Overcoming with Jesus

April 11, 2017 – Tuesday
Overcoming
Read:  John 16:16 – 33, NIV
Focus:  v. 33, NIV

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Isn’t it just amazing how the Holy Spirit uses the different personalities of the various writers found in the Bible? Each has specific tasks to perform for the presentation of the Good News about Jesus Christ. I think that John, the Beloved resonates with me better than most of the other writers in either the Old or New Testaments. That being the case then I need to pay closer attention to the others for they also have something I need to know and understand about my God. But, I do get to read some more in John’s Gospel for this devotional. Whoopee!

This portion of John apparently comes not long before the events of what we now call Holy Week containing what led to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This particular segment emphasizes that their grief will turn into joy. Now, I would rather talk about joy anytime and talk about grief – maybe never!  This interesting passage brings the disciples face to face with something Jesus has been trying to warn them about and prepare them for. Jesus is speaking about “in a little while” this and “in a little while” that and the disciples got confused. They did not catch His “drift” – as some of us would say. Verse 18 says they “Kept” asking each other about what Jesus meant by “in a little while.”

Jesus, however, knew that they were confused about what He was saying. He plainly asked them, “Are you asking one another what I meant . . . ?” Then He went on to explain what He meant by the words “in a little while” and other things He had spoken of. Then they seem to “get it” and thought He was finally speaking clearly. He told them that He had been speaking figuratively but the time was coming when He would speak “plainly about My Father.” See verses 28 and 29 which make it appear that now they understood what He was saying to them. The truth is they did understand some of what He was saying but not all of it. In the first place the time of the “in a little while” was coming closer each day and was almost upon them. I guess they understood the substance but not the total essence of Jesus’ remarks. This is obvious in the events that unfolded. It became something immediate very quickly and they did not adjust well to it. And did many of the things He said they would do.

There is an important section in here that we do not have time to enlarge upon for this devotional. It has to do with something that is often misunderstood by believers and misquoted because of it. That is the latter part of verse 23. Read it for yourselves and see if you can figure out what He meant. Hint: Pay special attention to the words “in my name.”

This whole section is about the special relationship His disciples (we are also disciples) can have with Jesus. Joy is the hallmark of the Christian. Troubles may come and troubles may go but our joy is made complete through Jesus Christ. Peace, brothers and sisters, is because in the end Jesus won it for us. Jesus never sugarcoats anything. He tells it like it is. Someone asked me about my medical clinic experience recently and I told them I greatly appreciated my caregiver. She didn’t sugarcoat anything but gave me the options straight up. That is what Jesus will do and even more. Real peace is ours even when there are troubles all around us. Peace is found in our relationship with Jesus. He is real and He really loves us. In John 14:27 Jesus tells us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

A Stone’s Throw Away

April 10, 2017 – Monday
gethsemane
Read:  Luke 22:39 – 46, TLB
Focus: v. 41, TLB

He walked away, perhaps a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed this prayer: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup from me. But I want your will, not mine.”

So, picture this: your best friend and you have been through an amazing few days culminating in a very moving farewell dinner where he tells you he is going away and you can’t follow. You head off up to a garden place and he says he needs time to pray about some momentous events ahead and he wants you to stay awake and pray for him and for yourself to be strong. He heads off a little ways away and is gone long enough that you fall asleep. He checks back a couple of times and wakes you up and asks again for prayer. Eventually he just gives up and tells you to go ahead and sleep – but what does that say about his friends that they can’t even prevail in prayer for him? He is just a stone’s throw away, sweating great drops of blood – and you fall asleep!

Jesus went to the cross for all to pay the price for sin and provide salvation – making a way for us to come to God. He was pretty much alone at the end (speaking in earthly terms). Today we are all just a stone’s throw away from someone in agony, who needs our prayers and our help: the homeless, the abused, the grieving, the hurting. Because of Christ’s work on the cross we have the Holy Spirit to help us to pray and give help to the ones God sends to us. Are we sleeping – or are we awake and praying and doing what we know to do? We are as close as a stone’s throw for a reason – let us get up and not sleep through the opportunity to minister in His name!

He Bore Our Sins

April 4, 2017 – Tuesday
sins
Read: 1 Peter 2:23-25
Focus: vs. 24

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

I recently ran across the story of Rev. James Caldwell who served in the Army as a chaplain from 1776 to 1781. He was active during the Revolutionary War. He’s a fascinating character who, when his company ran out of musket wadding at the battle of Springfield, in New Jersey, ran to a nearby Presbyterian church and brought back a number of hymnals. These hymnals were known as “Isaac Watts Hymnals,” named after the hymn writing minister. Caldwell is quoted as shouting, “Now put Watts into them, boys!” He earned the nickname “The Rebel Priest” and “The High Priest of the Rebellion” from the British. They even offered a reward for his capture and burned his church to the ground. After that, Caldwell began preaching with his pistols lying on either side of his Bible. The British shot and killed his wife and he died about a year later in service to his country.

I struggle with Christ’s example some times more than others. I’m a fighter and I hate injustice. I speak up when I see it and you can be sure I’ll speak even louder when it’s happening to me. Yet Christ’s example was one of non-violence, especially when his own life was on the line. Some Christian leaders have taken this to mean Christians should always remain passive, even when their own lives are in danger. Still other leaders have seen the call in the Word to fight against injustice and join the battle when necessary. Throughout history, you will find both examples.

In our passage, Peter is referring specifically to the final hours of Christ’s life when he went willingly to the cross. He could have stopped it and he certainly could have stood against the injustice of the false charges being brought against him. We are reminded that Christ had a higher call and his death on the cross accomplished so much for us. So he let it happen. They hurled insults and he didn’t retaliate. He suffered but didn’t fight back. “He himself bore our sins” on the cross and “by his wounds you have been healed.” Today I am reminded that Jesus bore my sins on the cross. He paid the penalty for me. He took the punishment I deserved and healed me. The death of Jesus takes away my sin.

It’s interesting that Peter is writing these words to us. He’s the one who pulled out his sword when the soldiers showed up in the garden to arrest Jesus. He’s the one who swung that sword and cut off the ear of the soldier before Jesus told him to stop. Instead, Jesus heals the man’s ear and allows them to arrest him without any further fight. What happens next is a travesty of justice; but it is through that travesty that Jesus sacrifices himself for me. He bore our sins on the cross.

The Bread of Life

April 1, 2017 – Saturday 
bread
Read:  John 6:35 – 40, NIV
Focus:  v. 35, NIV

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Just out of curiosity, I “googled”- “The significance of bread in different cultures.” What I discovered was that bread in some form is found in almost every region and culture in the world. In most it is also referred to, much as we Americans are wont, as “The staff of life.” This means that it contains most nutrients essential to life. Bread is made from many different grains and in many different styles including baking, frying, boiling, and many others. The varieties are legion with many countries consuming much more bread than we Americans do.

When Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life,” He was making a huge statement to His followers. Bread is a staple of life in most parts of the world so therefore it is very significant for it to be mentioned by someone like Jesus. He was equating Himself as something that was absolutely essential for the sustaining of life. However, He did not only say He was the “bread of life” but also that he was the other part of the necessity of life – water. Good water supplies are essential for any civilization to survive. Our two most basic needs are food for hunger and water to drink. Bread and water supply this. He is referring to Himself as being necessary to sustain life. Since he also claimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” then He has made Himself to be most essential for life. However, He is talking about much more than physical life. He is referring to a life that is eternal in nature. I seem to be working rapidly toward the fourscore figure of 80 years (77 before Easter arrives), and I know that He cannot be referring to physical life. I don’t believe I would like to continue forever getting older and older with all the pitfalls and other problems that come with age. Just imagine it multiplied many times over! I get tired just thinking about it. “Is it bedtime yet, dear?” “No, it is only 7:45 PM, keep going.”

This event occurred shortly after the miracle of feeding the five thousand with just 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 small fish. The crowd came looking for Him and Jesus, correctly it appears, accused them of searching Him out because He fed them. He went on to tell them that He was the bread they needed. This is something they did not like so they grumbled among themselves so much so that Jesus flatly told them to stop grumbling. They could not get over that he was Mary’s little boy and the carpenter’s son all grown up. More than that, they didn’t like His assertion that He came down from heaven.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. He is absolutely necessary for eternal life. He provides all that is necessary to live forever. Have you made his acquaintance? Even more, have you received Him as that which is necessary for eternal life? Is He your Bread of Life?

Crucified to the World

March 23, 2017 – Thursday
cross
Read: Galatians 6:11-17
Focus: vs. 14

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”

I’ve always been athletic, but not as athletic as others. I remember in my elementary school years we were given awards for achieving certain athletic goals in our physical education class. We would run the 50 yard dash and count how many sit-ups we could do in 60 seconds and there were several other areas to compete in. The top prize was the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. It sounded so grand that I wanted it more than anything. The goals were designed so that you were competing against yourself but all of us more competitive kids knew that we were competing with each other asfitness well. I kept coming up just short of the Presidential Award and had to settle for the second prize until my last year when I barely made enough sit-ups to get the big prize. It was a dark blue patch with a golden eagle that said, “Presidential Physical Fitness Award” and I might as well have received it from Ronald Reagan himself! That patch probably still exists somewhere in my memories and belongings but I couldn’t tell you where. The truth is, I wasn’t a bad athlete but I was never the best. Physical fitness is not an area I could ever really boast about and even less so now. There were some kids who had no problem getting that wonderful award every year and were naturally faster and more fit than I was but I don’t remember them ever boasting about how good they were.

Our passage in Galatians is dealing with boasting. There are those who are always trying to impress the people around them. In fact, I think we can all admit that we sometimes give into the temptation to puff ourselves up by sharing our accomplishments or talents. In Paul’s day there were those who wanted to boast about how holy they were because of how great their religion looked on the outside. Circumcision was the main issue and there was a group referred to as Judaizers who believed new Christians should follow all the old Mosaic laws as well. This included circumcision and Paul drew the line there. His desire was that new Christians shouldn’t have all the old laws put on them. The New Covenant with Jesus was about grace, not legalistic religion. So the Judaizers wanted to boast about what was on the outside but Paul wanted to boast about what was on the inside. And what was on the inside? It was the Cross of Jesus.

“What counts,” Paul says, “is the new creation.” It comes through the Cross of Jesus. Paul offers us a really interesting concept in verse 14 when he says it is the cross “through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Jesus changes us on the inside because that’s where it really matters. The outside is likely to change soon enough but it will never be real unless the inside is changed first. We are new creations in Christ. Paul loves this concept and talks about it often. When he speaks about the world being crucified (and he to the world), he is referencing the death of Christ to show that his old worldly self has died and what’s left is the new self, resurrected with Jesus to life. That’s quite an achievement but not for Paul. All this is because of the Cross of Jesus. God did it, not me. What do you boast about in your life? Consider what Jesus has done on that Cross for you.

Come Right In!

March 13, 2017 – Monday
Welcome
Read:  Hebrews 10:19 – 23, TLB
Focus:  v. 22, TLB

“. . .let us go right in to God himself, with true hearts fully trusting him to receive us, because we have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and because our bodies have been washed with pure water.”

We were discussing early one morning how hard it must have been to live under the system of laws and sacrifices. Seems like, it might just consume your days and hours, in planning and carrying out all that you were required to do for your salvation from sin. Those who were really serious about pleasing God would try their best, but their best would never be good enough to totally please a holy God. God knew that, of course, and so He set a plan in motion that at just the right time would cancel this old system in favor of a far better one! When Christ gave Himself to God as a sacrifice for our sins (as one perfect sacrifice for all time) we were forgiven and made clean! No more sacrifices are needed and now we can walk right into the presence of God with true hearts and complete trust that He will receive us!

Today, on this side of the Cross, we can spend all the time we want in His presence, praising Him and making our needs known – and receiving His grace and provision for our daily living! This is such a privilege we have – and I have had many periods of time when it saved my “sanity” and restored my hope. You may be going through such a time, even as you read this. Do not be afraid to go before Him and place yourself totally in His arms of love. He knows you, loves you, and longs to give you His peace and strength – and He will give you all the time and attention you need for your healing!

What Love Is

March 8, 2017 – Wednesday
Give
Read: 1 John 3:11-24
Focus: vs. 16

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

One of the reasons we honor our military men and women to such a high degree is because we know we are the recipients of their sacrifice. Thankfully, not all men and women who serve end up giving their life in that service but their courage and willingness to protect us, and our freedoms, should make us truly thankful. This is why the uniform often makes me think about Jesus and how he gave up his life for me.

The greatest sacrifice, the sacrifice of one’s life, is the kind of sacrifice John talks about in our passage. Jesus laid down his life for us. Go ahead and read the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus and you’ll see it was a sacrifice. Jesus went willingly to that cross to save us from our sins. That brings us to this discussion of what love is. John wants us to know that the sacrifice of Jesus was God’s act of love towards his creation. He did it to save us. The next question that comes to mind is how does John say we should show this same kind of love to those around us?

A sacrificial love towards one another is a sign of what God has done within us. John is teaching us about how we know God resides within us. Verses 11-15 talk about the absence of hate. Verses 16-18 talk about the kind of love that results in actions and truth. Verses 19-24 talk about how our hearts do not condemn us. Then he summarizes the lesson to be learned in verse 23: we follow his commands to believe in the name of Jesus and to love one another.

What is love? It’s sacrificial in nature. Verse 17 brings up an example of what we do when we see a brother or sister in need of material possessions that we have. Do we have pity on them or do we ignore them and think of our own needs first and as greater needs than theirs? There are a lot of soft-hearted people in the world who don’t know Jesus. There are those who have all sorts of good and sacrificial characteristics who have no relationship with God. But if you are a Christian, sacrificial love is a characteristic that God is fixing within you, even if you didn’t have it before asking Jesus into your heart. What is love? John wants you to know that loving like Jesus means sacrificing our own wants and desires to see that others have what they need.

Maybe you won’t be called upon to sacrifice your life for another but John wants you to know that giving to others and meeting their needs out of what God has given you is a way to love others sacrificially like Jesus loves you. This is love.

Ashes to Ashes

March 1, 2017 – Ash Wednesday

picture1

Read: James 4:7-10

Focus: vs. 10

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Today is Ash Wednesday and many of us will commemorate the beginning of the Season of Lent by receiving ashes, in the sign of a cross, on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday is a custom that traces back to the Catholic Church in about the 10th century and has deep roots in the Bible. Every year the Season of Lent gives us 40 days (not including Sundays) to prepare our hearts for the events of Holy Week (the death of Christ on the Cross) that conclude with Easter (Christ’s resurrection from the grave).

Ash Wednesday is best known by mark of the Cross placed on the foreheads of the faithful. This custom is a fascinating one filled with symbolism. Ashes are typically made from the palm leaves used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. This is to remind us of how Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem ends with his death on the Cross. We mourn his death as we celebrate his resurrection on Easter morning and we are mindful of how it was our sin that made his death necessary. His crucifixion was a sacrifice for us.

Ashes are also a mournful reminder our own mortality. In Genesis 3:19 God has pronounced the consequences for the sin of Adam and Eve when he says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” At graveside funeral services the pastor is often heard to say “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” as a reminder to all of our mortality. This life does not go on forever and, thus, we must consider and prepare for what comes after.

With our mortality in mind, ashes are also a sign of repentance and humility as well. Our verse for today, from James 4:10, reminds us to come to the Lord in humility recognizing that it is He who can lift us up. This humble stature is important throughout the Bible and we often see the practice of a mark on the forehead as a sign of contrition and faithfulness to God.

Ezekiel 9:4 is a case in point. Starting just prior to the verse it says, “Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” This is verse is in reference to judgment upon Israel but the concept appears throughout the Bible. In Exodus 12:21-28 we see the Hebrews preparing for the passing over of the Angel of Death that comes to take the first born of all the households that are not marked by the blood of a lamb. This initiates the Jewish custom of Passover and offers much context for the Christian practice of Communion and the many references to Jesus as a lamb sacrificed for our sins and his blood that defeats death and sin on our behalf. Interestingly enough, the original Hebrew text from Ezekiel 9:4 specifically mentions the mark as the Hebrew letter “tav.” This letter resembles a cross and is similar to the Greek letter “chi,” the first letter in the name “christos” or Christ. This connection hasn’t evaded the Church over the years and we see this mark come back in the book of Revelation, once again to separate the righteous from the unrighteous in order to spare the righteous from the wrath of God.

So let’s put this all together. Ash Wednesday is a day for contrition and humility. Ashes represent a plea to God for mercy, compassion, pardon and forgiveness. They are a public admission of guilt, an expression of sorrow for our sins, a reminder of our impending death (a reminder of our mortality) and a pledge to reform. The mark we receive on our foreheads is symbolic of our desire to be numbered among God’s faithful followers. It is a reminder of our imperfection but shows a tenderness to the ways of the Lord and a heart-sickness as we see the sins the world around us as well as our own.

So remember today that from dust you came and to dust you will return. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. You will not live forever and your sinfulness gives you no standing with God without the precious blood of Jesus. This is a season of contrition. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.

The True Light Has Come

Easter CrossJohn 1:9-12, 14, 16-17

                 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

What a blessed morning to receive our Risen Savior!  The women who went to Jesus’ tomb that morning were surprised to find something special had happened.  Jesus said it would happen and yet He still took everyone by surprise.  And I’ll admit that you should seriously question what you hear if I told you I was going to die and then rise in three days.  You’d think I was crazy.  Yet this is Jesus we’re talking about.  Even those closest to him, those who had a pretty good idea of who He was, were caught off guard by this.

Those who loved Jesus were in mourning.  It was grief they were feeling that day and they were busy trying to figure out how to move on with their lives.  Everything they had expected fell apart and faded away.  Everything they thought would happen died with Jesus on that cross.

Maybe that’s where they needed to be.  Maybe this was the last step in Jesus’ plan to turn the disciples, and the world, on their ears and change the way they thought about everything.  Everything had to die on that cross with Jesus before it could rise with Him and once again come under the rule of God.  All their hopes and dreams.  All their thoughts and expectations.  All risen with our Savior that morning.

Where are your hopes and dreams this morning?  Where are your thoughts and expectations?  Have they died on that cross with Jesus?  That’s the only way they will be risen with Jesus.

Jesus is the True Light and the world still doesn’t recognize Him.  “Yet to all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He has given the right to become children of God.”  God’s action on our behalf wasn’t completed at the cross, it was completed at the resurrection.  Death isn’t defeated without the Resurrection.

I hope you can praise Jesus with me today.  He is our hope, He is our life.  He bore our sins upon that cross.  He was crucified on our behalf.  He has also risen on our behalf.  Our God is alive!

Happy Easter!