Sunday, December 28, 2014

A New Song

My Personal Devotional Diary Today: Sunday 12-28-14 (At home in Modesto) Scripture reading: Rev. Chapters 5-9

S. Rev 5:9-10  And they sang a new song with these words: "You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it.  For you were killed, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  And you have caused them to become God's Kingdom and his priests. And they will reign on the earth." NLT

O.  Why is this called a new song?  For centuries the Jews were spoken of as God’s chosen people.  All others seemed of lesser importance, classed together as “Gentiles”, a title which seemed to indicate a lower grade of peoples.  The Jews were the ones that had the laws of Moses.  They went about sacrificing lambs yearly for their family’s sins.  They were proud to be God’s chosen people.  But they failed to comprehend that little phrase in God’s promise to Jacob in Genesis 28:14  All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.”  The Israelites were God’s chosen people for a purpose.  They were chosen to present the Good News to the world… news that would bless all people, of every language and nation.  

This new song is sung to Jesus, “…Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”  The promise to Jacob centuries ago had now been fulfilled.

A.  There was one remaining factor, however.  All these vast nations of the world still had to hear and receive this Good News.  The finished work of Christ was completed.  The Lamb of God was slain.  The ransom for sinners was paid in full.  Every man on this earth can now believe and follow the Lamb into full salvation, but how can they believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? 

The Apostle Paul presents the challenge to every Christian of every age: Rom 10:13-15 “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" NLT

P.  Open our ears and our hearts, Lord Jesus, to hear the message.  Your New Song is calling us to share the Good News with “every tribe and language and people and nation.”  Our commission is world-wide.  Your voice is saying, “The price is paid.  Your debt is canceled.  The Lamb of God has been slain for the sins of the whole world… and He has risen from the dead, victorious over death, hell and the grave.  Now go into all the world and share the Good News.”  

You, Lord Jesus, have made our commission clear.  You have given us a powerful message accompanied with the anointing of the Holy Spirit to convey it to the nations.  Now, what will be our response?  Will we go?  Will we complete the task?  

Lord help us, help me, to not relax until every nation, tribe and tongue has had an adequate chance to hear Your Good News and rejoice in Your salvation!



Saturday, December 27, 2014

"I have wandered away like a lost sheep…” King David

My Personal Devotion today:  Friday 12-26-14 (At home in Modesto)

Scripture reading today: Ps 117, Ps 119:81-176, 2nd John & 3rd  John

S.  Ps 119:1-3 Happy are people of integrity, who follow the law of the LORD.  Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.  
Ps 119:9-10  How can a young person stay pure?  By obeying your word and following its rules.  I have tried my best to find you — don't let me wander from your commands.  Ps 119:176  I have wandered away like a lost sheep; come and find me, for I have not forgotten your commands.  NLT

O.  Psalm 119 is a prayer from the heart of David.  He starts with a brief introduction in verses 1-3 in which he establishes the purpose of this entire psalm.  ‘Happiness is a heart of integrity seeking after God with no compromise with evil, always giving importance, reverence and obedience to God’s word.’

Many a man has envied the life of a king, but nothing could be more stressful than to have the weight of an entire nation upon one’s shoulders.  On top of this, any person in a position of power is always in danger from those who seek to destroy him.  He lives in life-threatening danger continually.  This is obvious in the life of King David.
In this psalm David expresses what has sustained him throughout his kingship.  He has loved God’s word and sought to obey it and God has honored this and protected him. 

Throughout this, the longest psalm and the longest prayer in the Bible, he declares his desire to remain faithful to the Lord, his God.  He repeatedly defends himself as keeping God’s laws and his heart pure… but he closes… (verse number 176) with a personal confession… “I have wandered away like a lost sheep…”

A.  If I talk with the Lord long enough, if I seek Him with all my heart, if I “tarry” in His presence… there in the brilliant light of His purity, sooner or later every hidden sin, every dark spot stands out.  Both David and Ralph may go on and on in prayer trying to convince God how good we are, but… Oh the shock of it!  There in the x-ray brilliance of His brightness we see our spots and readily confess them.  After all is said and done, we are sheep that have strayed.

P.  Lord, You tire quickly of hearing me tell you how I have been a good boy today.  I do want to please you, but I cannot make the grade without Your intervention in my life.  So, Good Shepherd, please come and find me and rescue me from myself and from my pride.  Gather me up in Your tender loving arms and carry me to the celebration… to the party where straying sheep find forgiveness, shelter and love… love like no other love on earth!


Under the Fig Tree

My Personal Devotional Diary
Thursday 12-18-14 (Home in Modesto)  

Scripture reading John 1 through 4 

Scripture:  John 1:47-49 As they approached, Jesus said, "Here comes an honest man — a true son of Israel." "How do you know about me?" Nathanael asked.  And Jesus replied, "I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you." Nathanael replied, "Teacher, you are the Son of God — the King of Israel!" NLT

Observation:  What was going under that fig tree? Only Nathanael knew… and Jesus.  Obviously it wasn’t something done in the public eye.  It was definitely not something that Nathanael was doing to impress his neighbors.  Something was going on that convinced Jesus that this was a true man of integrity.  I am guessing from the context that this man had a secret place of prayer.  He had developed a sacred “Bethel”…a “House of God” and a “Door to Heaven” hidden away from the public eye under a fig tree.  Don’t you love it!? 

Application:  I was a 16 year old kid riding my bike on the beautiful roads that wind up Mount Tabor only a mile as a crow flies from my house.  I parked my bike at the foot of a hill and climbed the path winding among the fir trees to the top to look out over the beautiful scene of the city of Portland, Oregon.  But something was on my mind.  I was troubled about something.  I was a lonely, confused teenager.  I had been saved as a small child, but now as I approached adult life I needed help… big time help! 

In high school we were being pressured to prepare for a career… to discover our talents and to balance them with our interests.  We had been given the “Kuder Interest Test,” designed to uncover our interests.  And we had spent a day at a facility that gave each of us a thorough “Psychometric Aptitude Test” designed to discover our abilities in almost every area.  Then with these results in hand, a trained counselor met with each of us to hopefully blend our interests with our abilities to help lead us toward our future career.  

My counselor lady seemed confused.  She showed me several areas where my tests were outstanding in both interest and capacity, but nothing seemed to rise to the top.  My interests and abilities were wide spread… music, art, mechanical, mathematics and engineering, all mixed with interest in religious themes.  She tried her best with me, but “drew a blank” and basically said, “Take your choice, kid.”  

On top of this, I felt out of place among many other youth my age.  They all talked about the latest movies and the movie stars… and I was a fanatical Pentecostal that never went to see movies. I just had to walk away.

So now alone up on that hilltop on Mount Tabor I found myself crying out to God.  “Please talk to me, God.  What am I going to study?  What am I going to do with my life?  Do You really have a plan for me?  Please, God I need help!”  I heard no voices, but down inside I knew that I had met with God.  So much so, that I returned to that spot many times over.  It became my secret “Bethel.” 

I was no saint.  I was a confused Christian kid that spent half his prayer-life confessing his most recent sins… and getting a warm hand of forgiveness and a fresh washing from Jesus.  I certainly was no Nathanael.  But if Jesus saw Brother Nathanael under that fig tree… I know He saw a skinny, helpless kid on top of a hill in Portland, Oregon.

Prayer:  Oh, God!  Back then that hilltop on Mount Tabor was my fig tree.  Where is my fig tree now?  Here I am bouncing around between California and Argentina, living in a different city every week, sometimes every day.  Oh God!  Lead me to my fig tree!  Take me to a secret place of communion with You.  

Thank you, Lord!  You are answering my prayer right now!  I can almost hear the music of heavenly angels singing.  Turn up the sound a little bit, Jesus.  Here I am, sitting at my computer during my scheduled devotional time, freshly back in my own home in Modesto.  And You are here!  Day before yesterday I was ten thousand miles away in a small borrowed apartment in Martinez, Argentina and You met me there.  Yesterday You met me flying 30,000 feet high as I read Your Word in a United Airline 767.  

God in heaven, don’t let me miss my time with You under the shade of the fig tree.  Take me to my Bethel every day.  I am still that same confused kid needing to hear Your voice.  Sometimes Your Holy Spirit still convicts me of sin and I find myself confessing it all to You and sensing Your bountiful forgiveness and cleansing.  Unworthy!  But accepted in the beloved because of You, Lord Jesus!  

Oh what a wonder!  Oh what comfort!  Oh what love poured out like fresh water upon a thirsty soul!  Oh what precious fellowship with You and Your Father through Your Holy Spirit!  I love You, Lord!  In fact, I am running to the keyboard right now to sing it to You!  Amen.

The song  book on the piano fell open to: “Cleanse Me” by J. Edwin Orr and I played and sang: 

1.    Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.
2.    I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.
3.    Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.
4.    O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

God Came Down, Way Down!

My Personal Devotional Diary: 
Thursday 12-24-14 (At home in Modesto)

Today’s scripture reading: 1 John chapters 1 through 5  

S.  1 John 4:9-10  God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.  This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. NLT

O.  Verse nine of 1 John 4 seems almost a repeat of Jesus’ own words recorded in John 3:16… and why not, since this is the same John that wrote his account of the Gospel.  Yet in these verses he adds that we should recognize that it is not our frail and fluctuating love for God that saves us, but it is His great unchanging love for us.  And then he clarifies that God’s love is expressed in that He sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 

A.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of love… not our love for God, but His great love for us.  This is certainly Good News, since we could never have deserved this kind of sacrificial love.  It must be emphasized that the Gospel of Jesus Christ initiates with God and not with ourselves. 

Every other religion starts with man himself.  Rules are laid out to follow, sacrifices are made, one must bathe in the Ganges River, one must make a pilgrimage to some city, one must interrupt his activity and bow down 5 times a day.  The God-craving heart in man works hard at building a stairway to the stars.  He seems to have an innate desire to save himself by his own efforts.  Prompted by his own pride, he wants to stand before God some day and brag… “Look, God, I did it!  I made it to Your heaven!  Pretty good, huh?” So he crawls on hands and knees up a stairway of his own construction, hoping somehow by his own efforts to reach God. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is exactly the opposite of every religion invented by men.  It is the Good News that God prepared a stairway of love… not for us to laboriously climb upward… but for His only Son to descend… downward.  God knows that all our efforts to climb up to Him will fall short and end in frustration and false hopes.  We could not climb up, so God came down. 

The Jews had struggled to keep the Mosaic laws for centuries and, although some were extremely religious, their lives were full of secret sin.  So God stooped down, way down to a manger and made His entry at the lowest possible level.  

God came down, way down… to lift us up, way up!  And as we follow Christ, He will carry us up… up into the bosom of His Heavenly Father.

P.  So Father God, I rest in the arms of Your Holy Son, Jesus!  Your Gospel is indeed great news!  I can stop trying to climb the stairs of religious rituals and fully trust in Your perfect sacrifice.  The price for my Redemption was paid in full at Calvary.  I can relax and enjoy the ride.  Heaven is assured me, not because of my feeble, flimsy efforts, but because of Your perfect love which I have gladly welcomed into my heart.  And yes, because I have been conquered by Your love, my love for You has grown deeper… deep enough to want to please You in thought and deed.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!  God came down!


The Great Gift Exchange

My Personal Devotional today: The Great Gift Exchange
Tuesday 12-23-14 (Home in Modesto)  Scripture reading: John 15-18  

S.  John 17:6-11  I have told these men about you. They were in the world, but then you gave them to me. Actually, they were always yours, and you gave them to me; and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the words you gave me; and they accepted them and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.  "My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you.   And all of them, since they are mine, belong to you; and you have given them back to me, so they are my glory!  NLT

O.  The Great Gift Exchange!  God, the Father, gave a wonderful gift to His Son… a little band of struggling, faulty disciples.  In fact Jesus acknowledges that everything He has comes from His Father.  Now Jesus expressed His joy.  He finds His glory in these, His disciples.  Merry Christmas!  God the Father is the Giver.  Jesus is the receiver.  Now Jesus becomes the Giver.  He becomes the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for His sheep.  “There is no greater love than when a person gives his life for the one he loves.” (John 15:13)   Jesus said it.  Then Jesus did it.  So Jesus becomes the Greatest Lover at Calvary as He gives up His very life… a gift to you and me. 

True love… the “God kind” of love… gives.  For God so loved He gave… God is Love, (1 John 4:8 and vs 16)  It was His nature to give.  He gave the only thing that could have cost Him anything.  He could have created anything else, but He gave us His only Son.

So, where do we get the custom of exchanging gifts at Christmas?  As little children we looked forward to Christmas with great excitement.  When we awoke Christmas morning there was always a large stocking filled with small gifts hanging on our bedpost.  It was a delightful day of giving and receiving gifts.  Our parents were not wealthy.  Many of our gifts were purchased used… repaired and repainted.  Oh!  But they were wonderful!  I got a bright red wooden wagon one Christmas!  Another Christmas I got a beautiful, shining red bicycle!  

What did our parents get out of all this for themselves when we were small children?  Their only reward was the delight of seeing us jump up and down with joy as we opened our gifts and played with our toys.  And it was the joy of seeing their little ones come running into their arms yelling, “I love you, Mommy!”  “I love you, Daddy!” 

The Apostle Paul writes, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”  So here we have the story of the greatest Gift of all and the greatest Giver.  How can we ever reward Him for His generosity to us?  How about just running into the arms of the Giver and yelling, “I love you, Father God!”  How about running into the arms of the One Who is the “Gift” and yelling, “I love You, Jesus!”

And how about making this a true “gift exchange” by presenting God with the gift of our lives?  Years ago Homer W. Grimes wrote the words and music to a challenging song of dedication to God.  Back then it touched my soul and helped me to surrender my life as a gift to my Savior, Jesus.

P.  And it is my prayer again this Christmas:

What shall I give Thee, Master?
Thou Who didst die for me.
Shall I give less of what I possess
Or shall I give all to thee?

Jesus my Lord and Savior
Thou hast given all for me.
Thou didst leave Thy home above
To die on Calvary.

What shall I give Thee, Master?
Thou hast given all for me.
Not just a part, or half of my heart
Lord, I give all to Thee!
Enjoy a VeryMerry Christmas!

Christmas Eve 2014 at Modesto Neighborhood Church

Last night I enjoyed a blessed special service at my home church, Modesto Neighborhood.  The building (Modesto Christian School gymnasium) was packed almost to capacity.  I tried to capture a few moments with my camera.

My son, “Pastor Tim”, the music and worship director, led us all in “Caroling”.  While we were singing my cell phone rang.  I had forgotten to put it on “vibrate” mode.  It couldn’t be heard over the singing.  I took the call, but just kept on singing… I listened to Ron, my oldest son’s voice speaking from his home in Felton, CA.  Without a word I just held my phone up so he and his wife could enjoy the singing.  Today (Christmas) he called to tell me he and his Argentinean wife, Elisabet, enjoyed singing along with us.  So now Ron suggests that next year we encourage everyone to bring their cell phones and include distant family and friends in our worship and message.  Novel idea!  J

Kids make Christmas-time fun.  They sang with all their might.  So cute!

The shepherds did a skit ending with a song and dance. 

My grandson, Evan, (left) did a little jig at the end and I caught him with both feet in the air.

Edessa, a lovely teenage girl expressed her love for Christ with her beautiful voice.

As the choir sang again, this time my granddaughter, Michelle, played the keyboard and sang along with them.

And of course the kids reenacted the manger scene and made us all proud.

Pastor Lance Lowell presented the true Christmas message and at least two people took their first steps toward following Jesus.  

With the lights turned out each of our candles was lit illuminating the sanctuary for “Silent Night” and the final prayer.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Down is Up and Up is Down

I share my today's devotional with you:

Monday 12-15-14 (Martinez)      James 1-5 

S.  James 4:10  When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.  NLT

O.  Down is up and up is down.  If we bow down, humbling ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up.  If we lift ourselves up as if we were something special, God will bring us down. 

A.  During the past 25 years in Argentina it became in “mode” to seek a touch from a man of God hoping to fall under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  So I have watched many, almost every person that came forward for prayer, fall “under the power.”  This seemed to gain momentum and thousands were seeking to just fall down under God’s power.  Doubtless this proved to be a blessing to many, yet after time it seemed to be approaching a ritual.  Everybody lined up.  Everybody fell down with catchers waiting behind each one to help them fall gently. 

Personally I find it more rewarding to get down low before my Lord on my own volition without Him having to knock me down.  If up is bad and down is good, why wait for a man of God to touch you with his powerful hand… sometimes even giving you a helpful shove?  Why not get down on your knees or even on your face before God and pour out your soul to Him?

P.  Oh, Lord my God, high and lifted up above all other majesties, help me to honor You by bowing low in Your holy presence… down… further down… prostrate before You.  Send Your Holy Spirit to search my heart for hidden, un-confessed sin… and there down before You let me pour out my soul in true repentance and total surrender to You.  On my face I will wait patiently before You.  And there I will sense the glory of Your forgiveness and cleansing!  

Then it will happen!  Soon I will feel Your tender, loving arms lifting me up… up… up… into the clouds of worship, far above the dark and dingy world of my problems and concerns. 

Your “high” is supremely higher than the imitation “highs” which Satan offers today’s youth through drugs and alcohol.  And from Your majestic heights You do not drop us into depression like drugs often do.  As we return to our world of tasks and problems You are there walking beside us!  You promise to never leave us or forsake us. 

Emmanuel, God with us!  The God of the universe steps down to walk with me!  Wow!  Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Debt... Paid in Full!

My devotional today: 

Tuesday 12-9-14 (Hotel Tacuaremb√≥, Uruguay) 1 Tim 5-6    Titus 1-3

S.  Titus 3:3-8  Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us. But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit.   He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life.  NLT

O. Although the Apostle Paul was a fanatical Pharisee before his conversion, adhering to every tiny aspect of the multitude of Jewish laws, he includes himself in his description of the former lives of these Gentiles: foolish, disobedient, misled, slaves to wicked desires and evil pleasures, full of evil, envy and hatred.  But then… God showed us his kindness and love.  He was the Author and Initiator of our salvation.  It had nothing to do with our good deeds.  It was a result of His mercy.  He washed away our sins, poured in His Spirit and declared us not guilty all because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did.  And now we have no doubt concerning our eternal future.  We know we have eternal life!

A.  So many religious people live in doubt about their salvation.  They are hoping that their good deeds will out-weigh their lies, hatred and cheating and win for them a place in heaven.  They are never sure, because they are focused upon themselves and their flawed lives.  The wonderful good news of Jesus Christ takes our focus off our good deeds and stumbling failures and places it fully upon Jesus.  “Looking unto Jesus the Author and finisher of our faith…” Hebrews 12:2  What Jesus started, He finished!  He did it with a final triumphant cry, “It is Finished!”  Our salvation is assured us, not by our spotless performance, but because of His spotless performance.  Our attempt to climb the stairway to the stars always falls short.  But behold!  He descended the stairway from the stars and stepped down from His glory into a world of evil and suffering… and took upon Himself our sin and guilt… nailing it to the cross.  And this is “Good News” indeed!

P.  Thank you, Lord, for the blessed assurance of my salvation.  As I stood by and helplessly watched my darling wife, Frances, slip off into eternity… I could see clearly that she had no fear of the future.  She expressed right up to the final moments her exciting anticipation of her new home in heaven.  She knew that none of us can make ourselves worthy of Your love and generosity.  But oh the joy of knowing that all is well, because You, Lord. paid the price in full for our salvation!  Amen.

Note: My pastor during my early adolescence was William Booth-Clibborn, son of Le Marchelle, Catherine Booth-Clibborn, daughter of General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.  William Booth-Clibborn wrote many songs.  His most famous one was this marvelous poem to be sung to the melody composed by Eduardo di Capua in 1898, usually sung to the lyrics of “O Sole Mio” also written in 1898 by Giovanni Capurro.  I watched my pastor walk back and forth across the platform as he played his violin beautifully while we all sang these words in profound worship of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.  What a heritage I had as a little boy… in having this powerful, talented servant of God as my pastor! 

Read this poem… an expression of my devotional truths written above and if you know the melody… sing it from your heart!

Down from His glory,
  Ever living story,
My God and Savior came,
  And Jesus was His name.
Born in a manger,
  To His own a stranger,
A Man of sorrows, tears and agony.

O how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!
The great Creator became my Savior,
  And all God’s fulness dwelleth in Him.

What condescension,
  Bringing us redemption;
That in the dead of night,
  Not one faint hope in sight,
God, gracious, tender,
  Laid aside His splendor,
Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

O how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!
The great Creator became my Savior,
  And all God’s fulness dwelleth in Him.

 Without reluctance,
  Flesh and blood His substance
He took the form of man,
  Revealed the hidden plan.
O glorious mystery,
  Sacrifice of Calvary,
And now I know Thou art the great “I AM.”

O how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!
The great Creator became my Savior,
  And all God’s fulness dwelleth in Him.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tony was a Thief

Thursday Devotional 12-4-14 (Montevideo, Uruguay)    Eph 1-4

S.  Eph 4:28  If you are a thief, stop stealing. Begin using your hands for honest work, and then give generously to others in need.  NLT

O.  The Apostle Paul knows that very likely some of these new converts to Christ had been thieves.  It was in their blood.  It was what they were and it was what they did.  But now they were to recognize their new life in Christ.  They were to stop doing what they had been doing.  Some were born in a thief’s home and trained up as a thief.  Now after coming to Christ they are told go out and get a real job and start giving to the poor.  They will cease to be takers and become givers.

A.  Tony was a taker.  He was known as El Gitano (the Gypsy).  He and his gang were into thievery and armed robbery.  He was deathly afraid of the police.  He had served time in several prisons.  He had shot a policeman in a gunfight and seriously wounded him in the foot.  It was in his blood.  Tony was a thief.  Then one Saturday night he and his gang came walking into our all-night coffee and singing and preaching marathon in La Boca.  He showed great interest and actually began attending faithfully.  One night his gang came to the door of La Boca church and yelled insults at Julio, one of our workers that had treated Tony for a stabbing wound on one occasion.  Tony bolted out the door and chased them down… only to find that they had planted a policeman around the corner to arrest him.  In ten minutes he was back in church… but really disgusted at himself for falling into their trap.  He told me… “That cost me 30 pesos.”  He had bribed the policeman to let him go free.  But Tony seemed to be making positive strides in his new life in Christ.  One night we were all praying.  He was down on his knees with the rest of us, but he was deeply troubled.  He confessed to me that he was suffering temptation. “Is it women?” I asked him.  “No.  I am tempted to steal.” He replied.  We prayed together. 

He was now sleeping upstairs in the church along with several young men Bible school students, since he had formerly been living in a brothel.  The next morning he tried to awaken Willie, one of our Bible student workers.  “Willie, wake up!  I need you to go for a walk with me!”  But Willie couldn’t make himself wake up.  So Tony took the church keys from Willie’s pants pocket, went downstairs and entered the locked storage room and stole our 16 mm projector, transformer and portable screen… and disappeared.  I never saw Tony again.  I wept and went to the brothel where he had formerly lived.  I roamed those dark streets at night hoping to see him.  He was not there.  I sought him with tears.  I was not concerned for the loss of the projector.  I was concerned for his soul.  He was a lost sheep and I was his pastor.  

Years later I was told that Tony showed up at the church in La Boca and asked to see Rafael.  I had long since moved on.  He told someone there that he knew where the projector was and wanted to return it… but he wanted to see me.  And that was the last I ever heard of him.  Tony was a thief.  That’s what he thought he was.  That’s what he did. 

Many think they are homosexuals.  They say that is what they are.  That is what they do.  Almost every one of them that has spoken to me in private has told me how they were sexually abused by some homosexual man when a child or adolescent.  And somehow they were made to think, “Now, this is what I am.  It is what I do.”  Thief, homosexual, liar, expert at deception… and the list goes on and on.  Somewhere in that list we all find ourselves.  It is what we were.  It was what we did.  We saw ourselves as trapped in that lifestyle.  It was our identity. 

But then we met Christ. Things changed, we found new friends. We started to attend church.  We prayed and read the Bible.  But Satan came around to drag us back into his trap.  He said, “Who do you think you are!?  You know you are a thief.  You know you are a helpless homosexual. You know that it is your identity.  What makes you think that you can change that?” 

It is then that we need someone to walk with us down the path. We need someone’s help. We need a Christian friend. Our past is trying to close the door to a new and free future.  May I stir myself awake and walk with that trembling soul until he or she breaks into full freedom in Jesus Christ!

P.  Oh Jesus!  Oh Jesus!  I still pray for Tony!  I still weep for Tony!  Maybe he is still alive.  Maybe he is still hiding somewhere from the police.  Maybe he is back in prison again.  You know where he is.  Please, Jesus, go find Tony!  Take a Christian friend to him.  If there is life, there is still hope.  Don’t let him fall into the terrors of hell.  Oh Lord, so many are trapped into thinking they are something that they are not.  They see their sinful lifestyle as their identity.  They see no hope of change.  But Jesus, You are Our Miracle working Jesus. Help us to find them. Then please break the chains of Satan that have bound them for years.  Bring them into holy freedom…  freedom to serve You and live with You forever.  Amen.

Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers — none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God. There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you. 1 Cor 6:9-11 NLT

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

11th Hour Generation

Back to Jesus’ story in Matt 20: 1-16   11/26/2014

S. Matt 20:6-7  At five o'clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, 'Why haven't you been working today?'  "They replied, 'Because no one hired us.' NLT

O.  Jesus can pack a lot of punch into a story of a few words.  So here is this farmer guy going into town at daybreak to get his workers started.  Their pay is agreed upon and they go at it.  Then again at 9 AM, 12 PM and 3 PM. 3 PM is preposterous enough, but what is this 11th hour trip to the marketplace about?  The sun is setting in the western sky.  5 PM is no time to hire daytime workers.  Let’s pretend we are reporters and ask Him what He is up to.

A.  Excuse us Mr. Farmer, we’re from the Daily Farmer Scoop!  Did we understand you are hiring workers in the 11th hour?  Yeah, we know they were just standing around, but hiring at 5 PM?  Harvest?  You want to get in the harvest before it is too late?  What are a few grapes left on the vine to rot?  No big deal!  It IS?  It IS a big deal for YOU?  Not willing that ANY should perish?  They’re not?  What do You mean they are not just grapes?  They all look the same to me.  Different?  Every ONE is different?  Cultivated with great care?  Special value for You… hmmm.  

Did I hear you say something special about 11th hour workers?  You are calling 11th hour workers to give them a chance at it?  Sure, I guess there IS a whole new, very-bored generation standing around punching messages into their cell phones at 5 PM… or getting high on “smack” or whatever they call it.  So you are planning to keep calling them until sundown?  That’s cool!  

Hey, I’ve been just standing around looking for a scoop and nothing has happened in town all day.  Do you think?  Could you consider?  Might there still be… room in Your field for ME?  You have?  You’ve been calling me all day and I don’t answer my phone?  I’m on my way.  Count me in!

P.  Master of the harvest, please give me another hour to reap in Your vineyard.  Send me into that section over there where nobody has reached yet.  They may be just about to drop from the vine with their own weight.  Just let me go after them with Your holy passion and divine love.  Amen.

It's Award Day in Heaven

Tuesday 11-25-2014  (City of Roldan, Santa Fe)     Matt 20-22
S.  Matt 20:13-15 "He answered one of them, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair! Didn't you agree to work all day for the usual wage?  Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you.  Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?'  NLT

O.  Hey, that’s unfair!  I started at 7 AM and worked hard all day and this guy barely got his hands dirty.  No fair!

A.  Heaven is going to be very entertaining.  The moment has come for the awards to be announced.  This will make the Emmys, Grammys, Music, Arts, People’s Choice and Nobel Peace awards all look like peanut shells.  

It is the big moment in heaven.  A bunch of us Assemblies of God missionaries are all sitting together up front feeling very important… almost cocky.  At least we are pretty sure to be on the list of nominees.  Up here the awards are not going to be judged by some biased Hollywood voters.  God’s judgment is perfect.  He’s going to be “fair.”  You can be sure He is going to call up the nobodies first and end up with us.  You know how it works… the best in every contest is announced last as everybody holds their breath.

Sure enough, we had never heard of Sister Schneiderschnitzel. We are amazed at the big deal Jesus makes of this widow lady that never went nowhere and never did nothin’… well, nothin’ but pray for the missionaries.  Hey, did you see that diamond studded crown she got?!  Boy, if He starts out like this what will our crowns look like?  They will have shiny, blazing fan-dangles hanging all around ‘em.  I can hardly wait.  But I have to wait, because Jesus is not in a hurry and there are millions of us nominees.

Look at that, He just called up that former gangster who was just converted last week. We all applaud as he is handed a jeweled crown of pure gold.

And now he calls up a little old lady that only won a single little boy to the Lord.  What was the kid’s name?  Who cares?  Billy somebody… son of a farmer named Graham.  Did you see what she got?!  She’ll light up all of heaven with that thing!

Now we pick up the scene 10,495 earth-years later (of course there is no such thing as time in heaven).  Jesus calls all of us "front-row-AG- missionaries" up as a group.  Wow!  Finally this is going to be our moment!  I have my magnifying glass in my pocket ready to examine my multifaceted diamonds. One of my buddies brought a perfectly accurate scales to weigh the pure gold in his crown.  

Jesus is making the announcement now, Ralph Wesley Hiatt, who preached 167 times in Argentina in one year after passing his 82nd birthday!  I wave to the multitude as the rest of the AG missionaries applaud and angels yawn.  And finally Jesus comes to the climactic moment… “So now for each of these fine, well trained, expert, dedicated missionaries I give this nice certificate:
Living sacrificewhich, of course, was just your reasonable service.  Romans 12:1   (You can be sure they’re going to use the King James Version in heaven.)

Jesus continues, “Sorry, fellas, you’ll have to buy your own frames so that you can put it on your office wall, just above your beloved computer.  And now let’s move on to the soul-winning butcher on Hamilton Street in Picnicville, Arizona.”
I’m thinking (but wouldn’t dare admit it) “Hey, that’s unfair!  You hand me a “You did okay certificate” and I drove all over Argentina and preached almost every day!  I took advantage of every school that would invite me to share Your message!  I’ve been preaching the best I could for 60 years!  And that guy that Your awarded with a shining starry crown was only converted from a life of crime last week!”
Oh yes!  God is going to have a lot of fun with us over on the other side. J

P.  Lord, please get me ready for your delightful “surprises” when I discover that “the last shall be first and the first last” in Your wonderful, heavenly kingdom.  Maybe I’ll put that certificate in a gold frame and hang it right over my front door for Saint Peter to see when he walks by… or maybe I’ll just put in a big trunk in the attic. 

Truth is, Lord Jesus, I need no rewards.  You could set me ablaze with joy with only Your smile!  Amen.


Who Does This Vagrant Think He is?!

Saturday 11-22-2014  (Santiago del Estero)     Matt 11-13  

S.  Matt 11:27  "My Father has given me authority over everything. No one really knows the Son except the Father, and no one really knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."  NLT

O.  Jesus says stuff that no other would dare to say.  He is always coming up with one of these outrageous claims.  In the ears of the Jewish leaders they spelled blasphemy.

“Who does this vagrant peasant think He is anyway?  He’s pretending to be God, Himself!  Were you there the other day when He told a sick man, ‘Your sins are forgiven!?’  I heard Him with my own ears.  Just like that, wham! and a rotten sinner is off the hook!  Hey, even Jehovah God can’t do that!  Preposterous!  You’ve got to slay a lamb to get forgiveness of sins.  Everybody knows that. 

“Now listen to this: He calls our wonderful Jehovah God His ‘Father’ and refers to Himself as ‘the Son’.  Did you get that?  Not ‘a son,’ but ‘the Son!’ And poor, innocent people swarm to Him like flies on a carcass!  We’re going to have to put a stop to this!  I just wish He would quit doing all those miracles.  Simple, uneducated people are so gullible. They witness a few blind men now running around screaming, ‘I can see! I can see!’ and a few paralytics dancing around carrying their cots on their shoulders and ‘wham!’ just like that they shout ‘Hosanna! Hosanna! Make room!  Our Messiah King is coming down the road!’

But we, who are better informed, know better.  Why, it took me years to get this doctorate in Jewish theology. We have studied the law and the prophets and hundreds of additional traditions. We know stuff!  Just ask us.  We’ll tell you.  Want to hear a real exquisite prayer?  I can produce one that’ll make your ears tingle… by memory.  

A lot of those people following that Jesus guy aren’t even religious.  He attracts the worst elements of society.  He befriends the nastiest kinds of sinners.  You can tell a man by taking a good look at his friends.”

Stop!  Please stop the tape!  I’ve heard enough from this Doctor Whoever.  Reel back to those words of Jesus.  He is telling us that He can choose to unveil His Heavenly Father for us.  Does this mean that He can show us God the Father?!... the Creator of the galaxies of the heavens?  That’s deep!  That’s almost scary!  Jesus talks about His Father as though He is right there… not far away in the distant sky.

“Hey, Jesus, over here in the corner.  I’m Phil.  I don’t bug you much, but You talk a lot about Your Father… Just show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”  John 14:8  Then it falls like a bomb from the sky, "Philip, don't you even yet know who I am, even after all the time I have been with you? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!”  John 14:9 NLT  

That statement would make any unbelieving Jewish high priest tear his robes and scream, “Heresy!” 

 A. Got any ideas why they killed Jesus?  It was obviously because of Who He claimed to be.  Some people say He was a great teacher on the level with Buddha and other religious leaders. The Jehovah Witnesses claim He was a created angel. The Mormons claim He was a god.  But He claimed to be the One and only Son of the Living God!  That claim drove the nails into his hands and feet. 

There was just one little detail that the Jewish leaders overlooked.  He really was all that He claimed to be!  

P.  Oh Jesus, Son of the living God, show me the Father, too.  Open my blind eyes to see the Father in You. You are His personal Revelation.  When I look at Your face, I see the Father.  When I see you caressing the hair of a little child I see the Father.  When I see you stooping to dirty the finger of God writing in the sand to set free an adulteress, I can see the Father.  When You pour out Your treasures to a lady named Mary who sat at Your feet, I see the Father.  When You stand there speechless before a Roman governor with a royal robe cast scatty-wampus over Your shoulders, hands tied behind Your back and a crown of thorns on Your head… I see the Father.  And His amazing beauty leaves me speechless.  Amen.