Archive for January, 2012

Persistent Prayer

JESUS SPEAKING

            And he said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Please, lend me three loaves; ‘for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?  I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, but because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.  So I say to you ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11: 5-10.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

            (In first century Middle Eastern culture, hospitality was paramount.  Welcoming visitors in to your home meant providing for all of their needs.  Guests were given food, shelter, and protection; failure to meet these requirements was considered a great disgrace.)  In this parable, a tired and wearied traveler arrived at his friend’s home late in the evening, but he lacked sustenance.  The homeowner approached his neighbor, hoping the man might spare some food.  The late request roused the neighbor from his sleep; irritated, he denied the first appeal [In a common Hebrew household most of the family slept in one main room on the first floor; fathers, children, in-laws, and even important livestock were crowded together; getting out of bed and to the door meant waking the entire family; not an easy task; which is likely why the man initially said, “do not trouble me”.]  The neighbor eventually received the food because he kept knocking; he refused to take ‘no for an answer.’  In this parable, the request for food is symbolic of prayer.  The unrelenting neighbor represents anyone who desires God’s blessings.  The man who supplied the food is emblematic of God; who enjoys and rewards our persistent petitions.

            At the age of 23 an inquisitive youth from Gloucester, spied an advertisement in a Boston newspaper that read, “Wanted, young man as an understudy to a financial statistician.  P.O. Box 1720.”  He responded to the ad by way of letter; but he received no reply.  He wrote a second letter, and then a third; still no reply.  So he made his way down to the post office and requested the name of the owner of Box 1720; but the clerk refused.  He then met with the Postmaster, but he too refused (claiming it was illegal to provide him with that information.)  The young man remained determined; he arose early in the morning, hopped the first train to Boston, and entered the post office.  He stood patiently with his eyes fixed on box 1720.  After quite some time, a man appeared; he opened the box, grabbed the mail and left.  The young man followed him to his brokerage firm; he entered and asked to speak to the manager.  He told the manager that he had written three letters, before going to the post office (where they refused to provide him with the proper information.)  The manager asked, “But how did you find out that I was the advertiser?”  The youth replied, “I stood in the lobby of the post office for several hours, watching Box 1720.  When the man came in and took the mail from the box, I followed him here.”  The manager said, “Young man, you are just the kind of persistent fellow I want.  You’re hired” (Sunshine Magazine; paraphrased.)

            Similarly, God rewards those who are persistent in prayer.  All too often, our prayers are erratic and inconsistent.  Although we make our requests known to God, we frequently get discouraged when he doesn’t answer them immediately (in turn, many stop asking.)  If you have need of something, continue in prayer daily and do not relent.  Your blessing may not come on the 1st day, the 10th day, or even the 100th day; but if you are persistent, it will come.  Never give up; never stop asking, never stop seeking; and never stop knocking; for God is listening, and He is willing and able to give you the desires of your heart.

            “Lord Heavenly Father, hear our prayers.  Provide us with more of Your Holy Spirit.  Behold, we stand at Your door and knock; we will not leave until You bless us.  May we be persistent in our prayers; may we be patient; and may we endure.  Transform us; provide for our needs; and give us Your mercy and grace.  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.

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The blessings of sacrifice

JESUS SPEAKING

                So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18: 29-30.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                All valuable things have a price; and eternal life is no exception.  Although salvation is free, reconciliation requires sacrifice.  The cost for following Jesus Christ is high; most endure persecution, affliction, and hardship (many are ridiculed and socially ostracized.)  Obedience frequently produces loss; the loss of wealth and possessions; the loss of a home, a career, a family, or a friend; (there are even those who have laid down their lives for the sake of the gospel.)  From the time of the resurrection until today, not one righteous sacrifice has ever been committed in vain; for God has promised to replace every offering with something far greater.  To die as a peaceful martyr is to live forever in the His Kingdom.  To lay down earthly possessions is to grab hold of God’s eternal riches.  To suffer affliction for righteousness (here and now), is to one day experience unending freedom, and everlasting peace [Note:  God doesn’t just provide heavenly blessings; he also provides the faithful with many earthly blessings (wives, husbands, children, friends, etc.)]        

                Recently while serving at my church, I met a pastor named Greg.  A few years earlier he had been the starting quarterback for a division one college football team.  As he headed in to his senior year, his future looked promising.  Many expected him to excel, and to eventually enter the NFL draft.  According to the world, his life was an example of success.  Yet God had other plans for Greg.  Before the start of his senior year, he felt the Lord calling him in to full time ministry.  After much contemplation and prayer, Greg chose to sacrifice his probable fame and fortune to serve God.  When he announced his decision not to return for his final season, his coaches were mystified and his friends believed he had gone crazy.  In the eyes of the faithless he was making a very serious mistake.  Nearly four years after making his decision, Greg has never been more satisfied.  He is joyfully serving the Lord and has a beautiful wife, and has one young child.  He has sacrificed much, yet in return, he has received many priceless blessings (“and in the age to come, eternal life.”)  [Note:  Many necessary sacrifices often deal with sin.  Some years ago, when God began to remove the sins from my life, I was separated from many of my friends.  Because I no longer partied, the invitations to social functions became scarce.  I was no longer the irresponsible potty mouth that many had come to know and love.  One friend even remarked, “I like the old Jess better.”  I lost many friends when I gave up certain sins; but I gained far more.  God replaced the old with the new, and today my life is filled with healthy, loving, and caring individuals.]

                The Christian life requires sacrifice.  Letting go of what is evil and grabbing on to what is good, is not without consequence.  Obedience to the Lord produces loss; yet, for every earthly surrender there is a heavenly reward.  Trust in the Lord; sacrifice any sinful areas of your life upon God’s Holy altar; submit yourself to His leading, and you will experience all of the blessings he has promised to those who love and serve Him.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, help us to sacrifice our lives to serve You.  May we accomplish Your will no matter the cost.  Remove any sins that stand in our way.  Give us a new heart; give us new desires; may we die so that You may live.  We thank You in advance for the blessings You have promised us.  We submit our lives to You now in faith.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

Complete Forgiveness

JESUS SPEAKING

                “Take heed to yourselves.  If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17: 3-4.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                Withholding forgiveness from others is dangerous; for the Lord has said, “if you do not forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.”  Jesus used a ‘seven’ to describe the number of times a disciple is obligated to forgive others.  In the Hebrew culture, numbers carried very profound symbolic significance; the number seven represents completion; in turn, the obligation to forgive is limitless, infinite, or complete.  Since the fall of creation, until the present day, men and women have fervently sought God’s forgiveness; none whose hearts were sincere have ever been denied (for God is merciful above all things.)  We are called to be like God; and so we must forgive without exception [Note:  Even if a person doesn’t repent and request our forgiveness, we are still obligated to forgive them completely; we see Jesus exercising such mercy during his crucifixion; as the people mocked him, and the religious leaders teased him, they were not repentant.  They did not ask for forgiveness, and yet Jesus said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  We have our example in Christ.]

                One day a group of missionaries and local Christians gathered together in New Guinea to share communion and to fellowship.  As they sat down, one of the older missionaries noticed another man’s momentary expression of horror and disgust; which was quickly replaced with an expression of peace.  The missionary whispered to his friend, “What was it that troubled you?”  He replied, “The man who just came in to share communion, murdered my Father.  For a moment I didn’t think that I could handle it.  But then I realized that he has been washed and forgiven by the same precious blood.”  The men then shared communion together in love (paraphrased.)  [Another Illustration:  Some time ago I discovered that my vehicle had been vandalized.  The thieves had taken my stereo, my watch, and my MP3 player.  I became angry.  Yet, the Holy Spirit immediately convicted me of my hatred.  I was reminded of just how much God had forgiven me.  Suddenly, a feeling of warmth entered my heart and the anger was swept away like a grain of sand trapped within the flow of a mighty river.  I began to pray for the vandals; I asked God to bless them, to transform them, and to bring them to salvation.]

                To what extent should we forgive others?  Jesus has taught us to forgive without stipulation or condition.  We, who have been forgiven so much, have no right to withhold forgiveness from others.  Search your heart; if you find hatred discard it; if you discover resentment let it go.  Forgive those who have harmed you; bless them and pray for them.  Allow the Holy Spirit to help you, and your anger will ‘give way’ to peace, and your bitterness will turn to joy.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, forgive us of our sins.  May we be like You; may we sincerely forgive others.  If we have refused to forgive anyone, please reveal it to us now.  If we harbor anger or resentment of any kind, expose it; fill our hearts with mercy, that we might better serve You, and worthily magnify Your Holy name.  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.

Actions Speak louder than words

JESUS SPEAKING

            “But what do you think?  A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’  He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went.  Then he came to the second and said likewise.  And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir’ but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his Father?”  They said to him, “The first.”  Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that the tax collectors and the harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” (Mathew 21: 28-31.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

There are two kinds of people; those who do and those who don’t.  The priests and religious leaders failed to obey God despite their many years of biblical study; they preached of righteousness but were unsuccessful in achieving it.  They confused knowledge with wisdom (knowledge is the comprehension of truth; whereas wisdom is the application of it.)  While the intelligent refused obedience, many prostitutes and tax collectors were receiving salvation.  These social outcasts possessed very little knowledge of scripture; yet what little they did possess, they chose to apply.  The gospel is not a thought or a good intention; it is an action.

In the spring of 1862 a confederate Major General named ‘Stonewall Jackson’ fought a famous military campaign in a valley near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  His tactics were unorthodox and his troop movements unpredictable (he utilized speed and stealth to attack his union counterparts.)  Concerning speed, he reportedly marched his 17,000 men nearly ‘646 miles in 48 days’ (approximately 13 miles a day.)  Traveling at this furious pace, they met many natural obstacles (such as hills and streams.)  At one point however, they encountered a river too treacherous to cross.  Jackson told his engineers to draw up plans for a bridge; he then summoned his wagon master and informed him that they urgently needed to cross the river.  The wagon master immediately began to gather together every rock, fence rail, and log he could find; before sunrise the next day, the wagon master approached General Jackson and said, ‘The artillery and wagons have crossed the river sir.’  General Jackson replied, ‘Where are the engineers, and what are are they doing?’  The wagon master replied ‘they are in their tent, drawing up the plans for the bridge.’

Knowledge is useless unless it is implemented to accomplish a task.  We are called to be ‘doers of the word, and not hearers only.’  The Christian life is a life of action.  When God commands us to love our enemies, we must love them.  When he instructs us to give to the poor and needy, we must open our wallets (and purses.)  When we are directed to pray for those who persecute us, we must drop to our knees.  Keep the commandments of God and you will be blessed; obey Him and you will experience peace; follow Him and you will know joy; joy eternal; joy everlasting; joy without end.

            “Lord Heavenly Father, give us the strength to live out Your commandments.  May we receive Your words and accomplish them.  May we be ‘doers of Your word and not hearers only;’ may our actions bring others to repentance; may we love our neighbors without restraint or indignation.  We love You Father, and 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.

Unity and Division

JESUS SPEAKING

                “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand” (Mathew 12: 25.)

INSIPRED THOUGHTS

                Division produces strife, which in turn, creates weakness.  There are many forms of conflict, but the most damaging is by far, ‘internal conflict.’  Hatred amongst friends is often more damaging than hatred amongst enemies.  Divisiveness breaks the bonds between husbands and wives; it sets parents against their children; it destroys relationships and tears families apart; it defeats armies, and conquers entire nations.  The body of Christ is a divine family and a Holy Nation; made perfect in unity and peace.  Amongst God’s children, resentment, hostility and hatred have no place; for they lead to division; and division leads to destruction.

                Throughout its brief history, the United States has been involved in many military confrontations.  Despite the numerous wars waged in foreign lands, the bloodiest of all conflicts was fought on American soil.  In the 1860’s the U.S. erupted in a Civil War, which claimed nearly 620,000 lives and produced millions of crippled war veterans.  The property damage was astronomical, and the cost of the war exceeded 6 billion dollars (the city of Atlanta was burned to the ground.)  Railroads were destroyed, homes (and businesses) were vandalized, and whole crops were set ablaze.  As a nation was torn in two, its families also felt the sting of division and opposition.  There are many historical accounts of siblings fighting against one another in battle. 

                Much like 1860’s America, the church has historically experienced great disunity.  There have been divisions regarding: differing methods of baptism; the observance of certain holidays; adherence to dietary restrictions; the structure of authority within the church (the recognition of a Pope); priestly marriage; confessional; child baptism, etc.  These divisions have caused weakness to infect the body of Christ.  To avoid division, it is the duty of every believer to place the emphasis upon a common faith in Jesus Christ; and to avoid arguing over ‘uncertain things.’  We are united in our mutual faith, our acceptance of His Sacrifice, our desire for obedience, and our hope in His future return.  Love those who love the Lord; fellowship with the body of Christ; draw near to your eternal brothers and sisters; and may nothing divide you or set you apart, for you “are all one in Christ Jesus.”      

                “Lord Heavenly Father we desire to be one with our brothers and sisters.  May the things that divide us be removed; that we may love those whom you have made Holy.  Forgive our divisiveness and cleanse our hearts of hatred and resentment.  Strengthen and unite Your body; that we might stand firm in the midst of hardship, and overcome the trials and the tribulations of this life.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You; and we ask and we pray all of these things in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

Bible reading is essential

JESUS SPEAKING

                So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in my word then you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8: 31-32.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                God, in His wisdom, has chosen to use language (words) to reveal Himself to mankind.  The written and spoken words of God and of His only Son Jesus Christ are recorded within the pages of The Holy bible.  These words have the power to grant eternal life; to purify and to heal; to transform and to enlighten.  The word of God can do so many things; but unless it is utilized it can do nothing.  Daily scripture reading is essential for the growth of the believer; a dusty bible is a reflection of the heart of its owner.

                Francis A. Schaffer was a brilliant 19th century American scholar and theorist.  As a young adult he had been eagerly studying the works of the Greek philosophers; in his quest for knowledge he had been exposed to many interesting questions; for which there were no answers (he nearly drowned in theory, speculation, and conjecture.)  At this time he was also attending a very liberal church on the weekends, which failed to provide him with the answers he desired (because they did not preach bible based sermons.)  ‘He thought, “I wonder whether I should stop calling myself a Christian, and discard the bible?”  Then he reconsidered; [and] faced the fact that he had never read the bible.’  In desperation he began reading the scriptures for himself; his amazement grew with every turn of the page.  He had finally found the answers to his questions.  His curiosity had led him to a genuine faith in Jesus Christ.  Francis Schaffer never stopped reading the bible.  He committed the rest of his life to helping others discover the truth he had recieved from God.  [Note:  I myself grew up in a very liberal church.  I attended weekly services, took communion, and even served as a cross-bearer.  Yet I was never instructed to read the bible; therefore, the scriptures played no role in my daily life.  I spent my early years steeped in confusion; not knowing that within the pages of God’s word lay the instructions for life.  One day I picked up the bible my church had given me (upon my conversion) and began to read it on my lunch breaks.  Like Mr. Schaffer, I too discovered the truth; since then the word of God has completely transformed my life (without it, I don’t believe I would be alive today.)]

                Nearly 130 million books have been written throughout human history.  Every year 50,000 new titles are published.  Yet in a sea of literary works, only the Holy Bible contains the truth.  The bible transforms lives; it creates affection, produces kindness, and generates love; it relieves addictions, and delivers from despair; it can heal the sick and bring hope to the hopeless; it contains the answers to life’s deepest questions; it is a powerful tool; yet like all tools, it can do nothing unless it is put to use.  Read God’s word and discover your purpose.  Grab hold of the promises of God and never let go.  Open His Holy Scriptures and you will neither stumble nor stray from the path that leads to everlasting life.

                 “Lord Heavenly Father, show us the importance of daily bible reading.  May we cling to Your words as a dying man clings to his last breath.  Instill in us the desire to seek You.  May we be transformed through the power of Your word.  Fill us with Your Holy Spirit, that we may be more like Your Son; may others see our lives and praise Your Name.  We love You Father, we thank You, and we praise You, and we ask all of these things in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.        

Leftovers are a blessing

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 worshipped 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 Jewish culture, dogs were considered dirty animals; they scavenged through garbage heaps; feeding off of the scraps that human’s refused to eat.  The Jews commonly referred to non-Jews (gentiles) as dogs.  Jesus identified the begging woman as a dog in order to gauge her reaction.  How did she react?  She didn’t become angry; she didn’t hurl insults at him.  Discarding her pride, she embraced his assessment in pursuit of her miracle.  Because she exhibited true humility, Jesus granted her request and praised her for her faith. [Note:  In another verse, Jesus literally referred to himself as the “bread from heaven;” God provided his Son as a heavenly meal for His people.  However, many refused to accept God’s invitation.  In turn, God chose to offer the same gift to the gentiles (non-Jews.)  The scraps from God’s table have become available to all those who hunger for salvation.]

                When I was a child, we often ate meals around the dining room table.  Our dog, Brutis, was an overeager collie that ‘waited in the wings’ for my mother to leave the room.  Of course my mother expected us to eat everything on our plates (even the things we didn’t enjoy.)  When mother Laura exited the room, my siblings and I gently lowered our plates beneath the table and Brutis would lick them clean.  When my mother returned she was pleased to see empty dishes.  Our dog wasn’t prideful; he never complained about the taste of the food; nor did he consider leftovers undignified.  Instead, he joyfully devoured what we had rejected.

                The Jewish people were God’s priority in the first century (and they are His priority today.)  Jesus was Jewish; as were John, Peter, Paul, and the other 10 disciples (In fact, only one of the books of the Bible was possibly written by a non-Jewish author; the Gospel of Luke.)  Whenever Paul entered a new city, he walked straight in to the local synagogue and proclaimed the gospel to his Jewish brothers.  Only after they had rejected the message did he reach out to the gentiles.  God promised to redeem the Jewish people; Jesus is that redemption.  It is only by God’s grace and mercy that 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 a 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.  If you discard your pride and embrace His mercy, then you will take hold of 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 have divided his followers for centuries.  Gentiles and Jews are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus.]

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Jewish people, and for Your plan in saving many of them through Your Son.  We love them, because we love You.  We desire that we might all, Jew and Gentile alike, accept Your message in humility, knowing that we deserve none of Your grace; we are but lowly dogs who desperately desire Your salvation; grant us now the miracle of reconciliation.  Do not deny us Father; may we experience Your great mercy today.  We love You Father, 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.