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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jesus has Harsh Words for the Pharisees

Jesus has Harsh Words for the Pharisees
Matthew 23

In all of the lessons and parables that Jesus gave as He and his disciples traveled around Israel from town to town healing and teaching; we cannot find any of His words or teachings that come close to the angry words He had for the scribes and Pharisees!  We read Jesus’ severe warnings to the Jewish people concerning the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

Jesus begins by saying: “The teachers of the law, and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat,” (Matthew 23:2) Several thousands of years earlier, God had given the Ten Commandments and other laws to the Jewish people through Moses. The scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, were the idols and darlings of the Jewish people because they spent their whole life studying God’s laws.  They were supposed to interpret God’s laws to the people just as Moses had done.

But Jesus added that the scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and puts them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger of it.” (verse 4) Jesus was speaking about the many additions that the scribes and Pharisees had illegally added to God’s law given by Moses. All these man-made laws had become a great burden for the Jewish people to follow; and this deeply grieved and angered Jesus.  How dare the religious leaders lie to the people, telling them that the laws they thought up were the same as God’s laws!  God wanted to give the people life: but the Pharisees, who were supposed to speak for God, were standing in the way! 

The Pharisees loved to dominate the people and show off their authority by forcing the people to follow their own man-made ceremonies and traditions.  These goody goody religious leaders prayed eight to ten hours a day out in front of all the people, to impress everyone as to how pious they were. They lied to the people telling them that God would send them to hell if they didn’t obey each of their knit picking ordinances.  All of this enraged Jesus.

   Jesus goes on: “All their work is done for people to see.  They made their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their clothes long: they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue….to have people call them “Rabbi”.  But you are not to be called “Rabbi” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.”  (Matthew 23:5-8) 

Jesus was all about humility.  And Jesus also taught that a spirit of humility should govern the action of believers. He tells us not to give other humans the authority that should only be given to God.  He said: “Do not call anyone on earth “father” for you have one Father and He is in heaven.”  (Matthew 23:9) Jesus continued: “The greatest among you will be your servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:10b-11) 

Jesus went on his tirade by calling the religious leaders “Hypocrites”.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of God in people’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  You travel over land and sea to make a convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”  (Matthew 23:15)

Jesus is furious because the religious leaders have “shut the kingdom of heaven” away from the people.  Do some religious leaders do that today?  The people were relying on these supposed “men of God” to lead them in God’s Way, and instead the people were being led away from God’s Way.  As religious leaders and interpreters of Scripture, the Pharisees should have been the first to respond to Jesus as their Messiah and then influenced the people to follow. 

Their Scriptures, our Old Testament, had promised that a Messiah and a Savior would be given and that they were to look for Him.  The Pharisees read the Scriptures day and night and should have asked themselves questions when Jesus healed so many and performed miracles and raised dead persons back to life. But when Jesus, their Messiah, finally came to them, the Pharisees didn’t want to “see” Him.  That is “see” Him with their hearts.  Their hearts were too hardened to be able to “see” Jesus. They might have to change their ways if they were to “see” Jesus and recognize Him as their promised Messiah, and the proud Pharisees surely didn’t want to change!

Jesus went about healing many people all over Israel.  People who were blind were given their sight and people who were lame were given the strength to walk when Jesus would come their way.  Sick people were healed and deaf people could hear again when Jesus touched them.  Demon possessed people were freed from their demons and mentally ill people were healed when Jesus prayed for them.

Jesus even broke up funerals and raised people from the dead.  Scripture had prophesied that the coming Messiah would heal their illnesses.  The religious leaders should have wondered if possibly Jesus was indeed their promised Messiah!  But instead the Pharisees and scribes were furious when Jesus healed the sick and especially when He raised Lazarus from the dead!  In fact Lazarus’s resurrection from the grave caused them to  agree among themselves that they would find a way to have Jesus crucified!  Too many of their people were following Jesus and they were jealous.  The Pharisees might lose some of their power and influence over the people if they couldn’t get rid of Jesus! 

Jesus had harsh words for these religious leaders who at that very moment were plotting his death.  He told them that they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”  (Matthew 23:13b)  He also called the Pharisees “blind guides”, “a brood of vipers”, and “whited tombs, which are beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones”.(Matthew 23:27b)  He told them that they killed and persecuted God’s prophets.  And Jesus asked the Pharisees this question: “How will you escape being condemned to hell?”  (Matthew 23:33b)   

Jesus was standing in the temple when He spoke these harsh words to the religious leaders. And a few days after this, Jesus was crucified as angry crowds called out “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”  As Jesus stood there in the temple speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus looked over Jerusalem and cried out these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  (Matthew 23:37-39) 

A sad day indeed. Jesus left the temple that day and never returned.  A temple abandoned by the Messiah!  A house left desolate indeed!  The Lord’s public ministry was finished.  Jesus tells them: “You will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:39) At Christ’s second coming the nation of Israel will recognize their rejected Messiah and will welcome His return with great emotion!  (Romans 11: Zechariah 12:10) What a day that will be!    

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jesus Warns against Causing Little Ones to Stumble

Jesus Warns against Causing Little Ones to Stumble
Matthew 18:1-7

“Who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” the disciples asked Jesus. The disciples had spent nearly three years with Jesus, listening to Him tell them about the kingdom of heaven.  But they still thought the kingdom of heaven would be set up in Israel in the next year or so.  And they still didn’t understand that Jesus’ kingdom would be of another world, even though He had told them.

They expected that Jesus would soon establish his worldly kingdom with great pomp and power, and they would be part of the action.  They were ambitious men, anxious to grasp the fame and power that would go with all of this.  So now was a good time to speak up for their places in this coming kingdom.  Which one of them would be given the most honor and the greatest position? 

Jesus knew that he would soon be crucified. He had tried to share this with his disciples, but they didn’t hear what He had to say!  All they could think about was the fame and power they would share with Him in His new kingdom.  Instead of asking Him how they might have strength and grace to suffer with Him now, they are asking Him who will be the greatest in the future kingdom!

 But don’t we sometimes do the same thing?  Jesus looks to us, His modern disciples, to come alongside Him and share in His sufferings.  To humbly take up our cross and follow Him. To feed the hungry and visit the sick and give to the poor in His Name. But then some of us, like his disciples back then, don’t hear His call.  We are too busy wrangling among ourselves over who is the greatest.  And we are still trying to use Jesus to grab more earthly power and privilege.

Jesus answered his disciples’ question of who would be the greatest in His kingdom.  His answer is that the way to greatness is to be humble.  Humble and trusting of the Father like a little child would be. It’s as simple as that!  Jesus calls a little child over to Him and had him stand among them.  Then Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like this little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself/herself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom. (Matthew 18:3-4) That was not what the disciples wanted to hear!

Jesus was teaching his disciples and us today that humility in our lives is a necessity.  It means everything.  To enter the kingdom of heaven a person must realize his/her personal inadequacy, and turn and depend on God and experience a new birth. (John 3:3)   A person by believing will become like a little child -by being a childlike believer.

 We must have faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, repent of our sins and want to follow Him.  Converting grace molds and  makes us like little children.  In other words, the Holy Spirit we receive when we believe in Christ leads us into being humble and teaches us to put away pride and arrogance.  As a little child, we learn to trust in our heavenly Father.  It seems that the requirements for success in Jesus’ kingdom are upside down from those of our earthly kingdoms.  Earthly leaders are often chosen because of money, privilege and charisma.    

Jesus continues teaching the disciples and us a different lesson concerning a little child.  Here is what He said: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this one in my Name welcomes Me.  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!  Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come.” (Matthew 18:5-7)

Little children are vulnerable, trusting and teachable.  Isn’t Jesus saying here that to take advantage of these innocent trusting little ones is a serious crime?  We think of child porn, and the people involved who manipulate and use young teen agers and even little children to fulfill their perverted sexual needs.  And then the sex traffickers who make money by enslaving little children and young teens and selling their bodies to the public.  Jesus doesn’t mince words in condemning these evil people.  Here are His words: “It would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,” (Matthew 18:6) 

And then there is the heartbreak of children who are victims of child abuse.  Trusting little ones who are beaten and abandoned. Or taught by adults to live a life of crime.  Jesus’ heart is broken. And Scripture says that their angels are always praying for them before God’s throne. (Hebrews 1:14) Jesus calls on us to get involved.  To do something, in his Name.    

Some Bible scholars believe that Jesus was comparing a little child to a new believer in Christ.  And the awful judgment awaiting those who would harm the faith of a new or young Christian believer and cause that one to stumble.

I still remember a friend’s young teen aged daughter who was a new enthusiastic Christian. This young girl was so excited about her faith in Christ.  Her face would light up with joy over her newfound trust in God.  She had a favorite Scripture verse that was especially meaningful to her. But one Sunday her pastor tore this Scripture verse and its’ meaning apart, explaining to the congregation that this verse didn’t mean what it said.  That intellectual persons could not actually believe Scripture!  I still remember the hurt and confused look on the young girl’s face as she left church.  Her faith had been ridiculed and attacked by her very own pastor who she trusted and respected.  I thought my heart would break! 

Jesus calls us to take care of His little lambs, and to feed His hungry sheep.  Whether they be little children or young believers in Christ, we are to be there to protect them and build them up.  Not tear them down!  The arrogance of religious leaders who try to tear the Faith apart.  Who call evil actions good and good actions evil: all because it is the popular thing to do at the time.  Or who lead little children down a path away from the Truth.

Jesus’ words say it all.  “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  (Matthew 18:6)   

Monday, January 2, 2017

We have a Great Big God

We have a Great Big God

Last night there were fireworks displays, festivities, concerts, dances and parties taking place all around the world.  Some of our enthusiastic fellow humans drank alcoholic drinks, shot off guns, threw confetti around and wore silly hats as they counted down the last seconds of the old year.  And some went to church and prayed. We were all celebrating the beginning of a brand-new year!  And a new year brings new hope!  A new chance for a new start.  

We made some mistakes last year, didn’t always do the right thing, had some failures.  But that is all behind us now and we are being given a new year to live and try again.  To right some wrongs and have new goals.  So we humans greet this new year with cheers and hopes for another chance to accomplish new dreams and accomplishments. 

Many of us make new year’s resolutions.  We are going to try again.  We will lose weight, save more money, work harder, serve God better, stop worrying, learn a new skill, etc.  A new year for a new try!    Gyms and fitness clubs get a surge in business for the first few weeks of every new year. So many folks trying to exercise and lose weight.  So many good intentions! 

Some people reach their goals and keep their new year’s resolutions, lose the weight, stop being angry, etc.  But many of us end up with the same sins bothering us in the new year that brought us down in years past.  We try and try again, but somehow, we still end up gaining the weight back or not serving God the way we wanted.  And our good intentions and our new year’s resolutions are down the drain again!  Bummer!

As we grow older and get discouraged we may stop believing in miracles and start believing that things will never be the way we had hoped.  The promises in Scripture seem too good to be true! We try harder but still don’t reach the vision of what things should be.  We are trying to do everything in our own strength and it’s not working.  And when impossible things come into our lives that we can’t handle, we don’t trust God enough to take care of these things.  Our God is too small! 

One of our friends is an old man now and as long as he can remember, his grown daughter has not spoken to him. Years earlier the daughter had asked him for money to pay for a project that he didn’t feel was right, and she has never forgiven him for not agreeing with her on the issue or for not paying for something he believed was wrong.

Over the years, he would reach out to the daughter again and again but her cold silence was all he would get in return. Sometimes he felt angry.  Angry that his daughter could cut him off so thoroughly. He prayed and prayed but nothing seemed to change. He asked God to help him not be angry and to keep on loving the daughter.

Years had gone by and our friend became depressed and discouraged that this child he had raised and loved so dearly had rejected him so thoroughly. His heart began to harden against his daughter. This man began to feel that his daughter was gone forever. That things between them were impossible to solve. That even God couldn’t solve the impossible!

But then one day it seemed that God spoke right to this father’s heart.  “Do you believe that I am a great big God?” a Voice seemed to ask the old man.  And for a minute this father was surrounded by a wonderful vision of his great big God!  “Do you believe that I am big enough to take care of the impossible?  That I can restore your relationship with your daughter? “the father was asked. “Yes, I believe.” the stunned father answered.   For a minute the father could see a vision of his daughter, changed and loving and restored to the kind loving person she had been before.  “This is what I will do, if you will put your faith in Me.”  a voice seemed to promise the shaken father.

Now everything is different for our friend!  He believes that God is big enough to take care of his daughter. He trusts God with all his problems and he is happy and looking forward to when his prayers will be answered. No more discouragement and no more trying to fix everything on his own.

 Scripture reads: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7) And this father has done that.  Scripture also says:” Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives and he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”  (Luke 11:9-120) The gracious heavenly Father wants to give us good things if we will come to Him. 

Jesus calls us to “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:23) Faith is all important.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Jesus goes on to say: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you pray, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:24-26)   Here again faith in God is what He asks of us.  He promises to give us “anything” we ask for –anything that is good and in His will if we believe in Him.
 The Father only gives good gifts.  He doesn’t promise when we may receive all the answers to our prayers.  Perhaps the father may have to wait a long time before he is restored to his daughter.  God is working behind the scene.  But the father can know that it will happen. 
 But because this is in God’s will the father can count on this prayer to be answered if he believes and trusts his great big God.  Hebrews 4:16 says: “Fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in good time for every need.”

Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father loves to give gifts to his children.  He says that if our son or daughter is hungry and asks us for food we human parents will not give our hungry child a stone instead.  And even though we human parents have faults we still usually give good gifts to our children. (Luke 11:11-13) How much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts and give the Holy Spirit to His children. 

Now as we are entering a new year we may have hopes and dreams for this new year.  Let’s not try to make those hopes and dreams come true all by ourselves. Let’s remember that we have a great big God who can take care of the impossible things that get in the way of those dreams.   All we need to do is to ask and believe.  Our God is big enough to make it happen.     



Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Baby Jesus is God's Gift to Us

The Baby Jesus is God’s Gift to Us

God has given us many gifts, but the most precious gift He gives us is Jesus Christ.  Along with the gift of Jesus comes the gift of God’s presence.  The gift that God is with us.  That we are never alone! The gift of God’s presence is a gift that we really must open.  It is too valuable to leave  on the shelf.   The baby Jesus was given many names.  And names have meaning.  One of the names Jesus was given was the name, “Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) And the name Emmanuel means “God with us.”

All through the Bible we see God’s presence with His people.  We see His presence with Abraham and Sarah as He led to their new promised land and protected them from harm.  We see God’s presence with the Israelites as He led them across the wilderness and fed them manna in the desert.  And if we want Him we can feel God’s presence with us too.

Sometimes we wrestle with God’s presence.  We wonder where He is when things go wrong.  But He is still there taking care of us in ways we do not yet see.  Our call now is to trust Him even when we don’t understand. When we pass from death to eternal life we may see the whole picture then. God helps us cope.  He gives us strength.  Scripture promises: “Fear not for I am with you, be not afraid for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.”  (Isaiah 41:10)

Jesus ‘Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is also the Spirit of peace.  The dove, which represents peace, is one of the signs of the Holy Spirit.  And one of Jesus ’names is the “Prince of Peace.”  When we open our lives to Jesus, God’s gift to us, we will soon find ourselves being led in the paths that lead to peace because His Spirit leads us into peace.

  Jesus tells us, his followers, to love our enemies.  To do good to the people that are doing us harm.  Here is what Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven. “(Matthew 5:44) We need His supernatural power to obey this command.

I have someone in my life who tells lies about me and I feel I must stand up for my reputation and put this person down.  But the Lord speaks to my heart and tells me to love this person and let Him take care of my reputation.  He, with His love, can do this difficult job so much better than I could with my hate.  I fall down and get up and fall down again. You may have similar problems along your way.  But the Lord always leads us in the ways of peace and love.    

Jesus also tells us not to judge others.  Here is what He says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Matthew 7:1-2)

And Jesus tells us to forgive. Again, here are His words: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:14-15)

These commands are difficult to follow, but the Holy Spirit will help us and forgive us when we mess up.  You can see that when we get serious and open ourselves to Jesus and His Spirit, we are opening ourselves to a radical change.     

We have God’s presence with us through the Holy Spirit living in us.  When we believe in Jesus He gives us His Spirit.  And Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of our eternal life.  “The Spirit is the guarantee or (down payment) of our inheritance in anticipation of its full redemption and our acquiring possession of it, to the praise of His glory.”  (Ephesians 1:14)  When we feel the still small Voice guiding or teaching or comforting us, this Voice inside our heart is the Holy Spirit.  He comes along side of us.  What a great blessing we have! 

This truth is so precious that we need to guard and keep our faith strong and not let it slip away or be watered down. (2 Timothy 1:14) There are heresies and false teachings everywhere.  Satan will try to undermine your faith in Jesus - the Truth that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 Stay true to Jesus and don’t listen to false teachings. Build up your precious faith by studying the Bible, the Word of God.  Pray and listen for the Lord’s Voice and fellowship with other Christians. The Holy Spirit is in you to help you maintain your faith in Jesus as Son of God and Savior.  Welcome the Spirit into every facet of your life.  Let Him be the divine Helper to you that He wants to be and you will experience abundant blessings, peace and joy, and a greater closeness with God. 

Some of this blog was taken from Joyce Meyer’s book “Knowing God Intimately” Chapter 17, “The Wonder of It All!”        

Saturday, December 17, 2016

For unto Us a Child is Born

For unto Us a Child is Born 

God spoke through Isaiah, the prophet many hundreds of years before Jesus was born, telling the Jewish people that He would send them a Child.  But this wouldn’t be just any child.  God promised a very special Child!  He spoke these words through Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord will give you a sign: a virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.”  (Isaiah 7:14)   

This promised child’s name means “God with us”!  God continues describing this child through his prophet Isaiah.  Let’s listen: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.  And the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.  And of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness.  From that time on and forever more.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.  (Isaiah 9:6-7)

The people of Israel were looking for this promised Child, this Messiah, this Emmanuel or ‘God with us’.  God promised a Child to be born, but also a Lamb to be slain (killed) (Revelations 13:8)  We can also see Him in his humiliation when we read Isaiah’s prophecies and other Scriptures.

God’s prophecies through Isaiah tell us that this Child will be called Wonderful, Counselor and Mighty God.  He is able to save to the uttermost.  Another name for this Child is “Everlasting Father” He was born into our world and He is God, one with the Father, who is from everlasting to everlasting.

  And He is the “Prince of Peace”.  He is our peace.  As King, He preserves, commands and creates peace in his kingdom.  When He governs it shall be a peaceable government.  He will settle it with justice and judgment.  There shall be no end to the increase of his governing.    

God speaks through Isaiah describing what this promised Child will bring to the world.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them the Light has shined.  You have multiplied the nation, You have increased its joy:  They rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest.”  Isaiah 9:2-3)

 One of Jesus’ many names is “Light” or “the Light of the world”.  That great Light which should visit those who sat in darkness would bring deliverance to the captives.  The design of the gospel is to break the yoke of sin and Satan.  And to remove the burden of sin and corruption.  And Jesus’ coming also brings his followers great joy along with liberty and victory.

The same Child that is called the “mighty God” is also the “Child who is born”.  Jesus is born for us, given for us. This holy Child humbled and emptied himself, to exalt and fill us. Billions of Christians down through the ages have worshiped Him and celebrated the Gift of this Child and Savior. 

 We celebrate at Christmastime.  We gather together with family and sing carols, give gifts and rejoice all because a Child is born and a Son is given.  Given to us and given for us. He is God’s gift to us.   


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lessons from the Hospital Bed

Lessons from the Hospital Bed

It was five o clock in the morning when we arrived at the hospital last week.  A cold Artic wind blew down on us as we made our way across the parking lot in the darkness. My surgery was scheduled for seven o clock and I was numb with fear.  My husband tried to be cheerful but nothing could calm my nerves.  

Inside the hospital, we sat silently in a cold waiting room with other nervous patients who also were waiting for their surgeries.  The nurse who came for me was friendly and helpful.  My spirits rose a bit.  It’s amazing how just a smile and a kind word can make a difference.  Soon I was being wheeled into surgery.  It was seven in the morning and as the anesthesiologist administered my anesthesia, he assured me that they would be watching my monitor. That was the last thing I remembered. 

I was having shoulder replacement surgery.  My old shoulder was worn out with no more cartilage between the bones.  The surgeon had to cut the old shoulder off and replace it with a new ball and socket, along with a rod down my arm to hold the new shoulder in place.  My doctor is a specialist in this surgery so I trusted him to do the job well.

When I woke up in the recovery ward I was in pain and gasping for breath. A doctor appeared and told me that he would be back to put my shoulder to sleep so I wouldn’t feel the pain.  Soon he was back with a shot that numbed my shoulder for the next twenty-four hours.  A caring nurse checked my vital signs and moved around to other patients.  I could see that it was eleven thirty by a clock on the wall. I drifted in and out of sleep. 

Soon someone came for me and pushed my bed down the hall and into the elevator.  Then down another hall and into my new hospital room.  My husband was waiting there in my hospital room and it was good to see him.  I was so glad that the operation was over and I felt all right.  I was hooked up to an IV and many wires and tubes as well as oxygen.  I felt Christ’s love through the caring nurses that were around me for the rest of the day. 

Late that night after my husband had gone home and my room was dark, I looked out my hospital window and thanked God for getting me through the surgery.  As I lay there in the silent darkness praying it seemed that God spoke directly to my heart.
 I have a friend who I had decided to give up on.  Our relationship had become toxic and I was tired of caring about this one who is always rude to me and is constantly putting down Jesus Christ.  It seemed that the Lord was telling me that this person was in pain.  That I should pray for this one, not run away.  I argued that this one had gone too far and been too mean.  But the Lord seemed to be telling me that He had died for people who had gone too far and been too mean.  That I was to follow His example.  To forgive and forgive again. 

The next day the sun was shining and I started therapy.  I walked the halls with my physical therapist and laughed with my husband.  Friends and relatives called and wished me well and I was happy to be feeling better.  But as I settled in to sleep that second night in the hospital, an uneasiness seemed to come over me.  Fear crept into my soul for no reason and I wondered why I often feel so vulnerable.

 I looked out my hospital window again and asked God why I felt so fearful and so unsettled.  And then I opened the Bible and started reading.  Right away my eyes fell on this verse: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong and firm and He will settle you.” (1 Peter 5:10)  As I read this verse it seemed the Lord spoke to my soul once again and said that this verse was for me.  Of course, this verse is for all of God’s children. But this promise was just the right comfort for me that night in the hospital. I went to sleep with God’s comfort wrapped around me. 

God had spoken to my heart there in the hospital through the Holy Spirit.  Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit, along with being our Teacher and Guide and Divine Helper is also our Comforter.   One of my favorite verses describing Him as our Comforter is this one.  “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My (Jesus) Name, He will teach you all things.” (John 14:26) His comfort will be different for you than for me since your needs will be different from mine. 

Two nights in the hospital and two times I felt my heavenly Father whispering directly to my heart.  He has so much to say to us but do I listen?  Too much noise and busyness in my life.  I need to make more room for quiet times of prayer.  That is another lesson I learned from my hospital stay.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Jesus' Face Shinned like the Sun

Jesus’ Face Shinned like the Sun

Jesus promised his disciples that some of them would see him coming into his kingdom.  Jesus talked often about his kingdom and told his followers that they were citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  And now some of Jesus’ disciples would actually get to see Jesus being changed from his earthly body into his heavenly body (transfiguration) in the kingdom of heaven! 

These are Jesus’ words to his disciples.  “I tell you that there are some of you standing here who will not die until after they see the Son of Man (Jesus) coming into His kingdom.”  (Matthew 16:28) Some Christians have taken these words of Jesus to mean that some of his disciples would still be alive when He comes to earth again at the end of the age!  Some believe that this verse means that Jesus would come again very soon – even before all the disciples died.

 But Jesus was not talking about the end times here, he was talking about his transfiguration –his earthly body changing into his heavenly body.   And this transfiguration happened just few days after he told his disciples that it would happen. They didn’t have to wait long.  

 When we read the story in Matthew 16:28-Matthew 17:13 we see that Jesus spoke these words just a short while before Peter, James and John followed Jesus up a mountain and saw him in his glory in his kingdom!  His body which had appeared in weakness and dishonor, now appears in power and glory.  Scripture tells us: “After six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.  Jesus was transfigured before their eyes.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  And behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.”  (Matthew 17:1-3)  

Peter speaks up and says that it is so good to be there and then he suggests that they make three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.  And then Scripture says: “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear Him!’  The disciples fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.  Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ And when they opened their eyes they saw no one but Jesus only. “ (Matthew 17:5-8)

God speaks to the disciples out of a cloud, telling the disciples to hear or listen to His Beloved Son, Jesus.  We find often in the Old Testament, that a cloud was the visible token of God’s presence.    God led the Israelites through the desert in the form of a cloud by day and a fire by night. (Exodus 13:22)  God spoke to the disciples out of the cloud as He did on other occasions throughout Scripture.  Peter, James and John were so terrified when God spoke to them that they fell to the ground.  How do you think you would feel?  Scripture says that a person cannot see God’s face and live. (Exodus 33:20 and John 1:18)

This transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain happened shortly before his death.  The disciple’s faith would be tested as they would soon have to watch their Savior be crucified. Even though Jesus had told them, they still would not understand why He would have to die since He was the Son of God.  Perhaps Peter, James and John were given this glimpse of Jesus’ glory to help them through the difficult days ahead that they would face. 

Peter, James and John now had seen Jesus the Messiah in all his glory.  Jesus had been with Moses and Elijah in the kingdom.  Bible scholars believe Moses and Elijah signify the Law and the Prophets.  For the Jews, Moses represented the Law, since God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and many other laws to pass on to the nation of Israel.  And Elijah represented the Prophets since he was one of the major Jewish prophets.  The vision of Moses and Elijah with Jesus supports Jesus in his mission and was further proof for the Jewish mind that Jesus was their true Messiah.

As Jesus and Peter and James and John were hiking down the mountain Jesus asked them not to tell anyone what they had seen and heard.  And then the disciples asked Jesus about Elijah because they had seen him there with Moses and Jesus in heavenly glory.  They asked why their religious leaders tell them that Elijah will come back to earth. There were prophecies saying that Elijah would come before the Messiah came, so this is what they were asking Jesus. 

Jesus answered that indeed Elijah has already come and that the religious leaders did not recognize him.  Jesus seemed to say that Elijah was treated badly and suffered just like He would soon suffer.  And then the disciples understood that Jesus was saying that Elijah was John the Baptist!

This story gives us a short peek behind the curtain over to the other side.  We see Jesus’ face shinning like the sun and light shines from his glorified body.  We see Moses and Elijah who though they died, they did not perish, but also have glorified bodies.  We hear God in a cloud proclaiming that Jesus is His Beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.  And we also hear God commanding his followers to “Hear Him” or to listen to Jesus. 
This story from Scripture holds Jesus up in his beauty and holiness, shinning like the sun and talking with Moses and Elijah in his kingdom.  Jesus became a man but he is also God.  God the Son and part of the Trinity. The Messiah and the Savior.  Emmanuel, which means God with us.  The Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but by Him (Jesus).

A man in our last Sunday School class insisted that the Bible never claimed that Jesus was the Son of God. Two women who recently attended a Bible study with me also insisted that Jesus was just one of many great teachers.  Many who call themselves Christian do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ and claim that intelligent folk cannot believe such myths.  This unbelief is rampant in some of our churches.  Have these people not read their Bibles? Where have they been?

If Jesus were not the Son of God he could not save us from our sins. This story in Matthew 17 of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain top with God proclaiming Him as the beloved Son is one more story from Scripture proclaiming Jesus’ deity. But then there are many other stories and proofs and prophecies.  In fact, the whole Bible holds Jesus up as the Son of God and the Savior.     

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Two Roads

Two Roads

In one of Jesus’ parables He tells us that as we travel along life’s journey we will need to choose  one of two roads to travel down – a wide road or a narrow road!  Let’s listen to what Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to eternal life, and few there be that find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)

There are two roads or two ways to react to the truth we find in Scripture, - the truth that Jesus will remove our sins and cover us with His goodness.  The truth that Jesus is all goodness and He is the Way to eternal life. The gates are our choices. And the most important choice you can ever make is to follow Jesus. Those who choose to follow Jesus go through the small gate and walk the narrow road.  And those who choose not to follow Jesus go through the wide gate and walk on the wide or broad road.

The wide road, is for folks who are trying to be good enough on their own.  Others are also on the wide road. Those who don’t believe in God’s judgment are traveling the wide road along with those who don’t believe in God at all. The wide road is wide enough to take in any belief or any non-belief that leaves Jesus the Son of God out. Perhaps God will judge the people who never have the chance to hear of Jesus by how they obey their conscience and how they accept the truths they do see.  I don’t know.

The folks who try to work their way to heaven on their own travel that wide road with many others. But folks who think they can be good enough to please God have problems. They get exhausted and still never make it. First they try to stop doing bad things. Then they try to do more good things. Love problem people.  Don’t think bad thoughts. Obey the Ten Commandments.  Can’t keep them all?  Try harder.  Treat people nice. Don’t gossip. Be faithful.  Give money to the poor. Pray and be spiritual. Don’t get angry.  Look around and see that they are better than some others. Feel proud and judgmental. How many good things must they do to earn eternal life?

 God expects so much!  Perfection is such a high standard!  Doesn’t Scripture say if we break one of God’s commands then we break them all!  (James 2:10) For every step forward they slip two steps backward!  They try harder. Nose to the grindstone. They’re exhausted trying.  Never make God’s perfect standard on their own!  They fall short! What can they do?  There is no joy for those who walk the do-good road, because enough is never enough.     

 Jesus says that “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18) And Jesus, who is God the Son, and also the Son of God, is our only standard of true goodness.  We are trying so hard to be “good enough” but Scripture says that only Jesus is good enough.  And Jesus will exchange His goodness and His righteousness for our sin!  What an exchange!  The Bible says: “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

We are so tired of trying to be good and failing when we finally read the Bible and we are drawn to this Jesus who calls out to everyone with His invitation.  Here it is: “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Only God can take away sins but the Bible tells us that Jesus is the Son of God.  And He is God the Son.   If Jesus was just a super man and not God He couldn’t take away sin. These are Jesus’ words about Himself: “All things have been committed to Me by my Father.  No one knows the Son except through the Father, and no one knows the Father except through the Son, and those who the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Matthew 11:27)   

We are drawn to Jesus and we come to Him.  The narrow road is that joyful road where we start out on it and go through the small gate by choosing to accept Jesus’ invitation.  We want to turn from our sins.  (1 John 1;9) And then we take part in the “great exchange.”  Jesus takes our sins and we are given His righteousness.

 He gives us His Holy Spirit and we are “in Jesus”.  He is the “Vine” and we are the “branches”.   (John 15:5) He is now working in us and taking care of us.   We can feel the difference. We are no longer alone on the broad road trying to earn eternal life, when we never can. We still sin but He forgives and works in us to want to do good.

 Doing good and following Jesus go together.  We don’t do good to be accepted by God: instead, because we are accepted and loved by God, we do good.  We now follow Jesus and we are being led by Jesus.  We have rest in our souls. We are traveling on the glory road and it’s leading to the Glory Land!  It doesn’t get any better than that!    



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Jesus talks about what makes a Good Leader

Jesus talks about what makes a Good Leader

Recently the citizens of our country chose our next leader and the next president of the U.S.A.  Many Christians voted for this man partially because he promised to try to stop late term abortions, and also because many are not happy with our present government.  But many other Christians refused to vote for this candidate partially because of his excessive pride and his  bullying of others. There were no easy answers this time around.  And many now fear that our great country may suffer terribly under this leadership.    

Jesus spoke about what a good leader should be like and His words are recorded in Scripture.    This is part of what He said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their people and those who are in leadership exercise strict authority over their country. Yet it shall not be so among you.  Whoever desires to become a great leader among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20: 25-28)   Jesus is advocating servant leadership for His followers! 

Just before Jesus spoke these words, the mother of two of his disciples had come to Him and ask Jesus if her sons, James and John, could sit on His right and left hand when He set up his kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-21) This mother was thinking that Jesus would soon be king of an earthly kingdom and she was ambitious that both her boys would get in on all the pomp and power.

Jesus answered James and John and their mother with these words: “You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  (Matthew 20: 22) These disciples, James and John, and their mother did not understand that the kingdom Jesus would be ruling would not be an earthly kingdom! 

 To be great in the kingdom of heaven James and John would have to be willing to drink the cup that Jesus would drink (his death) and be baptized with His baptism (take up their cross and follow Him).  Instead of being harsh pompous rulers, the followers of Jesus were to be caring servant-leaders.  The rules in this heavenly kingdom would be backwards from the rules of worldly kingdoms.   

Even though Jesus had tried to tell his disciples that his kingdom would be a heavenly kingdom, - a kingdom of another world, his disciples didn’t hear him and they didn’t get it.  They kept on believing that Jesus would be the ruler of an earthly kingdom.  Since they were his disciples they would sit on thrones ruling with Him, wearing royal robes and being everyone would admire them. Jesus would ride out on a white horse with a mighty army and free Israel from the Roman rule and Israel would be great again.  And the disciples would share in all of the glory and glitz!  

Once I had a discussion with a Jewish woman about Jesus being the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  This professor taught Old Testament theology and she argued that if Jesus had really been the Jewish Messiah that He would have had a successful earthly kingdom.  He would have restored Israel to her former glory. She insisted that she could not believe in Jesus as Savior/Messiah because He would have made Israel the greatest nation on earth. He would have brought something with him to show and prove that he was the Jewish messiah, she insisted. This professor, I believe, made the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made in thinking that Jesus’ kingdom was to be only an earthly kingdom. And the proof of His being Savior/Messiah to be only a worldly proof.

I told the Jewish professor that Jesus did bring something with Him to prove He is Savior/Messiah.  He brought salvation and He saves us from sin and gives us eternal life in His kingdom of heaven.  She responded that the Jewish people didn’t need a Savior because they would make it on their own. Work their own way? I don’t understand?  The Old Testament scriptures and the Jewish prophets, carefully taught the Jewish people that they must have a Sacrifice for their sins. They couldn’t work it out on their own.  I don’t know how this professor overlooked that. 

 Scripture tells another story about the disciples asking Jesus to tell them who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!  The disciples were still sparring among themselves about who would be the best and most favored. Who would be first and who would be most important. Jesus tries again to explain to his disciples that things will be different in the kingdom of heaven.  That they are asking the wrong questions!

 Here is what Jesus told them: “The disciples came to Jesus asking, ‘Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  And Jesus called a little child to Himself and set him in the middle of his disciples and replied: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as a little child, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:1-4) 

Jesus took time to teach his disciples and us that His followers were to do leadership differently from the world. The world’s definition of leadership often includes pride and raw ego.  But the Christian definition should include humility and servanthood.  The worldly leader is often feared and he lords it over his subjects, Jesus says.  But the Christian leader cares and serves her people.   The world’s “great” famous people were often proud and mean.  But the “great” person by heavenly standards will be humble like a little child. 

The rules in the heavenly kingdom are upside-down from the rules in our worldly kingdoms.  Everything is backwards from what we have learned here on earth! We better start now getting ready to live in our upside-down heavenly kingdom!   We’ve got a lot to learn!  


Friday, November 4, 2016

Stay with Me, My Soul is Overwhelmed

Stay with Me, My Soul is Overwhelmed

“Stay with Me, my soul is overwhelmed.” Jesus spoke these words in His darkest hour.  It was night time and He was in the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples. Very soon the soldiers would be rushing into the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Him with swords drawn, along with Judas and the religious leaders. Coming to betray Him and whip and mock Him and crucify Him.  Jesus knew that His hour had come and He was overwhelmed with grief.  In His agony, sweat began falling from his body like drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)   Trembling all over He pleaded with His disciples: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with Me.” (Matthew 26:38b) Jesus needed them so badly. 

Isn’t Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords?  The image of the living God? All things that are created are created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)   And yet Scripture tells us that in that lonely hour even Jesus the Son of God needed His own disciples to stay with Him, -to pray with Him - and to be there for Him.  It would have meant so much to Him.  The mighty Son of God needed humans to comfort Him! Let’s read the story.

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  He took peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me.’

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.’   Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’  He asked Peter.  ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’

He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.’  When he came back, he again found his disciples sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping?  Look, the hour is near and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go!  Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:36-46)

Bible scholars believe that Jesus’ sorrow was not just for himself.  He was bearing the sins which the Father laid upon Him.  The sufferings he was entering into were for our sins, the sins of us all.  His sorrow was like no other sorrow.  It had been prophesied of old that Christ, the Jewish Messiah, would be a Man of sorrows.  “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) And He might also have been sorrowful because so many of the Jews would not recognize Him, and would reject their Savior.

Christ begs his Father that if possible to let this cup pass from him. He calls his sufferings a cup.  Is it necessary for Him to drink this bitter cup of death? Would there be any other way that sinners could be cleansed from sin except by His gruesome death?  But then He submits to the will of his Father as He prays: “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”  During this dark night of His soul, Jesus turns to his disciples for comfort and support and they all fall asleep.

Jesus’ disciples will all panic and run away when the soldiers come to the Garden of Gethsemane and take Him away. His own disciples will add more grief to his sorrow by abandoning Him as He takes up his cross. Even Peter who swears he will always be there for Jesus, denies Him three times before the rooster crows – or before morning comes.  No one is there to speak up for Him when He is whipped and mocked and when He carries the heavy cross all the way to Calvary. His disciples have all deserted Him.  Jesus even describes his position like this: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Matthew 8:20) No place to lay his head and no one to walk with Him on His lonely road! 

Several times through the long night as He prays in Gethsemane, Jesus begs his disciples to stand by Him and pray as He is approaching a terrible death. He is overwhelmed with grief and their presence would be a comfort for Him.  But when they all ignore His pleas and go to sleep, Jesus even makes an excuse for them. He tells them: “The spirit is willing but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:38b) He gives them the benefit of the doubt.  He says He knows they really wanted to stay awake with Him but the nighttime urge to sleep was too powerful. We humans might feel sorry for ourselves and angry if our loved ones went to sleep when we needed them most.    But Jesus excused his disciples and forgave them.

Jesus still needs us, his modern- day disciples to stand by Him during difficult times.  He asks us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.  (Mark 8:34) He calls on us to pray with Him and to feed the hungry, give to the poor and visit the sick.  He says when we give a cup of cold water to the least and the lost that we are giving it to Him. The question we must ask ourselves:  When He comes looking for us will He find us there by His side or will He find us sleeping?