Don’t Make It Difficult for Those Turning to God

All to often, we Christians are poor ambassadors of the message our Lord left with us. We should not stand in the way of non-believers searching for Truth in their lives. We should make it easy for them to seek — and find — the Lord’s saving grace. He made salvation easy. He did all of the hard work. We just need to point the way.

“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 (NLT)

“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Acts 20:21 (NIV)

THIS MUST HAVE BEEN AN EXCITING MEETING!

The glitterati of the Jewish Christian world — Jesus’ remaining apostles and church elders — were gathered in Jerusalem to hear a progress report from two missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, who had been evangelizing the Good News to the Gentiles.

Girl Praying - Turning to GodThe whole idea that God wanted the non-Jewish world to be saved from eternal damnation was a difficult enough concept for many of the Jews to understand, but worse, they were hearing reports that Paul and Barnabas were teaching salvation by faith, not by good works. Moreover, they were teaching that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism before becoming a follower of Christ and that they were not bound by the Law of Moses. 

No, the Gentiles would be saved by God’s grace and their belief that Jesus was God, died sacrificially for their sins, and was raised from the dead to sit at God’s right hand.

There was a lot of ground for the church elders to cover.

The Book of Acts, written by the doctor, Luke, tells us that Paul and Barnabas reached Jerusalem and were “welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders” — that is, until the Pharisees swung into action. That was the same crowd that Jesus said “woe to” on many occasions, accusing them of substituting their rules, their regulations, and their mandates for God’s law of love and forgiveness.

“The new believers must become Jews first,” the  Pharisees thundered, “and they must keep the law of Moses.”

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INTERESTING.

Man Praying - Turning to GodNowhere in the four Gospels does Jesus ever say that His followers must convert to Judaism and follow Moses’ law to be saved from God’s wrath. Instead, in John chapter 3, Jesus says His followers must be “born again.” In Luke chapter 9, He says His followers must “take up their cross daily” and follow Him.

But the Pharisees, as usual, were adamant.

The apostles and elders kicked those ideas around, when Apostle Peter stood up to address them. Naturally, Peter would speak first. There was a hush as he looked around the room, waiting for order.

He reminded them that “some time ago,” God made it known that the gospel of Jesus Christ was to be preached to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews and that He would accept all into His Kingdom “by giving them the Holy Spirit,” the same as He gave to the Jews.

Peter rebuked the elders, saying God would purify the Gentiles’ hearts by faith. “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” Peter asked.

You can feel his exasperation.

“No!” he told the stunned assembly. “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

After Peter sat down, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas related their experiences and how the Gentiles were responding warmly to the salvation message.

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YOU CAN’T BEAT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

For shear drama, this must have been the top moment.

God Reaching Out to ManSo far, the apostles Paul and Barnabas had spoken, the Pharisees had had their  moment, and Peter had spoken.

Could it get any more dramatic?

Yes, actually, it could.

The next man to stand is the one Luke tells us had the final say.

It was James.

Not just any James. This was James, the half-brother of Jesus Himself. The one who Luke tells us in chapter 8 accompanied his mother, Mary, and siblings to tell Jesus He was embarrassing the family with His teaching and should return home and tend to His carpentry business.

The James that Luke tells us in chapter 4 was sitting in the temple in the family’s hometown of Nazareth when Jesus read from Isaiah that “the Spirit of the Lord is on me” and proclaimed to all of their neighbors that the verse was about Him. Yes, the James who watched as the townsmen wanted to stone Jesus!

Yup, that James, but not that James.

The James who stood up at that moment in that meeting knew who His Lord and Savior was. In human terms, he knew his older half-brother was God.

That James stood up and closed the argument with these words inspired by the Holy Spirit — words of grace, mercy, and wisdom: “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. It is my judgment that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

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DON’T MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO WIN CONVERTS TO CHRIST.

James’ words trickle down the centuries to the present era, where we also are called by Almighty God not to make it difficult for those who hunger for the Truth of salvation, whether by our actions or our words.

Instead, we should make it easy for them to ask God for His forgiveness, to thank Him for the gift of grace, and to ask Him to live in their hearts.

When James’ words were relayed to the Gentile community outside Jerusalem, Luke tells us in Acts 15:31 (NIV) how they reacted:

“The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.”

Praise God!

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PRAYER: Our merciful and loving Heavenly Father, we just praise your holy name. We give thanks that You are a God of love and compassion, of patience and caring. Your gift of eternal life with You is too wonderful to comprehend. Help us in our witness to avoid placing obstacles or barriers of any kind in the way of your lost children. Rather, help us to extend loving, accepting, benevolent hands to those reaching out for Your Word. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen

Burning Heart or Still Small Voice?

With Jeremiah, God’s voice was like fire in his bones; with Elijah, it was a quite whisper. God thundered from a cloud when Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop, telling mankind, “Listen to him.” God speaks to us in many voices. If we don’t hear him, we’re not paying attention.

 

But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it. — Jeremiah 20:9 (NASB)

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. — 1 Kings 19:12 (KJV)

[A] bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!” Matthew 17:5 (NET)

GOD’S VOICE.

What does that mean to you? Does He speak to us? If so, in what way?

It’s easy to pass this question off by saying, “Well, back in the Bible days, mayVoice of Godbe He talked to man, but that was then; this is now.”

Why wouldn’t He speak to us now?

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THE BIBLE GIVES US TWO DIFFERENT ACCOUNTS of God speaking to man. The first is Jeremiah. He was called the “weeping prophet” because he was so distressed by the increasingly bad news God called him to deliver to the Jewish people because of their unfaithfulness.

But whenever he tried to silence God’s voice, the Lord became more insistent, and our reluctant prophet felt a “burning fire” in his bones.

Elijah was another prophet of very high esteem. In fact, the Jewish Passover ceremony references his predicted return — an event Christians believe was fulfilled with the testimony of John the Baptist. In this account in 1 Kings, Elijah is hiding from the Jews because he fears they will kill him as they have the other prophets.

While God spoke to Jeremiah in the fire, the Bible is clear that He did not speak to Elijah in the same manner. “The Lord was not in the fire,” Scriptures tell us. But God did speak to Elijah, “in a still small voice.”

The “still small voice” comes from the King James Version. Other translations call it a “gentle whisper” (NLT), “low whisper” (ESV), or “soft whisper” (HCSB).Man Listening to God

So, which is it: a burning fire in our bones that’s impossible to ignore or a small, soft, gentle whisper almost beyond our hearing?

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IN MATTHEW’S ACCOUNT of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Lord is direct in telling us to pay attention to His voice.

When Jesus took his three closest disciples up a mountain and was transfigured in heavenly aura before them, along with Elijah and Moses, the gospel writer Matthew tells us a bright cloud overshadowed the three men — Jesus and Elijah and Moses — and then, from out of the cloud, Almighty God Himself proclaimed of Jesus, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight.”

Then, unmistakably and most assuredly for us to take account of, He said, “Listen to him!” Matthew 17:5 (NET)

There’s no ambiguity there, is there? No wiggle room, no way to spin this event into a mere suggestion or wise saying. No, this was from the Creator himself. “Listen to him — my Son.”

With this moment on the mountain, we can be sure that God still speaks to us — and that He most assuredly wants us to listen. Listen, understand, take in, and obey.

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THE LORD HAS MORE WAYS to speak to mankind in modern days. There are more sophisticated communications devices, and, through advanced transportation modes, our globe is smaller than the ancient world.

Woman Listening to GodWe have Holy Writ translated into numerous English translations, plus translations into most of the world’s languages. Bible translators say Scripture has been made available in more than 2,500 languages, with another 1,500 or so, mostly minor languages or dialects, without a translation.

Add to that the numerous videos, podcasts, online sermons and commentaries, plus  Christian fellowship, and God finds many willing avenues to talk with us.

Perhaps no method is more intense or meaningful than our quiet devotion time, where we open our hearts and minds through prayer, then spend quality time reading a current and easy-to-follow translation of the Bible, followed by meditation on what we just read, and closing prayer.

We’re reminded in the book of James, a short how-to primer written by one of Jesus’ half-brothers, that we can ask God for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 (NIV)

When Solomon asked God for wisdom, we’re told in 1 Kings 5:12 (NIV): The Lord gave Solomon wisdom, just as he had promised him.”

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WE CAN BE SURE THAT GOD STILL SPEAKS to His people. Let’s just take two verses from the Bible — one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament — to make the point clear.

In Genesis 1:27 (NIV), we’re told that God created us in His image: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Then, in John 3:16 (NIV), we’re told that God loved these humans created in His image so much that, well, He was willing to let His own Son die on the Cross to pay for our sins and reconcile us to Him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”Woman Hearing God

With all that was at stake, God creating us in His own image and God giving us His Son to reclaim us as His children when we went astray, how could we possibly assume that He has stopped talking to us?

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IF WE DON’T HEAR HIS VOICE, then we should ask ourselves this question: Have we stopped listening?

The psalmist answers that question this way: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NIV)

PRAYER: Our most heavenly Father, pour your love on us. Shower us with Your goodness, and speak to us. Whether You whisper at some times that we must pause to listen, or you set our very bones on fire with Your strong voice, show us that You haven’t stopped loving us, that You are with us, that You are calling us to follow You. Father, we ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen

WORSHIP WITH JOY

Raising our voices — and our hearts — in joyful worship of the Risen Christ is the greatest experience we can have in this life. How sad when “church-goers” head for the pews each week out of a sense of duty. God gives us eternal life through His Son, and for that gift, we should be eternally grateful and eager to sing praises to Him.

“O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95:1 NASB)

“Worship the LORD with joy! Enter his presence with joyful singing!” (Psalm 100:2 NET)

“And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Luke 24:52 ESV)

DO YOU EVER GO TO CHURCH and wonder why you’re there?

You know, you’re sitting in the pew listening to the preacher drone on about something that may or may not have happened, like, 2,000 years ago, and you’ve got better things to do. Your cell phone is buzzing, and you realize at least someone in your life actually has a life.

Joyful Worship - cross outstretched armsAnd what’s with the singing? You’ve been to churches where a choir of 50 or more senior citizens sing some old dusty hymn to a pipe organ, and you’ve been to churches  where they rock to something that could be on the radio, except, well, they’re singing about God and that dude, Jesus, and that would never fly on the radio, for sure.

Then, your clothes itch. Seriously, like who can sit there for an entire hour dressed in something you wouldn’t wear to a costume party.

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LET’S WATCH A TYPICAL FAMILY alight from their car in the church parking lot.

First, there’s some pushing and shoving from the back-seat occupants. Then, there’s the stern shushing from one of the front-seat occupants, before the driver gets out and tries to replace his scowl with a grin. You never know who you might run into in the church parking lot, and it’s never good form to make a bad impression. Not good for business, really.

Finally, in single file, they make their solemn way from the car to the church’s front door.

So, let me ask you: Do you ever go to church and not feel joy?

Unless Joyful Worship - womanyou rephrased the question, your answer probably is “Yes.”

Rephrase the question? How?

Let’s examine the question. “Going to church” is an expression similar to “going to the dentist.” It’s something you know you should do, but it’s not something you enjoy doing, at least more than twice a year. For the dentist, it’s called a semi-annual checkup. For church, it’s called Christmas and Easter.

Instead, what about this question: Do you ever go to worship God, the Creator of the universe, and not feel joy?

The answer is: “No.”

It’s impossible not to feel joy if you’re worshipping God. There is no joy in merely attending church — there’s an abundance of joy in worshipping Almighty God.

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SO, WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT WORSHIP?

Worship is praising God, thanking Him for what He has done for us. God created us in His image for His glory, to have communion with Him and to have dominion on His behalf over the creation. Yet, through pride and rebellion, man threw that connection away. God, in His mercy and love, reconnected us through the lifeblood of His Son. In thanksgiving, we praise His Holy Name.

Now, that’s joy. 

The book of Matthew records a conversation Jesus had with His disciples in which He asked them who men said He was. Jesus was asking for the scuttlebutt. You know, the guys in town, the ones you know, your buddies, what do they say about Me? Who do they say I am?

The disciples offered some feedback — like Elijah or John the Baptist — basically, responses that missed the mark. Then the Apostle Peter offered this gem, recorded in Matthew 16:16 (NASB): “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Once we can say with total conviction, as Peter did: “You are the Christ,” Joyful Worship - 3 Crosseswe are freed from all of life’s uncertainties, its hardships, its troubles. We are free to express our eternal gratitude to the God who, in His mercy, gave us a way back to Him, despite our rebellion.

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THIS IS TRUE JOY IN WORSHIP: Singing and praying our thanks to Almighty God, because, in the end, it’s all about us and Jesus.

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, You are from everlasting to everlasting. You created us in Your image as Your greatest creation, for your glory. Help us to praise You and Your Holy Name with joy, with thanksgiving, with our hearts singing to You. In Jesus’ name.  Amen

PRAYING BOLDLY

The Lord calls us to pray boldly, asking God for big things; yet, too often, we’re timid. We ask God to fix the little things that bother us today. Sometimes, those little things seem big, like salvation for our children or to cure a loved one’s malignancy, but those prayers merely ask God to take care of the situation. They don’t really involve us. Jesus said He wants us involved in our prayers, so that we become part of the solution we seek. That’s where boldness comes in, by aligning ourselves with God in salvation’s story.

Now to Him who is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. — Ephesians 3:20 (BSB)

‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You.’ — Jeremiah 32:17 (NASB)

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man, this is impossible; but with God, all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (BSB)

THERE IS AN AMAZING STORY OF JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK.

Okay, you say, aren’t the Gospels filled with amazing stories of Jesus?

One moment, you say, He’s raising Lazarus from the dead, then He heals 10 lepers and  restores sight to two blind men. He stops a woman’s hemorrhage just by her touching His cloak. He feeds 5,000 men — the Bible tells us men, Pray Boldly - lightningin addition to women and children, so there probably were 15,000 people — then He does it again with 4,000 men — plus their families — shortly afterward. If that weren’t enough, He tells the wind to shush and the waves to quiet.

Even the disciples were incredulous, asking themselves, “Who is this man?” (Mark 4:41 NLT)

True enough, but this story in Mark is different from the others. This one focuses on Jesus in a way that clearly transports him from an earthly realm to a heavenly one.

Before I tell you the story, I have a question for you.

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HOW BOLD ARE YOUR PRAYERS?

Well, how big is your God?

My guess is your God is no bigger than your prayers. If your prayers are small, probably your God is small. To pray boldly, as the Scriptures encourage us, requires a big God. A God big enough to have created creation, itself — including you.

If you’re like me, you’re probably a bit in awe of praying to the Creator of the universe. Here we come in prayer, armed with a wish list of stuff Man Praying Humblywe want Almighty God to take care of, much like giving him His morning “To Do” list. Even while we lay our requests at His feet, we can’t help wondering if our weak requests in our puny lives in our insignificant corner of the universe is even worth His attention?

What would it take for each of us to take Him seriously when He beckons us to prayer?

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LET’S GO BACK TO THE STORY.

Jesus comes down from a mountaintop with three of His most trusted disciples — Peter, John, and James — and He finds a distraught man whose son is acting strangely. The  men approaches Jesus and urgently tells him his son is possessed with a demon that causes him to froth at the mouth and fall to the ground, going rigid. Sometimes, the man said, the demon throws his son into the fire to burn him.

Then the man tells the Lord, while pointing to the nine other disciples who did not accompany Jesus to the Woman Praying Earnestlymountaintop, “I asked Your disciples to cure him, but they weren’t able to.” The man searches the Lord’s face earnestly, then asks, meekly, much like many of our prayers, “Can You help him?”

Mark records the Lord’s answer to the man, which, really, is the Lord’s rebuke to us: “What do you mean, if I can? Anything is possible if a person believes.”

Then Jesus commanded the demon to leave the boy and never return.

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JUST ANOTHER WONDERFUL STORY OF JESUS, YOU SAY?

No, not exactly. What makes this story so spectacular is what Mark tells us happened just before this healing incident occurred, back when Jesus was on the mountaintop  with His inner circle of trusted disciples.

Mark tells us that on the mountaintop, while Jesus’ three closest disciples watched, “Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and His clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than earthly bleach could ever make them.”

During this transforming moment, Peter babbled something inane, as Peter was wont to do, but Mark passes over it quickly, dismissing it as mere background noise.

Then, Mark tells us: “[A] cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My dearly loved Son. Listen to Him.’”

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THIS SEQUENCE OF EVENTS IS POWERFUL.

There is a testimony for us. There are so many ways that our Lord tells us to pray boldly, even telling us that if we have the faith of a small mustard seed, we can pray in the Lord’s name, and He will move mountains for us (Matthew 17:20 NIV).

Why, then, don’t we?

Adult Man in PrayerEven as believers, we are likely to pray “small.” Most of our prayers focus on our lives, and our families and loved ones. As part of prayer and fellowship groups, we extend our  prayers to include those members and their concerns; and, yes, we open our eyes to the suffering around us and pray the Lord’s intervention to sooth our concerns.

What we don’t do is go beyond ourselves and petition God, who tells us not to be anxious about anything, but to share everything with Him in petition and thanksgiving.  (Philippians 4:6 NIV)

There’s nothing wrong with our prayers for our loved ones and for help in those areas of our lives where we hunger for God’s tender grace. It just that God is so much BIGGER than that. We seldom ask Him to go beyond the routine request.

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JUST THINK OF JESUS TRANSFORMED ON THE MOUNTAINTOP — and meditate on just who He is — and what He can do … and then meditate on how little we ask of Him.

How bold are your prayers? How big is your God? 

One pastor said that health and wealth and miracles are Pray Boldly (script)wonderful things, but the Apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus that He prayed that the love of the Lord Jesus Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith.

To what end? To this end: “[That you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19 NASB)

NOW, THAT’S BOLD!

PRAYER: Our heavenly Father, forgive us for offering You timid prayers, which often are just a list of our wants and needs, when You call us to pray boldly for Your kingdom, that Your will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Help us to see a grander vision that You want for us, to pray boldly and then offer ourselves, in obedience to Your call, as part of that prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen


PRAYING FOR BOLDNESS

Jesus often tells us He can handle our requests, like this one: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man, this is impossible, but with GOD all things are possible.’” — Matthew 19:26 (BSB)

Apostle Paul sought boldness: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, divine utterance may be given me, so that I will boldly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it fearlessly, as I should.” — Ephesians 6:19-20 (BSB)

Here’s a prayer for the early disciples after Peter and John were released from prison: “And now, Lord, consider their threats, and enable Your servants to speak Your word with complete boldness. — Acts 4:29 (BSB)

Paul leaves us with this thought: “Pray without ceasing.”— 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (BSB)

God’s People Complaining

The Lord is so gracious in His Word, that He devotes needed passages to remind His people that we are called to praise His Holy Name. Too often, caught in the net of our earthly desires, we grumble and complain over, really, little things. While I’m not proud of my whining, the Bible is clear that God loves me and is in charge of the situation.

Exodus 17:3-4 (NLT) “But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!”” 

Philippians 2:14 (NIV) “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”

THE BIBLE TELLS US in the story of Exodus — where the Jewish people were led out of slavery by God’s mighty hand — that within two months they were grumbling. First, they complained they had no food (Exodus 16),  then they complained they had no water (Exodus 17).

thumb_IMG_0798_1024It’s easy for us as readers in the 21st Century to wonder how they could possibly doubt that God would rescue them from their every adversity and provide for their every need.

THAT’S NOT THE WHOLE STORY. Today, we can read the story and place ourselves in the position of the Israelites. God has blessed many of us in marvelous ways, but we often grumble.

I personally enjoy good health, a retirement with sufficient material resources, a new home with a paid-off mortgage, and a lovely woman to be my wife and join me in our walk with Christ and our retirement years. Yet, I still complain.

THE LORD HAS BLESSED ME RICHLY. He has promised to watch over me and lead me. He calls on me to trust him. When life presents its challenges, and I start to grumble, I need to stop and reflect for this is a moment when the Almighty is calling me to grow in my faith and in my character, both to enhance my earthly witness and to be prepared for an eternity in Glory.

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, we are ashamed when we let our petty tribulations interfere with our faith walk, when we look in the rear view mirror and see a past more glorious than it was and through the windshield  and see a future dimly lit. Help us remember that this is the moment when we need to ask for God’s help, believing He will deliver us. Forgive us our complaining and our shortsightedness. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

 

‘Who Do YOU Think YOU Are?’

Many of us want to obey God and do acts of service, but we’re stopped in our tracks because Satan, the great Tempter, challenges us where we’re weak. He says: Just who do you think You are? He knows our insecurities. When the Lord calls us to step out in faith, the Tempter tells us we’re not good enough. Fortunately, that’s not the story’s end. With the Holy Spirit’s counsel, we can accomplish anything (Phil. 4:13).

Matthew 4:3 (NIV): The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Matthew 4:6 (NIV) “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.”

What an amazing encounter in the desert!

Can you imagine what Jesus must have felt at that time? He was about to start his public ministry, and there was no more symbolic place to start than to be baptized in  the Jesus Baptized by JohnRiver Jordan by John, known as The Baptist. John, you will recall, was actually Jesus’ cousin, and he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy that Elijah would return to herald the Messiah.

When Jesus approached the river, John, filled with the Holy Spirit, recognized him as the Messiah, even though the two had never met. John called out that this was the Messiah, the One who came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

When John baptized Jesus, an act that John performed only because Jesus commanded him to, Jesus emerged from the water, dripping wet and was greeted by the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove and the Father’s voice sounding from the heavens, that “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

In the mosaic of one’s life, being recognized as the beloved Son of God must surely rate at the top, well above making the Dean’s List, publishing a popular novel, being voted “Mom of the Year,” or batting .360 for 10 consecutive years. The top items in our personal review pale in comparison with what Jesus just experienced.

He must have felt on top of the world — exhilarated, pumped, energetic, raring to go!

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IF LIFE COULD BE PIECED TOGETHER with moments like that.

In Paradise, life will, but this isn’t Paradise, and Jesus — like us in this world — would not stay in that moment.

Scripture tells us that as soon as the Christ emerged from the river, He was led by that same temptation-of-jesusHoly Spirit into the dessert to be tempted by Satan. What a graduation present! That’s far worse than being given a toy and finding out the batteries are not included. This would not be an easy temptation, either.

No, Jesus, by himself, with nowhere to lay his head, fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. At the end, He was fatigued, famished, and parched, and the Tempter struck.

“You think YOU are the Son of God!” the Tempter shrieked. “YOU! What makes YOU think you’re so special. Wherever did You get that notion.”

When the Tempter let his taunt sink in, he followed it up with a test.

“You’re hungry with a Big H,” he said. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

There it was. If you really are who you think you are, you can do something about it. You can turn the stones into bread and gorge yourself. But — maybe you can’t do that. Maybe you really aren’t the Son of God. Then what?

Jesus did not fall for the trap. He told the devil that God’s Word was more important to him than food.

Round One: Jesus.

The devil wasn’t done. He had scored a knockout punch in the Garden of Eden when he incited Eve and then Adam to taste of the forbidden fruit. This was an important test served on a platter, and Satan wasn’t about to give up.

He took Jesus in the spirit to the top of the city and challenged him: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” He even quoted some Scripture to add salt to the wound.

Again, Jesus did not fall for the trap. He told the devil that man should worship only God, and that’s exactly what Jesus would do, regardless of being hungry or thirsty or grimy or tired. He would not betray His faith.

Round Two: Jesus.

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THERE WOULD BE A THIRD ROUND, and Jesus would win that one, too. At that point, Scripture tells us the devil fled. We can only imagine Satan was angrier than ever at the Father who had thrown him out of heaven long before.

All of that is fine, but we need to ask this: What does all of that mean for us? 

Really, Jesus was, in fact, God, so He was bound to win against Satan, wasn’t He? That doesn’t mean we can win.

Oh, but it does.

You, see, Satan will use the Cross With Backlightsame question against us.

“John, you feel led to start a citywide program to teach underprivileged children to improve their reading skills. Who do you think YOU are?”

“Mary, you think God is calling you to organize a neighborhood watch group to ensure the post-school safety of grade school children until their parents come home. Who do you think YOU are?”

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FRANKLY, I HEAR THAT SAME VOICE.

Who do you think you are that you should write a blog?

Who do you think you are that you should lead a church prayer group?

Who do you think you are that you should witness boldly for your faith?

I don’t think I’m anyone that should do any of those things. Satan knows those taunts are effective against me.

If I just leave it there, I’ll stop. I won’t do anything.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because the Lord sent His Holy Spirit to be our counselor and advisor, I don’t have to stand alone. With the help of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, that’s how I can lead a life of witness.

It isn’t by my power or by my strength or by my goodness.

With the help of Jesus Christ who gives me that strength (Phil. 4:13), I can do anything.

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BY THE WAY, SATAN. Yes, you in the ugly red suit. You with the horns. I’m talking to you.

Just who do you think YOU are!

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PRAYER: Our Lord, just as Satan tried to derail Your perfect plan to reconcile the world through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus, so he tries to derail each of us from obeying Your will for our lives. We pray that Your counselor, the Holy Spirit, will protect us from assault and keep us on the path that You’ve laid out for us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

GOD’S KEY QUESTION

God asks us to answer this key question: Who do you say Jesus is? Is He the Messiah or an imposter? Apostle Peter believed in Jesus; Apostle Judas betrayed him. One question; two different answers. We also must decide.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16 (NIV)

And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. Luke 22:4 (NIV)

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THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION men and women, created in the image of God, are called to answer is the simple one Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say I am?”

The Bible records two answers Who-Do-You-Say-That-I-Am (Luke 9-20)from two disciples, Peter and Judas. Peter answered right away, declaring that Jesus, looking every bit a man just like them, dressed in robe and dirty sandals, a man who tired after a long day’s work with no place to lay His head at night, was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Judas responded later. He sold access to the rabbi for 30 pieces of silver. To Judas, Jesus was an imposter. He promised to be a king, but He showed no interest in leading a rebellion against Rome to free Israel from under its heel.

Two different answers from two men called by Jesus to follow him daily for three years, to pray with him, and to hear him teach the crowds, call out the religious leaders’ hypocrisy, lay a healing touch on a person sick or lame or blind, and even raise a dead man back to life.

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ONE QUESTION, TWO ANSWERS. Really, those are the only answers we can give, and we are called to choose between them.

Because of our fallen natures (we are born in sin through Adam’s disobedience), our default answer is to reject Jesus. For most folks, busy with their lives and striving to get ahead, it’s an easy call. Jesus is not relevant to them. He might have been a good man or a wise teacher, but, let’s get real, He lived a long time ago in a community primitive by today’s standards, and his words and deeds have little relevance to us.

Except.

If that is so, if his life 2,000 years ago in the Near East is irrelevant to our lives, then why are we still talking about him? What is it about Jesus that compels us to address that question of who He is throughout our lives, down through the generations, around the globe, wherever his message has gone?

Sure, He said He was God, but any crackpot can claim a false identity. Yes, He backed up his claim with miracles witnessed by thousands, Most Important Questionand yes, it is said He spoke with authority on the Scriptures, an uneducated man besting the most learned scholars of the day, often leaving them speechless with his responses to their vexing questions.

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BUT SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT about him, even before his resurrection from the dead. 

He knew the people He talked with. He read their minds; He understood their hearts. He loved them. He reached out with promises of hope and love and mercy and kindness and forgiveness … and life. Life. Abundant Life. Joy in this world and eternity with God.

No one who encountered Jesus could be indifferent. No in-between with him. Either you were with Peter and worshipped him … or you were with Judas and wanted him out of your life.

Who Jesus is is the most important question you — and I — are called to make. Each one of us comes to a decision alone. How we answer that question will determine how we live our lives … and how we spend eternity.

So, who do YOU say Jesus is?

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PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, we know that coming to grips with that one question, ‘Who do I think Jesus is?’ is the most important question we will ever answer. We pray that we will come to see him as our Lord and Savior and give thanks that He sends the counselor to live in our hearts and guide our steps. Help us to live our lives in obedience to him for his glory. Amen