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.”

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Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome in this Place (My Heart)

April 3, 2017 – Monday

Read:  John 14:26 – 29, TLB
Focus:  v. 27, TLB

 “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Chapter 14 of John is a spectacular combination of comfort, sadness, doubt, confusion, instruction, encouragement – it is all there in 31 verses, and it is a good chapter to memorize, if you are so inclined. Jesus is using His last few minutes alone with His disciples to prepare them for what the next hours would bring. He wants them to know that He is leaving to prepare a final resting place for them. They cannot go there with Him, yet, but He will come back again one day to take them to be with Him. He lets them know that He is sending them a comforter to be with them in His place. The comforter will help them to do good in Jesus’ name, help them to know and understand truth and remind them of what Jesus had taught them. Best of all, Jesus tells them that He is giving them peace of mind and heart to sustain them in all that they will face. They will not always understand what is going on but if they remember that He gives them peace they will make it through!

Peace is something everyone is looking for. We just all seem to look in different directions to find it! The peace the world offers can only be fragile and never lasting. The peace that Jesus gives is from His Father God, the source of real truth and love! The Holy Spirit in us will make all these things known to us as we seek Him. We have not been left alone, or as orphans in a storm (verse 18) – and Jesus will come again, in the Father’s good time. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid – He is still with us, but in a more complete way!

**The title is based on the song “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome in this Place.

Jesus Christ . . . Lord of All

12-24

36 “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.”

Tonight, Christmas Eve, we will hold a very special service in our church commemorating the birth of Jesus as the Savior of the world.  As part of this service we will light the final candle of the Advent Wreath.  This is the white candle which represents Christ and so is known as The Christ Candle.  Part of the tradition of the Christian Church is that the Advent Wreath has three purple candles and one pink candle.  We chose this year to go in a slightly different direction by having a green candle representing Anticipation, a copper candle representing Preparation, a blue candle representing Contrition, and a gold candle representing Exultation.  None of these candles would mean anything if the Christ Candle was not present.  But Christ did come and so the light of His presence can shine forth into our lives, and into the world at large through us and through others who know Him as their Savior, because He became flesh and dwelt among us.

I would urge you to take time to read and study the tenth chapter of Acts, especially verse 36, which emphasizes the message of God through Jesus Christ and also names Him as LORD of all!  Is He your LORD today?  Is He Life to you and is He the only One to whom you pledge your complete allegiance?

There is much anticipation hovering in the air today.  Let us make sure that the One who came on that first Christmas is also present in this Christmas as well and that He is our LORD!

As you pray today, consider the lessons you have learned this Advent season and reflect upon the ones that struck you the most. The goal of your devotional time with God is indeed to make Him Lord of all your life. How have you been doing with each of the main lessons? Have you anticipated the Lord this season? Have you been preparing the way for the Lord in the world around you? Did you experience contrition in your heart? Did you exult in what the Lord has done? Is Jesus Lord of all of you?

Finding Peace in a Post-Christian America

This is the message I preached this past Sunday following the elections in our country.  I’ve altered a few things to make it more friendly to being read.  I don’t touch on politics from the pulpit that often as I’ve never thought it a worthy subject on that platform but I felt it was time to confront what is happening in our society so we may be better prepared for what is to come and for how we, as Christians, can best approach the task of evangelism today.

This past week our nation did what many of us thought was unthinkable – we reelected our current president and kept the status quo in Washington.   It didn’t turn out the way many of us feel it should have – I understand that.  I wasn’t any fun to be around when the results were in and I’ve heard I wasn’t alone.  I spent a lot of time in prayer about things afterward in search of some peace that can only come from God.  Does anyone else need to be reminded right now that God is still on His throne?

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “27 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.”

The ultimate point of this blog is that God is still on His throne and we can still trust Him.  His interest is in the people, not the country.  With that said, however, I think we need to come to realizations about what is happening in our nation.  One thing the elections made clear is that we are now living in a Post-Christian America.  That statement needs some explaining and then I want to take a few moments to talk about some other observations that feed into that statement before bringing things back around to our ultimate point.

For most of America’s history we could have been classified as a Christian nation.  Our foundations were firmly rooted in Godly principles and, even in times where our face to the outside world didn’t always reflect it, we still lived by basic values found in the Bible.  For most of our history it was assumed that everyone went to church somewhere and we didn’t have a lot of trouble talking about God in the public forums, including in our government assemblies.  At some point, however, we crossed over a line that finally made something perfectly clear to me this past week.  Those same Christian values that drove our fore-fathers to set this nation into motion are no longer welcome in the modern arena of ideologies and philosophies.  They are, in fact, barely tolerated and it does us well to wonder how long that will last before those values are expelled completely.

It seems odd to say we live in a Post-Christian America when the majority of Americans still profess to be Christians.  I’ll leave those judgments with God where they belong.  Instead I just want to say that the assumptions we used to make regarding our Faith’s position in our land are no longer valid.  I can no longer assume that the majority of people I come in contact with have a working knowledge of what the Bible says let alone that appealing to the Bible offers any finality in rendering decisions, moral or otherwise.  Instead I am better off assuming that the average American I come in contact with has a muddled view of religion that combines all the best aspects from all religion and warm-fuzzy thought as perceived by each individual.  In other words, everyone has their own truth and it does no good to appeal to any sense of an absolute truth.  This is something we’ve been talking about for years, of course, but the idea that America has reached a tipping point only became clear to me this past week. Until then I’d always felt like we were heading towards the tipping point but not yet there.

We are living in a Post-Christian America.  With that said, here are some observations I want to offer up from what we have learned this past week:

1. The moral fabric of American society is most definitely tearing apart.  Look no further than the continued rise and acceptance of many of the ballot measures we used to consider too ridiculous to ever pass in a civilized society.  Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use despite the continued federal ban.  Minnesota failed to pass a measure further defining marriage in the traditional sense.  Even the issue of doctor-assisted suicide was taken up in at least one state, though it didn’t pass.  Many measures along these same lines were attempted and not passed but what does it say about our country that they ever made it as far as a ballot in the first place?

2. We, as Americans, feel we are entitled to things our ancestors never considered.  The direction of the overall voting shows a desire by what is now a majority of Americans to take less responsibility for themselves and their own well-being.   I know you probably don’t feel that way and it’s not a teaching that comes from the Bible.  Here, out west, we tend to be very self-sufficient and less desirous of governmental involvement in our lives.  That hasn’t really changed yet but in many places that change has already occurred.  So much so that it now encompasses the majority of Americans.

3. America is polarized.  We’ve known this for some time, of course, but the point was driven home in the recent elections.  When we had the opportunity to change the unacceptable status quo, we reaffirmed it instead.  It’s not that nobody wants it to be changed, it’s just that we don’t know how to get past our differences and, for now, we’re holding onto those differences.  In this sense, our government is probably a perfect reflection of our nation.  It’s important for us to recognize the polarization in our country because it impacts how we reach it for Jesus.  We can no longer go around acting as if we live in a Christian nation and those who act differently are somehow going against the grain and are out of place.  In fact, we should expect nothing less than counter-Christian actions in the people around us.  They have not accepted the foundations we have and we should no longer be surprised at the depravity we are beginning to see around us as God gives our nation over to its desires.  Romans 1:18-32 is now a very fitting description of America.  I encourage you to read those verses and I think you will be stunned by how much it seems to be pointing the finger of truth at America.

4. The Status Quo is changing.  In a political sense change is a necessity.  Compromise will happen in Washington and America will move on from its current stand-still.  That is inevitable and, given half a chance, our economy will recover and improve once again.  It cares less for friendly policies than it does simple and dependable foundations upon which to run.  This is one of the reasons I’ve always voted more on principles than on the current troubles of our national policies.  I worry less about the economy than I do about issues regarding the value of life and I worry less about foreign policy than I do about protecting those who cannot adequately protect themselves.  But the there is a change sweeping through America that has much less to do with politics.  In fact, current politics are really just a reflection of the changes that are occurring in the very soul of America.  The trend is to explore a brave new world un-shackled by Christian principles.  This is nothing new in the world, of course, and history is set to repeat itself yet again.  A nation that disregards God will only remain peaceful for so long.   Changes are not always good and the current trends in our country are likely to lead to a considerable amount of turmoil both internally and externally.

Things have changed in America and we now live in a Post-Christian Era.  So how do we find peace in this time?  I think it’s important to be reminded of our place in this world and in this country.  We are Christians first, Americans second.  It has always been that way.  Romans 13:1-7 reminds us to submit to our governmental authorities and we honor God by doing so.  Our leaders are responsible to God for what they do with the power He has given them.  At the same time, in Acts 5:29, Peter reminds us that we are answerable to God first and that can sometimes cause us to live in civil disobedience.

So what is the Christian’s duty in times like this?  It’s the same as it has always been.  John 17:15-17 tell us we are to be in the world but not of the world and Matthew 5:13-16 reminds us that we are to be salt and light in this world.  The Great Commission, in Matthew 28:18-20, tells us our duty is to make disciples everywhere.  These things haven’t changed.  We are to be followers of Christ in the good times as well as the bad times.  We are Christians not matter what is going on in the world around us.  This is our time and these are our problems.  In John 16:33 Jesus says to us, “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.”

God is still on His throne and we need to live unapologetically-Christian no matter what comes in the future of our country.  We are living in a nation that will no longer be favored by God and probably hasn’t for some time.  That should mean that changes are on the horizon for our country that it would do well to fear.  Perhaps we are now modern day Jonahs sent to Nineveh to appeal for repentance.  Either way, don’t equate what happens to America with God’s love or will.  It is no longer a part of it.  America is not God’s chosen people and it never has been.  God blessed our nation because we stood for Him and His ways.  But Christians (that’s us) are still God’s children.  While His blessing may not be upon our nation, it is still upon His children.  We must continue to live for Him no matter the cost.

I’m not here to be a prophet of doom who is predicting a dismal future.  The future is never bleak for those who know Jesus.  The outlook for our nation may yet be positive but it may depend much on how the Church in America responds in a post-Christian era.  This is a reality I want us to think about: as Christians we are to be worried less about America and its politics than we are about every American soul that does not know Jesus.  I’m not saying we need to not worry about politics and our country – in fact, I believe we all need to be more involved than we currently are.  I am saying, however, that these things are secondary to changing the world one soul at a time.  All this will pass away despite our best efforts – it is the people that will live on past this existence.  I’m pretty sure we won’t be electing any presidents in Heaven!  Unfortunately, if we do not act and carry out the great commission that Jesus gave us, many of the souls around us won’t be in Heaven to begin with.

The future of America is not set.  We may be living now in a Post-Christian Era but that does not mean this era must be defined as an atheistic or non-Christian era.  What I am saying is that America was decidedly more Christian in the past and worked and lived by those principles.  What America looks like in the future may not be trending in the right direction now but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.  That’s what we’re here for.

So check your assumptions at the door about how our nation believes.  Instead, go and live an unapologetically-Christian life no matter what the cost.  Don’t worry about what our nation believes more than you worry about what you believe.  God is still on His throne and there is always hope for those who believe in Jesus!