Friday, October 31, 2014

Your true and proper worship

This weekend challenge yourself to keep these verses in your thoughts, life applications and prayers.  They come from the pen of Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."  Romans 12:1-2

It's natural for the Christian to think of worship on the weekends, and perhaps Paul is touching on that.  His primary message here is that our spiritual worship isn't realized by a time and a building on Sunday morning.  It's much more than that.....its a way of life!

As you keep the verses in mind, join me in the challenge to be a spiritual being having human experiences.  We will then have greater opportunities to increase our faith and draw ourselves closer to the Heavenly Father.  God bless.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The People of Little Faith

Today we will see several instances in the life of Jesus where even his own disciples were rebuked for having  "little faith."   The exact quotation has come through the years to even be applied to us when we, too, demonstrate a weakness in our faith. 

The first one is from Matthew 28 where we have the story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus had chosen the boat trip as a time to rest, so he was asleep when a storm arose and brought such waves the boat was in danger of sinking.  The disciples woke Jesus and beckoned him to save them, else they would all die.  Jesus replied to them, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" 

Next, on another stormy occasion the disciples were in a boat crossing the sea at night.  Jesus had stayed behind to spend some time in prayer.   Suddenly in the wind and the waves, Jesus comes walking on the water toward the boat. The disciples caught a glimpse of him and thought it was a ghost.  When Jesus identified himself to them, Peter spoke to the Lord, "If that is really you, Lord, invite me to come out of the boat, and be with you, on the water. "  Jesus simply said, "Come."  Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.  But Peter became more aware and concerned with the storm and he started to sink.  He cried out for the Lord to save him.  Jesus stuck out his hand and caught hold of Peter, saying, "Oh you of little faith.  Why did you doubt?"

Still another occasion, in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded by both Matthew and Luke, it's Matthew's writings that contain these words from the Lord. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"

The single element all of these events have in common is the demonstration of a lack of faith.  The part that is difficult for us to understand is these were the disciples of Jesus, his closest followers, who shared the company of the Lord since he called them.  They had witnessed numerous miracles and knew first hand of his power and his willingness to be with them.  And in each of these stories, when it came right down to it, their faith was suddenly substituted by doubts and fears.

Without being too hard on the disciples, we, too, must confess there are situations and events happening in our lives where the end result is simply, "Oh ME of little faith."  Our problems are just like theirs and it stems from our reluctance to really place our trust in the Lord.

His promise to the disciples and to us is seen in his words, "I am with you always."  We find ourselves in all kinds of trouble if we do not place our trust in him.  His love for us, his sacrifice for us, his willingness to save us, all testify to his abiding presence. 

Lord, may our faith and trust in you, continue to grow as we become totally dependent on you and your promises.  Amen.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Let the celebration begin!

There is an interesting story in Genesis 24 about Abraham, in his old age, arranging for a bride for his son, Isaac.  You must understand the different customs of those days and some of the things that transpired in the arrangement might seem strange.

Abraham talked one of his servants in to making a trip back to their home country to find Isaac a wife, because he had promised he would not take a wife for Isaac from the Canaanites.  So the servant set out on his search for a bride, taking with him a team of camels, and gifts for the girl's family and for the girl herself.

It's interesting reading if you wish to take the time to read the whole story and learn of the planning that went into the deal to make Rebekah Isaac's wife.  You should go read the story for yourself to learn all the details, but I will tell you, it involved Rebekah returning to meet the man she was going to marry, wearing the gold bracelets he had sent as gifts.  Another gift was the gold ring for her nose.  (The nose ring is not suggested for today's weddings.)   The point is, there was celebration and the adornment of gold and all things "flashy" because of the importance of the wedding.

Even in our culture, both men and women will wear jewelry when there is a special occasion.  The celebrations at such events seem to put us into a mood for fun and enjoyment.  Tonight I witnessed the TV coverage of just such an important event. 

"My" San Antonio Spurs were victorious in winning the NBA Championship last June, and tonight, in the first game of the new season, all the coaches, support staff, and players were awarded their rings. Gold rings with lots of diamonds. It was certainly a time for celebration.

While watching the ring presentation on TV, I began thinking of the celebration with singing and dancing and happiness when Jesus returns.  That will be the marriage feast of the Lamb. That is when we, by God's grace, will meet Jesus face to face, knowing it was his sacrifice that paid for our sins.  There will not be a dry eye, nor will there be a frowning face.  

We can say with Paul, " I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

On the basis of my own righteousness I am nothing and will never receive the eternal reward.  But praise be to God, because of the righteousness of Jesus, covering me and washing me clean, the crown will adorn my head, and also be awarded  to everyone who has longed for the return of the Lord.

That's a celebration I do not want to miss!


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In Memory of a Woman

And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.” But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

The first part of the story is familiar to us and has the information we often emphasize.  Jesus is in the home of Simon, the leper, when a woman comes in and goes directly to Jesus.  She brought with her a very expensive flask of perfumed oil, and began pouring it on the Jesus' head.  The disciples were irate that she would waste such an expensive oil.  They would rather see the oil sold and the money given to the poor. 

Jesus corrected their actions, explaining the woman should be left alone because she is doing a good thing.  Jesus then told them the oil was significant because it was a likeness of the preparation of his body for burial.  Now watch what is next.  Jesus is still speaking to his disciples and says,  " Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Remember when the disciples were arguing over which one would be the most important in the kingdom?  Now you can add to that memory, this story where they became indignant about costly oil being poured on Jesus.  One more thing to add is the statement that she would be memorialized for her loving act, everywhere the gospel is preached.

If you have been a Christian for a while, perhaps you have heard the gospel preached on countless occasions.  Do you remember ever being told the story of the loving act of this woman, as an added power punch to a gospel message?

How important is her story that Jesus said it would be told everywhere the gospel is preached?  Looking at the woman and her act of pouring oil on Jesus, perhaps we should see her as one who is filled with so much love for the Lord, she does this to reach the very heart of Jesus.

It would be just a matter of days until Jesus would go to the cross, and with his sacrificial act of surrendering his life as payment for our sins, would be reaching out in love to abide in the hearts of everyone.  There was never a love story more touching than this.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Not Worth Comparing

While we were having problems with programming the blog, I found some extra time to catch up on reading.  My favorite authors are the "unknowns," like myself.  The web is filled with good Christian writers who publish on a daily schedule.  Usually, these thoughts and messages come from personal experience, or from some section of the Bible which has become meaningful to them.  One such writer told the following story.

 An old Yiddish folk story tells of a well-to-do gentleman of leisure, much interested in the Hebrew Scriptures. He visited a wise rabbi to ask a question. He said: “I think I grasp the sense and meaning of these writings except for one thing. I cannot understand how we can be expected to give God thanks for our troubles.” The rabbi knew instantly that he could not explain this with mere words. He said to the gentleman: “If you want to understand this, you will have to visit Isaac the water-carrier.” The gentleman was mystified by this, but knowing the rabbi to be wise, crossed to a poor section of the settlement and came upon Isaac the water-carrier, an old man who had been engaged in mean, lowly, backbreaking labor for some fifty years.

The gentleman explained the reason for his visit. Isaac paused from his labors. Finally, after several minutes of silence, looking baffled, he spoke: “I know that the rabbi is the wisest of men. But I cannot understand why he would send you to me with that question. I can’t answer it because I’ve had nothing but wonderful things happen to me. I thank God every morning and night for all his many blessings on me and my family.”

Does the story have a message for you?  Let me answer that by asking a couple more questions.  Are our lives so filled with leisure that we, too, cannot understand why God would expect us to give him thanks and praise for our problems?   James writes about this very thing in the first chapter of his New Testament book.  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  James 1:2-4

For the Christian, the troubles and problems which come, are testing our faith which produces something called perseverance.  James says when perseverance gets through with us, we are a more mature and complete people, lacking in nothing.

Perhaps that is what the Spirit was dropping into Paul's heart when he wrote,  "sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

The Christian's life may be called upon to experience some trouble, persecution, ridicule, or even physical injury and death.  Big problems or little ones, mixed with our perseverance in the faith will always bring about God's intended result of maturity.  The thing we must remember is, in God's hands we are always safe.....and always overcomers.


Friday, October 24, 2014

We are coming back!

After considerable energy and labor, we appear to have our computer and programming issues behind us.  Current plans are aiming at the return of our regular posting schedule to resume on Monday.  Thanks for your prayers, your suggestions, and the help of those more "savvy" than me, in helping us to overcome the obstacles which prolonged our absence. 

Please continue to pray for our blog and the lives of all our readers, here and around the globe.  Thanks in advance for your continued support.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Trouble Comes

Note: We are addressing the computer issues and should have things back on schedule by the middle of this week.  Thanks for your patience.   --RonB

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak;  the Lord delivers him in times of trouble.
 The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land
    and not surrender him to the desire of his foes.
The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.

So David begins with these words, recorded in Psalm 41. He recognizes the weakness of man and the power of the Lord who delivers in times of trouble. David knew some times of trouble and the strong arm of God to deliver. In addition, David says it is the Lord that protects and preserves life, and offers blessings in the land, and will never surrender him to his enemies. 

As the Psalm continues, David is seeking mercy from God and confessing sins. Then he mentions his enemies, those who speak bad of him, those who speak falsely of him, and those who slander him. Even his close friend in which David had placed his trust had failed him.  So David knew what it was like to live in troubled times. 

The end of the Psalm shows David's confidence in God. He seeks God's mercy again, knowing it is God who raises him up. He experiences God's pleasure with him, and because God is pleased, David's enemies will never beat him down.  Now look at verse 12:

In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.

David knew he had enemies, but he also knew that he was living a life that pleased God. He knew he was a sinner but he also knew God had forgiven him. He had trusted in the Lord for deliverance, protection, preservation and victory. 

In our day, we would do well to pay attention to David's actions, and especially the way he places his confidence in the Lord.  We are also living in a world where there will be those who continually accuse us, reminding us we are sinners. Satan is always ready to fulfill his role as the accuser.  We even have friends and brethren who might disappoint us or turn their backs on us. We are no different from David when it comes to facing times of trouble in our lives. 

David is our example for overcoming adversity. Like David, sometimes our troubles are brought on ourselves, and sometimes it might be the fault of others. The bottom line is this; regardless of where the difficulty has its origin, the answer always lies within the power of God. 

I refer you to the opening verse of Psalm 41 again. Learn to trust in the Lord for your deliverance. Know that it is God  who sustains us and protects us.  Believe in God's victory for your life.  You, as well as David , can know " In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever."


Friday, October 17, 2014

We are the children of God

Note:   Due to technical problems, we are unable to access some of the program used to create new posts.  We will be publishing our weekend post in the form of a re-run. Thanks for your patience while we work on the computer troubles.

1  John 3:1-10
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,  we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

What a marvelous description of the children of God. By describing us as God's children, John also gives some indication of who is not a child of God. Look again at what he says. 

1. If someone's life is controlled by sin, he is of the devil, and therefore not of God. 

2. Anyone who doesn't do what is right is not a child of God. 

3. Anyone who does not love his brother is not a child of God.

However, the first part of the chapter brings hope and joy to those which the Father calls his children. John says, "That's exactly what we are because the Father's great love has been lavished upon us." Look at some of the attributes mentioned.

1. When Jesus appears, we are going to be like him. 

2. No one that lives in him keeps on sinning, because God's seed remains in him. 

3. The child of God is on that shows love to his brother. (Read 1 John 3: 11-24)

The last verse of the chapter, verse 24, sums the entire issue, "Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."


Thursday, October 16, 2014

It Stinks!

Any child which finds its roots in a Christian home where the Bible is front and center in all things, can probably tell you the story of Jonah.   I suppose most of us immediately think of Jonah and the time he spent in the belly of the big fish, but just like all the stories and events in the Old Testament, they have lessons to teach and truth to be believed, even for New Testament Christians.   Let's look at the story a little closer.

 "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord."    Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah was a prophet now commissioned by God to deliver a sermon to the residents of Nineveh, to let them know God had issues with them because of their wicked and sinful lives.  Just how Jonah would accomplish this must have weighed heavy on his mind.  Put yourself in his shoes.  Suppose God told you to go into a city and start proclaiming to its residents, that they were sinners and viewed through the eyes of God as being totally wicked.  Jonah was no dummy.  He knew a message like that from someone unknown to the people of Nineveh would probably lead to his demise.  So he decided to do what we would probably do.  Go the opposite direction, away from Nineveh, in an attempt to hide from God. 

Jonah paid the fare for a trip on a boat headed for Tarshish.  Perhaps he could attempt to justify his decision by assuming he was saving his own life.  Like us in our unfaithfulness to God, Jonah could  feel safe if he just convinced himself he was doing the right thing. 

The verses that follow our text tell the story of Jonah running from God and the subsequent wind and storm that came up, the fear of the sailors, and how each one of them was crying out to their own gods for safety.   All the cargo was tossed overboard to lighten the load.  During all of this, Jonah found a comfortable place below the deck and went to sleep.  Ultimately lots were cast to determine who was responsible for the impending calamity.  The lot fell on Jonah.  This led to their questioning about Jonah, who he was, where he was from, who were his people? 

When Jonah revealed to them he was a Hebrew, and a follower of the Lord, the crew was terrified, because Jonah had already told them he was running from God.  Jonah then made the suggestion for them to toss him into the sea because he knew all this was happening because of him.  They tried rowing back to shore, but the waves were too great.  They then prayed for forgiveness for what they were about to do, and they threw Jonah overboard.  Verse 17 says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
I don't know about Jonah's immediate reaction, but mine would have been, "It Stinks."  Fish smell bad enough on the outside, but I can only imagine how bad they smell on the inside.  And that teaches me, if I choose to run from God, and go in a direction opposite from the one he has chosen for me,  I can expect to know I am in the wrong place and living the wrong way because, "It Stinks."   Do a little spiritual "sniffing" in your life.   Learn the love of God as he directs your steps. 


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Reflections on Our Worship

In the 1970's, we were given a trip to Acapulco, Mexico. It was exciting to see and experience the Mexican culture, beautiful buildings, market places, exotic restaurants  and a beautiful hotel on the beach of Acapulco Bay.  From the beach, looking back towards the mountains , I remember seeing some kind of huge monument which drew my attention.  I originally thought it was probably some historic spot which reflected their culture or religion. Although a visit to the monument was not listed on our tour, it still fascinated me and I kept wondering what it was all about.  I researched it when I got back home and learned it was a monument erected to two American investors who had taken a chance and a lot of money and transformed Acapulco from a tiny Mexican fishing village, to one of the most popular tourist locations on the globe. The citizens of Acapulco had all, in one way or another, improved their economic status because of those two men, so in a culture that was always anxious to build a monument, it seemed only natural to build one for these men that had changed their lives. 

One time Paul visited a city and was amazed at all the monuments and structures he saw, because each one had been built in honor of various "gods."  Perhaps there was a monument for the god of the sun, the god of rain, the god of mothers-in-law......the list is endless. In fact, for everything that you can name that was a priority to someone in that city, it had a monument. These were places where the gods of everything could be worshiped and adored.  

I can imagine the look on Paul's face when he read the inscription on one monument and it said, "To an Unknown God."  Just in case these people had overlooked some god , and they sure didn't want any god to be mad at them for being left out, they had this one built for the Unknown god. Or perhaps there was a god that was greater than all their gods put together, and although they did not know him or what to call him,  they sure wouldn't want that one left out either. Here's what Paul said to them, recorded by Luke in Acts 17, "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."  Paul used the opportunity to teach them the God who is unknown to them, can be known, and loved, and worshiped, and adored.  We worship some strange things these days; popularity, prestige, money, worldly goods. Perhaps we should examine our priorities; our devotions; the objects we worship. Ask yourself, what comes first in your life....WHO comes first in your life?   
Aren't we a blessed people when we worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? The blessing continues when we devote ourselves to the God who loves and forgives, and brings us into his family. Only the foolish would worship anyone or anything else.   


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where do you live?

Let's return to some familiar verses from the teachings of Jesus.  They are recorded in John 15, where our Lord is speaking to his closest followers.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;  and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."

What does it mean to you when Jesus commands and then explains the importance for us to abide in him?    While you think about that, consider a little more complex statement in verse 4,  "Abide in me, and I in you."  

Every gardener knows the relation of the vine and branches.  Jesus is letting us know that is an adequate picture of the relationship we should have with him.  His description follows in the latter part of the verse,  "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me."   Don't forget, he is the vine and you are a branch.  That's why Jesus tells us that we, a branch, cannot bear fruit by ourselves.  We cannot successfully bear fruit for him unless we abide in him.

I ask again, what does that mean to you to abide in Jesus and for Jesus to abide in you?   The scholars tell us the word abide in these verses literally mean "to take up residence."  So now we should be asking ourselves if we have taken up residence with Jesus.  Do we follow his teachings?  Are we obedient to his commands?   Do the lives we live reflect we are actually living or abiding in him with our speech, our decisions, our steadfastness?

Consider the extent to which he has gone to live and abide in you.  The Bible describes him as being "slain from the foundations of the world."  That means before you ever committed your first sin, Jesus was already going to be paying for that sin with his own blood.  Before there was ever a sinner, there was already a Savior.  It's his eternal and unfailing love for you that makes him want to abide in you.  He promises his abiding presence in you.  So vital is the reality of you living in him and in him living in you.  

In your time of reading and meditation, continue looking at the next section of John 15.  Especially see the other things related to abiding in Jesus.   You are very loved and cared for when you allow him to live in you, and knowing you live in him.