Publicly Professing the Faith

JESUS SPEAKING

                “I also say to you, whoever confesses me before men, him the Son of Man will confess before the angels of God.  But he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12: 8 – 9.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Pride plays a major role in what we communicate to others; most intuitively hide what is unimportant or shameful, while openly expressing the attributes they hold most dear.  In American culture, individuals utilize social media to post quotes, publish photos, and transmit thoughts.  Many also use billboards, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and jewelry to convey their beliefs.  Yet in a nation supposedly comprised of a Christian majority, Jesus Christ rarely occupies the top position.   He is often displaced by seemingly more important things; like a career, a family, a political candidate, a sports team, a noteworthy cause, or even a unique lifestyle.

                Throughout history Christians have been persecuted for their outward professions of faith.  In many countries today, those who openly convert from Islam to Christianity face execution and imprisonment.  Only some are afforded the right to a trial; during these mock proceedings, evidence of a true conversion is presented against the accused.  To test the genuineness of our faith, we must ask ourselves a hypothetical question; “If we were to go on trial for our lives, what evidence would our accusers have to convict us of being true Christians?”  Would we be blamed for spreading the gospel?  Would we be found guilty of outwardly displaying our beliefs without shame or remorse?  Would others willingly testify that we followed the teachings of Jesus Christ?  Would we be condemned by love, and convicted for the faith?

                Those who are proud to be disciples are truly committed to the Lord.  As believers we must actively seek to express our beliefs in obvious and practical ways; through words, deeds, and nonverbal communication.  Whether it’s the bumper sticker that reads, “Jesus is Lord,” or the cross that hangs from our neck; outward displays of devotion strengthen our relationship with God.  Each time we openly express our love for Christ, we grow closer to our Heavenly Father; who in turn, showers down upon us, all of His spiritual blessings.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, give us the strength and the desire to share our faith with others.  May we never be ashamed to be called Your Sons and Daughters.  Continue to be our number one love; may nothing ever come before You.  In Your wisdom, give us opportunities to communicate Your message to those who are devoid of understanding; that they too would come to know You as we have.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things in Jesus Christ’s name, amen.”  God bless all of you. 

Leftovers taste great

JESUS SPEAKING

                Then Jesus went from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a woman of Caanan came from that region and cried out to him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is severely demon possessed.”  But he said to her not a word.  And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  But he answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Then she came and worshiped him, saying, “Lord, help me!”  But he answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  And she said, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table.”  Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be to you as you desire!”  And her daughter was healed from that very hour (Mathew 15: 21-28.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                In first century Jewish culture, dogs were considered dirty animals; they scavenged through garbage heaps; feeding on the scraps that human’s refused to eat.  The Hebrew people commonly referred to non-Jews (gentiles) as dogs.  Jesus called the begging woman a dog; an insult designed to test her heart.  She didn’t react in anger; she didn’t hurl insults at him.  Instead, she laid down her pride, embraced his assessment, and continued chasing her miracle.  Because she exhibited true humility, Jesus granted her request and praised her for her faith. 

                When I was a small child, my family usually ate meals around a dining room table.  Of course we were expected to devour everything on our plates; even the things we didn’t enjoy.  Brutis, our overeager collie, always sat patiently beside the table.  When my mother exited the room, my siblings and I would gently lower our dishes and Brutis would lick them clean.  When she returned, she was pleased to see our empty plates.  Our dog wasn’t prideful; he never complained about the taste of the food; nor did he consider leftovers and scraps undignified.  Instead, he joyfully consumed whatever we rejected. 

                The Jewish people were God’s priority in the first century, and they hold a preferred place even today.  Jesus was Jewish; as were John, Peter, Paul, and the other 10 disciples.  In fact, only one of the books in the New Testament was written by a non-Jewish author.  Whenever Paul entered a new city, he would walk straight in to the synagogue and proclaim the gospel.  Only after they had rejected the message, did he preach to the gentiles.  By the grace and mercy of God, we as non-Jews have come to inherit eternal life.  If you are Jewish and you have faith in God’s son, you are blessed.  If you are gentile, you can humbly and joyfully devour the divine leftovers (they are just as wonderful as the main course.)  Know your place and God will honor you.  By discarding pride and embracing His mercy, you will experience the desires of your heart, and you will “dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”  [Note:  Despite God’s love for the Jewish people, Jesus Christ has broken down the barriers of inequality that divide Jews and gentiles.  ‘We are all one in Christ Jesus.’]

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Jewish people, and for the salvation You have offered them through Your Son.  We love them because You love them.  May we all, Jew and gentile alike, humbly accept Your message; knowing that we are undeserving of Your grace.  Grant us the miracle of reconciliation, that we might experience Your wonderful mercy.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these thing, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.”  God bless all of you.

Avoiding Partiality

JESUS SPEAKING

                Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.  And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.  For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God” (Luke 16: 14-15.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS 

                What the world considers valuable and what God considers valuable are often in direct opposition.  Most esteem beauty, wealth, fame, power, and intellect above Godliness, compassion, love, humility, and genuine mercy.  The Pharisees (religious leaders) hearts were wicked; they preferred interacting with the wealthy, affluent, and well educated. Jesus however, fellowshipped with repentant prostitutes and tax collectors; he reached out to the lame and befriended many outcasts. He avoided showing any form of ungodly partiality; preferring instead, to honor and esteem only those things that God deemed commendable.

                In the Old Testament, we read of a time when it became necessary to anoint a new king to rule over the nation of Israel.  The Lord commanded the prophet Samuel to travel to Bethlehem, where he was instructed to choose a king from among the Sons of Jesse.  Upon arriving, Samuel laid his eyes upon Eliab (one of the eldest sons); Eliab was mature, healthy, and strong.  The prophet, being mislead by worldly values, proclaimed, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him!”  God responded, saying, “Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature, because I have refused him, for the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  After God had rejected seven of Jesse’s eldest sons, it appeared that there was no one left.  Samuel asked if all his Sons were present; Jesse replied, “Well there remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.”  When David, the youngest and weakest of Jesse’s son’s appeared, God said, “Arise and anoint him, for this is the one.”  In time it became apparent why God chose David. He possessed priceless spiritual values; he was wise and loved God with his whole heart; his courage and faith were unshakable.

                In all cultures it is common to show partiality; most prefer the wealthy, affluent, and good looking; yet to highly esteem such attributes is to error. The apostle James wrote, “For if there should come in to your assembly a man with Gold rings ‘and also’ a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or “Sit at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”  Every believer must therefore make an effort to avoid esteeming worldly values.  With God’s help, we can be impartial; we can see with His eyes; we can become lovers of truth; men and women who adore kindness, cherish compassion, and embrace mercy.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, guide us, and lead us as we journey through this life.  Give us clean hearts, that we might avoid partiality, and love what is truly good.  May we turn away from worldly pursuits, and walk in Your ways; may we love what You love; may we value what You value; and may we live as You have lived.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.”  God bless all of you.

Who’s traveling with you?

JESUS SPEAKING

            Now it happened, on a certain day, that he got into a boat with his disciples.  And he said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.”  And they launched out.  But as they sailed he fell asleep.  And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy.  And they came to him and awoke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”  Then he arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water.  And they ceased, and there was a calm.  But he said to them, “Where is your faith?”  And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be?  For he commands even the winds and water, and they obey him!” (Luke 8: 22-25.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            The Sea of Galilee is the lowest (below sea level) freshwater lake in the world.  Because it sits beside the Mediterranean, warm and cool air collide; producing fierce storms that arise almost instantaneously.  Jesus and his disciples were crossing this sea when a violent squall threatened to capsize their vessel.  As the Lord peacefully slept in the back of the boat, his companions began panicking.  Fear caused them to forget who was accompanying them on their journey.  After being roused, Jesus calmed the storm and asked them, “Where is your faith?”  Fear and faith are natural enemies.  The presence of one often signals the absence of the other.  People are gripped with fear when they lose faith in the God who dwells within them.  He is a loving Father who has promised to ‘never leave us, nor forsake us.’  As David once wrote in Psalm 23, “I shall fear no evil, for you are with me.”

            Some time ago, I interacted with a man who frequented the coffee shop where I studied.  He often appeared to be under a great deal of stress.  His fearful, unsettled, and distracted demeanor was difficult to overlook.  One day he leaned over and said, “Can you give me a scripture, or something from the bible that will help me remember that ‘God will never give me more than I can handle?”  I recalled for him the story of Jesus calming the storm.  His disciples feared they were going to capsize and drown; but God kept them from perishing.  I reminded him that the size of the waves and the level of desperation were unimportant; rather, what truly mattered was who was traveling in the boat with him.  By implication, he understood that if Jesus was in his heart, he would always stay afloat.

            Today, our lives are like vessels gliding across the sea.  Sometimes the surface is tranquil; and sometimes it’s stormy; only those who invite Jesus to accompany them on their voyage will make it to the other side.  No true believer will ever slip beneath the waves; for the Lord himself will cause the wind and waves to cease.  When you feel fear, remember the promises of God; have faith and you’ll survive whatever storm you’re enduring; your life will be preserved because the Lord is with you.

            “Lord Heavenly Father, may we always remember that Your Son dwells within our hearts; accompanying us as we journey through life.  Protect us from the storms that arise along the way; destroy our fears and increase our faith.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

Amends

JESUS SPEAKING

                “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mathew 5: 23-24.)               

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                No one can have a close relationship with God in a vacuum; human beings live within complex social structures; communities made up of family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even complete strangers.  Our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with God.  When we sin against our neighbor, we also sin against our Lord.  If we lie, slander, and hate another person, we have lied, slandered, and hated our own creator.  In the first century, many Jewish families traveled long distances to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins; having received forgiveness, they were restored to a right relationship with God.  Jesus teaches us that we are to first be reconciled to our neighbor; only then are we permitted to approach the Lord and honor Him with our sacrifices.  Today, this commandment, known as ‘making amends,’ is still an essential Christian practice.

                When I came to California many years ago, I began working a 12 step program; a system designed to help me overcome a horrible drug addiction.  The creators of the program were almost all Christians.  In turn, the steps were heavily influenced by the teachings found in the book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians, 13.  After becoming a Christian, I discovered that Christ’s command to make amends, likely inspired the founders to create the 8th and 9th steps.  The eighth step reads, “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to amends to them all.”  The ninth step reads, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”  From 2005 until today, I’ve continued making amends to those I’ve harmed.  I’ve made restitution and paid off every delinquent debt; I’ve also asked for forgiveness from those who were affected by my sins.  With every debt paid and every apology given, I’ve felt my spirit drawing nearer to my teacher, my Lord, and my Friend.

                Today, in order to move forward with God, you might consider delving in to your past.  Examine your previous mistakes.  If you’ve stolen from anyone, pay them back; if you’ve lied, and your lies have caused hardship, return and speak the truth.  If by mistreating others, you have created resentments, you are commanded to humble yourself, and request forgiveness.  Making amends is an important Christian practice.  We’ve all sinned; but what we do with those sins will determine whether we grow closer to the Lord, or remain at a distance.  The choice is ours to make.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, bring to our remembrance the names of those we have harmed; may we approach them and make restitution.  Give us the strength and the humility to ask for forgiveness; that we might be reconciled to those who are resentful.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

A difficult question?

JESUS SPEAKING

                “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father also.  If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both me and my father” (John 15: 22 – 24.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Jesus Christ preached throughout Israel for up to three years before being crucified.  He preached in the cities; in the wilderness; in the temple; in homes and on street corners; he preached to every capable Israelite.  He was so well known that he needed to travel by boat to avoid being thronged by the crowds.  Yet, despite seeing the miracles and hearing God’s message of repentance and forgiveness, many rejected him.  Others chose to avoid hearing him entirely; willfully embracing ignorance.  Still, voluntary ignorance is the same as complete rejection; and is therefore no excuse.  On the contrary, those who were never made aware of the message are not under condemnation.

                In my years of evangelism, I have interacted with numerous skeptics, agnostics, and atheists, who often use a common question to challenge God’s perfect justice: “If you can’t get to heaven without accepting Jesus Christ; what about the child in Africa who dies without ever having heard the gospel?  Are they going to go to hell?”  The answer is no.  God does not condemn the naive.  Those who are ignorant are innocent; yet those who have heard “have no excuse for their sin.”  Many refuse to open a bible or enter a church, believing that by not accepting or rejecting Jesus they will avoid condemnation.  They are wrong; voluntary ignorance is the same as complete rejection.

                The Followers of Jesus Christ continue to preach the gospel to this day.  Some accept him; some deny him; and others simply refuse to investigate.  God forgives the truly naive, but condemns the willingly ignorant.  There are very few places on earth where Christ’s message has yet to be preached.  Perhaps some remote tribe in the Amazon hasn’t heard the truth; or maybe a young child in a Hindu household in India remains ignorant?  God is just and holy; He commits no evil; we have come to understand from this scripture that the genuinely ignorant are not eternally condemned.  His word again provides the answer to a difficult question.  Dive in to the bible and you will find the answers you seek.  Meditate upon His precepts and He will use you to preach the gospel; to illuminate the uninformed, and to bring hope to the hopeless.  Through you, many will come to know His goodness, His mercy, and His love.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we recognize Your perfect justice.  We acknowledge that You are good and not evil.  May we be equipped to answer every question we are asked.  Empower us through Your Holy Spirit; may we be bold; may we illuminate darkened minds, and preach the gospel to the ignorant.  May we be Your messengers in this place.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.”  God bless all of you.  

God honors those who honor Him

JESUS SPEAKING

                Now as Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and is dreadfully tormented.”  And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”  The centurion answered saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.  But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.  And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!  And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.”  And his servant was healed that same hour. (Mathew 8: 5-13.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                The Roman Empire conquered the Holy Land in 63 B.C.; and due to the continued threat of rebellion, there were soldiers permanently stationed there in the first century.  A ‘centurion’ was an officer in charge of 100 soldiers; they were usually men of impeccable character.  This centurion came to Jesus and humbled himself; he publicly confessed his own unworthiness and praised him; in so doing he honored God’s Son.  Jesus then honored the centurion by publicly lifting up his faith above every Jew in Israel.  God continues to honor those who lower themselves and exalt Him.  Our savior has said that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

                In 1924 a Scotsman named Eric Liddell was expected to win Olympic gold in the 100 meter dash.  Eric had grown up in a missionary family and was a committed Christian.  He had been raised to faithfully observe the Sunday Sabbath (a weekly day of rest commanded by the Lord in the Old Testament.)  When Eric found out that the 100 meter dash was scheduled for a Sunday, he made the decision to ‘sit it out.’  He was pressured to run by his countrymen and by many powerful people, but remained convinced that honoring God on His day was more important than winning a medal.  A few months before the Olympics, he decided to begin training for the 400 meter dash (an event that wasn’t on Sunday.)  No one expected him to do well.  On the day of the race, while approaching the starting blocks, an American trainer placed a piece of paper in Eric’s hand.  There was a bible verse written on it.  1 Samuel verse 2:30 read, “Those who honor me I will honor.”  Eric ran that race for God; not only did he win the gold medal, he also broke the world record.  He had pushed his own desire for glory aside; because he honored God, the Lord exalted Eric above his fellows.   

                Placing God in His proper position necessitates humility.  Honoring Him requires selflessness.  We become less important and He becomes more important.  He is righteous and we are unrighteous; He is worthy and we are unworthy.  We forgo glory so that God may have it.  Only those who raise Him up in this life will be raised up into everlasting life.  Here we die, so in the future we may live.  There are so many ways to glorify God.  We can make Him a continued topic of discussion in our personal relationships.  We can pray to Him, and seek His counsel daily. We can give credit to the Lord for the good works that we do.  When we do something for another person, we can say, “This is from the Lord.” When a person attempts to thank us, we can politely remind them that Jesus Christ is the one they should thank.  When other people call us good, we can inform them that our goodness comes from God.  May we continually place the focus on Him; may we give Him the glory; may we honor Him with our lives; so that one day we might receive the honor he has promised to all those who believe.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, give us opportunities to honor and glorify You.  May our hearts be humble, and our minds pure.  Give us the strength to lay down our lives in this place, so that we might better serve you.  May we, through humility receive the gift of eternal life.  We love You Lord, we thank You, and we praise You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.



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