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Monday, March 29, 2010

Good Friday - the Day Christ Died

Good Friday – the Day Christ Died

Christianity can not be compared with any other world religion! No other faith system –Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc, espouses the belief that God so loves His people that He has given His Son to die for them. Followers of other religions don’t believe in a humble Savior who sacrificed and bled and died on the cross for their sins. They are on their own. They must work to receive any rewards and to avoid eternal punishment. Moslems believe that Allah has a scale to measure and judge their deeds throughout life – the good works, observances and pilgrimages are weighed against sins. Other major religions teach their followers that they must work their way through many reincarnations in order to finally reach Nirvana or perfection.

We Christians don’t have to work our way through reincarnations to reach perfection. Our good deeds don’t have to be weighed carefully on a measuring scale against our sins. We have Jesus, the Man of sorrows, who stood condemned in our place and sealed our pardon with His blood. What a Savior! In Him we have the Way, the Truth and the Life! We are given the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us. God did it all for us. We don’t have to struggle with a works righteousness system. We have Jesus Christ and that makes all the difference. Christianity can not be compared with any other of the world religions!!!

So this is the time of year that we Christians remember our Saviors’ passion, and we observe the day Christ died on Good Friday. Because He died for each of us He becomes our personal Savior. He is our Vine and we are His branches. Scripture calls Him our bridegroom and we are called the bride of Christ. Other religious groups cannot comprehend these amazing truths. We have so much! We can never comprehend how much has been sacrificed for us or how high the price that was paid for our salvation.

The story of His agony as told in Matthew 27 is hard to read. There was darkness over all of the land from the sixth hour of His crucifixion up to the ninth hour,(noon till 3:00p.m) when He finally died there on the cross. An earthquake shook the land just after His death and the veil of the temple was split in two from the top to the bottom. Even though signs and wonders accompanied Christ’s death, the religious Jews of His day didn’t want to acknowledge the truth and refused to believe. Seven hundred years before Christ’s death, stories of His suffering and His death had been foretold in detail by the prophet Isaiah. - Isaiah 52:23-53:12. These evidences are overlooked by those who don’t want to believe.

Because we believe that Christ died for us, we have been given the privilege not only to reign with Him in glory but also to suffer with Him. The Christian is promised victory but he/she is also promised persecution and suffering. Christ has warned us that since the world hated Him, it will also hate us. Jesus bore the cross for us and each of us will also have a cross to bear for Him. Jesus had His Good Friday and we will have ours.

Good Friday has come to symbolize death and darkness, betrayal and suffering. And there is an inevitable Good Friday element to our lives. At some point Good Friday finds us all. Sometimes it’s a set of circumstances that appear to be unredeemable and sometimes we are betrayed by those we have trusted the most, even family. Good Friday sometimes seems to be winning in our lives. When we read the seven last words of Christ on the cross, at one point we find Him praying, “My God, my God, Why have You forsaken me?” And sometimes we pray those words with Him. There are moments when everything can seem so dark and hopeless in our lives. But we’re Christians and we’ve read the whole Bible. We know the rest of the Story. We know that after our Good Friday, Easter is coming.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Judgment

The Judgment

Scripture doesn’t let us off the hook! Over and over the Bible speaks about the judgment. The return of the Lord will usher in a judgment with Jesus sitting on His throne in all His glory and with all of the nations and peoples before Him. And the first thing Jesus will do will be to divide the people into two group; putting some of the people on His right hand side and some on His left. Matthew 25:31-46 relates the story comparing those put on His right side to sheep, ( the righteous) and those on His left to goats, or ( the acursed).

After Jesus has divided all of the worlds’ people into these two groups He will first speak to the ‘sheep’ at His right hand. “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, thirsty and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger and you took Me in: naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you came to Me” Matthew 25:34-36.

The amazing part of this Bible story is that the righteous sheep didn’t understand why Jesus was pleased with them. Why were they special? They had never remembered feeding Jesus when He was hungry or seeing that He got health care when He was sick. Did they never realize that they were following the Lord when they reached out to their neighbor in trouble? Had they never discerned the Lords’ presence there with them as they gave their time and money to help the needy or say a kind word to the discouraged?

They went about their generous lives doing what little they could to relieve the suffering around them because they cared and because it was the right thing to do. They volunteered and sacrificed because their concern for the needy compelled them to get involved. And they had never realized that it was Jesus who was compelling them to care. It was Jesus who had taught them to be compassionate. It was His Call that they had answered when they had fed His sheep. All along as they had opened their hearts to His voice He had been guiding them. And only now could they fully see this miracle.

And Jesus answered the sheep on His right hand,” Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matt. 25:40. Jesus equates our treatment of those who are destitute or distressed with our treatment of Himself. What we do for them, we do for Him. We must not allow our Christian walk to be only a spiritual enterprise, but we must not fail to care for social need, to work for social justice. The still small voice of the Holy Spirit is calling to each of us to put aside judgment and to reach out. We dare not harden our hearts to that command.

After Jesus finishes speaking to those on His right hand He turns to the group on His left side, the ‘goats.’ “Depart from Me you cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food: I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not try to help.”

Just as the ‘sheep’ had never completely discerned the Lords presence in their charitable lifestyle, so the ‘goats’ on Jesus’ left hand side had never realized that the Lord was absent from their pious selfish actions. Why they had gone to church, paid their bills, even gone to war in the Lords’ name! They were a proud group, those goats. Jesus must have it wrong . Shocked and unbelieving they argued with the Lord, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?, cast out demons in Your name?, and done many wonders in Your name?” Matthew 7:22.

It sounds like the ‘goats’ in the judgment story had been full of themselves. They were so much better than all of the ordinary sinners around them. These ‘goats’ even quoted Bible verses as they carefully learned to harden their hearts to the pressing needs of those around them. They actually believed their own lies- that God was involved with them in their greed. They had worked hard for the things they had and God had blessed them with their nice homes and expensive cars. And no one was going to take any of that away. Surely God would never expect them to share with those lazy inferior poor folks! Their freedom to do whatever they wanted was their God given right, and they would fight to the death to keep it that way.

They had proudly used Gods’ name all of their lives, they insisted. Their judgments and their prejudices were made in Gods’ name. And as they took advantage of the poor or criticized and hated the folks that got in their way, they had done it all in Gods’ name. They had all of the correct answers and God was on their side, (or so it seemed.)

And Jesus replied to them: “I never knew you: depart from Me you who practice lawlessness!” Matthew 7:23. These ‘goats’ must have been stunned. The god they had been following had not been the Lord Jesus. All their lives had been a delusion. A mere verbal profession that Jesus is Lord without obedience to His commandments to love others hadn’t been enough. And now it was too late.

It’s strong stuff, reading what Scripture says about the coming judgment after our earthly life is over. Maybe it’s good to get a sneak preview now so we won’t be taken off guard when the time comes. The judgment will be based on moral character, and that character is revealed by charitable deeds, or lack thereof. A tree is known by its’ fruit. And outward evidence demonstrates inner righteousness or unrighteousness.

Of course we are saved not through good works but through faith in Jesus Christ. But Scripture tells us: “faith without works is dead.” James 2:26. If we believe and accept Jesus into our lives He will begin to change our lives, to mold us into the humble loving people that make up the ‘sheep’. Jesus speaks to us: “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” John 14:15. Let’s take Jesus’ commandments to love one another and help the needy seriously. Let’s take Jesus seriously. Let’s be one of His sheep on the judgment day.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Standing on the Promises

Standing on the Promises

A favorite old hymn is titled “Standing on the Promises”. We sing it sometimes but do we know what promises God has given us and are we standing on them?

“The gospel is the power of God to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16. Does this mean that when we believe (accept) the gospel (Gods’ promises) those promises become real and powerful for us?

I remember reading an old fairy tale about a princess and an ugly frog. Only if the princess were to kiss the frog would he magically turn into her charming prince. If she were to never kiss him he would remain a frog forever. These old fairy tales were passed on to convey bits of wisdom and nuggets of truth. And the truth for us is that Gods’ promises only become real for us when we accept them – believe them. Like the princess, we have to actively do something (believe) before these promises become ours. Belief (faith) is the key that will un-lock Gods’ storehouse of blessings.

And what a vast storehouse of promises God has prepared for His children – those who believe and repent. Jesus’ death has not only purchased our salvation but through Jesus Christ we receive all of our provisions, -and healings being part of that inheritance. So many promises are ours. But today lets look at a few of our promises for healing.

Christ commissioned the twelve disciples to heal the sick. Matt. 10:7-8 . Later His commission was given to all who believe. Mark 16:17-18. Part of the commission reads, “They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” vs.18. The great commission has never been revoked. We have been commissioned not only to spread the good news of salvation, but to heal the sick in Jesus’ Name

Some of our promises for healing are:

James 5:14-15 “Is anyone sick among you? Let him call the elders and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him, up, and if he has committed sin, he will be forgiven.”

John 15: 7 “If you live in Me, and My Words live in you, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you.”

Isaiah 53:5 “He was wounded for our transgressions and by His stripes we are healed.”

John 16:23 “Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.”

These are just a few of many promises we have been given. There are so many more. Just a little faith on our part and we will see the power – the provision given from God. All of Scripture tells us that God requires faith. If our faith is weak we can ask and continue asking our Father for more faith, and He will give us more. Also our faith grows when we study the Bible. “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” Romans 10:17 .

Our faith is so important to God. Let’s build up our precious faith, study Gods’ Word, and keep asking God for more faith. Let’s do what it takes. Let’s make sure we are standing on the promises..

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Stern Law of Love

The Stern Law of Love

How do we miss it? What causes us to overlook the obvious? The commandment to love one another is a serious assignment from God. A commandment that is emphasized again and again in Scripture. Jesus tells us that all of the commandments and the prophets are fulfilled in the laws of love: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind and ---love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37 and 39. There is no wiggle room in this commandment to love. Why do we try so hard to avoid this unavoidable law?

We start out so well trying to follow Jesus. We begin by loving everyone through Him. But when we follow our loving Lord and hold up Gods’ marvelous banner of love, how quickly we are attacked with temptations! A brother irritates us and a sister is rude. We are treated unfairly and even the church tries to scare us and arouse us against a leader or a group or a race. We Christians are supposed to be known by our love the Bible says. But sadly some churches have been labeled by their hate! So the temptations not to love come at us from all directions!

“Whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of judgment” the Lord stated. The words sound harsh. But Jesus is only being realistic. The poison of hate is dangerous. Anger tends to destroy the body and Jesus says that it is also dangerous for the soul. God created us to love one another. Love is a power – a fire – and there are consequences when we forsake the living fire of love and play with the deadly fires of dislike and hatred. But it is so easy to do!

So what can we do? First perhaps we can ask the Lord to help us – to increase our love – to give us His love for the people in our lives that we find so easy to dislike. Scripture tells us that we are children of light: but that light is given to us by our Lord. So let’s ask Him for more light and more love. God is standing before us with a gift for us in His hands:-the power to love our enemies. Let’s take this gift and thank Him.

We can also take the unkind words and acts of others as assignments from God, or spiritual exercises, in learning to love, instead of excuses to be angry. Each day you can try a new love experiment – a new exercise in loving the unlovely. Let’s lighten up and have fun with our new work. We can have fun practicing loving the critical relative or friend and forgiving them. With Christ we don’t have to be overcome with evil, but we can overcome evil with good.

We learn to love the people we previously disliked by trying to do it – by practice. To become a musician we need to practice difficult scales and pieces over and over. And to follow Jesus into His kingdom of love we need to practice loving and forgiving the difficult people in our lives again and again.

Un- love and judgments are in the air we breathe and all around us. We have been carefully taught to dislike and hate. It will require much practice to correct each old habit of dislike with a new habit of love. But Jesus will give us the power to do this if we ask. Let’s make this practice to love a fun adventure.

In her famous book, “The Healing Light” Agnes Sanford writes that when we pray for our enemy and forgive and bless them, we can picture that person in our minds as the marvelous person God created them to be. And then we can pray in faith that God will make them that way. Agnes Sanford reminds us that we are made in His image and likeness. Since God is first of all a Creator, then so are we. Through our prayers new blessings can be created.

She continues that when we pray blessings over our enemy we are like a gardener. As the prayer of forgiveness and blessing is poured out upon this person, often this former enemy comes to life as a parched plant comes to life when water is poured upon it. The forgiven one is often re-created by love. Mrs. Sanford insists that this forgiving and blessing in the Lords’ Name is a fun exercise – as we who try it can look with expectancy for the changes that the Lords’ blessing will accomplish in the one we are praying for.

You can read the Bible from cover to cover and still find no excuses anywhere to let yourself off of the hook from loving those you’d rather not love. The Lord has given us a stern law of love. He has asked us to follow Him and His example –to be crucified with Him and to live victoriously in Him. And that means to love one another. No excuses. Let’s get going.

Monday, March 1, 2010

As A Hen Gathers Her Chicks

As A Hen Gathers Her Chicks

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 13:34

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when He cried out these sad words. He had been warned not to go to Jerusalem, but Luke tells us that even though he knew he was facing death in Jerusalem, he kept on going. He was willing to pay the price for His message.

His heart was breaking for these people of Jerusalem – His Jerusalem! He wanted to gather them like a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings to protect them. He longed to bless His beloved Jerusalem. But they “were not willing” Luke 13:34b.

Many a parent has experienced the sorrow that Jesus had, when their hopes and dreams for their children’s welfare have been dashed. The children weren’t willing to avoid the temptations that drew them away. A beloved child has rebelled has run away into a lifestyle that would destroy them. And the distraught parents can only watch as their beautiful child is corrupted. The parents do everything they can to try to save their wayward child –but their best efforts aren’t enough. The child is not willing.

I’ve been told by those who have visited Jerusalem that there is a small chapel on the Mount of Olives that overlooks the whole city. And over the chapel window that opens to the panorama of all Jerusalem below, these verses are written: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings: but you were not willing!.” And beside the chapel window stands a statue of a hen with her brood of chicks under her wings.

Why were the people of Jerusalem not willing to accept the love and protection of their Messiah? Why did they refuse to let Him take them under His wings? Scripture tells us that at this time in history, the nation of Israel was overrun with political and religious corruption and legalism. Jesus’ message of love and grace threatened the status quo. His call might have messed up the power structure and the wealth of Israel’s religious hierarchy. In the eternal battle between good and evil-the religious community of Jesus’ day weren’t willing to choose the good – to choose their Messiah! Not willing to let Him take them under His wings. Not willing to let Him change them!

Jesus cries out to us with the same message that He had for His beloved Jerusalem! He also loves us and wants to take us under His wings. He wants to save us from our selfishness and our hate and our legalism. He’s waiting for our answer. But are we willing to let Him change us, mold us, shake up our status quo? We say we want Him to take us under His wings. We say all of the right words. But are we willing? Are we willing to pay the price?