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.