Monday, November 30, 2009

The Temple Of The Holy Spirit

Focus verses: I Corinthians 5:1-6:20

The Corinth of Paul's day was much like our society today. The focus was on lust and fleshly pleasure - satisfying the appetites of the body at any and all costs. Even the body of Christ seems to have been bragging about it's broadmindedness in the case of the man who had his father's wife.

Paul is appalled by this report. It seems that the church of Corinth has fallen into the practices of the world around it. People go to court over disputes that should have been settled by the church. There is wrangling and cheating and self-promotion and immorality of all kinds pervading the church.

Paul is very specific about those who have no inheritance in the kingdom: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers.

This list has always looked like an outline to me.

The sexually immoral:
  1. Idolaters
  2. Adulterers
  3. Male prostitutes
  4. Homosexual offenders
The greedy:
  1. Drunkards
  2. Slanderers
  3. Swindlers
Sexual immorality has to do with the improper use of the body, this temple of the Holy Spirit, to which Paul refers.

The first improper use of this body is using it to worship something - anything - other than God. The second improper use is the violation of the marriage covenant - a covenant between three persons - a man, a woman and God. The third improper use of the body is for monetary gain - selling the temple of the Holy Spirit which does not belong to the person, but to God. The last improper use of the body is for rebellion and open defiance of the Lord - like using the temple of God to offer sacrifices to Baal.

Greed has to do with satisfying the lusts of the flesh and this world. Drunkenness is satisfying the lusts of the physical body - whether for drink or drugs or food or whatever. Slander satisfies the lust for power - power over reputations and people's lives. Swindling has to do with the lust for money and the things it can by - being overly impressed with the cost of items and how they look to the world.

But Paul starts with sexual immorality and closes with that same topic telling the people of Corinth to flee from sexual immorality. All other sins are to be resisted, but they are to run the other way when sexual immorality is present.

Your body is not your own. You have been bought by the price of Christ's physical body, his suffering on the cross. It was a huge price. You are worth much to God. Recognize that your worth is tied to His sacrifice to you. And honor God with your body.

Father, God,

Help us to remember always that we are not self-made people. You created us. We left you in the Garden. And You bought us back at the price of Your Son. Grant that we may always express our gratitude for our redemption by acting in accordance with Your wishes.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Work For The Night Is Coming

Focus verses: II Thessalonians 3:6-15

In Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica, he warned them against idleness. What he referred to was the idleness of not earning your way in the world. Not doing the work of the Lord with the purpose He had in mind for your life.

He points to himself as the example of working while teaching. This was not because his teaching was not worthy of payment, but because he wanted to show them the industriousness that needs to accompany the teacher. It is not enough to sit idly by and just think in an ivory tower. One needs to have the experience of the work at hand to base one's theories upon.

I don't believe it is any accident that this warning immediately follows Paul's dissertation on the second coming of Christ. Early church fathers knew and accepted the principle that our time is short (in light of eternity) and that we must be busy about the Lord's work.

The book of Proverbs was well known in Paul's time. I memorized Proverbs 29:18 in the KJV when I was a child.

Sometimes it is a struggle to see the vision God has for your life. When the world seems to cave in upon you, when everything you thought you had is ripped away, when tragedy and destruction mark your path, you have great difficulty seeing a vision of your purpose in God's world.Those minutes and hours, once spent, are irredeemable.

Our purpose is to serve the Lord and His church. For that we need all the time eternity can offer.

Father, God,

Teach us to number our days so that we may give a good account of them when Your Son returns. Grant that we may be useful in Your kingdom. Help us to see the vision You have for our lives.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Grief And Hope

Focus verses: I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Grief comes to all of us from time to time. The loss of a friend or family member, loss of a job or precious possession, or wayward children can grieve us. Somehow, I seem always to have known that such grief is temporary - a reflection of our personal emotions at a specific moment in time - not a permanent condition.

It might have been Doctor G. who quoted the phrase "grieve not as them who have no hope." I was absolutely certain that it came from this passage of scripture. But I could not find those exact words in any of the translations on That quote might just have been a paraphrase rather than a quote. At any rate, the sense is certainly from this passage.

Doctor G. stood as godfather at my baptism in the Lutheran church. He was a rock-solid foundation in my life. A spiritually wise man, he taught me many things. But more than that, he infected me with the joy of the Lord and an educated faith in Jesus.

He was a bible scholar, a student of the word, and a poet. On my twelfth birthday, he gave me a scrapbook which he had put together with his own hands. And he wrote this poem about him and me and heaven. It's long, so I'll just quote the pertinent verses here.

You are twelve years old today, dear,
And I'm past seventy-three.
With back to back we're dreaming,
But it's different things we see.

You look AT the golden sunrise,
See dream castle in the mist:
It's the road ahead for you, dear -
Life at its borning best.

I look THROUGH the golden sunset,
With its beckoning promise bright
To a day without a sundown,
Where it's always day - not night.

And when you have passed the Sunset
To the day without Sundown,
When Life's pilgrimage is over,
And you've won your victor's crown;

I'll be at the gate of heaven,
With glad heart to see you come;
Glad to welcome you, my daughter,
Into our Eternal Home.
His knowledge of the word and my faith in his always telling me the exact truth - pleasant or unpleasant - gave me the assurance that this life is not all there is. I can grieve a loss, but it doesn't decimate me.

My friend was the sister in a family with two brothers. She lost first one and then the other. At the funeral of the second brother, I went to hug her. Her grief was not only obvious, but it was painful to see. There was an element of hopelessness in it that I had never seen before. She could not be comforted.

Paul doesn't say here that we don't grieve. We simply do not grieve as those people who have no hope of Christ and the resurrection - no hope of heaven.

Father, God,

Grant that we may always keep our eyes upon You, not on the attractions of this world. Let us see with the eternal perspective the ultimate good in Your will, no matter how it looks from an earthly perspective.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Relationships And Dissensions

Focus verses: Acts 15:36-16:40

Today's reading begins with an argument. Paul and Barnabas, two pillars of this new church, had such a sharp disagreement over John Mark that they parted company.

Paul seems to have been concerned with being able to rely on John Mark. Remember that Paul was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. This is a very structured background, almost inflexible. Remember also that Paul was Saul the persecutor of the Christians before his encounter on the road to Damascus. I imagine that his rigid background helped to make him somewhat rigid in his new-found faith as well.

Barnabas seems to have been concerned about mentoring John Mark. Barnabas' name means son of encouragement. And it looks like he is the encourager wherever he goes. He was sent by the Holy Spirit to encourage Paul on the first journey.

But look at the result of this dissension. Paul goes one way, taking Silas with him. Barnabas goes a different direction, taking John Mark with him. We started with two missionaries. Now we have four. God always has a plan

Then Paul and Silas take Timothy under their wing, and he joins their company for the remainder of the journey. Here is another young man being mentored by his elders.

They find Lydia on this journey, and she opens her home to Paul and Silas. They free the slave girl from the fortune-telling spirit and are beaten and thrown into jail for their efforts. When they are freed, they return to Lydia's house.

The community of the church is all about relationships and finding and encouraging one another. It is about tending one another's wounds and growing in the Lord. It is about reconciliation and interdependence.

Father, God,

Knit us together as Your family. Help us to move through disagreements into interdependence upon one another. Help us to be patient with each other and less demanding of our brothers and sisters, extending to them Your grace for we have none of our own.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

That Which Is Needful

Focus verses: Acts 15:1-29

Some of the first century Messianic Jews had followed the Mosaic law all their lives. They could not conceive of anyone being chosen by God who did not follow those laws. Therefore they began to insist that the gentile believers be circumcised and follow all the dietary laws of Moses.

But Paul had seen gentiles converted by the Holy Spirit's falling upon them. The conversion of the heart came despite the outward appearances of the person. He recognized that people unaccustomed to the Jewish regulations would be hindered by these laws. What was important was the heart of the person being brought to Christ.

What is needed for the believer is a faithful heart, a heart hungry for the Good News.

Notice that the letter to the gentiles from this first church conference deals with the appetites. It asks them to follow certain dietary laws: abstaining from food offered to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

These regulations are not only spiritually healthy, they have consequences for physical health as well.

When food has been offered to an idol, you have no idea what it has been exposed to, what salmonella or trichinosis or other disease it may be carrying. Often food contamination has to do with the dripping juices from raw meat (ie. blood). Blood is the ideal incubator for bacteria, especially at room temperatures. When an animal is strangled, the blood suffuses throughout the tissue - still an ideal incubator for bacteria. While there may be over-riding moral grounds for following the proscriptions, there are valid physical health reasons as well.

How interesting that sexual immorality is lumped together with these food proscriptions. I can't help wondering if the health reasons are not a large part of this proscription as well.

The thing most needed is a heart for God. When one desires only to please God, these "regulations" will not be onerous. They are simply a way of conveying one's gratitude to the Lord for all He has done for us.

Father, God,

Create in us grateful hearts, that we may follow Your edicts willingly, not grudgingly. Help us to recognize that what we gain is far more and better than what we eschew.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Simple Story Bears Repeating

Focus verses: Acts 13:14-52

Today's reading details the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. These verses recount the first recorded sermon of Paul. You will notice that it closely parallels the first sermon of Peter from the second chapter of Acts.

God's faithfulness to His people is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. The story of our redemption never changes.

Evangelizing is not hard. One simply tells the truth. You will notice that both sermons relate the history of God with the nation of Israel. Both quote Jewish scriptures prophetic of Jesus. Both sermons are laid out in a simple order. Both culminate in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.

But evangelizing is sometimes unpopular with the established religious institutions. Peter was taken before the Sanhedrin and cautioned to quit teaching about Jesus. Paul was expelled from the region where he was preaching because he shared the good news with the Gentiles since the Jews rejected the inclusiveness of his teaching.

Institutions seem to prefer indoctrination to evangelization.

Indoctrination says "this is what we do and this is why we do it. It's always been this way."

Evangelization says "this is what Jesus did for us. We can do nothing to add to His sacrifice. We can only believe."

Notice the difference in emphasis. Indoctrination is all about us and what we do. Evangelization is all about Jesus and what He has done.

The simple truth is that Jesus paid it all. He paid the ransom for all of us - each one of us individually. From the most innocent child to the most heinous criminal, each of us has an advocate with the Father. He doesn't try to claim our innocence because we are guilty. He simply says "I paid the price."

Nothing we can do will earn us heaven. Jesus bought it for us and gave it to us as a gift. We need only to receive Him and that gift into our lives by faith. That is the simple story we can tell others.

Father, God,

So fill our hearts with this simple story that we cannot remain silent about Your magnificent gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Give us the wisdom to speak gently, but firmly, when others are ready to hear.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To The Ends Of The Earth

Focus verses: Acts 10:1-11:18

The disciples were all Jews. And til now, the gospel had been preached in the synagogues, reaching more Jews. It was generally thought that this new religion was a sect of Judaism.

In this passage, however, we see that this man named Cornelius - who was not Jewish - had been selected by God to be a convert to this new faith. Cornelius was righteous, much as Job was righteous. He did all the right things and prayed to God. He simply wasn't a Jew. But he was a son of Adam.

We also see that Peter had been selected to teach Cornelius. The Jewish dietary laws were very explicit. God had told them that certain things were clean or unclean for eating purposes. Peter, in his hunger, was shown a vision of many living creatures and told to kill and eat them. But he objected that he had never eaten anything unclean - ever. But God told him not to judge. That God can make anything clean.

Peter's physical hunger seems to have been a metaphor for God's hunger that all the world should know Him. God's overriding desire is that all men should be saved. Jesus said that the disciples would be witnesses to Him throughout all the earth.

As the spiritual descendants of the disciples, we should be witnessing, too. We should be witnessing to the pagan, the atheist, the deluded, the deceived, the murderer, the rapist, the robber - the entire world.

Let me be very clear here. We do not convert. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. We merely inform. We tell what we know. God will do the rest.

Father, God,

Teach us more of You that we may tell all the world around us. Keep us open to the movement of Your Holy Spirit and reign in our tendency to prejudge.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, November 23, 2009

About Face

Focus verses: Acts 9:1-22

When we last saw Saul, he was participating in the stoning of Stephen. Saul was a second generation Pharisee. He seems to have had a position in the Temple at Jerusalem. He was diametrically opposed to the followers of the new Way.

While on his way to Damascus searching for followers of Jesus to bring them back to Jerusalem for trial and punishment, he literally saw the Light. That Light blinded him for three days. He was led to Damascus and spent those three days in fasting and prayer.

Then the Lord sent Ananias to him for healing and baptism.

Ananias was not eager to go to Saul. He had heard Saul's reputation and knew that Saul had authority to arrest all who called on the name of Jesus. He went because he was told that Saul was God's chosen instrument to carry the word to the Gentiles.

When he went he did not rebuke Saul. He called him "brother." He laid hands on Saul, restoring his sight. Then Paul spent some time with the disciples in Damascus, presumably talking and learning.

As a Pharisee, Saul would have been familiar with all the Old Testament. It would not have been a far leap for the disciples to speak of Jesus and Paul to have seen the fulfillment of prophesy in His life.

But the people in general were skeptical. They knew his reputation - and his deeds. They didn't believe his conversion. He had to prove it to them.

How often do we do this to others? We know who people are - or at least what kind of people they have been. Then there is a change in their lives, but we keep them in the old pigeon hole where we had cataloged them. We don't accept their change, and therefore we make the change difficult for them.

Look at the grace of Ananias. He called Saul his brother. He didn't do this in his own strength. He extended the grace of God.

Father, God,

Grant us the wisdom to keep from pigeon holing people in predetermined molds. Help us to extend Your grace to all who would follow you regardless of their past.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Martyrdom And Forgiveness

Focus verses: Acts 7:51-8:2

Stephen is called the first martyr of the church because this death is the first one recorded in the Book of Acts. For many years it was just a so-so story for me. After all, this happened many years ago. I was probably not going to be martyred, so what did it have to do with me?

Then a member of my family was murdered. It was a senseless, random act. He simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anger at the perpetrators of this heinous act boiled and seethed. But then I remembered Acts 8:1.

Saul of Tarsus (whom we now call Paul - yes, the same Paul who wrote more than half of the New Testament) was at this event. Not only was he there, he gave approval. I can see him now, egging the crowd on. It's a Cecil B. DeMille crowd scene in an epic movie. Lots of noise, lots of anger, lots of yelling, dark clouds, ominous music. Then a break and light and glorious paean of praise at the climax.

Of course, Saul wasn't "participating." He was there, giving his approval. He certainly wasn't throwing stones, but he might as well have been.

And Stephen, as he is dying, repeated the thoughts of Jesus. He asked the Lord not to hold this sin against the members of the crowd. That forgiveness was powerful. It was a factor that freed Saul to become Paul.

If God can take the chief persecutor of the early church and use him to write the larger part of the New Testament, He can do anything. He can even forgive the people who murdered that member of my family.

Forgiveness is not a matter of the emotions. It is a decision that we make. We can decide to forgive. That doesn't mean feelings will not surface from time to time. It does mean we can decide to override those emotions. We need to agree with God that even the most heinous crime is forgivable if the perpetrator repents.

We hear "forgive and forget" or "kiss and make up." But those are not really forgiveness. Forgiveness is being able to look at the offense as fact, accurately recognizing the perpetrator's part in the offense, and then seeing that person through the eyes of God, as a beloved child who has strayed from the path, whom you want desperately to bring back into the family of God.

Father, God,

Help us to see those who have offended us through Your eyes. Grant us the strength and grace to move from anger and hurt and bitterness to forgiveness and peace.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Power Of The Name

Focus verses: Acts: 3:1-16

The very public miracle of healing the crippled beggar was a great teaching tool for Peter and John. Notice first that Peter did not give the man what he asked for. The man asked for alms. Peter gave him wholeness. Peter gave him the health needed to earn his own living.

There are some lessons for us in these verses.

First, ask for what you need, not some outlandish greed. God knows what you need before you ask, but He wants you to acknowledge the need and your dependence upon Him for it's fulfillment. That recognition of our total dependence upon Him is part of our connection to Him. Our total dependence upon Him is part of developing a closeness to Him. If you are leaning, you cannot be far away.

Second, be willing to accept what He gives you. The man could not think in terms of anything but a few alms. He had no illusions that he would ever walk or be a whole man again. But God made him whole. True, He used the words of Peter to manifest this miracle, but it wasn't Peter who made the man walk. Or as King James version puts it walking, and leaping, and praising God.

Third, know whom to thank. He didn't thank Peter, although I'm sure he was grateful for Peter's intervention. The formerly lame man knew that God alone had performed this healing. Peter was simply the instrument through which God had manifested this miracle. The beggar probably thanked Peter as well, but he knew that the praise all belonged to God.

Fourth, don't let the vessel become the source. Peter was the vessel through which God worked, but the beggar didn't drop everything and chase after Peter. He entered the temple. His loud praise was for God, not for Peter.

Too often in our world we see preachers, teachers and ministers doing dramatic things. And to our shame and their detriment, we expect more of them than a human being is capable of giving. Then we are appalled when this idol is found to have feet of clay. Any teacher who takes the focus off God and puts it on himself is a false teacher. The emphasis should be on God, not on the person.

In verses eleven through sixteen, Peter said plainly that it was not his and John's power that had made the man walk, but through faith in the name of Jesus. Jesus had told them that they would do all the miracles He had done and even greater works. The purpose of these dramatic events is to bring glory to God. Not just pomp and circumstance kind of glory, but the glory of winning souls to His kingdom.

Father, God,

Help us to see the purpose in spectacles. Let us not be distracted by the surface appearance, but teach us the lesson that lies beneath. Keep us true to Your purposes and grant that we may always point people to You and Your love for them.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fisher Of Men

Focus verses: Acts 2:1-36

Jesus told His disciples to wait for the empowering of the Holy Spirit before they began their open ministry. This passage begins with that empowerment.

Then Peter (dubbed the big fisherman) began to speak. He was always the most enthusiastic by nature. Whatever he did, he did all the way. No half measures for Peter.

But look at his discourse. He quotes the prophet Joel word for word. Then he speaks the words of David from Psalm 16 and again from Psalm 110.

As a public speaker, I know how difficult it is to remember verbatim as you speak. Your mind jumbles with a million details. You work to concentrate on what you are saying and the order in which you are saying it. When speaking to a group, I spend much time beforehand preparing what I'm going to say, rearranging the order, adding or subtracting small details. Then I practice several times to make sure I can do it in the time frame allotted.

Peter had an advantage. He didn't have to do a twenty-minute keynote after dinner. He had an open time frame. But he had the biggest advantage of all with the Holy Spirit poured out upon him.

You see, God knows all He wants to say to you. And being perfect, He says it perfectly. That's why Peter, an unschooled fisherman, was able in the power of the Holy Spirit to speak this moving testimony, quoting the prophet and the psalmist.

When you are sensitive to the indwelling Spirit of God within you, He can use you to speak His words, in His timing, to His chosen audience.

Would that we all were such hearers and speakers.

Father, God,

Grant us the wisdom to put self aside and listen only to the promptings of Your Holy Spirit. Let us speak the words of comfort or conviction that You would have us speak. Bridle our tongues to Your use alone.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Road To Emmaus

Focus verses: Luke:24-13-35

The story of Jesus' appearance on the road to Emmaus has always fascinated me. How could someone be walking with Jesus and not recognize Him?

The two were walking along, talking about the events of the past three days - or perhaps even the past week, beginning with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. It had been quite a roller coaster ride from the triumphant Hosannas of Sunday last to the mockery of the trial and the desolation of the death and burial of Jesus' body. Imagine the utter defeat the followers of Jesus were feeling.

Cleopas and his companion were not the close disciples, but were evidently part of all the others. They were talking, as most of us do, about the things a newspaper would report - just the facts as they appeared on the surface.

But those facts were only a small part of the story of Jesus' redemption of mankind. The mind of God is behind these events. Although they look like utter destruction, there is a larger purpose behind this atrocity. The facts are just the surface. The purpose is in the spiritual realm.

Too often, we find ourselves looking at just the surface. If you will remember Job, there is always a battle waging in the spiritual realm. Job had no idea why the tragedies befell him. He couldn't see into the spiritual realm. He didn't have the Paraclete to comfort and advise him.

We do have the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, with us always. If our attention is distracted by the surface of how things look, we will not discern the larger purpose behind the events of the day.

Our attention needs to focus on the word of God so that we can see the work of God in our daily lives. Look for Jesus on every road you travel.

Father, God,

Keep our eyes focused on You. Help us not to be distracted by surface appearances, but always to see the spiritual ramifications of each event.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Burying The Truth

Focus verses: Matthew 27:62-66

The first part of today's reading tells of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. We will not focus on that part of the story.

The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate, telling him of Christ's prediction that He would rise again on the third day. Either they were afraid that his resurrection would make people believe in Him all the more, or they were actually afraid that His disciples would perpetrate a fraud to further His reputation.

Which ever it was, they persuaded Pilate to put a seal and a guard on the tomb.

How often do we do this? How often do we know things about ourselves and our lives that we would prefer others not know, so we seal them up?

Integrity is all about wearing the same face to the world that you wear to your intimate friends and to yourself. That doesn't mean you must bare your heart to strangers. It does mean, that what little you show of yourself to strangers is of the same quality as your innermost thoughts.

I love red onions. I like the aroma, the flavor, the color. When I pick up a red onion to prepare, the outer husk is a little dry, so I peel it off and discard it. Every layer has a red skin and white inner flesh. Each layer has the same moistness, flavor, and aroma. And as I get to the middle, the layers are a little thicker than the outer layers.

Our true faces need to be like that. There is a slightly drier outer husk that we show to the entire world. It is just like the remainder of the onion, just a little thinner and less juicy. This is our surface.

But this surface reflects the heart. When I look for onions in the market, I can choose from red or white or yellow. When I choose, I know the interior will be the same color as the exterior. I won't pick up a yellow onion that has a red interior.

Sometimes we try to show a different face to the world than what we are inside. It never works. The truth will out, just as Christ was resurrected from the dead. No matter the guard and seal we put on the place where we try to bury the truth, we cannot hold it captive.

When we try to bury the truth, we deceive only ourselves. God knows who we are from our inmost being. He knows that we are not happy until we are "all of a piece" - an integer - a whole unit.

He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us become one - one in ourselves and one with Him. Just as He is truth, so we must also be truth. True to Him, to ourselves and the world around us.

Father, God,

Help us to be all that we seem to be. Make us complete in You. Let us reflect only You to the world around us.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Passing The Buck

Focus verses: Luke 23:1-31

The trial of Jesus is a prime example of passing the buck. The chief priests handed Jesus over to Pilate for crucifixion. But Pilate found no fault in Him. Pilate and the chief priests argued back and forth but decided nothing.

Then Pilate discovered Jesus was from Galilee, so he sent Him to Herod who was in Jerusalem also. And Herod sent Him back because Jesus answered him not a word.

Pilate wanted to let Jesus go free, but the chief priests wanted to be rid of Him, so they incited the crowd to demand Jesus' death.

So just who is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus?

Pilate is a governor who seems to want Jesus to go free. Even his wife warns him not to have anything to do with Jesus. But Pilate doesn't have the courage of his convictions (if he has any convictions). He bows to the noise of the crowd and signs the death warrant. He is essentially only marginally involved.

Herod wants to see Jesus because of Jesus' celebrity. He besieges Him with questions, but Jesus remains silent. Herod is disappointed because he didn't get his fifteen minutes of fame with Jesus and sends him back to Pilate. He doesn't want to be involved in anything that might ruffle his complacent life.

The Sanhedrin - the chief priests - have condemned Jesus because of His claim to be the son of God. They label it blasphemy and since they cannot seem to move Pilate on their own, they incite the crowd to riot.

The crowd is simply a group of onlookers. Initially crowds form because something interesting is going on. They do not have the facts before them. They are pushed into reacting with their emotions. Crowds are notorious for behaving irrationally. When people are in the midst of a group that is shouting for a cause, they seem to turn off the analytical portion of their minds and simply follow the leader.

The responsibility for Jesus' death falls on Pilate because of his indecision. It falls on Herod because of his uninvolvement. It falls on the Sanhedrin because of their manipulations. It falls on the crowd because of their mindlessness.

Mostly it falls on you and me because of our sin nature. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they handed that sin nature down to all of humanity. When we are born, we begin our separation from God. Without a path to get back to Him, we are eternally lost.

Jesus came to be that path, that bridge, that lets us get back into fellowship with God. I say "back" because we originated in the mind of God. Each and every one of us was called forth into existence by God's design.

William Wordsworth had a grasp of it.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, 60
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 65
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

But the world calls the sinful flesh of us to its will. And most of us succumb to to its siren call. To redeem us, Jesus came and died and rose again.

We cannot pass the buck. Had there been only one of us, Jesus would still have come and been crucified for one person's sins. Just as the "whosoever" in John 3:16 means an individual, there is a "whosoever" in the crucifixion of Christ. He came for each and every one of us individually.

We, you and I, bear the responsibility for Jesus' death. We dare not pass the buck.

Father, God,

Make us completely sensible of the enormity of this sacrifice on our behalf. Teach us to be truly grateful and to express that gratitude in unending praise and instantaneous obedience to Your will.
In Jesus' most precious name and the power of His blood.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Alone In Gethsemane

Focus verses: Matthew 26:36-56

There is quite a difference between corporate or public prayer and private prayer. Yesterday's reading was Jesus' priestly prayer with his disciples in the upper room.

Today's reading is the lonely agony of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew what was in store for His earthly flesh. He knew that He would feel every stroke of the lash, every taunt and disrespectful pull at his beard, every thorn of that crown.

Here we see the human form of Jesus as nowhere else in scripture. There even seems to be a dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit. When He tells the disciples that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, I'm not sure He was referring only to them and their sleeping at post.

Corporate prayer is said aloud, not only for the ears of God, but also for the ears of the people around. Corporate prayer sometimes edifies or brings home a point that may not be obvious. It isn't preaching, but it is a form of directed prayer that leads the hearer to a deeper truth.

Private prayer is a tete-a-tete with God. Sometimes it resembles Jacob's wrestling match, and other times it is simply a quiet spirit waiting for instruction. But those alone times hold the greatest power to change our lives.

When the entire world is crashing down around our ears, those alone times give us the sensitive ear to hear the voice of God amidst the chaos. When an ocean of sorrow swells over us to drown us, that closeness with God buoys us above the raging waves. When we are besieged and beset upon by the world, we gain strength to stand under any assault from our times alone with God.

The powerful Christian, the strong Christian, has made time to be alone with God. He has made God the center of the universe and the remainder of his life revolves around that basic core.

We have been strengthened by the assurances of Jesus' prayer in the upper room. Now we must wait and watch in Gethsemane. This private prayer time is as essential as breath to a Christian life.

Father, God,

Help us to lean upon Your assurances of Your love for us at all times. Draw us closer to You in Gethsemane. Grant that we may hear clearly and obey swiftly when You speak.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jesus Prayed For You

Focus verses: John 17:1-26

We were studying the John 17 when the realization hit me. God loved me as much as He loved Jesus! Impossible! After all, Jesus was the son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Who was I? Nothing, nobody, just an average jane.

It was 1970-something. Our large Tuesday evening group was studying scriptures. I was sitting on the floor (we had more people than chairs) against the north wall of Marcella's living room when I read and understood that twenty-third verse. It felt like my heart would explode. I could barely breathe. The enormity of that realization fell on me like huge weight that turned to gossamer when it touched my shoulders. In that moment, I was forever changed. All the world was different.

This seventeenth chapter of John begins with Jesus' prayer for Himself. Here He says He was with the Father "before the world began." Jesus, by His own admission, was present at creation.

Then He prays for the disciples and their future in this world, that God would protect them. Obviously that means in the spiritual sense, because the disciples were physically persecuted, tortured, and executed. But they never succumbed to the evil one. That protection was their unity with Christ, just as Christ is unified with the Father.

Then Jesus prayed for you and me - for all who would believe because of the words of the disciples. The outcome of this prayer is to be our unity with Christ and therefore with the Father.

Jesus prayed that we (all Christians) would be unified - one in the Holy Spirit. Now I don't believe that means that all our sectarian differences will fade away - that we must all be one amorphous worshiping mass.

We each come to Him as individuals. How you worship might just set my teeth on edge - and vice versa. The point is our love for one another (whether we agree on all the details or not) should be the guiding force in our relationships with one another.

Father, God,

Make us sensitive to the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit which creates the unity between God and man. Help us to respond appropriately to Your unbounded love for us.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Focus verses: John 14:16-21

When Jesus and the disciples were in the upper room preparing to celebrate the feast of Passover, He taught them many things. It was their final class before they would be sent into the world without Him.

His promise of the Holy Spirit is as precious as His promise of salvation. This Holy Spirit is our connection to the essence of God. It gives us the nudge when God would have us do or say something. It warns us when pure evil is present - and pure evil is present in this world. It teaches us more about God when we read scripture. It enlightens our minds, edifies our spirits and fills our hearts with His warmth.

Electricity is a wonderful thing. We don't see electricity except in the lightening of storms. That is a marvelous display of physical phenomena. But the wild electricity of lightening is not useful.

The electrical power from a hydro-electric plant is useful, but not as it comes directly from the plant. High voltage power direct from the plant would burn out all the wiring in a house were it connected directly. It must be run through a transformer before it is useful in the household. And it gets to the house through lower voltage lines than what brings it from the plant.

God, the Father, is the source of all power - like the hydro-electric plant. Jesus is our transformer. He transforms us to be fit to stand in the presence of God, and He brought the power of God into the world in the form of a man, so that we could see and emulate His use of that power. The Holy Spirit is like the line that brings the power from the powerhouse to the home. It is our essential connection to God.

That is why we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit. He is our vital connection to God. He is the life support of our Christian lives. Grieving the Holy Spirit is like having an ice storm that takes out all the electrical lines. One can survive it for a short time, but the electricity must be restored for our lives to get back to normal.

Father, God,

Grant us an appreciation for Your gift of the Holy Spirit. Teach us to hear His still voice in our lives. Make us sensitive to His direction and swift to obey His/Your promptings.
In Jesus' most precious name.

You who draw near,
You who walk beside,
Come to comfort,
Comet to strengthen,
Come to shine the Light of the
Word on the Darkness of my heart.
Help me to align with you, Oh, Holy Spirit.
Help me to bring my thoughts
Captive to the will of Christ,
Captive to the Word of God,
Captive to obedience,
Instantaneous and unquestioning,
To Your promptings.
Help me to study to show my self approved,
Unashamed to sit in the Council of your saints.
Help me to see the will of the Father in everyday situations.
Help me to respond in love to the Lord.
Help me to respond with Love to all His hurting creation.
Keep me dead-on, sighted with tunnel vision,
Single-minded on the goal of
Total obedience as a channel of His love.
Copyright Judith Robl 1997

Friday, November 13, 2009

Whose Opinion Matters

Focus verses: John 12:37-43

We are literally into the last days of Jesus' life on earth. He has been teaching and preaching and working miracles among the people for three years.

Some people believe Him and follow openly. Others believe but are afraid to show it for fear of being removed from the synagogue - in other words, excommunication. One group doesn't know what to think about Jesus yet. And the chief priests and Pharisees are conspiring to get rid of Him.

Those same attitudes are with us today. There are those who believe in Him, depend on Him for their every breath. They follow Him openly and speak of Him reverently in public. They attend worship services with their hearts in hand to be laid on the altar.

There are the half-believers who seem to want to believe, but they behave in public just like the rest of society. When the words of God and the opinions of society are in conflict, they will duck into the shadows, lest they be required to take a side or voice an opinion that might offend someone within earshot.

A second segment of these half-believers are those who attend church because it is the politically correct thing to do. Church is not a house of worship for the Lord in their hearts, but it is the place to be seen if one wants to get ahead socially, politically or economically.

We still have the doubters and seekers, the people who know what they have read about Jesus, but don't know whether to believe the authority of the Bible or not. After all, it is in conflict with the humanist teachings and evolutionary theory-factoids that they have been fed all their years in public school. No wonder they are confused.

And we still have the atheists, those who would see the references to Christ erased from our public forums and our schools. They are the Pharisees who would arrange the world to suit their private purposes. They lobby to have laws enacted that work in direct opposition to what God says is right. They want all authority to be handed over to and dispensed by the state. They want to abolish Jesus from our lives.

In the 1960's, when Madelyn Murray O'Hair lobbied to get prayer removed from our public schools, there was a joke making the rounds. "You'll never get prayer out of school as long as there are math tests." -- or history tests -- or you name the subject.

Point being, it became the butt of a joke. Christians didn't take it seriously because in that era it seemed unthinkable. Now you have to go to court to have a benediction at a baccalaureate service in some communities.

While public opinion should not change the follower of Christ, the follower of Christ should be aware of and seeking to change public opinion when it conflicts with the edicts of God. Are we doing that?

Father, God,

Grant us the wisdom to follow Christ and Him only. Give us the security to find our worth in Your opinion of us, not the world's opinion. Help us to move our world more into line with Your teaching.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Form Or Substance

Focus verses: Matthew 25:1-13

In speaking of the end of time and the second coming of Christ, Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

This is a simple allegory. The virgins represent the church - the religious people on earth. The bridegroom is obviously Christ. The lamps stand for a form of righteousness - all the trappings and laws and habits of religion. The oil stands for the Holy Spirit, that Paraclete that connects us to Jesus and the Father.

Those who have the outward appearance of religion, but not the essence, the oil, the Holy Spirit indwelling, will have no time to acquire the Holy Spirit when the bridegroom comes. They are like the whited sepulchers that Jesus saw in the Pharisees.

Masks and costumes will not suffice to get one into the marriage feast of the Lamb. It requires an essential connection to Jesus -- complete faith and reliance only on Him. One must be walking closely in the Spirit to have sufficient oil when the bridegroom tarries.

The oil of the Holy Spirit is a self-renewing commodity. The more time you spend with the Lord, the more His oil is poured out upon you. Time with the Lord is private time. That isn't just being there every time the church door is open. It doesn't consist of all the good works for social betterment and reform. It isn't the trappings of deacon or elder or preacher or teacher.

Time with the Lord that results in greater anointing is very private and personal. It is time with His word, reading, studying, then being still to let Him speak to you through those words. It is the Holy Spirit that reveals meanings in deeper layers - that clarifies what is read.

Please don't misunderstand me here. Private time with the Lord does not negate our doing all the other things - the being present when church is open, doing good works for social betterment and reform, the serving as deacon or elder or preacher or teacher. It is the source from which the power to do these things well flows. They are the evidence of the internal workings of the Holy Spirit.

If those works spring from any other source or motive, they are as useless as dry leaves in the wind. They may look pretty, but they serve no useful function.

You will notice that both the wise virgins and the foolish virgins had their lamps - those external appearances of religion. But the wise virgins had the oil, that close relationship with the bridegroom, and were prepared for His coming at any hour. The foolish virgins had no oil with them. When the bridegroom came, it was too late to acquire the oil, to build that relationship. We must not be caught without oil when He returns.

When one has only the form of religion, it falls apart under stress. The substance of a relationship with Christ only grows stronger under stress. That is the time when you realize you have no - absolutely no - power in and of yourself. You learn to depend on Him for your every breath, for the next word, the next step on the journey.

The substance of that close relationship will carry you through and lift you above any circumstance the world can throw at you.

Father, God,

Deliver us from the external trappings of form. Come and indwell us with Your Holy Spirit. Give us the substance of Yourself as our rock and our foundation.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woe Is Me

Focus verses: Matthew 23:1-39

Most people are familiar with the Beatitudes - you know, "the blessed are the meek" etc. Not many people remember the curses. But here they are.

He begins with a condemnation of self-righteousness. Smug, self-satisfied people are not those He wants in His kingdom. He prefers those who serve with humility and deference.

Then He really gets wound up with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. He proclaims their short-comings publicly, and the consequences thereof are not pretty.

First on the block are the teachers of false religion. I take this to mean anyone who teaches anything not precisely taught by Jesus. If you are called to be a teacher, you must be doubly on your guard that no word escapes your lips that is not of God. When Jesus calls someone "a son of hell" it has dire implications.

Next He condemns legalism. The regulations of man are not superior to the edicts of God - nor should they replace the edicts of God as the guideposts of our lives. When we follow the traditions of man rather than the teachings of God, we have become blind and are stumbling in the dark.

He moves to injustice. He speaks against those who practice the letter of the law without practicing the spirit of the law - which is love for one's neighbor. That attitude leads to justice and mercy.

Hypocrisy is His next target. We have all known people who put on airs, dress well, act like butter wouldn't melt in their mouth. And these same people hide shameful sins, theft, violence, adultery, licentiousness, cruelty. Jesus sees the heart full of hypocrisy and wickedness. This is not a condition exclusive to the Pharisees. We all have that tendency.

Finally He winds up with persecution of the prophets. He calls these teachers and Pharisees a "brood of vipers." Have you ever seen a nest of snakes? They are so wound up with one another you can't tell where one ends and the other begins. The seem to flow freely between and among one another. But outsiders are in danger of snake bite. He reserves his direst imprecations for them.

After this climax, He mourns over Jerusalem. These very people to whom he has been directing these curses are the ones over whom He grieves that they will not learn, will not turn to Him.

He has been talking to the most egregious offenders against God, yet He mourns over them. This is a picture of true forgiveness. He has seen the offenses for what they are. He recognizes the offenders for what they have done. Yet He grieves over their demise and rejection of God. Moreover, He offers them a hope. They can yet return to God.

Father, God,

We thank You that the forgiveness you offer is not limited as to offense and offender. Help us to see that nothing we have done can keep us from repenting of our sins and turning our lives over to You. There is room in Your kingdom for even the vilest sinner who repents.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Last Monday

Focus verses: John 12:20-33

Palm Sunday has come and gone. Jesus is now in Jerusalem having come in pomp and honor, riding on the colt of a donkey. The people cheered and spread palm branches before Him. It was an exciting spectacle.

But today is Monday, the last week of Jesus' life on earth. His disciples must be taught all of it in a hurry. Today's reading covers the purpose of His death and the manner of His death.

The chief priests and teachers of the law are plotting against Him, looking for some excuse to kill Him.

From the moment the physical body of Christ was conceived in Mary, it was destined for this hour. It was purposed by God from the beginning. Before Adam and Eve ate the apple in the garden, God knew that Jesus would save the world by His death and resurrection.

He tells them that a kernel of wheat must die to produce more seed. As a farmer's wife, I can tell you that wheat harvest is a terrible, awful, stressful, wonderful, fulfilling, exciting time. The fruit of a year's effort is being realized. For grain farmers, it is their one payday a year. Everything hinges on how well the wheat produces.

Much of the wheat harvest is "dead-ended." It goes to the elevator to be sold. It will be used to make flour or cereal or livestock feed. It will be used up - consumed in one way or another.

Some portion of it, however, is held back for seed for next year. That goes into a separate storage facility, where it is cleaned of debris and treated to be resistant to fungus and insects. Then it is planted again. Here we plant wheat usually in September and harvest generally in June. From planting to harvest is about nine months - depending, of course, on the weather.

The feelings Jesus has at this time are somewhat similar to the emotions connected with harvest. Jesus says the time has come for Him to be glorified. Then He says His heart is troubled. And then "Father, glorify Your name."

The humanity of His heart recognizes the coming break will be hard on His disciples. His divine knowledge tells Him that ultimately it is for the disciples' own good that He leave them. It is a terrible, awful, stressful, wonderful, fulfilling, exciting time.

And He obliquely warns them that He will be crucified. His term is "lifted up." This entire week will be filled with preparation for Friday.

Father, God,

Help us to sort out Your truth amidst our conflicting emotions. Grant us the vision to see through the parables and understand Your teaching.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Servant Leadership

Focus verses: Mark 10:35-45

The Christian life is not about celebrities and superstars. It is about service to the Kingdom of God.

In this passage, Jesus plainly tells the disciples that self-aggrandizing ambition has no place among His followers. He who would be great must be the servant of all. Merit comes from service, not ladder-climbing.

How different that is from the way our world looks at things. One is expected to be climbing the ladder of success at all times - amassing more and more money - acquiring more and more power and influence. All of those things are useless in the Kingdom of God.

We need to be careful whom we follow. There are multiple teachers in the world. Some of them are truly serious about spreading the Word of God. Others have found a sinecure for lining their pockets.

At one point I was asked my opinion of a particular preacher of a specific denomination. I told the person asking me "There is quite a difference between shepherding a flock and building a resume. Unfortunately, I believe this person is the latter, not the former."

Our airwaves are full of preachers and teachers. Many are faithful servants of Christ -- but unfortunately, some are only building a resume and lining their pockets.

When you hear teaching, lay it up beside the scriptures and test it point by point. If it lines up with the Word of God exactly, it is good teaching. If it deviates - even by just a hair - dismiss it.

Learning is like walking down a path. Jesus said the way is narrow and straight. If you walk a seemingly parallel path that deviates by just one degree from His path, you will eventually be so far away that it requires a massive trek to return.

And did you notice that immediately after the teaching about the narrow way, He cautions about false prophets. The two are nearly inseparable.

Father, God,

Help us to recognize Your servant leaders when we see and hear them. Protect us from falling into the hands of false prophets. Strengthen us for service in Your Kingdom.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lazarus Is Us

Focus verses: John 11:28-44

The story of raising Lazarus from the dead is familiar to most of us. It seems the ultimate miracle, changing death into life. But this is not the only story of raising the dead in the New Testament.

There was the ruler's daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and Peter raised Dorcas (Tabitha).

The difference here is that Lazarus had been dead for four days. This didn't happen just immediately after Lazarus died. In the heat of the Holy Land, a body would not "keep" without embalming for that many days.

As his sister said, "He stinks by now." If you have ever come upon old carrion, you know that aroma. It isn't pleasant.

But Lazarus came forth - not smelling, but still bound in the grave clothes. And Jesus tells them to take off the grave clothes and let him go. In other words, free him from the fetters of death.

How does this relate to us?

Well we were dead in our sins before Christ entered our hearts. We had been there long enough to have acquired a lot of stinking habits and patterns of thought. Those habits and thought patterns are exactly like the grave clothes that Jesus told them to remove from Lazarus.

They blind us, like a cloth over the face. They keep us from moving forward, like bound feet. They hinder us from the work of the Lord, like wrapped hands.

We can not bring the habits of death into our new life in Christ. When we surrendered to Jesus, we became new creatures. We may have the same physical characteristics we had before that encounter and commitment, but the inner person has changed radically. What was important in the world before is now a series of minor details.

Instead of living from month to month or with a five-year plan or with nebulous goals for someday, we have the purpose of God in our lives. His purpose and plan is beyond our ken. It's like a carnival ride, you commit yourself and just hang on. It's exciting, and you will see things from a totally new perspective.

Father, God,

Thank You for our resurrection from sin to salvation. Help us to keep our eyes on You at all times and to see things from the perspective of Your plans, not only for our personal lives, but for the world.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rejoicing In Heaven

Focus verses: Luke 15:1-7

We all have questions about life after this life. Is there life after this life? What happens when you die? Who has been to heaven? And what is it like there? That may explain the popularity of the book 90 Minutes in Heaven.

In this parable Jesus tells us about the rejoicing in heaven. It seems to imply that when someone righteous enters heaven, there is joy, but no surprise. He has been expected and is made most welcome.

But when someone who has been a sinner repents and goes home, there is a jubilation celebration. Something that had been lost has been retrieved.

When I talk to womens groups about forgiveness, I tell them that forgiveness is not "kiss and make up" or "forgive and forget."

True forgiveness is being able to to see the offense for what it was; being able to see the offender and what he/she did; and then to see that offender through the eyes of God, as a beloved child who has strayed and whom you want desperately to see restored to home.

That is the theme of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Today, let us pray for all the prodigals in our lives (ourselves included) that they may be brought safely back into the fold.

Father, God,

Help us to find our way back to You when we have strayed. Open Your arms in forgiveness for our faults. And teach us to pray for those who have offended us.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Truth Or Else

Focus verses: John 10:22-39

Imagine that you are living in Israel at the time of Christ. You have been taught that a Messiah will come to save His people. You have probably imagined what He will be like. But you didn't imagine He would be an itinerant preacher who had no army, displayed no military power, and preached a law of love rather than revolution and conquest.

The person of Jesus was an affront to the rabbinical establishment and to the Pharisees in particular. He spoke with the crowds; he ate with sinners; he seemed to side with the Roman occupation.

In this passage, the Jews are gathered around Jesus asking Him point blank if He is the Messiah. Jesus said "I've told you before." But He tells them again. And yet again, they try to stone Him.

Jesus is even more direct in speaking with the disciples. He tells them point blank that He and the Father are One.

These passages are anathema to those who try to say Jesus was a great teacher, but He was not God. If a teacher speaks other than the truth, he is not a great teacher. If he is a great teacher, one must believe what he says. You can't have it both ways.

Lets put it in the form of a syllogism: Great teachers speak the truth; Jesus was a great teacher, therefore Jesus speaks the truth. In fact He says he is the truth.

We need to drop our preconceived notions and hear what He has to say.

Father, God,

Open our eyes to the truth. Tune our ears to hear Your voice over the din of this world. Keep us safely in Your fold as the sheep of Your pasture. We want to hear clearly so that we may do Your will.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Sighted See Not

Focus verses: John 9:1-41

In the 1970's I was part of a Bible study group that met on Thursday evenings. One of the participants was an older lady (in her seventies - the age I am now) who gave me a rule for studying the Bible in the form of a little verse.
If the ordinary sense
Makes good sense,
Seek no other sense
Or it's nonsense.
Now that doesn't mean that there is never a deeper meaning to what you are reading in the scriptures. What it does mean is that you are to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what you can understand at the moment.

As you read and study, He will reveal deeper and deeper meanings to you. But if you go off trying to find other meanings in the scripture, you are apt to be led astray by your own opinions. It is God's words you want, not your own thoughts.

In today's scripture we read of the healing of the man who was born blind. And when Jesus talks about blindness and sight in this passage, we know He is not talking about physical eyes. He is talking about recognition of the truth.

The people asked Him why the man was born blind. They wanted to lay blame for the cause of the man's blindness. But Jesus told them that the man was born blind that the work of God might be shown in his life. Sometimes things happen that God's power might be displayed, that God's love might be demonstrated. God is never surprised by this. It was part of His plan from the beginning.

Look at the response of the man when questioned by authorities. He simply related facts. Jesus put mud on his eyes; he washed as he was told to do; and he can see. As they question him further he adds another truth. "Jesus speaks for God."

But the Pharisees were not satisfied with his answer. They questioned his parents. Then they sent for the man again to have him recant his statement that Jesus was a prophet. But he didn't recant. He argued with them this time.

His argument was purely logical:
God does not listen to sinners but to righteous men. No man has opened the eyes of one born blind. If this man were not from God, He could not do this.
And for his troubles he was thrown out of the synagogue. But Jesus sought him out to show him the Son of Man. And the formerly blind man saw Him.

But the Pharisees would not see Him for what He was because He didn't fit their preconceived notions of what the Son of Man would be and do. They thought He would look and act like they did. For them the identity of the Son of Man was tied up in the laws of Moses and the arguments of the rabbis.

Jesus came to bring a law of love that exceeded the laws of Moses. The Pharisees could not or would not see beyond the letter of the law.

There is a difference between religiosity and Christianity. This passage shows it vividly.

Father, God,

Open our eyes that we may see Your love as the pattern for our lives, not the rules and regulations of a man-made hierarchy. Fix our eyes upon Your Son as our example as well as our Savior. Grant us hearts that love as You love.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The First Stone

Focus verses: John 8:2-11

This is the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery. The law says she is to be stoned to death. The teachers and Pharisees brought her to Jesus as a snare to trap Him into saying something they could use to accuse Him.

When I was in school, there was a classic "impossible" question. "Have you quit beating your wife?"

How do you answer that? "Yes" implies that you once beat her but have stopped. "No" says you are still beating her. When you try to get into the explanations and clarifications, you wind up looking the fool.

One of my grandmother's favorite expressions was "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

Silence is frequently an effective answer. Jesus answered them not a word. He merely bent down and traced something in the dust.

We have no idea what he wrote. He might have been writing "judge not that ye be not judged" or perhaps the names of sins that were secret in the crowd. Greed, hypocrisy, lust, prevarication, fornication, idolatry, witchcraft, jealousy, and the list goes on.

Perhaps he was writing a list of the sins committed against this woman that had led her into this predicament. (Oh, and by the way, doesn't adultery take two people. Where is the man?)

The point here is that only God is fit to judge. We humans have little capacity to see into the human heart. God knows intimately what is tucked into each hidden corner thereof. When we judge from our human standards, we rely upon the law.

The law is only there to remind us how imperfect we are, each and every one of us. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. There is no one who can fit that description. Let us leave the judging to the Ultimate Judge.

Father, God,

Save us from jumping to conclusions about the guilt or innocence of any other person. Help us to see from Your perspective that even the vilest sinner is simply a child You have loved who has strayed from the right path and is someone You long to bring back into the fold.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Question Each Must Answer

Focus verses: Matthew 16:13-23

This scripture is the heart of the gospel. Exactly who is this Jesus?

Peter gives the correct answer. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." At least that's part of the correct answer. The other part needs to add: "You are the Lord of my life."

You see, even Satan knows that Jesus is the Son of God. All the demons of hell know that He is the Anointed One. But it makes no difference to them. They go on their merry way, making their fiendish mischief, wreaking havoc wherever they can.

Only when Jesus is the Lord of our lives can we be pleasing to Him. We hear His voice and obey His wishes. We can do things in His name, just like the apostles did if we have the faith the apostles had.

Look at Peter in this passage. He gives Jesus the answer to "who do you say that I am?" And Jesus calls him blessed because the Father has revealed this truth to him. And in the next breath - or at least the next few verses - we see Peter being chastised.

Jesus has just told them that He will be persecuted, prosecuted and executed, that He will die and be raised again to life. Peter takes Him aside to argue with Him.

Excuse me!! You want to argue with God? How profitless is that! God and therefore Jesus knows all that was and is and is to come. His knowledge is limitless and perfect. He never forgets to put the right name with the right face like so many of us do. He knows how many hairs we have on our heads.

When we argue with God, we become the enemy. God wants our love and our loyalty, not our disobedience and dispute.

Peter answered the question correctly, but he didn't put it into practice. He had his own ideas of what the Messiah should be and was very upset at the picture Jesus painted.

When we give God first place in our lives, we must be willing to give up our preconceived notions and listen to what He tells us about the present and the future.

Father, God,

Give us the wisdom to answer You correctly when you ask Your place in our lives. Grant us the dedication to seek only Your will, not our own, at all times and in all circumstances.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Even The Dogs

Focus verses: Matthew 15:21-28

The story of the Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed daughter has always fascinated me. We think of Jesus as having come for everyone, but here He says He came only for "the lost sheep of Israel." In other words, He came only for the Jews.

She, being a Canaanite, was not His primary concern. He tells her so very bluntly, calling the Jews "children" and calling everyone else "dogs." This is not the gracious, soft-spoken healer we have been taught to see. He has healed countless numbers here-to-fore. Why would he not just heal this woman's daughter and be done with it?

I believe He is using her persistence and faith as an example. She doesn't quit. The disciples urged Him to send her away because she keeps on after them. That would indicate that this had gone on for some time. She didn't quit the first time she was ignored, nor the second, nor presumably the fifth or tenth. She would not quit.

As believers, we can learn a lesson from this tenacity. Never, never, never give up.

As for her faith, she has been called a dog. This is not a compliment. But she didn't bristle at the appellation. She simply acknowledged her unworthiness and appealed to His generosity. In other words, she came, not because of her position, but because of His nature.

Sometimes, I think we presume upon God. We think that because we call ourselves Christian, that means we should have preferred seats in the congregation. But as Christians, we should be ushers, not observers. Ushers stand and serve and sit at the corners to be ready when there is a need. They move at a moment's notice and are always on the watch for the need.

As Christians, we do not have preferred seats. We are here not because of who we are, but because of what He did. We should be ready at any given moment to serve anywhere He calls us. That doesn't necessarily mean the ends of the earth. Sometimes in means in our own households.

Father, God,

Keep us ever mindful that we are not Your children because of us, but because of Jesus Christ. Deliver us from the pride that would let us think ourselves better than others. Make us ever ready to serve wherever You would have us serving.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Focus verses: Matthew 14:22-32

This passage occurs just after the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus had just performed a very tangible miracle witnessed by and benefiting many. But He doesn't hang around waiting for accolades. The praise of people is not a factor in what He does - only the will of the Father has meaning and substance for Him.

So He sends the disciples away and slips off to commune with the Father. The disciples are wakened by a storm at sea. And Jesus comes to them through the storm - walking on the water.

When the disciples saw Him, they were afraid because they didn't recognize Him in the storm. But he spoke to them, and they were comforted. Peter, with his usual enthusiasm and bravado, asked Jesus to bid him come to Him. And he started out well, looking at Jesus, walking on the water.

Then he was distracted by the storm and began to sink. He had to call to Jesus for help again. So Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.

How like Peter we often are. Jesus has said He would never leave us or forsake us. He promises us that there will be trouble in this world, but that He has overcome the world.

As long as we look to Him and fill our hearts with Him, we will be secure. When we begin to look at our problems and the troubles of the world, they seem overwhelming because we know that we are inadequate to fix them.

How often do we fail to recognize Him in the midst of our troubles? When we have lost sight of Him, even for a moment, we have a period of disorientation when we try to refocus on Him. How much simpler it is to keep our eyes focused on Him in the first place and to take no notice of the storm around us.

He is never inadequate. Therefore we need never worry. After all, worry is praying to the wrong god. When we focus on a fear, the enemy will use every opportunity to take advantage of that fear.

We need to keep our eyes on the Savior. He is the way through all trouble, the light in all darkness, the truth in the midst of lies.

Father, God,

Save us from the distractions of this world that would take our attention from You. Keep our eyes focused on the Savior. Help us to put earthly difficulties into eternal perspective.
In Jesus' most precious name.