Thursday, March 31, 2016

If it's convenient......

The Apostle Paul took his Christianity seriously. After the conversion of this man Saul, and his new life in Jesus, he seemed so determined to make the good news of the gospel known to all. He took missionary journeys, and they are numbered and detailed in the maps section of most Bibles. All of these trips were for the purpose of preaching and teaching about Jesus, and it would seem that Paul would have smooth sailing as he worked so diligently to practice the Great Commission.  However, numerous readings from the Acts of the Apostles gives us the truth of all the hardships, near death experiences, and opposition that Paul faced. Your reading today comes from accusations against Paul and his defense in front of a judge, Felix. Please read the entire 24th chapter of Acts.  Then the part we wish to focus on is in verses 24 and 25:

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

Paul's preaching on righteousness, self-control and the judgment were apparently too uncomfortable for Felix to hear. Can you think of teaching from the scripture that has made you feel uncomfortable?

Felix is memorable to us because we can see through reading this chapter, he was sympathetic to the words of Paul's defense, and though imprisoned, Paul was given special privileges. But when the truth became more than Felix wanted to hear he said, "That's enough for now! You may leave, When I find it convenient, I will send for you."  Has our response, or lack of response to the Lord ever centered around similar excuses? .....we prefer a more convenient time?

In this case and in every case of adversity for Paul, he remained faithful to the gospel call. He realized that closed doors did not mean defeat as he bounced off of them till he was led to open doors of opportunity to spread the good news. In that, Paul is an example for you and me.

How much you need to see the opportunities God puts in front of you so you can share the gospel.  It may or may not be convenient for you, but regardless, the people you encounter are loved by God, and just maybe, God wants you to tell them about your life in Jesus.  Experience has taught us personal testimony is more powerful than the sermons from the pulpit.  Talking and sharing, one on convenient is that?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Person, The Holy Spirit

The writings of Paul the Apostle, make up a huge part of the New Testament writings.  This once enemy of the cross, met the risen Lord on the Damascus road one day, and things were never the same. Paul met adversity in his travels to spread the gospel.  Perhaps he, more than many others, had such a love the people and a pressing desire to complete his mission of preaching Jesus.

Paul's writings to the various churches of that day contain an abundance of information concerning the function of the church, along with encouragement, correction and motivation to keep pressing on as they awaited the return of the Lord. From the book I wrote about in yesterday's blog I found a paragraph of scripture texts in which Paul gives us one of the best compilations of the work of the Holy Spirit.  You are encouraged to read each of these verses which will collectively give you the proof that Paul understood the Holy Spirit to be a person. Here is the paragraph quoted from the book.

"The Spirit searches all things (1 Corinthians 2:10), knows the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), teaches the content of the gospel to believers (1 Corinthians 2:13), dwells among or within believers (1 Corinthians 3:16, Romans 8:11, 2 Timothy1:14), accomplishes all things (1 Corinthians 12:11), gives life to those who believe (2 Corinthians 3:6), cries out from within our hearts (Galatians 4:6),  leads us in the ways of God (Galatians 5:18, Romans8:14), bears witness with our own spirits (Romans 8:16), has desires that are in opposition to the flesh (Galatians5:17), helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), intercedes in our behalf (Romans 8:26-27), works all things together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28), strengthens believers (Ephesians 3:16), and is grieved by our sinfulness (Ephesians 4:30). Furthermore, the fruit of the Spirit's indwelling are the personal attributes of God (Galatians 5:22-23)."

Note all of the scripture references come directly from one or more of the writings of Paul.  He knew his ministry would amount to nothing if it did not stress that God's Holy Spirit was the working power behind it all.

Today, get your Bible and read through the verses mentioned above as you ask God to reveal his truth to you, concerning his Spirit living inside you.  God bless your study.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Free Book Becomes Valuable

I was recently invited to dig through several boxes of books to see if there might be some I would want, before the remainder was donated elsewhere.  I have to confess to you, with all the reading I do, I usually do not have the time nor the storage space to handle all the books I choose to read, let alone the "freebies" which are donated. 

After collecting a handful of books from the boxes, I dropped them in the back seat floorboard of my truck where they stayed until this morning.  Out of the 10 books I picked up, I had no favorites, no priority to read one before choosing another, but I decided to look through a couple of the first ones I  selected.  

The first one was a book that looked as though it had never been opened.  The binding held the pages tight like a brand new book.  My first inclination was to look for a publication date, which might lead me to ask why the book had been idle and unread for so many years.  Maybe you are ahead of me here, but this book which caught my interest was published in 1996,.........twenty years and had never been read.

The next thing I do when I discover a book like this, is to scan through the table of contents and maybe read a couple of paragraphs to see if there is anything that stimulates a desire to keep reading. Today's experiment in scanning this book led me to look a little deeper. 

I have no idea if the book would have a similar effect on you and your theology, but I have to tell you I have read over half the book this evening and find myself wondering why I have missed some vital information concerning the events following  the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. 

Ok, here is the book title. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God.  It is written by Gordon D. Fee, a Canadian theologian.  I will let you know just a little of what spoke to me as I read today.  For me, the key word is "presence."  The writer lets us know of the dealings of God with the people of the Old Testament, especially concerning his presence with them.  Then the new covenant comes along, after the events of the cross, and a new covenant begins. The key word remains the same.  It's the word, "presence," except now, the presence of the Lord, through his Spirit, becomes personal.  We  now experience his presence because he lives in us! 

Most of the evidences and proof comes from the writings of Paul in the New Testament.  It's good reading and I hope you will come to see the importance of experiencing God's presence in your life, too.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Until the day of Christ Jesus

Some of the easiest reading in the Bible is Philippians 1, where Paul seems to be writing with a smile on his face as he reflects on the joy in the lives of the Philippian Christians.   We have studied before from the sections of this chapter, but today I want to focus primarily on just a few of the verses which carry some rich teaching for us. Look beginning in verse 3:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is noteworthy again that Paul's encouragement for these people brings remembrances of joy to his mind, and especially how joyful Paul continues to be as he learns of their faithfulness and devotion to God. Even from a man like Paul writing letters from a prison cell, he could rejoice as he saw God continuing to work through and with these people. It is only normal that Paul prays for them with joy.

But note several other things that are included.  These are people who are his partners in the good news about Jesus.  Apparently they have shared this unique relationship of partnership in the gospel since their conversion.  It is obvious Christianity means something to these people. It is vital to their lives personally, and sharing it with others is their constant goal. 

Then Paul says he has confidence in them because he knows that God, who began a good work in the Philippian Christians is going to keep on blessing them and bring about the completion of his work until their lives end or Jesus returns.  That is a powerful thought. God actually working with his people and through his people to advance the gospel.  And not only is God the source of the beginning of that work, but he will see it to completion. 

Here are a couple of questions for you to consider:  1. Is Christ and the church so much a part of your life that others rejoice when they think of your partnership in the gospel?  2. Are you aware of a good work which God has started in you?   The plan and practice of Christianity in being able to answer positively to those questions, places us along side our ancient ancestors in the faith.   Answering negatively to those questions reveals the need for us all doing some growing and maturing in the Lord. 

Programs and committees and planning strategies in the church can be of benefit to the local body of believers, but all have seen instances when these things become greater importance than our mission of sharing Jesus with our neighbor or the entire world.  Spend some time in prayer this week, seeking God's direction.  Remember this is God who started a good work in you, and he wants to continue and carry it all the way to completion. That is joy which continues to multiply. 


Friday, March 25, 2016

One Good Friday

The world calls it Good Friday, and from the perspective of us who are being saved, the events of that Friday are good.  From the perspective of the sinless one being executed, the humiliation and the suffering  could be called anything but good. 

In our reading of the gospel narratives, we know the good news of his resurrection and the hope it brings to every Christian.  We are followers of this one who is dying the death we should be dying. We are the sinful, yet He is paying the price. 
The events of that Friday include his arrest. One of his closest followers denied even knowing him.  Another follower, the one which had been paid to betray Jesus, hanged himself. There was a trial before the Sanhedrin,  and another appearance before the governor, Pilate.  Then came the mockery from the soldiers, and he was led away to be crucified. 

When Matthew was writing his narrative of this account, he gives a picture of Peter, immediately before his denial of Jesus, and the picture we can see even today is this:  

 "But Peter was following him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.  He entered and sat down with the guard to watch the end."  Matthew 26:58

Peter was going to eventually become the great Apostle that was instrumental in sharing the message of the risen Lord and the beginning of the church.  Matthew describes him along with the other spectators  that Friday, who were observing Jesus' pain and suffering, the mocking and spitting, the crown of thorns, the struggle of carrying the cross, and ultimately the nails being driven through his hands and feet. It was as if there was an assembled crowd whose main objective was to observe the bitter end of this one called Jesus. 

The Good Friday part comes when we believe and live for the Lord who was and is eternal.  The end they saw was the end of his earthly life.  Some were satisfied they would never see or hear of him again, but the truth is, the death of Jesus on the cross was planned before the world began.  This is the sacrifice of God's Son to pay the price for the sins of the world. 

If that Friday was a good Friday, then Sunday was "Hallelujah  Sunday."  He rose from the grave and lives again. The victory has been won over Satan and the grave, and through the love and grace of God, Jesus' victory is our victory, too.  Praise God every day, that you follow and serve a Risen Lord. 


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Unending Love, Amazing Grace

Shirley was in her late teens when she became acquainted with Jenny.  Jenny had been sent to America from Africa in her early years.  It was a match made in heaven when Shirley became such a friend to Jenny that Jenny sort of looked to Shirley as a mother-figure. 

Shirley and Jenny are elephants.  They became such good friends when they found each other on a circus tour, and they developed a very close relationship.  Years passed and the circus decided they could only afford one elephant, so Shirley and Jenny were separated. 

Shirley then became close to her caretaker, the man in charge of feeding her, spraying her with a water hose several times a day, and staking her to her chain, an action that brought tears to the caretaker. Shirley was 30 years old when she became the lone elephant of the circus.  She did not see another elephant for over 20 years after she and Jenny were separated.

When Shirley was retired, she was accepted into an "elephant-retirement-farm," and was housed in a barn which had steel rail bars separating her from other elephants.  This would determine if the elephants were compatible with each other so they could eventually be placed in pastures with other elephants that were friendly.  Shirley's caretaker for over 20 years was with her when she was checked into the elephant barn.  With tears in his eyes, he stated that was the first time Shirley had her own stall and bed of hay.  She would no longer have to experience the bonds of chains around her legs.

Another elephant arrived at the facility and was placed in the barn stall next to Shirley.  The two elephants were immediately friends, their trunks actually embracing each other through the bars which separated them.  Their new caretakers immediately knew these two elephants were compatible and were soon allowed to roam together in the lush, green pastures.  You guessed it......the other elephant was Jenny.  After 20+ years of separation, they knew each other and continued to be together daily until an illness took Jenny's life.  (I could write pages on the rituals of Shirley and the other elephants during Jenny's illness and death.  Some day, I might!)

Jenny now has other friends from the elephant herd, not to mention the care and concern of her caretakers and the friendly people who visit the elephant farm from time to time. 

I was drawn to this story through watching some online videos about Shirley and Jenny.  I could not get the picture of agony out of my mind when her original caretaker spoke of having to chain her legs at night.  I will also remember his happiness in announcing her new home at the farm allowed her freedom from chains.

Another picture in my mind, and in my heart, is one of closeness of these two elephants.  They were together constantly, playing in the water and mud, roaming the pastures, sleeping side by side.  Their bonds of friendship were more than friendship. It had to be called a relationship. 

Much in the same way, we also experience freedom when we are made aware of the mission of Jesus, told in prophecy, and fulfilled in his ministry, to set the captive free. Freedom?  Do you need to be free from anything?  It's something we all need when we reflect on our sins, our attitudes, our habits, and our flesh.  And beyond all that, our freedom puts us in "relationship" with others who experience that same freedom.  Jesus said it like this:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free."   

As we get closer to the events of the cross, we are made to know his good news of freedom, healing and delivery from oppression.  We view the horrible scene of Jesus dying on the cross, while experiencing his love and forgiveness.  He paid the price with his cross, and we can now know his victory in the resurrection is our victory, too.  Praise God our living Lord sets us free. 
"My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace."


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Doing a Beautiful Thing

"Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  Do you recall that verse from the Bible?  Do you remember the event occurring when Jesus spoke those words?

The verse comes from Mark's account of the last week of Jesus' earthly life. Passover was nearing and the religious leaders were still involved in their schemes of arresting Jesus and possibly killing him privately. 

Jesus was in Bethany, visiting in the home of Simon the Leper.  While they were eating, a woman came in with a jar of very expensive perfume.  She broke the jar and let the perfume flow from her hands, on to the head of Jesus.

Others in Simon's house began to criticize her. Their tone was probably similar to ours. "What a waste!  Why not sell the expensive perfume and give the money to the poor?"  Then the words of Jesus changed the tone of the other visitors when he said, “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial."

The next verse is the one given at the top of the page. Now we remember!   Let's honor her by telling her story everywhere the gospel is preached.  Her actions show her love for the Lord, her insistence on doing what she could as her way of showing who Jesus really is, and possibly giving a glimpse of the things happening to Jesus in just two days.

We who know from the biblical account Jesus is about to die on the cross might find ourselves a little jealous of this woman.  Jesus picked this act of love and let us know her love for the Lord was going to be told throughout the world. 

What if I were to ask Jesus to tell me something I could do to receive the blessing from telling and sharing his story all over the world?  What do you think Jesus would say to me? or to you?   Here's a couple of things that come to mind"

 “‘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.’”  Luke 10:27

"He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." Mark 16:15

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Paying a high price....

There have been a dozen Easter seasons since John Piper wrote his book called "The Passion of Jesus Christ."  For reasons which you understand, if you are familiar with the book, I like to scan through it and read several of his short accounts of 50 reasons why Jesus came to die. 

Actually, if it were possible for us to know the exact number of people to live on God's earth, from Adam to the babies born today, that number could give us a more accurate accounting of the reasons Jesus came and lived here among us, and gave his life to pay for our sins. Regardless of who you are, what you have done, or where you have been, Jesus came to die for you. Paul told the Romans, "One will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"  (Romans 5:7-8).

That's a great description of how much God loves us, but in one of Piper's essays, he brings in several passages of Scripture to show us the extent of Christ's love.  As proof the one who died for us, loves us,  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Christ loved us and game himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).  Paul repeats himself further down in that chapter, yet becomes more specific on the scope of that love, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (5:25).

Here is the message of Piper's Number 6 reason why Jesus came to die, "It wasn't for sin in general. It's much more personal than that.  It is MY sin that cuts me off from God.  I become lost and perishing.  My sin causes me to forfeit all claims to salvation, leaving me to fall on the mercy of God as my only way out."

The Gospel of John, in giving us a description of "the Word becoming flesh," makes us even more aware of Jesus' great love for us.  "To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God" (John 1:12).

There is the proof of his love for us.  Each of us can personalize the message by realizing it's the proof of his love for ME.  Piper says, "Jesus paid the highest price possible to give me the greatest gift possible."  He gave his life, to give me eternal life.  Embrace the reality of Jesus' love for you.

One of our songwriters has written, "If that isn't love, the ocean is dry...there's no stars in the sky...and the sparrow can't fly.  If that isn't love, then heaven's a myth...there's no feeling like this, If that isn't love."


Monday, March 21, 2016

My Struggle With The Cross

I always struggle this time of year to come up with a more effective way to explain the sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross.  We have all read the biblical accounts of Jesus' last days and the brutal treatment he experienced on the way to his execution.  My struggle is not in accepting and believing the story, but in my sharing the gospel message with those I may encounter.

Let me emphatically declare my belief in the life, death, burial and resurrection of my Lord, Jesus Christ.  Those books in the New Testament which we call the gospel narratives continue to draw us even closer to the truth that God's son actually went to the cross and carried with him every sin.  It's a story that will allow us to personally identify with Jesus' death as payment for the sins of every human.  That includes your sins and mine. 

We who deserve immediate and eternal condemnation because we are sinners, can claim eternal salvation and it's all because God loves us.  Every violation of the will of God must be punished.  Nothing has escaped God's notice.  God cannot be God if he doesn't hold us accountable for the sins we have committed.  Yet his love for us is the very reason he gave his Son to pay the price which we could never pay ourselves. When Jesus suffered and bled and died, he was paying a debt which we could not pay.

It's difficult for us to see the story of Jesus' death as a love story, but in reality it's the greatest love story ever written. We blame the Roman soldiers for his execution and often hide behind our own self-righteousness, but your sins put Jesus on the cross just as if you were the one driving the nails.

This week we will take several looks into the story of the cross so there are some things I encourage to watch for.  First of all, be aware of your sin.  This is not the time for us to blame our sin on something or someone else.  "We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Second, recognize your inability to save yourself.  We are on dangerous ground if we think we are going to accomplish eternal life based on our own ability, popularity, strength or goodness. Regardless of who we are, we need Jesus.

Third, learn to understand how the plan of God to save us, is based on the greatest demonstration of love our world has ever known.  It's God's love for you and me that caused him to give his only Son.  We are called upon to believe it and accept it and become obedient followers.  From the heart of God comes the eternal love of the Father, just for you.  From the death of Jesus comes his blood which washes us clean and makes us new.

Spend some time in prayer as we seek to become the person Jesus gave his life for us to become.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Grace Weekend

This weekend we encourage you to focus on the subject of grace.  This important subject has been taught in our sermons, Bible studies, and even in the home.  The multitude of mentions in Scripture is proof of the importance of our knowing and understanding God's teaching about grace.

You are encouraged to read and discuss these verses on grace, with your family this weekend.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Acts 4:33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

Acts 6:8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 11:22-24 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Acts 14:1-3 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

John 1:15-17 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Acts 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Romans 1:1-5 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,

May God bless your study and meditation.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Making Things Great

The NBA finals are getting close, and already I am in awe of the greatness of the players. Some excel more than others and build a reputation of being a champion before any titles are handed out. Others remain in supportive roles and then, all of a sudden, a couple of good plays bring them to the forefront as a game winner. 

Everyone knows I favor the Spurs in the playoffs. Win or lose, I support them and have even been known to lose my voice from yelling at the games. The "old man," Tim Duncan is an inspiration for me. Even though I still considered myself young when I was 39, Duncan is one of the older players in the league and seems to still be in his prime. That gives us older citizens the proof that we still have some value, something to contribute to a cause. 

What do you suppose makes for champions in life?  In sports, it's the strongest, the fastest, the most aggressive and accurate. But in life, what are the standards by which greatness is measured?  We err when we think of greatness in terms of wealth or accomplishments, and even those things can be good if we maintain the proper attitude toward them.

Today I read a poster that made me stop and think about one standard that might be a measure for greatness. See what you think.

It's not our job
to toughen our children
up to face a cruel and
heartless world. It's our
job to raise children who
will make the world
a little less
cruel and heartless.
(quote from L. R. Knost)

Raising your kids is definitely one measure of greatness.  We are blessed when, in spite of the sometimes lousy job we did, our kids turn out exceptionally well.  Can you think of other standards?  Perhaps the way you conduct your business.  The way you treat your neighbor.  The way you conduct yourself when no one is watching. The things you say behind someone's back which you would never say to their face.  We cannot escape being a "standard-driven" person if we are a Christian. And once again, Jesus provides us with an example. Paul wrote about it to the Philippians. 

"Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!"
If we wish to attain greatness in life, the humility of Jesus is THE standard by which we shall be measured. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Poisoning Tips

As you read this, remember.....the main point of this is not about politics.  I do have political motivations from time to time, but the purpose of this devotional blog has much deeper implications.

Perhaps you heard or maybe read the article by Max Lucado a few weeks ago, in which he mentioned quotes from some of those running for President of our country.  Max was specifically concerned with what he called the indecency portrayed in the speeches of Donald Trump.  It's true, and now we have seen other candidates stoop to name calling, labeling, and literally cutting into the very lives of those which have different political positions. 

While my training has not been in political analysis, I have heard all the disrespect, and yes, indecency on the part of all sides, followed by the candidates all claiming to wear the name, Christian!  It is sickening when grown individuals act like children in their words and their actions. Politicians are using the same names in their name calling that we used as kids when some other kid had a party and didn't invite us, or insisted in being the first batter in a game of sand-lot baseball.

Then, earlier today I opened an email from my "blog idol," Michael Hyatt.  His blog today carries the title, "3 Ways Disrespect Poisons the Presidential Race."  (You can Google Michael's blog and enjoy reading some really interesting messages on improving your life and helping you be a better leader and overall, a better person.)

I just want to point you to three subtopics of Michael's blog today which are not only being shared for your information, but also to give you a little more insight about every citizen's responsibility to live up to the standards of decency.

Here are the three ways Disrespect Poisons the Presidential Race:

1.  Disrespect among the candidates.  Hyatt goes on to explain how policy issues seem to take a back seat because the candidates are set on name calling and insults. We find ourselves wanting to know where our candidate really stands on certain issues, but an answer is impossible because the candidates had rather see who could dream up the most disrespectful name to call an opponent.

2.  Disrespect among supporters.  When the candidates are disrespecting everyone else, it's only natural for the followers of that candidate to follow suit and be disrespectful toward all others.

3.  Disrespect for the American people in general.  Hyatt explains, "Leadership is service.  You cannot lead the people you disrespect."

I see the poison taking hold when I read one of the closing remarks of Michael Hyatt's blog.  "We’re supposed to be loyal and respectful to a leader who openly disrespects his or her own fellow citizens." 

I know, and you know, our country is experiencing one of the lowest "valleys" through which we have ever lived. May I suggest the most important thing you can do for your country is greater than casting a ballot.  We all should be hitting our knees on a regular basis, seeking God's will for the life of our nation and its people!  Pray that our leaders may turn to godly answers and resolves for the things which are dragging us down.  Ask for God's guidance and direction for those who lead us.

Here is God's answer...... "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."   2 Chronicles 7:14

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"I have redeemed you."

Isaiah 43:1-3
 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

At the time these words were given through Isaiah, the children of Israel were in Babylonian captivity. We probably could not understand all the difficulties associated with being held captive, as individuals and as a nation of people.  Even though these people had a history of unfaithfulness to God, always leading them to troublesome times, the verses above are words of assurance from God who continues to love them. 

Comforting words are always appreciated when we are in trouble. None could be more comforting than words like, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you: I have summoned you by name; you are mine."  While I can only speak for myself, I hope you can sense during difficult times in your life, you also would welcome the message from God that he knows your trouble, he cares, and he claims you as belonging to him.  That is the message God longs for us to grasp in faith, no matter how dismal our situation. It doesn't even matter to him that most of our problems are the result of our own doing. 

While those words from Isaiah 43:1 bring assurance from a God who loves us, verse 2 gives us a glimpse of the great degree of that love.  Spoken in a way that there will be no doubt, God wanted them to know his presence is with them when they pass through the waters.  Further, when they pass through the rivers, they will not be overtaken, and when they walk through the fire, they will not be burned. The flames will not set them on fire. 

Perhaps we can visualize our difficult times, like Israel's, as devastating as passing through rushing water, forging the force of a river swollen out of its banks, or even walking through fire, surrounded by flames that could bring our demise.  God says, these things shall not overtake you. 

The first part of verse 3 was the promise to Israel, and now to us. "For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."  Trust in his promises through all your times of trouble. 


Monday, March 14, 2016

Can There Be Peace?

"How do you, as a Christian, still believe in peace when there is so many bad things happening in the world which bring hatred and fighting, and sometimes death?"  The question was in a written conversation between two people on Facebook.  Since it wasn't directed to me, I hesitated responding.  But, having just finished the study on peace from the Believe series, I couldn't stop thinking about the question.  Truthfully, I now felt more of a responsibility to enter the conversation and pass along a few verses of Scripture.  I wanted to show both people in the conversation I had learned to lean on some promises from the Son of God.

The verse that came to mind immediately was a promise from Jesus in John 14:27, "My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you."  Jesus had just called his closest followers to him so he could announce his soon departure.  Understandably they were upset and worried about his words about leaving.  But the promise is there, and it can be a source of strength to us, too.  There may be turmoil around us, but we Christians can trust in our Lord as he leaves his peace with us.  He is giving us HIS peace so we can be comforted and equipped to face the bad things going on in our world, and yes, in our lives.

I have also found the more we give our cares, disappointments and troubles over to him, we are surrendering ourselves to his way and his truth.  In so doing, we graciously accept the gift of his peace.  Remember, it's not a peace the world can give us, it's peace which is received in the heart of the inward man, and that's the peace we need. 

It is also the peace we can share with others through sharing the word of God, and living the Lord's peace through our lives.  It's one of many promises and gifts we receive when we are following God's way. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Bearing Fruit

Matthew 7:15-20
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."

Jesus is nearing the end of his Sermon on the Mount. He has taught about everything imaginable, from being salt and light, to prayer and fasting. Some of the Bible's richest teaching come from this sermon in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.  Here in our verses for today, Jesus warns us about those who may come among us looking as harmless as sheep, but in reality they are dangerous as wolves. 

On the surface of this subject matter, we might have a problem with Jesus and his insistence that we judge the authenticity of those who teach us. After all, Matthew 7 begins with the stern warning that we not be judgmental toward others .  Jesus used the illustration of the speck in the eye of someone else, and we condemn them without noticing the log that is in our own eye. While the visual of that is somewhat humorous, Jesus wasn't teasing when he said we have no business judging what we call a little sin in others, while we still harbor big sins in our own life. We are treading on dangerous ground if we set ourselves up to determine who is a sinner, when we ourselves are sinners.  

Now, toward the end of chapter 7, we are told to watch out for false prophets, or those who come across as sheep but in reality are ferocious wolves.  That's going to be difficult for us to do without judging them, and Jesus doesn't want us judging others. 

In verse 16 of our text, Jesus says, "By their fruit you will recognize them."  That is the key phrase, and it is repeated again in verse 20. This is the important difference between being judgmental and discerning those who are genuine. Look at the spiritual fruit they produce. 

Jesus then asks the question, "Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" Everyone already knows the answer. Grapes come from a grapevine, and figs come from a fig tree.  Jesus simplifies it even more by explaining a good tree will produce good fruit, and a bad tree will produce bad fruit.  He is drilling home the point that we can determine character and spiritual direction just by looking at the spiritual fruit a person produces. 

Years later, Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,"  Galatians 5:22 .

The way I see it, determining someone's motives, character, and direction can actually be accomplished by looking at the fruit produced. The added benefit is this:  It helps us also to be less judgmental of specks in our brother's eye, and it just might help us get rid of the log in ours.