Sunday, July 29, 2012

Confession and Happiness

Until I finally admitted (acknowledged) all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, "I will confess them (my transgression, iniquity, rebellion) to the Lord." And You forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Psalms 32:5 (TLB).

True happiness, relief from guilt, and answered prayer come only when we ask God to forgive our sins. God’s blessings follow confession and forgiveness. King David discovered that forgiveness brings real happiness. He expressed the joy of forgiveness when God forgave him for the sins he had committed against Bathsheba and Uriah (see 2 Samuel 11 and 12). God responds to truthful confession and repentance with total forgiveness.

God wants to forgive all our sins. Forgiveness is a part of God’s nature (see Exodus 34:5-7; Psalms 78:38; Psalms 85:2; Psalms 130:4). However, God requires heartfelt confession and repentance of sin to Him as God (1 John 1:9). God promises to willingly forgives our wrongdoings and covers our sins (see also Romans 4:4-8) and restore our fellowship with Him.

Sometimes, God will press people hard until they confess their sins to Him. In fact, a person’s physical suffering, pain, and sickness are often related to sin, un-confessed wrongs, and God’s hand of discipline (see also Psalms 38:2; Psalms 39:10; Hebrews 12:1-11). A person’s physical health is absolutely related to his or her spiritual well-being to God (Psalms 32:3-4). When a person refuses to confess his or her sins, God must deal with such a person to bring repentance (Proverbs 28:13). Oftentimes, the longer a person waits to confess and repent, the more miserable he or she will be.  However, healing and hope come by openly confessing our wrongdoings and sins to God. God loves to forgive and cleanse sin!

Psalms 32, a wisdom psalm of confession and thanksgiving to God, encourages people to pray for forgiveness before it is too late. As a wisdom psalm, Psalm 32 provides a pattern in responding to God for confession: (1) recognize your sinfulness and tendency to do wrong; (2) realize that sin is a rebellion against God; (3) admit your sins to God; (4) trust in God's willingness to forgive; and (5) accept God’s forgiveness. See also Psalm 51, another repentant Psalm.

So, confess your sins daily to God!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Does God Listen To Prayers of Sinners?

"Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah. Do not weep or pray for them (people of Judah and Israel), for I will not listen to them when they cry out to Me in distress."
Jeremiah 11:14 (NLT)

Does God listen to the prayers of sinners? The answer is yes and no. God promises to listen and answer the genuine prayer of a repentant sinner who seeks God’s forgiveness through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16-21; Romans 3:21-25; Romans 10:8-13). However, God’s ear turns away from those who purposely live in sin (see Jeremiah 11). 

In the Book of Jeremiah, the people of Judah not only had broken God’s Law (Jeremiah 11:2–8), but they even worshiped other gods (Jeremiah 11:9-10; see also Exodus 20:3-6). Therefore, Judah’s fellowship with God was broken so that He would not hear nor listen to their prayers (see also Psalm 66:18; John 9:31; James 4:3). 

God does not honor nor listen to people who continue to live sinful (Isaiah 56:11-12), ignore others’ needs (Isaiah 58:6–9), and disobey His Holy Word (Jeremiah 35:17).  Instead, people that continue in a life of sin stand in danger of God’s judgment and punishment (Zechariah 7:8–14). If people are unrepentant and continue in their sin, neither their prayers nor the prayers of others will prevent God's judgment (see Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 14:11). A person’s only hope is genuine repentance — sorrow for sin, turning from sin, and wholeheartedly turning to God.

Besides, God's blessings and favor come to people who are committed to Him as God and His Holy Bible. A heartfelt closeness and fellowship with God lead to answered prayer because God helps and answers the prayers of His faithful people (see Job 13:22; Job 14:14-15; Psalm 22:24-25; Psalm 91:15; Psalm 102:1- 2; Isaiah 58:9; Isaiah 65:24).  So, confess your sins and TURN TO GOD!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Make the Most of Your Day!

2 Devote yourselves (diligently, persistently, earnestly) to prayer (life), being watchful (alert mind, watchful) and thankful (thankful heart and attitude towards God). 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door (opportunities) for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery (Good News also called Gospel) of Christ (Messiah), for which I am in chains (imprisoned). 4 Pray that I may proclaim it (the message of Christ) clearly, as I should. 5 Be (live, walk) wise in the way you act toward outsiders (non-Christians); make the most of (or seizing) every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation (speech) be always full of grace (gracious, kind), seasoned with salt (attractive, pleasant), so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6 (NIV).

Are we making the most of our day?  Are you praying and talking to God daily?  Do you tell others of the wonderful news of Jesus Christ’s love and salvation available to them?  Or, do you spend your time in waste and depression?

The Apostle Paul encourages true believers of Jesus Christ to "devote" ourselves to persistent, persevering and patient prayer to God and not to grow weary or tired. Prayer requires a persevering drive, an alert mind, and a grateful heart. Our persistence and perseverance is a sign of our true faith that God answers our sincere prayers.  God is always present (omnipresent), listening and ready to help us (Hebrews 13:5). Nothing can be hidden from God and we can have no secrets from God. However, our faith should not die if God’s answers come slowly, for the delay may be God's way of working His perfect and best will in your lives.

Also, Christians are to take every opportunity God gives us to share the Good News about Jesus Christ to the world and to serve others. The entire focus of the Apostle Paul's life was to tell others about Jesus Christ and explaining His Good News of salvation. Paul encourages true Christians to be wise, pleasant, courteous, kind, and gracious as they tell others of Jesus Christ’s love and salvation for them.

So, pray-pray-pray! Only through prayer can believers keep alert to all trials as well as open doors and opportunities.  Finally, seize every opportunity to influence and tell the world of Jesus Christ’s love (Matthew 28:18-20). 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Forgive Others

3 If another believer (friend, brothers, fellow Christian) sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. 4 Even if that person wrongs you seven times (many times) a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord (Jesus, Master), “Show us how to increase our faith.” 6 The Lord (Jesus, Master) answered, “If you had faith even as small (tiny) as a mustard seed, you could say to this (large) mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you!” Luke 17:3-6 (NLT).

Do you love people?  Do you forgive others freely who repeatedly hurt you? Do you serve people faithfully? In Luke 17, Jesus challenged His apostles (also called disciples) to forgive and love others freely and repeatedly. Jesus’ apostles came to Him and asked Jesus to give them more or increasing faith to forgive others as if it takes great faith to do these deeds. The apostles' requests were honest because they wanted the necessary and essential faith for such love, forgiveness and service. But Jesus told the apostles they do not need more faith because the amount of faith is not as important as its genuineness.

Faith is a total and complete dependence on God and a humble readiness to obey His will. Even more, our faith must only be in our all-powerful and all-wise God and according to His Holy Bible (see also John 15:7; 1 John 5:14). God has unlimited power and strength, and everyone who trust in Him will see His mighty muscle. Jesus said to the apostles that if they had just a small seed of faith in our all-powerful God, they could say to a large tree, “Go jump in the lake,” and the tree would obey their words of faith. Like a tiny seed, a small amount of genuine faith in our almighty God will move large trees, tall mountains and any circumstance! Genuine faith in God brings major results that will uproot and destroy any hurdle.  As Jesus told His apostles, we do not need more faith because a tiny or small seed of faith in our God is enough. Even more, Jesus knew the apostles’ faith would increase as they walked in trusting obedience to God to love, forgive and serve others.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Love and Answered Prayer

7 If you remain (live, abide, stay) in Me and follow (obey) My teachings (words, commands), you can ask anything you want (desire), and it will be given to you. 8 You should produce much fruit and show that you are My followers (disciples), which brings glory to My Father. … 12 This is My command: Love each other as I have loved you. … 16 You did not choose Me; I chose (and appointed) you. And I gave you this work: to go and produce (lovely) fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in My Name. 17 This is My command: Love each other. John 15:7-8, 12, 16-17 (NCV).

A close union to Jesus Christ brings about answered prayer as well as joy and love (John 15:7, 11-12). A union with Jesus means to faithfully remain, stay, abide or live in Jesus. When we live and abide in Jesus, our prayers are effective and answered by God (John 15:7). To remain or abide in Jesus means to (1) live in close connection or communion with Him (2) live totally dependent upon Him as God; (3) live a life pleasing and acceptable to Him as Lord and Savior; (4) loving others sacrificially.

Jesus is the True Vine and believers are the branches or agent of God (John 15:1; see also John 14:13-14; John 16:23-26). As we stay closely connected to Jesus, believers as branches on the vine have life, receive nourishment, and produce good fruit (John 15:5). Sometimes as believers stay closely connected to Jesus God the Father will “prune” or trim away branches. God the Father is the Gardener and He cares for the branches. As the Gardeners, He will prune Jesus’ branches so the branches grow and produce even more good fruit. Believers bring God glory when they produce good and lasting fruit (John 15:2-4). Even more, this close union with Jesus leads to wholeheartedly loving God and loving others as Jesus commanded (John 13:34-35; John 15:17). Believers cannot gain this close union by their own efforts; this union is only made permanent through God’s Holy Spirit. But, the union does require believers to turn to God, away from sin and faithfully obey God (1 John 2:7-17).

John 15:12 summarizes the entire calling and course of believers of Jesus. Believers are called to love one another as Jesus loved by sacrificially giving His life for others. Love means giving sacrificially and unselfishly to others (John 3:16). Jesus sends His followers the Holy Spirit to live within their hearts to give His disciples the grace and guidance to live and love like Him (John 15:26) and conquer sin (Galatians 2:20).  Amazingly, King David – a descendent of Jesus – also lived and loved others just as Jesus described. David loved loyally, forgave others and even loved his enemies that tried to hurt him (see 1 Samuel 18; 2 Samuel 1). Other ways to give sacrificial love include: listening, helping, and encouraging others.  The key to answered prayer is love!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Prayer Really Works!

One day as we (Paul, Luke, Silas, and Timothy) were going down to the place of prayer, … A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns (of praise) to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive (and violent) earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” Acts 16:16, 22-31 (NLT).

Acts 16 describes the beginning of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey.  With this journey, Paul was accompanied by Silas, Timothy and Luke.  Luke was a physician and also author of two New Testament books, the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts. Their journey led the men to Philippi.  These men were going to pray when an evil spirit living inside a girl began to torment them. Paul eventually turned around and through the Spirit of Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave the girl. The owners of the girl eventually had Paul and Silas arrested, stripped, severely beaten, and placed in stocks inside prison. Paul and Silas’ future as at Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 27:65) seemed hopeless.

Despite this depressing situation, Paul and Silas spent the night singing and praising God in the Philippian jail as their fellow prisoners listened. The other prisoners and the guards definitely heard much about Jesus and His Good News of salvation through the hymns of Paul and Silas, as well as through their testimony of joy in the midst of suffering. While Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise, a massive and violent earthquake shook the prison’s foundations and all the doors immediately flew open, and the prisoners’ chains fell off. The massive earthquake is reminiscent of the great earthquake and the power of God at Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:2-3). The earthquake, the loosing of the prisoners’ chains, and the resulting panic led the jailer to ask Paul and Silas about salvation. Paul and Silas’s faithfulness to God caused the jailer and his entire household to seek God found in Jesus Christ.  The jailer believed in the Lord Jesus and he was saved and filled with joy. 

This Scripture passage teaches that no matter what your circumstances, we should continue to be faithful and devoted to God with sincere prayer and songs of praise (see Psalm 42:8-10; Mark 9:23; Philippians 4:4-6). Surprisingly, while Peter was in jail he slept as the church prayed for his deliverance from jail (Acts 12:1-19) whereas Paul and Silas prayed and sang sings of worship to God while in jail. In both cases, prayer and faith in God were the keys to their freedom!  Prayer really does work.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Hearts

“The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant (agreement) with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant (agreement) will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to My covenant (agreement), so I turned My back (turned away) on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant (agreement) I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put My laws (teaching) in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know Me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Hebrews 8:8-12 (NLT).

This New Testament Scripture passage Hebrews 8:8-12 is a quotation of the Old Testament Scripture passage Jeremiah 31:31-34. The Prophet Jeremiah predicted God would replace the old covenant law between God and Israel with a new and better covenant of grace ─ Jesus’ offer to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God through His sacrificial death on the Cross (see also 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). With His sacrificial death on the Cross, Jesus established this new covenant between God and those who respond in faith.

In the Old Testament, God made a covenant or agreement with Abraham and promised to give Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan (later known as the land of Israel) and to multiply his children greatly (Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:2-21). God repeated and expanded this covenant at Mount Sinai with the entire people of Israel (Exodus 19:1-8; Exodus 24:7-8; Exodus 34:27-28; Deuteronomy 4:13) and promised to be their God and commanding them to be obedient to Him. However, Israel often broke this covenant with God and they failed to keep the covenant (also called the Law) (see Exodus 32; Numbers 14:1-38; Jeremiah 11:10; Jeremiah 34:18; Malachi 2:8). The old covenant did not to change Israel’s inner weaknesses, inner hearts, or inner attitudes. 

So, God promised through the Old Testament prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel to provide a new covenant. This new covenant would change God’s people from the inside out by writing His covenant (Law) onto people hearts and minds by faith in Jesus through God’s Holy Spirit (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; Ezekiel 37:1-14; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18).  Thus, this new covenant would be based upon an inner, spiritual change.

Through God’s Holy Spirit, believers now have the power, strength and desire to obey God’s covenant law from within their hearts. The Holy Spirit gives believers of Jesus Christ new motivations and a willing heart to obey God (see Philippians 2:12-13). With new hearts, believers find joy in worshiping and serving God. Even more, the Holy Spirit reminds believers to obey God’s teaching and leads their moralities and desires to obey God with all their heart and mind.

This new covenant not only includes Israel but all people from every nation.  This new covenant is not written on stone tables like the old covenant but on our hearts and in our minds by God’s Holy Spirit. With the new covenant, God’s laws are placed in believer’s minds and on their hearts. Thus, believers have renewed hearts and minds, with God’s covenant as a central, internal motivation. A final feature of the new covenant is that God would forgive people’s sins and wickedness. A believer’s genuine faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus cleanses their hearts of sin and gives them a heart of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:13-15; Hebrews 10:14-18, 22; 1 John 1:7).

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Turn Your Hearts To God

The Lord says, "Turn (and keep on coming) to Me now, while there is time. Give Me all your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, mourning (until every hindrance is removed). Let your remorse tear at your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered (slow to anger); He is full of kindness (loving-kindness) and anxious not to punish you. Who knows? Perhaps even yet He will decide to let you alone and give you a blessing instead of His terrible curse. Perhaps He will give you so much that you can offer your grain and wine to the Lord as before! Joel 2:12-14 (TLB).

This Scripture passage gives a clear description of repentance, “Turn to Me …. Give Me all your hearts.” God hates sin and evil (Psalm 45:7) because sin breaks His heart. He wants all people to turn to Him and away from their sins. God wants no one to fall into judgment and condemnation (2 Peter. 3:9).

For the Israelites during the time of the Prophet Joel, destruction would soon be upon them if they continued to sin. The Prophet Joel, whose name means “The Lord is God,” called on the people then and today to repent of their sins and turn to God. God is full of mercy, compassion and filled with unfailing love (see also Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Jonah 4:2). He is freely willing to forgive if we turn to Him (Joel 2:13). God wants to love, care, and protect for His people and not punish them.

In the Old Testament, people tore their clothes as an outward sign of sorrow, grief, and mourning (e.g., Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31; 2 Kings 19:1). However, this outward sign would be a meaningless and useless ritual, unless the heart is broken in true repentance, remorse and a broken heart over sin. The Prophet Joel told the people then and today that God does not want just an outward display of repentance and remorse for sin without true and wholehearted inward repentance (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 23:1-36). God through the Prophet Joel told the people He wanted genuine and wholehearted turning from sin and evil. In Hebrew, the heart is the center of thoughts, faith, and will.

Be sure your attitude towards God is correct, not just your outward actions.  With true and heartfelt turning to God, He will send an outpouring of His forgiveness and blessing. But this blessing and forgiveness would come only if we genuinely give up our sins. Moreover, true repentance leads to the only escape from God’s judgment and wrath. So, no one should be afraid to come to God in honesty and humility because He is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and full of kindness. Moreover, God can bring blessings from the most tragic and traumatic situations (Roman 8:28–30) if we will only turn from our sins and trust Him.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Prayer Changes Things!

1 About that time King Herod Agrippa (the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great) began to persecute some believers in the church. … 3 he also arrested Peter. … 4 Then he imprisoned him (Peter), placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly (fervently) for him. 6 The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. … 9 So Peter left the cell, following the angel. … 11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent His angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” 12 When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13 He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” … 17 He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. Acts 12:1-19 (NLT).

This Scripture passage proves that prayer changes things! King Herod Agrippa began persecuting the church. This Herod was the son of Aristobulus, nephew of Herod Antipas and grandson of Herod the Great.  Herod's planned to kill Peter. While imprisoned, Herod had Peter guarded by four squads of soldiers, thus making Peter’s escape humanly impossible. In Roman military procedure, four soldiers comprised a quaternion or squad. Thus, Herod had Peter under the charge of sixteen soldiers throughout the night.

The imprisonment of Peter did not discourage the church assembly. The believers prayed very earnestly and intensely for Peter's safety (see James 5:16). God answered the prayers of these believers, even as they prayed. God sent His holy angel to rescue Peter from jail. While sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two sturdy chains, guards standing just outside the door, God led Peter out of jail and reunited him with his praying friends.

However, when Peter arrived to tell his friends the good news, his friends did not believe. Rhoda was so surprised when Peter arrived at the door that she left him standing outside at the closed door. Peter’s fellow believers were amazed by God’s answered to their prayers (Acts 12:5). Evidently the believers did not believe God could answer in this miraculous way or so fast.

This escape was indeed a miracle of God because of the prayers of righteous saints (James 5:16). The earnest prayer of the church significantly affected the outcome of these events. In fact, Jesus taught us to always pray, even if our faith is weak. So pray often, pray persistently and pray with confidence to God! God is always in control. God answers the earnest prayers of His people (see Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:1-13; Luke 18:1-8; John 15:7; Acts 12:6-17; Philippians 4:6-7; James 5:16; 1 John 3:22). Remember that nothing is too hard for God (see also Acts 4:27-31; Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Luke 18:27). God answers the prayers of those who diligently seek and do His will.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Faith and Forgiveness

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for (absolutely) anything (and everything, ranging from small to large), and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge (anger) against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins (transgressions, wrongdoing, trespasses), too.” Mark 11:22-25 (NLT).

Here, Jesus gives two additional teachings on prayer:  faith and forgiveness. First, Jesus tells us that we will receive what we ask for (see Matthew 7:7) if we pray with the complete faith in God. The second condition for answered prayer is forgiveness. Even though prayer is a most powerful resource, our prayers become ineffective and powerless when we hold a grudge, bitterness or hatred toward others (Matthew 6:13-14; Matthew 7:7; Matthew 17:20; Matthew 18:19; Luke 11:9; Luke 17:6). We must love and forgive (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-32; 1 Corinthians 13). Jesus teaches us that only when we genuinely and unconditionally forgive others can our most important prayer, that God forgive us, be answered (Matthew 5:23-24; Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Luke 6:37; Luke 7:41-43, 47; Luke 11:4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Jesus teaches that if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive our sins and trespasses (see Matthews 6:15).

Even more, Jesus teaches that God in His omnipotence can do anything! All things are possible if you have wholehearted faith in God (Mark 9:23). God answer our prayers because of our complete faith, dependence and trust in Him as God and not positive mental thinking or attitude. Regardless of an enormous mountain, everything yields before the simple faith of God’s people. Other conditions to prayer must be met too for answered prayer: (1) you must also be a believer of Jesus Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 20:19-21) and (2) praying for God’s will, purposes and desires and not our selfish, evil desires and interests (Mark 14:36).