Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday slowdown

My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
in pastures fresh he makes me feed,
beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
when I forsake his ways,
and leads me, for his mercy's sake,
in paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death
his presence is my stay;
one word of his supporting grace
drives all my fears away.
His hand, in sight of all my foes,
doth still my table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows,
his oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
attend me all my days;
O may thy house be my abode,
and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others go and come;
no more a stranger, nor a guest,
but like a child at home.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

And sheep can be dumb

Sheep are so cute, aren't they? So fluffy, and so bouncy and well, just cute!

Did you also know that sheep can be kinda stupid?

Ohhhhhh, and we are compared to sheep in John 10, right? Oy.

Let's look closely at sheep and see what we can learn about ourselves, ok? Let's dive in!

When we think about most of the other animals in the world, we can see that they have ways to protect themselves. Wolves and dogs have teeth, cats have claws, skunks have spray, and sheep have....sheep have.....well, they don't have much. They are fuzzy, and they have this instinct called "flocking." It's like the old days of stuffing people into Volkswagens -- if it rains, the ones on the inside are OK. Well, if you are on the inside of a flock of sheep, the wolf will leave you alone, since he is busy deciding which one of the outer ring of sheep he's going to nibble on.

Many other animals have well-developed senses. We've all heard the expression "eagle-eye" and there are animals with keen hearing, as well. Well, when the first sheep heard they were passing out those traits, he must have thought it was something different, because he didn't go get any. (Grin) Sheep don't see very well -- that is why the shepherd's staff has that crook on one end. He can hoist a sheep out of a ravine after they keep on grazing right past the edge and fall. He can also fish them out of the water once they fall in there! Remember Psalm 23, and "still water"? Sheep need still water instead of rapidly-flowing streams, or they will drown. Just try putting a wool sweater into a tub of water and then see how heavy it is when you want to pull it out! You can see why sheep need to be "by still waters," right?

I think you can probably see right through my comparisons, can't you? We (the sheep in John 10) don't have much luck in protecting ourselves from Satan and his temptations. We are pretty blind sometimes, and just keep blundering along until we fall into sin, because we didn't see it coming. We need to stay by the still waters, because we're not nearly as good swimmers as we think we may be!

We passed over some of the duties of the shepherds in our studies. Did you know that when it's dusk and it's time for the sheep to go into the pen, the shepherd will sit in the opening of the pen? He'll block the opening with his staff, and count each sheep as it goes in for the night . . . there's Blackie, the one that toes in a little; there's Snow, I know her by that droopy ear; there's Graybeard, oh, come here, boy, you got pretty torn up in that thorn bush today. Let's put a little oil on it and make sure it heals up. And so on, and so on till the sheep are all inside and the shepherd lies down in the gate to ensure that nothing and no one get to the sheep. He lays down his life for them if something threatens them.
Uh huh.
You saw through that comparison, too, didn't you? Y'all are smart! Our good Shepherd has said that He is our gate. He is our way to be safe, and to be saved. And He knows all about us -- He knows us by name; He knows how many hairs are on our heads; He knows when we've been hurt, and how to comfort and heal us.  And He laid down His life for us and died on the cross; He lives again to offer us salvation and to show us how to live.

I saw a sermon online from a pastor (thank you, Rob Brink) who said there were actually three kinds of shepherds. We already discussed the hired hand; he just does the bare minimum. He feeds the flock, waters the flock, watches them as they go in the community pen, and then when a wolf comes, he runs away.
The bad shepherd drives the sheep along, and pushes them from behind, smacking them to make them obey, and probably has a very yappy dog to help keep them in line. The sheep never have a chance to exercise the (limited) intelligence that God gave them, so they are just surviving. They aren't growing, thriving, maturing.
The good shepherd knows the sheep, and they know him. He leads them out of the pen and on their way, so that whoever wants to attack must deal with him first. He calls them by name, and cares for their hurts.

It bothers me to think of how much joy I've missed, how much time I've wasted, not being a good sheep. We need to stay close to the Shepherd. We can find comfort in His care. He will be our guard, our guide, and our companion every step of the way.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

John 10: 7-18 Pleasant pastures and unity

We're continuing our study of our good Shepherd, and today we will start with verses 7-10:
Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The shepherd is going to always be careful to lead his sheep to rich pasture land, to pleasant pastures. And Jesus identifies Himself with the gate to these pleasant places. He also identifies the pastures with "Life to the full." In the King James it says, "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." Wow! I always love to read that!
It doesn't necessarily mean (tho it can) that we will have an exceptionally long life -- but it does mean that we'll have a full life. We will truly live; we won't just shuffle along taking furtive glances at what is happening alongside us. We won't struggle with the chain that binds us to the "I should have done that" and the "why did I do that" thoughts that come to us. We will be so preoccupied with the blessings that God has given us, and the direction that Christ is leading us, that we will live in the moment. We'll enjoy the peace and freedom that comes from trusting Him to lead us into pleasant pastures. As believers, we can be secure in His care, and we can follow His voice as the sheep follow their shepherd.

Now, so far we've studied about how the sheep know the shepherd's voice, and they are protected by him, and he leads them to abundant pastureland . . . we also see in this passage that there are many different sheep that are all called together.
Let's look at verses 14-18:

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life -- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

Jesus is speaking here to a Jewish audience. And He is telling them, announcing to them, that the family of God will be opened up to people from all other races! That is an astonishing thought for a people who have been taught from birth that they (and they alone) are God's chosen people.

That means that all of us -- Gentiles, people of Asian descent, African descent, European descent, American descent -- all of us will be included in the family of God. When everything is said and done, and all of the history of this world has been written, the Good Shepherd will call out sheep from every nation on earth to worship.
What is this unity of worship based on? Look back at our verses. See where He says He lays down His life voluntarily?

Hmmm.....let's make this clearer.
Often we hear today of suicide bombers in the Middle East and elsewhere, strapping on explosives and detonating them while they are in the midst of a crowd of people. What do they hope to accomplish by the shedding of their blood? Are they protecting anyone from any danger? No, they just hope to make a statement, and perhaps "take out" some humans that they blindly hate.
In war years (whether World War I, II, or in present-day Iraq) we also hear of soldiers who will throw their bodies onto a mine or grenade at the moment of detonation. What do they accomplish? Are they protecting anyone from danger? Yes, they are saving the lives of the soldiers or civilians around them.

That is what pulls all of us believers together and gives us unity -- the fact that He died for each one of us. Christ paid a very high price to save us, to save our souls . . . the highest price ever. And we see repeated calls for unity in the New Testament. Remember Paul, talking to the Ephesians?

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-5)

We are one; so even when it's hard, we try to extend grace and mercy to one another, and to look out for each other. We are one flock. We're one people. We honor and obey the one Good Shepherd.

We'll have some closing thoughts on this passage tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Prayer requests

This week it is our privilege to share prayer requests and praises with each other, and to "bear one another's burdens."

Sometimes, despite our fervent prayers, things just don't go the way we think they should. Perhaps we lose our job, or a loved one dies, or we have some other disappointment that shakes our world.
Perhaps we've prayed, and the life outcome is just the opposite of what we asked God for.

Now what?

What do we do with our brokenheartedness?

The first thing we need to do is be honest with ourselves and with our Lord. Tell Him that you are disappointed. Tell Him you are sad, and even tell Him if you are so hurt that you feel anger welling up inside.

Our Lord wants to hear and then He wants to comfort you. Remember that Jesus told us that God does hear the prayers of the brokenhearted:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:3-4)

We must be honest with ourselves. We can't hide our hurt and our pain. We can't tell ourselves "we must be strong." It's the Lord Who will strengthen us! And it is He Who will heal our pain and our brokenheartedness.

It's when we are honest and tell Jesus of our pain and disappointment that He can respond:

          He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

Let us know if you have a request or a praise today, won't you?

Monday, May 26, 2014

John 10 - the protecting Shepherd

We saw last week that the sheep could perceive the shepherd's voice; if a stranger were to call for them, they might run -- they would definitely not follow him. If their shepherd called to them, however, they would recognize him and follow. Let's study this passage some more . . .

Here are verses 8, and 11-13:
 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
In real life, the shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep; he will protect the sheep from predators who would harm or kill them. So here, we are talking spiritually about Jesus protecting us from spiritual predators.
You know who we're talking about . . . Satan.
We may think of a cartoon figure with a mean face, horns and a pitchfork, but Satan is real, peeps. Very real.
The scriptures tell us that there is a force for evil in this world, and it is not only very real, but very personal. And it is out to capture and destroy your soul.
Too dramatic?
Over the top?
Look at what Peter said in his letter:
Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (I Peter 5:8-9)

Peter knew the truth. He warned us.
Still not convinced?
Tell me, if there is not a personal force that wants to destroy your spirit, then how about those terrible thoughts that keep you up all night? The ones that you fight off, with prayer and more prayer. How we long for the peace that passes all understanding when Satan attacks!
What about that unethical thought, that immoral thought, that thought that pops into your head and you wonder, "Where in the world did that come from? That's not like me!"
"I don't think that way!"
How about when someone insults you, or just disrespects you in some way? Does a quick thought pop in, "I shouldn't have to put up with that!" "I'll get back at them!"

Or the worst of all, of Satan's tricks, when we fail at something . . ."Well, that's just typical. I should be ashamed." "I'm worthless." "I'll never be able to succeed at that."
Let's look at this logically, OK?
We have accepted Christ's gift of salvation.
We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
So can these terrible thoughts in our minds possibly be coming from within us?
Those are coming from outside of us. From a force that is using our small doubts, our insecurities, our lack of peace in Christ's care, to make us come perilously close to self-destruction.
It's a war. Ever read C. S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters? It's an awesome read, and I would encourage you to read it. It is an imaginary (but very true to life) correspondence between an older demon and a younger one, detailing the war they wage to control a person's soul.

Jesus is our good Shepherd, and He will protect us. Not by making the mind war from Satan go away, but by reminding us with His gentle spirit that nothing -- let me repeat that -- NOTHING can shake us from Christ's hold, from His shepherdship.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

We can rest securely in the truth that Jesus will protect us from any danger that would come our way. He is our good and protecting Shepherd.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Slowdown

How could we not choose Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us for our song this week? It's so perfect for our study . . .

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Continuing In John 10

We're continuing to study in this amazing chapter, John 10, and learning more about our Shepherd, and about ourselves as His sheep . . .
Let's dive right in and read verses 1-6:
I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice.

John notes that Jesus was using a figure of speech, but that His listeners did not understand what He was telling them.
Let's look at it together, and see if we can do better!
The reason for this image is from the agrarian society and herd practices of the era. There would often be huge, shared sheep pens.
A number of people in the town would cooperate to construct a pen, then hire a watchman to guard the pen. They would turn all of their flocks into the pen together -- there might be four or five herds in the pen.
When it was time to go out to the pastures or to water, each individual shepherd would go in and call to the sheep that belonged to him. They would recognize their master's voice and follow him out of the pen.
Another interesting thing in this analogy is that the shepherds of the time didn't drive their animals from behind. They walked in front, and led them where they needed to go.
These sheep were so bonded with their particular master that if they heard a voice of a stranger they would run away!

So here is the image in these verses:
  • Smart sheep can be in the midst of a large group of other sheep
  • They will listen until they hear the voice of their master
  • They will come to him, and follow him wherever he leads them.
  • They will run from someone who calls them, but is a stranger to them.
We can learn a lot from these sheep!

We can see here that hearing is much more than just using our ears. It's more, even, than understanding the message with our brains. It's all about receiving the message -- accepting it, making it a part of who we are, and then obeying it.  Anyone can read the Bible. Many do, and they get very little out of it. We need to be sheep that take that Bible reading to heart, and following the commands that we find there.
Here is James 1:22-25. It has a lot to say about this:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. 

Do we yearn to hear the voice of our Shepherd? Are we longing to hear the voice of the One who cares so deeply for us? We can hear it in our private worship and devotions (or in corporate worship in a church setting) when we search the scriptures and pray. His voice is right there in our Bible, and His words of grace are there, from cover to cover.  If we want to hear His voice more clearly, we need to be in the scriptures and in prayer each day. It doesn't have to be a lengthy study; even if it is just fifteen minutes at the start or during the day. (I personally find that if I leave it till the end of the day, I'm so tired that I don't get as much from it!)
If we will build a habit of daily study and prayer, our relationship with Jesus our Shepherd will grow and we'll be blessed abundantly.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

John 10:1-21 The Shepherd and His sheep

We're beginning one of the most cherished chapters of John this week . . . chapter nine was awesome because we saw just what Jesus can do with a person who allows Him to transform their life. Chapter ten is a comfort to us, for it is the chapter in which Jesus describes Himself as the . . .

Good Shepherd.

Ready? Let's dive right in!
In ancient times, society primarily revolved around agriculture, and the shepherd was both a common figure in literature, and a familiar sight in real life. The Old Testament uses the image of the shepherd to portray God's loving care for Israel. (Think of Psalm 23 . . . "the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...." In addition to God, kings and other leaders of Israel were also pictured as shepherds, especially the religious leaders, who were responsible for teaching and guiding the people. Many times, though, the leadership of Israel became corrupt.
Let's look at a passage in Ezekiel 34, which shows just how displeased God was with these irresponsible leaders:
1The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
Pretty tough words, right? They had obviously disappointed Him by not doing their job! He says that He is judging them because they abused their power, and they took advantage of the people -- even letting them wander away from Him.

Later in Ezekiel, though, we see a wonderful promise. Look at verses 11 and following:
For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. 
What a comfort these verses can be to our hearts! God is promising to be the chief shepherd. He says He will care for His people, and He will bless them. He even talks about administering justice, and then finally in verses 22-24 He says:
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.
This is one of the prophecies from God, promising to put a son of David on the Throne, and to make Him a good shepherd. Here in Ezekiel, the Father is confirming to us that 1.) He will be the shepherd, and 2.) The son of David will be the shepherd.

And Jesus is the perfect, complete fulfillment of both of those promises.

It’s obvious from Scripture that Jesus is our Shepherd, but the main point we struggle to remember is that we are sheep. And this chapter is going to give us insights on what it means to live life as sheep.
Join me next time, won't you? 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What are you listening to?

This week, let's encourage each others' hearts with what we're listening to.

You do listen to music, right?

We're encouraged in both the Old Testament and the New to make music and praise our Lord. Sometimes the song in your heart may be just what someone else needs to hear!

This week I've been humming this hymn:

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their pow’r when Thou art nigh.

I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
Oh, make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son.

Monday, May 19, 2014

John 9 ....but now I see, Conclusion

Last week we looked at four of the conversations after the healing of the blind man. Today we'll look at the final one; this one is between the beggar and Jesus.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

One thing that I thought was so significant, is that Jesus sought out the beggar, after He heard that the Pharisees had cast him out. Isn't that awesome?
It wasn't by chance that their paths crossed again. It was because Jesus looked for him. He initiated the conversation.
The man has been threatened, and he's even been cast out of the religious community that he was raised in. He's clung to that community all his life. It's an integral part of his whole life, his being, his faith. But as we saw last week, he's been changed by this event in his life.

So Jesus seeks and finds him, and strikes up a conversation with him. And we see the final chapter of the transformation in the beggar's life.
He was blind.
He was healed.
He called Jesus "the man."
He called Him a "prophet."
He defended Him at a huge risk to his own life and the lives of his family members.
And then he fell down and worshipped Him.

That is the way we should respond, as well.

Do we worship Jesus? Do we give glory to Him, in spite of adversity in our lives? Our Father has a wise, good, Christ-glorifying purpose for everything that happens to us.
Do we find our worship of Jesus deepening, or weakening, in the midst of our messes and our pain?Jesus is the only way that we can respond correctly to the purpose of God in our lives.
Does our worship of Christ falter or strengthen, when our family members are fearful, or even unbelieving? Christ will strengthen us and give us joy -- all we need do is ask.
Can we join the rejected beggar in a triumphant testimony?   I was blind, but now I see.
Jesus sought out the beggar and He is seeking for us today. He can make us be courageous worshippers.
He can transform us.
He is willing.
He's ready.

Are we?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday slowdown

I found this version of this hymn and was so touched by it. I hope it blesses you, as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

John 9 . . . but now I see, Part III

Today we'll continue our study of this chapter, and we will see five different vignettes; there are five conversations that we'll learn from. Hang in there, it may be a lengthy post!

Step by step we will see that the blind man's view of Jesus is going to become clearer and clearer, and he will grab hold of courage to defend Him. We should be inspired to do the same!

The first vignette, or conversation, is between the blind man and his neighbors. Look at verses 8-12, won't you?
His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
OK, so his neighbors are arguing amongst themselves, and then with the man himself. First they are bickering about whether or not he really is the same man who they knew, who'd been a blind beggar. He insists that he IS the one who had been blind. Nothing daunted, they demanded how his eye were opened, and he tells them his story. He simply calls Jesus the "man." He knows his name, but for some reason he only calls him "the man."

In the second conversation, the blind man is being questioned by the Pharisees. Let's check out verses 13-17:
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
What we see here is something akin to an investigation. They ask him how in the world he can be seeing things if he had been born blind. They probably stared into his eyes, and made him tell them how many fingers they were holding up. Probably asked what color were the tassels on Rabbi Gamaliel's robe, too.
Did they miss the point, or what?
Then when he tells his story, they are divided, according to John. This gives me a little hope here. Maybe there were some who saw the miracle, and not just the breaking of the Law? We'll see.
Notice the last thing the blind man says to them; it's important. He calls Him a prophet. So he is evolving in his perception of he says He is a prophet. And prophets are sent by God.

The third conversation that John records here is between the Pharisees and the man's parents. Here are verses 18-23: 
They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
The parents are probably scared to pieces. John notes that they are in fear of their questioners. This really points out the growing courage of their son; he is becoming more fearless in his answers!

The fourth conversation is between the Pharisees and the beggar (again). We're going to be amazed at the courage of a mere beggar, standing up to the most educated, the most religious, the most powerful Jewish people of the land . . .
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

I don't know about you, but when I finish reading this, I'm practically on my feet cheering for this guy!
He has undergone an amazing transformation, right before our eyes! And we are also given a front row seat to see the blasphemy of the Pharisees.
They tell him to join in their blasphemy; to say that Jesus is a sinner. "Who's going to make me?" was probably the beggar's response, because they tell him that if he doesn't agree with them, they will excommunicate him from the synagogue. Amazingly, he responds to their threat with his most famous statement. "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." This is a ringing, triumphant personal testimony, and it's powerful in its rebuttal of a very bad argument.
The truth of Jesus is going deeper into this man's heart. His courage becomes scorn -- "You wanna hear my story again? You going to become His disciples?"
No wonder they become hostile.
The truth hurts, as they say.
Because as Jesus said in John 5:46, "If you believed in Moses you would believe me, for he wrote of me." We are really seeing that they are not only blind, but that they are not even disciples of Moses!
They can't handle what has happened to this man; they can't handle what he is telling them. They cast him out; they want nothing further to do with him. His courage is causing him to assume the role of teacher, and their blindness (and the stiffening of their necks!) is becoming more and more hardened.
We'll see next time the final conversation in this chapter.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

John 9 . . . but now I see, Part II

Last time we studied this chapter, we discussed God's purpose in adversity, and our responses to it. Today we will get into the controversy that was sparked by the actions of Jesus in this passage.

When we reach verses 6 and 7, we see the actual healing of the man who was born blind. I've heard many sermons, as you probably have, drawing analogies between the blindness of sinful humans, and the healing Jesus brings to our lives. But the Spirit is pointing our study in a slightly different direction today.
 Having said these things, [Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”

So here is where the controversy starts; Jesus has told us that the works of God will be made manifest, and then He, Himself, heals the man. This action (designed by God)  is going to reveal some hearts here -- some are going to be blasphemers in their response; others will worship Him. Those who have eyes to see will say in effect, "We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." The blind man will respond this way. The Pharisees won't.

Ready? Let's dive in!
Ever wonder why Jesus used mud to heal the blind man? First, He did it because it was against the Law to do it on the Sabbath; at least, it was against the Pharisee's take on the Law. These folks were uber sensitive, uber legalistic; they actually were puffed up and arrogant about how righteous they were, and how good they were at complying with the Law. Look in verses thirteen and fourteen:
"They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes."
Did you catch that? John is giving us a clue, just like he had turned to us and remarked so that we would "get it." The mud-making is explicitly connected with the Sabbath -- and the Pharisees. They had developed lots of paragraphs and sub-paragraphs under the prohibition of work on the Sabbath, and one of them was the kneading of dough. The word used for mud or clay in this passage is the same as the word for dough, so Jesus had "broken the Law" against kneading dough, or clay, or mud.

Why did He do that?
To show that He was "Lord of the Sabbath." Remember Matthew 12:8?
                      "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

He (Jesus) defines the Sabbath. He tells us what the whole point of the Sabbath rest is -- it's healing. Recuperation. Rest. The reason we rest on the Sabbath is that we are weak, and helpless, and God sustains and heals us. He gives us the strength we need.  What better day than a Sabbath for God to find and heal a broken man? To give to him, and to his parents, rest from all of the struggles of blindness, of taking care of a helpless individual, of fending off questions of "whose fault was it?" That is the whole purpose of the Sabbath rest; it's to give God's blessings to weary human beings!

We are going to see in the rest of the chapter that the blind man becomes clearer and clearer about Who Jesus is, and become stronger and stronger in his courage -- even defending Jesus against adversaries that could prove dangerous to one who "bucks the system." He is going to see Jesus, confess faith in Him, and worship Him. And others will reveal their blasphemous hearts after this controversy develops.
The second reason Jesus used the mud is to show that God often uses simple, everyday means to do His wonderful works in our world.
We all know that Jesus could simply have spoken.
The man would have been healed.
His sightless eyes would have had the gift and power of sight.
God doesn't need these simple, everyday things to do His work, but He uses them. Look at Proverbs 21:31:
           "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord."
Does He need the horse? Does He need the warrior on the horse's back?
But He uses them. God doesn't despise, or look with contempt, on this marvelous world that He has created. This physical world can be used for His purposes. He uses food to sustain our lives. He uses sunlight to give us needed vitamins. He allows men to discover, invent, create, and the things that they create, from cough syrup to antibiotics, can be used to bring about healing. Scientists can pontificate about how these things work, but when you get right down to it, at the molecular level, we have to just say that it works because of God. Because He created it. Because He allows it to be used. And if our hearts are humble and worshipful, we will agree that God is at the root of everything!

It's an important thing to believe that God uses simple, everyday things to accomplish His purposes. And what are His purposes?
Ultimately, that the glory of His work will be displayed:

           "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork."
                                         (Psalms 19:1)

So now, Jesus tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam, which means "sent." This is another remark directed at us by John -- telling us the meaning of the name.  Why? Well, perhaps because the water in the pool came by a stream from a distant spring. Jesus might have been making a comparison between the pool, called "Sent," and Himself, sent from the Father as living water for us.
This water then, signifies cleansing, healing and life. Remember in John 4, Jesus offered the woman at the well "living water." It was the water of life. When we meet Jesus and receive Him by faith, we will live and see and begin to be healed. We will be completely healed at the resurrection. All of our healing is because of our new spiritual lives, and those come from Jesus, the One Who is sent!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Verses that inspire

Today is our day to share verses that have inspired us in the past few weeks. I hope that you will take a moment to comment and let us know if a verse has comforted you, convicted you, or uplifted you in the last few days. You never know how God will use your words to help another!

As children, we memorize verses for Sunday School, and some verses are inscribed on our hearts by the Spirit in times of pressure.
Sometimes in our times of reading and devotions a verse will inspire us. Other times we're looking for answers and a verse is right there when we need it.

This past week, this verse meant a great deal to me:
"The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deuteronomy 29:29

Monday, May 12, 2014

John 9 . . . but now I see

It isn't often that we study an entire chapter at one time, but this chapter begs us to study it as a whole. There is much here that will teach us, convict us, and show us how to be courageous.

I'd like for you to read the entire chapter (John 9) first, and then come back to the study blog. Do that for me, won't you? I'll wait right here.

Back already? Isn't that an awesome chapter? Let's dive in!

In this passage, Jesus' attention is drawn to a man who had been "blind from birth." Jesus' disciples ask about the cause of the man's blindness. They want to know, in their human struggle to understand, if blame can be assigned. But Jesus turns the question around, and tells them that it wasn't that this man sinned, or his parents (those would be human causes) but that the works of God might be displayed in him (that's a divine purpose).
We could say then, that God doesn't just respond to things in this world, but He plans things for this world. He is not necessarily responding to a human cause, but He is always planning a purpose.

Whoa. That is important. For me, for you, for everyone.
That means that no matter what mess we are in, or what pain we are feeling, the causes of that mess and that pain are not the most vital part of explaining it. The most important part of explaining it, is the purpose that God has for it.
Of course there are causes. Not saying that there are not. There are things that are our fault, and things that are other peoples' fault. But those don't define the meaning of the mess or the pain. The meaning is determined by God's purpose in it.
It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)
You see, like the disciples, our perspective is so limited, so narrow. Sometimes we even wonder, "Is God paying me back for being bad?"
As Charles Stanley wrote in "How to Handle Adversity," God is not the only source of adversity. Oftentimes adversity comes as a result of our own many cases the result of sin."
He goes on to say, "As much as we all want to know the answer to the "why" question, it is really not the most significant question. The real question each of us needs to ask is, "How should I respond?"

We'll be studying the blind man's response to his adversity and his healing. We'll find that if we do as he did, we'll not only have an abundant life, but we'll also be an incredible testimony to others!

If in the midst of our mess and our pain, we confess our sins and hold fast to Jesus, God's purpose for our mess and pain will be a good purpose, and be worth everything that we must endure. We know this is true - we can bank on it:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Now, none of this will make sense if God Himself, and His glory, is not your greatest treasure.
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (I Corinthians 2:14)
 When Jesus tells us that the purpose of this man's blindness is that the works of God might be displayed in him, he is telling us that the outward showing of God's works and power has a value that outweighs years and years of blindness. It makes the adversity seem small by comparison with an awesome God and His purpose.  In order to understand that, we must value God's works more than we value anything else . . . more than life itself, according to David in Psalm 63:3: “Your steadfast love is better than life.”

Being loved by God, and being with Jesus forever, is better than having sight, and better than being alive in this world! If we don't believe that, then telling ourselves (in the midst of adversity) that God has a wise and good purpose in our mess and pain just won't give us a warm fuzzy feeling, will it? It won't mean much at all, if we aren't close to Him.
But here is the part that should mean so very much: if we do believe that He has a wise and good purpose in all of our pain, we will be comforted and strengthened. And we will be able to be patient in our own pain, and be able to help others in their dark times, too.
Jesus said to the prisoners in Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Lord, help us to be faithful. Help us to see.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday slowdown

"Take up thy cross and follow Me,"
I heard my Master say;
"I gave My life to ransom thee,
Surrender your all today."

Wherever He leads I'll go,
Wherever He leads I'll go,
I'll follow my Christ who loves me so,
Wherever He leads I'll go.
He drew me closer to His side,
I sought His will to know;
And in that will I now abide,
Wherever He leads I'll go.

It may be through the shadows dim
Or o'er the stormy sea:
I take my cross and follow Him,
Wherever He leadeth me.

My heart, my life, my all I bring
To Christ who loves me so;
He is my Master, Lord, and King,
Wherever He leads I'll go.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

John 8:48-59 The great I AM, Conclusion

Yesterday we were studying Jesus' claim that He was the great I AM, and what that meant in our lives. That it was more important than His being a friend, or a comforter.
  Imagine that the distance between the earth and the sun, 93 million miles, was just the thickness of a single piece of paper.  That would mean that the diameter of our galaxy would be a stack of paper 310 miles high.  But that giant stack of papers would be like just a piece of lint when set beside the whole universe which is filled with more galaxies than there are grains of sand on the seashore.  The scope of the universe is grander than we can ever begin to imagine.

Now consider that the scriptures claim that Jesus Christ created every last atom in this seemingly endless universe and that it is only in him that it all is held together.  Christ holds the universe together with his pinky finger, with simply a word from his lips.  Speaking about Jesus, Colossians 1 says, “By him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Tim Keller)
That puts it in perspective, doesn't it?
Is this the person that you are going to ask into your life to be your assistant? Your co-pilot?
Is this person someone to whom you will say, "I'll let You know when I need You?"
Are we going to relegate Jesus to the edges of our lives, and handle the "big stuff" ourselves?
Are we going to question His commands? Will we accept His teachings that we like, and ignore the ones that we don't like?
If Jesus is really who He claimed to be here in this passage, if He is the eternal I AM, then He is the same one Who created that vast universe. He is the One Who controls it. He is the One Who keeps our hearts beating, too.
All we can do in the face of this power, majesty, authority and love is to offer Him our complete, undivided devotion.
It seems as if we have walked this path before, doesn't it? Earlier in the gospel of John, we have seen where either John or Jesus told us that Jesus is God. He has always existed; He is eternal; and He is the compassionate ruler of this universe that He created.
As we noted yesterday, we can be like the crowds that day. We like Jesus. We like to hear what He has said. We value the fact that He is our friend. We're hopeful that somewhere along the line, He might do good things for us, and we really want to be counted among those who follow Him. We have no problem giving Him some of our time, and some of our attention. We'll even give Him some of our wealth, and follow His path sometimes. But then when He claims His rightful place as Lord of our lives, we think to ourselves that He is being greedy and demanding.
And we don't like that.
Our flesh is weak.
We need to ask ourselves if Jesus is our Master? If we have truly submitted to His Lordship in our lives? We need to be ready and willing to say, "There are no limits to my allegiance to Him." Remember the old hymn that says "wherever He leads, I'll go"?
We need to:
Go wherever He goes.
Do whatever He does.
Say whatever He says.
Give away whatever He gives away.
Love whomever He loves.
Jesus doesn't want a part of our lives. He is either our Master or our enemy. There really isn't any space in between.  (Matthew 6:24)
But here is the good news: if we trust Him, bowing in faith before Jesus Christ as the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving and merciful Ruler of the universe, we will find that what He gives us in return is life.
More abundant.
Never ending.
"Whoever keeps my word will never see death."
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:11-13)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

John 8:48-59 The great I AM, Part II

Yesterday we "hit rewind" and wet back to Exodus, to see God use the term "I AM" to describe Himself. Now we're back in the gospel of John, ready to dive in. Please re-read the passage if you like, to refresh your memory. (Kinda lengthy post here, hang in with me!)

Now that we're back in John, we see Jesus engaged in a spirited conversation with a crowd of fellow Jews. Some are the common folk that were drawn to Him, and others were the leaders that found Him so terribly annoying. Most of these are not His enemies; they are people who like some of the things He's been saying. They may be hopeful that He can help them. They probably consider Him to be a good teacher and a wise man.
But the more they listen to Jesus, the more upset they became (especially the leaders).And the more they listened, the clearer it became that Jesus was not going to be simply a friend or teacher, or someone who'd help them out of tight spots! He was asking for much more than that. He was asking for absolute devotion; it is what turned them against him, for they were neither understanding nor ready.  In verse 48 they were so frustrated that they called Jesus a Samaritan, and even suggested he was possessed by a demon -- neither of those is a compliment! So patient . . . He responds by telling them He has no demon. At the same time, he affirms His sonship of God. He says He honors His Father, and then says, "Whoever keeps my word will never see death." He is repeating what He has told us before. He's come from God, and the Father is working through Him to bring the world back to Himself. If we trust Him, we trust the Father. And if we trust the Father, we will never die.
Wow! That should get our attention! The thing that we humans fear most -- death -- is what He promises to deliver us from. Can you blame the crowds? Here is a Jewish carpenter, Who is teaching like a rabbi, and Who has given some wonderful lessons and performed some miracles. Now He tells us He can deliver us from death!
If a person claims that they have power over death, that means that they are somehow above life and death. More powerful. In essence, they are claiming to be divine. To be God. Well, the crowds can't believe what they're hearing . . .they tell Jesus, "Now we know for sure you must be possessed by a demon. Even Abraham couldn't cheat death, and you're trying to tell us that you're greater than him? Who do you think you are?"
Hmmmmm. Funny that they should bring him up. Abraham, I mean. As Jesus tells them, Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus' day. "He saw it and was glad." That causes people some problems, just as it did these listeners . . . how did Abraham, living thousands of years earlier, see Christ's day and rejoice? Well, if we go back to Genesis 12, we see God making a covenant with Abraham. He was promised that if he followed God, God would make his people a great and blessed nation -- through whom God would one day bless the whole world! Abraham couldn't have begun to understand how everything would play out. But he trusted God anyway: he left his land, his family, and his former life, following God even though he had no crystal ball in which to see that one of his descendants, Mary, would lay a child in a manger -- Who came from heaven to bless the entire world. He didn't have that crystal ball, and didn't know the details, but the idea that somehow God would make this happen filled Abraham with joy.

That is what Jesus is saying. But do they "get it"?
The best comeback they have is "you aren't even 50 years old, and you say you've seen Abraham?" (It's like looking at someone today and saying, "What? Are you nuts?"  Oy vey. The Truth is standing patiently in front of their eyes and they can't see Him. 
So that is when Jesus lets the hammer fall on their toes. "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham, I AM."
You know how there are certain people that you must be careful around? There are certain things you can't say around them? If you say those words, you have an instant fight on your hands?
Well, as soon as the crowd hears Jesus say that, the time for dialogue is over -- it's time for picking up stones, because the Law is very specific: Leviticus 24 stated that if anybody ever blasphemed the unspeakable, holy name of God, he or she was to be immediately stoned to death.
It's almost as if during this whole conversation, the people didn't really want to believe that He was saying what He was saying. Like when we want to give a person the "benefit of the doubt" and not think the worst. But now they had no choice -- by saying those two words, I AM, Jesus is taking the very name which God first used for Himself when He spoke with Moses at the burning bush. That name was the one that no Jew would ever speak, write, or spell -- and Jesus is claiming that name for Himself!

This is a life or death declaration, then. Jesus is saying, "Where I am, there is God, there God lives, speaks, calls, asks, acts, decides, loves, chooses, forgives, rejects, hardens, suffers, dies." (Ethelbert Stauffer)  In the end, this claim of His demands that we either accept His claim, and build our lives around Him, or reject His claim. We either give Him our undivided worship or we cut ourselves off from God (and all that is good, and life-giving).
Well, we know that the crowd that day rejected it, and tried to kill him.
More important is how we receive His claim today. There are a lot of people in the world today to accept Jesus as a friend. He's someone who will faithfully walk by our side and comfort us when we need a good cry.  He's a life preserver we can hold on to, when we are in deep water. (Remember the bumper stickers? Jesus is my co-pilot? Doesn't He need to be our pilot?)
Is Jesus our friend? Of course. The best friend ever.
Does He comfort us? Absolutely. Like no one else can.
Can He save our lives? You know He can.
He is all of these things, but in the end, Jesus Christ is Lord. If we claim Him as less, we put ourselves in danger.
Jesus knows our tendency is to be happy with having Him as a friend, a comforting shoulder, a life preserver. But our human nature bristles a little when He says we need to submit. To accept His Lordship and His path for our lives. Let's think about that and finish up this passage tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Prayer requests

Today is our day to share prayer requests with our sisters (and brothers) in Christ.

Do you ever wonder how to pray? Do you look at your life and feel at a loss for words? We can learn a lot by looking at the Bible and seeing how people have prayed.
We may feel like we have been backed into a corner. Our jobs, finances, marriages may be in trouble, and we feel like we have been pursued and our hearts are desperate.
David knew that feeling. This is how he prayed:
 "I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2)
Desperation is a feeling that Jesus' disciples knew. He told them:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." (John 14:1)
When we feel desperate, our flesh may find it hard to trust in God. We can pray to the Holy Spirit, and He will help us overcome our emotions.

We can put our trust in God, for He will not fail us.

I hope you will share any prayer request that you have on your heart, and let us join you in prayer about it. If you've had prayer answered and want to leave a praise, please do that as well.

Monday, May 5, 2014

John 8:48-59 The great I AM, Part I

48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
Indulge me here, OK?
I'd like to look at another portion of the Word as we start studying this passage.
Just hit the rewind button and lift up your finger when you get to Exodus chapter 3. (Grin)
Remember when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt? Moses had been raised in the palace of the Pharaoh, but he had fled from Egypt because he was wanted for murder. Years and years he'd been in the desert, and found a wife and family there. One day in the wilderness, God comes to meet him! On the mountain called Horeb, God appears in a burning bush and speaks to him; He wants Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go.
I've always found Moses' response interesting: he isn't really thrilled with the idea! He starts telling God all of the problems in the proposed plan. He's just a shepherd, his name is on "wanted" posters, he can't talk eloquently, yada yada yada. He doesn't even think that the Israelites, who had now been in slavery for about 400 years, would even believe him. "Lord, they will want to know Who is sending me to them. What should I say is your name?"
Here's the part that should really crank our tractors. These are stirring words. They are awe-inspiring. They are timeless, eternal words. "I AM WHO I AM." Tell them "I AM has sent me." This is one of the most important moments in the Bible, and we now know the very name of God!
I AM WHO I AM. When He says this, He is proclaiming, "I am eternal. I am uncaused. I have no beginning, and no end. I am the past, the present, and the future -- in fact, I am above time and space. I AM WHO I AM and nothing about that will ever change."
In His quest to bring us to Himself, God has revealed Himself to us. God is personal -- He has a name. You see, He is not just a force of some kind, or a unit of energy, but a real being Who knows us, and wants us to know Him. But He is also a being Who is far higher above us than we can ever imagine.
This name for God became of great importance to the generations of Jews who followed Moses. The third commandment was the one in which God told them to never, ever use His name in vain. God's name was holy; it was a name that a reverent Jew would not speak, or write, or spell. Did you know that when His name was used in the scriptures, the transcribers would only write the first consonants of the words and leave out the vowels. Why? So it would be impossible to say the name aloud.
It would appear as an unpronounceable word -- just four letters. YHWH.
We say it today: Yahweh.
But no Jew would dare to say that name. God was simply too holy, too righteous, too far above mankind for anyone to even utter His name. The penalty for those who did was death.

Wow. Times sure have changed. God's name is tossed around in our world like a cheap toy. It's used as a curse when human beings are angry or frustrated. We even take it for granted in church, barely thinking as we speak His name. We pray as Jesus taught us to pray, sure, saying "Hallowed be thy name," but do we really do anything to keep His name holy? Do we say it casually, or with reverence?

What does the way we use the name of God, tell us about how we feel about the person of God? What does it say about our relationship with Him?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday slowdown

  1. Here's something a little different this week. If you prefer a more traditional rendering of the hymn, check out the link at the bottom of the post.
  2. Enjoy.

  3. God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
    Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
    Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
    Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
  4. Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
    In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;
    Be Thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
    Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
  5. From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
    Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
    Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
    Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
  6. Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
    Lead us from night to never-ending day;
    Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
    And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

Here's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir offering their amazing rendition of the hymn.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Who's your daddy? Part III

We hear this phrase nowadays: "It is what it is."
These leaders in our studies this week were being who they were. They would not respond to the truth, no matter if it was something they were hearing, or if it was the real person, Jesus, standing in their midst.
They were believing the devil's lies, instead.
[45] “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. [46] Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? [47] Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 
So Jesus asked them if they had a specific, legitimate charge against Him. Again, He was hearkening back to the law, where if an accusation was made, and had witnesses to shore it up, it had a leg to stand on.

"You accuse me of sin . . . then name it!"
"Whom have I cheated?"
"Whom have I stolen from?"
"Have I lied to anyone?"
"Have I deceived anyone?"

In today's parlance, you could hear the crickets chirping.
He has revealed to everyone within earshot that they cannot point to any sin at all in Him. They are not the good and decent men that they profess to be. In fact, it is quite the opposite situation -- they are slaves to sin.  Since Jesus was speaking the truth, they should have believed His words. But they don't have the right relationship with the Father, and so they didn't take in what God was saying. It went in one ear and right out the other -- and fast!

This whole passage should be making one thing abundantly clear to us. We have two alternatives. Two "dads."  We either are going to claim Jesus, or we'll claim the devil. We will either follow the Christ, or we will follow Satan. There's not any middle ground there. Our choice is to either be led by the Spirit, or led by the flesh. As Jesus told these men, we will either love God, or we won't. Who does that leave us loving?
You got it.
If we don't choose God, we are choosing the alternative: the devil. And the evidence will be there in our lives. Are we deceiving ourselves about our hearts, and about our lives? Are we deceiving ourselves about the way of salvation? Then our minds will be darkened, and our lives will be disobedient.

It's so different when we live in obedience to Him! The truth sets us free.
What kind of evidence is there about our beliefs? Are we consistently living according to the words of Jesus? When we do that, we are leaving evidence behind us that we belong to Him. We make it clear that we are heirs of God the Father. We give no evidence that someone could use to accuse us. We are living the truth of the will of God for our lives.
For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (I Peter 2:15)
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)