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.

God’s Compassion

JESUS SPEAKING

                And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.  Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”  Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  And He said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”  And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11: 28-37.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS   

               When Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha they were already in mourning for the loss of their brother Lazarus; whom they had recently buried.  The Lord’s heart was filled with compassion and empathy; and he began weeping with them.  His tears weren’t shed for Lazarus (he would soon raise his fallen friend from the dead); instead, he cried because he felt the suffering of Martha and Mary.  God’s compassion is immeasurable.  He knows and experiences every pain we will ever endure.  Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering.”

                One day I happened by a man named Eric.  He was sitting outside of a coffee shop, slouching in a chair; he looked more dead than alive.  Eric was sweating profusely and his skin appeared pale and clammy.  His clothes were old and tattered and he badly needed a shower.  Upon seeing his painful condition, I was moved to sit down and talk with him.  He was experiencing heroine withdrawal.  I took him out to eat and got him some clean clothes.  Later, as his condition deteriorated I took him to the hospital.  I sat with him in the emergency room for hours and accompanied him in to see the doctor.  He was treated, and released.  Before dropping Eric off, I bought him some food and supplies, and told him that I was available if he needed anything else.  Nearly a year later, Eric showed up at the coffee shop to say hello.  He told me that after our interaction, he had nearly died and was hospitalized for an extended period of time with a heart infection.  He thanked me for my efforts, and said that without my assistance, he might not be alive.  Even when his friends had abandoned him, someone cared enough to help.  I reassured him that it was God who deserved the credit; for it was God’s compassion that had been placed in my heart; without the Lord’s Spirit, guidance, and direction, I would’ve kept walking just like everyone else.

                God instills His concerns, emotions, and feelings in to the heart of every believer.  In turn, the Holy Spirit moves us to accomplish great acts of compassion.  The closer we grow to the Lord, the more compassion we will feel for those who are hurting.  Wherever love abounds, God’s spirit can be found; where there is indifference and a deficit of compassion, the Holy Spirit is lacking.  There are so many broken people in this world who need to be loved; some pass by the afflicted without stopping to consider them; but God compels others to act.  May the Lord’s compassion lead you to action; may you feel what God feels; may you see with His eyes; and may you step out in faith and take the time to relieve the suffering of others.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we desire to know You and to be filled with Your compassion.  Inspire us to help those who are hurting; give us the strength to reach out to the lost.  May we be kind to the needy and love the stranger.  May we be used to communicate Your love to all those we meet.  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.

Persecution

JESUS SPEAKING

                “If the world hates you, you will know that it hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I have spoken to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15: 18 – 20.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Jesus was persecuted relentlessly during his earthly ministry.  He was slandered publicly and privately.  He was shunned by many, and ridiculed, even by members of his own family.  His message was so offensive that he was nearly stoned to death on a number of occasions.  Eventually, despite his miraculous feats, and his immeasurable love, Jesus Christ was abandoned by his closest friends; he was bound and beaten; spit upon and crucified.  Those who choose to follow him can expect to experience similar forms of persecution.

                Eleven of the twelve disciples were brutally martyred for their unwavering faith (the twelfth was imprisoned until his eventual death.)  Each disciple paid the ultimate price for fearlessly spreading the gospel throughout the known world.  Although physical peril is a common type of persecution, it comes in many other forms.  One day as I sat studying in the local coffee shop, I began talking with a Muslim friend concerning the tenants of the Christian faith.  As I presented her with the gospel, a women sitting next to us became visibly upset.  Not knowing that we were already friends, she yelled “Can’t you see she doesn’t want to talk to you about that?”  The woman continued to verbally harass me, making every effort to subvert the conversation.  In the midst of the pestering, I looked at my friend and said, “This is the type of persecution that occurs when you become a believer.”  Eventually the woman became so disruptive that we had to end our discussion.

                Persecution is an inevitable consequence of genuine faith.  If we are not experiencing some kind of persecution, then perhaps we are keeping our beliefs hidden away; choosing safety and security above obedience to the Lord.  Still there are those who boldly spread the gospel message; making every effort to lead others to God.  These individuals can expect to be persecuted.  Persecution in any form isn’t very pleasant; yet it is a reminder that we are earnestly following in the footsteps of our teacher, our master, and our friend.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, provide us with opportunities to preach the gospel to others.  May we reach out to those who might become our brothers and sisters.  Strengthen us when we encounter persecution; that we might stand firm in the faith.  Give us courage to boldly speak the truth; that we would continue to emulate our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  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.

Powerful Conversions

JESUS SPEAKING

            “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.  And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  “So I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’  And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.  I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26: 12-18.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            There was once a very angry young man named Saul who passionately hated Christians; after Jesus ascended in to heaven, Saul traveled from synagogue to synagogue, beating, harassing, and even killing those Jews who openly professed a faith in Jesus Christ.  One day, while traveling to Damascus to persecute believers, God intervened in Saul’s life.  Jesus appeared to him and said, ‘it is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  [Oxen were trained to pull heavy plows; an untrained ox would often try to kick itself free.  In turn, farmers attached sharp pieces of metal to the plow (otherwise known as ‘goads.’)  When the ox kicked the plow, it would stab itself in the leg; the harder the kick, the more painful the sensation.  After a short time the animal would learn to accept its position.]  Like an untrained beast, Saul had been struggling against the call of God.  After his visitation, Saul finally quit fighting; he accepted Jesus as his Lord and savior; he also changed his name to Paul, and went on to write many of the letters in the New Testament.  Throughout history, some of the greatest Christian leaders have often been those who were once the devout enemies of God.

            Sir William Ramsay was one of the most influential scientific minds of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He taught at Oxford, and is credited with discovering several new elements; he also received numerous scientific awards and honors.  Ramsay had been raised as a non-believer; his parents were atheist (a disposition he also clung to for most of his life.)  He had little respect for Christianity; in fact he claimed that the bible was nothing more than “a book of fables.”  He began to study archaeology and eventually he traveled to the Middle East in hopes of disproving the historical accuracy of the bible.  After 25 years of travel and research, he was forced to concede that even the most minuscule details of the New Testament were accurate.  Instead of writing a book disproving the validity of scripture, Ramsay wrote a book entitled “St. Paul, the Traveler and Roman Citizen.”  In it, he presented his findings; all of which supported the reliability of the bible.  Convinced by the evidence, Ramsay shocked his colleagues and fellow intellectuals by announcing that he had converted to Christianity.

            Like Paul, and like Sir William Ramsay, there are many today who are kicking “against the goads.”  God however, is still actively intervening in the lives of atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers the world around.  If you are raging against the call of God, stop struggling; give up, and give in.  Let the Lord in to your heart; He will replace your pain with peace; your hatred will give way to love, and your sorrow will turn to joy; if you would only surrender to Him, you would know true freedom; for you would come to know the eternal and everlasting God.

            “Lord Father, may Your perfect will be done in our lives.  We pray for those who “kick against the goads.”  Soften their hearts and cleanse their minds, that they may come to believe in Your Son, and in the redemption he has offered through his sacrifice.  May they embrace and receive Your free gift of salvation through faith.  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.

Second Chances

JESUS SPEAKING

                When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  A third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”  He said, “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” […] and when he had said this he said, “Follow me.” (John 21: verse 15 – 19.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                On the night that Jesus was arrested, nearly every disciple abandoned him.  As the armed soldiers escorted Jesus to the high priest for questioning, Peter followed at a distance.  When they arrived at their destination, Peter sat down and watched as an angry crowd condemned his master.  They hurled insults at him and spit on him; they also blindfolded Jesus and repeatedly struck him in the face.  As Peter observed the brutality of the mob, his heart began to fail; his confidence gave way to fear.  Three times he was asked if he was a follower of Jesus Christ; and three times he denied his affiliation.  He eventually ran off disgraced and ashamed.  After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples.   They shared a meal and fellow-shipped.  The Lord took Peter aside and didn’t condemn him for his denials.  Instead, he absolved him of sin and gave him a second chance.  He called Peter to lead and care for those who were giving their lives to God.

                In the late 1800’s there lived an ambitious inventor named Thomas Edison.  He is credited with inventing the battery, the phonograph, the telegraph, the movie projector, and many other well known devices.  One of his greatest inventions was the first industrial light bulb (an item we still use today.)  As the story goes, it took Mr. Edison and an entire team of men, 24 hours to produce the first working prototype.  After the many long hours, Edison gave the bulb to a young boy to carry up the stairs to the testing area.  With the fragile device in hand, the nervous assistant cautiously made his ascent; every step was a carefully planned exercise.  Sadly, despite the child’s best efforts, he shattered the bulb.  The disappointed team began manufacturing another prototype.  Twenty four hours later, the new bulb appeared.  Although the young assistant had failed the first time, Edison wisely understood that the boy deserved a second chance.  The youngster didn’t disappoint; he delivered the bulb to its destination intact. [Note:  The world, unlike Mr. Edison, is not so forgiving.  There are many today who cannot find work, or are stuck in horrible jobs because of crimes they committed 10, 20, even 40 years ago.  They are condemned by, and find little reprieve from the sins of their past.]

                The world is filled with people who have failed in more ways than one; mistakes are a part of life.  Human beings can be unforgiving and cruel, but God is merciful.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to give others a second chance; to forgive and forget.  In so doing, we too will be set free from the guilt of our past mistakes; forgiveness is the pathway to peace; and mercy is the road that leads to true fellowship with the eternal God.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we have made many mistakes; but You have created in us a new heart.  You have given us a second chance.  May we show that same love toward others; may we forgive completely, and may we manifest Your mercy and grace in the lives of all those we meet.  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.



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