The Narrow Path

JESUS SPEAKING

                “Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mathew 7: 13-14.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                In the ancient world, cities were places of safety and refuge.  Most were surrounded by large walls designed to protect the inhabitants from hostile enemies.  The size of the walls depended on the prosperity of the city.  Babylon, (one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world), was rumored to have had walls that were 80 ft. thick and 320 feet high (15 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.)  Every ancient city had one main gate (a large opening in the wall through which the majority of merchants, travelers, and citizens could freely pass.)  There were also many smaller gates that served a number of different purposes.  There were gates for livestock; gates for horses; gates for importing fish; and gates used to export garbage; many of these little gates were not connected to the major highway, and were more difficult to reach.  Most entered through the main gate because it was quick, easy, and convenient.  The road to eternal separation from God is also quick, easy, and convenient; but the way to eternal life is difficult; it requires great discipline, sacrifice, and selflessness.

                As a child and adolescent, my mother brought me to church quite regularly; however, despite many hours spent kneeling, standing, sitting and praying, I never heard anyone truly preach the gospel (at least not the whole gospel.)  I knew about Christ’s forgiveness and love; I was aware that he died for the sins of the world.  I understood the work of the cross, and the free gift of salvation.  I had learned about what God had done for me, and so I had comprehended the first half of the gospel message.  When I was in my twenties a friend took me to a church service; it was there that I finally heard the remaining half the message.  God expected something from me; I was required to repent and obey.  I had to turn away from fornication, adultery, drunkenness, lewdness, and deceit.  There in that church auditorium, I knew in my Spirit that I had to change.

                At one point during Christ’s earthly ministry, he chose to spend the evening in the home of a notorious sinner named Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was a corrupt tax-collector.  He had amassed a fortune by overtaxing his own countrymen.  During the night, Jesus presented Zacchaeus with the whole gospel; and he received it gladly.  He immediately repented of his evil deeds and offered half of his wealth to the poor; he also promised to repay everyone from whom he had stolen.

                Zacchaeus understood the full gospel message; he received the gift of salvation and immediately obeyed the teachings of Christ.  Most today refuse to repent; 78.4 percent of Americans claim to be Christian; yet 60 percent of young adult Christians believe that premarital sex and cohabitation are morally okay (to name just one of many ungodly behaviors.)  Millions are self-deceived; believing themselves’ to be Christians when they are not; they seek to enter through the wide gate because it is easy and convenient; it requires very little sacrifice; but it leads to eternal separation from God.  Few choose the narrow path; it is very difficult; it requires repentance and demands transformation; but it leads to everlasting life.  Which path are you taking?  Are you willing to embrace the complete gospel and to become a follower of Jesus Christ?  If you are, then remember that “God never claimed the journey would be easy; but He did say it would be worth it.”  

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we receive Your gift, and we take hold of Your sacrifice; may we turn away from the ways of the world, and embrace the commandments of Your one and only Son.  Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and give us the courage and strength to travel the narrow path; the path of righteousness; the path of repentance and transformation; the path that leads to Your eternal Kingdom; have mercy on us, that we may enter Your dwelling place with joy and thanksgiving.  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.

Love your neighbor

JESUS SPEAKING

                “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answered him saying:  “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a certain priest came down that road.  And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was.  And when he looked upon him, he had compassion.  So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and, and took care of him.  The next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend when I come next time, I will repay you.’  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?”  And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10: 29 – 37.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Samaria consisted of a community of pagan individuals living within the borders of the nation of Israel (just north of Jerusalem); as non-Hebrews they frequently engaged in immorality and idolatry; for this reason they were despised by most religious Israelites.  In fact, when traveling, many orthodox Jews would contemptuously journey around Samaria rather than through it.  After Jesus had confirmed the importance of loving one’s neighbor, he was asked to define what constituted a neighbor.  His reply came in the form of a story; in the narrative a man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road; two religious Jews passed by, without stopping to help (one a priest, and the other a supposed man of God.)  Soon after, a Samaritan happened by, and his heart was filled with compassion.  In order to preserve the man’s life, he gave of his time, his money, and his resources.  He showed true mercy and great generosity.  Many today, like the priest and the Levite are so concerned with what lies ahead that they fail to stop and help those who are hurting and in need of assistance.

                Some time ago, during a cross-country meet in Minnesota, a young man named Mark Paulauskas was injured in the first half-mile of a two mile race.  He had been spiked by another runners cleats (a wound that would eventually require 20 stitches and a walking boot.)  As Paulauskas cried out in agony, most of the other runners passed him by; they were focused more on the finish line than on the pain of an ailing opponent.  Yet, one individual heard his cries and was moved with compassion.  A runner named Josh Ripley willingly abandoned his vision of victory in order to stop and help; without hesitation he picked up Mark Paulauskas and carried him a half-mile back to the starting line.  After handing his wounded competitor into the arms of the coaches, Josh Ripley sprinted off into the wilderness to complete his race.  Although he didn’t win, he was victorious in the eyes of God.

                Our fleshly nature commonly causes us to become so focused on what lies ahead that we ignore those who are right beside us.  If we are not careful we can pass by those who are hurting, and ignore the call of God to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’  The world is cold and apathetic; yet in the midst of indifference, there are those who show great compassion and mercy; they give selflessly; they love unconditionally; they are examples of God’s Spirit in action; they are followers of Jesus Christ.  They are friends; they are family; they are neighbors; they are Christians.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, may we always show sympathy toward those who are hurting and in need.  May we be relieved of indifference and filled with mercy.  May nothing ever be more important than compassion, nor greater than love.  Fill us to overflowing with Your Holy Spirit, that we might be examples of Your warmth in a world that is cold and apathetic.  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.

Look to the cross

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.

Moving Forward

JESUS SPEAKING

            “Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away.  And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.  Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land.  Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them.  Now about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.  And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled.  But immediately He talked with them, “Be of good cheer!  It is I; do not be afraid.”  Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased.  And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled” (Mark 6: 45 – 51.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            The Lord, desiring solitude, sent His disciples to the other side of the lake.  However, a great wind began to oppose them and they were unable to reach their destination.  Filled with compassion, Jesus walked across the sea to meet them.  After a fearful exchange, He was received into the boat.  Immediately the wind and the waves ceased, and the disciples were finally able to move forward.  Like that boat, many human beings can also become trapped.  Reaching a point of stagnation, they are no longer able to move forward.  Sadly, most are unaware that the key to progress is to receive Jesus Christ.

            In the 1890’s, Melvin Trotter had reached just such an impasse.  The son of a drunken bartender, he began drinking and gambling at an early age.  After marrying, he started a career as a barber.  However his rampant alcoholism made it difficult for him to hold down a steady job.  Eventually he began leaving his family for weeks at a time.  One day, upon returning home, he was informed that his two year old child had died.  Believing he was responsible, he considered suicide.  As he stood beside the coffin he vowed never to touch another drop of alcohol.  Two hours later he was drunk.  He proceeded to steal the shoes off of the body of his lifeless child and headed to Chicago, where he sold them for another drink.  Drunk and penniless he was nudged into the Pacific Garden Mission, where he accepted Jesus Christ into his heart.  His life was suddenly transformed.  God gave him the ability to work, to love, to live, and to stay sober.  He was finally free to move forward.  He began leading others to Christ and he eventually started his own rescue mission.  Melvin would later say, “I had taken cure after cure.  I had taken everything known to science, and had made resolution after resolution.  But just one glimpse of Jesus Christ, and I have never wanted a drink from that instant to this!”

            Many, like Mr. Trotter, will come to experience periods of stagnation.  Facing obstacles that seem immovable, they will struggle to find a solution.  However, the only real remedy is to receive Jesus Christ and to allow Him to eliminate the obstacle.  Upon entering the heart, He causes the winds to cease and the waters to calm; by His power those who are trapped can finally move forward.  May we all receive Jesus and be transformed by His mercy and grace.

            “Lord Heavenly Father, please soften the hearts of those who are suffering, that they would receive Your beloved Son.  By Your power may they grow, and learn, and be transformed.  As every obstacle is removed and every barrier is destroyed, may they be healed and free to continue moving forward.  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. 

Being Prepared For His Return

JESUS SPEAKING

                Then Peter said to him, “Lord do you speak this parable only to us, or to all people?”  And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has.  But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers” (Luke 12: 42-46.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Before ascending in to heaven Jesus promised to return one day in power and great glory; (it has been nearly 2000 years and his followers are still anxiously awaiting his arrival.)  As he spoke to his disciples he used a wedding parable to illustrate his future delay.  Often, when the master of a household left to attend a wedding, he could be gone for days.  His arrival was uncertain; he could return at 2:00 in the afternoon, or 2:00 in the morning (therefore the servants had to be continually prepared.)  In this parable, the master represented Jesus Christ, who after being resurrected, left the earth and journeyed in to heaven (promising to one day return.)  The servant placed over the master’s household represented the disciples whom Christ left behind to guide and care for his church.  Although the original disciples have gone to be with the Lord, God has placed new leaders in to positions of authority.  Some are just and wise stewards; some however, have lost faith; they have become impatient with Christ’s return, and in turn they have begun to mistreat God’s people.  When Christ does return, he will reward those who have been faithful, and he will punish those who failed to serve in the absence of their master.

                In the United States, a brand new industry known as ‘mystery shopping’ has become popular.  Most employers find it beneficial to tour their own facilities.  They must continually evaluate their products, their procedures, their equipment, and especially their employees.  Employees however, do not act naturally when their bosses are present; most tend to ‘put on a show;’ they work harder and more efficiently; and they become more positive and polite toward the customers and other staff members.  This effect makes it nearly impossible for managers and owners to accurately evaluate their workers.  In turn, many employers are now hiring individuals to pretend that they are customers; as they shop, they are secretly evaluating the employees.  When the employees become aware that the owner is using mystery shoppers, it causes them to continually maintain a higher level of performance in the work place.

                Many believers are slack because their master is not present; but Jesus could return at any moment.  A lack of faith in his second coming will lead to increased sin, and unrighteous living.  To avoid disobedience, we must constantly expect his arrival; every day; every hour; and every second.  We must never lose hope; we must trust in his promise, and wait patiently.  As we wait, it is our duty to continue to serve and love our fellows.  When he does return, those who were faithful in his absence will receive eternal blessings and everlasting life.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, may our hearts be expectant, and may we continue to hope in Your return.  Increase our faith that we might forever trust in Your promises.  May we always desire to serve You and our fellows.  Guide and direct our steps, that we may know with certainty, the duties and responsibilities that You have given to each us.  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.

Compassion

JESUS SPEAKING

                “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answered him saying:  “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a certain priest came down that road.  And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was.  And when he looked upon him, he had compassion.  So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and, and took care of him.  The next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend when I come next time, I will repay you.’  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?”  And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10: 29 – 37.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Samaria consisted of a community of pagan individuals living within the borders of the nation of Israel (just north of Jerusalem); as non-Hebrews they frequently engaged in immorality and idolatry; for this reason they were despised by most religious Israelites.  In fact, when traveling, many orthodox Jews would contemptuously journey around Samaria rather than through it.  After Jesus had confirmed the importance of loving one’s neighbor, he was asked to define what constituted a neighbor.  His reply came in the form of a story; in the narrative a man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road; two religious Jews passed by, without stopping to help (one a priest, and the other a supposed man of God.)  Soon after, a Samaritan happened by, and his heart was filled with compassion.  In order to preserve the man’s life, he gave of his time, his money, and his resources.  He showed true mercy and great generosity.  Many today, like the priest and the Levite are so concerned with what lies ahead that they fail to stop and help those who are hurting and in need of assistance.

                Some time ago, during a cross-country meet in Minnesota, a young man named Mark Paulauskas was injured in the first half-mile of a two mile race.  He had been spiked by another runners cleats (a wound that would eventually require 20 stitches and a walking boot.)  As Paulauskas cried out in agony, most of the other runners passed him by; they were focused more on the finish line than on the pain of an ailing opponent.  Yet, one individual heard his cries and was moved with compassion.  A runner named Josh Ripley willingly abandoned his vision of victory in order to stop and help; without hesitation he picked up Mark Paulauskas and carried him a half-mile back to the starting line.  After handing his wounded competitor in to the arms of the coaches, Josh Ripley sprinted off in to the wilderness to complete his race.  Although he did not win, he was victorious in the eyes of God.

                Our fleshly nature commonly causes us to become so focused on what lies ahead that we ignore those who are right beside us.  If we are not careful we can pass by those who are hurting, and ignore the call of God to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’  The world is cold and apathetic; yet in the midst of indifference, there are those who show great compassion and mercy; they give selflessly; they love unconditionally; they are examples of God’s Spirit in action; they are followers of Jesus Christ.  They are friends; they are family; they are neighbors; they are Christians.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, may we always show sympathy toward those who are hurting and in need.  May we be relieved of indifference and filled with mercy.  May nothing ever be more important than compassion, nor greater than love.  Fill us to overflowing with Your Holy Spirit, that we might be examples of Your warmth in a world that is cold and apathetic.  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.

Producing Fruit

JESUS SPEAKING

            “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12: 23 – 25.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            Utilizing an agricultural metaphor, Jesus makes reference to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection.  A single grain of wheat, when planted, can produce hundreds, thousands, and even millions of additional seeds.  Similarly, the Lords’ suffering and agony upon the cross (and ensuing resurrection) has produced much fruit.  His selfless sacrifice has inspired countless conversions, and enabled millions to receive the mercy and grace of God.

            In the 1800’s there resided a little girl from Philadelphia name Hattie Wiatt.  She lived in close proximity to a popular and very crowded Grace Baptist Church.  One day she approached the Church and asked to attend the Sunday school.  Sadly she was told that there was no more room.  Less than two years later, Hattie fell ill and passed away.  A pocket book containing 57 pennies was found underneath her pillow; it was wrapped in a piece of scrap paper; written on the paper was a note that read, “To help build the little temple bigger, so that more children can go to Sunday school.”  She had saved her pennies for 2 years intending to give them as a donation to the church.  The pastor told his congregation of Hattie’s selflessness.  Immediately donations began pouring in until they had collected nearly $250,000 dollars.  Soon the church was seating 3,300 people; the parishioners also chose to build a hospital as well as a university accommodating approximately 1,400 students (today, attendance at Temple University has grown to nearly 28,000.)  Hattie’s sacrifice, although small, has gone on to produce much fruit.

            Like Hattie, we are called to selflessly lay down our lives to “build the little temple bigger.”  To sacrifice our own wants and desires so that others may come to know the love of God.  When we serve our fellows, love our neighbors, and give to those in need, we bear much fruit.  Those who strive to live selflessly will come to know peace; true peace; heavenly peace; eternal peace; “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”

            “Lord Heavenly Father, You are truly an amazing and awesome God.  We desperately desire to be selfless; we yearn to lay down our lives so that others may come to know You.  Help us to enjoy and embrace serving, giving, and loving.  May we produce much fruit and bring many souls into Your everlasting 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.