Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Lost and Found Department

The stories from Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy, have given us countless lessons over the years.  There is something about a story that begins with a problem, and ends with a blessing.

In the first story  Jesus is asking if we had 100 sheep and one of them strayed away and got lost, wouldn't we leave the 99 remaining and go searching for the one that got lost, and keep searching till we found it? Jesus continues by telling in his story, when the lost sheep is found it is time for rejoicing. Then he says something that might seem a little strange to us.  Jesus says there is more rejoicing in heaven over one lost sinner returning to God, than there is over 99 that never strayed. 

The second story is about a woman that had ten coins and she lost one. She took her lamp and looked in every corner, over everything, under everything, and even sweeping every square inch of her house until she found the one that was lost. Upon finding it, she called in all her friends and neighbors to help her celebrate the joyous news. Something important to her was lost, but she found it.  Jesus ends that story, telling of the joy in the presence of the angels of God when one lost sinner repents. 

The third story has many more details but in a nutshell, one of the sons of a certain man insisted on getting his inheritance early so the old man divided his estate between sons, and gave the boy what he asked for. The son then packed his things and took off to a faraway place and wasted all his money. When the money ran out, the boy was starving and found a job feeding pigs, having to eat the same things he fed to the pigs.  He got smart in a hurry and devised a plan to return to his father. The trip back home must have been difficult for him, but the Bible says when he was still a long way off, the father saw him coming and ran to greet him. There was a big party of celebration for this boy who became lost, but found his way to the welcome arms of his father at home.  Then , his older brother, hearing the party going on, became jealous and enraged because he had been the one that remained faithful to his duties on the farm, and now the younger brother who has wasted everything comes home to a celebration. The older son was reminded by his father that everything the father owned was already his, but the party was for a son he considered dead but was now alive, lost but now found.

Human nature would have me remind God that I am not the one from the flock that got lost, I have remained with the flock all these years. I am not the coin that was lost, because I remained with the 9 other valuable coins that were safe and sound. I am not the son that had to go and experience the wild living of a faraway place, I am the faithful son who has stayed to fulfill my duties.

Heavenly nature has us realize that many of us do stray, we do get lost, and we do run away, when we put our ideas and ways above those of God. Isn't God telling us that we could be just as lost while we remain with the flock and family, if we have a poor attitude of acceptance toward those who were lost but now found? Remember this if you have been a Christian for 5 minutes or 50 years. When anyone returns to God from the faraway country of sin, it is time for everyone to rejoice. It's time to join in heaven's party. One of God's children has come home.  God keeps the lost and found department open at all times.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Want to Learn Something?

It has happened once again.  While reading the writings of a Christian author, I was introduced to  a passage of scripture which I had read before, but I probably read through it so fast I missed the meaning.  It caused me to stop for a moment and ask myself if I have been reading scripture just for the sake of reading the bible cover to cover, without spending some time in prayer or in meditation to allow the scripture to actually speak to me. 
The verse which was unfolded for my learning experience this week is a one line truth from the Psalms, which gives tremendous insight to our lives of desiring to follow Jesus in faith and obedience.  Read it carefully and see if there is a message for you, too.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise." Psalm 111:10
Yes, we have read it before, and have taught the first part...”the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." We have expounded how we should have the proper respect and reverence for the Lord, for who he is, for all he has done and continues to do for us. Perhaps we have even grasped the truth that this really is the beginning of wisdom. That is a wonderful passage we need to learn and live by.
But keep on reading...."all who follow his precepts have good understanding."  Especially pay attention to the order in which our understanding occurs.  We get it right when we learn to follow his precepts, obey his commands, and in faith honor his direction and orders for us. THEN we will have good understanding.
Let's see how this works, for example, in the commands for us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It seems such as easy task for us to love God. Anyone would be crazy to say they aren't going to love him.  But when we get to the point of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, we have a tendency to hesitate.  We ask why.  Why should I love my neighbor when he obviously doesn't love me, and he has done things and said things which are so unloving?  If I am going to accept the truth of the Psalm, then I am going to love my neighbor in obedience to the command of Jesus, and then the good understanding will come.
Follow the same analogy with each and every commandment you can find for New Testament Christians.  With each commandment that is given, we have a obey or not to obey. Our tendency is to question some commands and find ourselves wondering why God would ask us to do something like that.  For a few more examples consider his commands on unity, prayer, baptism, or the Lord's Supper. Are these commands which we follow because we love him and trust him and want to do what pleases him?
What about the command of Jesus, "follow me?"  Scripture tells us of those who left their jobs, families, and previous lifestyles in obedience to that command, and followed him, not knowing all the details concerning where it would lead.  All of the information and understanding they may have desired before following Jesus, took a back seat to their willingness to obey him. I am suggesting that is the type of obedience Jesus is looking for in us.
As recipients of God's saving grace, we become a people who aim toward obedience to his commands, simply on the basis of our love for him, our trust in him, and knowing he will never leave nor forsake us. 
Read the verse again. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise." Psalm 111:10

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Son of the Living God

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,  and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.    Matthew 16:13-20 

The craftsman works with his hands and special tools and fashions from wood, a beautiful piece of furniture.  When the hours of work are complete and the smooth table top is finished to be durable and lasting,  He can make the claim, "I made that."

Our President once made the statement, concerning the infrastructure of our cities, "You didn't build that!"  True, not every citizen had a hand in laying the concrete or pavement, not even the curbing or the painting of the stripes, but all of it became possible when citizens paid taxes. 

When Jesus asked his disciples, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" .....How would you answer a question like that?  We have read Peter's response, which obviously demanded an abundance of faith.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

On Peter's response professing Jesus as God's Son, Jesus promised to build His church, and he did!  Years have come and gone, countless church buildings have been built by contractors, building committees, volunteer labor, or just a small group of friends and neighbors getting together to build a building.  Even with all of the success of the professional builders, and the volunteer workers, buildings have been built, but Jesus is still the master builder of the church. 

He is still in the church building business today as more and more accept his invitation to a "newness of life"  that only he can give.  Until he returns to gather his own, the gates of Hades will not overcome the church HE built.  Sometimes we need a reminder that all of our church work, to the glory of God, all of our new buildings, all of our good deeds, it's still the church of Jesus Christ.  Proclaim his gospel throughout the world, "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God."


Saturday, March 25, 2017

MISSION: Possible

Your mission, should you elect to commit to it, is to read each of these Scripture passages matched up with varying circumstances in life. Read them all now, or spread them out over the weekend.  Not knowing the hour or the day when Jesus will return, this message may be destroyed at any time. (If you read them all this weekend, just think how nice things will be on Monday!)

Do you hurt because of sorrow? – read John 14

Friends let you down? – read Psalm 27

Lord, I have sinned. – read Psalm 51

Worry controls me. – read Matthew 6: 25-34

I am afraid. – read Psalm 91

Bad case of the "down and outs." – read Psalm 34

God seems so far away – read Psalm 139

All of life is discouraging– read Isaiah 40

I really want to accomplish something for God – read John 15

What do I do about all my doubts?– read John 7:17

I feel all alone – read Psalm 23

God never seems to send me his blessings.– Psalm 103

What is a Christian, really. – read Matthew 5

My faith needs a shot of B-12 – read Hebrews 11

Today I am feeling hopeless – Romans 8: 31-39


Friday, March 24, 2017

The Running Man

The man was on the run.  His pursuers were close behind.  Fear filled his entire being.  Not knowing where to turn, not feeling the safety he longed for, he felt alone and afraid. 

Have you ever been that desperate?  Afraid of what might happen if you were overtaken by those who were chasing you, and seemingly having nowhere to turn, no way of escape, alone and afraid, what would you do?

The man in our story is David.  His pursuers were the Philistines.  David was in quite a predicament. The account of what he did about his situation is recorded in Psalm 56.  Look at the beginning verses of the Psalm.  

Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
    in their pride many are attacking me.

David cries out to God in his desperation.  One lesson we learn from him here, is David's prayer to God  comes before his own attempt to solve the problem.  Yes, he was in trouble, but as the verses which follow will show, David has not forgotten God.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

We find ourselves in disturbing circumstances, too.  If you read the remainder of Psalm 56, you will find more of what David faced, and more of how he depended of God for his deliverance.   The latter verses of the chapter tell us again of David's trust in the Lord.  But there is even more.  Look at verses 12-13.

12 I am under vows to you, my God;
    I will present my thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered me from death
    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

David had learned, as we must learn, even in desperation, God longs to demonstrate his power and willingness to rescue his people.  When we do not know where to turn, God says, "turn to me."  You see, the phrase, "In God we trust," is not only the mark on our currency in America, it's the mark on the heart of every child of God. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Who I Was .... Who I Am

Most mornings when I wake up, I turn on the TV to one of the news channels so I can learn what happened in the world while I was sleeping.  After listening to the same news stories repeated several times, I see a commercial from one of the national weight-loss products.  Yes, I's not something I want to see before breakfast, especially those commercials which show the "before and after" pictures.  I have thought about hiring myself out as the "before" model, but have never qualified for the "after" pictures. 

All this got me to thinking about the before and after descriptions of a Christian.  Then I thought about some who have tried to take on the name of Jesus, yet there are no changes or improvements.  There is nothing to differentiate the before and after.
Paul's writing to the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 2, gives us in accurate detail, the before and after pictures of Christian people.  

”As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."   Ephesians 2:1-6

From the notes in my NIV Study Bible, here are the descriptions presented:

Before                                             After
Dead in transgressions.........................................Made alive with Christ
Objects of wrath..................................................Shown God's mercy and salvation
Followed the ways of the world...........................Stand for Christ and the truth
God's enemies......................................................God's children
Enslaved to Satan.................................................Free to love and serve with Christ
Followed our evil thoughts and desires................Raised up with Christ to glory

That contributes such a greater perspective on who we are in Jesus Christ.  Further, we can understand from those verses the futility of attempting this thing called "life" without him.  As I look at the verses from the Bible, and see the comparison chart from the notes in the study Bible, there is no way I can survey the arrangement of words without making a personal application. 

What about you?  Where do you see yourself? 

I now visualize Paul, the seasoned apostle, laying it all out in front of his audience. He lets them know what they are without Jesus, and what they can become with Jesus.  His words in this letter, written centuries ago, are just as true and just as fresh for you and me.  Jesus welcomes and invites you to eternal life. 


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I Want to See!

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”   Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”   “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.  Mark 10:46-52

What an amazing miracle! What an amazing demonstration of faith! Are we surprised when reading stories of people who have an encounter with Jesus, also have their need supplied? Bartimaeus was blind and wanted to see. He was persistent in calling out to Jesus, even when the people of Jericho tried to keep him quiet.  Notice that he kept calling louder and louder, until Jesus heard him. Then the miracle happened and Bartimaeus could see. Jesus told him that his faith had healed him. 

I confess to you, my experience in reading scripture and especially the gospel narratives, already had me convinced that Bartimaeus was going to be able to see.  I knew Jesus could make it happen. This miracle would join the other miracles, from turning water into wine all the way up to raising Lazarus from death. After all, Jesus was in the miracle-making business, not only to show his compassion on those who needed him, but also as a demonstration of God's power.

I was drawn to this story today because I feel there is a need for us all to call out to Jesus, and when he asks us as he did Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" Our answer should be the same words Bartimaeus used in his reply, "I want to see!" Even if your vision is 20/20 or if you, like me, depend on eyeglasses or contact lenses, we still need help from above to see lots of things.  Here are a some for you to consider, but also think of others that could be added to your list.

1.  We need help seeing there are people around us every day that could be drawn closer to God through our example and our influence in sharing the Good News.

2.  We need to have our eyes opened to the needs of those around us, and those all the way around the world. We may feel our resources are not enough to help much, but as we have seen, minimum resources in the hands of God, can bring maximum results. 

3.  We are often so busy looking at the faults of others, our eyes are closed to the fact that we are sinners.  As long as we live, even those who are saved by God's grace, are a part of Adam's race and need to be aware of sin. Yes, God still loves and forgives us.  Our salvation should never become a source of isolation from others. Jesus can help us see the whole world is our harvest field. 

What else do you need to see?  Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, and so should we. 


Monday, March 20, 2017

'Mr. Hero' in Everything

A blogger friend spoke recently about her young son, coming from his room one morning wearing a Superman cape, a Spiderman body suit, and an Iron Man mask.  As ridiculous as he looked, he still considered himself "All Man."

Her blog continued with a confession that she realized she was trying to be the same thing, and it's not really possible.   How about you?  Do you find yourself so wrapped up in saving this or that situation, or solving problems for this person or that person, or even being a helper in the completion of every project or job that comes along?  If you answer in the positive, then you have a huge following. 

For those who find themselves in such a dilemma, you already know you cannot accomplish everything by yourself.  As much as you might like to be Superman, you will eventually get tired.  Even Spiderman has his limitations.  

All this leads me to thinking about those in the church who are so energetic and volunteer for everything that comes along, but then are spread so thin with their time they cannot be successful in accomplishing  anything.  I know this describes lots of lives.......even mine.  We have the tendency to want to be "Mr. Hero" in everything!

Allow me to insert here that in the church, the whole body functioning and working together is still the way Paul says right things get done and good things happen for every member of the body.  Danger enters the picture when we overload ourselves, trying to make sure nothing happens without our involvement. 

The New Testament explains the spiritual gifts we are given and expected to use for the benefit of the whole church family.  It further details our gifts as being "gifts that differ."  Some members will be talented in one area while other members are motivated to serve in other areas.  This is not to say we only have one spiritual gift.  Some may be gifted in several areas, so they should be actively using their talents and gifts.  Remember, it's not so we can be Mr. Hero in everything, but that we can give glory to God for the accomplishments which are made. 

From 1 Corinthians 12 (The Message), "…your body has many parts - but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.…we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which He has the final say in everything.”

May God bless your work in His Kingdom.  Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."


Friday, March 17, 2017

A weekend in Prayer

This prayer is from the Apostle Paul:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

Living peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness is our goal.  May it ever be our prayer.

Dinner Guests

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.   A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.   As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  Luke 7:36-38

A word of caution.  Be careful when accepting dinner invitations.  You never know who else might be there.  Such was the case when Jesus went to eat in the home of a Pharisee.  A woman with a poor reputation showed up and begin to  wet Jesus' feet with her tears and dry them with her hair.  Kissing his feet, she poured a perfume on them.

In reality, the invitation for Jesus to visit in that home was not for social reasons.  The Pharisee only invited him there to check him out.  They wanted to trap him into disagreeing with their version of law and tradition. 

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus there reasoned, "If he is really a prophet, then he will know about this woman.  He will know she is a sinner."

But Jesus spoke and told a story. "Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,  and the other fifty.   Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

Then starting in Luke 7:42, "Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

It caused quite a stir when Jesus forgave that woman.  The people in that house began to wonder who Jesus thinks he is, that he even forgives sins.   I tell you, the most wonderful words you will ever hear are the words that sinful woman heard that day,  "Her many sins have been forgiven."  Then there was something we sometimes miss in this story.  Jesus, without saying it, invites the Pharisee dinner host to look at the evidence of her forgiveness.  Her great love shows it!

The typical Pharisee, always observing himself as the picture of perfection, is stuck with the last words of the story, "But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."

For the sinner who recognizes his sinful condition and seeks a relationship with Jesus, is well on the way to hearing words of forgiveness.  He is the one who demonstrates his forgiven life, by his love.  That's the love we need as individuals, and as a church. 


Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Question for You

There was a question raised when a group of Christian leaders were having lunch.  It's one of those questions which we have probably thought about before, yet without arriving at answers which seemed adequate.  Here's the question:

Are we guilty of professing to the world around us, if a person becomes a dedicated Christian, totally yielding to the writings of the Bible, then he is in for smooth sailing through life with everything turning out in his favor? 

Think for a moment about your take on that question.  If you decide on an answer like most, you will readily admit since you became a Christian, there have been things which did not produce smooth sailing, and maybe you can count numerous occasions when things didn't turn out in your favor.

While we wish to encourage and assist those on the outside to become followers of Jesus Christ, we do them a disservice if we infer they will never have another problem, never another illness, never another crisis in their family.  We who are already in the Christian family, the church, can testify about the problems of something called "life" still plagues us.

Here is the main thing we need to understand.  Even while living as a Christian in these present days, we are still on the human side of eternity.  It's true, Jesus lives in us which makes our lives prepared for eternity, while we live in this world we are going to face those troubles which are common to all people.

We believe that we are IN this world but the child of God does not have to be OF this world.  That's why you will hear Christians praying when crisis arises.  That's why we continue to seek the lost of the world with the gospel message.  That's why we strive to live our lives as upstanding members of society.

Yes, we are subject to car wrecks and cancer, business failure and even the death of some when they are still young.  These tragedies occur in the world in which we live.  Yet while these are happening around us daily, there is another thing we should understand.

The Christian continues his life in the world, yet when disaster occurs, he is equipped with the presence of God, who is always concerned with his people.  That gives us somewhere to turn when we face the problems.  You will hear Christians saying, in the face of troubled times, "I do not think I could have faced  this disaster, had it not been for my faith."

Jesus instructed us we would possibly face persecution and suffering.   We still have burdens to bear, trials and temptations, and yet through all of this, we face the reality of having our own individual "crosses to bear."

Because this world is in contrast with our eternal home, Biblical truth still points us to work in faith toward our citizenship in the eternal presence of God.  It may not always be easy, it could be painful, but Jesus died so we could be prepared and even anticipate his return when he will take us home.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Word Became Flesh

The group which constitutes my Wednesday evening Bible Study has been going through a chronological version of the Bible.  We have just finished the Old Testament and are starting this week in the New Testament.  We are involved this week in looking through the pen of John, concerning Jesus' entrance into our world, where he came to dwell among us. Here's how John starts his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Strangely different from the story of Jesus' birth as recorded by Luke, yet filled with information concerning the arrival Jesus as flesh and blood.  

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

If you are familiar with these verses from John 1, then you know already about the statements Jesus will be making, the miracles he will perform, and the lives he will be touching.  Read and reread John's first chapter and make the comparison with the other gospels. May we all become more familiar with these words which are "truth and life."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

God's Unfailing Love

Psalm 33:16-22

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.
20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Ok, I confess.  Sometimes it's me thinking my problem is too big for God to handle. I know from talking to people I have great company with this feeling.  We come up against an obstacle in life, maybe unlike anything we have faced before, and we choose to  handle it ourselves, and we fail. Here is the main lesson for us to learn today. Just because you do not know the solution to your problem doesn't mean there is no solution.  That's true with algebra problems an life problems. 

Not long ago I found one of those seemingly impossible puzzles, the kind where you separate two pieces of wire that you think are so intertwined they can't be taken apart. I remembered the solution to the puzzle but thought I would have some fun with it, so I handed it to a friend and asked him to see if he could get the two pieces apart. He tried everything for a few minutes and finally decided the only solution was a pair of wire cutters.  I took the puzzle from him, and showed him how easy the puzzle could be solved. It was easy for me because I remembered the solution and had worked it many times. 

Putting this story in a spiritual perspective, God has been working out problems for men since time began. The very thing that seems impossible or even complex for us, is easy for God. He has lots of experience in providing solutions. That is why the Psalmist says, "We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield."

God is willing and able to work in you and through you to handle ALL of life's puzzles. He always brings the solution that is right for you, and the solution that brings him all praise and glory. 


Monday, March 13, 2017

More Than Conquerors

We have looked at Romans 5 before, and have seen in the first part of that Bible chapter, the themes of peace and hope for the people of God.  It is vitally important that we see the relation between those themes and God because as we saw in earlier studies, He is the source of our peace and hope.

Another look at the remaining portion of the chapter gives us so much more.  If you follow repetitions and know the repeated use of a word or a term in Scripture sheds light on the importance of the subject matter, then look what Paul does with the term, "much more."

Verse 9, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!"  The verse identifies the Christian as one who has been justified by the blood of Jesus.  Yes, we are sinners, but have been made clean by Jesus' blood.  But much more we have been delivered from the wrath of God. 

Now, in verse 10, "For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Paul uses logic here.  If, while living lives as enemies of God, we were reconciled through the death of Jesus on the cross.  Then he says, much more, since we are reconciled, we will be saved through his life.

Paul then starts talking about Adam's sin, which brought the pronouncement of a death sentence for all mankind.  Verse 15. "For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!"  Did you catch all of that?  By Adam's sin, we have inherited the death sentence because we are all sinners.  So if many died because of the sin of one(Adam,) much more did God's grace overflow to many. 

Look in verse 17, "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!"   Paul's repetition makes this easy to see.  Again, death reigned through Adam, much more shall we receive God's provision of grace and the gift of righteousness through Jesus.

There are four times Paul uses the term, much more.  His repetition drives home the truth of the message of our standing with God.  Using terms like "justified, reconciled, grace overflowing, and gift of righteousness" Paul describes US!  The source of these applied terms is God himself, through his Son Jesus. 

You would think Paul had used or overused the "much more," and that would be the entire picture. However, I think Paul is just getting started, and wants us to become as excited about our lives in Jesus as Paul is about his own life.  The longer I am involved in the Christian walk, I come to know God is not finished.  Like Paul, I will use the term "much more."  Past accomplishments behind us, let us get so involved with God that we can experience the "much more" he still has in store for us.

Paul gives us a hint in the 8th chapter when he says nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, because we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS through God who loves us. 


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Let Love Be Your Goal

Not long ago our study centered around the reading and application of 1 Corinthians 13, aptly called "The Love Chapter" of the Bible. I issued the challenge for you to read the short chapter from your favorite translation and from several other translations and see how God would speak to you about your life of loving God and loving others. 

Today I wish to call to you attention the first three verses of that chapter and let you see how vital love is to the Christian life.  Here are the verses again from the New Living Translation.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;  but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Here are some things to think about.  If you and I could speak all languages of this world and even the language of the angels, we would be nothing if we didn't have love.  If we possessed the gift of prophecy, understanding all of God's secrets and knowledge, we would be nothing if we did not possess love.  If we had the faith that was strong enough to move mountains, we would still be nothing if we didn't love others.  And even if we gave everything to the poor and even sacrificed for them physically, we would be nothing if we didn't love them. 

Let's bundle them all together and see we can come up with some successful way to rise above "being nothing."  Think with me here. Do you know anyone that can speak all those languages, and has the gift of prophecy, and has mountain-moving faith, and gives everything they have to the poor, even at the expense of their own bodies?  I can't think of anyone that has all those qualities but perhaps you know someone that does.  Wouldn't that be a blessing to the church and to the work of God in the world today to have all those attributes rolled into a single life? 

If God had someone like that on his side, Satan would surely be defeated daily!  Faith would be demonstrated constantly. The knowledge of God could be shared abundantly. The poor would no longer suffer.  Such a gifted and talented person would be a boost to any church or community. 

But wait. God says something different from our assessment. God says the person that possesses all those qualities is nothing and gains nothing if they don't love others. Correct me if I am wrong, but the picture I get here is God telling me, before I say anything, believe anything, or do anything for him, I need to be loving toward others. All my efforts are nothing, if I don't have love.

Surprising as it may seem, the very next verse in the Bible, after "The Love Chapter," is , "Let love be your highest goal."  Those are good words to apply.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Two Sins

We can learn a lot about God by the way he dealt with his chosen people in Old Testament times. The children of Israel had many of the same problems we have in remaining faithful to the Heavenly Father. Most of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament not only give us glimpses of the coming Jesus, Messiah, but also let us see some very specific qualities of God that we might otherwise miss.

Jeremiah was the prophet chosen by God to proclaim messages which contained doom and destruction to the unfaithful, and messages which portrayed God as one who longed for his people to return to him, and seek his forgiveness for their disobedience.

We've looked at some of this before and noted Jeremiah's message from God to the people included the mentioning of the Israelites defiling the land, they followed after worthless idols, they did not seek God, and even their leaders, the teachers of the law, were in rebellion. 

Jeremiah 2 gives the message and the picture for Israel looks bleak. The people who had known of God's deliverance and his provision, were now turning their backs on God and practicing idolatry. God is so displeased with them he and lets them know about it.  He asks this question, "Has a nation ever changed its gods?" (Yet the gods they turn to are not really gods at all.)  We can sense the sorrow and sadness from the throne of God to the entirety of Israel.  And yet, through God's displeasure, he still wants to show his love and forgiveness to  every one of them. 

Through the sins of the people itemized to this point, we can understand why God expresses his displeasure. Further down in Jeremiah 2, God sums up the root of their problem.  Verse 13:

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." 
Jeremiah 2:13

There are the two sins. They have forsaken God, the spring of living water, and they dug their own cisterns, that cannot hold water.  Both the Old and New Testaments have examples of the life giving source of spirituality illustrated by the provision of water. These people could have turned to God at any time and enjoyed an  awakening to the spiritual blessings from above.  Instead, he said they built their own cisterns that cannot hold water, a demonstration of their lack of trust and faith in God. 

Mankind still refuses to drink the water of life from God, the only sustaining source. We still like to call all the shots and make all the decisions.  We, like Israel in Jeremiah's day, need to learn the calamity that awaits when we choose our own way, our own abilities, our own strength.  The grace of God gives us the better perspective of knowing him, loving him, and following his direction. 

Come to the fountain, the source of the water of life, and drink from the spring of living water.