Archive for January, 2016

Hope

January 31, 2016

“He does not crush the weak, or quench the smallest hope.”   Isaiah 42:3

These words were spoken about Jesus.  Everyone longs for Jesus, they just don’t know it.  Every single one of us longs to be loved, just as we are.  Every single one of us longs to be understood.  We all want to be healed and helped.  We just don’t really believe it can happen.  We’ve been let down too often.  We’ve been disappointed in parents, friends, lovers and spouses.  We have never found a human being who could be all we need.  But Jesus is and has and does all we need.

Many people cringe when they hear the name of Jesus, because the lie is that we have to clean up our act before we can seek Him.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Truth is, we have to come to Him before we can clean up our act, because we just can’t do it on our own–none of us can.  No one, not Mother Teresa, the Pope, or the saintliest person you ever knew, can clean up their own act.  Everyone falls short of what God created them for, and everyone needs the grace, mercy and healing of God.

The great news is we can come to Jesus with all our baggage, all our issues, everything we’re ashamed of, our guilt, our pain, all of it.  And He doesn’t crush us, but heals us.  He doesn’t condemn–He loves us.  When our faith is so small its like a tiny spark in the wind, barely staying alive, He shelters and nurtures it.  When our hope is so tiny, its barely visible, He feeds it and cares for it.  We can pray  “Lord if you’re real, I want to know you”.  And He will honor that prayer.  After all, He was the one who said that faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains.  Faith is the key, He is the mover.

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Being Merciful

January 31, 2016

“I want you to be merciful more than I want your offerings”   Matthew 12:7

These are the words of Jesus.  They are striking, because they put His priorities in an order most of us have never thought about.  We tend to think of God wanting us to attend to doing things.  We are supposed to use our talents for good, we are supposed to do good works, we are supposed to achieve, we are supposed to give of what we have–but aren’t these things mostly in the category of offerings?  It would seem Jesus cares more about our quality of being merciful than He cares about these other things.  So what is being merciful all about?

It appears that mercy is more about our attitude.  There are works of mercy, to be sure, such as feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing those who need it etc.  But the mercy itself is more of an attitude of the heart.  Being merciful means a number of things.  First, it is having a compassionate outlook, recognizing we all fight our inner battles, and seeing someone at their worst doesn’t define the totality of who that person is.  Second, it is being willing to forgive–not wishing for revenge on the person who has hurt us.  Third, it is giving a person the benefit of the doubt, even if it looks to us as if they have caused their own misery.  Fourth, it is not demanding justice, or our own rights, even if we could, when that would cost the other person.  Fifth, it is choosing not to condemn, recognizing only God knows all the facts of a situation and all the truths about a person.  Sixth, it is humility, knowing we have all required the mercy of God.

God cares about our thoughts and the attitudes of our hearts.  Being humble people before Him, recognizing our own need of His grace, realizing we are not our own, but owe God for everything including our own life, sets us up for a closer and deeper relationship with Him.  Intimacy with God is our purpose.

Finding Our Balance

January 28, 2016

“Come to me and I will give you rest-all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke.  Wear my yoke–for it fits perfectly–and let me teach you; for I am gentle and humble, and you shall find rest for your souls; for I give you only light burdens.”  Matt 11:28-30

So many people in our culture feel stressed out, burned out and under constant time pressure.  Many of us consistently rob ourselves of sleep in order to get more done.  We set goals, establish priorities, yet constantly have our priorities interrupted by things beyond our control, and we live with continuous frustration and guilt over the things we didn’t get done.  What does Jesus mean by this quote?  What does it mean that His yoke fits perfectly, and that He gives us only light burdens?

Lets face it, we live in a culture of comparison and competition, and the one who does the most is judged the best.  We also evaluate achievement as success, and one of the marks of success is income level, but also recognition, and applause.  Awards, promotions and publicity also indicate we are good and valuable.  Even our children’s achievements are, in our minds, a reflection of our own goodness and success.  We are very much molded by this culture whose definition of human value is what we do, how much we do, and how much money and publicity we get for what we do.  We have a carefully constructed image to uphold, which includes our perfect family, and our perfect home.  We tie up our worth as a person in this image.

What if Jesus light burden turns all that upside down?  What if Jesus instructions to us about His priorities include living one day at a time, doing the good that is set before us by our location and circumstances, and talking to Him hourly about what He wants to show us and assign us?  He plainly didn’t care about money as long as we had the necessities.  He plainly didn’t care about the long list of “shoulds” His own culture placed upon people.  He didn’t care about appearances, but valued what was in the heart.  People came before schedules, and He often stopped what He was doing–even praying, to care for a need that arose.  He was supremely spontaneous.  He rested when needed, and made sure His disciples rested too.  He put a high priority on prayer.  But when reading the gospels in great long gulps, you begin to notice things about how Jesus was living.  He was never in a hurry.  He didn’t live by the clock or the calendar.  He tended to needs, including His own, but His definition of need varied from that of the surrounding culture.  Even in a simpler culture like the Jewish Culture of 30 AD, people were concerned with how they looked, how much money they had, their future security, their spiritual standing and so on.

What if we looked at our calendar and organizer and asked:  “Jesus, how much of this do You value?”  “How much of this am I putting on myself?”  “How much do I really need to do here?”  “What is most important from Your perspective?”  “What if I prioritize according to Your directions and not misplaced guilt?”  “If I put you first, will you take care of my needs?”  “You already said you would.”  We hear about people who almost died from a health issue totally re-make their lives.  They must change things according to different values if they are to live longer and not die of stress related illness.  Why wait till it comes to that?

Charity and Who Gets the Credit

January 28, 2016

“And if, as my representatives you give even a cup of cold water to a little child, you will surely be rewarded”  Matt 10:42

Jesus didn’t specify who deserved our charity, or our kindness.  He said even the smallest kindness would be rewarded.  But He put a big “if” in there too.  We are to give as His representatives.  Why would that be?  Perhaps its because Jesus wanted the good news of His Grace and His great Salvation to be spread.  But perhaps there is another reason as well.  Who gets the credit for our charitable giving?  Do we do it so we shine?  Or do we do our kindness anonymously, but make sure people know that all things come from Jesus.  All we have to give came from Him, and our impulse to give came from Him also.  How do you let people know that?  He will guide us through His Spirit toward the best way to do that in the situation, but our priority needs to be shining the light on Jesus Love, not on ourselves.

Don’t Be Afraid

January 26, 2016

“Not one sparrow (What do they cost? Two for a penny?) can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t worry!  You are more valuable to him than many sparrows.”  Matt 10:29-31

Its amazing that the God of the universe knows even when a sparrow falls from its nest.  And even more amazing that he knows every  hair I have.  Really, He knows every cell in my body and its health.  And I am valuable to Him.  Why should I be afraid?  If God knows every single thing that happens in my life down to the most minute detail, nothing can happen to harm me.  Anything that happens which frightens or worries me has already been approved by God.  Now if I am valuable to Him, He approves only those things which fulfill His purposes for me, and He loves me.  Really, I have nothing to fear.  If He takes me through hard places, He is with me, and He will lead me safely through.

 

No One Gets Away with Anything

January 26, 2016

But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you.  For the time is coming when the truth will be revealed; their secret plots will become public knowledge.  Matthew 10:26

In today’s culture, anyone who is at all open about their faith gets harassed sometimes by some people, and at times it seems the bullying occurs a lot of the time by a lot of people. Bullies usually aren’t open about what they are doing.  They harass others outside of the public eye.  They gossip, lie, slander, ruin reputations, start rumors, etc.  They do anything they can to diminish their prey, and do it without looking bad themselves.  If they can take your job, your position, your good name or your peace, they will try to do it, and very slyly and secretly.   But God says, do not fear.  He will one day see that justice is done.  They will be exposed for who they are and truth will be known.  Do not be afraid. God has your back.  Nothing ever goes on without His knowledge.  He knows those who are His, and He will never let this go so far as to defeat His plans and purposes for those He loves.  Again, do not be afraid.

 

Being Honest with God

January 24, 2016

“O Lord, how long will you forget me?  Forever?  How long will you look the other way?  How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?  How long will my enemy have the upper hand?  Psalm 13:1,2

David was expressing something like exasperation to God, and it was almost exasperation with God.  He had been suffering, being cornered by enemies who sought to destroy him, and he was not seeing any action on God’s part.  He had a certain daring.  He dared complain to God, and yet he felt safe enough to do so.  God could have destroyed him.  God had punished the complainers among his people in the past.  But God didn’t punish David.  God actually called David “a man after my own heart.”  What was the difference?

David wasn’t taking God for granted.  He didn’t lack faith in God.  In this same psalm David said “But I trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” (Verse 5)  David was just tired, heartbroken, and longing for some reassurance from the Lord, some movement on his behalf that would give him some hope.  He wasn’t distrusting God, but just being honest with God.

Sometimes it feels wonderful to just unburden ourselves, talking about our problems with someone who will listen without condemnation.  God knows how we are made, and He doesn’t mind at all that we ventilate our emotions before Him.   He is pleased that we trust Him like that.  It is good for us to be honest about our feelings, not acting as though we have to play some holy pretend game before God.  It is good for us to unburden ourselves to the only one who can do anything to help us.  And it is good when we then tell God we are willing to do what He wants.  It is good when we tell Him we trust Him to work out our problems for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28)

Asking

January 20, 2016

“Ask, and you will be given what you ask for.  Seek, and you will find.  Knock, and the door will be opened.  For everyone who asks, receives.  Anyone who seeks, finds.  If only you will knock, the door will open.  If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread will he be given a stone instead?  If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonour snake?  Of course not!  And if you hardhearted sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t  your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?”  Matthew 7:7-11

In this episode, Jesus taught that our Heavenly Father is like a very loving earthly parent, but even better.  First of all, He likes to be asked for what we need.  Unlike earthly parents, God already knows what we need.  What then would be the purpose of asking?  Asking indicates trust on our part–trust that we have been heard, and trust that we will be given a loving answer to our requests.  That trust is a type of praise that brings God glory (it reflects all His goodness, love and beauty).  Jesus taught that everyone who asks will receive an answer, and everyone who seeks answers will be given something.  Jesus said that if we knocked we would be answered.  God never has a busy signal.  We never get the runaround.  We never will find God absent when we knock.  We will get an answer.   The answer might not always be exactly what we asked.  Think about parents.  They don’t always give their child what it asks for, because many of a child’s choices are foolish.  But as parents, even less than perfect parents do acknowledge the child’s request and give something good.  If a baby asks for something it can choke on, the parent distracts it with something else they know it likes.  If a child asks for something foolish or dangerous, the parent gives something better.  Sometimes it is necessary to wait for an answer, because someone or something  isn’t ready for the answer yet.  God will never give anything that would hurt us no matter how much we think we want it.  There was a song once about thanking God for unanswered prayer.  According to the lyrics, the young man had prayed for a certain girl to become his wife, but years later upon seeing her again, and then looking at the wife he had, he was glad God hadn’t answered the original prayer.  His actual wife was a much better match for him for a lifetime.

Who are the Swine?

January 19, 2016

“Don’t give holy things to depraved men.  Don’t give pearls to swine!  They will trample the pearls and turn and attack you.”  Matthew 7:6

 

What did Jesus possibly mean when He said this?  In our modern Christian culture, we believe we are to give charity to everyone without question.  We are to preach the message of hope to all.  We are to persist without fail in giving, loving, and sharing Jesus.  Sometimes we feel we must knock endlessly at doors that never open, and even at doors where the voice inside yells “go away”

All Christian charities go through times of financial struggle.  When the economy is bad, donations dwindle, yet demands increase.  Would Jesus say to be good stewards of our resources and accountable to our donors and to Him to use what we have where it seems to do the most good?  Do we want to work where we see changed lives, or where we have labored in vain, sometimes for years.

Anyone who has worked in inner city ministries has seen two things that are distressing.  In the first case are the Christmas giveaways.  In some ministries some attempt at order has been forced by the situation.  People must pre-register, and people must come at an appointed time because the ministry can’t deal with a crowd that is too big.  Some ministries make an attempt to give a little five minute talk about the “real meaning of Christmas” and perhaps offer a prayer to the group that is pawing the ground waiting to get the gifts.  And many could testify to what always happens.  Huge crowds arrive early.  There is pushing, shoving and shouting.  People arrive who never preregistered and still expect gifts.  Usually there has to be a police presence to keep order.  There is always shouting and anger, and complaints about the gifts not equalling the expectation of the recipient.  The time, money and stress that went into the program drains the ministry, its staff and its volunteers.  And at the end of the day, some wonder why the ministry does this every year.  What usually isn’t asked is:  How did this honor the name of Jesus, and was His message heard by anyone.

Another scenario is the feeding program.  A lot of gospel missions, who otherwise do good work in rehabilitating the willing addicted, also feed anyone who comes in for the meal programs.  Often they do a little sermon or prayer first.  Those who came for the food are restless and distracted, angling toward the door nearest the food line.  Few appear to listen or pray.  At the end of the week, or the year, the staff could ask themselves if anyone’s life was changed by what happened at the mealtimes.  One could ask whether this honored the name of Jesus, or if it looked like bribery in order to hear a “sales pitch”, rather like the “free meals” at hotels which require one to hear a pitch involving real estate, investments, cruises, buyers clubs or something of that nature.   Might it not be better to just feed the hungry, and perhaps have a sign saying, “Be blessed, in the name of Jesus.”  It seems like this might at least be more honoring to Him.   He did indeed tell us to feed the hungry.

But who are the swine?  There are some who are absolutely hostile to the name of Jesus and His message of grace, and are indeed hostile to God himself, even in the “one God fits all, all religions are the same” open and liberal brand of God.  Should we argue the truth of Jesus with those who are hostile?  Possibly Jesus is saying “Don’t waste your breath”, but also may be saying “Don’t expose yourself to harm in this case.”   Its interesting that Jesus himself wouldn’t work miracles on command for those who came to see a spectacle.  They weren’t interested in what He had to say, they were just curious and wanted to be amazed.  He also did not feed the crowds a second time when they followed Him only because He fed them.  Indeed, He called them on their motives.   Jesus may be protecting those who serve Him from wasted resources, from burnout, and even from unnecessary exposure to physical harm.

But who are depraved men?   Depravity is the absence of a moral code, values or ethics.  A depraved person lives by the law of the jungle–“all about me, what’s in it for me, and I don’t care who I step on”   They also engage in “deeds of darkness” according to Jesus, and He leaves it to our imagination what those deeds may be.  They could range from illicit sex to plotting murder for gain, and everything in between meant to pleasure the self and harm others.   One thing is certain: while many encounter risk to self when they go into dangerous places to share the gospel, it would seem Jesus is not calling us to go into an Islamist terrorist encampment to preach the Christian message.

What if We Really Believe Jesus? part 3

January 17, 2016

“So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing.  Why be like the heathen?  For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them.  But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to.”  Matthew 6:31-33

The heathen took pride in their food and clothing.  Their self esteem depended obviously on their attire and on their ability to entertain.  There was the ancient equivalent of “keeping up with the Joneses.”   Today it would be a concern with being in fashion, and a concern about having the nicest home, nicest car, nicest landscaping, and again, the ability to entertain.  No longer is concern merely for food and clothing.  Look at what occupies modern humans–the cooking channel, home and garden television, and the travel channel.  No one is satisfied to have a healthy diet, a comfortable home, warm, loving relationships and a thankful heart towards God.  We are more obsessed with what we want than what God wants.  Talking with a neighbor about settling into a new home, they said “of course we’ll never be settled–there will always be things we want to improve.”  I wondered “why?”

Instead we are to put God first.  The promise is God will take care of our needs if we put Him first, and live as He wants us to live.  And how does He want us to live?  “Love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind and your whole strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we do the first, we will love to spend time getting to know God better through study of the scriptures and prayer, and we can never thank Him enough or appreciate Him enough.  If we do the second, our life will be about loving concern for our neighbor.  We will help others as God directs, working through prayer and watching for opportunities.  We can’t do it all, and we won’t stress over that, but will obey those urges to help others that God presents to us.  If we live with this attitude of love for God and care for the needs of others, God will do the same for us.  We’re doing what He wants, after all, and He will always enable us to do what He planned.