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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The First Shall be Last and the Last Shall be First

The First Shall be Last and the Last Shall be First

It’s that time of year again! Everywhere there is a buzz in the air. New Year’s Eve parties and special church services are being planned, and New Year’s Eve dances and celebrations with fireworks are in the works. Soon it will be the very first minute of a brand new year. We don’t care about the last day of the old year. We care about the first day of the New Year. We like new challenges, new beginnings, and new firsts. And when we can, most of us like to be first.

We want to be first in line and make the best grades. We want to live in an impressive house and make lots of money. We want everybody to like us and we want to be important. After all isn’t that what God wants for us? Doesn’t He want us to be up there on top?

We want to be first and best and all the while we want to follow Jesus and be in His kingdom too. But after we are Christians for awhile we find that it doesn’t always work that way. Jesus says that in his kingdom the first often will be last and the last will be first. (Matthew 20:16)

Some folks say that when we follow Jesus, ordinary life is turned upside-down. When we read the Bible we see things getting turned around for sure. Things that make a person important in our world are unimportant in the kingdom of God. And things like a humble or a meek spirit – qualities that aren’t so valued in this world are valued by God. Scripture says that “God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27) Note that Jesus tells us that “Whoever wants to be great would be a servant.” (Matt. 20:26) Jesus also tells us that his kingdom, the kingdom of God, is of another world.

We have a saying in our world that it is better to give than to receive. We want to be one of the “makers” not one of the “takers”. We want to write our own ticket, pay our own bills, earn our own way. But Jesus tells us that we can never be good enough to earn our own way into his kingdom. He says, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter in.” (Luke 18:17) So here we have it again- God’s up-side down kingdom. In our world we act like an adult, we earn our own way; but in order to enter God’s kingdom we must “receive” it as a little child would.

The principles of the kingdom of God are upside down from the principles we have learned here in our world. We keep expecting a set of rules to follow in this world, but following the letter of the law without following the Spirit of the Law is what Jesus condemned the Pharisees for. Scripture says: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Jesus said that mercy and justice matter most to God. So if we do all of the “right” things - the “religious” things, but we neglect mercy and justice – if we neglect doing our small part to see that the poor, the “ least of these” gets a fair chance, -then are we any better than the Pharisees?

One of the principles in God’s kingdom that is very different from our culture’s teacings, is the principle of “turning the other cheek”. (Matt. 5:39) I have sometimes had a hard time following this one and perhaps you have too. The principle is that we rely on God for vindication. We let Him defend us and we don’t fight for our own rights. Let’s listen to what Scripture has to say. “Never pay back evil with more evil. … Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. … If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. …Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

Another principle in God’s kingdom that doesn’t make sense down here in this world is the principle of searching for righteousness. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached about the blessed life. One of the blessings –“beatitudes” Jesus spoke of was the blessing you will get if you work for or search for righteousness or for justice. Blessed are those who want to be right before God. Let’s listen to His words in Scripture. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) One of the translations for the word “righteousness” is “justice”.

If we hunger and thirst for our own causes, we will never be fully satisfied. But if we come to Jesus, (who is our righteousness) we will be satisfied. In this world we believe that things will satisfy us. A new car will make us happy – a new outfit, a better position, more money. We always need just a little bit more. But in the kingdom of God we don’t need any more when we find Jesus.

When we believe in Jesus we become part of His kingdom – the kingdom of God. And when we follow Him we receive His Spirit in our lives. And the Holy Spirit is with us to teach us how to live in this new kingdom – the kingdom of God. But we are still living in this world and we still have our old sin nature. So actually we are living in two worlds- two kingdoms – kingdoms that are opposite from one another.

Our earthly world or kingdom teaches us to grab all we can get, stand up for our own rights –and try to be first. And God’s kingdom teaches us to let go of our egos and let God defend us when we are wronged – to think of others and to be last. So what will we choose –God’s way or our own, a proud spirit or a humble one, first place for ourselves or last. Remember, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (Matt. 20:16)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

There is a wonder surrounding Mary, the mother of Jesus, -wonder because she was the one who was chosen to bear God’s Son. The angel Gabriel told her that she had found favor with God. She must have had a believing and humble heart to have been chosen as blessed among women. Even though she didn’t understand the mystery of God coming to live with humans, she accepted it with faith and joy.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce Christ’s’ birth, Mary was troubled. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30b-33)

And Mary asks: “How can this be, since I have not had sex with a man?” (Luke 1:34) And the angel Gabriel answered: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Then the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth, one of her relatives was pregnant. Elizabeth had been unable to have a baby and was elderly now - too old to be having a baby; but Gabriel encouraged Mary’s faith by reminding her that “with God nothing is impossible.” (Luke 1:37.

Mary bowed before the angel Gabriel and answered him: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

Mary did not understand all that was about to happen in her life, but she was glad that she could be part of Gods’ plan and her heart was filled with joy. She sang a song expressing how she felt about being chosen to become the mother of Gods’ Son. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” she sang. (Luke 1:46-47)

As you can see here, according to Scripture, Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus is Son of God and Son of man (a mystery that we can not understand, we just accept on faith). Mary was engaged to marry Joseph at the time she became pregnant with Jesus, the promised Messiah. It would seem that Joseph was upset when he found out that Mary was pregnant, since he knew that her baby could not be his child. This pregnancy did put Mary in a bind.

No doubt there was whispering behind her back. Probably the rest of her family did not understand. Mary probably told Joseph that the angel Gabriel had appeared to her and that the baby she was having was the Son of God, but Joseph must not have believed her. (Would you have?) The Bible says that Joseph was planning to break up with her when an angel appeared to him and assured him that Mary was indeed a virgin. The angel informed him that the baby that she was carrying was truly the Son of God, and that the child should be named “Jesus” which means “the Savior or the One who saves from sin” (Matthew 1:19-25)

Even though Mary was blessed and highly favored by God, (Luke 1:28) her life was not easy. We all know the story of Jesus’ birth and how He was born in a manger. We have heard the magical Christmas story so often - the babe in the manger- that we soon forget that the manger was just a dirty animal shelter. There were probably flies and smells in the manger where Mary had her baby. The animals went to the bathroom in their stalls (the manger) and it was probably cold and muddy there too. Even though Mary was in labor, no one would make room for her in any of the inns in Bethlehem. Joseph knocked on door after door begging for a space for Mary as she delivered her baby, but everyone turned them away. Mary was rejected by everyone in her hour of need.

Mary’s life was not easy. When she and Joseph took the newborn baby Jesus to the temple to dedicate Him to God, the prophet Simeon came and prophesied over the baby. Simeon foretold of future emotional suffering for Mary. “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” he said. (Luke 2:35) And then when Jesus was just a month or two old, Herod decided to find him and kill him. Mary and Joseph had to get up and flee with the baby Jesus to Egypt to protect him from harm. We can only imagine Mary’s’ bewilderment at the problems and persecutions that this special baby of hers was causing.

Years later Mary must have been bewildered again when she and Joseph spent three days worrying and looking for the twelve year old Jesus after they lost him among the crowds in Jerusalem. When they finally found him in the temple, Jesus asked them: “Didn’t you know that I must be about My Father’s business? But Mary and Joseph did not understand him.” (Luke 2:49-50) The Bible tells us that Mary did not understand all of what God was doing with her Son Jesus. But she kept following God’s basic directive for her life.

When Jesus was a boy growing up he lived in the town of Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and their other children. Scholars believe that back in Jesus’ day Nazareth was a small town and that most of the people living there were related to one another. But Scripture tells us that when Jesus returned as an adult to Nazareth, his home town, He was rejected by nearly everyone there. (Matt. 13:53-56) A group of Nazarenes even tried to throw Him off of the steep cliff that is outside of the city. These people were His relatives!

And the Bible also tells us that even Jesus’ brothers didn’t all believe in Him (John 7:5) and thought He was out of His mind.(Mark 3:20-21) We can only wonder how Mary felt when her relatives and neighbors in Nazareth didn’t believe her when she told them about the angel Gabriel’s message to her. Even Mary’s own children, Jesus’ brothers, didn’t listen to their Mother and rejected her Son. The Bible says that “He came unto His own, but His own received Him not.” (John 1:11) Jesus was rejected, but Mary shared that rejection and that misunderstanding with her Son. Her life was not easy.

Mary is a study in the pathway forward in God’s will. Instead of respect, it seems she suffered rejection. She never tried to obtain an elevated position among Jesus’ followers. She must have become a widow early on since Joseph is not mentioned after Jesus became an adult. In that patriarchal culture, being a widow often meant having to live in poverty. Mary didn’t seem to have a place to live at the time that Jesus went to the cross. From the cross Jesus asked John to take care of his mother and after Jesus died, Mary went to live in John’s house.

Mary remained steadfast with Jesus all the way to the cross. And can you imagine how her heart was broken there at the cross? And after Jesus ascended into heaven, Mary obediently joined His other followers in the Upper Room to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:14)

Mary is a model of obedience and an example for us. Perhaps we can all learn something from her life. When we are confused about what is happening in our lives can we, like Mary did, trust God with the confusion and with our lives? If loved ones reject us or our hearts are broken, can we like Mary keep on believing that God will work through the problems in ways that we can’t imagine?

There was a song a few years ago that went something like this: “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow.” Isn’t that how Mary lived her life? She accepted the glorious mysteries along with the wildernesses in her life all on faith and then she followed. Her life could be described by the words she spoke as she bowed before the angel Gabriel; “Here I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Could we follow Mary’s example? Could her words be our words too? Could we bow before God and say those words to Him? “Here I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

Merry Christmas! There will be no blog next week (Christmas) but please stay tuned for a timely blog on the New Year’s weekend.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Isn't That Communism?

Isn’t That Communism?

We were out of town last weekend so we visited another church – a church quite different from ours. The church we visited was a Baptist mega-church with 25,000 members, and with 12,000 people attending last Sunday. There were three restaurants, a video arcade, several banks, a gift and book store, a gymnasium, a media center, many classrooms plus the huge worship center; all in this gigantic church building, which was three or four blocks long. We took the elevator up to the fourth floor balcony and settled in to our seats for the morning worship service.

Our church back home with its’ 750 members has a candlelit altar with an open Bible in the front of the sanctuary and a large cross on the back wall. We have a railing in front of the altar where we kneel and pray. Soft candlelight and hymns accompany each service and there are stained glass windows on both the front and side walls of the church. Church members enter reverently and quietly to worship God, bowing to acknowledge His presence.

The Baptist mega church had a stage with colored stage lights overhead and an orchestra pit in front. Two large walls of colored light shows flashed on each side of the giant stage and two large media screens were mounted up on the front wall. We settled in for the worship service.

A choir of maybe a hundred or more singers filed onto the stage and began singing to the accompaniment of the orchestra down in the orchestra pit. Twenty or more well dressed song leaders stood in front of the choir with their arms raised high praising God and singing while swaying back and forth. One by one each song leaders’ smiling face was projected onto the large screens on either side of the stage while the words to the songs were also projected onto the huge screens. Colored lights flashed here and there around the stage illuminating the praise and creating a light show. The audience stood and sang several praise songs and then clapped for the choir and the orchestra. It was a performance.

A T.V. camera mounted on a large metal crane that stood several stories high, moved on wheels up and down the center aisle of the huge auditorium recording the service for the local television station. I noted that during the service, many people in the audience wandered in and out, talking on their cell phones or to one another.

My husband and I enjoyed praising God with these thousands of other Christians and tears rolled down my cheeks during the praise. After the singing was finished, there were several baptisms, which did not take place there in the worship center but were televised on the large screens.

And then the pastor came out to preach while cameras from every angle zoomed in on him. The audience could see his face on the giant screens, and more colored lights danced around behind him. This pastor was an excellent speaker, and he delivered his message forcefully and with much emotion. Over and over again he brought home the fact that we Christians have the obligation to go out into the entire world and tell everyone that Jesus is Lord and that He died to take away our sins. “Jesus brings life and without Him, people are living in darkness.” he shouted. “It is our sacred duty to go and ask as many others as possible to accept Jesus as Savior.” Tears were running down my face. It has been many decades since I have been in a Baptist church and have heard this message preached so clearly. But the words still cut to my soul.

The pastor continued by talking about the Great Commission. “Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and tell others that He is Savior,” he shouted as he pounded the pulpit. “Some liberals tell us we have to save the environment or to worry about social justice,” he added, -“and that isn’t what Jesus is talking about. Jesus tells us in the Great Commission to tell others about Himself”.

I caught my breath and wondered! Just a minute, isn’t Jesus interested in social justice? Didn’t He say a great deal about feeding the hungry and giving to the poor? And I’m not so sure that Jesus wants us to go around polluting the environment either! What is this pastor saying here? Who is this “non-involved Jesus” he is talking about? The Jesus I know is deeply involved with the poor, cares about the hungry and wants us to be involved too.

The pastor shook his fists and went on preaching; “Jesus instructed us through the Great Commission to go into the whole world and tell others that He is the Savior.” Just a minute, I thought. When Jesus gave us the great commission, didn’t He ask us to go into all the world and not only tell people the good news but to also “make disciples”? (Matthew 28:18-20) Wasn’t making disciples part of it? Didn’t this pastor leave that out? When we “make disciples” we not only tell people about Jesus but we teach the new Christians what it means to follow Him too. And yes, being a disciple (following Jesus) means being concerned about social justice. We are supposed to feed the hungry and give to the poor. As Christians we are supposed to get involved. Isn’t that part of the package?

Following Jesus isn’t just saying the right words. We don’t just “talk the talk” but we “walk the walk”. The pastors’ words were right but they didn’t go far enough. At least not for me. Accepting Jesus as Savior means obeying His commandments. And Jesus commands that if we see a person without a coat and we have two coats, we are to give that person one of our coats. (Luke 3:11) (Doesn’t that sound like Communism?)

The pastor preached on, but by now he had lost me. Verse after verse from the Bible began to flit through my mind. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes from the hungry will get many curses.” (Psalms 28;27) “He who is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord. (Proverbs 19:17) “Whoever gives a cup of cold water to the least of these, gives it to Me.” (Matthew 10:42) “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and help the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom shall be as noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10)

And of course Matthew 25:34-36 came to mind. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, needed clothes and you clothes me, was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus has so much to say about the importance of taking care of the poor!

We filed out of church and wandered down to the book store. Beautiful jewelry was for sale along with statues of golden gilt angels. Bibles and right wing political books sat on a shelf side by side upsetting me even more. I stood there in the bookstore grumbling to my husband that Jesus wanted us to do more than tell others about Him, that He wanted us to help the poor. A lady buying a book nearby heard me fussing and entered into the discussion. “It was a good sermon,” I told her, “but as Christians we are also to be concerned with social justice. If we have two coats and we see someone with no coat, we are to give them one of ours.” I stopped and smiled at her. “My goodness,” the woman replied, “Isn’t that communism?”

Friday, December 2, 2011

You Gotta Come in by the Door

You Gotta Come in by the Door

(John 10:1-18)

Just one door to eternal life! Jesus is telling yet another of his famous parables here in John 10 and his message comes through loud and clear. Let’s listen to what He has to say: “I tell you the truth, the person who does not enter the sheep fold by the door but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1) “I am the Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)

Jesus is telling a story here about his sheep and the sheep fold with the one door where his sheep stay. Jesus explains to the disciples that He is the Door and the sheep must come through the Door (Jesus) to get into the fold. And of course the sheep are all those who belong to Jesus, the Master Shepherd. In his parable, Jesus also tells about two different kinds of helpers (under-shepherds) who come into the sheep fold with the job of helping out with the sheep.

There are the good shepherds –the ones who come in through the door of the fold; the ones who repent of their sins and let Jesus give them new life. And Jesus is able to use these changed helpers to lead his sheep out to pasture and back in at night. Jesus can bless his sheep through these good under-shepherds. Jesus gives life to his sheep and protects them from getting lost or being harmed by wild animals through the shepherds who came in through the door, because they hear His voice. The sheep recognize Jesus’ voice through these good under shepherds and they follow them. There is such freedom and abundance for the sheep when they are led by these good shepherds who have come in by the door (Jesus) and are guided by Jesus, the Door.

Let’s listen to how Jesus tells it. “Whoever enters by the door (Jesus) is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens to him and the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them: and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but will run away from him, for they do not know the voice of a stranger.” (John 10:2-5)

But then there are those other shepherds - the ones who climbed over the wall of the sheep fold and ignored the door, those who aren’t sorry for their sins and won’t repent – who won’t let Jesus give them new life. They want to do life their own way and forget the one Way. These false shepherds don’t care about the sheep but only take the job for the money. Jesus can not work through these guys and the real sheep won’t follow them anyway. The sheep don’t recognize their Masters’ voice when these false shepherds call them. The flock are never led out to pasture or allowed to drink in the streams and rivers. Poor little lambs! If a sheep wanders off and gets lost, these hired hands who jumped over the wall, won’t go look for it. And when the hungry wolves come around, these fake shepherds run off and leave the sheep to die and be eaten.

Let’s listen to what Jesus says about these false shepherds. “All who ever got into the sheep fold without Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep will not hear them. The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. The hired hand is not the shepherd and he is not bonded to the sheep, so when he sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away: and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because he is only there for the money and he does not really care about the sheep.” (John 10: 8,10a,12 and 13)

Jesus finishes his parable by explaining that He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus has so many names in Scripture and the “Good Shepherd” and the “Door” are just two of his many names. He is our Door or our entrance to eternal life and He is also our Shepherd who leads us into the abundance of that life. Let’s listen to what He says here. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd: and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep. Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down Myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:11,14,15,17and 18)

Jesus says that He lay down his life for his sheep (us) and He comes to give his sheep life-not just ordinary existence, but life in fullness and abundance. On the other hand the Enemy (Satan) comes only to steal, kill and destroy. The line is clearly drawn in this parable. There is no middle ground. Jesus makes it definite that there are just two choices – the choice to be on Gods’ side or the choice not to be. There are the real under-shepherds and the false hired hands, those who come in by the door and those who don’t. There is just one moral to this story. You gotta come in by the Door.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Miracle Seeds

The Miracle Seeds

(Luke 8:5-15)

Jesus told a story (a parable) to His disciples about a farmer who went out to sow seeds hoping for a nice harvest. Some of the seeds landed on hard ground and the birds quickly ate them up. Some landed on rocky ground but when they sprang up they withered since they lacked moisture. Some of the seeds landed among thorns and the thorns chocked them out. But some fell on good ground and had plenty of room to grow. They sprang up and grew and yielded a big crop.

Jesus’ disciples ask what the story means, and this is what Jesus tells them. “The seeds, Jesus tells them, are the Word of God.” (Luke 8:11) “The hard ground that some of the seeds fall on is the heart of a person who hears the Word, but then the devil comes and takes the Word out of his heart, lest the person should believe and have eternal life.” (Luke 8:12) People who aren’t much interested in the Word and don’t think it is important are most likely the hard ground folks. When this indifferent crowd hear Gods’ Word they don’t take it too seriously. It makes no sense to them and they quickly forget what they have heard. The miracle seeds never have a chance to get into the ground of their heart, much less grow!

“The rocky ground that other seeds fall on is like the heart of the person who, when he hears the Word, he receives it with joy: but since he has no roots, he believes for a while, but then when the temptations come, he falls away.” (Luke 8:13) This person Jesus is describing perhaps pretends to be a good Christian but doesn’t take the Word seriously. He doesn’t see a problem with cheating on his wife during the week and going to church on Sunday. He takes advantage of others and does whatever he wants to do without worrying about what God would want. Those miracle seeds struggle to grow and take root in his life, but so many rocks are in the way. Alas, the poor seeds are never allowed to make it!

“Now the thorny ground that the seeds fall on is like the heart of a person who, when he has heard Gods’ Word, he goes out and is choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and is too busy with other things to bring the fruit from the seeds to maturity.” (Luke 8:14) Isn’t Jesus describing a person here who is busy shopping and playing video games and watching football and baseball and working two jobs and exercising and checking his messages and going to the movies and worrying about his portfolio and—the list goes on and on. Really there’s nothing wrong with these activities, but our persons’ schedule is so filled up with stuff that there is no room left for God. No room to pray and no room to read the Bible. The life giving seeds are never given a chance, never given space to grow and produce a crop. Never given room to sprout into eternal life.

“But when the seeds fall on the good ground, this is like the people who, when they hear the Word, with good and joyful hearts they hold onto the seeds tightly and keep them hidden in their hearts. And with patience they bear much fruit.” (Luke 8:15) Jesus is describing the people who belong to Him. Jesus wants us to desire and value his Word. He wants to plant his powerful seeds in our hearts. He wants to wait while his Word works its’ magic and we are born again! He wants us to give Him our heart. He, like the farmer, plans to cultivate it. Plow up the hard ground. Pull up the thorns and dig out the rocks. Fertilize the ground and make it ready so the seeds have room in our hearts to grow up into a life giving harvest.

This little story of Jesus’ wouldn’t make much sense if the seeds that the farmer went out to plant weren’t special seeds. But the seed (the Word) is special. The Bible has much to say about just how special Gods’ Word really is. We will just mention a few passages here that refer to the Word and its’ special place. Scripture says that “Faith (or believing) comes by hearing, hearing the Word” (Romans 10:17) The Word (the seed) has to be special if faith comes by hearing it and eternal life is given to those with faith.

Some may think that the Bible – the Word – is just an ordinary book like other books, but Scripture says that the Word (the seed) is “living”. “For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword …”(Hebrews 4:12) The Bible also says that the Word was made flesh and lived among us. (John 1:14) Of course this is referring to Jesus, who is called the “living Word”. David loved Gods’ Word and had much to say about it. Here in Psalms he writes: “Your Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalms 119:105) These are just a few of the many scriptures that tell us that Gods’ Word can change us if we let it.

After reading Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed, what lessons can we take away? For me, I think the story teaches the importance of opening our hearts to God and to His Word so that the Word can grow and do its’ magic in our lives. This parable says that the devil takes the seeds away, “lest the person should believe and have eternal life.” (Luke 8:12) Right there Jesus is saying that the seed (the Word) causes a person to believe and believing brings eternal life. What importance the seeds are in the story!

In the natural world we have seeds that grow into apple trees and seeds that grow into tomato plants. Seeds that grow into giant redwood trees and seeds that grow into stalks of grain. We have all kinds of seeds on this earth. But have we ever thought about the seeds we have that cause people to believe and receive eternal life? These seeds (the Word) are something out of this world, wouldn’t you say? Shouldn’t we call them “miracle seeds”?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Parable of the Fathers' Love

The Parable of the Fathers’ Love

(Better known as the parable of the Prodigal son)

Jesus had many lessons that he wanted his disciples (and us) to learn. He often told parables –or stories- to get these lessons across. In Luke 15 we read three of Jesus’ parables that were all teaching the same message. It must have been an important message for Jesus to tell three stories that were all saying the same thing.

The message that Jesus is trying to get across in these three stories is that God, our heavenly Father, loves us and is emotionally attached to us. He worries and searches for us when we get lost in sin or when we travel down one of the roads that end up in a bad place.

The parable Jesus tells in Luke 15:11 begins with a father and two sons. The youngest son asks his father for his share of the estate and the father agrees to give it to him. Then this youngest son takes his money and “sets off for a distant country and squanders his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:13b) It didn’t seem to take this young man long to blow his inheritance, did it?

And to make matters worse, soon after he spent all his money, a famine occurred and he didn’t have enough to eat. The young man looked around and finally got a job feeding hogs for a farmer, but he didn’t get paid much. Jesus tells it this way: “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the hogs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:16) Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it?

While the son was sitting in the hog pen with the hogs, dirty and starving, he began thinking of how much he missed his home and family. He thought about how the men who worked for his father were paid enough to have a good life, and here he was miserable and hungry. Maybe he could go back home and ask his father to hire him. He could be one of the workers. He had sinned against his father and he knew he wasn’t worthy of being his son anymore. But maybe his father would let him hang around as a worker. He got up and started off walking down the long road back towards home.

In the meantime the father hadn’t stopped grieving and worrying about his youngest son. Ever since the boy had taken off, he had spent hours each day gazing down the road and up to the hills just hoping to get a glimpse of his son returning. Finally one day the father saw what looked like a traveler way off in the distance! Could it be his son? The father took off running. Let’s read how Jesus tells it. “But while he was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him: the father ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20b)

The son told his father that he wasn’t worthy of being his son any more and asked his father for a job as a hired worker. But the father wouldn’t listen to any of that. He called his workers and ordered: “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on my son. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was lost and is found again: he was dead and is alive.” (Luke 15:22-24) So right away all the neighbors were invited to a party with feasting, music and dancing (Probably drinking too).

The oldest son had been out plowing the fields all day and as he trudged back home, sweaty and tired; he thought he could hear laughter and music coming from the house. When one of the workers told him that his younger brother had come home and his father was throwing a party, he really got mad. He sulked outside and refused to go in and join the festivities. His father went out and pleaded with his oldest son to come in and celebrate his brothers’ homecoming.

“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” The father told his oldest boy. “But we have to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31)

Jesus’ parable tells us a lot about our heavenly Father, doesn’t it? First it tells us that God doesn’t stop us from doing what we want to do. The father in the story gave his youngest son his money and allowed him to leave, even though he didn’t want him to go. God doesn’t make us to be robots. He doesn’t force us to be good. We can leave our heavenly Father anytime we wish. Scripture tells us that since God has free will, we have free will too, since we are made in His image. This parable also teaches that if we leave the Father, He will keep anxiously waiting for our return. God is devoted to us and He will always welcome us back.

Along with this parable, Jesus told two other parables that were similar. One was a story about a shepherd who had one hundred sheep. But one day he found that one of his sheep was missing. Upset and worried, he left the ninety-nine and went out in the fields searching for his one lost sheep. Finally after a long exhausting search, he was overjoyed to find his lost sheep. He went home and threw a party, inviting his neighbors and friends with these words: “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:6b) Jesus added: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)

And the third story that Jesus tells is about a woman who had ten silver coins and loses one. The woman turned everything upside down and searched everywhere in her house until she finally found her lost coin. And of course she called her neighbors and threw a party to celebrate the fact that she had found her lost coin. Jesus adds: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

These stories all teach the same truth: that God loves us. That when we stray away He cares enough to search for us, run after us and keep looking for us, always anxious to bring us back. Our earthly fathers may have let us down, even abandoned us. But we have a heavenly Father that will always be there for us. A God who is so thrilled when we come back to Him that there is celebrating in heaven with angels rejoicing. If we have strayed away, gone down a wrong road, or squandered all our money in wild living, let’s go back to our waiting Father. He will be overjoyed and we will be glad we did.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us from Evil

Every time we pray the Lords’ prayer we ask the Lord to “deliver us from evil”. (Matthew 6:9) Some of us have prayed that prayer so much that we just say the words and don’t think much about what we are praying. So what are we praying? And along with that, when we pray the Lords’ prayer we also pray: “Lead us not into temptation.”

Don’t these Biblical warnings in the Lord’s Prayer alert us to watch out for temptations scattered along our way? Temptations to choose what’s wrong – wrong thoughts or wrong actions. We may play with wrong thoughts or actions– joke about them -but never really let them in the door. But they are dangerous just the same. Sin is seductive and addictive and if it is allowed to get a foothold inside our lives it can take hold and grow into real evil -ruining lives and leaving devastation.

Obviously there are truly evil situations out there that we can become involved in if we do not ask for the Lords’ protection. We have all read shocking news in the papers or seen stories on television of normal looking folks like you and me who have gotten themselves into desperate situations just because they gave in to a serious temptation! They said “yes” when they should have said “no”. And crimes were committed, lives torn apart, and things will never be the same again.

We Christians are told that there are things we are not to do, places we are not to go, and even thoughts we are not to think. Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments.(John 14:15) Sounds difficult, but He promises to help us. It appears that when we walk down the road of life we will have to make our way through a mine field of temptations, doesn’t it? And Scripture tells us that that is true.

Awhile ago the newspaper showed the photo of a man walking out of prison, a free man after twenty-four years behind bars. The innocent man had been presumed guilty for the death of his murdered wife twenty-four years ago and has been behind bars even since. Finally he is a free man! His attorney had worked tirelessly behind the scenes and had proven his innocence from DNA samples. Another man, who had murdered several times, was finally indicted for this crime since his DNA matched the DNA at the scene of the crime committed twenty-four years ago.

The newspaper reported that during the trial so long ago, the district attorney/prosecutor had withheld important evidence in court that might have proven that the husband had not murdered his wife. The district attorney/prosecutor knew the husband was innocent, but in order to win his case, allowed the innocent husband to go to prison for life. For this successful district attorney it was all about winning – winning at any cost.

When the district attorney was tempted with bearing false witness and covering up the truth in exchange for winning another case in the courtroom and bolstering his reputation, he chose winning and looking good instead of doing the right thing. Over the years this powerful district attorney has worked his way up the ladder of success. Now he is a prominent judge in our state; wealthy, a church member and well respected. I wonder if it ever bothered him knowing that his actions were responsible for putting an innocent man behind bars. He will keep his position of power as a judge. Perhaps this judge would not have become as “successful” as he is now if he had not given in to the temptation to bear false witness in order to win.

These same problems came up with the scandal that broke this week at Pennsylvania State. Years ago a young boy was molested by a valued assistant coach of a winning football team: that crime was not reported to the police. The teams’ success and reputation, money and power were all at stake. The temptation was strong to keep quiet so their winning team would not be jeopardized. Several prominent men gave in and said “yes” instead of “no” to the temptation - the temptation to win at any cost! Even at the cost of harming children!

A few weeks ago another story was told in our local newspaper. A husband and father shot his pregnant wife, his little five year old daughter and his father-in-law as they lay sleeping in their home. And then he set their home on fire in hopes of burning up his murdered family members and covering up his crime. He had met a go-go dancer in a local bar and had fallen for her. He wanted to be with his new girlfriend without his pregnant wife and family getting in the way. When temptation knocked, this man opened the door wide. He never got what he wanted -the new girlfriend- and he is in jail now for a very long time. Is this evil or not?

Another part of the Lords’ Prayer reads; “Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins that others sin against us.” (Matthew 6:9) Probably a temptation that comes to all of us at one time or another is the temptation not to forgive someone who has hurt or harmed us. We may need Gods’ help in forgiving, but God will be there to help us forgive when it is too difficult for us to do on our own.

Sometimes we may want to pay back another person for harming us or our loved ones. But Scripture says that it is not our place to pay another person back for the harm they have done. God did not create to hating or “pay back” another person. Only God is righteous enough for such a job. God is a God of justice and He will take care of us and even out any score His own way. Scripture says: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) We need to remember that God will even out the score, even if it doesn’t happen until we are on the other side. “Every valley will be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.” (Isaiah 40:4)

We will face temptation as long as we live. But God promises to be there for us and to never let our temptations be bigger than we can handle. He also promises to give us a way out of our temptations. “No temptation has taken you except what is common to everyone else, but God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

So many Christians have been willing to pay the full price –to die- before giving in to temptation. There have been Christians down through the ages who have been willing to face martyrdom before going along with evil. The Christians in Germany and Holland who risked their lives by hiding Jews during the Holocaust refused to give in to the evil all around them! The Christians in early Rome who were willing to be fed to the lions before renouncing Christ didn’t give in either. Most of us won’t be called on to make that ultimate sacrifice. But there is often a price we pay when we say “no” to temptation! And there is a cost to consider in following Christ! Are we willing to consider the cost and pay the price?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Words of Judgment and Words of Comfort

                                                        a murel from ancient Nineveh

Words of Judgment and Words of Comfort

Visions from Nahun

The main message in the short little book of Nahun is that God has judged the evil city of Nineveh and that it would soon be completely destroyed! Mighty Nineveh was the most powerful city in the ancient world in 600-700B.C. and it was the capital of the nation of Assyria. The Bible calls Nineveh a “bloody city, full of lies and robbery, where its’ victims never depart.” (Nahun 3:1) Again Nineveh is mentioned as “The mistress of sorceries, who sells nations through her harlotries, and families through her sorceries.” (Nahun 3:4a) Not a nice picture would you say? The ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh were discovered by archeologists just beyond the Tigris River across from the modern day city of Mosel in Iraq.

For centuries Assyria had been the strongest and cruelest nation in the ancient world. But then in approximately 630 B.C., Nahun, a Jewish prophet, arose and prophesied Gods’ message of doom against her. The surrounding nations hated and feared Assyria, and for good reasons! Ancient documents attest to the cruelty of the Assyrians against their neighbors. Assyrian kings boasted of their savagery, celebrating the abuse and torture they inflicted on their conquered peoples.

In 722-721 B.C., the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel – ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. We now call them the ten lost tribes because these Jewish people were captured and scattered by the invading Assyrians and they were never heard from again. Most people believe that their identity as Jews has been forever lost. It has now been 2,722 years since the ten tribes were carried off to Assyria, and they never returned! Did these captured tribes of Israel intermarry with the Assyrians and lose their Jewish identity forever! Or were they all tortured and killed?

Nineveh was regarded as an invincible fortress. Beyond its massive walls, a system of canals, moats, outworks, and armed guards provided strong defenses. No one in the ancient world believed that Nineveh could fall. Nineveh was founded and maintained on murder, bloodshed, and constant warfare. But as strong and mighty as Nineveh was, God is always our real stronghold. Real strength stands on righteousness and never on evil. So Nineveh was doomed since God is a God of righteousness and justice. And there is a limit to how long He will allow evil to continue before judgment is meted out.

The end for Nineveh came just as Nahun predicted it would in 612 B.C. The Medes and Babylonians came against Nineveh killing the citizens and burning the city.

The powerful Assyrians were scattered to the mountains north of their land with no one to reassemble them. And the prophecies of Nahun were fulfilled to the letter. Nineveh disappeared from the scene of history and was no more. The great city was leveled, burned and completely destroyed. No one could even find the site where the great city had been until 1842 when French and English archeologists finally uncovered ruins they believe might have been the ancient Nineveh.

Nahun writes of her doom while Nineveh is still a powerful stronghold. And the book of Nahun ends with these words. “Your injury has no healing. Your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not your wickedness passed over continually?” (Nahun 3:19)

The ten lost tribes of Israel- those tribes taken away by the evil Assyrians in 722-721 B.C.- are briefly mentioned in the book of Nahun. Other Bible passages foretell that those northern tribes will one day be restored. Ezekiel tells of the restoration of Israel in the amazing story of the valley of scattered dry bones. The story continues with God bringing the scattered bones back together into a skeleton. And then He adds flesh over the skeleton making it look human., but it is still lifeless. And then God breathes into this lifeless form and restores it again into a living person! Gods’ message in this story is that the scattered pieces of the tribes of lost Israel will be reassembled and given new life someday. This will be a true miracle from God just for Israel. It will most likely blow their minds!

But don’t some of the rest of us need a miracle from God too? We have children who have gone wrong or health issues that drag us down. Money problems that never stop or betrayals that we never expected. We’ve waited a long time for answers and finally all our dreams have dried up and have scattered and all our hope is dead. We have our own personal valley of dry bones!

But God has made us some promises too! He has promised to breathe new life into the dry bones and valleys of our lives. Let’s listen to just a few of His many promises to us. “And all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer believing, you shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22) “Exceeding great and precious promises have been given to us that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) and “Whatever you ask in My Name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) God tells us to pray over our problems and then He will answer. Sometimes we keep praying and believing and praying and believing and nothing seems to happen. Years pass by and still the answer doesn’t come. The dry bones in our valleys are scattered and dead.

Let’s remember that the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley aren’t living yet, even though Ezekiel and Nahun saw the miracle ahead of time. That promise to Israel may not be fulfilled until the end of the age. That may be a long time to wait. And some of our prayers may not be answered until after we die. But our prayers will be answered. God will breathe new life into our dry bones. We just need to keep believing Gods’ promises.

And here in Nahun this promise of a restored Israel shows up even again. “For the Lord will restore the excellence of Jacob (the southern kingdom) just like the excellence of Israel (the northern kingdom). For the ones who empty have emptied them out and ruined their vine branches.” (Nahun 2:2) It does seem impossible to us that those ten lost tribes could be put together again after more than two thousand years. But we know that nothing is impossible with God. If He promises He will restore the northern kingdom of Israel, the kingdom which was lost so long ago, then He will do it.

The name “Nahun” means “comfort”. But how could Nahun bring words of comfort when his short message was mainly that of the foretelling of destruction? The truth is that Gods’ words through Nahun were words of comfort and also words of condemnation. Condemnation proclaimed to the evil city of Nineveh, and comfort proclaimed to Gods’ faithful people, Judah. Nahun 1: 7-9a gives this double message. “The Lord is good. A stronghold in the day of trouble: And He knows those who trust in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place(Nineveh). And darkness will pursue His enemies. You who conspire against the Lord? He will make an utter end of it.”

Gods’ people, the two tribes of Judah, were comforted when Nineveh was destroyed -when they no longer had to worry about being attacked, tortured and killed by these warring people. If God had not judged Nineveh and stopped them in their tracks, there would have been no peace, no comfort for Gods’ people.

I have known fellow Christians who can not believe that God is not only the loving Savior of the world but also the Judge of the world who condemns. They ask how a loving God could judge and punish people? The answer is that God condemns evil because He is loving! God loves us too much to leave us in our sin. Our world cannot have real peace or real wholeness as long as evil remains, just as a human body cannot be healthy as long as a disease remains. Jesus our Savior takes away sin (disease) and makes us righteous (healthy). But for those who reject the Savior, who rebel against good and choose evil, there will be a day of judgment.

When that final Day arrives we will be there. And it will be both a Day of Judgment and a Day of Comfort, just like it was back when Nahun, whose name means “comfort” foretold of both Gods’ judgment and of His comfort. Judgment and comfort – do they really go together?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Glimpses into the Future -Visions from Malachi

Glimpses into the Future

Visions from Malachi

Malachi was the last of the twelve Minor Prophets. And the book of Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. -the last recorded prophetic message to the nation of Israel before their promised Messiah, Jesus would come. Malachi wrote his prophecies in about 450 B.C.- long after the people of Israel had returned to their homeland from captivity in Babylon.

The Jewish people had been thrilled to finally be free and back home again. And they were anxious to rebuild the temple and worship God. But then, all too soon, their enthusiasm for the Lord had cooled, and worshipping God had become a chore – a boring formality. They had become careless and disrespectful when they came before God. They didn’t bring the offering that God had asked for. Malachi tells them how God feels about their sloppy worship.

Here are just a few things that displeased God when the Jewish people came to worship. “Where is My honor,” “Your priests despise My Name,” “You offer defiled food on My altar.” “You offer the blind as a sacrifice” “and you offer the lame and the sick,” “I have no pleasure in you.” “You are robbing Me, bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,…” “nor will I accept an offering from your hands.”(Malachi 1:6b,c,7a,8a,10b,c, 3:10)

God had given Israel rules about how to come before Him and how to bring their sacrifices for sin. They had been instructed to offer a lamb for their sin offering that was perfect, (healthy), because when Jesus would come, He would be the Lamb for their sin offering and He would be perfect (without sin). Malachi speaks out with Gods’ message and accuses the people of bringing sick and lame animals. They were not offering their best to God or bringing what He had required. They had ignored Gods’ instructions as to how to come into His presence. Instead of worshiping God the way He required, the Jewish people were doing their own thing. And God told them that He would not accept their offerings.

God doesn’t want our careless and disrespectful worship either. I have been to Sunday morning worship services where instead of worshipping God, we have been entertained by elegant symphony performances. And other times where Holy Communion was not served reverently but in a casual playful manner. It’s times like these that we looked for another church.

We come to a worship service, not to be entertained, but to worship God. And Holy Communion or the Eucharist, -the body and blood of Christ –is to be taken reverently, and only after we have confessed any known sins. God wants us to take pleasure in Him and He will take pleasure in us. He wants us to give our best to Him, and He does not want our gifts to be given grudgingly - “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor.9:7) He isn’t pleased with our lukewarm love or our bored attendance.

God has given us instructions as to how to come to Him. There is just one way – not any old way that may seem right. Scripture says: “There is a way that seems right to people, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Psalms 16:25) Jesus is the only Way and no one comes to God except through Him. (John 14:6) One of the first lessons we learn in Malachi is that God desires our worship of Him to be wholehearted. He wants our best. And we are to come to Him the way He told us, through the Door (Jesus) and not try to climb over the wall like a thief. (John 10:1) God didn’t accept the second hand offerings brought to Him in Malachi’s time, and I don’t think He will accept our anything goes offerings today either!

Our worship can either be “high church” or casual: but worshipping God with a humble open spirit is what counts. Sometimes we may be bored or feel lukewarm in church, like they did in Malachi’s time. But God wants us to be willing to be willing to change. We can ask Him to mold us into what He wants, and He will.

The Israelites in Malachi’s’ day did not believe that God was a God of justice. “You have wearied the Lord with your words. …By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and He is pleased with them,’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (Malachi 2:17) Are we ever like the people in Malachi’s day? Do we forget that God does see the unjust, the unfaithful, and the really bad things that are being done in our world today? Or do we forget that God is a God of justice - that He really does care and He really will judge?

Malachi continues to encourage Israel not to lose faith. They are reminded that God is just and He does care about them. Even though they may not have seen evil people punished yet or good people rewarded during their lifetime, the Day of Judgment is coming and the records will be set straight. God will keep His promises and His judgments, even if His timing is not our timing.

Malachi reminds the Jewish nation that their promised Messiah is coming. “Behold I send My messenger, and He will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come into His temple, for the Messenger of the covenant in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1) “But who can stand the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like a launderers’ soap.” (Malachi 3:2)

Malachi was prophesying the coming of Jesus and giving the nation a glimpse into the future. Jesus would be born about 450 years after this prophesy was given. The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into His temple. And it is believed that the “messenger” referred to in Malachi 3:1 is John the Baptist since he preached repentance and helped prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry.

Malachi announces the Lord’s coming. But then he asks the question: “But who can stand the day of His coming?” (Malachi 3:2a) What does that mean? Those who desire the Lord’s coming must know that clean hands and a pure heart are required. (Ps. 24:3-4, Isa. 33:14-15) Uh oh! Are we in trouble? Who among us has clean hands and a pure heart? Who can stand the day of His appearing?

But then as we read on we see that Christ comes as the Purifier and a Refiner of His people. Malachi says that Jesus is like a launderers’ soap! Jesus is like a bar of soap! That’s such good news! We so need to be washed and cleaned up! Other Scriptures say we are washed in His blood. But we must let Him wash us. We must allow Jesus to be our Refiner and our Purifier.

Malachi closes with more prophesies about Jesus. He has foreseen Jesus’ first coming and the salvation He brings with Him. But this time he prophesies about Jesus’ second coming, - the Great Day of the Lord. “Surely the Day is coming. It will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the Day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord Almighty. Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere My Name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall….” (Malachi 4:1-2)

The people in Malachi’s day were caught up in their sorrows and discouragements, and they didn’t think anything would ever change. God didn’t seem to be judging the evil in their midst and even though they were Gods’ people, their troubles still weren’t going away. Maybe God didn’t care.

But then Malachi comes in with visions from God that allowed the people to see way into the future- to a time when God would judge and heal and make things right. He allows the people to see things far beyond their little discouraging world. His prophesies are like a telescope that the people can peek through and see Christ’s coming. And they can also see the salvation that He will bring with Him.

And then God speaks through Malachi again and gives the people (and us) a second vision through this prophesy telescope. Malachi gives the backslidden people of his day – and us too - a glimpse of Christ’s Second Coming. And the final judgment. We get glimpses of that final Day when justice will prevail and evil will be put down. And we can even see God’s people leaping around like calves released from the stall!

These visions gave hope to the folks in Malachi’s day. And they are there to give us hope too. When we get discouraged and begin to feel that all is lost, let’s remember that a future day is coming when we will leap around like calves released from the stall! Prophesies in Scripture are given to remind us that God isn’t finished with us yet. When we get mired in the troubles we have today, and start to lose faith, we may need to stop and re-read the prophetic words. And we may need to take another glimpse into the future!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Ten Commandments (the last six commandments)

The Ten Commandments

(Exodus 20)

Part 2 – The Last Six Commandments

The Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai while the whole Jewish nation waited at the foot of the mountain. Shortly before this, God had miraculously freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt and now they were all traveling through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. God wrote these ten laws Himself on two tablets of stone and gave the tablets to Moses to take back to the people. These ten laws which are recorded in Exodus 20 were eventually called the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish nation four thousand years ago- and also to all of Gods’ people down through the ages. The Ten Commandments help us to know how God wants us to conduct our lives. We can know the difference between right and wrong. So here they are - the Ten Commandments (not the ten suggestions!) as they are given to us in the Bible (Exodus 20). We covered the first four commandments last week so today we will go over the last six commandments.

The first four commandments cover our relationship with God. And the last six commandments are laws concerning our relationships with one another. So today we will be looking at some of the rules God has for us when we relate to one another.

(5) The Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20: 12)

Family is all important to God. I have a friend who was a loving and dedicated mother, but now, one of her daughters refuses to speak to her. The mother has been cut off for years from her angry daughter and surrounded by a wall of hate. The family is Christian but the daughter believes she has reasons to hate her mother. But God has not called us to hate. God calls us to love and forgive and to honor our mothers and fathers.

Of course other Scriptures state that parents are to provide for their children and take care of them. (1 Timothy 5:8) Too many deadbeat dads are in church pretending to be the good Christian, while their children are left behind growing up without a father.

(6) The Sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

Human life is sacred. Scripture says that we humans are created in Gods’ image. He lights each life coming into the world. So it is a sin to destroy (kill) a human life- a life that God has made. I believe that when we take the life of an unborn baby we are also breaking this sixth commandment since an unborn baby is a person.

(7) The Seventh Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

God meant for marriage to be really good. He meant for wives and husbands to have great marriages, great romances and great friendships. But to have all of these things the couple need to be faithful to one another sexually and otherwise. The Bible teaches that it is wrong to have sex outside of marriage. And if a married person has sex outside of his/her marriage he/she is breaking the seventh commandment. This command is given for our own good and the good of our children and our community.

(8) The Eighth Commandment: “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)

It’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it? We are not to take something for ourselves that belongs to another person. So much pain and trouble occur when these laws are broken. It isn’t always the poor that steal. Sometimes the rich or powerful steal from the weak or poor by setting up laws that keep the poor mired in their poverty. God is a God of justice and He will judge. If you remember the Bible tells us that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were judged and destroyed by God because the rich Sodomites were proud and stole from the poor. (Ezekiel 16:49)

(9) The Ninth Commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20: 16)

How many prisoners have had their lives taken from them? How many have been exiled long years behind prison bars because someone told lies about them in court? How many people have had their reputations, jobs or friendships ruined by lies or gossip that was spread about them behind their backs? Even when we stretch the truth to harm another persons’ reputation, we are breaking this command. I am shocked by how many political rumors and exaggerations have been spread in the name of Christ! We are not to win the Christian battle by spreading hate and false stories. God commands us to be kind and truthful in our dealings with each other and to never betray another person or group with dishonest statements and rumors.

The Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or your neighbor’s wife, or his servants or his animals or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20: 17)

This last commandment relates to our thought life. We are not to lust sexually after someone else’s’ husband or wife. Perhaps watching pornography causes a person to lust (covet). I don’t believe that God’s children should watch porn. Porn doesn’t show sexual acts between two people who have a commitment to one another. So porn is fake and doesn’t represent the real thing. And God wants us to have the real thing! I believe that watching porn can help undermine a good sexual relationship. Porn is fake, sexist and turns women into sexual objects.- men too. Real sex only builds up love, commitment and respect. How many marriages have been compromised by porn?

Also when we are commanded not to covet I believe that that means we are not to want (lust after) the nice car or home that belongs to our neighbor. If we have lustful thoughts we can ask God for help and He will help us transform our thought life. His Word promises us that! (1 Corinthians 10:13) Coveting or lusting (wanting something that belongs to another person) often leads us to the next step – stealing, committing adultery or even murder. And it all started there in our minds. Scripture tells us to “take

captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) Let’s give our thought life back to God.

Let’s face it, we have all fallen short and broken some –or many-of these commandments! But when we believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior and we repent (are sorry), Scripture says we are forgiven for breaking Gods’ laws. And the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and gives us new desires and helps us want to obey these commands. So obeying is not a burden! We will never keep the Ten Commandments perfectly on our own, but Scripture tells us that Jesus is our righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:6) He will forgive us when we mess up and be our covering. We won’t ever pass the “test” by living up to Gods’ commands, but Jesus will pass it for us! But we need to try to do our best to obey anyway.

Jesus once said that all of the Ten Commandments are summed up in just two commands. (Matthew 22:36-40) And those two commands are to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving God and loving our neighbor then is the key to obeying the Ten Commandments. But since our supply of love is limited, God promises to give us supernatural love if we ask. It’s not easy to break the commands –to steal, kill or harm another person you love. So obeying the commandments becomes much easier when we love our neighbor. So it’s all very simple. All we really need is love!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Ten Commandments (the first four)

The Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:3

(Part 1 – the first 4 commandments)

God had recently freed the Jewish people from their oppressors, the Egyptians. The Egyptians had been mistreating the Jews with hard labor and keeping them in cruel bondage as slaves. But now the whole nation of Israel was finally free, free at last from the heavy bondage of slavery! And the two to three million Jews- the whole nation- was on the move! It must have been quite a sight back then to see millions of people fleeing Egypt and traveling in mass across the endless desert to the Promised Land.

God was leading the Jewish nation across the desert. They knew that God had performed mighty acts in order to miraculously free them from slavery in Egypt and now they were trying to follow God wherever He would lead them. God would speak to Moses, their leader, and then Moses would speak back to the people for God. And the people would listen. Along the way God told Moses to stop and wait for more instructions. So the traveling Jewish nation all stopped and pitched their tents and waited while Moses climbed up Mt. Sinai (a mountain in the desert) to wait and listen for God. Moses stayed on the mountain top with God for forty days while the whole Jewish nation waited in the desert below.

And there up on Mt. Sinai, God gave Moses a Covenant or promise to the Jewish people. Along with Gods’ promises to be with His people and give them salvation and blessings, God also gave His people ten laws on how to live their lives before Him. God wrote these ten laws Himself on two tablets of stone and gave the two tablets of stone to Moses to take back to the people. These ten laws which are recorded in Exodus 20 were eventually called the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments were given to Gods’ people – to the Jews four thousand years ago- and they are also given to all of the people who belong to God down through the ages: so that includes us. Since we have been given the Ten Commandments we can always know how He wants us to conduct our lives. We never have to wonder what is right or wrong. So here they are - the Ten Commandments (not the ten suggestions!) as they are given to us in the Bible (Exodus 20). Today we will just cover the first four.

We will look at the first four commandments in this blog and the last six commandments in next weeks’ blog. The first four commandments cover our relationship with God. And the last six commandments are laws concerning our relationships with our neighbors. So today we will be looking at how God wants us to relate to Him.

(1) The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)

The very first command that God gives His people is to put Him first – to love Him most, and to put Him ahead of all of our other interests and affections. He doesn’t want to be second place in our lives.

Before God even gave this first commandment, He reminded His people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) He had to remind His people that He was the One who was taking care of them and leading them out of bondage. So He had the right to command their worship, to ask to be first place in their lives. And God may have to remind us too that He is the One who created us and leads us out of our own modern day bondages. We forget that God is taking care of us. It’s so easy for us to think that we are in control of our own lives!

(2) The Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them: for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:4-5)

All of the peoples of the ancient world- all of Israel’s neighbors- worshipped idols. God was commanding Israel not to do that, not to follow the crowd. God was jealous for their worship and He did not want to share that worship with useless idols. He didn’t want them to bow and sacrifice to idols that they made with their own hands. Most of the other nations at that time were polytheistic – they worshipped many gods. God was teaching His people to worship only One God – Himself.

Because in this second commandment God commanded His people not to create and worship anything in the form or likeness of anything on the earth or in the heavens or under the sea, the Moslem religion does not permit drawings or statues or artwork depicting nature or statues or pictures of humans. The Moslem religious leaders long ago commanded that all artwork be Mosaic art so that there will never be a drawing or statue or copy of anything resembling nature. Of course we Christians believe that in this second commandment God was commanding us not to create these objects resembling nature and then worship them.

(3) The Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

Gods’ name is holy and we are always to use it with respect. I believe that we are breaking the third commandment when we swear or use bad language and include Gods’ name. If we do evil in the name of God would He consider that as breaking this third commandment?

(4) The Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your servants, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

God made us for Himself. And we need to learn to rest in Him. We can let the Holy Spirit lead us, listen for His voice and let go and let God. When Jesus was on earth the legalistic religious leaders criticized Jesus because He picked grain and healed people on the Sabbath. Jesus replied that people were not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for people. God made this spiritual rest day as a gift for us. It should not become a burden.

Let’s face it, we have all fallen short and broken some of these commandments! But when we believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior we are forgiven. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and gives us new desires and helps us want to obey. So the burden of obeying is light. We will never keep the Ten Commandments perfectly on our own, but Scripture tells us that Jesus is our righteousness. He will forgive us when we mess up and be our covering. We won’t ever pass the “test” by living up to Gods’ commands, but Jesus will pass it for us! Aren’t you glad we don’t have to do it on our own?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

Blasphemy was the reason the religious leaders used to have Jesus put to death. They accused Jesus of blasphemy because He did things that only God could do, (He raised the dead and healed the sick) and He said that He and God were one. That drove the religious community crazy! If Jesus had just been a great prophet or a teacher He would not have been crucified for the sin of blasphemy. But Jesus ultimately was crucified because He claimed that He was the Son of God.

One time during His ministry Jesus stated: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:33) Of course the Pharisees got upset because they understood exactly what Jesus was claiming – deity. Jesus does not deny His claim to be God. He was saying that He and the Father are of one nature and essence. Another example was when Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58) The name “I am” was an Old Testament name for God and the Jewish leaders knew that. The response of the Pharisees who heard this statement was to take up stones to kill Jesus for blasphemy. The Mosaic Law commanded them to put to death any person who blasphemed by calling themselves God. (Leviticus 24:15).

Once when the disciples were with Jesus, Philip asked Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8) And Jesus answered him: “Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you know that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you are not just my own. It is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work.” (John 14: 9-10)

Another time shortly after Jesus had risen from the dead He appeared in His resurrected body to the doubting Thomas. Thomas stood there stunned as Jesus asked him to not be doubting any longer but to believe. Then Jesus asked Thomas to feel the nail holes in His hands and feet. After seeing the resurrected Jesus right in front of him, Thomas dropped to his knees in amazed worship and proclaimed ; “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). And Jesus does not correct him for blaspheming but accepts his worship. Jesus also accepts worship several times in the Gospels. (Matthew 2:11, 28:9,17: Luke 24:52: John 9:38; 20:28) Never did Jesus reject such adoration. And again in Titus 2:13 we are encouraged to “wait for the coming of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1)

When Jesus was standing accused at His trial, the high priest asked Him: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” (Mark 14) And Jesus answered, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62) Jesus was hearkening back to the Old Testament where the prophet Daniel states: “There came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

When Jesus was saying this, the High Priest immediately recognized Jesus’ claim to divinity, and he tore his robe and declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy. Jesus was identifying Himself as the Son of Man, a person who was given “dominion, glory, and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.” (Daniel 7 and Mark 14)

Elsewhere, Jesus taught that He will ultimately judge humanity (Matthew 25:31-46) and He proclaimed that our eternal destinies depend on our response to Him (Mark 8:34-38). In addition, Jesus believed that He had the authority both to alter and even overrule several parts of the Old Testament (Mark 7:15, Matthew 5:21-22, 19:8-9)

The resurrection of Jesus is an established fact of history and is the strongest evidence for Jesus’ divinity. The evidence for this miraculous event is very powerful. Numerous sources report Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances. (1 Cor. 15:3-7; Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:36-43: John 20:26-30: 21:1-14: Acts 1:3-6)

Jesus is not God’s Son in the sense of a human father and a son. But Jesus is God’s Son in the sense that He is God made manifest in human form (John 1:1, 14). Jesus did not have an earthly father and yes, Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. The angel Gabriel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born in you will be called the Son of God”. (Luke 1:35) Hebrews 1:3 expresses this clearly, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”

During His trial before the Jewish leaders, the High Priest demanded of Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Matthew 26:63) “‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’”. (Matthew 26:64) . And of course the Jewish leaders responded by accusing Jesus of blasphemy. (Matthew 26:65-66)

A created being, an ordinary person, or even a superstar, who Jesus would be if He were not God, could not pay the price required for sin against an infinite God. Only God could pay such an infinite penalty. Only God could take on the sins of the world. (2 Cor. 5:21) and die and be resurrected, proving His victory over sin and death. So if Jesus was not God, then we would not have been able to receive salvation.

Too many times we have all heard people saying that Jesus never claimed to be God! All one needs to do is to start reading the Bible to see that that is false. So many lies have been told about Jesus! Let’s not let those lies influence us and take away our hope. Jesus asked Thomas to stop doubting and believe. And He asks us the same thing. Let’s do it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Bible Declares That Jesus Is God

The Bible Declares That Jesus Is God

We were having dinner with a couple from our church when the conversation turned to Jesus and who He is. “The Bible never says that Jesus is God,” the wife insisted. Upset by this remark, we quickly answered her by quoting a few Bible scriptures that plainly state that Jesus is God. But the husband shook his head and responded that no one really knows if Jesus is God or not and furthermore it doesn’t really matter. I could physically feel a depressing dark cloud coming down on us.

By reading the Bible we can know without a doubt exactly who Jesus is. And who Jesus is does matters more than anything else in the world. Satan would like to keep us in the dark - confuse and blind us to this wonderful truth! - the basic truth that all of our Christian churches profess: – the doctrine of the Triune God – the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. The Bible does teach that Jesus is God. So we Christians need to be on guard and we need to study the Bible so that our faith in Jesus is always based on the firm foundation of Gods’ Word – a foundation that cannot be shaken.

Jesus’ disciples acknowledged that Jesus was part of the Godhead. They claimed that Jesus had the power to forgive sins – something that only God can do. (Acts 5:31, col.3:13, Psalm 130:4 and Jeremiah 31:34) Scripture also tells us that Jesus is the One who will “judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1) Thomas cried out to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) And Paul calls Jesus “great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13) and points out that prior to His birth Jesus existed in the “form of God”. (Philippians 2:5-8)

God the Father says regarding Jesus: “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8) Other examples of Scriptures that teach the deity of Jesus are many (Revelations 1:17, 2:8, 22:13: 1 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Peter 2:6-8, Psalm 182, 95:1: 1 Peter 5:4: and Hebrews 13:20)

Jesus is also given titles that are unique to YHWH (the formal name of God) in the Old Testament. One of the Old Testament titles for God was “Redeemer” (Psalm 130:7; Hosea 13:14) and the title “Redeemer” is also used for Jesus in the New Testament. (Titus 2:13, Rev. 5:9) And Jesus is called Immanuel – “God with us,” in Matthew 1. In Zechariah 12:10 it is YHWH (God) who says, “They will look on Me, the one they have pierced.” And the New Testament applies this to Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:37; Revelation 1:7) If it is YHWH who is pierced and looked upon, and Jesus was the one pierced and looked upon, then Jesus is YHWH. (the Old Testament formal name for God)

Jesus’ name is used alongside God’s name in prayer. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2) This would be blasphemy if Christ were not deity. In Matthew 28:19 and 2 Cor. 13:14 the name of Jesus appears with God’s in Jesus’ command to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Actions that can be accomplished only by God are credited to Jesus. Jesus not only raised the dead (John 5:21, 11:38-44) and Jesus forgave sins (Acts 5:31, 13:38), but He also created and sustains the universe (John 1:2: Col. 1:16-17). Furthermore Christ possesses attributes that only God can have: eternality (John 8:58; omnipresence (Matthew 18:20, 28:20), omniscience (Matthew 16:21), and omnipotence (John 11:38-44). Jesus is the beginning and the end (the Alpha and the Omega. (Rev. 22:13)

Jesus offered many miracles as proof of His claim to deity. He healed the blind (John 9:7), healed the lame man (Mark 2:3), and even raised people from the dead (John 11:43-44: Luke 7:11-15: Mark 5:35). Moreover Christ Himself rose from the dead. Nothing like the resurrection is seriously claimed by any other religions and no other claim has as much extra-scriptural confirmation.

Christianity is completely different from all of the religions of the world. The fact that Jesus is God and that He is the only Way to eternal life (John 14:6) makes up that difference. Christianity makes the unique claim that we can know God because He (God) came to us in human form in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ and …that Jesus rose again. The Bible is radically different from the bibles of other religions. Most other religions expect their followers to work so that they can earn their righteousness. Whereas Scripture tells us that Christ is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30) and we can not earn our way to eternal life. The Christian Bible is the only book that freely offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to us.

Billy Graham said that there is a movement among some Christian groups to recast and change the Christian message in order to make it more acceptable to modern people. The fact that Jesus is the Son of God and only Savior is a stumbling block to people who don’t believe. (1 Corinthians 1:23) But that doesn’t mean that we should give up our faith in Jesus to satisfy non-believers!

The Bible says that Jesus is the Light of the world. (John 18:12) He is our light and our salvation. Knowing who Jesus is (Son of God and Savior) and accepting Him as Savior brings us joy and spiritual Light. Let’s walk in the Light of believing in Jesus as Son of God and Savior and not grope around in a cloud of confusion and darkness any longer.