Who do you eat with?

Who do you eat with? That’s an easy question. Most of us eat with our family and occasionally close friends. These are the people we normally associate with and the people we feel comfortable with. As a Christian being comfortable seems natural when around other Christians. We like being around those who share our beliefs; Nothing wrong with that. Except Jesus often didn’t take this common route.

In Matthew 9:9-11 we see Jesus eating dinner with the absolute worst in his community. In the New testament they were referred to as sinners and tax collectors. Interesting how tax collectors had their own category. Many thought of them even worse than ordinary sinners. These people were Jews, whose job was to take money from the common people, many of whom were poor and turn it over to the government. On top of that they overtaxed and kept the difference for themselves. In this fashion they were able to accumulate great wealth.

The religiously pious of the time, the Pharisees, were critical. They did not understand the purpose of Jesus. To reach those who truly were deep in sin, He had to be with them. He had to spend time with them. They needed to see that he cared for them. The actions of Jesus were never meant to display approval. They were meant to display love.

Should Christians today seek to spend more time being with and around those that do not share their beliefs? That’s the very thing Jesus did in order to reach them. It may mean being a little uncomfortable at times. But sharing the gospel will far outweigh this sacrifice.

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This one only comes out by fasting and praying

Living often means facing challenges, problems and obstacles. We often enjoy confronting these situations and overcoming. It confirms our self worth and validates our belief that we are intelligent and capable. But none of this teaches us to depend on God and trust in his power. Occasionally God allows situations that seem insurmountable.  Situations that nothing in our past has prepared us to deal with or problems that are just too great for us to solve. We are forced to turn to God for help. It is a wonderful thing when we can approach him with faith. But what if we can’t?

Perhaps this is a problem too great for God. Blaspheme you say. Well isn’t that what we are thinking, when we surrender and give up all hope? We are saying this problem will never be solved. This obstacle cannot be removed. God can’t do it.

Jesus explains that what we lack is faith. He also sends us to do something that has become less and less popular these days, pray and fast. We have become adventurers in a fast paced world of digital wonder and bright lights. Who has time for a quiet moment with God? But for all the wonder of our generation it does not compare to the power and glory of God. This is not discovered in virtual reality, but in spiritual reality. It is discovered on our knees.

This power can transform, heal, and enlighten. It turns sinners into saints, and the weak into conquerors. The foolish become wise and the enslaved are set free.

In Matthew 17 a desperate father brings his child to Jesus. He believes Jesus can set him free. The boy was afflicted with demons that caused the boy to have seizures, throw himself into fire and other times into water.  This evil spirit had every intention of tormenting and destroying this child.

The man reported that the disciples had tried and failed. Jesus rewards the man’s faith and sets his child free, but not before these words ” O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.”  Later he tells the disciples that to cast out this demon they needed to fast and pray more.

Taking time out regularly to pray and fast is not like doing an extra credit assignment. We shouldn’t do it if there is time and when we feel like it. We should purposely make the time to pray and fast. This should be quiet time where we worship God and present all our cares. This is time we spend remembering all the needs of those around us and our entire community.

The problems we face are great and real. Many we will not solve on our own. Faith in God will be required. The kind of faith prayer warriors and those that fast will have.

 

Stay the Course

For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. 1 kings 11:4

Staying the course, especially if it’s a long one, can be a difficult challenge. Preparing for a competition, seeking a new career, sticking to a weight loss program, starting a business or just getting a degree; there is an endless list of long term goals that can start with a fury of commitment but end with a quiet fizzle, like the air coming out of a balloon.

Solomon, one of Israel’s greatest kings, the same Solomon famous for his wisdom, was given a lifelong course. He was to remain faithful to God, so that God would bless his descendants. Solomon started out great. He asked God for wisdom and used it to make his kingdom great. He enlarged the kingdom, built a larger army and navy. Increased his wealth and gained famed throughout the world. But he also married quite a bit. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. That’s 1000 women to keep happy and listen to. In the end it was too much for even the wisest and richest man Israel ever saw. The bible relates that Solomon in his old age worshiped the gods of his foreign wives. God was angry and punished Solomon. Most of his kingdom was torn from his son, coming under the rule of another family, tarnishing the greatness of Solomon.

Our Christian life is a lifelong course as well with many challenges. There are many forces seeking to take us in different directions. Temptations that would cause us to sin and commit acts that do not please God, tops the list for sure. However quiet innocently we can relegate our walk with Christ to low priority without even knowing it. We can fill our lives with many wonderful and productive activities. Too many activities, like Solomon’s wives, can act to squeeze God out. We must be attentive to where God is fitting in our schedule. If there isn’t much time for Him we risk an even greater danger of failing God, as Solomon did.

Consider the time we spent on God, once upon a time, when we were on fire for Christ. There was time for Sunday school, prayer services and even a chorus rehearsal. Bible reading and prayer was a daily routine. Whenever a special program or service was announced we were glad to be there. No sacrifice was too great for our God.

Perhaps some of us are still on fire. We must stay the course and be aware of the forces working against our commitment. However if we are within the group that has grown a little cold don’t wait another second to seek God earnestly. Make a re-commitment to serve God fully.

A life worth living

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

My father, Cecilio was diagnosed with cancer of the glands at the age of 22. The doctors after much treatment sent him home with little hope of surviving. However, my father was a man of great faith. He prayed and placed his life in God’s hands. This week we celebrated his 80th birthday. It was an awesome victory. I especially am grateful since I was born after he was afflicted with this disease.

My father’s life has always been one of great dedication and purpose, a life worth living and a life to be proud of. He was born out of wedlock and into poverty. At the tender age of 7 he was sent to work at his uncle’s store, the largest store in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. This young boy was rescuing his family who had fallen into financial ruin due to his stepfather’s sickness. It was there that he first learned administration and professionalism. He would take those lessons with him wherever he would go. By the time he was 12 his uncle would trust him to be in charge whenever he couldn’t be there. At 15 his family was doing better and his father, living in N.Y., was asking for his son.

Cecilio arrived in N.Y. not knowing English and without a H.S. diploma. He worked all kinds of jobs, learned English and went back to school. A lover of education my father would continue his studies until he obtained a Doctorate in Divinity.

My dad worked as a registered nurse and later as a hospital administrator. However that was only part of his life. He was ordained as a minister at the age of 23. He had started preaching when he was 12 and would often preach before large crowds. The Reverend Doctor Cecilio Melendez, founded a church in Puerto Rico, was president of a council of churches in NY and has been Pastor of our church for almost 40 years.

My father has lived everyday for the glory of God. He knew early on that every day is a gift. He has strived to do all he can with every opportunity. Serving God, by serving his fellow man has been the focal point of his life. Whether as pastor or nurse, my dad has served with patience, dedication and love. He has been a light in the darkness and a fortress in troubled times.

While we celebrate his life it is important to consider our own. Every day is a gift from God. We must cherish them. We should strive to demonstrate the love of Christ through our words and actions every day. Ultimately we must please Him who so graciously bestowed this incredible gift of life upon us. Let us make it one worth living!

Faith during hardship

But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good,…. Genesis 50:20

When you are the favored son and daddy buys you really cool stuff, life can be like living in a dream; especially if daddy makes you a top manager at the family business, and places you in charge of your older brothers. This was the life of Joseph. He even had dreams about how his brothers were going to bow to him. Life was pretty nice. However his older brothers didn’t think it was that great. They sold Joseph into slavery and told their father he had been eaten by wild animals. Now this was a family with problems!

Life can certainly be unfair. Perhaps Joseph’s bothers had reason to be jealous, but he did not deserve slavery. Joseph did not ask to be loved more than his brothers. He didn’t ask for special treatment. When it comes to being in charge, Joseph really was more competent than his brothers and most likely deserved the elevated position. Perhaps what they all needed was some counseling and a family meeting where everyone could air out their concerns. Joseph was actually a good, faithful, intelligent son who deserved the admiration of his older brothers. Instead he found himself on a caravan of slave traders headed to Egypt.

Joseph is sold to a top general and quickly proves he is capable. He is placed in charge of the entire estate. Unfortunately the general’s wife takes a liking to Joseph and when Joseph rejects her, she makes false accusations and Joseph is placed in jail. By now each and everyone one of us would be absolutely furious. We would be screaming “Where is God in all this?” We would be thinking “I am faithful, hardworking and honest. I am talented, intelligent and I do a great job, how can life be so unfair?” But Joseph never complained. He was one of the greatest examples of faith in history. He must have known “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

In jail Joseph once again proves himself and is placed in charge of the other prisoners. He also proves himself a great interpreter of dreams. This ability made possible by the revelation of God.

Once pharaoh heard of Joseph’s ability, he was removed from prison and made to serve pharaoh. Joseph was then elevated and made the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. From that position he was able to save the nation of Egypt and his family during a horrific time of famine and yes his brothers did bow down to him. (Genesis 37, 39-45)

For many years life was certainly unfair for Joseph. At times we may feel like we are walking in Joseph’s shoes. But like Joseph we cannot lose faith. Nor can we grow angry with God or life. We must approach every hardship we go through as if it is a new opportunity to grow and become even better, because that is exactly the reason why we go through them. Remember God is not done; He is doing something great in each of us.

No more excuses!

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh….(Exodus 3:11)

Moses was having a pleasant time. He was relaxing while tending to his sheep in the quiet stillness of the night. However, for no apparent reason, a bush went up in flames, and didn’t burn up. Then the voice of God was heard. Moses was terrified and hid his face. Then it got worst.

God proceeded to give Moses directions to speak to the mightiest man on the planet. He had to tell the ruthless pharaoh of Egypt to let the enslaved Israelites go.

Moses came up with one excuse after another. First He said “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Exodus 3:11) In other words I am not important enough to speak to pharaoh. Then Moses said, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13) The implication was that he didn’t know what to tell the people who were supposed to follow him, the Israelites. God told Moses what to say, but Moses was not done giving excuses he said “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.”(Exodus 4:1). God performed several miracles before Moses to show him what he would do as proof. But Moses was still not satisfied and said “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

Four excuses, Moses truly had self esteem issues. He was certain that he lacked the qualifications. He must have been thinking “Just let me take care of my sheep, that’s all I am good for.” But he was wrong.

Many of us have had these moments, when we doubted our abilities or capacity. Perhaps we thought “Lord I know you don’t make mistakes, but there must be someone better for this task, responsibility, or position.” But we are wrong also. If God calls us to do something or hold a position he will equip us. He will educate us and prepare us. If He wants us that means we are the best person for the job. It could be a talent or an expertise we have or perhaps a quality in our character that God sees. God can see the gifts he has placed in us, while we sometimes only see our failures and weaknesses.

With Moses the excuses finally stopped and he did go to pharaoh. Ten plagues later, and a disastrous defeat for pharaoh’s army and the Israelites were free. The whole time all Moses held in his hands was a staff, but the power of God was behind him every step of the way.

If we say yes to God’s calling in our lives His power will be behind us every step of the way, the enemy will be defeated and what awaits us will surely be the promise land.

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A simple plan, march and shout

So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat….Joshua 6:20

The city wall was tall and thick, perhaps 13 feet thick (http://www.bibleplaces.com/jericho.htm). The city, Jericho, was ancient and filled with experienced soldiers, the bible described as “mighty men of valor” (Joshua 6:2). The proud people of this great city must have felt secured, armed with fine soldiers and a mighty wall. However God had promised this land to the Israelites. Surely God would give His people an ingenious plan filled with an incredible strategy never heard of in the ancient world, a brilliant military campaign that generals would be studying centuries later; not exactly.

God decided to give them, what amounted to virtually no plan at all. All they had to do was march around the city. The Israelites must have become the laughingstock of the ancient world. What was wrong with these people? Did they think that marching alone would bring down such a wall? Perhaps they could stomp their feet really hard and the earth would tremble just enough. How many Israelites must have questioned God and their leader Joshua after the first day of marching? They had marched around an entire city. They must have been tired. Day two through day six, they had to do the same thing. Then on the seventh day God’s request was even more challenging and hard to trust. He asked Israel to march around the city seven times, blow their trumpets and shout. We can only wonder  about the number of Israelites that were questioning the sanity of this plan.

However the majority of them must have believed. They trusted in God, while Jericho trusted their mighty wall. The wall lost. It came down and the Israelites took the city completely defeating those men of valor.

The plan might have been simple, but it wasn’t the plan or the marching that defeated Jericho, it was God. In our lives we must face constant challenges, and perhaps a more elaborate plan might be more comforting, but God remains our true source of strength and in the end He is the one that will give us the victory. Should we put away our brains and never try to plan or strategize? Of course not, but when all the planning in the world fails us, perhaps it’s time to depend on God. Sounds simple, however, that’s what we need to bring down a mighty wall.