us look for the easy, painless road. Whenever we face a challenge or any difficulty, we want to quit.

A man became overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations that he was going through, so he complained to the Lord. He said, Lord, this cross is too much for me to bear. I just can’t handle it anymore.” The Lord said, “OK. Just lay it in the corner, go into the cross room and pick out another one.”

The man was surprised and elated when he heard that. He said, “Do you mean I can choose any cross that I want?” God said, “Yes, my son. You can choose any cross that’s in the room.” The man was happy. He was finally going to get rid of that big, heavy cross.

But when he walked into the cross room, he was amazed at what he saw. There were thousands of huge, enormous crosses. Some of them were so tall; he couldn’t see the top of them. Some were so wide; he couldn’t see around them. He could not believe how big, heavy and rugged the crosses were.

Finally, the man spotted a tiny cross that was lying in a corner. He was so excited; he ran over and picked it up. He had found the perfect cross. He told the Lord that he had found the cross that he wanted. God asked him if he was sure that he wanted that particular cross. The man said, “Yes Lord. This is the cross I want.” The Lord said, “OK my son. You can have that one. But I must tell you, that is the same cross that you came in here with.”

The next time you want to complain about how difficult your Christian journey is, step into the cross room.

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Letter

I once heard a story about a man that went away on a very long journey. Before he left, he wrote a letter to the woman that he loved, promising to return to her one day. While he was away, days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years.
Sometimes, the young lady felt sad, lonely, and depressed. Her friends and even her family members teased her and call her a fool for waiting so long for the man to return. Whenever she got to the point that she thought she just could not take any more, she would get the letter that her lover had given her, and read it.
Then one day, the man she loved finally returned. What a celebration they had. While they were talking, he asked her how was it that she was able to wait so long for him.
She said, “I see that even you don’t understand. It was your letter. That’s what kept me going all of these years. That’s what gave me the faith that I needed. It was your letter.”
Jesus went away a long time ago, but He gave us a letter. It is called The Holy Bible. If you are wondering if He loves you, read your letter. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) If you want to know how much He loves you, read your letter. He said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16)
If you are sad because you don’t have any friends, read your letter. He said, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14) If you are wondering if your pain and tears will ever end, read your letter. It says, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.” (Revelation 21:4)
No matter what you are going through, you will find comfort in your letter if you read it.

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
In Stores Now!!! by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Give The Ball To Calhoun

Brian Cavanaugh told the story about an important football game. One team was much larger than the other. The coach for the smaller team saw that his team was not able to contain or block the larger team, so he decided to call plays that went to Calhoun, the fastest back in the area.

The coach told his quarterback to give the ball to Calhoun and let him run with it. The team ran the first play, but Calhoun did not get the ball. The second play was again signaled for Calhoun, but once again Calhoun did not get the ball. Now the game was in the final seconds. The smaller team’s only hope was for Calhoun to break free and score the winning touchdown.

The team ran the third play, but again Calhoun did not get the ball. The couch was very upset. They were facing the fourth and final play of the game. Again, the coach sent in the play that was designed for Calhoun to run the ball. The ball was snapped, but the quarterback was sacked. The game ended without Calhoun ever touching the ball.

The coach was furious with the quarterback. He said, “I told you four times to give the ball to Calhoun. Now we have lost the game. Why didn’t you give the ball to Calhoun?” The quarterback said, “I tried to give the ball to Calhoun four times. The problem was, Calhoun didn’t want the ball.”

Ephesians 4: 11-12 tells us that the job of the pastor is to prepare God’s people for works of service. But instead of doing our part, we expect the pastor to do everything. Christianity is not a spectator sport. It is a team effort. God is the coach and the pastor is the quarterback.

Time and time again, God has called a play that was designed just for you. He told your pastor to give the ball to you. But some of you are like Calhoun. You don’t want the ball. You don’t want to sing in the choir. You don’t want to do outreach. You don’t want to teach a Sunday school class. You don’t want to serve with the ushers, the greeters, the youth workers, the food pantry or any other ministry.

You have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. It will be a shame if that person is lost because you don’t want the ball.

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
In Stores Now!!! by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stay In Your Lane

I love watching judge shows on television. Some of my favorites are: Judge Mathis, Judge Judy and Judge Alex. But the show that I like the best is Judge Karen. One of her most popular sayings is, “Stay in your lane.” Sometimes, one of the litigants will get overzealous while presenting his or her case and try to do the judge’s job. When that happens, Judge Karen says, “Stay in your lane. I know what I’m doing.” Judge Karen has a book with the same title, “Stay in your lane.”

Many of us have been guilty of trying to do someone else’s job. It not only happens in the secular world, it happens in many of our churches as well. We try to tell the pastor how to lead his flock. We want to tell the deacons how to minister to the congregation. We attempt to tell the minister of music which songs the choir should sing. We even have the audacity to try to tell God how to get us out of the mess that we have gotten ourselves into.

Our problem is, we want to be in charge of everything. We think we have all of the answers. We don’t want to relinquish control of our lives to anyone. Not even to God. When things don’t go the way we would like, we want to question God. I have seen people blame God for everything from the loss of a loved one, to the loss of a job.

God loves us and He knows what is best for us. We all go through difficult situations sometimes. But we cannot blame God every time things don’t go our way. I must admit, there were times when I was guilty of doing this.

The next time you want to tell God how to do His job, I suggest you read what God said in Job 38:4. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” In other words, “Stay in your lane.”

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
In Stores Now!!! by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Can We All Just Get Along?

These were the famous words of Rodney King in 1992 after the Los Angeles riots. As you may know, Mr. King was the victim of a vicious act of police brutality that was caught on tape. The officers that were involved were later tried and acquitted by an all white jury.

The verdict brought outrage to millions of African Americans across the country and resulted in one of the deadliest riots in the history of Los Angeles. There were 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires and the damage or loss of more than 3,100 businesses.

That was one of the darkest periods in the history of our nation. But the darkness has not subsided in this country. All across America, thousands of young men are being gunned down on the streets of our cities. The sound of gunfire is all too common in many of our communities. There are more gangs in this country than there are religious denominations.

What is our response? What is the church doing? What are the community leaders and politicians doing? More importantly, what are the parents and the people in our communities doing? We are the ones that are affected the most. It is our sons that are being stuffed into body bags every night. It is our children that cannot play in front of their homes. It is our seniors that are afraid to sit on their porches.

Instead of standing up and taking back our communities, we have bought into the philosophy of the streets, “Quit Snitchin.” We have become a society of people that are afraid to get involved. Therefore, our communities are suffering and our children are being carried off to cemeteries and penitentiaries.

When I was a child, there was a public service announcement that came on television every night. It said, “It is 10:30. Do you know where your children are?” But now, night after night, many of our children are wondering where their parents are.

I started this message with the words of Rodney King, “Can we all just get along?” I want to end it with the words of another man whose last name was King. In a speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted the Irish political philosopher, Edmond Burke by saying, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

My question is simple. What are you doing?

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
In Stores Now!!! by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

"He's Only A Prayer Away" Chapter 5 - The Corner

There once was a dance called “The Funky Four Corners.” I bring up this dance because there are four street corners that I want to talk to you about. They are all located in Chicago.

The first corner I want to discuss is at 13th and Christiana. That was the corner closest to my childhood home. I have a lot of memories about that corner. My friends and I hung out on the corner of 13th and Christiana when we were teenagers. That’s where we smoked our cigarettes and used our filthy language. That was where we drank our beer, our whiskey, and our wine. That was where we met up with our girlfriends and did our hugging, kissing, and smooching. These were the things that we knew we couldn’t get away with if we tried to do them on the street where we lived.

My mother and a group of her friends, who also lived on our block, were known as “the heads”. We called them the heads because their heads were always sticking out of their windows, watching everything that was going on in the neighborhood.
When we got ready to do the stuff that we knew we were not supposed to be doing, we got away from our parents. We got away from the neighbors. We got away from “the heads”. We left the view of our houses and hung out on the corner.

The next corner that I want to talk about is 16th and Kedzie. There was a tavern and liquor store on that corner called, “The Bucket of Blood.” I don’t know how it got that name but it could be because of all of the fights that went on and all of the blood that was shed in there.

There were always a lot of people standing around on the corner outside of the tavern. Rain or shine, day or night, summer or winter, hot or cold, it didn’t matter. They would be there. The alcoholics would be there. The drug addicts would be there. The gang bangers would be there. The pimps and the prostitutes would be there. The players and the hustlers would be there. They would all be there, standing on the corner.

The next corner that I want to tell you about is 15th and Drake. On the southwest corner, there was a court way building. Court way buildings are very large building with lots of apartments. Sometimes they have entranceways that resemble yards or courtyards.

This particular building was like a mall…a drug mall. Any drug you wanted could be purchased there. In one apartment, they sold heroin. In another apartment, they sold cocaine, and in yet another, crack was sold. If you wanted a bag of marijuana you went to this apartment. If you just wanted a joint or two, you went to that one.
They even had an apartment where they sold bootleg liquor after hours. To the players and the hustlers, that building was one-stop shopping. On Sunday mornings, from 6:00 AM until noon, they had a sale. If you bought one bag of drugs, you got a second one for half price.

The last corner that I want to talk about is at 26th and California. Anyone who is familiar with Chicago knows this is where the Cook County Jail is located.
You might be wondering why I am talking about those particular street corners. Well, those are some of the corners that Jesus was talking about when He said, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” Matt. 22:9 NIV)
There is something else those street corners had in common. All of them were completely surrounded by churches. However, I don’t remember anyone from any of those churches going to any of those corners telling any of us anything about God, or about His love, or about His saving power. There were some people that went to the Cook County Jail, but most of them were unknown ministries.

One day, Jesus was speaking to some of the chief priests and the Pharisees after his authority had been questioned. In other words, he was talking to the preachers, deacons, and Sunday school teachers of that time. They were already jealous when they saw Jesus ride into town on a donkey, and how some of the people were laying palm branches in his path while Kirk Franklin and some of the young people were dancing around and singing, “Hosanna - Forever.”

The preachers, deacons, and Sunday school teachers got mad at Him when He went into the sanctuary and started throwing around pews because they were using the church for everything except what it was supposed to be used for. It had gotten so bad that people who were blind, crippled, or crazy couldn’t get any help because the church folks were too busy selling chicken dinners and raffle tickets, or playing bingo.
When Jesus came in and started healing people, they got mad at Him and wanted to see his preacher’s license, but He started talking to them in parables.
He said, “The kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come” (Matt. 22:2-3).

Most of the time, when someone gets married, after the wedding ceremony is over, there is a reception or a banquet. However, everybody that goes to the wedding does not necessarily go to the reception.

There are different reasons why people decide not to attend the reception. Maybe they felt obligated to go to the wedding. After they witnessed the couple taking their vows, and they shook their hands and offered congratulations, they left feeling satisfied because they had met their obligation.

Maybe they didn’t go to the reception because they were uncomfortable about being there. They didn’t want to be part of all the singing, the dancing, and the noise that would be going on. So they said, “It don’t take all of that.”
Maybe they didn’t go because they didn’t have the right kind of gift. They knew that everyone else would have a gift for the happy couple and they didn’t want to feel out of place because they didn’t have one.

Whatever the reason, they missed out on all of the festivities. They missed out on the food that had been prepared for them. They missed the celebration. They missed all of the fellowship and fun. In other words, they missed an important part of the wedding.

It is the same with some of the Christians of today. They are satisfied with just joining church. They repented of their sins and now they are saved, but that is all. They don’t go to Sunday school, Sunday Morning Bible Study, or mid week Bible study. They never attend any training classes. They never join the choir. They never get involved in anything that the church is doing.

Therefore, they never grow in the Lord and, consequently, they cannot share their faith or their testimony with anyone. In other words, they attended the wedding, but they didn’t go to the banquet.

I know they didn’t go to the banquet, because Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

They are not witnesses to anybody, not even to the people that are in their own homes. I don’t know why they don’t want to grow in the Lord and be His witnesses. Maybe they are like the people that went to the wedding, but didn’t go to the banquet. Maybe they just felt obligated to join the church. After they shook the preacher’s hand, they were satisfied and felt they had met their obligation.
Maybe they see people singing, and shouting, and making “all that noise”, and they say, “It don’t take all that.”

Perhaps, they think that in order to be a witness for the Lord, they have to have a certain gift. They have to be a preacher, a teacher, or an evangelist. Whatever their reasons are, they don’t realize what they are missing, because the banquet is ready, the table is spread, and the feast of the Lord is going on. You have to get into the Word of God. Go to Bible study. Get involved in whatever training the church has so you can be witnesses for the Lord. You have to feast on the Word of God.

The Bible says that the king sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. In other words, they were too busy doing other stuff to go to the banquet. Maybe they were watching the ball game or their favorite program. Maybe they just didn’t feel like going. Many of us can relate to these feelings.

He told his servants to tell those who had been invited, that the dinner had been prepared. The oxen and fatted cattle had been butchered, and everything was ready.
He said, “Come to the wedding banquet”, the Book says, “But they paid no attention and went off, one to his field, another to his business”, ( Matt. 22:5).

Some of our churches invest a lot of time and money in an attempt to educate and train their people. They are trying to teach them how to be good soldiers and good stewards for the Lord. They bring in preachers, teachers, and evangelists that are certified to teach every course imaginable. In other words, the oxen and the fatted calf have been butchered, and everything is ready.

They’re saying, “Come on over here where the table is spread and the feast of the Lord is going on.” God is looking for a church that knows that He is only a prayer away and is not afraid to go to a lost and dying world and tell them that the wages of sin is death and payday is coming. We have to let them know the gift of God is eternal life. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we will be His witnesses.

We will be His witnesses to the people that are on the corner. We will be His witnesses to the people that are in the taverns. We will be His witnesses to the people that are in the drug house. We will be His witnesses to the people that are in the jailhouse. We will be His witnesses to the players. We will be His witnesses to those who are lost and hurting.

There are too many church folks who don’t care about the people that are on the corner. They don’t care about the people that are in the taverns. They don’t care about the people that are in the dope dens. They don’t care about the players, or the people that are in prison.

They keep telling me that I’m just wasting my time preaching to a bunch of convicts with their jailhouse religion.

However, I hear the God of the universe saying, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, in the jail house, and in the dope house.”
Just because you don’t want to go to the banquet, don’t try to stop me from going.
The king said to his servants, “That’s all right. They don’t have to come to my banquet. Y’all go out there to the street corners and tell everybody that you see to come to the banquet.” The Bible says the servants went to the street corners and told all of the good people to come to the banquet, but that’s not all. They told the bad people to come to the banquet too (Matt 22: 10).

They told the gamblers to come to the banquet. They told the liars to come to the banquet. They told the thieves, the murders, the players and the hustlers to come to the banquet. They told the pimps, the prostitutes, the dope fiends, and the convicts to come to the banquet.

God is doing a new thing. He will rise up a nation of people who will obey Him. If the church folks don’t want to reach out to those who are lost, they don’t have to. God will save the people who are standing on the corner and He will use them to do His work.

He will go to 13th & Christiana, get those nappy-headed boys that are up to no good, and use them. He will go to 16th & Kedzie, get the players and the hustlers from in front of the Bucket of Blood, and use them. He will go to 15th & Drake, get the dope fiends that are coming out of the court way building, and use them. He will go to 26th & California, get the men and women that are in the Cook County jail, and use them. He will go to the worst corners, in the worst cities, and tell everybody to come on, let’s go to the banquet.

Jesus is saying, “Come on over here where the table is spread and the feast of the Lord is going on. Whatever you need, it’s at the table. If you need love, it’s at the table. If you need peace, it’s at the table. If you need joy, it’s at the table. If you need grace, it’s at the table. If you need mercy, it’s at the table. If you need salvation, it’s at the table."

Whatever you need is at the table. Come over here where the table is spread and the feast of the Lord is going on.

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
In Stores Now!!! by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

Available at Barnes & Noble, and

Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Monday, September 6, 2010

"Hold On, Help Is On The Way"






I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made Heaven and earth. (Psalms 121: 1-2)
This particular Psalm has a very special place in my heart. It was one of two Psalms that my father taught me. The first Psalm that he taught me was the 23rd Psalm. He taught me that when I was very young and didn’t know anything about the Lord. I didn’t know who God was, or should I say who God is, and I had no idea how much He loved me.

My father wanted me to know just who my shepherd really was. So he opened his Bible to the 23rd Psalm and showed me where it says, “The Lord is my Shepherd”
You see, he did not want me to be confused about this thing. He wanted me to know exactly who my shepherd was because he wanted to make sure that I knew who it was that I was supposed to follow. He wanted me to know that the neighborhood gang leader was not my shepherd. He wanted me to know that the corner drug dealer was not my shepherd. And as much as my father loved me, although he would do anything that he could for me, he wanted me to know that not even he was my shepherd. So he sat me down one day and said, “Son, the Lord is your shepherd.”

However, several years later I backslid, turning my back on God and walking away from His church. I became an alcoholic with a heroin and cocaine habit that was costing me an average of $200.00 a day. My drug habit led me into a life of crime. I was in and out of trouble, in and out of jails and prisons all across this country. I was living a life that was full of misery and pain. I knew I was in trouble and I desperately wanted somebody to help me, but I did not know where to go to find it.
So once again, I went to my father. And once again he opened his Bible, but this time it was to the 121st Psalm. He showed me where it said, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord who made Heaven and earth.”

Then he said, “Son, whenever you need help, just look to the hills and call on the Lord, and if you really mean it, then all you’ve got to do is just hold on because help is on the way.”

As you already know, Ralph, and I loved to watch cartoons when we were children. Every Saturday morning and every evening after school our eyes would be glued to the television set while we watched cartoons like Heckel & Jeckel, Bugs Bunny, Mighty Mouse and Mr. Magoo. Do you remember them?

However, my favorite cartoon of them all was Popeye. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that our churches would be much stronger if our members were more like Popeye. One thing I learned from watching Popeye was that he knew exactly where his help came from. Oh yeah, he knew without any doubt what gave him his strength. It was his spinach. Am I right?

So when he came up against something that he could not handle, he didn’t get all worried and depressed. He just said, “That’s all I can stands, cause I can’t stands no more.” Then he reached into his bosom and pulled out a can of spinach. Here is the good part. Before he had eaten it, before he had even opened the can, he knew that everything was going to be all right because he knew where his help came from.
Too many church folks do not know where their help comes from. They read their horoscope every morning looking for help. They call their psychic friends looking for help. They are standing in the lottery lines looking for help. They go to the boats and to the casinos looking for help. They turn to Oprah and Dr. Phil looking for help, but Jesus said, “I will pray to the Father and He will give you another helper that He may abide with you forever.” (John 14:16)
The Holy Spirit is the one who Jesus called to be by your side, to help you, to stand by you, to strengthen you and to assist you.

Another thing I learned about Popeye was that he had a fresh supply of spinach every day. That leads me to believe that every morning before he left home he went to his supply source and got his spinach for the day because he knew that Brutus was going to be out there somewhere trying to catch him off guard. So, Popeye did not depend on yesterday’s spinach to get him through today’s battles, and he did not depend on the spinach that he had had when he first became a sailor. He knew that he had to have a fresh supply of spinach everyday.

We as Christians are going to have to learn to ask God for a fresh anointing of His Holy Spirit everyday. Ephesians 5:18 says, “Be filled with the Spirit.” In the original Greek, “Be filled” means to keep on being filled, constantly and continually.

You cannot be satisfied with yesterday’s filling, and you can’t be satisfied with the filling that you received when you first got saved. Therefore, you ought to be like Popeye. Every morning, before you leave your house, you ought to get down on your knees and go to your supply source, and get a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit.
So when you are going through your daily routine and the cares of the world are starting to take its toll on you. When you don’t have but one nerve left, and Satan is getting on that one. When you feel like you are at the end of your rope and you just can’t take any more. You can do like Popeye, and say, “That’s all I can stands, cause I can’t stands no more.”

Then you can reach down in your bosom, way down in the depths of your soul, and you can call on your supply source, which is Jesus Christ. Then after you call on Him, all you have to do is just hold on because help is on the way.
Another thing that I really admired about Popeye was the fact that he wanted everybody to know where his help came from. He was not ashamed to tell people that it was his spinach that gave him is strength. As a matter of fact, he had a song that praised his spinach. You heard that song before.
“I’m Popeye the sailor man
I’m Popeye the sailor man
I’m strong to the finish,
cause I eats me spinach
I’m Popeye the sailor man.”

I know you heard that song before. He sang it all of the time. When the show came on, he would be singing his song and praising his spinach. While he was walking down the street, he would be singing his song and praising his spinach. Everywhere he went he was singing his song and praising his spinach, and while he was singing his song, he had a smile on his face and joy in his heart because he was so glad to be able let the world know how much he loved his spinach.

We ought to be like Popeye, but there are too many church folks who sit in God’s house Sunday after Sunday looking like they are mad at the world. They won’t praise the Lord and they get mad at you if you want to praise Him. They won’t stand up. They won’t clap their hands. They won’t pat their feet. They won’t even smile. The choir or praise team could be singing their hearts out, trying to lead the church in praise and worship while they are just sitting there looking at their watches and saying, “I’ll be glad when they sit down and stop making all that noise. It don’t take all that”, but we have got to learn how to praise the Lord and thank Him for what He has done and for what we have, instead of always complaining about what we don’t have. Haven’t God been good to you? Did He wake you up this morning? Did He put food on your table? Did He put a roof over your head? Well praise Him.
However, I have a confession. I am not always as thankful as I should be either. I was released from prison after serving 10 months of a two-year sentence. While I was incarcerated, God got my attention through a prison evangelist, named Rev. Jerry Hodges. I gave my life to the Lord and started going to church regularly. I also continued my education, scoring number one in my GED class. I like to tell people that I was class valedictorian of the state penitentiary. I even completed a few college courses before I was released.

When I got out of prison, I decided to go to church on the first Sunday of my freedom. The church was approximately three miles away, and since all I had was one dollar to my name, I decided to walk there and ride the bus back. It was a very, very hot August day. It was so hot that even the flies were walking, and using their little wings to fan themselves.

While I was walking, I started thinking about the car that I had had before I went to prison. It had been repossessed while I was locked down. The further I walked, the hotter I got. The hotter I got, the more angry I became. I started complaining because I had to walk in all of that heat.

In the distance behind me, I heard someone that was singing and whistling as if he didn’t have a care in the world. As he got closer, I started getting angry with him. I said to myself, “Why is this fool so dog gone happy as hot as it is out here? I’m walking in all of this heat, and he is back there singing and whistling and making all of that dog gone noise.”
I became so angry; I turned around so I could see who this nut was that was so happy. What I saw completely blew my mind. It was a man with no legs, rolling along in a wheel chair with a big smile on his face. As he rolled past me, he greeted me politely, commented about the lovely weather, and kept right on singing.
I really felt ashamed of myself. There I was with two good legs, complaining because I had to walk. I learned to praise God regardless of my circumstances. I don’t care how bad off you think you are, there is always somebody who is worse off than you are. So praise God for what you have.

Now, I really need you to help me out with something. There is something that I have been confused about for a long time. I have always wondered why no one would eat any spinach except Popeye. Did you ever wonder about that?
I mean, every time someone got into trouble, they would call Popeye and he would eat some spinach and then rescue them. Why didn’t they just eat some spinach themselves? Could it be that they didn’t know what spinach was?
Well, Ralph, and I decided to try something one day. In my old neighborhood, there was a bully whose name was Fat Nash. You might remember me talking about him in “The Hoodlum Preacher.”

Fat Nash had the entire neighborhood terrorized. I mean, a bunch of us could be in the alley playing ball, but if someone said that Fat Nash was coming, the whole alley would clear out in no time flat. Even the dogs in the neighborhood were scared of Fat Nash. They wouldn’t even bark at him. If that wasn’t bad enough, he had a big brother that was called, Big Nash.

One day, Ralph and I decided to eat some spinach and then go and beat up Fat Nash, and if Big Nash was there, we were going to beat him up too. We almost tore up our pillows one night, practicing on them. That Saturday morning when we were at the grocery store with my mother, we told her that we wanted some spinach, a lot of it.
Now that surprised my mother because she knew that we didn’t like greens. When we got back from the store and started looking for the spinach, it surprised us even more, because we didn’t know that spinach was greens. It didn’t look like greens when Popeye ate it.

When we asked my mother where the spinach was, she pointed to the greens. I yelled out, “That ain’t no spinach. Them greens!” She said, “What do you think spinach is?” Needless to say, we didn’t eat the spinach, and we didn’t mess with Fat Nash either.
I told you that, to tell you this. There are so many people in the church, who are confused as to who the Holy Spirit really is. They do not know that He is God. They just see somebody who will shout all over the church on Sunday and then turn right around and curse everybody out on Monday. They’ll say, “If that is what it means to be filled with the Spirit, then I don’t want it.”

What they don’t realize is, if they are not filled with the Spirit, they are missing out on a lot of God’s blessings, because without God’s Spirit, you cannot love those who do not love you. Without God’s Spirit, you cannot have the joy of the Lord. Without God’s Spirit, you cannot have peace in the time of trouble. Without God’s Spirit, you will not have the patience to wait on the Lord. I’m telling you, you have to be filled with the Spirit.

Let us look into the lives of some of the people in Popeye’s world that chose not to eat spinach. First of all, there was Olive Oyl. You remember Olive Oyl don’t you? She was Popeye’s girlfriend. Now, Olive Oyl was not a bad person. She was kind of skinny and funny looking, but she was a very nice and pleasant young lady.
Her problem was that she would fall for every trick that Brutus came at her with. She used to make me so mad because Popeye would be trying to warn her. He would be begging her, saying “Olive, don’t go there. Olive, don’t do that”, but Olive Oyl just would not listen. She would go right ahead, following after Brutus and believing his lies until she found herself in something that she could not get out of.

Christians who are not filled with the Spirit are the same way. They will fall for every trick that Satan comes at them with. Other Christians will be trying to warn them, saying, “You shouldn’t be hanging out with that crowd. You know they don’t mean you any good.”
Aw yeah, they try to warn them, saying, “Look here brother. You shouldn’t be going to those places. You are going to get caught up in that same old stuff again.” Or, “Look here sister. You better watch that man. You know he doesn’t care about you. He’s just trying to get you into bed.”

Inevitably, just like Olive Oyl, some of you won’t listen. You go right ahead, following after Satan and believing his same old lies. Pretty soon, you start reminiscing and thinking about some of the things that you used to do, and some of the places that you used to go, and some of the people that you used to run with before you got saved.

Then Satan really starts talking to you. He’s says, “That stuff that you used to do wasn’t all bad. You really did have some good times back then. You just went too far. You can do some of that stuff again”

Then it starts sounding good, so you start agreeing with him, saying “Yeah, I know that God delivered me from a life of drugs, but I was smoking crack back then. I’m just going to smoke a little weed this time.” Or you’ll say, “I know I was a hopeless drunk when Jesus saved me, but I’m not going to drink Jack Daniels this time. I’m just going to drink wine coolers from now on.” Or you’ll say, “I know that I almost lost my family when I was laying up with Billy Bob, or Susie Bell, but I’m not going to sleep with them this time. I’m just going over there to have dinner.”
Before you know it, you’re going to find yourself: in trouble again, pregnant again, strung out again, in Jail again, or without hope again. Then all you have to do is just call on the Lord again, repent of your sins again, and ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit and then just hold on because help is on the way.

The next person that I want to tell you about was Wimpy. You remember Wimpy don’t you? “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday, for a hamburger today.” He was the negotiator. He always wanted to eat first, and then he would pay for it later, if he had to.
You know what I found out. There are a lot of Wimpy's in the church too. They are always trying to make a deal with God. They want God to bless them first, and then they might do what He wants them to do.

I can hear them now, “Lord, I will gladly tithe, if you will give me a better job”, or “Lord, I will start going to church every Sunday if you will just get me out of this mess that I’m in.”

Aw, come on now. You know we have some Wimpy’s in the church. They are the ones that are always praying those “I ain’t gone do it no more” prayers.
Finally, there was Sweet Pea. Little Sweet Pea. When I used to watch Popeye, Sweet Pea was a little baby, crawling around, drinking his milk from a bottle, saying “Goo Goo” and “Gaa Gaa”, and getting into all kinds of trouble because he didn’t know any better. That was almost 50 years ago.

You know what I found out? I found out that Sweet Pea is still a little baby. He is still crawling around. He is still drinking his milk from a bottle. He is still saying, “Goo Goo” and “Gaa Gaa”, and he is still getting into all kinds of trouble, because he still doesn’t know any better, 50 years later.
You might not know it, but there are a lot of Sweet Peas in our churches today. Some of them have been saved 20, 30, 40 years or more, and they are still babes in Christ. They have not grown.

They don’t go to Bible study. They don’t go to prayer meetings. They don’t attend revivals. They never fast and they do not pray. Therefore, they are making the same mistakes and getting into trouble because they still don’t know any better.
Guess what. I have another story for you. One day, a Sunday school teacher asked her class, “If you could be any Biblical character that you wanted, who would you chose to be, and why?” One little boy raised his hand and said, “I would be Moses because he was able to see God’s glory.” Another little boy raised his hand and said, “I would be David because he was the apple of God’s eye.” A little girl raised her hand and said, “I would be Mary because she was the mother of Jesus.”

Little Johnny, who was sitting in the back of the class, raised his hand and said, “I want to be Low.” The teacher said, “Johnny, there is no such person in the Bible”, but Johnny was insistent. He said, “Yes there is, teacher. There is a person in the Bible whose name is Low, and that is who I would want to be.”

The teacher said, “OK Johnny. Where in the Bible is there a person named Low?” Johnny said, “He is in Matthew, the 28th chapter, where Jesus said, “And Low, I am with you always.” Then he said, “The rest of the class can be whoever they want, but I want to be Low, because I want Jesus to be with me always.”

Although Little Johnny was confused in thinking that there was a person named Low, I agree with him. I want Jesus to be with me always too. When I am sick, I want Jesus to be with me. When I am in trouble, I want Jesus to be with me. When friends turn their backs on me, I want Jesus to be with me. When my family forsakes me, I want Jesus to be with me. Weeping may endure for a night but joy will come in the morning light. So hold on. Help is on the way. Hold on. Help is on the way.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, (surely) I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matt.28:19-20)

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
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Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

"He's Only A Prayer Away" Chapter 3

I have discovered that people who know little or nothing about the Bible, know little or nothing about heaven and hell. They have seen movies and cartoons that have been made on the subject; therefore, many of them believe that they know what lies ahead for them when their lives are over. Many of them believe that hell is going to be just one big party.

I can still remember some of the misconceptions that I once had concerning this matter when I was still living a life of sin. I had always said that I didn’t want to go to Heaven when I died. I honestly thought that Heaven was going to be the dullest place imaginable.

I mean, what was there to do for a player like me? There are no night clubs up there, and there are no wild parties or loose women running around. There are not even any drugs up there, so I couldn’t get high, kick back on one of the clouds and just chill out. So what was there to do besides walk around all day and sing a bunch of church songs that I didn’t even know? Besides, I figured that once the angels heard me sing, they weren’t going to let me join the choir anyway.

Why would I even want to go to heaven? I wasn’t going to know anyone there, at least not anyone that I wanted to hang out with. I figured that heaven was going to be full of squares. You know... people that had to work for a living, went to church on Sundays and went to bed at night. You know… those kinds of people.

No, heaven was not for me. There was not going to be any partying there either. The real party was going to be in hell where all of my friends were going to be. I could just see it, all of us down there together: Fuzzy, Tadpole, C.J., Red and all of the other players and hustlers. We would all be there, together again, smoking the best weed, sipping on some Johnny Walker Red and partying with some of the finest women in hell. What a good time that would be. It would be the ultimate party.

Although it might be a little warm and uncomfortable down there, I’d get used to it. Besides, you should see some of the hell holes that I have been in while here on earth.
I know that some of the things that I just said might be funny or unimaginable to some of you, but that was how I really felt. You would be surprised at the number of people who are lost, know they are on their way to hell, but think it is no big deal. In their eyes, hell is nothing they can’t handle.

Many of them feel that they have no choice in the matter. It is too late for them so they may as well make the best of it. Some of them think they might even enjoy it. It can’t be any worse than life has been for them here. We have to reach out to them and let them know that hell is not what they think it is. We have got to let them know that it ‘ain’t that kind of party’.

Some people believe that hell is a state of mind. Others think we make our own heaven and hell right here on earth. Carlton Pearson now teaches that no one is going to hell, but that is not what the Bible says.

Jesus said, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). If we are going to snatch sinners from the gates of hell, we must launch an all out offensive against Satan and his disciples. In order to do that, we must be prepared for warfare, and believe me when I say that this is definitely warfare.

As you can tell by my other books, I used to watch a lot of cartoons, movies and television programs such as Superman, Popeye, Mighty Mouse, and The Lone Ranger. Batman was another favorite. I really like the way that Batman prepares for battle. I truly believe that if we as Christians were to prepare for battle the way Batman prepares for battle, we would be awesome warriors for the Lord.

The first thing that he did was go to the Bat Cave. You see, Batman felt the need to get away from everything and everyone. He had to get away from Alfred. He had to get away from the mayor. He had to get away from all of the distractions of Gotham City, so he went to the Bat Cave where he could meditate and concentrate on the task at hand.

Sometimes Christians need to go the Bat Cave. We need to get away from our spouses. We need to get away from our friends. We need to get away from the television, the stereo, and all of the other distractions of the world. We need to go to the Bat Cave so we can meditate on God’s word, seek His guidance, and concentrate on the task at hand.

Jesus called it the secret place. “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt. 6: 6).

While Batman was in the Bat Cave he would do something that was very important. He would get on the Bat Phone. The Bat Phone was a very special phone because it was the main line that went straight to the commissioner. The Bat Phone was never busy. He always got through; no matter what time he called, day or night. When he got off of the Bat Phone he was ready for battle.

Let me tell you something. You cannot go to the Bat Cave and just sit there. You have to get on the Bat Phone. The Bat Phone is a very special phone because the main line goes straight to the commissioner, who is God Almighty. My grandmother used to sing a song that said, “Just call Him up and tell Him what you want.”

Something else that I noticed about the Bat Phone is it was a two-way line. Therefore, Batman did not always do the calling. Sometimes the phone would ring and it would be the commissioner wanting to discuss something with him.
Sometimes God wants to talk to you. Sometimes He wants to tell you something. Sometimes He doesn’t want to wait for you to call Him, so He will call you. That’s why the songwriter said, “Can’t sleep at night. That’s all right. Maybe God is trying to tell you something.”

So the next time you are having a sleepless night, it might be your Bat Phone ringing. Don’t just lay there tossing and turning. Get out of bed, go to your secret place, get down on your knees and answer your Bat Phone.
There was something else that I noticed about the Bat Cave. Whenever Batman went in there, he was not the same when he came out. He went in as Bruce Wayne, an ordinary citizen who had a lot of material things but no power. He went in dressed like everyone else. He walked like everyone else. He talked like everyone else. He acted like everyone else. But when he came out he was no longer like everyone else. He came out with his battle clothes on. He had on his cowl, his Bat suit, and his cape. He was ready for battle because he was wearing his uniform.

It is time for the Church of God to put its battle clothes on. You know what your battle clothes are, don’t you? The old saints used to call them war clothes. It is the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the Gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit.

There is something else that you need to know about Batman. After he went to the Bat Cave, spoke on the Bat Phone, and put on his cape, he got into his Bat Mobile and went on the mission of taking back the streets of Gotham City. He took the streets back from The Riddler. He took the streets back from The Penguin. He took the streets back from Cat Woman, Mr. Freeze, and The Joker.

We must have the same mind set. After we have spent time in the Bat Cave, spoken on the Bat Phone, and put our battle clothes on, we have to go into our communities and take back the streets of our cities. We have to take the streets back from the gang bangers. We have to take the streets back from the drug dealers. We have to take the streets back from the pimps, the players, the slum lords, and the crooked politicians. We have to go to them with the love of Jesus Christ. We have to let them know that God loves them. We have to make them understand that they don’t want to go to hell because it ‘ain’t that kind of party’.

If we get discouraged while delivering the message of salvation to our brothers; that is when we must remember to fall on our knees and ask the Lord for strength. He’s Only a Prayer Away.

He's Only A Prayer Away: Examples Of Praying Until Your Breakthrough
In stores Sept 1st, 2010 by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

Available at Barnes & Noble, and

Love you all,
Rev. Burton Barr Jr. (Author of "He's Only A Prayer Away", "The Hoodlum Preacher" and "Amazing Grace: The Storm Is Passing Over") & Cedric Mixon

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