Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Lost and Found Department

The stories from Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy, have given us countless lessons over the years.  There is something about a story that begins with a problem, and ends with a blessing.

In the first story  Jesus is asking if we had 100 sheep and one of them strayed away and got lost, wouldn't we leave the 99 remaining and go searching for the one that got lost, and keep searching till we found it? Jesus continues by telling in his story, when the lost sheep is found it is time for rejoicing. Then he says something that might seem a little strange to us.  Jesus says there is more rejoicing in heaven over one lost sinner returning to God, than there is over 99 that never strayed. 

The second story is about a woman that had ten coins and she lost one. She took her lamp and looked in every corner, over everything, under everything, and even sweeping every square inch of her house until she found the one that was lost. Upon finding it, she called in all her friends and neighbors to help her celebrate the joyous news. Something important to her was lost, but she found it.  Jesus ends that story, telling of the joy in the presence of the angels of God when one lost sinner repents. 

The third story has many more details but in a nutshell, one of the sons of a certain man insisted on getting his inheritance early so the old man divided his estate between sons, and gave the boy what he asked for. The son then packed his things and took off to a faraway place and wasted all his money. When the money ran out, the boy was starving and found a job feeding pigs, having to eat the same things he fed to the pigs.  He got smart in a hurry and devised a plan to return to his father. The trip back home must have been difficult for him, but the Bible says when he was still a long way off, the father saw him coming and ran to greet him. There was a big party of celebration for this boy who became lost, but found his way to the welcome arms of his father at home.  Then , his older brother, hearing the party going on, became jealous and enraged because he had been the one that remained faithful to his duties on the farm, and now the younger brother who has wasted everything comes home to a celebration. The older son was reminded by his father that everything the father owned was already his, but the party was for a son he considered dead but was now alive, lost but now found.

Human nature would have me remind God that I am not the one from the flock that got lost, I have remained with the flock all these years. I am not the coin that was lost, because I remained with the 9 other valuable coins that were safe and sound. I am not the son that had to go and experience the wild living of a faraway place, I am the faithful son who has stayed to fulfill my duties.

Heavenly nature has us realize that many of us do stray, we do get lost, and we do run away, when we put our ideas and ways above those of God. Isn't God telling us that we could be just as lost while we remain with the flock and family, if we have a poor attitude of acceptance toward those who were lost but now found? Remember this if you have been a Christian for 5 minutes or 50 years. When anyone returns to God from the faraway country of sin, it is time for everyone to rejoice. It's time to join in heaven's party. One of God's children has come home.  God keeps the lost and found department open at all times.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Want to Learn Something?

It has happened once again.  While reading the writings of a Christian author, I was introduced to  a passage of scripture which I had read before, but I probably read through it so fast I missed the meaning.  It caused me to stop for a moment and ask myself if I have been reading scripture just for the sake of reading the bible cover to cover, without spending some time in prayer or in meditation to allow the scripture to actually speak to me. 
The verse which was unfolded for my learning experience this week is a one line truth from the Psalms, which gives tremendous insight to our lives of desiring to follow Jesus in faith and obedience.  Read it carefully and see if there is a message for you, too.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise." Psalm 111:10
Yes, we have read it before, and have taught the first part...”the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." We have expounded how we should have the proper respect and reverence for the Lord, for who he is, for all he has done and continues to do for us. Perhaps we have even grasped the truth that this really is the beginning of wisdom. That is a wonderful passage we need to learn and live by.
But keep on reading...."all who follow his precepts have good understanding."  Especially pay attention to the order in which our understanding occurs.  We get it right when we learn to follow his precepts, obey his commands, and in faith honor his direction and orders for us. THEN we will have good understanding.
Let's see how this works, for example, in the commands for us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It seems such as easy task for us to love God. Anyone would be crazy to say they aren't going to love him.  But when we get to the point of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, we have a tendency to hesitate.  We ask why.  Why should I love my neighbor when he obviously doesn't love me, and he has done things and said things which are so unloving?  If I am going to accept the truth of the Psalm, then I am going to love my neighbor in obedience to the command of Jesus, and then the good understanding will come.
Follow the same analogy with each and every commandment you can find for New Testament Christians.  With each commandment that is given, we have a obey or not to obey. Our tendency is to question some commands and find ourselves wondering why God would ask us to do something like that.  For a few more examples consider his commands on unity, prayer, baptism, or the Lord's Supper. Are these commands which we follow because we love him and trust him and want to do what pleases him?
What about the command of Jesus, "follow me?"  Scripture tells us of those who left their jobs, families, and previous lifestyles in obedience to that command, and followed him, not knowing all the details concerning where it would lead.  All of the information and understanding they may have desired before following Jesus, took a back seat to their willingness to obey him. I am suggesting that is the type of obedience Jesus is looking for in us.
As recipients of God's saving grace, we become a people who aim toward obedience to his commands, simply on the basis of our love for him, our trust in him, and knowing he will never leave nor forsake us. 
Read the verse again. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise." Psalm 111:10

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Son of the Living God

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,  and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.    Matthew 16:13-20 

The craftsman works with his hands and special tools and fashions from wood, a beautiful piece of furniture.  When the hours of work are complete and the smooth table top is finished to be durable and lasting,  He can make the claim, "I made that."

Our President once made the statement, concerning the infrastructure of our cities, "You didn't build that!"  True, not every citizen had a hand in laying the concrete or pavement, not even the curbing or the painting of the stripes, but all of it became possible when citizens paid taxes. 

When Jesus asked his disciples, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" .....How would you answer a question like that?  We have read Peter's response, which obviously demanded an abundance of faith.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

On Peter's response professing Jesus as God's Son, Jesus promised to build His church, and he did!  Years have come and gone, countless church buildings have been built by contractors, building committees, volunteer labor, or just a small group of friends and neighbors getting together to build a building.  Even with all of the success of the professional builders, and the volunteer workers, buildings have been built, but Jesus is still the master builder of the church. 

He is still in the church building business today as more and more accept his invitation to a "newness of life"  that only he can give.  Until he returns to gather his own, the gates of Hades will not overcome the church HE built.  Sometimes we need a reminder that all of our church work, to the glory of God, all of our new buildings, all of our good deeds, it's still the church of Jesus Christ.  Proclaim his gospel throughout the world, "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God."


Saturday, March 25, 2017

MISSION: Possible

Your mission, should you elect to commit to it, is to read each of these Scripture passages matched up with varying circumstances in life. Read them all now, or spread them out over the weekend.  Not knowing the hour or the day when Jesus will return, this message may be destroyed at any time. (If you read them all this weekend, just think how nice things will be on Monday!)

Do you hurt because of sorrow? – read John 14

Friends let you down? – read Psalm 27

Lord, I have sinned. – read Psalm 51

Worry controls me. – read Matthew 6: 25-34

I am afraid. – read Psalm 91

Bad case of the "down and outs." – read Psalm 34

God seems so far away – read Psalm 139

All of life is discouraging– read Isaiah 40

I really want to accomplish something for God – read John 15

What do I do about all my doubts?– read John 7:17

I feel all alone – read Psalm 23

God never seems to send me his blessings.– Psalm 103

What is a Christian, really. – read Matthew 5

My faith needs a shot of B-12 – read Hebrews 11

Today I am feeling hopeless – Romans 8: 31-39


Friday, March 24, 2017

The Running Man

The man was on the run.  His pursuers were close behind.  Fear filled his entire being.  Not knowing where to turn, not feeling the safety he longed for, he felt alone and afraid. 

Have you ever been that desperate?  Afraid of what might happen if you were overtaken by those who were chasing you, and seemingly having nowhere to turn, no way of escape, alone and afraid, what would you do?

The man in our story is David.  His pursuers were the Philistines.  David was in quite a predicament. The account of what he did about his situation is recorded in Psalm 56.  Look at the beginning verses of the Psalm.  

Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
    in their pride many are attacking me.

David cries out to God in his desperation.  One lesson we learn from him here, is David's prayer to God  comes before his own attempt to solve the problem.  Yes, he was in trouble, but as the verses which follow will show, David has not forgotten God.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

We find ourselves in disturbing circumstances, too.  If you read the remainder of Psalm 56, you will find more of what David faced, and more of how he depended of God for his deliverance.   The latter verses of the chapter tell us again of David's trust in the Lord.  But there is even more.  Look at verses 12-13.

12 I am under vows to you, my God;
    I will present my thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered me from death
    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

David had learned, as we must learn, even in desperation, God longs to demonstrate his power and willingness to rescue his people.  When we do not know where to turn, God says, "turn to me."  You see, the phrase, "In God we trust," is not only the mark on our currency in America, it's the mark on the heart of every child of God. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Who I Was .... Who I Am

Most mornings when I wake up, I turn on the TV to one of the news channels so I can learn what happened in the world while I was sleeping.  After listening to the same news stories repeated several times, I see a commercial from one of the national weight-loss products.  Yes, I's not something I want to see before breakfast, especially those commercials which show the "before and after" pictures.  I have thought about hiring myself out as the "before" model, but have never qualified for the "after" pictures. 

All this got me to thinking about the before and after descriptions of a Christian.  Then I thought about some who have tried to take on the name of Jesus, yet there are no changes or improvements.  There is nothing to differentiate the before and after.
Paul's writing to the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 2, gives us in accurate detail, the before and after pictures of Christian people.  

”As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."   Ephesians 2:1-6

From the notes in my NIV Study Bible, here are the descriptions presented:

Before                                             After
Dead in transgressions.........................................Made alive with Christ
Objects of wrath..................................................Shown God's mercy and salvation
Followed the ways of the world...........................Stand for Christ and the truth
God's enemies......................................................God's children
Enslaved to Satan.................................................Free to love and serve with Christ
Followed our evil thoughts and desires................Raised up with Christ to glory

That contributes such a greater perspective on who we are in Jesus Christ.  Further, we can understand from those verses the futility of attempting this thing called "life" without him.  As I look at the verses from the Bible, and see the comparison chart from the notes in the study Bible, there is no way I can survey the arrangement of words without making a personal application. 

What about you?  Where do you see yourself? 

I now visualize Paul, the seasoned apostle, laying it all out in front of his audience. He lets them know what they are without Jesus, and what they can become with Jesus.  His words in this letter, written centuries ago, are just as true and just as fresh for you and me.  Jesus welcomes and invites you to eternal life. 


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I Want to See!

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”   Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”   “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.  Mark 10:46-52

What an amazing miracle! What an amazing demonstration of faith! Are we surprised when reading stories of people who have an encounter with Jesus, also have their need supplied? Bartimaeus was blind and wanted to see. He was persistent in calling out to Jesus, even when the people of Jericho tried to keep him quiet.  Notice that he kept calling louder and louder, until Jesus heard him. Then the miracle happened and Bartimaeus could see. Jesus told him that his faith had healed him. 

I confess to you, my experience in reading scripture and especially the gospel narratives, already had me convinced that Bartimaeus was going to be able to see.  I knew Jesus could make it happen. This miracle would join the other miracles, from turning water into wine all the way up to raising Lazarus from death. After all, Jesus was in the miracle-making business, not only to show his compassion on those who needed him, but also as a demonstration of God's power.

I was drawn to this story today because I feel there is a need for us all to call out to Jesus, and when he asks us as he did Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" Our answer should be the same words Bartimaeus used in his reply, "I want to see!" Even if your vision is 20/20 or if you, like me, depend on eyeglasses or contact lenses, we still need help from above to see lots of things.  Here are a some for you to consider, but also think of others that could be added to your list.

1.  We need help seeing there are people around us every day that could be drawn closer to God through our example and our influence in sharing the Good News.

2.  We need to have our eyes opened to the needs of those around us, and those all the way around the world. We may feel our resources are not enough to help much, but as we have seen, minimum resources in the hands of God, can bring maximum results. 

3.  We are often so busy looking at the faults of others, our eyes are closed to the fact that we are sinners.  As long as we live, even those who are saved by God's grace, are a part of Adam's race and need to be aware of sin. Yes, God still loves and forgives us.  Our salvation should never become a source of isolation from others. Jesus can help us see the whole world is our harvest field. 

What else do you need to see?  Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, and so should we.