Don’t Let The Light Go Out

Read Matthew 5:13-16, Isaiah 58:3-9a

A good number of years ago my family and I visited a cave in Pennsylvania. Inside the cave we followed our guide along a well marked and well lit path. At one point we stopped and  our tour guide explained that she was going to turn out the lights, and we would experience total darkness.

We discovered that total darkness really means total. I lifted my hand so that it was only about an inch or two in front of my eyes. I could not even see my hand, let alone anything or anyone else in the cave. I could see absolutely nothing. The lights were only out about a minute or less, but it seemed like an eternity.

As our tour guide joked about  leaving us in a state of darkness while she went on her break, I wondered what it would be like if we really were left in total darkness. I imagined that we would try to make it to the light of the cave entrance. But we could not see the light of the cave entrance, so we wouldn’t get far. We would stumble and fall off the path. We would lse our way. Before long we would be separated, each going our own way in the darkness, with no hope of ever finding a way out.

It became clear to me how essential light is to a meaningful life. Jesus knew that. God sent Jesus into a world of darkness. Not the darkness caused by the lack of sunlight, but the darkness which results when people are separated from God  and trying to live meaningful lives  on their own. It couldn’t be done. So Jesus entered the world to lead humanity back to the light – back to God.

Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, knew that he must depend upon his disciples to carry on this effort. He explained to them that they were the light of the world. If they were to be effective disciples, they must let the light of God in Christ be reflected from them to show the world God’s way.

Jesus had preceded his teaching about their being the light of the world with the beatitudes. . He first explained how God expected them to live and then he explained that they must be highly visible in the world so that the world would see Christ in them. They could not take credit for turning the light on, but they had to be in place in order for it to reach the world. God in Christ would be revealed through them. When they let God’s light shine through them, the world would begin to see what was acceptable and what was not acceptable to God. The world would see God’s way, and the world would see that it was possible to follow the light.

If they did not use the light, if they did not do God’s will in public, then the world would not know God’s way. As part of the Christian church today, Christians are expected to be the light of the world. God calls those of us who profess to be Christians to reflect his light to the world. God calls us to speak and do his will for all the world to see. And if we will not let our light shine ,  God will find someone else who will.

During my service as a pastor I frequently heard church members discussing why the church was losing members. I remember  saying at one meeting that in some sense we could take comfort in that we were not alone in experiencing membership decline, because many other churches were having the same expeience. Almost all of the traditional mainline Prtestant churches in the United States have been going through this for about the past 50 years. All kinds of explanations have been given for this, and most of them are right. Books have been written and read. Speeches have been given. But be the basic answer behind all the answers is that the church and its individual members, including the clergy, allowed its light to be dimmed by the ways of the world. The church became, and for the most part still is, a reflection of the world, rather than a reflection of God to the world.

As w seek to bring people back to the church, we must be sure that we are not simply bringing them to a building, or to an organization.  We must be sure that we are bringing people to find God.  We can devise ways, with enough people and/or money, to get people to the church. But the real question is, what will they find when they get there – when they see the people of the church up close? Will they find God there? Or will they find more of what they have already found in the world?

The people came to Isaiah wondering why God didn’t pay attention to them. They had obeyed the fasting tradition. They had gone without food on the specified days  and specified period of time. But God didn’t acknowledge them. And Isaiah explained that the reason they couldn’t get God’s attention was that their fasting was just an outward display of piety, which did nothing but serve their own image. While they were fasting they were carrying on business as usual , living the way of the world. Isaiah says that they cannot manipulate God through fasting.  If they want to please God, then what God really wants is not abstinence from food, but abstinance from their worldly ways. God wants them to change their ways, based on motivation from God and not for their own purposes. Their actions must be a way that enables others to see God.

How can we today, both as individual Christians and as local churches, reflect God in Christ to the world? That is the question we must always be asking and answering. Jesus first expressed his words about salt and light to just 12 disciples. He gave them responsibility to reflect his light in the whole world. One disciple (Judas) fell by the wayside. But the others kept the light burning. They passed the light on to others and the church was born. And over the centuries the church passed it on to still others, but continuing loss of membership in many churches shows that too many churches are not keeping the light burning as brightly as they should. In too many cases the light has burned out.

But of course, the light will never totally go out. There is no question about that. God won’t let that happen. The question is, are Christians all doing their part to keep the light burning? Are we living the Christian life, in such a way that we truly are the light of the world? When the world sees God reflected in us, then the world changes  and God’s kingdom grows. God’s kingdom will grow and be fulfilled in God’s own time. But when the roll is called and we are asked if we let our light shine, what can we answer?

Grace  and  peace,  Ray

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We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about February 20.

(you can contact us by E-mail at (pastorray8070@gmail.com).

———————————————————————————————————–

We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.

You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various  versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and  (www.biblios.com)

We also invite you to view our other web-sites, as follows:

* Our blog, Today’s Enlightenment at www.rohmnj.wordpress.com.

* Ray Gough’s e-book , noted below, which can be read, downloaded, or copied free at http://www.pastorrayhopesfulfilled.wordpress.com/home

              HOPES FULFILLED

                  A Spiritual Autobiography

    How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes

         of an ordinary guy from Jersey City

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jesus In The Voting Booth

Read Ephesians 1:8b-23

There was a time in the United States when the presence of a Christian church in a neighborhood was a positive feature, even if you didn’t belong to that church. But today, if you want to build a church, you are lokely to be condemned at the zoning board hearing as being a disruptive influence on the neighborhood.

The church was once a powerful institution in the western world. People would listen to the church. Even if they didn’t agree with or follow the church. But today the attitude of many Americans toward the church ranges from total indifference to outright hostility. The church is most acceptable in our society when it stays in its place. When it doesn’t get involved with politics or social issues. Doesn’t speak out against the evils of society. Doesn’t point to the reality of sin in the world. The church is okay as long as it keeps a low profile and doesn’t take up too much taxable land. And when it sticks to saving individual souls. The church has to a great extent adapted to that expectation.

The church today is much like the church to whom this letter was written in the first century. Then and now, the church is all too often not aware of the power that it has been given by God, and therefore does not use that power.

The power that the writer of our scripture is talking about isn’t power just for the sake of being stronger than someone else. It it the power authorized by God for a specific purpose. Power to participate in the accomplishment of God’s purposes. Power to cooperate wityh God in order to accomplish God’s plan. The writer explains God’s plan. It is “to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, out of a chaotic situation, characterized by an ideal relationship between God, humanity, and the natural world. Humanity has upset God’s plans so far. But through Christ God has assured that the plan is being fulfilled, in God’s time and God’s way. History is slowly but constantly moving in that direction – with or without us.

God has chosen to establish the church to participate in the fulfillment of God’s purpose. God has granted power to the church to do so. Specifically, it is the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The power which God has given to Jesus, over all persons and all things. That same power is given to the church. That’s why the writer says that the church is the body of Christ. The church is Christ at work in the world. God has chosen the church to be the means by which God’s plan will be accomplished.

As we approach election day in the USA, it is good to bear in mind that voting is one way in which we participate in God’s purpose, and to be reminded of what that purpose was and still is. This is also a time to decide to use the power which God has given the church so that we can participate in the fulfillment of that purpose. This is a good time to remember that the church does not only exist when Christians gather within the church building and conduct familiar church activities. The church also exists when individual Christians are scattered in the pursuit of their daily lives.

This s a good time to remember that as individual Christians , on Election Day, we are the church in the voting booth, just as much as we are the church in the church sanctuary. Yes, this is a good time to remember God’s purpose. The establishment of God’s perfectly ordered creation – the kingdom of God. It is a good time to remember that at the present there is separation and division – between nations, between groups and societies, between families, between individuals, and even within ourselves. Most of all, there is a separation between humanity and the natural world and God – and it is called sin.

This is a good time to consider where our loyalty lies – with our individuals selves, familiy our social groups, our nation, state, or municipality – or with God. If our loyalty is with God, then each of us must choose those candidates who we believe are most likely to develop and carry out policies and programs which lead toward fulfillment of God’s purpose of unity within all of creation. Not necessarily the candidate who will do the most for you and your family and your nation.

Yes, many people, even many Christians, say that the church has no business getting involved in politics. But they are wrong. It is the church’s business to be involved wherever there is opportunity to participate with God in moving humanity toward the fulfillment of God’s plan. It its the church’s business because it is Jesus’ business, and the church is the body of Christ. As part of that body it is our business to vote. And it is our business to vote as though we are Jesus in the voting booth. Because we are in fact acting in the name of Jesus in the voting booth.

Grace  and  peace,  Ray

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We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about November 11.

(you can contact us by E-mail at (pastorray8070@gmail.com). Please note that this is a new e-mail address.).

———————————————————————————————————–

We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.

You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various  versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and  (www.biblios.com)

We also invite you to view our other web-sites, as follows:

* Our blog, Today’s Enlightenment at www.rohmnj.wordpress.com.

* Ray Gough’s e-book , noted below, which can be read, downloaded, or copied free at http://www.pastorrayhopesfulfilled.wordpress.com/home

              HOPES FULFILLED

                  A Spiritual Autobiography

    How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes

         of an ordinary guy from Jersey City

Posted in Bible, Church, Discernment, Discipleship, Enlightenment, God's grace, God's Will, Hope, Jesus, Life Style, Power, Purpose, Trusting God, Uncategorized, Voting | Leave a comment

Start All Over Again

Read Amos 5:1-7,  Luke 17:5-10

Today we hear from the prophet Amos. In broad terms the situation he is writing about is this. A relatively small group of people are living extremely well.They believe that their prosperity is a sign that God is pleased with them They believe that God favors them because they faithfully go to the temple and follow all the designated rituals . Yes, there is  poverty all around them, but they believe that the poverty of others is their own fault. They believe that the poor people of their nation have somehow disturbed God, and as a result are suffering God’s wrath.

But God, speaking through Amos and other Israelite prophets, says that they are wrong. The affluent are not living well because God favors them. And those in poverty are not suffering because God is punishing them. The truth is that the well to do have devised various ways to take from the common people, forcing them into poverty, using what they have taken, to enhance their own positions. God says that no amount of synagogue attendance and following religious rituals will offset what they are doing. God wants justice and righteousness for all people. God wants an equitable distribution of resources.

God wants those who are well to do, at the expense of the poor, to change their ways. But they do not listen. They are too self-centered and self-satisfied. So God had to do the changing. God would destroy them as a nation. God, who brought them into the promised land, would send them out. Back into the wilderness. Not to punish them. But to purify them. To change them. To transform them. Strange as it sounds, in God’s destructive actions, there is hope. Those who hold onto that hope will be justified. There will some day be a return to the promised land. , where they can start all over again.

That seems to be the story of human life. God creates a good universe. Humanity perverts God’s creation. God decides that this cannot go on. God acts in such a way that humanity has to start all over again, with renewed hope. Centuries after the time of the Biblical prophets, like Amos, and the return of the Israelites to the promised land, God again found it necessary to give the people a chance to strat sll over again.  This time, God himself came into the world, in the form of the man Jesus. In the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, humanity was able to start all over again. In Jesus there was and still is the assurance that anyone who desired to be the person God made them to be, can be that person.

At first, Jesus’ followers didn’t exactly understand how that worked. They believed that the only way they could become who God created them to be, was by faith. Uutil they had faith, they couldn’t do anything.They were right about that. But they weren’t even going to try to do anything.  Instead they asked Jesus to give them faith. But Jesus said that they already had faith. Not much faith. But some faith. Otherwise they wouldn’t be following Jesus in the first place. Jesus told them to use the faith they aready had. Already they would be able to do things that they believed they could not do. They would  receive additional faith as God decided it was needed. For the moment, Jesus told them to place themselves in the position of servants. That was hard for them to do. It meant they had to reorient their understanding of who they really were. They had to start all over again.

It is difficult for anyone to accept the idea of starting all over again. Before I became a pastor, I was working as the Director of Public Relations for a church related non-profit organization. I was very happy with my job. I was doing “church” work. I was an “executive”. I was well paid. I was involve in important activities on a national scale.  I was reconized. I was “important”. That’s the way I saw myself.

I was sure that I was blessed bcause I was doing what God wanted me to do. I’m sure that for a few years that was true. But the time came when God, in various ways, kept on saying to me, “I want you to become a pastor. It’s time start all over again.  I told God I didn’t want to change anything. But God would not give up on me. God said, “You need to be changed. Transformed. And if you won’t do it. I’ll have to do it for you. I got you into this job (promised land). Now it’s time to move on. Back to the wilderness. Like it or not, that’s where you are going”.

For a while I didn’t hear anything more about that from God. Until the day came when my job was terminated. Once I accepted the reality that I was unemployed, I realized that God was doing what had to be done in order for me to become the person he created me to be. Before long I realized that God was calling to me to become a a pastor. This time I asked God to give me the faith I needed to start all over again. Go said, use the faith you already have, and I’ll give you the rest as it is needed. And that’s what God did and continues to do with and for me.

Most Christians come to a point where they believe they have all they need to know about what God expects of them. And they believe they are doing whatever that is. Especially if they are living relatively comfortably. They believe that God must be pleased with them, and nothing more is expected from them.

The prophets said no, you must start all over again. Jesus says you must start all over again.  The difference vetween the Biblical prophets and Jesus is that the prophets could only proclaim the Word of God. They could not change people. But Jesus could and still can and does change people, as he did with me.

During my service as a pastor, one of our small groups agreed to study a book having to do with how to respond to God in mid-life, when God says”Start all over again”. Here’s how I publicized this event:

Starting on March 1, and on most Sunday nights over the next few months, there will be an opportunity to invite Jesus to change you. We will be embarking on a spiritual journey. A journey upon which you can be changed, transformed, and born again. A journey upon which you can experience the connection between the Holy Spirit and our own spirits. A jouney upon which you can discover how to place your life totally in God’s hands, using what little faith you have.  A journey upon which you can start all over again.

What a difference God has made in the lives of those who faithfully participated in that study, and applied it to their lives. May we all begin or continue to hear God saying “It’s time to start all over again. And then, with God’s help, proceed to become the people God created us to be.

Grace  and  peace,  Ray

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We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about October 24.

(you can contact us by E-mail at (pastorray8070@gmail.com). Please note that this is a new e-mail address.).

———————————————————————————————————–

We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.

You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various  versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and  (www.biblios.com)

We also invite you to view our other web-sites, as follows:

* Our blog, Today’s Enlightenment at www.rohmnj.wordpress.com.

* Ray Gough’s e-book , noted below, which can be read, downloaded, or copied free at http://www.pastorrayhopesfulfilled.wordpress.com/home

              HOPES FULFILLED

                  A Spiritual Autobiography

    How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes

         of an ordinary guy from Jersey City

Posted in Bible, Enlightenment, Faith, Faith, God's grace, God's Will, Good News, Hope, Jesus, Life Style, Purpose, Trust in God, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Loving The Unlovable

Read I Timothy 2:1-7

It’s isn’t easy to pray for people we don’t like. For example, when I’m driving in my car and somebody cuts me off, or blows their horn at me hecause I don’t hit the gas pedal the instant the light turns green, it’s not easy for me to pray that God will give that driver patience. Or when I hear about politicans and business leaders being caught stealing from the people, it’s not easy for me to pray that they might change their selfish ways. Or when I hear about the crimes committed by drug addicts, it’s not easy for me to pray their recovery from addiction.

But in Paul’s letter to Timothy  he says “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people”. In this letter, he is particularly concerned with prayer for government leaders, at a time when Christians are not yet being persecuted as a group, but there are indications that such persecution by those in authority was beginning. But while he is speaking about praying for a particular group of people, he bases this advice on his understanding that God cares about salvation for all people, . He says that such prayer is good and acceptable to God “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”.  And the truth is found in the familiar verse,  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

We also hear Jesus praying in the garden  of Gethsemane that he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32). These and other Biblical scriptures make it clear that God does not limit his love to to any particular race, class, or nationality. Paul clearly understands that through Christ, God has shown that his love is meant for all people, even people we don’t like. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, forgiving all their sins”.

But he doesn’t leave it at that. It’s not enough just to believe that God loves unlovable people. He tells Timothy to pray for people who are beginning to show hostility toward Christians. And he goes on to tell the Corinthian church that God has entrusted the church with the responsibility of spreading the message of reconciliation.

Now why couldn’t Paul just leave it at saying that God loves everyone? Why do we have to love them too? After all, none of them really listens to us. But that’s where we are wrong. Some of them do listen to the word of God. Some of them do repent. Some of them do become born again in Christ.

I know that’s true because when I operated a small public relations bsiness (Horizon Comunications) which served small charitable non-profit organizations, one of my clients was a man who was operating a statewide prison ministry in New Jersey. A big part of this ministry was to bring the message of Christ to people in prison, helping their families,  and helping  prisoners to eventually lead productive lives. Many of the people he visited accepted Chtist in their lives.  But that’s not the whole story. You don’t have the whole story until you know that  he himself once served time in prison for murder, and in prison he found God. He found God because a group of Christians understood that God loved all people, and they were to do the same, no matter how evil and sinful they might be. 

Another of my clients was a woman who operated a Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility for women. Society saw the women who entered her facility as hopeless cases and had given up on them. But because she knew that God cared for all people, she knew they were not hopeless. And again, that’s not the whole story. She too was once a supposedly hopeless drug addict. As she put it, she had committed just about any sin you could think of. to support her drug habit. But she heard the good news of salvation through faith in Christ from some faithful Christians. Through these people she too found God. 

This man and this woman both found and experienced the presence of God in Christ when they were at the lowest point in their lives. These were real people who were so loved by God, that they became commited to expressing God’s love through their ministries. They were once people that most of us would find very hard to love. But they were changed through the Holy Spirit acting in their lives and in the lives of those who brought the gospel to them. There will always be people who we find unlovable. There will always be groups of people we find hard to love. And maybe our observations about them are right. They might be obnoxious, arrogant, , hurtful and just downright evil. But the Bible tells us that God calls on us to love all people – the good and the bad, the lovable and the unlovable. This is especially true for the people who consider themselves to be part of the church – the body of Christ. Not only are we expected to love all people, but we are to proclaim that message to the whole world.

There is no way that anyone can teach you to love someone who you believe to be unlovable. It’s not something you can learn. Actually, you already have the ability to love the unlovable. God gave all of us that ability. The problem is that we choose not to use that ability. So what should we do about that? We must open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make it possible for us to see beyond the undesirable characteristics and actions, whether real or imagined, of the person we say we cannot love. The Holy Spirit will make it possible for us to see in that person, one who is a child of God, with the potential for repentance and rebirth in Christ.

We can refuse the Holy Spirit entry into our lives. God gave us a free will to accept or reject what is offered to us. But when we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, it will no longer be a matter of loving the unlovable. It will be a matter of the unlovable becoming lovable.

Grace  and  peace,  Ray

 ———————————————————————————————————-

We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about October 10.

(you can contact us by E-mail at (pastorray8070@gmail.com). Please note that this is a new e-mail address.).

———————————————————————————————————–

We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.

You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various  versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and  (www.biblios.com)

We also invite you to view our other web-sites, as follows:

* Our blog, Today’s Enlightenment at www.rohmnj.wordpress.com.

* Ray Gough’s e-book , noted below, which can be read, downloaded, or copied free at http://www.pastorrayhopesfulfilled.wordpress.com/home

              HOPES FULFILLED

                  A Spiritual Autobiography

 

    How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes

         of an ordinary guy from Jersey City

Posted in Bible, Church, Faith, Faith, Forgiveness, God's grace, God's Will, Good News, Holy Spirit, Hope, Jesus, Life Style, Love, Salvation | Leave a comment

Jesus Wants Followers Who Want To Become Disciples

Special notice to our readers! 

Please accept my apology for not posting on our Ray of Hope Ministries web-sites for the past few months. This was the result of the combination of serious health issues in our family and a move from New Jersey to Florida. We are still dealing with the aftermath of some of this, but we have been hoping and praying that we will be able to overcome this disruption in our lives. I can tell you from personal experience that as I have often said in our Ray of Hope Ministries posts over the past few years – When what you are hoping for is in accordance with God’s will for you, God will assure that those hopes are fulfilled, in God’s time and God’s way. Every day I’m discovering how true this is. Thanks for your faithful support.

Also, please note my new e-mail address  pastorray8070@gmail.com. I will be happy to hear from you.

Grace and peace,  Ray

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Read Luke14:25-33

Not too far from Washington, D.C. is the town of Mannaseh, Virginia. The site of one of the first major battles sof the American Civil War. At that time war was still seen as something glorious. Yes, some people might get hurt or killed. But to many people war was seen as a game. And that was part of the game.  So it was in that spirit that many of the politicians and well-to-do people of Washington got into their carriages and drove to a hillside overlooking the field of battle. There they got out of their carriages and set up for a picnic on the hillside.

They cheered the union forces as though they were at a sporting event. It was such great fun. Victory for their team would be quick and easy.. But before they knew what was happening, the tide of battle changed. The rebel forces overpowered the union forces. Suddenly the spectators realized that their lives were in danger as the rebels charged toward them. They quickly got back in their carriages and ran for their lives back to the city. The picnic was over.

Now let’s turn the clock back about 2, 000 years earlier. It is very likely that many of the people in the large crowd which was following Jesus, were there because they either heard about, or were present, at that mass picnic,where Jesus fed 5,000 families.They were following Jesus because they were expecting him to do good things for them, like throwing another picnic. But Jesus turned to them and in effect said, “where I’m going there will  be no more picnics. I’m going to fight a war. You need to decide if you want to have a picnic or fight a war. Jesus doesn’t just want followers. That is, people who observe and experience the good things he does for them and others. He wants disciples. People who are interested in doing what he does and in becoming like him.

He is up front with these people. He explains that if they want to be his disciples,, and not just followers, they need to be aware of the cost. If they want to join him in fighting the war, and not just enjoy a picnic, it will be costly. They will be called upon to put their faith and trust in him above anyone and anything else. They must be prepared to give up family and possessions, and even their lives.

He wants them to calculate the cost of discipleship. Just as a farmer calculates the cost of building a watch tower. Or a king calculates the cost of winning a battle. Ask the question. Calculate the answer. Do you really want to pay the cost of being a disciple of Christ? Do you really want to engage in a war against the spiritual forces of evil? Or would you rather just follow along and every now and then stop for a picnic?

I imagine it was about the time that Jesus confronted his followers with this question that their ranks began to thin. I believe that most of the people understood Jesus to be saying, “if you find the cost of discipleship too overwhelming, then you should really give up the idea of being a disciple. I believe that, because that’s what most of us would hear if Jesus confronted us as he confronted those crowds about 2,000 years ago. And in fact, Jesus does confront us in the same way. But we don’t have to hear what he says in the same way as did those crowds. Because we know something they didn’t know. We know what happened when Jesus ended his journey to Jerusalem We know about the suffering and his death. We know about the cross. But we also know about his resurrection and eternal life.

We can hear his message in a different way. We can hear him saying, not “calculate the cost and if you find it to be overwhelming, then give up on the idea of being my disciple.” Instead, we can hear him say “if you calculate the cost, you will find it overwhelming, but don’t give up, because I have promised to fill you with the Holy Spirit. If you will just faithfully wait and pray. I keep my promises today, just as I did on that Pentecost about 2,000 years ago, when the church was born. Put your whole faith and trust in God and you will be my disciples and witnesses.”

Today Jesus is telling the church that the picnic was over a long time ago. He has been and still is engaging in warfare with the spiritual forces of evil. What he wants is disciples who will fight the war with him. Not followers hoping to enjoy a free picnic. He is confronting us today as he confronted those who followed him 2,000 years ago.

2,000 years ago his followers began to turn away from him rather than go on to become his disciples. We can excuse them. They didn’t know any better. But we have no excuse. We know that as individuals and as the church, we are able to be disciples of Jesus, and not just followers. All we have to do is use the formula Jesus has given us. That is, use whatever faith we have, to wait and pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And through the grace that we will receive from the Holy Spirit, we will become Jesus’ witnesses and disciples. When that happens we will then proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior and we will proclaim his kingdom, wherever and whenever it is, to whoever God sends us.

Calculate the cost of discipleship. Realize that the cost is overwhelming. But say yes anyway. Because your are able. Because Jesus is able. Understand, there is nothing wrong with following Jesus, as long as it is a step toward discipleship.What is wrong is failing to accept or use the grace of God that the Holy Spirit offers to and gives you, in order to  make the transition from follower to disciple.

Grace  and  peace,  Ray

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We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about September 19.

(you can contact us by E-mail at (pastorray8070@gmail.com). Please not that this is a new e-mail address.).

———————————————————————————————————–

We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.

You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various  versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and  (www.biblios.com)

We also invite you to view our other web-sites, as follows:

* Our blog, Today’s Enlightenment at www.rohmnj.wordpress.com.

* Ray Gough’s e-book , noted below, which can be read, downloaded, or copied free at http://www.pastorrayhopesfulfilled.wordpress.com/home

              HOPES FULFILLED

                  A Spiritual Autobiography

 

    How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes

         of an ordinary guy from Jersey City

Posted in Bible, Church, Discernment, Enlightenment, Evangelism, Faith, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Uncategorized | Leave a comment | Edit

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Faith Produces Hope In Hopeless Situations

One of my favorite activities each year is my participation in the annual Memorial Day parade. As I prepared for this again a few days ago, I thought about the meaning of this holiday and this parade, It’s one of the ways in which we remember and honor those who fought and died in the military forces of the United States of America, going all the way back to the American Revolution in 1776. 

As I study the history of the wars in which the USA has been involved, I realize that we have often found ourselves facing what seemed to be hopeless situations. For example, during the first year in which the USA was involved in World War II there seemed to be little reason for hope. The allied forces were losing the war in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Our west coast was in danger of invasion from the enemy. It was protected by only four aircraft carriers, two cruisers, and support ships. The rest of the 6th Fleet had been destroyed or seriously damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor. But in spite of all this bad news, there was a sense of hope.

During this time a popular song was often heard, When the Lights Go On Again, All Over the World. It was a song of hope. There was another song of hope, which we still hear and sing today, God Bless America. A prayer asking that God will cause things to be as God wants them to be in and for our nation. A song of faith. Where there is faith there is hope. More precisely, where there is faith in the God the Bible reveals to us as the one and only true God. When the things hoped for are what God wants, then that hope will some day become a reality. God keeps his promises. In those dark days, Americans had hope because most of them really did have faith in God.

I believe the reason that so many Americans are losing hope in our ability to win the war on terrorism today, is that too many Americans, over the past 50 years or so, have lost faith in God. And when you lose faith in God you lose hope. We’ve been so busy trying to be our own god. Trying to create our own good news, instead of  hearing and experiencing God’s good news  – salvation through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. So we just hear the bad news and live without hope.

That was the problem with Jesus’ disciples (read Mark 8:31-38). They were sure that when he got to Jerusalem he was going to become the king of Israel. And now he tells them that they are wrong. Jesus will suffer, be rejected, and killed. His disciples didn’t want to hear this. It didn’t take Peter long to figure out what the death of Jesus would mean for him. Instead of becoming Jesus’ number one man in the royal court, it would be back to fishing in Galilee. No Jesus. No hope. But they missed something. Jesus also said that he would rise again. Death would result in life. With Jesus, hopelessness would be turned into hope.

Paul understood that when he wrote his letter to the church in Rome at a time when many were becoming disillusioned about the Christian faith they had adopted. The more they tried to live as Christians the more difficult life became for them. They were beginning to lose hope. In his letter Paul gave them a message of truth (Romans 4:17-21).With God there is always hope. No  matter what things look like. God promises that Abraham will be a source of blessing for all of humanity. That meant that Abraham would have descendants. But this seems to be a promise with no hope of being fulfilled. Because, as Paul says, Abraham was “as good as dead, 99 years old”. But Abraham accepts God’s promise in faith. He believes that God’s promise will become a reality. And it does, because God’s promises are always kept. 

This year, in the midst of a war which too many Americans see as hopeless, is the 71st  anniversary of the victory of the allied forces, which ended World War II. The world was saved from the evils of the Nazis and their allies. Because that was God’s will. God saw to it that the hope of the American people was not in vein. We need to remember that in these times, the War aginst terrorism continues. A different kind of war. A war without front lines. A war in which any place and every place can be a battlefield. A war against terrorism. A war which former President George W. Bush explained is not going to be won on a specific date, with a formal ceasing of hostilities, and the signing of a peace treaty. That’s because the terrorists do not represent any nation. They are themselves an evil nation without territory or borders, intent on conquering  and imposing their evil will on the world.

This is a time to remember that God gave us the victory in World War II because we were a nation which acted as though we really believed that God had been blessing America all along. We were a nation which believed God’s Word in Ecclesiastes. There is a time to tear down and to build up. A time for peace and a time for war. We believed that Biblical wisdom, which could be heard in another popular song, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, and We’ll All Stay Free.

As the war against terrorism continues, I believe we need to remember and believe what God told the Israelites as they prepared to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. They too , experienced fear and hopelessness. So God, upon the death of Moses, spoke through Joshua, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you may go. (Joshua 1:9).

I believe that God created the USA for the purpose of shining a light in the world- the light of Jesus. I believe that God created the USA to lead in keeping God’s order in the world, so that the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ can be proclaimed. We need to do that around the world. We also need to do that here at home. When we have faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God will give us reason to have hope that in this war on terrorism, we will prevail. God will see to it, because that is the will of God.

Grace  and  peace,  Ray

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We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about June 13.

(you can contact us by e-mail at E-mail at (pastorray8070@yahoo.com)

———————————————————————————————————–

We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.

You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various  versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and  (www.biblios.com)

 We also invite you to view our other web-sites:

Posted in Bible, Discernment, Enlightenment, Faith, Faith, God's grace, God's Will, Good News, Hope, Jesus, Joshua, Memorial Day, Trust in God, Truth, Uncategorized, Wisdom | Leave a comment

The Holy Spirit Will Let You Know When it’s Time to Go With What You Know

Read Acts 2:1-24, 32-33, 36

Why is it that some churches in the same geographical area are effective in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples, and others aren’t? To say it another way, “why do some churches fulfill their mission, while others don’t. My experience as a pastor reminds me that some churches never take the time and effort to identify their mission. Others do an excellent job of understanding and planning their mission, but become so overwhelmed by the task before them, that little or nothing gets done. And then there are those who never leave the planning stage. They want to be sure that they carry out their mission to perfection. They want totally accurate and complete information about themselves and their society. They want to get it right, the first time. So they just keep on planning, never knowing when it’s time to translate faith based plans into faithful action.

One thing churches can learn from secular businesses is that there is really no such thing as complete and accurate information. They settle for adequate information, and then proceed, taking calculated risks. They understand that at a certain point you have to go with what you know. They know when they have reached that point when their financial reports tell them that if they don’t act by a certain time they will be out of business. But churches usually don’t think along those lines. Churches, all too often, refuse to believe that they can go out of business. So how does a church know when it’s time to move from faith based plans to faithful action? When does a church  come to know when it’s time to go with what you know?

I am writing this blog post the day after most Christian churches celebrated Pentecost Sunday. My suggested scripture reading (noted above) describes what happened on that day, about 2,000 years ago, which is often described by Christians as the birth of the church. Here I am not talking about church as a formally organized institution, but as the people who accept Jesus as their savior. I believe that the suggested scripture passage helps us understand how those people, who eventually became known as the Christian church, realized that it was time to go with what they knew as they experienced the Pentecost event.

I’m sure that before and during that event they weren’t engaged in strategic planning as we know it today. However, during the approximately two months between the time of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Pentecost event, Jesus was constantly talking to them about their mission.  I’m sure they talked about how to do their mission and their chances of success. They must have realized that everything was against them. Here they were, initially a small group of twelve ordinary people, looked upon or ignored by others in their society, sent by God to be Christ in the world – to change the world,  How did they know it was time to move out of the room in which they were hiding out into the streets to begin fulfilling their mission – proclaiming the gospel and making disciples more disciples?

Was it because Jesus had given them a specific date, and they circled it on their calendar? I don’t think so. What Jesus did was to tell them to wait for the Holy Spirit. For all they knew, that might happen in a few years, or maybe maybe next week or tomorrow. Was it that they believed they had learned all they needed to know from Jesus about how to be good apostles and disciples? I don’t think so, Because as the story continues, it’s clear that they are always learning something new.

Was it because they had received some insight which suggested that the political climate was becoming more favorable to them? I don’t think so. Because the initial comments from those hearing their preaching is that they are a bunch of drunks. And it wasn’t long before they found themselves in jail,, and at least one of them wouold be executed.

So how did they know it was time to move from faith based planning to faithful action? I believe they knew it was time when they sensed that Jesus promise that they would be filled with the Holy Spirit was being fulfilled. They felt that they were being filled with the Holy Spirit. They could not contain the Holy Spirit within themselves. They knew then that they had to end their planning meeting in the upper room and let the Holy Spirit guide and direct them out to the street, where they would begin their mission. They knew that God was using them as channels through which the Holy Spirit, bearing the grace of God, in the name of Jesus, was proclaiming the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus to the growing a growing  crowd.

For nearly two months, ever since Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Jesus, his’ disciples had experienced various of feelings – fear, disbelief, doubt, enlightenment reassurance, and faithful obedience. During this time they continued to grow in faith, individually and collectively. Finally, on this Pentecost day, they were filled with and  received the Holy Spirit. And their response was to go with what they knew. This meant not being concerned with whether or not they had enough knowledge, infomation, or training. This meant trusting that God had provided them with whatever they needed to move from faith based plans to faithful action. Not being concerned that they might make mistakes. Simply trusting that whatevder happened they could and would learn learn from it, and do it better next time. Not concerned that not everyone would accept their message. Just concerned that they would give the message, and let God do the rest.

On that Pentecost day this group of  group of twelve disciples of Jesus were the beginning of  a community of faith, which would become known as the church.  Early that morning that community of faith had increased from 12 to about 120 people. By rhe end of the day about 3,000, from nations all over the mid-east, had experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit. On that day, the church was born, and it continued to grow, over Asia, Europe, and Africa. 

Today we have an  advantage over the people of the new church of the first century.  We know from their experience how this works. We don’t have to wonder when we have to move from planning to action. We know that it will happen when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. And we know that will happen if we keep our hearts and minds open to the Holy Spirit. I believe many of us have opened our lives and are being filled with the Holy Spirit. And I believe that in God’s time and God’s way, the people who are the church will again be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit, and they will come to understand their mission. They will hear God speaking, through the Holy Spirit, saying “now is the time to “go with what you know”. Go now and fulfill your mission. And we will observe and experience a modern version of the Pentecost event. 

Grace and  peace,  Ray

 ———————————————————————————————————-

We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about May 31.

(you can contact us by e-mail at E-mail at (pastorray8070@yahoo.com)

———————————————————————————————————–

We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.

You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various  versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and  (www.biblios.com)

 We also invite you to view our other web-sites:

* Our blog, Today’s Enlightenment at www.rohmnj.wordpress.com.

* Ray Gough’s e-book , noted below, which can be read, downloaded, or copied free at http://www.pastorrayhopesfulfilled.wordpress.com/home

              HOPES FULFILLED

                  A Spiritual Autobiography

    How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes

         of an ordinary guy from Jersey City

Posted in Bible, Church, Discernment, Enlightenment, Evangelism, Faith, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Uncategorized | Leave a comment