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.

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.