Relying on God

JESUS SPEAKING

          Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of me this very night, for it is written:  ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of you, I will never be made to stumble.”  Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you that this very night, before the rooster crows, you shall deny me three times.”  Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you” (Mathew 26: 31-35.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Peter boldly rejected Christ’s prophecy; he vainly exalted himself above the other disciples, saying, “Even if all are made to stumble because of you, I will never be made to stumble.”  Despite great effort, he would go on to deny the Lord three times before morning.  Jesus promised that he would eventually send a replacement; after his resurrection and ascension, he fulfilled his commitment; Peter and the other disciples received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  After receiving God’s Spirit, Peter’s strength was restored; he immediately entered a crowded temple and boldly preached the gospel.  The Peter that denied Christ leaned on his own strength; the Peter that proclaimed Christ relied upon God’s power.  For the sake of Christ, Peter went on to endure beatings, imprisonment, persecutions without number, and even death [he was crucified upside down in the city of Rome.]  Without God, it is difficult to accomplish even the simplest tasks.  But with God, it is possible to move mountains.

          Peter shares the experience of divine empowerment with some other notable men of the bible.  While the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, a young Hebrew man named Moses who had grown up in Pharaoh’s household, believed it was his destiny to free his people.  One day, Moses witnessed an Egyptian task master, beating one of his countrymen.  Filled with rage, and a sense of duty, he killed the Egyptian.  In an effort to conceal his crime, he buried the body beneath the sand.  The body was discovered, and a few days later, Moses’ life was in jeopardy.  Alone, and defeated, he fled to the desert and became a shepherd.  For decades he cared for livestock.  At the approximate age of 80 God appeared to him and instructed him to return to Egypt to free his people.  He responded by telling God he wasn’t ‘the right man for the job.’  He no longer believed he was capable of accomplishing the task.  A once prideful and self-reliant young man, had become an old man who recognized his own weakness (apart from God); he was finally ready to be used by the Lord.  The young Moses, with his own power, was unable to bury even a single Egyptian.  The mature Moses, utilizing God’s power, led a nation to freedom, and buried the entire Egyptian army beneath the waves of the red sea.

          Western culture promotes self-reliance; in the divine culture, reliance upon God is paramount.  Is there anything in your life that you are trying to accomplish on your own?  Are you attempting to endure a difficult trial unaided?  Are you struggling to overcome an addiction in isolation?  Do you look to God for provision, or are you the provider?  Your best efforts will never compare to the works of God.  No matter how large the obstacle, or how great the need, if you humble yourself, you will harness the power of the one true and living God.  Do this, and you will be able to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4: 13.)

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we honor and praise You.  You are an amazing God.  Apart from You we are weak and incapable of accomplishing good things.  Be our strength; may we rely upon You and not upon ourselves.  Give us victory over the things that cause us to stumble; may we stand firm, may we endure, and may we overcome.  May our hearts be humble, and our lives filled with joy.  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.

Saving Sinners

JESUS SPEAKING

          And after these things he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office.  And he said to him, “Follow Me.”  And he left all, rose up, and followed Him.  Then Levi gave him a great feast in his own house.  And there was a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.  And the scribes and Pharisees complained against his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5: 27-32.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Tax collectors in Israel were Jewish citizens who had ‘sold-out’ to the Roman Empire; and thus turned against their own people.  The Roman taxes were often severe, and tax collectors earned their living by over-taxing the people; in turn, they were passionately despised.  The religious leaders were enraged because Jesus was eating with these types of sinners.  Jewish meals were extremely intimate affairs; those who dined together dipped into the same bowls and drank from the same cups.  Most Jews were very careful who they ate with because they falsely believed that sin could be transferred from one person to another through the sharing of food.  The Son of God however, was not concerned with being contaminated by the sins of others.  Instead, his purity was infecting and cleansing the evil hearts of those who dined with him.  The messiah’s purpose was to seek and to save the lost; to bring light into the lives of those who dwelled in darkness; he came to heal the sick and to restore to fellowship, those who had turned away from the paths of righteousness.

          In 1464 a block of Marble weighing nearly 9 tons was shipped to the Cathedral of the Santa Maria Del Fiore in Italy.  From it, an artist was commissioned to carve a massive sculpture of a young King David.  It is said the artist abandoned the project because the piece of marble contained too many flaws (or veins—veins in marble are weaker than the surrounding stone, which can cause it to crack and break.)  So the defective block sat in the yard for nearly a decade; until another artist was commissioned to continue the work; apparently he also foresaw problems with the veining and walked away from the project.  The scarcely carved stone block was again pushed to the back of the yard where the sun, wind, and rain beat down on it for nearly 25 years.  Then in 1501 a 29 year old sculptor named Michelangelo looked at the stone with optimistic intentions.  To him, it wasn’t just some aged block of marble taking up space; neither did he reject it as a defective throw away, fit only for the trash heap.  Unlike the other sculptors, Michelangelo saw the giant slab, not as it was, but as it could be.  He accepted the commission to complete the work because, from it, he believed that he could create a masterpiece.  In 1504, after nearly 3 years of work, the Statue of David was completed; immediately it was marveled over; even the harshest of critics were astonished by its timeless majesty.  Today, the statue of David resides in Florence Italy, and is unquestionably one of the most beautiful marble sculptures ever created.

          Like Michelangelo, Jesus Christ is a master craftsman; his purpose is not just to take good people and make them better, but to take the worst people and transform them into divine works of art.  As followers of Christ, our duty is to reach out to those who have been rejected.  Rather than turning our backs on sinners, we are called to embrace them in love.  We must not see sinners for who they are, but rather, for who they might become (with the assistance, love, and attention of an all-powerful Creator.)  Reach out to the lost; make friends with the weak; dive into the trash heap and pull out those who have been discarded.  He has sent us into the world to find the lost, and to bring hope to the hopeless.  Are you willing to be an instrument in the hands of God; a tool He can use to accomplish a masterpiece?

          “Lord Heavenly Father, may we seek out those who are sick.  Give us a heart for the outcast, that we would see possibility where others see only failure.  We lay our lives at Your feet; may we be Your messengers; may we bring the good news of salvation and reconciliation to all those who dwell in darkness.  We love You Father, 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.

Being Charitable

JESUS SPEAKING

            And he said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.”  Then he spoke a parable to them saying, “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’  So he said, ‘I will do this:  I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘Fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose things will those things be which you have provided?’  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God?” (Luke 12: 13-21.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            Jesus warned his followers to avoid covetousness; covetousness is the “excessive desire to acquire or possess more than one needs or deserves.”  Most people are unsatisfied with the bare necessities.  They, like the wealthy man in this parable, need abundance in order to feel secure.  When the rich man had fully filled his barns, he selfishly sought to keep the additional grain for himself; shamefully, he never considered the needs of the less fortunate.  The man’s plans for a comfortable future were short lived however; for death would visit him that same day.  The man lost his life, his possessions, and because of his greed, he lost his eternal place with God.

            When I was a child, my mother would often bake cookies.  When she had finished using most of the cookie dough, she would give the bowl and spoon to my siblings and I.  We would scrape the bowl and lick the spoon clean.  To us, every crumb was a nugget of sweet creamy goodness.  Whatever was not consumed was unfortunately wasted.  God as well is not fond of wastefulness.  Whenever one seeks to possess more than they can use, they engage in a worthless and futile endeavor.  The Lord is greatly pleased when His children utilize their wealth to bless those in need.  Nothing in God’s kingdom ever goes to waste.  When asked how to prepare for the coming of the messiah, John the Baptist said, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food let him do likewise” (Luke 3: 11.)

            Christians are required to employ their abundant possessions to glorify God, and to bless the needy.  If you are wealthy put your money to work for The Lord.  If you own property and you are not using it, offer it to someone who can.  If your closet is overflowing, gather up the overflow and bring it to the thrift store.  If you have excess time, don’t waste it; instead use it to love those who are hurting.  If God has given you abilities and talents, exercise them constructively; use them to serve your fellows.  No one is guaranteed tomorrow; put whatever you have been given in excess to work for God today.  May His generosity fill your hearts; may the desire to serve and to provide for the needs of others become a newfound principle in your life; and may you find comfort in knowing that your earthly charity will produce eternal riches.

            “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You and ask that You help us to be generous toward You and toward those who are in need.  Relieve our fears, so we can let go of greed and seek to use our abundance to bless others.  As we become willing to give, may we procure eternal riches; riches without end; riches reserved for us in Your Heavenly 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.

Passing Through Death and into Life

JESUS SPEAKING

          “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself.”  This he said signifying by what death he would die.  The people answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you.  Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (John 12: 32-36.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          While addressing his followers, Jesus prophesied concerning the manner in which he would die.  He would be crucified, and the cross would come to symbolize healing, forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Those who look to it in faith receive everlasting life and the free gift of salvation; those who refuse to accept Christ’s sacrifice continue under condemnation, and will eventually face eternal judgment.

          In the Old Testament, God lead the children of Israel out of slavery and bondage in Egypt.  They passed through the Red sea unharmed, and they entered the desert.  While in the desert many Hebrews rebelled against God and the authority of Moses.  Angered by their arrogance, God sent poisonous snakes into their midst to bite them.  Moses fervently approached the Lord and begged Him to show mercy.  Moved with compassion, God told Moses to sculpt a brass snake and fasten it to a long pole; he was then told to raise the pole up in the middle of the camp so everyone could see it.  The Israelites were instructed that if they looked upon the snake in faith, they would be healed from their venomous bites (simply put:  look at the snake and you will live; refuse to look and you will die.)  Jesus Christ was also lifted up on the cross for everyone to see; those who look to him in faith receive eternal life; those who refuse, experience judgment and eternal separation from God.  Jesus said in John 3: 14-16, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.”

          The cross has always been a powerful symbol.  It has the power to bring light into the lives of those who walk in darkness.  It has the power to heal and the power to reconcile sinful man with a pure and Holy God; it has the power to grant eternal life to those who would but look to it in faith.  May you look upon the cross and receive the free gift of salvation.  May you receive the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of sins.  May you be ‘reborn’ and may God guide you as you travel toward His eternal kingdom.

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your wonderful plan of salvation.  As we look to the cross in faith, we receive Your sacrifice and we embrace our new lives with You.  Forgive us of our sins through the blood of Christ Jesus.  Grant us eternal life.  Heal our hearts and minds; help us to be ‘children of light;’ that others might see our good works and honor You.  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.

Old and New

JESUS SPEAKING

              Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”  (Mathew 13: 52.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

              The bible consists of two parts; the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The old testament consisted of prophecies, inspired writings, and recorded historical information  dating from 4004 B.C. to approximately 440 B.C.; God then remained silent for 450 years until around 15-30 A.D. when John the Baptist began preaching in the wilderness about the near arrival of Jesus Christ.  Jesus arrived on the scene to complete God’s message and lay the foundations for the New Testament.  Jesus often quoted the Old Testament and added to it.  Any scribe that understood the message would combine both the Old Testament and Christ’s words in to one complete revelation from God.

              At the swap meet one day, I made an interesting observation.  They sell expensive antiques, which are highly valued because they are old.  But, many sell things that are completely new, and it is there newness that gives them their value.  Many retailers, like the householder Jesus was speaking about in this parable, get the most money for what they sell because they sell both new and old items.  God’s truth is not complete unless both the new and the Old Testament are combined as one.  The Holy bible cannot be divided, it cannot be substituted, and it cannot be added too; it is complete.

              The bible is filled with valuable treasures; gems of truth, nuggets of pure wisdom.  Jesus did not come to throw out the old, but to combine the old and the new in to a single masterpiece of communication between God and man.  The world is full of books that have been written by men and inspired by their own desires, but there is only one book that God himself has written.  The bible is a treasure chest that just needs to be opened; inside you will find every answer you have ever desired to know.  Open it, and know the fullness of the one true God.

              “Lord Heavenly Father, as we read Your Word, please give us a desire to dig deeply for insights and truths, and knowledge.  Guide us as we read, and speak to our hearts, and make your plan clearer in our minds and in our hearts.  We want to know the full, complete goodness of Your book, and in turn, Your compete goodness toward us.  We love You Lord, 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.

True Fellowship

JESUS SPEAKING

Then he said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’  But they all with one accord began to make excuses.  The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.  I ask you to have me excused.’  And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.’  Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’  So that servant came and reported these things to his master.  Then the master of the house, being angry, sad to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’  And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’  Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper’” (Luke Chapter 14: 16 – 24.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

In this parable the man hosting the feast represents God.  The servant sent out to invite others to join in fellowship is Jesus Christ; and the great supper represents God’s eternal kingdom and the body of Christ as a whole.  Many who heard the Lord speak received the message, and with it salvation.  Most however rejected the gospel; inventing any number of excuses that would enable them to continue pursuing worldly pleasures.

Some time ago I got involved in a weekly fellowship through a local church.  The church was filled with people who appeared to be affluent and well educated.  After a short time, it became clear that many were not fully committed to the group, let alone to God Himself.  They enjoyed drinking and frequenting bars and clubs; many did not see fornication as an act of extreme evil either.  Not surprisingly, every week we would hear a list of excuses as to why these individuals would not be able to attend the bible study.  One girl often missed group because her favorite basketball team played on Thursday nights.  Unfortunately many do not take their relationship with God seriously (or they deny it entirely.)  Some will come up with any excuse to avoid fellowship, bible reading, and service work.

Today, the message is still being preached.  God continues to invite the masses to join Him in fellowship.  Those who heed the call integrate themselves into the body of Christ and begin to serve and love others.  Get involved at your local church and abandon the excuses and worldly pleasures that separate you from your fellows.  Attend a bible study, and get to know your true brothers and sisters.  Build friendships with other believers and read the bible.  If you obey the Lord’s commands and love unconditionally, then you will have entered into God’s kingdom, and you will live forever in His presence.

“Lord Heavenly Father, we desire to know You and to love You.  If we have not fully accepted your message then may we eagerly receive it today.  May we enter Your eternal kingdom and may we hunger for genuine fellowship with other believers.  Eliminate our excuses that we might serve our brothers and sisters in love.  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.

Serpents and Doves

JESUS SPEAKING

                “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and as harmless (innocent) as doves” (Mathew 10: 16.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Those who accept the Holy Spirit and forsake evil are cleansed of all unrighteousness.  They are made pure; the innocence that was lost through sin is finally restored (the sons and daughters of God are reborn as doves; lacking evil intentions and immoral hearts.)  Unlike natural born children whose innocence is accompanied by ignorance, the ‘reborn’ child of God retains the knowledge of good and evil.  In the heart of every believer, innocence and wisdom exist in harmony.  The serpent is a creature that symbolizes wisdom.  In Genesis, God created the serpent to be the wisest of all the animals (Satan himself took the form of a serpent when he cleverly convinced Adam and Eve to disobey God.)  Characteristically, snakes are rarely caught off guard; they patiently wait for opportunities to strike; and they always keep their eyes on potential predators.  In a world filled with evil, God’s eternal offspring must apply comparable wisdom to avoid destruction. Like the serpent, believers must see hungry predators as they approach and turn to face them.  How can we be kind and loving toward these predators while at the same time making sure we don’t get eaten by them?  To be both a dove and a serpent can be a difficult task that demands discipline and divine guidance.

                A couple of years ago a man entered the coffee shop I frequent; it was late in the evening and there were very few customers; he was a peculiar man dressed in work out clothing.  He spoke in broken English and began to draw attention to himself by flirting with the workers behind the register.  When the workers were distracted, the man leaned over the counter and pulled some money out of the tip jar (quickly concealing it.)  Immediately I rose up and approached the counter.  The man turned around and was greeted with a stern look.  “Put it back,” I said.  “I’m so sorry” he replied; admitting to his devious actions, he returned the money and begged for forgiveness.  He claimed to be starving and in desperate need of money (possibly true; possibly a lie.)  I told him that what he really needed was Jesus.  I offered to help him so he didn’t have to steal.  I gave him money from my ATM and a bible from my car; he gratefully received them and went his way.  God had given me the wisdom to recognize evil in action.  Like a serpent I was able to expose and oppose a predator.  Like a dove I avoided harming the man; instead I loved and cared for him according to the will of God.

                God has called every follower to be wise; the child of God is able to recognize and oppose evil. The believer must also be harmless; showing love and kindness to those who oppose what is good.  The wicked despise God’s children; they seek to destroy, to pervert, and to devour the faithful; but the faithful seek to build up, to love, and to convert the wicked.  Walk wisely in the ways of God, and reach out to the lost; His Spirit will shine through you; you will bring hope to the hopeless; you will lead the blind to freedom; submit yourself to the call of God, and become a messenger of light in a very dark world.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, give us the wisdom to avoid being harmed by evil while also opposing it.  May we be kind to those who walk in darkness; employ us to love the wicked.  May Your light shine brightly through us in this dark world.  Use us to direct others away from destruction and toward eternal life.  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.