Friday, May 30, 2014

The Day the Preacher Went to Prison

The year was around 60 A.D. and the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome.  He has completed three missionary trips and converted people to Christianity and helped churches in numerous locations. From prison Paul wrote several letters which have become known to us as the Prison Epistles. One of those is written to the church in Colosse.  The Colossian Christians had accepted Jesus, however they were being influenced by the Grecian and Jewish religions, and the gospel of Christ was being distorted. 

Paul's words of encouragement pointed out the supremacy of Jesus and the need for all men to believe and obey him. Probably no one worked as hard at spreading the good news of the gospel, as Paul. I mention again that he wrote these words while he was imprisoned in Rome for teaching about Christ. That must have been a depressing situation to be in. Having the responsibility of teaching others about  salvation  in Jesus, and the good news he was teaching got him thrown into jail again and again. 

Paul could still write words filled with hope and promise. He could still encourage Christians to remain faithful and make Jesus the priority of their lives.  The one thing I ask you to think about this weekend is mentioned by Paul in Colossians 4:2-4. "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should."

I continue to be impressed with Paul, in such adverse circumstances, still seeking avenues to reach others for Christ. He is a lesson we all need to learn.  Usually, when we are surrounded by adversity or issues of life, we are in no mood to be representing Jesus.  That's when Paul says, "Pray for me so I can reach others with the gospel."

One more thing we need to see about Paul's plea for prayer.  He asks that we be devoted to prayer, and have an alert mind and a thankful heart.  Come to think of it, Paul in prison has given us an example of how every one of our prayers should be prayed. You can credit your new-found attitude of being devoted to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart, to an old preacher in prison.
God really does move in mysterious ways. 


Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Thriving Example

The opening two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles give the account of Jesus ascending into heaven and those he had taught and trained were now alone with only the memories about his instructions and stories.  How were they to act?  Could they carry on with his principles?  Would his cause come to an end, like his physical body had ended on the cross?

We know the perplexities of Jesus' followers and of their anticipation of continuing with his message and sharing it with others.  These two chapters also tell us of the promised Holy Spirit descending on them and empowering them to carry out that task.

Peter preached to them and the variety of languages was not a barrier because each of those assembled was hearing Peter's message in their own tongue.  They heard the first gospel message and were encouraged to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39

Scripture further describes their daily lives and experiences with each other, which becomes to us an example of our daily lives in Jesus Christ.  "41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:41-47

I know cultures and customs have changed over the years, but these verses give us one of the more accurate descriptions of the daily life of the Christian.  I also know we all have jobs and other responsibilities that accompany our lifestyle.  The point here is these who were the first Christians  (1) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching.  That's where the message of Jesus, his teaching and his actions would be carried on, even to this day and until he returns. (2) They were also devoted to fellowship.  They thrived in the company of each other. (3)  The breaking bread.  They shared meals and realized relationships could be strengthened through the event of meals. (4) They prayed. We have no idea of the exact content of their prayers but can only surmise they were seeking God's blessing on their work in each of the 4 things mentioned above. No doubt they prayed for each other as well as the lost, and their own personal task of sharing the gospel.  Read the verses again and see how much more was involved.

I am saying we need to share the gospel like they did.  We need to practice fellowship like they did.  We need to share meals, just like them.  And we need lives of prayer, like theirs.  Don't forget, these points of emphasis are from the scriptures which give us a detailed account of the life of a Christian. 

That puts a little more emphasis on living for Christ than many of us are accustomed to. It takes more than a once a week meeting, as important as that meeting is, for us to fulfill the great commission.  It takes much more than lip service for us to be really devoted to God.  My prayer is that we consider the deepening of our relationship with Him, and learn to live and love like our Master. 


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Look at what God did!

Four verses from Romans 8
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,  God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

No other segment of scripture says it so directly, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  To the first recipients, the Roman Christians receiving this message, and to us, the boldness of the inspired writer, Paul, lets us know when we are in Jesus Christ, we will not be condemned.  The world may despise us, anti-Christian groups may hate us, individuals and masses may try to do away with us, and even the legalist which may rise us among us will say it's impossible, but God, the one that counts, tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

To support the statement, Paul continues, "because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death."  Shortly before Jesus' death on the cross, he told his followers about the "Comforter" he would send.  This Comforter was none other than the third personality of our triune God, The Holy Spirit.  Followers of Jesus were promised the presence of the Spirit who would guide them, lead them, comfort them, empower them  and even live inside them. Now Paul lets us know it is this Spirit that delivers us from the law of sin and death.

 More supportive scriptural information is in the verse that follows,  "For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering."  The law could establish principles by which we should live, it could serve as a standard for dealing with others, it could even place God as the one true God for us to serve. But like our scripture under consideration says, what the law was powerless to do, weakened by the flesh, God did when he sent Jesus in the flesh to be our sin offering.

To summarize, " And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."  Paul supplies in his teaching the proposition we are not condemned in Christ, supported his claim by showing us the law of the Spirit, continued supporting this truth by telling us how God did it, ending by saying we no longer live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

My closing is to tell you the most important two words of that section of Scripture. Care to guess? They are the words found in verse 3,  "God did."  They are the most important because you cannot save yourself, but you can enjoy the blessings of salvation because of what God did.  Because of what God did, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Like a message in a bottle.....

I have been busy for several days going through boxes of "stuff" for a customer.  His instructions were for me to dig through the boxes and pull out the items I could sell, then clean them and price them and sell them for him.  I rarely let myself get talked into things like this.  Being in the business of buying and reselling, I am accustomed to earning 100% of the profit on such items, rather than a much smaller percentage if the merchandise is owned by someone else.  But this time I am doing it for a customer that has been good to me over the years.  

In the boxes were various old tools, used by someone that had a workshop and knew what each tool was designed to do.  I'm fairly "savvy" when it comes to tools so I thought this job wouldn't take very long.  That was, until I started going through some of the additional boxes and found tools and parts for repairing and modifying firearms.  I wish I knew more about that sort of thing but I found myself having to research lots of items to determine their value. 

One small box contained such repair parts which were from a company in Arizona.  One by one I tossed them in the growing pile of things I needed to research.  Then I noticed one of the small boxes was open and a card was sticking out of the box.  Thinking it might be some information that would help me determine its value, I pulled out the card and started reading.  To my surprise, the card said:

As children bring their broken toys,
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God,
Because He is my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help,
With ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried,
"How can you be so slow?"
"My child," He said, "What could I do?
You never did let go."

I cannot begin to tell you how much I needed the message on that card.  Coming from a box most people would call junk, I found a treasure from God with a powerful message for me.  Maybe you can also see yourself in the message of that card, just like I did. 

We hear sermons, have Bible studies, and even sing hymns that give us the encouragement to turn our problems, concerns, difficult times, and our sins over to God.  And sometimes we are quick with the effort of talking to God about everything that is out of kilter with us.  I must confess, like the person that wrote the words on that card, I am guilty of taking things to God that need fixed, and then hanging around to help him fix them.  The message is simple.....Take it to God and let him do his work.  We have already proven we are helpless when it comes to fixing everything. 

Now you can say with renewed meaning"  "Let go and let God!"


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day

To remember those who brought freedom to our nation. 

To offer thanks to God who delivers us into eternal life through His Son.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Rat in our Ranks

18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’
19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.       John 13:18-30

The very mention of the name, Judas, stirs something strange within us.  It's a name which speaks of betrayal, as it brings to mind one of those chosen by Jesus to follow him and learn of him.  Yet this one goes against everything Jesus taught and stood for.   The very one in charge of the funds of Jesus' earthly ministry, now held his own hands on the purse strings as if the money belonged to him. 

All kinds of theories have been suggested as to why Judas did what he did.  One looks into the mind of Judas, who has been made aware, like the rest of the disciples, that Jesus will soon depart from them.  The lack of the popularity of the Lord could have given Judas the idea "when Jesus goes down, I will have full control of this money."  From what the scriptures tell us, our summation of the event is simply that Judas had followed Jesus, grown close to Jesus, just like the others. The only difference was that Judas had not, like the rest of the group, followed through with complete faith in the Lord, and yielded himself in complete surrender and love and trust toward Jesus.  And carrying the monies for a group that would soon dissolve, meant the money was his.  And the conniving way he was going a step further in selling his loyalty to Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. 

Our likeness to Judas comes into focus when we hold our hands so tight on our wallets, the poor are not fed, the widows are not supported, the orphans struggle, the church's work suffers.  Perhaps we need to rethink our faith and dedication to the Lord, when the money means more to us than faith and obedience. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Make today a day of prayer

"Prayers to pray for specific occasions" 

When you are sick:

Fill my heart, Lord, with love for you and love for others;
               And while I am sick and my body is weak, let me know of your presence.
Your concern for your people is made known in all you do for us;
               Today I need to recognize it is only through you that I can know peace and healing.
Deliver me from my pain as I gracefully make room for the strength you bring;
               And let me be your instrument to share with others, that you are always near.
Through Jesus, my Lord.  Amen

When you need sleep:

Lord, you give refreshing sleep for your children and rest when we have worked until we can work no longer.  My sleeplessness may be caused by worry and I accept the gift of your peace to help me relax. It may be from struggles with broken relationships and I plead for a proper attitude of love for others. Perhaps it is because of my concern for my family and I pray that I may learn to be more forgiving and supportive for those I love. Whatever reason is causing this sleepless night, fill me with the awareness of your shepherding nearness, and I thank you for allowing me to be one of your sheep. Amen

When you awaken in the morning:

Today is a new day!  It comes as a blessing from you, Lord.  It is filled with opportunity, with activity, with responsibility, and maybe lots of other things, but help me to know it is filled with you.  There may be moments today when I am so busy I don't remember it is by your grace that I have the blessing of working to support my family. There will be moments when I am tempted to solve problems or make decisions based on my own intelligence and ability. I will have moments today that are high, and some when I sink low.  I pray every moment today, Lord, you will fill me with your Spirit, as I, with  hope and assurance, know that you take every step with me.  Amen

When you pray for a friend:

Thank you for friends, Lord.  I couldn't make it through life without friends. Today I have a special request of you in my dealings with one friend.   He is a good guy, Lord, but he doesn't know you. He and I have talked about you on numerous occasions, but up to this point he chooses to be on his own.  I am trying to be a good example for him.  He knows I am praying for him. I invite him to worship services, but so far......nothing.  My heart is heavy for him, as you know Lord.  So I pray that I may be a better example, that I may demonstrate to him through my life the love of Jesus, and that I may impress on him the joys of eternal life.  I want him to know you, Lord, not to put a star in my crown, but because he needs to meet Jesus at the foot of the cross, and join the rest of your children around the throne. Soften his heart. Let him know you desire to live inside him. Bring him to newness of life. Amen


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Short Man Stands Tall

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.    Luke 19:1-9

Usually, those who encountered Jesus were the outcasts, the downtrodden, the society rejects.  Today, that isn't the case.  Jesus is going to meet a man named Zacchaeus, a wealthy man who ranked as a chief tax collector.  Their meeting was no ordinary meeting.  Since Zacchaeus was a short man, and because he wanted to see Jesus, but couldn't because of the crowd, he ran ahead and climbed a tree.  He really did want to see Jesus. 

Scripture tells us when Jesus caught up with Zacchaeus he looked up in the tree and told him to come down because Jesus wanted to visit at his house.  So Zacchaeus did just that, he came down from the tree and welcomed Jesus to his home.  (We probably don't have to tell you about tax collectors, but they carried a reputation of demanding more money in taxes than were actually owed.  That's how they made their living.)

It is no wonder the people criticized Jesus for visiting the home of a sinner.  But in this case Zacchaeus poured his heart out to Jesus when he promised to give half of all his possessions to the poor, and if there was anyone that had been cheated, he promised to repay them, times four.

Jesus, in his response to Zacchaeus, made the statement we all wish we could hear, "Today salvation has come to this house."

Some look at this story and surmise Zacchaeus had paid for his salvation.  Closer examination shows us the real heart of a man who had met Jesus. It's really true, a genuine encounter with the Lord will change lives.  Right here we have a short man that suddenly stands tall and knows his changed life demands setting some records straight.  Repayment times four to anyone he has cheated, and giving half of all his possessions to the poor.  Since Zacchaeus suggested those terms, they are probably an accurate assessment of an amount that had been nagging him on the inside. The result was Jesus' pronouncement that salvation had come to Zacchaeus' house. 

Aren't you glad Jesus is willing to be the guest of Zacchaeus, and me, and all of us?