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Powerful Conversions

JESUS SPEAKING

          “While I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.  And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me, saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  “So I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’  And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.  I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by their faith in me’” (Acts 26: 12-18.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          There was once a very angry young man named Saul who passionately hated Christians; after Jesus ascended into heaven, Saul traveled from synagogue to synagogue, beating, harassing, and even killing those Jews who openly professed a faith in Jesus Christ.  One day, while traveling to Damascus to persecute believers, God intervened in Saul’s life.  Jesus appeared to him and said, ‘it is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  [Oxen were trained to pull heavy plows; an untrained ox would often try to kick itself free.  In turn, farmers attached sharp pieces of metal to the plow (otherwise known as ‘goads.’)  When the ox kicked the plow, it would stab itself in the leg; the harder the kick, the more painful the sensation.  After a short time the animal would learn to accept its position.]  Like an untrained beast, Saul had been struggling against the call of God.  After his visitation, Saul finally quit fighting; he accepted Jesus as his Lord and savior; he also changed his name to Paul, and went on to write many of the letters in the New Testament.  Throughout history, some of the greatest Christian leaders have often been those who were once devout enemies of God.

          Sir William Ramsay was one of the most influential scientific minds of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He taught at Oxford, and is credited with discovering several new elements; he also received numerous scientific awards and honors.  Ramsay had been raised as a non-believer; his parents were atheists (a disposition he also clung to for most of his life.)  He had little respect for Christianity; in fact he claimed that the bible was nothing more than “a book of fables.”  He began to study archaeology and eventually he traveled to the Middle East in hopes of disproving the historical accuracy of the bible.  After 25 years of travel and research, he was forced to concede that even the most minuscule details of the New Testament were accurate.  Instead of writing a book disproving the validity of scripture, Ramsay wrote a book entitled “St. Paul, the Traveler and Roman Citizen.”  In it, he presented his findings; all of which supported the reliability of the bible.  Convinced by the evidence, Ramsay shocked his colleagues and fellow intellectuals by announcing that he had converted to Christianity.

          Like Paul, and like Sir William Ramsay, there are many today who are kicking “against the goads.”  God however, is still actively intervening in the lives of atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers the world around.  If you are raging against the call of God, stop struggling; give up, and give in.  Let the Lord into your heart; He will replace your pain with peace; your hatred will give way to love, and your sorrow will turn to joy; if you would only surrender to Him, you would know true freedom; for you would come to know the eternal and everlasting God.

          “Lord Father, may Your perfect will be done in our lives.  We pray for those who “kick against the goads.”  Soften their hearts and cleanse their minds, that they may come to believe in Your Son, and in the redemption he has offered through his sacrifice.  May they embrace and receive Your free gift of salvation through faith.  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.

Marriage is Permanent

JESUS SPEAKING

          Then the Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him.  And He answered them saying, “What did Moses command you?”  They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.”  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.  But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.  So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10: 2-12.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          The religious leaders asked Jesus a controversial question concerning divorce (controversial even today.)  They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  Jesus’ answered ‘No.’  He then referred to Adam and Eve as an example of God’s divine will concerning marriage.  In ‘the beginning,’ God created two people; Adam and his wife Eve.  They were created for one another; God intended them to be one inseparable person; one being, in eternal fellowship with Him.  They longed for one another and had no desire to be apart.  Divorce is not God’s creation [Although God did not create divorce, according to Jesus, He allows it in only one instance.  Sexual immorality, such as adultery, is a just cause for divorce.]  The bond between a husband and wife is sacred; and if broken, produces a plethora of eternal consequences.

          Every human being alive today is the product of the union between two people.  When the first cell is formed in the womb, it carries with it, all of the information necessary to create a person.  Half of the instructions come from the mother, and half come from the father.  The child may have the father’s eyes, but the mother’s hair; their mannerisms and behaviors will partially reflect either parent in some way.  Imagine attempting to separate the child in two; ‘half of Dad over there; half of Mom over here.’  Can a human being be divided in such a way and still hope to live?  No; any attempt at separation would surely result in death.  When two people get divorced they are trying to separate what cannot be separated.  Sadly, many married couples choose to divide and in turn they choose death rather than life.

          Today, anyone seeking to be married should understand that there is no turning back; there is no ‘jumping ship;’ there is no dividing what God has made one.  Divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality leads to death.  Although marriage is meant to be a blessing and a gift from the Lord, at times it can be challenging and extremely difficult; despite the challenges however, it is most certainly permanent; it is a contract that can never be broken.  So take the time to consider what marriage means before you enter into an eternal union with another human being.

          “Lord Heavenly Father, please give those who are married the strength to continue forward in love with their eternal partners; may they understand the permanence of their marriage vows.  Also, provide those of us who are not married with wisdom in choosing our future wives and husbands.  Lord, continue to guide Your children; that those who love You may avoid the snares of death, and the tragedy and misery of divorce.  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.

God’s Wisdom

JESUS SPEAKING

          “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to think beforehand what you will answer.  For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all of your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21: 12-15.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Jesus prophesied that his disciples would suffer persecution; they were all eventually arrested, and 10 of the 12 disciples were put to death.  Although they had committed no crimes, they were brought before kings and rulers, and compelled to testify concerning their faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus commanded them to refrain from rehearsing their testimonies prior to being questioned.  Preparation had the potential to hinder the proclamation of God’s wisdom.  Human effort needed to be abandoned, and God’s power had to be embraced.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, God spoke through the disciples, and He continues to speak through His people today.  Questions are still being asked and God is still answering them clearly and without error.

          Sometime ago, a woman who had gone through brain surgery reached out to me to discuss matters of faith.  Seeking answers she wrote, “I don’t understand why some suffer such heartache and trials beyond our choosing, and others, often those who are seemingly evil, are blessed beyond belief.”  The Holy Spirit immediately gave me the answer to her question.  The answer did not come from me, but from God.  I simply quoted one of Christ’s parables: “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores, who was laid at his gate; desiring to be fed by the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  Then the time came that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  And being tormented in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”

         The correct answers aren’t ours to give.  All genuine wisdom and understanding comes from God, and the Holy Spirit directs and guides those through whom He chooses to speak.  Only God has the right answers.  Only God speaks without error.  In this world, human wisdom battles against divine wisdom.  True victory can only occur when God’s wisdom is proclaimed.  Let God’s words flow from your mouth; give Him the opportunity to speak to those who have questions; let them find real meaning; let them be satisfied with the correct answers; and may the one true and living God make Himself known to all those you meet.

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we come before You, and we ask that You fill our mouths with Your words.  Speak through us, and communicate with those who would seek to question and examine our faith.  May You reveal true wisdom to those who lack understanding.  May we be Your messengers to a world that does not know You, and may all those who oppose You be put to shame.  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 Tomb is Empty

JESUS SPEAKING

          Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom do you seek?”  She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will go and get him.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said to him, “Rabboni! (Which is to say, Master).  Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.’” (John 20: 15-18.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Mary arrived at the tomb to find the stone missing along with the body of Jesus.  Immediately she was grieved and began to weep.  She came to the tomb expecting to find the lifeless body of her beloved Lord; instead she encountered the living God.  Upon seeing Jesus, she embraced him tightly; as if to never let him go.  He urged her to lighten her grasp (his return was not permanent; he would soon ascend into heaven.)  His true place was not on earth with them, but with his Father (and their Father.)  Mary was instructed to bring this news to the despondent disciples who were in hiding for fear of being killed themselves.  Having seen the resurrected Lord, she became the very first messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

          Throughout history, many like Mary, have gone to the tomb expecting to find the body of Jesus Christ; and like Mary, they have found the tomb empty.  Every generation has had its share of doubters; people who believed they could do what no one had ever been able to do […] disprove the resurrection of Christ.  In the early 1900’s an English professor and journalist named Frank Ross set out to investigate and refute the claims that Jesus rose from the dead (as a journalist, he was skilled in examining the credibility of sources.)  As the evidence mounted, Frank was faced with the awesome truth; the accounts matched; the archeology was sound; and all of the witnesses were credible; Jesus Christ had in fact risen from the dead.  He had expected to find a dead man, but instead, he discovered the living God.  Rather than writing a book that disproved the resurrection, he entitled his book, “Who moved the stone.”  In the book, Frank Ross, the convert and faithful believer, sought to bring what he had found to the rest of the world.

           The work that began with Mary on that third day has continued throughout the generations, and continues even today.  Anyone who goes looking for Jesus Christ in a dusty tomb is looking in the wrong place.  He is very much alive, and is seated at the right hand of God.  Frank Ross and Mary Magdalene, both set out to find Jesus; and they both found what they were looking for […] have you gone looking for him yet?  Have you made your way to the tomb and looked inside?  You too, will discover that Jesus Christ is not dead, but alive.  When you find him, please let others know that there is a God, and that they can discover him too?

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we believe that Your Son rose from the dead.  We believe that he is seated with You in Your Kingdom.  We desire to carry this message to others; give us the strength to bring what we have discovered to the world.  May we be bold in declaring that we have encountered the risen Lord, and the living God.  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.

God is calling you (stay focused)

JESUS SPEAKING

          And he said to another, “Follow me.”  But the man said, “Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”  And another also said, “Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid farewell to those who are at my house.”  But Jesus said to him, “No man having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9: 59-62.)

INSPIRED THOUGHTS

          Although Jesus Christ called many, few chose to answer his call.  The calling of God demands immediate and absolute obedience.  When Jesus summoned Simon and Andrew they were busy fishing.  How did they respond?  We read, “They immediately left their nets and followed him.”  The priority of the first man in this scripture was to attend to the burial of his father.  Jesus beckoned him to focus on the living, not the dead (the man’s Father was likely an unbeliever.)  The second individual desired to return home to say farewell to his family; thereby placing his loved ones ahead of God.  The Jewish people were very familiar with agricultural practices; plowing, planting, and reaping were intimate aspects of their existence.  Which is why Jesus used a farming illustration to express an important truth.  When driving the ox and plow, a farmer’s eyes remained focused on the field ahead; looking back served only to distract the driver from his necessary work.  The world today is full of diversions, obstacles, and enticements.  Distractions are dangerous; they can prevent us from accomplishing God’s will.

          According to the national highway safety commission, 80% of all car crashes involve driver distraction.  These statistics proved true for a man named Stephen in 1983.  One sunny morning he hopped in his new Mercedes Benz; with the top down and the wind in his face, he set out for an important appointment.  As he drove up the coast of Southern California, he passed by a certain beach.  His attentions unexpectedly turned to a young blond woman wearing a bikini.  As she jogged passed his vehicle, his mind, heart, and eyes, followed along with her.  The image of a complete stranger took priority over the road, his destination, and even his new wife Sandy.  Suddenly, he smashed into the back end of a Chevelle that had come to a complete stop in his lane.  Although Stephen’s body remained uninjured, his pride, and the front end of his Mercedes weren’t quite as lucky.  When driving, the road ahead must take precedence over everything else. To reach our destination, we must abandon every trivial distraction.

          Jesus Christ has called many; still, few have responded in the serious and immediate manner required for discipleship.  If you have felt called by the Lord, let go of this fading existence and grab hold of the plow.  Make God the priority.  Preach the gospel to all those you meet; accomplish the work of the Lord and avoid distractions.  This life is a passing dream; keep your eyes, mind, and heart, focused on God; and you will certainly reach your divine destination.

          “Lord Heavenly Father, we ask that You would be our first priority.  May our eyes be continually focused upon You. Take control of our lives and be our Master.  Help us to avoid distractions.  Give us the wisdom and strength to finish what You have started; until the day that we enter Your eternal Kingdom.  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.

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!