Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday slowdown

Whiter than the snow
Purer than the clearest stream
Wash me and I'll be
bathed in purity
I long to feel clean
A robe of righteousness
A robe that I could not afford
My Lord you paid the price
Your perfect sacrifice
has covered up my shame

And so I thank you, Jesus
For the sweet forgiveness
of the cross
It's a mystery
to amaze even angels
That when Father looks into my heart
He sees me now as whiter than the snow.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dirty feet, continued

What else was in the mind and heart of Jesus as this story unfolded?  (John 13:1-17)
Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He was rapidly approaching the most important moments of life, and He knew, also, that the pain and agony of the cross was almost upon Him.

If we knew that we would die a terrible death tomorrow, what would we be focused on? Seriously. Honestly. What would be your point of interest?

I've not yet been in a situation like that. But if I am honest, I would have to say I'd probably be thinking about myself, and what I'd be going through soon.

John wants us to see something about Jesus. He is fully God and fully man, and He is facing something that we cannot even imagine. He isn't saying to the disciples, "Hey, don't you care about what I'm facing?" He isn't even focused on Himself. He is concerned that they should be prepared for what is going to happen.  He is completely focused on others.
The Bible shows us that, all through His ordeal. When He is arrested, He is concerned that His disciples should be allowed to go. When He is on the cross, in the midst of His agony, He is concerned about His mother's future. Then in His last hours, He comforts and forgives the thief on the cross beside Him. He remains totally unselfish and loving toward His own.

John is making sure that we see this -- Jesus knew what was coming!
Verse 3 says that "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God, and was returning to God."
He had full knowledge of Who He was. He knew it with every fiber of His being. And with all that in mind, He bowed before these disciples and washed their feet. He was not ignorant of the glory and authority that the Father had given Him, but that would not bring any pride or arrogance into His heart.
We have all seen a person (or, heaven help us, been a person) who was pretty humble and selfless until a little recognition came our way? A little prestige? A little too many pats on the head? How much honor can a human being handle without becoming selfish and conceited? Jesus knew that all authority in heaven and earth was His, from the Father -- but His heart was not lifted up in pride. He bowed before others and served.
Perhaps it is knowing who we are, being secure in our own identity, that allows us to bow to the lowest point of service. It is not great men or women who refuse to serve others; it is insecure people, the ones who think that washing feet defines them as someone less worthwhile than others. As God establishes Himself in our hearts, we will live less for recognition and much more for service.

There is something else that John tells us was in Jesus' thoughts: "He knew who was going to betray Him...."(verse 11)
There, in the same room, is Judas, full of deceit. He's full of hypocrisy. Full of plans to turn Jesus over to the religious leaders.  In modern parlance, he's ready to "stab Him in the back."
Jesus knows.
What does He do with that knowledge?
What would one of us do with that knowledge?

Jesus does not distance Himself from Judas. He doesn't point His finger and say, "How can you do this? After all I've done for you?" Instead, He loves Him to the end, and does everything possible to bring Judas to repentance. He washes his feet with the same tenderness that He gives the other disciples. That doesn't soften Judas' heart. He comments on the impending betrayal (see in verse 10?) but instead of repenting, Judas hardens his heart.

Then, in verse 26 Jesus dips the bread in the dish and gives it to Judas and exposes him as the traitor. That was Judas’ final opportunity for repentance. Opportunity after opportunity had been declined. As soon as Judas made that final decision, Satan entered into him and Judas left to do his evil deed. Jesus knew his betrayer, and this must have been in His thoughts as well.

We learn something about Jesus in all that; we learn something about ourselves, as well.  We learn something about how he would have us deal with those who betray us. No resentment, no anger, no bitterness, only sorrow for the awful decision Judas had made and the terrible consequences that would follow for Judas.
Can we wash the feet of our enemies? Will we serve the person though we know he or she will not return the kindness?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dirty feet, continued

Last time we considered our passage, we were looking on as if we were in the room with the disciples. We were listening in on what they might have been thinking.  Today, let's study what might have been in the mind of Jesus, from the clues that John gives us here, in John 13:1-17.

Verses 4-5 tell us that He got up, took off His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured water in the basin, and . . . "began to wash the disciples' feet."

Whoa. If you had been in that room, would your jaw have dropped? Do you think some of theirs did?

Jesus didn't lecture them -- He gave them an example.
Everybody could see the problem. It was obvious to all of them. It's hard NOT to see what's wrong in situations like this. It's as if we are all spectators, looking at the problem. But who does something about it?
Jesus met the need -- He took action to solve the problem, instead of just looking at the problem.

Look at all of the action words here!
He "got up from the meal." He left a comfortable spot, with good food to eat. How many times do we fight with ourselves, when it is time to leave our comfort zone? When it's time to make our body do something we might not really want to do?  When the alarm goes off (this is just one example that really resonates with me) and it is time to get out of bed and read the Bible and pray, do our bodies want to get up? Do we have lengthy discussions and finally convince those bodies to get up and meet with our Lord? Or do the bodies win, and we stay in bed, and then rush and fret the rest of the day, since we didn't prepare for a day with His help?

He "took off His outer clothing." If we are going to do a good job of serving others, we probably will have to lay something else aside. We all live with a full plate of activities. There are so many demands on our time  . . . if we are going to add a service for someone else, we may have to subtract something that we'd like to do for ourselves. We may have to deny ourselves something, in order to have the energy and the time to give to others.

Then, He wrapped a towel around His waist, after that He poured water into a basin." What we see Jesus doing here is making the right preparations, in order to meet the need. It may be that we need to spend time in prayer before giving to others, and solving a problem. It might be that we need to study and let the Spirit guide us, in preparation for what we need to do. Ask God to help you prepare to meet the needs that you see.

And then . . . 'He began..."  When we see a problem, at some point we must begin. We can think about it, and pray about it. We can make the preparations -- but at some point we must step forward and begin.  Jesus washed the disciples' feet and dried them with a towel.
Did you see Peter's response? Sometimes I just love reading about Peter, because every so often I do something impulsive, or blurt out what's in my head without thinking, and Peter just makes me feel a little better.
Jesus wants to wash Peter's feet, and Peter doesn't want Him to do it. Then all of a sudden he wants a full bath! It took Peter a while to learn that none of us have a better idea than Jesus. The best thing we can possibly do is to simply listen, hear Him and obey Him.  Peter eventually learned to simply obey the Lord, rather than offer a better idea. We all have to learn that at some point.
Another thing we have to learn is that people would much rather see us show them "how" instead of telling them "how." If they see us do it, they will listen to what we have to say. But if we can't do it, or we won't do it, then they won't pay much attention to us.

John says in verse one, "Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed the full extent of His love."  In the upper room, Jesus was expressing His love for His disciples, and He was taking time to prepare them for what was ahead.

He saw the dirty feet. But instead of just looking at the problem, He solved it!

Later on the cross He would offer the ultimate expression of His love for all of us.  “Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends.”   (John 15:13)
That’s what Jesus has done for you and me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Prayer requests

Someone asked me once, "Why do y'all pray for each other?"

It took me a moment, because it is just something we "do" as Christians. We don't think about it much, and don't really examine it. We just know that we love others and want the best for them, and so we ask God to bless them in the situations that they face.

But if we look at our Bibles, we see many answers for this question. We have an example, first and foremost, in our Savior. He prayed for others . . .

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one 23 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 them even as you have loved me.
24 “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.

Jesus asked for protection as they went into the world, and He also prayed for those who would hear their message.
Also, in Matthew, Jesus told us:

                      You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your
                      enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who
                      persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven"
                      (Matthew 5:43-45a)

With so great an example, and also His command, what a privilege it is to pray for each other!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your prayer request below.

Monday, August 25, 2014

John 13 We start with dirty feet

 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
(John 13:1-17)

Personally, I find this one of the most moving stories in the gospel John wrote. It's definitely one of the most memorable. This was the night before Jesus' betrayal, trial and crucifixion, and was an intense moment in Jesus' life.
He had drawn His public ministry to a close, and would now turn all of His attention toward His disciples.
Let's imagine being right there with Jesus and the disciples, OK? In the culture surrounding this room, the most demeaning, most menial task around was to wash the feet of the guests in the house. It was something that the lowest of the slaves did. And it was necessary . . . think about it -- people wore sandals, and did most of their traveling by foot. The paths and Roman roads that they walked were dusty, sometimes muddy, and cluttered with camel, oxen and donkey manure. (I know, right?)

I'm certain that many guests arrived with more than just dust or mud on their feet!

It was a commonplace courtesy for the host to make certain that his slave washed the guests' feet as they arrived.
Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead, to prepare for the meal. Well, the food had been cooked and the table was set; the lamps were lit. But this had not been taken care of!
As Jesus and the disciples enter the room, they see a towel and a basin of water in the corner, but no slave to wash their feet -- some of them might have paused as they entered, wondering why Peter and John had not taken care of this. Then as they recline at the table, they feel a little awkward. "Somebody ought to at least wash Jesus' feet . . . but if I do that, where does that put me in the "pecking order" here? I guess I'd be at the bottom of the heap. I might even end up stuck with the job from now on! Best that I don't volunteer and have that happen. Maybe if I just wait a minute more, someone else will do it." 

Hmmmm. Have we heard this anywhere else? Have you heard this at church? Wellllllll, yeah, that kind of thinking does happen.
"Somebody needs to take care of nursery this week, but that's not my ministry I signed up for."
"Wow, someone dropped the ball on cleaning the bathrooms, what's up with that? Who's gonna take care of that?"

You see, we are all very good at pointing out the fact that there are dirty feet that need cleaning. But are we good at being selfless enough to volunteer to wash them?

We are probably very much like the disciples -- they were each probably hoping that one of the others would volunteer. They might have been thinking like this:

"I did it last time; it's Matthew's turn. He hasn't done it in a long time."
"Peter and John were supposed to make all of these preparations. Jesus told them to! One of them should take care of it."
"I'm over here leaning next to Jesus. I don't want to leave."
"I'm a leader. Not a foot washer."
"Don't you turkeys know the call of God on my life? Remember? I'm the one who answered Jesus' question, and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus prophesied about me right then! If people were paying attention, they'd be washing His feet and mine!"

Oy vey.
Things haven't changed much in the family of God, have they? We say and do and think the same kinds of things today.

So everyone knows that there are dirty feet.
But no one wants to volunteer to wash them.
We'll explore this more next time......join us, won't you?


Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday slowdown

The whole world was lost
In the darkness of sin,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Like sunshine at noonday,
His glory shone in.
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The Light of the world is Jesus!
No darkness have we
Who in Jesus abide;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
We walk in the light
When we follow our Guide!
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Ye dwellers in darkness
With sin blinded eyes,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Go, wash, at His bidding,
And light will arise.
The Light of the world is Jesus!
No need of the sunlight
In Heaven we’re told;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
The Lamb is the Light
In the city of gold,
The Light of the world is Jesus!

I was unable to find a video for this hymn, but I feel that the lyric by Philip Bliss is a blessing all by itself.
I hope everyone has a pleasant weekend.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rejection (conclusion)

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved human praise more than praise from God.              (John 12:42-43)

We have talked this week about the people who rejected Jesus. They did not believe the evidence that they saw; they ignored the miracles and the revelation of God. They chose not to follow Jesus.

There were some who were silent believers. These were some of the chief rulers and leaders among the people, and apparently there were many of them. They believed in Jesus -- they accepted the evidence that He was who He claimed to be. They believed that He was indeed the Messiah that they'd hoped for, but they had one super-serious flaw.
They were as quiet as mice.
They didn't make a sound.

So, they failed in three areas. And these are areas in which we can fail today.

First, they failed to confess Christ as Savior. What exactly does that mean?  "To acknowledge or avow, to own or admit as true."

             Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before
              my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32)

There are consequences here, too!
Secondly, they failed because they feared loss. Some of them feared they would be "excommunicated" or banned from the temple. If that happened, they would lose their position, their job, security, esteem, and honor. That scared them. They stayed quiet.

Lastly, they failed because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. They loved all that honor and glory and the fancy robes. They loved having the best seat in the temple, and people deferring to them. They put being accepted and approved by men ahead of being accepted and approved by God.

In verses 44 through 46 we see a description of the true believer.

                        Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me
                        only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing
                        the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no
                        one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

Jesus is telling us here that He is the mediator; He is the bridge between God and mankind.
A person is delivered from darkness only through Jesus Christ, the Light. Jesus came to be the Light of the world in order to bring light and salvation to man. His very purpose on earth was to save and to give light. He came as light so we wouldn’t have to walk around in darkness. He came as One who didn’t sin so that we could have a defense against sin.

Remember back in chapter 8?
                      When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of
                      the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but
                      will have the light of life."

I pray that all who read this study will follow Him, and not reject Him!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rejection - John 12:37-50

Today's study is going to take some close inspection, so grab your glasses or your Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass and let's get started!

We talked together last time about unbelief and rejection. The old saying is that "choices have consequences" and this is true. Unbelief has some serious consequences, too.  We can't reject Jesus and expect things to rock along the way they always have been. No matter how mild a person's rejection is, it's serious to God the Father.

Sometimes a person may only reject God in their thoughts. They might never say a word or commit a public sin against Him. But no matter how small or mild the rejection, God still can't overlook someone rejecting His Son. He loves His Son too much, and also His Son has done just too much for man to be overlooked. When a person has a chance to see, and to open his heart, but chooses not to look -- or closes his heart, then that person suffers consequences.

In simple terms, "God so loved the world" and gave so much, that man cannot deny God's Son and expect there to be no consequences. In the passage we are studying, and in the companion passage in Isaiah's prophecy, they are spelled out: God blinds the eyes of the unbeliever, He hardens their heart, the person is condemned to be lost, and God's glory is never revealed to them.

Whoa! That's pretty heavy stuff . . . does that mean that God Himself causes the unbelief of a person before he or she is born? Nope.
A man or woman is lost apart from the will of God; they are lost against His will:

                        . . . He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone
                        to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9b)

We see in that verse that a person is lost only because they choose to have nothing to do with God, and they choose to be lost.
Remember the passage in Exodus that describes Pharaoh? Every time that Moses came to tell him that God wanted him to let the children of Israel go, he would become harder to deal with. The passage repeatedly says that Pharaoh "hardened his heart" against God. He became more and more stubborn and unyielding. He chose not to believe, and not to obey.
When we turn to Exodus 8, we might be amazed at how many times it notes that Pharaoh hardened his heart against God. He chose to bring judgment on himself and on his nation by hardening his heart against God's commands.  The more stubborn a person becomes, the more he refuses to repent, then the more hardened they become -- so much that they never think about repenting. A man or woman can become conditioned more and more against the truth, and then their openness to Jesus dwindles more and more.

God's will allows people to live and to make choices day by day. Believers have made the choice to follow His Son, and unbelievers have made the choice not to follow God's Son.

Which path have we chosen? If we are not certain that we have chosen to follow Christ, we need to make sure as soon as possible. If you have doubts, I encourage you to click on the link on our blog entitled "What is Salvation?" and follow the steps there.

Choose to believe! And to live!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What are you listening to?

What are you listening to today?
Are you praising our Father?
The book of Psalms is the "praise book" of the Bible, and it gives us many, many reasons why praise is important.
It even gives us examples of how to give praise to God.
Check this out:
          It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High. 
                                                       (Psalm 92:1)

See? Praise is a good thing. It's pleasant, and it is valuable, as well as being beautiful and uplifting.

          Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and
          fitting to praise Him.  (Psalm 147:1)

What are you listening to today?
Is it a song of praise to Him?

Monday, August 18, 2014

John 12:37-50 Rejection

In the study of John's gospel, we began with chapter one where John told us that Jesus came to His own and they "received Him not."

In the conclusion of this chapter, we are going to see an even clearer picture of the rejection of Jesus. We'll see that some will accept Him though, so hang in there while we study! Let's dive in!

Let's look first at verses 37 - 41:

 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 
that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
“Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. (John 12:37-41)

Have you heard someone say, "I would not have believed it -- except that I saw it with my own eyes!" Or they say, "I heard it with my own ears!" In these verses we see unbelievers described . . . and they are pretty illogical, aren't they? God has done all He can to help them believe, but they refuse!
In their unbelief they are rejecting several things.
First, they are rejecting miracles.
See where the verse says "so many signs"? Wouldn't you love to have been there to see? Jesus reached out and touched mankind with His compassion. He wasn't like most people, who only help some -- He ministered to and helped everyone that He could possibly reach. In John 21:25 we read that Jesus performed so many works and miracles that if they were written down, the whole world would not have room for the books!
And these signs were "quality" -- they were real; they were straight from the heart of God, not counterfeit or phony.  They were strong and real, and there were witnesses that could vouch for the fact that they were true. That made it evident that they were miracles only God's power could accomplish.
See the words, "before them"? In some translations, the words are "in their presence." He didn't work these signs and miracles somewhere remote, or in a private place. He did them right before their eyes, where many multitudes of people could see them.
Look next at they still "did not believe in Him."  Oh, how sad to read that! Their hearts would closed, locked tight against the truth. They closed their hearts to the clear evidence that He was the Son of God. They would not relinquish their unbelief; they clung to it fiercely, and illogically.
It just didn't make sense, but they would not believe the miracles.

Not only did they reject His miracles, but also His revelation -- the verse says that the arm of the Lord has "been revealed." The message was straight from God Himself, in the words and deeds of Jesus. All of His preaching and teaching revealed truths from God. Here was more than just paper and ink, and here was more than just empty words; here was the complete package from God! He gave mankind a Person that not only spoke the truth but lived it. Not just to talk about the works, but to do them. Jesus didn't just preach about God's will, He also demonstrated it. And He didn't only teach men, but He showed with His life how to live.

In today's language, He walked the walk; He didn't just talk the talk.
So here they are, rejecting signs, miracles, and the revelation of the arm of the Lord. The arm of the Lord refers to the strength of God -- His power to save, and to deliver, and to give life. That arm that saves and gives us life is Jesus.

It's amazing sometimes to see just how "right on the money" the prophets were, even though sometimes there were hundreds of years between their prophecies and the fulfillment.  Isaiah told about this long before Jesus walked on this earth. He noted that the people would be illogical, and they would reject the evidences of Jesus' rightful claim to Sonship.

We'll continue this next time . . . hang in there!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday slowdown

  1. King of my life, I crown Thee now,
    Thine shall the glory be;
    Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow,
    Lead me to Calvary.
    • Refrain:
      Lest I forget Gethsemane,
      Lest I forget Thine agony;
      Lest I forget Thy love for me,
      Lead me to Calvary.
  2. Show me the tomb where Thou wast laid,
    Tenderly mourned and wept;
    Angels in robes of light arrayed
    Guarded Thee whilst Thou slept.
  3. Let me like Mary, through the gloom,
    Come with a gift to Thee;
    Show to me now the empty tomb,
    Lead me to Calvary.
  4. May I be willing, Lord, to bear
    Daily my cross for Thee;
    Even Thy cup of grief to share,
    Thou hast borne all for me.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When He is lifted up, conclusion

We've been focused this week on this verse:

                “If I shall be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me”

These words carry an even deeper meaning than the cross, for if the story had ended at His death upon the cross there would still be no eternal life or victorious life in Christ for any of us.
Jesus was lifted up, first, to the cross – there He suffered and died, taking upon Him the sin of the whole world. He willingly gave His life as a sacrifice of love for each of us.

He was lifted up secondly, from the grave: if there had been no resurrection from the dead, what hope would the cross have given to us? It's only because God raised His Son by His own power that any of us can have eternal life. If there had been no resurrection, how much meaning would be attached to these events? They would have meant no more than the death of any other hero of the faith, or of any other man!

Paul says:
                     And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your
                     faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for
                     we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did
                     not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised,
                     then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your
                     faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen
                    asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of
                    all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,
                    the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (I Corinthians 15:14-20)
Because Jesus was lifted up to the cross, then lifted from the grave, all men are drawn toward that power of resurrection. Even those who reject Jesus as God are still influenced and drawn by that power . . . some believe in reincarnation; some believe in eventual salvation for every man and woman regardless of how they live; all believe that this life is not "all there is." We are all given hope of continuing to a better realm and of living forever.

Jesus is lifted up thirdly, to heaven -- He has now completed His work as Savior and is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
You know, it doesn't matter if people shake their fist in the face of God, if they turn away in disgust from the sacrifice on the cross, if they deny the resurrection happened -- there will come a time when every person is drawn like a magnet to the cross, and then to the throne of Jesus. They will recognize that Jesus is Lord.

                    For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and
                    every tongue shall confess to God.    (Romans 14:11)

                   That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and
                   things in earth, and things under the earth. (Philippians 2:10)

Jesus told us that when He was lifted up, good things would happen. Healing, forgiveness, and eternal life are all His gifts to us. And He has promised that He will lift us up, as well:

                   Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
                   (James 4:10)

He has promised us abundant life. If we accept His sacrifice on the cross, and His resurrection, we will have salvation, deliverance and forgiveness of sins, all through Christ.

Let's lift Him up in our lives. Let's strive to be more like Him, and witness to His gospel!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When He is lifted up

When He is lifted up on the cross, it is as if it were magnetized . . . we cannot take our eyes away. But our thoughts as we look, and our responses to that cross, are sometimes very different.

Some people look upon the cross through eyes of hatred and unbelief. As Christians, we may not realize it, but the vast majority of mankind does not look upon the cross as a sacrifice for their benefit, for their deliverance.
They look at the cross and the Savior as a symbol of power -- Someone or something that will control their lives, when they don't want to be controlled. The natural man wants to be "his own boss." Even to the point of being his own god. Here is what we mean: He (or she) wants to choose their own way without the interference of some higher power that dictates what is right or wrong, just or unjust. They hate anything or anyone that places limits or restrictions upon the will to sin. Men (and women) hate and reject anything that reminds them that they are not gods after all -- there truly is a higher Power and they must ultimately answer to it.

We can see that even when we are sinners and reject the death of Jesus upon the cross, we are still focused on it. Jesus' words are still true even for those who would deny Him. We are all drawn like a magnet to the cross, because God wants all of us to see what He has done, and have the opportunity to respond and be saved. Just like a bug drawn into the light, mesmerized by it, our souls are drawn to the true Light. The Holy Spirit catches our attention, takes hold of our hearts by the power of God, and pulls us toward the cross . . . then when we are at the foot of the cross, and looking up at Jesus, He asks us the same question Pilate voiced in Matthew 27: "What will you do with this Jesus?"

As some people look at the cross with hatred, some look upon it and feel disgust. They don't "see" the salvation that is offered to them, only a symbol of judgment and death. They don't like to be reminded of their sins, and they simply can't understand how the power of salvation can be connected to the death of this Man on a cross. It was a punishment for crimes! How can it possibly be a good thing, they wonder.
In actuality, the real meaning of the cross can only be seen and understood through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, and that in the heart of someone who is prepared to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. If a person is not ready to repent, or if their eyes are blinded by sin (and they still love that sin) they will not be able to see the cross for what it really is. They would just as soon forget about it. But God is so rich in mercy and grace that He grabs their attention for a moment, to bring their eyes to the cross; perhaps they will see the price that Jesus paid and accept His gift.

There are some, however, that look upon the cross and cry out in love and gratitude for the One who died for them. They realize that man killed God's own Son and they simply cannot comprehend the hatred that would do such a thing.
These are they who will focus upon the cross through eyes of worship and love for the Lord who hung there and paid the debt of our sin.
As Christians, we love God and we are constantly reminded of the price that Jesus paid for our sins. We believe that He is God and also our loving Savior. That is why we read our Bibles, pray, and do our best to live a life that is continually sanctifying us and that we hope will be pleasing to the Lord. Our hearts and minds are drawn to the cross and we can't help but thank Him. It is our desire to serve Him and do His will. It is our focus for the future to be in heaven in His presence -- the One who died for us on that cross.
The greatest joy we have in this life is when we see another soul come to Christ, and when we are privileged to encourage our sisters and brothers in their struggles.
The greatest joy we will have in the life to come will be in the realms of glory with every born again child of God, and with our Lord and Savior for eternity!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Verses that inspire

Our Bibles are the perfect place to look for words to encourage and inspire us. God's Word is to teach us, to encourage us, and to provide nourishment for our hungry souls, as we aspire and work to be more like Him.

What verse or passage has helped you along your path lately? Will you share it with us?

Recently this verse helped me to feel encouraged:

                                    . . . you who seek God, may your hearts live!
                                                                                The Lord hears . . .   Psalm 69:32b-33a

I hope you will share with us by leaving a comment -- it may be just what one of our sisters in Christ needs to hear!

Monday, August 11, 2014

John 12:28-36 When He is lifted up

28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

I know that we have read and studied a good portion of this chapter already, but some of the passages have had overlap, and this is one of them. I really wanted to focus on these verses again, so I hope you will bear with me.

One of our family is studying in eastern Europe, and has rekindled our interest in some of the countries there, and the history that they embody. You may recall (if you are as old as me) that in the 1980's the government of Polish Prime Minister Jaruzelski declared martial law in an attempt to crush the freedom seekers, the Solidarity Movement. Jaruzelski's government also ordered that crucifixes be removed from classroom walls, just the same as they'd been banned in factories, hospitals, and other public institutions. Catholic bishops attacked the ban that had stirred waves of resentment and anger across the country. The government relented, leaving the law on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crosses -- especially in the school rooms.

Chuck Colson's book, Kingdoms in Conflict, relates the rest of the story:

               But one zealous Communist school administrator in Garwolin decided that the
               law was the law. So one evening he had seven large crucifixes removed from
               lecture halls where they had hung since the school’s founding in the twenties.
               Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The
               administrator promptly had these taken down as well.
              The next day two-thirds of the school’s six hundred students staged a sit-in. When
              heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then
              they marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby church where they were joined by
              twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in
              support of the protest. Soldiers surrounded the church. But the pictures from inside
              of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world. So did
              the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that
              morning. "There is no Poland without a cross."

Here in the US, we are following the same path as the government of Poland -- we have removed prayer from our schools and any public gathering; we have removed the ten commandments from our buildings; we have taken down crosses from public buildings.

The cross and Jesus being lifted up are the focus of our studies this week. Jesus' words, "if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me" are fulfilled in the hearts and lives of women and men everywhere.
Remember this verse in the third chapter of John?
             "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of
              man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life."
              (John 3:14-15)

We discussed the Old Testament background, from the twenty-first chapter of Numbers. The people were speaking against God, and against Moses, "our soul loatheth this vile bread." Wow! Pretty strong words about the manna that was miraculously provided by God, and which was sustaining them in the wilderness.
In the same way, the Jews in Christ's day were speaking in much the same way about the Bread of heaven which God had sent to them . . . the most precious gift of His Son . . . and they seemed to be saying, "we hate this Man!" in much the same way that the children of Israel hated the manna.

Recall how God saw the spirit of the people in Numbers, and sent serpents among the people. Then Moses was instructed to raise a serpent on his staff, and the people could look to that and receive healing.  This serpent lifted up in the wilderness was the symbol of the judgment of God. The judgment and curse of God which rested upon the rebellious people were transferred to that serpent. It was transfixed to the cross, carrying the curse and the judgment of God upon itself for the people, and whosoever looked to the serpent was saved.

In using that bit of the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus was only saying: 'I am going to be made a curse for you. When I am lifted up I shall bear YOUR judgment upon Myself. I shall carry YOUR sins in My body on the tree.' There is deliverance in Christ crucified from the curse and from the judgment, and whosoever will look shall live.

We'll study more about when He is lifted up, next time.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday slowdown

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Three invitations, Conclusion

The third invitation that we find in this passage is this: Jesus invites us to share His resurrection.

The death that Jesus died led to His resurrection, and the death that He asks us to die -- a death to both sin and selfishness -- also leads to resurrection.  We will have gone from death to life.
Hey, it's not a negative thing, it's a positive thing! It doesn't end up in darkness; it shows us the way to light.
And we don't lose anything -- we gain everything. Paul gave up everything to follow Christ -- he was hugely powerful and respected, a religious leader with oodles of authority. He lost that career, and most of his friends. But when he looked back, he said:
           But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more,
           I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ
           Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I
           may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

And Paul also explained it to the Romans:

                I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily
                recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like
               doing — not caring about others, not caring about God — the worse your life
               became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as
               you live in God’s freedom?  (Romans 6:19, The Message)

I hope that you will not think I'm irreverent, but Jesus is not a party-pooper. He is not the spoiler of good times. He did not come to give us boredom, but to give us life.
It wears me out sometimes that some Christians want to be solemn and somber and oh-so-righteous all the time. It's like they think they simply cannot have fun -- that would be bad!  I just don't think that is the case! Jesus is the Creator of joy, and of pleasant times and merriment. If He created joyfulness, then it can't be bad to celebrate or to have a sense of humor!

Yes, He came to give us life. He offers us His resurrection. And we cannot achieve the Christian life by our own efforts at being "good." That will never, ever work. It's not something that we can accomplish -- it is a life that must come from God. As we hear people say, "It's a God thing." It happens when His Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins His transforming work.

Sounds wonderful, right? But to many human beings who are self-confirmed "control freaks" it can also be frightening. They wonder what God will do to them, or with them. How can they give up control? Will people think they are strange, or even fanatical? How will they know how to act?

Max Lucado is a prolific writer, and in Six Hours One Friday he tells this story:
A missionary in Brazil had discovered a tribe of Indians in a remote part of the jungle near a large river. The tribe needed medical attention. A contagious disease was ravaging the population and they were desperately in need of medication. Many of them needed to be hospitalized. People were dying every day. There was a hospital not very far away, but in order to get there you had to cross the river. The people of the tribe would not cross it, because they believed that evil spirits lived in the river. They were certain that to enter the water would mean certain death — or worse. The missionary explained that he had crossed the river and nothing evil happened to him, but they were not convinced. The missionary took them to the bank and placed his hand in the water. Still they wouldn’t go in. He decided to walk into the water up to his waist; he even splashed water on his face. It made no difference. They were still afraid to enter the river. Finally, he dove into the river, swam beneath the surface until he emerged on the other side. Once there, he smiled and raised a triumphant hand into the air. He had entered the river and lived. It was then that the people of the tribe broke into a cheer and followed him across.

What will it take to convince us to dive in? The only thing that we will lose is our sickness (sin) and the only thing we will gain is wholeness and life! The fabulous news of the gospel is that someone has gone before us to the other side, and He has lifted His hand in victory. He assures us that we will not only survive, but we will have life -- better than we've ever known before!

Why would we pass this up? Why would we miss the life that God wants to give us, to keep the life that is causing us so many problems and is so ultimately unsatisfying?

Christ offers life in all its fullness:
          The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and
          have it to the full.  (John 10:10)

Grab hold of that abundant life today!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Three invitations, Part II

The second of the three invitations in this passage is an invitation to life. Let's dive in to John 12:23-28 again!

If you were to compare all of the great religions of this world, they all have something to say about death, and the "hereafter." Muslims believe in Paradise; Hindus believe in multiple heavenly levels, Buddhism teaches there is a state called Nirvana, where there is no suffering, but only because there is no desire or sense of self. There is nothing.

The death that Jesus invites us to, that we studied on Monday, results in life.

            We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just
            as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may
            live a new life. (Romans 6:4)

I remember when our kids were learning about the first law of Thermodynamics; do you recall that principle? It says that mass or energy are never destroyed -- they just change form. As an example, if a piece of oak firewood is burned, its basic elements are not destroyed. Heat releases the gases in the wood and they are turned into energy, warming us as we stand in front of the hearth. Carbon, in the form of the ashes, is left -- but the energy and mass of the wood are not gone; they've merely changed form.
When water evaporates, it is not gone. It's not destroyed. It changes form until it returns to the earth again as rain or sleet or hail.
When we die to ourselves, we don't cease to exist, or go into a great Nothingness. We are changed.
We are transformed.

            He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and
            believes in me will never die. (John 11:26)

Here is another way that we can understand it:

           For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is
           your life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore,
           whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil
           desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
           You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also
           rid  yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy
           language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old
           self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in
           knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:3-10)

Jesus truly invites us to Life -- and what a life it is!

           Therefore if anyone be in Christ, he (or she) is a new creature: old things are
           passed away; behold, all things are become new.  (II Corinthians 5:17)


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Prayer requests

We've spoken before about how to pray when our needs are desperate, or when we are broken-hearted. Prayer is also a privilege when we are thankful!
Life in this world is definitely a roller coaster, isn't it?
Life has its miraculous moments, its times of sheer joy. Our Bible contains many situations where people are expressing their gratitude to God, and many different forms of thanks will please Him.
Remember when God saved the fleeing Israelites from Pharaoh, by parting the Red Sea and then letting the waters roll over Pharaoh and his armies?
              Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand,
              and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing.  (Exodus 15:20)
And don't forget that David danced with joy because of God's goodness and intervention in his life.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples were thankful:
                (they) worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed
                continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:52-53)
God desires our praise.
He certainly deserves our praise.
We can play instruments, sing, dance, shout, laugh, and even cry with tears of joy. Sometimes our most eloquent prayers will have no words at all, but God will understand perfectly!
What would you like to thank Him for today?

Monday, August 4, 2014

John 12:23-28 Three invitations

This week we will find three invitations from Jesus in these verses.
Let's dive in!

Many people are attracted to Jesus on different levels. They are amazed at His ability to heal. They are thunderstruck by His wisdom. They find (as many humans do) the idea of His power very attractive. They even think that they might be like Him . . . until they begin to realize what He did, and the sacrifices that He made. They might like to live His life, but they would not like to die His death. But as we will learn in this passage, there is a sense in which He is inviting us to do exactly that.
              Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very
             truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains
             only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their
            life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal
            life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.
           My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what
           shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came
           to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have
           glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

The first of the three invitations is that Jesus is inviting us to share in His death.  That is kinda shocking in today's world, so let's look at this closely. It is not a literal death on a cross, or any other kind of physical death, necessarily, but it is a death that can be drastic and painful.

Look again as He describes (His own) death and says, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." Farmers know that a seed that doesn't die is not good for anything. It just lies on the ground and never germinates, never grows a plant, never fulfills its potential.
When the right kind of seed lies in the ground and comes into contact with moisture, it looks like it is rotting, but as it dies a beautiful green shoot begins to rise from it. It's being transformed! Death has transformed it to become something greater than it was. Because of the death of that one seed, a plant will live that will produce a great deal of fruit -- and many more seeds.

Jesus knew that like that seed, His death would lead to life for many. It would also lead to life for Himself. Just imagine what would have happened if Jesus had clung to His life and not been willing to die . . . there would have been no resurrection for Him, or for us. There would be no salvation from our sins, and there would be no Savior to whom we could go and ask forgiveness. There would be no grace, only the law.

You see, Jesus knew that His death was necessary in order to bring eternal life to those who believed in Him. Only by His dying, could they live. He quickly followed by saying, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be." (John 12:25-26) If we are to follow Him, we must join Him in a death of sorts . . .

Here is what we mean: it is a death to self. It is dying to the life we want to live, in order to live the life that He wants us to live. If we cling tenaciously to OUR lives, OUR plans, and our sin, then we will die spiritually. If we lay down our lives, then we discover a life that we never would have known was possible.
If I die to what I was, to what I planned and desired, then I become something else; I become something far greater than my former self could ever have been.
We must die to those plans that are not a part of His plan for us. We must die to the desire to have total control of our lives. We must also die to pride, and to demanding our own ways. We have to put aside stubbornness, selfishness, and those sins that we would like to just overlook and say, "oh, that's not a big deal."
But look at the discovery we will make: when we die to those things, we come to life for the first time! We can say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
You see, when we think we are "really living" or "living it up" we are fooling ourselves. There is no real contentment or fulfillment there. We are just existing. In order to live, we must die to anything that we are depending on for meaning, for purpose, and for happiness --- other than God. There's no other way. But if we lose our lives, we will find them. There are lots of people who can tell you that they have found life only by dying to their old lives.

And they will also tell you it was more than worth it.