Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Chains and Singing

Acts 16:19-28
    When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
     The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

    Have you ever wondered how Paul and Silas could sing hymns while imprisoned? And what was it about their prayer and songs that kept all the other prisoners from leaving? Whatever these men had, it was better to the prisoners than their freedom! Do you understand the power of this statement? This is not jail in America, with social time in the courtyard, guaranteed meals, latrines in every cell, TV, visits from friends and family and even school available to those who seek it. This is Roman imprisonment.
    The prison in which Paul and Silas were being kept was probably underground, perhaps dug out of rock. Often, the only entrance to such a prison was a hole the size of a manhole, through which both prisoners and guards were lowered. Any light came from a torch or oil lamp making the air smoky. No lights were allowed at night, so you were in pitch darkness. But there were worse things than the darkness. Food rations were half that of a slave ration; not truly enough to maintain life. Friends or family could bring you provisions...if they were allowed and were willing to brave being lowered through that manhole, to be lifted out at the guards' whim. And if they were willing to risk being associated with someone accused of whatever crime you were charged with. Most prisoners were whipped or beaten before being lowered in. Do you think their wounds were dressed? Bloody and in pain, they were manacled and left to suffer. There were no baths or potty breaks, not even chamber pots provided. Rats abounded; there were no beds or blankets, just chains. Prisoners often committed suicide, if they didn't die from the conditions and if they could find the means. Their bodies were piled in a corner to be lifted out later. By the way, female prisoners were dumped into the same prison as the males. No separate facilities here. And prison guards were usually the poorest of soldiers. I doubt they had much love for the prisoners whose crimes had forced them into this terrible place. Do you think they were pleasant to their charges?
    Prison for the Romans was not a punishment as it is today, but a place where you awaited trial or punishment. Punishment, when it came, could be enslavement. It could be a lifetime of working in rock quarries, or perhaps in mines, where you would never again see the light of day. Or maybe you would be made a galley slave, where you lived and slept on a bench, rowing a Roman galley until you died. If your crime was particularly bad your punishment would be death by crucifixion, arguably the most painful way to die. But before you received one of these punishments, you had to have a trial. And your trial came whenever they felt like getting around to it. If they did.
    So what was it about Paul and Silas that kept the prisoners, whose chains had been loosed, from running, attempting, at least, to escape this torture and the punishment that awaited them? What strange inner strength gave Paul and Silas the ability to endure this treatment and rather than cursing the all-powerful God, the worship of whom had landed them here, sing hymns of praise and pray to Him? What do you think you would do if thrown into such a prison for a crime you did not commit? Or even if you were thrown into a modern-day American prison? Could you praise God for allowing you to be falsely accused and unjustly condemned? Honestly, I don’t know what I would do. I think it’s impossible for anyone to say until they are in such a situation. But I believe I have had a taste of the joy that caused Paul and Silas to rise above their circumstances and focus on the eternal rather than the temporal.

    What about you? Have you ever tasted of the joy of the Spirit? I’m not talking about the simple pleasure that we often derive during worship time in church. Or the joy you might feel in the midst of good fellowship. Those are nice, but they generally fade as soon as the music dies or the fellowship ends. I’m talking about a deep inner peace, contentment and fulfillment that causes you to hunger and thirst for more. An addiction that drives you to seek the inducing drug, inciting you to go to extreme measures to get another hit. No drunkenness of wine can compare to the glory of this high. Like a lover’s caress, it’s locked in your memory so that you find yourself returning to it again and again, longing for the next embrace, wondering when it will come, how you can hasten it. Because if we allow him to, God will romance us. He created us with a desire for romance, and He is the best lover Harlequin ever imagined. This, I believe, is what Paul and Silas felt. This is what radiated from them, infecting the other prisoners with a passion to experience what they saw in these two men.
    Would you like a taste of what Paul and Silas had? It’s possible, you know. All you have to do is spend time with Jesus. He loves you. He desires you. Just you. Coming to him openly, unabashedly, wholeheartedly. It isn’t easy, of course. It’s difficult to have that with a flesh and blood person we can see and touch. To develop such intimacy with the Christ will take some effort. But if you try, I guarantee you will never look back. And you will not fail. “You will seek me and find me if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13)
    “So how do I begin?” You ask. I cannot give you a fail-safe formula for developing intimacy with the lover of your soul. But I can tell you this: when a woman sees a man she desires, she rearranges her schedule to make time to be with him. She sets up a date, puts him on her calendar, and makes sure she is available when he comes for her. So do that now. If you desire Jesus, look at your schedule; figure out where you can fit him in. He keeps his calendar open for you all the time. He’ll meet morning, noon or night. Whenever it’s convenient for you. Give him an hour to start. An hour would be a pretty short date with a desirable man. Does Jesus deserve at least that? A lunch date? Just a quick break from work to get to know him a little better, to find out if he’s as desirable on the inside as he is on the outside?
    I know the holidays are a busy time, but truly, that is why we need, all the more, to spend time with our Lord. Martin Luther once said, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” I’m no Martin Luther, but if a man like him needed much time in prayer, who am I to think I can get along without it? So I challenge you this holiday season, if you have never spent a full hour in prayer, to set aside one hour once a week, at a minimum to spend time in prayer. Plan it like you would a date. Get child care if you need to. But make it a priority. I guarantee that you will be glad you did it.

    Are you wondering how you could possibly spend an hour in prayer? I’ll share a plan that has helped me. Spend five minutes praying in each of the following areas. Set a timer if you need to, but don’t feel like you have to be bound by it if you do. Don't feel confined by the order, either. Let the Spirit lead you.

  • Waiting on God. You can put this after praise or before. It is a time to be silent before the Lord and wait for him to come to you. It is also a time to prepare your heart to meet with the maker of the universe, the Holy God.
  • Praise. The more time I spend in praise, the more joy-filled I find myself to be. If you struggle with praise, here are some psalms you could use:
Psalms 8, 9, 24, 29, 33, 47, 50, 65, 66, 76, 92, 93, 95-99, 104, 111, 113, 139, 147-150
  • Confession. Examine yourself. Think about your day, or week. Look for sins in your life and talk to God about them. Open your heart to him and let him show you things you may not have already seen.
  • Prayer for the world. This may involve some preparation work as you look into what events in the world need praying over. It could include things like praying for persecuted Christians, for the poor, the disadvantaged, for ministries like World Vision, YWAM and Wycliffe. It could be praying for the Syrian refugees or the people in the Philippines who are so greatly affected by the recent storm. Open yourself up and let God lead you in this.
  • Intercession. This is prayer for people you know. People at church, friends, neighbors, your country and city, etc. Again, you may want to prepare by having a list. Once you start writing things down you may feel five minutes is not nearly enough time. Remember, it is not our many words but the simple act of lifting a thing up to God. The Spirit prays for us, too!
  • Petition. This is a time of prayer for personal needs and family. Resist the urge to tell God what he should do. Rather, lift people up. Here is an excellent list of the prayers of Paul, arranged topically.
  • Thanksgiving. If you’re going through a tough time right now, this may seem difficult. If so, think of anything good in your life. Do you have a vehicle that works? Clothes to wear? A house? A beloved pet? Food? Health? Even partial health? Do your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and nerves work? Do you have two arms, two legs? There are many who do not have these things. Learn to appreciate the things you do not lack.
  • Singing. Take some time to sing a song of praise to God, or listen to one if you don’t like to sing. It is a wonderful way to lift up praise to him.
  • Read the scriptures. Just a chapter or two. Whatever you can read in five minutes.
  • Meditate on what you have just read. Does it talk about a sin you should avoid? Does it give you an example to follow? Does it speak of a command or promise God gives us? What lesson can you take away from it.
  • Listen to God. What does he have to say to you. This is one of the most difficult things to do.  Simply sitting silent, waiting to hear from God. Maybe he will speak, maybe not. You will never know if you don’t stop to listen, though.
  • End your time with more praise. Praising and glorifying God is, after all, what we were created for. And it is where we are closest to him.

If you commit yourself to God and give him this time, I promise that you will find yourself wondering where the hour went and wishing you could spend more time with the Lord. And you will begin to taste that joy and glory that made Paul and Silas sing in prison.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

John 20-21 "Follow Me"

The Day is Dawning...
From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised! Psalm 113:3
  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…"  Galatians 4:4

In God's perfect timing, JESUS was sent to mankind with a mission that would bring PEACE & LIFE. John the Baptist was chosen by God and in the spirit of Elijah he was sent to prepare the way for the first coming of the Christ!  There were many in Israel at the time who were faithfully waiting & looking for the Messiah to come. Even so, the Bible says that many missed HIS COMING. Jesus was not quite what they were expecting. Though He was full of glory and grace, the people's hard fickle hearts refused to believe.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3 

Through out the book of John we see the life, ministry - works & Words -  of Jesus Christ. Instead of the warrior Messiah the Jews expected, Jesus was the suffering servant who first came to pay the price for our sins. Jesus was faithful to the end obeying the will of the Father with perfection. There is none like our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ!  

The angels sang in a mighty chorus: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered--to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." Revelation 5:12 
When the mission was accomplished on that cross, His last words "It is finished!" echoed as a victorious battle cry!  The viel was torn in the temple signifying that a way to GOD had been made! By His wounds we are healed, restored, and redeemed! 

John 20 opens with

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. John 20:1

Mary runs and tells the disciples in which Peter and John take off towards the tomb. Neither predicted that Jesus would rise that day but John said in verse 8 that they "saw and believed"! They went back to tell the others but Mary stayed. She did not understand and was seeking His body. She was seekingand she found HIM!  Jesus appeared and when He spoke her name her eyes were open and she SAW HIM! 


Mary Magdalene is an example of a true committed follower. Her love for Jesus was apparent and showed by her actions. What about us 2000 years later?  

What do your actions reveal about what you are "seeking" or living for in this world? 

Matthew 7:7 says,  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking!  

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ Christ is the single greatest event in the history of the world. It is so foundational to Christianity that no one who denies it can be a true Christian. Without the resurrection there is no Chrsitian faith, no salvation, and no hope. The foundation of all our hope is expressed in Jesus’s own words, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in ME though he may die, yet he shall live.” John 11:25 and Because I live, you wll live also. 14:19"  - John MacArthur

 Encounters with the risen LORD = LIFE CHANGE:

1.  Jesus first appears to his disciples (minus Thomas) that very Sunday evening.  We see that the disciples are not holding on to the words of Jesus from John 14 to not be troubled!  They were afraid of the Jews and so they had locked themselves in the room where they were meeting. Jesus appeared and stood among them. He spoke, “PEACE be with you” . Note the beauty of His words. Now that His work "is finished" there is PEACE with God.  "Since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God by our LORD Jesus Christ" Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14-17. We have peace with God and are called to walk in His Peace. Jesus showed His disciples His nail pierced hands - they rejoiced & were sure glad to see Him! 
Again Jesus said, “PEACE be with you." PEACE is His will. He provides us PEACE and told the disciples "do not let your hearts be troubled." (John 14:27)  May HIS PEACE reign in our hearts & minds as we trust & follow Him.

In this first encounter, Jesus does an amazing thing as He prepares His disciples for what is next.  John 20:21 reads, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when He said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Recieve the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." 
Interesting notes:
  • The greek word for breath here is a rare term emphysao. In  Gen 2:7 the exact same term is used. "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."  
  • In Genesis God breathed into Adam and created life -  a living being. 
  • In John we see Jesus breathing on His disciples and we see the symbolic picture of the "new birth" of spiritual Life! This is the new birth Jesus was describing to Nicodemis in John 3 for all those who receive Jesus through faith.
  • Think about this:  God breathed into the first Adam in the garden and created a living being. Jesus, also known as the last Adam, breathed on the disciples with the life giving Spirit. There is new heavenly & Spiritual life through Jesus Christ.  
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man." 
  • Jesus breaths on His disciples and we see the dawning of a new era! Jesus earthly mission work is finished. The disciples' work was just beginning!  They are chosen and called to declare the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is forgiveness for all those who look to Jesus, repent of their sins, and receive His word in Faith. There is forgiveness in no other way. So if one rejects this way, their sins are not forgiven. The disciples did not decide this, God did. The disciples are called to proclaim and declare the path to peace and forgiveness and peace with God. In Acts, we see Peter & the disicples filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and doing this with great boldness and love! 
"As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you", Jesus spoke to His followers.  We also are called to obey and depend on God as we live on mission here!  Jesus is our example to Follow and He provides the Life giving Spirit!  Jesus sent the HOLY Spirit as our Help!  John 15 speaks on the vital importance of abiding in HIM and the necessity of the Spirit of God in our lives. Apart from HIM we can do NO GOOD thing!

 How are you carrying out the call as one who is "sent"?

Do you blend in with the ways of our culture or are you diligent to walk in an opposite manner?

2.  In the second encounter, Jesus reveals himself to Thomas. Thomas was not there on Sunday at the first encounter and he refused to believe the disciples word without seeing for himself. 
Jesus in his omniscience knew these doubts in Thomas.  So 8 days later he shows THOMAS His hands in which Thomas responds,  “My LORD & My God!”  Jesus cares about each one of HIS sheep and intentionally prepared each of them for what the future would hold.  Many would not have the joy of seeing the risen LORD first hand, but Jesus said those who believe by the word alone will be blessed.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29 

At the end of John 20 we see the clear purpose statement of the book from the author:
"...but these are written so that you  may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His name." John 20:31

May your faith and belief be strengthened and perfected as you seek HIM.

3.  Third encounter: A new day as Peter is restored and given a charge to keep.

Peter had already seen the risen LORD, but it seems he was still unsure of what he was to be doing. So he decided to go back to what he did before he met Jesus and went fishing. Six other of the disicples followed.  
Peter & the disciples fished all night catching nothing. 
“...just as the day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore…" John 21:4
Jesus stood on the shore but the disciples did not recognize him. He was about 100 yards away and asked if they had caught anything. The disciples replied, "No", and so Jesus told them to cast their nets now on the right side of the boat in which they found a great catch of fish!  John recognized Jesus now & Peter jumps out of the boat to go to Him. 

In Luke 5:4-7 & Matt. 4 we see a very similar fishing example. This is when Jesus first called Peter to be his disciple.  In the same way, Jesus shows up and tells the "professional" fishermen what to do. Peter obeys and gains a great reward of fish! On this day Jesus told Peter,  “You will now fish for men!” Luke 5:7  

Do you ever get confused or discouraged about what God has for you? 

Have you ever "forgotten" what it is you are to be doing?

It is easy and natural to get off track and even resort to our "old life"(life before faith). Often our flesh, the cares of this world, or/and the enemy can lead us astray. But GOD, who is rich in mercy & steadfast love, will never leave us. He restores our soul. (Psalm 23:3) 

"Come and have breakfast." John 21:12

  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep. He provides not only spiriutal nourishment but physical as well. Jesus made breakfast for Peter and then spoke into his life. The words and way of Jesus redirected & refueled Peter's longing soul. Jesus gave him the vision and empowerment needed for what would lay ahead. This seemed to be a painful & uncomfortable conversation for Peter but the end result was RESOLVE, PURPOSE, and PEACE.

Jesus told Peter, "Follow me. I will make you a fisher of men. Follow Me. You follow me!" (Matt 4, John 21)

After this encounter and after Pentecost we see a new man in Simon Peter! In Acts Peter proclaims Jesus as the risen LORD with great boldness and power to the Chief Priest & through out the world.

In 1 Peter, we see words of encouragment sent to the Messianic Jews who were scattered throughout the regions. He tells the Christians who they are and what they are called to do: 
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojouners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the gentiles (unbelievers) honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildores, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:9-12

Not looking to the left or the right we are called to follow with our eyes fixed on Christ!  I'm afraid too many who call themselves "Christians" either do not know or have forgotten that this world is not our home. We have gotten too comfortable here with our pleasure filled, self seeking society and  our convenient American lives. We don't want to get messy or get out of our comfort zones. We prefer things our way and right now!  Many of us don't act much differently than the kids we see around us who demand their way and we wonder where they get it!

When is the last time you gave of your time, resources, or talents until it hurt for the Kingdom of God? We often give out of our wealth and convience verses out of sacrificial love & adoration of the KING & for His beloved Kingdom.

God is ALIVE!  His Kingdom is coming!  He is doing a new thing in me. He is doing a new thing in HIS church. 

 How are you preparing the way?

May this generation be found faithful and true.

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth. (He spoke and it was.) Genesis 1

In the begining was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. John 1:1;14

"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in[d] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God." Revelation 19:11-13

Advent - Waiting with expectation for HIS COMING!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good News of Great Joy

Here is another wonderful free advent devotional.

We are already on day 4 but it is NEVER too late to spend time in His word. Commit yourself to read the Bible, even if it is just a verse. Trust me. It is intoxicating and soon you will be reading whole chapters everyday.

Make NO excuses! 
You DO have the time! 
NOTHING is more important!

John Piper is offering this wonderful devotional as a FREE download on his website.
Come check it out!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advent Family Ideas and a challenge

With all the focus on shopping and having the right kind of decorations and the perfect gift, it is easy to forget what Christmas is really about. 
THE perfect gift was given to us on a Christmas morning over 2,000 years ago. Yet not all of us have opened that gift and lived a life worthy of that gift. 
"But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment. Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness." 2 Peter 3:10-11 MSG
 Do we live like He is coming back today? Or are we too focused on the world? Are we putting up a Christmas tree or are we going with the new cultural norm of Holiday tree? 

So here is our challenge to you: worship the King this Christmas. Center the season with your family around the manger. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.
And a challenge that I encourage you to download, print and keep in your Bibles, post on your fridge.

How do YOU keep Christ in Christmas? Share with us!

Truth In the Tinsel. Download the book here.

This website has ton of ideas for free Christmas activities for your family.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jesus' Farewell in John 15-16-17

"Rise let us go from here"...... are the words Jesus spoke at the end of John 14. 
Rise, do not let the world drag you down....
let us go from here......
Remember friends, this world is not our own......

 I am the True Vine
 God's vineyard is a common Old Testament imagery for Israel. Read through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Psalm and Ezekiel and you will find countless mention of the vineyard.
  I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.
Isaiah 5:1-2
 God carefully cultivated His vineyard and in due time expected good fruits from it. Prophets after prophets warned the people of Israel about the impending doom of the fall and captivity. Israel was already captive of its own desires and selfish ambition and turned a deaf ear to the warnings. God's hand of protection was removed from them.

"I am the true vine and my father is the vinedresser." John 15:1

John here is not suggesting a replacement theology. WE are not the new vine, WE are not the new Israel.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the good fruits the vine will bear.
 What does this mean for us? Does it mean that we are good to go once we are "Christians"? In God's economy there is no fire insurance.

Jesus cam so that the Father may be glorified. We have a choice to to go along with the plan and glorify God through Jesus or be thrown into the fire.....

I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life...
NOBODY comes to the Father but through me.
 Can grape grow and live outside of the vine?
If we are the grapes we can only live if still attached to the vine.

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." John 15:7

Ladies, we have been faithful in reading and studying the word and I encourage you to on going. Never give up. The stakes are too high!

Any gardener knows that for a plant to flourish you have to prune it. I learned this year that in order for tomatoes to redden faster you need to prune all the leaves around the fruit.

 Pruning will be a constant in your Christian walk. It is necessary for growth and to produce better fruits.
Is it worth it?
 "You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." John 15:14-15

Jesus calls us friends.
Can you wrap your mind around this? The God who created everything calls us friends. Do not let this thought just pass by. Let this dwell in you. Let this be a constant light throughout the day.

The vine metaphor is one of a very close-knit relationship God has restored with us through his son. A very intimate relationship that will grow if we stick through the process.

Love is the glue that holds it all together.

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.John 15:13

Spoken hours before being arrested...beaten...crucified.....
Here is where so much does not compute with me.

Jesus loves me
I love Jesus
We are one.

He died for each and every one of us and yet the world hates him.
When we choose to be of this world and live in this world and enjoy this world, we hate him.

I would NEVER say that I hate Jesus, yet I live in this world and I am attracted by many things in this world.

Life with Jesus seems too hard and costly at times. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (Emphasis mine)
 We like to be popular and being a follower of Jesus is rarely popular. We raise children in opposite world, our marriages are in opposite world. Opposite, old fashioned, archaic......

Those choices do not make us popular but the truth is that once you know, you can never go back. Once you have tasted from the bread of life and drank from the living water you can never go back. This process takes time but it is well worth it. After all your life depends on it.

John 17 is Jesus' farewell. It is also called the High Priestly Prayer. It can be divided in three parts:
  • verses 1 through 8 Jesus prays for himself
  • verses 9 through 19 Jesus prays for his disciples
  • verses 20 through 26 Jesus is praying for you

Underline this passage, highlight it, write it down on a notecard.

Jesus is praying for you.

Meditate on this today, tomorrow.
 Make this prayer personal and insert your name where indicated

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for [insert your name] who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May [insert your name] also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given [insert your name] the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved [insert your name] even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and [insert your name] know that you have sent me. I have made you known to [insert your name], and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in [insert your name] and that I myself may be in [insert your name].”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Prayer help: Be a committed Disciple

Jesus had four levels of followers. 

The first stage is the “COME AND SEE” phase. In the beginning of his ministry, people were told to come and see Jesus. John The Baptist proclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. When asked where he was staying, Jesus told some men, “Come, and you will see.” Philip told Nathanael to “Come and see” this good man who came from Nazareth. (John 1:29,35,39,46)  The woman at the well said to the people of her town, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:29)

    I would liken this to a person who has witnessed Christ working in someone else’s life. Perhaps they grew up going to church, have a Christian friend, or watched a Billy Graham crusade on TV… something has introduced them to the existence of Christ, but as yet they know little about him and do not know him personally at all. Nevertheless, they are curious and want to know more.

    Once a person has seen Christ, he invites them to FOLLOW him. (John 1:43, Matt4:18-22) Having already seen something of what Jesus was about, some men wanted to know more, so when he called they dropped everything to follow him. There is a huge step that takes place here, from just knowing about Christ, listening to his words, to actually going along with him. Notice that for these men it meant a sacrifice. They left their nets, their boats, their parents and at least in Peter’s case a wife. This is a shift from a superficial belief to a sacrificial commitment.

    Despite the sacrifice involved, though, this is still not a full committal to Christ, but rather a learning phase. The disciples went with Jesus, they spent time with him, they listened to his message and learned what he was about. But there comes a time in every believer’s life that s/he must fully commit to BE WITH Christ. Many of the people who followed Jesus early in his ministry were really just after a free ride.

We see this especially in John 6 where Jesus feeds the five thousand and they are reluctant to let him get away. They say that Moses provided Manna, and they want a similar sign from Jesus. But he rebukes them as working for food that spoils. He then tells them that he is the Bread of Life, that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Many are offended by this and leave off following him. John tells us here that many disciples left Jesus. These were not the enthralled “come and see” onlookers, but people who had left things behind to follow him. Yet when he asked too much of them, they left.

After this exodus, Jesus asks the 12 if they will leave him as well. But Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” So there is a recognition among these believers that Jesus offers us something more than the temporal, and that it is worth seeking, worth any sacrifice.
Interestingly, even now there is a follower left who is not fully committed to Jesus. Christ proclaims, “Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)   

 There is a shift here in the teaching of Christ to a focus on his deity and his work on the cross. His “I AM” statements are begun. There is a great deal of controversy over his claims. And he talks more and more of his coming death and resurrection. As the fated day approaches, Jesus has some intimate time with the apostles. It is here that we see the final phase of following Jesus. He challenges the 12 to “ABIDE IN ME”. Jesus is the vine, his followers are the branches. Their very sustenance and life are to come from him. Without him, they will dry up and be burned. (John 15) The believer who makes it this far is fully committed, engaged and willing to endure anything for the sake of the savior. (John 16:33) They are no longer of the world but they have a mission IN the world, that of spreading the gospel. (John 17:14,18-26; 20:31)

    Where are you in this journey?

Are you the curious onlooker?

The interested follower who sees the gift and wants a free ride?

God, give me this; Lord bless me in that?

Have you become the committed believer who is learning everything you can, enduring ridicule and trial for his sake?

Or have you reached the level of committed disciple, abiding in Jesus, seeking to imitate him and MAKE disciples as he commanded in Matthew 28:19-20?
Note: I feel obligated to give credit where credit is due. The idea for this outline came to me as I perused the contents of a book I found on Amazon called The Complete Book of Discipleship : On Being and Making Followers of Christ by Bill Hull. I have not read the book, so I have no idea what Mr. Hull says about the four phases (Come and See, Come and Follow Me, Come and Be with Me, Remain in Me) but I give credit lest someone accuse me of plagiarism.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life John 13-14

In our study so far we have seen Jesus interact with a multitude of people, performing all kinds of miracles. John calls them signs and he specifically mentioned 7 of them.

Here is an entry from The Tyndale's Bible Dictionary about the significance of the number 7.

In Scripture, seven symbolizes completeness or perfection. On the seventh day God rested from his labors and creation is finished (Gn 2:2). Pharaoh in his dream saw seven cattle coming from the Nile (41:2). Samson’s sacred Nazirite locks were braided in seven plaits (Jgs 16:13). Seven devils left Mary of Magdala, signifying the totality of her previous possession by Satan (Lk 8:2); "seven other devils" will enter the purified but vacant life of a person (Mt 12:45). However, on the positive side, there were the seven spirits of God (Rv 3:1). In the seventh year the Hebrew slave was to be freed (Ex 21:2), having completed his time of captivity and service. Every seventh year was a sabbatical year (Lv 25:4). Seven times seven reiterates the sense of completeness. In the Year of Jubilee (at the completion of 7 x 7 years = the 50th year), all land is freed and returns to the original owners (Lv 25:10). Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, is seven times seven days after Passover. "Seventy," which is literally "sevens" in Hebrew, strengthens the concept of perfection. There are 70 elders (Ex 24:1) in Israel. Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years (Jer 25:12) to complete its punishment. "Seventy times seven" (Mt 18:22) reiterates this still further. The Lord was not giving Peter a mathematical number of times that he should forgive another person, but rather was insisting on limitless forgiveness for a brother’s sin.
The seven signs were:

  1. Changing the water into wine (CH 2)
  2. Cleansing the temple (CH 2)
  3. Healing of the nobleman's son (CH 4)
  4. Healing of the lame man (CH 5)
  5. Feeding the multitude with 2 fishes and 5 loaves of bread (CH 6)
  6. Healing of the blind man (CH 9)
  7. Raising of Lazarus (CH 11)
 Along with the 7 signs John mentions 7 I AM statements. The significance of those statements goes to prove the deity of Jesus. I AM means YAHWEH. When Moses asked God in Exodus what he was to call Him, God answered
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14
So far we have seen 5 I AM statements which were:

  1. I AM the bread of life (CH 6)
  2. I AM the light of the world (CH 8)
  3. I AM the gate (CH 10)
  4. I AM the good Shepherd (CH 10)
  5. I AM the resurrection and the life (CH 11)
If you go back to your notes and reading, you will quickly noticed that the statements are linked with a sign.
Bread of life = feeding the mutitude
Light of the world = healing the blind man
Resurrection = Lazarus
 In John 14 Jesus makes a new bold statement
I AM the way
the truth
the life

We are in the Passion week. The time is near for Jesus to be betrayed and suffer the punishment for our sins. He is now spending time with his disciples (the ones that were still believing) and imparting in them some important wisdom. Jesus, their teacher, friend, mentor, the son of God takes off his outer garments and washes their feet, showing them THE WAY.

I am sure that you could have heard a fly drop. The whole situation was shocking, embarrassing, surreal. Foot washing, a ritual that dates back to Abraham (see Genesis 18), was to be performed by the lowest servant. For Jesus to wash their feet was similar to the disciples to the Queen of England coming to your house to clean your toilets. Unthinkable.

But there is a lesson here - a two fold lesson.

Repentance of sins

The way means to be cleansed from sin. When you have been cleansed you belong to Christ. This cleansing is not a simple outward cleansing but an inward one. Jesus DID wash Judas' feet. He lowered himself to wash the feet of the person who was going to betray him in a few hours.

Let me say this again:
He lowered himself to wash the feet of the person who was going to betray him in a few hours.

Let this sink in. The way means being clean, having a relationship with Jesus and NEVER assuming that you are too good to serve those who do not believe. Jesus knew that Judas was unclean, yet he still served him. Jesus did physically wash Judas but Judas was not clean because he did not accept Jesus. A person can be baptized every single Sunday and go to church every day of the week and still be unclean if they do not accept Jesus. It means accepting Jesus even when it does not look like we think it should look like. Remember: they expected a king and instead saw someone washing feet and about to die like a lowlife criminal.

 After Judas left, Jesus goes on and talk about the truth. The truth is very simple and at the same time very complicated. The disciples did not realize that Judas was about to betray Jesus. The impact of what he is about to tell them will have much much more impact after the arrest.

We, on the other hand, are reading this lesson knowing what has happened, knowing the heart of men (and women) who days after hailing Jesus will be shouting "crucify Him". We are the ones fortunate enough to live in a time and a place where reading the Bible is easy, free and strongly encouraged. We are lucky enough to have the freedom to proclaim that we love Jesus.

truth or dare: do we?
Jesus tells them "“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

A new command
Love one another
by this........

Jesus LOVES. Period. Jesus loves the Judases of this world. He loves the sinners. He loves the lost. He loves the outcasts. He loves until it hurts. He loves and died.

As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Do you?

 Jesus is the life. How can you have life?

 “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—" John 14:15-16

Love is a choice. Love is THE choice we need to make every single day. Love is really the ONLY choice we should consider.

Love is not always easy. It is a choice.

But Jesus is right there. This is a simple math equation

Jesus loves me = I love Jesus + I love others

I love Jesus + I love others = I obey His commandments

I obey His commandments + Jesus loves me = Holy Spirit
Romans 8:4-7 instructs us to live by the Spirit which is the opposite of living by the flesh. When we choose to live by the flesh, we let ourselves be controlled by our own selfish desires and also by standards put forth by the world. Those standards rarely conform to the teaching of Jesus.  In order to have life we have to live by the Spirit.

The Spirit lives in us when we love Jesus, obey His commands and love others. This can only happen when our hearts belong entirely to Jesus. The Israelite were set aside by the ritual of circumcision. We Christians also need to perform a circumcision. Circumcision of the heart to remove the foreskin aka hardness.

Take time time today, this week to ponder the following verses and ask yourself what is making the foreskin of your hear? Bitterness? Jealousy? Anger? Depression?

Pray over these verses and remove the foreskin, let your heart be freely all for Jesus. Allow the Holy Spirit to be your helper. Allow Jesus to fill you with life.

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Acts 7:51

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. Deuteronomy 10:16

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it. Jeremiah 4:4

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? Ezekiel 18:31

Great peace have those who love your law,
    and nothing can make them stumble.

I wait for your salvation, Lord,
    and I follow your commands.  Psalm 119:165-166

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18