Monday, February 23, 2015


God has blessed us with our families and our friends as we walk this earth. And He shows us in His Word, and by the nudging of His Spirit, that we have responsibilities to those around us.

He gives us strength as it is required, as we try to do the jobs that He would have us do, and we strive to complete those jobs and give Him the glory.

I find that I need to take a few days in order to honor my responsibilities, and in so doing, to honor my Lord.  I hope that you will bear with me, and re-join me next week as we continue our studies.

You are all very real blessings to me; whether you read and go on your way, or you read and leave a comment, please be assured that I love all of you as sisters and brothers in Christ, and that my heart is always conscious of my responsibility here, as well.

Take care. Stay safe. I'll see you again soon.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday slowdown

  1. O soul, are you weary and troubled?
    No light in the darkness you see?
    There’s light for a look at the Savior,
    And life more abundant and free!
    • Refrain:
      Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
      Look full in His wonderful face,
      And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
      In the light of His glory and grace.
  2. Through death into life everlasting
    He passed, and we follow Him there;
    O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
    For more than conqu’rors we are!
  3. His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
    Believe Him, and all will be well:
    Then go to a world that is dying,
    His perfect salvation to tell!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When we hit "rock bottom," conclusion

Yesterday we left Peter and John running for their lives along with the other disciples. It's all they can think of to do, after Jesus rebuked Peter and the officials arrested Jesus. But these two slow down, and look back toward Jesus and the soldiers. They look at one another and then turn around, and follow the crowd into Jerusalem.  Many translators and scholars say that John was the other disciple with Peter, because some of them conclude that John was some kind of relative of the high priest's family, and was known by the gatekeepers at the courtyard. That is why he is let into the courtyard, and Peter is asked to wait outside the door. John comes back, talks with the girl watching the gate, and convinces her to let Peter in.

Get ready. Here is the first denial.
This girl asks him in a friendly, non-threatening way, "You're not one of His disciples, are you?" She is just asking so she can let him through the gate. It's just so easy to smile at her diligence and watchfulness and say no. So this first temptation to lie is very subtle -- what else can he say if he wants to get in? He can't do any good for Jesus if he is left standing outside, can he? But now that he has portrayed himself as an innocent bystander, it's going to be difficult to change things next time....

There's Peter, trying to be un-noticeable in the ungodly crowd. He tries to blend in; he stands by the fire like everyone else, and probably makes idle conversation, though his heart is longing to be with the Master. He is trying to fit in with the world, but he's not part of it. Many people try that, and it's a painful place to be. The world knows that you are different from them, but then again, you've denied Him. Peter's heart must have been miserable as he stood by the fire.

Uh-oh, now someone else has taken a good look at Peter, "You're not one of His disciples, are you?" Peter denies emphatically that he is one of them. Oh, he's slipping further and further down that slope.  Ever noticed that the further you go with a lie, the harder it is to turn around and fix things? Oy.  Finally, here comes a relative of Malchus -- he probably took a long, hard look at the person that cut off Malchus' ear. "Didn't I see you in the garden?"  Try to imagine what is going through Peter's mind . . . this guy is a relative of Malchus. What is he going to do if he finds out that I'm that one who attacked Malchus and whacked off his ear? Can this situation get any worse? Yep.

Peter goes so far this time as to reinforce his "no" with swearing. More forceful, yes. Gonna cause him pain later? Yep.

In the heat and anxiety of that moment, Peter hears a rooster crow. Immediately, the thoughts of Malchus, the crowd, even Jesus' scolding of him disappear. He remembers instead the words that Jesus had spoken to him a few hours earlier, "I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"

Oh, how my heart aches for Peter! He had done something he never dreamed he would. This is the absolute rock bottom for Peter. We've looked at how he slipped down the slope. We've learned from his experience and hopefully we won't let it happen in our lives. Just imagine the conflict in Peter right now. He has never stopped loving the Lord, because his faith hasn't failed. Jesus had prayed for him, that his faith would not fail. But he has failed in his witness -- he feels his own disappointment in himself.

Please look at Luke 22:61.
We know that God's timing is perfect, right? Jesus has just been led into the courtyard on his way to another trial, this time before Caiaphas. At the moment that the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked directly into the eyes of Peter. Singling him out in the crowd, Jesus looked at him. It was not a look of anger, nor was it an "I told you so" look. It was pure love and compassion. Jesus is looking at him with such tenderness . . . Peter is cursing and denying Him and He loves him. Peter melts. What else can he do. This is Peter's epiphany: at the point of his greatest failure, Jesus is standing there full of love and compassion for him.

Peter broke down under that gaze and began to weep. He rushed out into the night, a repentant man. But that is not the end of the story.
Far from it.
You see, Jesus later gave Peter the opportunity to be restored. What a comforting theme for us when we have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Peter's story is a warning to not allow discouragement or disagreement with God set us on a downward slide. But it's also a call to every one of us who are sincere believers and feel that we have failed God in some way. The One Who saved us is still just as able to restore us to Himself. His love is every bit as awesome as it was yesterday, or the day before.

We may feel the same kind of shame and disappointment in ourselves that Peter felt when that rooster crowed. We may be wondering how God could ever forgive us.  Let us use Peter’s experience to turn our eyes to the one Who looks on us like no other can.

Look into our Savior’s eyes and see His love and compassion for us. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, as the old hymn says. Take that look into your own heart today and you will never be the same again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

When we hit "rock bottom," Part II

Many of us have hit rock bottom before, and others haven't "been there" yet. We are studying Peter, and his failure, and trying to learn from it.
Let's dive in again!

I think it is very important to determine what the cause of Peter's fall really was . . .if Peter could hit rock bottom like this, then so could I, and so could you, right?

                   Wherefore, let him who thinks he is standing take heed, lest he fall.
                    (I Corinthians 10:12)

Peter had already been slipping down that slope before his denial of Christ. Look with me in Matthew 16:21-26....

                    From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he
                    must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the
                    elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must
                   be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside
                   and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never
                   happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!
                  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns
                  of God, but merely human concerns.” Then Jesus said to his disciples,
                 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their
                  cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
                  but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for
                  someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can
                  anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Did you remember that about Peter? That had to hurt.
This was his controversy with Jesus about the cross. He disagreed with Him. The issue is that Jesus is talking about the way of the cross, the suffering, a process and way of life that the world simply despises and refuses to accept. And Jesus is going further, to say that not only must He walk that path, but all of His true disciples must, as well. Have you ever noticed how many people love to jump on a successful religious movement? Wow, they are eager for Jesus to come into their lives and make them prosperous and happy, or fulfill some other personal agenda. Hey, we even want our sins forgiven, Lord! Oh, and don't forget, we want to go to heaven, too, not hell. (Grin) I guess there are lots of us that might even have felt like that at some time, before we really understood.

But here is the problem: when Jesus starts talking to us about a personal cross, or a pathway through suffering and persecution  . . . when Jesus' way is different from the way that we thought it would be, or should be, then we might have a controversy with him. We might have a disagreement.

Have you ever had a controversy with the Lord?
How long have you had this problem with the truth? (Wink) Hey, I know for a fact that if I am honest, I need to admit that there have been times that I thought that God wasn't doing something in the way that I thought He should.

I thought I knew a better way.

I think we've all been there.
It can be a slippery, downhill slope if it is not resolved. When we have a controversy with the Lord, others may or may not know what is going on. But we pull back from the Lord a bit. We may feel offended. We may feel resentful that things aren't going the way we think is best. The joy of serving God begins to elude us, because the word "why" is beginning to creep into our thoughts. We might even be saying to ourselves, "It's not fair." "It's not supposed to be this way." This is what Peter was thinking -- he disagreed with the way God was proceeding with His plan.

We might also do as Peter did, and begin to rely more on ourselves than our Lord. Peter was quite certain that no matter what all the others did, he would be there for Jesus. It's interesting (and true) that our natural strengths can become the flash-point for our failures. Over the years, we have learned about ourselves, and we know our strengths. We have come to depend upon those strengths even before we ask God to assist us. (If we are facing something that we know full well we are inadequate to face, we will quickly plead with Him for help.) Peter knows that in comparison to many people, he is strong and not easily intimidated, so he blurts out his boasting. His words reveal his heart; he is committed to Jesus, and he will stand strong with his own strength.

Careful, Peter.
When we rely on ourselves we are praying less. And prayerless hearts are hearts that are operating in the flesh, not in the Spirit. Relying on his own strength, and operating in the flesh, Peter has good intentions but does the wrong thing. He tries to help Jesus -- the results are pretty disastrous. He responds to the coming arrest by pulling out his sword and whacking away at the problem. We all do that if we're not in the Spirit.
What Jesus does next frustrates and discourages Peter. Right there, in front of everyone, He scolds Peter, who has tried to help Him. He even reverses what Peter has done, by healing Malchus.
Oh, Peter. You gave it your best shot, and nothing has worked out. Then, you don't know what to do, so you flee with the rest as the mob arrests Jesus.

I know many of us have felt like Peter. We are discouraged. We've tried, and tried hard, and nothing has worked out. We understand how he felt.

Now I think we can put Peter's denial in context. It happened to a very discouraged, depressed disciple, who felt he had given it his best shot.

We'll see what happened next, tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Verses that inspire

This week we have the opportunity to share verses that have spoken to our hearts recently.

What gems have you uncovered in your Bible reading?

Please take a moment to leave a comment and let us know. It will be good for us to share with others, and you never know how much a sister in Christ may really need to hear that word from you!

This passage truly helped me recently, and I wanted to share it with all of you:

                Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my
                lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely
                I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
                even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before
                me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:5-8)

When I needed to hear this word from Him, the Spirit brought it to me. I'm praying that it will bless someone's heart as they read it now.

Monday, February 16, 2015

When we hit "rock bottom"

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

This is John's accounting of the sham and illegal trials of our Lord. None of the rules of proper justice were followed. None of the guidelines that were set up in Jewish law were utilized.
But there is another issue here that John wants us to see.
While Jesus was being put on trial, Peter was also facing his own trial -- it was the trying of his faith. And Jesus had predicted this only a few hours earlier. The Lord had warned Peter that Satan had asked to sift him like wheat.
And in this passage, that sifting happens.
And Peter denies His Master three times.
And Peter realizes he has hit "rock bottom."

For many of us, "rock bottom" is not just a phrase, or a term flippantly used; it is a reality. Either in our past or our present, and for some of us it is in our future.
Anyone who is struggling to overcome addiction knows full well what it means to hit rock bottom.
Anyone who is dealing with discouragement, despair, and depression knows it, too. Anyone (like Peter) who has given his very best but still failed, knows just how it feels.

Like many of us, Peter is a sincere, dedicated follower of Jesus. Do you feel like there's any room for a true follower of Jesus to hit bottom?  Does that "jive" with your theology? Some people just can't see it . . . they feel like if you love the Lord and live a godly life, you are going to prosper -- not slip and fall. But wait a minute! Peter is not climbing a career ladder here. He isn't working his way up the ladder of success. He is falling into failure, and he experiences an emotional wreck of proportions that we might find hard to imagine.

Judas' betrayal? Hey, we saw that coming, right? He had hardened his heart, and all along he has shown us that he is more interested in the money that anything else. He was a thief, right?  Not really trying to serve the Lord, but to use Him and the other disciples for his own plans. No sincerity here. No devotion to Christ. Just a cold, hardened heart.

But Peter is different. Just as we think that we, ourselves are very different. Peter really does love the Lord, and he's trying hard to do what is right, just as we are. So, how can a person with such great motivation find themselves at the point of utter failure?  The truth is, sincere, devoted people can and will fail the Lord. Even David, who was a man after God's own heart committed a terrible sin. Come on, now, this is the guy that wrote most of the Psalms! But sometimes good people act out of character. Remember Abraham? He did it, too. He lied to Pharaoh about his wife, Sarah. He wasn't a habitual liar; he was a man of integrity. But hey, in that situation, he blew it! He blew it big, too. But the New Testament Abraham is not called a liar, but a man of faith.

There must be more here than we see on the surface, no? In these cases, there were negative consequences that followed after the sin. Nobody really "gets away" with anything, and if you were to ask King David if his fling was worth it, he would tell you emphatically, "No!" He suffered horribly, but that one sin was not a full picture of who he was. Even when God has forgiven us, we are not always the same. Peter had a lot of good things going for him, but we always remember that he denied the Lord. He (and his reputation, too) was changed by his sin.

Up until now, Peter had been a very courageous person. Looking at other passages about him, who would have thought that he would be the disciple to deny the Lord. He certainly didn't think so, since a few hours earlier he had told Jesus even if he had to die with Him, he'd not disown Him. Peter had every intention of being true to His Lord to the very end.  We sure don't expect to see him cowering and denying Him. You might very well expect him to pull out his sword on impulse, and cut off someone's ear! But back down? Deny Jesus? No way!

But on this night, he acts way out of character. And this night, a sincere follower of Christ will hit rock bottom . . .

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday Slowdown

I thought this old gospel song was just right for our studies this week. Praise Him for being powerful, and in control, and always looking out for us!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

John 18:1-11 conclusion

John give us one final proof of Jesus' lordship, power, and authority in this passage when He heals Malchus.
Here is Jesus, face to face with the crowd.  Malchus is in the crowd, and he isn't just one of the servants of the high priest; he is "the" servant, probably the head of the high priest's household. Right behind Judas, he is probably leading the rest of the crowd.  Jesus is making certain of the safety of His disciples when suddenly one shouts and Peter flings his blade toward Malchus, missing his head, but cutting off his ear.  Come on, Peter. Nobody aims at an ear -- you want to make the first blow count, and you aim at the head. But Peter is not a swordsman, and he isn't helping Jesus the right way, either.

Have we tried to help Jesus in the wrong way? Have we tried in the flesh, instead of in the Spirit? Even when our intentions are good, like Peter, we can try to do a good thing in the wrong way. Sometimes the result is that a sinner's ear gets removed. Oh, we need to be honest with ourselves here. I bet we all have "cut off" a sinner's ear before. Have we approached an unbeliever in a way that actually made it harder for him or her to hear the gospel? Have we displayed behavior that made it more difficult for them to respond to the gospel than before they met us?

Why do we make these mistakes?  Why does Jesus have to come behind us and fix our messes?

Well, one reason is lack of spiritual preparation. Peter was sleeping when he should have been praying. Jesus had said to him and the others, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."  We simply MUST put on our spiritual armor each day, before the moment comes and we are not prepared.

Another problem was that Peter relied on a carnal weapon to win what was a spiritual battle. And we do that, too. Paul tells us that

                    The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God
                    to the pulling down of strongholds. (II Cor. 10:4)

We must try to use a spiritual approach, found in the Word, and not try to solve our problems through carnal means.

Lastly, Peter was looking at things with the wrong perspective. He saw the mob as the problem, so he just attacked. But Jesus looked beyond the mob and linked up with the will of the Father. Verse 11 says, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" If we aren't careful, we will be using up all of our energy looking at the immediate problem instead of trying to discover God's will in the situation. Are we working ourselves to exhaustion trying to solve a problem and getting few results? Perhaps we need to pray as Jesus did, and ask God to show us His will, and how He wants us to respond.

Malchus' ear being healed is actually recorded in Luke's gospel, in chapter 22, verse 51: But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" and he touched the man's ear and healed him. In His last miracle before His crucifixion, He shows us again His power and authority.
John makes some things truly clear for us in this passage. Jesus was not taken against His will; He willingly offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sin.  He wasn't a victim of that angry mob; He was totally in control the entire time. What a comfort to us -- if He was in control during those hours when the powers of darkness were so much at work, then in our own lives when circumstances do seem out of control, Jesus knows and is working in the events and circumstances that we encounter. We can find courage in this knowledge to trust Him, even when we don't understand everything that is happening.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

John 18 continued

We were watching, so to speak, as the mob came to arrest Jesus, at our last post. Jesus has shown that it was His decision to go to Gethsemane, and that He is approaching the crowd with majesty and calmness.
Let's look today at our passage, and John will show us a demonstration of Jesus' power.
Verse 6 tells us, "When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground."
I kinda envision this as them drawing back in some fear and apprehension, and then tumbling to the ground. Many translators agree that the crowd was actually pushed back and then pushed down by the power of the Spirit. When our all-powerful God wants to assert His dominion, He can overwhelm people with His presence.  We don't know if the whole crowd went down, or just the people in the front who were demanding to see Jesus. But this is obviously a demonstration of Jesus' control over the situation He was in.
Clearly, a God Who can calm the waves with a word, and Who spoke the worlds into creation, can do this. He has the authority and the power, and He did NOT have to surrender to them.
John tells us this, so that we will "get it." Jesus was in control. No man took His life. He willingly laid it down as a sacrifice for us.

Next John wants us to see Jesus' desire for the disciples. After this, He asks the crowd again, "Who is it you want?"
It's obvious to everyone that they want Jesus. But His focus in on protecting His disciples . . . look at verse 8. He says, if you are looking for me, then let these men go. He is leading the mob to conclude that all they want is Him -- they can let the disciples go.
This is very revealing about the heart of Christ. He is always looking out for us. Even in His darkest hours, He is making certain that His disciples are OK. How about us? When we are exhausted from work, it's not easy to offer someone else our seat, is it? When we are depressed, it's not easy to smile and encourage one who needs it badly, is it? But Jesus loves His own all the way to the end, even though they were (and we are) failing Him in many ways.

John adds this in verse 9: "This happened so that the words He had spoken would be fulfilled: I have lost none of those you gave me." That's not a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy, as we often see; this is from Jesus' prayer in chapter 17: "None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that the Scripture would be fulfilled."  Judas is in stark contrast to the other disciples; it wasn't long ago that he was in this very garden praying with Jesus. He had lived so close to Him for these years. But Judas never surrendered his heart to Christ, even though he followed Him along with the other eleven.

And here is something amazing in our passage -- Judas and the mob that came with him don't change their minds, don't change their plan even when confronted with the majesty of Jesus. They must be surprised at His calm demeanor. They must be startled by His power when they are knocked over by the Spirit. Aren't they going to repent and abandon their mission?

We sometimes feel that if God would simply show His power, surely people would repent and turn to Him. Yes, some will respond that way. But repentance is a choice. And some people just refuse to make that choice.
So, Jesus submits Himself to their arrest only after He gains the freedom of His followers. Wow. Think about that when we consider Peter's behavior later on . . .

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Prayer requests

Recently some of us have had heavy hearts, as situations in our lives have hurt or saddened us. Truly prayer is the best remedy for this -- not only does it focus us on the ability of our Lord to change our situations, but it allows the Spirit to change our hearts.

Let's set aside some time today to praise God. We will find our spirits lifted and our joy rekindled.

Please leave a comment if you have a prayer request, and today let's mention a praise, as well.

This verse was helpful to me in the past few weeks:

                    Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.
                    Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise His holy
                    name.  (Psalm 97:11-12)

Monday, February 9, 2015

John 18:1-14 Jesus is arrested

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”[a]
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Remember back when we started our study of John? We looked at the first chapter and realized that John had a very important purpose in writing his gospel. He wanted to make sure that we understood Who Jesus was, and why He came. John wanted to be certain that we "get it," and that we receive Him:
                        Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,
                        he gave the right to become children of God13 children born not
                        of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but
                        born of God. (John 1:12-13)

                        But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah,
                        the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
                        (John 20:31)

So now we have come all the way to the story of Jesus' arrest. And as we look at this passage, we are going to see something stunning. We will see Jesus, full of majesty and authority, being arrested as a common criminal. It is He Who will be in control of the situation. And so, John is writing this so that we will not get the wrong idea about this's like no other arrest you have ever read about in the paper, or seen on television.

In this situation, the Person Who is being arrested is actually in charge.
Let that sink in.
The mob that comes to arrest Jesus fully believes that they are in charge -- but John tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus is voluntarily laying down His life for us. Christ was not a victim here; not the victim of the angry mob -- even though every person in that mob is morally accountable for his or her choices. They were exercising their own free wills, and against the Lord of Glory. But all of this was already known, and in God's plan:

                   Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited
                   by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among
                   you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over
                   to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help
                   of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:22-23)

This week we will study this passage and see John's clues to showing us Jesus' lordship. He is going to assure us so that we will have no doubts that Jesus gave His life voluntarily so that we might have life.

First, He decided to go to Gethsemane.
Moments after His prayer (the one we studied last week) He leads His disciples across the Kidron Valley, into the Garden of Gethsemane. This is truly important because this is where Judas would expect to find Him. Jesus knows that the time has come, and He is positioning Himself to be arrested. Check back up there in verse 2 . . . Judas knew the place.

We know that Jesus prayed in the Garden in great agony. THe emotional and spiritual pressure was so great that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground, or some translators have said that the capillaries in His skin burst from the stress and that actual blood fell as He prayed. No matter what we believe about that, we can all agree that He was in a great struggle, dealing with the ordeal that lay ahead of Him.

He had asked Peter, James, and John to pray with Him; they had tried valiantly, but they had failed. They would begin to pray, but then they would fall asleep. I sure can identify with that . . . can you? Three times when Jesus would come back to them, they would be asleep. It's interesting that Luke says in his gospel they were "sleeping from sorrow." The emotional strain from all that has been happening has taken its toll, and caused them to seek escape through sleep. We may never have experienced what they did, but I'm betting that many of us have been in situations where we found ourselves sleeping for sorrow -- trying to escape it all by sleeping. It's not so much that we think it will be "all better" when we wake; it's more that we hope it will be a little better. And we just need to escape for a short time.
But prayer is the answer, not sleep.
The third time that Jesus returns to them, the crowd is arriving in the Garden. The mob's lights from torches could be seen, and maybe the clanging of swords could be heard. John doesn't tell us where Judas' betrayal kiss occurs; I think he wants us to focus instead on the fact that Jesus is not surprised, not caught off guard by the deceiver. He is fully aware of what is happening -- and He is submitting Himself to the Father's will. So when the crowd arrives, He goes to meet them.

And He is not a nervous, scared criminal, finally caught. He is not a helpless victim being dragged off by a lynch mob. He is the Lord of Glory and the King of Kings, and His face is full of majesty. Look again at verses 3 and 4. Remember how the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein cowered in a hole before he was captured? Jesus goes boldly to meet His captors. And they are expecting Him to be afraid.

Even though the mob is assisted by Roman soldiers, they are energized by demonic activity -- Judas himself is being controlled by Satan. What a horrible thing to have to face. But here is the important thing: Jesus has already won the spiritual victory in prayer! Even Jesus, the Son of God, prepared Himself through prayer --- what a lesson for us!

So, contrary to the crowd's expectations, Jesus walks up to them with majestic composure, completely calm, and asks them, "Who is it you want?" Their reply was, "Jesus of Nazareth." They didn't recognize Him as the Christ, but as a peasant from the tiny town of Nazareth. They walk up to Him just as they would any other man. But they are about to discover that He is more than a man. That He is Lord. And He will demonstrate it powerfully by what happens next.

Join us next time, won't you?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday slowdown

I've recently found the music of Michael Card, and have enjoyed listening. I hope you receive a blessing from today's Friday Slowdown.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jesus prays for us, conclusion

“So I have sent them into the world”

What is the purpose of Jesus' prayer that we've been studying? He has prayed that we would be protected, sanctified, and that we would experience unity with other believers.
It's so that we would be prepared for being sent into the world.
Jesus doesn't ask the Father to just keep us safe while we wait for Jesus to come again.
He said, "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world."
He asked for the protection, the consecration, and the unity so that we could continue His work in the world. While we are here, there is work to do!
While He was here, He revealed the character of the Father, and explained the role of the Spirit, and then He lived out that love for the sake of those who would believe. He went to the cross and gave up His life for those who believed then, and for those of us who would believe in the future.

Only by first loving Him, and then loving each other, can we be effective witnesses in the world. We have a mission, and we will fail at this mission unless we are protected, and sanctified, and are unified in our mission to witness.

                        Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on
                        earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all
                        nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and
                        of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have
                       commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end
                       of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

Think about what we see on television, and what we hear about in our day-to-day lives. We are surrounded by, indeed doused in, stories of dysfunctional families, broken marriages, conflicts and splits in church congregations.  If we are able to show unity and mirror the love that Jesus shows us, then the world would see that God is at work -- no human effort would accomplish and sustain that! Jesus' love made it possible for Him to lay down His life for us; when we are willing to go the extra mile for others, and even lay down our lives for them, we witness to the changing power of Christ in our lives. And we do something else important: we both give and receive glory. We give glory to God by admitting to all that He empowers us to do these things. And we receive glory by following Jesus on His path -- He received glorification by walking the path that led to His death and resurrection.

So, this week, we've studied this our Lord's prayer. We've seen that we cannot accomplish the things He asked God the Father to do: protect and guard us, sanctify and consecrated us, and make us one in hearts and minds.

All of what Jesus asks of his Father here can be summed up in what he says at the end of his prayer: “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Love is the key.

When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ. That is what we are called to do.
Let's pray that we will follow His path, and witness to the fact that He's changed our lives, and we follow Him.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Jesus Prays for us, Continued

Jesus' next prayer for us in the seventeenth chapter of John is for sanctification. Sanctification is just a multi-syllable word (I generally lurve those) that means something really simple: to be made holy.  If we make something holy, we set it apart. Many times we will say that we have consecrated it for service.
As Christians, we are set apart for God's purposes. So Jesus is praying that we would be set apart by the knowledge of this truth: the truth of Who He is.  And after we know that truth, we are ready to be sent into the world, as the disciples were. Again, we are in the world, but we don't belong to the world. Being holy, being consecrated means that we belong to God; He has set us apart for a special purpose.
In the same way that God sent His Son for a specific mission in the world, Jesus is asking that God would send us for His work in this world.

It's important for us to remember that sanctification doesn't mean that we live a perfect life, but that we live an obedient life.  The temptations of the world, the weakness of our flesh, and the attacks of the devil are daily battles that we must fight. Being set apart doesn't mean that we are stored away, the way one might put something special on a shelf. It means that we are consecrated and ready for the battles that come!

Jesus' third prayer for us is a prayer for unity.

Do you recall watching any of the Peanuts TV specials? Or reading the comic strips? It was always a favorite of mine, and I remember one featuring Lucy, Linus, and the TV. Lucy has walked into the den where Linus, blanket in hand and thumb in mouth, is watching television. She demands that he change the channel, and threatens him with her fist if he doesn't comply. "What makes you think that you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus. "These five fingers," says Lucy, "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold."
"Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. And, turning away, he looks at his own fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"

What does it mean to have unity here on earth? Well, there's a couple of things that it doesn't mean . . . it doesn't mean that we are all going to agree on every point of doctrine. Nope.
It also doesn't mean that there is only one denomination. Nope, not that either.
But it does mean that we are united in confessing and proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God. It means that we confess together, in a united way, that He is the Lamb of God that takes away our sins. And it means that we all are united in our faith that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Several times in our chapter, Jesus repeats his request that God unify us. So we can see, this is not a unity that we can achieve all on our own. It's not our efforts that will bring about this unity.

Ever seen a symphony orchestra preparing for a concert? Do you see each musician nudging their neighbor, hearing a tone from their neighbor's instrument, and then tuning to it? Nope.
There is one violinist, called the concertmaster, who will stand and play one note as all the others listen. Then, whether they are violins or cellos, trumpets or tubas, clarinets or French horns, they will all tune their instruments to that one concertmaster's note. That is the standard that they all use, to achieve a harmonious result when they play.

In the same way, if every Christian or church member looks to Christ for their standard, for the holiness and grace that they strive to achieve, they are in heart far closer to each other than they could be in any other way. If they took their minds off Christ and thought about how much they'd like to have close fellowship with each other, they won't achieve that unity they desire. It's only by looking to Jesus that we can have unity of purpose and unity of hearts.

Just imagine what the fellowship could be like, if we would all look to Him! And imagine what a "terrible weapon to behold" we would be, in the eyes of the devil. Surely he would tremble!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

John 17:1-26 Jesus prays for us

Every so often here on the study blog, we open up our posts for prayer requests from all of our readers. It's always an honor to be able to pray alongside another Christian, isn't it?

It's always encouraging, too, to be prayed for by someone else, and also to be prayed with. We are separated by miles, and some of us by continents, but we are all drawn together in prayer. Especially when someone prays for you in your presence, you feel warm, comforted, and encouraged.  There is even a sense of closeness, both between us and between us and God.  It's almost as if we are knocking on heaven's door together -- side by side. It's really an awesome way to build relationships between us as Christians. It can even ensure unity in the church as a whole, for it's hard for divisions to fester when people are praying together.

It's one thing for us to pray for (and with) one another, and bring our brothers and sisters in Christ before the Lord in prayer. It's quite another to realize that in Jesus we have someone interceding on our behalf!  Jesus prays for us -- He goes to the Father on our behalf.

                      Consequently He is able for all time to save those who approach
                      God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for
                      them.  (Hebrews 7:25)

                      It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right
                      hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. (Romans 8:34)

I read a quote from a Robert McCheyne that said: "If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me." Have you had the experience in your church, or in your home, of having someone sitting right next to you, bringing your concerns and requests before God? We need to imagine that Jesus is sitting with us as we read John 17, for He truly prayed this prayer for us, and for His disciples.

This passage is a telling of Jesus' final moments with His disciples before being arrested. And He prays for them. Knowing that He will be leaving them, He knows that praying for them is the best way to prepare them -- asking the Father to protect, to sanctify, and to make us one.

Let's look first at His prayer for our protection, alright?

I heard a sermon one time that offered this illustration:

                   The Cherokee had a unique way of training their young men. On the
                   night of a boy's thirteenth birthday, after he had learned hunting, fishing,
                   and scouting skills, he was put to a final test. He was placed in a dense
                   forest to spend the entire night alone. Up until that night, he had never
                   been away from the security of the family and extended family. But on
                   this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When the
                   blindfold was removed, he was alone in the middle of a thick woods,
                   and he was scared! Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal
                   ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the
                   first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the
                   boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter
                   astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away,
                   armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all
                   night long. 

Jesus' first prayer on our behalf is a prayer for protection. Unlike the young Cherokee, we have the advantage of already knowing that our Father is there to protect us; although, just like the boy, we don't always see our Father guarding us. Jesus asks the Father to protect us, to guard us.

From what are we being protected? Jesus asks that we receive protection from the evil one, that we would be guarded when faced with temptation, opposition and persecution. He makes it clear that it is inevitable that we will face these things.

But we can also notice that He doesn't ask that we be removed from these things. He says, "I do not ask you to take them out of the world." But while we are in it, He wants us to be protected and guarded. In fact, if we look at the root of the word, it can also mean "to preserve." Jesus wants us to be preserved while we are in the world. He also says, "Protect them in your name that You have given Me." This is the same as saying, "Father, help them to be faithful and true to what I have given them."
He was asking for us to be preserved, protected and guarded no matter who or what attacks us. And then He said it was so we would be one, as He and the Father were One. So, He is entrusting our lives, and the life of the church, into the Father's hands.

And we know that no one, nor any thing, can move us when we are in those hands.

Monday, February 2, 2015

John 17:1-26 Jesus prays for us (yes, for us)

How many times do you think you have repeated what folks call "the Lord's Prayer"?
Many, many times, I bet.
Personally, when I read this chapter of John, I really feel like this truly is the Lord's prayer. This is where Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples. And for us.
For you. And for me.

Let's look at this week's passage. It's lengthy -- let's allow this to be our study for today. Read it prayerfully and meditate upon it. We'll dive into it tomorrow, alright?

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
“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.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”