Who Do You Want To Please?

Who Do You Want To Please? 

June 30, 2021 

“We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4 

Most of us are brought up learning how to please certain people in our lives. First are usually our parents. We learn what it takes to make them happy if we want our lives to go smoothly. The behaviors that need refining are pointed out to us quickly by some sort of punishment. 

Then we learn to apply that method of getting along to our teachers, friends, relatives, bosses, pastors, policemen, spouse, team mates, and others with whom we interact in life. As life progresses, most people become fairly adept in getting along and pleasing others, trying not to offend. We look for that middle place that allows us to forge our way through life, getting along without ruffling too many feathers. We are considered successful if people think of us as nice, as pleasing. 

But what about God? Are we trying to please God? Does he even make the list of those we wish to please every day? If a survey was taken that asked the question: “Who is the most important person in your life?” how many of us would immediately say, Jesus or God? The Lord is our Savior and has a special place in our lives, we say. But really…is He our primary focus each day? Are we trying to please God? 

 Romans 14:17-18

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” 

Philippians 2:12-13 

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” 

Colossians 1:9-10 

“So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.”

Hebrews 11:6 

“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” 

1 Peter 2:19, 21

“For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” 

Pleasing God opens the door for pleasing anyone else. It is the foundation upon which all worthwhile relationships are built. On our own, we often view relationships through the filter of self-gain and convenience. And yet, in our hearts, we desire to express the love of Christ to everyone, to see each other through the filter of God’s love, His selfless, servant-like love. Because of the Holy Spirit, that desire is made possible. Dear God, thank You for guiding our lives according to Your Holy Will.

Praying In The Spirit

   

Praying in the Spirit

June 19, 2021

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions”  Ephesians 6:18

Sitting in the coffee shop after the Bible study, Archie and Laverne were processing what they had just studied. “So, do you think that praying in the Holy Spirit means praying in tongues, Archie?”

         “Actually I’m not certain, Laverne but I know God has the answer for us. Years ago I met an older man who studied the Bible often and he gave me these words of wisdom—“Whenever I begin to read the Bible I ask God for wisdom and He always answers that prayer. God doesn’t want us ignorant of His Word or confused by opinions that may not line up with the Bible. Since then I do just that and God guides me as I read and study the Bible.”

         After asking God for wisdom as they studied, Laverne said, “We know that the Holy Spirit gives Christians Spiritual Gifts which includes speaking in tongues. Let’s look up those verses for a start.”

         Romans 12:6-8  In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

       I Corinthians 12:4-11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

         1 Corinthians 12:27-31  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

1 Peter 4:10-11  God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Jude 1:20  But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 6:18  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

“To me, it is clear that the gift of speaking in tongues is not necessarily the same as praying in the Spirit,” said Archie. “I think speaking or praying in tongues is meant for self-edification and speaking to God, unless God has provided an interpretation, according to 1 Corinthians 14.”

“I agree. Praying in the Holy Spirit brings our focus and dependence on God. Since we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, praying in the Spirit sounds like calling on the Spirit within to guide our prayers, reminding us how much we rely on Him for our prayers. After all, Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes as we pray since we don’t know what to say.”

“I’m sure there will always be debates among believers but it is clear that God wants unity in the body which means coming together  rather than finding “spiritual issues” to disagree on. Perhaps praying in the Spirit means praying with a humble, open heart, trusting the Spirit to guide our prayers and bring to our minds who and what we should be praying for,” said Archie.

The Resurrection!

“I was dead, but look, I am alive forever and ever” ~Jesus

         Without doubt, the most important event on the calendar for followers of Christ, is what is known as Easter or Resurrection Sunday. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important moment in the history of the world. Three days prior to His resurrection, He had completed the most agonizing part of his triumphant purpose by willingly giving his life to pain and death, crumpled on Calvary’s cross. However, that was only the beginning, not the end.

         After three days in the tomb, Jesus rose, shed His death clothes and spent 40 days giving final instructions to His disciples. And because of that, we too have the promise of eternal life just as He gave to the thief on the cross beside him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”  Luke 23:43

         The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point of our hope as found in the following Scriptures:

         1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19 “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty—For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone.”

         Acts 2:24, 32 “God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it—God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this.”

         Matthew 28:1-10 “Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee) went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

         “Then the angel spoke to the women, “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

         Luke 24:46-48 He also said to them: “This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

         1 Corinthians 15:1-8  “Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.”

         Acts 4:33  “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus—”

         Acts 26:22-23  “I teach nothing except what the Prophets and Moses said—that the Messiah would suffer and be the First to rise from the dead, to bring light to Jews and Gentiles alike.”

         Romans 10:9-10  If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

         There are many scriptures which relate the risen Lord being seen as a living testimony of His resurrection. His absolute victory over death and its decay gives all the  believers in Jesus Christ an unwavering hope of everlasting life with Him. Although we shall die, unless Jesus returns with the trumpet blast and angelic shout first, we shall not perish but taste life that never ends, residing in the New Jerusalem with Almighty God and the resurrected Son.

Only Our Duty

“We’ve only done our duty” Luke 17:10

The weekly Bible study group was involved in an animated conversation about what God expects when we are seemingly taken advantage of or taken for granted. The conversation was going along the normal path of defending positions such as: 

“Well, God doesn’t expect us to be doormats, you know,” said Gloria.

“I’ll have to line up with Gloria on that one,” said Frank. “We are special to the Lord and He wants us to defend our faith at all costs.”

Most of the group chimed in at that point, defending the “we’re not doormats” position. Until Glenn, the class leader said, “Well, actually He does you know.”

The room got very quiet out of disbelief and embarrassment. 

“Do you remember the scene at the last supper when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet? That was a shock to them because it was a servant’s job, beneath them. But our Lord went from man to man, washing and drying everyone’s feet telling them, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.” ~John 13:14-15

“In the Book of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of a slave who after working all day in his master’s field comes in to make and serve the dinner for his master. Jesus then says, “Does he thank that slave because he did what was commanded? In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘ We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’” ~Luke 17:9-10

No one spoke as they processed what was just read. Instantly everyone knew they were far from that attitude. Just the opposite, most resented the idea of being a good-for-nothing slave who has merely done their duty. Surely this was some colossal misunderstanding.

“Struggling with this one?” Glenn asked. “I think it’s time we faced this issue head on. What I just read is from our Bible. Our literal life-guide. Jesus became a slave as an example to us who follow to do likewise. Jesus doesn’t want us to be a doormat, we say. The truth is, He does. And then, after people wipe their feet on that mat, He says, “wash their feet, just as I have done for you!”

The Apostle Paul has something to say about this subject too: “Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.

“Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though He was God, did not demand and cling to His rights as God, but laid aside His mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.

“Yet it was because of this that God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ~Philippians 2:3-11

We spend our waking hours worrying about our positions in life, believing that we have “rights” as citizens; that we can have anything we want if we just believe and work really hard. It’s good Karma, what goes around comes around, and so on. Well, those ideas are ideas that come from the enemy of our soul who wants to kill, steal and destroy us. God’s version of life is the exact opposite. Here’s what Paul says: 

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ, and become one with Him.” ~Philippians 3:8

Be like Christ? Be prepared to give it all up and learn to listen to the still, small voice in your heart.

A Child Is Born

“A child is born to us, a son is given to us”  Isaiah 9:6 

Amidst the various Christmas decorations we see popping up each year stand a variety of what we call Nativity or Manger scenes representing the birth of Christ. These range in size from tabletop to life size. Some even have what are called, Living Nativity scenes with people dressed in costume representing that singular moment in history. 

And what is the impact of seeing these scenes year after year after year? Perhaps we have come to see these reminders as ordinary, routine, a bit of tradition. There is an old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt!” Contempt may be too strong a word for our feelings but routine would surely fit. As we dust off our manger figurines and place them carefully on the table or shelf, are we stirred by the Spirit of God? Are we moved to worship Christ the Lord?  

When Jesus was born, it was a time of Kings and mighty rulers wielding their power for good or evil. Surely God would bring the Messiah from the loins of one such mighty man. He would be born to Royalty; a prince, a handsome, strong child, bred in the manner and customs of the Jewish people. 

In keeping with His own creative ideas, Almighty God selected a virgin to bear His Son; an unthinkable idea, beyond human understanding. And so it was…beginning with Mary’s impregnation, every step of the way for Jesus, our Lord, was unique. Born in a manger instead of a magnificent palatial bedroom on silken sheets surrounded by servants. An ordinary baby born to ordinary parents, or so it seemed. 

No palace with pomp and circumstance for Jesus, verifying his standing as Messiah. God instead chose humble circumstances to represent His love for all of us, dramatically pronouncing the Savior’s birth to innocuous shepherds away from all notice. These men had ringside seats to a spectacular, glorious, radiant angelic announcement of The Savior’s birth which included the armies of heaven praising God. Out in the fields, away from notice, God demonstrates His awesome power, proclaiming the most important birth in the history of our world to a few solitary shepherds.  

Isaiah 7:14  “The virgin  will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” 

Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor,  Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. 
“He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David  for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the  Lord  of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” 

About 800 years after Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in a manner not at all in keeping with how we think the Savior of all mankind should be born.

Matthew 1:18-25  “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement  quietly. 

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus*,  for he will save his people from their sins.” *[The Lord Saves]

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet*: 

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child. She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” *Isaiah 7:14

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.  But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” 

Luke 2:1-20  “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. 

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,  but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” 

This year, as we read and remember what God has set in place through the extraordinary yet humble birth of His only Son, Jesus Christ, let’s take time to imagine how we might have reacted to this astonishing event and then thank our Heavenly Father for paving the way to unmerited forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe. 

Divisions

“One body in union with Christ” -Romans 12:5

Without knowing exactly how it happened, Charles was praying with the pastor, asking Jesus to come into his heart and forgive his sins. He’d been attending this church for several weeks, feeling drawn to be there each week, pulled by some strange force, which in part was the obvious love of this man. “There’s something different about Pastor Jim,” he told his friends. “You can see his love is real. I can’t explain it, really, but I know it’s there.”

As time passed, and Charles shared his experience and new-found faith in Christ with others, something strange happened, some Christians he met seemed more intent on which church he attended than the glorious fact of his salvation. It usually went in this manner: “Well, that’s wonderful, Charles, what church do you attend?”

“Berean Baptist,” he would say.

“Oh, is that American Baptist or Conservative Baptist?”

“What’s the difference, we’re all Christians aren’t we?”

“Well, of course but it’s important to know if they believe once saved always saved, don’t you think? I mean, you don’t want to think you can lose your salvation do you?”

“Lose my salvation??” he would say; which opened the door for theological ramblings bent on causing division rather than unity. “Does your church believe in the gifts of the Spirit? How about speaking in tongues? What about baptism? Do they sprinkle or dunk, is baptism essential to salvation, are people predestined for salvation; do you think it’s ok for women to wear jewelry and cut their hair? What about the Holy Spirit, what part does He play in your faith? You have to know these things to choose the right church!”

I need to talk with Pastor Jim, Charles thought. I can trust him.

“Pastor, my head is spinning. I am very confused with all the potential divisions in Christianity I’m hearing of. I thought accepting Christ as my Savior was opening a wonderful door into total forgiveness and a new life trusting my Savior.”

“You’re right, Charles. That is what happened. You must not allow the doubts and divisive thinking of some people to derail your faith. God is not a God of confusion but of unity. When you hear people telling you that you must now do this or that to be assured of your Christianity, look to God’s Word. If their statement does not line up with the Scriptures, then it is not true. God doesn’t want opposing teams in the body of Christ, tearing at the unity Christ died for. He wants us to be servants, loving and serving each other, just as He did when He was walking this earth.

“Tell me, Charles, how did you receive your salvation and forgiveness from Christ?”

Beaming with recollection, he said, “Well you know, Pastor, we prayed together and I asked Jesus into my heart!”

“Amen, my friend. I was there and we cried together as your heart was filled with God’s love. So, let me ask, do you think Christ is in heaven, at the right hand of God saying that you need to do this or that to experience the full-deal meal of Christianity? Do you believe that Christ’s death on the cross was something like step one in the process of salvation? What kind of God would we have who kept the next step dangling in front of us like a carrot on a stick. “Just one more thing to do, to learn, to prove that you are saved, to experience the fulness of God?”

“Yes, I see,” Charles said. “That sounds more like something man would say or add to what Christ has already done.”

“Let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.”

“Even though you were not aware of it, the Holy Spirit was drawing you to God. God’s grace. Now that you’ve said yes, He can reveal the good deeds He has already prepared for you to do. Our unity with Christ and other Christians accomplishes God’s plans to build His kingdom.”

Romans 12:1-2 “So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.”

Romans 12:5-6 “In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have.”

Romans 12:10 “Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another.” 

Baptism

“Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” ~Acts 2:38

Paul was in a small church conveniently located three blocks from his apartment. In his youth he had attended a Baptist church with his family. Although he enjoyed his experience, he was never “saved”, which meant being born again. Born again is an experience where a person believes that Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sins and was raised from death on the third day. Paul was 14-years-old at the time of his confession of faith (he made this out of a sense of obligation, not really from his heart). However, once in college, his mostly worldly wise and faithless professors chipped away at his faith which was fading into the background anyway since he didn’t bother to find a church or Christian study group, even though there were an abundance of such groups.

But now, it was different, college was long gone and Paul felt it was necessary for a true confession of faith, time to share a belief in the Savior.

At the next mid-week service, Paul stood and professed his desire to “be saved”. Friends gathered around, laid hands on Paul and supported his prayer of faith joyously. Lots of hallelujahs followed.

A week later, Pastor Sam called to set an appointment with Paul to discuss baptism. “I want to discuss being baptized, Paul. What are your plans for that?”

“My plans? I want to be baptized soon, just like it says in the New Testament.”

“Well, you have to attend our baptism class first, Paul, and then we can schedule a time when we have at least five people wanting baptism.”

“How long will that take?”

“Oh not long. No longer than, say, six months.”

“Six months? I want to be baptized right away. I want people to see my confession of faith just like in the New Testament.”

“Well, maybe we can shorten the wait time, but the class is mandatory.”

“What’s the class for, pastor?”

“To make certain you know what you are doing and that you make a full confession of faith in the Lord.”

“But I just did that last week in the service. You were there.”

“Well, you know, Paul, it’s part of the deal here, just like in the churches I’ve attended in my life. Baptism class is necessary.”

“Pastor, you know more about the Bible than I do and you know there are verses that talk about people being baptized right after they confess their faith. Look at Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“Later in verse 41 we see the incredible baptism of 3,000 souls: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

“And here in Acts 8:12, “When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”

“Pastor, I’ve allowed myself to sink into a mediocre faith in Christ, hanging onto some tepid version of following my Savior. I am tired of that lifestyle. I want to be obedient and effective for the Lord. I need to follow Him in being baptized so the world can see where my heart is. Please let me be baptized. I’ll gladly go to a river or lake or someone’s pool, pastor.”

Tears welled in Pastor Sam’s eyes as he realized that he, too, had become mediocre in his walk of faith. Rather than “devoting himself to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers,” (Acts 2:42), he had become self-obsessed, more concerned with personal comforts and accolades from his small congregation. The Holy Spirit was pricking his heart through young Paul whose desire to follow the Lord burned brighter than his own.

The words found in Revelation 2:4-5 stung Sam’s repentant heart: “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”

“Well, my dear fellow,” said Sam, “let’s get you baptized. How about me making a few calls to see if there are others who want to have the mighty experience of baptism as well. Phil Williams has a very nice pool that would work just fine.”

Follow Me!

“He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out…” John 2:15

It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon in the city, with shoppers looking for bargains and negotiating for the best prices. They learned to favor the tables and stalls in the portico of the church. It was cooler and one could take time looking over the animals, goods and produce. Although it was on church grounds, buyers knew these sellers had the best variety.. 

Because of the Passover feast, sales were brisk at the market as the people needed sacrificial animals. Commerce had crept into their worship so thoroughly that no one noticed…except for one man on this day.

Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate The Passover and remember, with his disciples, God’s deliverance from the Angel of death. The blood of an innocent lamb brought their deliverance, just as His blood was about to deliver all people from the penalty of their sins.

 Jesus became incensed at what he saw; they were turning His Father’s house of worship into a house of commerce. This would not do. Grabbing common items readily available he fashioned a whip and returned to the temple/market renouncing their behavior, tossing tables over, scattering sellers and buyers alike, driving them and their animals from the temple!

Above the chaos, people heard his booming voice, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” John 2:16 CEB

After this shocking display the Jewish leaders demanded that he explain his behavior; to which Jesus said, “All right. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” NLT They didn’t understand he was referring to his own resurrection.

Would it be different today? Would we behave differently toward such extreme behavior from a pastor? Using hindsight and the benefit of two thousand years, we casually read over this event, understanding that Jesus was confronting the malaise of the church as it blended with the world, as many of us have today.

Jesus broke the religious rules; he challenged all current religious ideas of behavior and demanded action from his followers. Walking along the sea shore, Jesus called out to men, instructing them to lay down their lives right then and follow him. Not only did this cut off their earnings, it damaged the family business as well.

Would we respond differently today? If this type of Jesus barged into our church-world how would we receive him? If he showed up at a church bazaar, throwing tables and money about, what would we think? We would probably think he was crazy or too radical. We want church leaders who are more reasonable and predictable. We don’t want to be challenged to give up more and love more (especially to those who are slightly repugnant to us). We desire to feel comfortable in our church surroundings, smiling amiably to fellow members. We desire people who are easy to love.

Matt. 4:17  From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Matt. 4:18-22  “As Jesus walked alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 20 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 21 Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee, their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and 22 immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Jesus was the master of confrontation; the epitome of bluntness; his words penetrated the heart and stirred people to action. 

Matt. 7:24-27  “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matt. 8:21-22  “Another of his disciples said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.”

Would it be different today? Is it? Do we expect God to work through us, through our church services, through our daily lives? Do we take up our cross daily? Imagine our response to the Lord if He told us to walk away from the funeral proceedings we were responsible for, and follow Me!

Luke 9:23  “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

Most of us cling tightly to our lives, our plans, our responsibilities. A close friend’s mother passed away some time ago and he was overwhelmed with the details of her funeral and memorial service following. It was an emotional time for all of his family. Consider now, Jesus walking up to him, in the midst of planning, fixing his gaze upon him saying, “Walk away, leave all this and follow me. Let these others bury the dead.” That would be crazy, we would say. And yet that is exactly what Jesus did!”

Love Your Enemies

Praise Your Name, Jesus!

“Pray for those who torment you and persecute you”  Matt. 5:44

Jim looked forward to Saturday evenings at his Bible study group. It was prayer night. He loved praying for so many friends and loved ones; his and those of his fellow Christians. But this night would be a milestone for Jim—a point of no return. It would be a reshaping of his prayer life.

Phil was leading the group and he asked everyone to make a list during the coming week. The list was to be of those people considered their enemies. Included should be politicians, rude clerks, greedy corporations, worldly church leaders and so on. To kick start the project they would begin with prayers for enemies..

Jim almost bolted and ran. He had been deceived and stolen from by two friends. They had taken his business, good credit and left him with a pile of debt. In addition to the business debt, Jim was forced to hire an attorney which cost him thousands of dollars and did little to help. Later he discovered the attorney was noted as one of the least competent in town.

As Phil asked everyone to pray, Jim began with a simmering anger, clenching his fists, silently asking God why He allowed all of those terrible things to happen to him. And now, when he thought it was all behind him, how could God ask him to pray for those who used and maligned him? His heart was breaking and his blood pressure was rising. Tears began to flow. 

“I know that some of you will ask why we’re praying for our enemies,” Phil said. “Why not just try and forget them and hopefully never talk to them again. After all, we are admonished by Jesus to love as proof of our Christianity. You may even feel that as long as you don’t still nurture the hate and anger toward them, you’ve done well. As always, let’s see what the Bible says about this issue.”

Matthew 5:43-44  ~”You have been taught to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you this: love your enemies. Pray for those who torment you and persecute you”

Acts 7:59-60  ~”As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.”

Romans 12:12-14   ~”Base your happiness on your hope in Christ. When trials come, endure them patiently, steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer. Give freely to fellow-Christians in want, never grudging a meal or a bed to those who need them.  And as for those who try to make your life a misery, bless them. Don’t curse, bless.”

Romans 12:20-21  ~”If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”* 

1 Cor. 4:11-13   ~”Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.”

1 Cor. 13:4-8  ~”Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!”

1 Peter 2:20-21 ,23  ~”Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.  He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.”  

By now, cleansing tears were flowing throughout the room. Calling out to God in prayer opened their hearts for change, for a touch of the Master’s hand, for purification and redemption. And what of us, do we harbor ill feelings, grudges, anger toward someone who has actually wronged us? Someone who took advantage of us? Someone who has not paid the price, as far as we know? And that is the point;  as Stephen asked God to forgive those who killed him, we must allow God to help us forgive those who have wronged us. We must pray for them.    

*Proverbs 25:21-22

We Are Forgiven!

Although believers in Christ have been regenerated, given a fresh start in life, have become new creations, and are totally forgiven of sins, we can still cling to feelings of guilt and failure, as though the blood of Jesus didn’t include some of our sins. How could it have, we think, since we continue to struggle with past sins? My deeds seem as fresh and ugly today as they did when I committed them. If I was forgiven, why do I still struggle with being cleansed? 

We refuse to accept His forgiveness because we still feel so bad. The tragedy however, is not how we feel, but that we deny His cleansing and forgiveness. We cut short His loving and forgiving hand stretched out in love and healing to us. Basically, we are saying something like: “I don’t deserve your forgiveness. My sin was so bad I do not deserve your grace and mercy.” Doesn’t sound so good when you read the words does it? 

I have searched and searched but cannot find a verse that says, “I have forgiven all your sins, except for these…” As our loving Lord and Savior Jesus was breathing his final few breaths he said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. Well, except for those guys over there. They knew exactly what they were doing and cannot be forgiven!” Of course He did not say the part in italics. His forgiveness included all sins. Everywhere. For everyone. As we repent and ask forgiveness, Jesus forgives. He washes us clean with His blood that poured down Calvary’s cross and flowed across the centuries to include our sins. 

It’s time to release the baggage of past sins and accept the total forgiveness of Jesus Christ. If we hang on to our guilt, we are calling Him a liar and saying His death on the cross was not good enough. His blood cleanses all mankind of their sins. That is, if we choose to accept His atoning gift. Forget the past. Accept His total forgiveness and walk in your miraculous new life so you can share His love, mercy and peace with everyone.  

Philippians 3:10-14  “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! 

 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” 

Luke 9:62   But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”  According to Believer’s Bible Commentary: The expression, fit for the Kingdom, does not refer to salvation but to service in the kingdom after entering it through faith in Jesus Christ. And the NLT Study Bible adds, “The ancient farmer guided a light plow with his left hand and his oxen with the right. Looking away would turn the plow out of its path. For a believer, looking back meant placing earthly concerns ahead of God.” 

1 John 1:8-9  “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 

Romans 8:33-34 “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.”