Archive for July, 2012

Daily Bible Reading is Essential

JESUS SPEAKING

                “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away; every branch that bears fruit he prunes, that it might bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.  If anyone not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them in to the fire, and they are burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it will be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples” (John 15: 1-8.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                In the first century, grapes were a highly prized commodity grown in Israel.  Most were familiar with how grapes were cultivated.  Many sizable fruit producing vineyards consisted of individual sections; each section possessed a main vine that sprouted from the ground and stretched at great length; this vine delivered valuable nutrients, such as water and minerals to the smaller fruit yielding branches.  In this parable, Jesus likens himself to the vine; his disciples, in turn, represent the branches.  God the Father is the vinedresser, or caretaker, who nurtures and cares for the fruitful branches; like any good farmer, he prunes them; cutting away the stems that are unproductive.  These unproductive stalks represent those who claim to be Christians but behave in worldly ways (the pruning process may also be a reference to God sanctifying His children; He is constantly removing evil habits, thoughts, and actions from the hearts and minds of those who are faithful; making them more pure; more holy; and more righteous.)  Jesus revealed that every true follower was required to allow his words to abide in their hearts and minds.  Therefore, daily bible reading is an essential part of achieving and maintaining a Godly life.

                On the night that I gave my life to Jesus Christ, I was given a cheap paperback copy of the New Testament.  I threw it in the back of my car, and rode around with it for days, not giving it a second thought.  Still, something began to stir in my heart; I suddenly felt the urge to read it.  I chose to utilize my lunch breaks at work to dive in to the scriptures.  As I read, my faith commenced to grow; my life began to change in new and wonderful ways; my spirit became strong and I began to do, say, and act more like Jesus Christ.  A peace came over me; my hatred and resentments were swallowed up by the grace and mercy of a loving God.  Today, I still read my bible; I have made scripture, and the words of Jesus Christ my foundation for living.  I keep them close; in my heart and in my mind; and they have produced much fruit in my life and the lives of those around me.

                Today there are many who pass by the scriptures and pay them no mind; most are unaware of the transforming power of God’s word.  Such people, cut off from the true source of spiritual nourishment, go on to wither and die.  Still, there are those who do comprehend the value of daily bible reading; these individuals grow strong and produce much fruit.  Their hearts and minds find rest; their actions exemplify the love of God; and their lives become instruments of righteousness and peace.  The important question then is, when was the last time we made bible reading a part of our daily lives?

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You today and we ask that Your words would abide in us.  Give us a hunger to read the scriptures daily; that we might grow strong and be Your disciples.  May we discover Your truths and may we bear much fruit for You.  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.

Loving the outcasts

JESUS SPEAKING

                Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.  Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14: 12-14.)

 

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                In the Jewish culture, when a person was invited to a meal, it was expected that they would return the favor the next time they hosted a dinner party.  Not everyone owned a home; not everyone could afford to feed many guests; therefore only those who were wealthy and affluent would regularly be invited to attend feasts.  The poor, the lame, the sick, and the blind were often overlooked.  Yet Jesus commanded his disciples to invite those who could not reimburse them for their love and generosity.  In so doing, they would forgo earthly rewards in favor of eternal riches; those who have given expecting nothing in return will be rewarded for their acts of selfless love on the day when the dead are raised to eternal life.

                Every Halloween my mother insisted that we sit around our fireplace and carve pumpkins; and every year, she asked the disabled family that lived in our neighborhood to join us.  They were poor, and everyone in their family had some debilitating disorder; they were often mocked and teased by many in our small community; shamefully, I myself, being a child, was slightly embarrassed when they came to our home.  Yet, as I look back, I now understand the goodness of my mother’s actions.  She reached out to those who were outcasts; she accepted those who had been shunned by others; she chose to embrace a family who could not repay her for her kindness.  In so doing, she had fulfilled the teachings of Jesus Christ.

                As Christians, our mandate is to love without condition or stipulation; we must embrace those who are outcasts; we must care for the poor, the lame, the sick and the blind; we must be generous toward those who cannot repay us; in so doing, we too will fulfill the teachings our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.  And when we enter God’s eternal Kingdom, we will receive the full reward for our acts of selfless love.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, may we love those who are less fortunate.  May we reach out to those who are outcasts.  May we embrace those who are lost, and may we care for those who are suffering.  May we abandon any unholy pursuit of earthly rewards, in favor of heavenly riches.  Fill us with Your Spirit that we may be more like You; that others might see our good works and glorify 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.

Unrighteous Judgments are dangerous

JESUS SPEAKING               

                “Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye” (Mathew 7: 1-3.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS   

                Of all the sins one can possibly commit, hypocrisy is often the most offensive; Jesus embraced repenting murderers, rapists, and prostitutes; yet he openly loathed unrepentant religious hypocrites.  Hypocrisy occurs when an individual judges or evaluates another based upon standards they themselves are incapable of achieving.  Practicing hypocrisy is dangerous, because God judges his followers based upon the same principles they use to judge others.  If we outwardly condemn adulterers, yet secretly commit adultery, we are condemning ourselves.  Jesus warned his disciples that such unrighteous judgments served only to separate them from God.  Before we judge anyone, we must make absolutely certain that we have been victorious over the sins that have caused others to fail.

                Surprisingly, the first attempted extermination of the Jewish people did not occur within the boundaries of 20th century Nazi Germany.  Nor was Adolf Hitler the first man to attempt such a hideous undertaking.  In fact, nearly 2400 years earlier a man named Haman made efforts to execute every Jew living within the Persian Empire.  He hated the Hebrews and believed they were troublemakers who deserved to die.  Haman was a high ranking official in the court of Artexerxes the 2nd (King of the Persia.)  He convinced the King to exterminate the Jews; which would have included Haman’s mortal Hebrew enemy, Mordicai (another high ranking official who showed distain for Haman.)  Mordicai had graciously adopted his orphan cousin Esther, who grew in to one of the most beautiful women in all of Persia; the king became enamored with Esther and married her, not knowing that she was a Jew.  As the day approached for the extermination, Haman joyfully built a scaffold fifty feet tall near his home, from which he planned to hang Mordicai.  Just before the mass murder was to be carried out, Esther came forward and revealed to the king that she was in fact a Jew.  She begged him to end the genocidal plan.  The king compassionately agreed and her people were spared.  The king was also made aware of Haman’s treachery.  In a cruel twist of fate, the king ordered Haman to be hung from the very gallows he himself had constructed to kill Mordicai.  The judgment he had so eagerly reserved for others, had been visited upon him and his entire household. 

                Many, like Haman build scaffolds to hang others from.  Such people are often hypocrites who rightly incur the wrath of God; they are condemned by the very judgments they use to condemn others.  We must examine ourselves daily; and we must ask God to search our hearts and minds; if we find that the sins of others produce in us anger and resentment, then we must ask the question, “Am I guilty of any similar sins?”  If the answer is yes, then we need to change; we need abandon hypocrisy and embrace a right relationship with God. [Note:  As Christians we are given guidelines for living; standards by which every believer is commanded to live (as outlined in the bible.)  Often, it becomes necessary to evaluate others in order to reach them.  For example, a woman practicing prostitution is unsaved; we are told that no one who practices such activities can be saved.  When we approach someone who is living in sin, it is not wrong to automatically assume, or judge that they are unsaved by their behaviors and actions.  In such ways, judgment serves God’s purposes for evangelism.]

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we recognize that we are unworthy servants; that we are sinners who do not deserve Your forgiveness; yet we thank You that we have received it.  Search our hearts; if You find hypocrisy, please reveal it to us; correct us if we have been judging others unjustly.  Take away our sinful resentments, that we may more effectively reach those who are lost; and please continue to fill our hearts with gratitude, sincerity, and humility.  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 authority of God

JESUS SPEAKING

                Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and elders of the people approached him.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked.  “And who gave you this authority?”  Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question.  If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  John’s baptism—where did it come from?  Was it from heaven, or from men?”  “They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we proclaim, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”  So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”  Then he said, “Niether will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mathew 21: 23-27.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

                The religious leaders had been profiting from the sale of merchandise within the temple.  They were also manipulating exchange rates in order to defraud unsuspecting pilgrims.  Jesus entered the temple, and overturned the money tables, and chased out those who were selling merchandise.  He then sat down and began to teach.  As he taught, some of the religious leaders approached him, and asked him by what authority he had done these things.  The Lord in turn asked them where John the Baptist had received his authority.  John had been given God’s authority outside the bounds of the corrupt priestly hierarchy; he wore no expensive robes; he had no formal temple training; he didn’t spend years in a classroom studying theology; yet God used him to call tens of thousands of Israelites to repentance.  There is an authority that comes from men; an authority that can be abused, and used for selfish gain.  In the midst of man’s attempts to exploit God’s people, the Lord often raises up leaders to oppose those in power; leaders who are given divine authority; leaders who are willing to disobey their superiors in order to accomplish the will of God.

                On September 9th of 2009, a military patrol made up of 36 American/Afghan troops was ambushed in the eastern province of Kunar (Afghanistan.)  The men were pinned down and suffering casualties.  In the midst of the firefight, these brave soldiers repeatedly requested air support; yet the off-site commanding officer’s denied every request.  The men eventually radioed the base saying, “We’re going to die out here.”  Dakota Meyer, a marine posted behind the main patrol, requested permission to drive in to the ambush to haul out his distressed comrades; his fervent requests were denied four times.  Knowing that his superior officers were wrong, Dakota disobeyed their direct orders.  He and another marine selflessly jumped in to a Humvee and headed in to the “kill zone.”  They made five trips back and forth.  Each time, Meyer (who was manning the gun) exposed himself to a hail of enemy fire.  The two marines were able to save 13 servicemen and 23 Afghans; they also collected the bodies of four dead American soldiers.  Sergeant Dakota Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions.  However, three of the military officers who denied the requests for assistance, were issued letters of reprimand (‘likely leading to the end of their careers.’)

                Obeying authority is good; but sometimes those in leadership can error; some may even be completely corrupt, immoral, and unrighteous.  On occasion, in order to accomplish God’s will, it becomes necessary to question and oppose those who are in positions of influence.  As Christians we are given great authority; God Himself speaks through us; He uses us to accomplish His works; we are vessels of His love, His mercy, and His peace.  May we continue to serve Him in love; may we preach the message without shame or remorse; may we continue to oppose those who pervert the gospel for their own personal gain; and may lovingly and persistently submit to the authority of those whom God has undoubtedly anointed.

                “Lord Heavenly Father, we recognize Your authority.  We understand that you have called us to accomplish Your will.  Please continue to use and guide us in the ways of righteousness.  When we encounter leaders who are evil and unjust, give us the strength to oppose them.  Concerning spiritual matters, may we never submit to the unrighteous; instead, may we continually be willing to serve under and obey those whom you have truly anointed.  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.