Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hard Words

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' Matthew 25:41-45

The scriptures are clear that proper belief will produce evidence through action.  What we believe will come out in our actions. James said it this way, What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  James 2:14-17

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to two groups whose actions would provide proof of their commitment to Him.  One group is recognized by their compassion and ministry to the needy.  The other group fails to respond to the needs of others and will probably be surprised to be identified in the harsher judgment for they see themselves as "pretty good people."

The characteristics of this second group are:

1. Preoccupation with self & with what self has.

2. Consumed with what they need, rather than what others need.

3. Act on what is most convenient & beneficial for them.

4. Unbelief (unbelieving produces actions of unbelief).

These people don't necessarily have a difficult time ministering to people like themselves. It's not hard to drum up support for those who are clean and nice.  But ask them to serve the down and out, hungry, sick, despondent, poor or wounded of this world and they haven't the time nor the financial resources.  Most of them carry Bibles to church, attend Bible Study, go to Wednesday night prayer meeting and give (of course not a tithe) to the church.  To the community they are outstanding, respectable people and anyone of them would make a good neighbor!

Jesus’ condemnation of these is not so much about their lack of works but the lack of evidence that their hearts have changed by the gospel.  As James reiterates in his writing, “faith without works is dead” so it is ineffective in saving the soul.  While works cannot save, the saved cannot help but work in service to Christ; it is a part of their spiritual DNA.

Is your heart moved to serve?  It may well be that while your heart is moved your hands are not.  That creates guilt for a believer who knows their life should be making a difference in the world.  There is little peace for anyone who is disobedient to the voice of the Spirit within.  The Holy Spirit has gifted every believer for service so each one has the power to affect a blessing on others.

Look for Jesus today in the faces and lives of those who are downtrodden, without resource or broken from the pressures of life.  He said as we minister to them we are ministering directly to Him.

Scripture to Claim:

If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 1 John 4:20

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Concerned with the "least" of things

'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "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 25:35-40

Some, and probably most, of the life-changing ministry that is performed each day is done outside of the walls of the church by people in the natural course of their lives.  When we are ministers as Christ has called us to be, ministry is not just something that we schedule or perform, it is the outflow of Christ within us.  Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 reveal that He sees ministry to the needy of this world as ministry to Him. 

The following story reveals that simply allowing the spirit of Christ flow through us in our daily relationships can have eternal consequences.  We may not see what we do as being anything special but it certainly can be.

Mark was walking home from school one day when he noticed the boy ahead of him had tripped and dropped all of the books he was carrying, along with two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove and a small tape recorder. Mark knelt down and helped the boy pick up the scattered articles. Since they were going the same way, he helped to carry part of the burden. As they walked Mark discovered the boy's name was Bill, that he loved video games, baseball and history, that he was having a lot of trouble with other subjects and that he had just broken up with his girlfriend.

They arrived at Bill's house first and Mark was invited in for a Coke and to watch some television. The afternoon passed pleasantly with a few laughs and some shared small talk, then Mark went home. They continued to see each other around school, had lunch together once or twice, and then both graduated from junior high school. They ended up in the same high school where they had brief contacts over the years. Finally their long awaited senior year came. Three weeks before graduation, Bill asked Mark if they could talk.

Bill reminded him of the day years ago when they had first met. "Do you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things home that day?" asked Bill. "You see, I cleaned out my locker because I didn't want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had stored away some of my mother's sleeping pills and I was going home to commit suicide. But after we spent some time together talking and laughing, I realized that if I had killed myself, I would have missed that time and so many others that might follow. So you see Mark, when you picked up my books that day, you did a lot more. You saved my life." 

Is this a true story?  I really cannot verify it from my experience.  What I do know is that I have heard from many individuals who recite stories very similar from their own experience.  Jesus never was, and never will be interested in the grandiose religious things we fill our lives with. Rather He is concerned with the "least" of things you and I do.  God may have someone in your path today who has the need of someone to care about them personally.  Watch for these Divine Appointments.  You may be ministering to Jesus.

Scripture to Claim:

He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. Proverbs 14:31

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

God Wants to Make You a Whole Person

And a leper *came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and *said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Mark 1:40-42

What does it mean to be sick?  Have you ever had to cope with a really serious prolonged illness?  If you have, you know that it has to do with more than just your physical condition.  It can involve your whole life and keep you from living up to your highest possibilities.

The several different kinds of healing works that Jesus uses that gives us some insight into the different things that can go wrong in a person's life.  Jesus healed some of disabling conditions like lameness or blindness that kept people from functioning as happy and productive people.  Jesus also healed some, like the person in our scripture lesson, of leprosy.  Leprosy was a much dreaded, multifaceted illness.  Not only was it a physical illness that could be terminal, it had an additional stigma attached to it.  There was a widely held belief that it was probably a punishment for some sin. It could make people look down on you.  And, because of ritual laws of uncleanness, it could cause you to be quarantined away from human relationships in the community and prevented from worshiping in the temple. It could alienate you from yourself, from family and community, and from God.

In the Bible, people were thought of as unified souls. The mind, the body, the emotions, the spirit and the relationships were all interrelated aspects of the one person.  If there was a serious problem that prevented a person from functioning fully in all of those aspects, there was sickness.  Can you see how the different kinds of physical sicknesses that Jesus healed represented different kinds of spiritual sicknesses that can overtake us?  Can you see how the different kinds of healing works that Jesus did related to more than just a person's physical health?  Jesus wants to heal us from all of our diseases; and the greatest may be our psychological, emotional or spiritual illnessesJesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Matthew 9:35

This is really close to the essence of the Christian faith. We know that the Christian faith has a lot to do with being saved. But being saved in not just something that has to do with the hereafter. The Greek word sozein which is often translated "to be saved" can also mean to be healed or to be made whole. To be saved is to be made a whole person.

Whatever the sickness is that keeps us from being whole our Lord desires to minister healing to us.  While we wait for that healing, He is our comfort and source of strength.  We can also find help in the fellowship of the church.  Don’t feel alone or ashamed to be in need.  Call on Him for healing.

Scripture to Claim:
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. James 5:13-15

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Source of the Light

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:15-16
Can you imagine what life would be like without "light?"  Groping in the darkness is a scary thing to almost anyone.  Even familiar surroundings can seem frightening when you are in total darkness.  Insecurity and fear are strong emotions in the darkness.  The Bible refers to our world without Christ as living in the darkness and in need of light.  Paul spoke of the darkness of this world as where we were without Christ.  For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, Colossians 1:13

All light is able to be traced to a source.  As believers, we are not the source of the light but the vessel for the light.  Scripture speaks clearly about Christ bringing light into a darkened world.  John spoke of the incarnation as the coming of light when he said, In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:4

Christ spoke of Himself as source of light for the world.  Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." John 8:12  Clearly, we bear the light within our lives that has been born in us through Christ.

The Light Identifies
Matthew 5:14-16  "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Our identity in Christ Jesus is not to be a hidden identity but one that is to been seen by all. Consider these scriptures which remind us of who we are because of Whose we are:

"While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.  John 12:36 
You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 1 Thessalonians 5:5 

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. Ephesians 5:8 

The beginning of our being a light that transforms the darkness is to see the light in ourselves…to let Christ’s light shine in us that He might shine through us.  The scripture does not say we “might be the light” or that we “can be the light”; it says “we ARE the light.”  That is because the light of Christ burns inside us.  It’s not always easy being a light in the darkness.  Tim Goble said, “It's tough to be in the dark and not let the dark get in you.  The unending struggle for the Christian is to walk in the light and at the same time keep moving into the shadows.”  But is there that we are to shine.
So, set out today and let’s all sing together, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Scripture to Claim:

For You light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness. Psalms 18:28  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Expressions of Real Mercy

Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 

Mercy is meeting people's needs. It is not simply a warm feeling toward someone. Mercy is something we do.  There are three expressions of real mercy:
  1. Forgiveness - This is not so much a willingness to respond when a wrong is righted, but to act toward one who has injured us as if they haven't.  The "blessedness" results in the absence of bitterness, anger, and resentment.   It is dealing with wrong in a godly manner.  Forgiveness is a power bestowed on another by one who has the right to hold one in judgment.  (Can you forgive yourself?)  The hard part of forgiveness is not talking about its value, but acting it out when you have something to forgive.  It is hard to show mercy without forgiveness.  God not only expects forgiveness but judges us accordingly:  Matthew 6:12,14,15 - 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
  2. Sympathy - feel the suffering of another as our own.  This means to "suffer with" - identification with another.  It involves imagination and vision in order to see and understand the problems and needs of others; looking past the obvious.  No legal obligation can make this happen... Nobody can make you care or respond in the right spirit.   Mercy is not mercy without a spirit of sympathy.
  3. Good Deeds - tangible expression of inward change.  "Faith without works is dead" (non-existent)  The feeling of sympathy must express itself to alleviate the suffering.   It cannot care in silence when there is something it can do.  God’s mercy was evident at Calvary.  The song "At Calvary" tells of His mercy - "Mercy there was great and grace was free. Pardon there was multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary."  To ask God to "Have Mercy on Us" is to ask Him to repeat the sacrifice of the cross.  All the mercy God could give man He gave in the cross.  "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."  Titus 3:5
When we display mercy it is evidence of our reception of God's mercy.  Our mercy for others is not the condition of receiving God's mercy but the product of God's mercy.  Not to show mercy is to show that we have either not received it or that we don't understand it.

When we show mercy to others we are more likely to receive mercy from God and other men.  One who shows mercy is usually shown mercy.  The person who complains "no one came to see me" seldom goes themselves.  Selfishness and mercy do not cohabit.

It is not how much we have done so much as why we have done it that is the concern of Christ for us.  The wrong motive destroys real mercy.  Good done for any personal reason of personal gain is not mercy.  The promise of return is lost - God keeps no man in debt for His love and neither should we.
God's mercy is unmerited therefore it is not dependent on our righteousness. Remembering God's love encourages our love for others.  Remember God’s love and mercy and likewise show love and mercy to others.  This is God’s plan for His children.  He sent us Christ as an example and God Himself is an example of mercy in action. 

Scripture to Claim:
Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:3-5

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