A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Friday, December 21, 2012

John 5:39-40, 45-47 "A Sad Plight"

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life....“Yet it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes.  If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.  But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”

 In Jesus day, many religious leaders searched and studied the Scriptures.  They had a high regard for Scripture.  They believed and taught that Scripture was given by God and inspired by God.  So, they memorized Scripture and quoted Scripture and argued Scripture.  They immersed themselves in Scripture -and yet, they missed something vital that ended up condemning them instead of saving them.  They missed that the entire Old Testament was pointing to the coming of Messiah (Jesus).  As a result, they rejected Jesus, and having rejected their one hope of salvation, were by default condemned.  A sad plight.

Today, many Christians have a similar issue with the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Believing that all we need is Scripture, they immerse themselves in Scripture, memorize Scripture, argue Scripture, quote Scripture, and yet still deny what the Scriptures themselves tell us concerning the Holy Spirit.  Nobody reading Scripture could ever come to the conclusion that all we need for effective ministry and godly living is Scripture -the Scriptures don't teach that.  The Scriptures teach us and show us about lives lived in intimate communion with the Holy Spirit, receiving intimate and personal revelation through prayer, healing the sick through the laying on of hands, living in the everyday prophetic -words of knowledge and wisdom and insight, etc.  This is all part of what sets Christianity apart from every other world religion.  This is the difference between religion and relationship.  The Holy Spirit actually indwells us -lives in us.  Why would any Believer want to deny the awesome, intimate power that is inherent in the reality of God in us?

Scripture is wonderful.  It is God's word.  It is a gift from God.  It is useful for such things as teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  Scripture is from God, but it is not God.  It is not incidental that God's plan for His people includes the Holy Spirit in us ministering to us and through us.  This reality makes it possible for us to literally be the Body of Christ.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

John 5:17-24 "Was Jesus God?"

The Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules.  But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”  So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.
 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does....Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.
“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life."

The central issue of Christianity has to do with Jesus.  As Christians we believe that Jesus was/is the Jewish Messiah sent by God;  based upon the claims of Jesus and the eyewitnesses to His actions and teachings -and then later, our own experiences with God through Jesus, we also believe that Jesus was not merely sent by God, He was/is God.  Not that He is a different God than the Father or the Holy Spirit, but that all three persons -Father, Son and Holy Spirit comprise one God.

Many people assume that Jesus never claimed to be God.  This is wrong.  The religious rulers of the day decided that Jesus had to be executed because of these very claims.  In our passage today we hear Jesus saying that God is His Father, that He does everything that God does, that we cannot worship God without also worshiping Him, and that spiritual life is only found in Him.

Since Jesus made these outrageous claims, we cannot believe that Jesus was simply a good moral teacher.  Good moral teachers do not claim to be God.  Good moral teachers do not redirect glory and worship from God to themselves.  Good moral teachers do not claim to hold the power to forgive men's sins and offer eternal spiritual life.

Either Jesus was who He claimed to be -in which case He was a good moral teacher, a prophet, the Messiah, and God -or He was a treacherous liar of the worst kind.  I believe He is who He claimed to be.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

John 5:8-13 "Keeping the List"

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,  and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

One of the problems with legalism (religion based upon rules) is that it always ends up as keeping a checklist of does and don'ts rather than allowing attitudes and behaviors to be shaped by love for God.  Legalism does not produce either intimacy or relationship -the best that can be said is "I kept the rules."

Because life is complicated, however, and every contingency can not possibly be covered by a list, rules need to be interpreted.  This where legalism becomes a slippery slope.  Because keeping a list of rules does not produce intimacy or relationship, legalists cannot use knowledge of God or God's heart or God's character as a basis for interpreting God's rules.  Instead, they must interpret the rules with their own unspiritual understanding and thinking -which usually results in more rules that are not necessarily God's rules.

Even worse, legalists seem to think that the best way to prove their zeal for God is by forcing their new man-made rules onto everyone else.  What always results eventually is people sincerely believing that they are serving God by imposing rules that are actually contrary to God's desires.   We see an example of that in this story.

God's law was simply that we should not work on the Sabbath -and instead keep it set apart as a day to remember Him and worship Him.  The temple leaders decided that Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath was work and that the healed man picking up his mat and walking home was work.  Instead of their hearts being moved to worship such a compassionate, loving, merciful God (as evidenced by the healing), their hearts were moved to anger because they believed rules had been broken.

In the big picture, this legalism trap can be avoided by actually learning to love God and love others -by making what Jesus called the greatest commandment primary.  Jesus said if we could love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves, the law would end up being fulfilled.  

We might wonder, then, are God's rules and laws irrelevant?  Not at all.  They set the proper boundaries for our lives.  It's just that we cannot interpret them correctly by adding new rules -we only interpret God's rules correctly in light of His love.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

John 5:1-8 "Healing Choices"

After this, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a religious festival.  Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool with five porches; in Hebrew it is called Bethzatha.  A large crowd of sick people were lying on the porches—the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.  A man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him lying there, and he knew that the man had been sick for such a long time; so he asked him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered, “Sir, I don't have anyone here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am trying to get in, somebody else gets there first.”
Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” 

 This has always been an interesting passage to me because of the sick man's response to Jesus.  Local legend said that an angel occasionally stirred the waters of the pool of Bethesda (Bethzatha) and that the first sick person to enter the water after it had be stirred would be healed of any physical ailments.  The Bible doesn't teach that this was true, just that the local people believed it.

Evidently, this particular man who was an invalid and could not walk had been coming to the pool for 38 years.  Jesus saw him laying there beside the pool on a mat and was moved with compassion.   He asked the man, "Do you want to be well?"

We would think that the man would say, "Of course I want to be well!  That's why I'm here.  I want to walk and run and jump. Yes, I want to be well."  But that's not what the man said.  Instead, he responded with an excuse of sorts.  he explained why he would never be well..."I don't have anyone to help me..."  

It seems that his physical condition had become his identity.  He was the poor lame man with nobody to help him and that's just the way things were.  In this story, of course, Jesus healed him anyway.

As I read this, I am reminded of how much we are just like this lame man.  We have all sorts of physical, spiritual and emotional problems that Jesus is willing to heal.  He asks, "Do you want to be well?" And in our hearts we put up walls and refuse to hope and decide not to risk exercising the faith to believe that Jesus has something better for us than our current damaged, broken condition.  We have taken our identities in sin and shame instead of in Christ.  Yet Jesus continues to ask us, "Do you want to be well?"

Sometimes the right response is simply, "Yes, Lord Jesus, I want to be well."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John 4:46-53 "A Kingdom Compassion"

There was a certain royal official whose son was ill at Capernaum.  When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and pleaded with Him to come down and heal his son, for he was about to die.
 Jesus told him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
 “Sir,” the official said to Him, “come down before my boy dies!”
 “Go,” Jesus told him, “your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and departed.
 While he was still going down, his slaves met him saying that his boy was alive.  He asked them at what time he got better. 
“Yesterday at seven in the morning the fever left him,” they answered.  The father realized this was the very hour at which Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” Then he himself believed, along with his whole household.

 Jesus was, of course, the promised Messiah.  His teaching while He walked the earth focused on the Kingdom of God.  Many of the miracles He performed were simply signs to verify who He was.  As Messiah, His desire was that people (His people -the Jews) would see the miracles and listen to His teaching and understand that His Kingdom was spiritual, and that by believing in who He was and accepting His teaching they could enter into a whole new experience and understanding with God because the Kingdom had arrived.  That was His desire.

His experience, however, was that people were not very much interested in a spiritual kingdom.  People enjoyed seeing miracles and wonders and they longed for freedom from bondage to Rome, but they didn't much care for the reality of the actual Kingdom or the actual Messiah.

Although Jesus' statement to the dying boy's father seems a little curt, it is true.  People did not easily believe the actual truth.  Nicodemus who had met with Jesus at night, believed that Jesus was from God, but at first could not accept the truth of the Kingdom.  The Samaritan woman's first response to a spiritual invitation was purely physical.  People wanted signs and wonders, not truth.

 Nevertheless, Jesus had a Kingdom sized compassion.  Even though people were not ready to accept the whole truth, He preached the Good News; He delivered the demonically oppressed; He brought dignity and justice to the downtrodden; He brought freedom to those living in spiritual bondage; He healed the sick.  And as a result, some believed.

We are not so different than Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman or this court official.  We sometimes need convincing.  We need to experience the reality of the Kingdom before we believe it.  Because Jesus still has a Kingdom compassion, He allows us to experience first and believe second.  Once we have experienced the reality of the Kingdom, however, we need to live it out.  We need to preach the Good News, and deliver the demonically oppressed, and give dignity and respect to the poor, and set free those who live in bondage, and heal the sick.  This is what Jesus did, and it is what we are now called and empowered to do.  The world doesn't know it and certainly doesn't understand it, but the world depends on it.  This isn't just about religion, it is about the actual Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it and demonstrated it.  We are His Body.  We are His presence in this world.  We need to live in His Kingdom.

Monday, October 8, 2012

John 4:35-38 "The Harvest"

You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.  The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!  You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true.  I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”

 Jesus illustrates here the difference between the natural and the supernatural.  In the natural the harvest cycle was four months between planting and harvesting.  Plowing and planting was hard work. When the work was done, there was a natural waiting period that could not be rushed.  It took four months for the seeds to sprout, grow and mature.  

Because of the delay, it makes sense that often the hired crew that worked the harvest were different than the hired crew that did the planting.  This is the natural.  In this story, however, Jesus just planted spiritual seed by speaking to an outcast Samaritan woman whose heart God had already prepared.  The right words spoken at the right time under the guidance of the Holy Spirit produced an immediate harvest -no long wait.  Jesus spoke, she responded and brought her entire village to hear Jesus, and many believed.  There was a supernatural harvest in the spiritual sense because Jesus was co-operating with the Spirit, planting where the Spirit had already been at work.

In the natural, we might assume that some educated person ought to come to this village where people are spiritually hungry and begin a teaching ministry with the hope that eventually there would be enough spiritual understanding to produce a spiritual harvest.  When we are co-operating with the Holy Spirit, however, speaking when He says speak -and speaking the words He says to speak, not relying only upon our learning and studying and demographic profiles and five year plans, we can expect a supernatural harvest.

There is nothing wrong with planning and studying.  In fact, we ought to do those things -we ought to prepare.  But at the same time, we should not only rely on natural methods if we want to participate in supernatural ministry; we ought to always be seeking the Spirit about when and where and what to speak.  There are always people in whom God is already working.  When we plant where the Holy Spirit has already cultivated the soil, the harvest is plentiful -it transcends the natural.  

How encouraging it is to work in conjunction with the Spirit -to work where God is working.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

John 4:23-24 "Spirit and Truth"

"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 Old Testament Law prescribed how to worship.  This is what the Samaritan woman was alluding to when she said, "Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

 According to both tradition and Law, if at all possible, people were supposed to go to the Temple in Jerusalem during the holy days and make sacrifice at the Temple.  There were all sorts of sacrifices and reasons to make them.  There were grain sacrifices and oil sacrifices and animal sacrifices ranging from small to large (doves, goats, lambs, cattle, etc.).  Smaller sacrifices could be made to give thanks and show gratitude.  Larger sacrifices were made for the atonement of sin.  Sacrifices could also be made to seal vows.  And once a year a priest would enter the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, and make a special sacrifice for the sin of the entire nation of Israel.

Making sacrifices at the Temple was a ritualistic act of worship that the Law demanded.  It might engage the emotions and the spirit, or it might not; since it was the Law, it didn't really matter as long as the sacrifice was correctly made.

But everything changed when Messiah came.  Jesus claimed that the entire Law was fulfilled (accomplished brought to completion) in Him.  The Old Testament laws were never God's ultimate plan.  Because the Law was fulfilled in Christ, there is now a new freedom in worship that is not about a location or a ritual.  This new worship is what God has always desired.

This new, authentic worship that God is seeking involves our emotions (spirit) and our minds (truth).  It is not about where we are, it is about who we are.  It is about consciously and intentionally giving our whole selves to Him.  This can be done any time and any place.    It happens as we sing to Him.  It happens as we pray.  It happens as we lie in bed at night and think of Him.  It happens as we give water to a thirsty person or food to the hungry or a blanket to the poor and cold.  Authentic worship happens wherever in spirit and truth we are aware of God's presence with us and we realize His love.  It is real.  it is intimate. It is meaningful.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

John 4:10-14 "Living Water"

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.”
 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living waterAre 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 those who drink 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 Middle Eastern climate can be harsh and dry.  Water is necessary for life everywhere in the world, but in regions where water is not readily available, it becomes a commodity.  A well is a valuable resource.  Evidently, this little town's claim to fame was the well, centuries old, that was dug by Jacob, grandson of Abraham.  The well was deep.  The water was good.  It sustained life.

In this conversation with an outcast Samaritan woman, when Jesus referred to Himself as the source of living water, His language was not incidental.  He was intentionally wanting her (and us) to understand something basic.

First, Jesus is saying something about His identity.  And then, He is commenting on a spiritual principle related to His identity.  To grasp the importance of what Jesus is saying, it might be helpful to remember what God had told the Israelites  through the prophet Jeremiah:  "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13)

When Jesus refers to Himself as the source of living water, He is making the same claim that God had previously made -Jesus was identifying Himself as God.  And by doing this, He is also alluding to the rest of that prophecy from Jeremiah.  He is claiming that no other well, no other cistern, no other source of water can give life in the way that He can give it -and that seeking life elsewhere is sin.

We all have a spiritual thirst.  It's how God created us.  Some people try to quench the thirst with other (manmade) religions.  Some people try to quench the thirst with science and logic and man's best thinking.  Others try to quench it with family, or careers or money or fame or power.  None of those things truly quench the spiritual thirst because our spiritual thirst was uniquely designed by God to be quenched only by the Living Water we find in Him.  Every attempt to quench our spiritual thirst outside of Jesus Christ is like digging cisterns that can't hold water.  

Unfortunately, although the broken spiritual cisterns we create can't hold water, and therefore cannot sustain spiritual peace or joy -they can't really support life -they can, it seems, sometimes slake our thirst just enough to keep us returning to the broken cisterns. This, clearly, is not God's plan for us.

In Isaiah 55:1-3, God invites us (seriously -an invitation by God Himself) to let go of all those things that take the edge off of our spiritual hunger and thirst but that do not actually satisfy.  Instead, we are invited to find sustenance and life in Him:

 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

John 4:7-26 (part one) "Scandalous"

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.”
 “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.”
“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—  for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”
 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

There are so many layers of good things in this story from John 4.  I'm not even sure exactly how to approach writing my thoughts about them without it turning into a sermon (and nobody really wants that).  So I think I'm just going to do several short posts going back and forth over various parts of the bigger passage, highlighting different things.

The audacity of Jesus to even talked to this woman.  First, she was a woman.  Proper Jewish men did not talk to women in public.  Scandalous.  Even more scandalous was that she was a Samaritan.  As she herself pointed out, Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  There is a reason for that -especially among righteous Jews.

The short version of Jewish history is that after the Babylonians conquered Israel and carried away many of the strongest and prettiest and brightest into captivity in Babylon, they sent people from other lands they had conquered to repopulate Israel.  These new people in the land, of course, brought with them all of their foreign gods.  The Jews who remained began intermarrying with the foreigners and worshiping their gods, while still affirming the one true God.  The result was that neither their bloodlines nor their religion remained purely Jewish.  On the other hand, the Jews who had been sent into exile and captivity, refused to intermarry and continued to worship God.  After 70 years (as told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah) the exiled Jews returned to Israel to find these impure half-breeds claiming to be Jews.  These half-breeds were the Samaritans.

So in this story, we find this Samaritan woman arriving at the well in the middle of the day -the heat of the day.  Other women from the town all came early in the morning before it got too hot.  They came together; there was comradery and fellowship and chatter -and no doubt gossip.  Almost by definition, this woman alone in the heat of the day means she was an outcast.  Maybe she preferred  the heat and dust and loneliness to the gossip because maybe too much of the gossip was about her.  In fact, we find out later that she had been married to five different men and that she was currently living with another man to whom she was not married.

This lonely outcast Samaritan that everybody knew to be a loose woman is who Jesus struck up a conversation with.  This is, in fact, the first person to whom Jesus revealed that He was the Messiah.  She was a Samaritan, but He talked to her anyway.  She was an outcast, but He treated her with dignity and respect.  He certainly knew who she was and He knew what she had done- He was not naive; but He talked to her anyway.  It's almost as if Jesus doesn't mind being a friend to sinners.  Lucky for us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

John 3:30-36 "Keeping Jesus First"

He must become more important while I become less important.  He who comes from above is greater than all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly matters, but he who comes from heaven is above all. He tells what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his message. But whoever accepts his message confirms by this that God is truthful. The one whom God has sent speaks God's words, because God gives him the fullness of his Spirit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything in his power. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not have life, but will remain under God's punishment.

John (the Baptizer) got something right that we sometimes struggle with: our ministries (whatever they are, wherever they are, and however important they are) are secondary to Jesus.  When we write it down and look at the statement, it seems obvious.  It's less obvious, though, in real life practice.

We so easily get caught up in the day to day details of whatever we are doing, that we fail to keep the main thing the main thing.  It is not difficult for any of us, especially those of us in full time ministry, to let what we do take precedence over why we do it.  It's easy to forget that it really is all about Jesus.  Everything we do -even the good things -even the wonderful things -even the meaningful and fulfilling things, mean nothing at all apart from Christ.

Even in Christian circles, we spend so much time arguing.  We argue politics and church tradition and denominational theology -it seems that most of us feel a keen need to be right about everything all of the time.  All the while, the lost are still perishing.  What the world needs to know way before doctrine and theological correctness even begin to matter is the basic truth that God loves us and sent His Son to save us.  The words and actions and teachings and example of Jesus must remain the primary teachings upon which we base our lives and ministries because He who comes from above is greater than all.  And, The one whom God has sent speaks God's words, because God gives him the fullness of his Spirit.  And, The Father loves his Son and has put everything in his power.  And, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not have life, but will remain under God's punishment.

A lot depends upon our best thinking being secondary to Christ's thinking, and our our day to day ministry being secondary to the reality of His redeeming grace.  We must always be in the process of allowing Him to increase as we decrease.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

John 3:18-21 "Exposed"

 Whoever believes in him [Jesus] 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.  Here is the basis of condemnation: 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.

Something I have noticed on the internet -on any given Christian forum, on any given day, you will find someone absolutely going off on Christians.  These people come to Christian websites and get angry that Christians believe in Jesus and love God.  It doesn't really make sense.  And yet, in light of this passage, it does.

People who love evil have a pretty big stake in the concept of no God.  If there is a God -especially if God is loving and patient and merciful and forgiving, then there is no valid excuse for pursuing evil instead of good.  So people who prefer evil (darkness) over truth and goodness (light) go to every extreme to justify their wrong thinking. 

Everyone who does evil hates the light because light exposes whatever is inside.    It is hard to keep secrets in the light.   Light exposes everything.  In fact, the light exposes evil in my heart just as it exposes the evil inside someone who hates God.  But there is an obvious difference.  Because I love God and believe and have committed myself to Jesus, I am not condemned.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  So, I have nothing to fear by my sin and wrong thinking and bad attitudes, etc. being exposed. 

To put it another way, since I desire to be right with God, being exposed simply shows me what is still there.  In a sense, for those who love God, being exposed is helpful.  We want to know the truth about ourselves because it is only when we know the truth that we can repent and allow God make the needed changes.

Interestingly, the same light that produces anger and hostility in those who hate God, produces intimacy with God in those who love Him.

Monday, July 23, 2012

John 3:16-18 "Not Condemned"

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.

 It always amazes me when Christians choose to use condemnation as a means to evangelize.  Jesus didn't.  Jesus said it clearly and plainly.  He did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world -the world that God loves so dearly.

The Good News, as reaffirmed by Paul (2 Corinthians 5:19), is that because of what Jesus has done on the cross, God is not counting people’s sins against them.  

This does not mean, of course, that there is no such thing as condemnation.  Those who refuse to be reconciled with Father through Jesus are condemned already.  They are condemned, not just at some far off time in the future -they are condemned already.  They live with a black cloud.  They live in perpetual world of spiritual pain and death.  Condemnation hangs on them like robe; it covers them like a blanket.  I believe people know this instinctively.  We know there is something wrong.  We know that things are out of whack.  Most people, I think, assume that if there is a God, He is mad.  They are not surprised at being condemned.  What many people do not realize is the depth of God's love.

While we are not surprised that our choices and actions and attitudes have alienated us from God and earned condemnation, it is hard for us to fathom that God is not angry -He, in fact, loves us and has already made provision for the consequences of our bad choices, actions and attitudes (our sin).  Jesus came, not to condemn, but to save.  All we have to do is open our hearts and believe.  This is God's gift to humanity: He does not heap on condemnation,  He rescues us from our current condemnation.

Friday, July 13, 2012

John 3:1-8 "Born Again"

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.   That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’   The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.  He was interested in who Jesus was and what He was teaching -not just because leaders need to know what is going on, but also in a personal way.   He had heard Jesus teach with authority.  He had seen Jesus heal people and do miracles.  He had concluded that God is with Jesus and that Jesus is good.  He liked Jesus, but he had questions.  Is Jesus actually the Messiah? What, exactly, is the Kingdom that Jesus is always referring to, and when, exactly will it be established?  Is there a place in this Kingdom for an old man like Nicodemus, or will the new Kingdom be all about the young people like the disciples that followed Jesus around?  Nicodemus had questions.  Some of them were sensitive questions.  And some of his questions begged other questions.  When you are a member of the ruling council, how do you ask these questions of a potential revolutionary without actually provoking a revolution?  How do you get the right information and still keep the respect of your fellow members of the council?

So, Nicodemus came by night.  He needed answers, but he was not yet ready to be seen in public with Jesus.  He came under the cloak of darkness and began, he assumed, politely.  He acknowledged that Jesus had a certain kind of authority, charisma and power that could only be from God.  He wanted to hear what Jesus had to say, but he was not expecting Jesus to look so deeply into his heart and answer the questions that were burning but had not been asked -or maybe even to answer the questions that he did not even know to ask.  Jesus cut through the niceties and clutter and political correctness and answered the most important question.  "Nicodemus, unless you are born again -unless you have an awakening that is so profound that it can only be explained as being born all over again, new life, a whole new beginning -you not only will never enter the Kingdom, but you cannot even see the Kingdom.  You need a profound and thorough transformation."

 What Jesus said to Nicodemus is fundamental to Christian faith.  This is where, in fact, we get the term "born again."  This is a key passage because what Jesus told Nicodemus is true for all of us.  We get so caught up in the thinking and the policies and the structures and the politics of this world that we cannot even see His Kingdom, let alone enter it.  Even among those of us to claim the name of Jesus and call ourselves Christians, actual Kingdom thinking is rare.  We need a transformation.  We need an awakening that is so profound that it can only be described as a rebirth -a new beginning.   
This awakening is not something that will ever happen in the natural.  It will not come through political structures and human laws.  It will not happen as a product of culture -even church culture.  This radical transformation will happen only as we realize that we were created for something bigger -something better -something supernatural.  We must put our faith in Jesus and allow Him to answer the questions of our hearts -even the questions we didn't know to ask.  We must put aside the natural and allow ourselves to be reborn in the Spirit.  There is a sense in which walking in Spirit is walking in the Kingdom, and walking in the Kingdom is a conscious choice to put aside the flesh (the natural) in favor of the divine (the supernatural).  This is an essential gift of grace from Jesus to us.  It is called being born again.  We need to be born again.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

John 2:23-25 "Trusting But Not Entrusting"

Now while Jesus was in Jerusalem during the festival of Passover, many people put their trust in his name, for they saw his miraculous signs that he was performing.  But as for Jesus, he did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all men,  and because he had no need that anyone should give evidence concerning man, for he himself knew what was in man.

This is an interesting little passage because it shows us both the heart and the wisdom of God.  People were beginning to follow Jesus around -they saw the healings and the miracles and were impressed -and began to say good things about Jesus.

When someone says good things about me, my first inner response is often something like, "what a great guy;  this person really understands me -he is on my side."  I don't necessarily think those thoughts, it's more of a feeling.  And, of course, it's human nature.  We tend to like and trust the people who like us.

But Jesus had a different response.  He chose very carefully the men He would trust (and entrust His ministry to).  Others He still treated with respect, dignity, compassion, gentleness, patience and love;  but He did not entrust His deepest, most intimate, most vulnerable self to them.  He simply understood that most people are not especially trustworthy.  Because He understood this and exercised wisdom accordingly. He did not fear man because He understood man.  He did not expect out of man what man could not give.

I do not believe that this is suggesting that we trust no one.  When we isolate and withdraw and live with suspicion and fear, we quickly become dysfunctional.  God created us to live in community.  Relationships with others are important to spiritual and emotional health.  We need to have people around that we choose to trust.  But at the same time, we need to be careful about entrusting too much of our deepest, most vulnerable selves to people who do not even have the capacity to be trustworthy.  

Not everyone who says nice things about us is trustworthy; and not everyone who is critical is an enemy.  All people -even enemies -should be treated with dignity, respect, compassion and love.  But at the same time, we should exercise wisdom concerning to whom we will entrust ourselves.  We can choose to trust and assume the best about others, but we should entrust ourselves to only a few.  If we get this right, we can live emotionally healthy lives free from the fear of man.

Friday, July 6, 2012

John 2:13-16 "Profiteers and Moneychangers"

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found men 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 area, 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! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

 The temple was filled with people who just didn't get it about the purpose and agenda and heart of God.  The area of the temple that God had designated to be used for the inclusion of Gentiles, was being used instead as a marketplace and Gentiles were simply not welcome.

The marketplace inside the temple was particularly evil because it was spiritually abusive.  The Law commanded that specific animals be sacrificed, and that the sacrificial animals be whole, unblemished, perfect and of first quality.  Naturally, when a person brought an animal into the temple for sacrifice, the temple officials felt the need to inspect to ensure appropriate quality.  And, naturally, they found blemishes and could not allow these outside animals to be sacrificed; appropriate animals, however, could be bought from the approved merchants in the temple courtyard at an exorbitant rate.  In the meantime,  the money changers were there because, obviously, Roman currency in the temple would offend God; all real money had to be exchanged for "temple" currency at an exorbitant rate.  Only temple currency could be used to buy approved animals for sacrifice.  And, of course, some of the animals that were not approved were bought cheaply and sold as approved animals to the next customers.

It is not hard to understand why Jesus was angered.  Even in the middle of the temple that was designed as a place to meet with God and worship God and experience His presence and intimacy, most people completely missed the point.  I believe they missed the point because, ultimately, they were more interested in their own agendas than they were God's agenda.

Let's jump ahead a couple of thousand years.  Since Jesus became the final sacrifice for sin, and since after the resurrection the Holy Spirit of God has endwelled Believers, the Bible claims that we have literally become the temple of God. (1 Corinthians 6:19 / 2 Corinthians 6:16)

If we are God's temples, intimacy and worship are not difficult; He lives in us.  And, God's aganda for us are not difficult to figure out as we have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and Scripture and the example of Jesus -all of which make the agenda clear.  Nowhere is God's heart more clear than when Jesus quoted the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61, claiming that as His own mission.  His mission is now our mission.   

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

God's agenda for us is that we preach the gospel,  heal the sick, bring deliverance to the spiritually oppressed, comfort those who mourn, etc.  because the holy Spirit resides in us, we are empowered to actually do the ministry of Jesus.  As His disciples, His agenda should be our agenda, His mission should be our mission; we should be doing what He did.  But we don't.

I can't help but wonder if Jesus longs to come into the temple of our lives and hearts and drive out the profiteers and money changers.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

John 2:1-11 "God of the Small Stuff"

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. 

 What is surprising in this story is not so much that Jesus' first miracle was making wine -a wine so good that the wine drinking celebrants declared it to be the best at the celebration -although that seems to surprise most American Evangelicals, it shouldn't.  Clearly, God is not quite as uptight as American Evangelicals -no real surprise there.  And, if God is going to make some wine for the party, would we really expect Him to make the cheap vinegary stuff?

In Luke chapter 4, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 as a synopsis of His mission.  He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, restore sight to the blind, heal the broken-hearted, deliver those in spiritual and emotional bondage.  What I find surprising is that this first miracle was doing none of those things.  Here Jesus is not healing the sick, raising the dead or casting out demons. 

The motivation for this first miracle seems to be simply to save the host of the wedding celebration from embarrassment.  Jewish tradition required the host to supply enough wine and food for the invited guests to enjoy themselves for the duration of the celebration (several days).  But here, the wine had run out.  In the bigger scheme of things, this is not an earth shaking tragedy.  This was not as traumatic as, say, contracting leprosy or having a loved one die.  Some eyebrows would have been raised.  There would have been a few rude comments.  There would have been some snickering behind the host's back.  The host's perceived social status may have taken a temporary setback.  But I'm sure this would not have been the first wedding in the history of the Jewish people where wine ran out.  This was survivable.  Yet Jesus cared enough to spare the host embarrassment and made the best wine of the week.

This speaks to me of the true nature and character of God; I serve a God who loves me and cares, not just about the big events, not just about overwhelming traumas, not even just about the valleys and pits of despair.  The God who loves me is thoughtful enough to care about the little things.  That is awesome.

Friday, June 15, 2012

John 1:43-51 "The Unique Call of Jesus"

The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!”
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law 
(and so did the prophets ): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.
“Come and see,” Philip answered.
Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered.
“Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”  Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
 Philip is the first disciple that Jesus specifically sought out.  You might remember that John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Messiah; Andrew had been a follower of John, and chose to begin following Jesus.  Andrew went and found his brother, Peter, and Peter also followed Jesus.  Later, Jesus will officially call both Andrew and Peter to be disciples, but as of yet, they are simply following Jesus of their own accord.

This tells us, however, that Jesus went looking and found Philip and told him, "Follow Me."  Philip responded by bringing a friend, Nathanael.  Nathaniel, it seems, was a skeptic by nature.  Philip appealed to him, though, based upon Nathaniel's study and knowledge of Scripture:
"This is the one Moses and the prophets wrote about..."  So, Nathaniel went along to meet Jesus.

Here is where things get interesting.  Jesus sees Nathaniel (the skeptic) and says, "Now here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him."  We can understand this to mean something like, "Here is a true patriot."  Nathaniel (the skeptic) is non-committal and perhaps a little cynical, "How do you know me?"  To which Jesus replies with a prophetic, divine, supernaturally revealed response, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Or "I knew you before I met you and I saw you when nobody was around to see."  Nathaniel quit being a skeptic.

I think we can see a glimpse of Father's heart as revealed here in Jesus.  Andrew only required to know that Jesus was the Messiah.  Peter only required his brother's testimony.  Philip required a personal invitation.  Nathaniel required proof.  Jesus gave each of them exactly what they needed in order to believe and follow.  I believe the principle is still in play.  He wants us to believe.  He desires that we follow Him.  And, importantly, He gives us whatever we need to make that possible. When Jesus invites us to believe and follow, He is merciful and thoughtful. He calls us uniquely, giving to each whatever is needed to believe. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

John 1:35-42 "Bring People To Jesus"

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,  and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

John the Baptist had good ministry.  He strongly called people to radical, life-changing repentance and a lifestyle of humility and obedience.  But he was keenly aware that his job was to prepare the way for Jesus, and he faithfully introduced his disciples to Jesus when the opportunity arose.

Andrew, one of John's disciples that chose to follow Jesus after John introduced him, went to get his brother, Simon (whom Jesus nicknamed Peter -The Rock), and brought him to Jesus.  Meeting Jesus was life-transforming.

There is a principle here that we sometimes forget.  Too often, we talk about our churches, our ministries, our outreach programs, our worship teams at church, our favorite Christian singers or authors or websites, our preachers, the preachers on the radio or television, the up-coming special services -almost anything except actually talking about Jesus.  All of those things are conversation worthy; it's not that it is wrong to enjoy or even be proud of the spiritual places and events in which we participate.  But, ultimately our mandate is not to introduce people to the Christian community, we are called to introduce people to Christ.  And a promise Jesus gave us (John 12:32) is that if He is lifted up, He will draw people to Himself.  

So, in a sense, our options are 1) introduce people to our ministries, in which case, by definition, our ministries become the focus of attention and our ministries sometimes grow -or 2) introduce people to our Savior, in which case, many people experience salvation and the Kingdom grows.

There is nothing wrong with inviting someone to church, but the hope for the hurting, the lost, the sin damaged people that God loves so dearly is not in finding a good church, it is in finding Jesus.  

Lord Jesus, help me to learn this lesson.  People need You more than they need what I do for You.  Amen.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

John 1:29-34 "Behold, The Lamb"

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’  I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

 First, let's look at what is actually going on here, then we'll look at what it means.

This is not John the Baptist's first encounter with Jesus.  Jesus was, in fact, his cousin.  And implied here when John says, "I saw this happen to Jesus," is that this is sometime after he had baptized Jesus; other Gospel accounts tell us that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and rested on Jesus at the time he was baptized.  

If this was after He was baptized, then it also must have been after He had fasted for 40 days in the wilderness because other accounts tell He did that immediately after being baptized.

So, here is what seems to be going on.  John baptized Jesus and witnessed the remarkable appearance of the Holy Spirit and remembered and had been meditating on what God had previously revealed to him -that the one on whom the Holy Spirit descends and rests is the Messiah.  When the delegation came from Jerusalem (verses 19-23) to question him, John had already been thinking about these things.  He knew his role -to introduce the Messiah.  Now he knew who the Messiah was.  So, when he saw Jesus returning from the wilderness after the 40 days of fasting, John introduced Jesus to his followers with the statement, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

For us modern non-Jewish folks, we may need an explanation of this title.  The Jewish followers of John the Baptist did not.  They had gone to the temple with their families many times in their lives to make sacrifice for their sins.  The appropriate sacrifice was an unblemished lamb.  John, in giving Jesus this title was prophesying about the sacrifice Jesus would one day on behalf of not just Jews, but all humanity.  He would die so that we could be forgiven.  Jesus would be the Sacrificed Lamb.

Monday, June 4, 2012

John 1:19-23 "The Voice"

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.’"

In order to grasp what is going on in this passage we need to understand just a little about the political landscape of Israel at the time.

Anyone who was attracting as much attention as John the Baptist needed to investigated.  First, because of the Romans.  The Jewish people lived uneasily under Roman rule, and it would not take much to set off Roman brutality.  So, Jewish leaders tried hard to keep tabs on what was going on politically in Israel.  Second, many Jewish people were actually expecting and looking for the appearance of the promised Messiah -most people believing that when Messiah came, he would liberate them from Roman rule.

So, the temple leaders sent a delegation to the Judean countryside where John was preaching and baptizing people.  John knew why they were there, and accommodated their questions Even before they actually asked, John said, "I am not the Messiah."

Because of a passage from the prophet Malachi, some believed that Elijah, the great Old Testament prophet, would bodily return just before the actual Messiah arrived, so this delegation asked, and John answered plainly, "I am not."

 Other people believed that the Messiah would be accompanied by a new great prophet -someone like Moses who had delivered the Israelites from Egypt.  Maybe, this delegation speculated, John was that prophet.  Again, John answered plainly, "No."

It seemed that John was implying that he claimed no connection to the coming Messiah, so they asked him, "Who are you?  What do you say about yourself?"

John then made clear his role: he was a voice.  His message was a quote from the prophet Isaiah, "Make straight the way for the Lord."  He was, indeed, preparing the way for Messiah.

We can learn an important lesson from John.  In our day, we seem to have a lot of preachers and teachers who do not understand their roles.  Too many are overly concerned with  maintaining and proving their annointings.  Too many are focused on building their ministries.  Too many are trying too hard to be important and influential.  Too many are building their own kingdoms, forgetting that we have a King and we have a Kingdom. 

We, like John, are simply voices bearing witness to the truth and reality of our King.  A voice is focused on the message, not the messenger.  The message of Christ's redeeming love needs to be spoken and demonstrated, not just in mega-churches and TV ministries and religious venues where Christians gather -but in the wilderness.  Christ's love needs to be spoken in the back streets and alleys and sidewalks and marketplaces -to the lonely, the hurting, the fearful, the skeptical and the confused.  We are the messengers, not the message.  This needs to stop being about us and start being about Jesus.  So much depends on our getting this right.

Lord Jesus, help me today to get this right in my own life and ministry.  I am a messenger; You are the message.  Amen.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

John 1:16-18 "The Greatest Revelation"

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.   For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.   (NLT)

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.    (NIV)

 The Old Testament revelation of God is wonderful.  Think about it -God did not have to reveal anything about Himself to us.  He did not owe us an explanation.  He is the Creator, and we are the created.   He chose, however, through the Law and the prophets to give us insight into who He is and how He thinks and what He loves (and hates).   So, in a very real sense, the revelation He gave us through the Old Testament is an essential grace -a foundational, formative, important insight into His nature and character.

Since Jesus came, however, the insight and revelation we have about God the Father is deeper and fuller by far.  This was in fact, at least in part, why Jesus came -to reveal the Father.  This new revelation, not given by prophets, by but Jesus who was and is Himself God, is not simply grace; it is grace upon grace.

Through Jesus we see not just what God says -not just His laws and commandments -rather, how He interacts with people, how much He cares, how He loves in practical terms of real life, how He deals with stress (and hunger, and heartache, and weariness, etc.)  Through Jesus, we see Father's unfailing love and faithfulness.

Jesus is the greatest revelation of Father's heart.  Because of this, Jesus actually said in John chapter 14, (looking ahead) "If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."

It is also interesting that in John 14 Jesus prophecies concerning the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit "will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."  So, the Holy Spirit reminds us and teaches us and points us to Jesus, who reminds us and teaches us and points us to Father, who gives us the Holy Spirit.  Perfect.  Grace upon grace.

Monday, May 28, 2012

John 1:9-13 "Children of God"

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

 These few sentences contain the Gospel in a nutshell.  There are a few words here that help us understand the bigger picture -to see how much Truth is contained in so few words.

First, "He came to his own" -in the original language that this was written in, the wording here would have implied that "He came to his own things."  This would mean, then, that when it says his "own people did not receive him," it is not specifically referring to the Jewish people, but to all people -the people He created.  The Creator came to His creation and was not recognized and not received.  He was rejected.

But some did not reject Him.  Some did receive Him.  This is still true.  Many reject Him -in fact, most reject Him.  But some do not.  Some believe.  And those who believe, He gives the right to become His children.

Some translations word this, "he gave the power to become children of God."  The Greek word translated here as right or power (exousia),  means endued with ability, authority and privilege to make a choice.

Not everyone believes who Jesus is -the reality of Creator having come to His own creation to be an atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity.  Many people outright refuse to believe in any god.  Some believe in other gods, but not in the reality of Jesus Christ.  But some believe.  And to all who believe, He gives the ability, authority and privilege to make the choice to be His children.

The word children (teknon), is not the generic idea that since all humanity was created by God, all are His children.  Instead, this word means literally His offspring, with the intimacy and rights and privileges and inheritance that go along with a parent-child relationship.

An important implication of this passage is that belief in who Jesus is does not directly bring about the intimate relationship with God.  Instead, it opens the door to intimacy with God.  It is possible to believe, and never enter into the relationship.  In the book of James we read, "You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror." (James 2:19)  But, when we believe, God grants us the ability and authority to choose to enter into a deep, meaningful, intimate relationship.  We can move beyond the intellectual into the spiritual reality of intimacy with Father through Jesus, the Son.

Lord. help me today to choose to move beyond intellectual agreement with the facts of who You are.  I want to be your child.  I desire the intimacy of having a Father who loves me.  Help me make the wise choice of relationship.  Amen.