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Archive for May, 2016

Have you ever wondered what God’s plan and purpose for your life could be? Perhaps you believe God cannot use you. If so, the turning point in your life will come when you begin to understand how and why God has always worked through frail human vessels. Once you understand these two facts, God will begin to use you in astounding ways.

Is that too hard to believe? If so, both the Old and New Testaments tell us that the people God has used were generally the most unlikely people imaginable – prostitutes, murderers, fishermen, tax collectors, etc. Throughout history God has worked not through Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, but through those who were imperfect vessels. For example:

Jacob – a deceiver and runaway who had to work fourteen years to get the wife he wanted. God used him to become the father of the nation of Israel.

Joseph – a spoiled-rotten brat sold into slavery by his brothers who later became a convict. God used him to save his family that later became the foundation of the twelve tribes of Israel, and also provided the ancestors of Christ.

Moses – a murderer turned shepherd – a man so timid he told God to look elsewhere to find a leader. God used him to lead Israel out of bondage and to edge of the Promised Land.

            Jepthah – the son of a prostitute. God used him to deliver Israel from the Ammonites.

Rahab – a prostitute who lived a morally bankrupt life in a morally bankrupt culture. God used her to play a pivotal role in helping the Israelites take the Promised Land. Her name is even found in the genealogy of Christ.

Eli – a man who blew it big-time with his own children (Hophni and Phinehas). God called him to be the spiritual father of Samuel, who became the spiritual father and mentor of King David.

David – a humble shepherd boy, the youngest member of his family, who later committed adultery and murder. God enabled him to become Israel’s greatest king, and also used him to pen many of the most beautiful, comforting, and inspiring passages of Scripture.

Esther – a slave girl married to a Gentile. God used her to save His people from an impending massacre (women were not held in high esteem in those days, and marriage to a Gentile was strongly condemned).

Mary – an unmarried virgin peasant girl. God chose her to become the mother of our Savior.

Matthew – a despised tax collector and symbol of Israel’s oppressors. God called him to be an apostle and the writer of the first book in the New Testament.

Simon Peter – a hot-tempered fisherman inflicted with “foot-in-mouth disease”. God called him to be an apostle, leader of the early church, and writer of two New Testament epistles.

Paul – the vicious unrelenting persecutor of the early Church. God called him to take the gospel to the Gentiles and to write more New Testament books than any other author.

You see, God uses imperfect vessels. The question remains: why? First, because the Bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Second, in choosing unlikely vessels He wants us to know that there is no one He cannot or will not use. This definitely means that He can use you. He will even tell you how – that is, if you will listen!

 

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Charles and Frances Hunter, in Laugh Yourself Healthy, tell the story of a five-year-old boy who was asked by his parents to say grace before his family’s evening meal. He bowed his head, folded his hands, and began his prayer by saying, “Dear God, thank You for the pancakes.”

When he had concluded his prayer, his mother asked him why he thanked God for pancakes when they were having fried chicken. He smiled, and said, “I wanted to see if God was paying attention.”

We laugh, but it is the kind of thing you might expect a bright five-year-old child to say. Adults also want to be assured that God hears their prayers – and indeed He does. Jesus gave His disciples four principles to guide them in their praying:

We should pray in secret before we pray in public. It is not wrong to pray in public, but it is wrong to pray in public if we are not in the habit of praying in private. To pray only in public would demonstrate hypocrisy if it’s primary or only purpose is to be heard by or to impress others. Jesus often prayed in private (Mark 1:35), and so did many of God’s servants throughout the Old Testament and New Testament periods.

We should pray sincerely (Matthew 6:7-8). The fact that a request is repeated does not make it a “vain repetition.” A request becomes a “vain repetition” if it is only a babbling of words without a sincere desire to seek and do God’s will. The mere reciting of memorized prayers has no valid spiritual purpose.

We should pray in God’s will (Matthew 6:9-13). What we call “The Lord’s Prayer” should more accurately be called “The Disciples’ Prayer.” It was given by Jesus to be used as a pattern, not as a substitute. He said, “Pray after this manner.” The main purpose of The Disciples’ Prayer, and of every prayer, is to glorify God’s name, and to ask for His help in the accomplishing of His will on earth. The prayer begins in God’s interest, not ours – it is in God’s name, for God’s kingdom, and seeks to accomplish God’s will. Christians have no right to ask anything from God that would dishonor His name, delay His kingdom, or hinder His will on earth. After God’s interests are put first, then we can bring up our needs and the needs of others.

We should have a forgiving spirit toward others (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus is not saying that believers earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, for this would be contrary to God’s free grace and mercy. What He is saying is that if we have genuinely experienced God’s forgiveness, then we will have a readiness to forgive others. Jesus illustrated this principle in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35).

Every time Christians pray The Disciples’ Prayer we should remember these seven important facts:

As children we can say, “Our Father.”

As worshipers we can say, “Hallowed be Thy name.”

As subjects we can say, “Thy kingdom come.”

As servants we can say, “Thy will be done.”

As suppliants we can say, “Give us this day.”

As confessors we can say, “Forgive us.”

As dependents we can say, “Deliver us.”

 

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Life’s greatest certainty is death. In spite of all our medical advances, every one of us will one day leave our loved ones behind. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Life’s ultimate statistic is the same for all people: one out of one dies.” To the ancient Greeks death was a shadowy journey across the dark waters of the River Styx. To the Hebrews it was a journey of silence into the place of darkness. But Jesus came to shed light on the darkness of the grave and to give hope where heretofore there had been nothing but despair.

Prior to His crucifixion Jesus told His disciples He was going to prepare a place for them, and that He was coming back to get them and take them with Him to “the Father’s House.” It is the place we call “heaven.” In John 14:1-6 Jesus tells us three things about heaven everyone should know:

Heaven is real: Sigmund Freud explained heaven as a human fantasy rooted in man’s instinct for self-preservation. Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Can you imagine anything more appallingly idiotic than the Christian idea of heaven?” So, is heaven a myth? Is it fantasy? Is it a wish? Is it a state of mind? No! We have the word of the resurrected Son of God on that. Freud and Whitehead were wrong. Jesus was right.

To be sure, heaven cannot be explained scientifically. The Christian faith cannot be reduced to a mathematical formula, or be put into a test tube. It cannot be demonstrated by scientific experiment. The apostle John, in Revelation 21:2, described heaven in terms of things it will not have: “No more sea” – nothing that separates; “No more tears” – nothing that saddens; “No more pain” – “nothing that hurts” – “No more death” – nothing that defiles; “No more night” – nothing that frightens. Every promise in the New Testament describing heaven pictures it as being real, as being a prepared place for a prepared people.

Heaven is ready: Think of it, the Carpenter of Nazareth has gone to prepare an eternal home for those who believe in Him – and He will one day return. What a tremendous promise! Jesus Himself will escort every believer to heaven. In Hebrews 6:20 Jesus is called our “forerunner” – one who goes before, who prepares the way. Yes, heaven is ready. I hope that you have been to Calvary and made your reservation.

In the Roman army there were reconnaissance troops who went ahead of the main army to blaze the trail to ensure that it was safe for the rest of the troops to follow. In Alexandria, Egypt where great corn ships came into the harbor along hidden channels, there was a pilot boat that went out to guide the ships safely into the harbor. This is what Jesus did. He has gone ahead of us to make things ready. And He will one day return. He will not let anything keep us from Him – not even death (Romans 8:35-39).

Heaven is restricted: Carl Sandburg was once asked whether there were any bad words. He replied that he was aware of only one: “Exclusive –belonging to exclusive clubs, living in exclusive communities.” Some may not know it, but heaven is a restricted neighborhood. Not everybody will be there. Those who are excluded have nothing to do with race, or face or place – it is a matter of grace. Everyone is welcome, but only those who trust Jesus Christ as Savior may enter in. John Richard Moreland expressed it this way:

“The hands of Christ seem very frail,

For they were broken by a nail.

But only they reach heaven at last,

Whom these frail, broken hands hold fast.”

 

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If you were asked to choose the greatest mother who ever lived, who would you choose? My choice would be Mary, the mother of Jesus. The unique role she played in human history qualifies her to be considered the preeminent mother of all time. History has produced many wonderful mothers. Only Mary was chosen to become the mother of “God manifest in the flesh” – the second Person in the Godhead.

What do we really know about the mother of Jesus? Not a great deal, but what we are told in a series of sketches provided by the New Testament gospels should give every Christian a running start on how to meaningfully celebrate the meaning of motherhood on Mother’s Day this year and every year.

First, we see Mary as a teenager – probably somewhere between fourteen and seventeen years of age. She is going about her daily housekeeping chores when suddenly she is confronted by an angel who said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) She was a virgin, but was pregnant. Surprised? “Thunder-struck” is undoubtedly the word that describes what Mary felt at that moment. Can you imagine what it would be like to have been in her place – a virgin – and have an angel tell you that you are to have a baby?

Hold everything! Surely you must be joking! “How can this possibly be true, since I have no husband?” (Luke 1:34). Mary had to be at least two miles beyond being in a severe state of shock. She could have said, “Since this cannot possibly be true; it must be a dream – forget it!” Yes, Mary could have done that. She could have forgotten the entire episode. But to her credit she did not. As unbelievable as it seems to us, and was to her, she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

The Christmas story is well known. It tells of shepherds and angel songs, of stars and stables, of wise men and their gifts, and the birth of a baby. Giving birth to a child is for all mothers a time of devotion, of stress, of anxiety, of watching your baby grow and respond to your love. Try to imagine what it was like to be the mother of Jesus – “Emmanuel, God with us” – the One who came to save His people from their sins. You begin now in a more concrete way to understand why Mary deserves our highest respect and admiration.

Mary appears later with Joseph on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate Jesus, and to offer a sacrifice. On the way back to Nazareth, what were Mary’s thoughts? She had heard blessing, promise, and prediction. She had heard that a sword would be pierced through her soul because of her child. Was this something she could bear? The answer, of course, is yes. Love conquers all – especially a mother’s love.

Several years passed before Jesus began His public ministry. He and his mother attended a wedding at Cana in Galilee when the wine ran out. What must they do? Mary turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Jesus answered His mother abruptly, but not discourteously, “Why do you involve me?” And Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” It was her affirmation of her Son as the Christ.

Finally, we see Mary at the foot of the cross. It is not easy for a mother to see her children suffer. What agony Mary experienced! Her Son, God in the flesh, was crucified. If she could have taken Him down from the cross, put her arms around Him, and treat His wounds. But this was not to be. At this point Jesus looked down from the cross and said to His mother, “Behold your Son.” And to His disciple, John, He said, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26). Even as He was dying for the sins of the world, He was arranging for His mother’s needs to be fully met as long as she lived on the earth.

We must never cease to honor this special mother. She was, and is, history’s greatest mother.

 

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