Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What does it take to turn VISION TO VICTORY? Part II

To have a burden does not equate to making a difference.  To have a vision is not to know victory.  It is the performance that brings the blessing.  Upon hearing the words of the destruction of Jerusalem, Nehemiah responded.

It Takes a Person of Prayer.  Nehemiah 1:4-11
·      The first thing we notice about Nehemiah’s prayer is that it is intense.  When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. v.4  Real prayer is never easy.  Our prayer is often an attempt to manipulate from God what we want or need.  But man's manipulation does not equal God's MOTIVATION. 

·      Next we see that his prayer is informed v.5-11 I said, "I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned. "We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. "Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.' "They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. "O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man." Now I was the cupbearer to the king.  Nehemiah 1:4-11

His prayer was clear about who God is and the covenant He had made with man.  He was also honest about the way the people had responded.  He pulled no punches about the failures of God’s people and confessed openly their sin.  The relationship with God was accurate.

It is interesting to note that when people have a desperate need, they become very honest about things.  As a father pleads for the healing of his son, he is made immediately aware of where he has been in his relationship with God.  The prayer of Nehemiah is not unlike the prayers of those today who sincerely want God’s help.  How many times has a preacher heard, “I know I have not been as faithful to God as I should have been and yet I know that He has promised to hear me.  I am so sorry for the things I have done and I want God to hear my prayer.  This may even be a prayer you have prayed at some time in your life.

To turn vision to victory with the help of God we learn that it begins with intense, honest prayer. 

Scripture to Claim:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
Ephesians 1:18

Monday, January 30, 2012

What does it take to turn VISION TO VICTORY?

...Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, "The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire." Nehemiah 1:2-3

Receiving Bad News
From the Book of Nehemiah we can learn many lessons about how God uses men to turn burdens into blessings.  The opening verses of this book share the sorrowful news of the destruction of Jerusalem and the reproach this brought upon the people of God.  There is great emotion in the words of those who report about the distress of people they love.  As Nehemiah listens to them and the preachers tell of this, his heart is deeply touched.  The rest of the book is the story of how one man let God use him to turn his burden into a blessing.

The story of Nehemiah and his call from God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem is a testimony of one man’s openness to follow God.  The will of God is much easier to know than to do. This, however, does not lessen, but increases the responsibility, to perform what we know God desires. Probably the greatest joy of Satan is to keep a man from obeying the direct voice of God.  He knows that when we hear a direct command of God we still have to act upon it to implement God’s plan.  Failure to hear a word from God is seldom the problem; it is failure to perform that leads to DEFEAT!

When God chooses someone for a task, He usually won’t let that person rest until the specific work is done.  He has promised to work out His plan in our lives and to bring us into the image of His Son and fulfill His purpose in us. (For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6)

It is true that God gives special tasks to special men at special times.  All through the Old and New Testaments we read of His work in the lives of individuals to bring His kingdom purpose to completion.  It is no different today.  God is calling and using men and women.

This week, we will look at the life and work of Nehemiah and gain insights into what it takes to turn vision into victory.  These same qualities can help us find victory in our own lives over burdens we experience.

To seek God's will is man's greatest quest.
To know God's will is men's greatest thought.
To do God's will is man’s greatest task

Scripture to Claim:
...so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.  Colossians 1:10-12

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Faith and Generosity

Last Sunday we acknowledged the Sanctity of Human Life.  Our discussion concerned the respect and significance that must be given to every creation of God.  As we normally do, we focused the majority of our attention on the killing of the unborn through abortion.  Today we ask God to direct our attention to another way we fail to offer sanctity to all by ignoring the cry of those who die because of poverty and hunger.
Somebody should do something!

  I.     The Biblical Summons

Luke 3:11, James 2:15-17, Psalm 41:1, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 21:13, Proverbs 28:27, Isaiah 58:10, Matthew 6:2-6:3, Mark 10:21, Luke 14:13,
Luke 18:22

II.     The Common Response to the Problem -
The Rich Man and Lazarus - Luke 16:19-31

Jesus' story is a warning against two things in us.

1.       Apathy

This guy is what s called a "practical atheist."
There is a big step between concern and compassion.

2.       Acceptance

World hunger will not yield to an occasional guerilla attack. Only a long and sustained response will do.

III.     Storing Grain and Starving People -
The Rich Fool - Luke 12:13-21

God has spread His resource throughout all His people so everyone can have a part.

Jesus calls the man a fool because the man thinks it is all his and not God’s.

IV.     God Wants All We Have –
The Rich Young Ruler - Mark 10:17-22

Did anyone mention to you when you were invited to Christ that part of the deal was to give up everything you have?

A Christian is a “Little Christ” or a replication of Jesus.

V.     The Gospel and the Poor and Hungry
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats – Matthew 25:31-46

According to Jesus those who don’t care for the poor have missed the gospel.

The faces of hunger are the faces of children.

The faces of hunger are the faces of mothers.

The faces of hunger are old.


Quit worrying so much about who is getting in your pocketbook as who is influencing your heart.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nourish the Hungry with Hope

Two thousand years ago, a prisoner sent messengers to ask Jesus a question.  The prisoner was John the Baptist, and the question was “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  In the original language of Luke’s gospel, the phrase “the one who is to come ”translates the Greek word for “Christ” which in turn translates the Aramaic word for “Messiah.”

Jesus’ answer is as straightforward as John’s question:
In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight.  And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.  The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.  (Luke 7:21-23)

The last sentence of the reply is arresting.  In effect, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who take no offense at this messianic vision.”  While some may look for other messiahs to bring in other kingdoms, we are blessed if we cast our lots with this Messiah who brings in this kingdom.

Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus multiplies bread loaves and fish among a crowd of hungry listeners (9:10-17).  In answer to the questions, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?,” he tells the story of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37).  Upon watching the guests at a dinner party choose “places of honor,” he advises the prominent Pharisee who had invited him to dinner, “when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (14:14).

Bearing witness to Christ through caring, sharing, and praying is clearly summed up in Colossians 1:27, Christ in you the hope of glory.”  As we are comforted by this majestic hope, we would do well to pay close attention both to John’s question and to Jesus’ answer.

If Christ is in us, we are possessed by the One who brings good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed, fellowship with the sinner, touch for the untouchable, and welcome to the stranger.  Christ in us is the hope of glory precisely because and only if the One who leads us is in fact the Christ who appears to us so brilliantly in the Gospels and in the faces of the world’s poor and destitute (cf. Matt. 25:39-40).

The Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger supports dozens of specific ministries around the world.  These ministries provide food and temporary relief for people in need and address holistically the systemic causes of hunger and poverty through food production and income development.  Initiatives of the Offering address rural and urban poverty, border ministries, disaster relief, and Christian Women’s and Men’s Job Corps.  Give generously to the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger.  Your gifts bear witness to Christ’s love and make an enormous, positive difference in the lives of hungry people in Texas and across the globe.

A special offering for world hunger relief will be received this Sunday, January 29th.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Hope of the Poor”

But the LORD is king forever;
            he has set up his throne for judgment.
He rules the world with righteousness;
            he judges the nations with justice.
The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
            a place of safety in times of trouble.
Those who know you, LORD, will trust you;
            you do not abandon anyone who comes to you.
Sing praise to the LORD, who rules in Zion!
            Tell every nation what he has done!
God remembers those who suffer;
            he does not forget their cry, and he punishes those who wrong them.
The needy will not always be neglected;
            the hope of the poor will not be crushed forever.
Psalm 9:7-12, 18 (TEV)
The ninth Psalm is one of the many enthronement psalms, the songs with which the ancient Hebrews commemorated God’s sovereign rule over not only Israel, but over all the nations of the earth.  Through these poems, Israel celebrated God’s reign of righteousness and justice in the face of the unrighteousness and injustice which characterized the reign of so many of its own kings.

The Bible is full of stories about the ways God’s justice is subversive to the ruling powers, ever calling them to remember and honor the very people they tend to forget, oppress, and exploit.  Throughout scripture, God sends prophets on dangerous missions to confront rulers about unjust treatment of the disadvantaged and vulnerable.  Through Moses, God calls Pharaoh to free Hebrew slaves held captive in Egypt (Exod. 3-14). 

Through Elijah, God confronts Ahab over the wrongful execution of Naboth and the unlawful seizure of his vineyard (I Kings 21).  Through Isaiah, God calls the religious establishment to turn from empty ritual to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:14-17).  Through Nathan, God uses a parable about a rich man stealing a lamb from a poor man to indict David for his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the death of Uriah (II Sam. 12).  And repeatedly throughout the Psalms, we are reminded that leadership which honors God must embody God’s compassion and mercy for the poor.

Psalm 9 not only confronts the powerful; it also comforts the vulnerable.  While verses 9-12 have universal appeal to everyone who feels oppressed and troubled, they speak directly to the desperately poor and disadvantaged of every age who hunger and are not fed, who thirst and cannot find water, who want to work but cannot find a job, who have a job but cannot earn a living.  To these—to children in Rio de Janeiro who walk the streets with no place to call home, to young people in African villages who want an education but have no access to schools or books, to the sick in America who have no health care, to the elderly in Ecuador who have no safety net—the psalmist promises that God will provide a place of refuge and safety, a compassionate hearing, and punishment for those who would oppress and exploit.

To anyone who is aware of the depth and breadth of human suffering in the world today, the psalmist’s promise regarding the just God who hears and responds to the cries of sufferers poses a critical question.  How does the hearing and compassionate God respond to the suffering?  Scripture provides an immediate and certain answer: through the people of God.  We are called to hear as God hears, to do justice as God does justice, to respond with mercy and compassion as God responds with mercy and compassion.  We are called to be the ears, hands, and feet of God in all of the near and distant places where people hurt.

We are so because we are followers of Jesus who incarnated the righteousness and justice of God as he brought good news to the poor, release to the captives, liberation to the oppressed, and healing to the sick (Luke 4:14-19; 7:18-23).  We are so because we are the very Body of the Christ who was crucified and raised to inaugurate the Reign of God on earth.  We are so because the Spirit comes upon us and opens our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hands to help, and our treasuries to share.
On any given day, the bad news of human suffering makes it hard not to regard the good news of the psalmist—“the LORD is king forever. . . He rules the world with righteousness; he judges the nations with justice”—as so much wishful thinking.  Overwhelmed by the bad news, we ask, “Where is the righteous and just LORD?”  But then, like recovering amnesiacs, we remember who and whose we are.  We remember the LORD is among us, the Reign of God is in our very midst.  Propelled by our true identities and the power of the Spirit, we hear the cries, we act with compassion, and we confront the powers who neglect, oppress, and exploit.  Then and only then the psalmist’s final promise is fulfilled:

The needy will not always be neglected; the hope of the poor will not be crushed forever.  Psalm 9:18

A special offering for world hunger relief will be received this Sunday, January 29th.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“Give to the Poor”

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”  He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10: 17-22)
In this passage we see a man coming to Jesus and asking a critical and personal theological question.  He appears to be an upstanding member of the community, apparently of good character and extensive means.  Had this person asked of us the question he asked of Jesus, we would have wasted no time mapping the road to eternity and assuring him that he was a perfect fit for our congregation.  We can only imagine how eagerly the disciples anticipated Jesus’ winning invitation to this wealthy landowner to join their fledgling band of followers.
Methodically, Jesus dismantles all such imaginings.  Not only does he fail to win the rich man for the Kingdom of God, Jesus almost seems intent on driving him away. Rather than focusing on all the things which might qualify this man for membership in the Kingdom, Jesus probes for the one thing which disqualifies him.
At several levels, we find ourselves in this story.  Like the man who came to Jesus, we too have many possessions.  In a world where nearly half of humanity exists on less than two dollars a day, most of us are blessed by relative degrees of wealth.  While we can always find people who have more, we can find many more people who have much less.
Like the disciples, we are misled by the association of wealth and righteousness.  Conventional wisdom connected material prosperity and God’s blessing, and this convention fueled the disciples’ dismay over the rich man’s abrupt departure.  They reasoned, “If this upstanding, prosperous brother doesn’t qualify for the Kingdom of God, who does?” While the disciples seemed ready to take the rich man’s profession of obedience to the commandments at face value, Jesus puts him to the test.  The story challenges easy associations between wealth and righteousness and conversely, easy associations between poverty and unrighteousness.
We are left with the raw emotions which plague both the rich man and the disciples; they are shocked, grieved, and astounded.  What do we do with our wealth?  Does our wealth inevitably drive a wedge between us and the Kingdom of God?  Whether the rich man defrauded others to acquire his wealth or not, these questions still haunt us.  We worry that Jesus demands more than we can deliver, that any one of us thrust into the rich man’s predicament would also feel compelled to walk away.
Like the disciples, we hang onto the story’s closing line: “for God all things are possible.”  For God alone is able to deliver us from being possessed by our possessions.  God alone is able to disabuse us of the illusions that we actually own our possessions and that we deserve to have them.  God alone is able to convince us to live more simply so that others may simply live and to share freely the bounty which has been entrusted to us.  God alone is able to direct our stewardship of wealth to its rightful end: the service of justice and mercy.

God grant us the freedom, grace, and power to release what we do not own and to share what is God’s alone with God’s children who are in need.  Then we can stop walking away from Jesus and embrace his blessing:

A special offering for world hunger relief will be received this Sunday, January 29th.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Welcoming the Poor

“For you will always have the poor with you. . . ” Mark 14:7
This saying of Jesus, extracted from the larger context of the story of his anointing by the woman at Bethany, is commonly read as a statement of inevitability:  Because the poor are a permanent part of the human landscape, we are at least to some extent resigned to poverty as a fact of life.  As is often the case, reading the whole story requires a different emphasis.  Jesus says the lavish use of costly ointment (which might have been sold to benefit the poor) to prepare him for burial is an act of “good service for me.  For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.”  Read this fuller context, Jesus’ emphasis is clearly on rightly appreciating the woman’s gift and not the inevitability of poverty.

In fact, what Jesus suggests here and demands elsewhere is that our response to poverty should not take the form of fatalistic resignation but gracious hospitality.  That the body of Christ should serve as a place of welcome and opportunity for the poor is illustrated by the story of St. Lawrence the Deacon.  The story goes that Lawrence and nine companions of the early Roman church were convicted of treason by imperial authorities.

Because Lawrence served as the treasurer of the Church of Rome, he was spared immediate execution.  Believing the church was in the possession of great wealth, the authorities commanded Lawrence to retrieve the treasures of the church.  After three days, Lawrence returned and the authorities demanded, “Where is the treasure?”  Leading them through a hall to the entrance to an expansive courtyard, he threw open the doors, where outside there was assembled a great crowd of poor, blind, and crippled humanity. Lawrence proclaimed to the authorities, “Behold, the treasure of the church.”

With this short sentence, Lawrence named the social location of the people of God.  The church is the place where the poor should find sanctuary and be treasured. In word and deed, Jesus engaged this mission throughout his earthly ministry and expects his followers to do likewise.  The New Testament leaves no doubt that following Jesus means reaching out and welcoming the world’s poor and disenfranchised.  As John puts it, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”  I John 3:17-18.

The end of Lawrence’s story is a sobering reminder of the cost of discipleship; he was tortured, burned, and executed by the authorities.  The cost to Texas Baptists is not nearly so high.  We can minister to people in our communities, advocate for the poor in public policy making, and contribute to the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger, which supports dozens of ministries around the world.  May Texas Baptists be found faithful in welcoming the poor, who are always with us.

A special offering for world hunger relief will be received this Sunday, January 29th.

Monday, January 23, 2012

World Hunger Awareness Day One

It’s no surprise that much of the world suffers from hunger. It’s estimated that one out of every five people on earth live on less than $1.25 per day. Half of the world lives on less than $2.50 per day. And four out of every five people live on less than $10 per day.

These numbers may be shocking, but the number of hungry people close to home might be more surprising.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.3% of Americans live in poverty.  Texas has the second highest poverty rate in the nation at 18.8%, and ranks 6th worst with one in every four children living below the poverty line.

As Christians we are given a mandate to help the poor and the hungry.  Jesus’ first sermon recorded in the Gospel of Luke addresses why He came:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the op bgpressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   (Luke 4:18-19)

Of all the prophecies Jesus could have quoted, He chose this one from Isaiah 61.  It’s obvious that bringing good news to the poor was a central part of Jesus’ message.  He embraced the captives, the blind, and oppressed and sought to meet them in their need.

Also in the book of Luke, Jesus multiplies loaves of bread and fish among a crowd of hungry listeners. (Luke 9:10-17) He also offers the parable of the compassionate Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) and the parable of the spurned host who invites “the poor and maimed and blind and lame” to his banquet (Luke 14:15-24).  The latter parable reinforces Jesus’ advice to the Pharisee who had invited him to dinner: “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (Luke 14:14).
uy every opportunity given to us to love, to help, and to give. This week we have an opportunity as a church to give, as His followers lets do all that we can to follow in His steps and help the needy around us.

A special offering for world hunger relief will be received this Sunday, January 29th.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sanctity of Human Life

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 26
 Remember trying to teach your children the value of coins? Your kids may wonder why eight pennies are worth less than one thin dime. If you melted down the pennies and the dime and compared the results the pennies might have more value due to their copper but still a dime is worth more. A dime is no prettier than eight pennies, so why the difference in value?

The reason for the difference is that their value is determined by their creator. The U.S. Treasury department SAYS that it takes ten pennies equal one dime. And what is true of coins is true of all creation.

All human life is precious and to be protected because humans alone bear the image of God. The ultimate reason why persons are to be valued more than property is not found in their natures but in God's nature. God's evaluation is what is decisive here. There's something extraordinary here that is seen only in reference to the creation of man and to nothing else.

Being made in the image of God means that in our nature and personality; in our moral and spiritual capacities; in our emotions, intellect, conscience, and will; in our functions and actions we stand apart from the rest of creation. Only human beings are given this status. Not even the angels are made God's image bearers and most certainly not the animals.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! Psalms 8:5-6

The key word here is the pronoun "You” because our value as human beings rests ultimately on God's evaluation since He is our Designer and Creator. Out of all that God has created, He has designated human life as having the greatest value. Our superiority over the rest of the created order is based on that fact and that fact alone. Only when we allow God to "price creation," so to speak, do we find a basis for regarding human life as being more valuable than anything else.

Scholars note that being created in the image of God (imago Del) means more than having certain abilities and attributes. It means that humans are the images of God, regardless of what they can or cannot do or how they act or look. In God's eyes, we are each endowed with a touch of Himself. Each human carries within his or her being the likeness of the Creator. Therefore, each human life exists as an expression of God and His character. Since we embody God's image, the sacredness of our lives, and the dignity it demands, is based on something beyond characteristics or abilities - it is rooted in the essence of God Himself.

Therefore, as we approach Sanctity of Life Sunday, we acknowledge the value of every life and the respect that God demands for all human beings regardless of race, color, creed, age, form, or function. All are created equally in the image of God. So before you start to dismiss or denigrate the poor, impaired, or those different than yourself, remember Whose they are and the value He places on every life.
Scripture to Claim:
The rich and the poor have a common bond; The LORD is the maker of them all.
Proverbs 22:2

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Beautiful Life

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

Psalms 27:9.
 I have had the wonderful opportunity this week of spending some time with the Watoto Children's Choir from Africa. They arrived in Weatherford Friday night and after singing at various churches in Texas and will be performing at North Side on February 10, 2012.

Watoto is a holistic care program that was initiated as a response to the overwhelming number of orphaned children and vulnerable women in Uganda whose lives have been ravaged by war and disease. These beautiful children have touched my heart and the hearts of my own children in such a way that we will never be the same again. They are so sweet-natured and polite; so grateful for all they are given. They love God and sing His praises with great emotion.

In talking to one of the leaders of this group I learned that all of them have lost at least one parent and most have lost both parents. I also learned that some of the orphans that Watoto rescued were literally thrown away in a pile of rubbish. To think that this beautiful little girl standing before me who has touched my heart so deeply was possibly thrown out with the garbage when she was a baby makes my heart ache.

God is The Father to the Fatherless

Of the children in the Watoto Children's Choir who have lost only one parent, it is generally a father. For a father to die honorably while his child is young is bad enough, but for a father to abandon a child or to be taken by AIDS or war is far worse. Circumstances like this can leave a child ashamed and confused. Without proper direction and guidance it is easy for them to develop an attitude (whether conscious or not) that God, at least for them, cannot be trusted. They can easily believe that He is insensitive to their need and pain and will abandon them too one day. But God is not that way. He is very concerned about the fatherless. Psalms 68:5 says Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

These beautiful children are touched by hands that have been led of God to provide care, protection, provision and education for the fatherless. The glowing smiles and radiant joy on the faces of the beautiful children I met this week is the result of God’s love manifest through the compassionate and faithful care of His faithful servants on their lives.

Talk about the sanctity of life! Every life that God creates has a purpose and plan. Who could imagine that this baby that was thrown out with the garbage would come to America and touch the lives of hundreds of people? Could anyone have known how special and wonderful so many people would one day think this child is? I am so thankful that these children were rescued from their circumstances. I am also thankful for the organization committed to rescuing and raising these children and then to restoring Africa to be a better place for all the children there.

I can’t wait for you to meet them when they come to North Side on Friday night, February 10, 2012 at 6:00 p.m..
Scripture to Claim:
“The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'” Matthew 25:40

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Great Gift of Grace

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-10

Of all of the great truths mined from Ephesians Chapter 2 none is as precious as the truths from our scripture today. God’s great act of love for us through Christ given by grace is nowhere more clearly stated in the Bible. If you want to be richly blessed, read those verses substituting the words “us”, “we”, and “you” with “me”, “I” and “me.” Go ahead and do that before you read on.

Grace is a great big concept that can touch the smallest of people. Consider Zacchaeus. The children’s chorus says Zacchaeus was a “wee little man". (Luke 19-1-10) He was a tax-collector. A nice way of saying (in that day) that he was a crook. Hated by the people and despised by the Romans, he was probably one of the most unpopular of all the people. No one wanted to be seen with him or deal with him.

Jesus was coming to town and Zacchaeus wanted to see the man who was called Messiah. He was short. Probably late to the place Jesus was passing his view was blocked by the crowd and nobody was going to do him the favor of letting him through where he could see. So he climbed up in a tree. Jesus told him to come down and he would dine with him that evening.

What a shock. You see Zacchaeus knew what a rotten guy he was and no one had to tell him he didn’t deserve to sit down with Jesus. Yet the grace of God reached out and touched him, changing his life forever. But that’s the wonder of grace. It reaches out to those of us who don’t deserve it. Even Zacchaeus...even me.

Remember The GONG Show on television? It was a forerunner of America’s Got Talent and American Idol. It had to have been one of the cruelest, meanest and worst game shows ever. People would perform on stage, but if one of the professionals didn’t like the act or felt it was bad, they would hit the gong and the contestant was done. It was over. The contestant tried hard, as hard as they could, but if they were gonged then they were done. Though many of them were certainly saved further embarrassment by the gong, others were pretty good. But if in the opinion of the judges they failed, the gong sounded. Grace means we’ll never be gonged! Not because we’re so good, but because God is sooooooo goood!

The motivation of grace is seen in verse 4: His great love• Who is rich in mercy

The act of grace is seen in verse 5 and 6: made us alive...seated us with Him

The person of grace is seen in verse 7: kindness toward us in Christ Jesus

And finally the source of our salvation in verses 8 and 9: it is the gift of God; not as a result of works,

We could never save ourselves and frankly, we could never be righteous enough on our own even after our baptism to work our way into heaven. The good news is we don’t have to be that good. We don’t deserve His grace - we just need it - and he was happy to supply it.

Scripture to Claim:

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:15

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

There is Life out of Death

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
Ephesians 2:14-16

Paul doesn’t exactly begin the 2nd chapter of Ephesians on a positive note. We were dead people. Dead, dead, dead. We were dead in our transgressions and sins and being dead had no means or power with which to restore life. Dead is dead. It is not a state of being, it is a state of “non-being.” Paul states clearly that in that condition we were not only separated from God and controlled by another…the prince of the power of the air...but that we were against God.

There’s a graphic story in scripture of a man whose picture probably should be in the margin of this passage. His story is found in the Gospels. We know him simply as the demoniac. [Mark 5] He lived in among tombs in the cemetery…ran around naked frightening folks…broken chains rattled on his arms and legs…he cried out day and night in torment. He was very much alive, but at the same time, very dead. He needed help...he needed to live again...in the worst way.

Jesus’ boat rowed ashore and he ran to the boat and called out to Jesus. And Jesus did the most wonderful thing. He cast the demons out of the man and made him well. When the people saw what had happened they were frightened and asked Jesus to leave immediately. But the man who was changed asked the opposite; he wanted to go with Him.

Isn’t that what we read in verse Ephesians? But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:4-6

What was it that Jesus brought to this demoniac and to us that has made possible this new relationship with God? It is PEACE! Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 2: 17-18: AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

Gentile or Jew, slave or free, man or woman, black or white, brown or olive...we have our peace with God and have been brought from death to life by the same cross! There is no other requirement to know life and peace than to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved! Life came out of His death and peace now reigns in our new relationship with God.

May we never forget the great gift of God in Christ that has brought us peace with God and access to His throne!
Scripture to Claim:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2

Monday, January 16, 2012

God’s Lost & Found - Ephesians 2

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. Ephesians 2:1-3

A look at the second chapter of Ephesians over the next few days will give us opportunity to celebrate who we are in Jesus. This is one of the most powerful chapters in the Bible and we can by no means draw out all of the depths from its mines of truth with some brief devotional thoughts. But we can at least review a few of the wondrous things God has done for us through His work in Christ.

To begin with, let me share a story about someone who was very near and dear to me.

She’s was very cute and lively. Though quite petite, she was always a bit pushy and stubborn about having things her way. From the time she came into our home she was spoiled rotten. She did not weigh over about seven pounds soaking wet and when she was soaking wet she smelled a little like a dog. I guess that’s because she was a dog. Her name was Fancy and she was our Yorkshire Terrier.

Fancy came to us by accident. We didn’t need or necessarily want a dog, (at least I didn’t) but things happen. Fancy’s adopted mom, Susie (yes, I was called ‘Daddy’) found Fancy in a precarious situation. She was incarcerated the humane society when she was brought in. She was dirty, smelly, mangy, matted, and she had flea-infested. All she could do was look at us with her dark eyes and shake and scratch. Susie grabbed her out of danger and placed her safely in the car and brought her to our home.

Fancy was in a serious predicament. She was lost, she was alone and she was condemned to if not recued. But Susie spared her and took her to our home. She bathed her, combed her, picked fleas off of her, bought food for her and showed her the door to the back yard for obvious reasons.

Well, years later, Fancy was feeling good about being a dog! She had beds all over the house. She slept cuddled on my wife’s side of our bed and barked when she felt the need to protect us from unseen intruders. She had a pretty good life after being given a home.

When I read the beginning of Ephesians 2 I am aware that I can relate to this little dog. These words are a harsh reality. Outside of Jesus we didn’t belong. We were not a part. We were on our own in a large and dangerous world. Forgive the comparison, but like Fancy, all alone in a big bad world of automobiles and no one caring about one worthless little mutt!

Pau reminds us of who we were when he says, remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:12 Wow! Separate, excluded, strangers, without hope and without God... That sounds like the definition of a worthless stray! How desperate our condition! And then comes verse 13! But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

Today, dear Christian, understand who you are by remembering WHOSE you are! Paul proclaims our new identity...So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, Ephesians 2:19

Fancy had no problem receiving her new identity. Can we do the same?

Scripture to Claim:

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:6-7

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Filling in Your Dash

Psalms 90:12

Every one of us has a birth date and we all mark that day.  One day that right hand date will also be completely filled out. We don’t really like to think about it all that much – but it’s inevitable, it’s coming.  Just as we had no control over that first date, we also, for the most part have no real control over that other date, the day we will die.  Look at those dates again.  Is there anything you wrote down that you can control? 
The only thing we have control over on our headstone is the dash.
Two things I am convinced of:

1. The power of God’s Word to both change and empower lives. 
2. The power of the moment to alter our future which will soon be our history 

I. What is the Most Dangerous Item in Your House?
Most people don’t do anything to waste their lives.

II. Who is the Most Dangerous Enemy in Your Life?
1 Peter 5:8;   John 10:10  

III. Now is the Most Important Moment of Your Life.
Living a life of meaning and impact is not about doing something different but doing what we do with purpose. 
The circumstances of life have no value in and of themselves.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-10
Circumstance w/o purpose produces weariness.
When you lose your purpose you will lose your energy.
When you lose your purpose you will lose your peace.
When you lose your purpose you will lose your joy.
When you lose your purpose you will lose your life.

Circumstance w/o purpose produces boredom.
Circumstance w/o purpose produces emptiness.

IV. The Circumstances of Life in Time Find Purpose and Value in Eternity.  Ecclesiastes 3:11-14

"Eternity" = breadth and depth as well as duration.
Every moment God controls is an eternal act. v.14

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