Archive for April, 2011

God gives to His Children

JESUS SPEAKING

                When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”  He said, “Yes.”  And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon?  From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”

                Peter said to him, “From strangers.”  Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.  Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first.  And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for me and you” (Mathew 17: 24-27.)

 INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Every Jewish man recognized that their lives were not their own; rather they belonged to God.  As a part of this recognition, every man over the age of 20 was commanded to pay an annual duty to God to redeem their lives for themselves for one year.  The season had arrived for the religious leaders to collect the yearly tax.  Simon (Peter) thought it proper to pay the tax, but Jesus questioned its correctness.  He asked Peter to examine the way that the world levied taxes.  During this time, the Roman Empire had conquered most of the known world.  The nations they conquered were taxed heavily, while their own citizens (or sons) were free from most forms of taxation.  Peter was asked to examine why God would require a tax from his own people, when the worldly leaders of the earth, who were evil, did not tax their own subjects.  Peter realized the tax was man-made, and not God-made.  In order to keep the peace, Jesus agreed to pay the tax.  The miraculous way he paid the tax showed Peter that despite bowing to human authority, he commanded all of the power and authority of The Living God.  Under that authority, Peter was able to see that God’s desire was not to take from his Son’s, but to give to them.

                When I was in College, my dad would come to visit me frequently.  He really enjoyed sitting down and talking with me over a nice meal.  He and I would meet at various restaurants in the area.  My Dad was well aware that I was a ‘broke college student’ who could not afford to eat out.  He was never privy to the notion that when the meal concluded, I would head up to the register to take care of the bill.  Quite to the contrary; my Dad, who had great resources, was aware that he would need to ‘pay-the-check.’  Over the years, traveling home for the holidays, my dad and I still go out to eat, and he still pays for the meals (despite my abilities and sometimes fervent requests to pay or ‘pitch in.’)  My dad has always given to me because I am his Son, and he loves me.

                If you call Jesus Lord, you call God ‘Father.’  If you are a Son or a Daughter of God, be aware that He desires to give good things to you.  (The world is always asking for something from you; even when they give, their giving is selfishly motivated and extremely conditional.  God however is in need of nothing, and gives liberally and lovingly to all His children.)  Ask Him for whatever you need, and He will provide it for you; because He’s not just the Almighty God, but He is also, a Loving Father.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You now and lift You up.  You are an awesome and mighty God.  We know You are also a loving Father.  We love you too.  We know that You are seeking to give us good things; please provide for all of our needs today.  We love You, 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!

The Duty of All Believers

JESUS SPEAKING

                He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office.  And he said to him, “Follow Me.”  So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.  Then Levi gave him a great feast in his own house.  And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.  And their 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 come to call 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 turned against their own people.  The Roman taxes were severe, and tax collectors earned their wages by overtaxing the people; in turn, they were passionately despised.  The religious leaders were enraged because Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners.   Jewish meals were extremely intimate affairs; those who dined together dipped in to 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 person to person through the sharing of food.  The Son of God however, was not concerned with being contaminated by the sins of those he dined with.  Instead, his purity was contaminating and cleansing the dirty hearts of those who ate with him.  The messiah, the chosen one, sent of God had a distinct purpose; he came to seek the lost; he came to bring light in to the darkest of hearts; he came to cleanse the dirty, and to reach those the world had set aside and rejected.

                In 1464 a block of Marble weighing nearly 9 tons was shipped to the workshop of the Cathedral of the Santa Maria Del Fiore in Italy.  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 flawed 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 in the marble and walked away.  Again, the scarcely carved stone block was 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 optimistically.  He didn’t see an old dirty block of marble taking up space; he didn’t reject it as a defective throw away, fit for the trash heap.  Unlike the other sculptors, Michelangelo saw the giant slab, not as it was, but as it could be.  Michael Angelo accepted the commission to complete the work because he believed that he could create a masterpiece from a worn down, dirty block of marble.  In 1504, after nearly 3 years of work, the Statue of David was completed; immediately it was marveled over; its beauty and elegance were heralded by even the harshest of critics.  Today, the statue of David is on display in Florence Italy, and is unquestionably one of the most beautiful marble sculptures ever created.

                Like Michelangelo, Jesus Christ is a master craftsman whose purpose is not to attempt to improve perfect people, but to take the worst people and transform them in to divine works of art.  As followers of Jesus Christ, our duty is to reach out to those who are outcasts.  Rather than turning our backs on sinners, we are to embrace them in love.  We shouldn’t just see sinners for who they are, but instead, as who might become (with the assistance, love, and attention of an all powerful divine creator.)  Reach out to the lost; make friends with the weak; dive in to the trash heap and pull out the people the world has discarded.  He has sent us in to the world to reach those who have gone astray and to bring hope to the hopeless.  Are you willing to be an instrument God can use to accomplish a masterpiece?

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You today and we ask that You use us to reach those who are sick.  Give us a heart for everyone the world has rejected.  We yearn to be instruments that You can use to transform the lives of sinners.  Therefore we lay ourselves at Your feet and place our lives in your capable hands; make use of us as You see fit.  Father, we love You, we thank You, and we praise You, and we ask and pray all of these things in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you. 

Obediance requires trust

JESUS SPEAKING

                Then he got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s (Peter’s), and asked him to put out a little from the land.  And he sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.  When he had stopped speaking, he said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

                But Simon (Peter) answered and said to him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net.”  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their net was breaking.  So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.

                When Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5: 3-8.) 

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                The disciples had just finished fishing and had caught nothing; they were cleaning their nets for the day.  Jesus told Peter to push out one last time and drop the nets.  Peter didn’t want to, but he obeyed Jesus and pushed out to sea.  His obedience resulted in a catch none of them could have imagined; a catch so large there nets nearly burst.  Peter immediately humbled himself, and fell down before Jesus.  His understanding of Jesus was immediately and drastically transformed; in an instant Peter realized that Jesus was not just a man, but something more.  Peter witnessed a miracle because he chose not to allow his experience as a fisherman, or his own reasoning to compete with the command of Christ.  Peter didn’t push out in to the water because he expected to haul in the largest catch of his life (he probably didn’t expect to catch anything at all.)  He pushed out in to the sea because he was being obedient to Jesus Christ.

                Each of us woke up this morning with a great deal of expectations.  We expected our alarm clocks to work, our cars to start, and our cell phones to be functional; we relied upon them; we trusted them.  We can trust our gadgets and even our own instincts and abilities, but when it comes to trusting Jesus Christ we have difficulty?  Peter initially relied upon his own knowledge and understanding when questioning the command of Christ to ‘push-out.’  He saw God do a wonderful work, because he stopped trusting in himself and began trusting in God. 

                Today, we need to trust in God and not our own limited understanding.  We must be obedient to what God is calling us to do.  Is there some area of your life where you are refusing to relinquish control?  Search your heart.  God has called each of us to be obedient to His commands.  Often, obedience is difficult, but unless we obey God we will miss out on experiencing many of His great miracles.  May we all ‘push out’ and place our trust in the eternal and almighty God.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, help us to relinquish control over our lives and give them back to You.  Jesus please help us to be obedient.  Holy Spirit, help us to place our full trust in You.  Reveal to us areas where we lack faith, and help us to change.  We love You Father, we thank You, and we trust You, and we ask all of these things in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

Exploiting God

JESUS SPEAKING

            So they came to Jerusalem.  Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And he would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.  Then he taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  But you have turned it in to a ‘den of thieves.’”

            And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy him; for they feared him, because all the people were astonished at his teaching. (Mark 11: 15-18.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            The priests and religious leaders were earning money from the sale of sacrificial animals within the temple.  They were also earning money from ‘short changing’ ignorant pilgrims who needed to exchange their Roman or Greek coins for non-pagan shekels (tithes of pagan coins were not accepted within the temple treasury.)  Those professing the highest degree of Godliness had been using God for selfish gain; those who prided themselves on ritualistic purity had defiled and perverted the purity of God’s Holy Dwelling Place.  Upon seeing this disgraceful sight, Jesus became angry; he flipped over the money changing tables, and used a whip to aggressively chase out those who were selling animals in God’s house.  No one arrested him; no one rebuked him; no one demanded an explanation; the crowds instantly recognized that what he had done was right.  He had put an end to wicked men using God for their own financial gain.  [Note:  This incident occurred several days before the Passover celebration.  The Israelites were strictly forbidden to have even a single speck of Chametz (fungus or mold) within their homes during the feast.  As part of the preparation for this annual festival, every Jewish home had to be swept out and thoroughly cleansed.  Jesus, being God’s son, chose to fulfill this command by sweeping the dirt out of his Father’s house (the temple.)]

            The religious leaders had mingled together the things of God and the things of man. Jesus’ whip sliced ‘in-two’ what should have never been ‘one’ to begin with.  His anger set right the divine order of things.  On one occasion in my own life, I felt the sting of God’s whip when I attempted to combine his goodness with my gain.  Many years ago I worked for a company that imported raw materials for kitchen and bathroom countertops. I handled numerous accounts, but was always on the lookout for any potentially new customers.  In my search I came across a large local company named, ‘Reborn Cabinets.’  (Cabinet makers always needed granite to complete their projects, and my company was a granite supplier.)  This cabinet company was started by a ‘reborn Christian;’ I myself had recently been ‘reborn,’ and I was anxious to work with a Christian company.  After many attempts to set up a meeting with their company had failed, I made one final attempt to reach them.  One day, I left a message with their manager expressing my desire to work with them; I finished the message with a ‘God bless you.’  I had hoped that they would hear the message and realize I was a Christian and give me a chance.  Immediately after hanging up the phone, I felt this pain in my stomach and an overwhelming feeling of remorse within my heart.  I had angered God, and grieved His Holy Spirit by attempting to use Him for my own worldly advancement.  After the feeling began to affect my workday, I made my way to the bathroom to pray; filled with remorse, I promptly begged God for His forgiveness.

            Today, there are a lot of people who need to drop to their knees and beg God for His forgiveness.  Too many people have sullied the name of the Almighty God in order to attain their own personal comforts.  Many ‘Christian businessmen,’ more dedicated to a dollar than to keeping God Holy, plague the body of Christ, using the name of God to secure customers.  Similarly, many people use God to increase their standing in the community.  Many use God to make themselves more attractive to a potential husband or wife.  Some use God to ‘pride-fully’ compare themselves favorably to others.  There are an endless number of possible exploitations of God’s name, but each and every one of them kindles His anger.  Of all the sins in the bible, using God for worldly prosperity arouses the greatest amount of divine fury; as such, we must continually, and fearfully, examine our hearts to make sure that we are not guilty of such sins.  If we discover any uncleanness in our hearts, we must beg God for His forgiveness, and ask Him to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

            “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You and ask that You reveal and convict our hearts of any instances where we have misused Your name for our own personal gain.  We desperately desire to be free from these grievous sins; give us the power to change what we have been doing, and sweep out any dirtiness within our hearts.  Make us clean, and fresh, and new Lord.  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.       

The Untouchables

JESUS SPEAKING

            And it happened when he was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.”  Then he put out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.”  Immediately the leprosy left him.  And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded you” (Luke 5: 12-14.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

             Leprosy was a socially devastating disease; it rotted fingers, toes, eyes, ears and noses;  it maimed, disfigured, and hobbled it’s victims without killing them.  Lepers were feared and hated, not only for their hideous appearance, but because Leprosy was highly contagious.  Immediately upon contracting the disease, the victim was ostracized; they were no longer able to interact with family members and friends; no more shared meals; no more hugs; no more kisses; no more handshakes.  They were doomed to live in isolation outside of the towns and cities.  If they needed to travel near people, they were required to yell, “Unclean, Unclean,” so that people could avoid close contact with them (In some cultures they were required to wear bells to warn other people of their leprosy.)  A leprous man who had suffered the pains of being an outcast came to Jesus in desperation.  With a single touch, he was freed from his sickness.  Jesus immediately recognized the man’s desire to return to his family, so he commanded him to go to the priests for examination [In Jewish culture, the priests diagnosed social diseases.  When a person claimed that they were healed, they were required to go before the priests for examination.  If they were truly clean they would be allowed back in to the population; they would be able to return to their family and friends.]  God is not some cold and distant God.  He is a compassionate God.  He is concerned with our personal relationships.  He seeks to heal the sick.  He desires to reunite the outcasts with those they know and love.

             For the last two months while studying in the coffee shop, a man who appears to be no stranger to prison, has been sitting down right next me.  He plugs his phone charger in to the outlet I use.  He watches everyone very closely (a habit picked up in prison no doubt.)  One day, his pant leg was rolled up too high, and for an instant I caught sight of a tether fastened around his ankle (I wasn’t the only one keeping an eye on him.)  He elicits a feeling of uneasiness within me.  I feel like he is waiting for me to use the restroom so he can swipe something.  I’ve moved spots a couple of times and I’ve tried to avoid talking to him.  While I pondered what this scripture meant, he came in the door and sat down right next to me.  God spoke to my heart, and I realized that I was treating him like a leper; I was behaving as if he had some disease; the Spirit of God directed me to speak to him.  I introduced myself, and we talked for a bit about his situation; he had only been out of prison for two months, and no one wanted to rent him a room because of his criminal background; he has been living in his mother’s car, and can’t get work until he finds a place to live.  I was moved to share the love of Christ with him, and I invited him to attend a bible study in my home.  He seemed interested.  I told him his past did not matter to me, or to God.  In the eyes of the world, he was as leprous as the man Jesus healed, but with God he could be clean.  The Lord used me to reach out and touch a sick and hurting soul.  I was able to show him that there is a God who truly loves him.

             In this world, all around us, there are people who are treated like lepers:  drug addicts; criminals; the mentally ill; gang members; and the homeless (to name a few.)  The world has turned its back on many people, but God hasn’t; the outcasts of the world are His children too.  When you see someone no one else wants to talk too, bring them God’s message.  When you see those who are unloved, show them that God loves them.  Talk to the outcasts; eat with them; help them; care for them.  Don’t be afraid, but rejoice, knowing that God has chosen to use you to touch the lives of those He loves.

             “Lord heavenly Father, we come before You and we ask and pray that You would give us Your heart of compassion.  Use us to touch those who are untouchable.  Remove our fears and replace them with love.  Bring us opportunities to include and care for those who have been ostracized.  Give us more of Your Holy Spirit, that we can help to make the unclean, clean again.  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.

Eternal Consequences

JESUS SPEAKING

            Then one said to him, “Lord are there few who are saved?”  And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and he will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from.  Depart from me all you workers of iniquity’” (Luke 13: 23-27.)           

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            In the ancient world, cities were surrounded by enormous fortified walls.  The city gate was usually a solitary entrance that was open during the day, and closed in the evening.  During the day everything that entered the city was inspected, including the people.  They were asked questions such as, “Why are you entering the city?” or “Do you know someone who lives here?”  These questions were designed to keep dangerous people out.  Within the city, individual homes also had single entrances which were open during the day and closed in the evening […] Hospitality was highly esteemed in Middle Eastern culture.  When people saw strangers in the public square during the day, they would question them politely in an effort to get to know them, before offering them a place to stay for the evening.  They asked questions like, “What is your name?  Where were you born?” and “what city are you from?”  When evening arrived, the master of the house would shut and lock the door.  Jesus used this cultural custom in illustrating a parable […] some foreigners tried to enter a man’s house at night, without having gone through the customary process of getting to know the owner first.  The homeowner replied, “I do not know you, where you are from.”  The owner in this parable represents God; the home is representative of heaven; the daytime represents life, and the night represents death.  The foreigners represent those who will not be allowed to enter heaven.  What does it all mean?  Those who build an intimate relationship with God in this life, will be able to enter His Kingdom.  Those who have refused to build a relationship with God in this life will be denied access to God’s kingdom when they die (there are no more opportunities after death.)  No matter how many times they knock on God’s door, they will spend an eternity in outer darkness.  God Himself will say to them, “Depart from me all you workers of iniquity […] I do not know you.” 

            Today, computers play a crucial role in our everyday lives.  There are many people who desire to do evil things to your computer; they desire to spy on you, and to steal your personal information.  There are many digital walls that keep evil people out.  So they look for ways to be invited in […] Email is a great way to communicate with others, but it can also be a very dangerous way to communicate; some messages can be used as a doorway to enter your system.  I get emails all the time with headings that say, “It’s Jen (who doesn’t know at least one Jen.)”  Or “Hi, I haven’t talked to you in while.”  The messages are designed to make me believe an old friend is knocking at my digital door.  But, one click can open the gateway for evil; a virus can crash my system, or a crook can access my financial records.  To avoid this danger, I have learned to investigate the source of the message before opening it.  If they don’t check out, then they don’t check in.

            In much the same way, God doesn’t open His door for just anyone.  He only opens his door for those He knows intimately.  This life is our time to establish a relationship with God, and that relationship will determine where we spend eternity.  If you have not taken the time to build a relationship with Him now, in the future you will find yourself locked out; and no matter how many times you knock, the door will never open.  Many who have died are probably already knocking; the only thing they have to look forward too is an eternity of looking back with regret, on the very short life they wasted serving themselves instead of seeking God.  If you are reading this message, you still have a choice; make God the center of your life.  Talk to Him; read His word; love others; spread the message; submit yourself to following Him, and when you arrive at His gate, it will open for you, and with Joy, God will welcome you in to His eternal kingdom.

            “Lord Heavenly Father, we desperately seek to know You, and to draw closer to You.  Draw near to us, and help us to serve You with joyful hearts.  Help us to overcome the lusts of our flesh, that we might do Your will in this place.  Father, we ask that You remove any obstacles that are causing us to miss the narrow path.  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

Communion

JESUS SPEAKING

            When the hour had come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.  Then he said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  Then he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  Likewise he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22: 14-20.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            A Covenant (or testament) is a contractual agreement between two parties.  Over 3,000 years ago, God made a contract with a Shepherd named Abraham.  In the contract, He promised Abraham many descendents.  He also promised that one of his descendents would bless the entire world.  Abraham cut off his foreskin as an acknowledgement of their agreement (a tradition that Jews still practice.)  With the arrival of Jesus Christ, God had fulfilled his contract with Abraham; he made a new contract in which His Son would die on the cross to forever reconcile sinful with a holy God.  The communal acceptance of the bread and wine was the sign that his apostles had accepted this new covenant.  They each tore a piece from a single loaf of bread, which symbolized the brokenness of his body on the cross.  They shared a single cup of wine, which symbolized the blood that would pour from his body.  This first ‘Communion,’ much like Abraham’s circumcision, was an outward expression of their inward faith.  Because they had spiritually accepted God’s contract of eternal forgiveness in their hearts, they celebrated their decision in communion.

            Kobe Bryant is one of the biggest named professional athletes on the market today.  With all of the cars, the fancy homes, and the nice clothes, it’s hard to think of him as an employee.  Yet, he receives a paycheck just like everyone else.  Right out of high school he signed a multimillion dollar contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.  A few years later when his contract was up, it became necessary to make a new contract with him, or risk losing him to another team.  And yet again in 2010, when his contract had come to an end, he signed a 3 year deal worth tens of millions of dollars.  Some day even this contract will expire.

            Unlike Mr. Bryant’s contract, God’s new contract has no expiration date; faith in Jesus is the signature that establishes an eternal relationship between God and the believer.  Communion is the outward expression of that inward faith.  The Jersey Mr. Bryant Dawned after signing his contract was a public expression of his covenant with the Lakers.  Christian communion is a display of our covenant with God.  We become one as we collectively partake in the body and blood.  If you believe in Christ and have not taken communion, pray that God will bring you to a gathering where you may share in the sacrifice of our Lord.

            “Lord, may we put our faith in You.  May our hearts be united as one with other believers around the world.  We acknowledge your sacrifice upon the cross, and we accept the terms of Your new covenant; we thank You Lord for Your act of charity and love, and we look forward to our future time, when we can finally share a meal with You in Your coming kingdom.  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.