THE NARROW GATE

Jesus died on the cross to pay the debt we owed for our sins.  He rose from the grave to demonstrate the new and eternal life he had purchased for us.  The cross is our place of entry into God’s eternal Kingdom.  It is the gate that Jesus prepared for us. We can come to God by no other path.  Salvation is found only at the cross. Our old life is left at the foot of the cross, and there we enter into our new life in Christ Jesus.

In the story of the Good Shepherd found in John chapter 10,   Jesus refers to believers as the sheep.  He makes it very clear that he is the gate for the sheep to enter.  He says, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep (verse 7).”  Many have looked for other ways, but the only way is through Jesus.

In John 10:17-18 (The Message) Jesus explains:

This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life.  And so I am free to take it up again.  No one takes it from me.  I lay it down of my own free will.  I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again.  I received this authority personally from my Father.”

God the Father gave Jesus the authority to redeem us.  No one else has been given this authority.  He alone is our redeemer.  Yes, the gate is narrow, but it leads to redemption and eternal life.

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UNDENIABLE LOVE

Last week I worked full days and had church and family activities that occupied my time. I had a very busy week.  However, through the activities of the week I was awakened to Jesus’ undeniable love.

Maundy Thursday our church family got together to share dinner and communion.  Jesus ate his last supper meal with the disciples, and then he initiated the symbolic practice of communion.  We wanted to share in that remembrance in a meaningful way.  We sat down together and participated in what Jesus did those many years ago.

Good Friday my wife and I went to a local church that provides the Stations of the Cross.  If you’re not familiar with this presentation, it is a walk through the various experiences of Jesus’ day of crucifixion.  At each station, you read the scriptures that pertain, and take time to pray and meditate.  We’ve done this for several years, and each time is different.  The Holy Spirit always leads us into another perspective of what Jesus went through on that day.

The effect of last week’s undertakings left me overwhelmed.  As I walked through the gruesome abuses that Jesus endured, I encountered undeniable love.  What led Jesus to the cross and what kept him there was simply love.  I cannot say anything more definitive. I can only say I have now felt his love more deeply and personally than ever before.  He loved us, and he died for us.

I close with this exclamation: I praise you and thank you Jesus for your love expressed so undeniably!   

OUR CREATOR AND US

Psalm 8:3-5

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

I love this passage of scripture.  It speaks volumes to me.  The vastness of the heavens directs my thinking to just how limitless is our God who created them.  Who is mankind in the midst of the universe?  Well, it turns out that we’re quite important to our creator.  Mankind is the focus of creation to the point that he sent his only begotten Son to die for us.   I pause to think about this, and I am overwhelmed by this thought.

The great creator -of all that we know- is loving, personal, and sacrificial in relationship with his created ones.  I desire to take this into the depths of my soul.  Sometimes, I ignore God and take for granted his presence in my life.  These thoughts are important motivators to stir me from my complacent self- centeredness and remind me just who I am serving.  He is the creator of the universe in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

REDEMPTION NOT REVENGE

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”  Jonah 4:2

This is what Jonah said when The Ninevites repented, and God decided to withhold bringing destruction on them.  Jonah knew God’s character.  I never quite caught that before.  I’ve always focused on the fact that Jonah was mad about God not destroying them.  He knew what God would do, and he wanted no part in saving the hated Ninevites.  I believe Jonah provides us with a clear distinction between the heart of God and the heart of man.

I hear people ask how can a loving God let this or that happen?  Yet, Jonah wanted his loving God to bring disaster.  These are obvious contrasting perspectives on God.  Both fail to understand the heart of God. Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  God loves us all.  Judgement will come, but he gives us time because he loves us.

God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  This is the heart of God; not the heart of man.  Man in his heart wants revenge.  God’s heart wants us to receive the salvation he provided through his son.  In my quest to understand God, understanding his heart brings completion.  Knowing his heart is knowing him.  Now I just have to become like him.

Father, help me to lay down my heart and take up your heart.  Build in me, O Lord, a heart of forgiveness that desires redemption not revenge. Amen!

 

This is a repost from October of 2015.  I hope you enjoy it.

BE MERCIFUL

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

 Jude 22-23

 

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.  In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says,

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

 

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

 

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy.

 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.

THE TRAP OF INWARD FOCUS

We all have troubles that come our way; they are a part of life in this fallen world.  I tend to draw into myself when troubles arise.  I focus on solving the problem; I worry over the problem, and I lose sleep thinking about the problem.  If the problem is long term, I eventually fall into despair. Then I enter into that dark cavern of self-pity.  Once again, I have succumbed to the trap of inward focus.

You’d think I’d know better, but alas I find myself caught again.  In this state, I don’t pray for others, I’m not very kind, and I don’t have time for others. Inward focus makes me useless to those I love and not very pleasant to be around.  When I finally come to the end of myself, I cry out to the Lord, “Save me!”

The lord, in his patient and kind way, reminds me that I need to trust my troubles to him.  He redirects my focus to the needs of others, and I begin to look outward.  To my amazement, life becomes brighter, and my troubles become less important.  By putting my troubles in the hands of the only one who can do anything about them, the burden is lifted.  I can actually become a nice guy.

Will I fall into this trap again?  I hope not.  The “pit of despair” is not a nice place.

Psalm 42:5

Why are you down cast O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Note:

I found out that Praising God is the first step out of the trap.

GOOD AND EVIL

I love to revisit the story of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.  Envisioning God’s fresh creation delights my heart.  Genesis 1:31 reads, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  The creator stepped back, looked over what he had made, and concluded, “It was very good.”

Today as I continue to be awed by what God created, I see elements that were not there at the beginning.  Death and decay are at work in the creation.  What God created that was “very good” has now deteriorated.  Good now has a counterpart, evil.  How did evil get into God’s creation?

When the first man and woman walked the earth only good existed.  They had no special awareness of good because it was the default of their world.  There was no contrast to good.  In the garden, where God put them, was a tree with the knowledge of good and its contrast evil.  God warned them not to indulge in this knowledge for it brought with it death.  They chose not to heed God’s warning.

Why is our world filled with death and decay?  The answer is obvious.  We had to know about good and evil.  Well, now we know.  I think we could have gone without knowing.  So in hindsight, when God says not to do something, we probably shouldn’t.