Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New Directions

"Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ."  Acts 9:19-22 

Saul had just been converted to Jesus. That conversion experience is one of the most exciting series of events in the first half of Acts 19.  In the verses above, his life is changed. He is associating with the disciples. He is preaching in the synagogues.  He is sharing the good news about Jesus. 

Everyone that heard Saul speak about Jesus became somewhat perplexed. Saul had been the man  stirring up all the trouble for Christians. He wanted them all dead or imprisoned. That was his intended purpose in traveling to Damascus. Now we read of his new birth and his growth and power in proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. 

Isn't it amazing the way God works?  He actually takes the strongest and most powerful enemy of the cross, and turns him into the strongest and most powerful messenger of the gospel.  What a change! This is Saul, that we come to know as the Apostle Paul, letter writer to churches, servant for the cause of Christ, diligent laborer for Christianity. 

God is longing to make changes in your life too. The power of the cross can make a huge difference in you, just like it did it Saul. Your past is just that.....the past.  In spite of all that, God wants to be in a loving and forgiving relationship with you, and watch you grow strong and powerful in his service. 

You think your friends will be baffled?  Probably no more baffled than those Jews living in Damascus,  when they heard Saul "proving that Jesus is the Christ. "


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Gunfighter

Hugh O'Brian was famous in the early days of television for playing the role of the legendary Wyatt Earp.  The show was a half hour in length and was along the same line as other 30 minute westerns like Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel.   O'Brian, now in his 80's, has become an example of how Christianity should work.  I make that statement without any knowledge of O'Brian's religious preferences, or if he is connected with any denominational tag. 

The year was 1958 when, between filming his Wyatt Earp TV shows, O'Brian was making the circuit with a traveling circus, headlining a cowboy shooting act. He received an invitation from Dr. Albert Schweitzer to come to Africa. Schweitzer was running a medical clinic there and O'Brian spent 9 life-changing days observing and helping at the clinic.  As he was preparing to leave Africa, Schweitzer came to him and asked, "What are you going to do with all you have learned?"

O'Brian pondered that question over and over on his long trip home. It led to other questions concerning how he might do something in life to make a difference for others. He wanted to impact the world in such a way, that the world would be a better place.  From these thoughts a vision emerged. 

Just two weeks after O'Brian returned from Africa, he started rounding up kids.  They had to be about the age of 15, and sophomores in high school.  He felt this was the age he could work with and they would have two more years of high school to share with their classmates.  This was the beginning of an organization called HOBY, Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership.  The goal was to get the "cream-of-the-crop" kids from across the nation and allow them to be exposed to the best motivational leaders in the country.  Those kids would attend a 3-day seminar, absolutely free to the kids, and allow them direct contact with the country's greatest innovators.

HOBY has grown every year since its inception, bringing in over 15,000 kids annually,  to 70 locations across every state.  Many of those attending this year will be third generation HOBY participants. From the group of HOBY attendees, has come well known ministers, CEO's, judges, financial experts, educators, and the list could go on.  Also from the group there emerges numerous stories of successful husbands and fathers.  Contributions from big business and individuals fund the events every year, and most of the donors will tell you it's the best investment they have ever made. 

So these are the basics of the story of the hero for lots of kids in the 50's as Wyatt Earp tamed the west. But his story continued because of the concern he had for helping others overcome mediocrity and become an asset to society, not only in business dealings, but also in the way they treat people, their love of others in helping them to be overcomers, and the overall goals they reached in making a difference. 

I can almost see the crusty old cowboy smiling as he realizes how his dream to make a difference still brings that difference to so many kids.  And we, complaining that we are only one person and resources are limited, and we work too many hours, often go through life without a vision or a goal.  What do you suppose could be accomplished in our community, in our churches and schools, in our homeless shelters, or in our country clubs, if we had the love for others that Jesus calls us to have?  We who find loving God is easy, find loving others more difficult. Both are commands from the same savior that loves us.  So today I pray, "Lord give me the vision to see greater ways that I can serve you, and give me the love for others so I can make a difference."

Thanks Wyatt. You are my hero again. 


Monday, July 17, 2017

I am the vine....

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."  John 15:1-5

On the surface this is relatively easy to understand. Jesus establishes his role as the vine and his father's role as the gardener.  Both are vitally important in the business of bearing fruit. Notice it is the gardener who inspects every branch for fruit and those branches that are barren, he cuts them off.  There is no reason to continue nurturing a branch that is barren. It's a waste of water, fertilizer, and time if the branch does not produce fruit. When the gardener has finished his pruning, what remains is a healthy and productive vine. 

Can you see the illustration as it applies to our lives? Just as the gardener and the vine have connection with each other, so the connection between God the Father and Jesus the Vine is vital. It is from this connection that branches are formed and we know branches are where the fruit is produced. 

Having established the truth that occasional non-productive branches require a pruning, Jesus goes on with his illustration by emphasizing his role as the vine.  He gives us another truth which is easy to understand when he says, "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."  I am going out on a limb here (pun intended), when I tell you that every branch you see that produces fruit, is attached to the vine.  It is from the vine that nutrients and water are delivered to the branches and the result is fruit. That's why Jesus wants us to know that a Christian will not bear fruit unless he remains in Him. 

Then Jesus says it again, "I am the vine."  Meditate on that statement for a while and realize all the spiritual ramifications it implies.  Everything the branch needs to produce fruit is supplied by the vine. 

That truth is one we sometimes overlook.  We have a tendency to wave our own flag when great accomplishments are made in the life of the church. If a new program is introduced and becomes a success, we are quick to let everyone know it was our idea, our work, our leadership, and without us, it would have failed.
While we exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit and become talented in certain areas, that does not mean the vine has stopped supplying everything necessary to produce fruit. We are to continually maintain our places as a fruit producing branch, connected to the vine which supplies everything we need. 

When good things happen and fruit is produced, give God the glory. When we find ourselves talented and equipped to be a part of that fruit, praise belongs to Jesus, the vine. 

Remember his words in John 15:5, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." What a joy to be a fruit producing branch, connected to the vine, tended carefully by the gardener. 


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Just Kids

A devotional pamphlet I was reading carried a brief story about a young man named Darrell Blizzard who had grown up in an orphanage. He was attending Penn State for his first semester of college. The year was 1942 and World War II was in full swing. All those who were recently out of high school and beginning college were keeping an eye on the war, especially on the draft. If they were drafted they would automatically go into the Army, and probably to combat positions on the front line. 

Darrell had always been interested in flying, and attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Following several setbacks to get into training schools, he finally found himself a member of Air Corps, inducted in Pennsylvania, but attending Basic Training in Florida.  It was in North Carolina where he actually started some training in a Piper Cub, which was just a frame of an airplane, with canvas covered body and wings. 

His desire to become a bomber pilot sent him to training in Marfa, Texas and Hobbs, New Mexico, facilities which are no longer operating. While reflecting on the long hours of training and schooling, Darrell was quoted by a reporter that the largest thing he had driven was  a four-mule plow team, and now he was flying a four engine B-17 bomber. He was also quoted as saying, "We were all just a bunch of kids in combat regions, flying missions which could have tremendous impact on the outcome of the war."

I failed to mention when our story started, Darrell Blizzard was 17 years old. After all his training and schooling, he was 19 and about to turn 20, and carrying a huge responsibility in his task as a bomber pilot. He later became an airline pilot so we can understand how flying was his passion. 

Would we question someone that young and inexperienced to have such a responsibility?  Even in the church when a task is assigned to someone in their youth, we are reluctant and often uncomfortable giving responsibility to some because of their age.  We want them to have experience.....successful experience before we trust them with important duties. 

That devotional magazine I was reading mentioned several examples from the Bible which might make us think otherwise.  1 Samuel 2:18 says, "Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child." And remember the story of David when he was told on several occasions that he was too young to be a soldier and fight against the Philistines. He was told he was not able to fight Goliath, because he was still a youth.  Another example is Mary. All indications have us thinking she was a very young woman when the announcement was made to her that she would give birth to the Son of God.  Then one more is the attitude of Paul as he told his young ministry student, Timothy, "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to all believers."

God places great value on every child of His, regardless of age, when they place their trust in Him. My challenge to you today is to spend some time praying for those who are young in their Christian walk, and then on Sunday at church, give them some words of encouragement and let them know how much you appreciate their example.


Friday, July 7, 2017

But Some Doubted

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:16-20

The events of the public ministry of Jesus were history. His death, burial and resurrection were things of the past. Jesus had made some appearances since being raised from the dead, the these verses were his departing commands to his closest disciples. They contain those words which we call the "Great Commission,"  which extend even to us and become the basis for the church's ministry of evangelizing the world.

One special note for those who are familiar with this section of scripture is we often start quoting with the command of Jesus, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...."  We fail to read and remember the verses that lead up to the command.  Notice, the eleven went to Galilee, to the exact place where Jesus had told them to go.  Then they saw him. They worshiped him, but some doubted. 

Was there doubt in the ranks of the remaining eleven? The very ones who had followed him through all the ups and downs, in good times and bad, those who were witnesses to his resurrected state. How can it be, even after all that, there were some that still doubted?

Before we find an answer to that, we must make a contemporary glance at those of us who are disciples of Jesus. His authority in heaven and earth has been established and it is by his authority that we are commanded to make disciples of every nation. We preach and proclaim that every Christian is commanded to actively participate in evangelizing the world.

Even when understanding that, we must admit that we have fallen short of being obedient to the Great Commission's commands.  We may hear it preached from the pulpit, and drop a few bucks in the collection plate, and feel confident we are supporting the spread of the gospel. I would never discourage your financial support to missions and evangelism, but there is a trend among us just like that of the eleven mentioned at the end of Matthew 28.  Even today, some see him, they worship him, but some doubt. They may doubt the authority of Jesus, or they  may doubt their own ability to be making disciples of all nations, but the doubt is there.

Look again at the closing words of Jesus' commands. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  My premise is this.  When our doubts have been erased concerning Jesus being with us now and to the very end, only then will we be instruments in his hands, bringing others to him.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Bonds of Freedom

The Apostle Paul is our example of evangelism and church planting. Throughout his missionary tours people were brought to the Lord and their faithfulness became the subject matter of many of Paul's letters to the churches he had visited.  

Yesterday when I was working on blog articles for the week, I introduced you to a publication I had found called "Prisoner to Prisoner." It is a booklet of devotional writings from those who are incarcerated. My mind led me to Ephesians 4 where Paul calls himself a "prisoner for the Lord."  We do know that Paul spent time in prison because of his faith. Some of the New Testament letters were written by Paul while he was imprisoned. 

Why do you suppose Paul would call himself a prisoner for the Lord?  In the context of Ephesians 4, Paul uses this description of himself, to encourage the Ephesian Christians to lead lives worthy of their calling. "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Further encouragement is for them to be humble and gentle and patient, as well as loving toward each other.   He then went on to explain the structure of the church which brings growth and maturity. 

If I read all of that correctly, I get the picture of those who are actively involved in using their individual gifts to benefit the growth of the church.  To me, it's more of a picture of freedom and liberty than a picture of being imprisoned. 

Then I am reminded of another scripture from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price."  These verses tell of the overall theme of the Bible, that all of us are sinners, Jesus died for our sins, and when we seek his grace and forgiveness we are being redeemed from the penalty of sin by Jesus. His blood is the price paid for our ransom. 

Paul himself is our example here, too. This rugged man who fought long and hard against Christianity, found Jesus on the Damascus road and he was no longer a man to follow after his own aims and desires. He now belonged to God, bought and paid for with Jesus' blood.  

The same is true of us. We, too, become a prisoner of the Lord, a prisoner to the joyous life of freedom from the bonds of sin, set free from the guilt, the misery, and the penalty of sin. Instead of living according to the ways of the world, we who belong to God find direction for living by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. It is then in our weakness we find strength. In our poverty we find prosperity. In losing everything, we find everything. In giving up all things, we gain all things.  We find ourselves bound to Him, with those bonds that bring liberty.