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« Reply #40 on: February 11, 2011, 07:18:06 AM »

Finding your voice. That is the theme of the surprise Academy Award favorite movie "The King's Speech." Royal watchers and romantics have focused forever on the king who gave up the throne for the woman he loved, Edward VIII, never giving much thought to the "spare" who replaced the "heir." With a profound stammer and knock-knees, Prince Albert, aka "Bertie," hardly rated a second glance until he was suddenly his country's "second chance" at having a new king.

The greatest obstacle preventing Prince Albert from becoming King George VI was his inability to find his own voice. The movie focuses on how the royal monarch's relationship with a gifted speech therapist, Lionel Logue, enabled a stumbling stammerer to become a beloved sovereign. Logue is self-taught and without credentials. But he utilized the most advanced technology he had at hand to help his royal student. He even used phonograph recordings of the king's own voice so that Albert could truly "hear" himself for the first time.

But Logue also used something more important and powerful: the age-old power of relationship to tune and tone the king's voice. It took years of coaching, learning to trust each other, and building respect for each other, before Logue could declare to Albert "You must have faith in your voice!" But when that point came, it was their relationship that enabled the man no one ever thought would be king finally to respond "I have a voice!"

Do you have faith in your voice? Have you used your voice?

snipped from a sermon by Leonard Sweet
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« Reply #41 on: February 19, 2011, 10:51:47 PM »

Genesis 45:1-8

As we, children of God, attempt to find our way through this maze of experiences known as life, sometimes becoming lost and confused . . . one thing we must never forget is . . . God has a plan and a promise for our redemption.  Sometimes personal misfortune and tragedy overtake us  . . .  and circumstantial ill winds buffet us.  When we have reversals in our careers     . . . when sickness and disease attack our bodies . . . or when the death angel snatches a loved one from us . . . our faith is sometimes shaken, and we wonder why these things happen.  However, in all that this maze has to offer, let us never forget that God has a plan and a promise for our redemption.    Sometimes we earnestly and sincerely pray, and it seems as if our prayers have fallen on deaf ears.  Our requests are either denied or the answer is delayed, and we feel frustrated and forsaken.  As we experience what can be the frustrations as well as the fruits of earnest prayer . . . we need to remember God, whose pleasure it is to give the kingdom to His children, does not frustrate us unless there is a reason.  Therefore, when requests are denied and answers are delayed . . . let us remember that God has a plan  and a promise for our redemption. 
In life, it seems, we often see the wicked prosper and scoundrels enjoy peace.  The matter of theodicy or the question of suffering, particularly the suffering of the righteous coupled with the good fortune of the wicked, continues to be a very troubling and central issue for a faith that affirms the holiness and justice of an all-powerful God.  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?  How long will wrong oppress right?  How much more must the good suffer by the design and at the hand of evil?  When is God going to move on behalf of the innocent, the oppressed, the victimized, and the meek . . . those whom God’s Word has said will inherit the earth?  As we face what we consider to be the great injustices and contradictions of life, let us never forget that there is a divine timetable and a divine way of righting wrongs.  Therefore, no matter what happens around us . . . no matter what we see, hear, read, or experience . . . let us remember that God has a plan and a promise for our redemption.  If anyone has questions or doubts whether God has a plan or a promise, I invite you to consider with me the story of Joseph.
Once upon a time in the land of Canaan there lived a man by the name of Jacob who had twelve sons.  Among the twelve sons there was one named Joseph whom he loved more than all the others.  Joseph was the child of Jacob’s old age and was the first son given to him by his wife Rachel, whom he loved more than Leah or any of their handmaidens who had also borne children for him.  As a token of this affection, Jacob gave to Joseph a multicolored cloak.  This caused Joseph’s brothers to resent him and be jealous.  Now, Jacob was not denying his other sons anything in order to do something special for Joseph, for each of his sons had sufficient food, clothing, and shelter for his needs.  Neither was Joseph a threat to their places in Jacob’s heart or the legacy he would leave.  There was sufficient livestock, land, and money to go around . . . and each son, by order of birth, had legal rights to his father’s possessions.  Yet the brothers resented the father’s affection and gifts to Joseph.
We can have our share of blessings . . . and still be jealous of the blessings that God gives to another child of God.  We can have our place in the kingdom  . . . and still be jealous of what we see being done for others.  We can be blessed with talent sufficient for the jobs that we’ve been called to do . . . and still be jealous when another seems to be multi-talented or multifaceted.  We can know and testify to God’s goodness and care for us . . . and still be jealous and resentful when God seems to bless someone else with a little more or in a different way than God blesses us.
To make matters worse, Joseph had a habit of dreaming these strange dreams and then telling the others about them.  He had a dream in which he and his brothers were binding sheaves in the field, and his sheaf stood upright while the others bowed down to it.  He also had another dream in which he saw the sun, the moon, and the stars bowing down to him.  When Joseph told his brothers about his dreams, their resentment increased.  One must be careful in sharing one’s visions and dreams with others.  (Young people, if you want to be something in life, if you want to go places and do things, you must be careful about those with whom you share visions and dreams.)  People who don’t see visions or have dreams . . . persons whose main concern is protecting their turf and doing the same old things in the same old way, will not only not understand your dream . . . but will resent you for what they believe is the arrogance, impetuousness, and foolishness of your dreams.
Jealousy and resentment are terrible diseases because they can cause us to think, say, and do some terrible things.  One day when his brothers were in the fields of Dothan watching over their flocks, Joseph went to them.  When his brothers saw him coming from a long way off, resentment began to build in their hearts.  They said, “Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams” (Genesis 37:19-20).
Reuben, however, objected to such a foul idea, so they decided not to kill Joseph themselves, but to throw him into one of the pits.  Their plans changed again when they saw an Ishmaelite caravan and decided to sell Joseph into slavery.  They spread animal blood on his cloak and took it to Jacob, their father, as evidence that a wild beast had killed his beloved son.  They sold their brother into slavery and lied to their father.  I’ve never seen or heard of wrong being done without a lie being required to cover up that wrong.  When Joseph’s brothers sold him, they assumed that they had forever ridded themselves of his presence.  However, they didn’t know that God had a plan and a promise for Joseph’s life, and in their act of treachery and deceit, God was laying the foundation for its fulfillment.
Joseph, the object of his father’s love and the victim of his brothers’ resentment . . . Joseph, whose only crime was being a dreamer in the midst of non-dreaming brethren . . . was taken to Egypt and there sold again, this time to Potiphar, a captain in the Egyptian army.  But in accordance with God’s plan, Joseph’s servitude was blessed.  We are living witnesses that God can open doors and make ways out of no way.
Joseph soon became manager of Potiphar’s household.  But Satan will allow God’s children only so much peace before he tries to disrupt their lives.  One day Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph with the desire to know him intimately.  When Joseph spurned her advances and Potiphar's wife was convinced that he would not acquiesce to her wishes, she told her husband that it was Joseph who had made the advances toward her and that it was she who had rejected him.  Potiphar then threw Joseph into prison.  Thus, a second time Joseph found himself an innocent victim.  The first time, his brothers’ jealousy and resentment had caused him to be sold into slavery . . . the second time, a woman’s lust and resentment had placed him in prison.  When Joseph was imprisoned, Potiphar’s wife assumed that she had gotten even.  She didn’t know, however, that God had a plan for Joseph’s life and that God was using her treachery and deceit to bring it to pass.
I can just imagine that there were times during his journey from slavery to prison when Joseph must have asked “why?” and “for what?”  Perhaps Joseph didn’t know that God had a plan and a promise for his life and that all things were working together for his good.  Every setback he encountered . . . every pit that was dug . . .  every trap that was laid . . . and every lie that was told was leading him to where God wanted him to be.  While in prison, Joseph displayed the same leadership qualities he had displayed in Potiphar’s house, and soon he became the head trustee.  People can’t keep one of God’s children down, try as they might.  God’s children will find a way to shine wherever they are.
While imprisoned, Joseph met the chief butler and chief baker of Pharaoh’s household.  They had been locked up because they had done something to anger Pharaoh.  One night they both had dreams that they didn’t understand.  Joseph, having had experience with dreams from his childhood, was able to interpret their dreams.  If God gives us a gift or a talent, God will also open up a way for that talent to be used.  Joseph’s interpretation spelled restoration for the butler and death for the baker.  However, when the butler was restored to his position in concurrence with Joseph’s interpretation, he forgot to tell Pharaoh about Joseph’s case.  People will forget about us once they have arrived . . . once they have made use of what we have to give . . . once they have what they need for the moment.  People will forget . . . but where people forget, God remembers.  If we forget how we have made it, God has a way of making us remember.
One night about two years later, Pharaoh had a dream that he didn’t understand.  He dreamed that seven fat cows were grazing by the Nile River when seven thin cows came up out of the river and devoured them.  The thin cows, after eating the fat cows, were just as thin as they were before.  Then he saw seven plump ears of grain growing on the same stalk.  But another seven ears of blighted grain sprang up and consumed the seven plump ears.  When the chief butler heard about Pharaoh’s dream, he then remembered Joseph, the imprisoned Hebrew, who was a dreamer himself and seemed to have a special gift for discernment of dreams.
When the butler told Pharaoh about Joseph, the king sent for him, and Joseph interpreted the dream.  He said, “The seven fat cows and the seven plump ears stand for seven years of abundant harvest in the land.  But these years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine, symbolized by the seven lean cows and the seven blighted ears.  The time of famine will wipe out the seven years of abundance.  What is needed is someone to oversee the harvest so that grain can be set aside in the years of abundance for the time of famine.”
Pharaoh said: “I perceive you to be a wise and judicious person of integrity.  I’m going to put you in charge of Operation Grain Save, and as such you will have full authority, second in command in the whole land only to me.”  Joseph did as he was commanded, and the seven years of abundance were followed by the years of famine, just as he said they would come to pass.
Sometime during the second year of famine over in Canaan, an old man by the name of Jacob, who had eleven sons at home, went to the grain barrel one day and saw that the supply was running low, for the famine was widespread.  He told his sons, “Take money and go to Egypt, for I hear there is grain there.”  And as the old preachers used to say, “I can see Joseph in my mind’s eye,” as he stood before the storehouse that day, overseeing the sale and distribution of grain, when he saw a caravan approaching him with some familiar faces.  I imagine that Joseph could hardly believe his eyes.  However, before Joseph had the opportunity to react, his brothers, not recognizing him, had bowed at his feet.  As they bowed, Joseph remembered his dream of the eleven sheaves and eleven stars bowing before him. 
If one is a child of God, one needn’t worry about vengeance.  For if we just follow God’s plan, if we only trust and obey, at a time and in a place where it’s least expected, God will bring those who try to destroy us, those who laugh at us, those who mock us, those who persecute us . . . to our very feet.
After he had questioned them and sent them back home, they returned, bringing their youngest brother, Benjamin, back to Egypt.  Joseph invited them all to lunch, and after they had dined sufficiently, Joseph stood up and said, “Take a good look at me and tell me if you’ve ever seen me before.”  I imagine that Reuben started to raise his hand but quickly lowered it, saying, “You resemble . . . you remind me of ... but no, no, it just can’t be.”  I can see Joseph, when he could control his emotions no longer, break down in tears and tell them, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you plotted against and wanted to kill.  I am the same Joseph whom you resented as a child; I am the same Joseph whom you mocked for his dreams.  I am the same Joseph whom you lied to our father about, and I am the same Joseph you lowered into the pit and sold into slavery.  But do not grieve, for I bear you no ill will.  You must answer to the God who preserved me in spite of that which you tried to do to me.  For you see, God had a plan for my life.  God allowed you to lower me into a pit and sell me into slavery many years ago that I might feed you at my table at this very moment.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God . . .who watched over me and preserved me by power divine and made me a ruler in the land of Egypt.”
I’m so glad that God has a plan for our lives.  When we finish playing games with one another and on one another . . . when we finish our politics and schemes, our tricks and designs . . . I’m so glad that God has a plan for each and every one of us.  And what always fascinates me about God’s plan is . . . God is able to take the evil that people design for our undoing and downfall and turn it around so that it works for our good.  Joseph later said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
I’m so glad that God has a plan and a promise for our redemption  for our lives.  For Jesus came in accordance with God’s plan.  When Satan decided that he would hold humanity captive . . . God had a plan for our redemption.  Wrapped in love, grace, and truth, God stepped across time and was born as a baby in Bethlehem.  He grew into a man who refused to compromise with wrong, and when Satan and the forces of evil decided that they would destroy him by subjecting him to the worst possible death they knew . . . death on the cross . . . Jesus declared that he would take that same cross that degraded others and use it as the pledge for our redemption.  For he said: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32, KJV).  The cross that evil used to shame a perfect Christ became God’s plan and a promise for our redemption.
Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder . . . Why it should be thus all the day long . . . While there are others living about us . . . never molested, though in the wrong.  Farther along we’ll know all about it . . .farther along we’ll understand why . . .cheer up, my brothers and sisters, live in the sunshine, we’ll understand it all by and by. - from the hymn "Farther Along"
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« Reply #42 on: February 19, 2011, 10:54:02 PM »

Farther Along - Brad Paisley
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvVVvlVKGBw
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« Reply #43 on: March 14, 2011, 07:39:12 AM »

John 5:2-18

Do You Want to Be Healed?

   The question in this scripture seems a bit strange at first.  Why would Jesus ask a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years if he wanted to be healed?  Why would the Lord ask someone if he or she wanted to be healed when the person was already at the pool believing it would heal the affliction?  Why would the Master ask someone if he or she wanted to be healed when the person had been faithfully coming to the place of healing, day after day, week after week, and year after year?
   Perhaps Jesus knew that sometimes . . . in spite of our actions and our words  . . .  we have secretly given up on ourselves or our situation, and really don’t believe we can be, or are going to be, healed, helped, heard, saved, or made whole. Sometimes we can habitually go through certain actions, routinely participate in certain rituals or procedures, and customarily say certain things without really believing in what we’re doing or saying.  Thus the question “Do you want to be healed?”  helps us to confront ourselves and ask ourselves . . .  truthfully and honestly . . . do we still have the desire, first, for healing . . . and second, do we still have the faith that makes that desire a possibility?  Have we built a tent around our problem that is an temporary structure and implies that one day we’re going to pack up and move on?  Or have we built a house around our affliction that is a permanent structure and says that this spot is the place of our habitation?  Someone has said that we could endure the terrors of hell if we believed that we would one day get out, and that the suffering would only last for a season.  Some of us feel that we’re in living hells because we’ve been like we are and where we are for so long that, short of death, we’ve given up hope of ever getting out.
   There are various reasons for the inherent contradiction between going to the pool, on the one hand, and having secretly given up hope for healing, on the other.  Sometimes our faith is worn down by the sheer length of time we’ve had the problem.  Thirty-eight years is a long time to put up with anything.  Some of us have lived with our affliction for so long that we don’t know how to be any other way but miserable.  We’ve complained about our problems, our ailments, our families, our jobs, and our churches for so long . . . that all we know how to do . . . is complain.  We’ve begged for so long that begging is all we know.  We’ve been crying poor for so long that even when we’ve been abundantly blessed, we’re still crying poor, acting poor, and living poor.
   We’re more inclined to frown than to smile . . . find it easier to criticize than to congratulate . . . and tend to look for what’s wrong rather than for what’s right.  Even when some of us make an effort at being positive, we still end up sounding negative.  A person once looked into the mirror and said, “I’m tired of all of these negative feelings that I’ve been having about myself, about others, and about life.  I’m going to think some positive thoughts.  I’m going to start believing in myself.  I’m going to think all of these positive things even though they probably won’t help me much or do me much good.”
   Sometimes our faith is worn down because of the number of times that our hopes have been raised and then frustrated.  Who knows how many times the man had been brought to the pool with raised hope that he would be healed that day?  Who knows how many times he had been close but not close enough to be the first to step into the water when it was troubled?  It’s hard to keep one’s faith up when we’ve been disappointed and frustrated time after time.
   Thus, to keep our faith from being shattered altogether – we start lowering our expectations.  Hear us as we say, “I’ll give this preacher or this church a chance, but I won’t be surprised if this experience turns out negatively just like the others.”  “I’ll give this person a chance, but I just know that sooner or later she’s going to mess up.”  Some of us have been knowing people, watching people, and living with people for years, and still are afraid to trust them.  “I’ll try this new doctor or hire a new lawyer, but this person probably won’t be able to do any more than the others.”  “My companion and I had a good talk and reached an understanding, but we’ve done that before so I really don’t expect things to change much.”  Well, when we expect little from other people and from ourselves . . . that’s usually what we get . . . and that’s all we’re going to see even when much is happening.  “I’m going to try sending her to a new school or they’re going to put him into another class or she’s going to move to another department, but I’ll be surprised if the results are any better.”  “I’m going to continue praying, even though nothing is happening.”
   First of all – we don’t know all that may be happening.  We don’t know what things God is setting in place.  We don’t know whose heart God is touching.  We don’t know how, when, or where God is working, but know this: God is working all the time.  God never sleeps, God’s watchful eye never shuts, and God’s grace, power, and love never go on vacation.  Second, let us remember that we are not simply instructed to “pray without ceasing” but to pray believing.
   I know it’s hard to be positive in the face of repeated failures and disappointments . . . but hold on to your hope and don’t give up.  If we’re children of God we should never lower our expectations, because with God all things are possible.  We must continue expecting God to do great things and to produce mighty works in our lives.  What we desire may or may not happen, but the possibility is there if we don’t give up.  However, when we lose hope we shut the door in possibility’s face.
   “Do you want to be healed?”  There are some things in life we have to want for ourselves.  Teachers may want their students to learn ever so much, but those students must want to learn for themselves.   Before we criticize the schools too severely for all they’re not doing with our children, we must realize that our children need to make up their minds that they want to learn.
   We must decide we’re going to be something or somebody ourselves.  Mother or father, sister or brother, friend or companion, the preacher or the teacher, can’t make that decision for us.  If we don’t want to be anything, then no matter what opportunities present themselves to us, they will be like pearls before swine  . . . they will be wasted on us and we’ll become nothing.  And if we want to be something and do something worthwhile, then no matter what obstacles are set before us, we’ll find a way to deal with them or God will help us or the Holy Spirit will direct us in how to handle them, and we’ll become something and accomplish something anyhow.  I once heard someone say, “Aim for the moon, and if you fall among the stars, don’t worry about it, because you will still be on high ground.”
   We run from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, use prescription after prescription, and pray for miracles in vain if we haven’t really decided that we want to be healed.  It’s good to have other folks pray for us, but we have to decide ourselves that we want to live holy.  Before we can turn our backs upon temptation and change our lifestyles, we must decide that we are serious about holiness.  We should pray for unsaved or unchurched loved ones, but at some point they must decide for themselves that they want to be saved.  Before we can live clean and sober, free from drugs and alcohol, we have to decide that is what we want to do.
   “Do you want to be healed?” our crucial question challenges us to decide what kind of life we want to have.  The lame man answered Jesus’ questions by saying, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.”  That was a very touching story and an interesting explanation as to why the man hadn’t been healed.  The only problem with his statement was that it didn’t answer Jesus’ question.  The Master didn’t ask the lame man about who did what to him or who stepped into the water before him.  He didn’t ask the lame man about his background, or his past disappointments, frustrations, and failed attempts.  As nosy as some of us are, we might take the time to ask all those questions, but not Jesus.  He asked a simple question that required a simple yes or no answer, and that question was “Do you want to be healed?”
   This day . . . right now . . . Jesus is knocking on the door of somebody’s heart and he is asking one simple question.  We don’t need to give the Lord a lot of answers to unasked questions.  He’s not asking us to give him some long, drawn out, hearts and flowers story about who did what to us, who talked about us, who doesn’t like us, or who won’t work with us.  He is not asking us about how we got into our condition, or how we allowed ourselves to get into such a position.  He isn’t asking us how long we’ve been like we are and how many times in the past we’ve tried to get right, and failed.  He’s not even asking us about how many opportunities for healing and salvation we’ve let go by, and why.  And he’s certainly not asking us about anyone else’s business, faults, and failures.  Jesus sees our condition, knows what we need, and has what we need.  He’s just asking us to give a simple “yes or no” answer to the question he is asking, “Do you want to be healed?”
   Jesus told the man to, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”  If we want to be healed, we’re going to have to do something ourselves.  The Lord didn’t pull the man up or prop the man up or pick the man up.  He only told him to “rise.”  He didn’t slap the man.  He didn’t even touch the man.  He just spoke a word of healing to him.  The man had to have enough faith and submissiveness to obey Jesus’ word.  He had to want healing badly enough, he had to be desperate enough to obey Jesus’ word even when he was commanded to do what had seemed impossible for him. 
   Do we want healing badly enough?  Are we desperate enough for salvation to obey Jesus’ word even when he commands us to do difficult things . . . some of which seem to be impossibilities for us?
   Jesus told the man to take up the pallet that he had been lying upon.  Those who have been healed ought not be empty-handed.  What are we carrying?  Some people carry bitterness from the past.  Some people carry excuses for not doing more than they’re doing.  Some people carry stones for throwing at their neighbors.  Jesus told us what to carry.  He told us, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
   Take the pallets that once held us, from which we could not rise, and carry them in our hearts as our testimony to what the Lord has done for us.  The sickness, the addictions, the failures, weaknesses, and mistakes of the past, from which we could not rise  – yet become the testimonies that we carry in our hearts about how the Lord can raise us.  We can tell others, “If you don’t believe that God’s power is real, let me show you my pallet.  Let me sing my song of praise.  Let me tell my story of victory.  Let me give my witness about how Jesus saves from the gutter most to the uttermost.”
   Jesus told the man to “Walk!”  Walk by faith.  Walk with your head up, praising and glorifying God.  Some people may not understand why you walk like you do, but you know what the Lord has done for you.  Some people may not believe your witness, but keep on walking, because you know that you’ve been raised.  Walk by the grace of God.  Walk in Jesus’ name.  Walk by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Walk my friends – walk!
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« Reply #44 on: March 30, 2011, 09:41:36 AM »

John4:5-42
Facing Life after Heartbreak

The time of day was noon and she had come to the well.  But why was she at the well at noon when the usual draw water was early in the morning and early in the in the cool of the day?  That’s when the other women came.  Perhaps that is the very reason that this woman was coming at noon: to avoid the other women, the stares, the whisperings, the cattiness, coldness, and meanness from the old women, some of whom were probably very religious.  This particular woman was not like the other village women.  She had been involved in a series of relationships, all of which in heartbreak, hurt, disappointment, disaster, and divorce.
She came to the well by herself because she was a victim of double pain.  She had pain in her heart and pain from a community that judged her, talked about her, didn’t understand her, and just stayed in her business.  She came to the well by herself because she had mess in her life.  Heartbreak and breakups can harm you.  They can mess with your head and give you a self-esteem problem.  They can cause you to doubt yourself as a man or woman, lover, friend, companion, particularly when you see other relationships that seem to be happy and making it.  Heartbreak and breakups can cause you to feel inferior to others or self-conscious, particularly when others are self-righteous condemning, and arrogant about the lifestyle of a single person.  I have lived long enough to discover that sometimes married people are so hard on some single people not because they have it all together . . . but because they are envious, insecure, and threatened by the freedom of those who are single.  In their heart of hearts they are really not that happy and want to be free themselves, but cannot be because they feel trapped.
Heartbreak and breakup can not only mess with our head, they can mess with our heart and make us overly cautious, suspicious, protective, and paranoid about loving again, lest we be hurt again.  After heartbreak we ought to be cautious, wiser, but not paranoid.  Heartbreaks, if we let them, will also mess with our spirits and cause us to be bitter.  You can recognize a bitter person.  A bitter person extols and expounds the “all men are dogs” philosophy or the “women cannot be trusted because they’ll take everything you have” attitude.
How do we face life after heartbreak and breakup?  Everyone, including those most happily yoked, has some heartbreak.  How do we fix a broken heart?  The first step toward recovering from heartbreak is to get on with the rest of your life as best you can.  The Samaritan woman in our text did not allow her repeated heartbreaks and breakups to stop her from functioning.  She did not become catatonic and go off in a corner and wither up and die.  She continued to live, function, and survive as best she could.  By this time she understood all too well that in the final analysis, nobody was going to look out for herself but her.  And so she did the best she could to make it from day to day.  Though lonely at times, she was still making it.  Though in pain a lot of the time, she was still making it.  Though misunderstood and talked about much of the time, she was still making it.
She knew that whenever she left the house she might run into one of the good gossiping sisters or one of the crass community brothers.  She had a choice, however.  She could either shut herself up in her house and die, or she could face the world and do what she needed to do.  She adjusted her schedule for going to the well to avoid the confrontations she could, but she didn’t stop going to the well.   Life for her had to go on and so she did what was necessary to survive.
How do we face life after heartbreak?  By facing it.  Life has to go on.  Life may be different or lonely or painful, but we still must keep on living.  For, when we stop to think about it, life wasn’t perfect when we were in a relationship . . . if it had been we wouldn’t be trying to handle our heartbreak.  We had problems in the relationships and we have problems after the relationships.  Either way we’re going to have problems, so we might as well decide to be victorious over our new set of problems.
One day this Samaritan woman came to the well with her messy past and met the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Anointed of God.  They began to talk.  They talked about the prejudice that had existed between Jesus and his people, Galilean and Judean Jews, and her people, the Samaritans.  They talked about the nature of worship.  When we really read the fourth chapter of John, we discover that this Samaritan woman and Jesus were engaged in a heavy theological discussion.  Others looked at her and would not expect such a conversation from her.  Her conversation with Jesus indicated that this much maligned woman had a vibrant mind that she wasn’t afraid to use.  If we would fix a broken heart, we must remember that we still have a mind.  Don’t be afraid to use it for something other than self-pity.  If your mind can come up with something to complain about . . . it can also come up with something to give praise for.  If your mind can come up with excuses for not doing . . . then it can come up with reasons for doing.
In the course of the conversation Jesus asked the woman about her present relationship and in so doing she discovered that he knew her.  Even though Jesus didn’t approve of her present life, neither did he reject her.  If our broken hearts are to be fixed then we must understand that Jesus knows and understands how we feel.  “Nobody knows,” you say.  I say, “You're wrong.”  Jesus knows all about our troubles.  He knows about rejection.  Jesus’ own people in Nazareth rejected him.  Jesus knows what it is to be misunderstood by those closest to you.  His own brothers and sisters thought he was crazy.  Jesus knows what it is to be regarded with suspicion.  The religious leaders of his day looked upon Jesus with suspicion.  Jesus would one day know betrayal and denial.  He would know agony as he prayed in Gethsemane.  Jesus would know loneliness like never before when he hung out on a cross to die for your sins and mine.
What I am saying is that we must never forget that we are not alone.  No single person who knows Jesus is ever alone.  We may not see Jesus but he is there.  We may not see air but we know it’s there because we’re breathing.  We may not see our heart beating, but we know it’s there and it’s working because we’re still alive.  We may not see the mechanism of the ear at work, but we know that it is functioning because we can hear.  We may not see the nerve endings under our skin, but we know they are there because we can still feel.  And when dark clouds come, we may not see the sun but we know it’s there, because if it wasn’t life would disappear from the earth.
So as we face life after heartbreak we must remember that life goes on, that we still have a mind, that Jesus understands how we feel and that we are never alone, and that Jesus loves us even when we make mistakes.  This Samaritan woman was involved in a relationship that she should not have been involved in.  Sometimes we make mistakes in judgment.  Sometimes in our efforts to cope with our loneliness and pain we do things we shouldn’t, we become involved in things we shouldn’t.  Jesus confronts us about those.  But he doesn’t reject us.  He doesn’t write us off as hopeless or evil or wicked.  He loves us anyway.
After her conversation with Jesus the Samaritan women ran into the village declaring, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”  Is this the same woman who came to the well at noon to avoid others, now running into the town as a used-to-be nobody telling everybody about somebody who can save anybody?  My point here is simple . . . if we allow Jesus to work on us and in us, he will give us a new love and a new life . . . a new message and new meaning . . . new purpose and new power . . . a new demeanor and new deliverance . . . new convictions and new compassion . . . new fire and new freedom . . . new salvation and new somebodiness . . . new promise and new praise . . . new beauty and new boldness . . . new testimony and new transformation . . . new righteousness and new resurrection . . . new glory and new grace . . . a new witness and a new work . . . new healing and new holiness . . . new sanctification and new soul satisfaction . . . a new song and new strength . . . a new majesty and a new magnetism . . . a new smile and new sainthood . . . a new vision and a new victory
The woman at the well discovered that Jesus had a word for her.  To face life after heartbreak we must understand that Jesus has a word for us: “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29-30).
Jesus has a word for us: “You must be born again” (John 3:3). 
Jesus has a word for us: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Jesus has a word for us: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). 
Jesus has a word for us: “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).
Jesus has a word for us: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
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« Reply #45 on: August 07, 2011, 11:11:27 AM »

Unexpected Troubles
   The problem with evil is not simply that it causes trouble in our lives, but that often the trouble erupts in unexpected places.  It arises in contexts and from persons, situations, sources, and even issues that we would least expect.  The text of Numbers 12:1-2 is a case in point.
   The journey of the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt to Canaan, the land of promise, was fraught with trouble that erupted all along the way.  Soon after their victory march out of Egypt. the Hebrews and the mixed multitude that came out of slavery with them discovered that Pharaoh’s command to get out of Egypt, was only the first step to their becoming a truly free, independent nation.  On the way to their goal of a land of their own, they and their leader . . . Moses, ran into obstacle after obstacle that they were completely unprepared for mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
   To begin with, the Israelites could not take the most direct route to the Promised Land because they would have had to march through the territories of the Philistines, who probably have attacked.  At this point in their journey they were not prepared to fight foes like the Philistines.  Of course, it is a common rule of life that any effort to reach a goal often takes longer than we expect.  Very few people reach their goals by following steps one, two, and three.  More often than not . . . it takes steps one through ten to get where we want to go.  More often than not  . . . we end up taking the long way around to get to where we want to go.  If you are a leader like Moses and you are trying to move people from a familiar past to an unfamiliar future that challenges them to go places they have never been before . . .  expect the journey to take longer than you had calculated and expect to take the long way around.
   Since the Israelites ended up going the long way, Pharaoh back in Egypt concluded that they had become lost in the desert and decided to go after them so that he could reenslave them. He caught up with them at a very vulnerable moment  . . . they were at the banks of the Red Sea and surrounded by high mountains.  When you are trying to go forward or do something worthwhile, expect what you are trying to outgrow or get away from to come after you in your vulnerable moments.  Pharaohs never cease trying to recapture their slaves.  Whether that pharaoh is called racism, sexism, an abusive past, guilt, fear, lust, lying, drugs . . . pharaohs always look for a vulnerable moment to recapture former slaves.
   Because the journey to the Promised Land was taking longer than expected, the Israelites soon ran out of food.  We, too, can expect some shortages on a long journey — shortages of faith, vision, endurance, and patience.  Not only did they run out of bread, they also came to places where the water was bitter or where there was no water at all.  On any journey to any place worthwhile, expect some hitter disappointments and bitter discouragement and setbacks. Sometimes people will present things to you that you just can’t swallow.  And at other times you will find yourself in a place of drought.  You will pray and will receive no word from the Lord . . .  no sign from the Spirit . . . no clue as to what you are to do . . . no inspiration to keep you going  . . . no hiding place from pressure . . . just barrenness on the horizon and emptiness in your soul.  Expect the drought that drains . . . where everything is going out and nothing seems to he coming in.  But also expect that you will make it through . . . for God will step in and give you what you need to keep going step by step and day by day.
   On a long journey expect some straying and forgetting.  When Moses went up to Mount Sinai to commune with God and stayed longer than the Israelites felt was necessary, the people forgot who had brought them out of Egypt and began to worship a golden calf.  On a long journey expect diversions that cloud the vision, along with some stumbling, occasional backsliding, doubting and straying, and some forgetting of who and whose we are and what we ought to be about.  One would hope that we would be true no matter what.  The truth, however, is that when things are taking longer than we thought, Satan will use delay as the opportunity to create doubt, confusion, and conflict within.
   On their journey to the Promised Land, not only did the Israelites have to contend with a pharaoh who tried to recapture them, but also an attack from the Amalekites, who simply decided to make an unprovoked war on the people of God as they moved to the place where God was taking them.  On your journey expect new enemies to rise up and attack you without cause — either because of their own insecurities or because of jealousy and resentment over the ways you are being blessed.
   In the midst of all the trouble that continued to erupt, Moses had to hear the constant whining, complaining, and nostalgia about how good slavery in Egypt had been.  He even experienced occasional rebellion from those he was trying to lead.  On a long journey when the going gets tough . . . expect the doubters, the visionless, the fainthearted, the weak in faith, the lazy who believe that the journey to the promised land ought not involve any sacrifice on their part . . . and the impatient who want things to happen right away to begin to blame leadership. They will complain about the inconvenience involved in pursuing something worthwhile.  When the journey becomes long and difficult . . . expect people to want to turn back and talk about how good it used to be.  Expect rebellion from those who claim they could do it better.
   As Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness, trouble erupted a number of times and in a variety of places.  When we take the time to think about those instances and the persons and sources, we should not, however, be surprised.  One could almost expect trouble to arise from those places and sources.  Yet in Numbers 12 trouble arises for Moses from persons we never expect — Miriam and Aaron.
   Surely not Miriam and Aaron.  They were Moses’ blood sister and brother.  Surely not holy, sanctified, Spirit-filled, fire-baptized, tambourine beating prophetess Miriam.  Surely not Reverend, Doctor, Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal, Moderator, Convention President Aaron, the head of the Levitical priest hood.  Surely not Miriam, Moses’ older sister, who had watched him as a baby floating down the Nile River in a basket and then had interceded when that basket had come to rest at the riverbank in the very spot where Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing.  Surely not Miriam, who had babysat, fed, and helped raise Moses.  Surely not Aaron, whom God had given to Moses as a spokesperson when Moses went to Pharaoh with the command to let God’s people go.  Even though Aaron had come up shaky in the golden calf incident, that was years ago.  Aaron had come over on the Lord’s side and had been forgiven and restored to his position of leadership.  Certainly after all this time Aaron had become settled and secure in his leadership and faith.
   With all that the three of them had been through as a family and as leaders, surely at that point on their journey Miriam and Aaron would not be creating trouble and causing confusion among the people.   They had been as close as three fingers on a hand.  Surely Miriam and Aaron would not be causing trouble for Moses . . . say it isn’t so!
   Yes, in Numbers 12 trouble was erupting for Moses from Miriam and Aaron — the least likely source, the most unexpected place.  And listen to the issue they were stirring up a mess over — Moses’ Cushite wife.  For the Bible is clear, Moses had “indeed married a Cushite woman.”  We remember who the Cushites were — the were the people who lived in sub-Sahara Africa to the south of Egypt.  She was a Cushite, a pure black African woman.  Miriam and Aaron had problems with her, but not because she was black.  After all, they were nonwhite themselves.  Perhaps they saw this Cushite sister as a threat to their position and prestige among the Israelites. Miriam, as a woman and Moses’ big sister, probably felt most threatened by another woman in Moses’ life.  Miriam was probably the instigator of the trouble, persuading her weaker brother, Aaron, who at times grew tired of living in Moses’ shadow to go along with her.
   Hear Miriam and Aaron complain: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?”  Well, what does the Lord speaking to them have to do with Moses’ Cushite wife?  Even though Moses’ wife was the subject of the controversy . . . what Miriam and Aaron were really dealing with was a power play.  When trouble erupts in unexpected places, often what people are fussing about is not really what they are fussing about.  Often people lift up one thing when they are really upset about something deeper, something more sinister and not as obvious.  Those of us who have had to deal with leaking roofs can tell you that sometimes where the stain appears on the wall or the ceiling is not where the leak is.  Some times water has leaked into the roof from some other place and traveled to the spot where the stain appears.  Sometimes the issue that is being discussed is not the real issue, and sometimes the person who is doing the talking is not the person who started the mess.  Aaron may he out front throwing rocks, while Miriam is behind the scenes keeping him supplied with rocks and telling hint where to throw them.  While we concentrate on the rock throwers . . . we had better find out where they are getting their supply of rocks.
   How did Moses handle this particular incidence of trouble that erupted from the unexpected source of Miriam and Aaron?  First, let us note what Moses did not do.  He did not blame his wife whom God had blessed him with for his trouble.  He did not reject his Cushite wife because of Miriam’s and Aaron’s problem with her.  He did not become defensive.  After all, he had done nothing wrong.  He did not get into a fight with Miriam and Aaron.  That would have done two things.  First, it would have brought him down to their level.  Second, it would have drained Moses of time, energy, and attention he needed for his continued leadership of the people. You can’t get to where you are trying to go if you let messes sidetrack you.  The purpose of a mess is to mess you up — mess up your mind so that you can̓t think right . . . mess up your spirit up so that you can’t pray right . . . mess up your vision so that you can’t see straight.
   The Bible tells us that Moses was humble, more so than anyone on the face of the earth. Moses didn’t even defend himself . . .he didn’t even answer his critics.  That’s hard.  You have to be mighty disciplined and secure and have great faith in God not to hit back when you’re being hit at . . . particularly when those throwing the rocks are persons you would least suspect.  Moses continued to be faithful and loving, to mind his business and do his job, and to keep focused on reaching the Promised Land.
   Because of his faithfulness, Moses didn’t have to fight his battles or answer his critics.  God stepped in and did it for him.  Numbers 12:4-9 says:
   Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, ‘Come out you three, to the tent of meeting.’  So the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward.  And he said, “Hear my words:  When there are prophets among you, I the LORD make myself known to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.  Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house.  With him I speak face to face — clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the LORD.  Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?̓ And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed.

Numbers 12:10-14 says:
   When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow.  And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous.  Then Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.”  And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her.”  But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days?  Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.”

   When troubles erupt in unexpected places, don’t panic . . . pray.  Don’t fight  . . . stay focused.  Don’t become sidetracked . . . continue to serve.  Don’t become disagreeable . . . stay disciplined.  Don’t get testy . . . just trust God to fight your battles and bring you through.  God is still able to silence critics and faultfinders.  God is still able to undo those who try to undercut you.  He can give you victory over those who major in messes.  If you are faithful, when trouble erupts in unexpected places, God will fight your battle, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.  God still intercedes for his children. 
   Jesus came into this world as captain of the Lord’s host, and the Holy Spirit came as comfort and guide so that we might know that we are not alone when trouble erupts in unexpected places.

   For a child has been born for us,
   a son given to us;
   authority rests upon his shoulders;
   and he is named
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
                     —Isaiah 9:6

   If we have faith to trust God when trouble erupts in unexpected places, we will be able to say like Moses, “Arise, O LORD, let your enemies be scattered” (Numbers 10:35). Arise!  Arise! Arise!
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« Reply #46 on: September 05, 2011, 01:47:31 PM »

The Shovel of God
Genesis 14:17-20
When Abram received God’s call to leave where he was and relocate to a place that God would reveal to him . . . Abram invited his nephew, Lot, to journey with him.  Lot accepted Abram’s offer and, because of his willingness to follow Abram as Abram followed the word of God, Lot was blessed materially along with Abram.  The two of them were so abundantly blessed with livestock that the land on which they had settled was unable to provide for their flocks and herds.  Thus strife soon developed between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot over pastures and watering holes.
Abram chose not to live in strife and confusion.  No matter how much one has materially, if one has to live in strife and confusion, arguing and misunderstanding, one can still be miserable and unhappy.  Strife and confusion, arguing and misunderstanding can prevent us from enjoying the blessings of God.  Many persons who have often looked back on times of leanness and sacrifice as “the good old days” . . .  because that was a period of less strife and confusion, arguing and misunderstanding.
Abram, as the bigger person of the two, approached his nephew and said: “Let there be no strife between you and me, between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen.  Is not the whole land before you?  Separate yourself from me.  If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9).  When Lot surveyed the land that was before him, that which was on his left was obviously more preferable to the eye.  The land on the left was fertile and well watered, while the land on the right was more sparsely vegetated and barren.  Instead of deferring to his uncle, by whose invitation he been blessed, the selfish and greedy Lot chose what appeared to be the best land, leaving Abram to settle in the less desirable portion.
Lot, however, soon discovered that everything that appears to be the best at first glance is not the best in the long run.  The wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were in the valley chosen by Lot.  Thus, he and his family lived not only in the midst of more strife and confusion . . . but at that time the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as the whole beautiful Jordan valley, were under the rule of a mighty warlord by the name of (Kedd’-er-la-oh’-mer) Chedorlaomer.  In time Sodom and Gomorrah, along with several other vassal cities that were also being oppressed by Chedorlaomer, rebelled against his rule.  Chedorlaomer aligned himself with several other kings, put down the rebellion and carried off into captivity a number of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, along with their possessions.
Among those who were captured was Lot.  We do not know how involved Lot was in the political life of Sodom, and we do not know if he participated in the rebellion.  However, since he left Abram to pitch his tent among the Sodomites, he shared in their fate.  As one shares in the rewards of faith when one associates with the faithful, one also must share the punishment of sin and rebellion when one associates with the wicked.
The oaks of Mamre, the place where Abram dwelt, were less preferable than the fertile valley where Lot lived, but at least Abram was at peace there.  The place where Abram dwelt was not as glamorous as Sodom, but at least Abram was free there.  He was free from political entanglements of Sodom, from the wickedness of Gomorrah, and from the rule of  (Kedd’-er-la-oh’-mer) Chedorlaomer.  The agricultural and property values of the place where Abram dwelt were not as great as the land chosen by Lot.  But the blessing of God was upon the place where Abram was, and the promise of God had been given . . . that there was a brighter day ahead.  Sodom and Gomorrah have long ceased to be, but the place where Abram dwelt is still regarded as holy ground.
Word reached Abram that his nephew had been captured.  Lot’s abundant possessions, which had caused the strife between him and his uncle and had led to their separation, now belonged to another as the spoils of war.  Abram could have rightly said, “He made his bed; let him lie in it.”  Abram could have rightly said, “He chose the best part and left me the worst, no better for him.”  Abram could have said, “He’s grown and on his own; he left my household; he’s not my responsibility anymore.”  Or he could have said, “I would like to help him, but I am no match for Chedorlaomer.  Do you expect me to risk my life and all that I have for the likes of Lot?”  Abram, however, exhibited none of the understandably human attitudes of justifiable resentment that can emerge when one has been treated unfairly.  Instead, he picked 318 trained men who had been born in his household, among his servants, and armed them for battle.
The fact that Abram had 318 men at his disposal, and his ability to arm them for battle, indicates that even though he dwelt in a less desirable place . . . God was still abundantly blessing him.  Even though Abram had received the short end of the deal with Lot . . . heaven had made him a winner and had more than compensated him for the ingratitude of Lot.  So don’t worry about people who try to take advantage of your kindness.  Don’t worry about those who seem to get ahead at your expense.  Keep on being nice.  Keep on being faithful.  Keep on treating people right.  God will take care of you as well as those who have wronged you.
After Abram armed the men of his own household, he enlisted the support of several allies and went in pursuit of Chedorlaomer.  When he came to the place where they were, Abram divided his forces, attacked by night, and routed the enemy.  As Abram returned in victory from battle, he was greeted by two kings . . .  the king of Sodom, and another whose name was Melchizedek.  Melchizedek was the king of Salem, which means “peace.”  Salem was believed to be the ancient site or name of the city that in later times came to be known as Jerusalem, the Holy City.  Melchizedek was also said to be a priest of the Most High God, and as such he and Abram shared the same faith.  On his return from battle, Abram was met by the king of Sodom, for whom he had interceded, and the king of Salem, who as a priest interceded for others.
Melchizedek brought bread and wine, the chief products of the land, as symbols to express gratitude to Abram, who had brought peace, freedom, and prosperity to the land.  Melchizedek greeted Abram with the words, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Genesis 14:19-20). As a response to the blessings of God . . . as an act of thanksgiving, praise, and worship  . . . Abram tithed, that is, gave a tenth of everything he had.
Let us note several points about this first example of tithing in the Scriptures.  First, it took place at a basically early stage in the development of Abram’s faith.  At this point in his faith journey, Abram’s name had not even been changed by God to Abraham.  At this point Ishmael had not been born to Hagar, and Isaac had not been born to Sarah.  At the point at which Abram first tithed, circumcision had not been given as the sign of the covenant.  Sodom and Gomorrah had not yet been destroyed by God’s judgment.  Thus tithing was one of the early experiences in Abram’s developing relationship with God.
Let us not forget that we are never too young or too new to the faith to tithe.  One may have to be of a certain age to vote in church matters, but one is not too young to tithe.  The smallest children can tithe . . . the smallest children can give to the Lord at least a tenth of whatever they have.  Whether one is talking about an allowance or pocket change, the smallest child can give to the Lord a fair, proportionate amount of what he or she has.  We may feel that we need to belong to the church for a certain amount of time before we can begin to feel at home or like we really belong.  But we can tithe right away.  Like Abram, we need to start immediately giving to the Lord the right and proper proportion from what we have.  According to God’s Word, that proportion is at least 10 percent.
Secondly, we refer to Abram as “the father of faith,” but as the first person to tithe in the Bible, he was also the father of tithing.  Moses, the giver of the law, was not the first to tithe.  The prophets were not the first to tithe.  Abram, the father of faith, was the first.  Thus, from the outset, tithing and faith are linked together in Scripture.  We tithe not because it is written in the law . . . but as an expression of our faith.  No one commanded Abram to tithe . . . his was a voluntary gift of faith and thanksgiving.  Thus when we talk about tithing, we’re not simply talking about money . . . we’re also talking about what it means to be faithful.  (Don’t you want to teach your children what it means to be faithful?)  Being faithful is more than a matter of keeping one’s word and standing with the church and the Lord when things get rough.  Faithfulness is more than being dutiful and diligent in exercising our responsibility.  Faithfulness is also rendering unto the Lord a fair and proper proportion of all that we have.  For where our treasures are, there will our hearts be also (see Matthew 6:21).
Third, the fact that Abram tithed means that tithing is of ancient origin.  Tithing is no new doctrine . . . it may be a new concept for many of us, but it is not a new practice.  It is no gimmick thought up by the church or anyone else to raise money.  Tithing goes back not only to the very beginning of our faith . . . but to the very dawn of organized and systematic religious practice.  Abram was the first person to tithe in the biblical record, but he was not the first person to tithe in history.  Tithing, or the giving of a sacred tenth, was practiced by a number of ancient peoples.  Soon after humans began to feel the religious impulse stirring their spirits and beating within their hearts . . . soon after they started calling upon the name of the Lord in prayer and praise . . .  they also started bringing expressions of thanksgiving and faith to God.  At a time so far back in history that no one can identify, men and women started setting aside a minimum of 10 percent of everything they had for God.
Fourth, Abram tithed out of thanksgiving because God had blessed him with victory in battle.  The blessings preceded the tithing.  Abram was able to tithe because God had blessed him with something to tithe from.  Let us not forget that our giving is at best a response to the fact that God has already given to us.  If God had not already given . . . we wouldn’t have anything to give.  We talk about how much we give and how often we give . . . forgetting that God is the first and greatest giver.  God is not some oppressive warlord who takes tribute money from his subjects.  God is not some colonial power who exploits and robs people of that which is theirs to fill the heavenly coffers.  God is a gracious heavenly Parent who has given and sacrificed for us.  The verse of Scripture that some consider to be the greatest in the Bible doesn’t lift up God’s power, justice, majesty, holiness, and righteousness . . . but rather God’s gift to us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God never asks anything of human beings until they have first been blessed and given more than they can ever repay.  The Ten Commandments begin with the words, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2).  It is only after God says these words that God asks obedience from the children of Israel.  God’s requests are always based on his right to ask because God is the first and greatest giver.
Thus, I repeat, our giving is a response . . . we give because we have received.  This doesn’t mean that we are trying to pay God back or buy God’s favor.  It means that our giving begins in gratitude.  We have been blessed, and so we give in thankfulness.  The story is told of a man of modest means who was known for his generosity.  Someone asked him why he gave so much and if he was worried about going broke.  He replied, “No, not at all.  I shovel out and God shovels in, and God uses a bigger shovel than I do.  And God started the shoveling first.”
Let us never forget that we can’t beat God giving.  The shovel of God . . . who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and all this universe’s valued jewels . . . is bigger than ours.  The shovel of God . . . whose pleasure it is to give us the Kingdom . . . is bigger than ours.  The shovel of God . . . who is able to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory . . . is bigger than ours.  The shovel of God . . . whose Word has told us to ask and we would receive, to seek and we would find, to knock and doors would be opened to us . . . is bigger than ours.  The shovel that is bigger than ours belongs to the God who said, “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test  . . . if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (Malachi 3:10).
The shovel of God . . . who made salvation available    . . . is bigger than ours.  On Calvary God gave his Son.  Abram may have given a tenth, but on Calvary God gave all.  I’m aware that people say, “When I come to church, I don’t want to hear about money and giving.  I just want to hear the gospel.”  But one can’t really talk about the gospel without talking about giving . . . because at the heart of the gospel is a God who gives.  And because God gives first . . . we too ought to give in thanksgiving.
I know that some of us get weary of giving and tired of hearing pleas about giving.  Sometimes we wonder if we will ever reach a point where we can stop giving.  Well, when God stops giving to us . . . we can stop giving.  When God stops making ways out of no ways for us . . .  we can stop giving.  When God stops being our company keeper when we’re lonely . . . and stops helping us pull together the broken pieces of our lives when loved ones are taken from us . . . we can stop giving.  When God stops giving us grace sufficient to match our trials, strength to bear our crosses, and courage to face our tomorrows . . . we can stop giving.  When God stops putting food on our table . . . when God stops  helping us raise children    . . . when God stops providing for our families . . . we can stop giving.  When the blood given by Jesus no longer avails for our sins . . .  when the eternal flow of God’s love is dried up and we’re left alone against “the wiles of the devil” . . . when the Holy Spirit refuses to give up power for us to be victorious in life and death . . .  then we can stop giving.  But as long as God gives . . . we also ought gladly give . . . and that’s all right because you can’t beat God giving . . . no matter how you try. 
And just as sure as you are living and the Lord is in heaven on high, the more you give, the more God gives to you.  But keep on giving because it’s really true that you can’t beat God giving, no matter how you try . . . nor will God ask anything from you, He hasn’t already given you.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
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« Reply #47 on: September 12, 2011, 01:25:53 PM »

Facing Our Fears
1 Kings 18 & 19
At some point in our lives, all of us face fear.  Some face it constantly.  Many people cope daily with internal problems that are capable of destroying them.  They cannot visualize their problems or understand them, but their problems seem to have them zeroed in.
What are fears in the dark in your life?  Things that go bump in the night and cause us to lose sleep, things that we perceive have the potential to destroy us.  That’s what fear is . . . something that we perceive has the potential to destroy us.  Whether the fears are real or figments of our imagination is beside the point.  If we perceive them to be real, then for us perception is reality.
Fear is fear and if a person is afraid of something or someone . . .  that fear can be just as immobilizing and paralyzing and can have as much potential for self-destruction whether their fear is real or imaginary.  Telling somebody not to be afraid won’t solve the problem.  People are afraid not because they desire to be afraid . . . but because they do not know how not to be afraid.  If they knew how not to be afraid they wouldn’t be afraid.  People who have phobias or fear of certain things such as heights, closed-in places, all animals or certain animals, people in general or certain people, the future, failure, water, flying, driving, storms, death, and so forth, do not want to be afraid of certain things.  They do not know how not to be afraid.
Telling someone that he or she has nothing to fear does not solve the problem because fear has its own logic.  Fear can distort reality, deaden you to common sense, deaden your reasoning faculties and blind you to the truth.  You cannot see things as they are except through your fear.
Telling someone that he or she has nothing to fear but fear itself is good rhetoric but bad medicine, because fear itself is a deadly enemy that can destroy you.
Either we learn to control and live with our fears or our fears will control us and destroy us.  Either we face our fears and fix them or our fears will fix us.  This text is an illustration of this truth.  Elijah had won a great victory for God on Mount Carmel.  He had out prayed 450 prophets and 400 prophets of Asherah, who were Canaanite gods that had a number of followers but no power.  Elijah had prayed fire down from heaven on Mount Carmel, and then had prayed rain down from the same skies to end a three-and-a-half-year drought.  Even though the prophets of Asherah and Baal had Elijah hopelessly outnumbered, and even though they prayed from morning until evening, they had produced nothing but their own perspiration and fatigue.
After the supremacy of Yahweh, the true and living God, had been reestablished, the people who had gathered on Mount Carmel revolted against the prophets of Baal and Asherah.  When King Ahab, who was present on Mount Carmel, told his queen, Jezebel, of Elijah’s actions, she swore to take Elijah’s life within twenty-four hours.  When Elijah heard of Queen Jezebel’s threat, great man of God that he was, and persevering prayer warrior, he “lost it” and ran away to the wilderness.
Let us note two things about Elijah’s flight.  First, many have made much of the fact that Elijah had stood up to over 850 men on Mount Carmel but ran away from one woman named Jezebel.  Logic would say that the 850 men had more potential to destroy Elijah than Jezebel.  Whether they did or not is beside the point.  In Elijah’s mind, Jezebel was a greater threat than the 850 he had withstood.  You can be bold about many things and brave before many foes, and yet cower and panic before one thing.  In other words, you don’t need a lot of tigers in the dark . . . just one in your cage to get you on the run.  People who say that they are not afraid of anything are doing one of two things . . . either bluffing or they just haven’t met the right tiger.
Second, Elijah, who was the epitome of boldness and fearlessness, panicked and ran.  Everybody can lose it at some point.  No matter how many tigers you have faced and withstood in the past . . . the right tiger at the right moment can cause you to lose it.  If you have ever lost control or your composure . . . if you have ever been pushed beyond your limits . . . if you have ever had a nervous breakdown . . . don’t be embarrassed.  Welcome to the club . . . everybody loses it sometime.  At some point, at some time in some way, everybody loses it.   “I thought he was stronger than that.”  He was stronger than that, ordinarily . . . but the right tiger came upon him when his strength was not what it normally is.  “I didn’t think I’d ever see her break.”  When the right tiger gets a hold of you, anybody will break.
When Elijah ran, he ran to the right place.  He ran to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.  He ran to the arms of God.  What do we do when fear overtakes faith?  We run to God.  There at Mount Horeb God spoke to him not in the night of earthquake, wind, and fire, but in the gentleness, comfort, and communion of the still, small voice.  As Elijah felt God’s presence in silence, he was able to express his fears and frustrations.  He cried, “[Enough is enough.  I’ve had it.]  I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left. [I’m out here fighting this fight by myself.] And they are seeking my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14).  Fear will make you feel like giving up sometimes.  Sometimes you just get tired of fighting tigers . . . fighting on the job, fighting in the home, fighting in church, fighting pettiness and jealousy, fighting to make ends meet, fighting your addiction, fighting the devil, fighting your fears.  And we say like Elijah, “Enough is enough.  I give up.  Why try anymore?”
What saved Elijah was that when he panicked and ran . . . he ran to the Lord.  Not to another unfulfilling and unrewarding relationship . . . but to God.  Not to another eating or drinking binge or shopping and spending spree . . . but to God.  What saved Elijah was that when he said “enough,” he was talking to God.  Not to another human being who was just as confused and had just as many hang-ups as he had, but to God.
The only way I know how to handle tigers in the dark when panic is setting in and I don’t know what else to do is to come before God and say, “Father, I stretch my hands to thee; no other help I know.  God, here I am, your child.  I can’t handle these fears anymore.  I don’t know what else to do.  I don’t know where to go. I put this fear in your hands.  I put myself in your hands.  I put these tigers in your hands.  You take them because I’ve had enough.”
Now when we go to God in prayer, the fear doesn’t leave right away.  There was a story of a well-known missionary in India who was bowing one night in prayer at the side of his bed when a great python lowered itself from the rafters of his bungalow and encircled his body with its cold and powerful coils.  It made no attempt to constrict, yet the missionary knew that if he struggled, the great serpent would tighten the coils and crush him.  With marvelous self-control and courage born of faith, he went on quietly praying, until at length the animal unwound itself and went back into the roof.
Sometimes as we pray . . . fears will attack us and wrap themselves around us, even as we come before God.  That’s why we need to learn not only how to pray . . . but how to pray through.  There’s a difference in praying and praying through.  Praying is talking to the Lord . . . but praying through is agonizing with the Lord.  Praying through means that you continue to pray until the breakthrough comes, until you know you have the victory.  When you are trying to overcome a fear, you are engaged in warfare.  One battle will not win a war.  You keep fighting on your knees over and over again until you feel the fear release its hold and crawl back to wherever it came from.  To pray through is to be as determined to get your victory as fear is to overcome you and the devil is to defeat you.  To pray through is to say like Jacob when he wrestled with the angel all night long, “I will not let you go.  I don’t care how long it takes, or how often I have to come to you, or how many setbacks I have or how many tigers are in my cage.  I will not let you go until you bless me. I know you can do it.  You have the power and you promised never to leave me.  Now I’m claiming your promise. I’m going to stay right here until my change comes.”  That’s what it means to pray until you pray through.  You pray through sorrow to song . . . pray through midnight to morning . . . pray through tears to testimony . . . pray through weeping to winning.
Elijah prayed through at Mount Horeb and God spoke to him and said:
   Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.  Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha . . . as prophet in your place [and regarding your concern that you are the only one left], I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:15-18)

When you pray through you can face your tigers in the dark.  The story is told of a father whose little girl was afraid of the dark.  She would call for him in the middle of the night.  He would simply stand by her crib and look down upon her.  The little girl, knowing that her father was in the room and his eyes were looking down upon her, would fall to sleep peacefully, all fear gone.
You can face your tigers in the dark when you know that beyond them there is another set of eyes watching over you.  Even though the tigers can see you better than you can see them . . . you have no need to fear because the other set of eyes can see every move they make and can move to protect you.
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« Reply #48 on: November 24, 2011, 09:55:42 AM »

A Thankful Heart

     In Luke 17:11-19, we read that Jesus healed ten “untouchables” . . . ten lepers.  This incident is not only another example of the healing power of Christ, it is a demonstration of the Master’s sensitivity to human need and his ever-present compassion.
     The sight of lepers was common in Jesus’ day and most people grew accustomed to seeing them.  Suffering and misery are like anything else . . . we can get used to them.  If we see them enough, if we’re confronted by them enough, then we cease to be shocked by them and we learn to accept them as the natural order of things.
     However, Jesus was not so accustomed to suffering and misery and tragedy that he could take problems, injustices, and pain lightly.  Whenever he saw misery, something moved within him . . . his heart was touched and he responded.  He knew that he couldn’t heal everybody in the world, but that didn’t stop him from healing those that he could.  Thus, when the lepers cried out to him, Jesus responded.
     As the lepers followed Jesus’ command to go show themselves to the priest, they found themselves cleansed.  As they followed the instructions of Jesus, they found themselves healed.  It came to pass that as they went, they were cleansed.  Deliverance, cleansing, salvation, and healing come to us only as we listen to the directives of the Lord and obey.  Sometimes those directives may seem strange, but it is only as we, in faith, venture to do as the Lord has commanded and the Spirit has directed, that we are set free from that which once held us bound.
     When the lepers discovered their healing, what was their response?  Nine went their way, while one returned to give thanks.  When the one returned, glorifying God for what had been done in his life, Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten? Where are the nine?” 
     I don’t know exactly where the other nine went . . . the Scriptures do not say.  Perhaps a couple of them didn’t return because they took their healing for granted.  There was no reason to be thankful because they felt that they had been given a raw deal in life.  The disease had been unfairly thrust upon them, so the healing was only what they deserved.  They were embittered about their condition and, because their bitterness was so deep, they were not particularly thankful for their relief.
     There are some people in life who feel that the world owes them a living . . .  they take God’s blessings for granted.  When we think of the unemployed, the destitute, and the hungry, what makes us think that we are any more deserving of the jobs we have, or the food on our tables, or the shelter above our heads, than anyone else?  If we have been blessed, it’s not because we have an inherent right or that we are more deserving.  There are a lot of deserving people who don’t have what we have.  We have been blessed because God has chosen to bless us.  What I am saying is that every good and perfect gift comes from above.  So instead of taking life for granted, we should live life in gratitude.
     There are some church people who feel that if things go right in the church: “It’s what we did,” but if things go wrong: “It’s what the pastor did or did not do.” Some people feel that when something good comes their way: “It’s what I did, what I worked for; it’s my accomplishment.”  But the minute something bad happens, our tune becomes: “Why did God do this to me; why did God let this happen to me; why is God so hard on me?”
     But when we approach life with an attitude of gratitude, we give thanks in all things.  Like Habakkuk, we can say, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be shot in the vines, the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields yield not meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:17-18, KJV).
     Perhaps not all of the lepers took their healing for granted.  Some probably meant to return to say thank-you to Jesus, but they became sidetracked and never got around to it.  They meant to return to Jesus just as soon as they left the temple.  But they decided to go home first and show themselves to their families.  They decided to go by the old neighborhood and see their old friends, as well as some of the people who had shunned them before.
     When they went home they started celebrating and before they knew it the day was gone and the night was gone.  Before they knew it a week was gone, a month was gone, a year was gone.  Before they knew it  . . . Jesus was gone.  Before they knew it Jesus had been crucified, and they never got around to thanking him.
     They probably didn’t do it purposefully . . . they had the best of intentions.  They meant to thank him . . .  they just became so engrossed in their own agendas, they got so caught up in their own celebrations, they just never got around to it.
     There are a lot of people who will end up in hell because of “meant to” religion.  We meant to visit the sick . . . we meant to ask our neighbors’ forgiveness . . . we meant to say a kind word.  We meant to go to church . . .  we certainly meant to keep all those promises we made to God when we were down and out or when we were sick.  We meant to be a good Christian husband or wife, son or daughter, father or mother . . . but we just became sidetracked.
     We became so engrossed in doing what we wanted to do . . . we kept putting it off.  Then we looked around and our opportunities were gone.  The best years of our lives were gone . . . our children were grown . . . the person we intended to be reconciled with was gone . . . but we meant to do it.
     “Meant to” religion has never done anything but talk.  It has never saved a soul, comforted the sick, or repaired any hurt feelings.  That’s why we must act whenever we get the chance.
     The one grateful leper had to turn back and retrace his steps to get to Jesus.  Perhaps the others were grateful, but they didn’t feel like going through the trouble of turning back to give thanks.  They found it much easier to go on their merry way.  To find Jesus, they would have had to return to the spot and revisit those same places where they were once lepers.  They wanted to forget all about that and so they just continued on their journey.
     It’s easier to continue on our way than to pause and do a little backtracking to give thanks.  It takes a little extra effort on our part to give thanks.  It’s easier to lay in bed on Sunday morning and not struggle with the kids to get them up and ready . . . it’s easier to think . . . I’ll go next Sunday for sure . . . it’s easier to make excuses than come to church to thank and praise God for last week’s journey.  It’s easier to stay at home in the kitchen or in front of the television than it is to get up and go out to that holy place to say, “I thank you, Jesus, for what you’ve done for me.”
     It’s easy to get so involved in our activities that we can’t find the time to serve God.  Some of us don’t want to think about the time when we were outcasts, when we didn’t have much of anything, before the hand of the Lord rescued us.  Some of us have conveniently forgotten all those promises through all those years that we have made to God -- we assume we have plenty of time to make good on them.  Some of us are so far on our way that we think it’s too much to retrace our steps back to Jesus.  It’s easier to just go on our way.
     Yes, a lot of people, for one reason or another, fail to give God proper thanks.  Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten?  Where are the nine?”  Ten were healed but only one returned, but thank God for the one.  No matter how bad things may get, no matter how many turn their backs on God, someone will return to give thanks.
     I’ve found out, as a preacher, that when things get rough and supporters seem few, God always sends someone to offer a word of encouragement.  God always has one who says, “I’m praying for you.  I’ll do what I can.  I’m with you.  I can’t speak for the others, but you can count on me.”
     God always has one.  That one’s name may be Noah, Abraham, Moses . . . it may be Joshua, Gideon, or Esther . . . it may be Elijah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah . . . it may be Daniel, or John the Baptist, or Stephen, or Paul, or John of Patmos . . . it may be a friend named Dennis or a sister named Rose . . . but God always has somebody.  Sometimes God has more than we think . . . as a pastor I have found that out too . . . many more are willing to pray and thank God for the good we do as a community of faith . . . than the one or two squeaky wheels who always need to be oiled.
     Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men?  Where are the nine?  Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God?”  Among the ten lepers there was one who was a despised Samaritan.  There was one who was not only the victim of leprosy, but he was also the victim of intense prejudice and hatred from the Jews.  Yet when the healing took place, it was the Samaritan who returned to give thanks.  Jesus’ own people went on their way.  It was one who was considered a foreigner, the one we would least expect, who came back shouting, “Glory to God, I’ve been healed.”
     Many times God’s choice is the one that we would consider to be the least likely. 
     When God got ready for a deliverer for the children of Israel, God picked the world’s most unlikely candidate: Moses.  A son of Pharaoh’s court, Moses was a former general of the Egyptian army and a murderer who spoke with a stammer.
     When Samuel went to Jesse’s house, God chose David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, who was only a shepherd boy and who was the least likely candidate to be a king over Israel.
     When God was ready for an apostle to the Gentiles he got the one least likely: Saul, a zealous Pharisee and ardent persecutor of the church. 
     That’s why, from the youngest to the oldest, we have to treat everyone right.  Jesus says, “Whoever receives a little child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me . . . :Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:37, 42).  Jesus says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least; you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40, KJV).
     In the church, God’s anointed is not always the one with the squeakiest wheel or the highest office.  God’s person is not always the individual who is up front all the time or the one who gives the most.  God’s person may not say much and may not even get any recognition.  They may not even hold an office, but that’s alright because God knows who these persons are.  Their souls have been set free and their names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life.
     Jesus was thanked by the one least likely.  Often our blessings come not from those we’ve helped the most . . . but from those about whom we have not given much thought.  Often those for whom we don’t think we’ve done very much, are the most appreciative.  Maybe what we did was a little thing to us, but it was a big thing to them.  That’s what makes doing good worthwhile.  The nine may go their own way, never bothering to say thank you, never thinking about how we’ve helped them or what we’ve tried to do for them.  But when the one comes back, we know the kindness we’ve tried to do has not been in vain.  Let us not become discouraged over the nine . . . just thank God that we’ve been able to help the one.
     I don’t know about you, but this is how I approach life.  I may not be able to sing like angels . . . I may not be able to preach like Paul . . . I may not be rich or smart . . . history books may never record my works . . . but if in the course of this life I’ve been able to help one person, then everything’s all right.  If one person has been brought closer to God . . . if one young person has been guided in the right way . . .  if one old person has been comforted in their loneliness . . .  if one sick person has been helped to hold on until deliverance comes . . . if one soul has been saved . . . if one life has been redeemed . . . if one person has seen the beauty of Jesus shining through my wretched life . . . then my living has not been in vain.
     Just think of it!  There is something we can do for God.  Saying “Thank You,” in our prayers gives Him delight.  Can we . . . will we . . . let go and pour forth our thanks?  But even here He must help us.  And so we pray, “You have given so much . . . give me one more gift . . . a thankful heart.”
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« Reply #49 on: December 05, 2011, 03:27:15 AM »

May Christ Be Born In You
Sue Monk Kidd, in one of her books, recalls her youth and how she would prepare for Christmas. In early December, she would sit by the wooden nativity set clustered under their Christmas tree and think over the last year of her life. She would think deeply about Christmas and the coming of Jesus.

She remembers, one time, visiting a monastery. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas. As she passed a monk walking outside, she greeted him with, "Merry Christmas." The monk's response caught her off guard a bit. "May Christ be born in you," he replied.

His words seemed strange and peculiar at the time. What did he mean, "May Christ be born in you?" At the time she was unsure of what he meant, but now all these years later, sitting beside the Christmas tree, she felt the impact of his words. She discovered that Advent is a time of spiritual preparation. It is also a time of transformation. It is "discovering our soul and letting Christ be born from the waiting heart."
 
King Duncan, Collected Sermons
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« Reply #50 on: December 10, 2011, 10:43:51 AM »

A True Christmas Story   
             The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities.
   When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work.  They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.  They worked  hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc. and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished.
   On the 19th a terrible tempest, a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days.  On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church.  His heart sunk when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 6 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.  The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home.
   On the way, he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity so he stopped in.  One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center.  It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the front wall.  He bought it and headed back to the church.  By this time it had started to snow. 
   An older woman running from the opposite direction was  trying to catch the bus.  She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later.  She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry.  The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area. Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle.  Her face was like a sheet. "Pastor," she asked,  "where did you get that tablecloth?"  The pastor explained.
   The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there.  They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.
   The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten the tablecloth.
   The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria.  When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave.  Her husband was going to follow her the next week. She was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again.
   The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church.
   The pastor insisted on driving her home, that was the least he could do.  She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.  What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great.
   At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return.  One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving.
   The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?  He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety, and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison.
   He never saw his wife or his home again or all the 35 years in between.
   The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride.  They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.
   He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.
   True Story, submitted by Pastor Rob Reid.  “Who says God does not work in mysterious ways?”
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« Reply #51 on: December 12, 2011, 10:39:18 AM »


Our Lady of Guadalupe

 an angelic monkey

According to tradition, on December 9, 1531 Juan Diego, a simple indigenous peasant, had a vision of a young woman while he was on a hill in the Tepeyac desert, near Mexico City. The lady told him to build a church exactly on the spot where they were standing. He told the local bishop, who asked for some proof. He went back and had the vision again. He told the lady that the bishop wanted proof, and she said "Bring the roses behind you." Turning to look, he found a rose bush growing behind him. He cut the roses, placed them in his poncho and returned to the bishop, saying he had brought proof. When he opened his poncho, instead of roses, there was an image of the young lady in the vision.

snip

Two accounts published in the 1640s, one in Spanish and the other in Nahuatl, tell how, during a walk from his home village to Mexico City early on the morning of December 9, 1531 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Spanish Empire),[5] the peasant Juan Diego saw a vision of a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, surrounded by light, on the slopes of the Hill of Tepeyac. Speaking in the local language, Nahuatl, the Lady asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor, and from her words Juan Diego recognized her as the Virgin Mary. Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who instructed him to return and ask the Lady for a miraculous sign to prove her claim. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather some flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. It was winter and very late in the season for any flowers to bloom, but on the hilltop which was usually barren, Diego found Castillian roses, and the Virgin herself arranged them in his tilma, or peasant cloak. When Juan Diego opened the cloak before Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and in their place was the Virgin of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted on the fabric.[6]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe
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« Reply #52 on: December 14, 2011, 08:55:56 AM »

Seahorse, thanks for sharing!
Merry Christmas!
 
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« Reply #53 on: December 24, 2011, 09:43:56 AM »


THE MANGER-MAKER’S WIFE
   Good evening.  My name is Abigail, and although you have never met me before, I come to you tonight to tell you a fascinating story.  Some of this story you know well, others part of this story you don’t know at all, and I pray to Yahweh that all of this story -- the story about my husband Josiah the manger maker, you will remember and may it touch your hearts.   
   The sun was setting over ancient Palestine . . . as it had done so many times before, when I walked to the door of Josiah’s little workshop in the back of the house   . . .  as I had done day after day . . . to tell Josiah that the evening meal was ready. 
   Occasionally I would pause . . . and stand quietly     . . . just to watch my husband who was so often deeply engrossed in his work.
   As I watched him moving around amidst the evening shadows of the setting sun, I smiled looking at his full beard and head of hair which seemed to turn more grey with each passing day.  When he raised his hammer and brought it down accurately and forcefully upon its intended object, I saw the large veins protruding from his hands and neck, and the muscles in his strong arms which had been preserved by years of physical work and conditioning.  They were also loving and tender arms, having held me in what I always believed the most perfect embrace.
   I could remember when his hair had been as red as the rays of the setting sun, which was now casting its final light for that day upon the earth and was bathing the little workshop in an amber glow.  I could remember when the veins were not so prominent in his hands and the muscle tone in his arms was even more sleek.  How I loved this man!  We had more than a good marriage -- we were created for each other . . . and the years had gone by quickly.   
   Again I smiled the smile of one loved so perfectly as I remembered when I had been a fair maiden and had been attracted to this young lad, whom I had met one day as I went with mother to the village well.  I had seen him there with his mother and I often wondered if he would ever notice me.  This particular morning, Josiah’s finger was bleeding.  Someone had left a broken water pitcher by the well and he had tried to rearrange the pieces together.  He had cut himself with one of the jagged edges of the broken pottery.  I went and put a piece of clean cloth on it, our eyes met . . . well, that’s another story for another time.
   For as long as I had known him, he had loved to fix things and work with his hands.  What had started out as curiosity about things that could be carved from wood or made with stone, had turned into a skill and then into a career.  My Josiah, the manger-maker had become a master craftsman and had become known throughout the region for the quality of his work.  He believed that his work represented him, so he always tried to do it well.  He was never out of work because his customers always came back.  There were others who could do faster work and possibly fancier work . . . but no one could do any better work.  Plus, he didn’t charge an arm and a leg for his work, although he could have, he was content to merely make a decent living for me and our two children . . . and do his work well.  In addition to the constant work from old customers, there were always new customers who had heard of the his skill and would come from near and far with work to be done.
   As I looked at him this particular night and thought about our life together, he looked up with a twinkle in his eyes.  The twinkle was always there when he looked at me, even after all these years.  He asked, “Is it supper time already?”  “Yes,” I replied, “time to wash up and come to eat.  By the way, what are you working on so intently? Anything special?”
   “No,” he said, “just another manger.  Reuben, who owns an inn down in Bethlehem, needs another manger.  This new decree from Caesar Augustus, requiring everyone to return to their hometown to register for the census, has brought an unusual amount of business to Bethlehem and to Reuben’s inn this year.  He was telling me that he stays full just about all of the time.  He needs another manger for his guests’ animals.  No, this is no special project; it’s just another manger.”
   The next day, Josiah finished the manger and inspected it, confident that he had done his usual quality job.  This was far from being the first manger he had made and hopefully it would not be his last.  Since he put his best effort into all of his work, this manger, from his perspective was just another manger.
   It wasn’t necessary for Reuben the innkeeper to inspect it too closely, because he knew that Josiah  didn’t do shoddy work.  Reuben knew that the insides would be hallowed out deep enough to hold sufficient hay and feed for the cattle and other animals who would eat from it.  He knew that there would be no cracks in its bottom or sides which would allow water to seep in.  He knew that the manger would be strong enough to take the kicks and scraping from the hooves of the animals who would use it.  This was not the first manger Reuben had ordered from Josiah and hopefully it would not be his last.  So for the innkeeper--  it was just another manger.
   Just another manger -- that’s probably what the yard help thought as they carried it to the stable in back of the inn and found a convenient place for the feeding of the animals.
   Just another superstitious Hebrew -- that’s probably what Pharaoh thought when Moses first showed up at his court with the command that God’s people be set free.
   Just another meddlesome woman who has gotten out of her place -- that’s probably what Sisera and his generals thought when they first heard that the prophetess Deborah was giving courage to the armies of Israel.
   Just another preacher trying to make trouble.  We'll intimidate him and buy him off like we’ve done all the rest -- that’s probably what Ahab and Jezebel thought of Elijah when he declared that the rains would come only at his word.
   Just another woman telling another story  -- that’s probably what you’re thinking when I began to tell you this story.
   We must be careful about how we dismiss and take lightly those who have been made by the Master Crafter.  Never sell yourself short.  Never dismiss yourself as being a nobody with nothing special to offer.  Recognize the fact that you have been made by the Master Crafter.
   Others may treat us as just another person, just another neighbor, just another woman, just another man, just another manger maker . . . but we are the work of the Master Crafter.  We are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 1:9, KJV).   Though we may look ordinary, Yahweh has suited us in our ordinariness for the purposes that we are to serve.  Our insides have been hollowed out so that they can hold hearts to love God . . . minds to serve God . . . spirits that long for God . . . and souls to live eternally with God.  God has given us the blood of  our Messiah to seal the cracks in our lives so that no sin can seep in to destroy what we are within.  We are strengthened by God to withstand the kicks and bruises that others -- Satan and life itself -- give to us.   We are the work of the Master Crafter.
   Making mangers was not a particularly noteworthy calling that my Josiah had . . . however, it was his calling and so  . . . he did his best.  He didn’t allow others to belittle his talents.  He was proud of his work so he did his best.
   No matter how many or how few, how great or how small your talents, if they are your talents, always put forth your best effort.  No matter how great or how small your contribution . . . when it is your time to give, give with thanksgiving, with pride, and with style.  No matter how great or small the occasion  . . .when it is your time to perform . . . give it your all.  We have no need to be jealous of another’s task or talent, gift or role.  All we have to do is strive for excellence in that which is ours to do.     
   My Josiah, the manger-maker had no way of knowing the special use to which his manger would be put.  Thank  God that he was consistent at producing his best.  Thank God that the manger into which the baby Jesus was lain was among Josiah’s best efforts.   Heaven forbid that our Lord would have lain in a manger that proved insufficient for its unexpected blessing.  Heaven forbid that  our Messiah . . . who was born in the meanest, poorest, and crudest of circumstances, would have been laid in a manger of shoddy materials and poor workmanship.
             We ought to always put forth our best effort because we never know when Yahweh will have some special use for our talent, our witness or testimony, or our life. We never know when we will be needed to fill a specific place, serve a special role, or be a unique part of God’s larger plan of redemption.  We ought to always put forth our best effort for we never know when God will visit our lives.
   Thank God that Abraham was consistently courteous to strangers.  On that day when he saw two strangers approaching his tent, he received them with his usual courtesy.  He didn’t realize it, but those two ordinary-looking men were angels on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah to deliver God’s word of judgment.  Because Abraham extended his best self, he received the assurance that God’s word would still come true.  His wife, Sarah, though far beyond childbearing years, would still give him a son, and Abraham would be the father of a great nation.
   It always pays to put forth our best because we never know when heaven will descend upon our lives in search of our best.  That’s why Our Saviour told the disciples: “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day the Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42).
   On the night that  our Messiah was born, a manger had a place in the drama of salvation.  Who would have thought that at this particular time and place in history, the Elohim of the universe would have used something as insignificant as a manger? Who would have thought that at such an important point in time, on such a momentous occasion as the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, that something as simple and as small as a manger would have had such a prominent role?
   One could conceive of Elohim using the forces of nature.  Elohim had used rain in the time of Noah and fire in the time of Moses.  During the Egyptian bondage Elohim used all kinds of natural plagues to free the children of Israel.  Yahweh sent the whirlwind for Elijah and Elohim would use the stars to guide the wise men to the baby Jesus. 
   Throughout the Scriptures the mighty, forces of nature are used to accomplish God’s will, but who would have thought that God would have needed and use something as small and as simple, but as important in that place and at that time, as a mere manger?
   One would expect the involvement of human beings in the drama of salvation.  One would expect prophets to foretell of a coming Messiah.  In the event of a child’s birth, one would expect the involvement of human parents.  One could conceive of visitors, even shepherds, coming to see him. 
   When one considers that Our Saviour comes to challenge and rebuke the hold of Satan and sin on human life and destiny, one is not surprised to find an evil Herod plotting to destroy him.  But who would expected God to have needed and used something as simple and as small, but yet as important in that place and in that time, as a mere manger?
   One is not surprised to see the involvement of angels.  After all, throughout the Scriptures angels are associated with God’s special communication with us.  Since God used angels when he spoke in various ways in times past to our mothers and fathers, it would be expected that angels would be involved when God was communicating with us through a Son whom he had appointed heir of all things and through whom God also created the world.  With the coming of God in Our Saviour one would expect to hear angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men and [women] with whom God is well pleased” (Luke 2:14).  Angels and the baby Jesus just naturally go together.  However, what one would not expect is the involvement of something as simple and as small, but yet as important, at that time and in that place,  as a manger, in this, the greatest story ever told.
   However, at that time and in that place, nothing but a manger would do because the baby Jesus needed some lace to lay his head.  Mary and Joseph and the others would not have been able to hold him all of the time.  The baby Jesus would have been constantly shifted from person to person.  The ground would have been too hard and cold for him.  The forces of nature -- fire, wind, and rain -- would not have been able to cushion the head of  our Messiah.  Angels’ music, while sweet, was not designed to be a resting place for a baby’s head.  Since cribs are not found in stables, the only thing that could serve that purpose was something as simple as the feeding trough of the stable animals -- my Josiah’s manger.
   If God can use something as simple and as small as a manger, then God can use you and me.  We may not be able to sing like angels and we may not be able to lead like Moses, but if God can use something as simple and small as the manger, God can use you and me. 
   There may be others better qualified, with more energy and strength, with more money and influence, but if God is big enough to use something small like the manger of a good craftsman, since we have been made by the Master Crafter, God can use you and me.
   As unbelievable as it may seem, maybe what God needs in a particular situation, to reach a particular person,  is not somebody else but you or me.  Maybe somebody needs to hear us tell our story -- as only we can -- of how Our Saviour lifted us from sinking sand.  Maybe somebody who “knew us when” needs to see the change that Jesus has made in our lives.  Every now and then we can be God’s mangers -- serving a special purpose . . . in special situations . . .at special times.
   It was just another manger -- that’s probably what everyone thought as they dealt with the manger in which  our Messiah was laid.  How could they possibly know that the God of the universe had a special purpose for that manger?  How could they know that something far more precious than fodder for cattle or feed for animals would lay in that manger?  How could they know that manger would be the first resting place for God's unspeakable gift?  How could they know that the angels would sing over that manger?   How could they know  that manger, which looked so ordinary, would be unlike any other manger that had ever been made? How could they know that such an ordinary manger would hold such an extraordinary treasure?  How could they know that after two thousand years you and I are still talking about and singing about that manger?


   Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
   the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
   The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
   the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

   The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
   but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes;
   I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
   and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

   Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
   close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
   bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
   and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
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« Reply #54 on: February 08, 2012, 06:03:58 PM »

Did You Ever Wonder Why?

   Why does the Lord do things as He does?
   So often things happen to God’s children that appear to have no purpose whatever and seem so far removed from any reason.  It sometimes happens that sorrow comes to an honest heart that has long been yielded to the will of the Lord and has been making an earnest effort to serve Him and to please Him.  Trouble comes.  Hot tears flow down bewildered cheeks and Christian friends shake their heads and wonder why.
   The history of God’s people shows many such instances.  There is the case of John the Baptist.  Jesus loved this courageous man and paid him what is perhaps the highest compliment paid to any man in the Bible.  Jesus said of John the Baptist that of those born of woman, there had not risen one greater than he.  What happened?  At the height of his ministry this mighty warrior was slain by the weak and evil Herod.  After he had preached only about six months, and at the age of a little past thirty, John died under the blade of a wicked king.
   Why did God allow this to happen?  Those were critical days.  The powers of Hell had set themselves against the Son of God and everything He stood for . . . a baby church would need such men as John the Baptist in the important decades ahead.  From every human point of view it would seem that John would be sorely needed, for there were few so brave and loyal to the Lord as he.  But God allowed him to be killed.  Why?  The answer is hidden in the heart of God, and when we at last understand it, we shall marvel at the goodness of it.
   From our own experiences arise questions that we are not able to answer except by faith.  There is the troubling story of Susan Powell and her children.  Why?
   With our streets full of people who have little regard for others rights or property . . . with jails full of folks whose lives, at least for a time, are twisted and out of tune with the rest of humanity, with other young people following careers of crime and preying like beasts on innocent humanity, with others seemingly hopeless slaves of alcohol and narcotics . . . why should this mother and precious children be the ones to die? Why?
   These questions . . . since the Lord has not considered it needful that we understand them now . . . must be tucked away on the shelves of faith for the time being.  We must realize that we simply are not qualified to judge who is to be left in the world and who is to be taken away . . . or who is to remain sick and who is to be healed.  Such decisions belong only to the Lord, and we must comfort ourselves in the knowledge that God never makes a mistake or commits a useless or ill-timed deed.  If God were so small that all of His ideas could be packed into our feeble understandings, then we would all have to change our ideas about Him.
   But there is comfort for the aching heart in the Holy Word of God.  The Bible casts a great deal of light on the reasons behind God’s actions, and if we will be willing to search the Scriptures, we can find peace for our souls.  If we look at the Scriptures, we can find answers to many of the questions that can never be answered if we only look at people and things in this present world.  Often in the Bible we see that God deals with the very question that we face here . . .why does God do things as He does?
   In the first place, all the ways and thoughts of God are noble and lofty.  Listen to the words of the prophet in Isaiah 55:8-9.
      For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
   These verses tell us plainly that God does not always look at things as we do, nor is He obligated to do things as we think they ought to be done.  God is where He can get a clear view of everything, and He always does things as He knows they ought to be done.  What we think is best and what God knows is best often may be poles apart.
   Now think a moment about this verse.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth!”  What a statement!  How high are the heavens, anyway?  Well, we know that the nearest star is so high that its light, traveling at the rate of 186,000 miles a second, takes nearly four years to reach the earth.  So it must be high up where the stars are.  And God says that as the heavens . . .the stars . . .are high above the earth, so are His ways and thoughts higher than our ways and thoughts.
   Then it is no wonder that God sometimes moves in mysterious ways, and we find it hard to understand why.  God sees it all, and He knows what is best.
             Some friends of mine are the parents of a lovely little boy.  The child was born blind and crippled.  One foot was drawn out of shape, and as he learned to walk, the foot gave him trouble.  A physician told the parents that an operation would probably relieve some of the difficulty, and they agreed to the surgery.
   In preparing the child for the operation, food and water were kept from him for several hours prior to his being put to sleep.  When I dropped into his room at the hospital a few hours before the operation, the little boy was sitting up in his bed, very much alive and active.  He was feeling good except for hunger and thirst, and he kept asking every minute or two for something to eat and a drink of water.  Probably for the first time in his life he had not had any breakfast, and he simply could not understand why.  The experience was an ordeal for his parents.  For all of his life they had quickly and lovingly responded to his every desire.  But now he was calling for food and water and they could not help him.  No wonder tears ran down their cheeks, and tears ran down mine.  And there was no way of explaining to the little boy that it was better for him to be hungry and thirsty for a little while in order that he might be able to walk straighter and more comfortably a little later.
   My heart tells me that there must be many times when God would like to take us into His confidence and explain to us why things turn out as they do.  But like the precious little boy, we just couldn’t understand.  There is no way of getting across to us the real mercy that lies behind the tears of the moment.  But if our minds were as wide as the mind of God, and if we were where He is, we would understand why He works as He does, and instead of being bitter about it, we would fall on our knees and thank an all-wise Father for His care of His children.
   One of the most comforting statements in the Bible is that of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28.
      And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose.   
             You may search the Bible from cover to cover, and you may search any other book from end to end, and you will find few statements anywhere that are as broad and deep and rich as this one.  Hear the verse again.  Read it very, very carefully.  What things work together for good to them that love God?  All things!  What a joyful announcement!  It covers everything within the scope of human experience.  All things!  A loving Father has obligated Himself and guaranteed that everything that takes place in the lives of those who love Him is for good.  That means that every tear, every sorrow, every misfortune, every catastrophe and every calamity, even hurricanes and tornadoes, famines and freezes, depressions and plagues, sickness, pain, disappointment, and even death . . . all things . . . work together, cooperate, move in a mighty teamwork for good to them that love God.
   One day a boy named Joseph went to visit his brothers in the field (Genesis  27).  These brothers, irritated by what they considered to be the young man’s boasting, sold the boy into slavery.  Carried by some traders into Egypt, Joseph fell the victim of an evil woman’s lie and was cast into prison.  But you know the Genesis story, I hope.  God was working all the time, and in just a little while Joseph was next to the king himself in power and honor in that foreign land.  In this position he saved a nation from starvation and brought about the rescue of his own people back in his homeland.  Next to the salvation of his soul, the greatest thing that ever happened to Joseph was his being sold into slavery.  But it must have been hard for him to see it during the first few years of his bondage.
   In this case God made even the brothers’ jealousy to work for good in the life of a young man who loved Him.  The traders who carried Joseph into Egypt were working for him.  The evil woman who lied about him was working for him.  Pharaoh was working for him.  From beginning to end, from Canaan to Egypt, every particle of sand over which his camel walked, everything was working for good for Joseph and the Lord.
   How comforting it is to know that beyond any doubt the man or the woman who loves God is not a creature of chance.  Things do not just happen to such people.  Everything has a meaning, every circumstance and condition a purpose.  The person who loves God is a special object of God’s kindness, and the powers of Heaven are pledged to make all things cooperate as a team for good in that person’s life.  Thus it is that a child of God, one who has opened their heart in tender faith to Jesus Christ, may look up toward the stars, even though in tears, and know that from the sorrow of the moment God Almighty will work out a blessing that will rise in beauty from the wreckage of cherished hopes and broken dreams.  Somewhere, sometime, in this world or in the eternal world of God, good is being done.  God has pledged Himself to make it so. Our suffering is not wasted.  It will bring its ample blessing in due season.
   The Bible strikes another lovely chord in Colossians 1: 16.  In speaking of Jesus, Paul says:
      For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him.
   “. . . all things were created by him and for him.”  Every human being . . . every animal . . . every tree and blade of grass . . . every rock and every speck of dust . . . every drop of water and every grain of sand . . . every atom and every molecule in this world or in any other world . . . every angel and every spirit anywhere has been made for just one purpose . . . to bring glory and honor to the name of Christ.
   This is why people exist . . . and more especially the people of God.  They are for the pleasure and glory of God’s dear Son.  Certainly to the true Christian, no greater satisfaction can come than the knowledge that we are being used for the pleasure and honor of Jesus.
   In the ninth chapter of John there is the story of a blind man who met Jesus one day.  Jesus stood in front of the people and gave sight to this man who had been blind from his mother’s womb.  This miracle created quite a stir among the people and a great deal of discussion followed.  The disciples asked Jesus who was responsible for the man’s blindness, his parents or himself.  But Jesus answered that the man had been born blind so that one day he might be used to furnish a bit of glory to the Son of God.
   Think of it!  For perhaps thirty years that poor man had groveled in the dust of the streets, hoping perhaps for a penny or two or a kind word from the hurrying throngs.  During all of his childhood, while other boys romped and played, that little boy had groped his way about the dooryard, lonely in his dark little world.  And why?  For all those years he sat in darkness, unknowingly waiting for Jesus to come by and obtain some glory by giving the blind man his sight.  Years and years of darkness that the Son of God might have a single moment of glory!  But it was enough.  In the long run, when this brief instant of time has been swallowed up in the vastness of eternity, that ex-blind man will know if he does not already know . . . that those years of blindness were not too great a price to pay in order that Jesus Christ might receive glory from his misfortune.
   This brings us to the last thought.  Let us look at Romans 8, verse 18.
      For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
   There is coming a time in the future when God’s child will come into the fullness of their redemption.  No Christian in this world has received all that God has promised them.  Our salvation, though settled and sealed when we place our trust in Christ Jesus, cannot reach its fullness until we put on our glorified bodies in the presence of God.  Now we are justified . . . those who trust in Christ . . . but then we shall be glorified!
   What does it mean to be glorified?  No living person can answer this question.  There is no experience within the reach of living people by which the heart can grasp the meaning of glorification.  It is so wonderful, so out of-this-world, so far above the tallest dreams, that nobody has any real idea of what glorification means.
   But it is coming to every believer.  Now we can only await the boundless thrill of that joyful time and eagerly comfort our hearts with the anticipation of it.  And when that time comes, and God’s children put on their glorified bodies, they will discover in an instant of time that all of the suffering of this present world was nothing when compared to the final victory and the unending happiness of God’s redeemed children.
   As a few flecks of dust are not worthy to be compared to a handful of diamonds, neither will any of our earthly experiences be worthy to be compared to the imperishable joys that will come to us when at last we meet the Saviour face to face.
   For the moment, we cannot always know why God does things as He does.  But one thing we do know.  Our Father is looking out for His child.  And He will allow only those things to happen to that child that will bring blessings in the end.  God is never surprised.  Things never slip up on Him.  He is in control.  As the wise person has said . . .we may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.
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« Reply #55 on: February 21, 2012, 11:39:46 PM »

John 5:2-18

Do You Want to Be Healed?

   The question in this scripture seems a bit strange at first.  Why would Jesus ask a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years if he wanted to be healed?  Why would the Lord ask someone if he or she wanted to be healed when the person was already at the pool believing it would heal the affliction?  Why would the Master ask someone if he or she wanted to be healed when the person had been faithfully coming to the place of healing, day after day, week after week, and year after year? "
   
............
TY, this is interesting. Food for thought and then some action on my part.
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« Reply #56 on: February 22, 2012, 09:48:32 AM »

Your welcome Kat_Gram.  I have a healing service this Sunday and will try to remember to post what I say afterward.  Thanks for reading.
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« Reply #57 on: March 11, 2012, 08:00:48 AM »

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

   We believers justifiably and understandably emphasize the healing miracles of the Scriptures.  As we are all aware, the Bible is filled with instances of healing that come as a response to a command or prayer of faith by a believer.  Our problem is that while the Bible is full of examples of God saying yes to prayer requests from believers for healing . . . our own lives and experience are full of examples of God saying no to such prayers.  How do we respond when God says no . . . when as far as we can tell, based on our understanding and reading of the Scriptures . . . we’re saying and doing all the right things?  We are praying in the name of Jesus . . . we are praying in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . and we have invited the Holy Spirit to come.  We have touched and agreed with another believer and have bound the power of the adversary and rebuked the illness.  We have fasted and prayed the prayer of faith, have been anointed with oil, and have laid on hands.  We have prayed believing and expecting . . .and God still said no.
   Let me say at the outset that this is a very difficult message, because I do not have the answer to the troubling questions: “Why does God say no sometimes?  Why are some people healed and others not healed?”  I have prayed for some people, and God said yes.  Yet when I prayed for my own grandmother’s healing, God said no.  God didn’t say to wait . . . God said no.  I find it frustrating, baffling, and painful to visit believers who truly love the Lord and to see them suffer . . .and yet are unable to do anything about their condition.  I pray for their healing, others pray for them, and God still says no.  Then, at other times, when we are about to become completely discouraged, we pray for somebody else for whom only a miracle will do, and God says yes.  We are amazed and awed again by the power of God.  Why are some people healed and others who are just as deserving not healed?  To put the matter personally . . . why are some people healed when my mother, my father, my companion, my child, my best friend are not?  To put the matter even more personally, why are some people healed when I am not?  God, why are you saying no to my healing?
   That was the question Paul was wrestling with in the text.  Paul began this chapter by talking about a momentous spiritual experience he had had in which he was taken up to heaven.  He did not know whether the experience was in the body or out of the body, but while he was there, he saw and heard inexpressible things.  Paul stated further that to keep him from becoming conceited about his experience in the heavenly realm, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, was given to him to torment him.  Now I do not know what the thorn was . . . but I believe two things: it was physical and it was painful.  Thorns are painful.  Paul described this spiritual experience as having taken place fourteen years earlier.  We don’t know when Paul started being tortured by this thorn, but if it was anytime near the experience, he had been suffering a long time.
   As a good believer, Paul took his thorn to God in prayer not once or twice but three times.  Paul repeatedly prayed, pleaded, promised, and agonized with God to heal him, to take the thorn from him.  And guess what?  God said no.  Could God possibly say no to Paul whom he had taken to heaven and to whom he had revealed the inexpressible?  Could God possibly say no to Paul whose life he had turned around on the Damascus Road and whose feet he had put on a street called Straight?  Paul was blinded during his conversion experience.  He was healed of his blindness, but God said no to the removal of the thorn.  At the beginning of Acts 28 we read that Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta and was bitten by a poisonous snake . . . a viper fastened itself onto Paul’s hand.  Paul shook it off in the fire and went about his business.  He didn’t swell up and he didn’t die.  The Bible doesn’t even say that he prayed for healing . . . yet he was healed.  He was healed of a snakebite that the Bible doesn’t even tell us he prayed over . . . yet God said no when he prayed over his thorn.
   During his own ministry Paul was empowered to heal others.  In Lystra . . . he healed a man crippled from birth.  In Ephesus . . . he cast out a demon from a tormented girl, and in Troas . . . he restored life to a young man believed to be dead.  Yet his own thorn was not healed.  When he and Silas were locked in jail, they prayed and sang so powerfully that the earth shook, the prison doors flew open, and their chains fell off.  Yet when he prayed about his own thorn, nothing happened.  After God said no to Paid, God said instead. 
   When God says no, look for God’s instead.  God never says no without an instead . . . a substitute, another blessing, another answer, another revelation, another solution, another way.  God said no to Moses: “You will not enter the Promised Land.  Instead, I will transport you across the barriers of time and put you on the snow-kissed crest of Mount Hermon to speak with my Son, Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, who is about to give his life as a ransom for many.”  When David’s son by Bathsheba was stricken with illness and David prayed and fasted for the child’s life, God said no to David’s prayer, and the child died.  Later, when Bathsheba became pregnant again, God said yes, and Solomon was born.  The writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 11 that many of the faithful died without having received the promise.  Instead God prepared for them a better country, a heavenly one.
   When God says no, look for the instead.  That’s just a fancy way of saying what the old preachers used to say: “God will never close a door without opening up a window.”  Let me rephrase that: God will never close a window without opening up a door.  Often that which God opens for us and does for us, with us, and through us after a no is broader, deeper, taller, and more wonderful than the narrowness of our request.
   God said no to Paul’s request . . . instead the Lord spoke to him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Why grace?  The Lord could easily have said, “My love (or peace or will or salvation) is sufficient.”  Why grace?  Let’s remember what grace is.  Grace is the unsought, unasked for, and unmerited goodness of God.  Grace is what God does for us without our asking.  We ask for blessings, forgiveness, and peace . . . but grace is what God gives because God is good . . . all the time.  When God says no, God is saying, “I will give you what you need without your asking for it.” When you have a thorn, you may not know what to ask for.  The pain may be so acute . . . the heartbreak and sorrow may be so piercing . . . the burden may be so heavy . . . that you may ask for relief or release in any way, even death.  But remember, even without your knowing what to ask for, God will still take care of you.
   I once went to see a church member who had been hospitalized several times.  This individual was not simply a church member but was a true believer in the Word of God.  We had been praying for him very earnestly.  He went to the very threshold of death and recovered enough to return to church once again to worship, but after that he suffered a relapse and was again staring death in the face.  When I went to visit him in the hospital, he didn’t even recognize me.  I remembered that he had asked the Lord not to take his presence of mind away so that he would not find himself unable to call on the name of the Lord.  So I asked God, “Why would you let him get this way?  His greatest desire was that he have presence of mind to worship you.”  But I think I understand now, the Lord is saying, “Without their asking, I will take care of my own.  Whether this believer has presence of mind to call upon me or not, I’m still taking care of him.  He’s still in my hands.”  When God says no, remember God’s grace is still sufficient.  God takes care of you even without your asking.
   I could end this message here with these words: “My grace is sufficient.”  Just knowing that without my asking, God is going to bless me, keep me, protect me, feed me, and watch over me when I'm helpless is enough for me to shout my way, pray my way, and fight my way to victory.  But that is not all the Lord said.  The Lord also told Paul: “[My] power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  In other words, the Lord says,
   After I say no, not only will I continue to take care of you, but my power will still work through you even in your diminished capacity and weakened condition.  Because you are weak, my power can compensate for anything you lack on your own.  What I will do in you will be all the more glorious and all the more miraculous because you are weak.  I know you desire to have all eight cylinders.  I’m going to leave you with only four, but when I get through with the four you have left, that four will do as much as eight.  My power is made perfect in weakness.
   This Paul, the one who had the thorn that God didn’t remove, wrote or influenced fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, logged more miles in his travels, and established more churches than anyone else in the Bible.  He is quoted more often than anyone except Jesus.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   The great invitational hymn that has probably brought more souls to Christ than any hymn ever written, “Just As I Am,” was composed by Charlotte Elliot, an invalid who was bedridden for fifty years.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   See blind Fanny Crosby writing “Blessed Assurance,” “Pass Me Not,” “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,” “I Am Thine O Lord,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Close to Thee,” “Savior More Than Life to Me,” and over five thousand other hymns.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   See sightless Milton writing about paradise or deaf Beethoven composing symphonies or near-deaf Thomas Edison perfecting the phonograph.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   When Paul realized all that God’s power could do through him . . . no wonder he moved off “Complaining Avenue” onto “Praise Boulevard” and said, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
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« Reply #58 on: April 01, 2012, 12:27:10 PM »

Mark 14:3-9

Doing What We Have The Power To Do
   
   It was just two days before the Jewish Passover and the feast of the Unleavened Bread. All of Jerusalem was in the midst of preparation. Anticipation floated in the air and mingled with the aromas of a city that was getting ready to celebrate the most holy of all holy days.  This was the time for the rehearsal of Israel̓s long religious history. There would be feasting and singing and praying. Generations would speak to one another about what it was like when God covenanted with Israel to be God̓s chosen people.  And the nation would remember again how God had promised them a messiah --an anointed one – who would lead them to victory and triumph!
   In the midst of this preparation and excitement, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on the back of a colt.  Many people gathered and cheered while others laid their cloaks down to make a highway for Jesus as he approached.  Some waved leafy branches they had cut from the fields. As Jesus rode forth into the city, the people shouted: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”
   On this festive occasion Jesus was accompanied by his disciples and other faithful men and women who followed him wherever he went. But  not everyone joined the festivities, however.  There were those in Jerusalem̓s religious hierarchy who were afraid of Jesus because the crowds seemed to be spellbound by his teaching. Whether anyone else recognized him or not, the chief priests and scribes suspected that Jesus might truly be the long-expected messiah.  Instead of embracing John the baptizer̓s message of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, they were deeply shaken . . .  for they perceived that this Jesus would turn everything upside down-including their status and security.
   Jesus was too dangerous. He interfered with the hard earned relationship that they had slowly established over the years with the local Roman officials. Just when life had become more predictable and bearable, Jesus began to upset the delicate balance of their power and authority by what he said and did.  He eroded their favored positions of privilege by his very presence.  And besides, he had insulted them in public and made them look foolish.  They could not save face many more times, for they continued to be outsmarted by his quick wit and verbal attacks.
   “Beware of the scribes,” Jesus most recently had proclaimed, “for they devour widows̓ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  There was no question about it, . something had to be done with this man.  If he was the messiah, God would take care of him!  So the chief priests and scribes went about looking for a way to arrest Jesus and kill him.
   During this critical time, the disciples of Jesus seemed to become more confused about his purpose and mission.  Jesus had told them on three different occasions that he would suffer and die.  Apparently they missed the implications of what Jesus meant.  They thought Jesus, who worked miracles, was invincible. Suffering and cross bearing and death surely could not be part of the equation for discipleship.  They protested.  They became anxious. And they argued about who would be given the best place of honor.
   Misunderstood by his disciples and threatened with imminent arrest by the chief priests and scribes, Jesus felt lonely and isolated.  His heart ached for love and companionship. His body must have been tired and weary. Perhaps Simon̓s invitation to dinner should be accepted. Simon the leper had a reputation for his hospitality. It could be that a dinner party was what they all needed to relieve some of the tension that had been building.  It would provide a time for fellowship and refreshment. So he went.
   Jesus went to Bethany and while he was eating dinner at the house of Simon the leper, this woman appeared out of nowhere.  She burst in . . . uninvited and unwanted!  What a brash and dangerous thing for a woman to do. She was breaking the Jewish custom that women were not allowed to enter the dining room when men were present.  As if this was not enough to anger any righteous man among them, the woman did another completely unexpected thing. In front of the astounded and indignant male guests, she broke the alabaster jar she carried and anointed the head of Jesus!
   A solitary figure, the woman was as bold and unashamed as she was tender and compassionate.  Whether the woman had met Jesus before is unimportant.  It was what she did in the unsolicited act of anointing that remains unforgettable.  Apparently she was familiar with his teachings and took seriously the message about the new age that Jesus proclaimed where all the old values would be turned upside down.  Perhaps she had heard about the announcements he made about his own death and the plans of the chief priests and scribes.  Perhaps her faith enabled her to discern the gravity of the situation.  Whatever prompted her action, the woman willingly went against the accepted place of women in her religion and culture, for she realized that the time to do something for Jesus was soon to be no more.  Out of her resources and possessions, she did what she had the power to do.  She poured a senseless amount of precious perfumed ointment over Jesus̓ head. This was not the common, ordinary ointment that was used every day. It was pure nard.
   The cost of the ointment, pure nard, was worth a year̓s wages for a laborer.  Nard, made from flowers of the spikenard plant that grew on the slopes of the Himalayan Mountains far from Jerusalem, was usually transported overland by caravan.  From Egypt to China, this fragrance was found on the cosmetic shelf of any woman who could afford it.  Nard was a very costly item that would never be used in excess.  Mostly it was touched to the skin in occasional and deliberate dabs or driplets.  To break open a container and pour it all out was an extravagant act that verged on prodigality!  In fact, the woman̓s excessive response was not so unlike the extravagant behavior of a father toward his son in a story that Jesus had been known to tell.
   It was the woman, not Simon or the male guests and disciples, who was doing, acting, caring, touching, anointing, giving, and risking.  And Jesus accepted her silent acts of intimacy and devotion with profound respect and reverent silence.  Perhaps Jesus longed for the warmth and comfort of another̓s touch.  Perhaps the cool ointment cascading from his head over his face and neck was like a baptism of sorts.  Perhaps this tender act of mercy brought healing to his heavy heart.  Perhaps, just once, it felt good to receive.  To sit and be passive.  To let someone minister to him.  Perhaps to be cared for and loved was a bairn to his soul.  Perhaps this anointing was an act of emancipation for both Jesus and the woman.  Jesus was not ashamed or embarrassed or defensive.  He did not rebuke or resist or reject her.
   Rather, Jesus affirmed the woman for who she was and what she did.  The response of the disciples at this occasion must have been a disappointment to Jesus.  After all, they had been with him for a long time.  They had heard the words he had spoken about his suffering and death, and yet they did not perceive his weariness and deep sorrow. And as soon as the woman entered the room, they saw and heard only what their culture expected them to see and hear.
   They saw a woman who had spent too much money to do a foolish thing.  The ointment she bought was too costly . . . . too luxurious.  They were concerned about how the money could have been spent to forward their cause . . . so it was high finances and social utility that prompted their berating comments.  They were offended not only by her presence, . . but by her action as well.  To them, it was Jesus who seemed not to understand the gravity of the situation. This was the time to plan a revolution,  . not to sit around and be pampered!  It must have confused the disciples even more when Jesus scolded and rebuked them and then praised the woman and delighted in what she did.  At the moment, they could neither hear his reproach nor see the woman̓s act of ministry.
   Afterward, all the disciples would remember the dinner party at Simon̓s house. They would remember the woman and what she did. They would remember Jesus and what he had told them about suffering and death and drinking from the same cup.  Most of all, they would remember the great price one disciple paid for the ointment she used to anoint Jesus̓ head and the small price another disciple accepted from the chief priests for Jesus̓ betrayal.
   More than to 2,000 years later, we also remember. We remember her because this unnamed woman confronts us still.  She will not let us take the easy way out.  She remains a model for us because she was not afraid to give what was uniquely hers to give.  In remembering her, we are challenged to do what we have the power to do.  It may be only a little that we can do . . . or it may be much.  This is not even the question. To do what we have the power to do is more than enough.  It is everything God asks!
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« Reply #59 on: April 15, 2012, 11:47:12 AM »

Stones That Easter Rolls Away

   Some women walked through the first light of day.  The darkness of the night and the heavy shadows of the early morning were being scattered.  Soon the mists would be lifted from the hills and mountains.  It is the most beautiful time of the day.  The world is so clean and fresh.
   These women had a problem.  They were going to anoint the body of Jesus of Nazareth . . . who just two days before had been crucified on the outskirts of the city.  A huge stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb.  How would they get in?  They were asking among themselves: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” 
   When they got there they were greatly surprised.  “Looking up they saw that the stone was rolled back; for it was very great.”
   Easter, now as then . . . unblocks entrances and rolls stones away.
   Blocked entrances are one of the problems of life.  A huge stone stands between what we are and what we want to do.  That was the problem of those women on the first Easter morning.  They wanted to do the last thing they would be permitted to do for a person whom they loved very much.  But in front of the opening of that darkened tomb was a groove, and in the groove a huge, circular stone . . . it was immense, enormous, gigantic.  The women knew it was too much for their strength.
   That is our problem too.  Blocked entrances!  We would enter upon life . . . but we can’t.  A stone blocks the way.  Sometimes we have the sense of being trapped on the inside . . . we want outside, but we can’t get there.  The door is blocked.  Frequently we feel trapped . . . for just beyond the entrance we know there is light . . . a beautiful spring day with flowers blooming, birds singing, and rabbits munching on sweet grass.  But we are held in darkness.  At the entrance stands the one we love -- seeking to give us light.  We would go . . . but we can’t.  We are trapped in our loneliness.  The pathway to light, life, and the one we could love most is blocked.
   Sometimes we have the sense of wanting to be outside.  Some truth, some joy, some relationship we would enter upon, but we can’t.  We would go. . . but we the entrance is blocked.
   It is little wonder then that Christian faith is concerned about unblocked entrances, and open doors.  Jesus said, “I am the door for the sheep; if any one enters by me will be saved, and he will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).  John hears God saying to the church at Philadelphia, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it” (Revelation 3:Cool.
   There is, in a wonderfully real sense, what Easter is all about.  It unblocks entrances . . . rolls away stones . . . and sets before us open doors that the mightiest powers of earth can never shut.
   What are some of the stones that Easter rolls away?
   First, the stone of weakness . . . you remember how weak, defeated, and frightened the first Easter found the disciples of Jesus.  Just a week earlier on Palm Sunday they had appeared so jubilant, so hopeful, so strong.  But what devastating effect seven brief days had had on them.  The evening of the first Easter found them like frightened children who had fled the streets and locked themselves behind strong doors.  And that’s where Jesus found them -- behind strong doors. They were a spectacle of defeat and hopelessness.  They would enter life again with strength, but they couldn’t. The entrance was blocked by the stone of weakness. And it was very great.  But to their surprise, as Jesus walked in to dine with them, they realized the stone had already been rolled away.  Easter had done it.
   And aren’t we the same -- we have failed in some way -- maybe in ways we could never have succeeded -- so we find ourselves behind the great stone of weakness, like frightened children. 
   But Jesus and his love had moved that tremendous stone and they were back with strength.  They preached with such moving effect.  Easter had released a great tide of power, and they were riding the crest.
   The men of the New Testament often speak of living in the power of the resurrection.  The risen Christ had put within their reach almost illimitable power.  The good news is that Easter has rolled away the stone of weakness so that we may enter upon power.
   Another stone, the stone of doubt . . . do you remember how doubt clouded the first Easter morning?  Mark tells us that when the disciples heard that Jesus had been seen by Mary Magdalene, “they would not believe” (Mark 16:11).  Luke says that when the apostles heard the good news from the women, “They would not believe it” (Luke 24:11).  Of course, Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
   Then eight days later Jesus appeared again and showed Thomas his hands which still carried the prints of the nails and his side with its wounds.  In that presence Thomas exclaimed one of the greatest confessions of the New Testament, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  The light of Easter finally drove away the clouds of doubt from the sky and rolled away the stone of doubt at the entrance of affirmation.
   And isn’t it so in our own lives -- we doubt others, we doubt ourselves . . . we wonder in those deep, silent places of our lives -- will we ever be whole again or maybe even for the first time.  Then something wondrous, miraculous happens . . . and our Easter morning comes . . . the stone of doubt is rolled away.
   Then there is the stone of guilt . . . forgiveness is inextricably tied up with the resurrection.  “If Christ be not raised,” Paul writes, “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  What sobering words are these -- “you are still in your sins.”  If Christ is left in his tomb, obviously he is the victim of evil forces.  How then can a dead Christ forgive the guilt that evil and sin made inevitable?  He can’t.  But Christ is risen!  In his resurrection . . . he not only mastered death . . . but also the evil that was responsible for his death.  He who has overcome evil is certainly able to forgive the sin and guilt that evil has caused.
   Revelation 1:5-6 is a fragment of a beautiful early Christian hymn which is an ascription of praise to our risen Lord: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.  Amen.”
   The risen Christ has freed us from our sins by his own blood.  Therefore he is able to roll away the stone that blocks our path into forgiveness.  But we should remember that our being  forgiven is related to our willingness to forgive. Jesus said if we do not forgive people their trespasses, our Father will not forgive us. This does not mean that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving our brother or sister.  But it does mean that by our willingness to forgive . . . we unclutter our lives and open them to the forgiveness of God.
   A beautiful story about a Belgian girl comes from World War II.  Nazi bombers had destroyed much of her town and killed some of her friends.  She went into her church which lay in partial ruins.  The roof was caved in, and the beautiful windows lay in broken pieces on the floor.  She knelt at the altar which was broken in half and began to pray the Lord’s Prayer.  She got along nicely until she tried to say “as we forgive.” She choked on the word “forgive.”  How could she forgive her enemies who had bombed her town, killed her friends, and left her church in shambles. She tried again and failed.  The third time she was no more successful.  She would make a final effort.  And when she came to the great hurdle, a voice from behind her led her on as she said “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  She turned to see who the gentleman was, and standing behind her was the Belgian king.
   Just so with us.  We find it hard to forgive.  And when we are struggling to say that hard word . . . our risen King leads us on.  “Go ahead and say it.  As you forgive, I will forgive you.”  We forgive and in turn are forgiven.
   Another stone is the stone of death . . . here we are at the heart of Easter faith.  Easter is concerned about death . . . your death, the death of your child, the death of your spouse, every person’s death -- and Easter is concerned about life . . . your life, the life of your friend, the life of every person.  It opens the door to the life everlasting.
   Yet death seems so final.  The voice that was so vibrant is now so silent . . . the face that was so expressive is now so expressionless . . . the hand that was so warm is now so cold . . . the life that was so active is now so still.  Death seems to be the end.
   But Easter affirms life and says that the boulder of death has been pushed from the doorway into eternal life by the risen Christ.
   So Easter comes again to us where we are trapped and assures us that the way to strength, faith, forgiveness, life, and love has been unblocked.  Come, let us go together beyond the entrance . . . it is a beautiful spring day with flowers blooming, birds singing, and rabbits munching on sweet grass.  Come, let us go . . . for just beyond the entrance stands the one we love -- seeking to give us light.
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