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The “Lost” Chapter

by on Jun.19, 2016, under Hope

Of the four gospels in the New Testament, the one written by the physician Luke is my favorite. It has more words of Jesus than any other book in the Bible. If you have a Red Letter Bible, where all the direct words of Jesus are in red letters, there you will notice at times page after page is all in red. This is a marvelous fact, since Luke was not one of the original disciples and came to know Jesus through the memories of others. Secular tradition says that Luke was well acquainted with Peter, Paul and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it was through their telling that Luke was able to transcribe the words of Jesus.

The 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel consists of three parables of Jesus. I call it the “Lost” chapter because the coin, the sheep and the son are lost. The irony is that the three didn’t know they were lost.

The coin, being an inanimate object, has no mechanism of thought or discernment. The sheep, while being a living animal, simply follows its instinct of looking for food regardless of what dangers might be present. The son, felt entitled and thought he was smarter and knew how to avoid the perils of life or simply didn’t care.

Yet, in all three stories, the action of reclamation is taken by someone other than the “lost”. The woman, the shepherd and the father all initiated their search of the thing that was “Lost.” Each of those individuals represent our Father, God Almighty, who when we are “Lost” begins His search of us. Whether we are just misplaced or wander off to satisfy our basic biological needs or when we think we know better than everyone else because “we have it under control”, God searches for us.

Even after we betray him, he still looks for us. He did it in the Garden of Eden. When both Adam and Eve sinned by eating of the tree that God had told them not to eat, he still wanted to know where they were. (Gen 3:8ff) He has, does and always will want to know where we are when we have become so lost.

As you read Luke 15, which are you? the coin, the sheep or the son? Do you hope God still is searching for you?

What is your response to knowing that God Almighty still is searching for you?


Rescued

by on Jun.05, 2016, under Hope

On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River shortly after takeoff, killing all but five of the 79 people on board.

Priscilla Tirado was one of those thrown into the river after the crash. When a helicopter arrived, trying to rescue the few survivors, Tirado was too exhausted to grab the lifeline that was thrown to her. She had been in the water too long, and her arms were too numb. Although her rescue was at hand, she had no strength to take advantage of it.

That’s when Lenny Skutnik went into action. An employee of the Congressional Budget Office, Skutnik was on his way home when he saw the crash. As he watched from the riverbank, Skutnik saw Tirado’s predicament and came to her aid. He jumped into the frigid waters, swam about 25 feet to where Tirado was, and pulled her to safety.

That aspect of this tragic story reminds me of what the apostle Paul said about our salvation:

“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 2:4–5)

We weren’t just wounded by sin. We weren’t merely crippled. We were dead. We were helpless to save ourselves. There was nothing we could do to escape the trap in which we found ourselves.

That’s when God intervened. He sent Jesus to die for us, to rescue us, when we were powerless to rescue ourselves. Just as Tirado needed more than a lifeline in those frigid waters, so we too needed a rescuer. And we got one in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul also wrote:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

God didn’t wait until we were good enough. He didn’t wait until we deserved it. He saw that we were dead in sin, and he sent his son to die for us.

No matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’ve been in your life, there is salvation available. Not because you have earned it. Not because you deserve it. But because God loves you and wants to rescue you.

Let him pull you out of the icy waters of sin. Let him free you from death. Let God save you.


Great Sin, Great Forgiveness, and Now What?

by on May.22, 2016, under Hope

It is hard to imagine how he could make a bigger mess of his life.  David slept with the wife of one of his officers.  He first tried to hide his sin.  When that did not work, he had her husband killed during a battle.  David knew better.  He was the King over God’s people.  But I understand how it happened.  So do you.  We have all done things that we knew we should not do.  We have tried to cover up our sin.  And sometimes, we have involved others in our sin.  We have hurt others.

But the story of David does not end there, and neither does our story. 

David repented of his sin.  In fact, you can read David’s reaction to his sin in Psalm 51.  He begs God to cleanse him from his sin.  He asked God to wash him whiter than snow.  David wants God to hide His face from his sins and to blot out his iniquity.  David asks for forgiveness.    He brings to God a broken and contrite heart.

David also wanted to have his relationship with God restored.  He wanted a clean and pure heart.  He wanted God’s Holy Spirit to stay with him.  He wanted joy and gladness in his life again.  He asked God to restore the joy of His salvation and to renew a willing spirit within him.

David repented and he sought restoration.  But David also committed to a lifestyle that reflects this repentance.   When God forgave and restored him, David did two things.  He sang of God’s righteousness.  He was going to live a forgiven life praising God.  He also committed to tell other sinners the ways of God so they too would repent and turn to God.

That is a story that you are invited to live out in your life.  God loves you.  When you sin, seek forgiveness and restoration.  Then worship God with thanksgiving for what He has done for you.  Do not be selfish with the good news.  Let others know that God’s forgiveness is readily available.  We Christians are not perfect, but we are forgiven and restored.  We live forgiven lives of praise and testimony to what God has done – and is doing — in our lives. 

If you are not a Christian, that is the life we invite you into — a life of forgiveness, restoration, and purpose. 

Blessings,

steve

 


Don’t Give Up!

by on May.08, 2016, under Hope

I love to see young people give their lives to Jesus. I love to see them commit to him in faith, dying with him in baptism, and starting a journey with him that will last the rest of their lives… and beyond.

But as much as those young commitments bring me joy, I’m truly moved by those who come to Christ late in life. Many of us become set in our ways as we grow older, but some are willing to be born again despite their advanced years.

Last month in Cuba, I got to see several people be baptized into Christ. Among them was a man whose wife had become a Christian sixty years before. She was converted as a young woman; now this man was joining her in the body of Christ six decades later.

Sixty years of prayer. Sixty years of a godly example. Sixty years of worrying and wondering. That’s a long time.

Would you have kept it up? Would you still be hoping after sixty years? Would you continue to pray for someone who had said no time and again, year after year? Would you still invite them to go to church with you or ask them to learn more about God?

Some people learn about Jesus and are immediately ready to give their life to him. Others need more time. As Christians, it’s important that we never give up on those around us.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Don’t give up! Keep praying for those around you. Keep showing them the example of a godly life. And be ready to share your faith with them when the time is right.


An Answer for the Times There Are No Answers

by on Apr.24, 2016, under Hope

There are times when your entire world is turned upside down.  Times when the pain is unbearable and the future seems unfathomable.  When God did not answer your prayer and you wonder if he even heard your cries.  Events that change your life forever.  The things that make tomorrow an impossible dream.  And one of the worst of these is the death of a child.  It does not seem to matter if they die in the womb or as adults in an accident.  Death strikes at any age.  And parents have to bury children.

Nothing will ever be the same.  Questions fill your every waking hour.  How will I ever go on?  How can I face tomorrow… and the day after that … and the day after that?  Why did my child die?  Why are other children spared?  Where was God?  Where is my child?  What did I do to deserve this?  So many questions and so few answers.  Having dealt with far too many families in situations like this, I have learned that I do not have the wisdom to give answers. 

But I do think I know where there is an answer.  God speaks into our lives through a story in the Bible.  It is the story of when King David and Bathsheba lost their infant child.  David fasted, prayed, and pleaded with God to heal his sick child.  Probably begging God not to hold his sin of adultery against the child.  But the baby died.  So David got up, cleaned up, and ate.  He went on with life.  When asked how that was possible, he said that the baby was not coming back to him… but that he could go to where his child was.

So here are three things that are certain. 

  1. You are not the only one to experience this.  It is a world where death happens and evil exists.  God does not always do what we want.  I do not know why because I am not God. And that is a good thing because there has to be someone bigger and stronger than me in control.  So God’s people chose to believe in spite of the pain.
  2. Life goes on.  You may want it to stop.  You may even wish that it would, but it will not.  So those of us in God’s family keep on living.  One foot in front of the other, one day at a time … because we believe.
  3. This is not the end.  Christians know that we will see our children again.  Death is not the end.  It is only final for the short time we are on this earth.  It is not final forever.

 

So if you have wondered where answers are when there seem to be no answers… listen to God.  If you want to live through the darkest night imaginable… hold on to faith in God.  If you want to live forever with your children… believe in Jesus. 

Blessings,

steve

 


Go and Do Likewise

by on Apr.10, 2016, under Hope

The questioner had posed his inquiry in order to ridicule Jesus, but the response reframed the responsibilities to others then and now.

The story is found in the gospel of Luke, the tenth chapter. And it, as is always the case when Jesus speaks, has numerous facets. It’s called the story of the Good Samaritan, about the disenfranchised traveler, who when others didn’t want to get involved, took care of a robbery victim who had been left for dead. The story begins in verse 29 and concludes at verse 37.

As Jesus finishes the scenario, he asks the questioner who was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The acknowledgement was made that it was “he who showed mercy on him.” The questioner was Jewish and racism was so vicious, that he couldn’t even say the word Samaritan.

It was Jesus who then said, “Go and Do Likewise.”

The direction from Jesus was that the questioner help those he came across on his journey in life.

There is an aspect of personal responsibility to help those who are in need. It is not a corporate demand: it is a personal admonition.

For us in the 21st century religious community, we are used to having the church, a corporate body, develop a program or ministry to deal with just such situations.

Yet this parable, or teaching story is focused on one man who personally, intimately and immediately did something. Thus the lesson is that as followers of Jesus, we need to go and do likewise as we travel over our own roads of life and help those in need as we come across them.

What do you do, actually do, to help your neighbor?


A Home For Jesus

by on Mar.20, 2016, under Hope

How would you like to stay somewhere built for royalty? For a mere $35000 per month, you can rent a 15,000 square foot castle in New York City that was made for a king… the King of Kings.

In 1928, a religious order called the Outer Court of the Order of the Living Christ decided to build Jesus a place from which to reign here on earth. For thirty years, no one lived in the house, but members of the order kept the house clean and dusted, every ready for Jesus’ return. Eventually, they abandoned the house and the surrounding property; now it’s privately owned and available for rent.

I share something with those misguided believers from the 1920s… I’m also doing my best to prepare a place for Jesus to live. Where we differ is that I don’t think that Jesus plans to come live in a mansion. In fact, I know where he wants to live: in my heart. What’s more, he’s living there now.

The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Rome:

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:9–10)

Imagine it. Christ living in me. He could have a mansion in the Bronx or any palace he chose, but he has decided to live in me. He has made a home in my heart, giving me life, guiding me in the way I should go. My job is to follow his lead and become like him, become like the one who lives in me.

Do you want to know more about Jesus, more of how he lived here on earth, and more about what he expects of us? Sign-up for the “Discovering Jesus” course; the link is at the bottom of this page. It will guide you through what the Bible teaches us about Jesus. Learn about him, become his disciple, and he will come to live in you, as well.


Best News Ever

by on Mar.06, 2016, under Hope

One thing is true for each of us: we have not done everything that we should have done and we have all done things we should not have done. Not only have these failures resulted in guilt, shame, and remorse… but they have also come between us and God. We are separated from God because of our bad decisions and wrong choices – our sin.

But you do not have to stay estranged from God. He loves you so much that he took the initiative to bring you back to himself. He has taken action to restore your relationship. God has made it possible for you to live with him forever.

So if you have ever had that sense that you and God are estranged, or that your life has not really been lived as well as it could have been – then I have good news for you. In fact, it is more than good news, it is the best news ever. This message of good news is explained clearly in your Bible. You can read one announcement of this news in the book of II Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 16-21.

Here it is:

  1. God does not count our sins against us if we are in Christ. If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, your sins will never be held against you. You are forgiven.
  2. This is possible because God made Jesus – the one who had no sin – to be sin for us.  Jesus took your sin on himself and paid for those sins when he died on the cross.  This enables us to be restored to a right relationship with God.
  3. So we are reconciled to God through Jesus. We are brought back to God by his gift of love in letting his Son die for our sins on the cross.

So if you have never believed this good news, I am begging you to be reconciled to God through Jesus. You can be in a right relationship with God.

Blessings,

steve


Praying For People We Don’t Like

by on Feb.21, 2016, under Hope

Jonah didn’t like Assyria. Assyria was a cruel bully that dominated the surrounding nations. One of those nations was Israel, Jonah’s homeland. Jonah didn’t like Assyria.

Jonah didn’t like Assyrians. He probably didn’t know any of them personally, but they had a reputation for being violent and profane. They were his enemies. Jonah didn’t like Assyrians.

One day, God told Jonah to go preach in Nineveh the Assyrian capital (located where Mosul, Iraq, is today). Jonah didn’t want to go. Not because he was scared, but because he didn’t want God to warn the Assyrians before punishing them. Jonah was afraid the people would repent, and God would spare the Assyrians.

Jonah didn’t like Assyrians. So he tried to run away from God, making a run to the coast, and heading out to sea. God sent a storm that almost capsized the boat Jonah was in, and Jonah convinced the sailors to throw him overboard to save the ship. They reluctantly did so, and the storm stopped.

God didn’t let Jonah drown. He sent a big fish to swallow Jonah and bring him back to dry land. Then God again told Jonah to go preach in Nineveh.

This time Jonah went. He announced God’s judgment against the city, and the people believed him. They responded by turning to God, seeking his mercy. God listened to the people and spared the city.

Jonah was mad. He didn’t like Assyria. He didn’t like Assyrians. And frankly, he didn’t care too much for God’s mercy. He told God:

“O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
(Jonah 4:2–3)

Amazing. Jonah was so mad he wanted to die. Why? Because God spared the people he didn’t like.

When Paul wrote Timothy about the need to pray for all people, he said,

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

(1 Timothy 2:3–4)

So are you like Jonah? Are there people you dislike so much that you don’t want God to have mercy on them? Or are you willing to pray that all people come to know the truth?

Take some time today to pray for everyone… especially the people you don’t like.


Peter Knows Dogs and Pigs

by on Feb.07, 2016, under Hope

The Bible has some interesting things in it.  One of my favorite passages is in I Peter, chapter 2,  where Peter writes about dogs, pigs, vomit, and mud.  When I was a kid I liked this verse because I thought it was cool that this was in the Bible.  As I got older, I was impressed the way Scripture uses common events to make a point.  After all, pigs do go right back into the mud after you wash them off and dogs do stick their nose right back into their vomit.

Those two actions make absolutely no sense to us.  Why would a dog be so interested in vomit?  What is this compulsion pigs have to roll in mud?  Peter thought these observations had a spiritual point.  He wrote about people who escaped the evil of this world through knowing Jesus and then go back to it.  Just like dogs and vomit and pigs and mud.  In fact, Peter says when a Christian turns his back on Jesus, it would have been better for him never to have known the way of righteousness.

This is a strong warning to Christians not to return to the ways of an evil world.  It is a vivid reminder not to quit on Jesus.  But it is also instructive for those thinking about becoming a follower of Jesus.  It is a serious decision. 

There is no better news than the fact that God loves you so much that he sent his son Jesus to bring you into relationship with him.  Your life will have joy, peace, hope, and purpose.  You will make a difference in this world, and then live forever with God. 

It is worth everything, but be all in.  There is no turning back. 

Blessings,

steve

 

 



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