April 30 - Rivers of Living Water

Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30 - Rivers of Living Water

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” (John 7:37-52)

Sometimes I get so caught up in reading the story of scripture, I miss the little treasures that can be found.

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Jesus had told the Samaritan woman at the well that He was the source of living water.  In this passage, He promises that after He sends the Spirit to us … after His death and resurrection … we, the believers will have that living water flowing from us.

As I was composing this today, I first typed, “we will be the source of the living water.”  I knew as soon as I typed those words that wasn’t how I wanted to state it, because we aren’t. We are simply a vessel and Jesus is the source.

I doubt that anyone considers themselves the source for Jesus’ living water, but I do believe that many of us don’t realize that we carry this within us. 

To those who are dried up – we see them as angry, crusty, bitter, mean, always sarcastic, gossips, critical, … the list goes on and on – we are to be fresh water that softens and gentles their hearts and minds.

To those who are parched – desperate for love, lost, in pain, mourning, filled with grief and loss – we are to be a gentle stream that brings love, relief and God’s mercies.

To those who are arid – overwhelmed by life, crawling and yet never reaching their goals, afraid to move out of themselves – we are to be an oasis offering hope and encouragement.

From the heart of Jesus … to our hearts … to the world, we pour out the rivers of living water that brings others to Him … the true source.

April 29 - We Know Jesus

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29 – We Know Jesus

Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him. Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?” (John 7:25-36)

The Jews had quite a few preconceived notions regarding the Messiah.  For some … Jesus didn’t match up, for others … He was more than they expected.

There were those who knew where Jesus was from and couldn’t imagine that He was the Messiah.  Others saw all of the signs and wonders that He had performed and figured that the Messiah couldn’t do much more than that.

All of those preconceived notions didn’t do anyone any good because they simply didn’t understand.  All the words of the prophets that were read over and over aloud to the people didn’t trigger a sense for many that the Messiah had come, that the kingdom of God was now present on the earth.  They just couldn’t see it.

There were a very few who were able to see through the veil and recognize Jesus for who He was.  He was God’s Son – the Messiah.  They were expectant and willing to accept that He was doing things among them that no man had ever been able to do before.  He said things with authority that surpassed the greatest scholars.  He loved in ways that few could comprehend. 

I am regularly entertained by those who think that the signs are pointing to the return of Christ and give a specific date.  You see, the Jews who studied the Torah, the Prophets, the history, all thought they had it figured out and God was not about to be bound by their very human, very small understanding.  When He was ready, when His time was right … Jesus came to earth.  And then earth waited … nearly 30 years … before He began His ministry.

There are billboards popping up in cities right now predicting the end of the world on May 21 or some such date.  If God has given a special word to whatever group it is promoting this date, I will simply be thankful for what He has given us and look forward to being with Him throughout eternity.  Otherwise, on May 22, I will wake up and continue my life as it is.

The one thing that Jesus taught in this passage is that He didn’t come on His own.  No matter what we think we know – we really only know Him.  Through Him we know the One Who sent Him.  That’s what we know.  As for the rest … I’ll leave that to God.

April 28 - Don't Judge By Appearances

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28 – Don’t Judge By Appearances

About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. The Jews were astonished at it, saying, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?” Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

“Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:14-24)

In the first part of this passage, the Jews were astonished that Jesus was able to teach in such a profound manner since he had no education.  At the end of the passage, Jesus says, ‘Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.’

It is really easy for us to judge someone based on very little information.  If we know that they don’t have a college education, we make judgments regarding their ability to relate information to us.  We might have no concept of their training and life experience – the simple fact that they don’t have a degree is a real block for some.

We make judgments based on people’s use and misuse of the English language.  We see how they dress their kids or what type of car they drive and make judgments regarding their behaviors – knowing no more than that.

Jesus knew that the Jews had judged Him based on the fact that He healed a man on the Sabbath.  While this makes absolutely no sense to us today, it was a terrible social mistake as well as a religious taboo.  The idea of crossing that line would have been frightening to most.    He reminded them that they performed some actions on the Sabbath – such as circumcision and that was ok, because they had a Law that said it was ok.  Healing a man and making him whole was not ok, though.

We make snap judgments based on our background, our lifestyles, our history, our understanding of the little worlds within which we live.  Jesus calls us out of those boxes.  We are only to make judgments based on God’s law … His law is love.  It is not condemnation, but love.  How might that change your interactions with others?

April 27 - A Good Man?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27 – A Good Man?

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.) Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret. The Jews were looking for him at the festival and saying, “Where is he?” And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.” Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews. (John 7:1-13)

C.S. Lewis says that we can call Jesus any number of things, but he did not leave us room to call Him a ‘good man.’  Lewis’ “Trilemma” states that Jesus is either a lunatic, liar or the Lord.  In his book, “Mere Christianity,” Lewis says:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Since the day that Jesus walked into the public world, people have been trying to find ways to negate His ministry.  Jews called Him a ‘good man’ and a ‘liar’ in this passage.  They had no idea He was there walking among them so this was a good chance to tell others what their ideas regarding Jesus were about. 

No one is ready for a man to come in to challenge the common ways of thinking and Jesus was doing that with every breath He took.  He didn’t hold back … ever.

I’m reading through Stephen Pressfield’s “The War of Art” again.  He says that to do what you were called to do, you will upset people – especially friends and family because it is in their best interest that you maintain status quo, that you don’t upset their world as they know it.  No one wants to see change happen, even if it will transform the world for good.

Jesus came along with a message of hope, of love, of a plan to bring true peace on earth.  But it required change and no one wanted to see that happen.  Even in their misery, the Jews wanted things to stay the same.  They were comfortable with their misery.  They knew what it looked like, how it felt, what it smelled like and how to manage it. 

Jesus wanted to rip them out of their comfort with misery.  The Romans were in charge, Herod and his cronies were corrupting Judaism, sin among the people ran rampant; yet they didn’t want Him to make things different for them.  We live in the same type of world. 

Do we call Jesus simply a ‘good man, a great moral teacher’?  Do we live like He is Lord?  Do we think He is absolutely nuts? Or do we just ignore Him and hope that He will take His message to someone else that might need it worse than we do? 

We’ve gotten away with listening to part of His message … for each of us it might be a different part.  We are no better than the Jews who were complaining about Him.  We really don’t want Him in there messing up our lives, challenging us to be different, asking us to step away from the little pockets of misery we comfortably live within, being no more than we are.

Jesus is not just a peace-maker.  He stirs things up, He gets our blood boiling, He challenges us to look at life differently.  And if He isn’t doing those things in your life and in your family, within your friends and in your church … you might be setting Him aside as simply a good man …  a great moral teacher.

April 26 - This is Too Difficult!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26 – This is Too Difficult!

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” (John 6:60-70)

Does this offend you?

I’m always surprised to hear about those who have left Christianity for some other religion.  The words of Peter in this passage are why.

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I’d like to think that people leave Christianity because they don’t like the way other Christians act and that’s certainly true.  There are very few Christians who are good advertising for Jesus Christ.  Because our humanity gets in the way and steps all over our Christianity, we tend to hurt more than we help.

I’d like to think that people leave Christianity because they experienced a rotten church.  That’s just as possible.  There are plenty of churches out there that emphasize the wrong things, that are more interested in fluff and being a social club than spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’d like to think that people leave Christianity because they are reacting to their upbringing – whether it was too strict and that’s what they associate with being a Christian or because there was no real substance and they just drift away.  That’s absolutely real.  Sometimes our parents don’t do well by us when it comes to a true understanding of the Gospel.

I’d like to think all of these things and more are reasons why people live within a Christian culture and then separate themselves from it. 

But, that’s not the only reason.  From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, there were those who found His teaching to be too difficult or were offended by it.  Even some of those who called themselves His disciples (not necessarily the twelve – there were many others who followed Him and learned from Him), took off when things got too hard.

If everyone was going to drop in line and become a follower of Christ, God wouldn’t have talked about those who harden their hearts against Him and there wouldn’t need to be a threshing of the harvest in the final days. 

Now … we just need to eliminate our negative impact on people regarding  Christianity.  If we can make walking away from Jesus that much more difficult by being good stewards of His Gospel … there will be great rejoicing!

April 25 - Eat the Bread

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25 – Eat the Bread

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. (John 6:41-59)

I am lousy at quoting movies, books, television shows … nearly anything.  I have no memory for those things.  Maybe some Star Wars references, but the rest just slips out of my head. Except for Tommy Lee Jones in “Men in Black” when he’s lost his gun inside the alien cockroach.  He screams at the thing.  “Eat me!  Eat me!”  And it does … and he gets his gun.

So, I apologize for the fact that I am telling you this story in reference to Jesus’ words, “Whoever eats me will live because of me.”  Yah … it’s a strange little sense of humor I have.

Jesus had been going through the metaphor of bread of life over and over with these people and they still did not understand.

In every culture, grain provides life.  Most cultures make some type of bread.  It is one of those foundational life-giving foods.  It is easy to make and can be made from nearly any ground grain.  In any culture, people understand what bread is.

Does Jesus want them to walk up to him and take a bite out of him?  Oh, for goodness’ sake, no. 

Passages like this though, were instrumental in many of the early persecutions of Christians.  Those who came after them heard these words and rather than investigating, decided it was just better to be safe.  They didn’t want any strange blood-drinking, flesh-eating cult on their hands. 

He wants them and us to understand that He is the spiritual foundation of life – just as bread is a foundation for physical life.  The moment that a person believes in Him, their eternity is guaranteed.  They will live forever.

April 24 - Metaphors: Bread and Water

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24 – Metaphors: Bread and Water

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:35-40)

Metaphors just mess with us, don’t they?

Because we are going to physically get hungry and thirsty – even after we meet Jesus. 

But, He was the master of the parable – the metaphor.  Why do you suppose that is?

It might be because what He had to say was so different from anything that had been said before and would  be such incredibly different thoughts for most people hearing Him speak that He wanted them to think outside the box a little bit.

He could have shown up one day in Capernaum and said, “Look, I am the Son of the Great God Almighty, the Creator of Earth.  I was the one who was there with my Father in the beginning and I was there as we set creation into place and as we brought forth humanity. 

“Dad is really tired of the way you’ve been screwing up.  He sent the Law, the prophets … He did everything possible to bring you back to Him and you just flat out refuse.  So … here I am.

Last chance.  I’m showing you … God.  You know … Yahweh … whose name is so great you can’t speak it.  That’s me.  I Am.  Believe in me and we’ll finally get this figured out.  He doesn’t want you all to die – but you know how He is when He gets angry.  Justice has to be handed out and His merciful hand is all worn out.  So … will you believe?  Or am I going to have to die for you, too!”

He could have spelled it out in words that were much clearer – but, all that would have done was antagonize everyone.  Jesus was there to renew, re-create the relationship between humanity and His Father.  The best way to start any relationship is with a conversation.  And the best relationships that exist happen when those conversations go beyond a few simple words.

Jesus wanted people to think beyond the simplistic.  “I am the very foundation of all your needs – bread.  I am the bread of life. Just as your body can not exist without water … your life can not exist without me.  Your spirit, soul and life need never go thirsty if you believe in me.

I am here because my Father wants you to believe in Him because you see me.  He wants everyone to be with Him in eternity.

Metaphors may mess with us, but they make us see the world a little differently.

April 23 - Believe in Him

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23 – Believe in Him

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:25-34)

This is the work of God – that you believe in him whom he has sent. (John 6:29)

We really do make it difficult on ourselves, don’t we! 

We want to make the bread and serve the bread and gather up the crumbs of the bread and clean up everything after the bread has been baked and then served.  We want to put the bread in its air-tight bag and seal it up so that it doesn’t spoil, then put it aside for the next time we need to have bread available.  We want to do all the work so that we can see its completion.

The work of God – believe in him whom he (God) has sent.

That really can’t be all there is to it – can it?  Because that doesn’t seem like enough.  We’re responsible, we’re talented, we’re busy, busy, busy.  We should be doing something so that it IS actually work that we’re doing for God.

Believe in him whom God has sent.

We don’t understand something as simple as this.  We want more of an explanation.  We want to compare this to what we have had to do in the past.  We want it to look like something that we comprehend. 

Maybe if it looks like … I know …  manna.  Our ancestors spent 40 years eating manna.  There’s a lot of historical information about how manna came from heaven and ensured that they wouldn’t starve.  That’s it.  Can we get manna again?  That would make sense.

Believe in him.

April 22 - Get Out of the Boat!

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22 – Get Out of the Boat!

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. (John 6:16-24)

Jesus had taken off up a mountain at the end of yesterday’s passage to escape from those who thought to make Him king.  The disciples left without Him, probably figuring that He’d hitch a ride with someone else – maybe He had even gone ahead of them. 

The wind came up, rough weather hit and they saw Him walking on the water toward them – and they were terrified!

The disciples were still unable to understand the power behind the man, Jesus.  He wanted them to think bigger than themselves – to expect great things because He was with them.  There was no longer any reason for them to limit themselves to the little bits of life that they understood.  He was the Word made flesh – all of creation recognized His touch – it came from Him. 

They didn’t understand so they were terrified.

Terror, fear, anger … those are easily feelings that we get when we don’t understand something or are faced with something we’ve never before experienced.  Rather than head into the fray and enjoy the moment … we react and steer clear.

In the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 14:22-33), the story is fleshed out a bit more with Peter attempting to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus.  He made it until his fear overtook him and it required Jesus’ hand reaching out to him to keep him from going down. 

As you move through this passage, you see that the disciples wanted to take Jesus into the boat.  Just at that moment, they reached shore.

Peter got out of the boat … walked to Jesus … got afraid and began to sink … cried out to Jesus, who caught Him and held him upright.  Jesus did NOT get into the boat where terror was reigning. 

We need to set aside all of those negative emotions and discover what it is that we can do – when Jesus calls us out of our boat.  He won’t call us out unless He’s prepared to reach out His hand and catch us.  And He’s not going to get in our little, tiny boats with us.  There is a great, big sea that He wants us to traverse … with Him.

April 21 - Feed 5000 / A Teaching Moment

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21 – Feed 5000 – A Teaching Moment

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:1-15)

Do you ever hang around those people who seem to be teaching you all the time.  No matter what happens – there’s a lesson to be learned from it.  Dad was one of those people.  Is there a problem with the car?  Well, this might be a good time to teach me about sparkplugs or how to change the oil or any number of things.  It really didn’t matter what we came across, he always had some nugget of information to share.  Mom was the same way, but not quite so obvious with it.

If I had been Philip and received a question like that from Jesus, my knees probably would have weakened a little, knowing that this man had big expectations and if I didn’t give Him the answer He was looking for – there would be a teaching moment.  And there was.

Did you see that in there?  Jesus already knew what He was going to do … He set Philip up completely!  All the other disciples sat back and felt quite pleased with themselves because they had avoided the hot seat on this issue.  Andrew thought he was going to help Philip out a bit – he’d seen a boy with his lunch.  They all knew that wasn’t enough.

Limited by what they could see and what their life experience told them, they had no idea of the power of Jesus’ teaching moment.

He wasn’t teaching them about sharing or how to feed a large group.  He wasn’t even asking them to think outside the box.  He was asking them to think outside everything they knew or could imagine! He was teaching them about the power that they could access because they knew Him.  It was a MUCH bigger lesson than any of them could have foreseen.

We limit ourselves to what we can manage with our five senses and with our knowledge of what is real and what we have experience.  Imagine what the possibilities would be if we could eliminate those limitations and face life in that manner!

The worst thing about that teaching moment?  We still aren’t learning from it.

April 20 – Where Do You Find Life?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20 – Where Do You Find Life?

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” (John 5:31-47)

When it comes right down to it, we try everything before we finally come to the realization that it is only in Jesus that we find life!  We try church and if we don’t like one, we’ll try another.  We look for life in our work, in our families, in our recreation.  We hope to find life in our homes, our cars, our things.  We look for life in the approval of others and define ourselves by our successes and our failures.  We look for life in books by Christian authors and Bible study teachers. When that doesn’t fulfill us, we look to other spiritual leaders. We look everywhere we think we are supposed to look …

…then we realize – all we ever needed was Jesus.  He is where we find our life.

In Him alone can we find life. 

April 19 - The Power to Give Life

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19 – The Power to Give Life

Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:16-30)

Just as the Gospel of John opened with a description of the Word of the Father acting in creation, this passage affirms the spiritual side of Jesus’ ability to give life to humanity.  Remember back in John 3 when Jesus and Nicodemus talked about the need to be born again of the spirit?  Jesus has the power to bring life to whomever he wishes and just as He is the Word that speaks creation into existence, He continues to give life and He will give new life when we are born again.

This passage affirms the connection between the Father and the Son … God and Jesus.  The power of the divine is found in Jesus Christ who lived among us as a human.  There is no question that in Him can be found both humanity and divinity. 

One of the most incredible things that we find here is the unique relationship between the Father and Son.  It is a mystery that seems to be too great to put into human terms, which is why the Doctrine of the Trinity continues to be debated to this day.  It is nearly impossible for us to understand how God can be three natures in one substance … how He can work independently as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit … yet still be one God. 

But, while we desperately want to understand the concept, all we really need to do is have faith that Jesus’ words are true.  Everything that He did while on earth was in complete unity with the Father.  And here … He has the power to give life – new life to everyone.

April 18 - Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18 – Do You Want to Be Made Well?

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. (John 5:1-15)

This is one of those stories that trips me up every time.  “Do you want to be made well?”

Well, do you?  Do I?

It is much easier for us to lie in front of the pool and whine about how no one will change things for us and live with what we are accustomed to than to make any type of change that will get us off our mat and walking again.

This man had lived this way for thirty-eight years!  And while that might seem like a long time for all of us, how long have you been living with whatever it is that keeps you trapped?  How long will you blame the world for your problems or someone else for your set of circumstances! Do you want to be made well?

Jesus didn’t sit and commiserate with the paralyzed man. He didn’t ask about those who hadn’t helped the man, he didn’t want the man to focus on any of the things in the past … he simply wanted to know if the man desired to be well. 

It would be really nice if the man had said ‘yes,’ but he continued to whine about how no one else would help him.  Jesus didn’t wait for too long.  There was no need to hear about everyone else.  “Stand up.  Pick up your mat.  Walk.”

With Jesus as our mediator – we don’t have to put up with those things that stop us from being whole, from being all that He calls us to be.  And guess what – He also isn’t telling us to do it on our own.  His command was part of the work that He did.  The man did nothing.  He didn’t heal himself, he didn’t make his own life better.  All he did was respond to Jesus.

That’s all you have to do – respond.  When Jesus commands, listen and respond.

April 17 - Signs and Wonders

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17 – Signs and Wonders

When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country). When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:43-54)

In yesterday’s reading, we saw that the Samaritans had to see Jesus so that they could believe.  Today we find that there are plenty of people that need some kind of sign so that they will believe.  Jesus wanted more from these people, but He knew what was required to help their unbelief … signs and wonders.

We seem to want the same things to happen for us, don’t we!  We want to see the big miracles and signs and wonders.  We want to experience the glory of the Lord in all His supernatural self.  The funny thing is, when we do get a chance to see a miracle, we want more.  We aren’t satisfied with one.  We forget it as quickly as it happens and the next time we fret over a bad situation or a tough problem, we beg for something miraculous to happen again so that our faith is comforted.

Now, while l could easily make us feel guilty about that, the point of this story is that Jesus understood our need for signs and wonders.  He might not have liked it – the story kind of implies that, but doesn’t really say it.  However … He gets it.  More than we ourselves understand, Jesus knows our desperate need for assurance. 

When a child comes to us begging for attention with a scraped knee or a bruised forehead, the last thing we would do is say, “You know it will get better on its own – just give it time,” and then turn aside to something else.  No, we stop and tend to the problem, offering assurances and love.

We treat our friends and family better than we expect God to treat us!  When they need assurance of our love and affection, we’re glad to give it to them and feel awful if we haven’t seen their need.  Why would God not want to offer that some level of love and affection to us, with assurance of His grace and mercy.

Signs and wonders may not always accompany His love for us, but don’t ever shy away from asking for His attention.  He wants to pour out His love and blessings on us as part of the relationship He has with us.

April 16 - We Heard for Ourselves

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 16 – We Heard for Ourselves

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42)

Who is it that you trust implicitly to tell you the truth?

When I was young and heard stories of aliens in Roswell, the Yeti, the Loch Ness monster, UFOs hovering in our skies, etc., etc., I wanted someone to tell me the truth.  I knew that in my heart I couldn’t believe these stories – they were obviously fake.  I had seen enough illusionists and magicians to have a healthy respect for those who purport one thing, yet disguise the truth.

I desperately wanted any of those fantastic, mythical things to be true, but I knew that unless someone I trusted … without a doubt … told me, I wasn’t going to believe them.  I suppose what I wanted was for my mother to encounter an alien.  If she told me that it had happened, I would know that it was true.

The woman at the well went back to her city and told them that the Messiah was there … in their community … in the flesh.  After all she had done, after all she had been through, they believed her – at least enough to invite Jesus to stay with them.

After He had spent two days with them, they no longer questioned the veracity of her statements because they had heard for themselves from the Messiah Himself and they believed Him.

The world needs to see Jesus for itself.  And today there is only one way for the world to meet Him … through us.  We can’t be simply good people and when we say that we believe in Jesus Christ, it has to be full-on truth.  We live in a world filled with cynics who find it easier to question the truth than to believe the truth.

The truth has to be in us – the Savior of the world must live within us and radiate from every pore of our being so that when we encounter those who don’t know Him, they will want nothing more than to meet Him for themselves and know that He is their Messiah.

April 15 - The Harvest

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15 – The Harvest

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:27-38)

I read some of these passages and am not at all surprised that the disciples … and everyone else … were confused by the things that came out of Jesus’ mouth.

They think He might be hungry and all of a sudden Jesus is talking to them about spiritual food.  Then, He quickly moves to the harvest.  Before they can wrap their minds around a physical harvest of grain, Jesus wrenches them along another spiritual idea regarding the spiritual harvest of souls.

Those poor guys didn’t have a chance.  If you think about it – the probability of you understanding this passage without a history of knowing the basics of Jesus’ teaching is low.  We are fortunate to have His fulfilled life, death and resurrection, Paul’s teachings and centuries of interpretation behind us as we approach these difficult passages.

John the Baptist is one of many who have sown the seed of repentance among those that Jesus and His disciples are preaching to.  God has been preparing the harvest for quite some time.  His Kingdom is at hand. 

We see in Revelation that when Jesus comes, He will come to gather the harvest:

“I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his hand and a sharp sickle in his hand.  Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’” (Rev. 14:14-16)

The fields are ripe for harvest.  Whether the time for reaping is now or sometime in the future doesn’t change that.  Jesus Christ has come, is coming and will come to gather the harvest. 

April 14 - Worship

April 14 - Worship

Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:20-26)

It didn’t take long for the people of God to begin worshiping Him outside of Jerusalem.  After Jesus’ crucifixion, humanity no longer held God’s presence only in the Temple of Jerusalem, or in the Samaritan’s case – on the mountain she was standing upon.  With the ripping of that curtain at the moment of His death, we were allowed to come into His presence fully … on our own, without a priest to intercede for us.  Worship became a natural part of our relationship with God.

While we might give lip service to the idea of worship flowing throughout our lives, few of us really mean it.  It is more than sitting down and standing up on a Sunday morning for an hour as part of a structured service.  It is more than lifting our eyes to the heavens and taking in the glories of God’s creation. It is more than taking a few moments out of our day and acknowledging the greatness of our Creator.  It is all of those things … and more.

In Revelation we see all of creation bowing before the throne in heaven … over and over.  I’ve had many people worry that this will be boring for them once they get to heaven.  They have plans for all of eternity and standing around in white robes singing the same words over and over aren’t part of those plans.

But, I believe that is where our hearts should always be.  Those standing in heaven are clothed in white robes – covered in righteousness.  Psalm 51 says:

“…wash me and I will be whiter than snow … create in me a pure heart, O God.” (Ps. 51: 7b, 10a).  What if those white robes represent our cleansed hearts?  Those hearts can be in the presence of God right now!  We don’t have to wait until we are bodily in heaven to worship in the throneroom. 

What if while we were doing the things that we do during our day our hearts were in the presence of God singing out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

How would this change our daily lives?  When we stand in the presence of God worshipping Him, we reflect that glory to the world around us.

Jesus came to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  It isn’t far away … waiting for us to die.  It is right now.  We can worship God right now.  We can be in the throne room with Him no matter what is happening in our lives.

Worship Him in Spirit and truth.  Worship Him with everything you have.  Your location doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be on the mountain or in Jerusalem, you just have to be.

April 13 – Are You Greater Than ...?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 13 – Are You Greater Than ...?

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”  He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.  Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. (John 4:11-19)

Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?

Isn’t this the question we continually ask of Jesus?  Are you greater than this or that problem? Are you greater than our own weakness and our strong will?  Are you greater than our fears? Are you greater than our anger? Are you greater than the pain we lived with when we were children or kids, high schoolers or in college?  Are you greater than the loss we feel at the death of those we love?

Are you greater, Jesus … than all of these things that press in on us day after day?

Jesus doesn’t necessarily answer the Samaritan woman.

What He tells her is that He offers living water than will transform her.  This water will become a spring of water that wells up inside and will lead to eternal life.

I am absolutely fascinated by the power of water.  It cleanses, dilutes, quenches thirst, erodes mountains to nothing, nourishes life, is the home for much more life.  Water is an incredible gift from God.

Living water has the power to do all of that and more.  It is transformative.  The living water that Jesus offers will transform our fears, give us strength, offer hope, relieve stress, heal memories, comfort loss … Jesus has that power. 

Yes, He is greater than Jacob and greater than anything we can present to Him.  But, it isn’t just about Who He is … it is what He offers to us.  All we have to do is say ‘yes.’

April 12 - Living Water

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12 – Living Water

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:1-10)

On Jesus way back to Galilee, he had to pass through Samaria.  Back in 2 Kings 17:24-41, we find that this group of Jews had been settled in Samaria by the King of Assyria.  Though they taught the locals about the Lord, there was intermarriage and worship of other gods.  It continued down through the centuries and there was such a break between the two groups of Jews, they never were able to blend again.  

For a true Jew to spend any time with a Samaritan was heinous and for a Jewish religious man such as Jesus to communicate with a Samaritan AND a woman was despicable behavior.  But, there it was – about noon.  Jesus would have been tired and thirsty.  Jacob’s well, a popular landmark was right there and down beneath the ground was cool water.

Did Jesus know that He was about to have an encounter with a woman who needed to meet Him?  I believe God ensured that this took place, just as I believe God sets Jesus in front of us when we most need to meet Him.

Jesus asked her for water, which startled the poor woman.  She couldn’t even imagine that He would speak with her, much less ask something of her. 

Then, He began to identify Himself for her.  This moment moves Jesus out of simply caring for those who believed they were the true children of Israel into caring for all of God’s children … even those who had been ostracized.

Jesus didn’t care about who He spoke with.  The poor, the Samaritans, the broken, the dirty, the heathens, the sick … He wanted to share His Father with everyone.  That’s a good model for us today – whether we like it or not.

April 11 - I Must Become Less

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11 – I Must Become Less

After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:22-36)

In my Church Doctrine class this last week we spent time looking at the spiritual gifts and Paul’s varying lists.  The one thing that I took away from that lesson was that these gifts were always to be used for the greater good of the community and never for the greater good of the individual.

Leadership is a big deal these days.  There are books, classes, lectures, seminars and even more books that are offered to help a person become a successful leader.  It is a big deal in the church.  We seem to always be looking for ways to make a person into a great leader.

But the great leaders of the church were not what we think.  Paul was a great leader of the church, yet he is never seen as part of the foundational leadership for any single church.  He built others up to take those roles, supporting them and encouraging them.

John Wesley’s leadership came as a result of his teaching others to take the message out to the wilderness.  He could preach a heckuva sermon, but he is best remembered for putting together an organization that would live long after he had died.

Martin Luther King’s leadership came as a result of his willingness to serve.

John the Baptist had a few followers that were a little defensive for him.  They weren’t too sure about this preacher on the other side of the river who was getting more attention than their leader.  He knew that he needed to become less so that Jesus would gain that attention.

That is what we need to do as well.  Our leadership comes when we are serving … when we bow out of the limelight so that Jesus Christ shines through us.  It is when the world sees Him instead of us that we truly become the leaders God calls.

April 10 - Light Has Come Into the World

April 10 – Light Has Come Into the World

 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:9-21)

Jesus shows His frustration with Nicodemus who should be a spiritual leader for Israel, yet can’t understand what Jesus is teaching.

One of the things the Pharisees and Sadducees were famous for was holding to the letter of the Law.  They argued with Jesus constantly over the little things – and even some of the big things.  But if you look closely at the things they argued with Jesus about, they generally had more to do with keeping an eye on everyone’s behavior than with expressing the love and grace of God.

They were so focused on the negative aspects of the Law that they had forgotten the joy and peace that God offered to His people.

God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.

It occurs to me that God probably didn’t need anyone else to condemn the world – the religious types were doing that for Him.  They reminded Him every moment of the day about the people’s sin. 

Focus on sin remains a part of our religious life today.  It is easier to focus on sins – be they big or little – than to simply love others and tell about how Jesus wants to offer them eternal life.  Preachers and politicians have made a lot of money and gotten a lot of attention by focusing on the sin of the world … the darkness.

We have the light of the world living within our hearts and yet we spend so much time looking at the darkness, we forget to allow that light to shine.

In Galatians 5:22, Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  These behaviors are what shine that light on the world.  We don’t see judgment, condemnation, harassment, or anything like that in light.

April 9 - Born Again?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9 – Born Again?

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

It just all makes so much sense when Jesus explains, doesn’t it!  But that didn’t happen easily for Nicodemus, so Jesus went a little further.

The see the kingdom of God, we have to be born again.

Athanasius (very ancient church father) tells us that Jesus came to redeem the sin that came into the world when Adam and Eve chose to disobey the only commandment God gave to them.  From that point forward, sin entered the world and humanity found it easier to live in sin than to live in complete relationship with God.  No matter what we want or what we try to do, we can’t escape the relationship we have with sin.

When Jesus came to earth, He redeemed the world from that sin.  We are no longer held captive to it.  His life, death and resurrection offered the world a chance at re-creation, re-birth, re-newal. 

When we are born (as all of us are), we come into the world as flesh and blood … Jesus says that we have to then be re-born along with Him.  This is the connection that we make with God through the Spirit.  Re-birth, re-creation, re-newal.  We are made new and the great chasm the sin placed between us and God is bridged.

We must be born again.

And just as the wind is invisible and mysterious … we know that it’s there, but we can’t see it … we can only see the effect of the wind, we can only experience it … so, too is life in the Spirit.
The world won’t understand it, there are those that will never understand why we follow Christ.  But, the effect is just as real in our lives and in our impact on that same world.

April 8 - Show Us a Sign!

April 8 – Show Us a Sign!

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:12-25)

After the wedding party, Jesus retreats for a few days and then heads to Jerusalem for the Passover.  This is a couple of years prior to the Passover which signifies the end of His life.  Do you notice the bookends of His ministry?  He wasn’t ready to begin His ministry at the wedding, but His mother pushed Him to do so.  Here we are at Passover, though and Jesus makes quite a public appearance – driving animals from the temple, tossing tables and scattering coins.  This is a way to attract attention!  Jesus clearly begins His ministry in a very active manner.

Now, if something like this happened in a public marketplace today, the crazy person would be hauled away by the local police.  In Jesus’ day, though, they were ready to listen to Him and wondered what it was that He might have to say.  If He was going to say something important, they did want to see some miraculous signs to back up His claims.

When He prophesied regarding His death and resurrection, they didn’t understand … that isn’t surprising.  John ensures that we know His disciples remembered these words after the resurrection.  The beginning of Jesus’ ministry was as important as the end.  Jesus brings cohesion to the entire event.

He did perform signs and wonders while He was in Jerusalem and many people believed.  He wasn’t ready to trust them … He knew what was in their hearts.

Does that last sentence impact you at all?  It does me.  Jesus knows my heart.  He knows yours.  Can He trust you with His life and power?

April 7 - Successful Wedding Reception!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April 7 – Successful Wedding Reception!

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

There are some unspoken assumptions that can be made here.  First of all, Jesus’ mother expected that He would be able to perform some type of miracle when she told him about the wine situation.  I doubt that she was complaining to Him or just making a comment … there was expectation in her words.  That makes a person wonder what type of life they had with Him as a child and young man.  However, since none of that is written in the gospels, we can only imagine.

She had such confidence in her son, that she didn’t let Him get away with trying to duck out of the situation.  When He protested, she ignored Him (like any good mother would do) and told the servants to do whatever it was that He told them to do.

More than likely, they were at the wedding of a friend.  Someone who was close enough to Mary and Jesus that she felt comfortable ordering the servants around.  Jesus was there with His mother as well as His disciples.  Now, in that day – a wedding was a community event and no one in the community would be excluded. However, some of the disciples were from different communities and would have been known as Jesus disciples … not just friends.  These men were there to be taught by Jesus and to live as He led them.  They had given up their livelihoods to spend time learning with Him.

This family having the wedding was close enough to Mary and Jesus that they simply accepted His disciples as part of the family.

Did you notice the first sentence of this passage?  “On the third day …” If you look back at John 1:35, you see “The next day…”  This happens immediately after John baptized Jesus.  Then, in John 1:45, the words happen again, “The next day …” 

The writer of this Gospel is trying to put the beginning of Jesus’ ministry into context.  He was baptized.  The next day He began calling His disciples. On day two He called Philip and Nathanael.  The third day, He performed His first public miracle.  It didn’t take long for His ministry to get up and running.

Jesus was a man of action.  As soon as God anointed Him through the Baptism, He began His ministry.  There was no sitting around praying about what would come next or making a plan and hoping to set it into motion … He went into motion as quickly as possible.  The kingdom of God was at hand!  And now … the Kingdom of God IS at hand.

April 6 - You Will See Greater Things

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 6 – You Will See Greater Things

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”  Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

One of the greatest things we can do as Christians is to tell others about Jesus. We might think that it is important to go to church on Sundays or do good deeds or be a good person or be extra holy so that people will see Jesus in our lives, but that’s not it.  The first thing that Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him about the Messiah.  The first thing Philip did was to find his friend Nathanael and tell him about Jesus.

We probably take it for granted that people already know about Jesus and have made their decision whether or not to be a Christian.  Sometimes that’s true, but it doesn’t eliminate our responsibility.

You might be surprised at those who have no concept of who Jesus is!  One Saturday several years ago, I had stopped at a florist to pick up palm branches for the next morning’s Palm Sunday worship service.  They were in my trunk when I went to Baker’s to get groceries.  A high school kid pushed my cart to the car and when I opened the trunk, he asked me what those were.  I simply said, “Palm branches for church tomorrow” thinking that would explain everything.

I was in central Omaha … the kids who worked at this particular Bakers (it’s closed now) pretty much lived in an upper middle class neighborhood.  He looked at me dumbfounded.  He had absolutely no clue what I was talking about.  This is one of the major Christian holidays in the church and he had never heard of it.  How do you get to be 17 years old and not hear of Palm Sunday?  I explained in as few words as possible and watched his eyes glaze over – he’d obviously asked too much and didn’t want to know any more from me.

I walked away from that encounter with a fresh look at my assumptions.  I could no longer blindly assume that people knew who Jesus Christ was.  That day was profound in my growth as a Christian.

Jesus calls Nathanael by name, a pretty impressive thing when they had never met before.  That little miracle was enough for Nathanael to join the twelve and Jesus knew it.  Jesus promised him though, that he would see more amazing things than that during the rest of his lifetime because he had met Jesus. 

That same promise is made to us.  Maybe we are more aware of the astounding things that happen around us because of our awareness of God’s activity in the world.  Maybe we look for the miracles that occur because we are open to believing in them.  But, the truth of the matter is … when you know Jesus Christ personally … astounding things happen both great and small.

April 5 - The First Disciples

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April 5 – The First Disciples

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:35-42)

There are a couple of wonderful things to see in this passage.  The first is the loss of two of John’s disciples to Jesus.  I’m not so sure that John lost them as much as he nudged them toward the Messiah.  All it took was for him to announce that Jesus was the Lamb of God and they turned away from the man who called for repentance, to the man who would take away the sins of the world.

The Greek word used in verse 37, “…they followed Jesus” means more than parading around after a man.  The deeper meaning behind it is that this is the beginning of their training with Him.  John didn’t just point Jesus out at random.  He intended for these two to leave His discipleship and begin a greater time of learning.

Andrew was one of John’s disciples.  He spent the day with Jesus and then went to get Peter, his brother.

While John has announced the coming of the Messiah, Andrew states clearly that Jesus is who they have been waiting for. 

The Jews had been waiting for several thousand years for the coming of the Messiah and all of a sudden … here He was!  Can you imagine?  A day will come when we see Him returning and I can barely imagine the emotions that we will encounter.

So … after several thousand years of anticipation, we should read wonder and excitement in Andrew’s words to his brother. 

April 4 - The Lamb of God

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4 – The Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”  (John 1:29-34)

Before Jesus begins His ministry, John the Baptist identifies Him as the Lamb of God.  He is and will be the sacrifice, the perfect offering which will remove sin from the world.

John is the only one of the Gospel writers to use this terminology for Jesus (Lamb).  We see it again in the Revelation.  The Lamb is a central figure in the throne room. When we first see Him though, the sacrifice has already been completed:

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.  He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6)

The verse just previous is as amazing in its description as this verse:  “…See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:4)

Jesus Christ, is the Lion of the Judah and the Lamb of God.  He is the King of all and the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Only in Him can we find redemption.

One of the profound doctrines of Christianity is that of the Trinity.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in a manner that is nearly impossible to comprehend and, though never delineated in scripture as the Trinity itself, these three are found together at important times. 

The Baptism of Jesus is one of those times.  The Father speaks, the Son will baptize, the Spirit will indwell.  Moments like this in the ministry of Jesus remind us of the power of the mystery, the glory of the possibilities and the blessings of God that fill our lives.  We may not be able to understand it all, but we know that God is in His Son and sends the Spirit to dwell within us and guide us.

April 3 - John's Testimony

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 3 – John’s Testimony

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ” 

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

One of the things that strikes me about this passage is that the learned and scholarly people of Jesus’ time were in such anticipation of the coming Messiah that they were looking for Him everywhere!  There was an expectation of His arrival and they recognized the signs, though they didn’t recognize the truth.

Our culture has become so cynical that we no longer have an expectation of great things; we no longer anticipate the arrival of the Divine in our midst.  The first thing we assume (and generally rightly so) is that when a person announces He has been sent by God, He is obviously a nut.

The first thing the Pharisees wanted to know about John was if He was … the Messiah (Christ) … Elijah … or the Prophet.

The question regarding the Prophet may come from their knowledge of Deuteronomy 18:15 when Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.”

This discussion between John and the Pharisees illuminates the desperate need for transformation within the people of Israel.  The Messiah, Elijah and a reflection of Moses all signified important moments for change in God’s relationship to His people. 

John wasn’t to be the instrument of change, but He was there to as the precursor.  He brought a ministry of repentance.  “I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11).  He announced the coming of the Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:12). 

Change was coming for the people of Israel … the Pharisees sensed it as John tried to prepare them for it. 

Do you sense change coming? 

April 2 - A Man Sent From God

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April 2 – A Man Sent From God

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:6-13)

Do you have those people in your life that always seem to outshine you?  No matter how successful or happy you are – their lives seem to be that much better.  If you have a great life – theirs is fabulous!

John’s was his cousin and yet, it never occurred to him to be jealous or worried about his own place in life.  All that he was, all that he had, all that he ever wanted to be was used by God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

He never wanted to be the light of the world.  All John wanted was for people to listen to him as he proclaimed the coming of the One who was the Word of God – the Logos, the Word of Creation, the Light that shines in the darkness.

John’s life would be cut short by an evil man (Herod), but before that happened, he fulfilled his purpose in life – to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

As crazy as it might sound in today’s culture, that is also our purpose, though we seem to have lost sight of it.  We are to proclaim the message of the Messiah, the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ in our own lives.  We are to be the messenger to today’s world. 

April 1 - The Word Made Flesh

Friday, April 1, 2011

April 1 – The Word Made Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  The Word became flesh and lived for a while 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 (John 1:1-5, 14).

The Greek word used in this passage for ‘Word’ is ‘logos.’  This concept comes from Greek philosophy.  They used it to mean simply a word or even the idea of debate.  A century or so before Jesus was born, the Stoics (another branch of Greek philosophy) applied the term to what they understood as the divine creator of the universe – not necessarily God, but what today we might call, the Intelligent Designer.

Philo was a Jewish philosopher who adopted the concept of the Logos to the Jewish idea of God.  John taught the idea of the Logos as that through which all things are created and Jesus Christ is the incarnation (the human experience) of the Divine.

John doesn’t focus on the birth of Christ into human form, but rather the connection of Jesus Christ to God and to the beginning of creation.  His Gospel affirms all throughout that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – the Lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world.  When questions arose about the divinity of Jesus, John’s Gospel was there to offer answers. 

Jesus Christ was with God in the beginning.  He was God.  He wasn’t created by God, He was God.  He was the Word that God spoke when He said, “Let there be light, let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water, let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, let the land produce vegetation, let the water teem with living creatures, let the land produce living creatures, and finally … let us make man in our image.”

Jesus came to the world when the time was right.  He came from the Father.  While it is difficult to understand the mystery of the Trinity and then the mystery of the combination of humanity and the divine in one person, John simply wants us to know who the man, Jesus was.  These words are from a man who knew Him well and wanted to ensure that the world did so as well.