Thursday, April 30, 2015

John 21:1-14 continued

Yesterday we studied that obedience to Jesus is vitally important.
Today we will see that we meet God when we come to the end of our rope!

The disciples had been fishing all night. They'd done all they could do. They knew the best fishing spots on the Sea of Galilee; they knew just how to use their nets and tackle. They were experts at this, but they still had no fish. They were at the end of what they could do, and their resources and strength were gone. That is often when God shows His presence to us.

Simon Peter was certainly at the end of his rope, no? He had bragged that if everyone else left Jesus, he would be the one who remained steadfast and faithful.  But he wasn't. He had failed miserably, and been a coward. He fell when he bragged that he would stand.
Remember when he first met Jesus? He was very aware of his sinful heart.

Before Peter had been called to be a disciple, at the first miraculous catch of fish, the Bible says,

                   When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go
                   away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5:8)

Maybe at this second miraculous haul of fish, Peter would have liked to have said the same words; he was probably too ashamed to say anything, though.

I read in a commentary that the Greek word for charcoal fire is found in only two places in the New Testament.
Here in this story where Jesus is cooking fish for the disciples' breakfast is one place -- the other is when Peter stood warming himself in the courtyard after the arrest of Jesus. It was there that Peter denied Jesus and saw the Lord look at him just as the cock crowed. We can imagine that as he smelled the charcoal fire on the shore this day, he may have been taken back to that shame-filled moment in time. Peter realized he was at the end of his resources, at the end of his rope. He knew now that there was nothing good left in him. It's the same realization that Paul writes about:

                      I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
                      For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
                      (Romans 7:18)

Peter and Paul both realized that if anything good was going to come out of them, it had to be through Jesus. It was good for Peter to give up thinking that he was someone special and realize that he could fail just like everyone else! That is when he really began to understand his weakness, and the forgiveness of God, and the power of a new life. In his broken state, he experienced Jesus in a new way.

It's good for us, too, to come to the end of our resources and realize our weakness so that we give in to God. We need to turn the control completely over to Him, and forget about personal success. When we realize that we can't do anything on our own anyway, then we can ask Him to take over, and we can be determined to do whatever He wants us to do.
When we stop trying to make things happen, and let Him have His way, that is when things begin to happen. We see what God can do.

So, when the disciples came to the end of their resources, they had a miraculous catch -- 153 fish, and all of them large . . . so large that they could hardly get the net to the shore. In spite of the pressure on the net, though, it didn't break or tear, for this was a God-filled net of fish!

When they arrived at the shore, Jesus already had breakfast prepared for them. Where did He get the fish and bread? Jesus was always making something out of nothing -- and He hasn't changed. He is still the same today. When everything we have tried turns out to be nothing, He can make something from it. He can create fish, bread and wine. He can give health where there was nothing but sickness. He gives strength where there was only weakness before. He gives life where there was only death.

Where there was no hope, He gives hope.  Where there is only shame, He gives forgiveness.
Praise Him, for He is the God of new beginnings!
When we reach the end of our rope, the end of ourselves, there is the beginning of Him.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

John 21:1-14 continued

We noted on Monday that Jesus' earthly relationship with His disciples started and finished with a miraculous haul of fish.

One of the first things that we can see in this passage is that it is truly important to obey Jesus! It may have been difficult for men who had been fishermen all their lives to take the suggestions of someone that they'd heard was trained as a carpenter. They may even have been the best fishermen in Galilee; perhaps they'd even won contests at their craft.
And besides, what Jesus was suggesting didn't really seem to make sense . . . what difference could it make to put the net on the other side of the boat?

Sometimes God allows us to go into situations where it seems like there is no answer. We try and try, and we think we've tried everything. We think to ourselves, I sure thought I knew what needed to be done. And I tried what worked before. Now someone is telling me to try something so simple that it seems crazy.
Perhaps God is asking us to do something that isn't just simple -- it may seem to us to be foolish.
We've been fishing on the left side (maybe that was standard operating procedure . . . maybe the boat was built to do it that way . . .) and now you ask us to believe that fishing on the right side will make a difference? We've been at this all night, and you ask us to believe that one more cast will solve anything?

Of course, Jesus could have made the fish swim into the net while it was still on the left side of the boat.  Yup. He could have done that easily.
In fact, He could have just made the fish jump into their boat, ay? That would have been amazing!

But it would not have involved obedience.  Jesus wanted them to learn that blessings follow obedience.
It's the same in our relationships with God -- success follows obedience, even if He is asking you to do something that seems counter-intuitive, even foolish. We aren't smarter than God. We can't keep doing the same things and expect different results. We can't rebel against Him, and go against what He is telling us; we can't do all the wrong things and expect good things to happen. Nope.

Success comes when we are willing to listen to Jesus and then do what He says.
And that involves humility. These seven men were professionals at fishing. They knew all about it. Their fathers and grandfathers had taught them, and then they'd spent years at their work. They knew the right kind of boat, and the best knots to make nets that would not tear. They knew the signs of the wind and the look of the water when fish were gathering. They had to be humble enough to do what Jesus said, instead of trusting what they had learned about fishing. 

When it comes to following our Lord, we can't give up. We can't always rely on our knowledge or our training, either. Jesus wants us to have a teachable spirit. You know those people that you simply can't tell anything? You can't explain anything to them because they already know it all? They don't want advice, and so they will never learn.

We must have humility and a willing spirit:
                Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit,
                to sustain me. (Psalm 51:12)

When we are willing to listen to Jesus, and do what He says, great things can happen!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Verses that inspire


This week, our thoughts on Tuesday are about verses that we have studied recently in our personal devotions, that have inspired us -- it may be that we've been inspired by a verse that promised peace and comfort, or a verse that explained something we did not understand. It can even be that a verse inspired us to repentance . . . here are some that have meant a great deal to me in the past week:

                         O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not
                         hidden from you. (Psalm 69:5)

Repentance is turning from the way we are going, and heading in the other direction -- He allows, and in fact encourages 180 degree turns, when we realize our errors!

                        Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while
                        He is near; let the wicked forsake His way, and the unrighteous
                        man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have
                       compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly
                        pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

                       But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has
                       committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and
                       right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the trans-
                       gressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him;
                       for the righteousness that he has done shall he live. Have I any
                       pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and
                       not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

That bold print is my emphasis; I just added that because that was a blessing to me.
What verses have inspired you lately?

Monday, April 27, 2015

John 21:1-14

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Our scripture for this week finds us as spectators on the beach, at the Sea of Tiberius. That's the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee.
As we look out onto the Sea, we see a fishing boat, and seven men in it. They appear to be very quiet, as if they are sad or depressed. We can't see any fish in the boat, and in fact, the boat is sitting very high in the water, so it appears they have been unsuccessful all night as they tried to catch fish.

Of course, we know what another spectator might not know -- these men are some of the disciples of Jesus Christ . . . they are depressed and moody because they have just experienced horrific events that led to, and ended in, the death of their Master. So they've come back here to Galilee, to what they know best. They need to make a living, so they have spent the entire night out on the lake.

Early the next morning they give up their futile efforts, and turn for shore. Mornings can be foggy, with so much moisture hanging in the air that voices and appearances are difficult to recognize. A voice calls to them and asks them if they have any fish. It's probably embarrassing to do so, but they call back and admit they have not one fish.

Then the voice calls back: "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some."

They've been fishing all night. The nets are still in the water, over on the left side of the boat -- nothing is happening there. They have fished all their lives, and a stranger is telling them to simply put the nets on the other side?

Maybe they were so tired that they simply obeyed. Maybe in their sadness, it somehow made sense to them. Whatever the reason, they take out the nets and throw them into the water on the right side of the boat. Verse 6 says:
                       He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will
                      find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because
                     of the large number of fish.

We can imagine that they were stunned! It suddenly dawned on them Who has been calling to them from the shore. The disciple whom Jesus loves tells Peter, "It is the Lord!"

There are two reasons why they recognized it was Jesus -- first, because no one else could do this kind of miracle. The other reason was that it had happened before!

                      One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the
                      people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he
                      saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who
                      were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging
                      to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down
                      and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he
                      said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’
                      Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t
                      caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When
                      they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets
                     began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come
                     and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began
                     to sink. (Luke 5:1-7)                    

Jesus' relationship with the disciples starts and finishes with a miraculous haul of fish. They meet Him first, and then meet Him again in those miracles. There are so many lessons to be learned here. We'll study them this week.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Slowdown

We have studied His promises this week, and we've seen that John truly wanted us to know Him. What a joy when we know Him fully and He gives us His abundant life, and gives us a song!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Studying God's purpose

Yesterday we looked at the purpose of the scriptures . . . we're finishing our study of these verses today:

                      Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
                     which are not recorded in this book. 31 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 20:30-31)

Isn't that an awesome promise in that last verse?
Life in His name.

John's gospel, and all of scripture, was written so that we can know God, and know (heart knowledge) Jesus is the Messiah, our Savior, and also so that we can have life.

Those of us who believe may have a great, and glorious life! A life that includes pardon, holiness, well-being and peace, immortality, heaven . . . and more.
This life is not just the distant, promised life in heaven, but life "abundant" in the here and now! Our lives are connected to the person of Jesus, and our lives are lived in His name, and in His guidance. He comes into our sinful, dead hearts and quickens them and then life flows like an abundant river into us. When we stay in active relationship with Him (abiding in Him, remember?) He gives us life and growth.

How does this happen?
Our faith.
When we believe in Him, and trust ourselves to Him, He comes to us in fulfillment of His promise. Many of us just recently celebrated Easter. We can come to Him as Thomas did, and joyfully say, "My Lord and my God!"

                                 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts
                                on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of
                                God. (Colossians 3:1)

                               We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death

                               in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the
                               glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)
                               For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And

                               with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the
                               mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
                               (Colossians 2:12)

                               Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the
                               LORD rises upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)
                               because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives

                               life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
                               (Romans 8:2)

                               And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none
                              of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
                              (John 6:39)

Precious promises, all.

In the next two weeks we will study one of the most hope-filled chapters in the Bible. Hope you will join us!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Studying God's purpose (John 20:30-31)

This week we are studying the last two verses of this passage, and learning more about John's purpose (really it was God's purpose) for writing his gospel account.

We talked last time about his including only seven "signs" from Jesus' ministry, but that his purpose was so "you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

The real focus is not the signs, though. The place where John wants to focus our attention is on the Person, on Jesus. John wants us to know that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He used several words to accomplish this for several people:

              1. Christ (Christos in Greek) would tell the Jewish people about the long-
                  expected Deliverer who would come to free the nation from bondage.
              2. Messiah refers to the Deliverer from sin that was promised in the Old
              3. Son of God would appeal to the Gentiles who might read; for they
                  approached their faith differently from their Jewish neighbors.

John really wanted people who read his gospel account to think deeply and to perceive the theological importance of Jesus' miracles, or signs. Many people today try to ignore, to deny, or to explain away Jesus' miracles. Even in His day, some people attributed them to God, and others called them the works of Satan (Matthew 12:24).

I would think that to ignore, deny, or explain them in that day would have been virtually impossible. For one thing, there were so many! John said, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs" and there are thirty-five different miracles recorded in the four gospels.

John selected carefully the seven that he included. He wanted people to think, and then to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and the Messiah, and is the Son of God.

Many people will casually say, "Oh sure, I know He was." But John' purpose was not just for us to have a casual knowledge, a head knowledge. The intent of the scriptures, inspired by God, is far more than that. It's to convince us, individually, that our souls are sinful, and that we need Jesus as our personal God and Savior. Scriptures aren't just to have us know about Him, they are about waking us up, and having us transfer our trust to Him, accepting His salvation.

Heart knowledge!
So very different.
So very life-changing.
If we will allow it, that heart knowledge will bring us to salvation, and then to sanctification -- that ongoing process of daily growing to be more like Him.

Is God's word accomplishing what the Spirit desires, in our lives? Do we immerse ourselves daily and ask Him to guide us?
Does anyone have some bandaids? I think my own toes got mashed today. (Grin) How about yours?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Prayer requests

Each month we have the honor of sharing prayer requests and praises for answered prayer. Please make a note of requests that are shared here, and add them to your prayers in your quiet time with the Lord.

Be sure to include thanksgiving in your prayers -- it is sweet for Him to hear His children's gratitude.

                               The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
                               to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of
                               God!” (Psalm 50:23)

I would like to ask all of you to join me in praying for our friend, Tonya, who started this blog some years ago. Her husband is in ill health, and the responsibilities of wage-earner, parent, helpmeet, and more have all fallen to her. Pray that the Lord will strengthen her, and give her peace. You can read about her battle at Hillbilly Handiworks blog.

Let's pray.

Monday, April 20, 2015

John 20:30-31, Studying God's purpose!

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 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.

When we read these verses, it almost seems like John is finishing up his gospel! Like he thought this was all he would say, and then he added one more chapter. Since all of scripture is given from God, and accomplishes His purposes, we need to pay close attention to these verses, and also to the next chapter, that we'll start next week.

These two verses are a summary -- they tell us the "what" of his gospel, the "Who" his gospel, and the "why" as well.  They summarize John's strategy for his writing, the subject he wrote about, and then also tell us his purpose for writing.

John's strategy appears to have been using selected works of Jesus (his subject) which would illustrate Jesus' character, His Power, and the fact that He is the answer to our greatest needs. He tells us quite honestly that there were many other things that he could have included in his gospel, but that in carrying out his purpose (really God's purpose) he chose to leave out some things.

John had one very important purpose in mind: to present Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and to present that truth in such a compelling way that everyone who read the gospel would believe in Jesus, and receive eternal life.

Let's dive in!

When we read John's gospel, we actually only read of seven of Jesus' "signs" to His disciples, not counting the final sign, His resurrection. If we look closely at each sign, we see that it involved a person and then it showed how Christ's power can be applied to human life. So, the selection of signs that we read here is just a small collection of those that Jesus performed.

Can you imagine the burden that John must have felt? To have such a vast collection of wonders and events from the life of Christ, and to know that he, as the writer, must choose what to include, in order to accomplish God's purpose?

There's nothing in this gospel about Christ's birth, about His baptism, or about His selecting His apostles. In fact, there is not much about His ministry in Galilee, either, and you won't find even one of His parables here. There is not as much of Jesus' teaching as in the other gospels, and not much about the Lord's supper. Almost half of it is telling us about the last week of Jesus' life, and then the incidents surrounding His resurrection.

Perhaps the brevity of John's gospel (along with what people perceive as "gaps" in the other gospels), is what led to people telling and retelling stories of events which people felt had been passed over. There are many stories and legends of His life as a child, and about the rest of the years before His ministry began. Some faiths put equal emphasis on these as they do on the established Bible, and some do not.

It's unusual that the events about the greatest life in our world's history would be told in such brief detail, isn't it? If we were to compare the four gospels to what people have written on other characters in history, the Bible passages would be a tiny stack compared to the many books on the others. The books on Caesar, or on Alexander, would tower over the gospels  . . .  so many words written about them, and so few about our Lord. And yet . . .

. . . and yet, in spite of that, they have stamped on the minds of all people an image so well-known, so accepted, and so life-changing, that we can never see anything else like it in all of history! Many of the great figures of our world's history have alluded to His life influencing theirs!

Yes indeed, there were many other signs that John could have included, but he was guided by the Father to write what he did, and to leave out what he left out.

                         The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. (Psalm 37:23)

                         I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will
                         guide you with my eye. (Psalm 32:8)

We can claim those verses for our own; they apply to us just as much as they did to David, or to John as he wrote his gospel. God will accomplish His purposes, whether He is using the scripture, or using us to witness to an unbeliever.
                        Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors,
                        remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no
                       other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from
                       the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying,
                       “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”
                       calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a
                       far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed,
                       and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:8-11)

                      so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me
                      empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for
                     which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

Just as John was inspired to write, and accomplished God's purpose, so too can we accomplish things for Him, if we listen to His spirit guide us!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

John 20:19-29 Believe it? or not? conclusion

Yesterday we stopped while marveling at how adamant Thomas was . . . he didn't say "I am having trouble believing that" or "Well, I have some doubts" but instead, "I will not believe."
That's a bit of an attitude, no?
Let's dig in again today.

We touched on this yesterday -- Thomas is actually telling God what he will accept as proof. Whew. Telling God to settle things on your terms is probably not a good idea.

That's why we see Jesus chiding Thomas:

                           . . . Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put
                           it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.  (John 20:27)

It made me really wonder . . . it seems that Thomas is being unreasonable with God. Why would Jesus even bother to show him His wounds, and invite him to touch Him? Why would he give in?

I guess if we sit back and think about Thomas, and try to put ourselves into his sandals . . . he was so unbending.
But wait! It had only been about a week now. Only a week ago, Jesus had died on the cross. One of the first stages of grief is anger; Thomas was probably a very angry man. He had followed Jesus for three years of his life, and adored the Lord so much that he was willing to go to Jerusalem and die with Him.
But then, Jesus was betrayed by another disciple, ridiculed, beaten, rejected, whipped, and then put to death in one of the most cruel ways ever devised by man.
And neither Thomas nor his friends could to a thing to stop it.
Maybe that was why Thomas wasn't there when Jesus appeared the first time. Sure, he could have been ill, or running an errand, or just late to the gathering.
No, I kinda think he was avoiding the company of his friends; he was angry and bitter and was sulking.
Thomas isn't being belligerent toward God, and he isn't intentionally trying to be unreasonable.
He's bewildered, and depressed, and he isn't willing to accept anything less than Jesus.

So Jesus shows Thomas mercy. He gives him just what he needs at that moment. And Thomas goes beyond a "head" faith to a personal, "heart" faith.

                        Thomas said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28)

Jesus, he's saying, you are my Master, and you are my God.  At that moment, he truly believed, and that was a transforming moment for him.

Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

What is God working on in our lives today? Do we have a demand before He can convince us? Are we asking for proof from the Almighty, the Creator of all?

Is He working with us about some doubts that linger in our minds? Is Satan using these doubts to cripple our effectiveness as witnesses for Jesus? As He did for Thomas, Jesus will give us just what we need at this moment. He will come to us in a quiet moment and make Himself real to us.

The desire of the heart of God is that we would know Him. He has not given up on us.

                      The one who obeys me is the one who loves me; and because he loves
                      me, my Father will love him; and I will too, and I will reveal myself
                      to him. (John 14:21)

He is real.
He is alive.
And He loves you and me.
Believe it? Or not?

                   Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not
                   believe will be condemned.  (Mark 16:16)

                   The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am
                   come that they might have life, and that they might have it more
                   abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his
                   life for the sheep. (John 10:10-11)

Believe, and receive life, abundant and free, in Christ today!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

John 20:19-29 Believe it? or not? continued

We're focused on Thomas this week. We saw that before Jesus went to Jerusalem, Thomas had said that they should all go with Him, and if need be, die with Him.

Later, Jesus told them that "In my Father's house there are many rooms" . . . and He was going to prepare a place for them. Jesus finished that statement by saying, "You know the way to the place where I am going." (John 14:4)

That's when Thomas piped up and said:

                   ....Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know
                   the way?  (John 14:5)

And Jesus responded to him:

                    I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father
                    except through Me.  (John 14:6)

So when we look at Thomas, we are looking at a committed follower of Christ. He loves Him. He walks with Him. He is willing to suffer and even to die for Jesus.
But he has some questions. And he has some doubts.

Now, questions and doubts are not necessarily bad things. If our faith is a blind faith, and we never, ever examine what we believe and why we believe it, then our faith may not be as strong as it needs to be.
For instance, when someone asks us about some part of our faith, do we say "well, my preacher says" or perhaps "my parents taught me long ago" or something similar? That person is not asking that . . . they are asking what we believe. There's a big difference there!
Is our faith an inherited faith? Or a hearsay faith? Or is it a personal faith?

We need to know what we believe, and why we believe it! We need to come to a point in our journey when it is our own faith, not based on someone else's beliefs. That's when we get excited about what we believe, no?

Now, I don't mean to say that others' faith and knowledge is not important to us. Let me clarify with Paul's words, since he says it much better than I!

                  ...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ
                  Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)

Our faith is built upon the witness of others: the words of Scripture, the teachings of preachers and teachers, the faith of our parents and others that we respect. It's built on the experiences and the testimonies of other people -- that's where we get the information that we build our personal faith upon.
But Thomas wasn't considering the testimonies of his friends . . .

He had been confronted by the testimonies of the ten men who had been his closest friends for the past three years. Peter, James, John, Bartholomew, Matthew, Andrew . . . they were all telling the same story. All of them were excited, and they were convinced of what they had seen.

                      So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But
                      he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put
                      my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side,
                      I will not believe." (John 20:25)

Thomas completely rejects their words. He's being unreasonable, some would say. Many of us would look at his previous attitude, and compare it with this one . . . Jeepers! What's up with Thomas?

And here is something to think about: we all recall the first words of his response, right? Unless I see the nail marks, etc, etc......

But look at the last part of his statement -- Unless I see and touch, I will NOT believe.

Thomas, you could have said, "I have my doubts."
Or, "I'm having trouble accepting it."
But no, you said, "I will NOT."
Does that strike you as Thomas telling God what he would accept as proof? Whoa. Let's look at this tomorrow and settle all of this, OK?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What are we listening to?

This time of year it's much easier to roll out of bed in the mornings, ay? The advent of spring is an awesome time of rejuvenation.

The birds are filling the air with song, and the trees, shrubs and flowers are all doing their best to out-do one another with blooms and gorgeous greenery!

This song has been blessing my heart as I start my days. It seems to come back to me each morning, and I find myself humming it throughout my work day.

  1. When morning gilds the skies,
    My heart awaking cries:
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
    Alike at work and prayer,
    To Jesus I repair;
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
  2. Does sadness fill my mind?
    A solace here I find,
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
    Or fades my earthly bliss?
    My comfort still is this,
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
  3. When sleep her balm denies,
    My silent spirit sighs,
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
    When evil thoughts molest,
    With this I shield my breast:
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
  4. The night becomes as day
    When from the heart we say:
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
    The pow’rs of darkness fear
    When this sweet chant they hear:
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
  5. In heav’n’s eternal bliss
    The loveliest strain is this,
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
    Let earth, and sea, and sky
    From depth to height reply,
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
  6. Be this, while life is mine,
    My song of love divine:
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
    Sing this eternal song
    Through all the ages long:
    May Jesus Christ be praised!
Tell me . . . what are you listening to, today?

Monday, April 13, 2015

John 20:19-29 Believe it? or not?

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We often hear statistics on religion and religious belief in our world today. Not too many years ago a survey was conducted, and the statisticians revealed that among a cross section of folks who identified themselves as church members (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians) twenty-five percent of them had doubts about the existence of God. The survey discovered that among the Jews who answered the survey, six of ten respondents doubted God's existence.

Yep. These are folks who say they "belong" to a religious group. They attend church, or they attend services at the synagogue. They give to the ministries and they give of their own time. But . . .

They have doubts.
If their church, or a stranger, were to ask them "do you believe?" they might reply: "I have a hard time accepting that."

Do you believe it? Do I believe it?
Well, not everyone does.
Sometimes, not even those who sit in the same row with us at church believe.
Kinda counter-intuitive, no?
For these people to have trouble believing that God exists?

John, the writer of this gospel, would be so amazed. After all, he uses the Greek word "pisteuo" (which my commentary says means "to believe") almost twice as often as the other three gospels combined. And when we began this study, we noted that he wrote, in order to show people the truth, so that they could believe, they could "get it." He wanted us to realize that Jesus was the Son of God, and that He came for a reason and accomplished His purpose.

                         For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,
                         that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
                         (John 3:16)

                         Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of
                         living water will flow from within him. (John 7:38)
                         I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will
                         live, even though he dies. (John 11:25)

                         If you do not believe that I AM you will indeed die in your sins.
                         (John 8:24)

So, when John asks us, "Believe it?" he isn't bluffing. And he isn't writing about something that he didn't believe himself.
He had been with Jesus, and listened to Him teaching the multitudes. He had watched Him heal the sick. And he had seen Him die, and seen that He'd risen from the grave.

John is declaring to us -- faith is essential if you are going to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.

But let's switch gears just a bit. For all of John's hard work in hammering home the issue of faith, his is the only gospel that tells us the story of Thomas.
Thomas was a lot like John; he had been one of the disciples and walked with Jesus. He had listened to His teachings and loved Him. He went with Him wherever He went.

Remember when Jesus said He was going to Jerusalem, and it was obvious to all that the people there wanted to kill Him. Thomas's response was "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (John 11:16)

From that, to "I'm not sure I can accept that."
What happened?
Or what is it that we are not seeing here?
We'll study this more next time. I hope you will join us.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday slowdown

We may have paused to reflect on this hymn before, but it's joyful message is just right for this week!
He lives!

I serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today;
I know that He is living whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He's always near.

He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives,
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

In all the world around me I see His loving care,
And tho' my heart grows weary I never will despair;
I know that He is leading thro' all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing will come at last.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!
The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find,
None other is so loving, so good and kind.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

John 20:11-18, conclusion (no more tears)

Mary Magdalene's third opportunity to allow God to wipe away her tears was when she saw Jesus Himself.  She turned away from the messengers inside the tomb, and saw someone standing there. But her eyes were so full of tears that she did not recognize Him. Sobbing with grief, she could not see Him clearly. It was only when He said her name that she realized it was Jesus. Then she reacted like a child in her joy, and reached out to Him, to perhaps grab His hand or His garment.

It overwhelms me sometimes, that Jesus knows my name. He knows yours, too. Does that fill you with awe? Jesus said, "I know my own and my own know Me."

And He knows our tears. It make take a while for us to realize that Jesus is calling our name. It may take a while for us to hear Him. But He is not dead; He is alive. And He will wipe away our tears if we will let Him.

Mary Magdelene's last opportunity in this passage was when she returned to the disciples. After she met Jesus, she went back to them with the message that Jesus had given her. Remember that two of these men had also been to the tomb, and we can imagine that by now, they were all talking about what had happened. Peter and John were there. As we studied last week, John saw and believed. Now with the return of Mary to their little group, they could all move from doubt to belief. They could all rejoice together.

God doesn't expect for us to be alone, whether we are in pain, or we are joyful. That is why Jesus chose disciples, and that is why Jesus established His church. He continues His work today in the church, the body of believers. We can inspire hope in one another. We can remind each other of the comfort in His presence. We can work together to continue His mission, and to see people's lives changed by Him.  Together with Him, we wipe away the tears.

This is an imperfect world. It's also a world in which Satan rampages about, accomplishing much destruction.

                      Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around
                      like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)

He causes pain, sorrow, sadness, and sin. We fall for his ruses time and time again. But God comes to us time and time again when we repent, and lets us know that He wants to wipe away our tears.

We need to look through our tears at the empty tomb. We need to watch for (and be) His angels. We need to listen for the voice of Jesus. And we need to find our place in His group of followers.

God tells us in Revelation that there will come a day when He will wipe away every tear from our eyes . . . oh, how I look forward to that day!

Don't you, too?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

John 20:11-18, no more tears

Remember that we are looking this week at several opportunities that God provided to Mary Magdalene, to wipe away her tears and rejoice. I'm getting older and need reminding myself, sometimes. (Grin)

Ready? Let's dive in!

The first opportunity was when Mary saw the empty tomb. She stood crying, just outside that tomb, and was completely unaware that the empty space there held the key to healing and hope -- both for her, and for us!
The borrowed grave was empty, but not because someone took Jesus away. It was because He got up and walked right out! God had opened the door and freed Jesus from death. But because of her tears, Mary couldn't recognize the importance of the empty tomb. She couldn't yet receive the gift God was offering to her. Not yet.
Many people today are so focused on the pain they are experiencing in their lives, or perhaps on the sin in their lives, that they just can't see that God has placed opportunities in their pathway to remind them that He is ready to help. He stands ready to wipe away their tears. How many times do folks pass by churches, or reject invitations from church members, instead of coming to worship and receive God's help? They seem to think that the buildings are just empty, having nothing to do with the pain and sin and heartache in their lives. They can't see that the church is a place of refuge, and the members are a source of comfort.

Mary's second opportunity was the two angels. She stooped to look in, and saw two messengers of God. Let's pause a moment, here, shall we?
I mean no disrespect, but this must have been a shocker, no? First of all, she looks into the borrowed tomb and sees these heavenly beings . . . we don't know for certain what they looked like, but there must have been something about them that was extraordinary. Whether they had wings or not, or whether they were bathed in bright light or not, really doesn't matter. Something was different, because she accepted them as heavenly beings, and so did John, as he wrote. 
Secondly, they spoke to her! Wow! What would you or I have thought about that? These extraordinary beings talked to her in language that she could understand. They asked her why she was weeping -- all she could say was that someone had taken Jesus' body away.
The two angels could have given her the answer to her question, and provided her with a reason to accept God's wiping her tears away . . . but she turned away from them.

Even today, God sends people into our lives to let us know that He cares. He may bring someone alongside you at church, someone who can keep you accountable, or who can comfort you with their wisdom. He may bring someone alongside you at work, and they may be someone who has experienced what you are going through and can offer compassion. He might give someone a prompt to call you, or to email you and see "how are things going?" We might not always see the connection, but God tries to get our attention through people who come into our lives.  Some of us may have seen "angels" like that, or may have been "angels" to others who needed us. God provides these opportunities, because He wants to wipe away our tears.

We'll conclude our study of these verses tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Verses that inspire us

We find so many gems in the Word.

Many times we read verses that are very familiar to us, and the Spirit shows us new meanings, or He shows us a new way that we need to apply a verse to our lives.

What a blessing that can be!

Recently I was touched by this verse:

                      But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is
                     made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly
                     of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
                     (II Corinthians 2:9)

I was reading in my devotional book, and the thought for the day was truly convicting. Let's get real here, OK? I have a real problem with "letting go and letting God." Oy.

So often, I want to tell Him about a problem, and then get up from my knees and work and work and plan and manipulate, and solve the problem myself. I found that my heart was heavy as I read that verse and realized my sinful state. I was showing a lack of faith. What I needed to do was to hold my hand open, and let Him hold both my hand, and my problem.

What a difference it made to the state of my heart! I'm not saying He's done with me yet, for I am weak, and I will probably forget! But doing a better job of trusting Him to do what He has said He'll do . . . that made all the difference!

How about you?

Do you have this problem?

Or have you a verse to share, that has inspired you in a different area of your life?

Monday, April 6, 2015

John 20:11-18, No more tears

Sometimes when we study a passage, the Spirit draws us back again to the verses. That is what happened here. This is a portion of last week's passage, and I'd like to focus here.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

As women, and as Christians, we have all been touched by sadness. Some of us have lost loved ones; some have lost relationships; some of us have lost our jobs or our health. We may be grieving over situations where we feel we have failed someone else, failed ourselves, or failed our Savior. Many times when we are sad we weep. Wiping away the tears becomes a reflex; we barely know we are doing it as we cry.
And sometimes it is very difficult to wipe all the tears away.

As we celebrated Easter, did you remember how God took Mary Magdalene from sadness to joy? How He moved her from brokenness to being whole? Mary knew what it was to be sad. She knew what it was like to cry. All her life, she had searched for meaningful relationships. She had ended up as a prostitute, trying to please men who were only interested in using her. They didn't care about her as a person; they didn't see any worth in her.
Luke tells us in his gospel that she came into the room where Jesus was having supper with one of the Pharisees. She interrupted their dinner by kneeling at His feet, weeping. She bathed His feet with her tears, and then wiped them with her hair. Finally she broke a lovely alabaster jar and put ointment on His feet.
She had found Someone in Whom was real love. Eternal love. He not only loved her, but He forgave her sins.  Jesus told the Pharisee that she was one who loved much, because she had been forgiven much.
Imagine what a transformation that was! Her life was changed. Her tears were wiped away, and joy flooded her soul. Mary was so transformed that she traveled with Jesus and His disciples during His time on earth. And when He died on the cross, she was heart-broken. She came to the tomb early that morning, with the others, because she wanted to find some way to show her love to Jesus. She wanted to help in the completion of the burial ritual . . . by adding the spices and perfumes that had not been used in His hurried burial, she felt she could honor Him.

Then she discovered that the tomb had been opened -- the body was no longer there! She felt certain that someone had added insult to injury by taking away the body of Jesus. She stood weeping, not realizing that God was trying to help her. He was trying to wipe away her tears.

Many preachers have used the illustration of the woman whose house was flooded after a huge rain. She kept looking for higher ground and eventually ended up on the roof. In her prayers, God had told her that he would save her. Someone offered to throw a rope to her, but she refused. “God will save me,” she said. A man came by in a boat and offered to take her along, but she said, “No. God will save me.” Finally, a helicopter came to pick her up and she refused. The water eventually covered her house and she lost her life. In heaven, she asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God said, “I tried three times, but you refused.”

God tried to rescue Mary Magdalene from her flood of tears several times, but at first she didn't understand. God still offers those opportunities to those who will listen today.

Join us next time, won't you?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

Today, as we celebrate Easter, I hope all of you have a wonderful, happy day.

In the midst of the eggs and basket grass, the ham and veggies, the joyful music at church -- in the midst of all of that, I hope that you take a few moments to get alone with our Savior.

Find a quiet place. Praise Him in prayer and thanksgiving. And give Him time to speak to you.


He is risen!

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Friday slowdown

Christ the Lord is ris'n today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heav'ns, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!

 Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia! Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

 Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Foll'wing our exalted Head, Alleluia! Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia! Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia! Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia! Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

 King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasing life is this, Alleluia! Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

John 20:1-18, conclusion (I have seen the Lord!)

We've watched while John and Peter arrived at the tomb, and we've seen their reactions. Now let's look at what Mary Magdalene does . . .

When they left, she stayed on. That's when the angel asked her a very good question -- "Why are you crying?" Do you remember back in verse one, John said that the women came to the tomb while it was still dark? Many commentators point to the fact that it wasn't just a comment about the time of day, but John may have been making a point about the condition of their hearts, and of their minds. It was the deepest and darkest time that they had experienced in their lives. Mary was depressed.

Depression often comes when you have lost something that was of great value in your life. And the more valuable the person or the thing that is lost, the deeper you will go into the pit of depression. Well, I think we can see that Mary Magdalene had lost the Person that was more valuable to her than anyone else in the world.

When she lost Jesus, she lost the Person Who had released her from seven demons. She had been enslaved and controlled by them, and Jesus cast the demons out, and freed her.

When she lost Jesus, she lost her peace. We parents know what it's like to have several different little folks all tugging at us at the same time. They all want our attention, and sometimes will do almost anything to get it! Imagine having seven demons living inside your head -- they would constantly be steering you into directions you don't want to go, and making you do actions that you don't want to do. Jesus released her into His peace; it was a peace that she'd never known before.

Jesus had also released her from her sin, and forgiven her for all those actions that had allowed the demons to take control. He had given her someone to believe in, too. And He provided her with leadership. He had given meaning to her life; she was part of a group of women who supported His ministry and believed in what He was doing. She was simply lost without Him.

And she cried.

But then a miracle happened!

                    At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did
                   not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?
                   Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said,
                  “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and
                   I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried
                   out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not h
                   old on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my
                   brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my
                   God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the
                   news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these
                   things to her.  (John 20:14-18)

Seeing the Lord . . . that's what Mary wanted more than anything else. She stayed at the foot of the cross (John 19:25) and she stayed after Joseph placed Him in the tomb (Matthew 27:61).  The only thing that pulled her away was the Sabbath, but as soon as her obligations were over, she wanted to be there again.
And she got her desire -- she said, "I have seen the Lord!"

We are each of us like one of these three witnesses to the empty tomb. All three of them had been told what had happened; Mary was told by the angels, and Peter and John were told by the women. All three of them saw the same empty tomb and the same evidence, but all three had different responses.

Many of us are like John. We see the empty tomb and we believe. Jesus says that we are blessed, and we should rejoice that Jesus is alive -- we will live with Him for all eternity.

Some folks are like Peter.  We see the empty tomb and don't know what to think. There is something going on, but we don't know what. There is only one way that we will ever understand fully -- we have to stick around. We can't just go to church once. Or pray once. Or get up before He speaks to us through His Word, when we study. Stay a long time at the foot of the cross, and see the miracle of a change in our lives.

Then some folks are like Mary. We see the empty tomb, and the change in people's lives, and we think there must be a practical, sensible explanation. Like the gardener must have moved the body of Jesus. But Mary hung around long enough to have her questions answered, and her faith grew, as a result.  Do we do that sometimes? Do we ask, what does it all mean to me?

Since Jesus is alive, He can be to us all of the things that Mary Magdalene thought she had lost -- release, forgiveness, purpose, and leadership from God. Have you seen your prayers answered? Have you seen the Lord?

If these studies have touched your heart and you feel that you would like to know more about a relationship with Him, please look on the right-hand side of the blog and click on "What is salvation" and also on "how to pray" and let us know about your decision, if you would like to. God bless.