Archive for February, 2017

Freedom

JESUS SPEAKING

          “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.  They bind heavy burdens, difficult to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.  But all their works they do to be seen by men.  They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.  They love the finest places at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’  But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for one is your teacher, the Christ, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth your father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven.  And do not be called master; for one is your master, the Christ” (Mathew 23: 1-10.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Jesus spoke of the religious leaders saying, “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”  In the Old Testament, God commanded that anyone who passed by a donkey that was straining under the weight of a heavy load was required to take some of that burden off of the donkey’s shoulders and carry it themselves.  God gave Ten Commandments and a number of simple rules by which to live; yet no man was able to completely obey them.  Despite man’s obvious failure, the Pharisees added hundreds of additional rules to the already heavy load.  For instance, God commanded his people to observe the Sabbath day (a day on which no one was allowed to work.)  However, God did not intricately define what constituted work; so the religious leaders decided to do it for Him; they created 39 different categories of work related laws; every distinct category consisted of a long list of prohibitions.  Many regulations were ridiculous; for example they outlawed writing, the tying and the untying of a knot, and the kindling and extinguishing of a fire.  (Carrying anything was also prohibited; when Jesus healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath, he told him to take up his mat and go home.  As the man walked through the crowds, the religious leaders saw him carrying his mat and absurdly accused him of breaking the Sabbath laws.)  Because the Pharisees made following God more difficult, many became resentful; those who needed God the most were being pushed even farther away from Him.  Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus came to help carry mankind’s burdens; not add to them.

          In 570 A.D., a man named Mohamed was born in the city of Mecca (located in modern day Saudi Arabia.)  As an adult he started a religion known as Islam; a religion that exchanged the grace of God with man-made rules and regulations; to Mohamed, salvation was a wage that could be earned (rather than a free gift of God.)  No one can achieve righteousness through obedience to the law.  Instead, only the blood of Christ can make a man truly clean.  Not only did Mohammed re-institute many of the Old Testament laws, he also added over 3000 additional ordinances to them.  For example, he said, one should ‘only eat with the right hand, with three fingers.’  A man was not allowed to eat an animal if he had killed it with a rock; water had to be snorted every day to keep the nose clean (free of evil spirits); all Muslims were required to wash their hands first thing in the morning; no one was permitted to enter a house through the back door; people were instructed to wipe off the bed at least three times before getting into it; followers were to sleep on their right side with their right hand under their right cheek, with their knees slightly bent; a man could only use his left hand while urinating; if a dog drank from a dish, it had to be washed at least seven times; dogs were considered unclean and were therefore not to be owned as household pets; no one was permitted to drink out of a green jar or to eat garlic; women, dogs, and monkeys were not allowed to pass in front of a person praying (or their prayers would be nullified.)  Muslims were also commanded to pray five times a day, and to fast one month out of the year.

          Today many are straining under the burden of Islamic law; whole nations are in bondage and slavery to man-made rules and regulations.  The common man suffers, while the religious leaders reap the rewards of unholy power and prestige.  Empty outward obedience is in no way pleasing to God; instead, He desires inward faith in His only Son, Jesus Christ (in turn, acts of obedience are pleasing to Him.)  Jesus came to relieve man of the heavy burdens of religious rhetoric.  He simplified the law, saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All of the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Love for God and others is the new law; the law of liberty; the law of simplicity; the law of sincerity.  When we love others, we obey God.  As you go about your day, love your fellows with a genuine heart; serve them unconditionally; comfort those who are hurting; give to those in need; reach out to the lost; be a light in the lives of all those you meet, and Christ will be your companion; he will carry your burdens and relieve your sorrows; and “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Note of caution:  God’s laws are still beneficial; Jesus did not come to abolish them.)

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You today, and we lift You up; You are an awesome and amazing God; full of truth, and love and mercy.  Lord, please deliver those who are struggling under the burdens of religious oppression.  Set them free Father, and provide them with the knowledge of Your grace and mercy; may they come to know and love Your Son.  Lord, if we are carrying any unnecessary burdens, we give them to You now; take them from us; relieve us of our afflictions, that we might know what it means to truly be free.  We love You Father, we thank You, and we praise You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”

Obedience Leads to Joy

JESUS SPEAKING

          And it happened, that as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you.”  But he said, “Rather than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and ‘keep it’ (do it)” (Luke Chapter 11: verse 27 – 28.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          The word ‘blessed’ fairly accurately translates into our modern word for ‘happy.’  Those who are ‘blessed’ possess a genuine measure of peace, joy, and contentment.  In this scripture, Jesus emphasizes two essential steps, that when followed, lead to true happiness.  First, an individual must become aware of God’s commandments and teachings.  Secondly, they must apply His doctrines in their lives and the lives of those around them.

          Concerning happiness, Americans are more depressed than ever.  From 2005 – 2008, the use of antidepressant medications increased by nearly 400%.  One in every ten individuals is currently taking some form of antidepressant.  Many however are not suffering from chemical imbalances (although some might be); rather, they are unhappy because they either don’t know God’s word, or they know it but refuse to apply it.  Those committing great sins are consistently less happy than those who aren’t.  For instance, approximately 1.5% of women who are married report experiencing some form of depression; yet 5.1% of women living with a man before marriage report being depressed.  Further, those who engage in a homosexual lifestyle are more than 200% more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.  Additionally, men who watch pornography daily are 3.5 times more likely to experience severe depression than the general population.  Simply put, those who avoid sin are happier than those who don’t.

          God lovingly gave mankind rules, that when observed, lead to satisfaction and joy; even in the midst of trials.  However, when His statutes are ignored, the disobedient can expect to experience fear, emotional instability, and depression.  The formula for achieving lasting peace isn’t complicated; simply read God’s word daily and apply His teachings in every area of your life.  In so doing you will be blessed; you will avoid the misery of sin; and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we hunger and thirst for genuine obedience.  May we read Your word daily, and apply what we have learned in our lives.  May we act upon Your commandments; may we love others; may we spread Your message; may we avoid sin and receive Your eternal rewards.  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!

Relying on God

JESUS SPEAKING

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

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

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

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

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

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we honor and praise You.  You are an amazing God.  Apart from You we are weak and incapable of accomplishing good things.  Be our strength; may we rely upon You and not upon ourselves.  Give us victory over the things that cause us to stumble; may we stand firm, may we endure, and may we overcome.  May our hearts be humble, and our lives filled with joy.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

Saving Sinners

JESUS SPEAKING

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

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

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

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

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

          “Lord Heavenly Father, may we seek out those who are sick.  Give us a heart for the outcast, that we would see possibility where others see only failure.  We lay our lives at Your feet; may we be Your messengers; may we bring the good news of salvation and reconciliation to all those who dwell in darkness.  We love You Father, we thank You, and we praise You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.