Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Unconvincing Resurrection

In my devotional time this week, I read the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This parable describes a dialogue between two men who have died. The rich man who lived a selfish life by ignoring the needs of others was now begging mercy from the poor man whom he had refused to serve. It is an interesting account, but what caught my eye was the very last statement made by Abraham.
The rich man, seeing that his plight was permanent, requested that someone warn his brothers who were still living so that they would not make the same mistake resulting in the same eternal torment. He justified the request by saying,
"if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." (Luke 16:30)
In response, Abraham said to the Rich Man,
"If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." (Luke 16:31)
Having just celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ this past Sunday, this passage gave me pause. I thought about our message of hope that we have in Jesus Christ because of His victory over sin and death. I considered all the people who come to church for this special occasion that may never enter the doors of a church outside of this holiday. As a pastor, I think about the responsibility I feel to communicate with utmost clarity the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone. Like Lazarus, I want to believe that if people understand what Jesus did on the cross and the miracle of His rising from the dead...surely they will repent and believe.
But then I am reminded, if we don't acknowledge the message of truth that speaks to our need for a Savior, the resurrection itself has no direct impact on our life. In other words, if we don't recognize our need for a Redeemer, we can hear the story a thousand times and never be changed. The life and death of Jesus Christ only matters when it becomes personal - when we understand what we lose without Him and what we gain because of Him. We simply don't see the miracle unless we need the miracle.
I believe we often experience the greatest work of God in our life at our greatest point of need. We are lifted up only when we bow in worship. God is opposed to the proud but He gives grace to the humble.
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ” (Hebrews 4:16, NASB95)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Prayer of Praise

O Lord God,
Teach me to know grace precedes, accompanies and follows my salvation,
that it sustains the redeemed soul,
that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From Calvary’s cross wave upon wave of grace reaches me,
deals with my sin,
washes me clean,
renews my heart,
draws out my affection,
kindles a flame in my soul,
consecrates my every thought, word, work,
teaches me thy immeasurable love.

How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus!

Without Him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast; in Him I draw near and touch his kingly scepter.
Without him I dare not lift my guilty eyes; in him I gaze upon my Father-God and friend.
Without him I hide my lips in trembling shame; in him I open my mouth in petition and praise.
Without him all is wrath and consuming fire; in him all is love, and the repose of my soul.
Without him is gaping hell below me, and eternal anguish; in him its gates are barred to me by his precious blood.
Without him darkness spreads its horrors in front; in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.
Without him all within me is terror and dismay; in him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.
Without him all things external call for my condemnation; in him they minister to my comfort, and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.
Praise be to thee for grace, and for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.

Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision

Monday, March 28, 2011

Living Life Outside the Sweet Spot

My family and I had the privilege to spend a week in Mexico with our very own tour guide, translator and babysitter all in one person. Meredith Hardy is quite a girl and she sure made our trip extra special by being there. But the time with Meredith also gave me a chance to get to know her heart a little bit more. And what I saw was a heart for the world and a desire to follow God wherever He might lead her. She remained in Mexico, in part, to see if that is a place He just might want her to be.
This was so refreshing and somewhat unique in the conversations I have had with people her age. More often, I see her peers looking for that “sweet spot” where God uniquely places them in a career that perfectly matches their passion so they go to work every day knowing they are doing exactly what God wants them to do. It usually includes a comfortable salary with familiar surroundings, a house, 2 kids...you know the rest of the story. Somehow, this “sweet spot” lifestyle is equated with being in the center of God’s will.
But what if God calls you to do something outside of the “sweet spot”? Something outside the familiar surroundings, comfortable salary or even outside your driving passion. Are you willing to live outside of the “sweet spot” if that happens to be the center of God’s will? Meredith reminded me how important it is to follow God, trusting His passion more than our own, and seeking His will for our life as the only “sweet spot” we should desire.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writing on the Wall

This morning, I read from Deuteronomy 8 as Moses recounted God's loving discipline of His people in order that He might "humble them" and "test them" so that "He might know what was in their heart." (v2) All the while, God continued to care for the Israelites with food to eat and water to drink. Moses reminds his people that even "their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell." (v4)
As a result, the nation prospers. They multiply in both number and wealth. And so Moses warns them: "Beware lest you say in your heart 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth'. You shall remember the Lord your God is the one who gave you this wealth. And if you forget the Lord and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God." (vv 17,20)
Having just returned from Mexico City, I couldn't help but consider these verses in the context of this trip. I look at the decay of the Mexican culture - the governmental corruption, the sexual immorality, the drug induced violence and the oppressive economic disparity - and I see a culture that has not obeyed the voice of the Lord. But then I look at my own country and I wonder, "Is this the writing on the wall? Are we on a path that perishes as we follow the pattern of spiritual decay of nations that have gone before us? Will our outcome not be the same if we too proclaim, "My power and my might have gotten me this wealth."?
Please understand that this is not a political commentary or the platitudes of someone who believes that America is a Christian nation. For I do not. Moses even warned the nation of Israel, "Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them (your enemies) out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to the possess the land,' but it is because of the wickedness of those nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you." (9:4)
This is an issue of God's kingdom work and the call of His people to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. The call for Christians to stand firm in one spirit with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. (Phil 1:27)
I am not one to predict the coming of the Lord but one thing I do know because of the testimony of scripture - the day of His return has been set. Therefore, today is one day closer to that day! And as we look at all the events on the world scene, I can't help but see the birth pains of His imminent return.
May we hear the words of Moses as if He speaks them anew to us today: “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always." (Deuteronomy 10:14, 20–21, 11:1 ESV)
As followers of Jesus Christ, may we be that people. Especially in times like these...and even more as the day draws near.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 21:15-25

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. ” (John 21:15–25, NIV)
I find it interesting that God inspires John to end his gospel with this interaction between Jesus and Peter. Interesting, and I believe, purposeful.
These are the last words that Jesus intends to have resonating in the heart of Peter for a very long time. And as we read them, they should resonate in our heart as well. For which one of us cannot relate to the pain that Peter feels? He walked with Christ. He confessed Him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. He witnessed His miracles and then in a moment of panic and despair, he denied that he ever knew Him.
We do the same when we see our problems as too big for God to handle. When we know the right thing and choose to do the wrong thing. When we, like Peter, fail the Lord and flee from His presence. And it won’t happen just once - for we are prone to wander.
But listen carefully to the words of Jesus. He speaks not with criticism, but with acceptance. Not with humiliation, but with love. He asks us to consider our response to Him in view of His great love for us. He doesn’t tell us to “try harder”, He calls us to find our identity in Him. Not our perfection, but His.
This message of worth and value should resonate for a lifetime. God loves us not because of what we do (or don’t do) for Him. Our value is based on who we are in Him: Covered in grace, completely forgiven and deeply loved. Nothing we do, as a child of God, can diminish His sincere affection for us and it will not alter His promise of redemption and our glorious inheritance as God’s own possession.
These are Jesus’ parting words that He intended for Peter to hold onto for a lifetime. As we read them, He intends the same in our life as well. You are not holding on to Him…He is holding on to you.
To the praise of His glory!!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 21:1-14

“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1–14, NIV)
The last few days for the disciples have been a whirlwind. They walked into Jerusalem with Jesus in a triumphal entry. People lined the street and palm branches were laid at their feet as the jubilant crowd called out for Jesus to be their king. This was a glorious day and one the disciples had long anticipated. The Messiah has come and He will reign forevermore.
But as soon as they crested the hill of rejoicing and entered the city of Jerusalem, they began a descent into a pit of despair. It began with treachery of Judas - a trusted friend and fellow disciple. His seed of deceit would being in a harvest of betrayal as the crowd who called out to have him crowned as a king now turned and demanded his crucifixion as a criminal.
The disciples were lost in despair, Peter denied his association with Jesus and they all wondered what just happened as the One they believed to be their Savior now hung on a cross. His life had impacted so many but His death was not helpful to anyone…or was it.
Three days after having kneeled at the cross, they now stood at an empty tomb. This was even more confusing to the disciples than the crucifixion. But then the resurrected Jesus appeared to them in the upper room and even Thomas was able to verify that Jesus would have the last word. He had risen from the grave trampling over death by death.
But what now? There was silence in Jerusalem and the religious leaders walked proudly I the streets with a haughty smile. Peter couldn’t take it anymore and so he went to do what he knew best in hopes that he could get back to life as he once knew it. Something simple and predictable again. Fishing.
He launched his boat onto the Sea of Galilee. He had not done this in the past 3 years but it all came back very naturally to him. Peter cast his nets, one after another, and pulled them into the boat. But like the emotion in his heart, they all came up empty.
And then a voice called out from the shore with instructions for the fishermen in the boat. They did as the strange man suggested and the nets where filled with fish and their hearts overflowed with joy. The man on the shore was not a stranger…it was their Savior.
He had not forgotten them after all. This was not the end of the story. In fact, as they sat and listened the risen Messiah, they would learn that it was only the beginning.
We too reach those moments of despair, where life seems confusing and our expectations of our Savior don’t match our experience. We may even find solace in the routine – something simple and seemingly meaningless. And yet, that is where we find Him. Our nets are empty but He can make them full. Our life is aimless, but He gives us direction. Our circumstances seem desperate but His life gives us hope.
Don’t just stand there! Jump out of the boat and go sit with your Savior. He is waiting for your fellowship and He is willing to feed your soul.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 20:19-31

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. ” (John 20:19–31, NIV)
One thing to be sure, God knows the limitations of man. He understands our weaknesses and struggles. He recognizes our barriers to belief. And He has gone to great lengths, short of removing the necessity of faith, to give us every reason to believe. He appeared to the disciples, He gave Thomas hard physical evidence and He inspired the words of scripture for you and me.
What you have in front of you was given to you with the stated purpose of writing these words so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”.
Now there is another reality not stated in this passage. As much as God would desire for you to believe, you also have an enemy whose goal is to prevent your understanding and experiencing this truth. “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1Pet 5:8) This adversary comes to “steal and kill and destroy”. (Jn 10:10) “He does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44)
This is the cosmic battle for your soul. God has given us truth and yet our adversary seeks to hide this truth with lies. But you need to know that no matter how hard he works, it is not possible for the devil to hide the glory of God. “For the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky displays his handiwork. Day after day speaks out, night after night reveals His greatness.” (Ps 19:1-2) “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20)
So here is what this should tell us: The truth of God cannot be hidden! Even when our circumstances seem hopeless, the sunrise shouts the glory of God and demonstrates His faithfulness to all mankind. Even when everyone does what is right in his own eyes and selfishly determines that life can be lived without God, He still sends His Son to show us what we are missing. Satan is never allowed to get the upper hand. “Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world.” (1Jn 4:4)
You are being pursued with a great affection. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ( Jn 15:13) . He understands our weaknesses and struggles. He recognizes our barriers to belief. And He has gone to great lengths, short of removing the necessity of faith, to give us every reason to believe.
So look hard. Even in the deceit of Satan lies a kernel of truth. “Know the truth and the truth with set you free.” (Jn 8:32)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 20:1-18

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. ” (John 20:1–18, NIV)
From the moment they laid Jesus in the cold stone cave, Mary Magdalene awaited the opportunity to fill the room with the fragrance of her love. It was a customary practice to place the spices on the body and the very least she could do for the one who had saved her life from the demons that had once plagued her. (Luke 8:2) She had to do something even though nothing she could do would accomplish what her heart ultimately longed for. This wasn’t about the spices…this was just one last opportunity for her to look upon the face of the one who loved her more deeply than any other. Jesus had saved her soul and she missed Him with all her heart.
They placed Jesus in the tomb the day before the Sabbath. For Mary, the Sabbath became a day she thought would never end. She didn’t even wait for the sun to rise in the morning. She stepped into the darkness to make her way to the tomb, her heart growing with anticipation with every step she took. But when she arrived at the tomb, her steps were frozen with in a moment of unexplainable fear. Her heart pounded in her chest and ice cold blood coursed through her veins. The demons, who had once plagued her, now assumed their position and awaited the opportunity for hopelessness to open the door to her heart.
She ran for the others as the enemy nipped at her heals. Tears dripped from her eyes, saliva dripped from their mouths. She alerted the disciples who arrived to find their worst fears confirmed. Jesus was gone. They left to find the others and now she was alone, once again, with darkness as her only companion.
She had to see for herself. She looks into the empty tomb only to find the dark space filled with light. The brightness of the two angels filled the room and a ray of hope peaked into her soul. The demons stood silent as the deceit of their lies could not be spoken in the midst of God’s Truth.
Mary recognizes a silhouette by the light of the divine beings. She assumes he is the gardener and the one most likely to have stolen her hope. But then He speaks and all He had to say was her name...”Mary.”
It was the same voice who called her out of the demonic darkness of her past and unveiled a glorious light of salvation in her soul. The demons recognized it as well and now they were the ones scurrying away to herald the news of their doom. The light of Christ had restored her hope and Mary was once again protected by the power of the promise of God.
Hope has risen from the grave and is alive in the hearts of His people. We are protected by His promises and the demons of deceit are made silent in the presence of His truth. Praise the Lord!!! He is alive for evermore!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 19:31-42

“Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. ” (John 19:31–42, NIV)
Crucifixion is an agonizingly painful death because it is slow. After hours of hanging by the nails pierced in your hands, occasionally drawing the strength to ignore the pain in order to push yourself up with your legs so that you can catch a breath, eventually it is too much and your body collapses over your lungs and you suffocate to death. In order to expedite the process, the soldiers would take a hammer to the femur, eliminating the ability lift up for a breath and death comes more quickly.
There is nothing pretty about this process and when the soldiers came to Jesus to perform the inhumane duty, they found it would not be necessary. He was already dead. But to make sure, they drove a spear through His side and into His heart causing blood and water to flow from the wound. Like many of the events of the life of Christ, all these things happened according to the prophesy spoken hundreds of years before the events actually took place.
And why is this important. John tells us, “this testimony is given so that you also may believe.” You see, these events are being recorded based on eyewitness accounts. They are telling you just what they saw that day and they even go as far as to help you understand that what they saw was expected long before it ever happened.
You and I were not there to see it with our own eyes. And for most of us, we do not know the Bible well enough to understand what the Old Testament saints had written that spoke of these events to come. But John is writing so that you can hear it from someone who was there and who also lived with an understanding of what God said would someday take place. This person is telling you why he believed so that you may also believe.
The greatest tragedy in the world would be for an event of such significance for the whole of humanity to disappear into oblivion. If no one tells the story, eventually, the story will be forgotten. Take the time this week to tell someone why you believe. If you are reading this and you do not believe, ask someone who does why they came to their conclusion. The least you can do is make an informed decision. Ignorance does not absolve any of us from guilt.
Listen to the story. Tell the story. Look with eyes of faith so that you may also believe.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 19:16-30

“Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. ” (John 19:16–30, NIV)
Humanity is represented at the foot of the cross. Ardent enemies, uninterested bystanders, those who were intrigued because of what they could gain and those who loved Him with all their heart. Within one of these groups we find ourselves.
The chief priests wanted nothing to do with Jesus. They didn’t even like the sign Pilate put in place because it tied the Jews to Jesus. The reason for having Him killed was to eliminate this association. He was a distraction to their lifestyle and the success they were striving for in the world. Even today, the name of Christ is shunned by many. He still disrupts the lifestyle and conscience of those who want to make their own way. Jesus is a stumbling block that exposes their guilt and it would be better for them if He was all together eliminated.
Still others would not go as far as to eliminate Him, they just barely notice He is there. It’s hard to miss His message and influence in the world but if you can become busy enough with other things, you can simply take a glance and keep on walking. Don’t stop to look because then you’ll start to think. Just keep walking and pretend He isn’t there.
Or maybe you are like the soldiers who took the time to pay attention. You listened to what He had to say including the offer of salvation He gave to the thief on the cross. “It’s all very interesting, but what’s in it for me.” His clothes are nice enough and probably worth something. The guy is practically a rock star and so at least I can say I have His robe. Perhaps you too follow Jesus for what you can gain from Him with no regard to what you must first receive. You like all the miracles and the blessings but yet you are unwilling to deny yourself and follow Him.
But only those who love Him know what it means to be loved by Him. They are the ones who understand that the man hanging on the cross is there so that you don’t have to be. He paid the penalty for your sin and the only right response to this sacrifice of love is humble worship and adoration. A surrendered life to He who surrendered His life.
Which one are you? Humanity is represented at the foot of the cross. Where do you stand?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 19:1-15

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. ” (John 19:1–15, NIV)
The root of all sin is selfishness and everything about this scene drips with this disease. The religious leaders brought the charges against Jesus because they wanted Him eliminated. Jesus was disrupting their system and power and influence among the people. The more that followed Him, the less would follow them. And yet, they were dependent upon Roman rule to execute Jesus. It was a punishment they could not carry out on their own. They needed the help of their enemy in order to preserve their power among the people.
Pilate, on the other hand, saw no reason to enforce this punishment. Nothing Jesus did was deserving of death. And yet, the Jews manipulated the circumstances to force Pilate into the corner. If he did nothing to Jesus, he was not honoring Caesar since Jesus claimed to be a king. The Jews appeal to the rule of Caesar in order to prevent the rule of Jesus. Pilate was in a predicament and the best he could do was turn Jesus over to the Jews. He washed his hands of the situation and let the influence of the crowd take its course. His position of authority took priority over the protection of the innocent.
Both the Jews and the Romans were manipulating the circumstances under the false pretense that they were in control. Each sought to fulfill their selfish desires for the preservation of their perceived power and influence. But where are they now? What they considered to be of great gain has now become their greatest loss. Mercy held out His hands and pride drove nails through the offering.
But the reality behind the story was spoken by Jesus. Despite the perception of being in control by issuing decisions that would ultimately determine the outcome, nothing was happening that God did not first determine to take place. The ultimate authority came from heaven and the characters of these events were simply fulfilling what God had ordained to unfold. In mercy, God did not expect mankind to understand this in the moment. Instead, He spoke through the prophets long before the events ever occurred. Isaiah would proclaim:
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. ” (Isaiah 53:7–9, NIV)
In love, God always reveals what is necessary for us to have life in His name. Pride will always perceive His requirement of submission as a threat to the security we create by our own self protection. In other words, as long as we are in control, we feel we are secure. It is a lie of the enemy that continues to this day.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? ” (Matthew 16:24–26, NIV)
The religious leaders accomplished their goal. Pilate preserved his power. They both relished in the glory of having succeeded in life only to face the reality, upon death, that they forfeited their soul for all eternity. Control is an illusion that disappears at death. Submission is the path to freedom in Christ and life eternal.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Life of Christ Devotional - John 18:28-40

“Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. ” (John 18:28–40, NIV)
This is all about political maneuvering. But don’t miss the hypocrisy which opens this scene as the religious leaders avoid ceremonial uncleanness while seeking to murder the one who promised to make them clean. The Jewish leaders had become so tied to a system of religious ritual that they came to believe that the system saves and not the person. But before you condemn the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, understand that their sin of substitution is equally as prevalent today. Religious ritual in the form of denominational alliance, church attendance, sacrament observation or even ministry service are all modern means by which we seek salvation in a system and not in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus alone is our salvation, and nothing we do in the ritual of our religion either merits His favor or secures His obligation. Don’t miss that!
As you continue in the dialogue, you can sense the irritation of the political leaders. The Romans are the ruling party of the day and they really don’t want to mess with the trivial religious squabbles of the Jews. The Jews, however, are on a mission that they cannot carry out without the assistance of their hated oppressor. As much as they would like to take care of Jesus on their own, they cannot crucify Him unless He is convicted by Roman law.
And so Pilate reluctantly fulfills his obligation by speaking to Jesus in person. The charge against Jesus is one of insurgence and so Pilate seeks to validate the threat of a revolt against Caesar. The response of Jesus makes it clear that He has no intention of inciting a revolution. He admits that He is a king, but not a king with any earthly kingdom. That’s much too small. Jesus reigns from heaven in accordance with everlasting truth.
Truth? “What is truth,” asks Pilate as he leaves the room. For him and so many others, truth is relative. The Romans had a pantheon of gods and you simply chose the ones to best meet your needs at the time. Did you need something for success in your business…we have a god for that. How about sexual indulgence…we have a god for that. Would you like to improve your outlook on life…yep, we’ve got a god for that. This whole idea of only one way to salvation for your soul was the core of the offense. It was offensive to the Jews, it was offensive to the Romans…and it is offensive to most Americans today.
But the claim of Jesus has not changed. He is the way, the truth and the life and no one will find salvation for their soul except through Him. There is no religious system, no social agenda, no lifestyle choice that will satisfy the longing of your heart. Our pantheon of gods in America today is no different than that of Rome. Our idol worship easily rivals theirs. People still seek to satisfy their life with wealth, sexual pleasure and personal improvement. Jesus stands in the midst of all these choices and He invites you to submit to His rule as the one true king. There is a truth… and it is found in only one person.