Thursday, February 28, 2013

The One Who Sets Us Free

It is said that Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, once had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, “What will you give me if I release you?” “The half of my wealth,” was his reply. “And if I release your children?” “Everything I possess.” “And if I release your wife?” “Your Majesty, I will give myself.” Cyrus was so moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, “Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!” With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, “I didn’t notice. I could only keep my eyes on you—the one who was willing to give himself for me.” (Borrowed from

Perhaps the total impact of that illustration cannot be felt by individuals today, because we have never experienced captivity like the prince and his family.  For the most part, we live comfortable lives, never wondering if there will be enough to eat or if we get to keep the electricity turned on another month. I know there are those in today's world who face those struggles, and sometimes it does feel like they are prisoners of the things life has sent their way. 

While Christians do have the responsibility to minister to the needy and help in areas where we can, the real message of the story above is a message of staying focused on the only one that can bring us real freedom and release from those things that enslave us. 

Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, the words which would describe the ministry of the Son of God on the earth. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   Luke 4:18-19

Right in the middle of his ministry description, is the phrase, "He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners."  Jesus wasn't saying his ministry was to open all the jail cells and turn all the criminals loose. True, incarceration can become an incentive for change and repentance, but Jesus had in mind the freedom from those things that enslave us and keep us from being his disciple. Our minds might immediately think in terms of alcoholism or drug addiction, and Jesus can set you free from those things. Often overlooked are things like gossip and slander and backstabbing among our ranks. The honest inspection of our own lives will bring to light those things which hold us in captivity.

Jesus wants you to know the power of God, through the cross of Christ, offers you release and freedom from whatever enslaves. Finding his freedom for you, personally, leads to the real joy of Christian living. Keep your eyes on the One who sets you free. 


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Word to the Wise

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."  Proverbs 3:5

That Solomon was one smart man. The Proverbs are laced with gems of wisdom like the one above, and we would do well to make their applications to every aspect of our lives. They are exceptional for the new Christian  in determining right paths for the future. They are wonderful for individuals and families and businesses and governments and churches. 

If you have lived life for very long, you know there will be difficulties and obstacles which confront everyone.  Situations and problems will stare us in the face and we will think there are no solutions. Even with this kind of thinking, we still insist on trying to be smart enough and big enough to get ourselves out of every dilemma. The advice of Solomon, in one of the most often quoted verses from Proverbs, is to trust in the Lord with all of your heart. 

Recently we looked in the New Testament book, known as the Gospel of Luke, and saw the primary commands which lead to inheriting eternal life, are to love God and to love our neighbor. In the command to love God, we are told to love him with all of our heart.

I can think of no greater coupling of scripture than the one to love God (Luke 10), and the one to trust God (Proverbs 3).  If we could come to experience the love of God for us, and love Him as we are commanded, then place our complete trust in Him, we would be well on the way to face anything and everything that confronts us in life. 

The instruction from Solomon doesn't stop here. He continues by encouraging us to not lean on our own understanding. Can you see how this ties directly to the first part of the verse? The real reason we are to place our trust in the Lord, is because we cannot rely on our own understanding. Even the most intelligent among us, the most powerful, the most informed, the most experienced, still need to avoid a dependence on their own understanding. 

A lot of the teaching from Proverbs center around the subject of wisdom and making wise choices and decisions. Here in the verse we are considering today, the wise solution to life is to place our trust in the Lord and not in our own understanding. Solomon would have you to know it is God whom we can trust, and the wise servant will be so closely in relationship with God that you can count on Him to be with you.

I don't know if you are new in your spiritual journey, or have been a Christian for years, the advice from Solomon is helpful in every step you take, and in every aspect of every day in your life. Memorize the verse and depend on it for the strength you need. 


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Loving God and Others

Luke 10 begins with " After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves."

Further instructions were given to them as they set out on their journey preparing the way for Jesus. No doubt, they encountered some who were eager to hear the teachings of Jesus, and others who could care less. One of the things Jesus told them is in verse 16,  “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The Bible then tells us the seventy-two, after returning from their journey were filled with joy. A few verses later we are told Jesus was also filled with joy and praised God for the success of these who had gone on what we would call a mission trip. 

Following this, an expert in the law questioned Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answered him like this. “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” This unnamed expert in the law spoke, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself." The man was told by Jesus that he had answered correctly and in doing those things, he would live. 

We've heard the words numerous times, read them ourselves from the pages of our Bibles, but have we really considered each part of that answer and what they mean. We easily detect the basis for our eternal life is our love toward God and our love toward others. But in our age when the word love has been so easily spoken and so seldom understood, do we really know about the love for God and others and practice that kind of love in our lives?

Look at it closely.  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart."  When the word of God uses the word "all," it doesn't mean "part."  A quick inward look will tell you if you are loving God with all your heart. Then you are to love God "with all your soul." It's your soul that's on the inside. It's the part of you that relates to everyone in one way or another. Again, an inward look will reveal to us if we really love God with all our soul. The verse continues, "with all your strength." We associate strength with power, and that's just the way our love toward God should be evident, with all the power that is within us. And finally, we are to love God "with all our minds." This one is a little tricky, since our minds are rather personal and can be filled with any number of things. The person whose love for God controls the mind is the person who loves God the way he likes to be loved. 

Then, perhaps the most difficult of all, we are to "love our neighbor as we love ourselves." Some people may hurt us but God says we should love them. Some may try to damage our character but God says to love them. Loving them as ourselves means we treat people the way we would like to be treated. 

Love like the Bible describes causes us to place God and others above ourselves; loving like we have never loved before. It calls for complete dedication to live and love as God has directed.


Monday, February 25, 2013

The Task

Jesus' folks had taken the boy with them to Jerusalem every year. This year he was 12 when making the trip. Following the Feast of Passover his parents were returning home when they noticed Jesus wasn't with them. He was nowhere to be found among the company with which they were traveling.

 They were anxiously retracing their every move which eventually led them back to the temple, and there he was, sitting and listening to the teachers and asking them questions.  They had been looking for him for three days!

The relieved parents were obviously upset and began to question why Jesus had acted this way. He had caused lots of anxiety and worry as they were searching for him.  Jesus expressed they should have known he must be in his Father's house. But Joseph and Mary did not understand.

Kids!  They can really cause some turmoil running loose both before and after church. And now Jesus isn't helping a lot when he lets his folks leave for home and, without their knowledge, he stays in the temple courts.

Jesus couldn't tear himself away from the scholarly teachers. He was interested in learning more and more, even to the point of asking questions.  It is no wonder the gospel writer, John, brings the second chapter of his narrative to a close with these words, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

I've heard the sermons on this verse that tell how Jesus grew in knowledge, how he grew physically, and grew in the favor of God, while still being in the favor of men. There is a good lesson for all parents in the raising of their children. 

The phrase where Jesus tells his parents that he must be in his Father's house, is translated in other versions as, "I must be about my Father's business." Regardless of how it's translated, it still gives us the developmental picture of Jesus at age 12, knowing his life centers around a specific task. That task is the redemption of sinful mankind. 

Remember, the mature Jesus later said in this same writing of the gospel according to John, "Just as the father has sent me, I am sending you." As a Christian in today's world, we are joining with the task of Jesus himself, as we share the good news in our words and deeds.  The great commission, which instructs us to go into all nations, making disciples or followers of Jesus, is still applicable.

Yes, we participate in the glorious grace of God and function in our lives, not only as the redeemed, but also as those who accept the task and opportunity to let others know the good news and share in God's love and forgiveness.  

Today in your spiritual life, enjoy the reality of your eternal inheritance, but also be active in telling everyone the Jesus invites all to him. 


Friday, February 22, 2013

The Choice is Yours

From the words of Joshua, hundreds of years ago, ". . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve ..." Joshua 24:15

Have you made the right choice?  Have you made any choice at all? If you made the choice to serve God, are there evidences of the change in your life?   There is another verse that comes to mind when considering these questions. It is also from the Old Testament, but was repeated by Peter in his New Testament writings. Read it closely.

"For I am the Lord your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.." Leviticus 11:44  (and 1 Peter1:16)

If we have made the decision to serve  God, and if our lives are to be holy, like his, what are the characteristics of your life and mine which would be evidence of that? There are some things which would immediately come to mind....things like prayer, and worship, and praise. Maybe we will have cleaned up our language and we're working on having only pure thoughts. Or perhaps we would think in terms of visiting the sick, ministering to the homeless, or even signing up to teach a pre-school age Bible class. 

I must admit these were my immediate thoughts.  Closer examination of the matter led me to another word which I think comes closer to what God had in mind when he instructed us to replicate his holiness. The word is SURRENDER.

Sometimes we sing the song, "All to Jesus, I surrender; all to him I freely give. I will ever love and trust him; In his presence daily live."  If we are led to know our choice in serving God is biblical, and sing in our praises to him about a complete surrender, is that the evidence of the choice we have made? If we believe and relate to the two scriptures above, then our choice in serving God brings about a holiness in us that is our way of living. 

Look at the first verse again and consider the choices we can make. It is easy for us to say we choose God, and continue to live lives motivated by the flesh. God is calling for more than that. He wants the choice we make for our lives to be a choice of our will as it is surrendered to him. It stands to reason the surrendered life must constantly be self examined to see if there are areas we still need to surrender to God. Remember he calls us to be holy, as he is holy. 

I pray we can all come to know the holy life to which God calls us. Even when we stumble and make mistakes, may we have the courage to remind ourselves there are areas of our lives that call for daily surrender. 

We, as the only thing mentioned in creation, being made in his image, are given the choice to choose his holiness as our way of life. That's' how much he values us. That's how much he loves us.