Music fascinates me, as do musical instruments. When I hear a symphony or an orchestra, I get goose bumps, sometimes even tears of joy. I remember a few years back, at a middle school concert. I was surprised at how good they sounded. To me, they sounded about as good as professionals. Then, this thought hit me: We did not get to hear the varsity band play immediately after. If I had heard them play, my first impression of the middle school group may have changed a bit. Here’s the thing: though I love music, as well as almost every musical instrument, it is not in my area of expertise. For example, I may hear a trumpet solo that sounds fantastic to me, but if a professional trumpet player is sitting in the same audience, he may think: “Boy, this poor fellow needs a lot of practice!”
I was reminded of this point recently while attending a funeral service. I presumed there were some in the audience that were touched or impressed with the words of the presiding minister. If they knew or were familiar with the true gospel, however, they would have instead been turned off. To some poor folks, anybody’s sweet sounding words will do. The problem here is that they will get very little benefit from it, especially in a funeral message. Many of the folks in a funeral need genuine hope, comfort, and more importantly, the truth. I can recall many funeral addresses of the past where the speaker is telling fairy stories which may sound sweet, but his message is nowhere near the true gospel message. Whenever any of these unqualified ministers also add personal words of advice, you can only imagine the harm that is done. As a fellow minister once said: “You can’t ask directions from someone who is also lost.”
That is why it is so important for those who feel God has called them and wants to use them to take heed of this advice from the Apostle Paul: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”(2 Timothy 2:15 NIV) The King James version reads: “Studyto shew thyself approved.” I pray that the next time you hear a message from the Word of God, it will be brought by one of God’s genuine ministers. If not, I pray you may grow enough in the knowledge of His word in order to be able to tell the difference.
God’s word for today (Romans 10:14-15) How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
During my many years in the pastoral ministry, I have learned a lot, not only from the Word of God, but by personal experience and also from our church members. As a result, I am quite different than I was at the start and now do things differently than before. I did one thing in my early days I’m pretty sure I won’t do again. I am referring to this: One Sunday, after the worship service, I approached one of our faithful members to ask him why I never saw him pray at the altar. His reply was : “Because I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Back then, I knew a little bit less then than I know now, but I knew enough to know that this brother’s concept of prayer was way off. From him, however, I learned that a lot of church folks have basically the same mindset. They have this erroneous belief that those who go pray at the altar at the time of the invitation are there to ask God to forgive them because “they did something wrong.” I suspect that, because of it, they will never join the others at the altar for fear that they too will be suspected of having done something wrong. To be fair, there may be people at the altar asking God to forgive them but that is just one of many, many reasons to go pray. Permit me to list a few.
People pray for themselves as well as for a specific family member, loved one, or friend. The nature of their petition may be physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual. Stevie Wonder many years ago wrote a song which perhaps, just by itself alone, would have been enough to make him a millionaire. It was titled: “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” It has never occurred to many folks that among those who are gathered around the church altar, there may always be one or two who just came up to tell the Lord “I love you.” After all, Paul once wrote: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) I trust you could see that in this sage advice, Paul included these following reasons people pray: (1) things or situations which trouble or worry us. (2) Supplication: specific urgent prayer petitions (3) Just to thank or praise God for His goodness (4) anything and everything. To the point of boring them, I often tell our church members: “If it is important to you, it is important to God.” As you can see, God’s children will always have many reasons to pray. As far as reasons for not praying are concerned, I can’t think of a single one. For us, praying is not only a great benefit, it is a privilege as well. Are you taking advantage of it?
God’s word for today: (Hebrews 4:16) “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
I was happily reminded Sunday in Pastor Ruben’s article in our church bulletin about a tradition that many people look forward to during the Christmas season. I am referring to friends and families getting together, some coming from far distances just to spend time with those they love. Even as you are reading these words, some of you have already made plans about those you and your family will be visiting. From the very first time I heard Perry Como’s “There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays”, I immediately loved and identified with it. The song was released when I was 14 years old and back then, one of the things I loved the most about Christmas was that our large family would get together. Just in our immediate family alone, there were around seventy so you can imagine just how packed our house would get. Those days are just a memory now, but because of the One for whom this time of the year is named, our family will get together again, this time in Heaven, and there will be no more painful separations.
You may wonder “Who thought of starting this beautiful tradition? When did it begin?” It started with God at the creation of the world. From the very beginning, He loved to have fellowship with the man and the woman He created, and even though they later disobeyed Him, He still wanted to be with them. Because of Adam’s sin, however, the dealings between God and man would not be as beautiful and meaningful as before. It continued like that for many centuries and then God made a way for the former type of fellowship with man to be restored. More than 600 years before it actually occurred, God called His prophet, Isaiah, to inform His people of how that would come to be. He prophesied: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) God’s people knew that “Immanuel” means “God with us.” Through His Son, Jesus Christ, (Messiah) there would now be a way for Him to continue having fellowship with those He loved.
Why do we love to be with our friends and family during the Christmas season? I think it is because we are made in the image of God. Just as He desires to have fellowship with those He loves, so do we. If, for whatever reason, Christmas and the observance or celebration of it means little or nothing to you, keep this in mind: Christmas is one more reminder that God wants to be with you. He wants to be a big part of your life. Why? Because He loves you! Just on that alone, should that not be a valid reason to have comfort and Joy? I pray that it is.
God’s word for today: (1 Peter 1:8 NLT) “You love Him even though you have never seen Him. Though you do not see Him now, you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”
I suggested recently that everyone should make an effort to find out the true meaning of their name. People today seem to be overly interested in their ethnic origin but how many people actually know their name’s meaning? Should we not be at least a little curious to see if we are in anyway like our name implies? In my case, for example, by birth name is José Samuel. The name Joseph (José) means basically “increase” or “addition” but particularly, “God will add.” His mother, Rachel, named him such because she was sure that God would give her (add) another son after him. She was right, although she died right after giving birth to that second son. Before she died, she gave him the name “Benoni” which means “son of my sorrow” but after she died Jacob changed his name to “Benjamin” which means “son of my right hand.” “Ben” by itself means “son.”
This was a corny line from a comedian of long ago: “My cousin is a prophet (profit) and his wife is a total loss.” I’ve never forgotten that pun because I sometimes wonder to how many people I am an “addition” and to how many I am the opposite. Perhaps my parents named me José Samuel because they knew the meaning of the names. If, however, they named me such because of the Joseph and Samuel in the bible, then I’ve got quite a legacy to live up to. The truth is that if I have been even a little bit like them, my life on earth has been meaningful.
I’m sure you all know that not all evangelical churches are the same. They differ in size, appearance, doctrine, mission, even in personality. Needless to say, many Christians are often left wondering regarding what God expects of His churches and their leaders. I am no expert on this matter and probably my way of thinking is much more simplistic than other pastors, but of this I am sure: I know what the Lord expects from me in regards to our Church and it’s quite simple. It is exactly the same set of instructions that was given to the original leader of His church. The answer is found in the 21st Chapter of John, in particular the second part of the chapter where He asked Peter three times if he loved Him.
Here are some things to keep in mind when we dwell on this now famous conversation: Jesus waited until after they had enjoyed their full fish meal before He confronted Peter, who probably had anticipated that the Lord would eventually bring up the night he publicly denied knowing Him. Jesus treated him with mercy, tenderness, and compassion. That is our first clue. The church leader must treat sinners and all who fail the Lord, just as they themselves, like Peter, have been treated. Then, there was Jesus’ questions. The first was “Do you love me more than these?” (Vs 15) Peter may have understood this question in one of several ways. Did He mean “Do you love fishing more than me”, “Do you love your fellow fishermen more than you love me? or “Do you love me more than they love me?” I tend to believe that Peter understood it as the latter. After all, was he not the one that had said “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Mt. 26:33) implying that he loved Him more than the others?
To understand Jesus’ questions to Peter, it is helpful to know what He did not ask. He did not ask “Do you admire, fear, or respect me?” Neither did He ask: How much have you wept, prayed, or fasted since the day you failed me?" This is important because many of God’s children fear, admire, or respect Jesus more than they love Him. Also, many have the idea that a lot of prayer, study, fasting, and weeping is the best indication that they love Him. To me, those who love the Lord the most are those who believe that they have been forgiven the most. Regarding the woman who wiped His feet with her tears, Jesus declared:
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Even the Apostle Paul referred to himself as the “chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
The Lord’s instructions to Peter on that day were: (1) “Feed my lambs” (new believers) (2) “Take care of my sheep.” (the church) and (3) “Feed my sheep.” (with the Word of God) The implied clincher, however, was this: “If you, Peter, don’t love me with all your heart, you will not fulfill these three simple commandments.” I suspect, Peter also remembered these words: “If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Whether you are a leader at home, work, play, or in church, it is no different for you. In the end, a church’s plans, missions, ideas, goals, ministries, etc. will have no value whatsoever if the leader does not love the Lord’s flock as he should. It all begins with loving Jesus with all our heart.
God’s word for today (Deuteronomy 6:5) “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”