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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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I was visiting the Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently when I saw the Jean-Francois Millet oil painting, “Man with a Hoe,” painted during 1860-62. As I gazed at the painting, I began to sense what Millet intended to convey—the utter exhaustion of a peasant as he pauses from the backbreaking toil of plowing a rocky plot of land filled with thistles, weeds, and dry grass.

The expression on the man’s face, along with his wearied posture, suggest not only a hard day’s labor but one of a lifetime of endless toil with little progress to show. And yet, the green, productive fields of his neighbors in the background suggest that there might be hope for this man and this bleak plot of land.

But I saw more.

In that moment I saw in him the countless numbers of individuals whose lives today are mired in seemingly hopeless situations—beaten down, exhausted, depressed, caught between life’s proverbial rock and a hard place, with little or no relief or hope in sight. And in my heart I saw their despair and I heard their anguished cry to God for help.

I know what these people are going through—for I’ve been there myself.

I’ve been there through life’s deserts—long periods of unemployment, eking out a living in dead-end jobs, facing failure after failure, set back after set back, struggling with depression, and screaming at a seemingly silent God.

But always, in the midst of those harsh, lonely, desert places, I would experience God’s mercy, peace, comfort, and joy. And with those blessings, I would find renewed hope and strength to keep on the journey through life.

It is in such deserts that I experienced the reality of Jesus’ Beatitudes recorded in Matthew 5:3-6:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

In Mathew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5,6,7), Jesus teaches about the characteristics of being a disciple in the Kingdom of God, and in verses 3-6 of chapter 5, he blesses the worn-down, broken, and powerless people who recognize their need for him and seek him.

He blesses them in their present state—here and now!

Those who are poor in spirit—who are utterly helpless to meet life’s challenges but seek God in their poverty of spirit—are blessed to be part of God’s kingdom here and now!

Those who mourn—who are in spiritual crisis, sadness, pain, sorrow, grief, and loss, and who earnestly seek God—are comforted with his peace, joy, and strength, here and now, for the journey still ahead.

Those who are meek—who in humility know their own ignorance, weaknesses, and needs, and who turn control and discipline of their lives to God—are blessed here and now with God’s assurance that when Christ returns on Judgment Day to destroy the earth, they will receive new eternal bodies and inherit a place in Christ’s kingdom that he will establish on the newly created earth (2 Pet. 3:7-13;  Rom. 8: 18-26; Rev. 21:1).

And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—who yearn desperately for a right relationship with God and with people, who care about justice for all, and who earnestly seek God out of their awareness of their own urgent need to be right with him and with people—are blessed here and now with God’s forgiveness and covered with Jesus’ own righteousness (Rom. 3:22; 2 Cor. 5:21).

These four beatitudes are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems. The world admires and envies only those who are strong, rich, famous, successful, and powerful. The world cares nothing about the nobodies, the materially or spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek, or those who seek righteousness and justice.

But God cares about such people, and he wants us as disciples of Jesus Christ to not only care for them with his heart of love, grace, and compassion, but also to reflect in our hearts an awareness of our own poverty of spirit, brokenness, humility, and hunger for righteousness.

For only then can he bless us—here and now!

*****

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If, like me, you have not had the opportunity to tour Israel and visit Jerusalem, here’s an aerial view of that country and city to whet your appetite in anticipation of someday making that tour and retracing the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth.

This video excerpt is from the documentary “Jerusalem” which was filmed for IMAX theaters and is being released worldwide. Please watch in full screen on your computer.

And please note: If you are viewing this post in its automatic email format, you will need to click the above title to watch the video on my blog site.

Please enjoy this 7-minute tour.

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Each week I have the privilege of praying for scores of individuals from our large congregation who send in their prayer requests, so I’m very aware of the range of difficulties that they face regarding sickness, financial worries, bereavement, unemployment, business setbacks, broken relationships, and more.

Among the prayers that I bring to God on their behalf is that each person will experience peace and joy in the midst of their difficulties.

Peace? Joy? In the midst of difficulties?

Yes!

The apostle Paul—who had more than his share of trials and tribulations, including numerous attempts on his life by enemies—experienced peace and joy in the midst of good and bad times, and he reminds us that:

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings peace:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1)

This is not peace in the sense of the absence of conflicts and difficulties in our lives, but God’s peace of mind and heart, of confident assurance in any and all situations. It’s a peace that fills our beings when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and lord, for, in that moment, God forgives our sins and reconciles us to himself throughout this life and for all eternity.

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings joy, even in suffering:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.” (Romans 5:3, 4)

It’s a joy that Jesus bestows on believers who earnestly seek him, a joy that comes from a consistent relationship with him in which he fills them with his joy, for even as he said to his disciples, he says to all his believers today:

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 14:9-11)

So, as we face the difficult periods and circumstances that each of us will inevitably encounter in our lives, may we not fear—no matter how frightening or hopeless things might seem—but may we put our trust in the risen Christ and experience his peace and his joy as we “run with endurance the race that God has set before us…keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.” (Hebrews 12:1b, 2)

*****

All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.

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He was a king who united and ruled his nation effectively for forty years under difficult conditions, including numerous rebellions and attempts on his life.  He was a great poet, musician, composer, organizer, and military leader who inspired and motivated his fighting forces in repelling and conquering numerous invading foreign armies. And, as a man after God’s own heart, King David ruled his people justly.

Yet, his leadership in his family was weak and ineffective, and his secret sin of adultery and murder had disastrous consequences on his children and his household:

• His first marriage to Michal, Saul’s daughter, was bitter and childless. Though she loved David at first, he did not return her affection and later had her five nephews killed in retaliation for Saul and his family murdering the Gibeonites. (I Sam. 18:20-28; 19:10-18; 25:44; 2 Sam. 3:12-16; 6:20-23; 21:1-9)

• David had at least eight wives (1 Sam. 18:27; 25:42; 1 Chron. 3) and ten concubines (2 Sam. 15:16; 16:22; 20:3) with whom he had twenty known sons (2 Sam. 3:2-5; 1 Chron. 3:1-4; 14:4-7) and unknown number of daughters—an ideal recipe for explosive family conflicts.

• Because of his adultery with Bathsheba and her subsequent pregnancy, David had her husband killed in battle, after which he married her. (2 Sam. 11)

• The prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins of adultery and murder, and although David repented and was forgiven, God caused the newborn from that adulterous union to die after seven days. As a result of David’s sins, God declared that turmoil and rebellion would plague his household throughout his life. (2 Sam. 12:1-23)

• Amnon, David’s eldest son, raped his half-sister Tamar, but David did nothing to confront or discipline him. (2 Sam. 13:1-22)

• Absalom, third son of David and brother of Tamar, waited two years before he murdered Amnon in revenge for the rape. Absalom then fled and took refuge in his grandfather’s home for three years. David mourned Amnon’s death and pined for Absalom’s return, but did nothing to punish him. (2 Sam. 13:23-39)

• Absalom returned to Jerusalem, reconciled with David, but spent the next four years secretly planning to overthrow David. He finally led a rebellion against David, proclaimed himself king, and publicly raped David’s ten concubines to demonstrate his dominance over his father. (2 Sam 15 and 16)

• David escaped from Jerusalem with his household and some of his faithful warriors. He eventually took decisive action and ordered his commanders to attack Absalom’s army. Absalom was killed and the rebellion squashed. (2 Sam. 18:1-18)

• Absalom’s death so devastated David that he mourned inconsolably, weeping and crying, “O my son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I could have died instead of you! O my son Absalom, my son, my son.” (2 Sam. 18:24-33)

• David’s mourning stunned and insulted his troops who had risked their lives to save him and his kingship. His response turned their victory to shame and defeat. Joab, the commander who killed Absalom, sternly rebuked David and forced him out of his self-pity and back before his troops to publicly thank them for their support and victory. (2 Sam. 19:1-8)

• As David neared the end of his long life, his fourth son, Adonijah, tried to set himself up as king in an effort to beat his younger half-brother, Solomon, to the throne. But Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, fearing that Adonijah would kill her and Solomon if Adonijah became king, persuaded David to declare Solomon king. Despite Adonijah’ treachery, Solomon spared Adonijah’s life as long as David was alive. (I King 1)

• After David’s death, Adonijah, with the help of Joab, asked Bathsheba to influence Solomon to give him the virgin Abishag as his wife. Since Abishag was part of David’s harem, Solomon saw this as Adonijah’s attempt to claim the throne, so he ordered the execution of both Adonijah and Joab. (1 Kings 2:1-34)

• Solomon followed God and ruled wisely the united kingdom of Israel and Judah for most of his life. But because of the influences of his 700 wives and 300 concubines, he forsook God and increasingly worshiped their numerous false gods in later life. This allegiance to pagan gods by Solomon and succeeding kings led to the downfall of the kingdom.

Although David repented and received forgiveness from God (2 Sam. 12:13; Psa. 51), this did not change the consequences of his sins upon his family, for as God declared to Israel centuries before:

I am the Lord, I am the Lord, the merciful and gracious God. I am slow to anger and rich in unfailing love and faithfulness. I show this unfailing love to many thousands by forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. Even so I do not leave sin unpunished, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations.” (Ex. 34:6,7)

It’s a theme that is echoed in the New Testament where we are warned in Gal. 6:7,8:

Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death.

And even though 1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” this forgiveness may still involve consequences, including God’s discipline:

My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes those he accepts as his children.” (Heb. 12:6,7)

However, there is good news—we don’t have to repeat the cycle of our parents’ sins! We can break the cycle by following the Lord, for we are assured that:

The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sin. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own goodness, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (Ezek. 18:20)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17, English Standard Version)

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Rom. 8:1, 2)

May we always earnestly confess our sins, seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, crave the restoration of the joy of God’s salvation, patiently accept God’s discipline, and live in the life-changing power, grace, and freedom of Jesus, our Lord.

****

Pictured above: A panel on the great bronze front door of La Madeleine Church, Paris, in which the prophet Nathan confronts David and Bathsheba over their adultery and David’s murder of her husband Uriah.

All Bible verses are from the New Living Translation, except those otherwise noted.

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Among my favorite songs that capture the essence of the Christmas experience is “Mary, Did You Know?” words written by Mark Lowry and music composed by Buddy Greene:

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy
has come to make you new?
And the child that you delivered
will soon deliver you?

Oh, Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would give sight to the blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby,
you’ve kissed the face of God?

Oh, Mary, did you know—
The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
the dead will live again!
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak
the praises of the Lamb!

Oh Mary, did you know that your baby boy
is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy
was heaven’s perfect Lamb?
And the sleeping child you’re holding
is the Great I Am!

But, no, Mary did not know–not at first, anyway, and not fully.

She knew that her baby was special and that he would become the Messiah who would save his people, but she would not comprehend the full meaning of his messiahship until she began her daily walk with him during their life together and until she experienced his death and resurrection thirty-three years later.

She had to see his birth from the perspective of his sacrificial death and resurrection before she could fully know and understand.

And so do we.

Until we accept his grace and forgiveness through his death and resurrection, and begin our daily walk with him, we will never be able to fully understand or celebrate his birth and the true meaning of Christmas.

Only then does the real Christmas come alive for us. Only then are we able to really celebrate his birth.

And as we do, we will discover a magnificence, a glory, and a mysterious divine presence that will touch us in the deepest recesses of our beings–bringing comfort, strength, healing, and peace, no matter how trying and difficult life might become.

Oh, may you know and celebrate–really celebrate–Christmas this year.

********

(To view Mark Lowry’s concert version of this song, please view my December 20, 2010 post of “Mary did you know?”)

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In the present climate of political campaigning in which a single word or phrase can impact a candidate’s poll numbers positively or negatively, I’m reminded of an incident in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John in which Jesus lost almost all his disciples when they took offense at his invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

The difference today is that while a candidate’s words might have local or national political consequences for a time, Jesus’ words have eternal consequences for every living person on this planet.

A throng of five thousand men and perhaps as many as five to fifteen thousand women and children had been following Jesus for days because he had used five bread loaves and two fish to miraculously feed them until they were full.

Like today’s throngs who flock to hear preachers with “prosperity gospel” messages that promise health, wealth, and the good life if they follow Jesus, the throngs that followed Jesus that day were only interested in the good life of his miracle food.

He warned them that they shouldn’t be so concerned about perishable things like food, but that they should seek the true bread of heaven that God was offering through him.

“Sir,” they replied, “give us that bread every day of our lives.” (John 6:34, New Living Translation, NLT)

At which, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)

But the people didn’t believe that he was from heaven, for they knew him only as the son of Joseph, the carpenter.

Then Jesus dropped a bombshell:

“I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them at the last day. For my flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. All who eat my flesh and drink my blood remain in me, and I in them.” (John 6:53-56)

This seemingly cannibalistic invitation offended his listeners that day, including many of his own disciples who deserted him.

So turning to the remaining twelve disciples, Jesus asked, “Are you going to leave, too?”

To which Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus was not inviting people to literally eat his flesh and drink his blood. He was inviting them to partake of the spiritual nourishment and eternal life that is gifted to those who believe in him and are united in a personal relationship with God through him.

As with people in the time of Jesus, there are those today who reject Jesus because he offends them with his claims that:

• No one comes to God except through him (John 14:6).

• Forgiveness of sin and salvation to eternal life are found in no one else but him (Acts 4:12)

• Love for him must be greater than love for family and friends (Matthew 10:37)

• They must put aside their selfish ambitions, shoulder their cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23)

• They must leave their life of sin (John 5:14; 8:11)

• They must be willing to suffer for him (Matthew 10:24-26; Acts 20:24; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 3:13-17)

Jesus knew that not only would his own Jewish people reject him (John 1:10-11) but so would the vast majority of mankind, for he said:

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT)

Yes, only a few entered that narrow gate in the beginning—Simon Peter, ten of the remaining disciples, and a group of women who believed in Jesus and funded his ministry during the three years that he preached.

And after his crucifixion, death, resurrection from the dead, and his ascension back to heaven, many more people believed and chose to follow Jesus into the Kingdom of God, especially after God empowered them with the Holy Spirit to spread the good news that:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:16, NLT)

Today, two thousand and twelve years later, countless numbers continue to enter that Narrow Gate through which they experience eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, and find nourishment of their souls as they fellowship with the living Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.

So, among the many questions and choices that we must make in the next few days and weeks, including for whom will we be voting to lead our nation, here are three far more eternally significant questions that each of us must answer for ourselves:

Am I among the few who have entered the Narrow Gate to eternal life that Jesus provides?

Am I willing to partake of his flesh and blood and be nourished spiritually?

Is my heart-felt response to Jesus, “Lord, to whom would I go? You alone have the words that give eternal life . . . ”?

I pray that your answer will be “Yes” to all three.

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I know the power of a movie showing God’s love to the world.

As an angry, volatile teenage delinquent in 1961, I was brought to my knees in tearful surrender to Jesus Christ as I responded to his love that I saw portrayed in the film, Angel in Ebony, about Samuel Kaboo Morris.

As I describe in my memoir, I sobbed uncontrollably for over an hour after the film, for I felt the heavy weight of my sins pressing down on my being, sensed Christ encouraging me to surrender my sins and guilt to him, and felt his presence and his love enveloping and warming me.

I saw the anger and hatred I felt towards my parents, my willingness to commit murder in my thoughts, the pleasure I got from bullying and intimidating others, my obsession with pornography, and my vow to lose my virginity that year. All these confronted me, and I acknowledged them to Christ and begged his forgiveness.

Slowly the burden lifted, the sobbing subsided, and a sense of peace filled my being, and a great inner lightness and joy lifted me. There was a strange mixture of feeling totally spent and exhausted from my weeping, yet there was a lightness and new vigor that began to surge through my body, and by the time I rose from off my knees, I was a new person in Christ, a forgiven child of God.

There is another film that is having an even greater impact on individuals around the world—JESUS, a two-hour classic movie about the life and ministry of Jesus based on the Gospel of Luke.

Produced by Campus Crusade for Christ as The JESUS Film Project, the 1979 film, JESUS, has been translated into 1,145 languages, shown in over 200 countries in the peoples’ own languages, with the result that more than 200 million men, women, and children have made decisions to follow Jesus Christ.

According to the folks at The JESUS Film Project, every eight seconds another person somewhere in the world makes a decision to follow Christ after watching JESUS. That’s 10,800 people per day!

How is this possible?

Thousands of churches, mission groups, and denominational agencies around the world are using DVDs and video tools to show the movie in churches, homes, towns, villages, tiny communities, or just anywhere Christian workers can find an audience of one or more individuals not yet reached for Christ.

Many requests to show the movie are coming from local Christian leaders in some of the most restricted and hostile nations towards Christianity, many in the 10/40 window—the area located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator populated by predominantly Muslims, Hindus, Budddhists, Animists, Jews, or Atheists.

There are many stories on record at The JESUS Film Project of God changing lives through the movie JESUS, including the following story:

About 250 people had gathered in the small community hall of a mountain village in one of the most dangerous regions in the world for Christians. A Christian team had brought a DVD of JESUS, to show to the villagers.

After the movie was shown, the team was about to invite the crowd to accept Jesus Christ as their savior, when a man sitting on the floor stood up, opened his shirt, and revealed a suicide vest of explosives strapped to his chest.

Panic erupted in the room.

“Wait! Wait! Don’t leave!” the man shouted. “I’m not going to blow myself up! I need to tell you what just happened.”

It took several minutes for the panic to subside, and the man went on to relate how he had heard that Christians were going to show a blasphemous film, so he got approval from his religious leader to attend the showing and detonate the bomb in the audience.

“When the film started,” he continued, “I reached for the detonator and tried to push the button, but as I watched the film, Jesus turned and pointed right at me. He called my name and said loudly, ‘Don’t do that . . . follow me.’

“Over and over I tried. Every time I reached for the button he pointed to me and said, ‘Don’t do that . . . follow me.’ My hand froze every time. I couldn’t move my thumb. I gave up and just stayed to watch.

“Now I believe. I want Jesus to be my Savior. Can you help me know more about him?”

The team leader agreed, and after the man took off his vest and disarmed the explosives, the team not only led the man in accepting Christ as his savior, but they also led the 250 members of the audience in commitment to Christ.

That’s the power of a God-inspired movie—people surrendering to Christ after seeing and hearing the Gospel of Christ in their own languages.

That’s why I’d like to encourage you to help The JESUS Film Project produce more of these DVDS and video tools so that Christian workers around the world can continue to show this movie to millions more people.

Please go to http://jesusfilm.org and explore their website, read more of the amazing stories of how God is transforming lives through the film, and learn about the ministry’s needs and how you can help.

Your help could impact countless numbers of people for eternity.

Grace and peace.

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