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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

God Calls Us to Live our Lives by Faith


God Calls Us to Live our Lives by Faith

Scripture says: “…The person who lives uprightly and justly, shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17b) And Scripture also says that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is all important to God, and to us too, so just what is faith in God? The Bible is not talking about having faith in ourselves but we are to live by having faith in God. Living by faith is leaning on God, giving ourselves and our lives to Him. Faith is believing that God is what He says He is and what the Bible says He is -holy, loving, just, forgiving and merciful.  Faith is believing that God will take care of us.  And faith is going ahead and doing what you believe you are supposed to do. 

The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who did great things by their faith in God. These men and women of God all faced their fears and followed God anyway. God reassured each one with promises that He would be with them, and they believed Him. God will also do the same for you if you believe Him. God offers you faith but Satan offers you fear. Which one will you take? We can be stuck and trapped in a miserable little life if we play it safe and listen to our fears.  Or we can live the great adventure of following God and allowing Him to provide if we let go and trust God. God keeps calling us to give Him our fears and step out in faith and give Him our lives. The answer to fear is faith that God is with us.  Scripture says: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Too often we have faith in ourselves, or faith in others. Then others let us down or we let ourselves down and we become fearful and discouraged. Jesus said: …” Apart from Me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)   If God calls us to do something He will give us the power to do it. Sometimes we are looking to ourselves and our problems when we should be looking to God.  God promises to be with us and that is really all we need.  His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The Holy Spirit will pour strength into our human spirit as we follow Him.  Great joy is released into our lives by believing in God!   It is an exciting way to live, this living by faith!  Scripture says: “May He grant you out of the rich treasury of His glory to be strengthened and reinforced with mighty power in the inner man by the Holy Spirit indwelling in your innermost being.”  (Ephesians 3:16) When we step out in faith, God never fails to provide what we need.  Scripture says: “…Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that it is granted to you and you will receive it.”  (Mark 11:24)
 Sometimes in this life we can be overwhelmed by heavy sorrows and problems.  If we give these sorrows to God, He will comfort us.  Scripture says: “Casting all of your cares and sorrow onto Him, for He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7) The unconditional love of God is the cure for everything that hurts us.  God’s grace is always available for us in any situation.  His grace will lift us up and enable us to get through a tough time.  We live in a world where everything is based on seeing and feeling.  But that is backwards. God’s kingdom operates on a different principle.  In God’s world we are to first believe and then see later.   

 We are missing out on so much when we try to be our own person and run our own life!  When we don’t give our life to God and let Him run it with His wonderful love and power.  Some people don’t want to give their life to God because they will need to change some things. It is pretty much impossible to be spiritually successful when we allow willful sin to stay in our lives.  We must try to turn from our sins if we are to walk in the power of the Lord.  We can’t have it both ways. If we are just out for fun or worldly success, we will never glorify God with our life by being all He intended us to be.    

 Jesus Christ calls us to Himself.  He loves us and will guide and strengthen us to do the work we are meant to do.  He promises so very much to those who follow Him! Scripture says: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles: they shall run, and not be weary: and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31

Scripture also says: “We are more than conquerors and gain a surpassing victory through Him (Jesus) who loved us.”  (Romans 8:37) Next time you are feeling down and defeated, remember that you are more than a conqueror through Christ.  In other words, in Christ you already have the victory before you get the problem.  Jesus Christ never fails and when you are in Him you won’t either.

If we have given our lives to Christ, we should start believing what Scripture says about us.  Believe in our ability in Christ.  Believe that we hear from God and that we are led by the Holy Spirit.  See ourselves as gaining the victory in Him.  Next time Satan tries to tell you how bad you are or how impossible your situation is, order him out in the Name of Jesus.  Scripture says that Satan is working to deceive us and cause us to question our faith in God.  Don’t let him get his foot in the door.  Scripture says: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  (James 4:7) 

Take another step of faith and decide to build yourself up in the Lord.  Don’t allow yourself to become downhearted.  Scripture tells us that David was very upset, because the Amalekites had burned his town and taken his family members away.  They had also taken the wives and children of his fighting men away and his men were very upset and angry at David, their leader, for allowing this to happen.  His men were even thinking about stoning David since he was their leader and he had not been there to fight when the enemy had come to rape and plunder.  In this terrible moment David could have hit rock bottom but Scripture says that “David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord his God.  (1 Samuel 30:6)  After David  prayed God showed him where the family members had been taken and he and his men rescued them.  But without God it could have been a very different outcome.

David was confident in God, even in that dark moment when his family was missing and his men were talking about stoning him.  He had no one to believe in him, so he believed in God’s ability through him.  And we can do that too!  When the problems and sorrows come, instead of becoming upset and fearful we can do what David did and “encourage and strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God”.   Remind ourselves that God is with us and in us and that He will give us strength and help. 

Stop and praise God and worship Him. When I remember to sing praises to God and worship Him, I am always amazed at the way it changes and strengthens me.  When doubt starts tormenting you, start speaking out the Word of God.  Remind yourself that you are triumphant in Him. Scripture says: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ Jesus…”  (2 Corinthians 2:14)


Many of these ideas and Scriptures were taken from Joyce Meyer’s books, “How to Succeed at Being Yourself” p. 67-74 and also “Living Courageously”.   






   

 




Thursday, September 15, 2016

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?



Does Everything Happen for a Reason?


How many times have you heard people say, “Everything happens for a reason.”? This popular saying almost has a religious ring to it and it is usually repeated after something bad happens! Just this morning in church a friend of mine said, “Everything happens for a reason,” right after another friend explained that years ago his son had broken off any contact with him. I jumped in and argued that God didn't allow that to happen for a reason!.

The idea that “Everything happens for a reason,” has been popular down through the centuries. But let's take a step back. This idea implies that God preordains bad things. Or causes them to happen! That bad things are sometimes part of God's will and plan. But Scripture tells us that God,”makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

Scripture tells us that God is just and holy and cannot do evil acts. We misuse the holy Name of God when we say that He plan bad things to happen for a reason. God is good and merciful and loving and just and forgiving. “Everything happens for a reason.” Does it really? Jesus' answer is a definite “No.”

Along with this idea is a similar idea that bad things happen to bad people. In Scripture we read that Pilate put to death some people from Galilee who had been worshiping and offering sacrifices to God. (Luke 13:1-5) Some of the Jewish people came to Jesus asking, “Were these people from Galilee worse sinners than others because they suffered such a terrible thing?” (Luke 13:2) These folks who questioned Jesus had interpreted the deaths of their fellow citizens as God's punishment for their guilt.

But Jesus answered them:””I tell you no, but unless you repent you will perish. Remember those eighteen people on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them. Do you think that they were worse sinners than any others in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will perish.” (Luke 13:3-4)

Jesus does not agree that suffering happens to an individual person because of their individual sins. But He does remind the Jewish people that life is short and challenges them to turn from their sin while they are still alive and able. The sudden deaths of these people who Pilate killed can be a reminder to them that life is fragile and that now while they are living is the day for salvation. At that time the nation of Israel was not accepting their Messiah and Jesus was warning them that they needed to turn back to God.

Another time Jesus was asked this same kind of question by his disciples. Jesus healed a man who had been blind from his birth. (Luke 9:1-13) And the disciples came to Him and asked what caused this man to be born blind, his sin or his parent's sin. Even the disciples seemed to believe that illness and suffering were caused by the afflicted person's sin. Jesus answered them: “Neither the man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (Luke 9:3) Every time Jesus spoke about this subject He made it clear that the people in life who suffer the most are not suffering because they are being punished for their own personal sins. That God was into forgiveness and not retribution.

We humans sometimes blame God when things don't go the way we want, and judge Him as if He were a person..And when some folks can't understand God they refuse to believe in Him. We try to make God fit in our little boxes of reason and insist that He must answer our prayers the way we expect. But The God of heaven and earth and the Creator of the universe cannot be corralled or squeezed in our little boxes. If we could understand God then He wouldn't be God. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. And His mysteries are past finding out. We are called to trust Him. God promises to be there for us and answer our prayers if they in His good will. But His time frame is not always our time frame. Sometimes our prayers are answered after we die and when we reach Glory.

Scripture says: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Scripture tells us that all of us will die physically and that death has come upon the whole earth because of our collective sin. But death does not have the final word. God loves us and wants us to have eternal life in a sinless world after death. We can take this gift from God by obeying and wanting to turn from our sin and by believing and trusting in God.

The book of Job deals with the subject of God's justice in light of human suffering and sin. In other words, why do bad things happen to good people? Job was a Gentile (non Jew) who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago in the land where Syria is today. Scripture says that “Job was “blameless and upright, and feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. Job was the greatest man among all of the people of the East.” (Job 1:1-3)

But terrible trouble and grief swiftly came down upon Job all on one dark day. All of his camels and oxen and donkeys and sheep were stolen or died and his servants were killed. His ten children were all together on that deadly day when a storm arose and blew away their house killing all of them instantly. Job tears his robe and shaves his head – signs of deep grieving in the ancient world. Then Job falls down and worships God saying: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:20b) Job has lost all of his children and all of his wealth but he has not lost his faith in God.

A few days later Job is afflicted with painful sores from head to toe. (Job 2:6-7) He stumbles around desperate and sick and in terrible pain and finally sits down in a heap of ashes. He finds a piece of broken pottery and he scrapes his oozing sores with it. Then his wife comes to him and encourages him to “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9b) Job is at his lowest point and three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to visit him and be with him in his suffering.

After awhile Job's three friends tell him that he must be suffering because he has sinned. Here again is that popular idea that a person's personal sins may cause God to afflict him with something terrible. Job's friend Zophar says: “Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your sins deserve.” (Job 11:6) Job's other two friends agree with Zophar and insist that God shows His disfavor on sinful people by allowing trouble and suffering. They don't take into account that God's blessings or punishments might extend past this present life. Job's proud friends have God and His ways all neatly figured out!

Job lashes back that he hasn't done anything wrong and that even though he doesn't know why he is suffering so, he still trusts God. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job professes (Job 13:15) He will always trust God, no matter what happens! That's just the way it is. But then Job adds that God owes him an explanation. Yes that's it, Job wants to question God! God needs to answer for His ways.

About this time God shows up! He shows up and speaks to Job out of a whirlwind! “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself as a man: I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:2-5b) God goes on listing some of the things He has created: birds, animals, stars, etc. Does Job understand the many details that go into these creations or how God provides for the needs of His created ones? If Job can never begin to understand how God works in the physical world, how can he judge God's actions in the moral and spiritual world?

God doesn't attempt to tell Job why he is suffering. It was not for Job to know the reason why. Some things have to be taken on faith. But now that Job had seen God he no longer wanted an answer from Him as to why he had had such losses. It no longer mattered. Job answered God: “Therefore I uttered what I did not understand. Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know...I have heard of You, but now my eyes see You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3 and 5)

Job recovers from the sores covering his body and God gives Job back twice the wealth that he had had before. He is given fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand oxen and a thousand donkeys. And in the latter part of his life, Job has ten more children – seven sons and three daughters. The book of Job ends with Job living to a ripe old age and dying after a full life.

What can we learn from the book of Job? First we learn that Job's faith was a great treasure to God. We learn from reading the book of Job that God doesn't give Job an answer for why he suffered, and God may not give us an answer for why we suffer either. Can we trust God like Job when we are put to the test and don't know why? We learn that Job loved and trusted God just because God is who He is – good and loving and faithful. God promises to be with us and be our strength and our shield. To give us eternal life. He tells us that that nothing can separate us from His love. And God calls us to trust Him no matter what happens.

We live in a sinful world. God gave us free will to sin if we wanted to sin. And we did. Mankind rebelled against God's laws and bad things always happen when our world is outside of God's will and laws. Bad things happen to good people in our world because our present world is sometimes run by bad people- not God- and it is under the curse of sin. These bad things aren't God's will and they don't happen for a reason in our lawless imperfect world. But the day is coming when God promises to change all of that! Scripture says that on that day Jesus will come in power and glory and there will be a great judgment day and then there will be a new heaven and new earth. God will rule this new earth and no more sin or bad things will happen anymore. In a sinless world, only good things will happen. And then everything will happen for a reason!

















Saturday, September 3, 2016

Hypocrisy




Hypocrisy

They followed after Jesus and his disciples always accusing and finding fault. “This is sinful,” “That is against God's law” On and on they went with threats and criticisms that never stopped. Even when Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, the priests and Pharisees found something wrong with that.


Their hatred for Jesus was followed with more hatred and then still more. Never ending hate. And to make it worse, all of these attacks and accusations came from supposed men of God using God's Name! The priests and Pharisees were Jewish religious leaders that the people of Israel respected and obeyed! And it was the relentless accusations from these pious religious men who were supposed to be teachers of God's Word, that finally sent Jesus to the cross!


One day the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus asking Him why He and his disciples “transgress the tradition of the elders? Your disciples do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” (Matthew 15:2) they fussed. They had been spying on Jesus and his disciples before they rushed over accusing them of not washing their hands. Washing hands back then did not include soap and running water like it does today. Washing hands back then meant that the person was to put a drop of water on the back of each hand and that action would make them ceremonially clean! One of their man made traditions..


God had given the Jewish people many laws, but the religious leaders had added many more man made laws and traditions of their own to God's sacred laws. This put extra burdens on the people to perform all of these busy work things. Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 in charging the Pharisees with setting aside God's laws with their traditions. Jesus dismisses their worship because their hearts were not aligned with their lips.


Jesus answered the scribes and Pharisees question about hand washing by giving them back a question. He asked them: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying 'Honor your father and your mother' and, 'He who curses father or mother let him be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God.' 'Then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying, 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips. But their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship Me. Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Matthew 15:3-9)


One of the Ten Commandments calls for us to honor our fathers and our mothers. (Exodus 20:12) Evidently back in ancient times it was expected behavior for Jewish family members to not only honor but to take care of one another in time of need. If an elderly parent could no longer care for her/him self, their children were expected to provide food and lodging for them if they were able. Jesus also seems to be saying that that is what this command means. Today we have retirement funds,Social Security, Medicare and often other savings accounts that senior citizens can fall back on. But two thousand years ago in ancient Israel, the elderly did not have these benefits to protect their survival.

We Christians in today's modern world usually take this commandment regarding honoring parents to mean that we are to respect our parents and to try to be a part of their lives. To treat our parents and other family members with graciousness and love. We humans are all vulnerable and need one another. But we live in a society today that teaches us to value our individuality and our independence. In Scripture we see that often God's blessings and laws were written not just for individuals alone but with families and groups and nations in mind. Whole tribes were blessed or cursed because of the way they treated one another. No man is an island. We do have a communal life and God put us together to fulfill that life.


Sometimes counselors today advise individuals who are having family problems to do whatever they want if it is in their best interest. If they could better themselves by cutting off a relationship with a family member, then that is what should be done. Today parents sometimes abandon their children and grown children sometimes cut off their parents. These harsh actions are approved of by some modern Pharisees to protect the individual from a “toxic” relationship. Everything is done for the wants or best interests of the individual. And holding the family together for the common good may come in second place..

But in the background God's laws still stand. He calls us adult children to “Honor our father and our mother.” (Exodus 20;12) And God's Word also says that: “If anyone does not provide for his own children, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” (I Timothy 5:8) I believe this verse is talking about the mother or the father running away from their responsibilities for their children. Of course illness and other problems can make it impossible for a parent to take full responsibility for their children.


Jesus was accusing these Jewish religious leaders of making up a new man made law saying that if a Jewish person wished to give money to the religious leaders and to the Temple, then God would not require that person to help their elderly parent if they were in need. Money – even money given to God – did not come before God's desires to see family members loving and being faithful to one another. Jesus finishes by saying that “the Pharisees and scribes make the commandment of God of no effect by their tradition”.(Matthew l5:6) And then Jesus turned on them and called them “Hypocrites!” (Matthew l5:7)


It seemed that there wasn't much that made Jesus angrier than hypocrites! What is a hypocrite? A hypocrite is a fake. He or she or she is proud and pretends to be someone that he or she isn't. He looks good on the outside but he only cares about himself and how important he is. He pretends to praise God to impress others but he is using God to show off. The Pharisees' laws were tacked onto God's laws, and forced upon the ancient Jewish people who believed that the Pharisees' words represented God's will . But these traditions were not God's will and the people were fooled into believing that man made traditions were the same as God's laws.. This really angered Jesus.


Jesus warns us to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6) Beware of what looks good on the outside but is not good all the way through. There are modern day Pharisees. Religious leaders today who tell us that we don't need to concern ourselves with God's laws. That we are smarter and know better now. That we are in charge of our own life and we can do whatever we want. Rebel, be brave and break the rules, who cares! But there is a God in heaven and He does care. And our life belongs to Him. And He calls us to trust and obey. .



Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Mysteries of Living our Christian Life


The Mysteries of Living our Christian Life

When the disciples asked Jesus why He taught many of his lessons by telling stories or parables, He answered with these words: “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Matthew 13:11) Jesus admitted that He taught with parables to make his lessons clearer to some but also to hide the meanings of his lessons from others!  Is Jesus saying that God shows the mystery of kingdom of heaven to some people and doesn’t give that knowledge to others?  Doesn’t the Bible say that God wants everyone to know Him?  (2 Peter 3:9)

 Jesus went on to say: “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance: but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  Therefore, I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”  (Matthew 13:12-13)

Jesus stopped and quoted the prophet Isaiah as saying that the people in Jesus’ day who would hear Him would have hearts that had grown dull and eyes that would be closed and ears that would be hard of hearing.  If these people could only see with their eyes and hear with their ears, then they could understand with their hearts.  And then they would want to turn and let Jesus heal them. 

Again, why is God hiding salvation from some people and not others?  Couldn’t God just open a person’s spiritual eyes and ears so that they could see and hear and believe?  Bible scholars believe that Jesus was telling his disciples that His parables would make the things of God easy to understand for anyone who was willing to be taught – whose eyes were straining to see and whose ears were open to hear.  But at the same time Jesus’ parables would hide God’s truths from those who weren’t interested or who didn’t care – those who did not want to see with their spiritual eyes or hear with their spiritual ears. Spiritual things bored these folks and they had other interests.  It would seem that God isn’t interested in forcing people into the kingdom of heaven who aren’t interested or who don’t want to try to obey His laws. 

It seems one of the mysteries of our Christian walk is that if we want to understand God’s truths, our eyes will be opened to see them and our ears will be able to hear. But if we don’t care about His mysteries then we won’t see or hear them at all.  It’s up to us!  We get what we want! “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) God gives His gifts to those who want them and who improve them, but He takes his gifts away from those who bury them.  (The Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30) 

When we live out our Christian life, Scripture says that we are living it in another kingdom – the kingdom of heaven.  And some people are worldly and do not want to live in the kingdom of heaven.  These people will not understand Christ or His parables because they don’t want to understand Christ or His parables. 

Jesus explains this mystery of the Door of Salvation opening or closing according to a person’s wants and desires by telling another story or parable. (Matthew 13:18-23) Jesus’ story begins with a Farmer planting seeds.  The Farmer spreads some of the seeds on roads where there is heavy traffic.  The seeds cannot sink into the ground since it is so hard so the wicked one comes and snatches the seed away. The farmer plants more seeds on stony ground.  The seed tries to grow but the root doesn’t develop surrounded by rocks and when the storms (troubles) come, the plant dies. More seed is planted in ground where there are thorny bushes.  The thorns are the cares of this world and the love of money and they choke out the seed so the plant withers and dies.  And then finally the farmer plants more seed on good ground with fertile soil and the seed takes root and grows and bears good fruit.  Some plants produce a hundred fold, some sixty and some thirty. 

In this parable the Farmer is God and the seed is the Word of God.  And the various places that the seed is planted – the hard ground, the stony ground and the good ground – this ground or soil represents our hearts. The condition of the ground is all important and makes all the difference in whether the seed will grow and produce good fruit or whether it will struggle and die.  We can ask God to prepare our hearts for the seed and give us willing hearts.

 The Good News of the Word is there for all of us to partake. If we want the seed to grow in our lives it will take root.  It will grow and spread and give us great joy.  And the seed will change us and fit us for the kingdom of heaven.  If our hearts are hard and uninviting, the seed will never have a chance.  And if our hearts are cluttered with so many things that crowd the seed, it may never have room to grow at all.  But if our hearts are open to Christ and His gospel, and if we want to know the Truth, then we will know the Truth.  And this mysterious little seed will grow up in us and make us new and we will produce good things in our lives and be a blessing to many. 

 God our Father (the Farmer) sends His Word (the seed) out to the hearts (the ground) of the people. One of the mysteries of the Christian life is that God’s Word is alive like a seed.  Jesus continued teaching the crowds with several more parables about the kingdom of heaven -parables to help us understand this mystery of the kingdom of heaven better. 

The first parable Jesus told was the “Parable of the Mustard Seed”.  These are His words: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in the field.  The mustard seed is the least of all the seeds: but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”  (Matthew 13:31-32) 

And the second parable Jesus told about the kingdom of heaven was “The Parable of the Leaven”.    Here is what He said: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal.  And the leaven spread all over all of the meal and everything was leavened.”  (Matthew 13:33)

In these two parables Jesus seems to be teaching that in the beginning the Kingdom of Heaven comes to us like a tiny seed or a tiny pinch of leaven. We are in church and the pastor’s sermon moves us and we believe in Jesus as our Savior and want to follow Him.   At the time this seems like an invisible decision as we quietly believe – a tiny mustard seed – and we don’t realize what has happened.  When our heart opens to believe, the tiny invisible seed of the Word slips in and, if we tend it, soon it begins to grow and multiply.  It takes root in our life and gradually over time spreads into all of our actions and thoughts like leaven leavening the whole loaf of bread.  It moves us and molds us and soon we are filled with joy and changed.

Time goes by and we grow and mature and join other Christians who like us also started out from that tiny mustard gospel seeds!  Other Christians who have grown and matured like us, were moved by that same invisible seed growing and taking root.  They come and join us and we all come together as one in Christ because we are moved to do this by this leaven that is moving and spreading and re-making our lives.  A mystery that we cannot comprehend!
 And we all become the Church, the Body of Christ.  And what started out looking like an insignificant little mustard seed has grown and spread into the Worldwide Church Militant!  Fighting evil and feeding the hungry and healing the sick and spreading the seeds of the Gospel and giving to the poor.  And spreading out across the world with the peace of Christ like a great tree with nurturing healing branches.  Jesus told us it would be this way in His parables.  This tiny mustard seed would grow into a great tree and the birds of the air would come and nest in its branches.  And this is the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

   

  

Friday, August 19, 2016

How to Deal with Conflicts and Arguments



How to Deal with Conflicts and Arguments

We cannot get away from conflicts and arguments as long as we live in this world. We find them everywhere and we have to face them more often than we think we should.  Sometimes we stay trapped in conflict with enemies for a long time allowing anger and hatred to slip into our thoughts and minds.  We can list all of the reasons why we should be angry at these enemies and it all makes sense.  But Christ calls us to live a life of love and to live by faith even when it doesn’t make sense!

As Christians we know that we have received the love of Jesus and we are called to spread that love to others.  It sounds so good but we run into a problem right off. How do we love the people who hate us when we would rather hate them back?  Shouldn’t we fight back when our enemies are trying to hurt us?  Doesn’t that sound reasonable? We go ahead and criticize our enemies and hate them but we know we are just getting by and that is not enough. Jesus never lets us off the hook as long as we hold onto hate. He just keeps challenging us to be more!

Let’s listen to what Jesus says about this: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you.  Do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.  That you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good.  And He sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Doesn’t everyone do that?  And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what do you do more than others?  Therefore, be ‘perfect’, just as your Father in heaven is ‘perfect.’  (Matthew 5:44-48) 

The word “perfect” doesn’t mean what you are thinking.  It means “complete”, “whole” and “mature”.  Just as your Father in heaven is complete in loving the wayward person, so must you try to be.  Have complete love.  You are to be different than the average person.  We are children of our heavenly Father and by faith we are to resemble our Father.  We live by faith and not by sight.

I believe that when we allow revenge and hate to seep into our souls we poison ourselves with these toxic things.  We were not created to live with hate.  It will destroy us. God our heavenly Father has commanded us to live in love and not to live with hate perhaps because He doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves and pass these hurts along to others.  We can hate the evil a person does without hating the person. Hate destroys people, organizations, homes and nations.  And we may never know what we are missing.

And the power of love blesses us more than we may realize.  I have always wondered why those early Christians who made up the very first church in Jerusalem were so full of the Holy Spirit.  Those early Christians all had such joy and love for one another. There were healings and miracles among them every day!  Thousands of people became Christians because of their witness and influence.  Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit work among our churches today the way He did among that first church? 

When you read the story of those very first Christians recorded in the book of Acts you can become so impressed with all of their healings and miracles that you might miss the passages that tell us that they were careful to love one another and protect their unity.  And they all put their money together and everyone shared everything.  Sounds almost too good to be true!  But for a little while it worked.  And while it worked, they healed the sick, performed miracles, brought thousands of new people to the Lord and even raised the dead!  Was this very first Christian church given such Holy Spirit power because they loved one another so and because they refused to let differences destroy their unity?  Perhaps if we could love that way today, our churches would be open to the power of the Holy Spirit the way that first church was!    


 We may want to be loving to our enemy  but we feel that we must “fight” against the person who is trying to hurt us otherwise our reputation will be ruined or we will lose out in other ways.  And yes, perhaps we will lose out in the short run.  But time is on our side and in the long run God promises to take care of us.

 Time is greater than space.  This principle enables God (and us) to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results.  Trusting God helps us to patiently endure difficult situations.  We want to rush in and take over our rightful space.  Assert our power and madly attempt to keep everything together in the present.  But fools rush in where angels fear to tread.  If we step back and pray and love the enemy and let God work in the background, He will work in ways that we could never imagine!    

God speaks to us through Scripture and tells us that He will bless us and fight for us.  And again He challenges us to live by faith and obey His command to give up hate and thoughts of revenge for people who are hurting us.  Our job as followers of Christ is to trust and obey.    

Let’s listen to God’s answer to what we should do when we are having conflicts with others: “None of you repay evil for evil. … If possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all people.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves but rather put away your anger: for it is written, ‘Revenge is Mine, (God’s) I will repay,’ says the Lord. “(Romans 12:17a,18-19) Jesus warned his disciples and all of his followers that there are things we cannot yet understand.  We just need to accept them by faith.  (John 16:12-13) Accept the fact that God is the Judge and He will deal with your enemies in His time frame.

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, (Matthew 13:24-30) the farmer plants good wheat seeds in his fields but then the enemy comes at night and plants weeds hoping to ruin his wheat crop.  The workers on the farm ask the farmer (owner) if they should pull the weeds up out of his field.  But the farmer/owner of the wheat field tells them to wait and leave the weeds growing with his wheat until the final harvest. His reasons are that some of the good wheat may be pulled up with the weeds. The farmer/owner leaves the job of pulling the weeds until the last day – the harvest time - when the wheat will be harvested and the weeds destroyed.

This parable illustrates that the enemy can intrude and cause us (the wheat) harm, but ultimately in the end he will be defeated by the Owner (God) of the field of wheat.  We are commanded: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)  

When a conflict arises, there are several ways of dealing with it.  Some people pretend to ignore it.  Others criticize and fume and become prisoners of it.  Perhaps the best way to deal with a conflict is to face it head on and resolve it if possible.  That is best accomplished when we care about the person or persons we are having the conflict with.  We must be prayerful during conflicts, ready to negotiate and ready to try to see and sympathize with the other person’s side of the problem, even when we cannot agree.  But we should never think less of the person who disagrees with us and never call them names or cut them off. Never allow the conflict to break our unity.    

If we cannot agree with our adversary we can go beyond the surface of the conflict to see the person who disagrees with us in their deepest dignity.  We must continue to love and honor that person even if we cannot agree with them.  Agree to disagree and refuse to allow the disagreement to break the unity we have in Christ.  Unity is greater than conflict.  Live a life where conflicts and oppositions can achieve a diversified life-giving unity.

Christ is our peace and has made all things one in Himself. (Ephesians 2:14) The Gospel message always begins with a greeting of peace.  Obviously peace and unity are all important to the Lord.  And peace is possible because the Lord has overcome the world and its constant conflicts “by making peace through the blood of His cross.”  (Colossians 1:20)   

I took many ideas and excerpts for this blog from “The Joy of the Gospel” written by Pope Francis.  Pages 155-164.   




Saturday, August 13, 2016

Mercy or Legalism?


 Mercy or Legalism?

It was a sunny Sabbath day and Jesus and his disciples were walking through fields of grain on their way to the synagogue for worship.  They were getting hungry so they picked some heads of grain and ate them as they walked along.  Meanwhile the religious leaders, who were called “Pharisees” had been spying on Jesus and his disciples, waiting to catch them doing something wrong.  When they saw one of the disciples picking grain they rushed across the field toward Jesus shouting angrily: “Look here!  Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”  (Matthew 12:2) 

The Jewish religious leaders or Pharisees back then had put their own strict legalistic interpretation on the Scriptures.  God had given laws and commandments to the Jewish people telling them how to share and live lovingly and justly with one another.  But often the Pharisees would turn these laws into heavy burdens for the people.

One of God’s commands given to the Jewish people (and to us) was to rest on the Sabbath day.  To stop working and take a break.  Worship God and lay their burdens down.  Let their employees stop working on the Sabbath along with their animals.  God’s Word states that the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  This command is one of the Ten Commandments and begins this way: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  In it you shall not do any work.”  (Exodus 20:8) 

The Pharisees were upset because they believed that Jesus’ disciples were working when they plucked grain to eat!  That small effort of plucking grain caused the disciples to break God’s Sabbath so these religious leaders argued!  They shook their fists at Jesus accusing Him and His disciples of serious sin and promising God’s judgment would follow.

Jesus answered them with several stories.  He reminded them that their ancestor, King David, entered the house of God with his men.  These men had not eaten for several days. They all ate the showbread that had been dedicated to God.  It was not lawful for David and his men to eat this bread, as it was meant only for the priests.  (1 Samuel 21:1-6) David and his men had been very hungry and couldn’t find food.  Even though they broke the law by eating this bread, they were excused by God.  Jesus explains that Sabbath regulations may sometimes yield to human needs.  Human need takes precedence over a strict interpretation of the Law, Jesus is telling the legalistic Pharisees. 

Then Jesus reminds the Pharisees that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath by working, and yet God counts them blameless.  (Matthew 12:5) The priests must give offerings to God and hold worship services on the Sabbath, so they must work on the Sabbath if the people are to come to temple worship.  Jesus seemed to be saying that there are exceptions to a rule.   

And then Jesus finishes with these words: “Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  (Matthew 12:6-8) 

Jesus seems to be saying that God ordained rest on the Sabbath to bless people, not to add another burden on them.  Jesus tells the religious leaders that if they had known what the Law and the Scriptures meant they would not have condemned his disciples.  The Pharisees had spent their lives studying God’s laws, but they still didn’t know the “meaning” of those laws.  God had given the Jewish people many laws but Jesus once said that all of God’s laws could be summed up in just two laws - laws of love.  “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 27:37-40) Did these religious leaders not understand the meaning of God’s laws because they lacked love? 

Jesus was also telling the Pharisees that He was “Lord of the Sabbath”, although they did not want to hear that.   Jesus, the Son of God, has been given authority over everything and that includes the Sabbath.  Jesus also hinted at who He was by telling the Pharisees: “ In this place is One greater than the temple” (Matthew 12:6)   If working in the temple would justify the priests working on the Sabbath, wouldn’t the service to Christ much more justify the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath while serving Christ.  Christ in a wheat field was greater than the temple. Jesus was not saying here that it was not important to rest and worship God on the Sabbath or to keep all of God’s laws.  But I believe that He was saying that there are exceptions to the rules. 

You may be surprised that Jesus and His disciples were plucking grain from another person’s field, but this was a common practice in those days and never thought of as stealing.  God had given the Jewish people laws encouraging them to share with one another and never let another person go hungry.  Again mercy was all important in God’s plan.  One of God’s laws to the Jewish people instructed them regarding this practice.  “If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.”  (Deuteronomy 24:25) 



 The Pharisees and nearly all the religious leaders of that day did not recognize Jesus as their promised Messiah, and rejected Him.  They refused to see His miracles or recognize that He was healing hundreds of people.  They wanted to kill Him for causing a lame man to walk on the Sabbath day.  And they were frightened and outraged when He brought Lazarus back from the dead.  So frightened and outraged that they began plotting to kill Him.

 Jesus Christ was messing up their little world. Their Messiah had come to them bringing light and life and they weren’t ready for Him.  They were enjoying the power and authority they had over the Jewish people with their many strict laws and restrictions. They would have to change and do things differently if they were to believe in Jesus.  And they definitely didn’t want to change.  

Jesus also comes into your world bringing light and life.  And He also calls for you to follow Him.  To let Him be your Savior. To go into the world sharing His love and mercy with others. To leave your hate behind and forgive.  Are you willing to let Him change you?  What will your answer be?      


   


Sunday, August 7, 2016

An Invitation from Jesus



An Invitation from Jesus

“Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from 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)   Jesus stood on a grassy hill near the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by the crowds and gave His invitation. He opened His arms wide and invited them all to come to Him.  To share His yoke and to learn from Him and to allow Him to give them rest.  His invitation was for all of the people back then and His invitation is also for all of us today!    

Jesus had just gotten through revealing something about Himself to these local people. He had spent three years among these people teaching and healing their diseases and performing miracles. And by now these people who lived around the Sea of Galilee were wondering if Jesus was the Messiah promised in Scripture.  And Jesus tells them outright who He is.  He says: “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) 

Jesus’ invitation is like no other invitation because Jesus is like no other.  As He says, He is the Son of God and all things have been committed to Him.  A Royal Invitation from the Son of God who is gentle and humble in heart and who is also our Savior has been issued to all the people on earth then and now. He has the power to do what He promises, because He is the Son of God and all authority has been given to Him.  Jesus is calling each one of us to come to Him and get to know Him too. He promises to take away the burden and guilt of sin and to give us rest in our souls. 

To accept Jesus’ invitation, a person must want to turn from their sin. (1 John 1:9) He or she must come to Jesus and submit to Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus first gave his Invitation two thousand years ago to the Jewish crowds following Him.  Thousands of them had come out of their towns and villages to listen to Him preach. To watch Him heal the lepers and open blind persons’ eyes so they could see.  Many of them had crowded around as He gave a lame person the power to walk and hundreds were amazed and astonished when He raised people from the dead.  Surely these people who had been there and seen His miracles up close would accept His Invitation. But it didn’t work out that way!

Even though many of the folks from the Galilee region did repent of their sins and accept Jesus’ Invitation, many more neglected His call even after they had been healed by Him!  Later Jesus had strong words for these people who were there to see Him heal and raise the dead but who still turned their backs on His call. 

 Here is what Jesus said: “Woe to you, Korazin! (Korazin was a town in Israel) Woe to you, Bethsaida! (Bethsaida was also an Israeli town) If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum (another town by the Sea of Galilee) will you be lifted up to the skies?  No, you will go down to the depths.  If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”  (Matthew 11:21-24)

 Jesus was teaching that there will be a day of judgment in the future for the whole world as Scripture teaches.  Jesus stated that if the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon had been blessed by  having Him with them healing and preaching like Korazin and Bethsaida had, they would have repented of their sins and followed Him.  Tyre and Sidon would not have fallen, but would have remained thriving cities. Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, all towns near the Sea of Galilee  had been given such an advantage by having Jesus right there with them healing and saving! And yet they still ignored His Invitation!

One day when Jesus was ministering around Galilee, several of John the Baptist’s helpers showed up looking for Him.   John the Baptist had sent them to ask Jesus a question.   John the Baptist had gone before Jesus announcing Jesus with these words: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) John the Baptist knew so well who Jesus was but now he was locked away in a dark prison and he had time to question his faith in Jesus.  His question to Jesus was: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  (Matthew 11:3) 

Jesus sent these words back to John through his disciples: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the person who does not fall away on account of Me.”  (Matthew 11:4-6) 

John perhaps had expected Jesus to keep him from going to prison.  And he may have thought that the promised Messiah would ride in on a white horse with a flaming sword and mighty armies and take care of all of Israel’s problems with the Romans.  Many Israelites expected their “Messiah” to come and save them from the Romans who were ruling them at that time.  But Jesus did not live up to their worldly expectations, so many of them did not recognize Him.   Jesus came to save them from so much more and give them eternal life. It seems even John the Baptist, who had great faith in Jesus faltered and doubted Him because Jesus did not do what he had expected.  And Jesus said to John the Baptist’s helpers: “Blessed is the person who does not fall away on account of Me.”  (Matthew 11:6) 

  Sometimes Jesus may not work in our lives the way we expect either.  He does not always remove our problems in the manner or time frame that we think He will. We have to trust Him to work the way He works even when we don’t understand all the reasons.  But like Jesus said, we are blessed when we im Hianddo not fall away on account of Him.  When we trust Him no matter what.

Jesus has given His Invitation to the world!  A call to come to Him and learn of Him and take on His yoke. And a promise to give our souls rest.  Some folks reject or ignore His invitation like many of the folks who lived in the Galilee region and were there when He taught and healed.  Others like John the Baptist have doubts and ask questions but still believe in Him and follow Him.  And then there are many who accept His Invitation whole heartedly and trust Him and are blessed forever after with peace and joy and light and love and salvation and more. Jesus Christ still stands there with His arms outstretched calling out to each one of us, “Come to Me”.  How will you answer Him?

     


Saturday, July 30, 2016

I Send You out as Sheep among Wolves



I Send You out as Sheep among Wolves
Matthew 10

Jesus called his twelve disciples to do a great work. He commissioned them to go out into the world and preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons.   Along with His call, Jesus also gave them His authority to heal diseases and drive out evil spirits. He gave them power to work miracles for the confirmation of the gospel.  They were to use this power to do good because they were sent by a good God whose mercy is over all His work. 

Jesus told his twelve disciples to go to the “lost sheep of Israel”. (Matthew 10:6) But later Jesus’ followers would be called to go out to the rest of the world with the Christian message (Mark 10:11-14). These twelve disciples were called “apostles” because they were the very first ones to go out and spread the gospel, but we all follow in their footsteps.  Biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions, recorded in Matthew 10 about how to behave and what to expect on their journeys, were meant for all of His followers in every generation as they go out to be His people and witness in the world. 

Jesus began by telling His disciples not to take money or bags or extra clothes along as they went out.  The people they would be blessing with Gods’ message would supply their needs.  These very first missionaries were to depend upon God to provide and make a way for them.  They were called to walk by faith and not by sight. To remember that they had been called by God and He would be with them.   And I believe we followers today are called to walk by faith as well.

When the disciples would arrive in a town they were told to look for people there who had a heart for God and to politely ask if they might stay with these Godly folks while they were preaching and healing. The disciples were to bless the house they stayed in with God’s peace. The family who hosted them would reap the benefits of God’s blessing. But if the family or the whole town rejected Jesus’ disciples and threw them out, those folks would lose out on that special blessing. (Matthew 10:11-14) Great blessings can be lost by neglecting what God has prepared for us. Scripture says: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”  (Hebrews 2:3) 

Bible scholars believe that Christ’s words to His twelve disciples were also words meant for all of His disciples down through the ages. We followers of Christ in every generation have all been given the commission to go into the world and preach the gospel.  (Mark 16:15) Jesus calls all of His followers down through the ages to share the news of salvation with others and pray for the sick, feed the hungry and help the poor.    

And Jesus also warned all of His followers both past and present that there would be sufferings and persecutions that go along with this work of spreading the gospel.  Let’s listen to some of Jesus’ warnings to His followers in Matthew 10.  “Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore, be a wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Be on guard against people: because they may hand you over to the local councils and whip you in their synagogues. “ (Matthew 10:16-17)   We can be imprisoned and beaten and shamed and prosecuted just because we are Christians. 

Jesus tells us that we will be persecuted by some people in this world because we are “not of this world”.  We are new creations in Christ and we have the Holy Spirit in us.  So we don’t quite fit into the old secular worldly system anymore.  Christ calls all of His own to this commission to share the gospel and do good.  But we are sent out like “sheep among ravenous wolves”.  And like policemen and firemen who can face danger and even death every day in the course of doing their duties, the followers of Christ can also face danger and death as they go out to be God’s people in the world. 

Jesus spoke about this mystery here: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.  If you belong to the world, it would love you as its own.  But now you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.”  (John 15:18-19) When we are surrounded by this hate we are to be “wise as serpents” and remember that Jesus told us to expect this. But also we are to be as “harmless as doves” and not strike back with more hate.    

Jesus goes on to say: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child: children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All people will hate you because of Me, but he or she who stands firm to the end will be saved.  When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.”  (Matthew 10:21-23a) There is a spiritual battle going on between good and evil, light and darkness, and the heavenly kingdom and the worldly kingdom.  And this spiritual conflict can even occur between members of the same family!  Christ was betrayed and led off to death not by an outsider but by the kiss of one of His most trusted and beloved disciples.  So we can experience this sorrow also.

If we are to reign with Christ we must also suffer with Him.  Christ will faithfully be with us through the periods in life of shame and sorrow and pain. The dark night of the soul will not be long. We Christians are His witnesses in this world not only in our doing work but in our suffering work. It is one of God’s mysteries. Jesus reminds us that: “Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses his/her life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)   Perhaps we will be best prepared to follow Christ through the bad times when we learn to hold loosely the things of this life.