Exceptions

JESUS SPEAKING

                At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath.  And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  And when the Pharisees witnessed it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”  But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” (Mathew Chapter 12: 1-4.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                God created the universe in six days and on the seventh day He rested. Mankind was therefore commanded to follow His example.  Every seventh day was set aside as a day of rest; a day on which no work was to be done; a day of fellowship with family and friends; a time to pray and remember the blessings of God.  During the first century, many overly zealous religious leaders believed it was their duty to enforce God’s laws. Blinded by rigid traditionalism, they weren’t able to see the numerous situations that warranted breaking the fourth commandment. When they saw Jesus plucking wheat, they accused him of harvesting; thereby violating the Sabbath. He responded by quoting an Old Testament scripture. When King Saul sought to kill David, David fled with a handful of soldiers.  Wearied and hungry, he and his companions entered a temple and ate the showbread from the altar (a sacred loaf strictly reserved for the priests.)  In order to survive, he did what wasn’t lawful; and yet God didn’t condemn him.  Providing for those in need is the greatest of all of the commandments; in certain unique circumstances, it can, and will supersede a number of other laws.

                One day a confused woman asked me an important question.  She said, “I was recently offered a part-time job working on Saturday and Sunday.  I really need the money, but I don’t want to break the Sabbath by working on the weekend.  What should I do?”  I asked her if the job was necessary for her survival.  Indeed, she needed the additional income to purchase food and to pay her rent.  I indicated that when David was starving, he broke the law by eating the showbread from the altar. God didn’t fault him for doing what was necessary to survive; and he wouldn’t fault her either. In very unique circumstances, we must break the law in order to fulfill the law of love. [Warning:  God does not condone situational ethics.  Stealing is always wrong; as is laziness and adultery; there is never a situation where drunkenness is necessary; nor will circumstances ever require fornication, lewdness, or idolatry, for example.]

                The Lord is a compassionate and understanding Father; He’s the giver of divine wisdom.  Although His laws are supreme and unchanging, His will is not always so rigid and legalistic. Extreme human need often necessitates exceptions. Wisdom concerning such instances can only come from God. We must never presume to know His heart. Instead, through prayer, we can receive critical direction and discernment. May we always seek His will in every situation; may compassion be our trusted guide and understanding our ally. May we never forget that the law of love is the greatest of all of the commandments.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, may we receive Your wisdom.  Give us understanding and fill our hearts with love.  Your laws are without error; yet You desire to provide for those in need; in turn, You aren’t overly zealous; You make benevolent exceptions, where and when they are needed.  As we minister to others, may we respond to every unique circumstance in love; without condoning evil.  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 is calling you

JESUS SPEAKING

                Then he said to another, “Follow me.”  But the man said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”  And another also said, “Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  But Jesus said to him, “No one having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9: 59-62.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Jesus Christ called many; few chose to answer his call.  The calling of God demands immediate and absolute obedience.  When Jesus called Simon and Andrew they were busy fishing. How did they respond? We read, “They immediately left their nets and followed him.”  The priority of the first man in this scripture was to attend to the burial of his father.  Jesus beckoned him to focus on the living, not the dead (the man’s Father was likely an unbeliever.)  The second individual desired to return home to say farewell to his family; thereby placing his loved ones ahead of God. The Jewish people were very familiar with agricultural practices; plowing, planting, and reaping were intimate aspects of their existence. Which is why Jesus used a farming illustration to express an important truth. When driving the ox and plow, a farmer’s eyes remained focused on the field ahead; looking back served only to distract the driver from his necessary work. The world today is full of diversions, obstacles, and enticements. Distractions are dangerous; they can prevent us from accomplishing God’s will.

                According to the national highway safety commission, 80% of all car crashes involve driver distraction.  These statistics proved true for a man named Stephen in 1983.  One sunny morning he hopped in his new Mercedes Benz; with the top down and the wind in his face, he set out for an important appointment.  As he drove up the coast of Southern California, he passed by a certain beach.  His attentions unexpectedly turned to a young blond woman wearing a bikini.  As she jogged passed his vehicle, his mind, heart, and eyes, followed along with her. The image of a complete stranger took priority over the road, his destination, and even his new wife Sandy.  Suddenly, he smashed in to the back end of a Chevelle that had come to a complete stop in his lane.  Although Stephen’s body remained uninjured, his pride, and the front end of his Mercedes weren’t quite as lucky.  When driving, the road ahead must take precedence over everything else. To reach our destination, we must abandon every trivial distraction.

                Jesus Christ has called many; still, few have responded in the serious and immediate manner required for discipleship. If you have felt called by the Lord, let go of this fading existence and grab hold of the plow. Make God the priority. Preach the gospel to all those you meet; accomplish the work of the Lord and avoid distractions. This life is a passing dream; keep your eyes, mind, and heart, focused on God; and you will certainly reach your divine destination.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we ask that You would be our first priority.  May our eyes be continually focused upon You. Take control of our lives and be our Master.  Help us to avoid distractions.  Give us the wisdom and strength to finish what You have started; until the day that we enter Your eternal Kingdom.  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 is our Friend

JESUS SPEAKING

                “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15: 14 – 15.) 

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                After eating the Passover feast, the Lord said farewell to his closest companions.  In a long discourse (filled with emotion and love) Jesus revealed God’s complete plan to the disciples.  During this address, those who had called him Master were urged to consider him a ‘friend.’  The term ‘friend’ implied a deeper, more intimate relationship.  In ancient times, masters and servants were never equals; they weren’t partners; and they certainly were never friends; their positions prevented them from close personal fellowship.  In order to preserve authority and respect, the master had to maintain a safe distance (as “familiarity breeds disrespect.”)  Yet the ‘King of Kings’ (Jesus) shattered the barriers that hindered true intimacy.  The disciples became his equals; no longer was he just their Lord and master; he became their brother; their closest companion; and their greatest friend.

                At the age of 19, I worked as a guard and a counselor in a minimum security juvenile facility.  My role was that of a disciplinarian.  Often, when a child misbehaved, we had to intervene and physically restrain them.  The staff was given a great deal of power and authority.  Although we interacted with the children in positive ways, we had to maintain a professional distance.  Too much intimacy caused them to lose respect for us and our positions.  If they came to believe we were their equals, they would question and disobey our commands.  Those who falsely see God as an equal lose respect for Him.  Fear of God is good; those who fear Him are aware of his power and authority.   We read in Proverbs, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  In turn, God sent His Son, so that all could know Him as a ‘friend’ as well as a Father.

                God must always be honored and respected; (He is our master and we are His servants); in turn, there is a distance between God and man.  In His divine wisdom, He chose to use His only Son to draw near to all people.  Jesus Christ is God’s gift to mankind.  He is God in a form we need not fear; we need only approach Him in love; we are free to speak to Him; to fellowship with Him; and to be in communion with Him.  He is more than our teacher, our master, and our shepherd; he is our brother; he is our closest companion; he is our best friend.  Would you like to know God?  If you seek closeness with God embrace Jesus Christ and he will comfort you and give you peace; look to the Son of God and you will know his Father.  Invite him in to your heart and he will teach you all things; and “you will know the truth; and the truth shall make you free.”

                “Lord Heavenly Father we love You, and we thank You for Your son.  We desire to draw near to him; may every obstacle be removed, and every barrier destroyed.  May he be our brother, our companion, and our friend.  May we confide in You Lord; may we look to You for direction, for love, and for comfort.  We love You Father; we love You Jesus; we praise You and we thank You; and we ask all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you. 

 

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.



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