Forgiveness!

Ephesians 4-32

Praise God for his forgiveness! May we be as forgiving toward one another as he is to us!

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Beyond the Comfort Zone

In Mark 5 we find Jesus leaving his native area to sail across the lake and go into the gentile region of the Gerasenes. They got out of the boat and immediately were approached by a demon possessed man who had been living in the tombs. In addition to this we’re told that there were large herds of pigs in the area.

Understanding exactly what Jesus is doing here can be missed pretty easily by our 21st century eyes, so let’s get an understanding of the background first. Jews did not want to associate with Gentiles in any way, yet Jesus is leading the twelve into Gentile country. Jews avoided people with unclean spirits, yet Jesus leads them right to a man who’s possessed by a “Legion” of demons. Jews avoided tombs because they felt it was unclean, yet here Jesus leads them right into that area with a man who lived in them. Jews thought pigs were the most unclean animals on the planet, yet Jesus leads his followers right into a heard of them. I think it’s fair to say that the disciples were well outside of their comfort zone during this encounter! And it’s very clear that Jesus wanted them there.

In healing the demon possessed man, Jesus is giving the disciples a preview that the Gospel would be for all people, and their location, ethnicity, history, past or current demons, place of residence, and present state in life truly didn’t matter. The Gospel of Jesus needs to go everywhere, especially the areas that make us feel the most uncomfortable!

Jesus was a true friend to sinners, and spent time with the people and in the places that the current religious leaders wouldn’t think of going. Yet that’s the command we’re given! “Go and make disciples of all nations,…” (Matt. 28:19)  The Greek word for “all nations” is ethnos. Literally every ethnicity, no matter where they are or what they’ve been doing.

So who do you cross paths with in your life that fits this description? Jesus says share the Gospel with them. That’s our job. What becomes of the message? That’s the Spirit’s job. And I trust Him to do powerful things with the powerful message that we weak humans share.

The Worst Advice I’ve Ever Heard About Stress

What is it with stress? Why are we so overwhelmed about stress? Did you know that over 30 million Americans are currently on antidepressants?

We are a stressed out society that thrives on the idea of working yourself to death, being miserable, and wearing it as a badge of honor. And we get absolutely nothing for it! (Click to Tweet)

As a high school band director, 16-18 hour days are more common than not during the school year. During marching season, I put in 82 hours a week for three straight weeks.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Just this week I overheard someone at school say “Feeling stressed is how you know you are working hard enough!”

It’s been a rough year for sure, and the holiday season only adds stress. But last night I sat by my Magnavox Astro-Sonic stereo (I inherited from my great aunt), listened to Christmas music, drank apple cider, felt the warmth of the fire in the fireplace, and watched my daughters play in the glow of the Christmas tree, everything seemed right. I took a deep breath, sat back in my chair, and the stress melted away. While relaxing I heard the words of Jesus playing through my head:

Matthew 6:25-34
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Our lives are so upside down. We spend our days worrying about all kinds of things and neglect our families, our friends, and our Father. Instead, Jesus says focus on the Kingdom, the things that truly matter, and everything else will fall into place. Why do you have so little faith?

Lord, help our unbelief. Help us to trust in you, and to not let the distractions of this world steal the joyful peace that only you can give.

It’s my prayer that we can all rest in Christ, divert our energy and attention into serving Him, and allow everything else to be under the control of God.

Blessings to you and your family!

Radical Disrupts Place of Worship

No this isn’t a recent headline from the New York Times. It’s likely what the Jerusalem Daily Gazette would have published the morning after Jesus cleared the Temple.

There is so much we can learn from this passage, but it so rarely gets brought up in churches. Questions about this passage always pop up. “Why would Jesus do such a thing?” or “Doesn’t Jesus love everyone? Why would he cause such a scene in a place of worship?”

There are two accounts of this happening in the Bible. One recorded by Matthew, the other by John. Today we’ll look at John’s account of this event.

John 2:13-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
Jesus Clears the Temple
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When I was growing up, I would hear someone reference this passage the moment a fundraising catalog entered the church building. But that’s just not the context for what Jesus is reacting to here. So if you don’t want to buy that stale popcorn, you may have just lost your scriptural basis for doing so. To fully understand what Jesus was so outraged about, we have to look back into history and take a look at what it took to worship at the temple.

Ever since the temple was rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, it was the national place of worship for all Jewish people. As many as 2.5 million Jews would travel vast distances to worship God in His temple on holy days! And as we all know, there’s always cost involved when traveling.

Besides the cost of travel, a Jew wishing to worship would also have other monetary demands put upon them as they arrived at the temple. The “Temple Tax” offset the cost of maintaining the temple, and was equal to 1 day’s wage. If you were traveling with a foreign currency, you must exchange your money at a rate of 2 days wages. If you brought your own animal to offer as a sacrifice, there was a fee of 1/2 days wage for someone to inspect the animal. If you failed inspection, or couldn’t afford to travel with your animal sacrifice in tow, you could normally purchase doves at the cost of 2 days wage. But in the temple courts prices had been raised to nearly 40 days wages!

If you calculate the cost in modern day figures, it would cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 just to worship at the temple!

These services that Jew’s had set up as a convenience to traveling worshippers had instead become a roadblock preventing the poor from being able to worship God in his temple, all the while lining the pockets of the religious leaders. No wonder Jesus was upset!

It’s stunning to think that something which started out so noble by aiding God’s people in worship turned out to be just the opposite. God’s people lots sight of what they were doing, and what they were causing to happen around them.

Question: What sort of things stand in the way of worshippers today, and what can we do as the Church to remove those obstacles?

True Faith

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NIV) – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.

Letʼs break this verse down for a moment. What is faith according to the Hebrew writer? Itʼs being sure! Thatʼs the NIV translation, but other translations render the word as “assurance” or “confidence.” The actual Greek word means “firm trust, steadfastness of mind, firm foundation!” Itʼs not a brief fleeting thought, itʼs not a doubt filled state of mind! Itʼs being sure!

Ok great…sure of what? Once again, according to the Hebrew writer, its being sure of what we hope for. So as a follower of Christ, what do we hope for? We hope for Godʼs promises to be fulfilled…or in other words, we hope for God to do what he says he will do. Now, the word hope here doesnʼt have the same meaning as we often think. Itʼs not a wish like hoping the Texas Rangers actually win the World Series this year…itʼs not that at all!  Strongʼs Greek Definition of the word means “to wait for salvation with joy and full confidence…hopefully to trust in.” Hereʼs the mention of full confidence again! “Being sure of what we hope for” is having a full confidence that God will do what He says He will do! FULL CONFIDENCE!

And let us not forget the last part of verse 1, “certain of what we do not see.” The definition, again from Strongʼs Greek Definitions for the word “certain” is “a proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested…a conviction.” So if I were to paraphrase this verse, using the definitions of the words in Hebrews 11:1-2, to summarize what weʼve just covered, then the definition of faith would be something like this:

“Now faith is being sure and having a firm trust and confidence of the salvation that we hope for, with joy and full confidence, and certain of the proof and conviction in what we do not see!”

Now that doesnʼt leave much room for doubt or being unsure, does it? And letʼs not forget verse 2! “This is what the ancients were commended for.”

So, how does your faith measure up?