Thursday, July 31, 2014

All eyes are on Jesus, Conclusion

                "The disciples left and did what Jesus had told them to do. They brought the
                 donkey and its colt and laid some clothes on their backs. Then Jesus got on."
                 (Matthew 21:6-7 CEV)

The last group we are going to look at is those who were committed. Not confused. Not pretending. Not curious. And definitely not in opposition.

A committed follower of Christ is one who follows Jesus' leadership without interrogating Him. That is possible because a committed follower is one who recognizes Jesus as Lord. Their is an obedience in their lives, that makes them ready to go where He leads.  They fully understand that His mission was to bring a lost and dying world The Option that would re-unite them with a holy God
Truly committed followers give of themselves for Christ's mission, and we can look at their lives and see that they put others first. They are attentive to others' needs. They are acting in a sinful world as the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Jesus.
Putting it simply, as in Matthew's account above, they do "what Jesus ....told them to do."

We also see in committed followers the desire to worship Him. Seeing Him and giving Him glory is their first priority. Let's look back at John 12: 20-21:

               Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.
               They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,”
               they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

“We would like to see Jesus.”

Just take a moment and let that sink in.
Is that what you are saying as you rise each morning and talk with Him in prayer?
Is that what you desire when you worship?

What a difference we would see in our lives if we would say that. If we would come into His presence with glorifying Him on our minds. If we wanted more than anything else to honor Him.
Just think. What would it change in our lives if we would say, "We would like to see Jesus."
Oh, so much.

Because when we see Jesus and worship Him, God is glorified. You see, this is a life changer: when we recognize that Jesus embodies the love that God has for us, and that this love sent Him to the cross to die for us. There comes a time in our lives when it hits us: God gave His only Son to die for you and me; He did it so that we would not perish -- we'd have eternal, everlasting life. And when that hits us, it changes our perspective.
We see this truth. Really see it. And then we begin to worship Him. We surrender our whole hearts and souls to Him.
We want to follow Him. We want to obey His will. And we really, really want to honor and praise Him for all He has done (and is continuing to do) for us.
When we really want to see Jesus, that is when God is glorified.

On that day, when Jesus made this "triumphal entry" into the city, some of them had no idea why they were shouting "Hosanna!"
It's a Hebrew word that is translated "he who saves." Ahh, they were welcoming their King. But wait! A lot of them had an earthly king on their minds. One who would deliver them from the hated Romans.
But this King would not rule over Israel.
This was the King of heaven!
Some of them had no clue. But there were some, committed followers, who knew that they were honoring the King of kings and Lord of Lords. They were shouting praise to the Lamb of God, Who would take away the sins of the world.

Come to think of it, shouldn't we be doing that, too?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All eyes are on Jesus, Part II

Last time we saw some of the faces in the crowd that seemed confused. Today we will see others who are pretending, and some who are simply curious.

The pretenders in the crowd are those who had seen His signs and miracles, but were still not willing to make a commitment to Jesus.

            Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not
            believe in him.  (John 12:37)

Pretenders want to be seen around Jesus, but they won't surrender control of their lives. Many people today are in this group -- they come to church and other gatherings out of habit, or because it is a familiar routine.  Some people just come to church to ease their conscience, but they are all the same: pretenders are just going through the motions.
They may have been shouting "Hosanna!" and wafting their palm branches just like the others, but they were spiritually blind. They knew very little about Jesus or His plan for their lives . . . they were probably very easily influenced by the actions of others. Someone they knew wanted to see Jesus, and they were caught up in the excitement.
Pretenders will take the path of least resistance -- and they let the approval of others determine their level of commitment. Real surrender? Commitment to Jesus? Nope.

Another group of people in the crowd are simply curious. John tells us:

          A crowd had come to meet Jesus because they had seen Him call Lazarus out
          of the tomb. They kept talking about Him and this miracle.  (John 12:17-18 CEV)

These are the same faces in the crowd that would be attracted to the next circus, or would be intrigued by the next magic show that hits town. Their minds are occupied with the wonder and amazement that they feel about "what He might do next."  They've heard interesting things about this man from Nazareth, and they want to see Him for themselves.  They are looking for the next amazing experience or the next paranormal event. They aren't necessarily looking for His truth, but are just doing what seems right for the moment.

Ahh, but here is where the ominous music begins to play.
The opposition shows up.

                When Jesus was starting down the Mount of Olives, his large crowd of disciples
                 were happy and praised God because of all the miracles they had seen. They
                 shouted, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in
                 heaven and glory to God!" Some Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher,
                 make your disciples stop shouting!"  (Luke 19:37-39 CEV)

Isn't that just like the Pharisees? Such party poopers. And wherever the power was, that was where you’d find these Pharisees. Wherever the prestige was, you could be sure they would be there. They wanted the praise. They wanted the glory. They wanted to be looked up to and they wanted to be the ones who had all the influence. They were fine as long as they were the center of attention, but look out if someone else received the praise. Look at this one, too:

                  "…The Pharisees had already given orders for the people not to have anything
                 to do with anyone who had faith in Jesus. And besides, the leaders liked praise
                from others more than they liked praise from God.   John 12:42b-43 (CEV)

The opposition, (the religious establishment) was seeking to promote it’s own interests. We've looked before at how the Pharisees felt about Jesus, and how He threatened their positions of power. They didn't like the way He was rocking the boat!
Those in opposition to Jesus are consumed with seeking the attention of people. They oppose a commitment to Christ, because commitment requires change. Commitment requires the focus to be on Jesus and not ourselves.
Jesus' opponents were seeking to destroy the message He was bringing. 

The question now is this: are we one of these that we have studied? The confused, the pretenders, the curious, or even the opposition? Or are we like those we will study tomorrow?
Join us tomorrow to see!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What are you listening to?

Singing is such an awesome gift from God, isn't it?

When we sing, we can comfort ourselves, lift our own spirits and those of others, and what's more important, we can praise our almighty Father!

What are you listening to today? Leave us a comment and if you have time, a verse or a link. You never know who you may bless by steering them toward a song or a thought that will help them in a time of need.
Sometimes it is the simplest of songs that cheer us. This past week I've not been able to get this out of my head! The lyrics resound with the joy of showing God's perfect love in the midst of each and every challenge that life presents.  
Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ( Matthew 5:15-16)

This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Won't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine.
Won't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Let it shine til Jesus comes,
I'm gonna let it shine.
Let it shine til Jesus comes.
I'm gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel - NO!
I'm gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel - NO!
I'm gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Let it shine over the whole wide world,
I'm gonna let it shine.
Let it shine over the whole wide world,
I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Monday, July 28, 2014

All eyes are on Jesus

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
    see, your king is coming,
    seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

This week we are studying what is traditionally labeled "The Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem. Many people study this on or around Palm Sunday, and it's very familiar to many of us.
I'd like to take a little bit different look at this. (Of course, you may have already looked at it in just this way, but humor me!)

First, what exactly is the scene here in Jerusalem?  Let's imagine that we are in the old city, amidst the crowds of people, animals, and soldiers. We've come to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, right? The streets probably looked a lot like our present-day New Year's Eve crowds at Times Square.
The historians tell us that over two million people were involved in one way or another, in the great Passover celebration. We know that over a quarter of a million lambs were slaughtered at one Passover, and that each lamb represented an average of ten worshippers!
Thousands of people from all over the world were streaming into the city to observe the Feast, like one great, big Homecoming on the grounds. The housing and food to handle such crowds can scarcely be imagined.
It was a carnival-like atmosphere. But as they prepared to observe one of the most important feasts that the Jewish people celebrated all year, word came that Jesus was on His way into the city. Did you realize that although some events in Jesus' life are recorded in only one or two of the gospels, this event is noted in all four? I believe that this is all the more important for us to study!

The crowds begin to coalesce around Jesus as He rides into the city on the colt of a donkey; they begin to wave palm branches and shout their welcome to Him. But, what were they thinking? What were they really thinking?
We may see ourselves in these people before we are through.

I think that some of the people in this crowd are confused . . . check out this verse in Matthew:
                  When Jesus came to Jerusalem, everyone in the city was excited and asked,
                  "Who can this be?" The crowd answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from
                   Nazareth in Galilee.  (Matthew 21:10-11)

The confused people don't recognize Jesus for Who He truly is. Some of these are civilians, and some of them are soldiers. Let's look first at the soldiers' reaction to Jesus.
There were probably a large number of Roman soldiers who had been tasked with crowd control for this week of celebration, much like the increased presence of officers in a city when a large event is planned.
They may have been watching the movements of the crowds, anticipating yet another uprising from the zealots who typically used an event like this to stir up the people against the Romans. Maybe they were expecting some kind of a riot.
But then . . .
. . . there comes Jesus, riding on a donkey's colt.
I imagine that some of the Roman soldiers must have smiled at this, because it was nothing like the triumphal celebrations in Rome. It must have confused them to see multitudes of people making a fuss over one man on a donkey's colt.
You see, in Rome, when a general was victorious on a foreign campaign, and killed at least 5,000 of the enemy soldiers and perhaps garnered some new land for the empire, he was given a "Roman triumph" celebration on his return to the mother city. Kinda like the ticker tape parades that used to happen to honor an astronaut or politician, here in the United States, but it was much more splendiferous!
The general would ride into the city in a gold-covered chariot that gleamed in the sunshine as it was pulled by four white stallions. The warrior general would display his trophies, and the enemy leaders that he had captured would be paraded down the street in chains, behind the chariot. The emperor would honor the general and then the enemies would fight wild beasts to entertain the masses.

So, I bet that the Roman soldiers were a little confused, and may have smiled or laughed a little under their breath as they watched.
Isn't that how some people treat our Savior today? They are amused by stories about Him, and they laugh at the people who are committed to Him. How could sophisticated, smart people be so ignorant? What intelligent person would believe some of the things they say He did, they ask? Hmmph! Make blind people see, lame people walk. Walk on water. Raise someone from the dead? Who in their right minds would believe all these things? And so they laugh at us, the Christians who have faith in this Jesus.

Some others, civilians who were confused may not have been laughing, but they still don't recognize Jesus for Who He is.  Just like some today, they see Him as a good man, or a prophet, or a very wise man. They don't understand God's plan for their lives. Some may even confess that Jesus is Lord, but they are not yet ready to surrender to Him -- we'll talk about them another day.

I hope you will have an opportunity to re-read this passage and join us again next time.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Slowdown

This seemed like just the right song for our studies this week. I hope you receive a blessing from listening to it. Have a blessed weekend.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Giving all we have

We're continuing our study in John 12:1-11, and learning about truly extravagant love, and giving all that we have.
This kind of sacrificial love can be puzzling to some. Look again at verses 4-6.
I bet Judas thought he sounded really spiritual, don't you? "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?" I expect that he thought he sounded above reproach; he was all high-and-mighty and self-righteous about what Mary had done. Her extravagant and sacrificial gift was a total puzzle to him.
I bet if he knew just how hypocritical he sounded, he might have shushed.
Here is what John said about Judas:
               "He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he
                was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to
                what was put in it." (verse 6)

Ouch! That got right to the point, didn't it?
Well, the truth is, those who would be disgusted or put off by our sacrificial offerings are typically more "into" themselves than anything else.  They just mask their disapproval in spiritual language. It's easy to see their hypocrisy.

Did you notice, too, what Judas did? Talk about damage! Mary's sacrifice had focused the attention of everyone in the house on the guest of honor, on our Lord Jesus. But Judas, in his hypocrisy and pride, deflected that attention. He turned it away from the Lord.  He wasn't in love with Jesus -- he was in love with himself. "Is it good for me?" is where his thoughts ran. For thirty pieces of silver, Judas is going to betray Jesus . . . soon.
Even today, our offerings to God, motivated by our desire to give all that we have, will be puzzling to those who will gripe about it all. But we can't let that stop us! It's our aim to please Christ, not man.

And that brings us to our last point here: this kind of love is pleasing to Christ.
There is only one voice heard in favor of what Mary gave, and it was the only one that mattered. In Matthew 26, we read, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me."  We can see that when we truly give to God, He knows it. Jesus emphasized that Mary's gift was for Him.
Nothing that we give to God will ever, ever go unnoticed by Him. Isn't that a comforting thought? Let's look at Hebrews 6:10:

                      God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have
                      shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.

We give our gifts to God. He will never forget it. When He receives something from us that is precious to us, it is pleasing to Him.  In Mark's gospel, he adds that Jesus also said this: "She did what she could." (Mark 14:8)  The fragments of that jar were swept up. The fragrance of the oil has evaporated long years ago. But the memory of what Mary did will endure forever.

Think about the difference she made!
Phillip Keller (he wrote A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 and Lessons from a Sheep Dog) wrote this about her gift:

              "The ....fragrance ran down over His shining hair. It enfolded His body with
              its delightful aroma. Even his tunic and undergarment were drenched with
              its enduring pungency. Wherever He moved during the ensuing days, the
              perfume would go with Him. Into the Passover; into the Garden of Geth-
              semane; into Herod's hall; into Pilate's patio; even into the cruel hands of
              those who cast lots for His clothing."

With each prick of a thorn on His forehead, Mary's gift was remembered. With each crack of the hateful whip, her love was felt. With each impact of the hammer, driving in the nails, her offering was recalled.
Now, what does Christ expect of us? To do what we can. All we can. Regardless of criticism. All from a heart of love.
Oh, to be like Mary's alabaster jar -- broken and empty at His feet.
Ready for Him to put the pieces of our lives together, and to fill us with His Spirit!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Giving all we have, or an empty jar

We are studying this week an incident of pure and giving love, extravagant love. It's an example of giving all we have, until nothing is left but an empty jar.

If we want to give an offering that honors the Lord, as Mary did, it must be something that is dear to us. In the eyes of the world, it may be unreasonable, but not to us. Read again in John 12:1-3.

Then let's look at another example of an offering that honors God. Here is a passage from II Samuel:

 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.
21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”
22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23 Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.”
24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 25 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

David knew that his offering must cost him something. It must be precious. When Mary brought her offering, it was precious to her.  Commentaries that I looked at noted the alabaster jar and the nard inside it would have cost the equivalent of an entire year's salary in that day. She brought it, and broke it, and poured it upon Jesus. It was beyond what many would have thought to be a "reasonable" gift, but not to Mary.

This study lowered the boom on me when I worked on this . . . do you realize that there are three momentous times that Mary is mentioned in the gospels, and each time she is at our Lord's feet?
Check this out:
          She sat at His feet to hear His word (Luke 10)
          She knelt at His feet in sorrow at her brother's death (John 11)
          She brings her offering now (John 12)
Is there a better place to be found, that at Jesus' feet? Perhaps we should ask ourselves, as I have been, if we've been there lately?
Or have we been too busy?
Or are we too proud?
Too self-reliant?
At Jesus' feet was Mary's favorite place to be. She is there in times of sorrow and in times of joy; in times of receiving and of giving; when the sun is shining and also when the storms are threatening.
Because of her love.
The same love that made her do something extravagant like this offering. Yes, the jar and the aromatic oil were expensive, but to her, Jesus was worth so much more.
Can we say the same about ourselves? Have we given to God recently, not because it was expected, but because we wanted to? Wherever this kind of love is in a heart, it bubbles up in a desire to sacrifice.

God-honoring, extravagant love is not only giving what is precious to us, but it is pleasant for others to see.  
The whole house was filled with the fragrance -- not just the room in which they were seated, enjoying the dinner and fellowship. Everyone knew what had been offered. Even those outside would know about her offering.
When we give ourselves fully to Jesus, the "aroma" is powerful. When a church is made up of committed Christians who are ready to give everything they have to Jesus, the "scent" is inviting. That church is appealing to those who are outside its walls, looking in. These are people who hunger for worship, and if they aren't drawn in to the truth, they'll settle for a counterfeit.
God inhabits the praises of His people, and one way to praise Him is to offer ourselves, in an extravagant offering of love.  Just like Mary did, we can offer what is dear to us, and it is pleasant for others to see. When we hear of someone else's sacrifice, it encourages us to do more for Him.
Let's bring our best to Him!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Verses that inspire

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

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

These gems from the Word are so precious -- won't you share with us today?

Here is a verse that has meant so much to me recently, that I wanted to share it with you:

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
    and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
    you are exalted as head over all.  (II Chronicles 29:11)

Monday, July 21, 2014

John 12:1-11, Introduction

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

OK, let's set the scene here. Jesus had arrived again in Bethany. Remember, this is where Lazarus lives, right? But they're not visiting in Lazarus' home tonight -- they are in (according to Mark 14:3) in the home of "Simon the leper."
Ready? Let's dive in!

First of all, any self-respecting, Torah-believing Jew would not (not ever, never) eat at a leper's house. Unless the leper had been healed. Logically, if you asked him to pass you the dish of lamb, you might be opening yourself up to contracting a case of leprosy yourself.
So, if they were at Simon's house, it was because he'd been healed of the disease. Simon owed his life to the guest of the evening, Jesus.
Well, another guest that night also owed his life to Jesus -- Lazarus was there. You remember where he was in the previous chapter, right? In the tomb, until Jesus called him out!

Can you imagine being there at that dinner? Two men, each of them "one-upping" the other with their stories.  Simon could tell about being healed of a "living death" of leprosy, and Lazarus could talk about being brought of his grave! That must have been the most sought-after invitation in town . . . wouldn't you love to have been there?

It was already a wonderful time of fellowship. Then something truly great took place.

A woman enters the room, presumably with bowed head and quiet steps. She is bringing Jesus a God-honoring offering. An extravagant offering.
She approaches Him, breaks open a very expensive alabaster jar, and pours the precious contents over His head. Then she falls to her knees before Him, pours the remainder on His feet, and wipes it with her hair.

Imagine the fragrance of the perfume filling the room; imagine now the tension filling the air.
Judas jumps to his feet to rebuke her.
But our Lord Jesus is every bit as quick to defend her.  (Oh, how I love to see evidences that He steps in when we need Him!)
Jesus blesses her gift, and He then makes certain that this offering, this extravagant gift of love will be remembered forever. In Mark 14:9 we read, "I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

We're going to study about extravagant love this week. We can do special things for Jesus, too!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday slowdown

Where you go, I'll go
Where you stay, I'll stay
When you move, I'll move
I will follow

All your ways are good
All your ways are sure
I will trust in you alone
Higher than my side
High above my life
I will trust in you alone

Where you go, I'll go
Where you stay, I'll stay
When you move, I'll move
I will follow you
Who you love, I'll love
How you serve I'll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you

Light unto the world
Light unto my life
I will live for you alone
You're the one I seek
Knowing I will find
All I need in you alone, in you alone

In you there's life everlasting
In you there's freedom for my soul
In you there's joy, unending joy
And I will follow

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Conclusion - Learning from the Pharisees

We've seen this week that we can learn "what not to do" from this episode with the Pharisees. We need to make certain that we don't act like the members of the Sanhedrin.
Their pride-filled efforts to act on their own, to preserve their important positions, were ultimately unsuccessful.
Not only did they miss out on the Messiah, but in 70 AD the Temple was destroyed and the nation was scattered!

There will be times in our Christian lives (and in the life of our churches) when it will seem much, much easier to follow our own human wisdom, rather than searching the Word of God and following its precepts. We can easily be tempted to do what pleases the world and preserve ourselves, rather than doing what promotes God's glory.

It's tempting to consult the wisdom of men. Sometimes to be faithful to God's word and follow Christ will be inconvenient. Maybe even dangerous. Perhaps in the future, just like the Roman government threatening to persecute the Council, our own government will threaten to persecute us.

But here is something important; it is a reason to be encouraged, to persevere, to follow and trust in Jesus. Sometimes what man intends for evil, God intends for good. Look at verses 51-52 again:

                                            He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he
                               prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation
                               only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered

We can see that Caiaphas spoke to the Council out of an evil desire to murder Jesus, but John writes that he was being used of God -- he "prophesied" as the high priest!

Jesus was, in fact, through their evil plan, going to "die for the nation." He would die for Israel. But not for Israel only, but "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."

The evil Council thought that they were ending the ministry of Jesus. In reality, they were helping to bring it to fulfillment! Their plot would accomplish God's purposes and gather in all of His children.

That's the gospel. We've all (all of humanity) fallen into sin and we deserve the judgment of God. At the tower of Babel God scattered mankind all across the earth -- but then He showed His mercy and grace in launching a plan of redemption.  He sent his Son to live a perfect life of love to God and man, which we have seen in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in this Gospel. Then, he would be sacrificed on a cross as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” God’s wrath and anger against sin would be poured out upon his Son. Then, he would rise from the dead, so that whoever turned from their sins and called upon Christ to save them, would be forgiven of their sin and adopted by God and inherit eternal life.
As believers, we should not fear man. Be still and know that the Father will be exalted, and His purposes will be accomplished.
Then we should examine our hearts. Are our hearts proud, like those of the Pharisees? Do we judge by our own wisdom, or by God's will? Do we seek to do what pleases the world, for convenience sake?
Or, are our hearts resting in Christ, willing to follow His plans?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Learning more from the Pharisees

Remember, we are studying this week the response of some of the witnesses to Lazarus' resurrection, and also the response of the Pharisees . . .

Let's go back and refresh our memories of the religious hierarchy of the day, OK? The Sanhedrin (the council) was the highest ranking group of leaders, directly under the Roman government in Judea. It consisted of the high priests, past high priests, members of wealthy, privileged families, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and some of the tribal heads.

The chief priests and the Pharisees are the ones who get right to the point -- they announce the reason for calling the meeting:

                              “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let
                               him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans
                               will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

That's getting to the point, isn't it?
Here's the thing -- Jesus is drawing a lot of attention because of the signs and miracles He is providing.  Some of the people think He is the Messiah, and another word for that is "King." That will get the attention of the Romans, for sure, and they will want to squash that quickly. The easiest way to do that is to do away with the Jewish leadership, and take the area in hand under strict Roman rule.
So this is what they mean: the Romans may destroy the temple, and also remove them from their positions of power.

Caiaphas, the chief priest, can't figure out for the life of him why they are so stupid. He says there are two options:
           1. Jesus continues and they lose out.
           2. They kill Jesus.
It's that simple, he says. The better option is that "one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." So from that day on, "they made their plans." (verse 53)
In Psalm 2 we read:

                    Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the
                    earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD
                    and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast
                    away their cords from us.”

We see this fulfilled in verse 47. They are making plans to push back, and not accept His rule.

The biggest lesson from today's study is to learn from the Pharisees -- don't be swallowed up in pride.

We shouldn't think that our wisdom can thwart God. Did you see that they believe the potential progress of Jesus (having more people believe in Him) would be the result of their inactivity? And they also think that they can plot, and plan, and stop Jesus. But Psalm 2 continues by saying that “He who sits in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”

Their pride also got them into trouble because they assessed things with their own finite minds and judgment, instead of measuring by the Word of God.  Of all the Jewish people, the members of the Council should have been the ones who recognized the Messiah -- they were the ones who studied the Law and the prophets!  They should have been searching the scriptures to see what such signs said about the one performing them. Time and again we have seen how what Jesus has been doing directly corresponds to what the Old Testament writers told God’s people to expect in their Redeemer.

But nooooooo, they don't consult the scriptures. They decide by their own wisdom what is best for the nation.  They can't even fall back on "He was doing something wrong." They are simply plotting to kill Him for convenience . . . it would have been terribly inconvenient to lose their positions of power.  In our present-day, we must resolve to search the scriptures and follow God's will, even if it is inconvenient.

A third evidence of their pride is that they call the Temple (which is the Lord's) and their positions "theirs."  Maintaining control of what they had was of greatest concern to them. They challenged the plan and sovereignty of God by taking ownership of what was rightfully His.

Sometimes we need to remember this in our churches. We need to recall that the church does not belong to us. It belongs to God; it was purchased with the blood of His Son.

                    “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (II Cor. 6:19-20)
                    “We are the temple of the living God.”  2 Corinthians 6:16

 In Acts 20:28, Paul refers to “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I will build my church.” In Revelation 5:9, we read that Christ was slain and by his blood “purchased people for God.” The church belongs to our Father; it was purchased with the blood of his Son.

No matter how many years or positions of leadership in which we serve, no matter how much we give to the offerings, no matter how long our family has been on the membership roll, the church doesn't belong to us -- it belongs to Him.
Here is the consequence of pride like the Pharisees showed. Look at verse 54: "Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews."

In the Old Testament, when the people were stubborn and bowed their necks and broke the covenants . . . what did God do? He drove them into exile, or removed His glory from the Temple, or had foreigners come and destroy it. He removed His presence from them. And that is what Jesus is doing in verse 54.  What a terrible statement. Think about that -- doesn't it make you shudder?

We should stay away from pridefulness, and we should fear losing Christ more than losing "our places."

But wait! That can't happen, can it? Jesus said in Matthew 28, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." But Jesus didn't make that promise to prideful, self-serving Pharisees. He didn't make it to high priests who chose to do evil for the sake of convenience. He didn't make it to those who want to take ownership of what is actually God's.
He promised His presence to His people. To those who love Christ, follow His word, and love others the way that Christ loves them.

We'll conclude our study of this passage tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prayer requests

Today we again have the opportunity to pray with each other about things that trouble us. We are privileged to seek His face and ask on behalf of others.

We've talked before about praying when we are broken-hearted, or when we are desperate. Sometimes the requests left in the comments concern the physical or mental health of others. Clearly, God wants us to come to Him with these requests. The gospel accounts are filled with situations of people coming boldly to Jesus for healing.
He delights in our showing our faith in this way.
Remember the friends who lowered the man into the house where Jesus was teaching, after making a hole in the roof? How about the two blind men sitting by the roadside, who called out to Him?

              "Jesus stopped and called to them. "What do you want me to do for you?"
               He asked. "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight." Jesus had compassion
               on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and
               followed Him.   (Matthew 20:32-34)

We have faith in God; we can be bold and persistent. Ask Him. If for His own reasons, God does not heal our illness, He will surely answer our prayers for His strength to endure it.

Please feel free to share your requests today.

Monday, July 14, 2014

John 11:45-57 Learning from the Pharisees

Are you wondering about that title? The Pharisees are not usually the good guys, ay? What should we learn from them? Let's dive in!
The glory of God is seen most clearly in the gospels, and especially in the gospel that John wrote for us. He has noted that the reason he wrote was so that we would see that glory, and understand more fully why Jesus came.

In the remainder of the eleventh chapter of John, we will see the response of certain people when His glory is clearly revealed. We'll see what the everyday folks thought. And we'll see what the religious leaders thought. For the most part, these will be negative responses. We may be surprised to find that the clearest demonstration of Jesus' glory thus far in John's gospel will result in the most intense (and the most organized) opposition to Him that we've yet seen.
Keep in mind, though, that even when we see the sinfulness of men in the Bible, it is still useful and instructive to us!
So far in John's gospel, we have seen approximately three years of Jesus revealing facets of His glory (it's amazing, but the whole rest of the book covers about one week more!):  His first "sign" was the turning of water into wine. Next, He cleansed the temple. After that, He healed a child with His words -- long distance, we would say. Then He amazed the people by healing the man who'd been lame for thirty-eight years.
You might say, "Wow, who needs more proof?"
But He blessed the world with a fifth sign -- feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fishes. And after that, He healed a man who was born blind.
His seventh sign was His raising Lazarus from the dead, after four days, revealing that He is truly the Resurrection and the Life.
John prepared us for this when he wrote in his first chapter:
               "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen
                His glory, glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father, full
                of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

John also prepared us for the fierce opposition and unbelief that Jesus would face, also in John 1:
              "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 
               He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world
               did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive
               him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the
               right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will
               of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:9-13)

We know now that as Jesus shines His glory into the world that He created, the world will not know Him. And as He continues to reveal His glory to His own people, the Jews, they will push back, and not receive Him. But (and we can rejoice in this) those who do receive Him, will be born of God and become the children of God!
After the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, we read this: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had see what he did, believed in him.”
Hmmmm. Here is some success.
But we've seen some sort of faith in other people before, right?
Through these past 11 chapters, we have seen some (but very little) genuine belief in Jesus. His disciples believed in him after he turned water into wine. After he cleansed the temple, many believed in his name, but with a false belief so that Jesus "would not entrust himself to them." A Samaritan woman and her entire village believe that he is the Savior of the world. The man born blind whom Jesus heals believes in him. Mary and Martha believe in him. Now, witnesses to Lazarus’ resurrection believe in him.

But the very next thing that John says is that "some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done."  You can bet your boots that this was not the witnesses to the miracle trying to evangelize the Pharisees!  The witnesses knew that it would agitate the religious leaders. They simply wanted to give the Pharisees more "ammunition" in their opposition to Jesus. This is, pure and simple, acting on their unbelief.

We shouldn't be surprised -- in the chapters preceding this one, the Jews have "sought to kill Him," tried to arrest Him, and even attempted to stone Him. Now these folks are scampering off to tell the authorities, who immediately call a special meeting to plot His death.  The biggest revelation of His glory is bringing out the largest effort to snuff out the light of that glory.

I think this best application of today's study is to be determined, to be consistent, but to be humble in our evangelism. What do I mean?
Well, with all of these signs that Jesus provided, the response of some of the witnesses was this: "Jesus has to go. He must die."
As Christians, and as churches, we can have hugely impressive buildings; we can throw parties and coordinate concerts; we can sing in awesome choirs, play in accomplished instrumental groups, and prepare stirring lessons.
There is an excellent chance that we can do this and more, and only see results of increased opposition to the Word and the Gospel.
Even though Jesus' signs were clear (and very impressive, right?) He said Himself that "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Impressive events and wonderful words cannot convince the person whose mind is made up, and whose heart is hardened.

Salvation requires the working of the Holy Spirit. So we should labor to do what Christ has commanded us -- to tell others of His glory and His mercy. But we need to make certain that we do it with humility, and depend of God to work in the hearts of those who hear.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday slowdown

Here is an old hymn that seems to fit our studies this past week:

1. My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

2. When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.

3. His oath, his covenant, his blood
supports me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.

4. When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found!
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

When disaster strikes, conclusion

All this week we have focused on John 11. What lessons have we learned?
We've learned that our prayer life must be a priority; we must personally know Jesus, the One to Whom we pray; it's perfectly OK to show our emotions; and sometimes we just have to wait, or ride it out.

The final lesson for us is that God changes lives through crisis. Sometimes it is the life of the one going through the crisis that is changed. Other times it is the lives of those around a suffering person. Most of the time it is both.

Just think -- how many lives were changed in the story of Lazarus? Well, Lazarus definitely was never the same again! Think of the stories that he could tell.
Mary and Martha, his sisters were changed, too. They had a new, deeper faith and love for Jesus, and probably had a brand new appreciation for life, don't you think?
And then the Jews that saw the whole thing. Some of them had changed hearts, and a new faith.

It is sad that it often takes a disaster, but we can thank God that through a crisis He can turn the lost into saved children of God. He can melt hardened hearts. He can make the bitter heart into a loving one. He can take orphans and turn them into children of the King.

Those of us who are Christians and have gone through a disaster in our life, we know what this is all about. We can say today, "I'm not the same person that I was before that crisis cam into my life." God has shaped us and molded us into who we are today, and sometimes does it through crisis.

If we are Christians and have not had any "great disasters" . . . well, I don't want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but at some point we will probably face a time of crisis and testing. We must keep these lessons close to our hearts so that we will be prepared (as much as we can be) in a time of crisis.

One last scripture reference today:

                           Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes
                           in me will live even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes
                           in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26)

Do we?
Are we living our lives reflecting our hope in the risen Lord?

If Jesus is not the Lord of your life, he can be. The Bible says we must:
Believe in Jesus as the Son of God.
Repent of our sins and confess Jesus as Lord.
Be immersed into Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Arise and live for him each and every day, whether in the midst of crisis and disaster, or in the peaceful vale.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When disaster strikes, continued

The next thing we can learn from this passage is to "ride it out." Know what I mean? Well, let's dive in!

When you read the eleventh chapter of John, you don't wonder about why Jesus stayed where He was two more days, do you? I mean, after our last study you don't, right? But sometimes people do think about that. Maybe people wondered about that as they watched Jesus for those two days. Maybe they wondered if He really cared about Lazarus.

But Jesus didn't stay where He was because of a lack of caring about His friends. He stayed put because He knew that God was in control of the situation. And, He knew that at the right time, the Father would take care of the crisis with Lazarus.

When a crisis invades our lives, do we want to wait it out? Or do we want it to end as soon as possible?

I remember going to a theme park with our kiddos years ago, and standing in line for our turn to ride an especially scary roller coaster. One of those that you look up while you are waiting and ask yourself if you are awake or not. Or if you are crazy or not. Or if you are ready to die or not. (Grin) Have you ever done that? You're standing in a line with metal railings on either side of you, so you can't get away. At least not gracefully.

Every so often, though, in the railing, there will be an opening with a light chain across it, with a easily manipulated latch.  Kind of a "chicken exit." If you decide you are not awake, not crazy, or not ready to meet your Maker, you can unlatch the chain and head back to the sidewalk where you can watch the rest of your party convince the world that they are crazy! I have seen people eyeing those chicken exits, and have even seen one or two that took advantage of the opportunity to get out of line.

As Christians, when a crisis comes, we often start looking for those exits. We want to get out of the trial or the crisis as soon as we possibly can -- and with the least amount of pain! We need to turn back to Romans 5, and read . . .
               We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces
               perseverance, perseverance character, character hope. And hope does not
               disappoint us because God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy
               Spirit whom He has given us.
               (Romans 5:3-4)

Sometimes the best way (and sometimes the only way) out of a disaster is to ride it out. Sometimes the only way out of a crisis is perseverance. One day Lazarus was alive. The next day he was not. Then four days later, he was alive again. A lot can happen in a week, no? A lot can happen in three days -- just ask our Jesus.

He knew that God would work, and He also knew (and wanted all of us to know) that God can use disaster for His glory. A few days ago we read an account of a tornado outbreak in Xenia. God was able to do some things through that disaster. Could He have done them in other ways? Of course. But He had a plan, and He carried it out.
He can take a negative and turn it into a positive. He can use crisis in our lives to bring about His glory.
In verses 4 and 40 of our chapter, God did not necessarily cause Lazarus to die. We would say instead that He allowed it to happen -- He used the crisis for His glory, and it changed the lives of Mary and Martha.

OK, how does all of this help us when disaster strikes?
It helps us with the temptation to blame God. Many people get hung up on that, but this study shows us that God doesn't bring disaster into our lives. Disaster may come because of choices we make. It may come because in His wisdom, He allows us to be impacted by a crisis.
But all of this comes down to two things here -- and these are important, so if you haven't really been paying attention up till now, please listen to this:
We need to realize that He loves us and can take our defeats and turn them into His victories.  We sometimes just need to ride it out. That's the first one.
Here is the second one: We also should realize that God is able to cure any disease, fix any marriage, mend any heart, forgive any sin.

There is no crisis too big for our God.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What are you listening to?

What is the purpose of Christian music? Many people will argue back and forth about the types of music that should be used in churches today.

I think this is the main thing: the whole purpose of Christian music is to praise our Lord. When we accept Jesus into our lives and submit ourselves to Him, and obey God, He fills us with the Holy Spirit and we will sing a new song!

           And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it
          and fear, and shall trust in the Lord... (Psalm 40:3)

It isn't something we have to work at. It's not something we have to cultivate inside of us. It's something that God puts in us, and it's a result of His redeeming us.
It's not the music that enables us to show our love and devotion to God -- those feelings are already there. Praise to God in music is just one part of our expressions of love to Him.

          ...Be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.... (Ephesians 5:18-19)

So, what are you listening to, today?

Monday, July 7, 2014

When disaster strikes, let go!

It really is OK.
We don't have to be emotionless.
We don't have to feel that we must "be strong."
Showing emotion when disaster strikes is perfectly normal and natural.

Sometimes we Christians are tempted during a crisis to try to appear strong. To be a rock for others during a storm.
In our society, we must be overloaded with testosterone, because the prevailing attitude is that you are weak if you cry. If you show emotion there is something wrong. People sometimes look down on others when they let their grief bubble to the surface.
I'm here to tell you that is just not right. Crying doesn't mean that you are weak. It doesn't mean that you are a baby.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus wept. And He is our all-powerful Savior, as we have said before.

                         Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

Why did Jesus weep? Was He mourning for Lazarus?
He knew that God was going to raise him from the dead. He saw that; He knew it.
He wept because He saw the pain in Mary and Martha. He loved them and hurt with them, in His heart.

God has created us as emotional people -- when a crisis comes, when disaster hits, we need to let those emotions out.  It's OK to cry. And I don't mean just sit there silently and let a tear course down our cheek. I mean the kind of gut-wrenching sobs that express our greatest fears and grief, the letting go and being as loud as we need to be, to ease our hearts. I could be wrong, but I don't think that David, the man after God's own heart, was quiet when he anguished on the floor of his chamber, overwhelmed with his guilt after his affair with Bathsheba and the murder that made it possible. I don't think that when he cried out for his son, Absalom, that he did it in a whisper. God knows the depth and the magnitude of our emotions.

And He also knows that sometimes we are so wrenched with pain that we can't find words to express it. We don't even know how to pray in our agony.

                In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)

It is not healthy to bottle it up and pretend it doesn’t exist. At some point in the future any little thing could trigger an emotional explosion that could do great damage. Let it out!

Here is a truth from our Bible: When we are weak, He is strong.

             But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (II Cor. 12:9)

Our weakness can be used by God to show His strength -- both to us, and to those around us. If we don't show our emotions, or the depth of our grief, there is no opportunity for God to use us for His glory. And we are working ourselves unnecessarily. We need to relax, to let go, and allow God to comfort us in our crisis times.

Read verses 21, 32. It is also OK to question God.
No, really, it is!  It is ok to say “God I do not understand why this is happening to me. I don’t understand what you are trying to do in my life.”  Then we need to spend quiet time with Him, and allow Him to work with us. He may show us His plan, or we may need to fully trust Him to show us later. But it is always OK to tell Him that we don't understand, and ask for wisdom.

If we are going through a crisis we must realize that prayer must be a priority, and that it is ok to allow our emotions to be expressed.