James 5:16 reads: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” A more modern bible version (NLT) ends the verse this way: “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
There are two basic eternal truths in this verse. The first concerns the great benefit of having someone in our lives with whom we can share our burdens, trials, and weaknesses. There is a lot of truth in the old adage “confession is good for the soul.” Secondly, we are reminded of certain folks we know that, for obvious reasons, seem to have their special prayer petitions answered on a regular basis. The inference here is that there will be times when it will be wise to ask these folks to pray for us. This reminded me of the following funny illustration I once heard concerning a pastor and his great faith. He was known in his community as a man who visited sick folks in their homes and in the hospital. Well, one day his church van ran out of gas in downtown traffic. He had no gas can in the van, the only kind of container he could find was a bed pan someone had left behind. He took the bed pan and filled it with as much gas as it would hold, thinking it would be enough to get the van to a gas pump. When he came back, he began to pour out the gas from the bed pan into the tank. A couple, stopped at a nearby red light, spotted him and the lady told her husband: “look, talk about having a lot of faith!” The husband saw it too and remarked: “Get the name and address of that church; if this fellow gets this van going, I want to go talk to him about our prayer petitions.”
Whether that illustration actually happened or not, the truths in this verse remain. It just may be that one or more of you have something you need to get off your chest. If you can find someone in your life you can share this burden with, someone you are convinced is a true friend, by all means do so. Also, if you know of some child of God that seems to have a knack for getting his or her prayer petitions answered, you may want to keep that in mind. The day may come when you’ll be happy you know them.
God’s word for today: (Hebrews 11:1) “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
In a well-known burger establishment you all are familiar with, the person taking your order will ask you, “how do you want your burger?” Now, I’m pretty sure we all know some folks whose immediate answer would be, “huge” or “fast” but the answer they are seeking are “rare”, “medium-rare”, etc. Well, one fellow who asked for his burger to be prepared “medium rare” quickly discovered that his had been cooked all the way. When he took it back to the counter, he angrily told the cashier “my burger was well done!” She quickly replied “thank you.” Obviously, she mistakenly took it as a compliment. You see, this was one of those rare occasions when the phrase “well done” was not a good thing.
There is a “well done”, however, children of God everywhere are longing to hear. They are familiar with the parable Jesus gave in the 25th Chapter of Matthew when He welcomed one of His into glory with these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (verse 21) They too are longing to hear these words. To these folks, it is okay if others don’t notice the good things they do. They know there is One who knows and sees all things. In fact, there is one “good thing” many of God’s children do that is seldom seen by others. It is when what you did or said impacted the recipient’s life forever, especially if it brought him or her to Christ.
If you were walking through a garden which was filled with beautiful plants, shrubs, or flowers, the ones you yourself planted would give you the greatest satisfaction and joy. I think Heaven will be like that garden. One day, we will go through it for the first time. Many, many people we know and love will be there. The ones which will give us the greatest joy, however, will be the ones we planted, the ones we personally brought to Christ. These are the ones I especially long to see in Heaven someday. If you love others like you love Christ, there may be some in Heaven today who are there because you led them to Jesus. What a joyful day that will be!
God’s word for today: (Daniel 12:3) “Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.”
As you are reading this blog today, what some of you were hoping wouldn’t happen, obviously just did. I am referring to the arrival of possibly the strongest cold front of the year. I know, there may be one or two of you out there who may be jumping for joy because you love cold weather. I used to be in that group. Now, it’s the other way around. Why? C’mon family, you know my well-worn corny line: “When you get old, you get cold!” This time the weather forecast was correct but it is good to keep in mind that what the weatherman says is going to happen doesn’t always happen. In fact, just a week or two ago after a notable earthquake, prognosticators in many places warned folks about a tsunami that never arrived. Man’s percentages have greatly improved but they are still far from 100 percent accurate. Not so with God. When He says something is coming, you can bet that it will arrive.
Perhaps last night or early this morning, you noticed a rattling at your window, or heard your wind chimes playing loudly, or looked outside and the trees were bending dramatically. Yep, the expected cold front arrived. When I see the arrivals of weather fronts throughout the year, I often think of one expected event I may get to see before the Lord calls me home. I am on the lookout for it but if I don’t get to see it, it’s quite possible that some of you will. Here’s what I’m looking for: (1) Someone calling out my name out loudly from Heaven. If not that, then the collective call for all God’s children who will be living at the time. (2) The voice of the archangel of God. (3) A loud trumpet blast like no other trumpet sound I’ve heard before. (4) The souls of God’s children who died before flying up to Heaven. Why am I looking for that? I look for it because the Bible says it will happen. In describing the Rapture, the Lord coming to take His children upward, I Thessalonians 4:16, reads: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” The meteorologists’ forecasts don’t always come to be but you can bet that this one I just described will. If God says it will happen, it most definitely will.
I suppose some of you heard or were involved in the chatter earlier this week concerning today’s cold front. Almost everyone agreed and said “its coming”. Today, everybody, whether happily or grudgingly, said “it’s here.” In the same manner, our conversation often, as God’s children, includes chatter about the day of our Lord’s return. Although all Christians believe that day will come, there are some who think it, it will just be an invisible or spiritual advent. Not so! On the day Jesus left His disciples to return to the Father, they saw Him taken up to Heaven in a cloud and then disappear. As they continued gazing into the sky, two men dressed in white appeared and said to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) They saw Him go up, we will see Him come down. Concerning Christ’s return, we’ve been saying for years “its coming”, and on that glorious day we will all ecstatically shout “its here!”
God’s word for today: (2 Timothy 4:8) “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Since my wife and I have been driving to church two or three times a week on the average for over forty years, many have been the times when we have ridden behind or alongside some of our church members on our way to church. Obviously, we have seen good and bad driving habits. You may not agree with me, especially if you are in the second group, but I sincerely believe that the way we drive in traffic or on the highway is a good indication of the type of people we are everywhere. One does not have to necessarily be on the lookout for it because it should be easy to spot that, in traffic, there are many motorists who are selfish, reckless, impatient, abusive, and have little or no regard for rules or speed limits. In fact, if a person who has a reputation for being this kind of driver were to tell me “Lets go for a spin”, I would probably say “Make me!” If I did go, I can visualize myself with my nose and hands pressed against the rider side windshield crying out “Help me!”
Jesus said these words to His followers: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”(Matthew 5:14) Once we confessed we belong to Jesus or once others sense that we are His, we were immediately put under a microscope. Child of God, all of us have been often reprimanded or have been reminded of our misdeeds, mostly by people in the world who don’t claim to be Christians. Many are watching our every move and the way we conduct ourselves on a daily basis. That includes the way we drive. And this is also true: We all have plenty of room for improvement in many areas of our lives, not just driving.
As it pertains to traffic and highway signs, the Bible is like that. It is our road map to Heaven. it’s Heavenly road signs tell us when to be careful, when to yield to others, to be patient and unselfish, and warn us of dangers up ahead. Not heeding these signs will bring us a lot of trouble, heartache, and grief. One more Heavenly road sign I have been more conscious of lately, is that one that tells me that I’m getting close to my destination. I suppose some of you have not seen that heavenly sign yet, and if you have, it may indicate you still are from it, but thanks be to God, all of us will reach our destination sooner or later.
God’s word for today: (Philippians 3:20 NLT) “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior.”
It is possible that some of you resolved yourselves to serve the Lord more actively this year, particularly as it relates to church involvement. If that is the case with you, I suppose that, in most cases, you will first need to consult with your pastor. Please keep in mind that the “calling” comes from God and not a man. If it is indeed a genuine calling of God, no one can keep you from it, not even your pastor. Nevertheless, most pastors can easily identify those who are legitimate candidates for service in the church from those who are not. Perhaps you will better picture what I mean by a biblical event recorded in the 17th Chapter of Luke.
In it, Jesus heard ten lepers cry out to Him for mercy. Verse 14 reads: And when He saw them, He said unto them “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. As you can see, though it was Christ who healed the lepers, the priests, for society’s sake, were the ones who officially declared them “clean.” Simply put, it is the same for those who feel led of God to serve in the church. When they approach the pastor to inform him of their desire, in most cases he already knows, among other things, about their faithful attendance at church services and functions, or lack thereof, their giving or tithing history, and their interactions with other members. If they have already proven themselves in these and other areas, any good pastor will make a sincere effort to find them a place. After all, having folks like these serve will benefit them as well as the church.
The truth is that if you have already proven yourself to be faithful in attendance and giving, and have a good reputation and testimony in your church, it would be a shame if you do not get more involved in ministry, assuming other valid factors don’t keep you from doing so. Please keep this in mind as well: Church ministry is not limited to preaching, teaching, singing, or playing a musical instrument. If I understand 1 Corinthians 12 correctly, the “helps” and “governments” mentioned in verse 28, refers to those whom God has given a special gift or ability to help in the administrative work of the church as well as those who “help” in any capacity. To say it more simply, these are the folks who “get things done” in the church. They too have a calling of God upon their lives, and are just as needed, if not more so, than those with the more visible positions. The bottom line: Any church member who loves the Lord, as well as people, has a place in it’s ministry. More than likely, you are in this group. I trust you will be encouraged to get involved if you aren’t already.
God’s word for today: (Philippians 3:13-14) “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I am by no means a church hopper but in my Christian life I have attended several churches and have learned by experience that they all have their own personality. Mostly, the members have been greatly influenced by the pastor and his general message and also by the programs, ministries, and mission of the church. In other words, the members are impacted by the way the church is run or the way they do things. If you’ve read the book of Revelation, you have probably noticed the different personalities of the seven churches which Christ addressed in His letter. You also noticed that although He needed to admonish each one, He first commended them for the good things they had done or were doing. This is a good point to remember whenever we deem it necessary to reprove or correct a friend or loved one who we feel is on a wrong path. If you analyze the message to each of the seven churches in the book, you will notice the uniqueness of each one and you should also know that today’s churches can have one or more of their characteristics.
Regarding the first church Christ addressed in His letter, Ephesus, the one glaring fault He found in them was that they had lost their first love. Revelation 2:4 reads: “Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Yes, He lauded them for their hard and perseverance as well as for their doctrinal soundness and zeal for His Word. However, it is evident, that they were now more in love with what they were doing than they were in Christ Himself. I bet, many of you know some Christians who are clearly more in love with their denomination, pastor, church, or it’s ministries and programs than they are in Christ. What would be the tell-tale signs that this is happening in your church? It is really quite simple. These three things will be absent: (1) A genuine love for one another, beginning with the pastor(s) and leaders of the church. (2) The members will really care for each other and their conversation will always be centered on Jesus. (3) They will love spending time with each other. If your pastor has a hard time getting people to leave the building long after the worship service has ended, that is a good thing! On the other hand, it is not at all a good sign when the last service of the day is over and you see everyone rush to be the first one out to the parking lot. I personally knew a church whose practice it was at the beginning of the year to send out their deacons to go visit each household for the purpose of getting their monetary pledge for the year. Not once did they tell them to ask what their needs were or to pray for them. Sadly, that church is no more.
I pray you are in a church where people genuinely love Christ as well as each other and where He is the center and focus of all conversations. If you are not, don’t leave without first praying and looking for ways to start making a difference. If your church is in need of revival or spiritual awakening, remember that it starts with you. In the end, if you love the Lord with all your heart, you’re going to be alright.
God’s word for today: (John 14:23) Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
During this past "Holiday Season" everyone of you heard or uttered the phrase "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." In Spanish, the customary greeting is Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo. (A Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year) If the intentions of those who share this latter phrase with you are sincere, they are hoping you will prosper in the coming year. However, I believe it is safe to say that we mostly connect the word "prosper" with finances, and while that is one of the meanings, to prosper mostly means "to succeed in an enterprise or activity, or to become strong and flourishing" That, perhaps, is one reason why the author of the first Psalm wrote that godly people are "like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither ---- whatever they do prospers." (Ps. 1:3)
Without a doubt, God wants all His children to prosper. So do I. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the truth conveyed in Psalm 1. That is, the chances of us actually prospering are greatly enhanced when we live our lives with the purpose of honoring and serving God. That, of course, includes serving others, although it begins with Him.
I don't know if you made new year resolutions or not, but if you did, I already shared a verse that gave you a clue regarding your chances of success. Even so, it is possible that some of you already broke one or all of your resolutions. That’s okay, its not the end of the world. The truth is that God’s children fall from time to time. Proverbs 24:16 says: “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity.” David, on the other hand, wrote: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”(Ps. 37:23-24 NLT) At first glance, it may appear that these two verses contradict each other. One says “a righteous man may fall” and the other says the righteous “will never fall.” The original Hebrew word for “fall” (naphal) is the same in both verses. It can mean to literally fall down or it it could mean to fall short. Besides, “falling” and “failing” are two different things. Someone has said “Failure is never failure until it reaches the heart.” I trust that if you “fell short” you will not permit your heart to call it failure. If you stumbled and fell, just dust yourself off and start all over. Besides, it’s still early and they can still qualify as new year resolutions. More importantly, we can “resolve” to better ourselves any day of the year. God helping you, I know you will have success this year.
God’s word for today: (Romans 14:4) “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own Master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
There is a verse in Genesis, Chapter 41, that as I read it, I immediately wondered how many bible readers were drawn to it and could identify with it. It is verse 51 and reads: Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” Manasseh mostly means “forgetfulness.” Before I continue I want to encourage you to make an effort to find the meaning of your birth name, especially if it is a biblical name or a variation of one. An excellent source is Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary which I’m sure you can easily find it on the Internet. To me, that is more meaningful than researching one’s ancestry. After all, we all are descendants of Adam anyway.
If you know the story of Joseph you are aware that he suffered many indignities and hardships in his life and it all started with his own brothers. It would have been impossible for him to forget these events, although he truly forgave his brothers as well as anyone else who caused him pain and grief, but Joseph was convinced that God could help him forget his troubles, and that is exactly what happened. He never forgot those damaging life events but he did forget to dwell on them to the point that they would torment him for the rest of his life. To borrow a line from a song I used to love when I was a teenager, Joseph "remembered not to care."
Interestingly, Christmas has been ruined forever in the hearts and minds of countless people around the world because they just cannot forget a sad or hurtful occurrence they experienced during the Christmas season. Every year when this season rolls around, they relive the hurt and pain they experienced in a Christmas past. Seriously, can anything be more impactful in the lives of God’s children than the fact that Christ is always with us, that there is hope in every situation, and that our best and most glorious events are still up ahead? Did not Paul write “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” ? (Romans 8:18) If you, because of the things I just mentioned, refuse to be happy at Christmas, I plead with you to snap out of it and do what Joseph did. Trust God that He can eliminate your pain and put love, joy, peace and comfort in your heart instead. God not only wants you have comfort and joy during Christmas. He wants you to have it for the rest of your life.
God’s word for today: (Philippians 4:4) “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”
A favorite praise tune we sing at church, “Imannuel”, is one of my favorites. When we sing it, I often wonder if all of our members are aware of it’s message. Do they know that the word means “God is with us”? The word “Imannuel”, (some modern versions of the Bible spell it “Emannuel” or “Emanuel”) appears only 3 times in the Bible, twice in Isaiah, and once in Matthew, the most notable being Isaiah 7:14, which reads: “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Most bible scholars, of course, know this is one more prophecy which speaks about the birth of the coming Messaiah. (Jesus)
This prophecy was given first to an unbelieving Ahaz, king of Judah. At the time, Jerusalem, it’s capitol, was surrounded and about to be attacked by forces much greater than they. Because of it, Ahaz and his people were gripped with fear. Therefore, God, in His mercy, sent Isaiah to the unbelieving king to tell them that the invasion would not occur, that He would defend them. Because of his unbelief, the prophet informed the king he could ask any sign whatsoever from God to confirm it’s reality, Ahaz refused, stating that he did not want to tempt God, but the Lord knew it was really unbelief. Regardless of how difficult things appeared to His people, God wanted to remind them that He was with them. Because Ahaz never really believed, he and his people missed out on all the good things God had for them’
During the Christmas season in particular, I think often of “Immanuel.” Ahaz never got it, but I know that in spite of all the negative things we see and hear on a daily basis, “God is with us.” Many people around the world feel especially lonely during the Christmas season. They hear of all the families which spend time together at this time, some coming home from far and wide just to be together. May I remind you that on the very first Christmas, Joseph and Mary had no family or friends with them. Yet, I bet they knew that God was with them. In fact, He was closer to Mary than we can humanly understand or appreciate. I pray none of you will feel alone and forgotten this Christmas. I trust, that, unlike Ahaz, you don’t miss out on the comfort, joy, and peace that should always characterize our every Christmas. If you know the One who was born in a stable a little over two thousand years ago, you know that He is with you. After all, He is Immanuel.
God’s word for today: (Micah 5:2) “But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”
I’m sure many of you agree that the world’s concept of Christmas or the observance and celebration of it are quite different than yours. Because of it, some of you may not even believe that “its the most wonderful time of the year” as a popular Christmas song suggests. If you are indeed one of those who has soured a bit on it because of the world’s treatment of it, I trust you will let me share with you some of the beautiful thoughts I get every time I read God’s account of the “real” Christmas story.
For starters, the gifts the Wise Men presented in honor of the Newborn King, were in practicality very helpful to His poor earthly parents. A common argument of many Christmas nay sayers is that “if it is Jesus’ birthday, why are we getting the gifts?” I choose to believe that, just like the Wise Men, when we gift gifts to others, we are actually emulating and honoring God. After all, His gift to the world was motivated by His great love for it. The best known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, reminds us: “For God so loved the world that He gave.” Because we are all created in His image, (see Genesis 1:27) we also present our gifts mostly because of our love either for people or for giving alone.
Secondly, the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth revealed God’s purpose in it, that is, that the news would be a source of “joy” to all people (Luke 2:10) and would manifest His good will toward men. (Luke 2:14) God has not changed. He never will. I believe He still wants His peace and joy to bring people together, especially in the Christmas season.. Unfortunately, many people, including Christians, are not united in the observance and celebration of it. They have permitted the world’s erroneous concept and celebration of Christmas rob them of the joy and peace God wanted to give the world through His Son in the first place. They are like the people in Jeremiah’s day that would blame their dissatisfaction on others. Because of it, God told the prophet to tell His people this: Warn my people to not use this refrain anymore: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” ( Jer. 31:29) I hope you will not permit what the world or others do with Christmas ruin yours. Enjoy it! Enjoy the food, lights, decorations, etc.. It does not have to be expensive gifts or even gifts at all, but give somebody you love something. A warm embrace, something you baked, or expressions of love to others are oftentimes the best gifts anyway. Let Christmas be “the most wonderful time of the year”, but not because the song says it. Let it be special because it reminds you of the One for whom this time of the year is named.
I read once that the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were so excited on the day when they finally succeeded in keeping their homemade airplane in the air that they rushed a telegram to their sister in Dayton, Ohio, telling of this great accomplishment. This was the message in their telegram to their sister on December 17,1903: "First sustained flight today, fifty-nine seconds. Hope to be home by Christmas." Upon receiving the news the sister was so excited about the news that she rushed to the newspaper office and gave the telegram to the editor The next morning the newspaper headline read, "Popular Local Bicycle Merchants To Be Home For Holidays." One of the greatest stories of the twentieth century was missed because an editor missed the point. He could only see that two prominent residents would be coming home for the holidays. He did not not see that the news really meant that men could now fly.
Is it not the same with the world today? Did John not write: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:4) and “He came unto His own, and His own received him not.”? (John 1:11) Is it not obvious to you that, to many people, Christmas only means time off from work, delicious foods and goodies, lights, trees, decorations and huge sales everywhere? All these things are great. I enjoy them; I hope you do too. However, these are only fringe benefits and part of a greater package. I love this line from an old popular Christmas song: “And man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day.” You see, Jesus could not have eventually gone to the cross to save us from sin, had he not first been born. Apart from living forever, this is what Jesus’ birth also meant: No longer did people have to live a life without hope; lost sinners could be saved, forgiven, redeemed and transformed. If that is not something to rejoice about; if that is not enough to fill our hearts with comfort and joy, I don’t know what is.
One more thing: As great as the news was for the Wright brothers’ sister, I wonder if she was more excited that they had become the inventors of flight or that they would be coming home for Christmas. What excites you more about Christmas? What means more to you: the day Jesus was born in Bethlehem, or the day He was born in your heart?