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Faith, Prayer, and Forgiveness

In my last post, we saw that true faith is based upon a Word from God, with God as the object of that faith.  As the Lord was explaining this to His disciples, He makes a very interesting statement.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Mark 11:25

This statement confuses a lot of people.  They don’t know what this has to do with believing and receiving from God.  It also causes some people to ask, “If I don’t forgive someone, does that mean that I’ll not be saved?”

There’s a big reason for all this confusion.  It stems from our modern concept of the word, forgive.  Our generation has no idea what the scriptural word means.

When we say that you need to forgive someone, it’s a watered down version.  We mean that you need to tell the person that you’re not mad at them anymore.  Everything’s okay now and our relationship can move on from whatever caused the problem.

The biblical word for forgive has nothing to do with the above.  It literally means to pick up and throw away.  It’s like what you do with your trash.  You throw it out to the curb.  Then it’s removed, never to be seen again…ever.

With that understanding, now we can look at what Jesus is saying to His disciples.  Remember, the Lord is talking about standing in prayer.  This is about believing God for the desires that He’s placed in our hearts.

When you’re in that place of prayer, you’re having an intimate time with the Lord.  At this time, the Holy Spirit brings to your attention that you’ve placed a roadblock between you and another person.  It could be for any reason, but usually, it’s for a perceived hurt against us.

At that point, the Lord simply wants us to remove that wall that we’ve erected.  I realize that this is not an easy thing to do.

“Lord, I remove the issue that I have been holding against him or her right now.  From here on out, with your power, I’ll treat them like it never happened.”

This goes against our human nature.  That’s especially true because it has nothing to do with the other party’s desire (or lack of desire) for forgiveness.  It’s all on my part.

But understand, there’s a blessing that comes from this.  It paves the way for God to remove anything blocking His blessing from getting to me.

The word translated as sin, in the above verse, is the word side-step.  You’re on the right path following Christ.  But you made a misstep.  You haven’t lost your salvation.  You don’t have to “get saved” all over again.

However, there is something that could be keeping you from receiving all that God has for you.  In Christ, God dealt with all of your sin before you were ever born.  Now He’s asking you to do the same thing for a fellow human being.

If you’ll remove the thing that’s blocking you from blessing them, then He will remove the thing blocking your blessing.  I think that it’s well worth the trade.  Of course, in our flesh, we might not agree with that.

This is why we need the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.  It’s also why the Lord said that it needed to be done while we were standing in the place of prayer.

So, if there’s anything the Lord’s dealing with you about, take care of it quickly, and let the blessings flow freely again!

Question: How has God’s forgiveness changed your life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

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Do You Know What You’re Asking?

So often we go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for things.  Many times, in our asking, we don’t really think about what it will take for God to answer us.  There are even some times when we don’t want God to answer it in His way.

The people of Jerusalem are a good example of this.  They were very excited when Jesus entered their city in triumph the week before His crucifixion.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
Mark 11:7-10

This is a perfect example of people coming to God in prayer with their own thoughts on how they should be answered.  How often do we come before God in this way?

It all sounds very holy and good.  Hosanna!  It’s a cry for help to God.  It literally means “Save us now!!!”

What they wanted to be saved from and God’s desire were worlds apart.

They wanted to be freed from the oppression of the Roman Empire.  God wanted to set them free from the power of sin.  They wanted God to change their environment while God wanted to change them.

Then there’s the word blessed.  That’s a real churchy word.  It means to be worthy of praise.  In our society, we use the word Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!!

In other words, they were saying, “Yaaaaay!  He’s coming in the name of the Lord!”  That should have been a clue to them.  Coming in the name of the Lord means that He’s not going to do what I want, but what God wants.

The next line shows us that they were expecting God to fulfill what they wanted to be done.  “Yaaaay!  The kingdom of David is coming!”  In their minds, it meant, “Down with Rome and up with Israel.”

They were not looking for the Messiah to change them the way God wanted to.  They were expecting Him to make their lives easier.  It’s sort of the same things that we like to pray.

“Lord, give me a better life without actually changing me.”

Of course, we would never use those exact words, but it’s what we mean sometimes.  Fortunately, the Lord knows what we need better than we do.

That last phrase they were chanting is the most telling.  Hosanna – save us now – in the highest.  What would it take for God to bring this about?  What were they really asking for?  They had no idea what would be needed for this to be accomplished.

In order for this salvation to take place, Christ had to go to the cross and shed His blood.  Then it had to be offered before God the Father.

For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.
Hebrews 9:24

I’m so glad that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, but what we need.  That’s a great reason why we not only pray in our native language, but also in our heavenly language.  In that way, the deepest needs of our lives can be met.

Question: What are the greatest needs of your life that God has provided for you?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Asking in God’s Will

As we continue to look at the Gospel of Mark, opposition to the ministry of Jesus is growing.  There are many who are trying to take His life.  But in spite of this, the Lord continues His mission.

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.  Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.  “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law.  They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.  Three days later he will rise.”
Mark 10:32-34

The disciples still didn’t understand that the Lord was talking literally at this point.  But they did know that “rising” was a good thing.  They probably thought it meant that He was going to rise, as the King, to the throne of Israel.

This gave a few of them the incentive to move forward.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him.  “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Mark 10:35-37

That’s an interesting thing to ask.  Even the way they asked it was specifically the way they were taught.

Jesus told them that He would do whatever they asked in prayer (John 14:13-14).  So now they were asking.

But that brings up an important point.  Some people think that just because they can quote a Bible verse in their prayer, it automatically qualifies them to receive whatever they ask God for.  But is that what the Word teaches?

Look at the Lord’s answer to them.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said.  “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
Mark 10:38-40

The first problem was that they really didn’t understand what they were asking.  Of course, that’s why we need to pray in the spirit.  There are many areas that we don’t understand the scope of our need.

But even more than that, they had yet to understand God’s will for their lives.  Before I can pray effectively, I need to know God’s plan intimately.

The more time I spend in the Lord’s presence, the more I understand His will for my life.  Then, as I pray with this understanding, I see a greater amount of answered prayer.  John, himself, understood this later on in his ministry.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
1 John 5:14

John learned the lesson.  Prayer according to His will is answered positively.  Let the understanding of God’s will be your goal in His presence.

Question: What part of God’s plan have you understood recently?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Prayer and Fasting – A Foundation for Faith

Did you know that waiting for a problem to arise before you strengthen your faith is a bad idea?  Too many people only press into God and His Word when their back is against the wall.  Jesus teaches that the time to prepare is well before you need a breakthrough.

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9 and verses 14-29, we see what happened as Jesus and His three closest disciples were coming down from the mountain of transfiguration.  You may want to read that passage in the Bible before continuing in this post.

It seems that they walked into a storm of controversy.  A crowd had formed around the other disciples.  Bedlam had broken out.

There was a demon possessed boy whose father had brought him to them for deliverance.  They tried everything they knew, yet the demon would not leave.  Jesus’ response to all of this is important for us to see.

“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.”
Mark 9:19

The implication of what the Lord is saying here is, “How long will I have to be in this nation trying to turn you around?”  It sounds like Jesus is swimming against the flow, in a river of humanity.

The only way for Israel to get back on track is to trust in the Messiah.  Unfortunately, they want to continue in their unbelief.  Their “faith” is based on what they think is possible.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mark 9:21-24

Mark makes it clear that the main issue is about faith and unbelief.  It’s not about spiritual authority or how loud you can yell at the demon.  How deeply you trust the Lord is at the heart of the matter.

The Gospel writer wants us to see, through this event in the life of Christ, how to grow in our faith.  The point of this story is to understand how to overcome my unbelief.  That’s where the disciples are headed as the Lord continues His work with them.

Immediately, the Lord rebukes the demon and commands it to leave the boy.  The young man was delivered and set free from the demon from that day forward.  It seemed to be no problem for Jesus.

But the disciples still had some questions.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
Mark 9:28-29

Please understand that the demon doesn’t care whether or not you fast and pray.  Also, notice that Jesus didn’t tell the man, “Bring the boy to me in a week.  I need to fast and pray before I can deliver him.”

Jesus is answering the question of unbelief.  Fasting and prayer should be the lifestyle of a mature believer.  Fasting and prayer are what drives out the unbelief of our fleshly nature.  It opens us up to the manifestation of God’s supernatural power.

Follow the example of Jesus.  Walk before God by regularly setting times of fasting and prayer.  Then you’ll see your unbelief start to fade and a greater capacity for the miraculous.

Question: How have you seen the effects of fasting and prayer in your spiritual life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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God’s Watchfulness

We’re continuing to look at the Gospel of Mark.  In my last post, we saw that after sending the disciples off and dismissing the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountainside to pray and seek the Father.

He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.   About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake.  He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost.  They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”
Mark 6:48-50

The disciples didn’t know that the Lord could be up on the mountain praying and watching over them at the same time.

We sometimes think that God isn’t watching us.  Or maybe He’s simply ignoring us.  The truth is that the Lord not only knows where you are, but He also knows the quickest route to get to you.

There seemed to be no way for Jesus to be in a position to help the disciples.  That is until He started walking across the water.

He took the quickest path to the boat.  Remember, the things that keep us down don’t bind the Lord.  He knows how to show up in your time of need.

The disciples weren’t looking for Him to appear.  As a matter of fact, it seems that they were more afraid of the Lord walking on the water than they were of the storm.

If you’re going through a storm today, don’t be afraid, Christ is nearby and ready to help you.  Make sure you place yourself in a position to receive His help.  Don’t fear His solution more than your problem.

Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.  They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Mark 6:51-52

The weather is something you and I can’t control.  Every part of the USA has some kind of natural dangers that occur regularly.   Most of what you encounter in these conditions is out of your hands, all you can do is prepare for it, and do your best to survive through it.

Even worse, are the spiritual and emotional storms that we face.  Many times they come upon us with no warning at all.  These upheavals can sometimes ruin the rest of our lives.

The good news is that no matter what you face in life, you’re never alone.  When the disciples struggled to cross the lake they were never out of the Lord’s protection.

It’s good to know that when danger arises, He can walk on water to rescue you.  Only He has the power to still the storm you’re going through and never break a sweat.

The trouble with the disciples was that they had not understood all that they saw in Jesus up until that point.  Scripture says that their hearts were still hard.  They should have been able to expect the Lord to show up when they needed Him.  Instead, they end up completely amazed that they were able to survive the ordeal.

Remember that the Lord can make a way for you when the path seems hopeless.  Never forget to acknowledge His protective care over your life.  Even in your darkest time, expect the Lord to show up and guide you to a safe haven.  Yield to Him today and let Him direct you to your destiny in Him.

Question: How has God rescued you from an “impossible” situation in the past?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2018 in Encouragement, Faith, Power of God

 

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The Place of Clarity

Many people ask how they can get direction and insight from God.  The fact is that God always wants to speak to us; we just need to be in the position of hearing Him.  As we continue in Mark’s Gospel, we’ll see how Jesus heard from the Father.

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Mark 6:45-46

As I read the Gospels, I find that Jesus loved the mountains.  He went there often to seek solitude and to pray.  I don’t think that the disciples ever realized the importance of this part of the Lord’s ministry until after the resurrection.

There were many times where the best thing for Him to do was to dismiss the crowds and to send away His disciples in order to be alone with the Father.  This was one of those times.  He had just ministered to thousands of people.  That can be very draining no matter who you are.

When the Lord took on flesh and blood, He chose to live as one of us.  Because of this, Jesus was bound by the same physical limitations that we are.  He learned that you can’t just keep giving out to others.  You must also take something in that can recharge your own spiritual batteries.

It was in these mountains of prayer that Jesus was able to renew His Spirit.  He would seek the Father’s face and by the Spirit, hear the plan for the road ahead.  In that way, He could fulfill the work He was called to do without burning Himself out doing it.

How do I know that the Lord would hear from God in this way?  Scripture makes it clear.

When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land.  He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.
Mark 6:47-48a

I think that we miss the importance of this verse sometimes.  This was a direct communication between the Lord and the Father.

It had gotten dark.  The disciples were a couple of miles away, in a storm, and it was night time.  Yet the Bible clearly says that Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars.  If it were daylight, He might have seen a tiny dot out on the lake.

This was obviously something shown to Him in the Spirit.  That’s what happens in the place of solitude and prayer in the spirit.

What most people don’t understand about this is that being alone in the presence of God is the mountain of clarity in the spirit.  As a matter of fact, if you read through Scripture, the defining characteristic of mountaintop experiences is clarity of vision.

Jesus had to climb to get there.  It involved work.  It’s the same for us.  It’s not easy setting aside a regular time to seek the Father.  But the rewards are a clear view of the Lord’s plan for our lives.

That needs to be a lesson for us.  If Jesus needed this time with the Father, how much more should we be seeking the presence of the Lord in our daily lives?  Take the time necessary today to renew and refresh yourself in the presence of the Lord.  You’ll be glad you did.

Question: What’s the last thing God showed you when you spent time in His presence?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Are You in the Family?

At one point in the Lord’s ministry, His family thought that He was pushing Himself too far.  They decided to have an intervention.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.  When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3:20-21

They obviously had no understanding of the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Sometimes there are assignments that go beyond your normal abilities.  It’s during those times that you receive supernatural strength for the moment.

Look at the Lord’s response.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived.  Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.  A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:31-35

There is a truth here that not a lot of people want to hear.  We’d like to assume that as long as you prayed the sinner’s prayer, all believers are equal.  But that’s not what the Bible teaches.  We achieve certain levels based on the criteria laid out in Scripture.

One of those titles is sons and daughters of God.  We want to believe that this applies to everyone.  It doesn’t.  Jesus makes it clear that whoever does God’s will is family.

This implies something.  It means, first of all, that you seek God’s will for your life.  Then, you spend the time it takes in God’s presence to hear and know the Lord’s will.  Finally, you walk in obedience to what you’ve heard.

Maybe you think that I’m just taking this verse out of context.  On the contrary, this truth is taught throughout the Scripture.  Paul understood this very thing.

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Romans 8:13-14

You have to be pursuing this in the spirit.  It’s not a work you can do by simply deciding that it’s true.  It requires us to remain in Christ.  In that way we allow the Holy Spirit to complete His work in us.

Our problem is that we don’t want to remain.  We want the freedom to live for Christ some of the time, and for ourselves at others.  We want to go in and out as we please.

Jesus talked about this in another place.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
John 8:34-35

The original language of this verse reads, the servant does not remain in the house forever.  You can’t serve two masters.  When you try to serve both yourself and the Lord, you end up going in and out of the house.  You miss out on God’s best – the blessings of sonship.

Make it your goal to seek, hear, and obey God’s will for your life.

Question: What’s the next step in God’s plan for you right now?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2018 in Prayer, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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