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Your Sins Are Forgiven

by on Jan.24, 2016, under Hope

A fourth of the way through his Gospel, Luke uses the seventh chapter to have Jesus, in words and actions, leave little doubt that he is God

 

The chapter opens with him healing a servant from a distance, then he raises a son from the dead as his corpse was being carried to the grave yard. In fact, Jesus himself describes the activities by saying:

that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed,

the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the

Gospel preached to them.  Luke 7:22.

 

Jesus did a lot of miracles in the course of two days, things that man could do only with God’s help. In fact, some of the Old Testament prophets did similar things, with God’s help.

 

It is at the end of the chapter, that he does something only God can do.

 

The story has Jesus eating at the home of one of the religious leaders, when a woman from the city begins to wash Jesus’ feet. This woman had a reputation. Jesus knew this, the religious leader knew, everyone else knew, that she was a sinner. Actually that probably should be spelled SINNER.

I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for

She loved much….Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are

Forgiven….Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

Luke 7:47-50.

 

And with those words, spoken out loud for all to hear, Jesus claims he is God. Only God can forgive sin, his followers couldn’t, the religious leader couldn’t, the woman herself couldn’t, only God could and can.

 

Only God through Jesus can forgive you, SINNER!

 

So the questions are simple to ask but difficult to answer:

Are you a SINNER?

What do you need to do be have your sins forgiven by God?


Don’t Bury Your Treasure!

by on Jan.10, 2016, under Hope

Wu Chen is not a trusting man. Especially when it comes to his money. So instead of investing his life savings or putting them in a bank account, Chen chose to bury the cash. He took all of the savings from his work as a fishermen plus a pension payment he had received and put the money in a plastic bag. Then he buried the bag near his home in the Sichuan Province of China.

When Chen dug up the bag five years later, he discovered his error. The bag he had used wasn’t airtight. Moisture had gotten in and most of the cash was rotten. Fortunately for the distraught fisherman, the untrustworthy local bank was willing to exchange about half the bills for usable ones.

The story reminds me of something that Jesus taught his followers:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21)

Notice that Jesus isn’t just talking about how to keep your money safe. He’s talking about how to keep your heart safe. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So instead of burying your money in the ground, you should be storing up treasure in heaven. How do you do that? The apostle Paul explains:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17–19)

If you want to be rich, it’s not that hard. Do good. Be rich in good deeds. Be generous. And be willing to share.

In that way, you’ll gather treasure that no one can steal and nothing can destroy. Here’s to your future prosperity!


My Three-in-One New Year’s Resolution

by on Dec.28, 2015, under Hope

I freely admit that my New Year’s Resolution this year is borrowed from someone else.  I wanted a very simple goal for this year.  I decided to select one thing a make it my 2016 focus.  I found it in my Bible.  It was stated by the Apostle Paul in a letter to the church in Philippi, and it is my one resolution for the year.  Here it is:

            But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

The resolution is Jesus and here are the three things that he is determined to do.  These are good resolutions for all of us.

  1.  Forget the past.  Let go of your past sins and poor choices.  God has forgiven you in Christ.  Your past does not have to determine your future.  Let go of guilt, shame, and humiliation.  Stop hanging on to past hurts.  You cannot look forward when you are focused on the past.
  2. Go for the prize.  We are going home to heaven.  Do not quit.  Do not get distracted.  Do not lose sight of where you are going.  Stay on the road that leads to where God has called you.
  3. Press On.  Choose faith over fear, joy over depression, hope over despair, forgiveness over revenge, and love over hate.  Be bold and radical this year in following Jesus.  Give generously.  Pray boldly.  Read God’s Word daily.  Share your faith.  Represent Jesus in your world.  Share your faith.

One thing:  Jesus.  Three things to do:  forget the past, focus on heaven, and press on till you get there.

I know that some of you reading this have not yet fully bought in to following Jesus. Why not make this is the year to hear the call of God in Jesus. 

Blessings,

steve

 


King of the Jews

by on Dec.20, 2015, under Hope

King Herod had moved a mountain. When he constructed the Herodium fortress, he wanted to be able to see the Dead Sea to the south and the temple in Jerusalem to the north. So Herod took dirt from one hill and used that dirt to build up another nearby. Like all of Herod’s construction projects, it was an impressive feat, requiring the work of 20,000 slaves over a period of twelve years.

The Herodium dominated the landscape south of Jerusalem. It was part fortress and part palace. The walls were built in three concentric rings, with a seven-story tower at each point of the compass. Within the upper complex there were luxurious living quarters, a Roman theater, a bathhouse, and banquet rooms. There was a large walkway, as well as courtyards which would have been filled with flowers and ornamental plants.

The only access to this upper area was a grand stairway described as having two hundred steps made of the choicest marble. This made the top of the fortress easily defensible, while allowing the residents access to the lower complex.

The lower Herodium had a huge pool, with an island in the center. Water was brought in via aqueducts to allow for swimming and the occasional re-enactment of naval battles. The pool was surrounded by elaborate gardens and a horse-racing track. Between the pool and the mountain, there was another palace and a large building which may have served as Herod’s tomb.

To the west, there was a small town filled with shepherds and craftsmen. The residents couldn’t escape the shadow of Herod’s grand palace. If you lived in Bethlehem, you knew the Herodium. It was a constant reminder of the power of the one they called the king of the Jews

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

The Herodium lies in ruins today. Herod is long dead and almost forgotten. But the baby that was born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem is remembered, loved, and worshipped.

Many today are impressed by the rich and powerful, as they were in Herod’s day. But remember that the rightful King of the Jews wasn’t born in the palace on the manmade mountaintop but in a stable in tiny Bethlehem.


Bah, Humbug, and Joy to the World

by on Dec.13, 2015, under Hope

Christmas is a difficult time for many people.  Often, it is a time when too much money is spent on too many presents for too many people who will not really appreciate it.  It is a holiday that seems designed to stress everyone out.  Travel issues, meal planning, and too many people for a too small dining room.  There is not enough time, energy, or money to make it all happen the way you think it should.  And of course there is the pressure of Christmas and the family.  Family fights and feuds.  Who goes to which family this year?  There are in-laws and outlaws.  Blood kin and step-kin.  Christmas can be a time of stress, disappointment, and anger. 

It is also a time of baby Jesus.  Christians singing Joy to the World, churches hosting special services, and mangers everywhere.  It is fair for the non-Christian to wonder what place baby Jesus has in a world like this one.  We Christians have not always answered this question well.

So here is why Christmas is such a celebration for Christians.  Here is why it is for us a time of hope, love, joy, and peace. 

Because

…the baby grew up to be the man who died for our sins.

…God gave the gift of his Son even though He knew every wrong decision and bad choice I would ever make.

… as a Christian I am part of a family that loves me and cares for me.

… this life is not the end and this world is not my real home.

… I get to make a forever difference in the lives of people. 

Blessings,

steve


The Memory Tree

by on Dec.06, 2015, under Hope

She sits in a straight backed desk chair, dressed in a festive shirt and sweater, slowly and carefully unwrapping each item, running her fingers over the surface as if to absorb the impression contained within. Then she carefully hangs the treasure on just the right branch somehow knowing the place had been reserved for it only. Her white hair gleams, the result of the decision to cease the hair coloring addiction and go a la natural a year or so earlier. Her eyes dart from the item to its assigned place and a smile curves her lips, as images of years past flood her mind.

To my wife of 40 years, Christmas is wondrous time and decorating the tree may be the single best part of the season. It’s not the ornaments, but the memories they evoke that bring her so much joy. Each ornament has a story; the parachuting Santa Clause when both of our sons jumped out of a perfectly functioning airplane, the flannel Beefeaters from Harrods’s when we visited England, the ornaments purchased to commemorate the births of our 3 grandchildren, the handmade wreath with our middle son’s picture from first grade. These are Christmas ornaments some decades old, chronicling our life’s events, big and small. When the grandchildren help decorate the tree, she has told them the stories so often that they now say, “and this little ferryboat was when you and Papa went to some island, isn’t it Nana?” and then she tells about our brief visit to Martha’s Vineyard some 15 years ago.

The scene takes place every December and every year new memories are added to the tree. Every year she unwraps them, and remembers. I am envious of her gift and am thankful that she freely tells all who listen, the memories of our family.

In our family, the green artificial pine tree with its multicolored lights and ornaments is the Brant Family Memory Tree.

So this holiday season as you gather around the Thanksgiving table and sit by the Yule Tree also remember the words of the doctor as he described that night long ago:

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord and this will be the sign to you; you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

So what are your favorite memories of the Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Do God and Jesus have a part in your families celebration of those days?
Has the reason for the season been forgotten?
What does “and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men” look like to you?


Thunder and Lightning

by on Nov.29, 2015, under Hope

He was called Basil the Great. Bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century, he was a staunch defender of the idea of the Trinity. He stood his ground against all opponents, even when the Emperor tried to exile him for his beliefs.

Basil may have been better known for his charity work. He built what many consider to be the first hospital, a complex known as the Basiliad. It had room for more than 300 patients. There was a special ward for those with leprosy. There were rooms for travelers and a section for orphans. The poor could come and eat at a soup kitchen on the grounds of the Basiliad.

The project was funded by wealthy Christians… including the very Emperor that tried to exile Basil. The ruler disagreed with Basil on doctrine, but couldn’t argue with the things he saw Basil was doing.

Gregory of Nazianzus, archbishop of Constantinople, said about Basil: “His words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.”

Sounds like something Jesus said to his followers:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)

Don’t just talk about being a Christian; live like one! Live in such a way that you won’t have to tell people that you’re a Christian; they’ll be able to see it for themselves.

The world has seen enough Christians who are all thunder, with no lightning. Christians who just talk about their faith and don’t live it make non-believers turn away from God. We should live the kinds of lives that will make people praise God.

When we shine our light before men, we will be able to talk to them about Jesus. What we say will carry weight when they are backed up by deeds. Our words will be like thunder when our lives are like lightning.

Don’t just talk about what you believe… live it!


Thanks, but No Thanks

by on Nov.22, 2015, under Hope

It is the time of year when everyone talks about being thankful.  It is the month we celebrate a holiday entitled Thanksgiving.  Christians talk about always giving thanks.  We are told to “count our blessings”.  But there are many people who really are not in the mood to give thanks.  And there are others who are thankful even in the midst of very difficult times.  So why is it so hard to be thankful?  What is the secret to recognizing our blessings?  Why are Christians so intent of living lives full of thanksgiving?

Here are some ideas to reflect on concerning Christians and thankfulness.

  1. Short term pain sometimes makes us forget the larger picture.  The loss of a job or a relationship, the death of a loved one, natural disasters; these can seem overwhelming and the pain makes it hard to see anything to be thankful for.  But Christians see the big picture.  The pain of living in this fallen world is not permanent.  It will not last.  Our hope is rooted in the knowledge that this world is not our home.
  2. It is hard to be thankful when you focus on what you do not have instead of what you do have.  This is especially true when what we want is given priority over what we need.  Most people will never have everything they want.  Christians strive to be thankful for the daily needs that God provides.  Jesus taught his followers to ask for daily bread.  God will give us what we need.  For that we are thankful.
  3. Sometimes worry overwhelms gratitude.  What will the future hold?  Will my children be alright?  Will I get sick?  What about my job and my retirement?  Christians focus on today.  We believe God does hold our future.  We strive to serve him today.
  4. It is hard to be thankful when you believe you earned – or deserve – everything you have.  Christians know that our greatest blessing is that we will live with God forever.  That is something we do not deserve and could not earn.  That is the gift of God through his son Jesus who died for our sins.

So happy Thanksgiving every day – both now and forever.

Blessings,

steve


Accent

by on Nov.15, 2015, under Hope

I was born and raised in Texas. I went to college in Texas. I was Texan through and through.

Then I moved to Argentina. I lived 15 years in what is truly the Deep South. I learned the language. I learned the customs. I dressed like an Argentine, ate like an Argentine, lived like an Argentine. But I wasn’t Argentine through and through.

It would happen in a bread store or a hardware store. I’d be out on a normal errand and would ask for something I needed. The salesperson would cock their head in that funny way and make the accusation: “You’re not from here, are you?”

It was my accent. It gave me away every time. As much as I could try and fool everyone,  I wasn’t really Argentine. I was a Texan in Argentine clothing. My accent gave me away.

The Bible talks about some people who had a different kind of accent. When talking about some of the great faith heroes from the past, the writer of the book of Hebrews notes:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

These people had an accent. Not a Texan accent or an Argentine accent. Not even a Hebrew accent. They had a heavenly accent. They spoke in such a way that everybody knew they were on a journey, one that would end in heaven. They knew, as the old hymn says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” They were on their way to the city God was preparing.

The way they talked gave them away.

While I have trouble losing my Texan accent, I am often successful at masking my heavenly accent. While I stand out as being different when living in Argentina, I can blend in all too well in my earthly surroundings.

I don’t want to be that way. I want to live and talk in such a way that people will look at me and say, “You’re not from here, are you?” And I want them to mean that I talk like somebody from the kingdom of heaven.


Running the Wrong Way

by on Nov.08, 2015, under Hope

I run at an indoor facility during the winter.  The track is clearly labeled for one direction around the concourse.  This is to prevent injuries and so everyone is able to move together and get in their mileage.  There are signs clearly labeling the correct direction… and almost every day there is one or more people going the wrong way.

Some clearly are unaware.  They did not see the sign or misread the sign.  Others go the wrong way as a shortcut to another area of the facility.  Going the wrong way is quicker and easier than having to go all the way around the track.  And of course there are those that just feel like the rules do not apply to them.  They will run the direction they choose and everyone can just watch out.

It is exactly how some people view God’s directions for living a life of purpose and hope.  The word of God, the Bible, is very clear in explaining a lifestyle that enables us to live a spiritually and emotionally happy life.  It is also a way that ensures we can all live in harmony together.  Yet many people choose to live life differently.

Some may not know the directions.  They do not even know there is a way to live that makes sense in this world.  Those of us who have learned a better way can help them.  We can point out the clear directions, model the different life, and even invite them to do life with us.

Then there are those who know the directions but desire the easy way.  In fact, Jesus acknowledges some people will choose the path of least resistance.  He even said that the road to heaven is hard and narrow while the road to destruction is wide and easy.  You can read his exact words in one of his talks recorded in the book of Matthew, Chapter 7.  We point to a harder road, but one that will end in life with God forever.

And then there are those who think their way is better.  They choose to live life the way they think is best.  It is a story as old as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  And of course life just does not cooperate with our plans.  Christians invite those people to investigate a different lifestyle, one that has proven to be successful. 

I can help point you to the life of joy and hope that God offers you through his son Jesus. 

Blessings,

steve



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