Month: September 2016

Tuesday Devotional: Zechariah 2

Read Zechariah 2bible

God is for us.  This is often overlooked and often misunderstood.  But God is for us.  There is nothing that God takes more personally than when we, His beloved, are threatened and harmed.  While Jesus tells us that there is no value to a man gaining the whole world and forfeiting his soul, God proclaims to His children that there is nothing that He wants more than us.  He desires to be with us, to live among us, to unite us, to protect us, to lead and throughout all, to love us.  God is for us.  God is for you.  Do you know this?  Do you believe this?

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” This is our news.  This is the news of Jesus Christ.  That God loved the world by sending his only son to carry and bear the iniquities of man’s collective sin in order to save what He deems most precious and beloved.  This is His love and His love is for us alone.  We exist to be loved by Him.  Everything thing we do and everything that we are has been carefully designed for the purpose of channeling the love our God has for us and then to worship Him in return.

We were designed for God and our God is for us.  And if God is for us, who can be against us?  What in this world can harm you if the creator God is on your side?  In the love of Jesus nothing can separate us from the love of our God.  We often reduce God to a helper, assistant, partner figure.  He comes to us ultimately in the name of Jesus proclaiming none of these identities.  He comes proclaiming to be the great “I am” of old and to be the chosen and anointed Christ, the Messiah.  Look upon the face of the savior Jesus and believe that God is for us.

 

The Resurrection: Saul to Paul

empty-tomb

While the debate concerning the identity of Jesus Christ as God himself as historical fact or fiction will forever continue, the figure of Paul is much less easily argued against. Paul comes down to us from the 1st century as a real man who wrote real documents, who preached faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

Paul is a historical figure: very few people will object to that statement. However, while some attempt to legitimize the life of Paul and reject the life of Jesus, a closer look at the life of Paul will lead to the truth that Paul cannot exist as history presents him without the existence of Jesus as history presents him as well. The life of Paul without the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not worthy of anyone’s study. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul is simply another Jewish Pharisee destined to be remembered only by his family, friends and colleagues. As we have it, with the resurrection, the name of Paul is possibly the second most important name in human history, second only to Jesus himself. The reason Paul is worthy of anyone’s study is because of his radical transformation on the road to Damascus.

Acts 9:1-22

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

Over the course of three days, Paul transformed from Saul of Tarsus, a fiery Jewish Pharisee, devoted to the destruction of the Christian heresy, to Paul the Apostle, preaching the good news of Christ and changing the course of human history through his many missionary journeys, church planting and frequent correspondence with the early Christian Churches, comprising more than two thirds of the entire New Testament. We must ask the question, why?

Why would Paul suddenly change and become a member of the sect he was committed to destroy? Why would he forfeit his wealth and status to become poor and persecuted? Why would he endure hardships such as shipwrecks, stoning, floggings, imprisonment, and sickness for this heresy of Jesus Christ? Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the actions of Paul are those of a man gone insane. His transformation without the resurrection is unlikely and unreasonable. With the resurrection, the mission and promise of Jesus to Paul that he preach salvation in Christ to all nations, Jew and Gentile, suddenly thrusts the reality of Paul’s conversion into the reality of the Gospel, with the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day.

Tuesday Devotional: Haggai 1

bibleRead Haggai 1

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

The time is now to follow the Lord.  The time is now to give to the Lord.  Take stock of what you have, what you own, what you possess.  What is yours?  What is God’s?

The truth of Jesus proclaims that everything you see belongs to God.  Everything you own is being loaned to you with one purpose: to honor, worship and glorify the living God in Jesus’ name.  Want to take a vacation?  Go ahead.  But honor God first.  Is your house in order before you buy your ticket?  Is your community in order before you buy your ticket?  Will your trip honor the spirit of Jesus that lives within you and will ultimately be on the trip alongside you?  Does your luxury glorify the selfless and sacrificial spirit of Jesus in your life, or will it stray from the path of Jesus in order to glorify yourself and celebrate your own status?

God gives us good things, but He gives us good things after we have given Him ALL things.  Giving to God cannot be separated from following Jesus.  To follow Jesus means to give God everything you have and everything you are.  The house of the Lord is not a house we can visit.  WE are the House of the Lord.  To leave the House of the Lord in ruins while we build palaces for ourselves has so much more to do with the spirit of Jesus within us in contrast to the spirit of Sin.

Are you feeding your sin or are you feeding the spirit of Jesus in your life?  The palace you build in your own name will fall and will leave you worse off than before you built it.  We were created to live in luxury, but in a luxury that is righteous and holy.  When we build we shall build for the Lord.  Where we live we shall live there for the Lord.  What we own we shall own under the rightful ownership of the Lord.  A palace that neglects and ignores the dwelling place of the Lord is a palace that, although beautiful from the outside, will be a haven for darkness and will collapse when the rains fall and the wind roars.  We cannot own anything before the Lord has rightfully written His name upon every last possession of ours.

This is not unfair, this is not unjust, this is not mean.  This is truth, and the truth, although challenging and illogical to the sin in our hearts, will always and forever set us free.  Minimalist living has proven to be a source of freedom to many people, but the Gospel is far more than that.  The Gospel says that to live without is not only about clarity in mind and spirit, it is about submission to a King who lavishes us with all we have ever wanted and who desires to do so for eternity.

The Resurrection: Disciples to Leaders

empty-tombThe Bible is worthy of glorification. The disciples of Jesus Christ are not. Often we view the disciples as born healers, born preachers and born leaders. The truth is, they were none of these things. What we know of these men is that they were simple, common, unimportant socially; skilled, but individuals of the ordinary. For all intents, they were the middle of the curve, wonderfully average.

Upon witnessing the risen Lord following his resurrection, these disciples are quickly transformed into preachers that convert thousands at a time, healers that publicly display healing powers of the lame and crippled, and leaders of the persecuted, notorious yet thriving early Christian Church. How? How did they suddenly possess the clarity and public speaking power to instruct and preach that which only days prior they could not even comprehend? A message they ran from in fear of persecution and arrest? How did they suddenly possess the power to overcome sickness and forgive sins as God does, in the name of Jesus Christ? The answer is in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are all aware that different people have different skills with clear limitations as to what we can do with them. We know that in order to attain a new skill and use it confidently we must be patient, practice, wait and then practice more. We do not see the disciples take time to hone these skills. They appeared quickly in the characters of these disciples and, when used, their effects were unparalleled in human history. Almost overnight, these men and women became new creations and new people. Without the resurrection, these transformations are unbelievable. The kind of change exhibited in the lives of the disciples is not explainable by logic or reason. The promises of Jesus that the disciples would go on to do greater things in his name, accomplish all they desire for the glory of God in his name, become new creations born again in his name suddenly become possible and suddenly become true with the resurrection.

Tuesday Devotional: Zephaniah 2

bibleThis is the city of revelry
that lived in safety.
She said to herself,
“I am the one! And there is none besides me.”
What a ruin she has become,
a lair for wild beasts!
All who pass by her scoff
and shake their fists.

The lie of sin is that we not only have the right to take the throne as King but that we will never be overtaken, deposed or removed.  What Kingdom has ever outlasted time?  What King has ever sat on a throne for eternity?  None.  All people pass.  All kingdoms collapse.  The most foolish thing we could possibly do is to ignore the words of the living God.

The second most foolish thing we could possibly do is to deny the historical record that proves God’s point. What you see today will not last.  What you do today will last for eternity.  Seek truth and find it, or pursue a lie and believe it.  In God’s great grace and mercy He has not hidden the truth from us.  He has revealed clearly and for all eyes to see where we’ve been and where we are going.

But sin runs deep and in sin is a king who has stolen the crown and will fight at all costs to retain control.  Don’t let it.  The fight to take the throne cannot be won, not should it ever be fought.  Fighting for control of the throne WILL precede a downfall and will destroy the kingdom and the king at the same time.  The throne and the power you think it gives you is a lie, and it can never give you what you hope it can.  The throne belongs to Christ. Only under His lordship can you find what you are truly looking for.  Look hard at Christ and turn your eyes upon Jesus.  His Lordship does not take anything from you other than the delusion that is slowly taking your life away one day at a time.  God has always intended for us to live and to live forever.  A life hidden in Christ will last forever and it will outlast all else.  Choose to live.  Choose life!

 

 

The Resurrection: Tradition to Transformation

empty-tomb

The lost tomb is one glaring example establishing that the disciples contradicted cultural norms as Israelites and began to blaze new trails in the name of Jesus, but the tomb is only one example of such radical reform. As the Jewish people were frequently raided, overrun, taken hostage, attacked and oppressed throughout history, it became extremely important for leaders to teach the legacy, ancestry and history of the Jewish people to future generations, not merely as a means of cultural emphasis, but to remind the future generations that the people of Israel held a unique place in the Creator God’s plans for humanity. Thus, while the tangible value of Israel wavered throughout history, the commands of God to Moses established in the Torah and the salvation displayed and promised by God to the people of Israel never faded. This longevity was due to the painstaking commitment made by the Jewish people to establish the Law, remind people of the Law and keep the Law. In this climate of extreme rule keeping and obedience, one witnesses in the Gospel narratives the disciples redefining the Law as established by Jesus, and following a new Law or covenant grounded in the deity of Jesus Christ. The disciples regularly break the long-established Law of the Sabbath by their activity on that holy day.

Matthew 12:1-2

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

The new law established in and by Jesus changed the disciples’ paradigm. As a result, because Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, the disciples no longer worshipped the Lord on the common Holy day of Saturday (Sabbath) but moved their worship to Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciples revise the long-established tradition of the Passover meal as they not only ate the meal away from their immediate family but also seemed to forget the most important element of the meal, the lamb. Only the direct intervention of God could alter that God-established tradition.

Mark 14:12-25

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take, this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

In following the example of Jesus, the disciples repeatedly break laws concerning the clean and unclean, interacting not only with the physically unclean, such as lepers and the paralyzed, but also with the spiritually unclean, such as the prostitute and tax collector. Without the resurrection, the argument that these humble and unimportant men suddenly decided to simply revise and disobey the laws their forefathers followed for thousands of years becomes ridiculous. One must also consider that if Jesus did in fact die and remain buried in the tomb, the disciples themselves would want nothing to do with such a blasphemer, liar and heretic and would have continued awaiting the true Messiah. However, given the resurrection of Jesus, we find reason to believe that their newfound courage and unusual behavior were motivated by one truth and one reason alone. Jesus resurrected from the dead and fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies that rooted the Law of Moses. They witnessed the sacrifice of God himself as Jesus Christ. They witnessed the resurrection of God himself as Jesus Christ. Thus, the law and the prophets were fulfilled in Christ, and in Christ the disciples were given a new covenant that overruled the previous law and requirements of their forefathers.

Hebrews 9:11-15

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Habakkuk 1

bibleHabbakuk 1

“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.”

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep cross the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.”

God is unbelievable.  The Bible is unbelievable.  The Gospels are unbelievable.  Jesus is unbelievable.  Not because they cannot by trusted and therefore must be false,  but because they contradict our human nature and instincts as storytellers so much that if they could not possibly have been created for literary or moral purposes.  The Bible contains far more honesty than we like.  It contains far more justice than we are comfortable with.  It also contains far more wisdom than we are even able to fathom.

The God of the Bible never acts out of consideration for our feelings, interests or desires.  The God of the Bible ONLY acts on behalf of what is true and what is just.  Therefore, when we need correction, He gives it.  When we need instruction, He gives it.  When we need compassion and gentleness, He gives it.  When we need discipline, He gives it.  In fact, God challenges us to believe the unbelievable in regards to His approach to discipline and suffering.  Through Jesus we no longer have to fear punishment from God, but suffering persists.  Why?  If the suffering is not a sign of God punishment, what is it?

The purpose of our suffering or hard times has one purpose and one purpose only.  It is ONLY to see God as sovereign and us as entirely fallible.  As Jesus is Emmanuel and therefore with us in any and all situations, the purpose of the suffering is ONLY to move us to seek the face of Jesus, to take up His grace in order to carry us through the storm.  But let us never forget that suffering will persist.  Bearing the name of Christ not only means that suffering will persist but that it will inevitably increase. 

But in the face of increasing suffering we are never to disown the name of Jesus by interpreting our hard time as the divine punishment only Jesus has any right or claim to.  We were not and are not punished because Jesus already was.  Therefore, the suffering we experience is present with us to reveal the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And in His name and because of His Lordship we will prevail amidst the suffering and we will see His face in the storm.  The presence of God in our lives through Jesus does not yield to suffering and sin.  It overcomes sin and suffering entirely.  Jesus rose on the third victorious over sin and death proclaiming, “Where, O death, is your sting?  Where, O death, is your victory?”  God allows suffering to a degree of such intensity that to create such a God out of thin air would not only fail to appeal to anyone but would be mocked rather than worshipped.  While one side of the world writhes back in disbelief in the face of God’s grace and compassion, the other writhes back in the face of God’s justice.  The only message relevant to the entire world is a message that is true to both sides of the world.  In Jesus, truth is united at the cross, revealing God’s grace and justice simultaneously.  The extent of both God’s grace and His justice are truly unbelievable, but in Jesus they CAN be believed and they CAN do more than we think.

 

The Resurrection: Tombs to Trails

empty-tomb

It seems that year after year as the Easter and Christmas holidays draw near, one predictably sees a program or two concerning the newly found proof or evidence of the “real” Jesus. While these newly found discoveries never hold up, a popular topic of research is the search for the physical body of Jesus Christ. While historians and scholars are more willing now than in the past to affirm the historical existence of Jesus Christ, without belief in the resurrection, one is left searching for the body of the man who was crucified on the cross and subsequently died. The mystery that will remain a mystery to those unwilling to accept the story of the resurrection is that the location of the tomb of Jesus Christ has been lost to history, and no one can conclusively establish where the tomb actually is.

This mystery is made even more profound when one considers the cultural traditions of the Jewish people regarding the burial of prominent public figures. Such sites are extremely important. The celebration and glorification of those figures after their death, and the memorial to them in the hearts and minds of future generations is an invaluable treasure to a culture that so often throughout history has had very little to hold onto. From to the Gospel narratives, we also know that the body of Jesus was not simply thrown into an unmarked grave to be forgotten by future generations. The body of Jesus was buried in the tomb of an upper-class Jewish citizen, Joseph of Arimathea. His followers knew exactly where the tomb was, and they visited the tomb after his burial.

Mark 15:42-47:

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.    

John 20:1-2:

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!” 

Consider what a profound effect Jesus had on the Jewish people in general, for believers and non-believers alike. It is impossible to believe that if the life of Jesus did indeed end with his death on the cross, his followers not only defied their cultural practice of honoring the dead but more unbelievably, forgot the location of the tomb altogether.

While the tomb of Jesus has been lost to history, what has not been lost is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do have plenty of proof that almost immediately following the death of Jesus, the disciples moved their eyes from the tomb of Jesus to the trails yet to be blazed in his Name as they set off to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The disciples viewed the tomb as trivial in the presence of the reality of the risen Lord, as well as the job that lay ahead driving them to spread the Gospel to those yet to have heard.

In the presence of the dead body of a prominent figure buried in a prominent location, the history of the Jewish people would lead us to believe that the tomb would not only be remembered and marked but that it would be celebrated and preserved. However, in the presence of the resurrected Christ, the tomb becomes nothing more than a stepping stone in order to reach the greater intended heights established by Jesus Christ that the disciples set off to reach. We all know the phrase “history repeats itself,” and we might expect this in the Jewish treatment of the tomb of Christ. However, in this instance, history did not repeat itself. In this instance, the disciples contradicted history and set off in a direction that would ultimately rewrite history.