Friday, October 31, 2014

He spoke...

Good morning!

Today's reading is John 4:46-54.

46 Now he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had made the water wine. In Capernaum there was a certain royal official whose son was sick. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come back from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and begged him to come down and heal his son, who was about to die. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe!” 49 “Sir,” the official said to him, “come down before my child dies.”50 Jesus told him, “Go home; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and set off for home.
51 While he was on his way down, his slaves met him and told him that his son was going to live. 52 So he asked them the time when his condition began to improve, and they told him, “Yesterday at one o’clock in the afternoon the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that it was the very time Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he himself believed along with his entire household. 54 Jesus did this as his second miraculous sign when he returned from Judea to Galilee.

I wonder why John chose to include in his gospel account this story.  None of the other 3 gospels record it.  In Matthew 4:23 we read that Jesus did many signs and wonders during this period of time in Galilee. Apparently, this event was one.  Why did John include this one?

Could it be because the petitioner was of the royal household, perhaps the royal household of Herod?
Could it be because the man journeyed 15 miles (from Capernaum to Cana) to see Jesus and ask for His favor?  We are not told how this royal official had heard of Jesus; but, he obviously had some knowledge of His healing power and was desperate to "try anything".  (Would any of us parents do any different?)

The man thought this crisis urgent enough to go himself to see Jesus, as did Jairus, whose story is recorded in Luke 8.  Both men could have sent servants, but chose to come on their own.  Both were "men of power", but realized that their human "power" was puny in the face of God's strength.

I find it odd that, upon hearing the man's request, Jesus commented that the people would not believe Him unless they saw miracles.  It does not seem that the man was interested in sensational signs or wonders, or even in professing Jesus as Messiah.  He possessed the amount of belief that the Devil has - - - Scripture says that "even the demons believe, and tremble."  The nobleman fully believed that Jesus could heal his son, if he would.  He seemed to only want to see his child healed.  Jesus, in reply to the man's level of unwavering faith and persistence, healed the child at that very moment.

   "Go home; your son will live."

And, maybe this is one reason why John included the story.  Without another word, the man who had heard Jesus believed Him, and acted on that belief.  He turned and started for home.  He did not question.  He did not appear bewildered.  He just acted on his faith.  Wow.  I am stunned by such faith, even though it was not salvation faith.

Then, of course, there is the divine aspect of Jesus' power to heal someone from a great distance.  Just as He spoke the worlds into existence many eons before (Colossians 1:16; Genesis 1:3), Jesus spoke and the disease was gone.  One word from Him, and that boy was restored. The very minuscule particles of matter hear...and obey.

Skeptics reading this account might say...."Sure the kid was healed...sure..."  To counter that, John provides testimony, garnered later from the father or his servants one might assume, which proves this healing happened just as Jesus declared. (vs. 52-53)

It was only after the father saw the "proof" that his son had begun to recover at the same time Jesus spoke the word that he grabbed hold of saving faith.  And, his entire family along with the household of servants believed, right along with him.  Such is the power of the word of God.  What greater proof that Jesus is God-in-flesh?

Here are some related verses for your meditation today:

Psalm 33:8-9  "Let the whole earth tremble before the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.  For He spoke and it came into being;  He commanded, and it came into existence."

Psalm 147:18  "He sends His word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes and the waters flow."

Hebrews 11:3  "By faith we understand that the universe was created by God's command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible."

Have you thought about how He still speaks to our hearts today?  His truth and His word are unchanging, although the world arounds us changes at a dizzying pace.  The questions for us are: "Will we listen?"  "Will we take Him at his word?"  Will we trust what He says?

Dear Jesus, You are the fullness of God, and Your words will stand forever.  Savior, speak to me today and open my ears so that I can listen.  I want to walk where You lead me today, to do Your will, to follow hard after You.  Please give me faith greater even than this nobleman had.  I fall so short of fully trusting You!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Know Any Prophets?

Good morning!

Today's reading is John 4:43-45, along with other proof texts.

After the two days he departed from there to Galilee.  (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)  So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him because they had seen all the things he had done in Jerusalem at the feast (for they themselves had gone to the feast).  After the two days now he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had made the water wine.  (NET)

This period of time, when Jesus returned to Galilee from Samaria, is also referenced in Matthew 4:21-25.  The first couple of verses describe how the apostle John received his call to be a disciple of Jesus.  Interestingly, although John records the calls of some of the other disciples, he omits the record of his and his brother's call.

I want to focus on verse 44 today.  Jesus is recorded as having made this statement, perhaps after the people of his hometown tried to stone him to death.  It gives us a glimpse into the life of a prophet. Let's look at some Scriptures that describe prophets, to get a picture of their other characteristics.

I've mentioned previously in this blog a deceased Christian artist named Keith Green.  He wrote a song to appeal to his non-Christian parents to accept Jesus as Savior.  Part of the lyrics from Song to My Parents are:
"Isn't that Jesus?  Isn't that Joseph and Mary's son?  Well, didn't he grow up right here?
He played with our children!  What?  He must be kidding - - - thinks he's a prophet.
Well, prophets don't grow up from little boys, do they?
From little boys - - - do they?"

The dictionary defines a prophet as someone "regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God".

What does the Bible say about prophets?  It makes clear that there are two types of prophets: true prophets of God and false prophets - - those who claim to be of God but are not, or those who claim to speak for false gods (like Baal, for instance).

1.  Predicts future events which do come to pass . . . every time.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22
Jeremiah 28:9

2.  Never gives a private interpretation, but only speaks what is received from Scripture or from the Holy Spirit
2 Peter 1:20

3.  Only seeks to glorify God, never him/herself
2 Peter 1:21

4.  Never prophesies anything that disagrees with the Bible, the written Word of God
Isaiah 8:20

5.  Lives a life of holiness
Matthew 7:15-20
Isaiah 8:20

6.  Preaches that Jesus Christ is God-in-flesh, the only begotten Son of God, who is the only Person through whom we can have eternal salvation --- an intimate relationship with God.
1 John 4:1-3

7.  Seeks to comfort, encourage, uplift and exhort the people of God.  The word "exhort" means to challenge them to holy living.  That includes "stepping on our toes" when we need it, which is often.
1 Cor. 14:3-4

8:  Is not defined by age or by gender - - there have been young, old, male and female prophets mentioned in Scripture.
Exodus 15:20  Miriam
Judges 4          Deborah
2 Chronicles 34:22  Hilkiah
Luke 2:36       Anna
Acts 21:8-9     daughters of Phillip the Evangelist
Acts 16:14      Lydia, perhaps?
Also, see Acts 2:17-18    validates that young people can have the spiritual gift of prophecy also

9.  Miracle-working is not given as a sign of a prophet, unless you are talking about a false one.
Matthew 24:24-25

10.  Often persecuted or even martyred for their faith
Biblical scholars and ancient texts (Lives of the Prophets) attest to this point, but you really have to look no further than Jeremiah (who was thrown into a well for an extended period of time) and John the Baptist, who was beheaded by King Herod.  (Mark 6:14-29)

Are there prophets today?  Yes, I believe there are - - - both true prophets of the living God, and many, many false prophets.  It is important for Christians to heed John's exhortation in 1 John 4:1, that we "examine the spirits" of a person, to determine whether or not a prophet speaks the truth.  I pray that the marks listed above will be of help to you in that task.

There is a very successful evangelist today who has thousands upon thousands of devoted followers. A few years ago he was interviewed by a non-Christian man who asked him directly about God's plan for salvation.  The man's reply danced all around the truth, but did not give it.  It was the perfect opportunity for him to preach the gospel to millions upon millions of people.  But, he did not.  That man is a false prophet.  Mark it down.  In that interview he violated the sixth principle in the list above, (among others that he violates routinely).

Be discerning, Christian.  The Bible is our bedrock, our uncompromising standard.

Dear Lord, no matter how you call us or to what you call us, I pray we will be discerning and faithful in Your service.  May we follow our Savior's example in all we do today, and every day.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spiritual Germs

Good morning!

Today's text is John 4:1-42.  I was reading it in The Message version this morning.  This passage contains a story about Jesus and His disciples journeying through Samaria.

Despite John the Baptist's righteous assertions mentioned in yesterday's post, the comparisons between his ministry and Jesus' ministry continued, fomented by the Pharisees who seemed to be keeping score.  In order to short-circuit that, Jesus left and headed back to his home area of Galilee.

Samaria was a region adjacent to Judea and Galilee, but between the two.  Therefore, if you wanted to journey from Jerusalem to Galilee, you the most expedient route was to go through Samaria.  You could have gone around it.  But, you'd have had to go out of your way.  Even though going around it was more difficult, this is exactly what many Jews did.  They turned their noses up at the Samaritans.

Samaria was inhabited by people who had some Jewish heritage, but their ancestors had chosen to intermarry with foreign peoples.  So, their Jewish bloodlines were not considered pure.  We might have called them "half-breeds".  At any rate, they were disdained by "the Jews".  Not only had the bloodlines of the Samaritans been corrupted, but their worship had been as well.  (2 Kings 17:24-41) Samaritans did not revere Jerusalem as the "navel of the earth", as did the Jews.  They worshipped on a mountain in their own land, and their worship did not conform to the strict rules/regs of the Jewish ruling council. In fact, some of them worshiped pagan gods.  "True Jews" viewed these people as "less than", outcasts, unworthy.  They had "spiritual germs", and true Jews could not risk contamination.

Now, in Jesus' day, for a man to speak to an unaccompanied woman was very bad form, Samaritan or not.  Furthermore, this woman of Samaria was "an outcast's outcast".  Not only was she Samaritan, she was an immoral woman. Although the Samaritans had more liberal views, this woman went "beyond the pale".  She had been married five times and was, at the time of the story, living with a man outside the boundaries of marriage.  She was so ostracized that she had to come to draw her water at a time of day (noon - - - the hottest time of day) when no one else would be around, to avoid heckling, hen-pecking, etc.  She had exceeded the limits of her neighbors' tolerance.

So, does Jesus shun her?  No.  Let's examine how He showed her the love of God, because this is how we should treat "the unlovely" of our day.
1.  He asked for her help, validating that she had "something to offer".  He was thirsty and had nothing with which to draw water.  So, He asked her to give Him a drink.
2.  He used common circumstances to illustrate the truth of the gospel.  He compared the water to the "living water" of salvation.
3.  He spoke to her honestly, not backing away from the truth of her sin, but kindly.  So often, we Christians want to back away from this point. Did you notice what the woman said later?  "He knows me, inside and out."  (vs. 39)  No rejection was implied in that statement.  She was proclaiming that Jesus had seen her, seen her years of sinful living, and still was willing to extend to her the offer of salvation.  In order for people to realize that they need a Savior, they must first confront the truth of their sinfulness, that inborn sinful nature which manifests itself in our lives through a multitude of evil ways.  If we are shifty or dishonest about those issues, then it makes this necessary step in the conversion process that much more difficult for those seeking to come to Christ.  We must be honest, but humble.
4.  He revealed Himself to her as Messiah.  He cut through her theological arguments, which she presented to divert attention from her own personal sin, and went straight to the heart of the matter - - - how to worship God in spirit and in truth.

The woman's response was to run and tell the townspeople about her encounter with the Messiah. While she was gone, Jesus re-framed things for the disciples.  They truly had not considered that corrupt Samaria was worthy of their evangelistic efforts.  He pointed out that the people living there were "ripe" to hear the truth of the gospel.

The woman returned with many townspeople, who heard Jesus and believed.  He and the disciples stayed there for two days, sharing the gospel, before journeying on to Galilee.

Over and over in Scripture, Jesus uses "the unlikely ones" to do His work.  Jesus revealed His identity to a Samaritan adulteress, which is one of the most shocking things He could have done in that day. We are called to share the gospel with everyone - - - the street people of our cities, the prostitutes, the drug dealers, the gang members, the abortionists, the militants who so vehemently trample our beliefs.  So often, we treat them like they have "spiritual germs", don't we?

Even though probably not understanding fully Jesus' message at the well, the Samaritan woman was the key to unlocking the hearts of many people of the Samaritan town of Sychar.  When you are given an opportunity to "go to Samaria", answer the call: GO.  Who knows if your interactions will be the key to unlocking many hearts to spiritual freedom, which is only available through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus did the Father's will by going through Samaria and preaching the gospel.  Will you answer His call and do the same?

Good morning, Lord.  While we sit in our comfortable homes and our comfortable pews, we are surrounded by people on the road to Hell.  It may be our next-door neighbor, our cousin, our friends. Or, it may be society's outcasts.  Regardless, Lord, make us miserable until we answer Your own personal calling to each of us.  Ready our hearts for those times when you will bring across our paths an "outcast".  All who now claim your name were once spiritual outcasts.  Our spiritual germs were washed away by Your precious, cleaning blood.  Help us never to we walk...resplendent.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Envy in the Body of Christ

Good morning!

This morning I'm meditating on John 2:27-36.  As is often the case with us humans, a territorial dispute has arisen among the followers of John the Baptist.  His disciples pointed out to him that Jesus was "moving in on his territory" by also baptizing nearby, and not only that, Jesus was attracting more followers!  John the B.'s response is such an role model for us!  In verses 27-30:

27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete.30 He must become more important while I become less important.”

Now, if this had been you or me, we might have responded like this:
"But, but,....this is MY ministry!  You can't take that away from me!"
"There is no room here for his ministry.  He needs to go do his thing somewhere else.  This glory is mine to enjoy.  I'm not sharing."

I'm smiling wryly as I write this because unfortunately, I've experienced this type of reaction personally and also seen it so often in the Body of Christ.   For much of my life, I was THE premiere female church soloist anywhere I worshipped.  Hands down, no contest.  This started in my home church, a little country Baptist church where, at 5 I was singing solos, at 9 playing piano for services and at 13 playing organ for services.  But, I've also served in large churches as well...paid soloist, choir director, etc.  Several years ago I began to see this change.  I was not young enough or hip enough.  The musical styles changed, and my vocal technique was not right for the particular setting. For a long, long time, this grieved me deeply, and yes, I was deeply envious, until I began to see that I was viewing this whole enchilada as MY ministry.  A grossly inappropriate, prideful attitude, yes? Oh yes.

God used these situations (and others) to teach me humility, and He is still teaching me this same lesson over and over these days because it is an area of spiritual weakness for me.  The way He has done this, though, has been to draw me closer to Him, challenged me to trust Him, and enabled me to use other gifts for His glory - - - the gifts of teaching, hospitality, leadership and prayer.  And, I am grateful.  Yes, you read that right - - - grateful.  He has led me and my nuclear family into opportunities of service I could never have imagined, years ago.  His blessings have been so abundant.  Joy abounding!

Listen to John's lessons:
1.  (vs. 27) No one can receive any spiritual gift, blessing, ministry, etc., unless it has been given to him from God.  Oh brothers, sisters, practice humility.  Yes, it takes diligent practice for some of us! Submit yourself to the Lord daily and ask Him to be the star of your particular show, not you.
2.  "He must increase, but I must decrease." (vs.30 King James version).  Believer, as you walk resplendent with Him, your goal should be that every day you find your joy fulfilled in this:  letting yourself become less important while He becomes more important.  When you find yourself tempted to have a resentful longing after another person's ministry, don't focus on that other person or on yourself.  Focus on Him!  Allow Him to have the glory, to "increase".

Oh Lord, please use each of us believers in Your kingdom as You see fit, for Your glory, not for ours. Please forgive us where we have stumbled in this area, and set our hearts aright as we confess before Your throne.  That You allow us to serve You is a tremendous blessing.  I appreciate so much how you have specially gifted each one of your redeemed children, and equipped us for Your service. Please give us vision to see what You have for each of us to do. Don't allow the things of this world to blind us, to cause us to miss it!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spirit Birth 2: This is the Way God Loved the World

Good morning!

We stopped yesterday morning with John 3:13, in which Jesus made a seemingly puzzling statement.

"No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man."

No man, through his own "perfection", human efforts, has ever earned the right to Heaven.  Jesus alone can claim perfection in the human sense.  He is using one of the titles for Himself here, in calling Himself "the Son of Man".  When He uses this title, He is affirming both His divinity and His humanity.  By making this cryptic statement, Jesus is asserting His authority to reveal matters of a heavenly, spiritual nature.  He is saying that He is in a category by Himself.  He has been in Heaven, having both ascended to Heaven and descended from Heaven.  But, He goes further, saying that He is in Heaven at the very moment He is speaking to Nicodemus.  That must have really blown Nicodemus's circuits!  Jesus was saying that while on earth, He was simultaneously in God's presence at every moment, in constant, unbroken communion with Him.  Heaven is indeed a locality, a place where the people of God will forever abide.  But, more importantly, it is defined by the presence of God the Father.

Jesus goes on then to explain the meaning of "born again", the spirit birth, further.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
John 3:14-19
Jesus begins by referencing an Old Testament story that pre-figured His crucifixion for our spiritual healing.  In Numbers 21:4-9, the people of God had gotten discouraged by all their troubles and had begun to murmur among themselves, to backbite against God and His plans for them.  As a result, God allowed many of them to be bitten by poisonous snakes, which led to many deaths.  Moses interceded for the people, who could not deliver themselves from these deadly snake bites.  God instructed Moses to have a craftsman make a bronze snake and hoist it up on a pole in the presence of the people.  Anyone who had the faith to look obediently upon the snake on a pole, lived.

This bizarre story from Numbers is in Scripture for a reason.  In a similar way, we are a spiritually "snake-bit" people; we are unable to enter the kingdom of Heaven on our own.  "No one has ascended into Heaven...."  We have been "snake-bit" by the sinful nature with which we were born into the human race (Adam/Eve/The Fall of Man).

But, the Son of Man, Jesus, was "lifted up" on the cross, for our spiritual healing.  If we look to Him, believe in Him, we will have eternal life.  This was God's plan to jerk us back from the edge of the cliff of eternal death, the plan designed before man was ever created.  Our gracious, yet holy, God....knew.  He knew.

"Who has announced this from of old?  Who has long since declared it?  Is it not I, the LORD?  And, there is no other God besides Me, a Righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other."
Isaiah 45:21-22

God did not send His Son to us to condemn us, as so many people view the situation. (John 3:17) God sent His only (unique, one-of-a-kind) Son to us, to us sin-poisoned people, so that we would not die spiritually, so that we could have eternal life.  Those who believe in Him will not be condemned to an eternity of separation from God, a miserable eternity in Hell, but will be "saved", rescued from that.

In light of this truth, the apostle Paul proclaims triumphantly,

"There is now therefore NO condemnation to those who belong to Christ Jesus, who walk, not after the flesh but after the Spirit."  
Romans 8:1

Jesus is The One and Only, the Way, the Truth, the Life!

Have you experienced this spiritual birth?  Have you been "born again"?  Have you been rescued?This question can only be answered by each person, after he or she searches his/her individual heart. It is THE most vitally important question of this earthly life, one which must be answered.  If you have to honestly answer, "no", I urge you to choose Christ, to choose eternal Life!

Believers, pray for your loved ones who are not walking with Christ Jesus faithfully.  Regardless of their verbal testimony, if their lives do not evidence holiness, they most likely have not been "born again".  Paul rightly points out that those who belong to Jesus Christ routinely walk in the Holy Spirit, because of their spiritual birth!

It is only after the Holy Spirit has come to live within you that you can walk after the Spirit, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit into a life of increasing holiness, seeking to become more and more like the Savior.  This is the very definition of the resplendent walk!

Holy Father, I deserve condemnation, because there is no possible way I could "ascend into Heaven" on my own.  My sin nature is so much a part of my humanity that I could not escape it through my own efforts.  Thank you for your unimaginable sacrifice of your Son, your One-and-Only Love of Your Heart, for me and for all people.  You did not send Jesus to only the Jews.  You sent Him for the whole world, so that anyone, anyone no matter how enslaved by sin, can be set free.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spirit Birth 1

Good morning!

I asked my hubster a few days ago what he thought was the most famous verse of the Bible.  He unhesitatingly replied, "John 3:16!"  For the next few posts, we are going to be looking at one of the most famous passages of the Bible --
John 3:1-22, which contains and surrounds this verse.  Let me go ahead and give that to you, as I'll be picking it apart and you'll need to refer to it repeatedly.

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus(A) who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.(B) He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi,(C) we know(D) that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs(E) you are doing if God were not with him.”(F)
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a](G)
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.(H) Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit.(I) You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d](J)
“How can this be?”(K) Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,”(L) said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know,(M) and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.(N) 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven(O) except the one who came from heaven(P)—the Son of Man.[e](Q) 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,(R) so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f](S) 15 that everyone who believes(T) may have eternal life in him.”[g](U)
16 For God so loved(V) the world that he gave(W) his one and only Son,(X) that whoever believes(Y) in him shall not perish but have eternal life.(Z) 17 For God did not send his Son into the world(AA) to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.(AB) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned,(AC) but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.(AD) 19 This is the verdict: Light(AE) has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.(AF) 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.(AG) 21 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.

Nicodemus was a member of the local Jewish clergy's ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  As Jesus began to preach, teach and work miracles, the Sanhedrin was thrown into a state of quiet upheaval.  Some of them began to believe Jesus' words, recognizing Him as fulfilling OT prophecies concerning Messiah.  But, they did not dare voice their beliefs publicly, at the risk of losing their cherished, influential positions of power.  It has been postulated that the apostle John was from one of these ruling families.

At any rate, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to speak with Him one-on-one.   While it could be that he did this to avoid detection by his peers, it is also possible that he found it impossible to get some one-on-one teaching time with Jesus during the daytime.  He did, at least, come.

Nicodemus begins the conversation by stating he knows that the hand of God is upon Jesus, because no one could perform such miracles otherwise.  He does not, you notice, confess Him as Messiah.

Jesus, on the other hand, does not address this question directly.  He, instead apparently reads Nicodemus's mind by answer an unasked question, which was "how does one get into the kingdom of Heaven?"  The answer was that a person first has to be born a human being and then be born of the Holy Spirit.

The Jews believed that all Jewish-born people would inherit the kingdom of Heaven simply because they were "children of" {descendants of} Abraham.  Jesus is kicking this to the curb with His many references to "the world" in this passage.  ANY human can enter the kingdom of heaven, provided he/she is "born again".

Nicodemus understands the first part, but misunderstands the second.  He thinks that Jesus is referring to two physical births and therefore is declaring it impossible for any human being to enter God's kingdom.

In verses 6-8, Jesus clarifies:  in order to be born again, the Holy Spirit must do the re-birthing of the soul, and it is the Holy Spirit who moves mysteriously on people to accomplish this, not the peoples' own human efforts.  He uses the analogy of the wind to illustrate this point.  Perhaps it was a windy night as they talked together.  What man can control the wind, after all?  The Jewish "theology" had gone so far afield of this key OT principle that Nicodemus was astounded at this teaching.  It must have been, in that day, that the priests chose to ignore (or extremely de-emphasize) large portions of OT scriptures, because we see this over and over in the Old Testament.

In verses 10-12 Jesus emphasizes the unwillingness of the ruling council to discount and discredit the earthly miracles they have seen.   By refusing to acknowledge those, their minds have been further closed to "heavenly things".  Then, in verse 13, he speaks a truth of Heaven:  Jesus states that up until that point, no human has entered Heaven except the God-man, Jesus Himself.

Now, some of us may find that puzzling.  So, I am going to stop there and pick up there again tomorrow morning.   That statement will require a lot of deconstruction and explanation.

Lord Jesus, thank you for taking the time to explain your redemption plan to Nicodemus, and for inspiring John to share it with us so that we may know how to be "born again".  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Oxen and Sheep and Pigeons, oh MY!

Good morning!

The central portion of John 2, verses 13-22 deal with what is commonly called "Jesus Cleansing the Temple".

John begins by explaining when this occurred.   Jesus and His disciples had gone up to Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover, which you may know is one of the holiest, if not THE holiest of Jewish "feasts" (sacred celebrations) held by the Jews.  If the book of John can be interpreted fairly chronologically, and I believe that it can more so than other gospels, this occurred shortly after Jesus' baptism and the wedding at Cana.  We will see, going forward in the book of John, that Jesus' earthly ministry was punctuated by six major feasts of the Jews, which chronologically can be translated to an earthly ministry of just over three years.

So, what is happening here?  The Jews were required at Passover to sacrifice a lamb, have a ceremonial meal, and go through many rituals.  This feast pre-figured Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice for us.  That is why He is called the Lamb of God and why He allowed Himself to be crucified at the 3rd Passover of His earthly ministry.  Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, estimated that in Jesus' day, approximately 200,000 lambs were required to meet the ceremonial needs of the Jewish population for Passover.  (He probably exaggerated, but let's just agree that it took an awful lot of them.)

Oxen and doves were constantly required for sacrificial purposes, not only at Passover.
Supposedly, in the name of "convenience", the Jewish priests made these animals available in the outer courts of the Temple, the court of the Gentiles, which was less "holy" than the more inner courts. And, to make things even MORE "convenient", the priests allowed "human ATMs" to operate there as well.  There was a temple tax imposed on each family annually, to pay for the maintenance of operations such as this (Exodus 30:13), and well....some families did not bring the correct change. How thoughtful of the priests!  {Where's my sarcasm icon....}

The truth of the matter was that the priests were engaged in a business venture.  It was, as we often say in English, a "racket".  They were "racketeering"!  You see, the priests were getting a "cut" from the profits the money-changers and the animal vendors made in profit.  Jesus thought that this was despicable because it perverted the purpose of the Temple.  So, he drove the 4-legged animals out of the court, told the dove keepers to take their caged birds out from there, and turned over the tables of the money-changers.  In so doing, He admonished the astonished priests against making God's house a place of business.  In other accounts of this event (Matthew 21:13 and Mark 11:17), Jesus said , "My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers."  
Matt. 21:13 NIV

Jesus here lists one characteristic of the physical building in which we should worship.  He says that the place of worship should be a house of prayer.

I remember from my youth, we used to have a mid-week service on Wednesday nights.  It was called "prayer meeting".  Usually, though, prayer was not the central focus.  There was some singing, a short sermon, and sometimes a church conference at the end.  In fact, in my lifetime I cannot remember any church services where the sole emphasis was prayer.  Let's consider that a moment.
Do you think that this has anything to do with a decreasing number of converts to Christianity, here in America?

I hope, Believer, that you take time to pray to God throughout your day.  In fact, our resplendent walk should be characterized by frequent prayer, an ongoing conversation with God.  As Paul said, we should "pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5:16) However, God has made it plain that when His people pray together, whether in a church building or not, there is great power unleashed in the spiritual realm.  I would submit to you that we need to do more praying, as individuals and as we gather together in our local Christian fellowships.

Notice in verses 18-22 the Jews confronted Him:  "Who do you think you are?"  or
"By what right do you do these things? Show us a sign that you have the authority to do this."  In a manner that we will see repeated over and over, Jesus said something cryptic in response to them.  At the time, neither they nor the disciples understood it.  Jesus said, (vs. 19
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."  
The Jews responded that it took 46 years to build this temple and, by this time, what Bible scholars call "the second temple" was over 350 years old.  The Jews did not see it going anywhere.  The disciples recognized after His resurrection that He was referring to the temple of His body, although He certainly could have destroyed the physical buildings of the Temple and rebuilt them instantaneously, had He wanted to do so.

John goes on to say in verses 23 to the end of the chapter that Jesus did other {unrecorded here} miracles during this first Passover of His ministry {Matt. 21:14 says that Jesus healed the blind and the lame there at the Temple} and garnered to Himself many disciples, but that the timing was not right for Jesus to turn Himself over to the authorities at this time.  John is writing this after Jesus' last earthly Passover, three years after this one, and had a new perspective.  It was at Jesus' last Passover that He did allow Himself to be claimed by the authorities and gave Himself up for us.  John comments that Jesus understands people very well and knew of what they were capable.  So, He did not directly declare Himself to be Messiah during this cryptic conversation with the Jewish priests. That time was not yet.

Father God, help us to examine our hearts about our behavior in Your ordained places of worship, whether that be in our own prayer life or in our corporate worship during the week.  I pray that Your Spirit will convict us to have so much zeal for Your house that it eats us up, as was the case with Jesus. May we be so on fire to share the grace of Jesus with others that it is the central focus of our worship, and our walk.  If we are robbing people or You, Lord, in Your house, please show us where we need to make a change.   In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The First Miracle

Good morning!

Our reading for this morning is John 1:40-50 and 2:1-11.

If I asked you to name Jesus' first miracle recorded in the New Testament, what would you say?
Most of us would say that it was the turning of water into wine at the marriage in Cana.  In this story Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding.  It does not say whose, but most likely it was the wedding of someone important to Mary (because she intervenes in the crisis) or John's, because he is the only gospel writer who records it in his book.  Also, apparently, the family was not wealthy, because there was not an abundance of wine.  The "caterers" ran out.  I've heard (and can well imagine) that this would have been a tremendously embarrassing situation for the family.  Mary seemed pretty appalled - - - so concerned that she asked Jesus to "do something", and was confident that, out of love for her or for the family, He would.  I find this interaction somewhat peculiar - - - not that Mary knew her son's gifts, but that He seemed reluctant to grant His mother's request, yet did. Of course, none of us has the slightest idea what it was like to be God's mother.

The disciples mentioned are not named; so, it is unclear whether all 12 had been called by this time or not.  The events of Jesus' life, recorded in the four gospels, are not necessarily always given in chronological order.  Nor, as we have seen, do all the writers record exactly the same events.  John makes this assertion about the events at the Cana wedding:

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

This statement is what leads people to say that this event was Jesus' first recorded miracle.  But, I disagree.  I would agree that it was His first recorded public miracle, but that His first miracle is recorded in John 1:40-50.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peterg ).
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50Jesus said, “You believeh because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51He then added, “Very truly I tell you,i youj will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’k the Son of Man.”

The central point I'm trying to make is in verses 47-49, and we see it again and again in Jesus' interactions with people.  He knows them.  Inside and out, good and bad, He knows them.

In the past, I used to believe that it was possible to truly know another person.  But, I learned the hard lesson that this is not possible.  Oh, you can know a lot about another person; but, you can only know them to the extent that they are transparent with you.  And even then, you cannot know them fully.  But, Jesus, being God, who knows all things, pointed out to those He was calling:  Simon (Peter the Rock), then to Nathanael and then to Philip ... that He knew them.

This was and is Jesus Christ's first miracle recorded in the Bible, a private miracle - - - a miracle much more wonderful than several jugs of wine.

He knows us, each and every one.  Look at what he said to each of these men.  In each case, he pointed out a character trait that was wonderful.  Oh, I'm sure he could have chosen one of their dearly-held, "pet sins" - - - liar!  cheat!  slanderer!  - - because no doubt He saw those too.  But, He didn't.  He looked at each one and pointed out the BEST in them.  Nathanael was so amazed that he immediately confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, although he had just met Him.

Jesus still does that today.  He sees the image of God in each one of us, as well as seeing our sin, but He LOVES us, in spite of our sins, and He calls us to spend our lives in an intimate relationship with Him.  This is what Love does, and God IS love.

If you have not met Him, seen Him, truly seen Him for who He is....He is pursuing you today.  Stop running.  Let the love of God overtake you.  Look at Him; lay down your sin and rebellion.  Confess Him as Lord and Savior, so that you can begin to walk resplendent with Him today.

Some of us...we refuse God's words about us.  You think I'm talking about unbelievers here, but I'm not.  Oh, of course, unbelievers do that.  But, here I'm talking about Christians - - redeemed, saved ones, who drag along down the path of life, burdened by their own self-images.  These dear brothers and sisters only see their sins, their "failures", their inadequacies.  They cannot grab hold of God's pure, perfect love for them.  And, by not embracing God's total acceptance of their saved souls, they walk in chains.

These are my friends and readers who are offended by the title of my blog.  Oh, they don't tell me so, but sometimes they harrumph, "She thinks she is 'all that'!"  NO!  I truly know that I am not "all that", but that my Jesus IS ALL THAT!  And, the reason that I can walk resplendent every day is because of Him, not because of me.  The resplendent walk comes from allowing His love to replace any enslaving self-loathing I may harbor, because that kind of crippling belief wounds the Holy Spirit.  It slaps God in the face.

Let me tell you something, Beloved.  Until you can allow the incredible love of God to completely overwhelm you, you will not break free of the chains of sin that bind you.  I want you to think about your soul being represented by a dirty clear glass from your kitchen.  Perhaps you drank a smoothie out of it last night, and it is now sitting crusty in the sink.  How can that glass be cleaned?  What if you fill it halfway with water (the water representing the love of God).  What if you fill it to the brim?  Will the glass then be clean?  BUT, what if you allow that running water to flow over the brim and flow and flow and flow?  The moving water will loosen the particles of yuck (sin) and the glass will become clean.

The love of God is like that.  That was and IS Jesus' first miracle:  His knowing us and giving His amazing love for us.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  1 John 3:1

Believer:  Embrace it!

"O Love that will not let me go, 
I rest my weary soul in thee; 
I give thee back the life I owe, 
That in thine ocean depths its flow 
May richer, fuller be."          George Matheson

Dear Love of My Life, I apologize for those times that I do not walk worthy of the love You have lavished on me.  I can't fully comprehend it, actually.  But, I am grateful.  There are times when I focus on my failures instead of on Your completeness.  Help me to confess my sins and then draw close to You, to hold on to that Love that will never let me go, to see You as you are, and to see myself as You see me.  In Jesus' name, amen.