Monday, October 26, 2015

Find rest from your burdens: Matthew 11:28-30

Matthew 11:28-30New Living Translation (NLT)

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

We are a burden carrying people.  The burdens of family obligations, financial difficulties, and health challenges together with work deadlines and concerns regarding the economy and the world around us weigh heavy on our hearts. My guess is that I've made some of you anxious already!  Sorry. 

Those who came to hear Jesus speak had many of the same worries and burdens.  They were looking for peace in a violent and corrupt world.  They came seeking hope from God and from this young teacher.  They had been used to listening to Rabbi's before who promised to teach them about God but these placed on more burdens, restrictions, and regulations.  Just what they needed more things to make them weary.  To please God they had to live a "perfect life" or at least this is what they heard from the Pharisees of the time.  However, Jesus was different and He continues to be different today as well.
Jesus says, "Come to me".  Not so he can weigh us down with more rules, regulations and obligations but to love us, unburden us and to show grace and mercy.  But not only that he comes to give us hope, strength and to offer salvation!  He came as a humble teacher with a gentle heart.  He came with a shepherd's heart.  
To Ponder:  Yes the obligations of life continue but Jesus is holding us and promises never to leave us.  Never!  Today find rest from your troubles.  Cast them upon him today! You and God can handle anything that comes your way today.  So rest...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Let's sing a song of hope not worry: Matthew 6:31-34

Matthew 6:31-34

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

We live in a world that loves to worry.  Sadly even believers worry don't we?  We worry about car payments, house payments, and school loan payments!  I mean, have you seen the cost of college today!?! We worry about health and our aches and pains. Yes, I've heard a lot of people sing their version of "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen".  Most of us have a Master's Degree in worry but wouldn't it be great to get a Doctorate in Hope?  (I wonder what kind of loan I would need to get that degree?)

Worry always looks at the future with potential calamity but the opposite, hope, looks at life as a set of possibilities.  These two are leading down opposite paths.   Worry says you can't make it, things won't turn out, people aren't going to like you, the church isn't going to success past this financial crisis.  (I added that last one because I know a couple of my pastor friends will relate to that).  Hope says, "God is with me. He will not leave me.  There is nothing to big for the Lord!

I believe Jesus is telling us through this passage that there is much reason to hope.  The reason is the presence of God in the equation of life but we are called to do something to access this hope.  Did you notice the promise of verse 33?  It doesn't sing the song, "Don't worry, be happy! a phrase made famous by Bobbie McFerrin in a song by the same name. We might sing a new song, "Don't worry the Father knows what you need".  That song comes out of verse 32 and it's a good one but that song is not complete unless we follow the promise of verse 33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."  That sounds a lot like "Seek Ye First".  Now that's an old chorus worth singing.

So what's the solution to worry?  Its turning to walk toward and walk with the Lord and seeking his righteousness in all that we do.  Seems simple enough but simple doesn't mean easy.  The best way to start is to walk through the Word with God and to pray.

Prayer:   Dear God there are so many things to worry about.  There are so many things that we just can't see the way through but help us to seek you first, to walk in righteousness and to believe what you have said.

To Ponder:  Why don't you list those things that you're worrying about right now.  Put them on a card and pencil a big cross over the top of them.  Put your worries into God's hands and God's hope into your heart today.  

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Jesus Came Matthew 1:21

Matthew 1:21 

21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[a]because he will save his people from their sins.”

The angel was speaking to Joseph who was pretty much in shock that he would be the father to the Son of God.  Thankfully the angel at least helped him to know what to name the Messiah.  Can you imagine if they had to try to come up with a name.  In this one name the world would come to know the purpose of Jesus coming.  Jesus simply means,  God our Savior.   

He did not come to save them from the Roman government and their oppression.  He did not come to save them from the pain of life.  He came to defeat sin in their lives because sin divided them and us from our Holy God.  Sin is the stumbling block between eternal life with Jesus and an eternity without him.

John 3:16 reminds us,16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Why would we perish?  the answer is simple.  Our sins.

You know It is easy to talk about Jesus coming to earth to show us the way to live and to love. Which he did but He did more!  We can also talk about Jesus the revolutionary, standing up for the rights of the oppressed and showing them dignity.  Which he did but he did more!  It is easy to think about how Jesus loved us so much that he would go to the cross as a misunderstood pacifist.  it is true that he would not raise a hand to another but there is so much more!

If it was only a gift of love that Jesus offered to us then it would be appropriate to mourn his death as a victim of love.  If that would be the case the appropriate headline would read,  "Loving, misunderstood healer and teacher dies on the cross a cruel death."   But because he came to die to save his people from their sins another headline seems more fitting. "Savior dies for the sins of the World, through faith we are saved!"

If he came to save us from the Romans... he surely failed.   If he came to save us from pain and struggles... again Jesus mission seemed incomplete. But If Jesus came to save his people from their sins...Mission accomplished!

Prayer:  Dear Jesus thank you for humbling yourself to come to this earth to die on the cross because of our sins.  We thank you that you took away our sins.  That you died in our place to atone for our sins so we could live forever.  Through faith we are saved!  Lord help us to now walk a life that is worth of such a great gift!  Amen

To ponder:  There is so much to be said about this wonderful, loving, miracle working teacher who stood up for the rights of the oppressed and we should follow in His example.  But shouldn't we spend just as much if not more time focusing on Jesus who saves people from their sins.  How can we make sure we keep that balance?

Monday, May 18, 2015

What God desires most

Micah 6:6-8
With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

  It could be argued that much of the life of a believer is about faith and about trying to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.  This hasn't changed much down through the ages.
However, the idea of sacrificing caves or rams or rivers of olive oil sounds very foreign to us.  These had to do with sacrifices made in Old Testament times to atone for sins and appease or please God.  But God had grown tired of these endless sacrifices because the people were just doing them out of obligation.  They didn't come from the heart.  People would offer sacrifices and participate in religious activities and then head off to live their selfish lives.  

And so Micah the prophet speaks to the Lord about this and about what God really desired of his people. He asks the question in verse 6  "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the Exalted God?" In those days it was customary to bring a gift to a lord or king when you, as a commoner, came before a dignitary especially if you're asking their assistance or to worship them.

But it is obvious from Micah's answer, God isn't interested in our "things" and in our sacrificial actions.   God is interested in our heart.  Most specifically God is interested in our heart that shows compassion for others; to act Justly and to act with love and mercy.

God calls us to do what's right  We are to do what is right and ethical in our actions towards others.  This can also mean we uphold justice.  When the world is compromising around us, we walk in truth and  justice in all situations.  We do this not as a matter of obedience driven by fear or in order to manipulate God but we act justly as a reflection of our heart and our love for God.   But as a lover of Justice we must also be a lover of mercy.  We are motivated to work for the justice toward the oppressed.  We show mercy, benevolence, kindness and forgiveness to others who may have hurt us or may have suffered because of the world and its injustice and hardships.

In the New Testament James lifts up a similar statement.  James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

God is more concerned about our heart and our compassion than our proper doctoral beliefs, sacrifices and religious adherences.

Lastly Micah says ...."and to walk humbly with your God."   Humility is a position that acknowledges that God is greater than we are and as we walk with God in humility we develop his traits and his desires.  We start displaying the family likeness.

To Ponder:  In what ways am I walking justly and above reproach in my actions towards other.  In what ways do I struggle?  In what ways do I promote Justice and mercy towards others?  In what ways do I ministers to the orphans and widows or our world?

Prayer:  Dear God give us hearts to love you a will to follow you in truth and mercy, and hands to serve others with mercy.  Amen

O Lord before I give you my hands and my feet help me to give you my heart.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Carry your cross: Matthew 16:24-26

Matthew 16:24-26

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

  On Sunday I talked about how Jesus was always in control.  He wasn't a victim as he hung on the cross. It was all apart of His plan.  Jesus choose to go to the cross.  At any time Jesus could have destroyed his enemies and walked off the cross but because of love and because of his desire to be our savior, he chose to take up his cross.  Such love and such grace are truly amazing!  

On this week when we focus our hearts and minds on the cross of Jesus, we must remember that we are called to take up our cross as well.  But it is our choice.

We've all heard people who talk about their pains or their life situation as the "cross I have to bear".  We understand what they mean and many people have tremendous challenges but if we are to look at what Jesus says about  "cross bearing" we see that it is a choice that me make about how we live.  Its not a burden that is thrust upon us.  Rather it maybe a response to the burden.

Jesus gives us three words that help to make this point even clearer and all of these are action words   These three instuctions for the true disciple are 1. to deny themselves.  2 to take up their cross. and 3. to follow me.  The three verbs used here are all active: to deny, take up and follow.  Cross bearing is always voluntary just as Jesus act and sacrifice was voluntary.  

Today a person may choose to take up his or her cross by going to a war torn area to preach the gospel or to give humanitary aid.  A person might volunteer at a homeless shelter or food program donating both money and time.  A peron might make the choice to fast and pray and put aside their own personal needs for the blessing of others.  There are many examples of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus.  

 Now it maybe that our pains in life are spring boards for our crosses as with the case of the Apostle Paul.   He was given an infirmity or a thorn in the flesh.  We don't know what the infirmity was but it could have derailed his ministry.  It was that debilitating.  However, he chose to "take up his cross" and to continue to serve and minister to God's people.  In the same way, we may have a condition that Satan might try to use to stop us from serving God and being a blessing to others.

I don't know what the Lord has in store for any of us but as we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him we will fulfill God' will.  By giving of our lives or perhaps even losing our lives in ministry of Christ, our Scripture promise that we will actually find our life.  This is one of the great paradoxes of life.

This week I'm especially thankful that Christ denied Himself, took up the cross and followed in the will of the father.   Christ gave up his place in heaven.  He humbled himself to the point of dying on the cross.  As a result the Father lifted him up and exalted him to the highest place.  Jesus found his greatest glory as he gave up his life for us all!

To ponder:  What is the cross that God is calling me to pick up?  How does Jesus want me to deny myself and follow Him.

Prayer:  Dear God help me to see if there is anything in life that I'm trying to hold on to that is keeping me from finding myself completely in your will.  Reveal those things to me and help me to have strength and wisdom to lose my life in you.

Monday, March 16, 2015

What is your salt and light doing today? Matthew 5:13-16

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (NIV)

As a part of our Lenten observance this year, on Wednesday nights we are watching the video series by John Ortberg entitled, "Who is this Man?" which is based upon the book by the same name. Together we have looked at the powerful influence that Jesus has had over our culture and our world.  It chronicles the impact of Christians and the Christian movement which has literally transformed our care for the poor and needy, marginalized, sick, women, and children; raising each to a new state of compassion which previously just didn't exist in the world before Christ.  In a world where only the kings were thought to be created in their gods image, Jesus says that we're all created in God's image, and then he goes about loving people in a way that demonstrates that he really believes it!  Yes, Jesus brought light into dark reaches that had never seen light before and praise God there have been countless Christians who have taken up that same torch. 

Just think of compassion and forgiveness.  They were His idea, a reflection of His heart.  Jesus brought these to a world that taught people to love their friends and hate their enemies.  Jesus was truly a radical in a hateful and selfish world filled with pride... and he continues to do the same today through us.  Perhaps this is what we need to think about during these last days of Lent leading up to Easter.  Lent is a time of introspection and devotion to Christ. Perhaps Lent can be like a mechanic doing a tune up on our car.  Now don't ask me all that they are doing under the hood! I'm just glad I trust my mechanic to do it right.  But as Christians we need to check our life, our heart, and our motives. 
Today I want to ask, "How is your salt preserving and your light shining?" According to Jesus if Salt loses its saltiness it should be thrown out and light should not be hidden but raised up for all to see.   So what is your salt and light doing in the world?  Have you ever considered that as Christians we are literally the most powerful source of transformation and compassion in the world?  Sadly, we get so focused on our own little world that sometimes we forget who we really are.
Today why don't you inspect what's on the inside and think of just one way you can let it out into the lives around you today.

For Jesus said, "......Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) May the revolutionary love of Christ spring forth from us for God's praise and glory today.  Amen

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Lord Saves! Joel 2:23-32

And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls. Joel 2:32

The book of Joel is a powerful book, a fearful book, a book of judgement, a book of grace and mercy, a violent book, a book of triumph, a book of struggle and pain and a book of warning and assurance.  The crowning statement and truth from the book is this; "and everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."  

Judah was facing great hardship and destruction because of her enemies and when you read the opening verses of the book you don't find any comfort.  Actually Joel the prophet seems to be speaking to a people of terrible trouble and anguish of heart telling them that things would only get worse as the Day of the Lord approached.   What is the day of the Lord?  Was it something just around the corner?  Did Judah ever face the Day of the Lord or is the Day of the Lord still in the future?  That has been debated by many scholars much smarter than I am so I really don't want to get into that debate in my blog for today but I do want to look at the heart of God and we surely see the heart of God crying out loudly in the book of Joel.  

Israels enemies have concored them and will devastate them even more, so Joel warns them to be prepared.  He tells them to wail, weep and mourn and he tells them to return to the Lord!  Joel understands that turning to the Lord is there only hope.  Actually from the entire book we can see that God is ultimately in control over everything that has and will happen.   We may not fully understand the bad stuff but we can trust that the only hope for restoration and blessing are in His hands.

And hope starts the moment we fall on our knees in humble repentance.  

God tells Joel to call the people to gather in a great Sacred assembly and call upon the Lord with fasting and prayer.  (Joel 2:12-17)  Such passionate prayer by the leaders and common people would reach to the heavens.   2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us, "If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." NKJV 

Not only would these types of prayers be heard but God would respond to them.   Indeed all who call upon the Lord will be saved.   When the Bible uses the word saved it speaks of physical, emotional, and yes Spiritual salvation.  A salvation that we have now and into eternity.

Indeed during this time of Lent we celebrate that we have a Savior who is with us.  We have a Savior and Redeemer who forgives our sins and restores us from our hardship.  In Lent we reflect upon our Savior Jesus Christ.

I just love what Joel says in chapter two about the extent of Gods blessing and abundance that he will give.  In verse 24 it says.  The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with ne wine and oil.  Then in verse 25a he says,  "I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten.."

Prayer:  The hardships and locust of our day have eaten away and destroyed so much in our lives.  We call upon your name today and are thankful that you sustain us, save us and out of your mercy and love you restore us.   Thank you for your salvation.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Peace begins in our hearts. Micah 6:6-8

"With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.   And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God."  Micah 6:6-8

What a perfect text to come up for us on Martin Luther King Day because we can affirm that this was the heart of his actions and his desires.  Martin Luther King Jr. sought to act justly and to promote justice.  He sought to act out of a heart of love and to promote love and peace for all people.  Truly, love, mercy and humility inspired his actions and were reflected in his unselfish leadership.  

Truly this day is not just a celebration for black Americans.  It's a celebration for all people.  Because of his example and his desire to seek justice and walk humbly with his God, all of us are better! Our nation is better!  Our world is better!

His work however must continue because we are still a divided nation and the divisions often run even deeper than the color of a person's skin.  What is the solution for today?  Its not found in our good intentions or our show of selfish sacrifices which only exalts our own personal agenda's.  Our hope is to follow the way of Micah 6:8.   

When it says.... "He has shown you....." we can't help but to think about our Lord Jesus Christ.   He is our example.  He was the inspiration and the power behind Martin Luther King Jr and if we will have true peace in our world we need more people who will follow our Lord's example.

To ponder:  As we consider the problems of our day let us remember that first and foremost before we do anything we must become something.  We must become people who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.  If we all do that, then God will lead us in the direction of peace and love.

Prayer:  Dear God we humbly come before you.  We are aware of our own sins.  We are aware of our own selfish desires that have harmed others and caused division.   As it says in Psalm 139:23,24 we invite you today to "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Gods light in your darkness! Daniel 2:20-23

This weeks text is a wonderful psalm of praise from the lips of Daniel.  When we think about psalms we usually think about looking to the book of psalms but perhaps there is no more beautiful words offered in Scripture then the ones that follow.

Daniel 2:20-23

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.

Daniel was a powerful man of God who served the Lord faithfully from his youth.  While others might have given up their faith and the principles, Daniel remained strong.  His story starts when he was a young man in his late teens as he and his friends are exiled along with thousands of others when King Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem.    Daniel was one of the "lucky ones" for he was chosen among others from the Jewish nobles to be groomed to serve in the kings palace.   Daniel 1:4 speaks of the qualities that Nebuchadnezzar was looking for.  He was seeking "...young men in whom there was no blemish, but good looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand."   Indeed, Daniel was that and even more.   John Maxwell in his leadership study Bible says that the secret of Daniel is found in his, Character, Competence, Convictions, Courage, Charisma, Commitment, and Compassion.   Those are some awesome qualities indeed!

Daniel offers this psalm of praise in response to the revelation that was given to him by God.  You see the king was disturbed by a troublesome dream and none of his magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, or the Chaldeans could interpret his dream.  But God inabled David to understand the meaning of the dream.  Its interesting to note that Daniel praised God even before he talked with the king regarding this matter but Daniel was a young man of great faith and courage.  And faith praises even before the blessings are revealed.

His psalm offers to us a great truth, that God is in control of all things even in the face of the greatest evils and the greatest and most evil of kings.   Indeed there is nothing hidden or dark to the Lord and there is no power that God cannot overcome.   Daniel understood this and his life is an evidence of that fact.

No one would have been surprised if Daniel and his friends would have compromised and left their faith behind.  He was a young man.  there were no Synagogues and no one to keep them accountable.  Besides the leaders of this new land were treating him like royalty.  He could be a servant to the king.  But the only king Daniel was eager to serve was the Lord God.   Daniel held to his faith and became a blessing and a powerful influence for good throughout his life.  In the end God would prove himself faithful time and time again.

To Ponder:  What are the changes of your life that tempt you to throw up your hands?  Are there sources of darkness which you feel cannot be overcome?   Please read the book of Daniel.  Pray hard and trust the Lord.  God is faithful and eager to shine His light into your life.   God may even use your greatest challenges as the window to your greatest blessings to others.   Remember God is in control over everything.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Bringing life to dry bones Ezekiel 37:1-14

37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”                  Ezekiel 37:1-6

There is nothing as lifeless as bones that have been dried by the hot sun.   But this is the image that God gives to Ezekiel about the Spiritual condition of Israel.  Not a pretty picture is it.  This was not a good time in the life of the people of God.  But they weren't lifeless because their hearts didn't beat and brains did not think.  "Well the thinking part might have been questionable"   No, They were lifeless because the Spirit of God had departed from them.  They had turned from the Lord and turned to sin and they had turned so thoroughly that Spiritually they were dead.

At such a sight I wonder what Ezekiel was thinking?  But I'm sure it wasn't a surprise for he had witnessed their Spiritual condition first hand.   And today, if God were to take us to the valley we wouldn't be overly surprised to see the same comparison to the Spiritual condition of our nation either.  No we are not shocked by the lifeless bones.  Saddened, yes but not shocked.

However, what might shock us is what God intends to do with those lifeless bones.   You would think that barring the bones and leaving them would be the only thing you can do.  Just think if we were God. How many times would we have been tempted to leave us behind considering everything we've done.  

No the real blessing of this passage is two fold.  First, God is able to breath life into dry bones and second, God desires to breath life even when we abandon him.

But the choice is up to us.  God doesn't force himself on us.  We have to invite him in but the good news is Gods not far.  Just remember what Jesus said in Revelations 3:20.  "Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me."

To ponder:  If you're feeling a little dry Spiritually why don't you ask Jesus to come inside and quench your thirst.  Remember he is the living water and everyone who drinks of him will not thirst.   Make that your New Years resolution to drink in the water and breath in the Spirit.  God wants to renew your dry bones, and the promise of the Gospel is that he can!

Let us also pray that the dry bones of our nation would feel the breath of God's Spirit in 2015.