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Archive for March, 2010

To hear this Morning Devotion, please click here

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Forgiveness is never a solo event.

In fact, it is typically the fruit of multiple efforts.

Yes, it’s true that individuals must forgive themselves for having made bad choices that negatively affected others.

We’ve all seen individuals imprisoned by residual feelings to guilt and unwilling to humbly accept the fact that inner peace cannot come through grit but only through grace.

Fortunately, though, we’ve seen a larger number of people who accept the fact that forgiving self is just part of the mercy matrix.

Others are needed to teach us of the need for forgiveness, of how it might be gained, and to accompany us emotionally and spiritually along that challenging, humbling path toward spiritual and emotional restoration.

I’m praying that you are part of somebody’s matrix of mercy.

I’m praying that God is using you to help somebody toward spiritual peace with God and emotional peace with himself or herself.

This is one of the key reasons that God stirs us toward the seeking of friendships — so that we can help each other toward restoration when forgiveness is necessary.

I was reminded of the above while reading from Luke 5 this morning in the One-Year Bible.

Verses 17-26 tell of four friends who bring the paralytic on a mat to Jesus for healing, yet the five men can’t fit into the crowded house where Jesus was teaching. You know what happened. They tore a hole in the roof and lowered the paralytic down with ropes until he was right in front of Jesus.

“When Jesus saw their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven'” (v. 20).

Wow.

Huh?

Four guys showed their love for a friend and he then is forgiven of sin? What’s up with that connection? Why not just heal the guy and then deal with his sin issue later?

Jesus had a bigger plan, of course. He always does.

The forgiveness set the stage for the subsequent healing and explosion of praise for God that followed among the people of that area.

And besides, without forgiveness, the man would have lived as one walking toward eternity in hell.

This forgiveness/healing is a great story.

The key principle I want to glean today, however, is that this man might never have heard Jesus say, “your sins are forgiven” if the friends had not interceded in order to show their loving desire for his physical healing.

Listen, I have never seen a person come to Jesus for forgiveness in the absence of godly influence by somebody or some group in his or her life.

Yes, it’s possible and randomly occurs that somebody gets saved apart from an active, “seeker” involvement in a local congregation.

But no forgiveness occurs in a vacuum of caring relationships.

Somebody, somewhere has demonstrated the place and power of grace in a way that left an impression on the sinner needing salvation.

Usually it was a very patient, godly friend or relative.

It’s very likely that your cry to Jesus for forgiveness occurred against the backdrop of a friend describing to you the peace and joy found on the other side of repentance and surrendering to Christ’s Lordship.

Please, my friend, understand that your friend or relative needing forgiveness will likely miss out on seeking God’s grace through the gospel if you and his/her Christian friends/relatives don’t intercede.

Even if your intercession is initially directed at helping them for a tangible, physical reason, just being in their presence as you demonstrate Christ’s presence in your life will very likely move them closer to an encounter with Jesus.

And without that, there will never be hope for their eternal forgiveness.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Many Christians know that Peter spontaneously walked away from his fishing business in order to join Jesus’ ministry team.

These same Christians — and you — know that Peter’s decision followed the instantaneous cramming of his fish nets after a failed night on the water.

It was Jesus’ miracle-working power that prompted the catch, Peter concluded, and so, the fisher of fish chose to become what Jesus described as a fisher of men.

There is more than enough logic here to explain this cause-effect development. Peter experiences failure. Jesus provides a miracle. Peter realizes that there is more to life than career success. Peter enters a life of ministry.

It’s a quick, comprehensible summary.

But it’s also incomplete.

For you see, I believe that more was working on Peter’s heart than simply a huge pile of flopping fish.

If you read Luke 4:31-39, you’ll find that the stirring of Peter’s heart started before the fish-less night preceding the miracle catch.

Jesus had been teaching in a Capernaum synagogue where Peter was very likely a member. In that synagogue that day was a demon-possessed man. The demon taunted Jesus and the Messiah told the demon to be quiet and to leave the man.

It did.

Verses 36-37 say the synagogue attendees were amazed and that word about Jesus and His power started spreading throughout the area.

Right after leaving the synagogue, Jesus headed for Peter’s house. Remember, this was BEFORE the fishing miracle.

Why did Jesus head to Peter’s house? To heal Peter’s mother-in-law, that’s why.

The obvious implication here is that Peter was in the synagogue when the demon-possessed man was restored to a normal life and that Peter was moved to seek Jesus’ help for his mother-in-law.

That took real initiative, mind you, since Jesus was already famous and likely had others who wanted personal assistance.

But Peter boldly asked on behalf of his mother-in-law directly and, indirectly, on behalf of his wife.

Jesus saw Peter’s concern for the women and moved to intervene.

Upon His arrival at Peter’s home, Jesus saw that the fever was actually a tormenting affliction connected to Satan.

So He bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them” (v. 39).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt toward Jesus at that moment?

Can you imagine how he must have felt about the joy of his wife whose mother was miraculously healed by Jesus?

I’m sure that Peter — and surely his wife — were riding an emotional wave of joy.

Word travels fast in small towns and so, within hours, many sick people came or were brought to the house or wherever He had moved. Each found healing with some being delivered from demons.

It was an incredible day of ministry.

It also did a ton of work in preparing Peter’s heart for what was to occur.

Now you know why Peter was later willing to obey Christ’s call to get back in his boat after a fish-less night and try fishing again, this time in a place they normally didn’t fish — the deep water toward the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

Now you know why the supernaturally filled nets prompted Peter to leave the business and its income so that he would do whatever Jesus told him to do.

And now you know why Peter likely didn’t have his wife complaining about his being gone so much during the next three years of their marriage.

Listen, we all want to see others leave their secular-only lives and choose to become involved in personal ministry, even as a layperson.

But it’s important to understand that we humans are complex jumbles of emotions and personal agendas and that major life commitments typically result from more than one “Wow!” experience with God.

If you are praying for someone to lay aside a secular-only world view and embrace Christianity as a way of salvation and lifestyle, please be prayerful and patient.

Pray that some vital need in his or her life will be graciously met by the power of God as an outreach incentive into his or her heart sent by God.

And pray that it happens again in another setting, perhaps one even involving you.

That person just might choose to become a Christian and then a ministering servant beyond that.

You certainly have.

And I thank you.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, click here
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One of the reasons that certain businesses can charge so much for their products or services is due to its lack of competitors.

That means that business is the sole supplier of the service or product and the owner can charge whatever he or she wants.

If I need what the business offers, I have no choice but to comply with the terms of service in order to get it.

I typically don’t like being in a no-bargaining position.

But with respect to my “soul supplier,” I am glad to give Him what He wants and generally do so in a suitable manner.

I was reminded this morning of how blessed I am to have God as my soul supplier. As I read Psalm 62 from the One-Year Bible, my spirit was refreshed.

And, believe me, I needed it.

“My soul finds rest in God alone” (verse 1).

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him” (verse 5).

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge” (verse 8).

“You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving” (vv. 11-12).

Our stomachs can be comforted — for a few hours — by a plateful of food.

Our sore backs can be comforted — for a few hours — by a gentle, thorough massage.

And our sense of financial security can be comforted — for a few days or weeks — by a checking account balance that isn’t made of rubber.

Nothing temporary, though, can give assurance to that which is eternal.

That’s why God is our soul supplier.

And that’s why every human attempt to fill the eternal soul is just one more lie conceived in the darkest pits of Satan’s mind.

Because God is eternal and holy and sovereign, because He is Lord of all, only He is the One capable of bringing peace to a soul.

That’s why He sent Jesus to the world.

That’s why He offers salvation to us only through a personal relationship with Jesus, the Seeker of souls.

That’s why Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

Please, dear friend, never forget that God is the sole supplier for supplying your soul.

Talk to Him in prayer.

Talk about Him in praise and testimony.

Learn more of Him in personal and group study time.

Imitate Him by means of imitating His Son Jesus.

He is strong. He is loving.

He WILL care for your soul.

After all, I Peter 5:7 says, He cares for you.

As always, I love you
Martin

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God’s x-ray vision

Unlike some popular religious speakers today, John the Baptist was not concerned about how people regarded him.

Instead, he wanted to make sure that people more accurately and worshipfully regarded God.

That’s why a seeker-friendly, focus group-based ministry style had no place in John’s preaching.

And he certainly didn’t care that he wasn’t seen as “eye candy” by the checkbook-holding women in the crowd.

Hmmmm….. not easy to look at…. and not easy to hear. Guess that means that he had little success in ministry, right?

He surely would have a hard time getting by any ministry search committee today, wouldn’t he?

He sure has my respect because of how he engendered the respect of others.

I’ve preached trial sermons on various occasions during my ministry career and have never contemplated starting the messages with, “You brood of vipers!”

Yet, John’s influence swept through Israel like a curtain of dawn’s light painting the land.

Today’s One-Year Bible reading contains a blunt excerpt of John’s preaching and teaching. You can read Luke 3:7-22 by clicking here.

I find it interesting that of the five tangible illustrations of repentant behavior called for by John, four involved money and possessions.

  • If you have a tunic to spare and you see a man who has none, share it. Do the same regarding food.
  • Don’t take more tax money than the law requires.
  • Don’t extort money from people via threats to mess up their lives in some way.
  • Don’t accuse people falsely.
  • Don’t complain about your pay.

It’s very likely that people flocked to hear John’s in-your-face preaching because they knew that it dealt with real life and that it was simple.

It also wasn’t being offered in order to set up a book tour or to sell more CDs and DVDs.

It was straight-up, narrow-road stuff.

It also wasn’t just “turn or burn” stuff, though.

Here’s what Luke 3:18 says.

“And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.”

Good news about what? About the coming Messiah, that’s what.

Here is the essence of the lesson I want to share today — God hates selfishness, Jesus perfectly demonstrated unselfishness and so we are to display that same behavior to lost, selfish world.

Look again at the examples above of how the people could produce the fruits of repentance.

If you see yourself as one with a repentant heart, please let others see these confirmations of that faith with an unselfish life.

It’s the right thing for both of us to do.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear the Morning Devotion, click here

 

I’m glad that you’re not going to get drunk today, or even consume one alcoholic drink.

I wish more imbibing people around the world would make the same choice on this, St. Patrick’s Day.

What started as a religious observance among Catholics in the 1600s has been transformed by secular interests into a worldwide occasion for drinking, frivolity and, in some cases, depravity.

I’m sure that the young Patrick of Calphurnius — for whom the day is named — would want people to seek an experience with the Holy Spirit, not bottled spirits.

Patrick was a godly, British man who had been captured as a teen by Irish slavetraders in the early 400s and held in bondage for nearly seven years. He escaped but returned years later as a Catholic bishop-turned-missionary.

For at least 20 years, (historical records vary on this) he ministered to the people of Ireland, including the elite.

And then he died.

For the next 13 centuries, there were observances of his life and ministry among the Irish Catholics . Along the way, the Catholic Church decided his legacy deserved sainthood.

But eventually, secular interests took over and corrupted what had been a faith-based event.

And now, St. Patrick’s Day is party time around the world.

Chicago dies its river green.

Multiple cities in England and Ireland have parades lasting hours and taverns selling record amounts of booze.

Billions of pinches occur in inappropriate places.

Untold millions of people engage in all sorts of silliness with no regard for why and how the observance started.

What would Patrick think if his wooden boat that landed on the shores of Ireland long ago were to land instead on a city shoreline next to a massive, secular parade that wore his name but contradicted his values?

Wow.

Sure gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

If the history books are correct, Patrick didn’t go back to Ireland because he liked its beer and women.

Instead, he went back to Ireland because the people there needed Jesus.

He loved his life of service to God and wanted it to be used to help others to find God and His Son Jesus Christ.

My hunch is that Patrick would plead for people to stop with the celebrations dedicated to him, whether godly or not.

My hunch is that Patrick would much prefer the humble status of Anna the temple prophetess mentioned in Luke rather than the high-profile status of Annas, the pride-fueled high priest who loved the praise of men and who presided over Christ’s Sanhedrin trial.

“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).

It is entirely possible that Anna had lived more than 60 years as a widow. She had to have faced all sorts of social and financial difficulties and temptations during those years, yet it’s clear that her heart was focused on pleasing and serving God. Because she was so in tune with Him, she instantly discerned the leading of the Spirit, sought out the Messiah and told others about His arrival.

You see, her humility prepared her for readiness to truly worship.

Her humility prepared her for effectively pointing others toward the One who IS worthy of worship.

She wanted no attention for herself, but only for her God and then for her Redeemer.

That’s a good example for us.

An example that I believe Patrick would endorse a whole lot more than the boozefests happening in his name today.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Assuring the greatest blessing

To hear this Morning Devotion, please click here — Assuring the greatest of blessings

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I’m looking forward to the day when I can hold my first grandchild in my arms.

What a great blessing it will be to experience that sense of legacy that is so precious to so many.

Many of you reading this have years of such experience. For some, the blessing has been repeated a number of times.

I rejoice for you.

That sense of fulfillment that I anticipate was triggered in a special way this morning while reading from my One-Year Bible. The account that moved me was that of a man named Simeon who had a profound, dual blessing of God involving the birth of Christ.

Simeon was a devout believer, according to Luke 2:25, and is implied by later verses to be a temple priest. He happened to be serving his term in Jerusalem when Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to present Him at the temple for the dedication ceremony required by the Law for firstborn sons.

Simeon knew of God’s promise to send a Messiah for Israel and held firmly to the belief that God would keep His promise. Simeon knew that 400 years had passed since God’s last supernatural prophecy, yet this “righteous” believer never wavered in his confidence toward God.

God responded to that faith by sending the Holy Spirit to tell Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Christ in person. That was blessing #1.

Now that is some kind of promise.

It’s a great blessing if one knows that he or she won’t die until he or she sees a first grandchild.

It had to be an incredible blessing for Simeon to know that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah.

And then the day came.

The Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go into the temple courts at the same time that Joseph and Mary arrived to dedicate Jesus — and themselves as his parents — to a life of devotion to God.

Simeon saw the baby and was immediately moved to the point of an overflowing heart. You can read his words in Luke 2:29-35.

That was blessing #2.

It’s a wonderful little story.

But how does the story apply directly to your life and mine since we’re not going to have a baby Messiah placed into our hands?

There are many ways that our faith can be strengthened by this little story, but let me share just one today.

As much as I long for that day — or night — in the hospital when I hold my grandchild in my arms, I long even more for that day in heaven when I’ll hold Jesus in my arms.

I rejoice that I have the Holy Spirit’s promise now that I WILL see the consolation of Israel, the Lord’s Christ, the child who became King named Jesus, the light of revelation to the Gentiles.

I rejoice in the promise that as I remain righteous and devout as Simeon was righteous and devout, that I will receive an even greater blessing than did he in the temple. I’ll be meeting Jesus not physically on earth but spiritually in the throne room of God.

Dear friend, thoroughly enjoy moments of holding grandchildren or nieces or nephews or godchildren. They are blessings from God, to be sure.

But make sure to live faithfully and hope fervently so that you will receive the promised moment of holding the Messiah in your arms as you enjoy the peace of your soul forever.

As always, I love you
Martin

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We’ve all heard the phrase “As stubborn as a mule.”

Perhaps we’ve even been categorized as such by some family members, co-workers or friends.

Everybody has such moments, of course.

Even the most godly of Christians put on the mantle under certain, Spirit-compelled circumstances when somebody has to resist pressure to compromise on the will and Word of God.

Too many times, though, we point the finger of stubbornness at others when, in fact, we are the stubborn ones.

This is particularly troubling when it involves the leading of God that we’re repeatedly rejecting as insignificant and not worth our time.

Being as stubborn as a mule against the things of God is never good.

Consider the story of Balaam and his donkey, described in today’s reading of the One-Year Bible.

Balaam was a wandering preacher who had been sought out by a pagan, Moabite king who wanted to keep the millions of Hebrews from passing through his land enroute to Palestine. There’s much more to the story, of course, but I’ll keep it at that for now.

Balaam was riding his female donkey toward a meeting with the king when The Angel of the Lord — the pre-incarnate Christ — stood in the road with a drawn sword in His hand.

Ironically, Balaam and his two servants didn’t see The Angel.

But the donkey did and she ran off into an adjacent field.

Balaam beats her with his walking staff until she returns to the path.

Wow. A donkey sees God and the preacher doesn’t.

In fact, the donkey is punished for seeing God by the one who does not.

Interesting thought, huh?

The story continues with The Angel of the Lord appearing a bit down the road between walls separating two vineyards. The donkey tried to get around the Angel and smashed Balaam’s foot against the stone wall.

“So he beat her again,” said Numbers 22:25.

A third time, The Angel of the Lord moved up the road and stood where the road became a narrow path with no room to turn or move from side to side. The donkey saw God and decided she had seen enough. She simply laid down on the spot.

Balaam’s response was predictable and immediate.

He started beating her.

Nice guy, huh?

Balaam — the preacher man who was supposed to reveal God’s will to the pagan king — was so worked up with anger that he was acting like the devil.

That’s when the real, stubbornness was revealed.

What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” the donkey said.

Foaming with anger, Balaam didn’t even think about the fact that a donkey had just spoken to him and he replied, “You have made a fool out of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

Amazing.

The Angel of the Lord soon revealed that He was behind this supernatural employment of a donkey’s vocal chords.

Balaam felt like an … uh… let’s say a donkey.

And he should have.

His stubbornness was foolish and contradictory to his mission and values.

Crazy story, yes.

But it’s a story that we’ve all imitated in one form or another.

Here’s the point. Sometimes God will try to get our attention or block us from improper paths and yet we’re stubbornly blinded for one selfish reason or another.

When God employs somebody else or even a particular set of circumstances in order to turn us away from that improper path, we instead see the person or the circumstances as enemies deserving punishment.

Perhaps there is somebody in your life now who isn’t going along with your cherished, self-concocted plan for making money or for gaining popularity or for getting more physical pleasure or even for an ego-puffing ministry initiative. Perhaps you are subtly punishing him or perhaps overtly punishing her simply because he or she won’t follow your agenda.

Look very closely at how his or her position in the situation compares to God’s and then compare your agenda to God’s will.

You just might find that you’re accusation of stubbornness was pointed at the wrong person.

If such turns out to be the case, do what Balaam did.

Repent.

God will listen and put you back on the right road.

That’s what happened with Balaam.

And, boy, was the donkey glad He did.

As always, I love you
Martin

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