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Want Forgiveness, Then Forgive

JESUS SPEAKING

          And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came to him; and he sat down and taught them.  And the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in adultery.  And when they had set her in the midst, they spoke, saying to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such a person should be stoned.  But what do you say?”  This they said testing him, that they might have something with which to accuse him.  But Jesus stooped down and began writing on the ground with his finger, as though he did not hear.  So when they continued asking him, he stood up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”  And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.  And Jesus was left alone, and the woman was standing in the midst.  When Jesus had stood up and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8: 2 – 11.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          The Pharisees had likely heard Jesus teaching about the importance of grace and forgiveness.  In turn, they brought to him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.  Under Old Testament (Mosaic) law, she was to be stoned to death.  The religious leaders had hoped he would show mercy and speak out against God’s commandments.  However, instead of condemning her, Jesus placed her fate squarely into the hands of her accusers (but not before reminding them of their own sins.)  To condemn her would be to invite God’s judgment upon themselves.  Therefore those who wished to continue receiving the Lord’s mercy had no choice but to be merciful.  One by one they threw down their stones until no one was left to condemn her.

           In the book of Ecclesiastes (Chapter 7: verse 21) we are given the reason why many struggle to show mercy.  Verse 21 reads, “Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.  For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.”  According to Solomon, forgetting our past and current sins will lead to anger and an inability to forgive.  The key to showing mercy therefore, is to be aware of our own shortcomings and to remember God’s forgiveness [Note:  There was a time when driving in traffic was rather frustrating for me.  Whenever someone would accidently cut me off, I would become angry and bitter.  One day however, I recall that someone swerved into my lane and I reacted quite differently.  I remember a feeling of peace and acceptance that I had never felt before.  The peace came from my mind; from a single thought; I recalled that I myself had many times unknowingly strayed into another lane.  I was guilty of accidentally cutting off other drivers.  Having remembered my own imperfection, I was able to accept and forgive others for being imperfect.]

          Whenever we feel bitterness, anger, and hatred toward others, it is likely that we have forgotten who we are.  We are sinners saved by grace; we are imperfect human beings; we also make mistakes.  When we remember rightly that we are inadequate and deficient, we will experience true humility.  How can we refuse to forgive others when God has forgiven us of our sins?

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we desire humility and seek after Your truth.  May we never forget that we are sinners saved by grace.  Remove any bitterness that rests within us, and replace it with love and understanding.  May we continually receive Your mercy, and may we in turn grant that same mercy to others.  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.

When Traditions Oppose God’s Will

JESUS SPEAKING

          Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples transgress against the traditions of the elders?  For they don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Jesus replied, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God commanded you saying, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘he who curses his father or mother, let him be put to death.’  But you say that if a man says to his father or mother ‘Whatever financial support you might have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ thus he doesn’t need to ‘honor his father or mother’ with it.  Therefore you nullify God’s commandment for the sake of your tradition.  You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you saying:  “‘These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men’” (Mathew 15: 1-9.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Over the course of many centuries, the Jewish people began to elevate their own traditions above the commandments of God.  One tradition required the people to ritualistically purify their hands before eating a meal.  The religious leaders condemned the Lord and his disciples for not observing this custom.  In turn, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for allowing one of their traditions to nullify God’s fifth commandment (“honor thy father and thy mother.”)  The tradition known as ‘Corban,’ made it acceptable to commit any or all of one’s wealth to God (and to the temple treasury.)  In turn, any money needed to care for or aide ailing parents or loved ones became null and void.  God did not create this tradition; for if He had, He would have clearly outlined it in scripture.  Jesus Christ does not honor the traditions of men; instead, he and his followers obey the laws and commandments of God.

          There is no doubt that the Amish people possess a zeal for God.  Unfortunately, at some point, the Amish community contracted a serious case of ‘rigid traditionalism.’  They became paralyzed by rituals not outlined in scripture; rendering them nearly incapable of effectively evangelizing anyone other than their own children (evangelism is the requirement of every believer; Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”)  The (old order) Amish have made their customs a requirement for Church membership.  New members must become farmers.  Automobiles, radios, and televisions are prohibited; electricity can no longer be utilized; bicycles and wrist watches are forbidden; photographs are shunned; married men must grow beards and telephones can only be used outside of the home for business purposes, etc. (What began as a desire to not be conformed to the evils of society, has rendered them incapable of reaching the lost.) (Note:  Not all Amish traditions are wrong; many do have their genesis in scripture:  modest dress, pacifism, and the sanctity of marriage, to name a few.)

          Today, there are countless Christian denominations (non-essential practices have caused numerous divisions.)  Many have placed traditions above the laws of God.  Potential believers in Christ are seen as potential believers in the church.  But the Father has one set of standards; He has laid out what pleases Him in a book (the Holy Bible.)  Any requirements of a church not founded on God’s word are the rules of men; such rules can serve to confuse, divide, and neutralize the people of God.  (Note:  Does this mean churches that have non-biblical traditions are evil?  No.  All churches contain a measure of ‘traditionalism.’  However, we must never allow non-scriptural traditions to gain power and prominence.)

          “Lord Heavenly Father, help us to avoid being victims of ‘traditionalism.’  May we always honor Your commandments above man-made practices.  Help us to find common ground with all those who believe.  Give us the strength to live by Your word; may we know each precept and every teaching; may we never replace Your word with our own understanding.  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.

The Presence of Prophecy

JESUS SPEAKING

          Then he gathered the twelve, and said to them privately, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered to the gentiles and will be mocked and spitefully treated and spit upon.  They will scourge him and kill him.  And on the third day he shall rise again” (Luke 18: 31-33.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Although Jesus foretold of his impending death upon the cross, his suffering had been described in detail for hundreds of years.  Throughout the centuries, the Old Testament prophets, (inspired by God) wrote about the arrival of God’s solution to sin; a sacrifice that would once and for all put an end to the iniquity that separated the divine creator from his fallen creations (Jesus Christ, was and is that sacrifice.)

          One major prophetic scripture comes from the book of Isaiah; a book written between 740 and 680 B.C.  Chapter 53 is particularly interesting because it describes the suffering of Jesus in great detail (hundreds of years before the crucifixion occurred.)  We read, “Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted, Yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare his generation?  For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people he was stricken. And they made his grave with the wicked — but with the rich at his death, because he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief.  When you make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.  He shall see the labor of his soul, and be satisfied.  By his knowledge my righteous servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the transgressors, and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors”

          Only God knows the future; only the creator can foretell of events before they occur.  Accurate prophecy is a characteristic, unique to the Holy Bible.  No other book or set of sacred writings have ever correctly predicted anything.  The scriptures are the Lord’s reliable revelation; they can be trusted.  As you read the word, remember, you are not simply reading a book compiled by men, but a book authored by God Himself.  May it inspire you, lead you, and transform you.

          “Lord Heavenly Father we praise You and thank You for providing us with the Holy Bible.  As we read it, may we approach it with reverence and respect.  Speak to us through Your word; with every sentence read, and every page turned, may our hearts be transformed; may we become more like You and Your wonderful Son.  We love You Father, we thank You, 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.

You are called to be a disciple

JESUS SPEAKING

           “A disciple is not above his master (teacher), but everyone who is properly taught will be like his master” (Luke 6: 40.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          God is called ‘the most high,’ because elevation has always been how human beings distinguish between the valuable and the invaluable.  People honor things by lifting them up.  In ancient times, when a king stepped down on level ground with a group of his subjects, those subjects would lower themselves beneath him; many would bow, others would kneel.  If the king was a child, then his subjects would sprawl out face first on the ground to make sure the king stood above them.  The teacher and student relationship is quite similar (as Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher”) The disciple, or student, must realize his or her lack of knowledge (they lower themselves); the teacher then becomes the superior source of necessary information (they are lifted up.)  In exchange for their humility and ability to learn, the disciples were promised that they would become like Jesus.  Anyone who lacked this type of humility could not be a follower of Jesus then, and cannot be his follower today.  A person who believes they have a better way, or who desires to learn from sources other than the Lord, cannot be properly taught.

        A long time ago, I was caught in a dilemma…I remember calling up a friend for advice on a situation that had made me absolutely furious.  In the middle of the conversation she said, “What would Jesus do?”  I tried to shrug it off, and replied something like, “Well, he’s Jesus, I can’t be like him.”  The question cut deep in to me; the answer to how to react to the situation wasn’t debatable; rather, it had a face, and a name, and that name was Jesus Christ.  I was not called to behave in my own way, but to behave just like him.  After all, a disciple is someone who is a student and follower of their teacher.  My teacher and master was, and is Jesus Christ.  If I desired to be properly taught (a disciple), I knew I needed to be completely submitted to him.

          You as well are called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  How does that process begin for you?  First, you must humble yourself and lift him up.  Jesus Christ must become the moral authority in your life.  Get rid of any competing teachers, and make his words the foundation upon which your life and your actions are built.  Daily gospel reading is essential.  Commit some of your time daily to the study of his words.  The gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, and the book of Revelation contain his spoken words, and descriptions of his behavior; only by knowing your teacher can you be properly taught; only by humbling yourself before the living God can you become his disciple.

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You now and ask to become Your disciples.  We lift up Your Son and we ask that He become our teacher.  Jesus, speak to us, and to our hearts, and mold us and shape us in to Your image.  Remind us of all of the words that You have spoken, and fill us with Your Holy Spirit, that we may minister to all those You place in our way.  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.

Finishing Strong

JESUS SPEAKING

          “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish?’ (Luke 14: 27-29.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Following Jesus Christ is not easy.  Fleshly desires don’t just go away; selfishness and lust are lifelong companions; they are indulgences that must be denied daily.  The price for our eternal existence is death in this life; death to self-centered living.  The wants and needs of a disciple are superseded by the wants and needs of others.  The cross is a symbol for every believer; it is a symbol of selflessness; it represents the victory of God’s will over self-preservation.  Shortly before dying on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  His life (and death) exemplified complete servitude.  Every disciple who follows Jesus must follow him to the very end.  There are no points for almost; no congratulations for half-way; and no reward for those who don’t finish.  The calling of God is a race that must be concluded; a work that demands completion; a journey with only one destination.

          Some time ago, I was volunteering at a non-profit agency.  When my time there had come to an end, the staff took me out to lunch; I told them I was leaving to attend seminary.  Immediately someone pointed to the quiet man eating across from me; I was made aware that he used to be a pastor.  He and I began to talk a little bit; he had been a minister for nearly his entire life, and had recently left the congregation.  He was rather unexcited to speak about it and so the subject quickly changed.  Later, I was privately informed of why he left the church; he had given in to homosexual temptations and was living with another man.  After so many years of faithful service, he had walked away to indulge in the lusts of his flesh.  My heart was grieved for him.  On my last day, I went to his office to leave him a note; on a yellow sticky I wrote, “Finish the race” (a phrase an ex-pastor would have easily understood.  Note:  The phrase comes from 2 Timothy 4: Verses 6-8.  Shortly before being martyred, Paul the Apostle wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”)  I signed my name and put the note on his computer; (right next to a framed picture of he and his lover.)  He had spent his whole life serving God and others, only to forsake his maker just near the end.

          Before making the decision to follow Christ you should sit down and consider the cost.  A life of complete selflessness requires a great deal of sacrifice.  You must turn away from sin and deny your own wants and needs daily.  You must esteem everyone else as more important than yourself; and you must continue this life until the very end.  Are you willing to pay this price?  The cost of eternal life is high, but the reward is far greater than anything you could ever imagine.

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You and commit ourselves to a life of service and selflessness.  We desire to do Your will; we seek to esteem others above ourselves.  We lay down our lusts and take up Your cross.  Please give us strength to complete the task that we have started.  Perfect us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we might finish the race, and one day be able to say, “It is finished.”  We love You Lord, 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.

Unity or Division

JESUS SPEAKING

          “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or household divided against itself shall not stand” (Mathew 12: 25.)

INSPIRED 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 among friends is often more damaging than hatred among 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.  Among 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 into 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, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

God’s Emissary

JESUS SPEAKING

          “He who believes in me, believes not in me, but in Him who sent me.  And him who sees me sees Him who sent me […] He who rejects me, and does not receive my words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  For I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12: 44-50, condensed.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          There were no telephones in the ancient world; no telegraphs, and certainly no computers either.  The only way to communicate across any great distance was by letter or emissary.  An emissary was a person responsible for delivering a message from one leader to another.  The messages they were given had to be repeated word for word; all of the words the messenger spoke were considered the words of the king who sent him.  The kings emissary was treated exactly as the king himself would have been treated if he had visited in person.  If the king’s emissary was treated poorly, it meant that they did not respect the king.  Jesus, although distinct in person from God, was God.  He was God’s one and only son and solitary messenger (emissary.)  He had all of God’s authority; all of God’s power, and all of God’s words.  Every word he spoke, God Himself spoke.  Every miracle he performed, God performed; every emotion he expressed, God expressed.

          When Jesus walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he was treated in one of two ways.  Some respected him, invited him into their homes, and honored him as God.  Others treated him as just another man and believed he was crazy and demon possessed.  Those who hated him didn’t realize that by persecuting him, despising him, and rejecting him, they were persecuting, despising and rejecting God Himself.  When they nailed Jesus to cross they crucified God.  Today Christ is still being accepted and rejected; some are crucifying him while others are calling him ‘King,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Savior’ and ‘God.’

          How are you treating Jesus Christ today?  Have his words found a place in your heart.  Have you accepted his sacrifice, and his message; have you called him master, and Lord.  In so doing, you accept the one true and Living God.  But if you reject Jesus and deny him, you deny God Himself.  If you have never submitted your life to Jesus Christ, and you would like to make that choice today you can.  Accepting him is easy; go to a quiet place, and be still.  Pray that he would come into your life, and into your heart; confess your sins to God and ask him to forgive you in the name of His son; profess your acceptance of His sacrifice upon the cross, and turn to Jesus and make him your new teacher.  By accepting him, and following him, you are accepting and following the living God.  [If you have taken that step, then you need to follow up; you need to get a bible and begin reading it daily; you need to get plugged in at a bible believing church in your area; most importantly, you need to begin following the commands of your Lord and master; for you are now an emissary of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Living God.]

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we accept Your Son and his message.  We call him master and Lord.  Give us the strength to be his disciples, and to be Your messengers in this world.  Father, direct us and guide us, and give us a complete knowledge of Your will.  Also, Father, give us Your words to speak, that we may accurately transmit them to everyone You put in our path.  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.